Over the Edge
Roundup of Strange Science for the Month
Mona Lisa Does Round Trip to Moon - NASA scientists
have sent Mona Lisa to the moon and back. The famous painting
didn't go by spaceship, however, but was digitalized and
sent to the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter via a laser beam.
Most space probes communicate with Earth stations by using
radio waves, but the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter has also
been equipped with an experiment laser receiver. After receiving
the digital image the orbiter send it back to Earth using
regular radio waves for a round trip. The experiment marks
"the first time anyone has achieved one-way laser communication
at planetary distances," said the project's principal investigator
David Smith of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Using lasers to communicate with space probes "may allow
communication at higher data rates than present radio links
can provide," added Smith.
Stealth Clothes - New York-based designer Adam Harvey
is releasing a new line of clothes to protest increasing
government surveillance in the world. The line includes
a hoodie that protects the wearer from giving off the thermal
radiation that done infrared scanners can detect. The hoodie
even offers pouch for cell phones that shields them from
trackers by blocking the radio signals the phone gives off
(Of course this also means you can't get any calls while
the phone is in your pocket). Harvey sees the line of clothes
as a kind of conversation about surveillance in society
at large. The duds are expensive, though, so don't expect
to see them popping up at your local discount store.
Observatory Dodges Fiery Bullet - A devastating
bushfire nearly took out the telescopes at Siding Spring
Observatory some 330 miles northwest of Sydney, Australia.
While some of the outbuildings have been damaged officials
think that the main telescopes have survived though not
all the instruments have yet been checked for damage. The
staff of eighteen at the observatory were safely evacuated
before the fire hit. The incident recalls the destruction
of the Mount Stromlo observatory in Canberra, Australia,
in 2003. Observatories are particularly susceptible to damage
from wildfires because they are often sited at remote locations
atop tree covered mountains.
Ancient Magical Rocks Located - Archaeologists
have found a nearly 5,000-year-old collection of 12 stones
that may be the earliest evidence of shamanic rituals in
Central America. The collection was found in the Casita
de Piedra rock shelter, in the Isthmus of Panama. Carbon-dating
of surrounding material puts the age of the stones between
4,000 and 4,800 years old. They were found in a tight pile
which suggests they had been carried there in a leather
pouch that later disintegrated over the centuries. The stones
include pieces of translucent quartz, pyrite, magnetic rocks
and bladed tools. The stones came from a distant region
of Panama called the Central Cordillera. Later this area
would be used for mining gold, but no gold was found in
the shelter. "We will never be entirely sure how the ancient
people used the stones in the past," wrote study author
Ruth Dickau, from the University of Exeter, but it is likely
to be similar to current practices where shamans chant,
sing and blow tobacco smoke over stones to communicate with
spirits and diagnose illnesses.
Big Pterosaur Might Have Problems Getting into the Air
- A new study by paleontologist Sankar Chatterjee of
Texas Tech University in Lubbock suggests that the Quetzalcoatlus,
an enormous pterosaur (See Pterosaurs
in Texas) from Late Cretaceous, couldn't actually
fly. At least not by jumping off from the ground like most
birds do. Chatterjee ran the dimensions of the Quetzalcoatlus
--35 foot wingspan with a 9 foot long head -- through an
aeronautical computer simulation. According to his results
the maximum weight of the creature couldn't be more than
155 pounds (70 kilograms) and even then it could only get
into the air by jumping off a hill or cliff. According to
Chatterjee there is a "upper limit for any flying animal…
Above that, they can't even flap." Other scientists are
skeptical of Chatterjee conclusions. "These animals have
2.5- to three-meter-long heads, three-meter necks, torsos
as large as an adult man and walking limbs that were 2.5
meters long," said paleontologist Mark Witton of the University
of Portsmouth in the United Kingdom. "Quetzalcoatlus skeletons
alone weigh 20 kilograms, leaving 50 kilograms of soft-tissue
to cover a giraffe sized skeleton. (That) leads to one atrophied
Science Quote of the Month - "Only
two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity,
and I'm not sure about the former." - Albert Einstein
New at the Museum:
Seven Wonders of the Medieval World
- Sometime in the late 19th or early 20th century a
list entitled The Seven Wonders of the Medieval World
started to be found among the various catalogs of marvels.
> Full Story
Mysterious Picture of the Month - What
is this this?
Why Can't We Drink Seawater? - Why is it
not ok to drink sea water, but ok to put sea salt on our
food? - John
Salt is one of
the things your body really needs to function. Without it
you wouldn't be unable to maintain the proper fluid balance
in your blood cells. It's also essential to transmit information
through your nerves and muscles. Finally, it is also used
in the absorption of certain nutrients from your small intestines.
As much as we
need a little salt (like the small amounts that you sprinkle
on your hamburger), too much of it is a really big problem.
It can lead to seizures, unconsciousness, and brain damage.
And as your kidneys get over worked by trying to remove
the excess salt from your system they can overload and shutdown
leading to sure death.
The problem is
that the amount of salt in your blood stream must be kept
very close to 0.9%. The amount in seawater, however, is
around 3.5%. If you try and drink seawater the amount of
salt in your blood rises closer to that of the seawater
and your body desperately tries to get rid of it. Water
flows out of your cells to dilute the salt in your blood,
making the cells dehydrate. Your kidneys work to remove
the salt from your system, but your kidneys can only concentrate
salt into your urine at a level less than the 3.5% in the
seawater. Therefore it takes more water to get the salt
out of your system, than you originally got from drinking
the brine. Instead of quenching your thirst the seawater
accelerates your dehydration.
seawater in small amounts (say accidently gulping some while
swimming in the ocean) isn't really dangerous as long as
you had enough fresh water to avoid dehydration. If you
are stranded at sea in a lifeboat, however, and you can't
get any fresh water, drinking seawater to get rid of your
thirst will kill you after a while.
There are some
reports that sailors short on fresh water have been successful
in stretching their supplies by mixing it with saltwater.
Adventurer Thor Heyerdahl reported drinking seawater in
a 40/60% ratio without a problem during his famous Kon-Tiki
expedition across the Pacific Ocean from South America to
the Polynesian islands in 1947. However, unless you are
extremely desperate, such a course of action seems ill-advised.
blood seems to contain the same proportions of minerals
and salts as there is in seawater, just at a lower level.
This has led some scientists to speculate that blood developed
in our distant, distant ancestors from a more diluted form
of seawater that existed in prehistoric times. In fact,
seawater, diluted so that the salt level is the same as
that found in blood, has been successfully used as a replacement
for blood plasma.
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Raining Worms - Falls of strange objects or
animals from the sky are one of the most puzzling phenomena
that is commonly seen. In February of 1892 the people of
Clifton, Indiana, were drenched in a rain of brown worms.
The worms were of a species they did not recognize and apparently
were not known in the area. A sample was sent to the editor
of Insect Life, but he was also unable to identify
the species either.
Check a Star Nursery - A clear night in February
is a great time to observe the constellation Orion, the
Hunter. Orion is easily visible in the winter sky because
of the three bright stars in a straight line that mark his
belt. Four more stars above and below the belt are his shoulders
and legs. If you take a look just below his belt you can
also see his sword. Centered below the sword is the Great
Orion Nebula, which should be visible with binoculars or
a small telescope. It is a nursery giving birth to hot young
Harvard Scientist Thinks it is Possible to Clone
a Neanderthal - A Harvard geneticist has suggested it
might be possible to clone a Neanderthal child with the
help of an "extremely adventurous female human" as a surrogate.
George Church said during an interview that enough fragments
of Neanderthal DNA have been found in fossils throughout
in Europe that they could be put together to create the
plans for an embryo that could be implanted into a human
woman. Other scientists have are skeptical about such a
project pointing out that safety and ethical problems would
prevent such an experiment from taking place. They are also
concerned that creating a human-like being in a lab just
for study would be too exploitative. The United Nations
banned human cloning in 2005 (a voluntary prohibition) and
some U.S. states have barred the practice as well.
check local listing for area outside of North America.
Nova: Building Pharaoh's Chariot - A team uncovers the advanced engineering behind an ancient Egyptian
war machine. On
PBS: February 6 at 9 pm; ET/PT.
Nova: Earth From Space - Detailed satellite images reveal the web of connections that sustain
life on Earth. On PBS: February
13 at 9 pm; ET/PT.
Aliens: Aliens and Cover-Ups
In 1980, three young military men were sent into a UK forest to investigate
strange lights. They reportedly encountered a spacecraft
of unknown origin. When one of the men touched it, he claims
to have received telepathically a long sequence of binary
code, which he later wrote down and translated. The military
ordered them to never speak about the incident. Why do such
UFO encounters continue to be kept under wraps, and what
might they reveal about our ancient past? On The
Feb 12th 11PM;
Unwrapped: The Real Ceopatra
Legend portrayed her as a self-indulgent temptress who used sex and
seduction to rule Egypt, yet little is known about Cleopatra
the person. She was of Greek descent, became queen at 18,
was highly educated and spoke several languages but what
was her life like? And how did she really look? To unravel
some of the mystery, scientists have converted artifacts
with her likeness into a 3-D model, offering viewers a rare
glimpse of the face of one history's most powerful women.
Feb 8th, 7PM
21st Century Warship
The USS Freedom and USS Independence are the pioneering warships changing
the face of battle on the sea with cutting edge design.
Go inside the rigid testing that these ships must face to
become part of the Navy. From a simulated high-speed attack
to test the ships' guns and cannons to helicopter launches
and technical failures, watch these ships attempt to achieve
their mission objectives to ultimately be integrated into
the U.S. Navy's Surface fleet. On The
Feb 2nd at 6PM; Feb
13th at 7PM
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