How fast do you actually die?

And more recent highlights from the Ideas blog


Writing for the Science website io9, George Dvorsky talks to neuroscientist David Eagleman about sudden death. If you were to die suddenly—in a car accident, say—would you feel it? It turns out that the answer is probably not: Our awareness of our surroundings is fast, but the physical forces unleashed in an accident can be faster. Dvorsky explains it this way:

Take the anatomy of a car accident....At the 1 [millisecond] mark, the car’s pressure sensor detects a collision, and at 8.5 ms the airbag system fires. At the 15 ms mark, the car starts to absorb the impact to a significant degree. It’s not until the 17 ms mark that the occupant starts to make contact with the airbag, with the maximum force of the collision reaching its apex at the 30 ms point. At the 50 ms mark, the safety cell begins to rebound, and after 70 ms the passenger moves back towards the middle of [the] car—the point at which crash-test engineers declare the event as “complete.”...And then, around the 150 to 300 ms mark, the occupant finally becomes aware of the collision.

Johnson Space Flight Center

One of the stranger discoveries made by neuroscientists is that we’re always living a few hundred milliseconds in the past. Here’s a situation in which that’s a good thing.

Space, the long view


Lots of us experiment with our cameras, using long nighttime exposures to take “star trail” photos. Now NASA astronaut Don Pettit has found a way to go one better: He’s taken a series of long-exposure photographs from the International Space Station. They show not just star trails, but “city trails,” too, along with the occasional aurora. Each photo condenses around 10 minutes of stellar and urban light.

Joshua Rothman is an Ideas columnist. He can be reached at