Page 1 of 9 123 ... LastLast
Results 1 to 15 of 127

Thread: Mr. Tea's Top 10 Badass Phenomena

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Jun 2006

    Default Mr. Tea's Top 10 Badass Phenomena

    In no particular order (although I'm especially fond of the last one):

    Part 1

    1. Japanese hornets

    They're two inches long and have a three-inch wingspan. They can fly at 25 mph and cover 60 miles in a day. Each year in Japan alone, they cause more human deaths than all other wild animals combined. When attacking a beehive, each hornet can kill up to 40 bees per minute and just a handful of hornets can wipe out a hive of 30,000 bees in a few hours. However, Japanese honey bees have a badass defence mechanism; they mob the attacking hornets en masse while vibrating their flight muscles madly, killing the hornet by a combination of overheating and suffocation.

    Before launching an attack on a hive, each hornet adopts a full lotus position for a day and a night with a miniature naked katana blade resting across its folded middle legs, medidating upon War. Probably.

    2. The Oklo Natural Nuclear Reactor

    A uranium mine in Oklo, Gabon, was found in 1972 to contain deposits of certain rare heavy elements in isotope ratios completely different from those found anywhere else, as well as uranium that was unusually poor in U-235 (the fissionable isotope used in nuclear reactors). It was soon realised that these results were consistent with uranium seams in the mine having acted as natural nuclear reactors some two billion years ago; the fissionable uranium had been depleted as it was used up in self-sustaining reactions that produced the other rare isotopes as daughter nuclei.
    Pockets of xenon gas trapped in the rocks allowed scientists to estimate that the reactors (around a dozen of them) had run for around a million years, running eight 'cycles' a day during which the fission reaction occurred for about half an hour using water as a moderator, which is vital to sustain the reaction; the energy released heated the water which then boiled away, stopping the reaction for 2.5 hours until enough water had accumulated for the reaction to start again. Highly radioactive fission products had seeped only a few centimetres from the reaction sites in a couple of billion years, which proponents of nuclear power presented as counterarguments to anti-nuclear campaigners who object to the technology on the grounds that subterranean waste storage is too unsafe.

    3. Cannibal Shark Foeti

    Many sharks, unlike most fish, give birth to live young. The grey nurse shark is so badass that the young cannibalise each other in utero before they're even born. This naturally provides a selection pressure to ensure only the one or two most badass sharks of each original brood are even born in the first place.

    Alternatively, a great name for a grindcore band.

    4. Eta Carinae, the real-life Death Star

    This huge star, some 8,000 light years from our solar system, is seriously badass. At around 100 solar masses, it's one of the largest known stars - although recent observations have led some astronomers to think it may be a binary star in close orbit. Either way, the star's total power output is about five million times that of our sun, since the rate of nuclear fusion in a star's core depends very sensitively on its mass.
    The star is notable for its huge two-lobed nebula, consisting of ionised gas emitted by the star from its poles and constrained into the shape of a peanut shell by the star's enormous* magnetic field. Most badass of all, the star's intense radiation impacting on this gas energises it, causing it to re-emit this energy in the form of ultraviolet radiation in such narrow wavelength bands that it is probably the result of natural laser activity within the nebula. Stellar-powered lasers in the infrared and microwave regions of the spectrum have been observed before, but Eta Carinae is the first system to exhibit laser activity at energies this high or at anything like the intensity.

    *well, relatively enormous: see below

    5. The Bloop

    This one goes out to all you Cthulhu lovers out there: The Bloop was an extremely powerful, low-frequency sound detected in the South Pacific several times in 1997 by American submarines. It appears to be biological in origin, in that it doesn't correspond either to any conceivable man-made source or any known geological or hydrological phenomenon, but is far louder than any other known noise made by a living creature, and could be detected over 5,000 miles from its source. You can hear it (sped up, to bring it into the human hearing range) on the Wiki page.

    'Coincidentally', the sound's reconstructed source is close to the location of H. P. Lovecraft's sunken alien city of R'lyeh...
    Last edited by Mr. Tea; 10-11-2010 at 02:46 PM.
    Doin' the Lambeth Warp New: DISSENSUS - THE NOVEL - PM me your email address and I'll add you

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Jun 2006


    Part 2

    6. Neutron stars, pulsars and magnetars

    Neutron stars are so dense that a lump of their constituent matter - essentially a single, continuous atomic nucleus - about a centimetre cubed would have the same mass as the entire human population. Their intense gravitational fields ensure their surfaces have no irregularities greater than about 5mm. Because of their large mass (greater than the Sun) and very tiny size (around 12km in radius) their angular momentum causes them to rotate extremely rapidly. Some neutron stars that emit radiation from their magnetic poles, called pulsars, spin at a rate of up to several hundred rotations per second.

    Magnetars are neutron stars with unusually strong magnetic fields. The Earth's magnetic field, at the surface, has a strength of 30-60 microtesla, depending on latitude; the most powerful artificial magnets have strengths of several tens of tesla, while 'normal' neutron stars have fields of around 100 million tesla. Magnetars have magnetic fields at least 1,000 times stronger still. At a distance of 1,000 km, an object this intensely magnetic would be lethal, tearing human tissue due to the induced magnetism of water.

    7. Mimic octopus

    This creature, native to the tropical seas around SE Asia, is able to contort its body to resemble other marine species which are predatory or poisonous, in order to escape predation itself, or to mimic the creatures it likes to feed on, in order to lure them within striking range. Mimic octopi are so good at this they were only recently recognised as a species. They've been observed to impersonate more than fifteen distinct sea creatures, including crabs, shrimp, jellyfish, lionfish, stingrays and sea snakes.

    8. The 'oh my god' particle

    This is the name given to a single cosmic ray event, recorded in 1991, that was apparently produced by an individual particle with an energy of around 3*10^20 electron-volts smashing into an atomic nucleus in the atmosphere. To give some idea of how energetic this is, the protons used in the Large Hadron Collider have energies of around 3*10^12 electron-volts. The fact that particles with energies a hundred million times greater than this are produced naturally and smash into the earth without anyone but a few astrophysicists noticing is a pretty convincing counterargument to the hysterical claims that the LHC could destroy humanity. As any fule kno, the only humanity at risk from the LHC is that of the grad students who work on the damn thing.

    3*10^20 eV, in more conventional units, is about 50 joules, equivalent to a baseball travelling at 60mph. No widely accepted theory has yet been put forward to explain the origin of particles like these, although they may have been accelerated to this enormous energies by magnetars.

    9. Saturn's hexagonal polar vortex

    This one is just gorgeous. Great example of a complex and apparently robust pattern arising from the combination of a few simple physical laws.

    Dunno if it's badass in the strict sense, but it's pretty cool.

    10. '50s B-movie comes to life: radiation-eating slime fungi!

    A few years ago, scientists sent a remote-controlled robot into the reactor core of the Chernobyl power station and collected some mysterious black slime. When analysed in a laboratory, this was found to consist of a colony of several species of simple fungi. The scientists were amazed to find anything living, let alone apparently growing and thriving, in such an inhospitable environment. The moulds continued to grow when fed conventional nutrients in the lab, but when scientists subjected them to gamma radiation 500 times greater than the average background level (which would have killed most organisms almost straight away) their growth rate significanlty accelerated. The fungi were photosynthesising hard gamma radiation to derive energy for growth, the same way plants photosynthesise using visible light.
    Interestingly, the compound they were using to do this was melanin, exactly the same compound that pigments human skin. But then, the concensus among biologists today is that fungi are closer to animals than to plants, in evolutionary terms...

    Some people have even suggesting using fungi like these as a source of nutrients or biofuel in environment unsuitable for conventional farming, such as space stations. There is literally no way I can see that possibly going wrong, no siree. I, for one, welcome our mouldy, radioactive overlords.

    (bonus tidbit: if you search for 'chernobyl fungus' on google, the autocomplete suggests 'chernobyl fun facts'. Congenital defects and cancer FTW.)
    Last edited by Mr. Tea; 10-11-2010 at 02:50 PM.
    Doin' the Lambeth Warp New: DISSENSUS - THE NOVEL - PM me your email address and I'll add you

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Oct 2005
    Cambridge, UK


    That's a lot of badassedness. You Scienced me dude!

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Mar 2006


    I would have put your mum at number one, myself.

  5. #5


    this sounds a bit speculative but hopefully we will be treated to a fairly badass phenomenon tomorrow! aurora everywhere!

    exellent thread anyway

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Mar 2007