Over the Edge
Roundup of Strange Science for the Month
Tractor Beam for Bacteria? - Physicists at the Australian
National University may have taken the first steps in building
a working "Tractor Beam" as seen in the Star Trek TV and
movies series. So far, the device can only move very tiny
glass particles a few feet across a table top experiment,
but it is a leap beyond such experiments in the past which
could only manipulate items a hundred times smaller. The
device uses a laser beam with a hollow core. The tiny glass
particles float in the hollow section pushed toward the
center by the laser-heated air. By putting lasers at either
end of the "tube" created by the beam, a little bit of additional
laser-light can be leaked into the center heating the air
there and pushing the particles in one direction or another.
While this technique probably won't be effective for moving
spaceships like in the movies, it might be used for such
jobs as manipulating dangerous microorganisms "hands free"
in biomedical facilities.
Spider Makes Silk Stronger Than Kelvar - Scientists
have discovered that a species of spider living in the jungles
of Madagascar that uses a type of silk for its web that
is stronger than the Kelvar used in bullet proof vests.
Caerostris darwini, (Darwin's bark spider) is an
inch-wide arachnid that can build webs that can cover as
much as 30-square-feet and can be anchored in midair from
80-foot-long lines. These webs, which are the largest in
the world, put a lot of strain on the lines so the spider
has had to develop exceptionally strong silk. Such stresses
are magnified even more by the struggles of trapped prey.
According to University of Puerto Rico zoologist Igni Agnarsson
in Public Library of Science, the silk must "absorb
massive kinetic energy before breaking," and are "10 times
better than Kevlar." Agnarsson and Slovenian Academy of
Sciences biologist Matja˛ Kuntner discovered the spider
in 2008. It is similar to Caerostris species found
in Africa, but has evolved in its own direction since the
island split from mainland Africa 165 million years ago.
Water May Give Moon Observatories Trouble -
For a half-century scientists have speculated that the moon
would be a perfect place to put large telescopes. After
all, it has cloudless sky and a tiny amount seismic activity.
The recent discovery of water on the moon's surface, however,
may spell trouble for plans to locate observatories there.
"Last year, scientists discovered a fine dew of water covering
the moon," said astronomer Zhao Hua, a scientist with the
Chinese Academy of Sciences. "This water vaporizes in sunlight
and is then broken down by ultraviolet radiation, forming
hydrogen and hydroxyl molecules." Scientists have found
there are a lot more hydroxyl molecules floating around
the moon than previously thought. Enough to possibly cause
interference with any scopes located on the lunar surface.
China is planning an unmanned moon lander equipped with
a solar-powered ultraviolet telescope which will launch
in 2013 and the hydroxyl molecules may contaminate observations
at certain wavelengths.
Scientists Find Dinosaur with Feathers and Weird
Shark-Like Fin - Scientists have found a new dinosaur
with a weird fin on its back. Concavenator corcovatus,
a theropod dinosaur, had a pair of vertebrae that were five
times longer than all its others. This would have created
a triangular fin which protruded midway along its back.
"We've no idea what it is for," said Francisco Ortega of
the National University of Distance Education in Madrid.
Ortega and his team found the skeleton in Las Hoyas, Spain.
Other species of theropods had head crests and sails on
their backs which may have been used for display and some
scientists speculate might be the case here. Ortega thinks
that the bones may have supported a hump of fat that stored
energy. The dinosaur may also have had bird-like feathers
since its forearm bones have knob-like holes that could
have held feather quills. If this is the case, it pushes
back the emergence of theropods with bird-like feathers
by about 50 million years.
Three "Lost" Amphibians are Found - Scientists
have announced that three species of amphibians thought
to be extinct for decades have been rediscovered. The creatures
were found as a result of "The Search for the Lost Frogs"
campaign by Conservation International and the Amphibious
Specialty Group of the International Union for Conservation
of Nature. The effort was to see if 100 "missing" amphibian
species were really extinct. Several specimens of the cave
splayfoot salamander were found in caverns only accessible
only via a pothole in Mexico's Hidalgo province. The Mount
Nimba reed frog, which had not be seen since 1967 was
found in a swampy field in the Ivory Coast. The Omaniundu
reed frog hadn't been seen since 1979, but it was located
in a flooded forest near a tributary to the Congo River.
"These rediscovered animals are the lucky ones - many other
species we have been looking for have probably gone for
good," said Robin Moore, who organized the search.
Science Quote of the Month - "Whenever
science makes a discovery, the devil grabs it while the
angels are debating the best way to use it." ~Alan
New at the Museum:
Notes from the Curator's Office: The Music of
the Coils - Some great Halloween fun in a geeky,
scientific and dangerous sort of way. >Full
Mysterious Picture of the Month - What
is this thing?
Dragon Vs. Drake - What is the difference
between a dragon and a drake? - Anonymous
Let's first start
by defining the word dragon. As most people might
know it's a legendary creature with many reptilian characteristics.
Dragons are often depicted covered in scales with a lizard-like
or snake-like body. Sometimes they breath fire and the number
of feet they can have vary from none to four or even more.
Sometimes they are also shown as flying creatures with bat-like
or dragon-like creatures, have been found in folklore traditions
around the world, though they often differ in many details.
For example, dragons in the Chinese culture are depicted
as good, wise, magical creatures with long snake-like bodies
and no wings. This is very much different from the dragon
pictured in European traditions. Dragons in the western
countries are often shown as malevolent monsters happy to
eat sheep, goats, children and the occasional maiden. European
dragons also are often shown jealously guarding treasure.
The actual word
dragon goes back to the ancient Greeks. The Greeks
thought that snake and dragon-like creatures had sharp,
penetrating vision so from a root word meaning sharp-eyed,
they came up with the name drako (which referred
to both dragons and large snakes). From The Greeks the Romans
took the word and modified a bit to draco. As the
Romans marched all over Europe they carried the word with
them and in English it became drake and in French
So you see that
the words in the beginning really had the same meaning.
However, over time the word dragon became the more popular
term and started to be used to refer to any creature from
any tradition around the world that seemed to fit the bill.
The term drake, however, still only refers to the European
type maiden-eating-treasure-guarding version of the dragon.
In recent years
authors compiling fictional bestiaries and people creating
rules for role-playing games have given the term drake new
meanings. For example, some define a drake as a dragon without
wings, or as a young immature dragon. These are newly created
definitions, however, and do not really represent the original
meaning of the word.
Drake and dragon
aren't the only terms used for these mythical beasts. The
old German word wurm, originally meaning serpent,
is used for dragons that appear in Germanic mythology. In
old English this became the word wyrm and is used
in the reference to the story of a wingless dragon in England
called the Lambton Worm.
The word wyvern also comes from this root and is
often used to refer to a dragon with wings and only two
Why are dragons
legends found all over the world? When dinosaur (which look
as much like a legendary dragon as any real animal could)
bones were first discovered and revealed to be giant reptiles
someone suggested that humans had some kind of racial memory
of these creatures that was translated into the dragon legend.
Dinosaurs, however, lived so many years before anything
even remotely human was walking on the planet it seems unlikely
we continue to have even an innate memory of them. It is
more likely that the fossils themselves have inspired the
creation of dragon tales as people stumbled across them
over the centuries.
had been forwarded by anthropologist David E. Jones. Jones
has suggested that humans have inherited instinctive reactions
to snakes, large cats and birds of prey. His hypothesis
is that mythical dragons combine all these features of these
real animals and perhaps represent the worst of all our
Spooky Rain - In October of 1886 in Aiken, South
Carolina, rain fell from morning until late at night on
two graves in the Aiken town cemetery. Rain was not seen
anywhere else and there were no clouds in the sky. This
strange event was witnessed by hundreds of observers and
no explanation has ever been found.
Jupiter's Month- The Orionid meteor shower, which
peaks on the 21st, will be washed out by a nearly full moon.
Instead use the end of the month as a good time to check
out the planet Jupiter. By mid-October Venus will be invisible
behind the sun and Mars will be difficult to see. This should
make Jupiter stand out very clearly as the brightest object
in the night sky. It is also the largest planet in our solar
system and fifth out from the sun. If you have a small telescope,
or very good binoculars you should be able to see some of
the Jupiter's larger moons as they orbit the planet.
Mummies Can't Sign Consent Forms - Should King
Tut have the same privacy rights as a living person can
expect from doctors? This is an issue raised by anatomist
Frank Rühli and ethicist Ina Kaufmann of the University
of Zurich in a recent issue of the Journal of Medical
Ethics. "The human body, alive or dead, has a moral
value," says Rühli, who works with mummies himself. According
to Rühli no matter how old a body is, the benefits of research
must be balanced against the potential rights and desires
of the deceased individual. Sųren Holm, the editor-in-chief
of the Journal of Medical Ethics, agrees, especially
in cases where the individuals are identifiable. "In a certain
sense these people still have a life," he observes. "We
still talk about them. There are pieces of research that
could affect their reputation." Rühli notes. "I try to treat
mummies like patients. I don't like it if researchers make
fun out of them, or show them to gruesome effect." Rühli
thinks scientists should take personal responsibility for
the rights of the remains. "If a researcher is planning
to work on a mummy, I would like to see that he thinks about
check local listing for area outside of North America.
Nova: Building the Great Cathedrals - How
did medieval engineers construct magnificent skyscrapers
of glass and stone? On PBS: October 19 at 8 pm; ET/PT.
On the Discovery Channel
Bad Universe: Alien Attack - Fearless junk science detractor Phil Plait explores what it would take
for a deadly alien visitation to happen on Earth, as well
as answer that age old question: Are we alone?
Oct 06, 10:00 pm; Oct 07, 1:00 am; ET/PT
Sci Fi Science: Destroy the Death Star
On the Science Channel
Dr. Michio Kaku brings physics to bear on the most iconic scene in sci
fi and designs a star fighter that could blow up a moon-sized
Oct 06, 10:00 pm; Oct 07, 1:00 am; Oct 08, 5:00 am; ET/PT
On the Science Channel
Dangerous, Rocket Ships 2010 - Hosted by Kari Byron from the Mythbusters, the premier event in high
powered rocketry gathers 500 of the most fearless and hardcore
of all amateur rocket builders from every corner of the
country to Lucerne Valley, Ca.
Oct 09, 10:00 pm; Oct 10, 1:00 am; Oct 11, 5:00 am; ET/PT
On the Science Channel
Alien Storms - From the chaos on the outer planets, to the broiling heat of earth's
closest neighbor, radical weather is the norm in the solar
system. We have extremes here on earth, but they pale in
comparison to the fastest, wettest, and most brutal alien
Oct 10, 8:00 pm; Oct 10, 11:00 pm; ET/PT
Ancient Aliens: Closer Encounters - Reports of encounters with strange beings and sightings of mysterious
objects in the sky have occurred throughout history. A 13th
century historical book, Otia Imperialia, includes an account
of a creature descending from a flying craft over Bristol,
England. The log from Christopher Columbus' first voyage
to America contains a report of strange lights in the sky.
Medieval art pieces depict disc-shaped objects floating
in the heavens. Sightings of flying cigar-shaped crafts
were reported during the Black Plague. And there were even
discussions of extraterrestrial life among America's Founding
Fathers. Could these sightings, coming from every part of
the world, from biblical times to present day, be evidence
that aliens have been with us all along? On The History
Channel: Oct 14, 9:00 pm; ET/PT.
Death by Dragon - At eight feet long and weighing 150 pounds, the Komodo dragon is the
world's biggest lizard, lethal enough to kill with one bite.
Channel: Oct 1st 9:00 PM; ET/PT.
Making History: Hitler - Go behind the scenes as three graphic designers accomplish high-tech
movie techniques with modest home-made contraptions, and
in doing so bring Adolf Hitler back from the grave. On The
Channel: Oct 5 9:00 PM; ET/PT.
Into the Lost Crystal Caves - NGC goes inside one of the greatest natural marvels on the planet -
a giant crystal cave described as Superman's fortress, with
magnificent crystals up to 36 feet long and weighing 55
tons. On The
Channel: Oct 10 8:00 PM & 11:00 PM; Oct 14 9:00 PM; ET/PT.
Explorer: Easter Island Underworld - A team of National Geographic explorers undertakes a groundbreaking
expedition: to map a vast cave system that became the last
refuge of the people who carved these iconic statues. On
Channel: Oct 16 7:00 PM; ET/PT.
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