Science + Pop Culture, writing

The Science of Eurovision 2018

The 63rd Eurovision Song Content (ESC) is taking place this May in Lisbon. All 43 participating countries have submitted their songs and the corresponding music videos/live performances are available for viewing/listening on the ESC’s official YouTube channel. Feel free to watch them at your leisure if you haven’t. Though if you’re reading this, you’ve likely seen some of them by now. (You could also be completely ignorant about the ESC and are reading this without having a clue what I’m talking about.)

Last year I was inspired to find random moments of science in several of the entries’ lyrics. No one told me never to do it again, so here we go…

The Songs…Or at least 8 of them…

Click below to jump to the county of your choice, or just start scrolling

  • Qami (Armenia – Sevak Khanagyan)
    • Lyrics: (rough translation from Armenian) “The stars were the liars / They said they were innocent”
    • Science tangent: What crimes can stars commit?
      • So much murder, guys. I’m talking
        • Giving people cancer
          • Ionizing radiation is radiation – both photons and tiny massive particles – with enough energy to knock off electrons of atoms they smash into. If DNA – the instructions that tell cells how to function normally – gets damaged in this way, it can lead to cancer. Our Sun (and many other stars) emit ionizing radiation in the form of ultraviolet, x-ray, and gamma radiation.
          • Depending on how hot a star is (the surface of our Sun is about 5800 K), it will emit a different combination of light wavelengths. Cooler stars will emit more light that’s sub-visual, like infrared radiation, and hotter stars will emit more super-visual, like ultraviolet. Hotter stars also emit a lot more radiation in any given second, burning through their fuel much faster. You can learn about and play around with curves of light emitted by different stars here, but the quick takeaway is that – all other things being equal – hotter/more massive stars are better at giving you melanoma.
          • Cool stars might not regularly emit ionizing radiation, but they are prone to emitting UV and X-rays flares in the first billion-ish years of their lives, burping them out into their system in cosmic temper tantrums. These can not just penetrate an otherwise protective atmosphere to irradiate life on the surface – they can strip the atmosphere away.
            Artist’s rendering, Credit: NASA/ESA/G. Bacon (STScI)

            which leads me to…

        • Making entire planets uninhabitable (besides the previously mentioned radiation problem)
          • As stars age, they get hotter, pushing the boundary known as the “Goldilocks Zone” – where liquid water is capable of existing on a planet’s surface – further away. In about a billion years, the Sun will become so hot that Earth’s oceans will all evaporate.
          • Stars also change mass as they die, shedding their outer layers as their cores collapse. Many an unlucky planet is therefore knocked out of its orbit into the void of space, making it rather difficult for life. In happier news, if Earth were suddenly thrown out of the solar system, life could actually continue for some time beneath the surface using geothermal energy.
        • Literally destroying entire planets
          • Our Sun will start expanding into a red giant in 5-ish billion years. It will definitely eat both Mercury and Venus, and maybe the Earth, by the time it’s done growing.
          • Supernovas. Boom.
      • Theft
        • From astronomical observations, it looks like two-thirds of stars in the galaxy orbit a partner. I’m talking binary (or more) systems. Often these stars aren’t identical twins, with one being more massive than the other. And one of them sometimes likes to strip matter off the surface of the other, if they’re close enough together.
        • When one of the stars in the binary is actually a white dwarf – the dead core of a star too light to go supernova – it can steal so much matter that it becomes too massive, and explodes
          Credit: NASA

          which leads me to

      • Littering
        • Supernovas. Boom.

  • X My Heart (Azerbaijan – Aisel)
    • Lyrics: “Heaven know we are / Made perfect we are / Tailored by the stars”
    • Science tangent: How do stars make *gestures to body* this (And where can I lodge a complaint)?
      • You all remember that famous Carl Sagan quote, right? No, not the “Billions and billions” one. He never actually said that. No, I mean the “We’re made of star-stuff” one. He did say that.
      • And he’s right, for the most part. Most of the hydrogen, some of the helium, and a trace amount of lithium are primordial — meaning they were created before whole atoms were even a thing, let alone the first stars. Stars start their lives out fusing hydrogen into helium in order to get energy (Well, it’s more a consequence of the crushing force of gravity than any conscious effort of the star’s part, but I digress…). If the star’s massive enough, after it runs out of fusible hydrogen it’ll start fusing helium into carbon – and if it’s even more massive, it’ll be able to fuse elements up to iron. The rest of the elements on the periodic table are created in supernovas and other super intense explosive events, like merging neutron stars.

        Jennifer Johnson/SDSS, CC BY
      • When stars explode, they literally spill their guts into the universe. New stars will form, new planets will form, and life on those planets will take up those atoms as their bodies construct themselves.
      • The human body is mostly comprised of (in descending order, by particle count) Hydrogen (62%), Oxygen (24%), Carbon (12%), and Nitrogen (1.1%). There is a non-zero chance some of that hydrogen which was made shortly following the Big Bang didn’t end up in any stars before it got to Earth and in someone’s body.

  • Bones (Bulgaria – EQUINOX)
    • Lyrics: “What is life / If it’s just of the earth / Only of the flesh and bones”
    • Science tangent: What is life (baby don’t hurt me no more)?
      • Our definition for what’s alive and what isn’t is actually totally arbitrary. At its most basic, requirements include consumption and reproduction, but then you get pedants that will then ask, “So is fire alive?” But some additional apparent requirements will exclude things everyone would agree are alive, like there are extremophiles that live their entire lives without needing oxygen.
      • In general, most scientists can agree on seven-ish “pillars of life”, including organized structure (one or more cells), metabolism, growth, reproduction, adaptation, homeostasis (internal regulation), and response to external stimuli
      • And then there are viruses. Some say they count as life. Some say they don’t. They have genetic code, and reproduce by hijacking other life and tricking it into making more of viruses, but have no metabolism.
      • But one thing we can certainly say is life needs neither flesh nor bones, as most of the life on our blue marble of a planet are boneless, fleshless, single-celled lifeforms (e.g. bacteria, archaea). And even if you exclude all life outside of the taxonomic kingdom Animalia – so no plants or fungi – the most abundant type of animal on Earth is the arthropod.

        Credit: Thomas ShahanCC BY-NC-ND 2.0
      • About 84% of all animal species are some type of arthropod, which includes all insects, arachnids, and crustaceans. They have exoskeletons made, not of bone, but a substance called chitin (pronounced “Kye-tin”). Unlike bone, chitin is non-living (Did you know bone was alive? If not, now you do). It can’t grow. That’s why those animals have to molt.
        • Lobsters will molt every other week at the start, then slow to once every few years. But they never stop growing. And since there’s no record of each molt kept (à la tree rings), it’s impossible to age an elderly lobster. That means we have no idea how long their life spans are.
        • They can also regenerate body parts when they molt. Which is good, ’cause sometimes the molt goes wrong and they lose a limb in the process.
      • Other animals that don’t have bones: sharks. Their bodies are supported entirely by cartilaginous endoskeletons. There’s no bone tissue – it’s made of the stuff that your nose is.

  • Lie to Me (Czech Republic – Mikolas Josef)
    • Lyrics: “Papa likes the drama mama hotter than lava”
    • Science tangent: How hot is lava?
      • Very.
      • Also, not very. It’s all relative.
      • The temperature depends on various factors – like the type of (melted) rock it’s made out of – but the general range is 700 to 1,200 °C (1,292 to 2,192 °F)

        NO KILL I
      • Tangent joke time (Thank you, Tumblr)

  • Higher Ground (Denmark – Rasmussen)
    • Lyrics: “Freeze the arrow in the air”
    • Science Tangent: How do you do that (sans superpowers), Viking man?
      • You know what constantly moving objects are frozen with respect to a particular spot on the Earth’s surface? Satellites in geostationary orbits. Their orbital velocity and distance from Earth’s surface is tuned exactly so, balancing how strongly the planet pulls on them, and how fast they have to travel to match the Earth’s rotation rate.
      • All satellites in geostationary orbit lie 35,786 km (22,236 mi) above the Earth’s equator. Using the simple equation for the circumference of a circle and the length of time it takes Earth to make one rotation (23 hours 56 minutes 4 seconds), we can calculate how fast they’re going: 3,075 meters per second, or about 6,900 miles per hour.
      • The closer you are to Earth, the less distance you have to traverse. An arrow fired 1.5 meters above the Earth’s surface at only 465 m/s (1040 mph) – assuming it was fired perfectly perpendicular to the Earth’s surface – would be flying at the just the right velocity to look like it’s stationary.
      • Unfortunately for said arrow, gravity is much stronger down there, so the arrow would actually have to be going faster than those satellites in order to not get pulled back to the ground. Hence, why we need to balance the two equations, and our arrow would need to be fired over 35,000 kilometers above our heads for it to appear frozen.
      • If we were on Mars, it’d only be 17,000 km above the surface. Yay?

  • Outlaw in ‘Em (Netherlands – Waylon)
    • Lyrics: “It’s a fine fine line / Between whisk(e)y and water into wine”
    • Science tangent: What are the different chemicals involved in booze?

  • Stones (Switzerland – ZiBBZ)
    • Lyrics: “What’s a life worth?”
      • Science tangent: How much money could you get selling a human body?
        • It depends on how you’re selling it, both in terms of what you’re actually charging for, what people are going to do with the body (or parts), and whether or not you’re selling it on the black market.
        • The Mayo Clinic once calculated that your entire body is only worth $4.50 – but that was only based off the prices that individual elements (e.g. all the carbon atoms in your body extracted and grouped together, all the hydrogen atoms extracted and turned into hydrogen gas, and so forth) were going for, and the skin…which apparently was $3.50 of that.
          • This random blog post puts it at 160 bucks by elemental abundance, most of that coming from potassium.
          • You might think you could make a pretty penny from the precious metals (like gold) that’s in your body, but those elements just aren’t anywhere near abundant enough. And I mean enough for even a single penny.
        • Other websites share infographics on how much you can get from selling different organs (e.g. 1, 2). Actual prices will vary depending from organ to organ, ’cause of supply and demand, and from country to country.
        • The total cost of the individual parts from a single dead body varies widely, from just several thousand dollars for an entire torso, to several hundred thousand, to a couple million, to $45 million – most of which comes from the value of your bone marrow ($23M) followed distantly by DNA ($10M).

  • Under the Ladder (Ukraine – Mélovin)
    • Lyrics: “Nothing but your will sets you on fire”
      • Science tangent: Can nothing but your will set you on fire?
        • No. Many things can set you on fire.
        • If you’re going for impact, might I suggest at least one of the following:

Good luck to this year’s contestants! I have a few faves based on the studio tracks – crossing my fingers for all of you, including my fellow Jessica.

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