Over the Edge
Roundup of Strange Science for the Month
Hole Eats Less Than Was Originally Thought - According
to a new study published in the journal Science the
massive black hole at the center of our galaxy spits out
more matter than it sucks in. Using NASA's Chandra X-ray
Observatory to take X-ray images, researchers showed that
for 1 percent of matter pulled into the massive black hole
at Sagittarius A, 99 percent escapes. This effect has puzzled
scientists as quasars - galaxies from the early universe
with massive central black holes - radiate massive amounts
of energy suggesting they are sucking huge amounts of gas.
The scientists think that the colder gas that was floating
around in the early universe was easier for black holes
to capture. The gas around Sagittarius A is hotter and more
energetic allowing most of it to get away. Scientists find
this important as Q. Daniel Wang, astrophysicist at the
University of Massachusetts and an author on the study states,
"Understanding how the black hole grows with time and how
the black hole ejects matter and energy back into the galaxy
has strong implications for understanding how galaxies form
and evolve. That, of course, directly affects how stars
form and evolve."
Accident Nearly Obliterates U.S. City - On January 23rd,
1961, the U.S. Air Force nearly nuked Goldsboro, North Carolina,
with a four megaton H-bomb: 250 times more powerful than
the bomb dropped on Hiroshima during World War II. This
report comes from a secret declassified document published
in the Guardian last month. According to the document
the incident occurred when a B-52, carrying two Mark 39
hydrogen bombs broke up during a routine flight. In one
of the bombs the safety mechanisms failed and only a single
low voltage switch prevented detonation and untold disaster.
According to the article had the bomb detonated the result
would have been lethal fallout deposited over Washington,
Baltimore, Philadelphia and as even as far north as New
York City. Analyst Parker F Jones, who looked at the incident
for the Air Force reported that three of the bombs four
safety systems failed "The MK 39 Mod 2 bomb did not possess
adequate safety for the airborne alert role in the B-52,"
he concluded. The document on the incident came to light
after a freedom of information act request by investigative
journalist Eric Schlosser.
of Israeli Sphinx - Archeologists digging at Tel Hazor
in northern Israel have uncovered an Egyptian sphinx statue.
The hieroglyphs inscribed on it credits it to King Mycerinus,
a pharaoh who ruled in 2500 BC and was responsible for building
one of the pyramids at Giza. The sphinx statue is the tenth
statue of Egyptian origin to have been found in the Israel
site. Archeologists aren't sure why they are there, but
speculate that they may have been a good will gesture to
the king of Hazor, a Canaan settlement 4,000 years ago.
"Maybe this was a gift which the Egyptian king sent to the
local king of Hazor. Maybe. To prove it? Impossible," noted
Amnon Ben-Tor, the director of the excavation and a professor
at Hebrew University, which sponsors the archeological dig.
Definitely in Interstellar Space - Voyager 1, that plucky
little space probe launched to explore the outer solar system
in 1977, passed into interstellar space on August 25th,
2012. Scientists had suspected this from earlier readings,
but weren't able to confirm it until particles from a solar
flare caught up with the probe. The edge of interstellar
space is defined as the place where the million-mile-per-hour
"solar wind" of particles gives way to the cooler, denser
interstellar space, saturated by charged particles from
around the galaxy. Counter-intuitively this space beyond
the boundary, called the heliopause, is denser with particles
- around 80,000 particles per cubic meter - than areas before
the boundary, with can run as low as 1,000 particles per
square meter. The heliopause is about 11.3 billion miles
from the sun according to the probe's instruments. NASA
expects Voyager I may be able to continue to report back
to Earth until about 2025, when its power will finally give
Lizards! New Species Discovered in California - Ever
hear of the yellow-bellied legless lizard named A. stebbinsi?
No? That's because it, along with three other new species
of legless lizard in California have just been officially
discovered. One of the discovers, Theodore Papenfuss, a
herpetologist with the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology at the
University of California, noted, "This shows that there
is a lot of undocumented biodiversity within California."
The species A. stebbinsi lives in a very restricted area
in the dunes west of Los Angeles International Airport.
Another of the newly discovered species was found among
oil derricks in the San Joaquin Valley, on the edge of the
Mojave Desert. The four newly found types bring to a total
of five the number of known legless lizard species in California.
How do you tell a legless lizard from a snake? Watch the
eyes. Snakes don't blink, lizards do.
Big Hairy Spider - According to the British Tarantula
Society Journal a new, large, hairy spider has been
documented in northern Sri Lanka. While the new spider,
Poecilotheria rajaei, with an 8 inch leg span isn't
quite as big as its South American cousin, the 12 inch Goliath
bird-eater, they are both a type of tarantula. P. rajaei
has an unusual color schemed which differentiates it from
similar species: bright yellow and grey markings on its
legs and underside, as well as a pink abdominal band. The
spider was documented by Ranil Nanayakkara, co-founder of
Sri Lanka's Biodiversity Education and Research. He'd been
looking for a live specimen since he been shown a dead example
in 2009. According to Nanayakkara "They are quite rare.
They prefer well-established old trees, but due to deforestation,
the number have dwindled and due to lack of suitable habitat,
they enter old buildings."
Quote of the Month - "The
best scientist is open to experience and begins with romance
- the idea that anything is possible." -
New at the Museum:
Movie Studio - Get
a back stage pass to the Museum's back lot to see how, and
also why, monster movies, have been made. - Full
Roots: The True Story of Halloween - Get the history
of this scary holiday! - Full
Picture of the Month - What
is this this?
Shape of the Universe - Sir Stephen Hawking once
said that if one stands long enough at one spot, he can
see the back of his head, due to the curvature of space/time.
Of course, this will take billions of years. By the same
token, now that Voyager has left our solar system, will
it ever come back to Earth having circumnavigated the universe,
assuming all things remain equal? - Nanshir
I looked for
this quote from Hawking and I haven't found it. However,
this type of example has been used by many cosmologists
when they are trying to describe the shape of the universe,
so it's perfectly believable that Hawking might have used
In this scenario,
called a closed universe, the universe curves back on itself
like a big sphere. It is said that if you stand somewhere
long enough (and with a powerful enough telescope) you could
peer deep into space and see you backside (provide you waited
long enough). By the same token the voyager spacecraft would
eventual comeback to Earth again in some very, very distant
future by circumnavigating the universe. (Imagine and ant
walking across a basketball. The ant is voyager and the
universe is the basketball).
While this example
is great tool for college professors to explain the shape
of a closed universe to astronomy 101 students, it would
never actually work. The most obvious problem is that even
if we are in a closed universe, it is expanding and has
been ever since the big bang. The furthest parts of the
universe are actually moving away from us faster than the
speed of light. So if you were standing there looking for
the back of your head through a telescope you would never
see yourself because the light that bounced off of you carrying
your image can never catch up the with the expanding universe
(Imaging an ant trying to walk around a huge, rapidly expanding
balloon. He can't do it because the balloon expands much
faster than he can walk).
is going way slower than the speed of light, it hasn't got
a chance of actually returning to us through by this method
The closed universe,
however, is just one of the possible shapes the universe
can have. Much of the current evidence actually favors a
flat universe, like the top of a table.
Some recent data
from NASA's Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe, or WMAP,
however, suggests the universe might actually be saddle-shaped.
(This might seem like a really odd shape for a universe,
but it permits the points along the outer edges to be as
distant from each other as possible).
The WMAP was
designed to investigate the Cosmic Background Radiation
(CBR) left over from the big bang. The CBR can be detected
at every direction in space and it was thought to be very
uniform. However, WMAP measurements have shown the CBR to
be just slightly colder in one direction than another. This
might suggest that the universe is indeed saddle-shaped
(Another theory is, however, that the difference might have
been caused by another universe bumping into ours).
So the question
of the shape of the universe isn't really settled yet. One
thing we can be sure, however, is that we won't see voyager
coming back to us anytime in the near future (unless it
is carried by a humongous alien probe like in the 1979 film
Star Trek the Motion Picture).
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than Sound - On October 14th of 1947, USAF test pilot
Charles "Chuck" Yeager flew the experimental rocket plane,
the Bell X-1, past the speed of sound. The X-1, which Yeager
nicked named "Glamorous Glennis" after his wife, was the
first aircraft to exceed that milestone and went as fast
as Mach 1.06 during the test.
a Problem for Meteor Shower - The Orionids, shooting
stars appearing to come from the Constellation Orion, will
be visible on the night of October 21st. Those attempting
to view the shower will have to contend with almost full
moon white will cause a glare that will make it hard to
see all but brightest meteors.
Painting Turns Out to Be Worth Big Bucks - When Robert,
Darvell Jr. got a small painting that his Dad had bought
in a box of other items for $46 (£30) he probably didn't
think was worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, but it
was. The painting, bought ten years previously, turned out
to be by British artist John Constable. It had never been
on public display before and is estimated to be worth around
$390,000 (£250,000). Darvell's father bought the box and
its contents in Canterbury, southern England. The picture,
which researchers think Constable painted for his father-in-law,
isn't much bigger than a standard postcard. Expert Curtis
Dowling from British TV show 'Treasure Detectives' spend
a year analyzing the paint, canvas and signature track down
the history of the artwork. "Rob certainly didn't expect
a miracle," said Dowling. "There are so many convincing
forged paintings out there that people would first assume
it is fake." The now authenticated painting is locked in
safely in a bank vault. Darvell is looking into the possibility
of having it restored and put on public display.
check local listing for area outside of North America.
Making Stuff: Faster - Host David Pogue tries to find
out if there are physical limits to how fast we can go.
On PBS October 16 at 9 PM ET/PT
Making Stuff: Wilder - Host David Pogue travels the
globe to explore new technologies inspired by nature. On
PBS October 23 at 9 PM ET/PT
Making Stuff: Colder - Host David Pogue asks if cold
holds the key to technology that can improve our lives.
On PBS October 30 at 9 PM ET/PT
Autopsy - In the summer of 1947, something definitely
crashed just outside of the town of Roswell, New Mexico.
Was it a flying disk, as originally reported by The Roswell
Army Air Field, or as later determined, a weather balloon?
On the Science Channel: Oct. 2nd 10:00 PM; Oct. 3rd 1:00
AM; Oct 4th 5:00AM; ET/PT.
Dinosaur Feather Mystery - How did feathers evolve?
New archaeological discoveries lead a journey into the evolutionary
history of some fascinating creatures: birds and dinosaurs.
Explore the distinction between modern birds and their theropod
ancestors. On the Science Channel: Oct. 3rd 8AM;Sept. 5th
by a Black Hole - In the heart of the Milky Way, 26000
light years away, a rare cataclysmic drama is about to unfold.
A cloud of gas three times the size of our planet is travelling
1200 miles per hour right into a super-massive black hole.
On the Science Channel: Oct 3rd 4PM ET/PT.
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