Science Over the Edge

A Roundup of Strange Science for the Month

Applet credit: Ed Hobbs

May 2004

In the News:

Face on Back of Shroud - An examination with digital image processing of the backside of the Shroud of Turin has unexpectedly revealed the image of a man's face. The shroud, revered by many as the burial cloth of Christ, has been the subject of controversy for hundreds of years. The image of what appears to be a man crucified appears on the front. Scientists that have done carbon dating tests on the shroud think that it does not date from the time of Christ and is a medieval fake. Critics of the testing suggest that the carbon dating may not be accurate. It is unknown what this newest discovery, published last month, means to the controversy. The back of the shroud was not visible because of a lining stitched onto he object in 1534 to reinforce it after it was damaged in a fire. In was only in 2002, when the lining was removed for restoration, that the back became visible.

Drop the Snail and Put Up Your Hands! - Federal agents seized several Giant African Land Snails from Elementary School classrooms in Wisconsin. The large snails, about the size of a man's fist, are illegal in the United States. The creatures, should they get into the wild, rapidly reproduce and destroy plants. Their mucous can also transmit meningitis. While the snails could not have survived outside in the cold Wisconsin climate, officials were concerned that they could be transported to a warmer location. Three giant snails released in Florida in 1966 multiplied into a population of 18,000 before a decade long eradication program removed them from the environment.

Robots to Repair Hubble? - NASA is considering putting together a mission that would use robots to repair the aging Hubble Space Telescope. Engineers estimate that the Hubble will fail in 2007 or 2008 unless its gyroscopes and batteries are replaced. NASA canceled the last scheduled space shuttle mission to repair the space telescope in the wake of safety concerns after the Columbia disaster. Two of the leading possibilities to be involved are the Johnson Space Center's Robonaut project and the University of Maryland's Space Systems Laboratory's Ranger robot. A team at NASA is examining several different programs and the most promising robot solutions to the problem will studied over the summer. A decision will be made sometime in the fall on whether to go forward with an actual mission.

Fifty Mummies Found- Archeologists have discovered a cache of more than 50 mummies in a maze of underground shafts at Saqqara, 15 miles south of Cairo. According to Zahl Hawass, head of Egypt's Supreme Antiquities Council, the mummies are exceptionally well preserved. The mummies, dating from 664 BC to 30 BC, are wrapped in linen and contained in stone or wooden sarcophagi. Scientists hope that by examining these mummies they will gain a better understanding of Egyptian civilization during that period.

Mayan Monument Found - A team of scientists have unearthed a tablet that may have clues to the final years of the ancient Maya Empire. The discovery took place at Cancuen, the remains of a Mayan Palace, in northern Guatemala. The stone panel was one of a set found in connection with the palace ball court and depicts the local king, Taj, playing against visiting rulers. Archeologists think the panel is the ancient equivalent of a "photo-op." Project expert Federio Fahsen said that the tablet is "one of the greater masterpieces of Maya art ever discovered in Guatemala." The panel has been estimated to come from the end of the eighth century.


What's New at the Museum:

Weird Geology Room - Visit our new addition to the museum the Weird Geology Room. From this page you can find strange stories about the rock and mineral wonders of our planet. - >Full Story


Ask the Curator:

Atomic Shadow - I've noticed in pictures of Hiroshima after the atomic bomb was dropped "permanent shadows". In John Hersey's "Hiroshima", he writes that "consequently the bomb had, in some places, left prints of the shadows that had been cast by its light (such as "a permanent shadow thrown on the roof of the Chamber of Commerce the structure's rectangular tower", etc.)." Could you explain what about the atomic bomb's flash embossed the shadows permanently? Thanks so much!

In the few seconds after an atomic bomb goes off the area around it is bathed in intense heat rays streaming out from the detonation point. Temperatures of objects hit by the rays can climb to a thousand degrees or more. This causes wood to char to black while old, dirty concrete can be "bleached" white. If any object blocks the heat rays for those few seconds a portion of the surface is spared and does not change color leaving a "shadow."

If you are about a mile from ground zero at a nuclear blast there is no sound or shock wave for a few seconds. Just blinding light and incredible heat which arrive at the speed of light. Traveling at the speed of sound the shock wave hits after about five seconds.

Sadly in the case of Hiroshima some of the shadows left are in the shape of people. A man's shadow is burned into the surface of a concrete footbridge while a woman's shadow shows where she was sitting on the step of the local bank. In both cases the people were killed having been vaporized by the heat and the subsequent shock wave that arrived a few seconds later.


In History:

Majestic-12 - In May of 1987 a controversial document created a stir in the news media. Supposedly it was a copy of a report sent from Vice Adm. Roscoe H. Hillenkotter to President-elect Eisenhower in 1952. The paper was meant to inform him of the crash of two UFOs. One in 1947 at Roswell and another in 1950 along the Texas-Mexico border. According to the report the government had recovered corpses of "extraterrestrial biological entities" from the smashed vehicles. The project was entitled "Operation Majestic-12" and the copy of the report which was sent anonymously to several UFO researchers. It is now generally dismissed as a hoax.


In the Sky:

Two Comets - Two comets should be visible this month, though you will need binoculars or a small telescope to see them. On May 6th Comet NEAT will be near the upper left of the bright star Sirius, low in the west-southwest at the end of twilight. As the month goes on it will appear higher and higher in the sky. By May 29th Comet LINEAR should become visible to people in the Northern portion of the US. Look just above the west-southwestern horizon after sunset. It will climb one degree higher in the sky every night.



Noah's Ark Expedition - A group of US and Turkish explorers intend to climb Turkey's tallest mountain, Mount Ararat, in hope of finding the remains of Noah's Ark. Their goal will be to examine a large object near the top of the 17,820 foot peak that was exposed from ice and snow during last summer's heat wave. The Bible places the landing place of the ark on Mount Ararat, but scholars are divided on whether the mountain named in the Bible is the same one carrying the modern name. Several other expeditions have explored the area before, but none has been able to find conclusive evidence for an ark.


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: Magnetic Storm - Is the magnetic field protecting Earth from deadly radiation about to reverse direction or even disappear? On PBS: May 11 @ 8PM; ET.

Dive to Bermuda Triangle- There's a mystery out there with lots of theories from aliens to time-warps. Hundreds of boats and planes have disappeared leaving little or no trace at all. Most of these can be explained easily enough, but a few still remain a genuine mystery. On the Discovery Channel: May 02 @ 09:00 PM; May 03 @ 12:00 AM; May 04 @ 09:00 PM; May 05 @ 12:00 AM; May 09 @ 06:00 PM; ET.

Revelation: The End of the World? - Revelation is the last book of the King James version of the Christian Bible. Scholars shed light on this controversial, dramatic, fantastic description of never before experienced events—including the end of the world. On Discovery Channel: May 06 @ 09:00 PM; May 07 @ 12:00 AM; ET.

Ancient Evidence: Building the Impossible - Explore the wide context of the ancient wonders for the modern world. Revisit the historical significance of the pyramids, Babylon's hanging gardens, the temple of Artemis, the statue of Zeus, the Mausoleum, the Colossus and the Pharos of Alexandria. On Discovery Channel: Apr 22 @ 09:00 PM; Apr 23 @ 12:00 AM; ET.

Unsolved History: Trojan Horse - An ancient story tells us that a mighty Greek armada of a thousand ships sailed across the Mediterranean Sea to wage war on Troy. Bent on vengeance for the abduction of the beautiful Helen by the Trojan prince Paris, the Greeks lay siege to the great city. On Discovery Channel: May 12 @ 08:00 PM; May 12 @ 11:00 PM; May 16 @ 05:00 PM ET/PT.

Ultimate Blast: Eruption at Krakatau - In 1883, before its eruption, Krakatua was believed by experts to be an extinct volcano. On May 20, Krakatua let out a heavy rain of ash. The eruption lasted for weeks until Krakatua exploded, leaving thousands dead and death and destruction in its wake. On Discovery Channel: April 11 @ 7pm ET/PT; April 15 @ 8pm ET/PT.



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