The Pluto-shaped void in our hearts has yet to be filled by Planet 9, copious amounts of Ben & Jerry’s, or anything. Ever since the summer of 2015, when NASA’s New Horizons performed a six-month-long reconnaissance flyby study of Pluto and its moons, fans of the dwarf planet have wondered if or when we’d ever go back. According to New Horizons principal investigator Alan Stern, he and some other planetary scientists are already drawing up the blueprint for a return trip—and this time, it’d be much more than just a flyby.
“The news is not that we have a specific mission design,” Stern told Gizmodo. “The news is that the community is forming around the concept of going back to Pluto with an orbiter mission that would stay and study the planet for years, and do it in ways that we could not have in a simple flyby like New Horizons. It would have much more advanced instrumentation and the ability to map every square inch of the planet, and unravel all the complexity that we found.”
Still, many lingering mysteries remain. Pluto might have wind-blown dunes on it, features thought to be impossible before the flyby. Its mountains, which are made of frozen water, could reveal many secrets about geologic activity on the dwarf planet today. With so much left to learn, the only way to get answers is to go back. And unlike the New Horizons flyby, which didn’t spend enough time loitering to even map both of Pluto’s hemispheres at high resolution, much less monitor changes on the surface, an orbiter that remains in the Pluto system for several years would be able to do both.
“Going back to Pluto is becoming, in the scientific community, a real growing concern instead of just scattered conversation,” Stern said. And so, a few days ago, he and 34 scientists gathered in Houston, Texas to start mapping out what an orbiter mission would look like. Some of this new team is comprised of New Horizons members and seasoned pros in the field, in addition to scientists at the start of their careers.
“You won’t see it presented in the next few months, but I’m sure that by next year you’ll see it in many places,” Stern said. He added that this October, he and his team plan to have a workshop on their new mission concept at the49th meeting of the Division of Planetary Sciences.
“We were so surprised by the level of complexity that we found,” Stern said. “If you would have asked me before we got there if I thought there was ever any real chance of going back, I would have said ‘not really.’ And yet, here we are two years later and thinking about all the mysteries we can’t solve except by going back.”
While the plans are still in their infancy, Stern and his team are hopeful that they can get their concept together in time for the next Planetary Science Decadal Survey, a massive report prepared for NASA and Congress by the planetary science community, which helps to set the space agency’s priorities for solar system exploration. The next Decadal Survey will start being compiled around 2020, Stern said.
Gathering enough support within the scientific community is critical to convince the space agency such a trip would be worth it. The good news for Stern and his team is that the public already has their back. As soon as hetweeted the news about the potential orbiter, Stern’s mentions erupted with well-wishers.
“Hundreds of people were getting involved and cheering it on,” he said. “It’s like the slightest hope of going back to Pluto…the public interest is amazing.”
By October, Stern expects that the team involved with the orbiter concept will have grown substantially, maybe with 100 scientists involved. He thinks another trip to Pluto has the potential to gin up public interest in the same way that Enceladus and Europa have. “Just like Ocean Worlds, it’ll catch fire,” he said.
The hunt for Planet 9—a hypothetical, Neptune-sized object beyond Pluto—has stirred the scientific community since last year year, when a pair of Caltech astronomers argued in favor of the idea. Those intrepid scientists—Mike Brown, best known as the guy who killed Pluto, and Konstantin Batygin—are currently spearheading a search for this elusive giant. Recently, a network of citizen scientists have followed suit. The problem, of course, is we still haven’t found it. So what’s it going to take?
Back in 2016, Brown and Batygin seemed pretty confident that we’d find the mysterious object sometime in the next few years. From the start, their assertion of a new planet was met with some skepticism, since astronomers (and a few quacks) had been peddling the idea of a “Planet X” for years. At a certain point, it kind of became the “fetch” of the solar system. Still, theresearchers’ demonstration that a massive planet could be responsible for the unusual orbits of six known Kuiper Belt Objects motivated the scientific community to take Planet 9 claims more seriously.
“If you say, ‘We have evidence for Planet X,’ almost any astronomer will say, ‘This again? These guys are clearly crazy.’ I would, too,” Brown told Science Magazine in January 2016 shortly after the paper detailing their hypothesis went public. “Why is this different? This is different because this time we’re right.”
Over the past year, Brown and Batgyin have expanded their search team, and are currently gearing up for observations in the fall. According to Brown, the “wrong side of the sky” is up right now, meaning the part of the sky where Planet 9 might be is only visible in the daytime, which is rather inconvenient when you’re trying to make a breakthrough in planetary science.
“What we spent most of the last year doing has been trying to do a combination of computer modeling and looking at the real objects in the solar system and really pinpoint where it is,” Brown told Gizmodo. “We have a modestly precise region where we know to look. It’s about 800 square degrees of sky, which is a pretty large swath of sky, but it’s better than having to look at the whole thing.”
Another boon for the planet hunters is that their support network is huge. In a new project called Backyard World, a network of citizen scientists can look through troves of “flipbook” movies made from images captured by NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) mission with the hopes of finding Planet 9, which astronomers say will look a little blue.
“I am very optimistic that we’re going to track this guy down soon because so many people are looking,” Brown said. “And we’ve done a pretty good job of nailing down where to look.”
Still, not everyone is confident that Planet 9 will be found any time soon—or at all. A new study from a team of scientists at Queen’s University in Belfast asserts that the discovery of a minor planet called 2013 SY99—which is, at its closest, 50 AU—might dash our hopes of ever discovering the world. After running computer models of the solar system, the researchers concluded that if Planet 9 did exist, it likely would have altered SY99’s orbit so much we would not be able to view it.
“Computer models do show that a Planet Nine would be an unfriendly neighbor to tiny worlds like SY99: its gravitational influence would starkly change its orbit – throwing it from the solar system entirely, or poking it into an orbit so highly inclined and distant that we wouldn’t be able to see it,” Michele Bannister, an author on the study, wrote in The Conversation. “SY99 would have to be one of an utterly vast throng of small worlds, continuously being sucked in and cast out by the planet.”
Bannister told Gizmodo that while her team’s findings don’t entirely disprove the idea of Planet 9, it calls the hypothetical world’s legitimacy into question.
“The planet 9 idea is a fun idea, it’s exciting, but it’s taking a bit of the oxygen at the moment,” she told Gizmodo. “We have this interesting problem…and the very shiny solution at the moment is called planet 9.”
Brown, on the other hand, read Bannister’s paper and said he and Batgyin had predicted that astronomers would discover objects just like SY99. He said that finding these objects actually reinforces the idea that Planet 9 is out there.
“The reason that we initially thought Planet 9 existed—there are a lot more reasons now—but the initial reasons were that the most distant Kuiper Belt objects were on these very eccentric orbits that are all pointing off in the same direction,” he told Gizmodo. “One of the things we said when we first announced this a year ago was that, ‘We predict that as you continue to find more and more distant Kuiper Belt objects, they too will be pushed off in this one direction. So we’ve been waiting for all these discoveries to come in—this one is exactly where it’s predicted.”
It’s so rare we get planetary drama as delicious as this one with Planet 9. But seriously, if this big guy is out there, it’s only a matter of time until someone finds him. Brown hopes it’ll be one of the citizen scientists.
“I love those,” he said. “Honestly, if I could control the future, I would have one of those citizen science projects find Planet 9. It’d be fun to find it myself…but it’d be cool if we could come up with new ways of finding these things like using the power of citizen scientists and data analysis. I would love that story.”
The depths of the ocean are festooned with the most nightmarish creatures imaginable. You might think you’re safe, because these critters live thousands of feet down in a cold dark abyss, but the vampire squid, which looks like a nightmare umbrella, and the frilled shark—a literal living fossil—will live on in the recesses of your mind long after you’ve clicked away. Enjoy these deep sea horrors and try to have a relaxing day afterward.
10) Goblin shark
Scientific name: Mitsukurina owstoni
Habitat: The goblin shark has been seen off the coast of Mississippi, Australia, and more, and can live as deep as1300 meters (4265 feet ).
Lifestyle: Look at this creature’s ugly mug and tell me it’s not out for blood. The goblin shark is clearly a predator, but other than that, we’re pretty much in the dark on its lifestyle. “They’re a species we don’t know much about at all,” Christopher Bird, a PhD Student in deep sea Shark ecology at the University of Southampton, told Gizmodo. “They’ve been found around the globe in rare cases. But the reason they protrude their jaw out in the characteristic fashion is because they’re hunting fast-moving fish and crustaceans in the middle of the water column.”
Spooky fact(s): These bizarre beasts are known for their long, boopable snouts and ferocious nightmare teeth. Their skin is translucent, so that pink you see is actually a direct look at their insides.
9) Dumbo octopus
Scientific name: Grimpoteuthis (this is the genus name, there are 17 known species of Dumbo octopi).
Habitat: These silly guys, with their flappy little ears, can live at depths of9,800 to 13,000 feet. According to Aquarium of the Pacific, Dumbo octopi have been found in many regions around the world, including the waters near Australia, California, Oregon, and more.
Spooky fact(s): Sure, they may look cute, but just imagine being swarmed by a bunch of these things. “Dumbo octopuses envelop their prey within their webbed arms to make a balloon around them, and then consume them,” Dr. Nicholas Higgs, Deputy Director of the Plymouth University Marine Institute, told Gizmodo.
It’d be like getting smothered to death by a horde of kindergarteners. While the dumbo octopus is only eight inches tall, anything that eats primarily jellyfish is not to be trusted.
8) Giant isopod
Scientific name: Bathynomus giganteus
Habitat: Giant isopods have been found off the coast of the Yucatán Peninsula in México, at depths of 359–1050 meters (1177-3444 feet). Hopefully we won’t find them anywhere else.
Lifestyle: These little monsters, which can grow to be anywhere from 1.7 inches to 14 inchestall, are straight up scavengers. According to a 2003 paperpublished in Deep Sea Research Part I: Oceanographic Research Papers, giant isopods have no shame in feasting on squid and fish remains.
Spooky fact(s): Maybe what’s most unsettling about the giant isopod is that it can fast for up to five years.“Females that are brooding their young don’t eat, probably to avoid exposure to predation,” Higgs said. “These animals are scavengers and so they are exposed to other scavengers when feeding on dead carcasses. In order to protect their young and themselves while acting for their young they simply hide out in the mud.”
Honestly, I’m sure it has an important function in its ecosystem, but this overgrown cockroach-alien makes every cell in my body want to scream.
Spooky fact(s): Anglerfish are spooky little bastards. They use their weird biological headlamp—which is attached to their face—in order to draw prey in.
“The headlamp appendage is a specialized tissue that, in deep-sea anglerfishes, contains bioluminescent bacteria that the fish uses as a lure to attract potential prey towards its mouth,” Higgs told Gizmodo.
Scientific name: Chauliodus sloani
Habitat: Viperfish are found in tropical and temperate waters around the world and can live as deep as 2,800 meters (9,000 feet). Thankfully, you’ll never encounter one of these at the beach.
Lifestyle: Also obviously a predator. Look at that gnarly underbite!
Spooky fact(s): Viperfish are extremely elusive, but when these beasts reveal themselves, it’s always a bad time. The creatures have long fangs, which act like a trap. Unsuspecting fish wander into that mouth trap, and it’s game over.
“Larger specimens are believed to be exclusively piscivorous and may swallow fishes reaching 63% of their own body length,” a team of marine biologists wrote in a 2009 study about anglerfish teeth.
5) Ghost shark
Scientific name: Chimaeras (family name)
Habitat: Sightings are rare, but chimaeras have been spotted off the coast of California and Hawaii. They can live at depths of 500 to 3,000 meters (1,640 to 9,842 feet).
Lifestyle: Ghost sharks are predators that mainly subsist on worms, crabs, and mollusks. “You have different species at different depths,” Bird explained. “They’re absolutely bizarre creatures…they’ve got a rabbit-like jaw that helps them crush the shells on the sea floor.”
Spooky fact(s): I feel guilty including this one on the list, since it looks so miserable with its existence, but let’s be real—if you saw this swimming toward you in the ocean, would you greet it with open arms like Flipper? Like the frilled shark, chimaeras are living fossils, which means these dead-eyed creatures have changed very little over millions of years.
“They’ve really found there niche down there, which is eating stuff that nothing else can,” Bird explained. “They’re doing stuff that no other fish is doing, that no other shark is doing.”
4) Gulper eel
Scientific name: Eurypharynx pelecanoides
Habitat: The gulper eel can live at depths of1,000 to 2,100 meters, and has been found in temperate and tropical regions throughout all oceans.
Lifestyle: This beast is a predator. It eats mainly crustaceans and fish.
Spooky fact(s): It’s pretty obvious why the Gulper eel is also known as the “pelican eel”: its large jaw is very similar to that of the more pleasant looking bird’s. As Higgs explained, the gulper eel’s tremendous gape probably helps it swallow big meals—or do even stranger things.
“In gulper eels like Saccopharynx their strong jaws and large gape allow them to swallow extremely large prey,” Higgs said. “Others like the pelican eels (Eurypharynx) don’t have strong enough jaws to eat especially large prey. In this case it is thought that the the large gape unfolds like a huge parachute when within reach of the prey, engulfing the prey to prevent escape.”
Damn, what a way to go.
3) Vampire squid
Scientific name: Vampyroteuthis infernalis
Habitat: These little sea vampires lurk in both temperate and tropical zones, and can live at depths of 600 to 1200 meters (960 to 3940 feet).
Lifestyle: Vampire squid are detritivores. They eat lots of dead plankton, which feels very on-brand. “Vampire squid actually feed on tiny particles of dead animal detritus floating in the ocean (known as marine snow), by streaming two thin filaments in the water that are covered in mucus to capture the food,” Higgs explained.
Spooky fact(s): That unusual mucus Dr. Higgs just mentioned? It can also be used as part of an elaborate defense mechanism.
“When threatened, the squid will wrap its arms over its head exposing long spines, but this thought thought to be a ‘bluff’ since the spines are actually soft and fleshy,” he said. “They also use bioluminescence to confuse potential predators, with huge glowing eyes, or by releasing glowing mucus into the water.”
2) Black swallower
Scientific name: Chiasmodon niger
Habitat: This horrifying potbelly has been found in tropical and temperate waters of the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans, and can live as deep as 3,000 meters (10,000 feet) below the surface.
Lifestyle: The black swallower is a predator, even though it’s kind of bad at being one.
Spooky fact(s): Because these monsters live so deep, food is scarce, so they often resort to eating creatures much larger than them. Sometimes, these fucking geniuses eat things so big their stomach ruptures and they die in the least dignified way ever.
“This fish is able to swallow something bigger than itself because it has this elastic stomach that is able to open up and accommodate whatever it can get through its mouth,” Roberta Muehlheim, assistant curator of vertebrate zoology at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History toldThe Morning Journal.
In case you were wondering, here’s what death by your last meal looks like.
1) Frilled shark
Scientific name: Chlamydoselachus anguineus
Habitat: Sightings of the frilled shark are extremely rare, but they’ve been found off the coast of Australia. Of course they have.
Lifestyle: Predator. LOOK AT THAT THING AND TELL ME IT’S NOT.
Spooky fact(s): The frilled shark, which is referred to as a “living fossil” since it’s changed so little over thousands of years, is basically a vacuum with teeth—300 of them, to be exact. According to Bird, these teeth act like velcro. “It’s got all those hook[ed teeth] in there…if you’re trying to catch a squid that’s gonna be slippery and moving fast, you need these velcro-like teeth to come down and stop everything,” he explained. “As it grabs a fish or squid, [the prey] can’t escape.”
This nefarious garbage disposal has 25 rows of backward-facing teeth to eviscerate its prey, which really sounds like overkill—I feel like a few bites with these ridiculously sharp fangs would be sufficient, but hey, what do I know. If you’ve got it, flaunt it, I guess.
We can’t all be puppies—or even capybaras, for that matter. There’s a whole world of critters whose inner beauty goes unnoticed. Perfectly snuggly critters like naked mole rats have been mocked and called things like “the stuff of nightmares” or “the most terrifying thing I’ve ever seen.”
The truth is, so many of nature’s ugly animals have incredible qualities that deserve to be recognized. Below are just a few of the most hideous beautiful weirdos who deserve our love and respect.
9) Naked mole rat
Scientific name: Heterocephalus glaber
Habitat: For millions of years, these little cherubs have lived in large underground colonies, mainly located in central-east Africa. They can live with up to 300 individuals at a time.
Lifestyle: Naked mole rats eat roots and tubers, in addition to poop, according to the San Diego Zoo. I’m sorry.
Adorable fact: Naked mole rats are some of the most impressive creatures on the planet. In addition to the fact that they don’t age and are apparentlyimpervious to cancer, they can survive up to 18 minutes without oxygen, according to a recent study. By understanding how naked mole rats can survive so long without oxygen, we may be able to develop technology to keep victims of heart attacks or strokes alive longer.
On top of all of this, they’re actually quite lovable.
“What I’ve experienced over and over again is people will say, ‘Oh, they’re ugly, they’re gross,’ [but] every single person that I’ve taken to actually see the mole rats in person has come away saying they’re cute and they’re lovable,” Thomas Park, professor of biological sciences at the University of Illinois at Chicago, told Gizmodo. “The most misunderstood thing is that they’re ugly. I can understand why people think so, because they’re so unusual looking, but if you get to know them, they’re actually very gentle, they’re friendly creatures.”
8) Tufted deer
Scientific name: Elaphodus cephalophus
Habitat: This small, vampire-looking species of deer is endemic to China and Myanmar (Burma).
Lifestyle: Tufted deer are herbivores. Their diet consists of fruit, grass, bamboo and herbs—not human flesh.
Adorable fact: Despite their bloodthirsty appearance, tufted deer are actually quite shy. “This species is very secretive, most active at dawn and dusk, and is a true creature of habit, often traveling the same trails,” Imogene Cancellare, a conservation biologist and PhD student in the department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology at the University of Delaware, told Gizmodo. “When startled, the tufted deer emits a loud alarm bark.” Just like a dog, but you know, with fangs!
Lifestyle: Kenneth Catania, a biologist at Vanderbilt University, told Gizmodo they mostly eat small invertebrates, insect larva, and earthworms. “The nose is the whole shebang for its sensory system,” Catania said. “It’s a sensitive touch organ…it functions almost like an eye.” The nose, in case you’re wondering, is that crazy bouquet of tentacles on the mole’s face.
Adorable fact: Though their strange faces might seem like an impairment, star-nosed moles are extremely quick. “They are the fastest foragers,” Catania said. “They are in the Guinness Book of World Records as the fastest foraging mammal.” According to information provided by Catania to the records book, the average amount of time it takes for a star-nosed mole to identify food as edible and consume it is 230 milliseconds. The fastest is 120 milliseconds.
6) Pink fairy armadillo
Scientific name: Chlamyphorus truncates
Habitat: This sweet, shy little guy is native to central Argentina, where it lives in dry grasslands and plains.
Lifestyle: Not much is known about the pink fairy armadillo’s lifestyle, as it hasn’t been studied much. “We do know that its diet and habits are likely similar to other nocturnal armadillo species,” Cancellare said. “As a generalist insectivore, this 3-4.5 inch long armadillo likely uses its large, mole-like claws to dig in sand in search of insects, grubs, and worms.”
Adorable fact(s): We didn’t have a cute fact for this one unfortunately, only a terribly sad one. According to Cancellare, the pink fairy armadillo that looks like a “Furby covered with sashimi” is very popular in the illegal pet trade. “It dies quickly in captivity and does not make a good pet, like all wildlife,” she said. While the IUCN doesn’t technically consider the pink fairy armadillo endangered—it’s “data deficient,” due to how little its studied—the organization does note how at-risk it is due to the black market.
I guess the fact that it’s the smallest armadillo in the world is sort of cute.
Scientific name: Ambystoma mexicanum
Habitat: Axolotl are unusual in that they exist in one place in the wild—a lakecalled Xochimilco, just South of Mexico City.
Lifestyle: According to Stéphane Roy, a biologist at the Université de Montréal, the axolotl will eat basically anything that moves in front of it, but it mostly feasts on small crustaceans and fish. “They’re salamanders so they’re amphibians,” Roy told Gizmodo. “But the axolotl stays aquatic all its life. It doesn’t metamorphose to become terrestrial.”
Adorable fact: Overall, axolotls are pretty chill, arguably too laid back—they have no real way to defend themselves in the wild. “It’s basically a defenseless animal,” Roy said. “Its best defense mechanism is to stand still in the mud and not move in the hopes that it won’t be seen by predators.”
More of pathetic fact than a cute one, but it’s charming nonetheless.
Lifestyle: According to the Duke Lemur Center, the aye-aye is quite the picky eater. “The aye-aye’s diet is very specialized, consisting mainly of the interior of Ramy nuts, nectar from the Traveller’s Palm tree, some fungi and insect grubs,” the Duke Lemur Center says on its website. “The animals are also known to raid coconut plantations, and have been seen eating lychees and mangoes, which are also plantation crops.” Recent scientific research suggests that aye-ayes, like humans, prefer their fruity beverages with alcohol.
Adorable fact: “Aye-ayes are thought to be the only primate to use echolocation to find food,” Cancellare said. “To do this, the aye-aye uses those large ears and something called a toilet claw. Also called the grooming finger, the aye-aye’s third digit is much more slender that the other four fingers and is used as a hunting tool. The aye-aye uses this finger to tap on trees to listen for insect larvae. Once it hears something, the aye aye then uses its other claws to dig into the bark, then dig out invertebrates using its long toilet claw.”
While toilet claws don’t sound very cute, the aye aye is overall pretty adorable.
Scientific name: Psychrolutes marcidus
Habitat: This miserable cutie lives off the coast of Australia and Tasmania, at depths of 330 to 9,200 feet.
Lifestyle: The blobfish is unsurprisingly oafish. According to Creature Features: Twenty-Five Animals Explain Why They Look the Way They Do, by Steve Jenkins and Robin Page, the blobfish’s diet mainly consists of mollusks, crabs, and sea urchins—probably sadness, too. According to Mental Floss, it doesn’t really hunt, rather, it just sits at the bottom of the ocean and opens its mouth when something tasty swims by.
Adorable fact: The “mascot” for blobfish was found in 2003 by a team of researchers studying the waters around New Zealand. This specimen was affectionately named “Mr. Blobby” by the crew. Sadly, the very dead Mr. Blobby now resides in Australian Museum’s Ichthyology Collection, in Sydney.
“The fixation process tightened Mr. Blobby’s skin and collapsed his—or her—snout,” Mark McGrouther, the museum’s fish manager, told Smithsonian. “He—or she—now looks like an 85-year-old Mr. Blobby.” To be fair, at the bottom of the ocean (and alive), our frowny friend probably wouldn’t look so curmudgeonly.
Pour one out for Mr. Blobby, gone but never forgotten.
2) Black rain frog
Scientific name: Breviceps fuscus
Habitat: According to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the grumpy frog only lives in the mountains of South Africa.
Lifestyle: These are burrowing frogs that spend most of their lives underground. We don’t know much about their eating habits, though.
Adorable fact: There’s actually a legitimate reason why the black rain frog looks like an angry lump. “Many people know rain frog species from the adorable viral videos circulating on the internet,” Nicole F. Angeli, a conservation biologist at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, told Gizmodo. “Inflating is a defensive posture effective when a predator tries to pull an individual from a burrow. These puffy little frogs are the product of millions of years of survival in a harsh world!”
Lifestyle: The Potoo is a nocturnal bird, as evidenced by its enormous eyes.“The large eyes of this bird help it find flying insects at night,” Cancellare explained.
Adorable fact: Sometimes, the Potoo likes to pretend it’s a tree. “During the day this species is entirely immobile, perching upright like a statue, closing its eyes, and blending in with the branches it hides in,” Cancellare said. Please imagine this goofy ass bird trying to blend in with anything and try not to laugh. Or cry.
Every spring, Jewish people the world over celebrate Passover, a holiday that recounts the Exodus, when, according to the Torah (the Old Testament of the Bible), the Jews left Egypt for Israel.
However, before Moses could lead the 40-year journey through the desert, he needed the Pharaoh’s permission to free the Jews, who were slaves in the land of Egypt, according to the Torah. But the Pharaoh had a hard heart, prompting the Lord to send down 10 plagues until the Pharaoh changed his mind, the Torah reports.
Could any of these plagues have occurred through natural phenomena? Live Science looks at possible scientific explanations behind each of the 10 plagues.
Credit: Credit: ESA/Getty
To unleash the first plague upon the Egyptians, Moses struck the river Nile with his staff, turning its waters to blood. At the same time, his brother Aaron performed an identical transformation in the canals, tributaries, ponds and pools throughout Egypt.
After the water turned to blood, “thefish in the Nile died, and the Nile stank, so that the Egyptians could not drink water,” according to the Bible, Exodus chapter 7, verse 21,English Standard version.
The sudden appearance of red-hued waters in the Nile could have been caused by a red algae bloom, which appears when certain conditions enable a type of microscopic algae to reproduce in such great numbers that the waters they live in appear to be stained a bloody red.
This phenomenon is known as “red tide” when it happens in oceans, but red algae are also well-represented in freshwater ecosystems. And these algae blooms can certainly be harmful to wildlife, as the algae contain a toxin that can accumulate in shellfish and poison the animals that feed on them. Fumes from densely-concentrated algae blooms can also disperse toxins in the air, causing breathing problems in people that live nearby.
Credit: Hulton Archive/Getty
What do you do next, after turning a nation’s water supply into blood? If you’re following Moses’ playbook, you inundate them with frogs.
For the second plague, Moses allegedly conjured vast quantities of frogs that swarmed into people’s homes — even finding their way into the Egyptians’ beds, ovens and cookware.
As it happens, the phenomenon of “raining frogs” has been reported multiple times throughout history and in a range of locations around the world. A report published July 12, 1873 in Scientific American described “a shower of frogs which darkened the air and covered the ground for a long distance,” following a recent rainstorm. The account was one of dozens of similar anecdotes collected in “The Book of the Damned” (1919), though its somewhat skeptical author suggested that the frogs may have simply dropped from trees.
And in May 2010 in Greece, thousands of frogs emerged from a lake in the northern part of the country, likely in search of food, and disrupted traffic for days, CBS News reported
The third plague, lice, could mean either lice, fleas or gnats based on the Hebrew word (Keenim). If a toxic algal bloom led to the first plague, and a pile of dead frogs followed, it’s not surprising that a swarm of insects of some sort would have followed. That’s because frogs typically eat insects; without them, the fly population could have exploded, Stephan Pflugmacher, a climatologist Leibniz Institute for Water Ecology and Inland Fisheries in Berlin, said in a television special about the plagues that aired on the National Geographic Channel in 2010. Interestingly, both body lice and fleas can theoretically transmit the bacteria Yersinia pestis, which causes bubonic plague, according to a 2010 study published in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases. If so, then an infestation with lice could have set the stage for the later plagues, such as boils, a 2008 review of plague science found. Scientists have also argued that the sickness that killed the beasts of the field for Egyptians in later plagues might have been Bluetongue or African horse sickness, both of which can be spread by insects from this plague, according to a 2008 Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine.
Once again, the Hebrew word for the fourth plague, arov, is ambiguous. It roughly translates to a “mixture,” and over the years, rabbis had interpreted that word to mean either wild animals, hornets or mosquitoes, or even wolf-like beasts that prowl in the night, according to biblical commentary found in the Exodus Rabbah 11:3; Tanchuma, Va’eira 14. Most commonly, people interpret the text to mean wild animals such as venomous snakes or scorpions, or even lions or bears. However, according to a 1996 study published in the journal Caduceus, which attempts to explain the plagues as epidemiological problems caused by an initial climate disturbance, J.S. Marr and C.D. Malloy argue that the fourth plague represents a swarm of flies such as the stable fly (Stomoxys calcitrans). Bites from these flies could have led to the boils that occurred later on in the story, according to that study.
Credit: PRISMA ARCHIVO/Alamy
The fifth plague called down on Egypt was a mysterious and highly contagious disease that swiftly killed off the Egyptians’ livestock. This biblical scourge is reminiscent of a real plague known as rinderpest, an infectious and lethal viral disease that decimated populations of cattle and other ruminants across Africa and Europe from the 18th through the late 19th centuries.
Rinderpest was caused by a virus in the same family as canine distemper and measles; infected animals developed a high fever, diarrhea and ulcers in their mouths and noses, according to a manual diagnosing rinderpest, produced by the Food and Agriculture Association of the United Nations.
The disease is thought to have originated in Asia, and traveled to Egypt 5,000 years ago along prehistoric trading routes, the New York Times reported in 2010. Its mortality rate was exceptionally high, often exceeding 80 percent. It killed an estimated 200 million cattle in the 18th century, according to a study published in the journal Medical History in 1997, and when rinderpest emerged in Africa in the 19th century, it killed 5.2 million cattle, causing one-third of the population of Ethiopia to die of starvation, a study published in the journal Science reported in 2008.
Rinderpest was last diagnosed in Kenya in 2001, and was declared completely eradicated in 2010, according to the New York Times.
Shortly after the Egyptians’ livestock died off, they were distracted by the sixth plague — an extremely uncomfortable plague of boils that covered their bodies. Boils are painful bumps usually surrounded by red, swollen skin, and are typically caused byStaphylococcus aureus, a type of bacteria commonly found on the skin’s surface, according to the Mayo Clinic.
An outbreak of the highly infectious disease smallpox, which caused distinctive raised blisters, could result in a large number of people simultaneously coming down with rashes and welts. Smallpox is thought to have affected communities in Egypt at least 3,000 years ago, based on evidence of smallpox scars found on several mummies dating back to that period — including the mummy of Pharaoh Ramses V, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Credit: Michael Folmer/Alamy
The seventh plague brought a heavy hail accompanied by thunder and streaming fire. The chaotic weather struck down people, livestock and trees, although the area of Goshen, where the Israelites lived, was spared, according to the book “Tanakh, A New Translation of The Holy Scriptures” (The Jewish Publication Society, 1985).
A nearby volcanic eruption about 3,500 years ago on Santorini, an island north of Crete in the Aegean Sea, may explain this plague, as well as others. It’s possible that the volcanic ash mixed with thunderstorms above Egypt, leading to a dramatic hailstorm, Nadine von Blohm, from the Institute for Atmospheric Physics in Germany, told the Telegraph.
When the Pharaoh once again refuses to let the Jewish people go, hungry locusts descend as the eighth plague. Moses warns the Pharaoh: “They shall cover the surface of the land, so that no one will be able to see the land.” Such a pestilence would devour all the remaining plants that the hail did not destroy, Moses said, according to the “Tanakh.”
The volcanic eruption on Santorini may have created favorable conditions for the locusts, said Siro Trevisanato, a Canadian molecular biologist and author of “The Plagues of Egypt: Archaeology, History and Science Look at the Bible” (Gorgias Press, 2005).
“The ash fallout caused weather anomalies, which translates into higher precipitations, higher humidity,” Trevisanato told the Telegraph. “And that’s exactly what fosters the presence of the locusts.”
The plague of darkness may have been a solar eclipse or a cloud of volcanic ash, scholars say.
According to the Old Testament, a darkness so thick that “people could not see one another” descended on Egypt for three days. However, the “Israelites enjoyed light in their dwellings,” according to the book “Tanakh, A New Translation of The Holy Scriptures” (The Jewish Publication Society, 1985).
Perhaps the darkness coincided with an eclipse on March 5, 1223 B.C. — you can see the path here on NASA’s website — according to a study written by Iurii Mosenkis, an archaeoastronomy researcher who lives in the Ukraine. However, the fact that Israelites had light in their homes might mean “lights out” for the eclipse hypothesis, as it doesn’t make scientific sense why some people, but not others could overcome the darkness.
In the 10th, and last plague, Moses tells the Pharaoh that all the firstborns in the land of Egypt would perish.
Perhaps, the algal bloom that turned the rivers blood red released mycotoxins, poisonous substances that can cause disease and death in humans, according to a 2003 review in the journal Clinical Microbiology Reviews. Grain contaminated with these mycotoxins could have been deadly, and could explain the death of the firstborn children, said epidemiologist John Marr, who was the chief epidemiologist at the New York City Department of Health, as reported by Slate.
The firstborn might have been the first to pick the grain, and thus would have fallen victim to it first as well, according to the Telegraph.
By Owen Jarus, Live Science Contributor | April 19, 2017 11:58am ET
Several mummies and more than 1,000 figurines have been discovered at an ancient cemetery located at Luxor in Egypt, archaeologists reported.
A team of archaeologists with the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities uncovered the funerary complex during the ministry’s ongoing excavations at the site. The funerary complex contains multiple tombs that were originally built for a man named Userhat, who was a judge in Luxor sometime during what modern-day archaeologists call Egypt’s New Kingdom (1550–1070 B.C.) period, the ministry said in a statement.
During the New Kingdom period, Egypt was unified, and it often controlled a large amount of territory in the Middle East and modern-day Sudan. After the New Kingdom ended, the complex was re-opened and more mummies and burials were put into the structure, the ministry said.
Researchers discovered a labyrinth of tunnels and chambers containing the remains of mummies and assorted human remains, as shown in photos released by the ministry. In some cases, the colors on the mummy coffins are well preserved, despite the passage of millennia.
Additionally, a “collection of ushabti figurines carved in faience, terracotta and wood was also unearthed,” in the tomb complex, the ministry said in the statement. Ushabti figurines were frequently buried with the dead in ancient Egypt, and Egyptologists generally believe that ushabtis were buried with the dead so that the figurines could work for the deceased in the afterlife.
“We found a large number of ushabti, more than 1,000 of them,” Egypt Antiquities Minister Khaled el-Enany told the Agence France-Presse.
Archaeologists also discovered the remains of clay pots in the cemetery.
The ministry’s team is led by Mostafa Waziri, the head of the ministry’s Luxor department. Excavations are underway that the ministry said will lead to the entire complex being uncovered. The complex is part of a larger ancient cemetery that today is often called Dra’ Abu el-Naga.
With drugs fully capable of curing erectile dysfunction hitting the shelves in 1998, it would seem that people would move away from ingesting rare plants and animals for sexual purposes. Unfortunately, this is not the case, largely due to local culture and the cost of said pills. Men have sought a cure for sexual dysfunction for thousands of years in the form of various animals and their parts. Because of this, we have threatened and even forced some organisms into extinction just so we can get it on.
This rare bird was nearly hunted to extinction along the Arabian Peninsula due to its meat’s supposed aphrodisiac qualities. The species is now listed as threatened and is still hunted by those looking to satisfy their urges through the ingestion of this bird’s flesh.
Hunting the bustard is banned in Pakistan, but that doesn’t stop Arab royals from going on their annual hunts for the chicken-sized birds. Pakistan quietly issues between 25–35 special permits to wealthy sheiks so they can hunt the birds in their winter habitat. The hunts are very controversial due to most who take part exceeding their 1,000-bird limit, further threatening the species.
When we think of birth control in the 21st century, we usually picture condoms, pills, and other devices. Long before any of these things were invented, people used a plant called silphium.
Silphium was harvested by our ancient ancestors due to its contraceptive effects when ingested. Silphium was used by the ancient Greeks and Romans for more than 700 years before it was finally over-cultivated into extinction by the first century BC. They used the farmland so much, the soil became exhausted and unable to sustain further plant growth. Silphium went extinct due to the overactive sexual activities of our ancestors not wanting to have . . . well, us.
Yarsagumba is a Nepalese fungus used for centuries as an aphrodisiac. It is sold for $25–$150 per gram, and costs have risen as supplies are drying up. Due to over-cultivation, the fungus has become threatened and may soon face extinction. Unlike others on this list, it is not used solely by men for erectile dysfunction and is instead used as a libido booster by men and women.
The fungus is so desired throughout Southeast Asia, its sales worldwide are $5–$11 billion per year. The demand is killing the fungus due to farmers picking it before it reaches sexual maturity—the point when it spreads its spores. This is keeping new spores from reaching the soil and making its extinction a near-certainty.
Chinese medicine has been prescribing rhino horn for more than 1,800 years, but recent interest in Vietnam has all but ensured the black rhino’s extinction. Thought to cure cancer, liver problems, and much more, the rhino horn has become more valuable than gold in Vietnam, fetching as much as $100,000 per kilogram. Doctors prescribe it for the wealthy elite of Vietnam, and an increased appetite has diminished the species significantly.
The belief that the horn is used as an aphrodisiac is a Western myth, but the myth has become so widespread over the years, people in Vietnam have increased demand to meet this need. A rhino horn is nothing more thankeratin and has no recognized medicinal properties, but that hasn’t stopped people from ingesting it to boost their virility. The black rhinoceros is currently listed as critically endangered.
Oysters have long been thought of as an aphrodisiac by numerous cultures around the world, which is why the oysters in the wild have become threatened with extinction. Wild oysters have become functionally extinct in many places throughout the world’s oceans due to overfishing, disease, and dredging.
The loss of wild oyster beds around the world is a serious problem for several reasons. Oysters are very efficient nitrogen filters and remove the dangerous aquatic pollutant by as much as 50 gallons each day. Whether you eat them for their believed virility-boosting effects or simply because you like them, you should know that they may one day become a thing of the past.
Some men in Uganda have become increasingly aware and fearful for the fate of the citropsis tree, locally known as “omuboro” and also the “sex tree.” The roots of the citropsis have been used to combat erectile dysfunction, and its potential extinction is a serious concern. Men interested in ingesting the roots tend to uproot the tree and make no attempts to replant it, which has led to the overall decline of the plant.
Scientific research on the effectiveness of citropsis has come to an interesting finding. When tested on male rats, their mounting frequencyincreased significantly, as did their testosterone levels. The plant contains a chemical that affects the vascular system, which is why it seems to be effective for men.
Occasionally, an animal is chosen as a target for male enhancement simply because it is seen as being incredibly virile on its own. Tigers have long been a target of Eastern medicine due to their simple badassery. Anyone who happens to come upon one would assume that it could pretty easily kill the largest and strongest person on the planet (and they would be 100-percent correct in that assumption).
Tigers have been a part of traditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years. Just about every part of the tiger is used medicinally, from the eyes, whiskers, and brains to their blood, flesh, and yes, their phallus. To help a man’s impotence and waning libido, the hu gu (Mandarin for bones) are ground up and used. Because people have been slaughtering these animals for so long, they’re endangered, and several subspecies have already gone extinct such as the Bali, Caspian, and the Javan tigers.
No, these giant mammals are not targeted for that substance in their names, but rather something produced in their guts. Sperm whales produce a substance called ambrein in their digestive tracts. It has long been used by numerous cultures to treat sexual function in men and women. What’s so different about this particular aphrodisiac and the others on this list is that there is scientific evidence that it works—even when the male who takes it has no female partner.
Scientists conducted a study with male rats to determine promiscuity without the presence of females. Yes, we subjected a bunch of male rats to the stuff to see if they would get it on. They did. The study concluded that “The present results . . . support the folk use of this drug as an aphrodisiac.” Sadly, like many species of whale, the sperm whale is considered vulnerable by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources.
If you have never seen a pangolin before in your local zoo, all you need to know is that it is an adorable cross between a small anteater and an armadillo. What you have is an armored anteater, which, for some reason, people have determined over the centuries helps with the male libido. Because of this, pangolins are one of the most illegally trafficked animals in the world.
Pangolins are indigenous to Cambodia, Malaysia, and Indonesia, but the market for them has thousands of the little guys frozen and on ships bound for China. The pangolin’s meat has long been thought of as an aphrodisiac, so it is cooked and eaten in several ways while the scales have been used to treat everything from lymph node issues to increasing breast milk production in women. The species is currently listed as threatened and will likely become extinct in the wild before the end of the century if the rate of consumption remains.
Imagine walking along and seeing something that could only be described as a scrotum water frog. Okay, now pick it up and eat it. Sounds pretty nasty, doesn’t it? Somebody once did it, and now the animal is close to extinction.
Okay, to be fair, the little guy is formally called the Titicaca water wrog and it is indigenous to Lake Titicaca in South America. It is often called the scrotum water frog because of its excessive skin, which look like a . . . well, you get the idea. The species is nearing extinction and has been listed as critical thanks, in large part, to humans harvesting them as an aphrodisiac.
People enjoy taking a frog, dropping it into a blender alongside some honey, the roots of a local plant, and other local products to make a smoothie. It is believed that the smoothie produced from this concoction will get anyone in the mood for some fun and play, but there is of course no scientific evidence to support this. Regardless, the frog that closely resembles a human beanbag may one day be lost forever due to man’s endless need to sate his desire.