Science Over the Edge

A Roundup of Strange Science for the Month

Applet credit: Ed Hobbs

April 2005

In the News:

"Cloaking Device" Might be Possible - Scientists at the University of Pennsylvania think it might be possible to build a "cloaking device" that would make objects - at least very, very small objects - invisible. Nader Engheta and Andrea Alu have written a paper on the subject suggesting that plasmons, an electronic effect on the surface of some metals, might be used to cancel out light radiating from an object. Objects can be seen because they reflect light. If those reflections can be canceled out, the object should disappear. While this would only seem to work in the visible spectrum if the object were very small, it might allow a large object, like an airplane, to be invisible to the longer radio waves of a radar system. If this is true, the work could have applications for the military as a stealth technology.

T-Rex Yields Soft Tissue - A broken Tyrannosaurus rex bone from 70 million years ago has astonished scientists by retaining some of the soft tissues inside of it, including what may be blood cells and vessels. The bone, which was discovered in a rock formation in Montana, appears to have tissue similar to that of an ostrich, according to a report in the journal Science. Normally soft tissue is not preserved in the fossil record. This unique sample may assist researchers in understanding some of the biology of the long dead, ancient reptiles.

Light from Extra-Solar Planets Detected - Two teams of scientists have, for the first time, measured light radiating from planets outside of our galaxy. Using NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope they have detected infrared light coming from planet HD 209458b, 153 light-years away, and planet TrES-1, 489 light-years away. The planets radiate significant amounts of infrared light (heat) because they are very close to their parent stars. Without this intense infrared light they would not be visible because of the nearby glare from those stars. Scientists intend to analyze the captured light spectrum to identify what chemicals are present on the planet. Certain chemical markers could indicate that the planets might harbor some kind of life.

An American Cougar in London? - Police are searching the area of Sydenham Park in London for signs of a cougar-like cat. Anthony-John Holder, 37, claims he was knocked down by the animal as he walked in his garden on March 21st. The animal jumped on his chest and hissed at him. "All of a sudden I see this big black thing pouncing on me, knocked me flying. I was just stunned with it all," Holder said in an interview on London's LBC radio. Holder says he pushed the big cat off and escaped. Police speculate, based on paw prints and droppings, that a number of large cats are living in Britain, perhaps accidentally released from private zoos.

Find a Tasmanian Tiger, Get a Million Bucks - An Australian magazine - The Bulletin - is offering almost a million dollars (US) to anyone who can prove that there are Tasmanian tigers still alive on the southern continent. It is generally thought that the last Tasmanian tiger, actually a from of marsupial wolf called the thylacine, died in captivity in the Holbart Zoo in 1936. Since that time, however, there have been almost 4,000 unconfirmed sightings of the animal. To claim the money it is required that the claimant "show us a live, uninjured thylacine that, according to our strict terms and conditions... is the genuine article..." wrote the magazines editor, Garry Linnell, in a recent edition.


What's New at the Museum:

Leonardo da Vinci: A Genius Before His Time - He was a scientist before there was science, an inventor whose ideas outstripped the technology of his time, and a famous artist who produced the the most valuable and recognized painting in the world. Just what do we know about this celebrated Renaissance man of mystery? >Full Story


Ask the Curator:

Divine Proportions - Dear Curator, I'm a Chinese. I read from the novel "Da Vinci Code" which mentioned the divine proportion 1.618. It equals to the distance from shoulder to finger tip divided by the distance from elbow to finger tip. I measured it from my arm but the result was only 1.57. Is it only the proportion for westerners or my measurement was incorrect?. - Hermes

The "Divine Proportion," sometimes referred to as the "golden ratio" or "golden mean," is Phi, which is derived as a part of what's known as the Fibonacci Series of numbers. The Fibonacci series comes from the expression (1+n) / 2. Phi is the 5th in the series and is unique in that Phi - 1 = 1 / Phi. Phi has the approximate value of 1.618, but like the number Pi, is irrational and goes on forever. One of the more interesting properties that comes from using Phi as a ratio is that if you have line A and you section it into pieces B and C, if A = Phi x B, then B = Phi x C.

From the time of the ancient Greeks people have noticed that Phi and the Fibonacci Series keep showing up in the natural world. For example, the average of the mean orbital distances of each successive planet in our solar system, in relation to the planet before it approximates Phi. Also the Cassini divisions ( empty spaces) in the rings of Saturn appear at two Phi points. The frequencies of musical notes in the western scale are based on the Fibonacci series. The spiral shape of the Nautilus shell is also based on Phi and the polygon derived from it known as the "golden rectangle."

This ratio also shows up in man made creations. It was used in Egyptian pyramids. If you look at the credit card in your wallet the ratio of the width to height is approximately that of Phi.

Renaissance painters such as Leonardo da Vinci realized that this ratio was aesthetically pleasing and a valuable tool for an artist. For example, the length of the arm to that of the forearm and hand is approximately the golden ratio. It also appears in the proportions of the human face. Artists used this property to make sure that the people in their pictures had the right sized arms, hands, fingers, etc.

These ratios are approximately Phi, however. In the real world everyone is unique and nobody will have those exact measurements (My arm to forearm/hand ratio is 1.8. Interestingly enough if you average my ratio with the letter writer's ratio the results is 1.685, very close to Phi).


In History:

Flying Serpent - Were dragons real? In the Middle Ages they were sure they were. In April of 1388 the Knighton's Continuator printed that "a flying dragon was many places. "


In the Sky:

Arcturus - See if you can spot the bright star Arcturus in the sky about mid-month. Look for it in the eastern sky a little after sunset. You'll probably see two bright points there. The one toward the south is the planet Jupiter and the one due east is Arcturus.



Hogzilla was Very, Very Big - A team from National Geographic traveled to Georgia last month to confirm that "Hogzilla," a giant wild hog shot last fall by hunter Charles Griffin, was really a very big hog. The experts, after exhuming the animal's grave at the fish farm and hunting preserve where the hog was buried, determined that the animal probably was 7 1/2 to 8 feet long and weighed around 800 pounds. This is smaller than the 12 foot length and 1,000 weight originally claimed, but still very large. "He was an impressive beast. He was definitely a freak of nature," stated Nancy Donnelly, who is producing a documentary on the animal for the National Geographic Channel.


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: Great Escape - Experts dig into World War II's most daring and technically ingenious prison break. April 5 at 8 pm.

The Real Jason and the Argonauts - The myth of Jason and the Argonauts and their quest for the Golden Fleece may be based on real events that took place over 3,000 years ago. Discoveries in Greece suggest that Jason's journey may have been a genuine voyage of discovery. On the Science Channel: Apr 08 @ 10:00 PM, Apr 09 @ 01:00 AM, Apr 09 @ 06:00 AM, Apr 09 @ 09:00 AM, Apr 09 @ 02:00 PM, Apr 09 @ 05:00 PM ; ET.

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: Apr 04 @ 08:00 PM, Apr 04 @ 11:00 PM, Apr 05 @ 04:00 AM, Apr 05 @ 07:00 AM, Apr 05 @ 12:00 PM, Apr 05 @ 03:00 PM ; ET.

The Death Star - For decades. scientists have been baffled as to the origins of extraordinarily violent explosions which blast through the universe. Hypernovas - the death of massive stars 20 times the size of our Sun might be the key to one of creation's mysteries. On Science Channel: Apr 10 @ 10:00 PM, Apr 11 @ 01:00 AM, Apr 11 @ 06:00 AM, Apr 11 @ 09:00 AM, Apr 11 @ 02:00 PM, Apr 11 @ 05:00 PM ; ET.

Science of Supervolcanoes - A supervolcano lies beneath the beauty of Yellowstone Park. Scientists are challenged with predicting when the next super-eruption might take place - and advising on what will happen if this cataclysmic event occurs. On The Science Channel: Apr 11 @ 09:00 PM, Apr 12 @ 12:00 AM, Apr 12 @ 05:00 AM, Apr 12 @ 08:00 AM, Apr 12 @ 01:00 PM, Apr 12 @ 04:00 PM ET/PT.

Exploring Einstein: Life of a Genuis - Albert Einstein's physics theories led to the creation of the nuclear bomb, space travel, and an understanding of our universe. In the later part of his life Einstein tried to disprove his theories as they clashed with his personal beliefs. On Science Channel: Apr 17 @ 09:00 PM, Apr 18 @ 12:00 AM, Apr 18 @ 05:00 AM, Apr 18 @ 08:00 AM, Apr 18 @ 01:00 PM, Apr 18 @ 04:00 PM ET/PT.

In Search of Blackbeard's Treasure - In 1996, Phil Masters was looking for the remains of a Spanish galleon when he stumbled across a treasure of a different kind. In just twenty feet of water lay the wreck of a ship with eighteen cannons. Could this be the remains of Blackbeard's flagship On Science Channel: Apr 30 @ 10:00 PM, May 01 @ 01:00 AM ET/PT.

Roswell: Final Declassification - In 1947, a strange object fell from the sky near Roswell, New Mexico, and controversy brewed over what it really was. In November 2001, we convened a team of experts at the National Archives for an exclusive first look at the top-secret government files of the UFO incident. We unveil the remaining classified files--11 boxes with 17 notebooks of declassified files, photos, transcripts and audiotapes of dozens of witnesses, and 22 films and videos--in a definitive statement on the 50-year-old mystery. On History Channel: April 16 @ 6pm ET/PT.



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