Over the Edge
Roundup of Strange Science for the Month
Grain of Salt Camera - German engineers have now
found a way to cheaply build cameras that are as small as
a grain of salt. The Fraunhofer Institute for Reliability
and Microintegration in Berlin, a large German R&D facility,
created the cameras by assembling them on a single electronics
wafer chip using specialized polymers to bond the parts.
The camera will have numerous uses especially in the medical
field. Because of their small size the devices will be able
to get into and observe spots very deep inside the human
body. Because the cameras are built on a chip, up to 25,000
them can be manufactured at one time. This reduces the cost
compared to traditional micro cameras which in the past
have required expensive, individual, manual manufacturing
techniques. This means the new cameras will be cheap enough
to be considered disposable.
Older Elephants are Wiser - A study on African
Elephants suggests that the older individuals make better
leaders for the group. Researchers played lion calls to
58 distinct family groups at Amboseli National Park in Kenya.
The calls were of either of a group of male lions or a group
of female lions. Besides man, lions are the elephant's greatest
threat, with the male lions being more dangerous than female
lions. The researcher noticed that female elephant's greater
than 60 years of age who were leading their herds were more
sensitive to the male calls apparently recognizing the increased
danger because of their experience. "Our work emphasizes
the importance of the knowledge that older individuals may
possess, which can ultimately lead to benefits for individuals
in groups that have older leaders," said co-author Graeme
Shannon of the University of Sussex. This is a pattern that
sciences have observed in a number of species including
sperm whales, killer whales, broad-winged hawks, ravens
and even humans.
Oldest Pterandon Found in Texas? - An amateur
fossil hunter may have found the oldest known specimen of
the ancient flying reptile Pteranodon in North America.
Gary Byrd, who works as a roofing contractor by day, indentified
the bones found during the excavation of a culvert in a
new subdivision north of Dallas, Texas. "I found a couple
parts of a fish, and then when I saw these my initial thought
was that they weren't fish," said Byrd, "I kind of knew
it was something different - a birdlike thing. It's very
rare you find those thin, long bones." Timothy Myers, a
paleontologist at Southern Methodist University, examined
the find and believes they maybe from a Pteranodon. If he
is right at the age of 89 million years it will be the oldest
example found in North America by 1 or 2 million years and
the second oldest in the world. It is also the only Pteranodon
found further south than Kansas. Myers is working hard to
make a positive identification. "If it wasn't crushed so
badly, it would be possible to determine if it really is
Pteranodon," Myers said. "These bones are easily flattened.
They are hollow inside, because they have to be lightweight
to allow a pterosaur to fly. So they compress like a pancake
as they're embedded in layers of rock."
Henry the Eighth had Rare Blood and Bad Genes? -
A study suggests that Henry the Eighth, famous for beheading
multiple wives, may have suffered from two health problems
that could explain his actions. The infamous 16th-century
British monarch was known to have health problems late in
his life and an inability to produce a healthy male heir.
Catarina Whitley, a bioarchaeologist at Southern Methodist
University believes that the king may have had a rare blood
type, Kell positive. A male that mates with a non-Kell positive
female will produce a healthy child the first pregnancy,
but often subsequent pregnancies will produce miscarriages
or children with severe health problems. Henry's wife, Ann
Boleyn, produced a healthy girl child first time around
(Queen Elizabeth) but miscarriages from then on. Another
of his wives Katherine of Aragon had as many as six pregnancies,
but only her fifth led to the birth of a live and health
baby, Queen Mary. Whitely also conjectures that Henry suffered
from a rare genetic disorder called McLeod syndrome.
The syndrome appears at about age 40 and causes heart disease,
movement disorders and major psychological symptoms, including
paranoia and mental decline, all indicators that Henry had.
Although experts have acknowledged the theory is interesting,
without genetic evidence there's no way to know for sure
whether it is right.
Neanderthals Wore Feathers - Recent research
suggests that the Neanderthals collected bird feathers for
the specific purpose of decoration. According to a study
in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Neanderthals in northern Italy 44,000 years ago cut the
wing bones on birds in such a way designed to remove the
feathers. "Cut, peeling and scrape marks are observed exclusively
on wings, indicating the intentional removal of large feathers,"
wrote paleoanthropologist Marco Peresani in the study. Peresani
and his colleagues discovered 660 bird bones belonging to
22 different species at Fumane Cave, an old Neanderthal
homestead. "The Neanderthals from Fumane removed the remiges,
which are the longest and more beautiful feathers," observed
Peresani. Most of the species involved were not good food
sources and the Neanderthals did not use feathered arrows.
This suggests that they were using the colorful feathers
for display purposes, indicating that the Neanderthals were
more concerned about appearances than people might have
Science Quote of the Month -
"Science is an imaginative adventure of the mind seeking
truth in a world of mystery" - Sir Cyril
New at the Museum:
The Empire State Building - The beginning
of the 20th century was marked by a boom of building activity
in the city of New York. One building would soon rise among
the rest: it would eventually be 1,454 feet in height with
102 stories and become an icon for the city and the 20th
century. Part of our new series on marvels of the modern
Mysterious Picture of the Month - What
is this thing?
The Mythic Snake - What is a "nãga"?
There are several
meanings to the word, but the one I think you are interested
in comes from Asian cultures. There "nãga" refers
to a snake, usually a hooded one, like a cobra. Attached
to the name is not only living snakes, however, but a large
number of stories from the Hindu and Buddhist traditions
about mythical snakes.
In these traditions
the nãga is often pictured as a huge snake with both
serpent and human traits. Often the nãga can shape-shift
from one form to another and are many times depicted in
drawings with a human upper half and a snake lower half
(much like the traditional image of a mermaid with a human
upper half and a fish tail).
Unlike the snakes
in many western myths which almost always given evil roles,
the n?ga of the east is more often pictured as good or at
least neutral. They are associated with water and often
seen as guardians of springs, wells and rivers. They can
also bring rain (which is extremely important as this grows
crops to feed people). Their control over water, however,
also has negative aspects and the nãga can bring
drought and floods if provoked by human disrespect for the
environment. Sometimes they are also the guardians of treasure.
The Chinese version
of the dragon is in many ways a type of nãga. Both
have long sinuous bodies and are associated with water and
In Cambodia along
the Mekong River on certain days mysterious red fireballs
appear from the river and rise rapidly into the nighttime
sky. The number of fireballs varies, sometimes there are
only a few dozen and on other occasions a few thousand.
According to local tradition these fireballs are caused
by the nãga under the river shooting off fireworks
to celebrate the end of the rainy period in October. The
spectacle has been greatly promoted by the government in
recent years and many towns hold festivals. There is no
good scientific explanation for this phenomenon as yet,
though some people think it might be related to gases rising
from the water. A 2002 television program argued that the
fireballs were tracers from gunshots on the other side of
the river, but this was met with furious protests from local
villagers who prefer the Nãga explanation.
appear in the great Sanskrit epic Mahabharata from India,
were they take a more negative role. In the story the sage
Kasyapa has two wives, Kadru and Vinata. Kadru's children
are the nãga, while Vinata's children are the sun
god and the bird, or eagle, god, Garuda. Garuda becomes
the sworn enemy of the nãga and devours them for
food. Often an amulet of Garuda is worn by people to guard
against snake bites.
Pictures of nãga
are often carved into temples or as a part of other statuary.
In addition to the half-human form they are often shown
as snakes with multiple heads. Often the heads will form
a fan-shape over a person or object as a sign of protection.
In modern popular
culture the nãga occasionally pop up in some form
in books or games. The pet snake of Voldemort, from the
Harry Potter series of books, is named Nagini which is the
female version of nãga. Also in the World of Warcraft
game there is a race of aquatic snake-people called Naga.
Mysterious Airship in Europe - April 1913 ended
a wave of airship reports throughout Europe that had started
in the fall of the previous year. Observers had reported
seeing huge cigar-shaped craft with bright searchlights
often moving at great speeds even against the wind. These
waves of reports were similar in many ways to airship "flaps"
in the western hemisphere, the most famous being the supposed
mysterious airship that traveled across the United States
in 1896 and 1897.
Lyrid Meteor Shower - April is the month that
Earth encounters the Lyrid meteors. This year they will
be in the sky from late night April 22nd until dawn April
23rd. This shower can generate up to 100 shooting stars
per hours, but more typically will generate from 10 to 20.
Normally the best time to see them is a few hours before
dawn, however this year the glare from a waning moon will
make all but the brighter ones difficult to see. Look for
the meteors appearing to come from the constellation Lyra
Search for Earhart Continues - The International
Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR) hopes to prove
that Amelia Earhart, the legendary pilot who disappeared
74 years ago, crash landed on Nikumaroro, an uninhabited,
tropical island, rather than going down at sea. The group
has found a number of items on the island, but a bone and
clumps that may be human feces hold out the hope of using
DNA to determine if the items are related to Earhart or
her navigator, Fred Noonan. Unfortunately what appears to
be a finger bone has yet to yield clear DNA evidence that
it is human. A laboratory test of the clumps found evidence
of human DNA, but not enough to connect it with an individual.
TIGHAR expects to continue to work along this line, however,
hoping the futures developments in DNA testing may give
them a more definite conclusion to the three-quarters of
a century old aviation mystery.
check local listing for area outside of North America.
Nova: The Bible's Buried Secrets - An archeological detective
story traces the origins of the Hebrew Bible.
On PBS: April 13
at 9 pm; ET/PT.
Seeing Black Holes - Follow the world's greatest scientists as they attempt to understand
a phenomenon that Einstein believed could only exist on
paper. We now know there are millions of black holes in
our galaxy, and they are the scariest things we know least
about On The Science Channel: Apr 11, 9:00 pm; ET/PT.
Sci Fi Science: Aliens Attack - Sci Fi Science pits scientists, engineers and particle physicists against
the most bizarre tabloid accounts of the supernatural to
learn the real science behind the crazy headlines. Unreal
Stories, Real Science. On The Science Channel: Apr 03, 8:00
pm; Apr 03, 11:00 pm; Apr 05, 3:00 am; ET/PT.
Underwater Universe - Throughout history, tidal waves have drowned us, storm surges have sunk
cities, and hurricanes and cyclones--fueled by the ocean--have
blown away all in their path. Today, science forecasts that
the oceans are getting fiercer, rising up to reshape our
coastlines and create untold devastation, social unrest
and economic crisis. Track the history and evolution of
the ocean's seven deadliest zones--locations that throughout
history have been the direct causes of human devastation
by floods, tsunamis, hurricanes, whirlpools, ice, underwater
volcanoes, and shipping graveyards. Using expedition footage,
3D animation, and commentary from leading oceanographers,
we'll depict the awesome cosmic and geological fluctuations
that make the oceans deadly over time. On The History Channel:
10PM on April 2nd; ET/PT.
Ancient Aliens: Closer Encounters - Reports of encounters with strange beings and sightings of mysterious
objects in the sky have occurred throughout history. A 13th
century historical book, Otia Imperialia, includes an account
of a creature descending from a flying craft over Bristol,
England. The log from Christopher Columbus' first voyage
to America contains a report of strange lights in the sky.
Medieval art pieces depict disc-shaped objects floating
in the heavens. Sightings of flying cigar-shaped crafts
were reported during the Black Plague. And there were even
discussions of extraterrestrial life among America's Founding
Fathers. Could these sightings, coming from every part of
the world, from biblical times to present day, be evidence
that aliens have been with us all along? On The History
Channel: 8PM on April 1st; ET/PT.
Finding Jack the Ripper
Could Jack the Ripper have been the world's first trans-Atlantic serial
killer? Can 21st century techniques and CGI 3-D autopsies
crack this 19th century crime spree, while reversing decades
of investigative assumptions?. On The
7:00 PM; ET/PT.
Hunt for the Abominable Snowman - Across the Himalayas are stories of the yeti, or abominable snowman.
Half man, half ape, the yeti is said to roam only the most
remote peaks, where people rarely venture. On The
9:00 PM ;
11:00 PM; ET/PT.
Ben Franklin's Pirate Fleet - A lost piece of American history may have been uncovered deep in the
sea a shipwreck thought to have belonged to a fleet of American
privateers. Is it possible that this ship was on a mission
from Benjamin Franklin? On The
Channel: April 6th10:00 PM; April 7th 7:00 PM; ET/PT.
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Copyright Lee Krystek 2011. All Rights Reserved.