Running With Scissors

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Scissors Banner by Wotchit

Greetings, all! This week's offering of science and silliness starts off with a bang. (Ahem.)

smiley - starsmiley - planetsmiley - starsmiley - planetsmiley - star

'BANG!' said the newborn universe.

said God. 'More

First thing the baby universe did was get its act together. It made elements, hydrogen and helium
and oxygen and like that. Then the elements started to get friendly. Some of them got so friendly
that they ignited and became stars. The stars were so cool and so beautiful that they attracted
groupies who organized themselves into planets and solar systems. The stars' inflated egos led them to

cluster in mutual admiration societies called galaxies, and the galaxies started to cluster into - wait
for it - galactic clusters. Occasionally a star got so full of itself that it blew itself to pieces, leaving
a black hole that gobbled up everything around it, fame, fortune, groupies and all. 'Well, this s*cks,'
said the black hole, and it was absolutely correct.

Meanwhile on an anonymous little planet near the edge of a middlin' galaxy...

smiley - starsmiley - planetsmiley - starsmiley - planetsmiley - star

A quiet scene: clear, blue skies; lush, green vegetation. A browsing dinosaur glances up in the sky.
'Chk`~chk`~chk`~chk`?'1 he says.

'WHAM!' says the asteroid.

Announcer: 'This planet is experiencing technical difficulties. Please return in a few million

* * * * * * * * *

'She told me to.'

'Did not.'

'Did too.'



'The snake told me to.'

'You two are so outta here.
And put some clothes on.'

* * * * * * * * *

'Mom always liked you better.'

'Did not.'

'Did too.'


'Too.' (bounces rock off brother's head)

'Ow-ow-ow-ow...' (dies)

* * * * * * * * *

God to Noah: 'How long
can you tread water?'

* * * * * * * * *

Having survived some unexpectedly heavy rainfalls, the planet's inhabitants decide to develop a
scientific outlook, or at least some weather-forecasting skills...

smiley - starsmiley - planetsmiley - starsmiley - planetsmiley - star

'Eureka!' cries Archimedes and vows to use less water for his bath.

* * * * * * * * *

During a religious festival in China, someone with too much time on his hands stuffs a mixture of
saltpetre, sulphur, and charcoal dust into a bamboo tube and tosses it into a fire, creating the world's
first fireworks. Officials promptly pass laws regulating their use.

* * * * * * * * *

Al-Khwarizmi, the chief librarian of the House of Wisdom in Baghdad, invents algebra, to the
dismay of countless generations of school children.

* * * * * * * * *

'The Earth revolves about the sun.'

'Does not.'

'Does too.'



'See the Grand Inquisitor on your way out.'

* * * * * * * * *

'Bang,' says the apple. 'Dang!' says Isaac Newton, rubbing his head. In a fit of pique, he invents

* * * * * * * * *

'Oh, come now, what's the worst that can happen if you split something so tiny?'
!!!!! B A N G !!!!!

'...Er. Yes. Well...'

* * * * * * * * *

Schroedinger demonstrates that the universe is neither here nor there by putting a cat in a box.
The other cats in his neighbourhood catch wind of this and decide to be elsewhere.

* * * * * * * * *

Physicists speculate that the universe is constantly spawning 'parallel universes'. God sighs and
hires several more clerks.

* * * * * * * * *

A massive black hole some 250 million light-years away blows a cosmic raspberry, and it is
absolutely correct.

smiley - starsmiley - planetsmiley - starsmiley - planetsmiley - star

And now for some sensible words...

Stars that aren't busy blowing themselves up are still rambunctious critters. Our sun has been
throwing another of its periodic tantrums of late. And when the sun ain't happy, ain't nobody

On Tuesday 28 October, the sun unleashed the third most powerful flare in recorded history.
Solar flares pack a wallop; they explode with as much force as a billion megatons of TNT. They
originate in sunspots, which are areas of twisted magnetic fields on the sun that hurl superheated gas,
called plasma, into space. The plasma is full of charged particles that can disrupt communication
systems, or worse, when they hit the Earth's atmosphere. The amount of damage depends in part on the

magnetic orientation of the particles. If it is the same as that of Earth's magnetic shield, significant
problems can occur.

Tuesday's storm hit hard and fast. The brunt of it hit at around 6.00am UTC Wednesday, about 19

hours after the sun's eruption. This made it one of the fastest-moving solar storms ever recorded and
close to the strongest recorded storm, which shorted out telegraph wires in the United States and
Europe and ignited widespread fires in September 1859. We lucked out this time, though. Even
though Tuesday's flare was pointed directly at the Earth, its magnetic orientation pointed away from
Earth's magnetic field, so damage was minimal.

Those of us on the ground generally don't notice anything amiss during solar storms because our
atmosphere does a good job of shielding us from sun's charged particles. However, the two astronauts
currently aboard the International Space Station took cover whenever the station passed through the
path of the storm. Those of us who read science fiction have probably come across stories featuring
solar flares as plot devices, with either the hero or the bad guy, or both, caught outside during a flare
and taking a lethal hit of radiation.

Tuesday's flare was also responsible for the aurora borealis displays that were visible as far south
as middle-latitude Europe and US. Auroras, also known as the northern lights, are created when the
charged solar particles hit the Earth’s magnetic field lines and excite oxygen and nitrogen atoms in the
atmosphere. Generally auroras are only visible from places near the poles, but during solar storms
they can be visible well to the south.

The sun is in the quiet phase of its 11-year cycle, which makes this recent series of eruptions
something of a puzzle to scientists. Of course, they can't explain the 11-year cycle, either. As usual
science marches on, but the universe is a step ahead of us all the way.

Did You Know?

You can actually see sunspots from home if you use safe viewing
, which are generally the same as those used for viewing solar eclipses. Never look
directly at the sun. Doing so can cause serious damage to your eyes.

For more information, check out the following:

Running With Scissors


06.11.03 Front Page

Back Issue Page

1Translation: 'What the heck is that?'2Translation: 'Ha-ha-ha-ha!'3Apologies to Bill Cosby for swiping that

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