The Red Rain of Kerala

By Anupum Pant

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In the year 2001, between 25th July and 25th September, people from the Indian state of Kerela (Kottayam and Idukki districts) experienced a bizarre oddity – The Red Rain of Kerala. Sporadic heavy downpours of mysteriously colored water left the people of Kerala dazed. More recently, red rains were also seen in parts of Sri Lanka between 15th November and 27th December, 2012.

Yellow, Black and Green rains have also been reported several times since 1896.

Red Rain of Kerala – Studies

A study conducted in India showed that the rain was colored because these raindrops contained millions of spherical and oval red particles which had an internal structure. These things looked like biological cells. Initially, when scientists weren’t able to confirm the existence of DNA (a fact which has baffled scientists) in them, in spite of an internal structure present in the cells, some started claiming that the origin of these red particles was extraterrestrial, possibly, coming from an exploded meteor.

Later the mystery was solved, the presence of DNA was confirmed and a study, destroying popular media claims, concluded that the red rain of Kerala had been colored due to airborne spores originating from a type of algae. There was nothing alien about it.

The unusual color of the rain was due to the presence of a unicellular micro-organism belonging to Kingdom Protista, of the Phylum Euglenozoa, known as Trachelomonas. Trachelomonas was the main cause of reddish downpours in other regions of the world as well.

[Source: The Red Rain of Kerala]

Why Do Bad Eggs Float?

By Anupum Pant

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Instead of cracking up an egg which has been stored for a long time, to end up disgusted by the ‘rotten egg smell’, or the smell of a gas called Hydrogen Sulfide, a simple and a fairly well known way to check if an egg has gone bad, is to drop it in a glass of water and see if it floats. I found out about this first, from an article written at Frugal Living, and spent some time to confirm its claims – Bad eggs float.
If you take my word for it (you should!), it really does work. The article describes this three-point test to find out if an egg is good to eat.

  1. If the egg sinks and lies on its side, it is a fresh one. It is good enough to be eaten.
  2. If it sinks and stands up on a point, or is at an angle, it is good enough. You can still use it up for making hard-cooked eggs or bake it.
  3. But, if an egg floats, it needs to be discarded.

Why does this happen?

To understand, you’ll have to think of a chick – a young chicken.

Poor Chicks: Before chickens come out of the egg, they develop lungs and need oxygen to breath. Sitting inside a sealed egg, with no cords attached, for the chick to survive, oxygen has to come in from somewhere. For that, let us look inside.

Egg Science: The outer shell of an egg has two membranes under it. When an egg is laid, it is warm and starts cooling which contracts the inner part of the egg more than the shell and pulls the two membranes apart. As a result, air gets trapped in between the membranes (not enough air initially for it to float).

How does the air come in? The shell of an egg isn’t as simple as it looks. It has about 7000 tiny pores in that shell which let the air pass in and let the carbon dioxide pass out of it. This is how the chick breathes. And the reason, eggs boiled in colored water during Easter, get colored from the inside.

So, as there are pores present in the shell, bacteria enter the egg and start decaying the biological matter inside. This produces a smelly gas (and other gases too), Hydrogen Sulfide (also present in smelly farts). The gases from this decomposition, and the air from outside, keep increasing in volume as time passes.

Corollary: This is exactly what explains these floating bad eggs – Greater the amount of gas inside, older is the egg and the better it floats in water.

Side note: Egg shells and the two membranes inside have the ability to stop the invasion of micro-organisms and bacteria, but over time bacteria manage to enter.

Pope John XXI – A Man of God and Science

by Anupum Pant

Pope John XXI was the only pope ever, who had an illustrious medical career alongside his work as a theologian. He was also a fruitful writer, who wrote on subjects like logic, physics, philosophy and medicine. Before being elected as a Pope, he served as personal physician to Pope Gregory.

In medicine, he contributed towards great advances in female reproductive system and wrote about a few remarkably effective methods of birth control, during times when the Catholic Church condemned contraception. He also taught medicine at the University of Siena.

As men with thoughts ahead of their time are always labeled as heretics, John was also called a magician after his death. His death was announced to have been caused by “an act of god”.

The unfortunate accident

His brief papacy [of 8 months, 1276-77] ended with a tragic accident:

As a man of the science, he dabbled in astronomy and had a special room built in the papal palace. He loved spending hours in this special room, where he could observe the stars at night. It was in this room, where he sustained severe injuries, when the roof of his palace collapsed. He died six days later (on May 20, 1277).

Stephen Hawking’s interpretation

In 1277, Pope John XXI’s declared ‘laws of nature’ to be heresy because they conflicted with God’s omnipotence. Several years later, Hawking and Mlodinow, with their book, The Grand Design, caused quite a stir when they wrote – “Pope John was killed by the effects of the law of gravity a few months later when the roof of his palace fell in on him“.

Bonus Death Fact: Jack Daniel, the founder of Jack Daniel’s Tennessee whiskey distillery, died in very peculiar manner:

Unable to open the safe in his office, Mr. Jack kicked it in frustration. This blow broke his toe and infection set in, leading to his untimely death in 1911. – [Source]