skip to content skip to search skip to navigation Listen Live skip to logon
Friday 9th October 2015
Max 17°C | Min 11°C

The Mystery Hour - Science and Technology

<a class='autolink' href='/james-obrien-3537'>James O'Brien</a>Thursdays 12-1pm

Every week, James O'Brien enlists the help of LBC listeners to solve the questions you've always wondered the answer to.

It's all about shared human knowledge. Call up with a question and then another listener around the country will know the answer.

But we're strict - no reptition and no dullness (so leave the motoring questions out!). If it's something that most of the audience would say "yes, I've wondered about that", then we want to hear from you.

Browse the archive by subject:
Animals & Nature Culture Human Body Science & Technology
Sport & Games Words Random  

Science and Technology


How long does it take for a body to become a skeleton?

How long does it take to decompose and just leave bones?


Why is snooze on an alarm clock nine minutes?

On an electric alarm clock, why does it give you a nine-minute delay before it goes off, as opposed to 10-minutes or another number?

Why don't chocolate chips melt in cookies?

Why don't chocolate chips melt when they’re put in chocolate chip cookies? They stay as a solid form.

Why do amps make guitar notes go on forever?

A guitar string with no amp stops vibrating quickly, but with an amp, it continues forever. Why?

What is the number on the end of sugar packets?

In paper tubes of sugar, on the ridged piece of paper, there is a number from 1-20 . What does the number mean?

Does bottled water go off?

Does bottled water go off? My step-daughter says it does, but I don't agree.

Do viaducts get heavier when boats go over them?

If you’re going over a bridge in a canal boat, does the bridge carry any extra weight from the boat?

Why are windows on boats always round?

Why are the windows of a ship always round? And why are they called portholes?

Can you compress water?

Can you compress water? If you had an airtight box, would it be possible to compress the H2O?

Why do clouds create turbulence?

On a plane last week, we suffered some severe turbulence when we went through clouds. Why do clouds create more turbulence?
roof tunnel

How do brick roofs in tunnels stick?

When engineers built tunnels, they line the roof with bricks. How do they get them to stick up there before the cement dries?
Wine and cheese thumb.jpg

Can I eat mould growing on cheese?

If cheddar cheese goes white with mould, I cut it off. But I eat Brie, which has mould in it anyway. So could I eat all cheese mould?

Why do all the planets rotate the same way around the sun?

Why do some of the planets not go in the opposite direction?

Why do flammable and inflammible mean the same?

Why do flammable and inflammible mean the same whereas appropriate and inappropriate are opposite?

Can a jumbo jet do a loop-the-loop?

Is a jumbo jet capable of acrobatic manoeuvres, such as a roll or a loop-the-loop?

Why do batteries work a day after running out?

When batteries run out, my radio just turns off. But why is there a little bit of power if I go back a couple of hours later?

What are the spinning discs on the roofs of vans?

On the roof of some vans, you get black spinning discs. What are they?

What is the spinning ball on chimneys?

On some buildings, you see a silver ball spinning on the chimney. What is it?

Why is a pillow so cold when you turn it over?

When you're in bed and you flip your pillow over, it's always freezing cold. Why is it so cold?

How is salt made from two poisonous elements?

Sodium is very poisonous to the human body and so is chloride. So how come you can mix it together it becomes salt and is fine?

Why do watches have quartz in them?

Why do clocks have quartz in them and why is that beneficial?

What is the difference between a pond and a lake?

What is the difference between a pond and a lake? When does a pond become a lake?

Why is the sky blue?

Why is the sky blue? I understand it's a reflection of the ocean, so why is it still blue in the desert?

Why does foil make roses last longer?

My other half wraps rose stems with foil, saying that they last longer. Is she right?

How can shadows be taller than you?

My grand-daughter asked me this weekend: why is my shadow taller than me? And I couldn't answer.
rusty car

Do cars rust more inside or outside?

I'm a car enthusiast and want to know whether my car are likely to rust more if it's in the garage or outside of the garage?
Podcasts ipod

Do iPods get heavier when you add songs?

My daughter was downloading music to her MP3 player and said: "That feels heavier now." I laughed, but it got me thinking: does data weigh anything?

How do synchronised watches work?

You can buy watches that are synchronised to be accurate to within one second. How do they work?

How do jet engines work when there's no air?

When you can't breath in an altitude of 20,000ft, how can a jet engine work when there is no oxygen?

Why aren't bollards higher so drivers can see them?

Why are road bollards made six inches lower than where you can see them from a car?

Why do wing mirrors make seems further away?

On all motor vehicles, why do wing mirrors always make images seem further away than they are? Isn't that dangerous?

Why do wind turbines have such small sails?

Why are wind turbines sails so small? Surely bigger ones would catch the wind more?

Why don't motorbikes get front tyre punctures?

All motorcycle punctures seem to be in the rear tyres. Why don't they get them in the front tyres?

Could we live without the sun?

With all the technology we have in modern times, could we survive without the sun?
<a class='autolink' href='/traffic-road-closures-trains-and-tube-travel-news-3637'>traffic</a>-lights.jpg

How do they measure electricity used by street lights?

How do electric companies bill councils for street lighting when there is no meter on any of the lamp posts?

What's the difference between yellow and white gold?

What is the difference between yellow gold and the more rarely used white gold? Other than the colour!

Why don't we power generators with electricity?

Why can’t electric generators be powered by electricity, rather than gas or petrol?

How do they put a hole in a hypodermic needle?

How do they get the tiny hole down a hypodermic needle? It’s a tiny tube of some sort.

Did we take weapons when we landed on the moon?

When man landed on the moon, did he carry any weapons - just in case there was anything there?

Why can't we put metal in the microwave seeing they are made of it?

Why are we not allowed to put metal in a microwave seeing the inside of a microwave is made of metal?

How did people hear at the back of amphitheatres?

How did people at the back of an amphitheatre hear what the speaker was saying? They wouldn't have had microphones then.

Can opera singers really smash glass?

Is it true that an opera singer can smash glass, or is it an urban myth? And if so, what's the thickest glass they can smash?

How does carbonated water stay fizzy?

When you put air in water, it goes straight to the top and out. So how do they make carbonated water stay fizzy for so long?

What makes a sonic boom?

When an aircraft goes through a sonic boom, what is booming? What actually makes the noise?

What is the highest possible temperature?

The lowest temperature is -273 degrees C - Absolute Zero. But what is the maximum temperature that exists?

Why is plastic always wet out of the dishwasher?

When you unload the dishwasher, why are glass things dry, but the plastic things still wet?

Where are YouTube videos stored?

I love YouTube, but wondered where all the clips are stored? Is there a giant computer somewhere in the world where everything is kept?

How does 100g of ketchup contain 132g of tomatoes?

How does a ketchup bottle which is 100g contain 132g of tomatoes?

How does the sun burn without oxygen?

If fire needs oxygen to burn and there is no oxygen in space, then how does the sun burn?

How do vending machines count my money?

When you use vending machines, how does it know what coins I've put in and how does it know if I've put a dud coin in?

Are London buildings earthquake-proof?

Are buildings in London and the South East earthquake-resident? The reason I ask is that historically, we have them every 300 years and we’re due one fairly soon.

Do upside down rainbows exist?

My Mum told me she once went to the Caribbean and saw an upside down rainbow. Is this likely and if so, why is that?

Why does the FM dial go from 88 to 108?

Why does the FM dial go from 88 to 108? Who decided to use those frequencies?

How much effect does the curvature of the Earth have?

If we were standing side-by-side and one of us moved, how far would be have to be before the curvature of the Earth took effect and we weren’t at the same height

How does toothpaste have perfect stripes?

When you squeeze a tube of toothpaste, how does it come out in three perfect stripes?

Could you climb a ladder to the moon?

Would it be possible to tie a cable from a space station down to Earth and have a lift going up at normal speed?

What is the 'outwards' setting for on a stapler?

On staplers, in the bit that bends the staples inwards, there is also a bit that bends the staples outwards. Why? Is it used for anything?

Why are capsule pills multi-coloured?

The plastic-coated capsules – why are they different colours, eg. half red and half white?

What are the glass 'smoke outlets' on pavements?

On pavements, you get the glass and metal covers with "Smoke Outlet" written on them?

Why don't planes have logos under them?

Why don’t planes put their logos on the underside of their planes? Surely it's free advertising?


Why don't we see the dark side of the moon?

Why don't we see the other side of the moon - the dark side, as Pink Floyd discussed?

What temperature is space?

What temperature is space? When it is outside a planet’s atmosphere, is it a constant temperature?

Why does a teabag inflate when you pour hot water on it?

When you pour hot water on to a tea bag, the bag inflates... why? Where does that air come from?

Why don't saloon cars have rear wipers?

Why don’t saloon cars have rear windscreen wipers? Surely the windscreen still needs cleaning?

Why does stainless steel never go rusty?

Why does stainless steel never go rusty? How do they make it?

Why do I set shop alarms off?

Why do I keep setting off those anti-theft alarms in shops, even when I don't have anything on me?

How do HD TV ads look better?

Why do adverts for HD look better than your normal picture, seeing it can only be as good as your TV is?

Why aren't Aussies upside-down?

We know that Australia is on the other side of the world, but why aren't they upside down when you're there?

Why can't they transmit black box recorder data?

Why can't they download information from a black Box recorder on an aeroplane, instead of having to find the box?

Why can't we re-use water bottles?

When we buy plastic bottles of water, we're told we should not reuse the bottle, but recycle it instead. Why is that?

Why can I see my eye in front of me?

When they shine a light in your eyes at opticians, you can sometimes see the inside of your eye about four feet in front of you. Why?

How come semi-skimmed milk contains more calcium?

Semi-skimmed milk has things taken out of it from full-fat milk, yet contains more calcium. How is that possible?

How do they measure the speed of a sneeze?

I heard that a sneeze reached up to 90mph, but how do they measure the speed of a sneeze?

Why does a necklace clasp always fall to the bottom?

When you wear something around your neck, why is it that after a period of time, the clasp ends up at the bottom of the loop?

Why does vodka contain no carbohydrates?

How come vodka contains no carbohydrates, seeing it is made from either grain or potatoes.

Why is radio reception better when it's cloudy?

Why can I get better LBC reception when it's cloudy? What causes the FM reception to travel further?

Why do headphones have L and R on them?

Why do headphones have Left and Right written on them, but they seem to work the same in each ear? What is the difference?

What was the first electric musical instrument?

What is the oldest piece of music recorded using an electrical musical instrument?

How can something mechanical be addicted?

Once I have started my engine with EasyStart, it won't start again without it.

Why is the Waterloo and City line always closed?

The Waterloo and City Line - it goes just one stop from Bank to Waterloo, yet it's always closed because of signal failure... why?
Petrol Pump

Why do you need gloves to fill up with diesel?

I recently bought a diesel car and when I fill up, I have to wear gloves, as they are covered in diesel. But why?

What did they use to cut the first diamond?

Diamonds are the hardest mineral on earth. How did they cut the first diamond and create a tool to be able to cut it?

Where does the rubber go from worn-out tyres?

Where does the rubber go from worn-out tyres? Why isn't there mountains of worn-out rubber on the roads?

If spacecrafts travel faster than sound, how do the radios work?

When they went to the moon, they were travelling at thousands of miles per hour, faster than the speed of sound - 750mph. How does the sound catch up with the spacecraft?

Can you see a rainbow from both sides?

Can you see a rainbow from both sides? Or is it only visible from a certain place?

Why do planes jettison fuel?

If an empty tank of fuel is more flamable due to the vapours, why do aeroplanes often jettison fuel for safety before crash-landing?

Why does water from a styrofoam cup not mix with the tea?

When you drink tea from a styrofoam cup, why is it the water from the lid sits on top of the cup of tea instead of mixing?

What is a "pollution valve"?

On the M25 by Clackett's Lane, on the hard shoulder, there is a sign that says "Pollution Valve". What does that mean and what does it do?

What keeps satellites in the same place?

I've heard of geo-stationary satellites, which always remain in the same place. But what makes them stay there? And what are non-geo-stationary ones for?

Why are bath bubbles always white?

Soaps and bubble baths come in lots of different colours, so why are the bubbles always white?

How do they make decaffeinated coffee?

How do they get the caffeine out of decaffeinated coffee and tea?

How can mobiles always make emergency calls?

When your mobile phone has no reception and you're unable to make any calls, how come you're still able to make Emergency Calls Only?

Why do we dial 999 for the police?

Why is the emergency services phone number 999, when on old dial phones, it used to take forever as you waited for the dial to return to the starting spot?

What are the metal studs on pavements by buildings?

Why are there metal studs, about the size of a 10p piece, on pavements going around buildings?

Is it possible to tell the age of seawater?

Can you date an area of water to find out how old it is?



How did we work out how heavy the world is?

How can we possibly know the weight of the world?