I now blog over at The Eyre Guide! This blog is an archive of my past posts.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Incredible Things I Learned From Cosmos

Posted by Charlene // Tags: , ,
My copy w/ post-its (Thanks Tory for the post-its!)
I reviewed Cosmos by Carl Sagan on Wednesday, but there were so many fascinating facts in the book that I wanted to share them in another post - especially since I went through the trouble of post-it noting all the really mind-blowing parts of the book for me.  It's not enough that I'm learning, but I also have to info-dump on everyone around me. :)  So here's a selection of quotes from the book with my brief commentary in italics:

  • "The rabbit was not domesticated until early medieval times (it was bred by French monks in the belief that newborn bunnies were fish and therefore exempt from the prohibitions against eating meat on certain days in the Church calendar.)"   p17
Haha, WHAT?  It shouldn't surprise me though how we set up these rules for ourselves and then try to find every way to circumvent them.  But really, fish??

  • "Have you heard gold is made in supernova explosions? " p35
Nope!  Although gold is just any other metal I suppose, it's just that we place such importance on it that I find this extra cool!

  • "Harold Morowitz has calculated what it would cost to put together the correct molecular constituents that make up a human being by buying the molecules from chemical supply houses. The answer turns out to be about ten million dollars” p106
Perhaps not incredible, but interesting that a price can be placed on a human being.  But I think this price reflects the chemical supply market from the 80s, so I assume we are worth much more now!

  • "[Hera] married Zeus, the chief of the Olympian gods. They honeymooned on Samos, the old stories tell us. The Greek religion explained that diffuse band of light in the night sky as the milk of Hera, squirted from her breast across the heavens, a legend that is the origin of the phrase Westerners still use – the Milky Way."  p139-140
Wow, all the Greek mythology I've read and I never heard of this!  There are few other instances in "Cosmos" where Carl Sagan links the words we use today to obscure Greek/Roman translations and I find all of that fascinating.

  • "Space and time are interwoven. We cannot look out into space without looking back into time." p165
This is probably my favorite fact from this list - I did know that the light from the stars takes many light years to reach us, but the succinctness of this quote and the beauty in the idea of looking back into time really appeals to me!

  • "The electrical impulses in modern computers do, however travel nearly at the speed of light." p168
I find this so fascinating because nothing travels faster than the speed of light, and it's interesting that we can make something that can come close.  (Now just to harness that somehow to make time travel possible - or maybe make it possible to send some thing into the past!)  

  • [Atoms are mostly empty space so why do things feel solid?]  "The answer is the electron cloud. The outside of an atom in my elbow has a negative electrical charge. So does every atom in the table. But negative charges repel each other. My elbow does not slither through the table because atoms have electrons around their nuclei and because electrical forces are strong. Everyday life depends on the structure of the atom. Turn off the electrical charges and everything crumbles to an invisible fine dust."  p180
This is just something I've never really thought about - I know atoms are mostly space but not quite why things feel solid if that is so - and of course Carl Sagan clears it up.  It's still very hard to conceptualize though.

  • "Fire is not made of chemical elements at all. It is a radiating plasma in which the high temperature has stripped some of the electrons from their nuclei."  p183
After detailing the molecular components of what was believed in the past to be the most basic materials (earth, air, water, fire), I was surprised to learn that fire has no chemical elements! (Like hydrogen or oxygen or something)

  • "[Whales] are the largest animals ever to evolve on the planet Earth, larger by far than the dinosaurs." p224
Okay, I feel like this might be something people already know - but I was shocked!  I've seen the skeletons of dinosaurs and whales are bigger than that?  Incredible!

I hope this post had some surprising information for my blog readers!  My last quote to share comes from a part of the book where Carl Sagan talks about books and I thought this quote was especially heart-warming for the book lover:

  • "Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people, citizens of distant epochs, who never knew one another. Books break the shackles of time, proof that humans can work magic."  p232

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  1. Well, obviously baby bunnies are fish. I mean, c'mon.

    And OH MAN do I love Cosmos. Carl Sagan shares my birthday (so does Sisqo of the Thong Song, but you can't win 'em all). Have you been watching the series reboot?

  2. LOL, omg where did you get that picture? I don't understand how people came to believe that though - didn't they see bunnies born?!

    So cool you share Carl Sagan's birthday! (I'll just forget about Sisqo as most people have it seems) I have been watching the reboot, and loving it, but I never saw the original so I think I have to remedy that when Cosmos 2.0 finishes. :)

  3. I feel so informed after reading this! :) I really can't get over the priests believing baby bunnies were fish. I mean, what? There is absolutely no logic to that. Silly people. I'm shocked that whales are larger than dinosaurs too! Maybe I've not seen a whale skeleton? I've definitely seen dinosaur skeletons... Weird. Awww, I love the book quote the most though! :D

  4. This post is just brilliant through and through :D Hilarious and too weird to be true, but then again, it's true. Thanks for a great start to the day!

  5. So awesome. Love facts like this, plus you can always blurt them out in awkward silences ;) I had no idea whales were bigger than dinosaurs. I knew both were huge, but wow. Oh my gosh, THAT'S how the Milky Way got it's name? I'm a little disturbed LOL

  6. Yeah, I should go see a whale skeleton, because that would be amazing to compare! Actually some museum should have that exhibit! Aww, I know I loved everything Carl Sagan said about books and reading!

  7. So glad you enjoyed reading it! I just loved finding all these things out! :D

  8. LOL, I didn't even think of that - but these are great icebreakers! And I feel the same way about the Milky Way! Way to make science awkward Greeks. :D

  9. I just googled "bunny fish" and the internet provided...So weird haha. And kind of adorable. I don't understand it either, but I'm just going with it at this point.

    And yes, please do! I think it's on Netflix, and some of the info is outdated, but it's just incredible.

  10. Yikes, just googled it too and I didn't even realize bunny fish could look so creepy! :D

    And great, Netflix is my usual go-to for streaming, so I'll add the series there - I want to hear Carl Sagan say billions and billions. Haha

  11. GO FORTH. Enjoy his amazing turtleneck, haha.

  12. I'm loving the Cosmos series ATM, but had no idea it was originally a book. I thought it was just remade from another series. "Have you heard gold is made in supernova explosions"
    THAT is incredibly cool. Hubby loves all things to do with the universe, so gonna grab him a copy of this. He doesn't like the current series on, he thinks the animations are too childlike. Thanks for sharing, I would never have known about this otherwise.

  13. I need to watch the original series when the new series is over - I'm curious to see how it compares! The book elaborates on some things they talk about in the show, but both go off on different tangents, so it's really better to read and watch Cosmos! I'm sure your Hubby will enjoy the book - it's utterly fascinating!