Science Over the Edge

A Roundup of Strange Science for the Month

Applet credit: Ed Hobbs

August 2004

In the News:

Chilean Blob Just Whale - In an article in the June issue of The Biological Bulletin a group of scientists claim that the decayed remains of a large sea creature found along the Chilean coast in July of 2003 is that of a sperm whale. Cryptozoologists had hoped that the creature, often referred to as the "Chilean Blob"might be a species new to science, but the researchers used an electron microscope to identify the material as whale blubber. Snippets of DNA found in the material seem to be consistent with that of the sperm whale (Plyseter catadon).

Europe's Big Dino - Scientists working in a semiarid section of eastern Spain have unearthed the remains of what may be Europe's largest dinosaur. The team found an upper leg bone six feet long and weighing over 300 pounds. From this it is estimated that the full animal must have been over 100 feet in length and weighed 50 tons. The creature would have had four legs, a long neck and long tail making it part of a group of dinosaurs known as the sauropods. Scientists think that it lived during the Cretaceous Period that ended 65 million years ago. Scientists continue to excavate the area hoping that more of the creature's remains can be recovered.

Sistine Cave Art - Scientists at the University of Sheffield are calling a recently found cave with elaborate 13,000 year-old decorations an "Ice Age Sistine Chapel." The location, Church Hole Cave at Creswell Crags, contains the most ornate cave art ceiling in the world. Though archaeologists had gone to the site on numerous occasions the vast overhead art was not recognized until Sergio Ripoll, and Ice Age art specialist at the Spanish Open University, visited the cave. Among the things pictured on the cave ceiling are deer, bears, birds, dancing women and an ibex - a species of horned goat - that was though not to have existed in Britain.

Martian Meteorite - A meteorite found in the Antarctic last December could tell scientists a lot about Mars. The pound and a half chunk of rock was probably blasted off the Mars surface an estimated 11 million years ago when Mars itself was hit by a large meteorite. The rock then floated through space until fell to Earth approximately 465 miles from the South Pole. The meteorite is of high scientific value as it allows researcher to work directly with a Mars sample. While space probes have examined rocks on Mars they are limited by the type of instruments they can carry and the kind of tests they can do. Scientists identified the rock as coming from Mars by examining tiny bits of atmosphere trapped inside the rock and comparing it with samples of the Martian atmosphere taken by the Mars Viking Lander in the 1970s.

Monster Waves More Common Than Thought - A study based on imagery from the European Space Agency satellites has shown that giant rouge waves - those greater than 80 feet in height and capable of sinking a supertanker - are far more common than once thought. Three weeks of data gathered in 2001 were analyzed and 10 waves higher than 80 feet were found. Previously scientists estimated these monster waves only occurred once every 10,000 years. Currently ships and offshore platforms are only designed to withstand waves 45 feet in height.


What's New at the Museum:

The Great Space Elevator - A concept that was wild science fiction a quarter-century ago might become a practical reality in the next twenty years. - >Full Story

Classic Graphic Novels - Check out the third chapter - The Pearl Fishers of Ceylon - in our classic graphic novel version of Jules Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. - >Full Story


Ask the Curator:

The Kecksburg Incident - I watched a show recently about the Kecksburg Incident. Can I have more info on it? - Tiara

Some people call the Kecksburg the "Roswell of Pennsylvania." On December 9th, 1965, some residents in the area saw a flaming object zoom across the sky and supposedly crash nearby. A few even claim that they saw the object, a cone-like thing 10 feet long and shaped like an acorn, sitting on the ground. Some of those same people claim a pair of men in trench coats (MIB?) confiscated the thing.

Was the object an alien artifact? Was it a piece of Russian space junk? Did it ever exist at all?

Conventional wisdom suggests that the flaming object was a meteorite that came down nowhere near Kecksburg. Using photographs showing the object's smoke trail two scientists, Von Del Chamberlain and David J. Krause of the Abrams Planetarium, calculated that the thing, which was visible across several states, disappeared from the sky 15 miles southeast of Windsor, Ontario, Canada.

Despite this, as with the Roswell Incident, there are many people who believe something strange happened at Kecksburg that day, and just as many people who believe nothing happened. To decide for yourself try these websites:


In History:

Prehistory of the Crop Circle - According to an early British historian, in August of 1590 a gentlewoman named Nicolaea Lang-Berhand returned home to see a circle of people dancing in a nearby field. She noticed that some of the dancers had cloven feet. Abruptly they all vanished and Lang-Berhand was taken sick for several days. The place where the dancers were was flattened into a circle that remained viable until the next winter. Some believers in the legitimacy of the crop circles count this incident as the first appearance of the phenomenon.


In the Sky:

Perseid Meteor Shower - The Perseids are back! The best viewing of this meteor shower in the western hemisphere will start late on Wednesday, August 11th and go through the next morning. A small crescent moon should not interfere with the view.



Professor Disputes UFO Video- A professor from the University of KwaZulu-Natal claims the the "UFO" video taped over Durban, South Africa, last month was really the planet Venus. Arthur Hughes, professor of physics, viewed the tape and declared the story a case of mistaken identity. The person who made the tape, Roshnie Naidu, does not accept Hughes explanation. According to Naidu the object was visible for three hours and described it as a "massive ball of light, much brighter than the sun, with blue and purple colours filtering through." It only disappeared when the sun rose.


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: Last Flight of Bomber 31 - Forensic scientists set out to discover what happened to seven American airmen whose plane crashed in Kamchatka during World War II. On PBS: August 3 @ 8PM; ET.

Columbus: Secrets From the Grave- Columbus kept the truth of his identity carefully hidden. Claimed by Italians as the son of Genoa, he has been claimed the son of a privateer, a pope and a Jew. Follow a descendant of Columbus on a quest to discover her famous ancestor's true origins. On the Discovery Channel: Aug 01 @ 10:00 PM; Aug 02 @ 01:00 AM; Aug 05 @ 08:00 PM; Aug 05 @ 11:00 PM; Aug 07 @ 12:00 PM; ET.

Seven Wonders of Ancient Greece - The ancient Greeks built the first theatres, staged the first sports events and worshipped in some of the most spectacular temples ever built.. From prehistoric palaces to bold symbols of victory, explore the wonders of this ancient civilization. On Discovery Channel: Aug 12@ 09:00 PM; Aug 13@ 12:00 AM; Aug 15@ 06:00 PM; Aug 21@ 12:00 PM; ET.

T-Rex: Warrior or Wimp - Since the discovery of the first T-Rex skeleton in 1905, this famous dinosaur has been billed a supreme predator, a six-ton Tyrant Lizard King. The dinosaurís mouth, filled with huge spiky teeth, led scientists to conclude it must have been a killer. On Discovery Channel: Aug 19@ 08:00 PM; Aug 19@ 11:00 PM; ET.

Roswell: Final Declassification - In 1947, a strange object fell from the sky near Roswell, New Mexico, and controversy brewed over what it really was. In November 2001, we convened a team of experts at the National Archives for an exclusive first look at the top-secret government files of the UFO incident. We unveil the remaining classified files--11 boxes with 17 notebooks of declassified files, photos, transcripts and audiotapes of dozens of witnesses, and 22 films and videos--in a definitive statement on the 50-year-old mystery. On History Channel: August 2 @ 8pm, ET/PT.

The Bible Code: Predicting Armageddon - Is there a prophetic, highly accurate code locked within the Bible that outlines past and future events? Does the Code contain hidden messages about people like Napoleon, Einstein, and Hitler, and key world events like WWII, the Kennedy brothers' assassinations, and 9/11? More frightening are references to future events--including Earth's impending end. We take a balanced look through the eyes of Code supporters and critics and let viewers determine its accuracy in predicting the future On History Channel: August 14 @ 8pm ET/PT.



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