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United States Army // Public Domain
United States Army // Public Domain

Watch Richard Feynman Explain Fire

United States Army // Public Domain
United States Army // Public Domain

Physicist Richard Feynman was a master explainer. His physics lectures are a model of clarity. His specialty is explaining one concept in the context of another concept the listener already understands.

In the video below, Feynman tackles the seemingly simple question: What is fire? This is a hard question for many of us to answer without referencing fire itself. Fire is burning. Fire is what happens when you light a match. Fire is a reaction. But aside from our existing knowledge of its effects (like flame), what is it and how does it happen? What else is fire like that we understand already?

In 1983, Feynman answered this question (among others) for the BBC on its Fun to Imagine series. He starts like so:

The atoms like each other to different degrees. Oxygen, for instance in the air, would like to be next to carbon, and if they're getting near each other, they snap together. If they're not too close though, they repel and they go apart, so they don't know that they could snap together.

It's just as if you have a ball that was [rolling and] trying to climb a hill and there was a hole it could go into. Like a volcano hole, a deep one. It's rolling along, and it doesn't go down in the deep [volcano] hole, because it starts to climb the hill and it rolls away again. But if you make it go fast enough, it'll fall into the hole.

So if you set something like wood in oxygen...there's carbon in the wood from a tree. And the oxygen comes and hits the carbon, but not hard enough. It just goes away again. The air is always [moving but] nothing's happening. If you can get it fast enough, by heating it up somehow...a few of [the atoms] come past, a few of them go over the top, so to speak.

So there you have it. If you understand what a volcano looks like and how a ball rolls under normal earth gravity, you have the start of this mental image for how fire works. Feynman's explanation manages to convey chemical behaviors in terms humans intuitively understand—the way a ball rolls—because that's the world we live in. Watch this for a delightful explanation:

The BBC has more clips (in better quality) at this slightly vintage website. You can also download the entire hour-long lecture from the Internet Archive.

[h/t: Kottke.org.]

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NOAA, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
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Animals
Watch the First-Ever Footage of a Baby Dumbo Octopus
NOAA, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
NOAA, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Dumbo octopuses are named for the elephant-ear-like fins they use to navigate the deep sea, but until recently, when and how they developed those floppy appendages were a mystery. Now, for the first time, researchers have caught a newborn Dumbo octopus on tape. As reported in the journal Current Biology, they discovered that the creatures are equipped with the fins from the moment they hatch.

Study co-author Tim Shank, a researcher at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, spotted the octopus in 2005. During a research expedition in the North Atlantic, one of the remotely operated vehicles he was working with collected several coral branches with something strange attached to them. It looked like a bunch of sandy-colored golf balls at first, but then he realized it was an egg sac.

He and his fellow researchers eventually classified the hatchling that emerged as a member of the genus Grimpoteuthis. In other words, it was a Dumbo octopus, though they couldn't determine the exact species. But you wouldn't need a biology degree to spot its resemblance to Disney's famous elephant, as you can see in the video below.

The octopus hatched with a set of functional fins that allowed it to swim around and hunt right away, and an MRI scan revealed fully-developed internal organs and a complex nervous system. As the researchers wrote in their study, Dumbo octopuses enter the world as "competent juveniles" ready to jump straight into adult life.

Grimpoteuthis spends its life in the deep ocean, which makes it difficult to study. Scientists hope the newly-reported findings will make it easier to identify Grimpoteuthis eggs and hatchlings for future research.

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Animals
Watch an Antarctic Minke Whale Feed in a First-of-Its-Kind Video
WWF
WWF

New research from the World Wildlife Fund is giving us a rare glimpse into the world of the mysterious minke whale. The WWF worked with Australian Antarctic researchers to tag minke whales with cameras for the first time, watching where and how the animals feed.

The camera attaches to the whale's body with suction cups. In the case of the video below, the camera accidentally slid down the side of the minke whale's body, providing an unexpected look at the way its throat moves as it feeds.

Minke whales are one of the smallest baleen whales, but they're still pretty substantial animals, growing 30 to 35 feet long and weighing up to 20,000 pounds. Unlike other baleen whales, though, they're small enough to maneuver in tight spaces like within sea ice, a helpful adaptation for living in Antarctic waters. They feed by lunging through the sea, gulping huge amounts of water along with krill and small fish, and then filtering the mix through their baleen.

The WWF video shows just how quickly the minke can process this treat-laden water. The whale could lunge, process, and lunge again every 10 seconds. "He was like a Pac-Man continuously feeding," Ari Friedlaender, the lead scientist on the project, described in a press statement.

The video research, conducted under the International Whaling Commission's Southern Ocean Research Partnership, is part of WWF's efforts to protect critical feeding areas for whales in the region.

If that's not enough whale for you, you can also watch the full 13-minute research video below:

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