All substances are poisons; there is none which is not a poison. The right dose differentiates a poison and a remedy.
- Attributed to Paracelsus (1493-1541)
Let’s start with cliché. Water is life. Well, it’s not actually life itself (it is, after all, just a molecule), but it is fundamental to carbon-based life forms such as us, bacteria and everything else that we consider to be living.
So important that we first look for liquid water on other planets to determine the possibility of extra-terrestrial life.
However, as our long dead friend explained above, anything can be bad for you taken in the wrong amounts. Yes, even water.
I’ve been traveling in the past few weeks, as you may have noticed from the lack of articles. This week I’ve been visiting friends in Germany.
To be a good guest, and less of a burden on my hosts, I’ve been helping out with the daily chores, including washing the dishes.
And, as it turns out, my friends and I are split into two camps. Those who rinse dishes after soaping them up and those who don’t.
And to show you how those in the second camp are clearly and utterly wrong, we first need to understand how soap (or detergent) works.
Gut flora, the bacteria inside human’s digestive tract, performs a fundamental role. Without it, humans would not be able to digest a large variety of food (including complex carbohydrates). And there are a lot of these bacteria: they compose up to 60% of the dry weight of faeces.
There are also a lot of bacteria on human skin. The number of bacteria on the skin of the average person is about 1 trillion. Which is a lot.
Yet, bodily fluids (like blood, urine, cerebrospinal fluid, etc.) are considered sterile (while still inside the body). How is this possible, when there are so many microorganisms in our gastrointestinal system and on our skin? Because, in fact, these bacteria are not inside the body.
Is Greenland really bigger than Africa and Australia?
Take a deep breath. The big map in your high school classroom, the atlas you’ve used to navigate during a road trip and even google maps are all lying to you. They all start with the same big lie, that the earth is flat, two-dimensional, like a pancake. When in fact, as humans have known for a very long time, at least since the time of ancient Greeks, that the earth is spherical (that people thought that the earth was flat at the time of Columbus is a myth). Well, not exactly spherical, the earth is an oblate spheroid: a sphere slightly squashed at the poles, but it’s definitely not flat like a pancake.
We are all very familiar with global warming, a predicted ecological disaster that we’re still figuring out how to deal with (and also struggling to convince some people of its existence and importance). But if you’re a bit older, you might remember that there was another quite talked-about ecological disaster caused by humans: the depletion of the ozone layer (sometimes people conflate global warming and ozone depletion but they are two different phenomena caused by different types of man-made pollution). Back when I was a bit younger it was big news. UV rays are nothing to be trifled with. So why did we stop talking about it? Whatever happened to the hole in the ozone layer?
The sun is a giant ball of gas that burns at the centre of the solar system. And the adjective giant is not unearned: the sun constitutes 99.86% of the mass of the solar system. Without it life as we know it would not exist. Water would not be liquid. Plants would not be able to photosynthesise. Without the sun the earth would just be a big icy rock floating through interstellar space.
But let’s assume you have a death wish and want to try to put it out. How much water would you need?
The atmosphere of Venus is over ninety-five per cent carbon dioxide, the pressure at the surface is 92 times that of earth and the average surface temperature is 735 K (462 °C; 863 °F), higher than the melting point of lead. Not to mention that there are large clouds of sulphuric acid raining down corrosive droplets and winds on the surface that can reach 300 kilometres per hour (190 mph). Not exactly the most forgiving place.
With the recent fervor around the possibility of life on mars, fuelled by the landing of the Curiosity rover last summer, no one seems to remember that it would also be rather interesting to land a rover or a probe on the cloud planet.
In fact, humans have already landed probes on venus, but not many people in the first world (I use first world in the original sense of the word: allies of the United States) are aware of it, probably because it happened during the cold war and the probes were russian-made.