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Science Over the Edge

A Roundup of Strange Science for the Month

Applet credit: Ed Hobbs

April 2010

In the News:

Giant Eagle Might Have Preyed on Humans - Researchers have determined that Haast's eagle, which lived in the mountains of New Zealand up to 500 years ago, was a predator that occasionally might have eaten humans. The giant bird, which weighed up to 40 pounds and could strike its prey at 50 miles per hour, primary ate large, flightless moa birds. Scientists have argued whether the eagle was a predator or scavenger. Using a CAT scan, the researchers examined several skulls, a pelvis and a beak so they could reconstruct the size of the bird's brain, eyes, ears and spinal cord and compare them to modern predator and scavenger birds. The data showed clearly that the eagle was an active predator. "The science supports Maori mythology of the legendary pouakai or hokioi, a huge bird that could swoop down on people in the mountains and was capable of killing a small child," said Paul Scofield of the Canterbury Museum in New Zealand and one of the authors of the study.

Eggshells Yield Ancient DNA - According to a paper in Proceedings of the Royal Society, scientists have successfully recovered DNA from fossilized eggshells from Australia, New Zealand and Madagascar. Eggshells turn out to be a good source of protected DNA because they are made of calcium carbonate and an organic matrix which breaks down very slowly and wards off decay protecting the contents. Researchers have already collected DNA for the elephant bird Aepyornis (the largest bird that ever lived) which stood 10 feet tall and weighed close to 880 pounds. Earlier attempts at collecting DNA using Aepyornis bone had failed. Lead author Charlotte Oskam, a researcher at Murdoch University, suspects eggs found in cold polar areas could lead to "DNA of much greater antiquity." The recovered DNA could be used to clone extinct animals, though Oskam herself is not interested in such as applications for ethical reasons.

Leonardo Da Vinci's Giant Horse Statue Feasible - A new study has shown that "Il Cavallo," the giant horse statue that was a project of Leonardo Da Vinci that was never completed, would actually have been successful. The statue was commissioned in 1482 by Lodovico Sforza, duke of Milan, in honor of his father. Engineers have argued for years whether it would have been possible to cast the 70-ton bronze statue in one pouring as would have been needed. "How would you handle such a large quantity of hot bronze, and how would balance a huge structure weighing many tons on three legs?" said Paolo Galluzzi, director of the Institute and Museum of the History of Science and leader of the study. Galluzzi team used Leonardo's notes and computational fluid dynamics software to simulate the creation operation. According to their calculations the 24-foot-high statue would have only taken 165 seconds to pour. Despite 17 years planning the work and the completion of a full-sized clay model, Leonardo had to give up the project when the bronze needed to make it was used for creating cannons for war against France. "Now that our research has proved that Leonardo's project was feasible, we are planning to finally cast his horse right in the town where he wanted it to stand," Galluzzi said.

Scientists Put Macro Object in Superposition - Researchers have completed a new experiment where they have been able to put an object large enough to be visible to the naked eye into quantum superposition. Superposition allows an object to be in multiple places or states and the same time. This is easily demonstrated at the microscopic level for objects consisting of a small number of atoms. The scientists at University of California, Santa Barbara, have now achieved this with a mechanical resonator that is around a trillion atoms in size and 40 µm in length (a human hair is about 100 µm thick). To get the experiment to work the scientists had eliminate any heat exchange between the resonator and the outside world that would destroy or mask the superposition state. They did this by lowering its temperature to less than one tenth of one degree above absolute zero. They were then able to use a device called a superconducting quantum bit to see the resonator both vibrating and not vibrating at the same time similar to the cat which is both dead and alive in Schrödinger's famous thought experiment. Scientists hope that experiments like these will help to illuminate the boundary between the quantum physics and classical physics which is one of the least understood areas in science.

Queen's Tomb Found - French archaeologists have found a burial chamber believed to be that of a 4,000-year-old Egyptian queen. Scientists suspect that the badly damaged chamber belonged to Queen Behenu, wife of either King Pepi I or Pepi II of the Sixth Dynasty. Researchers discovered the tomb as sand was being cleared from Behenu's pyramid in South Saqqara, west of the pyramid of King Pepi I. Though the mummy of the queen was destroyed and little remains of the burial goods, the team did find intact hieroglyphics engraved on the walls known as the "Pyramid Texts." Pyramid Texts represent the oldest form of Egyptian religious writings and are special prayers to protect the dead.

Science Quote of the Month - "Science is facts; just as houses are made of stones, so is science made of facts; but a pile of stones is not a house and a collection of facts is not necessarily science." - Henri Poincare


To Read:

Chupacabra Visions - Artists and writers Jesus Riddle Morales, David Arshawsky and R.M. Hamilton set out to produce some credible designs and stories based on "Chupacabrids" tales from around the globe. The result, an on-line book called "Chupacabra Visions" Illustrated is an interactive venture that allows viewers to post their comments beneath each page. According to Morales "It was difficult merging designs from often very different and abstract witness accounts of some of these odd beasts. However, I was able to compile the first bestiary of the 12 most notable Chupacabra's on the planet." The group hopes that readers take some time to view the art and read the book, which they feel whether readers think is credible or not factually, will still be entertaining. http://darkriddle1.wetpaint.com/photos/album/153960/Chupacabra+Visions


What's New at the Museum:

Notes from the Curator's Office: Ten Mysterious Places I'd Like to Visit Before I Croak - The curator tells us about ten anomalous places he'd like to visit before it is too late. >Full Story

Nazca Lines Remix - Check out our updated page on the mysterious Nazca lines of Peru. Did the ancients use them as temples for human sacrifice?<Full Story


Ask the Curator:

Many Channels - Two Wires? - A cable vision wire for a TV only has two wires in it. But it can have over a hundred different signals(channels) coming through it at the same time, even more if you count the sound and picture as separate signals. How can all those different signals come through at the same time? - John.

This is really the same question for a number of similar problems: How can we have get signals from multiple radio stations all coming through the same airspace at the same time? How can we have multiple video channels on a single fiber optic cable? How can we hear different sounds at the same time with our ears? The answer in every case is because the information is coming at us as waves vibrating at different frequencies.

Let's take the simple case of two musical instruments: A tuba and a piccolo. A tuba produces long, waves of sound. We hear this as a low pitch. Because the waves are far apart they reach us less quickly than closer waves so we call this a low frequency (of waves).

A piccolo produces a high pitch which means it sends us shorter waves that come at us more often giving us a higher frequency.

If we could see these waves as they come to our ears we would see that they appear not as separate waves, but as two sets of waves piled on top of each other. However, our ears can easily separate the sounds by wavelength so we tell the tuba apart from the piccolo.

In the case of radio waves it is an electric field that carries the waves. Different radio stations operate at different frequencies and the electronics in the radio, like our ears do with sound, separate them so the radio tune into just one station while ignoring the other.

Now one caution here: radio waves are slightly different than sound waves because radio waves act as "carrier" waves that transport the information on them by changing the height of the waves (amplitude modulation or AM) or changing the frequency just slightly higher or lower (frequency modulation or FM). Because radio waves are used as carriers they transport all kinds of information on top of them including music, cell phone conversation, and video. Much of the information carried is now coded digitally on top of the signal, such as in the case of HDTV.

Whatever the information that is carried, at the bottom level it is still the fact that the waves are transmitted and received at different frequencies that allow them to be separated.

This is also the case with cable TV. The waves are transmitted through wires by electricity, but are very similar to the radio waves that move through the air. Your cable box sorts out the channels by frequency so you can then select one to appear on your TV.

In many places the older cable systems that depended on wire and electricity are now being replaced with fiber optic lines that carry light. What's the advantage? Well, light signals operate at higher frequencies than radio signals. This means more information can be carried on a fiber optic line allowing for more video channels.

In History:

Crash at Aurora - On April 19th of 1897 the Dallas Morning News reported that an airship had crashed in the small, northern Texas town of Aurora. There was only one person on board, supposedly a Martian, who was buried in the local cemetery. Though the article was eventually attributed to a case of hoax journalism, it caught the interested of UFO researchers in the 1960's and 70's who wanted to exhume the non-existent body.

In the Sky:

Lyrid Meteor Shower - Check out the Lyrid meteor shower this month. It starts on April 19 and runs through 24, but the peak of activity is on April 22 when you may see as many as 12 meteors per hour. All meteor showers are the result of Earth crossing the path of a comet that leaves tiny particles in its trail. This shower no exception and the responsible party is Comet Thatcher discovered by A. E. Thatcher in 1861. The meteors will appear to come from the constellation Libra, so be looking in that direction. Best viewing will be early in the morning after the moon has set.



New Smithsonian Exhibit Draws Protestors - You might expect that the new Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History's state-of-the-art, $20.7 million, "Hall of Human Origins," exhibit might draw a crowd of creationist protestors on it's opening day, but it didn't. Instead a group of Greenpeace's activists with signs showed up. What does Greenpeace have against the "Human Origins? Well the exhibit was co-funded by oil billionaire David Koch who opposes regulating greenhouse-gas emissions, something that Greenpeace supports. Greenpeace's Kert Davies admitted that the group bore no ill-will toward the museum itself. "We are not opposed to the Smithsonian," Davies says. "I hear the exhibit is fantastic."


On the Tube:

Please check local listing for area outside of North America.

Nova: Hunting the Edge of Space - How telescopes have expanded our view of the universe. On PBS: Hour 1: The Mystery of the Milky Way; April 6 at 8 pm; Hour 2: The Ever-Expanding Universe, April 13 at 8 pm; ET/PT.

Life: Creatures of the Deep - Deep-sea marine invertebrates are extraordinarily diverse. In this episode, Humboldt squid change color like flashing neon signs and attack a school of fish, while vast numbers of giant spider crabs emerge and congregate in the shallows to molt. On The Discovery Channel: Apr 04, 9:00 pm; Apr 05, 12:00 am; Apr 05, 12:00 am; Apr 11, 7:00 pm; ET/PT.

Sci Fi Science: How to Blow Up a Planet - The crosshairs are lined up, a death ray is fired and a planet is vaporized. Sci fi fantasy? Not according to Dr Michio Kaku, who draws up blueprints to show how a real death star might work. The technology could be here sooner than you think! On The Science Channel: Apr 04, 4:00 pm; ET/PT.

Can We Make a Star on Earth? - Three minutes after the Big Bang, something remarkable happened. A phenomenon emerged that would go on to forge all matter in the universe; a kind of nuclear reaction that millions of years later would light the up first stars...Nuclear Fusion. On The Science Channel: Apr 04, 9:00 pm; Apr 05, 12:00 am; Apr 06, 4:00 am; ET/PT.

The Next Megaquake - Earthquake preparation has become a normal part of life for West Coast residents. But scientists believe a quake far stronger than ever before may be on the way. The "megathrust" quake could unleash volcano eruptions, landslides and tsunamis. On The Science Channel: Apr 11, 8:00 pm; Apr 11, 11:00 pm; ET/PT.

Neanderthal: The Rebirth - Ever since the first Neanderthal bones were found, they have posed fundamental questions for scientists. Were these beings almost identical to us, or were they crude and primitive creatures, an evolutionary dead end? On The Science Channel: Apr 05, 10:00 pm; Apr 06, 1:00 am; Apr 07, 5:00 am; ET/PT.

Nazi Secret Weapons - Just prior to the end of WWII, the German military secretly undertook a massive push to design miracle weapons - colossal tanks, the world's first guided missiles and long-range bombers that could attack New York. On The National Geographic Channel: April 1st., 9:00 PM; ET/PT.

Making the New Earth - Using photorealistic CGI visualizations, we'll make a science fiction dream of Mars -- a world of trees, rivers and blue skies -- a plausible future. On The National Geographic Channel: April 5th, 8:00 PM; ET/PT.

Hitler's Hidden City - Go deep beneath Berlin to explore a vast network of nearly 25 miles of secret tunnels built by Adolf Hitler sealed since World War II. Direct evidence for Hitler's architectural dream of Germania remains today. On The National Geographic Channel: April 8th 7:00 PM; ET/PT.

Explorer: Easter Island Underworld - A team of National Geographic explorers undertakes a groundbreaking expedition: to map a vast cave system that became the last refuge of the people who carved these iconic statues. On The National Geographic Channel: April 18th 7:00 PM ; ET/PT.

The Real Face of Jesus? - As the Shroud of Turin is put on public display for the first time in 10 years, new data reveals more than just a flat image embedded in the ancient cloth, but an astonishing, three-dimensional, sculpture-like figure. Using the principles of physics, cutting-edge digital technology, and the revolutionary CGI process pioneered in Stealing Lincoln's Body, HISTORY brings that image to life, unveiling the most accurate representation ever seen of what many believe to be Jesus Christ. On The History Channel: Apr 3, 8:00 PM ; 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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