Q. If every human somehow simply disappeared from the face of the Earth, how long would it be before the last artificial light source would go out?
Q. What would happen if you made a periodic table out of cube-shaped bricks, where each brick was made of the corresponding element?” – Ponderables from What If? Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions
Everyone’s wondered at one time or another (usually late at night, after the credits have rolled on Sharknado vs. Godzilla) what would happen if the irresistible force met the immovable object. Not that question specifically – that one’s more philosophical than anything – but more fun stuff. Like how many arrows, fired 300-style, would it take to blot out the sun? (Answer: Way too many, particularly if it’s at high noon, as in the movie. Archer density and rate of fire mitigate against light reduction, unless it’s at dawn or dusk, when shadow elongation might just get the job done.) Or how many Yodas worth of Force energy would we need to ensure our energy independence? (Answer: Yoda generates a back-of-the-napkin 19.2kW of power to lift Luke’s X-wing off Dagobah. Each Yoda is worth roughly $2/hour at average electricity rates, so the world would need roughly a hundred million Yodas, also known as a green of Yodas.)
Both the aforementioned questions are explored and answered in Randall Munroe’s cheeky What If? Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions, full of meticulous research and the same droll stick figure art as in his webcomic xkcd. Many of the questions posed in What If? end hilariously and/or tragically. For example, nothing good happens when a baseball is pitched at 90% of the speed of light, from the point of view of the pitcher, batter, stadium or surrounding city, although Major League Baseball would at least be able to record the at-bat as “hit by pitch.”
So when you’re up at three AM, and you’re wondering which planet or moon other than Earth would have the most appropriate atmosphere for a Cessna to fly in (weirdly enough, turns out it’s the low gravity of Saturn’s moon Titan), rest assured that this book has your back, and so do we. Place a hold on it today, and please don’t try assembling a display of all the elements. You’d be in trouble long before you hit the transuranics!