Science marches on, and it takes no prisoners. Apparently we’re all being hit by bullets from space all the time in the form of cosmic rays, and now they’ve discovered ones that are high-caliber enough to mess us up:
In 2012 it (Ice Cube, not the rapper, but a cosmic ray detector buried at the South Pole) detected a whopper of a neutrino (nicknamed Big Bird; all these events are named after Sesame Street characters to make it easier to keep track of them). The energy in that single neutrino was staggering beyond staggering: It contained 1000 trillion times as much energy as a photon of visible light. If that neutrino had hit someone they would have felt it. A blow from a single subatomic particle. Egads.
From Phil Plait’s “Bad Astronomy” column in Slate.
Egads indeed, but now that we know we’re being pummeled by invisible tiny uppercuts from outer space at all times (kind of like a Chinese water torture from God) it explains a hell of a lot about human behavior, particularly mine. The series of horrible personal and financial decisions that form the map of my life were heretofore thought to be the result of poor judgement, or drinking, or both. Now I realize that all along it’s been being bombarded by bruiser neutrinos named after Sesame Street characters that has kept me from scaling the lofty peaks of success.
My decision to become a widely ignored writer instead of a successful solar energy salesman, or an Uber driver, or a social media star or otherwise to make some cutting-edge career choice was something I laid to the reality that it’s much easier to pretend you’re writing while suffering from a seismic hangover than to pretend you’re selling, driving or starring in anything. Now I realize that alcohol had nothing to do with it—Bert and Ernie from outer space were zipping through my defenseless neurons the whole time, fuzzing up my brain and drying out my throat.
But let’s not just talk about me, much as I enjoy that subject. The whole history of human intercourse-ups can be viewed in an entirely new light, now that we realize all of our ancestors, along with ourselves, have had Cookie Monster neutrinos from black holes burrowing through our otherwise capable gray matter since we dropped out of the trees. From the architect who designed the walls of Jericho to the emperor who presided over the fall of Rome to the skipper who steered the Titanic into the iceberg, every lapse of judgement in history could be ascribed to high-energy neutrinos twerking in the lapser’s gray matter.
Even as I write this, every person on Earth who got up resolving to make today the day they got their act together is getting whammed by neutrinos named Kermit, Beaker and the Swedish Chef. That’s why, in spite of their best intentions, they left their lunch on the counter, the door unlocked, accidentally parked in their boss’s parking space and spent the rest of the day frantically trying to recover files they unintentionally erased. It’s a wonder anyone has enough self-regard left at quitting time to drag him or herself into a bar. And it's all the fault of powerful Muppet neutrinos.
And it’s not just humans these subatomic bullies are roughing up. You know who just made your dog poop on the rug? Fozzie Bear.
The question is, how high-energy do these neutrinos get? Can science tell us? Do we have to add neutrinos to the list of threats to Earth from outer space, along with comets, asteroids, gamma-ray bursts and uncomfortably close supernovas? Is there a killer quark out there capable of ending life on Earth?
Could be. Apocalypse, your name is Miss Piggy.