Community Post: 9 Scientific Mysteries That Will Weird You Out

1. Why are fall colors different in Europe?

Choosing to live in a northern state is choosing to live in climate chaos 365 days a year. Wind, rain, sunshine, snow — anything goes when you’re above the Carolinas or spending April in Chicago. One redeeming factor about choosing such insanity is the guarantee of fall colors (sigh).

But did you know while Minnesotans enjoy their scarlets and burnt oranges, Europeans only get one autumnal color to observe on their trees? And it’s — hold your vomit — yellow. Ugh. The worst one. Sorry, Londoners!

Although there are a handful of theories why the difference between continents exists, the scientific community has yet to accept one as the real deal.

Autumn is Paris? Please. Sign me up for October in Poughkeepsie.

2. What is dark matter (besides sort of terrifying)?

The universe is a big place. For being minuscule specks on one tiny spot, humans have figured out a surprising amount of what exactly is out there. *brushes shoulder off*

One pretty vital thing about understanding the universe that NASA has not begun to master, however, is the functions of dark matter. And really, what it even is.

Scientists know more about what it isn’t. Dark matter is dark (well, duh), meaning that it is not part of the visible universe — stars, planets, things we can actually see (which, by the way, make up only 5% of the universe). We also know that dark matter (which takes up a whopping 27%) is not made of Baryons. All other “normal” matter is.

So how do we even know it exists? Contrary to what makes sense on a very basic level, the expansion of the universe is accelerating. (Like, if you threw a baseball from the pitcher’s mound, instead of slowing down, it’d gain speed with time. Freaky, huh?) Scientists believe dark matter is largely responsible for (or at least has something to do with) this acceleration. They just have to figure out how.

Check back in 2050 for any updates.

3. What happened in Beebe, Arkansas?


On Jan. 1, 2012, dozens of black birds fell to their deaths in a small town in Arkansas. It was the second year in a row that this happened.

The first time it did, thousands of dead fish washed up in the local river as well. Like…what?

Although some are convinced the deaths were from holiday fireworks, there are still many questions to be answered. In fact, massive bird deaths similar to the Beebe, Arkansas case occur now and then in towns across the country, and there’s still no consensus on what exactly’s going on up there to cause them.

4. Why do redheads need more anesthesia for medical procedures?

They do? Psshh. That can’t be true.

Well, it is. A 2002 study conducted by researchers at the University of Louisville in Kentucky concluded redheads need about 20% more anesthesia than not-redheads when going under the knife. A 2004 study showed similar results. Weeeird.

5. What is “space roar” (a.k.a. ARE ALIENS TRYING TO SPEAK WITH US RIGHT NOW?

In January of 2009, Alan Kogut’s NASA team announced to the American Astronomical Society they discovered something…um…unusual. While out and about trying to detect traces of heat from early stars, they picked up radio signals from outer space.

Though radio signals have been detected from outer space before, what’s now known as the famous “space roar” they heard was six freaking times louder than normal, and totally unexplainable. Scientists are still looking at one another with dropped jaws.

6. How do birds migrate thousands of miles (without Google Maps)?

Sure, some birds hilariously steal ice cream from tourists on board walks, but some also migrate ridiculous distances.

Scientists don’t have a clue how they do it. Some have argued our winged friends navigate the earth using visual landmarks, senses of smell, or even — get this — individual magnetism receptors to determine how north or south they are. All we do know is that birds, as well as plenty of other species, miraculously make long, torturous journeys thousands and thousands of miles to survive. Can you imagine trying to off-road walk from New York to Los Angeles by memory? Woof.

7. For heaven’s sake, what causes gravity?

Gravity isn’t a tough concept to grasp. We don’t float, which kind of sucks, but that’s how it works. While gravity seems pretty intuitive, however, the physics behind it really don’t make sense.

“Gravity is completely different from the other forces described by the standard model,” said Mark Jackson, a theoretical physicist at Fermilab in Illinois. “When you do some calculations about small gravitational interactions, you get stupid answers. The math simply doesn’t work.”

Theorists have debated if tiny, massless particles called gravitons emanate gravitational fields, but no one is too confident on the subject of what causes gravity to exist. We know it works throughout the universe and that it’s crucial in the stability of life on earth, but the verdict is out on exactly why big people fall harder than little ones.

8. What drives evolution? (Pss…natural selection isn’t the whole story.)

Most of us have heard about survival of the fittest — whether from our wealthy, capitalist uncle or our 7th grade biology teacher. Natural selection has been, and no doubt remains, a major factor in the evolution of all species on earth.

But many scientists will admit that the “strongest man wins” way of looking at evolution is oversimplifying an incredibly complex process.

“I think one of the greatest mysteries in biology at the moment is whether natural selection is the only process capable of generating organismal complexity,” said Massimo Pigliucci of Stony Brook University in New York. “Or whether there are other properties of matter that also come into play. I suspect the latter will turn out to be true.”

Pigliucci and others believe other properties of complex systems, like living organisms themselves, have a big impact on how life on earth evolves. According to Pigliucci, things like eyes, wings and turtle shells are probably products of a more complicated and mysterious system of deciding which species will carry on and how they do it.

9. How are humans and ants like, basically the same?

Humans share many similarities, on both individual and collective levels, with several animals relatively near us on the animal kingdom spectrum. But ants?


Humans and ants live creepily similarly. We both exist within societies, rage wars on one another, live peacefully amongst one another, and have daily responsibilities that contribute to the wellbeing of the group. These similarities would be more expected with, say, chimpanzees. But, again…ants?

“Modern humans have more in common with some ants than we do with our closest relatives,” said Mark Moffett, author of a study on ant-human characteristics. “With a maximum size of about 100, no chimpanzee group has to deal with issues of public health, infrastructure, distribution of goods and services, market economies, mass transit problems, assembly lines and complex teamwork, agriculture and animal domestication, warfare and slavery.”

How we’re pretty close to a species so dramatically far from us on the evolutionary web is pretty cool, but also jarringly weird.

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