Bizarre 307-million-year-old “monster” fossil identified

One of the weirdest-looking creatures ever to have existed has finally been analyzed and categorized. The “Tully Monster” (named after its discoverer Francis Tully, who found the fossils in Illinois nearly sixty years ago) has long puzzled scientists. But a team of researchers recently used scanning electronic microscopes to explore its internal structure, and their findings have allowed them to explain the animal’s lineage. From arstechnicabizarre-monster-fossil

The “Tully monster,” a mysterious animal that swam in the inland oceans of Illinois more than 300 million years ago, left behind a tantalizingly detailed map of its body in a well-preserved package of fossils. Unfortunately, nobody could figure out what the creature was for half a century—until now.

[W]here did Tullimonstrum fit into the history of life in the seas? A team of researchers has just […] analyzed the fossils using scanning electron microscopes, which allowed them to explore the anatomy of the Tully monster inside and out.
[…] “The buccal apparatus of Tullimonstrum suggests that it grasped food with its bifurcate anterior projection and rasped pieces off with the lingual apparatus,” the authors conclude. Which is to say, the Tully monster used that long, toothy protrusion from the front of its body to grab food, and then it ripped bites off using a long, powerful tongue. And it needed that weird-ass eye arrangement to see what it was doing at the end of its mouth proboscis.

Cool stuff! You can read more here.

Here are some weird facts about leap years.

Happy Leap Day, everyone! One of the rarest holidays of them all (though not nearly as rare as Thanksgivukkah), February 29 only shows up every four years. Lucky for us, this happens to be one of them! To celebrate, here are Five Weird Facts about leap years, courtesy of about.com.

A sampling:

3. Leap Year Capital of the World
In 1988, the town of Anthony, Texas, with a population of 8000, declared itself to be the “Leap Year Capital of the World.”

Its justification for this title was that two members of its Chamber of Commerce were born on leap year days. But in a moment of honesty a member of the Chamber also admitted that, “We just voted arbitrarily to name this as the leap year capital of the world because no one else has.”

As of 2016, the town of Anthony continues to pride itself on being the Leap Year Capital, with festivities planned for February 29.

I’m also partial to the notion of re-envisioning Leap Day as a “day out of time.”

Austria reassures refugees that there’s no need to fear Krampus

Moving to a foreign land and experiencing a new culture can be trying under the best of circumstances, let alone following harried passage from war-torn regions. The new sights, sounds, and tastes can be overwhelming, the unfamiliar customs can be baffling, the different climate can be uncomfortable. I’m certain the Syrian refugees have confronted all of these things in Austria and elsewhere throughout Europe. But while each element of culture shock can (by definition) be cause for distress, one aspect of life in Austria that is likely to be particularly disturbing for uninitiated newcomers is… Krampus. For those unfamiliar, Krampus is “a horned, anthropomorphic figure who punishes children during the Christmas season who have misbehaved, in contrast with Saint Nicholas, who rewards well-behaved ones with gifts.” In Austria and other Alpine regions of Europe, early December often features “traditional parades in which young men dress as Krampus.”

Mindful of these festivities, “Officials in the village of Virgen worried about how new arrivals from the Middle East would react to the local tradition of meeting so-called ‘Christmas Devils’ who pretend to abduct kids.”

Fearing the spectacle would be misunderstood, community representatives last week visited the 22 migrants — including 12 children — who have been housed in the Alpine village since the end of October.

They were shown the frightening masks and given insight into the event’s history with the help of an Arabic translator. The verdict? The newcomers had “lots of fun,” according to social worker Nicole Kranebitter.

The migrants “will now know what to expect when St. Nicholas and the Krampus creatures knock on their door,” Kranebitter added.

She said the next event planned for the families who fled war-torn homelands will be traditional cookie baking.

What a great and thoughtful approach, and in such marked contrast to the xenophobia that has greeted migrants in so many other parts of the world.

Look at this abandoned Indonesian church shaped like a giant chicken.

Our loyal reader Donna sends word of an impressive godly monument shaped like a familiar variety of domesticated fowl. Rising high above the tropical canopy in Magelang, Central Java, Gereja Ayam (which translates literally as “chicken church,” and is not to be confused with a similarly-named fast food chain) was “originally built as a prayer house by 67-year-old Daniel Alamsjah after he received a divine message from God.” While the building more closely resembles a chicken, it was actually intended to look like a dove. You can read and see more here — and in the meantime, check out the video below:

Hitchhiking robot is trying to get to Millennium Park

DNAInfo|Chicago reports that HitchBOT, a hitchhiking robot, is en route to Chicago — if the kindness of strangers allows, of course. Yes, this is as fantastic as it sounds. The future has finally arrived, and it is one in which shiftless hobo-robots use their robo-thumbs to traverse our dusty highways.

From the article:

Chicagoans may soon have the chance to meet HitchBOT, a Canadian hitchhiking robot setting out on a journey across the U.S. with a stop in Chicago.

The robot, made out of a beer bucket and pool noodles, relies on the kindness of strangers to pick it up and has made several successful trips abroad. […] The robot has a GPS and a camera, microphone and speaker, and can access Wikipedia knowledge for its conversations. It posts to social media to track its progress and adventures, but won’t post a photo of a person without permission. HitchBOT also displays its “emotions” via an LED face. It charges by solar panel and car powerboutlet, and will let drivers know if it gets low on battery.

Check out this video explaining HitchBOT:

What’s the basic raison d’être behind HitchBOT? According to its creator, the project is an exploration of trust: between robots and humans. According to Dr. David Harris Smith, co-creator of HitchBOT (quoted in Boston Magazine), “trust is a very important part of this experiment […] There’s this issue of trust in popular media where we see a lot of dystopian visions of a future with robots that have gone rogue or out of control. In this case, we’ve designed something that actually needs human empathy to accomplish its goals.”

It’s raining spiders in Australia

Australia, the Land Down Under, the place where everything is poisonous, just got even more terrifying. You read the headline right: it is raining spiders in Australia:

Millions of tiny spiders recently fell from the sky in Australia, alarming residents whose properties were suddenly covered with not only the creepy critters, but also mounds of their silky threads. But that’s not where the frightful news ends: Experts say that such arachnid rains aren’t as uncommon as you might think.


Of course the question, then, is why is it raining spiders in Australia? (Tautological answers will not be accepted.) The answer is just as unsettling as the phenomenon itself. According to Rick Vetter, a retired arachnologist at the University of California, Riverside, witnesses

likely saw a form of spider transportation known as ballooning. “Ballooning is a not-uncommon behavior of many spiders. They climb some high area and stick their butts up in the air and release silk. Then they just take off,” Vetter told Live Science. “This is going on all around us all the time. We just don’t notice it.”

Next time I travel to Australia, remind me to bring an umbrella.

Scottish man fined for “pretending to be ghost” in cemetery

This is offensive to real ghosts. Straight from the source:

Tim Concannon, prosecuting at Portsmouth Magistrates’ Court, said: “This defendant was effectively singing loudly and being disrespectful in among the graves.
 
“He was throwing himself backwards, waving his arms about and going ‘wooooooo’. I’m assuming he was pretending to be a ghost.”
 
Stallard [the defendant] had accepted at an earlier hearing that his behaviour could have been seen to cause distress to grieving relatives, and had pleaded guilty.

If you can find it, you can swim in the secret pool in the Mojave Desert

Related to yesterday’s post is another harrowing true story about a mysterious body of water in the middle of a vast desert. Unlike that inexplicable Tunisian lake, though, the origins of this hidden swimming pool are no enigma: it is the work of an artist named Alfredo Barsuglia, who “created the minimalist sculpture to nod to other monumental works of desert-bound land art.”

hidden-mojave-desert-swimming-pool.jpg
Writes Gizmodo:
GPS coordinates can be obtained, along with the key, by visiting the MAK Center for Art and Architecture in West Hollywood, where the Austrian-born Barsuglia was a fellow last year. You can’t call to see if the key is there, and you can’t reserve it ahead of time. Of the destination, the artist will only say that it requires “several hours of driving from Los Angeles, plus a willingness to walk a long distance to reach the pool from the nearest road.”
What fun! Quirky, playful installations like these make the world a more interesting place. You can read more here.

Mysterious lake appears in the middle of the desert, without explanation

We bring you the latest in our ongoing series of stories about lake-related mysteries: apparently, a large, deep lake has unexpectedly (who ever expects this sort of thing?) materialized in the middle of the Tunisian desert.

Our North African correspondents write:
The lake is just over a hectare in size and 10-18m deep. It is presumed that a small earthquake fractured a natural dam holding an artificial reservoir allowing the water to reach the surface. However, the aquifer has not been found – the theory relies more on the absence of other credible explanations than anything else.
More troubling than the lake’s unexplained formation, perhaps, is that people are flocking to swim in it — despite potentially grave dangers. The lake, it seems, may harbor potentially toxic algae — and, due to the presence of nearby phosphate mines, the waters may be radioactive.
You can see a swell photo of the lake here.