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Science Over the Edge

A Roundup of Strange Science for the Month

Applet credit: Ed Hobbs

May 2013

In the News:

Yard Sale Bowl Goes for $2.2 Million - Ever hope to pick a bargain in a yard sale? In 2007 a New York state resident bought a small, curious-looking bowl at a yard sale for $3. A couple of years later she decided to have it assessed. It turned out to be a 1,000-year-old example of Chinese, Northern Song Dynasty pottery. Only one other piece like it exists and had been in the collection of the British Museum in London for over 60 years. The auction house Sotheby's estimated it would go for around $200,000 to $300,000. When it went on sale last month, however, the ancient treasure got caught in a bidding war between four buyers and sold for over $2.2 million.

"Gate to Hell" Found - Archeologists think they have identified the mythical "Gate to Hell" that appears in Greek and Roman legends at a location in modern Turkey. "Any animal that passes inside meets instant death," wrote Stabo, the ancient Greek historian. The cave in the Ruins of Hierapolis apparently emits a poisonous gas - carbon monoxide - that kills anything that gets too close. "We could see the cave's lethal properties during the excavation," said Francesco D'Andria who worked on the dig. "Several birds died as they tried to get close to the warm opening, instantly killed by the carbon monoxide fumes." The location seems to match the ancient description including a temple, a pool and a series of steps above the cave. The site was supposedly destroyed by Christians in the 6th century.

Mammoth Found in Mexico - Scientists have unearthed the remains of a Columbian mammoth that died approximately 10,000 to 12,000 years ago just south of Mexico City. According to the National Institute for Anthropology and History, "For the first time in Latin America, magnetic, electric and ground-penetrating radar methods were applied in paleontology... (methods that are) commonly used in archaeological excavations to detect architectural (findings)." By using these methods scientists saved time and were able to understand the size of the find before actually starting to dig. It is the most complete skeleton of this type a mammoth ever found in Mexico and researchers estimate that the specimen was a male about 30 years old when he died. It appears he fell into a gorge where the body was covered with a more than a yard (1 meter) of ashes during a volcano eruption.

Studying the Loch Ness Monster to Learn About Ourselves - Dr. Charles Paxton, a research fellow and statistical ecologist at St Andrew's University thinks he can learn more about the nature of people by looking at reports of the loch ness monster, the anything about the monster itself. He's doing a study of all the accounts looking for statistical patterns with the idea to see if the Loch Ness phenomenon will help him analyze how science handles anecdotal and low-frequency data. For example, are the number of Hotel and Café owners - people who have an economic stake in the existence of the monster - higher than for other people? So far Paxton has looked at over 800 reports starting with what is considered the first modern report by Aldie Mackay, a hotel owner; eighty years ago back in April of 1933. Paxton admits that some people may have an agenda in making a report, "But I stress that I believe the vast majority of people are reporting the truth. They believe they have seen something strange. Now there might be a lot of people who are mistaken, but I think they are sincere."

Mysterious Circle at the Bottom of Sea of Galilee - A strange, circular structure, with a diameter greater 230 feet (70m) -- twice that of Stonehenge -- has been discovered under about 30 feet (9 meters) of water in the Sea of Galilee in Israel. The structure is cone-shaped and comprised of basalt rocks weighing an estimated 60,000 tons. The mound was first noticed in a sonar survey of the sea in 2003, but the information not published until recently. Archeologists think that it was built on dry land, but submerged by a change in the level of the water. Silt around the base suggest that it is anywhere between 2,000 and 12,000 years old. Scientists have only guesses about the purpose of the structure. Because it is underwater excavations on it will be difficult. However, when they are eventually done they should yield much information on the about the mysterious circle as underwater sites are usually well preserved.


Science Quote of the Month - "With fame I become more and more stupid, which of course is a very common phenomenon." -- Albert Einstein


What's New at the Museum:

Notes from the Curators Office: Visiting the Fake Shroud of Turin - Just a few days ago I went to visit the fake Shroud. No not the one in Italy, the one in Bristol, Pennsylvania. - Full Story

Mysterious Picture of the Month - What is this this?

Ask the Curator:

Cheating Einstein - If you had a pair of scissors sufficiently large enough, can the tips of the scissors exceed the speed of light? - Nanshir

Ever since Einstein published his theories on relativity and stated that nothing can travel faster than the speed of light, people have delighted in trying to find a way around this rule. For example, if you took a flashlight and pointed the beam into space (then waited for the tip of the beam to get, let's say a light year away) then suddenly swung the beam across the sky to the opposite direction you might try to argue that the tip of the beam must have traveled faster than the speed of light.

However, the "tip of the beam" is more of an intellectual concept than an actual thing. The photons that make up the beam keep streaming out in the straight line you had them pointed in even after you moved the flashlight and only photos emerging from your flashlight after you changed its direction would go toward a different point in the sky. You can picture what is happening with a stream of water from a garden hose. Point it in one direction, then swing it in suddenly across your yard. The tip of the stream of water doesn't move immediately, but lags behind the motion the hose's nozzle.

Another example of trying to get around the speed of light is to build a giant rod between two planets one light year apart. You might try to get around the limit on information traveling no faster than the speed of light by pushing the rod on one end as a signal and expecting the person receiving the signal on the other end to see the rod on his end to move immediately. If it did, he would get your signal faster than the speed of light.

The problem here is that though we expect the rod to be perfectly rigid, it really isn't, especially when dealing with an object that would be a light year in length. Pushing on rod on one end would compress it slightly and this compression would move along the rod at no faster than the speed of light, so your signal would not be received on the other end for at least a year.

The scissors example has similar problems. Like the rod the blades of your scissors are not going to be perfectly rigid. As you close them the tips will bend and lag behind the portions of the blades closer to the scissors fulcrum. If you do manage to get the tips of the scissors to approach the speed of light you will find that their mass will grow and grow and you will require more and more energy to try and close the blades. In fact as the tips get near the speed of light their mass will near infinity and the energy you need to close the blades will also approach infinity. Since you don't have limitless energy, you will never be able to close the blades fast enough to get the tips to the speed of light (In addition are also some problems with transmitting the energy to the tips since we already established the blades aren't perfectly rigid anyway).

This is usually the problem with trying to get anything going at the speed of light. As you accelerate the object it becomes more and more massive and eventually there isn't enough energy in the universe to accelerate it all the way to the speed of light. The only things that can travel at the speed of light are photons, which have no rest mass.

Now maybe you might be able to get around this rule by building a spaceship the can "warp" space and compress it in front of your ship and stretch it behind your ship (this is where we get the Star Trek term "Warp Drive" from). In this scheme your ship wouldn't actually be exceeding the speed of light, but would simply be carried ago by a bubble of space. It's a very interesting way to cheat Einstein, but nobody knows if you could ever make such a propulsion method actually work.

Have a question? Click here to send it to us.


In History:

Number One Supernova - On May 1st of 1006 AD Chinese astronomers noted the appearance of a 'guest star' in the sky. This, as it turned out, was the first time in recorded history a supernova was seen. The star continued to increase in intensity until it was brighter than anything else in the night sky other than the moon. Eventually it could even be seen during the day. Then the star faded and disappeared. In 1965 two radio astronomers, Doug Milne and Frank Gardner, found the remnant of the supernova at the same location in the sky observed by the early Chinese astronomers.


In the Sky:

Solar Eclipse - On May 9th or 10th (depending on which side of the international dateline you are located) an annular solar eclipse can be seen. It will start in the South Pacific and move across parts of Papa New Guinea and Australia. Even if you're not in this area, you can probably catch some live webcasts of the event on the internet.



Real "X-File" Fascinates Public - According to the FBI, the most popular case notes to visit of those they've posted online is entitled "FLYING SAUCERS" from 1950. In the memo from Guy Hottel, special agent in charge in Washington, reports "An investigator for the Air Force stated that three so-called flying saucers had been recovered in New Mexico. They were described as being circular in shape with raised centers, approximately 50 feet in diameter. Each one was occupied by three bodies of human shape but only 3 feet tall." Unfortunately the name of the source is blacked out and no action was ever taken on the report. The department treated the information as either a hoax or heresy. Still it remains one of the most fascinating objects in the cache of hundreds of pages of accounts released online by the FBI in 2011.


On the Tube:

Please check local listing for area outside of North America.

Nova: Australia: Strange Creatures - After a massive extinction, diverse marsupials came to dominate this isolated continent. On PBS: May 1 at 9 pm; ET/PT.

Nova: Venom: Nature's Killer - Hunting down the most venomous animals to reveal their medical mysteries. On PBS: May 8 at 9 pm; ET/PT.

Nova: Decoding Neanderthals - Shared DNA reveals a deep connection with our long-vanished human cousins. On PBS: May 15 at 9 pm; ET/PT.

The Truth Behind: The Crystal Skulls - Mysterious crystal skulls found around the world have captured the imagination of new age enthusiasts and esteemed academics alike. One skull in particular has long been the source of controversy and intrigue - the Mitchell-Hedges Crystal Skull, claimed to have been discovered in Belize in the early 20th century. Is it a contemporary object of art or an ancient Mayan artifact dating to over 3,000 years ago? On National Geographic Channel: May 3rd at 6PM; ET/PT.

The Truth Behind: UFOs - One out of eight Americans claims to have seen a UFO, including Sammy Hagar and Muhammad Ali. And that is just one of the juicy tidbits of information that pop up during The Truth Behind UFOs. In the vein of VH1's Pop Up Video series, NGC offers pop-culture factoids while charting the rise of UFO sightings from the 1940s to the present day. Experts investigate a UFO sighting in Connecticut, meet a man who claims to have flown an actual flying saucer and analyze eye-witness video. Will their research finally uncover the truth behind aliens? Probably not, but viewers will learn that "Foo Fighters" is more than a band name; the term originally referred to small, round objects that followed Allied bombers in Germany. On The National Geographic Channel: May 2nd at 7PM; ET/PT.

World's Biggest Cave - Is it the World's Biggest Cave? More than three times the height of Niagara Falls, much of Vietnam's Mountain River Cave has remained untouched by humans until now. With exclusive footage, NGC reveals, for the first time in history, astounding evidence that this could be the largest cave in the world. Together with renowned expedition leader Howard Limbert, cave geologist Darryl Granger uncovers the formula for how the cave grew so grand. On The National Geographic Channel: May 24th 6PM; ET/PT.


Science over the Edge Archives

LGM Archive 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013

Copyright Lee Krystek 2012. All Rights Reserved.


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