Science Over the Edge

A Roundup of Strange Science for the Month

Applet credit: Ed Hobbs

July 2005

In the News:

Making the Shroud of Turin - The French magazine Science et Vie attempted to recreate the famed Shroud of Turin by using a bas-relief sculpture. The experiment yielded an image very much like that found on the sheet which some claim to be the burial cloth of Jesus Christ. Proponents of the authenticity of the shroud have noted that the image could not have been painted on as there are no brush marks and it has a three-dimension quality as if the cloth had been wrapped around a body. The Science et Vie experiment got around this by creating a three dimensional sculpture that stands out from the surrounding background and then wrapping the sheet around it. Scientists involved it the experiment assert that a medieval forger did the same thing. The shroud has been controversial, since it first appeared in 1357 in a church near the eastern French town of Troyes. In 1988 a carbon-14 test showed that he relic only dated back to 1260 and 1390, to young to be the actual cloth. Another scientist early in 2005 claimed, however, that the portion of the cloth tested in 1988 was a section repaired in 1532, and that he had dated the shroud, based on levels of vanillin, to be somewhere between 1,300 and 3,000 years old.

The Puzzle of the Moa Solved - The New Zealand Moa was the largest bird that ever lived with a height of 11.5 feet and a weight of 550 pounds. Scientists believe these large flightless animals were hunted into extinction several hundred years ago by the Maori, a Polynesian people who migrated to New Zealand from the Cook Islands around seven centuries ago. Scientists have always been puzzled as to how the Maori, who were few in numbers, were able to wipe out the Moa, which at one time numbered in the millions. Researchers examining Moa fossils think that the reason is the exceptionally long time - several years - that the birds took to reach reproductive maturity. This made them very vulnerable to hunting. Many of the animals were probably killed by the Maori for food before they could reproduce and replenish the population. There are also indications that the normal population of Moa was depressed by disease or other natural effects at the time the Maori arrived.

Solar Sail Spaceship Lost - Cosmos 1, the test platform for a "solar sail" powered space probe, was launch on June 21st from a Russian Nuclear Submarine in the Bering Strait. It then promptly disappeared. A spokesman for the nonprofit Planetary Society, who is helping to sponsor the test flight, said that the there is an indication that the rocket went down near Novaya Zemlya, an archipelago that separates the Barents Sea from the Kara Sea, after one of the missile's stages failed to ignite. The Cosmos 1 probe carried eight Mylar sails that were supposed to unfold in orbit and demonstrate that a ship could be propelled though space just by the pressure of sunlight.

Jagersfontein Diamonds Once Alive? - Ralf Tappert of the University of Alberta in Edmonton, believes that some diamonds may be remains of ancient sea life. Diamonds are usually formed when carbon, in the form of graphite, is exposed to high pressures when it sinks deep below the Earth's surface. Because of the large amount of carbon-12 isotope found in them, Tappet's work suggests at least some of the diamonds from the Jagersfontein mine in South Africa came from organic carbon sources. Most likely bacteria and plants that lived on a sea bottom which was thrust under a continental crustal plate. What is surprising is that the Jagersfontein diamonds are thought to be formed some three hundred miles below the ground - well below the Earth's crust. This is much deeper than scientists thought organic material would be carried by the subduction of the continental plates.

"Earth-like" Planet Discovered - Scientist think that the newest "Earth-like" planet they've discovered in another solar system could have an atmosphere. The planet, which circles a star called Gliese 876 is 15 light years away from Earth and is the first "rocky" planet discovered in a solar system with a shining star. The three "rocky" planets found previously orbited the remains of an exploded star. The planet, which was discovered by a telescope at an observatory in Hawaii, is about seven times the size of earth. Despite being "earth-like" it is unlikely that it harbors life because the surface temperatures are between 200 to 400 degrees Celsius.


What's New at the Museum:

The Secret of Leonardo Da Vinci - A recent spate of books and articles have suggested that Leonardo Da Vinci was the leader of a clandestine society and that he hid secret codes and messages in his art work. Is this true? In addition to his role in history as a famous painter, scientist and inventor, was he also the keeper of some vast secret to be passed down through the ages? >Full Story


Ask the Curator:

Scientific Mind Reading - In pure science and logic how do we explain a connection between two people through their minds? - Nicky

The direct communication of information between two minds, sometimes referred to as telepathy (The term was first used in 1882 by psychologist, F.W. Myers), has never been proven in a rigorous scientific experiment. Saying that it has never been proved, however, does not mean that it doesn't exist. If telepathy was a strong and reliable communication channel between minds, proving it exists should be easy. Suppose, however, it only works intermittently and under certain unknown conditions?

In the classic mind reading experiment a sender attempts to transmit information using only his brain to a "receiver." The information might be in the form of shapes on a series of cards or colors or letters or numbers. If the receiver can repeatedly and consistently predict the information with greater success than one would expect by chance, then it might be considered evidence of telepathy. Complicating the issue, however, are subjects that try to "cheat" on the experiment by collaborating with sender or somehow obtaining the information by non-telepathic means. In theory it would seem easy to design an experiment that would eliminate cheating, but researchers have been fooled time and time again by clever fakers.

Entertainers often claim they can read minds, or predict the future, but their successes are much less impressive when put to a rigorous test. One of the leading entertainment "mind readers" of the last fifty years, The Amazing Kreskin, cheerfully admits that he has no supernatural powers. "I'm basically a thought reader, with no special psychic powers," he told Gallery Magazine in an interview. Kreskin tries to use his own natural ability to tune into people. He listens carefully to their voices and looks into their eyes and facial expressions for clues to what they are thinking.

If we could prove telepathy exists, it would explain some of the stranger incidents people have experienced. A phone rings and you know exactly who it is calling. A child is in an accident, and the mother knows immediately something bad has happened though she is miles away. Without a rigorous scientific test, however, it is difficult for a scientist not to chalk these antidotal stories up to coincidence.

Even though there is no proof that telepathy exists, it has not prevented some people from speculating how it might work. Nobel laureate, Cambridge physicist Brian Josephson, has suggested that if telepathy really works it may be because psychics and telepaths are able to direct random energy at sub-atomic levels for their own purposes. He's written that developments in information and quantum theories "may lead to an explanation of processes still not understood within conventional science, such as telepathy."


In History:

Unknown Stars - On July 29th, 1878 a total eclipse occurred over the United States. During the eclipse two independent astronomers, one in Colorado and the other in Wyoming, spotted two bright star-like objects in the sky seen by no other astronomers watching that day. Their colleagues claimed they had made the elementary error of mistaking two well-known stars for these mysterious objects. The astronomers claimed they had not. One declared, "I have never made a more valid observation." If he was right and they were not mistaken, just what had they seen?


In the Sky:

Celestial Show - On Friday July 8th enjoy watching the Moon, Venus, and Mercury grouped close together near the west-northwest horizon. Look for the moon, then drop you eyes straight down till you see Venus. Mercury will be to Venus' lower left and very much dimmer.



Loch Ness Monster Gets New Museum - A new museum has opened in Edinburgh, Scotland, that features the mystery of the Loch Ness Monster. The Loch Ness 2000 Exhibition Centre will give visitors a 3D "virtual reality" experience of Loch Ness and its rich history of intrigue, investigations and myths. The center will also contain a huge range of Nessie memorabilia. Visitors to the complex will be able to see a film hosted by Adrian Shine, who is renowned as the world's foremost expert on Loch Ness. Shine has spent decades carrying out research in and around Loch Ness.


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: MARS Dead or Alive - NASA gambles on two rovers sent to determine if the Red Planet ever had conditions suitable for life. June 7 at 8 pm.

Comet Impact! - This risky NASA mission is to collide with a comet in order to reveal its structure and substance. State-of-the-art spacecraft animation documents the design and launch of a spacecraft capable of taking on a 66,000-mph comet. On the Discovery Channel: Jul 10 @ 10:00 PM Jul 11 @ 01:00 AM ET/PT

Last Mysteries of the Titanic - Academy Award winner, James Cameron leads a film team of underwater explorers on a series of historic dives to document the innermost spaces of the world's most famous shipwreck. The team will use four mini-robots and a seafloor-to-satellite data system. On the Discovery Channel: Jul 24 2005 @ 09:00 PM, Jul 25 @ 12:00 AM, Jul 30 @ 09:00 PM, Jul 31 @ 12:00 AM, Jul 31 @ 05:00 PM ET/PT

When Yellowstone Erupts - A supervolcano lies beneath the beauty of Yellowstone Park. Scientists are challenged with predicting when the next super-eruption might take place - and advising on what will happen if this cataclysmic event occurs. On Science Channel: Jul 28 @ 08:00 PM Jul 28 @ 11:00 PM, Jul 29 @ 03:00 AM Jul 29 @ 09:00 AM, Jul 29 @ 01:00 PM, Jul 30 @ 01:00 PM

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 The Science Channel: Jul 25 @ 08:00 PM, Jul 25 @ 11:00 PM, Jul 26 @ 03:00 AM, Jul 26 @ 09:00 AM, Jul 26 @ 01:00 PM, Jul 30 @ 04:00 PM ET/PT.

Debunked! - Secrets of the Stone Spheres - In the last century, almost 300 ancient stone spheres were unearthed in Costa Rica's tropical forests. Alexei Vranich and Paul Harmon have teamed up to unravel the mystery of where the balls came from, how they were made and who made them. On Science Channel: Jul 17 @ 09:00 PM Jul 18 @ 12:00 AM, Jul 18 @ 04:00 AM, Jul 18 @ 10:00 AM, Jul 18 @ 02:00 PM, Jul 24 2005 @ 09:00 AM, ET/PT.

The Mystery of the Jurassic - A remote plateau in Patagonia, Argentina reveals an incredible dinosaur graveyard that scientists believe could be the most significant find ever. This area reveals fossils from the Middle Jurassic, the most mysterious period in dinosaur history. On Science Channel: Jul 04 @ 08:00 PM, Jul 04 @ 11:00 PM, Jul 05 @ 03:00 AM, Jul 05 @ 09:00 AM, Jul 05 @ 01:00 PM, Jul 09 @ 04:00 PM ET/PT.

The Beauty Of Snakes - Celebrate some of the worlds most spectacular snakes from the majestic King Cobra to the tiny thread snake, the desert horned viper to the banded sea krait. Despite their fearsome reputation snakes are some of the most fascinating of all creatures. On Animal Planet: Jul 04 @ 08:00 PM, Jul 04 @ 11:00 PM, Jul 05 @ 03:00 AM, Jul 05 @ 09:00 AM, Jul 05 @ 01:00 PM, Jul 09 @ 04:00 PM ET/PT.

Secret Luftwaffe Aircraft of WWII - German military aircraft designs were decades ahead of their Allied counterparts. To insure Luftwaffe superiority, their designers tested advanced concepts including swept-wing and vertical take-off aircraft and stealth bombers. Using computer-generated images and archival footage, we trace development of Hitler's airborne arsenal. On History Channel: July 3 @ 7pm ET/PT.

Modern Marvels: The Manhattan ProjectI - At 5:30 a.m., July 16, 1945, scientists and dignitaries awaited the detonation of the first atomic bomb in a desolate area of the New Mexico desert aptly known as "Jornada del Muerto" (Journey of Death). Dubbed the Manhattan Project, the top-secret undertaking was tackled with unprecedented speed and expense--almost $30-billion in today's money. Los Alamos scientists and engineers relate their trials, triumphs, and dark doubts about building the ultimate weapon of war in the interest of peace. On History Channel: July 16 @ 7pm ET/PT.



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