Monday, May 7th, 2012
42

Dumb Questions I’ve Had For Science

• Do astronomers ever refuse to classify rocks in space as asteroids out of spite?

• If Jupiter’s radiation is so tough why don’t we just wear thick lead spacesuits?

• Why do we only send crazy-looking robots with wheels to other planets? Why don't we send probes that can walk?

• I wonder how many people would be beheaded by their own invention if that invention were a poorly made hovercraft.

• If Venus is so hot, why hasn't it melted itself?

• Which is more underrated, Uranus or Neptune?

• How many multiverse mes can there be anyway? I doubt the same sperm hit the same egg in that many universes.

• If it weren’t for Watergate, would we have a moonbase by now?

• If you could bring a cup of water back from Europa, would it be too radioactive from proximity to Jupiter to drink?

• If you drilled a hole nearly to the core of the earth, and did it in the ocean, what would happen? Would the ocean start draining into the hole, and could you go deep enough to rid the earth of the ocean once and for all?

• If smoke detectors are partially radioactive, do the people who work in the factories have to wear protective gear in assembling? Should there be a health warning for the guy at Ace Hardware who has to put them on the shelf?

• Say, we build an immeasurably fast, nigh impossible craft that takes us to the edge of the universe. What do scientists think would happen if we touched it?

• When will scientists engineer a cow that doesn't fart? It would end global warming.

• So Saturn is pretty undense right? How deep does its lack of density go? Could you send a probe from one end to the other and just pass right through the planet?

• Have NASA interplanetary crafts been properly sterilized prior to launch to ensure that extremophile bacteria doesn't potentially adapt to climates on other planets and moons and begin to thrive?

• What is the chemical composition of the odor of a banana, and how does it give off this odor?

• Would it radically alter the sun's chemistry if we gathered up all our garbage and rocketed it into the sun?

• If you give the octopus a longer life span, how long will it take to organize a war against humanity?

• If I put my brain in a robot body, would my brain eventually start to decompose and screw up the robot?

• Could nanotechnology just gradually replace all my brain cells instead, but I’d still have sentient control over them?

• What would be the easiest way to give this robotic body immortality that doesn’t involve eating people?

• Could we just put a really big magnet in space to collect all the space junk?

• If I find a dinosaur in my backyard, can I legally keep it?

• Could a shark survive long enough inside a whale to bite its way out of the whale’s stomach?

• If our atoms are the same atoms as other things on Earth just sort of recollected and rearranged, how many atoms that used to be part of people have we eaten?

• If faster than light travel becomes possible, does it break through space-time distortion or does time go on the same outside the craft?

• So we're in a craft going near the speed of light, and we send a message from our craft to Earth. Is the message sped up when it gets to Earth? That is to say, because time inside is different than time outside, do we sound like the Chipmunks?

• If I got in a car going 100 miles an hour around the Earth non-stop for the rest of my life, how much time distortion would I actually experience? Would it qualify me as a time traveller?

• How many cubic feet of water are in the ocean?

• If our universe hit another universe, which one would win?


John Wenz got a D in astronomy in college, but that doesn’t stop him from trying. 1984 NASA/Dennis M. Davidson concept drawing of a lunar base via Wikipedia.

42 Comments / Post A Comment

laurel (#4,035)

< -- Neptune is more underrated! Look how pretty it is! When, JPL, are we getting a Cassini-Huygens for Neptune?!

Wheels on probes vs. legs: I'm going with fewer moving parts?

Cows: they have.

These are good questions. I would like to do this all day.

camelface (#4,600)

how is babby formed?

Annie K. (#3,563)

These questions are lovely. Give me money and I'll find or make up the answer to every one of them. Or just sing me a song.

@Annie K. : Oh, sorry about that.

Alternate take : I am your low-wage immigrant making-up-answers replacement. (actually no wage! stealin' your jobs for FUN!)

Annie K. (#3,563)

@Gef the Talking Mongoose Oh rats. Riotrrd has it nailed, so neither wages nor songs for either one of us.

Tyrantanic (#13,751)

I am also concerned about the impending Octopus Revolution

rbrtposteschild (#11,915)

The ocean = 4.59090667 × 10^19 cubic ft of water! *looks at shoes, slinks back into the lab*

Vicky (#7,168)

@rbrtposteschild How many regulation-sized ice cubes would we have if it all froze?

riotnrrd (#840)

@Vicky The volume of ice is about 9% larger than the volume of the equivalent amount of liquid water. Ignoring the effect salt will have on the freezing temperature (ice loses a bit of volume when it gets very cold, but only around 0.5%), the ocean freezing would create 5.004 x 10^19 cubic feet of water. An ice cube is about 2 tablespoons of water and there are 1915 Tbs in each cubic foot, so we will have 4.791 x 10^22 ice cubes. Enough to give everyone in the world 7 trillion delicious, salty ice cubes.

wallsdonotfall (#6,378)

@rbrtposteschild Handy illustration! (includes ALL water, though.)

Odm (#11,228)

Whee, science!

• If you drilled a hole nearly to the core of the earth, and did it in the ocean, what would happen? Would the ocean start draining into the hole, and could you go deep enough to rid the earth of the ocean once and for all?

You could hide the ocean in a really big underground hole. It's what, 14 km at its deepest? The radius of the earth is about 6400 km, so lots of space underground. There's also enough heat in the core to turn of all the water into steam, although I don't know how you'd get it to stay as steam.

• When will scientists engineer a cow that doesn't fart? It would end global warming.

Australian scientists are working on it. They're trying to put kangaroo gut bacteria into cows.

• Would it radically alter the sun's chemistry if we gathered up all our garbage and rocketed it into the sun?

I can't imagine it would. The garbage would be toasted into its constituent atoms (hydrogen, carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, etc) all

BadUncle (#153)

Where does the light go when you turn off the switch?

riotnrrd (#840)

• Say, we build an immeasurably fast, nigh impossible craft that takes us to the edge of the universe. What do scientists think would happen if we touched it?

There is no "edge" to the universe. The analogy is poor, but think of an ant crawling along the surface of an expanding balloon. No matter how far of fast he crawls, he will never reach the "edge" of the balloon's surface.

melis (#1,854)

@riotnrrd What if we put a smaller but also expanding balloon on the ant's back and he started to float away from the first balloon? Where's your precious science, now?

riotnrrd (#840)

• If I got in a car going 100 miles an hour around the Earth non-stop for the rest of my life, how much time distortion would I actually experience? Would it qualify me as a time traveller?

Travelling at 100mph would result in a truly insignificant amount of time dilation (1.441×10-5 percent) relative to a stationary observer in NYC. But let's say you can keep this up for the next sixty years (you live a long healthy life in your car); you would have aged approximately 273 seconds slower relative to your friends in NYC. Probably not worth it.

riotnrrd (#840)

Oh god, my calculations were totally wrong. I was using the figure of 100 miles per SECOND, not per HOUR. Your real time dilation is something like 1.1102 x 10^-12 percent, so you would age about 3.5 x 10^-7 seconds (1/3 of a microsecond) slower relative to your stationary friends. Definitely not worth it.

riotnrrd (#840)

• Have NASA interplanetary crafts been properly sterilized prior to launch to ensure that extremophile bacteria doesn't potentially adapt to climates on other planets and moons and begin to thrive?

Yes!, and the folks at JPL really worry about this. There was some concern in the late 90's over an unsterilized Russian Mars probe, however it malfunctioned and never made it so the Martian bacteria are safe.

Bittersweet (#765)

@riotnrr: An attack of Unsterilized Russian Rogue Bacteria are almost as unsettling as getting taken over by The Machines.

SidAndFinancy (#4,328)

@Bittersweet I saw Unsterilized Russian Rogue Bacteria open up for The Machines at Wetlands.

Tuna Surprise (#573)

If you find a dinosaur in your backyard, you can keep it!

http://whyfiles.org/029dinos/sue4.html

grandpa27 (#804)

@Tuna Surprise We usually put out water for them to take a bath.

riotnrrd (#840)

• So we're in a craft going near the speed of light, and we send a message from our craft to Earth. Is the message sped up when it gets to Earth? That is to say, because time inside is different than time outside, do we sound like the Chipmunks?

The opposite and not for the reason you think.

Because light always travels at light speed, when a signal is broadcast from a moving (relative to the observer) object, it doesn't arrive sooner (if you're moving towards the observer) or later (if you're travelling away), but rather gains or loses energy, becoming blue- or red-shifted respectively. So, you would sound all 'luded out but only because your signal had been red-shifted which reduces the frequency of the broadcast.

wallsdonotfall (#6,378)

@riotnrrd I just have to say that this comment string is the sexiest thing I've read in weeks.

hypnosifl (#9,470)

@riotnrrd As a clarification, your signal would be red-shifted (and so it would seem slowed down) if you were heading away from the Earth, but if you were heading back towards the Earth, your signal would be blue-shifted and you would sound all chipmunkey.

carpetblogger (#306)

OK! This is a serious question about moon/sun/earth relations that I am too embarrassed to ask anyone I know (also, I doubt anyone I know would know the answer…at least I hope so). It arose (ha!) because of this moon thing. Here goes:

I see the sun come up, this time of year, very distinctly in the NE sky (not as far as it will be in june, but pretty far north), compared to wintertime, when it rises in the southeast sky I GET WHY THIS IS I AM NOT A COMPLETE IDIOT.

So, this fucking giant moon the other night rose in the southeast sky, nowhere near where the sun is coming up these days. EXPLAIN WHY THIS TO ME in language that someone who is clearly an ignorant mook can understand. (if it matters, I live in Istanbul)

wallsdonotfall (#6,378)

@carpetblogger The moon's position in the sky relative to the sun has to do with its orbit around the earth and corresponds to the lunar phase. When the moon is new, it's between us and the sun, and it appears dark because we can't see the reflected light. When the moon is full, the moon is on the other side of the earth from the sun. When the moon and sun are aligned (new moon), they rise and set at approximately the same location and at approximately the same time. When the moon is full, it's the opposite–the moon rises when the sun sets and in the more-or-less opposite quadrant of the sky. (But of course for the northern hemisphere, it will be NE/SE pairs instead of what might seem more opposite, NE/SW. And none of these directions are precise because math.)

If you chart the location of the moonrise over the course of 28 days, you'll see it swing back and forth between the NE (new moon) and SE (full moon), hitting straight east twice a cycle at the 1st and 3rd quarters. And in sixth months all that will flip and you'll see the moon in the southeast when dark and in the northeast when full.

carpetblogger (#306)

@wallsdonotfall that exactly the kind of sense-making I was looking for! thanks!

riotnrrd (#840)

• If faster than light travel becomes possible, does it break through space-time distortion or does time go on the same outside the craft?

There's no answer to this one, because according to everything we know it's impossible to travel (or send information) faster than light, so we have no way of extrapolating current theories to cover that circumstance. My guess is that we would be immediately attacked by a malevolent race of killjoys, who would enslave us and force us to travel slower than light.

turd_sandwich (#5,660)

@riotnrrd yeah, well: http://www.tgdaily.com/general-sciences-features/63167-light-clocked-going-faster-than-light-sort-of

i've never created anything in my life that anyone appreciated–always the critic.

riotnrrd (#840)

@turd_sandwich The phase velocity of a signal can travel faster than the waves themselves, but the light itself isn't changing speed and no information is being transmitted.

hypnosifl (#9,470)

@riotnrrd Also, if it's possible to send objects or signals faster than light, then it should also be possible to send objects or signals backwards in time, unless the theory of relativity is thrown out the window–see the tachyonic antitelephone for details. So that's a fairly good reason to bet that it isn't possible.

Do astronomers ever refuse to classify rocks in space as asteroids out of spite?
Yes. These are called "meteorites" and generally hurl themselves into the atmosphere in a fit of self-loathing.

If Jupiter’s radiation is so tough why don’t we just wear thick lead spacesuits?
Because they would make us look fat.

Why do we only send crazy-looking robots with wheels to other planets? Why don't we send probes that can walk?
Because wheels are actually a delicacy in Martian cuisine.

I wonder how many people would be beheaded by their own invention if that invention were a poorly made hovercraft.
You should see the statistics on crotch-mounted threshing machines. Whooo-ee.

If Venus is so hot, why hasn't it melted itself?
It's more of a dry heat.
Alternate take : Well, not exactly conventionally hot, more like jolie laide.

Which is more underrated, Uranus or Neptune?
The fact that you still believe there's actually a planet called "Uranus" is hilarious.

How many multiverse mes can there be anyway? I doubt the same sperm hit the same egg in that many universes.
There are a theoretically infinite number of multiverse yous, but a statistically significant percentage of them are enslaved as typists in the Shakespeare-Loving Monkey Multiverse.

If it weren’t for Watergate, would we have a moonbase by now?
Actually, those moonbase funds were being diverted to the secret Robot Nixonettes Fund.

If you could bring a cup of water back from Europa, would it be too radioactive from proximity to Jupiter to drink?
Most of the radiation comes from Uranus. Ha, got you again! I still can't believe you've never caught onto that. Seriously, did you not even get to page 56 in A Brief History of Time? Hawking totally exposes the gag right there.

If you drilled a hole nearly to the core of the earth, and did it in the ocean, what would happen? Would the ocean start draining into the hole, and could you go deep enough to rid the earth of the ocean once and for all?
Interestingly, the Mole People have a similar question, except for them it involves The Shoreless Lava Sea and something they call "the ceiling."

If smoke detectors are partially radioactive, do the people who work in the factories have to wear protective gear in assembling? Should there be a health warning for the guy at Ace Hardware who has to put them on the shelf?
You think smoke detectors actually contain anything besides a beeper that goes off every eight months? Jesus, this is even better than the Uranus thing.

Say, we build an immeasurably fast, nigh impossible craft that takes us to the edge of the universe. What do scientists think would happen if we touched it?
Real scientists don't use the word "impossible"! Or the word "nigh."

When will scientists engineer a cow that doesn't fart? It would end global warming.
They already have, but it turns out that the pink meat mists caused by explosive detonations of stopped-up cows are even worse for global warming.

So Saturn is pretty undense right? How deep does its lack of density go? Could you send a probe from one end to the other and just pass right through the planet?
Saturn would like to point out that it is not "undense." Saturn was a MATHLETE, for God's sake.

Have NASA interplanetary crafts been properly sterilized prior to launch to ensure that extremophile bacteria doesn't potentially adapt to climates on other planets and moons and begin to thrive?
Yeah, but the worst part is sterilizing them to make sure that no exoplanetary bacteria come back. Seriously, it takes like a hundred Handi-Wipes just to do the outside of a Soyuz, and you lose like half of them in zero-gee. There is literally a metric ton of used Handi-Wipes in low earth orbit right now.

What is the chemical composition of the odor of a banana, and how does it give off this odor?
Fun fact: the odor of a banana is actually a psychological illusion called "Bournemouth discrepancy."

Would it radically alter the sun's chemistry if we gathered up all our garbage and rocketed it into the sun?
Nah, the sun doesn't care. But don't antagonize the Sun; it's just looking for an excuse to expand and consume us. Solar flares are the Sun's equivalent of "I'll just take a little lick."

If you give the octopus a longer life span, how long will it take to organize a war against humanity?
Not long. Not long now.

If I put my brain in a robot body, would my brain eventually start to decompose and screw up the robot?
My robot body is fully air-conditioned, so that's not a problem unless I leave my brain in the glove compartment when it's sunny out.

Could nanotechnology just gradually replace all my brain cells instead, but I’d still have sentient control over them?
Yes, but the nanotechnology would have control over you too. Did I just BLOOOW YOOOUUUR MIIIIND?

What would be the easiest way to give this robotic body immortality that doesn’t involve eating people?
The payoff of eating people is really more of an aesthetic than an efficiency thing.

Could we just put a really big magnet in space to collect all the space junk?
I think von Daniken addressed that in his book "Alien Magnet Junk Accumulator : The History of the Formation of The Moon."

If I find a dinosaur in my backyard, can I legally keep it?
Ask your local homeowner's association.
Alternate take : only if you build a tall enough wall and never hire Jeff Goldblum for anything.

Could a shark survive long enough inside a whale to bite its way out of the whale’s stomach?
Coming to SyFy : Sharkomorph Resurrengeance!

If our atoms are the same atoms as other things on Earth just sort of recollected and rearranged, how many atoms that used to be part of people have we eaten?
Real actual answer : basically all of them. Stop eating now.

If faster than light travel becomes possible, does it break through space-time distortion or does time go on the same outside the craft?
Maybe I've already answered that and you're just experiencing time dilation from the speed of my awesomeness. DUDE I BLEW YOUR MIIIIND AGAIIIIN.

So we're in a craft going near the speed of light, and we send a message from our craft to Earth. Is the message sped up when it gets to Earth? That is to say, because time inside is different than time outside, do we sound like the Chipmunks?
This is actually addressed in the rarely-aired Chipmunks special "The Chipmunks Test the Bounds of Einsteinian Physics." (Spoiler : they end up sounding like Charles Kuralt.)

If I got in a car going 100 miles an hour around the Earth non-stop for the rest of my life, how much time distortion would I actually experience? Would it qualify me as a time traveller?
Those Superman movies are not actually real, you know.

How many cubic feet of water are in the ocean?
Extra special bonus actual answer : approximately 310 million cubic miles. You can do the conversion yourself; I'm going to go get a beer.

If our universe hit another universe, which one would win?
I can't hear you; I'm off getting a beer.

Annie K. (#3,563)

@Gef the Talking Mongoose All right, so Riotnrrd nailed the real answers and you nailed the made-up ones. I guess I have to either give you money or sing you a song.

cards194 (#233,205)

Freelance_Physicist (#233,221)

– If Jupiter’s radiation is so tough why don’t we just wear thick lead
spacesuits?

Lead isn't flexible so it would be hard to protect joints, especially with how thick the lead would have to be. Elbows, knees, and balls would still fry.

– Why do we only send crazy-looking robots with wheels to other
planets? Why don't we send probes that can walk?

Wheels are simpler than legs. You don't have to worry about coordination or balance. Cars don't trip over their own wheels.

– How many multiverse mes can there be anyway? I doubt the same sperm
hit the same egg in that many universes.

Of all the multiverses, 1 in 50 million (give or take depending on how virile your father was (I'll pause so you can consider that)) contain you, at least genetically. Infinity divided by 50 million is still infinity, assuming there are an infinite number of universes in the multiverse. Any number less than infinity seems arbitrary. In fact, the only non-weird numbers of universes are 0, 1, and infinity. 5 is right-out.

– If you drilled a hole nearly to the core of the earth, and did it in
the ocean, what would happen? Would the ocean start draining into the
hole, and could you go deep enough to rid the earth of the ocean once
and for all?

A more likely possibility would be the formation of an underwater volcano and, eventually, another Hawaii somewhere.

– Would it radically alter the sun's chemistry if we gathered up all
our garbage and rocketed it into the sun?

The sun is a million times larger than the Earth. You could toss the entire Earth into the Sun and nothing much would happen (to the Sun, that is). The real problem is that it takes as much rocket power to leave the Solar System as it does to fall into the Sun.

– Could we just put a really big magnet in space to collect all the
space junk?

There's one idea scientists are considering that's not too far off from that: 1) toss a giant metal net out of a rocket, 2) let it gather up a bunch of space junk, 3) let the Earth's magnetic field pull it into the atmosphere where it will burn up over one of the poles.

– If our atoms are the same atoms as other things on Earth just sort
of recollected and rearranged, how many atoms that used to be part of
people have we eaten?

I would guess that everything you eat contains atoms from dead people. It's often said that there is a molecule of air in your lungs that was a part of Caeser's last breath. Less often said is that in every glass of water you drink, there's also a water molecule that passed through the bladder of Ada Lovelace. Now I've got "The Circle of Life" stuck in my head.

– If our universe hit another universe, which one would win?

Not sure, but I'm sure Michael Bay is working on a screen play.

hypnosifl (#9,470)

@Freelance_Physicist The sun is a million times larger than the Earth. You could toss the entire Earth into the Sun and nothing much would happen (to the Sun, that is). The real problem is that it takes as much rocket power to leave the Solar System as it does to fall into the Sun.

How do you figure? If you have enough rocket power to achieve escape velocity from the Earth, and your trajectory is aimed straight at the Sun, won't gravity pull you the rest of the way into the Sun? Whereas to escape the Solar System you'd need to achieve the escape velocity for the Sun's gravity at the radius of Earth's orbit, which is higher than the escape velocity for the Earth at the Earth's surface according to the chart here.

Freelance_Physicist (#233,221)

@hypnosifl Just like shooting a gun from a moving car, in order to have a rocket hit the Sun, you need to aim behind the Sun, since the Earth is moving. The Earth is moving at 67,000 miles per hour around the Sun, so a rocket needs to fire in the opposite direction Earth's orbit to bleed off this much speed to fall into the Sun. Otherwise, the rocket will be drifting sideways too fast and miss it.

For comparison, Voyager I, the fastest spacecraft in existence, is currently traveling at 38,000 miles per hour. The Space Shuttle orbited the Earth at 18,000 miles per hour.

hypnosifl (#9,470)

@Freelance_Physicist Good point, but I had thought you were saying the speeds would need to be equal with your comment "it takes as much rocket power to leave the Solar System as it does to fall into the Sun", was I taking you too literally? 67,000 miles per hour is about 29.95 km/sec, still less than the escape velocity for the Sun's gravity at the distance of Earth's orbit according to the chart I linked to, 42.1 km/sec. Of course traveling away from the Earth will bleed off some speed due to Earth's gravity so you may need to start with an even higher speed. Then again, realistically you can use gravitational assists from other planets to help with both escaping the Solar system (as with Voyager, which used Jupiter and Saturn's gravity to increase its speed) and with crashing into the Sun (as with this planned mission to send a probe into the Sun, which will use repeated flybys of Venus to build up speed), so if you take that into account it would reduce the needed initial speed.

Freelance_Physicist (#233,221)

@hypnosifl I'm a physicist, so I oversimplify: every surface frictionless, every movement through vacuum, every cow spherical.

MichelleBusch (#236,533)

The radius of the earth is about 6400 km, so lots of space underground.

MichelleBusch (#236,533)

When the moon is new, it's between us and the sun, and it appears dark because we can't see the reflected light. When the moon is full, the moon is on the other side of the earth from the sun.

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