Unsafe Oxygen?

Those of us living near sea level breath a mixture of gases all the time. This mixture mostly contains nitrogen.  In this nitrogen based atmosphere is blended in a certain amount of oxygen. A healthy person can breath easily on the oxygen concentration of our earth’s atmosphere at reasonably low altitudes.

 At higher altitudes, it becomes more difficult to get the oxygen we need because the atmosphere gets thinner with less of the gaseous mix. Oxygen is constantly being used by animals and people and must be replenished. Green plants are able to add oxygen back into the atmosphere.

However, this oxygen must be utilitized at a constant steady rate in order to keep our atmosphere safe.  If the oxygen content falls too low, we could suffocate. If there becomes too much oxygen, the atmosphere becomes dangerously flammable. Too much oxygen and fires can start very easily and such fires will be very difficult to control or put out.

Nasa learned this truth very tragically when they let the air inside a manned space capsule become to rich in oxygen. A spark ignited the air so that the air itself caught fire in an explosive flash of heat. The men inside were killed by this firey blast. The air in our atmosphere is no different. If there should be too much oxygen in it, there could be a sudden and devestating flash fire which could set all flamable objects on fire as well with the result being that the oxygen could be consumed

The oxygen level of the atmosphere could drop severely low, with no land plant life able to replenish it. The oceanic plants could gradually replenish the oxygen as long as there remains enough CO2 for them to live on. It’s a good thing that there is plenty of nitrogen gas in the atmosphere to thin down the concentration of oxygen in the air. There’s enough to breath, but not TOO much to risk runaway fires or explosions.

 Wayne Hollyoak

Mars Punchthru?

There are many remarkable things about the planet, Mars. One that keeps getting my attention is the amazing “grand canyon” known as, “Valles Marineris”. This trench that stretches across the Mars surface is roughly the length of the American continent and about 6 miles deep. It raps around the surface of the planet with a roughly circular valley system at each end.

How did such a feature come about on the cold lifeless frozen planet? One theory suggests that it’s the result of the contraction of the planet as a whole due to the cooling of the planet’s core. So, why is there only one such feature on the planet? Why not many if the planet’s surface is covered with a rather uniform outer crust as on Earth?

Valles Marineris Punchthru sketch

Looking at the feature from above, Valles Marineris reminds me of something i’ve seen before. Like a BB or a pellet fired at a tomato or some sort of soft fruit. It penetrates the skin and travels just beneath the surface forcing the meat away from it bulging the surface as it blasts along inside the fruit and if it travels close enough to the surface the skin will rupture and split open leaving a gaping wound. Finally, the projectile exits thru the skin and continues on its way. Immediately the entrance and exit areas are filled back in with pulp leaving a circular distubance at the entrance and exit points.

Pulp and meat from the insides of the fruit have been ejected from the rupture region between the entrance and exit marks. But, the memory in the fruit’s outer skin will pull the rupture’s open tear back together and the liquified pulp inside will flow into the wound partially filling the remaining gap.

The Valles Marineris on Mars is more then vaguely similar to such a wound on a piece of fruit. It is rather precisely the same! If you have an air rifle handy, you can try this experiment for yourself. Get a nice ripe tomato or a soft apple. Put it at a safe distance and using basic shooting safety precautions, shoot at any edge of the fruit. You will need to hit the edge just far enough in to cause the skin to rupture as the BB, or pellet passes through the fruit.

Planets like Mars likely have a soft molten region below the outer crust. Could a huge asteroid or comet (perhaps 100 miles in diameter) have enough momentum and mass to penetrate the Mars outer crust, travel 1500 miles thru the molten interior and exit the crust to continue on its way? Perhaps badly mishappen and deformed, but nonetheless basically intact?

I suspect this is the story this huge gash on the surface of Mars is telling us. If so, think of the other impacts such an event would have on a planet. Would it be able to sustain life afterwords? Would the planet’s rotation on its axis be changed in ways, or its orbit shift any around the Sun?

What do you think caused the Valles Marineris?

Wayne Hollyoak

Under Our Noses

Do you know what creatures are living in your lawn, bushes, on your porch light at night? Each of these places are places where lots of insects, mice, salamanders, squirrels, who knows what make their homes.

In college, i was involved in “scouting”. I would go to a farmer’s field and with some dowels and string mark off a certain size square of the crop and count all the insects inside the square and identify them. By doing this once a week during the growing season, i could tell exactly when the bad bugs were about to damage the crop enough to call for using pesticides.

I learned very quickly that there are tons of critters everywhere there are plants. You just need to look closely for them. You could probably make an impressive science project of your own “scouting” a bush, or an area of grass in your own yard. See what you can find and make a report about it, take some pictures and even catch a few in jar.