The newly found T-rex skull is about 4 four feet in length.


Science Over the Edge

A Roundup of Strange Science for the Month


September 2016

In the News:

New Big Rex Found - Scientists have unearthed a new Tyrannosaurus rex skull that appears to be completely intact. The skull, found in the famous Hell Creek Formation in Montana, is about 4 feet in length and 66.3 million years old. The skull was recovered with about fifth of the rest of the bones of the dinosaur and the creature has been designated the "Tufts-Love Rex" in honor of the volunteer paleontologists who first found it. "Having seen the 'Tufts-Love Rex' during its excavation, I can attest to the fact that it is definitely one of the most significant specimens yet found, and because of its size, is sure to yield important information about the growth and possible eating habits of these magnificent animals," added Jack Horner, a Burke Museum researcher who founded the Hell Creek project. The skull will find its way in to the Burke Museum in Seattle where in October researchers will start separating the it from the surrounding rock a process that could take more than a year.

Venus More Hospitable in the Past - A new study by NASA suggests that our sister planet, Venus, might have been much more earth-like 3 billion years ago. Today the planet has a thick, toxic atmosphere and surface temperatures of over 800 degrees, but scientists from the Goddard Institute for Spaces Studies took a computer model meant to predict climate change on Earth and ran it backwards from Venus's current environment to find out about its past. The results suggest that in its early history Venus may have had a shallow sea and temperature slightly cooler than Earth. Unfortunately because Venus is the second planet from the sun it gets more sunlight which would have evaporated the water. The hydrogen part escaped and the carbon dioxide became concentrated. Since CO2 is a greenhouse its presence is probably responsible for the high temperatures on the planet today.

Big Flocks Fly Faster - According to new study by scientists from Sweden, the bigger a flock of birds is, the faster they will fly. Anders Hedenström and Susanne Åkesson collected data on birds flying under different conditions and found that a lot of things - length of trip, bird's body shape, wind speed and direction - all changed how fast the birds flew. They were startled to find that another factor, the size of the flock, also was a very important variable. "I was surprised that it is such an important factor. It has usually been neglected in studies of bird flight," said Hedenström. It's not clear why this is true, but one theory is that turbulence behind the leading birds in a formation make the flight easier for the birds following to fly and maintain higher speeds. The pair of scientists are planning additional studies to answer this question

Wreck Found Amid Rockets - Divers exploring off the coast of Cape Canaveral in Florida expected to find debris from some of the many rocket launches made from the Kennedy Space Center over the years. What they didn't expect to come across was the remains of a 16th-century Spanish ship. Some of the objects found by Global Marine Exploration include bronze cannons engraved with the coat of arms of the King of France. Researchers suspect the cannons were installed by the French at Fort Caroline near what is now Jacksonville, Florida, but stolen by the Spanish in a raid on the fort in 1565. They were probably being transported to Havana, Cuba, when the ships carrying them were caught in a storm and sunk. The company has informed the state of Florida about the artifacts and is waiting for permission to recover them. "These artifacts are at the jeopardy of looters, and of the weather," said Robert Pritchett, chief executive of Global Marine . "These cannons are worth over a million dollars apiece - so if looters could find out the location, then a piece of history is gone forever, because it's going to be sold on the black market."

Uber Testing Autonomous Car Service - Last month Uber started testing a self-driving car service in Pittsburg. While the cars will still have a driver inside to take over in case of an emergency, the company will be testing specially modified Volvo XC90 sport-utility vehicles to see if they can do the job without human intervention. The test is the result of a $300 million deal between the two companies. Uber expects to have 100 autonomous cars on the road by the end of the year. People will request the cars as usual and maybe assigned an autonomous one. If so, during the test period, they get to ride for free.

Science Quote of the Month - "The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion that stands at the cradle of true art and true science." - Albert Einstein


What's New at the Museum:

Gotthard Rail Tunnels - On June 1st, 2016, the longest rail tunnel in the world, the 35 ½ mile Gotthard Base Tunnel was, opened. It was a technical achievement that took 17 years to finish and unites northern and southern Europe by allowing passage via high speed trains through some of the most forbidding mountains in the world. What shouldn't be forgotten in this success, however, is that another rail tunnel, also the longest in the world at the time, was dug though these same mountains almost a century and a half earlier. It was an achievement that changed the face of commerce and travel across 19th century Europe and a Wonder of the Age of Steam. Full Story

Mysterious Picture of the Month - What is this this?

Ask the Curator:

Before Big Bang - I'm a 60 year old scientist and I have a rock-solid understanding of the concept of entropy, including the idea of life as a temporary bump in the overall decline of order and organization in a system. All I want before I die is to know if there is any credible scientific theory about how the spring originally got wound 14-or-so billion years ago - Bob W.

Let me re-phrase you question as, "What was there before the Big-Bang and where did all the energy it requires come from?" At this point I don't believe there are any "credible" theories to explain this as none of the ideas scientists have about this area can be tested by experimentation. In fact, there is not likely to be anything testable until scientists can first create a Grand Unified theory of everything combining Einstein's General Relativity with Quantum Physics. That quest, which has been pursued by physicists like the Holy Grail for almost a century, so far does not seem near a conclusion.

So the best I can do is to throw out one of the more intriguing ideas floating around cosmology circles these days. This particular model comes out of string theory (One possible candidate for the Grand Unified Theory that says all energy and matter is composed of super-small vibrating loops of strings.) This idea was worked out by Paul Steinhardt (Princeton University) and Neil Turok (Cambridge University). They suggest our universe is part of a much larger universe. The model says that our universe exists on a three dimensional membrane ( or "Brane" in string theory lingo) and there are other branes close to ours, only millimeters away, but invisible.

Every trillion years or so these branes are drawn together and when they collide a huge amount of energy is released making a "Big Bang" that creates a universe on the brane (other universes can be created at other locations of the brane that may collide at other times) This process of collision Steinhardt and Turok named ekpyrosis which is the Greek word for conflagration. In addition to creating a smaller universe, ekpyrosis also pushes the branes apart.

Over the life of the universe some of the big bang energy turns into matter which becomes stars, galaxies and, of course, us. Eventually the energy involved in our universe spreads out as stars burn out and the universe grows cold. According to this idea, however, the branes which still contain the energy, and they are drawn back together again to collide and create another universe in an eternal cycle.

They only problem with this, and alternate theories like it, is that there is no way to test these theories experimentally to know if there is any evidence that they are true. Even if this idea is true, however, we may have just moved the question back a little bit further: What created that greater universe and where did all its energy come from?

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In History:

Record Breaking Hailstone - On September 3rd, 1970, a 1-lb 11-oz (0.77 kg) hailstone with 5.7 inch (14.7 cm) diameter fell to the ground during a storm in Coffeyville, Kansas. It was the biggest authenticated hailstone to fall in the United States in the 20th Century up to that point. The previous record holder fell in Potter, Nebraska, and weighed about 1-lb 8-oz (0.68 kg), and was around 7-in diameter


In the Sky:

Mercury Visible at the End of the Month - The end of September might be a good time to see if you can find the planet Mercury in the early morning sky. Look for it on the 28th or 29th near the crescent moon. Mercury is the planet nearest the Sun and if can be difficult to find because of our star's glaring brightness.



Big Snake Lurks Near Maine Town - People in Westbook, Maine, were a little nervous last month when a ten foot long snake skin was found near the Presumpscot River. The incident follows the report of a woman seeing a ten-foot snake back in June near a playground. There have been several other sighting since then of the creature that has been nicknamed "Wessie." Police have warned residents to be aware of wildlife in the area. So far the type of snake involved has not been identified.



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

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