The strange Siberian crater was not made by a meterorite.


Science Over the Edge

A Roundup of Strange Science for the Month

August 2014

In the News:

Scientists Seek Explanation for Siberia Crater - Scientists exploring a mysterious crater that has appeared in Yarmal, a remote region of Siberia, have ruled out the possibility that it was the result of a meteor strike. When pictures of the crater first appeared on the internet many people dismissed it as a hoax because it looked so strange. However scientists at the site have confirmed it is real. The crater is about 100 feet wide and three hundred deep with a lake forming at the bottom. Researchers still don't know what caused the crater, but think that it may be related to global warming. This region in Siberia has been very warm recently and this may have caused an underground pocket of ice to melt and the ground above collapsed to make the crater. Also, gas trapped in the ice might have violently escaped blowing off the ground surface like the popping of a Champagne bottle cork. Russian scientist Andrey Plekhanov said that the phenomenon seems natural, but very odd. He told The Siberian Times, "I've never seen anything like this, even though I have been to Yamal many times."

Biggest Bird Isn't on Sesame Street - It's taken 31 years, but scientists have finally established that bones found while working on a new terminal at Charleston International Airport in South Carolina are from the largest bird that ever flew. Pelagornis sandersi had a 20- to 24-foot wingspan and lived about 25 million to 28 million years ago. That's twice the size of today's largest flying bird, the royal albatross. It's long, slender wings and paper-thin hollow bones probably allowed the bird to glide for long distances without flapping its wings. The remains of the creatures are now at the Charleston Museum and its named honors retired Charleston Museum curator Albert Sanders.

Seals Like Off-Shore Wind Farms - A study in the journal Current Biology suggests that seals may be using off-shore wind farms as new hunting grounds. Researchers glued GPS trackers onto fur on the back of several seals in England and Denmark and monitored them as they headed out into the North Sea. The scientists were able to see that the seals moved "in a very striking grid pattern," according to lead study author Deborah Russell, a marine ecologist at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. "We could actually pinpoint where the wind turbines were by looking at the paths the seals traveled," she added. The researchers think that the wind farms may be acting as artificial reefs sheltering potential prey, making them appealing hunting grounds for the seals. The researchers aren't sure yet if this is a plus or minus for the ocean ecology.

Earhart Completes Around the World Flight - Amelia Rose Earhart, a 31-year-old pilot, completed the around the world flight that the woman she was named for did not. Seventy-seven years ago the original Earhart disappeared over the Pacific Ocean on her attempt to fly around the world in her Lockheed Electra. The younger Ms. Earhart isn't related to the famous missing, record-breaking pilot, but decided to try the same flight herself and break a record doing it: youngest woman to circumnavigate the world in a single-engine aircraft. She succeeded in a flight that took over two weeks and crossed 14 countries. Unlike the original Earhart, the younger Earhart had little chance of getting lost as her Pilatus PC12 , a single-engine turboprop, was equipped with two GPS satellite navigation systems.

Want to be Happier? Talk to a Stranger - People regularly ignore each other on a commuter train, but a recent study suggests that if they did bother to speak to each other, their commute would be more pleasant. In "Mistakenly Seeking Solitude," published recently in The Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, researchers found that participants in the experiments not only underestimated others' interest in connecting, but also reported positive experiences by both being spoken to and to speaking with a stranger. The researchers conducted nine experiments, in both field and laboratory settings, to examine an apparent social paradox: why people who benefit greatly from social connections nevertheless prefer isolation among strangers. Participants were commuter train and public bus riders who were asked to talk to a stranger, to sit in solitude, or to do whatever they normally would do, then fill out a survey to measure the actual consequences of distant social engagement versus isolation. "Participants in the connection condition reported having the most positive experience out of all three of our experimental conditions. Most important, participants in the connection condition reported having a significantly more positive experience than participants in the solitude condition," according to the report.


Science Quote of the Month - "Science is a great game. It is inspiring and refreshing. The playing field is the universe itself." - Isidor Isaac Rabi


What's New at the Museum:

Notes from the Curator's Office: Flying a Jet Pack - My dream of flying through the air like the Rocketeer was just a fantasy -- until just a few weeks ago. Full Story

Mysterious Picture of the Month - What is this this?

Ask the Curator:

Radiation to Destroy World's Oceans? - I heard someone say that there is a large radiation leak from a reactor in Japan that is contaminating the northern Pacific area and also the west coast of North America. It is a leak into the atmosphere that eventually effect the entire earth. Are there any facts to support this or is it complete fiction? - Bernie

You are probably talking about the Fukushima nuclear plant disaster that occurred as a result of an earthquake on March 11, 2011. The earthquake shutdown the reactors and may have caused damage to some of the containment buildings. The real problems, however, started 50 minutes later when as a result of the earthquake a massive tsunami hit the Japanese coastline killing thousands. The waves also topped the seawall at Fukushima and swamped the power plant.

Nuclear reactors like those at Fukushima produce heat for many hours or even days after they have been shut down. So it is necessary to use auxiliary power to keep water circulating though the reactors to keep them cool even after they have been turned off. A reactor that gets too hot can have its fuel rods melt with serious consequences. The Fukushima plant had emergency diesel generators to supply power to keep the reactors cool, but these failed when they were flooded by the tsunami. There were batteries to back up the generators, but those only lasted 12 hours.

As some of the reactors overheated hydrogen gas formed inside the containment structure and this lead to several small explosions throughout the buildings and some leakage of radioactive gas into the air.

The biggest problem at Fukushima, however, has turned out to be radioactive water. As water has been pumped into the damaged reactors to keep them cool, it also has been leaking out, probably through cracks caused by the earthquake. Water has also leaked from some pools where spent radioactive fuel was being stored. This water has mixed in with the natural ground water below the plant and has been slowly it is working its way out into the sea. Steps have been taken to try and keep the water from getting into the ocean, such as freezing the water in the ground, but so far it hasn't stopped the flow. By some estimates 100 tons (about the size of an Olympic swimming pool) of contaminated water gets into the ocean each day.

What does this mean to the environment? Local fish can no longer be caught and sold as food. They carry too much cesium-134 and strontium-90. (Iodine-131 is also a concern, but it has very short half-life and disappears rapidly) The cesium is also less of a problem as it moves quickly out of living tissue and may not contaminate seafood for very long. However, the strontium gets into bones and concentrates making it a very long term problem. All of this radiation, however, bodes poorly for Japanese fishing anywhere near Fukushima.

How about contamination on the U.S. West Coast? Fortunately the Pacific Ocean is huge and the more diluted the contaminated water gets, the less of a problem it becomes. Scientists think they have detected increased radiation levels in fish they've collected off the California coast, however, it is extremely hard to separate these from the normal background radiation in the fish. In any case the amounts are so small that they do not seem to be a threat to humans that might consume them. Nor do scientists fear that humans swimming in west coast waters might be harmed.

As for any leak into the air, any problems with air contamination would be limited to the local area around the Fukushima plant, and isn't a world-wide problem. It may be possible to detect minute increases in radioactive in the air at a considerable distance from Fukushima, but this tiny increase would not be dangerous to humans. The Chernobyl incident released much, much more radiation into the air than Fukushima did, but was still only a health concern to those in the region surrounding the original accident.

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In History:

Electric Death - On August 6, 1890, the first criminal was executed by use of an electric chair. William Kemmler was shocked fatally with 1,300 volts after being convicted of killing a woman with an axe. Use of the electric chair came out of a dispute between Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse who were each championing their versions of electrical power. Edison backed direct current (DC) and Westinghouse backed Nikola Tesla's alternating current (AC). Edison tried to associate death with AC in the public's mind by using it as an execution device. Despite the AC shock successfully killing Kemmler, AC eventually became the standard version of electricity used across the world in power grids because it was easier to send it long distances with minimal loss of energy.


In the Sky:

Perseids Shower - Look for the Perseids meteor shower this month on the nights of August 11 and 12th. This meteor shower is known as one of the easiest to see because it produces fast and bright meteors that leave trails. One concern this year is a nearly full moon that may make the shooting stars more difficult to see.



RoboCup 2014 - The city of Joao Pessoa, Brazil, hosted RoboCup 2014 last month. The centerpiece of the event is a competition between soccer playing robots in several different leagues. Some of the leagues pit miniature or full-sized humanoid robots against each other, while other leagues employ wheeled robots the might remind a watcher of R2-D2. It addition to the soccer contests there are also competitions for other types of robots like those that might be used in rescue operations. Around 3,000 university students from 45 countries and 400 teams participated this year before a crowd of approximately 60,000 spectators. Some scientists think that by the 2050 a robot team may be able to beat a team of world champion humans at the soccer.


On the Tube:

Please check local listing for area outside of North America.

Nova: Australia's First 4 Billion Years: Strange Creatures - After a massive extinction, diverse marsupials came to dominate this isolated continent. On PBS August 6 at 9 pm ET/PT.

Nova: Why Sharks Attack - Will analyzing the hunting instincts of this endangered predator reduce deadly attacks? On PBS August 27 at 9 pm ET/PT.

Shark Week - Sunday, August 10. Marks the Discovery Channel's 27th annual foray into undersea mayhem amist some compaints that the week is less and less science and more and more bull-sh, ahem bullshark. There will 13 Shark Week shows coupled with a live talk show each night. On The Discovery Channel: Starting Sunday, Auguest 10th.

World's Strangest Inventions - A worldwide tour of the strangest inventions including: a man who created a robot duplicate of himself and pixie dust that can re-grow a lost limb. On the Science Channel: August 1st 5 PM; August 4th 1AM ET/PT.

Ancient Aliens Aliens and The Lost Ark - The Ark of the Covenant is one of the most sought after religious relics of all times and far more than just a box that contained the Ten Commandments. The biblical stories surrounding the Ark speak of a device with divine powers that was able to produce food, take down stonewalls, kill those that come in contact with it, and provide direct communication to God. Are these stories mere myth? Or did the Ark of the Covenant possess extraordinary powers? What happened to this incredible relic? Could it still be hidden? Are we getting close to a rediscovery--and reactivation--of the Ark? And if so, will the Ark of the Covenant reveal a long, lost connection to our extraterrestrial past? On the History Channel: Mon August 4, 8:00 PM ET/PT.

Who Really Discovered America? - Did a number of explorers discover the New World long before Christopher Columbus staked his claim in 1492? No less than a dozen cultures have tales of these adventurers woven into their histories, but they are noticeably absent in American history books. This documentary explores the possibility that the Chinese, Japanese, Polynesians, Norse, Welsh, Irish, Ancient Hebrews and the Solutreans all made it to the Americas earlier than Columbus. Rebuild the ships, trace the routes, test the artifacts and analyze blood evidence to finally learn the answer to one of the greatest mysteries of all time--who really discovered America? On the History Channel: Thu August 7, 8:00 PM ET/PT.


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