Over the Edge
Roundup of Strange Science for the Month
Study Suggests Uranus Was Wacked Twice - Scientists
have always been puzzled about the strange tilt of Uranus,
the seventh planet from the sun. It's a whopping 98 degrees
off of the orbital plane (Earth is only 23 degrees off the
plane). Scientists have long speculated that an ancient
collision with an object twice the size of Earth might have
caused the tilt. A single collision, however, can't explain
how Uranus's moons also got knocked into nearly identical
tilt as their mother planet. Now a new computer study show
that a series of collisions with Earth-sized objects may
be responsible. "The formation history of Uranus and Neptune
is one of the most important open problems in planetary
science," said lead author Alessandro Morbidelli, who works
at the Observatory of Cote d'Azur in Nice, France. "Having
shown that giant collisions had to happen frequently on
these planets is an important piece of information on the
way to understanding their origin." Other astronomers are
skeptical of the idea as they see no place in the solar
system for these multiple bodies to form.
Did a Kraken of the Ancient Seas Leave These Bones?
- Paleontologist Mark McMenamin, of Mount Holyoke College
in Massachusetts, thinks that the death of nine school-bus-sized
ichthyosaurs in an ancient sea now exposed in the Nevada
desert maybe the work of a giant, 100 foot-long, extinct
Kraken that lived about that about 215 million years ago.
The way the fossils are laid out reminded McMenamin of an
octopus midden. A midden is a pile of debris used by an
octopus to hide the entrance of a den. McMenamin 's research
shows the ichthyosaurs all died at different times eliminating
the possibility that their deaths were part of a single
catastrophe. He also believes that the water they died in
was too deep for them simply have been stranded on a sandbar
or tidal flat. Finally the fossils are laid out in a peculiar
pattern "with individual pieces nesting in a fitted fashion
as if they were part of a puzzle," according to McMenamin.
He thinks that the giant Kraken, perhaps twice the size
of a modern Giant Squid, might have killed the ichthyosaurs
and then brought them back to its den for dinner. Other
scientists are skeptical as there is no direct evidence
for the kraken, except the mysterious death of the ichthyosaurs.
What Makes a Supervolcano Go Off? - For years
scientists have wondered what makes a supervolcano
erupt. Unlike their normal sized brethren these monster
volcanoes, which can devastate a whole continent, don't
seem to be triggered by an internal mechanism. Now a new
study suggests that such eruptions are caused by what is
happening over the volcano, not inside it. The theory is
that as the magma chamber expands a huge dome of rock is
created above the volcano. Eventually as the chamber swells
the dome starts to thin and crack like "the top of baking
bread as it expands", explained co-author Patricia Gregg,
a post-doc at Oregon State University. When the cracks get
deep enough the dome collapses and the pressure in the magma
chamber, which has been building for tens of thousands of
years is released in a titanic eruption. "Huge amounts of
material are expelled, devastating the environment and creating
a gas cloud that covers the globe for years," said Gregg.
Fortunately such eruptions only occur once every 100,000
years or so.
Deep, Deep Worm - Belgian biologist Gaetan Borgonie
has discovered a new species living in a rock fracture nearly
a mile underground, in a gold mine in South Africa. "Halicephalobus
mephisto," which is Greek for "he who loves not the light"
is a nematode worm that thrives deeper in the earth than
any other known animal. While single cell bacteria are known
to inhabit the first miles of the Earth's crust in large
numbers, more complex creatures were thought to only survive
near the surface. Borgonie, along with Tullis Onstott of
Princeton University, had a hunch this was wrong and used
their own money to make a number of visits to the Beatrix
gold mine. Borgonie was rewarded when one of his samples
showed a nematode worm crawling across the slide. "She laid
12 eggs before dying," noted Borgonie.
Cyclops Shark for Real - The video of a one-eyed
shark, looking more like a cartoon character than a real
animal, went viral last month. Skeptics argued that it was
just a hoax, but scientists from the Interdisciplinary Center
of Marine Sciences in La Paz, Mexico, have studied the specimen
and have determined it was a real 22-inch-long dusky shark
fetus with a single, functioning eye that's on the front
off its head. Apparently the shark was found in the womb
of its mother when the female shark was caught by sport
fishermen in the Gulf of California. All of the shark's
siblings appeared normal. Since no adult shark has ever
been caught with a single eye it seems likely that the abnormality
is a huge disadvantage for a shark that is likely to lead
to a short life.
Science Quote of the Month - "Every
great advance in science has issued from a new audacity
of imagination." - John Dewey
New at the Museum:
at Halicarnassus -
When King Mausolus died in 353 BC the queen decided
to build him a tomb that would be a wonder of the world.
She succeeded. >Full
- Despite being more than a mile to the bottom
the Grand Canyon isn't the deepest gorge in the world, but
it certainly is the most spectacular. The first in our series
on natural wonders.
Mysterious Picture of the Month - What
is this thing?
Without the Moon - My question is a hypothetical
one: what if, for whatever reason, the moon would suddenly
be gone? Would it gravely affect life on Earth? I understand
life would probably not have started if it weren't for the
tides caused by the Moon, but are humans still depending
on tides, directly or indirectly? And what about the weather
in a Moonless world? - Johan W.
As you noted,
if Earth had never acquired the moon our planet would be
very different place. In fact, it might not have intelligent
life, or perhaps no life at all. The moon was created when
a Mars-sized body struck the Earth about 30 million years
ago after the Earth itself formed. This caused a huge amount
of the Earth's crust to be blown into orbit. Eventually
it coalesced into a single, large body that was an unusually
large moon given the size of its mother planet. The fact
that a large portion of Earth's crust found its way into
orbit may be responsible for us having the multi-plate tectonics
that have created our continents (Because the moon's gravitational
forces help keep the Earth's guts warm and moving). Without
continents we might find ourselves living on a "waterworld"
with no land. This might not mean there wouldn't be any
life, but without dry land fire and other technologies might
not have developed limiting the expansion of civilization.
The sun would
still give the oceans tides, but they would be weak. Without
the moons helping to "mix" Earth's oceans life might not
have appeared, or it might have developed much more slowly.
Also the moon's tides have also been responsible for slowing
the Earth's rotation. Without this we would probably have
shorter days and typical wind speeds of over 200 mph.
So if there
was not moon from the beginning, the Earth would look like
a much different place. But suppose, as in your question,
it just suddenly disappeared someday. Would we notice?
The changes would
be more subtle, but still significant. The moons tides create
moving stream of water in the oceans which can affect our
weather. These tides carry much heat away from the equator
and up towards the poles. Without them we would expect the
lower latitudes to be much warmer, which might change weather
patterns. For example, without the moon we might find that
the Pacific Ocean's El Niņo winds might simply go away or
change. We might also expect to see some rain-soaked lands
turn into deserts or visa versa. Undoubtedly this would
also affect storm patterns across the globe.
The gravity of
the moon also causes the ocean levels to be higher near
the equator, and lower toward the poles. If the moon suddenly
vanished we would find coastlines changing as water moved
from lower latitudes to higher ones. Your beach front condo
might suddenly be miles from the ocean.
We might find
a number of animals unhappy with the sudden loss of the
moon. Many creatures along the shore are highly affected
by tides and depend on them. A number of nocturnal creatures
are adapted to operate on moonlight so we would probably
see these die out to be replaced with other species adapted
to just starlight.
Humans have also
benefited from moonlight, but with our invention of electric
lights the loss of lunar illumination, might only be a minor
annoyance. Even in our modern world, however, certain human
patterns, like conception, seem still to be linked to the
phases of the moon. Perhaps these are just psychological,
but they are still real.
Humans, of course,
need to take into account the movement of tides in ship
navigation, so without the moon, this would change. There
is some technology now that uses tides to generate electricity
(by driving turbines as water moves in and out of a bay)
and these would become much less efficient if the weak tides
associated with the sun were the only forces moving the
ocean. The lack of large tides would also impact at least
one popular sport and, as one scientist put it "The surfing
So we would see
quite a few significant changes to the Earth's environment,
with no moon, but they won't necessary be catastrophic.
And course there is an upside: we wouldn't have to worry
Ball Lightning Bewilderment - In an article
in the November of 1930 edition of Nature, British
scientist Alexander Russell recounted his experience with
the strange phenomenon of ball lightning. "Many years ago
I saw two globes of lightning. They were reddish-yellow
in color, and appeared to be rotating. One of them struck
a building and burst with a loud report, causing the inhabitants
to open the windows and look out to see what had happened,
but as there was no trace of anything they looked bewildered.
The other drifted slowly away."
Leonid Meteor Shower - November gives us the
Leonids meteor shower from the 15th to 20th. The shower
will reach its peak on the 18th but the Moon will be in
its Last Quarter causing some interference with viewing.
Look for the meteors to appear from the constellation Leo.
Jupiter in Reverse - If you have been watching
Jupiter notice that it appears to being going backwards
in the sky this month. This illusion is called "retrograde
motion" and is caused interaction of both Earth and Jupiter
as they move along in their orbits. When the ancients believed
that everything went around a motionless Earth, this effect
was extremely hard to explain.
Blueberry Bagel Eating Bigfoots - A woman in
rural Michigan claims she has a group of bigfoot creatures
living around her house and that she has been feeding them,
among other things, blueberry bagels. Robin Lynn Pfeifer,
a 47-year-old resident of Newaygo County, north of Grand
Rapids, discovered the creatures when her family moved onto
a 10-acre rural property back in November 2009. She believes
there is a group of ten of them in the area ranging in height
from 6 to 9 feet with colors of black, beige and white.
She says the look like humans, but with hairy coats and
broad noses. Many are skeptical of Pfeifer claims observing
that she has failed to produce any hard evidence such as
photographs, samples of hair or scat.
check local listing for area outside of North America.
NOVA: The Fabric of the Cosmos - Acclaimed
physicist Brian Greene reveals a mind-boggling reality beneath
the surface of our everyday world.
On PBS: 11/2, 11/9,
11/16 and 11/23, at 9pm; ET/PT.
The Mentalists - Follow the top mental athletes on their quest to become the next World
Memory Champion. Intense training and extraordinary abilities
to memorize decks of cards and thousands of numbers lead
them to the ultimate challenge, the World Memory Championship.
Nov 11, 10:00 pm; Nov
12, 1:00 am
Nefertiti: Mummy Queen Mystery - Nefertiti, the most famous and beautiful of Egyptian queens, disappeared
without any mention of what became of her, or where her
mummy ended up. Zahi Hawass will undertake a new investigation,
using DNA testing and medical imaging to solve her mystery.
: Nov 04, 9:00 pm; Nov 05, 12:00 am; Nov 06, 4:00 am; ET/PT.
The Truth Behind: The Loch Ness Monster - For centuries, people have reported sightings of a strange creature
lurking within the gloomy waters of Scotlands infamous Loch,
but are these accounts true or are they just another myth
or giant hoax? Despite years of investigation and countless
eyewitness testimonies, the riddle of this legendary brute
has continued. Now, dive into the depths of this controversy
using a mix of science, eye witness testimony, zoology,
and psychological testing. On The
Nov. 3 10:00 PM
Lost Gold of the Dark Ages - Lost Gold of the Dark Ages chronicles the amazing story of how an amateur
metal-detecting enthusiast discovered a gold hoard of more
than 1,500 artifacts dating back a millennium, and valued
at over $5 million. The importance of the discovery is comparable
to finding Tut's treasure. To solve the mystery of where
the gold came from, to whom it belonged and why it was buried,
historians take us on a journey back into the Dark Ages.
Nov 7 08:00 PM &11:00
Hunt for the Giant Squid - With their enormous, unblinking eyes and massive tentacles, giant squid
have been hailed as the holy grail of ocean exploration:
no one has ever been able to film them. Now, investigators
go on a hunt using specially developed 'starlight' cameras
to penetrate the darkness of the oceans abyss in a quest
to unravel the mysteries of these elusive creatures. On
Nov 8 09:00 PM
Salem: Unmasking the Devil - Was the most famous witch trial in the English-speaking world actually
the result of a cynical plot and power play? This chilling
possibility sends author and historian Katherine Howe back
to the site of her ancestors execution during the Salem
witch trials. The very latest clues unearthed may indicate
that an embattled Puritan minister fomented fear and distrust
to hold onto his congregation. On The
Nov 10 09:00 PM
Archive 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007,
Copyright Lee Krystek 2011. All Rights Reserved.