The immense Hanger One at Moffett Field is now leased by Google.


Science Over the Edge

A Roundup of Strange Science for the Month


December 2014

In the News:

Google Leases Landmark - Google has leased the giant Hanger One at Moffett Field near its Silicon Valley headquarters for the next 60 years. The historic hanger, a landmark in the Silicon Valley area, was built in 1932 by the Navy to house its airships. The facility is currently owned by NASA who will get $1.6 billion over the life of the lease. Google will also pay for $200 million to repair the huge structure which is 1,133 feet (345m) long and 198 feet (60m) high. What does Google want with such a building? Google plans to use the space for research, development, assembly and testing for its efforts in space exploration, aviation, rover/robotics and other new technologies. The name on the lease is "Google Planetary Ventures."

Star Ages Too Soon - Does it seem like you kids are causing you to prematurely age? Well, a star named WASP-18 maybe having the same problem. Scientists know that younger stars are more active, with stronger magnetic fields, larger flares and more intense X-ray emission. However, WASP-18 seems to be a very young star (500 million to 2 billion years old) but 100 times less active than it should be. Why? It is the parent star to WASP-18b, a giant planet with a mass 10 times that of Jupiter that orbits very close to WASP-18. Astronomers think that the planet's strong gravitational pull may be disrupting the star's magnetic field. "The planet's gravity may cause motions of gas in the interior of the star that weaken the convection," said co-author Salvatore Sciortino, also of INAF-Osservatorio Astronomico di Palermo. "This has a domino effect that results in the magnetic field becoming weaker and the star to age prematurely."

Ghost Made in Laboratory - According to a new study published in Current Biology it is possible to re-create the feeling that someone gets of a ghostly presence at a haunted house, in a laboratory. In the experiment participants were blindfolded and asked to perform movements with their hands in front of them. Meanwhile, after a delay, a robotic device made the same movements while touching their backs. This interfered with the sensorimotor input of participants' brains causing them to perceive the presence of somebody else in the room. "Our experiment induced the sensation of a foreign presence in the laboratory for the first time. It shows that it can arise under normal conditions, simply through conflicting sensory-motor signals," explained Blanke. "The robotic system mimics the sensations of some patients with mental disorders or of healthy individuals under extreme circumstances. This confirms that it is caused by an altered perception of their own bodies in the brain."

Stegosaur Does Low Blow - Apparently the Stegosaurus wasn't afraid to fight dirty. Scientists have come across an allosaurus fossil with a circular hole in its pelvis surrounded by a well-preserved, fist-sized abscess which was the result of an infection. Paleontologist Robert Bakker of the Houston Museum of Natural Science believes that only thing that could have made such a hole was the spike from a Stegosaurus tail driven into the groin of the allosaurus. According to Bakker the allosaurus, a huge predator from 147 million years ago, did not die immediately from the attack, but probably lived for weeks limping and expelling pus. The find give scientists a view into how dinosaurs fought each other.

Bats Sabotage Each Other - Bats are famous for using sonar for hunting down prey. They send out a sound signal (too high for us to hear) and the echo bouncing back from some poor moth leads them to lunch. Now a new study suggests that other bats may use "jamming signals" to prevent their rivals from getting a meal so that jammer has a chance of snagging it. Scientists watching a colony of Mexican free-tailed bats, Tadarida brasiliensis, noticed that when a bat when after a meal, other bats would begin a vocalization (sort of a whirring sound). The scientists recorded that sound, then set up a lab experiments with a hungry bat and a captive moth. If the scientists played the jamming sound when the bat went after the moth it missed it 86% of the time.


Science Quote of the Month - "Science can only ascertain what is, but not what should be, and outside of its domain value judgments of all kinds remain necessary." - Albert Einstein


What's New at the Museum:

Bethlehem's Star - For hundreds of years pundits have speculated about the nature of the star in the Christmas story. An ecnore of our classic page for the holidays. Full Story

Mysterious Picture of the Month - What is this this?

Ask the Curator:

Flying Stones - Recently, on a trip to Cape Breton Island we saw a few signs along the road saying "Warning -- Flying Stones." What are these "flying stones?" It sounds like a Fortean phenomenon, but I have a feeling there is another explanation. - Alan.

As much as the phrase "flying stones" brings to my mind a vision of boulders levitating in the sky like alien flying saucers, I suspected that there was a more pedestrian explanation for this warning sign, so I did some research by checking the website for the department of roads in the Cape Breton area.

Here is what I think the signs are about: There is an inexpensive way of coating a road called "Chip Seal." Basically you lay down a surface of sticky tar-like material, then on top of that a layer of stone chips, then finally another layer on top that to seal the chips down.

This method produces a road surface that is much smoother than a gravel road, but rougher than a normal asphalt surface. For this reason it's unpopular in urban high-traffic areas or on high-speed roads. However, because of its low cost, it is often found in rural areas with light traffic and low road speeds. Chip Seal is sometimes also used as a cheap way to patch normal asphalt road until more permanent repairs can be made.

However, there are some additional disadvantages to Chip Seal beyond the rough road surface. For the first 24/48 hours after the surface has been laid down there is a very high chance that stone chips will be picked up, caught in tire treads and thrown by vehicles, especially trucks.

In the Cape Breton Island area they call this phenomenon "flying stones." I suspect the signs you saw were warning of a section of road that was just recently been redone with chip seal. Cars hit by flying stone chips thrown up by other vehicles can, of course, wind up with expensive cracked windshields or unsightly chipped paint, so the department of road there warns driver with the "Flying Stones" sign.

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In History:

First Hydrogen Balloon Flight - On December 1st, 1783, the first manned flight using a hydrogen balloon was made in Paris by Professor Jacques Alexander Cesar Charles and Marie-Noel Robert. (The flight came just a week after the first manned hot air balloon flight, also from Paris). The initial part of the flight went as high as 2000 feet (600m) with a distance of 27 miles (43km). The balloon then landed and Robert got out. Charles then took the balloon up to 8850 feet (2700m).


In the Sky:

Geminid Shower - December brings us the Geminid Meteor Shower. This year the best viewing will come on the evenings of the 12th and 13th before the quarter moon rises. Watch for the meteors as they radiate from the constellation Gemini. The Geminids move slowly and are plentiful with a rate of between 50 and 100 an hour.



Witch Traps Found in Historic Home - Archaeologists have found "demon traps" under the floorboards of a bedroom in one of Britain's most historic houses, Knole. By tree ring dating, scientists were able track the date the marks were made to early 1606 during the reign of King James I. "King James I had a keen interest in witchcraft and passed a witchcraft law, making it an offense punishable by death and even wrote a book on the topic entitled Daemonologie," said James Wright of the Museum of London Archaeology, which is restoring the house. It is believed the owner of the house, Thomas Sackville, had the symbols carved into the floorboards and around the fireplace when the room was constructed because he expected the Kin g to use that bedroom during a visit. The marks are in the shape of interlocking "V" which were mean to invoke the protection of the Virgin Mary toward off evil and prevent demonic possession.


On the Tube:

Please check local listing for area outside of North America.

Nova: First Man on the Moon - He risked his life for the nation and became a world icon, but who was Neil Armstrong? On PBS: December 3 at 9 pm. ET/PT.

Nova: Making Stuff Wilder - Host David Pogue travels the globe to explore new technologies inspired by nature. On PBS: December 17 at 9 pm ET/PT.

Lost Gospels - Biblical Mysteries Explained examines the lost books of the Bible. We'll travel from the desert of Egypt to the labs of the Smithsonian Institution to uncover the secrets of the banned gospels of Mary Magdalene, Peter the Apostle, and Judas Iscariot. On the Science Channel: Dec 4th. at 9:00 PM; Dec 6th at 12:00AM, ET/PT.

The Universe: Ancient Mysteries Solved Star of Bethlehem - What was the astronomical reality behind the star that, according to the Gospel of Matthew, guided the Magi to the young Jesus? This episode examines almost 20 centuries of theories, including meteors, novae, supernovae and comets...but is the truth to be found in a combination of astronomy--and astrology? Recent theories suggest that the "star" was the planet Jupiter in a series of conjunctions with other planets, stars and constellations, and that these conjunctions were interpreted by the Magi--astrologers and priests of the Zoroastrian religion--as heralding the birth of the Jewish Messiah. On the History Channel: Sun December 7, 9:00 PM, ET/PT.

Museum Men Hunting Nazi Submarines - Creative Arts is creating a full-scale midget submarine, the WWII German Seehund, for the Tampa Bay History Center. This life-sized sub will help visitors understand the extreme conditions the Nazis endured, both inside cramped quarters and above water at war. It will also showcase the weaponry that threatened America's Greatest Generation. This will be one of Creative Art's most complicated builds to date as the team must figure out how to best display the inside of the Seehund while still maintaining the iconic submarine silhouette. The team will also build a secret door bookcase for the VIP room at Ciro's Speakeasy. Their design must match Ciro's unique 1920s ambiance, but also function smoothly as a door. On the History Channel: Sat December 6, 10:00 PM, ET/PT.

Einstein - Albert Einstein's revolutionary theory that turned the world upside down might have been dismissed but for a math mistake, a cloudy sky, and the start of World War I. This fascinating two-hour special tells the story of Einstein's little-known, 15-year struggle to prove one of his most radical theories -- a theory that upended Newton and three centuries of scientific thought and called into question the definitions of space and light and gravity -- the game-changing concept known as the Theory of General Relativity. Today, more than a century since the "Miracle Year" in which he published many of his breakthrough papers, Einstein's ideas remain a living, vibrant influence. They continue to push scientists farther, and deeper, into the universe than even he could have imagined. On the History Channel: Wed December 10, 9:00 PM, ET/PT.


Zeep and Meep will be going on a well deserved vacation. In their place we will feature highlights from their past adventures.

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