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How to Catch a Bullet

Question: What is the most dangerous stunt you’ve ever done?

David Adamovich: I guess it would have to be when I did the Triple Crown, and that was when I caught a bullet, an arrow, and a knife.  I’m the only person to have ever done all three.  Others have seen how to catch a knife and they’ve copied it from me.  I’ve seen others catch the arrow, I copied that from them.  And then I had seen David Blaine do the bullet catch with the cup in his mouth and I decided I would do the same thing, but instead use the steel cup in my hand.  So all three items, the knife, the bullet and the arrow were caught with the same hand.  And that’s really crazy.  And I don’t think I would want to do it again.  

Question:
How dangerous are these stunts actually?

David Adamovich: Specifically, each of the three have their own issues.  Catching the knife, I have to watch that knife coming toward me as it’s being thrown for a full spin and if I didn’t catch it, it would stick in the board right next to me.  So I watch the release very carefully as it leaves the thrower’s hand and I’m reaching up and snatching the knife when it’s... as it comes in this position, and then I continue with it, but I don’t lit it hit the board.  I just take it out of the air.  

I have set the world record for catching 25 knives in one minute.  I tried to repeat that and break it down to... I wanted to get it to 30 knives in a minute, and after about five knives into the stunt, I was yelling to the thrower to speed up a little bit, I wanted to get the stunt moving a little faster.  Things went wrong.  His throw was off, my grab was off, and instead of the knife being here the knife was actually there when I put my hand up.  And I took the knife right through to the back of my hand, and it hurt.  I really hurt.  I looked up to the... you know, setting a World Record, there was an audience full of people—I’m sorry, I was breaking my World Record and I just grabbed the knife, pulled it out of my hand, saw the blood coming out... put my hand over it and looked up to the audience and said, “Show is over.”  And walked off stage and took a look at that hand and I thought everything was all over for me.  But I didn’t catch any tendons or ligaments, nothing broke, it just went right through to the back.  I pulled it out and I was fine.  

The arrow catch... the arrow’s coming in at about 55, 60 miles per hour from the archer being at about 30-35 feet away.  So, again, I’m watching it, I let some of them go by and then I kind of imagine where I would have to reach up and grab it, and then has it was coming, I just reached up and went like that, and snatched the arrow right out of the air.  

The bullet catch is using a small cup about that long and about that round and instead of doing it in the mouth the way David Blain did, I just decided, of course, I would do it in my  hand so all three items were caught the same way.  And I just held it at my side and the same guy, Chris McDaniel, who threw the knife and who fired... pulled the bow, also fired the rifle.  And we had a red laser dot that was on the front of the barrel of the rifle, and I used a mirror next to the gun at about, it was about 14 feet away.  And I looked in the mirror and moved my hand to where I saw the laser dot in the cup.  And then I gave him the okay to pull the trigger, and he fired and, bang, there it was.  I caught it.  Stopped it really, but it’s referred to as catching it.

Recorded on July 15, 2010
Interviewed by Max Miller

The most dangerous stunt "The Great Throwdini" has ever attempted involved catching bullets, knives, and arrows—and it did not go according to plan.

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A "very massive star" in the Kinman Dwarf galaxy caught the attention of astronomers in the early years of the 2000s: It seemed to be reaching a late-ish chapter in its life story and offered a rare chance to observe the death of a large star in a region low in metallicity. However, by the time scientists had the chance to turn the European Southern Observatory's (ESO) Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Paranal, Chile back around to it in 2019 — it's not a slow-turner, just an in-demand device — it was utterly gone without a trace. But how?

The two leading theories about what happened are that either it's still there, still erupting its way through its death throes, with less luminosity and perhaps obscured by dust, or it just up and collapsed into a black hole without going through a supernova stage. "If true, this would be the first direct detection of such a monster star ending its life in this manner," says Andrew Allan of Trinity College Dublin, Ireland, leader of the observation team whose study is published in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

So, em...

Between astronomers' last look in 2011 and 2019 is a large enough interval of time for something to happen. Not that 2001 (when it was first observed) or 2019 have much meaning, since we're always watching the past out there and the Kinman Dwarf Galaxy is 75 million light years away. We often think of cosmic events as slow-moving phenomena because so often their follow-on effects are massive and unfold to us over time. But things happen just as fast big as small. The number of things that happened in the first 10 millionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a second after the Big Bang, for example, is insane.

In any event, the Kinsman Dwarf Galaxy, or PHL 293B, is far way, too far for astronomers to directly observe its stars. Their presence can be inferred from spectroscopic signatures — specifically, PHL 293B between 2001 and 2011 consistently featured strong signatures of hydrogen that indicated the presence of a massive "luminous blue variable" (LBV) star about 2.5 times more brilliant than our Sun. Astronomers suspect that some very large stars may spend their final years as LBVs.

Though LBVs are known to experience radical shifts in spectra and brightness, they reliably leave specific traces that help confirm their ongoing presence. In 2019 the hydrogen signatures, and such traces, were gone. Allan says, "It would be highly unusual for such a massive star to disappear without producing a bright supernova explosion."

The Kinsman Dwarf Galaxy, or PHL 293B, is one of the most metal-poor galaxies known. Explosive, massive, Wolf-Rayet stars are seldom seen in such environments — NASA refers to such stars as those that "live fast, die hard." Red supergiants are also rare to low Z environments. The now-missing star was looked to as a rare opportunity to observe a massive star's late stages in such an environment.

Celestial sleuthing

In August 2019, the team pointed the four eight-meter telescopes of ESO's ESPRESSO array simultaneously toward the LBV's former location: nothing. They also gave the VLT's X-shooter instrument a shot a few months later: also nothing.

Still pursuing the missing star, the scientists acquired access to older data for comparison to what they already felt they knew. "The ESO Science Archive Facility enabled us to find and use data of the same object obtained in 2002 and 2009," says Andrea Mehner, an ESO staff member who worked on the study. "The comparison of the 2002 high-resolution UVES spectra with our observations obtained in 2019 with ESO's newest high-resolution spectrograph ESPRESSO was especially revealing, from both an astronomical and an instrumentation point of view."

Examination of this data suggested that the LBV may have indeed been winding up to a grand final sometime after 2011.

Team member Jose Groh, also of Trinity College, says "We may have detected one of the most massive stars of the local Universe going gently into the night. Our discovery would not have been made without using the powerful ESO 8-meter telescopes, their unique instrumentation, and the prompt access to those capabilities following the recent agreement of Ireland to join ESO."

Combining the 2019 data with contemporaneous Hubble Space Telescope (HST) imagery leaves the authors of the reports with the sense that "the LBV was in an eruptive state at least between 2001 and 2011, which then ended, and may have been followed by a collapse into a massive BH without the production of an SN. This scenario is consistent with the available HST and ground-based photometry."

Or...

A star collapsing into a black hole without a supernova would be a rare event, and that argues against the idea. The paper also notes that we may simply have missed the star's supernova during the eight-year observation gap.

LBVs are known to be highly unstable, so the star dropping to a state of less luminosity or producing a dust cover would be much more in the realm of expected behavior.

Says the paper: "A combination of a slightly reduced luminosity and a thick dusty shell could result in the star being obscured. While the lack of variability between the 2009 and 2019 near-infrared continuum from our X-shooter spectra eliminates the possibility of formation of hot dust (⪆1500 K), mid-infrared observations are necessary to rule out a slowly expanding cooler dust shell."

The authors of the report are pretty confident the star experienced a dramatic eruption after 2011. Beyond that, though:

"Based on our observations and models, we suggest that PHL 293B hosted an LBV with an eruption that ended sometime after 2011. This could have been followed by
(1) a surviving star or
(2) a collapse of the LBV to a BH [black hole] without the production of a bright SN, but possibly with a weak transient."

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