A "Tar Flower" photographed by NOAA on the floor of the Gulf of Mexico..


Science Over the Edge

A Roundup of Strange Science for the Month

June 2014

In the News:

Black Tar Flower Found - Researchers using a robot to look for underwater shipwrecks in the Gulf of Mexico have instead stumbled upon some rare volcanic "Tar Flowers" on the ocean bottom. The "flowers" found in 4,300 feet of water are the result of hot tar from under the ocean floor that froze when it entered the frigid water. As sections peeled back they formed what looks like a giant flower with black petals. The formations are about 20 feet in diameter and ten feet tall. "To use a clichÚ, we know more about the moon than we know about the deep oceans," said Gilbert Rowe, a regent's professor in marine biology at the university. "The more we look, the more weird features we find, and each of these features is a separate habitat for the creatures that live there." These formations are the first such found in the area of the Northern Gulf and are about 150 miles from Galveston, Texas.

A Little Water Makes Things Go Easier - A study was published online in the journal Physical Review Letters suggests that the ancient Egyptians made the job of hauling huge stone slabs across desert sands to build pyramids and temples easier by using water. A drawing found at the tomb of Djehutihotep shows a worker standing on the front of a sledge pouring water over the sand just in front of it. To see if this would really work researchers compared pulling a mini-sled over dry sand to pulling one over wet sand. They found that the difference in effort pull the sledge was significantly reduced. The water makes the sand form a more solid surface and keeps the sledge from sinking into it. "The water forms liquid bridges that glue the sand grains together, as in a sandcastle," study co-author Dr. Daniel Bonn, a professor of physics at the University of Amsterdam.

Vatican Church Gets New Lights - The famed Sistine Chapel in Rome is getting cutting edge high-tech lighting designed to both better illuminated the art on the church's walls and ceilings better and preserve it from damage. Lighting manufacturer Osram is in the process of installing 7000 LEDs in the chapel. The mix of light they generate has been specially tuned to match the pigments in individual locations making for better, brighter viewing. The LEDs also emit no ultraviolet (UV) or infrared radiation which are the frequencies that most damage paint pigments. Tests have shown that under normal operating conditions of 50 lux or less, the artwork on the chapel's walls should be safe for at least 1000 years. The new lights should boost the illumination by a factor of five to 10, while also reducing power consumption for the Chapel by more than 60%.

More Lines in Peru - Researchers have discovered rock lines in Peru predate the famous Nazca Lines by centuries. The famous Nazca Lines were built around 100 B.C., while the new lines were found in the Chinca Valley, about 125 miles (200 kilometers) south of Lima, Peru, and date back to 800 B.C.. While scientists still debate the purpose of the Nazca Lines, team leader Charles Stanish, the director of the Cotsen Institute of Archaeology at the University of California, Los Angeles, believes the lines at Chinca were used as a way to mark time during festivals. The areas includes not just lines, but mound and piles of rock. Stanish said, "They basically created these areas of highly ritualized processions and activities that were not settled permanently." He likens the activity to medieval fairs that brought visitors from far and wide.

New Record Dino Found - Paleontologists think they have found "the big one" in the desert 135 miles west of Trelew, Patagonia. It is a dinosaur 130 feet long with its head the height of a seven story building. This newly discovered sauropod (the planet-eating type of dinosaurs with four legs and a long neck and tail) is a type of titanosaur that lived in the Late Cretaceous period (95 and 100 million years ago). The previous record holder was Argentinosaurus which was found in the same region. Scientists think Argentinosaurus weighed in at 70 tons, and this new unnamed dino at 77 tons. It was first discovered by a local farm worker and then excavated by a team of paleontologists from the Museum of Paleontology.


Science Quote of the Month - "Equipped with his five senses, man explores the universe around him and calls the adventure Science." ~ Edwin Powell Hubble


What's New at the Museum:

The Strange Sailing Stones of Death Valley - In this mysterious and desolate corner of the California desert, the stones move by themselves. 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 http://cryptidpediabook.com/


Ask the Curator:

All Photons Look Alike? - If photons are all identical how do they carry any properties of what they are reflecting off of? - Gary

Well, let's start by defining what a photo is for readers that don't know. A photon is a single packet of electromagnetic (or light) energy. The actual term photon was coined by Gilbert Lewis in 1926, but the idea of light in the form of discrete particles had been around much longer.

Photons are constantly in motion and in a vacuum travel at the colossal speed of 186,000 miles a second (The speed of light). Another interesting characteristic of a photon is that they are both a particle and a wave at the same time.

Photons are created when radiation is emitted from an object. For example, heating a piece of metal till it glows is causing the atoms in the metal to radiate photons (This is how an incandescent lamp works). Photons can also be absorbed by an object.

Now to your question: How can all photons be identical to one another? Well, they are in the sense that they are all made of the same stuff, but that doesn't mean that a photon doesn't also have properties that allow us to tell them apart. One property that they have is the amount of energy they carry. This is expressed in the frequency of their wave. To us the wave frequency of a photon appears as its color. Low frequencies are seen as the red end of the color spectrum and high frequencies are seen as the blue end of the spectrum.

When photons hit a green painted surface the photons that aren't at the green frequency are absorbed while those with the green frequency are reflected (which is why we see the surface as green).

Another property a photon can have how it is polarized. Photons that are polarized vertically will not pass through a sheet of glass or plastic that has a horizontal polarization. (This is used in 3-D movies where the images going to your right eye are polarized one way and images meant for your left eye are polarized the other. You wear glasses with each lens polarized a different way to filter out the unwanted image).

Perhaps a word picture will help. Imagine two identical cars driving down a road at the same speed. One is has just come out of the desert, however, and is really hot. The other just came out of a freezer, so it really cold. Identical cars traveling same speed, but they have different kinetic energy levels. This might give them different behaviors too. Imagine them hitting a wall made of ice very slowly, the hot one might melts its way through while the cold one might just bounce off.

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In History:

Lost Opportunity to Find a Planet - On June 5th, 1819, John Couch Adams was born. Adams, a common man, was able to use mathematics to predict the existence of the planet Neptune based on the way it's gravity was affecting the other planets. Unfortunately because of his low ranking in society he could not get anybody with a telescope to take his calculations seriously and actually look to see if he was right. Because of this French astronomer, Urbain Le Verrier, was able to make the same calculations and beat Adams to the punch in announcing the discovery of a new planet and embarrassing the British. For more information on the search for planet "X," check our page.


In the Sky:

Meteors Maybe? - Want to take a chance on viewing a somewhat iffy meteor shower? June 27th marks the peak of the Bo÷tids shower. This meteor shower, the result of the Pons-Winnecke comet, is known to occasionally have unexpected outbursts, but is usually unspectacular. If you want to see if you can catch some of these shooting stars start looking out on the nights surrounding June 27th at the constellation Bo÷tid. One good thing is that there should be little moonlight to interfere with viewing this year and these meteors usually move slowly making them easier to spot




Santa Maria Found? - Famed underwater explorer Barry Clifford, who made a name for himself finding pirate wrecks, thinks he may have found perhaps the most well-known shipwreck of the them all: Christopher Columbus' flagship the Santa Maria. Clifford first investigated the wreck back in 2003, but only recently realized the significance of the cannon he found there. The type of cannon he saw, a lombard, was recorded by Columbus in his records as being carried on his flagship ship. The Santa Maria sank on Christmas Day in 1492 just off the coast of what is now known as Haiti during Columbus' first voyage to the Americas. While Clifford is sure of his find, proof may be difficult. The cannon that is his "smoking gun" has been looted off the bottom in the decade following his find. Clifford hopes to meet with the Haitian government next month in preparation of doing a full scale archeological dig to get at the truth.


On the Tube:

Please check local listing for area outside of North America.

Nova: At the Edge of Space - Can scientists unravel the mysterious phenomena that lurk between Earth and space? On PBS June 18 at 9 pm ET/PT.

Nova: Deadliest Earthquakes - Big quakes are inevitable, but can we lessen their devastation? On PBS June 25 at 9 pm ET/PT.

Nova: Surviving the Tsunami - Gripping personal stories from Japan offer lessons on how to act in the fact of a life-threatening disaster. On PBS: June 25 at 10 pm ET/PT.

Russian Yeti: The Killer Lives- In 1959, nine Russian students died mysteriously while hiking. Explorer Mike Libecki reinvestigates the mystery and finds clues suggesting the cause of the horrific deaths could be the work of a creature thought only to exist in folklore- the Yeti. On the Discovery Channel: June 1st 9PM, June 2nd 12:10AM, June 5th 7:00PM, June 6th 1:00AM ET/PT.

Morgan Freeman's Through the Wormhole: Is Reality Real? - Do we live in the "real world" or is it all in our mind? Our perception of reality is controlled by society. Thanks to "the optimism bias", we make unrealistic assessments about our own reality. Human senses capture only a small part of nature. On the Science Channel: June 4th 11:00AM ET/PT.

Einstein - Albert Einstein's revolutionary theory that turned the world upside down might have been dismissed but for a math mistake, a cloudy sky, and the start of World War I. This fascinating two-hour special tells the story of Einstein's little-known, 15-year struggle to prove one of his most radical theories -- a theory that upended Newton and three centuries of scientific thought and called into question the definitions of space and light and gravity -- the game-changing concept known as the Theory of General Relativity. Today, more than a century since the "Miracle Year" in which he published many of his breakthrough papers, Einstein's ideas remain a living, vibrant influence. They continue to push scientists farther, and deeper, into the universe than even he could have imagined. On the History Channel: Sun June 1, 8:00 PM ET/PT.


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