Death Be Not Proud: Some Unpleasant, if Unlikely, Ways to Go

Editor on May 21, 2017

What-Really-Happens225Have you ever wondered what would happen if your airplane window popped out? Ever considered how long you could survive in the belly of a whale? Or pondered the true dangers of the banana peel? In And Then You’re Dead writer Cody Cassidy and Exploratorium museum’s senior staff scientist Paul Doherty ask gloriously gory and gleeful questions, and then answer them with a physicist’s precision. Think Stephen King meets Stephen Hawking. Along the way you'll learn some physics, some astronomy, a bit of medicine, and what to do if a shark begins circling (encourage it to eat your entire leg, and not just a chunk).

Have you ever wondered what would happen if…

You were a stowaway on the next moon mission?

The current space-sick champion is former Utah senator Jake Garn, and the degree of Senator Garn’s nausea became so legendary that NASA named the space-sick scale in his honor. The Garn Scale goes from 0 to 1.

In your case, lacking any training, your inner ear would be thrown for a major loop, and very quickly you would hit a full Garn—near incapacitating nausea. In a space helmet you would drown in your own sick.

Without a space helmet it would be worse.

You stuck a really, really, powerful magnet to your forehead?

The extreme magnetism found on magnetar stars would pull your electrons from your atoms. Your proteins would unfold and the bonds binding your molecules would break.

To an onlooker you would appear as a shimmering human-shaped cloud of ionized plasma just before the star’s gravity slammed you into it, transmuted your nuclei on impact, and compacted you down to the size of a single red blood cell.

You were swarmed by mosquitoes?

Yes, you could bleed to death from mosquito bites - at least theoretically, and thanks to a few vodka-soaked Arctic researchers who ventured outside without shirts for a single minute and counted over 9,000 bites, we know how long it would take.

If, on a summer evening on Alaska’s north slope, you followed in those shirtless researcher’s footsteps but instead of leaving quickly you stayed, it would take roughly 45 minutes of continuous biting before you lost two liters of your blood – at which point you would mercifully lose consciousness, suffer cardiac arrest and, in a most unusual way, die by a mosquito’s syringe.

You visited the Pringles factory and fell into the potatoes?

Once stamped in the familiar Pringle shape you would be immersed into a deep fryer for exactly eleven seconds. At this point you’d be dead by way of heat, powdering, pressing, and cutting. Then, after a light flavoring of ranch or perhaps wasabi, you’d be stacked into the familiar cans.

Assuming you weigh 180 pounds, you would be processed into roughly 5,500 chips or 500 cans of curiously flavored Pringles chips to be shipped and consumed across the country.

You were swallowed by a whale?

Sperm whales are flatulent creatures. Their belly is filled with methane, not oxygen, and they use their stomach to crush their food into the consistency of chunky peanut butter.

There is some good news, however.

A sperm whale’s bile duct secretion is used in perfume, which means it’s possible that after being suffocated, crushed, dissolved, passed through a thousand feet of intestines, and pooped out the back end of a whale, your remains could be dabbed behind a fancy lady’s ears.

Copyright © 2017 by Cody Cassidy and Paul Doherty


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