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The Daily Cardinal Est. 1892
Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Ask Ms. Scientist: Outer space rainbows and spicy food

Do rainbows occur on other plants?

Jess W.

Before answering this question, it is important to note what a rainbow is and what causes it. A rainbow is the reflection of light off many water droplets after it rains. When light from the sun shines through the raindrops, it reflects a multi-colored arch. The arch represents all the colors we can see in the light spectrum. Since rainbows are caused by rain water and light, you won’t ever see a rainbow on another planet. This is because no planet has enough liquid water on the surface to cause rain. With no rain, there is nothing for the sunlight to reflect off of. However, Saturn’s moon Titan has a lot of liquid methane, which causes a sort of “methane-rain”. The sunlight reaching Titan is hazy, but if it did produce a rainbow, it would look very similar to the rainbows we see here on earth.

What makes spicy food “hot”?

Lindsay P.

You know right away when you bite into a chili pepper. Your eyes start watering, your nose starts running, and suddenly your tongue feels like it’s on fire. That burning sensation, which some of us love to torture ourselves with, comes from a chemical in spicy food called capsaicin. Capsaicin is actually a defense mechanism of spicy plants designed to ward off any would-be herbivores. In humans, capsaicin tries to ward us off by accidentally binding to heat-detecting receptors in our mouths. So, when we eat spicy food, the capsaicin tricks the heat-detecting receptors into telling us that this food is burning hot, even if it’s physically not, giving us the illusion of “hotness.” As for the other side effects of eating spicy food, like runny noses or watering eyes, those are because capsaicin also has inflammatory effects on our noses and eyes.  

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