The Omicron Variant Movie Poster

Everyone's talking about the new omicron variant of the COVID-19 coronavirus. So far, we don't know all that much about it, but anecdotal evidence is that it may be less dangerous than the delta variant, even if it turns out to be more virulent. The word omicron has tripped up a lot of newscasters who've never heard the word pronounced before. Omicron is the 15th letter of the Greek alphabet, and not really heard much in English. However, it sure sounds like a science fiction term, doesn't it?

Filmmaker Christopher Miller took a poster from the 1966 movie Cyborg 2087 and altered it to what we picture when we hear "the omicron variant." The title follows the phrasing of science fiction titles like The Andromeda Strain or The Philadelphia Experiment (or The Shawshank Redemption or The Pelican Brief, for that matter). The only thing that would make this more fitting would be to slot in Charlton Heston in the lead role.

It turns out there have been several movies with omicron in the title, in 1963, 1999, and 2013. We nerds really like the Greek alphabet. -via Boing Boing

Squibbing at the Bridgwater Carnival

"It's like any of these traditional regional things that it wouldn't be allowed if you were to ask anywhere else in the world to do it now, innit."

For more than 400 years, Bridgwater, Somerset, UK, has celebrated Guy Fawkes Day, the anniversary of the Gunpowder Plot, with plenty of gunpowder. The Bridgwater Carnival is held every fifth of November, except it was canceled in 2020 and scaled back in 2021. In a normal year, there is a full carnival including an illuminated parade after sundown. This year they still managed to do the traditional "squibbing," which involves a phalanx of 150 or so people holding fireworks over their heads. Tom Scott got a chance to investigate how the squibbs are made and used, which is just a little bit safer than the traditional ones from hundreds of years ago. He also got to participate in the festivities a few weeks ago, and seems downright giddy at the pyromaniac pyrotechnical display. A good time was had by all.

Invisible Galaxies Spotted!

Experts have discovered two galaxies hiding near the dawn of the universe. These ‘invisible’ galaxies, named  REBELS-12-2 and REBELS-29-2, imply that there were far more galaxies in the early universe than scientists thought. The Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA) captured the radio waves emitted by these stars, which existed 13 billion years ago, actually. 

According to Swiss astronomer Pascal Oesch, they were looking at a sample of very distant galaxies when they noticed the invisible galaxies. “And then we noticed that two of them had a neighbor that we didn’t expect to be there at all. As both of these neighboring galaxies are surrounded by dust, some of their light is blocked, making them invisible to Hubble,” he said. 

Image credit: NASA

Largest Underwater Volcano Eruption Ever Recorded

We almost failed to notice it, too! 

A New Zealander who was flying home from a holiday in Samoa noticed a strange mass floating in the ocean in her airplane window. The woman took photos of the odd sight and emailed them to scientists, who then realized that this large mass wasn’t a new island popping out of the ocean-- it was a mass of floating rock from an underwater volcano that erupted. 

The volcano in question is the Havre Seamount, which was initially unnoticed by scientists until its eruption that produced the large rift of rocks to flow to the top of the ocean. The eruption is estimated to be roughly 1.5 times larger than the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens – or 10 times the size of the 2010 Eyjafjallajökull eruption in Iceland


Image credit: Rebecca Carey, University of Tasmania/Adam Soule, WHOI

What Happened To MSN Messenger?

Microsoft’s MSN Messenger was one of those old-school platforms that actually provided the comfort and efficiency of instant messaging during the early days of the Internet. The application competed against AOL Instant Messenger, ICQ, and Yahoo! Messenger for popularity. 

While MSN Messenger didn’t initially rise to the top, its integration with Hotmail managed to overtake the competition, as it offered the convenience of instant messaging to clients of the popular web email service. While it did manage to pull some users, Microsoft phased out the application in 2013 after its acquisition of Skype. Tech Spot’s Shawn Knight details the history of MSN Messenger here! 

Image credit: Tech Spot

So, How Do You Build A Terrarium?

It’s definitely a good addition to your home! Terrariums are small enclosures, usually a glass container, that contain a select number of plants and/or small land animals. Building one is like working hard to create a living garden.

As for making sure that your terrarium stays alive for a long, long time, New York Times’ Margaret Roach says that choosing the right plants and right locations can determine your plants’ longevity. “Your subjects should be selected not just for their good looks, but for their compatibility with the environment you’ll prepare for them — inside a container of a particular size and shape — and with one another,” she adds. Learn more tips and tricks to create and tend to a terrarium here! 

Image credit: Neslihan Gunaydin/Unsplash

Why Did Ancient Egyptians Stop Building Pyramids?

Egyptian pharaohs stopped building royal pyramids after the New Kingdom period (16th century B.C. - 11th century B.C.). While there is no official or recorded reason behind the ending of pyramid construction, experts hypothesize that security concerns could have been a factor. 

According to Harvard University Egyptology professor Peter Der Manuelian, “...since pyramids were inevitably plundered, hiding the royal burials away in a distant valley, carved into the rock and presumably with plenty of necropolis guards, surely played a role." Check out Live Science’s full piece on the topic here. 

Image credit: Osama Elsayed/Unsplash 

Rethinking Invasive Species Amid Climate Change

We've posted quite a few stories of how invasive species can wreck an ecosystem, but those stories represent a small minority of what we call invasive species. The truth is that species move all the time. About 90% of them die out in an unsuitable new environment. Of the remaining 10%, nine will settle in and cause no harm (like kudzu in America). That leaves only 1% of invasive species to make headlines for the damage they cause (like feral cats in Australia). Also, we usually assume that non-native species were transported by humans, such as the plant lovers who bought kudzu from Japanese merchants and the ship crews that carried rodent-hunting cats to Australia.

But there's another kind of invasive species that moves more and more each year- they are climate refugees. As the planet warms up, plants, animals, and other organisms wander further into areas that are becoming more hospitable than their original homes. Is this going to cause problems for existing species in those areas? Maybe, but it may also be the only way those refugee species can continue to exist. Read about this emerging phenomenon and its implications at Vox.

Searching for the Elusive Origins of Glass

The production of glass goes back somewhere around 3500 years. Or at least we once thought so. Producing glass in those days required skilled artisans, or at least we once thought. Glass products were so expensive that they were reserved for royalty, we once thought. Scientists can tell where a glass object was made from the materials used to make or color it, we once thought. All these ideas about the origins of glass have been thrown into the wind with recent discoveries.

It's possible we will never know who invented glass, or where. The very nature of ancient glass shows that it deteriorates in humid conditions over thousands of years, so there may have been samples from its origins that simply no longer exist. Global trade in ancient times indicates that not only was glass imported, but also the raw materials once used to identify its origin. Therefore, glass found in one country, thought to be made in a second country, could have been partially made in a third country with imported ingredients from somewhere else. Partially made glass was shipped in ingots, as in the image shown above, to be remelted and fashioned by artisans into its final form elsewhere. You see how global trade in ancient times makes the story rather murky.

Throw in the fact that archaeologists once ignored evidence of glass when plundering artifacts, and modern archaeologists and material scientists have their work cut out for them. Yet modern technology that can analyze tiny samples of glass without damaging an artifact is helping scientists to learn amazing things about the ancient glass industry. Read about that line of research and what we've discovered at Smithsonian.

(Image credit: Flickr user Panegyrics of Granovetter)

Is This Viral Video Real or Fake?

It's only one minute and six seconds long. In those 66 seconds, a lot happens. This plot is all over the place and moving constantly.

Allegedly, the events take place in Russia. This immediately rings true, but I'm at a loss to explain why I think that. I don't think that it's just the Russian text in the tweet where I first saw the sequence.

Whether this is real or just a slice of security camera footage, I can't wait to see the sequel, preferably directed by Michael Bay

-via Richard Chapman

What do you think? Is this video real or staged?

Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Year 2021: Vaccine

Merriam-Webster’s choice for the annual Word of the Year sums up what the English-speaking world has been talking about pretty well most of the time. Last year, they selected "pandemic." For 2021, the word everyone is using and wants to know more about is "vaccine."

"Vaccine" not only encompasses what was happening in the worlds of science and medicine, it also dominated the world of politics. It also affected the lives of millions of everyday people. Online dictionary lookups for the word "vaccine" increased 601% over 2020, and 1048% over 2019. The rate of lookups has remained high since its peak in August. The word was so hot that Merriam-Webster revised and expanded its definition.      

Besides the Word of the Year, Merriam-Webster names ten other words that define the language of the year 2021. They are: insurrection, perseverance, woke, nomad, infrastructure, cicada, Murraya, cisgender, guardian, and meta. Find out what they mean and why people wanted to look them up in 2021 at the dictionary's website.

PS: the folks at the Oxford English Dictionary selected "vax" as their Word of the Year. Great minds think alike.

(Image credit: Spencerbdavis)

These Rats Are Playing Doom

Neuroengineeer Viktor Tóth has found a way to train rats to play Doom. Yes, you  read that right-- rodents can now play video games with the right setup and methodology. Tóth made a custom VR setup for his test subjects and trained three rats to traverse a corridor rendered in the DOOM II engine. While he was able to train them to walk around the game and shoot monsters, he lacked the time to reinforce the behavior. 

The VR setup is composed of a polystyrene ball with motion sensors, a harness attached below it where the rat is placed, a PC monitor to show the game environment, and a little tube with sugary water as a treat when the rats do the ‘right thing’. Learn more about the experiment here. 

Image credit:Viktor Tóth

This Coffee Table Was A Priceless Roman Mosaic

Imagine that! 

Italian expert on ancient stone and marble Dario Del Bufalo found a long-lost priceless Roman mosaic through a book signing in New York in 2013. His book, Porphyry, included a discussion about the particular art piece and a photo of it. Del Bufalo then overheard a man and a woman talking about she had the mosaic featured on the page. “There was a lady with a young guy with a strange hat that came to the table,” Del Bufalo told CBS. “And he told her, ‘What a beautiful book. Oh, Helen, look, that’s your mosaic.’ And she said, ‘Yeah, that’s my mosaic.’”

The expert then proceeded to trace the current owner of the mosaic, Helen Fioratti. The art dealer and gallery owner bought the item from an Italian noble family in the 1960s and then proceeded to use it as a coffee table for 45 years. Learn more about the mosaic here! 

Image credit:  Ernesto Ruscio/Getty Images via The Guardian

Metal Detector Discovered A Gold Book That Might Have Belonged To King Richard III’s Wife

Buffy Bailey discovered a tiny gold book during her metal detecting holiday near York. The English nurse was walking with her husband when their metal detector picked up the item’s presence under the ground. Instead of finding typical scraps, they discovered the miniature book that was estimated to be worth £100,000 ($134,500). 

The book is engraved with Saints Leonard and Margret, patron saints of childbirth. According to experts, this book may have been gifted to someone pregnant. Following this train of thought, since nobles were the only ones who were allowed to carry gold during the 15th century, they speculated that it could have belonged to King Richard III’s wife, Anne Neville. 

Image credit: Buffy Bailey

Walls Of A Temple In Egypt Were A Collaborative Effort Between Artisans

A researcher from the University of Warsaw’s Polish Center of Mediterranean Archaeology and her colleagues described the inner workings behind the collaborative nature of artisans when it comes to producing designs or decorations for temples in Egypt. According to Anastasiia Stupko-Lubczynska, artisans of different ability levels collaborated to produce the needed artworks for a mortuary temple in the Dayr al-Baḥrī complex in Thebes.

Stupko-Lubczynska and her colleagues analyzed two reliefs situated in the temple’s Chapel of Hatshepsut. After close examination, they discovered numerous discrepancies in artistic styles. “Chisel marks seen on the walls show where corrections were made, suggesting that master artisans worked side by side with apprentices learning the trade,” the Smithsonian wrote. 

Image credit: Antiquity

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