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David Adamski, Karina Boege, Jean-Francois Landry, Jae-Cheon Sohn via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
David Adamski, Karina Boege, Jean-Francois Landry, Jae-Cheon Sohn via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

17 Species Named After Star Wars Characters

David Adamski, Karina Boege, Jean-Francois Landry, Jae-Cheon Sohn via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
David Adamski, Karina Boege, Jean-Francois Landry, Jae-Cheon Sohn via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

There are Star Wars fans everywhere, including among the scientists who study life on Earth. When these scientists get to name a new species, they often name it after a family member or respected mentor. However, some choose another direction—especially if they're naming a lot of species at once. That’s when the real nerdiness comes out. Here are 17 species whose names were inspired by Star Wars.

1. WOCKIA CHEWBACCA

A team led by David Adams of the Smithsonian Institution identified two new moth species in western Mexico in 2009. One was named Wockia mexicana and the other Wockia chewbacca. The researchers referred to the Star Wars character Chewbacca as a “very large and hairy Wookiee” in the original paper [PDF]. The oversized, hirsute moths have similar characteristics.

2. XENOKERYX AMIDALAE

Israel M. Sánchez via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 2.5

The fossil remains of an extinct ruminant were discovered last year in Spain. The animal lived about 16 million years ago and had three distinctive horns. It belongs to the palaeomerycidae family, which is believed to include the ancient ancestor of the giraffe. Israel Sánchez of the National Museum of Natural History in Madrid led the team of Spanish and German scientists studying the creature. He said they named the animal Xenokeryx amidalae after the Star Wars character Padmé Amidala because its horns resembled the outlandish hairstyles she wore when she was queen of Naboo.  

3. TETRAMORIUM JEDI

Discovered in 2012, Tetramorium jedi is a species of ant native to Madagascar. Entomologists Francisco Hita Garcia and Brian Fisher described dozens of new ant species in the same research paper [PDF], so they apparently turned to many sources to name them.

4. ADELOMYRMEX VADERI

But T. jedi wasn’t the first ant named for a Star Wars term. In 2003, Fernando Fernández dubbed a Colombian ant Adelomyrmex vaderi, perhaps because, like Vader, it towers over others of its kind, being one of the largest ants in its genus.   

5. APTOSTICHUS SARLACC

Jason Bond, Auburn University via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 3.0

Arachnologist Jason Bond of the University of Auburn discovered 33 new species of trapdoor spider in the U.S. and published their names in 2012. He named one after his daughter Elisabeth and others after various celebrities, including Bono, Cesar Chavez, and Barack Obama. And then there is Aptostichus sarlacc, inspired by the slow-digesting monster known as the Sarlacc, which appeared in the film Return of the Jedi. It’s an appropriate name for a trapdoor spider, which catches its prey by luring insects into a web shaped like a pit that resembles the Sarlacc’s mouth.   

6. DARTHVADERUM GREENSLADEAE

 
The Dark Lord of the Sith lends his name to the Australian mite Darthvaderum greensladeae, named in 1996 by G.S. Hunt. The only member of the genus, the species is also sometimes referred to as Novazelandiella greensladeae.   

7. PECKOLTIA GREEDOI

Jonathan W. Armbruster via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 4.0

Jonathan Armbruster of the Auburn University Museum of Natural History named a new species of suckermouth armored catfish last year. Since he thought it bore a "striking resemblance" to the bounty hunter Greedo (who Han Solo shot in the first Star Wars movie), he named it Peckoltia greedoi. The first known specimen was found in 1998 but remained unnamed until last year. Armbruster has been a dedicated Star Wars fan since childhood.  

8. ALBUNIONE YODA

While studying crabs in Taiwan in 2003, John Markham and Christopher Boyko discovered an isopod parasite that lived in the gills of the crab Albunea groeningi. The researchers said [PDF] they named the parasite Albunione yoda because curved lateral extensions on the female mite's head are reminiscent of Yoda's "long drooping ears." 

9. AGATHIDIUM VADERI

 
Agathidium is a genus of slime-mold beetles. When entomologists Quentin Wheeler and Kelly Miller named three species of Agathidium for George Bush, Dick Cheney, and Donald Rumsfeld in 2005, it made headlines; but the researchers actually described 62 other species of slime-mold beetles in the same paper. Those included insects called after the entomologists’ wives, historical figures, and fictional characters. Agathidium vaderi was named after Darth Vader because it has “a broad, shiny, helmetlike head.”  

10. THRICOPS VADERI

As you've probably noticed by now, entomologists seem to be especially inspired by Darth Vader. Here's another example. Thricops vaderi is a species of housefly named by Jade Savage in 2003 when she published a paper naming six new species of Thricops.

11. TRIGONOPTERUS CHEWBACCA

Alexander Riedel via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 3.0

In a recent article in the journal ZooKeys, a group of scientists described four new species of weevil beetles found in Papua New Guinea. They named one Trigonopterus chewbacca after the Wookiee we all know and love. (Note its bristling body, above.) The researchers wrote, "This species has dense scales on the head and the legs, which reminds the authors of Chewbacca’s dense fur."

12. MIDICHLORIA MITOCHONDRII


Australian postdoctoral student Nate Lo was researching ticks for the University of Milan, in particular pathogens they carry that could affect humans. In 2004, he discovered bacteria that infected tick ovary cells in a way scientists hadn’t seen before: They nestle inside a cell’s mitochondria instead of the cytoplasm. As Lo searched for an appropriate name for the organism, he read about the midi-chlorians of the Star Wars universe (mentioned only in the prequels): intelligent microorganisms that infect humans and, at a certain level, bestow the power of the Force. The bacteria inside the ticks' ovary cells don't seem to be as beneficial, but they don't appear to harm the ticks either. Before publishing, Lo consulted George Lucas and got his permission for the name Midichloria mitochondrii.  

13., 14., AND 15. POLEMISTUS CHEWBACCA, POLEMISTUS VADERI, AND POLEMISTUS YODA

 
Scientists have used The Force (at least taxonomically speaking) for a long time. In 1983, entomologists Arnold Menke and Charles Vincent described and named three new species of wasp Polemistus vaderi, Polemistus yoda, and Polemistus chewbacca. We shouldn’t be surprised. Menke is the entomologist who named a species of wasp Aha ha in 1977, and another Pison Eu in 1988.

16. YODA PURPURATA

The name Yoda purpurata literally means “purple Yoda.” That’s the name researchers gave in 2012 to a deep-sea acorn worm that has large lips, which its discoverers thought resembled Yoda’s ears. The scientists also discovered two other new species of acorn worms during the same expedition using remotely operated vehicles to observe the sea floor, but the one called Yoda is the one that got all the press.

17. HAN SOLO

Apokryltaros via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 4.0

The Han solo trilobite—which died perhaps 470 million years ago—was first described in a paper by Samuel Turvey in 2004. In the published paper, he attributed the genus name to the Han people of China, as that’s where the fossils were found, and the species name solo because it is the only species in the genus. However, Turvey admitted that he was dared to name the species after a Star Wars character. 

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The Elements
9 Essential Facts About Carbon
iStock / Collage by Jen Pinkowski
iStock / Collage by Jen Pinkowski

How well do you know the periodic table? Our series The Elements explores the fundamental building blocks of the observable universe—and their relevance to your life—one by one.
 
 
It can be glittering and hard. It can be soft and flaky. It can look like a soccer ball. Carbon is the backbone of every living thing—and yet it just might cause the end of life on Earth as we know it. How can a lump of coal and a shining diamond be composed of the same material? Here are eight things you probably didn't know about carbon.

1. IT'S THE "DUCT TAPE OF LIFE."

It's in every living thing, and in quite a few dead ones. "Water may be the solvent of the universe," writes Natalie Angier in her classic introduction to science, The Canon, "but carbon is the duct tape of life." Not only is carbon duct tape, it's one hell of a duct tape. It binds atoms to one another, forming humans, animals, plants and rocks. If we play around with it, we can coax it into plastics, paints, and all kinds of chemicals.

2. IT'S ONE OF THE MOST ABUNDANT ELEMENTS IN THE UNIVERSE.

It sits right at the top of the periodic table, wedged in between boron and nitrogen. Atomic number 6, chemical sign C. Six protons, six neutrons, six electrons. It is the fourth most abundant element in the universe after hydrogen, helium, and oxygen, and 15th in the Earth's crust. While its older cousins hydrogen and helium are believed to have been formed during the tumult of the Big Bang, carbon is thought to stem from a buildup of alpha particles in supernova explosions, a process called supernova nucleosynthesis.

3. IT'S NAMED AFTER COAL.

While humans have known carbon as coal and—after burning—soot for thousands of years, it was Antoine Lavoisier who, in 1772, showed that it was in fact a unique chemical entity. Lavoisier used an instrument that focused the Sun's rays using lenses which had a diameter of about four feet. He used the apparatus, called a solar furnace, to burn a diamond in a glass jar. By analyzing the residue found in the jar, he was able to show that diamond was comprised solely of carbon. Lavoisier first listed it as an element in his textbook Traité Élémentaire de Chimie, published in 1789. The name carbon derives from the French charbon, or coal.

4. IT LOVES TO BOND.

It can form four bonds, which it does with many other elements, creating hundreds of thousands of compounds, some of which we use daily. (Plastics! Drugs! Gasoline!) More importantly, those bonds are both strong and flexible.

5. NEARLY 20 PERCENT OF YOUR BODY IS CARBON.

May Nyman, a professor of inorganic chemistry at Oregon State University in Corvallis, Oregon tells Mental Floss that carbon has an almost unbelievable range. "It makes up all life forms, and in the number of substances it makes, the fats, the sugars, there is a huge diversity," she says. It forms chains and rings, in a process chemists call catenation. Every living thing is built on a backbone of carbon (with nitrogen, hydrogen, oxygen, and other elements). So animals, plants, every living cell, and of course humans are a product of catenation. Our bodies are 18.5 percent carbon, by weight.

And yet it can be inorganic as well, Nyman says. It teams up with oxygen and other substances to form large parts of the inanimate world, like rocks and minerals.

6. WE DISCOVERED TWO NEW FORMS OF IT ONLY RECENTLY.

Carbon is found in four major forms: graphite, diamonds, fullerenes, and graphene. "Structure controls carbon's properties," says Nyman.  Graphite ("the writing stone") is made up of loosely connected sheets of carbon formed like chicken wire. Penciling something in actually is just scratching layers of graphite onto paper. Diamonds, in contrast, are linked three-dimensionally. These exceptionally strong bonds can only be broken by a huge amount of energy. Because diamonds have many of these bonds, it makes them the hardest substance on Earth.

Fullerenes were discovered in 1985 when a group of scientists blasted graphite with a laser and the resulting carbon gas condensed to previously unknown spherical molecules with 60 and 70 atoms. They were named in honor of Buckminster Fuller, the eccentric inventor who famously created geodesic domes with this soccer ball–like composition. Robert Curl, Harold Kroto, and Richard Smalley won the 1996 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for discovering this new form of carbon.

The youngest member of the carbon family is graphene, found by chance in 2004 by Andre Geim and Kostya Novoselov in an impromptu research jam. The scientists used scotch tape—yes, really—to lift carbon sheets one atom thick from a lump of graphite. The new material is extremely thin and strong. The result: the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2010.

7. DIAMONDS AREN'T CALLED "ICE" BECAUSE OF THEIR APPEARANCE.

Diamonds are called "ice" because their ability to transport heat makes them cool to the touch—not because of their look. This makes them ideal for use as heat sinks in microchips. (Synthethic diamonds are mostly used.) Again, diamonds' three-dimensional lattice structure comes into play. Heat is turned into lattice vibrations, which are responsible for diamonds' very high thermal conductivity.

8. IT HELPS US DETERMINE THE AGE OF ARTIFACTS—AND PROVE SOME OF THEM FAKE.

American scientist Willard F. Libby won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1960 for developing a method for dating relics by analyzing the amount of a radioactive subspecies of carbon contained in them. Radiocarbon or C14 dating measures the decay of a radioactive form of carbon, C14, that accumulates in living things. It can be used for objects that are as much as 50,000 years old. Carbon dating help determine the age of Ötzi the Iceman, a 5300-year-old corpse found frozen in the Alps. It also established that Lancelot's Round Table in Winchester Cathedral was made hundreds of years after the supposed Arthurian Age.

9. TOO MUCH OF IT IS CHANGING OUR WORLD.

Carbon dioxide (CO2) is an important part of a gaseous blanket that is wrapped around our planet, making it warm enough to sustain life. But burning fossil fuels—which are built on a carbon backbone—releases more carbon dioxide, which is directly linked to global warming. A number of ways to remove and store carbon dioxide have been proposed, including bioenergy with carbon capture and storage, which involves planting large stands of trees, harvesting and burning them to create electricity, and capturing the CO2 created in the process and storing it underground. Yet another approach that is being discussed is to artificially make oceans more alkaline in order to let them to bind more CO2. Forests are natural carbon sinks, because trees capture CO2 during photosynthesis, but human activity in these forests counteracts and surpasses whatever CO2 capture gains we might get. In short, we don't have a solution yet to the overabundance of C02 we've created in the atmosphere.

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8 Myths About Dead Bodies You Probably Think Are True
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Bodies are weird enough, but it's the dead ones that hold real intrigue. The fact that most of us just don't spend that much time around them means it's hard to separate truth from fiction; corpses have been thought to be responsible for plagues, as well as to carry magic healing properties. Below, some dead body myths that won't give up the ghost—and explanations for the real-life science behind them.

1. HAIR AND NAILS GROW AFTER DEATH.

Corpse under sheet with hand sticking out

Not true! The cell division driving hair and nail growth stops when the body dies and the heart no longer pumps oxygen-filled blood throughout the circulatory system. It does look like things keep growing, though. When a dead body's skin loses hydration, it retracts—and retraction along the nail bed makes it appear as if the nails are getting longer. As for hair, drying skin on the face and head "pulls back towards the skull, making stubble appear more prominent," writes Claudia Hammond for the BBC. "Goosebumps caused by the contraction of the hair muscles can add to the effect."

2. DEAD BODIES ARE DANGEROUS.

There's no science to back up the idea that a dead and decomposing body is harmful to the living just by virtue of its being dead. This might sound obvious, but the belief that disease came from breathing in air infected by corpses was once common.

Miasmatic theory, as it was called, was a widespread belief among members of the medical profession (and the public) in the 19th century. Miasma, an ancient Greek word for "pollution," was the bad air coming from "rotting corpses, the exhalations of other people already infected, sewage, or even rotting vegetation" and was thought to be responsible for the spread of disease. Fortunately, this belief was eventually replaced by germ theory.

3. … AND MULTIPLE DEAD BODIES ARE EXTRA DANGEROUS.

In a publication from the Pan American Health Organization (a division of the World Health Organization), Donna Eberwine explains that the belief that dead bodies spread disease "remains a chronic problem in disaster relief efforts." After natural disasters, there is often a hysteria around dead bodies and a rush to immediately bury them, which distracts relief efforts from more pressing concerns. "The microorganisms that are involved in decomposition are not the kind that cause disease," Eberwine writes. "And most viruses and bacteria that do cause disease cannot survive more than a few hours in a dead body."

There are some exceptions. The level of Ebola virus in dead victims remains high, and their remains should only be handled by people in protective gear (and buried quickly). HIV can live for up to 16 days in a body held under refrigeration, and other blood-borne viruses like hepatitis, along with tuberculosis and gastrointestinal infections, can pose a risk. "The risk of contagion can be minimized with basic precautions and proper hygiene," Eberwine writes.

4. EMBALMING MAKES DEAD BODIES "SAFER."

Egyptian sarcophagus

"Embalming provides no public health benefit," according to the Funeral Consumer's Alliance (a nonprofit focused on affordable death care), citing the Centers for Disease Control and Canadian authorities. While individual morticians might say that a body must be embalmed before viewing, burial, or cremation, the process is generally not legally required. Moreover, since a dead body is usually not in itself harmful, embalming does not make it any safer. On the flip side, embalming chemicals are actually quite toxic, and embalmers must cover their entire body and wear a respirator while working. 

5. DEAD BODIES SIT UP ON THE MEDICAL TABLE.

This horror-movie trope just isn't real. During decomposition, a body might twitch or make small movements and noises due to the gas and waste released by bacteria. A decomposing corpse can definitely move a little, but sitting straight up is just not going to happen.

6. BURYING A BODY WITHOUT A COFFIN OR VAULT MEANS IT WILL CONTAMINATE THE GROUNDWATER.

Nope! Burials usually occur at 3.5 feet below the surface, whereas water can be 75 feet underground. "Mandatory setbacks from known water sources also ensure that surface water is not at risk," the Green Burial Council explains [PDF]. Additionally, because microorganisms living in the soil will break down the chemical compounds that remain in a dead body, we actually give out "more toxic chemicals during a day of living than a whole body will decomposing."

7. CREMAINS ARE "ASH."

Wall of cremation urns

Though we often talk of "scattering ashes," cremains are a little more complicated. Once a body intended for cremation has been burned in what's called a retort, what's left will be put in a cremulator. Sort of like a blender, the cremulator uses ball bearings or rotating blades to pulverize the bones and other remnants into a "grayish, coarse material, like fine gravel," as HowStuffWorks puts it.

8. ALL IN ALL, MAYBE DEATH ISN'T AS SCARY AS WE THINK.

According to psychological scientist Kurt Gray, it's possible that death isn't quite as terrifying as we think it is. Gray studied the responses of death row inmates and terminally ill patients as well as those of people asked to imagine they had untreatable cancer, and found that "while it's natural to fear death in the abstract, the closer one actually gets to it, the more positive he or she becomes," as New York Magazine explains. This may be due to something called the "psychological immune system," a term coined by Harvard psychologist Dan Gilbert in his book Stumbling on Happiness. According to Gray, our psychological immune system is engaged when bad things happen. "So when one is faced with death, all sorts of rationalization and meaning-making processes come in," he told New York Magazine. That may sound like your brain's trying to give you a cop-out, but it's much better than living in terror.

All photos courtesy of iStock.

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