Wonder on the Web

Issue 42: Links to amazing stuff.

Babies See What You Can’t

We can imagine what it’s like to see the world as a newborn: literally everything is new. Overwhelming, right? So when we get a little bit older (even five months), we develop ways to deal with this information overload. But it’s not just that we learn to “tune out” details that aren’t important—some image differences actually become invisible to us as we age. Scientists call this phenomenon perceptual constancy, and it’s an adaptive tool that helps us recognize an object as being the same even in different conditions (particularly in terms of lighting). It turns out that sometimes it can be good to see an illusion as reality.

Prehistoric Mystery Meat: It's What's for Dinner

Intrigue, exploits, laboratories, dinner parties, ancient code, “flesh-eating beasts”: this piece from The Atlantic on the 1951 Explorers Club dinner has it all. At the story’s center: A rumor that the club would be serving its members a slice of mammoth. We wouldn’t want to spoil the mystery, so we highly recommend you read it.

Meanwhile, you can’t order a nice mammoth steak at one of the National Park Service’s newest units. But the Waco Mammoth National Monument does have a new paleontological site where you can see in situ fossils of Columbian mammoths (bigger, Southern-dwelling, wool-less relatives of the woolly mammoths). The monument hosts the only recorded discovery of a nursery herd of these mammoths in the United States. Continuing excavations have already uncovered the fossils of around 25 mammoths, plus a prehistoric camel and other animals.

Walking on Water: USU Researchers Unravel Science of Skipping Spheres

Physics is especially fun if you work at the Splash Lab, Utah State University’s “Premiere Incompressible Fluids Lab.” The team’s latest project, published with the title “Elastic spheres can walk on water,” studied the science behind skipping stones and why it’s so much easier to get a good skip with an elastic ball. Their research provides more insight into the physics behind water skis, plastic boats, even the basilisk lizard. We’ll let engineering professor Tadd Truscott have the last word: “In general, I’ve always found that childish curiosity often leads to profound discovery.”

Kayaking Through Tham Khoun Xe

Even if spelunking’s not your thing, you’ll be awestruck by the mesmerizing scenes in this video from Ryan Deboodt, who specializes in “cave and adventure photography.” The filming was done over the course of a two day kayaking trip through Tham Khoun Xe, one of the world’s largest active river caves. Deboodt showcases the beauty of creation through real artistry in presentation—meditative music, soaring aerial shots, and time-lapse footage of the starry sky from the vantage point of the Xe Bang Fai River below.

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Also in this Issue

Issue 42 / February 18, 2016
  1. Editor's Note from February 18, 2016

    Issue 42: A surprise DNA test, an unexpected power plant, and a breakthrough chirp. /

  2. Around the World in 46 Chromosomes

    I expected to discover myself in my DNA test. But I found us all. /

  3. Why Solar Power Might Get a Lot More Green

    It turns out that Popeye was right all along. /

  4. Music of the Spheres

    When scientists detected gravitational waves, “astronomy grew ears.” /

  5. Little Blessing for My Floater

    “This tiny ruin in my eye” /

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