Sea of Sand on Mars. (Courtsey NASA)
Over the Edge
Roundup of Strange Science for the Month
Probe Photographs Sea of Sand - NASA's Curiosity rover
completed a 778 Martian day drive last month reaching the
base of its destination, Mount Sharp. At the base of the
3.5 mile-high mountain in the center of Gale Crater the
rover photographed what looks like choppy waves on a sea,
but is actually ripples of wind-blown sand and dust. Scientists
think a close survey of the mountain's rocky layers will
provide valuable information about the planet's geological
history and the planet's ancient environment.
Not the Santa Maria - A group of experts from the U.N.
cultural agency UNESCO, has decided that the wreck found
off the Haiti discovered last year by underwater explorer
Barry Clifford is not the Santa Maria. The Santa Maria sunk
off the coast of Haiti in 1492 and Clifford's team was sure
they had discovered its remains. However, the bronze and
copper fasteners found at the site suggest that the ship
was built in the late 17th or 18th centuries. Ships from
the era that the Santa Maria was built used fasteners of
iron or wood. Also the experts believe that historic accounts,
like Columbus' journal, show that the wreck was too far
from the shore to be that of the Columbus' famous flagship.
Material May Make Space Elevator a Reality - A group
of scientists at Penn State University have found a way
to transform benzene -(a liquid) under compression to form
an ultra-thin "diamond nanothread." This thread would be
, according to John Badding, head of the team, "extraordinarily
stiff, extraordinarily strong, and extraordinarily useful."
The scientists found that when they compressed the benzene
much more slowly than had been done before, instead of the
molecules linking together in a disorganized way, as expected,
they instead formed an orderly polymer. The resulting material
is the strongest and stiffest known to science and very
lightweight. "One of our wildest dreams for the nanomaterials
we are developing is that they could be used to make the
super-strong, lightweight cables that would make possible
the construction of a "space elevator" which so far has
existed only as a science-fiction idea," Badding said.
Suggests Lots of Aliens, but Few Contacts - A new study
suggests that there may be over 3,000 extraterrestrial civilizations
in our Milky Way Galaxy, but our chances of hearing from
them are very low. This is because our galaxy, with a width
of than 100,000 light-years in diameter, is so large. Estimates
were made based on NASA's Kepler space telescope and other
planet finding observatories. "On average, you'd expect
the civilizations to be separated by at least 1,000 light-years
in the Milky Way," said Michael Garrett, head of the Dutch
astronomy research foundation. "That's a large distance,
and for communication purposes you need to allow for twice
the travel distance, so you're talking about civilizations
that have to be around for at least a few thousand years
in order to have the opportunity to talk to each other."
He added, "We don't really know the time scales in which
to Bird Evolution Very Slow - A study in the journal
Current Biology suggests that birds didn't evolve from dinosaurs
quickly, but over millions of years as birdlike features
such as wings and feathers slowly developed. "It's basically
impossible to draw a line on the tree between dinosaurs
and birds," said study author Steve Brusatte, of the University
of Edinburgh. After the bird body arose, he noted, "something
was unlocked, and began to evolve at a supercharged rate."
The study, based on feathered dinosaur fossils that have
been appearing over the past two decades in places like
China, suggests there was no single "missing-link" between
the two groups. The study looked at more than 850 body features
in 150 extinct species of birds and their closest dinosaur
relatives allowing scientists to construct a complete family
tree. This tree shows that bird features evolved very slowly
over about 150 million years and that the earliest birds
would have very hard to tell from their dinosaur cousins.
Quote of the Month - "When
a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something
is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states
that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong."
- Arthur C. Clarke
New at the Museum:
of the Solar System: The Surface of the Sun
is the heart of the solar system and almost all life on
earth gets its energy from the radiation coming from its
10,000 degree surface. Full
Picture of the Month - What
is this this?
Pirates of the 18th Century - Who were the most successful/famous
pirates of the 18th century? - Matthew
If you had included the 17th century in your question the
answer would have been easy: Sir Henry Morgan. Morgan was
born in Wales in 1635. In his teens he joined a pirate crew
from Tortuga and swore an oath as a member of the "Brethren
of the Coast." After a successful trip, Morgan and some
friends decided to outfit their own ship. Morgan was elected
captain and his first raid was a great success. Many more
followed. Morgan became a vice admiral in the buccaneer
fleet and quickly became very famous and rich.
was smart enough to ally himself with the English as a privateer
(A pirate that only attacks ships of nations that his sponsor
is at war with and splits the booty with the crown) which
meant that when he was ready to give up his pirate career
he could retire and live safely in English controlled territory.
may book, the fact that he survived to leisurely retirement
makes Morgan perhaps the most successfully pirate of all
time. Few of his colleagues had that pleasure.
we are dealing with the 18th century pirates, however, we
need to perhaps assign the titles of "most famous" and "most
successful" to two different rogues.
It is an easy argument to make that the most famous pirate
of the era was Edward Teach, more commonly known as Blackbeard.
Blackbeard, early in his career, recognized that to be a
successful pirate, you had to be a terrifying pirate. One
that was so feared that ships would surrender at the very
sound of your name. If you could manage this, you could
avoid many battles.
was a big man, with a naturally scowling face, long, thick
black hair and beard, and wild, deep-set eyes. To further
heighten his terrifying presence, Blackbeard would go into
battle with lighted tapers in his hair. These belched black
smoke, making Blackbeard appear to his enemies as some kind
Blackbeard has shown up in numerous books, TV shows and
movies (ranging from 1952's very serious Blackbeard the
Pirate, to Disney's 1968 comic effort Blackbeard's
Ghost) it's really hard to argue the he shouldn't get
the title of most famous pirate.
Blackbeard, even today, is probably the best known pirate
name from that era, he wasn't the most successful one of
that century. That accolade belong to Bartholomew "Black
and his crew attacked ships off the Americas and West Africa
between 1719 and 1722. While was only in the business for
less than four years, he captured more ships than any other
pirate during the famed "Golden Age of Piracy."
was born Bartholomew Roberts in Wales in 1682 and grew up
to be an honest seaman, but in 1719, his ship was captured
by pirate Howell Davis and Roberts was forced to join the
crew. While he was first reluctant, he soon came to see
the advantages of piracy and went at it with a vengeance.
He came to the conclusion:
an honest service there is thin commons, low wages, and
hard labour. In this, plenty and satiety, pleasure and ease,
liberty and power; and who would not balance creditor on
this side, when all the hazard that is run for it, at worst
is only a sour look or two at choking? No, a merry life
and a short one shall be my motto.
turned out to be such a good pirate that when Davis was
killed a few months after Robert's joined the crew, his
fellow pirates elected him the new captain. In his short
career he captured 470 ships. Unfortunately, for him, he
was killed in a clash with the Royal navy off the coast
of Africa in 1722 when his crew was too drunk to put up
a good fight.
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Lamp - This month in 1879 Thomas Edison applied for
a patent for his electric lamp. It became one of his most
successful business ventures, but did he really invent it?
Leonids - The night of November 17/18 will be the best
time to catch the Leonid meteor shower, though a few shooting
stars will be visible as early as the November 13th and
as last as the 21st. The Leonid's appear to be coming from
the constellation Leo. There are some other smaller showers
visible at the same time, so if you want to figure out if
you seen a Leonid meteor, trace it backwards to see if it
came from Leo.
Burnings - The spirit of Salem, Massachusetts, is not
dead. In the East African country of Tanzania seven people
were killed last month following accusations of witchcraft.
The victims, many of whom were elderly, were burned alive
or hacked to death with machetes. It isn't clear what caused
the attacks, but over 20 people have been arrested in the
murders. Though witch hunts are mostly gone in the United
States and Europe they continue in some areas of India,
Africa and South America.
check local listing for area outside of North America.
Bigger Than T. Rex - Meet Spinosaurus—the lost killer
of the Cretaceous and the world's largest predator ever.
November 5 at 9 pm on PBS ET/PT
Emperor's Ghost Army - Explore the buried clay warriors,
chariots, and bronze weapons of China's first emperor. November
12 at 9 pm on PBS ET/PT
Killer Landslides - Explore the forces behind deadly
landslides—and the danger zones for the next big one. November
19 at 9 pm on PBS ET/PT
Science of Interstellar - Matthew McConaughey narrates
this behind-the-scenes look at the epic voyage to deep space
depicted in the movie Interstellar. Director Christopher
Nolan worked with top physicists to create a realistic trip
to distant solar systems. On The Discovery Channel: Nov.6th
47 Days with Sharks - The inspiring true story of Louis
Zamperini and a small group of fellow American airmen. During
a routine search mission over the Pacific in WWII, their
plane crashed into shark infested waters, leaving them struggling
to survive for 47 days. On the Discovery Channel: Nov. 11
Unearthed: Mystery of the Serpents - In Ohio, a massive
mound in the shape of a serpent snakes it's way across the
landscape and no one knows who built or why. Thousands of
miles away, a similar serpent mound of unknown origins slinks
across the landscape of Loch Nell. Could there be a connection
between the two sites? As Scott Wolter investigates, he
discovers evidence that both sites were constructed using
the same type of archaeoastronomy. Not only that, but a
number of other animal shapes have been constructed as effigies
across the Midwest. In a search for answers, he discovers
there could be a connection between all the sites and one
of America's biggest pre-Columbian mysteries--what led to
the disappearance of the people of Cahokia, America's largest
city in pre-Columbian times. On The History Channel: Nov.6th
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