SN-1006 - (See "Early Supernov" below)


Science Over the Edge

A Roundup of Strange Science for the Month

May 2014

In the News:

Fuel from Seawater - The U.S. Navy thinks it figured out how to take water and use turn it into oil to fuel its ships. The process called "liquid hydrocarbon" would allow Navy ships to avoid the re-supply problems associated with operating at sea for long lengths of time and having to rendezvous with tankers. The procedure extracts carbon dioxide and hydrogen gas from seawater and then using a catalytic converter, transforms these into a fuel by a gas-to-liquids process. A recent breakthrough allows them to extract both significant amounts of carbon dioxide and hydrogen gas at the same time, something they have not been able to do in the past. The fuels could not only be used to power ships, but jet aircraft. The projected cost of the jet fuel would be three to six dollars per gallon.

Fire Up the Collider! - The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) which has been off-line for an upgrade for over a year, has been switched on again. However, the process isn't like flicking on a circuit breaker. The LHC has many parts that must be powered up, checked and adjusted and will not be fully operational again until 2015. The atomic sub-particles that the LHC uses are first pre-accelerated in a daisy chain of other accelerators that ramp up the particles speed before they can be feed into the LHC. The first of these, Linac2, was switched on in April. The next in the chain, the Proton Synchrotron Booster, which has been given significant upgrades during the break, will be powered up soon. On its last run the LHC proved the existence of the Higgs boson - the exchange particle that endows matter with mass. Scientists are hoping for even greater discoveries once the LHC get running again next year.

Mummy Has a Tattoo - Researchers at the British Museum have discovered a tattoo on a 1,300 year-old mummy from Egypt. The tattoo on the woman's thigh displays the name of the biblical archangel Michael. The body, wrapped in woolen and linen, was mummified by the intense desert heat, and recovered 10 year ago, but just recently unwrapped. The tattoo, written in ancient Greek, reads M-I-X-A-H-A, or Michael. Scientists suspect that it was a symbol worn for religious and spiritual protection. The position, on the inner thigh, may have been meant for safety in childbirth or protection against sexual violation, according to researchers. The tattoo was so well-persevered that researcher could see it with their naked eyes, but used medical infrared technology to get more detail.

Flies Bank and Roll Like Fighter Planes - Ever try swatting a fly and miss? It's a commons occurrence. In the latest issue of Science researchers have found that tiny fruit flies employ maneuvers not unlike fighter planes to avoid attack. The researcher built a set up with a high-speed camera (7,500 frames a second) and a mechanical swatter and recorded the action. "Although they have been described as swimming through the air, tiny flies actually roll their bodies just like aircraft in a banked turn to maneuver away from impending threats," said co-author Michael Dickinson, a University of Washington professor of biology. "We discovered that fruit flies alter course in less than one one-hundredth of a second, 50 times faster than we blink our eyes, and which is faster than we ever imagined." The flies perceive the direction of the predator, or swatter, and plot a course that will take them away from it. Though they were not researching better fly swatting techniques the scientists suspect that a two handed technique, where the first hand cause the flies to bank into the second hand would be most effective.

Robots Inside Cockroaches - Bioengineers have successfully injected cockroaches with nanorobots made from DNA that can unfold to dispense drugs. The robots were given a fluorescent marker so they could be tracked within the cockroache's body to see if they delivered the drug to the right place. "This is the first time that biological therapy has been able to match how a computer processor works," said Ido Bachelet from Bar Ilan University's Institute of Nanotechnology and Advanced Materials. Cockroaches are used because they do not reject the robots as foreign invaders as mammals would. However, the team seems confident that the robots can be made to work with humans too and hope to start trials within five years. It is hoped that someday nanorobots might be programmed to seek out diseases inside humans and treat them at their location deep inside that body.


Science Quote of the Month - "Science is not only compatible with spirituality; it is a profound source of spirituality." - Carl Sagan.


What's New at the Museum:

The Oceans of Earth - Of all the acknowledged worlds both in our solar system and circling distant stars, Earth is the only planet known to have liquid oceans. And it's probably no coincidence, either, that our world is the only planet we know of that also harbors life. Full Story

Mysterious Picture of the Month - What is this this?

To Read :

Cryptidpedia - Your kid's interested in legendary animals that may, or may not, exist? Check out an encyclopida of cryptids by young authors Francis and Lucas Rosa. The New Hampshire twins had an early interest in animals on the edge of myth and researched and wrote this new book. For more information check their website at


Ask the Curator:

Electric UFO - How does an ionocraft work? I've only ever seen unmanned models of them--is it possible to build a manned one? - Specboy

In the August 1964 issue of Popular Mechanics there was an article entitled "Major De Seversky's Ion-Propelled Aircraft." It tells the story of a wonderful new method of flight being developed at Electron-Atom Inc., a research firm in Long Island City, New York, under the direction of aviation designer Alexander P. de Seversky. The author, Hans Fantel, describes watching a model aircraft with no props, no jets and no wings lift straight up and fly silently around the company's test facility. The engineers predicted that as soon as some of the bugs got worked out they could build a full sized aircraft that would climb straight up like a helicopter, but capable of extremely high altitudes (300,000 feet) and super-high speeds. As a bonus since it didn't generate heat it would be invulnerable to heat-seeking guided missiles. They called this test model an ionocaft.

In the 1960's the Soviet engineers speculated about building this ionocraft.

Needless to say those predictions from half a century ago have not panned out. Still, the ionocraft is a fascinating device and many engineers are still intrigued by it. It is simple, quiet and had has no moving parts.

How does it work? Typically there are two major parts to an ionocraft: At the top is a "Corona Wire." This wire is charged with positive high voltage electricity. This will strip the electrons from the surrounding air "ionizing" it and giving it a positive electrical charge. The second part of craft is a collector which is negatively charged and placed just below the corona wire. The positively charged air is attracted to the collector and moves downward through the gap between the two parts. As the charged air makes this move it bumps into neutrally charged air pushing it downward also. This creates a downdraft and this downdraft provides lift for the vehicle.

The ionocraft they were experimenting in the 60's had a metal grid for the collector and rising above it spikes which created the corona. The ions moved from around the spikes to the grid creating the downdraft. The engineers pictured the full-size version as a cockpit would hang below the grid, a bit like the way a basket hangs below a balloon.

Most ionocrafts you see today, however, are just science fair demonstrations. They are usually built in a triangular shape with three corona wires just above three collectors made of foil. By increasing the voltage to any of the three corona/collector pairs the lift of that section is increased. This allows for it to be steered by just adjusting the voltage to each of the sides.

The problem that the engineers ran into with the ionocraft back the 60's was that the technology did not scale up well. They could never build a vehicle that had enough lift to carry the equipment needed to produce the electricity to drive it. Any version of an ionocraft you see today has wires running to it that carry the electricity from a power plant located on the ground.

Still, engineers have not given up on using electrohydrodynamic lift to create engines. NASA's developed their NSTAR electrostatic ion thruster in the 1990's, which has been used to power a number of deep space probes and satellites, using similar principles as with the ionocraft.

There has been somewhat of a revival in interest in electrohydrodynamic lift in the last few years and recently researchers at MIT did a study on the ionocraft and discovered it is actually a much more efficient way to produce thrust than a jet engine.

Also Professor Subrata Roy of the University of Florida is working with NASA to design a prototype airship called the Wingless Electromagnetic Air Vehicle (WEAV) using a design similar to an ionocraft. Roy's design calls for a vehicle that ionizes the air around it, then pushes it away by using electromagnets. He has the same power problems, however, as other engineers encountered with their ionocrafts, but hopes to find a solution using either a battery, ultracapacitor, solar panel or some combination of those items. The shape of Roy's vehicle would be disc-like: In other words, a flying saucer.

And perhaps this is why so many people have been fascinated by the idea of the ionocraft for so long. These strange flyers sound so much like the descriptions people have reported over the years about UFO sightings: They make almost no sound (just a humming or crackling) are disc shaped and can move in any direction. Perhaps if Roy is successful we may actually see a flying saucer in our skies someday, though instead of being from Mars it would be from Florida.

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In History:

Early Supernova - In May of 1006 Chinese astronomers recorded the appearance of a 'guest star' in their skies. It is thought that this is the first observation of a "Supernova." The Chinese watched the star continued to increase in brightness until it was more intense than anything else in the night sky other than the moon. It could even been seen during the day. What was left of this supernova was re-discovered in 1965 (and given the name SN 1006) by radio astronomers Doug Milne and Frank Gardner and later also observed by optical and x-ray techniques.


In the Sky:

Be the First to See the Camelopardalids - Up for a new meteor shower? Some scientists are predicting that comet 209P/Linear which is headed toward the sun, has left a cloud of dust behind it that will result in a meteor shower in the night skies around May 24th. Since we've never encountered this trail of dust before it is unknown how many meteors might be seen. Some are hoping for a spectacular display given that this is a "fresh" cloud of dust. Expect it to be most visible between midnight and 2AM. The name given to this tentative shower is the Camelopardalids.




ULP in German Town - If you fly your flying saucer to the town of Göttingen, in the German state of Lower Saxony, you should easily find a place to park. The town recently created a Ufo-Landeplatz (UFO Landing Place) in the center of the village. The event was celebrated by a party involving local politicians, sciences buffs, comedians and just regular people. The area marked off is a circle that is no longer available for public parking, but now limited to use by extraterrestrial spacecraft. Town officials warn that anyone who attempts to park their car in the ULP does so at their own peril and might come out of the local beer hall to find their vehicle crushed by ET's mother ship.


On the Tube:

Please check local listing for area outside of North America.

Nova: Why Sharks Attack - Will analyzing the hunting instincts of this endangered predator reduce deadly attacks? On PBS May 7that 9 pm ET/PT.

Nova: Escape from Nazi Alcatraz - A crack team rebuilds a glider that POWs hoped to catapult off the top of Colditz Castle. On PBS May 14th at 9 pm ET/PT.

Everest Avalanche Tragedy - Unprecedented access and eyewitness accounts from the rescue and recovery that took place after the avalanche struck the Khumbu Icefall, just above Mt. Everest base camp, during the morning of Friday, April 18, killing 13 and leaving three missing. On the Discovery Channel: May 4th 9:00PM & 11:00PM ET/PT.

Strip the City 2: Machu Picchu- Machu Picchu, the crown jewel of the sprawling Incan empire, is constant threatened by earthquakes, landslides, and torrential rain. Using CGI to strip it, layer by layer, we explore the infrastructure that keeps it from tumbling down the Andes mountans. On the Science Channel: May 3rd 10:00AM ET/PT.

The President's Book of Secrets - Moments after the President of the United States is sworn into office he gains access to "The Nuclear Football," a briefcase that contains the most volatile top-secret information in the world--America's nuclear launch codes. The Football is a high profile national secret, but it's only one of many pieces in the classified arsenal at the President's disposal once he assumes the role of Commander in Chief. Journey inside White House history to unveil staggering information about secrets known only to the President, from top-secret intelligence and classified events to covert codes and future technologies. Features exclusive interviews with Washington insiders, including former CIA Director Michael Hayden, former Director of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff, former Vice President Dan Quayle, former White House Press Secretary Dana Perino and Presidential daughter Susan Ford who reveal what it is like to live and work in the White House. On the History Channel: May 1st 8:00PM ET/PT.

Drain the Great Lakes - North America?s Great Lakes are the largest system of free fresh water on earth, wielding huge influence on the continent. Over 34 million people live by their shores in some of greatest cities in the world. This groundbreaking television program pulls a virtual plug on the huge lakes, using computer-generated imagery to reveal hidden secrets of their human history and changing geological past. On the National Geographic Channel: Sunday May 12th at 7PM .


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