Your science questions answered: issue 1108

By Sophie Bray & Stephanie Ma

What makes a rainbow?

Sunlight interacts with raindrops falling from the sky which causes bending of the ray of light in the water. This interaction causes the white light to split into its different wavelengths, showing all possible colours across the spectrum, and a rainbow is curved because of the round shape of the falling raindrops which are refracting the sun at certain angles

Did the chicken or the egg come first?

Despite arguments, the answer is the egg! The first hard-shelled, land-laid egg was dated back 312 million years ago, so eggs have existed for years in many bird species. New species are created through mutations in offspring which make them genetically different, and at some point in the past, a chicken-like ancestor will have produced an egg with a mutation which made the offspring fully chicken.

How long can whales hold their breath?

Cuvier’s beaked whales, a species of whale known for its breath-holding capabilities, have been recorded diving for 138 minutes, down to over 9800 feet! Mammals that dive too deep depths have ten times more myoglobin in their muscles which allows them to store more oxygen in their bodies as they go to great depths. Sperm whales are known for their dives lasting up to an hour, and going down to 1km.

Why do some people have webbed feet?

Webbed feet can be an inherited trait, shared with close family members. There are different levels of webbing, from partial to complete. The condition is called syndactyly, caused by incomplete programmed cell death during development and can also be linked to Down syndrome. Webbing is coming in aquatic animals, and in humans webbing of the toes or fingers only occurs in around 1 out of 2000 births.

Are twins telepathic?

Two individuals born from the same womb, at the same time, sharing the same DNA and usually the same upbringing often claim to have a telepathic connection. However, there is no scientific evidence to back up these claims, with many able to be explained simply by the two people knowing each other very well and having similar mannerisms and thought processes – not an otherworldly connection that others don’t have!

Why does plucking eyebrows make you sneeze?

Sneeze every time you tweeze? Been there, done that. The reason why many people sneeze when they pluck, wax or thread their brows has something to do with the trigeminal nerve, which connects the face to the brain and transmits sensations between them. Basically, the pain of eyebrow tweezing stimulates the trigeminal nerve, causing excitement of the nerve endings around the nasal area that could eventually turn into a sneeze. There’s a remedy to that though – try pressing a finger to the eyebrow with pressure to short-circuit the wiring of the trigeminal nerve the next time you pluck.

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