Scientists Are Answering Regular People’s Tough Questions, And The Results Are Fascinating

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Ever think of a dumb science question you wish you'd asked in your high school biology class? Ever wondered something about the cosmos that Google just can't seem to answer? Luckily, there's a place on the internet where all your problems can be solved: r/askscience, a subreddit where scientific experts are encouraged to share their expertise by answering the tough questions posed by everyday internet users. 

Here are just a few of the coolest, most thoughtful r/askscience we found this week. Take a look and vote up the ones that taught you something interesting!


  • 1
    15 VOTES

    Where Did All Of Earth's Water Come From?

    Q: The oceans are huge — where did all the water in our planet come from?

    From Redditor u/Moon_In_Scorpio

     

    A: There is several times more water than all the world’s oceans in Earth’s mantle. Volcanoes tap into the mantle and can have from 0.5 to 8% water in the magma. The new thinking is that it may not have just been comets rather it was also or predominantly from volcanic eruptions putting steam into the atmosphere that rained down and created the oceans. Earth’s crust, including the thin lenses of water we call oceans, are as thick as the skin on an apple vs the vastness of the mantle, which is the main volume of Earth. So the water was probably already here as part of the planet when it formed.

    From Redditor u/CaverZ

    15 votes
  • 2
    8 VOTES

    Can Lightning Really Crack Rocks And Damage Mountains?

    Q: In fiction we usually see lightning as an incredible force capable of splintering stones, like a TNT charge would. Does this actually happen in nature?

    From Redditor u/RedditLloyd

     

    A: Yes, to a certain extent. There are suggestions that lightning can be an effective weathering mechanism on mountain peaks and can fracture rocks similar to other weathering mechanisms like frost cracking (e.g., Knight & Grab, 2014). On a smaller scale, there is abundant laboratory evidence that high voltage discharges, like those produced naturally by lightning, are effective at breaking rocks (e.g., Walsh & Vogler, 2020), so much so that equipment to produce high voltage electropulses are marketed as a (very expensive) alternative to mechanical crushing of rocks (i.e., Selfrag units).

    From Redditor u/CrustalTrudger

    8 votes
  • 3
    7 VOTES

    Are All Our Emotions Just Chemical Reactions?

    Q: Including love, empathy, grief, anger, lust, etc...

    I know that, for example, pleasure is associated with dopamine and serotonin. Is there a hormone or chemical for all of the unique and complex emotions that humans can experience?

    This question recently crossed my mind when I was having a debate about religion and the idea of persons being souls/spirits.

    From Redditor u/splatzbat27

     

    A: So, you seem to be largely wondering about love so here's my summary of it, though I won't summarize every single emotion like this to save my own sanity.

    Interestingly, chemically speaking "love" is not very good-natured. Pair-bonding is largely regulated by oxytocin and vasopressin, which is fairly well-known even outside of biochemistry. However what people don't usually mention is that these are not exactly "happiness chemicals" but rather "attachment chemicals."

    Oxytocin and Vasopressin are responsible for feelings of loving commitment but also of jealousyfear, and anxiety. Oxytocin is even implicated as being responsible for xenophobia.

    You see, chemically speaking love is not attraction or elation but rather long-term and strong attachment. And attachment has a bad side too.

    I would say that the "purest and most good-natured" feeling is contentment. It doesn't comingle with cortisol (stress) like excitement does, doesn't keep you awake like elation (dopamine) does, and generally makes your body run smoothly and calmly thanks to a good flow of serotonin. You feel good, and you keep feeling good because it doesn't tire your body out but rather rejuvenates it by encouraging a healthy sleep cycle, a stable mood, and a smooth metabolism.

    From Redditor u/PlacatedPlatypus

    7 votes
  • 4
    5 VOTES

    How Are Small, Soft Worms Able To Dig Underground?

    Q: How can an earthworm (or nightcrawler) dig underground when it's super soft?

    From Redditor u/Ihavetoleavesoon

     

    A: Earthworms are oligochaetes, which means they have a couple of bristles or 'setae' (like little spines or needles) coming on each side of the body on every segment. So they use the prostomium (or "face" that is thinner) to get into the soil, anchor the bristles into the ground and pull on their muscles to propel themselves deeper. They also eat a lot of dirt so it creates tunnels.

    From Redditor u/albasri

    5 votes
  • 5
    5 VOTES

    What Happens To Your Eggs When You Take Birth Control?

    Q: If you do not release an egg when you're on the pill and have a withdrawal bleed, do they stay in the ovary? If so, do they degrade while "in storage?" Does it delay the age you'll hit menopause, if you are on the pill for a few years and have extra eggs, compared to if you weren't on the pill?

    From Redditor u/pickleplum

     

    A: Women are born with a variable number (50K to 2Million is a common range) "ovarian follicles", which are cellular aggregations containing oocytes (immature eggs; one per follicle), in their ovaries. Over her life, they undergo constant 'atresia' in which they degrade and die off. This is a fairly constant process separate of menstruation or ovulation that even takes place before puberty.

    Under normal circumstances, each month follicle stimulating hormone is released into the ovaries, which blocks atresia for a bit and stimulates oocyte growth. Several oocytes begin to mature, but only a few (or as few as one) will complete maturation and become an egg. This is because when an oocyte is far enough matured, it releases a large amount of regulatory hormones that block others from maturing and stimulate atresia in them (the oocytes that do not fully mature and their containing follicles will die out).

    Oral contraceptives are usually made of a combination of two hormones, estrogen and progestrin.

    Estrogen's main mechanism of action is that it blocks follicle stimulating hormone. This arrests oocyte maturation, stopping any viable eggs from being produced. The follicles continue to undergo atresia as per usual. This doesn't pose a risk to overall egg count though as follicle stimulating hormone normally only spikes briefly during the monthly cycle, and the hormone burst from the semi-mature oocytes will make up for the arrested atresia.

    Progestrins inhibit luteinizing hormone, which is the hormone responsible for activating ovulation itself (the physical release of the eggs from the ovaries). It also does a variety of other things to cause ovulation to be more difficult, such as thickening cervical mucus (reduces egg mobility) and thinning the endometrium (making it harder for an embryo to be implanted there). Any eggs that somehow mature despite estrogen's blocking of FSH will get stuck in the ovary and absorbed by the body. They're not likely to come out in a withdrawal bleed unless it occurs very soon after your normal ovulation date.

    TL;DR: Eggs constantly are degraded over a woman's life. Eggs stopped by contraceptives don't mature fully, or get stuck and eaten by the body. It doesn't delay when you'll hit menopause.

    Sources:

    Mechanisms of action of contraceptives.

    Details of ovulation inhibition.

    More on ovary follicular atresia

    From Redditor u/PlacatedPlatypus

    5 votes
  • 6
    5 VOTES

    Is There Any Relationship Between Creativity And Psychosis?

    Q: Is there any relationship between creativity and psychosis?

    From Redditor u/Araknhak

     

    A: The canonical study in favor of a link is the polygenic score/GWAS study in Nature Neuroscience, which finds that people with gene variants linked to schizophrenia and bipolar disorder were (slightly) more likely than chance to be in creative professions.

    Frontiers has a nice series of articles on the question here that adds some nuance, including perspectives and research that argues for and against the idea.

    From Redditor u/nthroot

    5 votes