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Moon Marbles

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Whenever my parents are stressed, they'll head to the shooting range. My cousins will throw darts, and my brother and sister will lean their anxiety into endless rounds of World of Warcraft. I'd love to be able to say I shoot marbles into simulated lunar soil at 16k mph, like NASA scientist Bill Cooke, but I don't. Not yet, at least.

"We are simulating meteoroid impacts with the lunar surface," he explains. Cooke and others in the Space Environments Group at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center have recorded the real thing many times. Their telescopes routinely detect explosions on the Moon when meteoroids slam into the lunar surface.

 A typical flash involves "a meteoroid the size of a softball hitting the Moon at 27 km/s and exploding with as much energy as 70 kg of TNT."

Cooke's time at NASA's Ames Vertical Gun Range is going to help astronauts who plan to live on the lunar surface for extended periods of time--NASA's shooting for six months. Meteoroid impacts are especially powerful on the Moon since it doesn't have the atmosphere to retard their descent.

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Big Questions
What's the Difference Between Vanilla and French Vanilla Ice Cream?
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While you’re browsing the ice cream aisle, you may find yourself wondering, “What’s so French about French vanilla?” The name may sound a little fancier than just plain ol’ “vanilla,” but it has nothing to do with the origin of the vanilla itself. (Vanilla is a tropical plant that grows near the equator.)

The difference comes down to eggs, as The Kitchn explains. You may have already noticed that French vanilla ice cream tends to have a slightly yellow coloring, while plain vanilla ice cream is more white. That’s because the base of French vanilla ice cream has egg yolks added to it.

The eggs give French vanilla ice cream both a smoother consistency and that subtle yellow color. The taste is a little richer and a little more complex than a regular vanilla, which is made with just milk and cream and is sometimes called “Philadelphia-style vanilla” ice cream.

In an interview with NPR’s All Things Considered in 2010—when Baskin-Robbins decided to eliminate French Vanilla from its ice cream lineup—ice cream industry consultant Bruce Tharp noted that French vanilla ice cream may date back to at least colonial times, when Thomas Jefferson and George Washington both used ice cream recipes that included egg yolks.

Jefferson likely acquired his taste for ice cream during the time he spent in France, and served it to his White House guests several times. His family’s ice cream recipe—which calls for six egg yolks per quart of cream—seems to have originated with his French butler.

But everyone already knew to trust the French with their dairy products, right?

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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science
Belly Flop Physics 101: The Science Behind the Sting
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Belly flops are the least-dignified—yet most painful—way of making a serious splash at the pool. Rarely do they result in serious physical injury, but if you’re wondering why an elegant swan dive feels better for your body than falling stomach-first into the water, you can learn the laws of physics that turn your soft torso a tender pink by watching the SciShow’s video below.

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