In World War I, phenol was a key ingredient in aspirin, explosives, and phonograph records. German agents secretly redirected Thomas Edison’s excess phenol supply to prevent it being used for British bombs.
In 1943 a new volcano arose in Hokkaido. The Japanese government managed to keep it a secret for several years.
Sputnik 1 orbited the Earth for three months; Sputnik 2 for nearly six months. Explorer 1 stayed in orbit for twelve years, but the fourth artificial satellite, Vanguard 1, is still flying today.
In a few places around the world sand dunes make a sound like a sad tuba when you walk on them.
Masaccio’s Holy Trinity is possibly the earliest surviving work of art to use a single vanishing point. His work and that of Brunelleschi triggered a Renaissance explosion of mathematical perspective in art.
Why can computers play chess or Go better than any human but struggle with walking or seeing? This is Moravec’s paradox.
It’s theoretically possible to swim across North America from the Pacific to the Atlantic, thanks to a strange creek in north-west Wyoming.
Radiocarbon dating only works on organic material, so how do you accurately measure the last time rocks and sediment saw sunlight? Luminescence dating.
In 1962 the United States detonated a nuclear bomb in outer space over Hawai’i. It caused an artificial aurora in the sky over Honolulu – and another one over Samoa, more than four thousand kilometres away.
The cookiecutter shark is easily the weirdest shark around: it uses bioluminescence to lure large predators, feeds by suction, sheds whole rows of teeth at once and swallows them, and by weight can be more than one third liver.
Consider three special dice: A, B, and C. On a fair roll, A is more likely to beat B. B is more likely to beat C. But C is more likely to beat A. These are nontransitive dice.
Genes and proteins have been named after Sonic the Hedgehog, the Smurfs, Spock, Pikachu, and the Tinman from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.
A passenger in the the 1957 Zündapp Janus sits with their back to the driver. The Janus has two doors: the front of the car and the rear of the car.
Every six months the Tonlé Sap River reverses direction.
Sicily and Malta used to be home to a species of dwarf elephant whose remains could have inspired the Greek myth of the cyclops.