Science Over the Edge

A Roundup of Strange Science for the Month

Applet credit: Ed Hobbs

November 2008

In the News:

3-D Displays on the Way? - Scientists at the University of Arizona have figured out how to make the first updatable three-dimensional displays with memory. "This is a prerequisite for any type of moving holographic technology. The way it works presently is not suitable for 3-D images," said Dr Nasser Peyghambarian, chair of photonics and lasers at the university's Optical Sciences department. While the technology is far from perfected Peyghambarian says he does not see any more major barriers to using it to create 3-dimensional televisions and computer displays within the next ten years.

Secret Files Reveal Orders to Shoot Down UFO - Recently released secret files published by Britain's National Archives indicate that a United States fighter jet operating out of Royal Air Force Station at Manston, England, was ordered to shoot down a UFO. The incident, which happened on the night of May 20, 1957, involved two jets sent over the North Sea to intercept a massive blip with an unusual flight pattern that appeared on radar. "The blip was burning a hole in the radar with its incredible intensity," the pilot said. "It was similar to a blip I had received from B-52's and seemed to be a magnet of light. ... I had a lock on that had the proportions of a flying aircraft carrier." One fighter pilot, who could only see the object on radar because of heavy cloud cover, was order to fire a salvo of missiles at it. Before he could launch them, however, the object disappeared from his radar apparently shooting away from him at incredible speeds. Retired US airman Milton Torres told Britain's Sky News that he was the pilot and had spent half a century trying to discover the truth about his encounter. "I had not the foggiest idea what had actually occurred, nor would anyone explain anything to me," the pilot said. He said afterwards he was led to a man in civilian clothes, who "advised me that this would be considered highly classified and that I should not discuss it with anybody not even my commander," he said.

Acrobatic Flying Robot Designed After Pterodactyl - Sankar Chatterjee, a paleontologist from Texas Tech University, and aerospace engineer Richard Lind, from the University of Florida, are teaming up to build the next generation of futuristic aircraft based on the design of a 225-million-year-old pterodactyl. Tapejara wellnhoferi had an unusual crest on his forehead that acted like a rudder. Though such a design is very unstable it allowed the creature to make sharp turns and perform difficult acrobatic maneuvers. The scientists are cooperating on a flying robot that would use the same design. "It's nice to have something stable, but the military is interested in having aircraft that can fly down into cities between buildings, avoiding wires and stuff like that," observed Sean Humbert of the University of Maryland. "This is a good design if you want to do crazy acrobatic maneuvers."

Magnet Approved to Treat Depression - Though it sounds more like a quack cure then serious medicine, the FDA has approved the use of magnetic stimulation to treat depression. The device beams magnetic pulses through the skull that trigger small electrical charges that spark brain cells to fire. Proponents claim that it doesn't have the risks of surgically implanted electrodes or shock therapy. The technique, called transcranial magnetic stimulation or TMS, has been developed by Neuronetics Inc.'s. The NeuroStar therapy is specifically for patients who had no relief from their initial antidepressant and offers them a different solution than trying pill after pill.

Oldest Doggie Found - An international team of scientists think that they have discovered the remains of the oldest known dog. It lived about 31,700 years ago and subsisted on a diet of horse, musk ox and reindeer. The second oldest dog found in Russia, dates to only 14,000 years ago. This new evidence which was found in Goyet Cave in Belgium, suggests to that the Aurignacian people of Europe first domesticated dogs." In shape, the Paleolithic dogs most resemble the Siberian husky, but in size, however, they were somewhat larger, probably comparable to large shepherd dogs," remarked Germonpré, a paleontologist at the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences who contributed to the study to be published in the Journal of Archaeological Science.


Science Quote of the Month - "Men love to wonder, and that is the seed of science." - Ralph Waldo Emerson.


What's New at the Museum:

The Aquatic Ape Hypothesis - A Zoology Professor's controversial theory about how the dwelling in water may have affected the evolution of man may explain issues from our lack of body hair to our affinity for expensive beach-front property. > Full Story

Steampunk Fun - A nostalgic look at a past that never was.>Full Story


Ask the Curator:

Baghdad Battery for Electric Cars? - "Has the Babylon battery on your site ever been tested out for a power source for cars? How about lamps etc.?" - Sheryl Skoglund

In 1938 the German archeologist Wilhelm Konig discovered an object in the Baghdad museum's collection that looked to him like it might be the remains of a battery: a clay jar which seemed to have an iron bar running from the top surrounded by a copper cylinder ( Other scientists disagreed with his idea claiming the jars might have been used to contain scrolls or have some other purpose, but Konig published his conjecture in 1940 and people have been fascinated with the possibility ever since.

Several people have actually made replicas of the Baghdad Battery and tried it on different applications. The voltage produced is pretty low compared to modern batteries. Perhaps a half volt. (Your everyday AAA battery produces one and one half volts.) This might be sufficient to light a LED bulb, but given the size of the ancient battery, it really has no modern practical use. It has been suggested that the ancients might have used it to electroplate objects.

What is amazing about the battery - if that is truly what it is - is that it exists at all. It was thought the discovery of how to make electricity though a chemical reaction was not discovered until beginning of the 19th century. The battery, and other devices like the Antikythera Mechanism (, which is a mechanical computer used to predict the movement of the stars, suggest that the ancients knew a lot more about technology that we originally appreciated.

For a video excerpt from Mysterious World demonstrating both of these objects, check out

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

In History:

Australian Big Cats - Australia has no wild cat species (the Tasmanian tiger was actually a marsupial), yet occasionally large black panthers are reported. These reports are often linked with attacks on sheep or other stock animals. When cryptozoologist Paul Cropper investigated the report of one of these mysterious black cats being killed on the Cambewarra Range in 1977, however, he found that it was only a large house cat gone feral.

In the Sky:

Planetary Conjunction - As November rolls along the planets Venus and Jupiter will move closer and closer together until on the 30th they will be only 2 degrees apart in the sky. This close encounter between two of the brightest objects in the heavens is called a conjunction. Be sure to look for it just after sunset near the constellation Sagittarius.



Project Yeti Captures Foot Prints - A team of Japanese adventurers think they have found the tracks of the elusive yeti (sometimes called the abominable snowman) on Dhaulagiri IV -- a 7,661-meter (25,135-foot) peak in the Himalayas. "The footprints were about 20 centimeters (eight inches) long and looked like a human's," stated Yoshiteru Takahashi, the leader of the Yeti Project. "Myself and other team members have been coming to the Himalayas for years and we can recognize bear, deer, wolf and snow leopard prints and it was none of those," he added. This was the group's third attempt to track down the legendary creature. The team set up nine motion-sensitive cameras in an area where they thought they had seen a yeti in 2003, but did not get any photos. "We remain convinced it is real. The footprints and the stories the local tell make us sure that it is not imaginary," said Takahashi. "We will come back as soon as we can, and we will keep coming back until we get the yeti on film."


On the Tube:

Please check local listing for area outside of North America.

Nova: Alien From Earth - Do the remains of a tiny hobbit-like creature found on the Island of Flores belong to a new human species? On PBS. November 11 at 8 pm.

Nazi UFO Conspiracy - A credible investigation of possible connections between UFO sightings in the past half century and secret flying saucer technologies developed by the Nazis in WW2. On the Discovery Channel. Nov 09, 8:00 pm; Nov 10, 12:00 am; ET/PT

Investigation X: Siberian Apocalypse - Colossal Squid is a landmark television event that presents the dramatic capture of a massive squid off the coast of Antarctica, and the groundbreaking research to discover the secrets of one of the ocean's most ellusive and mysterious creatures. On the Discovery Channel. Nov 03, 9:00 pm; Nov 04, 1:00 am; Nov 10, 12:00 pm; Nov 15, 9:00 pm; Nov 16, 1:00 am; ET/PT

Parallel Universe - The strange notion of parallel universes is gaining strength in the scientific community and may solve our most basic questions about the universe, including the origins of the Big Bang itself. On the Science Channel. Nov 09, 9:00 pm; Nov 10, 12:00 am; Nov 11, 4:00 am; ET/PT

Secrets of the Deep - For the first time ever, advanced computer graphics will light the infinite vistas of the ocean. The largest habitat on earth has remained impentrable, until now. On the Science Channel. Nov 10, 8:00 pm; Nov 10, 11:00 pm;Nov 11, 3:00 pm; Nov 12, 3:00 am; ET/PT

Decoding The Past Episode: Doomsday 2012: The End of Days - There are prophecies and oracles from around the world that all seem to point to December 21, 2012 as doomsday. The ancient Mayan Calendar, the medieval predictions of Merlin, the Book of Revelation and the Chinese oracle of the I Ching all point to this specific date as the end of civilization. A new technology called "The Web-Bot Project" makes massive scans of the internet as a means of forecasting the future... and has turned up the same dreaded date: 2012. Skeptics point to a long history of "Failed Doomsdays", but many oracles of doom throughout history have a disturbingly accurate track record. As the year 2012 ticks ever closer we'll speculate if there are any reasons to believe these doomsayers. On The History Channel. Tuesday, November 11 08:00 PM; Wednesday, November 12 12:00 AM ; ET/PT.



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