Science Over the Edge

A Roundup of Strange Science for the Month

Applet credit: Ed Hobbs

May 2006

In the News:

Cave Art Was Graffiti? - A new theory suggests that the famous pre-historic cave art found in locations like Lascaux, France, are actually the equivalent of today's graffiti drawn by teenage boys. "Today, boys draw the testosterone subjects of a hot automobile, fighter jet, Jedi armor, sports, direct missile hit, etc.- all of the things they associate with the adrenalin of success," said R. Dale Guthrie, author of The Nature of Paleolithic Art. Back in the Stone Age such exciting subjects would have included bison and deer hunts. Guthrie notes that much of the material is rather graphic showing speared animals with blood coming from their noises and mouths. He also notes that male figures shown in the scenes are drawn rather rudimentary while female figures are much more detailed and full-figured leading him to suppose that artists were younger males. Hand prints found on the wall of the caves tend to support this theory too. This runs counter to earlier thinking in which most of the drawings were made by tribal shaman.

Bacteria Make the Strongest Glue - Scientists have discovered that harmless bacteria found in rivers produces super glue stronger than any other known type. According to the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the microorganism C. crescentus attaches to surfaces with three to four times the strength of commercial superglue. The bacteria uses the biological glue to adhere itself to surfaces with a stalk-like appendage. Tests show that the amount of bacteria that fits onto a quarter could withstand a pulling force of four to five tons, which is about the weight of an adult elephant. Scientists hope that this research will lead to new, stronger, synthetic adhesives.

Big Meat Eater Hunted in Packs - Mapusaurus roseae- a gigantic dinosaur whose remains have been found in Patagonia, Argentina, now holds the record for the longest meat eating dinosaur so far found. Mapusaurus was over 41 feet in length. A cousin from the same region, Giganotosaurus, however, still holds the record for the largest land carnivore because it was wider and heavier. According to Don Lessem, one of the paleontologists that participated in the dig that found Mapusaurus, this creature was unique among large meat-eaters because it apparently hunted in packs. A number of the creatures bones were found together apparently having died in some ancient catastrophe. These carnivores hunting in packs would have been able to even bring down the largest dinosaur ever found, the 125 foot-long, plant-eating Argentinosaurus. Argentinosaurus weighed as much as 10 times more than Mapusaurus.

Optical SETI - A team of scientists are now looking for extraterrestrial signals using optical telescopes. In the past such searches were conducted using radio receivers, but Paul Horowitz, a physics and electrical engineering professor from Harvard University, thinks that aliens using light waves to communicate may make more sense. "Sending laser signals across the cosmos would be a very logical way for ET to reach out, but until now, we have been ill-equipped to receive any such signal." The team is using a 72-inch telescope to look for flashes in the sky lasting as short as one-billionth of a second. Optical light, unlike radio, can form tight, powerful, focused beams. A device like a laser can be thousands of times brighter than a star for a brief moment, but such a signal would have to be directed at a particular location.

Viruses May Create Super Batteries - Scientists hope to use genetically manipulated viruses to create batteries that pack two or three times the energy of traditional electrical storage cells. By using viruses to build the batteries researchers hope to harness biology's knack for organizing microscopic structures. This could lead to batteries which are smaller and lighter, or more powerful because less of the weight and volume would be dedicated to packaging, and more to the storage of the electrical charge. To make the viruses able to conduct electricity, the scientists genetically altered the organisms so that proteins on their surfaces would be attracted to metal particles, including cobalt and gold, according to a study published in a recent issue of the journal Science.


What's New at the Museum:

Giant Sloth (Updated Page) - An hamster the size of an elephant? During the Pleistocene period, ten-thousand years ago, these creatures roamed the Earth. Now they're all gone. Or so we think...>Full Story


Ask the Curator:

Tesla Power - I would like to know what the word Tesla means. I think it has something to do with electricity. - Anonymous

I have a very weird game known as Red Alert. It mentions something called Tesla technology. I only know it has something to do with electricity. I've asked several people and they don't seem to know. - Frank

Nikola Tesla was an inventor who lived about a hundred years ago. He was perhaps the foremost electrical genius of his time. Everybody remembers Edison better, but the truth is that Tesla was probably the smarter man. While he has been forgotten, his inventions are all around us. The AM radio you listen to when driving to work? Tesla. The alternating current (AC) electrical system that you plug things into at your house? Not possible without a host of inventions from Tesla. The fluorescent lighting in your office? Tesla helped develop them. The toy radio controlled boat you play with on Saturdays? Tesla built the first one. He even laid out a design for radar decades before the first one was built.

One his best remembered inventions was the "Tesla Coil." He actually designed a number of different versions of these devices which are used take electricity and increase the frequency and voltage. Tesla had several ideas about how the coil could be used that included radio signals and wireless power transmission. When a Tesla coil is running it can produce impressive electrical show with sparks, and corona discharges. A giant coil built at Tesla's Colorado laboratory was capable of creating sparks 135 feet in length.

As Tesla aged his inventions seem to become less and less practical. One of Tesla's last ideas was a charged particle beam. Such as "death ray," if built, would have been capable of downing airplanes or destroying objects at a distance. Though no death ray was ever built during Tesla's lifetime, both the U.S. and the USSR spent quit a bit of money trying to get it to work during the cold war. For more information check our biography of Nikola Tesla

In History:

China's Wildman - North America has its Bigfoot. The Himalayas have the Yeti. Australia has its Yowie. How about China? There you will find legends of the "Wildman:" a hairy ape-like creature inhabiting the remote mountains. Does the creature really exist? In May of 1957 a small version of one of these animals was killed and a local biology teacher preserved the hands and feet. Later on a scientist examined the remains. Was it an unknown animal? Not in this particular case. The creature turned out to be a stump-tailed macaque. Proof of the existence of the Chinese "Wildman" still is yet to be found.


In the Sky:

Sirius Mystery - May is a good time to see if you can find the night's brightest star: Sirius. Look low in the WSW during evening twilight. Sirius is the center of a mystery involving the Dogon people of Southern Africa. Their legends that extend back hundreds of years claim that the Earth was visited by aleins from Sirius a millenium ago. What makes the story so odd is that their legends tell much about the star that wasn't known until recent times. For more details check out The Dogon, the Nommos and Sirius B



What's Your Sign? Maybe it Doesn't Matter - A scientific study has failed to find any validity to astrological star signs, such as Aries, Taurus, Libra, etc. These signs supposedly predict the characteristics of people born at a certain time of the year. "When considering the current scientific standing with respect to sun signs, it becomes clear that there is little or no truth in sun signs," said Peter Hartmann, leader of the study, which was published in the Personality and Individual Differences journal. The scientists used computer analysis to try to examine the astrological signs and compare them to the character of some 15,000 individuals.


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: Hitler's Sunken Secret - An expedition to the bottom of Norway's Lake Tinn illuminates Nazi Germany's nuclear ambitions. On the PBS: May 9 at 8 pm ET/PT

Da Vinci's Lost Code - Was a painting bought some 25 years ago for a relatively small sum really painted by Leonardo da Vinci? Find out what secrets this painting holds. Go inside a world where science and art collide to break the code and reveal the secrets of the genius. On The Discovery Channel: MAY 14 @ 10:00 PM, MAY 15 @ 02:00 AM, MAY 18 @ 10:00 PM, MAY 19 @ 02:00 AM, MAY 21 @ 07:00 PM, MAY 21 @ 11:00 PM, MAY 22 @ 11:00 AM; ET/PT

Noah's Ark: The True Story - Search for the truth behind the story of Noah and his ark. Find out how Noah could have built such a structure and whether or not a great flood took place on the earth. The search for remains of the ark continues today. On The Discovery Channel: MAY 18 @ 08:00 PM, MAY 19 @ 12:00 AM, MAY 21 @ 09:00 PM, MAY 22 @ 01:00 AM; ET/PT

Secret Towers of the Himalayas - A French explorer travels to the remote valleys of Tibet to study and film the mysterious Towers of Tibet. An estimated 600 stone towers, some as high as 150 feet, date from the time of the Mongol invasion of China. On The Science Channel: MAY 22 @ 10:00 PM, MAY 23 @ 01:00 AM, MAY 23 @ 05:00 AM, MAY 23 @ 11:00 AM, MAY 23 @ 03:00 PM, MAY 27 @ 06:00 PM;; ET/PT.

Black Sky: Winning the X Prize - After a successful flight into space on September 29, 2004, Burt Rutan and his team prepare to make history by winning the X Prize competition. Follow the final preparations for the X2 flight by SpaceShipOne and ultimate victory in the competition. On The Science Channel: MAY 16 @ 10:00 PM, MAY 17 @ 01:00 AM, MAY 17 @ 05:00 AM, MAY 17 @ 11:00 AM, MAY 17 @ 03:00 PM, MAY 21 @ 06:00 PM; ET/PT.

What The Ancients Knew: India - Long before the Western world was known, India provided the world with its riches. However, India’s invaluable contributions to science and technology have all too often been overlooked. Few know how profoundly India has shaped the modern world. On The Science Channel:MAY 08 @ 09:00 PM, MAY 09 @ 12:00 AM, MAY 09 @ 04:00 AM, MAY 09 @ 10:00 AM, MAY 09 @ 02:00 PM, MAY 13 @ 05:00 PM, MAY 22 @ 06:00 PM; ET/PT.

What Really Killed the Dinosaurs - Until recently, most scientists thought they knew what killed off the dinosaurs - a giant meteorite crashing into Earth. But a small and vociferous group of scientists believes there is increasing evidence that the 'impact' theory could be wrong. On The Science Channel: MAY 01 @ 08:00 PM, MAY 01 @ 11:00 PM, MAY 02 @ 03:00 AM, MAY 02 @ 09:00 AM,MAY 02 @ 01:00 PM,MAY 06 @ 04:00 PM; ET/PT.

Ancient Marvels: Cities of the Underworld. - Istanbul is undoubtedly one of the most dynamic and exotic cities in the world. Once the capital city of three of the world's most powerful empires--The Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman--its strategic location made it the perfect spot for empires to rise, fall...and rise again. Today Istanbul's residents are walking on top of remnants of these fallen civilizations...literally. Taxis drive over parts of Constantine's Lost Great Palace; children play on cobblestone streets concealing a massive Byzantine dungeon; a high school sits on a 3rd century wall leading to the bowels of a 100,000 seat ancient Roman Hippodrome; and basement's of old Ottoman homes lead to subterranean tunnels and secret cisterns. Join host Eric Geller as he leaves the buzz of the city streets behind and follows the pull of the past. Teamed with leading archeologists and experts, Eric peels back the layers of the past--to reveal a hidden history that hasn't seen the light of day for ages. On The History Channel: May 5 @ 6pm, ET/PT.



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