If you didn’t already have anxiety about unfortunate elevator malfunctions, get ready to develop a whole new phobia, because physicist Paul Doherty is here to let you know that plunging to your death in a free-falling lift would suck even more than you think.
Doherty has teamed up with author Cody Cassidy, and together they’ve spent the past two years researching the world’s most interesting and grisly ways to die. They laid out all the facts in a recent Reddit AMA, and let’s just say that sticking your hand in a particle accelerator is so not worth it.
1. Sticking your hand in a particle accelerator.
We’ve all heard the story of the Russian scientist Anatoli Bugorski, who in July 1978 accidentally stuck his head in a beam of speeding protons when he was working on the Synchrotron U-70 – a Soviet particle accelerator.
Bugorski reportedly felt no pain at the time, and described what he saw as a flash of light “brighter than a thousand Suns”.
While Burgorski ended up surviving the ordeal, he didn’t get off scot-free – he eventually lost hearing in his left ear, started to experience seizures, and half of his face became paralyzed (all of which didn’t stop him from earning his PhD).
But don’t think you’d be so lucky – Bugorski’s accelerator was 100 times less powerful than the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, say Doherty and Cassidy, and it was only a single pulse, whereas the LHC is a “machine gun”.
“[S]ince Bugorski nearly died from radiation poisoning, we think a hit from the LHC would be lethal,” the pair conclude.
2. Getting crushed to death in a falling elevator
You’d have to be incredibly unlucky to be in an elevator when the cable snaps, but it’s not unheard-of.
Your biggest risk is being in an elevator when something external messes with the building, such as the B-25 bomber that crashed into the Empire State Building back in 1945.
In that case, there was one person in the lift, and despite falling all the way from the 79th floor, she survived – thanks to the unsevered cables beneath the elevator slowing her descent to cushion the fall.
If you don’t have something to ease the free-fall… well, you’ve just gotta make the best of an (extremely) bad situation. And whatever you do – don’t stand up.
“If you’re standing up, your organs may keep falling, even though your body has stopped,” say Doherty and Cassidy.
“Laying flat on your back is the best way to spread out the G forces evenly through your body,” they advise.
“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.”
3. Falling into the Mariana Trench and getting devoured by a bone-eating snot flower
Without some kind of submarine, you’re not getting anywhere near the Mariana Trench on your own, but what if you were suddenly ejected from your craft at 10 km (36,000 feet) below the surface?
“[I]f 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.”
Oh and don’t count on your remains floating to the surface for the world to find – the ocean’s not letting all those good nutrients go to waste.
“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 [Osedax], which usually eats whale bones but would probably make an exception in this case,” say Doherty and Cassidy.
4. Yes, you can die from pure magnetism
When asked how spectacular death would be if you somehow got within 1 mile (1.6 km) of a neutron star – the densest objects known to science – the pair explained that if the radiation didn’t get you, the sheer force of gravity will.
“[I]f 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,” they say.
But oh no, it gets even worse:
“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.”
More on that beautiful scenario here:
5. Digging a hole through Earth and jumping in
When life gets you down, and all you want to do is jump into a giant, hypothetical hole drilled all the way through our planet, maybe rethink that for a second, because it’d be the most nope-filled 42 minutes of your (soon-to-be-extinguished) existence.
“From a point in North America, the surface of Earth is moving to the east at a few hundred miles per hour (around 400 km/h). The centre of Earth is not. So if you fall into an evacuated hole, you have to slow down by 800 miles per hour (1,287 km/h) by rubbing along the wall. Not good!”
The pair say you can avoid some serious carpet burn-style trauma by digging your suicide hole from pole to pole.
“The next problem is that it gets hot as you go down, the center of Earth is hotter than the surface of the Sun, so you’d cook. You are going to need a refrigerated, impossibly well-insulated suit,” they advise.
“And indeed, you’ll need to remove the air in the tube. The pressure and density of the air start out doubling every 15,000 feet of depth (4.8 km) so after 10 doublings at 15,000 feet and 30 miles (48 km) the air is as dense as water, and you sink no further.”
Doherty and Cassidy just wrote a book together called, And Then You’re Dead: What Really Happens If You Get Swallowed by a Whale, Are Shot from a Cannon, or Go Barreling over Niagara, so check that out for more ghoulishness.
And here’s that damn hole again: