Science Over the Edge

A Roundup of Strange Science for the Month

Applet credit: Ed Hobbs

June 2003

In the News:

Journey to the Center of the Earth - David Stevenson, a planetary sciences professor at the California Institute of Technology, has proposed sending a probe to the center of the Earth. Stevenson's scheme involves using a nuclear bomb to create a crack that goes down though 1,800 miles of crust to the outer edge of Earth's core and then dumping a flood of molten iron down the crack. The iron would carry a grapefruit-sized probe that would relay back information about inner Earth's temperature and composition. Such a probe could answer questions about Earth's magnetic field and whether life-forms can exist deep below the crust. Stevenson admits his plan sounds crazy and may prove unworkable, but he hopes it will inspire other scientists to think about how deep underground exploration could be done.

The Real Andromenda Strain? - In a letter to The Lancet medical journal, professor Chandra Wickramasinghe of Cardiff University, has suggested that the SARS virus originated in outer space. He points to the sudden appearance of virus and its unique nature as evidence. Other scientists are highly skeptical of Wickramasinghe theory, noting that the virus has a fatty coating which would tend to dry out in an environment such as space. A spokesman for the World Health Organization said that while such an idea is theoretically possible, there is no real evidence at this point to back up such a claim.

Spring Comes to Neptune - According to observations made with the Hubble Space Telescope, it's springtime in Neptune's southern hemisphere. Neptune, like Earth, has a tilted axis which means one hemisphere is struck more directly by the sun during certain parts of the planet's orbit than others. According to observations this has led to bands of high clouds in the southern hemisphere becoming wider and brighter. This seasonal change is a surprise to scientists who thought the Sun was too far away from Neptune and therefore too weak to affect its environment. Despite it being spring, visitors should not plan to pack their shorts. Winds gust in the atmosphere up to 900 miles per hour and the temperature is about minus 280 degrees Fahrenheit. There is no rush to get there either. This spring season should last about 40 years.

Mysterious Massachusetts Stones - Five stone faces found in Massachusetts have left researchers wondering if they are ancient artifacts or modern hoaxes. The masks, which are made of stones with sunken eye sockets and open mouths carved into them, are now in the possession of retired state geologist Joseph Sinnott. Sinnott was at first skeptical of the ancient nature of the stones, but became more interested in finding their origin after he realized there was no indication they'd been carved using modern metal tools. The surface of the carvings are apparently oxidized suggesting that they are hundreds of years old. The work, which does not seem to match that of local Indians, may be the remains of an older civilization, speculates Sinnott. Other scientists remain skeptical suggesting that even if the masks are not modern, they may still be part of a century-old hoax.

Mister Rogers Neighborhood is Now Between Mars and Jupiter - An asteroid, formerly known as No. 26858, now bears the name "Misterrogers" in honor of Fred Rogers, host of the public television show "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood." Rogers died last February at age 74 though his program continues to be seen in reruns. The asteroid, which is about 218 million miles from the sun and takes about 3.5 years to complete one orbit, was discovered in 1993 by E.F. Helin at the Palomar Observatory in California. The name was approved by the the International Astronomical Union which controls designations for comets, asteroids and surface features like moon craters.


What's New at the Museum:

Giant Squid - Calamary by the Ton? At fifty-feet-long-plus the Giant Squid is perhaps the only proven sea monster in the ocean. Find out about this mysterious colossus of the deep on our recently updated page - >Full Story


Ask the Curator:

Jersey Devil -I can find little info on the Jersey Devil that supports the theory that it is evil and not just mean. Can you give me some information that supports this? - Anonymous

The Jersey Devil, a legendary creature that supposedly has haunted Southern New Jersey for hundreds of years, clearly has its roots in folklore that give it a demonic connection. One of the most popular stories about the creation of the creature involves the Shrouds household of Leeds Point, New Jersey. One version has Mrs. Shrouds wishing her next child to be born a devil (perhaps because it was her 13th child). She then gives birth to a deformed creature with wings. Another involves a young girl in the household having the child of a British soldier during the Revolutionary War. The townspeople curse the girl and her offspring, which is then born as a devil. There are alternate versions of the tale giving the birthplace as Burlington or Estellville, but in every case it is clear that the creature is somehow linked with the devil and the forces of evil. Humans don't, through any natural set of circumstances, give birth to creatures that can fly and live two-hundred years.

It is also clear that the story of the Jersey Devil, despite numerous sighting though the years, belongs in the world of the occult and myth and not in the world of science.


Akhenaten's Looks - I was just curious...there are some sculptures of Pharaoh Akhenaten's daughters with long, strange skulls and I was just wondering if that was some sort of symbolic portrayal or is there some sort of medical condition that causes that odd appearance? - Anonymous.

Some researchers suggest that Akhenaten and some of his children suffered from Marfan's Syndrome. This is a hereditary disease first described by a French doctor named Antione B. Marfan. Marfan noticed that some of his patients had especially long fingers and skeletal abnormalities sometimes including elongated skulls.

Alternatively others have argued that these images are just an expressionistic art style that was popular at the time. Even people who were not related to the Pharaoh at all are often shown with a least a few of these strange characteristics. But is this a case of wanting to copy an art style, or wanting to copy the Pharaoh himself?

If the mummy of Akhenaten can be located (it has never been found) a simple DNA test would tell us if he suffered from the rare disease and solve the mystery. It may also be possible to test this theory by checking the mummies of close relatives, but as far as I am aware this has not be done.


In History:

Siberian Explosion - On the morning of June 30, 1908, the Siberian wilderness was struck by a hammer blow from outer space. Something exploded with a force of an H-bomb over the Tunguska region flattening hundreds of square miles of forests and setting them ablaze. Scientists still wonder about the cause of the blast. Experts have speculated the object might have been a comet, asteroid, a mini-black hole, a chunk of antimatter or even a alien spaceship. >Full Story


In the Sky:

See Mercury - If you've never seen the planet Mercury in the sky, this might be the best month in a long time to try. Because Mercury orbits so close to the sun it not easy to spot, but mid-month it will be as far away from the sun, and as bright in the early morning sky, as it can be. Look to the east-northeast horizon 45 minutes before sunrise. You will probably spot Venus easily. Mercury will be just a few degrees away from Venus, but you will need a pair of binoculars to spot it. The week of June 16th should give the best conditions for finding it.



Monkeys Don't Do Shakespeare - If you let a million monkeys pound on a million typewriters for a million years, one of them will eventually produce a work of Shakespeare, or so the theory goes. A cageful of six monkeys left alone with a computer at the Paignton Zoo in southwest England for a month, however, failed to produce even a single word. They did create several pages mostly composed of the letter "S", but actually seemed happier when they were defecating and urinating all over they keyboard or bashing the machine with a rock. The rather strange experiment was funded by England's Arts Council and was part of the Vivaria Project, which plans to install computers in zoos all over Europe. It should be interesting to see how the elephants do with them.


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 Lost Sub - A fisherman's net snags off the coast of New Jersey, revealing a missing World War II German U-boat. On PBS: June 17 8:00 PM; ET.

Journey to the Center of the Earth - Jules Verne's classic adventure book was an inventive story, but the Victorian explorers discovered more than they realized. Compare the fascinating revelations of modern earth science with Verne's astounding insight. In two parts. On the Discovery Channel: Part One: June 08 9:00 PM June 9 12:00 AM June 12 9:00 PM June 13 12:00 AM June 14 03:00 PM June 22 05:00 PM ; Part Two: June 08 10:00 PM June 09 01:00 AM June 12 10:00 PM June 13 01:00 AM June 14 04:00 PM June 22 06:00 PM ;ET.

Chased by Dinosaurs - In a dangerous quest for the largest land animals, zoologist Nigel Marven travels back 100 million years to meet the 95-ton Argentinosaurus. Cutting-edge footage and animation, such as used in the series Walking with Dinosaurs, get Nigel in on the action. On Discovery Channel: June 18 08:00 PM, June 18 11:00 PM; ET.

The Real Jason and the Argonauts - The myth of Jason and the Argonauts and their quest for the Golden Fleece may be based on real events that took place over 3,000 years ago. Discoveries in Greece suggest that Jason's journey may have been a genuine voyage of discovery. On Discovery Channel: June 22 08:00 PM June 22 11:00 PM ; ET.

UFOs: Put to the Test - Explore the UFO phenomena by conducting sightings, showing how easy it is to become drawn into the web of the unknown. Launching our own UFO's, we go undercover in an experiment to record people's honest reactions to viewing something they can't explain. On TLC: June 24 10:00 PM June 25 01:00 AM ; ET.

True Curse of the Mummy - Unravel the bone-chilling curses surrounding the tombs of ancient Egypt. Separate fact from fiction with modern scientific principles that reveal the deadly truth behind the untimely demise of explorers brave enough to open these burial chambers. On TLC: June 17 09:00 PM June 18 12:00 AM; ET.

Pyramids, Mummies and Tombs: Why Build Pyramids? - Pyramids served many purposes throughout history, from a gateway to heaven for Buddhists to a sacrificial altar for Mayans. Learn how the same structure that guarded Pharaoh's treasures in the afterlife served to honor the gods with human sacrifice. On TLC: June 15 09:00 PM June 16 12:00 AM June 22 06:00 PM; ET.

Crop Circles: In Search of a Sign - For twenty years, crop circles appeared with increasing frequency in crops around the world. Hoaxers stepped forward, but how could they create so many complex circles? Follow scientists, astronomers and archaeologists as they examine crop circles. On TLC: June 03 10:00 PM June 04 01:00 AM ; ET.

UFOs: What You Didn't Know: UFO Hot Spots - For those who study the UFO phenomenon, "UFO Hot Spots" are those places around the globe known for a long history of UFO sightings and reports. From Brazil to Mexico, from Washington State to Florida, multiple witnesses, including air traffic controllers and even the military, confirm that something unexplained is repeatedly happening in the night sky. Tales of alien abductions, bizarre and chilling photographs of UFOs, and hours of videotape all abound as we search for UFO Hot Spots. On the The History Channel: June 11 9:00PM June 12 1:00AM; ET.



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