MacGyver Season 1 Episode 21 Science Notes: Cigar Cutter

Dirty Bomb

It’s not a Mac-Hack (I assume that’s clear), but let me just explain the difference between a nuclear bomb and a dirty bomb.

A nuclear bomb uses a nuclear reaction to create energy. If you take some large mass element (let’s just say plutonium) and spit it into two pieces, you get some stuff. Obviously you get at least two smaller atoms. But you also get some neutrons and stuff. However, if you added up the mass of all the stuff after the split, it would be slightly less than the mass of the original plutonium. This lost mass is accounted for in energy. Here is the energy-mass relationship.

E = mc^2

The “c” is the speed of light. This says that you get a BUNCH of energy for just a little bit of mass and this is the basis for a nuclear fission reaction. For a nuclear bomb, the split creates neutrons that can also split more atoms which produces MORE neutrons and more splits. Oh, the energy and the left over pieces tend to make stuff radioactive.

The dirty bomb also uses radioactive material. However, the main explosion is not a nuclear reaction but instead a more conventional chemical-based bomb. The bomb includes radioactive material that gets spread around from the explosion. It’s dirty. Yes, it’s bad—but it’s not a nuclear explosion. Also, these are pretty easy to make since you just need a normal bomb and some radioactive material.

Parsecs and Time and Distance

Everyone (except Jack) is correct. The parsec is a unit of distance. It has to do with parallax. Here is a simple experiment. Hold your thumb out in front of your face. Now close one eye and look at your thumb. Hopefully there is something in the background that you can line it up with. Now close that eye and open the other one. Notice that your thumb now lines up with something else in the background? That’s parallax.

Wait. You didn’t actually do the eye thumb thing. Really, you should do that.

OK, back to the parsec. The motion of your thumb with respect to the background depend on the distance from your thumb to your face as well as the distance between your two eyes. What if you increase the distance between your eyes? What if this distance is the size of the Earth’s orbit around the Sun? In that case the change in observation locations (on different sides of the Sun) can be used to measure the distance to nearby stars. If a star has an apparent angular shift of 1 second of a degree, that’s a parsec.

The “sec” in parsec is for “seconds of a degree”—not time seconds. Yes, they made a mistake in Star Wars. Here is even more details about measuring distances in astronomy.

Blood Stopping Foam

I don’t know what to call this stuff. MacGyver injects some liquid into Bozer’s knife wound and it sort of seals it up so it won’t bleed. It’s not so much of a hack, but it does appear to be real.

It would be sort of like that expanding foam you use to seal cracks around your house—except for blood.

Fertilizer grenades

What do fertilizer and explosives have in common? Nitrogen. It’s really interesting if you think about it. The air we breath has a BUNCH of nitrogen in it—79 percent. However, it’s not so simple to get. Once humans figured out how to get the nitrogen, they used it for fertilizer and explosives.

But yeah, you can make explosives from fertilizer—but don’t.

Liquid Oxygen

Yeah, this is bad stuff. Of course it’s cold, but more important is that it’s oxygen. If you want to burn stuff, you need oxygen. Liquid oxygen is WAY denser than gas oxygen. So, if you put this stuff on something you can get a lot of fire.

Check it out.

Astronomy and Space Posts

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