Sky Tran pod departs a pick up point in this artist's
concept picture. (Photo courtesy
Over the Edge
Roundup of Strange Science for the Month
Pod Transportation Not Quite Ready - The news media
was abuzz about the futuristic transportation system designed
by Sky Tran being demonstrated in Israel last month. Those
reports, as it turned out, were premature. Sky Tran's Israel
based partner, Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) confirmed
that the test track has yet to be finished and thinks early
2016 is a more likely date. The system uses futuristic pods
running under a MagLev monorail track to transport people
around dense urban areas. The pods only holds two people
and acts like automated taxis delivering their customers
under computer control directly from the boarding point
to destination station with no stops in between. Though
there was no demo last month IAI noted that "work on the
Test Track (a.k.a. "Technology Demonstration System One
or TDS1) in Tel Aviv is proceeding fine."
Prevents Explosions and is Good for the Environment! - An
additive that can be put into potentially explosive fuels
like gasoline and jet fuel may prevent explosions. As a
bonus it may also allow the fuel to burn cleaner too. A
team, lead by Julie Kornfield, professor of chemical engineering
at Caltech, found that by adding a long chain polymer to
the fuel they could prevent the liquid from turning into
a deadly explosive mist during an impact. Instead, the fuel
will create rain sized droplets with are much less likely
to explode. The group, inspired by the 9-11 terrorist attack
looked for a way to keep airplane fuel from exploding so
that aircraft could not be used as potential bombs by hijackers.
"Our dream was that if word got out to terrorists that fuel
wouldn't explode, maybe they wouldn't be that motivated,"
said Kornfield. A paper on the discovery is in the Journal
Resistant to Drugs - An 11th-century mummy's feces was
found to contain bacteria with gene mutations responsible
for many antibiotic-resistant genes that would have made
treatment with antibiotics -- such as tetracycline, quinolones
fosfomycin, chloramphenicol, and vancomycin -- useless.
This is surprising discovery as most scientists assumed
that these genes arose with the use of modern antibiotics
in the last century. The mummy was found in Cuzco, the ancient
capital of the Inca Empire, was brought to Italy in the
second half of the 19th century. This discovery may have
an impact on scientists working with the problem of antibiotic
You Rather Be Able to Climb Trees or Throw a Baseball? -
A new study shows that humans most likely gave up the
ability to climb trees easily to be good at throwing rocks.
"Tree climbing requires large, powerful muscles with different
demands on force production and perhaps reduces the range
of motion at the shoulder and precludes the kind of throw
that a baseball pitcher does," said co-author Madhusudhan
Venkadesan, an assistant professor at the National Center
for Biological Sciences in India. In prehistoric times the
ability to accurately throw a rock or a spear might have
been the difference between starving and eating lunch. Chimps
and other primates never developed this ability. Despite
slinging poop at the occasional zoo visitor, most chimps
can only throw about 20 miles per hour, a fraction of the
speed of even a human little league pitcher. The scientists
used high-speed, 3-D imagery to study 20 people as they
threw a baseball. The results of the tests showed that human
ability to throw mostly comes from body features that enable
elastic energy storage and release at the shoulder.
Once Regrew Their Limbs - Scientists have been fascinated
with the salamander's ability to regrow, limbs, tails and
even organs if they lose them. A recent study suggests that
this ability in the past was wide-spread beyond these amphibians
and even extended to some primitive mammals. "The fossil
record shows that the form of limb development of modern
salamanders and the high regenerative capacities are not
something salamander-specific, but instead were much more
widespread and may even represent the primitive condition
for all four-legged vertebrates" noted lead study author
Nadia Fröbisch. Though scientists are still a long way from
creating a pill that might help you regrow a lost foot,
the knowledge that regeneration capabilities were carried
in our mammal ancestors may help with future medical advances.
Quote of the Month - "Everything
must be made as simple as possible. But not simpler." -
New at the Museum:
the Curator's Office: Racing a Ferrari - I'm
a major fan of the British automotive TV show "Top Gear."
Although the long running show is no longer in production
(and the stars, Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James
May are moving onto a project for Amazon.com), I've been
fascinated with the supercars the trio tested out on their
racetrack and when the opportunity came along for me to
do something similar, I took it. Full
Picture of the Month - What
is this this?
Very Cold - Is it possible to attain 0° Kelvin? -Feloxi
on the Kelvin temperature scale is often referred to as
absolute zero. To get an idea of what absolute zero
is, we first need to know a little bit about heat and temperature.
All atoms and molecules "vibrate" with thermal energy. The
more vibration, the more heat the atom or molecule has.
As the atoms and molecules of a material are cooled, the
vibration slows down and the energy decreases. The point
at which all heat energy has been removed from a material
is called absolute zero. This is approximately -459.67 °F
on the Fahrenheit scale or 0° on the Kelvin scale.
to the third law of Thermodynamics you can never completely
achieve absolute zero but only approach it, but scientists
have come darn close. In September of 2003 scientists at
MIT managed to get a small group of sodium atoms down to
240 millionths of a degree above absolute zero. Larger objects
are harder to cool, but another group at MIT managed to
get a mirror about the size of a dime down to just 0.8 °K
above absolute zero. They did this by shooting laser pulses
at it to "trap" and "damp" the molecular motion.
These laboratory temperatures are just a bit colder than
any reported in nature. The coldest known place is about
5,000 light years away from Earth in the Boomerang Nebula
located in the constellation Centaurus. Astronomers think
the temperatures there run around 1°K. If you ever visit
it, better bring a jacket.
are very interested in the behavior of objects very close
to absolute zero. It may give them the chance to observe
quantum physics effects that normally are too small to see
because the are lost in the heat motion of the material.
Just a final note: There is also something called a negative
temperature (less then absolute zero on the Kelvin scale)
but negative temperatures are actually hotter then absolute
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H-Bomb Blast - On November 1st, 1952, the first United
States tested the world's first thermonuclear device at
the a Eniwetok Atoll in the Pacific. The hydrogen bomb,
named "Ivy Mike," destroyed the island and created an underwater
crater a 6240-ft wide and 164-ft deep. The explosion was
the equivalent of 10.4 million tons of TNT. Nine months
later the USSR tested their own H-bomb.
Meteor Shower - The Leonid meteor shower is will reach
its peak during the early morning hours of Wednesday, November
18th. The shower is the result of debris from the Comet
55P/Tempel-Tuttle. Expected to see 10 to 15 meteors per
hour with this comet.
Strange Observations Raises the Possibility of Alien Civilization
- An odd set of observational data from NASA's Kepler
Space Telescope has a few scientists wondering if it has
spotted a giant alien artifact. Kepler is designed to detect
planets orbiting distant stars by watching for the dimming
of the star as the planet crosses between that star and
the telescope (This is known as the planet's transit). The
way that the light dims and the length of the dimming will
indicate how big the planet is. While observing KIC 8462852,
a star about 1,500 light years away, however, Kepler saw
a very odd pattern of dimming. In fact some in the planet
hunting community have admitted it seems "bizarre." The
only natural explanation that anybody has been able to come
up with that seems to work is a clump of comets. There is
another, even more implausible explaination that some people
have been speculating about: A giant alien artifact the
size of a planet. Astronomers stress that this is an extremely
unlikely senario, though it is a tantalizing one. Andrew
Siemion, the head of the University of California-Berkeley's
SETI Group has put in requests to use some of the world
premier telescopes to get to the bottom of the mystery.
and Meep are on a well deserved vacation. In their place
we feature highlights from their past adventures.
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