Does lightning really not strike the same place twice? Are camel humps filled with water? In this week's podcast, Ask Science takes a closer look at 3 common science myths.
Sometimes I envy mathematicians. Nobody ever comes along and says things like, “You know, the commutative property of multiplication doesn’t work when there’s a full moon.” In science, on the other hand, myths and legends pop up in the oddest places. This week I want to take a look at the science behind 3 myths that I’ve heard repeatedly this summer.
Magic Camel Humps
One of the nice things about returning to the US was that my family and I could attend the Fourth of July parade and watch the fireworks. As we sat watching the parade passing by, one of the floats was followed by a pair of camels.
As these unlikely parade members pranced down the street, I heard a person next to me tell his friend, “You know, each of those humps is filled with water--like thirty gallons!” His friend replied that he thought it was closer to a hundred.
Well, first of all, if a camel stored 100 gallons of water in his hump, that would be a pretty big hump! In any case, a camel’s humps aren’t filled with water--they're filled with fat. While that fat could technically be metabolized into water, it isn’t. Instead, the camels use the fat as food storage.
So if their humps aren’t filled with water, how do they go so long without a drink? It’s mostly because of their body composition. Their blood cells are shaped in such a way as to allow their blood to flow even when they are in a state of dehydration. Other parts of their bodies are also designed to minimize water loss: their intestines absorb large amounts of water, as do special glands in their nostrils..
Have you ever heard someone tell you that lightning never strikes the same place twice? Well it does--all the time. In fact, according to the New York Office of Emergency Management, the Empire State Building is hit an average of 25 times per year. During one particularly active storm, it was hit 8 times in less than half an hour.
The NOAA goes on to say that it’s not just tall objects that are struck more than once, but that some locations might be more likely to be hit than others because of the salt and moisture content in the ground, any man-made structures constructed of metal, the shape of the terrain, and even the shape of particular leaves and twigs.
For more details about lightning and thunderstorms, see my episode called What Causes Lightning Bolts.