Science Over the Edge

A Roundup of Strange Science for the Month

Applet credit: Ed Hobbs

June 2000

In the News:

Archimedes Death Ray - According to legend, the Romans attacked Syracuse in Sicily in 212B.C., but the enemy used mirrors to focus the sun on the invading ships causing them burst into flame. For centuries archaeologists have been skeptical of this story saying that Archimedes, who is credited with thinking up the mirror defense, couldn't have had enough knowledge of optics to make such a plan work. Now Robert Temple of Louisville University, Kentucky, has shown by retranslating ancient texts, that some civilizations at that time had enough skills to built mirrors flat enough for the trick to work. Temple even contends that some civilizations may have been able to grind lens fine enough to use in telescopes, some 16 centuries before Galileo, who is generally credited with inventing the telescope, was born.

Lost Mayan City Found in Fire - A fire started to clear the land for planting has revealed a lost Mayan city in Guatemala. The ruins of the city, named El Pajaral, are thought to be the same as those found in 1970 by Harvard archaeologist Ian Graham, but lost again when political instability and war closed the region to visitors. It may also be the source of smuggled Mayan artifacts that have been shipped out of Guatemala illegally. The site consists of two major ceremonial plazas linked by a stone staircase some 150 feet wide and 100 feet long. The city also seems to have a dozen buildings with five separate temple mounts and many 10 foot high carved stone monuments known as stelae. Archaeologists are struck by the mixture of building styles at El Pajaral, some of it resembling Mexican Mayan sites, while others look like the ruins at Copan in Honduras.

First Attack Submarine to be Raised - Plans are moving forward to raise the world's first successful attack submarine from the bottom of the Charleston, South Carolina, harbor. The Confederate boat Huntley sank itself shortly after a successful attack on the Union ship Housatonic which was blockading the harbor in 1864. The Housatonic sank when it was rammed with an explosive charge fixed to a long spar on the front of the Huntley. A dive team found the Huntley intact buried on the muddy harbor bottom in 1995. The recovery team will raise the submarine by digging it out and slinging wooden trusses beneath every two feet. The recovery will be difficult as the slightest stress on the boat's hull may cause the fragile ship to break apart.

Nuke the Moon - The U.S. Air Force had a top secret plan to drop an nuclear bomb on the moon. The project, developed in the 1950's, involved a young Carl Sagan who proposed that the mushroom cloud could be examined from Earth for signs of organic material. The plan came to light in a letter written by physicist Leonard Reiffel to the journal Nature. According to Reiffel hitting the moon with the Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles available at the time would have been feasible.

Stonehenge to Open on Solstice - Stonehenge, the ancient observatory of standing stones in England, will be opened to the public for the first time in 16 years for the summer solstice on June 20th. The 5,000 year old circle has been a magnet for unruly visitors during past summer solstice events. The site will be under tight security and no camping, fires, dogs or amplified music will be allowed.

Opening Museum's "Secret Wing" - The "Secret Wing" of the Naples' Archaeological Museum has been opened to the public. The exhibits there, recovered from the Roman city of Pompeii which was buried by an eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D., have been deemed too erotic for the general public to view in the past. When the items were first recovered in the 18th century the Bourbon Kings who ruled Naples were too embarrassed by the objects to allow them to be shown. Since then the collection as only been seen briefly by the public. Now for a charge of $6 visitors can view the collection including frescoes, vases, statues and engraved cups, but those under 14 will have to bring a note from their parents.


In History:

Tunguska Event - On the morning of June 30th, 1908, a huge explosion rocked the empty forests of Siberia near Tunguska. Witnesses told of seeing a object fall from the sky then explode into a pillar of fire. Forests were set on fire and houses were smashed. Damage extended for over 300 miles from the site. Theories about the object have ranged from a stony meteorite 600 foot in diameter, to a doomed alien spaceship. Whatever the object was, if it come three hours later it would have destroyed the city of Moscow.

In the Sky:

See Mercury - The planet Mercury can be difficult to see. Early this month will be your best chance. On June 9th Mercury is at its greatest angular separation from the sun and appears in the evening sky an hour after sunset to the West-North-West. On June 3rd you can use the thin crescent moon as a guide to finding it. It will appear 5 degrees (half the size of your fist held at arms length) to upper-right of the moon an hour after sunset.



Burial on the Moon - A Houston based firm, Celetis Inc., plans to offer a new service: having your ashes buried on the lunar surface. The company has already scattered the ashes of a 100 people in Earth orbit. The service will cost $12,500 and delivery to the moon will be one or two years from now.

Man-made Meteorite - Workers dodged a 60 pound metal object that hurled from space to bury itself a foot deep in the earth. The object, thought to be part of a Delta rocket launched in 1996, crashed to the ground at a farm near Durbanville, outside of Cape Town, South Africa.


On the Tube:

Mysteries of Devil's Triangle -Are there really triangular areas of oceans or lakes that are responsible for 1000s of ships and planes disappearing? This special looks at the Bermuda Triangle and a similar area in the Great Lakes. Part of History's Mysteries on the History Channel. Airs June 15 at 8PM ET/PT.

Hitler and the Occult - Why did Hitler think that the occult could help the Third Reich rise to victory? Part of History's Mysteries on the History Channel. Airs June 14 at 8PM ET/PT.

Ice Mummies: Siberian Ice Maiden - The Siberian Ice Maiden was found frozen some 2400 years ago in the high Steppes known as the Pastures of Heaven. Was she a shamaness of the lost Pazyryk culture? What place did she hold in the nomadic tribes of ancient Siberia? Nova on PBS. Airs June 6 at 9PM ET.

Ice Mummies: Return of the Iceman - 5000 years ago a man was frozen in the Alps. His body and the things he carried with him gave scientists a picture of Europe in the late stone age. Find out what the learned in the Nova episode on June 13 at 9PM ET.

Quest for the Giant Squid - They may grow as big as a bus and they have ten arms, yet nobody has ever seen them in their natural habitat. The giant squid is one of the world's most mysterious creatures. Go looking for it on the Discovery Channel June 4 at 9PM, ET/PT.



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