Tuesday, July 31, 2012

COLUMN: Science

Science is neat, isn't it?

I've long been fascinated by man's ability to explore planets, build robots, invent vaccines, and discover the fundamental building blocks of life. Then I learned that it usually involved the extensive use of math and I became substantially less interested.

Still, it's amazing how a little research, experimentation, and I'm going to guess the use of square roots and maybe pi can help us solve the most perplexing questions of our existence, such as:

• How was the universe formed?

• What is the meaning of life?

• How many licks does it take to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop?

(Answer? On average, 508. See http://gwax.com/content/tootsiepop.html. God bless the internet.)

• What lakes should I definitely avoid swimming in this summer?

(More on that later.)

And, of course, the most important question plaguing mankind for centuries:

• What does outer space smell like?

We now have an answer. According to an investigative piece on the insanely addictive LifesLittleMysteries.com, outer space smells like... metal. More specifically, arc welding. Now you know.

Thanks to science, we're now able to follow Gene Roddenberry's dream of exploring strange new worlds, seeking out new life and new civilizations, boldly going where no man has gone before... and taking a big ole whiff of it.

There's just one problem with smelling outer space. If you were to take a cruise up to the great beyond and open your capsule window for a refreshing breath of deep space, the lack of oxygen would kill you dead. Plus I've watched enough bad sci-fi special effects to know that depressurizing your spacesuit turns your body inside out in the grossest of ways. So when your average astronaut goes out on a spacewalk, all they can smell is the comforting plastic-y goodness of a spacesuit interior.

But, says LifesLittleMysteries, when those astronauts hop back aboard the space station, apparantly their suits REEK of outer space -- and it's apparantly NOT sugar, spice, and everything nice. Unless, of course, you're a weirdo astronaut who digs weird smells. The article quotes a blog from NASA astronaut Don Pettit:

"The best description I can come up with is metallic; a rather pleasant sweet metallic sensation. It reminded me of my college summers where I labored for many hours with an arc welding torch repairing heavy equipment for a small logging outfit. It reminded me of pleasant sweet smelling welding fumes. That is the smell of space."

Call me crazy, but I think if you use words like "pleasant" and "sweet" to describe arc welding fumes, perhaps you've logged one too many miles in orbit, Don. That said, if you're trapped onboard a space station for long periods of time, maybe anything that doesn't smell like YOU is enough to be "pleasant." In space, it turns out, you sweat CONSTANTLY. In zero gravity, there's no natural convection. That means your body heat never rises from your skin -- which means your sweat factory turns on and never shuts off 'til splashdown. And since that sweat never evaporates, you're just basically sitting in a gooshy layer of your own filth the whole time (see also: last Monday.)

But on a scale of 1-to-gross, stinky space doesn't hold a candle to our next story, which comes from the world of biology, the cornucopia of grossness. I like to scan news headlines throughout the day; it makes me feel like I've got my fingers on the pulse of the world. But every once in a while, you hit a story that makes that pulse defibrillate a little bit. Such occurred the other day when I stumbled upon THIS gem:


Umm... okay, THAT'S worth clicking on. Things that eat testicles are a scary enough concept as is; but if we live in a world where testicle-eating creatures have to exist, I'd like to hope that they're as far away from ME as possible. Like the rainforests of Papua New Guinea. Or Middle-Earth. Or Narnia.

But no, no. These little miracles of nature have made a home in Lake Lou Yaeger in the town of Litchfield, Illinois. Litchfield has a tourism website that says, and I quote:

"Our 1200+ acre lake offers the best in boating with 45 miles of beautiful shoreline, 8 miles long and 1/2 mile wide. Skiers slash the blue waves, swimmers play in the cool water, and sunbathers enjoy the beach area."

...and, apparantly, evil giant fish lie in wait to nibble on your nether-regions.

I'm not kidding. This is a real news story. The fish is called the pacu. They sport human-like teeth, weigh up to 55 pounds, and in their native (you guessed it) Papua New Guinea, they're lovingly known by another name that I don't even think I can say in a family newspaper. Let's just say that several men have met their maker at the teeth of a pacu. I'll spare the details, but let's just say that when the pacu parties, it really knows how to have a ball. Or two.

So how did this heebie-jeebie monster fish end up in Lake Lou Yaeger? The only possible answer is that some nimrod dumped his aquarium of exotic fish into the local lake. Call me crazy, but I'm a firm believer in not allowing human beings to own any animals that can kill human beings. A good rule of thumb? If there's something in your house that can be prefaced by the word "exotic," it's bad news. Ask Seigfried. Or Roy. Or Tom Cruise in "Risky Business." If you own a tarantula or a snake or a piranha, you're not cool. You're over-compensating for your lack of cool. Suck it up and go get a cat like the rest of us.

The intriguing thing, though, is that all of the articles on the Lake Lou Yaeger pacu ponder how to go about removing them from the lake. Now, I'm no science expert. We've established that. But let's look at the facts. If the fish in the lake feed on testicles, how about, oh, I dunno, removing the testicles from the lake? Sorry to sound all Chief Brody, but GET OUT OF THE WATER, GUYS. No testicles equals no food equals no more pacu, right?

Oh. Maybe not. It turns out that while pacu enjoy them as a tasty snack, human testicles are not exactly a staple of their food diet. Instead, the pacu feeds primarily on nuts. Real ones. Stop snickering. But just as I trust that one day science will provide us with a sweat-free, rose-scented outer space, so too will science allow us to de-pacu Lake Lou Yaeger. I have no idea how they're gonna pull it off -- but it probably involves fractions. And maybe a cosine or two.

1 comment:

QCMediaGhost said...

Science question: When I applaud, during half of the act my hands are speeding apart. When my hands are speeding apart, air rushes in to fill the void between my two hands. But as the universe expands, there's no extra dark energy or dark matter to rush in from somewhere to fill the increasing void between the visible space objects (moons, planets, stars, galaxies, etc.). Does the dark matter or dark energy expand and become less dense? Or does the dark matter, dark energy reproduce itself much like human cells reproduce themselves to fill the voids between the bones and organs as a child grows?