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Chris Hadfield
Retired Canadian Astronaut & Author
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The Outer Limits of Human Survival

Question: How long can we survive without food and water?

Laurence Gonzales: When you’re in a true survival situation, the survival schools will teach you that you can go three minutes without air, three days without water, and three weeks without food.  That’s kind of a rule of thumb.  And they’ll also teach you that basically, you’re training to survive for 72 hours.  They should be able to get to you and rescue you within that time.  The fact of the matter is most people who are going to die out there die within the first 24 to 48 hours.  This is an interesting phenomenon because, again, a lot of them have what they need to survive, and yet they don’t.  So there is definitely a phenomenon of giving up.  There are people who simply give up.  And it’s surprisingly easy to die out that if you give up.  So it’s very important to recognize what the outer limits are, but it’s also important to recognize that even though they say you can go without water for three days, there are cases where people have gone for nine days.  Anything’s possible.

Question: In all your research, which survival story stands out as the most unlikely or unusual?

Laurence Gonzales: There’d been a number of survival stories that have really surprised me because of how bizarre they were or unusual they were, or unlikely that the person was to survive.  One in particular involved a lady named, Debbie Kiley, who was on a ship that sank in a hurricane.  And she and a group amounting to five people were thrown into a small boat together on the ocean.  They had no water, they had no supplies at all, and they drifted for several days this way.  And it was very interesting because of how the people broke down into the various characters. 

Debbie Kiley was very determined, very organized, she was pretty wobbly at first, but she pulled herself together and with one other member of the crew was able to form a pact that they were going to stay together, help each other, watch each other when they slept and not drink sea water.  One member of the group was badly injured and was destined to die anyway. 

The two other members of the group, the Captain and the First mate, both were very wobbly from the start.  They really had no resolve and they began drinking sea water.  And after a time, first one of them said I’m going to the 7-11 to get some cigarettes, and he got over the side of the boat and swam away and was eaten by sharks.  And then the other one said, I’m going for a swim or something like that and he went over the side and was eaten by sharks.  And they could hear these people being eaten by sharks during this whole episode. 

So it kind of showed how really some people are destined not to make it from the very beginning.  One of the people who died, when the boat was sinking was screaming, “We’re all going to die!  We’re all going to die!”  And I always say that if that had been in a movie, that would have told you which character was going to die in the end. 

The rule of thumb is that humans can survive three minutes without air, three days without water, and three weeks without food, but there are always extraordinary cases—some have gone up to nine days without water.

Remote learning vs. online instruction: How COVID-19 woke America up to the difference

Educators and administrators must build new supports for faculty and student success in a world where the classroom might become virtual in the blink of an eye.

Credit: Shutterstock
Sponsored by Charles Koch Foundation
  • If you or someone you know is attending school remotely, you are more than likely learning through emergency remote instruction, which is not the same as online learning, write Rich DeMillo and Steve Harmon.
  • Education institutions must properly define and understand the difference between a course that is designed from inception to be taught in an online format and a course that has been rapidly converted to be offered to remote students.
  • In a future involving more online instruction than any of us ever imagined, it will be crucial to meticulously design factors like learner navigation, interactive recordings, feedback loops, exams and office hours in order to maximize learning potential within the virtual environment.
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White dwarfs hold key to life in the universe, suggests study

New study shows white dwarf stars create an essential component of life.

NASA and H. Richer (University of British Columbia)
Surprising Science
  • White dwarf stars create carbon atoms in the Milky Way galaxy, shows new study.
  • Carbon is an essential component of life.
  • White dwarfs make carbon in their hot insides before the stars die.
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"Forced empathy" is a powerful negotiation tool. Here's how to do it.

Master negotiator Chris Voss breaks down how to get what you want during negotiations.

Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Personal Growth
  • Former FBI negotiator Chris Voss explains how forced empathy is a powerful negotiating tactic.
  • The key is starting a sentence with "What" or "How," causing the other person to look at the situation through your eyes.
  • What appears to signal weakness is turned into a strength when using this tactic.
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Octopus-like creatures inhabit Jupiter’s moon, claims space scientist

A leading British space scientist thinks there is life under the ice sheets of Europa.

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SETI Institute
Surprising Science
  • A British scientist named Professor Monica Grady recently came out in support of extraterrestrial life on Europa.
  • Europa, the sixth largest moon in the solar system, may have favorable conditions for life under its miles of ice.
  • The moon is one of Jupiter's 79.
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How to catch a glimpse of Comet NEOWISE before it’s gone

Unless you plan to try again in 6,800 years, this week is your shot.

Image source: Sven Brandsma/Unsplash
Surprising Science
  • Comet NEOWISE will be most visible in the U.S. during the evenings from July 14-19, 2020.
  • After July 23rd, NEOWISE will be visible only through good binoculars and telescopes.
  • Look in the northwestern sky below the Big Dipper after dusk while there's a chance.

UPDATE: NASA is broadcasting a NASA Science Live episode highlighting Comet NEOWISE. NASA experts will discuss and answer public questions beginning at 3PM EST on Wednesday, July 15. Tune in via the agency's website, Facebook Live, YouTube, Periscope, LinkedIn, Twitch, or USTREAM.

Before last evening, July 14, 2020, the easiest way to see Comet NEOWISE — the brightest comet to zoom past Earth since 1977's Comet Hale-Bopp — from the United States was to catch it about an hour before sunrise. Now, however, you can see it in the evening, where it will remain for until the 19th. This is a definite don't-miss event — NEOWISE won't be coming back our way for another 6,800 years. It's the first major comet of the millennium, and by all accounts, it's unforgettable.

NEOWISE just got back from the Sun

Comet NEOWISE is named after the NASA infrared space telescope that first spotted it on March 27th. Its official moniker is C/2020 F3. It's estimated that the icy comet is about three miles across, not counting its tail.

NEOWISE is now heading away from our Sun, having made it closet approach, 27.4 million miles, to our star on July 3. The heat from that encounter is what's given NEOWISE its tail: It caused gas and dust to be released from the icy object, creating the tail of debris that looks so magical from here.

As NEOWISE moves closer to Earth, paradoxically, it will be less and less visible. By about July 23rd, you'll need binoculars or a telescope to see it at all. All of which makes this week prime time.

An evening delight

star constellation in sky

Image source: Allexxandar/Shutterstock/Big Think

First, find an unobstructed view of the northwest sky, free of streetlights, car headlights, apartment lights, and so on. And then, according to Sky & Telescope:

"Start looking about one hour after sunset, when you'll find it just over the northwestern horizon as the last of twilight fades into darkness."

It should be easy to spot since it's near to one of the most recognizable constellations up there, the Big Dipper. "Look about three fists below the bottom of the Big Dipper, which is hanging down by its handle high above, and from there perhaps a little to the right." Et voilà: Comet NEOWISE.

Says Sky & Telescope's Diana Hannikainen, "Look for a faint, fuzzy little 'star' with a fainter, fuzzier little tail extending upward from it."

The comet should be visible with the naked eye, though binoculars and a simple telescope may reveal more detail.

You may also be able to snap a photo of this special visitor, though you'll need the right gear to do so. A dedicated camera is more likely to capture a good shot than a telephone, but in either case, you'll need a tripod or some other means of holding the camera dead still as it takes a timed exposure of several seconds (not all phones can do this).

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