"Good intentions will always be pleaded for every assumption of authority ... the Constitution was made to guard against the dangers of good intentions. There are men in all ages who mean to govern well, but they mean to govern. They promise to be good masters, but they mean to be masters." - Noah Webster

"There is no worse tyranny than forcing a man to pay for what he does not want just because you think it would be good for him."
-- Robert A. Heinlein

Friday, June 17, 2011

Water: The Simple Is Fascinating

We take it for granted every day.  Oh, I don't just mean that we usually don't think much about it until we are thirsty or want to wash our hands. We don't think much about the miraculous nature of water.  Water has extremely unique properties.  Is it extreme to say that water's properties are uniquely extreme?  The facts that you will read in this post and those to come should bear this out.

How important and unique is water?  The answer to that is revealed by the fact that scientists are looking for it on our nearest celestial bodies.  Why?  Because of it's absolute necessity for life.  This is where I have to interject something important.  I like science-fiction stories as much as the next guy, and while there is some amazing technology that has arisen from people daring to question conventional wisdom and keep pushing the envelope, there really are limits and absolutes.  Water is one of those absolutes.

Even the most bizarre forms of life that we find on this planet still have to use water as part of their metabolic processes.  No water; no life.  It's just that simple.  That is why scientists look for the existence of water as being the primary requisite for life any place in the universe.  Of course, it's simple to say that water is absolutely necessary for life to exist.  The hallmark of good science is to ask why that is.  Real scientists keep asking the question "why" until the question is answered, whether we like the answer or not.  Studying water down to the molecular level gives us the answers for why it is so necessary for life.

There are at least 19 features of water that are anomalous.  These are features that should not occur according to the prevailing scientific knowledge about chemistry.  These are features that do not occur with any other liquids in the known universe.  If it were not for these things that shouldn't be, no life could exist on this planet.  We will only look at a few of these items at a time, due to time and space considerations. You've got other things you have to do.

Water behaves like no other liquid in any given range of temperatures.  Let's just take it's freezing point.  Extremely high when compared to alcohol.  Of course, water readily mixes with all the various types of alcohols, which is why we can have anti-freeze in our cars.  A fifty percent mixture with ethylene glycol can protect from freezing below 0° Fahrenheit.  Most all lipid or fat type liquids  have much lower freezing temperatures, except for natural animal fats, but that's a subject for a whole different post.

How water behaves in a very narrow range between freezing and boiling is what makes it so incredible.  For simplicity, let's think about water on the Celsius scale.  It might have been a good idea if we had adopted this scale for use in America rather than the seemingly arbitrary scale of Fahrenheit, where water freezes at 32° and boils at 212° (at sea level, another interesting factor).  The Celsius scale would seem to make more sense since water itself is the basis for the scale.  Zero degree is the temperature at which water freezes.  One hundred degrees is the temperature at which water boils.

Most all substances, be they solid, liquid or gas become denser as they get colder  Some very amazing qualities have been imparted to metals through a process of heating and then freezing them down to temperatures approaching absolute zero. The molecules slow down and get closer together.  Denser objects are more affected by gravity relative to the substance around them, therefore, denser, colder water will sink. However, water is completely unique in that water has a very specific maximum density at a temperature of  4°C or 40°F.  In lakes, this is vitally important because it creates motion and subsequent circulation of water.  More oxygenated water at the surface gets circulated to organisms at depth.  This is why large lakes don't just stagnate and die, unless something occurs to interfere with the process.  More amazing is that water is the only liquid that expands when it freezes.

Have you ever thought of what would happen if water didn't do that?  Because water expands when it freezes, it becomes less dense than the surrounding water and floats.  If water behaved like it should, according to physics, and became denser, it would sink to the bottom.  In a short time all life would cease to exist on the earth.  This planet would just be a big ice ball.

More to come.

1 comment:

  1. This is something I've been mulling over for a while. Water HAS to have these anomalies for life to exist. Could the anomalous nature of water be a little hint that there's more than random chance involved in the structure of the universe?

    I can't wait to read more.


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