One hears epic accounts of human being surviving bullets come the brain, 10-story freefalls or month stranded at sea. However put a human everywhere in the known universe except for the thin shell of room that expand a pair of miles above or below sea level on Earth, and also we perish in ~ minutes. As strong and sturdy as the human body seems in part situations, considered in the context of the cosmos together a whole, it"s unnervingly fragile.

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Many of the boundaries within which a typical human can survive have been completely established; the well-known"rule of threes" dictates exactly how long we can forgo air, water and also food (roughly three minutes, 3 days and also three weeks, respectively). Other borders are an ext speculative, because people have seldom, if ever, experiment them. Because that example, exactly how long can you remain awake before you die? how high in altitude can you climb prior to suffocating? how much acceleration can your human body withstand before it rips apart?

Experiments end the years — part intentional, others inadvertently — have actually helped stake the end the domain within which we, literally, live.

How long can we continue to be awake?


Air force pilots have been known to become so delirious after 3 or four days that sleep deprivation the they crash your planes (having collapse asleep). Even a single all-nighter impairs control abilities as much as gift drunk. The pure longest anyone has actually voluntarily stayed awake before nodding turn off is 264 hours (about 11 days) — a record set by 17-year-old Randy Gardner for a high-school scientific research fair task in 1965. Before falling sleep on work 11, that was basically a vegetable v its eyes open.


But in ~ what allude would he have actually died?

In June, a 26-year-old Chinese guy reportedly passed away 11 days right into a sleepless attempt to clock every video game of the europe Cup. Yet he was also drinking alcohol and smoking throughout, make it challenging to ascertain his reason of death. No human being has ever definitively died from lack of sleep alone, and also for apparent ethical reasons, researchers can"t uncover the breaking suggest in the lab.


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Rat sleep deprivation experiment. (Image credit: an imaginative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 share Jean-Etienne Poirrier)

They"ve done it v rats, however. In 1999, sleep researcher at the college of Chicago put rats on a rotating key positioned over a swimming pool of water, and also continuously videotaped the rats" brainwaves v a computer program that might recognize the onset of sleep. Once the rats nodded off, the bowl was suddenly rotated to store them awake by bumping them versus the wall surface and threaten to knock them into the water. The rats consistently passed away after 2 weeks of this misery. Before perishing, the rodents proved symptoms that hypermetabolism, a problem in i beg your pardon the body"s resting metabolic rate accelerates so lot that that burns too much calories even while fully still. Hypermetabolism has actually been bound to absence of sleep.


How much radiation have the right to we absorb?

Radiation poses a permanent danger because it mutates DNA, rewriting the hereditary code in means that have the right to lead come cancerous development of cells. However how much radiation will strike girlfriend dead appropriate away? according to Peter Caracappa, a atom engineer and radiation security specialist at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, 5 and also 6 Sieverts (Sv) over the course of a couple of minutes will shred up too countless cells for your body to deal with at once. "The longer the time period over which the sheep is accumulated, the higher that selection would be, since the body functions to repair itself over the time together well," Caracappa called Life"s small Mysteries.

As a point of comparison, some workers at Japan"s Fukushima atom plant soaked up 0.4 come 1 Sv the radiation every hour while competing with the nuclear disaster last March. Back they endured in the quick term, their lifetime cancer hazard increased, scientists have said.

Even if one steers clear of atom disasters and also supernova explosions, the organic background radiation we all experience on earth (from sources prefer uranium in the soil, cosmic rays and medical devices) boosts our chance of emerging cancer in a given year by 0.025 percent, Caracappa said. This set a bizarre upper limit ~ above the human life span.

"An average human being … receiving an median background radiation dose each year over 4,000 years, in the lack of all various other influences, would be fairly assured that contracting a radiation-induced cancer," Caracappa said. In short, also if us eventually control to eradicate all an illness and switch turn off the genetic commands that tell our body to age, difficult luck: us will never live past period 4,000.

How much have the right to we accelerate?

The rib cage protects our heart from a hard thump, however it"s flimsy security versus the type of jostling that technology has made possible today. Just how much acceleration deserve to our organs tolerate?

NASA and also military researchers have actually made strides in comment that concern for the purposes of for sure spacecraft and also aircraft design. (You don"t desire astronauts blacking out throughout liftoff.) Lateral acceleration — jerking come the next — go a number on our insides because of the asymmetry that the forces. According to a recent write-up in renowned Science, 14 Gs the lateral acceleration have the right to tear her organs loose from one another. Head-to-foot motion, meanwhile, plunges every the blood come the feet. Between 4 and 8 longitudinal Gs will certainly knock friend out. (A pressure of 1 G is the normal force of gravity us feel here on terra firma, while 14 Gs equals the pull of a earth 14 times as massive.)

Forward or behind acceleration appears to go easiest on the body, because they enable the head and heart to advice together. Army experiments in the 1940s and also 1950s v a "human decelerator," basically a rocket sled the zipped ago and forth across Edwards Air force base in California, suggest we have the right to slow down at a rate of 45 Gs, or the tantamount of the gravity of 45 Earths, and also still live come talk about it. At that rate, you sluggish from 630 miles every hour come 0 mph in fountain of a second over a few hundred feet. We most likely turn right into a bag that spare parts up roughly 50 Gs, researcher estimate.

What environmental transforms can us handle?

Individuals vary substantially in how well lock tolerate departures from normal atmospheric conditions, whether this are alters in temperature, push or oxygen contents of the air. Limit of survival additionally depend on how slowly ecological changes collection in, since the body can gradually change its oxygen usage and metabolism in response to outside conditions. But some rough estimates of our breaking points have the right to be made.

Most people will experience hyperthermia after ~ 10 minute in incredibly humid, 140-degree-Fahrenheit (60-degrees-Celsius)heat. Fatality by cold is harder to delimit. A human usually expires once their human body temperature drops come 70 levels F (21 degrees C), however how long this take away to take place depends on just how "used come the cold" a human is, and whether a mysterious, latent form of hibernation sets in, which has been well-known to happen.

The limits of survive are far better established for long-term comfort. According to a 1958 NASA report, civilization can live indefinitely in settings that range between roughly 40 levels F and 95 degrees F (4 and also 35 degrees C), if the last temperature occurs at no more than 50 percent relative humidity. The maximum temperature pushes upward as soon as it"s less humid, due to the fact that lower water content in the air provides it simpler to sweat, and thus, store cool.

As attested come by any kind of sci-fi movie in i beg your pardon an astronaut"s helmet pops off exterior the spacecraft, we don"t fare too well v abnormal oxygen or push levels. In ~ atmospheric pressure, air consists of 21 percent oxygen. We die of anoxia when that concentration drops past 11 percent. Too lot oxygen likewise kills, by slowly causing inflammation of the lungs end the food of a couple of days.

We happen out when the push drops listed below 57 percent of atmospheric push — identical to the at an altitude that 15,000 feet (4,572 meters). Climbers can push greater because they gradually acclimate your bodies come the drop in oxygen, yet no one survives long without one oxygen tank over 26,000 feet (7925 m).

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That"s about 5 miles (8 kilometers) up. The sheet of the known universe lies some 46 exchange rate light-years farther afield.