Strange Science

Strange Science

Strange Science

Strange Science brings you 56 science stories that will amaze you! Enjoy stories from the weird and wacky side of archaeology, medicine, astronomy, psychology, and more in this special issue from the editors of Discover magazine. Did you know... - Bronze Age weapons might have cosmic origins? - The study of beetle genitalia could lead to better medical tools? - Immunity to contagious laughter could be a sign of psychopathy?

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2 Min.
1   ancient nightmare spider sports a tail preserved in amber

There’s a new kid in town — in Creepycrawly Town, to be exact. But there’s much more to this leggy fella than nightmarishly good looks. A pair of papers recently detailed how this 100 million-year-old discovery, preserved in amber, fits into the spider evolution story … and the ways it doesn’t. Known from four specimens, the ancient arachnid’s formal name is Chimerarachne yingi. Its genus name, from the mythic Greek chimera, is a nod to its unusual mix of features. There’s that one feature you’ve probably noticed already that you might not expect in a spider: a long, segmented, whiplike tail that resembles the telson found in scorpions. All four of the specimens were preserved in amber from what’s now Myanmar (formerly Burma). One of the papers describes the holotype, or exemplar,…

2 Min.
2   global warming researchers heat ocean themselves

A perennial problem for climate science is that much of it lies in the realm of abstraction. Various models and forecasts compete for relevance, based on arcane statistical formulas that look like gibberish to science reporters and readers alike. Well, rest easy, weary travelers. Here’s a climate study that leaves the ponderous math behind in favor of a real-world simulation of warming Antarctic waters. Researchers from the British Antarctic Survey decided to see the effects of a small change in water temperature in the most straightforward way possible: They went and warmed the water up themselves. DIY WARMING The scientists took plastic slabs threaded through with heating coils and left them on the seabed near the Rothera Research Station on Adelaide Island in Antarctica for nine months. The experiments, published in Current Biology,…

2 Min.
3   formula for happiness gets complicated

In 2014, Discover reported on an equation that purported to lay out key variables that determine how happy we are. It said, in a nutshell: Lower your expectations if you want to be happier. But the pursuit of happiness is far more complicated than simply expecting nothing, so it’s no surprise that the “happiness equation” has since grown. Now, on top of lowering your expectations, you might want to avoid scrolling through your Facebook newsfeed comparing yourself with other smiling faces. It turns out other people’s happiness is now part of that equation. IT’S ALL ABOUT EXPECTATIONS To write the original equation, researchers from the University College London tracked participants’ happiness levels as they played a simple gambling game. They could either win $2 or get nothing. In another version of the game,…

2 Min.
4   chameleon bones glow in the dark

Shine an ultraviolet light on a chameleon in the dark, and it will light up with an eerie blue glow. It’s not color-changing skin at play here, though: It’s the bones. We’ve long known that bones fluoresce under ultraviolet light — some researchers have even used the property to find fossils — but our bones are usually all covered up. Chameleons have evolved rows of small, bony outgrowths along their skeletons that sit just beneath the skin, making it thin enough for the glow to shine through, say German scientists in a paper published in Nature Scientific Reports. The electric blue would show up visibly against the dull greens and browns of the rainforest, helping chameleons to stand out to their friends. It’s the first time researchers have noticed the ability among chameleons,…

2 Min.
5   this wood won’t float, but it’s stronger than steel

The question of how much wood a woodchuck can chuck may need to be re-evaluated. Research published in Nature reveals a process that can create wood with a strength-to-weight ratio stronger than most metals. HARDER, BETTER, STRONGER Many of today’s high-performance structural materials have at least one major drawback. Metals like steel may be strong, but they are also heavy and environmentally damaging. Composites and polymer-based materials work around these drawbacks, but they are complex and expensive to produce. Despite all of our technological innovation, wood remains one of our best options for building. It’s abundant, inexpensive and lightweight. However, it’s not remarkably strong or durable. In an attempt to boost wood’s mechanical capabilities, researchers have developed various methods to treat the material. Treating wood to improve its mechanical performance is nothing new, with…

2 Min.
6   spinach: a bomb-detecting superfood

To detect explosive compounds, researchers have designed plants that communicate with us. Scientists from MIT added carbon nanotubes to spinach plant leaves, causing the plants to emit infrared light when they’re near nitroaromatics, compounds often used in explosives. Researchers believe their augmented plants represent early successes in an emerging field called plant nanobionics, which could fundamentally change the way we detect bombs, droughts, toxins and more. GIVING PLANTS SUPERPOWERS The same team debuted this technology a few years ago when it used nanoparticles embedded in plant leaves to detect nitric oxide, a hallmark of pollution. Since then, these scientists have developed polymers that bind to a variety of molecules, including hydrogen peroxide, TNT and sarin, a potent nerve toxin. They wrap their custom polymers around carbon nanotubes and apply them as a solution…