Science Over the Edge

A Roundup of Strange Science for the Month

Applet credit: Ed Hobbs

July 2002

In the News:

Dealer Jailed for Importing Stolen Pharaoh's Head - A New York City gallery owner is now in jail for 33 months convicted of conspiring to import and sell stolen Egyptian antiquities. The objects imported by the dealer, Frederick Schultz, included a mummified pharaoh's head that he later sold to a London art collector for $1.2 million. Schutlz's lawyers argued that he was unaware he was breaking U.S. law when he received the objects, but the judge in the case replied that he believed that the dealer knew he was stealing "in every sense of the word." A witness testified that the head had been dipped in plaster and painted black to make it look like a cheap souvenir and get it past customs authorities. Egyptian law declares that all antiquities are public property, but does not cover items legally removed from Egypt before 1983. Schutlz apparently mislead buyers by telling them the objects had come from old, legal collections.

Monster Sound from the Bottom of the Sea? - Britain's New Scientist reported last month that scientists are puzzled by a sound picked up U.S. Navy "spy" sensors designed to track foreign submarines. The sound, which researchers have nicknamed "Bloop," has varying frequencies similar to noises made by marine animals, but it is far more powerful than any call made by any known creature on Earth. Some have speculated that the noise is made by a "sea monster" at great depths - perhaps a giant squid. Other researchers find this unlikely as the squid has no gas-filled sac for making such as noise.

New Exoplanets Found - European scientists announced last month that they have discovered eight new planets outside of our solar system. The announcement, which came at the exoplanet conference in Washington, D.C. brings the total number of distant planets to about 100. One of the planets is about the same size as Jupiter and orbits its sun (Gliese 777A, a star about 52 light years away) in a nearly circular orbit. This is an exciting find for scientists as a large planet with a stable orbit may have promoted an environment friendly to life in any inner-planets.

The Mystery of the Missing Comets - Astronomers have known for decades that most comets that pass through our inner solar system and return to the Oort cloud (at the edge of the solar system) seem to just disappear. To explain this scientists theorized that these comets lose their tails and become "dormant." Now a new study published in the journal Science suggests that rather than sitting dormant the comets actually crumble and disappear. Harold Levison of the Southwest Research Institute and his colleagues created a computer model of comet activity and found out that if the comets simply went "dormant" there should be 100 times more comets in the Oort cloud than can be seen. The missing comets apparently, according to Levison, simply go "poof."

Neanderthals Hunted Mammoths - British archaeologists announced last month that they have discovered a site that strongly supports the idea that early Neanderthals hunted mammoths. Fifty-thousand-year-old remains in a gravel pit near Thetford in eastern England show mammoth bones in close proximity to stone axes that were probably used to butcher them. In addition the site shows that the woolly rhinoceros and reindeer may also have been victims of the Neanderthals hunger for meat.

Chinese Explore "ET Relics"- This month Chinese scientists have mounted an expedition to explore a mysterious pyramid that legend says is a tower left by aliens from outer space. The report from the Xinhua news agency says the structure, which sits on Mount Baigong in the western province of Qinghai, is 165 to 198-feet high with triangular openings on its face and pipes leading though the mountain to a nearby saltwater lake. The strange object sits in a inhospitable and mostly uninhabited area.


What's New at the Museum:

Whatever Happened to the Brontosaurus? - There was a time when the dinosaur named Brontosaurus evoked images of a monstrous beast with four legs, a long, graceful neck dragging an even longer tail through primeval swamps. In the last 20 years, however, this name has disappeared from books and museum exhibits about dinosaurs. Whatever happened to this famous beast? - Whatever Happened to the Brontosaurus?


Ask the Curator:

Palmdale Bulge - A few years back I read about the "Palmdale Bulge" and it was speculated that it was the beginning of a volcano or mysterious rising of the land. I have tried to find out more but have not been able too. - Janet A.

In 1974 Bob Castle of the U.S. Geological Service began studying geologic level records from the 1950's and 60's. When he compared them with more recent records he made a startling, almost frightening, discovery. In an eclipse shaped area 4500 square miles in size in Southern California the ground had risen as much as 16 inches in just a couple decades (It was named the Palmdale Bulge because the town of Palmdale was at the point of greatest rise. Other people, notably the residents of Palmdale, preferred the term "Southern California Uplift"). There was wild speculation on what this meant (an emerging volcano?), but most of the concern surrounded the possibility that the bulge meant a massive earthquake was coming. Other bulges had been associated with earthquakes in the past and the fact that the notorious San Andreas fault ran along the edge of the Bulge worried geologists. Could the Bulge portend a huge, destructive ground shaker like the one that hit California in 1857?

Additional surveys and reassessments of the data followed. Several groups found systematic errors in the way the original work had been done that seemed to explain the Bulge. Over the years most geologists have become skeptical about the existence of the Bulge at all, though a few continue to think that at least a portion of the rise did actually take place. While there have been some significant earthquakes in Southern California since the 70's, none has yet had the power of the 1857 quake that was so greatly feared.


Rose Red - Is "Rose Red "a true story? I just watched the TV-movie by Stephen King. It reminded me of the Winchester mansion. Thank you. - J. D.

A few years ago Steven Spielberg asked Stephen King to write a scary, haunted house story he could film. As you guessed, King decided to start with the real story of the Winchester Mansion and elaborate on it. The production company went to great lengths to give the film a "true story" feeling by also publishing a companion book on the subject - "The Diary of Ellen Rimbauer: My Life at Rose Red" by Joyce Reardon (It was actually written by King. Reardon is a character in the film) - and by creating a fake website for "Beaumont University" the college were the investigators checking out the house supposedly came from.

The Winchester House is a real place located in San Jose, California. It was owned by the rich widow of the man that invented the famed Winchester rifle, Sarah L. Winchester. She feared the spirits of those that had been killed by her husband's guns during the Civil War would haunt her. A psychic told her to appease the spirits she should continually build and add to her mansion and that's just what she did for 38 years from 1884 to 1922. The result is a big, rambling structure with lots of strange features including doors that open out into thin air and stairs the go no place but straight up into the ceiling.

All work stopped when Sarah died in 1922, but the mansion still exists and visitors can take a tour of the premises to see some of the 160 strange rooms and odd features that she had built. Supposedly the mansion is haunted.


In History:

Parisian Fireball - On July 5th 1852 a man in his apartment in Paris reported hearing a sound like a thunderclap and then seeing a fireball the size of a human head float out of his fireplace. The ball floated into the center of the room giving off bright light, but no heat. After a few moments it drifted back to the fireplace and up into the chimney were it exploded.

The object the Parisian man saw was probably "Ball lightning" one off the strangest and unexplained of all natural electrical phenomena.


In the Sky:

Venus Viewing - Look for the planet Venus at the beginning of this month in the evening sky. It sets about 2 hours after the sun does. Venus has been called the "Queen of UFO's" because of the many false UFO reports attributed to it. Mars and Jupiter are also in the evening sky, but will be difficult to see because they are setting only 45 minutes after the sun.

Aphelion - On Saturday, July 6, Earth will be at "aphelion" - its farthest distance from the sun - at a distance of 94,506,950 miles. In the northern hemisphere this is proof that our temperature is not governed by the sun's distance (it's the tilt that matters) as we will be in the height of summer.



UFO Tourism Zone in Chile - Chilean Mayor Miguel Marquez has declared an area near the Maipo River Region in Chile an official UFO tourism zone. The area has long been associated with reports of mysterious flying lights and objects. Now plans are being made to exploit this tourism opportunity by constructing two observation centers and placing signs at locations where sightings have occurred. The idea for the zone originated with Chile's Corporation for the Investigation of UFOs.


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.

Secrets of Lost Empires - PBS's Nova repeats its series on ancient technology around the world. Medieval Siege: July 16 at 8 pm; Pharaoh's Obelisk: July 23 at 8 pm; Easter Island: July 30 at 8 pm; Roman Bath: August 6 at 8 pm China Bridge: August 13 at 8 pm; ET.

History Special Presentation on UFOs - The History Channel is putting together several specials on UFO's and Aliens for the Independence Day weekend - UFOs vs. the Government: July 05 8:00 AM and 2:00 PM; UFOs: Testing the Evidence: July 05 9:00 AM and 3:00 PM; Extraterrestrials: July 05 10:00 AM and 4:00 PM; ET.

Dragons - Gigantic fire-breathing man-eating monsters! Dragons haunt the imagination and invade the art of nearly all civilizations. Part of the Incredible But True? series. On the History Channel: July 17 8:00 PM;July 18 12:00 AM;July 21 12:00 PM; ET.

Ancient Puzzles - For centuries people have puzzled over secret codes, ancient puzzles and the enigmatic Egyptian pyramids. New research leads to startling theories about these time-honored mysteries. On the Discovery Channel: Jul 4 10:00 PM and 1:00 AM; Jul 6 7:00 PM ; ET.

Real Ghosthunters - Go inside with America's premiere hi-tech ghost hunters, and see real evidence for the first timeó ectoplasmic clouds, floating balls of light, anomalous cold spots and actual photographs. Explore new technologies and participate in investigations. On the Discovery Channel: Jul 11 8:00 PM and 11:00 PM; Jul 13 5:00 PM ; ET.

Building the Impossible: The Seven Wonders of the Ancient World - Learn the historical background of each of the Seven Wonders of the World using information from ancient sources, modern investigations of the remains and computer animation. Uncover the mysteries of the cities and civilizations to which they belonged. On Discovery Channel: Jul 28 9:00 PM and 1:00 AM; ET.

Mysteries of the Sphinx - The Sphinx is a major tourist attraction, commanding the attention and interest of people around the world. But the truth about the origin and purpose are shrouded in mystery and controversy. Examine recent geological evidence and hear from experts. On TLC: Jul 23 9:00 PM and 12:00 AM; Jul 27 3:00 PM; ET.

The Bermuda Triangle--Secrets Revealed - Is it a fatal twilight zone, a graveyard for the lost, or simply stormy waters? Scientists employ the latest technology to search for the countless planes, ships and people that disappear each year. On TLC: Jul 9 9:00 PM and 12:00 AM; Jul 13 3:00 PM; ET.

Pyramid of Doom, The: An Ancient Murder Mystery - Excavations at an ancient pyramid in Peru reveal some 70 skeletons grotesquely splayed across a mud plaza in positions of sudden, violent death. An archaeological team reveals a dark side of one of antiquity's most brilliant civilizations. On TCL: Jul 8 10:00 PM and 1:00 AM; ET.

Mummy Security System - Trained commandos and security specialists attempt to break into a tomb designed to replicate the tunnel mazes that guarded the tombs of Egyptian pharaohs from robbers. Spring-loaded doors, passages to nowhere and deadly traps guard the treasure inside. On TCL: Jul 8 9:00 PM and 12:00 AM; Jul 10 10:00 PM and 1:00 AM; Jul 13 4:00 PM; ET.

Mystery of the Skulls - The discovery of mysteriously misshapen skulls raise numerous questions for scientists concerning their origin. Could the ancient people of Canuachi have been afflicted with disease or faulty DNA? Could the skull be that of an alien?. On TCL: Jul 9 10:00 PM and 1:00 AM; ET.

End of Extinction: Cloning the Tasmanian Tiger - Scientists use DNA from a preserved specimen to clone the Tasmanian tiger, a wolf-like Australian marsupial ruthlessly hunted to extinction by English settlers in the 1900's. Dr. Mike Archer's quest to reverse this wrong draws critics and naysayers. On TCL: Jul 11 10:00 PM and 1:00 AM ; ET.



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