Find out what’s been in our postbag this month.
I read the editor’s letter in the July issue and I can relate to his fears of being chased by a T. rex – it’s bound to be happening in one multiverse or another. But rest assured any dinosaur coming after you from the Cretaceous period would be so out of breath that you could run rings round it. Fingers crossed.
Pat MacDonnell, Ireland
Hah. That’s a good point. These days the air lacks the kind of oxygen levels T. rex would have been accustomed to in the Cretaceous period. In fact, if they had managed to build a Jurassic Park (or Jurassic World as the new films suggest) it’d just be full of puffing, wheezing dinos, struggling to get around. Sadly, I don’t have the same excuse… – Daniel Bennett,editor
I was fascinated to read last month’s issue and to find about congenital aphantasia (Summer, p10). Such a contrast to those who can run back a video of events that have happened to them.
Eric Middleton, North Yorkshire
Doing the dirty
Use a dishwasher rather than use the sink? Ridiculous! You forgot to include the environmental cost of dishwasher raw materials, construction, transportation and disposal. When handwashing the dishes I: rinse/ soak first in cold; don’t change the water; rinse off in cold; use the water on the garden. Please be realistic (scientific?) in your comparisons!
Andy Vowles, via email I absolutely agree, it is possible to handwash dishes in such a way as to use less energy than a dishwasher. The comparison I drew in the article comes from a study that looked at the typical way that people wash dishes, not the optimal way. In addition, it was based on US survey data, where there seems to be more of a tendency to leave the tap running. The feature was trying to show ways that you can save energy while being lazy, but of course there are much bigger gains to be made if we are prepared to put in a bit of effort! – Luis
Villazon, BBC Focus contributor
I read your article on NASA finding complex organic matter in Martian rock with interest, only to find out they hadn’t really found complex organic matter. You mentioned benzene, but this only has 12 atoms. Personally, I will get excited when they find organic compounds that contain over 100 atoms – now that’s starting to get complex. Another thing you sometimes hear is scientists claiming to find the building blocks for life outside of the Earth, but have they? Have they found an information storage method like RNA? Have they found something resembling a cell wall? Not as far as I know. It just all seems rather exaggerated to me. I think we need to get things into perspective. For example, with regard to planets around other stars, finding a planet with liquid water is exciting from a discovery point of view, but finding
a planet with liquid water and an oxygen atmosphere is exciting from both a discovery and an evidence for life point of view.
Andrew Cirel, via email Poor old benzene. – Daniel Bennett,editor
I’m your Venus, I’m your fire
I read the question about climate change and whether Earth could become another Venus (Summer, p81) and thought it worth mentioning that the presence of CO2 is a minority driver in maintaining such extreme temperatures as Venus suffers. The sheer pressure exerted by the immensely dense atmosphere is what generates the majority of the heat (see Fredric Taylor’s fearsomely detailed The Scientific Exploration Of Venus for more). Obviously increased evaporation of the oceans could see Earth’s atmospheric pressure rise if temperatures were to rise very significantly, but I don’t believe any models show this as likely in the foreseeable future. This letter isn’t intended to undermine the focus (no pun intended) on CO2 here on Earth, lest I be misunderstood! Simon Bartlett, via email
Bugs that eat oil? Has anyone thought this through? (May, p21) It sounds like the ultimate terror plot to destroy the modern world. A superbug that eats our highways and turns the world’s oil wells, reserves, tanks and gasoline into muddy water would be nature’s ultimate revenge. George Robinson, Alabama, US
Have you seen the weather lately, George? I think nature’s already paying us back. – Daniel Bennett,editor
In your June issue, I was relieved to learn that we found bacteria that eats away plastic. But here’s what comes to mind: our main problem is the plastic that’s produced is not fully recycled. Without proper segregation and collection schemes, plastic will still end up in the seas, thus rendering possession of an enzyme useless. Moreover, from your previous issue, there was mention of only one plastic pollutant. But what about BPA, PFC, etc? Do we have Pac-Mans for these too? Sadly, I think a wonder enzyme will not clean our seas yet.
Eddie Racoubian, Lebanon
Must… eat… editor… but… can’t… breathe
Plastic- eating microbes might not save us from pollutants, says Eddie Racoubian