Why the egg came first… and your other great scientific questions answered.
WHY is yawning infectious? What came first, the chicken or the egg? And why does hair turn grey?
These three questions have been named as the most popular quirky science queries which leave Brits scratching their heads, according to a study released today.
Recently 2,000 people were polled for the definitive list of quirky scientific conundrums.
Here Professor Chris Smith, of Manchester Met University, answers some of the curious questions:
WHY is yawning infectious?
YAWNING is a result of increased levels of carbon dioxide in the lungs – often occurring as a result of a lower breathing rate when the body relaxes.
If a group are all relaxing together, it is probable they’ll all reach the same elevated level of CO2 at approximately the same time.
WHAT came first, the chicken or the egg?
THE egg as a method of reproduction evolved before the chicken – for example, dinosaur eggs. Thus, the first chicken would have hatched from an egg laid by a “chicken ancestor”. So the egg came first.
WHY does hair turn grey?
HAIR colour is the result of pigment secretion which gradually fails as the person ages.
Hair is naturally without pigment, so apparently grey. The time when the greying occurs is genetically controlled.
WHY does unhealthy food taste better than healthy food?
WE have a genetic preference for sweet and fatty foods because they are high-energy. We also have a genetic need for salt. Mammals will travel great distances to find sources of salt.
COULD a person survive in a falling lift if they jumped as it hit the ground?
NO, they are falling at the same speed as the lift and jumping upwards merely slightly slows the rate of descent.
WHY does red sky at night mean good weather the next day?
A SPOKESPERSON for the Met Office explains that when high cloud (often indicative of rain) is coupled with the sun at a low angle you’re much more likely to get red skies. So a red sky in the evening might mean that the high clouds are indicative of overnight rain, clearing the next day.
WHY does toast always fall butter side down?
TOAST falling from a table approximately 3ft 6ins above the floor begins to rotate immediately, but only has time to rotate 180° before reaching the ground. Thus, as it is always butter side up on the table, it will turn over and land butter side down. If the height of the table is increased, the rotation will be greater and at about 8ft above the ground the fall will take long enough to allow one full rotation – and the toast will fall butter side up.
WHY is laughter infectious?
RESEARCHERS at University College may have found the answer: The sound of laughter activates the premotor cortical region; the part of our brain that readies our facial muscles to react to sounds and this in turn makes us smile. However, if you try to stimulate laughter in the wrong situation, others do not join in.
WHY do we have to sleep?
NO one is really sure. Some think it is a chance to recuperate from the day’s activity. However sleep plays a significant role in brain development, and lack of sleep has a severe effect on our brain’s ability to function.
DO goldfish really have a three-second memory?
RESEARCHERS at the University of Plymouth argue that goldfish actually have a memory span of at least three months and can even distinguish between shapes, colours and sounds.
WHERE does belly button fluff come from?
IT’S a mixture of clothing fibres, dead skin, fat and dust. A typical carrier is likely to be a slightly overweight, middle-aged male with a hairy abdomen.
WHY do cats always land on their feet?
CATS have an innate ability known as their “righting reflex”. Due to their very flexible backbones and highly tuned sense of balance, they can twist their bodies to right themselves. Their balance system, located in the inner ear, determines up from down and they rotate their upper body to make sure they will land the right way up – the lower body follows on. Cats also benefit from light bone structure and thick fur, which decrease their terminal velocity.
IF you sneeze with your eyes open, do they fall out?
IN short, no. Your eyes are quite secure and not connected to your nose at all, so even if you sneeze with some considerable force, this pressure cannot be transferred to your eyeballs. Closing your eyes while sneezing is just a reflex.
WHY is the sunset red?
RED light has a longer wavelength than blue light. This means that when the sun sets and is low on the horizon, the sunlight has to pass through more atmosphere than it does when the sun is directly overhead. As the sun sets we see red, orange and yellow light because the blue light has been filtered out by the thicker layer of atmosphere.
WHY do bees buzz?
AS bees fly their rapid wingbeat is heard by many species as a buzz. Secondly, some bees vibrate their wings and thorax (the middle section of their body) when they visit flowers as a way of shaking the pollen off the flower’s anthers and on to the bee’s body.
WHY does it always rain in England?
ACCORDING to the Met office, our location could be to blame. The UK sits in the mid-latitudes, where cold air from the poles meets warm air from the tropics, and has the Atlantic on one side and the large landmass of continental Europe on the other, causing weather that is highly variable.
IF a tree falls in the forest and no one hears it, does it make a sound?
THIS is a philosophical question which asks whether something exists if there is no one there to perceive it. It is really questioning existence and whether a sound exists because it is made or because it is perceived?
WHY don’t oceans freeze?
OCEAN water does freeze. At least 15% of the ocean is covered by sea ice at some part of the year. Fresh water freezes at 0 degrees, but seawater freezes at about -1.9 degrees due to its salt content. Oceans don’t freeze solid due to water from warmer oceans flowing into colder ones.
CAN a penny falling from the top of a building kill someone?
NO, the penny’s mass is too small and the terminal velocity would be too low to have any real impact.