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Science Over the Edge

A Roundup of Strange Science for the Month

Applet credit: Ed Hobbs

April 2009

In the News:

NASA Telescope Look's for ET Homes - NASA Telescope Look's for ET Homes - NASA has launched its Kepler spacecraft in a bid to find "Earth-like" planets orbiting stars in our end of the Milky Way galaxy. The telescope will orbit the sun will monitoring some 100,000 stars for the tiny changes in brightness that signal a planet passing in front of it. Scientists will then use information gathered to calculate the size and orbit of the planet and deduce if it could support life. Scientists have discovered 330 "exoplanets" using this method with ground based telescopes. All of these found are though not to be able to support life as they are much bigger that Earth and closer to their stars. The Kepler spacecraft will observe many more stars and be able to look for smaller changes in brightness which will help identify smaller, more Earth-like planets. Scientists hope that by 2013 -- the end of Kepler's mission - they will have a good idea on whether life in the universe could be widespread.

Dinosaurs on the Way Back to Life - Scientists, led by Jack Horner, a professor of paleontology at Montana State University and curator of paleontology at the Museum of the Rockies, are working on a scheme straight out of Jurassic Park: to create a living dinosaur. Unlike the movie, where they used DNA from mosquitoes that had bitten dinos and got trapped in amber, Horner thinks he can use the DNA from living birds, like chickens. "Birds are dinosaurs, so technically we're making a dinosaur out of a dinosaur," said Horner. Horner and other scientists think that dinosaur characteristics are buried in chicken DNA. By changing the levels of regulatory proteins that control the expression of these genes they can restore to the animal dino characteristics like teeth, a tail, scales and claws. The result would not be so much a dinosaur of any particular species, but a kind of dino-chicken. Horner describes the process in his new book "How to Build a Dinosaur: Extinction Doesn't Have to Be Forever" due out in May.

Oldest Evidence of Upright Walking - Oldest Researchers revealed the evidence of a modern stride in humans dating back to over a million years. The footprints, estimated to be 1.52 million years old, were discovered at Ileret, Kenya, according to a report in the journal Science. The prints show a large toe parallel to the other toes, indicating a modern upright stride likely to have been made by the early hominids Homo ergaster or Homo erectus. Scientists are aware of older footprints, dating from around 3.6 million years ago attributed to Australopithecus afarensis. Those prints show an upright posture and a shallow arch with an ape-like, divergent big toe.

Dead Sea Scroll Authors - The Essenes - Did Not Exist - Israeli scholar, Rachel Elior, argues that the long-thought authors of the dead sea scrolls, a group called the Essenes, ever existed. Elior claims that they were the invention of the 1st century A.D. Jewish-Roman historian Flavius Josephus who wanted to impress the Romans that "the Jews weren't all losers and traitors…" according to Elior. "He was probably inspired by the Spartans. For the Romans, the Spartans were the highest ideal of human behavior, and Josephus wanted to portray Jews who were like the Spartans in their ideals and high virtue." As evidence of her claim she notes that nowhere in the scrolls do the authors refer to themselves as the Essenes nor are them mentioned in other texts of the period. She believes the scrolls were authored by renegade sons of Zadok, a priestly caste banished from the Temple of Jerusalem in 2nd century B.C. Other scholars disagree arguing that the term Essenes is actually foreign in origin and in the document they call themselves by term such as 'men of holiness.'

Smallest North American Dino Found - Hesperonychus elizabethae, a 4.4-pound (2-kilogram) creature with razor-like claws that lived 75 million years ago has been identified as the smallest dinosaur known to have lived in North America. Nick Longrich, a paleontology research associate in the University of Calgary's Department of Biological Sciences found the dinosaur not by digging in the field, but by digging in the University of Alberta's collection of unstudied bones. The fossils were found in 1982 and were thought at the time to be a juvenile of a known species. Longrich noticed that the hip bones were fused, which only happens after an animal reaches adulthood. Longrich and Philip Currie, a collaborator, determined that Hesperonychus, whose name means "western claw," stood about 1.6 feet (50 centimeters) high. The dinosaur ran on two legs and had dagger-like teeth and an enlarged sickle-shaped claw on its second toe.

Science Quote of the Month - "I think that only daring speculation can lead us further and not accumulation of facts.." - Albert Einstein

What's New at the Museum:

Curators Notes: Magic & Teaching- Can a book about the history of magic tell us something about education? > Full Story

To Read :

Zebop Finds a Friend - Join the author of "The Bunny Stories" from our own Children's Reading Room for this first book in the new series: "The Martian Who Looked Like a Dog." Would you travel 36 Million miles to find a friend? Zebop the last Martian did. But will anybody on Earth want to be the friend to a fuzzy alien? Ages 6 - 8. At Amazon.com or on sale at our own Museum of UnNatural Mystery Press page.

Ask the Curator:

The Death of Bruce Lee - Was Bruce Lee Assassinated? - Ashiva

The demise of movie star/martial arts expert /cultural icon Bruce Lee in 1973, at 32 years of age, has inspired more conspiracy theories than almost any other death in modern times. The list possible culprits include:

Kung Fu traditionalists - They resented Lee's open portrayal of their sect's secret arts on the screen.

Rival Hong Kong filmmakers - They wanted to eliminate the competition.

Japanese Ninjas - Who were angry about how the Japanese were portrayed in Lee's films.

The Triad (Chinese "Mafia") - They had him killed because he did not bow to their extortion claims on his motion picture salary.

American Mafia - Lee refused their offer to be made an American movie star choosing instead to return to Hong Kong.

An unnamed prostitute - Lee had taken a powerful aphrodisiac which had caused him to become very violent. The prostitute, fearing for her life, hit him over the head with a glass ashtray.

Vengeful spirit - The Lee family was cursed and this accounted for his death and the death of his son, Brandon Lee (Brandon Lee was killed in an accident involving a gun on a set in 1993 while filming the movie "Crow").

Of course, not all of these can be true and it is likely that not any of them are true. However, there are some strange circumstances surrounding his death that have allowed these rumors to flourish:

The first indication that not all was well with Lee occurred on when the actor collapsed at Golden Harvest studios in Hong Kong on May 10th of 1973. He was rushed to the hospital were doctors determined he had cerebral edema - swelling of the brain. He was successfully treated at the hospital and released.

Over two months later on July 20 he was again in Hong Kong visiting the apartment of actress Betty Ting to go over a script when he felt ill. Ting gave him a tablet of Equagesic (a combination aspirin and muscle relaxant) and he lay down for a nap. Later on Ting and producer Raymond Chow were unable to wake him and called a doctor. The doctor examined him but was unable to help him and he died. The body was sent to Queen Elizabeth Hospital.

The autopsy showed that Lee had died from a cerebral edema similar to the one he had experienced back in May. The official report called it "death by misadventure." The only foreign substance found in Lee's body was the Equagesic and trace amounts of cannabis in his stomach. It seems likely that Lee's brain had swollen because of a rare allergic reaction to some substance. However, there was no evidence that Lee had taken Equagesic before the May incident and the amount of cannabis is his system seemed far too small for that to be the cause. Most doctors who reviewed the case, however, feel that he most have died of a hypersensitivity to the Equagesic, or the cannabis, or some combination of the two.

Conspiracy theorists have suggested that someone murdered Lee by giving him some substance that caused the swelling. They contend that the poison either did not show up on the toxicology tests used or officials were bribed to suppress the evidence.

No real proof of any murder conspiracy has ever surfaced and the death remains a sad end to a promising life. Lee, at age 32, was incredibly popular at the time of his death and many of his fans refused to believe Lee - who many considered the fittest man on the planet at the time - was dead. Others blame his death on over training, though there is also no evidence of this either.

Have a question? Click here to send it to the curator.

In History:

Death of Dr. J. Allen Hynek - April marks the anniversary of the death of Dr. J. Allen Hynek, a scientist and early UFO investigator. Hynek, an astronomer, got involved with UFO's in the 1940's when he was included as a part of the team of Air Force investigators looking into flying saucers. At first Hynek was unimpressed with the cases they investigated. In 1966 his observation that a much publicized UFO sighting in Michigan might have been caused by "swamp gas" was widely ridiculed. Later on though, Hynek reversed his stand saying that at least some sub-set of UFO reports were worthy of scientific investigation. He later helped found the Center for UFO Studies (CUFOS). Dr. Hynek died of a brain tumor in 1986.

In the Sky:

See If You Can Catch Mercury - If you have haven't ever seen the first planet from the sun, this month could be your chance. Mercury will be visible just after sunset in the west-northwest sky this month. Mercury's greatest elongation - which means its farthest separation from the Sun when viewed from Earth - occurs on April 25. It should be easiest to see that night. The moon should be visible between Mercury and the horizon that evening too.


British Release "Dog Walker" UFO Report - The British National Archives released records of 1,200 UFO sightings last month including one were a woman walking her dog claims she met an extra-terrestrial. According to the report in 1989 the woman was approached by a man with a "Scandinavian-type accent" dressed in a flying suit-style suit near Norwich, eastern England. The witness, who was "completely terrified" during the 10-minute encounter, ran home from where she saw a large glowing object rise vertically from behind some nearby trees and disappear. A note on in file of the incident describes it as "one of our more unusual UFO reports." In another report in the files witnesses claimed to have seen the large diamond-shaped object hanging in the air for about 10 minutes before it shot away vertically at high speed.

On the Tube:

Please check local listing for area outside of North America.

The DaVinci Shroud - The Turin Shroud is the world?s most famous religious relic, believers think it once wrapped the crucified body of Jesus Christ, but is the shroud a fake? Could it be the work of Leonardo Da Vinci - the greatest artist of all time?. On Discovery Channel. Apr 06, 9:00 pm; Apr 07, 12:00 am. ET/PT.

Treasure Quest: The Curse of the Black Swan - Part of the Treasure Quest series: Odyssey recovers an estimated half billion dollars worth of silver and gold coins. Spain believes it's from a 19th-century Spanish frigate and demands it back. Part legal battle, part high seas drama -- who will gain final possession of the treasure? On Discovery Channel. Apr 02, 10:00 pm; Apr 03, 1:00 am; Apr 04, 2:00 pm; ET/PT

America's Lost H-Bomb - A deadly threat lurks just a few miles off the coast of Savannah, Georgia. A thermo-nuclear weapon is ejected and lost during a war game between U.S. bombers and fighters. Can U.S. military experts retrieve the weapon before someone else tries to? On the Science Channel. Apr 02, 8:00 pm; Apr 02, 11:00 pm; Apr 03, 3:00 pm; Apr 04, 3:00 am; ET/PT

Last Mysteries of the Titanic - Academy Award winner James Cameron leads a film team of underwater explorers on a series of historic dives to document the innermost spaces of the world's most famous shipwreck. The team will use four mini-robots and a seafloor-to-satellite data system. On the Science Channel. Apr 05, 8:00 pm; Apr 05, 11:00 pm; Apr 07, 3:00 am; ET/PT

Death of Loch Ness Monster- The search for the Loch Ness Monster has captivated the world for decades, but now a startling realization about "Nessie" might shatter this age-old myth. Could the Loch Ness Monster be dead, and do its remains lie hidden at the bottom of the lake? Robert Rines, a world renowned inventor, believes he may have seen the remains of this mythical beast and is on a mission to find evidence to prove it. Rines, who believes he saw the creature surface in the lake in 1972, caught sonar images of the monster's remains. He believes Nessie's death may explain the decrease of sightings in recent years. Our search team looks for evidence and deploys the latest technology including remote operating vehicles (ROVs) and sonar and underwater cameras as it goes on the ultimate search for Nessie's remains.. On The History Channel. Wednesday, April 08 09:00 PM; Thursday, April 09 01:00 AM; ET/PT.

Ancient Aliens - What if life on Earth began in outer space? Millions of people accept the theory that intelligent life forms visited Earth thousands of years ago and were worshiped as gods by primitive man. Are monuments like Stonehenge and Easter Island the last remains of an ancient alien visitation? From unexplainable super structures, to knowledge of the solar system, mathematics, and even the ability to make electricity, this special explores evidence of super-human influences on ancient man and embarks on an around-the-world search for answers. It's an investigation into a theory some believe cannot be true, but many agree cannot be ignored. On The History Channel. Sunday, April 12 08:00 PM; Monday, April 13 12:00 AM; ET/PT.



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