Did comets cause the famous "WOW" signal?


Science Over the Edge

A Roundup of Strange Science for the Month


June 2016

In the News:

Comets Behind the WOW Signal? - Way back in 1977 SETI researcher Jerry Ehman from Ohio State University noticed a powerful signal from space. It became known as the "WOW" signal from the notation Ehman made on the printout when he saw it, and it remains of the biggest astronomical mysteries. It falls short of proving extraterrestrial civilizations exist, but no other scientific explanation has been found. Now Antonio Paris, a professor of astronomy at St Petersburg College in Florida, thinks he has found a source of the signal. Two comets -- 266P/Christensen and P/2008 Y2 (Gibbs) - only discovered in the last decade, may have been the cause. Comets release a lot of hydrogen as the sun warms them and hydrogen can give off radio signals in the frequency range where "WOW" was detected. To prove his theory Paris is crowd sourcing $20,000 to buy time or build a radio telescope to see if he can find a "WOW" type signal from the comets when they are at about the same position they would have been in 1977. This will happen in January of2017 and 2018. Though Paris thinks he can reproduce the incident, other astronomers are skeptical that hydrogen from a comet could produce anywhere near the strength signal found four decades ago. For information on the WOW signal, see our page here.

Roman Coin Cashe Found - A farmer in Switzerland has discovered a treasure in his orchard that stretches back to the time of the Romans. A total of 4,166 coins, made of bronze and silver and weighing 1,300 pounds, were found buried in Ueken, in the northern canton of Aargau, Switzerland. They are thought to date back more than 1,700 years. Archaeologist Dr George Matter, speculates that "the treasure might have belonged to a tradesman or a landowner who lived in the area and put his savings aside for years. And for whatever reason he hid them in this hideout." Matter also thinks it seems likely the person who hid them was unable to come back for them or he could no longer locate them. In the days before a reliable banking system, treasures were often hidden underground. Unfortunately, under law, the farmer will not be able to keep them, but will be given a "finders fee."

New Record Breaking Big Bug - Phryganistria chinensis Zhao has been declared the longest insect in the world according to China's official news agency, Xinhua. It is a "stick bug" which measures 24.4 inches (more than a a meter). The previous record holder was also a "stick" insect discovered in Malaysian in 2008 that's 22.2 inches long. According to Scientist Zhao Li, "I was collecting insects on a 1,200-meter-tall (3,397-foot) mountain in Guangxi's Liuzhou City on the night of Aug. 16, 2014, when a dark shadow appeared in the distance, which looked like a tree twig." For more big bugs, check our article here.

Tyrannosaurs Rex Probably had Lips - Our images in such movies as "Jurassic Park" of a Tyrannosaurus rex with a bunch of fangs hanging out may be just a bit of Hollywood. A new study by University of Toronto vertebrate paleontologist Robert Reisz suggests that all dinosaurs had their teeth covered by lips when their mouths were closed. Teeth that have enamel (like the T-rex's did according to fossil evidence) must be kept hydrated or they get dried out. Modern day lizards have scaly lips for this purpose. However, many T-rex, drawings show them with teeth exposed when their mouths are closed, like crocodiles. Crocodiles, as it turns out, don't have to worry about keeping their exposed teeth wet as they live in the water. "Thus, the comparison is flawed," Reisz states. "Their teeth are kept hydrated by an aquatic environment." Why, then, does Reisz think Tyrannosaurs are usually drawn with big exposed teeth? To match "their impressive size."

Little Mammal Outlasted Dinosaurs - A careful look at the mitochondrial DNA of the tiny and endangered Hispaniolan solenodon reveals that it once lived with the dinosaurs and survived the asteroid that ended the reptile's reign. The rodent-like animal, which is about the size a shew, is a venomous mammal that lives in the Dominican Republic and Haiti. According to an examination of the creatures DNA scientists believe it separated from other mammal species about 78 million years ago during the Cretaceous Period when tyrannosaurus rex roamed North America. "It's just impressive it's survived this long," stated Adam Brandt, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Illinois. "It survived the asteroid; it survived human colonization and the rats and mice humans brought with them that wiped out the solenodon's closest relatives." However, the animals luck may be running out soon. Since it evolved in an island ecosystem without predators, it may be unable to survive the challenges of the modern world from people, pets and loss of habitat.


Science Quote of the Month - "An American monkey, after getting drunk on brandy, would never touch it again, and thus is much wiser than most men." -Charles Darwin


What's New at the Museum:

Notes from the Curator's Office: Fun with a 3D Printer - Recently my son convinced me that the museum needed a 3D printer. To be honest, I'd already been thinking about the usefulness of one for a while already to fabricate art objects and various parts. He's a mechanical engineering student and he thought that having one might also be helpful for his senior project. > Full Story

Mysterious Picture of the Month - Who is this this?

Ask the Curator:

Unknown Flying Disc - In November of 1984 I was traveling to Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake when I saw a disk shaped aircraft come over the horizon and fly over me at low altitude. It was powered by two conventional jet engines and had Air Force markings as shown. Do you have any information about this aircraft? When I got to China Lake I was greeted with a blank stare when I mentioned it. - W. A.

There has certainly been a lot of speculation about secret disc shaped aircraft over the years and very little hard evidence. We know that disc-shaped aircraft are possible and the United States built one, the Vought "Flying Flapjack" during WW II. The Flapjack had a conventional tail and fuselage with an oval-shaped wing. Powered by two counter rotating propellers it could lift off of a short runway, like an aircraft carrier with ease. By the time it was done testing, however, the war was over and the military was more interested in jets than flying saucers.

In the 1950's the Avro Canada company developed a saucer-shaped aircraft. The Avrocar had a turbo jet engine that was mounted vertically in the center of the saucer so that the exhaust would flow outward from it and, because of the Coand? effect, over the top of the craft to the edge were a flap would direct it downward giving it lift. This, in theory, would have permitted the plane to do a vertical takeoff and maneuver in any direction like a classic "flying saucer." Unfortunately it never had the high performance expected, which was originally supposed to allow it to go supersonic, and the Air Force lost interest in the project. The Army funded it for a while, hoping it might turn out to be sort of a super-helicopter, but when a prototype was built it turned out to be unstable and difficult to control. The project carried several names over the years, so if you've have heard of project "Y2" or "VZ-9" or the Silver Bug, they are all talking about a variation of the Avrocar idea.

There have also been other rumors, here and there of other disc-shaped aircraft. For example, on a website called "USAF Flying Saucers" Michael H. Schratt claims that U.S. Navy aviator and aviation writer Jack D. Pickett and his business partner Harold Baker visited MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa Florida in the late 60's and saw several disc-shape, jet-powered aircraft, waiting to be scrapped. They ranged in size from 20 feet in diameter, to 116 feet in diameter. With his article Schratt include a number of startling photographs of these disc-shaped aircraft. However, he admitted they were only computer generated images combined with real USAF photographs. Schratt's story, which was never confirmed independently is highly suspect, but that hasn't stopped his fake photos from appearing on many websites since (often without the disclaimer that they are just an artist's conception).

Still, there has always been a persistent interest in disc-shaped aircraft through the years. They have several useful characteristics, like already mentioned ability to take off or land over a very small distance. Another feature is that they are naturally very stealthy. Radar tends to bounce well off of flat surfaces. Since a flying saucer as few of those it can more easily be made radar invisible that more conversional designs.

In fact, in the 1980's before pictures of the Lockheed F-117 Nighthawk stealth fighter were released, a lot of people expected that it would look exactly like the object you described seeing: A disc-shape with jet intakes on top (hidden from surface radar as they tend to stand out) and twin, small, raked tails at the back. One difference from what you saw is that an operational stealth aircraft would almost always be dark in color.

Of, course, the F-117 Nighthawk turned out not to look like a disc at all. Instead it used flat, angular surfaces to bounce any radar signals off in a direction away from the radar receiver.

Is it a possibility that what you saw was an alternate stealth fighter design under assessment? A design that was tested in flight, but never chosen for production? It certainly would have been the right era as the F-117 was under development right about that time. As far as I'm aware, however, the U.S. military has never released any information about such an alternate project, if it existed.

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In History:

American Spacewalk - On June 3rd of 1965 the first American took a walk in space. Major Edward White II spent 20 minutes outside his Gemini 4 space ship while orbiting at 120 miles above the Earth. White moved around outside the capsule tethered by a 25 foot cable/airline and using a handheld oxygen jet propulsion gun to maneuver around. White's walk was the second ever done following Soviet cosmonaut Aleksei A. Leonov three months earlier.


In the Sky:

Saturn in Opposition - June will be a good time to get a great look at the planet Saturn. On the 3rd it will be in opposition to the sun and the closest it will be to Earth. With its face fully illuminated by our star it will brighter than at any other time of the year and will be visible all night long. With a medium sized telescope you should be able to get a good view of its famous rings.



"X-raying" Egyptian Pyramids - Scientists have successfully used cosmic rays to analyze the interior of an Egyptian pyramid for unknown rooms and passages. Last January a group of scientists from the Institute for Advanced Research of Nagoya University, Japan, retrieved plates they had placed in a lower room in the "Bent Pyramid." The plates were designed to detect muons that continually shower the Earth's surface from outer space. These particles can easily pass through heavy rock like X-rays pass through the human body. By using a computer to analyze the patterns found on the plates a 3-D reconstruction of the interior of the pyramid was possible. While the test did not find any unknown rooms or voids in the Bent Pyramid, it did prove that the technique was viable and will soon be applied to other Egyptian pyramids.



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

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