Science Over the Edge

A Roundup of Strange Science for the Month

Applet credit: Ed Hobbs

September 2001

In the News:

First Titanosaur Skulls Unearthed - According to a recent report in the journal Nature, paleontologists in Madagascar have discovered the first two skulls of a group of dinosaurs that are well-known, but whose fossils have never been found with the heads intact. The titanosaurs were a group of sauropods (dinosaurs with long necks that walked on four feet and had long tails) that lived as far back as 140 million years ago. The new Madagascar discoveries are 60 to 75 million years old showing that the titanosaurs lived over quite a long period. While the animals were huge (the Madagascar specimens were probably 50 feet in length) their skulls were quite delicate and were quickly destroyed after death and therefore not usually preserved as fossils.

Titanosaurs lived all over the world and scientists hope that by comparing the remains of different titanosaurs species with one another they may be able to understand more about the breakup of the continents from a single land mass which is thought to have occurred over the period that the titanosaur species lived.

Ghost Ship Appears - A team including author Clive Cussler and Canadian film producer John Davis has recently discovered what they believe to be the remains of the ghost vessel Mary Celeste. The ship was found abandoned off the Azores in 1872. Her captain, his wife, their 2-year-old daughter and the crew was missing, though the ship showed no sign of damage or emergency. After the strange incident the ship sailed for another dozen years under different owners before its last captain scuttled it in an attempt at insurance fraud. The captain's plan failed when he ran the ship onto the Rochelois Reef in Haiti and it didn't sink. The expedition found the remains on the reef and the discovery will be part of a series of documentaries called "The Sea Hunters," which will air on National Geographic International Television and History Television in Canada.

Genghis Khan's Forbidden Tomb Found? - Scientists searching for Genghis Khan's tomb have discovered a walled burial ground 200 miles northeast of the Ulan Bator, the Mongolian capital, which may be the 13th century emperor's final resting place. According to legend Khan was buried in 1227 by 2,000 servants who were then killed by 800 soldiers. The soldiers, in turn, were killed also to preserve the secret location of the tomb. Because of this Khan's grave became known as the Ikh Khoring, or "Great Taboo." While members of the Genghis Khan Geo-Historical Expedition are excited at the find, a spokesman cautioned, "This is an unprecedented discovery; however, we need to investigate the area archaeologically before we can confirm this exciting finding." According to the team, the location is bordered by a 2-mile-long wall nine feet to 12 feet high and may lie near Khan's probable birthplace.

Shocker: Speed of Light May Have Changed -Observations from the Keck telescope on Hawaii's Mauna Kea suggest that the speed of light may have changed since the birth of the universe (which scientists estimate was some 15 billion-years ago). The revelation shocked physicists as current theories say light's speed does not change in either time or space. However, scientists acknowledge that this new information does seem to fit well with some recent "string theories" about the structure of the universe at the subatomic level. The research team led by John Webb, a professor at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia, used the world's most powerful telescope to observe quasars 12 billion light-years away. By measuring patterns of absorption of the light as it passed through clouds of intergalactic gas, scientists were able to tell something about its speed during the 12 billion year journey to Earth.

Ceres Displaced as Biggest Minor Planet - Astronomers with the European Southern Observatory have announced that a newly discovered object in the Kuiper Belt has displaced the asteroid Ceres as the largest minor planet in our solar system. Ceres, which was discovered in 1801 by Italian astronomer Giuseppe Piazzi, is 590 miles in diameter while then new object, designated 2001 KX76, is estimated to be 745 miles in diameter. The object, discovered in July by American astronomers, is about half the size of Pluto and just slightly larger than Charon, Pluto's moon. It is customary for objects in the Kuiper Belt to be given mythological names pertaining to creation and object 2001 KX76 should receive an official name from its discoverers soon.

Oldest T-Rex Found - Paleontologist Jack Horner announced this month a team he led has discovered the remains of an immature specimen of Tyrannosaurus rex ( which they dubbed the "B-rex") that is the oldest member of the species ever discovered. B-rex lived about 67 million years ago, two million years before dinosaurs were thought to have been wiped out by a catastrophic asteroid impact 65 million years ago. Scientists hope that B-rex, which is one of eight T-Rexs found at Hell Creek, Montana in the last two years, could help clarify two major questions about the species: how it evolved and how it grew from juvenile to adult.

Run Like an Allosaurus - Biologist David Carrier has been putting his graduate students through a slalom course while they wear a "dinosaur backpack" designed to see how well the ancient reptiles could maneuver. The backpack is connected to beams extending about four feet to the front and rear of the wearer to simulate the weight distribution of an adult Allosaurus, a class of carnivorous theropods that lived in North America during the Jurassic period. Most traditional portrayals of theropods show them running with their neck and tails outstretched, but Carrier's research, detailed in an issue of the Journal of Experimental Biology, suggests they may have assumed a more upright position that would have allowed them to make sharper turns.


What's New at the Museum:

Strange Planes - Early inventors concieved and constructed some strange looking machines in their quest to build a better airplane. Check out what these craft looked like on our new page: Strange Aircraft from the Early Years of Flight.

Those Fabulous and Foolhardy Flyers II - In just a few short years after the Wrights invented the airplane it changed from an inventor's toy to a weapon of war. Continue our history of flight we started last month in From Wilber to War in Those Fabulous and Foolhardy Flyers II.


In History:

Submerged Lights - On September 27, 1959, a ship off the East Indian Archipelago observed beams of light passing under it similar to "the pedestrian's angle of a huge zebra moving under him while he is standing still." Unexplained submerged lights have often been observed in the Indian Ocean, often as huge circular wheels. No explanation for these strange occurrences has been found, though some speculate that some unknown phenomena is stimulating the light-producing mechanisms of single-celled bioluminescent sea creatures so that they give off light in strange patterns.


In the Sky:

Mare Tranquillitatis - Ever wonder where the first astronauts landed on the moon? September 23rd will give you an excellent chance to see the location with your own eyes. When the moon rises that evening notice that it's a little less then half visible (quarter moon). The large dark oval area centered on illuminated side of the Moon is Mare Tranquillitatis, which translates to "Sea of Tranquillity." If you are old enough you will remember "Tranquillity base here, the Eagle has Landed" were the first words transmitted after the Apollo 11 set down on the moon in July of 1969.



"Big Bang" Astronomer Dies - Sir Fred Hoyle, the astronomer who coined the term "Big Bang" for a theory supporting an explosive creation of the universe, died at age 86 last month in Bournemouth, England. While Hoyle originated the name he did not believe in the theory himself, but supported an alternate explanation referred to as "steady state." Ironically Hoyle first used the "big bang" name to put down the theory in 1950 during one of his broadcast lectures on "The Nature of the Universe." However, the title stuck and became the popular name for the widely accepted theory.

Astrology Institute Accredited - The Astrological Institute located in Phoenix, Arizona, won accreditation from the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges of Technology last month, making it the first astrology school to do so. At the institute students can get a diploma in astrology and psychology while taking courses like the "master class on the asteroid goddesses." The accreditation means that the school can ask for approval from the U.S. Education Department so that its students can get federal grants and loans. Tuition is $5,300. A spokesperson for Council for Higher Education Accreditation said that the accreditation does not validate astrology, but only recognizes that the school fulfills what it promises its students.


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.

Time Travel - Nova repeats this investigation into how to build a time machine Is time travel anything more than sci-fi fantasy? On PBS: Sept. 4 on PBS at 9PM, ET/PT.

Building the Impossible: The Seven Wonders of the Ancient World - Get the historical background of each of the Seven Wonders of the World from this Discovery Channel program which uses information from ancient sources, modern investigations of the remains and computer animation to tell the story. Sept. at 9PM and 1AM and Sept. 8 4PM.

Fireballs from Space -Hundreds of tons of space debris most (of it microscopic size particles) fall to earth every day! But a fireball the size of a football field can land here too. Find out more about it in this Discovery Channel program. Sept. 16 9PM and 1AM, Sept. 19 9PM and 1AM, Sept. 22 1PM and Sept. 23 5PM.

Valley of the T-Rex - In the badlands of Montana, Paleontologist Jack Horner has discovered five T-Rex dinosaurs in a single summer exposing new evidence of a creature we thought we knew so well. On the Discovery Channel Sept. 10 9PM and 1AM, Sept 12 at 9PM and 1AM, Sept. 15 at 2PM, Sept. 17 at 9PM and 1AM, Sept 22 5PM.

Loch Ness and Giant Squid - Held over from last month: Two mysteries for the price of one in this show: The legend of the Loch Ness monster, and the life of the 60-foot-long giant squid. On the Discovery Channel: Sept 9 8PM and 12AM.

Monsters of the Lake - Eyewitnesses have reported sightings of a mysterious creature in Loch Ness for many years. Photos have been taken of the monster, but are merely optical illusions? On the Discovery Channel Sept. 20 10PM.

Understanding Extraterrestrials - Quite the opposite of Hollywood's portrayal of aliens from the cuddly to the grotesque, scientists believe extraterrestrials may exist, but in a very different form from those imagined. On TCL Sept. 27 10PM and 1AM.

The Lost Ark -Did ancient astronauts journeyed to Earth and teach the Egyptians to make a capacitor capable of storing electricity? This program searches for an ark that worked along these electromagnetic principles. Sept. 21 9PM and 12AM.

Seeking Noah's Flood - The waters of the Black Sea are only recently revealing their secrets. Researchers think they have found evidence pointing to an event during which entire oceans burst forth across the area, burying ancient inhabitants. Was it Noah's flood? On TCL Sept. 20 10PM and 1AM.

UFOs: Then and Now? - A series of special UFO presentations from the History Channel: The Innocent Years Sept. 9 8PM and Sept. 10 12AM. Cause for Alarm Sept. 9 9 PM and Sept. 10 1AM. Nightmare Sept. 9 10PM and September 10 2AM. Aliens and Contact Sept. 9 11PM and Sept. 10 3AM.

The Great Debate over the Shroud of Turin - Part of the History Channel's This Week in History series. Sept. 23 4AM and Sept. 23 11AM.


Science over the Edge Archives

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Copyright Lee Krystek 2001. All Rights Reserved.