CLOSE
Original image
ThinkStock

How Much Pee in a Pool is Too Much Pee?

Original image
ThinkStock

Last week, a study by Chinese and American scientists revealed another reason to not pee in pools, which had more to do with chemistry than good manners. 

The researchers found that when urine and chlorine meet in the right quantities, they can create two byproducts, trichloramine and cyanogen chloride. The latter can be harmful to the lungs, heart, and nervous system. It’s nothing to get your bathing suit in a bunch over, though. Even with chlorine levels far beyond what’s used in the average swimming pool, the amounts of these chemicals produced in the study were still in the World Health Organization’s “safe” range. In other words, you’re probably not going to hurt yourself emptying your bladder during a swim. That said, the study still warned that the chemical could “adversely affect air and water quality” in and around the pool. Plus, it’s just gross. 

At Ars Technica, the research made editor Casey Johnston wonder just how much pee in a pool it would take to make a harmful amount of those chemicals. And after some number crunching, Johnston found that creating a death pool of pee is a pretty tall order.

To get enough chlorine and uric acid together to create a toxic level of cyanogen chloride in an Olympic-sized swimming pool, Johnston says you’d need three million people emptying an entire day’s worth of highly concentrated urine into water that’s more chlorinated than normal. 

“If you could get at that pool without dying of either suffocation or drowning in other people’s urine,” she writes, “you could probably pull off death by cyanogen chloride poisoning or at least a pretty good coma.”

Even in this pretty unrealistic situation, there’s a snag. Even at high concentrations, the researchers who did the study found that a lot of their chlorine was consumed by the uric acid. So really, you’d need an even higher chlorine concentration—a whopping half a liter of chlorine per liter of water—to create enough cyanogen chloride.

“In the end we need a pool that is two parts water to one part chlorine and would probably burn the eyeballs out of your sockets and make your skin peel away from your bones,” says Johnston. Get three million people to pee into that, without crushing each other or melting away like Nazis opening the Ark of the Covenant, and you’ve got enough cyanogen chloride to kill (also, the world’s worst pool party).

You can read Johnston’s whole thought experiment here

Original image
iStock
arrow
Big Questions
Do Cats Fart?
Original image
iStock

Certain philosophical questions can invade even the most disciplined of minds. Do aliens exist? Can a soul ever be measured? Do cats fart?

While the latter may not have weighed heavily on some of history’s great brains, it’s certainly no less deserving of an answer. And in contrast to existential queries, there’s a pretty definitive response: Yes, they do. We just don’t really hear it.

According to veterinarians who have realized their job sometimes involves answering inane questions about animals passing gas, cats have all the biological hardware necessary for a fart: a gastrointestinal system and an anus. When excess air builds up as a result of gulping breaths or gut bacteria, a pungent cloud will be released from their rear ends. Smell a kitten’s butt sometime and you’ll walk away convinced that cats fart.

The discretion, or lack of audible farts, is probably due to the fact that cats don’t gulp their food like dogs do, leading to less air accumulating in their digestive tract.

So, yes, cats do fart. But they do it with the same grace and stealth they use to approach everything else. Think about that the next time you blame the dog.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

Original image
iStock
arrow
Big Questions
What Are the Northern Lights?
Original image
iStock

Over the centuries, many have gazed up at one of the Earth’s most fascinatingly beautiful natural wonders: the Northern Lights. In the past couple of weeks, some lucky American stargazers have gotten the chance to see them from their very own backyards—and could again this week, according to Thrillist. But what are they?

Before science was able to get a read on what exactly was happening in the night sky, ancient tribes had their own theories for what caused the jaw-dropping light show. Many early beliefs had roots in religion, such as that the light was a pathway souls traveled to reach heaven (Eskimo tribes) or that the light was an eternal battle of dead warriors (Middle-Age Europe). Early researchers were a bit more reasonable in their approximations, and most surrounded the idea of the reflection of sunlight off the ice caps. In 1619, Galileo Galilei named the lights the aurora borealis after Aurora, the Roman goddess of morning, after concluding they were a product of sunlight reflecting from the atmosphere.

Today, scientists have come to the general agreement that the lights are caused by the collision of electrically charged solar particles and atoms from our atmosphere. The energy from the collisions is released as light, and the reason it happens around the poles is because that's where the Earth’s magnetic field is the strongest. In 2008, a team at UCLA concluded that “when two magnetic field lines come close together due to the storage of energy from the sun, a critical limit is reached and the magnetic field lines reconnect, causing magnetic energy to be transformed into kinetic energy and heat. Energy is released, and the plasma is accelerated, producing accelerated electrons.”

"Our data show clearly and for the first time that magnetic reconnection is the trigger," said Vassilis Angelopoulos, a UCLA professor of Earth and Space Sciences. "Reconnection results in a slingshot acceleration of waves and plasma along magnetic field lines, lighting up the aurora underneath even before the near-Earth space has had a chance to respond. We are providing the evidence that this is happening."

The best time to see the Northern Lights is during the winter, due to the Earth’s position in relation to the sun (shorter days means darker night skies). And by the way, it’s not just the North Pole that puts on a show—there are Southern Lights, too. There are also aurora borealis on other planets—including Mars—so rest assured that future generations born “abroad” will not miss out on this spectacular feat of nature.

Haven’t seen them yet? Traditionally, the best places to catch a glimpse of the Northern Lights are in Iceland, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Greenland, northern Canada, and Alaska. Maybe you'll get lucky this week and sneak a peek from your very own window. Check out Aurorasaurus for regular updates on where they are showing.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios