Science Over the Edge

A Roundup of Strange Science for the Month

Applet credit: Ed Hobbs

November 2000

In the News:

Dinos: Cold Blood for Long Necks? - For years scientists have thought sauropod dinosaurs used their long necks to browse from the tops of trees, but work by Dr. Roger Seymour from Adelaide University in Australia calls that into question. Seymour has done a study of the size of hearts needed to pump blood up the necks of animals. He estimates that a Barosaurus would need a heart that weighted more than 2000 kg to push blood up its vertical neck if the animal was warm-blooded. This seems extremely unlikely. If the sauropods were cold-blooded though, the lower metabolic rate of the animal would mean it could have used a slightly smaller heart. If that was the case the dinosaur would still need a considerably large and inefficient heart, but a vertical neck might be possible. It is also possible that the sauropods kept their necks in a horizontal position.

1000's of Near-Earth Asteroids - Scientists working on the Lincoln Near-Earth Asteroid Research program (LINEAR) have raised estimates saying that there are more than 1,100 asteroids greater than six-tenths of a mile in diameter in orbits close to Earth. An earlier estimate this year from a Jet Propulsion Laboratory study only projected 700. Scientists are concerned about these space rocks since a collision with Earth of a large asteroid might kill millions of people or even wipe life from the face of the Earth. An impact in 1908 in Siberia, of what may have been a relatively small asteroid, leveled over a 1,000 square miles of forest. Although the danger of an impact of a large asteroid is small, scientists would like to map the orbit of all near-Earth asteroids in the next ten to twenty years.

Send in the Clones, Don't Bother They're Here - Science is getting closer to being able to clone endangered or even extinct animals. In Iowa, a cow is carrying the cloned fetus of an endangered Asian gaur. Scientists created the gaur by collecting the DNA from a dead animal and inserting it into a cow's egg. The new gaur should be born this month. In Spain work is already underway to clone the extinct bucardo mountain goat. While these attempts may be successful, scientists are still a long way from re-creating dinosaurs, if that is possible at all, like in the movie Jurassic Park.

Laboratory Black Hole - Black holes are considered one of nature's most powerful and dangerous phenomena and Ulf Leonardt, a professor at St. Andrews University, intends to create one in his laboratory. Normally this would mean that the University and surrounding town would be sucked into the hole's enormous gravitational field and crushed. This black hole, though, will be "optical" sucking in only light. Leonardt intends to do this by using special material to slow down the light from its normal speed of 186,000 miles-a-second to 38 mph, a speed at which it can be pulled into the hole he plans to create.

Mammoth Germs - What happened to the Mammoths? For years scientists have been pondering why these giant creatures went extinct. Some theories include over hunting by early humans or climate changes. Ross MacPhee, a curator at the American Museum of Natural History thinks it may be something else entirely: germs. His theory is that a new disease, perhaps brought by migrating humans, killed off the mammoths along with other species that died at the same time. Other scientists think this idea unlikely, but MacPhee has spent the summer in Siberia digging up mammoth bones so he can examine the marrow they contain for signs of the supposed germs.

Listening at Loch Ness - Jan Sundberg, a Swedish cryptozoologist, last week started the most recent hunt for the Loch Ness monster. Sundberg will not search for the creature with a camera to get photographs - Sundberg admits "they are too easy to fake" - but with an underwater microphone originally designed to detect Soviet nuclear submarines. His expedition will record sounds in the Loch and compare them to sounds from known animals like eels, fish and seals to see if they have found something new. Sundberg says the last time they used the mic at the lake they heard "a large swooshing sound" that might have been an animal with big flippers moving through the water.

Court Sinks Treasure Hunters - Hunting for treasure wrecks may become a lot less lucrative if a U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision is not overturned by the Supreme Court. Ben Benson, owner of Sea Hunt Inc., is in a dispute with Spain over the ownership of two Spanish warships that sank off the coast of Virginia 200 years ago. He arranged with the State of Virginia to recover the treasure, but the court has said the rights to salvage the ships were not Virginia's to give, unless Spain had expressly abandoned the vessels. This, according to Benson, is a departure from 300 years of traditional admiralty law in which if counties did not look for sunken ships they owned within a given amount of time they lost the rights to them. If the ruling stands it could put billions of dollars of unrecovered treasure off limits to treasure hunters.


In History:

Mysterious Airship - On the evening of November 17th, 1896 hundreds of residents of Sacramento, California looked up to see what appeared to be a searchlight mounted on a airship moving across the sky. This was extremely unusual since neither the dirigible or the airplane had been invented yet. A wave of reports of mysterious airships moved across the country from West to East over the next few months, then stopped in Chicago. No convincing explanation for these sightings have ever been found.

Read more about the mysterious airship of 1896 here!


In the Sky:

Venus - November is a good month to take a look at the planet Venus. Go out and look toward the southwest about an hour after sunset. It will be low in the sky and very bright. Because it isn't always visible, people are often startled by the sight of it and the planet has been the source of many erroneous UFO reports.

Leonids Shower - On Saturday November 18 the Leonids meteor shower will be visible. Although the phenomenon takes its name from the constellation Leo where the shooting stars seem to radiate from, they can appear in any part of the sky.



Bigfoot's Tush? - In a mud wallow near Mount Adams in southern Washington an impression of a giant forearm, buttock, thigh and heel have been found. Each was 50 percent larger than that of an average 6-foot man. Was the maker a Sasquatch? Jeffery Meldrum, an anthropologist at Idaho State thinks it might be, saying the impression was "significant and compelling evidence" of the creature's existence.

Museum to Pay Ransom - The Bletchly Park Museum in Britain, scene of one of the most secret and successful codebeaking efforts during WWII, has agreed to pay $36,000 in ransom for a rare German Enigma coding machine. The machine, one of only three of that particular model left, was stolen in April from the museum. A ransom note was received by the museum saying that if the money was not paid the machine, worth about $145,000, would be destroyed.

Russian Space Ship for Sale - Looking for the souvenir to set off your den? How about a slightly used Soyuz TM-26 space capsule? For a mere $2.2 million you can own this piece of space history. The three-person capsule was launched into orbit in August of 1997 by Russia and spent 198 days in space. The capsule is now on sale at the


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.

Hitler's Lost Sub - A German U-boat from WWII lay on the bottom of the ocean undetected just off the coast of New Jersey for almost fifty years. Follow diver John Chatterton in this Nova episode as he explores the missing sub. A quest that takes six years and costs three lives. Airs 9PM on Nov. 14 on PBS.

Runaway Universe - Explore the riddle surrounding the repulsive force that some scientists believe counteracts gravity. Nova on PBS. Airs Nov. 21 at 9PM.

The Mummies Ultimate Guide- Discover the secret of an ancient world: How mummies were made and why they survive intact after thousands of years. On the Discovery Channel Nov. 4 at 3PM, Nov. 8 at 9PM and 1AM, Nov. 11 at 2PM ET/PT.

Egypt Uncovered: Mummies into the After Life - Perhaps the "curse" found on ancient Egyptian mummies will a blessing for modern man. By examining the organs of mummies researchers may be able to find ways to stop current disease's. On the Discovery Channel Nov. 8 at10PM and 2AM, Nov. 11 at 1PM.

Dinosaur Hunters of the Old West - While miners headed into the old west for gold, scientists went to look for dinosaur bones. Hear the story of Cope and Marsh, two rival paleontologists that fought the "Bone wars." Nov. 23 at 7AM ET/PT on the History Channel. Part of the Real West series.

The Ultimate Ten Unexplained Mysteries - This TLC special looks at aliens from outer space, spontaneous human combustion, and wandering spirits among other things. Nov. 4 at 6PM ET/PT.

Incredible But True? - Check out these episodes on the History Channel this month: The Loch Ness Monster Nov. 3 at 11PM, Nov.4 at 3AM and Nov. 5 at 5AM; The Abominable Snowman Nov.17 at 11PM, Nov.18 at 3AM, Nov. 19 at 5AM; Alien Hunters Nov. 10 at 11PM, Nov.11 at 3AM, Nov. 12 at 5AM, ET/PT.

Science Mysteries Extraterrestrial Life - Are we alone in the Universe? This Discovery Channel show takes a look at the mysteries surrounding supposed cases of alien abductions. Nov. 2 at 10PM, and 2AM, Nov. 4 at 4PM, ET/PT.


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