Science

Inverse Daily: The universe’s weirdest molecule

A new study has finally solved the mystery of the universe's weirdest molecule.

As we head into the winter months in the Northern Hemisphere, we look inward. Are our homes in order? Our bodies? Our minds? And we also take the opportunity to think about what’s far beyond the harsh elements out our windows: What are the mysteries of the universe we’ve not solved? Are there other carbon-based life forms in space?

I’m Nick Lucchesi, executive editor of Inverse, and on this chilly Monday (perhaps it is warmer in your location), we’ve got stories about the mysteries inside the human body and the mysteries in outer space. Let’s get into it.

This article is an adapted version of the Inverse Daily newsletter. Subscribe for free and earn rewards for reading every day.

INVERSE QUOTE OF THE DAY

“I think a very large number of jobs are going to be impacted — automated or deskilled. Eventually, it might be a majority.”

— Futurist Martin Ford.

The universe’s weirdest molecule

Buckyballs are the rule-breakers of chemistry. These strange molecules are made up of 60 carbon atoms, fused together in a soccer-ball shape. For years, scientists assumed they could only be made in the lab until astronomers found them bopping around in deep space in 2010. The discovery challenged everything scientists thought they knew about the chemical landscape of space. But how these carbon soccer balls came to exist in space, against all expectations, remained a mystery.

Enter a new study, published this week, that traces the origin of these mysterious balls, and how they arise from the ashes of dying stars, as well as how such complex molecules found themselves here on Earth.

But what are buckyballs exactly? And why are they so unusual? Here, Inverse answers your questions about one of the universe’s weirdest chemical phenomenons.

Turns out they shouldn’t even exist in the first place. →

Related stories:

Keto could help you kick the flu

The keto diet has many fans. The idea is that if you cut out all carbs, add fats, and eat a moderate level of protein, then you, too, can brag about higher energy levels and slimmer builds — all while staying full. But weight loss is not all the ketogenic diet may be useful for.

New research suggests the controversial diet may have another side effect: increased protection against one of the most contagious viruses on the planet, influenza.

Just one week on the keto diet protected mice from lethal influenza infection and disease, finds a new study published in the journal Science Immunology.

Influencers love the keto diet. Influenza hates it. →

The more you know:

Scientists are using phones to track outbreaks

The more cramped our cities become, the easier it is for vector-borne diseases like dengue fever to spread. To better track these potential epidemics as they unfold, researchers have designed a model that uses mobile phone data to create accurate, real-time maps of the disease’s spread.

The study in which researchers demonstrated this approach focused on a dengue fever outbreak in Singapore between 2013 and 2014. It used phone data collected from the area in 2011 to pinpoint “home” and “work” locations of anonymous users thanks to location and time data from the call records. When the researchers compared the results of this model with those using just census data, they found the mobile phone data to be a much stronger approach.

But getting your hands on such data is still tricky. Even though the data is anonymous and has benefits for life-saving research, private cellular companies still restrict access. The researchers hope new laws will soon be put in place to enable the beneficial use of these data.

How to map the spread of vector-borne diseases →

The more you know:

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Women are losing the “thermostat war”

Office “thermostat wars” are framed as a battle of the sexes, with men preferring cooler temperatures and women preferring warmer climbs. These battles aren’t without cause: Most offices set their thermostats to a temperature based on a 1966 formula specifically designed to keep 40-year-old men happy.

The struggle extends to the home front, too. But when it comes to the household, it appears that only women feel like they are fighting a war on temperature, new research suggests.

Why it may be a losing battle →

More hot-and-cold stories:

Future 50: Sasha Sagan

Sasha Sagan is the only daughter of the late celebrated astronomer Carl Sagan and documentary producer Ann Druyan. And she’s continuing their legacy as a champion of the sciences. Sagan sees science as a cause for celebration and a way to feel like a part of the world. Why settle for pseudoscience as a means of fulfillment when you’ve got the wonders of science already?

Sagan’s recently published book, For Small Creatures Such as We, a part-memoir, part-guidebook, embodies this argument. It’s also a manifesto for rituals, which Sagan sees as a way for secular people to feel connected to each other without relying on traditional avenues of faith. She tells Inverse that “one of the hardest things about being a secular person is that you have to make your own congregation.”

But if you crave togetherness, taking the time to pepper your schedule with rituals can lead to that sort of “congregation” — and make life fun in the process.

Sagan is a member of the Inverse Future 50, a series profiling the 50 people who will shape the coming decade.

“Science isn’t thought of as romantic, but it should be.” →

More Future 50:

Meanwhile …

  • The 20 traits of a psychopath in this 1999 study are still relevant today.
  • Here’s how to build a strong team early on in Pokémon Sword and Shield.
  • Watchmen Episode 5 explains a huge Adrian Veidt mystery.

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That’s all for today!

Thank you for reading and if you have a suggestion for how to make this newsletter better, drop me a line at nick@inverse.com. And follow me on Twitter where I retweet the best of Inverse every day.

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