The image is a stack of 12 images made over the course of three years using high-precision astrometry astronomers tracked the two dwarf stars of the system as they moved both across the sky and around each other.(Credits: ESA/Hubble & NASA, L. Bedin et al.)


Science Over the Edge

A Roundup of Strange Science for the Month

July/August 2017

In the News:

The Dance of the Dwarfs - This seemingly unspectacular series of dots with varying distances between them actually shows the slow waltz of two brown dwarfs. The image is a stack of 12 images made over the course of three years with the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope. The observed system, Luhman 16AB, is only about six light-years away and is the third closest stellar system to Earth -- after the triple star system Alpha Centauri and Barnard's Star. The astronomers using Hubble to study Luhman 16AB were not only interested in the waltz of the two brown dwarfs, but were also searching for a third, invisible, dancing partner. Earlier observations with the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope indicated the presence of an exoplanet in the system. The team wanted to verify this claim by analyzing the movement of the brown dwarfs in great detail over a long period of time, but the Hubble data showed that the two dwarfs are indeed dancing alone, unperturbed by a massive planetary companion.

New Technology Lets Scientist See Inside Old Dinosaur - Pioneering technology has shed fresh light on the world's first scientifically-described dinosaur fossil - over 200 years after it was first discovered - thanks to research by WMG at the University of Warwick and the University of Oxford's Museum of Natural History. Professor Mark Williams at WMG has revealed five previously unseen teeth in the jawbone of the Megalosaurus and that historical repairs on the fossil may have been less extensive than previously thought. Using state of the art CT scanning technology and specialist 3D analysis software, Professor Williams took more than 3000 X-ray images of the world-famous Megalosaurus jawbone, creating a digital three-dimensional image of the fossil. In an unprecedented level of analysis, Professor Williams at WMG was able to see inside the jawbone. Professor Williams commented: "Being able to use state-of-the-art technology normally reserved for aerospace and automotive engineering to scan such a rare and iconic natural history specimen was a fantastic opportunity. "When I was growing up I was fascinated with dinosaurs and clearly remember seeing pictures of the Megalosaurus jaw in books that I read. Having access to and scanning the real thing was an incredible experience."

Digging Up Japan's Largest Dino Skeleton - The complete skeleton of an 8-meter-long dinosaur has been unearthed from marine deposits dating back 72 million years at Japan's northern island of Hokkaido, making it the largest dinosaur skeleton ever found in Japan, according to researchers. Excavations to uncover a fossilized duck-billed dinosaur (Hadrosauridae) in the Hobetsu district of Mukawa Town have been underway since 2013. It is the third time a complete skeleton of a Hadrosaurid from a marine stratum has ever been discovered, according to the research team from Hokkaido University and Hobetsu Museum in Mukawa. In 1936, a complete hadrosaur skeleton was unearthed from a marine stratum in Sakhalin and named Nipponosaurus by Professor Takumi Nagao of Hokkaido Imperial University (predecessor of Hokkaido University). It had been the only such fossilized dinosaur from a marine stratum that was assigned a name. The latest discovery of the fossilized skeleton, nicknamed "Mukawaryu" (Mukawa dragon), represents the third such discovery in the world, including a complete skeleton of an undescribed specimen. If a complete skeleton is defined as a skeleton containing more than 50 percent of the bones, Mukawaryu represents the second complete dinosaur skeleton unearthed in Japan after Fukuivenator, a 2.5-meter carnivore from the Early Cretaceous Period (about 145 million to 100 million years ago) discovered in Katsuyama City, Fukui Prefecture. Mukawaryu is the first complete skeleton of a herbivore from the Late Cretaceous Period and from a marine stratum in Japan.

How Much Does a White Dwarf Weigh? Astronomers have used, for the first time, a novel method to determine the mass of a nearby dead star. The star is a "white dwarf," the shrunken corpse of a star like our sun after it has burned up its nuclear fuel. The new method is based on the bending of a beam of light near a massive object -- the same phenomenon that was seen during the total eclipse of the Sun that was used to test Einstein's general theory of relativity a century ago. Using the sharp vision of NASA's Hubble Space Telescope, the research team was able to see how much the white dwarf is bending the light from a background star -- a measurement astronomers need in order to gauge the white dwarf's mass. "This measurement is a triumph for the Hubble Space Telescope, a wonderful confirmation of theoretical predictions, and a beautiful reprise of the Einstein solar eclipse observations of a century ago," said team member Howard Bond, Professor of Practice in the Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics at Penn State, and Astronomer Emeritus at NASA's Space Telescope Science Institute, the science operations center for the Hubble Space Telescope. Bond compared the mass that the Hubble team determined for the white dwarf -- 68 percent of the mass of our sun -- with the theoretical predictions of its mass, based on the known radius of the star and the properties of the extremely dense matter that makes up a white dwarf. "The agreement of the theoretical prediction with the measurement we were able to make with Hubble was astonishingly good," Bond said.

Scientists Simulate Universe in a Super Computer - Researchers from the University of Zurich have simulated the formation of our entire Universe with a large supercomputer. A gigantic catalogue of about 25 billion virtual galaxies has been generated from 2 trillion digital particles. Over a period of three years, a group of astrophysicists from the University of Zurich has developed and optimised a revolutionary code to describe with unprecedented accuracy the dynamics of dark matter and the formation of large-scale structures in the Universe. As Joachim Stadel, Douglas Potter and Romain Teyssier report in their recently published paper, the code (called PKDGRAV3) has been designed to use optimally the available memory and processing power of modern supercomputing architectures, such as the "Piz Daint" supercomputer of the Swiss National Computing Center (CSCS). The code was executed on this world-leading machine for only 80 hours, and generated a virtual universe of two trillion (i.e., two thousand billion or 2 x 1012) macro-particles representing the dark matter fluid, from which a catalogue of 25 billion virtual galaxies was extracted. Thanks to the high precision of their calculation, featuring a dark matter fluid evolving under its own gravity, the researchers have simulated the formation of small concentration of matter, called dark matter halos, in which we believe galaxies like the Milky Way form. The challenge of this simulation was to model galaxies as small as one tenth of the Milky Way, in a volume as large as our entire observable Universe.



Science Quote of the Month - "It requires a very unusual mind to undertake the analysis of the obvious." - Alfred North Whitehead (1861-1947)


What's New at the Museum:

The Christ the Redeemer Statue - Standing over 200 feet high on a 2,300 foot high mountain, this colossal depiction of Jesus has become a famous symbol of the metropolis of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and a new wonder of the world. Full Story

Mysterious Picture of the Month - What is this this?

Ask the Curator:

Lyonesse: The Lost Land - What is the story behind the Arthurian "lost land" of Lyonesse, and what relationship does it have with other "lost lands" (e.g. Atlantis), if any? - Levi

The Land of Lyonesse first appears in the medieval Arthurian legends. (An example of these is the History of the Kings of Britain that was published around the 12th century A.D.). However, in these early stories the Land of Lyonesse was not at all lost! It was actually are real place: Lothian. Lothian was part of Scotland that ran along the southern shore of the Firth of Forth.

A number of legends exist about Lyonesse, perhaps the most well-known one being the story of Tristan and Iseult. In this tale, a tragic romance, Tritan falls in love with the King's wife, Iseult, ultimately leading to an adulteress relationship. The story most likely influenced the later romantic tale of Lancelot and Guinevere in the Arthurian legends.

Later on Lyonesse became associated with the coast of Cornwall. Particularly an area between Land's End and the Isles of Scilly, which are about 15 miles to the west of the mainland in the Celtic Sea. How did this stretch of water get the reputation as a sunken land? Well Mount's Bay, just to the south of Land's End, shows signs of once being above the water. The stumps of a forest can still sometimes be seen at low tides following storms on the beach. In fact, the island of St Michael's Mount, sitting in the bay, is called in Cornish "Karrek Loos yn Koos" which means "hoar rock in woodland" which the suggests that the island was once a hill surround by a low, swampy forest. Radiocarbon dating of wood recovered from this forest suggest it was flooded in the 17th century B.C.. It is likely that later the actual disappearance of the bay was extended in legend to include the whole area between Land's End and the Isles of Schilly.

How is this related to the story of Atlantis sinking below the sea? Well, the earliest references to Atlantis are in Plato's dialogues Timaeus and Critias, written in 360 BC. That's more than a thousand years after the area in the Mount's Bay disappeared underwater, so one could argue there might be a connection. In 1995 a Russian scientist, Viatcheslav Koudriavtsev, proposed that that an area to the west of the Isles of Schilly, called the Celtic Shelf, might be a possible location for Atlantis. Koudriavtsev's theory is that during the last Ice Age the sea levels were much lower and this area would have been exposed. He believes it was the center of a major civilization. He has also taken the location for Atlantis as described by Plato, and reinterpreted the directions so they point to this location. Armed with his theory he has been seeking the necessary permission and funds to support a scientific, underwater exploration of the shelf, but without much success.

I intriguing as this idea is, over the years people have made cases for Atlantis being located in many places including, Crete, the Canary Islands, Spain, South America and even Antarctica. It not clear that Koudriavtsev has more evidence for the Celtic Shelf than any other location.

In the end, however, perhaps Lyonesse, Atlantis and other mysterious missing lands of legend share more of a literary connection rather than a physical one. A place where the Gods punished evil men by sinking the ground beneath them into the sea.

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In History:

First Zeppelin Fight - July 2nd 1900 represents the maiden flight of the world's first Zeppelin, the LZ-1. The device was named for its inventor, Ferdinand Graf von Zeppelin. The aircraft, which had a rigid frame, used internal cells of hydrogen gas to create lift and flew for about 18 minutes above the Bodensee (Lake Constance) near Friedrichshafen, Germany. In a few years Zeppelin had developed his invention into a series airborne passenger liners that saw service around the world until the disastrous, fiery crash of the Hindenburg in 1937 brought the era to a close.


In the Sky:

Delta Aquarids Shower - Look for the Delta Aquarids from July 12 to August 23. It's an average shower that can produce up to 20 meteors per hour at its peak, created by the debris left behind by comets Marsden and Kracht. The shower will peak this year on the night of July 29 and morning of July 30. Meteors will appear to radiate from the constellation Aquarius and will best be seen after midnight when the moon sets.



Two Headed Space Worm - A flatworm of the species Dugesia japonica, spent 20 months on the International Space Station (ISS) and came back with an interesting addition: an extra head. Fourteen flatworms were cut in half before being sent to the station. Normally this results in two normal flatworms. While this was the case for most of the worms involved in the experiment, one of them develop a second head where there should have been a tail. While this can happen on Earth, it's very rare. Also significantly, any progeny that flatworm has had also are born with two heads. Scientists are now researching what conditions found on the space station - perhaps the lack of gravitational or magnetic fields - may have caused the regeneration mechanism of the worm to go awry.


Zeep and Meep are on a well deserved vacation. In their place we feature highlights from their past adventures.

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Copyright Lee Krystek 2017. All Rights Reserved.


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