Science Over the Edge

A Roundup of Strange Science for the Month

Applet credit: Ed Hobbs

October 2003

In the News:

Giant Rock Threatens Earth... Maybe - Scientists are watching a large asteroid to see if it will have a catastrophic collision with Earth in 2014. The object, designated "2003 QQ47," will be monitored over the next few months so that astronomers can get a precise track of its orbit. With that they will be able to predict its future movements. Estimates are that its current chance of hitting Earth are just one in 909,000. Astronomers believe that the chance of an impact should go down even further as better data is collected. The asteroid, should it actually hit Earth, would produce an explosion equivalent to 20 million Hiroshima atomic bombs, according to a spokesman from the British government's Near Earth Object Information Centre.

"Nefertiti" Mummy Maybe Man - A mummy, tentatively identified last month as the Egyptian Queen Nefertiti by Joann Fletcher, a mummification specialist from the University of York in England, may actually be a man. Egypt's antiquities chief Zahi Hawass has stated he is "sure that this mummy is not a female." Hawass cites a double-piercing in the mummy's ear as evidence of the gender of the remains. According to Hawass "queens used to wear earrings in their wigs, not in their ears." Also, said Hawass, it is known that Nefertiti gave birth six times so her hips should be very broad. Hawass notes that the mummy in question has hips that are very narrow. Professor Salima Ikram of the American University agreed with Hawass noting that X-rays of the mummy do not show signs that the person gave birth.

Scientists Demonstrate "Haunted" Infrasound - Scientists in Manchester, England, have demonstrated a connection between very low frequency sound (infrasound) and unpleasant feelings in humans. The scientists produced infrasound with a seven meter long pipe and tested its effect on 750 people at a concert. Though the audience was not told which pieces included the sound, twenty-two percent reported unusual feelings when it was included in the music. The feelings included being uneasy, sorrowful, nervous, revolted or fearful. "These results suggest that low frequency sound can cause people to have unusual experiences even though they cannot consciously detect infrasound," said Professor Richard Wiseman, a psychologist at the University of Hertfordshire. Some scientists propose that naturally occurring infrasound may be present at locations that are considered "haunted."

A 3/4 Ton "Guinea Pig" Discovered in South America - Researchers say they have found the remains of a rodent the size of a buffalo in South America. Fossils suggest a 1,545-pound rodent that was a plant eater lived 6 million to 8 million years ago in what was then a lush, swampy forest. Marcelo R. Sanchez-Villagra of the University of Tubingen in Germany described the creature as "...a weird guinea pig... with a long tail for balancing on its hind legs..." The fossils where found in a desert area some 250 miles west of Caracas, Venezuela. The official name of the rodent is Phoberomys pattersoni, though the paleontologists have nicknamed this particular specimen "Goya."

Spanish Navy Takes Heat for Squid Deaths - Four giant squid, the largest of which was 12 meters (almost 40 feet) long have died in the waters off the coast of Spain in recent weeks. Giant squid are seen rarely because they live at such great depths. Environmentalists are blaming the Spanish Navy, and in particular the ship Hesperides for the deaths. The Hesperides has been testing systems that create underwater shock waves for purposes of mapping the ocean floor. Josep Gallard, a leading scientist working on the ship, denied that this is harmful to the squids. "This hypothesis is far from being proven," said Gallard.


What's New at the Museum:

Werewolf! -A Halloween Special: Legends about men turning into wolves date back to Roman times. How did they start and is there a rational explanation for these tales? - >Full Story


Ask the Curator:

The Face of King Tut - Its said that there are methods of putting together a sculpture or "mask" of what an Egyptian looked like. Is this true? If so, has this method been used to recreate a possible image of what the young King Tutankhamen might have looked like? If it has been used is there a website or place that I can see a picture of this? -Lori

Dr Robin Richards, a facial-reconstruction expert from the Department of Medical Physics and Bioengineering University College London, has recreated Tut's face by using CAT scans of X-rays of the mummy to create a 3D representation of the King's skull in a computer. From there digital skin and other features can be laid on top of the skull. The method is very similar to that used by forensic experts for reconstructing a face from a skull found in connection with a crime. The digital image was later made into a sculpture for the UK Science Museum. For a more complete explanation of the process and some pictures, check out these links:


Mars Orbits - How does one calculate that Mars is closer to Earth than it has been for 60,000 years? - Paul Kalmen

The first step to knowing the position of the planets is to observe them in the sky and work out their orbits. Much of the grunt work for this was done in 16th century by Tycho Brahe though many nights of staring at the sky and making notes. Tycho thought that planet orbits must be circular but he couldn't get his theory to jive with his observations. Johannes Kepler took Tycho's data and realized that the planets orbits must be slightly elliptical. With this Kepler was able to come up with his Laws of Planetary Motion.

The laws basically state how the planets move though space based on attraction by gravity to the sun and each other. Put the laws into a computer and you can then use them to predict the relationship of the planets to each other at any future or past time, though accuracy starts to break down as you move further away from the present period. Still, in the history of the solar system 60,000 years is a fairly short period, so the estimated positions of the planets should be pretty accurate.

Supporters of Velikovsky's theories might argue that the planets have been moving around the solar system out of their orbits in recent history, but most scientists don't think there's any evidence to support his hypothesis.


In History:

Blue Book Report 14 - In October of 1955 the US Air Force released Project Blue Book Special Report 14. Project Blue Book was the Air Force's investigation into the UFO phenomenon and reached the startling conclusion, based on statistics, that the best documented UFO reports were the ones that are least likely be explained by known mechanisms. The Air Force was embarrassed by the finding (which might suggest that UFOs are extraterrestrial in origin) and could only dismiss the sightings discussed in the report by manipulating the data in a way one scientist called "utterly incredible."


In the Sky:

Meteor Shower - The Orionid meteor shower appears on the mornings of October 20th, 21st and 22nd. Best viewing is before dawn. Meteors will probably fall on an average one every three minutes. The Orionid meteor shower is caused by the Earth running into dust left over from the passage of Halley's Comet.



Disco Lights Lure Rare Turtles to Their Doom - The lights of a beach disco along the coast of Greece is luring baby loggerhead turtles to their deaths. The rare turtles hatch at night from eggs buried in the sand. Under normal conditions they head for the brightest horizon which is usually the white foam of waves under the stars. The neon lights from the discos and cafes along the back of the beach at Laganas are often brighter, however, and leads the turtles in the wrong direction. They eventually die of dehydration or get eaten by seabirds or dogs. Ironically the cafes and discos were built to service the needs of tourists coming to see the turtles.


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.

NOVA: Who Killed the Red Baron? - Forensic experts investigate the most famous aviation mystery of World War I. On PBS: October 7 at 8PM; ET.

NOVA: Lost Roman Treasure - Experts rescue priceless mosaics from an ancient city about to vanish beneath a reservoir. On PBS: October 14 at 8PM; ET.

Roswell - Find out the truth behind accusations that the Air Force recovered a flying saucer from outer space in the desert of New Mexico in 1947. Was this the greatest cover-up, or one of the greatest hoaxes in history? On the Discovery Channel: Oct 15 2003 09:00 PM Oct 16 2003 12:00 AM Oct 18 2003 07:00 PM; ET.

Crop Circles: Mysteries in the Fields - For the last 300 years unusual shapes have appeared in growing farm crops. Wheat, barley, soy, and maize: nothing seems immune to these spontaneous patterns, called crop circles. These bizarre glyphs are documented on every corner of the globe. On Discovery Channel: Oct 15 2003 08:00 PM Oct 15 2003 11:00 PM; ET.

America's Loch Ness Monster - Bordering New York and Vermont and known as America's Loch Ness, Lake Champlain is home to a monster named Champ. Experts use the latest technology in an attempt to prove the existence of this giant, sea serpent-like creature. On Discovery Channel: Oct 26 2003 10:00 PM Oct 27 2003 01:00 AM; ET.

History's Mysteries: America's Stonehenge - Mystery Hill, called America's Stonehenge, is a gigantic confusion of walls, caves, and tunnels running across 30 acres of hillside in rural Salem, New Hampshire. This arrangement of ancient stones is believed to be astronomically aligned to solar and lunar events. Carbon dating places the site as being 4,000 years old--before Columbus! What culture was advanced enough to move 11-ton pieces of stone? Who constructed this sophisticated labyrinth of stones to measure the summer and winter solstices? On The History Channel: October 10 6PM; ET.

Modern Marvels: Castles & Dungeons - Some of the most imposing structures ever built, medieval castles withstood both bloody assaults and the test of time. Designed like machines with nearly every architectural detail devoted to defense, castles represented the perfect fusion of form and function. Journey back to that unruly era as we examine the complexity of their construction and the multipurposes they served--homes to kings and nobles, economic centers, courthouses, treasuries, prisons, and torture chambers. On The History Channel: October 7 7PM ET/PT.



Science over the Edge Archives

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Copyright Lee Krystek 2003. All Rights Reserved.