When Bad Goes Happen – WIF Engineering Boo Boos

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Tragic Engineering


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


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 –

WIF Far-off Travel

Outer Space Tracings – WIF Space

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Scary Things

About Space

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Since the dawn of man (and woman), humankind has gazed longingly at the flickering stars high above in search of meaning, guidance, and inspiration. A gradual progression in science and technology has taught us much about our faraway skies — namely, that it’s cold, dark, and tantalizingly mysterious up there. It’s also scarier than Hell.

Nonetheless, it’s hard not to daydream about the outer limits or simply laugh at Captain Kirk and that space lizard in the worst fight scene ever filmed. Although many elements of the final frontier remain elusive, recent discoveries have revealed an array of terrifying threats that will keep even the bravest star warriors hiding under the covers with the lights on at night.

10. Meteor Showers

Imagine cruising along in your Honda or Chevy GUV (Galactic Utility Vehicle) blasting sound waves on the ol’ satellite when suddenly out of nowhere — BLAMMO — you’re blindsided by a huge boulder. Not only is your insurance rate going to skyrocket, but the nearest space side assistance is billions of miles away. Bummer.

Although this scenario may seem like a sci-fi nightmare, a similar occurrence actually occurred on planet earth in 2013 after a meteorite exploded over the Ural mountains in Russia. By the time the dust settled, over 400 people had been injured, underscoring the disturbing reality that cascading debris can strike without warning.

Fortunately, most large falling objects burn up while traveling through the earth’s atmosphere. Space travelers in the future, however, will have to dodge a spate of other potential hazards, including meteors, comets, and asteroids.

9. Black Holes

Q: What traps light, warps time, and operates on a colossal scale but yet can’t be seen? A: Black Holes. True to its enigmatic label, black holes have been mythically confounding ever since Albert Einstein first introduced the notion with his general theory of relativity in 1916.

Recently, astronomers took the first image ever of a black hole via the Event Horizon Telescope, a network of eight linked telescopes around the world. Although many questions still remain unanswered, black holes are characterized by the way they affect nearby debris, stars, and galaxies — and typically form out of the death of a large star called a supernova (more on that that later). Unlike a planet or star, a black hole doesn’t have a surface but rather occupies a region where matter has collapsed on itself. The amount of concentrated mass is such that nothing can escape its gravitational pull — not even light — and certainly not an astronaut who makes a disastrous wrong turn while lost in space.

Black holes exist in many different sizes, and similar to tornadoes, they tend to move around at high speeds, leaving a trail of destruction in its wake. Even a small one in our Solar System would be catastrophic, tossing planets out of orbit and ripping the sun to shreds. Although intrepid explorers will be tempted to visit these dark voids, nothing so far has ever survived a trip to a black hole.

8. Solar Flares

Our sun is a glorious, awe-inspiring star that provides warmth, light and the necessary temperature for precious life to exist. It’s also steadily expanding —and will someday completely destroy earth, torching our beloved planet like a marshmallow that’s been left too long around a campfire. Fortunately, that won’t happen for billions of years, but in the meantime, solar flares are capable of inflicting tremendous damage with little or no warning.

solar flare is a violent eruption that occurs when stored energy on the sun is suddenly released. This produces another one of those ridiculous hotter-than-Hell numbers, releasing a flash of radiation across the electromagnetic spectrum.

Scientists classify solar flares according to their brightness and in relation to x-ray wavelengths. The largest of categories, X-class flares, are large, disruptive events that can severely damage satellites, wipe out power grids, and basically relegate all “smart” technology to stupid pieces of crap.

7. Eridanus Supervoid

First of all, stop your juvenile snickering. No, this isn’t slang for an epic bowel movement or anything of the sordid kind. The Eridanus Supervoid is believed to be a massive empty section located in the Eridanus Constellation just south of Orion. However, what makes this discovery so intriguing is that it’s not only the largest structure ever observed in the Universe, but it’s missing about 10,000 galaxies — or around 20 percent less matter than other regions. As a result, the oddity could possibly contain an “alternative reality” within this ominous patch of sky.

In 2004, cosmologists at University of Hawaii observed a span stretching 1.8 billion light-years across and located about 3 billion light-years away (1 light year = 5.88 trillion miles). They identified a large Cold Spot on the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB), a map of the radiation left over from the Big Bang, providing a critical tool to study the origin and development of the Universe at cosmic timescales.

The startling revelation presented a perplexing conundrum: the enormity of the cold spot doesn’t align with our current understanding of how the Universe evolved. While it’s not uncommon to find a few small warm and cold patches on the CMB, cold patches of this magnitude are a head-scratching anomaly. According to one report, it’s “too big to exist.”

6. Fermi’s Paradox

In 1942, an Italian-American physicist named Enrico Fermi led an all-star team of scientists to build the world’s first nuclear reactor. This monumental effort was part of the Manhattan Project, a top-secret U.S. government operation that produced the atomic bomb. Afterward, Fermi shifted his attention and extraordinary acumen on solving another complex subject: why haven’t we detected any other alien civilization despite the billions upon billions of other Earth-type planets that most likely exist?

The theory, which came to be known as “Fermi’s Paradox,” posits how the high probability of extraterrestrial life is contradictory to the lack of fact-based, demonstrable evidence supporting it. Naturally, this school of thought discounts the myriad of claims made by people who have allegedly witnessed UFOs or experienced alien encounters — not to mention phenomenons such as Crop Circles and Cargo Cult Theory.

While it’s tough to argue with a genius of Fermi’s stature (especially with our own limited, reptilian brains), we’re left wondering if it’s more frightening that we’re all alone or that hostile life forms are waiting to devour us like a Great White Shark munching seal snacks. Either way, it’s best to keep that aforementioned light on at night.

5. HyperNova

Many subjects dealing with the cosmos involve an impossible-to-fathom number. A hypernova is one of them. In this instance, the astronomical figure relates to the excessive amount of heat and energy generated from an explosion. But first, let’s review what is known about these fascinating wonders.

Novas are relatively small eruptions that occur in double star systems. When a white dwarf’s gravity pulls material away from a companion star, gas piles up and eventually becomes dense enough to ignite in a spark of nuclear fusion. Next, the Supernova, usually marks the death of a large star and the formation of a neutron star. The heat of a supernova can reach 120 million degrees — a temperature five times that of a nuclear blast.

Finally, a hypernova is an ultra-energetic supernova marking the birth of black holes and the release of intense gamma-ray bursts (GRBs), the most energetic form of light. As the mightiest of the Nova family, hypernovae are 5 to 50 times more energetic than a supernova. Additionally, for sake of completion, “Champagne Supernova“ is a song by the mega pop band Oasis, featuring lyrics of which scientists have yet to decipher the meaning…

4. We’re really, really, really small…

Although mother earth appears to be a gigantic sphere of bottomless oceans and endless roads, we’re relatively puny compared to other planets. How small? In terms of relative scale, Jupiter is 2.5 times larger than all the rest of the planets in the Solar System combined. But if you really want to feel minuscule, look no further than our sun — that big fiery 10,000-degree inferno 93 million miles away.

The Sun’s diameter is 109 times bigger than the rock we call home and is so large that 1,300,000 planet Earths could fit inside of it. While the luminous ball appears to be the largest star in the sky, that’s only because it’s the closest. The #1 star in the universe is the gargantuan UY Scuti, a Red Supergiant with a radius around 1,700 times larger than our sun.

But don’t despair, Earthlings. At least now you know how a ladybug feels, clinging to a thin blade of grass.

3. Rogue Planets

These wandering vagabonds (also known as nomad planets, unbound planets, orphan planets, starless planets, etc.) are objects with enough mass to qualify as planets but orbit a galactic center directly. The Universe, despite its vast expanse, consists of a jam-packed arena of activity that often resembles a well-choreographed dance. But a rogue planet disrupts this flow, stumbling recklessly to the beat of its own rhythmless hum while bumping into other cosmic bodies like a drunken ballerina.

Scientists believe rogue planets may have have been ejected from a previous planetary system or have never been gravitationally bound to another body such as a star. Furthermore, our galaxy (aka the Milky Way) alone may have billions of them.

Interestingly, some rogue planets feature a molten core, which combined with an insulated, cold exterior, could possess subterranean oceans that support life. A team of petrologists from Rice University recently theorized that a rogue planet the size of Mars possibly collided with earth 4.4 billion years ago, and could very well have planted the seeds of life while creating enough debris that later developed into our moon.

2. Space Junk

Ever since the start of the space race, man-made objects have been piling up in what has been politely termed “orbital debris.” But that’s being a little too kind. Let’s just call it what it really is: space junk. A wide range of discarded litter now includes thousands of metal fragments, cameras, spent rocket boosters, and even a complete 1958 U.S. satellite (Vanguard-1) that’s currently the oldest artificial hunk of metal still in orbit.

This overflowing galactic garbage, not unlike our polluted oceans, is rapidly nearing a critical juncture; the consequences could be detrimental for both astronauts and those below running for cover from the falling rubbish. There are currently over 1,700  satellites in operation, yet represents less than 10 percent of debris large enough to track from the ground. An obscene amount of smaller objects could also cause serious damage — and sadly, the number will only to continue to climb.

In just one single action from 2007, China destroyed a decommissioned weather satellite during one of its weapons tests, smashing the object into over 150,000 pieces. However, any attempts to clean up spiraling mess could present even more problems in terms of national security (surveillance equipment) and/or result in conflicts over territorial rights. In short, we’re doomed.

1. Zombie Stars

Just when you think we couldn’t be inundated any more movies, TV shows, and books about bloodsuckers and the undead, the science community has joined the fray with “Zombie Stars.”  Really? What’s next brainiacs, a Frankenplanet? Never mind.

As one might guess, a zombie star is something that won’t die. Ever. The monstrous explosion from a supernova typically glows brightly for a while before the dying star is obliterated into space dust. That is unless, for reasons that have yet to be determined, the star manages to avoid death. Adding to the horror show, the zombie star can become a vampire star by sucking fuel and energy from a nearby star to revive itself.

The most famous zombie (for scientists, anyway) is known as iPTF14hls. The star first appeared in 1954 and was thought to have died over a half century ago — but a discovery in 2014 revealed it’s still alive with no plans of retiring. According to the renowned astronomer, Iair Arcavi, a NASA Einstein Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) and the Las Cumbres Observatory, the star’s inexplicable behavior is the “the biggest puzzle I’ve encountered.”

Yikes. If he’s stumped, folks, all we can do is lock the doors to the space station and hope for the best.

Outer Space Tracings –

WIF Space

Great Mischief in the Great Expanse – WIF Space

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Terrifying Places


the Known Universe

Like Great Cthulhu, who lies dead and dreaming in the sunken city of R’lyeh, or the nuclear chaos–the blind idiot god–Azathoth, in HP Lovecraft’s stories and other cosmic horror stories, the universe is home to planets and celestial objects that defy our expectations and exhibit truly horrific environments–where humankind was surely never meant to voyage.

10. Trappist-1

Imagine that you stand on the surface of an alien world, where the sky burns dark and crimson, oceans of magma stretch from horizon to horizon and volcanoes constantly resurface the planet. A red globe of light rises slowly above the horizon, but unlike Earth’s star, it barely provides any light at all. Five other worlds appear as moons, forever drifting in the dark, threatening one another in their eternal celestial dance. Brilliant auroras fill the sky, burning and caressing the atmosphere, irradiating the surface and anything that dares to draw breath.

The Trappist-1 system may be the best hope for finding an Earth-like planet yet, with each of its seven planets being very Earth-like. Scientists think that many, if not all, have some sort of atmosphere and feature liquid water.

But—there’s always a but, isn’t there?—it may also be terribly inhospitable.

So far, evidence suggests that these worlds orbit their parent star peacefully. But, if our system is any indication, orbits are rarely static. Earth itself has at times exhibited a more elliptical orbit (which has been used as a possible explanation for our many ice ages).

A bigger threat to emerging life and habitability in the Trappist-1 system, however, may be a process called magnetic induction, causing many of the innermost worlds (even those in the habitable zone) to have oceans of flowing magma (like Io, which orbits Jupiter).

There is also the fact that super-cool dwarf stars like Trappist-1 are extremely active. They flare more than our star does, and this could prove to be particularly dangerous for the planets that orbit at such close proximity.

Trappist-1 is also a very dim star. Super cool dwarfs don’t emit much visible light, so processes like photosynthesis may be impossible. So, we can probably rule out rich vegetation.

9. Wasp-12b Exoplanet

A black shape transits across the surface of a star not unlike our own. It glows with an eerie iron red halo as its parent star devours it, the tidal forces squishing it and inflating the atmosphere until it’s nearly the size of Jupiter.

Welcome to WASP-12b. Deep in the Auriga constellation. Where the tidal forces of its dwarf star parent are so great, they stretch the planet into the shape of a football, and diamond is as abundant as limestone is on Earth. Despite how close the planet is to its star, it emits almost no light, making it one of the darkest exoplanets ever discovered.

But it won’t be around for long, because its host star is devouring it.

8. PSO J318.5-22

In the depths of interstellar space, a lone rogue burns on through the darkness. From within its raging dust clouds, there is no star in the ever-night sky. But, even with no star to warm its skies, somehow, its temperatures rage on into the 800s, and it rains rocky debris and pure iron.

PSO J318.5-22 is a rogue planet, a lonely, wandering jovian class world with no star to call its home. It exists some 80 light years away in the constellation capricornus. The planet is thought to be six times larger than Jupiter, and, surprisingly warm for a free-floating object.

The object is part of a group of stars which formed almost 12 million years ago. That’s relatively recent in cosmic terms. Scientists aren’t quite sure how objects like these end up floating all by their lonesome in the depths of interstellar space.

7. Mira: A Real Shooting Star

Imagine that you wake up in the middle of the night. There’s an odd glow visible from your bedroom window. You go outside and stare up at the night sky. You see a new, bright object in the night sky. At first, you think it’s a comet. But, soon realize that it’s not. It’s a star, shedding its material much like a comet.There’s just one problem, your world is in its way.

You’ve heard of so-called “shooting stars,” which you’ve probably also learned are nothing more than meteoroids burning up in our atmosphere. But what if we told you there were real shooting stars out in the blackness of space?

With a tail of cosmic gas and debris that stretches 13 light years, Mira is quite special. It’s actually part of a binary system, and its partner (Mira-B) feeds off of its stellar partner. A bow shock forms in front of the star, as it swallows up cosmic dust and gas and anything unlucky enough to get in its way.

So, what’s so terrifying about this? Imagine if our world were in its way.

6. Wandering Black Holes (Black Holes)

You’re looking through a telescope, focusing on Jupiter. You notice something warping the stars around the planet’s bright surface. Then, you see a large trail of gas and dust stretching from Jupiter to a dark spot, hurtling through space toward you.

The earth rumbles, and you realize that it’s all over for humanity.

Wandering black holes are terrifyingly common in our Milky Way Galaxy. Scientists have found two possible Jupiter-sized black holes in gas clouds using ALMA, a set of 66 telescopes spread throughout the Atacama Desert in Chile. And it’s thought there are close to 100,000,000 black holes in our galaxy alone.

But what would happen if such a black hole came close to us? Well, unfortunately, if a wandering black hole got anywhere near our star system, the results would be disastrous, throwing the orbits of every planet, even our Sun, into utter chaos. The most terrifying part? We wouldn’t see it coming until Jupiter and the other gas giants ended up getting their atmospheres gobbled up by the black hole’s immense gravity, creating an accretion disk.

5. Supermassive Electric Current

From the bright core of a spiral galaxy shoots a massive jet of glowing material. Getting any closer than 150,000 light years would mean certain death due to immense radiation and the strongest electric field in the universe.

Equalling about a trillion bolts of lightning, the cosmic jet resulting from the supermassive black hole at the core of galaxy 3C303 is the strongest electric current ever detected in the known universe. Scientists aren’t sure why the electric field is so powerful but theorize that it has something to do with the jets created by the supermassive black hole at the galaxy’s center.

Considering that the Milky Way is only estimated to be about 100,000 light years in diameter, that’s quite impressive, if not terrifying.

4. Hand of God

From the depths of space, the apparition of a ghostly hand reaching up to grab the corpse of a star that went supernova. It flashes with dangerous x rays, filling the pulsar cloud that makes up the hand every seven seconds.

Created by a pulsar wind nebula, the hand formation that the pulsar creates is a mystery scientists are still trying to solve. If our Earth were too close to a pulsar like this, and in the direct path of its gamma ray and X-ray jet, all life on Earth (except extremophiles in caves and near volcanic oceanic vents) would likely go extinct.

Pulsars like the one creating the Hand of God nebula are actually rapidly rotating neutron stars, which emit pulses of intense radio waves and electromagnetic radiation. It has been suggested that objects like these, which emit gamma ray radiation, if pointed directly at the Earth, could cause a mass extinction event.

3. The Boomerang Nebula

From within the hourglass nebula, you freeze almost instantly, drifting through space on a collision course with a dying star.

A proto-planetary nebula created by a dying red giant star 5,000 light years from Earth. It’s the coldest object in the known universe. The boomerang nebula’s average temperature is a minus 458 degrees Fahrenheit (or 1-degree Kelvin). For reference, the coldest place on Earth (located in Antarctica) registers minus 133.6 degrees Fahrenheit.

The team of astronomers using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA)–located in the Atacama desert in northern Chile–suggest that the extremely low temperatures may be caused by the collision of a small companion star, plunging into the dying red giant’s surface. The rapid expansion of gas caused by the collision is likely what’s causing the extreme decrease in temperature.

2. RXJ1347

Assuming you had a ship that could get you to this galaxy cluster, it would likely melt within seconds of entering the hottest place in the known universe.

gas cloud surrounding a galaxy cluster in the constellation Virgo is the hottest place in the known universe. It’s thought that this massive celestial heat storm was produced by two galaxy clusters colliding, creating one of the most violent phenomena in the universe. Contained within a 450,000 light year wide area, the cloud shines like a spot light. What’s more terrifying is that the custer is swimming with X-rays.

Now imagine if Earth was contained in that cluster. How long do you think our planet would last?

1. Boötes Void (The Great Nothing)

Imagine that you’re falling through space. You try to orient yourself, but every which way you turn, all you see is darkness. Up is down, is right, is left. No matter where you look, there are no stars, no planets, nothing but pitch-black nothingness to inform your senses. Imagine now, that this is all you’ve ever know, from the dawn of your existence.

A true abyss from which nightmares are spawned.

Boötes Void is the largest void in the known universe. It’s nearly 330 million light-years in diameter, and its existence is somewhat baffling. Most of the universe appears to be sponge like, expanding uniformly, but the presence of such a void, where thousands of galaxies could (or should) easily fit, raises many questions about the origins of the universe.

Answers, such as TYPE 4 or 5 alien civilizations, capable of harnessing the light and energy of their galaxies, to dark energy or other phenomena, have been proposed as potential explanations for Boötes Void. Some even think that it may be the very epicenter of the Big Bang, and others think that its very existence refutes the big bang as a whole.

The fact stands, that Boötes Void is the largest thing ever discovered within the known universe. If the Earth were to be placed at its center, we wouldn’t have known that there were even other galaxies until the 1960s.

Great Mischief in the Great Expanse

– WIF Space

Constance Caraway P.I. ~ Episode 239

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Constance Caraway P.I. ~ Episode 239

…Willard Libby and Billy Graham, the scientist and the evangelist, tie a bow around  an event of Godly proportions…

A few backstage moments…

“Awards and accolades are great, but that is not what I set out to obtain when I hijacked Martin’s C-14 and took it one step further. Without carbon as a stable, consistent isotope, the rest of the puzzle is just so many oddly shaped pieces. With it, I got lucky and guessed the age of a mummy, one that already identified and verified and was able to guess his (or her) age within 50 years. And yes there are going to be tweaks to the half-life down the road and there will be those that insist on blasting the outside limit past twenty thousand, but I have the numbers on my side.”

Nobel, Nobel, Nobel!” the chant rises among the gathered Libbyites.

“My cousin Syl was up for the Nobel Prize in 1909 for……,” peanut gallery member Eddie stops short of slandering himself.

“In the category of literature, the N-O-B-L-E prize for fiction goes to Eddie “50 Cousins” Dombroski,” mocks Ace Bannion, expressing what others are thinking, but would not say.

Constance has been there for most, if not all of the Cousin stories. “I encourage you to start making detailed notes about your 1st and 2nd removed family, put those stories down on paper. I have two friends who can help you with that,” she refers to Carolyn Hanes of Tallahassee and that wordsmith by the name of Gwenny.”(wink)

“That is a wonderful suggestion Constance,” adds Billy Graham, among the group that is finding it hard to split up, considering what they have gone through. “I feel I need to clarify a few things. Clarify? No, perhaps just add my perspective on things.

“Our God picks his fights judiciously. In recent history, seldom has the world experienced his supernatural power first hand and if they have, HE is not given credit for it. On this day, we and 50,000 or so of our newest friends (and millions we don’t even know) have witnessed the Creator taking charge of an important moment, a blink of his eye, but a turning point for this generation of believers.

“The entire world went dark tonight. If only for a few fleeting seconds, he silenced this planet to take care of His business, there is no other explanation except God and He knows-we know it.”

Constance Caraway P.I.

when the world went dark

Forever Mastadon

page 201

Constance Caraway P.I. ~ Episode 238

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Constance Caraway P.I. ~ Episode 238

…Willard Libby, the “who” in this big fuss…

Willard Libby, the “who” in this big fuss, has slogged his way past doubting peers, physical abduction and injury, continuous peril and spiritual conviction to come to this place. Because of him, children will be taught and the world will know, that this incredible planet we call Earth and the living things that inhabit it, are not some evolutionary accident, millions upon millions of years in the making.

Six days and a rest…? Not literally but closer to the truth than the perpetuated dishonesty of the Great Deception.

fly on the wallHe has virtually been a man without a voice during this entire account. We had a window into his subconscious mind while he was shuttered away in the mental hospital. He then goes into months of hiding. A fly on the wall at that University safe house may well be bored into hibernation. I am sure we missed some engrossing conversations between he and Martin Kamen, particularly on the subject of organic radiocarbon half-life. Neither one of them could come up with any evidence to refute Libby’s assertion that life on Earth has no more than 20,000 years of biological age to it. And we would be on the edge of our seats when they examined and re-examined a partial fossilized jawbone of an Ethiopian hominid.

As a result of worldwide exposure, the University of Chicago has received unprecedented credibility in most scientific circles. As the formulae and raw numbers of revised carbon dating sift down through knowledgeable strata, conclusions become obvious and irrefutable. The U of C community rallies to the fore, realizing that a Nobel Prize may be the real result.

In certain other bastions of academia, nothing will move them off of their long held and indeed cherished evolutionary membership. Even without conspiratorial help from the most fallen of angels, they will carry their stubbornness ahead into time immemorial.

Constance Caraway P.I.

Forever Mastadon

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I’m Radioactive! – WIF Contaminated Geography

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The Most Radioactive

Places on Earth

There are many terrifying places in the world, but few of the horrors that they contain are as scary as radiation. When a site becomes thoroughly nuclear, you can’t fight it, you can’t outrun it, and you’re pretty hard-pressed to contain it. No matter how well the location is cleaned and taken care of, the residual radiation can still affect the environment for hundreds of years. There are many of these extremely creepy and dangerous sites around the world. These are their stories.

10. The Polygon

When the Soviet Union crumbled and Kazakhstan became independent, one of the first things they did was shutting down The Polygon. This Soviet nuclear testing site had seen tryout nukes of various sizes for over four decades, and during its Cold War heyday, it was home to an estimated 25% of the world’s nuclear tests. The site was originally chosen because it was unoccupied, but this didn’t take into account the many villages that were located near its perimeter. Years of nuclear radiation bombarded the area, and eventually, the residents of the “safe” villages started showing birth defects and various radiation-related illnesses.

Today, it is estimated that at least 100,000 Kazakhs near the Polygon area suffer from the effects of radiation. The radioactive materials at the Polygon itself will take hundreds of years to reach safe radiation levels, and the poor people suffering from the effects may do so for five generations.

9. Chernobyl

It’s impossible to discuss radioactive sites without bringing up Chernobyl. The 1986 nuclear power plant explosion in Ukraine is considered the worst nuclear disaster that the world has ever witnessed, and despite the fact that it’s been extensively researched, many questions remain. The most pressing of those questions concern the long-term health impacts of the people who were exposed to the radiation. Acute radiation sickness wreaked havoc among the first responders to the scene, but that was just the tip of the deadly iceberg: The nearby town of Pripyat was not evacuated until 36 hours after the disaster, and at that point, many residents were already showing symptoms of radiation sickness. Despite all these clear signs that the situation was pressing, and the realization that the disaster sent nuclear winds blowing towards Belarus and into Europe, the Soviets still tried to play the situation close to their chest — right up until the radiation alarms at a nuclear plant all the way in Sweden went off, and the terrifying situation unfolded.

On the surface, Chernobyl’s death toll was surprisingly moderate: “only” 31 people died in the disaster and its short-term aftereffects, and the Still, the long-term effects to the people in the area were still unsafely high, though just how the disaster affected their lifespans is very difficult to measure. For instance, an estimated 6,000 cases of thyroid cancer in Ukraine,  Russia and Belarus may be connected radiation exposure in some way, but it’s borderline impossible to directly link them to the disaster.

8. Siberian Chemical Combine Plant

Siberian Chemical Combine (SCC) is an old uranium enrichment plant in, yes, Siberia. When it comes to its waste disposal, it was always a product of the patented Soviet “eh, just put it wherever, comrade” way of doing things: Significant amounts of the combine’s liquid radioactive waste were pumped into underground pools of water. That would probably been bad enough even without the nuclear accident of 1993, which saw an explosion damage the radio-technology plant of the complex. The blast wrecked two floors of the building,  and more importantly, destroyed a tank containing highly dangerous materials such as plutonium and uranium.

The radioactive gas released by the incident contaminated 77 square miles of downwind terrain, and only sheer luck prevented the fumes from turning the nearby cities of Tomsk and Seversk into Fallout locations. The cleanup process took four months, but for locals, the disaster was just the beginning of the nightmare: They found out that there had been a whopping 22 accidents at the SCC over the years, and even during its normal operations it released around 10 grams of plutonium into the atmosphere every year. For reference, it takes just one millionth of a gram to potentially cause serious diseases on humans.

7. Sellafield

Sellafield is to Great Britain what Chernobyl is to Russia: The worst ever nuclear accident to happen in the country. In a way, it managed to be even more badly managed than its more famous counterpart — or rather, managed in a more British way. When the Windscale No. 1 “pile” (a sort of primitive nuclear reactor) of the Sellafield nuclear material processing factory caught fire in October 1957, eleven tons of uranium burned for three days. Despite this rather worrying situation, everyone went  about their day as if nothing had happened. While the reactor was close to collapse and radioactive material spread across the nearby areas, no one was evacuated, and work went on in the facility with a stiff upper lip. In fact, most people weren’t even told about the fire. The workers realized that something was going on, but were told to “carry on as normal.”

Meanwhile, a true disaster was just barely averted, largely thanks to one heroic man. When the fire started, deputy general manager Thomas Tuohy was called on site from a day off. When it came apparent that the blaze could not be easily contained, he threw away his radiation-recording badge so no one could see the doses he was taking. Then, he climbed at the top of the 80-foot reactor building, and stared at the inferno below him while taking the full force of the radiation. He did this multiple times over the next hours to assess the damage, and when the blaze started to reach the melting point of steel, he made the last-ditch call to use water to drown the pile. It was a risky maneuver that was untested on a reactor fire, and if anything had gone wrong, the whole area would have been blown up and irradiated to the point of uninhabitability. Fortunately, Tuohy’s gambit paid off, and 30 hours of waterworks later, Sellafield was saved. While the area was thoroughly irradiated all the way down to its milk and chickens, Britain carried on with a stiff upper lip. Of course, Tuohy himself, who had basically wrestled with the burning reactor, eventually died … at a respectable age of 90.

6. The Somali Coast

The coastal areas of Somalia are better known for their pirate activity than their nuclear materials, but that’s just because the radioactive waste tends to be hidden under the surface.  Weirdly enough, the two phenomena have the same cause: The area’s unrest during the 1980s led to a long period where the country had no central rule, which left its shores unguarded. Unfortunately for Somalia’s residents, this meant that every unscrupulous operator and their mother was free to cheaply dump their unwanted nuclear and other hazardous waste along the country’s coastline, instead of disposing of it in a safer (and much more expensive) manner.

The United Nations have been aware of the problem for years, and describe it as a very serious situation. It was further aggravated in 2009, when a large tsunami made the problem literally resurface. The wave dislodged and broke many of the containers, causing contaminants to spread at least six miles inland. The cocktail of radioactive materials and assorted toxic sludges caused a host of serious health problems for the residents, and may even have contaminated some of the groundwater.

5. Mayak

Even before Chernobyl, there were whispers that the Soviet Union’s track record with nuclear power wasn’t exactly spotless. Some of said whispers were almost certainly about the Mayak complex, which was the country’s first nuclear site. Built in the remote southern Urals shortly after WWII, Mayak was a secret military site that was near the closed town of Chelyabinsk, and specialized in manufacturing plutonium for the army. Its secretive nature eventually came in handy for the Soviet government.

In 1957, the complex suffered one of the worst little-known nuclear disasters, when an accident at the facility contaminated 7,700 square miles of the nearby area, which affected roughly 270,000 people. The incident would eventually become known as the Kysthym disaster, after the nearest town. At the time, however, the authorities fully played the “secret facility” card, and released little information about the crisis. The true scale of the disaster would not emerge until the Soviet Union collapsed in the 1990s. It took until 2009 for the villagers nearest to the Mayak facility to be relocated … and even then, most of them were just moved a little over a mile up the road.

4. Church Rock uranium mill

In 1979, a spill at the Church Rock uranium mill in New Mexico sent 1,100 tons of uranium mine tailings and 94 million gallons of effluent into the Puerco River, spreading contamination some 50 miles downstream. Together, these released three times more radiation than the notorious Three Mile Island nuclear accident.

To this day, the Church Rock spill remains the largest accidental release of radioactive material the United States has ever seen, and its damage to the environment was wholesale. Radioactivity was in water, animals, plants and, eventually, the Navajo population of the area, who suffer from an increased likelihood of birth defects and kidney disease.

The disaster is particularly tragic because it would have been perfectly avoidable. The spill happened because one of the dams holding the United Nuclear Corporation’s disposal ponds at bay cracked. Later, both the corporation itself and various federal and state inspectors noted that the rock it had been built on was unstable.

3. Fukushima

In March 11, 2011, the Great East Japan Earthquake moved the entire Japan several feet east, and sent tsunami waves washing over the country’s shorelines, causing a death toll of 19,000 people … and the worst nuclear plant disaster in the country’s history. Initially, it seemed that the Fukushima Daiichi power plant had withstood the watery onslaught, and that all of its reactors had automatically shut down and survived without significant damage. However, the plant was not quite as tsunami-proof as everyone had assumed, and it soon became evident that the wave had disabled the cooling systems and power supply for three of the reactors. Within three days, their cores had largely melted, and a fourth reactor started showing signs of trouble.

The government evacuated roughly 100,000 people from the area, and engaged in a battle to cool the reactors with water — and even more importantly, to prevent radioactive materials leaking in the environment. Since the facility is just 100 yards from the ocean and on an area that’s prone to various natural disasters, the cleanup process is a difficult, yet urgent task. The radiation inside the plant is so deadly that it’s impossible to enter the facility, so no one’s even sure precisely where the molten fuel is within the plant. In a massive, unprecedented challenge that is estimated to take decades, the cleanup officials are currently mapping the terrain with radiation-measuring robots, and hope that strong robots are eventually able to seal and retrieve the radioactive substances from the premises.

2. Mailuu-Suu

Mailuu-Suu is a town in Kyrgyztan that not only lives under the constant shadow of Soviet-era radiation, but has actually made its peace with the fact. Some locals joke that they actually need the radiation to survive. You can even get walking tours to the worst radioactive waste dumps — followed by a healthy dose of vodka to flush the radioactivity out of your system, of course.

The town is one of the largest concentrations of radioactive materials in former Soviet Central Asia. Because the area is naturally rich in uranium, the Soviet Union mined it to death, while toxic waste was buried all around town. All in all, some two million cubic meters of radioactive waste lies under gravel and concrete, in 23 different dumping sites around Mailu Suu. The sites are often just lazy piles of hazardous material lying in their deteriorating bunker pits, halfheartedly marked with barbed wire and concrete posts.

Unfortunately, this makes Mailu Suu both a current crisis and a future, potentially much worse one. The dumping sites are located right by a fast-moving water source, the Mailuu-suu river, which is a water supply for two million people downstream. What’s more, the area is tectonically active, and extremely prone to landslides. This has already led to one nasty disaster: In 1992, one of said landslides busted one of the waste dumps open … and 1,000 cubic meters of radioactivity spilled into the river.

1. The Hanford Site

In the 1950s, America was happily entering the Atomic Age, and the nuclear site in Hanford, Washington was where the future was made. The plant had already made its mark in the 1940s during the Manhattan Project, for which it was built to produced the plutonium required for the nukes. After the war, the future seemed bright in more than one way. Although every kilogram of plutonium the site produced came with a side order of hundreds of thousands of gallons of radioactive waste, the site’s entrepreneurial owners believed they could sell even that. Unfortunately, they couldn’t … and they also hadn’t bothered to create proper ways to store the deadly sludge.

As years went by, temporary underground containers quietly became permanent, cracked, and allowed their radioactive contents to seep in the ground. The Atomic Energy Commission, which oversaw the manufacture of nuclear bombs, didn’t even bother to set up an office for waste management, so unregulated radioactive material ended up buried wherever, in containers that creaked at the seams. In the end, Hanford and its nearby areas were so saturated with radioactive waste and strange toxic sludges that the site became the largest nuclear cleanup site in the entire western hemisphere. The cleanup process has gone on for decades, caused health problems to dozens of workers, and cost billions of dollars, but the treatment plant that’s meant to deal with the sludge is yet to materialize. In fact, the area is still so deeply dangerous that when they started to demolish the site’s plutonium finishing plant in 2017, 42 workers became exposed to radioactive particles despite all the precautions.

I’m Radioactive! –

WIF Contaminated Geography