The Andromida Galaxy. Is our own galaxy a lot bigger than we though? (Courtesy NASA)


Science Over the Edge

A Roundup of Strange Science for the Month


April 2015

In the News:

Milky Way Fifty Percent Bigger - It looks like our Milky Way galaxy may be a lot bigger than we originally thought. Scientists used data collected by the Sloan Digital Sky Survey to investigate a ring-like filament of stars that wraps around our galaxy. Scientists were wondering whether the so-called Monoceros Ring, located more than 65,000 light-years from the center of the Milky Way was part of our galaxy or a "dwarf galaxy that came in and spread itself out in this big ring," said astronomer Heidi Newberg, with Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Originally Newberg thought that it was a tidal debris stream from a dwarf galaxy. After looking at all the evidence gathered Newberg now thinks differently. "What I was trying to do was find more evidence that it was streams. It took a very long time to get this result, partly because I had to change my whole way of thinking. It now looks to me like it's part of the disk," she said. "It looks to me like maybe these patterns [ in the Monoceros Ring] are following the spiral structure of the Milky Way, so they may be related," admitted Newberg. If so, this increases the size of our galaxy disc from 100,000 light-years to 150,000 light-years.

Egyptian Tombs Found - Two American archaeologists working near the ancient Egyptian city of Luxor have found two beautifully painted tombs. It is estimated that the tombs date back to the New Kingdom of the 18th Dynasty (1543-1292 BC). The tombs are located near the Sheikh Abd el-Qurna excavation site, between the valleys of the Kings and Queens and the town of al-Qurna. "The tomb contains many stunning scenes with bright colours painted on plaster," said Antiquities Minister Mamdouh Eldamaty. "Many of scenes represent the tomb owner and his wife in front of an offering table and a view of a goddess nursing a royal child as well as scenes of the daily life." The tombs appear to be long to the same family: Amenhotep and his son Sa-mut. While the impressive murals are in good shape, the tomb appears to have been looted in ancient times of most of its goods.

Did the Fish Shoot First? - Jonathan Armbruster, biological sciences professor and curator of fishes for the Auburn University Museum of Natural History, was wondering what to name a new catfish from the Gurupi River in Brazil, when somebody pointed out it looked like a bounty hunter from Star Wars. "Chris looked at the specimen and said 'that looks like that guy from Star Wars,'" said Armbruster. "After a little prodding, I realized he was talking about Greedo. We then knew what the name had to be. The Peckoltia greedoi does bear a striking resemblance to Greedo." The character is a bounty hunter killed by Han Solo in "Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope." His namesake, Peckoltia greedoi, is a species of suckermouth armored catfish. First discovered in 1998, Armburster only recent re-evaluated the specimen and decided it was a different, new, species from its original designation. The character, Greedo, has been the source of controversy among Star Wars fans as his scene was altered in the 1997 re-mastered version of the film to show him shoot first at Han Solo before he was killed. This led to a fan-based campaign called "Han Shot First" to have the original scene restored.

Big Scary, Land Croc - Crocodiles of course are pretty scary, but at least they don't wander too far away from the water. But how would you like to run into a 9 foot tall croc, walking on two hind legs on land? If you lived in North Carolina during the Triassic period, you might have done just that. According to a study in Scientific Reports, some 231 million years ago Carnufex carolinensis, the "Carolina Butcher" roamed the forests there looking for a quick, meaty meal. "Carnufex lived in what is now North Carolina around the time the supercontinent Pangea was breaking apart," said Lindsay Zanno,assistant research professor at North Carolina State University, and lead author on the paper. "The skull of Carnufex is slender and long-snouted with dozens of blade-like teeth. For all practical purposes, this was an animal skillfully adapted for slicing flesh from the bones of its victims." The fossils of "Carolina Butcher" were excavated from the Pekin Formation in Chatham County, North Carolina.

Twin Asteroids Blast Australia in Past - Millions of years ago a massive meteorite came crashing down to Earth. The stress of hitting the atmosphere split it in two and each of these hit the ground, in what is now Australia, with devastating impacts. The craters from these impacts are gone, but scientist stumbled across evidence for them while drilling over a mile below the earth as part of geothermal research program. They were clued into the impact when a core from the drilling rig contained traces of rocks that had been turned to glass by high temperature and pressure. "We found two huge deep domes, formed by the Earth's crust rebounding after the huge impacts, and bringing up rock from the mantle below. This is a very strong indication of the elastic rebound effect following an impact," said Dr. Andrew Glikson of ANU School of Archaeology and Anthropology. "The two asteroids must each have been over 10 kilometers across -- it would have been curtains for many life species on the planet at the time," he added. Scientists are puzzled, however, because they can find no evidence of the extinction. This leads them to think that the blast must have happened at least 300 million years ago.


Science Quote of the Month - "Those who have an excessive faith in their theories or in their ideas are not only poorly disposed to make discoveries, but they also make very poor observations." - Claude Bernard


What's New at the Museum:

Wonders of the Solar System - And finally a list of seven wonders that are not of this world - Full Story

Mysterious Picture of the Month - What is this this?

Ask the Curator:

Power from Radio - I read that radio waves can be received and turned back into useable energy. Can it be done ? - John

The idea of wireless power goes back as far as the beginning of the 20the century. The electrical genius, Nikola Tesla, experimented with transmitting power using radio frequency resonant transformers (which we now call Tesla coils). At the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago he was able to demonstrate he could light bulbs from across the width of a stage. Later in 1900, at his laboratory in Colorado Springs he used a gigantic Tesla coil(producing an enormous 20 megavolts of power) to light three incandescent lamps at a distance of about one hundred feet or so.

Tesla, in fact, thought it would be possible to transmit power around the world and dreamed of sending electricity wirelessly into home and factories. In 1901 he started building a prototype wireless power station at Shoreham, New York. The Wardenclyffe Tower, however, was never completed when his financial backers pulled out of the project. The tower was scrapped to pay off Tesla's debts. Most modern electrical scientists and engineers do not think his plan of transmitting power through air for great distances would have worked.

That doesn't mean that wireless power does not have a place in modern electronics. For short distances magnetic fields can be used to charge cell phones with no actual wires involved. The phone simply sits on top of a pad. Another application where this is used is to recharge artificial cardiac pacemakers implanted in the chest of a patient. This avoids the patient having to have wires piercing his skin.

For longer transmission of power without wires, radio waves (usually in the form of microwaves, or lasers can be used). However, these techniques require that the transmission be directed at a particular receiver. One possible use of this type of transmission would be to put satellites in space with vast solar arrays. The satellite would then beam the power back to an earth receiving station using a laser or microwave beam. It would be possible to get it to go in the other direction too. For example, by powering a plane or drone from the ground by pointing a laser beam or microwave at it.

Recently some engineers at Duke University have designed a device that 'harvests' background microwave radiation and converts it into electricity. The gadget consists of fiberglass and has copper conductors wired together on a circuit board. According to their tests it can gather energy and converts it to electricity with 37 percent efficiently, which is comparable to solar cells. The engineers think it could be used to recharge cell phones or used to gather microwave energy beamed to a remote location. Skeptics point out that while the 7.3 volts the unit outputs is enough voltage to recharge a cell phone, the amperage needed is far short of what a charger plugged into a wall socket can do. However, there may be a future for such power harvesting system to drive very lower power/ low amperage devices such as wireless sensors.

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In History:

RADAR Invented - On April 2nd 1935, Scottish physicist, Sir Robert Watson-Watt, was given a patent for the a Radio Detection And Ranging device (RADAR). The invention, of course, has become an invaluable tool for both scientific, military and commercial operations. Watson-Watt developed a version of the device that would play an important role in defending the British Isles during WWII against German Air Raids by allowing the English to detect incoming bomber aircraft at a distance by bouncing a radio wave off their fuselages.

In the Sky:

April Showers Bring Meteorites - Look for the Lyrids Meteor Shower between the 16th and 25th. The shower will peak overnight on the 22nd. This display is the remnants of Comet C/1861 G1 Thatcher and will best be viewed after midnight, just after the first quarter moon sets. They will appear to come from the constellation Lyra (hence the name).


Boeing Patents Force Shield - The aircraft, defense and security company Boeing has just been granted a patent for a force shield that sounds like something out of a science fiction movie. The "Method and system for shockwave attenuation via electromagnetic arc" would detect an explosion, then use either lasers, electricity or microwaves to ionise a small region of air, producing a plasma field between the explosion and object to be protected. The shock wave from the explosion would then hit the plasma field and dissipate, keeping the object (imagine something like a Hummer) from being damaged. Unlike the force shields picture in the Star Wars and Star Trek series, this shield would not exist on a continual basis, but would only be created when it was needed. The shield also would not be effective against shrapnel from the explosion, only the shock wave.


Zeep and Meep are on a well deserved vacation. In their place we feature highlights from their past adventures.

Science over the Edge Archives

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Copyright Lee Krystek 2015. All Rights Reserved.


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