Thursday, December 30, 2010

Odd Science 2010

Besides highly publicized science stories of 2010 (Gulf oil spill, Chilean miner rescue, bedbugs, etc.), there were some intriguing and somewhat odd science stories:

1. You think like a worm – The human brain’s center of deep thought is curiously similar to a clump of neurons inside the head of the lowly ragworm. So similar, in fact, that ragworms, which evolved 600 million years ago, probably share a common ancestor with us humans. Hmmm…

2. The shrinking moon – Lunar geologists have found cliff-like scarps on the moon that they believe formed as the moon lost heat and contracted. But don’t panic – the moon’s radius has only shrunk a few hundred feet in the last billion years. Considering its small size, though (its diameter is less than the distance from Washington, DC to San Francisco), let’s hope it doesn’t shrink too much more…

3. Dinosaurs in color – Sinosauropteryx, a chicken-size dinosaur, and was covered with spiny hair, ate meat and walked on its hind legs. Scientists examining the hair bristles under a powerful microscope discovered its tail contained melanosomes, color-bearing cell parts found in modern birds. And what color was it? Sinosauropteryx sported a chestnut and white striped tail! Cool!

4. Bowerbirds exaggerate – Male bowerbirds lure their mates with large collections of stones, shells, bones and other trinkets, even some man-made ones. Their display is usually arranged from largest to smallest, creating an optical illusion. As the female approaches, the display area appears smaller, making the male in the center appear bigger. Clever guy!

5. Rubik’s Cube decoded – Have you ever tried to solve a Rubik’s Cube? How many moves did it take you? Mathematicians have discovered that out of the 43,252,003,274,489,856,000 possible starting positions, you should never have to make more than 20 moves to solve the puzzle. Can you do it?

These 5 are just a taste; Discover magazine's current issue includes the 100 Top Stories of 2010.

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