Over the Edge
Roundup of Strange Science for the Month
Ancients Discovered Rubber Too - It looks like the
ancients discovered how to use rubber almost 3,500 years
before Charles Goodyear patented the modern vulcanization
method in 1844. Two MIT researchers, Dorothy Hosler, an
archaeologist and Michael Tarkanian a technical instructor,
believe pre-Hispanic peoples not only used rubber, but discovered
the chemical processing necessary to change its properties.
The Mesoamericans used the natural latex from the native
Castilla elastica tree to make sandal soles, game balls,
and handles to axe heads. Without modification, however,
the natural latex becomes brittle as it dries. To counteract
this the ancients added juice from the morning glory species
Ipomoea alba. The juice causes the polymer molecules to
cross-link making the rubber elastic. Tarkanian and Hosler
built their own rubber processing plant back at MIT and
noted that by varying the amount of morning-glory vine juice
in the mix, different kinds of rubber could be created.
Dogs Have Lost the Nack - A study shows that
dogs fail general intelligence tests that wolves and wild
dingos (a wild dog found in Australia) are successful at.
Researchers set up a glass barrier between the test animal
and food. The animal could get to the food by discovering
doors in the fence. Dingos and wolves found the reward very
quickly, while the dogs were just frustrated. "Wolves will
outperform dogs on any problem-solving tasks that are non-social,"
said lead author of the study, Bradley Smith. "Dogs are
great at social tasks -- communicating with humans, using
humans as tools, learning from humans via observation --
whereas wolves are much better at general problem solving.
" The researchers believe that domestication has caused
dogs to lose some of their problem-solving skills. Now due
to their dependence on humans, dogs look to us to help solve
Dinosaur Era Marine Reptiles Not Cold Blooded -
A study published in the journal Science suggests that marine
reptiles from the dinosaur era were warm-blooded. French
geochemists examined oxygen isotopes found in the teeth
of prehistoric animals and found that both modern fish and
ancient fish had a similar composition of the isotope reflecting
the water temperature in which they lived. Marine reptiles
like the mosasaur and plesiosaur had a different composition,
however, which seems to indicate that their body temperatures
were steady no matter how cold the water was. The marine
reptiles' bodies averaged about 102 degrees Fahrenheit,
similar to the temperature of many warm-blooded animals
Universe May Not Be As Dark as Once Thought -
Research by two astronomers in the Physics Department at
Durham University suggest that the current model of the
universe, that it is largely made up of dark energy and
matter, may be wrong. The two scientists, graduate student
Utane Sawangwit and Professor Tom Shanks, think that the
information gathered by the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy
Probe (WMAP) satellite may have errors. The information
provided by the satellite about the universe's Cosmic Microwave
Background (CMB) radiation has lead to the conclusion that
most of the universe is unseen "dark" energy and matter.
The size of ripples in the CMB are critical to this prediction.
However, Sawangwit and Shanks have found evidence that the
ripples may be larger than originally thought. In that case,
there may be less, or even no dark energy or matter and
this would change the standard model of the universe as
we know it. Prof. Shanks admits "Odds are that the standard
model with its enigmatic dark energy and dark matter will
survive - but more tests are needed."
Mystery Sarcophagus Found in Italy - In ancient,
abandoned city of Gabii, Italy, archaeologists have encountered
a mystery worthy of Indiana Jones: a 1,000-pound lead coffin.
The Romans rarely used coffins and when they did they were
made of wood, not metal. A lead coffin like this is almost
unheard of and it is likely that whoever is inside of this
sarcophagus was of great importance. The coffin will be
transported to the American Academy in Rome, where scientists
will try to figure out what is inside without damaging it
or opening it. Nicola Terrenato, the University of Michigan
professor of classical studies who leads the project said,
""It's a sheet of lead folded onto itself an inch thick,"
he said. "A thousand pounds of metal is an enormous amount
of wealth in this era. To waste so much of it in a burial
is pretty unusual." There is some speculation the person
might have been a gladiator or a bishop. "It's hard to predict
what's inside, because it's the only example of its kind
in the area," Terrenato stated. "I'm trying to keep my hopes
Science Quote of the Month - "A
year spent in artificial intelligence is enough to make
one believe in God. " ~ Alan Perlis
New at the Museum:
Under an Iron Sky - Anybody who regularly follows
"From the Curator's Office" knows I'm a fan of Steampunk
and interested in the movement toward alternative ways of
making films.. Recently I've stumbled across a motion picture
project that seems to encompass both. Iron Sky is
a Finnish/German production slated to debut in 2011 that
features an invasion of Earth from Nazis who have spend
the last 73 years hiding on the far side of the moon.
Mysterious Picture of the Month - What
is this thing?
Death Ray for Sale? - This is the link
to "death ray tubes." These are a workable model of a death
ray gun, you can buy it for 350 US$ and it works for carving
rock. It does exist and as seen in the site united nuclear..
So are lots of other sci-fi inventions… And they do work
too.. You get warnings to not direct them toward humans…
They will melt... - Agnar Kiil
The "Death Ray"
offered by United Nuclear, is not the death ray as was once
envisioned by the mysterious inventor Nikola Tesla in the
1930's that has garnered so much press over the years. That
weapon was better known as a charged particle beam.
Tesla designed a device that would send a beam of particles
out at high speed and saw it as a defensive weapon that
would ensure peace. He claimed such a device would be able
to "bring down a fleet of 10,000 enemy airplanes at a distance
of 200 miles from a defending nation's border…"
Though no nations
at the time acted on Tesla's idea, during the cold war both
the Soviet Union and the United States experimented with
charged particle weapons, but could not make them practical.
The "Death Ray"
on the United Nuclear site is actually an infrared laser
(Infrared means the light the laser is generating is of
frequency too low to be visible to the human eye). Lasers,
of course, have become common devices found in such everyday
objects such as DVD players, supermarket checkout terminals
and screen pointers. The ones offered by United Nuclear,
of course, are of considerably more power. A laser pointer
uses about 1 mill watt of power, where the United Nuclear
infrared laser can be bought with a power supply of up to
100 watts. This is enough to cut thin metal and crack rock.
Commercial sealed CO2 lasers, however, can often be found
at powers of 3000 watts or more and can be used to cut carbon
steel as thick as a ˝ inch.
Even lasers with
power levels less than a watt can be dangerous, however,
if directed into a human eye. The light the laser puts out
is "coherent" with all the light particles (or photons)
going in the same direction, at the same frequency in the
same phase. This results in the beam focusing a lot of energy
into a very small space causing the target to heat up and
burn or melt. Even a fairly low powered laser that enters
an eye will be concentrated on the retina causing damage
and potential blindness. For this reason engineers and scientists
working with lasers always wear eye protection.
As powerful as
lasers are, the military up to this point, has not found
them to be effective weapons. The amount of power they require
limits their mobility, especially compared with traditional
weapons like bombs and rockets. Lasers have still been used
on the battlefield, however, to guide traditional weapons
to their targets. First a laser is pointed toward a target,
say a tank. Then the laser light reflected back from the
tank can be used to guide a rocket or bomb accurately to
The U.S. military
has not completely given up on lasers, however, and has
recently has some success with electric lasers that are
small enough to fit into a truck and have an output of over
100 kilowatt. With this much power they hope they will be
able to use them in the future to zap incoming rockets or
About the site
itself: United Nuclear seems like a fascinating place to
purchase off-beat science items and reminds me a lot of
Edmund Scientific, a similar company in operation near where
I grew up. Although Edmund is now only a catalog and web
business, when I was in High School it had a showroom complete
with a demonstration area for lasers and other cool science
products. My high school science teacher advised us geeks
that this was a good place to take a girl for a cheap date.
I see that United
Nuclear has a showroom in Laingsburg, Michigan, and if anybody
living in the area has a girl friend who is into death rays,
it sounds like you might want to take her there for an inexpensive
Adamski and the Moon Base - In July of 1951
Fate magazine did an interview with George Adamski of Palomar
Gardens, California. Adamski reported that he had photographed
a number of flying saucers near the moon through his six-inch
telescope. "I have taken all my pictures at night by the
light of the moon because often I had noticed that a good
number of ships I saw moving through space appeared headed
for the moon. Some of them seemed to land on the moon, close
to the rim; while others passed over the rim and disappeared
behind it." Adamski went on to speculate that these interplanetary
visitors were using the moon as a base. He went on in later
years to make even more outlandish claims and eventually
wrote a book about his contact with aliens called Inside
the Space Ships. Adamski died in 1965 amid claims that
his stories were either frauds or the ravings of a deluded
New Comet in Sky - The beginning of this month
would be a great time to look for Comet McNaught if you
haven't caught the cosmic visitor so far in June. By early
July it should be visible both just after sunset and before
sunrise. The newly discovered comet has gotten surprisingly
bright and should be visible to the naked eye at this time
in a dark sky away from an urban setting. Of course, a pair
of binocular will be helpful, especially in suburban skies.
Expect to find it very low above the north-northwest horizon
in the evening and very low above the north-northeast horizon
in the morning. The comet might appear as a dim and diffuse,
circular patch of light with a bit of faint green. The comet
will be making its closest approach to the sun on July 2nd.
finds Ichthyosaur - While working in his school's vegetable
garden in Queensland, Australia, a teenager came across
the remains of a 100-million-year Ichthyosaur. The marine
reptile was a contemporary of the dinosaurs and could grow
to be 13 feet in length. When student Raymond Hodgson first
dug up the fossil, he said he didn't think much of it, but
groundsman, Ben Smith, saw it. Smith, whose hobby is paleontology,
recognized it as a fossil. The location where the fossil
was found was once covered by a Cretaceous Sea and fossils
of extinct marine reptiles are often found in the area.
check local listing for area outside of North America.
Nova: Who Killed the Red Baron? - Forensic
experts investigate the most famous aviation mystery of
World War I. On PBS: Tuesday, July 27 at 8 pm; ET/PT.
On The Discovery Channel:
Moose Attack! - At over 7 feet tall and weighing almost a ton, the moose is one of the
largest land animals in North America. As towns and cities
expand into moose habitat, these powerful and aggressive
creatures are coming into dangerous conflict with people.
July 09, 8:00 pm &11:00 pm; ET/PT.
On The Science Channel:
Large, Dangerous, Rocket Ships 2010 - In Lucerne Valley, California, the premier event in high powered rocketry
gathers 500 of the most fearless and hardcore of all amateur
rocket builders from every corner of the country.
Jul 05, 9:00 pm,Jul 05, 10:00 pm,Jul 06, 12:00 am,Jul 06, 1:00 am,Jul
07, 4:00 am,Jul 07, 5:00 am,Jul 10, 10:00 pm,Jul 11, 1:00
am,Jul 12, 5:00 am; ET/PT.
On The National Geographic Channel
The Truth Behind the Lost Ark - Down through the ages, the Ark of the Covenant inspired terror and obsession.
Can science explain its legendary powers or why it disappeared?
July 02, 10:00 pm; ET/PT
On The National Geographic Channel
Explorer: Journey to an Alien Moon - Scientists are developing robots to probe into icy waters on Jupiters
moon Europa. We see how an autonomous underwater vehicle
would fare on the real mission in temperatures of minus
260 degrees and searing radiation. Read more:
July 06, 11:00 pm; ET/PT
The Hunt for Hitler- NGC uses forensic science and eyewitness insight to explore the mysterious
disappearance of Adolf Hitler's body after his suicide and
discover why Soviet leader Joseph Stalin concealed Hitler's
remains for decades. On The National Geographic Channel:
July 10th, 9:00 PM; ET/PT.
The Truth Behind Bigfoot - Join a team of experts as they use advanced scientific analysis to investigate
the Bigfoot phenomenon to reveal what's science, and what's
science fiction. On The
Channel: July 25th 07:00 AM; ET/PT.
Afraid of the Dark - Go back to a time before the invention of artificial light and experience
a world petrified in the pitch of darkness...when fear ruled
the night. Throughout the ages, real and imagined terror
existed in the absence of light, and nighttime was anything
but relaxing. Our predecessors cowered in caves to keep
from being eaten alive. During the Middle Ages, brutal bandits
went on the prowl and roadside ditches became death traps.
Also in years past, the devil, werewolves and vampires were
staunchly believed to stalk the night. With no artificial
light, the black night sky of Galileo's gaze could illuminate
every star without a telescope. This chilling special explores
all the reasons why the dark was so feared throughout the
eras. It takes you around the globe to places where real
night still exits, and examines our modern-day fear factor
when the lights go out during blackouts. On The
Channel: July 6th 8:00 PM; ET/PT.
The Lost Pyramid - Travel to Egypt and join a team of archaeologists who have uncovered
what evidence reveals is the lost fourth pyramid of Giza.
Radjedef, son of the great Khufu, would stamp his supremacy
by erecting the highest pyramid ever built, towering some
60 feet above Khufu's Great Pyramid of Giza. However, Radjedef's
pyramid was forgotten and almost buried beneath the encroaching
desert sands and its significance to the three great pyramids
was lost. State-of-the-art CGI demonstrates how all four
pyramids were connected. Interwoven through the exciting
finds of this new excavation is the story of the most powerful,
prolific, and arguably, the most cruel and debauched of
all Egypt's dynasties. On The
Channel: July 10th 8:00 PM; ET/PT.
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