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Science Over the Edge

A Roundup of Strange Science for the Month

Applet credit: Ed Hobbs

August 2012

In the News:

Bones Right Age, Location for John the Baptist - Several years ago two Bulgarian archeologists announced they found what they thought might be the bones of the biblical figure John the Baptist under the altar of a fifth century basilica on Sveti Ivan, an island off the coast Bulgaria. Finds like this are often debunked by scientific tests which show the artifact or relic is not nearly the age that it should be. However, when Tom Higham, an Oxford University scientist and an atheist, tested the fragments he got a surprise. "We got a date that was exactly where it should be, right in the middle of the first century," said Higham, a radiocarbon dating expert. Plus traces of DNA in the bones suggest that the person was from the middle-east. While this doesn't prove that the bone fragments are from John the Baptist, it is unusual that tests did not rule the possibility out. Higham suggests that it might be possible to compare the bone fragments with other supposed relics of John the Baptist to see if the remains came from the same person.

Archaeologists Find Golden Treasure - Last month Israeli archaeologists looking for historical treasure came across a monetary one. A joint team from Tel Aviv University and Israel's Nature and Parks Authority found a broken pot containing 100 gold dinar coins worth around $500,000. The scientists were excavating at Apollonia National Park, an ancient Roman settlement on the coast, at the time. The coins come from the period between 1241 and 1265 AD when a fortress in the area was occupied by Crusaders. "All in all, we found some 108 dinars and quarter dinars, which makes it one of the largest gold coin hoards discovered in a medieval site in the land of Israel," said Prof. Oren Tal, chairman of Tel Aviv University's Department of Archaeology. Apparently using the damaged pot that the hoard was found in was part of an attempt to hide the treasure. "It was in a small juglet, and it was partly broken. The idea was to put something broken in the ground and fill it with sand, in order to hide the gold coins within," Tal said. "If by chance somebody were to find the juglet, he won't excavate it, he won't look inside it to find the gold coins." The scientists think that before the fortress at Apollonia was attacked and destroyed in April 1265 one of the Crusader's leaders hid the treasure hoping to recover it later, but never did

Rocky Exo-Planet Smaller then Earth? - Scientists think NASA's Spitzer infrared space telescope has detected a world only two-thirds the size of Earth. The planet, located 33 light years away, has been designated UCF-1.01. With ground temperatures that exceed 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit, the surface may be volcanic or molten with little or no atmosphere. Still, it is one of the very few exo-planets (planets orbiting stars outside our solar system) that have been located that appear to be the same size, or smaller than our own planet. The Spitzer infrared space telescope found the planet by noting slight, regular dips in the amount of light coming from its star as the planet passed in front of it.

Mona Lisa's Skeleton Found? - Researchers believe that they may have found the bones of Lisa Gherardini, the minor noblewoman who inspired Leonardo da Vinci's painting Mona Lisa. Historian Silvano Vinceti was able to trace Lisa's life to her death at the age of 63 at the convent of Sant'Orsola in Florence, Italy. Records show that Lisa's daughter, Marietta, a nun, took her elderly mother to live with her at the convent where Lisa eventually died and was buried. Archaeologist Valeria D'Aquino was able to unearth remains from a crypt below the altar at the abandoned nunnery. DNA from the bones will be tested against remains from two of Lisa's children known to be buried in the church of Santissima Annunziata in Florence. If the DNA shows a match, it might then be possible to reconstruct Lisa's face, from her skull, to see if her features match those of the iconic painting on display at the Louvre Museum in Paris.

Search for Earhart's Plane Yields No Aircraft - The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery launched an expedition last month to try and find vanished aviator Amelia Earhart's Lockheed Electra aircraft. The group had long suspected Earhart, who ran out of fuel on a round the world trip75 years ago, was forced down on tiny Nikumaroro Island in the South Pacific. The group planned to do a hi-tech deep water search for the plane which they believe was swept out to sea after landing on the tiny island. After 5 days of diving, however, the group was unable to come to any definite conclusion on whether the plane was submerged in the area or not. "We have volumes of sonar data and many hours of high-definition video to review and analyze before we will know whether we found it," the group said. "Due to the limitations of the technology, we were only able to see standard-definition video images during actual search operations. Now that we're examining the recorded high-definition video, we're already seeing objects we want our forensic imaging specialist, Jeff Glickman, to look at. We'll also be getting expert second opinions on our best sonar targets."


Science Quote of the Month - "Science is facts; just as houses are made of stone, so is science made of facts; but a pile of stones is not a house, and a collection of facts is not necessarily science." - Jules Henri Poincaré


What's New at the Museum:

Coliseum: The Great Arena - The Flavian Amphitheater, as it was then known would become the largest public entertainment venue in the Roman Empire and eventually a symbol of the city of Rome itself. For 18 centuries it remained the largest amphitheater in the world. Today we call this zenith of Roman architecture and engineering the Coliseum. >Full Story

The Foo Fighters of World War II - As the war came to a close airmen started seeing strange craft following their own planes. Was it a German secret weapon, or something even more bizarre? >Full Story

Mysterious Picture of the Month - What is this thing?


Ask the Curator:

Hot and Cold - Is cold the absence of heat? Or is heat the absence cold? - John

When you first look at this question it sounds a little bit like a riddle: Which came first the chicken or the egg? We need to first understand what heat and cold is before we can get to the bottom of this riddle however.

From a physics point of view heat is simply the exchange of thermal energy from one object to another. Now you might ask "What is thermal energy?" Thermal energy at the smallest scale is the movement (mostly vibration) of the particles that make up matter: Atoms and molecules and the things they are composed of - protons, electrons and neutrons. The more movement these particles have, the higher the temperature of the object they are in will be. At a certain point if the particles are bumping around fast enough the object will actually change form.

Let's look at water. When the particles aren't moving much water can take a solid form: ice. As the thermal energy increases the water molecules eventually bounce around so much that they reach a point where they break away from the solid form and flow freely by becoming liquid water. If the temperature of the water continues to rise the molecules will eventually be jumping around so much that they can't even stay in liquid from and become a gas: steam.

Heat is the transfer of that thermal energy from object to object. For example, when you hold an ice cube in your hand you are heating it because the thermal energy in your hand is higher than the thermal energy in the cube and the energy flows from one to the other. Thermal energy always seeks an equilibrium when it can find it. Just like water will flow from a full container to an empty container if there is a connection between the two until the levels in both are equal. The result is the ice cube starts to melt as its thermal energy rises and your hand starts to feel cold as the thermal energy in it drops.

So let's go back to the original question: " Is cold the absence of heat? Or is heat the absence cold?" Well, since heat is the transfer of thermal energy and cold can be defined as an area of low thermal energy I think you can make an argument for the first case. Cold is an area of low thermal energy which hasn't gotten a transfer of energy (heat - which is absent in this scenario) from another location with a higher amount of thermal energy.

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In History:

CE2 in England - Late on the evening of August 13th and early on morning of August 14th, 1956, radar at two English military bases picked up high-speed Unidentified Flying Objects (UFOs). The objects were observed by both Royal Air Force and U.S. Air Force personnel. Their existence was also confirmed visually by ground observers and by pilots in aircraft using radar and visual surveillance. An official report on the incident concluded "The apparently rational, intelligent behavior of the UFO suggests a mechanical device of unknown origin as the most probable explanation of this sighting." The event remains one of the strongest chronicle s of a Close Encounter of the Second Kind (where a UFO physically affects its environment).


In the Sky:

Mars, Saturn and Spica Conjunction - Mid-month August will bring the planets Mars and Saturn close together in the night sky with Spica, the brightest star in the constellation Virgo 'The Virgin.' Catch this in the evening twilight sky just above the Western horizon.

Perseid Meteor Shower - Look for the Perseid Meteor Shower on the 12th and 13th of August. The constellation of Perseus rises in the north east at around 9pm but the moon won't come up till about 1:30AM, so you should get a few hours of dark skies before the moonlight makes viewing more difficult. Expect 50 to 75 shooting stars per hour.



Smoking Orangutan Must Kick Habit - Indonesia's Taru Jurug Zoo is moving Tori, the orangutan, into an enclosure located on an island to help her kick her smoking addition. The 13-year old orangutan had developed the bad habit of finishing off still-burning cigarette butts discarded in her cage by zoo visitors. Despite signs that instruct the visitors not to toss food or other objects into enclosures, guests to the zoo have been feeding Tori's habit. The new island puts her at a distance from the zoo's naughty guests so she will be able to detox.


On the Tube:

Please check local listing for area outside of North America.

NOVA: Finding Life Beyond Earth - Scientists are on the verge of answering one of the greatest questions in history: Are we alone? On PBS: August 8 at 9 pm; ET/PT.

How Will The World End? - The Mayans predict that time will end on December 21, 2012. But how likely is a global apocalypse from a scientific point of view? When, where and will it happen, if at all? Samuel L. Jackson hosts this CGI spectacular. On The Discovery Channel: Aug 04, 8:00 pm; Aug 05, 1:00 am; ET/PT.

Mermaids: The Body Found - A team of scientists testifies that they found the remains of a sea creature with ties to human origins - a modern day mermaid. They claim a massive government cover-up is currenly hiding the creature's existence from the general public. On The Discovery Channel: Aug 10, 8:00 pm; Aug 10, 11:00 pm; ET/PT.

Carnivorous Ants - Some carnivorous species - such as fire ants - devastate everything in their paths and pose real ecological problems. To such a point that researchers and scientists are now preparing a whole arsenal to combat these uncontrollable insects. On The Science Channel: Aug 07, 8:00 pm; Aug 07, 11:00 pm; Aug 09, 3:00 am; ET/PT.

Secret History of UFOs - At Washington National Airport, air traffic control reported seven slow-moving blips over D.C. in 1952, causing the Air Force to scramble fighter jets. During the 1980s, an increasing number of people claimed they were abducted by aliens from their own bedrooms! Bringing together eyewitness testimony, expert opinions, and archival video and photos, Secret History of UFOs investigates some of the biggest landmark UFO sightings in history. On The National Geographic Channel: August 3rd 08:00 PM to 10:00 PM; August 24th 09:00 PM to 11:00 ; ET/PT.

Martian Mega Rover - Emmy-winning producer/director Mark Davis turns the cameras on the team at Californias Jet Propulsion Laboratory as they shepherd NASAs new Mars rover, the Curiosity, from the drawing board to the launch pad, and ultimately to the Martian surface. But sending a craft on a 354-million-mile journey across the solar system and having it hit the brakes from 13,000 miles per hour when it gets there is no piece of cake. On The National Geographic Channel: August 9th 10:00 PM to 11:00 PM; August 10th 09:00 PM to 10:00 PM; ET/PT.


Science over the Edge Archives

LGM Archive 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012

Copyright Lee Krystek 2012. All Rights Reserved.


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