10 Facts That Sound Like BS, But Are True (Part 7)

Back once again by popular demand, today we bring you 10 more facts that sound totally made up, but are actually true. We highly encourage you to take these tidbits to your friends and family, just to get a “WTF” reaction. They’ll probably go to Google to confirm it later, only to realize that you were actually right. We promise you that these are completely true facts, even if it sounds stranger than fiction. Seriously… you can’t make this stuff up.

10. Polar Bears are Invisible to Night Vision Equipment

Polar bears are amongst nature’s most fearsome and impressive predators. They can lay claim to being the largest land carnivores in the world. A male bear stands up to ten-feet tall on its hind legs and weighs well over twice as much as a large male African lion.

The popular idea that they use their paws to cover their black noses whilst hunting seems to be a myth. However, they still manage to remain very effectively camouflaged in their icy habitat, and this has made it extremely difficult to track their movements from the air.

Attempts to follow the animals by night proved even less successful when scientists discovered, to their considerable surprise, that angry polar bears, or indeed polar bears in any other kind of mood, are almost entirely invisible to sophisticated night vision goggles.

Exactly how polar bears manage this rather neat trick has been the subject of some debate. There’s no doubt that polar bears are excellent at conserving heat, or they wouldn’t survive for long. However, night vision goggles don’t pick up heat so much as the infrared radiation given off by that heat.

Quite how the polar bears prevent this radiation from escaping is rather more difficult to account for. What is known is that these huge animals come equipped with an unlikely stealth capability.

9. The United Kingdom is a Tornado Hotspot

A typical tornado is a swirling funnel of rapidly air stretching some 2,000 feet from the ground into the sky. They are formed when warm, humid air collides with cold, dry air, and even a relative tiddler releases huge amounts of energy.  By some estimates enough to power all the world’s electrical devices at once.

Tornadoes are commonly associated with the United States of America, with some states even enduring an official tornado season. The US is struck by more than 1,000 tornadoes a year, but the United Kingdom experiences more when measured by square mile.

This news would come as a surprise to most Britons who don’t realize they are living in the world’s tornado hotspot. However, European tornadoes tend to be far more modest affairs than their American cousins, allowing them to slip by largely unnoticed.  

Tornadoes are measured on the Enhanced Fujita Scale. This ranges from F0 tornadoes, which have a windspeed of 65-85 MPH, to F12 tornadoes, which have a windspeed slightly in excess of the speed of sound. The UK’s tornadoes tend to be at the F0 end of the scale. Fortunately for everybody concerned, F12s aren’t possible on Earth, at least under current conditions, and are confined to planets such as Neptune.  

8. Scientists Made Goats that Produce Spider Silk

Spider silk is one of the most extraordinary substances in the universe. It’s up to 1,000 times thinner than human hair, but it’s five times stronger than steel. On top of this it’s flexible, resistant to humidity, and retains its considerable strength even at extreme temperatures.

These properties make spider silk extremely useful for a wide variety of applications. The problem is that it’s difficult to obtain in any great quantities. Attempts to set up spider farms have met with limited success, since spiders tend not to mix well and have a tendency to eat each other. According to the chief executive of Nexio Biotechnologies, it’s like trying to farm tigers.

Scientists decided to get around this problem by implanting spider genes into goats. Genetically modified spider goats are considerably easier to manage, and their milk is full of silk proteins that can be extracted and put to a variety of uses.

The potential applications are vast, but some of the more remarkable suggestions have included the development of bulletproof skin and spider silk suspension bridges.

7. The Coldest Temperature Ever Recorded was in Massachusetts

The universe is characterized by being inconceivably huge and for the most part very chilly indeed.

With temperatures of around minus 350 degrees Fahrenheit, Neptune vies with Uranus for the record of coldest planet in our own solar system. Deepest outer space is colder still, with temperatures of minus 455 degrees Fahrenheit being deeply, and immediately, hostile to human life.

Massachusetts in the northeast United States of America, despite frequently being more than somewhat chilly, is for the most part considered altogether more agreeable, but it was here that scientists recorded the lowest temperature ever detected.

Theoretically the temperature can never go below absolute zero, or minus 460 degrees Fahrenheit, which is the point at which atoms lose all their energy. Absolute zero has never been recorded, and it may be a practical impossibility for anything to ever be quite this cold.

However, in 2003 researchers at the University of Massachusetts succeeded in chilling a cloud of sodium atoms to just a few billionths of a degree above this temperature. This placed the coldest temperature ever recorded, and quite possibly the coldest temperature the universe has ever seen, in Massachusetts.

6. The World’s Biggest Waterfall is Underwater

The Niagara Falls is arguably the most famous waterfall on the planet. More than 3,000 tons of water plummet over the falls every second of every day, and it attracts eight-million visitors each year.

As impressive as this undoubtedly is, it’s next to nothing compared to the biggest waterfall in the world. This distinction belongs to the behemoth that is the Denmark Strait Cataract, which has a two mile drop and a waterflow almost 2,000 times greater than even the mighty Niagara Falls.

Despite these impressive figures the Denmark Strait Cataract is largely unknown and seldom visited. This is in no small part due to the fact that it’s located deep underwater in the Atlantic Ocean between Greenland and Iceland.

The concept of an underwater waterfall seems somewhat strange, but it’s made possible because cold water is considerably denser than warm water. When the two meet at the Denmark Strait Cataract, the cold water plummets to the ocean floor producing what is by quite some distance the most substantial waterfall on the planet. Just don’t expect to see it on too many tourist postcards.  

5. The Longest Musical Performance in History is set to Last for 639 years

In musical notation the very slowest tempo marking is known as larghissimo, which typically indicates a tempo of a lethargic 10-20 beats per minute. However, compared to the longest and slowest piece of music ever performed, that sort of pace is positively manic.

At a church in Halberstadt, Germany, there is an organ that’s been playing the same chord since October 2013; it isn’t due to switch to the next chord until September 2020. This is the slowest section of the world’s slowest musical performance and the longest it will go without changing. However, even at its very liveliest there are only three chord changes in any given twelve months.  

This is all part of a performance of the composer John Cage’s “As Slow as Possible” that began in 2001 and is scheduled to last for 639 years, which is about as long as the specially constructed organ is expected to survive in working condition.

Not all of the residents of Halberstadt are enjoying the performance, and the organ has had to be encased behind a Perspex screen after locals complained about the endless, droning noise.

4. Humans can Outrun Horses

Humans perhaps aren’t the most physically impressive members of the animal kingdom. We aren’t particularly fierce, quick, or strong. If it wasn’t for our oversized brains and opposable thumbs we would most likely have gone the way of the dodo a long time ago.

There is none the less one physical discipline at which humans excel: we are amongst the greatest long distance runners on the planet.

The cheetah is the fastest land animal in a sprint, but at extreme distances they’d have no chance against humanity’s finest. We’re even capable of running down animals specifically built for stamina such as horses and wolves.

This ability was of great help to our ancestors in chasing down lunch, and it came courtesy of our seven-million or so sweat glands. By contrast some mammals such as rhinos, hippos, and pigs aren’t able to sweat at all. Other animals, including our closest relative the chimpanzee, have far fewer sweat glands than us. This makes humans extremely efficient at cooling down our bodies on the move.

In the modern world few people need go to such lengths in pursuit of a meal, but there are endurance races that pit man against beast.

Every year a Welsh village in the United Kingdom sets man-versus-horse in a race over a 22-mile course. The horses currently have their noses well in front, but there have been two human winners, so they haven’t had everything their own way. If the event was held in a hotter climate, humans might well hold the overall lead.

3. Sloths can Starve on a Full Stomach

Long distance running can provide an evolutionary advantage, but sloths have managed to survive for tens of millions of years despite hardly moving at all.

Absolutely nothing about them is built for speed, and even going flat out it would take them around a month to walk a single mile. This is rarely an issue as they spend around 90% of their time hanging upside down in trees and up to 20 hours a day sleeping.

Even a sloth’s stomach does things at its own pace, taking as much as an entire month to digest its way through a single meal. This might seem like an inefficient way of going about things, but it generally works out pretty well for the sloth. It’s rarely going to be in a hurry to find a meal, so it can take life at its own pace.

Unfortunately, there is one major disadvantage to the sloths’ digestive system; at low temperatures their gut bacteria stop working entirely. The sloth will no longer be digesting its meal, will no longer be extracting nutrients, and will be at risk of accomplishing the interesting but unfortunate trick of starving on a full stomach.

2. Your Taste Buds Don’t Work Properly at Altitude

Airline food tends to have a less than stellar culinary reputation. This is at least in part because airline meals tend to be prepared at least ten hours in advance. However, freshness isn’t the only factor at play. Somewhat strangely, research has shown that human taste buds don’t work properly at altitude.

An airliner’s typical cruising height is somewhere around 35,000 to 40,000 feet. Meanwhile humans start to lose their sense of taste at 30,000 feet.

 Around 70-80% of what we think of as taste is actually provided by our sense of smell, and while it may not be a terribly appetizing thought our sense of smell relies on evaporating nasal mucus. At 30,000 feet, the interior of a pressurised aircraft has a humidity of less than 12%, which is lower than most deserts. This means there isn’t much nasal mucus evaporation going on, hence why airliner food tends to taste of cardboard.

1. Some of Your Atoms Once Belonged to William Shakespeare

Atoms are the fundamental building blocks that make up everything, including us. Each and every human is put together from around seven billion, billion, billion of the things, adjusting upwards or downwards based on the individual’s size.

What is perhaps more surprising is that a tiny fraction of the atoms that make up your body once belonged to William Shakespeare.

Atoms are indivisible and to all intents and purposes almost entirely indestructible. These atoms are constantly being recycled, and it’s an arresting thought that 99.999% of the atoms you were made up of seven years ago have by now moved on to do different things entirely.

None the less, most of these itinerant atoms, and indeed those atoms that once belonged to the great bard, will have remained in the rough vicinity of planet Earth. Some very clever people have used very complicated math to calculate that a tiny number of Shakespeare’s atoms, and indeed those of almost any historical figure you could care to mention, are within your body right now, simply by virtue of how extraordinarily numerous they are.

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