Science Over the Edge

A Roundup of Strange Science for the Month

Applet credit: Ed Hobbs

December 2001

In the News:

British Agency Gives Up Flying Saucer Investigations - The British Directorate of Intelligence announced that they are officially abandoning the search for UFOs after more than 50 years of looking for them. A spokesman said that modern radar systems have become so sophisticated that they can discount the vast majority of reports as aircraft or atmospheric conditions and the remaining reports are not worth the time, resources and effort to investigate. A small internal UFO desk will continue to be staffed to receive sightings but no action is expected to be taken on the incidents.

Egyptians Find Roman City in Nile Delta - A 2,000-year-old Roman city in the Nile Delta has been discovered by a team of Egyptian archaeologists. The city includes a rectangular-shaped building which is the remains of an ancient winery, according to Egypt's head of antiquities Gaballah Ali Gaballah. He added that the Romans came to Egypt when they conquered Queen Cleopatra in 30 BC, and that the newly found city dates back to about the first century AD. The archeologists made their discovery at Kom Nagierea, near the Mediterranean city of Alexandria, a region of Egypt that still produces red and white wines today.

Witches Cleared After Only 300 Years - A bill that exonerated the accused witches hanged in Salem, Massachusetts, 1692 and 1693 was approved by acting Governor Jane Swift last Halloween. Descendants of those executed during the witch hunts applauded as the 300-year controversy came to an end. "It's a great thing," said Sharon Tirone, whose ancestor Sara Wildes was hanged in 1711. Twenty-four men and women were put to death or died in prison during the witch hunt. The bill cleared Susannah Martin, Bridget Bishop, Alice Parker, Margaret Scott and Wilmot Redd.

Unusual Northern Lights Alarm U.S. - The aurora borealis, or Northern Lights, rarely seen beyond Canada and Alaska, were visible as far south as Georgia and Alabama for a few days in November. The display alarmed residents of the Eastern United States, some of whom called authorities fearing that a plane had gone down or that the lights were somehow related to terrorist activities. Scientists think a large solar flare caused the lights to be visible farther south than is typical. The aurora borealis occurs when charged particles coming from the sun interact with gases in Earth's atmosphere.

Explosion Damages Lab - An accident at a Japanese physics laboratory near Tokyo has shut down one of only two neutrino detectors in the world causing some $16.61 million worth of damage. The detector is a huge tank 128 feet in diameter and 135 feet long filled with purified water and located more than half a mile down inside a zinc mine. Neutrinos are nearly mass-less particles which can penetrate almost anything. The tank is located underground to shield it from any particle but a neutrino. Over 10,000 light sensors in the tank are used to detect when a neutrino arrives. The tank was just being refilled with water after maintenance when the accident happened. Technicians working nearby felt explosions from the next room. It is estimated that half of the light sensors in the tank will have to be replaced. The cause of the accident is unknown, but an investigation is underway. The accident will probably delay the study of neutrinos and research on the structure of matter itself.

First Atmosphere Found Outside of Solar System - For the first time an atmosphere on a planet outside our solar system has been detected. Scientists using the Hubble Space Telescope, NASA's orbiting observatory, were able to look at a planet located orbiting around a sun-like star about 150 light-years away in the constellation Pegasus. The planet passes right in front of its star, relative to the line-of-sight from Earth, which makes it unique among the 80 or so planets so far discovered beyond the solar system. Scientists were able to make observations of the planet's atmosphere as it filtered the light from its parent star. Though the chemicals in the atmosphere do not suggest the planet harbors life, scientists are hopeful that this technique might be uses to identify planets that do.

Cloned Human Embryo - A team of researchers from the private firm Advanced Cell Technology in Worcester, Massachusetts, announced last month that they had cloned a human embryo. The cloned embryos died soon after and were not meant to be transplanted into a woman's womb to develop into a baby. The scientists claimed that their interest in using this method is for harvesting genetic material for disease research, not in cloning people. Other scientists fear, however, a backlash of public disapproval of this technique could stymie important research.


What's New at the Museum:

The X-Planets - Throughout the centuries astronomers have searched for new planets, often without success. Is there a 10th planet in our solar system still waiting to be found, or is looking for it simply a wild goose chase? The X-Planets

Weird Geology: Ringing Rocks - Read about the strange ringing rocks of Bucks County, Pennsylvania and how they inspired the first rock concert! Ringing Rocks

Season Special: If you haven't already read our speculations about the Star of Bethlehem, this is the time of year to do it! - Bethlehem's Star


Ask the Curator:

Sasquatch - I'm doing a report on the Sasquatch and I am having a hard time finding what I need. Here are some questions I have: How tall is the Sasquatch? Where does it live? What percent of fur is covering its body? How did it survive the eruptions on Mount Saint Helens? What does the word Sasquatch mean? Who was the first person to see one? - Jessica

I will tell you what I can, but remember nobody has ever captured or even proved that a sasquatch (bigfoot) exists. We have only legends and few tracks and unconfirmed sightings to go on.

Name: Sasquatch translates roughly to "hairy giant" in an Indian language.

Height: Witnesses have reported seeing animals that are as big or bigger than a man ranging up to eight or even ten feet in height. These measurements are probably inaccurate as a witness seeing something like this is usually get excited and/or scared and tends to overestimate the size of what they see.

Hair: Witnesses have said the animal was "very hairy" and the hair is often described as "long." Since no animal has ever been captured (assuming they exist) there are no scientific measurements of the percent of body covered by hair.

History:The earliest reports of the sasquatch come from Indian legends pervious to the arrival of the white man. The first sighting of a sasquatch by a white man apparently came in 1811 near what now is the town of Jasper, Alberta, Canada. A trader named David Thompson found some strange footprints, fourteen inches long and eight inches wide, with four toes, in the snow.

Range: Most sasquatch reports come from the Pacific Northwest and western Canada, though there have been some reports of a creature like this as far east and south as Florida. The town of Willow Creek in northern California, has declared itself the capital of BigFoot country and in the center of the village stands a wooden, life-size carving of the creature.

Mt. St Helens: If there were sasquatch close to the explosion they probably did not survive. Almost all large animal life was extinguished in the immediate area. However, only a small portion of their possible range would have been effected by the eruption.

Time Travel - Is time travel possible? -Rowell

The answer is yes and maybe. We all travel forward in time everyday. To move forward in time faster than the normal rate one needs only to accelerate themselves to near the speed of light. According to physicist William A. Hiscock, the time-dialation effect as described in Einstein's Special Relativity shows that time slows for an object as it is Accelerated. If you had a spaceship that could take you to the center of the galaxy and back at near the speed of light the trip would last 60,000 earth years, but time would slow down for you so you'd be a little more than 40 years older than when you left!

Traveling backwards in time is more tricky, but so far nothing in Quantum theory has ruled out the possibility. It may be that particles on the subatomic scale often travel backward in time. However, in trying to build a practical time machine to transport something as large as a human being you would soon come up against some tremendous engineering problems such as how to create, enlarge and control a wormhole. Many physicists are fascinated by the idea time travel and they will continue to study on not only whether it may be possible but also how it might be done.

For more information on this fascinating subject check out:


In History:

Giant Squid Report Discounted - On December 30th, 1861, at a meeting of the French Academy of Sciences, the official report of the gunboat Alecton was read to the members. The report detailed an attempt by the crew of the ship, in November of that year, to capture a giant squid they found off the Canary Islands. One of the members of the Academy, Arthur Mangin, intimating that the crew were either lying or hallucinating, observed that no man of science should give credence to such stories as the existence of such a creature would be "...a contradiction of the great laws of harmony and equilibrium which have sovereign rule over living nature as well as senseless and inert matter."

Of course Mr. Mangin was completely wrong. Today the existence of the giant squid is well accepted by science and we know the crew of the Alecton saw exactly what they reported.


In the Sky:

Geminid Meteor Shower - How about those Leonids last month! If you missed the spectacular Leonid meteor shower last month try the Geminid meteor shower on December 13th. It should reach its peak about 10PM in the evening. While it will be a good show, don't expect the kind of activity seen last month, which was a once-in-a-lifetime event. A good Geminid show will produce about one shooting star a minute.



Chupacabra Strikes in Mexico? - In the Mexican state of Chihuahua there are rumors that there is a vampire on the loose. According to reports, farmer Ramiro Parra Gonzalez told police he discovered the bodies of 35 of his sheep, dead, each without a drop of blood in their bodies and small bite marks on their necks. The farmer believes the attack was the work of the legendary "chupacabra" or "goat-sucker" creature that seems to haunt the Latin American world. Other relatives of the Gonzalez have reported similar attacks involving sheep and pigs.


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.

The Spanish Armada - In 1588, when King Phillip II unleashed his massive fleet of galleons against the English, only the valiant efforts of a ragtag navy led by dashing pirate Sir Francis Drake prevented Spain from achieving world domination. Or so the story goes. New archaeological finds might hold the key to what really happened to the "invincible" Armada. Part of the History Channel's History's Mysteries series. Dec 13 11:00 PM, Dec 26 8:00 PM.

History Special Presentation: The Gold Wars - Throughout history, gold sparked man's imagination with dreams of riches and power; it built empires and destroyed civilizations. On the History Channel. Dec 26 8:00 PM and Dec 27 12:00 AM

Walking with Prehistoric Beasts -A landmark three-hour mini-series that sweeps through time from 49 million BC to 30,000 years ago to explore the rise of mammals. On the Discovery Channel: Dec 9 7:00 PM 10:00 PM, Dec 13 8:00 PM 11:00 PM, Dec 16 5:00 PM.

Women Pharaohs - Cleopatra, Nefertiti, Nefertari, and Hatshepsut were icons of beguiling beauty and power that once dominated ancient Egypt. A startling new discovery unveils the secrets of their charms. On the Discovery Channel: Dec 12 8:00 PM, Dec 12 12:00 AM, Dec 15 12:00 PM.

Ancient Puzzles - For centuries people have puzzled over secret codes, ancient puzzles and the enigmatic Egyptian pyramids. New research leads to startling theories about these time-honored mysteries. On the Discovery Channel: Dec 20 8:00 PM, Dec 20 12:00 AM, Dec 22 5:00 PM.

Methuselah Tree - Ten thousand feet up in California's White Mountains lives the oldest living thing on Earth. It is a bristlecone pine that was around when the Egyptian Pyramids were built. Ironically, after weathering all the droughts, high winds, and lightning strikes that must have struck over the millennia, the nearly 5,000-year-old Methuselah Tree now faces threats from the one force of nature that seemingly can do it harm: people. PBS's Nova Dec 11, 8:00 PM.

Search for Alien Life - Throughout the twentieth century, scientists have searched for life in distant galaxies, but they are no closer to solving this mystery. NASA scientists and others are convinced the answer is at hand. On TCL: Dec 4 10:00, PM Dec 4 1:00 AM, Dec 8 4:00 PM.

Atlantis in the Andes - Using Plato's writings, modern day cartographer and aerial intelligence interpreter for England's Royal Air Force, Jim Allen believes he has found the mystical city of Atlantis. Travel to the high peaks of the Bolivian Andes where he claims the city lies. On TCL: Dec 6 9:00 PM, Dec 6 12:00 AM.

Abominable Snowman - Search for the legendary abominable snowman of the Himalayas. Travel to unexplored areas of Bhutan, the remote kingdom between India and Nepal. Take a look at eye-witness testimony and remains analyzed by a world expert on DNA. On TCL: Dec 6 10:00 PM, Dec 6 1:00 AM

Mysterious Places - Travel to awe-inspiring places of mystery throughout the world: Nevada's Area 51, the Batu Caves, Stonehenge, the Shrine of Lourdes, Vaithirswarankoil, the Catacombs, Nazca Lines, the Bermuda Triangle, Loch Ness and Atlantis. On TCL: Dec 11 9:00 PM, Dec 11 12:00 AM, Dec 15 3:00 PM.

Best Kept Secrets of Paranorma - Explore the frightening yet intriguing world of the supernatural. Meet a unique breed of psychic known as an "earth sensitivist" who sees and talks to the dead, Ronald Reagan's astrologer and psychic entertainer, Yan Bardi. On TCL: Dec 18 9:00 PM, Dec 18 12:00 AM, Dec 22 3:00 PM.

Loch Ness Monster: The Search For the Truth - Delve into the rumors that surround the legendary beast of the murky depth's of Scotland's Loch Ness. On TCL: Dec 18 10:00 PM, Dec 18 1:00 AM, Dec 22 4:00 PM.



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