The human brain has an amazing ability to block out the things that would stop us from going forward with our lives because they are too hard to deal with or are out of our hands. Yet, the world is full of such things and they will never cease to exist nor will we ever stop getting curious about them. Whether it is a nuclear war, a natural catastrophe, or an incurable disease, despite being a source of dread, can also help us figure out what can be done to prevent them and at the same time appreciate the life we already have. Here are 18 such unsettling facts about our world that you might want to know about.
1. Around 50 nuclear warheads are believed to have gone missing during the Cold War. Not all of them are located in uninhabited areas.
During the early years of the Cold War, the US bomber aircraft lacked the means to cross the Atlantic on one tank of fuel. Between the 1950s and the 1960s, several of these loaded bombers were flying almost every single day, many of which would collide with the tanker planes that are trying to refuel them while some would miss the tankers, run out of fuel, and plunge into the seas along with the nuclear bombs.
Some of these bombers would explode or fail during refueling maneuvers as they were passing over their main routes above Greenland, Spain the Mediterranean, Japan, and Alaska. The conventional explosives or fuses of some of the nuclear bombs these planes were carrying had gone off spraying the areas with radioactive dust. Though the US government managed to find some of these weapons, it is believed that up to 50 nuclear bombs were lost during the Cold War. One bomb even drilled its way through ice in the North Star Bay, Greenland, and was never found.(source)
2. The Yellowstone Caldera is a simmering supervolcano that could erupt at any time. The previous time a supervolcano erupted, it nearly extinguished all life on Earth.
The Yellowstone Caldera was formed during the last three supereruptions in the last 2.1 million years. A “caldera” is a crater or a cauldron-like structure formed after all the magma leaves the volcano. There have been several non-explosive and less violent eruptions in Yellowstone since the last supereruption. Currently, there are several active geothermal vents and swelling of the ground indicating volcanic activity. Each year, the area experiences between 1,000 and 2,000 earthquakes.
Supereruptions could be a single, short-term event or can last millions of years with massive lava flows. The resulting lava and volcanic ash can cause long-lasting climate change such as triggering an ice age or global warming leading to another extinction event.(1, 2)
3. By 2100, humanity could begin to suffocate due to the rise in average oceanic temperature by six degrees Celsius which would disrupt photosynthesis in oxygen producing organisms.
With increases in carbon dioxide emissions, there will be an increase in overall temperatures. According to a study Sergei Petrovskii from the University of Leicester, there will be a rise in temperature of the oceans by six degrees by 2100 which severely affects, and could even stop, the oxygen production of phytoplankton by disrupting photosynthesis. This could potentially mean suffocation considering around two-thirds of Earth’s atmospheric oxygen is produced by oceanic phytoplankton.(source)
4. In 2011, scientists found 2,368 species of bacteria that live in the belly button, 1,458 of which are new to science.
A team from the North Carolina State University collected swabs from the belly buttons of 60 volunteers after an undergraduate student had an idea of sampling a colleague’s bacteria for a holiday card for fun. What they found was quite surprising. Each swab was unique. While some had as few as 29 species, some had 107, and most had around 67. The total number of species from the 60 swabs was a whopping 2,368.
Around 92 percent of the species were found only in 10 percent of the swabs, and most of the time, they appeared only in a single swab. No single species was found in all the swabs, while eight species were found in 70 percent of them. The swab from one volunteer had bacteria that was found only in Japanese soil though he had never been to Japan. Another had two species of extremophile bacteria which are found in polar ice caps and volcanoes.(source)
5. If you see the names “carmine,” “cochineal extract,” or “natural red 4” in the ingredients list of any product, that means it contains a dye made from crushed bugs.
Cochineal is a small insect that produces carminic acid to deter other insects from preying on it. The insects are native to tropical and subtropical South America, Mexico, and Arizona. They feed mostly on the moisture and nutrients of cacti. Around 17 to 24 percent of their dried bodies and eggs contain carminic acid. The acid is extracted and mixed with aluminum and calcium salts to create the carmine dye or cochineal.
Cochineal insects were used to make carmine dye in Central America back in the 15th century, and it was an important export at that time. However, after the introduction of the synthetic dye alizarin in the late 19th century, the demand for carmine dye lessened. But recent fears of artificial food colors has renewed the demand for cochineal dyes. Peru is the largest exporter, but the insects are also cultivated in some Mexican towns. The dye is also used in textile industry to color fabrics; in cosmetics to color as lipsticks, hair dyes, rouges, and blushes; in histology to stain tissues; and in pharmaceuticals to color pills and ointments.(1, 2)
6. Well-publicized depictions of suicides on television and other media increase the number of suicides in that region over time. It’s called the “Werther effect,” named so because 18th-century young men would mimic and reportedly commit suicide like the character “Werther” from a Goethe’s novel after its publication.
The novel Die Leiden des jungen Werthers (The Sorrows of Young Werther) by Goethe was published in 1774 soon after which young men began to dress up like the main character in yellow pants and blue jackets. In the story, Werther shoots himself after he was rejected by the woman he loves. There were reports of young men killing themselves in a similar fashion in an act of hopelessness. After that, the book was banned in several places, and the term “Werther effect” was used to refer to copycat suicides.
Publicized suicides serve as a trigger for susceptible individuals in the absence of protective factors. Referred to as “suicide contagion,” it occasionally spreads through school systems, communities, and throughout the nation in case of celebrities. The suicides could either happen over time, in a particular area, or both.
To prevent copycat suicides, many countries have journalism codes. In Norway, “Suicide and attempted suicide should in general never be given any mention.” The WHO guidelines ask that the word “suicide” not be mentioned, not to romanticize the death, and to limit the number of stories. In Turkey, any visual depiction, including videos or pictures, should not be made public.(source)
7. In 1961, the US Air Force came extremely close to detonating a nuclear bomb over North Carolina. The bomb was 260 times more powerful than the one that devastated Hiroshima.
The accident, known as the “1961 Goldsboro B-52 Crash,” happened when a B-52 Stratofortress, a long-range, subsonic, jet-powered bomber, broke apart in midair on January 24, 1961. It was carrying two Mark 39 nuclear bombs of three to four megaton capacity. The aircraft began spiraling, the bombs separated and fell from somewhere between 1,000 and 2,000 feet near Goldsboro, North Carolina. In the process, three out of four arming mechanisms of one of the bombs became activated executing the many steps required to arm itself, including deploying a parachute. The parachute allowed it land upright after being caught in a tree. Thankfully, the arm/safe switch was still in the safe position which prevented it from detonating, though it had completed all the rest of its arming sequence.(source)
8. “Sudden death syndrome” is a sudden and unexpected death that may occur during sleep. Seemingly healthy individuals would suddenly experience arrhythmia, or irregular heartbeat, without any warning signs or symptoms and then die.
Also known as “sudden arrhythmic death syndrome” (SADS) or “sudden unexpected/unexplained death syndrome” (SUNDS), sudden death syndrome was first observed among Southeast Asian Hmong refugees in the US in 1977. Between 1982 and 1990, 230 otherwise healthy Thai men died of unexplained causes. According to a Tokyo medical examiner, every year several hundred seemingly healthy men die in their sleep in just the Tokyo District.
So far, it has mostly affected men in their thirties, especially southeast Asian men who fled the Vietnam War, Filipinos, Chinese immigrants in the Philippines, Japanese in Japan, natives of Guam in both United States and Guam, and Laotian Hmong refugees. By 1982, the death rate per year was as high as 92 per 100,000 of Laotian Hmong individuals, 82 per 100,000 individuals of other Laotian ethnic groups, and 59 per 100,000 of Cambodians.(source)
9. Once severed, a human head remains conscious for up to 10 seconds.
Beheading has been a form of murder or capital punishment for a crime throughout history. Except for Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and Qatar, no country allows decapitation as capital punishment anymore. Though there are differences among animals and insects regarding how long they would fare after beheading, it is quick in humans, unless the beheading was not done properly. It takes around 10 seconds for the brain to lose consciousness after the head is cut off, and three to six minutes for the cells to start dying and irreversible brain damage to occur due to lack of oxygen.(source)
10. While on television and in the movies, administering CPR saves someone undergoing cardiac arrest 75 percent of the time, in reality, it’s successful only five to ten percent of the time, not to mention the rib fractures and associated physical trauma after that.
Unlike what we see on television, CPR by itself is not enough to restart the heart. Defibrillation, an electric shock to the heart, is what is needed to restore the heart’s rhythm in “shockable cases.” Though by itself CPR is no less important in “non-shockable cases,” it results in few complete recoveries, while without the result will be uniformly fatal.
The main purpose of CPR is solely to keep the heart pumping blood so that oxygen is supplied to the brain and tissues delaying tissue death and brain damage until help arrives. It is considered the last resort without which someone without a pulse is sure to die. Being a very physical process, it also has its complications such as rib or breastbone fractures, lung and airway injuries, damage to the heart itself, and injuries to the liver or spleen.(source)
11. Antibiotic resistance is growing at such an alarming rate that soon medical procedures such as Cesarean sections, joint replacements, and chemotherapy could become extremely dangerous to perform.
Misuse of antibiotics has been an increasing problem for a long time and is creating new strains of bacteria that are resistant to the drugs. Apart from direct consumption, we also consume antibiotics through our food as livestock are often treated with them to prevent the spread of diseases. According to a two-year-long review commissioned by the government of the UK, without action against misuse, 10 million people per year will potentially die by 2050 as infections become incurable. It will also become particularly difficult as all surgeries depend on antibiotics to prevent post-surgery infections and associated fatalities.(source)
12. Sitting at a desk all day puts you at a higher risk of developing blood clots which could lead to pulmonary embolism.
Pulmonary embolism occurs when an artery in the lungs is blocked by a blood clot, air, or fat. In the majority of the cases, it is a blood clot traveling from the legs to the lungs. Two separate studies were conducted to understand the link between pulmonary embolisms and sedentary lifestyles. One study, conducted by Dr. Christopher Kabrhel from Massachusetts General Hospital, found that over a period of 18 years among the 70,000 nurses observed, those who sat for more than six hours a day were twice at risk of developing pulmonary embolisms than the others. Another two decade-long study of 80,000 Japanese men and women found that those who watched television for five or more hours a day had twice the risk of fatal clots than those who watched for two and a half hours or less.(1, 2, 3)
13. There are actually tiny mites living on your eyelashes feeding on your skin cells and sebum, laying eggs, and pooping.
Of the 65 species, two species of Demodex, Demodex folliculorum and Demodex brevis, live on humans. Often referred to as “eyelash mites,” they are found on the face, near the nose, eyelashes, eyebrows, and rarely on other parts of the body. They live on skin cells and oils which accumulate in the hair follicles. They do not like light and move during the night on the skin at a speed of eight to 16 centimeters per hour. Though they are quite harmless, in people with suppressed immune system or any illness, they could multiply dramatically resulting in skin infections.(source)
14. A terrifying number of bridges in the United States are listed as “fracture critical.” It means, if a single structural, weight-bearing component fails, a significant portion or the entire bridge will collapse.
A bridge is considered “fracture critical” when there is a steel member in tension or if it has a tension element the failure of which could cause it to collapse. Around 18,000 of these bridges lack redundancy. That means if a single steel member should fail, the weight of the bridge cannot be transferred to another part and the collapse occurs quickly.
One example for this is the collapse of I-35W Mississippi River Bridge, an eight-lane, steel truss arch bridge over the Mississippi River in Minnesota. The bridge construction began in 1964 and was opened to traffic 1967. The bridge has been inspected annually since 1993, and it was declared “structurally deficient” in both 1990 and 2005 along with 75,000 other bridges. On August 1, 2007, during the evening rush hour, the bridge collapsed suddenly killing 13 and injuring 145.(1, 2)
15. Forty percent of all food in America is just thrown away.
Annually, 60 million tons of food worth $160 billion is thrown away in the United States, and, according to Environmental Protection Agency, is the biggest contributor of landfills. Food is also much cheaper in the United States than anywhere else in the world because of subsidies on corn, wheat, milk, and soybeans. Another reason for the massive food wastage is the desire for aesthetics. Food that is deemed less good-looking, wrong shaped, bruised, browned, wilted, oxidized, or discolored is thrown away, left to rot in the fields, or fed to livestock.(source)
16. In rare instances, gases created during the decomposition of a dead body have enough pressure to cause a dead pregnant woman to expel the fetus. It’s called a “coffin birth.”
Also known as postmortem “fetal extrusion,” “coffin birth” is rare considering all the chemical preservatives and disinfectant solutions pumped into a dead body to preserve it and replace natural body fluids. Coffin birth occurs when the body of a pregnant woman is not preserved or is undisturbed and undiscovered after death. During natural decomposition of the body, the bacteria in the stomach and intestines produce gasses as by-products which cause the body to swell, and as the pressure increases the uterus gets pushed and forced out through the vagina. If the uterus has a fetus, the gasses push the dead fetus out mimicking childbirth.(source)
17. There is an Australian shrub known as the “suicide plant” whose sting can last years and is so agonizing that it drives people to commit suicide after touching it. The pain has been described as being sprayed with hot acid and electrocuted at the same time.
Also known as “stinging bush,” “gympie gympie,” “mulberry-leaved stinger,” or the “moonlighter,” the “suicide plant” is common to the rainforests in northeast Australia. It is a single stemmed plant that can reach a height of one to three meters with large heart-shaped leaves and fine silica-tipped hairs on its surface. These hairs contain a very potent neurotoxin and can penetrate the skin when touched. It is the most toxic of the stinging tree species in Australia. Its sting is extremely painful and can last for days to years. The best way to treat the sting is to apply diluted (1:10) hydrochloric acid and remove the hairs from the skin using hair-removing strips without breaking the hair. Duct tape and tweezers can also be used as long as it’s done carefully because broken tips increase the level of pain.(1, 2)
18. More people were killed in America by toddlers during the past few years than by terrorists.
In 2015, there have been between 43 to 52 shootings involving toddlers compared to the single terrorist shooting in Chattanooga, Tennessee in which five people died. Thirteen of these toddlers have accidentally shot themselves with firearms, 18 of them injured themselves, 10 of them injured others, and two of them killed other people. By October that year, nine more shootings involving toddlers came into light, making it an average of one toddler involved in a shooting per week. Apart from toddlers involved incidents, on an average each day, 55 people kill themselves with firearms and 46 die in gun-related accidents.(1, 2)