19 Common Things Science Hasn’t Figured Out

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Whether we want to admit it or not, everyone cries. And while experience has taught us that it's a seemingly natural reaction to being either incredibly sad or incredibly happy, scientists have yet to figure out exactly why that salty discharge pours from our eye sockets when we're feeling emotional. It could be a way to bond with our fellow humans, or a way to alert someone else that something is amiss. But these are all just guesses, as weeping is just one of many everyday behaviors the world's smartest brains still haven't quite cracked the code on yet.

Join editor-in-chief Erin McCarthy as she digs into the science—or lack thereof—of 19 seemingly normal things we do that are a mystery to scientists (you can add sleeping, laughing, and hiccuping to that list, too) with the first edition of our all-new Mental Floss List Show. There's a fancy new set, a fancy new host, and plenty of mind-boggling topics we'll be discussing. So put on your smartypants and check out the full episode below.

For more episodes like this one, be sure to subscribe here!

A Clue on the Ceiling of Grand Central Terminal Shows How Dirty It Was 30 Years Ago

iStock.com/undercrimson
iStock.com/undercrimson

The mural above the concourse at Grand Central Terminal is one of the most gawked-at ceilings in New York City, but even daily commuters may have missed a peculiar feature. Tucked at the edge of the green and gold constellations is a rectangular black mark. The apparent blemish didn't get there by mistake: As Gothamist explains in its new series WHY?, it was left there by restorers when the ceiling was cleaned more than 20 years ago.

Prior to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's renovation of Grand Central in the 1990s, the concourse was a lot dirtier. The station itself was constructed in Manhattan in the early 1900s, and the celestial scene that's on the ceiling today was painted there in the 1940s. It took only a few decades for tobacco smoke and other pollutants to stain the mural so badly that it needed to be restored.

Using Simple Green-brand cleaning solution and cotton rags, conservators spent two years scrubbing nearly every inch of the ceiling back to its former glory; the one part they skipped was a 9-inch-by-18-inch patch in the northwest corner. Sometimes, when doing a major cleaning project, preservationists will leave a small sample of the art or artifact untouched. If the cleaning products did any damage to the paint, the patch gives future preservationists something to compare it to. It also acts as a snapshot of what the mural looked like in its old condition.

To hear more about the mural and its dirty secret, watch the video from Gothamist below.

[h/t Gothamist]

It 'Rained' Spiders in Brazil Last Week—and You Can Watch It If You Dare

iStock.com/aury1979
iStock.com/aury1979

If recent events are anything to go by, you should be less concerned about swallowing spiders in your sleep and more concerned about bird-eating spiders raining down on your head. As The Guardian reports, recent footage from the Brazilian countryside shows thousands of spiders seemingly suspended in mid-air. (Arachnophobes might want to give the video below a miss.)

In reality, they aren’t falling at all. The spiders, which likely belong to a South American species called Parawixia bistriata, are merely crawling on an ultra-fine and nearly invisible web that attaches to two objects, like trees or bushes, to form a canopy.

So why do they do it? To catch prey, naturally. They’re likely to snag a variety of insects and maybe even small birds in their communal web, which can stretch up to 13 feet wide. (And yes, they eat the birds, too.)

Brazilian biology professor Adalberto dos Santos tells The Guardian that P. bistriata are some of the rare “social” spiders that do this. They leave their webs up overnight, hide out in the nearby vegetation, and then return at dawn to feast.

While this natural phenomenon is certainly unsettling, it isn’t exactly rare. Residents of the southeast municipality of Espírito Santo do Dourado, where the video was shot, said these “spider rains” are common when the weather is hot and humid.

Here’s another video from Santo Antônio da Platina in southern Brazil in 2013.

Other species of spider have been known to jump into the wind and "surf" on strands of silk as a means of getting around. They do this to escape threats or get to food or mates in other locations, and cases of "spider flight" have been recorded all over the world. Some especially adventurous spiders have even been known to cross oceans by “ballooning” their way from one land mass to the next.

[h/t The Guardian]

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