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sonic wind zone, but the winds there would still be twice as strong as those in the most powerful tornadoes. Buildings, from sheds to skyscrapers, would be. What if?: serious scientific answers to absurd hypothetical questions / Randall The author of this book is an Internet cartoonist, not a health or safety expert. Fans of xkcd ask Munroe a lot of strange questions. What if you tried to hit a baseball pitched at 90 percent the speed of light? How fast can you hit a speed.

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What If Book Pdf

The Book. What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions is a collection of many of the blog's most popular answers, along with brand. right to access and read the text of this e-book on-screen. If you learn to pose the right questions, you'll Since this is a book full of questions, no answers. Would you believe me if I told you that there's an investment strategy that a . First, I've written a few investment books that continue to earn me royalties. I.

Skip to main content. Log In Sign Up. Claudiu Simon. Munroe, Randall, author. What if? Reprinted by permission of Tim Minchin. The author of this book is an Internet cartoonist, not a health or safety expert. He likes it when things catch fire or explode, which means he does not have your best interests in mind. Eventually, it found a new outlet: This book contains a selection of my favorite answers from my website, plus a bunch of new questions answered here for the first time. When she heard I was writing this book, she found the transcript and sent it to me.

There would be other lucky survivors. The dozens of scientists and staff at the Amundsen—Scott research station at the South Pole would be safe from the winds. For them, the first sign of trouble would be that the outside world had suddenly gone silent. The mysterious silence would probably distract them for a while, but eventually someone would notice something even stranger: The wind blast would translate to a heat blast.

Normally, the kinetic energy of rushing wind is small enough to be negligible, but this would not be normal wind. As it tumbled to a turbulent stop, the air would heat up.

At the same time, wind sweeping over the oceans would churn up and atomize the surface layer of the water. Oceans are cold. The tempest would churn up cold water from the depths. This upwelling would lead to blooms of life, as fresh nutrients flooded the upper layers.

At the same time, it would lead to huge die-offs of fish, crabs, sea turtles, and animals unable to cope with the influx of low-oxygen water from the depths. The waves would sweep around the globe, east to west, and every east-facing shore would encounter the largest storm surge in world history.

In some places, the waves would reach many miles inland. The windstorms would inject huge amounts of dust and debris into the atmosphere.

At the same time, a dense blanket of fog would form over the cold ocean surfaces. And they would. At least, on one side of the Earth. If the Earth stopped spinning, the normal cycle of day and night would end. Day and night would each be six months long, even at the equator.

On the day side, the surface would bake under the constant sunlight, while on the night side the temperature would plummet. Convection on the day side would lead to massive storms in the area directly beneath the Sun.

Due to its rotation, Venus —like our stopped Earth —keeps the same face pointed toward the Sun for months at a time. Although the length of the day would change, the length of the month would not! Instead of slowing us down, its tides would accelerate our spin. From that point onward, everything proceeds according to normal physics.

I sat down with some physics books, a Nolan Ryan action figure, and a bunch of videotapes of nuclear tests and tried to sort it all out. What follows is my best guess at a nanosecond- by-nanosecond portrait. The ball would be going so fast that everything else would be practically stationary. Even the molecules in the air would stand still. Air molecules would vibrate back and forth at a few hundred miles per hour, but the ball would be moving through them at million miles per hour.

Normally, air would flow around anything moving through it. Each collision would release a burst of gamma rays and scattered particles. The wall of this bubble would approach the batter at about the speed of light—only slightly ahead of the ball itself. Unfortunately, the ball would be going so fast that even the tremendous force from this ongoing thermonuclear explosion would barely slow it down at all. These fragments would be going so fast that when they hit air molecules, they would trigger two or three more rounds of fusion.

After about 70 nanoseconds the ball would arrive at home plate. The shell of x-rays would hit the batter first, and a handful of nanoseconds later the debris cloud would hit. It would hit the bat first, but then the batter, plate, and catcher would all be scooped up and carried backward through the backstop as they disintegrated.

The first thing you would see would be a blinding light, far outshining the sun. Then, with a great roar, the blast wave would arrive, tearing up trees and shredding houses. Everything within roughly a mile of the park would be leveled, and a firestorm would engulf the surrounding city. Major League Baseball Rule 6. How long could I stay safely at the surface? At that point, you would black out from fatigue and drown.

Spent fuel from nuclear reactors is highly radioactive. The most highly radioactive fuel rods are those recently removed from a reactor. Based on the activity levels provided by Ontario Hydro in this report, this would be the region of danger for fresh fuel rods: Swimming to the bottom, touching your elbows to a fresh fuel canister, and immediately swimming back up would probably be enough to kill you.

In fact, as long as you were underwater, you would be shielded from most of that normal background dose. You may actually receive a lower dose of radiation treading water in a spent fuel pool than walking around on the street. I am a cartoonist. If you follow my advice on safety around nuclear materials, you probably deserve whatever happens to you. However, these divers have to be careful.

On August 31, , a diver was servicing the spent fuel pool at the Leibstadt nuclear reactor in Switzerland. He was told to put it in his tool basket, which he did. The basket was dropped back in the water and the diver left the pool. The object turned out to be protective tubing from a radiation monitor in the reactor core, made highly radioactive by neutron flux. It had been accidentally sheared off while a capsule was being closed in But just to be sure, I got in touch with a friend of mine who works at a research reactor, and asked him what he thought would happen to someone who tried to swim in their radiation containment pool.

In the s, when Europeans arrived, the area was inhabited by the Lenape people. They were as far removed from the Lenape of the s as the Lenape of the s are from the modern day. The Welikia project has produced a detailed ecological map of the landscape in New York City at the time of the arrival of Europeans. The interactive map, available online at welikia. The Times Square of years ago may have looked ecologically similar to the Times Square described by Welikia.

Superficially, it probably resembled the old- growth forests that are still found in a few locations in the northeastern US. However, there would be some notable differences. There would be more large animals years ago. The forests of New York years ago would be full of chestnut trees. Before a blight passed through in the early twentieth century, the hardwood forests of eastern North America were about 25 percent chestnut.

Now, only their stumps survive. You can still come across these stumps in New England forests today. They periodically sprout new shoots, only to see them wither as the blight takes hold.

Someday, before too long, the last of the stumps will die. Wolves would be common in the forests, especially as you moved inland. There were no earthworms in New England when the European colonists arrived. The great ice sheets that covered New England had departed.

As of 22, years ago, the southern edge of the ice was near Staten Island, but by 18, years ago it had retreated north past Yonkers. The ice sheets scoured the landscape down to bedrock. Over the next 10, years, life crept slowly back northward. As the ice sheets withdrew, large chunks of ice broke off and were left behind. Oakland Lake, near the north end of Springfield Boulevard in Queens, is one of these kettlehole ponds.

Below the ice, rivers of meltwater flowed at high pressure, depositing sand and gravel as they went. A hundred thousand years ago, Earth was near the end of a similar period of climate stability. To learn about those, we turn to the mystery of the pronghorn. It can run at 55 mph, and sustain that speed over long distances. Yet its fastest predators, wolves and coyotes, barely break 35 mph in a sprint.

Why did the pronghorn evolve such speed? A hundred thousand years ago, North American woods were home to Canis dirus the dire wolf , Arctodus the short-faced bear , and Smilodon fatalis sabre-toothed cat , each of which may have been faster and deadlier than modern predators. Hyenas were mainly found in Africa and Asia, but when the sea level fell, one species crossed the Bering Strait into North America.

The geologic record is spotty, but our best guess is that it looked something like this: In the time of Rodinia, the bedrock that now lies under Manhattan had yet to form, but the deep rocks of North America were already old. The part of the continent that is now Manhattan was probably an inland region connected to what is now Angola and South Africa. In this ancient world, there were no plants and no animals.

The oceans were full of life, but it was simple single-cellular life. On the surface of the water were mats of blue-green algae. These unassuming critters are the deadliest killers in the history of life. Blue-green algae, or cyanobacteria, were the first photosynthesizers. They breathed in carbon dioxide and breathed out oxygen. Oxygen is a volatile gas; it causes iron to rust oxidation and wood to burn vigorous oxidation.

The resulting extinction is called the oxygen catastrophe. We are the descendants of those first oxygen-breathers. Many details of this history remain uncertain; the world of a billion years ago is difficult to reconstruct. Nobody knows when,12 but nothing lives forever. A million years is a long time. It seems reasonable to assume that however the human story plays out, in a million years it will have exited its current stage.

Winds and rain and blowing sand will dissolve and bury the artifacts of our civilization. Eventually, the glaciers will advance again. Our plastic will become shredded and buried, and perhaps some microbes will learn to digest it, but in all likelihood, a million years from now, an out-of-place layer of processed hydrocarbons—transformed fragments of our shampoo bottles and shopping bags —will serve as a chemical monument to civilization.

The far future The Sun is gradually brightening. In a billion years, these feedback loops will have given out. They will have boiled away in the hot Sun, surrounding the planet with a thick blanket of water vapor and causing a runaway greenhouse effect. In a billion years, Earth will become a second Venus. Eventually, after several billion more years, we will be consumed by the expanding Sun. The Earth will be incinerated, and many of the molecules that made up Times Square will be blasted outward by the dying Sun.

If humans escape the solar system and outlive the Sun, our descendants may someday live on one of these planets. Atoms from Times Square, cycled through the heart of the Sun, will form our new bodies. One day, either we will all be dead, or we will all be New Yorkers. In his book , Charles C. There are a lot of problems with the concept of a single random soul mate.

But of the 9. Would we find each other? Right away, this would raise a few questions. For starters, would your soul mate even still be alive? If we were all paired up at random, 90 percent of our soul mates would be long dead.

That sounds horrible. See, if your soul mate is in the distant past, then it also has to be possible for soul mates to be in the distant future. With the same-age restriction, most of us would have a pool of around half a billion potential matches. But what about gender and sexual orientation? And culture? And language? Everybody would have only one orientation: The odds of running into your soul mate would be incredibly small. Given that you have ,, potential soul mates, it means you would find true love only in one lifetime out of 10, With the threat of dying alone looming so prominently, society could restructure to try to enable as much eye contact as possible.

We could put together massive conveyer belts to move lines of people past each other. I modeled a few simple systems to estimate how quickly people would pair off and drop out of the singles pool. In the real world, many people have trouble finding any time at all for romance —few could devote two decades to it. So maybe only rich kids would be able to afford to sit around on SoulMateRoulette.

If only 1 percent of the wealthy used the service, then 1 percent of that 1 percent would find their match through this system—one in 10, The other 99 percent of the 1 percent2 would have an incentive to get more people into the system. But even if a bunch of us spent years on SoulMateRoulette, another bunch of us managed to hold jobs that offered constant eye contact with strangers, and the rest of us just hoped for luck, only a small minority of us would ever find true love.

The rest of us would be out of luck. Given all the stress and pressure, some people would fake it. A world of random soul mates would be a lonely one.

The first thing to consider is that not everyone can see the Moon at once. We could try to illuminate either a new moon or a full moon. The new moon is darker, making it easier to see our lasers. The atmosphere would distort the beam a bit, and absorb some of it, but most of the light would make it.

Half an hour after midnight GMT , everyone aims and presses the button. This is what happened: It makes sense, though. Sunlight bathes the Moon in a bit over a kilowatt of energy per square meter. Just kidding! Memo to presidential candidates: This policy would win my vote. In addition to being more powerful, green laser light is nearer to the middle of the visible spectrum, so the eye is more sensitive to it and it seems brighter.

The beam is several degrees wide, so we would want some focusing lenses to get it down to the half-degree needed to hit the Moon. The beam is providing 20 lux of illumination, outshining the ambient light on the night half by a factor of two! Still barely visible. Good job, team. The Department of Defense has developed megawatt lasers, designed for destroying incoming missiles in mid-flight. The Boeing YAL-1 was a megawatt-class chemical oxygen iodine laser mounted in a The Moon would shine as brightly as the midmorning sun, and by the end of the two minutes, the lunar regolith would be heated to a glow.

The most powerful laser on Earth is the confinement beam at the National Ignition Facility, a fusion research laboratory. Under those circumstances, it turns out Earth would still catch fire. The reflected light from the Moon would be four thousand times brighter than the noonday sun. But forget the Earth—what would happen to the Moon? The laser itself would exert enough radiation pressure to accelerate the Moon at about one ten millionth of a gee.

Forty megajoules of energy is enough to vaporize a kilogram of rock. Our laser would keep pouring more and more energy into the plasma, and the plasma would keep getting hotter and hotter. The particles would bounce off each other, slam into the surface of the Moon, and eventually blast into space at a terrific speed.

This flow of material effectively turns the entire surface of the Moon into a rocket engine—and a surprisingly efficient one, too. Using lasers to blast off surface material like this is called laser ablation, and it turns out to be a promising method for spacecraft propulsion. But if we make the wild guess that the particles in the plasma exit at an average speed of kilometers per second, then it will take a few months for the Moon to be pushed out of range of our laser.

This Earth-crossing orbit would lead to periodic unpredictable orbital perturbation. And that, at last, would be enough power. These collectors try to gather physical samples of as many of the elements as possible into periodic-table-shaped display cases.

Another few dozen can be scavenged by taking things apart you can find tiny americium samples in smoke detectors. Others can be ordered over the Internet. But what if you did? The periodic table of the elements has seven rows. The third row would burn you with fire. The fourth row would kill you with toxic smoke. The sixth row would explode violently, destroying the building in a cloud of radioactive, poisonous fire and dust.

Do not build the seventh row. The first row is simple, if boring: The cube of hydrogen would rise upward and disperse, like a balloon without a balloon. The same goes for helium. The second row is trickier. The lithium would immediately tarnish. The beryllium is pretty toxic, so you should handle it carefully and avoid getting any dust in the air. The neon floats away. Fluorine is the most reactive, corrosive element in the periodic table. Almost any substance exposed to pure fluorine will spontaneously catch fire.

You would definitely need a gas mask. Keep in mind that fluorine eats through a lot of potential mask materials, so you would want to test it first. Have fun! On to the third row! The big troublemaker here is phosphorus. Pure phosphorus comes in several forms. Red phosphorus is reasonably safe to handle. White phosphorus spontaneously ignites on contact with air. It burns with hot, hard-to-extinguish flames and is, in addition, quite poisonous. When exposed to pure fluorine gas, sulfur—like many substances—catches fire.

The inert argon is heavier than air, so it would just spread out and cover the ground. You have bigger problems. The fire would produce all kinds of terrifying chemicals with names like sulfur hexafluoride. On to row four! The reason it sounds scary is a good one: This is not one of those times. The burning phosphorus now joined by burning potassium, which is similarly prone to spontaneous combustion could ignite the arsenic, releasing large amounts of arsenic trioxide.

That stuff is pretty toxic. This row would also produce hideous odors. Bromine is liquid at room temperature, a property it shares with only one other element—mercury. However, if you did this experiment from a safe distance, you might survive.

The fifth row contains something interesting: If you spent all day wearing it as a hat—or breathed it in as dust —it could definitely kill you. Techneteium aside, the fifth row would be a lot like the fourth. On to the sixth row! No matter how careful you are, the sixth row would definitely kill you. These elements are normally shown separately from the main table to avoid making it too wide. Astatine is the bad one. Our cube would, briefly, contain more astatine than has ever been synthesized.

The heat alone would give third-degree burns to anyone nearby, and the building would be demolished. The cloud of hot gas would rise rapidly into the sky, pouring out heat and radiation. The explosion would be just the right size to maximize the amount of paperwork your lab would face. If it were larger, there would be no one left in the city to submit paperwork to. Dust and debris coated in astatine, polonium, and other radioactive products would rain from the cloud, rendering the downwind neighborhood completely uninhabitable.

The radiation levels would be incredibly high. Given that it takes a few hundred milliseconds to blink, you would literally get a lethal dose of radiation in the blink of an eye. The seventh row would be much worse.

There are a whole bunch of weird elements along the bottom of the periodic table called transuranic elements. They decay radioactively. And most of them decay into things that also decay. It would all happen at once. The flood of energy would instantly turn you—and the rest of the periodic table—to plasma. A mushroom cloud would rise over the city.

The top of the plume would reach up through the stratosphere, buoyed by its own heat. Entire regions would be devastated; the cleanup would stretch on for centuries. While collecting things is certainly fun, when it comes to chemical elements, you do not want to collect them all. O2 and N2. They cover the kinematics pretty well. This crowd takes up an area the size of Rhode Island. At the stroke of noon, everyone jumps. Earth outweighs us by a factor of over ten trillion.

On average, we humans can vertically jump maybe half a meter on a good day. Next, everyone falls back to the ground. A slight pulse of pressure spreads through the North American continental crust and dissipates with little effect.

The sound of all those feet hitting the ground creates a loud, drawn-out roar lasting many seconds. Eventually, the air grows quiet. Seconds pass. Everyone looks around. There are a lot of uncomfortable glances. Someone coughs. A cell phone comes out of a pocket. Outside Rhode Island, abandoned machinery begins grinding to a halt. The T. Assuming they got things organized including sending out scouting missions to retrieve fuel , they could run at percent capacity for years without making a dent in the crowd.

Moments later, I, I, and I become the sites of the largest traffic jam in the history of the planet. Some make it past New York or Boston before running out of fuel. All the cops are in Rhode Island. The edge of the crowd spreads outward into southern Massachusetts and Connecticut.

Any two people who meet are unlikely to have a language in common, and almost nobody knows the area. Violence is common. Everybody is hungry and thirsty. Grocery stores are emptied. Within weeks, Rhode Island is a graveyard of billions. Our species staggers on, but our population has been greatly reduced. But at least now we know. First, some definitions. A mole is a unit. A mole is also a type of burrowing mammal. A mole the animal is small enough for me to pick up and throw.

One pound is 1 kilogram. I happen to remember that a trillion trillion kilograms is how much a planet weighs. An eastern mole Scalopus aquaticus weighs about 75 grams, which means a mole of moles weighs: Mammals are largely water. A kilogram of water takes up a liter of volume, so if the moles weigh 4. The cube root of 4. So doing this on Earth is definitely not an option. Gravitational attraction would pull them into a sphere. But this is where it gets weird. The mole planet would be a giant sphere of meat.

Normally, when organic matter decomposes, it releases much of that energy as heat. Closer to the surface, where the pressure would be lower, there would be another obstacle to decomposition— the interior of a mole planet would be low in oxygen.

While inefficient, this anaerobic decomposition can unlock quite a bit of heat. If continued unchecked, it would heat the planet to a boil. But the decomposition would be self-limiting. Throughout the planet, the mole bodies would gradually break down into kerogen, a mush of organic matter that would—if the planet were hotter—eventually form oil.

Because the moles form a literal fur coat, when frozen they would insulate the interior of the planet and slow the loss of heat to space. However, the flow of heat in the liquid interior would be dominated by convection. Eventually, after centuries or millennia of turmoil, the planet would calm and cool enough that it would begin to freeze all the way through.

The deep interior would be under such high pressure that as it cooled, the water would crystallize out into exotic forms of ice such as ice III and ice V, and eventually ice II and ice IX. There might be a billion habitable planets in our galaxy.

If you want a mole of moles, build a spaceship. All watts have to go somewhere. This is true of any device that uses power, which is a handy thing to know. Are they right? This is true of almost any powered device. At that temperature, the box will be losing heat to the outside as fast as the hair dryer is adding it inside, and the system will be in equilibrium.

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If the box is made of metal, it will be hot enough to burn your hand if you touch it for more than five seconds. The temperature it reaches will depend on the thickness of the box wall; the thicker and more insulating the wall, the higher the temperature. I wonder how high this dial goes. Two megawatts pumped into a laser is enough to destroy missiles.

One more notch. Now 18 megawatts are flowing into the box. If it were steel, it would have melted by now. The floor is made of lava. Before it can burn its way through the floor, someone throws a water balloon under it. The burst of steam launches the box out the front door and onto the sidewalk. According to Back to the Future, the hair dryer is now drawing enough power to travel back in time. It sits in the middle of a growing pool of lava.

Anything within 50— meters bursts into flame. A column of heat and smoke rise high into the air. Periodic explosions of gas beneath the box launch it into the air, and it starts fires and forms a new lava pool where it lands.

We keep turning the dial. At In , H. Wells imagined devices like this in his book The World Set Free. The story eerily foreshadowed the development, 30 years later, of nuclear weapons. The box is now soaring through the air. Each time it nears the ground, it superheats the surface, and the plume of expanding air hurls it back into the sky. The outpouring of 1. A trail of firestorms —massive conflagrations that sustain themselves by creating their own wind systems —winds its way across the landscape.

A new milestone: The box, soaring high above the surface, is putting out energy equivalent to three Trinity tests every second. At this point, the pattern is obvious. This thing is going to skip around the atmosphere until it destroys the planet.

We turn the dial to zero as the box is passing over northern Canada. Rapidly cooling, it plummets to Earth, landing in Great Bear Lake with a plume of steam. And then. A brief story: A hundred thousand years ago, North American woods were home to Canis dirus the dire wolf , Arctodus the short-faced bear , and Smilodon fatalis sabre-toothed cat , each of which may have been faster and deadlier than modern predators. Hyenas were mainly found in Africa and Asia, but when the sea level fell, one species crossed the Bering Strait into North America.

The geologic record is spotty, but our best guess is that it looked something like this: In the time of Rodinia, the bedrock that now lies under Manhattan had yet to form, but the deep rocks of North America were already old. The part of the continent that is now Manhattan was probably an inland region connected to what is now Angola and South Africa. In this ancient world, there were no plants and no animals.

The oceans were full of life, but it was simple single-cellular life. On the surface of the water were mats of blue-green algae. These unassuming critters are the deadliest killers in the history of life.

Blue-green algae, or cyanobacteria, were the first photosynthesizers. They breathed in carbon dioxide and breathed out oxygen. Oxygen is a volatile gas; it causes iron to rust oxidation and wood to burn vigorous oxidation. The resulting extinction is called the oxygen catastrophe. We are the descendants of those first oxygen-breathers. Many details of this history remain uncertain; the world of a billion years ago is difficult to reconstruct. Nobody knows when,12 but nothing lives forever.

A million years is a long time. It seems reasonable to assume that however the human story plays out, in a million years it will have exited its current stage. Winds and rain and blowing sand will dissolve and bury the artifacts of our civilization. Eventually, the glaciers will advance again. Our plastic will become shredded and buried, and perhaps some microbes will learn to digest it, but in all likelihood, a million years from now, an out-of-place layer of processed hydrocarbons—transformed fragments of our shampoo bottles and shopping bags —will serve as a chemical monument to civilization.

The far future The Sun is gradually brightening. In a billion years, these feedback loops will have given out.

They will have boiled away in the hot Sun, surrounding the planet with a thick blanket of water vapor and causing a runaway greenhouse effect. In a billion years, Earth will become a second Venus. Eventually, after several billion more years, we will be consumed by the expanding Sun.

The Earth will be incinerated, and many of the molecules that made up Times Square will be blasted outward by the dying Sun. If humans escape the solar system and outlive the Sun, our descendants may someday live on one of these planets. Atoms from Times Square, cycled through the heart of the Sun, will form our new bodies. One day, either we will all be dead, or we will all be New Yorkers.

In his book , Charles C. There are a lot of problems with the concept of a single random soul mate. But of the 9. Would we find each other?

Right away, this would raise a few questions. For starters, would your soul mate even still be alive? If we were all paired up at random, 90 percent of our soul mates would be long dead. That sounds horrible. See, if your soul mate is in the distant past, then it also has to be possible for soul mates to be in the distant future. With the same-age restriction, most of us would have a pool of around half a billion potential matches. But what about gender and sexual orientation?

And culture? And language? Everybody would have only one orientation: The odds of running into your soul mate would be incredibly small. Given that you have ,, potential soul mates, it means you would find true love only in one lifetime out of 10, With the threat of dying alone looming so prominently, society could restructure to try to enable as much eye contact as possible. We could put together massive conveyer belts to move lines of people past each other.

I modeled a few simple systems to estimate how quickly people would pair off and drop out of the singles pool. In the real world, many people have trouble finding any time at all for romance —few could devote two decades to it. So maybe only rich kids would be able to afford to sit around on SoulMateRoulette. If only 1 percent of the wealthy used the service, then 1 percent of that 1 percent would find their match through this system—one in 10, The other 99 percent of the 1 percent2 would have an incentive to get more people into the system.

But even if a bunch of us spent years on SoulMateRoulette, another bunch of us managed to hold jobs that offered constant eye contact with strangers, and the rest of us just hoped for luck, only a small minority of us would ever find true love.

The rest of us would be out of luck. Given all the stress and pressure, some people would fake it. A world of random soul mates would be a lonely one. The first thing to consider is that not everyone can see the Moon at once. We could try to illuminate either a new moon or a full moon.

The new moon is darker, making it easier to see our lasers. The atmosphere would distort the beam a bit, and absorb some of it, but most of the light would make it. Half an hour after midnight GMT , everyone aims and presses the button. This is what happened: It makes sense, though. Sunlight bathes the Moon in a bit over a kilowatt of energy per square meter. Just kidding! Memo to presidential candidates: This policy would win my vote. In addition to being more powerful, green laser light is nearer to the middle of the visible spectrum, so the eye is more sensitive to it and it seems brighter.

The beam is several degrees wide, so we would want some focusing lenses to get it down to the half-degree needed to hit the Moon. The beam is providing 20 lux of illumination, outshining the ambient light on the night half by a factor of two! Still barely visible. Good job, team. The Department of Defense has developed megawatt lasers, designed for destroying incoming missiles in mid-flight.

The Boeing YAL-1 was a megawatt-class chemical oxygen iodine laser mounted in a The Moon would shine as brightly as the midmorning sun, and by the end of the two minutes, the lunar regolith would be heated to a glow. The most powerful laser on Earth is the confinement beam at the National Ignition Facility, a fusion research laboratory.

Under those circumstances, it turns out Earth would still catch fire. The reflected light from the Moon would be four thousand times brighter than the noonday sun. But forget the Earth—what would happen to the Moon? The laser itself would exert enough radiation pressure to accelerate the Moon at about one ten millionth of a gee. Forty megajoules of energy is enough to vaporize a kilogram of rock. Our laser would keep pouring more and more energy into the plasma, and the plasma would keep getting hotter and hotter.

The particles would bounce off each other, slam into the surface of the Moon, and eventually blast into space at a terrific speed. This flow of material effectively turns the entire surface of the Moon into a rocket engine—and a surprisingly efficient one, too.

Using lasers to blast off surface material like this is called laser ablation, and it turns out to be a promising method for spacecraft propulsion. But if we make the wild guess that the particles in the plasma exit at an average speed of kilometers per second, then it will take a few months for the Moon to be pushed out of range of our laser. This Earth-crossing orbit would lead to periodic unpredictable orbital perturbation.

And that, at last, would be enough power. These collectors try to gather physical samples of as many of the elements as possible into periodic-table-shaped display cases. Another few dozen can be scavenged by taking things apart you can find tiny americium samples in smoke detectors. Others can be ordered over the Internet. But what if you did? The periodic table of the elements has seven rows. The third row would burn you with fire. The fourth row would kill you with toxic smoke.

The sixth row would explode violently, destroying the building in a cloud of radioactive, poisonous fire and dust. Do not build the seventh row.

The first row is simple, if boring: The cube of hydrogen would rise upward and disperse, like a balloon without a balloon. The same goes for helium. The second row is trickier.

The lithium would immediately tarnish. The beryllium is pretty toxic, so you should handle it carefully and avoid getting any dust in the air. The neon floats away. Fluorine is the most reactive, corrosive element in the periodic table. Almost any substance exposed to pure fluorine will spontaneously catch fire.

You would definitely need a gas mask. Keep in mind that fluorine eats through a lot of potential mask materials, so you would want to test it first. Have fun!

On to the third row! The big troublemaker here is phosphorus. Pure phosphorus comes in several forms. Red phosphorus is reasonably safe to handle. White phosphorus spontaneously ignites on contact with air. It burns with hot, hard-to-extinguish flames and is, in addition, quite poisonous.

When exposed to pure fluorine gas, sulfur—like many substances—catches fire. The inert argon is heavier than air, so it would just spread out and cover the ground.

You have bigger problems. The fire would produce all kinds of terrifying chemicals with names like sulfur hexafluoride. On to row four! The reason it sounds scary is a good one: This is not one of those times. The burning phosphorus now joined by burning potassium, which is similarly prone to spontaneous combustion could ignite the arsenic, releasing large amounts of arsenic trioxide. That stuff is pretty toxic. This row would also produce hideous odors. Bromine is liquid at room temperature, a property it shares with only one other element—mercury.

However, if you did this experiment from a safe distance, you might survive. The fifth row contains something interesting: If you spent all day wearing it as a hat—or breathed it in as dust —it could definitely kill you. Techneteium aside, the fifth row would be a lot like the fourth. On to the sixth row! No matter how careful you are, the sixth row would definitely kill you. These elements are normally shown separately from the main table to avoid making it too wide. Astatine is the bad one.

Our cube would, briefly, contain more astatine than has ever been synthesized. The heat alone would give third-degree burns to anyone nearby, and the building would be demolished. The cloud of hot gas would rise rapidly into the sky, pouring out heat and radiation. The explosion would be just the right size to maximize the amount of paperwork your lab would face.

If it were larger, there would be no one left in the city to submit paperwork to. Dust and debris coated in astatine, polonium, and other radioactive products would rain from the cloud, rendering the downwind neighborhood completely uninhabitable. The radiation levels would be incredibly high. Given that it takes a few hundred milliseconds to blink, you would literally get a lethal dose of radiation in the blink of an eye. The seventh row would be much worse.

There are a whole bunch of weird elements along the bottom of the periodic table called transuranic elements. They decay radioactively. And most of them decay into things that also decay. It would all happen at once. The flood of energy would instantly turn you—and the rest of the periodic table—to plasma. A mushroom cloud would rise over the city. The top of the plume would reach up through the stratosphere, buoyed by its own heat.

Entire regions would be devastated; the cleanup would stretch on for centuries. While collecting things is certainly fun, when it comes to chemical elements, you do not want to collect them all.

O2 and N2. They cover the kinematics pretty well. This crowd takes up an area the size of Rhode Island. At the stroke of noon, everyone jumps. Earth outweighs us by a factor of over ten trillion. On average, we humans can vertically jump maybe half a meter on a good day. Next, everyone falls back to the ground.

A slight pulse of pressure spreads through the North American continental crust and dissipates with little effect. The sound of all those feet hitting the ground creates a loud, drawn-out roar lasting many seconds. Eventually, the air grows quiet.

Seconds pass. Everyone looks around. There are a lot of uncomfortable glances.

Someone coughs. A cell phone comes out of a pocket. Outside Rhode Island, abandoned machinery begins grinding to a halt. The T. Assuming they got things organized including sending out scouting missions to retrieve fuel , they could run at percent capacity for years without making a dent in the crowd. Moments later, I, I, and I become the sites of the largest traffic jam in the history of the planet.

Some make it past New York or Boston before running out of fuel. All the cops are in Rhode Island. The edge of the crowd spreads outward into southern Massachusetts and Connecticut. Any two people who meet are unlikely to have a language in common, and almost nobody knows the area.

Violence is common. Everybody is hungry and thirsty. Grocery stores are emptied. Within weeks, Rhode Island is a graveyard of billions. Our species staggers on, but our population has been greatly reduced. But at least now we know. First, some definitions. A mole is a unit. A mole is also a type of burrowing mammal. A mole the animal is small enough for me to pick up and throw.

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One pound is 1 kilogram. I happen to remember that a trillion trillion kilograms is how much a planet weighs. An eastern mole Scalopus aquaticus weighs about 75 grams, which means a mole of moles weighs: Mammals are largely water. A kilogram of water takes up a liter of volume, so if the moles weigh 4. The cube root of 4. So doing this on Earth is definitely not an option. Gravitational attraction would pull them into a sphere. But this is where it gets weird. The mole planet would be a giant sphere of meat.

Normally, when organic matter decomposes, it releases much of that energy as heat. Closer to the surface, where the pressure would be lower, there would be another obstacle to decomposition— the interior of a mole planet would be low in oxygen. While inefficient, this anaerobic decomposition can unlock quite a bit of heat. If continued unchecked, it would heat the planet to a boil. But the decomposition would be self-limiting.

Throughout the planet, the mole bodies would gradually break down into kerogen, a mush of organic matter that would—if the planet were hotter—eventually form oil. Because the moles form a literal fur coat, when frozen they would insulate the interior of the planet and slow the loss of heat to space.

However, the flow of heat in the liquid interior would be dominated by convection. Eventually, after centuries or millennia of turmoil, the planet would calm and cool enough that it would begin to freeze all the way through.

The deep interior would be under such high pressure that as it cooled, the water would crystallize out into exotic forms of ice such as ice III and ice V, and eventually ice II and ice IX. There might be a billion habitable planets in our galaxy. If you want a mole of moles, build a spaceship.

All watts have to go somewhere. This is true of any device that uses power, which is a handy thing to know. Are they right? This is true of almost any powered device. At that temperature, the box will be losing heat to the outside as fast as the hair dryer is adding it inside, and the system will be in equilibrium.

If the box is made of metal, it will be hot enough to burn your hand if you touch it for more than five seconds. The temperature it reaches will depend on the thickness of the box wall; the thicker and more insulating the wall, the higher the temperature. I wonder how high this dial goes. Two megawatts pumped into a laser is enough to destroy missiles.

One more notch. Now 18 megawatts are flowing into the box. If it were steel, it would have melted by now. The floor is made of lava. Before it can burn its way through the floor, someone throws a water balloon under it. The burst of steam launches the box out the front door and onto the sidewalk.

According to Back to the Future, the hair dryer is now drawing enough power to travel back in time. It sits in the middle of a growing pool of lava. Anything within 50— meters bursts into flame.

A column of heat and smoke rise high into the air. Periodic explosions of gas beneath the box launch it into the air, and it starts fires and forms a new lava pool where it lands. We keep turning the dial. At In , H. Wells imagined devices like this in his book The World Set Free.

The story eerily foreshadowed the development, 30 years later, of nuclear weapons. The box is now soaring through the air. Each time it nears the ground, it superheats the surface, and the plume of expanding air hurls it back into the sky. The outpouring of 1. A trail of firestorms —massive conflagrations that sustain themselves by creating their own wind systems —winds its way across the landscape. A new milestone: The box, soaring high above the surface, is putting out energy equivalent to three Trinity tests every second.

At this point, the pattern is obvious. This thing is going to skip around the atmosphere until it destroys the planet. We turn the dial to zero as the box is passing over northern Canada.

Rapidly cooling, it plummets to Earth, landing in Great Bear Lake with a plume of steam. And then. A brief story: When the 1- kiloton nuke went off below, the facility effectively became a nuclear potato cannon, giving the cap a gigantic kick. The cap was never found. When we turn it back on, our reactivated hair dryer box, bobbing in lake water, undergoes a similar process. The heated steam below it expands outward, and as the box rises into the air, the entire surface of the lake turns to steam.

It exits the atmosphere and continues away, slowly fading from second sun to dim star. Much of the Northwest Territories is burning, but the Earth has survived. If a charger is connected to something, like a smartphone or laptop, power can be flowing from the wall through the charger into the device. However, neither of them answered this particular question. Without people, there would be less demand for power, but our thermostats would still be running.

As coal and oil plants started shutting down in the first few hours, other plants would need to take up the slack. This kind of situation is difficult to handle even with human guidance.

However, plenty of electricity comes from sources not tied to the major power grids. These can continue to operate until they run out of fuel, which in most cases could be anywhere from days to months. Wind turbines People relying on wind power would be in better shape than most.

Some windmills can run for a long time without human intervention. Modern turbines are typically rated to run for 30, hours three years without servicing, and there are no doubt some that would run for decades. One of them would no doubt have at least a status LED in it somewhere. Their gearboxes would seize up. Hydroelectric dams Generators that convert falling water into electricity will keep working for quite a while. The dam would probably succumb to either clogged intakes or the same kind of mechanical failure that would hit the wind turbines and geothermal plants.

Even without anything using their power, batteries gradually self-discharge. Some types last longer than others, but even batteries advertised as having long shelf lives typically hold their charge only for a decade or two. There are a few exceptions. Nobody knows exactly what kind of batteries it uses because nobody wants to take it apart to figure it out.

Nuclear reactors Nuclear reactors are a little tricky. As a certain webcomic put it: As soon as something went wrong, the core would go into automatic shutdown. This would happen quickly; many things can trigger it, but the most likely culprit would be a loss of external power. Space probes Out of all human artifacts, our spacecraft might be the longest-lasting. Within centuries, our Mars rovers will be buried by dust. GPS satellites, in distant orbits, will last longer, but in time, even the most stable orbits will be disrupted by the Moon and Sun.

Many spacecraft are powered by solar panels, and others by radioactive decay. Eventually the voltage will drop too low to keep the rover operating, but other parts will probably wear out before that happens. So Curiosity looks promising. With no human instructions, it will have no reason to turn them on.

Solar power Emergency call boxes, often found along the side of the road in remote locations, are frequently solar-powered.

They usually have lights on them, which provide illumination every night. If we follow a strict definition of lighting, solar- powered lights in remote locations could conceivably be the last surviving human light source.

Watch dials used to be coated in radium, which made them glow. Over the years, the paint has broken down. Although the watch dials are still radioactive, they no longer glow. Watch dials, however, are not our only radioactive light source. In the dark, these glass blocks glow blue. And thus, we arrive at our answer: Centuries from now, deep in concrete vaults, the light from our most toxic waste will still be shining.

In case something went wrong, next to the railing was stationed a distinguished physicist with an axe. The principle here is pretty simple. If you fire a bullet forward, the recoil pushes you back. So if you fire downward, the recoil should push you up. The Saturn V had a takeoff thrust-to-weight ratio of about 1. As it turns out, the AK has a thrust-to-weight ratio of around 2.

This means if you stood it on end and somehow taped down the trigger, it would rise into the air while firing. Thrust is the product of these two amounts: If an AK fires ten 8- gram bullets per second at meters per second, its thrust is: Since the AK weighs only In practice, the actual thrust would turn out to be up to around 30 percent higher.

The amount of extra force this adds varies by gun and cartridge. The overall efficiency also depends on whether you eject the shell casings out of the vehicle or carry them with you.

I asked my Texan acquaintances if they could weigh some shell casings for my calculations. We can try using multiple guns. If you fire two guns at the ground, it creates twice the thrust. If each gun can lift 5 pounds more than its own weight, two can lift You will not go to space today. An AK magazine holds 30 rounds. We can improve this with a larger magazine—but only up to a point. The reason for this is a fundamental and central problem in rocket science: Fuel makes you heavier.

If we added more than about rounds, the AK would be too heavy to take off. The largest versions of this craft could accelerate upward to vertical speeds approaching meters per second, climbing over half a kilometer into the air. With enough machine guns, you could fly. Can we do better? My Texas friends suggested a series of machine guns, and I ran the numbers on each one.

Some did pretty well; the MG, a heavier machine gun, had a marginally higher thrust-to-weight ratio than the AK Then we went bigger. To put it another way: If I mounted a GAU-8 on my car, put the car in neutral, and started firing backward from a standstill, I would be breaking the interstate speed limit in less than three seconds. Its thrust-to- weight ratio approaches 40, which means if you pointed one at the ground and fired, not only would it take off in a rapidly expanding spray of deadly metal fragments, but you would experience 40 gees of acceleration.

This is way too much. Landing lights almost always broke after firing. Or something else? Fortunately, your body handles air pressure changes like that all the time.

Air pressure changes quickly with height. If your phone has a barometer in it, as a lot of modern phones do, you can download an app and actually see the pressure difference between your head and your feet. At about two hours and two kilometers, the temperature would drop below freezing. The wind would also, most likely, be picking up. If you have any exposed skin, this is where frostbite would start to become a concern.

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However, unless you had a warm coat, the temperature would be a bigger problem. Over the next two hours, the air would drop to below- zero temperatures.

After a few days, your immune system notices and destroys it,3 but not before you infect, on average, one other person. Could our immune systems then wipe out every copy of the virus?

A global quarantine brings us to another question: How far apart can we actually get from one another? A lot of us would be stuck standing in the Sahara Desert,5 or central Antarctica. That way, we could walk around and interact, even allowing some normal economic activity to continue: Would it work?

To help figure out the answer, I talked to Professor Ian M. He said that rhinoviruses—and other RNA respiratory viruses —are completely eliminated from the body by the immune system; they do not linger after infection. The remote islands of St. Kilda, far to the northwest of Scotland, for centuries hosted a population of about people.

The exact cause of the outbreaks is unknown,8 but rhinoviruses were probably responsible for many of them. Every time a boat visited, it would introduce new strains of virus. These strains would sweep the islands, infecting virtually everyone. After several weeks, all the residents would have fresh immunity to those strains, and with nowhere to go, the viruses would die out. If all humans were isolated from one another, the St. After a week or two, our colds would run their course, and healthy immune systems would have plenty of time to clear the viruses.

The story is different for those with severely weakened immune systems. In transplant patients, for example, whose immune systems have been artificially suppressed, common infections —including rhinoviruses —can linger for weeks, months, or conceivably years. This small group of immunocompromised people would serve as safe havens for rhinoviruses. The hope of eradicating them is slim; they would need to survive in only a few hosts in order to sweep out and retake the world.

While colds are no fun, their absence might be worse. On the other hand, colds suck. And in addition to being unpleasant, some research says infections by these viruses also weaken our immune systems directly and can open us up to further infections. If the average were less than one, the virus would die out. If it were more than one, eventually everyone would have a cold all the time. Kilda correctly identified the boats as the trigger for the outbreaks.

But what if the empty half of the glass were actually empty—a vacuum? Which half is empty? For the first handful of microseconds, nothing happens. On this timescale, even the air molecules are nearly stationary.

For the most part, air molecules jiggle around at speeds of a few hundred meters per second. But at any given time, some happen to be moving faster than others.

The fastest few are moving at over meters per second. These are the first to drift into the vacuum in the glass on the right. However, in the vacuum of the glasses, it does start to boil, slowly shedding water vapor into the empty space. While the water on the surface in both glasses starts to boil away, in the glass on the right, the air rushing in stops it before it really gets going. The sides of the glass bulge slightly, but they contain the pressure and do not break.

A shockwave reverberates through the water and back into the air, joining the turbulence already there. The shockwave from the vacuum collapse takes about a millisecond to spread out through the other two glasses. The glass and water both flex slightly as the wave passes through them. Around this time, the glass on the left starts to visibly lift into the air. This is the force we think of as suction. The boiling water has filled the vacuum with a very small amount of water vapor.

However, the glass and water are now moving too fast for the vapor buildup to matter. Without a cushion of air between them —only a few wisps of vapor —the water smacks into the bottom of the glass like a hammer. The momentary force on the glass is immense, and it breaks. In our situation, the forces would be more than enough to destroy even the heaviest drinking glasses. The bottom is carried downward by the water and thunks against the table.

The water splashes around it, spraying droplets and glass shards in all directions. Meanwhile, the detached upper portion of the glass continues to rise. After half a second, the observers, hearing a pop, have begun to flinch. Their heads lift involuntarily to follow the rising movement of the glass.

The glass has just enough speed to bang against the ceiling, breaking into fragments. The lesson: If the optimist says the glass is half full, and the pessimist says the glass is half empty, the physicist ducks.

Radio transmissions Contact popularized the idea of aliens listening in on our broadcast media. Sadly, the odds are against it. Space is really big. The full picture is more complicated, but the bottom line is that as our technology has gotten better, less of our radio traffic has been leaking out into space.

Even in the late 20th century, when we were using TV and radio to scream into the void at the top of our lungs, the signal probably faded to undetectability after a few light-years.

They were outshone by the beams from early- warning radar. But the same march of technological progress that made the TV broadcast towers obsolete has had the same effect on early- warning radar. This massive dish in Puerto Rico can function as a radar transmitter, bouncing a signal off nearby targets like Mercury and the asteroid belt. However, it transmits only occasionally, and in a narrow beam. If an exoplanet happened to be caught in the beam, and they were lucky enough to be pointing a receiving antenna at our corner of the sky at the time, all they would pick up would be a brief pulse of radio energy, then silence.

Visible light This is more promising. The Sun is really bright, [citation needed ] and its light illuminates the Earth. Both of these effects could potentially be detected from an exoplanet. You could probably figure out what our water cycle looked like, and our oxygen-rich atmosphere would give you a hint that something weird was going on. So in the end, the clearest signal from Earth might not be from us at all. Heeeey, look at the time.

Gotta run. A radio transmission has the problem that they have to be paying attention when it arrives. Instead, we could make them pay attention. If we can figure out how to make a guidance system that survives the trip which would be tough , we could use it to steer toward any inhabited planet.

But slowing down takes even more fuel. So maybe if those aliens looked toward our solar system, this is what they would see: There are easier ways to lose a third of a pound, including: This happens for two reasons: One, the Earth is shaped like this: When you stand, your muscles are constantly working to keep you upright.

For a while. Amanita bisporigera is a species of mushroom found in eastern North America. Destroying angel is a small, white, inoccuous-looking mushroom. Amanita is the reason why. Then you start to feel better. Amanita mushrooms contain amatoxin, which binds to an enzyme that is used to read information from DNA. Since most of your body is made of cells,4 this is bad. Death is generally caused by liver or kidney failure, since those are the first sensitive organs in which the toxin accumulates.

The picture is even more vividly illustrated by two other examples of DNA damage: Some are more precisely targeted than others, but many simply interrupt cell division in general. The reason that this selectively kills cancer cells, instead of harming the patient and the cancer equally, is that cancer cells are dividing all the time, whereas most normal cells divide only occasionally. Some human cells do divide constantly. The most rapidly dividing cells are found in the bone marrow, the factory that produces blood.

Without it, we lose the ability to produce white blood cells, and our immune system collapses. Chemotherapy causes damage to the immune system, which makes cancer patients vulnerable to stray infections. Doxorubicin, one of the most common and potent chemotherapy drugs, works by linking random segments of DNA to one another to tangle them. A loss of DNA would cause similar cell death, and probably similar symptoms. This is the period where the body is still working, but no new proteins can be synthesized and the immune system is collapsing.

On the other hand, there would be at least one silver lining. If we ever end up in a dystopian future where Orwellian governments collect our genetic information and use it to track and control us.

I got one of your friends to sneak into your room with a microscope while you were sleeping and check. They stimulate white blood cell production by, in effect, tricking the body into thinking that it has a massive E. Instead, they physically dissolve the blood-brain barrier, resulting in rapid death from cerebral hemorrhage brain bleeding. Plants undo this by stripping the oxygen back out and pumping it into the air. Engines need oxygen in the air to run.

The Sun: To see what would happen to our aircraft on Mars, we turn to X-Plane. X-Plane is the most advanced flight simulator in the world. This makes it a valuable research tool, since it can accurately simulate entirely new aircraft designs —and new environments.

X-Plane tells us that flight on Mars is difficult, but not impossible. NASA knows this, and has considered surveying Mars by airplane. The tricky thing is that with so little atmosphere, to get any lift, you have to go fast. The X-Plane author compared piloting Martian aircraft to flying a supersonic ocean liner.

If dropped from 4 or 5 kilometers, it could gain enough speed to pull up into a glide—at over half the speed of sound. The landing would not be survivable. But physics calculations give us an idea of what flight there would be like. The upshot is: Your plane would fly pretty well, except it would be on fire the whole time, and then it would stop flying, and then stop being a plane. Unfortunately, that air is hot enough to melt lead. A much better bet would be to fly above the clouds.

You would need the wetsuit, though, to protect you from the sulfuric acid. Venus is a terrible place. The picture here is a little friendlier than on Jupiter. Uranus is a strange, uniform bluish orb. It at least has some clouds to look at before you freeze to death or break apart from the turbulence. Its gravity—lower than that of the Moon—means that flying is easy. Our Cessna could get into the air under pedal power. A human in a hang glider could comfortably take off and cruise around powered by oversized swim-flipper boots —or even take off by flapping artificial wings.

The power requirements are minimal—it would probably take no more effort than walking. Judging from some numbers on heating requirements for light aircraft, I estimate that the cabin of a Cessna on Titan would probably cool by about 2 degrees per minute.

The Huygens probe, which descended with batteries nearly drained, taking fascinating pictures as it fell, succumbed to the cold after only a few hours on the surface.

If humans put on artificial wings to fly, we might become Titanian versions of the Icarus story—our wings could freeze, fall apart, and send us tumbling to our deaths. The cold of Titan is just an engineering problem. With the right refitting, and the right heat sources, a Cessna could fly on Titan —and so could we. What is the total nutritional value calories, fat, vitamins, minerals, etc. How much Force power can Yoda output?

First we need to know how heavy the ship was. Next, we need to know how fast it was rising. The front landing strut rises out of the water in about three and a half seconds, and I estimated the strut to be 1.

Lastly, we need to know the strength of gravity on Dagobah. Wookieepeedia has just such a catalog, and informs us that the surface gravity on Dagobah is 0. Combining this with the X- wing mass and lift rate gives us our peak power output: But telekinesis is just one type of Force power. What about that lightning the Emperor used to zap Luke? Those Tesla coils typically use lots of very short pulses.

If the Emperor is sustaining a continuous arc, as in an arc welder, the power could easily be in the megawatts. What about Luke? I examined the scene where he used his nascent Force powers to yank his lightsaber out of the snow. The numbers are harder to estimate here, but I went through frame-by-frame and came up with an estimate of watts for his peak output. So Yoda sounds like our best bet as an energy source. But with world electricity consumption pushing 2 terawatts, it would take a hundred million Yodas to meet our demands.

But what state do the largest number of planes actually fly over? There are a lot of flights up and down the East Coast; it would be easy to imagine that people fly over New York more often than Wyoming. To figure out what the real flyover states are, I looked at over 10, air traffic routes, determining which states each flight passed over. Surprisingly, the state with the most planes flying over it —without taking off or landing—is. This result surprised me. These states have substantially more daily flyovers than any other.

So why Virginia? There are a number of factors, but one of the biggest is Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. By this measure, the flyover states are, for the most part, simply the least dense states. The state with the highest ratio of flights-over-to- flights-to, however, is a surprise: A little digging turned up the very straightforward reason: Delaware has no airports.

This came as a surprise to me, since California is long and skinny, and it seems like a lot of flights over the Pacific would need to pass over it. What is the most flown-under state? The answer turns out to be Hawaii. The reason such a tiny state wins in this category is that most of the US is opposite the Indian Ocean, which has very few commercial flights over it.

Falling from great heights is dangerous. A balloon will act as a parachute, slowing your fall to nonfatal speeds. As one medical paper put it. It is, of course, obvious that speed, or height of fall, is not in itself injurious. A powerful fan could be used to fill it with ambient air, but at that point, you may as well just use a parachute.

In , Larry Walters flew across Los Angeles in a lawn chair lifted by weather balloons, eventually reaching several miles in altitude. On landing, Walters was arrested, although the authorities had some trouble figuring out what to charge him with. Compressed helium cylinders are smooth and often quite heavy, which means they have a high terminal velocity.

This is true of everything from small meteors1 to Felix Baumgartner. The ban- appeal form asked me to explain what task I was performing that necessitated so many queries.

One poster compared a fall from height to being hit by a bus. Another user, a medical examiner, replied that this was a bad comparison: The lower legs break, sending them into the air. They then go over the top of the car.

They die when they hit the ground. They die from head injury. But lifting people into space is hard. Barring a massive reduction in the population, is launching the whole human race into space physically possible? To figure out if this is plausible, we can start with an absolute baseline energy requirement: How much is 4 gigajoules? A lot, but not physically implausible. However, 4 gigajoules is just a minimum.

In practice, everything would depend on our means of transportation. This is because of a fundamental problem with rockets: They have to lift their own fuel. We load that fuel on board—and now our spaceship weighs kilograms. A kilogram spaceship requires kilograms of fuel, so we load another kilograms on board. We burn it as we go, so we get lighter and lighter, which means we need less and less fuel.

But we do have to lift the fuel partway. The formula for how much propellant we need to burn to get moving at a given speed is given by the Tsiolkovsky Rocket equation: If that ratio is x, then to launch a kilogram of ship, we need ex kilograms of fuel. As x grows, this amount gets very large. Launching all of humanity total weight: As crazy as it sounds, we might be better off trying to 1 literally climb into space on a rope, or 2 blow ourselves off the planet with nuclear weapons.

These are actually serious—if audacious —ideas for launch systems, both of which have been bouncing around since the start of the Space Age. The idea is that we connect a tether to a satellite orbiting far enough out that the tether is held taut by centrifugal force.

The biggest engineering hurdle is that the tether would have to be several times stronger than anything we can currently build.

The basic idea is that you toss a nuclear bomb behind you and ride the shockwave. If it could be made reliable enough, this system would in theory be capable of lifting entire city blocks into orbit, and could—potentially —accomplish our goal. The engineering principles behind this were thought to be solid enough that in the s, under the guidance of Freeman Dyson, the US government actually tried to build one of these spaceships.

Advocates for nuclear pulse propulsion are still disappointed that the project was cancelled before any prototypes were built. So the answer is that while sending one person into space is easy, getting all of us there would tax our resources to the limit and possibly destroy the planet. Would this be possible in real life? More on how that randomization works in a moment. In humans, these cells are from two different people. Stem cells, which can form any type of tissue, could in principle be used to produce sperm or eggs.

So far, nobody has been able to produce complete sperm from stem cells. In , a group of researchers succeeded in turning bone marrow stem cells into spermatogonial stem cells. These cells are the predecessors to sperm. There were two problems. They said they produced sperm-like cells, but the media generally glossed over this. It turns out the authors had plagiarized two paragraphs of their article from another paper. Despite these problems, the fundamental idea here is not that far-fetched, and the answer to R.

In our simplified version of DNA, instead of 23 chromosomes, there will be just seven. The last one is the sex-determining chromosome. This piece of information is either a stat a number, usually between 1 and 18 or a multiplier. Imagine that your genes looked like this: If you have a number for both versions of a chromosome, you get the bigger number as your stat. If you have a number on one chromosome and a multiplier on the other, your stat is the number times the multiplier. In fact, other than a low score in wisdom, this character has great stats all around.

Bob also has stellar stats: If they have a child, each one will contribute a strand of DNA. But the strand they contribute will be a random mix of their mother and father strands. Since two multipliers together result in a stat of 1, if Alice and Bob had both contributed their multiplier, the child would have a rock- bottom CHR. Fortunately, the odds of this happening were only 1 in 4.

If the child had multipliers on both strands, the stat would have been reduced to 1. Then the selected strands would be contributed to the child: The child also has a problem: If someone produces a child on their own, it dramatically increases the likelihood that the child will inherit the same chromosome on both sides, and thus a double multiplier.

In general, if you have a child with yourself, 50 percent of your chromosomes will have the same stat on both sides. Humans In humans, probably the most common genetic disorder caused by inbreeding is spinal muscular atrophy SMA. SMA causes the death of the cells in the spinal cord, and is often fatal or severely disabling.

SMA is caused by an abnormal version of a gene on chromosome 5. About 1 in 50 people have this abnormality, which means 1 in people will contribute it to their children. One in may not sound so bad, but SMA is only the start. Each chromosome contains a staggering amount of information, and the interaction between DNA and the cell machinery around it is incredibly complicated, with countless moving parts and Mousetrap- style feedback loops. In humans, each chromosome affects many things through a variety of mutations and variations.

However, if they have the gene on just one of their chromosomes, they get a surprise benefit: These two diseases illustrate one reason that genetic diversity is important. Mutations pop up all over the place, but our redundant chromosomes help blunt this effect.

This brings us to the answer to the original question. A child from a parent who self- fertilized would be like a clone of the parent with severe genetic damage. According to D. There would be a very good chance that the resulting fetus would not survive to birth.

Charles had an inbreeding coefficient of 0. In one incident, he reportedly ordered that the corpses of his relatives be dug up so he could look at them.

His inability to bear children marked the end of that royal bloodline. Self-fertilization is a risky strategy, which is why sex is so popular among large and complex organisms.

Life finds a way. These salamanders are an all-female species, and — strangely — have three genomes instead of two. To breed, they go through a courtship ritual with male salamanders of related species, then lay self-fertilized eggs. Archerfish hunt insects by throwing water droplets, but they use specialized mouths instead of arms.

Horned lizards shoot jets of blood from their eyes for distances of up to 5 feet. Throwing is hard. To put that in perspective, it takes about five milliseconds for the fastest nerve impulse to travel the length of the arm.

In terms of timing, this is like a drummer dropping a drumstick from the tenth story and hitting a drum on the ground on the correct beat. We seem to be much better at throwing things forward than throwing them upward. Of course, we could also try this: I will give these heights in units of giraffes: Someone with a reasonably good arm could manage five: A pitcher with an 80 mph fastball could manage ten giraffes: Aroldis Chapman, the holder of the world record for fastest recorded pitch mph , could in theory launch a baseball 14 giraffes high: But what about projectiles other than a baseball?

Obviously, with the aid of tools like slings, crossbows, or the curved xistera scoops in jai alai, we can launch projectiles much faster than that. Fortunately, Bradstock has, and he claims a record throw of yards. The speed improvement from using a golf ball instead of a baseball would probably not be very large, but it seems plausible that a professional pitcher with some time to practice could throw a golf ball faster than a baseball.

I had to turn it over in my head a few times after I heard it. Look at your hand—there are about a trillion neutrinos from the Sun passing through it every second. Okay, you can stop looking at your hand now. Supernovae provide that scenario. A supernova, seen from as far away as the Sun is from the Earth, or the detonation of a hydrogen bomb pressed against your eyeball? Can you hurry up and set it off? This is heavy. Applying Dr.

And indeed, it is. A paper by radiation expert Andrew Karam provides an answer. GRB B was the most violent event ever observed—especially for the people who were floating right next to it with surfboards. If you observed a supernova from 1 AU away—and you somehow avoided being incinerated, vaporized, and converted to some type of exotic plasma—even the flood of ghostly neutrinos would be dense enough to kill you.

Statistically, your first neutrino interaction probably happens somewhere around age ten. What are the possible short- term effects of this toxin? If a Venus fly trap could eat a person, about how long would it take for the human to be fully de-juiced and absorbed?

First, a disclaimer. Here are some reasons: You could hit and kill someone. It can destroy your tires, suspension, and potentially your entire car. Have you read any of the other answers in this book? Examination of the thoracolumbar X-ray and computed tomography displayed compression fractures in four patients. Posterior instrumentation was applied.

All patients recovered well except for the one with cervical fracture. In the case of the tires, they may absorb it by exploding. The typical speed bump is between 3 and 4 inches tall. The typical sedan has a top speed of around miles per hour. Hitting a speed bump at that speed would, in one way or another, probably result in losing control of the car and crashing. How fast would you have to go to definitely die?

If you did force a sedan to go faster than its top speed —perhaps by reusing the magical accelerator from the relativistic baseball—the speed bump would be the least of your problems. Cars generate lift. The air flowing around a car exerts all kinds of forces on it.

Where did all these arrows come from? The lift forces are relatively minor at normal highway speeds, but at higher speeds they become substantial. In a sedan, they lift it up. The bottom line is that in the range of — mph, a typical sedan would lift off the ground, tumble, and crash. At higher speeds, the car itself would be disassembled, and might even burn up like a spacecraft reentering the atmosphere.

Therefore, if you drove a car over a Philadelphia speed bump at 90 percent of the speed of light, in addition to destroying the city. Go outside with a ruler and check. We can immediately see some problems with this model. We could try to calculate the average visibility across all parts of the Earth, but then we run into another question: Why would two people who are trying to find each other spend time in a thick jungle?

It would seem to make more sense for both of them to stay in flat, open areas where they could easily see and be seen. The optimal strategy might be something totally different. What strategy would make the most sense for our lost immortals? They have plenty of time. Where do you go? To me, that argument seems a little weak.

Following the coastlines seems like a sensible move. Walking around the average continent would take about five years, based on typical width-to-coastline-length ratios for Earth land masses. If you both walk counterclockwise, you could circle forever without finding each other. If it comes up heads, circle counterclockwise again.

If tails, go clockwise. Be an ant. If you have no information, walk at random, leaving a trail of stone markers, each one pointing to the next. Periodically mark the date alongside the cairn. You could chisel the number of days into a rock, or lay out rocks to plot the number. Are they okay? Would it negate the need for a heat shield?

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