Bad Astronomy
The entire universe in blog form
Jan. 3 2008 2:00 PM


I have superpowers.

Phil Plait Phil Plait

Phil Plait writes Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog and is an astronomer, public speaker, science evangelizer, and author of Death From the Skies!  


I have several, in fact. Powers, abilities, that no mere mortal can have.

For example, I have the uncanny ability to tell when objects are level. When we hang pictures, shelves, posters; when we assemble furniture; when we plant trees: I can always tell if something is not horizontal or vertical, even to a tiny degree. Mrs. BA can back me up on this (and on the other powers below as well). I am at least as accurate as a bubble level, and even better if the walls and ceiling aren't square.

This turns out to be an extremely useful superpower when you move into a new house. I call this power orthogonoptica.

I also have lithophalangea: extremely hard fingertips. When most people tap their fingertips on a hard surface, they make a muted, somewhat soft sound. Mine go plonk. I do not have soft pads on the ends of my fingers; whatever is directly under the skin is quite hard. It's not bone; the tips of my distal phalanges are somewhat deeper.


It creeps some people out (as most superpowers do; obviously out of jealousy), but it is another very useful trait. Knocking on doors doesn't hurt my knuckles, since I use my fingertips. I can push my fingers through thick plastic bags to open them. When I poke someone, they know it.

Coupled with this I also have very strong fingers, but little stamina. I can grip something very tightly, but cannot maintain it long.

Every power has its kryptonite.

I have a third superpower, transnosmia: the ability to transfer my own odors to my clothes. After a long summer's day working outside (OK, that happens once a year, but stay with me here) I build up a good sweat like anyone else. But unlike anyone else, I take my shirt off, and while it can be quite malodorous, I myself am fresh and odorless. Again, Mrs. BA will confirm this. She actually sniffed me once, and the look on her face was a wonderment to behold. She really didn't smell anything from me at all.


A fourth, and related superpower, is my hypernosmia. I have a very sensitive nose. Of course, my nose is rather on the largish side, so that means more surface area inside and more room for detecting scent molecules (esters and such). This is a blessing and a curse; I can smell baking bread a long way off, and when Mrs. BA is making cookies, oh my! But it makes public restrooms even more of a difficult task to use. I'm sure you can imagine many other examples.

Another advantage is that I think I taste things more strongly than most people do. That's difficult to test, of course, but some tastes just explode on my tongue while others claim it's not that strong. I think this is why I'm such an enthusiastic eater, and why I like strong taste sensations like very sour fruit.

Looking back on these, none of the abilities I possess will help me save people from a burning building (unless I smell the fire from far away and use my fingertips to punch through bricks) or defend the Earth against some cosmic threat.

But do not deny they are superpowers, foolish mortals.

Now I must point out that if I, an otherwise ordinary but in some ways gifted human, can have such powers, then odds are good you have some too. Feel free to expound thusly in the comments. We'll all be interested in seeing how BABloggees are superior in some way. And if you are somehow affiliated with a comic book publisher, please contact me. I have an idea for a wonderful franchise.