Cumberland Times-News

Bob Doyle - Astronomy

February 18, 2012

Bring microworld up to human size

One of the most interesting popular science books last year was “A Bee in a Cathedral and 99 other Scientific Analogies.”

The author is Joel Levy, a U.K. journalist who specializes in science and history.

The book’s remarkable graphics are by Lindsey Johns. This hardback Firefly Book has ISBN 978-1-55407-959-9.

The “Bee in a Cathedral” comes from book’s chemistry section. The width of an atomic nucleus to the width of an atom is analogous in size to a bee and a cathedral. A typical atom is 0.32 billionth of a meter across.

The atomic nucleus that contains nearly all the mass of an atom is only 1/100,000 as wide as the atom itself. A bee’s width is 1/100,000 the width of a large cathedral.

“Gas Molecules and Pool Balls.” The gas laws can be understood if we regard the gas molecules as pool balls covered by tiny springs.

As the gas molecules collide with the walls, they bounce just as a pool ball collides with another pool ball or a pool ball hits the inner walls of the pool table.

The average speed of an air molecule is about 450 meters/second, colliding over 4 million times a second.

The ideal gas law (for a fixed mass of gas) states that the pressure x the volume divided by the Kelvin or absolute temperature of the gas is a constant.

“An Apple as Big as the Earth.” If an apple is enlarged to the width of the Earth, then a hydrogen atom would about the width of an apple.

 For an apple is 200 million times wider than a typical atom. Likewise, the Earth is about 200 million times as wide as an apple.

“Earth’s History in a Day.” If we were to compress the Earth’s entire history of 4.6 billion years into a 24 hour day, here are some pivotal events.

Life would have first appeared at 4:10 a.m. Life (in form of plants) would have first arrived on land at 9:31 p.m. The dinosaurs would have appeared 10:46 p.m. The first human cities would have appeared one-tenth of a second before midnight.

“Emptying A Bathtub with a Tea Cup.” The rate at which your heart pumps blood matches a person emptying out the water in a bathtub using a teacup in 15 minutes.

It would take your heart a little less than 18 days to fill an Olympic size swimming pool.

During a typical lifetime, the heart pumps 1 million barrels of blood, enough to fill three supertankers.

“You are Recycled.” Your body has replaced nearly all of its molecules.

Most living human cells are less than a month old.

Exceptions are the liver cells (which last much longer) and the brain cells most of which are not renewed. At birth, you have a hundred billion brain cells, which decline as you get older.

The average adult has 2 kilograms (4.4 pounds) of dead skin cells. You lose billions of these cells each day!

EVENING SKY SIGHTS: Brilliant Venus and bright Jupiter are slowly drawing together in the early evening sky in the west.

The moon is New, swinging from the morning side of the sun to the evening side of the sun this Tuesday afternoon.

On Feb. 25, a crescent moon will appear to the right of the brilliant planet Venus in the western dusk.

Next Sunday, the crescent moon will appear to the right of the bright planet Jupiter at dusk.

BEAR PRESENTATION: Today at 4 p.m., “Bears and the Skies” will be shown in Compton 224 in the Science Discovery Center at Frostburg State. This program is free and open to the public.

The program concludes with the audience meeting the seven bears in our Science Discovery Center on the first floor of Compton. These bears are not camera shy; they don’t even mind flash photos.

Bob Doyle invites any readers comments and questions. E-mail him at rdoyle@frostburg.edu . He is available as a speaker on his column topics.

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Bob Doyle - Astronomy
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