Showing posts from November, 2006

There Are Negative Calorie Foods

Really. There are foods that take more calories to eat than they provide, at least if you use the term food loosely. Celery, is a good example.

An 8-inch stalk of celery contains approximately 6 calories, but just digesting it will burn more than 6 calories, resulting in a negative caloric intake. Contrary to popular belief, chewing and swallowing the celery doesn't burn the calories, it's digesting the tough cellulose that expends the energy.

You can end up with negative calorie intake from cold diet drinks too. Your body burns calories warming the liquid up to body temperature--usually more than the few calories the drink contains. "Anybody for a cold one?" could be a dieter's rallying cry, but it won't work with beer.

Properly prepared cauliflower, cucumbers, spinach, and other veggies can cause your body to burn more calories than you ingest too. But celery with peanut butter or ranch dressing does not count as a negative-calorie food!


Hot Drinks Make You Colder

Really! Drinking a thermos of hot coffee when you're out in the cold may make you feel warmer because it will increase blood flow to your skin, but in the end the drink will make you colder.

A cup of black coffee has essentially no food calories and adds only 5.5 heat calories if it's at 140ºF. But your body uses 1.5 calories a minute just to keep itself up to temperature and functioning. This means that a cup of hot coffee would only supply enough energy to run things for about 4 minutes. Not much left over to heat your body!

But here's the really surprising part. When you're cold your peripheral blood vessels constrict to keep your skin from acting like a radiator--that's why your fingers and ears turn blue. But caffeine is a vasodilator--it makes the smooth muscle in the vessel walls relax so they become wider and carry more blood.

When you drink coffee more blood flows to your skin where additional heat is lost through conduction, convection and evaporation so you…

Dog-Sized Elephants Basked in the Italian Sun

Really. Pygmy Elephants about the height of a Great Dane lived on Mediterranean Islands not too long ago.

Unlike dinosaurs who died out hundreds of millions of years ago, pygmy elephants lived well into recorded history. They're thought to be pictured below on an Egyptian tomb dating from about 1,500 B.C. The pygmy elephant is the little figure on the left. It's an adult with full tusks and yet it's waist high and being led by a leash!

These puny pachyderms probably descended from normal-size elephants who made their way from Africa to Sicily, Crete, Malta and other islands during the Ice Age when water levels were lower than now. Then, as the Ice Age faded, water levels rose and the creatures found themselves marooned.

Why did they shrink? Probably through a process termed insular dwarfism. As the normal sized elephants used up the island's limited resources natural selection favored the smaller individuals who needed less food to survive. These smaller animals tend…

Cellphones eat chips

Really! Over half of the integrated chips (ICs) being manufactured are going into cell phones.

By the end of next year over 3 billion subscribers, about 45% of the world's population, are expected to be yakking in their car, next you at restaurants, and elsewhere.

One billion cell phones are expected to be sold next year alone, including a new iPhone from Apple, widely rumored to be announced in January. Those rumors suggest the phone will have iPod music capability, a camera, and built-in wi-fi so you can save phone minutes when you're near a hotspot.


The Sky Is Falling

No the sky isn't falling, that's foolishness. But it is interesting to consider how people used to think about the heavens.

In biblical days the sky was referred to as the "firmament," and firm they thought it was--a smooth curved object made of a thin solid material.

The word firmamentum is Latin and a translation from the Greek stereoma, meaning solid dome. That in turn is a translation from the Hebrew rakia, meaning a thin metallic sheet. The sky, they thought, was a close-by, semi-spherical solid dome made from a thin sheet of metal that covered the flat earth, coming down to meet it all around at the horizon.

So when the Book of Revelations in the Bible speaks of the destruction of the Earth and sky, it says--reflecting the then current cosmological ideas and language--"And the stars of heaven fell unto the earth...And the heaven departed as a scroll when it is rolled together" (Revelation 6:13-14).

In other words, about 2000 years ago people thought the w…

Careful! You could trip over a piece of Mars today

Really. Just a few deliberate searches have found 40 pieces of the Red Planet so far. But scientists are convinced that thousands are scattered across the world and that more fall to Earth each month.

We've brought moon rocks to Earth, but so far we haven't been able to bring any material back from Mars. But, never mind, nature has found a way to provide it!

Scientists know that over eons space-rocks ranging from the size of a car to that of a city have plowed through Mar's relatively thin atmosphere blasting chunks of the planet into space. After a journey of millions of miles, and millions of years, some of these outcasts are captured by Earth's gravity and fall to the surface.

A leading expert, James Head, says that impacts big enough to kick material free of Mar's gravity occur about once every 2 million years. "According to the celestial mechanics people, about 7.5 percent of this material is destined to land on the Earth," Head said. "More than h…

Your Sun is Losing Weight

Really. The Sun is the fatso of our solar system representing 99.8% of the mass, but it's losing 5 million tons every second!

The Earth from our vantage point seems pretty darn heavy, but it's puny by comparison to other planets such as Saturn and Jupiter. Indeed all the planets are only two cents out of ten dollars when it comes to mass.

Think of it this way, if you were the Sun your undershorts would weigh more than all the planets combined.

The Sun is mostly hydrogen that's slowly being converted into helium by nuclear fusion..."slowly" meaning that 700 million tons of hydrogen are converted into 695 million tons of helium every second. The "lost" 5 million tons is converted to pure energy as described by E=mc2.

If you'd like to know more about Mr. Sun ("You can call me Sol," he says) he was interviewed back in 1987. You find the transcript here.


Fish Is The Most Popular Thanksgiving Meal

Just kidding, that's foolishness! Of course turkey is the most popular Thanksgiving meal. It is in Canada too, although when they borrowed the holiday they decided to celebrate it in October.

The U.S. annually produces about 266 million gobblers weighing in at over 7 billion pounds! That's about 17 pounds for each American, after exports. Pass the Alka Seltzer please!

Turkey consumption has increased 106% since 1970. Back then half of all the turkey consumed was on holidays, but today it's only about 30%. Turkeyburger anyone?

Happy Thanksgiving!


One Cubic Yard of Ocean Weighs More Than A VW

Really. If you ever got walloped by a wave you know they pack a punch. Here's why.

Water weighs 64 pounds per cubic foot and there are 27 cubic feet in one cubic yard. So a cubic yard of seawater weighs 1728 pounds. The original VW Beetle weighed only 1650 pounds!

If that seems hard to believe, consider that 1 cubic foot is almost 7.5 gallons, and a cubic yard is more than 201 gallons. Kowabunga!


Earth's Core is Hotter Than the Sun

Really! The Earth's core is hotter than the outer layer of the Sun.

The Sun's huge boiling convection cells, in the outer visible layer, called the photosphere, have a temperature of 5,500°C.

The Earth's core temperature is about 6100ºC. The inner core, under huge pressure, is solid and may be a single immense iron crystal. The outer core is liquid, and probably acts as a dynamo creating our magnetic field.

But before you get the wrong impression, keep in mind that the core of the Sun is a broiling 15,000,000ºC. That's enough to vaporize rocks in a comet that gets too close, and enough to give you a nasty burn 93,000,000 million miles away after just a few minutes exposure when you're sun bathing.


The vacuum of space doesn't suck, it blows

Really. When you suck on the end of a straw, a slight vacuum is created inside so you can get those last few drops from the bottom of a milk shake glass. But the vacuum of space contains a repulsive force that's so strong the universe has doubled in size as a result. Okay, that took 8 billion years, but who's counting?

The universe was thought to be unchanging, immutable, the "was," "is," and "will be," until Edwin Hubble showed in 1929 it was expanding. Since that time a major goal of astronomy has been to measure the rate of expansion and understand why.

During the late 1990s, observations by the Supernova Cosmology Project of a certain kind of exploding stars called "type one A supernovae" found that the universe was not only expanding, but--much to everyone's surprise--it was expanding at an accelerating rate. An example of a type Ia supernova is shown below on the outskirts of galaxy NGC 4526.

Recently, a team used the Hubble Space…

Rice-size bacteria would outweigh the Earth

Really. There are so many bacteria on earth, if they weighed even 1/10th as much as a grain of rice they would outweigh the Earth itself!

They're everywhere. Bacteria are the huddled masses of the microbial world, performing tasks that include everything from causing disease to adding nitrogen to soil.

When people think of bacteria, they likely first consider the nasty ones that cause disease, but the bacteria inside all animals including humans makes up less than one percent of the total. Scientists have found bacteria 40 miles high in the atmosphere and beneath the ocean floor some seven miles deep. But by far the greatest numbers are in subsurface rocks, soil and oceans.
How many are there? For the first time, a team of researchers from the University of Georgia has made a direct estimate of the total number of bacteria on Earth, and the number makes the globe's human population look downright puny. The group, led by microbiologist William B. Whitman, estimates the number to …

Deep space is the coldest place in the universe

Not really. The coldest place in the universe is in a cozy laboratory right here on Earth.

Remember, temperature is a measure of motion. If something is hot its atoms are moving fast. Add more heat and they go faster. There's no upper limit. But there is a lower limit to cold because you can slow atoms only so far. Eventually they stop. At that point the motionless atoms are as cold as they can get. This is called absolute zero and occurs at -459 degrees Fahrenheit.

There's nothing in nature that cold. Even the likeliest candidates, objects in remote, dark corners of the universe, are warmed by heat left from the creation of the universe. This ambient energy pervades the cosmos insuring that temperatures in nature normally don't drop below 5 degrees above absolute zero.

There's only been one exception found so far. The temperature of the Boomerang Nebula, 5,000 light-years from Earth, is about 1 degree above absolute zero. It's that cold because it's in a "n…

Our planet is misnamed, should be Water not Earth

Really. Barely 30% of our planet is dry land, and over 70% is water. We've misnamed it.

Because we're terrestrial beasts, and rather self-centered, we focus on the world we're familiar with, the dry land. But the tiny Antarctic krill that whales eat, for example, are roughly twice the total biomass of humans. Phytoplankton may represent as much as 90% of the biomass in the ocean, and produce over 50% of the oxygen we need to live.

In fact, bacteria account for about 50% of Earth's biomass, while humans are only about 0.33% (less than 1 percent!), showing once again it's not all about us.


Atomic nucleus weighs as much as a stadium

Really! If an atom was the size of a stadium the nucleus would be the size of a pea and it would weigh as much as the stadium. Atoms are about 100,000 times bigger than their nucleus, and nearly all the mass of an atom is in its nucleus--yet almost all the space in an atom is occupied by its electrons.

Since the electron cloud around the nucleus of an atom does not have a sharp edge, the size of an atom by itself is hard to define. But for atoms that can form solid crystal lattices, the distance between the centers of adjacent atoms can be easily determined by x-ray diffraction, which gives us an estimate of the atoms' size. Using this method we find that it would take almost 20 million hydrogen atoms to make a line as long as the dash in the word "x-ray".

Atoms of different elements vary a little in size, but not by much because heavy elements have larger positive charges on their nuclei, which more strongly attracts the electrons to the center of the atom. This contracts…

96% of the Universe is missing

Really! Astronomers first noticed part of the universe was missing in the '30s when they looked at the movement of a cluster of galaxies. Galaxies near the edge were moving a bit too fast for the amount of mass that was visible. Then in 1975 a researcher found that the stars in the halo around individual galaxies were rotating much too fast which meant over 50% of the mass that should have been visible was missing.

Today, ordinary mass in the universe, the stuff we can see, is estimated to be only about 4% of everything that's out there! About 22% of the universe is apparently something called dark matter--matter that doesn't emit or reflect electromagnetic radiation. The remaining 74% is thought to be dark energy, an even stranger component of the universe.

Many lines of evidence point to so-called dark matter as the missing mass. How fast galaxies and clusters of galaxies rotate, gravitational lensing, and the temperature distribution of hot gas in galaxies and clusters of…

You lose weight when you're attracted to someone

Really, it's true. You'd need a very accurate scale to see the weight loss, but two people standing close together weigh slightly less than two people standing far apart because the gravitational attraction between them actually reduces their mass.

Matter and energy warp the geometric fabric of space and time. What we perceive as gravity is the space-time distortion produced by energy or mass. Gravity provides a negative contribution to the energy of any pair of objects, and it becomes more negative as they get closer.

If you take a rock and carry it to the top of a cliff you expended energy when you lifted it, you gave the rock energy. When you throw the rock off the cliff gravity makes the rock fall, it looses the energy you gave it. Gravitation has a negative effect on the energy level of the rock. But you have to fall for someone for that to be true.

Because of E=mc2, negative energy is equivalent to negative mass, so the gravitation attraction between two people just standin…

A 5,000 mile wide storm is raging!

Really. There's a violent storm blowing that's twice as wide as the U.S. and packing winds almost two-times greater than the strongest hurricane in history.

Lucky for us it's on Saturn! Revealed by NASA's Cassini probe, the storm is raging at the planet's south pole. It's the first hurricane-like storm detected on another planet. The image shows that it has a hurricane's characteristic eye and wall-cloud structure; and its winds are certainly strong enough! Howling at 350 mph they exceed the winds of the strongest hurricane ever recorded by 150 mph.

Not only bigger and stronger than any Earth-based storm ever seen, it's much higher too. With a ring of clouds towering 20-45 miles above the well-developed eye, it's five times higher than the most powerful storms on Earth.

One NASA scientist said it looks like water swirling out of a bathtub, only on a colossal scale. "We've never seen anything like this before. It's a spectacular storm.&q…

Los Angeles Is Moving To San Francisco

Really! The San Andreas fault, which runs roughly north-south, is slipping, causing Los Angeles on the Pacific tectonic plate to move towards San Francisco, stuck on the North American plate, at about the same rate as your fingernails grow. In about 15 million years LA will be the home of the Golden Gate Bridge.

Projections indicate that the Gulf of California will expand while Baja California and the California coast (including San Diego and Los Angeles) will continue northwestward toward the Aleutian Trench. As the area slides past San Francisco, it will become an island.

A study by Yuri Fialko, an associate professor at the Scripps Institute near San Diego, shows that the San Andreas fault has been stressed to a level sufficient for the next "big one", an earthquake of magnitude 7.0 or greater. It could be tomorrow or it could be 10 years or more from now. Click the image below to see a computer generated model of how it might happen.

Fialko calculated the rate at which the …

Sun Burp Blows Away Nuclear Arsenal

Really! Violent eruptions from our local star are known as coronal mass ejections or CMEs, and just one produces 100 times more energy than all the nukes in the world. During peak activity, when space weather is really bad, these events can happen several times a day.

The eruptions create huge clouds of energetic particles that can trigger magnetic storms, disrupting power grids, and satellite communications.

Much of the time, these outbursts are directed away from the Earth, but some inevitably come our way. When they do, the particles, and the magnetic fields they carry, can have highly undesirable effects. When a big storm hits and the conditions are just right, power grids and spacecraft are affected.

The particles in a CME are hazardous to astronauts; and even airline companies that fly polar routes are concerned about this because CMEs can black-out aircraft communications and irradiate crew members or passengers.

Dr Chris Davis from the UK's Rutherford Appleton Laboratory under…

Earth’s middle shrinks and grows

Really. Earth may look perfectly spherical from space, like a giant marble, but it actually isn't! Instead, our planet is slightly wider around the equator because matter is forced outward by centripetal force as the Earth spins. That's the force you feel on the carnival "Tilt-a-Whirl", where you would go flying outward if you weren't restrained.

However, this bulge at the Earth's midsection isn't constant; it shrinks and grows. Standing on Earth's surface, we can’t see the Earth's shape, much less changes in it. But using satellites researchers watched the equator grow smaller over the past 20 years or so. They believed this had been happening at least since the last ice age 18,000 years ago. Since then, as temperatures warmed and glaciers at the poles melted slowly, little by little the poles became less squashed under heavy ice. Responding to this change, molten rock moved under the Earth's crust from the equator to the poles to fill in th…

Your DNA would reach the moon

Foolishness! Your DNA would actually stretch to the sun and back about 4 times!

DNA is a fine, spirally coiled thread in the nucleus of every living cell that serves as a guidebook so the cells "know" what they're supposed to do. The strands are so fine you need a high power electron microscopes to see them.

The human genome, the genetic code in each human cell, contains 23 DNA molecules each containing from 500 thousand to 2.5 million nucleotide pairs. DNA molecules of this size are 1.7 to 8.5 cm long when uncoiled, or about 5 cm on average.

You have about 10 trillion cells in your body, so if you stretched the DNA in all the cells out, end to end, they'd stretch over 744 million miles. The moon is only about 250,000 miles away, so all your DNA would stretch to the moon and back alomst 1500 times. The sun is 93,000,000 miles away, so your DNA would reach there and back about 4 times!

Interestingly, no more than 1.5 percent of the human genome contains DNA that help…

You don't have the right to vote

Really, you don't. At least not a constitutional right.

The Constitution of the United States was ratified in 1789, but it doesn't guarantee you the right to vote. The earliest known code of justice, found in Iraq (Sumeria), dates back to about 2300 BC. Aristotle, in 350 BC, was the first to draw a distinction between law and constitutional law. But today state law is used to determine your qualification to vote, and your rights vary considerably depending on where you live.

Constitutional amendments have been made over the years to make sure certain voting rights are available to all citizens.

The 15th amendment provides that you cannot be denied the right to vote because of your race or gender. In 1960, citizens in Washington DC--which isn't a state, but at the time had a greater population than 13 of the 50 states--were allowed to vote for President. The 26th amendment gives 18-year-olds the right to vote. You can vote even if you can't afford to pay a poll tax thanks …

Mt. Everest is not the tallest mountain

Really. Let's take an imaginary trip to Nepal. There's Mt. Everest over there. Lets mentally pick it up and fly it halfway around the world to Hawaii. Now put it down so its base is next to that large mountain, Mauna Kea. Step back and look. Surprise! Mauna Kea is over 4,000 feet higher than Everest.

But you've always heard that Everest is the "King of the Mountains." So what's the deal? Here's the confusion. As you noticed when you were putting Everest down, the base of Mauna Kea is almost 4 miles under the Pacific Ocean's surface ... 19,678 feet below, to be precise.

Here's the payoff: if you add that submerged portion of Mauna Kea to the 13, 796 feet that towers above the waves Mauna Kea rises a total of 33,474 compared to Everest's 29,028 feet.

So, give Everest its due for having the peak which reaches highest above sea level, but give Mauna Kea its due for being the tallest mountain from base to summit.

Both ways of measuring mountain…

Old plane was faster than a speeding bullet

Fact. The word's fastest and highest flying airplane, the US Air Force's SR-71 first flew in 1964, and hasn't been matched since! It was clocked at 2,193.167 mph ... that's 3 miles every five seconds and more than 3 times the speed of sound. The muzzle velocity of a Dirty Harry's .44 magnum is only 971 miles per hour. No only the fastest, it flew higher than any other airplane ... over 16 miles up.

Cost to coast in just over an hour? Did it in 1 hour 7 minutes. New York to London in under two hours? How about 1 hour 54 minutes ... including a "stop" for air-refueling.

These performances are still remarkable today; no modern airplane can match them. What's really amazing is that they were accomplished by an airplane designed before the Vietnam War had even begun, the Beatles had just become popular and color TV was still a novelty.


Elephant seals breathe with their spleen

Yup, really. By storing oxygen in their spleen, elephant seals can dive to a depth of more than a mile and stay below for an hour or longer on a single breath. That's deeper than any other non-cetacean marine mammal.

The male elephant seal is best recognized by its odd trunk-like nose. Though truly a face only a mother could love, the flabby protrusion helps him to vocally assert his machismo to receptive females and challenger males. The female's big eyes and puppy-like faces are more pleasing to the eye (ours as well as those of the randy bulls), and female's are significantly smaller than males who can reach up to 16 feet in length and weigh in at over two and half tons.

During breeding season the males remain on land, without feeding, for up to 14 weeks. Throughout that time they battle, sometimes brutally, to defend their harem from other suiters. By the time they return to the water, they've shed up to one third of their body weight.

Elephant seals more typically f…

Lightning strikes once a minute

Not really, in the U.S. alone it averages once each second!There’s a network of antennas that detects and counts each lightning flash in the U.S..Over the years it's counted an annual average of 25,000,000 cloud to ground flashes. Because the average flash strikes the ground more than once, there are about 30,00,000 strikes a year, or about one per second. There are regional differences with some regions experiencing much higher occurrence. Florida is the U.S. "Lightning Champ."Worldwide, there are 16,000,000 thunderstorms a year, with about 1,800 going on at any moment. Lightning bolts reach 50,000 degrees and their normal length is five miles, but one monster was measured at over 100 miles. Be aware that when the "flash to bang" interval is five seconds the lightning is only one mile away and you are well withing range of a 100,000,000 volt "tickle", so it’s a good time to get indoors.PB

On Mercury you'd get 2 years older every day

Really! Here's why.First, Mercury's year, the time it takes to make one trip around the Sun, is short. As the great astronomer Johannes Kepler explained almost 500 years ago, the closer a planet is to the Sun the faster it revolves around it. So Mercury, the closest planet, has the shortest year, only 88 days compared to our 365 days.The other part of the explanation is the surprising length of Mercury’s day. As you know, a planet's day is the time it takes to rotate once with respect to the Sun; the time between one noon and the next. The tidal pull of the nearby Sun is so strong it has slowed Mercury’s rotation to a snail’s pace--slow enough that a day on Mercury is 176 Earth-days long, twice as long as its year of 88 days! Doing a little arithmetic, we divide Mercury's day (176) by its year (88) and confirm that, voilà, during one of its leisurely days Mercury would zip around the Sun twice ... two years.PB

You can see Earth from 1 billion miles away

Really! The NASA/JPL/ESA Cassini orbiter, 1.3 million miles above Saturn, had an opportunity on September 16th to look back toward home when Saturn eclipsed our Sun. Earth (arrow) is nearly 1 billion miles away. Click on the image below to see an enlargement.

How far is a billion miles? Imagine you're traveling 1 mile a second (3600 MPH), faster than the speed of the fastest aircraft, the Lockheed SR-71. Now start counting off the miles. "One, two, three...." If you travel (and count) all day and all night it will take you about 14 days to reach Saturn 1,300,000 miles away in this image. Keep counting, keep traveling, and in 30 years you'll finally make it home to Earth, a billion miles from where this picture was taken.


The Sun is Male

Naw, that's foolishness. As far back in recorded history as you care to go, you'll find people who worshiped the sun as a male god or female goddess. But we know now that our Sun is simply the nearest star, and not a magical figure with any gender.

Still, even today, some people think of the rays of sunlight in a sunset as "Gods' blessing." But if that's true, which of the 113 sun gods is making it happen?

Because I grew up in Guatemala I like the idea that the Quiché Indian's (Mayan) god Ahau-Kin ("lord of the sun face") is at work. Akin to the Christian 3-in-1 Trinity, he was four gods in one: the sun god, moon god, a jaguar god, and lord of the underworld (not hell, but the center of creation where you go when you die and are reborn).

I also lived in Japan, though, and Amaterasu is a sun goddess, and perhaps the most important Shinto deity. She became the ruler of the Higher Celestial Plane (Takamagahara) and is also considered to be directly li…