W OULDN’T IT BE GREAT if someone would collect the answers to some of the mysteries of everyday life? WELL - -The staff of the Science and Technology Department at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh has been doing just that. Each year it receives nearly 100,000 Inquiries from the public on a variety of subjects. Armed with 395,000 books, 425,000 bound periodicals, and thousands of government reports, the department has developed a special file to answer these questions quickly and reliably. (“THE HANDY SCIENCE ANSWER BOOK.” Copyright @ 1995 by the above named Library.)


How often do we blink?

          The human eye blinks about once every five seconds. Assuming 16 waking hours, the average person blinks about 11,500 times a day or 4.2 million times a year. So, multiply by your birthdays celebrated and you get ------.

How much force does a human bite generate?

          Your jaw muscles can close the teeth with a force as great as 55 pounds on the incisors and 200 pounds on the molars. Forces greater than 268 pounds for molars have been reported.

How long does it take to digest a meal?

          Your stomach can hold more than a quart of food, which it releases slowly to the rest of the digestive tract over two to six hours. Some 12 hours after the first bite started down your alimentary canal, the colon begins its work of elimination.

How many hairs do we have on our head?

          The average person has approximately 100,000. Redheads have about 90,000, blondes 140,000, and brunettes somewhere in between. Most people shed 50 to 100 hairs daily.

Why do cats like catnip?

          All types of cats—mountain lions, lynx, tigers and lions—react to catnip in a similar way. They roll over, rub their face, extend their claws and twist their bodies when they smell its pungent odor. The scent probably excites cats because it contails a chemical called trans-neptalactone, which causes the same reaction in cats as a sexual stimulus.

How long does it take a spider to weave a web?

The average spider that makes a round web takes 30 to 6o minutes to finish it. Some species make new webs every night, while others repair their webs as needed.

How do homing pigeons find their way home?

          One hypothesis involves an “odor map.” The theory proposes that young pigeons learn this map by smelling different odors that reach their home in the winds from varying directions. A second hypothesis is that a bird may be able to extract information regarding its position from the earth’s magnetic field.

Why do geese fly in formation?

          Aerodynamicists have suspected that long-distance migratory birds adopt the “V” flight formation in order to reduce the amount of energy needed for traveling. According to theoretical calculations, birds traveling in “V” formation can fly more efficiently than a lone bird can because formation-flying lessens drag (the air pressure that pushes against the wings).

It is ever too cold to snow?

          The fact that snow piles up year after year in Arctic regions illustrates that it is never too cold to snow. No matter how cold the air gets, it still contains some moisture, which can fall in the form of snow crystals. Very cold air is generally associated with no snow because these invasions of air from northerly latitudes most frequently occur with clearing conditions behind cold fronts. Heavy snowfalls are associated with relatively mild air in advance of warm fronts.

What is the sun made of?

          How hot is it? When will it die?

          The sun is an incandescent ball of gases, primarily hydrogen (about 73 % and helium (about 25 %) The center of the sun is roughly 27 million degrees Fahrenheit; the surface, around 10,000 degrees. About five billion years from now, the sun will convert all of its hydrogen fuel into helium and change to a red giant. Its diameter will extend possibly beyond the orbit of earth, burning our planet to a cinder and making it incapable of supporting life.

Did physical changes occur in the astronauts’ bodies when they were in space?

          Skylab astronauts grew 1 ½ to 2 1/4 inches taller, due to spinal lengthening and straightening. Their waist measurement decreased by several inches because of an upward shift of the internal organs in the body. Their calves became smaller because r. their leg muscles forced blood and other fluids toward the upper part of the body, thus decreasing the girth measurement around the thighs and calves.

How much water is in an inch of snow?

          On average, ten inches of snow equal one inch of water. Heavy, wet snow can contain about double that amount of water. A dry, powdery snowfall might require 15 inches of snow to make one inch of water.

Will Niagara Falls disappear?

          The water dropping over Niagara Falls digs great pools at the base, under-mining the shale cliff above. The falls have receded seven miles since they were formed 10,000 years ago. At this rate, they will disappear in about 24,000 years.

How much heat is lost through the head when a person is not wearing a hat?

          As much as 40 to 50 percent of total body heat, depending on how hard the heart is working to circulate blood to the head.

What are the average heights and weights of men and women?

          The average American female is 5 feet, 3 3/4 inches tall and weighs almost 138 pounds. The average male is 5 feet, 9 inches tall and weighs almost 170 pounds. Between 1960 and 1980, the average male became almost an inch taller and almost four pounds heavier, while the average woman grew more than half an inch taller and lost 2.2 pounds.

In addition to left-or right-handedness, what other left-right preferences do people have?

          Most people have a preferred eye, ear and foot—more frequently, the right. One study found that while 72 percent of people are strongly right-handed, only 5.3 percent are strongly left-handed. In contrast, 46 percent of people are strongly right- footed but only 3.9 percent strongly left-footed.

What color car is the safest?

          Some experts suggest that either blue or yellow is best for car safety and gray is worst. However, a Mercedes-Benz study found that white, bright yellow and bright orange were generally best, while the least visible color was dark green.

What is the bearing capacity of ice on a lake?

          Six inches of clear lake ice that has not been heavily traveled can hold one person on foot, the National Weather Service estimates. Twenty-four inches, under the same conditions, can hold a car or light truck. For early winter slush ice, the thickness should be doubled for safety.

What is the most destructive insect in the world?

          The desert locust (Schistocciva gregaria)—the locust of the Bible, which is found in dry and semi-arid areas of Africa, the Middle East and India—is perhaps the most destructive insect known to man. This spur-throat grasshopper can eat its own weight in a day. A large swarm can consume 20,000 tons of vegetation a day.

What are the “floaters” that move around in your eyes?

          Floaters are semi-transparent specks in the field of vision. Some originate with red blood cells that have been released from retinal blood vessels, form strings, and float around the retina. Most floaters are shadows cast by microscopic debris in the vitreous humor, a jelly-like substance that fills the eye. A sudden appearance of new floaters, if accompanied by bright flashes in the peripheral field of vision, could indicate a retinal tear or detachment.

Which disease is most common?

          The most common contagious disease is coryza, or the common cold.

          The most common noncontagious one is periodontal disease, such as gingivitis, or inflammation of the gums. Few people in their lifetime can avoid this effect of periodontal disease.



March 1995, (pgs. 127-130)

                    Condensed from:

                    “THE HANDY SCIENCE ANSWER BOOK.”

                    Copyright @ 1995 by: Carniego Library of Pittsburgh

                                                            Visible Ink, Gale Research Inc.,

                                                             835 Penobscot Bldg.,

                                                             Detroit, Michigan 48226

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