13 spooky science stories | Popular Science
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13 spooky science stories

Tis the season, after all.

It's Friday. It's also Friday the 13th. And it's also October, A.K.A. Halloweentember. You know what that means: it's time for some spoOooOooOooky science stories. Here are 13 of the most shudder-inducing tales we could find in the Popular Science vaults.

A mysterious submarine death

hunley submarine

CSS H.L. Hunley

U.S. Navy History and Heritage Command

Let's get the party started with some old-school scares. Just this past summer, researchers claimed to finally solve the mystery of the H.L. Hunley, a hand-cranked submarine used by the Confederate army during the Civil War. Their findings were cool and all, but what really blew us away was the mystery itself: All eight members of the crew died seated at their battle stations. The sub was, for the most part, intact, and there was no sign that they had made any effort to evacuate or pump out water. None of them suffered broken bones. By all appearances, they'd died without a struggle. If the image of eight soldiers sitting stoically in wait of death doesn't wig you out, well, sorry. It's wiggy.

Terrifying childcare inventions

Tech can be terrifying, too. Especially old tech. Popular Science is 145 years old (even though we don't look a day over 25) so we can actually pull from our own history for some creep-tastic innovations. Here we have some truly troubling childcare inventions from the early 20th century. Apparently, we once put out a call for readers to invent hermetically-sealed, soundproof tubes in which to stow annoying babies on trains. We would like to formally apologize to babies.

The grossest clam of all time


No thank you please.

Marvin Altamia

As you watch the giant shipworm Kuphus polythalamia ooze out of its shell like Tim Burton's idea of cake frosting, a few words might spring into your mind. "Science fiction plague," perhaps, or "dear god, why have you forsaken us," or "put that thing back where it came from, or so help me." Please enjoy this video of the shipworm in question saying a bright and beautiful good morning to the world:

Two-butted nightmares from the deep

blind cusk eel

The blind cusk eel is NOT what it looks like.


Speaking of nightmare monsters from the deep: this year scientists brought up a whole bunch of off-putting creatures from the deep. An expedition in Australia’s Eastern Abyss showed that when you gaze into the abyss and the abyss gazes back, the abyss is often a fish with two butts. Or one that looks a lot like a penis. Like, a lot. These animals look so much like penises! And that's terrifying. It's basically a rule that any organism that's evolved to live at the bottom of the ocean is going to look really, really weird to us. Whether they're delightful or horrifying is just a matter of perspective.

The haunting voice of a talking monkey

X-ray Video of Macaque Vocal Anatomy

Luckily their brains can't handle the concept of chatter.

Asif Ghazanfar, Princeton Neuroscience Institute

Have you ever wondered what monkeys would sound like if they could talk? No? Well, now you'll be thinking about it for the rest of your life. A recent study used a computer model of the macaque's vocal tract to simulate the would-be mutterings of a monkey with the power of speech. It's horrifying. Check it out for yourself.

The math behind the internet's worst fear

lotus seed pod


Assuming this isn't your first time surfing the good old world wide web, you've probably heard of trypophobia. Technically speaking, that's a fear of holes. But we're talking specifically about the surprisingly common phenomenon in which clusters of holes or hole-adjacent things (think lotus seed heads and honeycombs) make the viewer deeply, deeply uncomfortable. It might be that this strange aversion is triggered by the mathematical similarity between these patterns and the ones you'd see in images of mold and skin rashes, which we've obviously (and rightfully) evolved a distaste for. Find out more—if you dare.

(Also, here's how to deal with a crippling fear of Hugh Jackman.)

What happens to your body if you die in space?

NASA Apollo missions photo composite

It's lonely out in space.


In space, no one can hear you scream. Unless you're in the international space station, which has air that your sound waves can vibrate through. Or, if you're in a spacesuit that also has air in which your vocalizations can travel, and a communication system to broadcast your shouts to fellow astronauts and ground control.

Anyway, it turns out that NASA is really reluctant to talk about what would happen if an astronaut died in space. Where would there bodies go? What would their crewmembers do? Now that longer missions to Mars and beyond are on the horizon, it's a question people have to get pretty serious about. Check out our recent feature on the subject.

Scientists want more body farms

pig corpse

Yup, that's a pig corpse. For science!

Ocean Networks Canada

For the first time, a deer was caught eating human remains

deer eating a carcass

A deer stops in for a quick snack.

Meckel et al., J Forensic Sci 2017

Speaking of body farms, one of them played host to a strange and spooky occurrence that made it into the Journal of Forensic Sciences this year. For the first time ever, scientists captured footage of a deer—just, like, a regular lil white-tailed deer—munching on human remains. Cameras caught a deer (on TWO occasions, mind you) with a rib bone hanging out of its mouth like a cigar. This is the first known evidence of a deer scavenging human remains. Thankfully, this is likely to be a rare event. We think.

Mountain lions are terrified of talk radio

mountain lion

This puma is putting on a brave face.

We're not the only species that gets scared. A recent study on some literal scaredy cats found that mountain lions are so afraid of humans that the sound of talk radio sends them running. Then again, maybe they're just annoyed? Hard to say.

Your halloween costume could make you go blind

people in halloween costumes

It's all very cute until your eyes are infected.

Counterfeit contact lenses are a Halloween staple. For a few bucks, you can pop in a pair of zombified or otherwise seasonally appropriate lenses and dress your eyeballs up for a night on the town. But they can actually cause infections so bad you could go blind. So maybe skip that part of your fabulous ensemble. Speaking of creepy eye content: could we interest you in a story on eyeball tattoos?

Some alternative costume ideas

Old halloween photo

Sorry for harshing your vibe.

Wikimedia Commons

If the article mentioned above has totally ruined your costume plans, here's a gruesome alternative. With two iPads, a cheap shirt, and some fake blood, you can trick friends and family into thinking you've got a gaping hole in your chest. Or you can try, anyway. If that doesn't do anything for you, we've got another 13 suggestions for science-themed costumes. If dressing up isn't your thing, make a flameless hack-o-lantern.

Actual spooky action (at a record-breaking distance)

Earth from space

A Chinese satellite beamed entangled photons to Earth-based observatories more than 700 miles apart.

We can't forget the spookiest science of all: Spooky action at a distance. Otherwise known as entanglement, this weird quantum phenomenon saw unprecedented action in a Chinese experiment published earlier this year. Check it out.

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