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12 Of The Saddest Science Facts Of All Time

It's lonely spacecraft and abandoned animals all the way down. I'm so sorry.

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1. On its first birthday on Mars, the Curiosity rover was programmed to play "Happy Birthday" to itself.

As if being alone on a cold, faraway planet wasn't bad enough.

3. There's a whale called 52 Blue that might be the only one of its kind. It travels alone, singing at a different frequency to other whales.

Purestock / Getty Images

Whale calls are usually around 20 hertz, a frequency only just audible to humans. So when scientists started hearing a 52 hertz call, they didn't work out right away that it was a whale. The scientists wrote in a paper:

It is perhaps difficult to accept that if this was a whale, that there could have been only one of this kind in this large oceanic expanse, yet in spite of comprehensive, careful monitoring year-round, only one call with these characteristics has been found anywhere, and there has been only one source each season.

(Although this story may have a happier ending – some scientists now believe they've picked up similar signals, meaning the whale might not be alone after all.)


5. New Horizons spent nine years travelling to Pluto but only 22 hours collecting data from the dwarf planet.

"Omg hiiii!!!" "Oh ok bye then. :("

6. Scientists accidentally killed the world's oldest known animal when they (also accidentally) discovered it in 2006.

Bangor University

Ming the clam was dredged up off the coast of Iceland in 2006. Ming was one of about 200 clams that were brought up as part of a research project on climate change. All of the clams were frozen – killing them – aboard the boat. A year later the scientists realised what they had done.

It was only when they got the clams back to the lab that they realised how old Ming was by looking at its shell under a microscope. At first they thought it was 405 years old, but a later analysis put its age at 507. That means it was born in 1499, during the Ming dynasty in China. RIP Ming.

7. The two Voyager spacecraft are the farthest human-made objects from Earth, but they're travelling in different directions.


Hurtling out into the cosmos all alone, Voyager 1 is now in interstellar space. Voyager 2 is still in the heliosheath, the outermost layer of a bubble around the solar system created by the solar wind.


9. A spacecraft that launched in the '70s was still transmitting a signal to Earth in 2008, but nobody had been listening for nine years.


It was originally called ISEE-3 and was tasked with investigating the solar wind, then in 1983 changed tack (and name, to ICE) and headed off to look at some comets. ICE was supposed to stop transmitting at some point in the '90s, but apparently someone forgot to tell it.

So in 2008, when it was in orbit around the sun, NASA mission design specialist Robert Farquhar tried – and succeeded – to detect the signal ICE was transmitting.

In 2014, ICE came back from its cometary adventures and passed by Earth. NASA was no longer funding communication with the spacecraft, but an unofficial group called the ISEE Reboot Project managed to speak to it in May that year, and fire the thrusters in July, before eventually losing contact once again.

11. Grizzly bears have been known to abandon single cubs so they can try for a bigger litter the next year.

Karen Bleier / Getty Images

A lone cub would take two years to raise, so the mother wouldn't have another litter for three years if she raised it.

12. Pandas often have twins, but usually the mother can only manage to care for one, so the other is abandoned.

Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

Giant panda cubs can't even open their eyes until they're 6 weeks old, and can't move around until they're 3 months. Poor little guys.

Kelly Oakes is science editor for BuzzFeed and is based in London.

Contact Kelly Oakes at

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