IFLS, the Sequel

photo: Andy Bruckner, NOAA, public domain

Since I’m still a bit of a blog whore and got lots of readers on my recent shark post, I can’t resist posting what I thought were the most astonishing scientific facts known (thus far), from a total of 2,100 submitted by readers of the IFLS page in response to their January 7th invite.

There were several on quantum theory and astrophysics that were amazing but impossible to get your head around. Of all the ideas submitted, these 20 are just, IMO, wow:

  1. Sharks existed before trees.
  2. There are more trees on earth than stars in our galaxy.
  3. Air conditioning was commercially available before sliced bread. Lighters came out before matchsticks.
  4. If you went into orbit around a black hole you could, in theory, sneak up on yourself and tap yourself on the shoulder.
  5. When you look at the sun, you’re seeing the photons that came from the centre of the sun 40,000 years ago, but they only reached the surface of the sun 8 minutes ago.
  6. Oxford University is 200 years older than the Aztecs, 300 years older than Machu Picchu, and 150 years older than the Easter Island heads.
  7. Octopuses apparently sometimes punch fish just for fun.
  8. The existence of dinosaurs was only discovered 200 years ago.
  9. The genome of an onion is five times as complex as that of a human.
  10. The variance between the genome of anthrax bacteria and that of cholera bacteria is much greater than the variance between the genome of humans and that of potatoes.
  11. Over time, ice cubes in your freezer will disappear, not by melting or contraction but by sublimating directly into gas because of low humidity in the freezer.
  12. Several animal species that once had stomachs (echidnas, platypuses and many fish species) have evolved to no longer have them.
  13. When a woman is breast feeding a sick child her body will actually sample the child’s saliva, create an immune response, and put antibodies in the breast milk specific to the child’s illness. Breast milk also contains cannabinoids.
  14. Cows are more closely related to whales than they are to horses.
  15. Moose dive up to 20’ deep in water to eat aquatic vegetation.
  16. We need the excretions of plants (oxygen) to live; or, stated another way, plants are raising us to use as compost.
  17. You, as an egg, existed within your grandmother before she gave birth to your mother.
  18. Elephants are the only animals with knees on their forelegs. But, also unusually, they don’t have ankles.
  19. Almost all “fossil fuels” are the remains of algae, bacteria, and plants, dating back more than 350 my. Animal skeletons are not nearly plentiful enough to constitute a viable source of energy, and are often petrified and hence fire-resistant and largely useless as a fuel source anyway.
  20. All plants and animals have genetic forks representing significant evolutionary shifts, except for turtles, which are essentially unchanged over 250 my.

And the most interesting question asked by respondents to the challenge: If the tomato is a fruit, does that mean ketchup is a smoothie?

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