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What’s the best way to shut down an awkward politics discussion at the Thanksgiving table before it ruins everyone’s appetite?
The answer, obviously, is science. So, in preparation for the upcoming family holiday, here’s a handy list of talking points involving amazing science news you can keep ready for when you need to boldly interrupt your racist uncle for the fifth time.
We get so sucked into contemporary events it’s easy to forget that for most of humanity’s vast 200,000-year-old history we’ve had it much, much worse.
In fact, researchers led by an archaeologist from Harvard University recently determined the worst year to be alive – and it was the little-known shitshow of 536 CE, when a catastrophic volcanic event plunged the world into more than a century of chaos.
Planes are great, but they’re also noisy, expensive, and bad for the environment. But just imagine if we could travel in these silent, ion drive-powered, solid-state beauties instead?
Okay, they might not be flying commercial passengers any time soon, but MIT scientists did reveal an actual working prototype this week, and it’s made us dream of a better future.
Gender might seem like something to avoid on Thanksgiving night, but this one is perfect if a certain relative starts going on about how “everyone is transgender these days” after a few glasses of wine.
Just pivot to the crazy cave insects with penis-wielding females and didn’t they go on a potholing trip once? Subject avoided.
4. This one’s especially great to bring up while eating: “There are worms that live in sewers, and sometimes they clump together and it’s super gross.”
People will immediately forget what they were arguing about, especially if you pull up the link and show them the photo. Perfect.
Somewhere out there is a star that’s not just similar to our Sun, but almost totally identical – made of the same starstuff.
And perhaps orbiting it is a planet that hosts a peaceful and considerate dominant species that isn’t currently tearing each other apart over the dinner table. We can all dream.
These termite mounds are probably some 4,000 years old, and their total volume is comparable to 4,000 Great Pyramids of Giza. Again, you can show them photos. Easy win!
Also, did you know there are termites called ‘compass termites‘ that only build their huge mounds along a north-south axis? Termites are so freaking cool.
Just when you think we’re doing pretty well at figuring out the crazy kingdom of life, we find two strange microbes that are like nothing we’ve ever seen before.
The microscopic creatures were found in dirt collected from a hike through Nova Scotia – see, another reason to get back to nature.
Researchers have been looking into human DNA and revealing how modern people are adapting to diseases and environments, such as an ability to live at high altitudes in Tibet.
Our DNA has been gradually changing over many generations, and continues to do so – a fact worthy of remembering when several generations are all gathered around the holiday table.
9. If it all totally goes to crap, why not yell out “Wombats POOP CUBES, did you know that?!”
Then proceed to explain why these enigmatic Australian marsupials deposit some of the strangest excrement we know of in the animal world – their droppings literally look like small, dry cubes.
And it’s not because they have square anuses. Instead, their super-dry waste is squished into this shape by the variable tension of the intestine. A great dinner conversation topic if ever there were one.
10. You can also suddenly exclaim that “NASA is landing a mole on Mars!”
On Monday, NASA is going to land yet another explorer on Mars, and it’s going to drill 5 metres (16 feet) into the surface of the Red Planet to measure its internal temperature.
And there will be a livestream where you can watch the landing as it happens. What. A. Time. To. Be. Alive.
11. If all else fails, we also have a list of 15 super strange things on Earth your family may have not heard of.
You’re welcome. Happy Thanksgiving!