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Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Discover's "20 Things" lists

Discover magazine has several lists in a series called "Twenty things you didn't know about..."

From their list about meteors:
2 The Perseids are also called the "Tears of Saint Lawrence" after a martyred Christian deacon whom the Romans burned to death on an outdoor iron stove in A.D. 258. Before dying, he was said to have cried out: "I am already roasted on one side. If thou wouldst have me well cooked, it is time to turn me on the other."

6 Meteorites contain the oldest known rocks in the solar system, as well as pre-solar grains, minerals that formed around other stars perhaps billions of years before our solar system was born.

7 To protect it from the estimated 100,000 meteoroids that will slam into it during its expected 20-year life span, the International Space Station is covered with a foot-thick blanket of Kevlar, the material used to make bulletproof vests.

8 Each day, up to 4 billion meteoroids fall to Earth.

9 Don't worry. Most of them are minuscule in size.

10 Meteorite impacts have been blamed for hundreds of injuries, but only one has been verified by scientists. In 1954, Annie Hodges of Sylacauga, Alabama, was struck by an eight-pound meteorite that crashed though her roof and bounced off a radio into her hip while she was napping.

13 One way of deflecting a Near Earth Object is to explode a nuclear device in its vicinity. The resulting radiation pulse would vaporize the object's surface; as the vapor streamed away, it would deliver a thrust that could throw the body off course. This push is known as an X-ray slap.

15 To communicate over long distances, NATO and the National Weather Service still bounce radio signals off the ionized trails left by meteors when they enter Earth's atmosphere.
About death:
3 No American has died of old age since 1951.

4 That was the year the government eliminated that classification on death certificates.

5 The trigger of death, in all cases, is lack of oxygen. Its decline may prompt muscle spasms, or the "agonal phase," from the Greek word agon, or contest.

19 If you can't make it here . . . More people commit suicide in New York City than are murdered.

20 It is estimated that 100 billion people have died since humans began.
About lab accidents:
2 German scientist Hennig Brand stored 50 buckets of urine in his cellar for months in 1675, hoping that it would turn into gold. Instead, an obscure mix of alchemy and chemistry yielded a waxy, glowing goo that spontaneously burst into flameā€”the element now known as phosphorus.

5 Kevlar, superglue, cellophane, Post-it notes, photographs, and the phonograph: They all emerged from laboratory blunders.

13 After a 1992 drug trial in the Welsh mining town of Merthyr Tydfil, male subjects reported that sildenafil citrate hadn't done much for their angina, but it did have an unusual side effect on another part of their anatomy. Today the drug is sold as Viagra.

14 In 1943 Swiss chemist Albert Hoffman inadvertently absorbed a small quantity of lysergic acid through his fingertips and experienced "dizziness . . . visual distortions . . . [a] desire to laugh." The age of LSD had begun.

17 In 1965 astronomers Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson scrubbed their Bell Labs radio antenna to rid it of pigeon droppings, which they suspected were causing the instrument's annoying steady hiss.

18 That noise turned out to be the microwave echo of the Big Bang.