Spiking the Honey

Love, ideally, can act as the perfect aphrodisiac in the sense that it can increase libido(sexual desire), pleasure and the proper functioning of male and female sexual organs. But any time something relies on a combination of circumstances, life’s variations will often produce something less than ideal.  If you’re looking to make money and maybe even help people out at the same time, you cannot bottle love. So what can you do? You can take advantage of the fact that for millennia, many cultures have believed that certain natural substances out there can be ingested and act as aphrodisiacs. If the problem is psychological, as long as there’s a strong belief that the substance will work, it will be effective for some people. In other words you’re not relying on some external chemical compound’s ability to enter the body and interact with physiology, but on the body’s own compounds. It’s the placebo effect, which has been shown to be a non-negligent factor in dealing with blood pressure, pain, sleep disorders, etc.

But the problem is there are hundreds of other substances out there that are marketed as love enhancers. How do you make your product stand out? What if you laced the honey with known drugs proven to treat erectile dysfunction? To lower costs, given that you’re not revealing the honey’s hidden contents on the label, you could rely on the jackpot effect—that is, add varying amounts of the drug in different containers . Those who ingest enough will certainly feel something; the rest may benefit from the placebo effect anyway. Bottom line is that from the word of mouth of those who do get aroused, the news that your “natural” product works will mushroom everywhere. Meanwhile, given that the honey is categorized as a food or dietary supplement, the hidden drugs will not be subject to the same approval process and quality standards as prescribed medications. More short-term advantages and benefits to you as a seller, right?

So why not try selling honey as a love potion? It’s a supersaturated solution with only about 18% water. The rest is mostly four sugars, but it also contains about 175 other compounds and minerals, including amino acids, other organic acids, vitamins, enzymes, phenolic compounds and selenium.  People who see honey’s impressive list of ingredients on the internet and who want to believe that it can be an aphrodisiac might think there’s bound to be something in there that will be effective. Besides, they’ll know it’s natural and become prey to a powerful marketing tool.

In reality, this illegal strategy has been used and thankfully exposed last year. In July 2022, the FDA in the United States issued warning letters to four companies (Pleasure Products USA, MKS Enterprise, Shopaax.com and Thirsty Run LLC/US Royal Honey LLC). They illegally sold tainted honey-based products (X Rated Honey for Men, Vital Honey, Royal Honey for Him/Her among others) on both obscure websites and on those of Amazon and Walmart. FDA chemists found that product samples contained unlisted active drug ingredients, including those found in Cialis (tadalafil) and Viagra (sildenafil). One of the sensible reasons the FDA intervened is that these drugs have to be prescribed by a doctor, who will make sure that the patient requesting them is not taking medications that contain nitrates. Angina patients, for example, who are on isosorbide dinitrate (or mononitrate) cannot take Viagra or Cialis. Otherwise tadalafil or sildenafil can combine with nitrates to lower blood pressure to dangerously low levels.

It’s one of many examples where the path of least resistance is not the wisest choice for sellers, as tempting as it may be. 


US Food and Drug Administration. FDA Warns Four Companies for Selling Tainted Honey-based Products with Hidden Active Drug Ingredients. July 12, 2022. https://www.fda.gov/news-events/press-announcements/fda-warns-four-companies-selling-tainted-honey-based-products-hidden-active-drug-ingredients  

Saling, Joseph. What is the Placebo Effect? WebMD  https://www.webmd.com/pain-management/what-is-the-placebo-effect

Cianciosi, Danila and al. Phenolic Compounds in Honey and Their Associated Health Benefits: A Review Molecules. 2018 Sep; 23(9): 2322. https://doi.org/10.3390%2Fmolecules23092322

Melnyk, John P. Marcone , Massimo F. Aphrodisiacs from plant and animal sources—A review of current scientific literature. Food Research International. Volume 44, Issue 4, May 2011, Pages 840-850.  https://doi.org/10.1016/j.foodres.2011.02.043


A Rock Star and A Star’s Random Rocks

In 1970, Brian May, interrupted his PhD studies in astrophysics when his rock band Queen enjoyed success. Eventually he went back to school and completed his degree in 2007. He investigated the radial velocity of stars and later improved public awareness of asteroids by creating Asteroid Day.

There are 1.2 million of them, mostly between Jupiter and Mars. Most of the time they orbit the sun in very slightly elliptical orbits. But occasionally Jupiter’s powerful gravity and other effects disturb some of their orbits, allowing them to approach Earth too closely for comfort. There are currently several large known craters on Earth that have been created by asteroid impacts. The oldest, about 2 billion years old, is Vredefort Crater in South Africa; a much younger one, 35 million years old, is Chesapeake Bay Crater in the USA.

Of course, the most notorious one is Chicxulub Crater in Mexico. That asteroid was about 200 to 300 km in diameter, and it contributed to the demise of large dinosaurs and large marsupials. The survivors of this mass extinction were little placental mammals and the small-sized, close-relatives of the dinosaurs that evolved into today’s mammals and birds, respectively.

A moon or a spacecraft, such as Mission Galileo(1989-2003), allows astronomers to find an asteroid’s mass because of the asteroid’s gravitational effects on the orbit of its small neighbour. Radar gives an idea of size. Divide the two measurements and you get a good estimate of its density. This has led to the recent realization that not all asteroids are of the same composition. We not only have S-type asteroids, which are a mixture of rock and metals such as nickel, iron and magnesium. M-types seem to be entirely made of metal, while C-type asteroids are far less dense because they are probably rich in carbon and water-ice.

A few even have their own moons, like Florence, which has a pair. The Florence-trio came within 4 million miles of the Earth on September 1, 2017. Radar allowed astronomers to detect the two moons. The inner one takes about 8 hours to orbit Florence, while the outer moon’s period is estimated to be in the neighborhood of 22 to 27 hours. Is this consistent with Kepler’s 3rd Law?

Kepler based all of his laws on observations. Newton was the first to make sense of them. Using vector calculus, he showed that the first of Kepler’s laws—that bodies follow an elliptical path—is consistent with his inverse square law. The second law, which reveals that planets and moons sweep equal areas in equal times, is consistent with the conservation of angular momentum. If you have a central gravitational force, there is no torque, and since torque is the rate of change of angular momentum with respect to time, given that the derivative is zero, momentum must be a constant number. If you combine these concepts mathematically, it can be shown that the the square of a moon’s period is proportional to the cube of its semi-major axis. That’s Kepler’s 3rd law.


Using the radar image of Florence and its moons, I did a very rough calculation to see if the measurements are in agreement with Kepler’s 3rd law. I used the period of the inner moon which is known more accurately and set out to calculate the period of the outer moon. Based on the radar image of Florence on my desktop computer, I simply used a ruler to measure each moon’s respective distance from the center of Florence( its parent asteroid, not the city of Galileo’s museum. :)Then, since they orbit the same asteroid, you can use Kepler’s 3rd law to set up a ratio. The gravitational constant, Florence’s mass and the kilometer-to-centimetre-from-the-image ratio, all cancel out, leaving us with:

(x/8.0 hours)2= (20.9cm/9.2cm)3.

x = 27 hours, which is near the upper range of possibilities.

Back to the Moon and Why Its Orbit is Slanted

It’s important, at least periodically, to look at the night sky. It reminds us of basic astronomy and of some of the most noteworthy moments from the history of science.  And, most importantly, it leads to unsolved riddles.

Let’s start with the picture I took last night. It’s a far cry from what you’d get with professional equipment, but given that all I used was a little patience, binoculars on a tripod, and a shutter adjustment on a mirrorless digital camera, it’s not the worst picture of our satellite.

How can you tell that I took the picture soon after moonrise? At our latitude (45oN), at moonrise and for a couple of hours after, the Sea of Crisis is near the 12 o’clock position. Later at night, as the moon continues to move across the sky, that spot moves towards the 2 to 3 o’clock position. What’s really happening is the spherical earth’s rotation changes the perspective-angle we get on the moon. From mid latitudes in the southern hemisphere, given that the moon is “upside down”, the Sea of Crisis is initially at the six o’clock position and moves towards the

8 to 9 o’clock position, as in the following picture from Montevideo, Uruguay (36o S) . The same applies to the constellations. When Orion rises at mid northern latitudes, he on his side before eventually straightening out, with Betelgeuse at the upper left. But from Uruguay, Orion stands on his head, and the unstable red giant is on the lower right.

When both the moon and planets are visible, one observes that more often than not the moon is not exactly aligned with them. In other words, it does not perfectly move along the ecliptic, the way the sun does. It’s inclined to it at about 5o . But the plane of the moon’s orbit does cross does that of the earth’s orbit around the sun, and when it does, only then do we get a lunar eclipse if it’s a full moon, and only when it crosses the plane as a new moon is there a solar eclipse somewhere on Earth.

But why is it inclined? Does it reinforce the giant-impact hypothesis? It proposes that the Moon formed during a collision between the Earth and another small planet, about the size of Mars. The debris from this impact collected in an orbit around the Earth to form the Moon. Jupiter has 80 moons in all , which can be divided into three sets. The first set includes 8 moons, including the four that Galileo called the Medici stars, but which Mayr names Io, Europa, Callisto and Ganymede. By seeing them get eclipsed and then reappear, Galileo was the first to realize that these bodies orbited their parent Jupiter, shattering the Earth-centric view of Aristotelian thought. But he also observed that the moons were in line with the ecliptic. In fact they are also almost not inclined to the plane of Jupiter’s equator. The Galilean moon probably formed at the same time as Jupiter. They did not have the same origin as our moon, whose orbit is inclined. In contrast the 2nd set of Jupiter’s moons, which are believed to have been captured, have orbits that are inclined 25 to 56 degrees to Jupiter’s equator—-far more pronounced than that of our moon.

But such loose parallels can lead our thinking astray. Following the giant impact that eventually led to the formation of the Moon, as long “as the proto-lunar material disaggregated into a disk, the Moon is expected to have accreted within about one degree of the Earth’s equatorial plane.” So our satellite didn’t start off with much of an inclined orbit, despite its violent birth. The 5-degree inclination itself is not evidence for its origin story. It likely has another cause.

The quote is from planetary scientists, Kaveh Pahlevan and Alessandro Morbidelli, who used computer simulations to observe what could have happened when the early moon-earth system was almost struck by objects that ranged from 0.0075 to 0.015 Earth masses; that’s about 47 to 95 times more massive than Ceres, the largest existing asteroid. The large asteroid-like bodies were leftovers from the formation of Earth, Venus and the other inner planets. The simulation described in Nature in 2015 revealed that the perturbations from the near-misses could indeed have created a five-degree deviation from the ecliptic.

Postscript. Getting back to the Northern hemisphere, have you thought of what happens to the apparent position of the Sea of Crisis as the moon sets? You are observing it from a similar angle as the Earth rotates you away from the moon, except that you are on the other side. So it will continue to seemingly rotate clockwise and it should be close to the 5 to 6′ o’clock position. Here is a moon set at latitude 29 degrees North.