Science Over the Edge

A Roundup of Strange Science for the Month

Applet credit: Ed Hobbs

December 2000

In the News:

DNA to Solve Tut Mystery - The new science of DNA will finally resolve the mystery of whether King Tutankhamun was really part of the royal lineage of the pharaohs announced Gaballah Ali Gaballah, head of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities, this month. For years scientists have speculated on the relationship between Amenhotep IV and Tut who succeeded him. Tut ruled for just 6 or 7 years and died at age 17 some 3,300 years ago. The test will be conducted by scientists from Japan's Waseda University and Egypt's Ein Shams University. The scientists will compare DNA from Tut's mummy with the mummy of Amenhoptep III who was Amenhoptep IV father.

Feathery Fossil? - Scientists are debating over whether a dinosaur fossil discovered in 1969 pushes back the history of birds by 75 million years. A fossil of a small, lizard-like reptile known as Longisquama shows long flat shapes coming off the spine which some scientists have identified as feathers. If this is true than Longisquama may be part of a line of dinosaurs that eventually evolved into birds. Two Canadian researchers, in an article in this month's Nature, argue that the shapes in the fossil do not represent feathers, but long, thick scales. Hans-Dieter Sues and Robert R. Reisz of the University of Toronto say that the impressions left in the fossil are too thick for feathers and the feathery barbs running perpendicular to the "quill" up the center are actually a corrugated patterns on the scale. Other scientists disagree calling their conclusions "nonsense", while still others suspect that the fossil shows a transitional structure somewhere between a scale and a feather.

Old Meat-Eating Dino Inhabited Italy - Fossils found in northern Italy have been identified as a new species of meat-eating dinosaur. The Saltriosaur, named after the quarry where it was discovered, is one of the oldest carnivorous reptiles ever found. The animal, according to Giorgio Teruzzi of Milan's Museum of Natural History, was over 26 feet in length and had teeth almost 3 inches long. Saltriosaur lived in the early Jurassic period some 200 million years ago and is thought to be the oldest of the three-fingered dinosaurs. There is no indication it had feathers.

Andromeda Strain? - A high-altitude research balloon has collected a strange, living microbe from the edge of space. According to Chandra Wickramasinghe of Cardiff University in Wales, the bacteria, collected 10 miles up, is unlike any found on Earth causing speculation that the microbes may have been deposited by a passing comet or meteor. Other scientists argue that it might be possible for Earth microbes to live at that extended height or that the balloon's collection chamber might have been contaminated before the balloon was launched.

Find Turns Out to be Faked - Shinichi Fujimura, a leading Japanese archaeologist, admitted that he faked finds in his dig of a 600,000 year-old site some 186 miles north of Tokyo. Of the 65 artifacts found, Fujimura admits he planted 61 of them. The scandal came our after a newspaper ran three photos showing him digging holes at the site and burying the items. Fujimura has volunteered to resign from the Tohoku Paleolithic Institute where he was vice-chairman.

Asteroid Danger Downgraded - After reassessing the orbit of a mysterious object in space, scientists have lowered the estimate of the chances of it hitting the Earth from a high of 1-in-500. Originally there was concern that the object, either a piece of space junk or a small asteroid, would hit the Earth in the year 2030. However, additional observations of its movements refined the object's orbital path. Scientists think it will be pass safely by Earth that year but, NASA reports that it may pose a threat in the year 2071. If the object is a small asteroid it could do considerable damage to the region where it strikes the Earth.


What's New at the Museum:

The Christmas Star - Just what did the Magi see in the sky 2000 years ago that sent them on a 500 mile journey to Bethlehem? Bethlehem's Star.

Movie on Planet Motion - See what the Magi might have watched in the sky long ago in our Flash movie: Conjunctions and Occultations.

Mammoth Mystery - Just what happened to the Mammoth and Mastodons that roamed the world during the last last ice age? Did we do them in? The Mystery of the Missing Mammoths.

Mammoth Trap Movie - See how one-hundred mammoths wound up encased in stone in a sinkhole in South Dakota. Mammoth Trap: The Motion Picture.


In History:

Bigfoot? - On December 26, 1975, two teenage girls near Vaughn, Montana, were checking on horses when they observed a seven and one half foot tall, hairy, manlike creature at a distance of 200 yards. Hoping to frighten it off one of the girls fired a 22 rifle in the air twice. After the second shot the creature dropped to all fours and crawled to where it joined several other creatures of the same type. Authorities were skeptical of the girl's story until they submitted to a polygraph test, which they passed


In the Sky:

Geminid - In the mood for a meteor shower? Not as spectacular as the Leonids, the Geminid shower occurs on the night of December 13. Under good conditions you can see one shooting star a minute, but a bright moon will make observation this year a little more difficult. The shower can be observed best by getting a blanket and laying on the ground while looking up at the sky.



Court Fines Crop Circle Maker - A 29-year-old British man was fined when he admitted creating a crop circle on a farm field. Matthew Williams told the court he and a friend made a seven-pointed star in attempt to show that cope circles could be faked. The farmer, who did not give Matthew permission for the activity, claimed the pair did $300 worth of damage. Williams was fined $150.

Count Dracula having Troubles - Count Dracula is having problem with the locals. In this case its not the peasants, but neo-nazis. Ottomar Rodolphe Vlad Dracula Prince Kretzulesco is adopted son of the Princess Kretsulesco Caradja and heir of the 15th century Transylvanian prince who inspired Bram Stoker's story. The 60-year-old German owns an estate near Berlin which he has turned into a restaurant using the Dracula name as an attraction. Dracula has been having trouble with local neo-nazis who apparently have defaced his property because it at one time belonged to a prominent Jewish family.


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.

Pyramids - This History Channel world premier tells the stories of the great pyramids from the Egyptian monuments, to the Luxor Hotel in Las Vegas, to the Transamerica Tower in San Francisco. Dec. 27 at 9PM and 11PM ET and 10PM 12AM PT.

Biblical Disasters - Travel back to ancient times as this History Channel world premier explores the earthquakes, floods and other disasters detailed in the Bible. Can we find modern evidence of their existence? Dec. 23 at 9PM and Dec. 25 at 12PM and 5PM ET/PT.

Unwrapped: The Mysterious World of Mummies - Discover the secrets of the ancient mummies in this series of specials from TCL. Mummies Revealed Dec.3 and 8 at 8PM, 11PM and Dec. 9 at 5PM. The Power of Mummies Dec. 3 and 8 at 9PM and Midnight and Dec. 9 at 6PM. Secrets of the Mummies Dec. 3 and 8 at 10PM and 1AM and Dec. 9 at 7PM ET/PT.

Inside the Space Station - Meet the people who are building the International Space Station on this Discovery Channel Special. Dec. 17 at 6PM, Dec. 18 at 9PM and 1AM and Dec. 23 at 5PM ET/PT.

The Great Siberian Explosion - In 1908 a something fell out of the sky with enough force to level hundreds of square miles of forest. What was it? Find out what this Discovery Channel has to say about it. Dec. 7 at 9PM and 1AM repeats Dec. 9 at 5PM. ET/PT.

How Did Dinosaurs Fly? - Some people think that birds descended from dinosaurs. In this episode in the Science Mysteries scientists explain how they think dinos learned to fly. On the Discovery Channel. Dec. 7 at 10PM and 2AM repeats Dec. 9 at 4PM ET/PT.

Sea Serpent - Part of the Into the Unknown series on the Discovery Channel. Tales of sea monsters are as old as sailing. Are they true? Dec. 15 9:30PM and 1:30PM repeats Dec. 16 at 12:30PM ET/PT.

Atlantis- The Lost Continent - Explore the mystery and myth surrounding the legend of Atlantis. Dec. 5 at 9PM and 12AM ET/PT on TCL.



Science over the Edge Archives

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Copyright Lee Krystek 2000. All Rights Reserved.