The 52 Year Old Fire

By Anupum Pant

Centralia, a small town in Pennsylvania sits on massive deposits of an A-class quality of coal – Under the town, in every direction, the coal veins span across several miles (50-80 miles long). In the 50s it used to be a bustling little town of about 2000 people, and yet the population of this town has dwindled to 10 now.

Some it has to do with the fact that Centralia has a fire burning underneath. A massive fire that accidentally started more than 50 years ago, and it still continues to burn, even today.

In May 1962, five volunteers were hired to clean up the landfill for Memorial day celebrations. Unlike every other time, when landfills were located at some other places and were set to fire to clean up, this time they were on an abandoned strip-mine pit next to the Odd Fellows Cemetery. Like the fire used to die off all the time, the fire set on that day (May 27th, 1962) never got extinguished. And then entered the labyrinth of abandoned coal mines beneath Centralia. The fire still burns…

Today, Centralia is no more than a ghost town. Several places here have huge cracks in the ground spewing hot steam.

centralia coal fire

By many, the fire is believed to be the sole factor in converting this bustling 50s town into a ghost town. However there’s much more to it than just the fire. Radiolab gives a great insight on it…

Although there is a 1 hour-long documentary on Youtube about this, do not forget to have a look at this short documentary about the town. “The Unknown Cameraman”, an urban explorer presents..

Did a Teacher Ever Scold You for Yawning in Class?

By Anupum Pant


I always found school interesting. I wasn’t one of those kids who felt bored and sleepy during the class. And yet, during the classes, I yawned often. I remember being sent out of the class a couple of times because I had yawned. This happened again, and again at college. However, lecturers never cared to send me out in college. And then there were no more classes.

Then, when I started working, at a meeting one day, a friend yawned in a board room where the head of the company was present. The head saw this happen. Being a fresher, the guy got scolded very badly by the head. I felt sad for him. I knew, he wasn’t really sleepy when he yawned; clearly he wasn’t bored too. There could have been a different reason for it. The head should have known this.

Yawning is universally considered as a sign of sleepiness or boredom. I however, am pretty sure that a yawn doesn’t necessarily comes when someone is bored or sleepy. I do have a theory to back my belief that I discuss below. Also, yawning has a lot to do with empathy too. But that is not what I’m discussing today. To educate yourself about the empathy side of it, you could watch the following video.

No one knows for sure why we yawn. In addition to that there might be several different reasons that could explain why we yawn. Like a couple of reasons that explain why we sleep (may be there are more). Most definitely, it isn’t a single reason.

A study shows that yawning could be the body’s way of cooling down the brain and it makes perfect sense to me!

The Study

Scientists from the Princeton University say that people yawn more during the winters. That is because during the winter the air outside is colder and the body knows that. So, it makes us yawn to take in the cold air to cool the brain by exchanging heat.

There’s also this other explanation which breaks down the process of yawning into two parts – 1. stretching of your jaw muscles and 2. air entering your mouth after you do that.

When you stretch the jaw muscles in the first step, blood flow increases in your face, brain and sinus area. Now the cool air enters and cools down the blood vessels in the nasal cavity and sinus area. These blood vessels in turn cool the blood and circulate cooler blood to your brain, to cool it down.

Teacher’s theory

Now, it’s a well-known human rhythm that bodies get heated up just before we fall asleep. As a result, we yawn more. So, teachers were not completely wrong. However, sleep is not the direct reason. The reason we yawn is because the brain gets heated up, and it may as well get heated up due to other reasons; not always due to sleepiness or tiredness. Plus the yawn tries to correct the heated-sleepy-brain by circulating cooler blood.

The body does this to cool down the over-heated brain – which obviously gets heated due to extra information processing – like a computer processor. Why would the brain heat up when I’m not actively processing information better. So, yawning doesn’t mean I’m bored, or I’m not actively listening to the teacher when they’re speaking. Teachers need to know this.

Even if yawning is a sign of boredom to some extent. A yawn actually helps you cool down and helps you to process information better. So, teachers should be happy when you yawn in their class. You are trying to be a better listener than people who aren’t yawning in the class!

Hit like if you learnt something interesting today.

Is Helium Beer Possible?

By Anupum Pant


For the fizz, almost all beers have carbon dioxide dissolved in them. However, some others have also experimented with Nitrogen beers. But as fas as I know, no other gases have been used to make beers. Tell me in the comments section if you know any other gasses that have been used to do this.

But, on April 1st  Samuel Adams announced a Helium beer on his YouTube Channel. Note, the date was 1st  April. Here is the video of the announcement.

Save Helium and Science of the Fake Beer

Of course it was an April fools stunt. But what if it was real?

In his “HeliYum beer” Adam announced that, instead of carbon dioxide to create the fizz, he had used the Helium gas in the beer. In the video, as an additional effect, the new beer gas also created a funny atmosphere by affecting the voice of beer tasters. Now, I certainly didn’t like the idea of using Helium to keg beers because I’m very touchy when it comes to wasting the precious gas – Helium. Why? Well, read this Helium article I wrote some time back.

Also, I was adamant in believing if it was even possible to do that. Firstly, the date was 1st  April. Secondly, the science clearly didn’t allow this. Here’s why…

1. Helium is about 700 times less soluble in water as compared to carbon dioxide. It is one of the least soluble gases in water and only about 0.0016 g of Helium would get dissolved in a litre of beer. While, at the same conditions, 2.5 g of carbon dioxide is usually present in a litre of beer. This dissolved carbon dioxide is what realeases slowly and creates the fizz. No slow fizz can be done with Helium. Undissolved helium in beer would coalesce into one or two big bubble and…ploop, would go out as soon as the seal would break.

2. Even if Helium was forced into the beer and sealed in a beer can, it would be useless. As soon as the seal would break, all the meaningful amount of helium present inside, undissolved, under pressure, would come out so quickly (due to less viscous beer) that it would bring out a lot of beer with it. It would create a mess. And you wouldn’t be able to even bring the can near your face by the time the whole gas goes away.

Had carbon dioxide been used for the same purpose, the gas would, like it normally does, come out steadily. It would make the bubbles last.

Verdict: No. It’s useless to try to make beer with Helium unless you make it so viscous that it won’t let the Helium pass so easily. In that case, it won’t be beer really. Also, I’m not sure if the fermentation process could take place in such a viscous condition.

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