10 Strange Earthly Mysteries That We Finally Understand

Every day, the planet confronts us with puzzles both big and small. The answers to some of these mysteries can save lives, but more often than not, the least critical secrets turn out to be the most interesting ones.

10 How Alligators Move Silently Through Water

With hardly a ripple to give them away, alligators move gracefully through the water whether they’re diving, surfacing, or rolling around. But they don’t have flippers or fins like fish or other aquatic animals, so how do they accomplish their expert maneuvers?

Like airplane pilots, they use controls to adjust their position. However, for an alligator, those controls are special muscles that alter the position of its lungs within its body cavity. The gases in its lungs act like an internal flotation device. By using these muscles, an alligator can shift its lungs toward its tail to dive, toward its head to surface, and toward the appropriate side to roll in the water. Alligators also use their tails to help them roll.

As researcher T.J. Uriona said, “It may be that instead of these muscles arising for breathing, they arose for moving around in the water and later were co-opted for breathing.”

9 How Natural Arches Defy Gravity

Although natural formations like sandstone arches and alcoves often appear to defy gravity, they actually derive their strength from gravity. As wind and water erode away at the rock, the grains in Amazon Prime (One Year... Check Amazon for Pricing. the lower part of the formation are strengthened by the act of holding more weight from the top. Essentially, the grains of sand interlock from gravity-induced stress.

While some types of sandstone contain cementing minerals, researchers from the Czech Republic found that those minerals don’t have to be present for the sandstone particles to bind. In fact, cementing minerals also erode from wind and water. Regardless of the type of erosion or the presence of cementing minerals, vertical stress appears to be the most important factor in making sandstone more resistant to erosion and creating breathtaking natural sculptures.

To illustrate the concept, researchers used the example of a dry brick wall. “It is easy to pull out brick from the top of the wall, but hard to pull brick from the bottom, as it is loaded,” said geologist Jiri Bruthans. Almost like a human sculptor, nature uses wind and water as tools to eliminate the excess material and reveal the inherent shape in the stone, which is actually created by weight and gravity. Secrets of Ancient Ame... Carl Lehrburger Best Price: $5.15 Buy New $5.04 (as of 09:15 EDT - Details)

8 How Plants Are Protected From Sunburn

Even though plants need to absorb light from the Sun to make food through photosynthesis, ultraviolet radiation from the Sun can damage a plant’s DNA and stop it from growing. In that way, sunburns are potentially as dangerous for plants as for humans. But plants can’t lather themselves with sunscreen like we can. Instead, they produce special molecules called sinapate esters which are transported to their leaves to prevent ultraviolet-B (UV-B) radiation from penetrating the outer layers and burning the plant.

One particular kind of sinapate ester, sinapoyl malate, absorbs the complete spectrum of UV-B radiation to prevent damage to the plant’s DNA. Although these UV-B wavelengths are the same ones that damage human DNA, researchers don’t intend to add sinapoyl malate to sunblocks for people. They believe that the cinnamates we already use in our sunscreens are just as effective. Instead, scientists believe that this information should be used to develop plants that can withstand the greater radiation levels that may accompany global warming.

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