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Science Over the Edge

A Roundup of Strange Science for the Month

Applet credit: Ed Hobbs

March 2013

In the News:

Asteroid Explodes Over Russia - A stony asteroid about 50 feet wide and weighing about 10000 tons entered Earth's atmosphere over the Chelyabinsk region of Russia on February 15 and exploded with the force of about 500 kilotons of TNT. The explosion was seen by thousands and lit up the sky brighter than the sun. The resulting shock wave damaged hundreds of buildings and injured around a 1,000 people. "This kind of object does fall fairly frequently, but when they fall into the ocean or desert, there is no impact on people -- so this one is unusual in the sense that it's come over a populated area," Don Yeomans, manager of the Near-Earth Object Program Office at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, stated. Yeomans added that because such meteoroids are relatively small, they are hard to spot and there is often little warning that they will hit our planet. Ironically the incident occurred on the same day scientists were monitoring a completely unrelated, much larger, asteroid named 2012 DA14, as it made a close path by Earth at the distance of 17,100 miles.

Richard III Found Under Parking Lot - British Scientists have used DNA to identify the remains of Richard III, king of England from 1483 to 1485. The remains were located in 2012 under a car park in Leicester. It is the former location of a Greyfriars friary were his enemies had him buried after he died in battle at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485. Until last year the exact location of his grave, however, had been lost to history. Scientists confirmed his identity by comparing his DNA with two remaining relatives, Michael Ibsen, a Canadian cabinetmaker, and another distant relative the wished to remain nameless. A forensic analysis of the the king's bones show that Richard III, who stood 5'8" tall, died after receiving two severe blows to the head, either of which would have been fatal. It appears he had lost his helmet in the course of the battle. His body also showed signs of "humiliation injuries," probably inflicted after death. Richard III is considered by many to be a "criminal king" because he stole the crown from his 12 year-old nephew and later had him executed. Richard III is featured in Shakespeare's works where he appears as a villain.

Big Dino, Little Gray Matter - Scientists analyzing the skull of a 70-million-year-old giant dinosaur named Ampelosaurus have found that it only had the brain the size of a tennis ball. "This saurian may have reached 15 meters (49 feet) in length; nonetheless its brain was not in excess of 8 centimeters (3 inches)," noted researcher Fabien Knoll, a paleontologist at Spain's National Museum of Natural Sciences. The Ampelosaurus was a member of the largest dinosaur group that ever walked the Earth: the sauropods. Despite their size sauropod skulls are fragile and few have been found intact. The Ampelosaurus skull that was measured was found in 2007 in Cuenca, Spain during construction of a high-speed rail track. The find shows that sauropod brains did not change much over time, suggesting that increased brain size was not helpful for their survival.

An "Evil" Patch in the Brain? - German neurologist Gerhard Roth claims to have found a "dark patch" in the human brain that maybe the key to the behavior of violent offenders. Roth, a professor at the University of Bremen doing government sponsored research, showed a group of killers, rapists and robbers violent scenes while scanning their brains and noticed an area in the front of the brain that would usually light up in normal people viewing such images, didn't react. "Whenever there were brutal and squalid scenes, the subjects showed no emotions. In the areas of the brain where we create compassion and sorrow, nothing happened," Roth said. Other neurologists are skeptical, however, that a single brain area can be traced back to "evil" behavior. Human behavior, according to them, is likely a far more intricate thing.

Alien Threat? Probably Not - In a recent paper published in Acta Astronautica, Janne M. Korhonen of the Aalto University, Espoo, Finland, argues that it is unlikely that humanity needs to worry about being attacked by aliens from space. "Destroying a species that cannot harm the invader would not improve the invader's security at all, and the gain of a single planet would seem to be a trivial advantage to a civilization that already has the capability to live in space," writes Korhonena. According to Korhonen, we have no interstellar "weapon of mass destruction," that might present a future threat to extraterrestrials. However, he also warns that "Any spacecraft capable of interstellar voyages in reasonable time is by itself a weapon of mass destruction," so building spaceships capable of visiting other stars in the future might provoke unwanted interest by alien civilizations.


Science Quote of the Month - "Nature composes some of her loveliest poems for the microscope and the telescope." ~Theodore Roszak


What's New at the Museum:

Notes from the Curator's Office: My Seven Minutes of Fame with the Travel Channel - In 1968 Andy Warhol, said "In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes." I think I may have gotten 7 minutes of that 15 the other day. - Full Story

Mysterious Picture of the Month - What is this this?

Ask the Curator:

Things Falling from the Sky: I've read a lot about sky falls... where things like fish fall from the sky. In Honduras, over 10,000 fish fall from the sky at the beginning of rain season. It is only in one village and my friend from Honduras won't believe me. I tell her that she didn't live in that village and that it DOES happen in another village. Am I right?- Cocobean

Skyfalls (Nothing to do with the most recent 007 thriller, I'm afraid) are some of the most puzzling of anomalous phenomena. The list of things that fall from the sky that don't really belong there are endless: fish, frogs, snakes, alligators, salamanders, turtles, lizards, worms, grain, straw, leaves, seeds, slime, stones, hazelnuts along with other items too numerous for me to list here. Even things might belong in the sky often come down in very odd ways: blue ice, and blood red rain are a couple of examples.

Now some of these events, especially since the invention of the airplane, can be explained easily. Blue ice may well be the result of a leak from an airliner's potty tank. However records of many of these events go back way before the invention of the airplane (for example a large fish fall in India in 1830) and even today some of the falls are of such size and duration as to make it unlikely the source was an aircraft.

The general wisdom is that a storm or waterspout pick up these objects and deposit them in another location. The problem with this theory is that most falls from the sky are highly selective in their type. For example, if a storm scooped up the contents o f a pond and dropped it a few miles away you might expect that you would get a mixture of fish, frogs and water plants. You also might expect that the fall would last a short time, or be scattered randomly over a large area. That is not always the case however. Let's look at a few examples:

In September of 1922 thousand of young toads (no fish - no old toads) fell - for two days - on the town of Chalon-sur-Saone in France. In 1947 near the town of Marksville, Louisiana, fish fell for an hour onto a strip of land just 75 feet wide and one-thousand feet long.

You might also expect that if a storm were the cause, then the objects that fell might be from the local area. In the case of the Marksville fish, however, a biologist determined they were of a species that didn't live in the local waters. And a scientist observing a fall on the South Pacific island of Guam in 1936 noted that some of the fish that fell there appeared to be tench (Tinca tinca) which are thought to live only in the fresh waters of Europe.

Perhaps one of the strangest things to fall from the sky is money. In May of 1982 near the Churchyard of St. Elisabeth in Redding, England, a local candy store owner informed the Rev. Graham Marshall that children had been coming in a buying candy in large amounts. He was concerned that perhaps they'd raided the church poor box. No money was missing from there, so the Reverend spoke to the children involved. Apparently they heard the money fall and tinkle on the sidewalk in the churchyard. Marshall decided to conduct his own investigation and came to the conclusion that the coins must be falling from a great height as some were embed edgewise in the ground, an effect he couldn't reproduce by just tossing coins in the air or even throwing them down with some force. In this case there were no storms in the area or tall buildings nearby.

Because storms don't seem to explain many of the falls, people have come up with some wild theories about might cause this phenomenon. In the 1950's UFO enthusiast Morris K. Jessup suggested such things like fish falls were the result of flying saucers dumping their hydroponic tanks. Others have suggested that these events are a product of teleportation - the instantaneous transportation of objects from one place to another. Others have suggested channels that somehow open to another parallel universe are responsible.

The truth is as much as the storm theory seems inadequate to explain many sky fall events, most of the alternative theories are wanting also. The simple truth is that nobody had come up with a mechanism that explains all cases of objects falling from the sky. More likely it isn't a single mechanism anyway, but several different ones.

As to your friend's skepticism about such falls, they clearly do occur and thousands of incidents have been reported throughout the years. As for exactly why they occur, well on that subject the jury is still out.

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


In History:

Soviets Probe Venus - On March 1st, 1966 the Soviet space probe, Venera 3, became the first human constructed craft to crash land on another planet. The spaceship was designed with scientific instruments and communications systems so that it could report on conditions on the planet Venus as it entered the atmosphere. Unfortunately these systems failed before the probe could send back any useful information


In the Sky:

Comet Incoming! - Around March 10th look for Comet PANSTARRS low in the western sky just after sunset. While by some estimates it should be visible to the naked eye, you might want to have a pair of binoculars handy. Earlier in the month the comet may be more difficult to see because it will be closer to the setting sun. Later in the month visibility may be obscured by a bright moon. In June of 2011 the Pan-STARRS telescope in Hawaii discovered this comet and the visitor from the outer solar system was named after the telescope.



Phobos Mined? - Writer and supporter of the theories of Zecharia Sitchin, Lee Covino, has proposed that the Martian moon, Phobos, it not what it seems to be. In 2010 a European Space Agency (ESA) paper studying the mass of the moon suggested that it " likely contains large voids." While this has prompted scientists at the ESA to question the accepted hypothesis that Phobos is actually a captured asteroid, Covino has a radically different take suggesting that "Phobos is a previously mined asteroid." He argues that NASA has looked at the possibility of mining asteroids, so why couldn't aliens have done the same thing? For more information on his unconventional argument check his article at: http://www.darkstar1.co.uk/phobos.html


On the Tube:

Please check local listing for area outside of North America.

Nova: Hunting the Elements - A journey to look at the elements that make up the periodic table. A two hour special. On PBS: March 27 at 9 pm; ET/PT.

The Bible: In the Beginning/Exodus (Premire of new series) - Noah endures God's wrath; Abraham reaches the Promised Land but still must prove his faith in God; Moses leads the Israelites out of Egypt, and his faith in God is rewarded when the Red Sea parts to allow the Israelites to escape Pharaoh's chariots; Moses delivers his final message from God--the Ten Commandments. On The History Channel: March 3rd 8PM; March 6th 9PM; March 10 8PM; ET/PT.

America Unearthed: Stonehenge in America - Geologist Scott Wolter has reason to believe America has its very own Stonehenge in New Hampshire. With the help of a young man who discovered an amazing connection between America's Stonehenge and Stonehenge in England, Wolter explores the possibility that the ancient Phoenicians are connected to both of these megalithic sites. At America's Stonehenge, he uncovers many clues, including a sacrificial table and a mysterious message carved on a stone in ancient script that helps advance this provocative theory. He also discovers both sites are accurate astronomical calendars and that alignments with the heavens are incorporated into their design. On The History Channel: March 6th 11PM; ET/PT.

Atlantis - Could the fabled lost city of Atlantis have been located? Using satellite photography, ground-penetrating radar and underwater technology, experts are now surveying marshlands in Spain to look for proof of the ancient city. If the team can match geological formations to Plato's descriptions and date artifacts back to the time of Atlantis, we may be closer to solving one of the world's greatest mysteries. On The National Geographic Channel: March 8th 7PM; ET/PT.

The Pirate Code - With little direction aside from a survivor's testimony and a cryptic clue, salvage expert Barry Clifford embarks on the search of a lifetime to uncover the near 300 year old wreck site of the Whydah Galley and its four and a half tons of treasure in The Pirate Code. The special brings to life Black Sam Bellamy - a legend during the Golden Age of Piracy and follows one man's quest to resurrect Black Sam's ship from its watery grave. On The National Geographic Channel: March 15 10PM; 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.


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