Science Over the Edge

A Roundup of Strange Science for the Month

Applet credit: Ed Hobbs

July 2006

In the News:

Ancient Temple/Calendar Unearthed - Archaeologists in Peru have discovered what is thought to be the oldest known calendar device in the Western Hemisphere. The calendar, part of the Temple of the Fox located in Buena Vista, is an enormous circle formed of prehistoric sculptures. The circle is positioned so that celestial alignments can be used to tell the beginning of different parts of the year. The 4,000 year-old structure would have been a fantastic sight during it heyday with its huge sculptures, made of mud plaster covered with clay, that were painted bright yellow and red. There are indications that different parts of the temple were used for sacrificial offerings, though no human sacrifices are evident. The temples most striking object is a gigantic disc carved as a frowning face. The disc faces the sun on June 21, the traditional start of the harvest.

Shrunken Dinosaurs - Researchers have found the remains of a species of dwarf sauropod dinosaurs. Europasaurus holgeri, lived 154 million years ago in what is now northern Germany, and was a close relative of the giant Camarasaurus which measured some 59 feet in length. Europasaurus, in contrast, was 20 feet long and weighed only a ton. German scientist P. Martin Sander, a paleontologist at the University of Bonn in Germany, was the lead author of a report on the animals that appeared in last month's issue of the journal Nature. He believes the relatively small size of Europasaurus was due to an effect called "island dwarfism." The researchers think that animals who find themselves in an environment with limited resources - like an island - evolve smaller bodies over time because it allows them to be more efficient. Europasaurus apparently lived on an island at a time in which that portion of Germany was covered by shallow seas. Initially the scientists who studied the bones of these dinosaurs thought they were from juvenile animals, but as they took a closer look at the structure of these bones they realized that they came from adults.

When Storms Collide - Scientists are anxiously watching to see what happens when the Great Red Spot, a massive storm on Jupiter twice as wide as the Earth, comes in close contact with a smaller storm wandering across the planet's surface. Both storms have wind speeds in excess of 350 miles per hour, faster than any hurricane on our planet. Scientists are curious to see if the collision will weaken either of the storms or cause the smaller one to lose its spin. Astronomers speculate that the Great Red Spot storm, which has been raging for centuries, pulls up material from the depths of Jupiter, to give it the reddish color. Recently the smaller storm started to show signs of turning red also, which may be an indication that it is getting stronger. The storms are estimated to make their closest approach on July 4th.

Where is Mr. Ed when You Need Him? - Scientists are trying to figure out how horses talk. The Equine Vocalization Project is compiling a database of horse sounds and behaviors that they hope to be able to match up with their stress levels. Horses can produce a number of different sounds in a wide range of methods, unlike other animals such as cows, goats, and sheep. So far the scientists have focused on the whinny as it can be produced in a wide variety of ways. Researchers hope they will be able to identify a particular type of whinny for a particular situation. The results of the study could help veterinarians, behaviorists, breeders or other handlers understand how to take care of the animals. The study may also enlighten scientists about the communication methods of other equines, such as donkeys and zebras.

Small Asteroids Not as Dangerous - Results from the Japanese Hayabusa space probe, which visited the Itokawa asteroid, show that smaller asteroids may pose less of a threat to earth than originally thought. Data from the probe shows that the 2,300-foot object is a loose collection of material barely held together by its gravity. If this is generally true of smaller asteroids then it means that they are more likely to break into smaller, pieces and burn up when they enter the earth's atmosphere without doing damage on the surface. These asteriods would also be easier to deflect or destroy with weapons. Itokawa is thought to be typical of the many small asteroids floating between Earth and the inner rings of the asteroid belt beyond Mars. Some of these asteroids are considered dangerous to Earth because they cross our planet's orbit.


What's New at the Museum:

The Pirate Room: As long as there have been trade ships the seas have been plagued with scoundrels ready to plunder cargo.>Full Story

The Littlest Pirate: In what is left of a wrecked pirate ship on the bottom near the dangerous shoals of Cape Cod, scientists have found the remains of John King, the youngest pirate ever known.>Full Story

From The Curator's Office: Fun with 50's SciFi Movie Posters - Computer wallpaper from the past's future >Full Story


Ask the Curator:

Will Space Exploration Effect Earth's Orbit? - How much of earth's mass would need to be lost to space by means of man's explorations in order for the orbit of earth to be affected? - Dan S.

This reminds me of story from Douglas Adam's Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy (the original BBC production, not the recent movie). There was a planet so beautiful that it attracted billions of visitors each year. Soon the government there began to worry about the cumulative effect of erosion as each of these visitors took bits of the planet back home with them on their clothes, etc., so they instituted a law that the net difference between what a visitor ate and secreted while on the planet would be surgically removed from the visitor's body before he left (And, of course from then on it became imperative if you where a tourist there to get a receipt whenever you visited a rest room).

Could we be facing this kind of planetary erosion because we are sending so much stuff out to explore space? Fortunately, of all the terrible things we may be doing to mother earth these days, giving her anorexia by launching space probes and the like is not something we need to be concerned about.

The Earth is big. Really big. On the order of 5,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 tons. Now that doesn't begin to measure up in size to the Sun or even the planet Jupiter, but from a human point of view it is still pretty gargantuan. What's more our ability to send things into space is terribly puny. Most space probes weigh a few hundred pounds - remember we are only counting the amount of the rocket that makes it into space, not the lower stages that fall back to earth. Even if we launched a probe a day, and each probe weighed a fairly massive one ton, that's only 365 tons a year. What's more, most of that material goes into earth orbit. This means it will, sooner or later, likely fall back to the planet Skylab style. The probes that we send into deep space and never come back, like Viking or Voyager, are actually pretty rare.

So the amount we send into space compared to the size of the planet is, and will be for some time, negligible. But wait, there's more.

As the earth proceeds along its orbital path it operates like a giant vacuum cleaner sucking up dust, meteorites and even the occasional comet or asteroid. This all adds to the earth's mass. Though estimates vary, it seems at least 100 tons of debris is added to Earth's bulk everyday. At this point we are in no way able to even send enough stuff into space to keep up with the incoming material, let alone make planet any lighter.

Just one more note. The planet also loses mass by way of hydrogen escaping from the atmosphere and the decay of radioactive materials. It is hard to say just how large that figure is, however.


In History:

Lots of Sharp Teeth - Lake Monsters appear in some of the most unlikely places. In 1892 two boys were fishing along the south shore of Lake Geneva when they suddenly saw the head of a serpent-like creature appear out of the lake. The monster, which rose out of the water some about seventy feet from them, started swimming toward them with its gigantic mouth open showing several rows of sharp teeth. For whatever reason the creature turned before it got to them and headed out into the middle of the lake. As they watched the boys estimated the monster was near a hundred feet in length. Is the story a hoax? Perhaps so. The boys report is extremely unusual as Lake Geneva is not known for sightings of lake monsters.


In the Sky:

Jupiter and Meteors - This is a good month to observe the planet Jupiter which sits low in the evening sky giving off a peach shaded glow. If that isn't enough excitement for you, might try to observing the South Delta Aquarids. This meteor shower occurs on July 29th and runs through the 31st. From the northern hemisphere the meteors will appear in the SSE sky. The shower is more easily visible in the southern hemisphere looking east. Best viewing is after midnight local time.



Alien Head Fetches $9,600 - The International Bird Rescue Research Center in Fairfield, CA, auctioned off on Ebay an x-ray of a duck stomach that resembled an alien's face and got $9,600. Jay Holcomb, Director of International Bird Rescue Research Center (IBRRC), stated, "Proceeds from the sale of this one-of-a-kind x-ray will go towards funding our continuing efforts to rescue and rehabilitate oiled, orphaned and injured waterfowl and aquatic birds." The x-ray first came to the center staff's attention on Sunday, May 21st, when an adult male mallard was brought to the IBRRC, with what appeared to be a broken wing. Marie Travers, assistant manager of the center, radiographed the mallard and was immediately shocked by what was revealed on the x-ray. A very clear image of what appeared to be the face, or head, of an extraterrestrial alien was in the bird's stomach. Despite the efforts of the staff at IBRRC, the bird died, but the center intends to use the cash from the auction to further their work.


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 - The Elegant Universe: Einstein's Dream - Eleven dimensions, parallel universes, and a world made out of strings. It's not science fiction, it's string theory. On the PBS: July 11 at 8 pm ET/PT

Hunt for the U.S.S. Alligator: U.S. Navy's First Sub - The hunt has begun for a lost piece of American Civial War history. The Alligator, the first military submarine commissioned by the U.S. Navy, disappeared somewhere of the coast of the Carolinas. Can a team of top ocean scientists find her? On the Science Channel: JUL 06 2006 @ 09:00 PM JUL 07 2006 @ 12:00 AM, JUL 07 2006 @ 04:00 AM, JUL 07 2006 @ 10:00, AM JUL 07 2006 @ 02:00 PM, JUL 08 2006 @ 02:00 PM; ET/PT

Alien Planet - A futuristic mission to search the galaxy for planets able to support life. Darwin IV is a planet 6.5 light years from Earth, with two suns and 60% gravity. An unmanned fleet is deployed to assess this planet for the possibility of life. On the Science Channel: JUL 04 2006 @ 09:00, PM JUL 05 2006 @ 12:00 AM, JUL 05 2006 @ 04:00 AM, JUL 05 2006 @ 10:00 AM, JUL 05 2006 @ 02:00 PM, JUL 09 2006 @ 05:00 PM; ET/PT

Seven Wonders of Ancient Egypt - The ancient Egyptians showed the world how boundless ambition and vast quantities of human labor could transform rock and stone into the most incredible monuments ever created. Meet the pharaohs, engineers and laborers who built the wonders of Egypt. On The Science Channel: JUL 17 2006 @ 09:00 PM, JUL 18 2006 @ 12:00 AM, JUL 18 2006 @ 04:00 AM, JUL 18 2006 @ 10:00 AM, JUL 18 2006 @ 02:00 PM, JUL 22 2006 @ 05:00 PM ; ET/PT.

Jane: Mystery Dinosaur - Sometimes a discovery forever changes what we think we know, altering our perspective and re-writing history. This is the story of a mystery dinosaur called Jane, that affled the greatest minds in paleontology from the moment she was unearthed On The Science Channel: JUL 24 2006 @ 09:00 PM, JUL 25 2006 @ 12:00 AM, JUL 25 2006 @ 04:00 AM, JUL 25 2006 @ 10:00 AM, JUL 25 2006 @ 02:00 PM, JUL 29 2006 @ 05:00 PM ; ET/PT.

Tomb Builders: Secrets of the Valley of the Kings - More than 20 pharaoh tombs rest in this famous funerary valley. Follow the work of Dr. Kent Weeks as he maps the entire valley of dynastic tombs, profiles each of the pharaohs, and tells the story of how each tomb was constructed. On The Discovery Channel: JUN 22 2006 @ 10:00 PM, JUN 23 2006 @ 02:00 AM, JUL 08 2006 @ 09:00 PM, JUL 09 2006 @ 01:00 AM; ET/PT.

UFO Files Texas' Roswell - In April 1897--50 years before the alleged UFO crash in Roswell, New Mexico--a mysterious airship crash rocked the small town of Aurora, Texas...or at least, that's how the legend goes! The tale includes the wreckage from the ship, a funeral for the dead "alien" pilot, and thousands of witnesses from across the country. And the Aurora crash allegedly took place five years before the Wright Brothers flew at Kitty Hawk, so whatever was in the air was not manmade. Eyewitness accounts of the crash, mysterious metal found at the site, and the hunt for the only known alien graveyard are all combined into a story that has even the most adamant debunkers baffled. Is this the case that finally proves that UFOs are real? Join us as we separate fact from fiction. On History Channel: July 3 @ 8pm ET/PT.

Ancient Marvels Cities of the Underworld - Istanbul is undoubtedly one of the most dynamic and exotic cities in the world. Once the capital city of three of the world's most powerful empires--The Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman--its strategic location made it the perfect spot for empires to rise, fall...and rise again. Today Istanbul's residents are walking on top of remnants of these fallen civilizations...literally. Taxis drive over parts of Constantine's Lost Great Palace; children play on cobblestone streets concealing a massive Byzantine dungeon; a high school sits on a 3rd century wall leading to the bowels of a 100,000 seat ancient Roman Hippodrome; and basement's of old Ottoman homes lead to subterranean tunnels and secret cisterns. Join host Eric Geller as he leaves the buzz of the city streets behind and follows the pull of the past. Teamed with leading archeologists and experts, Eric peels back the layers of the past--to reveal a hidden history that hasn't seen the light of day for ages.On History Channel: July 6 @ 8p ET/PT.



Science over the Edge Archives

LGM Archive 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006

Copyright Lee Krystek 2006. All Rights Reserved.