90 Miles From Tyranny : Weird Stories You Probably Missed This Week (9/14/19)

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Saturday, September 14, 2019

Weird Stories You Probably Missed This Week (9/14/19)

With the weekend comes a look at some of the more unusual stories that hit the headlines this week. If you want to catch up on the previous list, you can do it here.This is a science-heavy week. Boffins have been busy researching lost continents, discovering interstellar visitors and finding the answer to “life, the Universe, and everything”. In other news, there is also a crime-fighting seal, a cold case solved by Google Earth, and an unexpected invasion by venomous caterpillars.

10The Answer To The Meaning Of Life

Douglas Adams fans will recognize 42 as being the answer to “life, the Universe, and everything” but, as it turns out, it was also a dilemma that prevented mathematicians from solving a 65-year-old problem. But now, it seems that two number crunchers managed to crack the code with the help of a planetary supercomputer.Back in 1954, mathematicians asked if all whole numbers from 1 to 100 could be expressed as the sum of three cubes. Over the decades that followed, they kept finding answers for more and more numbers. At the start of this year, only two were left: 33 and 42. Andrew Booker from the University of Bristol found the solution for 33, but enlisted the help of MIT mathematician Andrew Sutherland for the final number. The pair wrote an algorithm, but needed a supercomputer to run it. This is where Charity Engine came in, a global effort that harnesses unused computing power from half a million PCs around the world. After over a million hours of computing time, they had the solution.[1] Three 17-digit numbers, one of which is negative, can be cubed and added up to 42. Now, if they have nothing better to do, mathematicians can try going up to 1,000.

9Disappearance Under The Sea

A possible suspect has emerged in the case of the underwater scientific observatory that mysteriously disappeared a few weeks ago. Researchers believe that a fishing trawler accidentally hooked the installation worth over $330,000 and dragged it away. They never came forward to admit the deed because they were fishing in illegal waters.The research station was placed in the Baltic Sea in 2016. It constantly checks measurements such as salinity, water temperature, and oxygen, methane, and carbon dioxide levels and sends them back to researchers in Kiel, Germany. On August 21, it stopped transmitting. Initially, scientists believed it was simply a problem with the data connection, but when divers went to check it out in person, they realized that the observatory had completely vanished, leaving behind only the frayed cable that connected it to land.A natural cause for the disappearance such as currents or a storm were ruled out because the device weighed over 800 kilograms (1,760 lbs). Other ideas included Russian subs and scrap metal thieves. These were also dismissed because the station was in shallow waters where a sub wouldn’t enter and the steel had little resale value.[2] Current thinking says the culprit was a fishing boat that snagged the observatory by accident. There are marks indicating that it was dragged for a while. The question remains, however, why didn’t the trawler leave the device behind?

8Out Of The Frying Pan

A hospital’s attempt at deterring birds from nesting in the nearby trees accidentally created a breeding haven for North America’s most venomous caterpillar. At first, the reasoning seemed sound. Birds like pigeons and grackles liked to congregate in the oak trees that line the sidewalks of Houston’s Texas Medical Center (TMC). They carried diseases and created lots of messes which was not something you wanted in an area highly-populated with sick people. Therefore, the staff put nets on the trees to stop the birds from landing on them.Consequently, this allowed the local caterpillar population to thrive significantly. A three-year study recently published in Biology Letters showed that the netted trees had 7,300 percent more insects than the regular ones.[3]These caterpillars weren’t exactly harmless, either. The dominant species was Megalopyge opercularis or the puss moth caterpillar, the most toxic caterpillar in North America. It has spines that can break off if anyone touches them, stick to the skin and release venom. After about ten minutes, the victim feels throbbing pain accompanied by nausea, vomiting, stomach pains, and red spots. No word yet on if anyone has been stung by these caterpillars or what TMC staff plan to do to get rid of them.

7Sleepy Seal Stops Drug Bust

According to Australian police, a giant seal helped them apprehend a group of five men who were trying to bring in over a tonne of drugs into the country.Two of the men, a Brit and a Frenchman, had the drugs onboard their yacht when it ran aground on Stick Island off the coast of Western Australia. They took the illicit goods ashore in a dinghy and tried to hide from search & rescue teams which were out looking for them, believing the pair might be in trouble. Eventually, they were spotted by planes because one of the drug runners was wearing a hot pink shirt.When officers arrived on the scene, the men tried to make a run for it in their dinghy, but were thwarted by a large seal that they inadvertently woke up.[4] The animal was not in a good mood and the criminals decided that it was safer with the police. Three other men were later arrested as they were in another boat, waiting to pick up the drug shipment.

6Exploring A Lost Continent

A new report published in Gondwana Research recreates the long saga of a lost continent that sits today beneath Europe.Scientists dubbed it Greater Adria, mainly because the remnants of the continent that are still topside form part of the Adriatic coastline. About 240 million years ago, this piece of land started to break away from...

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