30 Things We Learnt In September, 2022

Posted on 30 September 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 September!

1: The mossy leaf-tailed gecko is a species of lizard endemic to Madagascar. It’s not difficult to see where it got its name.

Mossy leaf-tailed gecko
By Charles J. Sharp

2: During the First Punic War, the Romans built an entire navy of 120 warships in just 60 days, after copying the design of a Carthaginian ship that had run aground on the Italian coast. Later during the war, they would lose 284 ships and as many 100 000 soldiers in a severe storm. Following this disaster, the Romans built another 220 ships in just three months, and almost immediately lost 150 of said ships in another storm.

3: Cheating in the Olympics has been a problem since its creation millennia ago. Though the ancient Greeks may not have had access to state-sponsored doping schemes, they found plenty of other ways to cheat. These included bribing judges and other athletes, posing as a representative of a different city state to circumvent bans, attempting to put a curse on their opponents and, according to depictions on some pottery, attempting to gouge out their opponent’s eyes. Cheaters could be beaten, and in some cases would have statues made of them that recorded how they cheated.

4: The Antikythera mechanism: Described as the single most shocking discovery from the ancient world, the Antikythera mechanism is a mind-bogglingly complex bronze gear mechanism built by the Ancient Greeks in around 100-200 BC. It was discovered in a shipwreck in 1901, and was originally described as an astrolabe – a device for calculating the position of the Sun and other stars. However, the gear system within was much too complex to serve this function alone, and we now understand the Antikythera mechanism as the world’s first computer. The device could be used to make a variety of astronomical predictions, including the occurrences of solar and lunar eclipses.

5: Researchers have succeeded in turning PET – a simple plastic commonly used to make various containers – into diamond using powerful lasers. When blasted by lasers, the plastic reached temperatures between 3200°C and 5800°C and pressures of over 72 gigapascals. This resulted in the formation of microscopic diamonds a few nanometres across.

6: Researchers who have self-experimented are about as likely to have won a Nobel prize for said experiment as they are to have died as a direct result. A study reported that of 465 documented cases over the past two centuries, 8 resulted in death and 7 in a Nobel prize, while another 5 won Nobel prizes for unrelated work.

7: Cells owe their name to Robert Hooke, who said they reminded him of cells in a monastery.

Cell structure of cork by Hooke
Robert Hooke, Micrographia, 1665., Public Domain

8: You may live to see man-made horrors beyond your comprehension” is a quote attributed to Nikola Tesla at the first electrical exhibition held in 1898. After Tesla demonstrated a small boat controlled remotely by radio signals, an attending admiral remarked on potential military applications, to which the inventor reportedly replied with these prophetic words.

9: US aircraft carriers each have a mailing address just like any building in the United States. Sending mail to an aircraft carrier costs the same as it would to any other US address, even if the carrier is on the other side of the world, and sailors can even order packages online to be sent to the ship. Such mail usually takes around 10 days to arrive.

10: 71% of the Earth’s surface is water, and no image drives that fact home quite like this picture of the Pacific Ocean, taken in 1990 by the Galileo spacecraft about 1.6 million miles from the planet.

11: And now, here’s what it would look like if all of the world’s water was gathered into a single sphere.

12: Neanderthals are often assumed to have been intellectually inferior to modern humans, though this assumption has been disputed. However, we now have some compelling evidence that Neanderthal brains may have been less developed. Researchers inserted a Neanderthal gene into mice, ferrets and structures called organoids, which are ‘miniature brains’ grown grown from human stem cells in the lab. They found that the Neanderthal gene was associated with slower growth of new neurons in the cerebral cortex, which could have resulted in our ancient cousins’ inferior intellects.

13: Footage of NASA’s DART spacecraft slamming into an asteroid, which was broadcast live to the world. The 600kg craft hit Dimorphos, which has a diameter of about two football fields, at a speed of about 6 km per second. Had Dimorphos been on a collision course with Earth, the slight change in trajectory from this impact would be sufficient to make it miss.

14: The world’s first business computer was devised by a British catering company most well known for its tea shops: J Lyons. The machine, called LEO I (Lyons Electronic Office I), occupied 2,500 square feet of floor space and allowed Lyons to streamline its operations, such as the distribution of food items to teashops around the country.

15: The Hubble telescope saw a supernova.

16: When you see overgrown ruins of Mayan cities amongst the trees, it’s easy to imagine the Mayans as a people who lived in settlements surrounded by forest. However, research suggests that by the year 800, the Mayans had almost entirely deforested the Yucatan. Alongside the resultant soil erosion, this may have been a contributor to the collapse of the classic Mayan Empire, which occurred centuries before Europeans arrived in South America.

17: Flood basalt: the result of a volcanic outpouring that can cover large stretches of land, and even entire continents, with lava in ‘only’ a million years, which is not long on a geological timescale. Such events could have contributed to multiple mass extinction events, including the event that wiped out the dinosaurs.

Moses Coulee in the US showing multiple flood basalt flows of the Columbia River Basalt Group.
Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1379538

18: In the United States, the boss of bosses might be referred to as the head honcho. While the word ‘honcho’ might sound Spanish in origin, it most likely came from the Japanese hanchō (team leader). During World War II, American soldiers supposedly heard Japanese prisoners of war referring to their superior officers using this word. Later during the Korean war, American pilots would refer to the more skilled communist pilots as honchos.

19: Nazi Germany’s experimental nuclear reactor used cubes of uranium, rather than the rods typically used in modern reactors. The Nazis produced 1,000 to 1,200 such cubes, each one measuring about 2 inches a side. Roughly half of them were confiscated by the Allies after the war, but the whereabouts of most of these cubes is currently unknown. Some could have been recycled, but it is likely that many were also taken as souvenirs.

Replica of the Nazis’ experimental reactor.

20: Prior to D-day, allied soldiers conducted covert operations to collect sand samples from the beaches of Normandy. They needed to know whether the sand could support the weight of tanks.

21: The Pepsi Fleet: In the late 1980s, Russia’s prior agreement to trade vodka for Pepsi was about to expire. Due to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, trade of Soviet-made goods was no longer allowed, so military ships were traded instead. 17 submarines, a cruiser, a frigate, and a destroyer were exchanged for around $3 billion of Pepsi concentrate. These ships were immediately sold to a Swedish company for scrap metal recycling. Technically speaking, Pepsi briefly owned the world’s 6th most powerful navy.

22: The Football War: Also known as the 100-hour war, the Football war was a brief conflict in 1969 between Honduras and El Salvador. While the name implies that the war took place over football, the primary cause was the expulsion of Salvadorian immigrants from Honduras. During the build-up to the war, the two countries’ football teams played against each other in a series FIFA world cup qualifier matches in which violent clashes between fans occurred. These matches contributed to increased violence against Salvadorians in Honduras, leading to the declaration of war by El Salvador. The war ended about 4 days later after the Organisation of American States threatened El Salvador with sanctions if they did not withdraw.

El Salvador’s team before the final match against Honduras.

23: The colour orange is named after the fruit, not the other way around. The use of ‘orange’ to describe a fruit predates its use as a colour by around 200 years. Before this, English did not seem to have a specific word for the colour, and probably referred to it simply as ‘yellow-red’.

24: Bird Brains: Birds have tiny brains, yet can be remarkably intelligent. Some birds like crows, ravens and parrots are able to perform cognitive feats comparable to mammals with brains many times larger. According to research, the brains of these birds are simply more dense (in a good way) than their mammalian counterparts. Researchers found that parrots and songbirds packed about twice as many neurons into the same mass of brain tissue compared with non-human primates. What’s more, parrots and corvids had a greater proportion of neurons in their forebrains, in some cases surpassing neuron counts in much larger primate brains. The forebrain is thought to be responsible for more complex information processing including reasoning and impulse control.

25: A demonstration of the siphon principal, in which liquid flows upward without a pump, powered by the fall of liquid from the bottom of the tube.

26: A 2012 national survey found that about 40% of US adults fight about loading the dishwasher.

27: When Brooklyn beekeepers noticed that their bees were producing red honey, investigators launched an environmental inspection of a nearby cherry factory. They found that the bees had been collecting a mixture of red dye and high fructose corn syrup that spilled during the making of Maraschino Cherries. They also discovered New York’s largest marijuana farm in the basement.

28: Sea turtles’ mouths are lined with spikes called oesophageal papillae. These help protect the oesophagus against jellyfish stings and trap the turtle’s food, allowing them to expel excess salt water without throwing up their lunch.

29: Residents of California will soon have the option to have their bodies composted after they die. By some estimations, cremation releases around 360 metric tonnes of greenhouse gasses per year in the United States.

30: When NASA’s Perseverance rover was sent to Mars, it carried a toaster-sized golden box called MOXIE (Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment). Since then, MOXIE has been producing oxygen at about the rate of a typical Earth tree, using electricity to convert carbon dioxide into oxygen. Such technology could eventually support long-term human missions on other planets.

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