Science Over the Edge

A Roundup of Strange Science for the Month

Applet credit: Ed Hobbs

January 2006

In the News:

New Carnivore Found - Researchers from the World Wildlife Fund are setting traps on the island of Borneo hoping to capture a mysterious new species of carnivore that so far has only been seen in photographs. The animal, which looks like a cross between a cat and a fox, is thought to live in the densely forested mountains of that Indonesian island. The unknown mammal appears to be slightly larger than a cat with red fur and a long tail. It has been photographed twice by an automatic camera. If researchers can establish that it is a new species, it will be the first time in a over a century that a new carnivore has been discovered on that island.

Japanese Monkeys may have Accent - Human beings aren't the only species that have accents according to a study released in the German scientific journal Etholog. Researchers found that two groups of Japanese Yakushima macaque monkeys, the first located on the southern Japanese island of Yakushima, and the other group relocated to Mount Ohira in 1956, had developed slightly different calls. The island group's calls had a tone about 110 hertz higher on average than the group in central Japan. Scientists believe that this is due to the higher trees on the island which block lower tones. This causes the scientists to speculate that the differences in voice tones are not just caused by genes, and may lead to a clues to the origin of human language.

Voyager Saved from Budget Cut - NASA has decided to continue funding the monitoring of the Voyager spacecraft. The program had been one of those slated to be terminated to help NASA with budget problems. The Voyager 1 & 2 probes were launched from Earth almost 30 years ago and Voyager 1 is the first man-made object to reach the heliosheath which is the final layer between our solar system and interstellar space. "It will be our first sample of material that is non-solar system in origin," said Tom Krimigis, a Voyager investigator with Johns Hopkins University's Applied Physics Laboratory. It costs NASA between $4 million and $5 million a year to operate the spacecraft and fund the science teams.

Date of Moon Birth Established - Scientists using new techniques to study the rocks brought back from the moon by Apollo astronauts, say that they show the surface of the moon became solid more than 4.5 billion years ago. If this is accurate it would put the formation of the moon at about the same time as the solidification of the Earth's crust. This would booster the theory that the moon was created as the result of a collision of a Mars-sized body with early Earth in which a part of the Earth's crust was flung into orbit and later coalesced into the moon.

Mass Extinction Theory - An article in the December issue of journal Geology suggests that the mass extinction of life at the end of the Permian era, 250 million years ago, was caused by a massive volcanic eruption in what is now Siberia. The eruption released gas that depleted earth's protective ozone layer, made the land and sea more acidic, and killed all the land plants. The death of the land plants led to massive soil erosion which clouded the sea and disrupted the ecosystem there. If the theory is right this led to the worst mass extinction in the Earth's history.


What's New at the Museum:

Watch Out! Quicksand! - Being sucked into quicksand is a staple of many 'B' movies, but is this phenomenon of nature really as dangerous as it is portrayed? >Full Story

Chapter Four of Arthur Conan Doyle's The Lost World - Follow the expedition members in our graphic novel version as they try to avoid being eaten by hungry dinosaurs while finding a way to get home. >Full Story


Ask the Curator:

Suspended Animation - Is it possible to deep-freeze your body (brain, heart, etc. ) and restore your body in a later time? For example a person freezes and wakes up 1,000 years later - Rowell

The idea of cryogenically preserving by a person and thawing them out later - sort of like a frozen dinner - has long been a staple of science fiction, but so far scientists have not figured out how to make it work. The reason is ice. Most of the human body is water and water expands when it freezes. This is the reason the pipes in your house will crack open if they are filled with water and your heater fails in freezing temperatures. The expansion of the water in a human body systems wrecks the delicate structure of cell tissue throughout the body. Scientists have tried to counteract this by mixing substances like glycerol in with body fluids to act as sort of a biological antifreeze, but the results have not yet been fully successful. If such a system could be developed it could, in theory, be used to freeze a human indefinitely.

Another, perhaps more promising approach, to the problem is not to literally "freeze" a person, but to put them into hibernation. Many animals, including bears, hibernate by lowering their body temperature and metabolism. Just recently scientists have demonstrated the ability to put mice into a state of "suspended animation" by having them breath air laced with hydrogen sulfide. While high concentrations of this gas would be fatal, just the right amount seems to put the mice to sleep and their metabolic rates dropped by 90%. They were revived by simply returning the air they were breathing to normal. As metabolism is not stopped with this method, but just slowed, it could not be used to preserve humans indefinitely.

There would be many uses for such a state of suspended animation. Currently trips to other planets in our solar system, or beyond, could take many months or years and the trip would be made much simpler - less food, drink and psychological stress - if the astronauts slept most of the way. The technique could also be used to preserve organs for transplantation or have critical patients hibernate through operations or recovery.


In History:

Strange Encounter on the Slopes - It was in the afternoon on January 7, 1970 that two skiers in Finland reported they encountered a strange red fog. As they approached it they noticed that the fog seemed to be created by a domed, hovering disc at the center of the cloud. Standing under this object appeared to be a three-foot high man with pale skin and no eyes. The fog suddenly thickened and when it dissipated the disc and the creature were gone.


In the Sky:

Meteor Shower - The Quadrantid Meteors are hard to see, but fascinating if you can catch them. The meteor shower is short and you will have to be looking near the bright star Arcturus in the constellation of Bootes right before sunrise on the 3rd of November (North America) to see them. Most are very faint and have a distinctly blue color.



Roswell Incident Figure Dies - Former Army lieutenant Walter Haut, who was responsible for putting out the news release that started the rumors of a crashed flying saucer near the tiny town of Roswell, NM, died last month at the age of 83. It was his actions as a spokesman for the Roswell Army Air Field that set off a controversy about what happened there that still continues today. Haut released a story that was carried in the local newspaper under the title of "RAAF Captures Flying Saucer on Ranch in Roswell Region." Later that same day the Army retracted the story saying what they found was only the wreckage of a weather balloon. The incident converted Haut into a believer, however, and he went on to found the International UFO Museum in Roswell in 1991. Due in part to his influence the even town boasts an annual UFO Festival


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.

NOVA - The Mummy Who Would Be King - Could a mummy exhibited for 140 years at an obscure museum in Niagara Falls be the remains of a long-lost Egyptian pharaoh? On the PBS: January 3 at 8 pm ET/PT

Fireballs From Space - Asteroids and comets roar across the solar system threatening to smash into distant planets and occasionally the Earth. Probes like Deep Impact are watching these dangerous space rocks. Some probes are attempting to land on these alien terrains. On the Science Channel: JAN 15 @ 10:00 PM; JAN 16 @ 01:00 AM; JAN 16 @ 05:00 AM; JAN 16 @ 11:00 AM; JAN 16 @ 03:00 PM; JAN 22 @ 09:00 AM ET/PT

Einstein's Beautiful Equation - Scientific genius can change the world, but at what price? Albert Einstein's theory E=mc2 ultimately led to creation of a weapon of mass destruction. He considered the atomic bomb his biggest blunder and spent years promoting disarmament and peace. On the Science Channel: JAN 08 @ 09:00 PM; JAN 09 @ 12:00 AM JAN 09 @ 04:00 AM; JAN 09 @ 10:00 AM; JAN 09 @ 02:00 PM; JAN 14 @ 09:00 AM ET/PT

Valley of the T-Rex - In the arid badlands of Montana, paleontologist Jack Horner found five T-Rex dinosaurs in a single summer, exposing clues to a lost world. Unearthed is a 90 percent complete, never before seen, juvenile tyrannosaur, called Daspletasaurus. On The Science Channel: JAN 09 @ 09:00 PM; JAN 10 @ 12:00 AM; JAN 10 @ 04:00 AM; JAN 10 @ 10:00 AM; JAN 10 @ 02:00 PM; JAN 14 @ 05:00 PM ET/PT.

Killer Waves - Recent disappearances of huge cargo vessels at sea have breathed new life into an old mariner's tale of single, massive waves capable of sinking a ship in one hit. Investigate evidence that suggests these towering waves really are out there. On The Science Channel: JAN 26 @ 09:00 PM; JAN 27 @ 12:00 AM; JAN 27 @ 04:00 AM; JAN 27 @ 10:00 AM; JAN 27 @ 02:00 PM; JAN 28 @ 02:00 PM; ET/PT.

Killer Ants - Over 8,000 species of ants cover the planet. Most are harmless, but some have a violent streak. African driver ants have eaten a horse in a day and suffocated a human, and the army ants of South and Central America can wipe out entire ecosystems. On The Discovery Channel: JAN 19 @ 10:00 PM; JAN 20 @ 02:00 AM ET/PT.

Egypt Untold: Secrets of the Rosetta Stone - Napoleon's invasion of Egypt in 1798 ignited the rediscovery of an ancient civilization shrouded in mystery. Europe was astounded by what they found. Jean-François Champollion deciphered the inscriptions which held the secrets of ancient Egypt. On The Discovery Channel: JAN 13 @ 09:00 PM; JAN 14 @ 01:00 AM; JAN 16 @ 12:00 PM ET/PT.

Houdini: Unlocking the Mystery - In one of magic history's rarest events, a private collector auctioned off the largest collection of personally-owned Harry Houdini artifacts and memorabilia, providing an unprecedented peek behind the curtain at the world's great showman and magician. In a 2-hour special, hosted by renowned magician Lance Burton, we explore the life and magic of the great escape artist through his most prized possessions: the Chinese Water Torture Cell, the Milkcan, his straitjackets and handcuffs, and lockpicks that were "key" to his handcuff escapes, revealed to the public for the first time. We also unlock secrets of the man--brash showman, fierce competitor, loyal son and husband. With expert commentary, including a great-nephew and the last surviving member of his magic troop. On History Channel: January 2 @ 8pm ET/PT.

Giganto: The Real King Kong - An exploration of the Giganto (King Kong) legend using modern science, technology, and historic eyewitness accounts. Gigantopithecus (the Latin term for "Giant Ape") is believed to have existed 9 to 5-million years ago and supposedly was around 10-feet tall. Some fossil evidence shows that it may have lived in China or India. Scientists of varying fields will attempt to genetically connect Giganto to modern-day creatures from around the world. Could Bigfoot be a relative? Forensic testing, extensive scientific research, 3-D animation, and body reconstruction will help determine the true mystery behind this prehistoric ape. On History Channel: January 8 @ 6pm, ET/PT.



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