Science Over the Edge

A Roundup of Strange Science for the Month

Applet credit: Ed Hobbs

January 2001

In the News:

Venemous Dinosaur - In the 1990 book Jurassic Park author Michael Crichton conjectued that some dinosaurs might have been poisonous, though there was no fossil evidence to support that idea at the time. Now researcher Francisco Aranda-Manteca of the University of Baja California reports finding a groove on a dinosaur tooth that sugggests some dinosaurs might have had a poisonous bite. According to Aranda-Manteca the tooth is about two centimeters long and belonged to a theropod dinosaur of an unknown species. The tooth was found in rocks between 70 and 80 million years old located in Mexico. While the groove is not proof positive that the animal was venemous, other living animals, like the cobra, with the same type of groove down the back of their teeth are poisonous.

More Evidence for Life on Mars - In 1996 NASA scientists startled the world by saying they had found evidence in a meteorite from Mars found in Antarctica that there had once been life on Mars. The rock contained structures that might have been fossil bacteria and materials that might have been produced by living organisms. At the time critics argued that the evidence was far from convincing. Now Joseph Kirschvink, a geobiologist working as a part of a NASA funded study on meteorites from Mars, says that they have found a type of magnetite crystal in a meteorite sample that is only known to be produced by living organisms. Now critics argue that the sample may have been contaminated. Whatever the case, this new finding is sure to spark more debate on the possibility of life on the red planet.

Turnabout on Tut Tests - The head of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities, Gaballah Ali Gaballah, announced that plans to test the DNA of the mummies of King Tutankhamum and his possible grandfather, Amenhoptep III, have been canceled. For years archaeologists had debated on whether King Tut was indeed the biological son of Amenhotep IV. The tests, to be conducted by a team from Japan's Waseda University and Cairo's Ein Shams University, would have tired to clear up this mystery. The tests, though, had been controversial with some Egyptian archaeologists thinking the results might be used to "tamper" with Egyptian history.

Two Sunken Cities Found - Two legendary ancient Egyptian cities that mysteriously disappeared have been found under the waters of the Mediterranean Sea just off the coast of Alexandria. Franck Goddio, head of the European Institute for Underwater Archaeology, used ancient texts to guide him in the discovery. The texts placed the location of the cities in what was once the mouth of the Canopic branch of the Nile, but is now a part of Aboukir Bay. The ruins, thought to be the cities of Menouthis and Herakleion, were found under twenty-five-feet of water with the help of high-tech instruments such as depth sounders, side scan sonar and nuclear resonance magnetometers. Scientists speculate that the cities sunk as either the result of an earthquake, or a massive flood in 741-742 AD that liquefied the muddy soil on which the cities had been built.

Hydrothermal Underwater "Lost City" is Found - A team of scientists aboard the research vessel Atlantis has discovered a strange hydrothermal vent system on the sea floor of the Atlantic Ocean they have dubbed the "Lost City". The vents, which tower 180 feet above the bottom and look like pointed spires, are the largest of their kind ever discovered according to Deborah Kelly, a University of Washington geologist. The spires can be as wide as thirty feet across at the top and are capped with white, feathery hydrothermal precipitates. The water near these vents can be as hot as 160 degrees which allows mats of bacteria to thrive around the spires. The city, however, does not seem to attract the strange sea life sometimes seen at other hydrothermal vents.

A Tenth Planet? - Astronomer Robert McMillian, of the Univesity of Arizona's Spacewatch Project, has discovered a chunk of rock between 330 and 750 miles in diameter that might be called a very big asteroid, or a very small planet. The object is on a orbit similar to Pluto's at the edge of the solar system. It is at the most half of Pluto's 1,470 mile diameter. The object is not likely to be named a planet because of its small size. Many astronomers today do not even consider Pluto itself a "true" planet.


What's New at the Museum:

The Observatory - Visit our new major gateway to the mysteries of space and time - The Observatory.

The Impossible Rocks that Fell from the Sky - See why at one time the best scientific minds in the world didn't believe that meteorites existed - Impossible Rocks.


In History:

Russian Ball Lightning - In January of 1984 a Russian passenger plane had a brush with that strangest of electrical phenomena, ball lightning. A glowing light, four inches in diameter, appeared to the pilots in front of the cockpit. It disappeared with a roar and reappeared in the passenger compartment. After sailing over the heads of the astonished passengers it reached the tail section, where it divided into two crescents, then merged again, and exited the plane. Later mechanics found holes in the front of the fuselage and at the tail of the plane.


New to Read:

Book Traces Career of "The Al Capone of Cartography" - Miles Harvey traces the career of thief Gilbert Bland in his new book The Island of Lost Maps. Bland, a failed computer salesman, stole hundreds of old maps from libraries and research centers with a total value of a half a million dollars. The results of Bland's thefts (usually by slashing them out of a book with a razor blade) were turned into decorative objects and sold on the antiques market. The extent of his crimes only came to light when after he was caught and released in Baltimore. Then his notebook, accidentally left behind, was found which detailed his crimes. By then he'd assumed another identify and disappeared.


In the Sky:

Getting Close - Though there isn't much to see you might want to note that January 4th is the day of the year when our planet will be closest to the sun at a distance of 91,400,000 miles which is 1,600,000 closer than on average. This is because the Earth has a slightly elliptical orbit, instead of perfectly circular.



Town Fears Collapse of Forgotten W.W.I Tunnels - The Belgian town of Nieupoort has had a rash of buildings collapse and now scientists believe this is the result of tunnels running under town that were constructed during W.W.I. During the war the area was near the front lines and French, British and American troops built tunnels as deep as 60 feet under the ground as protection against heavy shelling by the German Army. It is estimated that if all the tunnels under town collapsed at least 50 houses would be at risk for damage. Researchers are looking for access to the tunnels to examine their condition and find possible solutions to the problem.


On the Tube:

Currently we are only able to give accurate times and dates for these programs in the United States. Check local listings in other locations.

Sultan's Lost Treasure - Follow an international team of archaeologists as they dive to the bottom of the South China Sea to recover the priceless cargo of an ancient wreck from the 14th century while at the same time avoiding pirates, looters and the "bends." A Nova episode on PBS Jan. 16 at 8PM ET/PT.

Great Sphinx: Lord of the Pyramids - For thousands of years the Sphinx, half man-half lion, has guarded the great pyramids of Egypt. Explore the mystery of the Sphinx in this Discovery Channel premier: Jan. 7 at 9PM and 1AM ET/PT.

Science Mysteries: Strange Beings and UFOs - Discover the mysteries surrounding alien abduction, the Yeti, and the Loch Ness monster. Are these strange stories true? What's the evidence? Discovery Channel Jan. 18 at 10PM and 2AM. Repeats Jan. 20 at 4PM, ET/PT.

Doomsday Asteroid - Could an asteroid less than a mile wide create tidal waves three miles high that could wipe out civilization on the Earth? Find out by watching this TCL special. Airs Jan. 18 at 9PM and repeats at 12AM, ET/PT.

Noah and the Flood - Archaeologists compare historical records with the Bible story about the great flood of Noah. On the History Channel. Jan. 2 at 9PM. Repeats Jan, 5 at 5PM ET/PT.

Bigfoot and Other Monsters - Are the mermaid, Abominable Snowman and the giant squid just legends? Or do they actually exist? Check out this History Channel History's Mysteries to find out. Jan. 22 at 8PM. Repeats Jan. 23 at 12AM and 4AM ET/PT.

History's Mysteries - This History Channel has several other interesting episodes coming up in this series this month including: Ancient City: Lost and Found, Jan. 2 at 8PM repeats Jan. 3 at 12AM and 4AM Jan. 14 at 11AM. Also Crop Circle Controversy Jan 29th at 8PM ET/PT.



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