A new study suggests T-Rex was actually an invasive species. (Copyright Lee Krystek)


Science Over the Edge

A Roundup of Strange Science for the Month


April 2016

In the News:

T. Rex Maybe an Invasive Species - Although we think of the Tyrannosaur Rex as a North American original, a new study suggests there is evidence he actually was actually an invasive species. "It's possible that T. rex was an immigrant species from Asia," said study co-author Steve Brusatte, a paleontologist at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. He also cautions, however, that such a conclusion is not yet a "slam dunk." Scientists involved in the study analyzed 28 different tyrannosaur species and created a family tree that estimated just when and where each species lived. The tyrannosaurs developed differently in Asia and North America, but 67 million years ago a land bridge appeared between the two continents which may have allowed T. rex to cross using this route into North America. "Tarbosaurus is the Asian version of T. rex," noted Brusatte "Or, you could say that T. rex is the North American version of Tarbosaurus. They are so similar in terms of their monstrous size, their proportions, their massive jaw muscles and thick teeth and even many minutiae of their skull bones."

Scientists Try to Clone Extinct Cave Lion - Researchers in a joint Russian-South Korean project are trying to clone an extinct Paleolithic cave lion. The opportunity to attempt this came as the result of finding two perfectly preserved cave lion cubs in the Sakha Republic in eastern Siberia last August. The scientists hope they can extract enough DNA from the remains to attempt to clone the creatures. One of the team members, Semyon Grigoriev, is also involved in an effort to clone a woolly mammoth using a similar process. Protopopov believes the cubs were only a week or two old and died after being hidden in a cave by their mother to protect them from other hungry lions. He termed the find "sensational." One of the cubs will be donated to a museum for study and display while the other will be used in the cloning effort by the Joint Foundation of Molecular Paleontology at North East Russia University in the city of Yakutsk. The cave lion is thought to have gone extinct about 10,000 ago.

Researchers Drill the Killer Asteroid's Crater - This month a team of scientists are starting an exploration of the crater of the asteroid that brought death to the dinosaurs. Scientists from the University of Texas, the National University of Mexico and the International Ocean Discovery Program, will drill into the Chicxulub crater off off Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula. They are hoping core samples will tell them how quickly and to what extent life returned after the powerful impact. "You can assume that at ground zero of this impact we are dealing with a sterile ocean, and over time life renewed itself. We might learn something for the future," said Research Professor Sean Gulick of University of Texas Institute for Geophysics. The impact, which was thought to be a billion times more powerful than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, and the geological Cretaceous Paleogene boundary it created, marks a major extinction event of life on earth around 65 million years ago.

Are Aliens Huge? - According to one cosmologist's estimate aliens should weight an average of 650 pounds. He's made his approximation based on planet size and the law of conservation of energy. "Throughout the animal kingdom, species which are physically larger invariably possess a lower population density, possibly due to their enhanced energy demands," says Fergus Simpson of the University of Barcelona. "Which brings us to outer space, where, most inhabited planets are likely to be closer in size to Mars than the Earth." Other scientists have said that Simpson's estimates are reasonable, but point out that the largest life forms are not always the most intelligent. "Polar bears are large but do not write great literature and build radio towers," observes SETI Institute researcher Seth Shostak, "and a lot of that is probably because they are walking around on all fours."


Science Quote of the Month - "The cloning of humans is on most of the lists of things to worry about from Science, along with behavior control, genetic engineering, transplanted heads, computer poetry and the unrestrained growth of plastic flowers." - Lewis Thomas


What's New at the Museum:

How to Build a Thermonuclear (Hydrogen) Bomb - By the end of WWII, it was possible to build atomic bombs using fission (the splitting of atoms) that could create explosions equal to several hundred tons of TNT. Scientists suspected, however, that even more powerful weapons could be built by forcing atoms together, an effect called fusion. The United States tested the first of these mega-weapons in 1952 with a blast equal to 10.4 million tons of TNT. How are these thermonuclear super bombs built? > Full Story

Mysterious Picture of the Month - What is this this?

Ask the Curator:

Gravitational Waves - I hear that scientists have discovered gravitational waves. What is the significance of finding gravitational waves and how might they advance future technology? - Levi

The idea that like there are gravitational waves goes back to Albert Einstein a century ago. In 1915 he published this General Theory of Relativity and out of that work it became apparent that gravitational waves should exist. Einstein said that any object with mass makes a dent in the fabric of space and other objects with mass, because space is curved, tend to move toward that object.

The best way to visualize this is to imagine the fabric of space as a rubber sheet stretched out on a frame. Large, heavy objects (like the sun and its planets) make a big dents in that sheet. Smaller objects tend to roll downhill into those big dents. If an object (like a ball representing the moon) has enough velocity, however, it can find itself looping around (orbiting) the larger object (the Earth) only slowly falling into its dent as it loses it speed.

Of course, the fabric of space is three dimensional, not two dimensional like our rubber sheet, but it still works the same way. Now imagine you took a heavy object and bounced it on that rubber sheet. Ripples would move outward though the rubber. These are the equivalent of gravitational waves in our model.

Though scientists have known that gravitational waves must exist, it hasn't been possible to build a machine sensitive enough to detect them till just recently (Because of the difficulty Einstein predicted that they would probably never be found!) so finding them is significant both as a proof of Einstein's work and a demonstration of the sophistication of modern technology.

The machine that detected them, the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) consists of a machine built in an "L" shape with arms 4 kilometers in length. It sends a laser signal down both arms to measure the distance, which should be the same. If a large enough gravitation wave comes through it will stretch the fabric of space time by just a tiny amount making one arm slightly longer than the other. If the computer monitoring the machine detects that change (and all other sources of error are ruled out) then LIGO has detected a gravitation wave. The problem is that the change in distance is very, very small: about a thousandths the width of a proton, so it is very hard to detect (Imagine trying to detect the change in distance between the sun and its nearest neighbor star by only a hair's breath, and you get the idea about how challenging this is to do).

One of the immediately benefits of being able to detect gravitational waves is being able to create new and infinitely more powerful telescopes that can see back in time very close to the beginnings of the universe. All telescopes are in effect time machines. The light from the nearest star takes about 4.2 years to reach us, so we see Proxima Centauri as it was a little over four years ago. The light from the Andromeda Galaxy takes 2.5 million years to reach us, so we see that galaxy as it was over two million years ago. Optical and radio telescopes are limited in how far back in time they can see, however, by the cosmic microwave background in the early universe. This cosmic microwave background is opaque to photons, but gravity waves should have passed right though it allowing gravitational telescopes to see back to the first few minutes of the universe.

Gravitational telescopes should also be able to detect events like supernovas and black holes collisions way before the light from such an event would arrive allowing scientists with optical telescopes to have them pointing in the right direction to see the whole event. The gravitational scopes should also tell us something about what is happening inside the event, which we can't see from just looking at the outside by using the more traditional scopes.

In fact, scientists believe that the gravitational waves LIGO detected were the result of two black holes, both located inside a huge star, colliding with one another.

There are a number of groups with gravitational telescopes and others who have plans to build them. Some of them here on Earth will be deep underground to minimize vibrations that might spoil delicate measurements, but others may be located in space. Where ever they are, however, they will open up a whole new area of astronomy and cosmology.

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In History:

First Curse Victim? - April 5th of 1923 marks the death of the 5th Earl of Carnarvon (George Edward Stanhope Molyneux Herbert). Earl Carnarvon was a British Egyptologist who backed the work of Howard Carter. Carter had discovered the tomb of King Tutankhamun in November of the previous year. Lord Carnarvon's death in Egypt of an infection from an insect bite lead to the rumor that the tomb of King Tut was accursed. (See our page on this subject here).


In the Sky:

Full Moon Makes Lyrids Difficult to See - The night of April 22nd into the morning of the 23rd is the peak of the Lyrids Meteor shower. The shower is the trail of dust produced by comet C/1861 G1 Thatcher as Earth crosses its path. Unfortunately the full moon will limit the shooting stars seen on that night to just the brightest. Best viewing will be after midnight from a dark location.



Pyramid in Antarctica? - Self-styled UFO researcher Vicente Fuentes from Madrid believes he's found evidence of an ancient civilization on the remote Antarctica continent. Using Google Earth Mr. Fuentes discovered what looks like a pyramid at coordinates 7958'39.25 S and 8157'32.21 E. Mr. Fuentes argues this is evidence that Antarctica was a much more hospitable environment in the past. Mainstream scientists agree that the continent was at one time much warmer, but that this occurred millions of years before the rise of man and that any pyramid appearing object on the continent is most likely a natural feature.



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

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