Happy Halloween! If you’re a regular reader, you know that science isn’t all quantum entanglement – sometimes it’s spooky action at a distance.
For your delight, we’ve rounded up 13 of our favourite unnerving science stories so far this year. Turn the lights out (but make sure you can still read), things are about to get eerie.
This decomposing faceless creature from the sea
Hurricane Harvey washed a mysterious creature from the sea onto the coast of southeast Texas. Its face was difficult to make out, and its lips peeled back to reveal a grimace full of sharp teeth.
It baffled the internet – until Smithsonian National Museum of National History biologist Kenneth Tighe identified it as, most likely, a fangtooth snake-eel. Which, in its living form, is still not something you’d probably enjoy meeting face-to-face.
The horrifying Bobbit worm in action
We’re going to level with you: the ocean is full of horrors that will make you want to eat your own face. Exhibit B: A Bobbit worm, Eunice aphroditois, taking a meal.
These ambush predators bury their long bodies in the sediment on the ocean floor, with just their heads emerging from the sand, laying in wait like a Sarlacc.
Very unlike a Sarlacc, when food swims overhead, the worm strikes, grabbing its prey in its terrifying jaws and dragging it to an unpleasant end below the sand. Brrr.
The future is entangled with the past
To be fair, this is a very fringe notion, but by substituting “time” for “space” in Bell’s Theorem, researchers have created a quantum theory that predicts that the past could be influenced by the future.
Just as photons could be entangled across distance, unless we discover definitively that time only goes in one direction, the researchers assert, it’s possible they could entangle backwards through time, too.
Peering into the abyss
The event horizon of a black hole is the point of no return. Once something’s past that point, it never comes out – as far as we know, at least. This includes light, which makes black holes impossible to see. They emanate nothing.
But scientists are trying to peer in – at least, into the event horizon. The subject? The (presumed) black hole Sagittarius A* at the centre of our own galaxy.
The Event Horizon Telescope hopes, by probing the object’s event horizon, to provide the very first image of one of the universe’s most mysterious phenomena.
A grisly Aztec tower of 650 skulls
A tzompantli was a rack for displaying human skulls, used by the ancient Mesoamerican people, possibly war captives. The Huey Tzompantli, of the Aztecs, unearthed earlier this year under Mexico City, was something else again.
It contained 650 skulls – and it challenged the idea that tzompantli could have been constructed from the skulls of fallen warriors, since many of them belonged to women and children.
This, the researchers said, was a first, and possibly hinted at a larger-than-we-knew penchant for human sacrifice.
The creepy Milgram experiment holds up, 50 years later
Recently, there has been something of a trend to recreate older experiments to see if the results can be replicated.
One of these is the famous Milgram experiments, which started in 1961. These, somewhat shockingly, showed that humans would be willing to physically harm other humans if an authority figure told them to.
The paper published this year? It got almost exactly the same result.
Arachnophobe? You’re born with it
Do spiders give you the heebie-jeebies? Make your skin crawl? Your fear is instinctive, and something you were born with, according to science.
A team of researchers showed a bunch of babies pictures of spiders, flowers, fish and snakes – and the subjects showed a fear response to the spiders and snakes, even though they were too young to know what spiders and snakes actually are.
An insect discovery so weird it needed a whole new order
Two insects trapped in amber 100 million years ago are unlike anything paleontologists had ever seen, so they had to create a new order.
To put that in perspective, new species are being discovered all the time, and over 1 million have been documented. In the whole world, there are only 32 orders of insects – and one of those is this new one.
A barrage of mysterious signals from space
We don’t know what fast radio bursts are. We don’t know where they come from, most of the time. They make a milliseconds-long burst once, are picked up by a radio telescope, and disappear, never to be heard from again.
Theories include black holes, neutron stars, magnetars, even aliens. We just don’t know. But one FRB source, FRB 121102, has repeated – firing off over 30 bursts over the years.
In August, it erupted into activity, firing off 15 bursts over the space of about five hours. What’s it doing? Aren’t you just dying to know?
Scientists are digging up ghost ponds and resurrecting plants
You’ve heard of Plants vs Zombies… but what if the plants were the zombies? Actually, that’s not quite what’s happening here.
Aquatic plants that have been buried underground in “ghost ponds” – ponds that weren’t properly drained before being filled in – can be brought back to life. It’s actually pretty cool – it could help reverse biodiversity loss.
The spooky matter connecting the universe
If you look at any of the Hubble Deep Field images, you’ll see a universe speckled with galaxies, floating in a mostly empty intergalactic medium.
As awe-inspiring as it is, it’s not the whole truth, according to researchers at the University of Waterloo in Canada. They have used the effects of gravity between galaxies to create an image of the invisible web of dark matter that connects them all.
This porpoise found buried in a medieval graveyard
Earlier this year, an archaeological dig discovered the remains of a porpoise… on the small island Chapelle Dom Hue off the coast of Guernsey in the English Channel, carefully buried in a medieval graveyard.
“It’s very peculiar, I don’t know what to make of it,” archaeologist Philip de Jersey said.
“Why go to the trouble of burying a porpoise in what looks like a grave? … If we were in a church and we found something like this, based on the shape, we would think it was a grave cut. That is what puzzles me. If they had eaten it or killed it for the blubber, why take the trouble to bury it?”
Vampire bats start feeding on humans
Its usual prey has been disappearing due to deforestation, so it’s not surprising it’s seeking a meal elsewhere. What is a puzzle is how a bat that has evolved to digest fat-rich avian blood can digest the protein-rich blood of humans instead.
Clearly, somehow, there’s only one answer: Draculas. And probably Frankensteins. But mostly Draculas. Probably.