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Science Over the Edge

A Roundup of Strange Science for the Month

Applet credit: Ed Hobbs

March 2012

In the News:

Ossuary Shows Biblical Connection - Scientists think they have found an artifact with connections to Jesus. An ossuary (a box with contains the bones of a person) has been found with the inscription "Miriam daughter of Yeshua son of Caiaphus, priest of Maaziah from Beth Imri." Caiaphus was the high-priest involved with the crucifixion of Jesus. Unlike an ossuary that surfaced in 2002 that bore an inscription claiming it contained the bones of Joseph, the brother of Jesus, this one appears not to be fake. "Beyond any reasonable doubt, the inscription is authentic," said Prof. Yuval Goren of Tel Aviv University's Department of Archaeology. Analysis shows that the box with its inscription spent many years underground. "When a rock is deposited in the ground for millennia, it is affected by the surrounding environment and affects the surrounding environment," he said.

Yellowstone Supervolcano Not Guilty - About 17 million years ago a large volcanic eruption covered the Northwest United States with a sea of hot lava. Known as the Steens-Columbia River flood basalts, scientists had long thought that they were the result of the activity from the supervolcano at Yellowstone National Park. Now it appears that Yellowstone isn't the culprit, but instead it was the tearing of a titanic chunk of rock known as the Farallon slab. The Farallon slab was being pushed underneath the western United States began when it began ripping apart. The hole that appeared allowed massive amounts magma to pour out. "When the slab is first opened, there's a little tear, but because of the high pressure underneath, the material is able to force its way through the hole," said researcher Dave Stegman, a geophysicist at the University of California, San Diego. "It's like in the movies when a window breaks in an airplane that is at high altitude - since the cabin is at higher pressure, everything gets sucked out the window."

$200,000 Offered for Proof of Cold Fusion - Australian entrepreneur and skeptic Dick Smith has offered $200,000 for proof that the cold fusion of the Rossi "energy catalyzer" really works. Last year two Italian researchers, Andrea Rossi and Sergio Focardi of the University of Bologna, claimed they had found a process that fused atomic nuclei at room temperature. If it were true it could lead to a cheap, clean, and limitless source of energy. The scientists demonstrated their device by showing produced 12,400 Watts of heat power with an input of just 400 W. Smith doesn't believe it, though, "It would be great if it's true, but it's more likely just a misconnection of the power lead. If one of the wires in the three-core power lead was accidentally misconnected, the actual measurements of current witnessed by two Swedish scientists would not be the total power going into the reactor, and there would be an apparent power gain." Smith suggests that the tests should be conducted again with all the power leads independently monitored to answer the question of where the 'extra' power is coming from.

Sharks Can be Friends Too - According to a recent study published in Animal Behaviour, sharks, which have often been thought of as lone predators, can form communities and have long term social bonds with other sharks. Researchers studied the habits of a population of blacktip reef sharks near Moorea Island in French Polynesia and found that the sharks had organized themselves into four communities with two sub-communities. They also saw indications that some of the sharks had long-term relationships with other sharks. The researchers speculate that this may help with self- protection and avoiding aggression with each other. On at least one occasion the scientists observed the sharks hunting together when a group of about four or five of the sharks herded a school of fishes around a coral structure. They also noted that the sharks that seem to associate with each other are the same sex and size. Since size also is an indication of the sharks' age, they could be associating by age too. The researchers took samples from the shark's fins and hope to use DNA to find out if the associations are also based on family relationships.

February Fireballs Puzzle Scientists - On February 1st the sky over Texas was lit up by a meteor that put on a dazzling show. It was just one of the strange fireballs NASA tracked last month. Most fireballs, which are meteorites, enter the atmosphere and burn up in a second or two from the high-speed friction. These strange ones, however, seem to be moving slower and getting deeper into the atmosphere than usual. "These fireballs are particularly slow and penetrating," meteor expert Peter Brown, a physics professor at the University of Western Ontario, said. "They hit the top of the atmosphere moving slower than 15 kilometers per second (33,500 mph), decelerate rapidly and make it to within 50 kilometers (31 miles) of Earth's surface." The source of these fireballs have been tracked back to the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, but since they don't seem to come from the same point in the belt, scientists don't know how they got ejected. Scientists noticed in the 1960's that these strange fireballs seem to cross the Earth's path in February and have been studying the pattern each winter to find out the cause.


Science Quote of the Month - "This world, after all our science and sciences, is still a miracle; wonderful, inscrutable, magical and more, to whosoever will think of it." - Thomas Dekker.


What's New at the Museum:

The Great Barrier Reef - Just before 11 pm on June 11th, 1770, the HMS Endeavour, captained by Lieutenant James Cook, ran aground. Though Cook didn't real it at the time, the coral reef he had run onto was part of a vast system of 3,800 coral banks and islands that ran along the coast of Australia. Known as the Great Barrier Reef, it is the largest structure in the world created by living organisms. >Full Story

Mysterious Picture of the Month - What is this thing?

Ask the Curator:

Monster Movie Myth - Tell me something about the Kraken beast of the time of Zeus - Ajiboye

The Kraken actually comes not from Greek legends, but from Scandinavian lore. It is a large, many armed creature like a giant octopus or squid. Early stories describe the beast to be as large as an island.

The Kraken has gotten mixed up with Greek mythology through the 1981 film Clash of the Titans (It also appears in the 2010 remake of the film). Clash of the Titans is loosely based on the Greek mythical story of Perseus. At one point in the story the Gods punish the King of Argos by sending the Kraken, which they refer to as the "Last of the Titans," to create a Tsunami that swamps the city. (This scene inspired the infamous quote favored by movie geeks "Release the Kraken!")

Later in film the heroine, Princess Andromeda, is to be sacrificed to the Kraken in an attempt to save her own city of Joppa. In the myth the sea monster involved in the story was actually referred to as a Cetus. The cetus was probably not an octopus-like creature, but more whale-like in nature as we get our modern word cetacean from it. It might also be related to the word cetea which in Greek art was depicted as serpentine-like fish.

Also referring to the Kraken as a "Titan" was an incorrect use of the Greek term. The Titans were early Gods, not oversized monsters. The King of the Titans, Cronus, was overthrown by his son, Zeus, who became the king of the Olympian Gods.

The 1981 version of Clash of the Titans was the last film made by famed special effects expert Ray Harryhausen and he co-produced the film with his long-time associate Charles H. Schneer. Harryhausen sculpted the Kraken puppet used in the production and it resembles another of his creations, the Venusian Ymir, from one of his earlier films, 20 Million Miles to Earth (1957). The Kraken puppet also has multiple arms, however, similar to the octopus beast Harryhausen made for It Came from Beneath the Sea in 1955.

The closest mythical monster the Greeks had to a Kraken might have been Scylla. It supposedly had four eyes, six long necks with heads equipped with sharp teeth, and twelve tentacle-like legs. It lived on the edge of a strait and would attack ships sailing by. In Homer's Odyssey, Odysseus is forced to pass by the Scylla and loses 6 sailors to it, one to each head.


In History:

Just Swamp Gas - In March of 1966 U.S. Air Force Project Blue Book investigated two UFO sightings near Dexter and Hillsdale, Michigan. The scientist attached to the project, Allen Hynek, in an infamous comment, dismissed what had been seen as "swamp gas." The explanation led to much ridicule in the press and triggered a congressional investigation into Blue Book's activities. For more on the Blue Book Project, click here.


In the Sky:

Planet Pairing - On March 12th and 13th you will have a chance to see Venus and Jupiter as they pass within three degrees of each other in the night sky. The planets will appear in the western sky in the constellation Aries. Besides the moon they will be the two brightest objects in the evening sky.



Did Hitler Have a Son? - French magazine LePoint reports new evidence has emerged in the decades old claim by Frenchman, Jean-Marie Loret, that he was Hitler's son. Loret, who died in 1985 at age 67, had been told by his mother in the 1950's, that he was the result of an affair that occurred when Hitler was stationed in France as a soldier in World War I. Loret was torn about admitting his ancestry (he worked against the Germans in the resistance during the war) but eventually wrote a book about his story called "Your Father's Name Was Hitler" which was published in 1981. Loret was never able to prove his ancestry, but LePoint has found evidence in official German Army documents which show that officers brought envelopes of cash to his mother during the German occupation of France. In addition paintings signed "Adolf Hitler" were discovered in Loret's mother attic, and one who resembles his grandmother, was found among those known to be painted by Hitler.


On the Tube:

Please check local listing for area outside of North America.

NOVA: Cracking Your Genetic Code - We are on the brink of a new era of personalized, gene-based medicine. Are we ready for it? On PBS: March 28 at 9:00 pm; ET/PT.

Ultimate Armored Car: The Presidential Beast - Texas Armoring Corporation builds the toughest cars in the world. Using high-powered guns and explosives, they demonstrate the destruction that unarmored vehicles might face and how they compare to the ultimate armored car -- the President's limo. On The Discovery Channel: March 8, 9:00 & 11:00 PM; ET/PT.

Prophets of Science Fiction: Jules Verne - Jules Verne is the ultimate futurist, with a legacy of sci-fi adventure stories predicting everything from fuel cell technology to viral advertising. The extraordinary voyages of Jules Verne span from the center of the Earth to the surface of the Moon. On The Science Channel: Mar 07, 9:00 PM; Mar 08, 12:00 AM; ET/PT.

Dive to the Bottom of the World - The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) has assembled a team of experienced scientists and engineers to explore the 'Challenger Deep' which lies in the Mariana Trench in the Western Pacific. At 35,000 feet, it is the deepest place on Earth. On The Science Channel: Mar 02, 9:00 PM; Mar 03, 12:00 AM; Mar 04, 4:00 AM; ET/PT.

Radioactive Paradise - A team of scientists, historians and divers embark on a scientific journey to Bikini Atoll to see the effects of 23 atmospheric atomic test blasts. With the help of a high-tech submersible, the Pagoo, they explore Bikini's underwater ship graveyard. On The Science Channell: February 9 10:00 PM; ET/PT.

Cradle of the Gods - Located on a hilltop sanctuary, Gbekli Tepe in Turkey is the worlds first known temple. Its 7,000 years older than the pyramids, older than Stonehenge and predates all known civilizations. Well join a team of archaeologists, anthropologists and explorers as they sift through the evidence at Gbekli Tepe to uncover the real purpose of this enigmatic structure, reveal the identity of the extraordinary people who built it and understand why they suddenly stopped using it. On The National Geographic Channel: Mar 01 08:00 PM; 11:00 PM; ET/PT.

Psychic Gold Hunt - Gold drew thousands of pioneers to the American West during the California Gold Rush of the mid-19th century. Now, a team of psychics is also on the hunt, but they are determined to use only the powers of their minds to find it. John Vivanco is a "remote viewer" who believes his paranormal abilities have allowed him to see gold buried here and the area around the treasure. On The National Geographic Channel: March 6th 08:00 PM; ET/PT.

Million Dollar Moon Rock Heist - In 2000, one Co-op showed an inordinate interest in the cache of moon rocks kept at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, repeatedly visiting the lab to examine them. Then the moon rocks mysteriously disappeared. Moon Rock Heist follows the trail of international intrigue surrounding the recovery of the rocks and reveals how law enforcement finally tracked down the thieves. On The National Geographic Channel: March 8th 10:00 PM; ET/PT.


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Copyright Lee Krystek 2012. All Rights Reserved.


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