Inverse Daily: Mysterious Radioactive Cloud Over Europe Traced to Source

In October 2017, European officials reported that a radioactive cloud had mysteriously wafted over the continent. 

What’s going on, Inverse Daily fam? While I’m here debating whether I have the wherewithal to watch the new trailer for The Lighthouse, a terrifying-looking new film from Robert Eggers, let’s get you caught up on today’s news.

Check back tomorrow: We’re announcing July rewards winners and revealing our new prizes for August!

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INVERSE QUOTE OF THE DAY

“There are a lot of little pieces of the puzzle that we can solve with this system!”

— MIT astrophysicist Maximilian Günther, on the new star system NASA’s TESS discovered 73 light-years away.

In Your Shoes

It’s a truth universally acknowledged that people are better at dispensing advice than following it. That’s why I love this bizarre new study that Emma Betuel told me about today. Using VR, scientists have figured out a way for you to sit across a desk from yourself and give yourself advice on how to live your life better. There’s just one catch: As you give your pep talk, you have to inhabit the body of Sigmund Freud.

I told you it was bizarre, but it also seems to work. People who have a conversation with themselves as a long-dead psychoanalyst appear to have improved moods, at least compared to people who self-reflected by simply following an established script. It isn’t totally clear whether it’s the conversation alone that helps or if inhabiting old Freud’s id and ego actually makes a difference.

Read up on why Freud’s presence still lingers in the VR era.

The more you know:

Cloud Nothings

Ruthenium-106 is a radioactive element that’s usually produced in the nuclear fission of uranium and plutonium. It was also the major constituent of a mysterious radiation cloud that wafted over most of Europe at the end of 2017. At the time, government officials traced its source to the southern Ural Mountains, near a notorious Russian nuclear facility called Mayak, well-known for its involvement in a 1957 radiation disaster affecting 272,000 people.

Russian officials acknowledged the region’s spike in radiation at the time but denied that it was the source of Europe’s invisible plume, which, fortunately, was deemed non-hazardous. Hypotheses abounded: Maybe it came from a burned-up satellite, or a nuclear reactor leak, or from a different country (Romania was briefly caught in headlights). But new data strongly shines the spotlight back on Mayak and its nuclear reprocessing facility — while also implicating a big neutrino experiment ongoing in Italy.

Discover how scientists ruled out the other hypotheses.

The more you know:

Ain’t Nothin but Mammals

The infamous Bloodhound Gang hit “The Bad Touch,” released in 1999, carried a message that would’ve been especially timely around 50,000 to 55,000 years ago: “You and me, baby, ain’t nothing but mammals, so let’s do it like they do…” I’ll spare you the rest. Their point was that humans are mammals and so are wont to have sex. As Sarah Sloat tells me, the same goes for all humans in the hominin family — even those who aren’t Homo sapiens.

A quick refresher: We belong to the broader Homo family, which includes the Neanderthals, the Denisovans, and a bunch of other Homo species. It’s no secret that our ancient H. sapiens ancestors occasionally used to hook up with these other species. (Many people today still carry their genes.) But our family tree is getting even more complicated. In a new study, scientists identified even more groups that our ancestors got freaky with — some that we’ve never characterized before.

Learn more about these ancient inter-species trysts.

The more you know:

Diet Disquiet

Dieting is all about deliberately giving up certain things. But a new story from science fellow Ali Pattillo is all about the things some people inadvertently give up when they go on diets, namely, their mental and emotional health. Diets classified as “restrictive” — the kind that involve avoiding some foods or eating only at certain times of the day — can cause anxiety and depression, impact relationships, and even lead to eating disorders, especially among people who have experienced them before.

The troubling part is that the line between dieting and an eating disorder can be very fine and sometimes imperceptible. Nutrition therapist Sondra Kronberg says it’s important to know if you’re vulnerable. People who are perfectionistic, rigid, comparative, number-oriented, anxious, depressed, and obsessive should be aware that they’re at risk for an eating disorder before they embark on a restrictive diet.

Learn more about the psychological risks of dieting.

The more you know:

My Way or the Highway?

Around the world, racism toward immigrants is showing some of humanity’s ugliest qualities. To figure out how to intervene in a helpful way, scientists conducted a fascinating experiment. In train stations across Germany, they had a woman drop a bag of oranges on the platform, then waited to see who would help her. In some cases, the woman looked like a native German; in others, she presented as Muslim and wore a head covering.

In general, people were a little less inclined to help her when she presented as Muslim — except when she first stopped a native German passerby, also part of the experiment, to pick up trash he’d dropped on the ground. Something about this interaction suggested to onlookers that she was someone worth helping (Germans really don’t tolerate littering). The researchers suggest that demonstrating “shared norms” can help bridge the gap between immigrants and natives. Whether immigrants should have to take the extra step just to avoid discrimination, however, is a different story.

Read up on the details of this compelling experiment.

The more you know:

Today’s Good Thing

Because life on this planet is only going to get better if we try to make it better, each day I’ll be presenting One Good Thing humans are doing to create positive change.

Today, that’s the conservationists of India, who have successfully restored the nation’s wild tiger population to 3,000 individuals, which now make up 70 percent of the world’s tiger population. This goal was achieved by close monitoring and ensuring that humans and tigers living in overlapping areas know how to coexist.

Meanwhile …

  • Behold, the mystery surrounding the July 31 “Black Moon.”
  • Area 51: Scientists predict the likelihood of aliens visiting us on Earth.
  • Tesla is making a big push toward a clean energy future with the newly announced Tesla Megapack.
  • The Fantastic Four are coming to the Marvel Cinematic Universe at some point, and their first introduction may have been through Spider-Man.

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Thanks for reading, gang!

Thoughts on Freud, Europe’s radiation cloud, or reducing discrimination against immigrants? Let me know at yasmin@inverse.com.

I will be your Freudian slip,

— Yasmin