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Asked by Jaquelin Jast in Space, Planet Mars
What is NASA’s MAVEN spacecraft studying?
MAVEN (Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN) is studying Mars’ ionosphere, a very high level of the atmosphere, to learn more about certain ways radio waves are interrupted. Earth’s ionosphere is too low for satellites and too high for aircraft, so the research heretofore has been limited. On Mars, however, satellites like MAVEN are able to orbit in the ionosphere and collect valuable data about concentrated layers of electrically charged gas, which had never before been observed on another planet. This research is ongoing, and a paper about it was published Feb. 3, 2020.
Asked by Darron DuBuque in Nuts, Food & Cooking
Is an almond a nut?
Glad you asked, my friend. The answer is no. Hey, don’t shoot the messenger. The Cambridge Dictionary defines a nut as “the dry fruit of some trees, consisting of an edible seed within a hard, outer shell, or the seed itself.” Most often, we eat the seed itself. Some true nuts: chestnuts, hazelnuts, and acorns. An almond is a drupe. A drupe is “a type of fruit that has a thin skin and a large stone (= a single seed with a hard cover) in the middle,” Cambridge says. That’d make a cherry a drupe. That’d make a peach a drupe. And that, dear asker, would make an almond a drupe. See, with cherries and peaches, you eat the thin-skinned fruit and discard the stone/seed, but with almonds, you just eat the seed. Odds are you haven’t seen the fruit part of an almond, but it existed, I tell you. It was a dang drupe. A lot of things are drupes. Cashews, walnuts, olives, mangoes—all drupes. The question shouldn’t be what is a drupe, but what isn’t.
Asked by Laverna Zieme in Yosemite National Park, Waterfalls
What’s a firefall?
You’re right, it is really cool! The firefall is a natural phenomenon that occurs for a few days in mid to late February each year in Yosemite National Park. When the setting sun hits Horsetail Fall just right, the waterfall glows red and orange, as if it’s made of fire. This year, though, the fall might not turn fiery. As of Feb. 13, there wasn’t enough water flowing, and there’s no rain in the forecast during the dates when the sun would hit at the right angle. If you’re still wanting to go see it despite the low chance of the spectacle making an appearance, know that it’ll probably be difficult to manage. Last year, thousands of visitors tried to catch a glimpse of the firefall, and the overcrowding caused some destruction, like trampled plants and eroded riverbanks. Park staff hopes to avoid those issues this year by more tightly controlling access to that part of the park.
Asked by Godfrey Franecki in Valentine's Day, Holidays and Traditions
Was Valentine's Day created by greeting card companies?
On one hand, I’ll quell your fears: Greeting card companies didn’t create Valentine’s Day—they simply cashed in on an established holiday. But about those purer origins you seek…can’t really help you there, boss. The history of the holiday is a murky, bloodsoaked lake. The concept of a passion-oriented tradition in mid-February dates back to ancient Rome with the Lupercalia festival. From Feb. 13–15, drunken (and potentially naked) Roman men would sacrifice goats and dogs, then take to the streets to whip women with strips of the sacrificial hides. This was supposed to increase their fertility. How romantic—err, at least Roman. Meanwhile, Roman Emperor Claudius II executed two Christian men named Valentine on separate Feb. 14s in the third century. Legend has it that one of the men, before his beheading, wrote a note to a woman and signed it “from your Valentine.” There doesn’t appear to be much truth to that part of the story, but in the murky lake of legend, does it really matter? In the late fifth century, Lupercalia was struck from the Roman calendar in an effort to eliminate pagan traditions. St. Valentine’s Day, however, was added to the calendar in 496 A.D. to honor the third-century martyrs. Perhaps in the absence of Lupercalia in mid-February, people began associating fertility, and eventually pure love, with Valentine’s Day. By the Middle Ages, Chaucer was romanticizing the holiday in his poems; Shakespeare followed suit a few hundred years later. Eventually, romantic Europeans were hand-making cards to give to their true loves on Feb. 14. Then, yes, in the 19th and 20th centuries, greeting card companies made absolute boatloads of cash by making it incredibly easy for said romantics.
Why doesn’t lightning travel in a straight line?
So it’s kind of a complicated process, but here’s the two-sentence version: Lightning is an electric current that takes the path of least resistance from the base of a cloud to the ground. Since the air it travels through is not uniform—variations in things like temperature, humidity, and pollutants determine how resistant air is to the charge—the lightning has to zig and zag to stay on that path.
Asked by Alena Robel in Cheetahs, Domestic Dogs, Zoology or Animal Biology
Why are there dogs in some zoos’ cheetah exhibits?
I too have seen those pictures, and they are adorable. Cheetahs that live in captivity tend to be really anxious, and some zoos pair them with happy-go-lucky dogs hoping they’ll teach the cheetahs to be more relaxed. They can even help them cope with hard times, like having to have surgery. True heroes, we have no choice but to stan.
Asked by Elijah Koch in Internet, Friendship
What’s your best internet friend story?
My friends and I used to chill in Xbox Live parties for hours. We had a buddy named DrunkMonkey, who lived across the country from us, but would pop in and chill with us all the same. This isn't a unique story—I just found it interesting that we 1) had a friend we referred to without laugh as "DrunkMonkey", 2) he'd talk with us like old pals even though we'd never met him.
Who was Rosalind Franklin?
Rosalind Franklin was a distinguished scientist whose research played a pivotal role in discovering the structure of DNA. However, she wasn’t widely credited for that discovery until fairly recently. She earned her PhD in physical chemistry from Cambridge University in 1945, and she did her pivotal DNA research at King’s College between 1951 and 1953. The controversy over her role in the discovery of DNA’s structure stems from the fact that Maurice Wilkins, another researcher at King’s College, showed Franklin’s images of DNA to James Watson, another scientist trying to create a DNA model. Watson and his research partner Francis Crick published a paper about it shortly after, and Wilkins, Watson, and Crick all went on to receive a Nobel Prize for the double helix DNA model. Franklin was not recognized. She spent the rest of her career studying viruses at Birkbeck College, and she passed away in 1958.
Asked by Charlie Schulist in Oscars, Eminem
Why did Eminem perform at the 2020 Oscars?
No, you’re not missing anything. We’re all confused. Eminem wasn’t up for any awards this year, and there was nothing that suddenly made “Lose Yourself” more culturally relevant this year. The rapper’s tweet about his performance implied that it was to make up for the fact that he couldn’t make it to the 2003 ceremony where “Lose Yourself” was honored with Best Original Song. And since the performance was introduced with a montage about the power of music in films, I guess that’s what made it make sense? We’re all talking about it, anyway, and that was clearly the goal.
Asked by Karley Harber in Passport Requirements, Travel & Places
Why won't they let you smile in your passport photo?
There are now biometric scanners in airports that are meant to prevent fraud and terrorism by providing additional identity verification. Smiling is actually considered an unnatural expression, which makes it more difficult for this facial recognition software to work effectively. According to Angela Aggeler, spokeswoman for the State Department's Bureau of Consular Affairs, smiling "distorts other facial features, for example your eyes, so you're supposed to have a neutral expression. … The most neutral face is the most desirable standard for any type of identification.”
Asked by Gabriella Roob in Movies, Oscars
What was the best movie of 2019?
2019 was a very strong year for the film industry. Avengers: Engame became the highest-grossing film of all time, the Star Wars Saga came to a close, and many unique and interesting independent films were released and well-received. I have a hard time narrowing down just one movie, so here's my Top 5 of 2019 (in order): Parasite (dir. Bong Joon-ho) I was already a major fan of South Korean director Bong Joon-ho, and was certainly looking forward to his latest project. This movie absolutely floored me and after seeing it four times now, I can comfortably call it his masterpiece. This is one of those films that I think is best to go in as cold as possible, knowing very little about the plot or the themes. The Lighthouse (dir. Robert Eggers) Eggers' period piece horror film The Witch (2015) is easily one my favorite horror films in recent years, and his sophomore effort is something entirely different and wonderful. The Lighthouse offers career-best performances from both Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson, eery sound design, incredibly realistic period-specific dialogue, and a Lovecraftian madness that is sure to delight horror fans. Once Upon A Time...In Hollywood (dir. Quentin Tarantino) Tarantino's filmography has been pretty hit-or-miss for me, as I find the tone of most of his movies a little too similar. However, his newest entry really impressed me with its authentic laid-back take on 1969 Hollywood. Brad and Leo give some stellar, nuanced performances as well. Definitely a fun and nostalgic ride! Under the Silver Lake (dir. David Robert Mitchell) After being impressed with Mitchell's debut effort It Follows (2014), I was definitely on the lookout for his next project. And yes, I do know that Under the Silver Lake is technically a film from 2018, but I live in the United States and it was released here the following year, so I'm counting it. This cryptic and frantic comedy-thriller had an extremely unique tone and an excellent performance from Andrew Garfield. Check this one out if you are looking for a brain teaser-type of experience. Avengers: Engame (dir. Joe & Anthony Russo) While I'm not the biggest fan of comic book movies or blockbusters in general, I think the monumental achievement that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe is really something to behold. Never before had we seen such a vast collection of films in one series that encompassed so many varying characters, themes, and stories. I'd even go so far as to call Avengers: Endgame more than a movie. To me, it felt like a huge cultural event that the whole world of moviegoers got to experience together, and that was truly special.
Where did the phrase “it’s raining cats and dogs” come from?
This strange, somewhat surrealist phrase has a contested origin. It dates back to at least 1651, and it might have to do with dogs and cats symbolizing wind and rain, respectively, in different mythologies. Another possibility is that it’s a mangled form of obsolete words, either the Greek cata doxa (meaning “contrary to experience or belief”), or the old English catadupe (“waterfall”). None of those explanations have conclusive evidence to support them, but they’re all plausible. One theory that’s been totally busted, however, is the idea that cats and dogs would huddle in thatch roofs during storms, and the rain would wash them out. For that to happen, the animals would have to be on the outside of the roof, which doesn’t track.
Asked by Harley Cassin in Charles Dickens
Was Charles Dickens really paid by the word?
Although this theory would explain why his novels tend to be rather...dense, it’s not true. Dickens published most of his novels serially, meaning one section would be printed and sold each month, and he was paid for each one of these installments. For his first full-length novel, The Pickwick Papers, that meant 19 monthly installments at 32 pages each (except the last, which was a special “double issue”), and Dickens got paid each time he turned in 32 pages of text. So, even though he wasn’t paid for each word, what is true is that he had a monetary incentive to make his novels longer, and honestly, I don’t blame him.
Asked by Khalid Waters in Science, Rain and Flooding, Clouds, Weight and Mass
How much do clouds weigh?
To calculate the weight of a cloud, you first have to figure out how dense it is. The average density of a cumulus cloud is around half a gram of water per cubic meter. Second, you need to determine how big the cloud is, presumably by measuring its shadow while the sun is above it. A typical cloud is about a kilometer across and roughly cube shaped, meaning it has a volume of one billion cubic meters. Using this formula, scientists have determined that the average cumulus cloud weighs around 1.1 million pounds.
Asked by Emilia Bartell in Oral Health and Dental Care
What should you do if your tooth gets knocked out?
First, track down that tooth! You can actually take it to the dentist and have it reimplanted, provided that you handle your knocked-out tooth somewhat delicately. Once you’ve found the tooth, be careful cleaning it off—it’s best to just gently rinse it with milk or a saline solution so that you don’t accidentally damage it further. Try not to touch the roots. On your way to your emergency dentist appointment, keep the tooth in its original socket, if that’s possible. And if not, a little container of milk is a great tooth receptacle—the milk’s sugars can feed the cells, keeping them alive until they can get reimplanted. If all goes well with the reimplantation, your tooth can be healed in two months.
Asked by Carlo Kiehn in Air Travel, History of Aviation
How long is the shortest commercial flight?
The UK airline Loganair has a flight that goes from the island of Westray to the island of Papa Westray in the Northern Isles of Scotland. It covers about 1.7 miles and lasts around a minute on average. If there is a strong headwind, the flight can take closer to two-and-a-half minutes; with a tailwind, it’s been completed in 53 seconds.
Asked by Yasmine Welch in Iowa, Politics and Government
What went wrong with the Iowa caucus?
The results of the 2020 Iowa caucus were delayed considerably for the Democratic party. The delay is being largely blamed on reporting and coding problems with the new smartphone app that is being used to collect results. In the face of harsh criticism for the issue-riddled caucus, Iowa Democratic Party Communications Director Mandy McClure shared the following update late Monday night: “We found inconsistencies in the reporting of three sets of results. In addition to the tech systems being used to tabulate results, we are also using photos of results and a paper trail to validate that all results match and ensure that we have confidence and accuracy in the numbers we report. This is simply a reporting issue, the app did not go down and this is not a hack or an intrusion. The underlying data and paper trail is sound and will simply take time to further report the results.”
Asked by Tavares Cole in Federal Laws, Politics and Government
What happens to the funds a politician raised when they drop out of a race?
I’ll limit this answer to the funds the politician’s own campaign raises, not Political Action Committees (PAC) associated with candidates, since that part gets pretty messy. Also, it should be noted that it’s pretty rare to have a lot of excess funds at the end of a race—most money raised gets spent quickly, and the reason why many candidates drop out is that they ran out of money. However, failed politicians do have a few options for leftover cash. The laws vary from state to state, but at the federal level, they’ll first tie up whatever loose ends the campaign might have, like debts or outstanding operating costs. With the rest, they can donate it to charities or political parties, donate up to $2,000 of it per election to another candidate (or $5,000 to a PAC), or save it for if they decide to run again. One thing they can’t do is pocket it for personal use.
Asked by Arden Smith in Gophers and Groundhogs
Did the groundhog see its shadow yesterday?
Asked by Jude Beatty in American Football History, Super Bowl
What's your favorite moment in Super Bowl history?
There’s plenty, but as a jilted Rams fan, I’ve gotta go with The Tackle at Super Bowl XXXIV. So often, games end in crushing fashion—you think you have it won, but as the clock ticks down and the opposing team drives closer to your endzone, your dreams deflate and eventually get stomped on, stamped out, covered in the enemy’s confetti. This time, though, we HELD ON—Rams linebacker Mike Jones stopped Titans receiver Kevin Dyson one yard short of the endzone on the last play of the game, taking our dreams off the turf and holding them high with the Lombardi Trophy. Sucked for Titans fans, their dreams getting stomped on and all, but hey, that’s sports.