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Five scientific finds (in the weirdest places)

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By Daniel Martins
Digital Reporter
@DFLCMartins
Sunday, August 3, 2014, 8:46 PM

[THUMBNAIL IMAGE SOURCE]

So much of scientific discovery relies on the discoverers being in the right place at the right time.

The first person to run into the astoundingly old fossils in the Maritimes in the video above, must have felt blessed, but very occasionally, a discovery can come completely out of the blue, from a place you didn't even know you should have been looking.

Here are five such breakthroughs.

Railway workers find whale bones hundreds of kilometres from the sea

Easily some of the smartest creatures in the ocean, beluga whales are popular among whale rand aquarium-goers.

Aside from their intelligence, they have an unique voice box that allows them to apparently mimic a wide variety of sounds, according to National Geographic, including human speech.

And, if you had no idea of the historical background, you might be tricked into thinking they secretly learned how to walk on land, once you hear of one specimen whose bones were found buried in the earth 250 km inland in 1849.

Railway workers in Vermont were laying down the state’s first tracks, when they happened upon the buried bones around 3 m below the surface. According to NPR, dating the sediment around it helped paleontologists estimate an age of around 11,500 years at the time of the animal’s death.

That figure actually points to the answer as to just how a whale fossil shows up well above sea level. That’s when the last major ice age had all but come to an end. 

According to the University of Vermont, large parts of the landscape that had been depressed beneath the crushing weight of mile-thick glaciers were below sea level when the ice retreated.

The area where the whale was found was actually beneath a shallow offshoot of the Atlantic Ocean at the time of the animal's death.

[Image: Placevum / Flickr IMAGE LICENSE]

It was gradually buried in sediment, while formerly-depressed areas rose somewhat under a process of glacial rebound, according to the UVM.

So that’s how you end up with whale bones 250 km away from today’s shorelines, and NPR says the fate of the whale actually helped kick-start the science of glaciology at a time when people still weren’t even sure how old the Earth actually was. 

An 18th Century sailing ship is dug up beneath Ground Zero

There’s an awful lot of conspiracy theories surrounding the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Centre in the United States, but we’re sure none of them included unearthing 18th Century sailing ships at the site.

The hulk was discovered during excavations in 2010, and archaeologists and on-site workers worked to recover as much of the find as possible, with some pieces of the centuries-old timber sent for testing at Columbia University.

Then once the results came in last week, it sounded more and more serendipitous: Sky News reports the folks at Columbia identified the wood as white oak, cut down in 1773.

That’s already significant for the Americans, who at the time were in the very early stages of what would become the American Revolution, but it seems the same forest may have provided building materials for Independence Hall.

As for the ship, well, it was likely used to transport passengers and cargo across the Hudson River (although CBS reports there’s evidence it may have sailed the Caribbean at one point), before being sunk around 1810 as debris to artificially extend the Manhattan coastline.

Are we the only ones who think this sounds a bit like the plot of a Nicholas Cage movie?

There might be fossils on the moon, and they might have come from Earth

We're going to duck for cover and studiously avoid the comments section after this next sentence: There might be fossils on the moon, and they might have come from Earth.

Not a conspiracy theory, this, but legit science from the University of Kent in England. They reckon the impact on Earth of large meteoroids or asteroids could have been powerful enough to blast material from our planet right onto our satellite, which could conceivably include organic material.

Image credit: M. J. Burchell, K. H. McDermott, M. C. Price and L. J. Yolland, Centre for Astrophysics and Planetary Science, School of Physical Sciences, Ingram Building, University of Kent

Like all hypotheses, they had to test it first. Which they did with a really powerful gun.

Well, okay, it was more like an air cannon than a proper gun, but with a really hefty punch: The researchers took fossilized diatoms, a kind of algae, encased them in ice, and fired them nine times into water targets. The lowest speed was 1,400 km/h. The LOWEST.

After recovering the fossils, they found most of them had survived in various stages of intactness, even at some of the higher speeds, although they noted the faster they were shot, the fewer whole specimens they found.

That’s actually nowhere near as fast as some meteoroids blasting through our atmosphere, which Weather Network Meteorologist Scott Sutherland says can hit speeds of 40,000 km/h. But Sutherland notes the researchers say material ejected from the Earth to the moon would be going much slower than that, hence the lower speeds at which they did their test.

So they tested whether fossils could get to the moon from Earth with a science gun. Good work, lads.


EXPERT ANALYSIS: Read meteorologist Scott Sutherland's in-depth look at this discovery.


NEXT PAGE: Scientists dredge up still-living 86-million-year-old bacteria

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