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Science Over the Edge

A Roundup of Strange Science for the Month

Applet credit: Ed Hobbs

December 2009

In the News:

Crack Will Become New Sea - A 35-mile rift in the desert of Ethiopia that opened in 2005 will eventually turn into a new ocean, according to research published in the journal Geophysical Research. The crack, 20 feet wide in spots, was studied by a team of international team of scientists and is thought to be identical to what goes on at the bottom of oceans. Using seismic data researchers reconstructed the event showing the rift tore open along its entire 35-mile length in just days. Dabbahu, a volcano at the northern end of the rift, erupted first. Magma then pushed up through the middle of the rift area and began "unzipping" the rift in both direction, according to the scientists. Eventually in a few million years the new ocean will connect the Red Sea with the Gulf of Aden, an arm of the Arabian Sea.

Researchers find Supersize "Cosmic Web" - Scientists have discovered a large structure of galaxies in a distant part the universe. This structure is 6.7 billion light-years away from earth extends over a distance of at least 60 million light-years and appears to be part of a gigantic "cosmic web" that forms the skeleton of the universe. "Matter is not distributed uniformly in the universe," said Masayuki Tanaka, an astronomer with the European Southern Observatory (ESO) who helped discover the galactic structure. "In our cosmic vicinity, stars form in galaxies and galaxies usually form groups and clusters of galaxies." The distant filament recently discovered seems to be at an even much larger scale than the galaxy clusters."

Crash Shows That Water is On Moon - NASA has discovered a "significant" amount of water on the moon as the result of a planned crash of a probe into lunar crater called Cabeus. Last October the LCROSS satellite sent a 2.5-ton empty rocket motor plummeting into the permanently shadowed lunar crater. After observing the strike, the satellite itself also crashed into the crater. Both the impacts were observed by a number of space and ground based telescopes. The results of those observations show that about 25 gallons of water was in the plume of material rising from the crash site, far more than scientists expected. Researchers aren't sure where the water came from, but comets that hit the moon may be one possibility. The water might provide an important resource for future lunar colonists.

Brothers Claim to Have Found Mysterious Missing Army - Two Italian archaeologists claim to have found the remains of a Persian army that was swallowed by a sandstorm in Western Egypt 2,500 years ago. The 50,000 strong army belonging to King Cambyses was on a mission to attack the Oasis of Siwa and destroy the oracle located there when it disappeared without a trace. "A wind arose from the south, strong and deadly, bringing with it vast columns of whirling sand, which entirely covered up the troops and caused them wholly to disappear," wrote the Greek historian Herodotus. The twin brothers Angelo and Alfredo Castiglioni, both archaeologists, have shown the evidence, in a recently released documentary, that makes them believe they have found the remains of the missing army. Their finds include bronze weapons, a silver bracelet, an earring and hundreds of human bones located in the vast desolate wilderness of the Sahara desert.

Super Volcano Eruption Destroyed Forests 3,000 Miles Away - According to a new study a volcanic super-eruption of Toba on the island of Sumatra about 73,000 years ago deforested much of central India, more than 3,000 miles from the epicenter, researchers report. The volcano ejected an estimated 800 cubic kilometers of ash into the atmosphere, leaving a crater 100 kilometers long and 35 kilometers wide. Ash from the eruption has been found in India, the Indian Ocean, the Bay of Bengal and the South China Sea. The report goes on to say that the bright ash reflected sunlight off the landscape, and volcanic sulfur aerosols impeded solar radiation for six years, creating an "Instant Ice Age" that lasted about 1,800 years. During this period, temperatures dropped by as much as 16 degrees centigrade (28 degrees Fahrenheit).


Science Quote of the Month - "A scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it." - Max Planck


What's New at the Museum:

Christmas Electric: A History of Holiday Lights: Today one can hardly find a street in North America during the month of December where the majority of houses are not lit up with a dazzling display of hundreds or even thousands tiny electric lights. Where did these traditions come from and when did Christmas become electric? >Full Story


Ask the Curator:

It's the Hair, Not the Humidity - I have a thermometer hanging on the wall that also has a humidity gauge. The humidity gauge is just a round strip of metal. How can a strip of metal tell how much humidity is in the air? - John

Humidity is a measure of water vapor in the air. We usually refer to it as relative humidity as it is measured as a percentage of the maximum amount of vapor the air can hold. If the humidity reaches 100 percent, it is sure to start raining as the water in the air will condense into droplets.

The device you have there is probably a mechanical hygrometer. It's not really the metal that is doing the work, but a small bundle of human hair (chemically treated to remove any oil). Hair, being organic in nature absorbs water in the air and stretches (That's why bad hair days are usually those with high humidity).

If your mechanical hygrometer is like others I've seen there is a needle that points to the level of humidity. On the shaft that turns the needle there is one spring that is spiraled around it pulling he needle back toward zero. The shaft also has a chain (or possibly some inorganic thread) wrapped around it that goes from the shaft to the center of the hair bundle. Attached to the other side of the center of the hair bundle is another, more powerful spring. The two springs pull the mechanism in opposite directions. What actually controls the position of the needle is the length of the hair. As the hair lengthens a tiny bit, it deflects under the pull of the powerful spring, and this, in turn, pulls the chain to move the needle more toward 100%

This is hard to describe, so hopefully the attached diagram will help.


In History:

Intra-Mercurial Planet - In December of 1859 astronomer Urbain Leverrier of the Paris Observatory received a letter from a country doctor named Lescarbault stating that the doctor had observed what he believed to be a planet located inside the orbit of Mercury passing in front of the Sun the pervious March. Leverrier immediately headed out the countryside and aggressively questioned the doctor suggesting that he was mistaken or lying. When the Lescarbault held his ground despite the onslaught, Leverrier congratulated him and recommended him for the Legion of Honor. The idea of a small planet orbiting between the path of Mercury and the Sun fit Leverrier's predictions. However, no other astronomers could find the planet and it soon became apparent the both Leverrier and Lescarbault were wrong: no intra-Mercurial planet exists.


In the Sky:

Blue moon - December will be one of those rare times when two full moons will occur in the same month. In this case it will be on the days December 2nd and 31st. The second moon is often called a "Blue" moon (though there is an older definition of a "blue moon" defined as the rare case of four moons during a calendar season). As a bonus the blue moon will also be subject to partial lunar eclipse. The eclipse will be best visible from the Eastern Hemisphere.



Snails: Better than Beef - A nutritionist from Nigeria suggests if you need more protein in your diet, try a snail pie. Ukpong Udofia of the Department of Home Economics, at the University of Uyo, in Nigeria, has tested the protein and iron content of the giant West African land snail comparing it to beef steak. According to Udofia snail pie made from the land snail should be much more nutritious than a beef pie. Her research team baked pies of both varieties and asked mothers and their children to rate the food. Most of them judged the snail pies to have a better appearance, texture, and flavor than beef. "Snail pie is recommended as a cheap source of protein and iron for school-age children and young mothers and could contribute in the fight against iron deficiency anaemia," Udofia said. This is important in Nigeria were the land snail is a readily available and iron deficiency and a lack of protein in the diet are major health problems.


On the Tube:

Please check local listing for area outside of North America.

NOVA: The Spy Factory - NOVA investigates the high-tech eavesdropping carried out by the National Security Agency and the effectiveness of surveillance in an age of terrorism. On PBS December 15 at 8 pm; ET/PT.

Radioactive Paradise - A team of scientists, historians and divers embark on a scientific journey to Bikini Atoll to see the effects of 23 atmospheric atomic test blasts. With the help of a high-tech submersible, the Pagoo, they explore Bikini's underwater ship graveyard. On The Science Channel Dec 06, 9:00 pm; Dec 07, 12:00 am; Dec 08, 4:00 am ET/PT.

Parallel Universe - The strange notion of parallel universes is gaining strength in the scientific community and may solve our most basic questions about the universe, including the origins of the Big Bang itself. Dec 01, 8:00 pm; Dec 01, 11:00 pm; Dec 02, 3:00 pm; Dec 03, 3:00 am; ET/PT.

Science of the Movies Puppet Meisters - The Magic Behind 'Team America: World Police' - Nar gets a lesson in puppet sculpting from the Chiodo Brothers, marionette makers for "Team America: World Police". Nar visits Technicolor to get a crash course in movie coloring. Animal Wrangler Jules Sylvester unleashes a roomful of creepy crawlers. On The Science Channel Dec 03, 8:00 pm; Dec 03, 11:00 pm; Dec 05, 3:00 am; ET/PT.

Science of the Movies The Magical World of George Lucas - ILM uses motion capture fx to create Davy Jones' beard in Pirates of the Caribbean sequels; science of lighting at Mole Richardson; Flash Filmworks creates explosive chopper crashes for The Day the Earth Stood Still; makes low-tech squibs with Indy Mogul. On The Science Channel. Dec 10, 8:00 pm; Dec 10, 11:00 pm; Dec 11, 3:00 pm; Dec 12, 3:00 am; ET/PT.

Base Camp Moon - In 2018 astronauts will once again set foot on the lunar surface. Their mission: to develop technologies that will take them to Mars and beyond. On The Science Channel Dec 08, 8:00 pm; Dec 08, 11:00 pm; Dec 09, 3:00 pm; Dec 10, 3:00 am; ET/PT.

Did the Mob Kill JFK? - A riveting one-hour documentary that presents compelling evidence supporting the theory that the mob was behind JFK's assassination. The program features a never before seen interview with an FBI informant who shared a prison cell with a mafia kingpin. On The Discovery Channel. Dec 10, 9:00 pm; Dec 11, 12:00 am; ET/PT.

Is it True? Ghost Videos & Trick Shots - Chuck investigates a series of Internet videos of ghosts pushing cars uphill in San Antonio, Texas. Then he teams up with an NBA superstar to recreate some seemingly unbelievable basketball trick shots made by skateboarders in a viral video. On The Discovery Channel. Dec 09, 10:00 pm; Dec 10, 1:00 am; ET/PT.



Science over the Edge Archives

LGM Archive 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009

Copyright Lee Krystek 2009. All Rights Reserved.


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