Science Over the Edge

A Roundup of Strange Science for the Month

Applet credit: Ed Hobbs

December 2003

In the News:

Jesus Related Ossuary May Be Real - A panel of experts have said a startling archeological find that Israeli authorities have labeled a hoax may indeed be genuine after all. In October of 2002 antiquities dealer Odred Golan came forward claiming he had an ancient ossuary, or burial box, inscribed with the words "James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus." Israel's Antiquities Authority examined the box and declared that though the object itself was ancient, the inscription was recent and accused Golan of forging it. Panelists last month at a meeting of the American Academy of Religion and the Society of Biblical Literature contend that the Antiquities Authority may have been too quick judge the box and should examine it more closely. The case turns on a missing layer of "patina" that covers the box everywhere except in parts of the inscription. The existence of the patina indicates great age, but according to the panel, it may have been removed from the inscription accidentally by overcleaning.

Help Promised for Aging Easter Moai - Relief may be coming for the aging statues on Easter Island in the form of an $11.5 million contract awarded to a German company to preserve the ancient artwork. The statues, called Moai, have been deteriorating for centuries exposed to rain, fire and souvenir hunters. The preservation plan would coat the statues with chemicals designed to prevent water from entering the rock and widening existing cracks. In addition to the historical loss if the Moai are destroyed, it would also ruin the tourism trade which brings 20,000 visitors and $3 million a year to this tiny Island which is the most remotely inhabited location in the world. The mysterious Moai, which number 870, were carved by the ancient people of Easter from volcanic rock using primitive tools. Then they were then hauled across the island to huge platforms near the shore. Some of the Moai are 18 feet high and weigh 82 tons.

New Whale Species Found - Scientists think they may have discovered a new species of whale. The creatures, which grow as long as 30 feet, are a variety of baleen whale which get their food by straining water for tiny plankton. The discovery, if confirmed, would be remarkable. While new species of small insects, reptiles and birds are found every year it is unusual to identify a new, large mammal. The discovery was made by a group of Japanese researchers who examined the DNA of several whale carcasses. The whales had at first been identified as undersized examples of another baleen species, the fin whale

Scientists Study Flatulent Fish - Scientists have been amazed to find that herring may be communicating which each other by making farting sounds. A team of researchers from the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, have studied the fish's behavior and discovered that at night they produce a "raspberry" sound by forcing gas out of their anal pores. The amount of sound seems to be related to whether the fish are in the company of other herring leading to the conclusion it may be a form of communication. "We know they have excellent hearing, but little about what they actually using it for," stated Ben Wilson, the leader of the team. "It turns out that the herring make unusual farting sounds at night."

Pre-Columbian North American Map May be Genuine -New evidence has emerged that a map of the New World owned by Yale University predates Columbus's trip by 50 years. The map shows the North Atlantic coastline and has text written in medieval Latin telling how Leif Eiriksson explored the place around 1000 AD. An analysis of the ink used on the map by chemist Jacqueline Olin, a retired researcher with the Smithsonian Institution, indicates the ink was made in medieval times. This jives with results of a carbon-14 test a few months ago which set the date of the map at 1434. It is opposition, however, to recent test results of the ink by the University College in London, however. The University College test indicated that the ink could not be more than 500 years old. If the map is indeed genuine it is valued at around $20 million dollars.


What's New at the Museum:

AKA Santa Claus - Every December 25th millions of people are visited by a short, fat guy in a red suit. Where did he come from, why does he do it, and how does he accomplish this seemingly impossible task? - >Full Story


2004 Museum Calendars:

UnMuseum Calendar - This is your last chance to get a 2004 Museum of Unnatural Mystery Calendar. Help the museum and enjoy some of our artwork the whole year round. To order or view the calendar click here.


Ask the Curator:

Plato's Atlantis - To my understanding Plato was the only one whoever actually saw Atlantis and wrote about it. Why hasn't anyone else from his time had any knowledge of it? What was he really trying to prove by writing the book? - Tina

Plato's first book is a discussion of ideas about government and personal conduct which he expressed through characters in a narrative. One of Plato's characters talks about hearing about Atlantis from a Egyptian priest. It is unknown if Plato himself got the story from a priest or if he simply made up the whole thing as a literary mechanism for discussing government. It is certain that if Plato did think Atlantis really existed it wasn't because he'd seen it himself. Plato places the destruction of the city and the associated continent at about 9,000 years before his own time.


Philadelphia Experiment - What rumor circulated about the USS Eldridge? - Anonymous

Allegedly the US Navy ship Eldridge was involved in an incident that would later become known as the "Philadelphia Experiment." According to the story the ship was docked at the Philadelphia Navy Yard during 1943 and an attempt was made to employ a technology to make the ship invisible. In the story the experiment turns out to be a disaster when members of the crew wind up embedded in bulkheads or going insane.

In reality there is no evidence that the Eldridge was involved in any kind of experiment in 1943, though a different ship, USS Timmerman, was involved in an experiment to degauss ships and get rid of their magnetic field. A ship without a magnetic field might be less prone to attract mines and torpedoes. This experiment produced some electrical discharges, but did not render the ship invisible.

Even though there is no real evidence that the story is true it didn't stop Hollywood from producing two science-fiction films about the subject. The "The Philadelphia Experiment" was released in 1984 and it's sequel, "The Philadelphia Experiment II" in 1993.


In History:

Project Sign - On December 30, 1947, the U.S. Air Force set up a study of UFO's under the name Project Sign. Eventually Project Sign would become Project Grudge and after a reorganization, Project Blue Book. Project Sign personnel investigated several prominent UFO sightings and wound up splitting up into three fractions. One believed that UFOs might be extraterrestrial visitors, another thought they were Soviet secret weapons and the third thought they were just misinterpretations of common phenomena. Eventually the first fraction was fired, resigned or reassigned and the U.S. Air Force investigation of such phenomena became mainly a debunking effort. Eventually the whole Air Force investigation of such sightings was shut down when Project Blue Book was closed out on December 17, 1969.


In the Sky:

Geminid Shower - On the evening of Saturday, December 13th, the Geminid meteor shower, one of the most reliable shows of the year, will be reaching its peak. Unfortunately a bright moon will make less than the best viewing conditions. If you want to try seeing it anyway take a blanket out and lay on your lawn so you can scan as much of the sky as you can between late evening and dawn.



Man Goes without Food or Water for 68 Years - An Indian man claims that after taking vows to God at age eight he has not eaten, drunk or relieved himself for 68 years. Scientists were skeptical so the man, Prahlad Jani, age 76, came in for observation at Sterling Hospital in Ahmedabad, India. He was watched for 10 days and his claims, at least for that period of time, were confirmed. Scientists have no way of telling whether he has actually done it for more than half a century.


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.

NOVA: Sinking City of Venice - Experts struggle to save the City of Canals before it vanishes beneath the waves. On PBS: December 23 at 8PM; ET.

Unsolved History The Assassination of King Tut - Did King Tut's gleaming death mask hide an ancient homicide? Dead since 1323 B.C. and hastily mummified, Egypt's boy king lay in an unfinished tomb until its 1922 discovery. Modern forensics sheds light on what caused the blows to the King's skull. On the Discovery Channel: Dec 10 2003 09:00 PM, Dec 11 2003 12:00 AM, Dec 13 2003 07:00 PM; ET.

Discovery Sunday: Leonardo - He was famous for The Last Supper and Mona Lisa paintings and in this one-hour special, modern engineers try to rebuild de Vinci's inventions to his specifications as found in his famous coded drawings while the story of Leonardo de Vinci's life unfolds. On Discovery Channel: Dec 21 2003 08:00 PM, Dec 21 2003 11:00 PM; ET.

Building the Impossible: The Seven Wonders of the Ancient World - Learn the historical background of each of the Seven Wonders of the World using information from ancient sources, modern investigations of the remains and computer animation. Uncover the mysteries of the cities and civilizations to which they belonged. On Discovery Channel: Dec 28 2003 08:00 PM, Dec 28 2003 11:00 PM; ET.

Ancient Egyptians: The Priests of Amun - Set against the backdrop of a nation in turmoil, this is the story of a thirty year feud that tears apart a city and brings down one of the most powerful dynasties in Egypt. A group of priests gather to plot murder. On TLC: Dec 08 2003 08:00 PM, Dec 08 2003 11:00 PM, Dec 14 2003 05:00 PM; ET.

Ancient Egyptians: The Cult of the Apis Bull - This true story of sacred twins is told in a letter they wrote to the Pharaoh over 2000 years ago. It's a tragic tale of greed and betrayal that unfolds in the underworld of the great temple city of Saqqara in the last decades of the Egyptian empire. On TLC: Dec 08 2003 09:00 PM, Dec 09 2003 12:00 AM, Dec 14 2003 06:00 PM; ET.

Time Travel - The possibility of time travel has excited storytellers as much as scientists. Next year Steven Spielberg will release his version of H.G. Well's Time Machine and a professor will attempt to move sub-atomic particles forward through time, using lasers. On TLC: Dec 03 2003 10:00 PM, Dec 04 2003 01:00 AM; ET/PT.



Science over the Edge Archives

LGM Archive 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003.

Copyright Lee Krystek 2003. All Rights Reserved.