I have a lot of questions, if you know me you know that I am naturally very curious and have questions about everything. Sometimes they are stupid and sometimes they are not. Really, though, no question is stupid, it’s good to be curious! Curiosity did NOT kill the cat as is popular belief. I usually come up with my questions in the car or in the shower, for some reason that is where my brain works best. For this publication of the Talon, I will be sharing some of by questions with you all and doing research to try and answer them. I also surveyed some Magnet students to bring more questions in.
Can Babies See in the Womb?
What if babies try to open their eyes but can’t because of all the fluid? Like how sometimes we try to see underwater but it hurts, or it’s blurry, or theres nothing to see (like in Charleston where the water extraordinarily murky).
It turned out that YES, babies CAN see in the womb. By the second trimester, their eyes can detect light. And although their vision is very blurry (as vision develops mostly after birth), they can respond to changes in light, for example, if you shine a flashlight they would respond to that. Bonus: what does it look like inside the womb? A Business Insider writer describes it as being inside a big red balloon filled with water. Or, a more practical example, shining a flashlight through your cheek and seeing the dull red glow.
Why is the sun look bigger at sunrise and sunset than during the day?
You guys have noticed this too, right? I always forget about this question until I see the sun. It’s about time I look it up, because I know I will just keep wondering for eternity.
This is called the “moon illusion” (also goes for the sun). Records of this question go back to ancient China and ancient Egypt! Many physical scientists accept that the illusion is real because of refraction of light by the atmosphere. The sun and moon must pass through greater amounts of atmosphere when it at the horizon than when it is overhead. Maurice Hershenson, a psychology professor at Brandeis University (shout out to LIANA HORNER !!) thinks it has a more psychological explanation. Have you ever taken a picture of a supermoon and it looks so much smaller than what you see with your eyes? Hershenson thinks that this is because our size-distance perspective works differently here. Usually with more distance, there is less light to stimulate our eyes. However, with the moon, it changes in distance but the amount of light doesn’t change. Instead of getting smaller, our size-distance mechanism works the opposite and the moon looks larger.
Another fun fact I learned while researching this question: our brain can only deduce distance in 3 dimensions and up to a certain range- therefore we can’t understand celestial distance at all and must fill the gaps. Wow we are clueless about so much :\
How did the universe even come to exist? (Abigail Flores)
Amazing Question. With an answer, believe it or not. Thank you science for existing, because without science we would probably all be clueless about everything, dying, or still Australopithecus (a Homo ancestor from Africa).
The most widely accepted theory supported by physicists around the world is the Big Bang Theory. This says that all matter in the universe came to be at the exact same time, about 13.8 billion years ago. All matter was compacted into a ball of infinite density and infinite heat, called Singularity, which began to expand and our universe began. All of the events that happened after that are more speculative, since they happened in the span of 10^-43 to 10^-11 seconds. 10^-43 seconds is the smallest unit of time possible, called Planck time. In decimals, this looks like 0.00000000000000000000000000000000000000000001 seconds. I can’t even fathom how fast this is. During this extraordinarily short time span, the universe was very hot, dense, and unstable, and it grew exponentially. Then, particle energies dropped considerably and things started to cool down a bit and today’s fundamental forces of physics came to resemble those today. Quarks became protons and neutrons as well. About 379,000 years later, atoms were created from electrons colliding with hydrogen nuclei. Things just kept on growing from there! I definitely did not do this massive event justice. I am still a little confused. BUT there is a short (in comparison to the universe haha) video where Neil DeGrasse Tyson explains the origin of the universe. Check it out on YouTube.
Is eating your boogers/fingernails/saliva considered cannibalism? (Julia Camp)
Hm. This is a disturbing question. First, what is considered cannibalism? According to the Cornell Law School Legal Information Institute, it is the consumption of another person’s body matter, with consent or not. Autocannibalism is when you eat some of your own body. This is so hard for me to write, this is like the most disturbing topic ever. But I will power through.
It is hard to see what is considered cannibalism and what is not. Some sites consider cannibalism to be the eating of flesh, but others consider it to be body matter. But really, it seems to matter whether or not the consumption is intentional. Obviously eating your saliva is not intentional, or like if your mouth starts bleeding and you accidentally swallow some. However, what about boogers and fingernails? On one hand, these two things are body matter. Your body makes them. Apparently boogers, because they are mucus, have your DNA in them, but fingernails don’t, because they are mostly made of keratin. So, if you’re wondering how people can get DNA from your hair (also made of keratin), remember, the hair follicle must be attached to get the DNA. Thus, we can rule out fingernails as well. But for boogers, this seems to be up for debate depending on how you define autocannibalism, whether or not you’re eating body matter (yes) or flesh (no).
Why is there no light in your body? (Julia Camp)
There is no light in your body because photons cannot penetrate all the way through- otherwise, you’d be translucent. However, if you shine a flashlight through your hand, for example, you can see a reddish glow. So really, you are too thick to see through 🙂
However, while researching this question I found something AMAZEBALLS. Humans are bioluminescent! You might think, well this is only for marine animals. But no. According to a Japanese study from 2009, people glow. However, this light’s intensity is 1,000 times lower than what our naked eyes can see. They come from photons of visible light caused not by heat, but by a by-product of our metabolism! Other interesting tidbits from this study: there is more glow from your head, probably because there is more sunlight hitting here, and the melanin is activated which triggers the reaction. Also, people glow brighter in the late afternoon, when the metabolic processes are at their most active.
This led me to think about how some people can see auras, maybe their eyes are really sensitive to this metabolic bioluminescence. This also leads us to the next question:
How do people perceive the world differently- because no-one has one true reality so there is no subjective truth in the world? (Joel Herndon)
This is a really broad question–it could encompass others such as, why do people see color differently, or why they sense temperature change differently, or why anyone prefers anything! Some of this doesn’t have an answer. However, some does!
Apparently, we can learn more about how we perceive things differently by looking at the brain as it tries to figure out illusions. One study watched the visual cortex while participants looked at the Ponzo illusion, and it determined that the smaller someone’s visual cortex, the more powerfully they will experience the illusion. Other studies supported the claim that different brain sizes correspond to how people perceive illusions differently. That only helps a little bit, though.
So is reality an illusion? How do I know that I am actually sitting on my bed right now, writing this article, when maybe I’m just dreaming that I am? How do I know that I just ate popcorn? Did my brain make it up to trick my stomach into thinking I wasn’t hungry anymore? How do I know that I really got an 88 on my English essay? Did I even write that essay? What is the truth??!! I don’t think that we’ll ever know what is real and what isn’t. If you believe in some higher power, you can try to explain the world around you through them. You can also try to explain it from science. But, like Joel, I will also always wonder what is the truth.
How small are we, in terms of the universe (Thomas Abraham)
I’m just gonna say right now, we are small. Like waaaaayyy small. We’re minuscule compared to Earth!! You’ve probably seen those videos where they zoom out from Earth all the way through the universe- they’re so humbling- we don’t even matter! Is that pessimistic? I’d say no, its just realistic.
Did you ever learn about your cosmic address? I’ll write one for Magnet:
Academic Magnet High School
5109 W Enterprise St. B
North Charleston, SC
The Solar System
Milky Way Galaxy
Universe (which one? are there others??)
This is shocking, no? There are so many lines. I dare you to write out this entire address on the next thank you note you write. So I cannot say how small we are, other than we are closer to the size of a cell than we are to the size of the Earth (which is about 6500000 times larger than us). Now extend that outward through the whole universe and try not to let your mind be blown (mine already is).
Do ant rafts rotate so they don’t drown? (Ben Whitley)
First of all, an ant raft is a group of linked fire ants that get together to be able to survive a flood. When they get together in an enormous mass, they tend to act more like a single unit rather than individuals. Fun fact: every individual ant has a certain level to which they can repel water. But when they behave as a unit, their collective bodies act as waterproof cloth! ALSO ants in these rafts can be considered liquid….
This is all well and good, but doesn’t really answer the question. Ant rafts DO spin, but it’s not because they are trying to prevent themselves from drowning, since they collectively repel the water. Instead, the natural flow of the water creates swirling vortices, something you can see if you use a paddle to move through the water. Ants are able to detect slight changes in these forces and therefore spin along with them, in order to not be broken apart by the power of the water.
How fast does it take to rebuild ant hills (Thomas Abraham)
First, how do ants make an anthill? Well, the worker ants dig underground tunnels and carry the soil in their mandibles all the way out of the colony and put it on top of the mound. As more and more piles up, it becomes a mound. Fun fact: ants move more earth than any other organism INCLUDING earthworms.
But how long does it take? Well, it depends on the ant. For instance, if the ant naturally will build enormous mounds, like the Allegheny Mound Ant, it might take up to a year to build a foot of mound. Here in SC, our common ant species are Pavement Ants, Carpenter Ants, Argentine Ants, and Red Fire Ants. These are usually smaller and therefore make smaller mounds. Therefore, it takes them a shorter span of time. Unfortunately I could not find any specifics, but take note: this could be a research project. “What factors most significantly impact the build time of an ant mound for the Pavement Ant species?” You’re welcome.
If T-Rexes were so slow and they had such small arms how did they ever catch anything? (Zane Hull)
This really doesn’t make much sense. Their arms are so small! And yet they are considered very dangerous predators. I feel like if we saw one today we would be so unimpressed with its strange proportions.
It is known from fossils that T-Rex hunted its prey and scavenged, and that it most likely hunted in packs. Fossils ranging from ages 2-26 have been found together (btw baby t-rex looks strangely adorable) along with many T-Rex tracks, indicating a pack dynamic. What they ate, such as Edmontosaurus, Triceratops, and Ankylosaurus, were larger herbivores that weren’t very fast–which suited T-Rex’s slow speeds. However, it was adapted not for sprinting, but for longer, marathon-distance running. It could run at a speed of 20 mph, which is not too fast, but it could run at this speed for a while. This is supported by a study about the stresses on T-Rex’s bones, that indicates it’s preference for long-distance. They usually used their bite- 2 times more powerful than a lion’s- to kill their prey. As for its arms, this is still under debate. Some paleontologists still believe that these tiny arms were used for holding on for mating, or just a tradeoff for T-Rex’s huge jaw. However, it has been found that these 3 feet long, comparable to a 6-foot man’s leg, arms adorned with long talons could have been used to mortally slash their prey. So combining the pack hunting, long-distance running, powerful bite, and potentially slashing arms makes for a pretty terrifying predator.
This reminds me, if you guys like podcasts I would definitely recommend The Common Descent Podcast, it has a lot of cool stuff about evolutionary biology and dinosaurs and extinctions and every time I listen to an episode my mind is blown.
Do conjoined twins share control of their limbs (Allie Streck)
This depends on the type of conjoined twins. There are three large types. Thoracopagus twins are joined at the upper torso and share a heart. Omphalopagus twins are connected from the breastbone to the waist, sharing a liver, gastrointestinal tract, and reproductive organs. Craniopagus twins are connected at the head and are the rarest type.
Usually, each twin is in charge of their own limbs, since usually, their heads are separate and therefore nerves and body functions are as well. However, for twins whose heads are connected, its a little different. They do share neural activity, as is the case of one set of conjoined twins who can sense touch on the other’s leg, for example, and can think the same things. If one has a happy thought, the other can sense it, and if one sees something, the other will see the image in their mind. So for this type, they can share control of their limbs. However, this is very rare because this type of conjoined twin is very rare.
Whew. If you read all the way to the end, I applaud you. I also hope that you learned something! I had a ton of fun writing this article and would love to do another so you can email me your questions at email@example.com and if I have enough I will do a Part 2!
Sources I Used: