Monday, April 1, 2013

Wise Up! April Fools' from the Science Community

Pranking people is a grand tradition that dates back to who-knows-when, and science pranks for April 1st are no exception. Since the average reader is perhaps quite liable to believe what they read, scientists are at an advantage on this day. After all, who expects a boring scientist to have a sense of humor?

Below are some of the best April Fools' pranks perpetuated by the science community:
Google's Copernicus Center
1959: Dr. Arthur Hayall—not a real person—from University of the Sierras—not a real place—claimed that the moons of Mars were actually artificial satellites. The rumor ran that the Martians were using the satellites as bases. 

1974: John Gribbin published The Jupiter Effect, which stated that the Grand Alignment of planets meant that Armageddon would arrive on March 10th, 1982. (Spoiler: It didn’t.) 

1976: BBC Radio 2 astronomer Patrick Moore announced that at 9:47 a.m. that day, Pluto would pass directly behind Jupiter and their combined gravitational forces would combine to lessen Earth’s gravity. He helpfully hinted that listeners jump into the air at that time to experience less gravity and increasing their buoyancy. 

1996: Discover Magazine announced the discovery of a “bigon,” a new fundamental particle of matter that appears and disappears in mere millionths of a second, and also happened to be the size of a bowling ball. Everything from sinking soufflés to spontaneous human combustion was blamed on the bigon. 

1998: Nature reported a “near-complete skeleton of a theropod [T. rex-like] dinosaur in North Dakota”— which was implicitly suggested to have breathed fire—discovered by Randy Sepulchrave of the Museum of the University of Southern North Dakota. Of course there is no University of Southern North Dakota and the skeleton, dubbed Smaugia volans, derived its name from Tolkien’s The Hobbit. Furthermore, Sepulchrave is a famous fictional character who believed he was an owl and died in a dramatic attempt to fly from a high tower. 

1999:  The Red Herring Magazine published an article on how users could, through a technology developed by computer genius Yuri Maldini, send emails telepathically of up to 240 characters. The magazine received numerous letters from intrigued readers. 

2004: Google announced that they were opening their Copernicus Center, which would be a “lunar hosting a research” site. Applicants need not apply if they couldn’t live without “modern conveniences as soy low-fat lattes, The Sopranos and a steady supply of oxygen.” 

2005: The day before April Fools’, NASA’s Astronomy Picture of the Day contained a teaser announcement “Water on Mars!” The photo ended up depicting a glass of water sitting on a Mars bar, and now the idea that there might actually be water on the red planet doesn’t seem so silly after all. 

2008: The BBC claimed to have discovered a colony of flying penguins and released footage, narrated by Monty Python’s Terry Jones in a David Attenborough-esque manner. (Watch the video here.) 

2012: A mock study titled “On the influence of the Illuminati in astronomical adaptive optics” (pdf warning) described how the nefarious shadow cult is to blame for pretty much everything, including Brittney Spears’ and Lady Gaga’s “astronomical rise to the top.”

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