Answers To Life's Big Questions

Answers to Lifes Big Questions

In this special issue, the experts from BBC Focus Magazine reveal the answers to questions that intrigue and baffle even the brightest of brains. BIG questions like... ❱❱ Why do we dream? ❱❱ How do astronauts keep clean? ❱❱ Could we clone a dinosaur? ❱❱ Is a black hole really a hole? ❱❱ Why do cats hate water? ❱❱ Why do sweaty feet smell of cheese?"

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Immediate Media Company London Limited
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1 min

Who’s on your dinner party wish list? Marie Curie? The Coen brothers? Dara O’Briain? Sandy Toksvig?... Now, on the subject of Sandy – while she’s doing an amazing job on QI (sorry Stephen, she is good too), she keeps saying things that simply don’t tally with my usual party chat. She’s constantly busting urban myths and making me question all those facts that I thought were just that – fact. But she’s not the only one. While pulling together this Q&A special issue, I discovered all sorts of facts and stats that really got my little grey cells working or simply blew my mind. For example, did you know that the spacesuit Neil Armstrong wore to land on the Moon was made by a bra manufacturer? Or how about the fact that you’d…

1 min
tower of strength

TARRAGONA SPAIN This colourful feat of strength is performed by people known as ‘castellers’, as part of a tradition that has become widespread in Catalan festivals over the last 50 years. “The castellers forming the upper part of the tower help to stabilise each other by linking arms,” says ARUP structural engineer Ben Watkins. “This means that they can hold a greater weight than if they were standing alone.” Teams aim to build the largest towers or ‘castells’ possible, and signify its completion when the ‘enxaneta’ climbs to the top and triumphantly raises a four-fingered gesture that symbolises the four stripes of the Catalan flag. “As well as providing more support to the castellers at the base, the group surrounding the tower also acts as a cushion to lessen the fall if the tower collapses,”…

18 min
the human body

CAN WE UNLEARN THINGS? To some extent, yes. Psychologists have tested this in various ways, including asking people to spend time learning pairs of words, and then asking them to deliberately forget some of them. Future memory for the deliberately forgotten words tends to be poorer. More recently, researchers have extended this concept to show that people can unlearn behavioural habits acquired in the lab (such as particular finger movements paired with specific words), and they’ve found that after a period of deliberately not thinking about a particular autobiographical episode from their lives, people show a loss of memory details for that episode. WHY DO WE HAVE WISDOM TEETH? We evolved from hominids that had longer jaws for chewing raw meat and plants. Extra molars are an advantage, but they don’t emerge until…

18 min

COULD AN ASTEROID KNOCK EARTH OUT OF ITS ORBIT? No. The Earth has a lot of mass and moves extremely quickly in its orbit around the Sun; in science speak, we say its ‘momentum’ is large. To significantly change the Earth’s orbit, you would have to impart a very great change to the Earth’s momentum. Not even the largest asteroids have sufficient mass and kinetic energy to make much of a difference to the Earth’s momentum. Even more of an obstacle is the fact that our planet’s binding energy is greater than its orbital kinetic energy. This means that any object large enough to change the Earth’s orbit is also big enough to completely destroy it! WHAT COLOUR IS THE SKY ON AN EXOPLANET? The colour of the sky on an exoplanet depends…

15 min

WHAT ARE THE MOST SOPHISTICATED DRONES CAPABLE OF? Drones are radio-controlled flying gadgets with several propellers that may be used for filming, racing, and in the future perhaps even widespread delivery of parcels. Military drones resemble small aircraft with no pilots. Some can take off, fly and land by themselves. They can perform surveillance over enemy territory or even deploy missiles to attack specific targets in dangerous places where we may not want to risk human pilots. One of the most advanced today is the Taranis, a UK-built drone with a top speed of 1,127km/h (700mph) and 9.7m wingspan that is nearly invisible to radar. Would it be possible to make a new internet? The internet dates back to ARPANET, a computer infrastructure built in the 1960s by the US Defense Department to…

1 min
robot exoskeleton

The 2014 FIFA World Cup opening ceremony was one of the most spectacular of all time and featured a young paraplegic Brazilian kicking a ball across the pitch at the Corinthians Arena in Sao Paulo. This miraculous act was possible thanks to a mind-controlled robotic exoskeleton, made by the Walk Again Project, a collaboration between universities across different continents. The operator wears a cap that’s linked to a computer in the backpack of the suit. The cap picks up brain signals that are created when the user thinks of walking and a computer then converts this information into electrical commands, which then move hydraulic legs. The whole set-up is stabilised by gyroscopes and powered by a battery that sits in the backpack. When the user kicks the football, they’ll be able…