Over the Edge
Roundup of Strange Science for the Month
Liquid Water on Mars? - A group of scientists think
they have seen evidence of flowing water on the surface
of Mars. While trying to create a 3D picture of the surface
on a southern section of the planet, researchers noticed
that two pictures of an area taken at slightly different
times did not match up. The photos from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance
Orbiter (MRO) show dark, narrow, finger-like structures
only during the summer months. Alfred McEwen of the University
of Arizona and his colleagues think that the dark material
may be a "brine" (salt water). Satellite scans have already
suggested that Mars has water in the form of ice underground.
The scientists suggest in an article published in the Journal
Science that during the late spring and summer temperatures
get high enough that at a number of locations the brine
becomes liquid and flows down the rocky slopes. Team member
Shane Byrne, said that they "thought long and hard" about
possible causes for the streaks and concluded it was most
likely to be caused by salt water. To prove their idea one
way or the other, however, it may actually be necessary
to send a lander to one of the locations and test the material.
A Dark, Dark Planet - Scientists are perplexed
by a newly discovered exo-planet found by the Kepler spacecraft.
The planet, called TrES-2b, is orbiting a star about 750
light-years away from Earth. The planet's albedo, that is
the amount of light it reflects off its surface, is only
about 1 percent. This is by far the lowest albedo ever found
for a planet. For comparison Jupiter reflects 52 percent
of the light it gets and Earth 37 percent. Coal, reflects
only 1 to 5 percent depending on the type, so this planet
is blacker than most coals. Scientists have been speculating
on what might give this planet might be made out of to give
it such a low albedo, such as vaporized sodium and potassium
or gaseous titanium oxide, but even these dark material
do no match the planet's blackness. "There's a good chance
it's a chemical we haven't even thought of yet," remarked
David Kippling, lead author of the article announcing the
discovery in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical
Building a Mountain out of a Joke - It started
in jest, but now many people in the Netherlands are serious
about creating a man-made mountain there. The suggestion
originated with Thijs Zonneveld, a former athlete and writer
for free daily De Pers. Zonneveld complained in a
column back in July that his country was too flat. "Flat
is ideal for growing beetroot, raising cows or building
straight roads, but it's a catastrophe from a sports point-of-view,"
he wrote. "I want a mountain, a real one. In the Netherlands,"
he added. Since then the idea has grown into plans for a
2000 meter high (over a mile) man-made peak that would include
ski slopes, climbing cliffs, bobsleigh tracks, hiking trails
and scenic mountain roads with hairpin turns. "It seems
like that my plea -- a joke at first -- has clicked." Zonneveld
believes that people want to get excited about a big project
like this and companies see a chance to demonstrate some
Did the Lotion Kill the Queen? - A flask that once
belonged to the Egyptain Queen Hatshepsut seems to contain
a highly carcinogenic form of moisturizing lotion which
may have led to her death. The vessel, which has an inscription
saying it belonged to the Queen, was in the University of
Bonn Egyptian Museum for many years and was thought to have
held perfume. Researchers analysized the material inside
and found it was instead a lotion made from large amounts
of palm and nutmeg oil, which are polyunsaturated fats that
can relieve certain skin diseases. In addition the formula
also included benzopyrene, fragrant and cancer causing hydrocarbon.
Benzopyrene has been banned from modern cosmetics because
of its danger. It is likely the Hatshepsut had a skin condition
and derived some short term relief from the lotion. However
experts think in the long term it killed her. "We have known
for a long time that Hatshepsut had cancer and maybe even
died from it," said Michael Höveler-Müller, one of the museum's
curators. "We may now know the actual cause," he added.
Not Just for Handbags Anymore - Some people just
see alligators as a source of fancy handbags or boots, but
researchers at University of Louisiana have suggested that
you could turn excess alligator fat into a biofuel for as
little as $2.40 a gallon. About 15 million pounds of alligator
fat is dumped into landfills each year when alligator farms
harvest their creatures. By using some chemical solvents
on the fat and heating it scientists discovered that 61
percent of it becomes a biofuel with 91 percent of the energy
of diesel. The current amount of excess alligator fat could
be turned into 1.25 million gallons of fuel a year. The
details of the process can be found in this last month's
edition of Industrial Engineering Chemistry Research.
Science Quote of the Month - "Scientists
have shown that the moon is moving away at a tiny yet measurable
distance from the earth every year. If you do the math,
you can calculate that 85 million years ago the moon was
orbiting the earth at a distance of about 35 feet from the
earth’s surface. This would explain the death of the dinosaurs.
The tallest ones, anyway." ~ UnKnown
New at the Museum:
and the Burning Mirror
Probably no ancient tale has raised as much controversy
as the story of the Greek inventor Archimedes using a giant
mirror, or set of mirrors, to set fire to Roman ships. Did
it actually happen?>Full
CN Tower - CN
Rail decided to build a new tower in the city of Toronto
to resolve commnications problems there. During planning
they realized they could make it the tallest building in
Mysterious Picture of the Month - What
is this thing?
The Museum of UnNatural Mystery Press releases the
sequel to the children's favorite "Cardboard Rocket."
and Hector's adventures continue. When they find out that
their old robot friend, R22-B, is in trouble they take off
on a rocket ride into the past to save him. The only problem
is that somebody has been tinkering with time and they find
their future, as well as that of the planet Earth, may be
Order from Create
8 - 13.
through Amazon.com and other find bookstores.
Steam Punk Sub and Plane - Could someone
build a steam powered submarine or airplane? - Jacob
Both of these
feats have already been done! The first steam powered submarine
was the the Ictíneo II built by Spanish inventor
Narcís Monturiol Estarrol in 1864 and modified from human
to steam power in 1867. The problem with powering any kind
of submarine is the most engines burn oxygen and quickly
use up the limited air inside a submerged vessel stopping
the engine and killing the crew. Estarrol powered his sub,
however, by using a chemical reaction between potassium
chlorate, zinc and manganese dioxide. This reaction generated
enough heat to turn water into steam and drive a turbine
engine to push the sub forward. As a bonus the reaction
also produced oxygen which allowed the crew to remain underwater
to eight hours. Unfortunately this history making boat was
destoryed after only 20 demonstration dives when the shipyard
that built it scrapped it when Estarrol couldn't pay his
It wasn't until
1913 that anybody tried to use a steam engine on board a
submarine again. The British were interested in making their
subs fast enough to keep up with the rest of the fleet,
so they put a boiler and steam engines into their K-Class
subs. The steam engines only worked on the surface, however,
and when the boat submerged they had to use standard batteries.
During WW II
the German's developed a steam powered sub using the same
principals as Estarrol. The boat carried a tank of hydrogen
peroxide which when run through a catalyst produces oxygen.
The oxygen, burned with diesel created the heat to make
steam and drive a turbine. The United States experimented
with this idea after WWII, but dropped further development
in favor of subs with nuclear power plants.
for the airplane. As early as 1842 two enterprising Brits,
William Samuel Henson and John Stringfellow, patented a
design for an "Aerial Steam Carriage" which would carry
passengers. The two had more success at publicizing the
device using beautiful lithograph advertisements of the
plane flying over exotic locations like the Egyptian pyramids
(left), than actually getting it into the air, however.
The problem they had was that steam engines, compared to
the modern internal combustion engine, has a much poorer
power to-weight ratio. This is less of a concern with something
like a railroad locomotive that stays on the ground, but
is a critical factor for an airplane.
In the 19th century,
however, internal combustion engines were in their infancy.
Though they would eventually have a much better power-to-weight
ratio than steam engines this wouldn't be until the 20th
century. Also early internal combustion engines tended to
be unreliable, stopping without warning. Not something you
like to see in an airplane engine.
worked as best they could with steam engines. Hiram Maxim,
inventor of the machine gun, also dabbled with aviation
and built a massive three and a half ton airplane powered
by two 360hp steam engines which he tested on a track near
Bexley, England. Unfortunately during a ground test in 1884
the track failed and the machine flew loose. As it was uncontrollable
in the air, it immediately crashed and Maxim decided not
to rebuild it.
In 1899 there
are claims that Gustave Whitehead
built and flew a steam-powered airplane near Pittsburg,
Pennsylvania. The plane supposedly got off the ground and
crashed into a building. However, there is little historical
evidence for this story.
The first clear
example of a steam power plane actually achieving a controlled
flight was in the 1930's when George D. and William J. Besler
converted a Travel Air 2000 aircraft to use a light steam
engine. The two brothers started on the project just to
see if it could be done and demonstrated some successful
flights at the airport in Oakland California. One observer
noted the plane, without the roar of an internal combustion
engine, was extremely quiet and the pilot could converse
with people on the ground from an altitude of 200 feet.
It was also capable of very short landings as the propeller
could be instantly reversed after the wheels touched the
ground to slow the plane. The steam engine also used less
flammable type fuel than fuel which saved money and lowered
the chances of a fire during a crash.
enthusiasm for steam-power flight from the press at the
time, the plane turned out to be never more than a novelty
and an interesting footnote in aviation history.
Snowman Not Really Abominable - The term "Abominable
Snowman" entered the English language by mistake in September
of 1921 when Lt. Col. C. K. Howard-Bury saw a number of
strange footprints on the north side of Mt. Everest. He
asked a local Sherpa what they were from and he wrote down
their answer as metoh-kangmi which was later translated
by a newspaper man as "Abominable Snowman." Apparently,
though, the guide had actually used the term meh-teh
which really means "manlike thing that is not a man."
Visions of Jupiter - This is a good month to
check out the planet Jupiter, if you haven't looked at it
lately. Jupiter, named for the Roman king of the Gods, is
of course the largest planet in our solar system and will
be easily visible in the night sky. It will be rising about
2 hours after sunset and should appear in the constellation
Aries. On September 15 and 16 the Moon will appear next
to Jupiter in the night sky.
Crashed Flying Saucer at the Bottom of the Ocean?
- Swedish researcher Peter Lindberg's exploration team
has stumbled across an interesting anomaly under 300 feet
of water in the sea between Finland and Sweden. While using
sonar to look for the century-old shipwreck, they came across
what appears to be a perfectly round object that some people
have suggested is a downed flying saucer. According to Lindberg
the thing is a "large circle, about 60 feet in diameter.
You see a lot of weird stuff in this job, but during my
18 years as a professional I have never seen anything like
this. The shape is completely round." There are also what
appears to be gouges along the bottom leading towards the
object suggesting it has moved. (Proponents of the UFO theory
argue that these scrapes were made when the craft crashed).
There is really no evidence that the object is extra-terrestrial
and its round shape may be just an illusion caused by the
limited resolution of the sonar. Since this type of research
is very expensive and the object isn't what Lindberg's team
was looking for, they will not be doing any follow up on
the anomaly leaving it for others to explore or speculate
check local listing for area outside of North America.
NOVA: Smartest Machine on Earth: Jeopardy! - Jeopardy challenges even the best human minds. Can a computer win the
PBS: Sept. 14 at 9 pm; ET/PT.
Curiosity: Parallel Universes: Are They Real? - Morgan Freeman investigates if there could be more than one version
of reality - and more than one ?you'. As scientists unravel
this possibility, an astounding one emerges: these parallel
worlds could determine the destiny of the entire universe.On
The Discovery Channel: Sep 04, 8:00 pm; Sep 04, 11:00 pm;
Sep 11, 9:00 am; ET/PT.
Jack the Ripper in America - The greatest serial killer in history has never been named. But what
if we are looking in the wrong place? In the 1890s a series
of murders took place across the United States, and incredible
new evidence may reveal the true identity of Jack the Ripper.
On Discovery Channel: Sep 08, 8:00 pm; Sep 09, 1:00 am;
Exorcists: The True Story - In a 2000 poll, "The Exorcist" was voted the scariest movie of all time.
A diary discovered in 1979 tells the disturbing story of
possession and exorcism of a 14-year-old boy in the 1950s
that inspired the author of this harrowing tale. On The
Discovery Channel: Sep 08, 10:00 pm; Sep 09, 12:00 am; ET/PT.
What Really Killed the Dinosaurs - Until recently, most scientists thought they knew what killed off the
dinosaurs - a giant meteorite crashing into Earth. But a
small and vociferous group of scientists believes there
is increasing evidence that the 'impact' theory could be
wrong. On The
Sep 06, 8:00 pm; Sep
06, 11:00 pm; Sep 08, 3:00 am
Ancient Aliens: Aliens and Ancient Engineers - Might the tools and technology of ancient builders have come from distant
galaxies? Evidence suggests that an ancient mountaintop
fortress in Peru was constructed with laser-like tools...
temples at Vijayanagara India were built to harness cosmic
energy... and an acoustic chamber in Malta enabled interplanetary
communication. If the ancient builders did use advanced
technology, could it prove that aliens visited Earth thousands
of years ago? On The
Channel: Sept. 1st 10PM; ET/PT.
Jurassic C.S.I.: In the Flesh - In the quest to cover a dinosaur model with scientifically accurate
skin, Dr. Phil Manning employs forensic analysis on the
incredibly rare fossilized skin of a baby titanosaur. On
Sept. 9th 8:00 PM; Sept.
9th 11:00 PM; Sept. 16th 8:00 PM; Sept. 16th 11:00 PM
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