Science Over the Edge

A Roundup of Strange Science for the Month

Applet credit: Ed Hobbs

July 2001

In the News:

Pyramids Built with Kites?- Amateur Egyptologist Maureen Clemmons has a unique theory about how the pyramids of Egypt where built. Rather than pushing the stones needed to build the structures up a gigantic ramp, Clemmons thinks that maybe the Egyptians harnessed the wind to do the work for them through the use of giant kites. She enlisted the help of a team of aeronautic engineers form Caltech to try her idea out and it worked. The group went to the Mojave Desert and hoisted a four-ton obelisk into the position using a kite and pulley system.

Most Egyptian experts are skeptical of Clemmons ideas pointing out that there is no evidence that the ancient Egyptians used either kites or pulleys as we know them today.

Whales Make "Star Wars" Sound - Jason Gedamke and Daniel Costa of the University of California, Santa Cruz, have captured a sound made by the dwarf minke whale that seems to come right out of the movie Star Wars. "It's surprisingly loud and complex, and sounds like it's produced mechanically or synthetically," Gedamke said. "When I first heard it, I couldn't believe it came from a whale." The two recorded the sound while researching the minke whale off the coast of Australia. To record and study the whales' vocalizations, the researchers used an array of hydrophones suspended in the water and marked with brightly colored floats so that observers in the water and on the boat could note the locations of whales relative to the hydrophones. The sound had been heard before, but previous to the Gedamke/Costa discovery the source was unknown. To hear the sound check out Gedamke's webpage at UCSC: "Starwars Sound"

Scientists Plot to Save the Earth from Dying Sun - In about 5 billion years the Earth will be destroyed as our dying Sun expands into a red giant star which will eventually envelope our planet's orbit. Though this disaster is far off in the future a group of astrophysicists has come up with a way to avoid this calamity for at least a few billion years. Don Korycansky, lead author of a recent paper on this subject in Astrophysics and Space Science and a researcher at the University of California at Santa Cruz suggests carefully sending an asteroid past Earth within 10,000 miles would pull our planet about 30 miles away from the sun. The procedure would have to be repeated every 6,000 years to keep pace with the slowly expanding star.

Team Finds Massive Dino in Egypt -Scientists exploring the desert in Egypt have discovered the remains of a massive dinosaur that once roamed the region when it was a lush rainforest. The animal, named Paralititan stromeri, the first part meaning "Tidal Giant" and the second part honoring German paleontologist Ernst Stromer, weighed as much as 15 elephants and had legs eleven feet long. While there are several dinosaur species thought to be taller than Paralittian, only one Argentinosaurus, a dinosaur found in Argentina in 1990, was more massive. The Paralititan is part a group of dinosaurs called Titanosaurids, which were a long-necked, long-tailed species within the sauropod family of dinosaurs. The new sauropod was discovered by graduate student Matthew Lamanna and paleontologist Josh Smith of the University of Pennsylvania.

Nefertit Mummy Found? - Egyptologist Susan James thinks she has located the mummy of Nefertiti, perhaps the most famous queen of ancient Egypt with the exception Cleopatra. It lies with a cache of mummies discovered by French archaeologist Victor Loret in 1898. Neferitit's famous limestone bust has been on display at the Egyptian Museum in Berlin for many years and depicts a beautiful woman with a long neck and delicate features. The mummy James thinks is Nefertiti, had been designated as mummy 61070 and was thought to be the mummy of Queen Tiye, Tutankhamun's probable grandmother. Recent studies, however, have shown that mummy 61070 died in her late twenties which would be too young to be Tiye, but the right age for Nefertiti. The mummy, at a height of 4 feet 8 inches, with long hair and a hyperelongated neck also bears a striking resemblance to the bust and other Nefertiti images. However, other scientists warn it is dangerous to treat sculpted images as reliable evidence of appearance since Egyptian human images can be sometimes be idealistic instead of naturalistic.

Studies Show Humans May have Doomed Megafauna - Two new studies, just released in the journal Science, conclude that after early humans immigrated to Australia and the Americas, within a few thousand years many of the large animals of these continents became extinct. In the Americas, 73 percent of the large plant-eaters were gone within 1,200 years after humans migrated onto the continents. In Australia, researchers found that the wildlife disappeared within 10,000 years of humans having arrived. Victims in the Americans included the mammoths, camels, mastodons, large ground sloths and the saber-toothed cat. In Australia elephant-sized marsupials, huge snakes and giant lizards died out. The studies contribute strong new evidence to an old debate scientists have had about what killed off big animals in newly settled continents. "Human population growth and hunting almost invariably leads to major mass extinctions," said John Alroy author of the study on the American extinction.

New Nessie Theory - Dr. Luigi Piccardi of the Centro di Studio dell Appennino e delle Catene Perimediterranee in Florence has a new theory about the cause of Loch Ness monster reports. Piccardi thinks that the splashing reported in many sightings may be the result of an earth tremor. Piccardi, presenting his theory at the Earth System Processes meeting in Edinburgh, said he beleives it is not a coincidence that Loch Ness is positioned right over the Great Glen Fault, which is the major active fault in Scotland. Piccardi believes there needs to be studies done to confirm a link between seismic activity and unusual water movements in the lake.

Human Soul Discovered?- Sam Parnia, A British scientist studying heart attack victims, says he has discovered evidence suggesting that consciousness may continue after the brain has stopped functioning and a patient is dead. The research, presented at the California Institute of Technology in June, might be interpreted to mean that people have a soul, which keeps thinking even if a person's brain activity is nonexistent. Near-death experiences have been reported for many years but in this study it was shown that none of the patients had low oxygen levels, which some skeptics believe may cause hallucinations which might explain the phenomenon.


What's New at the Museum:

Catastrophic Cosmic Alignment? - Can the sun and planets lining up across the solar system cause disaster here on Earth? Find out by looking at our new page Catastrophic Cosmic Alignment

The Mysterious Airship of 1896 (Flash Film) - This is our first mini-documentary on the web. Watch as we tell the strange story of the Mysterious Airship of 1896 with photos, animation and sound. Runs eight minutes and requires Flash and audio - The Mysterious Airship of 1896


In History:

Early Champ Report - An early report of a sighting of "Champ," the monster that supposedly resides in Lake Champlain on the New York-Vermont border was published in the Plattsburgh Morning Telegram on July 31, 1883. The story said that the Clinton County Sheriff, Nathan H. Mooney, reported seeing an "enormous snake or water serpent..." in the lake. The sheriff estimated that the creature was some 25 to 35 feet long.


In the Sky:

Earth Farthest from Sun - July 4th isn't just Independence Day this year for Americans, it also marks the day our planet is farthest from the sun during its orbit: 94,503,000 miles. Not that there is much difference during the course of the year. Our planet's orbit is nearly circular, with only a 3 percent variation in distance between nearest and most distant points from the sun.

Mars Almost Done with Retrograde - If you've been watching Mars for the last two months you will have noticed that it is traveling backwards through the sky. This phenomena, known as retrograde motion is an illusion caused by the movement of our own Earth as we view the movement of Mars. On July 19th Mars will switch and start going forward again along its normal path.


To Read:

Final Seance : The Strange Friendship Between Houdini and Conan Doyle - They were an unlikely pair: the famous magician who spent years debunking the paranormal and the author who championed spiritualism. Read more about their unusual friendship in this book just released from Prometheus Books. Check Price or Order



Newpaper Editor Bitten by Dragon - San Francisco Chronicle executive editor Phil Bronstein, husband to actress Sharon Stone, had always wanted to see a Komodo dragon up close. As a Father's Day present a tour was arranged for Bronstein so that he could see the dragons, the world's largest lizards, by entering their cage with their keeper at the Los Angeles Zoo. Bronstein got a closer look than he expected when one of the animals attacked his foot, crushing his big toe. Bronstein underwent surgery to fix the foot and was given antibiotics to ward off strains of septic bacteria are found in the animal's mouth. The dragon was not injured in the incident.


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.

Anaconda: Giant Snake of the Amazon - Learn about the Anaconda, the largest snake in the world growing up to 30 feet in length, in this Discovery Channel program. Airs July 8 9:00 PM and 1AM; July 15 2:00 PM, 6:00PM and 12PM, ET/PT.

Castles, Tombs and Leonardo - Does Frankenstein's castle really exist? Why did Emperor Maximilian never use the lavish tomb he had built for himself? Did you know Leonardo's house was full of inventions? Check it out on the Discovery Channel July 12 9:00 PM and 1:00 AM; July 14 2:00 PM ET/PT.

When Dinosaurs Roamed America - Follow the development of dinosaurs using state of the art computer animation, live-action backgrounds, and the latest scientific findings to show how dinosaurs lived and died right in our own backyard. July 15 8:00 PM, 10PM and 12AM. Repeats July 18 at 9:00 PM and 1:00AM. Also at July 22 at 6:00PM and July 28 at 4:00PM ET/PT.

When Dinosaurs Walked the Earth - The Discovery Channel repeats last seasons three part story of what life was like when dinosaurs were alive. Episode I airs July 16 at 8:00PM and 12:00AM, Episode II airs during the same times slots on July 17 and Episode III airs also at the same times on July 18. ET/PT.

Giant Creepy Crawlies - Travel the globe with host Nigel Marven to meet giant worms over six feet long, a butterfly with a one-foot wingspan, a carnivorous cricket the size of a thrush, a three-foot lobster, piano-sized clams, a giant octopus and a 50-foot squid. Part of the Nigel's Wild Wild World series on the Discovery Channel. July 23 8:00 PM and 12AM. Repeats July 28 at 12PM.

Secrets of the Dinosaur Hunters - Americans O.C. Marsh and Edward Drinker Cope were the world's first dinosaur hunters. In a frenzied race to find dinosaur bones in the American Badlands, an intensely bitter and costly rivalry developed between the scientists. Part of the Incredible But True? series. Airs on the History Channel July 13 11:00 PM and repeats July 14 3:00 AM.

Asteroids! - Asteroids have been colliding with earth since time began. The effect can be enormous--from killing of the dinosaurs to scarring of the planet's surface. Using computer recreations and interviews with the world's foremost asteroid authorities, explore the long history of these rocks from space and what future threats they pose. On the History Channel July 13 8:00 and July 14 12:00 AM.

Runaway Universe -NOVA presents the first attempt on television to explore the riddle of quintessence - a mysterious repulsive force that some scientists believe counteracts gravity. The program follows the efforts of two rival teams of astronomers as they search for exploding stars, map out gigantic cosmic patterns of galaxies, and grapple with the ultimate questions: what is the size and shape of the universe, and how will it end? On PBS July 24 at 9 PM ET.



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Copyright Lee Krystek 2001. All Rights Reserved.