An Ode to Air

Air, one of two life sustaining elements on Earth; water the other, two opposing bodies of molecular beauty. They are as the singing song bird is to the ear and yet they comingle and set out to destroy both rock and rod.

On the whole of it, molecules of water and molecules of air are the most abundant substances on the planet, though their total volumes are finite.  Trillions upon trillions of microscopic particles packed together; oxygen, hydrogen, helium and a host of other exotic elements, all make up the wall that is water and wind.

It has been said that with every breath you take, you are partaking in at least a molecule or two of Julius Caesar’s last breath.  This idea first brought to the fore by Enrico Fermi, renowned physicist and Nobel laureate, and one of the scientists to work closely with J. Robert Oppenheimer on the Manhattan Project, both often referred to as the fathers of the nuclear age.

The actual calculations that prove the above to be true are thus: Assuming Julius Caesar’s last breath was one litre of air it would have consisted of about 1022 molecules. As he died a long time ago and the air has been all mixed up since then, and atoms don’t go away, those molecules are assumed to have been evenly spread throughout the entire Earth’s atmosphere, a total of about 5.1×1018Kg of air, a total of somewhere around 1044 molecules. The conclusion, if atmospheric mixing is perfect and the majority of the oxygen in our bodies ultimately comes from the atmosphere (possibly via plants and animals that we eat – possibly by breathing) – then there are half a million oxygen atoms of Caesar’s last breath in each of our bodies.

And still they amaze the mind.  These molecules, of air and of water, they hold the power to sustain life and to destroy it.  One must imbibe both water and air to remain among the living, but too much of either and even the strongest stone will wash away, and the most virile man will wither and die.  When molecules of air band together and push all in one direction, a wind do we see.  When their temperature varies by enough of a degree, a storm do we get.  Even the force of a hurricane is still just molecules of air, all moving in one direction, with enough of their friends in tow.

When you feel a cooling breeze on a hot summer day, you are quite literally being bombarded by tiny particles of air.  And when you feel the bite of strong winter wind, again are you assailed by they air around you; and thus is the chaotic nature of air current. This mixture of air around the globe is as the flapping of butterfly wings is to the patterns of weather a world away.

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