Over the Edge
Roundup of Strange Science for the Month
Small Sheep - Global warming could be responsible
for the sheep on the island of Hirta in the St. Kilda archipelago
of Scotland getting smaller. According to an article in
the journal Science, the population of Soay sheep
on the island, which have been studied intensely since 1985,
have been getting smaller for the past 25 years. One theory
is that the shorter winters mean that lambs do not have
to grow as fast as they once did as because they do not
need to put on as much as weight in the first months of
life to survive the cold season. "Sheep are getting smaller.
Well, at least the wild Soay sheep living on a remote Scottish
island are. But according to classic evolutionary theory,
they should have been getting bigger, because larger sheep
tend to be more likely to survive and reproduce than smaller
ones, and offspring tend to resemble their parents," said
study author Tim Coulson of Imperial College London. The
study is helping scientists understand that environment
can be as important as evolution when it comes to changes
in animal populations.
Cat Developed Special Purr to get Human Attention
- A new study has found that cats have developed a special
manipulative purr to get what they want from people. The
purr, which involves sounds a bit like a baby crying, appears
to be used during times when cats want attention from human
beings. "In the case of my cat, if he sees you stirring
from sleep at all in the early morning he will immediately
switch into giving this solicitation purring and position
himself next to your head so you get the full impact," observed
lead author Karen McComb of the Behavioral Ecology at the
University of Sussex. The scientists explored the acoustic
structure of recorded cat purrs and determined that one
contains an embedded, high-pitched cry. This they dubbed
"solicitation purring." The meow can sound remarkably like
a crying child, which is extremely difficult for humans
Scientists Hunt Giant Worm - Scientists are
searching for the giant Palouse earthworm this summer. The
worm, which has been reported to grow three-feet long, supposedly
secretes a lily-like smell when handled, spits at predators,
and lives in burrows 15 feet deep, maybe on the edge of
extinction. The only confirmed example of the species is
a six-inch preserved specimen found in 2005 and now in the
hands of Jodi Johnson-Maynard University of Idaho. The worm
is thought to have lived in the agricultural region that
stretches from eastern Washington into the Idaho panhandle.
Johnson-Maynard and her team of worm hunters are checking
the area hoping to dig up a worm or make one come to the
surface by using chemicals or electric shock devices.
Long Nailed Dinosaur - Nine-inch nails isn't
just the name of a rock band, but the characteristic of
a dinosaur recently unearthed in Utah. Nothronychus graffami,
stood 13 feet tall and had claws that looked a lot like
scythes. According to an article in the Proceedings of
the Royal Society the fossil just found is the most
complete remains ever excavated of a therizinosaur ("reaper
lizard"). In addition to the long nails the animal also
sported a keratinous beak at the front of the mouth and
stood 13 feet tall. Despite the formidable-looking claws
Nothronychus graffami probably didn't hunt other
large animals, but instead dug into termite mounds, mucked
on the bottom of a lake or raked leaves into its mouth from
a mangrove forest like a ground sloth.
Hubble Back in Service for a Day - NASA interrupted
testing of the recently repaired Hubble Space Telescope
to check out a mysterious new mark that has just appeared
on the planet Jupiter. The mark was probably created when
a small comet or asteroid crashed into Jupiter's atmosphere
and disintegrated. Although the orbiting observatory's new
camera is still being calibrated, NASA decided the Jupiter
event was too important not to put Hubble back into operation
for a day. "Because we believe this magnitude of impact
is rare, we are very fortunate to see it with Hubble," said
Amy Simon-Miller of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in
Greenbelt, Maryland. "Details seen in the Hubble view shows
a lumpiness to the debris plume caused by turbulence in
Jupiter's atmosphere." The object created a mark was about
same diameter as Earth, but the object itself was probably
only 50 to 100 miles across.
Science Quote of the Month - "Science
without religion is lame, religion without science is blind".
- Albert Einstein
New at the Museum:
Part Two: The Hunt for the Killer Shark - In
twelve days in the summer of 1916 shark attacks along the
New Jersey shore had left four dead and one maimed with
the rogue shark still on the loose. >
Glowing Arthropods - Why do scorpions
fluoresce under a UV light? - Warren
is a subject that scientists don't know a great deal about,
but let's start with some basic facts. Some materials when
hit by a light with a wave-length shorter than humans can
see will absorb that light energy and then radiate back
light within the visible spectrum so when a person looks
at the object, it seems to glow. This process is called
There is a substance
in the epicuticle (sometimes called the hyaline layer) of
the scorpion's exoskeleton that fluoresces when exposed
to ultra-violet light. Nobody knows exactly what this stuff
is but some scientists speculate it is a complex of mucosaccharides
(a simple form of sugar) and proteins. Also ß-Carboline,
a trytophan derivative, is known to play an important part.
knows how the fluorescence gets there either. Baby scorpions
aren't born with it and scorpions that have just molted
don't have it. This has leads some people to suggest that
it is either secreted by the scorpion over time, a side
effect of the animal's exoskeleton as it is tanned by the
sun or the result of chemical reactions as the new exoskeleton
hardens. The fact that some scorpions that live their entire
lives in dark caves and still fluoresce, however, leads
some people to think that it unlikely to be the tanning
Finally we also
don't know what advantage this gives the scorpion. Some
have speculated that this property somehow helps the scorpion
with their ultra-violet light sensitivity, but studies have
shown that different levels of UV light seem to have little
effect on the animal's behavior.
We do know that
scorpions have had this characteristic for a very long time.
This kind of fluorescence has even been seen in some of
the fossils of ancient scorpions. We also know it is not
unique to scorpions as some sow bugs, millipedes, centipedes,
solfugids and a few beetles also will glow in ultra-violet
light. We also know that with each molting the effect grows
stronger so that older scorpions glow brighter than young
ones. The amount a scorpion glows is also connected the
particular species. Some glow brightly, others hardly at
Whatever it is,
this characteristic has been a boon to scientists and scorpion
enthusiasts. A small camping lamp can have its fluorescent
bulb replaced with one that produces ultra-violet (or "black")
light that will cause scorpions to glow a soft blue or green
at a distance of one or two feet. This is a great aid in
finding the small animals. Scientists can then easily use
tongs to collect specimens and many new species have been
found this way. A flashlight that produces UV light can
also be useful when camping in scorpion habitats to check
your sleeping back to make sure you are not crawling in
with one of the tiny critters.
Purple Blobs - On the evening of August 10,
1979, a bright light was observed landing next to Sybil
Christian's house near Frisco, Texas. The next day she discovered
three strange purple blobs sitting on the ground. While
one evaporated in the sunlight, the other two were shipped
off for analysis. Despite their apparent extra-terrestrial
origins, the blobs were found to be just industrial waste.
The Perseid Meteor Shower - This will be summer's
best show. It will be visible from July 25 to August 18,
but the shower peaks around August 12. Look for the shooting
stars to appear to be coming from the constellation Perseus.
A good shower can yield 80 meteors an hour and is the debris
left behind from the passage of comet Swift-Tuttle.
Blue in M&Ms Could Save Spine - If you have
a severe spinal injury could popping a few blue M&M's keep
you from being paralyzed? Well, not quite, but scientists
think that blue food dye found in M&Ms (Brilliant Blue G
or BBG) may be able to reduce the damage caused by spine
injuries. When the spine is injured Adenosine triphosphate,
(ATP) rushes into the area. Unfortunately this has the effect
of killing off healthy cells, making the initial injury
worse. Scientists have found that a substance in BBG can
block the effect of the extra ATP. In experiments they tried
injecting rats with BBG immediately after a spinal cord
injury. These rats eventually regained their ability to
walk again, though with a limp. The control group rats,
not given BBG, never recovered their ability to walk. Researchers
hope that in a couple years they may be able to give people
with recent spinal cord injuries a shot to help preserve
their mobility. If so, victims might have to contend with
a side effect observed in the rats: They all turned bright
blue for a few days.
check local listing for area outside of North America.
NOVA: Monster of the Milky Way - Does
a supermassive black hole lurk at the center of our galaxy?
On PBS. Tuesday, August 25 at 8 pm ET/PT.
Menacing Waters - In the strange coastal waters off remote northern Australia live the
earth's most deadly marine creatures. Box jellyfish, blue
ring octopi, sea snakes and cone snails are the subject
of four scientists' groundbreaking research. On The Science
Channel. Aug 08, 9:00 pm; Aug 09, 12:00 am; ET/PT.
Battle for the Beginning - The Science Channel explores the history of our relationship with particle
physics and the big bang theory. On The Science Channel.
Aug 02, 8:00 pm; Aug 02, 11:00 pm; Aug 04, 3:00 am; Aug
08, 11:00 am; ET/PT.
On The Discovery Channel
Is it True? The Skunk Ape & One Wing Landings - Chuck searches the Everglades for the elusive truth behind a series
of Internet images of Florida's mysterious Skunk Ape. Then,
he takes to the skies to confirm that the online footage
of an airplane landing with only one wing is humanly possible.
. Aug 10, 10:00 pm; Aug 11, 1:00 am; ET/PT.
On The History Channel
That's Impossible Episode: Death Rays & Energy Weapons - Everyone is familiar with the amazing force field and energy weapons
from sci-fi movies like Star Wars and Star Trek, but are
we just a few years away from having that technology at
our fingertips? We'll investigate new, top-secret military
weaponry and recent inventions like a new airplane mounted
laser cannons from Northrop Grumman that can shoot down
enemy planes and shoot nuclear missiles out of the sky.
. Tuesday, August 04 10:00 PM; Wednesday, August 05 02:00 AM; Sunday,
August 09 08:00 AM; ET/PT
Valkyrie: The Plot to Kill Hitler - Was it an act of treason or patriotism? Bold in concept and challenging
in execution, learn the real story behind the Valkyrie plot--a
plan by a group of German officers to assassinate Adolph
Hitler and take control of the government. The events leading
up to July 20, 1944 are brought to life through interviews
with survivors, relatives, firsthand witnesses and historians.
Newsreel footage, archival photographs and re-creations
are also included. Discover what the Valkyrie Legacy means
to Germans and Germany, and what it says about the sometimes
complex nature of heroism, and the legacy of the Resistance
overall. On The History Channel. Saturday, August 01 10:00
PM; Sunday, August 02 02:00 AM; ET/PT.
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