Science Over the Edge

A Roundup of Strange Science for the Month

Applet credit: Ed Hobbs

June 2008

In the News:

Dino Asteroid May Have Set of Oil Fires - According to a report in the journal Geology the asteroid that ended the dinosaurs reign may have set off massive oil fires changing the world wide environment. Previously scientists had speculated that these massive fires were caused by burning forests, but an examination of the soot left at the time seems incompatible with burning vegetation. The soot particles, called cenospheres, are extremely similar to those created by modern high-temperature coal and oil fires according to Simon Brassell of Indiana University, one of the article's authors. The paper suggests that the meteor crashed into oily shales found in the Gulf of Mexico, which caused the oil in the rocks to vaporize and ignite in the air, making cenospheres in the process.

Dino Feathers Trapped in Amber - Scientists working in a quarry in western France have discovered a chunk of amber (hardened, ancient tree sap) enclosing seven feathers that are a 100 million years old. Though the source of the feathers can't be confirmed, scientists speculate that they may have been from a Troodontidae dinosaur or a dromaeosaurid dinosaur, both of whose teeth have been found nearby. Though both of these groups of dinosaurs are thought to have feathers, scientists cannot rule out the possibility of the feathers coming from a primitive form of bird. The feathers, according to the scientists "have a structure unknown in bird feathers," but also have a flattened shaft, which the researchers say is a "prerequisite for using them to fly." The researchers hope that examining these samples will give them clues as to the evolution of the feather.

Pythons Taking Over Florida - Giant pythons are spreading over south Florida according to a study by Frank Mazzotti, a professor at University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. The snakes are mostly Burmese pythons from Myanmar that were pets and turned loose in the wild. From 2002-2005, 201 of the animals were captured in the state, but this figure has more than doubled in the last two years. The pythons, whcih eat cats, dogs, hares, foxes, squirrels, raccoons and even alligators, may eventually, according to Mazzotti, range across the entire southern United States. With the largest python caught so far in Florida measuring 16.4 feet and weighed 154 pounds, the estimated population 30,000 snakes could become a major environmental and safety concern.

Suicide by Snake - According to legend Cleopatra killed herself using a poisonous snake, but Egyptologist Joyce Tyldesley in her new book, Cleopatra: Last Queen of Egypt makes the case that the snake theory is "just too difficult to sustain and leaves too many loopholes." Supposedly Cleopatra and two of her ladies-in-waiting locked themselves in her bed chamber and killed themselves by a self-inflicted snake bite. If that is true, Tyldesley, a lecturer at the University of Manchester in England, finds herself struggling with the following questions: Could one snake kill all three women, or were three snakes smuggled into the room? Who brought the snake(s) into the room? Where did the snakes then go? Since not all snakes are poisonous, how did the women ensure that they would die? Cleopatra, thinks Tyldesley, might have chosen to die on her own terms rather than wait to be killed or humiliated by Octavian. She also suggests Cleopatra and her servants died of self-administered poison, which might have been smuggled into the room or worn on the queen in a pin or hair comb.

Super Suit for Super Soldiers - Engineers at Sarcos Inc., in Salt Lake City, are working on a "super strength" suit for the army. Much like the fictional device seen in the recent Iron Man film, the suit, or exoskeleton, senses the movement of the wearer and amplifies his strength. While the idea has been around for decades, most designs were too slow to respond and match normal human movement, particularly walking. Sarcos seems to solved this problem and currently the limitation on the suit is the power supply. The suit's battery lasts only 30 minutes. It can also be plugged in to a stationary power supply, but the cable limits the machines usefulness. While the current suit is only designed to assist workers with heavy tasks, designers envision versions that are armored to be used in combat.


Science Quote of the Month - "A fact is a simple statement that everyone believes. It is innocent, unless found guilty. A hypothesis is a novel suggestion that no one wants to believe. It is guilty, until found effective." - Edward Teller


What's New at the Museum:

Hitler Targets New York City - Hitler wanted nothing more than to avenge the American bombing of German cities with Nazi attacks on the American homeland cites, like New York. He failed, but how close did he come? > Full Story

War of the World Printable Version- Return to the 19th century when Martians tried to take over the world in H. G. Wells classic tale by downloading our graphic novel as an Adobe PDF file appropriate for printing.


Ask the Curator:

Cleopatra of Egypt - We studied Ancient Egypt and I was absent when we studied Queen Cleopatra. Who is she? - Samantha

There are several Cleopatra's in Egyptian history, but the most famous one was Cleopatra VII. She was the last Pharaoh of Egypt, at a time just before the country was completely taken over by the Rome. Cleopatra herself was not of Egyptian heritage, but Greek. In 331BC Alexander the Great (who was from a section of Greece) liberated Egypt when he defeated the Persian Empire. After Alexander's death in 232BC, Egypt fell under control of one of Alexander's generals, Ptolemy. The Ptolemy family kept power there until Cleopatra was born to her father, Ptolemy XII, in 69BC. Cleopatra showed great interest in the traditions of Egypt and was the only member of her family in 300 years that bothered to learn the language. She followed the Egyptian beliefs and while she ruled she was considered the re-incarnation and embodiment of, Isis, the Egyptian goddess of wisdom.

When her father died in 51 BC, a 17 year-old Cleopatra and her 12-year-old brother, Ptolemy XIII, took over. In addition to be siblings, Cleo and her brother were married (a common trick used to keep power in the family back then). Cleo attempted to push her husband/bother into the background and get sole control of the kingdom, but lost the battle and was forced to flee Egypt.

Cleopatra's chance to get back into power came in 48BC when a political miscalculation by her brother got the Roman ruler Julius Caesar angry with him. Cleopatra took advantage of this situation: It is said that she had her servants bring an expensive Persian carpet to Caesar as a gift. When it was unrolled, Cleopatra tumbled out. Caesar, age 50, enchanted by her beauty and youth (she was only 21) and fell in love with her. He helped her returned her to the Egyptian throne which led to Ptolemy XIII's death. Caesar and Cleo had a son, Caesarion, together. It was Caesar's plan to have Caesarion rule Egypt after his death and leave Rome to grand-nephew, Octavian. Cleopatra, however, wished her son to be heir to all of Rome.

When Caesar was killed by members of the Roman Senate in 44BC, Cleopatra made Caesarion her co-regent and successor. Later she allied herself with Mark Anthony, one of the three men ruling Rome after Caesar's death. They married and had children. It is likely that Cleopatra had plans to take on Rome and make herself and her son rulers of the known world, but the Romans, under Octavian, attacked first. Anthony and Cleopatra's forces were defeated at the naval battle off the coast of Actium. Soon the armies of Rome were marching through Egypt and Anthony was mortally wounded in battle. Cleopatra was held under house arrest and commited suicide (legend has it that she killed herself by letting a deadly Asp snake bite her) in 30BC at the age of 39.

Cleopatra is remembered for her immense beauty and even more immense ambition. She ruled in a time when Greek women were expected to be submissive to their husbands. Instead of taking a back seat to men, however, she cleverly used her charms to gain political advantages over her enemies and was nearly successful in ruling the known world.

Have a question? Click here to send it to the curator.


In History:

Sky Serpent - The Kansas newspaper, the Fort Scott Monitor, on June 27, 1873 reported "...A strange and remarkable phenomenon was observed at sunrise yesterday morning. When the disc of the sun was about halfway above the horizon, the form of a huge serpent, apparently perfect in form, was plainly seen encircling it and was visible for some moments." Did this actually happen or is this another example of hoax journalism?


In the Sky:

Lyrid Meteors for Dad's Day - The Lyrid Meteor Shower will peak on Father's Day, June 15. Unfortunately a nearly full moon will make viewing of the shower difficult. The meteors will appear to be coming from the constellation Lyra, which will be rising in the northeast at the same time the moon rises in the southeast. Don't expect more than 10 meteors were hour at the most.



British UFO Records Released - The British National Archives has recently released over a 1,000 pages of previously secret UFO files. In one report air traffic controllers saw a bright, circular object, flashing different colors approach one of their runways without clearance. The object, according to the report, made a touch and go on landing, then departed at 'terrific speed' in a 'near vertical' climb. The incident, which occurred at a small airport near the eastern coast of England, is just one of many in the documents, though most seem to have a more mundane explanation than that of a flying saucer. Also, while there are a number of unexplained cases in the papers, there is no reported instance in which the Ministry of Defense found any evidence of alien activity or alien spacecraft. The recently released file is just one of several on this subject that are to be made public.


On the Tube:

Please check local listing for area outside of North America.

Nova: Mystery of the Megavolcano - Researchers from Indonesia to Greenland unearth clues to the greatest volcanic eruption of the last 100,000 years. June 17 at 8 pm.

Killer Ants - Over 8,000 species of ants cover the planet. Most are harmless, but some have a violent streak. African driver ants have eaten a horse in a day and suffocated a human, and the army ants of South and Central America can wipe out entire ecosystems. On the Discovery Channel. Jun 21, 8:00 pm; Jun 22, 12:00 am; ET/PT

Beyond Invention: Cryptozoology - Bigfoot in your backyard? Sea Serpent stalks Fisherman! Extinct Mutant Creature Lives! Believe it or not, these headlines are real! On the Science Channel. Jun 12, 8:00 pm; Jun 12, 11:00 pm; ET/PT

Passport to Pluto...and Beyond - NASA's New Horizons mission is exploring the "new frontier" of the outer reaches of our solar system, solving the mysteries of Pluto and beyond. Meet the scientists who have waited their whole lives for this mission and see what surprises they'll reveal. On the Science Channel. Jun 10, 9:00 pm; Jun 11, 12:00 am; Jun 11, 4:00 am; Jun 11, 10:00 am; Jun 15, 5:00 pm; ET/PT

Dinosaurs: Return to Life? - Dinosaurs: Return to Life follows scientists who are using the latest technology and amazing advances in genetic research to revive the possibility of creating a living breathing dinosaur, but in a different way than we ever imagined. On the Science Channel. Jun 05, 9:00 pm Jun 06, 12:00 am Jun 06, 4:00 am Jun 06, 10:00 am Jun 07, 1:00 pm; ET/PT

Mega Disasters : Comet Storm - 13,000 years ago, a large comet exploded over eastern Canada unleashing a mass of burning fragments that ignited a mega storm of fire spreading for thousands of miles. Nearly every living thing on the North American continent was destroyed, including an ancient civilization known as the Clovis. 3-D computer animations will recreate this storm and offer an idea of the level of destruction a similar comet explosion would cause today On The History Channel. June 03 09:00 PM; June 04 01:00 AM, ET/PT.



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