Archive for Andrea Schmitz,Shira Polan

What if the Earth spun sideways on its axis

Following is a transcript of the video.

Early in the history of our solar system, something mysteriously knocked Earth slightly off its axis. So today we tilt at 23.5 degrees. But what would happen if we tilted even more? What if Earth spun sideways on its axis? Well, it wouldn't take long before utter chaos ensued.

One of the most important consequences of Earth's axial tilt is the seasons. Seasons happen because the tilt points different parts of the planet toward the sun at different times of the year. But the tilt also means that different parts of the globe receive different amounts of sunlight during each season. And that's where a more extreme tilt starts to cause problems. Right now, during the summer in the Northern Hemisphere, places far north, like Utqiagvik, Alaska, receive 24 hours of sunlight for 82 days straight. Because Earth is tilted far enough on its axis that as the planet rotates, Utqiagvik never leaves direct sunlight. On the other hand, the contiguous US receives a max of 17 hours a day, because after that it rotates out of daytime sunlight and into night. But if we tilted Earth's axis even more, to 90 degrees, the US would get sunlight 24/7, around the clock, for months on end. And it's not just the US; the entire Northern Hemisphere would be like this.

At first, animals would take advantage of the extra light to find and eat more food, just like Alaskan birds, which feed their chicks extra nutrition in the summer, resulting in faster-growing babies than their southern counterparts. And plant growth would explode since they get their energy directly from sunlight. Farms in northern Alaska, for example, grow cabbages the size of rottweilers in the summer.

But while animals and plants would thrive, humans wouldn't. We evolved to be active during the day and sleep at night. But if we were exposed to unending sunlight, our brains would stop producing the hormone melatonin, which we need to sleep at night. And that could lead to sleep deprivation, depression, and, ultimately, a more severe, chronic version of these symptoms called seasonal affective disorder, which already affects 9% of Alaskans, compared to just 6% of the entire United States.

But that's less of a worry than the floods. Temperatures at the North Pole would more than double, to 38 degrees Celsius from 15.5 degrees Celsius. That's hotter than temperatures at the equator today. As a result, Greenland's ice cap would melt, causing sea levels to rise by 7 meters, and flood nearly every coastal city on Earth. Say goodbye to New York, Copenhagen, and Tokyo. To make matters worse, the warmer seas would trigger stronger and more frequent hurricanes, which form when seawater evaporates at the surface.

And the weather wouldn't get better when winter comes six months later. Out of reach of the sun's direct beams for months at a time, the hemisphere would get colder than any winter on record. Swirls of frigid air, called a polar vortex, which are normally dissipated by warm air in the tropics, could travel all the way down to the equator. Imagine blizzards in Florida, Brazil, Kenya! And all those thriving plants, they'd die from a lack of sunlight. Agriculture would collapse as ecosystems crumble and mass extinctions pile up.

And there would be even more floods, because meanwhile, the Southern Hemisphere is getting toasty and the South Pole is home to 90% of the world's ice. The constant sunlight would raise its temperature to 38 degrees Celsius from -28 degrees Celsius, melting the ice and raising sea levels by a whopping 61 meters. That's almost as tall as the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Greenland's flood would look like a puddle in comparison.

So all in all, while a few extra hours in the summer sun would be nice, let's leave the extra seasons to Alaska and be glad the Earth is tilted exactly as it is.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This video was originally published in July 2019.

Read the original article on Business Insider

What if all the world’s supervolcanoes erupted at once

  • There are about 12 supervolcanoes on Earth - each one at least seven times larger than Mount Tambora, which had the biggest eruption in recorded history.
  • If all of these supervolcanoes erupted at once, they'd likely pour thousands of tons of volcanic ash and toxic gases into the atmosphere.
  • The gas would likely fall back to Earth as acid rain, devastating agriculture and leading to global famine.
  • See more stories on Insider's business page.

Following is a transcript of the video.

Narrator: In 1815, Mount Tambora erupted in Indonesia, killing an estimated 92,000 people. It was the biggest eruption in recorded history. And yet, Tambora was about one-seventh the size of the smallest supervolcano. There are about a dozen of these monsters worldwide, and the last one went off 26,500 years ago in New Zealand, blanketing most of its island in a layer of thick ash. Now, it's extremely unlikely that one of these supervolcanoes would go off anytime soon, let alone multiple eruptions at once. But, for curiosity's sake, what would happen if all the world's supervolcanoes erupted at once?

If every supervolcano went off, you'd have a hard time finding a safe place to flee to, because almost every continent is home to at least one supervolcano. For example, there's Yellowstone in the US, Ngorongoro in Tanzania, and Toba in Indonesia. So, basically, no matter where you are, you're out of luck. But at least you'll have a warning, because weeks or months beforehand, the ground will tremble with earthquakes. Then, when E-Day arrives, the earth-shattering sound would be a dead giveaway that something wasn't right.

When Krakatoa, which wasn't even close to the size of a supervolcano, erupted in 1883, it released a roar so loud the sound traveled nearly 4,800 kilometers across the Indian Ocean, shattering windows and deafening people in its path. And since even the smallest supereruption would dwarf Krakatoa's eruption, there is really no telling how much damage this would cause, but it would be epically catastrophic.

And let's say you were lucky enough to survive this first wave of destruction. After that, it would be time to find a fallout shelter, because these supereruptions spew billions of tons of ash, volcanic glass, and rock thousands of meters into the air. Not something you want to inhale or be in the path of, since this cloud of ash doesn't just travel up; it also expands out, crashing across the landscape at jet-fighter speeds. It would collapse buildings, contaminate water supplies, and bring down any power grids in its path. And the fallout would extend for hundreds of kilometers, so any cities nearby a supervolcano are immediately toast. As are any planes that attempt to fly people away from the danger.

And keep in mind that ash travels. When Toba erupted 74,000 years ago, winds blew ash all the way to India. So if all the supervolcanoes go off at once, volcanic debris would spread across the globe. When the eruption ends, the disaster will have only just started. Because for the next six months, much of that supervolcanic ash would linger in the stratosphere and block sunlight, causing global temperatures to plunge by as much as 15 degrees Celsius. That's close to the difference between summer in Rio versus Anchorage, Alaska. In fact, just "little" Mount Tambora's eruption alone set off the "Year Without a Summer," where frost and blizzards plagued much of the Northern Hemisphere. So, multiply that by the 12 or so supervolcanoes all spewing thick black dust, and you've got a worldwide volcanic winter for the next few years. Tropical forests, which can't handle cold weather, would wither and die, bringing down the millions of animal species that live there.

And it's about to get even bleaker. You know that saying "out of the frying pan and into the fire"? Well, in addition to ash, those volcanoes also belch toxic gasses, like sulfur dioxide, into the atmosphere. And after a few years, just after the winter finally ends, those gasses would start to fall from the sky as acid rain. When the Laki volcano erupted in 1783 in Iceland, it rained down so much sulfuric acid that it devastated farmland and wiped out half of all livestock. The next year, a full quarter of Iceland's population died in the resulting famine. So imagine that, but everywhere. And since Laki wasn't even a supervolcano, we're looking at acid rain for the next decade. Say goodbye to civilization, because it probably can't survive a decade-long global famine.

Now, there are a few places on Earth that, while still suffering from cold and acid rain and famine, would at least be free from the actual explosions themselves. Like volcanic islands such as the Galapagos, or even Hawaii, which ironically is famous for its volcanoes. But the thing is, these volcanoes slowly release flows of lava rather than violently exploding. So, you could at least enjoy a nice view as civilization implodes.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This video was originally published in October 2019.

Read the original article on Business Insider

What if Santa really delivered presents in one night?

  • If Santa really delivered presents on Christmas Eve, he'd need to fly over a thousand times faster than the world's faster jet fighter to visit  about 240 million homes.
  • If every kid received one mid-sized LEGO set, the gifts would weigh a whopping 600,000 tons.
  • Just like a spacecraft heats up when re-entering the atmosphere, the reindeer would heat to blistering temperatures that would turn vaporize them! 
  • On the brighter side, Santa would snack on 720 million sugar cookies and drink enough milk to fill 23 Olympic sized swimming pools!
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Following is a transcript of the video.

Narrator: Every Christmas Eve, certain traditions say that Santa has just one night to deliver presents to millions of children around the globe. Now, this might seem unreasonable from a scientific perspective. But we wondered, exactly how unreasonable is it?

Overall, it's difficult to determine how many people around the world celebrate a Santa-centric Christmas on December 25th. But if we consider certain religious and cultural traditions, we get a rough estimate of about 600 million people. Now, let's say each household has, on average, two and a half kids. So Santa only needs to visit 240 million homes. Even better? He has more time to get the job done than you might think. Legend has it that he drops by when the kids are asleep. So that gives him eight hours, right? Well, hold up. We mustn't forget about time zones. There are 24 broad time zones worldwide, each one hour apart. So factor in the different Christmas Eve start times across the planet, and Kringle's got a luxurious 31 hours to make his deliveries.

Unfortunately, this is where his luck runs out. Because just to reach every house, he'll have to fly 1,200 times faster than the world's fastest jet fighter. That's a lot to ask of nine reindeer, which can only gallop up to 80 kilometers per hour on average. Way too slow.

But to be fair, that's the best they can do on the ground. Since we don't know exactly how fast a reindeer can fly, let's assume they can manage those incredible speeds. Even then, the load they have to lug is much too heavy for them. If every kid receives a single mid-sized Lego set, the bag alone would weigh a whopping 600,000 tons, or about 20 Statue of Liberties. Meanwhile, the average reindeer can pull up to twice their weight, or about 225 kilograms. So those deer aren't going anywhere. And even if they could, well, it wouldn't be pretty.

For starters, the team would create a massive sonic boom as they hurdle through the air at 3,000 times faster than the speed of sound, deafening any bystanders on the ground below. Merry Christmas folks! But it gets worse. Once Rudolph and Co. take off, they vaporize before they reach their first house. Just like how a rocket heats up when it reenters the atmosphere at tremendous speeds, the reindeer would heat to blistering temperatures that would turn them into venison jerky.

And Santa wouldn't fare much better because he's sitting on what amounts to the worst roller-coaster ride on Earth. When a typical coaster accelerates, you get pushed back against your seat. But in Santa's case, to accelerate to those extreme speeds makes for a much stronger push. A force tens of thousands of times stronger than gravity would pin into the sleigh, smashing his bones and internal organs to jelly.

But it's not all doom and gloom. Let's assume Santa and friends miraculously survive this ordeal. He slips his conveniently boneless body through chimney after chimney, drops off the gifts, and now gets to munch on his well-deserved treats. A lot of treats. If every household offers him three sugar cookies and one 8-ounce glass of whole milk, that's 720 million cookies and enough milk to fill 23 Olympic swimming pools total. Now, that adds up to 396 billion calories. Plenty to see him through his hibernation until Christmas comes round again.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This video was originally published in December 2019.

Read the original article on Business Insider