Cyanogen

The critical thinking question to be addressed: in 1910, the Earth passed through the tail of Halley’s Comet. The molecule cyanogen was discovered with spectroscopy of the comet. The lead paragraph from an article in the New York Times of 1910 February 8 is in the box to the right.
Cyanogen is a deadly poison.
1.What is cyanogen? Please do not repeat the sentence above. Describe its basic properties.
2.Why would cyanogen be found in a comet? How might it have formed in the comet?
3.A paragraph a bit lower in the article mentions the astronomer Camille Flammarion and his opinion that the comet could `snuff out all life on the planet’ (= Earth). Who was Flammarion and how would he arrive at this conclusion?
4. Assume the Earth did pass directly through the tail in1910. Estimate the amount of cyanogen in the tail and the amount that would be distributed on the Earth. Write down how you made your estimate.
5. Did Flammarion blow the impact out of proportion? Why or why not?
6. Choose one topic from current headlines that you deem is similar to the cyanogen scare. What is the topic, why is it similar, and what lessons are there between 1910 and today?
7. Summarize your results, in writing, in a short essay: about 3-4 paragraphs should be about the right length. Summarize the properties of cyanogen, why it would appear in a comet, how it may have formed, why Flammarion would expect life to `snuffed out’, and your estimate for the amount of cyanogen in the tail as well as the amount reaching the ground. Include a comment on Flammarion’s assessment.

 

 

Sample Solution

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