Science Over the Edge

A Roundup of Strange Science for the Month

Applet credit: Ed Hobbs

January 2007

In the News:

Fish has Really Big Bite - A new study shows that Dunkleosteus terreli, a fish living 360 million years ago in the Late Devonian period, had a biting power twice that of a modern great white shark. Scientists have built a computer model of the ancient creature and have found it could generate at least a force of 5,300 newtons at its rear dental plates. The animal, about the length of a small bus and covered with thick armored plates could snap its jaws shut with surprising speed: as little as a fiftieth of a second. This probably was accompanied by a huge suction force that drew the prey into the creature's mouth. "This bite force capability is the greatest of all living or fossil fishes and is among the most powerful bites in animals," according to a report by Philip Anderson of the University of Chicago and Mark Westneat of the Field Museum of Natural History. "The only reports of higher bite forces are those found in some extremely large alligators and dinosaurs." The study has been published in a recent Biology Letters from the British Royal Society.

Seahorse Aphrodisiac - Indian scientists are trying to put together a study to find out if seahorses are really an aphrodisiac. Eating seahorses has been a traditional way of improving ones romantic potential in many cultures for thousands of years. The researchers hope to be able to prove, or disprove, the effect of the tiny animal, which has become an endangered species. If they can show that there is no effect, they hope that the market for seahorses will decline. If they can show an effect, they believe this will encourage the development of seahorse hatcheries which will also remove pressure from natural populations. It is estimated 20 million seahorses are bought and sold around the world each year. The group is looking for a grant of five million rupees ($111,000) to start the research.

Scientists Nab First Film of Live Giant - A Japanese research team has filmed a live giant squid off the Ogasawara Islands south of Tokyo. They attempted to capture the squid, which measured about 24-feet long, but it died while being aboard brought the research vessel. The animal was caught using a smaller, different type of squid as bait. The scientists only managed to pull the monster aboard their boat "after putting up quite a fight," Tsunemi Kubodera, head of the research team, remarked. The animal, a young female, was not large by giant squid standards. Kubodera said giant squids have been reported to be as long as 60 feet in length. It is believed that the scientists' film is the first ever of a live giant squid. Photographs taken by the same team several years ago are also thought to be first still images of a live squid.

A Komodo Dragon and a Virgin Birth - A Komodo dragon living in the Chester Zoo in England has become pregnant even though she has never mated or been around a male dragon. Apparently the dragon, named Flora, fertilized all the eggs herself. Scientists were aware that this process, parthenogenesis, could occur in other lizards, but were unaware that the world's largest lizards, the Komodo Dragons, were also capable of this trick of nature. Scientists verified that there was no father by doing a set of tests on both Flora and her eggs. "Those genetic tests confirmed absolutely that Flora was both the mother and the father of the embryos. It completely blew us away because it [parthenogenesis] has never been seen in such a large species," said Kevin Buley, a member of the Zoo's staff. "…It is nature finding a way."

New Robot to Explore Egyptian Pyramid - Scientists are preparing to send a robot into the great pyramid's "air shafts" to find out what is behind two mysterious doors. This is a follow up on an attempt in 2002 to use a robot to explore the shafts leading from the Queen's Chamber. The original robot found itself blocked about 65 yards into the trip by a stone wall or door with handles. In February researchers from Egypt and Singapore and a team from Britain and Hong Kong plan to insert the new robot inside the Pyramid of Cheops at Giza, near to Cairo, to see if they can find out more about the doors and the space beyond them.


What's New at the Museum:

The Mysterious Winchester Mansion - This spooky, rambling Californian mansion remains a testament to one eccentric, rich woman's unearthly fears. >Full Story

Notes from the Curator's Office: New Year's Irresolutions- Why do we put ourselves though this excercise in frustration each year? >Full Story


Ask the Curator:

Faster than the Speed of Light? - I read somewhere that they found a star that's traveling faster than the speed of light (because of its red shift.) Is this true? If it is, then it contradicts' Einstein's theory. - Rowell

Actually there are whole galaxies (collections of billions of stars) moving away from us faster than the speed of light. As amazing as it sounds, this does not really contradict Einstein's theories.

Let's start at the beginning. If you stand along a road and listen to a car zoom by you will hear the pitch of the sound it makes suddenly drop as it passes you. This is because the pitch of the sound is based on how many sound waves per second reach your ear. When the car is traveling toward you, the waves come by you faster than normal because the speed of the car is added to their normal speed. The sound becomes lower when the car passes by because then the speed of the car moving away increases the time it takes each wave to pass you by. This is called the Doppler Effect.

The Doppler Effect works with sound, radio (you may have heard of Doppler radar) and light waves. As a lighted object moves away from you the light is pushed to a lower frequency (toward the red end of the spectrum therefore scientists say it is "red shifted"). Using this red shift is one important way of measuring how fast an object is moving away from us in space. The famed astronomer, Edwin Hubble, also noticed that, in astronomical terms, the speed an object moving away from us will also tell us how distant the object is from us. Why? Because apparently the universe is undergoing an expansion and had been for the last 13.7 billion years starting with the "Big Bang." The best way to imagine this expansion is to picture a balloon with two marks drawn on it. As the balloon inflates the marks are pushed farther apart.

Now replace those marks with galaxies and the balloon with the universe. As the universe expands it carries the galaxies father apart. In fact, if the galaxies are far enough separated, they will move apart at a speed faster than the speed of light. This can be confirmed by looking and seeing how much a galaxy's light has been "red shifted."

Einstein's probation on faster-than-light travel isn't broken; however, because the galaxies were not accelerated to those speeds like a rocket ship, they are simply being carried along by the inflation of the universe. In fact, if you were sitting in that distant galaxy it would seem to you like you weren't moving at all (Our galaxy would seem to be the one speeding away).

Many galaxies are in this position relative to ours. In fact, any galaxy father away than a distance of 4,200 mega parsecs would be moving away from us at the speed of light or faster. Eventually, over billions of years, as these galaxies get far enough away they will first appear to freeze, then fade, as the light from them can no longer out run the movement of their galaxy away from us.


In History:

Chupacabra Flap - On the 26th of January, 1996, the New York Times took note of the stories of Chupacabras - "goat suckers" coming from Latin America. For several years reports of strange gargoyle-like creatures that attacked livestock had been appearing in places like Puerto Rico, Mexico and parts of the Caribbean. No credible pictures or evidence of the animal was ever brought forth and the Chupacabra "flap" ended by the middle of that year. Since then stories featuring the animal have emerged sporadically, but most researchers think the beast is made more of the human imagination than flesh and blood.


In the Sky:

Pleiades Star Cluster - Around January 17th take a look almost straight up in the sky about three hours after sunset (North America, Northern Europe and Northern Asia) to see the Pleiades star cluster (also known as the Seven Sisters) at its highest point in the sky. The Pleiades is called an open star cluster and is probably the closest of these to Earth and certainly the most striking to view.



UFO Turns Out to Be Christmas Light - A disc-like UFO seen skimming through the skies of Swindom, England, turned out to be Christmas party lights. According to the Swindon Advertiser, Swindon residents have been reporting a bright, silvery object scooting over the town. However, Simon Maddison, the director of Planet Pursuits, a company that manages party events, says that the object is actually a very powerful spotlight that has been used to direct visitors to Christmas activities at the local Steam Museum. "We were holding a theme party for 20 days in this workshop and had a light outside that radiates a massive beam," Maddison said. "That's what people thought the UFO was. I saw the report in the paper and thought it was quite funny - that's our light' I thought." He continued, "I'm not surprised people thought it was a UFO, it emits 10 different beams and moves across the sky."


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 PBS: January 2 at 8 pm; ET/PT

Dive to Bermuda Triangle - The mystery of the Bermuda Triangle has spawned theories from aliens to time warps. Hundreds of boats and planes have disappeared without a trace. Most of these can be explained, but a few still remain a genuine mystery. On The Science Channel: JAN 04 2007 @ 09:00 PM JAN 05 2007 @ 12:00 AM JAN 05 2007 @ 04:00 AM JAN 05 2007 @ 10:00 AM JAN 06 2007 @ 01:00 PM JAN 18 2007 @ 02:00 PM JAN 18 2007 @ 05:00 PM; ET/PT.

Hitler's Last Deadly Secret: The Hunt For U-864 - Deep in the icy waters off of Norway lies one of the last great secrets of the Second World War. In February 1945, the German submarine U-864 disappeared without trace during its clandestine journey to Japan. On The Science Channel: JAN 18 2007 @ 10:00 PM JAN 19 2007 @ 01:00 AM JAN 19 2007 @ 05:00 AM JAN 19 2007 @ 11:00 AM JAN 20 2007 @ 02:00 PM ET/PT.

Supervolcano - Amidst the stunning wilderness of America's most famous National Park, steam and hot water bubble and hiss from thousands of colorful, mineral-encrusted springs and vents. These geothermal phenomena make Yellowstone a time-bomb that could spell disaster. On The Science Channel: JAN 25 2007 @ 08:00 PM JAN 25 2007 @ 11:00 PM JAN 26 2007 @ 03:00 AM JAN 26 2007 @ 09:00 AM JAN 27 2007 @ 12:00 PM, ET/PT.

MythBusters: Pirate Special - Arggghhh me hearties… Jamie and Adam have plundered the seven seas in search of pirate parables and maritime myths and the result is this 2-hour spectacular. And with four stories of hi-jinks on the high seas the action is thick and fast. On the Discovery Channel: JAN 17 2007 @ 09:00 PM JAN 18 2007 @ 01:00 AM JAN 20 2007 @ 08:00 PM JAN 21 2007 @ 12:00 AM;

Big Science: Giant Squid - Caught on Camera - The first photographs ever of the giant squid - one of the world's largest and most mysterious sea creatures. On The Discovery Channel: JAN 13 2007 @ 08:00 PM JAN 14 2007 @ 12:00 AM; ET/PT.

Strange Egypt - We all know the Egypt of the pyramids and King Tut's tomb. But there's much, much more. The daily life of ancient Egyptians was filled with magic, mystery, and sex. We'll take a closer look at the beliefs and habits of one of the world's oldest cultures. There was incest in the royal palace, divine cats, and an entire industry devoted to ushering the dead into the next world. Spells, potions, and incantations ruled every aspect of life. Yet even in these unusual customs, we'll find the human face of the ancient people of Egypt. On History Channel: Sunday, January 07 09:00 PM Monday, January 08 01:00 AM ET/PT.

The Pacific Bermuda Triangle. - While the Bermuda Triangle is a well-known area of strange phenomenon in the Atlantic, there is another, more treacherous triangle in the Pacific off the coast of Japan known as the "Dragon's Triangle". This dangerous ocean triangle has reportedly claimed hundreds if not thousands of ships, airplanes, and submarines since the first written reports in the 13th century. Could these lost vessels be the result of bad oceanic conditions or possibly something more mysterious? We'll get to the bottom of this unsolved world mystery. Interviews include Dr. Joann Stock, Caltech; Joseph Nagy, UCLA; Takuji Wasda, University of Tokyo; and Japanese UFO experts Junichiro Nirasawa and Junichi Yaoi. On History Channel: Tuesday, January 02 08:00 PM Wednesday, January 03 12:00 AM Sunday, January 14 09:00 AM ET/PT.



Science over the Edge Archives

LGM Archive 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007

Copyright Lee Krystek 2007. All Rights Reserved.