Science Over the Edge

A Roundup of Strange Science for the Month

Applet credit: Ed Hobbs

November 2004

In the News:

New Propulsion System Promises Shorter Trip to Mars- Scientists are looking at a technology that could make a manned trip to Mars as short as 76 days. Using conventional propulsion systems the travel time to the red planet is around 2 and years. Using this new technology, called magnetized-beam plasma propulsion, or mag-beam, the trip would be greatly shortened which should increase the chances of a successful mission. Mag beam technology would use a beam generator on a space station in Earth orbit that would send streams of magnetized ions toward a spacecraft with a sail. The ions bouncing off the sail would propel the ship forward. By placing such space stations around the solar system it might be possible to build a permanent human presence in space facilitated by travel between the stations. According to the scientists that presented the idea at NASA's Institute of Advanced Concepts symposium in Seattle, a test mission could be ready in five years.

A "Pink" Dwarf? - Scientists have recently discovered an object that is in unknown class of dwarf stars. This dark star appears to have been killed by it's companion, a white dwarf star. The object is a warm body one-twentieth the mass of our sun. Its companion star seems to have sucked enough material from this object that it no longer has the mass to continue the nuclear fusion process necessary for it to shine in visible light. This body does not seem to fit any known class of dwarf star, which are usually given the names of colors that are somehow relevant to their situation (white dwarf, brown dwarf, red dwarf, etc.). One scientist did suggest calling it a "pink" dwarf because the object only shines in infrared light. The unclassifiable star is named EF Eridanus and is located 300 light-years from Earth in the constellation Eridanus.

The Robots are Coming! - According to a study just released by the Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) the number of personal or domestic service robots in use will expand to 6.7 million by 2007. About 1.3 million are in use today. Of those about one half are designed for domestic tasks while the other half are entertainment and leisure robots. The study says that the expected growth will come mostly in the form of robots designed to assist around the house. Automated vacuum cleaners will account for much of that increase.

"Hobbits" Found on Asian Island - Scientists at the Indonesian Research Center have found the remains of a species of hominoid which they have nicknamed "Hobbits" because of their small stature. The "hobbits" inhabited an isolated Island named Flores in southeast Asia. Normally small skeletons indicate the person was a child, or an individual with abnormal growth development. In this situation, however, scientists have found the remains of at least six skeletons from adult bodies that were perfectly proportioned to their height. Is is estimated the the remains of the "hobbits" date from around 18,000 years ago

T-Rex May Have "Chewed" Its Food - Scientists have been surprised to find that members of the tyrannosaurids family of dinosaurs, whose most famous member was Tyrannosaurus rex, may have sliced their food with their razor sharp teeth rather than swallowing it whole. A study, to be published next year in the journal Acta Palaeontologica Polonica, found marks on fossil teeth consistent with tooth-to-tooth contact. This is unexpected as all modern reptilians swallow their food whole without chewing and their teeth do not show the kind of wear found in these fossils. While the tyrannosauids lacked the muscles and jaw joints necessary to chew food like mammals do, they apparently did slice it up into smaller pieces before swallowing it.


Get Them While they Last:

Back by Popular Demand! Don't forget to order your Museum of Unnatural Mystery full color, 2005 calender. On sale now! >Go to the shop


What's New at the Museum:

Einstein and the Universe (Part II)- After publishing his Theory of Special Relativity, Einstein began to garner much respect among physicists. However, Einstein was not satisfied with his work. He felt it was incomplete and soon started searching for new theories, first one that would include the force of gravity, then later one that would explain all of physics. I>Full Story

Classic Graphic Novels - Check out the sixth chapter - History Lessons - in our classic graphic novel version of Jules Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. - >Full Story


Ask the Curator:

The Snouters - I was recently told the story of the snouters. How did this story get started and why haven't I heard of these thing before? - Eve

The Snouters, also known as Rhinogrades, were the invention of Gerolf Steiner a professor of zoology at the University of Heidelberg. Steiner was looking for a way to teach his students about evolution, so he decided to invent a completely fictional order of mammals. All of his creations used their noses in some way to survive. For example, some of the creatures used their noses to walk, others to jump from danger, others to catch food.

Steiner was apparently inspired by the 19th century writer Christian Morgenstern who wrote a short poem about an animal, the nasobame, that walked upon its nose.

In 1957 Steiner put his creations into a book, The Snouters: Form and Life of the Rhinogrades, which was published in German. The work, credited to the fictional scientist Harald Stumpke, included detailed information about the animals including sketches and illustrations. In addition to being a teaching tool, the book was a parody of similar academic texts used at the time.

According to the book the Snouters had been discovered by a Swedish naturalist who was ship wrecked on the Hi-yi-yi Islands in the Pacific Ocean in 1941. To explain why the Snouter are no longer around today, Steiner came up with the story that only island on which they lived was accidentally destroyed as the result of an atomic bomb test. Dr. Stumpke supposedly perished in the same mishap.

The book has been so popular with biologists and students, that it as been reprinted a number of times in different languages and still used in some college and high-school biology courses. The book is currently available in paperback from for $12.95.


In History:

Adamski's Venusians - On November 20th, 1952, a gentleman named George Adamski said he encountered a Venusian, named Orthon, in the California Desert. Over the next decade or so he reported meeting with various aliens from different planets. He even released pictures that allegedly showed their ships. Though his stories and pictures were fascinating, few now take Adamski's claims seriously. Adamski died in 1965.


In the Sky:

Planetary Conjunction - Friday November 5th will be your chance to watch a conjunction of the planets Jupiter and Venus in the eastern sky. A conjunction is when two celestial bodies appear to come close to each other as seen from Earth. On that date Jupiter and Venus will be only about 2/3 of a degree apart (10 degrees is about the width of your fist held at arms length). The best time for viewing this spectacle will be about 45 minutes before sunrise.



Early Abductee Dies - Betty Hill, one of the first people in the USA to claim she had been abducted by aliens, has died at age 85. Under hypnosis she and her husband, Barney, recalled being kidnapped and examined by aliens during a ride in New Hampshire's White Mountains in 1961. The couple gained international attention after going public with their account. Their story was turned into a best selling book, Interrupted Journey, and a television movie starring James Earl Jones. Barney Hill had died in 1969.


On the Tube:

Currently we are only able to give accurate times and dates for these programs in the United States. Check local listings in other locations.

NOVA: Great Escape - Experts dig into World War II's most daring and technically ingenious prison break. On PBS: November 16 at 8 pm; ET.

NOVA: Ancient Refuge in the Holy Land - Israel's remote Cave of Letters holds clues to a Jewish uprising against the Romans. On PBS: November 23 at 8 pm; ET.

Alexander the Great: Murder Unsolved - Unravel one of the strangest mysteries of ancient times, the suspicious death of history's most extraordinary leader, Alexander the Great. Experts attempt to decipher if his early death at age 32 was caused by disease, excessive drinking or even murder. On the Discovery Channel: Nov 29 @ 08:00 PM; Nov 29 @ 11:00 PM; Nov 30 @ 04:00 AM; Nov 30 @ 07:00 AM; Nov 30 @ 12:00 PM; Nov 30 @ 03:00 PM; ET.

Lost Dinosaurs Down Under - As recently as 25 years ago, most scientists thought the oldest reptile in these remote Pacific islands was the prehistoric tuatara. But that was before paleontologist; Joan Wiffen explored the backcountry and found New Zealand's first dinosaur bone. On Science Channel: Nov 29 @ 08:00 PM; Nov 29 @ 11:00 PM; Nov 30 @ 04:00 AM; Nov 30 @ 07:00 AM; Nov 30 @ 12:00 PM; Nov 30 @ 03:00 PM; ET.

Disappearance of the PX-15 - In 1969, as astronauts walked on the moon, a second mission, the PX-15 Ben Franklin, launched six aquanauts on an historic 30-day drift dive of the gulf stream. Eclipsed by the moonwalk, the story of the earthbound mission is told for the first time. On The Science Channel: Nov 26 @ 10:00 PM; Nov 27 @ 01:00 AM; Nov 27 @ 06:00 AM; Nov 27 @ 09:00 AM; Nov 27 @ 02:00 PM; Nov 27 @ 05:00 PM ; ET/PT.

The Hindenburg Disaster: Probable Cause - When the Hindenburg took to the skies in 1936, it became the largest flying machine in history. What caused the Hindenburg's spectacular and tragic demise in only 34 seconds is still not clear. Specialist investigators re-examine this airship disaster. On Science Channel: Nov 19 @ 10:00 PM; Nov 20 @ 01:00 AM; Nov 20 @ 06:00 AM; Nov 20 @ 09:00 AM; Nov 20 @ 02:00 PM; Nov 20 @ 05:00 PM ET/PT.

History's Mysteries The Nazi Plan to Bomb New York - Aviation historian David Myhra has been investigating secret German aircraft projects for more than 20 years, and has uncovered evidence of a diabolical Nazi plan to deliver a radioactive bomb to New York. In late 1944, the "Amerika Bomber" project was planned, and three aerospace designers--Wernher von Braun, Eugen Sanger, and Reimar Horten--each had a different solution. Through vivid 3D animation, photos, and recreations, these unusual projects are finally revealed! On History Channel: November 13 @ 7pm ET/PT.


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Copyright Lee Krystek 2004. All Rights Reserved.