Category Archives: Science

Why Nuclear Bombs Create Mushroom Clouds

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Susan K. asks: Why do nuclear bombs make mushroom clouds? This phenomenon all comes down to a little something called the Rayleigh-Taylor instability, and by extension, convection. I’ll begin with the somewhat longer, but less geeky explanation before descending once again into extreme nerdery. It all starts with an explosion that creates a Pyrocumulus Cloud. This ball of burning hot […]

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The Truth About Your Flammable Farts

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Alex B. asks: Why are farts flammable? Contrary to popular belief, it’s probably not methane leaking from behind that reckless “bros” light on fire (known as pyroflatulence); rather, it’s most likely primarily hydrogen. In a typical, healthy body, human farts are comprised primarily of hydrogen, nitrogen, some carbon dioxide and potentially a small amount of methane and oxygen. These farts […]

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Setting Fire to Glass- The “Nope” Chemical That is Chlorine Trifluoride

burning-drink

First discovered back in the 1930s, chlorine trifluoride is a rather curious chemical that easily reacts, sometimes explosively, with just about every known substance on Earth. Just to get the ball rolling, here’s a few of the more unusual things chlorine trifluoride is known to set fire to on contact: glass, sand, asbestos, rust, concrete, people, pyrex, cloth, and the dreams of children… […]

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Is It True That a T-Rex Couldn’t See You If You Didn’t Move?

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Derek asks: Is it true that a T-Rex couldn’t see you if you didn’t move? If so, how do scientists know this? In the immensely popular (despite the sins) movie Jurassic Park, there’s the famous scene where the giant T-Rex is attacking a jeep during a thunder storm. As it attacks, Dr. Alan Grant, a self-respecting paleontologist, yells, “Don’t move! […]

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Why Do Other People’s Farts Smell Worse?

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Dan K. asks: Why is it that other people’s farts smell worse than your own? In 2005, two researchers published a series of articles investigating the subject of other people’s smelliness. They examined how much disgust people would feel and show after smelling a variety of odors, including armpits, garbage and farts. Among the stinks examined, farts elicited the strongest […]

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What Determines “Party Cloudy” vs. “Mostly Sunny”? (And Other Weather Terms Explained)

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Brett C. asks: How do they decide the cuttoff between partly cloudy and mostly sunny? If you ever thought it was difficult to tell the difference between “partly cloudy” and “mostly sunny,” you’re not alone. Established by the National Weather Service (NWS) according to a loose set of rules, the criteria used to describe different elements of your forecast can […]

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What Are Goose Bumps?

goosebumps

Justin R. asks: What is going on in our skin to create goose bumps? A holdover from an earlier stage in our evolution, goose bumps are a function of the autonomic nervous system reacting to a primal threat. Technically, the phenomenon is called the pilomotor reflex, and occurs when the arrector pili muscle, which runs between the base of a […]

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Saccadic Masking

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Unknown to most, thousands of times each day we momentarily lose sight of the world around us. Known as saccadic masking, it is a function of the brain protecting us from suffering through blurred images that would otherwise be produced when our eyes move or shift. A saccade is a rapid eye movement between the places where the eye rests […]

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Slower Than a Turtle- The Speed of Electricity

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Lindsey asks: How fast do electrons flow inside electrical cables? You may be surprised to learn that electrons flow through a typical copper wire much slower than a turtle walks. Each wire that conducts a flow of electrons, producing usable electric current, is composed of billions of atoms. To move along it, the electrons have to traverse these atoms, randomly […]

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