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Olympic skateboarding doesn’t defy physics — it perfects it

Plus: Slime-coated mice lead to an unexpected discovery.

Yndiara Asp of Brazil competes during women's park final of skateboarding at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic ...
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Hi, hello, it is Thursday calling and it wants to know: What is your favorite moment from the Tokyo Olympics so far? I’m Claire Cameron, managing editor at Inverse, and one of my top picks from this Olympics has to be watching skateboarder Kokona Hiraki become the youngest ever Olympian at the age of 12.

There’s a bigger story to Hiraki’s triumph, and it is our top story today. Skateboarding is one of the new Olympic sports, and the athletes who competed in their inaugural Olympics showed us all exactly why it deserves the seal of official sporting approval.

Olympic skateboarding doesn’t defy physics — it perfects it. Scroll on for this story and more fascinating scientific discoveries, including some extremely slimy mice.

This is an adapted version of the Inverse Daily newsletter for Thursday, August 5, 2021. Subscribe for free and earn rewards for reading every day in your inbox. ✉️

The unicorns of the sea.

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Look: Satellite images reveal what happens when you track whales from space — Scientists use very high-resolution satellite images to detect beluga whales and narwhals from space, which could aid in marine conservation Tara Yarlagadda reports.

“Our study proves that with the latest advancements in satellite technology, it is possible to obtain high-enough-resolution images to conduct our observations without disturbing the wildlife population, without risk to researchers, and in a cost-effective way,” Bertrand Charry tells Yarlagadda.

Charry is the lead biologist at Whale Seeker, a Montreal-based startup that conducted the study. Whale Seeker aims to use artificial intelligence to improve whale monitoring.

As Yarlagadda writes:

Ultimately, the researchers aim to use this technology to better track whale populations — a timely reason as Arctic marine mammals are increasingly under threat from vessel strikes.
To balance the need for the development of specific marine protected areas and scientific observation, satellites let researchers safely monitor the animals as they migrate across these vast areas.

See it for yourself.

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Move over, Pythagoras.

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An ancient Babylonian tablet is rewriting math history An Australian mathematician has cracked an ancient math secret found in two ancient Babylonian tablets. Sarah Wells has the full story:

First exhumed in 1894 from what is now Baghdad, a circular tablet — broken at the center with small, perpendicular indentations across it — was feared lost to antiquity. But in 2018, a photo of the tablet showed up in mathematician Daniel Mansfield’s email inbox.

Hidden within this tablet is not only the oldest known display of applied geometry but a new ancient understanding of triangles. It could rewrite what we know about the history of mathematics, Mansfield argues.

Babylonian mathematics, which already holds a place of renown in the pantheon of ancient math, might’ve been more sophisticated than historians have given it credit for.

Key quote: “The way we understand trigonometry harks back to ancient Greek astronomers. I like to think of the Babylonian understanding of right triangles as an unexpected prequel.” — Daniel Mansfield

Crack the code.

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Welcome to the pantheon.

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The physics of skateboarding: How Olympians master science to win — Olympic skateboarding tricks seem to defy physics, but it’s the opposite. These athletes have learned to harness physics to jump, flip, and keep the board aligned. Inverse contributor Anna Funk has more:

During the competition, skateboarders are judged on the quality, difficulty, and originality of their tricks, flips, and rotations. In park, specific moves include hand plants, grinds, alley-oops, and grabs.

These tricks seem to defy the laws of physics, but it’s quite the opposite. These athletes have learned to harness physics to jump, flip, and somehow keep the board aligned under their feet.

How do they do it? Inverse asked Bill Robertson, also known as Dr. Skateboard, for the low-down. Robertson is a professor of STEM education at the University of Texas at El Paso. His specialty is teaching physics through — you guessed it — skateboarding.

Some unexpected life advice: “At some point, gravity’s going to win, no matter how fast you’re going.” — Bill Robertson

Read the full story.

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Slime-covered mice are a rare source of discovery.

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Mysteriously “slimy” mice lead to surprise fat loss discovery — Researchers were surprised when mice being treated for diabetes ended up extra shiny. It seems they were secreting fat out through their skin. Sophie Putka explains the science of this weird phenomenon:

What started as an investigation into a treatment for type 2 diabetes took a strange turn when a group of lab mice in the study started glistening.

The chance observation was weird, to be sure, but it also took the researchers behind the study down a very different path than they had initially intended. The mice were shiny because they were secreting fat out through their skin, making their fur so greasy it looked wet. They were also losing weight rapidly as a result.

Putka explains how the researchers took the chance observation and ran with it, publishing a paper laying out how the biology underlying this strange effect could one day help treat skin conditions and metabolic issues in humans.

Key quote: “You can lose weight by secreting massive amounts of lipids through your skin, which is kind of, maybe it’s icky, but it’s still a fun concept.” — Taku Kambayashi

Read the full story.

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Don’t stare at the Sun.

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Solar eruptions: Why unexpected observations left a scientist “dumbstruck” — Scientists pointed a telescope at a region near the Sun where they didn't expect to see anything. What they found could help them forecast solar storms. Jon Kelvey lays it out:

In 2002, solar physicist Daniel Seaton was working on the TRACE solar observation satellite, a NASA instrument designed to inform our understanding of the Sun’s activity. The Sun, while the reason we exist, remains in many ways a mystery.

“We saw this one solar flare where there were just all of these weird features that came in from above the flare,” Seaton tells Inverse. Usually, solar flares — large explosions near the surface of the Sun — push material out and away from the star. That wasn’t happening this time.

“In this case, we saw something — we didn’t know what it was at the time — emerge from the top of our images flowing down toward the Sun,” Seaton says. “I was absolutely dumbstruck.”

Read the full story.

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Happy birthday, Patrick.

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