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The Science (and Trivia) of Sea Monsters

In days of yore, the seas between Norway and Iceland were treacherous. Vikings who would attempt to travel from one to the other were said to be attacked by a giant sea monster that could rally storms to its advantage and then, with its long, slimy tentacles would pull ships of marauding Scandinavians down to the depths where they would meet an untold and horrific doom. While rumored to leave none alive, the occasional seafarer was fortunate enough to make it back to land to spread stories of this creature of the deep. This monster they dubbed the Kraken, from the shared German word krake, meaning “octopus.”

As the world moved on and scientific knowledge began to probe every end of the earth, we decided that the Kraken was a creature of fantasy, a myth for which the world no longer had room. But far from removing the fantastic from the world around us, further understanding of our world may make us realize that in fact the beasts that really exists are every bit as eerie, terrifying, and incredible as were the mythical monsters of ages past.

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The Source of Your Sporcle Addiction?

Since the recent publications of books like The Zombie Survival Guide and World War Z, zombies (and zombie trivia) have certainly been in vogue. In 2010 Seattle hosted a Zombie-con, which included everything from guest appearances by Bruce Campbell to a vintage zombie prom. Zombie films have exploded in popularity, and these days zombies come in all forms: some are altered by nuclear radiation, others are the classic risen from the grave type, and still others are monsters effected by poisons, evil spirits, what have you. It’s able to be fun because it’s not really possible…right? What if zombies could be a real threat, what if there really were a mind controlling parasite or virus that would manipulate its host’s behavior to its own ends? What if science suddenly becomes a lot more like science fiction?

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The Mars Experiment: 520 Days in Isolation

Crew members together after one year in isolation

The French mathematician Blaise Pascal said, “Through space the universe encompasses and swallows me up like an atom; through thought I comprehend the world.” Recently, a team of astronauts in Russia explored the limits of both space and the mind…in the brave new world of a parking lot.

Intending to simulate the duration of a mission to Mars, six crew members were isolated for 520 days–or about eighteen months–in what from the outside looked like giant, multi-level storage crates assembled in an airplane hanger in a parking lot in Moscow. To make the mission as realistic as possible, no communication was allowed from the outside other than that to which they would have access in space. Pretty much that means that they could only communicate with mission control and have some internet access, twenty minute delay in speech transmission and frequent internet communication disruptions included.

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