Sunday, February 19, 2006

Cow Bombs

There is an urban legend connected with the idea of an exploding cow. One minute it's there mooing and chewing. The next moment, a firestorm of tenderloin and brisket bits, covering fields with goop for blocks.

How could a cow explode? Methane. The speculation is that it's possible that the methane rich flatuence of a cow is somehow ignited, resulting in an explosion. A cow produces about 280 liters of methane-rich flatulence each day. Quite a bit of gas, so much so that cows are said to be a threat to the environment for this reason alone. According to an article by the BBC,
Environmental scientist Professor Frank Convery claims cows breaking wind and
belching account for 35% of Ireland's green-house gas emissions. These have been
linked to global climate change.

What's really weird and almost certainly untrue is the belief that people somewhere have inserted a tube into a cow's posterior in order to ignite the gas and in so doing, caused the cow to explode.

Methane (CH4) and hydrogen (H2) are the main flammable ingredients of bovine intestinal gas. The oxidation of one part of methane requires two parts of oxygen. In contrast, burning hydrogen requires much less oxygen:

CH4 + 2O2 → CO2 + 2H2O
2H2 + O2 → 2H2O

The claim is that gas within a cow's intestines, once ignited, could cause a huge explosion resulting in gloppy shards of cow gut shrapnel . This is almost certainly untrue according to people who study such matters.

Which brings up the question, who are people who study such matters? Maybe they are these people.


Pizzat said...

Someone call Mythbusters!

Don't call PETA!

John Lipinski said...

peta? you mean people eating tasty animals, of course. i was pretty surprised that someone would actually go into a theory of an "exploding cow" because it would be pretty hard to ignite the gas, making it explode

Nigel Smites said...

That's how my Unlce Festus died. Apparently as a boyish prank, he accepted the dare by his drunken friends to put a pipette up a cow's arse and to light the effluent with a long fireplace match. So with mineral oil and a tapered pipe Festus inserted the instrument in the wrong hole at first, which caused the beast to get amouruse and excited, but a lac and alas nothing exciting to report other than a q**f. Festus was somewhat nearsighted so bovine anatomy wasn't his strong point. Finally Festus was able to find the anal canal of the creature, and lit the vaporous fuel. Unfortunately the resulting shock wave from the gas was extremely concussive, thus causing poor Festus to fly into a glacial boulder that could not be moved from the pasture. Festus died almost instantly from the fracture in his skull. This happened in Ottawa, Canada. The obituary lists his cause of death from a mining accident to spare the family embarrassment. The rancher was a Jewish man and he suspected interference despite all we could say to defend Festus's honor, so he had the now dead cow burned in a bonfire in conformance to Jewish law in order to prevent moral contamination, should someone try to eat the meat. It is only now that I am able to tell the story. Requiat in Pace, Uncle Festus. We miss you.