10 Discoveries and Inventions That Are More Recent Than You Think

iStock.com/Eloi_Omella
iStock.com/Eloi_Omella

Some science discoveries and inventions feel like they’ve been part of our lives forever. Sometimes, these "old" discoveries are actually so recent they can be measured by the age of celebrities. Here are a few.

1. Sliced Bread // 1928

For perspective, Betty White, Dick Van Dyke, Mel Brooks, and Sidney Poitier are all older than sliced bread (Mr. Rogers is the same age). Invented in 1928 by Otto F. Rohwedder, sliced bread was advertised as “the greatest forward step in the baking industry since bread was wrapped.” (The invention would have hit shelves sooner, but a prototype bread-slicing machine that Rohwedder built in 1917 was destroyed by a fire.)

2. Our Understanding of the Earth’s Age // 1956

By the late 1940s, new radiometric dating methods suggested that Earth’s age was 3.3 billion years—but scientists were not confident in the number. It wasn’t until the mid-1950s, when Clair Patterson perfected a new method of calculating the age of extremely old rocks, that the Earth’s true age of 4.5 billion years was revealed [PDF]. (Patterson’s methods, which involved building an “ultra-clean” laboratory to remove all traces of foreign contaminants, also led to a second important discovery: It revealed just how badly leaded gasoline was polluting the environment.) Incredibly, both of these concepts are only as old as Tom Hanks.

3. The Discovery of Pluto // 1930

Everybody’s favorite dwarf planet, Pluto, was first spotted in 1930 by a telescope enthusiast who hadn't been to college. Working at the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona, Clyde Tombaugh found “Planet X” using an astrograph—essentially a grainy space camera—and making a discovery that's as old as Clint Eastwood. (Meanwhile, the first exoplanet wouldn’t be confirmed until 1992, or about one Selena Gomez ago.)

4. The Scientific Acceptance of Plate Tectonics // 1961

In 1926, German scientist Alfred Wegener attended a conference where he discussed his theory that all of Earth’s continents had once been connected. The director of the Geological Survey of France called Wegener's idea “the dream of a great poet.” For the next three decades, continental drift was the sort of wacky theory that could get a scientist ostracized from the Establishment. But when geologist Marie Tharp discovered the 10,000-mile Mid-Atlantic Ridge in the Atlantic Ocean—part of the longest mountain range on the planet, and evidence that Earth’s plates were indeed moving—scientists started taking the idea seriously. The theory didn’t reach widespread acceptance until 1961, the year of Barack Obama's birth.

5. The Modern Can Opener // 1870

The modern can opener (with the spinning wheel) was invented in 1870, the same year Vladimir Lenin was born, which seems remarkably late when you consider that metal food cans had already been around for decades. (Before then, people had to pry open food tins by literally "taking a stab at it." In fact, one container advised consumers to “cut round the top near the outer edge with a chisel and hammer.”) Earlier can-opening prototypes existed but weren't very popular: Ezra Warner’s can opener, invented in 1858, resembled a bayonet and was so dangerous that it was usually only used by grocery store owners.

6. Acceptance of the Big Bang Theory // 1965

In 1929, Edwin Hubble confirmed a theory posited by Georges Lemaître—a Belgian Catholic priest and scientist—that the universe was expanding. Two years later, Lemaître attempted to describe the phenomenon with his “hypothesis of the primeval atom,” what would later be called the “Big Bang.” For the next three decades, many scientists debated whether to accept the “Big Bang” model (where the universe has a beginning) or the “Steady State” model (where the universe has no beginning). The former wasn’t widely accepted until 1965, the same year JK Rowling was born.

7. Hib Vaccines // 1985

Hib disease is caused by a bacterium (Haemophilus influenzae type b) and can lead to meningitis, pneumonia, and a slew of nasty infections. It once infected 20,000 young children every year in the United States, killing up to 5 percent of them and leaving up to a third with permanent neurological damage. In 1975, a trial of the drug failed to convince pharmaceutical companies to produce the vaccine, prompting its developer, David H. Smith, to start his own company to make it. First appearing in 1985, the same year as Wonder Woman star Gal Gadot, the vaccine has since reduced Hib disease rates by 99 percent.

8. Double Helix Structure of DNA // 1953

DNA was first identified by a Swiss chemist in 1869. The nucleobases—adenine, cytosine, guanine, thymine, and uracil—were first isolated soon after. But scientists would remain clueless as to DNA’s physical structure until Rosalind Franklin, an expert in X-ray crystallography, and graduate student Raymond Gosling took photographs of it and found two, twisting strands. Using Franklin’s images (without her express permission), James Watson and Francis Crick first described the DNA double helix in 1953, the same year as Pierce Brosnan's birth.

9. Classification of Lucy // 1978

In November 1974, scientists digging in Ethiopia spotted a hunk of a human-like elbow bone in the dirt. With it came a remarkably complete skeleton that was 3.2 million years old. Named Lucy, the Australopithecus afarensis skeleton was an early human ancestor. Lucy was classified as a new species—which upturned ideas about the timeline of human evolution—in 1978, the same year Rachel McAdams was welcomed into the world.

10. Discovery of the Supermassive Black Hole at the Center of the Galaxy // 2002

A black hole is a region of space where gravity is so strong that nothing, not even light, can escape it. The colorful term wasn’t coined until the 1960s, and hard evidence of black holes wasn’t found until 1971. The discovery of the black hole at the center of the Milky Way is even more recent: In 2002, the birth year of Stranger Things actor Gaten Matarazzo, astronomers analyzed stars orbiting a region of the galaxy called Sagittarius A*—and discovered a black hole with a mass 4 million times that of our Sun.

NASA Reveals How Living in Space for a Year Affected Scott Kelly’s Poop

NASA, Getty Images
NASA, Getty Images

When you agree to be part of a yearlong space study, you forfeit some right to privacy. In astronaut Scott Kelly’s case, the changes his body endured while spending a year at the International Space Station (ISS) were carefully analyzed by NASA, then published in a scientific journal for all to see. Kelly submitted blood samples, saliva samples, and cheek swabs. Even his poop was subjected to scrutiny.

As PBS reports, Scott Kelly’s fecal samples revealed that his gut microbiome underwent significant but reversible changes during his time in orbit. In what was surely good news for both Kelly and NASA, his gut bacteria didn’t contain anything “alarming or scary,” according to geneticist Martha Hotz Vitaterna, and it returned to normal within six months of landing on Earth.

Even after being subjected to the challenging conditions of space, “Scott’s microbiome still looked like Scott’s microbiome, just with a space twist on it,” said Vitaterna, who was one of the study’s authors.

The fecal probe was one small part of a sweeping NASA study that was just published in the journal Science, more than three years after Kelly’s return. Dubbed the Twins Study, it hinged on the results of Kelly’s tests being compared with those of his identical twin, retired astronaut Mark Kelly, who remained on Earth as the control subject.

NASA’s goal was to gain insight into the hazards that astronauts could face on proposed long-term missions to the Moon and Mars. The agency has gone to great lengths to get this information, including offering to pay people $18,500 to stay in bed for two months in order to replicate the conditions of anti-gravity.

It also explains why NASA was willing to launch unmanned rockets into space to collect samples of Kelly’s poop. On four different occasions at the ISS, Kelly used cotton swabs to pick up poo particles. When the rockets arrived to drop off lab supplies, they returned to Earth with little tubes containing the swabs, which had to be frozen until all of the samples were collected. The process was tedious, and on one occasion, one of the SpaceX rockets exploded shortly after it launched in 2015.

The study also found that his telomeres, the caps at the ends of chromosomes, had lengthened in space, likely due to regular exercise and a proper diet, according to NASA. But when Kelly returned to Earth, they began to shorten and return to their pre-spaceflight length. Shorter telomeres have a correlation with aging and age-related diseases. “Although average telomere length, global gene expression, and microbiome changes returned to near preflight levels within six months after return to Earth, increased numbers of short telomeres were observed and expression of some genes was still disrupted,” researchers wrote.

Researchers say more studies will be needed before they send the first human to Mars. Check out NASA's video below to learn more about what they discovered.

[h/t PBS]

Astronomers Want Your Help Naming the Largest Unnamed Dwarf Planet in the Universe

iStock.com/jgroup
iStock.com/jgroup

Part of the fun of becoming involved in science is naming things. Entomologists are notorious for branding new species of insects with fanciful names, like the Star Wars fans who labeled apoid wasps Polemistus chewbacca and Polemistus yoda. Sometimes scientists invite the public’s opinion, as in the 2016 petition by the UK's Natural Environment Research Council to have internet users name a polar research ship. They dubbed it Boaty McBoatFace. (That choice was overruled, and the ship is now known as the RRS Sir David Attenborough.)

Now, astronomers are looking to outsource the name of a dwarf planet. But the catch is that there’s no write-in ballot.

The planet, currently known as (225088) 2007 OR10, was discovered in 2007 in the Kuiper Belt orbiting the Sun beyond Neptune and may have a rocky, icy surface with a reddish tint due to methane present in the ice. It's bigger than two other dwarf planets in the Kuiper Belt—Haumea and Makemake—but smaller than Pluto and Eris.

The three astronomers involved in its identification—Meg Schwamb, Mike Brown, and David Rabinowitz of Caltech’s Palomar Observatory near San Diego, California—are set to submit possible names for the dwarf planet to the International Astronomical Union (IAU). They’ve narrowed the choices down to the following: Gongong, Holle, and Vili.

Gonggong, a Mandarin word, references a Chinese water god who is reputed to have visited floods upon the Earth. Holle is a German fairy tale character with Yuletide connotations, and Vili is a Nordic deity who defeated a frost giant.

The team is accepting votes on the planet’s website through 2:59 EDT on May 11. The winning name will be passed on to the IAU for final consideration.

[h/t Geek.com]

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