Science Over the Edge

A Roundup of Strange Science for the Month

Applet credit: Ed Hobbs

April 2002

In the News:

Colossal Octopus Found off of New Zealand - A giant octopus was caught off of New Zealand's remote Chatham Islands last month. The specimen, which was over 13 feet in length and weighed 160 pounds in life, was picked up in a trawler's net from a depth of 3,000 feet. The creature has been tentatively identified as a Haliphron Atlanticus, a species of octopus not previously found in the area, by National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research marine biologist Steve O'Shea.

Though scientists had been sure of the existence of the giant squid, the existence of the giant octopus has been in doubt. Some of the evidence suggesting there really is such a creature comes from a huge carcass thrown ashore in Florida in 1896. If the Florida carcass really was an octopus it still dwarfs the recently found New Zealand specimen.

Scientists Catch Big Blue Flash - Researchers from Pennsylvania State University have documented the strange "blue jet" flash that occurs sometimes during thunderstorms. In an article in Nature last month Victor Pasko and his colleagues tell how they used high-speed, low-light video cameras to observe the phenomena and determine that it shoots up from the top of a thunderstorm towards the ionosphere, about 40-50 miles above ground, creating an electrical contact between the two. The flash is cone shaped and about a mile across at the base and six miles wide at the top. The color comes from the ionization of nitrogen molecules in the air. Occasionally the unusual flashes, which can last up to a second before disappearing, can be mistaken for UFOs. Scientists hope that by studying the effect they can better understand weather and the danger the jets might represent to aircraft or spacecraft.

Amateur Finds New Comet - An amateur astronomer scanning the skies with a 20-inch telescope has discovered a new comet. Doug Snyder, of Arizona, noticed a small "gray smudge" and reported it to the Central Bureau for Astronomical Telegrams which is a clearing house for new discoveries. The discovery was confirmed and Snyder shares the credit for finding the comet, which was found in the Aquila Constellation, with Japanese amateur astronomer, Shigeki Murakami, who spotted the comet a few hours later. The object has been named Comet Snyder-Murakami.

Stanford Scientists Say T-Rex was Slower - Researchers from Stanford University have weighed in on the how-fast-could-a-Tyrannosaurus-Rex-run controversy. A few paleontologists have suggested that the animal had at top speed of 45 mph. In an article in the journal Nature last month, however, the Stanford scientists said they used a computer program to calculate the biomechanics of the T-Rex and the results show that to move that quickly 86 percent of the creature's body mass would have to have been leg muscle. This is, according to John Hutchinson, co-author of the article, a ridiculous amount. The researchers conclude the T-Rex must have moved much slower than some estimates and might not have been able to run at all.

Hidden Inca City Discovered - Peruvian and British explorers have discovered a previously unknown Inca city hidden atop an Andean mountain. The site, located on a narrow ridge 11,000 feet up, appears to be a citadel complete with food storehouses, funeral towers, and religious platforms. According to British scholar Peter Frost, who first spotted the ruins from a distance three years ago, this is the biggest site of its kind found since 1964. The ruins at Corihuayrachina are located about 22 miles southwest of the well-known Inca citadel of Machu Picchu.


What's New at the Museum:

Sorcerer of Lightning: Nikola Tesla - He is a mysterious, almost forgotten, figure, but his inventions in the areas of electrical motors, electrical distribution, remote control, low and high frequency waves, radio, radar and even death rays continue to have a major impact on science and engineering today. He was years, and even decades, more advanced than his colleagues and many argue he took to his grave knowledge that we still struggle to discover today. - Part One: So Many Inventions, so Little Time


Ask the Curator:

No Bigfoot Corpse - If bigfoot exists why have remains of a dead bigfoot not been found? - C. J. Dexter

A good question and the reason many people don't believe in the animal. However, Grover Krantz, a renowned anthropologist and Bigfoot supporter, pointed out that the bodies of bears which die of natural causes are never found either. Bears who are sick often crawl off to die on there own and are rarely discovered. The ones seen in museums are those that have been shot or trapped. Krantz believed that since Bigfoot was rare and shy it was unlikely a body would be found unless the animal was shot by a hunter. Krantz himself died this past February.

Living Beyond Earth - Is it really possible to have life on other planets? We are studying them in school and the way it sounds most of them seem impossible to live on. Either they are too hot or to cold, too gaseous or too much acid. Is there some way of avoiding these obstacles, or is it just impossible to live on? - Katie

It certainly seems possible that life in the form of microbes might exist on other bodies in our solar system. Some microbes are very hardy and can live under hash conditions (freezing cold, boiling water, little water, thin air, acid) where humans would quickly die. The two bodies that seem the most likely place in our solar system to support such life are Mars and Europa (a moon of Jupiter).

You are right that currently it is not possible for humans to live on any planet except Earth unless they protect themselves with spacesuits and/or pressurized, shielded and temperature controlled buildings. However, this may not prevent people from colonizing places such as the Moon and Mars if they are willing to live under those conditions. Some forward looking scientists have suggested it may be possible to raise the temperature of Mars and boost its air pressure so humans could live there without protection, but so far this is beyond our technology.

There maybe planets outside our solar system that could support human life and scientists are now working out plans to look for them. Colonizing such a planet, if one is found however, is also beyond our current technology, though it might be feasible in the distant future.


In History:

Erich von Däniken- On April 14, 1935, Erich von Däniken was born in Zofinger, Switzerland. Von Däniken wrote a series of popular books in the late 60's and 70's suggesting that aliens had visited Earth in ancient times and might have been responsible for building the Egyptian pyramids, etc.. The most well-known of these books was published in English as Chariots of the Gods? in 1968. Though his books were popular, most serious researchers and scientists claimed his theories were based on wild speculation rather than careful study. Though the "ancient astronaut" fad faded in the 1980's, an Ancient Astronaut Society still exists.


In the Sky:

The Five Planet Grouping - All five of the classical planets will be gathering together in the western sky during early evening this month. From lowest in the sky to highest they are Mercury, Venus, Mars, Saturn, and Jupiter. Note that Mercury will be very difficult find until after mid-month as it is very close to the sun. This grouping of the planets will not be seen again until the year 2060, so take a good look now. Will their combined gravity acting on our planet cause natural disasters? Check our Catastrophic Cosmic Alignment page to find out!



Bigfoot Researcher Dead - Grover Krantz, anthropologist who became fascinated with "Bigfoot," died this past February 14th. Krantz first got involved with the legendary creature in 1970 when he was called to identify some tracks in Northeast Washington. Instead of seeing a hoax as he had expected, he found the tracks credible and became involved in investigating the phenomenon for more than three decades. Over time he studied much evidence and came up with theories about the animal's average height, weight, migration habits and diet. Krantz was a favorite with reporters whenever a comment was needed on a bigfoot sighting because of his credibility and respectability among scientists. As much as Krantz came to love the supposed animal, he eventually decided that the only way to prove that a bigfoot existed was to shoot one so that a body could be presented to science.


Proof Of Beale Fake? - Reader Alan Bisset of Aberdeen, Scotland writes us concerning the Beale Papers:

The author of "The Beale Papers" states that in 1862 he received the documents contained in the box deposited with Robert Morriss by T.J.Beale in 1822. When he began his attempt to decipher the pages of numbers the author states that - "To systematize a plan for my work I arranged the papers in order of their length, and numbered them, designing to commence with the first, and devote my whole attention to that until I had either unraveled its meaning or was convinced of its impossibility."

Beale could not have numbered the three papers for if he had, this step would be unnecessary. When "Paper 2" is deciphered using the Declaration Of Independence as the key, there are clear references to "Paper 1" (the locality of the vault) and "Paper 3" (names and residences).

We now have a document from before 1822 which refers to a numbering system that was not applied until after 1862. Thus, the only conclusion possible is that this is a clever work of fiction which probably made the author a good deal of money.


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.

The Moby Dick: True Story - Learn the true account of the sinking of the whaleship Essex by an enraged sperm whale, one of the most well-known marine disasters of the nineteenth century. Its enduring infamy is largely a result of Herman Melville's literary classic - Moby Dick. On the Discovery Channel: Apr 7 9PM and 1AM; Apr 13 6PM; Apr 15 9PM and 12 AM; Apr 20 4PM; ET. If you can't see the show, check out our page on the subject, here!

Inside the Bermuda Triangle - Examine the myths and the reality of the most bizarre stretch of water in the world. Plane crashes, boating mishaps and unexplained disappearances have been reported in the Bermuda Triangle for fifty years. Scientists use technology to investigate. On the Discovery Channel: Apr 8 8PM and 11PM; ET.

The Scorpion King Unveiled -A series of mysteries about ancient Egypt are explored: Mysteries of the Pyramids Apr 17 8PM and 11PM; Apr 20 12PM; Women Pharaohs Apr 17 9PM; Apr 18 12AM; Apr 20 1PM; Monumental Mysteries Apr 17 10PM; Apr 18 1AM; Apr 20 2PM. On the Discovery Channel.

Vanished! - On August 2, 1947, a primitive airliner converted from a World War II Lancaster bomber took off from Buenos Aires. The airliner, named Stardust was due to cross the Andes en route for Santiago, Chile. It never arrived. No wreckage was ever found, and for 53 years no one knew what happened to the plane and the 11 people on board. The case of the vanished Stardust soon became one of aviation's most celebraed unsolved mysteries. Part of the NOVA series. On PBS: April 2 8PM ET.

Lost King of the Maya - Sixteen hundred years ago, a mysterious left-handed warrior seized control of the Mayan city of Copán, founding a dynasty that would last for 400 years. Eventually the Maya abandoned Copán and all other Mayan cities, which lay undisturbed for over 1,000 years. Part of the NOVA series. On PBS: April 16 8PM ET.

Doomsday Asteroid - Dramatic computer graphics illustrate scientists' theory that an asteroid less than a mile wide could wipe out civilization. Such an impact would spew molten rock over hundreds of miles, while tidal waves three miles high devastate coastlines. On TCL: Apr 9 9PM and 12AM; Apr 13 3 PM; ET.



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