It's been said a column writer should both inform and entertain with an assortment of compelling stories containing facts and details.
With that in mind, welcome to today's offering. I recently happened across a list of things so unusual on this planet you likely haven't heard of them. Better rephrase that: I certainly hadn't. And I've been around a while.
Business Insider reporter Sophia Mitrokostas gave us an informative list that activated my imagination.
For example, ever heard of a small creature that lives in puddles, but can survive extreme heat or cold and even a journey into the cosmos? They are known as tardigrades, water bears or moss piglets and "are fascinating microorganisms that can survive almost anywhere," wrote Mitrokostas.
They prefer moist places (think mud). Yet Smithsonian Magazine says they can survive at hundreds of degrees below zero, or as hot as 300 degrees Fahrenheit. Scientists have also found that they "can survive radiation, boiling liquids, pressures more than six times that of the deepest part of the ocean, and even the vacuum of space."
Next is Vantablack, a little-known "nanomaterial" darker than any substance on Earth. Developed in the UK by Surrey NanoSystems in 2015, it is actually a collection of vertical carbon tubes "grown" on a substrate.
"Vantablack absorbs 99.98 percent of the light that hits its surface," Mitrokostas wrote. "This means that the human eye technically sees nothing when it looks at Vantablack, making it the closest thing to staring into a black hole."
Aerogel is an ultralight material comprised of gas and gel, that's also called "frozen smoke" or "solid cloud" because of its ethereal appearance. Mitrokostas wrote: "Scientists have created more than a dozen recipes for different types of aerogel, but they all share a similar process: mix chemicals together, let them settle into a wet gel, and then suck all of the liquid out. The result is the substance of extremely low density that is actually 99 percent air."
Aerogel is mostly air, which is a terrible heat conductor, so a layer of Aerogel between a flower and a flame will protect the flower from becoming ash.
Glaucus Atlanticus is a feathery-like species of sea slug, and is also known as the blue angel. The creature, found exclusively on the coasts of South Africa and Australia, is deceptively pretty, belying its dangerous nature as a carnivore that feeds on other venomous ocean creatures like the Portuguese Man o' War.
Blue Angels save the venom from their prey in specialized pouches where it is concentrated to be used on future prey. Pretty efficient for a slug, eh?
A Eucalyptus Deglupta tree "may look like it has fallen out of a Dr. Seuss book," wrote Mitrokostas, "but it actually grows in Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, and the Philippines. This unique tree has multicolored bark that features bright blue, orange, purple, green, and maroon streaks."
The vivid hues are a natural side effect of the tree's shedding, according to the Missouri Botanical Garden. As bark peels back, a bright green inner bark is revealed, then slowly matures and turns a variety of colors.
Goblin sharks put even the Great White to shame when it comes to a ferocious and ugly appearance. They are a rare species of deep-sea shark, and often referred to as living fossils, being the only known surviving member of the ancient Mitsukurinidae family of sharks. They are most notable for their distinctive elongated jaws filled with nail-like teeth. They can detect electrical currents emitted by other animals and rapidly extend their jaws to snatch up prey.
There's supposedly little more horrifying than watching videos of a goblin shark attacking its prey, Mitrokostas wrote. Little wonder it reportedly inspired the Neomorph in "Alien: Covenant," according to Digital Spy.
The Salt Cathedral of Zipaquirá, Mitrokostas wrote, is an underground Roman Catholic Church in Cundinamarca, Colombia, excavated from a salt mine in 1954 about 590 feet beneath the small town of Zipaquirá. It can accommodate as many as 10,000 people (but reportedly has never been filled to capacity) and features a giant salt cross.
Indonesia's Kawah Ijen volcano emits waves of what appears to be blue and purple lava. According to Smithsonian Magazine, it's technically not blue. Rather, the coloration comes from high quantities of sulfuric gas emerging with the lava. The lava appears electric blue because the gas burns that color when it catches fire.
The Danakil Depression in Ethiopia is one of the most otherworldly landscapes on Earth.
"Located in the Afar Triangle," Mitrokostas wrote, "this surreal spot is dotted with crackling lava pools, neon-colored hot springs, and sparkling salt flats. Poisonous gases swirl around hydrothermal fields, and many of the area's pools are filled with acid."
The inexplicable Voynich Manuscript is a 240-page medieval book written in an unknown language. Believed to have originated sometime between 1404 and 1438, the manuscript is filled with mysterious illustrations and diagrams that appear to depict unusual plants, and women with swollen bellies bathing in green pools, among other things.
Attempts to translate the text or even identify the plants have failed. Canadian computer scientists in 2018 said they may have had some limited success decoding parts of the manuscript using artificial intelligence, but said further refinement of the process and input from scholars is required.
Whales, redwood trees, and elephants are not the largest living organism. The Pando tree colony in Utah holds the title of the largest living organism by mass. But when it comes to sheer size, it's the Armillaria Ostoyae mushroom.
"Nicknamed the Humongous Fungus, this mushroom has spread across 2,385 acres of Malheur National Forest in Oregon," Mitrokostas wrote. "The scientists who discovered the fungus in 2017 used DNA testing to determine that all parts of the growth are in fact different segments of the same organism. The giant mushroom has probably been growing for between 2,400 to 8,650 years."
Point Nemo is the furthest point from land on Earth, wrote Mitrokostas. "Officially known as the oceanic point of inaccessibility, it's located in the center of the triangle made by Ducie Island, Motu Nui (part of the Easter Island chain) and Maher Island near Antarctica."
The closest humans to Point Nemo are often astronauts; the International Space Station orbits Earth from a distance of about 258 miles, while the closest inhabited spot to Point Nemo is some 1,670 miles distant.
The Dragon's Breath chili pepper is so hot that it's said consuming one could potentially cause a form of anaphylactic shock, burning and closing the airways.
"I've tried it on the tip of my tongue and it just burned and burned," Mike Smith, the Welsh hobby grower who invented the Dragon's Breath with scientists from Nottingham University, told the Telegraph. The chili was initially developed to be use as an anesthetic.
The world's total population is more than 7.5 billion. While that figure number sounds enormous, all of those people standing shoulder-to-shoulder, would fit within the 500 square miles of Los Angeles, according to National Geographic.
Santa Cruz del Islote in the Archipelago of San Bernardo off the coast of Colombia may only be about the size of two soccer fields (two acres), but the artificial island has four main streets and 10 neighborhoods. Five hundred people live on the island in 155 houses. So many crowded into such a small space makes it the most densely populated island in the world, according to The Guardian.
Feelin' a bit more knowledgeable today?
Now go out into this wonderfully weird world and treat everyone you meet exactly like you want them to treat you.
Mike Masterson is a longtime Arkansas journalist, was editor of three Arkansas dailies and headed the master's journalism program at Ohio State University. Email him at [email protected]