Science Over the Edge

A Roundup of Strange Science for the Month

Applet credit: Ed Hobbs

May 2001

In the News:

Unidentified DNA Hair Sample Maybe Yeti - Scientists from the Institute of Molecular Medicine in Oxford, England, have admitted that they have not been able to identify a hair sample, supposedly from a Yeti (also called the Abominable Snowman), as coming from any known creature. The hair, found by a British expedition team while working on a TV documentary, was taken from a tree in a forest in the Kingdom of Bhutan, on the eastern side of the Himalayas. The expedition was led to the location by Sonam Dhendup, the King of Bhutan's official yeti hunter for the past 12 years. Locals people had claimed they had discovered a piece of a mysterious skin in that forest. The results of DNA analysis on the hair surprised even the most skeptical researchers. Bryan Sykes, one of the scientists involved in the testing, told New Scientist that the sample was not human or bear, or anything else that they have so far been able to identify,

Ghost Survey Completed in Edinburgh - Ghostbusters, led by psychologist Richard Wiseman from Hertfordshire University in southeast England, spent 10 days probing rooms in Edinburgh, Scotland to see if they could find scientific evidence of any phantom presence. Although the high-tech detectors scanning the vaults for drafts, temperature, magnetic fields and lights, found only a large round green blob on a pair of photographs, scientists were intrigued that many of the 250 volunteers asked to travel through the rooms reported having ghostly encounters in only certain chambers. Most of the rooms visitors cited in the reports as being spooky were those already reputed to be haunted, though none of the volunteers knew the reputation of each room. Reports included a feeling of being watched or a sudden drop in temperature. Other visitors felt something touch their face or tug at their clothes. Wiseman isn't convinced that ghosts are really involved yet, but admits that the subject requires further investigation.

Dinosaur Uses Feathers for Warmth - A fossil carved by farmers from the Liaoning fossil beds in northeastern China last spring is the first showing a feathered dinosaur with its fluffy body covering fully preserved. Scientists claim it provides further proof that modern birds evolved from dinosaurs. The animal, a dromaeosaur, is part of a group of small predators related to the Velociraptor which walked on two legs. Mark Norell, chairman of paleontology at the Museum of Natural History in New York speculated that since the dromaeosaur walked and didn't fly, it proves that feathers first developed for warmth rather than flight.

NASA Launches X43 -After scrapping the X-33 project last month NASA has unveiled a new project designated the X43A. The X43A is designed to fly at up to 10 times the speed of sound. Unlike the rocket-powered X-15, which holds the current speed record of 6.7 times the speed of sound, the X-43A has an air-breathing engine. The plane carries hydrogen for fuel, but must suck oxygen out of the atmosphere to burn, unlike rockets which carry their own oxygen with them. The first X-43A will be unpiloted and make its test flight in mid-May, flying under its own power for 10 seconds before it does a splash down into the Pacific Ocean. The $185 million project is just an experiment and its not expected that the first piloted prototypes will fly until 2025.

Shroud of Turin Real Authenticated by Sudarium of Oviedo?- Tests are going on this month in Oviedo, Spain on the Sudarium of Oviedo to try and determine if it dates back to the time of Christ. The Sudarium of Oviedo is supposed to be the cloth that had covered Jesus' head when he was buried in the same way the Shroud of Turin supposedly covered his entire body. Carbon-dating tests done previously set the age of the shroud's creation in the 13th century making it a fake, probably created in Turkey. However, microscopic testing a sample of dirt taken from the foot region of the burial linen in 1978 has been shown to contain crystals of travertine argonite, a relatively rare form of calcite found near the Damascus Gate in Jerusalem. Also pollen studies done by Max Frei of Switzerland show pollens specific to Palestine on the shroud. Researcher Dr. Alan Whanger, professor emeritus of Duke University, claims that the pattern of wounds on the Sudarium of Oviedo exactly match those seen on the Shroud of Turin. If so, it would prove that the Shroud of Turin is at least as old as the Sudarium of Oviedo which has a history that can be traced back to 610 AD. This would make the Shroud of Turin at least 600 years old than what the Carbon-dating test shows.

New Theory to Bump-Off Big Bang? - The physical universe began not with a "Big Bang" according to a new theory, but with a tremendous collision with another universe. According to Princeton University physicist, Paul Steinhardt, and his colleagues, the universe began as a three-dimensional void in a higher-dimensional space. It was attracted to another such universe and the two lined up and collided with each other along their surfaces. The theory, dubbed "The Big Collision," is tentative. However, the scientists say it explains many observations of the universe, like it's extraordinarily homogeneous, better than the Big Bang.

SciFi Replicator a Step Closer- Scientists are one step closer to creating a "replicator" much like that shown on the science fiction television series Star Trek. The show pictured a machine that could be given the specifications of a complicated device and in seconds that machine could create the object from raw materials. John DuPont, assistant professor of materials science and engineering at Lehigh University, is working on a machine that will do something very similar. The device uses a laser to melt metallic powders as they are sprayed onto a substrate that moves on a special table. As the table moves and the materials are sprayed on and the object is built up layer by layer in whatever shape directed by a computer. Other systems have been built to create similar shapes by computer, but not using metallic materials.


What's New at the Museum:

The Lybarinth at Knossos - The Ancient Greeks told stories about the hero Thesesus who traveled to Crete to enter a maze called the Labyrinth and kill a half-man, half-bull monster called the Minotaur. Is any part of this legend true? The Lybarinth at Knossos.

Weird Geology: Geysers - What causes these natural boiling fountains? Why are they so rare? And why are many being destroyed? Weird Geology: Geysers. Also, do you know what a fumarole is? If not, visit our Gallery of Geyser Field Formations and find out. Gallery of Geyser Field Formations.


In History:

A Sea Serpent Named "Chessie"- One of the earliest modern sightings of "Chessie," the sea monster that supposedly appears in the Chesapeake Bay off of America's east coast, occurred on May 31, 1982 when it was seen by Robert and Karen Frew and friends. In the early evening they spotted what looked like a creature swimming within 100 feet of the shore. It seemed to be about 30 to 35 feet long and one foot in diameter. Robert Frew video taped the animal and the tape was shown to a group of scientists meeting at the Smithsonian Institute. The scientists could not identify the object, though they admitted that it appeared to them to be "animate." It was shortly after several incidents at this time that "Chessie" was given its nickname.


In the Sky:

Mars Goes Backwards - This is the month to start taking a close look at Mars. It will be rising late in the evening (around midnight) in the SE. If you watch it night after night this month you will notice something strange. Every night up to May 11th it will appear a little further east against the star background. This is its normal orbital motion as seen from Earth. On May 11th, though, Mars will go into retrograde motion and appear to start moving backwards! It will do this for the next two months. The planet does not actually change its orbit. The apparent reverse in motion is only the result of our movement as we ride along with on our own orbital path with planet Earth. For more information on this subject check out our flash film: Conjuctions and Occultations.



UFO Group Shuts Down - Mission to Earth Complete? - The British Flying Saucer Bureau is closing after nearly 50 years because of a drop in the number of reported UFO sightings. The group at times received at 30 reports a week, but now sightings have virtually disappeared. Denis Plunkett, 70, who founded the BFSB in 1953 with his late father Edgar, believes that perhaps the alien visitors have completed their survey of the earth and have gone home.

In Hunt For Nessie, Witch 1, Scientists 0 - There was a clash of interests at Loch Ness this month. Equipped with nets, sonar and acoustic cameras, scientists led by Jan Sundberg were out on a mission to capture the legendary lake monster. Things got a bit rough when Kevin Carlyon, a high priest in the British Coven of White Witches, turned up and started casting spells on the groupís boat and on the lake where Nessie resides. The scientists were angered. Carlyon said that he was simply trying to protect the creature. According to Carlyon it started out as a bit of a joke. He told friends that he would sometime go up to Loch Ness and save Nessie. He said it was pure coincidence that he and the scientists were there at the same time. While it is unknown if the spell worked, it is noted that the scientists did not succeed in catching the monster.


On the Tube:

Currently we are only able to give accurate times and dates for these programs in the United States. Check local listings in other locations.

The Lost Mummy of Imhotep - Archaeologists may have discovered the tomb of Egyptian high priest from the movie "The Mummy." Follow them as they dig the sands of Saqqara to explore his final resting place. Is he still there? Or is he working on the sequel? Airs on the Discovery Channel on May 2 2001 8:00 PM and 12:00 AM. Repeats May 5 2001 6:00 PM ET/PT.

The Ultimate Guide: Pyramids - The pyramid's stones still hold hidden clues to ancient cultures, and the mysteries of their construction still confound modern scientists. Travel across three continents to see how these pyramids and their fabled cities must have looked at the peak of their civilizations. On the Discovery Channel May 7 at 9 PM and 1 AM, Saturday, May 12 at 5 PM, Wednesday, May 16 at 9 PM and 1 AM and Saturday, May 19 at 1 PM ET/PT

The Hunt for Noah's Ark - New evidence indicates that the flood that forced Noah to build an ark actually happened. If there was an ark, what happened to it? Do recently declassified CIA photos reveal a distinctive ship-shaped formation near Mt. Ararat summit? Follow this History Channel Premiere as it looks into this enduring mystery. May 1 at 8 PM ET/PT.

The Enduring Mystery of Stonehenge - For 5,000 years Stonehenge has stood on the plain of Salisbury, England. Who built it? Was it an altar for human sacrifice, or landing pad for UFOs? On the History Channel. May 27 10:00 AM ET.

Ancient Aliens - Have we been visited in the past by aliens?. If so, will there be return trips in the future? Scientists investigate ancient ruins, artifacts, and texts from around the world exploring the possibility of extraterrestrial visits. Airs May 09 8:00 PM, May 10 12:00 AM, May 10 4:00 AM, May 27 2:00 PM ET/PT.

Alien Hunters - Part of the History Channel's "Incredible But True?" series. For centuries, cultures worldwide speculated about the existence of intelligent life beyond earth's bounds. With modern astronomy's birth, old myths transformed into compelling new theories. May 11 11:00 PM, May 12 3:00 AM and May 13 5:00 AM.

Secrets of Lost Empires II - PBS's Nova repeats part of it series on ancient technology. "Medieval Siege" on May 15, 2001 at 9 PM and "Pharaoh's Obelisk" on May 22, 2001 at 9 PM ET.



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