By Gary Greenberg
Cosmic Rays and Drunken Fruitflies
reading this, you'll know how the Fantastic Four super
heroes got their powers and the best way to get a fruit fly drunk, but
first another little matter, or rather anti-matter...
In describing a space shuttle experiment to measure
anti-matter, a newspaper article noted: "If scientists are able to
locate anti-matter particles, it could help explain why researchers
cannot find about 90 percent of the mass of the universe."
Were you even aware that 90 percent of the mass of the universe was
missing in action?
I wasn't. But now that I am, it explains what
happened to Amelia Earhart, all of those single socks that disappeared
in the wash and at least 90 percent of your tax money.
Apparently, the missing bulk of the universe is
comprised of this non-substance called "anti-matter." As we all know
from watching Star Trek (where anti-matter was first discovered), when
matter and anti-matter converge, there is a cataclysmic explosion which
rocks the various Star Trek sets to the point of collapse, causing a
myriad of lights in the Enterprise to flicker on and off. It also
typically prompts an incredible display of overacting by William
Shatner, a.k.a., Captain James T. Kirk.
As I recall, on at least one episode Spock
theorized that the convergence of even one particle of matter and
anti-matter could annihilate the whole universe.
Of course, that is nothing more than science
fiction, except maybe to the 18 billion Star Trek fans throughout the
galaxy. Real modern-day researchers have determined that when
anti-matter and matter converge, the anti-matter alone is destroyed
without a trace.
How they have determined this is a mystery since
anti-matter doesn't seem to have a trace to begin with. It can be
neither seen, heard, smelled, tasted, touched or marketed in any way,
even by Disney.
I suppose the true story behind this matter, anti-matter business is
that the scientists all got together at their annual convention to
determine how they were going to get umpteen billion dollars in grants.
They really needed something that they could dump a whole lot of money
into; something that they could be assured of never finding the answer
to but be able to make up enough information about to assure renewal of
those grants for perpetuity.
"What if we say that
half of the universe is made up of something we're unable to measure?"
one asked. "Then we
have to find some way to measure it."
Seemed good to the rest,
except they figured it might sound more
threatening if 90 percent of the universe
were comprised of this non-stuff. As we
all know, money flows more freely when there
is an element of threat involved, like
with AIDS, asteroids or when Three-Finger
Louie says, "If ya don't gimme that C-note ya owe da boss, I'm gonna
I have my own theory. Anti-matter is exactly what
it sounds like. Nothing. As we all know, space is mostly made of
nothing. Even when you account for stars, planets, moons, comets, black
holes, asteroids and hemorrhoids, the universe is still probably
99.9999999 percent nothing, or anti-matter, as the scientists have
to call it. This anti-matter is destroyed when it comes into contact
with matter because when something like Earth comes into contact with
nothing, it becomes nothing but Earth. The nothing that was occupying
that spot in the universe is now something, thus the anti-matter was
destroyed by the matter.
Speaking of nothing, there also apparently exists
in the universe something called cosmic rays. These are supposedly
harmless high energy particles that, according to another newspaper
article, "zip through planets and even people," except maybe Mike
However, while watching "The Fantastic Four" on
TV with my son one day, it was explained that these supposedly harmless
cosmic rays, when combined with some other space phenomenon, were
responsible for mutating these four humans into a human torch, an
elastic man, a guy who looks like a pile of rocks and a a woman who,
for better or worse, can be heard but not seen if she so chooses.
Though the same type of researchers who can't
find 90 percent of the mass of the universe say that these cosmic rays
are harmless except in kiddie cartoons, the article states: "...their
passage is not noticeable, although some studies have suggested that
cosmic rays may break chromosomes and cause mutations."
Speaking of mutations, there is another article in
the same paper about man's favorite beast when it comes to creating
mutations: fruit flies. San Francisco researchers report that by
fooling around with fruit fly chromosomes, they've managed to find a
"genetic defect" which makes fruit flies unable to hold their liquor.
Dubbing the defect "cheapdate," the researchers found that the affected
fruit flies needed 30 percent less alcohol consumption to become
"hyperactive, uncoordinated, disoriented and ultimately unconscious."
Not reported was that the scientists also observed how the genetically
defective male fruit flies were more apt to dance with the female fruit
flies, who often have to dance with each other because the
non-defective males are too busy standing around talking about sports,
cars, female fruit flies and fruit.
In case you're wondering how scientists got fruit
flies drunk when they'd surely drown in even a teeny, tiny shot glass
of Jose Cuevo, it was done with a device called an "inebriometer,"
which is a four-foot high glass dome pumped full of alcohol fumes (now
available in fraternity houses nationwide).
The scientists not only discovered the cheapdate
gene, but also a drug to control it. No doubt the whiskey and beer
lobby is already gearing up for a campaign to "enrich" milk with this
anti-cheapdate drug so that there won't be any cheapdate humans around
getting drunk on one-third less of their products.
So once again we see how our quality of life is
constantly being improved through tireless efforts of the scientific
community, even though they managed to misplace 90 percent of the
Cosmic Debris Archive
Space Art Gallery