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Mysterious Origins: 8 Phenomena That Defy Explanation [Slide Show]

The unknown origins behind language, handedness, flu seasons, superconductivity, antimatter, proton spin, cosmic rays and sex

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PROTON SPIN

Protons have a property known as spin, a quantum physics counterpart to the more familiar, everyday kind of rotation. But unlike the spin of a top, proton spin governs the magnetic interactions between protons and other particles, a property that permits magnetic-resonance imaging (MRI).....[ More ]

SEX

Or put another way, why do males exist? Were it not for the maleness program set off by that scrub of a chromosome called Y (it contains a few dozen genes, compared with the X chromosome's 2,000 to 3,000), all human embryos would proceed down a default developmental path and become female.....[ More ]

HANDEDNESS

Organic molecules are commonly built around a carbon atom attached to four other atoms or groups of atoms. When at least two of these atoms (or groups of atoms) are the same, the structure is mirror-symmetric; its mirror image is itself, only rotated.....[ More ]

ULTRAHIGH-ENERGY COSMIC RAYS

Normally we think of subatomic particles as small and innocuous. But on October 15, 1991, astronomers saw a particle strike Earth's atmosphere with the energy of a bowling ball dropped onto your foot.....[ More ]

MATTER OVER ANTIMATTER

We find beauty in symmetry, but without a key piece of asymmetry, we wouldn't be around to appreciate the finer things. In the realm of particle collisions and quantum processes, antimatter is produced as often as ordinary matter.....[ More ]

LANGUAGE

At some point after chimpanzees and humans diverged from a common ancestor six million years ago, we developed the capacity to talk—and to gossip, argue, complain and pontificate. But because soft tissue like the vocal cords, larynx, tongue, uvula and brain are not preserved in the fossil record, we don't know when our ancestors evolved the physical capacity to make speech or how long it took to develop.....[ More ]

HIGH-TEMPERATURE SUPERCONDUCTIVITY

In the late 1980s physicists were astounded by the electrical behavior of ceramic compounds based on copper oxides. These materials could conduct electricity without resistance well above the temperature of liquid nitrogen (77 kelvins, or –196 degrees Celsius).....[ More ]

THE SEASONALITY OF FLU

Influenza and cold weather go hand in hand in temperate zones: In the Northern Hemisphere the flu season typically begins in November and runs to April. But flu viruses themselves circulate year-round.....[ More ]

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