An astronomer’s colorful animation shows how Saturn’s disappearing rings act like a ‘mini solar system’

saturn rings radio
Saturn’s rings, imaged based on radio data from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft. Green indicates regions with particles smaller than 5 centimeters; purple is where no particles are that small. The white area is so dense that it blocked radio signals.

  • Saturn’s seven icy rings each spin at their own speed, behaving like a “mini solar system.”
  • Planetary scientist James O’Donoghue made a beautifully simple animation to show how it works.
  • But the rings are temporary: Saturn is slowly swallowing them, according to O’Donoghue’s research.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

If star-hopping aliens ever visited our solar system, Saturn is probably the planet they’d remember.

The seven giant rings circling its equator make Saturn the most distinct planet orbiting the sun. It may not be obvious in images of the hula-hoop planet, but the ice and rock chunks that make up those rings are circling Saturn at rates nearly 70 times the speed of sound. What’s more, each ring is moving at its own pace.

“In a way, the ring system is like a mini solar system,” James O’Donoghue, a planetary scientist at Japan’s space agency, JAXA, told Insider. “Objects close to Saturn orbit faster otherwise they would fall in, while objects far away can afford to go slower. This is the same for planets.”

In his free time, O’Donoghue makes animations about physics and the solar system. Some of his others have demonstrated that there’s no “dark side” of the moon, the true center of the solar system isn’t the sun, and Earth has two types of day.

When he put his skills to work to depict Saturn’s rings, O’Donoghue created an animation (below) that shows how the each ring moves through its own motions in a beautiful, circular dance.

In the animation, the line labeled “synchronous orbit” is synced up with the spin of Saturn itself, so it shows which parts of the rings you would see over time if you stood at that spot on the planet.

Saturn’s slowest, outermost ring spins at about 37,000 mph (16.4 kilometers per second) – slower than the rotation of Saturn itself. The innermost chunks of ice and rock shoot through space at about 52,000 mph (23.2 kilometers per second).

saturn rings illustration
An illustration of Saturn’s rings up close.

Up close, Saturn’s rings aren’t as chaotic as their speeds might make them seem. According to O’Donoghue, grains of ice on neighboring tracks are only moving at a few centimeters per minute relative to each other.

“That speed is like walking one step every 30 minutes, or similar to rush hour traffic,” he said on Twitter. “So collisions aren’t very dramatic.”

Saturn is slowly swallowing its rings

In addition to being incredibly fast-moving, Saturn’s rings are very long and thin. If you unfurled them – as O’Donoghue did in the image below – all the planets would fit comfortably within their length.

saturn rings solar system o'donoghue

But in total, the rings have just 1/5,000th the mass of our moon.

“In other words, our moon could be used to make 5,000 Saturn ring systems,” O’Donoghue told Insider. “This highlights how extremely thin and fragile the rings of Saturn are.”

This fragility is a subject of O’Donoghue’s scientific research. In studying Saturn’s upper atmosphere, he and his colleagues found that the rings are slowly disappearing. Thousands of kilograms of ring material rain onto the planet every second. At that rate, the rings shouldn’t last more than 300 million years in their current “full” form, he said.

“Saturn’s ring system is not exactly stable, appearing to be more like a temporary debris field of some ancient moon or comet which got too close and broke apart, rather than a permanent feature,” O’Donoghue added. “We can count ourselves lucky we live in a time when Saturn’s rings have such an enormous presence in the solar system.”

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An astronomer’s animation shows how Earth and the moon both orbit a spot 3,000 miles from the true center of the planet

globe_epc_2015198_lrg
The Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) captured a view of the moon as it passed between the spacecraft and Earth.

The moon orbits Earth – right? The answer is actually a little more complicated than that.

The moon is circling a point about 3,000 miles from our planet’s center, just below its surface. Earth is wobbling around that point, too, making its own circles.

That spot is the Earth-moon system’s center of mass, known as the barycenter. It’s the point of an object (or system of them) at which it can be balanced perfectly, with the mass distributed evenly on all sides.

The Earth-moon barycenter doesn’t line up exactly with our planet’s center. Instead, it’s “always just below Earth’s surface,” as James O’Donoghue, a planetary scientist at the Japanese space agency (JAXA), explained on Twitter.

It’s hard to imagine what that looks like without seeing it for yourself. So O’Donoghue made an animation to demonstrate what’s going on. It shows how Earth and the moon will move over the next three years.

The distance between Earth and the moon is not to scale in the animation, but O’Donoghue used NASA data, so the positions over time are accurate.

“You can pause the animation on the present date to figure out where the Earth and moon physically are right now,” O’Donoghue said.

Every planetary system – including the star or planet that appears to be at the center – orbits an invisible point like this one. Our solar system’s barycenter is sometimes inside the sun, sometimes outside of it. Barycenters can help astronomers find hidden planets circling other stars: A star’s wobbling motion allows scientists to calculate mass they can’t see in a given system.

O’Donoghue made a similar animation of Pluto and its moon, Charon. In this system, the barycenter is always outside of Pluto.

That’s because Charon’s mass is not that much smaller than Pluto’s, so the system’s mass is more evenly distributed than Earth and our moon.

Because the barycenter is outside of Pluto, O’Donoghue said, you could actually consider this to be a “double (dwarf-)planet system” rather than a dwarf planet and its moon.

In his free time, O’Donoghue has also made animations to explain why leap years are necessary, why you’ve probably never seen a model of the solar system to scale, and how incredibly slow the speed of light is.

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How anesthesia affects your brain and body

Since 1846, doctors have used a variety of drugs to make patients unconscious for surgery, but even though the medications have changed, there’s one thing that remains the same- it works. But how exactly? We don’t know every detail about what’s going on when we administer anesthesia, but then again, we also don’t know exactly how consciousness works either. Following is a transcript of the video.

Narrator: When you go to sleep, if I pinched you, you’d be up. If I shook you, you’d be up, right? But under anesthesia, I’m gonna pinch you and do a full operation and you’re not up. So it’s really further on the spectrum of unconsciousness.

Narrator: When you wake up after being put under with general anesthesia you barely feel like any time has passed. You could have been out for an hour or a day and you wouldn’t know the difference.

Fong: When you go to a natural sleep, people call your name, your alarm goes off, you wake up, right? This is not what is gonna happen during general anesthesia. You’re gonna be unconscious.

Narrator: You’re closer to being in a coma than being asleep.

Anesthesia was first used during surgery in 1846. The drug provided at that time was ether. Now anesthesiologists more commonly use a combination of drugs like propofol and fentanyl which interrupt neural pathways so you don’t feel pain and you don’t remember the surgery.

Fong: Three things that you need for general anesthesia are you need amnesia so that they don’t remember, analgesia so they have pain relief and then operating conditions for the surgeon. Some surgeries you need the patient to be very relaxed so you would use a muscle relaxant. Other surgeries the patient just needs to be asleep and anesthetized but they don’t need relaxation so how they do that varies upon the different medications that you’re using. Some will depress excitatory neurons and some will enhance inhibitory neurons.

Narrator: Excitatory neurons, for example, get excited and send signals to other neurons to fire. Depressing them means less signals telling your brain you’re in pain. Inhibitory neurons do the opposite. They make it harder for neurons to generate these electrical signals. In either case this means fewer active neurons overall which is important because when your body is being poked and prodded, neurons would typically fire to tell your brain you’re in pain. If those neurons aren’t firing, your brain doesn’t know that your body is, well, being cut open.

Fong: Basically it interrupts the pathways and the communication between your neural networks. We’re aiming for them to be not in pain by looking at their vital signs, their heart rate, their blood pressure. Then we want to make sure that they’re unconscious.

Narrator: Without anesthesia, many important surgeries wouldn’t be possible because they’d be way too traumatic.

Fong: Surgery didn’t move forward, really, until anesthesia moved forward. You know, you watch those old movies. They give you a swig of alcohol, they put a tourniquet and they hack your leg off. People don’t do well with that, right? If you had a bad heart, that would be the end of that.

Narrator: After the procedure is complete the doctors stop administering the meds and the most powerful effects of the drugs wear off but even though you’re conscious again you might continue to experience some of the drugs side effects.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This video was originally published in August 2018.

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Why we don’t have birth control for men

  • The condom was invented more than 5,000 years ago. While it’s made some strides since then, men are still left with few options for birth control, besides a vasectomy.
  • It’s not due to a lack of interest, but a lack of funding for research – and biology.
  • Men produce millions of sperm each day. Even if that count is reduced by 90%, they could still be fertile.
  • There are new methods coming, but experts say it will be years, if not decades, before they hit the market.
  • Visit BusinessInsider.com for more stories.

Following is a transcript of the video.

Narrator: Did you know the condom is over 5,000 years old? That’s right, some of the first forms of birth control date back to around 3,000 BC, and while the condom has made some strides since the Bronze Age, men still don’t have a much better option all these millennia later. Besides a vasectomy. Especially compared to the pills, IUDs, and implants available to women today. So why don’t we have birth control for men? In 2002, researchers asked more than 9,000 men across four continents whether they’d be willing to use contraception capable of preventing sperm production. Over half said yes. So the problem isn’t lack of interest, it’s partly human biology. Women ovulate just one or two eggs each month. Men, on the other hand, produce sperm daily, and it’s not just one or two.

There’s literally hundreds of millions of sperm produced each day, so because there’s so many sperm produced, actually, you can reduce your sperm number over 90% and still be completely fertile. Narrator: To reach infertility, a man’s sperm count needs to be somewhere around 1 to 10 million per milliliter, but getting there is near impossible, at least without side effects. That’s because sperm count is tied to the production of testosterone. In the past, researchers tried decreasing testosterone in an effort to decrease sperm count.

The problem is you don’t have any libido, you have very little testosterone to act on other tissues and so forth, and so the side effects were so dramatic that it really wasn’t ever going to be a contraceptive pill. Narrator: Scientists also tried using different compounds that attack the cells that produce sperm. But again, biology got in the way. Germ cells, as they’re called, developed inside a fortress-like structure within the testes.

So literally, nothing can get through it. There’s been a lot of small molecule studies to try and actually attack the germ cell to stop it from working. Literally, I can think of 10 or 15 different compounds that actually have been developed to do that, but they don’t work because of that barrier. Narrator: But the complex male anatomy isn’t the only problem. It’s also funding or lack thereof. In 2002, two big pharmaceutical companies took interest in male contraception, Schering and Organon. And together they funded a large clinical trial on a hormone-based contraceptive, offering hope that a pill backed by Big Pharma might be on the horizon.

Then these two companies became, as you know, acquired by bigger company, and then even bigger company, so now they are merged in huge companies, and women’s health is still a priority in many of the companies, but men’s health became part of the general matter of health. And therefore, the development of contraception becomes a really very low priority. Narrator: According to Dr. Wang, male contraception was also too risky for Big Pharma at the time. The long-term side effects were unknown. Companies were concerned that women might not trust it, and despite the survey results, it was unclear whether men would actually use a hormone-based contraception. Today, the limited funding comes mostly from government agencies like the National Institutes of Health. But there are in fact some promising lines of research. Dr. Wang is working on a gel that can lower testosterone where it matters, in the testes where sperm is produced, while keeping testosterone levels normal elsewhere. That means low sperm count and, more importantly, no major side effects.

We have preliminary studies to show that if we give the gel and if the man applies the gel, 90% of the men will reach the level that you talk about, 1 million per mil.

And Skinner is pursuing a new approach, shutting down Sertoli cells, which are a part of that impenetrable barrier that houses germ cells.

So if you shut down the Sertoli cell, then you shut down the sperm production. Narrator: But perhaps most promising is a sort of reversible vasectomy that’s in the works.

So they have this ability to inject this gel into what’s called the vas deferens, and it makes this plug, so then essentially it does the same thing, but you’re not cutting it. Then believe it or not, you can actually inject this chemical mixture, which will dissolve the plug, and so then you can get your fertility back. Narrator: But as promising as these approaches may be, they’re still years, if not decades, out, Skinner says. And without more funding, some of them may never hit the market. So at least for now, men are left with few options. Irreversible vasectomies, pulling out , and that slightly updated Bronze Age invention.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This video was originally published in April 2019.

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What happens to your brain and body when you procrastinate too much

There’s a reason why people are such bad procrastinators. It’s easy: Procrastinating feels great. But it’s not so great for your brain since it pits two of your brain’s heavy hitters, your limbic system, and your prefrontal cortex into a literal head-to-head match.

Following is a transcript of the video.

Most of us have procrastinated at some point in our lives. But about one in every five of us are compulsive about it. Putting off tasks and chores nearly every chance they get.

They’re called chronic procrastinators. And it turns out, this behavior does a lot more damage than you might think.

We get it, doing work is hard.

But when you choose to watch TV over doing laundry or washing the dishes you’ve just launched an all-out battle in your brain.

On one side is your prefrontal cortex. That’s the part of your brain that sets long-term goals and regulates self-control. It’s telling you that those dishes aren’t going to clean themselves.

On the opposing side is your limbic system. It deals with pleasure, arousal, and reward.

And it’s telling you that washing dishes is no fun, and you’ll have a better time doing something else. So, procrastination essentially puts your brain in its happy place.

It feels good. That’s why you do it. But just because it feels good doesn’t necessarily mean it’s good for you.

For example, several studies have found that undergraduate college students who procrastinated had a lower GPA in the latter half of the semester compared to non-procrastinators.

They were also more likely to get sick, based on their healthcare visits.

Moreover, other studies have found that procrastinators report higher levels of guilt and anxiety when they choose to procrastinate in the first place.

And if you keep it up, researchers have found that chronic procrastination is linked to: low self-confidence, Low energy, And depression.

Overall, your quality of life will probably be worse, than if you just listened to your prefrontal cortex. And you may think that you just have a different workflow or that you perform better under pressure.

But, sorry to say, there are no studies to support any benefits of chronic procrastination. Bottom line: it’s unhealthy. But not all hope is lost.

In fact, researchers have conducted dozens of scientific studies in search for ways to help procrastinators. What they’ve found time and again is that how you think about tasks can make a huge difference in how likely you are to procrastinate on them.

Tasks like saving for retirement, for example, can be abstract: There’s no immediate deadline, so you can always start tomorrow. And it’s this mentality that can lead you to procrastinate.

Instead, make your tasks more concrete in your mind.

For example, a study in 2011 discovered that people given an illustration of how they might look at retirement age were more likely to say they would save money for retirement, than people without an illustration.

The image was something tangible. And, therefore, painted a more concrete picture of their inevitable future.

Whatever the task, do your health a favor and do the work. You might just enjoy that TV show even more once you get to it.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This video was originally published in November 2018.

Read the original article on Business Insider

What would happen if humans tried to land on Jupiter

  • Jupiter is made of mostly hydrogen and helium gas.
  • If you tried to land on Jupiter, it would be a bad idea.
  • You’d face extremely hot temperatures and you’d free-float in mid-Jupiter with no way of escaping.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Following is a transcript of the video.

Narrator: The best way to explore a new world is to land on it. That’s why humans have sent spacecraft to the Moon, Venus, Mars, Saturn’s moon, Titan, and more.

But there are a few places in the solar system we will never understand as well as we’d like. One of them is Jupiter.

Jupiter is made of mostly hydrogen and helium gas. So, trying to land on it would be like trying to land on a cloud here on Earth. There’s no outer crust to break your fall on Jupiter. Just an endless stretch of atmosphere.

The big question, then, is: Could you fall through one end of Jupiter and out the other? It turns out, you wouldn’t even make it halfway. Here’s what would happen if you tried to land on Jupiter.

*It’s important to note that we feature the Lunar Lander for the first half of the descent. In reality, the Lunar Lander is relatively delicate compared to, say, NASA’s Orion spacecraft. Therefore, the Lunar Lander would not be used for a mission to land on any world that contains an atmosphere, including Jupiter. However, any spacecraft, no matter how robust, would not survive for long in Jupiter, so the Lunar Lander is as good of a choice as any for this hypothetical scenario. 

First things first, Jupiter’s atmosphere has no oxygen. So make sure you bring plenty with you to breathe. The next problem is the scorching temperatures. So pack an air conditioner. Now, you’re ready for a journey of epic proportions.

For scale, here’s how many Earths you could stack from Jupiter’s center. As you enter the top of the atmosphere, you’re be traveling at 110,000 mph under the pull of Jupiter’s gravity.

But brace yourself. You’ll quickly hit the denser atmosphere below, which will hit you like a wall. It won’t be enough to stop you, though.

After about 3 minutes you’ll reach the cloud tops 155 miles down. Here, you’ll experience the full brunt of Jupiter’s rotation. Jupiter is the fastest rotating planet in our solar system. One day lasts about 9.5 Earth hours. This creates powerful winds that can whip around the planet at more than 300 mph.

About 75 miles below the clouds, you reach the limit of human exploration. The Galileo probe made it this far when it dove into Jupiter’s atmosphere in 1995. It only lasted 58 minutes before losing contact and was eventually destroyed by the crushing pressures.

Down here, the pressure is nearly 100 times what it is at Earth’s surface.  And you won’t be able to see anything, so you’ll have to rely on instruments to explore your surroundings.

By 430 miles down, the pressure is 1,150 times higher. You might survive down here if you were in a spacecraft built like the Trieste submarine – the deepest diving submarine on Earth. Any deeper and the pressure and temperature will be too great for a spacecraft to endure.

However, let’s say you could find a way to descend even farther. You will uncover some of Jupiter’s grandest mysteries. But, sadly, you’ll have no way to tell anyone. Jupiter’s deep atmosphere absorbs radio waves, so you’ll be shut off from the outside world- unable to communicate.

Once you’ve reached 2,500 miles down, the temperature is 6,100 ºF.  That’s hot enough to melt tungsten, the metal with the highest melting point in the Universe. At this point, you will have been falling for at least 12 hours. And you won’t even be halfway through.

At 13,000 miles down, you reach Jupiter’s innermost layer. Here the pressure is 2 million times stronger than at Earth’s surface. And the temperature is hotter than the surface of the sun. These conditions are so extreme they change the chemistry of the hydrogen around you. Hydrogen molecules are forced so close together that their electrons break lose, forming an unusual substance called metallic hydrogen. Metallic hydrogen is highly reflective. So, if you tried using lights to see down here it would be impossible.

And it’s as dense as a rock. So, as you travel deeper, the buoyancy force from the metallic hydrogen counteracts gravity’s downward pull.  Eventually, that buoyancy will shoot you back up until gravity pulls you back down, sort of like a yo-yo. And when those two forces equal, you’ll be left free-floating in mid-Jupiter, unable to move up or down, and no way to escape!

Suffice it say, trying to land on Jupiter is a bad idea. We may never see what’s beneath those majestic clouds. But we can still study and admire this mysterious planet from afar.

 

A special thanks to Kunio Sayanagi at Hampton University, for his help with this video.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This video was originally published in February 2018.

Read the original article on Business Insider

We compared our bodies to Barbie. Here’s what the doll would look like in real life.

    • Research shows that dolls with unrealistic proportions, like Barbie, promote body dissatisfaction and low self-esteem among young girls. 
    • We set out to to discover how unrealistic Barbie’s body is by scaling her up to the height of an average American woman.
    • The most noticeable difference was in the waist. Barbie’s was about 50 centimeters around, compared to the waist of an average American woman of 98 centimeters.
    • In 2016, Barbie’s maker Mattel released a handful of new sizes, including Curvy Barbie, which are more representative of real-life body diversity. But some experts say these dolls are still far from perfect.
    • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Following is a transcript of the video.

Ken: Hiya, Barbie!

Barbie: Hi, Ken! You’re looking unrealistically thin today!

Ken: Funny, I was going to say the same about you.

Narrator: Barbie is one of the most popular dolls in America. But that doesn’t mean that she’s loved by everyone. For years, women advocates have criticized the doll for her proportions, which they say set unrealistic and damaging body expectations for young girls.

In response, her maker, Mattel, created a handful of new sizes in 2016, including Curvy Barbie. But how unrealistic is Barbie really? Is Curvy much better? And where does Ken fit into all of this? That’s what we set out to discover.

Benji Jones: Hello, and welcome to our Barbie experiment. Today, we’re going to open up each of these three dolls and do a little bit of math to try to figure out what they would look like if they were life-size. We have your more typical Barbie over here. We’ve got a Curvy Barbie, which is kind of a newer doll. And then, of course, we also have a Ken doll because I couldn’t not get Ken. So let’s get started.

Narrator: First, we measured each of the dolls, their height, waist, and so on, and used some high-school algebra to figure out their life-size measurements. Then, we compared them to a real-life woman for comparison: our colleague Jensen.

Jones: So Jensen, how tall are you?

Jensen Rubinstein: I am 5-3 and a half.

Jones: So you are the average height of an American woman, congratulations.

Rubinstein: Wow, thank you!

Jones: First thing we’re gonna do is take some of your measurements.

Rubinstein: OK.

Jones:And then we’re gonna compare that to Barbie. Will you point to your belly button for me?

Rubinstein: Right here.

Jones: OK.

Narrator: Although Jensen is the average height of an American woman, she has a smaller-than-average waist. But still, it’s not nearly as thin as Barbie’s. If we scale Barbie to life-size, her waist would be a mere 50 centimeters, and her hips, just 71 centimeters. And if Jensen had Barbie’s proportions, this is what she would look like. She’d have shorter arms, a longer neck, and tiny feet. In fact, they’d be so small that she’d have trouble balancing and would be forced to walk on all fours.

And what about Curvy Barbie? Is she any more realistic? Actually, yes, at least relative to Jensen. Her waist would be around 63 centimeters and her hips around 90, the same as Jensen’s. Now, here’s Jensen with Curvy Barbie’s proportions. Not that different. Though, of course, she still wouldn’t be able to walk upright.

Now, we can’t forget about Ken. This time, I stood in for comparison. If we scale Ken up to my height, his waist would be just 63 centimeters, and he would also have unusually small feet, long legs, and larger calves. But his biceps, well, mine are actually bigger. Uh, Ken, you better watch out.

So as you might expect, most Barbies look nothing like average Americans, as fit as they may be. In fact, researchers found that the chance of a woman having traditional Barbie’s proportions is less than one in 100,000. And that’s a problem.

Deborah Tolman: My name’s Deborah Tolman. I’m a professor of critical social psychology and women and gender studies at Hunter College at City University of New York.

Narrator: And according to Tolman:

Tolman: Dolls actually have an enormous effect on girls’ and boys’ sense of themselves, their ideas about body, particular thin-body ideals. If you have an ideal, and you’re never able to achieve it, you don’t need a psychological study to show that it makes you feel bad.

Narrator: But there are plenty of studies that do. A study published in 2006, for example, found that young girls who are exposed to Barbie-doll images had more body dissatisfaction and lower body esteem compared to girls who were shown similar pictures of a larger-sized doll. But fortunately, it goes both ways.

Tolman: Playing with a more, I guess, quote, chubby doll actually suppresses the desire for a thin body. So thinking about it only as negative really doesn’t tell the full story because there are ways that we can introduce dolls and play that will actually yield protective effects.

Narrator: And that’s why some experts applaud Mattel for creating Curvy Barbie. But it’s also led to a whole new business for people who want to make even more realistic dolls because let’s face it, Curvy Barbie still doesn’t depict the average American woman.

Nickolay Lamm: So Curvy, Tall, and Petite Barbie, like, I think it sounds good, like, “Oh, Curvy, Tall, and Petite, we’re all diverse and everything.” But if we actually look at their individual, each doll, each doll is still unrealistic because the Curvy is still like the perfect hourglass shape. The Petite is very extremely slim, and the Tall is basically like essentially the original Barbie, except kind of a little bit taller.

Narrator: That’s Nickolay Lamm.

Lamm: I’m the founder of Lammily, which makes dolls with realistic body proportions to promote healthy body image.

Narrator: Lamm competes with Mattel for business, so of course there’s some difference in opinion about the perfect doll, but if you look at his dolls, it’s easy to see how they differ from Barbie, Curvy or otherwise. And in the end, maybe there is no perfect doll. After all, people come in all different shapes, sizes, and colors, and it’s pretty clear that dolls should too.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This video was originally published in June 2019.

Read the original article on Business Insider

What’s inside a blobfish, the ‘world’s ugliest animal’

  • The blobfish was crowned the world’s ugliest animal in 2013 — a title it still defends today.
  • But drop this fellow 9,200 feet below sea level, and the water holds up all that flab like a push-up bra, making the fish a little more handsome.
  • Between the skin and the muscles is a lot of fluid. And that’s the secret to the fish’s distinct appearance — and its survival.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Following is a transcript of the video.

Narrator: This creature was crowned the world’s ugliest animal in 2013, a title it still defends today. On land, he’s got a body like Jell-O and a big old frown. But drop this fellow 9,200 feet below sea level, and the water holds up all that flab like a push-up bra, making the fish a little more handsome. Same old fish, but with a little more support. So, what is all that water pressure holding together?

David Stein: Between the skin, that flabby skin, and the muscles is a lot of fluid.

Narrator: This is David Stein, a deep-sea-fish biologist who was lucky enough to dissect 19 blobfishes in the 1970s. Blobfish look blobby because they are full of water. Under their skin, blobfish have a thick layer of gelatinous flesh that floats outside their muscles.

Stein: If you pick up a blobfish by the tail, then it kind of flows to the head.

Narrator: This water-filled, Jell-O-like layer allows the blobfish to stay somewhat buoyant, which is important because blobfishes don’t have a swim bladder.

Stein: And fishes that have swim bladders are able to adjust their buoyancy. They can secrete gas into the swim bladder or remove it. A fish that lives on the bottom doesn’t need to be able to maintain its buoyancy.

Narrator: So, the Jell-O layer isn’t a perfect substitute, but the blobfish doesn’t need to be a strong swimmer. The predator has a highly specialized hunting strategy that’s perfect for the rocky barrens of the deep sea.

Stein: It just sits there and waits for dinner to come by.

Narrator: If all you do is sit, you don’t need much under your skin. Just watery tissue, some yellow pockets of fat, and a smidgen of muscle. In case you hadn’t guessed, blobfishes aren’t exactly yoked. They have very little red muscle, the kind that allows you, a human, to run a mile or a tuna fish to migrate across oceans. Instead, blobfish have a lot of white muscle, which allows them to swim in short bursts and lunge at prey that on occasion ramble by.

This is a baby blobfish. It’s a cleared and stained specimen, meaning all its tissue has been dissolved to show only the bones and cartilage. Those thin red lines you see, they’re the blobfish’s bones dyed red. If you’re having trouble seeing the bones, you’re not the only one. Blobfish have poorly ossified skeletons, meaning they’re thinner and more fragile than the bones of most shallow-water fish. This is another handy deep-sea adaptation, as it takes a lot of precious energy to build strong bones.

But the blobfish saves its energy to develop what might be the most important bone in its body: its jaws, which also happened to be the reason it looks so gloomy. The fish needs enormous jaws so it can snap up any prey that passes by and swallow it whole, maybe even smacking its blubbery lips as it eats. And that brings us to its stomach. If you’re the kind of creature that eats anything that swims by, some surprising things can wind up in your stomach. Stein found a wide range of foods and not-foods in the blobfish he dissected. Fish, sea pens, brittle stars, hermit crabs, an anemone, a plastic bag, and also lots of rocks.

Stein: Their stomach contents kind of bear out the fact that they’re probably not too bright.

Narrator: He also found octopus beaks, the cephalopods’ hard, indigestible jaws. This means that one of the world’s flabbiest fishes has been able to eat one of the sea’s most cunning predators. If you’re surprised, just think about the blobfish’s thick skin. What would it be harder to grab in a fight: a sack of bones or a sack of Jell-O? Stein suspects it might be the latter.

Stein: If the skin is loose, perhaps the suckers can’t really get a good grip on it.

Narrator: Stein found sucker marks across the blobfish’s body, a hint that the fish might’ve been in some deep-sea fights. So while all of this Jell-O might look a little unconventional, well, it seems to have served its purpose. The blobfish is perfectly suited to life in the deep sea, where beauty standards are probably quite different. After all…

Stein: Ugly is kind of in the eye of the beholder.

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The winter solstice is on Monday. A planetary scientist’s simple animation explains what solstices are and how they work.

Earth equinoxes and solstices
How Earth, its axial tilt, and the sun work to create solstices, equinoxes, and seasons.

  • The winter solstice happened Monday at 5:02 a.m. ET.
  • Earth’s northern hemisphere sees the shortest day of the year during the December solstice, while the southern hemisphere sees its longest day.
  • That’s because of the way Earth is angled toward the sun.
  • A planetary scientist created an animation that shows how Earth’s angle and orbit creates equinoxes and solstices.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

The winter solstice came on Monday at 5:02 a.m. ET.

The shortest day of the year heralds the arrival of winter; after this, days finally start getting longer in the northern hemisphere, which houses about 90% of Earth’s population. For the southern hemisphere, it signifies the opposite: shortening days and the dawning of summer. 

To illustrate what’s going on with the solstice, Dr. James O’Donoghue, a planetary scientist at the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, created an animation that neatly summarizes how these events work, along with their relationship to the equinoxes.

equinoxall
An animation of Earth as it orbits, with points marking both equinoxes and solstices along with relevant information.

Solstices and equinoxes are the products of Earth’s axial tilt: the degree to which the planet is tilted relative to the sun. The axis around which the Earth spins isn’t straight up and down – it’s about 23.5 degrees off. Because of that, different parts of the Earth get exposed to more or less sunlight as the planet rotates around the sun. That’s why we have seasons.

It’s also why the northern and southern hemispheres experience seasons at opposite times: During winter in the northern hemisphere, the southern hemisphere is tilted more towards the sun, and vice versa.

Meanwhile, Earth is also constantly rotating, which keeps its heating even – kind of like a planet-sized rotisserie chicken twisting over a spit

The axial tilt’s most dramatic effect comes during the solstices, since those are the two days when one side of the planet is tilted the farthest away from the sun and the other is the closest. On Monday, the northern hemisphere will receive less than nine hours of daylight, while the southern hemisphere is getting more than 15.

As a result, anyone in the northern hemisphere who stands outside at noon on Monday will cast their longest shadow of the year.

During the summer solstice, O’Donoghue explained on Twitter, “sunlight is most intense as it only has to pass through a short column of atmosphere.” That’s why it gets hot during summertime in general. 

Earth during equinox
An illustration of earth during an equinox.

The two times of the year when Earth’s axis isn’t tilted towards or away from the sun – leading sunlight to hit the northern and southern hemispheres equally – are the equinoxes. On those days, both halves of the planet experience an equal 12 hours of sunlight and darkness.

So if you were to stand directly on the equator at the exact time of an equinox, your shadow would be at its absolute minimum. The sun would also appear almost directly overhead. 

But the shadowless moment would be fleeting, since Earth moves around the sun at about 66,600 mph.

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