Science Over the Edge

A Roundup of Strange Science for the Month

Applet credit: Ed Hobbs

March 2006

In the News:

New Prehistoric Reptile Found in Basement - Two scientists examining holdings in basement of a museum have discovered a new species of prehistoric reptile. The researchers found the remains of a toothless, two-legged ancestor of the crocodiles that walked upright, in storage at American Museum of Natural History in New York City. The animal had been dug up in 1947 or 1948 and was thought to have been a specimen of Coelophysis, a small, carnivorous dinosaur that lived about 210 million years ago. A new examination by museum curator Mark Norell and graduate student Sterling Nesbitt showed that the creature was instead a type of reptile called an archosaur. They have named this particular species Effigia okeeffeae. Okeeffeae lived at the same time as Coelophysis, but was not a dinosaur. The animal is interesting, according to the scientists, because it closely resembles a completely unrelated dinosaur called an ostrich dinosaur that lived 80 million years later.

King Tut Killed By Infection - A new study suggests that perhaps King Tutankhamun, the mysterious pharaoh whose remains were unearthed in 1922, died of an infection to the knee. A CT scan of the mummy has revealed that King Tut's kneecap was broken, as well as his left foot, and embalming fluid had entered the spaces within the knee indicating the pharaoh was mummified when the wounds were still open. Also tiny bits of gold leaf found in the wound apparently were driven in there when armor around the knee area was struck by something, perhaps a sword. Experts think that, soon after, an infection set in, killing the "boy king" at the age of around 19. Scientists have long speculated that King Tut was murdered based on X-rays of the mummy taken in 1968 showing a fragment of bone inside the skull. The most recent examination, though, suggests that this damage was caused by the process of mummification.

NASA Considers a "Gravitational Tractor" - NASA astronauts Edward Lu and Stanley Love have come up with a novel way to change the course of an asteroid if one threatens earth with a catastrophic collision. The plan calls for a special spaceship called a "gravitational tractor" that would hover near the asteroid for an extended length of time. Just the small gravitational force exerted on the asteroid by the spaceship's presence should be enough to pull it into a slightly different orbit, avoiding a collision with Earth. To deflect a 700-foot asteroid a 20-ton nuclear-powered spacecraft shaped like a pendulum would be needed. "It's like changing the angle of a bank shot in pool," Love says. "A little change early on has a large effect down the line." Their plan avoids problems associated with deflecting asteroids using nuclear missiles or robotic impactors that might split the object into several pieces that could still strike Earth.

Historic Papyrus Recovered from Mummy - Scientists have recovered part of a lost ancient Greek document on map making and a sketchbook for ancient artists from a first- century B.C. mummy's wrappings. The papyrus was found in fragments in a shell-like coffin of paper and glue used for mummies. Before being turned into mummy wrap, the paper was first used around the mid-first century B.C., in Alexandria, Egypt, when a copyist transcribed a book by Greek geographer Artemidorus. When the copyist made an error the papyrus was ruined and later blank spaces were used as a catalog of drawings for mosaics and frescos. The papyrus was eventually sold as pulp paper, and was buried with the mummy for some 1,800 years. According to Claudio Gallazzi, a professor of Papirology at the University of Milan, the document "helps write new pages of Greek literature, cartography and art history. One might wonder how a single papyrus can conceal such a big treasure. Well, it was used at different times, for different purposes, and by different people."

"Lost World" Found - An international expedition to the Foja Mountains western part of the island of New Guinea has found a virtual "lost world" of new animal species, giant flowers, and rare mammals. Experts discovered species that had never been seen before, including frogs, butterflies, plants and the first new bird discovered on the island in more than 60 years. A spokesman for the expedition said," It's as close to the Garden of Eden as you're going to find on Earth." The finds have led scientists to conclude that more than 750,000 acres of old-growth tropical forest in the Foja Mountains remain virtually untouched by man.


What's New at the Museum:

The Mystery of the Rosetta Stone - Part II: - Jacques-Joseph Champollion was working in his office at the Institute of France on September 14 of 1822 and worrying about his little brother. The younger Champollion, Jean-Francios, had been working night and day on his obsession: deciphering the strange little drawings, known as hieroglyphics, left by the ancient Egyptians. Suddenly the elder Champollion's door burst open and Jean-Francios rushed in and in frenzy shouted, "I've done it! I've done it!" He started to tell his brother what he had done, but before he got very far he fell to the floor as if he were dead... >Full Story


Ask the Curator:

Foggy Notion - Why does a hot liquid poured on cold ground produce steam? - Anonymous

First let's note that if the ground is cold, then most likely the air directly above is cold also. This is important to our explanation. When warm water hits the ground it starts to spread out and some of the warmth is transferred to the air immediately above the water. Warm air always holds more moisture than cold air, so this promotes the evaporation of the water. As the warm water vapor rises, however, it soon gets to a layer of air that has not been warmed. As cold air does not hold as much moisture as warm air, some of the water vapor is condensed out as a steam or fog. This is the same effect you get when warm rain hits the cold ground and ground fog forms. It is also similar to the "steam" fog the forms over lakes when cold, dry air sweeps over warm water. The rising water vapor hits and layer of air colder than the layer it was in and condenses out as fog.

In History:

19th Century Airship - An article in the Santa Fe Weekly New Mexican for March 29, 1880 is the first known reference to a mysterious "airship" in the press. Though the end of the nineteenth century, and into the twentieth , there would be periodic bursts of reports of airships appearing in the skies over the United States. The most famous of these "flaps" started late in 1896 and ran though the first half of 1897. What were people seeing in the skies? They reported blimp-like objects piloted by humans, not extraterrestrial craft. Could there been some mysterious inventors exploring aviation secretly? It seems an very unlikely, but intriguing possibility. For more information check out The Mysterious Airship of 1896.


In the Sky:

Zodiacal Light - If you can get away from city lights sometime from March 16th though the end of the month you might have a chance of observing Zodiacal Light. It will appear as a luminous cone of light tapering upward from the western horizon. It is caused by sunlight reflected off dust particles in the inner solar system. The light roughtly follows the plane of the Earth's orbit, which this time of year extends from the western horizon upward toward the Pleiades and Mars. The end of this month there are moonless twlights and with the zodiac is steeply inclined to the horizon you have the best chance to see this phenomenon. Look for it just after sunset.



Top Ten List for Extraterrestrials - Margaret Turnbull of the Carnegie Institution of Washington released a "top 10" list of locations that should be searched for extraterrestrial life. These will be the first targets of a future space telescope system, NASA's Terrestrial Planet Finder, with parts scheduled for launch in 2014 and 2020. The list of stars includes only those that could have planets with liquid water and stars not so bright that they would obscure their planets. Variable stars, with wide temperatures changes have been eliminated from the list. Also not on the list are gassy stars that could not have created planets like Earth, which contain a lot of metal. No stars with massive companions were put on the list as this can create unstable conditions on any associated planets. The list currently includes 51 Pegasus, 18 Sco in the Scorpio constellation, epsilon Indi A; and alpha Centauri B.


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.

NOVA - The Great Robot Race - High-tech, driverless cars compete in a Pentagon-sponsored race across a 130-mile desert course. On the PBS: March 28 at 8 pm ET/PT

World's Strangest UFO Stories: The Great Alien Conspiracy - In an age of conspiracy, paranoia surrounds almost all facets of life from government to royalty, to big business and the media. There's one conspiracy that makes all the others seem like child's play; our every day lives are being run by aliens. On The Discovery Channel: MAR 02 2006 @ 09:00 PM, MAR 03 2006 @ 01:00 AM; ET/PT

Sasquatch: Legend Meets Science - The legend of a North American Ape species known as Sasquatch, Bigfoot and Yeti has been around since recorded time. Even today, sighting and physical evidence are gathered on a regular basis. Is this creature fact or fiction? On The Discovery Channel: MAR 02 2006 @ 11:00 PM; ET/PT

The Mystery of the Human Hobbit - It was the most striking scientific discovery of last year. An entirely new species of mini-human found on an island in Indonesia. Is the hobbit a new species that transforms our view of evolution, or is it simply a very small, modern human being? On The Discovery Channel: MAR 04 2006 @ 08:00, PM MAR 05 2006 @ 12:00 AM; ET/PT.

Search for the Loch Ness Monster - Steve Leonard leaves no stone unturned in his hunt for the elusive prehistoric creature, Nessie. He travels to the wetlands of Northern Australia to test the awesome bite of the monster's closest living relative - the Australian salt-water crocodile. On The Discovery Channel: MAR 09 2006 @ 08:00 PM, MAR 10 2006 @ 12:00 AM; ET/PT.

Inside Area 51 - The mysterious place of secret aircraft, covert military bases that don't exist on any maps and strange conspiracy theories. Follow the accusations of closed-door alien autopsies and other covert operations. On The Discovery Channel: MAR 16 2006 @ 08:00 PM, MAR 17 2006 @ 12:00 AM; ET/PT.

Are Aliens Invading Scotland? - According to Ufologists there are certain places around the world where UFOs congregate. The really big question though is, why would aliens who've travelled half way across the universe be so keen on visiting a small area of Scotland? On The Discovery Channel: MAR 23 2006 @ 10:00 PM, MAR 24 2006 @ 02:00 AM; ET/PT.

Rise of the Feathered Dragon - Follow the work of paleontologists in remote northwestern China as they search for fossil evidence to the origins of modern birds. On The Science Channel: MAR 12 2006 @ 10:00 PM, MAR 13 2006 @ 01:00 AM, MAR 13 2006 @ 05:00 AM, MAR 13 2006 @ 11:00 AM, MAR 13 2006 @ 03:00 PM, MAR 19 2006 @ 09:00 AM; ET/PT.

When Dinosaurs Roamed America - Follow dinosaur evolution. State of the art computer animation, live-action backgrounds and the latest scientific finds show how dinosaurs lived and died in our backyards. Go inside dinosaurs to see the latest known about their anatomy and physiology. On the Science Channel: MAR 20 2006 @ 08:00 PM, MAR 20 2006 @ 11:00 PM, MAR 21 2006 @ 03:00 AM, MAR 21 2006 @ 09:00 AM, MAR 21 2006 @ 01:00 PM, MAR 25 2006 @ 04:00 PM; ET/PT.

Ancient Marvels: Cities of the Underworld - Istanbul is undoubtedly one of the most dynamic and exotic cities in the world. Once the capital city of three of the world's most powerful empires--The Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman--its strategic location made it the perfect spot for empires to rise, fall...and rise again. Today Istanbul's residents are walking on top of remnants of these fallen civilizations...literally. Taxis drive over parts of Constantine's Lost Great Palace; children play on cobblestone streets concealing a massive Byzantine dungeon; a high school sits on a 3rd century wall leading to the bowels of a 100,000 seat ancient Roman Hippodrome; and basement's of old Ottoman homes lead to subterranean tunnels and secret cisterns. Join host Eric Geller as he leaves the buzz of the city streets behind and follows the pull of the past. Teamed with leading archeologists and experts, Eric peels back the layers of the past--to reveal a hidden history that hasn't seen the light of day for ages. On History Channel: March 2 @ 8pm, ET/PT.

Digging for the Truth: Secrets of the Nasca Lines. - Etched into the driest desert in the world, the mysterious lines and figures of Nasca in Southern Peru are invisible from the ground. Thought to have been made by the Nasca people, who flourished between 200 BC and 600 AD, in fact, these huge drawings were not discovered until the 1930s--and only then by commercial airline pilots who happened to over-fly them. Ever since, they have intrigued the world. Who built them, and why? Host, explorer, and survival expert Josh Bernstein takes on the secrets of the Nasca Lines, while flying micro-lites and powered para-gliders, clambering through thousand-year old irrigation tunnels, and even recreating rituals with contemporary Native Americans. On History Channel: March 3 @ 6pm, ET/PT.



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