30 Things We Learnt In August, 2022

Posted on 31 August 2022

Here at Gowing Life, we have decided to keep a fun record of everything we learn in 2022, be it longevity-related or something else entirely. Here is a selection of our newly acquired neural connections for the month of August!

1: Splooting: The term used to describe the position adopted by some animals when they are hot. By putting their bellies against the ground, they are able to cool off faster.

Splooting cat

2: Cutaneous horn: An unusual type of skin tumour, usually benign, that takes the appearance of a horn, or sometimes even wood or coral. They have been recorded to grow to be as large as a meter in length.

3: Polar bears have black skin, which is probably an adaptation to absorb as much heat from sunlight as possible. But wait, doesn’t the polar bear’s white fur just reflect all the light before it hits the skin? It turns out that polar bear fur isn’t technically white – it’s actually more accurate to describe it as transparent. Despite this, enough light scatters back off of the fur that it appears white to us.

4: The Magdeburg Unicorn: The Magdeburg unicorn is often described as the worst fossil reconstruction in history, and it’s not difficult to see why. The man responsible was Otto von Guericke, who was mayor of Magdeburg when the bones were discovered in the West Harz in Germany. That’s the same Otto von Guericke who invented the vacuum pump and performed the iconic experiment in which two teams of horses were unable to pull apart a vacuum-seal. Von Guericke believed the bones belonged to a unicorn, and based on his writings, mathematician Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz sketched a reconstruction of the unicorn’s skeleton. The result speaks for itself.

The Magdeburg Unicorn

5: Cheetahs are the only species of big cat that cannot fully retract their claws. This is probably because having some of the claw protrude helps them gain traction and run faster.

6: The quintessentially French croissant didn’t actually originate in France, but in Austria.

7: Ever wondered what a black hole sounds like? According to NASA, this is roughly what it would sound like if humans could hear sounds about 50 octaves lower than the lowest audible pitch.

8: Quaternary twins: When two identical twin brothers each have children with two identical twin sisters, the result is quaternary twins: two babies that are familial cousins but genetic siblings.

9: Poor people do not eat more fast food than rich people – at least not in the United States. In fact, according to a CDC report, higher familial income correlates with increased fast food consumption up to a point. One possible reason is that most fast food just isn’t that cheap – you are still paying for the convenience of having food prepared quickly, and it’s a price that many American’s can’t afford very often.

Age-adjusted percentage of adults aged 20 and over who consumed fast food on a given day, by sex and family income level as a percentage of federal poverty level (FPL): United States, 2013–2016.

10: The Gyro-X: A prototype two-wheeled car developed in the 1960s. A gyroscope under the hood kept the vehicle upright even when stationary. The Gyro-X’s developers believed it would be more stable and less prone to skidding than a conventional car. The two-wheeled nature also allowed it to be narrower, making it more aerodynamic and allowing roads to accommodate more cars. However, due to the car’s complex engineering which was still a long way from being perfected, the company responsible went bankrupt before it could be put into production.

11: It may look like something out of a horror movie, but this slime robot could one day save lives by navigating the inside of the human body to help in medical procedures. It’s made entirely from magnetic particles, which allows it to be controlled by external magnets.

12: There are now signs that people are beginning to recover from long Covid. In the UK, the estimated number of people with long Covid has fallen from a peak of 2 million in May to about 1.8 million as of the time of writing (31st of August), according to the Office for National Statistics.

13: Physicists have built a molecular-scale motor entirely from DNA strands. The motors are built from DNA strands arranged into triangular platforms attached to a long, rotating arm, and can be used to store energy by winding up the DNA ‘spring’. It’s not the first time DNA has been used to make a motor, but it is the first time it has been shown to perform measurable mechanical work.

A DNA origami rotary ratchet motor
A.-K. Pumm et al./Nature

14: A blue moon refers to a full moon that appears a second time within the same calendar month. However, the moon can actually turn blue – the eruption of Krakatoa in 1883 caused the moon to appear blue to viewers around the world for several years. Several other eruptions have also caused this effect, as did forest fires in Canada in 1953. According to NASA, this is because the ash contained particles 1 micron wide, which is about the same as the wavelength of red light. This causes red light reflected off the moon to be scattered more, making the moon appear more blue.

15: Saturn has a hexagonal cloud formation at its North pole. The hexagon was discovered in 1981 and has remained stable since then, though it did change colour between 2012 and 2016, from mostly blue to more of a golden colour. Multiple theories exist as to what causes the hexagon to form, though there is currently no universally accepted explanation.

By NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

16: When medieval woodcutters produced wooden beams by hand, they had to follow the grain of the wood, which made the beams stronger than if they had been cut in a sawmill. When the roof of Notre Dame cathedral burned down in 2019, it was believed that no one would have the knowledge required to rebuild the wooden frame as it was before, since no one knew the woodworking techniques used at the time. However, a small group of carpenters at Guédelon in Burgundy have been hand-cutting and squaring wood beams for 25 years and would be capable of reconstructing the roof properly.

17: The Erfurt latrine disaster: In July 1184, the then King Henry VI of Germany held an assembly of noblemen from across the Holy Roman Empire in order to mediate a dispute between two rivals. As people filled the meeting room, the wooden floor collapsed under the stress, plunging them into the latrine in the cellar. About 60 people died, though the King was spared, as he was reportedly sat in an alcove with a stone floor.

18: The mystery of Entombed’s maze generator: Entombed is a video game released in 1982 in which the player navigates a randomly generated scrolling maze. To generate the mazes on the fly, the game looks at 5 neighbouring squares of the maze pattern and consults a table of values to determine what the next square should be. To this day, no one has been able to figure out how the developers came up with these values or why they work. When researchers spoke to Steven Sidley, the programmer responsible, he said he got the code from another unnamed programmer, who told him it ‘came upon him when he was drunk and whacked out of his brain”.

A section of maze generated by Entombed.

19: The ‘Lost Prison Interview’: Following the defeat of Nazi Germany, Hermann Göring, the commander-in-chief of the Luftwaffe and the man who oversaw the creation of the Gestapo, was interviewed in his cell. This ‘lost’ interview, described as having been overlooked for 60 years, provides insights into how the Nazi leadership viewed the United States, Soviet Union, and how this influenced their strategy during the war.

20: The SS Wein is the only ship to have been sunk during both world wars. Built for the Austro-Hungarian navy, it was sunk by Italian torpedo boats 10 days before the armistice in 1918. The wreck was then salvaged by the Italians during the 1920s and became a hospital ship during world war II, before it was sunk by British aircraft in 1941.

21: A Japanese typewriter in use:

22: The orchid mantis: a beautiful example of natural camouflage and mimicry – or is it? Research suggests that these mantises are just as likely to sit on leaves as they are to sit on flowers. What’s more, they probably don’t look much like an orchid to an insect, but rather a ‘generalised flower’. Insects appear to rely much more on colour than they do on shape when ‘deciding’ which flowers to fly to: more colour = more nectar. Orchid mantises exploit this by concentrating a lot of colour in one place, and insects will often approach them instead of other common flowers. So in short, they may not have evolved to mimic orchids, but rather to look like the most desirable flower possible.

23: The barreleye fish: the fish with a transparent head, found between 600 and 800 metres beneath the surface of the ocean.

24: Zealandia: a continental fragment nearly the size of Australia that is 94% submerged beneath the Pacific ocean. New Zealand and New Caledonia are the largest landmasses of Zealandia that are above sea level.

25: Shāh Chérāgh: a funerary monument and mosque in Shiraz, Iran. The interior is decorated with a mosaic of mirror glass.

Mirror work under a dome of the Shāh Chérāgh
By David Holt

26: Wasps seek out sugary foods when their young mature. Wasp larvae secrete a sugary substance which mature wasps lick as a reward for nursing them. Once their nursery duties are over, the wasps seek out this sugar elsewhere.

27: These satellite images show the extent of the flooding in Pakistan, where the overflowing Indus River has turned part of Sindh Province into a 100 kilometre-wide inland lake.

28: In a bid to catch tax dodgers, nine departments in France are testing machine-learning software that can detect undeclared swimming pools from aerial photos. Officials used the program to identify homes with pools and looked up their address on a database to determine whether they had been declared or not. So far over 20 000 secret pools have been revealed, which corresponds to about €10 million in unpaid tax.

29: Honey is the only food that keeps indefinitely in its normal edible state – the honey buried in ancient Egyptian tombs is still considered to be edible. Honey is very acidic and also contains very little water, which makes it difficult for bacteria to survive.

30: The Darvaza gas crater: Also known as the Gates of Hell, the Darvaza gas crater is a burning natural gas field in a crater near Darvaza, Turkmenistan. The history of how the disaster came to be is muddy. The crater was formed in 1971 when the ground collapsed beneath a soviet drilling rig. The prevailing view is that, fearful of the release of poisonous gases, the soviet engineers decided to set the crater on fire, expecting all of the gas to burn off within a few weeks. It didn’t.

Darvasa gas crater, 2011
By Tormod Sandtorv

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