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Science Over the Edge

A Roundup of Strange Science for the Month

Applet credit: Ed Hobbs

July 2009

In the News:

Sharks Operate Like Serial Killers - According to a recent scientific study, great white sharks act a lot like human serial killers. The study's authors used geographic profiling to track the creatures' movements. "As predators, they must get close enough to check out prey and figure out their movements, but they also must be far enough way so that they themselves won't be easily tracked," stated co-author Neil Hammerschlag. "They must use known traveling routes," he added. "For human killers, these would be things like subways, buses and freeways. For great whites, these would include channels, reef edges and other topographical features." The study, published in the Journal of Zoology found that experienced great whites liked to launch their attacks from very specific locations. This information may help determine ways of keeping the sharks and humans apart so they avoid unfortunate encounters.

Find Makes Dino-Bird Connection More Likely - A discovery in China could strengthen the idea that birds evolved from dinosaurs. A team led by Xing Xu, a Chinese paleontologist, found the remains of a creature they named Limusaurus inextricabilis. This animal is a member of the branch of the theropod dinosaur family called ceratosaurs. Scientists that do not believe birds came from dinosaurs point out that theropod dinosaurs have three fingered hands that correspond to the first, second and third digits on human hands, but modern birds have wings that correspond to the second, third and fourth digits. Therefore, they argue, one could not have evolved from the other. Limusaurus inextricabilis however, had a shrinking first digit while the second, third and fourth were more developed. This would suggest that during evolution to birds for some reason the important of digits shifted and this explains how the theropod dinosaur line and modern birds could be connected.

Topless Mona Lisa-like Painting Exposed - A recently rediscovered painting suggests that Leonardo da Vinci did not take his masterpiece, the Mona Lisa, quite as seriously as art lovers do today. This newly revealed painting, now on exhibit at the Museo Ideale in the Tuscan town of Vinci, shows a topless woman resembling the woman in the famous portrait sitting in front of a background very much like that in Leonardo's best known work. "The frontal look, the position of the hands, the spatial conception of the landscape, with columns at the sides, show a clear link with the Mona Lisa's iconographic theme," said Alessandro Vezzosi, director of the museum. Documents indicate that naked portrait once belonged to Cardinal Joseph Fesch (1763-1839) and records from 1845 note that he purchased "the portrait of the Mona Lisa, mistress of Francis I, by Leonardo da Vinci," from the Rospigliosis, a rich Roman family. The records are not enough to authenticate the painting as being done by Leonardo himself and it is likely that the painting was actually done by one of his students. This leads art historians to think that, however, there may have been a similar painting done by da Vinci himself that has been lost. If so, it suggests that Leonardo was not above having some fun with his most famous work.

Warp Drive Might Create a Black Hole - A recent paper by a group of Italian physicists suggests that if anyone built a "warp" drive, as shown in the popular Star Trek TV shows and movies, it might result in sucking the Earth into a black hole. In the 1990's Mexican physicist Michael Alcubierre suggested it might possible for a spaceship to travel faster than the speed of light by creating a bubble of energy behind the ship and a lack of energy in front of it sort of like a giant cosmic wave the space ship could surf. The Italian researchers suggest that if you did this by using dark energy their calculations show that a huge amount of energy would be need to create the bubble and more and more to keep it from collapsing. Eventually the energy would run out, the bubble would rupture and either a black hole would be created or a titanic explosion set off. In either case the ship would be destroyed along with anything in the immediate area, like planets. While other scientists agree that the Italians' calculations are right for classical physics, they suggest that string theory may allow away around this problem.

New Flying Car to be on Market - A Boston-area company hopes to start flight tests soon of its two-seater airplane that also act as a car. The company, Terrafugia, founded in 2006 by a group of MIT students, has orders for more than 40 of these hybrids and plans to begin deliveries in 2010. The machine drives like a traditional car to the runway where wings unfold so it can take-off. After landing the wings fold back up so the vehicle and it can be driven on regular roads. The vehicle, to be named "Transition," will retail for $194,000. Terrafugia isn't the first group with this idea. A company called Aerocar designed one of the first flying cars in 1949, but it never went into production. The company expects to be successful with the "Transition" because of advances in materials and propulsion technologies and an easing of government regulations on private aircraft and pilot licensing.


Science Quote of the Month - "Great scientific discoveries have been made by men seeking to verify quite erroneous theories about the nature of things." - Aldous Huxley


What's New at the Museum:

Rogue Shark! The Jersey Shore Attacks of 1916 - Four are dead and a fifth maimed in the America's worst shark attack incident. > Full Story


Ask the Curator:

Air on the moon - Is it possible to channel a pipe from Earth to Moon and pump in some of earth's atmosphere so as to support free life? - Cheta A.

Construction of a pipeline from the Earth to the Moon would be a difficult and probably impossible construction problem. Though scientists think it might be feasible to build an elevator that would lift people and materials in earth orbit, the space station that the elevator would be connected to would rotate in sync with our planet so it would always be directly overhead. The moon orbits the earth once a month, however, while our planet spins every 24 hours, so a pipeline from earth to moon would quickly get twisted and tangled.

There would be little point in building one, anyway, in an attempt to pressurize the moon and give it a breathable atmosphere. The moon already has an atmosphere, (mostly created by out gassing from the underground chemical reactions) but the atmosphere is so thin it almost does not exist. The gravity of the moon, only one-sixth that of Earth is too weak to hold any significant amount of gas on the surface. Most of it drifts into space to be swept away by the solar wind.

Of course we still might have an interest in putting stations and maybe even cities on the moon. (These would probably be airtight and partly or completely underground. By putting a couple of meters of rock above the habitations you can protect life from the stray radiation that often bombards the lunar surface) If we do build underground cities we will need air for the inhabitants to breath. Rather than pipe it up, or even bring it up in large cargo spaceships, it would much more efficient to create it from materials already on the surface. There is plenty of oxygen and nitrogen (to major components of air) locked up in lunar rocks and soil. Getting these out of the rocks will require energy, but there is plenty of that on the moon. It gets lots of sunlight (no cloudy days) that can be turned into electrical power. For that reason NASA is thinking of locating the first lunar stations near the poles so they can get an almost continuous exposure to energy from the sun.


In History:

It's Raining Worms! - Occasionally strange, unexplained items fall from the sky. On July 25, 1872, a small cloud appeared on the horizon, according to a report in Nature magazine. Fifteen minutes later it was raining worms. "...black worms the size of an ordinary fly." The article goes on to say that soon the streets "...were strewn with these curious animals" to the horror of the local inhabitants.


In the Sky:

Solar Eclipse - This month features a total solar eclipse on July 22nd. To see it, however,you need to be in either in parts of India, China or out in the Indian or Pacific Oceans. For readers living near these locations, or rich enough to get there, they will find it a spectacular site with the sun disappearing behind the moon for just over six and one-half minutes.



Conspiracy Theorist sees Aliens in NASA Mars Photos - A self-styled Mars researcher and conspiracy theorist, Andrew Basiago, has been accusing NASA of hiding evidence of Martian life in photos taken from the Spirit rover. Basiago, whose full time job is as a lawyer, has even asks the National Geographic Society to publish his "evidence" of human and animal life forms he's located. Basiago's critics contend that the aliens he sees are nothing more than strangely shaped rocks and shadows. So far the NGS has not agreed to do a story, but who knows?


On the Tube:

Please check local listing for area outside of North America.

NOVA: Secrets of the Samurai Sword - Examine the thousand-year-old art and science behind the making of a Japanese warrior's key weapon. On PBS. Tuesday, July 7 at 8 pm ET/PT.

Humanzee - Humans and chimpanzees share an estimated 98% of genetic material. Oliver is a unique chimpanzee. He walks upright on two legs, he has a pronounced nose and 47 chromosomes midway between a human and a chimpanzee. Could he really be a chimp-human hybrid? On the Science Channel. Jun 29, 9:00 pm; Jun 30, 12:00 am; Jun 30, 4:00 pm; Jul 01, 4:00 am; ET/PT.

Unearthing Ancient Secrets: The Spinx Unmasked - Dr Vassil Dobrev sets out to discover the truth about the Sphinx. Does it really represent the pharaoh Khafre? Using scientific techniques, Vassil finds a different explanation. That the Sphinx was created by a by a pharaoh that history forgot: Djedefre. On The Science Channel. Jul 06, 11:00 pm; Jul 07, 3:00 pm; Jul 08, 3:00 am; ET/PT.

The Mystery of the Giant Sloth's Cave - A team of world renowned palaeontologists uncover a prehistoric sloth cave which could hold the answers to the extinction of the giant sloth over 10 thousand years ago. On The Science Channel. Jul 11, 8:00 pm; Jul 11, 11:00 pm; ET/PT.

Secrets of the Founding Fathers - Investigates the history and symbology so prominent in the creation of the United States, and traces the intricate connections of the Founders with Freemasonry, other secret organizations and between each other. How did the trademarks of the highly secretive Masons become integrated into the Great Seal, and on the dollar bill containing the All-Seeing Eye? Did the grid design of the nation's capital--commissioned by George Washington and completed by Pierre L'Enfant--contain occult symbols embraced by the Illuminati in 1776? Did Benjamin Franklin and George Washington deliberately enlist 33 Freemason generals from France to grow the fraternal brotherhood among Masonic nations? Explore the secret (and secretly dark) sides of the men responsible for laying the foundation of the United States. On The History Channel. Friday, July 03 08:00 PM; Saturday, July 04 12:00 AM; ET/PT.

Ancient Aliens - What if life on Earth began in outer space? Millions of people accept the theory that intelligent life forms visited Earth thousands of years ago and were worshiped as gods by primitive man. Are monuments like Stonehenge and Easter Island the last remains of an ancient alien visitation? From unexplainable super structures, to knowledge of the solar system, mathematics, and even the ability to make electricity, this special explores evidence of super-human influences on ancient man and embarks on an around-the-world search for answers. It's an investigation into a theory some believe cannot be true, but many agree cannot be ignored. On The History Channel. Friday, Tuesday, July 07 08:00 PM; Wednesday, July 08 12:00 AM ; ET/PT.



Science over the Edge Archives

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Copyright Lee Krystek 2009. All Rights Reserved.


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