Science Over the Edge

A Roundup of Strange Science for the Month

Applet credit: Ed Hobbs

October 2005

In the News:

Flying Reptiles Bigger than Originally Thought - New evidence suggests that the winged reptiles that flew at the time of the dinosaurs could have had wing spans as large as 64 feet . That's as large as a F-14 Tomcat fighter with its wings fully extended. Dr Eberhard "Dino" Frey of the Natural History museum in Karlsruhe, Germany, had recently found fossilized footprints in Mexico suggesting there were creatures in the past with a wingspan in excess of 18 meters. "Even though they are just fragments they are bloody big fragments," DR David Martill of the University of Portsmouth said of the fossils. "We also have finger bones with really rather magnificent diameters." Martill says that new studies of the creature's bones and skin have shown that the animals must have flown rather "elegantly."

Comet Only As Dense as Snowbank - Analysis of comet Tempel 1 shows that it is "unbelievably fragile, less strong than a snowbank," according to Michael A'Hearn, a comet specialist at the University of Maryland. Tempel 1 was hit by NASA's Deep Impact probe on July 4th. The collision was observed by another part of the NASA spacecraft, along with a European spacecraft called Rosetta and more than 70 ground-based telescopes. Further analysis of material in the plume from the impact showed a huge amount of molecules that contain carbon. This might suggest that comets like Tempel 1 contain a substantial amount of organic material, which comets might have brought to Earth early in the planet's history.

Global Warming May Cause Water Shortages in Asia - Scientists are alarmed by the loss of Himalayan glaciers which is a major source of drinking water for the 40 percent of humanity living in South Asia and China. The glaciers supply 303.6 million cubic feet of water every year to Asian rivers, but they have been shrinking rapidly in the last few years. Almost 67 percent of the nearly 12,124 square miles of Himalayan glaciers are receding. As the ice diminishes, runoffs in summer that supply rivers will also go down, leading to severe water shortages in the region. The Gangotri glacier, which is the source of the Ganga River in India, is retreating at a rate of 75 feet a year. As an Indian scientist commented, "The situation here is more critical because here they depend on glaciers for drinking water while in other areas there are other sources of drinking water, not just glacial." Scientists suggest global warning is at least partly to blame for the changes.

Oldest Object Observed - Astronomers have discovered of the most distant and oldest object in the visible universe: a star that imploded to form a black hole some 12.7 billion years ago. Gamma rays and infrared light from this violent event have been traveling through about 90 percent of the history since the big bang before reaching Earth on Sept. 5th. The object, designated GRB050904, was detected by the orbiting Swift Gamma Ray Observatory, which in turn alerted astronomers with ground-based telescopes to take a closer look. Analysis of the spectrum of the infrared light from GRB050904 showed that it had an unprecedented "red shift" indicating that it had come a great distance. Scientists estimate that the universe was only 900 million years old when the star exploded.

NASA Plans Return to the Moon- NASA unveiled plans last month to return humans to the moon by the year 2018. The program which would cost $104 billion will have Apollo-style capsules sitting on top of boasters made from shuttle components. The new system will include a lander known as the crew exploration vehicle, or CEV. According to NASA it will be "designed to carry four astronauts to and from the moon, support up to six crew members on future missions to Mars, and deliver crew and supplies to the international space station." The CEV will be similar to the landing vehicle used during the Apollo missions, but three times larger. The first landing of a CEV on the moon is scheduled to take place in 2018. The last time NASA sent a manned mission to the moon was in 1975.


What's New at the Museum:

The Hitler Diaries - It would have been one of the greatest historical buys of the 20th century: Sixty-two handwritten volumes of a secret diary kept by Adolf Hitler. Der Stern Magazine thought they had the exclusive rights into one of the darkest minds of all time. Instead, they paid millions of dollars for a hoax. >Full Story


Ask the Curator:

Galactic Mystery - How long does it take our galaxy to make one rotation - John

Scientists estimate the sun makes its way around the our galaxy once every 250 million years. However, because galaxies are so large (our Milky Way galaxy is estimated to be around 72,000 light years across) and held together only by gravity, the hub spins faster and the outer edges slower. The sun is about two-thirds out from the center of our galaxy.

There is a mystery surrounding the rotation of galaxies. In order to stay in one piece any set of objects (like the stars, planets and gas in a galaxy) that rotates needs to balance the gravity created by its total mass against the speed of the rotation. If the rotation is too fast the gravity will not hold the galaxy together and it will fly apart. If it is too slow the galaxy will collapse on itself. When scientists started measuring the speeds that galaxies rotate they got a surprise. They were rotating way too fast. Often ten times faster than scientists would have expected based on the amount of mass of matter they could see inside the galaxy. The only explanation that seems to make sense is that there is some kind of "dark matter" in galaxies that cannot be seen. While many scientists have formulated theories about what the dark matter could be, nobody has been able to say for sure, which leaves us in the embarrassing situation of not know what the heck most of our universe is really made of!


In History:

Lights on the Water - On the night of October 4, 1967 two men driving along Shag Harbor in Nova Scotia noticed bright orange-red lights out at sea. Other vehicles, including a police car, stopped and watched the lights. With in an hour boats set out to investigate, but by the time they got to the area the lights had disappeared. The boats only found a bubbling, yellow froth 80 feet wide. There is no known explanation.


In the Sky:

Meteor Shower - October brings us one of the best meteor showers of the year: The Orionids. The best viewing will be on October 22nd after midnight. Look eastward toward the constellation Orion. You should expect to see between 20 and 30 meteors per hour, but a bright moon may make it difficult to view.



Los Angeles Lake Monster Captured - Gator wrangers captured a 180 pound 7 foot-long alligator nicknamed "Reggie" from a Los Angeles lake last month. The alligator had evaded capture for almost for weeks while attracting gator hunters from all over the United States. Two men were arrested for putting the former pet into the lake after it grew to large to keep in the home. The alligator was transported to the Los Angeles Zoo.


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 - Einstein's Big Idea - The story behind the world's most famous equation, E = mc2. On the PBS: October 11 at 8 p.m. ET/PT

Columbus: Secrets From the Grave - Columbus kept the truth of his identity carefully hidden. Claimed by Italians as the son of Genoa, he has been claimed the son of a privateer, a pope and a Jew. Follow a descendant of Columbus on a quest to discover her famous ancestor's true origins. On the Discovery Channel: OCT 16 @ 10:00 PM, OCT 17 @ 02:00 AM ET/PT

ILost Civilization of the Amazon- In 1542, Spanish conquistador Francisco de Orellana claimed to have found farming villages and huge walled cities along the Rio Negro river in the Amazon basin. No evidence was ever found of these civilizations until recently, in Bolivia's Mojos Plains. On The Science Channel: OCT 03 @ 09:00 PM, OCT 04 @ 12:00 AM, OCT 04 @ 04:00 AM, OCT 04 @ 10:00 AM, OCT 04 @ 02:00 PM, OCT 08 @ 05:00 PM, ET/PT.

When Yellowstone Erupts - A supervolcano lies beneath the beauty of Yellowstone Park. Scientists are challenged with predicting when the next super-eruption might take place - and advising on what will happen if this cataclysmic event occurs. On Science Channel: OCT 06 @ 08:00 PM, OCT 06 @ 11:00 PM, OCT 07 @ 03:00 AM, OCT 07 @ 09:00 AM, OCT 07 @ 01:00 PM, OCT 08 @ 01:00 PM ET/PT.

Alexander the Great: Murder Unsolved - Unravel one of the strangest mysteries of ancient times, the suspicious death of history's most extraordinary leader, Alexander the Great. Experts attempt to decipher if his early death at age 32 was caused by disease, excessive drinking or even murder. On Science Channel: OCT 23 @ 10:00 PM, OCT 24 @ 01:00 AM, OCT 24 @ 05:00 AM, OCT 24 @ 11:00 AM, OCT 24 @ 03:00 PM, OCT 30 @ 09:00 AM, ET/PT.

Meteors: Fire in the Sky - Meteors, comets, and asteroids cross the solar system to offer clues about our planet and universe. Can they destroy civilizations? Did they wipe out the dinosaurs? Have they brought life to our planet? And when will the next one hit? Aided by elaborate animation and live-action footage, we learn what these mysterious space rocks really are and imagine what likely happened 65-million years ago, when an object plowed into the Yucatan Peninsula. We see how certain spectacular meteor falls advanced our understanding of what they are and the danger that they pose. We talk to leading experts--astronomers and geologists including David Levy and Carolyn Shoemaker, co-discoverers of the Shoemaker-Levy comet that fell into Jupiter in 1994. And we talk to NASA scientists about recent missions to asteroids and comets and speculate on ways to move Earth-threatening asteroids and comets out of our way. Because it isn't a question of if but when the next deadly impact will take place. TVPG cc On History Channel: October 2 @ 8pm ET/PT.

Hitler's Lost Plan - In 1958, in a sweltering, converted torpedo factory in Alexandria, Virginia, historian Gerhard L. Weinberg was combing through massive stacks of documents that the U.S. had captured from Nazi Germany. In a faded green box, Weinberg came across an unknown prize--a secret book dictated by Adolf Hitler in 1928, the unpublished sequel to Mein Kampf. Mixed in with Hitler's racial hatred, the book contained shocking revelations of his master plan for continuous war. We follow the clues to its discovery and show the rigorous steps taken to authenticate the document--the book is considered legitimate. And we reveal the contents of the book, including Hitler's plan for global domination culminating in an invasion of America! On History Channel: October 13 @ 8pm ET/PT.



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