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10 Offbeat Stories You Might Have Missed This Week (11/24/18)

by Radu Alexander
fact checked by Jamie Frater

A lot of stuff can happen in a week. So much, in fact, that it can be really difficult to stay up-to-date on all the important news items. Luckily, we can help you out. Click here to learn about the serious goings-on in the world, or just keep reading to find out what the strangest stories of the week were.

There are a few stories from the world of sports this time as we will be looking at drunk curlers and flatulent darters. There are also two quirky animal tales and another two about people who felt the need for speed. Finally, we examine the worst year in human history.

10 Gamma-Ray Burst In The Milky Way

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According to a study published in Nature Astronomy, for the first time in our own galaxy, humans might get to witness a gamma-ray burst (GRB), one of the most energetic and violent events in the universe.

The doomed star is in a binary system 8,000 light-years away from Earth. Scientists have named the star “Apep” after the ancient Egyptian serpent god of chaos. It attracted the attention of astronomers thanks to its pinwheel nebula which surrounds two metal-rich Wolf-Rayet stars.

Researchers noticed something odd. Using the Very Large Telescope in Chile and the Anglo-Australian Telescope in Australia, they observed stellar winds traveling at mind-blowing speeds of 12 million kilometers per hour (7.5 million mph). The dust seeded from the gas, however, was moving at a comparatively snail’s pace of 2 million kilometers per hour (1.2 million mph).[1]

This indicated that the winds at the poles were much faster than those at the equator. Such a phenomenon is seen when a star is spinning so fast that it will rip itself apart. When it does, it could trigger a GRB.

A GRB is among the biggest explosions in the universe. It is believed to occur when a giant star goes supernova and collapses to form either a black hole or a neutron star. It can last anywhere between a few milliseconds to a few hours and, in that time, can release as much energy as the Sun during its entire lifetime.

Scientists used to think that a GRB couldn’t happen in the Milky Way because all of our galaxy’s massive stars were too rich in metal and slowed down as they lost mass. Apep is proving them wrong. Fortunately, Earth is not in the path of the GRB, but we do get a ringside seat to one of the most exciting phenomena in the universe.

9 Darts Match Tainted By Controversy

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Something is foul in the world of darts as two players have accused each other of farting during a match.

Last week, Scotsman Gary Anderson took on Dutchman Wesley Harms to advance to the quarter-finals of the 2018 Grand Slam of Darts. Anderson won 10–2, but Harms made a peculiar accusation afterward. He claimed that his opponent had farted repeatedly onstage, and the smell was responsible for his poor form.

Going by the old principle of “he who smelt it dealt it,” Anderson then accused Harms of being the one responsible for creating the odor which, according to him, reeked of rotten eggs.

Both men have denied any wrongdoing. Their defense seems to be that they had farted during a match before and admitted it so why wouldn’t they admit it now? Harms suggested that his accuser is “1,010 percent wrong.” Meanwhile, the Scotsman phrased it more colorfully by saying, “You can put your finger up my arse, there’ll be no smell there.”[2]

After a week of accusations, a security guard came forward and confessed to being the source of the distracting fragrance.

8 The Acquetico Grand Prix

Photo credit: BBC

Acquetico is a small hamlet with a population of 120 in the northern part of Italy near the French border. Back in September, the mayor set up a trial speed camera near the town’s main pedestrian crossing after multiple residents complained of speedsters. After two weeks, the results were in—58,568 speeding offenses.[3]

On average, a car exceeded the speed limit of 50 kilometers per hour (31 mph) every few minutes. The worst offender zipped through at 135 kilometers per hour (84 mph).

Mayor Alessandro Alessandri called this “madness.” But he believes he knows the main reasons why a tiny town such as his attracts so many speedsters.

For starters, he believes that the quality, width, and continuous bends in the road make the route a popular choice for races between larger towns, particularly for motorcyclists. More importantly, though, it provides an enticing route for motorists heading to Italy’s northern coast by avoiding radars, tolls, and speed bumps. At the moment, the mayor is considering making the speed camera permanent.

7 Why Wombats Have Cube Poop

Photo credit: BBC

Scientists have figured out that varied elasticity helps wombats create cube-shaped poop.

This trait is unique in the animal world to this marsupial. It can produce up to 100 cubes per night and stacks them up in piles to mark its territory and communicate with other wombats. The shape prevents the droppings from rolling away.

Researchers were curious as to the biological mechanism behind this mysterious characteristic. A team led by Patricia Yang from Georgia Institute of Technology examined the digestive tracts of wombats killed in car accidents in Tasmania and compared them to pig intestines. They discovered that the last eight percent of the wombat intestines have a varied elasticity which enables the poop to come out as separate cubes.[4]

Dr. Yang believes that this technique could also be applied to the manufacturing process as an alternative for making cubes.

6 False Alarm

Photo credit: BBC

Firefighters in Daventry, Northamptonshire, England, responded to an emergency call-out only to discover that the source was a parrot imitating a fire alarm.

Retiree Steve Dockerty has two feathery companions named Jazz and Kiki. The former is an African grey parrot, a species which is known and prized for its ability to mimic a wide range of noises including human speech.

Last week, Steve was on the phone with his carers who thought they heard a smoke alarm in the background and called the fire department. Emergency responders arrived at the scene but couldn’t find a fire. They cleaned and checked all the smoke detectors but kept hearing the “alarm.” That’s when they discovered that Jazz was the one making all that noise.[5]

5 The Not-So-Leaning Tower Of Pisa

Tourists visiting Italy might have to find a new landmark to pretend to push in pictures as the Leaning Tower of Pisa is going straight.

Construction on the edifice started in the 12th century, and it was intended to be a regular bell tower. However, part of the foundation was placed on soft ground which couldn’t hold the tower’s weight. Therefore, a few years later, it started tilting to one side. This might sound like a bad thing. But the tower eventually stabilized, and Italy gained one of its most iconic landmarks.

Things went well for 800 years. But in 1990, the Italian government closed access to the public for the first time over fears that the tower might topple over. A restoration team was brought in to fix the tilt which, by then, measured 5.5 degrees. The tower was reopened in 2001 with a tilt of 3.97 degrees.

However, as we recently discovered, the Leaning Tower of Pisa continued to straighten even after restoration works were complete. It has lost another 4 centimeters (1.6 in) or half a degree of tilt over the past two decades.[6]

Rest assured, this doesn’t mean that the tower will eventually become straight as an arrow. It simply stabilized itself again.

4 Gone In 49 Minutes

Photo credit: The Independent

It was easy come, easy go for a German teenager who seemed to set a record when he lost his driver’s license just 49 minutes after getting it.

German police clocked him doing almost twice the speed limit while passing through the town of Hemer after returning from his successful driving test.[7] The 18-year-old had four friends in the car with him, and officers speculated that he was showing off by doing 95 kilometers per hour (60 mph) in a 50-kilometer-per-hour (30 mph) zone.

The young man faces a €200 fine and two points on his license. He has also been banned from driving for four weeks and is only eligible to receive his license back after “expensive retraining.” To top it off, his probationary period as a new driver has been doubled from two years to four.

3 Drunk On The Ice

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A Canadian curling team was kicked out of the 2018 Red Deer Curling Classic for showing up too drunk to play.

The team, which is led by Jamie Koe and includes Olympian Ryan Fry, was scheduled to have a match last Saturday afternoon. It is unclear if they showed up to the Red Deer Curling Center already drunk or if they had a few too many while they waited. But, when it was time to start, all members were inebriated.[8]

Koe realized that he was too sozzled to participate and removed himself from the match, leaving the team shorthanded. During play, the other members frequently became a distraction to the games going on beside them.

In particular, Fry started swearing and broke three brooms. The damage continued in the locker room, where the team kicked around the bags of other players and Fry put a hole through a wall.

The players have since apologized for their actions, both publicly and to the curling club. They have been disqualified for the rest of the bonspiel (curling tournament) and future Red Deer Curling Classic events.

2 The Worst Year In Human History

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Whenever you are feeling down, just remind yourself that at least you are not living in the year AD 536. According to a team led by Harvard archaeologist and historian Michael McCormick, that was the worst year to be alive in human history.

So what happened in 536 that was so bad? It was the stage for a series of mysterious weather events which led to the most severe short-term cooling episode of the Northern Hemisphere in thousands of years. Extreme phenomena included droughts, dense fogs, and even snow during summer.

In turn, this caused crops to fail, which led to widespread famine from Ireland to China. Just a few years later, the world was besieged by the Plague of Justinian, the worst pandemic up until that point.

Most scientific explanations either point to a massive volcanic eruption or a meteorite impact as the likely cause of the extreme weather events. Ice core analysis found significant sulfate deposits around that time which would support the volcanic winter hypothesis.

McCormick believes that he has found the culprit. A cataclysmic volcanic eruption in Iceland covered the Northern Hemisphere in ash in 536. It was followed by two more eruptions in 540 and 547 which caused European development to stagnate for almost a century.[9]

1 Vanished Submarine Is Found

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Argentine officials say they have found the submarine which disappeared in the South Atlantic a year and a day ago with 44 crew members aboard.

The ARA San Juan vanished on November 15, 2017, while on route to Mar del Plata. A massive rescue mission ensued involving ships and aircraft from 11 different countries. The operation was called off after two weeks when there was no more hope of survival as the crew’s air supply would have run out. But search efforts continued.

The submarine was finally located by Ocean Infinity, a US company specializing in deepwater search. The ARA San Juan was found 870 meters (2,850 ft) down on the ocean floor.[10]

Argentine authorities say that they lack the equipment to recover the sub from such a depth, but they might outsource it to a private company. Much of the hull is still intact, although it has been deformed. This falls in line with the most likely hypothesis that the submarine suffered an implosion.

One of the last communications with the ARA San Juan was the captain reporting a short circuit in the vessel’s battery system. Days later, an American international nuclear weapons monitor detected a sound consistent with an explosion in that same region.


Read more offbeat stories you might have missed from November 17, 2018, and November 10, 2018.

fact checked by Jamie Frater