MacGyver Science: Eclipse + USMC-1856707 + Step Potential + Chain Lock + Ma

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Photo: Rhett Allain

Season 5 Episode 3

Solar Filter for a Telescope

OK, this looks like MacGyver is going to do some damage. He’s out in a field with his telescope (which he named) with the intention of looking at the solar eclipse. Just some quick comments about a solar eclipse.

  • A solar eclipse is when the moon’s shadow falls onto the surface of the Earth. The size of the shadow changes with each eclipse, but it’s smaller than the Earth. Don’t confuse this with a lunar eclipse — where the Earth’s shadow falls on the moon.

Wait. You don’t see the filter on MacGyver’s telescope? Well, here are some options for you.

  • He wasn’t even looking at the eclipse. He’s on a mission.

Special Finder Scope

You might have missed this one — it’s super quick. So, the telescope is pointed at the Sun (you know…because of the eclipse). But he is really there to spy on someone.

Just about all telescopes have a finder scope on the side. This is essentially a very small telescope mounted on the side with a wider field of view (less magnification). It helps you aim the telescope without being all zoomed in. For MacGyver’s finder scope, there is a trick. Check it out.

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There is a mirror that he can flip. This makes it look like the finder is still pointed at the Sun, but it’s actually pointing at his target. I like it.


MacGyver’s telescope (named Morty) is a Newtonian type telescope. Here is a

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I’ll go ahead and say it, the telescope is backwards — calm down people. Again, MacGyver probably doesn’t care since it’s not really looking at the eclipse, he’s on the job. Also, it’s normally a bad idea to have a telescope outside during the day. If you accidentally look through it and see the Sun, bad stuff happens. Bad STUFF.

But anyway, a Newtonian telescope is mostly just a tube to hold a mirror. here is the basic design.

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Illustration: Rhett Allain

This diagram shows the main mirror, the secondary mirror and the eyepiece. It doesn’t show the tube that holds it all together.

MacGyver wants to use this telescope tube to make a type of rocket launcher. For the rocket, he uses a fire extinguisher with a flare taped to it. Yes, when all the gas rushes out of the fire extinguisher, it will provide thrust and shoot it out of the tube.

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All he has to do is to remove the two mirrors — should be fairly easy.

Poor Morty.

Paint Chloroform

Don’t make chloroform, but someone did. That’s all I’m going to say about that.

DIY Radio Jammer

So, the old dude (Eric Andrews) has some type of radio transmitter in his tooth. Yes, this would be pretty tough to do in real life — but that’s fine. I guess the best option would be some type of RFID chip. This has some type of no-power or low-power tag that gets activated by an external radio signal. It’s mostly short range, but it’s possible that it can be used for tracking if you have a high intensity beam that can activate and detect from a distance.

Since MacGyver doesn’t want to pull the tooth, he makes a jammer.

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The idea of a jammer is to send out radio signals to overpower the tooth-signal. This jammer uses a CB radio as the transmitter and a guitar pickups to match the frequency from tooth. Oh, you need a battery too.

Downed Power Line

Don’t mess around with a downed power line. There, I’ve said it. Well, Eric Andrews wasn’t paying attention and ran over to this live wire.

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I can imagine what happened before this scene. Some people were working on the power for the building and broke a line. Oh, but it’s lunch time — they don’t want to fix it right now. Someone just said “oh hey, let’s put up a sign — that should be good enough”.

But anyway, what’s the problem here? In short, it’s about electric potential. Normally, a power line has two lines for two different potentials (yes, I’m making things very simple here). If one of those lines breaks, it can switch from using two lines at different potential to one line and the ground. The ground can act as a secondary path for the electric current to return to the power source.

So, what does this have to do with humans? If you have two feet at different electric potentials, there is an electric potential difference (often called a voltage) across your body. This can create an electric current running through you — and that’s what causes a shock.

If you only have one foot in contact with the ground, you should be fine. Also, if your feet are close together, the change in electric potential is smaller than if your feet are far apart. That’s why one safety recommendation for downed power lines is to take super tiny steps.

Another way to avoid a shock is to use metal plates. If you have two feet on the same metal sheet, the metal will essentially short out the electric current. Instead of going through your body, the current will go through the metal.

Here is a science demo that shows you how this works.

DIY Paint Fog

Real fog is caused by water vapor that condenses in the air to make super tiny water droplets. If you get air at high pressure to decrease in pressure very rapidly, you can make your own fog. The Physics Girl has a great demonstration of this:

In this case, MacGyver makes it even better by adding paint to the mixture. This increases the amount of “drops” in the air to further increase the fogginess.

Written by

Physics faculty, science blogger of all things geek. Technical Consultant for CBS MacGyver and MythBusters. Former WIRED blogger.

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