The International Space Station is testing a new way to clean its water. (NASA)


Science Over the Edge

A Roundup of Strange Science for the Month


September 2015

In the News:

ISS Gets Experimental Water Filter - The International Space Station (ISS) is testing a new water filtration system. In the past they have recycled their water using carbon filters. However, the carbon filters have to be replaced at a regular intervals and also allow the buildup of diethyl phthalate. Diethyl phthalate is not dangerous to human health, but the "new car smell" it gives off can mask other chemical smells that might be of concern. The new filtering system uses an aquaporin membrane which is similar to tiny channels in living cells, that only allow water molecules to pass though. The new filters should do a better job of cleaning up the water and should not need regular replacement. Not having to replace filters is a big advantage for any long term space flight out of earth's orbit, like a trip to Mars.

Missing Nazi Treasure Train Found? - A train carrying 300 tons of gold missing since the end of World War II may have been found in the mountains outside of Walbrzych, Poland, according to two treasure hunters. The men, one a German and the other a Pole, have requested a guarantee from the government that they will be rewarded 10% of the value of any contents of the train before they reveal its location. The story of the train is a local legend in the area, but according to historians, lacks documentary proof that it is true. Supposedly the train left the city of Wroclaw for Walbrzych at the end of the war as Red Army troops were closing in, but never reached its destination. Speculation has been that it could have been hidden in one of the many rail tunnels in the mountainous area, then sealed off. The train, if it exists, may carry unexploded munitions as well and gold which would make it hazardous to anyone attempting to recover the treasure.

Dino Footprint Found on UK Beach - It pays to keep your eyes open at the beach. Ask Sam Davies of the University of Portsmouth. He was fossil hunting on the beach at Lavernock, Vale of Glamorgan, in Wales, when he noticed a foot print in rock. "It was obvious the fossil was fingers or toes, because there were three in a row…" said Davies. At first the student thought that he had found the footprint of a plesiosaur, but analysis by paleontologist David Martill indicates that it was the footprint of the "Welsh Dragon" a small dinosaur discovered just three years earlier on the same beach. The Welsh Dragon was a carnivorous dinosaur that was a predecessor to Tyrannosaurus rex. and lived about 200-million-years ago. It stood about 20 inches tall.

Quasar Powered by Two Black Holes - Some 600 million light-years away two massive black hole are slowly spiraling into each other releasing immense amounts of energy. The result: A quasar. Scientists studying galaxy Mrk 231 observed a disk of superheated gases in the center. They were surprised to see that the disc, however, had a hollow center. Computer studies revealed that the shape of this hollow was consistent with two black holes, one in orbit around another. "We are extremely excited about this finding because it not only shows the existence of a close binary black hole in Mrk 231, but also paves a new way to systematically search binary black holes via the nature of their ultraviolet light emission," said Youjun Lu, of the National Astronomical Observatories of China, Chinese Academy of Sciences and one of the authors of the report. Scientists have been curious about quasars (which can radiate huge amounts of energy) for some time and Mrk 231 gives them the chance to study one at a relatively close distance. It is estimated that the larger black hole is 150 million times the mass of our sun and the smaller one is 4 million times the mass of our sun.

Oldest Heart Failure - The oldest case of heart failure may have been found in a 3,500-year-old Egyptian mummy. The remains of an Egyptian dignitary named Nebiri, the "Chief of Stables," shows severe periodontal disease with massive abscesses. A Multidetector Computed Tomography (MDCT) was used to scan the heart and skull. The scans also showed calcification in the right internal carotid artery, consistent with a mild atherosclerosis. "Our finding represents the oldest evidence for chronic heart failure in mummified remains," said Raffaella Bianucci, an anthropologist involved in the study.

Science Quote of the Month - "Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known." - Carl Sagan


What's New at the Museum:

The Brooklyn Bridge: A Wonder from the Age of Steam- In the 19th century, the booming New York communities of Brooklyn and Manhattan were divided by the East River. A bridge was the answer, but it would require an engineering feat such as the world had never before seen. In the end, a bridge was erected, but at the cost of the death of the chief designer and a life of suffering for the chief engineer, his son. - Full Story

Mysterious Picture of the Month - What is this this?

Ask the Curator:

Sword from the Stars - I am asking this question because I have seen several movies/cartoons/stories which feature this: The tale is set far back in the past and somebody sees a meteor fall to earth or discovers a meteorite buried in the ground and recovers it and makes a weapon out of the meteorite metal. Which in the tale is superior to all of the other weapons made locally. My questions are these: Could a blacksmiths furnace of those times be able to get hot enough to melt down the iron-nickel meteorite, AND has any weapons like swords or axes ever been found to contain meteoric iron? - David

Actually the history of using iron from meteorites for tools, decorative objects and weapons goes way back. Before the beginning of the Iron Age (around 1200 BC) when the process of smelling was invented that allowed iron to be extracted from iron ore, almost all the iron available for use was from meteorites. King Tutankhamen had a metal dagger found with him that was composed of meteoric iron.

Meteorites generally come in two varieties. Most of them (94%) are "stony" and contain no iron. However, the remainder are either "iron" (5%) or some mixture of stone and iron (1%). Iron meteorites also contain some nickel in them.

Objects made from meteoric iron could be cold hammered into shape or worked at low temperatures way before we had the technology to create temperatures necessary to smelt ore (around 2282 Fahrenheit). However, because of the high nickel content found in meteoric iron, weapons made from it tend to be brittle. However, it was still tougher than some of the alternatives available at the time like copper and bronze.Meteoric iron was so valuable in some places during this period it was often traded like gold.

The Thule people of Greenland used the Cape York meteorite as the source of iron for knives and harpoon tips for many centuries. Again these were cold hammered into shape. Even after many, many knives and harpoon tips and been made from it, the remains of the meteorite still weighed 33 tons when it was shipped to the American Museum of Natural History in New York in 1897 where it remains today.

When iron smelting became possible the value of meteorite iron dropped, but was still used for its symbolic value mixed in with regular iron or steel. There is no indication that a weapon with some meteoric iron is somehow actually better than a steel weapon, however. It's just the idea that the material "came from the stars" that gets people's attention. One example of such a weapon was created for Emperor Jahangir, of the Mughal Empire in India. He obtained a meteorite that fell from the sky in April of 1621 and had his smiths mix the meteorite iron with regular iron and forge it into two swords and a dagger.

Modern sword smith's still make weapons with some meteoric iron mixed into them just because they have a large wow factor. Probably one of the most well-known examples of this was a sword made for science fiction/fantasy writer Sir Terence David John "Terry" Pratchett. Pratchett was knighted for his work in 2010 and decided provide his own ingots for the blacksmith to use to create the sword for the ceremony. Pratchett dug his own ore and smelted it himself. He also said he decided to add, as he put it, "several pieces of meteorites -- thunderbolt iron, you see -- highly magical, you've got to chuck that stuff in whether you believe in it or not."

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In History:

Titanic Found - On September 2nd 1985 it was announced that the wreckage of the Titanic, which sank after hitting an iceberg in 1912, had been found about 560 miles off Newfoundland, 73 years after the British luxury liner sank, by a joint United States and French expedition.

In the Sky:

Lunar Eclipse - If you live in most of North America or Western Europe you can expect to see an eclipse of the moon on the evening of September 27th. Such an eclipses occur when the Earth passes in between the sun and the moon and the Earth's shadow passes over the lunar surface. Usually the moon does not disappear completely in such an eclipse, but turns a ruddy red color as light that is bent and colored by the Earth's atmosphere makes it to the lunar surface.



Pterosuar Drawing Is Not - A new study may have solved a mystery surrounding the ancient rock paintings at Utah's Black Dragon Canyon. The vibrant red pictograph appears to show a winged monster, possibly a pterosaur. However, using cutting-edge technology including a portable X-ray fluorescence device, scientists have shown it is not just one large figure but a number of abstract humanlike figures with elongated bodies and round heads. These long figures also have tiny "attendants," including people, birds and four-legged creatures, such as hoofed animals, canines, felines, badgers and bears next to them. The meaning of the figure has been a controversy with creationists believing a pterosaur figure drawn by native Americans would indicate that dinosaurs and people were alive at the same time, a position not held by most scientists. The figure is estimated to be between 1000 to 2000 years old while pterosaurs have not been on the Earth for at least 65 million years.



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

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