What Really Drives Death Valley’s Roving Rocks?

The moving, sailing and sliding rocks of Racetrack Playa, Death Valley National Park in California have garnered the attention of many scientists and visitors throughout the years. The Racetrack Playa is a dry lake featuring the race track imprints of the moving rocks. The moving rocks are a geological phenomenon where the rocks, some weighing about 318 kgs, move without any human intervention.

Photograph by Pete Ryan

There have been many theories regarding the motion of these rocks. Research on this phenomenon started as early as 1915 when theories suggested that the wind had a role to play in moving the rocks. However, with some stones weighing 318 kgs, it is not probable for the wind to move them. Therefore this theory was discarded. In 1955, George Stanley, a geologist did extensive research on the phenomenon and stated the theory that ice sheets around the rocks help to catch the wind, initiating the movement. His theory again stressed that wind plays a role in the rocks’ movement.

Credit: Maggie McAdam

Further research was done in the 1970s by Bob Sharp and Dwight Carey where they monitored the rock movement by naming the rocks and keeping a record of their changing positions over a period of seven months.

The research continued in the 1990s by the research students of Hampshire College and the University of Massachusetts Amherst. The movement of the stones was evident to be the result of two factors: wind and ice floes. In 1996 it was discovered that the wind blowing on the Playa could be intensified and compressed due to its smooth surface and the wind gusts initiate the movement while the moment keeps them moving.

Ice and Wind

In 2006, Ralph Lorenz, a NASA Scientist, investigating the weather conditions on other planets started researching on the moving rocks. Lorenz compared the meteorological conditions of the Racetrack Playa, Death Valley to those near Ontario Laucus, a vast hydrocarbon lake on Titan, a moon of Saturn.

Lorenz conducted a simple experiment where he placed a small rock in a Tupperware filled with water so that there was an inch of water with a bit of the rock sticking out. Next, he froze the Tupperware so that there was a small slab of ice with a rock embedded in it. He then placed the ice bound rock in a container of water with sand at he bottom. In order to move the rock across the water, he just gently blew on the rock and it slid. As the rock moved, it imprinted a track in the sand.

Ralph Lorenz’s home experiment
Ralph Lorenz’s home experiment

Research in 2011 established that the existence of many of the rock-carved trails at Racetrack Playa in Death Valley National Park is predominantly due to the effect of arbitrarily weak winds on rocks that are floated off the soft bed by small rafts of ice, the ‘ice raft theory’.

Credit: Anatoliy Lukich
Credit: Anatoliy Lukich

These ice cakes need not have a particularly large surface area if the ice is adequately thick-the ice cakes allow the rocks to move by buoyantly reducing the reaction and friction forces at the bed, not by increasing the wind drag. The parameter space of ice thickness and extent versus rock size for flotation is calculated and found to be reasonable. Lorenz’s experiment illustrated this ‘ice raft theory’. Therefore, wind and ice were both the favoring theories responsible for the phenomenon.

Fact: Corals are Animals, Not Plants!

The beautiful coral reefs you see underwater are actually animals and not plants!

Coral is any structure that is made up of hundreds of thousands of tiny coral creatures called polyps. They are translucent animals of a sessile nature, which attach themselves to the ocean floor, ‘taking roots’ just like plants.

But, How?

The major differentiating factor between plants and animals is that plants can produce their own food through photosynthesis while animals have to rely on food sources.


The basic structural material of plants is polysaccharide such as cellulose and they lack muscle, nerves and digestive tissues. On the other hand, animals necessarily have muscle, nerves and digestive tissues and their basic structural material is minerals, protein and a polysaccharide such as chitin but never cellulose. This all makes corals more of animals than plants.

What do they eat?

Corals are animals with a have tiny, tentacle-like arms that they use to capture their food from the water and sweep into their inscrutable mouths. Therefore, they have a means to collect food, they have a large percentage of their body devoted to capturing their prey. Their external skeleton comprises of protein and calcium carbonate.

A purple plate coral eating krill.
A purple plate coral eating krill.

Though, reef building corals do contain algal cells that photosynthesize, producing sugar and other chemicals. However, all reef corals require additional sources of nutrition, are most active predators and must feed. Most corals are not reef building and are found as individual polyps in deep water, lacking the symbiotic algae and are incapable of photosynthesis.


Corals are typically capable of reproduction with sexual and asexual phases, but these are not comparable to the gametophyte and sporophyte generations of plants. Unlike most plants, all corals are capable of locomotion at some stage in their life cycle, typically as a swimming dispersal stage called a planula larvae. Note that plants lack larvae.

Coral releasing eggs during a spawning event. Photo credit: Emma Hickerson
Coral releasing eggs during a spawning event. Photo credit: Emma Hickerson

Corals have nerve tissues as they are highly capable of sensing the environment. They also have the ability to move, hence they have muscle tissue as well.

They surely know how to defend themselves

An Anemone Swims Away From Sea Star

Science Books Lie about the Solar System

Classic illustrations in Science books of the solar system are not according to scale and are only merely for illustration purposes. The distances between the planets are so exceedingly vast that there could not possibly be a scale model in text books.

If sun is the size of a tennis ball, a true to scale model of our solar system would be half a mile wide. (Tweet this)

The only scale model of the solar system is presented is created with the aid of Ron Hipschman’s scale model, where the size of the sun is entered as 65 mm (almost 650 pixel in diameter) and all the other sizes of the planets and their distances from the sun are measured accordingly, where the solar system is half a mile wide on this webpage.

The planet sizes are rounded to the nearest pixel and an image was created to a diameter of that size. CSS margins are then used to pad out the spacing between the planets. The website is hence over 2.7 million pixels in height. The conversion rate used means that each pixel equates to over 2100km in real terms. In our textbooks, the model of the galaxy is only for the purpose of illustrations without paying attention to accurate scaling as utilized by Ron Hipschman.

Drawn to Scale - © Andrew Corden
Drawn to Scale – © Andrew Corden

Textbook illustrations of our galaxy are highly misleading as it does not consider the large distances between the planets and their large distances from the sun. Utilizing Ron Hipschman’s scale, the galaxy occupies half a mile on the website which brings the inaccuracies into a perspective. Such a large scale could not possibly be illustrated in textbooks due to the exceptionally vast space between the planets.

6 Animals that are Biggest in Size in Australia

Chills went down my spine and goose bumps tickled my insides as the mammoth creatures glared at me from my laptop screen. My search for Australian wonders had led me to some surprising results.

Disclaimer for the faint hearted: Hold your hearts. Be afraid, be VERY afraid!!!

1. Earth Worms

Size: 3-9 foot long.

Known to be the world’s largest worm – this beast is one which does not need legs to slither around you. They range from 3 feet to 9 feet long. It is very unusual for invertebrates to survive up till 10 years but this one seems immortal in insect terms, as many have the potential life of 10 long years.

source: trasyy.livejournal.com

The favor which this creepy crawly does to mankind is that it chooses to stay hidden most of the time. They are usually only visible when they are slithering in and out of their burrows. If you hear some rippling under Australian soil, you will know who it is. They are abundantly found in Gippsland in south-eastern Australia. You think I’m kidding? Go Google “Gippsland Earthworm”.

2. Spiders

How big? You can find them with leg span of 1-foot across.

Acrophobic? Check off the fear of spiders now or tell yourself that you are about to give it a try, at least. An animal which is ‘supposedly’ a small creature knitting some cobwebs behind your doors or clinging from your roofs, is not that miniature in Australia. They can fit exactly on to the palm of your hand while you are asleep or just lay around in your drawer –BEWARE. Their bites can be fatal!


3. Ants

Not Ants, but Bull Ants.
Size: 0.5 – 2.0 inch long

As evident from the mighty name, expect them to be very daring and fearless. Just to clarify, they’re also called ‘bulldog’ ants. They can grow up to 40 mm and their extensively large bright eyes give them the spying ability of being able to track humans. They feed on plant juices and animal pray as well.

credits: Robert Welsh
credits: Robert Welsh

They exist in a diverse variety of over 90 species with their names indicating their behavior and life cycles. For example, the jumper category can even pounce at you with a painful sting if they see you as an intruder. They hunt alone by a lethal combination of venom, vision and ferocity. Stay alert for the giants of the ant world!

4. Procoptodon (Kangaroos)

Upon reading the word ‘kangaroos’, a picture of the Australian wilderness probably pops into your head. While kangaroos are native to Australia, and many can still be found there, many species have become extinct.

credits: YouTube user mazjai3
credits: YouTube user mazjai3

For example, the species named Procoptodon were known to stand up to almost 6 feet in height, and they weighed almost 230 kg. These short-faced giants were made to survive in the wild with horse’s hoof-like toes on each foot. Imagine them pick pocketing humans and running off back to the wild.

5. Bats

Wingspan: Above 3 feet.

Ever seen these dark knights hovering around your heads? They have the giant tendencies too. From what the name (mega-bats) indicates, they are commonly known as flying foxes. They are tropical animals but they exist in the Asian and Pacific Ocean areas, apart from Australia.

credits: Chi Liu
credits: Chi Liu

They reside in tropic areas because they like to feed on fruits and pollen. They even catch insects in mid-air but crashing down on spotted prey is what they do best. These giants may not be able to rule for long as nature is imposing threats to their survival.

6. Cockroaches

Size: 3 inch in length.

From the mega world of Australia, the last specie is giant cockroaches. The most prominent of them all is the giant burrow cockroach. They happen to be the gang leaders in the creepy cockroach world. They do not have wings but they burrow down into the Australian grounds and live up to 10 years.

credits: GazstronauT
credits: GazstronauT

Moreover, these life-size roaches weigh about 35 grams. However they are a little less detested in comparison to their American relative.

Scared? I guess Australia is out of your bucket list!

“I never said she stole my money” has 7 Different Meanings

“I never said she stole my money” has 7 different meanings depending on the stressed word.

Whether it is verbal communication or written, how you structure your words can play an integral role. It is very important to emphasize the correct words if you do not want there to be any miscommunication. On which word the emphasis is placed can completely change the meaning of what we are communicating.


In any language, even the most simplest of sentences can have many levels of meaning based on the word you stress. We will illustrate this phenomenon using an example. Consider the following sentence someone may have said upon having money stolen:

“I never said she stole my money”

Simply read, the sentence can be taken to mean that the person never said that their money had been stolen by the girl/woman. However, this sentence can have seven different meanings, depending on which word we put an emphasis on. We will explain each of them separately. “I never said she stole my money” When the emphasis is placed on “I”, the person means to say that THEY never said that she stole their money. Rather, someone else had said it and this person implicitly agreed with them. “I never said she stole my money” If emphasis is placed on “never”, the person may be trying to imply that the entire idea of someone stealing money is downright outrageous. In other words, they are denying ever blaming the girl/woman for stealing the money. “I never said she stole my money” When the emphasis is being placed on “said” the person may be implying that she stole their money but never said it out in these words. In other words, there is no way to prove that the person blamed her for stealing the money. “I never said she stole my money” If the person places emphasis on “she”, they are stating that they never implied that the girl/woman stole their money. Rather, they are trying to explain that someone did steal their money but not necessarily her. “I never said she stole my money” When the person emphasizes the word “stole”, they mean to say that they never considered their money STOLEN by the girl/woman. Rather, the money had been missing and it was her who had it but it could have been borrowed. “I never said she stole my money” When emphasis is placed on the word “my”, the person considered the money stolen but not their own money. So when they said these words, they were trying to saying that they never said their own money was stolen, rather they were referring to someone else’s stolen money. “I never said she stole my money” If the individual is placing emphasis on “money”, they are trying to say that it was not money that was stolen. In other words, they did not say that the girl/woman stole their MONEY, rather something else. The person may be trying to say that she stole stuff which cost them money to replace. As we can see, there are many different ways in which this sentence can be understood. A simple act of shifting the emphasis can completely alter the meaning implied by the speaker or the writer. The important point to remember is that the true meaning of the sentence is also expressed through the stressed word or words. It does not just end at the emphasized words. In more complex sentences which employ punctuations, the placement of a comma or colons can also change the meaning of the sentence significantly. We can illustrate this using a classic example:

  • A woman without her man is nothing.
  • A woman: without her, man is nothing.

The first sentence implies that a woman is completely dependent on a man i.e. she would be nothing without him. By just adding the colon and comma in the second sentence, we have changed the meaning of the sentence into something opposite. It now implies that it is the man who is dependent on a woman, without whom he would be nothing. Using another example, we can show that even something as small as a hyphen can completely change the meaning of a sentence.

  • You will be required to work twenty four-hour shifts.
  • You will be required to work twenty-four hour shifts.

In conclusion, it is pretty evident that the words you stress and the placement of punctuations can fully modify the underlying meaning of a sentence. This is why we have to be very careful in making sure our words are not misinterpreted. This is especially important when it comes to written communication where the tone cannot be judged easily. You never know when a small comma or an incorrectly emphasized word can end up causing a huge amount of misunderstanding

Why do I Yawn When I See Someone Else Yawning?

Yawning yet? Well, give it some time and you will be soon enough.

See a person yawning around you, you will end up yawning. Catch someone else watching you? Soon, they’ll be yawning as well. Even writing this article and typing the word ‘yawning’ has that contagious effect.

Why does this happen? According to Italian scientists, yawning is like an act of transmission, the same as a smile or a mere hug. This is one of the many ways humans, and even animals, connect – an emotional expression.

image credits: Marc Rosenthal
image credits: Marc Rosenthal

Yesterday, in a so-boring-you-could-cry economics class, even though I had had a great night’s sleep, my professor caught me yawning right in the middle of her lecture. The reason for this was that I had just been watching my friend, a partying enthusiast who had no doubt had a late night, shielding her sleepy self with a textbook.

Little did I know, human instinct had played a part in inducing me to yawn. That instinct is generated by the brain and the social atmosphere which binds with the brain and emotional functionality of individuals.

How is yawning contagious?

This was researched upon by many scientists as a prime area of interest; they found out that it is similar to any other human action. Studies have proven how it is more of a social phenomenon where the act is performed between humans and animals unconsciously.

image credits: Ona Linda Johnson
image credits: Ona Linda Johnson

The instinct of self-recognition and self-awareness triggers the yawning catch, making it fast and automatic.

Neuroscience describes the phenomenon in detail where it analyses the brain’s functions as to how different parts operated during a video screened in front of the study’s participants. It was observed that the temporal sulcus was active in each hemisphere. These parts are directly linked to social activation, not to the mirror neuron system which associates with the mind theory. The participants who yawned also had a decreased activity in their left periamygdalar region, which affects facial expressions.

The two findings are rather complex and somewhat do not support Platek’s theory. It is rather evident that the theories of mind abilities do not have any direct link to contagious yawning. An imaging study carried out by Platek used videos containing yawning and matched them in contrast with laughing and neutral videos; the results state that yawning videos stimulated those regions of the brain that entail memory, emotions and the ability to asses one’s own self. Thus, this forms a dichotomy where Platek’s findings can be applied to his own theory but not with the sole imaging study regarding contagious yawning.

Not only is this not limited to humans, but contagious yawning has also been found present in chimpanzees – this is a result of their instinctive sense of self-awareness and empathy. Chimpanzees share this trait with their in-group species; they will yawn if they see their group members yawning. This is similar to experiencing pain if another member does. Interestingly, dogs have been observed to “catch” a yawn from their owners.

Yawns – Connecting people.

As mentioned earlier, like chimpanzees having the greater yawning tendency with their in-group members, humans share that close bond with their friends and blood relations. Yawns do not get passed on just like that, it is more of a “best-friend” thing. It has been claimed by several researchers that the closer you are to someone, the higher the chances of catching a yawn. This is where the empathy theory can be perfectly applied. This is how humans or animals connect and the social atmosphere bond between them is strengthened.

image credits: Ona Linda Johnson

Hold in your yawns, we’re almost finished!

In conclusion, we can see that contagious yawning cannot be defined or explained without ambiguity. The social information process does play a significant role in acting as a trigger but what other factors are involved in bringing about this phenomena are yet to be found. It cannot be said for certain that factors like empathy and awareness of one’s self are agents to stimulate this. For now, all we can do is catch a good night’s sleep.

P.S. Did you yawn while reading this article? Tell us in comments!

10 Commonly Accepted Historical Inaccuracies

In attempts to make the world history seem catchier, people have resorted to putting forward inaccurate facts. We have pointed out some of them in this article. It is quite interesting to see the kind of historical “facts” that have been so easily accepted around the world as being true.

Albert Einstein failed mathematics in school

Albert Einstein did NOT fail mathematics in school, as is commonly believed. Rather, historical records show that he had had mastered differential and integral calculus by the age of 15.


The misunderstanding actually came about due to the fact that people did not understand the Swiss grading system which was being used at the time. His results in mathematics were actually really good, according to one photo of his report card. He got perfect scores in algebra, theoretical and practical geometry, and physics.

Another reason for this rumor making rounds were Einstein’s comments about his “troubles with mathematics” referring to him taking help of the mathematician Minkowski and some others to bring him up to speed on four-dimensional geometry and a few other topics. Given these comments, it can be said that he was not too great at mathematics compared to the top mathematicians of the time, but as a physicist his mathematical abilities were at or above par for that discipline.

Cinco de Mayo is Mexican Independence Day

Contrary to widespread belief, Cinco de Mayo is actually not Mexico’s Independence Day. Mexico’s Independence Day is actually held on Sept. 16.

In reality, Cinco de Mayo commemorates El Día de la Batalla de Puebla (The Day of the Battle of Puebla), when the Mexican army defeated the much larger invading French army in 1862.

A line from Kennedy’s famous speech in Berlin translates to “I am a jelly doughnut.”

The story goes that his statement, “Ich bin ein Berliner,” translates to “I am a jelly doughnut.” While “berliner” is a word for a type of jelly-filled pastry, no one at the time thought that’s what Kennedy meant. The general story is that Kennedy should have said “Ich bin Berliner,” rather than “Ich bin ein Berliner.”


However, if seen from a more logical perspective, Kennedy meant to say “I am one with the people of Berlin” by his statement.

Roman gladiatorial battles were blood baths

It is widely believed that these gladiatorial battles resulted in 30 men dying in one fight and 1 in 200 fights always resulted in killing. However, the truth is that gladiators are really expensive and they do not just get killed.

image credits: artofmanliness.com
image credits: artofmanliness.com

An injured man always resulted in the fight coming to an end. Gladiators were very well cared for by those that owned them. The misconception probably stems from the use of the arenas as execution grounds for prisoners and the like. They would often be killed en masse, which could easily be mixed up with the gladiators being tossed in to die as the years go on.

Titanic was badly designed, built, and badly operated by the standards of the time

The truth is that Titanic was an incredibly seaworthy ship, as proven by the fact that she still stayed afloat for more than two hours, even after the iceberg tore a gash almost a third of the way down her side.

Associated Press The Titanic in Southampton, England, on April 10, 1912
Associated Press The Titanic in Southampton, England, on April 10, 1912

Plus, it is also an incorrect claim that Titanic was built using sub-standard material. Yes, in today’s world, there are much better options available but the steel used for building the ship was the best one available at that time period. Titanic also was not travelling too fast for the conditions – by the standards of practice around at the time.

Most of the slaves in the triangle-trade ended up in the USA

This was a completely incorrect belief. The truth was that the majority of slaves shipped from Africa ended up in South- or Central-America or the West Indies.

Rosa Parks just decided one day to not move from her seat on the bus because she was tired

This historical fact making rounds is incorrect. Rather, her reason for not leaving her seat for a white man was purely to stand against the segregation law for which she had years of training with the NAACP leading up to that action.

10-0167_Clark 1..27

Rosa Parks was not too old to get up nor too tired from a long day at work. Instead, Rosa Parks was just fed up with being mistreated.

Napoleon was short in height

Napoleon is sometimes described as being 5 foot 2 inches tall, which would make him short for his era. The truth is, Napoleon was actually above average height (Tweet me).


The misunderstanding exists due to the fact that French inches were different from English inches. Plus, there are some paintings where he is depicted with French grenadiers, which usually were the biggest soldiers in the French army and all towered over him. Napoleon was actually 5 foot 5-7 inches tall, no shorter than the average Frenchman.

Katana is the best sword humanity ever created and the Samurai were the best swordsmen

This belief is false. Katana is a great sword but when up against metal armor, it actually falls short. Plus, history has shown Europeans could handle a sword just as well as the Japanese. The katana is celebrated because Japan and its Samurai-class celebrate it. The reality is that the sword was not nearly as important as other weapons, and the real warriors were prized on their skills with other weapons like the bow or the naginata (lance-ish weapon). Swords were merely side weapons.

Vikings wore horns on their helmets

There is no evidence, archaeological or otherwise, that Viking warriors wore any type of horns or wings on their helmets. The remains of Vikings and “non-horned” helmets have proven this too.


The truth is that Vikings never wore horns on their helmets. Furthermore, Viking warriors also did not wear wings on their helmets, as they were commonly depicted doing before the horned image took over.