27 Science fictions that became science facts in 2012.
  1. Quadriplegic uses her mind to control her robotic arm.
  2. DARPA robot can traverse an obstacle course.
  3. Genetically modified silk is stronger than steel.
  4. DNA was photographed for the first time.
  5. Invisibility cloak technology took a huge leap forward.
  6. Spray-on skin.
  7. James Cameron reached the deepest known point in the ocean.
  8. Stem cells could extend human life by over 100 years.
  9. 3-D printer creates full-size house in one session.
  10. Self-driving cars are legal in Nevada, Florida, and California.
  11. Voyager I leaves the solar system.
  12. Custom Jaw transplant created with 3-D printer.
  13. Rogue planet[s] floating through space.
  14. Chimera monkey’s created from multiple embryos.
  15. Artificial leaves generate electricity. 
  16. Google goggles bring the internet everywhere.
  17. Higgs-Boson Particle discovery.
  18. Flexible, inexpensive solar panels challenge fossil fuel.
  19. Diamond planet discovered.
  20. Eye implants give sight to the blind.
  21. Wales barcodes DNA of every flowering plant species in the country.
  22. First unmanned commercial space flight docks with the ISS.
  23. Ultra-flexible “willow” glass will allow for curved electronic devices.
  24. NASA begins using robotic exoskeletons.
  25. Human brain is hacked.
  26. First planet with four suns discovered.
  27. Microsoft patented the “Holodeck”.

Learn more about each of these scientific break-throughs and discoveries here.


The Science of Fortune-Telling Fish: A blast from your past.

[Images via x & x.]

Most of us remember at one time or another, during summer camp, or in science class, getting those flimsy red fish that told you your fortune, or at least a generalized summary of your current personality. Kids, and adults alike, captivated by a flailing cellophane red fish in the palm of their warm hands. 

So what makes them work? Some people might think it’s due to body heat, or even electrical currents, but instead it’s a surprisingly simple solution based on the fish’s chemical composition.The cellophane used to make the fortune telling fish is a hygroscopic material, which simply means water-finding material. It is made of a polymer called sodium polyacrylate, the molecules of the sodium polyacrylate absorb water, or sweat from the user’s hands, and this changes their shapes. As the fish absorbs the water it moves through very small pores in the cellophane by a process that is known as capillary action. The cellophane itself swells due to this reaction which causes the fish to curl up and even “dance” or “wiggle” because it is super light and also very susceptible to the slightest air currents. 

Of course everyone’s hands are different, so the process happens differently for each person, influencing the myth of distinct ‘fortune telling’. Because the sodium polyacrylate absorbs moisture so easily, if you were to place it in water, and then try to use it on your hand, it wouldn’t work. But, if you dried it out, and tried it again, it would work perfectly, thus rendering it reusable, which is great when you’re trying to keep some kids busy! 

Fun fact: Sodium polyarcylate is the same thing used to make diapers so absorbent.

Take It Further via Steve Spangler Science:

Now that you understand the scientific properties behind Fortune Telling Fish, you can conduct some experiments with them.

  • Try setting Fortune Telling Fish on different areas of your body like the tops of your hands, your arms, or even the tops of your feet. The difference amounts of sweat glands and moisture can have direct effects on how the fish react.
  • Do you think the fish will react differently if your palms are a different temperature? Test the Fortune Telling Fish on your hands after holding them in a freezer or in front of a space heater.
  • Test different surfaces to see if Fortune Telling Fish react on them. Who knows? Maybe the fish will pull moisture from countertops, desks, or keyboards.

How Do I Create an Experiment? | Border Image Credit:  NASAESA, the Hubble SM4 ERO Team, and ST-ECF, Hubble

Usually when attempting an experiment, one will follow the steps of the scientific method, described below, even if some engineering is involved.

1. Make observations.

2. Propose a question.

3. Do thorough background research. 

4. State the problem. 

5. Construct a hypothesis and make predictions of the results.

6. Design and execute an experiment to test the hypothesis. During the experiment you will be basically controlling and measuring variables, which are divided into three types, explained below.

  • Controlled variable - You may have as many controlled variables as you wish. You will attempt to keep these variables constant and unchanging, so that if you have to re-do the experiment [which you most likely will because very few experiments go completely right the first time] you will be able to reproduce controlled variables exactly, or as closely as possible to how they were in the original experiment. 
  • Independent variable - In most experiments there is only a singular independent variable, which is controlled by the experimenter[s]. During the experiment[s] you will control the independent variable and change it to observe the results. 
  • Dependent variable - This variable depends on the independent variable, thus it’s title. You will focus upon this variable to see how it reacts in lieu of the change[s] of the independent variable. [This is the main variable you will focus on measuring.]

7. Collect results, analyze the data, and draw your conclusions. After collecting your results and analyzing them, do you accept or reject the hypothesis? If you choose to reject the original hypothesis because the results do not support it, go back and revise the hypothesis, and start over. If you’ve accepted your hypothesis because the results support it, feel free to draw conclusions.

There are varied steps depending on the type of experiment you are creating, and what your purpose of said experiment is. If the purpose of your experiment is to observe the way something works you will be using the scientific method, which I described above. If you are attempting to create and/or invent something through your experiment, [eg. products, experiences, environments, computer programs, etc.] then you will be using the engineering design process.

  • If you don’t know which process you should use check out this simple guide to comparing the engineering design process and the scientific method here
  • If you decided to the engineering design process is a better fit for your experiment, you can read the detailed steps and examples via NASA here.
  • A detailed list of steps and examples of the scientific method via NASA can be found here.

Why is it Dark at Night?

Elements in Fireworks via Milky way scientists via  By Anne Marie Helmenstine, Ph.D.

Fireworks are a traditional part of many celebrations, including Independence Day. There is a lot of physics and chemistry involved in making fireworks. Their colors come from the different temperatures of hot, glowing metals and from the light emitted by burning chemical compounds. Chemical reactions propel them and burst them into special shapes. Here’s an element-by-element look at what is involved in your average firework:

  • Aluminum - Aluminum is used to produce silver and white flames and sparks. It is a common component of sparklers.
  • Antimony - Antimony is used to create firework glitter effects.
  • Barium - Barium is used to create green colors in fireworks, and it can also help stabilize other volatile elements.
  • Calcium - Calcium is used to deepen firework colors. Calcium salts produce orange fireworks.
  • Carbon - Carbon is one of the main components of black powder, which is used as a propellent in fireworks. Carbon provides the fuel for a firework. Common forms include carbon black, sugar, or starch.
  • Chlorine - Chlorine is an important component of many oxidizers in fireworks. Several of the metal salts that produce colors contain chlorine.
  • Copper - Copper compounds produce blue colors in fireworks.
  • Iron - Iron is used to produce sparks. The heat of the metal determines the color of the sparks.
  • Lithium - Lithium is a metal that is used to impart a red color to fireworks. Lithium carbonate, in particular, is a common colorant.
  • Magnesium - Magnesium burns a very bright white, so it is used to add white sparks or improve the overall brilliance of a firework.
  • Oxygen - Fireworks include oxidizers, which are substances that produce oxygen in order for burning to occur. The oxidizers are usually nitrates, chlorates, or perchlorates. Sometimes the same substance is used to provide oxygen and color.
  • Phosphorus - Phosphorus burns spontaneously in air and is also responsible for some glow-in-the-dark effects. It may be a component of a firework’s fuel.
  • Potassium - Potassium helps to oxidize firework mixtures. Potassium nitrate, potassium chlorate, and potassium perchlorate are all important oxidizers.
  • Sodium - Sodium imparts a gold or yellow color to fireworks, however, the color may be so bright that it masks less intense colors.
  • Sulfur - Sulfur is a component of black powder. It is found in a firework’s propellant/fuel.
  • Strontium - Strontium salts impart a red color to fireworks. Strontium compounds are also important for stabilizing fireworks mixtures.
  • Titanium - Titanium metal can be burned as powder or flakes to produce silver sparks.
  • Zinc - Zinc is used to create smoke effects for fireworks and other pyrotechnic devices.

Learn more about fireworks by clicking the following links:

Your Autumn Guide To Apples By: Colin Lecher | Popular Science | Image Credit: Sean Seidell - Click image to enlarge. 

Apples are weird. Here are their weird names.

The Baldwin. The Northern Spy. Apples are almost always named after old, moneyed English people and books they would read. And now that fall is here, it’s basicallyDownton Abbey.

Sean Seidell, an information designer who previously taught us about chocolate and also got us super wasted, created this infographic of 41 apples, organized by taste and recommended use.

“In my research I learned that there are more than 7,500 unique varieties of apples worldwide. Narrowing down to just 41 apples was a challenge,” Seidell wrote in an email to Popular Science. “I tried to include as many popular apples as I could while still leaving room for exceptional apples that have amazing flavors such as the Winesap with a unique tart, spicy, vinous flavor or the all-purpose, excellent tasting, but not a beauty queen, Newtown Pippin.” But at least it didn’t get stuck with a name like Esopus Spitzenburg.


See the world through the eyes of a catBy Shaunacy Ferro | PopSci | Image Credit: Nickolay Lamm

An awesome, disorienting look at kitty vision.

What does the world look like through a cat’s eyes? The basic structure of feline eyes is pretty similar to what humans have, but cats' vision has adapted to very different purposes, so the world they see looks familiar, but isn’t quite the same as ours. As predators, they need to be able to sense movement well in very low light. To make that work, they have to sacrifice some of the finer detail and color perception that humans have.

Artist Nickolay Lamm, who has previously brought us visualizations of urban heat islands and sea level rise projections, took a look at the world through kitty eyes for his latest project. Lamm consulted with ophthalmologists at the University of Pennsylvania’s veterinary school and a few other animal eye specialists to create these visualizations comparing how cats see with how humans do. How we see things is represented on top; how a cat standing next to us would see the same scene appears below. 

Some of the cat-eye facts he took into account: The blurry edges of the pictures represent peripheral vision. Humans have a 20 degree range of peripheral vision on each side. Cats can see 30 degrees on each side. Their visual field overall is just bigger—they see 200 degrees compared to our 180 degrees.

Cat vision isn’t so great at a distance. What we can see sharply from 100 feet away, they need to see at 20 feet. From what researchers can tell, cats can see blue and yellow colors, but not red, orange or brown, which is why all the images look a little washed out. Your kitty sees in Instagram, it seems. Not so good for looking at far-away, lush landscapes.

But the last image above shows how much better cats’ night vision is.

Cats can see some six to eight times better than us in the dark, partially because they have more rods, a type of photoreceptor in the retina. Their elliptical pupils can open very wide in dim light, but contract to a tiny slit to protect the sensetive retina from bright light. And like other animals that evolved to hunt at night, cats have a tapetum lucidum, a reflective layer of tissue that bounces light that hits the back of the eye out through the retina again for a second chance to be absorbed by the rods. It’s also what gives them those terrifying glowing eyes in pictures.

Now go stare deeply into the eyes of a beloved feline.


British Columbia’s Science World [TELUS World of Science] museum provides some unique scientific facts through their public advertisements. See more, including some videos like the one below, here and here.

Captions of images from left to right, starting at top:

  • You fart a balloon’s worth of gas a day.
  • Your body contains enough carbon to fill 9,000 pencils.
  • Cat pee glows under black light.
  • You have 20sq. feet of skin.
  • You swallow a litre of snot every day.
  • Mosquitoes love the colour blue.
  • You see better when you’re scared.
  • A blue whale’s heart is the size of this car
  • Two most common fears: clowns and heights.
  • You eat 430 bugs every year.


Time to turn your brain to mush with these amazing new science facts!
7 Man-Made Substances that Laugh in the Face of Physics Read more: 7 Man-Made Substances that Laugh in the Face of Physics.

The universe is full of weird substances like liquid metal and whatever preservative keeps Larry King alive. But mankind isn’t happy to accept the weirdness of nature when we can create our own abominations of science that, due to the miracle of technology, spit in nature’s face and call it retarded.

That’s why we came up with…

#7. Ferrofluids

What do you get when you suspend nanoparticles of iron compounds in a colloidal solution of water, oil and a surfactant? Did you guess Zima? The real answer is ferrofluids, though you should be proud if you just knew what “surfactant” was.

A ferrofluid is a liquid that reacts to magnetic fields in trippy ways that make you think that science is both magical and potentially evil. They have multiple real world applications, many which are pretty badass, and none of which you will care about after seeing this:

Tell us that didn’t look like the birth of the most sinister dildo ever.

What happens is that when a magnetic field is applied to the fluid, the particles of iron compound inside align to it. Once that happens, the fluid becomes a fluid-solid. That’s right, ferrofluids are first generation T-1000s, only metallic black and thus 10 times as badass.

What the Hell is it Used For?

Ferrofluids have a lot of pretty mundane uses, from lubricating and protecting hard drives to providing heat conduction in speakers, but their primary use is in looking cool.

The ability to become solid or liquid with the application of a magnetic field also makes them perfect for computer assisted shock absorbers in Ferraris; NASA uses them for high-tech flight altitude assistance, and like a gyroscope in spacecraft. The Air Force uses their magnetic field absorbing properties to make aircraft invisible to radar and we like to think someday they’ll be able to make super hot, futuristic robot dominatrices that we can store in a cup in the pantry when not in use.

#6. Aerogel

It’s not the brick in the picture up there, it’s the stuff under the brick. Aerogel, also called “Frozen Smoke,” is very much like Ben Affleck’s appeal: practically non-existent, but still there somehow. It is 99 percent air, with the other percent being silicon dioxide or fudge or whatever, and looks like fucking magic. Its structure makes it a piss-poor conductor and thus makes it an excellent insulator. In other words, aerogel is also fireproof.

In addition to being awesomely heat resistant, aerogel can also hold insane amounts of weight proportionate to the size of the aerogel being used, up to 4000 times, which shames regular air something fierce. To put it in totally nonsensical terms, if air had a party, while aerogel was busy getting hummers in the back, loser oxygen would be making sure everyone was using a coaster. That’s how much cooler aerogel is. Fuck you, oxygen.

What the Hell is it Used For?

The suits astronauts use are filled with it to keep the cold of space from, you know, killing them. More transparent aerogels are being made to insulate windows, or the world’s lightest ping-pong ball, as you can see in this clip at 0:36:

Every once in a while, science rules.

#5. Perfluorocarbons

Remember that scene in The Abyss, before you fell asleep, when Ed Harris was put in a diving suit that was filled with pink goo that he then breathed? It turns out James Cameron wasn’t blowing pink goo-laced smoke up our ass; that stuff really exists. Perfluorocarbons are fluids that contain shitloads of oxygen, making it possible to breathe liquid. They originally tested it back in the 60s on mice, with a certain degree of success… sort of.

The mice ended up dying after being submerged in it for a few hours, possibly due to the gut wrenching horror of drowning, but not dying, while trying to scream in their tiny mouse voices. Rather than manning up to the fact that breathing liquid destroyed the mice’s diaphragms, the scientists blamed the deaths on impurities in the liquid (most likely horrified mouse shit).

What the Hell is it Used For?

Aside from slow, tortuous rodent murder, perfluorocarbons are used for ultrasounds, and even artificial blood. But before you go out and fill your pool with some for a leisurely four-hour swim at the bottom, be aware they are also awful pollutants. The worst offenders have a half life of 50,000 years and warm the atmosphere 6,500 times more effectively than carbon dioxide, and God knows how many cow farts that would be. Supervillains of the world, we hope you are taking notes.

#4. Elastic Conductors

Odds are pretty good that some of you are reading this on an LCD screen while the rest of us are trying to make it out on the 13-inch monochrome monitor that came with our garage sale Commodore 64. But even with the LCD, some laptops still weigh over 10-pounds. And while that doesn’t seem like much, the level of muscle atrophy experienced by the average Warcraft addict makes that weight a thousand times heavier. However, elastic conductors could fix that and make smuggling your porn collection into church even easier.

Also, oooohhh.

Elastic conductors are made of “ionic liquid” mixed with carbon nanotubes. We shrugged when we read that too, but scientists are very excited about it because you can run a current through it and it will stretch to double its original length, and snap back into place as if nothing happened. The point being you can wind up with the roll out, paper thin computer pictured above.

What the Hell is it Used For?

In addition to making screens that can be rolled up and stuck in our back pocket, a lot of scientists and doctors want to use elastic conductors to make flexible-lensed cameras… to be fitted to the back of the eyeball.

Girlfriends the world over will actually start recording their boyfriend’s every word and guys at urinals will become infinitely more paranoid if they catch another guy’s eye. On the plus side, the market for hidden camera porn will probably experience an unprecedented explosion in content.

#3. Non-Newtonian Fluids

A non-Newtonian liquid, in practical terms, is a liquid that turns solid when sufficient stress is applied. Like, say, the impact of feet:

They have the power to make dorks walk on water like Jesus (which is exceptionally cool for about the first 30 seconds of the video, and then sad for the remainder).

What the Hell is it Used For?

Our friends in the military want to use them for body armor. The idea is that the fluids will allow fabrics to be soft and supple, but harden on the impact of a bullet. It would be like wearing a Jell-O sweater that doubles as a bulletproof vest.

#2. Transparent Alumina

You may remember from Star Trek IV that Scotty orders some transparent aluminum so that they can steal whales for the future (it made a lot more sense at the time). Anyway, in the movie the material baffled the present-day engineers he described it to, since it’s a miracle substance from centuries in the future.

In reality, transparent alumina has been around for a while. Originally, it was just boring old sapphires and rubies (both are transparent aluminum crystals), but as we have seen, mankind is not happy to let nature have the last laugh and we are now able to make transparent alumina, which is a clear metal that is as strong as steel. Our dreams of building Wonder Woman’s invisible jet have taken another glorious step toward reality.

What the Hell is it Used For?

The military (again) wants it for see-through armor, probably so that every time a soldier standing behind a clear wall gets shot at and flinches in life-flashing-before-the-eyes terror, his buddies are justified for punching him and calling “two for flinching.”

Also, something with lasers.

Transparent alumina could usher in a new world where windows deflect bullets, or airplane windows don’t shatter when they hit a goose at Mach 4. The downside being that if they make car windows out of it, people who don’t wear their seat belts will no longer live the dream of being “thrown clear” of the accident, and more likely wind up as “that guy whose nose shot out his ass.”

#1. Carbon Nanotubes

These things are a miracle material that will someday power our homes, launch us into space, and make love to us whenever and wherever we want. That last one isn’t planned yet, but it better be. Carbon nanotubes were the accidental leftovers of an arc-welder experiment, and they have nerds and scientists foaming at the mouth with their possible uses.

They are the strongest material ever found by mankind. Ever. Even stronger than Lou Ferrigno and he was the fucking Hulk, man. A hair-thick strand can bear the weight of an entire car, assuming it wouldn’t cut straight through the chassis. Although that would possibly be even cooler than lifting a car with artificial hair.

There is the small, some might say major, issue that carbon nanotubes are only microns long, and pasting them together end to end has so far proven impossible. But physics can’t hold back mankind, and recently a New Hampshire based company made a man-sized blanket out of nanotubes, showing that science will always say “Fuck you” to Mother Nature when she sets boundaries.

What the Hell is it Used For?

So far, they have managed to make super-small computer processors and low-resistance circuitry. In the future, all bets are off. Everything from tiny supercomputers to even tinier, super-efficient batteries, to more efficient solar panels to paper-thin materials that can stop a bullet, to freaking space elevators.

Sunglasses hinges that never break, toasters that get the toast right every time, TV remotes where the numbers don’t wear off the buttons, ceiling fans that don’t vibrate. Bags of chips that never get stuck in the vending machine. Carbon nanotubes will fucking solve it all.


Ever wondered how food tastes in space?

Canadians have a well-known love affair with maple syrup. So, naturally, when Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield took the reins as commander of the International Space Station, it was only a matter of time until the matter of Canadian cuisine came up. But what does food taste like in space? One student from Airdrie, Alberta asked that question during a "Let’s Talk Science” event sponsered by the Canadian Space Agency. And Commander Hadfield has the answers.

The most interesting thing to take away from this video – other than the endless pleasure of watching objects float around in zero gravity – is Hadfield’s description of what sounds like an outer space-induced head cold. The human body is so used to the pressures of gravity that it is constantly working to keep blood in the upper part of the body. But in space, the lack of gravity means blood is free to flow in any direction, something the body has to adjust to, resulting in excess fluids in the head. The result is stuffy sinuses and food that, “doesn’t taste like anything.”

After a few days the body adapts, and Hadfield assures the student audience that food tastes just the same as it does on Earth. He then proceeds to break out the contents of a Canadian goody bag recently brought to the station. Maple syrup in a tube? What will the Canadian Space Agency think of next?“

Mars Rovers Spirit & Opportunity by the Numbers. | Image Credit: NASA’s Mars Exploration Program


  • Life Span: 6 years
  • Raw Images: 128,000
  • Miles Traveled: 4.8
  • Degrees by Steepest Slope: 30


  • Life Span: 10 years
  • Raw Images: 187,000
  • Miles Traveled: 24
  • Degrees by Steepest Slope: 31

• See more Spirit & Opportunity Rover Highlights here.
• View Mars Rover maps here.
• Learn more about all the Mars Rovers here.

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines astronomy as “the science of objects and matter beyond the Earth’s atmosphere”, and astrology as “divination based upon the supposed influence of the stars upon human events”. Now let’s break this down below, not too much, but enough for you to see, through pure language, how obvious the difference is. 

Astronomy: “The science”[also defined as “an area of knowledge that is an object of study”, or “knowledge covering general truths or the operation of general laws especially as obtained through the scientific method”. Scientific method is, to put very simply, “finding and stating a problem, the collection of facts through observation and experiment, and the making and testing of ideas that need to be proven right or wrong.”] “of objects and matter beyond the Earth’s atmosphere."  So, to generally state, astronomy is a science based off of facts and findings, that are continually tested until proven true or false, concerning very real and solid objects and matter within the universe outside of our own planet. 

Astrology: "Divination” [defined as “the art or practice of using omens or magic powers to foretell the future”] “based upon the supposed” [with supposed defined as “mistakenly believed”] “influence of the stars upon human events.” Which is very simply stated as practicing with superstitious and immensely exaggerated “magic” and/or “omens” to make generalized, and baseless, predictions for universally microscopic humans depending on our perceived position[s] of the [annual and daily] stars, constellations, and “heavenly bodies” of our night skies/celestial sphere.

In comparison, on one hand you have a science concerning the stars, and other celestial bodies, outside of Earth’s own atmosphere and how they exist and coexist within their respected “systems”. On the other hand you have an “art”, of sorts, based upon superstitious and fallible predictions of individual human lives that are assumably determined by the stars and planets in relation to their positions within our skies. 

In ancient times astrology was so commonplace during the beginnings of astronomy that astronomers and astrologers were usually one in the same, and “well versed” in both subjects and practices. Although nowadays, thanks to the continuous advancements of  the science world and our growing knowledge of the universe, astrology may seem a bit silly and childish, but it’s quite easy to understand, when looking into the origins of astronomy, why astrology was originally so popular and quickly accepted by our ancestors. 

The sun and moon in our sky clearly influence our lives in many ways, from determining seasons to causing the tides, as well as determining the daily amount daylight and darkness. The lunar phases even happen to coincide with many biological cycles, such as crops. Of course, when looking into the night sky, our ancestors observed the planets alongside the plethora of stars, including our own, and to them it seemed reasonable to assume they influenced our lives in just as many ways, if not more. Unbeknownst to them, their initial assumptions were correct, aside from positions of stars and planets directly effecting the social/personal aspects of human life, and would remain undiscovered for many years until our understanding of our solar system, and astronomy itself, evolved on many levels. 

Now we recognize the ideas of things like energy and gravity that explain the influences of our Sun and Moon, which also prove, with modern science, that the other planets are too far from us astronomically to have any significant infleunce on our own planet, or anything biological including ourselves and our lives. The data is shown below via this post here:


Here is a table of tidal forces of the Sun, Moon, and Planets. With the Sun’s tidal force equal to 1.00, the following values are given in Thompson (1981):

  • Moon: 2.21
  • Sun: 1.00
  • Venus: 0.000113
  • Jupiter: 0.0000131
  • Mars: 0.0000023
  • Mercury: 0.0000007
  • Saturn: 0.0000005
  • Uranus: 0.000000001
  • Neptune: 0.000000002
  • Pluto: 0.0000000000001


Others have proposed conventional causal agents such as electro-magnetism within an intricate web of planetary fields and resonances in the solar system. Scientists dismiss magnetism as an implausible explanation, since the magnetic field of a large but distant planet such as Jupiter is far smaller than that produced by ordinary household appliances.

Astrology has fallen by the wayside and has become a children’s topic compared to modern scientific endeavours and achievements. With the constant testing and re-testing associated with true science, astrology fails to meet the constantly-questioning requirements of scientific thinking and skepticism. 

While it’s roots are easily understandable, considering the limited resources our ancestors had access to, you can now hopefully see why scientists, teachers, and science enthusiasts alike get upset when one mistakes astronomy for astrology and vice versa. With the ever advancing evolution of science, particularly astronomy, astrology became known as a “pseudo-science” of laughable proportions due to it’s archaic basis that did not evolve respectably over the course of history through solid scientific methods. Now that you know the difference, I hope you continue to improve your own personal methods of scientific thinking, questioning, and skepticism, as well as straying from taking pseudo-sciences such as astrology as seriously as many people mistakenly still do. 

The Science of Flaming Farts. By Esther Inglis-Arkell | io9 | Image Credit: Gif made by The Science of Reality, video via Youtube.

You know you’ve always wondered why farting on a lighter causes a brief burst of flame. Believe it or not, there is rarely any methane in farts, and so methane is not what’s burning when farts are ignited. Find out what does, and why some farts ignite and others don’t.

It’s a commonly-held belief that farts contain methane, which is why they smell and they can ignite. And this would be true, if people were cows. Actually, the gut bacteria of humans generally don’t produce methane. There are certain kinds, which live in a certain percentage of the population, that do produce methane, but it’s far from in the majority of farts.

What actually makes it through your body will depend on many things, including what you put in. Eggs, cauliflower, and meats are often more sulfur-rich and so add a little hydrogen sulfide to the final, ah, product. As for the rest, the largest component is often nitrogen, which is already a good portion of the atmosphere, and so doesn’t ignite all that readily.

What will? Mostly it’s the hydrogen in the hydrogen sulfide that’s released. Occasionally, if the person does have the lucky gut that produces methane, it will burn along with the hydrogen. In order to get the most flammable fart, people will generally eat sulfur-rich foods. It’s not a good idea to hold them in and store them up, as to those who have tested the technique a held-in fart is less likely to catch fire.

A typical breakdown of the chemical composition of farts via’s Chemistry section:

  • Nitrogen: 20-90%
  • Hydrogen: 0-50% (flammable)
  • Carbon dioxide: 10-30%
  • Oxygen: 0-10%
  • Methane: 0-10% (flammable)

Oh, but don’t go for the matches just yet. About a quarter of the fart igniters get burned in the process. There is no way to stress how little anyone likes to get burned in that area. Worse, the ignition of the released fart can ignite gasses higher up the intestinal tract, and sometimes, high in the intestinal tract, there will be swallowed oxygen. Oxygen is swallowed daily, but generally doesn’t make it out of the body because it is so readily absorbed into cells.

Oxygen is also likely to ignite explosively if heated, and this has happened during surgical procedures carried out in the intestinal area – though there is no record of it happening when someone tried to ignite their farts. Still, it’s a bad idea to take even the most remote chance on an internal Hindenburg. Just let this knowledge seep into your mind, and keep your downstairs area well clear of it.

Via Fart Sounds
Biggest Scientific Breakthroughs of 2011.

“From law-violating subatomic particles to entirely new, earth-like worlds, 2011 was an incredible year for scientific discovery. In the past 12 months, scientific breakthroughs in fields ranging from archaeology to structural biochemistry have allowed humanity to rewrite history, and enabled us to open to brand new chapters in our development as a species.

Here are some of our favorites.”

 The world’s lowest density material

With a density of less than one milligram per cubic centimeter (that’s about 1000 times less dense than water), thissurprisingly squishy material is so light-weight, it can rest on the seed heads of a dandelion, and is lighter than even the lowest-density aerogels. The secret — to both its negligible weight and its resiliency — is the material’s lattice-like structural organization, one that the researchers who created it liken to that of the Eiffel Tower.

"Feeling” objects with a brain implant

It could be the first step towards truly immersive virtual reality, one where you can actually feel the computer-generated world around you. An international team of neuroengineers has developed a brain-machine interface that’s bi-directional — that means you could soon use a brain implant not only to control a virtual hand, but to receive feedback that tricks your brain into “feeling” the texture of a virtual object.

Already demonstrated successfully in primates, the interface could soon allow humans to use next-generation prosthetic limbs (or even robotic exoskeletons) to actually feel objects in the real world.

Full size

Astronomers get their first good look at giant asteroid Vesta

In July of 2011, NASA’s Dawn spacecraftentered the orbit of Vesta — the second largest body in our solar system’s main asteroid belt. Just a few days later, Dawn spiraled down into orbit. Upon reaching an altitude of approximately 1700 miles, the spacecraft began snapping pictures of the protoplanet’s surface, revealing geophysical oddities like the triplet of craters on Vesta’s northern hemisphere — nicknamed “Snowman”— featured here. Dawn recently maneuvered into its closest orbit (at an altitude averaging just 130 miles). It will continue orbiting Vesta until July of 2012, when it will set a course for Ceres, the largest of the main belt asteroids.

NASA’s Kepler Mission changes how we see ourselves in the Universe

2011 was a fantastic year for NASA’s Kepler Mission, which is charged with discovering Earth-like planets in the so-called “habitable zone” of stars in the Milky Way. Kepler scientists announced the discovery of the first circumbinary planet (i.e. a planet with two suns, just like Tatooine); located the first two known Earth-sized exoplanetsquadrupled the number of worlds known to exist beyond our solar system; and spied Kepler-22b — the most Earth-like planet we’ve encountered yet. And here’s the really exciting bit: Kepler is just getting warmed up.

Heartbeat-powered nanogenerators could soon replace batteries

In a few years, you may never have to recharge your phone again — provided part of you keeps moving. Back in March,scientists announced the world’s first viable “nanogenerator” — a tiny computer chip that gets its power from body movements like snapping fingers or - eventually - your heartbeat.

The researchers can already use the technology to power a liquid crystal display and an LED, and claim that their technology could replace batteries for small devices like MP3 players and mobile phones within a few years.

Neuroscientists reconstruct the movies in your mind

Back in September, UC Berkeley neuroscientists demonstrated their ability to use advanced brain-imaging techniques to turn activity in the visual cortex of the human brain into digital images. So far, the researchers are only able to reconstruct neural equivalents of things people have already seen — but they’re confident that other applications — like tapping into the mind of a coma patient, or watching a video recording of your own dreams — are well within reach.

100,000-year-old art kit found in South Africa

Researchers investigating Blombos Cave in Cape Town, South Africa uncovered the oldest known evidence of painting by early humans. Archaeologists discovered two “kits,” for mixing and forming ocher — a reddish pigment believed to be used as a dye. The find pushes back the date by which humans were practicing complex art approximately 40,000 years, all the way back to 100,000 years ago.

Online gamers solve a decade-old HIV puzzle in three weeks

Foldit is a computer game that presents players with the spatial challenge of determining the three-dimensional structures of proteins, the molecules comprising the workforce that runs your entire body. In diseases like HIV, proteins known as retroviral proteases play a key role in a virus’s ability to overwhelm the immune system and proliferate throughout the body.

For years, scientists have been working to identify what these retroviral proteases look like, in order to develop drugs that target these enzymes and stymie the progression of deadly viral diseases like AIDS. It was a scientific puzzle that managed to confound top-tier research scientists for over a decade… but Foldit gamers were able to pull it off in just three weeks.

“The ingenuity of game players,” said biochemist Firas Khatib, “is a formidable force that, if properly directed, can be used to solve a wide range of scientific problems.”

Full size

Ancient settlement upends our perception of human evolution

Tools discovered during an excavation in the United Arab Emirates were found to date back at least 100,000 years, indicating that our ancestors may have left Africa as early as 125,000 years ago. Genetic evidence has long suggested that modern humans did not leave Africa until about 60,000 years ago, but these tools appear to be the work of our ancestors and not other hominids like Neanderthals. That being said, our understanding of how and when humans really evolved continues to take shape…

Full size

Confirmed: Neanderthal DNA survives in Modern Humans

Some of the first hard genetic evidence that early Homo sapiens got busy with Homo neandertalensis actually came in 2010, but it was experimental findings published in July of 2011 that really drove the point home. But don’t worry — there’s still plenty of research to be done on everything from the details of human/neanderthal culture, to the enduring significance of Neanderthal genes in the modern human genome, to the mysterioushumanoids, Denisovans.

IBM unveils brain-like “neurosynaptic” chips

Back in February, IBM’s Watson made history by trouncing Jeopardy champs Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter in an intimidating display of computer overlord-dom. But to compare Watson’s computing power to the complexity of a brain would still constitute a pretty epic oversimplification of what it means to “think” like a human, as the way each one processes information could not be more different.

Watson is impressive, to be sure, but in August, IBM researchers brought out the big guns: a revolutionary new chip design that, for the first time, actually mimics the functioning of a human brain.

NASA launches the most advanced Martian rover in history

Currently in transit to the Red Planet, NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory — aka theCuriosity rover — was launched on November 26th. The rover is scheduled to touch down on Mars inside the mysterious Gale crater in August of 2012. Once it’s made landfall, Curiosity will make use of one of the most advanced scientific payloads we’ve ever put in space to assess whether Mars ever was, or is still today, an environment able to support life — a mission that could redefine the way we think about life in our solar system and beyond.

A device that lets you see through walls

Radar systems that can see through walls (aka “wall-through” radar systems) aren’t unheard of, it’s just that most of them are burdened by limitations (like a prohibitively low frame rate, or a short range of operation) — that make their use in real world settings pretty impractical. But that could soon change in a big way. The team of MIT researchers featured in this video has developed a device that can provide its operators with real-time video of what’s going on behind an eight-inch-thick concrete wall — and it can do it from up to 60 feet away.

Electronics and biometric sensors that you wear like a temporary tattoo

Engineers John Rogers and Todd Coleman say that their epidermal electronic system (EES) — a skin-mountable, electronic circuit that stretches, flexes, and twists with the motion of your body — represents a huge step towards eroding the distinction between hard, chip-based machines and soft, biological humans.

Full size

Culling senescent cells postpones age-related disease in mice

In the latest effort to make mice immortal, researchers revealed that flushing out so-called senescent (aka old and defunct) cells from the bodies of mice genetically modified to die of heart disease extended the health span of the mice significantly. If you can imagine taking a pill that could stave off the effects of age related disease, then you can appreciate why science and industry alike have demonstrated considerable interest in these and other age-related findings. [Photo by Jan M. Van Deursen Via NYT]

Scientists engineer highly virulent strains of bird flu

Two independent teams of researchers recently engineered highly virulent strains of H5N1, more commonly known as the avian flu virus. On one hand, the researchers’ work is absolutely vital, because it allows us to get a head start, so to speak, on understanding viruses that could one day pose a serious risk to public health. On the other hand, there are many who fear that findings from such research could be used to malevolent ends were they to wind up in the wrong hands. Included in the latter camp is the federal government, which went to unprecedented ends to make sure that the experimental methods behind creating the strains never made it to the pages of either Nature or Science.

Regardless of your position, the development of these strains raises important questions about the nature of dual-use research, transparency, and censorship.

The hunt for the Higgs boson nears its conclusion

It’s been a long, long time coming, but earlier this month, representatives from the Large Hadron Collider’s two largest experiments — ATLAS and CMS —announced that both research teams had independently uncovered signals that point to the appearance of the Higgs boson — the long-sought sub-atomic particle thought to endow all other particles with mass. “Given the outstanding performance of the LHC this year, we will not need to wait long for enough data and can look forward to resolving this puzzle in 2012,” explained ATLAS’s Fabiola Gianotti. If the puzzle is resolved with the discovery of the Higgs, it will represent one of the greatest unifying discoveries in the history of physics.

Faster-than-light Neutrinos

By now, the neutrinos that were supposedly caught breaking the cosmic speed limit in Gran Sasso, Italy need no introduction. Scientists the world over continue to offer up critiques on the OPERA collaborative’s puzzling results, especially in light of the team’s most recent findings — acquired from a second, fine-tuned version of the original experiment — which reveal that their FTL observations still stand.

Of course, the most rigorous, telling, and important tests will come in the form of cross-checks performed by independent research teams, the results of which will not be available until next year at the earliest. And while many scientists aren’t holding their breath, the confirmation of FTL neutrinos could very well signal one of the biggest scientific paradigm shifts in history. “