Did you know? Some people can taste music

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Synaesthesia

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Forget feeling the music, some of us can actually taste it. Around one in 20 of us have synaesthesia, a condition that creates a strange connection between our senses. For these people, words may take on certain colours and music may have a particular taste or texture.

Although we aren’t certain of the causes of this unusual condition, studies have given us some idea of what is happening. As infants, our brains’ cells have millions of connections that are pruned away as we get older. Some studies suggest that people with synaesthesia have genetic variations that prevent this pruning from happening normally in certain brain regions, giving them unusual connections between sensory areas.

Being stronger reduces your risk of death

strength

Javier Sanchez Mingorance / Alam

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Here’s the motivation you need for your next trip to the gym: having stronger muscles reduces the risk of dying of any cause, and is especially important in preventing type-2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer. Broadly speaking, exercise of any kind is good for you, but unlike aerobic fitness regimes, strength training also helps to build bone, which can decrease your risk of osteoporosis. It can even help to prevent cognitive decline and memory loss in old age. Maintaining and improving your strength throughout life has become such an important, yet forgotten, aspect of general fitness that the UK government recently placed it above aerobic exercise in its new guidelines.

We have 19 different smiles but only one is ‘genuine’

Duchenne smile

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The 42 facial muscles it takes to break out into a grin are capable of producing 19 different types of smile, but, according to French anatomist Duchenne de Boulogne, only one is ‘genuine’. In 1862 Duchenne identified that the difference between a genuine smile and a fake one lay in the eyes — the orbicularis oculi — to be precise. All smiling involves contraction of the zygomatic major muscles, which lifts the corners of the mouth. But a Duchenne smile is characterised by the additional contraction of the orbicularis oculi, crumpling the skin around the eyes into crows’ feet. Largely overlooked at the time, the Duchenne smile’s reputation has grown. In the 1950s a study found that Duchenne smilers had a 70 per cent chance of living until age 80 compared with 50 per cent for non-smilers. However, more recent findings have suggested that smiles don’t necessarily indicate that we are happy, but instead signal collaboration or bonding.

The hydrogen in your body was formed in the Big Bang

Hydrogen

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You may have heard that we are all stardust, but that isn’t strictly true. There are about 20 different elements in the human body, most of which were made inside ancient stars. There’s oxygen, which makes up about half of your body’s mass but only a quarter of its atoms, and then carbon, accounting for another 12 per cent. And just after that, there’s hydrogen, the only element in your body that wasn’t made inside a star long ago and flung into space by a supernova explosion. The hydrogen atoms in your body, accounting for a little over 10 per cent of you, were formed much earlier during the Big Bang, some 13.8 billion years ago.

The smallest insect on Earth is a wasp

Mymaridae

The Mymaridae, commonly known as fairyflies or fairy wasps.

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There are more than 110,000 known species of wasp, and while we tend to think of them as the black-and-yellow-striped nuisances, wasps come in a huge variety of shapes and sizes. Only one third of species have stings, for instance, and while some live in colonies, the vast majority of wasp species are solitary. There’s even a wasp that can lay claim to the title of smallest insect on the planet. The Mymaridae or fairy wasp has a body length of just 0.139mm, shorter than that of an amoeba.

The first space walker became trapped outside his ship

Alexei Leonov

Over the Black Sea. Museum: Memorial Museum of Cosmonautics, Moscow. Author: Leonov, Alexei Arkhipovich.

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Alexei Leonov became the first person to walk in space when, on 18 March 1965, he left the Voskhod 3KD spacecraft for 12 minutes. Although he spent such a short time alone in the vacuum of space, the walk was not without incident. Free from the atmospheric pressures of the spacecraft, his space suit ballooned, preventing him from getting back inside the airlock. Leonov had to bleed his suit of air until it was flexible enough for him to get back inside the ship. Despite the rapid decompression resulting in Leonov developing the bends, he made it back inside safely and returned to Earth shortly afterwards.

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