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107
Stories About Chemistry

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16.  "Ice, Not Yet Firm, on the Cold Little River. . ."

   In 1913 news of a grave tragedy spread all over the world. The huge ocean liner "Titanic" ran into an iceberg and sank. Experts gave various reasons for the catastrophe. It was said that owing to a fog the captain could not see the immense floating mountain of ice in time, and the ship collided with it and so perished.

   If we consider this tragic event from the standpoint of a chemist, we come to a quite unexpected conclusion: the Titanic fell victim to another anomaly of water. Frightful mountains of ice - icebergs - float like cork on the surface of water, though these mountains weigh tens of thousands of tons. This is possible only because ice is lighter than water.

   Try melting any metal and throwing a piece of the solid metal into the liquid: it will sink immediately. The density of any substance in the solid state is higher than in the liquid.

   Ice and water are an astonishing exception to this rule. But were it not for this exception, all the bodies of water in the middle latitudes would soon freeze in winter right down to the bottom and
all living things in them would perish.

   Remember Nekrasov's poem (translated by Juliet M. Soskice):

"Ice, not yet firm, on the cold little river
Like melting sugar, in patches is spread."






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