Weird History
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Fascinating Scientific Facts We Just Learned That Made Us Say ‘Really?’

January 5, 2021 5.2k votes 953 voters 148.1k views12 items

List RulesVote up the coolest scientific facts you just learned today.

Obviously, science rules. New scientific facts in the realms of technology, medicine, and physics have helped us not only understand our world, but also survive its many challenges. And while few of us will get to make our living wearing fancy lab coats or taking the Large Hadron Collider for a spin, we can still appreciate interesting scientific facts.

The internet can be full of misleading or just plain wrong information, but there are many trusted sources reporting interesting science facts that nobody knows. Below is a list of verifiable items about the fascinating world we live in. Vote up the ones you never knew before.

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    Hooded Pitohui Birds Are Toxic To The Touch

    Papua New Guinea's hooded pitohui is one of the few poisonous bird species. Their toxicity was discovered by ornithologist Jack Dumbacher in 1989. Dumbacher caught some of the birds in a net; then, as Australian Geographic explains,

    As Jack struggled to free the pitohuis from his nets, they scratched his hands and the cuts hurt more than they should have. He put his fingers in his mouth to dull the pain, but that only made his tongue tingle and burn.

    After Dumbacher sent the birds' feathers away for study, they were found to contain batrachotoxins. These neurotoxic steroidal alkaloids can be fatal in high doses and are also found in the skin of poison dart frogs. The birds acquire this toxin from feeding on melyrid beetles. 

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  • Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Metal From Sunken WWII Ships Is In High Demand Because It's Uncontaminated By Radiation

    If you want to make highly sensitive medical or physics equipment, a cost-effective method is to use the metal from sunken World War II ships. This is because they contain what is known as "low-background steel." 

    All steel produced after the 1945 atomic bombings at Hiroshima and Nagasaki is contaminated with radionuclides, or radioactive isotopes. Air is required in the steel manufacturing process, and any steel made using atmospheric air has a high chance of containing radioactive particles (a side effect of the more than 1,900 nuclear tests conducted since WWII). 

    The steel used to make WWII ships was not only produced before atomic testing, but also remains insulated from atmospheric radiation by the ocean depths. In the modern era, it is possible to produce non-radioactive steel in a controlled environment, but this is a more expensive process than simply salvaging the metal from the sea.

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  • Photo: Rehman / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 2.0

    China's Three Gorges Dam Is So Massive It Can Slow The Rotation Of The Earth

    Though not so much that you'd actually notice. According to Dr. Benjamin Fong Chao, of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center:

    If filled, the [Three Gorges Dam] would hold 40 cubic kilometers (10 trillion gallons) of water. That shift of mass would increase the length of day by only 0.06 microseconds and make the Earth only very slightly more round in the middle and flat on the top. It would shift the pole position by about two centimeters (0.8 inch).

    Dr. Chao's comment comes from a 2005 NASA article that explains how many things affect the rotation and shape of the planet, including earthquakes, weather patterns, and even traffic.

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  • Photo: James R Bouldin / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    The World's Oldest Tree Was Cut Down Because A Scientist Couldn't Accurately Measure It

    In 1964, graduate student Donald R. Currey was studying the Little Ice Age by measuring the cores of various bristlecone pines in eastern Nevada. While coring one tree, Currey's boring instrument became stuck. So, with the permission of the US Forest Service, Currey had the tree cut down to take samples of it.

    Currey, to his everlasting regret, found that the tree was at least 4,862 years old, and possibly older. Later dubbed "Prometheus," this was the oldest, non-clonal tree ever discovered.

    However, in 2013, an older bristlecone pine was finally confirmed, at approximately 5,060 years old.

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