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Science Over the Edge

A Roundup of Strange Science for the Month

Applet credit: Ed Hobbs

October 2011

In the News:

New Super Crock Record - A 21-foot-long, 2,370-pound saltwater crocodile has been captured on the southern Philippine island of Mindinao and will soon be part of a nature park near the town of Bunawan. A team of about 30 men had been hunting the monster crock for 21 days. Crocodiles are suspected to have been the cause of at least two deaths in the area over the last few years, but there is no way of knowing if this particular monster crocodile was the culprit. A spokesman said that the crocodile has been named "Lolong", after one of the hunters, who died of a stroke while planning the operation. Lolong will now carry the record for the largest, living croc in captivity eclipsing the record held by an 18-footer in Australia.

Amber Holds Dino Feathers - Paleontologists have discovered feather fragments trapped in amber since the time of the dinosaurs near Grassy Lake in southwestern Alberta, Canada. The find, described in the journal Science, may include feathers that may have been sported by theropod dinosaurs. "Short of finding a dinosaur trapped in the amber itself," explained Ryan McKellar, a paleontology graduate student of the University of Alberta and lead author of the study," it's the best we can do." Some of feathers fragments resemble "protofeathers," similar to the hair-like structures found in dinosaur specimens from China laid down during the Cretaceous era. Others look like they may have come from birds. Some of the pigment remains and the dinosaur type feathers appear to be pale to dark brown in color. The feathers were apparently trapped in fresh tree sap about 80 million years ago. The sap hardened over time and turned into amber.

"Tatoonine" found. - Not in a galaxy "far, far away" but only about 200 light years from Earth that astronomers have discovered a planet like the fictional one from Star Wars with two suns. Scientists at NASA and the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence Institute have nicknamed the newly discovered world "Tatooine," as a tribute to Luke Skywalker's home planet. Its official name is Kepler-16b. Though astronomers have long-thought that such a planet with a binary star was possible, the $600 million Kepler telescope now orbiting the sun has given them direct proof as they were able to watch the shadow of a planet as it crossed in front of its two suns. Unlike the fictional Tatoonine, this planet is unlikely to be able to support life because of its size and distance from its suns. If an astronaunt could someday visit this planet he would find it would have spectacular sunsets with one of the suns appearing orange and the other red. Because of the orbital motions of the suns no sunset would ever be exactly the same as any other.

Particles Defy Einstein - After an experimental result which seems astonishing if it holds up to further testing, Swiss scientists have announced that it appears tiny particles, known as neutrinos, can travel faster than the speed of light. When scientists sent neutrinos 730 kilometers (453.6 miles) between laboratories in Switzerland and Italy they arrived a fraction of a second sooner than would have been expected if they were obeying the "cosmic speed limit." Einstein's special theory of relativity seems to forbid faster-than-light travel, so if the results are true the experiment will force a revolution in the field of physics. The researchers carefully checked their equipment and methods looking for problems that would cause an error in their results but have found nothing. In their report the scientists working on the Opera experiment, based at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Switzerland, are asking the wider scientific community to confirm their results. This may not be easy as only a couple of laboratories in the world, including J-Parc in Japan and Fermilab in Illinois, have the resources to set up such a test.

Can Spaceflight Lead to Blindness? - NASA has found new concern for astronauts that might be taking long space voyages. In addition to possible radiation exposure and bone loss they may suffer from blurry vision. A study shows that one-third of U.S. astronauts on the space station crew returned with impaired vision. In one case the problem was permanent. The vision loss seems to be due to a swelling of the optic nerve, a condition similar to a disease on Earth called pseudotumor cerebri. In space it is thought to be a result of long exposure to zero gravity. The condition is unlikely to cause blindness over short exposures, but it has raised NASA's concern about what might happen to astronauts during a three-year mission to someplace like Mars.


Science Quote of the Month - "I think science has enjoyed an extraordinary success because it has such a limited and narrow realm in which to focus its efforts. Namely, the physical universe." ~Ken Jenkins


What's New at the Museum:

The Real Draucla: Vlad the Impaler - One of the most influential books in the horror genre is Bram Stoker's 1897 novel Dracula. The Vampire Count may be a fictional character, but he is based of a very real, and terrifying, human being. >Full Story

Megadam: The Itaipu - This megadam has put out more electricity than any other dam in history. Another in our series on modern wonders. >Full Story

Mysterious Picture of the Month - What is this thing?

Ask the Curator:

German Strategic Bombing - I came across a reference to a General Walther Wever. He seemed to be the main proponent of [German] strategic bombing until he died (some say mysteriously) in 1936. My question is what do you think would have happened had he lived? Might he have convinced Germany of the need for powerful long range bombers, like the ones the Allies used on Germany, sooner rather than later? What effect might it have had if the Germans could do the same to the Allies as they did to them? - Michael

Let me start by giving a little history of General Wever for those not familiar with him. He was born in 1887 and served as a German staff officer in WWI. During the period in between the war he was appointed Chief of Staff of the Luftwaffe and was a proponent of a balanced German air force that was both capable of tactical operations in support of front line troops and strategic operations designed to destroy an enemy's resources and ultimately his ability to make war. Wever died in 1936 flying back from Dresden to Berlin when the plane he was aboard crashed shortly after takeoff. An examination of the wreckage revealed that locks designed to keep the control surfaces of the plane from being damaged by high winds while parked had not been removed during the pre-flight check. This rendered the plane uncontrollable in the air.

Certainly if Wever had prevailed in convincing the Germans to build more strategic bombers it would have changed the course of the war. Wever recognized that the Soviet Union would be a particularly hard enemy to beat if the Russian industrial production located beyond the Ural Mountains could not be damaged. This required a bomber capable of flying at least 1,240 miles carrying a bomb load of 3,300 pounds (a type of plane nicknamed the "Ural Bomber"). Wever got two prototypes of such a bomber ordered before his death: The Dornier Do 19 and the Junkers Ju 89. By the time they were delivered, however, Wever was dead and, Albert Kesselring had taken his place. Kesselring didn't see a need for Germany to invest in heavy bombers and convinced his boss, Hermann Göring, Commander-in-Chief of the Luftwaffe, to cancel the program. Perhaps Göring felt that such bombers would be of limited use against a strong air defense. He seemed to think Germany would be able to fend them off. In 1939 he boasted "The Ruhr will not be subjected to a single bomb. If an enemy bomber reaches the Ruhr, my name is not Hermann Göring!" It seems as if Göring regretted his decision as time went on, however, when the Allies started reducing German cities to rubble. He blamed the bad call on his advisors who said heavy bombers weren't as effective as medium ones, "Well, those inferior heavy bombers of the other side are doing a wonderful job of wrecking Germany from end to end," he said, bitterly.

If Wever had lived could he had talked Göring into seeing the need for strategic bombing? Perhaps. Working against him was the general belief, however, that the German's had that the war would be relatively short. Only three years. They didn't expect it to drag out and become a war of attrition. This timeline colored the German thinking in many ways including the decision not to invest heavily in the atomic bomb (which was a four or five year-long project).

Ironically if Wever had lived and convinced Göring to build a heavy bomber force it might have actually shortened the war dramatically by tipping the scales in Germany's favor during the Battle of Britain. The German air force was ill equipped for the job of gaining air superiority over Britain by destroying its aircraft industry and fighter squadrons. The Junkers Ju 87 "Stuka" dive bomber, in which the German's had heavily invested, and which had performed so well during the blitzkrieg victories early in the war, were easy targets for the well-organized British fighter defense and had to be withdrawn from the battle.

One can only wonder what might have happened if Wever was around and his heavy bombers had pounded Britain the way the Allied bombers pounded the Germans later in the war. If the Germans had managed to gain air superiority, Operation Sea Lion, the invasion of Britain, would have followed. If successful this would have stopped the British strategic bombing of Germany before it really got started and deprived the U.S. of airbases it needed to attack Germany with its B-17 squadrons.

This would have left the United States and Germany peering at each other across the Atlantic. Germany could have then proceeded with its "Amerika Bomber" program and the U.S. would have been forced to develop its own trans-Atlantic bomber. How the war would have ended is anybody's guess, but whoever invented the atomic bomb first probably would have been the winner.


In History:

Flying Cigar - Before flying saucers were all the rage, people saw large cigar-shaped airships in the sky. These "flaps" of sightings periodically erupted across the United States and Europe in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In one well-known sighting in Manchester, England, on October 10th 1914 a man said that he saw an "absolutely black, spindle-shaped object" that crossed the face of the sun. For more airship stories check out The Mysterious Airship of 1896.


In the Sky:

Moon Interferes with Two Showers - October has two meteor showers you might want to take a look at, but in both cases you will be getting interference from the moon. The Draconids (which radiate out from the head of the constellation Draco) are appearing on Oct. 8 and should put on a strong show as earth will be hitting them nearly head on. Some predictions estimate a rate of 750 meteors per hour. The only problem is a waxing moon that will wash out much of the view. The Orionids will appear the night of October 21 and radiate out from Orion. After midnight, when the shower reaches its peak, a waning moon will rise and again causing some wash out.



Titanic Necklace Stolen - A necklace worn by a Titanic survivor has been stolen from a display at Copenhagen's Tivoli Gardens amusement park. The necklace, which was owned by Eleanor Elkins Widener of Philadelphia was part of a show entitled "Titanic - The Exhibition." Eleanor was travelling on the doomed ship with her husband George Dunton Widener and their 27-year-old-son Harry Elkins Widener, when it hit an iceberg on April 14th, 1912. Eleanor at first wanted to stay with her husband instead of abandoning the ship with the other women, but he insisted she get aboard a lifeboat. Her husband and son died in the sinking. The stolen necklace is valued at about $19,000 and will be difficult to sell as it is known internationally. A $1,350 reward has been offered for information leading to its return.


On the Tube:

Please check local listing for area outside of North America.

NOVA: Finding Life Beyond Earth - Scientists are on the verge of answering one of the greatest questions in history: Are we alone? On PBS: Oct. 19 at 9 pm; ET/PT.

NOVA: Iceman Murder Mystery - A new forensic investigation of a 5,000-year-old mummy reconstructs his death and reveals an ancient way of life. On PBS: Oct. 26 at 9 pm; ET/PT.

Egypt: What Lies Beneath - Egypt - What Lies Beneath looks at the ancient Egyptians beyond the well-known face of monuments such as the Pyramids, the Sphinx and the tombs of the Pharaohs. On The Discovery Channel: Oct 09, 8:00 pm & 11:00 pm; ET/PT.

Chasing Giants: On the Trail of the Giant Squid - Ageless tales of sea monsters include reports of an eight-legged beast with eyes the size of volleyballs-the giant squid. New Zealand scientist Steve O'Shea attempts to track this elusive creature and to provide the first image of the animal alive. On The Science Channel: Oct 03, 8:00 pm; Oct 03, 11:00 pm; Oct 05, 3:00 am; ET/PT.

Ancient Aliens: Aliens and Deadly Weapons - Iron swords forged in blazing hot fires... Gunpowder with the power to tear apart human flesh... And rockets capable of destroying entire cities... Throughout history, advances in technology have lead to the development of powerful weapons--each more deadly than the last. But were these lethal weapons the product of human innovation--or were they created with help from another, otherworldly source? On The History Channel: Oct. 5 at 8 PM; ET/PT.

Brain Games: Watch This! - Hack into the ultimate supercomputer the human brain as Hollywood filmmakers use color, light, motion, depth and sound to create mind-bending sensory illusions. On The National Geographic Channel: Oct 09 8:00 PM &11:00PM; Oct 13 8:00 PM & 11:00PM; ET/PT.

Murder in the Roman Empire - An ancient murder mystery plays out like an episode of C.S.I. When human bones are found hidden under the floor of an old army barracks, a homicide detective is called in to examine the evidence. On The National Geographic Channel: Oct 20 8:00 PM; ET/PT.


Science over the Edge Archives

LGM Archive 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011

Copyright Lee Krystek 2011. All Rights Reserved.


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