Steve May 1, 2021
did-you-know?-marie-curie’s-notebooks-are-still-radioactive

By Alexander McNamara and Matt Hambly

Marie Curie notebook

Holograph note-book containing notes of experiments, etc. on radioactive substances, with rough pen-drawings of apparatus.

Public Domain Mark/Wellcome Collection

Marie Curie was a physicist and chemist who became the first woman to win a Nobel prize. Along with her husband Pierre, she discovered two elements: polonium and radium. She also carried out pioneering research into radioactivity. At the time no one knew about the effects of radioactivity on the body, so they handled the elements they used in their research without any of the precautions or protective clothing we would use today. Curie even kept vials of what she was working on in her pockets or her desk drawers. More than 100 years after their discoveries, the couple’s notebooks are still so radioactive they have to be kept in lead-lined boxes and handled only while wearing protective clothing.

The largest dinosaur could have weighed 120 tonnes

Dinosaurs

Public life size model of Patagotitan dinosaur

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Josh Forwood/Alamy

Fossil remains of truly huge dinosaurs have been limited but after an astounding discovery in 2013, six specimens of a truly enormous beast, Patagotitan, started to emerge from the ground.

Since Patagotitan was discovered, it has often been described as the largest animal ever to walk the earth. Estimating the weight of these dinosaurs is not straightforward but recent analyses are in broad agreement. Patagotitan comes in at a whopping 55 tonnes, which is ten times the mass of an elephant, the largest living land animal.

However, a reappraisal of a dinosaur found in 1878 suggests it might have been twice as heavy as Patagotitan. The estimate is contentious, but if correct it would make Amphicoelias fragillimus, between 80 and 120 tonnes

On average, every square metre of land is home to 130 spiders

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Jumping spider (Hypaeusbenignus) seen in rainforest of Costa Rica.

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Recent studies of web building and other spider behaviours have revealed that these arachnids possess unexpected intelligence. Their cognitive abilities include foresight and planning, complex learning, memory and the capacity to be surprised. Today, more than 48,000 spider species have been identified. They are hugely adaptable, living everywhere from the most northerly islands of the Arctic to deserts, caves, seashores and bogs. The Himalayan jumping spider even flourishes at altitudes above 6 kilometres, making it one of the world’s highest residents. On average, every square metre of land on Earth is home to 130 spiders.

There is a scientific paper written on belly-button fluff

belly button lint

Male belly button

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Starting in 2005, Georg Steinhauser – then a chemist at the Vienna University of Technology – collected pieces of belly-button fluff from his navel and recorded their colour and weight. Over the next three years he collected 503 pieces of lint, weighing almost a gram in total.

Eventually, he sent some of his lint off for chemical analysis, and published his findings in a scientific journal. And all in the interests of answering the question: why do some people find so much fuzz in their belly buttons? The answer, it appears, depends on your clothing and how hairy your navel is.

Psilocybin is being investigated as a possible treatment for mental illness

magic mushrooms

Magic mushroom

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Psilocybin, the psychedelic drug produced by hundreds of species of magic mushrooms is being investigated as a possible treatment for mental illness, including anxiety related to advanced cancer and depression. In the body, psilocybin is converted into a slightly different molecule, psilocin, which acts on serotonin receptors in the brain. Small studies suggest that a single dose of psilocybin can lead to long-term reductions in depression symptoms, perhaps by interrupting patterns of negative thoughts and allowing the brain to remodel itself.

In 2013, Earth was hit by a meteorite weighing over half a tonne

meteorite

Meteors flying over the clouds 3d illustration

Alexyz3d/Getty Images

On 15 February 2013, high above Chelyabinsk, just to the east of the Ural Mountains in southern Russia, a meteorite exploded in the sky. Although most of it burned up in the atmosphere, several pieces made landfall, one of which smashed through the ice of the frozen Lake Chebarkul, leaving a hole seven metres wide. Recovered by a diver in October 2013, this meteorite weighed in at 570 kilograms. Astronomers concluded that the explosion was an asteroid 17 to 20 metres across with a mass of 10,000 tonnes. The initial blast, at an altitude of about 30 kilometres, carried an energy equivalent to 500 kilotonnes of TNT – about 30 Hiroshima bombs.

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