Category: Top Posts

The World's Heaviest Insect Is 3,500 Times More Massive Than the Smallest Vertebrate

By Veronique Greenwood | February 1, 2012 9:36 am

Record-breaking critters are always crawling, hopping, swimming or otherwise locomoting across our radar. To indulge our curiosity about two creatures who showed up recently in the news, we did a little quick and dirty Photoshopping. If you put the world’s heaviest insect—the giant weta, one of which was recently observed enjoying a carrot on a researcher’s palm—next to the world’s smallest vertebrate—a newly discovered frog so tiny it’s dwarfed by a dime—it might look something like this:

spacing is important

That’s the frog, off to the right. It weighs just 0.02 grams. This weta tipped the scales at 71 grams, according to Mark Moffett, the scientist who snapped her picture. So the cricket-like weta is about 3,500 times the weight of the frog, which Christopher Austin and colleagues found by scooping up leaf litter that was making a funny chirping noise and painstakingly removing the leaf fragments until they found a scrap that hopped.

Wetas can reach 10 centimeters in body length, 20 with their legs extended. The frog is about 7 millimeters long, so it would take around 30 of the frogs lined up head to tail to extend the length of the weta. For your viewing pleasure, here’s the frog on a dime, magnified:

frog

Images (c) Mark Moffett / Minden and courtesy of PLoS One

"Nasal Tampon" Made of Cured Pork Is a Great Cure for Nosebleeds

By Sarah Zhang | January 27, 2012 4:04 pm

salt pork

Bacon gets all the internet glory, but its more old-fashioned cousin salt pork may actually be good for you—for your nosebleeds, if not your waistline. Doctors recently used strips of cured salt pork to stop a life-threatening nosebleed. One of the doctors remembered the unconventional treatment from a field manual he saw in his military days, after exhausting all medical treatments short of risky surgeries.

The patient was a four-year-old girl with Glanzmann thrombasthenia, a rare blood disorder where her platelets are unable to do their normal job of blood clotting. Surgery and injection of blood coagulation proteins didn’t stop her bleeding after more than a week, so the doctors turned to something untested and low tech: “Cured salted pork crafted as a nasal tampon and packed within the nasal vaults successfully stopped nasal hemorrhage promptly, effectively, and without sequelae,” they wrote in a paper about the episode. While “nasal tampon” may sound distinctly undelicious as a pork product, it worked—not once, but twice, as a cure. When the girl re-injured herself four weeks later, the doctors stuffed salt pork up her nose again and she was home in less than 72 hours.

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3,500-Year-Old Jokes Have Something to Say About Yo Mama

By Veronique Greenwood | January 27, 2012 2:14 pm

sargon“That’s what SHE said!”

The study of jokes and riddles written in ancient languages we barely understand is, well, a little tricky. But in a recent paper in the journal Iraq, Middle East scholars Michael Streck and Nathan Wasserman describe and interpret some thigh-slappers scrawled on a badly damaged tablet from Babylon, circa 1500 BC. The scribe’s cuneiform is on the sloppy side. The translations are uncertain, too—but no doubt the humor will still shine through. Here’s one riddle for your pleasure:

The deflowered (girl) did not become pregnant
The undeflowered (girl) became pregnant (-What is it?)

The answer is, of course, is “auxiliary forces.” That was your guess too, right? No? If it makes you feel better, Wasserman and Streck didn’t really get it, either.

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To Golf Like the Pros, Pretend You're Using Their Clubs

By Veronique Greenwood | October 28, 2011 2:02 pm

Ben
All that golfin’ mojo is just oozing into that club…

Houses where Shakespeare stayed. Shirts saints wore. Shoes worn by famous athletes. It’s not very hard to convince people that something—beauty, saintliness, prowess—leaks from a famous person to the objects they used. But while magic is still not scientifically valid, you can apparently get something from such relics—if you believe.

A new study reports that people who are told that the golf club they’re using belonged to a pro athlete actually putt quite a bit better than people who are just told that the club is a nice one. The researchers split forty-one college students who had golf experience and had followed the PGA tour into two groups, and told one group that their putter had been used by pro golfer Ben Curtis. Out of 10 putts, those subjects sank 1.5 more putts than the control group, on average.

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5 Things You Really Don't Want Hacked

By Veronique Greenwood | August 11, 2011 8:15 am

Small Particles Can Flow Up Waterfalls, Say Tea-Drinking Physicists

By Veronique Greenwood | May 17, 2011 12:45 pm

yerba mate
When the height is right, tea leaves zip up the
waterfall and go for a swim in the upper container.

It’s not just salmon that can leap nimbly up waterfalls, according to a new study in the physics arXiv: wee particles like tea leaves and industrial contaminants can flow upstream if conditions are right.

Cuban scientists first noticed this strange phenomenon while brewing yerba mate by decanting pure water from one container into another containing the tea leaves. Mysteriously, tea leaves sometimes appeared in the water container.

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Who Has the Best Pre-Space Launch Superstitions? Hint: Not US

By Valerie Ross | April 12, 2011 3:42 pm

Fifty years ago today, cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first man in space. In the half-century following, many men and women have followed in his flight path—and come up with a slew of unusual rituals meant to help their missions go smoothly, described in a 2008 article in The Space Review. Here are Discoblog’s rankings of various space programs’ pre-launch superstitions:

USA:

  • Eat a steak-and-eggs breakfast. Alan Shepard, the first American in space, had this meal before his 1961 launch. Plus, it’s thought to, uh, decrease the need to do things you’d rather not do in a space suit. (Then again, Shepard is probably not the best example for that, considering he famously peed his suit while Freedom 7 was mired in protracted delays on the launch pad.)
  • Take a load off. Before a mission, astronauts sit in the same leather armchairs the Apollo guys sat in. Not just for rest and relaxation, though: As they lean back in the E-Z Boys, the astronauts are wearing pressure suits and breathing pure oxygen to rid their blood of nitrogren pre-launch.
  • Lose at cards. Specifically, the mission commander must lose to the tech crew, at a game that may be some sort of blackjack or poker. This is NASA, not Vegas.
  • Ranking: 2nd (6/10). While these pre-launch traditions do include run-ins with some of our favorite vices—red meat, sloth, and gambling—they seem awfully practical. Do superstitions usually involve multitasking?

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How Cold-War Nuclear Tests Are Helping Heart-Disease Patients

By Veronique Greenwood | April 9, 2011 3:11 pm

arteriesShould we be strapping these to our torsos?

We’re all a little bit radioactive now. Thanks to atom bomb tests in the mid-20th century, it’s possible to use radioactive (but harmless) carbon-14 to date not only bristlecone pines and putative Noah’s Arks but also, in a recent Karolinska Institutet study, Grandma and Grandpa’s artery fat.

The technique used in this study—radiocarbon dating—is widely employed by archaeologists and geologists to determine when organisms like fossilized trees or plants lived. All organisms absorb carbon-14 along with normal carbon-12 in a ratio that mirrors how much of each type is present in the atmosphere. (Carbon-14 is produced naturally in the upper atmosphere by cosmic rays, and then mixes throughout the atmosphere and into the oceans.) When an organism dies, the carbon-14 starts to decay at a known rate—half the atoms become nitrogen-14 in about 5,700 years—and the amount left in the tissue when it’s dug up can be used to back-calculate its age.

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If the Catastrophic Weather Events Don't Get Us, the Irrationality Might

By Valerie Ross | April 8, 2011 12:24 pm

global warming
What global warming?

What the weather’s like affects some people’s beliefs about global climate change, a new study found: On hot days, they’re all over it, but on cold days, they’re not so sure.

This is not impressive, people. It’s called “global,” meaning not just what you personally felt when you walked out the door this morning. “Climate” also means something different from “weather”, and “change” could mean things will get warmer, colder, or just plain different. On unusually chilly days, these climatically labile folks are 0 for 3.

If only that was the worst of it. A string of studies have shown that people are comically bad at consistently thinking, well, anything when it comes to climate change. Even miniscule differences in what we’re up to at the moment or how we’re asked can have a big effect on what people think of climate change and what they’re willing to do to help. Here are five more ridiculously simple things that get people to change their minds:

What’s on TV. I’m sure you all remember the 2004 hit film The Day After Tomorrow, in which global warming throws Earth into a new ice age, all of a sudden, much to everyone’s surprise. After the movie came out, one study showed, people believed in global warming more, worried about it more, and felt it was more dangerous than they had a few weeks earlier. Where data fail, have Jake Gyllenhaal run through the streets of an ice-bound New York.

Wording of what’s happening. About 10% more people think weird things will happen to Earth’s climate when you call those weird things “climate change” than “global warming,” a study in March found—because the exact phrasing is what’s really important here, not the weird-climatic-things part.

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The Mafia Was Wrong: You Can't Quickly Dissolve a Body in Acid

By Patrick Morgan | February 25, 2011 11:56 am

It’s a sad day for aspiring kingpins and Mafia godfathers–it turns out that you can’t dissolve a corpse within minutes by dunking it in sulfuric acid. If that’s not bad enough, scientists have also shown that even if you wait days, acid alone cannot fully destroy “the evidence.”

This Mafia technique of disintegrating human flesh is known as a “white shotgun” (or “lupara bianca”) murder, a term that entered public parlance in the early 1980s when police in Palermo, Sicily, discovered vats of acid in a Mafia boss’s digs. The crime leader, Filippo Marchese, had his goons kill their victims and dissolve the bodies in a room known as “the chamber of death.” But violent people tend to meet violent deaths, and Marchese was himself dissolved in acid sometime in 1982.

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