Science Over the Edge

A Roundup of Strange Science for the Month

Applet credit: Ed Hobbs

February 2007

In the News:

Author Collaborates with Scientists in "Mind Over Matter" Experiment - Tens of thousands of volunteers from around the world are being recruited to participate in a series of web-based experiments, making the largest mind-over-matter study in history. The experiments are the brain-child of science writer Lynne McTaggart, whose new book The Intention Experiment forms the catalyst for the trials. The first large-scale studies are being prepared by Dr. Gary Schwartz, psychologist and director of America's National Institutes of Medicine-funded Center for Frontier Medicine in Biofield Science at the University of Arizona. The study will conduct periodic large-scale experiments to determine whether the focused intention of readers has an effect on scientifically quantifiable targets in various laboratories around the globe. The targets are a specific living thing or a population where change caused by group intention can be measured.

A pilot experiment, testing the idea and detailed in the book, was successful. McTaggart asked a group of 16 meditators based in London to direct their thoughts to four remote targets in Dr. Popp's laboratory in Germany: two types of algae, a plant and a human volunteer. The meditators were asked to attempt to lower certain measurable biodynamic processes. Popp and his team discovered significant changes in all four targets while the intentions were being sent, compared to times the meditators were 'resting.' Schwartz and McTaggart are preparing the target for the first intention experiment target, an enclosed 'mini-Gaia' with an artificially raised temperature. The plan is to ask the readers to attempt to lower it at a particular moment through focused 'intention.'

Did Viking Probe Kill Mars Life? - Once again astrobiologists are speculating that extreme forms of life may exist on Mars. This time they are claiming that the Viking probes of 1976-77 inadvertently killed the very life for which they were searching. "If the internal fluid of life on Mars were a mixture of water and hydrogen peroxide instead of water and salt, then indeed the experimental techniques employed by the Viking craft would have destroyed any such life that might have been present," states Astronomer Dr. Hugh Ross." The discovery of the remains of life on Mars does not prove that life spontaneously erupts wherever a tiny amount of water might exist," added the scientist noting such life might be transported from Earth to Mars on meteorites.

Scientists Discovery First Triple Quasar - Using ESO's Very Large Telescope and the W.M. Keck Observatory, astronomers at the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland and the California Institute of Technology, USA, have discovered the first known triplet of quasars. This close trio of supermassive black holes lies about 10.5 billion light-years away towards the Virgo (The Virgin) constellation. "Quasars are extremely rare objects," says George Djorgovski, from Caltech and leader of the team that made the discovery. "To find two of them so close together is very unlikely if they were randomly distributed in space. To find three is unprecedented."

The findings are being reported at the winter 2007 meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Seattle, USA. Quasars are extraordinary luminous objects in the distant universe, thought to be powered by supermassive black holes at the heart of galaxies. A single quasar could be a thousand times brighter than an entire galaxy of a hundred billion stars, and yet this remarkable amount of energy originates from a volume smaller than our solar system. About a hundred thousand quasars have been found to date, and among them several tens of close pairs, but this is the first known case of a close triple quasar system.

Meteorite Lands in Bathroom - Scientists have determined that a small iron meteorite was responsible for punching a hole in the roof of a Freehold, New Jersey, home last month. The owners, Srinivasan and Shankari Nageswaran, came home to find a hole in their bathroom ceiling and a small metallic rock the size of a golf ball on the floor. Two geologists from Rutgers University determined that the rock was a meteorite. As only 50 meteorites a year reach the Earth's surface, and most of them crash in the ocean, the space rock is potentially a very valuable find from both a scientific and financial point of view. The Nageswarans have not decided what they will do with the meteorite yet, but have said that they want it to serve an educational purpose.

Skull Suggests Neanderthal Mix - Scientists have unearthed a skull that may indicate modern humans and Neanderthals interbred. The fossil, found in a cave in Romania, seems to include features of both types of humans. It has the same proportions as a modern human head, but with frontal flattening, a large bone behind the ear and exceptionally large upper molars characteristic of Neanderthals. Scientists have long debated whether the two groups intermixed. Neanderthals are thought to have died out about 24,000 years-ago. Other scientists are not so convinced that the skull suggests a Neanderthal ancestor, noting that with no other skulls of this group to compare this one with, the traits may merely represent characteristics passed down from earlier human populations common to all members of this group.


What's New at the Museum:

Bomarzo: Grove of the Monsters - Duke Pierfrancesco "Vicino" Orsini wanted to build a garden that would be like no other. He succeeded beyond his wildest nightmares. >Full Story

What Happened to the Rocket Belt? - It's been around for over forty years. Why can't I fly one? >Full Story


Ask the Curator:

The End of the Universe - Our small Earth and other planets are in space. It's a big area; can you tell me the total size of space? Will it have a beginning and an end? - J.R.

One of the fundamental questions scientists have struggled with over the years is the size, shape and destiny of the universe. The prevailing theory is that the universe came into being about 13.7 billion years ago in what has been whimsically called "The Big Bang." It has been expanding (some people use the term "inflating") ever since. Gravity - the force that pulls all forms of matter toward each other - is working against the expansion. For a long time scientists debated over whether there was enough matter in the universe given its size (what we call the density) to bring the expansion to a halt and eventually reverse it. If there isn't, gravity will just slow down the expansion but never stop it. If the universe came back together it would end in a "Big Crunch." If it continued with a slow expansion it would just sort of slowly die out as all energy was expended and evenly distributed through out all of space.

The scientists were blown away when recent observations showed that the universe is unlikely to either be pulled back together or just slowed down. The universe's expansion actually appears to be accelerating, for some unknown reason. Scientists have speculated that is due to an unknown force we can't detect which they have dubbed "dark energy." If this is the case, if the universe is accelerated enough it may end when it is actually ripped apart at the atomic level in some distance future.

The shape of the universe is related to its density because higher density means more gravity. If the density is beyond a certain critical value, space, as seen in four dimensions, will be rolled up into the shape of a ball. If the density is just at the critical value, it will be as if the surface of the ball had been flattened out into a sheet. If the density falls below that critical point, it will be as if the sheet had been bent down on two sides and up on the other two forming a "saddle" shape.

The shape of the universe, in turn, has an impact on theories about how large it is. For example, the observable universe (that is the part we can see) is about 92-94 billion light-years across. If the universe were a closed sphere, however, it could actually be quite a bit smaller than this because light traveling in a "straight line" would eventually follow the curve of the sphere and come back to its starting point. This means that if you used a telescope to look at a distance galaxy, you might be actually be looking at your own galaxy from the other side. It might seem that it would be easy to look at a distant part of space and see if the galaxies there matched up with any galaxies in opposite direction, but an experiment like this is extremely difficult to do. In reality the great distances involved mean that we are seeing the galaxies at different times in their history, so they may not look the same or be in the same position.

Recent data from the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP) NASA launched in 2001 suggests that the shape of the universe - at least the observable universe - is nearly "flat" with a minimum size of around 78 billion light years. However it is more likely that it is quite larger and may indeed be infinite. For comparison the diameter of the orbit of Neptune, our outer most planet, is a little more than one thousandth of a light year wide.


In History:

Arrow of Flame - Unexplained "ghost lights" have been a part of folk legends for centuries. In February 1909 a newspaper reported that in Stockton, Pennsylvania, there appeared at night "an arrow of flame, which hovers over the spot on the mountain where the dismembered body of a woman was found in a barrel two years ago…" According to the account the light appeared every night and superstitious villagers thought it was the work of the woman's ghost keeping the memory of the murder alive until her killers were brought to justice.


In the Sky:

Check Out Orion - This is a good time of the year to look for the constellation Orion. The three stars on a line that represent his belt are very prominent in the Southern sky as seen from the Northern Hemisphere this time of year. If you follow a line created by his belt to the southeast you will find Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky. Follow the belt in the opposite direction and you will get to Aldebaran, eye of Taurus (The Bull), and beyond that the beautiful Pleiades star cluster.



Pinning it on the Poisoners - The murderous antics of one of the 19th century's most infamous killers are the subject of a new book entitled Poison, Detection, and the Victorian Imagination. Victorian England feared a new form of homicide - criminal poisoning 'by science'. Anonymous and coldly calculating, poisoners were drawing on the advances made by modern science to inflict an insidious form of violence against their victims. To counter this threat, Victorian society looked to the emergent field of toxicology to enable poisoned bodies to tell their tales from beyond the grave by bringing invisible deeds to light by recourse to the test tube. Yet poison detection in practice was no easy matter and its findings were subjected to searching questions by an anxious, and often skeptical, public.

At no time did these new scientific methods come under closer scrutiny than during the trial of William Palmer. Born in Rugeley, Staffordshire, in 1824, Palmer was a doctor with a reputation as a ladies man whose unhealthy addiction to gambling and the horses resulted in serious debt problems. Palmer was accused of insuring relatives or friends, then poisoning them to collect the insurance benefits. Palmer was hanged at Stafford prison on June 14, 1856, watched by some 30,000 onlookers. Author Dr Ian Burney is a medical historian at The University of Manchester.


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.

Sabretooth - Twice as heavy as a lion with teeth like daggers, the sabretooth cat was one of the most vicious and effective predators ever. Given their widespread distribution and repeated emergence throughout evolution, it's clear that these cats were built to kill. On The Science Channel: FEB 05 2007 @ 09:00 PM FEB 06 2007 @ 12:00 AM FEB 06 2007 @ 04:00 AM FEB 06 2007 @ 10:00 AM FEB 10 2007 @ 04:00 PM; ET/PT.

Who Killed King Tut: Case Reopened - Did King Tut's gleaming death mask hide an ancient homicide? Dead since 1323 B.C. and hastily mummified, Egypt's boy king lay in an unfinished tomb until its 1922 discovery. Modern forensics sheds light on what caused the blows to the King's skull. 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.

Prophets Of Science Fiction - Examine the strange lives of the visionaries of science fiction. The secrets of their uncanny ability to foretell the future are revealed. On The Science Channel: FEB 14 2007 @ 09:00 PM FEB 15 2007 @ 12:00 AM FEB 15 2007 @ 04:00 AM FEB 15 2007 @ 10:00 AM FEB 17 2007 @ 07:00 PM FEB 18 2007 @ 02:00 AM FEB 18 2007 @ 02:00 PM, ET/PT.

Beyond The Solar System - Galaxy formation, black holes, the Big Bang and dark matter are among the many topics covered in this journey to the edges of the universe. On The Science Channel: FEB 06 2007 @ 03:00 PM FEB 06 2007 @ 06:00 PM FEB 20 2007 @ 09:00 PM FEB 21 2007 @ 12:00 AM FEB 21 2007 @ 04:00 AM FEB 21 2007 @ 10:00 AM FEB 24 2007 @ 09:00 PM FEB 25 2007 @ 12:00 AM FEB 25 2007 @ 04:00 AM FEB 25 2007 @ 05:00 PM, ET/PT.

Black Sky: Winning the X Prize - After a successful flight into space on September 29, 2004, Burt Rutan and his team prepare to make history by winning the X Prize competition. Follow the final preparations for the X2 flight by SpaceShipOne and ultimate victory in the competition. On The Science Channel:: FEB 13 2007 @ 03:00 PM FEB 13 2007 @ 06:00 PM FEB 27 2007 @ 10:00 PM FEB 28 2007 @ 01:00 AM FEB 28 2007 @ 05:00 AM FEB 28 2007 @ 11:00 AM; ET/PT.

Best Evidence: The Roswell Incident - The thrust of this episode is to test whether the materials in the debris, and the resulting debris field, could have been caused by Project Mogul. On the Discovery Channel: FEB 22 2007 @ 09:00 PM FEB 23 2007 @ 01:00 AM;

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: Thursday, February 01 08:00 PM Friday, February 02 12:00 AM ET/PT.




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