Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Thursday Thirteen

Thirteen... facts I didn't know

1 There went our best chance: In the ninth century, a team of Chinese alchemists trying to synthesize an "elixir of immortality" from saltpeter, sulfur, realgar, and dried honey instead invented gunpowder.

2 German scientist Hennig Brand stored 50 buckets of urine in his cellar for months in 1675, hoping that it would turn into gold. Instead, an obscure mix of alchemy and chemistry yielded a waxy, glowing goo that spontaneously burst into flame—the element now known as phosphorus.

3. "Zero” was first seen in cuneiform tablets written around 300 B.C. by Babylonians who used it as a placeholder (to distinguish 36 from 306 or 360, for example). The concept of zero in its mathematical sense was developed in India in the fifth century.

4. It is said that Abdülhamid II, sultan of the Ottoman Empire in the early 1900s, had censors expunge references to H2O from chemistry books because he was sure it stood for “Hamid the Second is nothing.”

5. During the Northern Hemisphere’s summer, we’re actually farthest from the sun, receiving 7 percent less sunlight than the Southern Hemisphere does during its summer.

6. By the age of 14, the average American child has seen 11,000 murders on TV

7. Daylight Saving Time began as a joke by Benjamin Franklin, who proposed waking people earlier on bright summer mornings so they might work more during the day and thus save candles. It was introduced in the U.K. in 1917 and then spread around the world.

8. In the time of the dinosaurs, the day was just 23 hours long. This is because one second used to be defined as 1/86,400 the length of a day. However, Earth’s rotation isn’t perfectly reliable. Tidal friction from the sun and moon slows our planet and increases the length of a day by 3 milli­seconds per century.

9. Jupiter can have a triple eclipse, in which three moons cast shadows on the planet simultaneously.

10. The Chinese word for solar eclipse is shih, meaning “to eat.” In ancient China people traditionally beat drums and banged on pots to scare off the “heavenly dog” believed to be devouring the sun.

11. In the United States, when people first noticed oil, they didn’t quite grasp the energy angle. Instead they did what any industrious American would do: They bottled it, slapped a label on, and sold it as a health tonic. Several hundred thousand bottles of the stuff are said to have been purchased and, perhaps, consumed.

12. The Aztec word for gold is teocuitlatl, which means “excrement of the gods.”

13. Australian researchers have discovered microorganisms that “eat” trace amounts of gold within rocks and then deposit them into larger nuggets. Mining companies are looking to use the critters instead of cyanide to pull gold from ore, which would be much less environmentally destructive.

These and more were found: Discover


  1. What interesting musings. I bet those guys who discovered gunpowder got a shock! And the # of murders witnessed on TV was a bit scary.

  2. WOW ... those are cool! I didn't know them either! Happy Thursday!

  3. I wish Daylight Savings was still a joke. I get so confused!
    Great list!

  4. Fantastic list!!!
    I especially like word origins. And somehow I'm not surprised we used oil as a health tonic. LOL.
    Great TT.

  5. I love tid bits like this. Probably why I always beat the Hubs in Jeopardy. The one about kids seeing 11,000 murders by the time they're 14? Yikes. Makes me rethink having the news on during dinner.

  6. Great TT! And such interesting facts!


    My TT is at

  7. Very kewl. I guess I've learned more than one thing today. Happy T13!

  8. Great List! A little bummed about #1, though I don't think I would want to live forever. Yeah on #13, I'm all for saving our incredible planet.

  9. You have just stimulated the scientist in me. I love that kind of stuff. Thanks!

    Happy TT.

    Mine is at

  10. That would be interesting to see three eclipses at once. Great list!

  11. I hope Hennig Brand lived alone? Imagine if your husband started storing buckets of urine in the cellar...

    Interesting facts!

  12. I'm all for microorganisms instead of cyanide. awesome.

  13. This was a great list. Thanks! I love learning facts like these. Happy T13 :)

  14. I knew none of those. Where in the world did that one guy get the idea urine would turn into gold?? Thanks for sharing all that - you learn something new everyday (or in this case, 13 new things)!

  15. The alchemists kind of went the opposite direction of where they intended.