Heymatt: When we went to the moon and planted the American flag there, did we claim the moon for us? Who owns the moon, or maybe Mars? We’re messing around there, too. Can I buy some vacation land on Mars and build a little cabin there? — Anonymous, via email
And now that we believe there’s water on Mars and the moon, maybe you can find some lakefront acreage and bring your canoe. Great fun for the kiddies. Yeah, great fun. You will probably have to wrestle with the U.N. and a few other agencies that will tell you you’re out of luck, but what the heck... There’s a man in Nevada who’s ignored all that and will be more than happy to sell you an acre of moon for about $50. But first the law, such as it is.
As soon as the U.S. and Russia started shooting things into space, the U.N. decided they’d better think ahead and stop a lunar land-rush with a proclamation or two. In 1969 they wrote the Outer Space Treaty that prohibits any country from claiming any space bodies, the moon and planets included. One hundred U.N. members ratified it, including the U.S. As space research progressed, the 1979 Moon Agreement detailed the handling of space resources or the building of Plutonian hotels, Martian mines, and the like. Only 13 countries have signed this, the U.S. not included. This might give you a clue as to most countries’ intentions for space. Moon malls, anyone? But officially, on paper, the answer to who owns the moon is: nobody. And if you want to check up on exactly what they mean by “nobody,” there’s even an International Institute of Space Law in the Netherlands.
Balderdash! said Dennis Hope, a Nevadan with big dreams, head of the Lunar Embassy Corporation. He drove his dune buggy through what he saw as a loophole in the original treaty that he says only applies to countries. Nothing said about individuals owning a piece of space. In 1980 he wrote to the U.N. saying he was claiming the moon as his own. He got no reply; and, figuring that no news was good news, he set about selling acres of moon land for about $50 each. The mineral value of an acre is in the millions, he claims. He has sales reps around the world, and so far he’s sold about 3.7 million plots. He’ll send you deeds and maps and all the official paperwork that applies to a land sale, so I’m sure all 3.7 million people sleep well at night knowing their children’s futures are secure.
His whole scheme is a little like the guy who will name a star after you or your favorite friend, relative, whoever. You send him $60 or so and the applicable name, and he’ll send you a chart with astronomical coordinates showing where your star is. Then he registers it with the copyright office, and you’re set. Of course astronomers don’t suddenly start talking about having seen the new red giant Jessica or Suzie rising over the horizon at noon. But no harm, no foul, no laws broken. You’re happy, star guy is happy. And Aunt Jessica can spend her spare time with a telescope trying to find her star amid all the billions of bright dots in space.
To Whom It May Concern: Why can the smell of popped popcorn be smelled farther away than any other food? Is there a fact behind this question, or is it just a phenomenon? — J.S., San Diego
Oh, there are facts everywhere. The place is crawling with them. They’re even in the smell of popcorn, along with a little hucksterism. For something to produce a smell, the odor molecules have to vaporize. The faster they are dispersed, the stronger the smell. And the warmer and moister the environment, the more a scent will linger. So, popcorn has a lot going for it, smell-wise. Corn pops when the water inside the kernel turns to steam and explodes the seed coat. Popcorn is a crowd-pleasing stinkfest.
If you’re thinking about popcorn smell in a movie theater or store, consider that long ago chemists devised a fake popcorn smell that needs only heat to release it. Add a fan and a ventilation system, and you have a flood of eager buyers from around the neighborhood. Chemists can fake pretty much any smell you’d like. Consider these applications: a scratch-and-sniff gunpowder magazine ad; male-sweat-scented bills from a collection agency (increased on-time payments by 17 percent); new-car smell in a bank’s loan brochure (new car smell: a combination of volatile chemicals and plastics — benzene, acetone, styrene…); old-fashioned home-cooking smell in any food designed to be microwaved. A Chicago scent lab tested smells to see which got men hottest. Eau de JLo? No! Cinnamon buns, by a landslide. Pure erotica.