Science Over the Edge

A Roundup of Strange Science for the Month

Applet credit: Ed Hobbs

March 2002

In the News:

"Cycler" Spaceship Could Allow Low Cost Flights to Mars - "Buzz" Aldrin, the second astronaut to walk on the moon, is leading a team of Purdue engineers designing a "cycler" spacecraft would employ planetary gravity to make continual trips between the Earth and Mars. Once the ship was put into the proper orbit little fuel would be needed to operate the vessel. It would move between the planets at about 13,000 mph making a one way trip in about six to eight months. Space "taxis" would be needed to ferry passengers and supplies to and from surfaces to the speeding cycler craft as it past by each planet. Aldrin has targeted 2018 for the ship's first inaugural flight.

Wrong Way Galaxy - Astronomers have spotted a spiral galaxy that appears to be turning in the wrong direction. Photographs taken by the Hubble Space Telescope show that NGC 4266 has two leading outer arms that point towards the direction of the galaxy's rotation. Most galaxies have arms that trail the rotation. Scientists are not sure what created this oddball, but some believe that this kind of structure is rare, if not unique among galaxies. One theory holds that this is the result of another, smaller, galaxy that collided with, and was absorbed by, NGC 4266.

Oldest Vomit Found - Researchers digging in a clay quarry in Peterborough, eastern England, have discovered the world's oldest vomit. The fossilized remains of a 160-million-year-old regurgitated meal was found by geologists and reported by the University of Greenwich last month. The material is believed to have come from an Ichthyosaurus, a form of marine reptile, which dined off squid-like shellfish called belemnites. Scientists have long thought that the Ichthyosaurus regurgitated inedible parts of the shellfish to avoid indigestion (just as modern sperm whales do with squid beaks). The shells parts found in the vomit tend to confirm that theory.

Moon's Middle is Molten - NASA scientists announced last month that they had determined that the interior of the moon contains something like a molten slurry. By using lasers to measure the gravitational tug from its planetary neighbors on the lunar surface they were able to observe "gravity tides" which indirectly told them about the moon's interior. The surface of the moon expands and contracts by as much as 4 inches every 27 days suggesting that the core is not solid. By shooting lasers at the moon and bouncing them off reflectors left by US and Soviet space missions they were able to measure the distance from the Earth to the Moon to within 0.8 of an inch and observe the movement.

Scientists Reveal New Bird-Like Dino - A newly discovered fossil from China has strengthened the argument that dinosaurs and birds are closely related. The fossil is 130 million-year-old remains of a small dinosaur named Sinovenator changii and is very similar in nature to the oldest known bird Archaeopteryx. Sinovenator changii had a bird-like shoulder joint, a wishbone and a pelvic bone that points backwards, which is similar to modern birds. According to scientist Peter Makovicky, of the Field Museum in Chicago, the fossil demonstrates that major structural modifications toward birds from dinosaurs occurred earlier in the evolutionary process than previously thought. Paleontologists have been strongly divided over whether birds evolved from dinosaurs, but Makovicky argues Sinovenator changii should resolve the issue.


What's New at the Museum:

The Paluxy Paradox: Did Dinosaurs and Men Walk Together? - It was 1910 when two boys found some oblong fossil tracks in a layer of stone already crowded with dinosaur footprints. Were the markings human? - Paluxy Paradox


Ask the Curator:

Biddeford Monster - I work for a science museum and recently got a phone call from a woman who is insisting that she saw something called the Biddeford Sea Monster which is Maine's equivalent to the Loch Ness Monster. Do you know anything about this legend? Until she called me I had never heard of it. - Anonymous

Your caller may have been referring to the sea serpent that reportedly haunted the coves and bays along New England during the 18th, 19th and much of the early 20th century. Though a listing of sea serpent reports from that era shows none specifically for Biddeford, nearby Kennebunk, Wells Beach, Kittery, Casco Bay and Portland all have multiple sightings associated with them. All in all over 200 reports were made during this period and even today nobody is quite sure of what people were seeing.

A good place to start with learning about the phenomenon is our own page, The Monstrous Sea Serpent of Gloucester, and J.P. O'Neill's excellent volume The Great New England Sea Serpent. If your caller indeed sighted the creature it will be welcome news for serpent supporters who have been concerned that over-fishing along the coast my have deprived the animal of its food supply and driving it away.


Back To The Future - This is something that I have been thinking about for a very long time. Suppose I could travel back in time, back to when my parents were young. Let us say that I shoot my father, this would prevent him meeting my mother, therefore make it impossible for me to exist ever! But if I never exist, then I can have never traveled back in time to shoot my father, therefore he would be alive, and I would exist, but if he is alive, and I exist, then I will end up going back in time and killing him, therefore I will not exist........ and it goes on forever there is no logical end to this cycle. Could tell me if anyone has already touched on this subject. - Anonymous

What you have outlined is a common argument against the possibility of backwards time travel, however, it may not be as much of a restriction as it appears. Assuming you could build a time machine, and that's a HUGE assumption, at least one interpretation of Quantum Theory suggests that the universe splits into multiple parallel universes every time an event happens that could happen in multiple different ways. That suggests that if you did go back in time and killed your father, you would find yourself in a universe where he was dead, but the universe you left from, the one where he had not been killed, would still exist.

This is just one theory that might get around the problem you posed and there are others too. Of course, it also extremely possible that building a time machine is either too difficult or flatly impossible and the scenario you suggest will simply never come to pass.


In History:

Fake Loch Ness Photo - On March 11, 1994, the London Daily Mail published a story revealing that the famous "surgeon's photo" of the Loch Ness Monster, taken in 1934, was a fake. Christen Spurling confessed the deception more than a half century after his stepfather, M.A. Wetherell, enlisted Spurling to assist in the plot. Spurling modified a toy submarine to look like the head and neck of the creature for the photographs. Wetherall apparently pulled off the hoax as revenge on the Daily Mail after it mistreated him when he was the butt of an earlier Loch Ness hoax.

Some doubt Spurling's confession, noting that he had little evidence to back up his claim, and continue to believe the photos are genuine.


In the Sky:

Catch the Red Spot - If the air is particularly clear on March 24th you may want to examine Jupiter with a telescope, if you have one. The Great Red Spot, a huge oval storm system, will be moving across the middle of the planet at 11:44 PM EST. In recent years the Red Spot has turned to more of a brown spot than a red one.



Bigfoot at Hoosier? - Several people have reported seeing a strange "ape-like" animal near the Hoosier National Forest. The animal appears to be 5-6 feet tall, covered with shaggy fur, has 4 long claws on each foot, walks on two hind legs and has a patch of white on top of it's head. Tracks found from the creature resemble a badger's tracks, but only if the badger was 5-6 feet tall and weighed over 270 pounds. Residents in the area are worried about the safety of their children and nobody seems to have an explanation about just what the creature might be.


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.

Chasing Giants: On the Trail of the Giant Squid - Ageless tales of sea monsters include reports of an eight-legged beast with eyes the size of volleyballs - the Giant Squid. New Zealand scientist Steve O'Shea attempts to track this elusive creature and to provide the first image of the animal alive. On the Discovery Channel: Mar 10 9:00 PM and 1:00 AM; Mar 17 5:00 PM; Mar 21 10:00 PM and 2:00 AM; Mar 23 5:00 PM; Mar 27 9:00 PM and 1:00 AM ET.

Alien Abduction: The Mystery Unraveled - Over the past several decades, accounts of alien abduction have been steadily rising. Explore the possibility that another baffling and terrifying human phenomenon, sleep paralysis, might offer new clues to explain alien abduction. On the Discovery Channel: Mar 28 10:00 PM and 2:00 AM; Mar 30 7:00 PM ET.

The Lost Mummy of Imhotep -The Egyptian high priest in the movie, The Mummy, is considered by historians to be the first genius. The first to build pyramids, this physician and ruler was a god to his people. Archaeologists may have discovered his tomb in the sands of Saqqara. On the Discovery Channel: Mar 25 8:00 PM and 12:00 AM ET.

Out of this World - UFO sightings, balls of light, flashing spheres and other mysterious objects have been seen by astronauts and cosmonauts while in space. Eyewitness accounts defy the explanations of NASA and Russian space program officials. On TCL: Mar 5 9:00 PM and 12:00 AM; Mar 9 3:00 PM ET.

Abominable Snowman - Search for the legendary abominable snowman of the Himalayas. Travel to unexplored areas of Bhutan, the remote kingdom between India and Nepal. Hear eyewitness testimony and examine remains analyzed by a world expert on DNA. On TCL: Mar 14 10:00 PM and 1:00 AM ET.

The Ultimate Ten Technological Disasters - The technological strides in the 20th century are astounding -- but the technological breakdowns are devastating. From the Hindenberg to the Exxon Valdez, examine the human errors that lead to the worst technological disasters in history. On TCL: Mar 13 8:00 PM and 11:00 PM; Mar 16 2:00 PM ET.

Mysterious Places - Travel to awe-inspiring places of mystery throughout the world: Nevada's Area 51, the Batu Caves, Stonehenge, the Shrine of Lourdes, Vaithirswarankoil, the Catacombs, Nazca Lines, the Bermuda Triangle, Loch Ness and Atlantis. On TCL: Mar 17 8:00 PM and 11:00 PM; Mar 19 9:00 PM and 12:00 AM; Mar 23 5:00 PM ET.

Giants - The Mystery and the Myth - Examine both credible and incredible evidence that supports the existence of giants and giant races. Explore references, from Goliath and other Biblical characters to alien giants of modern imagination, to assess the impact of this phenomenon on mankind. On TCL: Mar 29 9:00 PM and 12:00 AM ET.

Japan's Mysterious Pyramids - Most historians and archaeologists maintain that civilization as we know it began about 5,000 years ago with the emergence of the earliest Egyptian dynasty. But, a small yet persuasive number of scientists believes that a highly advanced civilization, nearly twice as old, flourished during the last Ice Age. Solid evidence of this 10,000-year-old civilization is difficult to produce, but some feel a recent discovery off the coast of a tiny Japanese island, Yonaguni, may be the proof they seek. On The History Channel: March 12 8:00 PM; March 13 12:00 AM; March 17 12:00 PM ET.



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