0767908171 A short history of nearly everything by Bill Bryson. Broadway books, ?location 2003-05, hardcover, 560 pages.

Chapter Page Line Errata and corrigenda Correction
1 How to Build a Universe 27 5 "Protons are so small that a little dib of ink like the dot on this ‘i’ can hold something in the region of 500,000,000,000 of them…" The proton radius is 0.88 femtometers, so 5×1011 protons packed tightly on a line would stretch for 0.88 mm. However, the dot on the ‘i’ is not an 1.76 fm wide line, and so contains many more protons: something on the order of 1018, even when packaged in atoms 105 times as large as protons.
1 How to Build a Universe 27 7 "… 500,000,000,000 of them, rather more than the number of seconds contained in half a million years. One year = 31,536,000 seconds. 500,000,000,000 thus equals to roundabout 16000 years only!
1 How to Build a Universe 35 7 "… converts seven one thousandths of its mass to energy. Lower that value very slightly — from 0.07 per cent to 0.06per cent…" 7/1000 equals 0.7%. The fusion of 4 protons to form one helium nucleus converts 0.72% of the mass to energy.
2 Welcome to the Solar System 43 1 "…it is so variable in its motions that no one can tell you exactly where Pluto will be a century hence." Pluto's orbit is indeed chaotic, but on a timescale of longer than 10 million years. Its location in 100 years is perfectly predictable.
2 Welcome to the Solar System 44 19 [the two Voyager spacecraft used] a ‘gravity assist’ technique in which the craft were successively flung from one gassy giant to the next in a kind of cosmic version of ‘crack the whip.’ Even so, it took them nine years to reach Uranus and a dozen to cross the orbit of Pluto. true only for Voyager 2, Voyager 1 flew by Jupiter and Saturn only, after which its trajectory took it out of the plane of the ecliptic. It therefore never reached Uranus, nor did it cross the orbit of Pluto. [1]
2 Welcome to the Solar System 45 15 "On a diagram of the solar system to scale, with Earth reduced to about the diameter of a pea, Jupiter would be over a thousand feet away and Pluto would be a mile and a half distant (and about the size of a bacterium, so you wouldn't be able to see it anyway)." If the Earth were the size of a pea - 7.5mm - then Pluto would be 1.3mm, perfectly visible and 1,000 times the size of a typical bacterium.
2 Welcome to the Solar System 45 21 "Even if you shrank down everything so that Jupiter was as small as the period at the end of this sentence, and Pluto was no bigger than a molecule, Pluto would still be over thirty-five feet away." Same mistake: on this scale, Pluto would be about 5 μm in diameter — invisibly small, but still a thousand times larger than molecular scale.
2 Welcome to the Solar System 48 35 " … under Drake’s equation you divide the number of stars in a selected portion of the universe by the number of stars that are likely to have planetary systems; divide that by the number of planetary systems that could theoretically support life; divide that by the number on which life, having arisen, advances to a state of intelligence; and so on. At each such division, the number shrinks colossally—yet even with the most conservative inputs the number of advanced civilizations just in the Milky Way always works out to be somewhere in the millions." Drakes original result was 50 000, and his current estimate is 10 000. [15]
3 The Reverend Evan's Universe ? ? [the red giant star Betelgeuse is] fifty thousand light years away 430 +/- 130 light-years. [2]
4 The Measure of Things ? ? Says that the last noble gas was discovered 1962. Radon, the last noble gas to be discovered, was discovered as "emanations" from radium by Curie and from thorium by Rutherford in 1899, which was confirmed by Dorn in 1900. Emanations from actinium was observed in 1903. In 1904 Ramsay suspected that the radioactive gas was a noble gas and he isolated the radium emanation in 1908 together with Gray, determined that it was 111 times heavier than hydrogen (H2) and gave it the name niton (Nt) which was accepted in 1912. In 1923 the isotopes were named radon (Rn), actinon (An) and thoron (Tn) - i.e. emanation from radium, actinium and thorium respectively (note that although that Soddy proposed the existence of different isotopes of an element in 1912, isotopes were not fully understood until much later [i.e. after the discovery of the neutron in 1932]). There was still confusion about the name up into the 1960s, but that was only a question of naming, not of discovery. [12]
5 The Stone-Breakers ? ? Description of Great Devonian Controversy The dispute was primarily between Henry T. De la Beche and Roderick I. Murchison. De la Beche claimed that petrified plants found in coals in Devon Greywacke date it to Carboniferous period, while Murchison dated it to the Silurian period. After some investigation the issue was resolved in the early 1840s by inserting a new period, Devonian, between Carboniferous and Silurian ones.
8 Einstein's Universe ? ? It occurred to Michelson that for half of the year the Earth is travelling towards the Sun and for half of the year it is travelling away from it, Michelson was interested in the motion of the Earth relative to the ether, particularly the orbital velocity of the Earth in its orbit around the sun, and not the relatively minor motion towards or away from the sun (i.e. arising from the ellipticity of the Earth's orbit). The point is that in opposite seasons the Earth is travelling in opposite directions relative to the stars, and not that it is travelling towards or away from the sun.
9 The Mighty Atom 175 21 "At sea level, at a temperature of 0 degrees Celcius, one cubic centimeter of air […] will contain 45 billion billion molecules." Dividing Avogadro's constant by the molar volume tells us that there are just 27×1018 molecules in that cubic centimeter of air.
9 The Mighty Atom ? ? [atoms] are also fantastically durable. Because they are so long lived, atoms really get around. Every atom you possess has almost certainly passed through several stars and been part of millions of organisms on its way to becoming you. We are each so atomically numerous and so vigorously recycled at death that a significant number of our atoms – up to a billion for each us, it has been suggested – probably once belonged to Shakespeare. "the nuclei of every atom you possess has most likely passed through several stars" "Jupiter Scientific has done an analysis of this problem and the figure in Bryon's book is probably low: It is likely that each of us has about 200 billion atoms that were once in Shakespeare's body." [3]
11 Muster Mark's Quarks 207 23 "Fears have been raised that […] scientists might inadvertently create […] something called 'strange quarks', which could, theoretically, interact with other subatomic particles and propagate uncontrollably." Strange quarks were discovered in 1968, are routinely produced in accelerators, and appear all over nature in high-energy processes. Bryson means strangelets.
11 Muster Mark's Quarks 207 21 "… a single electron can do 47,000 laps around a 7-kilometer tunnel in under a second." That would make the electrons' speed more than 329000 km/s, or 10% faster than the speed of light. Bryson is probably referring to the 6.9 km long Super Proton Synchrotron tunnel, although, as the name indicates, that machine accelerates protons not electrons. The protons complete about 43000 laps per second.
11 Muster Mark's Quarks 207 33 "Even the most sluggish of unstable particles hang around for no more than 0.0000001 of a second (10−7 seconds)." No particle has a mean lifetime close to 10−7 seconds. Muons live 22 times as long (2.2 μs), and many times longer still in high-energy reactions due to time dilation. Free neutrons have a mean lifetime of about a quarter of an hour.
13 Bang! ? ? Radiating outward [from the huge asteroid striking Earth]] at almost the speed of light would be the initial shock wave, sweeping everything before it. […] Within an hour, a cloud of blackness would cover the planet both the shock wave and the cloud would be travelling much slower [3]
14 Dangerous planet 270 ? rocks are viscous, but only in the same way that glass is. It may not look it, but all the glass on Earth is flowing downward under the relentless drag of gravity. Remove a pane of really old glass from the window of a European cathedral and it will be noticeably thicker at the bottom than at the top The flow is not visible to the naked eye after such a short period. [4] The reason glass in old windows is sometimes thicker at the bottom than at the top is because of the way the glass was made. Usually using the Crown Glass process. This resulted in an uneven pane of glass; when it came to fitting the glass in the lead frame the person doing it chose to put the thickest part at the bottom (for obvious reasons, it would stand up better) Sometimes however they would put the glass in the wrong way up and there are examples of panes being thicker at the top or at the side. [10] Also, Roman, Chinese and Egyptian glass artifacts that predate medieval stained glass by centuries show no evidence of deformation due to any type of 'flow' effect
14 Dangerous planet 273 ? Space is full of dangerous cosmic rays which, in the absence of magnetic protection, would tear through our bodies, leaving much of our DNA in useless shreds. The charged particles that are deflected by the magnetic field would, in the absence of that field, not reach Earth's surface, they would be blocked by the atmosphere. Failure of the magnetic field would only increase the radiation that satelites in low earth orbit and astronauts experience. However, there are some indirect dangers. Heavy charged particle bombardment of the atmosphere could cause depletion of the ozone layer (but if this effect in the absence of the magnetic field would be large enough to be dangerous I do not know). Second, if the Earth's magnetic field would be absent for millions of years, the radiation could slowly strip the planet's atmosphere away, as is thought to have happened to Mars [13],[14].
16 Lonely Planet ? ? It is thought that our entire planet may contain, at any given moment, fewer than twenty francium atoms. There is probably as much as 20-30g (an ounce) in the earth's crust alone. [11]
17 Into the Troposhere ? ? It is suggested that Leon-Philippe Teisserenc de Bort in 1902 personally ascended in a balloon to high altitudes to discover the tropopauze. Bort actually used unmanned balloons, which is an area of science he pioneered in. [7],[8]
17 Into the Troposhere ? ? The temperature drops about 1.6 degrees Celsius with every 1,000 metres you climb. May be confusion with air temperature and dewpoint here. Air temperature actually drops 9.8 degrees C for each 1,000 metres of altitude. Dewpoint drops about 1.8 degrees C for each 1,000 metres of altitude.
17 Into the Troposhere 321 25 The Earth revolves [at] … about 900 km/h in London or Paris. The Earth’s rotation speed is 1674, 1102, and 1042 km/h at the latitude of the equator, Paris, and London, respectively.
18 The Bounding Main ? ? [ambergris is derived from the giant squid]] is produced by the sperm whale, possibly as an aid in digestion of hard items such as squid beaks. [5]
21 Life Goes On 312? ? [still mysterious Permian extinction 300,000 or so centuries later] Should read "3,000,000 or so centuries later". Later in the paragraph, he indicates that this was 300 million years. 300,000 centuries is only 30 million years.
24 Cells ? ? [10000 trillion cells after 47 divisions] Two rised to 47 gives only 140 trillion.
24 Cells ? ? [ten-thousand trillion cells in the human body] about 50 trillion [3]
26 The stuff of life ? ? Thiamine [sic] [(Vitamin B1) one of the four DNA bases] Thymine one of the four DNA bases and not Vitamin B1 (Thiamine) [6]
26 The stuff of life ? ? [Guanine -> Guano] Guano has given name to Guanine, not the other way round. [9]
28 The Mysterious Biped ? ? [The chimp and man share 99.99999% of their history] This means that have only been separated for 1/10000000 of their time as organisms. As life has existed for some three billion years, this would mean only 300 years. The correct figure should be something like 99.8%.

[1] (2010-10-18) Planetary Voyage
[2] Why use the Hipparcos/Tycho data?
[3] staff of Jupiter Scientific (2004) A book review of A short history of nearly everything.
[4] Gibbs, Philip. (2007-05/06) Glass Worldwide, pp 14-18
[5] Is it true that a substance known as ambergris comes from whales?
[6] Ophardt, Charles C. The virtual Chembook: Organic and biochemistry: DNA and RNA introduction. 2003. Retrieved on 2008-07-09. "A major difference between DNA and RNA is that DNA contains thymine, but not uracil, while RNA contains uracil but not thymine. The other three heterocyclic amines, adenine, guanine, and cytosine are found in both DNA and RNA."
[7] “Sur les caractères de la température dans l’atmosphère libre au-dessus de 10 kilomètres“ (1904) Conférence météorologique de Saint-Pétersbourg.
[8] Mascart, Jean (1913) “L’étude de la haute atmosphère et les travaux de Léon Teisserenc de Bort“, La Nature, pp. 296-300.
[9] guanine, Dictionary.com
[10] Kruszelnicki, Karl S. "Glass flows"
[11] Orozco, Luis A. (2003) "Francium"
[12] Radon, Elementymology & elements multidict
[13] Luhmann, J. G.; Johnson, R. E.; Zhang, M. H. G. (1992). "Evolutionary impact of sputtering of the Martian atmosphere by O+ pickup ions". Geophysical Research Letters 19 (21): 2151–2154. Bibcode:1992GeoRL..19.2151L. doi:10.1029/92GL02485.
[14] Shlermeler, Quirin (3 March 2005). "Solar wind hammers the ozone layer". News@nature. doi:10.1038/news050228-12.
[15] See interview with Drake in the documentary The Search For Life: The Drake Equation. (2010).

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