Author Archives: Charlie

Weirdest Animals of the Ocean Depths

wizard-of-amphioxus (1)

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Many creatures of the deep are not well known, and we feel that all of them deserve a bit more publicity (even if some of them have faces more suitable for radio than the internet). So, we present our top favourite weird sea creatures that you may not have heard of before.  7. Amphioxus Considering we filmed a video about Scottish wildlife, it’s only fair that the first animal on this list can be found in Scottish waters. Although, it looks like a fish, it is actually a distant relative. Amphioxus doesn’t have a backbone. I don’t mean it’s a cowardly animal, rather, it’s spinal chord is surrounded by  a rod of cells called a notochord. Scientists believe that this arrangement was also found in our earliest vertebrate ancestors. Again, no disrepect to the Amphioxus  but they are very simple creatures. They have no respiratory organs like gills (instead they breathe through their skin). They have no heart and no blood …

Faking it – the science of pretend orgasms


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One of the greatest insecurities many men have is that their lady might not be as pleased in the bedroom as she actually seems. In essence – she might be faking it. It is the women, however, who are the insecure ones , as new research shows faked orgasms are much more likely to occur when the women is afraid her partner might leave her.   Over 50% of women report having faked an orgasm at least once in their life, usually to satisfy their partner. Why should a pretend orgasm be pleasing for the man? The current belief about the female orgasm is that it evolved as a way for women to separate the men from the boys. Men with good genes – who were more attractive in other words – give more orgasms. Muscle contractions that take place during the orgasm help move sperm around to where it can more easily fertilise the waiting egg. This idea has become delightfully known as  the …

A new spin on computing


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Spin, as anyone who has ever heard Alistair Campbell speak, is a tricky thing to figure out. Quantum spin – a property many subatomic particles have – is equally confounding, but, if understood, could lead to a powerful new breed of computer technology called spintronics. Despite its name, quantum spin does not actually refer to a rotating ball such as the Earth. “The electron is not physically spinning around but it has a magnetic north pole and a magnetic south pole,” says Professor Philippe Jacquod, a researcher in spintronics at the University of Arizona. “Its spin depends on which pole is pointing up. It can point in either of two directions which we usually term up and down.” This property has aroused the attentions of computer engineers who recognise the similarity with traditional electronics, which use either the presence or absence of an electrical charge to represent binary data. Magnetic spin, with its similarly dual character could, if harnessed, allow …

Mississippi Delta


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It may look like a branching blood vessel, but this image is actually taken 700km above the surface of the Earth. It is a false-colour image of the Mississippi Delta – the coastal region where the river flows into the Gulf of Mexico. To highlight the edges of the branching pattern of river channels, vegetation in this image have been coloured red. While engineers have done their best to control the course of the Mississippi River with a series of levees and artificial channels, it is still difficult to control the 17000 cubic meters of water that flow out of the mouth of the river every second. On its 2320 mile journey from its source, the river has picked up a large amount of sediment. As the water slows as it enters the Gulf, this sediment can no longer be carried by the moving water, and so is deposited. It’s not a coincidence the image shares a striking similarity with …

Skate fish skin similar to human teeth

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This striking image is not the latest Hollywood alien, but actually a microscope image taken of an embryonic Little skate – a fish closely related to the shark family. Like sharks, the Little skate has a skeleton made not out of bone, but cartilage. They may seem very different to us, but these cartilaginous fish have a number of features which betray their close relationship to humans. For example, human embryos develop a skeleton made of cartilage first. Only later on is this added to with bone cells and calcium minerals in a process known as ossification. And, like the video points out we have very similar genes to the ones that control the denticles of the skate. Weirdly though, the genes that create the skate’s scales are not similar to the the ones responsible for our skin, but for our teeth. The structure of the denticle, or placoid scale, is strikingly similar. It has a central cavity filled with blood vessels, which is …

Deceiving desert looks like it is made of ice


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Maybe like me, you thought this image was of a mountain, climbing out of a snowy plain. In fact, it is a satellite photo taken of the Namib desert, in Namibia. The snowy plain is in fact a sand sea – a giant area filled with little but wind-blown sands. It has the appearance of ice and snow because the sand has a high level of reflectivity or albedo, bouncing the light back into space. The hills in the center of the image are devoid of sand, causing them to reflect different amounts of light back. This region of Africa has been arid for millions of years. The cause lies in its geography. Lying on the western coast of Africa, it sits next to the cool waters of the Atlantic Ocean. Air masses in the region get cooled by the ocean, precipitating out their rain over the waters. By the time the air masses travel over the land, they are …

Awesome proof we landed on the moon

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Surely this is every kid’s fantasy – to be able to drive an awesome buggy not just off-road, but off the planet. The driver of the buggy (or Lunar Roving Vehicle as it’s more properly called) is Fred W. Haise, Jr., Commander of the Apollo 16 mission to the moon. From the footage, you can tell it was taken on another world for a number of reasons. Firstly, the scale of the environment the LRV is driving in – it goes on for miles in every direction. So, either NASA built the world’s largest set to film this in or it actually did take place on the surface of the moon. Secondly, look at the dust that flies out from under the vehicle. Notice how it falls much slower than it normally would. That’s because the moon’s gravity is sixth of that on Earth.  Also look at the way the dust behaves. On Earth, dust kicked up from a vehicle would …

Quiz 3 – Space


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Week 3 of 5 of Unpopular Science’s famous science quizzes. This week the theme is space. For those that don’t know, after 5 weeks, whoever has the highest cumulative score will win a copy of  Tiger Wars by Steve Backshall*.  If you want your score to be tracked, add your name and email. If you just want a bit of fun, don’t worry. You can start the quiz by simply clicking Next. To see the leaders of the first two quizzes, see our leaderboard. You can still join in, by doing our first quiz here and our second here. * In the event of a tie, names will be drawn at random and the Editor’s decision is always final. One entry per person. Prize will be announced soon. Also, good luck!   More posts from Unpopular Science The biology of Harry Potter… I recently wrote an article outlining how biological concepts are communicated through the Pokémon games and it got me thinking: what other popular …

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