reusable Skylon rocket might take flight as soon as
2022. (Courtsey RE Ltd)
Over the Edge
Roundup of Strange Science for the Month
Rocket Might Fly by 2022 - A new study by the European
Launch Service Operator suggests that a single stage ground-to-orbit
rocket, named Skylon, being designed by Reaction Engines
Ltd could be ready for cargo flights to the International
Space Station as soon as 2022. Unlike conventional multi-stage
rockets which are mostly disposable, Skylon will take off
from the ground horizontally - like a plane - fly into orbit,
then return to Earth and land on a runway. This is made
possible by its SABRE (Synergistic Air-Breathing Rocket
Engines) which act like a jet till the craft reaches the
height of 17 miles and then like a conventional rocket engine
after that. Because the engine is using air gathered from
the atmosphere for the first part of its flight, only a
relatively small amount of liquid oxygen is needed to get
the craft into orbit reducing weight. This will mean that
the mission cost of a Skylon flight to space might be as
little as $94 million. A variation of the SABRE engine,
designed for commercial flight operations, might someday
allow passengers to flight from Brussels to Sydney, in less
than 4 hours.
of ISS has Sea Plankton - According to the ITAR-TASS
news agency Russian cosmonauts aboard the International
Space Station have discovered sea plankton on the exterior
of the platform. The researchers used high-precision equipment
to examine samples taken from outside the Russian segment
of the station. The tests seem to suggest that some organisms
can live on the surface of the ISS for years despite exposure
to zero gravity, extreme temperature conditions and hard
cosmic radiation. "Results of the experiment are absolutely
unique," noted chief of the Russian ISS orbital mission
Vladimir Solovyev. "We have found traces of sea plankton
and microscopic particles on the illuminator surface. This
should be studied further." It isn't clear how the outside
of the station became the home to living material, but it
may have come from contamination from rocket engine residue.
Very Unlucky - According to a study in Biological
Reviews, if dinosaurs hadn't been so very unlucky, they
might still be around today. The study notes that if the
asteroid that struck Earth at the end of the Cretaceous
era had just come a few million years earlier, or later,
the reptilians might have been spared. "The asteroid almost
certainly did it," (killed the dinosaurs) said biologist
Stephen Brusatte, who led the study, "but it just so happened
to hit at a bad time when dinosaur ecosystems had been weakened
by a loss of diversity." The study suggests that in the
years before the asteroid hit the Earth was going through
some extreme conditions including massive volcanic eruptions
and extreme changes in temperature and sea level heights.
This lead to fewer and less diverse species of dinosaurs
and making them very vulnerable to the effects of the asteroid
strike when it came.
Making in Egypt Goes Back Farther - According to a new
study the Egyptians started making mummies much earlier
in their history than previously thought. Generally the
start of true Egyptian mummification is dated to about 2,500
B.C.. Preserved bodies found before that era were thought
to be the results of natural processes caused by the hot,
dry conditions of desert sand in which they were buried.
In the current issue of PLOS ONE journal, however,
researchers from the Universities of York, Macquarie and
Oxford reported that embalming agents were soaked in linen
wrappings that were used on bodies as far back as 4,500
B.C. and this is probably the true beginning of mummification.
The researchers identified pine resin, plant gum or sugar,
plant oil and animal fat in the wrappings along with other
agents. The recipe seems very similar to that used during
the height of the mummy craze in Egypt 3,000 years later.
Earthquakes - On August 19th scientists recorded 20
earthquakes in a single day in Oklahoma. Most of them were
so tiny they went unnoticed except on sensitive equipment.
One near the city of Guthrie, however, registered a 4.3
on the Richter scale. Why all the quakes? Scientists are
speculating that hydraulic fracturing (fracking) which uses
the injection of wastewater into the ground to tap oil and
gas may be the problem. Unfortunately researchers can't
yet predict which fracking sites might cause problems or
suggest ways to mitigate the risk of tremors.
Quote of the Month -"Never
memorize something that you can look up." - Albert
New at the Museum:
a Coronal Mass Ejection End Civilization?-
impacts and super volcanos eruptions have been in the news
the past few years as events that send us back into the
dark ages, but the real threat might be something you've
may have never even heard of: a Coronal Mass Ejection. Full
Killer History - Who were the Assassins? - Octavio
Assassins were an order of Nizari Ismailis (which itself
is a branch of Islam) that became famous in the period of
the 12th century for committing murders to forward their
military or political goals. It is from their name that
we get the English word for a professional killer: assassin.
order was founded around 1080 A.D. by Hassan-i Sabbah who
became its first Grandmaster. We don't know exactly why
Sabbah started the order, but legend has it he wished to
exact vengeance on his enemies. This probably included other
Muslims as well as Christians who came to the region as
part of the First Crusade.
his headquarters Sabbah used the fortress at Alamut in what
is now northwestern Iran. The order he created had a hierarchical
structure with himself at the top. At the lowest level were
the "Fida'i" (which means self-sacrificing agent). The Fida'i
went through an extensive training program that included
combat, convert operations, disguise, religion and the use
of horses. A Fida'i also had to be cold, calculating, patient
and willing to sacrifice his own life for the success of
the mission. These traits made them perhaps the most feared
assassins in the world at that time.
is unclear exactly how Sabbah commanded such fervent loyalty
among his foot soldiers. One story is that Sabbah, after
drugging new recruits with hashish, would take them into
a "secret garden of paradise" which contained attractive
young maidens and beautiful plants. They were told that
if they wanted to return to this wonderful place in the
afterlife they would need to serve the order's cause.
scholars consider this story, which came from Marco Polo's
writings, a myth, as the Alamut fortress shows no sign of
ever having contained a "secret garden."
Assassins had a strict code of ethics and never targeted
common people, but only important political or military
figures. They believed a single assassination could be used
to achieve their goals instead of open warfare which would
lead to widespread bloodshed. Their weapon of choice for
such attacks was a dagger, sometimes tipped with poison.
murder was unnecessary, however. It is said that Sultan
Sanjar, who was at odds with the Nizari, woke up one morning
to find an assassin's dagger driven into the ground beside
his bed. Alarmed he secretly arranged a truce with the group
which lasted for decades.
end of the Assassins Order in Iran came in 1275. The Mongols
invaded the region and it is thought that the order sent
its agents to kill their leader, Möngke Khan. They failed
and the Mongol army besieged Alamut. Eventually the fortress
was taken and the order wiped out.
portion of the order, however, survived in Syria into the
14th century. Toward the end they may have worked as assassins
are a lot of stories about the Assassins and they often
appear as characters in both role-playing and video games
like Assassins Creed. Much of the material in these,
however, has been based on unconfirmed stories about the
order, which may have been originally propaganda authored
by the group's enemies so it is unreliable. Most of the
truth about the Assassins, unfortunately, has been lost
to history as many of their records were destroyed when
Moon Challenge - In a speech at Rice University on September
12th, 1962, President John F. Kennedy challenged American
to land a man on the moon and bring him back safely by the
end of the decade. This sparked a space race with the Russians
which ended with the United States sending Neil Armstrong
and Buzz Aldrin to the lunar surface in July of 1969. It
also launched a whole cottage industry of moon landing deniers.
and Planets Near in Sky - Take this chance to see the
moon close in the sky with Saturn and Mars. On September
27, the crescent Moon is near Saturn. By September 28, the
Moon will be half way between Mars and Saturn. Finally on
September 29 it will be close to Mars.
Alien Civilizations - Scientists think it maybe possible
to detect alien civilizations by looking for their heat
signature. According to an article in the The Astrophysical
Journal the researchers believe that any advanced civilization
using energy would have to generate waste heat in mid-infrared
(MIR) wavelengths. We may be able to detect such the generation
of excessive quantities of MIR radiation even with our instruments
today. Because our instruments are not very sensitive, however,
the civilization in question would have to be very large
and advanced occupying a whole galaxy. A preliminary look
at data seems to show no evidence of these "Type II" galactic
civilizations in the area, but as instruments get more sensitive
it may be possible to detect smaller civilizations.
check local listing for area outside of North America.
Ghosts of Machu Picchu - Why did the Incas abandon their
city in the clouds? On PBS Sept. 3rd at 9 pm ET/PT
Vaccines—Calling the Shots - Examine the science behind
vaccinations, the return of preventable diseases, and the
risks of opting out. On PBS Sept. 10th at 9 pm ET/PT
of Darkness: Wrath of Submarine - Said to be deadliest
great white shark of all time, "Submarine" is a 30 foot
great white that has terrorized the shores of South Africa
for decades.Locals believe this shark is responsible for
countless fatal attacks, but existence has never been proven.
On The Discovery Channel: Sept. 4th at 8:00PM & 11:00PM
- From humble beginnings at circus sideshows to sold
out concert halls in Europe, Part 1 of Houdini follows the
rise of the boy Erich Weiss as he becomes the man Harry
Houdini, master escapologist. The rabbi's son from Wisconsin
is the epitome of the American Dream as he makes his way
through the early 20th century vaudeville craze and emerges
as America's first bonafide world renowned superstar. Adrien
Brody stars as The Great Harry Houdini with Kristen Connolly
and Evan Jones co-starring. On the History Channel: Sept
1st 9:00 PM ET/PT.
Part 2 immediately follows.
Things You Don't Know About: Edison vs. Tesla - Thomas
Edison and Nikola Tesla are two of the most famous minds
in American History... yet their lives and work are filled
with facts you'd never even imagine. There's obscure inventions,
eccentric ideas, a proposed duel... not to mention the surprising
site where you'll find artifacts from their first collaboration.
The show leaves no bulb unscrewed in finding the most incredible
facts surrounding these scientific giants. On the History
Channel: Sept. 6th, 9:00 PM ET/PT.