A few days back, in the month of December I had compiled a list of 6 space oddities that really interested me. At that time, I was pretty sure I would stumble upon a few more odd/interesting things about space within a month or two. With that in mind, I had decided to suffix the heading with “Part – I”. Four months have passed. That was a very thoughtful thing I did – thinking 4 months into the future. I have to appreciate my forethought (with a self-administered pat on the back) for doing that because today I’m back with a few more of these odd / interesting things about space and I’m still not embarrassed about the heading for the post.
So, here is the part II of space oddities (read the part I here):
1. A Hole in the Universe
About 7 years from now, researchers from University of Minnesota found out about a really huge void in our universe. The abnormal hole measures approximately sixty billion trillion miles. In easier words, it is about 10 Billion light years wide. Imagine! A beam of light would takes 10 Billion years to travel through that empty place. How lonely would it be at the centre of it. The void is bigger than anything else scientists have ever seen in space.
The whole volume of space shows no sign of any stars, planets, asteroids, gases, clouds, dust. The volume doesn’t even have any signs of dark matter (95% of our universe is dark matter) too. [read more about it]
2. Costliest thing ever built
Think of a huge 5 bed room house floating in space that can be seen moving from the surface of the earth with the naked eye! Yes, I’m talking about the International Space Station. It is a whooping 200,000 kg object that is 171 feet long, 240 feet wide and 90 feet high.
When it comes to the price of building something this huge in space, it beats everything from the most lavish sky scrappers to the most largest dams ever built. The price of building it is estimated to be about $160 Billion and fortunately the cost is shared by Canada, the European Union, Japan, Russia and the US. It is officially the most expensive object ever constructed, and it is NOT on earth! – Guinness book of World Records.
Today is pi day. Pi day is celebrated on March 14 at the Exploratorium in San Francisco (March 14 is 3/14) at 1:59 PST which is 3.14159.
Since pi day is today’s date written in the mm.dd (03.14) format, it could not be a pi day for most of you because dd.mm is the format used for writing dates in most countries around the world. In fact, those countries where more than half of the world’s population resides, will never have a pi day because you know, we can’t have a 14th month! Pi day is a valid celebration for people living only in the United States (including the 49th and northernmost state, Alaska and Hawaii of course) and Belize. Everywhere else people get zilch today?
Firstly, there is always the pi approximation day, which is celebrated on 22nd July (22/7) and uses the dd.mm format. Talking about March 14th, there is much more to pi day than just the date format itself. Let’s see…
I know, Eugene Cernan – The NASA astronaut who was the last man on the moon, and the one you can hear speaking in a popular Daft Punk Track – is one famous man who was born on pi day, 79 years from now, is an American too.
But guess what? Albert Einstein, one of the most genius men of recent times, was born on pi day too. He was a German born physicist (He did live in the US for more than 15 years and in fact, even took his last breath in New Jersey)
So, you see there is a little bit of pi day for every one around the world today. It is not just an American thing. Now moving on the most amazing things about pi.
Firstly, pi, unlike what we all are taught in school, isn’t 22/7. 22 divided by 7 is just an approximation of pi – it is only 99.95975% accurate. As we all know, pi is actually the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter. A slightly better approximation of pi would be 104348/33215 – which is 99.99999998944% accurate. But, since it is an irrational number, it can never be written in the form of a fraction.
The exact value of pi is impossible to write in digits because the number of digits needed to write it would be infinite and could never be fit inside the known universe.
To think of it in another way, if you divided the whole universe into the smallest possible volumes (plank volume), you’d end up with a mind bogglingly large number of volumes. Suppose you started writing the digits of pi inside these little volumes, you’d finish up the universe and would be still left with infinite more digits to write.
In these first one million digits, the sequence 12345 occurs 8 times!
The Feynman Point: If you’d like to hear what pie would sound like if you mapped a couple of pleasant sounding notes to each of the digits of pi, try listening to this. If you kept listening for a while and made it till the 762th digit, you’d hear a series of (6 of them) high frequency notes (the ones mapped to the digit nine) that get played continuously. This place in the digits of pi is called the Feynman point where six 9s occur one after another. Isn’t it incredible for six same numbers to be there consecutively in a random irrational number!
Practically useful pi
Pi can be used in real life to make a couple of things easier. For instance, if you were to find the size of your hat (usually measured in diameters), you’d have a hard time measuring the diameter of your head. This is what you can do to get a good approximation:
Measure the circumference of your head and divide it by π.
Another one trick is used by forest guards: To estimate the height of an elephant the Diameter of an elephant’s foot is multiplied by 2 π.
Pi Jokes, facts and Coincidences
It is an impressive coincidence that 3.14 if horizontally flipped, looks like the word “Pie”. You can check this in the mirror.
Another one is that, the 16th Greek letter is ‘Pi’ and the 16th letter in the English alphabet is ‘P’.
The famous comedian John Evans once made a joke: “What do you get if you divide the circumference of a jack-o’-lantern by its diameter? Pumpkin π.
There is a cologne named pi and is sold with the following marketing mantra: “highlighting the sexual appeal of intelligent and visionary men.”
Several years back large colonies of cute little rabbits were being maintained by pharmaceutical companies. These rabbits were used to find contamination in solutions that would be used to treat human beings. If the rabbits fell sick due to fever after being injected, the solutions were labeled as contaminated and were not injected into humans. If the rabbit had no fever after 2 days, the solution was deemed clean and could be used on humans.
However, pharma companies hated this process – not because they felt bad about harming cute bunnies, but the process was expensive and took about 2 days to give results.
A new discovery
A few years later, a scientist named Fred Bang was studying the circulatory system of a horseshoe crab – half a billion year old specie. He accidentally discovered some amazing properties of the horseshoe crab’s blood when one of his crabs died because its whole blood turned into a semi-solid mass.
He found that when the crab’s blue colored blood came in contact with a certain kind of bacteria, it got clotted into a semi-solid mass and completely trapped the bacteria.
And ultimately with the help of a scientist, Jack Levin, he developed a process that could be used to detect bacteria contaminated solutions (contaminated with endotoxin). This process proved to be a boon to us humans.
The replaced test
Today the old bunny test has been completely replaced. Pharmaceutical companies love the new test because it takes about just 45 minutes to complete and costs much lesser.
Every year thousands of live Horseshoe crabs are made to bleed blue to take advantage of their blood’s unique properties. About 30% of these crabs die. The miracle blue liquid can detect contamination in solutions that are extremely tiny (even if the contamination is as tiny as some parts-per-trillion).
The several liters blood extracted from these live crabs is used to save human lives by protecting them from contaminated solutions.
Every single person who has ever had an injection, has been protected because the blood of a horseshoe crab ensured that you got clean injections. Had there been no horseshoe crabs, we’d have been killing bunnies. Salute to the crab.