Science Over the Edge

A Roundup of Strange Science for the Month

Applet credit: Ed Hobbs

October 2007

In the News:

Ancient Collision Started Dino Killing Meteorite on its Way - Scientists have managed to trace the path of the meteorite that killed the dinosaurs back to a collision in the asteroid belt some 140-190 million years ago. According to astronomers, a giant parent asteroid 105 miles across was orbiting the innermost region of the belt when it was hit by another asteroid that was just 37 miles wide. The collision shattered the larger object into 140,000 pieces each at least a half mile across. One of three pieces that were at least six miles across, was pulled into Earth's path by gravity and hit the planet 65 million years ago. The resulting impact changed the climate and is thought to have killed of the dinosaurs. Other pieces may have hit Mars, Venus and the moon creating the 52-mile lunar crater Tycho. Scientists came to this conclusion by using a computer program to simulate the movement of the asteroids after the collision.

Alex the Parrot Dies - A remarkable African gray parrot that helped revolutionize scientific thinking about the avian brain has died. Alex had been a research animal at Brandeis University with scientist Irene Pepperberg for 30 years. Over that period he had learned enough English to identify 50 objects, seven colors and five shapes. He could also count up to six, including zero. He even expressed his frustration with doing the repetitive research. Alex was discovered dead in his cage on September 7th. So far a cause has not been released. African parrots can live up to fifty years.

"Hobbits" had Ape Wrist - Scientists examining the "hobbit" fossil from Indonesia have discovered that it has a set of wrist bones more like that of an ape, than of a modern man. This provides support for the the idea that the "hobbits" (whose proper scientific name is Homo floresiensis) are another branch of hominin, not just a modern human with a with a physical disorder. When the specimen was discovered on the Indonesian island of Flores in 2003, scientists argued whether the three foot-high creature was really a separate species or not. The remains found are about 18,000 years old which means that the hobbits lived on the planet at the same time as modern humans. It is unknown if they shared their island home with our ancestors.

Dinos not "All for One and One for All" - Scientists have taken another look at evidence for cooperative "pack" hunting among carnivorous dinosaurs and reached a completely different conclusion. The study, published in the Bulletin of the Peabody Museum of Natural History, suggests that in at least one case, instead of working together to bring down a prey dinosaurs, the dinos were fighting over the carcass and even eating each other. The evidence comes from the remains of four Deinonychus type dinosaurs found surrounding their probable prey, an 8 to 10-foot-tall Tenontosaurus. This was originally thought to show that the dinosaurs were working as a pack to bring the animal down, and in the fight they had been killed. An examination of one of the "pack," however, shows that it had been bitten by one of its own kind. Researchers now think that the Tenontosaurus carcass may have attracted several Deinonychus, who then fought over it. One of the larger carnivorous dinosaurs may have decided to eat one of the smaller ones as it might have provided a more tasty meal than the Tenontosaurus which could have been sitting around for a while. The idea that dinosaurs were somewhat cannibalistic is supported by observations of some of their living relatives like Komodo Dragons, crocodiles and some predatory birds.

The Real Andromeda Strain? - In a story that echo's Michael Crichton 1969 thriller The Andromeda Strain, scientists have discovered that strains of a salmonella bacteria that spent almost two weeks in space last year as a part of an experiment apparently got more deadly because of their exposure to micro-gravity. The microorganism Salmonella typhimurium, which is often connected to food poisoning, was contained in a special growth chamber during its flight on the space shuttle and was then compared with control samples living back on earth during the same period. The space bugs appear to have become more virulent because of the trip. This information will assist researchers in understanding how bacteria is affected by environmental factors. It also suggests that getting a case of food poisoning on a space mission might be a very unpleasant experience.


What's New at the Museum:

Oil and Triumph of Nazi Germany - Alternate History: Could the war have ended with the Axis powers ruling most of the world and America cowering on the other side of the globe? >Full Story

War of the Worlds - The war begins! Check out the second chapter in our new graphic novel >Full Story


Ask the Curator:

Weird Findings - What do you do if you find pieces of a creature unlike that of anything of this earth? - Charlie

Probably your best bet, when trying to identify an unknown animal (extraterrestrial or not) is to contact a biologist professor at a local college or university. They will be familiar with animals in your area and can eliminate some possibilities of an unusual, but earthly species. Most scientists would jump at the chance to identify a new species (even an earthly one) if given the chance. If they find one, they get to write a paper on it and they become famous (at least within the biology world).

This goes for fossils too. If you find a fossil, which you think might be something significant you can contact a geologist or paleontologist at a local college or university. It could be an important find. It has happened before:

In 1974 a contractor working on a housing development in South Dakota came across some strange bones. His son, who was a college student, recognized them as fossils and contacted a university. Scientists came out and examined the location and immediately discovered the remains of at least four Columbian Mammoths. Later excavations revealed that the location was an ancient sinkhole which had trapped mammoths for centuries and was a treasure trove of important fossils. The housing project was abandoned and a museum built on the location: The South Dakota Mammoth Site near Hot Springs. It's great place to learn about mammoths while visiting South Dakota.

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


In History:

Chicago Kangaroo - On October 18, 1974, two police officers in Chicago's northwest side came upon a most unusual sight: a five-foot-tall kangaroo. The officers attempted to bring it in by handcuffing it, but after giving one of the policemen several hard kicks on the shin, it escaped into the night. Following this incident kangaroo reports started popping up not just in Chicago, but all over the Midwest. Then all of a sudden the reports ceased and the kangaroos, which were never killed or captured, mysteriously disappeared.


In the Sky:

Orionid Meteor Shower Makes a Showing - The Orionid meteor shower will be very visible on the night of October 20th. Best viewing may be after midnight when the quarter moon will have set. The Orionid meteors appear to emerge from the constellation Orion, but are actually debris left behind in the wake of comet Halley. You can expect to see 30 to 40 meteors per hour zoom across the sky during this appearance.



New Analysis Shows Big Headed People Just a Little Bit Smarter - A new analysis of a 1939 study suggests there may indeed be a small correlation between head size and IQ. Jeremy Genovese, an associate professor of human development and educational psychology at Cleveland State University, did the new study by using computers to analyze data collected about 676 male inmates at the Concord Reformatory in Massachusetts. Using statistical methods unavailable to the original researchers, Genovese was able to establish a small, but definite relationship. Genovese admits that head size and IQ may not be dependent on each other, but linked to some other factor, like fitness, that might influence both. Scientists have long tried to connect some physical attribute like head size or head shape with IQ but have gotten mixed results.


On the Tube:

Please check local listing for area outside of North America.

Nova:  Secrets of the Samurai Sword- Examine the thousand-year-old art and science behind the making of a Japanese warrior's key weapon. On PBS. October 9 at 8 pm.

Ghost in Your Genes- Experts investigate how a mysterious "second genome" helps determine our biological fates. On PBS. October 16 at 8 pm.

Passport to Pluto...and Beyond - NASA's New Horizons mission is exploring the "new frontier" of the outer reaches of our solar system, solving the mysteries of Pluto and beyond. Meet the scientists who have waited their whole lives for this mission and see what surprises they'll reveal. On Science Channel. Oct 09, 9:00 pm, Oct 10, 12:00 am, Oct 10, 4:00 am, Oct 10, 10:00 am, Oct 14, 5:00 pm.

Pacific Abyss- In this real-life adventure, the ABYSS team's challenge is to journey to the bottom of Truk Lagoon, the watery graveyard for 5000 men -- the shipwrecks and sunken fighter planes of the Second World War. On Science Channel. Oct 18, 9:00 pm, Oct 19, 12:00 am, Oct 19, 4:00 am, Oct 19, 10:00 am, Oct 20, 1:00 pm.

Unfolding Universe - A team of astronomers and scientists try to pinpoint the location of a strange presence hidden deep in the core of the galaxy. What they find in this mysterious realm harbors clues to the origin of the world and a future course to the galaxy and universe. On Science Channel. Oct 27, 9:00 pm, Oct 28, 12:00 am, Oct 28, 4:00 am.

Lost Worlds :Al Capone's Secret City- Part of the Lost Worlds series. On The History Channel. Oct 03 09:00PM.

Lost Worlds :Lost Superpower of the Bible- Part of the Lost Worlds series. On The History Channel. Oct 10 09:00PM.

Special :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. On The History Channel. Saturday, October 13 08:00 PM; Saturday, October 13 08:00 PM; Sunday, October 14 12:00 AM; Thursday, October 18 08:00 AM; Thursday, October 18 02:00 PM



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