Cumberland Times-News

Bob Doyle - Astronomy

June 28, 2014

Here’s a look at what goes on inside you

In high school, my favorite science course was biology. I can remember Mr. Munley in his wheelchair. Our class went on a field trip to the University of Miami Medical School where we saw the cadavers used by the medical students.

But my high school physics course was more in line with astronomy; in college I was a Physics major. Later in graduate school, I turned to astronomy.

Several times, I have taught at Frostburg State “The Search for Extraterrestrial Life,” which deals with questions as “Would alien life forms be drastically different than any life found on Earth?” and “Could the Earth have been seeded with alien organisms from space”? These questions are still unanswered.

But new telescopes, both on Earth and in space have found thousands of exoplanets orbiting other stars.

It’s possible that by 2020, we will able to identify the atmospheric gases of the exoplanets. The presence of free oxygen would be a strong sign that plant life would be on these planet’s surface (either on land or bodies of water).

Whether we find life beyond the Earth or not, there are some remarkable processes within our own bodies. My source is “Body: Discover What’s Beneath Your Skin” by John Farndon and Nicki Lampon, a Miles Kelly book with ISBN 978-1-84810-301-6, with a soft cover version printed in 2013.

Humans have six major systems, but only the reproductive system can be removed without endangering our lives.

The largest organ is your skin with an average thickness of 2 mm (about one 1/12 inch). The smallest organ is the pineal gland that produces a substance that affects sleep.

Four organs can be removed: One of your two kidneys, One of your two lungs, the appendix and the spleen. You can live without your gallbladder but you must go on a low fat diet for the rest of your life.

The average human cell is so small that 10,000 cells could fit on the head of a pin. Red blood cells are among the smallest human cells — about 7.5 microns across (a micron is a millionth of a meter, 1 meter = 3.28 feet).

The blueprint for our bodies is stored in Deoxyribonucleic Acid coiled within our chromosomes. The DNA in each of your body cells is about two meters (6.6 feet) long.

If we were to take all the DNA in our bodies and fasten them together, this DNA string would be 199 billion meters in length. The string could go around the Earth’s orbit about the sun 211 times!(The Earth’s orbital motion each year is 943 million meters; this is how far the Earth travels between your birthdays.)

A gene is an instruction stored in DNA using three rungs that specifies a particular protein. All humans share 99.9 per cent of their genes (about 20,000 genes). So only a tiny number of genes (only about 20) are responsible for our individual differences.

Hair is a source of pride to many of us. There are three kinds of hair. First, the hair you have as an embryo. Second, the vellus hair, fine, almost invisible hair all over our bodies. Third, terminal hair, the coarser hair on our heads and in your private regions.

Naturally red or auburn hair is due to carotene. Black or brown hair is due to black melanin. The hair starts in your follicles, embedded in a pit on your scalp. Hair grows as the hair follicle expels the excess keratin as waste.

The visible hair you shape, twist and even iron is all dead tissue. The average person has 120,000 head hairs, with each growing about 3 mm (about 1/8 inch) per week.

Next week’s column will deal with finger and toe nails, breathing and coughing, saliva, why mucus is good, and how our food gets processed as it proceeds on its long journey downward.

SKY SIGHTS AHEAD: Tomorrow evening the crescent moon might be seen low in the Western dusk (try 9:15 p.m.). Look below and to the right of the moon for the bright planet Jupiter. On the evening of July 3, the Earth will be farthest from the sun (94.5 million years) for 2014. On June 28, the half full moon will be just above the planet Mars.

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

Text Only
Bob Doyle - Astronomy
  • FSU Planetarium has new outreach program

    Several years ago, the FSU planetarium acquired an iPad. Months later, we purchased an iPad projector with necessary cables. I purchased a number of astronomical apps this year for the iPad. So I’m interested in visiting schools in this county to teach the stars and planets to classes. The astronomical apps allow you to survey the current evening night sky and show the planets, bright stars and star groups. One of the apps shows the planets close up with wonderful surface detail (as if you were cruising by in a spaceship). The apps I’ll be using can be purchased from the iTunes app store for a few dollars.

    July 27, 2014

  • It’s hotter here than in D.C. or Baltimore

    At this time of the year, the weather is a frequent subject of conversation, particularly the temperatures. We are now in the “Dog Days,” usually the hottest days of the year. The term comes from our sun appearing to be near the “Dog Star” (Sirius) and the “Little Dog Star” (Procyon). In reality, the sun is now about 94.5 million miles away while Sirius is 8.6 light years away with Procyon at 11 light years distance. Sunlight takes only 507 seconds to reach us, while the two dog stars’ light takes about a decade to travel to our eyes. So our sun is in the same direction (but not distance) as these two bright winter evening stars.

    July 20, 2014

  • Fronts, highs, lows determine weather

    Weather news on television and internet focus on violent weather, extreme temperatures and flooding.

    July 13, 2014

  • A long and winding road faces our food

    Last week’s column dealt with organs you can do without, our DNA (molecular blueprint for our bodies) and hair. My reference is “Body: Discover What’s Beneath Your Skin,” a Miles Kelly Book, written by John Farndon and Nicki Lampon and published in 2010. This column will consider finger and toe nails, breathing and coughing, saliva, mucus and your food’s long and torturous journey. Most cities and mid sized towns have nail shops where you can have your finger nails and toe nails adorned. Nail painting can be traced back 5,000 years.

    July 6, 2014

  • Here’s a look at what goes on inside you

    In high school, my favorite science course was biology. I can remember Mr. Munley in his wheelchair. Our class went on a field trip to the University of Miami Medical School where we saw the cadavers used by the medical students.

    June 28, 2014

  • Moon-watching easy when you know how

    Long before the first writing (scratches on clay tablets) appeared, our early ancestors noticed that the moon went through a regular cycle of shapes in about 30 days.

    June 21, 2014

  • Here’s how you can tell the stars, planets

    How can one tell one star from another at night? It’s a matter of knowing the sky areas (constellations).

    June 15, 2014

  • Smithsonian guide to stars is a good one

    At a local book store, I yielded to temptation and bought “Stars and Planets,” a Smithsonian Nature Guide written by four authors. Dinwoodie, Gater, Sparrow and Stott. It’s another Dorling Kindersley product with ISBN 978-0-7566-9040-3 and a 2012 copyright. “Stars and Planets” is a trade size paperback that is beautifully illustrated with appealing diagrams. “Stars and Planets” begins with the biggest topic, the Universe. There is a striking visual showing the known universe on the hugest scale, a delicate lacework of superclusters of galaxies with large voids. It resembles a bubble bath!

    June 8, 2014

  • Think a little more and be less frazzled

    Last Sunday’s column dealt with using technology carefully in education. What about technology in everyday life? There is a marvelous book “The Thinking Life,” by P.M. Forni, of The Johns Hopkins University which addresses this issue as well as timeless suggestions for living by Greek and Roman thinkers. “The Thinking Life: How To Thrive in the Age of Distraction” was published by St. Martin’s Press in 2011 with ISBN 978-0-312-62571-9. Dr. Forni also wrote “Choosing Civility” and “The Civility Solution”.

    May 25, 2014

  • Technology helps with learning, but take care

    Since I have been involved in teaching, two different technologies have been applied to learning at the secondary and collegiate level. The first was video (from videocassettes to DVDs) where a student or class might watch a presentation of some historical event, or a set of scientific principles or even a simulated exploration of the human body.

    May 18, 2014

Latest news
Must Read
House Ads