Over the Edge
Roundup of Strange Science for the Month
Birds May Limit Insect Size - 300 million years
ago dragon flies like Meganeura grew to have wingspans a
couple of feet across. Why are dragonflies, and all other
insects, so much smaller today? The theory has been that
high levels of oxygen in the air back then (30% as opposed
to just %20 today) allowed for insect gigantism in that
era. Matthew Clapham and Jered Karr from the University
of California, Santa Cruz, have now found addition evidence
for this by comparing size of insects as found in fossils
with the amount of oxygen in the air during the same period.
The two track very well with the bugs getting bigger or
smaller verses the amount of oxygen available all the way
until things reached the Cretaceous period. At that point
the oxygen goes up but the insects stay the same. Why? The
scientists think that the rise of birds at about this time
is the explanation. The smaller insects could out maneuver
these early avian dinosaurs, but larger insects just wound
up as dinner.
Dinosaurs Slimmer than Thought? - A new method
developed by biologists at the University of Manchester,
using lasers to calculate body mass, suggests that many
dinosaurs may have been slimmer than originally thought.
The laser scans the mounted fossil skeleton of a dinosaur
and the information is used to calculate the minimum amount
of skin needed to contain the bones. By doing this with
contemporary animals (like reindeer, polar bears, and elephants)
scientists came up with a formula that takes the skin size
and generates an estimated weight. The researchers tested
a Brachiosaur skeleton at Berlin's Museum of Natural History
and found that it probably weighed only 23 tons instead
of the original long-held estimate of 80 tons. Since similar
techniques have been used to estimate other dinosaurs' mass
in the past, there may be a lot of dinosaurs in museums
with too high weight estimates. While some experts believe
there may be some problems with the laser technique (particularly
if the skeletons have been wrongly mounted or if the bones
have been deformed ) the fact that it virtually eliminates
subjective calculations will make it a popular technique.
Spitting Mice Help Distribute Seed - A new study
says that a plant called the "sweet mignonette" uses tasty
berries to attract mice, but then unleashes a toxic "mustard
oil bomb" that forces the rodent diners to spit the seeds.
This clever mechanism allows the plant to distribute its
seed over the mouse's range. The paper, published in Current
Biology, reports on the first seed spitting found in rodents.
According to co-author Denise Dearing, who is a professor
of biology at the University of Utah, the seeds have " more
of a punch than Grey Poupon." According to the paper the
plant ultimately benefits, since the spitting mice helps
to distribute the seeds in ideal locations. "We don't know
what the chemical cue is that causes the mouse to spit out
the seed," Dearing said. "(The mice) somehow know that crushing
the seed activates the toxins."
Underwater UFO is Strange Rock - Swedish researchers
have been exploring a strange underwater formation that
people had labeled a UFO parked at the bottom of the Baltic
Sea. The dome shaped object appears to be a natural, geological
formation. "It's not obviously an alien spacecraft. It's
not made of metal," said Peter Lindberg, the leader of the
Ocean Explorer team. The group used a robot camera, sonar
and deep sea divers to check out the object. Though it is
definitely a rock, it still has some unsolved mysteries.
Scientists cannot explain why the object is not covered
with silt, as most objects on the bottom of the sea are.
Also the object "appears to have construction lines and
boxes drawn on it," Lindberg said. "There are also straight
edges." Finally the rock appears to be on a pillar which
is holding the 200 foot wide object off the bottom. "The
pillar is eight meters high," he added. Lindberg finally
conceded that it could be an alien space ship -- if the
aliens made their saucer out of rock. "Who says they had
to use metal?" he joked. "This trip has raised a lot of
Deadly Asteroid Will Miss Earth - A large asteroid
that some scientists were concerned might collide with Earth
in 2040 now appears will miss our planet. The rock designated
"2011 AG5" was discovered in January 2011 and measures approximately
460 feet in diameter. This is large enough do damage to
an area at least 100 miles wide if it hit out planet. Observatories
monitored 2011 AG5 for nine months before it was too far
away to see and then used the data to plot a more exact
course. Presentations at a recent conference seem to agree
that the chances of it missing our planet in 28 years when
the asteroid returns is around 99%. Astronomers will get
an even better picture of the hazard posed by 2011 AG5 when
they are able to observe it again in 2023
Science Quote of the Month - "Hypotheses
like professors, when they are seen not to work any longer
in the laboratory, should disappear." - Henry
New at the Museum:
Anzio Annie: The Gun that Held 50,000 Men Hostage
- This gigantic Nazi cannon
terrorized American soldiers in 1944 for three months as
they were penned in on a small Italian beach head. >Full
Sophia: The Place of Holy Wisdom
- Before it became a famed Islamic Mosque this wonder
of the medieval world was the largest cathedral on the planet
for almost a thousand years. >Full
Mysterious Picture of the Month - What
is this thing?
Wormhole Wonders - I've always been curious
about the possibility of wormholes in space. If a wormhole
existed, how would it affect space travel? - Anonymous.
by defining what a wormhole is for those people not familiar
with the term. Way back in 1957 theoretical physicist John
Archibald Wheeler coined the term to describe a theoretical
shortcut between two distant parts of the universe. If you
think of the universe as a flat sheet of paper it might
be possible to fold the paper over on itself so the rear
surfaces touch. A hole poked through the sheet at that point
would create a way to travel between two distant areas quickly.
While the universe
is not flat and two dimensional, like the sheet of paper,
this example does give us a way to visualize how it would
work. The existence of a type of wormhole that could do
this called an Einstein-Rosen bridge was first suggested
by Albert Einstein and his colleague Nathan Rosen in 1935.
Wheeler later showed that this particular type of wormhole
would not be stable long enough before it collapsed for
anything, even a photon, to get through it, however.
In 1988 physicist
Kip Thorne, however, proposed that you could build a wormhole
that would be stable using exotic matter that would have
an anti-gravitational effect that would force the wormhole
to remain open (Such a wormhole that stays open so things
can go through it is known as a traversable wormhole).
wormholes have become a favorite of science-fiction writers
who need to find a mechanism to move spaceships from one
location to another across the vast distances of interstellar
space in less than a human lifetime. In fact, it was Carl
Sagan, the astronomer who wrote the bestseller Contact
(later made into a movie) who need such a plot device and
pushed Thorne into devising his scheme using exotic matter.
A naturally occurring wormhole was also made a part of the
Star Trek series Deep Space Nine which made it possible
for the characters to travel to a distance part of the galaxy
in the blink of an eye.
In theory a
wormhole could be used not just to link to parts of the
same universe however, but also two completely different
Perhaps the strangest
thing possible to do with a wormhole is to turn it into
a time machine. According to Einstein's theory of relativity
anything that is accelerated is subject to time dilation.
In other words time slows down for it. While the effect
of this is too tiny for us to notice when we take a transcontinental
flight, if you were able to fly a spaceship to another star
and back again at near the speed of light, you would find
that something like a year had passed for you on board the
spaceship, but ten years had passed for those who stayed
home on planet Earth.
If you could
create a wormhole and leave one end on Earth and take the
other with you on that spaceship the end left at home would
age more than the one that you took with you. This difference
would mean that anything that entered that mouth of the
wormhole on the older end would emerge at the young end
in the past (though it would be impossible to go back further
in time than when the wormhole had been created).
If we could
build wormholes could we use them for interstellar travel
like in the movies? Yes. We could even use them to travel
into the past. Here's the bad news, however. Nobody has
ever observed a naturally occurring wormhole and building
them seems well beyond our engineering capability for the
foreseeable future. Indeed it might not be possible at all.
It isn't even known if the type of exotic matter required
for Thorne's wormhole even exists.
however. When Einstein first came up with the concept of
a black hole it was thought to be just a theoretical concept
not actually occurring in nature. Now we have pretty good
evidence that black holes actually exist and may explain
many of the things we observe in the universe.
Even if we haven't
seen any wormholes, it hasn't stopped scientists from imagining
what a wormhole would look-like if we could build one. They
suggest it might look like a mirrored sphere, except instead
of reflecting our world it would actually be showing the
location at the other side of the hole. Here's a link to
some videos that researchers at Tübingen University created
to show what a wormhole would look like that connected their
campus to a beach in France. Try it out!
Have a question?
Click here to send it to us.
Cashed UFO Pieces - In July of 1947 Air Force
Lieutenant Colonel Arthur Exon was working at Wright Patterson
where rumors had it that the remains of a flying saucer
and its alien crew had been flown after they had crashed
in New Mexico. Though the Air Force denies that it has ever
recovered a UFO, Exon said that he had seen material from
the ship that was "very thin, but awfully strong and couldn't
be dented with heavy hammers." According to Exon investigators
thought that "the pieces were from space." Was Exon being
honest or just having some fun with an old legend?
Catch Mercury This Month - If you've never seen
the planet Mercury July might be a good time to find it.
It is now on the opposite side of the Sun. Expect to see
it in the western sky, low on the horizon, just after sunset
Couple Sues Over Bad Psychic Tip - A couple is
suing the police and several major news organizations after
their lives were turned upside down by a psychic's tip.
The case started on June 6, 2011, when the psychic called
police and told them about a vision he/she had of dozens
of dismembered bodies near a ranch house about an hour outside
of Houston, Texas. Over the next few days the Texas Department
of Public Safety, the FBI, and the Texas Rangers were on
the scene with shovels and cadaver dogs while news helicopters
circled above. It all turned out to be a national embarrassment
as nothing was found. The police refused to apologize, however,
saying that a tip about mass murders cannot be ignored even
when it comes from a self-proclaimed psychic. The couple
who rented the ranch say authorities and news organizations
recklessly disregarded and caused irreparable damages to
the couple's reputation and good name.
check local listing for area outside of North America.
NOVA: Fabric: What Is Space? - The Fabric of the Cosmos, Hour 1: Surprising clues indicate that space
is very much something and not nothing. On
PBS: July 11 at 9 pm; ET/PT.
NOVA: The Elegant Universe: Pt 1 Einstein's Dream - Combining the laws of the universe in one theory that explains it all
is the Holy Grail of physics. On PBS
July 11at 9 pm
Seeing Black Holes- Follow the world's greatest scientists as they attempt to understand
a phenomenon that Einstein believed could only exist on
paper. We now know there are millions of black holes in
our galaxy, and they are the scariest things we know least
July 02, 9:00 pm & 12am;
July 04, 4:00 am
; July 9, 7:00am; ET/PT.
Large, Dangerous, Rocket Ships 2011 - Hosted by Kari Byron from the Mythbusters, 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 to Argonia, Kansas. On The
July 03, 10:00 pm; July 4,
01:00 am; July 5, 5:00 am
The Final Word with James Cameron
James Camerons epic 1997 film Titanic won 11 Oscars and grossed well
over a billion dollars worldwide. Now, on an empty sound
stage, in the shadow of a massive 42-foot replica of the
Titanic and other props from the blockbuster film, Cameron
brings together some the worlds leading Titanic experts,
including engineers, naval architects, artists and historians,
to solve the lingering mysteries of why and how the unsinkable
ship sank.. On The
July 4 7:00 PM;
Midtown Comics in New York City is the largest retailer of comic books,
graphic novels, Manga (or Japanese comics) and related collectibles
in the country, if not the world, and it has the alternate
universes its customers crave. Follow the lives of staffers
Gerry, Thor and Alex as they deal with all manner of geek
and enthusiast customers while simultaneously planning their
mega-booth for New York Comic Con, their biggest day of
the year. On The
July 13 8:00 PM;
the Earth's Core
Save blasting off to outer space. Its time to rocket down. Using computer
imagery, travel from just below the earths crust, with its
earthquakes and volcanoes, through breathtaking caverns
filled with giant crystals and into giant molten metal tornadoes
before reaching the earths core. On The
July 19 7:00 PM;
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