A Powers-of-Ten Refreshment

Image courtesy of Two Cooks Cooking

Epicurious recently listed the mojito as one of its favorite summertime beverages.  Consider the ingredients of this Cuban cocktail through a powers-of-ten lens.

  • Fresh lime juice
    In early 19th century Britain, sailors were required to consume a daily ration of lime juice to prevent scurvy, which is why British Navy men were known as “limeys.”  While limes are high in vitamin C, they also have flavonoids that are thought to prevent cell division of cancer cells (which are roughly 10-06 meters long, according to phys.org).  In the U.S., lime consumption has dramatically increased in recent years.  The Agricultural Marketing Resource Center explains that “Per person consumption of fresh limes increased from nearly 1 pound per person in 1989 to 2.5 pounds in 2009.  Because the Florida-based U.S. lime industry no longer exists, imports account for 100 percent of lime consumption.”
  • Superfine sugar
    From 2009 to 2010, the average American consumed 45.3 pounds of sugar, as stated in The New York Times.  That means that, as a country, we consumed 14,178,900,000 (or 10+10) pounds of sugar in just one year.  Today those numbers are only rising.  Whole Health Source paints this picture: “In 1822, we ate the amount of added sugar in one 12 ounce can of soda every five days, while today we eat that much sugar every seven hours.”
  • Crushed ice
    The hydrogen atoms in ice have a radius of roughly 10-11 meters, while the radius of the oxygen atoms are approximately 10-12 meters. New Englanders Frederick Tudor and Nathaniel Wyeth revolutionized the ice producing industry in the early 1800s by experimenting with how to best insulate, cut, store and transport it.  According to History Magazine, “By 1879 there were 35 commercial ice plants in America [10+01], more than 200 a decade later [10+02], and 2,000 by 1909 [10+03].  In 1907, 14-15 million tons of ice [10+07] were consumed, nearly triple the amount in 1880.  No pond was safe from scraping for ice production, not even Thoreau’s Walden Pond, where 1,000 tons [or 10+06 pounds] of ice were extracted each day in 1847.”
  • Fresh mint leaves, plus small sprigs for garnish
    Mint is thousands of years old (10+03).  In ancient times the herb was associated with hospitality. Epicentre.com explains that its name “comes from the Greek legend of the nymph Minthe, who attracted the attention of Hades.  Hades’ wife, the jealous Persephone, attacked Minthe and was in the process of trampling her to death when Hades turned her into the herb (and was ever sacred to him).”
  • White rum
    The fermentation process of rum occurs on a scale of 10-06 meters.  Apparently limes and rum mixed well for sailors in the UK.  In addition to a ration of lime juice to prevent scurvy, Rumhistory.com explains that “the British Navy created an elaborate ceremony for serving rum aboard ships, an occasion presided over by the Rum Bosun to the sound of music that was played at no other occasion. . .Special measuring cups were used so that sailors would know that they received the precise amount specified by law.”
  • Club soda
    Joseph Priestley, the clergyman, philosopher and chemist who discovered “dephlogisticated air” (later renamed oxygen), was also the inventor of club soda.  In 1767, he found that suspending water above fermenting beer led to carbonation.  According to Q Club Soda, “At the time, the air blanketing the beer was known to kill mice. But Priestly figured out that this carbon dioxide [with each molecule approximately 10-10 meters in diameter] would also infuse into the water and turn it into something similar to the naturally carbonated “spa” waters that doctors of the day thought had curative properties.”  Five years after Priestley created soda water, he published a study on it titled, Directions for Impregnating Water with Fixed Air.

As always: Drink Responsibly.
This beverage (and all alcohol) is not for anyone below the legal drinking age in his or her current jurisdiction.  The powers-of-ten exploration of this beverage is in no way intended as encouragement for its consumption.

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Curiosity Rover Lands on Mars

Mount Sharp, photographed by NASA's Curiosity rover shortly after it landed on Mars. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

On August 5, 2012, the Curiosity rover landed on the Red Planet in what The New York Times calls “a flawless, triumphant technological tour de force.” It took the rover over eight months to make the 352-million-mile trip (10+08).

In a recent video, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) details the final minutes of the rover’s dramatic descent to Mars, in what it calls “Curiosity’s Seven Minutes of Terror.” EDL engineer Adam Steltzner explains that, as the rover “slammed into the atmosphere” (primarily composed of carbon dioxide molecules 10-10 meters across), it created so much aerodynamic drag that its shield heated up to a toasty 1,600 degrees (10+03).

JPL designed an elaborate system to slow down the one-ton rover for its landing, which included making a supersonic parachute.  The largest ever made, the parachute weighed only 100 pounds (10+02), but was strong enough to withstand 65,000 (10+04) pounds of force.

Now that the rover has arrived safely, “it will seek to answer age-old questions about whether life ever existed on Mars—or if the planet can sustain life in the future,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden.

To learn more about Curiosity’s 98-week mission, visit www.NASA.gov.

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The 100 million-year-long Nap

Cyanobacteria. Image courtesy of Foter

Bacteria microbes that are 10-06 meters long and freezing away on the bottom of the Arctic Ocean floor may actually thrive best in hot temperatures that would put the health of most human beings at extreme risk.  According to a new study, while these tiny bugs lie dormant now, they will likely wait for up to 100 million years (10+08) for things to heat up again.  Only then will they finally germinate.  Learn more at Discovery News by clicking here.

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The Pink Debate


Baby Claudia in a sea of pink

“Visible light” corresponds to a wavelength of 400 – 700 nanometers or 10-07 meters.  The visible colors from shortest to longest wavelength are: violet, blue, green, yellow, orange, and red.  You’ll notice that the color pink doesn’t appear anywhere on that list.

Recently, there has been debate as to whether or not the color pink actually even exists.  Some claim that it isn’t a color because it doesn’t appear on the ROYGBIV electromagnetic spectrum.  Others counter that argument, explaining that just because our brain “creates” the color pink by combining two opposite ends of the spectrum–red and violet–does not preclude its existence; after all, any color, according to biologist Timothy H. Goldsmith, is simply “a sensation that arises within the brain.”

To learn more about the debate on the color pink, click here to read Robert Krulwich’s NPR blog post, and click here to read Michael Moyer‘s Scientific American blog post.

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Largest Earthquake Ever Recorded

Earthquake, Chile

Valdivia after earthquake, 1960. Image credit: National Geophysical Data Center, Natural Hazards Slides

The largest earthquake ever recorded took place in Valdivia, Chile on the evening of May 22, 1960.  The U.S. Geological Survey explains that it reached a magnitude of 9.5 on the Richter scale (the energy equivalent of 10+18 joules) and spanned roughly 1,000 kilometers of land (10+04) from Lebu to Puerto Aisen.

The earthquake left approximately 1,655 people dead, 3,000 injured, 2,000,000 homeless, and caused a total of $550 million in damages (10+06).  But that wasn’t all.

A tsunami followed with waves as high as 26 feet.  It caused death and destruction in Hawaii, Japan, the Philippines, as well as on the west coast of the United States.  Just two days later, Volcan Puyehue erupted, which continued spewing ash for several weeks.

The earthquake was preceded by four foreshocks, each with a magnitude between 7.0 and 8.0, and in the six weeks that followed, more than five aftershocks occurred with a magnitude of 7.0 or greater.  To this day, the world has never witnessed or felt a more powerful earthquake than the one on May 22 in Chile.

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Here are a few facts you might not know about your skin. . .

Skin is your body’s largest organ.

Globally, dead skin accounts for about a billion tons (10+09) or 1 trillion pounds (10+12) of dust in the atmosphere. Your skin sheds 50,000 cells every minute— that’s 72,000,000 cells (10+07) each day and 26,280,000,000 cells (10+10) each year.

The skin secretes up to three gallons of sweat a day in hot weather. The areas that don’t sweat are the nail bed, the margins of the lips, the tip of the penis, and the eardrums.  The size of one adult secretory coil is approximately 10-03 cubic micrometers.

Not everyone can be fingerprinted.  Two rare genetic defects—Naegeli syndrome and dermatopathia pigmentosa reticularis—can leave skin smooth, with no identifying ridges at all.

Up until the 17th century, men who dressed “in the buff” referenced English soldiers and the leather tunics they wore.  The expression’s later meaning, which is, of course, to be nude, stems from the similarity between the color of the tunics and the soldiers’ light brown or yellowy skin color. The Phrase Finder explains that “This was first recorded by Thomas Dekker, in his work Satiro-mastix or the untrussing of the humorous poet, 1602. In this he likens ‘in buff’ to ‘in stag’, which was a commonly used term for naked in the 17th century.”

“White skin appeared a mere 20,000 to 50,000 years ago [10+04], as dark-skinned humans migrated to colder climates and lost much of their melanin pigment.”

“The Cleveland Public Library, Harvard Law School, and Brown University all have books clad in skin stripped from executed criminals or from the poor.”

Hats off to Discover Magazine for these fun facts.

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Miles of Blood Vessels

Drawing of the heart and its blood vessels from Leonardo da Vinci's anatomical notebooks; date unknown. Held by: Biblioteca Ambrosiana, Milan, Italy.

The average child has over 60,000 miles (10+04) of blood vessels in his or her body, according to The Franklin Institute.  Adults have even more—roughly 100,000 miles (10+05) of blood vessels.  Laid out end to end, they would circle the earth four times and the moon nearly fifteen.

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Honey Bees


Image credit: PDPhoto.org

Honey bees collect nectar and store it as honey to give them energy and keep their hives warm.  In the hottest months, a healthy hive has anywhere from 40,000 to 80,000 bees (10+04).  Most bee colonies have one breeding female, the ‘queen’, a few thousand males, known as ‘drones’, and thousands and thousands of sterile female ‘worker’ bees.

The queen bee has one job and one job only, and that is to reproduce.  As the National Honey Board puts it: “She is an egg laying machine.”  A queen bee can lay up to 3,000 eggs per day during the springtime (that’s 10+03 eggs per day, 10+05 each season, and up to 10+06 in her lifetime).  “She lays her own weight in eggs every couple of hours and is continuously surrounded by young worker attendants, who meet her every need, such as feeding and cleaning.”  Queen bees mate in flight with approximately 13-18 drone (male) bees.  The several million sperm cells (10+06) she receives last her entire lifespan, which is usually two to five years.

Drones, like the queen bee, have a very specific task to carry out.  Their job is to mate once and then die.  Bees for Development explains that, in order to ensure drones mate only once, their “endophallus breaks off…during copulation.”  If they don’t mate, they live approximately 90 days (10+01).  Drones are “stingless” and their eyes are twice as large as the queen or worker bees.  They need superior vision in order to mate with the queen bee while in flight.

Worker bees are non-reproducing females who, unlike the queen bee and drones, have many, many jobs to preform.  The National Honey Board explains that they “feed the queen and larvae, guard the hive entrance and help to keep the hive cool by fanning their wings.  Worker bees also collect nectar to make honey.  “In the summer 98% of the bees in a hive are worker bees. In the winter, besides the queen, all bees are worker bees.”

If it weren’t already clear enough that worker bees put in their fair share of labor, then consider this: the National Honey Board claims that worker bees have to tap roughly two million flowers to make just one pound of honey. According to the USDA Honey Report, in 2011 alone, America’s honey crop was an estimated 148 million pounds (10+06).  Honey bees had to tap approximately 296 trillion flowers (10+14) to make that happen.  Aren’t you exhausted just thinking about it?

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Center of the Milky Way

"The center of the Milky Way," image credit: NASA/CXC/UMass Amherst/Q.D.Wang et al. Click on image to learn more.

There are many ways to look at 10-15.  This power of ten is:

  • the scale of the atomic nucleus
  • the length in meters of a proton and neutron
  • the weight in kilograms of an E. coli bacterium
  • the pressure in pascals of outer space between stars in the Milky Way
  • the size or volume in cubic meters of a small grain of sand, and
  • one quadrillionth of a second, otherwise known as 1 femtosecond
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Saturn’s Rings

Saturn's Rings

Saturn's rings during equinox. Click image to learn more. Credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute

Saturn’s rings are 500,000 miles (10+05) or 2,640,000,000 feet (10+09) in circumference but only about one foot thick.

Learn more about Saturn at SpaceFacts.net

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