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Science Over the Edge

A Roundup of Strange Science for the Month

Applet credit: Ed Hobbs

June 2013

In the News:

Complex from Abraham's Time Found - British archaeologists have unearthed a huge complex near the ancient city of Ur in Iraq once home of the biblical patriarch Abraham. "This is a breathtaking find," said Stuart Campbell of Manchester University's Archaeology Department. "It appears that it is some sort of public building. It might be an administrative building, it might have religious connections or controlling goods to the city of Ur." Structures from this period, 4,000 years ago, were rarely as large as this complex which is 260 feet (80 meters) square. The building was located near a large Ziggurat (Sumerian temple) and was laid out as a number of rooms around a central courtyard. The building would have been in operation about the time Abraham would have lived there, according to the Bible, before he left on his journey to Canaan.

New Zealand Sea Monster? - Quad riders in New Zealand riding along the beach at the Bay of Plenty last month got plenty of surprise when they happened across the carcass of what looked like a sea monster. According to the New Zealand's Sun Live newspaper, "beachgoers were stumped when they came across what they thought was a prehistoric creature on the shore … stretching about 9 meters (30 feet) in length with large teeth and rudimentary flippers." A marine biologist identified the remains, however, as a killer whale by checking for the shape of its distinctive flipper. This isn't the first time a rotting corpse had washed up on New Zealand shore and been mistaken for a sea monster. Usually the "blobsters" turn out to be badly decomposed whales.

Sea Monsters Get Arthritis Too - Paleontologists at the University of Bristol in England have identified an arthritis-like disease in the jaw of a fossilized pliosaur. This is a condition that has never been seen before in these types of animals. The carnivore was a 26 foot (8m) long female that lived about 150 million years ago. The affected jaw was part of a head 10-feet (3m) long. "The most exciting aspect of this research for me is the arthritic condition, which has never been seen before in these or similar Mesozoic reptiles," said researcher Judyth Sassoon. "In the same way that aging humans develop arthritic hips, this old lady developed an arthritic jaw and survived with her disability for some time. But an unhealed fracture on the jaw indicates that at some time the jaw weakened and eventually broke. With a broken jaw, the pliosaur would not have been able to feed, and that final accident probably led to her demise."

Pyramid Workers Were Well Fed - Archeologists in Egypt have identified a section in Giza where the workers who built the Menkaure pyramid (the last of the three at Giza) lived. The town is located about quarter mile south of the Sphinx. From animal bone found there scientists estimated that about 4,000 pounds of meat from cattle, sheep and goats were used to feed the pyramid workers. It is estimated that 25,000 sheep and goats, 8,000 cattle and 1,000 pig bones have been found at the site. "People were taken care of, and they were well fed when they were down there working, so there would have been an attractiveness to that," said Richard Redding, chief research officer at Ancient Egypt Research Associates, a group that has been studying the site. "They probably got a much better diet than they got in their village." The workers also apparently got health care and if they died during construction were buried near the site. It is estimated the about 10,000 people were on site at certain times of the year to work on the pyramid, with a smaller group operating year round to do preparation and survey work.

Sunken Continent Found Off Brazil - Scientists have found chunks of granite - a rock normally associated with dry land - 8,000 feet under the Atlantic Ocean near Brazil and think it might be the remains of a sunken continent. The discovery, made by the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology (JAMSTEC) and the Geology Service of Brazil (CPRM), has been nick-named the "Brazilian Atlantis" after the legendary story mentioned by Plato in his writings. It is clear, however, that if the granite is from a sunken continent, it must have pre-dated man by millions of years. Researchers believe that when South America and Africa separated into two different land masses about 100 million years ago part of what was then above the water sank into the sea. The discovery was made 900 miles off of Rio de Janeiro using a Japanese Shinkai 6500 submarine.


Science Quote of the Month - “Space is big. You just won't believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it's a long way down the road to the chemist's, but that's just peanuts to space.” - Douglas Adams


What's New at the Museum:

The Flight of the Norge (Part I) - It was a feat that was astounding at the time, but now lost in the dusty pages of history. In May of 1926 a group of sixteen fearless adventurers boarded a small dirigible to fly over the North Pole. The tiny lighter-than-air craft they piloted they named the Norge. - Full Story

Mysterious Picture of the Month - What is this this?

Ask the Curator:

Carbon Cycle - How do plants turn carbon dioxide into oxygen? - John

The change plants do of carbon dioxide into the oxygen in the air is part of the "carbon cycle." Carbon dioxide, which makes up a little more than 3% of air, is composed of two parts carbon and one part oxygen. That means a single molecule of it has one carbon atom attached to two oxygen atoms.

A plant takes the carbon dioxide molecule and splits it apart using energy from the sun. It keeps the carbon atom, which it wants, and kicks some of the oxygen out into the atmosphere. The carbon gets combined with hydrogen (the plant gets its hydrogen from splitting up a molecule of water - a hydrogen atom and two oxygen atoms) The carbon, the hydrogen and some of the oxygen together make sugar (twelve hydrogen atoms, six oxygen atoms and six carbon atoms to be exact). Sugar is, of course food and a major ingredient in carbohydrates.

Animals and humans, of course, do the opposite of plants. They breathe in oxygen, eat carbohydrates, and then combine them to make carbon dioxide. This action of combining these releases the energy (which the plants originally took from the sun) . We use this energy to walk, play checkers, ride bikes, write essays on our computers, etc.

They call it the carbon cycle because plants do one half of the operation by taking carbon dioxide out of the air and releasing the oxygen, which is really their waste product. Animals complete the cycle by taking oxygen back out of the air, eating the plants, getting energy by combining these and breathing out carbon dioxide (which is our waste product). The carbon dioxide goes into the atmosphere so that other plants can using it again in a circle of activity. The whole thing keeps going as long as the plants have sunlight to split the carbon dioxide apart again.

So how exactly does a plant do that? The process is called photosynthesis. Light, of course, is a form of electromagnetic energy. Plants use a material called chlorophyll which takes the light energy and creates a series of chemical reactions that spit the carbon dioxide and water apart and recombine them to make sugar and free oxygen.

To capture light energy most plants use little solar panels we call leaves. This is where most of the energy is captured and chemical reactions take place.

Chlorophyll is also what makes a plant green. It tends to absorb red and blue light waves, but reflects the green. Since what we see are the colors not absorbed, but reflexed, plants appear mostly green to our eyes. The truth is that scientists aren't really sure why plants aren't black. It seems like this would be the most efficient color for a plant as it could absorb all the wavelengths and get the most energy out of the smallest area. However, as you can observe by walking through a meadow, most plants are green, not black, and were not really sure why.

One of the coolest things about the carbon cycle is that plants are really making themselves out of thin air. Yes they do get water and some trace materials from their roots, but the carbon, which makes up so much of their structure, just comes from the carbon dioxide in the air

The reverse is true when we exercise and lose weight. Our carbs disappears into the thin air. The food you eat (carbon) is combined with oxygen and breathed out as carbon dioxide.

I should probably also mention that photosynthesis isn't limited to just plants. Algae, and cyanobacteria can do it too. What's more it isn't the only game in town. Chemotrophs are organisms that obtain energy by oxidative chemical reactions and don't need sunlight. An example of these are the bacteria that live in the deep ocean near hydrothermal vents. It is too dark down there for them to use photosynthesis, so they get energy by oxidizing iron is dissolved in the sea water near the hot vents.

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


In History:

Explosion on the Moon - On June 18, 1178, an English monk named Gervase of Canterbury recorded an odd event in the sky. He and five others witnessed the crescent moon appear to split in two. He wrote ""From the midpoint of this division a flaming torch sprang up, spewing out... fire, hot coals and sparks... The body of the moon, which was below writhed... throbbed like a wounded snake." Scientists are divided on what Gervase actually saw with some suggesting a meteor hit the moon creating the the crater Giodano Bruno. Others suggest that a shooting star in the Earth's atmosphere happened to line up with the moon provoking this strange report.


In the Sky:

Supermoon - On June 23/24 look for the "Supermoon." This really isn't an astronomical term, but people recently have been using it to describe when the moon is both full and close to Earth. The official term for the closest the moon gets to our planet is a Perigee Moon. Whatever you call it, it's a good night to get outside and look at our nearest neighbor.



Falling Lights not Alien Spaceships - The night of May 9-10 in South America a lot of people spotted something they were sure were UFOs. They appeared as a handful of dazzling lights streaking across the sky. It turned out, however, that it wasn't a fleet of flying saucers, but parts of an Orbital Sciences' test spacecraft. Orbital Sciences is under contract with NASA to build a cargo rocket that can put a payload in orbit. The test for this craft is known as the Cygnus Mass Simulator and was shot into orbit by Orbital's Antares booster. The simulator is the same size and weight of Cygnus cargo capsule which will one day resupply the International Space Station. The simulator came down right on time, but there was no advanced warning to people in the area who got a surprising light show that night, but no aliens.


On the Tube:

Please check local listing for area outside of North America.

Nova: Ape Genius - A reassessment of the intellectual abilities of the great apes, which include bonobos, chimps, gorillas and orangutans; and a possible explanation for why ape culture hasn't evolved. Included: an experiment that compares chimps to toddlers. On PBS: June 12 at 9 pm; ET/PT..

Man-Eating Super Snake - South Florida is under siege from a new invasive species. This time, they're man-eaters: African Rock Pythons. These lethal giant constrictors are one of nature's most aggressive snakes. On The Science Channel: June 1st 12:00 AM; June 2nd 4:00 AM; ET/PT.

Alien Mummies - Combining high-end drama reconstruction, scientific tests and expert testimony, we uncover a series of elaborate hoaxes, natural phenomenon and unidentified creatures as we explore man’s eternal fascination with extra-terrestrial beings. On The Science Channel: June 1st 10:00 PM; June 2nd 1:00 AM; ET/PT.

NASA's Unexplained Files - Strange flying objects have been caught on NASA’s cameras and astronauts have reported seeing UFOs. Some of the odd shapes and lights can be identified; others remain a mystery. We’ll reveal NASA footage and interview the astronauts and scientists. On The Science Channel: June 1st 10:00 PM; June 2nd 7:00 PM; ET/PT.

Killing Lincoln - April 14, 1865. One gunshot. One assassin hell-bent on killing "a tyrant," as he charged, the 16th President of the United States. And in one moment, our nation was forever changed. This is the most dramatic and resonant crime in American history: the true story of the killing of Abraham Lincoln. From Executive Producers Ridley Scott and Tony Scott, and narrated by Tom Hanks, National Geographic Channel's first ever docudrama, Killing Lincoln, based on the New York Times bestseller, combines re-creations with historical insight in a thrilling chronicle of the final days of President Lincoln and his assassin, John Wilkes Booth. On The National Geographic Channel: June 7 11:00PM; ET/PT.

Lost Cities of the Amazon - Over the centuries, explorers traded tales of a lost civilization amid the dense Amazonian rainforest. Scientists dismissed the legends as exaggerations, believing that the rainforest could not sustain such a huge population -- until now. A new generation of explorers armed with 21st-century technology has uncovered remarkable evidence that could reinvent our understanding of the Amazon and the indigenous peoples who lived there. On The National Geographic Channel: June 6, 9AM; June 14, 7PM; 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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