Hi Reddit. We are Paul Doherty, senior scientist at San Francisco’s Exploratorium museum and planetary scientist who was on the research team for the Viking Mars mission and discovered the shape of the Martian snowflake (it's a cubeoctahedron), and writer Cody Cassidy, who has written stuff, and we spent the last two years researching the world’s most interesting ways to die.

We looked into questions like what would happen if you swam out of a deep sea submarine, were swallowed by a whale (surprisingly possible), your elevator cable broke (don’t jump. It won’t help), if it’s even possible to die from magnetism (it is, yay!), if sticking your hand in the CERN particle accelerator is lethal (probably) and many more. Then we wrote a book about it, which you can check out here:


or here: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/and-then-youre-dead-cody-cassidy/1124439201?ean=9780143108443

Ask us about these or other gruesome scenarios your twisted minds can come up with, or Martian snowflakes - AUA!

Proof: http://imgur.com/a/Kx9PF


Edit: We have to run! Thanks for the great questions! Check out Paul's segment on Science Friday for more gruesomeness https://www.sciencefriday.com/segments/what-if-scenarios-played-out-through-physics/

Edit: Had to return and answer the fart question.

Comments: 2299 • Responses: 26  • Date: 

urbanek25251686 karma

Isn't there already a case where a person had his head in a particle accelerator and it got turned on?

IIRC, you could see the particle path through his brain in the scans. Let me see if I can find it.

Edit: Yeah here it is. Also here.

AndThenYoureDead2246 karma

Yes! Good find. Whether you would die or not would depend on the power of the particle accelerator and how much radiation it was carrying. Bugorski's accelerator was 100 times less powerful than the LHC, and it was also only a single pulse, while the LHC is a machine gun.

The beam paralyzed one side of Anatoli Bugorki's face. As a result now many years later one side of his face is smooth and unwrinkled while the other side has aged by decades. So maybe old accelerators could be used instead of botox for beauty treatments.

But since Bugorski nearly died from radiation poisoning, we think a hit from the LHC would be lethal.

mechanon051659 karma

Is it possible to produce a sound that's loud enough to kill a person?

AndThenYoureDead3947 karma

The loudest pure tone of sound on earth is 194 decibels, that is a sound that has a pressure that oscillates from 0 to 2 atmospheres sinusoidally.

120 decibels is painfully loud

150 dB next to a jet engine

adding ten decibels increases sound intensity by a factor of 10, adding 10 multiplies by 10. So 150 dB is 1000 times more intense than 120 dB and 190 dB is 10,000 times more intense than 150 dB.

The loudest speaker on earth produces a tone at 154 dB in the Netherlands it's used to test spacecraft.

non-musical sound called a shock wave can be much more intense. A shock wav from a bomb blast or meteorite strike can produce a pressure wave which will blow out the alveoli in your lungs. And maybe the 190 dB sound wave would destroy alveoli as well. Any volunteers?

If you want the full Death Metal sound experience however go to Venus with its dense atmosphere, musical sound there can be 10,000 times more intense than music on Earth. Go ahead and turn it up to 11.

Chtorrr1401 karma

What is the strangest thing you found in your research?

AndThenYoureDead3874 karma

Perhaps the strangest one is that it seems impossible to die from insomnia. One high school kid named Randy Gardner tried to stay up in the 1964 to see what would happen for a school project. He didn’t sleep for 264 hours and though he hallucinated that he was a professional football player, mistook a street sign for a pedestrian and eventually lost muscle control.

But he was fine and recovered after a day of sleep. It seems that unless you’re put on some diabolical machine that forces you to stay awake (like a few unfortunate rats have been), you’re body will make you sleep. To date, no one has ever died from insomnia (although quite a few have died from the opposite, particularly when behind the wheel of car).

SloppyMeathole991 karma

What about Fatal familial insomnia?

According to Wikipedia, "(FFI) is an extremely rare autosomal dominant inherited prion disease of the brain. It is almost always caused by a mutation to the protein PrPC, but can also develop spontaneously in patients with a non-inherited mutation variant called sporadic fatal insomnia (sFI). FFI has no known cure and involves progressively worsening insomnia, which leads to hallucinations, delirium, confusional states like that of dementia, and eventually, death. The average survival time for patients diagnosed with FFI after the onset of symptoms is 18 months."

Am I missing something? This disease appears to cause death due to insomnia.

AndThenYoureDead1969 karma

That's a good question, and we looked it up in our research. From what we found it's not quite clear that it's the lack of sleep that kills you, but may be the brain damage that the prion disease causes and the insomnia is a symptom.

umbrellaclock1102 karma

This is so cool! I've always wondered about the jumping in the elevator thing. If that doesn't help, is there anything you CAN do to help save yourself in a falling elevator?

AndThenYoureDead2676 karma

Laying flat on your back is the best way to spread out the G forces evenly through your body. If you're standing up, your organs may keep falling even though your body has stopped.

You should also hope that your elevator fits snugly in its shaft, so the pillow of air below the car slows the fall and the broken elevator cable below can provide some cushioning. Crossing your fingers is also a good idea.

Nay-Shun888 karma

So, what's happens if I jump through the hole in the earth?

AndThenYoureDead1413 karma

Jumping into a hole in the earth is a classic physics homework problem. The answer is that it takes 45 minutes to get to the other side.

However that simple answer misses most of the fun.

From a point in north america the surface of the earth is moving to the east at a few hundred miles per hour. The center of the earth is not. So if you fall into an evacuated hole you have to slow down by 800 miles per hour by rubbing along the wall. Not good! To get around this problem dig the hole from pole to pole.

The next problem is that it gets hot as you go down, the center of the earth is hotter than the surface of the sun, so you'd cook. You are going to need a refrigerated impossibly well insulated suit.

And indeed you'll need to remove the air in the tube. The pressure and density of the air starts out doubling every 15,000 feet of depth (3 miles) so after 10 doublings at 150,000 feet and 30 miles the air is as dense as water and you sink no further.

hurtsdonut_536 karma

Wouldn't you stop in the middle because of gravity or am I thinking about this wrong?

AndThenYoureDead1241 karma

If you ignore air resistance (say you vacuumed sealed the tube) you would pass the middle of earth falling at 18,000 mph. Then your inertia would carry you to the other side, sort of like a swing at a playground.

brunclemarry839 karma

Is it possible to propel your self with farts in space, practically. Or would the force produced be better compared to ion accelerators.?

AndThenYoureDead1020 karma

This is tremendously difficult to compare. The ion propulsion is a continuous force while the fart is an impulse. So we can easily use conservation of momentum to get the fart answer it is not easily comparable to the much less mass but much higher velocity continuous impulse change from the ion engine.

According to Wikipedia article titled “flatulence”, the average fart is 100ml with a mass of 0.02 grams, with an ejection velocity estimated at 3 meters per second. Rounding off this gives the gas a momentum of 10-4 Kg m/second. An 80 Kg person will recoil with equal and opposite momentum, giving them a speed of 10-6 meters/second (or two millionths of a mile per hour).

tranchms821 karma

What would happen to your body if you were tied to a weight and sent to the bottom of the Mariana trench?

AndThenYoureDead2449 karma

So, if you sank to the bottom of the Mariana trench you would drown before you reached a crushing depth. If you’re interested in a more interesting demise, you should swim out of James Cameron’s submersible at the bottom. Fortunately you're mostly water, and water is incompressible. So you would retain your basic human shape. The air pockets inside you, namely in your nasal cavity, throat and chest, would be a problem. Those would collapse inward, which would fatal.

Because you wouldn’t have any air, you wouldn’t float to the surface and you would likely stay at the bottom to be consumed by the Bone-eating snot flower, which usually eats whale bones but would probably make an exception in this case.

Squigley_q635 karma

Ok, my friend did an experiment in a class of hers where she put a sheet of paper on a scale and took its weight, then crumpled it into a tight ball and took its weight again. It read more the second time. I said that when it was flat it must have been similar to when you filled a balloon with air and it would feel lighter than the deflated balloon because it was displacing air, and she was adamantly convinced that somehow crumpling the paper increased its mass and weight somehow (her words).

What would be the exact explanation so I can finally put this argument to bed?

Edit: Fucking hell, y'all care more about this than I do

AndThenYoureDead845 karma

To really get to the answer of this interesting observation I would request a dozen or so repeats of the experiment to get an estimate of the measurement errors plus the data sheet for the scale giving the error in the display of the answer.

I predict though that the two papers, crumpled and flat will have the same weight, unless the flat paper is drooping off the scale and brushing against the table.

Squigley_q487 karma

Ok, so I need to buy a really sensitive scale, and possibly a vacuum chamber. Got it

AndThenYoureDead755 karma

Yes a good vacuum chamber would get rid of all buoyancy effects. Measurements are never easy!

FutureCrabFisherman474 karma

If i were floating near a nuetron star say within 1 mile, how spectacular would my death be?

AndThenYoureDead1334 karma

A neutron star has a couple of times the mass of the sun compressed into a sphere the size of a city.

You'll probably be killed by the radiation produced as matter falls into the neutron star on the way in, and certainly at a close distance of 1 mile. But let's assume the neutron star is unnaturally quiet. You'll be in free fall. and as usual it's not the fall that kills you. However in this case that might not be true, gravity is stronger at close distances and weaker further away. This means if your head is pointed toward the neutron star it will be tugged toward the star much more strongly than your feet and this tidal force will rip you apart. Check out Larry Niven's short story "Neutron Star" for details.

There is another way to die however, some neutron stars are a hundred billion times stronger magnets than the strongest magnets on earth. At those levels of magnetism your atoms are distorted into thin cigars and all the bonds between atoms that make up the molecules in your body are broken so you become a human shaped plasma cloud that is tidally stretched and pulled into the star where you impact the surface and generate lethal gamma radiation.

jamexxx419 karma

How close are we to intersteller travel?

AndThenYoureDead2221 karma

I think that as soon as the USA goes metric we'll have interstellar travel.

AndThenYoureDead725 karma

People are already planning interstellar probes that are very low mass and propelled by powerful lasers shone from the earth. Like fusion power such travel is always a few decades away.

shaggorama304 karma

Are you familiar with Randall Munroe's (the xkcd guy) What If? project? He explores very similar questions and also published a book.

What differentiates your project?

AndThenYoureDead120 karma

I love Randall Munroe's book What If?, we credit him as an inspiration for our book on page 235.

Nashtok228 karma

Other than a magnetar, are there any sources of magnetism that will kill you directly (ie: not by accelerating some external object)?

AndThenYoureDead797 karma

There are no magnetic sources on Earth that will directly kill you (yet). We have yet to create a magnet that strong. However, scientists have created magnets a few tesla strong that can float frogs, because the water in a frog (and you) is diamagnetic. And if they could make that magnet big enough, it would float you as well. Youtube has a cool video of floating frogs here:


Futurama has a cool episode where a human visits a robot world and the robots discover they cannot kill the human with any level of magnetism, they do however discover that penetrating the human with a sharp stick will stop it.

rcmurphy220 karma

What's your favorite way(s) to die, whether it appears in the book or not? Which was the most difficult or complicated scenario to research?

AndThenYoureDead512 karma

Adventure/fatal tourism would be a fantastic way to go. Death by visiting the dinosaur era would be particularly interesting, but also likely lethal. Your best bet would be to live in the trees. Most of the particularly nasty predators in the dinosaur era were focused on the ground, although Pteradactyls show up around 100 million years ago, and those would be a problem.

Mars would also be a fantastic place to visit, but alas you would only have around 15 seconds to enjoy it before the lack of oxygen caused you to pass out. (And you couldn’t hold your breath, because the lack of pressure would squeeze all the air in your lungs out of you.)

big_tuna_14179 karma

What made you decide to name the book And Then You're Dead, and not how to go out like a badass. But, in all seriousness, what would you say your favorite thing to research for this book was?

AndThenYoureDead243 karma

Well, for one we didn’t think of as cool as name as ‘How to go out like a badass’. Bummer for us. The original name was “Gruesome”, but then we were told gruesome was too, ummm, gruesome for a lot of people. So we went with the much more cheery ‘and then you’re dead’. Although it is a bit of a spoiler to the end of many of these.

The favorite thing to research? Perhaps digging the hole to china. Actually getting the details on how long it would take to fall to the other side (longer than an airplane, depending on your connections and ignoring some of the other gruesome side effects).

MattBaster177 karma

I'm not sure if I'm more curious about the cool ray guns on your back shelf or the painted fingernails.

Anyway -- is it possible to successfully commit suicide the cool way?

AndThenYoureDead192 karma

As of now, the ray gun only works as a blunt force instrument. But we're working on that.

KamehameBoom102 karma

What's your favorite kind of ice cream?

AndThenYoureDead334 karma

Ice cream made with liquid nitrogen!

edit: I feel a word of warning is necessary here, however: If you are dealing with liquid nitrogen, don't fall into the tank. Nitrogen freezes the water in your cells into crystals that pierce your cell membranes, resulting in the cells leaking to death when you thaw. (This is the problem with cryogenically freezing your head after you die, in hopes of revival. No one knows how to warm you back up without the ice forming those crystals and stabbing your cells to death).

GregoryJames4280 karma

If I had a sphere large enough to fit a person (size isn't relevant) and the entire inside was a mirror, what would happen if I shined a light for a second. Would the light bouncy around infinitely or would it only be present while the light was on?

AndThenYoureDead139 karma

Paul D: Alas no mirror is perfect, some light energy is always absorbed on each bounce. So when you turned off your light source, the emitted light would bounce around getting exponentially dimmer.

KamehameBoom79 karma

Do you enjoy pickles?

AndThenYoureDead266 karma

Cody likes dill, Paul likes only the comic strip.

If you really enjoy pickles, you can eat four one liter jars of pickles before your stomach bursts along the lesser curvature.

artilekt54 karma

This isn't really a way to die but I've always wondered if you created a room in the very center of the earth, would you float in the middle of it? Since gravity would be pulling on you equally in all directions?

AndThenYoureDead113 karma

Indeed if you could create a cavity inside the core of the earth you could float in the middle of it. Net gravitational force would be near zero. Alas it's hotter than the surface of the sun, but enjoy free fall while you can.

Fire_is_beauty52 karma

Is there something that is surprisingly not guaranteed death ?

AndThenYoureDead143 karma

Paul D: In our "What would happen if you lost your head" chapter we meet two people, one was missing 95% of his brain and still had an IQ of 126, and another,Phineas Gage, survived having a one inch diameter 3 foot long steel rod pass through his head from bottom to top.

blackout_couch12 karma

What would happen if you do not take part in any of the hypothetical scenarios you've presented? Oh, wait, don't tell me- you die. Correct? So I guess that's it, right? Run marathons and live on the strictest, healthiest diet imaginable and then you die or do a lot of coke and eat cheeseburgers and then you die. Cool, thanks!

AndThenYoureDead70 karma

Actually, a Stanford researcher quantified how dangerous these activities are using something called 'micromorts', which measure each activity's one in a million chance of ending in a fatality.

Marathons are actually somewhat dangerous, at around 7 micromorts or around the same risk as skydiving.

Eating unhealthily doesn't have a risk of ending in sudden death, but it does take time off your life expectancy - measured in 'microlifes' (or half hours, since you have around 1 million half hours left after you turn 25)

1 cheesburger costs you 1 microlife