Over the Edge
Roundup of Strange Science for the Month
Explaining Wrong Way Planets - Astronomers have
long wondered why one out of four Jupiter-sized exoplanets
found seem to orbit their stars in the "wrong" direction:
opposite to the rotation of their stars. Astrophysicists
at Northwestern University think they have found a possible
solution. In their theory the gravity of a large planet,
or brown dwarf star further out in the same system caused
the inner planet to change its orbit from circular to elongated.
As it did this it also lost angular momentum and its orbit
became inclined to that of the star. In some cases this
inclination would be extreme enough to cause the planet
to "flip over." The gravitational interaction and the loss
of orbital energy also explains how the large planet's orbits
shrunk and they got so close to their parent stars. The
team was able to successfully model this interaction on
Silk Shooting Tarantulas - According to a study
published in the Journal of Experimental Biology
tarantulas are capable of shooting silk from their feet
to catch themselves from fatal falls. In an experiment researchers
from the University of Newcastle, U.K., slowly tilted a
glass tank to a vertical position as the spider held on,
and then shook it slightly, until the spider slipped. Afterward
they found evidence of "footprints" of spider silk from
all four pairs of legs of the tarantulas. An examination
of the feet also found "little spigots" on the feet where
the silk emerged from. If these finding hold up, the fictional
"Spiderman" of the comics, who shoots silk from his hands
and feet, might have some validation in reality.
Too Many Dinosaurs? - Well-known paleontologist
Jack Horner thinks too many new dinosaurs are on the books
which are actually just duplicates of already known animals.
According to an article in the May 13th issue of Science
Magazine, one-third of all known dinosaur species may
never have existed. Many dinosaurs of the same species look
different at different ages, and according to Horner, this
has often led researchers in the wrong direction. The temptation
to declare a new species is huge given the fame and money
that can be connected with it. Horner supports a rigorous
set of procedures for studying dinosaur fossils that he
calls the Unified Frame of Reference (UFR) and thinks that
if it is implemented worldwide will eliminate at least 50
dinosaur species in a few years.
Unbound Rouge Planets Abound - The joint Japanese/New
Zealand Microlensing Observations in Astrophysics (MOA)
project thinks it has spotted 10 Jupiter-sized worlds floating
out in space unbounded to any star. This is not totally
unexpected as current solar system formation models suggest
that some worlds get ejected due to gravitational interactions.
The number of them, however, is startling: they seem to
outnumber the stars by a ratio of 2 to 1. The group uses
equipment that watches 50 million stars within the Milky
Way. When the light from one star is magnified for a period
of time the astronomers know that another object is passing
in front of it and that object's gravity is focusing the
light in an effect called gravitational micro-lensing. The
length of the effect suggests the size of the object. Objects
that take less than two days to pass in front of a star
are thought to be gas giant planets. The astronomers then
checked the position of these planets to confirm that there
were no possible host stars within 10 astronomical units
(about 930 million miles) of the planet making it likely
they are rouges without a solar system.
Electronics Helps Man Regain Control of Legs -
A man paralyzed from the chest down has been given the ability
to stand and walk by using electronic implants in his spinal
cord. Rob Summers, 25-year old former athlete worked with
experts at Louisville's Frazier Rehab Institute and UCLA,
to restore some motion in his legs. He can now push himself
to a standing position and bear weight for 20 minutes at
a time, and can move with support on a treadmill. The electronic
stimulation which involves16 electrodes placed on key parts
of the spinal cord, bypasses the brain and is controlled
by a portable stimulation unit is strapped to Summer's hip.
He has also regained control of his bowels and bladder,
and sexual function. Mr. Summers was injured in a hit-and-run
accident 5 years ago.
Science Quote of the Month -"Science
can only ascertain what is, but not what should be, and
outside of its domain value judgments of all kinds remain
necessary." - Albert Einstein
New at the Museum:
Notes from the Curator's Office: Of Automatons
and Automata - We might call them robots today, but
automata - mechanical puppets - have a history the go back
far beyond invention of the modern term. The ancients were
fascinated with machines that looked and moved like animals
and people. >Full
The Zuiderzee and Delta Works of the Netherlands - At
the beginning of the 20th century the Dutch started on a
series of immense projects to enlarge and secure their land
against the sea. A new chapter in our series on Wonders
of the Modern World.
Mysterious Picture of the Month - What
is this thing?
Warp Factor One Plus - Two objects move
apart each at just over the speed of light. Can they observe
each other? - Dave B.
I take your question
to be "If I hopped on one spaceship and my friend jumped
in another and both took off going faster that the speed
of light in opposite directions, could we look behind us
and see each other?" The short answer is no. The light coming
from your friend's rocket would never catch up to you, so
you would never see him. However, things are a little more
complex than that.
This is an interesting
"thought experiment" of the type that Einstein would use
to explore questions in relativity. (One of his thought
experiments was "If I rode a bike near the speed of light,
what would I see?").
From a practical
point of view you couldn't actually do it. Nothing with
"rest mass" (which is pretty much anything you need to build
a spaceship out of) can go faster, or even as fast as the
speed of light, which is a sizzling 186,000 miles a second
in the vacuum of space. Things get more and more massive
as you accelerate them and you would need more energy than
is available in the universe to accelerate a spaceship to
the speed of light.
What would you
see if you were on a rocketship, or Einstein's bike just
approaching the speed of light, however? Would the beam
from the bike's headlight slow down to a crawl?
No, from the
rider's point of view the light of the beam would still
move away from him at the speed of light! That's because
while the speed of light is a constant, time isn't. Time
would slow down for the rider so that when he measured the
speed of his headlight, it would still seem to be going
at 186,000 miles a second away from him.
As you approached
the speed of light the world behind you would seem to turn
shades of red. This is because as you move really fast the
light waves coming from behind you are stretched out - a
phenomenon known as the Doppler Effect (it's the same one
that causes a car horn to appear to lower its pitch as the
car passes by you).
Although it is
impossible to build spaceships that go at the speed of light,
you can actually observe what would happen when you look
at the stars with a big telescope. Space is expanding a
carrying all the stars and galaxies (collections of stars)
along with it. This means the father a galaxy is from us
the faster it is moving away from us. In turn the farther
a galaxy is away from us the more its light will be "red-shifted"
by the Doppler effect (In fact astronomers use the amount
of the "red-shift" to tell how far an object is away from
Earth). Galaxies very, very far away from us appear to be
going near the speed of light. Because they are simply being
carried along as space expands, the rules about acceleration
to the speed of light do not apply here. As they start to
move away from us faster than the speed of light the light
waves arriving from them get longer and longer and redder
and redder until they simply disappear.
New England Sea Serpent Strikes Again - On June
16th, 1826, the American sailing ship Silas Richards
was cruising near St. Georges Bank off of Cape Cod when
its captain, Henry Holdredge and a passenger, William Warburton,
saw a strange sight. It appeared to be an enormous, many-humped,
snake-like, sea serpent slowly swimming toward the vessel.
When Warburton alerted the rest of the passengers, however,
many didn't bother to come to the rail considering it a
hoax. This incident appears to be one of a number of unexplained
sightings of what would eventually be called "The
Gloucester Sea Serpent."
June's Draconid Meteors - Right at the end of
the month, June 30, will be peak of the June Draconid meteor
shower. Watch the sky in the direction of the handle of
the Big Dipper. This shower is very irregular and can produce
between 10 and 100 per hour. The shooting stars are the
debris left by comet Pons-Winnecke.
Area 51 Revelations - A new book, "Area 51: An
Uncensored History of America's Top Secret Military Base,"
by Annie Jacobsen suggests that the connection between aliens
and the famous testing grounds in Nevada was cultivated
by authorities to hide espionage activities at the base.
According to Jacobsen the alleged flying saucer crash in
Roswell, N.M. in 1947 - which was actually a ruse by a foreign
power - provided the inspiration. The saucers often reported
over area 51 were actually A-12 recon aircraft in testing,
part of the "Oxcart" project.
check local listing for area outside of North America.
NOVA: Musical Minds - Oliver Sacks explores how the power
of music can make the brain come alive.
On PBS: June 15 at
9 pm; ET/PT.
NOVA: What Are Dreams? - Psychologists and brain scientists have new answers to an age-old question.
On PBS: June 29 at 9 pm; ET/PT.
Killing bin Laden - An intimate account of the bin Laden operation - from the time the crucial
intelligence was gathered through the burial at sea. Explore
the details of how the operation was planned and executed,
and see through the eyes of the highly-trained Seal Team
6. On The Discovery Channel: Jun 04, 8:00 pm; Jun 04, 11:00
Is Seeing Believing? - Research into the inner workings of our senses is opening up an exciting
new world. The more we understand about our senses and how
they work, the more we are learning to harness their remarkable
powers - the possibilities for the future are limitless.On
The Science Channel: Jun 06, 10:00 pm; Jun 07, 1:00 am;
Jun 08, 5:00 am; ET/PT.
Unearthing Ancient Secrets: Egypt's Mystery Tomb - When the tomb of King Tut was found in 1922, many believed the Valley
of the Kings had given up all it's secrets. Now, archaeologists
have found a new tomb just a few metres away. We will follow
the experts as they discover just what, or who, lies inside.
On The Science Channel: Jun 09, 10:00 pm; Jun 10, 1:00 am;
Jun 11, 5:00 am; ET/PT.
Seeing Black Holes
Follow the world's greatest scientists as they attempt to understand
a phenomenon that Einstein believed could only exist on
paper. We now know there are millions of black holes in
our galaxy, and they are the scariest things we know least
about. On The
Jun 06, 9:00 pm; Jun 07, 12:00
am; Jun 08, 4:00 am
Known Universe: Biggest Cosmic Blasts - Volcanic eruptions aren't unique to Earth they are common throughout
the solar system. Eruptions are capable of both destruction
and creation, and we'll see their astonishing effects on
humans and entire galaxies. On The
June 2 9:00 PM
Naked Science: Tsunami From Outer Space - A group of scientists believe a large meteor crashed as few as 500 years
ago and produced a mega-tsunami that battered Australia's
coastline. On The
Channel: June 9 8:00 PM; June 9 11:00 PM; ET/PT.
Lost Gold of the Dark Ages - Lost Gold of the Dark Ages chronicles the amazing story of how an amateur
metal-detecting enthusiast discovered a gold hoard of more
than 1,500 artifacts dating back a millennium, and valued
at over $5 million On The
June 14 7:00 PM
Finding Atlantis - Could the fabled lost city of Atlantis have been located? Using satellite
photography, ground-penetrating radar and underwater technology,
experts are now surveying marshlands in Spain to look for
proof of the ancient city. On The
Channel: June 14 8:00 PM; June 14 11:00 PM; ET/PT.
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