Science Over the Edge

A Roundup of Strange Science for the Month

Applet credit: Ed Hobbs

Feburary 2009

In the News:

Little Diamonds Point to Comet Explosion - Tiny diamonds are evidence that 13,000 years ago a comet exploded above North America with devastating results for human and animal populations according to a study conducted by a group of eight archaeologists and geologists from the universities of Oregon and California, Northern Arizona University, Oklahoma University and DePaul University. The "nano" diamonds were found at six North American locations in layers of sediment dating back to 12,900 years ago and were probably created in the intense heat and pressure when the comet exploded. The disaster probably sparked fires that generated choking smoke, leading "to the extinction of a large range of animals, including mammoths, across North America," the scientists said. The impact also probably melted much of a glacier that once covered the Great Lakes region, sending a massive flood down the Mississippi River. The debris in the atmosphere reduced sunlight leading to 1,300-year-long cold spell that stretched all around the entire world.

Yellowstone Earthquakes Make Some Nervous - Little earthquakes that have been occurring under the lake at Yellowstone National park have raised some concerns about the possible volcanic activity beneath. Starting on December 26th swarms of mini-quakes have been monitored by the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory and felt by staff and guests. Yellowstone sits on a "super volcano" that last erupted 642,000 years ago devastating much of North American under a blanket of ash. Though scientists think such an enormous reoccurrence in the near future is unlikely, other seismic activity is possible including an steam explosions. Scientists say that although the swarm of earthquakes is unusual, it does not mean a dangerous event is about to occur. Currently the alert code for the Yellowstone is green, but scientists are keeping a careful watch on developments in the area. (For more information on the Yellowstone Supervolcano, click here).

Mars Rovers Celebrate Anniversary - Last month the Mars rovers celebrated five years of exploring the surface of another planet. The robots, anticipated to only to last about for 90 days, have far exceeded their original expectations having returned 250,000 images and trekked over 13 miles. One of the key concerns engineers had about keeping the rovers going was that their solar panels needed to be dust free to provide power to the robot's systems. Fortunately the Martian winds have kept the panels relatively clean. Currently rover Spirit is being sent to two new sites: a mound and a house-sized pit called Goddard. Opportunity is being directed to look at a 14 mile wide impact crater named Endeavour.

Mammoths Done In by Multiple Causes - Mammoths went extinct, not because of climate change, or over hunting by humans, or an asteroid impact, argues a Russian scientist, but because off a combination of all three events. Sergey Zimov, of the Russian Academy of Science, and a team of researchers have re-created the environment around the time of the Mammoth extinction 12,000 years-ago in a 62-square-mile paddock in Siberia they call "Pleistocene Park." The padlock contains a variety of animals that used to live alongside mammoths, including reindeer, musk oxen, and moose. The researchers observed that the animals kill mosses and scrub brush allowing a nutritious grassy landscape to grow from what would otherwise be tundra. The scientists think that as long as mammoths and other creatures existed in large numbers, they were able to maintain the grasslands, even as the weather got colder. Some other factor must have added to the situation to put the animals over the edge. Most likely hunting or the asteroid impact and probably both.

Tablet Names King Tut's Father - A newly found tablet proves that the famous King Tutankhamun was fathered by Pharoah Akhenaten. "We can now say that Tutankhamun was the child of Akhenaten," announced Zahi Hawass, chief of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities. For years historians had wondered if the reigning king was Tut's biological father or if he was the son of the minor king Smenkhkare. Hawass came across the missing part of a broken limestone tablet in a storeroom in a village on the west bank of the Nile some 150 miles south of Cairo a few months ago. When the tablet was reassembled, it became "an accurate piece of evidence that proves Tut lived in el Amarna with Akhenaten," Hawass said. The text also identifies Tutankhamun as the 'king's son of his body, Tutankhaten,' and his wife as the 'king's daughter of his body, Ankhesenaten,'" Hawass continued. The stone therefore also confirms what many researchers suspected: Tut was married his half sister.


Science Quote of the Month - "Men love to wonder, and that is the seed of science." - Ralph Waldo Emerson


What's New at the Museum:

The Missing Time Machine - An eccentric priest claimed he had a machine that could see into the past. Was his story folly or fancy? > Full Story



Ask the Curator:

FDR Assassinated?- I've read a couple of short articles about the idea that FDR was actually assassinated. Is there any evidence or proof to this? Who thought of this theory? - Thanks, Frank

On April 12th, 1945, Franklin Delano Roosevelt died at the "Little White House" in Warm Springs, Georgia. According to the history books he had a massive cerebral hemorrhage (bleeding in the brain).

What seems to have made some people suspicious of this explanation was that the President was buried with a closed casket. According to some stories not even close family members were allowed to view his body. This eventually led to two rumors. A) That he was assassinated and the body was disfigured (shot in the face with a .45 pistol) or B) that he didn't actually die, but was spirited off somewhere by people unhappy with his policies.

The assassination rumor appears to have gained some popularity in the 50's when a group called the Christian Nationalist Crusade(CNC) put out a pamphlet entitled "The Roosevelt Death: A Super Mystery." In the anonymous handout (written by "Mr. X") the group suggested that FDR had been murdered (or maybe driven to suicide) by an international secret organization for whom he worked. The organization supposedly found that his accelerating illness was making him more of a liability than an asset. The CNC pamphlet alleged that this secret organization was controlled by the Jews and/or Communists. These CNC claims aren't much of a surprise, however, as the group was known to have antisemitic, racist, and anti-communist views.

No real hard evidence for this story has been ever found. Another rumor was that FDR was poisoned, not shot. This story, however, would seem to undermine the one fact that might support the assassination theory: The closed casket. A closed casket would not be needed if the cause of death was poison.

There seems no real reason to question Roosevelt's death given the poor state of his health. He had been struck down by polio when he was young and lived as an invalid for many years. He was also an extremely heavy smoker with emphysema, very high blood-pressure, atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) and angina. You can add to this more than a dozen years of stress from running the country during the Great Depression and World War II and you begin to wonder how he lived as long as he did. In fact, a prominent pathologist, Dr. Emanuel Libman, after seeing Roosevelt's image in newsreels in 1943 prophetically said, "It doesn't matter whether Roosevelt is re-elected or not, he'll die of a cerebral hemorrhage within 6 months."

Libman wasn't the only one who questioned FDR's longevity. When Roosevelt ran for elections for a fourth time in 1944 many of the members of his party did not expect to see him live to the end of his term. They were so concerned that they insisted that Vice-President Henry A. Wallace (who was thought to be soft on communism) be dropped from the ticket. He was replaced by Harry Truman.

Still conspiracy theories linger on. There were certainly people who might have wanted to do him harm and he had already survived an attempt on his life in 1933 while he was President-Elect. Here are some places you can check these theories out: Bill Hanson's book entitled "Closely Guarded Secrets" supports the poisoning hypothesis. You can also read an excerpt from "The Roosevelt Death: A Super Mystery" which can be found on

Have a question? Click here to send it to the curator.


New To Read:

KRONOS - Based on the legend of the Great New England Sea Serpent, Kronos is Jeremy Robinson's new deep sea thriller. Steve Alten, NY Times bestselling author of MEG, MEG - Hell's Aquarium and The Loch has described the book as "Moby Dick meets James Bond thriller with an amazing twist!" A thriller for sea monster lovers everywhere.


In History:

An Early Champ Sighting - On February 24th, 1880, the Newport Express and Standard newspaper reported that a group of Vermont men had observed a creature in Lake Champlain "covered with scales which glistened like precious metals in the sun." Believers point to this as one of the earliest reports of "Champ" the legendary animal that lives in the depths of the lake. Over the years many people have thought that they have sighted Camp in the waters that straddles the Vermont- New York border, but so far nobody has provided uncontestable proof. Read more about "Champ" here.


In the Sky:

Comet Lulin - The February night sky will feature a newly discovered comet. Recently discovered Comet Lulin will be at its peak of brightness on the morning of 24th. While you probably will need a pair of binoculars to spot it, but may be visible to the naked eye in dark areas. To the observed the twin tailed comet look for the planet Jupiter in the southwest sky during the early morning hours of the 24th. The comet will be located just below it. Because of the twin tails pointing in opposite directions it may appear look more like a galaxy than a comet.



Methane May Mean Life on Mars - NASA scientists have announced that they have identified several plumes of methane gas emerging from the planet Mars. The fact that methane breaks down in the Martian atmosphere rather quickly means there must be some continuing process, either biological or geological, behind its creation. "Right now, we do not have enough information to tell whether biology or geology -- or both -- is producing the methane on Mars," Michael Mumma of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center explained. "But it does tell us the planet is still alive, at least in a geologic sense. It is as if Mars is challenging us, saying, 'Hey, find out what this means.' " As the main source of geological methane on Earth is volcanoes, and all volcanoes on Mars are extinct, they see a strong possibility that it is coming from microbes living beneath the surface of the planet.


On the Tube:

Please check local listing for area outside of North America.

Nova: The Spy Factory - NOVA investigates the high-tech eavesdropping carried out by the National Security Agency and the effectiveness of surveillance in an age of terrorism. On PBS. February 3 at 8 pm.

Egypt's New Tomb Revealed - A new tomb was found in Egypt's Valley of the Kings, with 28 jars and seven coffins. Discover what is sealed inside the jars and what connection the mummies in the coffins may have to King Tut's tomb. On the Science Channel. Feb 02, 8:00 pm; Feb 02, 11:00 pm; Feb 03, 3:00 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 15, 8:00 pm; Feb 15, 11:00 pm; ET/PT

The Riddle of Pompeii - Explore life and society in Ancient Rome through recent archaeological excavations and cutting edge science. Discover what really happened during the eruption in AD 79 that destroyed the Roman towns of Pompeii and Herculaneum. On the Science Channel. Feb 16, 8:00 pm; Feb 16, 11:00 pm; ET/PT

Siberian Apocalypse - At 7:15AM on June 30, 1908, a giant fireball, as bright the Sun, explodes in the Siberian sky with a force a thousand times greater than the Hiroshima bomb. It decimates 1,000 square miles of forest--over half the size of Rhode Island, and was the biggest cosmic disaster in the history of civilization. What caused the apocalyptic fire in the sky? Over a hundred theories surround what is called the Tunguska event, varying from asteroids and comets to black holes and alien spaceships. Most scientists agree the Tunguska event will happen again, and next time, the human toll could be unimaginable. Now, NASA and other organizations race against time to stop the next planet killer before it ignites Armageddon. On The History Channel. Tuesday, February 10 08:00 PM; Wednesday, February 11 12:00 AM; ET/PT.



Science over the Edge Archives

LGM Archive 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009

Copyright Lee Krystek 2008. All Rights Reserved.