Science Over the Edge

A Roundup of Strange Science for the Month

Applet credit: Ed Hobbs

July 2004

In the News:

Meteorite Makes Hole in Roof - A homeowner in Auckland, New Zealand, was surprised when a 2.8 pound meteorite came crashing through his roof. Phil and Brenda Archer were at home on a Saturday morning last month when they heard a loud explosion that sounded like it came from the ceiling. On close examination they found a hole in the roof and a rock sitting under their computer. The rock was too hot to touch. Dealers estimate that the meteorite, which had once been part of an asteroid, could be sold to collectors for as much as $6,000.

Dog Understands 200 Words - For years dog owners have insisted their dogs could understand them what was said to them, and now German researchers have confirmed that this may be at least partly true. Language tests with a 9 year-old border collie named Rico show that he can understand up to 200 spoken words. Even more impressive is that he can learn the meaning of a new word in a single lesson and remember that meaning several weeks later. This learning skill is referred to as "fast-mapping" and it was thought to be an exclusively a human trait before these tests with Rico. The study of the dog's abilities was featured in the journal Science last month.

T-rex: Built for Biting - A study done by paleontologist Emily Rayfield, of the University of Cambridge, suggests that Tyrannosaurus rex's head was designed like a giant shock absorber to allow for its powerful, bone-crushing bite. Rayfield created digital copy of the a T-rex skull in her computer and examined how eating would stress each portion of it. She found that sutures (where two bones meet) could move allow some of the stress from the animal's powerful bite to be dissipated. The rex also had heavy nasal bones in its snout that resisted shearing and compression. Rayfield's study supports an earlier 1996 finding that the T-rex used a "puncture and pull" method of eating that is unique in the animal kingdom.

The Welsh Built Stonehenge? - Scientists have excavated graves near Stonehenge and are convinced that at least three of the ancient monument's builders were originally from Wales. The workmen were part of a 2,300 year-old mass grave containing seven bodies. Scientists made a careful study of teeth found with the remains. By looking at different materials absorbed into the teeth through drinking water it was possible to tell where the men lived during different stages of their lives. Scientists feel confident of the Stonehenge-Welsh link because the bluestone found in much of the structure can only have come from the Preseli Hills of Southwest Wales.

First Private Spaceflight - On June 21st the first private craft made it into space. Aircraft designer Burt Rutan's Space Ship One climbed 62.5 miles (100 kilometers) into the sky into what is officially recognized as the edge of space. Space Ship One was carried to the altitude of 50,000 feet by a jet, then released. Then an eighty-second rocket boost carried the vehicle the rest of the way. The fight was part of an attempt to win the "X Prize" for the first repeatable flight by a non-goverment group into space. To win the $10 million prize Space Ship One will have to make two flights into space within two weeks carrying a pilot and the equivalent weight of two passengers. More than two dozen teams are entered in the competition.


What's New at the Museum:

Classic Graphic Novels - Check out the second chapter - Captain Nemo - in our classic graphic novel version of Jules Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. - >Full Story


Ask the Curator:

Climate and the Dinosaurs - What if instead of an ice age the climate were to become tropical as it was during the reign of the dinosaurs. Could it be possible for them to somehow return? ...If the conditions - the environment - was recreated could nature again somehow produce those awesome beasts? - John

Certainly there seems to be a direct link between climate and the characteristics of the animal life. Probably the best example comes from the ice ages. The climate then seems to have promoted mammals of extraordinary size: Mammoths larger than the biggest elephants alive today, a rhino 16 foot high and weighing 20 tons and a ten foot tall gorilla are just a few examples. Having said that, even if conditions went back to how it was during the heyday of the dinosaurs, we might not see the return of dinosaur-like creatures. The dinosaurs flourished in a period before mammals were widespread. It might be that competition from these warm-blooded animals might keep large reptiles from developing again in some future tropical age.

One more matter to consider - it's hard to predict if dinosaurs-like creatures might return under certain conditions because scientists are still arguing about what made the dinosaurs disappear in the first place!

For a humorous look at this idea check out:


In History:

Gruesome Rain - In July of 1869, without explanation, a fairly gruesome mix of of items fell from a clear sky onto a farm near Los Angeles. It was mostly blood and meat with what seemed to be animal hair. The flesh fell in strips as long as eight inches and apparently included pieces from organs such as the liver, heart and kidney. The editor of the Los Angeles News reported on this story, "That the meat fell, we cannot doubt...Where it came from, we cannot even conjecture."


In the Sky:

35 Years - Remember where you were 35 years ago on July 20th? Most people who are above the age of 40, or so, do! This day marks the anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. Strangely enough some people claim it never happened! For more details on this controversy, click

Blue Moon - Take a look at the full moon on July 31 and you will be seeing a "Blue Moon." It doesn't look blue to you? Well, it isn't really blue. The term is given to the second full month in a calendar mouth. Two full moons in a month doesn't happen too often, hence the saying "Once in a Blue Moon..."



Panther Turns Out to be House Cat - A huge search for a black panther near one of France's most popular tourist area's was called off when it was found that the "panther" was really an oversized house cat. Sightings of the animal had forced the police to close off a large area near the city of Marseilles that is popular with tourists. The house cat turned out to be two feet long and weighed about 22 pounds.


On the Tube:

Currently we are only able to give accurate times and dates for these programs in the United States. Check local listings in other locations.

NOVA: Galileo's Battle for the Heavens - Galileo struggles to persuade church authorities of the truth behind his astonishing discoveries about the cosmos. On PBS: July 6 @ 8PM; ET.

NOVA:Lost at Sea: The Search for Longitude - How the quest for a reliable method to find your way at sea was solved by an 18th-century English clockmaker. On PBS: June 20 @ 8PM; ET.

Mysteries of Noah's Flood- In the face of minimal scientific evidence that the flood described in the Bible actually occurred, scientists and religious scholars have long been consumed with the search for Noah's ark. Search for clues on the icy slopes of Turkey's Mt. Ararat. On the Discovery Channel: Jul 01 @ 09:00 PM, Jul 02 @ 12:00 AM; ET.

A Haunting in Georgia - In 1988, the Wyrick family moved into a suburban home outside of Atlanta. For years, they were visited by neighbors who had lived in the area but who had been dead for years. Parapsychologists attempt to explain the strange aura in the Wyrick home. On Discovery Channel: Jul 24 @ 09:00 PM, Jul 25 @ 12:00 AM ; ET.

Maneating Leopards of India - In India whether it's affluent suburbs of Mumbai or rural countryside, leopards make no distinction and attack and kill humans. Travel from the early 20th century to the present to find these maneaters, legacy to Indian wildlife, are not new to reality. On Discovery Channel: Jul 22 2004 @ 08:00 PM Jul 22 @ 11:00 PM, Jul 24 @ 12:00 PM; ET.

UFO Hot Spots -For those who study the UFO phenomenon, "UFO Hot Spots" are places around the globe known for a long history of UFO sightings and reports. From Brazil to Mexico, from Washington State to Florida, multiple witnesses, including air traffic controllers and even military personnel, confirm that something unexplained is repeatedly happening in the night sky. Tales of alien abductions, bizarre and chilling photographs of UFOs, and hours of videotape all abound as we search for UFO Hot Spots. On History Channel: July 5 @ 8pm, ET/PT.

Investigating History: The Curse of King Tut - Tutankhamun died young, forgotten by his people, but gained everlasting glory for the treasures buried with him--and infamy for the deaths of those who uncovered his tomb. Now, 82 years after the opening of his tomb, epidemiologist Mark Nelson examines biological agents left in his tomb and looks at the life, death, and possible murder of the Boy-King. Egyptologist Emily Teeter, police profiler Mike King, and Dr. James Harris, the last man allowed to X-ray Tut's skull, add their deductions.. On History Channel: July 11 @ 7pm ET/PT.



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