Curing cancer is a noble goal, but sometimes scientists just want to ascertain what happens once you give octopuses ecstasy. From medical marvels to wild speculations about time travel, aliens and the end of the universe. There is a number of 2020’s strangest science stories as follows :
The man who can’t see numbers
The human brain is a delightfully tangled mess, and sometimes the clearest examples come from injuries. Take, as an example, the curious case of a brain disease patient code-named RFS, who inexplicably can’t see numbers.
RFS described numbers as looking like “spaghetti“ and when he tried to draw what he was seeing– the result was an abstract jumble of squiggly lines, dots & colours . The person could read & recognize letters just fine and weirder still, he had no trouble seeing the digits 0 & 1, only 2 through 9 posed problem .
If variety was placed on top of an image of a well-known object, sort of a violin or a face, it might scramble the entire thing for RFS. It wasn’t until the image was moved a particular distance faraway from the digit that RFS could see it clearly again.
But it gets even weirder. EEG readings showed that his brain was registering faces or images underneath the numbers, albeit he wasn’t aware of them. Apparently, the damage was somewhere in the connections between perception & awareness.
The dead speak! (kind of)
X-rays & reconstructions have shown us what Egyptian mummies used to appear as if, but have you ever ever wondered what they sounded like? Scientists have, which is why early this year they recreated the “voice” of a 3000 year old mummy.
The team scanned the form of his vocal tract, 3D printed a reproduction , then hooked it up to an electronic larynx. The resulting sound is an eerie “eeehh” that nearly seems like the priest Nesyamun is unimpressed together with his resurrection.
The woman who pees alcohol
Another medical anomaly discovered this year was the first-ever case of a lady who seemed to be brewing her own alcohol right in her bladder.
The patient presented with cirrhosis of the liver & diabetes and needed to be put on a waiting for a liver transplant. But her urine tests kept turning out to be positive for alcohol, despite insisting that she hadn’t been drinking.
The pieces fell into place when doctors also discovered high amounts of budding yeast in her urine. Lab experiments confirmed it had been possible that a yeast colony in her bladder was fermenting sugars to produce ethanol and a new “bladder fermentation syndrome” was born.
Quantum time travel may not follow Back to the future rules
Back to the future just about defined the principles of your time travel that the majority people are familiar with start messing around in the past and you’ll come to a really different future. But consistent with a study this year, using a quantum time travel simulation which may not be the case.
The researchers simulated what would happen if a quantum bit (qubit) of information was sent back to the past, interfered with & returned to the “present” and the results were somewhat surprising, rather than consequences cascading through the entire system, internet of quantum correlations in the past actually protected the qubit from damage.
In the world of quantum time travel, it seems reality is more or less self-healing.
Seeing is believing, which is why it’s so hard to believe that somebody sees a photograph of a white & gold dress once you see blue & black, or they hear Yanny once you hear Laurel in the same audio clip. And this year, we search out our noses are often even as unreliable.
The smell of fish could seem pretty unmistakable but in new study into odor perception, researchers discovered that people with a particular genetic variant were more likely to rate a fishy odor as less intense, more pleasant or maybe mistake it for the smell of caramel or rose.
Other genes were found to affect what proportion an individual liked the smell of licorice, which honestly seems like the only explanation for how anyone can stomach the stuff.
Animals domesticating other animals
Humans are domesticating animals for millennia, but this year we found the first instance of animals domesticating one another (or at least of, first non-human vertebrate to do so).
Longfin damselfish are known to grow algae farms to feed from & Australian researchers discovered that they had actually domesticated tiny mysid shrimp to help-out. Basically, the shrimp would fertilize the algae with their waste and in return fish would chase off the shrimp’s natural predators, if they came close.
Aliens could harness black holes as energy sources
A decades old thought experiment was shown to be theoretically possible in the lab this year. It seems like sci-fi nonsense but a super-advanced alien civilization could potentially sap huge amounts of energy from black holes.
The original idea says that if you lowered an object towards black hole, at a particular point, it would move at the speed of light just to stay still. It would acquire negative energy in extremely basic terms, meaning it’s borrowing energy from empty space. If you then drop half the object into the black hole, the recovered half would actually gain energy.
For 50 odd years, it remained a fun but untestable thought experiment, but now the basic concept has been confirmed in the lab. Scottish scientists twisted sound waves & aimed them at a rotating sound absorbing disc. And it seems that the waves can go from positive frequencies to negative, effectively, stealing energy from the disc’s rotation.
It’s incredibly far beyond human reach any time soon, but it’s fun to think that ET could be out there fishing for energy in black holes.
Escobar’s escaped hippos help
Introduced species are usually thought of as pests but a new study found which may not always be true. Case in point : Pablo Escobar’s escaped pet hippos.
After the death of infamous drug kingpin in 1993, 4 hippos were left behind on his private ranch. Now almost 30 years later, they’ve escaped into Colombia waterways & multiplied, numbering between 80 & 100.
The new study found that the hippos had a similar diet & body size to extinct giant llamas that used to roam South America and they may well fill this vacant ecological niche.
Microbes revived from the dinosaur age
It sounds like the set up for a cheesy disaster movie but scientists managed to revive microbes that had been slumbering deep-beneath the seafloor since dinosaurs walked Earth.
The team incubated samples taken from sediment cores drilled from 100 m (328 feet) into the seafloor. When nutrients were supplied, the 100 million year old microbes began to move, eat & multiply, to the scientists surprise.
It seems that life moves in slow motion for these ancient critters with what little energy, they will find going towards just barely keeping themselves alive.
The last item which will ever happen
It is thought that the universe will end in an utterly anticlimactic way, slowly fading to black over trillions of years. And consistent with a recent study, we’d have a thought about the last interesting event which will ever happen i.e. a black dwarf supernova.
Black dwarfs are hypothetical stars that have essentially frozen solid, after white dwarfs have cooled-down to the background temperature of the universe. This process has been calculated to take trillions of years, therefore, the universe itself isn’t sufficiently old-for any black dwarfs to exist yet.
But that’s not the end of story. The quirks of quantum physics say nuclear fusion could still happen in the most massive black dwarfs, albeit extremely slowly. Given enough time and they could go supernova.
“Enough time” is a hell of an irony though. the first black dwarf supernova isn’t predicted to happen for another 10^1100 years and the last one? A casual 10^32000 years in the future.
So, don’t wait up.