Science puzzles no longer so puzzling

Solutions now exist for some of science’s bothersome brain teasers

Parkes telescope

RIDDLE ME THIS  In 2015, scientists discovered that some of the mysterious radio signals detected by the Parkes telescope, in Australia, originate on Earth. 

Alex Cherney, Terrastro/Science Source

In 2015, researchers solved some head-scratching and mind-bending puzzles.

Radio dinner

A class of odd radio bursts first detected by the Parkes telescope years ago came from an advanced civilization — if advanced means people on Earth so eager for a microwaved meal they open the oven before the beep. Whenever a nearby microwave was opened mid-cooking, the scope picked up the odd bursts, called perytons (SN: 5/16/15, p. 5).

Math master

No matter how hard anyone tries to set limits, the difference between quantities of two elements within certain sequences can grow without bound. That’s what math wizard Paul Erdös proposed in 1932. But not until this year did UCLA mathematician Terence Tao prove the Erdos discrepancy problem (SN: 10/31/15, p. 7).

Acid test

Cyanoform is one of the strongest carbon-based acids, at least in chemistry textbooks. But a century of trying to make the acid, which hooks up a central carbon atom with a hydrogen atom and three cyano groups, just made unstable messes. Until now. Temperatures below −40° Celsius allowed the atoms to stick, creating the elusive acid for the first time (SN: 10/31/15, p. 11).

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