How It Works

Ten things we’ve learned this month

1 – You’re not supposed to split atoms in your kitchen

A 31 year-old Swedish man was arrested by police after he acquired the radioactive elements radium, americium and uranium to create a miniature nuclear meltdown on his stove. Not the smartest idea.

2 – Always check your sources on the Internet

On 5 August a company known as AptiQuant released a “study” of 100,000 people claiming that Internet Explorer users were likely to have a significantly lower IQ than Firefox, Chrome and Opera users. It later transpired that both AptiQuant and the study were a hoax.

3 – Not all planets are bright

Astronomers have found a planet the size of Jupiter but darker than coal. TrEs-2b, as it’s known, is just five million kilometres away from its parent star, with its temperature in the region of 1200°C. The almost invisible planet was found by measuring differences in brightness of the star it orbits.

4 – There could be flowing water on Mars

Images taken by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter indicate that water could be flowing beneath the surface of Mars. The presence of dark lines a few metres wide and stretching for hundreds of meters point to thawing mud, very possibly caused by briny water underground, where extraterrestrial life may reside.

5 – Men are four times as likely to be struck by lightning than women

A study into victims of lightning strikes between 1995 and 2008 revealed that of the 648 people killed, 82% were male. One possible reason is that men spend more time outside playing recreational sports such as golf during a storm.

6 – LEGO is on its way to Jupiter

On board NASA’s Juno spacecraft, due to arrive at Jupiter in 2016, are three LEGO figurines aimed to inspire children to become involved in science as part of a collaboration between NASA and LEGO. King of the Roman gods Jupiter, his wife Juno and astronomer Galileo Galilei are the three immortalised as the popular children’s toy.

7 – The Large Hadron Collider team needs our help

The elusive Higgs boson, a theoretical ‘god’ particle that would help explain scientific interactions on an atomic level, has almost been found by the Large Hadron Collider at CERN. However, the LHC team needs the public to help simulate particle physics experiments by using their collective computing power with a program called LHC@home 2.0 to finally track it down.

8 – Solar storms may have caused the UK riots and erratic trading

In 2003 a study by the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta reported that traders were more likely to make pessimistic choices during a period of increased solar activity, leading some academics to suggest that the week of riots in Britain and turbulent financial markets during August could have been the result of a large geomagnetic solar storm that erupted in that week affecting people’s moods. We’re pretty skeptical though, to say the least…

9 – We aren’t smarter than a 10 year-old

In early August the 19th annual “Defcon” hacking conference took place in Las Vegas, where thousands of current and wannabe technology tinkerers gathered to discuss all things hacking-related. The NSA, FBI and other governmental agencies were also present, on the lookout for potential cyber-geniuses to employ. For the first time there was also a Defcon Kids convention where, amongst other presentations, a 10 year-old girl known only as CyFi revealed security problems she had discovered in many popular mobile games.

10 – Apple has more money than the United States of America

Apple’s latest financial results revealed it has cash reserves of $76.4bn (£46.8bn), while figures from the US Treasury Department show that the US Government has slightly less money with an operating cash balance of $73.7bn (£45.3bn)