Science Over the Edge

A Roundup of Strange Science for the Month

Applet credit: Ed Hobbs

February 2004

In the News:

Python a Disappointment - A small zoo in Indonesia reported it had a 992 pound, 49 foot long, python in captivity. If true, this length would be longer by ten feet than any other confirmed snake record. Unfortunately the snake, when visited by reporters, fell short of expectations measuring only around 21 feet. While this is a big snake by any standard, it is not a record-breaker. The animal's keeper says the discrepancy is because the length of the snake varies depending on how it stretches, but most snake experts agree that the length of a python's body does not change significantly despite any position it might take.

Green Flashes in Spain - On January 4th hundreds of people observed green flashes in the evening sky in Northern Spain. Authorities attribute the flashes to a meteorite that broke up as it entered earth's atmosphere. One witness heard a big explosion, felt the ground shake and saw a white cloud rise from a nearby mountain. Civil Guard officials report that a portion of the object had hit the ground in the Northern province of Leon.

Oldest Land Creature - A small fossil found on the shore near Aberdeen, Scotland, is being hailed as the oldest known remains of a land creature. The creature was a form of millipede that is thought to have lived some 420 million years ago. The find was made by Mike Newman, a 36 year-old bus driver and fossil hunter. Newman, who knew the find must be one of the earliest of it's type, contacted the National Museums of Scotland where an expert determined it's exact age. The animal has been named Pneumodesmus newmani after it's finder.

Lion Mummy a First - A French archaeological team has found what appears to be the mummy of a lion in a 3,000 year-old tomb south of Cairo, Egypt. Researchers say this confirms the status of lions in ancient Egypt as a sacred animal associated with Kings. Previously mummies of baboons, ibis, fish, cats, dogs and crocodiles have been found, but not lions. Some scientists disagree with the French teams findings saying that the lion was not mummified as it was not wrapped with linen bandages as were human mummies.

Carnivorous Antarctic Dino Found -A Minot State University geo-science professor, Allen Kihm, is just back from the Antarctic after participating in the discovery of the first carnivorous dinosaur found on that continent. Only 10 dinosaurs have been found altogether in Antarctica and this is the first meat eater. Part of the lower limb and a jaw bone of the creature were recovered. The expedition also found the remains of a pleiosaur, an ancient marine reptile, who lived at the time of the dinosaurs.


What's New at the Museum:

Hidden Nazi Gold - Did the crumbling Third Reich, anticipating a return to power someday, dump millions of dollars in gold into the depths of lakes in Germany and Austria? - >Full Story


Ask the Curator:

Daytime Moon - My little girl keeps asking me why she can still see the moon during the day. My ignorance of the subject prevents me from telling her. Can you help? Thank you, Sue A.

This is just one of those questions that begs for a diagram, so after you read the text, click here. As you are probably aware the moon orbits the Earth roughly once a month. The Earth, in turn rotates once every twenty-four hours. The side that faces the sun is in daylight, the side away from the sun is in night.

Since the moon moves around the Earth it can be overhead in the sky anytime of the day or night depending on where it is in it's orbit. Because the moon is lit by reflected sunlight it will, in general, be more "full" and brighter in the night sky and less "full" and dimmer (and therefore less noticeable) in the day sky. When the moon is very close to the position of the sun in the sky it may not be visible at all.

We associate the moon with the night because without the sun around it is the brightest thing in the sky. When it is up in the day it tends to get washed out and we don't often notice it.


Gizzard, Etc. - What is the purpose of a gizzard? And how could a spider live without lungs? I heard that daddy longlegs have neither. Thanks!

A gizzard is a muscular pouch in the digestive system that allows birds and certain invertebrates to grind food down without using teeth. Usually the animal swallows small stones or grit to do the grinding. We know some dinosaurs had gizzards because we've found their gizzard stones within their fossilized remains.

Spiders have lungs, but they aren't like ours. Some spiders have a trachea (a kind of tube) that does the job of breathing, others have "book-lungs." A few species of spiders have both.

As for "daddy-long-legs," well, there are several animals with that name, but since we are talking about spiders I'll assume we are talking about daddy long-leg spiders (of which there are several species). Like all spiders they don't need a gizzard because they don't eat solid food. They kill their prey, liquefy them, then suck them dry. As spiders they would also have either the book-lung, trachea or both.

There's also a creature known as a "harvestman" that has the common name "daddy longlegs." These look like spiders, but are not. I have to admit I'm not sure how their digestive system works, so if there are any readers out there who are experts on these animals, drop us a line.


In History:

Fish Fall - On February 19, 1830, a rain of fish plummeted down on Nokulhatty Factory, India. Some of the fish were quite large and all were dead. A number were fresh, while others were rotted. A few were headless. The usual explanation for a fish fall like this is that a powerful storm picked the fish out of a body of water and then dropped them, but at the time of this incident was not storming, only drizzling.


In the Sky:

Four Planets - This month you can get a glimpse of four planets in the sky at the same time. Starting around the 4th of the month about 3 1/2 hours after sunset find a location with an unobstructed view of the eastern and western horizon. You should be able to see Venus just before it sets and Jupiter after it rises. Saturn and Mars will be in between. As the month goes on seeing all four will be easier as Venus will set later and Jupiter will rise earlier.



Roswell Goes to 40's Theme - The annual UFO Festival at Roswell, NM, will have a 1940's theme this year according to organizers. The Festival, which is held from July 1-4 each year, was inspired by the supposed crash of a UFO near the town in 1947. Plans call for employees at motels and restaurants to wear clothing and radio stations to play music from the era. Organizers expect between 20,000 and 40,000 people to attend the 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: Descent Into the Ice - A team of "glacionauts" ventures into a labyrinth of unexplored and hazardous glacier caves on France's Mt. Blanc. On PBS: February 10 at 8 pm; ET.

Chased by Sea Monsters - Go underwater and back in time to face the most enormous and dangerous sea predators that ever existed. Dive with creatures so awesome that they make the great white shark look like a goldfish.. On the Discovery Channel: Feb 08 2004 @ 09:00 PM, Feb 09 2004 @ 12:00 AM, Feb 14 2004 @ 12:00 PM; ET.

Mysteries of Noah's Flood - In the face of minimal scientific evidence that the flood described in the Bible actually occurred, scientists and religious scholars have long been consumed with the search for Noah's ark. Search for clues on the icy slopes of Turkey's Mt. Ararat.. On TCL: Feb 26 2004 @ 10:00 PM Feb 27 2004 @ 01:00 AM; ET.

Ark of The Covenant, The: Revealed - What was the Ark of the Covenant? Scientists in Vancouver believe that it could have been an ancient electrical device. To prove it they have four weeks to build a full scale, working replica. Host, Maryam Henein researches this most famous Holy Relic. On TCL: Feb 19 2004 @ 10:00 PM Feb 20 2004 @ 01:00 AM; ET.

The Nazi Plan to Bomb New York - Aviation historian David Myhra has been investigating secret German aircraft projects for more than 20 years, and has uncovered evidence of a diabolical Nazi plan to deliver a radioactive bomb to New York. In late 1944, the "Amerika Bomber" project was planned, and three aerospace designers--Wernher von Braun, Eugen Sanger, and Reimar Horten--each had a different solution. Through vivid 3D animation, photos, and recreations, these unusual projects are finally revealed! On History Channel: February 5 @ 6pm; ET.



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