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Science Over the Edge

A Roundup of Strange Science for the Month

Applet credit: Ed Hobbs

December 2012

In the News:

Bigfoot DNA? - According to prominent Bigfootologist and former veterinarian Melba T. Ketchum, there is now DNA evidence that Bigfoot is real. Ketchum did a 5 year study of samples of Bigfoot DNA and believes that "the legendary Sasquatch is a human relative that arose approximately 15,000 years ago." She thinks that a "non-human" male mated with a human female at that time giving birth to the Bigfoot line. It is unclear where Ketchum got the DNA for her Bigfoot samples and at least one scientist from Yale has pointed out that Human DNA plus some anomalies or unknowns does not equal a human-ape hybrid. "It equals human DNA plus some anomalies." Ketchum has called for a moratorium on Bigfoot hunts. "Genetically, the Sasquatch are a human hybrid with unambiguously modern human maternal ancestry. Government at all levels must recognize them as an indigenous people and immediately protect their human and Constitutional rights against those who would see in their physical and cultural differences a 'license' to hunt, trap, or kill them," she writes. Ketchum has submitted her paper to a peer-reviewed journal, but it has yet to be published.

Rare Whale Discovered after Stranding - In December of 2010 two beaked whales washed up on a beach in New Zealand: A 15 foot male and a 10 foot female. The local Department of Conservation came, took some measurements and tissue samples, then buried the bodies on the beach. Just recently when the scientists got around to checking the animals DNA with those in their library of samples they got a surprise. The creatures were not Gray's beaked whales, but a species they had never been seen before and have only been known from jaw bones and partial skulls: the spade-toothed whale (Mesoplodon traversii). The mistake wasn't surprising as these rare animals who hunt in the deep sea had never been seen before. They also appear very similar to other beaked whales. Researchers have since exhumed the bodies and the skeletons are now preserved at the Museum of New Zealand at Te Papa Tongarewa.

Up 103 Floors on a Bionic Leg - In a demonstration of just how far mind-controlled prosthetic limbs have come, amputee Zac Vawter climbed the 103 stories of the Willis Tower, the tallest building in the Western hemisphere, using a bionic leg. While most prosthetic limbs operate by detecting the contraction of remaining muscles, the unit Vawter used detected impulses from his nerves allowing for more nuanced control. The Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, which sponsored the indoor climb, has built a number of thought-controlled limbs for patients for the last few years and other agencies, including DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency are also developing them.

Oldest Supernova Spotted - Using a 3.6 meter optical/infrared telescope on the top of Mauna Kea, Hawaii, scientists have discovered the remnants of two supernovas older than any other previously found. The older of the two explosions occurred 12 billion years ago, making it a billion years older than the oldest supernova ever seen before. The universe is thought to be about 13.7 billion years old. These far away supernovas are only visible today, think scientists, because of the huge size of the stars that exploded. The oldest was more than 100 times the size of our sun. Researchers dated the time of the explosion by looking at the "redshift" of the light coming from the nova. The more the redshift, the faster it is traveling away from us and the farther back in time the event occurred. The scientists hope that by looking for giant stars that may have gone supernova just after the "big bang" they may be able to find more about the condition of the universe at that time.

Early Horned Dino Found - What's 20 feet long, weighs two tons and has twin horns on its face? Xenoceratops foremostensis, a newly named dinosaur that lived in Canada about 78 million years ago. The plant eater, whose name means "alien horned-face" was an early type of ceratopsid (horned) dinosaur, a group the includes the more recent and more familiar Triceratops. Scientists were excited to find out that "even the geologically oldest ceratopsids had massive spikes on their head shields and that their cranial ornamentation would only become more elaborate as new species evolved" according to Dr. Michael Ryan from The Cleveland Museum of Natural History.

Pacific Island Does Not Exist - Researchers doing work on Australia's continental crust recently discovered that a 15 mile long island shown on many charts and Google maps, doesn't really exist. Sandy Island, also known as Sable Island, had been shown on various maps for 116 years. It was supposed to lie 700 miles from the coast of Brisbane, Australia near the island of French New Caledonia. The ship's crew thought that the island looked a little odd on their maps, so they decided to visit it. The captain was a nervous approaching the location of the island, fearing they might run aground, but their depth meters showed water tended to be deep there, around 4,620 feet. Expedition member Steven Micklethwaite, an associate professor at the University of Western Australia, said, ""We all had a good giggle at Google as we sailed through the island. It was one of those happy circumstances in science. You come across something somebody has never noticed before." The researcher recorded the depth information so that future maps will reflect the correct information.


Science Quote of the Month - "Science never solves a problem without creating ten more." - George Bernard Shaw


What's New at the Museum:

Stonehenge - Stonehenge, in many peoples' minds, is the most mysterious place in the world. This set of stones laid out in concentric rings and horseshoe shapes on the empty Salisbury Plain, is, at the age of 4,000 years, one of the oldest, and certainly best preserved, megalithic (ancient stone) structures on Earth, but we know almost nothing about who built Stonehenge and why. >Full Story

Mysterious Picture of the Month - What is this this?

Ask the Curator:

Can Extraterrestrial Astronomers See Us? - If an alien being with a telescope from an exoplanet looks at our solar system, would they detect our planets using the methods we use or would they see a "fuzzy" nebula looking orb due to the Oort cloud? -Rowell

Let's first do a quick review about how scientists can detect planets around distant stars. Just pointing a powerful telescope at a star system and trying to pick out the planets going around it generally doesn't work. The star itself is too bright and outshines any planets it has (perhaps by a factor of a million to one). Also at the interstellar distances we are talking unless the planets are very large and hot they are generally too small for even the most power telescopes to find.

The most productive way of discovering new stars is by indirect methods. One of these is to measure the light coming from the parent star and watch for tiny shifts in the wave lengths. As planets move around a star their gravity can cause it to "wobble" a bit and this causes the wavelength of its light to shift because of the Doppler Effect. By observing a star long enough and recording the size, timing and length of the shifts scientists can estimate the number planets and how far they are from the star, although it is difficult to tell exactly how big those planets are.

The second most productive method to find exoplanets is to watch the slight dimming of the star as the planets pass between it and telescopes on Earth. With this method scientists can detect the number of planets, how far away they are from their star and even estimate their size. Occasionally they can even use a spectroscope to detect what their atmosphere might be like. The only problem with this method is that it only works on star systems which are oriented in such a way that at least one of the planets transits its star as seen from Earth.

There are other methods to detect exoplanets, but let's talk about how an Oort cloud would affect these two approaches.

Well, let's first talk about what the Oort cloud is. In the 1950's Jan Hendrik Oort speculated that out beyond the orbit of Neptune there was a large number of comets that might extend as far out from the sun as 3 light years. Subsequent observations proved this true and the cloud was named for him. However it isn't a cloud in the normal sense we would think of when we look at clouds in the sky. The density is very low. The only parts of it we can detect are the few comets that occasionally leave the cloud and make a passage into the inner solar system. The rest of the cloud is too thin and dim for us to detect with our current instruments.

Because it is so thin it doesn't interfere with our ability to look at the stars beyond or use the above methods to find planets around those stars. By the same token astronomers on distance stars would not have any problem with using these same methods to detect planets in our solar system. The Oort cloud is too thin to block their observations. It is also very likely that the solar systems we have found so far have their own versions of an Oort cloud and these don't seem to hinder our observations.

Have a question? Click here to send it to us.


In History:

Falling Carp - One of the stranger events that occasionally creeps up in history is the fall of something from the sky that is unexpected and unexplained. In some cases this might be frogs or worms. In many cases, however, it is fish. On December 22nd, 1955, two men were driving to work near Alexandria, VA, when a large fish fell through the windshield apparently from a considerable height. The car was not near an overpass at the time and where the fish - a large carp - came from still remains a mystery.


In the Sky:

The Geminids - The Geminid meteor shower should peak in the early morning hours of December 14th. The shower is the result of debris from comet 3200 Phaethon. This year should be particularly good viewing as the moon is new and the sky will be dark. The meteors will appear to originate from the constellation Gemini, which will be high overhead in the night sky.

Jupiter Close - Take a look at the night sky on December 2nd for Jupiter. It looks like a star, but brighter than anything but the sun, moon and sister planet Venus. When you spot it, the planet may not look any different than you've seen it before, but know that Jupiter today is closer to Earth than it will be again until 2021.



UFOs Along the Tibet- India Border - The newspaper India Today reports that Indian troops along the heavily militarized border with Tibet have been spotting UFOs in the area. Indo-Tibetan Border Police Force (ITBP) have been reporting strange luminous airborne objects since the summer in the remote Ladakh region. Unlike regular aircraft none of these UFOs have been visible on radar. A scientific expedition dispatched to the area was able to observe one of the objects, but was unable to establish was it was, though they note it was not necessarily from outer space. UFOs have been reported in the region for years now including one famous sighting from 2004 were 14 people at a distance of 150 feet, for a period of 40 minutes, observed a "four-foot tall 'robot-like' figure," walking along a valley. The figure then rapidly became airborne and disappeared.


On the Tube:

Please check local listing for area outside of North America.

Nova: Secrets of Stonehenge - New archeological finds shed light on the most misunderstood monument of the ancient world. On PBS: December 12 at 9 pm; ET/PT.

Nova: Riddles of the Sphinx - A marvel of ancient Egyptian engineering is threatened. Can it be saved? On PBS: December 19 at 9 pm; ET/PT.

Nova: Quest for Solomon's Mines - Archeologists seek the truth about the Bible’s most famous king and his legendary riches. On PBS: December 26 at 9 pm; ET/PT

Volcano Time Bomb - Predicting volcanic eruptions is nearly impossible. Using CGI and the latest technologies, leading experts take us into the heart of a volcano to show how they work and reveal the latest methods that might help predict the next eruption.On The Discovery Channel: Dec 09, 9:00 pm; Dec 10, 12:00 am; ET/PT.

WW2 From Space - This spectacular two-hour special delivers the tipping points of World War II as you ve never seen them before. The key editorial feature of the program is an all-seeing CGI eye; a satellite, flying above earth, bringing a new visual approach to the biggest conflict of all time. Flying through space and time from above, we ll see these monumental moments in their global context, bringing new information to the forefront and explaining how a nation ranked 19th in the world s militaries in 1939, emerged six years later as the planet s only atomic superpower. Our view from above means we can re-interpret WWII; placing key events in perspective, flying around the world to show the importance of simultaneity, revealing the hidden ripple effects of crucial incidents, and re-creating ground-breaking moments that could never have been captured on camera. On The History Channel: Dec. 7m 9:00pm; ET/PT.

Area 51 Declassified: - It's the most famous military installation in the world, yet it doesn't officially exist. Area 51-- a site for covert Cold War operations-- has long been a magnet for crackpots, conspiracy theorists, and the overly curious. While there may not be truth to the rumors that Area 51 is a haven for UFO's and extraterrestrials, it's clear that our government has been up to something in Area 51 for decades, and it turns out there is a kernel of truth to even some of the wildest speculation. Underground tunnels? Hidden enemy aircraft? Secret government UFO files? Now, after years of silence, for the first time Area 51 insiders spill their secrets and reveal what's really been going on inside the most secretive place on earth. On The National Geographic Channel: Nov. 18 8PM; ET/PT.

Maya Underworld: The Real Doomsday: - Venturing into vast underwater graveyards of Mayan human sacrifices in Mexico, journalist Diego Buñuel searches for new revelations about the infamous upcoming doomsday. Using groundbreaking National Geographic technology, Diego and a team of archaeologists will literally light up the abyss to explore these underwater tombs and gain key insight into why some believe the Maya may have predicted an impending apocalypse. On The National Geographic Channel: Dec 3, 10PM; Dec; ET/PT.


Science over the Edge Archives

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Copyright Lee Krystek 2012. All Rights Reserved.


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