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Science Over the Edge

A Roundup of Strange Science for the Month

Applet credit: Ed Hobbs

March 2010

In the News:

Dwarf Dinos on Island - A study to appear in the journal Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology, confirms the existence of dwarf dinosaurs on ancient Hateg Island which was located in modern day Romania. The scientists doing the research found that at least four of the Hateg dinosaurs were dwarves. This includes the titanosaurian sauropod Magyarosaurus, which normally had a body length of 82 feet, but on the island grew to only 16 to 19 feet. Also a hadrosaurid named Telmatosaurus which usually grew to about 23 to 33 feet long on the mainland, was only 13-foot-long on Hateg. The researchers examined sections of the dinosaurs' bones to make sure animals were adults and not juveniles. "So these forms are all typically half the length of their close relatives on larger land masses, and this equates to a body mass of perhaps one-eighth that of the relatives," said Michael J. Benton the lead author of the study and a paleontologist from the University of Bristol . "Body mass is what matters most in biological terms, such as physiology and food intake." The scientists believe a process called process called progenesis, which shortens the developmental period was responsible for the dwarfism. Large animals often evolve into dwarf forms on islands because of limited food and range.

Roses that Smell Like Root Beer in Future - While studying petunias as a model increasing tomato yields, scientists have accidentally come across the genes that control a flower's smell. These 12 to 13 genes tell the plant to produce rose oil, clove oil, wintergreen, the smell of root beer, and other chemicals that, when smelled together, give the petunia its distinctive aroma. With this information it is thought that it will be possible to make such exotic plants as roses that smell like root beer or wintergreen. More importantly it will allow scientists to restore smell to flowers and fruits that have had the aroma bred out of them in the last 50 years in the course of selecting for size, shape and color. "It's great that we can ship a strawberry from California to the Midwest, but the flavor and fragrance of that strawberry are drastically reduced," said Ryan Warner, a scientist at Michigan State University. "People are starting to look for fruit that not only looks like a strawberry, but also tastes and smells like one." The first experiment with this discovery will be a petunia that smells like a rose that should be ready for test smelling this summer.

Mummy Case to be Returned to Egypt - U.S. officials will return a 3,000-year-old mummy coffin to Egypt, according to Egyptian Culture Minister Faruq Hosni. The five-foot-long wooden coffin was confiscated by U.S. customs officials at Miami International Airport in 2008 when the Spanish merchant who was transporting it failed to show the proper paperwork. This led United States authorities to suspect that the object might have left Egypt illegally. The U.S. plans to return the object to Zahi Hawass, the secretary general of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities, on March 10 in Washington, D.C., during an official ceremony. Hawass claims that some 5,000 treasures have been returned to Egypt since his tenure.

King Solomon's Wall Found - Archeologists digging in Jerusalem have found a section of the city wall dating back to the 10th century B.C. that might be possible proof of the Bible accuracy. The wall seems to match up with a structure described in the First Book of Kings that was built by King Solomon. The 230-foot-long, 20-foot-high wall has "an inner gatehouse for access into the royal quarter of the city, a royal structure adjacent to the gatehouse, and a corner tower that overlooks a substantial section of the adjacent Kidron valley" according to a report in Science Daily. "A comparison of this latest finding with city walls and gates from the period of the First Temple, as well as pottery found at the site, enable us to postulate with a great degree of assurance that the wall that has been revealed is that which was built by King Solomon in Jerusalem in the latter part of the tenth century B.C.E.," said Dr. Eilat Mazar of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. This is the first evidence of a structure that matches up with "written descriptions of Solomon's building of Jerusalem," according to Mazar.

Thunderstorm Gama Rays may Threaten Airliners - Scientists are concerned that recently discovered gamma-ray flashes coming out of thunderstorms may threaten airline passengers and crew with high radiation. The rays were accidentally discovered by instruments scanning outer space for cataclysmic explosions called gamma-ray bursts. The flashes appear to be associated with lightning strikes in thunderstorms. It is estimated that airline passengers could be exposed to the equivalent of 400 chest X-rays worth of radiation by being near the origin of a single millisecond flash. Still the risk of such an incident is thought to be small. "We believe the risk of encountering a TGF in an airplane is very small," said Joe Dwyer,of the Florida Institute of Technology, who was one of the authors of a recent study. "I wouldn't hesitate to take a flight. Pilots already avoid thunderstorms because of turbulence, hail, and lightning, and we may just have to add TGFs to the list of reasons to steer clear of those storms."

Science Quote of the Month - "No amount of experimentation can ever prove me right; a single experiment can prove me wrong." - Albert Einstein

What's New at the Museum:

The Mystery of Quantum Physics (Part 2): Spooky Action at a Distance - This month we will focus on how some interpretations of quantum physics suggest that everything in the universe is instantly connected with every else, no matter how distant apart they are. >Full Story

Ask the Curator:

What Makes a Dinosaur? - I read on your web site and came across some dinosaurs with descriptions elsewhere that said even though they lived in this [Mesozoic] Era and were marine reptiles or flying reptiles, they were still not considered dinosaurs. Can someone explain why?....and just as important, what exactly were they considered then if not dinosaurs? - Sydney L.

People tend to think that any reptile that lived during the Mesozoic Era qualifies as a dinosaur. However, dinosaurs actually have a pretty precise definition. The term "dinosaur" was created in 1842 by the famous zoologist Sir Richard Owen from the Greek words deinos meaning "terrible, powerful, wondrous" and sauros meaning "lizard." Owens also defined the characteristics of the basic taxon (or group).

Dinosaurs are part of a larger collection of reptiles called Archosaurs that include things like crocodiles and alligators. However, two things divide dinosaurs from all other archosaurs. First, they are by definition terrestrial. They lived on the land (so they did not include flying reptiles or aquatic reptiles). The second thing is that they have an upright gait. That is, their legs were straight, perpendicular to the ground and supported the weight of the body. This is a characteristic that they share with today's mammals and gives both groups the ability to walk or run more easily. Most other land reptiles (like lizards) have a sprawling gait with their legs out to the side and their feet not underneath their bodies.

The flying reptiles that lived at the same time as the dinosaurs include the huge Quetzalcoatlus, which with a wingspan exceeding thirty feet was the largest flying animal ever, and Rhamphorhynchus which had a long trailing tail with a diamond-shaped fin on the end. The flying reptiles, including these two, had their own group name: the Pterosaurs. (Note that there is also a species in the group called Pteranodon and you don't want to mix this up with the group name).

The aquatic reptiles that lived during the time of the dinosaurs included the famous Elasmosaurus, a type of plesiosaur with a long neck, saucer shaped body and four diamond shaped fins and the ichthyosaur Ophthalmosaurus, a dolphin shaped reptile that grew to a length of 18 feet. There is no overall name for this collection, except "ancient, extinct marine reptiles." However, most of these creatures fell into three groups, the mosasaurs, the ichthyosaurs and the plesiosaurs.

Interestingly enough, recent developments in understanding which animals are related to which may force the dinosaur group to include flying creatures. Evidence has been mounting that modern birds are descended from dinosaurs. Since under strict classification rules a group descended from another is included in the parent group, birds are dinosaurs and dinosaurs are not extinct (It is important to note, however, that the Pterosaurs are still not dinosaurs as they are not birds). Some scientists now refer to the original dinosaur group as "non-avian dinosaurs" and birds as "avian dinosaurs." This is somewhat clumsy, however, and in common speaking people still use the word dinosaurs to refer to the original group of extinct land reptiles that include the familiar species Stegosaurus, Triceratops, and Tyrannosaurus rex.

In History:

Area 51 Encounter? - On March 6, 1993, William Hamilton III, a ufologist, and a female friend were parked on a hill just outside the famed Area 51 secret base in Nevada when they claimed they saw a UFO that seemed to transform itself into an automobile. Later they both came to the conclusion they had "lost" time that evening. During a follow-up hypnotic session the two said that they had both been abducted: him to a spaceship where he was examined by aliens and her to a white van were she was examined by men in black. There has never been any collaboration to this story.

In the Sky:

Four Planets - This is a good month to take a look at the planets. Four of the five visible to the naked eye will be in the evening sky in the latter part of the month. Venus will emerge out of the sunset and by the end of the month will stay in the sky for more than an hour and a half after the sun is gone. Mars, which gives an orange-redish glow, will be high in the sky near the constellation Cancer. Saturn will be rising into the evening sky in the east. Mercury will be low in the west after sunset in early March. It will be right below Venus and will be moving closer and closer to Venus as April approaches.


Jacko Spotted in Polymer Droplet - David Fairhurst a physicist at Nottingham Trent University in the UK, spotted the likeness of the late Michael Jackson, the king of pop, in a drying droplet of polymer solution, according to PhysicsWorld.com. "I noticed it immediately and showed it to the other guys - we had a really good laugh about it," Fairhurst said. The image is made up of a series of small "spherulites" that crystallized on the droplet's surface revealing what appears to be a human face. To take a gander go to http://physicsworld.com/blog/2010/02/jacko_spotted_in_droplet.html

On the Tube:

Please check local listing for area outside of North America.

Nova: The Pluto Files - Take a cross-country journey with Neil deGrasse Tyson to explore the rise and fall of America's favorite planet On PBS: Tuesday, March 2 at 8 pm; ET/PT.

Nova: Cracking the Maya Code - The story behind the centuries-long decipherment of ancient Maya hieroglyphs. On PBS: March 23 at 8 pm; ET/PT.

Monsters and Mysteries in Alaska - Alaska: could its uninhabited frontier be hiding monsters and mysteries? For the first time, witnesses tell the stories of their encounters with the unknown: Bigfoot, lake monsters and UFOs - all under the scrutiny of a top microexpressions expert.. On The Discovery Channel: Mar 07, 10:00 pm; Mar 08, 1:00 am; ET/PT.

Colossal Squid - Colossal Squid is a landmark television event that presents the dramatic capture of a massive squid off the coast of Antarctica, and the groundbreaking research to discover the secrets of one of the ocean's most elusive and mysterious creatures.. On The Discovery Channel: Mar 08, 10:00 pm; Mar 09, 1:00 am; ET/PT.

The Hawking Paradox - In 2004, Stephen Hawking admitted to making a mistake. The genius who discovered black holes was claiming that his entire theory about them was wrong. Follow Hawking as he prepares to deliver the paper that he says will prove his doubters wrong. On The Science Channel: Mar 09, 9:00 pm; Mar 10, 12:00 am; Mar 11, 4:00 am; ET/PT.

Flooded Civilization - Hurricane Katrina's destruction of New Orleans provides a window into the demise of ancient pyramid cities around the Gulf of Mexico. Evidence suggests every 600-years the great coastal civilizations of Mexico have been lost to similar megafloods. On The Science Channel: Mar 01, 10:00 pm; Mar 02, 1:00 am; Mar 03, 5:00 am; ET/PT.

Paranatural: Mystery Lights - For centuries, people around the world have witnessed a strange phenomenon orbs of light hovering in the night sky. NGC joins a team of researchers with a new theory on the origin of these lights. On The National Geographic Channel: March 1st, 9:00 PM; ET/PT.

The Truth Behind Crop Circles - For centuries, strange and dramatic designs have appeared in crop fields throughout southern England. Are they alien messages or the work of human artists and hoaxers? On The National Geographic Channel: March 7th, 7:00 PM; ET/PT.

Titanic: The Final Secret - Join legendary explorer Dr. Robert Ballard, who discovered Titanic in 1985 on a top secret naval mission. NGC reveals the details behind this story of stealth, subs and superpowers in the middle of a cold war operation? On The National Geographic Channel: March 20th 9:00 PM; ET/PT.

Nazca Lines: The Buried Secrets - Are they ancient road maps or messages for visiting aliens? Lying at the foothill of Peru's Andes Mountains is the site of one of the world's greatest mysteries. Etched, as if by giants, onto its arid, moonscape plains are immense lines that stretch for miles, forming strange shapes recognizable only from the air. Now, a team of specialists from around the globe has come to southern Peru to investigate the Nasca Lines in the hope of uncovering their secrets. On The National Geographic Channel: March 4th 6PM ; ET/PT.



Science over the Edge Archives

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

Copyright Lee Krystek 2010. All Rights Reserved.


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