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Science Over the Edge

A Roundup of Strange Science for the Month

Applet credit: Ed Hobbs

July 2013

In the News:

Close Pass by Asteroid - On May 31st an asteroid known as 1998 QE2 zipped past Earth without causing a problem. Although the asteroid was fairly far away from our planet (3.6 million miles or 15 times the distance of the moon) it was significant because of the object's large size: 1.7 miles wide. It would cause a global catastrophe if it smashed into our planet that might be comparable to the crash that wiped out the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. The giant space rock was also unusual in that it had its own moon. This 2,000 foot-wide chunk of rock by itself alone could easily take out a city if it hit Earth. NASA tracked the pair using radar as a part of its Near Earth Object Project to identify potentially dangerous asteroids that swing by our planet.

Cloned Mammoth a Bit Closer - There is a new chapter in the never-ending saga of scientists trying to clone a wooly mammoth. Researchers from the Northeast Federal University in Yakutsk have found the remains of a 10,000-year-old female mammoth buried in ice on the Lyakhovsky Islands, off the coast of Russia. The find is significant because the animal still has some liquid blood. "The blood is very dark, it was found in ice cavities below the belly and when we broke these cavities with a poll pick, the blood came running out," said Semyon Grigoriev, the head of the expedition and of the university's Mammoth Museum. "Interestingly, the temperature at the time of excavation was -7 to -10║C. It may be assumed that the blood of mammoths had some cryoprotective properties." He went on to call the find "the best preserved mammoth in the history of paleontology." The blood will help in the university's joint project with South Korean scientists who are hoping to clone a woolly mammoth. The creatures have been extinct for around 10,000 years.

Sonar Reveal Earhart's Plane? - The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR) has published an image which they think maybe the remains of Amelia Earhart's plane. Earhart disappeared in 1937 over the Pacific while trying to fly around the world. TIGHAR has long suspected that Earhart and her navigator were forced down on Nikumaroro Island and then the plane was swept out to sea. Expeditions to the island have found some tantalizing clues, but no proof of this story. The sonar image was recorded by search teams scanning the ocean floor nearly a year ago near the island. TIGHAR stated in its news release, "It's the right size, it's the right shape and it's in the right place." The object appears to be 32 feet in length and Earhart's Lockheed Electra was 38 feet long. The group admits that the object, however, could be many other things including a submerged ridge. It will require another expedition out the Nikumaroro to find out.

Lost Mayan Capital Found - Archaeologists have discovered a lost Mayan city deep in the Mexican jungle of the southeastern state of Campeche. The city named Chact˙n, meaning "Red Stone" or "Great Stone," covers more than 54 acres and is likely to have been the seat of government in the region between 600 and 900 A.D.. Archaeologists had to cut a path to the ruins through the thick jungle after finding the site using aerial photography. At the remote location they discovered a number of buildings, plazas and pyramidal structures. The largest pyramid rose to more than 75 feet. "We realized, with big surprise, that the site was even larger than we had expected. What impressed us most were the volumes of the buildings - they are not extremely high, but very massive," stated archaeologist Ivan Sprajc .

Life Found Deep Under the Sea Bottom - "Life finds a way," is a famous line from the film Jurassic Park. While it might be true of the fictional dinosaurs in that movie, it is certainly true of certain bacteria buried two and half football fields deep under the ocean bottom off the coast of Peru. Scientists drilling below the seafloor have found an active, mysterious ecosystem 521 feet (129 m) under ocean sediment. The inhabitants include bacteria, fungi and other microorganisms living in the five-million-year-old seabed. "We knew that all of these cells were buried, but we didn't know if they were doing anything," said co-author Jennifer Biddle, assistant professor of marine biosciences at the University of Delaware. The microbes eat both sulfur and nitrogen containing chemicals, as well as the dead bodies of other microorganism buried in what is known as the deep biosphere. "By the time you get 100 meters down, the bacteria are eating the leftovers of the leftovers of the leftovers of the leftovers - and they are still yummy for bacteria," Biddle said.


Science Quote of the Month - Science is what you know. Philosophy is what you don't know. - Bertrand Russell (1872-1970)


What's New at the Museum:

The Flight of the Norge (Part II) - In May of 1926 a group of sixteen fearless adventurers boarded a small dirigible to fly over the North Pole. The group successfully crossed the pole, but on the way to Alaska found themselves taken off course by the taunting vision mountains on the horizon. After changing course to investigate these hills, the mysterious mountains suddenly disappeared - just a trick of the air. Could the Norge find its way back on course safely? - Full Story

Mysterious Picture of the Month - What is this this?

Ask the Curator:

Ancient Egyptian Lights - I have seen and heard many crackpot ideas about Egypt and the most absurd to me is the assertion that they had and used electric lighting. Yes, I know about the Bagdad Batteries but I already know they don't have enough power to light a modern LED, much less a normal incandescent lamp. My question is this... Is there anything found among ancient ruins confirms that they had access to electricity OTHER than the batteries? - Anonymous.

People often look at ancients pictures or reliefs and see something that looks very modern. People have seen rockets, spacesuits and airplanes in art work thousands of years old. The problem is, of course, that just because an object looks familiar to our modern eyes, doesn't mean that that our interpretation is what the ancients' had in mind when the created the artwork.

In the case of electric lights in Egypt two Austrian proponents of the idea, Reinhard Habeck and Peter Krasa, wrote a whole book about their theories called, Lights of the Pharaohs based on some odd looking reliefs. (Unfortunately it appears that it is no longer in print and can't be found on Amazon). The most significant of these are found at temple of Hathor at Dendera, which is about ten miles north of the ruins at Luxor. The relief shows what appears to be a huge bulb (over six feet long when compared with the associated human figures) mounted sideways. Something that vaguely resembles a squiggly filament runs through the bulb. At the base of the supposed bulb is what might be interpreted as a cord that connects that "light" to a box, which is apparently the source of the power.

Various experimenters have built what they consider to be replicas of what the relief shows and have actually gotten them to work as electric lights. But is there any evidence beyond this artwork, which could be interpreted in several different ways, that what was being depicted was actually a giant light bulb?

Habeck and Krasa argue that one of the reasons that no soot from candles or oil lamps are found in Egyptian tombs, even though it must have taken many hours of work in the dark rooms to create the decorations there, is that the Egyptians used electric lights to illuminate these areas (a competing theory is that they used sunlight reflected into the tomb by a system of mirrors).

However, if you have electric lights, as point out, you need a power source. Nobody digging in Egypt has ever found anything resembling an electric generator. No artwork shows the details of such a generator and no writing supports information about using or building any kind of generator, either. So we are left with the concept of batteries.

As you mention many of those supporting that idea of ancient lights in Egypt point to existence of the so-called "Baghdad Batteries." There is much conflicting opinion on whether these objects found in Iraq actually are batteries or simply jars. People have built reconstructions of them and actually gotten them to produce low voltages. Most of the people that conjecture that the "Baghdad Batteries" were actually used to create electricity, however, think that they were used in the process of galvanizing metals an activity which only requires a very low voltage. One of these batteries by themselves doesn't nearly produce enough electricity to power a six foot long lamp (in fact they don't really produce enough electricity to power a standard flashlight bulb).

Yes, you could make bigger batteries, or hook a bunch together to get more power, but that causes other problems. Frank D÷rnenburg, who did some experimentation with such a battery, estimated you might need around 40 of these batteries (with a weight of nearly 200 pounds) to produce enough wattage to run a flashlight bulb.

Also after about 8 hours these primitive batteries will run out of power and have to be replaced. This also causes additional problems. In this simple battery design like this iron is a required component. Iron, however, was extremely rare in Egypt. It would need to be imported. There is no indication in any of the ancient Egyptian records of large amounts of iron being transported into the country to make hundreds of batteries. Nor has anybody found the remains of the hundreds of thousands of old batteries that would have accumulated from a single tomb project.

The truth is that Egyptians really didn't need the headache of making all these batteries to produce a little light. They had a simple lamp (a wick floating in olive oil) that was easy to build. Why don't we see soot in the tombs? Well, first of all olive oil burned in the lamps produces very little soot. Secondly, the tombs are not actually soot free. In many tombs soot on the ceiling can be seen. If not from the Egyptians' lamps, then from the candles and torches of the many people who visited the tombs during the centuries before the electric light became common in the modern world.

So what do the reliefs at Dendera actually show? Most archeologists think they are a lotus flower, spawning a snake inside, which represents certain aspects of Egyptian mythology. Their argument is supported by a close look the object inside the bulb that Habeck and Krasa claim is a filament. It has eyes and a mouth. Something a snake has, but a filament doesn't.

What's more while no Egyptian writings have been found that support the idea of giant light bulbs, batteries or generators, we do have records from the Valley of the Kings that show how many wicks and how much oil were issued to workers for their lamps during construction.

So, as many people argue that the ancient Egypt used the electric light, the proof is just not there.

Have a question? Click here to send it to us.


In History:

Big Boom - On July 3rd, 1969, one of the largest human made, non-nuclear explosions occurred in the Soviet Union when a N-1 heavy lift rocket exploded 23 seconds after launch. The N-1 was being tested as part of a secret Russian lunar landing program. The rocket failed when a loose bolt was sucked into an oxygen pump, which blew the pump apart causing the missile engines to shut down. The rocket fell to the ground and exploded with almost completely full fuel tanks. It is estimated the explosion was equal to that of an atomic bomb 3 to 7 kilotons in size. It destroyed both the rocket and the launch complex. This test was one of four conducted with the Soviet moon rocket. All of them were failures and the program was secretly scrapped.


In the Sky:

Check Out Saturn - This is probably a good month to take a close look at the planet Saturn. It is the most visible member of the local planetary club in the night sky this month as all the other planets are only visible as early morning or early evening objects. If you have a small telescope you may be able to pick out Saturn's famous rings. The rings are composed of individual particles, that range in size from micrometers to meters. They are composed mostly of ice with a bit of rock. The first person to notice the rings was Galileo Galilei in 1610.



UK Shutdown UFO Investigations Because They had "No Defense Purpose." - The UK Ministry of Defense closed down its UFO desk because it served "no defense purpose" and was taking staff away from "more valuable defense-related activities" according to recently released files. The desk was closed in December 2009 despite an increase in the number of reported sightings during that period. In a document dated November 2009, Carl Mantell of the RAF's Air Command, recommended that the Ministry of Defense should try to significantly reduce its UFO work. He said it was "consuming increasing resource, but produces no valuable defense output". He went on to say that "no UFO sighting reported has ever revealed anything to suggest an extra-terrestrial presence or military threat to the UK". The reasons given by Mantell are very similar to those expressed by the USAF when they closed down their own investigation, Project Blue Book, several decades earlier.


On the Tube:

Please check local listing for area outside of North America.

Nova: Building Pharaoh's Chariot - A team uncovers the advanced engineering behind an ancient Egyptian war machine. On PBS: July 10 at 8 pm; ET/PT.

Nova: Ghosts of Machu Picchu - Why did the Incas abandon their city in the clouds? On The Science Channel: On PBS: July 17 at 9 pm; ET/PT.

Nova: 3D Spies of WWII - With 3D graphics, NOVA reveals how the Allies used special aerial photos to deal a dire blow to the Nazi rocket program. On The Science Channel: On PBS: July 24 at 9 pm; ET/PT.

Yellowstone: Brink of Disaster - Raging forest fires are decimating the landscape and a super volcano is waiting to be unleashed. Researchers at Yellowstone National Park use state of the art technology to understand the deadly triggers of an extinction level event. On The Discovery Channel: July 4tht 1:00 PM; ET/PT.

Morgan Freeman's Through the Wormhole: Can Our Minds Be Hacked? - Our minds store our entire lives, our memories and our deepest desires and our brains are biological computers. Could brain hackers someday be able to rewrite our thoughts similar to how computer hackers hack email? On The National Science Channel: July 3rd 10:00PM; ET/PT.

Nasca Lines: The Buried Secrets - Are they ancient road maps or messages for visiting aliens? Lying at the foothill of Peru's Andes Mountains is the site of one of the world's greatest mysteries. Etched, as if by giants, onto its arid, moonscape plains are immense lines that stretch for miles, forming strange shapes recognizable only from the air. Now, a team of specialists from around the globe has come to southern Peru to investigate the Nasca Lines in the hope of uncovering their secrets On The National Geographic Channel: July 12, 8PM; ET/PT.


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Copyright Lee Krystek 2012. All Rights Reserved.


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