The Terzan 5 "galactic fossil" star cluster. Image credit: F. Ferraro / NASA / ESA / ESO.


Science Over the Edge

A Roundup of Strange Science for the Month


October 2016

In the News:

"Galactic Fossil" Found - Scientists have found clump of stars which is a "galactic fossil" that dates back 12 billion years. According to a new study Terzan 5, which is 19,000 light-years from Earth, near the hub of our galaxy, is one of its earliest structures. "In these fossils is written the history of the formation of the first cosmic structure at the time when the universe was a baby, just 1 billion years old," said Francesco Ferraro, lead author and professor in the physics and astronomy department at the University of Bologna in Italy. What makes Terzan 5 unique from other such objects is that it is composed of a bunch of stars born 12 billion years ago and then another burst again 4.5 billion years ago. Scientists believe it was the site of a supernovae explosion after the first gush of star formation. Because of Terzan 5 was so massive it retained much of the gas from that explosion, which fueled the second burst of star formation 7 billion years later. Ferraro believes because this living fossil was less massive and more compact than the other such clumps so it didn't merge with the central galactic of the bulge. Scientists hope that by study this fossil they may gain clues to the formation of the galaxy.

Great Plague Killer Identified - DNA from a newly discovered graveyard has identified the disease that the caused the Great Plague of London in 1665. Examination of the DNA confirmed that it was the Bubonic Plague. Though long suspected as the culprit, there was no definite proof of it until now. The plague, which killed 60% of people if left untreated, is caused by bacteria carried by fleas found on small animals, such as rats, which can bite humans and spread the germs. The burial site, uncovered in 2014, contained 3,300 bodies. The plague killed 8,000 per week at its height. It is the same bacteria that caused the "Black Death" of the 14th century. To find the DNA necessary to determine the bacteria involved, researchers from the Max Planck Institute in Jena, Germany, extracted DNA from 20 skeletons found in the mass burial pit, as well as 20 skeletons from other parts of the burial ground for comparison. DNA was hard to find because the environment, buried in the ground, is damaging to it. Researchers had to extract it from the roots of the skeleton's teeth.

New Lightning Records - Experts at the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) have updated their extreme weather events list to include a lightning bolt almost 200 miles long and another that lasted a record 7.74 seconds. The longest recorded lightning bolt occurred over Oklahoma in 2007 and had a length of 199.4 miles (321 km). The longest duration lightning bolt struck over Provence-Alps Côte d'Azur, France in 2012 and lasted nearly 8 seconds. The announcement allowed Randy Cerveny, the WMO's chief rapporteur of climate and weather extremes, to warn "The end result reinforces critical safety information regarding lightning, specifically that lightning flashes can travel huge distances from their parent thunderstorms." Experts say it is possible to be struck by lightning even though the storm has appeared to have passed through your area. It is estimated that lightning flashes 30 times a second somewhere on the earth with a total of about 1.2 million strikes a year.

Lost Artic Expedition Ship Found - The HMS Terror, part of an Artic expedition that disappeared nearly 170 years ago has been found at the bottom of a bay off the coast of King William Island in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. The Terror and another ship, the HMS Erebus, disappeared while searching for a Northwest Passage to Asia. Researchers from the Arctic Research Foundation in partnership with Parks Canada found the remains of the ship by in 80 feet of water by using a small, remotely operated vehicle (ROV). "We have successfully entered the mess hall, worked our way into a few cabins and found the food storage room with plates and one can on the shelves," Adrian Schimnowski, the foundation's operations director, told the newspaper, The Guardian. "We spotted two wine bottles, tables and empty shelving. Found a desk with open drawers with something in the back corner of the drawer," he continued. The Erebus and Terror sailed from England on May 19, 1845 with a crew of 129 men and became fatally trapped in sea ice. The crew attempted to walk to safety, but it is believed that none survived.

Quakes Might Help Sustain Life on Mars - A new study suggests that life on Mars could be fueled by marsquakes. Scientists have wondered if there is microbial life on Mars what would it eat? Bacteria deep inside the earth munch on hydrogen released when earthquakes cause rocks with silicon to grind together with water. They believe the same mechanism could be at work on Mars. While Mars has less quakes than Earth due to a lack of volcanism and plate tectonics, researchers still think there is enough activity to release 11 tons of hydrogen per year on the red planet. While not much, it may be enough to sustain sporatic pockets of microbial activity underground. "This hydrogen can probably support only small amounts of biomass," said the study's lead author, Sean McMahon, a geomicrobiologist at Yale University. "Still, this fits into the growing picture of the kind of biosphere that Mars might be capable of sustaining. If you look at bacteria and other microorganisms on Earth, you find ones capable of resting in a dormant state for extremely long periods of time, and they can wake up and reproduce and then go back to sleep again for another 10,000 years or so."

Science Quote of the Month - "It is strange that only extraordinary men make the discoveries, which later appear so easy and simple. " - Georg C. Lichtenberg


What's New at the Museum:

H.P. Lovecraft's World of Horror - His stories have influenced much of modern horror, yet he died in poverty, a figure unknown but to a very few. Who was this author whose terrifying, tentacled monsters have inspired popular culture from Hell Boy to Pirates of the Caribbean? Who was H.P. Lovecraft? - Full Story

Mysterious Picture of the Month - What is this this?

Ask the Curator:

Elongated Night Reflections - If you look at the reflection of a street light from across a body of water, it appears long in one direction but not the other? Why? - Tariq

Water, under the right conditions, reflects light just like mirror. Of course, a mirror is a usually composed of solid material (most commonly glass with a silver backing) and water is liquid. As long as the water is perfectly still and flat the image reflected is almost mirror-like, but should a breeze start to ripple the water, strange things start to happen.

The ripples cause the shape of the surface of the water to change into a series of up and down curves. This means that the light normal reflected by the surface doesn't come straight to the viewer, but is distorted much like in a fun house mirror. While fun house mirrors are usually static - either making you look tall and thin or short and fat - the many ripples in the water are always moving and changing giving the reflected image a vibrating quality.

Because a lake might have thousand of ripples between the viewer and a distant object on the other side of the lake each ripple as it moves is capable of picking a tiny bit of the light coming from the object and reflecting it back to the viewer (see diagram) making it look like the object is in thousands of different locations.

During the day when everything is evenly lighted these bits of light are overwhelmed by all the other reflections involved and only contribute to the overall reflected image by making it look fuzzy. At night, however, when the most of the background is dark, all these tiny reflection become visible. They tend to appear to elongate the lighted object in the direction where the ripples appear spaced closely together from the viewer's perspective. That is vertically as you have observed. It is possible to see some spreading horizontally, however, depending on what direction the wind is blowing the ripples.

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In History:

Model T Car - On October 1st, 1908, the Ford Model T car was introduced to the public. The Model T was the first vehicle to be built on a production line which greatly lowered the cost for a car. At the start a copy cost $825 but because of increased production by 1925, a coupe sold for only $525. For a long time it was the best selling car in the United States.


In the Sky:

Orionid Meteor Shower - October brings the Orionid meteor shower which is visible as early as the 2nd and as late as November 7th. The peak of the shower will on the night of October 20th and early on the morning of October 21st. The Orionid meteor shower is created by debris from Comet Halley. Look for them radiating from the constellation Orion.



New Photo of Nessie - A whiskey warehouse worker named Ian Bremner snapped a picture of something he saw in the water of Loch Ness that looks a lot like a serpent-like creature. "This is the first time I've ever seen Nessie in the loch. I would be amazing if I was the first one to find her," said 58 year-old Bremner. Bremner, who was out looking to photograph some red deer, told the newspaper The Scottman, he has always been a Nessie skeptic. He shot the photograph on September 10th, somewhere between the villages of Dores and Inverfarigaig in Scotland. To see the picture click the link:



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

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