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 rdoyle@frostburg.edu . He is available as a speaker on his column topics.

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Bob Doyle - Astronomy
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