MySci Daily Roundup, Holiday Hiatus Edition: I will show you fear, in a handful of dust

blog post photo

While some of us slept through our modern literature class in college, we couldn’t help but stay awake on the day that our professor gave a stirring reading of T.S. Eliot’s cryptic poem, “The Waste Land.” Scholars have written volumes about Eliot’s torrent of disturbing imagery, which is laden with about as many literary allusions as there are pieces of man-made junk littering orbital space around our planet.

Speaking of which, today’s edition of Technology Review has this unsettling article about NASA’s projections of the growth of orbital debris over the next few centuries, and the potential hazards that it will create for satellites and manned space stations. Let’s just say that if Eliot could have glimpsed that future, he might have felt even more depressed than he did when he composed his classic bummer ballad.

The computer model predicts 178 collisions between satellites and space junk over the next 200 years. That will include 83 catastrophic collisions in low-Earth orbit, such as the February 2009 event in which a defunct Russian satellite smashed into an Iridium telecommunications satellite at 15,000 miles per hour.

That accident destroyed the Iridium satellite, shattering it into 2,000 new pieces of junk that someday, in turn, may collide with other satellites in what could turn into an orbital demolition derby. You definitely wouldn’t want to be Major Tom from David Bowie’s 1969 single “Space Oddity, floating like a tin can out in the middle of that carnage.

Btw, if you’re still as befuddled by “The Waste Land” as we are, here’s a very cool split-frame hypertext annotated version of the poem, which will fill you in on all the earlier works from which T.S. lifted his raw material, in the fashion of the Beastie Boys sampling Kool and the Gang’s “Funky Stuff” in their song “(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (To Party!)”  We were fascinated to learn, for example, that “I will show you fear in a handful of dust” is a riff borrowed from John Donne’s “Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions.” 

But we digress. Here’s the news:

Ice Age reptile extinctions on Greek islands presage effects of human-caused climate change.  It’s not a pretty picture, especially if you’re a lizard.

Microbe solves Sudoku puzzle.  Somehow we missed this story when it broke last month, but it’s still newsworthy. The big problem probably is finding a pen small enough for E coli to hold.

Is the CDC headquarters in Atlanta actually wired to blow up to destroy dangerous microbes, if the power runs out due to a zombie epidemic? After the season finale of a certain TV show about zombies, a lot of viewers apparently are worried about this. But the CDC says that while there are indeed contingency plans for blackouts, none of them involve explosives.

Ancient Egyptians did math puzzles on papyrus. No Sudoku, though. You need a microbe for that.

Alternating stacks of planar cations and dipyrrole-containing anions provides concept for new materials.

 Not to make light of an important breakthrough in materials science, but it’s such a hoot that “dipyrrole” is actually a real scientific term, isn’t it?


  1. greatvacaspots
    January 5, 2011, 9:11 am

    Liked your article, thanks for sharing. Sounds like space has become a junk yard of satelites, etc…