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Science Over the Edge

A Roundup of Strange Science for the Month

Applet credit: Ed Hobbs

July 2011

In the News:

Supersize Dino Predator Down Under - Researchers have found a new species of dinosaur in Australia that might have dwarfed T-Rex. The animal doesn't have a name yet, but belongs to a group of creatures known as spinosaurs. The individual found in Australia was between 7 and 10 feet long, but other species of spinosaurs have been known to grow as long as 56 feet. It is believed that that their main food source was fish. The discovery was published in Biology Letters and according to co-author, Thomas Rich of Museum Victoria, the find was based on a neck vertebra found at Dinosaur Cove near Cape Otway, Victoria. Spinosaurs have previously known been found in Europe, Africa and South America and the discovery in Australia suggests that they had a world-wide presence.

Blackbeard's Arsenal Found - Archeologists have been exploring the wreck of what is believed to be Blackbeard's ship Queen Anne's Revenge off the North Carolina coast and have found that the pirate employed an array of terrifying weaponry. While working to recover the ship's 1.4-ton (3,000-lb) anchor they located a number of deadly devices. The scientists have found "The three conglomerates [that] consist mostly of lead shot, nails, and glass which we suspect were put in canvas bags and fired from the cannons," said Mark Wilde-Ramsing, the deputy state archaeologist. The material would have caused the cannon to act like a giant shotgun creating mayhem on the opponent's deck. Researchers also indentified a device that appeared to be two identical cannon balls linked by an iron bar or chain. When shot it would producing a spinning effect designed to slash through the rigging of an enemy ship. Pirates had little interest in sinking merchant ships but wanted to scare them into giving up. For that reason "shooting bolts and scrap lead, iron and glass would have been very effective," Wilde-Ramsing noted.

Meaning of Markings in Hidden Pyramid Chamber? - Luca Miatello, an independent researcher who specializes in ancient Egyptian mathematics, believes he knows the meaning of mysterious markings found in a hidden chamber of the Great Pyramid at Giza. The markings were discovered earlier this year by a French robot exploring a tiny shaft leading up from the "Queen's Chamber." They were observed by the robot when it used a tiny camera to peer into though a hole in a door blocking the shaft and appear to have been made with a reddish paint. Miatello believes these markings are hieratic numerical signs reading "100, 20, 1." "The builders simply recorded the total length of the shaft: 121 cubits," comment Miatello. The Eqyptain royal cubit was about 20.6 inches (52 cm) in length. Scientists have observed that multiples of the numbers 7, 9 and 11 cubits frequently are seen in the design of the Great pyramid and 121 is 11 times 11.

Scientists Check DNA from Shrunken Head - For the first time scientists have been able to analyze the DNA from a shrunken head. The head, part of a collection at the Eretz Israel Museum in Tel Aviv, was apparently from a man of Afro-Ecuadorian extraction. The analysis also proves that this particular shrunken head is real. Up to 80 percent are suspected to be fakes manufactured from animals matter in late 19th through the 20th centuries for the tourist trade. Scientists think this person was killed between 1600-1898 A.D. based on his West African heritage. Before 1600 no Africans were in the area. The fact that the head is genuine also supports stories gathered from the region that such heads were trophies of war gathered by Jivaro-Shuar warriors during battle as trophies.

Dog "Telepathy" is Instinctive - Some people think that their dogs can read their minds, but a new study suggests they are simply "hyperaware" of our emotions. The study showed that while this type of this canine "mind-reading" is inborn, practice can perfect it. Monique Udell and her team from the University of Florida set up a test were wolves and domestic dogs both had the opportunity to beg food from a human. Both groups were capable of this and since the wolves had little experience with humans, the ability seems to be instinctive. The group didn't stop there, however, comparing the capability between dogs raised in a shelter and those raised in a home. The dogs raised in a home were much more effective at the activity suggesting that while the ability is inborn, they can hone their natural people-reading skills by practice.


Science Quote of the Month - "Research is what I'm doing when I don't know what I'm doing." ~Wernher Von Braun


What's New at the Museum:

Could Experimental Physics Accidently End the World? - It's a scenario right out of a bad science fiction movie: Scientists working in multi-billion dollar facility tamper with the tools of creation and accidentally make a tiny black hole. Then suddenly the world flattens out into the shape of a giant freebie and then collapses in on itself. Out in space the astronauts on the ISS watch in shock as they now orbit a small, invisible black hole which they cannot see, but has just consumed everyone and thing they knew and loved... >Full Story

The Bridge Across the Golden Gate - They said it couldn't be built. When the Golden Gate Bridge was finished in 1937, however, it was longest suspension bridge in the world and a wonder of the modern world. >Full Story

Mysterious Picture of the Month - What is this thing?

Ask the Curator:

I've heard several stories about the 'cursed' Hope diamond. Most stories about the Hope diamond say its owners had a violent death. Is there any proof of this? Thanks! - Kelsey

The curse of the hope diamond, the largest deep, blue diamond in the world, is much like the curse of King Tut's Tomb: It has some roots in actual events, but much of the story has been much exaggerated. In the case of the diamond the culprits include the early 20th century press and a few of its owners hoping to pump up its sales value.

The story has it that the diamond was originally one of two eyes stolen from a statue of the goddess Sita somewhere in India. The priests cursed whoever owned the stones from that point on. There is absolutely no evidence that this story is true, however. It appears to have originated in a New Zealand newspaper article in 1888 as a bit of hoax journalism.

It is believed, however, that the diamond was brought back from India in the form of a 115 carat rough-cut, triangular stone by French traveler Jean-Baptiste Tavernier in the 17th century. It is thought that in 1669, Tavernier sold the blue diamond along with a bunch of other valuable stones to the French King Louis XIV. Louis XIV had the court jeweller, Sieur Pitau, recut the stone into a in a 67 carats diamond which became known as the French Blue.

During the French Revolution it was stolen and did not appear again for twenty years when it showed up in the collection of a London diamond merchant named Daniel Eliason. By then it had been re-cut into its current 45.5 carat shape. Although many suspected the Hope was cut from the French Blue, it wasn't certain until a lead cast of the French Blue diamond was discovered in 2007 allowing the two to be compared, so the suspicion could be confirmed.

It is thought that the stone was purchased by King George IV of England, but later sold to cover debts. By 1839, the Hope Diamond was in the gem collection of Henry Philip Hope and it stayed with the family until Lord Francis Hope sold it in the early 20th century to a diamond dealer. It bounced around several dealers until it was bought by Pierre Cartier in 1910. Cartier was able to interest American socialite Evalyn Walsh McLean in the stone and she purchased it in 1912 and wore it at many gatherings until her death in 1947. In 1949 it was sold to diamond merchant Harry Winston who donated it to the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in 1958 where it has remained ever since.

As the title of a 1908 Washington Post article, "Hope Diamond Has Brought Trouble To All Who Have Owned It," suggests the stone has been supposedly responsible for much calamity for its owners. The beheadings of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette have been blamed on it, but the story seems to ignore the dozens of other royals who didn't own the stone but lost their lives in the French Revolution. The death of a former owner, Selim Habib, was blamed on the diamond, but the truth was it was actually another man who drowned in a shipwreck who happened to have the same name. The insanity and suicide of diamond dealer Jacques Colot has been attributed to the Hope, but there is no historical record that he was associated with it in anyway. The forced abdication of Turkish Sultan Abdul Hamid is supposedly the work of the diamond, but evidence shows that though the Sultan was interested in the stone, he never bought it. According to the legend, Tavernier, who brought back the stone from India supposedly died of a fever soon afterward, but in reality lived to the ripe old age of 84 (Quite a longevity achievement for the 17th century).

Actress May Yohe, the former wife of Lord Francis Hope, helped promote the story of the curse, not to just explain misfortunes in her own life, but also to promote her career. In 1921 she persuaded film executive George Kleine to produce a 15-part action serial, The Hope Diamond Mystery, in which she played Lady Francis Hope. She also played the same part in The Mystery of the Hope Diamond.

Of course are some people associated with the diamond that did have tragedy in their life. The last private owner was Evalyn Walsh McLean. She had a son die in a car accident and her husband ran his business, The Washington Post, into the ground (it was purchased and brought back to health in the 1930's). He then left her for another woman and eventually died in a sanitarium. Despite this McLean lived to the age of 60 and never blamed her problems on the curse.

So is there a curse or not? It is extremely difficult to separate the normal amount of tragedy we see in life from what might be caused by some supernatural power. Plus much of what is blamed on the diamond is appears to be just made up. Perhaps it is instructive to look at the first and last owners of the diamond to see how they fared: Tavernier and Winston. Travernier, who is the person blamed for taking the diamond from the idol in the first place and should have borne the brunt of the curse, lived into his eighth decade. Winston, the last owner, was an immigrant who moved to the United States and built a successful jewelry business from nothing. The business continues to be extremely profitable even today. Winston died in 1978 at age 82 never believing in the curse.

Of course in any case nobody needs to worry about the curse anymore. The Hope Diamond is the property of the Smithsonian Institution which is a part of the United States government so there is no concern that - hummm - Wall Street problems, housing crisis, terrorist concerns, health care costs - perhaps there is something to that curse after all...

In History:

Crashed Saucer at Wright-Patterson? - In July of 1952 a pair of Pan American airline pilots had an encounter with a UFO over Virginia and they were to be interviewed by members of the Air Force's Project UFO investigation team Project Blue Book. The pilots had heard rumors about a crashed UFO being stored at the Wright-Patterson air base and decided to ask the Blue Book investigators if the story was true. Co-pilot William Fortenberry, in an interview separate from pilot William Nash, said that he was told the rumors were true. When Nash and Fortenberry were finally interviewed together, however, Nash also asked about it. He relates that some of officers were about to answer his question when the leader of the group, Major John Sharpe looked at the rest of the staff and told them "NO!" as if "it appeared as if he were telling them to shut up rather than addressing the answer to me," said Nash.


In the Sky:

Mercury Visible - If you have never seen the planet Mercury, this month would be an excellent chance to view it. It will be in the evening sky just after sunset. It will be brightest at the beginning of the month and be increasingly hard to find toward the end. Look for it 30 minutes after sunset (or shortly after 9:00pm) it will start low to the horizon early in the month and will it climbs quickly every night reaching maximum altitude on July 8th.



It's a Bird. It's a Plane. It's Batcopter? - If you see a circular object hovering over your house at night it might not be a flying saucer, but Kenn Sebesta's Batcopter. Sebesta, a researcher at Boston University, built the quadrotor flying device from mundane items like carbon-fiber arrow shafts, twine, glue, zip ties, bamboo and foam. Mounted on it are three high-speed infrared cameras that allow aircraft to be flown by remote control at night. Sebesta and his team of researchers hope to capture high quality video of the bats as they swoop around the Batcopter so they can better understand how they manage not to crash into each other.


On the Tube:

Please check local listing for area outside of North America.

NOVA: Ape Genius- Experts zero in on what separates humans from our closest living relatives. On PBS: July 6 at 9 pm; ET/PT.

NOVA :Kings of Camouflage - Meet the cuttlefish, one of the brainiest, most bizarre animals in the ocean. On PBS: July 13 at 9 pm; ET/PT.

NOVA: The Great Inca Rebellion - Mass graves and forensic evidence reveal a complex truth about how the Inca Empire fell. On PBS: July 20 at 9 pm; ET/PT.

Secrets of Seal Team 6 - For three decades, the elite government operatives of SEAL TEAM VI have existed under the radar, but now, their cover is blown. We'll uncover the classified information the government doesn't want you to know and discover the SECRETS OF SEAL TEAM 6. On The Discovery Channel: Jul 10, 9:00 pm; Jul 10, 11:00 pm; Jul 14, 9:00 pm; Jul 14, 11:00 pm; ET/PT.

Morgan Freeman's Through The Wormhole Season 2: Are There More Than 3 Dimensions? - New evidence forces us to consider a truly shocking possibility - is our reality an illusion? On The Science Channel: Jul 01, 5:00 am; Jul 03, 10:00 pm; Jul 04, 1:00 am; Jul 05, 5:00 am; Jul 06, 9:00 pm; ET/PT.

Killer Ants - Over 8,000 species of ants cover the planet. Most are harmless, but some have a violent streak. African driver ants have eaten a horse in a day and suffocated a human, and the army ants of South and Central America can wipe out entire ecosystems. On The Science Channel: Jul 07, 8:00 pm; Jul 07, 11:00 pm; Jul 09, 3:00 am; ET/PT.

Ben Franklin's Pirate Fleet - A lost piece of American history may have been uncovered deep in the sea a shipwreck thought to have belonged to a fleet of American privateers. Is it possible that this ship was on a mission from Benjamin Franklin? On The National Geographic Channel: July 2 8:00 PM & PM 11:00 PM; ET/PT.

Jurassic C.S.I.: In Living Color - What colors were dinosaurs? We know little about their actual color, and now maverick dino detective Dr. Phil Manning tries to find out more. On The National Geographic Channel: July 7 10:00 PM; ET/PT.

The Egyptian Job - It was one of the greatest heists of the ancient world: A group of thieves broke into the treasure-rich tomb of King Amenemhat III and made away with a fortune. On The National Geographic Channel: July 17 11:00 PM & 8:00 PM; July 21 8:00 PM & 11:00 PM; ET/PT.


Science over the Edge Archives

LGM Archive 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011

Copyright Lee Krystek 2011. All Rights Reserved.


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