Science Over the Edge

A Roundup of Strange Science for the Month

Applet credit: Ed Hobbs

February 2001

In the News:

Stonehenge Tampering - Most people who visit Stonehenge or see pictures of it think they are seeing an archaeological site unaltered for thousands of years. According to a report by New Scientist, though, almost every stone at the ancient site has been moved, re-erected or set in concrete between the years 1901 and 1964. Brain Edwards, a student at the University of West of England who is studying the alterations says what visitors are seeing is a "20th-century landscape" which is only "reminiscent" of what the archaeological site may have looked like in ancient times. English Heritage, who provides information about the site, is considering including a section about the reconstruction in their visitor's guidebook.

The Biggest Thing Ever - Scientists have discovered what they think is the largest structure in the observable universe. Researchers from the National Optical Astronomy Observatories at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center reported to a meeting of American Astronomical Society that they had spotted a supercluster of quasars and galaxies some 600 million light years wide and 6.5 billion light years away. The structure contains at least 11 galaxies and 18 quasars and is located in the sky just below the center of the constellation Leo the Lion and covers an area about 40 times the size of the full moon.

Crowds Riot in Fear of Eclipse - Crowds in Nigeria rioted burning down hotels and bars in the cities of Maiduguri and Barma in reaction to the Lunar eclipse that turned the moon a reddish hue in early January. Rioters blamed the eclipse on "the immoral acts" committed in those businesses, according to the county's paramilitary police. The eclipse was the result of Earth passing between the moon and the sun causing the moon to be illuminated only by light filtered through Earth's atmosphere. Scientists said this eclipse was particularly spectacular because there has been no recent volcanic eruptions that would leave dust in the air cutting the amount of light passed through to the moon.

Dino Named After Rocker - Whenever a team of paleontologists digging in Madagascar played music by the rock group Dire Straits at their excavation they found more pieces of a previously unknown dinosaur. When they played something else, they didn't. For this reason it seemed fitting, said researcher Scott Sampson, from the University of Utah, to name the six-foot-tall, eighty-pound creature Masiakasaurus knopfleri after Dire Straits singer-songwriter Mark Knopfler. The dinosaur, which roamed Madagascar between 65-70 million years ago, had a set of bizarre front teeth that stuck nearly straight out from its long, narrow snout. Scientists think that Masiakasaurus knopfleri, a meat eating dinosaur, may have used the teeth to snag or stab its prey.

Strange Star Systems Found - A team at the University of California, Berkeley, that has been hunting planets, announced finding two stars with unusual planetary systems. Geoffrey Marcy, leader of the team, said the one star, HD168443, located about 123 light years from Earth, had two planets circling it, one of which was 17 times the size of Jupiter. It is generally thought that objects 13 times larger than Jupiter should be big enough to start nuclear fires burning so that object becomes a star. Why this has not happened in this case is a mystery.

The other star, Gliese 876, is about 15 light years from Earth and has two planets, one half the size of Jupiter and the other almost twice the size. What makes this system unusual is that one planet orbits the central star in 30 days and the other at twice that length of time, 60 days. This type of synchronized orbit is called a resonate orbit. The team has no idea how the planets could have gotten into such a strange, harmonic, configuration.

Golden Mummies - Archaeologists have discovered eight, gold-plated limestone coffins containing mummies at Abydos, Egypt, some 350 miles south of Cairo. These mummies, however, were not of people, but rats. Scientists think that the animals may have been offerings or sacred animals. These are not the first animal mummies found in Egypt. Falcons, dogs, crocodiles and ibises have all been found mummified. At Saqqara some 10,000 cat mummies have been found apparently sacrificed to the goddess Bastet. Scientists hope this new find will shed more light on the use of these creatures in ancient Egyptian animal cults.

Pluto's Position in Jeopardy? - The American Museum of Natural History's solar system exhibit at the Rose Center for Earth and Space is missing the planet Pluto. Astronomers have long discussed the possibility of dropping Pluto from the list of nine planets because it is so little (smaller than the moon) and so much like other members of the Kuiper Belt in which it resides: chunks of ice and rock that are more comet-like than planet-like. The AMNH is the first major institution to take this stance. A proposal to the International Astronomical Union to list Pluto as both a planet and a member of the Kuiper Belt was dropped in 1999 when it was opposed by members that did not wish to see Pluto's status changed. Supporters of the AMNH position point out that there is a precedent to delisting planets: The asteroid Ceres was added to the planets in 1801 and dropped a year later. Opponents argue that in the case of Ceres there was a general agreement among astronomers about the change, something that is not the case with Pluto.


What's New at the Museum:

Entombed Animals - Science says it's impossible, but for hundreds of years people have been reporting it. Read about the animals found alive even though they have been completely entombed in rock or wood. - Entombed Animals.

Meteor Impact! - Sometimes really big rocks fall from the sky, and they can make quite a mess. Check out our new flash movie: Meteor Impact!


In History:

Fish Fall - The Annual Registar reported that on the morning of February 9, 1859, near Mountain Ash, Glamorganshire, Wales, there was a strange shower: little fish, each no more than five inches long. The fish fell in an area some 80 by 12 years wide. One man reported, "I took off my hat, the brim of which was full of them. They were jumping about...The shed was covered with them, and the shoots quite full of them." This is just one example of falls from the sky of animals. Frogs, toads and lizards have also been reported as falling from the sky. Sometimes waterspouts and whirlwinds are responsible for these strange falls, but in many other cases violent winds do not seem a likely explanation.


In the Sky:

Brilliant Venus - On February 21 Venus will be at its greatest brilliance. This is a wonderful time to get a good look at the "Queen of UFOs" as the planet has sometimes been called as it is often mistaken for a unidentified flying objects. Binoculars may allow you to observe the planet's crescent shape. Venus is so bright during this period you may even be able to locate during daylight hours.



Man Bites Snake - According to the The Star, a South African newspaper, a South African man escaped from the coils of a deadly python snake by biting it. Lucas Sibanda, 57, said he was attacked by the creature while walking to work along a narrow, remote path. Sibanda was stunned long enough by the creature's appearance that the python was able to wrap itself around him and start constricting. Sibanda decided his only chance was to bite the snake just behind the head and kick it and punch it until it let go. He was successful. After the snake released him he killed it with a stick.

Ancient Indian Spacecraft? - According to The Hindu Newspaper, in a lecture before the Indo-Nepal Sanskrit Conference, scientist C.S.R. Prabhu declared that in ancient times "India had a treasure trove of high-tech warfare technology that even 'mighty West' does not possess." Prabhu claims that he has found clear references to nuclear weapons and spacecraft in ancient Indian texts. However a committee appointed by the Indian Institute of Science to investigate Prabhu's claims declared his texts a fraud. Prabhu disagrees saying the committee reached a hasty conclusion.


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.

Lost King of the Maya - Why did the Mayans abandon their cities a thousand years ago, not to be discovered by Europeans until the nineteenth century? Find out in this Nova episode on PBS airing on Feb. 13th at 8PM ET/PT

The Last Neanderthal? - Neanderthals had bigger bodies and larger brains than Cro-Magnon man who survived them. Why did the Neanderthals disappear? This Discovery Channel presentation examines the theories. Feb.1 at 9PM and 1AM, Feb. 3 at 3PM ET/PT.

UFOs and Alien Encounters - Are aliens visiting the Earth? Believers and skeptics argue their sides in this TLC presentation. Feb. 8 at 7PM and 2AM ET/PT.

Ancient Earthquakes: Sunken Cities - Geologists, historians and archaeologists work together to discovery the fate of Cleopatra's palace after an earthquake hit ancient Alexandria sending part of the city into the sea. On the Discovery Channel Feb. 3 at 5PM, 9PM and 1AM; Feb. 7 at 9PM and 1AM; Feb. at 2PM ET/PT.

Haunted Hawaii - So are haunted houses for real? Check out the premiere of this History Channel Series episode: Haunted Hawaii. Airs on Feb 16 at 10 PM ET/PT.



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