25 Facts You Learned in School That Are No Longer True
You don’t want your kids to think you’re a dinosaur—bring your knowledge up to date with these new facts.
Dinosaurs are not extinct
Kindergartners will laugh at you if they find out you still believe dinosaurs died out 65 million years ago. They’ll point out the blue jays, pigeons, hummingbirds, and seagulls flying around your neighborhood with their dinosaur genes. As paleontologist Steve Brusatte, author of the book The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs, told Reader’s Digest, “Today’s birds evolved from dinosaurs, which makes them every bit as much of a dinosaur as T. rex or Triceratops.” Here are 12 more dinosaur myths you need to know.
Dinosaurs don’t look like big lizards
We now know that many dinosaurs had fluffy, colorful feathers! Paleontologists have found well-preserved fossils showing some dinosaurs with feathers all over their bodies and others with just tufts of downy fluff. They’ve even been able to identify colors by studying tiny structures called melanosomes in the fossilized feathers. “It’s one of the most amazing things that’s happened in my lifetime as a scientist,” Brusatte says.
Brontosaurus is a dinosaur
I’m not sure whether it was elementary school science classes or Fred Flintstone’s Brontosaurus burgers that made the giant herbivore one of the most recognizable dinosaurs to me as a kid. But for more than a century, Brontosaurus wasn’t considered an actual dinosaur: Paleontologist Othniel Charles Marsh named the first fossil of the dinosaur in 1879, two years after he described a similar specimen and named it Apatosaurus. In 1903, researchers decided that the Brontosaurus fossil was a mislabeled Apatosaurus, and after that, they were all officially called Apatosaurus. But wait! A 2015 study explained in Scientific American that new analyses show that the two fossils are different enough to warrant separate genus names, so Brontosaurus is back (no need to unlearn it!). What’s more, the painstaking review of fossils shows that there were many more types of massive plant-eating dinosaurs known as sauropods than paleontologists had previously realized.
George Washington didn’t have wooden teeth
He did have awful dental problems (by the time he gave his first inaugural address in 1789, Washington only had one remaining natural tooth), but Washington never had dentures made from wood. Instead, they were complicated contraptions made from ivory, gold, and lead—some experts suspect people thought they were wooden because the ivory took on stains. Washington’s dentures also contained real teeth, probably from cows and horses and definitely from people. He saved some of his own teeth that had been pulled, and one of his account books lists a purchase of nine teeth from African-Americans enslaved at his plantation, Mount Vernon, according to the estate’s historians. Find out more weird facts about America you never learned in school.
Women suspected of being witches were not burned at the stake
First, no one was burned during the Massachusetts Bay Colony witch scare in 1692. In Europe, convicted witches were sometimes burned, but in England, they were hanged, and that’s the tradition the colonists followed after a group of young girls started having “fits” that the doctor blamed on supernatural afflictions. In all, almost 200 people were accused of being witches; 19 were convicted and hanged. One person was crushed to death under stones. Another myth about the Salem witch trials is that all the accused were women. Five of those executed (including the elderly farmer who was pressed to death) were men; plus, the accusations affected people from all circumstances and social positions.
There are more than three states of matter
You may have learned about three—liquid, solid, and gas. Those are the most common states of matter that we find here on Earth, but beyond our atmosphere, there’s a fourth state—plasma—and it might be the most common in the universe. When you add enough energy to an atom, its electrons can get away from its nucleus and react with a different nearby nucleus, creating plasma, which consists of highly charged particles with very high kinetic energy. Gases like neon are goaded into a plasma state by electricity to make glowing signs; stars are basically huge balls of plasma. But that’s not the only extra state of matter: In 1995, scientists created one called the Bose-Einstein condensate, where matter is super-cooled to almost absolute zero, causing molecular motion to practically stop. Nobody knows whether Bose-Einstein condensates exist in nature, but they can be made in a lab. Researchers are also investigating other states of matter, so the number could keep growing, according to Gizmodo.
We either have eight or 13 planets in our solar system
My sixth grade science teacher taught us “Mary’s violet eyes make John stay up nights plenty” (Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, Pluto)—but then, in the 1990s, scientists found a doughnut-shaped region of the solar system out beyond Neptune that’s filled with asteroids, comets, and icy objects. They called it the Kuiper Belt and redefined poor little Pluto as a Kuiper Belt Object instead of a planet. While many ex-schoolchildren felt betrayed at the time, Pluto wasn’t the first planet to get demoted—it had already happened to a body called Ceres that orbits between Mars and Jupiter. Ceres was called a planet too when it was first identified in 1801, but over time astronomers realized it was part of an asteroid belt and revoked its planethood. But the story doesn’t end there—both Ceres and Pluto got bumped back up into a new category in 2006 when the International Astronomical Union declared them dwarf planets.
We don’t really know all the planets in our solar system
According to NASA, there are three other officially recognized dwarf planets circling our sun (all in the Kuiper Belt, with Pluto) and possibly hundreds more that haven’t been identified yet. And then there’s the mystery of Planet X—so far, it’s only hypothetical, but researchers at Caltech think it could be the size of Neptune and follow an orbit that’s circling the sun way out beyond Pluto. The final tally as of now, according to phys.org, is eight planets and five dwarf planets. Don’t miss these 18 science facts you never learned in school.
A toilet doesn’t flush the opposite way in the Southern hemisphere
There’s some basis for this idea: The Coriolis effect does mean that the Earth’s rotation makes hurricanes and cyclones spin counterclockwise in the Northern Hemisphere and clockwise below the equator. But the amount of water in a toilet is too small to be affected in the same way—it circles down the drain according to whatever forces guide it within the toilet. Any tiny lack of symmetry in a drain, including buildup or a crooked installation, will direct water flow. Take a look at these facts about Earth your teacher never taught you.
Neanderthals may have been as smart as humans
New research suggests that Neanderthals were not hulking cavemen who died out because they weren’t as sophisticated as the humans with whom they coexisted and interbred. In fact, they produced cave paintings in Spain about 20,000 years before modern humans arrived in Europe, according to an article in Nature. They also used tools and made jewelry. So why did they go extinct? A 2017 study published in the journal Nature Communications suggests that they might simply have been outnumbered by the waves of Homo sapiens that filtered into their territory from Africa, beginning around 50,000 years ago; two species can’t occupy the same ecological niche without one changing or dying out.