Science Over the Edge

A Roundup of Strange Science for the Month

Applet credit: Ed Hobbs

August 2003

In the News:

Blob Turns Out To Be Whale - A giant forty-foot long blob of flesh washed up on a southern Chilean beach at the beginning of July fueling speculation that the material was part of a unknown species of giant octopus (A similar incident on a beach in Florida led to speculation about a giant octopus in 1896). Scientists from the Museum of Natural History in Santiago, however, determined that the recent blob was really the remains of a sperm whale when they identified the whale's dermal glands in the material. Apparently when the sperm whale died the body rotted until the blubber came loose from the skeleton, said scientists. The skeleton sank to the bottom, but the blubber floated on the surface until it washed ashore.

Police Arrest Accused Burial Box Forger - Police arrested the Israeli antiquities dealer, Oded Golan, who was suspected of forging an ancient burial box supposedly belonging to Jesus' brother, James. Police found forgery equipment in Golan's home which they think may have been used to put the inscription, which reads "James, the brother of Jesus," on the box. The materials found included stencils, stones and partially completed forgeries. Golan is also suspected of forging a shoebox-sized tablet known as the "Joash inscription." On the tablet is written instructions for caring for the Jewish Temple. The burial box might have fetched 1 to 2 million dollars on the antiquities market if it had been genuine.

Oldest Planet Found - Scientists have discovered what they think is the oldest known planet. The planet, more than twice the size of Jupiter, orbits two stars in the constellation Scorpius. The stars in the region, known as the M4 globular cluster, are around 13 billion years old and it presumed that the planet also formed at the same time as these first generation stars. This is a surprise to scientists as they thought that planets could only arise in second-generation or younger star systems because heavy metals, formed in the hearts of first-generation stars, were thought to be needed to form planets.

"Nessie Does Not Exist" says BBC Science Team - A team of scientists commissioned by the BBC to scan Loch Ness with sonar claim their findings show that the legendary creature that supposedly lives in the Loch does not exist. The team used 600 separate sonar beams to look for signs of the air in the creature's lungs that would distort the signals, but they found nothing. "We went from shoreline to shoreline, top to bottom on this one, we have covered everything in this loch and we saw no signs of any large living animal in the loch," said Ian Florence, a member of the team. The team was hopeful they might find a plesiosaur-like creature living in the lake. Fossilized vertebrae of a plesiosaur have recently been found along the shore.

Scientists Demonstrate High-Tech Way of Finding Archeological Treasures - Scientists at Ben Gurion University in Israel have demonstrated that microwave radar from satellites could be used to find the remains of ancients cities, mass graves and even buried treasure. Dan Blumberg and Julian Daniels buried aluminum squares in the desert at varying depths, then used radar from an aircraft to find them. They were able to detect the squares up to a depth of 16 inches. The researchers hope to improve their technique by using longer wave lengths that will penetrate the ground deeper. The system is limited to dry areas, however, because moisture in the ground absorbs the the microwaves before they can bounce of buried objects.

Sputnik Backup for Sale - A backup of the world's first satellite, the Soviet Sputnik that blasted into orbit in 1957, is being sold by retailer Sovietski Collection. The original satellite caused great consternation in the U.S. leading to investment in technology and the start of the cold war space race. Sovietski tried to sell the relic last month on Ebay, but false bids, ranging up to $99 million caused the company to withdraw the object from sale.


What's New at the Museum:

The Incredible Automobile Race of 1907 - In 1907 eleven men set out to take the newly born automobile on an adventure across two continents and over deserts and through swamps. Would it be up to the challenge? - >Full Story


Ask the Curator:

Tikaboo Peak - I'm planning on taking a trip to Nevada to see Area 51 from Tikaboo Peak. I've searched the Internet, and have found only old information on how to get there, whether it's still open to the public, and local tips to make the most of this experience. Do you have any current information on this? Thanks for your help - Anonymous

Tikaboo Peak is one of the few places where the secret base at Area 51 can still be viewed. The peak is about 25 miles from the facility. As far as I am aware it is still accessible, though Freedom Ridge, another popular location for viewing the base (only 10 miles away) has been closed since 1995. I have not made the pilgrimage myself, but I understand you can do it in a few hours. You need to take the kind of precautions, however, necessary when entering any wilderness area (maps, extra water, first aid kit, etc.). Expect a difficult hike. For a couple accounts of trips to Tikaboo Peak check these pages:

If you plan to go, consider buying the Area 51 Viewer's Guide by Glenn Campbell. It's available at: I believe it also contains Mr. Campbell's email address and you can check with him on current conditions in the area. Also local guides can be hired in nearby Rachel, Nevada.

For those of us just too lazy to make the hike we can check out the pictures at: to see what we are missing.


Kasai Rex - I read about a creature sighted in Africa a while back that greatly resembled a T-rex and was dubbed "Kasai rex". Do you have any information/web sites on this creature and/or other African cryptids? Thank you! -J. Villa.

The story of Kasai Rex supposedly starts in 1932. A Swedish plantation owner, John Johnson, and his servant were traveling though deepest, darkest Africa (the Kasai Valley to exact) when they ran nearly into a rhinoceros. As they were trying to sneak past it, a huge 40-foot long lizard-like creature bounded out of the jungle and leapt upon the rhino. The servant fled while Johnson promptly fainted.

When he awoke the creature was still feeding on the now dead rhino. "It was reddish in coloration, with brackish-colored stripes..." Johnson reported. "It had a long snout and numerous teeth."

Johnson concluded it was a Tyrannosaurus, but other people have suggested the description more fits a Tarbosaurus.

Most cryptozoologists are highly skeptical of the Kasai Rex story and there is no evidence that a John Johnson even existed. A photograph exists of this supposed incident, though most people agree that it is most certainly a hoax. For a view of the photo check: and scroll toward the bottom of the page.

Though the story of Kasai Rex is generally agreed to be a false, stories of other African dinosaurs seem to be on slightly firmer ground. For the story of mok'ele-mbembe click here.


In History:

Beast of Gevaudan - In the summer of 1764 a wave of killings started near Gevaudan, France that would last for three years. The first victim was a little girl who was found with her heart ripped out. Others deaths soon followed and the peasants feared that a werewolf was loose in the land. The creature, soon known as the Beast of Gevaudan, wasn't killed until June of 1767. It is believed that the animal, probably a very large and super aggressive wolf, killed over sixty people. The collar bone of a young girl was found in it's stomach. Incidents like this may have added to the belief in werewolves that was held in earlier times.


In the Sky:

Mars is Close - Take a look at Mars this month. On August 27 the red planet will come as close to us as it ever will be in our lifetimes: 34,646,000 miles. It is also the brightest you can expect to see it at a magnitude of -2.9. Look for it the southwestern sky.



Woman Mummifies Daughter for Alien Resurrection - A woman in northern Kazakhstan kept the body of her dead daughter her apartment for three years thinking she would be resurrected by aliens. Police believe the girl, age 27, died from natural causes and was then mummified by her mother. The woman may have been influenced, say police, by a sect preaching "cosmology." The gruesome discovery was made when the girl's cousin, worried by her long absence, called the police. The daughter has been given a proper burial and the mother is now undergoing an examination at a psychiatric clinic.


On the Tube:

Currently we are only able to give accurate times and dates for these programs in the United States. Check local listings in other locations.

NOVA: Secrets, Lies, & Atomic Spies - NOVA looks back to the 1940s, when American spies passed their country's deepest scientific secrets to the Soviets. On PBS: August 26 8PM; ET.

If We Had No Moon - Without the moon, days would last four hours, winds would blow with hurricane force, and Earth would be shrouded in a dense, toxic atmosphere. What luck that 50 million years ago, Earth sustained a major collision that created its moon.. On the Discovery Channel: Aug 07 2003, 10:00 PM Aug 08 2003 01:00 AM ;ET.

Building the Great Pyramid - Of the many myths surrounding the construction of the Great Pyramid, none is more difficult to eradicate than the belief that it was built by slaves. Find out the truth as to how and why this extraordinary human monument was made. On Discovery Channel: Aug 17 2003 08:00 PM, Aug 17 2003 11:00 PM; ET.

Anacondas with Nigel Marven - The anaconda is by far the world's most massive serpent, and zoologist Nigel Marven believes this snake could reach more than 30 feet in length. In his search, Nigel guides a whistle-stop tour of South America's most wonderful wildlife locations. On Discovery Channel: Aug 15 2003 08:00 PM, Aug 15 2003 11:00 PM; ET.

Nefertiti Resurrected - In a tomb in the Valley of the Kings lies one of Egypt's greatest secrets. Three mummies rest hidden in a small chamber behind a secret wall. A leading Egyptologist believes one of the bodies belongs to Nefertiti, a famous queen of ancient Egypt. On Discovery Channel: Aug 17 2003 09:00 PM Aug 18 2003 12:00 AM, Aug 24 2003 05:00 PM; ET.

Vampires Among Us - Enter the world of criminals and killers who break the law in the name of the dark side. The vampire masquerade is uncovered through stories in Florida, Virginia and Germany. Explore the history and flourishing subculture, and hear interviews. . On TLC: Aug 12 2003 10:00 PM, Aug 13 2003 01:00 AM ; ET.

Mystery of the Shroud - A piece of a two thousand year old shroud is found in a cemetery in the Hinnom Valley in Israel. With all the controversy surrounding the shroud of Turin, the supposed cloth that covered Jesus' body, this could shed new light on the time of Jesus. On TLC: Aug 14 2003 10:00 PM, Aug 15 2003 01:00 AM; ET.

Soviet UFO Secrets Revealed - In an investigation of some of the most puzzling UFO sightings in Soviet history, we uncover the work of an underground network of believers and reveal a clandestine 13-year government investigation of UFOs. Many Russian UFO enthusiasts believe that proof of alien encounters exists--but it's being hidden from them! We also meet George Knapp, an American broadcast journalist who traveled to Russia in the early 1990s and believes there's a treasure trove of KGB UFO files that remain top-secret. On The History Channel: August 9 8pm; ET.



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