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Stuart Farrimond

Stuart Farrimond has written 256 posts for Guru Magazine

What’s bigger, the Millennium Falcon or a blue whale?

Star Wars Millennium Falcon By Lex McKee, on FlickrWhen I was at school all the kids loved Star Wars. The girls in my class saw Princess Leia as their no-nonsense role model, while the boys all dreamed of piloting an ‘X-wing’ spaceship and destroying the Death Star – just like Luke Skywalker. The sophisticated children, however, knew that roguish Han Solo’s Millennium Falcon was the VW campervan of interstellar cool.

In the movies, the Millennium Falcon looks like a big ship. But as Stan (five years old) asked us (via their parent) – just how big is it really? Or more specifically, is it bigger than a blue whale? Kids truly ask all the best questions…

The blue whale is a good thing to compare the ship with as it is the largest animal to have ever existed on planet Earth (dinosaurs included). Fully grown they are 30 metres / 100 feet long and weigh an almighty 170 tonnes. By comparison, the original Millennium Falcon was rather teeny – the model used in the original Star Wars film was 5 feet long (1.5 metres) – which, while making it taller than a five-year-old, was small enough to easily fit inside a blue whale’s gaping mouth.

For the 1997 movie set, a bigger version of the Millennium Falcon was also built, set in a secret hangar in Pembrokeshire, Wales. It measured a more respectable 70 feet (21 metres) from one edge to the other – making it closer to the size of a fully grown blue whale, but still falling short in comparison.

But of course, these are only models and not the ‘real’ Millennium Falcon (wink!). According to the geek-tastic Wookiepedia online encyclopaedia, the Millennium Falcon is actually a ‘Modified YT-1300f light freighter’ measuring 34.4 metres long and 25.6 metres wide. (Apparently the sizes were worked out by measuring the images in Dorling Kingsley’s book Star Wars Blueprints: The Ultimate Collection.) If accurate, this calculation makes the real Millennium Falcon ever so slightly larger than a blue whale!

So there you have it – while the replica Millennium Falcons are all smaller than a blue whale, the actual space ship is a bit bigger (by about 4 metres). That said, Han Solo would be disappointed to know that his ship still isn’t big enough to carry an adult blue whale in its cargo hold. Stowing a large T-Rex would be easy, however; but then dinosaur space transport is a completely different issue altogether…

Question sent from Stan, aged 5.

Answer by Dr Stu

Image Source: Star Wars Millennium Falcon visits Earth by Lex McKee, on Flickr

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Insect fears: Where did we get our fear of creepy-crawlies from?

Spider on log, Dolly's, Brevard, North Carolina by Martin LaBar, on FlickrOf all the weird jobs in the world not to to do, being an entomologist – an insect expert – has to be at the top of the list. Few of us would relish the prospect of spending every working hour studying creepy-crawlies. Because for many of us, the mere suggestion of getting intimate with a mosquito or a bumble bee would be enough to bring us out in hives (sorry). But why do we have such a morbid hatred of these tiny little creatures – after all, what did they ever do to us?

When something scares us, our heart pounds, our palms get sweaty and we desperately try to get away. (Think: the woman standing on the table, screaming at the mouse in the old Tom and Jerry cartoons.) This primitive scaredy-cat reaction is part of what is termed the ‘fight or flight’ response: adrenaline surges around the body, blood flows to the muscles and our body prepares itself for action. We all have this biological response – and its necessary to help get us out of trouble.
It makes sense to get fired up if you’ve just stepped out in front of a bus. It makes little sense, however, to do the same if a spider has just crawled into bed with you. Strange then, that about one in ten of us have some kind of irrational fear. And arachnophobia – fear of spiders – and a phobia of insects are some of the most common.

While not all experts can agree, it seems likely that we have inherited such fears from our ancestors. Passed down through evolution, our forefathers would have relied on such simple, innate fears to help keep them from harm’s way. For example, a phobia of snakes would have prevented us from getting bitten, a fear of wolves would have helped prevent us from getting savaged, and freaking out at spiders would have stopped us getting poisoned by venomous ones.

Some phobias are ‘learnt’ through bad life experiences and many phobias can be ‘unlearnt’ through repeated exposure. There are however some ingrained fears that can’t be explained so easily. Clown phobia (caulrophobia), for example, is a particularly odd one – it’s pretty unlikely that our caveman ancestors faced too many sharp-clawed prehistoric jesters!

But then again, perhaps we are all just born with an aversion to bad humour.

A man walks into a bar holding a piece of asphalt. He says, “a beer please and one for the road!”

I rest my case.

Answer by Dr Stu

Image Source: Spider on log, Dolly’s, Brevard, North California by Martin Labar, on Flickr

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Why do bath bubbles pop when I sprinkle talcum powder on them?

croc attack!!! by Nizam Uddin, on FlickrFor most of us, kid’s birthday parties are a nightmare that are best avoided. Having to supervise one would be an experience with few perks. One of which would be getting to eat chocolate cake. Another would be getting to blow party bubbles. Because, let’s be honest, you never get too old for playing with bubbles.

Yet despite their instant fun factor, soap bubbles never last very long and pop disappointingly quickly. Up close, each bubble is a small, air-filled balloon with delicate walls made of a soap and water mix. With a surface thinner than a human hair, the bubble wall is so fragile that a tiny particle of dust can be enough to pierce it. Sprinkling talcum powder on bath bubbles, for example, is like showering a layer of balloons with pins.

But bath bubbles would never be there were it not for the soap – it is extremely difficult to make bubbles in pure water. Water has surface tension – a tendency to want to stay together in blobs and drops. Without soap, each time you make a plain water bubble, the water will pull itself together causing it to quickly collapse. With soapy water though, the soap molecules get in between the water molecules, reducing its surface tension, making bubble-making possible.

It is possible to get longer-lasting, sturdier bubbles by adding glycerine (also spelt ‘glycerin’). A sweet-tasting substance used for sore throats (you can buy it from supermarkets and pharmacies), glycerine has a special ability of slowing down how quickly water can evaporate. Free-floating bubbles eventually pop when the water in its wall evaporates, but glycerine molecules will form weak bonds with water molecules, ‘sticking’ them together and keeping the water inside a bubble’s wall inside for longer.

If you like, you could add glycerine to your bath water for an especially frothy and sweet cleanse. More cheerful and cleaner – hurray for longer lasting bubbles!

Answer by Dr Stu

Question sent from ‘JJ’

Image source: croc attack!!! by Nizam Uddin, on Flickr

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