December 12, 2012

Santa Claus: Threat or Menace?

I have discovered Santa Claus' secrets. He is a tricky wily jolly old elf, and his exact methods are hard to pin down. The man is at least 800 years old, doesn't age, has had more names over his career than Prince, can seemingly travel at the speed of light at a whim with enough elf sweat shop toys in tow to put every toy retailer out of business,. In addition the man routinely breaks into peoples houses and takes their 'milk and cookies', meanwhile leaving behind his ill gotten toys.

The fact that NORAD tracks him every year does nothing to help my suspicions. Clearly they think him a threat to international stability

So how does Mr. Kringle accomplish this superhuman feat annually? 800 years ago giving gifts to every christian child was difficult with modern technology but it has only gotten worse since then. Of the approximately 7 billion people that exist at this moment, 2.2 billion of them consider themselves Christians, I'm willing to venture that a fair number of people celebrate the holiday otherwise. North America, South America, Europe, Australia, Sub-Saharan Africa and parts of Asia are predominantly Christian and so most of the population likely celebrates the holiday regardless of religious affiliation. So we'll say an even 3 billion celebrate Christmas. According to the CIA, 26.3% of the world is under 14, and are thus children applicable for him to give gifts to. That's 789 million kids out there. With an average population density of 13.3 people per sq. km (that's 34.5/ sq. mi). Doing the math that's 58 million sq. km (or 22 million sq mi) to cover in a single 24 hr period (which is being charitable). For perspective the entire Earth is about 510 million sq km (197 million sq. mi)

 In order for St. Nick to accomplish that he'd have to be moving around 16 million m/s, that's about 5% of the speed of light (It's probably even more than that since I calculated plain km, not sq km, but just to be on the conservative end of the spectrum). Air molecules vibrate around a couple 100 mi/hr, this means as far as Santa and the reindeer are concerned  the molecules in the air are hanging there frozen. Aerodynamics no longer apply, normally air would get out of the way, but because of the speed of the sleigh, it collides with the front reindeer and begins a fusion reaction , each collision giving off gamma rays and scattered particles. This would cause an explosion everywhere he went, destroying every place he goes to.

Now clearly Santa can't do this, at least not without destroying 2/3's of the landmass. So how does Father Christmas do it? Well, perhaps we're wrong in thinking about time linearly. If Santa were able to bend time and space it would make the whole thing a different possibility.If he were able to say... make space bend he would also be able to store that many toys in a bag and on his sleigh.

What's interesting is that Santa has taken on many different appearances over the years. He's taken on many different names: Kris Kringle, Father Christmas, Tomte, St. Nick, Sinterklauss, Belsnickel and many many others.

So the man has many different bodies, is practically immortal, can bend space and time, and has a sleigh that can clearly hold more than its dimensions should indicate.

Santa Claus is clearly a Time Lord....

December 11, 2012

The Search for E.T. Continues...

As it happens I have the time, the energy and the will to resume my blog, so I’m coming back to this. What better way to begin again than to talk about SPACE!

So pretty

NASA always has interesting news, even if its just interesting to me. Of note are two news bits from extraplanetary probes, the Mars Curiosity Rover and the Messenger satellite. The Curiosity rover turned heads when the lead scientist announced they may have found something that would be ‘one for the history books’ only to renege on said statement. What was found was complex chemistry with carbon in it (methyl chloride to be precise) but the exact origin of these compounds, and whether they’re of martian origin, is still up for debate. The current theory is that carbon from the rover reacted with choride in the martian soil, forming what is is technically an organic compound, but nothing groundbreaking.... Like what was found on Mercury by the Messenger probe

Much more noteworthy than a martian false alarm is the discovery of almost 1 trillion metric tons of ice from 50 cm to 20 meters deep on Mercury. For context that’s 1100 cubic kilometers (around 260 cubic miles) of 
ice this is roughly the same size as the Arctic ice cap . The ice is kept safe in the permanently shadowed poles of Mercury which never receive sunlight due to the planets almost perfectly vertical axis. Some of this ice is exposed and remains as -223 degrees Celsius (that's -370 Fahrenheit), but more interestingly there’s ice where there shouldn’t be, in fairly warm areas above the freezing point. Ice here appears to be insulator by ‘strange dark insulator’ that does seem to be comprised of a complex mix of  organic compounds (including amino acids sugars and proteins), the building blocks of life. Scientists at NASA were quick to say that life on mercury was a long shot, but the data gives hope that life might be found in even the most extreme circumstances outside of Earth and that the universe is a much soggier place than originally expected.

So why the big hunt for water and organic compounds? Organic compounds make sense, we’re made from long chain carbon compounds, and its unlikely that life would choose another method to base itself from. Carbon can form long complex chains, the closest thing to carbon chemically is silicon, but silcon doesn’t form long complex chains. Any silicon based life would be simple, if possible at all. Silicon is a more common element on earth than carbon is, so presumably if it were possible or sustainable it would’ve likely been done.

So why water? Water is often said to be the key component to life, but it’s seldom explained why. Water is an ionic mixture so it can hold many different compounds, salts and other metals, and more importantly it can hold some organic compounds in suspension. Water acts as a solvent, so it can act as a bridge helping various compounds react with eachother, and given it's ionic nature it keeps predominently nonpolar molecules (i.e. most organic molecules) close together, close enough so that they can react and do the processes required for life to occur
. Almost every animal, plant and microbe on the planet has it, even when the environment would dictate that it’s not feasible. Liquid water’s scarcity in the universe however brings up questions of other solvents, like ammonia, would be possible.

The search for life is ultimately a search to try and understand the universe. Are we special snowflakes, an oddity in an otherwise lifeless void. Are we perhaps the most intelligent lifeform out there? Or are we just one among many.

One way or another we will find out. I personally hope it’s sooner rather than later