A planet called Bernard, sheep trained to recognise Barack Obama, octopuses marching out of the sea, and a century-old fruit cake.
Here are the Australian Science Media Centre’s picks for the top 10 weirdest science stories of 2017:
Sheep recognised Baaarack Obaaama
The humble sheep can pick out a celebrity face almost as well as a human.
The animals were trained to associate famous faces, including Barack Obama, Jake Gyllenhall and Emma Watson, with a food reward.
They were able to identify with about 80% accuracy the celebrity when faced with a choice between the famous face and another.
Scientists use sheep to study Huntington’s disease in humans, a condition that can make facial recognition difficult. Learning how sheep recognise faces could help develop treatments for the disease.
Boxer crabs love their anemone mittens
Who knew crabs enjoy wearing mittens made of anemones?
The researchers said crabs that lost one of their mittens quickly got their claws on another by pinching an anemone from another crab.
And if there weren’t any other crabs around, they’d simply tear their remaining anemone mitten in two.
Smileys in emails made us seem incompetent
If you think you’re spreading the love and passing on positive vibes by adding a smiley face emoticon to the end of your emails at work, you should probably think again.
According to Dutch and Israeli research published in July, smiley faces don’t make the sender seem warmer, but do make them seem incompetent.
The survey of 549 people from 29 countries also found that people frequently didn’t bother replying properly to emails with smiley faces, and that, on unsigned emails, people tended to assume the sender of a smiley was female, rather than male. :(
Dozens of octopuses marched out of the sea
In November, between 25 and 30 octopuses were seen leaving the ocean and marching along a Welsh beach on their tentacles.
The why is a mystery, although it’s possible they were confused by stormy conditions and took a very wrong turn.
Some of the octopuses were returned to the sea by bystanders but others died.
Sea sex secrets
Marine biologists have been resurrecting the penises of dead marine mammals, including dolphins, porpoises and seals, by pumping them full of salt water.
The post-mortem members were used to simulate sex with casts of the female bits of the appropriate marine creatures, all performed in a CT scanner
The aim of the research was to learn more about the mechanics and evolution of marine mammal sex which is tricky to observe in the wild.
Someone called a planet Bernard
The planet Bernard?
It might not be the first name that comes to mind for a planet in our solar system but in February a minor planet in orbit between Mars and Jupiter was named just that, or Bernardbowen, to give it its full name.
Scientists from Australia’s International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR) named the planet in honour of their founding chairman, Dr Bernard Bowen, after citizen scientists at theSkyNet won a competition to choose a name.
Swimming pools contained a wee-lie bin of pee
In March, we learned that an average-sized public swimming pool of around 830,000 litres of water contains a wheelie bin, or 75 litres, of urine.
Canadian researchers used a new method of detecting urine in pools by testing the water for a common artificial sweetener which, after being eaten, passes straight through.
Urine in pools can cause eye irritation and breathing problems when it reacts with chlorine.
Scott of the Antarctic’s frozen fruitcake was almost edible
In August, a 106-year-old fruitcake that once belonged to explorer Robert Falcon Scott was found frozen in Antarctica’s oldest building, a hut on Cape Adare, by the Antarctic Heritage Trust.
The cake was reported to be “almost edible”, despite giving off a faint whiff of rancid butter.
It was apparently a favourite brand of Scott’s, who successfully led his team to the South Pole in 1912 from the hut. No-one survived the return journey.
The Trust also found “badly deteriorated” meat and fish, and “rather nice-looking” jams. But nobody will get to find out if the cake is actually edible. It will be returned intact to Antarctica following building conservation work on the hut.
We could tell a movie villain from their face
In April, we learned that some of the best known movie villains have striking similarities in their facial features.
US researchers reviewed the top ten celluloid heroes and villains of all time, including Hannibal Lecter, Darth Vader, The Queen from Snow White and The Wicked Witch of the West.
The common traits were hair loss, dark eye bags, deep wrinkles, multiple facial scars, warts, and a big, bulbous nose.
Only two of the movie heroes shared any of these conditions. Humphrey Bogart and Indiana Jones both had scars, but theirs were much more subtle, and were considered more devilishly handsome than devilish.
However, the scientists pointed out that Hollywood’s tendency to depict skin conditions as the mark of an evildoer is bad news for people in the real world who have similar facial features because it can lead to bullying.
Cosmic rays revealed a secret pyramid chamber
They came from outer space to reveal a secret chamber in Egypt’s 4,500-year-old Great Pyramid, the last remaining ancient wonder of the world.
But these were no little green men, they were tiny subatomic particles called muons.
Japanese and French scientists announced in November that they’d used three different types of muon detectors to learn more about the internal structure of the pyramid, and uncovered a large, previously unknown chamber in the process.
Muons are created when cosmic rays hit Earth’s atmosphere. They pass straight through the planet and their speed allows researchers to distinguish between solid rock and empty spaces.
The chamber is around 30 metres long and located above the Grand Gallery. However, it remains inaccessible. We know it’s there but don’t know what it’s for.
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