Science Over the Edge

A Roundup of Strange Science for the Month

Applet credit: Ed Hobbs

May 2003

In the News:

Colossal Squid Found in Sub-Antarctic - A colossal squid was dredged up by trawler last month in the sub-Antarctic Ross Sea. The animal, whose scientific name is mesonychoteuthis hamiltoni, is only the second intact specimen of its kind found. The animal, which was dead when brought to the surface, weighted 330-pounds and had tentacles which measured more than 15 feet long. According to experts this particular type of squid is aggressive and moves quickly making it very dangerous. The remains of the colossal squid are now in the New Zealand national museum.

Los Angeles Fault Line has Scientists Worried - Scientists are concerned about a newly found fault line that runs beneath downtown Los Angeles. Experts believe that it is capable of generating massive earthquakes with magnitudes in the 7.2 to 7.5 range. Fortunately, the Puente Hills fault appears to only generate quakes that large every 2000 years or so. In 1987 a segment of the fault let go causing a magnitude-6 earthquake. One of the reasons for experts concern is that many of the buildings in downtown Los Angeles were built to withstand a quake no larger than magnitude 5 when it occurred directly underneath them. A magnitude-7 earthquake would release about 1,000 times as much energy as a magitude-5 quake. One geologist said the location was the "worst place to put a fault in Los Angeles."

Scientists Pronounce Madagascar Dino a Cannibal - In Madagascar scientists have discovered the strongest evidence yet that some carnivorous dinosaurs were cannibals. Scientists found the evidence in fossilized bones of Majungatholus atopus. Majungatholus atopus, a distant relative of T. rex, was a large theropod dinosaur that lived about 70 million years ago. The verdict of cannibalization came after comparing tooth marks on Majungatholus bones with Majungatholus' teeth. The evidence does not show, however, if the animal actually hunted down others of its own species or just scavenged their already dead carcasses.

Earliest Egyptian Mummification - Last month Egyptian archaeologists announced they had found what they believe to be evidence of the oldest human mummification found in Egypt. It consisted of a 5,000-year-old wooden coffin containing bones covered with resin. The resin indicates that the body was mummified. According to Egyptian antiquities chief Zahi Hawass, the mummy was found in one of 20 mud-brick tombs discovered in the desert near Cairo. These are thought to have belonged to officials living between 3100-2890 BC under Egypt's 1st Dynasty.

X-Prize Contestant Reveals Rocket - Burt Rutan, the man that developed the Voyager (the airplane that made the first nonstop, unrefueled flight around the world in 1986), has revealed a rocket with which he hopes to win the $10 million X-Prize for the first private, manned craft to make it into space. Rutan's ship, named SpaceShipOne, will use a high-altitude air launch from a jet to get it part of the way to its goal. Then rocket engines will ignite and carry the ship the rest of the way. The craft, which will separate from the jet carrying it at an altitude of 50,000 feet, is made of graphite and epoxy and looks like an airplane with short wings and twin vertical tails. To win the prize a craft must carry three people on a suborbital flight to an altitude of 62.5 miles, be recovered, and repeat the trip within a few weeks. No date has been set for the first attempt to win the prize.


What's New at the Museum:

Pterosaurs in Texas - We've updated one of our "classic" pages with lots of new text and pictures. Are ancient flying reptiles hiding in Texas? Check our article and find out: Pterosaurs in Texas


Ask the Curator:

Weird Mexican Fish - While in Mexico on a fishing trip, we had stopped off in a little village with shops and restaurants. After dinner we went for a walk through the shops. While inside one of the shops I came across a little sea creature, that I had seen once before. It was about 13-14 inches tall and it looked like the Devil. The little creature had a small head with little horns, oversized eyes, little sharp teeth, two arms both with fingers on each hand, 2 legs with toes on each, it looked as it would have walked in the upright position also had a tail that looked like it had a pitch fork on the tip of it . I believe the locals had called it something like "Diablo" and it lives in the sea . It would be interesting to see another picture of this little creature, and also put a name to the picture. Thank you. - James W.

I suspect that the creature you are referring to has as much in common with the Jackolope (SOE Feb, 03) as it does with a fish. The name of the creature is Garadiavolo which apparently translates to "Devil Fish." In 1974, Alfredo Garcia Garamendi, a teacher in Puerto Rico, claimed he'd captured two of these animals after titanic battles with them. One was supposedly stolen by secret agents, but the other Garamendi kept in an a tank of water where it could be viewed by the public. Later the second fish supposedly disappeared in an explosion.

Despite Garamendi's claims, the animal is a hoax. The creature is apparently is constructed by cutting open the interior of a bat fish or guitar fish, then cutting the fins to make arm and legs. The creature is then sold on the tourist market along the Mexican coast and throughout the Caribbean Islands.

For pictures and more information on this subject click here. You may want to use a translation site, however, as the page is in Spanish.


Roots of The Mummy - I was wondering how close to Egyptian folklore does the movie 'The Mummy' follow? Are there any writings of a similar thing happening? I'm not taking this to be a true story, but curiosity is bugging me... Any idea? - Paula

The 1999 version of the Mummy story took a lot from the original 1932 version of the film starring Boris Karloff. In that classic flick Imhotep, played by Karloff, attempts to revive his dead girlfriend after she is killed (in this version she is the Pharaoh's daughter, not his mistress) by using the forbidden Book of Thoth. He is caught and sentenced to be mummified alive. Thousands of years later when a museum expedition finds Imhotep's mummy he is accidentally brought back to life by the reading of the Book of Thoth. He then proceeds to romance the heroine of the film who is a reincarnation of his dead girlfriend.

The writers of the 1932 film used lots of bits and pieces of Egyptian history and stories in the script. The name "Imhotep" was the name of a famous Egyptian architect and physician. Imhotep is also credited with designing the first step pyramid.

The Egyptians did have some stories about mummies rising from the dead. One involves the magician Khamwas who steals the forbidden Book of Throth which is guarded by the mummy of Naneferkaptah. Khamwas and Naneferkapth square off over a game of senet (an ancient Egyptian board game) to see who will get the scroll. The mummy wins, but Khamwas uses a magic trick to escape with the book anyway.

The romance portion of The Mummy script is probably borrowed from the story The Ring of Thoth written by Arthur Conan Doyle (the inventor of Sherlock Holmes).


In History:

Chessie Sighting - One of the earliest sightings of Chessie, the sea monster that supposedly inhabits the Chesapeake Bay, occurred on May 31st, 1982. On that day Robert and Karen Frew were outside their home at Love Point, along the bay, when they saw a strange creature 200 feet off shore. The animal came with in 100 feet of land and appeared to be more than thirty feet in length and a foot in diameter. Robert Frew video taped the incident. Scientists that viewed the video came away saying that they had "a strong impression of an animate object," but they could not identify the thing.


In the Sky:

Lunar Eclipse - If you are in the continental U.S. check out the first lunar eclipse visible here in 3 years. A lunar eclipse is when the Earth's shadow passes over the moon. On the evening of May 15th the moon will start to enter the darkest part of the Earth's shadow, called the umbra, at 10:03 PM, and will leave at 1:17 EDT. Watch for the many changing colors of the moon as the eclipse goes from none, to full, and back.



Professionals Involved in Iraqi Heist - Investigators say that the people who robbed Iraq's national museum, during the recent siege of Baghdad, must have been professionals because they sought out and took only the most valuable items from the museum. Missing are the Golden Harp from Ur, the Uruk Lady and the Akkadian Head. The Code of Hammurabi, a replica of the real one in The Louvre in Paris, was untouched. There are also indications that the thieves either knew where the museum's vault keys were or already had copies of the keys with them. Experts suspect that gangs who have been robbing archaeological sites for the past dozen years in Iraq are responsible for the thefts.

During a recent emergency meeting in Paris, information about what happened to Iraq's prized antiquities was exchanged between archaeologists who may come across the artifacts on the market. These experts agreed to collaborate in efforts to intercept and recover these stolen antiquities and return them to Iraq.


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: Lincoln's Secret Weapon - The Navy undertakes a risky project to salvage the USS Monitor, an innovative armored combat vessel from the Civil War.. On PBS: May 20 8:00 PM; ET.

Return to Area 51 - Area 51 is a super-secret testing ground located in the remote Nevada desert. Explore new evidence shows that the Air Force not only tested planes here in the past, but the site serves as a final resting place for failed experimental planes. On the Discovery Channel: May 04 8:00 PM and 11:00 PM; ET.

In Search of the Holy Grail - What is the Holy Grail? Our team has shortened the list to four intriguing items to explore. A glass bowl from England, an ancient cup from Wales, a small stone, papal chalice in Spain, and an intricately engraved silver chalice from ancient Antioch On TLC: May 27 10:00 PM; May 28 1:00 AM; ET.

UFO Secrets - Hear personal accounts of UFO sightings from eyewitnesses who are convinced that what they saw was extraterrestrial. Average citizens, military officers and NASA personnel describe encounters that spark fear and controversy in the hearts of many. On TLC: May 20 10:00 PM; May 21 1:00 AM; ET.

Beyond the Bermuda Triangle: The Devil's Sea - Discover why 'The Devil's Sea' off the south coast of Japan is so extraordinarily deadly and decide for yourself if this stretch of water could be the Bermuda Triangle of the Pacific. On TLC: May 22 10:00 PM; May 23 1:00 AM; ET.

Mysteries of the Sphinx - The Sphinx is a major tourist attraction, commanding the attention and interest of people around the world. But the truth about the origin and purpose are shrouded in mystery and controversy. Examine recent geological evidence and hear from experts. On TLC: May 22 9:00 PM; May 23 12:00 AM; ET.

Mostly True Stories: Urban Legends Revealed Alligators in the Sewers - Deep in the sewer system of New York City, workers have been confronted with colonies of alligators. Stories like this have been reported since the 1930s, but there is no evidence of gators. A reptile expert explains the actual life cycle of alligators. On TLCl: May 06 9:00 PM; May 07 12:00 AM; ET.

History's Mysteries: The Enduring Mystery of Stonehenge - For 5,000 years, the sacred site of Stonehenge has stood on the plain of Salisbury, England, silent witness to myriad mysteries. Who built the prehistoric stone circle? Druids? Merlin the Magician? Was it an altar for human sacrifice, or landing pad for UFOs? Experts, anthropologists, and astronomers assess the mystery. On The History Channel: May 2 6:00 PM; May 2 12:00PM; ET.

The Real Scorpion King - It's 3,450 BC and Egypt is in chaos. Nomadic tribes roam the desert, clashing in bitter conflict for control of land and wealth. Into the struggle steps one man who unites the warring factions and lays the foundation for the greatness of Egyptian civilization--King Scorpion. Evidence in his recently discovered tomb and primitive writing in a remote location in the western desert reveal that Pharaonic Egypt began earlier than previously thought--with a whole new dynasty called Dynasty Zero. On the The History Channel: Thursday, May 1 4:00 PMand 10:00 AM ; ET.



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