Tape, Teflon, Velcro, Virility and Mastercard – WIF Simple

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Simple Technologies

That Changed

the World

There are numerous examples of breakthroughs that humans have used or discovered in their existence that have catapulted us to the top of the food chain. The wheel, the steam engine, the printing press, etc. These advances are known to most people, and we realize that without those things existing, we’re still in the dark ages.

But there are also lots of little blips on the timeline throughout human history of simpler things between the lines. These technologies may not have the same lustre as the heavy hitters, but if you tried to imagine your daily life without these things being developed and perfected, you would quickly see that they’re every bit as important. Here are some simple technologies that changed the world in profound ways.

10. Duct Tape

That sticky grey tape that seems to hold most of the world together these days draws its history back to the Second World War. The military used the tape to keep their ammunition boxes sealed, but quickly found that there were tons of other uses for it. What began as medical tape was found to have incredibly adhesive qualities as well as inherent waterproofing, which led to soldiers calling it “duck tape,” referring to a duck’s wicking feathers.

Once the war ended, soldiers returned home and began buying houses en masse. They also took lots of jobs with construction companies, and told their bosses about this incredibly sticky tape they used during the war. The tape was used for all sorts of HVAC applications, but mostly for holding ductwork together. So “duck tape” became “duct tape,” but in 1998, a test of common HVAC sealing materials was conducted. Duct tape came in dead last. Quack.

9. Teflon Pans

When scientists in the 1930s developed a new kind of polymer that was superbly heat resistant and uber-slippery. They used it in war, because that’s just what was going on at the time. But it took until the ‘60s when they decided that it would be great for keeping food from sticking to pans.

And it wasn’t just pans–the non-stick coating known as Teflon changed the home kitchen for good by also being applied to muffin and cake tins as well as cookie sheets. Clean up was a breeze. The coating could handle high heat. The only thing they were kind of bad at was not killing people. The workers that produced Teflon were basically poisoned by the material, and that sickness was passed on to lord knows how many consumers. One of the components in Teflon that was responsible wasn’t banned until 2014.

8. Smoke Detectors

Think of all the things you probably take for granted in our homes in the present day, and smoke detectors are likely near the top of the list. Those little gadgets have saved countless lives, yet you hardly notice them until their batteries run low. They’ve become standard and required in homes these days, so it’s hard to imagine a time when they weren’t around. And they happened by accident.

In the 1930s, a scientist in Switzerland was trying to make a device that detected poison gas in the air. While it failed to pick up the presence of the tested poison, when he lit a cigarette, the smoke did trip the alarm. It took until the late 1960s before they found their way into homes, and have now cut fire-related deaths by half.

7. Viagra

A little blue pill that’s only been around for twenty years shouldn’t have such an impact on the world that it’s had, especially since it’s not cured any major disease, instead letting men experience the wonder of full erections. But Viagra has basically changed sex around the world.

In 1991, testing began on what would become Viagra, but it was developed with the intention of lowering blood pressure. But during the studies, there was a certain side effect that the men involved could not ignore. The development of the drug headed in the direction of restoring sexual health to men, and within ten years, 200,000 prescriptions a week were being filled. It changed the way men confronted diminishing sex drives. It also helped unknown diseases related to erectile dysfunction become treated when men came to the doctor seeking Viagra.

6. Credit Cards

A fixture of every wallet known to man, the credit card is simultaneously boosting the economy and bankrupting countless people with no financial acumen. The concept of “pay us later, we’re sure you’re good for it,” and then tacking on insane interest amounts is a fairly new concept. At least in card form. But they’re ubiquitous now, with around 18 billion in use.

In 1949, businessman Frank McNamarawas at a restaurant and realized he had forgotten his wallet. This made him envision a kind of card that could be used at multiple businesses. He started Diners Club the next year, and within the next decade, more and more banks started making their own credit cards. Fast forward to present day, and Americans alone possess over a trillion dollars in credit card debt. So in less than a hundred years, we’ve done some damage, haven’t we?

5. UPC Codes

You’ve seen that little box of black lines on the side of every product you buy, even more so when you’re struggling to find them in the self-checkout line. The UPC code (Bar Code) gets scanned, the price shows up, and it’s a pretty expedient process. But how did that get to become the norm?

In 1948, Joseph Woodland (who had actually worked on the Manhattan Project to develop the first nuclear bomb) was responding to a query from a local store owner about how to speed up the process of buying products in his store. Woodland thought about Morse Code and its simple way of giving lots of information with dots and lines, so he made that his inspiration. His innovation could describe an item and its price all at once, instead of the snail’s pace of non-automated operations that most stores suffered through. The only thing that held back progress was the lack of computers readily available to read the code, so it took until 1974 when the technology began to roll out to stores nationwide.

4. Barbed Wire

Two problems faced the American West as it grew and expanded: cattle were getting loose and trampling precious crops, and there wasn’t enough wood in those regions to build fences. The Homestead Act of 1862 made it so many people could get vast tracts of land for next to nothing, so it was important that they be able to work that land and have secure properties.

Enter Joseph Glidden of Illinois, who patented barbed wire in 1874. It wasn’t without its growing pains, as the wire trapped dumb cows by the thousands, and cowboys hated their herds being restricted by the artificial borders. And those very borders that marked a person’s property also screwed over Native Americans, as these practices left them with even fewer claims to their ancestral lands. The Homestead Act required that a person build a home and work the land for five years before it would become theirs to own. The barbed wire was a metaphorical and physical realization that their way of life was over.

3. Velcro

Zippers were still very much the rage in 1941, when Swiss engineer George de Mestral came upon an idea while walking his dog in the woods one day. He noticed how his clothing and his dog were covered in sticky burrs, the pointy little things that always prick your fingers are you’re removing them. Under a microscope, he saw how the curved hooks of the burrs met with his clothing in an almost perfect marriage. Zippers were no longer the only game in town.

Zippers tended to jam all the time. Velcro, as it would come to be in 1955 (from the French words “velour” and “crochet”) didn’t have that problem. Though originally implemented in clothing, it’s now used in everything from sporting equipment to NASA craft. And whoever began using it in little kids’ clothing should eventually get their own medal.

2. Daylight saving time

Ok, so maybe not exactly a technology, but the advent of daylight saving (it’s not “savings”, by the way) time has changed a lot about our modern world. First started in Germany in 1916 as a way to enjoy the sunshine and to conserve electricity, it began to catch on in other countries around the world soon after.

In the United States, it was started in 1918 as a wartime practice. It was repealed the next year after farmers protested; the next few decades saw back and forth fighting and different start times for daylight saving across the country. Finally in 1966, the Uniform Time Act made time, uh, uniform across the country. The central concept, energy conservation, doesn’t really seem to be a benefit though. The stuff that uses the most electricity in our homes are things that get used the more we are home, if that makes sense. It seems that the money that gets boosted into the economy by people enjoying more leisure “daytime” in the evening is enough to keep the practice in use.

1. Transistors

Think of the devices that power your everyday life: smartphones, computers, tablets, etc. They all have one thing in common at their very core, and that’s the very simple transistor. The development of the transistor signaled the developmental shift from hardware to software, and it’s why technology has surged light years ahead since its inception.

A transistor is merely a type of semiconductor that either amplifies signals or switches them. Invented in 1947, it was a device far ahead of its time, and as computing devices grew and became more efficient, so too did the transistor. Computers got smaller and became household items, while transistors shrunk down to the size of a few nanometers. Those tiny transistors are one of the only unchanged (aside from size) building blocks of the entire digital age.


Tape, Teflon, Velcro, Virility and Mastercard –

WIF Simple

Contemplate ~ Deliberate ~ Meditate ~ Ruminate – WIF Reflection on the Human Brain

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Your Brain

is Crazier

Than You Think

The human brain is, so far as we know, the most complicated thing in the universe. It exists in the lonely darkness of the skull, but by interpreting electrical signals from the senses it’s able to build up a detailed picture of the world around it.

Quite how accurate this picture is, and how closely one person’s version of reality matches with that of another, is not known for sure. It is nonetheless an impressive trick.

There’s still a great deal we don’t understand about the human brain, and it may well be that we’re never going to be smart enough to figure it out completely.

We do know that a lot of strange and extraordinary things are going on inside our heads. These are ten reasons why your brain might be crazier than you think.

10. Your Brain’s too Complex for a Supercomputer

Japan’s K computer is one of the fastest and most powerful supercomputers in the world. Its 88,000 processors are capable of an astonishing 10.51 quadrillion computations per second, and it chews its way through roughly the same amount of electricity as a medium-sized town.

Since becoming operational in 2011, at which point it was ranked as the fastest computer in the world, the machine’s capabilities have been harnessed for medical research, disaster prevention, and modelling climate change. In 2014 it was used to create the most accurate simulation of a human brain’s activity ever attempted.

Only a mere 1% of the brain’s entire neural network was simulated, anything more would have been too much even for a machine as powerful and sophisticated as the K Computer. Even then it required some heavy lifting, and it took the Japanese machine some 40 minutes to replicate just one second of brain activity.

The K Computer is due for retirement in August 2019, having been surpassed by ever faster and more powerful machines. Even these are not yet capable of replicating the complexity of the human brain.

9. Memory Capacity

In 2007 a Canadian named Dave Farrow broke a world record when he successfully memorized a sequence of 3,068 playing cards.

While this is an extraordinary achievement, particularly for those of us who struggle to remember where we left our keys, it only scratches the surface of the human brain’s memory storage capacity.

Until recently this was believed to come in at somewhere around one and ten terabytes, but recent studies suggest the true total is several orders of magnitude greater.

Researchers at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies believe the average human brain can store over a petabyte of data. That’s the equivalent of 20 million four-drawer filing cabinets filled with text, or around 2% of the total number of written words in every language in all recorded history.

Much of this capacity is devoted to such things as ensuring you don’t wake up having forgotten how to read a book or drive. By necessity, only a fraction of the remainder is available to you at any one time. It would be enormously inconvenient if you had to trawl through your memories of everywhere you’d ever been to work out where you lived.

8. Half a Brain can be Enough

Human brains are by no means the largest brains in the world. That particular distinction belongs to the sperm whale, whose brains are around six times as heavy as our own. However, comparing brain size with body mass is a far better indication of intelligence. By this measure the humble tree shrew comes out on top, with humans placing in second.

Surprisingly, it’s possible to remove an entire hemisphere of a human brain with no negative impact on the individual’s intelligence or memory.

In rare cases surgeons have no option other than to perform a hemispherectomy in order to prevent a patient’s seizures. In an adult this would be catastrophic, but the outcomes for children who undergo the procedure at a very young age are surprisingly positive. Their brains are able to adapt in a way that an older brain could not.

A recent study found that not only are most of the children who underwent the procedure seizure free, many were thriving. One had even gone on to become a state chess champion.

7. You Might Not Have Free Will

It seems obvious that humans have free will. We make thousands of decisions every day, and every time we act on these decisions we experience free will first hand. There is, however, a strong case to be made that free will is nothing more than an illusion conjured by our brains.

While it used to be believed that mind and matter were two separate entities, we can now say with a good deal of confidence that mind does not exist independently. The brain seems to be entirely material, which suggests that it must obey the law of causality – that every effect must have a specific cause.

This leaves little or no room for free will. Any decision we make or action we take is an inevitable result of the brain state which immediately preceded it, going back to even before the moment we were born.

This sounds odd, but it’s an established fact that humans are terrible judges of their own behaviour. They can be manipulated into acting in a certain way; when asked why they have done so they will subconsciously post-rationalize the action and insist they had made a decision based on their own free will.

The question of whether free will really is an illusion is far from settled, and a new $7 million study has just been launched in an attempt to come to a definitive answer.

6. Brain Plasticity

In 2014 a Chinese man visited his doctor’s surgery in Great Britain complaining of headaches and strange smells. Scans revealed a parasitic worm burrowing its way through the unfortunate man’s brain, and doctors believed it had most likely been in there for as long as five years.

That he had been able to function for so long with such relatively manageable symptoms is testament to the brain’s remarkable ability to reorganize and rewire itself.

Whenever we learn a new skill, or even form new memories, the brains physical architecture remodels itself. The hippocampus, a region of the brain associated with spatial navigation, is significantly larger in London taxi drivers than in the average person. Differences in brain structure have also been found between musicians and non-musicians.

The brain’s 90-billion or so neurons are linked by trillions of connections. Learning a new skill forms new links, while recalling a memory strengthens existing links. Our brains are constantly changing, adapting, and forming new connections. It’s this brain plasticity that means stroke victims are often able to make a full recovery despite suffering permanent damage to parts of their brain.

5. Your Brain Might be a Secret Genius

For 31 years Jason Padgett’s existence was relatively unremarkable. He worked as a futon salesman, and his free time revolved around drinking and picking up women.

That all changed in 2002 when he became the victim of a vicious, unprovoked assault outside a nightclub. Padgett managed to stagger to a hospital across the street, where he was diagnosed as having suffered a severe concussion.

Padgett’s life would never be the same again. The violent attack had somehow unlocked a previously untapped ability in his brain.

Whereas previously he had shown no particular interest or aptitude for mathematics, the attack had transformed him into a mathematical genius. Even the way he saw the world had been profoundly changed. It looked as though it was pixelated, and everywhere he looked he saw complex mathematical shapes known as fractals.

While Padgett’s experience was extremely unusual, it wasn’t entirely unique. There are other instances of people suffering a brain injury, only to come into possession of extraordinary new abilities.

Acquired savant syndrome is rare, with only a few known cases across the world. But some scientists believe almost any human brain could potentially be rewired to unlock the genius within.

4. You Remember the Past all Wrong

Our memories are fundamental in determining our sense of self. Without them we would be both literally and figuratively lost in the world. Considering their profound importance to us, it’s surprising just how unreliable our memories are, and how little we know about how they are formed.

Conventional wisdom has it that memories are recalled through connected neurons across the brain all firing at the same moment. Other research suggests that memories physically reside within brain cells.

However it’s done, the results aren’t terribly reliable. Memories aren’t recorded perfectly ready to be retrieved with total clarity at some future date.

According to research conducted by neuroscientists such as Daniela Schiller, each time we recall an event our memory of it is brought into an unstable state within the brain. When it is stored back into memory again our recollection of that event is slightly altered.

We use our memories to tell ourselves a story of who we are, but our source material is deeply unreliable.

3. When You Go on a Diet, Your Brain Eats Itself

The human brain is made up of something in the region of 90 billion neurons. Until recently it was believed that all of these are present from birth. We now know that through a process called neurogenesis it is possible for even adult brains to create brand new neurons. This is good news as we’ll lose plenty of neurons as we navigate our way through life.

Obesity, smoking, alcohol, and cocaine have all been linked with killing off brain cells and even physically shrinking the size of the brain, and a recent study suggests that even dieting can cause the brain to cannibalize itself.

Despite only weighing about 3 pounds, the brain consumes about 20% of the body’s energy, and when there’s fewer calories than expected coming in it doesn’t seem to much like it.  The neurons start cannibalizing each other, which sends out an urgent message to the body that it needs to eat something in the very near future. This explains why losing weight can be so difficult.

2. Your Brain Doesn’t Have Pain Receptors

When our bodies suffer physical injury, pain receptors fire warning signals up the spinal column to the thalamus, which serves as the brain’s sorting house for sensory signals. The message is then passed on to the regions of the brain that deal with physical sensation, thinking, and emotion. This results in the deeply unpleasant sensation of pain.

If the brain itself is injured, this doesn’t happen. It doesn’t have any pain receptors of its own. This means it’s quite possible for surgeons or neuroscientists to poke around in somebody’s brain with them fully conscious and in no discomfort. The patient is then able to assist doctors in mapping out the brain, helping to ensure no damage is done during the operation.

One Brazilian man named Anthony Kulkamp Dias even kept himself entertained by playing guitar whilst undergoing brain surgery.

1. Synesthesia can be Learned

Synesthesia is a condition that causes two or more of a person’s senses to become mixed up. One of the most common types is to perceive numbers as having a particular color. However, it comes in a wide variety of flavors, such as tasting words or perceiving the days of the week as having specific personalities or appearances.

The condition is often associated with particularly creative people. The famous physicist Richard Feynman saw equations in colors, and this may have helped him win a Nobel Prize in physics in 1965.

Around 1-in-300 people are born with synesthesia, but it’s possible to train your brain to experience it. A study at the University of Sussex in the United Kingdom had subjects read books where certain words appeared in a certain color.

After several weeks of training most of the group reported seeing those colors even when reading standard black text. However, it seems the effects were not permanent, and within a few weeks the synesthesia had worn off.


Contemplate ~ Deliberate ~ Meditate ~ Ruminate –

WIF Reflection on the Human Brain

Getting to Know Our Neighbors – WIF Solar System Perspective

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Fascinating Mysteries

of the Planet Mars

For being one of the closest objects to us celestially, we still know about as much about the planet Mars as we do the depths of the ocean. Which is to say, not a lot. The things we’ve seen in pop culture about Mars makes us conjure a red, dusty planet where Matt Damon grows poop potatoes. But there’s more to Mars than that.

Mars is the second smallest planet in the solar system (with only about 10 percent of Earth’s mass), yet Earth and Mars have about the same amount of actual land. Mars also has the tallest mountain in the entire known solar system. Mars’ largest moon, Phobos, will be torn from the planet’s orbit one day, creating a ring that will last hundreds of millions of years. Those are some really cool things that we know about the planet. But there still remain many Martian mysteries that we haven’t quite figured out yet.

10. Mars has two drastically different hemispheres

The northern and southern hemispheres of Earth may have different kinds of topography, but they’re relatively similar. Mars, on the other hand, has a much lower and flatter northern hemisphere, while the southern hemisphere has an average elevation that’s about 3 miles higher. That’s a pretty drastic difference, geologically speaking, and no other planet we know of exhibits such a trait.

Scientists once thought that a huge asteroid could have crashed into the top half of Mars early in its life, making a much flatter northern hemisphere. Later computer simulations rendered that theory less than ideal, unless the asteroid only glanced against the planet. Like a big, rocky kiss that flattened part of Mars. Newer theories suggest that the resulting magma flow from such a cosmic punch would have inundated the southern hemisphere, creating the resulting terrain elevation difference.

9. Mars has a lot of methane (usually produced by living things)

We humans normally come across a slight knowledge of methane amounts from jokes about cow farts. And that’s part of it. Methane is a greenhouse gas that contributes to the rising warmth of Earth. It’s trapped in our atmosphere and causes the temperature of our planet to rise even more than carbon dioxide does.

Mars, curiously, has a lot of methane too. But here’s the kicker: methane is usually released by living things. At least for the most part. So why is a planet that we’ve never discovered life on releasing a bio-signature? Well, we don’t know yet. It could have been trapped under ice for ages, or caused by a release from ancient microbes on the planet, or even from a freak chemical reaction. We do know that a plume of methane was detected by spacecraft in Mars’ orbit more than once, which is notable because the gas is finicky to pick up, especially in such a thin atmosphere that the planet possesses.

8. Mars has signs of water, but it can’t be from the surface

The discovery of ice near the poles of Mars sent ripples throughout the scientific community in 2008. If there’s ice, that means there’s water, and if there’s water, that means there could be life, right? Well slow down there, Andretti, because there’s a lot more going on here.

Yes, there have been more and more spottings of icy polar caps and frost-filled craters. And that’s really cool. But what if we told you there was a subterranean lake of standing water on Mars? It shouldn’t be possible. Liquids at that depth from the surface should have a temperature of -68 degrees Celsius. Orbiting satellites have yet to get a visual on this “lake,” but that could be hard since, you know, it’s underground. And of course a portion of the science community is using this to prove that life on Mars is an indisputable truth. It is pretty tempting, especially if you think back to how and where we humans began.

7. Can we live on Mars?

This one seems pretty straightforward. It would be a hard no, correct? At least with the technological capabilities we have currently? And the atmosphere is way different than Earth’s, so we couldn’t just walk around like we do in everyday life.

Yet in direct defiance of all things holy and sane, NASA is determined to get the ball rolling on human colonization of Mars. By 2030, they think they’ll get feet on the red planet. Radiation is an obvious concern if we were to ever set up shop there, so underground shelters would be a requisite. We can’t grow food in the soil. Like, at all. But, humans had to start from scratch here on Earth, so we would likely at some point find a way to use Mars’ alien resources to develop new methods of survival. There really isn’t a way to know how we could fare on Mars, long-term, until the first people reach the planet.

6. Why did Mars totally change its climate?

One billion years, in the grand scheme of the universe, isn’t much at all. Four billion years ago, judging from the vast veins of old waterbeds on Mars’ surface, water flowed all over the planet. Since we know that Mars is about four and a half billion years old, science can say with some certainty that the red, dusty planet we think of now actually used to be quite moist.

Then somewhere along the way in the next few billion years, something happened. The atmosphere of Mars starting disappearing. The sun reached the next stages in the life cycle of a star and became hotter. So how did the red planet continue to have water in a place in the universe where the sun should have evaporated it all? Scientists have a pretty cool-sounding theory that maybe Mars was in orbit much closer to the sun, closer to Venus, and then began trailing behind like a C student, eventually ending up where it presently resides. It’s also about the best answer we currently have, because we don’t even really know why Earth has water.

5. We don’t know much about Mars’ two moons

For being as close as it is to Earth, we know very little about Mars, and even less about Mars’ two weird moons, Phobos and Deimos. Some think they may have possibly been asteroids that were snagged into orbit by Mars, but the problem with that theory is that the shapes and angles of the moons don’t necessarily fit that scenario. More likely, something struck Marshard, and flung the eventual moons out into orbit.

While we’re in the realm of the weird, there are some formations on Phobos that would give conspiracy theorists night sweats. There’s what seems to be a large rectangular monolith on Phobos, standing over 90 meters tall. While it’s likely just an abnormal chunk of Martian rock, it’s still pretty notable.

4. What caused the bright white light in a 2019 photo?

When you are in charge of receiving photos of Mars from a rover light years away, you might be taken aback when you see a picture with a bright white spot where there shouldn’t be one. An image taken in June 2019 by the Curiosity rover showed a weird white glow emanating in the distance behind some hills.

Aliens were the immediate explanation by non-scientists, as you would expect. But it was most likely a lens flare or a cosmic ray, and NASA admittedly has captured tons of these things. The white anomaly doesn’t show up in pictures taken immediately before or after the event, and the team that created the Curiosity’s camera system says that they come across oodles of pictures with bright spots every week. Still, can they prove it was a lens flare? That seems exactly like something aliens would say to throw us off.

3. What lines the dry ice pits at Mars’ poles?

We mentioned before that the poles of Mars contain some known deposits of ice, which means liquid, which means potential for life. We also know that near the southern pole is a sub-glacial lake, the first known stable body of water we’ve found on the planet. What’s really interesting about those polar caps is that nearby there are some pits of dry ice that are lined with … well, we don’t really know.

There is some kind of dust that lines these gorgeous pits. They’re huge, some of them two hundred feet across. There is a possibility that the dust they’re lined with what could be gold, but we still don’t know for sure.

2. How do Mars’ giant dust storms happen?

Dust-Storm-On-Mars

The thin, brittle atmosphere on Mars is absolutely perfect for some truly epic dust storms that can shoot particles at speeds of over 60 MPH and, in some cases, cover the entire planet for weeks at a time.

Thing is, those planetary-scale dust storms still hold a lot of mystery in them. We think that they may be the largest dust storms in the solar system, and since the planet is essentially a desert, it doesn’t take much to get them rolling. And while science is pretty sure that sunshine is the catalyst, they aren’t too sure how they get to become so massive. One theory thinks that the dust particles are warmed by the sunlight, which then warm the thin atmosphere, causing more wind, and thus capturing more particles in a repeating cycle. We, of course, still say aliens.

1. Did Earth life come from Mars?

Bear with us here, because we’re about to get weird. So, perhaps you’re already passingly familiar with the basic theories of how life began: Big Bang, primordial ooze, etc. Well, early on in Earth’s history, the building blocks of life were pretty much non-existent. Remember how we mentioned that early Mars could have been a quintessential Goldilocks planet? What if the essentials for life came from outer space, survived the trip on a meteorite, for example, and arrived on Earth and evolved there? It’s something science is highly considering.

It’s called panspermia, and it suggests life arrived on our home planet in the form of spores. So basically, life may have arrived on Earth, not started on Earth. The primordial soup version of life-building holds some water, sure, but it’s that exact water that almost kills RNA (a fundamental part of genetics) in its tracks. Minerals like boron and molybdenum give life to RNA, and those were plentiful on Mars four billion years ago. So when we talk about aliens on Mars, we’re probably just referring to our last universal common ancestor.


Getting to Know Our Closest Neighbor –

WIF Solar System Perspective

SETI, Bicycles, Gravity, Placebos and Baghdad – WIF Scientific Mysteries

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Science Still

Hasn’t Solved

These Mysteries

The science community has granted us a wealth of knowledge that can never be overstated. Things that used to mystify our ancestors can now be understood and more appreciated. It’s shaped our view of the world, the universe, the animal kingdom, human psychology — literally everything you know has been helped along by science and the men and women who dedicate their lives to finding out the whos, whats, whens, whys, and hows of stuff. We owe them a tremendous debt of gratitude.

But with science having that intrinsic aspect of being ever-evolving, it’s never foolproof or absolute. Built right into the scientific method are allowances for screw-ups or just plain not knowing something. And you might be surprised that some very basic parts of life here on our planet totally baffle some of our best and brightest smarties. Here are some examples of mysteries that science has yet to crack.

10. Why do we sleep?

Now here is one you think we’d have nailed down by now. Almost every single person in the world sleeps daily (unless you’re a Rolling Stones guitarist). And the answer probably seems obvious to most of us: we sleep to rest our bodies after the day. We can hold off on food, water, even sex for days on end, but when it’s sleepytime, nature takes over and our bodies ask for the check.

Except it’s not as simple as just needing rest. Science has educated guesses which include all sorts of reasons for sleep, like making time for our brains to get things in order after a long day, to reinforce memories, or to replenish fuel lost while awake. But then you throw in examples of plants and other organisms that don’t have any brains at all like we do, yet still have “sleep” patterns similar to ours, and people who have gene mutations which let them function without much sleep at all, and we begin to see our very limited understanding of why we sleep.

9. How does gravity work?

Gravity, as we learn in school, is very simple… right? There are forces within our planet that pull things toward the center. So if you throw something in the air, it comes back down. Gravity keeps you on the ground. It’s also what keeps the planets orbiting around the sun. This is all very simple, and we’ve known it since we were able to learn information. So why does science have so much difficulty explaining it?

Basically, gravity is one of four forces in our universe, which also include electromagnetism, strong nuclear, and weak nuclear. Gravity is the weakest of the four, and while we seem to grasp the concept of gravity with earthly examples, when things get too small or too big, like black holes and atoms, that’s when science and Newton’s principles don’t really make sense. And a simple science experiment you’ve seen before, where a balloon rubbed on your shirt creates enough electromagnetism to negate gravity and lift your hair or a piece of paper, shows just how easily gravity can sometimes, well, disappear.

8. Why are most people right handed?

People seem to take notice when someone uses their left hand for something, as if it’s some kind of freak mutation that’s just manifested itself. And while it’s rare for someone to be a natural southpaw (about 10 percent of the world’s population), it’s not quite the same as running across someone who, say, has horns growing out of their head.

So why do people deviate from the norm, in terms of handedness? Is it a genetic mutation? The environment they’re brought up in? Is it hereditary? Science doesn’t really know, and it doesn’t even really have an empirically-established way to measure handedness. Science does lean toward genetics, but there are even problems with that, as some teachers in school force children to become right handed when learning to write, and there is some data as to cultural and societal factors influencing which hand becomes dominant. Weirdly enough, we’ve learned why people become right-handed, but not why right is the “right” way. If that makes sense.

7. Why does anesthesia work?

It’s the divine gas that makes people not have to be acutely aware of their leg being amputated, among other things. The introduction of anesthesia granted patients the ability to snooze through all sorts of medical procedures, and it’s been a godsend since the mid-1800s — not only for the patients, but for doctors who had to deal with squirrely, wide-awake amputee victims. What started as an inhaled ether on its inception has become a more refined chemical blend that renders the recipient unconscious.

But we don’t really know how it does that. Think about it. When you’re asleep, you’re unconscious, right? But you would sure feel a scalpel opening you up, wouldn’t you? So why is the anesthesia unconsciousness different? And it’s an even bigger mystery as to how the diverse chemicals in the anesthetic, ranging from steroids to inert gases, can work together to achieve such a deep unconscious level that takes you about as close to death’s door as is possible. It seems that under anesthesia, different parts of the brain are affected much like a coma patient’s brain would be. All in all, it’s a wonderful tool in medicine and we don’t really know why.

6. Why do cats purr?

“Awwww, it’s because he/she LOVES ME!,” you likely think to yourself, ignoring the fact that if that cat was a little bigger, it would probably try to rip your face off. But it’s not a stupid assumption — most people probably associate the low rumbly purr of the kitty-cat to a feeling of happiness or contentedness. Science as a whole shrugs and meekly mumbles, “I dunno.”

See, cats also have a tendency to purr when they’re scared or hungry. Purring probably isn’t a form of communication, as it’s too low and local to be really effective. Also, in the realm of just pure weirdness, science has discovered that purring has been linked to bone regeneration. So there are many theories we have for why kittens just sit there and gently hum their bodies, but most likely it’s just a way for them to soothe themselves. Kind of like how we laugh for several different reasons.

5. Why was there a mysterious hum in New Mexico?

New Mexico has had a weird history of everything from nuclear bomb testings to Walter White standing on a dirt road in his tighty-whities. But the residents of the northern town of Taos have their own strange tale to tell, and it’s in reference to a local phenomenon called the “Taos Hum.”

Since the early ’90s, people in the town have described some kind of tangible audio event. Some call it a whirring kind of noise, or a buzz, or a humming in the air around Taos. A professor of engineering at the University of New Mexico studied the sounds around Taos, and noticed that around 2 percent of the population was susceptible to the strange hum. That doesn’t mean that they picked up any unusual sounds while conducting their research. Quite the opposite. Their very sensitive audio recording equipment and vibration sensors picked up nothing out of the ordinary. The fact that the townsfolk heard differing kinds of sounds is also of less scientific value than if they had all heard one low, persistent hum. And that’s why science is more keen to dismiss the Taos Hum as being part of the onslaught of background noise humans live in these days, mixed with subjective hearing experiences from the people themselves. The residents of Taos, however, stand firm in their belief of a weirder explanation. It is New Mexico, after all.

4. The ancient Baghdad batteries

Now, hear us out here. What if we told you that researchers working in Iraq in the 1930s found what totally appeared to be some kind of crude battery that may have been used to produce electrical charges, and that it likely dated from around 200 BC? Of course, that would predate that kind of technology by a couple thousand years.

What archaeologists originally thought were some kind of clay storage pots turned out upon closer inspection to contain copper rods within them. This led the scientists to strongly believe the pots would have held some kind of substance that would react to the copper rods and produce electricity. But why? Theories range from using the charge to shock people as punishment (those were stricter days), to using that electricity to electroplate things with gold. Another school of thought is that they found a way to make electricity long before knowing what the heck it was good for, kind of like the Chinese with gunpowder. Our turbulent history with Iraq doesn’t help us figure much of anything out, either.

3. Why does the placebo effect work?

You’ve all heard the basics of the placebo effect: it’s a treatment that isn’t “real,” but the very act of a patient believing in its effectiveness creates its own beneficial properties. If you expect a pill or drug to do something, it’s likely to work in some way. It seems mean, but science uses placebos especially when testing a new medication’s effectiveness. Which, maddeningly, is skewed because sometimes these placebos work. But why?

Beats us! The point of a placebo is you don’t know you’re taking it. But that opens up a whole host of problems because placebos can often work even when you know you’re taking one. That clearly goes against its entire purpose. In 2009, researchers testing treatments for irritable bowel syndrome found many subjects who knowingly took placebos got better at higher rates than those who received no treatment at all. That’s absolutely insane. And it seems that a person’s personality is tied to whether the placebo effect will work or not. But that’s just a guess so far. If that’s not enough stuff that science doesn’t get, there’s also potentially an inverse nocebo effect, where if you don’t believe a treatment will work, your symptoms will get worse. Our brains are weird, man.

2. Why are we getting repeating radio bursts from space?

Cue the History Channel “alien guy,” because this is clearly some extraterrestrial stuff, right? Slow down there, Captain SETI. Let’s lay out the basics first. A fast repeating signal burst from space, called FRB 121102, was first discovered in 2012. While we’ve come across some of these before, this one has repeated itself, though sporadically.

The bursts usually last about a millisecond, and we don’t yet know where they originate from. We know it’s from a galaxy 3 billion light-years away that was recently discovered, but that’s about all. The radio bursts, though short, are massive, containing as much energy as the sun produces in a day. The fact that it’s persistent and repeating makes scientists think the location could be near a black hole or a nebula. And the source itself has earned science’s best guess of a pulsar or neutron star. But that doesn’t mean the fantastical minds of scientists are ruling out extraterrestrial origins. What fun would it be to ruin those hopes?

1. How bicycles really work

What?? If science is really going to tell us they can’t figure out how a two-wheeled vehicle works, are we supposed to trust them about anything? And yet, the humble bicycle contains so much scientific mystery within.

Much of the mystery concerns the bicycle without a rider perched on it. If a bike is going fast enough, it’s going to want to balance itself so it doesn’t fall over. It even does with when someone is riding it, to a degree. That self-stability and why it occurs has eluded scientists since the 19th century. The commonly-held idea that the gyroscopic effect of the rotating front wheel keeps the bike stable has fallen apart under recent analysis. An alternate theory likens the wheel on a bicycle to the wheels on a shopping cart, in that they align themselves automatically in the direction being traveled. That also fell apart. It seems science does have a point where they just give up and break for lunch.


SETI, Bicycles, Gravity, Placebos and Baghdad –

WIF Scientific Mysteries

Moon Over Mankind – WIF Space

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Fascinating Facts

About

Our Moon

Ever since man looked up at the stars, he has been fascinated by the big round white hunk of rock that hangs in the sky above us. The Moon has featured in religious beliefs and in the lore of countless cultures and societies. Due to human curiosity, we set out to understand the Moon further, and what we have learned is sometimes even more interesting than the legends themselves. Join us below as we explore our Moon and revel in its glory.

10. Helium 3

mining-helium-3

Many people, upon hearing that countries still plan to return to the Moon, often wonder why. Some people don’t really think much of a big hunk of dull rock that isn’t even made of cheese. However, the Moon has something much more valuable than stale Gouda underneath the surface. Enter Helium 3, a lightweight isotope that could single-handedly fix our energy problems. Helium 3 can be used in nuclear fusion sans the radioactivity, making it a way safer process. This isotope has already been tested, and has been found to be incredibly efficient. While mining it would be extremely expensive, the costs would be well worth the gain. Imagine a future with safe, affordable, clean energy for the entire world.

9. Water

Bullialdus-RGB

These days, scientists are on a roll finding all kinds of cool new things, and the Moon has been no exception. While many people would suggest all kinds of strange things that could be on the Moon, such as extraterrestrial beings or maybe all of those socks that you lose in the washing machine, what scientists actually found is much more surprising. Using remote imaging, scientists scanned the crater Bullialdus near the equator of the Moon, and found water molecules locked in the rocks deep below the surface. Found beneath the surface, it is referred to as magmatic water and is thought by scientists to have originated due to solar wind that impacted on the surface of the Moon.

8. Preserved Footprints

moon-footprint

As you know, our Moon doesn’t really have much in the way of an atmosphere, but what you may not realize is that this has some very interesting implications. Namely, things don’t erode very easily, so the footprints left by US astronauts in the ’60s and ’70s are still preserved, and should be for a long time. This unique situation has given a brand new thing for people to worry about, and US lawmakers spent time that they were getting paid for in an attempt to legislate the issue. You see, some people are worried that, with commercial organizations getting into space flight and other countries working towards landing on the Moon, that we needed to make sure no one messes with our historical imprint. For this reason, lawmakers tried to pass a bill making the Moon landing site a national park. This failed, though NASA has asked people to at least attempt to respect the original lunar landing site, should they somehow end up there.

7. Spaceship Moon Theory

secret-moon-base

It’s a God! It’s a huge hunk of cheese in the sky! It’s … an alien spaceship? The Moon has been the victim of many strange origin stories over the years. Many have been convinced that the Moon is some sort of God that needs to be worshiped, and some people actually think it is made of cheese. However, perhaps the oddest theory is that the Moon is the remains of an alien spaceship left orbiting earth. The theory starts with the supposition that aliens have been seen on the surface of the Moon. At one point, the United States even experimented with remote viewing, although they decided it was pure rubbish.

But it gets weirder. Those who subscribe to the theory claim that the Moon’s deposits of rocks such as chromium, titanium and zirconium were actually because they were strong building materials for the alien’s enormous spaceship. Those who believe this claim that the Moon’s surface is actually armor plating and was used to protect from meteorite impacts, although they believe the Moon has been abandoned for some time.

6. Moonquakes

moonquake

Over forty years ago while visiting the Moon, astronauts left seismometers that sent data back to the scientists waiting on good old terra firma for results. These seismometers were left active for over a decade and now many years later a professor from Notre Dame and his team set to work once again looking at the data.

What they found is that the Moon has earthquakes or “moonquakes” as it were. Apparently there are several different kinds of quakes that can happen on the Moon. The first are hundreds of miles below the surface, some are simply vibrations set off by meteorites striking the surface. Still others are simply due to thermal expansion. and then there are the shallow moonquakes, the ones that, according to the scientists, we need to watch out for. These are only tens of miles below the surface and can reach a 5.5 on the Richter scale. However, quakes on the Moon have some features that differ from ours and make them more intense. Many of these shallow moonquakes went on for a good ten minutes, and the researcher in charge said the Moon was “ringing like a bell”. Learning more about these quakes is very important if any country is ever to set up a base on the Moon.

5. The Man in the Moon

man-in-the-moon

Long ago before all of our precious modern technology, man looked up at the Moon and wondered about it. For one thing, what was that strange outline that looked like a man on its surface? Wanting to explain the strange shape, people made up many different stories about the Man in the Moon. While these stories have different variations they usually feature a man who was banished to the Moon as punishment for working on the Sabbath and some versions include a woman who was punished with him for a similar crime. However, some legends suggest the man was actually Cain, exiled to our lonely Moon as punishment because his offering was not pleasing to God.

4. Moon Base

Lunar-base

Suggesting that NASA will build a base on the Moon has turned into almost something of a joke in the United States. NASA keeps talking about it and people keep making plans or claiming it is going to happen, and it just never quite gets off the ground. However, while the United States may have been the first to land on the Moon, they may not be the first to establish a permanent base. Supposedly, the Russians plan to head to the Moon with some cosmonauts in 2025, and hope to have a base established a few years later, but they have the countries of Japan, China, and India close on their heels. China especially has ambitious plans of their own and has come up with advanced concepts for their own plans to establish a fully-working base on the Moon by the year 2050.

3. Blue Moon

blue-moon

You’ve probably at some point in your life heard the expression “once in a Blue Moon” and thus know it means something that doesn’t happen very often. However, interestingly there is some confusion as to how not often a Blue Moon actually occurs. Some people are under the impression that it is when two Full Moons happen in the same exact month, but this isn’t accurate. Essentially, a Blue Moon is when a particular season has four Full Moons instead of only three.

Much more interesting though, is that under certain circumstances the Moon can truly appear blue to the naked eye. According to scientists, volcanic eruptions can cause huge plumes of ash to spread out over the atmosphere and scatter red light particles. Particularly strong eruptions such as the volcano Krakatoa caused people to see blue Moons and lavender suns for literally years. According to some people as recently as the 1980’s, after the Mt. St. Helen’s eruption a Blue Moon was visible in some parts of the world.

2. Outer Space Treaty

space-treaty

We mentioned earlier that one lawmaker tried to have the lunar landing site made into a national park, but it turns out that there is a really good reason why his legislation failed. It may not be obvious to those outside the US at first, but the Moon is not actually our property. The Moon orbits the Earth, and is not claimed in particular by any one group of people.

This presents a unique problem when it comes to colonizing, mining from, or even landing on the Moon. Many years back, during the Cold War, some people were afraid the Moon might end up a serious point of contention, perhaps even used as a military base or a place to launch missiles. After much diplomatic back-and-forth, a treaty was finally agreed upon that essentially makes the Moon international territory, from which no one is allowed to conduct any military operations.

1. Dark Side of the Moon

dark-side-of-the-moon

You’ve probably heard the phrase “dark side of the Moon” before; after all, it was one of Pink Floyd’s most well known albums. What you might not realize though, is that the phrase actually doesn’t make any sense. You see, the Moon is mysterious and has a whole secret life we know nothing about, and by that we mean there is a half of the Moon we never see. However, while the Moon only shows one side to us, it still shows both sides to the Sun, and the “dark side” gets plenty of light. Interestingly, if you take this the other way around, it means that if you looked at the Earth from the surface of the Moon, you would end up with the same effect. The Earth would continue to show you the same side, and remain in the same place in the sky every single day.


Moon Over Mankind –

WIF Space

When Bad Goes Happen – WIF Engineering Boo Boos

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Tragic Engineering

Miscalculations

In Space and Terra Firma

Engineers are one of the most important behind-the-scenes groups of people, and most of us just take them and their work for granted. The truth is that there can only be so many designers, and the vast majority of engineers do the un-glamorous, but no less important work, of building, testing, and improving things for safety to make sure nobody gets hurt and no one has to pay for large amounts of property damages. However, when you don’t hire enough skilled engineers to properly focus on safety, and do that all-important work that they do, you can end up with examples like the 10 tragic events in today’s list.

10. The Deepwater Horizon Disaster Gushed 130 Million Tons Of Oil Into The Ocean

Back in 2010, BP’s Deepwater oil rig, operated by the Switzerland based company Transocean Ltd., suffered a massive blowout, and the world watched in shock and horror. Eleven people died and 17 were injured in the initial blowout, and immediately people wanted to know how it had happened. But soon, something even more important became apparent: Due to the fact that the well was 35,055 feet under water, which was far deeper than any well in existence (and the only one that was in truly deep water), the oil that started leaking out quickly became a huge concern.

For years BP and Transocean had contended to regulators that their oil rig was fine because they were prepared for cleanup, but all they had were the same techniques that worked in shallow water. No company, BP or otherwise, had any real plan for how to stop a gushing oil leak coming out of the ocean floor in actually deep water. BP took 87 days before they managed to plug the leak, and during that time an estimated 130 million gallons of oil leaked into the Gulf of Mexico, with the Audubon Society estimating a good one million birds and other marine life were killed by the spill. As for how it all occurred, it turned out there wasn’t a single reason the oil rig suffered a blowout. It was caused by multiple failures that could have been prevented in time if not for lax regulators, and a lax company culture from both BP and Transocean Ltd.

9. Earthquakes May Have Damaged The Fukushima Reactors Long Before The Tsunami

Most people know that that there was a meltdown at the Fukushima-Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant after a tsunami several years back, but many don’t know the official story — or at least what some suspect is the true cause. The official story is that an earthquake knocked out the power to the plant, but apart from that it left the plant largely unharmed and functioning just fine. In fact, according to this official story, the plant only failed when the tsunami came along and destroyed their backup generators, after which the plant’s cooling system stopped working and the meltdown occurred.

However, investigative reporters who interviewed workers that had been at the plant when the earthquake occurred offer a version of events that differs a bit from that of the Japanese government. Many of them claim they saw significant damage to pipes, some of which led to cooling systems for the reactors. Others saw serious structural damage or other issues and claim they were already told to evacuate because of oxygen tanks exploding and pipes bursting well before the tsunami hit. Then, as they were leaving, the tsunami warning came and they had to go to the top of the building to wait to be rescued. While the government version of the events calls into question the safety of a reactor near the coast (due to the possibility of a tsunami), the second version of events calls into question any reactor of a similar design that is in any kind of earthquake zone at all.

8. The Challenger Disaster Was Caused By An O-Ring, But Only Because Of Poor Decisions

On January 28, 1986, the Space Shuttle Challenger was set to launch and it was going to be a truly epic affair. A schoolteacher had been chosen to join the six astronauts, in order to show that even normal civilians could go into space, and children around the country were watching the launch from their classrooms on that cold Tuesday morning. Unfortunately, the festive atmosphere soon turned tragic as the shuttle exploded before reaching the upper atmosphere, killing all seven people aboard. The Secretary of the State at the time, William P. Rogers, formed a commission to find the root cause.

They quickly found that the technical cause was a faulty o-ring. This small piece of plastic helped form seals in between the parts of the rocket boosters, and doesn’t operate well in cold — it tends to lose its elasticity. In fact, the commission found that despite knowing the o-ring didn’t function well below 53 degrees, they went ahead with the launch despite it being 36 degrees outside that morning. The commission found that there were concerns about the o-ring, but that they never reached the top of the chain of command. This is believed to have been due to incredibly poor communication, and that the top brass was desperate to get the launch done in time for Reagan’s State of the Union, so they weren’t particularly interested in learning about potential last minute problems that would delay the launch.

7. The Columbia Disaster Could Potentially Have Been Avoided As Well

The Columbia was a storied space shuttle that had been flying for decades and was set for its final mission. After many delays, it took off with a crew of seven on January 16, 2003. As the shuttle was launching, a piece of foam insulation broke off from the propellant tank and hit the left wing. Engineers at NASA tried to look at it with every camera angle they could and see how bad the damage was, but it was hard to make out. Now, NASA’s top management was not particularly concerned, as foam insulation had broken off at three launches in the past and hadn’t caused any critical damage. However, some felt that this time it might be critical, and pushed to use satellites to get a closer look.

Unfortunately, no one took that look during the Columbia’s two week mission, partly because some of the top brass felt there would be nothing they could do at that point even if critical damage had occurred. Then, on February 1, 2003, the space shuttle reentered Earth’s atmosphere and broke apart, killing all aboard and scattering debris far into the distance. The damage to the wing allowed the heat from reentry — along with the wind — to basically tear it apart, and after that the rest of the shuttle wasn’t far behind. While those in charge had decided to do nothing while the crew was in space, thinking nothing could be done, they were wrong. Later studies found that rescue, or even a possible repair by spacewalk, could have been done — NASA’s top management just didn’t take the danger that seriously.

6. The Apollo One Fire Almost Put An Early End To US Ambitions To Fly To The Moon

On January 27, 1967, NASA was testing their Apollo One command module, in advance of attempting a potential flight to the moon. There were three astronauts aboard: Roger Chaffee, Ed White, and Gus Grissom, and they were bolted into the pressurized compartment to begin the launch tests. While the tests were not proceeding particularly well and they were having technical issues, things were not anything beyond frustrating until the call of “Flames!” came over the communications equipment from inside the command module. The workers outside did everything they could to get the door open, but by the time they had, it was too late and all three astronauts were dead — the Apollo program was then shelved for 18 months while the situation was investigated.

The United States lost three pioneering astronauts that day, but at least NASA did learn something from the situation. It turns out that a single spark from a faulty piece of equipment had spread like wildfire in the all-oxygen environment of the cabin, and to make matters worse, most of the material they were sitting on and around was highly flammable. On top of that, the highly secured door usually took a good minute and a half to open at the best of times, and with the extra pressure in the air from the fire, they just really didn’t have a chance. While this should have been something NASA accounted for to begin with, they made future doors much quicker to open, replaced the flammable materials, and made the air an oxygen and nitrogen mix that would not so easily spread fire all over the place.

5. The Boeing 737 Max Crashes And Subsequent Scandal Are Harming Boeing’s Reputation

On October 29, 2018, Lion Air Flight 610 went down over the Java Sea carrying a full load of passengers — 181 passengers and eight crew members all perished. Then, on March 10, 2019, Ethiopia Airlines Flight 302 crashed and took 149 passengers and eight crew members with it. While plane crashes are always alarming, experts noticed that there were similarities between the two crashes, and that both involved the new Boeing 737 Max Jet.

The system that allegedly caused all the trouble was called Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation Systems, or MCAS for short. The system used two sensors to determine the nose of the planes’ so called “angle of attack” and adjust it if it thinks it is necessary, even if the pilot disagrees. On the Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302, the black box showed that the plane was dangerously changing the angle of attack, and despite the pilot and copilot’s constant and best efforts, they could not prevent an uncontrollable nosedive.

Boeing has been under fire because regulators around the world allege the system did not have enough redundancy to spot malfunctions, that pilots were not given proper knowledge of it (or proper training for it), and that the limited information they did give on how to deal with a malfunction was used by the pilot and copilot in the Ethiopian Airlines crash and that it did not save them. Due to the loss in reputation, Boeing has had to scale back production to 42 jets from 52 and the 737 Max remains grounded worldwide until Boeing satisfies people’s fears.

4. The Chernobyl Disaster Was Caused By A Poorly Done Safety Test And Inadequate Design

The Chernobyl disaster occurred on April 26, 1986, when Soviet engineers were doing a test on the number 4 reactor of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in order to ascertain if the emergency water pumps could be run on inertial power. In order to prepare for their test, they actually disabled the emergency safety systems of the reactor the night before. They also removed quite a few of the control rods for the reactor as well, which are used to control power output. When their experiment didn’t work and they started to worry about meltdown, they reinserted all 200 control rods at once, which turned out to be a fatal mistake. The rods had graphite tips, which when inserted under already volatile circumstances caused a chemical reaction that blew the concrete and steel roof right off the reactor.

The disaster killed two people immediately, and at least 28 workers later succumbed to radiation poisoning. The fallout is said to have poisoned thousands and it led the entire world to put a lot more thought and effort into nuclear safety. The disaster was such a gigantic blow to the Soviet Union that Mikhail Gorbachev later lamented that it may have been Chernobyl that truly led to the collapse of the Soviet Union.

3. The Grenfell Tower Fire Highlighted The Possibility Of Future, Similar Tragedies

On June 14, 2017, a fire rapidly spread through Grenfell Tower in West London. By the time the smoke had cleared, upwards of 80 people had died and dozens more were injured. The tragedy became global news and the entire world looked on in horror, as we all watched the building burn before our eyes. It was quickly discovered that the reason the fire was able to spread so rapidly was due to a cladding on the outside of the building, which was there both to spruce up the design and also slightly increase energy efficiency. Now, this cladding is usually aluminium, and has some kind of filler inside, and those fillers can be fire retardant. Unfortunately, the filler in the cladding at Grenfell tower was highly flammable, and the fire quickly raced all around the building.

After the tragedy, authorities in London have now inspected a lot of buildings that have cladding, and found that most of them failed safety tests. This highlights a serious public safety concern, as it means there are many, many more buildings at risk of simple fires raging out of control.

2. The Hyatt Regency Hotel Walkway Collapse Killed 114 People And Injured Another 216

On July 17, 1981, there was a Tea Dance at the Hyatt Regency Hotel In Kansas City, and the ballroom was hosting about 1,600 people. The hotel had four floors, and upper walkways that extended across the main lobby area. The fourth floor walkway was positioned above the second floor walkway, and a couple dozen or so people were watching the dance from the walkways above the lobby. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, the fourth floor walkway collapsed on top of the second floor walkway, which then collapsed the whole pile onto the dancing couples below.

The aftermath was utterly appalling and rescue workers likened it to a war zone. 114 people were killed and 216 were injured. Many of them were crushed in half, and others were suffocated or dealt with other awful injuries. Unsurprisingly, an inquest into the matter occurred as people wanted to know why such a catastrophic failure would happen. The issue was the second floor walkway had originally been intended to be suspended from the stronger ceiling supports, but was instead suspended from the fourth floor walkway. As for how such a bad decision could be made, the change was actually approved over the phone.

1. The Great Boston Molasses Flood of 1919 Killed 21 People And Injured 150 More

If you haven’t heard of this tragic story before, it’ll likely sound too bizarre to be true. On January 15, 1919, a tank filled with 2.3 million gallons of molasses ruptured in Boston’s North End. The stories say that its initial speed was 35 miles-per-hour, and that it reached a wave of 25 feet high and 160 feet wide; 21 people were killed and at least 150 more were injured by the time all the molasses had settled. Many who were close to the explosion were simply pulverized, and others drowned in the goop as the kinetic forces dissipated and it turned back into its highly viscous consistency.

Back in the day they were never really sure what happened, but recent investigations have discovered that the tank was almost certainly just not adequate for the job. It was too thin, and while built to hold 2.5 million gallons of liquids, it wasn’t designed for a thicker liquid that might weigh more — like molasses — and had even shown signs of cracks that were ignored by the owners and operators of the tank. Some reports even say it was leaking so badly before it burst that children would come with cups to fill up from the cracks. It just goes to show that sometimes, on rare occasions, molasses actually flows quickly in January.


When Bad Goes Happen –

WIF Engineering Boo Boos

Mars Without Matt Damon – WIF Far-off Travel

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Things to Know

About Visiting

Mars

Space travel has made exceptional progress over the years. It was only in July 1969 that man first walked on the moon, and now just 50 years later there are plans to send humans to Mars in the not-so-distant future. According to NASA, they plan to send humans to Mars by the year 2033.

There have been several spacecrafts that have landed on Mars – the United States has successfully landed eight on the Red Planet, including Opportunity and InSight. While the spacecrafts have conducted exceptional research on the planet, it’s not the same as having humans exploring the area.

Although it’s exciting to think about humans landing on Mars, they will encounter numerous problems during their exploration of our planetary neighbor. From long-lasting dust storms and exceptionally high radiation levels, to worrying about their food supply and their overall health, they will have several obstacles to overcome — not to mention to extremely long trip there and back. Let’s take a look at 10 of the most challenging obstacles the astronauts will face on their journey.

10. Mars May Still Be Volcanically Active

In a new study, it appears as though Mars may still be volcanically active. Located under solid ice at the South Pole, there is a lake of liquid water measuring 20 kilometers wide. While it was originally thought that the water stayed in liquid format because of dissolved salt as well as pressure from above the lake, new research provides a much different theory.

The new study concluded that the salt and pressure couldn’t have stopped the water from becoming frozen and that volcanic activity (more specifically a magma chamber that was created in the previous few hundred years) was the only way that it could have remained in liquid format.

Mars was definitely volcanically active in the past, as Olympus Mons is the biggest volcano in our entire solar system. Located near Olympus Mons are three other shield volcanoes called Tharsis Montes, and there are several more volcanoes on the Red Planet.

According to the study, magma from the planet’s interior came up to the surface around 300,000 years ago. Instead of breaking through the surface of the planet and creating a new volcano, it remained in a magma chamber located beneath the South Pole. When the magma chamber cooled down, it would have released a sufficient amount of heat in order to melt the water underneath the polar ice sheet. They believe that the heat is still being slowly released even to this day. The authors of the study suggest that if there was volcanic activity 300,000 years ago, there is a definite possibility that it’s still active today which could cause an issue for eventual visitors to the planet.

9. Scarce Food Sources

Astronauts need to eat and growing food on Mars would be a very difficult task. In fact, it would take several hundred years before farming could be conducted without protective greenhouses since the soil there contains perchlorates, which are harsh chemicals that would need to be removed before any plants could be grown.

In addition to the chemicals, gravity would also pose a problem as the planet only has around one-third of the gravity that’s here on Earth. Although some experiments have proved some plants can grow in the microgravity located on the International Space Station, that doesn’t mean that they’ll grow on Mars.

There is some hope, as revealed in a 2014 study that tomatoes, wheat, cress and mustard leaves were able to grow in simulated Martian soil without fertilizers for 50 days. But transforming Mars into a planet capable of growing plants would take hundreds of years for its thin atmosphere to contain enough oxygen.

Let’s say, for example, that humans could quickly transform the atmosphere in order to grow plants, the winters pose another huge problem as the temperatures can dip as low as -207 degrees Fahrenheit.

8. They’d Have To Wear Permanent Space Suits

Astronauts visiting Mars would have to wear permanent space suits during their trip as the planet is not suitable for humans. The suits would have to be flexible enough for the astronauts to work with construction materials as well as for using different machines. Plus, they have to be comfortable enough for them to essentially live in.

As for the atmosphere there, it’s comparable to being at an altitude of 25 kilometers on Earth, which means that the air would be much too thin for humans to breathe. In addition to the thin air, there is way too much carbon dioxide and not enough oxygen. And since the winter temperatures can get as low as -207 degrees Fahrenheit, the astronauts need warm space suits to keep their blood circulating throughout their bodies. These spacesuits will be their life-line, so they need to be made perfectly for the astronauts to survive their exploration trip to our planetary neighbor.

7. Creating A Human Civilization May Not Be So Easy

Obviously, the astronauts exploring the Red Planet wouldn’t be there to create Martian families, but there is much talk about one day humans colonizing there permanently. That may not be as easy as it sounds. Just the lack of gravitational pull and the high amount of radiation are enough to severely damage a fetus. While there have been several experiments involving mice, rats, frogs, salamanders, fish, and plants to see if they could successfully reproduce in space, results have been inconclusive.

While mice and humans are obviously different, based on the experiments conducted, as of right now it’s not looking good for humans to successfully reproduce on Mars.

6. Landing And Returning

Landing on Mars will not be a smooth ride. For example, when NASA’s InSight spacecraft entered into the atmosphere on Mars, it was moving at a whopping 12,300 MPH. While it was descending through the atmosphere, it had to slow down to just 5 MPH before landing on the surface. The deceleration happened in less than seven minutes, which NASA engineers referred to as “seven minutes of terror.”

Since we know how to land on the Red Planet – although it will most likely be one rough landing – leaving Mars may not be so easy. The Mars Ascent Vehicle (MAV) will be powered by liquid oxygen and methane, with all of the ingredients (hydrogen, carbon, and oxygen) being available on Mars. The atmosphere is mostly carbon dioxide, so that would be relatively easy to get; however, drilling for water would be much more challenging as they wouldn’t be 100% certain that water lies underneath them. Assuming they would get the necessary ingredients for the fuel, taking off from the harsh environment and atmosphere on Mars may not be an easy lift-off.

5. Long-Lasting Dust Storms

Mars is definitely known for their massive dust storms – some of which are so huge that they can be seen from Earth-bound telescopes. As a matter of fact, some dust storms cover the same area as an entire continent, lasting for several weeks. And approximately every three Mars years (or five and a half Earth years), a gigantic dust storm covers the entire Red Planet which are known as “global dust storms.” The good thing about the dust storms is that the strongest winds only reach approximately 60 miles per hour, so it’s very unlikely that they would damage any spacecrafts.

On the other hand, the small dust particles tend to stick to surfaces and even mechanical gears. One specific problem would be the solar panels and if enough dust would cover them, they wouldn’t be able to absorb as much sunlight in order to get the energy to power the equipment.

4. Extremely Rough Terrain And Chilling Weather

The very rough and rocky terrain on Mars could cause problems for the spacecraft as well as the astronauts who are trying to walk around on the surface. The planet is covered with rocks, canyons, volcanoes, craters, and dry lake beds, as well as red dust covering the majority of the surface. The Curiosity rover experienced such problems when, in 2013, it came upon an area with sharp rocks that looked similar to spikes. The sharp rocks – that looked like 3 to 4 inch teeth from a shark – were most likely created by the wind. These sharp rocks could dent and even puncture wheels, not to mention how impossible they’d be to walk on.

Astronauts visiting the Red Planet will certainly not be accustomed to its extremely freezing cold temperatures. The average temperature on the planet is a frigid -80 degrees Fahrenheit and can get as low as -207 degrees Fahrenheit during the winter. They would need special spacesuits that would keep them warm from the chilling temperatures.

3. High Levels Of Radiation And Very Little Gravity

Since Mars has a much thinner atmosphere than Earth, humans visiting the Red Planet will have very little protection against the high levels of radiation. In fact, they have to worry about two dangerous sources of radiation. The first are the dangerous solar flares that come from our sun, for which they’ll need proper protection. The second are particles from galactic cosmic rays that pass through the solar system almost at the speed of light and can damage anything they hit, such as the spacecraft or even the astronauts themselves. The spacesuits, as well as the spacecrafts, will need to be made from materials that will shield them from the high levels of radiation.

Another major problem is that the gravity on Mars is only a fraction of what it is on Earth. In fact, the gravity on the Red Planet is 62% lower than it is here on our planet. To better understand, if a person weighs 220 pounds on Earth, they would weigh just 84 pounds on Mars. There are several factors that contribute to its lower gravity, such as density, mass, and radius of the planet. While both planets have nearly the same land surface, Mars has just 15% of our planet’s volume and only 11% of our mass.

While it’s still uncertain what long-term effects the change in gravity would have on the astronauts’ health, research indicates that the effects of microgravity would cause loss of bone density, muscle mass, organ function, and eyesight.

2. The Long Journey To Mars

Before the astronauts even get to Mars, they would have to endure an exceptionally long journey just to get there. As for how long the trip would actually take, there are several factors to take into consideration, such as where the planets are positioned in the solar system at the time of the launch, since the distance between them is always changing as they go around the sun.

While the average distance between Mars and Earth is 140 million miles, they do get much closer to each other depending on their position around the sun. The two planets would be closest to each other when Mars is located at its closest position to the sun and the Earth is at its farthest position. At that point, the two planets would be 33.9 million miles away from each other. When the planets are located on opposite sides of the sun, they are at a distance of 250 million miles from each other.

According to NASA, the ideal launch to Mars would take approximately nine months. And that’s just how long it would take to get there. It would take another nine months or so to return back to Earth, along with however long they end up staying on the Red Planet.

1. Mental And Physical Health Issues

In addition to the rough terrain, freezing temperatures, and dust storms, astronauts would also have to worry about the mental and physical health issues that they could develop. The process of going from two highly different gravitational fields would affect their spatial orientation, balance, mobility, motion sickness, hand-eye and head-eye coordination.

Being confined to a small space on an unpopulated planet away from family and friends for several months or years would be mentally hard on them. They could develop a drop in their mood, morale, cognition, or a decline in their daily interactions (misunderstandings and impaired communication). In addition, they could develop sleep disorders, fatigue, or even depression.

Being in an enclosed area makes it very easy for one person to transfer germs to the others, which could cause illnesses, allergies, or diseases.

The biggest health factor is the high levels of radiation on Mars, which could increase their chances of developing cancer. Radiation can damage their central nervous system, causing changes to their cognitive function, their behavior, and reducing their motor function. It could also cause nausea, vomiting, fatigue, and anorexia. Cardiac and circulatory diseases, as well as cataracts, could additionally develop.


Mars Without Matt Damon –

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