Baboon Pirates

Scribbles and Scrawls from an unrepentant swashbuckling primate.

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Location: Texas, United States

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

What Floats In Mercury?

Apparently, Just About Everything...

Here's an eye-opener...

A cannonball floating in mercury!

I don't know that I'd have been that casual about splashing in the cannonball. Mercury makes some pretty miniscule droplets that can be almost impossible to clean up short of an E.P.A. HazMat team.

Mercury, as shown by the floating iron cannonball, is pretty dense. I have a metal camera-film canister that's full of mercury, and it's got quite a heft to it. Probably 3 lbs or more for an object no bigger than a C-cell battery.

You have to wonder about the construction of that mercury "bathtub" in the film clip. That's an enormous amout of pressure being exerted on the walls. You can't really tell how large the container is, but at a guess, it looks to be about 6 feet long by 4 feet wide, with a depth of around 4 feet. A bit of quick figuring gives us a capacity of 96 cubic feet, which will hold (roughly) 718 gallons of mercury. A pound of mercury occupies a volume of 33.48 cc, so a bit more math fiddling gives us over 81,180 lbs of mercury just waiting to break loose and engulf the nearest school. 40 tons of mass in a space the size of a decent deep freeze. Or, it could be 30 or 35 T-1000 Terminators having a bathtub orgy.

So, you might be asking, why does El Cap have a container of mercury, at a time when people are going apeshit over the tiny amount released into the environment when the newfangled twisty fluorescent lightbulbs break?

Well, as it happens, pure liquid mercury isn't all that hazardous, providing you leave it alone and aren't rubbing it into your skin or soaking your sushi in it, or leaning over a skillet making a mercury omelet & inhaling the vapors. It's the compounds made from mercury that really tend to warp brain cells and dissolve kidneys. I had the opportunity to "borrow" a measure of mercury out of a laboratory bottle, knowing that the need to make mercury detonator switches might someday come along, and I've kept it in a cool & dry location, and I don't ever play with it.

Incidentally, the "Torricelli" experiment in the film clip referred to the mercury barometers used in the 1600's to show the existence of air pressure and the existence of a vacuum, much to the consternation of the powers-that-be of the day.

Video spotted at BoingBoing