Science Over the Edge

A Roundup of Strange Science for the Month

Applet credit: Ed Hobbs

March 2001

In the News:

Students Find Mystery Mars Boulders - A group of international school students who won a chance to take pictures of Mars from a NASA spacecraft have discovered a baffling collection of boulders on the Martian surface. The students, ranging in age from 10 to 16, are members of the Planetary Society's Red Rover Goes to Mars Training Mission. With the help of Malin Space Science Systems experts they selected three locations for NASA's Global Surveyor spacecraft to take pictures. In one photo they discovered a clump of boulders where there should be none. "It's puzzling, " said Michael Carr of the U.S. Geological Survey in a NASA press release. "I looked at a few pictures around [the area] and couldn't find anything to explain it. Very puzzling! These are huge boulders. There are no indications of any outcrops that could shed such boulders...The mystery is why so much of the rest of the slope is smooth and devoid of blocks."

The students were chosen through an essay contest from more than 10,000 entrants worldwide.

The Biggest Crystals Ever - The largest natural crystals in the world have been discovered in two caves that were unearthed during mining operations in Chihuahua, Mexico. The crystals, longer than 20 feet in length, are a form of clear gypsum. The mine plans to air condition the caves, which are currently 100 and 150 degrees Fahrenheit in temperature, and open them to the public as a tourist attractions. Meanwhile the mining company is limiting access to the caves because of mineral hunters who have broken into the chambers to steal some of the crystals. One burglar was killed when the crystal he was trying to dislodge from the ceiling fell on him and killed him. The previous record holding crystals came from the nearby "Cave of Swords" and some of those are now on display at the Smithsonian Institution.

Giant Squid Gets Pickled - The body of a giant squid, some forty feet long and weighing 440 pounds (200 Kg) has been found off the coast of Australia. Scientists from the Melbourne Museum are attempting to preserve the body for study by pickling it. Only a small number of giant squid carcasses have ever been found and the creature, which inhabits water as deep as 4,800 feet, has never been seen alive. Mark Norman, of the Museum, joked that such a creature could provide calamari rings the size of "car tires," but they would taste like "floor cleaner."

Stick Insect not Extinct - A rare 'stick' insect has been found alive on a small island off the coast of Australia. Scientists thought it had gone extinct some 80 years ago. Dryococelus australis, which grows about 6 inches (15 centimeters) long and a half-inch (1.5 centimeters) wide, was originally thought to live only on Lord Howe Island off the coast of Australia. It was wiped out from the island in 1920 by rats that landed on the island from a supply ship in 1918. Scientists discovered the surviving insects on Balls Pyramid which is a volcanic rock that rises from the sea 23 kilometers from Lord Howe Island. One of the researchers, Dr. David Piddel said that the creatures grew so large because, before the rats arrived, it had no natural enemies. According to Piddel the animal looks like a "walking sausage."

Slash and Tear Dino - Scientists using engineering techniques have found that the Allosaurus dinosaur attacked its prey with a 'slash and tear' method, much like the modern Komodo Dragon. Researchers at the Cambridge Department of Earth Sciences built a 3D computer model of the Allosaurus fragilis's skull based on fossil skulls. The computer then calculated how the skull would perform under stress. Scientists were intrigued by the strange combination of features that Allosaurus skulls had: a strong upper part, a weak jaw, and a series of struts along the back. The results indicated that the Allosaurus used it neck muscles to drive its skull down on its target like a hatchet, then tear away large chucks of flesh. This was a different approach than the famed T. rex, who's skull is was a "bone crusher."

NEAR Landing - NASA accomplished a first last month when the NEAR-Shoemaker spacecraft set down gently onto surface of the the asteroid 433 Eros. It was the first time anyone had ever tired such a feat. The robot spacecraft, which was launched 5 years ago and made a 2 billion mile journey during its operation, had not been designed to actually land on the asteroid, but merely to observe it from orbit. NASA scientists decided that the mission had been so successful that they would try one final feat with the spacecraft before the end of the mission. The landing on Eros allowed the craft to observe the asteroid very close up and see objects on the surface as small as four inches across as it made its approach. NASA says that the mission was extremely successful and they collected 10 times more scientific data than was originally planned.


What's New at the Museum:

Roy Chapman Andrews - Visit our Virtual Exploration Society to learn about the life of explorer Roy Chapman Andrews. He plunged into Outer Mongolia heedless of sandstorms, civil wars and armed bandits for the sake of science. Read about this scientist/adventurer who many people believe was the model for Hollywood's Indiana Jones. Roy Chapman Andrews

The Great Mummy Project - Need a great science or art project for school? Or maybe something to just liven up your den or bedroom? With a little cardboard, paints, a glue gun and some elbow grease you can build a full-szie replica mummy complete with case. The Great Mummy Project.


In History:

The Surgeon's Fake Photo - It was on March 11, 1994 that the London Daily Mail published a story that reported that one of the most famous pictures of the Loch Ness Monster, known as "The surgeon's photo," was a hoax. Ninety year-old Christian Spurling confessed that he had created a miniature monster which was photographed by his stepfather, Marmaduke Weatherell. Weatherell then got Robert K. Wilson, a surgeon, to turn the pictures in to the press. Weatherell was seeking revenge on a newspaper after an incident involving the Loch Ness Monster where Weatherell was himself hoaxed by someone planting fake monster footprints using a preserved hippo foot.


In the Sky:

Crescent Venus - Last month we noted how brilliant Venus looked. It still is this month and it provides a great opportunity to see the difference between a planet and a star. Early this month go out several hours after sunset and look for Venus in the western sky. It will the easy to find, it is the brightest thing out there except the moon. Now use a pair of binoculars to spot the planet's crescent shape. You may have to rest the binoculars on something to hold them steady enough. You will never see a star with a crescent shape. First because star's shine with their own light, second every star but our own is too far away to look like anything but a point of light in even a large telescope.



Fraudulent Temples Sealed Off - Two phony temples built to defraud pilgrims of their monetary offerings were closed down by local officials at Huong Son, Vietnam. The area is known for its caves and temples which are visited by hundreds of thousands of people during the pilgrimage season that starts after the Lunar New Year. The temples were build by villagers in the 1990's to collect donations from unsuspecting worshipers. The region has 31 caves and temples recognized as legitimate historical relics.

Fireball Over Scotland - People are combing the countryside in Scotland looking for the remains of a fireball that streaked across the sky on the night of February 8th. The fireball, caused by a meteorite falling to Earth, may have landed in the area of Leith or Portobello. Rock hunters are hoping to find pieces of the fireball, which can easily be identified by the thin black crust that covers them, because dealers are willing to pay a high price for even small fragments.


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.

Search for the Lost Cave People - This Nova follows a team of archaeologists to Rio la Venta Gorge in Central America. There they discover the remains of the ancient and mysterious Zoque people who practiced ritualistic cannibalism and child sacrifice. Airs March 6 on PBS 9PM ET.

Crocodiles! With David Attenborough - Sir David Attenborough hosts this Nova on the life of these reptilian predators that have remained almost unchanged since the days of the dinosaurs. Airs on PBS March 13 at 9PM ET.

Land of the Mammoth - If you liked the first one watch this sequel to one of Discovery Channel's highest rated programs: Raising the Mammoth. Airs on March 11 at 8 PM ET/PT.

Ancient Technologies - This TLC program takes a look at technology thousands of years ago. Were those civilizations more advanced than we think? March 2 at 7PM and 2AM, ET.

Area 51: Beyond Top Secret - What goes on at the super secret Area 51 in the Nevada Desert? Are they just trying out top secret planes, or are captured alien spacecraft tested there? On the History Channel March 6 at 8PM, March 7 at midnight and 4AM, ET/PT.

Secret UFO Files - Has the CIA systematically suppressed, distorted and even fabricated reports of UFO sightings? On the History Channel March 22 at 8PM, March 23 at midnight and 4AM, ET/PT.

Secrets of the Dinosaur Hunters - In the 19th century American scientists O.C. Marsh and Drinker Cope fought a frenzied and bitter competition to see who could discover more dinosaur species. Did the rivalry help or hurt science? On the History Channel March 16 at 11PM, March 17 at 3AM and March 18 at 5AM, ET/PT.

Monsters of the Sea - Are sea monsters figments of sailor imaginations, or living relics from the time of the dinosaurs? On the History Channel March 19 at 8PM, March 20 at midnight and 4AM, March 25 at 11 AM, ET/PT.



Science over the Edge Archives

LGM Archive 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001.

Copyright Lee Krystek 2001. All Rights Reserved.