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Volume 364

Welcome back, happy new year and all that. This week’s coolsh*t is looking deep into the past and the future with time-travelling telescopes, mushroom music, and alien ambassadors. And if you’re not quite ready to forget 2021, we’re reliving some of last year’s biggest moments in gelato form.

Out of this World.

As soon as I heard about this James Webb Telescope, I knew I had to find a way of squeezing it into coolsh*t. However, I didn’t account for what a Brobdingnagian task this would prove to be, as doing so would require that I have at least some basic level of rudimentary knowledge about it. So don’t expect this to be terribly technical or detailed. Go to Brian Cox if you want that. Or that stool pigeon, Neil DeGrasse Tyson. Anyhow, if the information found during my 12 minutes of research is anything to go by, this great big telescope could utterly revolutionise our understanding of the universe. It’s even being described as a time machine due to being powerful enough to view past galaxies that have now perished but are still visible due to how slowly light travels. Yep, I’m also just finding out that light is actually incredibly slow on a universal scale. The telescope was launched on Christmas Day and has this week successfully deployed its sunshield, which is apparently trickier than putting up a parasol. Now it’s only a matter of time until we have explanations for some of life’s unanswerable mysteries, such as how the universe began, how planets are formed, how we fit into the Cosmos, and why they’re still making Pirates of the Caribbean films.

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It must be difficult deciding what to do with yourself after leaving a company like SpaceX. I mean, after attempting to colonise neighbouring worlds and make humanity a multi-planetary species, it’s easy to see how anything else might feel a little parochial. This was the conundrum facing 3 former SpaceX engineers – Benson Tsai, Brian Langone and James Wahawisan – so they decided to start a pizza company, obviously. Not just any pizza company, mind you, but one that will have disgruntled teenagers on minimum wage and flour-covered New Yorkers a bit worried, as it is uses an entirely automated process. Stellar Pizza is an automated truck service delivering pizzas to your door and making them en route in just 5 minutes. The company also consists of 23 fellow SpaceX employees who bring together a combined 100 years of rocket science experience. Hopefully one of them can work out how the delivery robot is going to get up a flight of stairs in a tower block.

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This One Time...

As the memory of 2021 begins to fade like fingerprints on an abandoned handrail, let us take a moment to re-live some of the events of last year. But trying to remember stuff is so tedious. So, better yet, remember with your mouth. Ice cream company Salt & Straw has created a limited-edition flavour pack inspired by the most viral moments from 2021, so now, like Patrick Bateman, you can store your precious memories in the freezer. Flavours include ‘Billionaire Boys Space Club’, inspired by the space race between Messrs Musk, Branson, and Bezos and dubbed “the galaxy’s easiest meal”. Another stand-out is the ‘Calamari Contest’ flavour – no prizes for guessing which show inspired that one. And, lastly, ‘#FreeBritney’, which is flavoured with pink bubble gum ice cream, edible glitter, as well as Pepsi and champagne gummy bears. Presumably nutty fruitcake with extra bananas wasn’t available.

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Wrap It Up.

The Mummy – there’s another franchise that went on a little too long, appropriately having its lifeless skeleton preserved beyond its glory days. But there is something undeniably interesting about Mummys. Mummy-in-laws less so, I’m led to believe. This week, researchers used new scanning technology to digitally unwrap the mummified body of the Egyptian Pharaoh Amenhotep I, revealing remarkably detailed information about the ancient pharaoh, including his age, height and facial shape. Researchers had been previously unwilling to try to discover much about this particular mummy, because the wrapping and life-like facemask inset had remained basically perfect for over 3500 years. Now, with this new computer topography (CT) scanning technology, they are able to virtually peel off the various layers of wrapping without disturbing the body. So far they’ve managed to discover that Amenhotep was “169cm tall, had a narrow chin, a small narrow nose, and mildly protruding upper teeth.” Is it just me or is that describing a slightly younger Tom Cruise?

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Holy Shiitake.

You can do some quite extraordinary things with mushrooms. As well as the obvious eating of them, you can also use their Mycellium to make shoes, and, according to your friendly neighbourhood witch doctor, you can even use them to expand your consciousness. Now, it turns out you can also use them to make music. Tarun Nayer grew up in Montreal in the 80s learning about Indian classical music from his teacher Narendra Verma, who was himself a student of the legendary Indian sitar virtuoso and composer Ravi Shankar. Nayar says this gave him a deep appreciation for the meaning of vibrations in music. Now, he’s returning to his roots as well as the literal roots of nature, harnessing the vibrations that exist in all living things around us. By attaching clips to plants, he uses the movement of water inside these plants as electrical resistance, and even small changes in that resistance due to the plant’s natural bioelectric charge manifest as notes of music. Wacky. To see it in action, check the video out here.

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Here They Come.

We started with space travel this week, so we’re going to finish with it too – like a kind of galactic sandwich. However, if the first story was an exciting demonstration of what science and technology is capable of, this one is a little more bizarre. NASA, as in the actual NASA, have apparently recruited 24 theologians – which is twice the number of apostles, just to be extra careful – to determine how different religions around the world would react if contact was made with aliens. I know this sounds like the start of a bad joke, but it’s actually for real. Carl Pilcher, former head of NASA’s Astrobiology Institute, said the theologians were brought in to “consider the implications of applying the tools of late 20th (and early 21st) century science to questions that had been considered in religious traditions for hundreds or thousands of years”. Don’t suppose this could have anything to do with that massive telescope that’s just been launched and could reveal the secrets of the universe, by any chance? Things could be about to get very weird.

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