Science Over the Edge

A Roundup of Strange Science for the Month

Applet credit: Ed Hobbs

January 2004

In the News:

Milky Way has Extra Arm - Scientists at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization believe they have discovered an extra arm attached to our Milky Way galaxy. The arm, composed mostly of gas, is about 6,500 light years thick and 60,000 light years from the center of the galaxy. According to Naomi McClure-Grffiths, one of the researchers, this shows that the Milky Way galaxy is similar to other galaxies that have gassy spiral arms extending beyond the more central stellar arms.

Floating Dinos - Computer models of the large sauropod dinosaurs (those ancient reptiles with long necks, tails and four feet) show that they could have floated in lakes despite their large body sizes. According to Donald Henderson, a paleontologist in the Vertebrate Morphology and Paleontology Research Group in the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Calgary, the creatures had air sacks within their bodies and hollow bones allowing them to float. Despite this the group thinks that the animals were not good swimmers. Their long necks and tails would have made them unstable in the water.

Da Vinci Glider Successful - A flying machine designed by Leonardo Da Vinci 500 years ago flew successfully last month. The device, built with the support of the Museo Ideale in Vinci, Italy, was flown by world champion hang glider Angelo D'Arrigo. Plans for the glider were sketched out by Da Vinci in 1510, but only discovered by scholars in 1996. The device, though faithful to Da Vinci's designs, incorporates modern lightweight materials like aluminum tubing and dacron cloth, instead of the wood and canvas Da Vinci envisioned. Without the modern materials the machine would weigh 220 pounds and be too heavy to effectively fly. The modern version weighs only 50 pounds.

Vega May Harbor Earth-like Planets - British scientists have discovered that the star Vega, a near neighbor of the sun, may have a solar system that might accommodate Earth-like planets. The study, published in The Astrophysical Journal, found that Vega, which is 25 light years away from and 3 times as large as, our sun, has a gaseous giant planet similar to Neptune orbiting it at about the distance of Neptune. A gas planet circling its star at that distance suggests there would be plenty of room within its wide orbit for small rocky planets to develop which might be similar to Earth. Previous systems discovered that seem to have planets often have gas giants orbiting close to the star. Scientists think that this makes the existence of small rocky planets in those systems unlikely.

Giant European FishTank Bursts -A fish tank in Denmark burst open last month spilling out most of 1.2 million gallons of water. The tank, the largest in Europe, was damaged when fires swept though the North Sea Museum. The tank, which is 26 feet deep and 108 feet long, was home to around 4,000 fish. Divers were hoping to save some of the tank's rarer fish including a giant mola mola which can weigh up to two tons.


What's New at the Museum:

Is the Super Volcano Beneath Yellowstone Ready to Blow? - About 4 miles beneath Yellowstone National Park's beautiful scenery is a forty-mile wide chamber full of molten rock under incredibly high pressure. This magma is what powers Yellowstone's fantastic geysers and hot springs, but it is about to erupt in a cataclysmic explosion that will decimate the western United States and push mankind to the brink of extinction? - >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:

The Wall or the Car? - In her book "Brain Building" Marilyn Vos Savant says that when two cars collide head on, with each car traveling at 50 MPH, the effect on each car is the same as if it had hit a stone wall at 50 MPH. I can't believe this. It seems to me the effect should be that of a 100 MPH collision - Thomas

This is a longtime favorite of physics teachers and it has two answers. In the "ideal" situation that Ms. Savant is talking about each of the cars has a certain amount of kinetic energy as they move (let's call this value E). If they cars are identical in every way (speed, mass, shape) and they do a perfect head-on collision the total energy involved will be 2 times E or 2E. Since there are two cars the energy will be divided in half and each one will be subjected to one E of kinetic energy which will deform the vehicles turning them into something that looks like a two-ton metal accordion.

If we are dealing with one car hitting a wall then we will have one E of kinetic energy before the accident (The wall has no energy, it's not moving). If the wall is absolutely rigid and does not absorb any of the energy of the impact then again there will be one E of energy to deform one car.

This is why safety crash tests simulating head-on collisions are done by launching a car into a rigid barrier. It is a good simulation of a head-on collision, but only requires one vehicle.

If this seem unintuitive try it at home (not with cars, use tennis balls). Roll them at each other and when they hit note how far do they bounce back. Now roll one at the same speed toward a immovable object (like a brick). Did it bounce back the same distance? It should have it you gave it the same initial speed.

The second solution involves what happens in a non-ideal situation. Very rarely in the real world would a car hit a totally immovable barrier. If the barrier absorbed some of the energy less would left over to damage the car. Also if two cars hit it is unlikely that they would be identical in speed and shape or be aligned perfectly head on. They would tend to bounce off each other and penetrate each other as well as spin off at an angle and these actions would absorb energy. For these reasons in it would be hard to say which accident would result in more damage to the car in a real life situation.


Acoustic Shadows - What is an acoustic shadow and how does it work? - Lisa

An acoustic shadow occurs when sound that would normally be heard is blocked. This can happen because the sound is absorbed by some material, or refracted when it meets a warm or rapidly moving layer of air. The refraction can not only bounce the sound away from a location but it can also direct it to another location where it would not normally carry. In these ways an acoustic shadow is to sound what a mirage is to light.

Acoustic shadows played significant roles in several Civil War battles. Because there was no radio communication between a commander and his forward units in the 19th century, commanders often depended on what they heard of the battle to tell them what was going on up at the front. If an acoustic shadow existed it could alter what the commander heard and ultimately what decisions he made. It is said that sounds from the Battle of Gettysburg could not be heard just ten miles away, but were heard clearly in Pittsburgh 150 miles away.

There is at least one book on the subject of acoustic shadows and their effect on the War Between the States. Check your local library for Civil War Acoustic Shadows by Charles D. Ross.


In History:

Inventing the "Devil's Sea" - On January 15th, 1955 a report in the New York Times about a maritime disaster referred to a location off the southeastern coast of Japan as the "Devil's Sea." With this another legend, almost as well-known as the "Bermuda Triangle," was born. This section of the ocean reportedly has been responsible for the loss of many ships under mysterious circumstances. Research suggests, however, that the existence of anything mysterious about the Devil's Sea is more hype than fact. Reports that the ships mysteriously disappeared without sending a radio message is not that strange considering that most of the ships were owned by poor fisherman who could not afford radios.


In the Sky:

Check Out Uranus - If you've always wanted to see the planet Uranus in the sky, but haven't been able to find it, your chance comes on January 15th. You will need a good pair of binoculars or a small telescope. First find Venus in the Southwest. It will be the brightest object in the sky in the early evening. Just to the right and slightly below Venus will be Uranus. Don't mistake it for a star that will be slightly brighter than Uranus and directly to the right of Venus.



Tourist Returns Stolen Glass in Hopes of Breaking Bad Luck - A German tourist sent a letter to Thai Ministry of Culture containing a tiny sliver of glass he'd taken from the Bangkok Wat Phra Kaew temple three years ago. According to the Thai newspaper Rath, the letter stated that he was returning the object because he was concerned that stealing it had left him cursed. The letter said that that the man had faced nothing but bad luck in both his personal and work life since then and that he hoped returning the glass and donating some money to the temple would lift the curse.


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: MARS Dead or Alive - NASA gambles on two rovers sent to determine if the red planet ever had conditions suitable for life. On PBS: January 4 & 6 @ 8PM; ET.

NOVA: Lost King of the Maya - Using ancient hieroglyphs and new excavations, archeologists investigate the rise and fall of the majestic city of Copan. On PBS: January 27 @ 8PM; ET.

Unsolved History Nostradamus: A Skeptical Inquiry- Experts use forensic techniques to translate and verify what Nostradamus "really" predicted. Fact is separated from fiction as it relates to the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. On the Discovery Channel: Jan 07 2004 @ 09:00 PM, Jan 08 2004 @ 12:00 AM, Jan 11 2004 @ 05:00 PM; ET.

Ancient Evidence: David and Goliath - An archeological and historical detective story about the ultimate hero, a man who was both a prolific poet and a vicious warrior. Recent archeological evidence supports the existence of David and that he may have been born a nobleman. On Discovery Channel: Jan 14 2004 @ 08:00 PM, Jan 14 2004 @ 11:00 PM, Jan 18 2004 @ 07:00 PM; ET.

Noah's Ark: The True Story - Search for the truth behind the story of Noah and his ark. Find out how Noah could have built such a structure and whether or not a great flood took place on the earth. The search for remains of the ark continues today. On Discovery Channel: Jan 18 2004 @ 09:00 PM, Jan 19 2004 @ 12:00 AM, Jan 21 2004 @ 08:00 PM, Jan 21 2004 @ 11:00 PM, Jan 24 2004 @ 12:00 PM, Jan 25 2004 @ 07:00 PM; ET.

The Real Jason and the Argonauts - The myth of Jason and the Argonauts and their quest for the Golden Fleece may be based on real events that took place over 3,000 years ago. Discoveries in Greece suggest that Jason's journey may have been a genuine voyage of discovery. On Discovery Channel: Jan 18 2004 @ 10:00 PM, Jan 19 2004 @ 01:00 AM; ET.

MythBusters Explosive Decompression - Jamie and Adam shoot a bullet hole into the shell of an aircraft to see if that single shot will cause explosive decompression and destroy the aircraft. Find out if two hunters could use a loaded .22 gun cartridge as a car ignition fuse. On Discovery Channel: Jan 20 2004 @ 10:00 PM, Jan 21 2004 @ 01:00 AM, Jan 25 2004 @ 12:00 PM, Jan 26 2004 @ 02:00 AM; ET.

Secrets of Hitler's Wonder Weapons - In the last years of WWII, Hitler's war machine turned in desperation to some of the strangest weapons ever devised--an arsenal of advanced technological weapons so secret that even today, their true uses remain a mystery. We look at the Messerschmitt 262, the first jet fighter; the V-1 flying bomb, ancestor of today's cruise missile; and the V-2, the first ballistic missile. Perhaps most extraordinary, we investigate the possibility that the Nazis were sending UFOs into the sky. On History Channel: January 2 @ 9am; ET/PT.



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