10 Discoveries and Inventions That Are More Recent Than You Think

iStock.com/Eloi_Omella
iStock.com/Eloi_Omella

Some science discoveries and inventions feel like they’ve been part of our lives forever. Sometimes, these "old" discoveries are actually so recent they can be measured by the age of celebrities. Here are a few.

1. Sliced Bread // 1928

For perspective, Betty White, Dick Van Dyke, Mel Brooks, and Sidney Poitier are all older than sliced bread (Mr. Rogers is the same age). Invented in 1928 by Otto F. Rohwedder, sliced bread was advertised as “the greatest forward step in the baking industry since bread was wrapped.” (The invention would have hit shelves sooner, but a prototype bread-slicing machine that Rohwedder built in 1917 was destroyed by a fire.)

2. Our Understanding of the Earth’s Age // 1956

By the late 1940s, new radiometric dating methods suggested that Earth’s age was 3.3 billion years—but scientists were not confident in the number. It wasn’t until the mid-1950s, when Clair Patterson perfected a new method of calculating the age of extremely old rocks, that the Earth’s true age of 4.5 billion years was revealed [PDF]. (Patterson’s methods, which involved building an “ultra-clean” laboratory to remove all traces of foreign contaminants, also led to a second important discovery: It revealed just how badly leaded gasoline was polluting the environment.) Incredibly, both of these concepts are only as old as Tom Hanks.

3. The Discovery of Pluto // 1930

Everybody’s favorite dwarf planet, Pluto, was first spotted in 1930 by a telescope enthusiast who hadn't been to college. Working at the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona, Clyde Tombaugh found “Planet X” using an astrograph—essentially a grainy space camera—and making a discovery that's as old as Clint Eastwood. (Meanwhile, the first exoplanet wouldn’t be confirmed until 1992, or about one Selena Gomez ago.)

4. The Scientific Acceptance of Plate Tectonics // 1961

In 1926, German scientist Alfred Wegener attended a conference where he discussed his theory that all of Earth’s continents had once been connected. The director of the Geological Survey of France called Wegener's idea “the dream of a great poet.” For the next three decades, continental drift was the sort of wacky theory that could get a scientist ostracized from the Establishment. But when geologist Marie Tharp discovered the 10,000-mile Mid-Atlantic Ridge in the Atlantic Ocean—part of the longest mountain range on the planet, and evidence that Earth’s plates were indeed moving—scientists started taking the idea seriously. The theory didn’t reach widespread acceptance until 1961, the year of Barack Obama's birth.

5. The Modern Can Opener // 1870

The modern can opener (with the spinning wheel) was invented in 1870, the same year Vladimir Lenin was born, which seems remarkably late when you consider that metal food cans had already been around for decades. (Before then, people had to pry open food tins by literally "taking a stab at it." In fact, one container advised consumers to “cut round the top near the outer edge with a chisel and hammer.”) Earlier can-opening prototypes existed but weren't very popular: Ezra Warner’s can opener, invented in 1858, resembled a bayonet and was so dangerous that it was usually only used by grocery store owners.

6. Acceptance of the Big Bang Theory // 1965

In 1929, Edwin Hubble confirmed a theory posited by Georges Lemaître—a Belgian Catholic priest and scientist—that the universe was expanding. Two years later, Lemaître attempted to describe the phenomenon with his “hypothesis of the primeval atom,” what would later be called the “Big Bang.” For the next three decades, many scientists debated whether to accept the “Big Bang” model (where the universe has a beginning) or the “Steady State” model (where the universe has no beginning). The former wasn’t widely accepted until 1965, the same year JK Rowling was born.

7. Hib Vaccines // 1985

Hib disease is caused by a bacterium (Haemophilus influenzae type b) and can lead to meningitis, pneumonia, and a slew of nasty infections. It once infected 20,000 young children every year in the United States, killing up to 5 percent of them and leaving up to a third with permanent neurological damage. In 1975, a trial of the drug failed to convince pharmaceutical companies to produce the vaccine, prompting its developer, David H. Smith, to start his own company to make it. First appearing in 1985, the same year as Wonder Woman star Gal Gadot, the vaccine has since reduced Hib disease rates by 99 percent.

8. Double Helix Structure of DNA // 1953

DNA was first identified by a Swiss chemist in 1869. The nucleobases—adenine, cytosine, guanine, thymine, and uracil—were first isolated soon after. But scientists would remain clueless as to DNA’s physical structure until Rosalind Franklin, an expert in X-ray crystallography, and graduate student Raymond Gosling took photographs of it and found two, twisting strands. Using Franklin’s images (without her express permission), James Watson and Francis Crick first described the DNA double helix in 1953, the same year as Pierce Brosnan's birth.

9. Classification of Lucy // 1978

In November 1974, scientists digging in Ethiopia spotted a hunk of a human-like elbow bone in the dirt. With it came a remarkably complete skeleton that was 3.2 million years old. Named Lucy, the Australopithecus afarensis skeleton was an early human ancestor. Lucy was classified as a new species—which upturned ideas about the timeline of human evolution—in 1978, the same year Rachel McAdams was welcomed into the world.

10. Discovery of the Supermassive Black Hole at the Center of the Galaxy // 2002

A black hole is a region of space where gravity is so strong that nothing, not even light, can escape it. The colorful term wasn’t coined until the 1960s, and hard evidence of black holes wasn’t found until 1971. The discovery of the black hole at the center of the Milky Way is even more recent: In 2002, the birth year of Stranger Things actor Gaten Matarazzo, astronomers analyzed stars orbiting a region of the galaxy called Sagittarius A*—and discovered a black hole with a mass 4 million times that of our Sun.

10 Rad Gifts for Hikers

Greg Rosenke/Unsplash
Greg Rosenke/Unsplash

The popularity of bird-watching, camping, and hiking has skyrocketed this year. Whether your gift recipients are weekend warriors or seasoned dirtbags, they'll appreciate these tools and gear for getting most out of their hiking experience.

1. Stanley Nesting Two-Cup Cookset; $14

Amazon

Stanley’s compact and lightweight cookset includes a 20-ounce stainless steel pot with a locking handle, a vented lid, and two insulated 10-ounce tumblers. It’s the perfect size for brewing hot coffee, rehydrating soup, or boiling water while out on the trail with a buddy. And as some hardcore backpackers note in their Amazon reviews, your favorite hiker can take the tumblers out and stuff the pot with a camp stove, matches, and other necessities to make good use of space in their pack.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Osprey Sirrus and Stratos 24-Liter Hiking Packs; $140

Amazon

Osprey’s packs are designed with trail-tested details to maximize comfort and ease of use. The Sirrus pack (pictured) is sized for women, while the Stratos fits men’s proportions. Both include an internal sleeve for a hydration reservoir, exterior mesh and hipbelt pockets, an attachment for carrying trekking poles, and a built-in rain cover.

Buy them: Amazon, Amazon

3. Yeti Rambler 18-Ounce Bottle; $48

Amazon

Nothing beats ice-cold water after a summer hike or a sip of hot tea during a winter walk. The Yeti Rambler can serve up both: Beverages can stay hot or cold for hours thanks to its insulated construction, and its steel body (in a variety of colors) is basically indestructible. It will add weight to your hiker's pack, though—for a lighter-weight, non-insulated option, the tried-and-true Camelbak Chute water bottle is incredibly sturdy and leakproof.

Buy it: Amazon

4. Mappinners Greatest 100 Hikes of the National Parks Scratch-Off Poster; $30

Amazon

The perfect gift for park baggers in your life (or yourself), this 16-inch-by-20-inch poster features epic hikes like Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park and Half Dome in Yosemite National Park. Once the hike is complete, you can scratch off the gold foil to reveal an illustration of the park.

Buy it: Amazon

5. National Geographic Adventure Edition Road Atlas; $19

Amazon

Hikers can use this brand-new, updated road atlas to plan their next adventure. In addition to comprehensive maps of all 50 states, Puerto Rico, Canada, and Mexico, they'll get National Geographic’s top 100 outdoor destinations, useful details about the most popular national parks, and points on the maps noting off-the-beaten-path places to explore.  

Buy it: Amazon

6. Adventure Medical Kits Hiker First-Aid Kit; $25

Amazon

This handy 67-piece kit is stuffed with all the things you hope your hiker will never need in the wilderness. Not only does it contain supplies for pain, cuts and scrapes, burns, and blisters (every hiker’s nemesis!), the items are organized clearly in the bag to make it easy to find tweezers or an alcohol wipe in an emergency.

Buy it: Amazon

7. Hiker Hunger Ultralight Trekking Poles; $70

Amazon

Trekking poles will help increase your hiker's balance and stability and reduce strain on their lower body by distributing it to their arms and shoulders. This pair is made of carbon fiber, a super-strong and lightweight material. From the sweat-absorbing cork handles to the selection of pole tips for different terrain, these poles answer every need on the trail. 

Buy it: Amazon

8. Leatherman Signal Camping Multitool; $120

Amazon

What can’t this multitool do? This gadget contains 19 hiking-friendly tools in a 4.5-inch package, including pliers, screwdrivers, bottle opener, saw, knife, hammer, wire cutter, and even an emergency whistle.

Buy it: Amazon

9. RAVPower Power Bank; $24

Amazon

Don’t let your hiker get caught off the grid with a dead phone. They can charge RAVPower’s compact power bank before they head out on the trail, and then use it to quickly juice up a phone or tablet when the batteries get low. Its 3-inch-by-5-inch profile won’t take up much room in a pack or purse.

Buy it: Amazon

10. Pack of Four Indestructible Field Books; $14

Amazon

Neither rain, nor snow, nor hail will be a match for these waterproof, tearproof 3.5-inch-by-5.5-inch notebooks. Your hiker can stick one in their pocket along with a regular pen or pencil to record details of their hike or brainstorm their next viral Tweet.

Buy it: Amazon

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8-Year-Old Twinkies Intrigue Fungus Experts

Photog Bill, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Photog Bill, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

An 8-year-old box of Twinkies has disproved the myth that the Hostess product never goes bad. Upon closer inspection, it also revealed that the snack may decompose differently than your average foodstuff. As NPR reports, the varying mold growth on the Twinkies was so unusual, it caught the attention of fungi scientists.

The story of the putrefied pastries began in 2012, when nature photographer Colin Purrington learned of Hostess Brands' impending bankruptcy. Fearing Twinkies would disappear from shelves for good, he bought a box for posterity. It sat in his basement until he was hit with a junk food craving earlier this year.

When Purrington ripped open the 8-year-old package, he was surprised to find that the snacks inside were inedible. He had assumed Twinkies were indestructible, but the contents of the box proved otherwise: The cake he had bitten into tasted like what he described as "old sock," another one had a dark spot on it, and a third had shriveled up and turned gray.

After Purrington shared photos of his discovery online, he sent the Twinkies to Brian Lovett and Matt Kasson, scientists at West Virginia University in Morgantown who specialize in fungi. In the past, the researchers have studied how well fungi grow on preservative-laden food, like Peeps. They suspected that fungal growth was responsible for the Twinkies' decay—they just didn't know what kind.

The shriveled-up Twinkie appeared to be shrink-wrapped in its wrapper, a result of the fungus inside consuming more gases than it produced. The fungus may have stopped growing once it ran out of air in the package. When they unwrapped it, the scientists encountered a rock-solid material they needed a bone marrow biopsy tool to penetrate. The Twinkie wasn't hard all the way through, however: The soft, creamy center survived, suggesting the fungi was more attracted to the cake than the filling.

Samples of the Twinkie marked with the dark circle pointed to the presence of Cladosporium, one of the most common airborne molds found indoors. The researchers haven't been able to obtain a living spore sample from the hardened pastry, but they're still trying. Further lab dish tests will hopefully reveal the species of fungi that mummified one of the world's most shelf-stable baked goods.

[h/t NPR]