from the world's big
Hey Bill Nye! Should We Throw Our Trash Into Space?
On this week's Tuesdays With Bill, Rachel, a Columbia University student, asks two questions for the price of one: What would happen if a human being went the speed of light, and why don't we just eject our trash into outer space?
Bill Nye, scientist, engineer, comedian, author, and inventor, is a man with a mission: to help foster a scientifically literate society, to help people everywhere understand and appreciate the science that makes our world work. Making science entertaining and accessible is something Bill has been doing most of his life.
In Seattle Nye began to combine his love of science with his flair for comedy, when he won the Steve Martin look-alike contest and developed dual careers as an engineer by day and a stand-up comic by night. Nye then quit his day engineering day job and made the transition to a night job as a comedy writer and performer on Seattle’s home-grown ensemble comedy show “Almost Live.” This is where “Bill Nye the Science Guy®” was born. The show appeared before Saturday Night Live and later on Comedy Central, originating at KING-TV, Seattle’s NBC affiliate.
While working on the Science Guy show, Nye won seven national Emmy Awards for writing, performing, and producing. The show won 18 Emmys in five years. In between creating the shows, he wrote five children’s books about science, including his latest title, “Bill Nye’s Great Big Book of Tiny Germs.”
Nye is the host of three currently-running television series. “The 100 Greatest Discoveries” airs on the Science Channel. “The Eyes of Nye” airs on PBS stations across the country.
Bill’s latest project is hosting a show on Planet Green called “Stuff Happens.” It’s about environmentally responsible choices that consumers can make as they go about their day and their shopping. Also, you’ll see Nye in his good-natured rivalry with his neighbor Ed Begley. They compete to see who can save the most energy and produce the smallest carbon footprint. Nye has 4,000 watts of solar power and a solar-boosted hot water system. There’s also the low water use garden and underground watering system. It’s fun for him; he’s an engineer with an energy conservation hobby.
Nye is currently the Executive Director of The Planetary Society, the world’s largest space interest organization.
Rachel: Hi, I’m Rachel and I'm a student at Columbia. What would we see if theoretically a human were able to travel at the speed of light. My teacher told me, somewhat confusingly, that we might see the past and the present or maybe the past and the future, I can’t remember, simultaneously. But whatever his response was it didn’t make a lot of sense to me so I was wondering if you could give me a better clarification.
Bill Nye: Rachel this is a great question. So about what happens when you go the speed of light. I mean this is a great — we love to ask this question in physics class. It’s big fun here on Big Think. But if you have mass, which we all do — we are not pure energy, we are not beams of light, we are not electrical fields. We’re not gravitational fields. We have mass. It has been shown beyond any doubt that you cannot go the speed of light. You can go arbitrarily fast, approaching the speed of light, but you can’t quite go the speed of light. All the energy you pump in just adds to your mass. And this seems incredible. It adds to your mass relative to something you’re going to run into in a particle accelerator or an atom smasher like at CERN in Switzerland. We call it a target that you run into. That said, you can’t help but wonder what would happen if you go the speed of light. You’ve got to figure the only light you’d see is the light that you’d run into either light that you happen to cross paths with or light that was beamed straight at you. You wouldn’t see anything else. About the change in time. There’s been a lot of talk about that. Can time have a speed effectively? Can you go backwards in time? Apparently not. People love to speculate about oh, they can’t get enough about this. What happens if you fall into a wormhole and then you like end up in another part of the universe like in another time? Maybe. But if you try to fall into a gravitational thing of that strength, of a black hole for example, which is a star with so much gravity light doesn’t escape, it would kill you. You’d be — the difference in gravity between your feet and your head would be so — just the difference in gravity would be so high it would stretch you into a piece of spaghetti, which would also make you dead. But you can’t help but wonder.
Rachel: My second question is from are there any reasons besides ethical dilemmas that we haven't if we shot some of our trash into space. I know it might contribute to space junk, but if we shot it far enough away, besides maybe then contributing to other creatures' environments if they do exist. What are the downsides to doing that and why haven’t we if it might then clear up space on Earth and clear some of the pollution that we have. Or not contribute then to landfills. We might be able to shoot it elsewhere.
Bill Nye: Why we don’t throw trash into space. Because it’s too expensive. Lifting a ton of material into space takes an extraordinary amount of rocket fuel. And, by the way, when people want to send this much plutonium 238, which is not even the weapons plutonium, a baseball size, a grapefruit size, people freak out because the rockets sometimes blow up. Now one thing I really want your generation to embrace is that the Earth is a closed system. We cannot leave the Earth. There’s no place to go. There’s no place to throw your trash. And I wouldn’t be surprised if maybe not you, but your kids develop ways to mine our landfills. We throw away so much valuable stuff right now, especially raw materials. I may be wrong, of course, I always may be wrong but I wouldn’t be surprised if that turns out to be economically reasonable. All this plastic. It’s really hard to create and hard to get it to break down. It has value, you know. Like I have some clothing made out of old water bottles. So just let go of the idea of throwing stuff off the Earth. It’s just too easy a solution. What we need to do is not throw stuff away, but you’ve heard it, you’ve heard it a hundred times. Reduce what we need to throw way. Recycle the stuff that we create and reuse it. Reduce, reuse, recycle. Those are the things we want to do. And then I did a video years ago — there’s a fourth one — rethink. Yes, rethink Big Think. Reduce, reuse, recycle. It’s all good. The key to the future, Rachel, is not to do less. That’s not what we’re talking about my engineering colleagues and me, and I. We are talking about doing more with less. More efficient transportation. More efficient use of fuel. More efficient use of farmland. More efficient everything. And that way we’ll have to throw away less and we can, dare I say it, change the world. Great questions Rachel.
On this week's episode of Tuesdays With Bill, Rachel from Columbia University asks two questions for the price of one: What would happen if a human being went the speed of light, and why don't we just eject our trash into outer space?
- Modern antibiotics can effectively treat bubonic plague, which spreads mainly by fleas.
Bacteria under microscope
needpix.com<p>Today, bubonic plague can be treated effectively with antibiotics.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Unlike in the 14th century, we now have an understanding of how this disease is transmitted," Dr. Shanthi Kappagoda, an infectious disease physician at Stanford Health Care, told <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health-news/seriously-dont-worry-about-the-plague#Heres-how-the-plague-spreads" target="_blank">Healthline</a>. "We know how to prevent it — avoid handling sick or dead animals in areas where there is transmission. We are also able to treat patients who are infected with effective antibiotics, and can give antibiotics to people who may have been exposed to the bacteria [and] prevent them [from] getting sick."</p>
This plague patient is displaying a swollen, ruptured inguinal lymph node, or buboe.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention<p>Still, hundreds of people develop bubonic plague every year. In the U.S., a handful of cases occur annually, particularly in New Mexico, Arizona and Colorado, <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/plague/faq/index.html" target="_blank">where habitats allow the bacteria to spread more easily among wild rodent populations</a>. But these cases are very rare, mainly because you need to be in close contact with rodents in order to get infected. And though plague can spread from human to human, this <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health-news/seriously-dont-worry-about-the-plague#Heres-how-the-plague-spreads" target="_blank">only occurs with pneumonic plague</a>, and transmission is also rare.</p>
A new swine flu in China<p>Last week, researchers in China also reported another public health concern: a new virus that has "all the essential hallmarks" of a pandemic virus.<br></p><p>In a paper published in the <a href="https://www.pnas.org/content/early/2020/06/23/1921186117" target="_blank">Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences</a>, researchers say the virus was discovered in pigs in China, and it descended from the H1N1 virus, commonly called "swine flu." That virus was able to transmit from human to human, and it killed an estimated 151,700 to 575,400 people worldwide from 2009 to 2010, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.</p>There's no evidence showing that the new virus can spread from person to person. But the researchers did find that 10 percent of swine workers had been infected by the virus, called G4 reassortant EA H1N1. This level of infectivity raises concerns, because it "greatly enhances the opportunity for virus adaptation in humans and raises concerns for the possible generation of pandemic viruses," the researchers wrote.
The word "learning" opens up space for more people, places, and ideas.
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