Adonis Diaries

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Our Lonely Planet

“A short history of nearly everything” by Bill Bryson, Part 1.

Note: I wrote an extensive review of the book “A short history of nearly everything” by Bill Bryson in September 2007.  In October 2008, I reviewed it in 4 parts on  I discovered that each part was lengthy and decided to re-post the reviews in as many parts as needed, by subjects.

This is a voluminous book of 575 pages that describes and explains the scientific achievements that tried to comprehend Earth and the life processes.  I will try to summarize the discoveries chronologically, each discipline taken separately such as physics, chemistry, and geology and so forth.

It is a long undertaking, but it is useful for me to assimilate the process and a quick review of science on the march, to explain, and to conquer.

The manuscript is divided into six parts: lost in the Cosmos, the size of the earth, the new age, dangerous planet, life itself, and the road to us.

I am including a few quotations of scientists that preface each main part.

Hans Christian von Baeyer in “Taming the atom”: “The physicist Leo Szilard announced to Hans Bethe that he was thinking of keeping a diary: “I don’t intend to publish.  I am merely going to record the facts for the information of God”   Bethe asked him: “Don’t you think God knows the facts?”   Szilard replied: “God knows the facts, but not this version of the facts

Lonely planet

Earth is not the easiest place to be an organism, even if it is the only place in our nearest galaxies.

The portion of land mass or continental area we are able to live in is only about 12%, because we are not adaptable to hot or very cold weather.  Apparently, the most recent super volcano eruption occurred at Toba in Northern Sumatra, about 74,000 years ago and almost annihilated human kind; maybe a thousand human survived, which account for the lack of our genetic diversity.

Greenland ice cores show that the Toba blast was followed by at least six years of “volcanic winter” and many poor growing seasons after that.

There are currently 13 active super volcanoes and Yellowstone in the USA is the only continental one.  Yellowstone is estimated to erupt every 600, 000 years and is ready for another of his monstrous feat. The last eruption was estimated to spew enough ash to bury the State of California under 6 meters of ash; ash covered the whole western states of the USA and a large part of Canada.

We belong to the portion of living things that decided 400 million years ago to crawl out of the sea and become land-based and oxygen-breathing creatures.  We abandoned the vast seas for a more restricted area with the advantage that we can climb over 7,000 meters and live at very high altitude while the feat of the Italian Umberto Pelizzari recorded 72 meters under water.  We cannot bear the pressure of the water; for every 10 meters of depth we add one atmosphere of pressure.

A few professional divers, aided by weight to descend up to 150 meters, their lungs are compressed to the dimensions of a Coke can.  Since our body is mostly water and water cannot be compressed by water, it is the gases in our body that is fatal in the depths.  At a specific depth, Nitrogen in our system starts to bubble and enter our blood stream and obstruct the tiny blood vessels, depriving cells of oxygen.

Human technology was able to send a diving vessel to the deepest point in the Mariana Trench in the Pacific at 11.3 kilometers down; they discovered a type of crustacean similar to shrimp but transparent.  There are particular microbes that strive in water at temperature over 70 degrees Celsius.

Observers have identified two dozen fortunate breaks we have had on Earth to create the living organism.

If the Sun was larger, it would have exhausted its fuel before Earth could be formed because the larger the star the more rapidly it burns.

If we were two light minutes closer to the Sun we would be like planet Venus that cannot sustain life; Venus surface temperature is 470 degrees Celsius and all its water has evaporated driving hydrogen away into space.

If we were 1% further from the Sun we would be like frozen Mars.

If our core didn’t contain molten liquid we would not have magnetism to protect us from cosmic rays.

If our tectonic plates didn’t collide to produce more gases and continually renew and rumple the surface with mountains then we would be under 4,000 meters of water.

If our moon was not large enough, one fourth the size of Earth, then Earth would be wobbling like a dying top with unstable climate and weather. It is to be noted that the Moon is slipping away at a rate of 4 centimeters a year, relinquishing its gravitational hold.

If comets didn’t strike Earth to produce the Moon or asteroid to wipe out the Dinosaurs or

If we didn’t enjoy enough stability for a long time, human would not be what they are.

Earth contains 92 naturally occurring elements and barely six are of central importance to life.  Of every 200 atoms in our body, 126 are hydrogen, 51 are oxygen, 19 are carbon, 3 are nitrogen and the remaining atom is divided among all the other elements such as iron to manufacture hemoglobin, Cobalt for the creation of vitamin B12, Potassium and Sodium for the transmission of electrical charges in the nerves, Molybdenum, manganese and vanadium to keep the enzymes purring and Zink to oxidize alcohol.

Oxygen is the most abundant element on Earth crust of about 50%, then silicon, and aluminum is the fourth.  Carbon is only the 15th most common element or 0.05% of Earth crust, but is the most promiscuous since it adheres to almost every atom and holds extremely tight, and is the very trick of nature to build proteins and DNA.

What we marvel at is not that Earth is suitable to life but that it is suitable to our life.  A big part that Earth seems so miraculously accommodating is that we evolved to suit its severe conditions.

When elements don’t occur naturally on earth, like plutonium, we have evolved zero tolerance for them.  Selenium is vital to all of us but is toxic at a little higher level; even tiny dozes of arsenic, lead, copper and other natural elements we have managed to tolerate but industrialization is not allowing the natural tolerance process in evolution to absorb these huge amounts of noxious elements in our artificial environment.

The building blocks of life might be the 20 amino acids that combine in certain sequences to form the 700,000 kinds of proteins in our body. The number of proteins discovered is increasing and might be in the range of one million kinds.




April 2021

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