83 Things That Blew Our Minds in 2018

The most extreme, most sobering, and zaniest facts that The Atlantic’s science, technology, and health reporters learned this year

A glass of beer, a Bird scooter, a spoonful of salt crystals, a hippo, Elon Musk, a tennis ball, a moon, and the number 2018
gomolach / onair / Kathy Hutchins / Karl_Sonnenberg / J. Lekavicius / itor / Dotted Yeti / shutterstock / The Atlantic
  1. Most “Himalayan” pink salt is from the Punjab area of Pakistan, not the actual Himalayas.
  2. Hippos poop so much that sometimes all the fish die.
  3. In addition to the supermassive black hole at its center, the Milky Way galaxy may be home to thousands of smaller black holes, invisible to even our finest scientific instruments.
  4. There’s a parasitic fungus that doses cicadas with the hallucinogen found in shrooms before making their butts fall off.
  5. The Arctic Ocean is now so warm that its floating sea ice can melt even during the coldest, darkest times of the year.
  6. You can make thousands of dollars a week charging electric scooters.
  7. When your eyes look right, your eardrums bulge to the left, and vice versa. And the eardrums move 10 milliseconds before the eyes do.
  8. More than 2 million years ago, well before Homo sapiens evolved, one of our ancient-human relatives lived in what is now China.
  9. Women who have had six to 10 sexual partners in their lives have the lowest odds of marital happiness, according to one study.
  10.   When Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium opened in 1930, the inland aquarium had to ship a million gallons of ocean water by train from Key West, Florida.
  11.   Twitter is the preferred social network for nudists to meet and connect online.
  12.   The population of older adults who misuse opioids is projected to double from 2004 to 2020.
  13.   The data economy didn’t begin with Google or Facebook in the 2000s, but with electronic information systems called relational databases, first conceived of in 1969.
  14.   At their most voracious, wildfires can grow 100 feet high and consume a football field of forest every second.
  15.   People with autism are 10 times as likely to die by suicide as those in the general population.
  16.   The number of exclamation points now necessary to convey genuine enthusiasm online is, according to most internet users, three.
  17.   An “ice tsunami” killed a herd of musk oxen in February 2011 and kept their bodies perfectly entombed for seven years.

  18.   Ten thousand years ago, the people who lived in Europe had dark skin and blue eyes.

  19.   Facebook sent huge volumes of data about you and your friends to millions of apps from 2007 to 2014, and you have no way to control—or even know—how that information gets used.
  20. . A fishing cat is a water-loving cat species that lives in swamps, quacks like a duck, and dives from riverbanks to snag unsuspecting fish.
  21.   Astrology is experiencing a resurgence among Millennials, fueled by meme culture, stress, and a desire for subjectivity in an increasingly quantified world.
  22.   In the beginning of 2018, Amazon had 342 fulfillment centers, Prime hubs, and sortation centers in the United States, up from 18 in 2007.
  23.   Ivy League universities took nude photos of incoming freshman students for decades.
  24.   Some fundamentalist Christian groups think the spread of implantable technology is a key sign of the impending apocalypse.
  25.   The shopping mall put a cap on consumerism as much as it promoted it.
  26.   Bees stop buzzing during total solar eclipses.
  27.   The scientist who advised the production team of Interstellar made so much progress on his research in the process that it led him to publish multiple scientific papers.
  28.   High fibrinogen content can help a blood clot stay in a shape like putty—even if it gets violently coughed up.
  29.   Many butterflies in the nymphalid group can hear with their wings.
  30.   Some scientists think the reason you want to squeeze or nibble on a particularly cute baby is to snap your brain out of the euphoria that cuteness can summon, making you able to tend to the baby’s needs.
  31.   In the fourth quarter of last year, 25 percent of all new office space leased or built in the United States was taken by Amazon.
  32.   The first scooter was invented in 1990 by a guy who really wanted a bratwurst.
  33.   The streets of Boston carry an average of four gas leaks a mile.
  34.   In August, Oxford University’s Said Business School came up with a clever way for homeless people to receive cashless donations: Donors could scan the barcodes on homeless people’s lanyards to send them money.
  35.   Don’t worry if you forget all the facts you read in this article by tomorrow—that’s normal.
  36.   Many doctors have difficulty accessing the health records of patients treated previously at another facility; fewer than half of hospitals integrate electronic patient data from outside their system.
  37.   The original indigenous American dogs are completely gone, and their closest living relative isn’t even a dog—it’s a contagious global cancer.
  38.   Donald Trump can’t really send a message directly to your phone. In fact, the president’s ability to address the nation directly in a time of crisis, available since the 1960s, has never been used.
  39.   In 1995, a man in Germany realized his pet crayfish was cloning itself. Clones of that crayfish have now spread all over the world.
  40.   Four hundred years after Galileo discovered Jupiter’s largest moons, astronomers are still discovering some tiny ones.
  41.   The fastest someone has ever hiked all 2,189 miles of the Appalachian Trail is 41 days, seven hours, and 39 minutes. That averages out to roughly two marathons a day.
  42.   The lifespan of a meme has shrunk from several months in 2012 to just a few days in 2018.
  43.   Elon Musk’s $20 million SEC fine might make his ill-advised “funding secured” tweets the most expensive ever.
  44.   Thousands of horseshoe crabs are bled every year to create a miraculous medical product that keeps humans alive.
  45.   Single-celled microorganisms can survive in lab conditions that simulate the icy environment of Saturn’s moon Enceladus.
  46.   Only 10 major hurricanes have ever made landfall along the Southeast Atlantic coast, if you don’t count Florida.
  47.   Animals that live in cities are sometimes found to outperform their rural counterparts on intelligence tests.
  48.   Jupiter’s famous Great Red Spot is shrinking.
  49.   The paleontology consultant for Jurassic Park had a Tyrannosaurus rex eat a doppelgänger of another researcher with whom he had an academic beef.
  50.   Some people think tennis balls are green while others think they’re yellow, and the disagreement has a lot to do with how our brains perceive color.
  51.   Conservatives tend to find life more meaningful than liberals do.
  52.   It’s easier for spacecraft to leave the solar system than to reach the sun. Thanks, physics.
  53.   Despite giving away hundreds of millions of dollars to charity, the Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen was worth $20 billion when he died, 48 percent more than when he signed the Giving Pledge in 2010 and promised to give away at least half his wealth.
  54.   China consumes 28 percent of the world’s meat—with the average resident eating 140 pounds a year.
  55.   Europa, a moon of Jupiter, may be covered in 50-foot-tall blades of ice.
  56.   You can reconstruct a pretty decent record of historical whaling intensity by measuring the stress hormones in the earwax of a few dozen whales.
  57.   Doing a good deed—or even imagining doing a good deed—can boost an athlete’s endurance by reinforcing his or her sense of agency in the world.
  58.   A science adviser on Stargate: Atlantis imagined a fictional astronomical phenomenon called a binary pulsar system for the show. Years later, such a system was found in real life.
  59.   The lowercase g in Google’s original logo is really, really weird.
  60.   Sixty percent of gun deaths in 2017 were suicides.
  61.   From 1984 to 2015, the area of forest in the American West that burned in wildfires was double what it would have been without climate change.
  62.   An astrologer came up with the phrase “super blue blood moon” to describe a celestial event that’s much less scary than it sounds.
  63.   The Cambridge Analytica scandal caused 42 percent of Facebook users to change their behavior on the platform, according to a survey conducted by The Atlantic. Ten percent of those people deleted or deactivated their accounts.
  64.   In the absence of federal regulation or good research about how skin-care products work, communities of citizen scientists have started compiling pretty decent resources.
  65.   The figure-eight trajectory flown by the Apollo moon missions was the very same path followed by fictional astronauts in a classic silent film from 1929, Woman in the Moon.
  66.   After one year in America, just 8 percent of immigrants are obese, but among those who have lived in the U.S. for 15 years, the obesity rate is 19 percent.
  67.   There’s a spider that makes milk.
  68.   Goats love to feast on weeds, and you can rent dozens of them to landscape your lawn.
  69.   Some people have a bony growth on the back of their heel, called a pump bump, that makes it hard to wear pumps and other kinds of dressy shoes.
  70.   Astronomers can still detect ripples in the Milky Way caused by a close encounter with another galaxy hundreds of millions of years ago.
  71.   China built its rocket-launch facilities deep inland to protect them during the Cold War, but decades later it actually makes launching rockets into space more dangerous.
  72.   The folks who make Piaggio scooters hope you might buy an R2D2-like cargo robot to haul a case of Aperol home from the market.
  73.   Shifting the pitch of an audio recording can make it sound like an entirely different word.
  74.   Kids under the age of 8 spend 65 percent of their online time on YouTube.
  75.   A reservoir of liquid water may lurk just a mile beneath the ice-covered surface of Mars’s south pole.
  76.   When people overdose in public bathrooms, many service workers become the unwitting first line of medical responders.
  77.   Some people think that quantum computing will bring about the end of free will.
  78.   Mouse urine is a major cause of asthma for poor kids in Baltimore.
  79.   The House of Representatives’ longest-serving member, Alaska’s Don Young, was first elected to his seat after his opponent died.
  80.   In September, Hurricane Florence dropped about 18 trillion gallons of rain over the Carolinas—enough water to completely refill the Chesapeake Bay.
  81.   Europe suffered its worst carbon dioxide shortage in decades (think of the beer and the crumpets!) because of a closed ammonia fertilizer plant. Yes, these two things are related.
  82.   Americans spent $240 billion on jewelry, watches, books, luggage, and communication equipment such as telephones in 2017, twice as much as they spent in 2002, even though the population grew just 13 percent during that time.
  83.   People get more colds in winter because chilly temperatures make it easier for microbes to reproduce inside your nose.