Newly found figures have been discovered on the Nazca Plateau were this figure of a dog and other giant glyphs are already known.. (CC-BY-SA: Fungus Guy/World Heritage)


Science Over the Edge

A Roundup of Strange Science for the Month


August 2015

In the News:

New Nazca Figures Found - In addition to the known famous lines and glyphs found on the Nazca Plateau in Peru, scientist have discovered 24 geoglyphs of animals previously unnoticed. The newly found glyphs were made around 400 B.C. to 200 B.C. almost a millennium earlier than the more well-known Nazca figures. The figures appear to be meant to depict lamas. The figures are too old to be seen with the naked eye and were discovered by scientists from the University of Yamagata in Japan using 3-D scans. "All these geoglyphs were drawn on the slopes of the hill, to make them clearly visible," team leader Masato Sakai said. The figures range from 16 feet to 66 feet tall. Unlike the more famous figures which were constructed by removing black oxidized pebbles from the white ground along lines, these figures are made by removing the stones from the whole body area. The newly found figures join 17 already found in that area last year to bring the total to 41. According to Sakai, no other location on the Nazca Plateau has so many geoglyphs.

Mini-Ice Age in Future - A new study suggest we might enter a "mini-ice age" over the next 15 years because the sun is slated to lower its activity. Scientists have known for a long time that the sun goes though cycles that affect is output. In a new study Prof. Valentina Zharkova, of the University of Northumbria, thinks she has found two different cycles and when these two come in phase with one another it will lower solar activity by 60 percent. "In the cycle between 2030 and around 2040 the two waves exactly mirror each other - peaking at the same time but in opposite hemispheres of the sun," she said. "Their interaction will be disruptive, or they will nearly cancel each other." This low amount of activity and output may be similar to "Mini-ice age" in the period between 1645 and 1715, when Europe and North America experienced very cold winters. "Over the cycle, the waves fluctuate between the northern and southern hemispheres of the Sun. Combining both waves together and comparing to real data for the current solar cycle, we found that our predictions showed an accuracy of 97 per cent," comment Zharkova.

Optical Dog Nose Sniffs Out Disease - Dogs are well known for their ability to smell things humans can't. In particular some dogs seem to have detected the signs of disease in their masters before any doctors did. Now a team lead by researcher James Anstie at the University of Adelaide have built an "optical dog's nose" The device uses a laser operating as an optical frequency comb. Each molecule absorbs light at different optical frequencies and the "nose" uses this to see what molecules are in a sample of gas. Scientists are hoping that diseases such as lung and esophageal cancer, asthma and diabetes can be detected in the breath of a patient in a quick and painless way. The group hopes to have a market-ready product within five years.

Did the Greeks Worry about Zombies? - In a cemetery near the coastal town of Kamarina in southeastern Sicily researchers have uncovered two graves where the bodies had been apparently "pinned down" to prevent them from rising after death. One of them, found in a tomb labeled 653, was a person of unknown sex. "What is unusual about Tomb 653 is that the head and feet of the individual are completely covered by large amphora [a heavy vase] fragments," said Carrie Sulosky Weaver, an archaeologist at the University of Pittsburgh. Also a child in the tomb labelled 693 appears to have had five heavy stones placed on top of his body. It is unknown why those bodies were pinned in their graves, but scientists believe that it shows the people there in that Greek town in 5th through 3rd centuries B.C must have had some beliefs that gave them a fear of the dead.

Cluster is a Galaxy Killer - A study from the University of Western Australia suggests that an area of space known as "The Coma Cluster" is a galaxy killer. Why? Because it's a area of space with a lot of dark matter. Scientists do not know what dark matter is, but it doesn't shine with light (like a star) but does have gravity. For some reason the Coma Cluster is heavy with dark matter. The gravity from this dark matter pulls galaxies into the area, but hot gases in the cluster pushes out the galaxy's gas. Without this gas the galaxy cannot form new stars and it dies. Galaxies in the Coma Cluster have 99% less stars then normal galaxies.

Science Quote of the Month - "An experiment is a question which science poses to Nature, and a measurement is the recording of Nature's answer." - Max Planck


What's New at the Museum:

Mystery of the Voynich Manuscript- In 1912 Wilfred M. Voynich was going through the archives of the Nobile Collegio located at Villa Mondragone looking for some old, potentially rare books. In a dusty chest he found a codex that wasn't just rare, but also a puzzling enigma that has had researchers scratching their heads for most of the last century? - Full Story

Mysterious Picture of the Month - What is this this?

Ask the Curator:

End of Magnetism? - If the earth's magnetic field collapsed would there still be magnets? - Anonymous

Magnetism is one of those funny things we see everyday - use everyday - but never know how it works. As it turns out, it is the result of moving electric charges. Almost everybody has done the experiment of wrapping a wire around an iron nail in a spiral pattern, then connecting the wires to a battery to product a crude electromagnet. The current flowing though the wire (in the form of electrons) creates the magnetic field. This field then influences the iron nail to become a magnet also, adding to the strength of the effect, though it would work even without the nail.

If you need a moving electric charge to make a magnetic field, how do permanent magnets work? After all there is no battery involved and no apparent electric charge. Well there actually is, however, a moving electric charge at the atomic level. The electrons orbit around the nucleus of each atom in the material. The electrons also have a quantum-mechanical property called "spin" which looks like a moving electrical charge. These two effects produce a tiny magnetic field for each atom.

In most materials the magnetic fields of each atom are aligned in no particular order so they cancel each other out. In some special materials, however, the fields line up (or can be made to line up) in a particular pattern so that their strength adds up. That's why the nail in the electromagnet experiment above becomes a magnet when exposed to a magnetic field. The field created by the moving electric charges in the wire lines up the nail's fields properly and then those fields can add their own strength to the overall effect.

If you want to see this at home take a paper clip and hang it from a permanent magnet. The paper clip isn't a magnet in itself, but will become a temporary magnet in the presence of a magnetic field. You can then hang a second paper clip from the first one and it will also become a magnet because of the field of the one before it. It is easy to construct a whole chain of paper clips this way. Detach the first one from the permanent magnet, however, and the whole chain falls apart as each of the magnetic fields fall apart one after another.

For centuries scientists have puzzled about why Earth has a strong magnetic field. (The magnetic field of Venus is barely detectable.) They still don't understand the details, but they do know that the outer core of the Earth is mostly molten iron that moves in a convection pattern due to heat at the core. This movement, along with the Earth's spin seems to make the Earth into a big electromagnet. The magnetic field of our planet isn't as stable as we might think, however. There is evidence that the poles of this gigantic magnet have moved, changed intensity, and even reversed many times in past.

If the magnetic field of the Earth went away would we still have magnets? Yes, because each magnet generates its own magnetic field independently. The Earth is just a big version of our experiment with the wire and the nail. A collapse in the Earth's magnetic field, however, would mean that compasses (which are just little magnets in the form of pointers that align with the Earth's magnetic field) would not point the right direction. This would cause problem not only for humans who depend on compasses for navigation, but also for animals that have developed internal compasses in their bodies for use in migration.

Fortunately, though the Earth's magnetic field has weakened in the past 150 years, it looks like it will many centuries before a full collapse and reversal. In fact it may be just as likely that nothing will happen at all in the near future and the original orientation will regain its strength.

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In History:

Aviator Louis Blériot - On August 2nd 1936, Louis Blériot died. Blériot was the first aviator to fly an over-the-ocean flight in a heavier-than-air craft when he crossed the English Channel in 1909. He was also an inventor and built the first practical headlight for an automobile. Blériot designed many of his own aircraft.

In the Sky:

Look for the Perseids - The Perseids Meteor Shower peaking on August 12 to 13th. The meteors are debris from the Swift-Tuttle comet. Though the shower peaks on that Wednesday night, it will be visible from July 17th through August 24th. The meteors will appear to come from the constellation Perseus (hence the name).


The Loch Ness Catfish? - Steve Feltham, 52, a Loch Ness Monster researcher who has spent nearly a quarter century looking for the beast says his conclusion is that it's a giant catfish. "Looking at all the evidence, speaking to eyewitnesses," he said, "the most likely solution is a Wels catfish." Wels catfish can grow up to 13 feet long (4m) and weigh almost 900 pounds (400kg). Many people picture the monster as a prehistoric plesiosaur, but this is based on a photograph from the 1930's which is known to be a hoax. Feltham hopes to improve on is current theory, however. "I'm not saying the mystery's solved. I'm still looking for a better explanation than the catfish," he explained.


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

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