The Ceres bright spot as seen by NASA's Dawn spacecraft.


Science Over the Edge

A Roundup of Strange Science for the Month


June 2015

In the News:

Ceres Spots Still Mystery - Scientists have been puzzling awhile about what the bright spots on the dwarf planet Ceres' surface are. New high resolution photographs taken by NASA's Dawn spacecraft haven't solved the mystery, but that do indicate that the spots are actually composed of many smaller splotches. They don't appear to be "massive doors that open to allow ships in and out" which some people have suggested. More likely that may be ice, but there is no way to tell for sure at this point. On Dawn's next pass in June, which will be three times closer than this one, we may get some more photos and possibly some answers.

Warm Blooded Fish Found - You may have learned in school that all fish are cold-blooded, but that is not apparently true. Nicholas Wegner, a researcher at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, examined a deep sea predatory fish named the Opah (also known as the moonfish) and found that it warms its blood by rigorously flapping its fins. This warm bloodedness allows it to be a much more energetic hunter than other fish that live in deep waters. The opah can maintain a temperature that is about 41 degrees Fahrenheit higher than the water around them despite living at a depth of 1,000 feet. The study was published in the journal Science.

Ancient Jerusalem Aqueduct Served for Two Millennia - Construction workers stumbled across a 2,000-year-old water-supply system that still worked until the last century. The Lower Aqueduct, which was built under the direction of kings ruling Jerusalem from 140 BC to 37 BC, operated by carrying water from a spring south of Bethlehem into four modern-day Jerusalem neighborhoods until replaced by an electrical water distribution system about 100 years ago. The channel was an open sluice until covered with terra cotta pipe about 500 years ago. The Israel Antiquities Authority plan to cover part of the channel "for the sake of future generations" and expose other parts for the general public to see. "The aqueduct begins at the 'En 'Eitam spring, near Solomon's Pools south of Bethlehem," says IAA Director Ya'akov Billig. "Despite its length, it flows along a very gentle downward slope whereby the water level falls just one meter per kilometer of distance."

Four Close Quasars Surprise Scientists - Astronomers are surprised to have found a quartet of quasars close together in a cloud of dense hydrogen gas. Quasars are believed to be supermassive black holes at the center of galaxies that for a short period are sucking in huge amounts of matter and radiating tremendous quantities of energy. They are thought to be a relatively rare phenomenon. If so, scientists are wondering, why are four of them so closely group together? (All within 650,000 light years of each other). It may be that something about the environment in that part of the universe, perhaps the hydrogen cloud, promotes quasar creation. The odds that they are close just by coincidence is one in 10 million the researchers estimate. "It may be that quasar episodes are more likely to be triggered in such an unusual environment, which is rich in both gas and galaxies" observed Joseph Hennawi with the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy who led the study. "Current models of how structure forms in the universe would never predict that there would be so much cool, dense gas around. Instead, those models predict that the gas in such a massive object should be 1,000 times hotter and 1,000 times less dense," he added. This information may give astronomers better insight into how quasars come about.

Finest Egyptian Art May be Fake - The "Meidum Geese," which is considered to be one of the finest pieces of ancient Egyptian art, may actually be a fake according to Francesco Tiradritti, a professor at the Kore University of Enna. The work, found in 1871 in a chapel dedicated to the wife of pharaoh Snufru's son Nefermaat's tomb, depicts six geese in beautiful detail. It is often referred to as the "Mona Lisa" of Egyptian painting. Tiradritti became suspicious of the work when he realized that two of the species of geese shown in the picture never flew to Egypt. He also noticed that many of the colors were unique and not used by other ancient Egyptian artists. In addition the geese are all shown at about the same size, which is something not done by Egyptian artists who used size to represent importance in a picture. Tiradritti believes that there is a real ancient piece of art under the geese that can still be seen in certain places. He also thinks Luigi Vassalli, the person credited with finding and removing the painting was the actual artist, though he does not know what the motive for such a hoax might have been. The art work now resides in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.

Science Quote of the Month - "There is no adequate defense, except stupidity, against the impact of a new idea." - Percy Williams Bridgman


What's New at the Museum:

Vasili Arkhipov: The Man Who Saved the World - On October 27th, 1962, the world teetered on the edge of a devastating nuclear war. Only the courageous action of a single man, a Soviet submarine commander, acting against the wishes of his shipmates, prevented the nightmare of nuclear holocaust. - Full Story

Mysterious Picture of the Month - What is this this?

Ask the Curator:

One night I was watching a documentary on TNT. The documentary said that Hitler was practicing the mystical arts in order to gain an advantage during WWII. In fact they showed a temple that he built just for the purposes of the study of mystical arts. Ever since then I have tried to find out more about this "temple". No one seems to know what I'm talking about, and I can't seem to dig up any information about it. Is there really such a place or was I watching a hoax documentary? -Michael

The show may have been referring to Wewelsburg Castle. Heinrich Himmler, head of the SS, established the Ahnenerbe, which operated out of Wewelsburg, an SS headquarters. The Ahnenerbe was the Ancestral Heritage Research and Teaching Society. Its functions included research into Germanic prehistory, archaeology and occult mysticism.

Below the castle's great dining hall was a special circular room with a shallow depression which could be reached by climbing three stone steps. These steps symbolised the three Reiches. Inside the castle Himmler and his inner circle would perform various occult rituals, which included trying to contact dead Teuton heros. Hitler apparently never visited Wewelsburg, and may even have expressed distain for Himmler's interest in the occult, according to Alan Baker, author of Invisable Eagle, The History of Nazi Occultism.

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In History:

The Sound of the Big Bang - On June 1st, 1965, scientists Arno Penzias and Robert Woodrow Wilson detected a 3 degrees (Kelvin) background radiation using a horn reflector antenna that had been constructed for radio astronomy. At first the pair puzzled over the source of the emission and thought it might be a defect in their equipment. After consulting with other astronomers they concluded that what they were hearing was the distant echo of the "big bang" that had created the universe. The discovery led to a Nobel Prize in Physics for the pair of researchers.

In the Sky:

See The First Rock from the Sun - If you have never seen the planet Mercury June 24 is your chance. The planet will reach it greatest western elongation at 22.5 degrees from the Sun that day. This will be your best chance to view the planet since it will be at its highest point above the horizon in the morning sky. Look for the planet low just above the eastern horizon before sunrise.


EM Drive May Open the Solar System to Space Travel - Rumors are that NASA has successfully tested a form of electromagnetic (EM) propulsion drive. The idea is that such a drive would be able to convert electrical energy directly to thrust without the need for a propellant. The lack of propellant caused the idea to be met skepticism within the scientific community, however, it appears that experiments seem to suggest that such a scheme does work. Last summer successful experiments were done under atmospheric conditions which caused critics to suggest that heat and convection currents may have been responsible for the perceived thrust. NASA's latest tests, however, were performed in a hard vacuum that eliminates that possibility. The basic idea is that electromagnetic microwaves are bounced around a cone-shaped cavity so that that electrical energy is changed directly into thrust, though nobody understand quite how it works and it seems to defy the laws of physics. If such a drive is a workable idea a trip to the moon could be done in a matter of hours, and a trip to Mars in 70 days.


Zeep and Meep are on a well deserved vacation. In their place we feature highlights from their past adventures.

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