Science Over the Edge

A Mix of News, Events, History and Gossip

Applet credit: Ed Hobbs

March 2000

In the News:

Ball Lightning Theory - Two New Zealand scientists, John Abrahamson and James Dinniss, have come up with a new theory to explain ball lightning. Ball lightning is a rarely seen, glowing, floating sphere that appears and disappears in usually about 15 seconds. Most often ball lightning is seen in conjunction with thunderstorms.. The new theory, published in Nature magazine, suggests that ball lightning is caused by a strike of normal lightning that heats silica-carbon mixtures in the soil. This releases a hot vapor from the ground that forms a sphere floats upward. Nanoparticles in the vapor burn slowly giving off light and heat. The glow approximates that of a 100 watt light bulb.

Evidence of Advanced Civilization found under Illinois Mound - Scientists have discovered evidence of an advanced civilization under the famous "Monk's Mound" in Illinois. William Woods, of the Southern Illinois University, stated that excavation of the mound indicates that the construction required advanced planning and the skills of surveyors, architects and engineers. Archaeologists think the mound was built between 950 AD and 1200 AD. Scientists believe that the ancient city that surrounded the mound, Cahokia, was, at the time, the largest metropolis north of Mexico with a population of about 15,000 people. Woods will present his finding at a conference in London in May.

Ancient Indian mound has been the source of many mysteries. Read about the Newark Decalogue.

Growing a Home on Mars - Genetically altered trees could help human's colonize Mars scientists speculated at a meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. The trees might be altered to grow a protective greenhouse for themselves to resist Mar's freezing temperature and thin air. Growing the proper habitat for humans would be much easier than building it, suggested scientists. Freeman Dyson, a professor emeritus of physics at Princeton University said such protection would be akin to "a turtle growing its shell" or a polar bear using fur. While such schemes are many years off scientists attending the conference agreed that such dreams would be key to developing tools that will allow for the eventual settlement of the planet.

NEAR Orbits Eros - The Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous (NEAR) space probe entered orbit around the asteroid Eros this month. Since its arrival the probe has been sending detailed information back about the twenty-one mile long and eight mile wide rock. Eros is the first asteroid to be orbited by a spacecraft from Earth and photos from the probe show that it is very old, with many craters, boulders and a slightly yellowish color. The surface seems to be composed of pyroxene and olivine which are common minerals on both the Earth and Moon. By measuring the orbit of the NEAR probe scientists have been able to estimate that the asteroid has a density similar to that of the Earth's crust. Though the orbit is difficult to maintain because the asteroid's low gravity and irregular shape, scientists plan to move the probe from its current 200 mile high orbit in closer for better observation over the spacecraft's planned year long stay.

Hydrogen from the Scum of the Pond - Scientists at the University of California, Berkeley, have been doing taking the first steps in producing valuable hydrogen fuel cheaply from pond scum. The scum, a plant more accurately known as algae, grows well with ordinary sunlight and air. When forced to live without sulfur in an oxygenless environment the tiny plants switch to a mode where they survive by producing hydrogen. Scientists are excited about this development because hydrogen is a very clean burning fuel that might be used to replace gasoline and other polluting fossil energy sources.

Native Americans Claim Museum Meteorite - A meteor which hit the ground 10,000 years ago in Oregon has become a bone of contention between an American Indian group and the American Museum of Natural History in NYC. The Clackamas tribe claims the stone from space, which they call Tomanoas, is a sacred holy object. The Willamette meteorite has sat on display in the Museum since 1906, but was recently was moved to the Rose Center for Earth and Space, a newly constructed addition. The Indian group has submitted a claim to get the meteorite returned under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act and the Museum has sued to block the claim. Whatever the outcome, the 15 and 1/2 ton meteorite is not easy to move. The Rose Center had to be built around the car-sized rock and has its own special foundation.

In History:

Surgeon's Photo Hoax - On March 11, 1994 the London Daily Mail printed a story that called into question one of the most famous Loch Ness Monster photos. The photo, known as the "surgeon's photo" was supposedly taken by Robert Wilson and shows what appears to be the head and neck of a plesiosaur-like creature in the lake. The Mail story alleged that the photograph was really a toy plastic submarine altered to look like the monster. Christian Spuling, then ninety years old, confessed that he had built the model for his stepfather Marmaduke Weatherell, who masterminded the hoax.

For more information on this hoax, click here!

In the Sky:

Regulus and the Moon - On March 16th, 17th or 18th see if you can use the Moon as a guide to identify the star Regulus. Go out about an hour after sunset and look for the Moon. Look for a bright star to the lower left of the Moon on the 16th and to the upper right on the 18th. On the 17th the star will be within 2 degrees of the Moon and you may need a pair of binoculars to find it in the glare. The star Regulus in at the heart of the constellation Leo the Lion.


Museum Thefts - A rash of thefts has been threatening museum collections around the world. In Doylestown, PA, USA, a 7,000-year-old American Indian ax head has been stolen from the Fonthill Museum. In Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada, the Ripley's Believe It or Not Museum has reported the loss of a shrunken head valued at $16,800 from their collection. In Russia a first edition copy of De revolutionibus orbium coelestium, the book written by Nicolaus Copernicus describing his revolutionary theory that the Earth revolves around the Sun, disappeared from the Academy of Sciences Library in St. Peterburg last month. The volume is valued at $400,000.

There is no evidence, at this time, that these thefts are connected.

Perpetual Motion Machine? - Blue prints for a perpetual motion machine were offered on the ebay auction site last month. The description of the papers reads "The documents and blue prints are made for or taken from a saucer shaped aircraft for technology of a perpetual motion engine." The listing goes on to say that the perpetual motion engine was small enough to fit in a car and included in the sale are blue prints for a saucer shaped aircraft that "was tested and flown back in the 60's." The seller, listed as "Acegyro" was asking $5,000,000 for the lot and explained he was giving the public first shot at the technology before he sold it to a car company. The items were taken off auction when the reserve price was not met. Probably this was all a hoax, but with gas prices climbing higher and higher...

On the Tube:.

Raising the Mammoth - Watch as an expedition to one of the most remote and forbidding areas of the globe attempts to extract a 23,000-year-old woolly mammoth from the frozen Siberian tundra. Will DNA recovered from this animal someday be used to bring this extinct creature back? Airs on the Discovery Channel March 19 at 6PM and March 22 at 9PM and midnight ET. Repeats March 18th, at 8PM and midnight, March 19, at 6PM and March 22 at 9PM and midnight.

Sodom and Gomorrah - Archeologists have unearthed what they believe to be the fabled cities of Sodom and Gomorrah . Were the cities located in the desolate landscape where they were found? Could geological events have moved their remains? Or were they consumed by fire, as written in the Bible? Airs on March 20th as a part of Histories Mysteries on the History Channel at 8PM ET 9PM PT. Repeats March 25 at 2 pm ET/11 am PT

Man-Eaters of India - Part of National Geographic Explorer on CNBC Friday, March 3 at 8PM and 11PM ET. Children are disappearing from a remote village in India. Is it an evil spirit, or a new predator? Also on March 19 at 8PM and 11PM checkout Explorer epsiode Lost Road of the Inca.

Lost at Sea: The Search for Longitude - Find out how an English clockmaker solved the most difficult problems of the 18th Century: How to know where you were when you sailed beyond the sight of land. On PBS's Nova March 21 at 9PM ET.


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Copyright Lee Krystek 2000. All Rights Reserved.