Science Over the Edge

A Roundup of Strange Science for the Month

Applet credit: Ed Hobbs

September 2007

In the News:

Biggest Planet Found - Astronomers have found what may be the universe's largest known planet, a giant ball of hydrogen orbiting a star 1,400 light-years away in the constellation Hercules. Scientists believe the planet is twice the size of Jupiter with a temperature of 2300 degrees and a density about half that of Saturn. Astronomers are bewildered at why the planet is so "fluffy." Scientists used the California Institute of Technology's Palomar Observatory in San Diego County and telescopes operating in Spain's Canary Islands to locate the planet. They suspect that this system may have a second planet orbiting its star and continue to search for it.

Europe's Largest Dinosaur Grave - An amateur paleontologist in Switzerland may have found what might be Europe's largest dinosaur mass grave. The find was made in the village of Frick, near the German border while the amateur paleontologist was looking at a construction site for a house. The hobbyist saw what he believed were the bones of two Plateosaurus. Scientists think that the Frick area, already known for dinosaur skeletons, may contain more than 100 Plaeosaurus, making it the largest dinosaur site in Europe.

A Really Old Footprint - Egyptian archaeologists have found what could be the oldest human footprint in history, said Zahi Hawass, the country's antiquities' chief. In an interview with Reuters he stated, "This could go back about two million years. It could be the most important discovery in Egypt." The footprint, imprinted on mud and then found in the rock will be tested to determine its exact age. The earliest human archaeological evidence from Egypt, before the footprint, dated to around 200,000 years. Scientists suggest that this recent find may go back as far as three million years.

Etruscan Tomb - A 2,000-year-old perfectly preserved Etruscan tomb was found in the hills of Tuscany, Italy. It was apparently filled with 80 objects including vases and mirrors in bronze and ceramic. It also included urns containing remains of about 30 people. The tomb, according to scientists, probably dates from between the 1st and 3rd centuries B.C.. It's quite exceptional to find so many objects in a tomb so small," said Andrea Marcocci, who was in charge of excavations at the site. The Etrscans were one of Italy's first and most mysterious civilizations which lasted just a millennium during the 7th and 6th century B.C..

Dinosaurs Faster Than Humans - A new study estimating top speeds of dinosaurs gives the ferocious velociraptor, who was highlighted in the film Jurassic Park, a top speed of 24 miles per hour. The massive T-Rex was calculated to be slower, but still fast enough to overtake most humans at 18 miles per hour. The chicken sized Compsognathus was estimated to run at nearly 40 miles per hour. Scientists used a computer model to calculate the running speeds of the five dinosaurs based on the skeletal and muscular structure of the animals. Researchers then checked their method by getting data from a professional, human runner and seeing the program accurately come up with top running speed for a human.



What's New at the Museum:

The Legend of the Lambton Worm - Worms were not always the little, squiggly creatures we are used to seeing. >Full Story

Notes from the Curator's Office: Houdini Lives! - Or at least he does in Scranton, PA. >Full Story


Ask the Curator:

The Berkeley Horror - I have a book by Daniel Cohen called Worlds Most Famous Ghosts. In it is a chapter on something called the "Berkeley Square Horror" in London. It is something about a room at 50 Berkeley Square that if anyone stays one night in there they will either be dead or have gone insane. Supposedly this has happened several times. I have searched several sights including and I have found nearly no info. It would be much appreciated if you could help me out. - Frank

There are multiple stories about 50 Berkeley Square, many of them contradictory. The house was constructed in 1740 and for a number of years was the home to British Prime Minister George Canning. The source of the haunting stories starts around 1830 with either young woman who committed suicide by jumping from the top floor, or a Mr. Myers was preparing the house for the just new bride and went insane after he was jilted. Or maybe the haunting really comes from a Mr. Dupre, who confined his insane brother in an upper story room. Or maybe the story about the little girl who was tortured to death by a sadistic servant is what started it. Well, take your pick. According to the story after Mr. Myers/Dupre/young woman/little girl was gone and a new family had moved in, a maid was found in a third floor bedroom screaming and muttering she has seen something "horrible" there. The story continues next with a Captain Kenfeild, fiancée, to the family's daughter (In other versions this is a young aristocrat named Robert Warboys) who decides to challenge the apparition by staying in the room overnight. He sees something that either kills him with fright (in some versions) or leaves him crazed.

Another tale connected with the house brings the story into the 20th century with two sailors in 1943 who break into the long empty house to stay overnight and encounter a monstrous, shapeless, oozing mass in the third floor room. One sailor escapes to tell the tale while the other jumps out the window to his death (speared on the points of an iron railing) to avoid the horror.

The house became famous for these stories and by the beginning of the 20th century and was listed by some authors as "the most haunted place in Britain." The current owners still get visitors from time to time curious about the house. The stories were also an inspiration for a 1947 movie "The Ghosts of Berkeley Square."

As far as I am aware nobody has carefully researched the history of the house to determine if any of the 18th century stories are real. This could probably be done by checking records to see who owned the house, who died there, and going though police reports associated with the house, etc. Clearly there are problems with the 1943 story as it indicates the house was empty, but history shows that in 1938 Maggs Brothers Rare Books moved into the location. The company reports no ghostly incidents since they have been there even though there were many all-night fire watches held during the Second World War.

You can visit the building, even the supposedly haunted 3rd floor, by going to the Maggs Brothers website and taking a virtual tour. So far nobody has reported any virtual horrors.

Have a question? Click here to send it to the curator.


In History:

Vanished Farmer Hoax - On September 23, 1880 David Lang, a resident of Tennessee, was walking in a field near his home when he vanished before the eyes of his family and several friends. Despite an exhaustive search he was never found. The legend of Lang's disappearance was considered an unexplained true mystery for many years until library researcher Hershel G. Payne investigated and found no evidence a Lang family had lived in that area. Further investigation by Payne revealed that the story was a journalistic hoax by a Joseph M. Mulholland who was responsible for several such tales during the late 19th century.

In the Sky:

Harvest Moon - Ever wonder what the term harvest moon means? It refers to the full moon that occurs closest to the autumnal equinox. This year in the northern hemisphere the harvest moon will occur on September 26th, with the equinox occurring on the 23rd. It gets it name from the habit farmers had of continuing the harvest even after the sun had seen under the light of this full moon.



Washington Crop Circle - On June 29, 2007, a crop circle appeared on a field near Wilbur, Washington, USA. The circle, actually a set of 8 circles and a ring in an "X" formation, is 150 wide and deep. Crop circles are common in England, but less so in other parts of the world. They have been attributed, by those interested in them, to natural phenomena or extraterrestrial activity, but the only proven cause is known to be hoaxers.



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