Sunday, May 18, 2008

Gesundheit! The Power of a Sneeze

A sneeze is quite a powerful event. In fact, a sneeze may produce exit velocities in excess of 650 miles per hour (mph) (290 meters/second). (Even the lower estimates of sneeze velocity, in excess of 95 mph (42 meters/second) are quite high.) To put this in perspective, the current Enhanced Fujita Scale defines EF3 tornadoes as having wind speeds between 136 and 165 mph, and EF5 tornadoes (the maximum intensity) as >200 mph. Category 5 hurricanes have winds greater than 155 mph. Thus, a typical sneeze produces wind velocities equal to or in excess of the winds produced in a major storm (tornado or hurricane).

This leads to the potential for great damage to the sneezer if the sneeze is not expelled; i.e., the sneeze is "internalized" or kept contained within the sneezer's air passages. There are several potential methods through which the "internalized" sneeze can lead to significant injury:
  • The lungs may be exploded; this generally leads to difficulty breathing, which can result in death.
  • The diaphragm (the muscle that compresses the lungs like an air pump to allow breathing) can have the lungs forced through it, which leads to difficulty breathing, which can result in death.
  • The diaphragm may become "vapor locked" - this is similar to a hydraulic lock situation, in which the forces (or fluids) on either side of a membrane (in this case the diaphragm) are in equilibrium without room for expansion, locking the membrane into a fixed, immobile position; in the event that the diaphragm becomes locked in place, this leads to difficulty breathing, which can result in death.
  • In rare cases, the head may explode, either internally or (more rarely) externally, which nearly always results in death.
In all these cases, difficulty breathing can (and often will, unless immediate medical attention is received) result in death (very few humans are able to live without breathing; in fact, we are currently aware of only one, but we think he was actually cheating and breathing without anyone's knowledge). This is why you should never hold in a sneeze! In fact, recent archaeological discoveries have determined that "sneeze inhibition" has caused the death of at least one species of humanoid in earth's history.

Many readers will be familiar with Neanderthal Man. This was a humanoid species (Homo neanderthalensis or Homo sapiens neanderthalensis) that lived between 130,000 and 30,000 years ago. While their disappearance has typically been explained by extinction, cross-breeding with modern Homo sapiens, or that they actually never were a different species from modern Homo sapiens and simply transformed into modern human form, new discoveries have identified "sneeze inhibition" (holding in their sneezes) as the actual cause for demise of the species.

A recent discovery of frozen Neanderthal remains in a remote region of Siberia includes a significant number of near-complete individuals, who, through the sub-freezing temperatures, were found encased in a layer of ice, preserving their soft tissues. Autopsy has revealed that these Neanderthals suffered from a range of the previously mentioned maladies that may occur as a result of sneeze internalization, primarily the "exploded lung" issues (although the two diaphragm issues did occur in lower percentages: about 75% of those found had exploded lungs consistent with "internalized sneeze injuries," 15% had vapor-locked diaphragm issues, 8% had lungs that had punctured the diaphragm, 1.3% had internal head explosions, 0.3% had external head explosions, and 0.4% had other injuries, some of which could be explained by internalizing a sneeze, while others indicate externally applied injuries, such as being hit in the head with a large club).

Nearby caves had early cave drawings consistent with Neanderthal stories, but with some interesting images never before observed (see example image to the right). These images have been interpreted by leading scholars to indicate that the Neanderthal community had achieved a higher social system than previously believed, and that the "sneeze" was considered a vulgar expression. Apparently the potential to spread disease was recognized early in this society. Additionally, the larger size of the nose of Neanderthal man must have made the sneezes much more violent than modern man. Together, this must have led the Neanderthals to the desire to avoid expelling their sneezes at all cost; unfortunately, the "at all cost" eventually cost them their race, as the entire species was wiped (so to speak) from the face of the earth, with the exception of a small remnant that has recently been featured in Geico insurance commercials (unfortunately mis-labeled "cave men" instead of "Neanderthals" or "Homo neanderthalensis").

In short, you should take a lesson from our long-lost brethren: don't hold in your sneeze! It's not worth the potential damage that the tornadic-force winds can wreak on your body.

Monday, May 12, 2008

A new perspective on anthropogenic global warming

Although this article may seem like an interruption in the "solar system colonization" series, you will see that this actually fits in very well.

In evaluating available temperature data, a new correlation has been found. In the graph to the right (click to enlarge), you will see the world population (human only, not including animal life) plotted (in red) along with the global average temperature anomalies (in blue) from approximately 1850 until the present day (the data is available at the Climatic Research Unit and the UK Met. Office Hadley Centre web site). The temperature data represents the "anomalies" vs. the arithmetic mean over 1960 - present (2007). The population data (available at the US Census Bureau web site) is the world population divided by 10 billion (i.e., plotted in tenths-of-a-billion) in order to fit on the same scale plot as the temperature anomaly data. Note the correlation - this is remarkable evidence in support of the conclusion that the world is being overpopulated, leading to rising global temperatures. (This theory, overpopulation leading to rising global average temperature, has recently been proposed by Ted Turner, who completed part of the requirements for a degree in economics, thus qualifying his statements on the topic.) This is in contrast to the many available charts of CO2 level vs. global average temperature, which do not show a high correlation (the reader is left to research this topic on his own).

The area of the graph marked with the yellow arrow corresponds to roughly 1960, where the average rate of temperature rise seems to outpace the population rise. Researching this time period, we noticed that the World Wildlife Fund was started in 1961. Part of the work of this organization is to help prevent extinction of endangered species. It would seem that, as the human population increases, the population of other species tends to decrease, thus the total global population (human and non-human) remains relatively stable. However, the WWF (note: this is the World Wildlife Fund, not the World Wrestling Federation) seeks to offset this natural balance in the overall world population by preserving the species that otherwise would have dwindled or gone extinct. This leads to even more "creature-heat" being supplied into the environment, thus causing the global average temperature to increase even more.

We need to find a solution to the earth's overpopulation problem; this leads to the series on solar system colonization. As previously mentioned, prior Venus inhabitants apparently also had a runaway population issue, combined with the desire to preserve all species of creatures on the tropical paradise (at the time) planet, and failed to realize the fate they were going to endure. We should look into these possibilities to alleviate anthropogenic global warming:
  • find alternate places to house the excess population (such as colonies on other bodies throughout the solar system; it has not been studied whether this would lead to "solar system warming" or not)
  • reduce the population (we refer the reader to the Jonathan Swift's "A Modest Proposal" - apparently he saw this issue back in 1729 and came up with an ideal solution which also offers a solution to world hunger issues; this would preclude the cannibalism that Ted Turner says will follow once the population and temperature increases reach catastrophic levels, in essence being a "controlled cannibalism" in order to make population adjustments in an orderly fashion instead of out-of-control, willy-nilly fashion)
  • disband the WWF (World Wildlife Fund; however, in this case, the suggestion may also apply to the World Wrestling Federation, as their actions tend to cause high levels of energy expenditure that may be impacting the environment negatively as well; in fact, the WWF - World Wrestling Federation - has been known to impact the environment negatively even without taking anthropogenic global warming into consideration - we'll consider this in a future article); the reduction of the animal population in opposition to the increasing human population should help to reduce the impact on global average temperatures; however, we would need to catch up on nearly 50 years of sub-optimal animal extermination very quickly, and even surpass the intervening numbers of animals that were saved since we need to reduce the global average temperature; endangered species would be the first targets since they would be quick to eliminate and thus mitigate their reproduction as well, while the remainder could be more quickly reduced in numbers
Note: the animal elimination method would not impact the global food chain, since we would not seek to eliminate animals that are farmed for human consumption (chickens, cows, pigs, fish, crabs, dogs, etc.). For those who are concerned about the potential downfall of species elimination, when all the "fur" animals (seals, rabbits, foxes, etc.) are extinct, humankind would wear either textile or leather coats. Fur would become a highly-valuable commodity, of course, and this would open a new market for commerce and trade.

However, whichever method we take, we need to decide and move quickly before the earth turns into Venus II.

This is not intended to be an invitation to eradicate species of creatures from the earth, although the author wouldn't mind if mosquitoes and tics were eliminated (we can send them to Jupiter if someone really doesn't want to make them completely extinct - and whether it's the person or the pests we send to Jupiter, I don't really care). It is intended to show how easy it is to correlate data that doesn't necessarily indicate a causal relationship, which unfortunately seems to be the case with a lot of the touted "anthropogenic (human-caused) global warming" data these days. Yes, the earth is warming, but it's not due to anything that humans have done - we're on the upside of an ice-age, so temperatures will tend to warm; in addition, the sunspot cycles recently have been above average, which tends to correlate with periods of increased temperature as well, and the recent low sunspot activity seems to have coincided with a sudden reduction in temperature over the last year. Don't let anthropogenic global warming activists scare you - or tell you what you think - go out and look at the data yourself and make up your own mind. We hope to bring you more data in the future regarding this hot topic (sorry, but yes, that was an intentional pun).

Saturday, May 3, 2008

How to Colonize the Solar System, Part II

In the last article, we looked at the moon as a potential colonization spot. This location would make an ideal staging point for further solar system (and eventual possible galactic) colonization due to the low escape velocity (i.e., ships could attain higher velocities more quickly when embarking on interplanetary missions). This time we will look at our nearest neighbor (discounting the moon, of course), Venus. (See also the Wikipedia article on Venus.)

Some will wonder if there's any possibility of colonizing a planet whose surface temperature is over 460 degrees Celsius (860 degrees Fahrenheit); which has a surface air pressure equivalent to being about a kilometer (over 1/2 mile, about 3300 feet) below the earth's ocean; which has an atmospheric density so thick that a human could actually swim through the atmosphere at the surface; whose atmosphere consists primarily of Carbon Dioxide with the remainder being mainly Nitrogen; and which has large amounts of sulfur dioxide clouds which create sulfuric acid rain. While initially daunting, there exist several possibilities for the potential colonization of this seemingly uninhabitable world. Several ideas have been proposed for the terraforming of Venus (see generic terraforming article at Wikipedia). We will eventually look at these concepts and ideas, but there is another possibility that provides a more immediate chance for colonization of this environmentally hostile world. That is a "floating colony."

The atmosphere of Venus varies in its temperature and pressure over its distance from the surface. Of particular interest is the area approximately 50 kilometers (31 miles) above its surface, as at this location the atmospheric pressure is approximately 1 bar (i.e., the same as the earth's surface air pressure). In addition, the temperature at this height varies between 0 and 50 Celsius (32 and 122 Fahrenheit). These conditions are near identical to earth's temperature and atmospheric pressure. Also, a breathable-air mixture (79-21% Nitrogen-Oxygen mixture) would be a lifting gas in the Venusian atmosphere (similar to Helium in the earth's atmosphere), so a large "balloon" of human-breathable gas would simply float at that height in the Venusian atmosphere. Since the atmospheric pressure would be the same both inside and outside the vessel, any damage to the vessel could be repaired before losing a large amount of the interior breathable gas (there would be no great rush either into or out of the vessel). This type of "floating colony" would likely consist of several to many of these vessels, each being a localized "city" within the Venusian floating colony.

These floating colonies would provide the opportunity to perform additional research on Venus, as well as providing the opportunity to research and attempt terraforming of the Venusian environment. However, it also provides the opportunity to experiment on a world where global warming has gone to the extreme, where runaway greenhouse warming is the highest in the solar system. It is believed that Venus used to be earth-like in its atmosphere and temperature, but that prior inhabitants failed to take action against the Venusian-induced global warming until it was too late, and the planet was unable to cope with the effects that its inhabitants wreaked on it. Thus the pleasant Venus turned into what we have today. And it happened in only a couple of years, which should be a warning to us here on earth. However, what was unfortunate for the previous inhabitants of Venus turns out to be a blessing for us on earth, since we now have the opportunity to test various theories and methods for dealing with the potential runaway greenhouse effect here on earth.

There are additional benefits of floating Venusian colonies as well, including marketable enterprises. For instance, the high carbon dioxide content of the atmosphere would make creation of carbonated beverages a very easy task. Instead of having to force the carbon dioxide into the water, as is done on earth, water could simply be lowered into the higher-pressure, lower atmosphere on Venus, uncovered (which would cause the water to absorb the carbon dioxide), covered, and retrieved. This carbonated water could then be made into various carbonated beverages to be used on the floating colonies and exported back to earth. While initially this would seem to be a cost-prohibitive effort (the cost of transportation of water from earth to Venus and carbonated water from Venus to earth would seem to outweigh the cost savings of the carbonization process on earth), this effort could be sidelined onto the regular transport of supplies (and possibly personnel) between Venus and earth and could help offset the base cost of the scientific mission and resupply efforts. In addition, this would help the terraforming efforts by reducing the amount of carbon dioxide in the Venusian atmosphere, since the atmosphere will need to be reduced in amount (due to its high surface pressure) as well as changed in composition.

Once the floating colonies are in place, terraforming efforts could be undertaken. One of the greatest challenges would be the day/night periods. Venus rotates slowly relative to its orbital period, causing "day" on Venus to last for about 117 earth days. While humans are incredibly adaptive creatures, most people would be unable to stay awake for 156 days and then sleep for 78 days (that's an equivalent 16/8 split of the typical 24-hour day on earth applied to a 234-day day on Venus). There are several methods to attacking this daylight problem, for instance:
  • Setting up "sunshades" that orbit the planet, creating artificial 24-hour day/night periods by casting large shadows on the planet; these would unfortunately likely be cost-, material-, and construction-prohibitive.
  • Setting up "sunshades" that float in the atmosphere, again creating artificial 24-hour day/night periods; these would be simpler, smaller, and cheaper, but would likely not create a full "night" period due to inefficiencies and atmospheric reflection of sunlight.
  • Changing the orbital period of the planet; while this might seem like a daunting task, it could be accomplished by causing asteroids to be slung in paths near the planet which would alter the rotational frequency. (This is somewhat like the proposal to use asteroid fly-bys to alter the earth's orbit in about a billion years to avoid having the earth engulfed by the expanding sun.)
  • Ignore it; people near the poles of the earth experience long periods of light and darkness and simply adapt by following regular patterns of awake and asleep times.
Other challenges involve altering the composition and volume of the atmosphere such that humans could survive on the surface. Presumably the temperature would fall in line once the atmosphere was "corrected" to earth-like properties. At this point, we would have a "second earth" which would be available for the next 7 billion humans (the approximate current world population). We would also been able to figure out how to combat the global warming problem on earth (which, as you know, will end all life on earth within the next three years; in other words, we need to get working on this Venusian colony before it's too late).

The next installation of this colonization series will look at one of the most talked about worlds in our solar system, Mars, which has long been supposed to be already occupied by little green men. In addition to the potential of colonization, we will discuss the possibility that the planet is already populated and the impact this would have to our human colonization efforts. Stay tuned!