Weird Science Weekly: Comet ISON looking ‘downright weird’ as it approaches the sun

Weird science happens every day, all around us. This week, we have four of the weirdest examples, including the 'comet of the century' turning into one of the weirdest comets scientists have seen, the subtle 'science' of wagging tails, gravity causing baldness and synthetic cadavers.

Comet ISON looking 'downright weird' on approach to the sun

The newest 'comet of the century' has been making a name for itself since it was discovered last year, with claims that it's Nibiru, a doomsday comet, and even an alien spacecraft. However, this comet has been behaving very strangely recently, and a recent analysis of comet images have shown a structure unlike anything scientists have seen from previous comets.

"There is a bright, miniature, long-tailed comet situated within a much larger, but very much fainter and diffuse halo of a coma," said veteran comet-hunter John Bortle, according to

Dr. Jian-Yang Li, of the Planetary Science Institute, put together the computer simulation of the comet that took the Hubble Space Telescope images and removed the signal for the diffuse coma that surrounds the central core. What's left is an image of the comet's nucleus and the concentrated tail of debris behind it.

"At this stage of the game, with the comet about to cross the orbit of Earth, I cannot recall any previous comet in my 50-plus years of comet observing looking quite like this," Bortle said. In fact, comet ISON is crossing Earth's orbit as of today, as it plummets towards a November 28th pass around the sun. After that, it will swing around the sun's north pole and head back out towards the outer solar system, passing almost directly over Earth around the end of the year.

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Dog wags are a more subtle communication tool than we thought

Dogs wag their tails back and forth, left to right, but did you know that they wag their tails more to the right or more to the left, depending on their mood?

Scientists figured this out a few years ago, that dogs swing their tails more to the right when they're happy and more to the left when they're nervous. It's apparently not a deliberate signal that they're sending. According to what study co-author Giorgio Vallortigara, of the University of Trento in Italy, told Huffington Post, it's caused by different emotions activating different parts of the brain. It's pretty hard for people to see it, but other dogs pick up on it just fine.

It's pretty cool that, as expressive as a dog's tail already is, it can communicate even more subtle messages if you know what to look for.

'Gravity theory' could explain male-pattern baldness

If you suffer from male pattern baldness, also called androgenic alopecia (AGA), apparently gravity may be to blame.

The idea is controversial, but Dr. Emin Tuncay Ustuner, a plastic surgeon in Ankara, Turkey, said in a statement that the baldness is caused by the "force of downward pull caused by the gravity on the scalp skin."

Apparently, the baldness starts at the top of the head because the the weight of the scalp presses down on the hair follicles. The balding progresses as one gets older because the younger scalp has ticker fatty tissue underneath it, keeping the pressure off the follicles, but the layer of fatty tissue becomes thinner as the man ages. Also, the presence of a rather potent form of testosterone, called dihydrotestosterone (DHT), supposedly makes this fatty-tissue thinning worse.

So, we already have a bunch of things we can blame on gravity as we age, and if Dr. Ustuner turns out to be right, we have one more to add to the list.

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These synthetic cadavers are helping new doctors learn the ropes

Just as a late celebration for Halloween, medical students have been using donated human cadavers to learn anatomy and surgical procedures. Well, it seems that they don't have to rely on people filling out the organ donation part of their drivers license anymore. They have access to skinless, fully-synthetic cadavers with working hearts and lungs:

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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: Jian-Yang Li/Planetary Sciences Institute, Getty Images)

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