Weird Science Weekly: Astronomers detect a planet that shouldn’t exist
Weird science happens every day, all around us. This week, we have three of the weirdest examples, including a mystery planet that shouldn't be there, tongue twisters teaching speech secrets, and how, when it comes to typing, our hands might know what they're doing, but our brains don't seem to have a clue...
The planet that shouldn't be
A team of astronomers led by University of Arizona grad student Vanessa Bailey has discovered a distant alien world that shouldn't be there. The planet, named HD 106906 b, is 11 times the mass of Jupiter and it orbits its star at a shocking distance of 650 astronomical units (1 AU is around 150 million kilometres, or the distance between the Earth and the sun). For comparison, the most distant planet in our solar system, Neptune, is only around 30 AU out, and the most distant dwarf planet, Eris, is only around 67 AU out. If a planet like HD 106906 b existed around our sun, it would take Voyager 1 (which just left our sun's heliosphere) another 150 years to reach it!
The problem with HD 106906 b is that neither of the existing models of planet formation — disk instability nor core accretion — can account for both its size and its distance from its star. Planets of that size (or larger) can certainly form, but it's been generally accepted that there wouldn't be enough material that far out from the star to produce it.
It's possible that this star-planet duo developed like a binary star system, but whereas the central star had plenty of material to work with, the region that HD 106906 b formed had far less, which essentially stunted its growth.
Things out in space just keep getting stranger and stranger, and I love it!
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Team trips up tongues to solve speech secrets
A group of MIT researchers are peering into how the brain plans out what we're going to say, and they're using tongue twisters to do it.
The research revolved around what are known as 'double onsets' — double sound mistakes often made when people repeat phrases too quickly. The team constructed specially-designed phrases to trip up people's tongues, and then recorded people saying them to see where and how they were tripped up. They ranged from simple word-list twisters, like 'top cop', to full-sentence twisters like 'the top cop saw a cop top', to ones so difficult that the volunteers couldn't even get through it. The hardest was the word-list 'pad kid poured curd pulled cod'.
When repeated quickly, the word list 'top cop' tended to produce errors where the 't' and 'k' sounds were nearly on top of one another, like "t'kop." For the full-sentence version, people tended to have more of a pause, producing a "tah-kop." That hardest phrase didn't just cause errors, but cause people to stop talking altogether.
The team hopes that by learning how these errors are made, it will reveal how the brain is planning out both word list and sentence speech patterns under more normal conditions.
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Our brains just leave the typing to our fingers
Here's some more brain-language weirdness.
Researchers at Vanderbilt University found that when we're using a keyboard, we may know what we're typing, because it comes out right on the monitor, but most of us would be hard-pressed to consciously identify exactly where the keys are, if we're asked to point them out.
This video from the researchers explains the concept and how they tested it:
Next time you're typing on the computer, think about it. Do you really consciously know where your fingers are typing, or are you just letting your fingers do the walking? Honestly, it's a little freaky.
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Keep your eyes on the wonders of science, and if you spot anything particularly strange you'd like me to check out for next week, comment below or drop me a line on Twitter!
(Images courtesy: NASA/JPL, Vanessa Bailey/University of Arizona, Getty Images)
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