Scientists have done many great things. Cured diseases. Flown a helicopter on Mars. But one group of them also once studied cats who had had their eyeballs scooped out in order to discover how they land on their feet.
Before the scientists got out their melon baller and set it to cats' eyes, we already knew that cats were able to right themselves as they fell. We also knew that the mechanism was probably to do with both their sight and their vestibular system in their ear, which gives them their sense of balance. Thanks to another experiment that goes against the stereotype of scientists standing around in lab coats looking wistfully at a test tube, we were also aware that if you blindfold an adult cat then throw it in the air it will still right itself to a certain extent, though blindfolded cats landed a bit more awkwardly because they didn't know how far they were off the ground.
So, in short, we basically knew it was something to do with both systems, each playing their part. This wasn't satisfactory, however, for scientists who had their own eyeball scoops and a hankering for some scooping.
Scientists in France wanted to know how much of a role sight played in the cats' incredible self-righting feature and decided that the best way to do this was to study cats who had been blinded from birth. They got six kittens that had been "enucleated" - a scientific term for having their eyeballs taken out - as well as other cats who had not, as a control. For the next 50 days, they set about holding the cats in the air four times every day and dropping them to the ground spine first.
As well as this, they threw the kittens up in the air to see if the extra air time affected their ability to right themselves.
For the first 25 days, the kittens were not able to right themselves, whether they had been blinded or not, as they hadn't yet developed that skill. However, after that time the cats who hadn't met old scoopy began to distinguish themselves from their blind counterparts. The enucleated cats, meanwhile, continued to hit themselves on their backs, probably cursing their poor luck to not end up in the control group.
As time went on, the blinded cats got better at their task. They found that the cats righted themselves during the descent, but had trouble sticking the landing, suggesting that the cats' righting mechanism is largely to do with their sense of balance, but vision played a role in the final part of the landing.
Which I'm sure you'll agree is the knowledge that was worth 12 cats' eyes.