Over the Edge
Roundup of Strange Science for the Month
Space Elevator Getting Closer? - Microsoft headquarters
in Redmond hosted a conference on space elevator technology
last month. The space elevator
is a proposal to make access to orbit cheaper, safer and
easier by running a cable from an Earth station to a counterweight
in orbit 33,000 miles above the surface. A cab would climb
the cable to carring people and goods into orbit. One of
the technologies required to make the system work is a strong,
light cable. In fact, one more than 30 times stronger than
aramid fiber, currently the world's strongest. As part of
the conference NASA offered a $2 million prize if anyone
can come up with something that just five times stronger
than the aramid fiber. A team from Japan entered a first-ever
carbon nano-tube ribbon in the contest, but it failed to
pass the test. Still space elevator enthusiasts are optimistic.
"It's very, very difficult - but there's a big difference
between difficult and impossible," observed Michael Laien,
president of Bremerton-based Liftport, and an attendee of
the conference. "So I think we are getting closer every
Cave System Found Under Egyptian Pyramids - British
explorer Andrew Collins claims to have found the lost underworld
of the pharaohs. According to Collins he has discovered
a vast cave system under the pyramid field at Giza in Egypt.
"There is untouched archaeology down there, as well as a
delicate ecosystem that includes colonies of bats and a
species of spider which we have tentatively identified as
the white widow," said Collins. He thinks the caves, which
are tens of thousands of years old, may have both inspired
the ancient Egyptian's belief in an underworld. Collins,
said he located the entrance to this mysterious underworld
after reading the memoirs of a 19th century diplomat and
explorer, Henry Salt" In his memoirs, British consul general
Henry Salt recounts how he investigated an underground system
of 'catacombs' at Giza in 1817 in the company of Italian
explorer Giovanni Caviglia," Collins noted.
Egyptian Tombs Could be Gone in 150 Years - The
tombs in Egypt's Valley of the Kings will disappear within
a century and a half if they continue remain open to tourists,
the head of antiquities, Zahi Hawass, has said. "The tombs
(in the Valley of the Kings and nearby Valley of the Queens)
which are open to visitors are facing severe damage to both
colors and the engravings," Hawass said. "The levels of
humidity and fungus are increasing because of the breath
of visitors and this means that the tombs could disappear
between 150 and 500 years." Hawass said the government has
decided "to close some tombs definitively to tourists and
replace them by identical replicas, including those of Tutenkhamun,
Nefertiti and Seti I." Other tombs are being fitted with
new ventilation systems, or are having the number of visitors
allowed through strictly limited.
Giant Pandas in Trouble - Experts at the World
Wildlife Fund (WWF) are concerned that the giant panda could
be extinct in just two to three generations if rapid economic
development continues in their habitat. The area the animals
are living in is being split up into ever smaller pieces,
preventing the animals from moving freely as they seek mates.
This in turn could endanger their gene pool. "If the panda
cannot mate with those from other habitats, it may face
extinction within two to three generations," said Fan Zhiyong,
Beijing-based species director for WWF. "We have to act
now." Experts are concerned that lack of range may lead
to inbreeding that may reduce the panda's resistance to
diseases and lower their ability to reproduce. There are
about 1,590 pandas living in the wild in China.
Pterosaurs Unlike Anything Else - A study, based
on a well-preserved pterosaur with soft tissues, shows that
the creatures were very much different than almost any animal
alive today. According to the paper, published in the latest
issue of the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, pterosaurs
were warm-blooded insect eaters that lived in trees and
had sophisticated flying skills. Among other things these
flying reptiles had a complex membrane located between the
animal's body and each of its fingers. The membrane was
composed of up to three layers with distinct structural
fibers. The fibers were oriented in different directions,
forming a reticular pattern. "We conclude that this pterosaur
might have been able to adjust the wing membrane during
flight in order to enhance flight capability," noted one
of the study authors.
Science Quote of the Month - "Science
is built up of facts, as a house is built of stones; but
an accumulation of facts is no more a science than a heap
of stones is a house." - Henri Poincaré, 1905
New at the Museum:
Notes From the Curator's Office: An
Art Project for a Favorite Novel -
A do-it-yourself way to commemorate your favorite book or
movie and add a conversation piece to your home. >Full
Vital Vitamins - What is a "vitamin", and
how can sunlight make vitamin D? - John
A vitamin is
an organic compound needed by a human or animal in tiny
amounts in order to stay healthy. Usually a compound is
only called a vitamin when the animal is unable to make
it by itself, but must get it by eating it. This means that
some compounds are vitamins for some animals but not really
for others. For example, vitamin D is not really a vitamin
in the human diet because we create it ourselves when sunlight
hits our skin. It is a vitamin for most fish, however, who
must get it by eating algae (Or by eating other fish who
have eaten algae). The algae in turn create when they float
in shallow waters under the sun.
For many years
scientists suspected that certain foods contained tiny amounts
of some substances needed for health, but they didn't know
what those substances were. For example, in 1749, the Scottish
surgeon James Lind discovered that citrus foods helped prevent
scurvy, a particularly deadly disease often suffered by
sailors who did not get fresh fruit in their diet. As it
turns out the sailors were not getting vitamin C - otherwise
known as ascorbic acid - which is found in the fruits. Though
Lind didn't exactly know what the missing ingredient was,
he recommended eating lemons and limes to avoid scurvy,
an idea which was adopted by the British Royal Navy and
led to their nickname "Limies".
In 1881, Russian
doctor Nikolai Lunin did an experiment where he gave one
group of mice milk and the other group an artificial mixture
of all the separate parts of milk known at that time: proteins,
fats, carbohydrates, and salts. The mice that got the regular
milk were fine, but those which got just the parts got sick
and died. This told Lunin that there was something in the
milk that science was unaware of that was needed for the
mice to stay healthy. The first scientist to extract one
of these micronutrients was Japanese researcher Umetaro
Suzuki in 1910. He named his discovery aberic acid. It would
later become known as vitamin B1.
A couple more
facts about vitamins:
-The world "vitamin"
is a blend of the words "vital" and "amine" where amine
is a specific sort of organic compound. However, as other
vitamins were found, not all turned out to be amines, but
the name stuck.
-Often an animals
will have to eat the vitamins they need every day because
their bodies will not store the vitamins for any length
Vitamin D is
produced photo-chemically when ultra-violet light interacts
with the substance 7-dehydrocholesterol. In the case of
humans the creation of the Vitamin D takes place in the
epidermis, the top layer of our skin, when light from the
sun penetrates it and hits the 7-dehydrocholesterol our
bodies put there. How much and how quickly you make your
Vitamin D depends on how much sun light you get and the
color of your skin. People with darker skin produce it more
slowly than people with lighter skin.
For mammals with
fur, who can't get sunlight to their skin at all, the Vitamin
D is synthesized in oily secretions that are deposited onto
the fur. As those oils sit on the fur and are exposed to
the sun, the vitamin D is created. The animal then must
lick the oils off and swallow them to get the Vitamin D
into their systems.
Book Review - Cosmic Jackpot: Why Our Universe
is Just Right for Life by Paul Davies - Penguin Press.
This book has
been out for a while, but just read it and highly recommend
it for anyone with an interest in quantum physics and cosmology.
Paul Davies, the award winning physicist, looks at why our
universe seems "fine-tuned" to create life. The best part
of the book isn't really Davies' conclusions on the subject,
but the careful and very readable way he gives the reader
a layman's overview on the current state of physics knowledge/research.
He explains subjects like quantum physics and sub-atomic
particles and covers many competing ideas about the nature
of reality. Are we living in one of zillions of nearly identical
universes or in a universe simulation running on some cosmic
computer? Davies looks at all these possibilities, and eventually
lays out his own thinking for the reader. You may or may
not agree with his conclusions, but masterful way of enumerating
all the possibilities should not be missed.
Fall of Ice - On September 2, 1958, in Madison
Township, New Jersey, a seventy pound block of ice fell
through roof of Dominick Bacigalupo's house, through the
ceiling of the kitchen, onto the floor where it broke up
in three pieces. There were no storms in the area at the
time and the meteorology department of a nearby University
said atmospheric conditions could have not created the block.
Aviation officials claimed the planes in the area could
not have been responsible for the fall, either. The cause
to this day remains unknown.
Bye, Bye Rings - Say goodbye to Saturn's rings.
Those of you with small telescopes may have been noticing
that Saturn's rings have been shrinking as they turn more
and more edge on toward Earth. On September 4th they will
disappear completely. Unfortunately because Saturn's close
position to the sun, you won't be able to see a ring-less
Saturn. As the mouth progresses though, Saturn will become
more visible. The rings will return slowly, though we will
be seeing their northern face rather than their southern
Florida Muck Monster - People in West Palm
Beach, Florida, are trying to figure out what species a
mysterious creature that had been seen lurking under the
surface of the Lake Worth Lagoon is. The creature, dubbed
the "The elusive muck monster" by workers of LagoonKeepers,
leaves a wake, but doesn't break the the surface of the
water. According to a report by WPTV news Thomas Reinert,
a Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Marine
Biologist, examined video taken by LagoonKeepers and said:
"This appears to be one animal moving in this direction…nothing's
breaking the surface. Typically dolphins break the surface,
sea turtles, manatee, a large school of fish, if it were
a shark at that level you would see a fin." Greg Reynolds
of LagoonKeepers joked "Maybe Nessie's vacationing in South
check local listing for area outside of North America.
NOVA: Is There Life on Mars? - The
decades-long search for life on the Red Planet heats up
with the discovery of frozen water. On PBS. Tuesday, September
1 at 8 pm ET/PT.
NOVA: Mystery of the Megavolcano - Researchers
unearth clues to the greatest volcanic eruption of the last
100,000 years. On PBS. Tuesday, September 8 at 8 pm ET/PT.
Supermassive Black Holes - Scientists have discovered something even more powerful than black holes
- supermassive black holes. Far from being agents of destruction,
these giant black holes are now believed to be the seeds
from which all galaxies grow On The Science Channel. Sep
01, 9:00 pm; Sep 02, 12:00 am; Sep 02, 4:00 pm; Sep 03,
4:00 am; ET/PT.
Starship Orion: The Future of Space Travel - NASA has taken the lead in designing Orion, the new space exploration
vehicle. Orion will take humans back to the moon, go on
to Mars and beyond. On The Science Channel. Sep 08, 9:00
pm; Sep 09, 12:00 am; Sep 09, 4:00 pm; Sep 10, 4:00 am;
On The Science Channel
Search for Second Earth - Two teams of planet hunters are leading the hunt for another Earth.
209 exoplanets so far found outside of our solarsystem have
be explored, but none have turned out to be capable of supporting
life. That's all about to change.
. Sep 04, 4:00 pm; Sep 08, 10:00 pm; Sep 09, 1:00 am; Sep 09, 5:00 pm;
Sep 10, 5:00 am; ET/PT.
On The History Channel
That's Impossible Episode: Death Rays & Energy Weapons - Everyone is familiar with the amazing force field and energy weapons
from sci-fi movies like Star Wars and Star Trek, but are
we just a few years away from having that technology at
our fingertips? We'll investigate new, top-secret military
weaponry and recent inventions like a new airplane mounted
laser cannons from Northrop Grumman that can shoot down
enemy planes and shoot nuclear missiles out of the sky.
. Tuesday, September 01 08:00 PM; Wednesday, September 02 12:00 AM; ET/PT
The Universe : The Day the Moon Was Gone - Without the moon, Earth would be a very different and desolate place
today--four hours of sunlight with pitch-black nights, steady
100-mph winds spawning giant hurricanes that last for months,
and virtually no complex life forms, much less humans. Safe
to say, we probably owe our very existence to the moon.
But what if it suddenly disappeared? Solar gravity redirects
ocean water that floods coastal spots around the globe.
Sea currents shift, resulting in freakish weather patterns.
Eventually, earth's axis begins fluctuating wildly and climate
change grows more extreme. The poles are tropical jungles
and parts of the equator become frigid wastelands. Human
evolution starts churning in unpredictable ways or ends
completely. Without the moon, the Earth is a very different
place. On The History Channel. Tuesday September 08 08:00
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Copyright Lee Krystek 2009. All Rights Reserved.