Over the Edge
Roundup of Strange Science for the Month
Ancient Lead Important for Nuclear Experiments - Scientists
at Italian National Institute for Nuclear Physics (INFN)
will be using lead found in a Roman vessel sunken 2,000
years ago off the coast of Sardinia in an sensitive experiment
to detect extremely rare nuclear processes. Because the
load of lead has been sitting on the bottom of the Mediterranean
Sea for 2000 years it has lost almost all of a small portion
of radioactive lead isotope found in freshly mined lead.
The INFN experiment depends on removing all natural sources
of radiation from the experimental set up. For this reason,
it will be conducted in a tunnel deep below Gran Sasso mountain
in central Italy to provide shielding from cosmic rays.
To prevent low levels of radiation from the surrounding
rocks from interfering with the tests the experiment is
also lined with lead. Recently mined lead, however, itself
is a source of low level radiation. Only lead mined thousands
of years ago is completely inert and therefore extremely
valuable to scientists. The INIF team expects their experiment
to come on line in a couple of years and will be used to
try and detect an extremely rare nuclear process predicted
by theory, but so far undiscovered, known as neutrinoless
double beta decay.
Mars Fossils May be Easier to Find Than First Thought
- Mars scientists are excited because a recent discovery
here on earth raises the chances of finding fossils on Mars.
Much of Mars is covered with beds of gypsum. Gypsum, also
known as calcium sulfate, has always been considered too
soft and water-soluble to preserve fossils. Under the urging
of astrobiology experts, however, Bill Schopf, a paleobiologist
at the University of California in Los Angeles, checked
terrestrial samples of gypsum that formed six million years
ago when the Mediterranean Sea went dry. He found it full
of the microscopic remains of algae and phytoplanktons.
"It came as a surprise to me," said Schopf. "There's been
almost no work ever done here on Earth looking for fossils
in gypsum because we all assumed that there wouldn't be
anything in there and we were wrong." Orbiting spacecraft
have discovered large deposits of gypsum on Mars which may
turn out to be prime locations to check for ancient microscopic
Plasma Rocket Might Go to Asteroid - NASA is
considering using a new type of engine for a new mission
to visit an asteroid. The electrically powered Variable
Specific Impulse Magnetoplasma Rocket (VASIMR) engine is
being developed for testing on the International Space Station.
In addition to the primary engine that is being assembled,
a backup is also being put together in case the first one
is damaged before it has been successfully installed. If
the original is installed on the space station without incident
this will leave NASA with an extra engine and the space
agency is contemplating using it to power a scientific probe
to an asteroid. The engine works by using radio waves to
ionize a propellant - such as argon, xenon or hydrogen -
and the resulting hot plasma with then is directed out the
back of the spacecraft by magnetic fields. In theory, the
engine should be much more efficient than current chemical
rockets and would allow a flight to Mars in just 39 to 45
days. Using the plasma engine to power an asteroid probe
would be a powerful demonstration of the technology.
Beavers Produce New Record Dam - In a remote
area of northern Alberta, Canada, a scientist has discovered
the world largest beaver dam. The dam, 2,800 feet long,
surpasses the former record holder in Montana. Jean Thie
used satellite imagery and Google Earth software to find
the dam which is located on the southern edge of Wood Buffalo
National Park. Thie, who discovered the dam by accident
while tracking melting permafrost, thinks that that several
generations of beavers are responsible for the construction.
Rangers who flew over the area noted that the beavers are
working on two smaller dams on each side of the main one.
Within a decade these three structures could merge to produce
a new dam almost a kilometer in length. Mike Keizer, spokesman
for the park, noted "It's a unique phenomenon. Beaver dams
are among the few animal-made structures visible from space."
Study Says All Life Has Common Ancestor - A recent
statistical study suggests that all life on earth had a
common ancestor. This has long been one of the central pillars
of evolutionary theory, but recently some microbiologists
have suggested the perhaps life arouse in multiple places
and then the microscopic creatures some swapped DNA, as
is sometimes seen nature. To test which possibility was
more likely Douglas Theobald, a biochemist at Brandeis University,
performed computer simulations to evaluate how likely various
evolutionary scenarios were to have created certain proteins
shared by all life. He found that statistically it was at
least 102,860 times more probable that all life had a single
common ancestor rather than multiple ancestors. The study
appears in the May 13 issue of Nature. "In one sense, we
are not surprised at the answer, but we are very pleased
that the unity of life passed a formal test," said David
Penny, a theoretical biologist and Allan Wilson Centre researcher
at Massey University in Palmerston North, New Zealand.
Science Quote of the Month - "The
scientist is not a person who gives the right answers, he's
one who asks the right questions. " ~
New at the Museum:
Hitler's Super Tank - Hitler was in love with
big, technological weapons. Mighty battleships, supersonic
rockets and jet aircraft were just a few of the advanced
devices the Third Reich put onto the battlefield during
World War II. One planned weapon that didn't make it into
action, however, was the Landkreuzer P-1000 "Ratte." A true
rolling fortress it was far heavier and more powerful than
any other tank considered by any other country before, during
or after the war. If this super tank had been built, how
might it have affected the conflict? >Full
Mysterious Picture of the Month - What
is this thing?
Dudleytown Hauntings - I was wondering
what the Curator's thought was on the stories of the Dudleytown
hauntings in Connecticut . Could Dudleytown be haunted by
the spirits of the old town that once resided there? - Tim
I have to admit
that I have no special knowledge of the Dudleytown legend.
However, it is a fascinating story and thanks for suggesting
we talk about it here in Ask the Curator. Let me
go over the account so that anybody not familiar with the
tale will know what we're talking about.
The legend of
Dudleytown supposedly starts in 1510 when Edmund Dudley
was beheaded for plotting to overthrow the King of England.
The story has it that a curse was placed on his family.
In 1747 brothers Abiel and Barzillai Dudley, supposedly
Edmund's descendants, settled in the area giving the town
its name. The location was too rocky and dark for farming
so the town people made a business out of making charcoal
from the abundant trees. The town prospered for while, but
then, according to the legend, things turned bad.
As the story
goes it all started when one of the Dudley brothers when
insane. Then there were a series of unfortunate accidents
and mysterious deaths. A woman was struck by lightning while
sitting on her porch. People got sick, children disappeared
and houses burned down. Finally, in despair, the villagers
abandoned the town. Soon the dark woods closed in around
it and now only the ever present owls inhabit the area.
According to the legend most other animals avoid it.
So is the place
really haunted? Well, if you talk to Dudleytown's neighbors
they will tell you it is all a bunch of hokum and the legend
has caused all kinds of problems for them. A number of years
ago some of the property owners in the area formed an association
- Dark Entry Forest, Inc. - purchased the land designated
the location a nature preserve. For many years it was possible
to visit the location without a problem. However, after
the 1999 release of the movie The Blair Witch Project
the area was inundated by thrill seeking teenagers and
paranormal investigators. Now The Blair Witch Project
was supposed to have taken place in Maryland, but the location
in the film, a dark woods, was so similar to Dudleytown
that people in Connecticut decided this local location was
a good place to try and have a Blair Witch type adventure.
The problems this caused - like late night drinking parties
and theft from the historic ruins - forced Dark Entry Forest,
Inc. to close the location to visitors.
isn't the only historic site to have problems caused by
it supposed haunted connections - See The
Haunted Church of Gravity Hill )
to find their way into the town, however. In one incident,
perhaps even a little bit like the Blair Witch movie,
a group of five teens found themselves so lost that at 1:30
in the morning they had to call 911 to get rescued. Fortunately,
instead of losing their lives, as in the film, they each
just got a $77 ticket from the Connecticut State Police
Some argue that
the association is just trying to down play the ghostly
history to avoid any more paranormal mayhem, but at least
one author agrees with them that the legend is all bunk.
The Rev. Gary P. Dudley, of Texas, became interested in
the story because of the connection with his name. After
researching the historical records he wrote The Legend
of Dudleytown: Solving Legends through Genealogical and
Historical Research (Heritage Books, 2001). In his book
Dudley argues that most of the stories associated with the
town are complete fiction or have been twisted to fit the
legend. For example, the wife of Dr. William Clarke, who
owned a vacation home on the site, supposedly went mad and
killed herself when she was left alone there one night.
Dudley found that Mrs. Clarke did indeed commit suicide,
but that occurred in New York City, not in Dudleytown.
So is Dudleytown
really haunted? Well, according to people who have visited
the site the surrounding hills and heavy forest certainly
make it dark and gloomy location worthy of a haunting. However,
spooky places do not necessary mean there are spooks (Check
The Science of Ghosts and Hauntings).
If you want to
see what Rev. Dudley has to say about it, buy his book or
visit his website at http://www.legendofdudleytown.com/
Dark Humanoid Figure - On June 18, 1953, three
residents of Houston saw a strange entity during the early
morning hours. As they watched a huge shadow fell across
the lawn of their apartment building. They reported it belong
to a "figure of a man, dressed in gray or black-fitting
clothes." The group could not agree on if he had wings or
a cape. After a quarter of an hour he seemed to vanish and
a loud "swoosh" was hear as a rocket-shaped object launched
into the sky and headed northeast. No explanation for this
even is known.
Shooting Stars from Lyra - The Lyrid meteor shower
will reach its peak this month from June 15 to 16. With
the moon just past its new stage (appearing as a thin crescent)
that will set in the early evening, the sky should be dark
enough to provide good viewing for most of the night. The
Lyrids only generate about 10 meteors per hour so it is
best to try and observe them at their peak. The shooting
stars will appear to be coming from the constellation Lyra
(the lyre or harp), which will appear in the east soon after
sunset. The meteor shower is courtesy of Comet Thatcher
and is the result of tiny dust particles left in the comet's
trail that hit Earth's atmosphere and burn up.
Oarfish Found on Swedish Coast - A rare Giant Oarfish,
also known as the "giant herring" or "king of herrings"
has been found dead on a Sweden's western coast. The creature,
which had a length of almost 12 feet, was the first of this
size found in Sweden since 1879. The Oarfish's strange,
long narrow body can grow up to 40 feet in length and may
be the source of some sea monster tales. The animal is rarely
seen as its natural habitat is the deep sea, and only a
very few individuals come to the surface, usually because
they are near death. "Down at the water, there was something
big floating. At first we thought it was a big piece of
plastic. But then we saw an eye. I went down to check and
saw that it was this extremely strange fish," Kurt Ove Eriksson,
the passer-by who found the specimen, told the Swedish newspaper
check local listing for area outside of North America.
Nova: Alien From Earth - Do
the remains of a tiny hobbit-like creature found on the
island of Flores belong to a new human species? On PBS:
Tuesday, June 15 at 8 pm; ET/PT.
Nova: The Spy Factory - Examine
the high-tech eavesdropping carried out by the National
Security Agency and the pitfalls of surveillance in an age
of terrorism. On PBS: Tuesday, Juine 29 at 8 pm; ET/PT.
On The Discovery Channel:
Pig Bomb - Pig Bomb reveals a little known animal invasion - Wild pigs are reproducing
out of control in the USA. But it's not only their numbers
that are increasing, the individual animals are getting
bigger, and they are also becoming more aggressive
Jun 06, 8:00 pm; Jun 06, 11:00 pm; ET/PT.
On The Science Channel:
Morgan Freeman's Through the Wormhole - Did our Universe come into being by chance or was it created by a God?
The latest science shows that the four forces governing
our universe are finely tuned, so much so that it has led
many to believe that something must have calibrated them.
May 06, 9:00 pm; Jun 09, 10:00 pm; Jun 10, 1:00 am; Jun 11, 5:00 am;
Jun 13, 9:00 pm; ET/PT.
On The Science Channel
Jack the Ripper: New Evidence - London in 1888 was gripped by fear as the bloodthirsty maniac Jack the
Ripper was killing and mutilating women. The killer was
never caught, but with 21st century police forensic techniques
the greatest criminal mystery in history may finally be
Jun 07, 8:00 pm; Jun 07, 11:00 pm; Jun 09, 3:00 am; ET/PT
On The Science Channel
Creating Synthetic Life - For the first time in history, synthetic life has been created. Exclusive
behind the scenes footage reveals the story behind Dr Craig
Venter?s seven year journey to success, and the incredible
implications for the future.
Jun 03, 8:00 pm; Jun 03, 10:00 pm; Jun 04, 12:00 am; Jun 05, 3:00 am;
Jun 05, 5:00 am; Jun 06, 1:00 pm ET/PT
Egypt Unwrapped: The Real Cleopatra - New clues unearthed about the life of Cleopatra, including 3-D models
that bring to life what she actually may have looked like
On The National Geographic Channel: June 5th, 7:00 PM to
8:00 PM; ET/PT.
Paranatural: Chupacabra - New evidence in Texas may help scientists get to the bottom of the Chupacabra
mystery. On The
Channel: June 5th 11:00 AM to 12:00 PM; June 7th 8:00 PM to 9:00 PM;
and 11:00 PM to midnight; ET/PT.
CIA Secret Experiments - NGC's CIA Secret Experiments examines the launch of a highly classified,
top secret research program during the Cold War that contaminated
entire American cities with bacteria, exposing millions
to germ warfare. On The
Channel: June 8th 8:00 PM to 9:00 PM and 11:00 PM to midnight; ET/PT.
Search for the Amazon Headshrinkers - NGC has exclusive U.S. access to 45-year-old archive footage captured
by explorer Edmundo Bielawski, purportedly the only known
footage that shows the process of an actual -- recently
deceased -- human head being shrunk. On The
Channel: June 12th 8:00 PM to 9:00 PM 11:00 PM to 12:00 AM; June 14
11:00 AM to 12:00 PM; ET/PT.
Hitler's Stealth Fighter - In the final months of World War II, American troops discovered a top-secret
facility in Germany with an advanced batwing-shaped jet
fighter. On The
Channel: June 13th 7:00 PM to 8:00 PM; ET/PT.
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