Science Over the Edge

A Roundup of Strange Science for the Month

Applet credit: Ed Hobbs

June 2005

In the News:

NASA Launches Lunar Oxygen Contest - Got an idea about how to turn Moon dust into air? It could earn you a $250,000 prize from NASA. The agency is hoping to get private industry and research groups involved in a revived lunar exploration program by challenging them with the moon-soil-to-breathable-oxygen problem. According to former astronaut Sam Durrance, who now heads the Space Research Institute, being able to extract oxygen will be critical to the success of future human and robotic missions to the moon. Contestants must use simulated lunar soil to extract 5 kilograms of oxygen in eight hours.

Red May Give Unfair Advantage - A study by scientists suggests that contestants wearing red in sports matches have an unfair advantage. The research was conducted by examining the outcome of boxing, tae kwon do, Greco-Roman wrestling and freestyle wrestling matches in the 2004 Olympic Games. Contestants wearing red won 55 percent of the time. During matches contestants were assigned either blue or red gloves randomly. Scientists attribute the differences to the association of the color red with aggression.

Quake More Powerful than Originally Thought - Scientists now estimate that the great Sumatra-Andaman earthquake that triggered a Tsunami that killed hundreds of thousands of people last December had a magnitude of 9.5. That's nearly twice the strength of the 9.0 announced shortly after the quake. Scientists say that the quake "unzipped" the Earth along an eight-hundred mile stretch pushing up the seabed in locations from 17 to 57 feet. "The earthquake was somewhat unprecedented in our history of trying to understand earthquakes," remarked Thome Lay, chairman of the Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology.

Robot Talks with Mouth - Engineers at Waseda University in Japan have built a robot capable of producing speech by mimicking the human lungs, tongue, larynx and lips. The machine, WT-4, is the most sophisticated of just a few robots which can do this. Scientists hope to use use the robot to learn more about how the brain controls speech. The results may help people who cannot talk, or have difficulty talking.

Phoebe Captured by Saturn- The Cassini probe to Saturn has found evidence that Saturn's outermost large moon, Phoebe, did not form near Saturn, like most of the planet's other moons, but came from deep inside the Kuiper Belt near Pluto. Scientist have long speculated that Phoebe, which orbits Saturn in the opposite direction to the rest of its moons, was a captured asteroid. An examination by the moon by the Cassini Probe shows that its surface and chemical composition resembles that of asteroids known to have formed in the Kuiper Belt giving support to the "capture" theory.


What's New at the Museum:

Aviation Wing - The museum welcomes you to it's newest hall: The Aviation Wing. Look around to find the men and machines behind the story of flight. Were these pioneers heroic or foolhardy? >Full Story


Ask the Curator:

Ghost Ship - A few years ago off the coast of Japan, a wrecked ship was found. No country seemed to own that battered ship. Is this ship supposedly returned to us by the Bermuda Triangle? If so, what happened to the crew and contents? - Debidatta

Without a name for the ship it's hard to pin down which incident you might be talking about. I suspect you might be referring to the Mitsu, which was found abandoned off the coast of Taiwan in 2003. The Mitsu was found drifting by the Taiwanese Coast Guard with no crew on board. There were several days of confusion until the ship was identified as a Japanese fishing vessel which had been abandoned by its crew two months before when it developed mechanical problems.

"Ghost" ships are not as uncommon as you might suppose. Along the Asian Coast piracy is a continuing problem with ships being hijacked, then repainted and given a new identity. If the ship later develops problems, the pirates may just decide to abandoned it rather than risk raising the suspicions of the authorities by taking it into a port. If the ship is later found adrift with a fake registry it can appear that the ship came out of nowhere.

If you are going to subscribe to the supernatural theory, a ship found near Japan would most likely be not be associated with the Bermuda Triangle, which is in the Atlantic, but the "Devil's Sea" which is a kind of Bermuda triangle of the Pacific Ocean.


Hard Disc for the Brain Part II - Last month a reader asked whether it is possible to download human memory to a hard disc. See what a leading computer said this month about downloading the human mind to a computer in our "Observed" section below.


In History:

Beast of Gevaudan - In June of 1764 a young woman tending cows in the Gevaudan region of France spotted a monstrous beast resembling a wolf, but the size of a donkey. The girl was saved when the cattle drove the animal off with their horns. She was one of the more lucky people to have an encounter with the "Beast of Gevaudan." This animal, thought to be a mega sized wolf, killed sixty people over the next few years until it was shot to death in 1767. The story of the beast fueled werewolf stories in the region for many decades.


In the Sky:

Meteor Detection by Radio - On June 10 there will be a meteor shower in the day time. Though the meteors will be invisible to the eye, you might want to try detecting their presence by using a radio. To do this you have to use an FM radio and tune to a station over the horizon from your location. Normally you will hear nothing but static, but if a meteor passes between your location and the station you will hear a bit of music or words as the meteor reflects the signal to you. For more information on this hobby check:


for a method that employs a scanner.



"Cyber-Immortality" by 2050? - According to a leading computer expert, by the year 2050 it should be possible to download your brain to a computer so you can live forever. Ian Pearson, head of British Telecom's futurology unit, predicted, in an interview with the UK newspaper Observer, that rapid advances in computer speed and power will make it possible to give people "cyber-immortality" by the middle of this century. Pearson went on to predict that at first it only be available to the very rich, but by 2080 it could become routine. Pearson also suggested it might be possible to build a fully conscious super-intelligent computer as soon as 2020.


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: Lost Roman Treasure - Experts rescue priceless mosaics from an ancient city about to vanish beneath a reservoir. June 7 at 8 pm.

Lost Temple to the Gods - The crowning jewel of the lost city of Heracleion is the Temple of Hercules. Follow underwater explorerer Franck Goddio as he locates and examines this historic ruin. On the Science Channel: Jun 04 @ 10:00 PM, Jun 05 @ 01:00 AM, Jun 05 @ 06:00 AM,Jun 05 @ 09:00 AM, Jun 05 @ 02:00 PM, Jun 05 @ 05:00 PM ET/PT

Alien Underworld - Dr. Philippa Uwins has uncovered the Jurassic Park of the bacteria world. She battes to prove her theories in a hostile international scientific community while desperately seeking funding to continue her vital research. On the Science Channel: Jun 04 @ 08:00 PM, Jun 04 @ 11:00 PM, Jun 05 @ 04:00 AM, Jun 05 @ 07:00 AM, Jun 05 @ 12:00 PM, Jun 05 @ 03:00 PM ; ET.

Mystery of the Tibetan Mummy - In a lost corner of Tibet, a team of Discovery scientists have uncovered the story of a centuries old body... perfectly intact. It wasn't embalmed like the Egyptian pharaohs or preserved in a glacier. Could this mysterious man have mummified himself? On Science Channel: Jun 06 @ 10:00 PM, Jun 07 @ 01:00 AM Jun 07 @ 06:00 AM,Jun 07 @ 09:00 AM, Jun 07 @ 02:00 PM, Jun 07 @ 05:00 PM

Utah's Dino Graveyard - Follow the excavation and research of a new species of theizinosaur, the most primitive member of a bizarre group of feathered dinosaurs. They are believed to be most closely related to raptors-a group that became that became today's birds. On The Science Channel: Jun 06 @ 08:00 PM, Jun 06 @ 11:00 PM, Jun 07 @ 04:00 AM, Jun 07 @ 07:00 AM, Jun 07 @ 12:00 PM, Jun 07 @ 03:00 PM, ET/PT.

Unsolved History: Roswell - Find out the truth behind accusations that the Air Force recovered a flying saucer from outer space in the desert of New Mexico in 1947. Was this the greatest cover-up, or one of the greatest hoaxes in history On Science Channel: Jun 17 @ 09:00 PM Jun 18 @ 12:00 AM, Jun 18 @ 05:00 AM, Jun 18 @ 08:00 AM, Jun 18 5 @ 01:00 PM, Jun 18 @ 04:00 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 Science Channel: Jun 21 @ 10:00 PM, Jun 22 @ 01:00 AM, Jun 22 @ 06:00 AM, Jun 22 @ 09:00 AM, Jun 22 @ 02:00 PM, Jun 22 2005 @ 05:00 PM ET/PT.

Ancient Monster Hunters - One-breasted female warriors; the one-eyed, man-eating Cyclops; the ferocious griffin, part bird, part lion. Were these creatures, celebrated by the ancient Greeks and immortalized by Homer, something more than myth? Join the hunt with some of today's leading paleontologists as we explore newly-translated evidence and examine remains that may link the Greek classical age with earth's prehistoric past. New data suggests that the ancients searched for, excavated, measured, and displayed massive fossils. On History Channel: June 17 @ 6pm ET/PT.



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