Seven Wonders Squared, Minus Seven

Rum and coffee are about all I brought back from Jamaica. Oh and shark teeth. Like, in bracelets and necklaces, one for each of us in my family. We just bought them, which in my mind is the second-best way to procure tooth of shark. The best way, of course, is to find them on the beach. (And the worst way is to find them in your . . . arm . . . after you were bitten by one.)

When I was a kid I read some book, probably about sharks or maybe dangerous animals in general, that said sharks were constantly losing teeth and growing new ones. They lost so many, this book implied, that you could hardly walk down any beach in the world without stumbling over one. Ever since then, and this must be around thirty years now, whenever I find myself on the beach, my eyes are pointed straight down so I can find one of these teeth.

Haven't found one yet.

I file away these kinds of facts. Things that amaze me. I suppose if you live near an ocean there is nothing inherently amazing about washed-up sharks' teeth, but to this landlubber, that's fantastic. I'm like a kid when it comes to this stuff, and now that I have kids, I get to try to instill in them a similar sense of wonder.

One evening I was driving Pallas home from swim lessons or something and I pointed out Venus and Mars to her in the night sky. She said, pretty much in allcaps, "You can see other planets from here????" The astonishment she expressed, even after I showed her how the planets are just brighter, untwinkling stars to the naked eye, warmed my heart and made me so proud. I took her to the observatory at the local university so she could see the moon and Jupiter and Saturn through the telescope.

There's a lot of things I want to teach my kids, and a sense of wonder is high on that list. But can it be taught? Or does it have to be (sorry to use the Self-helpspeak) caught? Doing my best to model it, anyway. Here then is a list of amazing wonders, guaranteed to cause you to go "wow" at least once, hopefully many times as you read. Mostly pulled from the top of my head, and fact-checked where the details seemed hazy or too unbelievable. If some are erroneous, that is entirely my fault though no deception is intended.

Here we go!

 

1.You can find shark's teeth on a beach. Any beach!

2. There was such a shark as Megalodon. I had to delete a "fact" that unfossilized Megalodon teeth have been found since it turns out that is either myth or hoax. Still. Carcharodon megalodon existed!

3. You can see other planets from here.

4. Just the other day a spaceship from Earth zoomed past Pluto!

5. And a few days later astronomers announced the discovery of Kepler-452b, the most Earthish planet yet discovered.

6. Birds are really dinosaurs.

7. Dolphins have unique signature whistles which they use to identify each other, like names.

8. Apes can be taught to use American Sign Language.

9. Not that long ago, geologically speaking, there were at least four different species of humans inhabiting Earth at the same time (Us, Neanderthals, the Flores hobbits and the Denisovans.)

10. The asteroid Ceres has two bright spots on it. Likely ice, but until it's confirmed I choose to believe it is an alien base.

11. Astrophysicists have theorized the existence of Thorne-Zytkow Objects- a neutron star inside of a red giant.

12. Yeti crabs.

13. Carnivorous plants!

14. Out of 40,000 species of spiders, only one is vegetarian. (Bagheera kiplingi)

15. Giant pandas are "set up" to be carnivores but about 4.5 million years ago something caused them to shift to a strictly bamboo diet. To this day they can't really digest bamboo very well at all.

16. Mars has a couple of robots living on it right now.

17. Mars has a naturally occurring laser.

18. Jupiter's moon Ganymede is the largest moon in the solar system, bigger even than Mercury.

19. Saturn's moon Titan is the second largest moon, also bigger than Mercury.

20. Ganymede and two other moons, Europa and Enceladus, have liquid water.

21. This liquid water comes in the form of oceans beneath the surfaces, which are ice.

22. Titan has a dense atmosphere of hydrocarbons and lakes made of methane.

23. Your brain has at least 100 trillion synapses (connections between neurons).

24. There are species of whales that we have never seen in the wild, and only know they exist from their washed-up remains (spade-toothed beaked whale). Until recently there were several such species but slowly we have seen them alive. Also giant squids were only finally seen alive in 2004.

25. Grizzly bears on the ABC Islands (Admiralty, Baranof and Chichagof) are more closely related genetically to polar bears than to mainland grizzlies.

26. Woolly mammoths survived on Wrangel Island until 3500 years ago.

27. Woolly mammoths are more closely related to Asian elephants than Asian elephants are related to African elephants.

28. Muskoxen are woolly ox left over from the ice age! Woolly mammoths and woolly rhinos didn't make it, sadly.

29. The Great Red Spot on Jupiter is a giant storm that has been raging for centuries.

30. Two Earths could fit in the Great Red Spot.

31. There are naturally occurring lasers on Mars and Venus. 10 micron CO2 lasers, in fact.

32. Water is the only substance in the known universe that expands when frozen, rather than contracts. You may have read a recent article about opinions that stated that no one knows why this is the case but it's due to H2O's mickey-mouse-like shape. And vibrations.

33. Dark matter and dark energy combined make up 95% of the universe. And for real, no one knows what they are exactly. Neutrinos, probably, and who knows what else.

34. Eyes have evolved independently at least 50 times.

35. Trilobite eyes were some of the earliest complex eyes to evolve. Their lenses were made of calcite.

36. Our best estimate so far for the number of cells in your body is around 37 trillion. It's a bit tough to count them all to know for sure.

37. For the same reason we don't know exactly how many bacterial cells live in your body but a rough guess is ten times as many, so 370 trillion.

38. You might know that our galaxy, the Milky Way, is a fairly average spiral galaxy, with around 200 billion stars. There are spherical galaxies with 50 trillion stars! Trillion!

39. Supernovas (or more properly, supernovae) are so powerful that they give off as much energy in their first few seconds as ten billion suns.

40. After they're done blowing up, some supernovae collapse into neutron stars, which are small enough to sit comfortably in a city with plenty of room to spare, but dense enough that they can have more than twice the mass of our sun.

41. If our sun were old enough and massive enough to go supernova (it isn't) we would all die horribly. But as it is we are relatively safe from being supernovaed to death, even from more distant stars. There is roughly one supernova within 33 light years of us every 240 million years.

42. There was a dinosaur with a mouth that looked kind of like a vacuum cleaner Nigersaurus taqueti had 500 teeth, and had replacement rows just like a shark. Probably they washed ashore and could be found on beaches from time to time!

- Nathan Waddell