pop up description layer
UFO Mysteries
Space & Time
7 Wonders
Surprising Science
Troubled History
Index/Site Map

Custom Search

E-mail this page link to a friend
Enter friend's e-mail:

Requires javascript

Science Over the Edge

A Roundup of Strange Science for the Month

Applet credit: Ed Hobbs

Febuary 2013

In the News:

Mona Lisa Does Round Trip to Moon - NASA scientists have sent Mona Lisa to the moon and back. The famous painting didn't go by spaceship, however, but was digitalized and sent to the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter via a laser beam. Most space probes communicate with Earth stations by using radio waves, but the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter has also been equipped with an experiment laser receiver. After receiving the digital image the orbiter send it back to Earth using regular radio waves for a round trip. The experiment marks "the first time anyone has achieved one-way laser communication at planetary distances," said the project's principal investigator David Smith of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Using lasers to communicate with space probes "may allow communication at higher data rates than present radio links can provide," added Smith.

Stealth Clothes - New York-based designer Adam Harvey is releasing a new line of clothes to protest increasing government surveillance in the world. The line includes a hoodie that protects the wearer from giving off the thermal radiation that done infrared scanners can detect. The hoodie even offers pouch for cell phones that shields them from trackers by blocking the radio signals the phone gives off (Of course this also means you can't get any calls while the phone is in your pocket). Harvey sees the line of clothes as a kind of conversation about surveillance in society at large. The duds are expensive, though, so don't expect to see them popping up at your local discount store.

Observatory Dodges Fiery Bullet - A devastating bushfire nearly took out the telescopes at Siding Spring Observatory some 330 miles northwest of Sydney, Australia. While some of the outbuildings have been damaged officials think that the main telescopes have survived though not all the instruments have yet been checked for damage. The staff of eighteen at the observatory were safely evacuated before the fire hit. The incident recalls the destruction of the Mount Stromlo observatory in Canberra, Australia, in 2003. Observatories are particularly susceptible to damage from wildfires because they are often sited at remote locations atop tree covered mountains.

Ancient Magical Rocks Located - Archaeologists have found a nearly 5,000-year-old collection of 12 stones that may be the earliest evidence of shamanic rituals in Central America. The collection was found in the Casita de Piedra rock shelter, in the Isthmus of Panama. Carbon-dating of surrounding material puts the age of the stones between 4,000 and 4,800 years old. They were found in a tight pile which suggests they had been carried there in a leather pouch that later disintegrated over the centuries. The stones include pieces of translucent quartz, pyrite, magnetic rocks and bladed tools. The stones came from a distant region of Panama called the Central Cordillera. Later this area would be used for mining gold, but no gold was found in the shelter. "We will never be entirely sure how the ancient people used the stones in the past," wrote study author Ruth Dickau, from the University of Exeter, but it is likely to be similar to current practices where shamans chant, sing and blow tobacco smoke over stones to communicate with spirits and diagnose illnesses.

Big Pterosaur Might Have Problems Getting into the Air - A new study by paleontologist Sankar Chatterjee of Texas Tech University in Lubbock suggests that the Quetzalcoatlus, an enormous pterosaur (See Pterosaurs in Texas) from Late Cretaceous, couldn't actually fly. At least not by jumping off from the ground like most birds do. Chatterjee ran the dimensions of the Quetzalcoatlus --35 foot wingspan with a 9 foot long head -- through an aeronautical computer simulation. According to his results the maximum weight of the creature couldn't be more than 155 pounds (70 kilograms) and even then it could only get into the air by jumping off a hill or cliff. According to Chatterjee there is a "upper limit for any flying animal… Above that, they can't even flap." Other scientists are skeptical of Chatterjee conclusions. "These animals have 2.5- to three-meter-long heads, three-meter necks, torsos as large as an adult man and walking limbs that were 2.5 meters long," said paleontologist Mark Witton of the University of Portsmouth in the United Kingdom. "Quetzalcoatlus skeletons alone weigh 20 kilograms, leaving 50 kilograms of soft-tissue to cover a giraffe sized skeleton. (That) leads to one atrophied pterosaur!"


Science Quote of the Month - "Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I'm not sure about the former." - Albert Einstein


What's New at the Museum:

The Seven Wonders of the Medieval World - Sometime in the late 19th or early 20th century a list entitled The Seven Wonders of the Medieval World started to be found among the various catalogs of marvels. > Full Story

Mysterious Picture of the Month - What is this this?

Ask the Curator:

Why Can't We Drink Seawater? - Why is it not ok to drink sea water, but ok to put sea salt on our food? - John

Salt is one of the things your body really needs to function. Without it you wouldn't be unable to maintain the proper fluid balance in your blood cells. It's also essential to transmit information through your nerves and muscles. Finally, it is also used in the absorption of certain nutrients from your small intestines.

As much as we need a little salt (like the small amounts that you sprinkle on your hamburger), too much of it is a really big problem. It can lead to seizures, unconsciousness, and brain damage. And as your kidneys get over worked by trying to remove the excess salt from your system they can overload and shutdown leading to sure death.

The problem is that the amount of salt in your blood stream must be kept very close to 0.9%. The amount in seawater, however, is around 3.5%. If you try and drink seawater the amount of salt in your blood rises closer to that of the seawater and your body desperately tries to get rid of it. Water flows out of your cells to dilute the salt in your blood, making the cells dehydrate. Your kidneys work to remove the salt from your system, but your kidneys can only concentrate salt into your urine at a level less than the 3.5% in the seawater. Therefore it takes more water to get the salt out of your system, than you originally got from drinking the brine. Instead of quenching your thirst the seawater accelerates your dehydration.

Now drinking seawater in small amounts (say accidently gulping some while swimming in the ocean) isn't really dangerous as long as you had enough fresh water to avoid dehydration. If you are stranded at sea in a lifeboat, however, and you can't get any fresh water, drinking seawater to get rid of your thirst will kill you after a while.

There are some reports that sailors short on fresh water have been successful in stretching their supplies by mixing it with saltwater. Adventurer Thor Heyerdahl reported drinking seawater in a 40/60% ratio without a problem during his famous Kon-Tiki expedition across the Pacific Ocean from South America to the Polynesian islands in 1947. However, unless you are extremely desperate, such a course of action seems ill-advised.

Ironically our blood seems to contain the same proportions of minerals and salts as there is in seawater, just at a lower level. This has led some scientists to speculate that blood developed in our distant, distant ancestors from a more diluted form of seawater that existed in prehistoric times. In fact, seawater, diluted so that the salt level is the same as that found in blood, has been successfully used as a replacement for blood plasma.

Have a question? Click here to send it to us.


In History:

Raining Worms - Falls of strange objects or animals from the sky are one of the most puzzling phenomena that is commonly seen. In February of 1892 the people of Clifton, Indiana, were drenched in a rain of brown worms. The worms were of a species they did not recognize and apparently were not known in the area. A sample was sent to the editor of Insect Life, but he was also unable to identify the species either.


In the Sky:

Check a Star Nursery - A clear night in February is a great time to observe the constellation Orion, the Hunter. Orion is easily visible in the winter sky because of the three bright stars in a straight line that mark his belt. Four more stars above and below the belt are his shoulders and legs. If you take a look just below his belt you can also see his sword. Centered below the sword is the Great Orion Nebula, which should be visible with binoculars or a small telescope. It is a nursery giving birth to hot young stars.



Harvard Scientist Thinks it is Possible to Clone a Neanderthal - A Harvard geneticist has suggested it might be possible to clone a Neanderthal child with the help of an "extremely adventurous female human" as a surrogate. George Church said during an interview that enough fragments of Neanderthal DNA have been found in fossils throughout in Europe that they could be put together to create the plans for an embryo that could be implanted into a human woman. Other scientists have are skeptical about such a project pointing out that safety and ethical problems would prevent such an experiment from taking place. They are also concerned that creating a human-like being in a lab just for study would be too exploitative. The United Nations banned human cloning in 2005 (a voluntary prohibition) and some U.S. states have barred the practice as well.


On the Tube:

Please check local listing for area outside of North America.

Nova: Building Pharaoh's Chariot - A team uncovers the advanced engineering behind an ancient Egyptian war machine. On PBS: February 6 at 9 pm; ET/PT.

Nova: Earth From Space - Detailed satellite images reveal the web of connections that sustain life on Earth. On PBS: February 13 at 9 pm; ET/PT.

Ancient Aliens: Aliens and Cover-Ups - In 1980, three young military men were sent into a UK forest to investigate strange lights. They reportedly encountered a spacecraft of unknown origin. When one of the men touched it, he claims to have received telepathically a long sequence of binary code, which he later wrote down and translated. The military ordered them to never speak about the incident. Why do such UFO encounters continue to be kept under wraps, and what might they reveal about our ancient past? On The History Channel: Feb 12th 11PM; ET/PT.

Egypt Unwrapped: The Real Ceopatra - Legend portrayed her as a self-indulgent temptress who used sex and seduction to rule Egypt, yet little is known about Cleopatra the person. She was of Greek descent, became queen at 18, was highly educated and spoke several languages but what was her life like? And how did she really look? To unravel some of the mystery, scientists have converted artifacts with her likeness into a 3-D model, offering viewers a rare glimpse of the face of one history's most powerful women. On The National Geographic Channel: Feb 8th, 7PM ET/PT.

Inside: 21st Century Warship - The USS Freedom and USS Independence are the pioneering warships changing the face of battle on the sea with cutting edge design. Go inside the rigid testing that these ships must face to become part of the Navy. From a simulated high-speed attack to test the ships' guns and cannons to helicopter launches and technical failures, watch these ships attempt to achieve their mission objectives to ultimately be integrated into the U.S. Navy's Surface fleet. On The National Geographic Channel: Feb 2nd at 6PM; Feb 13th at 7PM ET/PT.


Science over the Edge Archives

LGM Archive 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013

Copyright Lee Krystek 2012. All Rights Reserved.


Related Links

Great Pyramid

King Tut Curse

Mummy Page

Rosetta Stone

Lost Ark

Making Mummies

Make a Fruit Mummy

Odd Archeology