Science Over the Edge

A Roundup of Strange Science for the Month

Applet credit: Ed Hobbs

May 2002

In the News:

Ancient Skull Shows Attack and Recovery - An ancient skull found at St. Cesaire in France indicates that the Neanderthal man that owned it was attacked by a weapon that left a hole in his head. Scientists writing in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences last month think this shows that early humans used tools to fight. The fact that the skull was partly healed at the time of death also suggests that the individual lived for several months after the incident and was cared for by other members of his group. Scientists think the weapon used in the attack had a sharp edge and was probably a stone ax. By examining the remains of Neanderthals for information like this scientists hope to reconstruct what social life was like for them some 36,000 years ago.

Mars Once Green? - Carole Stoker and Pascal Ashwanden, both researchers at NASA's Ames Research Center in California, have announced that they have found evidence suggesting that chlorophyl exists on the surface of Mars. Finding chlorophyl, the material that plants and algae use to convert sunlight into food, would be strong evidence that life one existed on the planet. Chlorophyl is what gives plants their characteristic green color. The discovery came to light when the scientists reexamined data from a 1997 mission to Mars. The results of their study was presented at the Second Astrobiology Science Conference last month.

Newly Found Stars Defy Physics Theories - NASA's Chandra X-ray telescope has discovered two unusual stars that seem to challenge current fundamental theories of particle physics and astronomy. The objects, named RXJ1856 and 3C58, were thought to be normal neutron stars, but new observations show they are too small and too cold to be standard neutron stars. Current theory says that neutron stars, which are extremely dense, are composed of neutrons, a subatomic particle. Neutrons, however, are made up of quarks and this leads scientists to speculate that these new objects may be stars that came under so much pressure that the neutrons came apart. This may mean that the objects are composed entirely of quarks or some other unknown, exotic matter.

Nearby Star Getting Planets - Scientists studying a nearby star system think they have found planets in the act of forming. The young star Beta Pictoris has a dust ring surrounding it that may be coalescing into planets. Scientists have observed multiple warps in the ring that may indicate that some planets have already formed. Beta Pictoris is about 63 light-years from us and is about 20 million years old compared with our sun which is about 4.5 billion years old.

Thor Heyerdahl Dead - Norwegian explorer Thor Heyerdahl has died at 87. Heyerdahl was most famous for attempting to prove his theories of intercontinental human migration by making trips aboard primitive vessels. In 1947 he sailed almost 5,000 miles from Polynesia from Peru aboard a balsa raft he named "Kon-Tiki." He later wrote a book about his trip. Eventually he made other expeditions aboard the reed rafts, Ra, Ra II and Tigris. Heyerdahl's theories were often controversial and widely debated. He was active in research, lectures and travel until his recent illness.


What's New at the Museum:

Sorcerer of Lightning: Nikola Tesla (Part II)- The mysterious inventor, Nikola Tesla, discovers a way to send power through the air, builds an advanced turbine, designs a VSTOL aircraft and even draws up plans for a death ray. - Part Two: Power Though the Air


Ask the Curator:

Mongolian Death Worm - I was reading about something called the Mongolian Death Worm, a creature that supposedly lives in the Gobi desert and shoots corrosive poison or electricity at its victims. What do you know about it? - Scott

Legend has it that a worm-like creature dubbed Allghoi khorkhoi, also known as the Mongolian Death Worm, lives in the desolate sands of Asia's Gobi desert. According to stories the creature is about two to four feet in length and looks a bit like a cow's intestine (In fact the name Allghoi khorkhoi means "intestine worm"). It is apparently greatly feared among the people of Mongolia and it can supposedly shoot a stream of extremely corrosive poison at its victim from a great distance. Supposedly the animal can kill a man, a horse, even a camel without a much effort.

Several westerners have attempted to find the "Death Worm," but so far it has evaded capture and examination by scientists. If the creature does exists it is most likely not a worm. Because of the desert's great heat and dry climate true worms have a difficult time surviving there. Czech author Ivan Mackerle, who went looking for the worm, suspects it may actually be some kind of lizard like a slink or a worm lizard, but neither of these creatures can shoot poison. The animal that seems most likely to fit the description of the death worm is a snake called the death adder. This snake is a member of the cobra family and sprays its venom. Death adders live only Australia and New Guinea, however, so if the "death worm" is really a snake, it is probably a completely unknown species.

Some have suggested that the creature makes its attack on its victim by shocking them with an electrical charge (like the electric eel). Such a offensive scheme seems unlikely to work very well in the air, however.


Messages from Mars? - I heard about a radio signal received in 1924 from Mars and that a picture was sent by radio waves. This has information has supposedly been released recently. - Anonymous

In 1924 Mars made its closest pass to the Earth since the invention of radio. At the time not much was known about harsh environmental conditions on the planet and astronomers like Percival Lowell were speculating that markings on the surface suggested there was intelligent life. For this reason it was decided to make a concerted effort to pick up radio signals coming from Mars during the week of August 23rd when the planet came nearest. One of many, David Peck Todd, Professor of Astronomy at Amherst College, decided to listen with his receiver at a wavelength between 5 and 6 kilometers and record any signals he heard. After filtering out practical jokers Todd picked up a series of dots and dashes that were unexplained, but didn't appear to be of extraterrestrial origin.

Todd's signals were recorded using a photographic method and some newspapers in New York in 1924 claimed the following:

MYSTERY DOTS AND DASHES WAS MARS SIGNALING? WHAT THE PHOTOGRAPHIC FILM REVEALED. The development of the photographic film of the radio signals for the 29 hour period while Mars was close to Earth, deepens the mystery of the dots and dashes heard by widely separated powerful stations. The film disclosed in black and white a regular arrangement of dots and dashes along one side. On the other, at about evenly spaced intervals, are curiously jumbled groups, each taking the form of a crudely drawn face.

Whether the results look like a face or not is pretty much up to the viewer, but one thing is clear: Though they were not aware of it at the time, the frequencies that Todd was listening to (between 5 and 6 kilometers) are reflected back into space from the Earth's upper atmosphere and could not have made it to the ground for Todd to pick up.


In History:

Bermuda "Globster" - In May of 1988 the remains of an unidentified creature washed ashore on a beach along Mangrove Bay in Bermuda. The corpse was described as being "two and a half to three feet thick" and being white and fibrous with five or six arms or legs. Some observers estimated it weighed a ton. The body had no bones or cartilage and was difficult to cut, even with a sharp knife. So far no one has determined for sure exactly what kind of creature this "globster" was.


In the Sky:

Five Tight Planets - The planet grouping that started last month will reach its tightest configuration on Monday, May 13th, with all 5 of the planets fitting in a span of 33-degrees. The planet Mercury will difficult to see, however, as it is close to the horizon. Take a look west-northwest about an hour after sunset to see them all. These planets will not be this close in the sky again until the year 2040.



Oregon Town Celebrates UFOs at Festival - The second weekend in May McMinnville, Oregon, will be hosting the the third Annual UFO Fest. The festival will feature events including a UFO costume parade through the downtown area and a keynote speaker from the National UFO Reporting Center. In addition, vendors will be selling UFO T-shirts and local stores will be having an "Alien Window Dressing" contest while the local theater will be showing "2001: A Space Odyssey." The festival commemorates an encounter in 1950 by Paul and Evelyn Trent with a silvery flying disk just outside the town on their farm. All events, with the exception of the movie, are free.

Missing Shrunken Head - Officials at the Frontier Times Museum in southwest Texas are wondering who stole a shrunken head from their exhibit. The object disappeared in late March after being displayed at the museum for more than 60 years. In addition to the head, the entire display case, which also contained a headdress made of beetle wings and bird feathers has disappeared. Police are questioning more than two dozen people who signed the museum's visitors log on the day the crime occurred.


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.

What Really Happened to Adolf Hitler? - Did Hitler escape to Antarctica by submarine, become a waiter in Bavaria, or kill himself in his Berlin bunker? Experts troll under a former garbage pile for the final answer. On the Discovery Channel: May 8 at 8:00 and 11:00 PM; May 11 at 12:00 PM; ET.

Building the Impossible: The Seven Wonders of the Ancient World - Learn the historical background of each of the Seven Wonders of the World using information from ancient sources, modern investigations of the remains and computer animation. Uncover the mysteries of the cities and civilizations to which they belonged On the Discovery Channel: May 13 at 8:00 PM and 1:00 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 the Discovery Channel: May 28 10:00 PM and 1:00 AM; ET.

Mazes & Labyrinths: Solving Ancient Puzzles - Mankind has long been fascinated with the challenge and meaning behind intricate puzzles. Labyrinths offered security systems for Egyptian pyramids, beauty for English garden mazes and adventure for twentieth century computer games. On TCL: May 7 10:00 PM and 1:00 AM; May 11 2002 4:00 PM; ET.

Forgotten Secrets - Ancient civilizations appear to be linked by astonishing similarities in their understanding of the heavens. Evidence points beyond coincidence to the existence of an earlier civilization that spread their knowledge world-wide. On TCL: May 4 3:00 PM; ET.

Heaven's Mirror - Writer and adventurer Graham Hancock researches unexplained links between the early cultures of Cambodia and Egypt. Ancient maps of the skies suggest a link between the two cultures around 10,500 BC, possibly when the Sphinx was built. On TCL: Apr 9 9PM and 12AM; May 4 4:00 PM ; ET.



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