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Science Over the Edge

A Roundup of Strange Science for the Month

Applet credit: Ed Hobbs

May 2010

In the News:

Massive Fireball Startles Midwest - A massive fireball streaked across the sky of the Midwestern United States on the evening of April 14th. According to authorities the object was visible for about 15 minutes starting at approximately 10PM local time. The fireball was reported across parts of Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and Wisconsin and was caught by several security cameras. According to the National Weather Service, ""The fireball was seen over the northern sky, moving from west to east. Well before it reached the horizon, it broke up into smaller pieces and was lost from sight," the service said. "Several reports of a prolonged sonic boom were received from areas north of Highway 20, along with shaking of homes, trees and various other objects including wind chimes." The cause of the fireball was probably a large meteorite possibly associated with the Gamma Virginids meteor shower which was in progress at the time.

Cornell Gives Up on Ivory-Billed Woodpecker - The Cornell Lab of Ornithology is giving up its search for the almost mythical ivory-billed woodpecker. The search started five years ago when evidence, including a video tape, emerged suggesting the extinct animal might still be alive and Cornell decided to declare the bird re-discovered. This started an exhaustive investigation throughout the historic range of the bird, however, no sign of any ivory-billeds were found. "The preliminary conclusion we've come up with at this point is that it's unlikely that there are recoverable populations of ivory-billed woodpeckers in those places that have received significant search efforts over the past five years," Ron Rohrbaugh, director of the Lab's Ivory-billed Woodpecker Research Project. "I think we'd say that (operations) are suspended until any new information would come about that would provide impetus for starting up systematic searching again," he added.

Giant Lizard Found in Philippines - A new, giant lizard, a relative of the Komodo dragon, has been discovered in the forests of the Northern Philippines. The lizard, brightly colored yellow and black, has been named the Northern Sierra Madre Forest Monitor Lizard and can grow up to 6 feet in length and weigh 22 pounds. The lizard lives in the trees and uses tree-specific body coloration for camouflage. Scientists think it may be very wary about exposing itself to terrestrial predators which is why is has remained concealed from researchers for such a long time. Unlike its distant relative, the Komodo Dragon, the Northern Sierra Madre Forest Monitor Lizard is, with the exception of an the occasional snail, primarily a vegetarian, subsisting on Pandanus fruit, figs, Pili nut fruits. "Rumors of its existence and some clues have floated around among biologists for the past 10 years," co-author of the paper announcing the find, Rafe Brown said. His article documenting the find can be found in this month's Royal Society Biology Letters

"Oriental Yeti" Captured - Hunters in Sichuan province in China have trapped a strange looking animal that is being called 'oriental yeti.' The hunters at first thought they were trying to capture what they thought was a bear, but when they finally got it in the cage, it didn't look like a bear. Lu Chin, one of the hunters explained: "It looks a bit like a bear but it doesn't have any fur and it has a tail like a kangaroo. It also does not sound like a bear - it has a voice more like a cat and it is calling all the time - perhaps it is looking for the rest of its kind or maybe it's the last one?" he added. There are some local legends of a bear that used to be a man and some people think that's what the hunters have found. Other experts believe that the creature might be a common civet (Paradoxurus hermaphroditus), or a masked or Himalayan palm civet (Paguma larvata) with a bad case of mange that has caused the loss of hair.

High School Science Teacher Find Rare Fossil - High school science teacher Kent Hups has made the find of a lifetime: The skull of an ankylosaur dinosaur. Ankylosaurs were highly armored dinosaurs that lived from about 125 to 65 million years ago. Hups, a teacher in Westminster, Colorado, whose hobby is paleontology, found the skull a few weeks ago. According to Hups "there's no skulls of this kind anywhere in the world. That's why we get excited if we see this kind of skull. I was an inch away and I was looking in the area for 16 years. It's about being in the right place at the right time. If we can confirm what it is, it will be very amazing." The fossil was removed from the rock and is now being analyzed at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science where scientists hope to confirm the identity of the creature.


Science Quote of the Month - "The saddest aspect of life right now is that science gathers knowledge faster than society gathers wisdom." ~Isaac Asimov


For the Kids to Read:

Man of Mystery Hill - This month sees the release of Man of Mystery Hill a children's paranormal novel by Tracy Carbone. Here's a quick synopsis:

Abby McNabb is a typical fourth grade girl. She hates her hair, thinks her mom is too strict, envies her best friend...Oh, and Abby's father is crazy. Andy McNabb is a famous author known for his investigations of aliens, ghosts and all things paranormal. This embarrasses Abby to no end until the day he takes her to America's Stonehenge, a/k/a Mystery Hill ... and for the first time in her life, she sees a ghost, too.

Join Abby and her zany father as they explore local New England spooky sites and learn what it means to believe in make believe and trust what you cannot see.

It's available from Amazon in both Kindle and regular print versions: The Man of Mystery Hill


What's New at the Museum:

Temple of Artemis - "I have seen the walls and Hanging Gardens of ancient Babylon, the statue of Olympian Zeus, the Colossus of Rhodes, the mighty work of the high Pyramids and the tomb of Mausolus. But when I saw the temple at Ephesus rising to the clouds, all these other wonders were put in the shade"- Philon of Byzantium. Read the update of our classic Seven Wonders of the World page on ancient Ephesus >Full Story


Ask the Curator:

Earth: The Heat is On! - How can so much of the interior of the earth be hot molten lava, and have the ground stay around a cool 55 degrees? Why does the heat not work its way to the surface? Where's the convection? - John

The very center of the Earth is estimated to have a temperature of around 12,000F. As you move outward from the center of the planet the temperature drops off till just below the outer crust of the Earth it is only about 1,202 to 2,192F. All the rock below the crust is either molten or semi-molten and it does support a convection current with the hottest rock moving upward, losing its heat near the surface and then sinking back down. These convection currents are slow, but powerful and are responsible for the movement of the tectonic plates on the surface of the Earth. The movement of the plates, in turn, is responsible for such events earthquakes, tsunamis and volcanic eruptions.

As you note, the average underground temperature when you get about four feet or so underground runs about 50 to 55F. It isn't hotter because the crust, which is almost completely a solid, acts like a thick insulating blanket. Because it is solid it does not support a convection current that would more easily bring heat energy to the surface.

Just because the average temperature near the surface is about 55, does not mean there are not spots where it isn't significantly lower or higher in temperature. For example, in locations where the crust is thick, or the surface temperature is consistently low, you can get a condition called permafrost. This is where the subsurface temperature is freezing even down to a depth of several hundred feet. We usually associate these regions with places near the poles, like Alaska, but permafrost can actually be found in lower latitude locations like the Suwaki cold anomaly in the north-eastern corner of Poland.

Where the crust is thinner, more heat escapes to the surface causing higher than average sub-surface temperatures. The crust tends to be thinnest under the sea, so much of the Earth's heat escapes into the oceans. Places where to tectonic plates join are also locations where heat can escape more easily. For example, the edge of the pacific plate is known as the famous "ring of fire" and is responsible for 75% of all the recorded volcanic activity. Some of the volcanoes involved include those from the coast of North America (including Mt. St. Helens and Mt. Rainer), Japan (Mt. Fuji), the Philippines (Mount Pinatubo) and New Guinea and Micronesian (Mount Tambora).

There are also "hotspots" where the crust thins and a molten rock plume comes very close to the surface. One of the most famous hotspots created the island chain of Hawaii, which has active volcanoes despite being in the middle of the Pacific plate. The world's most famous hotspot is probably Yellowstone where high subsurface temperatures cause spectacular phenomenon like hot springs, mud pots, steam vents and geysers. The subsurface temperatures at the Norris Geyser Basin at Yellowstone have been found to be as high as 401 F at only a depth of 265 feet. Yellowstone is also one of the known locations of a "super volcano" which, when it erupts, can lay waste to continent sized regions.

Why to these hotspots exist? Scientists think that either upward flowing convection currents from deep within the earth melts and thins the crust in these locations, or the crust itself melts creating a convection current to carry heat to the surface.

Where does the Earth's internal heat come from in the first place? Some of it is residual heat from the planet's formation, but planet has also picked up kinetic energy from the impact of asteroids, including a collision with another planet-sized body that created the moon. However, about 80% of the all the heat is thought to come from the natural decay of certain radioactive isotopes found underground. Some scientists theorize that the center of the earth may even form a natural atomic reactor generating energy at the core of the planet.


In History:

Dinosaurs in Colorado? - In a letter to Empire Magazine, Myrtle Snow of Pagosa Springs, Colorado, wrote that in May of 1935, as a small girl, she had observed "five baby dinosaurs" near her home. She added that a few months after this incident a nearby farmer had shot one after it had attacked one of his sheep. She remembered seeing it. "It was about seven feet tall, was gray, had a head like a snake, short front legs with claws that resembled chicken feet, large stout back legs and a long tail." Unfortunately Ms. Snow's story was never corroborated.


In the Sky:

Eta Aquarid Meteor Shower - Look for the Eta Aquarid Meteor Shower to reach its peak on Thursday, May 6th. The shower starts to hit on 1st and will run through the 8th. At the peak you may expect to see as many as 45 meteors per hour. Try looking toward the east just after sunset to see meteors streaking over the horizon. This meteor shower comes to us courtesy of Halley's Comet which leaves a trail of debris behind it. As these bits of dust and rock burn up in entering the atmosphere they appear to us as shooting stars.



Anybody recognize this fellow?

Monstrous Crustacean Stowaway - Engineers with a sub-sea survey company were surprised when they hauled up one of their robotic submersibles and found a more than two and one-half foot long creepy looking crustacean attached to it as a stowaway. The engineers think it latched onto the ROV at roughly 8,500 feet depth. One of the technicians associated with the company posted the creature's picture to face book asking for help identifying it. Scientists believe it is a fairly large specimen of a Bathynomus giganteus otherwise known as a giant isopod. Giant isopods live in the muddy, harsh environment of the ocean floor and are usually found in depths ranging from of 560 to 7,020 feet. Though they look scary they are considered edible in northern Taiwan and other areas and can be bought at seaside restaurants and taste like crab or lobster.


On the Tube:

Please check local listing for area outside of North America.

Nova: Mt. St. Helens: Back From the Dead - 30 years after the massive eruption...could it happen again? On PBS: Tuesday, May 4 at 8 pm; ET/PT.

Nova: Mystery of the Megavolcano - Researchers unearth clues to the greatest volcanic eruption of the last 100,000 years. On PBS: Tuesday, May 25 at 8 pm; ET/PT.

Into the Universe with Stephen Hawking - The world's most famous living scientist presents the wonders of the universe, revealing the splendor and majesty of the cosmos as never seen before. See how the universe began, how it creates stars, black holes and life -- and how everything will end. On The Discovery Channel: May 02, 9:00 pm; May 03, 12:00 am; ET/PT.

The Volcano that Stopped the World- No description on this yet, but it appears to be look at the recent volcano in Iceland the paralized air traffic around Europe for weeks this May. On The Discovery Channel: May 06, 9:00 pm; May 07, 12:00 am; ET/PT.

Killer Waves - Recent disappearances of huge cargo vessels at sea have breathed new life into an old mariner's tale of single, massive waves capable of sinking a ship in one hit. Investigate evidence that suggests these towering waves really are out there. On The Science Channel: May 03, 10:00 pm May 04, 1:00 am; May 05, 5:00 am; ET/PT.

New York Earthquake - New York Earthquake will explore the rare, but potentially devastating threat of an earthquake in the most populous U.S. city. On The Science Channel: May 03, 9:00 pm May 04, 12:00 am; May 05, 4:00 am; ET/PT.

Exploring Einstein: Life of a Genius - Albert Einstein's physics theories led to the creation of the nuclear bomb, space travel, and an understanding of our universe. In the later part of his life Einstein tried to disprove his theories as they clashed with his personal beliefs. On The Science Channel: May 02, 9:00 pm; May 03, 12:00 am ; ET/PT.

The Truth Behind Crop Circles - For centuries, strange and dramatic designs have appeared in crop fields throughout southern England. Are they alien messages or the work of human artists and hoaxers? On The National Geographic Channel: May 1st, 8:00 PM to 9:00 PM; May 1st 11:00 PM to 12:00 AM; ET/PT.

The Truth Behind the Bermuda Triangle - Explore what makes this area such a hotbed for catastrophe. Are natural phenomena such as rogue waves or methane explosions wreaking havoc here, or could something "out of this world" be at work? On The National Geographic Channel: 9:00 PM to 10:00 PM; ET/PT.

Explorer: Python Wars - The Burmese python, one of the largest, most powerful snakes in the world, has established a breeding population in Florida's Everglades and soon, the snakes will be poised to spread to other areas in the United States. On The National Geographic Channel: May 22nd 7:00 PM to 8:00 PM; ET/PT.

Ancient Aliens: The Visitors - If ancient aliens visited Earth, who were they, and where did they come from? Possible historic evidence and beliefs are examined around the world. The Dogon people possess knowledge of a galaxy they claim was given to them by a star god named Amma. The Hopi and Zuni people celebrate Kachinas, gods from the sky, whose headdresses and costumes appear to resemble modern helmets and protective clothing. Halfway around the world, Chinese legends tell of the Han leader, Huangdi, arriving on Earth on a flying, yellow dragon. Was this dragon more likely a spacecraft? Ancient astronaut theorists believe that these are far from chance encounters and that extraterrestrials not only interacted with us, but changed the course of human history. . On The History Channel: Saturday, May 1, 8PM; 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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