study says three prisoners from Alcatraz that escaped
in 1962 might just have made it to safety..
Over the Edge
Roundup of Strange Science for the Month
from "The Rock" Might Have Been Successful - A new study
suggests that three prisoners that escaped from Alcatraz
prison in 1962 might have survived their dash to freedom
across the cold waters of the San Francisco bay, but only
if they left at just the right time. The three are the only
inmates that might have successfully escaped from the "The
Rock" in the middle of the bay. It is thought that after
getting out of their cells they attempted to paddle across
the bay in an inflatable raft they'd constructed from raincoats.
The three were never heard of again and many people think
they may have drowned. Now Dutch scientists using software
designed to predict flooding in the bay area, think that
as long as the group set sail between 11PM and midnight
they could have reached land just north of the Golden Gate
Bridge. The scientists determined this by reprogramming
the model to mimic the tides and currents on that fateful
night in '62. The software showed that if they had left
sooner than midnight the three would have been swept out
to sea by the strong tides resulting in certain death.
Egyptian Book Gives Spells - Researchers believe they
have managed to decipher an ancient handbook of Egyptian
magic spells. In their new book professors Malcolm Choat
and Iain Gardner, from Macquarie University and University
of Sydney, respectively, describe how the 1,300 years old
codex contains instructions on how to cast love spells,
exorcise evil spirits and cure disease. "It is a complete
20-page parchment codex, containing the handbook of a ritual
practitioner," wrote the professors, and "starts with a
lengthy series of invocations that culminate with drawings
and words of power. These are followed by a number of prescriptions
or spells to cure possession by spirits and various ailments,
or to bring success in love and business." The book is written
in Coptic and is made of bound pages of parchment. It is
origin is a mystery as it was procured from an antiquities
dealer based in Vienna some 30 or 40 years ago, but the
dialect suggests came from Upper Egypt, near the city of
Damages Nazca Lines in Stunt - The environmental group
Greenpeace are in trouble for a stunt Peruvian authorities
claim damaged the famous and ancient Nazca Lines. The lines,
some geometric shapes, others drawings of animals, are a
UNESCO World Heritage Site. They average 2000 years old
and can best be seen from a plane. The activist group placed
plastic sheet letters on the ground reading "Time for Change;
The Future is Renewable." The message, which also contained
the group's name, was placed in close proximity to a well-known
hummingbird drawing. "It's a true slap in the face at everything
Peruvians consider sacred," Deputy Culture Minister Luis
Jaime Castillo said, adding, "You walk there, and the footprint
is going to last hundreds or thousands of years." The group
has apologized, but authorities are considering holding
them criminally responsible for "attacking archaeological
Arrow of Time May Flow Both Ways - Physicists have long
wondered why time seems to travel only one direction: forward.
After all, the equations of physics work perfectly well
in either direction. Why do we always move into the future,
however, but never the past? One theory is that it's because
of the 2nd law of thermodynamics which states that in a
closed system entropy (disorder) can only increase ("things
tend to fall apart"). Now two scientists have come up with
another theory. Julian Barbour, Tim Koslowski from the University
of New Brunswick, and Flavio Mercati of the Perimeter Institute
for Theoretical Physics think that it is actually gravity
that is driving time and that time does flow into two different
directions starting at the big bang. "If you look at a simple
model with a swarm of bees in the middle [which represents
the Big Bang] but breaking up in either direction, then
you would say there are two arrows of time, pointing in
opposite directions from the swarm of bees," says Barbour.
"This two-futures situation would exhibit a single, chaotic
past in both directions, meaning that there would be essentially
two universes, one on either side of this central state.
Both sides could sustain observers who would perceive time
going in opposite directions. Any intelligent beings there
would define their arrow of time as moving away from this
central state. They would think we now live in their deepest
fowl Helps with Dinosaur Motion - Scientists have used
a guinea fowl, a tank of poppy seeds and a video X-ray machine
to figure out how dinosaurs walked. Paleontologists have
found many dinosaur tracks preserved in rock, but interpreting
them to figure out exactly how the animals walked has not
been easy. To get a better idea of how these tracks may
have been formed scientists used a guneafowl (a distant
descendant of a dinosaurs) and an video X-ray machine to
watch how its feet moved as it negotiated a bed of poppy
seeds. The poppy seeds took the place of the soft mud that
the dinosaurs moved though while making the tracks. By looking
at the motion of the foot and the orientations of the seeds
after a step, scientists were able to explain how mysterious
ridges in the real tracks were formed. "The simulation shows
us that as the foot comes out, it comes out in the middle
of the track and it pulls sediment upwards while it does
so," said study author Peter Falkingham, a research fellow
at the University of London's Royal Veterinary College.
"So these are actually exit traces from the foot." Scientists
hope that this study will help them understand the mechanics
of dinosaur motion. "Footprints often get a bit overlooked,"
Falkingham added. "But as a record of motion, they provide
information that bones cannot."
Quote of the Month - "The
most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious
- the fundamental emotion which stands at the cradle of
true art and true science." - Albert Einstein.
New at the Museum:
of the Solar System: The Asteroid Belt
that never was: Sometimes finding something missing can
be as intriguing as discovering something that's there.
Picture of the Month - What
is this this?
End of the Universe - Our small Earth and other planets
are in space. It's a big area; can you tell me the total
size of space? Will it have a beginning and an end? - J.R.
(A question from our archives).
One of the fundamental questions scientists have struggled
with over the years is the size, shape and destiny of the
universe. The prevailing theory is that the universe came
into being about 13.7 billion years ago in what has been
whimsically called "The Big Bang." It has been expanding
(some people use the term "inflating") ever since. Gravity
- the force that pulls all forms of matter toward each other
- is working against the expansion. For a long time scientists
debated over whether there was enough matter in the universe
given its size (what we call the density) to bring the expansion
to a halt and eventually reverse it. If there isn't, gravity
will just slow down the expansion but never stop it. If
the universe came back together it would end in a "Big Crunch."
If it continued with a slow expansion it would just sort
of slowly die out as all energy was expended and evenly
distributed through out all of space.
scientists were blown away when recent observations showed
that the universe is unlikely to either be pulled back together
or just slowed down. The universe's expansion actually appears
to be accelerating, for some unknown reason. Scientists
have speculated that is due to an unknown force we can't
detect which they have dubbed "dark energy." If this is
the case, if the universe is accelerated enough it may end
when it is actually ripped apart at the atomic level in
some distance future.
shape of the universe is related to its density because
higher density means more gravity. If the density is beyond
a certain critical value, space, as seen in four dimensions,
will be rolled up into the shape of a ball. If the density
is just at the critical value, it will be as if the
surface of the ball had been flattened out into a sheet.
If the density falls below that critical point, it will
be as if the sheet had been bent down on two sides and up
on the other two forming a "saddle" shape.
shape of the universe, in turn, has an impact on theories
about how large it is. For example, the observable universe
(that is the part we can see) is about 92-94 billion light-years
across. If the universe were a closed sphere, however, it
could actually be quite a bit smaller than this because
light traveling in a "straight line" would eventually follow
the curve of the sphere and come back to its starting point.
This means that if you used a telescope to look at a distance
galaxy, you might be actually be looking at your own galaxy
from the other side. It might seem that it would be easy
to look at a distant part of space and see if the galaxies
there matched up with any galaxies in opposite direction,
but an experiment like this is extremely difficult to do.
In reality the great distances involved mean that we are
seeing the galaxies at different times in their history,
so they may not look the same or be in the same position.
data from the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP)
NASA launched in 2001 suggests that the shape of the universe
- at least the observable universe - is nearly "flat" with
a minimum size of around 78 billion light years. However
it is more likely that it is quite larger and may indeed
be infinite. For comparison the diameter of the orbit of
Neptune, our outer most planet, is a little more than one
thousandth of a light year wide.
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Birthday - On January 1st, 1946, ENIAC ( Electronic
Numerical Integrator and Computer), the first American computer
was completed by John Mauchly and J. Presper Eckert at the
University of Pennsylvania, in Philadelphia. This primitive
thinking machine used 18,000 vacuum tubes to do its calculations.
Of those tubes, 2,000 burned out each month of operation
and had to be replaced. Though ENIAC was the most brilliant
machine of its era and was used by the military to help
design the atomic bomb, it processed the equivalent of only
500 FLOPS (Floating Operations Per Second). An iPhone 5
can do about 500 MFLOPS (Million Floating Operations Per
Planets in One Night - January 2015 will be one of the
few times you can see all 5 naked eye visible planets in
the sky in a single evening. Look for Venus, Mercury and
Mars in the southwest sky an hour after sunset. You will
need a clear view of the horizon as Mercury will be low
in the sky and will be the first to drop below the horizon
as the night moves on. About four hours after sunset you
will see Jupiter rise in the east. Then several hours before
sunrise you can see Saturn appear in the predawn sky.
Flying Saucer in Apollo Pics? - A UFO enthusiast pouring
over some archival pictures taken on the Apollo 15 mission
in 1971 thinks he had found an alien craft in the background.
The object appears as three dots together in the sky under
high magnification. "The objectů does appear to be some
kind of craft, but with a shape unlike anything I have seen
before," noted Scott Waring in his UFO blog. "Sure it looks
like a triangle, but actually it seems more like three large
tubular sections that become one. This is probably a drone
keeping an eye on the Apollo 15 mission, perhaps out of
curiosity, or perhaps out of fear." Others who have examined
the photos point out it could just as well be a speck of
dust on the photo or a problem that occurred when the picture
was being developed or copied.
and Meep are on a well deserved vacation. In their place
we feature highlights from their past adventures.
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