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Science Over the Edge

A Roundup of Strange Science for the Month

Applet credit: Ed Hobbs

May 2011

In the News:

Nasty Dino is Missing Link - Scientists have discovered a ferocious-looking, dog-sized dinosaur in New Mexico that may be a missing link. Daemonosaurus chauliodus, which means "buck-toothed evil lizard" lived about 205 million years ago at a time when there's a gap in the fossil record between the oldest known bi-pedal predatory dinosaurs and those that lived much later. The creature itself, which has a short snout with large, vicious front teeth probably preyed on other dinosaurs and various small animals. Scientists suspect the creature was active during the day, but its large eyes suggest it could also have seen well at night. Hans-Dieter Sues, lead author of the paper on the dinosaur, and curator of vertebrate paleontology at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History, is delighted with the find. "It just shows that even here in the United States, there are still many new dinosaurs to be found. People always think we have to go to some remote places, but, right here in northern New Mexico, we can still find new dinosaurs."

Spiral Galaxies Grown from Center - Scientists have argued for a while about how a spiral galaxy, like our own Milky Way, was created. Did the stars at the center disc appear first and work their way out? A recent experiment supports this idea. As they burn stars create metals. A star with a lot of "metallicity" indicates that it is composed of material from older stars and that it is in an older section of the galaxy. Scientists have used the giant Keck II telescope atop Mauna Kea in Hawaii to observe an extremely distance galaxy (9.3 billion light years away) which means it is being seen as it was just 4.4 billion years after the Big Bang. In this young galaxy the metallicity of the stars was highly concentrated toward the center and dropped off very rapidly in the arms indicating that the hub was much older. Usually it is extremely difficult to do such measurements with highly distance galaxies, but the scientists found a galaxy behind a cluster of other galaxies that acted as a natural magnifying glass increasing the brightness by 22 times.

Whales Change Their Tune - A new study, published in Current Biology, shows that male humpback whales change the songs they sing after a time in a similar manner to the way humans follow a fashion trend. "We believe the song is continually changing because the males wish to be novel or slightly different to the male singing next to them," said Ellen Garland, a doctoral student at the University of Queensland. Male humpbacks sing as part of courtship and mating behaviors and mix up their songs to show off. Scientists during the 11 year study noticed that whale tunes move eastward across the Pacific, starting near Australia and spreading toward French Polynesia. "I noticed that the songs moved quite rapidly through the six populations, usually taking two years to spread all the way across the region," Garland said.

New Leonardo da Vinci Drawing Found? - A 5-by-3-inch sheet of paper with a red pencil drawing of a profile of a man's head may be an unknown Leonardo da Vinci sketch. The drawing was found hidden in a book almost 70 years ago, but was thought to just be a copy in Leonardo's style. Recent tests, however, have placed the sketch's creation at 1473, years before the artist had followers or apprentices, making it unlikely to be the work of an admirer or imitator. The sheet also matches the dimensions of a missing object on page 1033 of the Codex Atlanticus, a compilation of Leonardo's works. The Biblioteca Ambrosiana library, which owns the Codex Atlanticus, will allow testing to see if the glue on the page matches the glue on the sketch after 2012 when current preservation work on the Codex will be finished.

More Evidence for T-Rex asHunter - In the decades old skirmish about whether Tyrannosaurus rex was more of a hunter of a scavenger, a new salvo has been fired. A new study with lead author Chris Carbone of the Zoological Society of London, shows that the it would have been very difficult for T-Rex to support himself by only scavenging based on the ecosystem where he was living. The researchers calculated the area in which T. rex could range on a daily basis, how many dead dinosaurs of different sizes it was likely to find, and what other scavengers might be around. According to their research the area was overwhelmed with smaller predatory dinosaurs who would likely have reduced any "kill" to skin and bones before T-Rex could arrive. This makes it likely that he would need to do his own hunting to stay alive.


Science Quote of the Month - "Facts are not science - as the dictionary is not literature." ~Martin H. Fischer


What's New at the Museum:

The Colossus of Rhodes - Many people don't know that the Statue of Liberty was inspired by a similar gigantic statue that also guarded a busy harbor and represented freedom. It stood in a distant land over a thousand years ago. >Full Story

The Chunnel - The idea dates back to 1802, but it wasn't until 1994 that a tunnel under the English Channel was completed. Another in our series on wonders of the modern world. >Full Story

Mysterious Picture of the Month - What is this thing?

Ask the Curator:

Yet Some More Yeti Questions - For some reason we had a horde of questions on the Yeti (also known as the Abominable Snowman of the Himalayas) this month from different people, so I'm just going to go through them one by one:

Is there any evidence that the yeti exists? If so, what is it?

It depends on what you call evidence. There have been any number of cases were people claimed they saw a Yeti or found foot prints. Were they telling the truth? If they were telling the truth, did they think they saw a Yeti, but really saw some other creature and mistook it for a Yeti? In the case of footprints, were they fake? Or were they footprints of some other animal that had been misshapen by the melting effect of the sun?

You see the problems with "evidence." The only really uncontestable evidence would be a dead, or even better, a live Yeti that could be examined by experts. A hair sample might do if it could be used to establish, by checking the DNA, that the creature was not one known to science and a member of the primate family.

Hair samples that were supposed to belong to the Yeti have been analyzed for DNA in the past. They are usually were identified as belonging to either wild goats or bears.

Are the Yeti and Bigfoot related?

Since we can't prove the existence of the either the Bigfoot or the Yeti it is really hard to say if they are related. People who believe in the existence of these creatures seem to think they are primates (the same family of animals as gorillas, chimps and humans). If they are right, then they would be related. If anybody ever finds DNA from these creatures, it could be used to determine if they were not just related, but actually the same species.

Have there been any attacks on humans?

There is a report of a Sherpa girl who was tending her yaks and said she was surprised by a large ape-like creature with black and brown hair. It started to drag her off, but seemed to be startled by her screams and let her go. It then savagely killed two of her yaks. She escaped with her life and the incident was reported to the police, who found footprints.

When was the yeti first seen?

Reports of such creatures go back centuries and are part of the legends of the local peoples. The first Westerner to see a Yeti was probably the Greek photographer, N. A. Tombazi. During an expedition in 1925 he was shown a creature moving across the snow in the distance and told it was a Yeti.

Do you think a polar bear on its hind legs can be mistaken for a Yeti?

As polar bears do not live in the Himalaya Mountains, the supposed range of the Yeti, it seems unlikely. However, a number of people think either the rareTibetan blue bear or the endangered Himalayan Brown Bear may sometimes be misidentified as Yetis. According to mountaineer Reinhold Messner he had an encounter with a Yeti that turned out to be a Himalayan Brown Bear that was upright on his rear legs.

In History:

Intruders Foundation - In May of 1989, Bud Hopkins, the author of several books on UFO-abductions, established an organization to assist people who had been through abduction experiences and to do research on the phenomenon. The organization was known as the Intruders Foundation and was based out of New York City. The group sponsored conferences and talks on alien abduction and had a network of therapists that could help people who believed they had been through such an experience. The organization continues to be active today. For more info check out: http://www.intrudersfoundation.org/


In the Sky:

Planetary Conjunction - May 11th will bring a conjunction of the planets Mercury, Venus, and Jupiter in the early morning sky. Look for them to form a line only 2 degrees apart. They will be in the eastern sky just before sun rise. You should also find the planet Mars in the same neighborhood.



Russian Dead Alien was Faked - Two Russian teenagers, Timur Hilall and Kirill Vlasov, created a hoax that had the whole internet going last month. The boys fabricated a two-foot high alien, filmed it, and claimed they had found it on the frozen wastes of Siberia half buried in the snow. The video went viral across the web, but the two later confessed the hoax to police who searched one of the boy's rooms and found the "alien" figure . It was composed of several materials, including butcher shop scraps


On the Tube:

Please check local listing for area outside of North America.

Nova: Ghosts of Machu Picchu - Why did the Incas abandon their city in the clouds? On PBS: May 4 at 9 pm; ET/PT.

Nova: Secrets of Stonehenge - New archeological finds shed light on the most misunderstood monument of the ancient world. On PBSl: May 11 at 9 pm; ET/PT.

Nova: Riddles of the Sphinx - The mystery surrounding Egypt's most recognizable icon. On PBS: May 18 at 9 pm; ET/PT.

Titan: A Place Like Home? - Titan, Saturn's moon, along with Earth, Mars and Venus is one of only four astral bodies in the Solar System to have an atmosphere. Titan's is very similar to that of Earth 4 billion yrs. ago as life began. Could Titan hold the key to the origins of Life? On The Science Channel: May 11, 10:00 pm; May 12, 1:00 am; May 13, 5:00 am; ET/PT.

Modern Marvels: Super Steam - It's full steam ahead when we drop in at Jay Leno's garage as Jay fires up two of his classic steam cars and takes viewers for a couple of rides. Jay also shows off his 11-ton steam engine built in 1860, back when pigs had to be slaughtered to keep it lubricated. In northern Nevada, fire up a coal burning boiler and get a 100-year-old steam locomotive chugging across the rugged landscape. In New Orleans, board an authentic paddlewheel steamboat. Trek to the Southern California desert where geothermal steam rushes up from the ground and drives electricity producing turbines, powering over 300,000 homes. In New York City, find out why manmade steam surges into some of the world's most famous skyscrapers. Steam clean some very dirty machines, and do a little laundry, too. And ride a steam-driven carousel and play with some strange, steam-powered robots that are part of a movement called--what else--"steampunk." On The History Channel: May 3, 11:30PM; ET/PT.

Ancient Aliens: Aliens and the Third Reich - If ancient aliens visited Earth in the remote past, could they have given us advanced technology, past down through human history? And could this technology have helped the Third Reich build mysterious weapons and crafts far beyond the limits of 20th century science? During World War II, there were reports that the Germans built an operational flying saucer, known as the Hanebu, which was said to use mythical technology found in ancient Indian texts. Another craft was rumored to have been constructed with the help of psychics and mediums who claimed to have received detailed blueprints from extraterrestrial beings. Is it possible Hitler's quest for world domination was aided and abetted by ancient extraterrestrial technology that was rediscovered? And could the allegedly rebuilt alien devices developed in Germany have played a role in America's ability to land a man on the moon? On The History Channel: May 11, 8PM; ET/PT.

Explorer: Megapiranha - A team of scientists journey to the Xingu River in the Amazon basin to find out what the jaws of the ancient Megapiranha would have been capable of by catching and studying its modern-day relatives.. On The National Geographic Channel: May 3rd 10:00 PM; May 7th 7:00 PM; ET/PT.

Wicked Pirate City - The story of Port Royal, Jamaica, site of the real Pirates of the Caribbean, is recreated, while we dive with a team of experts attempting to create the first 3D computer model of the sunken archaeological site. On The National Geographic Channel: May 8th 8:00 PM ; May 14th 9:00 PM; ET/PT.

Area 51 Declassified - For the first time, the men who worked inside Area 51 reveal what's really been going on inside the most famous secret military base in the world. On The National Geographic Channel: May 22nd 10:00 PM; ET/PT.


Science over the Edge Archives

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Copyright Lee Krystek 2011. All Rights Reserved.


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