Over the Edge
Roundup of Strange Science for the Month
Cobra May Have Not Brought Queen of Nile to Her End
- Christopher Schäfer, a German historian and professor
at the University of Trier, claims that Cleopatra, the last
queen of Egypt, died from swallowing a lethal drug cocktail
and not, as tradition has it, from a snake bite. Schäfer,
author of a best-selling book in Germany, "Cleopatra," believes
that death from the bite of an Egyptian cobra (also known
as an asp) would have been too painful and unpredictable
for her to use as a suicide tool. "The Roman historian Cassius
Dio, writing about 200 years after Cleopatra's demise, stated
that she died a quiet and pain-free death, which is not
compatible with a cobra bite. Indeed, the snake's venom
would have caused a painful and disfiguring death," Schäfer
has stated. The Cleopatra committed suicide in 30 B.C. after
her lover, Marc Antony, killed himself after losing the
Battle of Actium. Schaefer points out that the Egyptians'
had an extensive knowledge of poisons. "Ancient papyri show
that the Egyptians knew about poisons, and one papyrus says
Cleopatra actually tested them," he notes. Schäfer thinks
the Queen chose a drug cocktail that would cause a rather
painless death within a few hours. Not all authorities agree
with Schäfer noting the she could have made her death painless
by taking a high dose of opium as a sedative before letting
allowing the cobra to bite her.
Strange Object Found Near Distant Star - Scientists
are baffled by a new object they have found orbiting a star
about 500 light years away in the constellation Scorpius.
The object appears to be about 300 times farther out from
its star than the Earth is from the Sun and 8 times more
massive that the planet Jupiter. It seems too far away from
its star to be a planet, and too small to be a failed star
in a binary solar system. "There is no theory for how a
true planet can form at 300 AU (AU is short for an astronomical
unit, which is the distance from the Earth to the Sun) It's
not really a lack of imagination. It's a lack of physics,"
says California Institute of Technology astronomer John
Johnson. Some have suggested the object, designated 1RXS
J160929.1-210524 b, formed closer to its star originally,
but was then ejected outward after a close gravitational
encounter with another, yet unfound, planet.
Ancient Temple Comes with IKEA-like Instructions
- Italian archeologists have found an ancient Greek-like
temple along with the instructions needed to build it. The
remains of the 6th century BC temple were found at Torre
Satriano, near the southern city of Potenza, in Italy. The
archeologists noticed that various pieces of the temple
were emblazoned with coded symbols depicting how the various
sections fitted together. So far researchers have uncovered
a hundred inscribed fragments, all related to a roof assembly
system. Also many ornamental features of the structure are
extremely similar to the same parts on another temple found
at a neighboring town suggesting that the builders employed
the same molds. This leads the archeologists to believe
that the popularity of such structures with the local population
at the time might have caused a builder to mass produce
Torosaurus is Really Triceratrops -
Even paleontologists make mistakes. Two dinosaurs are now
one since researchers discovered that the animals previously
known as Triceratops and Torosaurus are actually
the same species. For over a 100 years it was thought that
Torosaurus was a unique species having a larger frill
on its head (also with two holes) than that of Triceratops.
Now Montana State University paleontologists John Scannella
and Jack Horner say that Torosaurus fossils are just
Triceratops at different growth stages. They point
out that the mistake was easy to make as paleontologist
just can't watch a Triceratops grow up. Scannella
said. "We have to put together the story based on fossils.
In order to get the complete story, you need to have a large
sample of fossils from many individuals representing different
growth stages." Thanks to a huge number of dinosaur remains
at the Hell Creek Formation the scientists were able to
study hundreds of specimens from Triceratops at different
stages of growth and make a careful examination of the surface
textures and shape changes that showed that the the two
animals really were the same species.
Stonehenge had Wooden Twin - Scientists have
discovered a new ring about ½ mile from the famed Stonehenge
on Salisbury Plain in England. The recently discovered ring
was made of wood and was probably constructed around the
same time as the stone circle about 4,500 years ago. Researchers
think it was a round, timber structure with two entrances.
"This is probably the first major ceremonial monument that
has been found in the past 50 years or so," said Vince Gaffney,
a professor from the University of Birmingham, who is leading
the archaeological dig. "It will completely change the way
we think about the landscape around Stonehenge." The recent
discovery was made by a team of archaeologists from the
University of Birmingham and the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute
for Archaeological Prospection and Virtual Archaeology in
Vienna, who are working on a project to map the landscape
Science Quote of the Month - "Anybody
who has been seriously engaged is scientific work of any
kind realizes that over the entrance to the gates of the
temple of science are written the words: 'Ye must have faith.'"
New at the Museum:
Khufu's Pyramid - It's 756 feet long on each
side, 450 feet high and is composed of 2,300,000 blocks
of stone. Until the 19th century it was the tallest building
in the world and, at the age of 4,500 years, it is the only
one of the famous "Seven Wonders" that still stands.
Even today it is remains the most massive building on Earth.
It is the Great Pyramid of Khufu, at Giza, Egypt. An update
of our classic page. >Full
Crop Circles -
For over three decades the southern English countryside
has been the site of a strange phenomenon that has baffled
observers and spawned countless news stories and more than
a few books. >Full Story
Mysterious Picture of the Month - What
is this thing?
Big Birds of Death - Are there any real
accounts of large birds of prey attacking or carrying off
people? - Gary S.
As to the first
part of your question, there are certainly examples of eagles
and hawks attacking human beings that violated their territory.
Get a little too close to a nest and you could find yourself
on the wrong end of some very sharp talons. One sad example
of this happened in Mendocino County, CA, in 1895. According
to the New York Times two brothers, age 13 and 11,
were climbing a mountain to find a Bald Eagle's nest when
the creature suddenly attacked them. The boys escaped, but
the younger was badly injured and lost his sight to the
eagle's talons and beak.
question about whether an eagle or other large bird has
ever attacked a person (with the intent of eating them)
and managed to fly off with them is a more complicated question.
There are certainly a number of reports of large birds attacking
and carrying off small children. For example, in August
of 1881 the New York Times reported that an eagle
with a seven-foot wingspan swooped down and tried to carry
off a 2-year-old boy. Witnesses said that it might have
succeeded if the child's clothes had not torn, allowing
him to escape.
in 1977 ten-year-old Marlon Lowe was playing with friends
near his home in Illinois when two large birds - thought
to be condors with wingspans from eight to ten feet across
according to witnesses - swept down on the children. One
of the birds picked up Marlon by the straps of his sleeveless
shirt and carried him into the air. His screams brought
his parents outside to see him lifted to the height of two
feet for a distance of about 40 feet before the creature
let him go.
In both of these
accounts, the monster birds did not get far with their human
burdens, but there are other stories where the avian giants
were more successful. The best documented of these occurred
in Leka, Norway, on June 5, 1932 when Svanhild Hansen, a
five-year-old, forty-pound girl, was picked up by a huge
eagle and carried more than a mile to a high ledge. She
was found there safe and asleep by a rescue party. With
the exception of a few scratches, she was unharmed. Zoologist
Hartvig Huitfeldt-Kaas was so interested in the story he
spent a month at the time investigating it and pronounced
it "completely reliable."
There are also
many less well document stories including the sad tale of
five-year-old Marie Delex from the French Alps in 1838.
The girl was playing with friends when she was picked up
by a large eagle and carried away. The eagle's nest was
checked, but only piles of goat and sheep bones were found.
Two months later her horribly mutilated remains were discovered
by a local shepherd on a rock several miles from where she
In May of 1904
the New York Times published the story of 18-month
old girl in England that was apparently picked up by an
eagle while she played just outside her parent's cottage
door. Searchers at first assumed that the girl had been
kidnapped, but a game warden found her body in a rocky crevasse
at the crest of a hill. The girl's eyes had been plucked
out and part of her cheek was missing.
stories though the years like these modern experts are skeptical.
Mike Jacobson, an eagle management specialist for the U.S.
Fish and Wildlife Service, has been quoted as saying, "There
used to be stories about eagles carrying off babies and
little kids, and none of that has ever been documented.
They can pick up and carry four or five pounds, maximum,
and actually fly off with it.They
can lift a little more and hop it along, but they can't
carry it off."
That's from a
dead stop, however. An eagle already in motion can lift
much more. "On a wide-open beach, I have no doubt that an
eagle with a full head of steam could pick up a six- or
eight-pound dog and just keep on going," says biologist
and predatory bird expert Ronald Clarke. "If it landed to
kill a ten-pounder, and then tried to pick up and fly from
a dead stop, could it get off the ground? Probably not."
An eagle swooping
down on animal on the side of mountain and then carrying
it to a lower altitude, might be even able to carry more
weight as such a maneuver requires only a downward glide
(See a video of an eagle doing this with a small goat http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r3n4qPpL8T0&feature=related).
Of course, there
are always sightings of giant unknown birds - like those
in the American Indian thunderbird legend - whose huge wingspans
that might be able to carry very heavy loads. However, most
experts doubt these stories, if for no other reason, then
legions of bird watchers in the United States that could
hardly miss noticing a bird with a twelve-foot-plus wingspan.
If not today,
then scientists tell us that certainly in the past there
were eagles and other large birds that could kill a child
and fly away with them. The Haast's Eagle of New Zealand
is only known from fossil remains, but it is estimated they
weighed as much as 40 pounds and were still living at the
time that New Zealand was first populated by humans about
750 years ago. The evidence about Haast's seems to match
legendary stories told by Maori people of New Zealand about
a bird so powerful it could sweep down and kill a small
child. With a lift capacity of as much as ¾ of their weight,
they could undoubtedly have flown off with the victim too.
Globster Controversy - In August of 1960 a strange
carcass washed ashore on a desolate beach in northwestern
Tasmania. The "Globster" (a term coined by cryptozoologist
Ivan T. Sanderson) had no eyes, or head or even bones. Its
exterior skin was at the same time "creamy," "rubbery" and
"hairy." Unfortunately, no through investigation was made
of the creature for almost two years until the Australian
government, under pressure from the press, was forced to
send an expedition to look at it. All that could be said
at that point, however, was that "it is not possible to
specifically identify it from our investigations so far,
but our investigations lead us to believe that the so-called
monster is a decomposing portion of a large marine animal.
It is not inconsistent with blubber." Those that believed
the creature was something other than a dead whale complained
that the government had "to say it was nothing new to cover
up the fact that they hadn't done anything about it before…"
Don't Worry About Mars This Month - This month
we will cover something in the night sky NOT to look
for! Emails have been flying around the internet saying:
will be the brightest in the night sky starting August.
It will look as large as the full moon to the naked eye.
This will cultivate on Aug. 27 when Mars comes within 34.65M
miles off earth. Be sure to watch the sky on Aug. 27 12:30
am. It will look like the earth has 2 moons.
with your friends as NO ONE ALIVE TODAY will ever see it
hoax emails Mars will not be particularly close this month.
The email actually refers to something that happened back
in 2003 when Mars was at a close approach, but even then
the difference was mostly visible only through a telescope.
It was never so close that it would look like Earth had
What is going
on this month is that the trio of Venus, Mars, and Saturn
will appear to be very close together in the sky during
all of the first two weeks of August this year and this
will be something worth seeing. Look for them in the western
sky after sunset.
SETI Chance Is a Million to One -Two scientists
have estimated that the chances that the new Square Kilometer
Array (SKA) radio telescope will be able to detect radio
signals from other intelligent life are one million to one.
Researchers involved in the Search for Extra-Terrestrial
Intelligence (SETI) have been looking for potential alien
signals for over a half-century without accomplishment.
The SKA, when complete in 2022, will be their most sensitive
piece of equipment yet and their best chance of success.
Duncan Forgan, at the University of Edinburgh, and Bob Nichol,
at the University of Portsmouth decided to see if they could
calculate the probability of the SKA picking up an alien
signal by building a computer model of the galaxy using
the latest data on, such things as, stellar evolution, planetary
system formation and habitable zones for planets. They estimated
that with the best-case scenario there could be 10,000 intelligent
civilizations in the galaxy. This may sound like a lot,
but with the milky-way galaxy composed of billions of stars,
the chances of any one of these civilizations being close
enough for the SKA to detect (within about 326 light years)
is low. The pair also believes that civilizations are only
"radio loud" for the first 100 years or so after they have
discovered radio communications and that more advanced civilizations
could be more difficult to find.
check local listing for area outside of North America.
Nova: The Four-Winged Dinosaur - Surprising
fossils from northeastern China spur a debate over how birds
evolved.n China spur a debate over how birds evolved. (Encore
event also available on Hulu.com) On PBS: Tuesday, August
24 at 8 pm; ET/PT.
event also available on Hulu.com) On PBS: Tuesday
Nova: Lizard Kings - Meet the monitors, the largest, fiercest, and craftiest lizards on Earth.
August 17, 8:00 pm; ET/PT.
Shark Week - Discovery hosts its annual Shark Week: Six nights of jaw-dropping shark
specials. Begins August 1 at 8 PM
On the Discovery Channel
Air Jaws: Sharks of South Africa - Witness the awesome power of great white sharks hurtling themselves
out of the water to attack their prey. Among the most spectacular
predatory events in nature, only great whites of South Africa's
False Bay engage in this mighty display.
Aug 01, 8:00 pm; Aug 01, 11:00 pm; Aug 04, 7:00 pm; Aug 05, 2:00 am;
On the Discovery Channel
10 Deadliest Sharks - Learn about the horn shark, lemon shark, grey reef shark, hammerhead,
blue shark, mako, oceanic white-tip, tiger shark, great
white, and the bull shark. Find out how and where they attack
their prey, and what makes them a premier killer in it's
Aug 06, 8:00 pm; Aug 06, 9:00 pm; Aug 06, 11:00 pm; Aug 07, 12:00 am;
On the Science Channel
Tomb Builders: Secrets of the Valley of the Kings - Over 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 the pharaohs, and tells the story of how
each tomb was constructed.
Aug 03, 8:00 pm; Aug 03, 11:00 pm; Aug 05, 3:00 am; ET/PT
On the Science Channel
Egypt's Mystery Chamber - We return to Egypt to solve the riddle of KV63. Evidence tells us that
though built as a tomb, it was never used as one. It's a
funerary cache, where embalmers hid for eternity the tools
and results of a mummification - perhaps that of King Tut
Aug 03, 10:00 pm; Aug 04, 1:00 am; Aug 05, 5:00 am; Aug 05, 8:00 pm;
Aug 05, 11:00 pm; Aug 07, 3:00 am; ET/PT
On the Science Channel
Morgan Freeman's Through the Wormhole Is There a Creator? - Did our Universe come into being by chance or was it created by a God?
The latest science shows that the four forces governing
our universe are finely tuned, so much so that it has led
many to believe that something must have calibrated them.
Aug 04, 10:00 pm; Aug 05, 1:00 am; Aug 06, 5:00 am; ET/PT
Remaking the Shroud - Armed with compelling new scientific and historical evidence, experts
attempt to re-create the Shroud of Turin in order to determine
whether it is an ingenious human creation. On The National
Geographic Channel: Aug 3rd 8:00 PM & 11:00 PM; ET/PT.
Decoding Bible Relics - Extraordinary finds have been made in the Holy Land - Decoding Bible
Relics distinguishes authentic artifact from sophisticated
fake. On The
Channel: Aug 8th 7:00 PM; ET/PT.
Secret History of the Atom Bomb - NGC delves into the tumultuous history of the atom bomb filled with
deception, twists and danger that even Hollywood couldn't
make up. On The
Channel: Aug 12 9:00 PM; ET/PT.
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