The British built "Bloodhound" will try and break the land speed record. (Photo courtesy of Flock and Siemens.)


Science Over the Edge

A Roundup of Strange Science for the Month


October 2015

In the News:

World's Fastest Car? - The vehicle that looks like it will smash the world land speed record has been revealed to the public in London last month. The "Bloodhound" is a hybrid jet/rocket propelled car that is designed to top out at a speed of 1,000 miles per hour. "It's a mixture of jet engine and rocket motor," says project director Richard Noble. The British built vehicle is a slick looking machine 44 feet (13.5m) long with a tail fin that looks like it came off a fighter jet. Its first test will come next year in South Africa when its electronics will be tested at 200mph. It will try then try and break the current speed record, set in 1997 of 763 mph, by going 800mph. Then in 2017 it will attempt to break the 1,000mph barrier. "Zero to a 1,000 miles an hour is 55 seconds, and then when we go through the measured mile it's 3.6 seconds ... a mile in 3.6 seconds. Then we gotta think about stopping," said Noble jokingly. The team building the vehicle got assistance form British Royal Air Force, and Army engineers.

Skeleton Rises From the Ground with the Help of a Tree - A storm hit Sligo, Ireland, blowing over a centuries-old beech tree and unearthing the bones of a medieval teenager. The skeleton was broken in two with the upper half caught in the tree's root system and the lower half still in the ground. Radiocarbon test from the bones suggest the body was buried between 1030 and 1200 A.D.. The victim was between 17-20-years year old and stood 5' 10" well above average for the period. He had a violent death as stab wounds were still visible to the ribs and the left hand. "Whether he died in battle or was killed during a personal dispute, we will never know for sure," said Marion Dowd of Sligo-Leitrim Archaeological Services. It is not clear if he was buried in a cemetery or in insolation. No other remains have been found.

Super Civilizations Unlikely Says Study - A study by a scientist at the Netherlands Institute for Radio Astronomy suggests that there isn't currently any evidence for super advanced alien civilizations in our observable universe. Astronomer Michael Garrett's conclusions are based on the glow of infrared emissions from galaxies we can see. In theory any really advanced, so-called Kardashev Type III civilization (that means it's a civilization on a galactic scale), would produce waste heat with a certain infrared signature. "The original research at Penn State has already told us that such systems are very rare but the new analysis suggests that this is probably an understatement, and that advanced Kardashev Type III civilizations basically don't exist in the local Universe," said Astronomer Michael Garrett, author of the study. "In my view, it means we can all sleep safely in our beds tonight - an alien invasion doesn't seem at all likely!"

Dino with "Kitchen Knife" Claws - Scientists studying bones found in the 1990 and donated to Australian Opal Centre, think they have identified a new species that they have nicknamed "lightning claw" because of impressively sized claws. The claws, according to the researchers, were about the size of kitchen knives and were used by the 20 foot long carnivore to bring down and consume prey. The creature, which has not yet been officially named, is a megaraptorid, a group of theropod dinosaurs that exhibited long claws and lived on the southern supercontinent Gondwana. Lightning Claws, which lived about 110 million years ago, during the mid-Cretaceous, was at least 10 million years older than any megaraptorid previously known.

Russians Look into Last Czar Murder - Russian investigators have exhumed the remains of that country's last czar Nicholas II along with this family. The probe will look into the circumstances of the imperial family death at the hands of the Bolsheviks in 1918. The Romanov dynasty had ruled Russia for some 300 years before Nicholas II was forced to abdicate in 1917. The investigation will attempt to re-confirm the identities of the bodies, especially those of the children Alexei and Maria.

Science Quote of the Month - "The saddest aspect of life right now is that science gathers knowledge faster than society gathers wisdom." - Isaac Asimov.


What's New at the Museum:

The 'Wow' Signal - On August 19, 1977, Jerry R. Ehman, a professor at Ohio State University, was sitting at his kitchen table when he realized that he may have been the first human to have been contacted by an extra-terrestrial, alien race. - Full Story

Mysterious Picture of the Month - What is this this?

Ask the Curator:

Quantum Physics Weirdness - I noticed on your site that quantum physics is mentioned often. I was wondering if you could explain its origins and why it's considered more reliable than the physics used prior to its emergence? (If that is so) - Robert D.

Quantum Mechanics is one of the two great physics theories of the 20th century that replaced classical (Newtonian) physics. The other was General Relativity. Interestingly both were fathered by the same man: Albert Einstein. While he loved the one child the other was disliked. Einstein never felt comfortable with Quantum Physics.

General Relativity is mostly used to describe how the world of big things work: The movement of planets, stars, rockets, etc. Everything down to about the size of an atom. Below that size scientists almost always use quantum physics to do their calculations. Both were needed as classical physics created by Issac Newton in 17th century couldn't predict how the things worked when dealing with extremely large objects (like planets and stars) or extremely small objects (like photons and electrons).

While the rules of general relativity seem to make some kind of sense to us, the rules involved with quantum physics are bizarre and challenge our understanding of reality. Little in this realm is for certain. Everything is based on the probability of something happening. This is one of the reasons Einstein disliked it. He has often been quoted as saying, "He [God] does not play dice" with the universe.

One illustration of the strangeness of quantum theory is the dual nature of light. Is light a particle or a wave? The experiment that scientists used to find this out is called the double-slit experiment. A barrier with two narrow slits is placed between a light source and a screen. If light is a stream of particles we could expect to see each particle pass through one slit or the other and create two separate lines of light on the screen behind it. This isn't what occurs, however. We see a pattern of light and dark lines all across the screen. This, known as an interference pattern, is the result of waves of light passing through the two slits, then interacting as they hit the screen with the wave crests reinforcing each other to make the light lines and the wave troughs making the dark lines.

So I guess light is a wave them, huh? If you close one of slits, though, suddenly light starts behaving like a particle again. We see it piling up behind the open slit. Well, maybe light only behaves like a wave when a lot of light particles are moving together. Unfortunately this is not the case. When the double slit experiment is performed sending only one photon (light particle) though the barrier at a time the photon doesn't show up behind the slits. It can show up anywhere on the screen. In fact, as you send more and more photons though the experiment one at a time the interference pattern slowly builds up, just as before. Does that mean that each individual photon is a wave that interferes with itself? Yep. Does this mean that the photon passed through both slits at the same time? Indeed, this seems to be the case.

When scientists have placed photon detectors at each slit to see which side the photon goes though a strange thing happens. Suddenly the interference pattern disappears and there are just two lines of light one behind each slit. The detector has somehow forced the photon to stop behaving as a wave and act like a particle again. Even if the detector is placed on the opposite side of the barrier, after the photon passes though the slits, the photon still acts like a particle. How did it know that there was going to be a photon detector on the opposite side of the barrier so it would behave like a particle and not a wave when it passed though the barrier?

In the end, light is both a wave and a particle at the same time. If you think that doesn't make sense, you are right. However, that doesn't change the fact that it is true. If you can explain why all this happens and support your ideas with experimental proof, you're probably on your way to a Nobel prize.

This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Quantum Physics weirdness. As you get deeper and deeper into it what you find seems to make less and less common sense. You might try to argue that scientists simply have gotten the thing wrong except that quantum theory is one of the most successful theories of all time and is used in the design of such everyday things as TVs and cell phones. Experiments show that not just light is both a particle and a wave, so are electrons, protons and atoms. These maybe small things too, but remember we are just made of atoms. At some level are we just waves too?

Scientists have grappled to figure out what this means in the real world. Some interpretations include the ideas like "nothing is real until it is observed" or that there are countless "multiple universes" each differing just slightly from the one next to it. There isn't room here to discuss all the ramifications of quantum theory, so I'm going to give you a couple links that may help. Prepare to see the world in a different light after reading these, or at least have an awful headache: and

Have a question? Click here to send it to us.


In History:

First Telescope - In October of 1608, Johannes Lippershey, demonstrated his invention to the Netherlands States General to obtain a patent on the first optical (refracting) telescope. Lippershey was a lens grinder who built spectacles. He realized that by mounting two lens in a tube he could make distant objects appeared closer. He sold his invention to the Dutch government, which appreciated its military value. Galileo heard of the device and built his own to study the heavens.

In the Sky:

Five Planets - Mid-October will be one of those rare times when all five naked eye visible planets can be seen in the night sky. The most difficult to see with be Mercury which will only be visible in the east just above the horizon just before sunrise. Three other planets - Venus, Mars and Jupiter - can be seen at the same time in the same direction higher in the sky. Saturn will be visible in the southwest sky, just after nightfall.



More Evidence of Water on Mars - New findings from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) provide the strongest evidence yet that liquid water flows intermittently on present-day Mars. Using an imaging spectrometer on MRO, researchers detected signatures of hydrated minerals on slopes where mysterious streaks are seen on the Red Planet. These darkish streaks appear to ebb and flow over time. They darken and appear to flow down steep slopes during warm seasons, and then fade in cooler seasons. They appear in several locations on Mars when temperatures are above minus 10 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 23 Celsius), and disappear at colder times. "Our quest on Mars has been to 'follow the water,' in our search for life in the universe, and now we have convincing science that validates what we've long suspected," said John Grunsfeld, astronaut and associate administrator of NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. "This is a significant development, as it appears to confirm that water -- albeit briny -- is flowing today on the surface of Mars." This finding raises hopes that scientists my indeed find microbial life on the Red Planet..



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

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Copyright Lee Krystek 2015. All Rights Reserved.


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