Over the Edge
Roundup of Strange Science for the Month
Statistics Help Find Fraudulent Art - Dan Rockmore
of Dartmouth College, New Hampshire, and two colleagues
have discovered a way of identifying fake paintings through
statistics. The group first takes a painting, not knowing
if it is real or fake, and applies random mathematical functions
until they can successfully recreate a portion of the painting.
They then apply the same set of functions acting as a "filter"
to both a genuine picture by the same artist and a known
fake of this same picture. If the filter performs badly
at reconstructing the genuine image, then can conclude that
the first painting was also a fake. To check there method
the scientists applied their system to the works of Pieter
Bruegel the Elder, the famous Dutch Renaissance painter,
and they were successfully able to distinguish several authentic
drawings from a set of well-known reproductions.
Alligators' Lung Works Like Birds - New research,
published in the journal Science, indicates that
alligators use a one-way path for breathing similar to birds
and unlike mammals. The airflow through bird's lungs is
one-way operating in a loop. This is more efficient that
the mammal arrangement where air is pulled in through the
lungs and out through the lungs in the same path. Researchers
assumed that birds could do this because of a feature called
air sacks. Because alligators don't have these nobody ever
checked the air flow in their lungs. However, C.G. Farmer
of the University of Utah and co-author of the article,
noticed that birds and alligators have some other features
in common and decided to do some testing. In the study live
alligators (fitted with flow meters called thermistors)
were tested as well as several dead alligators. The tests
al showed the unidirectional flow of air. The fact that
both alligators and birds have this feature suggests that
their common ancestor, archosaurs, may have had it too and
might explain why archosaurs were so successful in the low
oxygen atmosphere Earth had during their heyday.
Pyramids Not Built by Slaves - Recently discovered
tombs add more evidence that the builders of the Egyptian
pyramids were not slaves as claimed by the ancient Greek
historian Herodotus. A site near the Gaza pyramids first
stumbled on by a tourist in 1990 has been excavated and
has revealed the tombs of many of the labors who build the
ancient structures. Researchers have found evidence that
these paid workers from the north and south of the country
and were part of the Egyptian lower class. They were apparently
so respected for their work, however, that those who died
during construction were given the honor of being buried
near near the sacred pyramids they had constructed for their
pharaohs. "No way would they have been buried so honorably
if they were slaves," said Egypt's archaeology chief Zahi
Hawass. Records found show that the workers, which numbered
around 10,000 ate fairly well with 21 cattle and 23 sheep
sent to them daily from the surrounding farms.
Chinese Dino Venomous - Scientists have found
a carnivorous dinosaur in China that likely used venom to
subdue its prey. Examinations of the remains of Sinornithosaurus,
whose name means "Chinese bird lizard," show that it had
two long teeth connected to a space than might have housed
a gland containing venom. "Its front teeth are so long and
fanglike that the animal appears to be saber-toothed," said
the team, leader Enpu Gong, a geologist at Northeastern
University in Liaoning, China. Scientists believe the fangs
had a groove running from the gland to the tip of the tooth.
When Sinornithosaurus sank its fangs into prey the
poison would be injected. The system worked very much like
that of the modern day cobra. The finding is the best evidence
yet that some dinosaurs were venomous.
So Long and Thanks for All the Fish - New research
suggests that dolphins are second only to humans in intelligence.
A recent study of dolphin brains using MIR show that they
are four to five times larger for their body size when compared
to other animals. "If we use relative brain size as a metric
of 'intelligence' then one would have to conclude that dolphins
are second in intelligence to modern humans," said Lori
Marino, a senior lecturer in neuroscience and behavioral
biology at Emory University. The studies also show that
various features of the dolphin's part of the brain involved
in higher-order thinking and processing of emotional information
are particularly large. Also behavioral studies conducted
by experts demonstrate that dolphins exhibit exceptional
skills tha are usually only associated with humans. All
this leads Marino to believe that marine park shows, "dolphin-assisted
therapy" facilities and other forms of captivity "are potentially
psychologically harmful to dolphins and present a misinformed
picture of their natural intellectual capacities."
Science Quote of the Month - "The
important thing in science is not so much to obtain new
facts as to discover new ways of thinking about them."
~William Lawrence Bragg
New at the Museum:
Mystery of Quantum Physics (Part 1) -
mystery at the heart of quantum physics strikes directly
at our perception of whether the universe and everything
in it, including ourselves, is real. >Full
Silencing the Bang - How does a gun silencer
stop the loud sound of a gunpowder explosion? - John
As exotic as
a gun silencer (or to use the more official term "suppressor")
seems, it really is very similar in many ways to something
we see every day: a car muffler. Both were invented by Hiram
Maxim in the beginning of the 20th century. Maxim was a
clever inventor who also created the first modern machine
gun and tried his hand at building flying machines.
In both cases
a silencer or muffler needs to take a high pressure shock
wave that to our ears is a loud "bang" and lower the pressure
before it gets to us. This is done by allowing the gasses
inside the gun barrel (or exhaust pipe in the case of a
car) to expand in a closed container.
A basic silencer
that is screwed on to the end of a gun can be as simple
as a large, empty can with holes at each end to allow the
bullet to pass through. As the bullet travels through the
silencer, the gas behind it expands into the can and the
pressure is lowered. More sophisticated silencers may also
have "baffles" that further suppress the sound by adding
additional smaller chambers near the final exit hole.
Some of these
devices also utilize water, liquid, a gel or grease inside
to cool the hot gases and which will further decrease the
pressure and sound. This is an effective approach, but often
these materials are partly vaporized each time the weapon
is fired and must be replenished after a limited number
of shots. Some disposable silencers are designed to only
work for a handful for rounds before they lose their effectiveness.
can lower the sound of high pressure gas coming out of the
barrel of a gun, there are other sounds a weapon makes that
it has little effect on. In particular, if supersonic rounds
are used the bullet will break the sound barrier with a
loud crack after it leaves the front of the silencer. For
this reason sub-sonic rounds are often used with silenced
weapons, but this reduces the range and effectiveness of
While we often
picture silencers as always being screwed onto the end of
a gun, some are built right into the weapon. Many are not
as effective as often seen in the movies and may not even
lower the volume of a gunshot enough that the marksman can
avoid wearing hearing protection. However, in many cases
it is not necessary to lower the sound of the shot as much
as change the character of it so that it is not easily identifiable
as a gunshot. In an urban setting this allows the sound
of the shot to blend it with the ambient noise.
In many countries
and jurisdictions silencers are highly regulated. They are
legal to own in the United States in most places, but require
an expensive permit.
Alchemy Art - Last fall we challenged readers
to create their own
art works based on books. David Reyes was kind enough
to send us the results of his endeavor, a book on Alchemy.
are the pics of the alchemy book I made. I used my print
program to alter the lettering to look handwritten and made
the frogbox, the crystal pendant, and included the tiny
glass bottle to go with it. I did some research and discovered
that the frog was a symbol of regeneration. The pendant
is typical of the "Viewing crystals" of the era, and the
bottle is to hold the philosophers stone, which is actually
a liquid. But the old alchemists were working with mercury,
and hydrocloric and sulfuric acids mixed together... which
was the reason so many alchemists had short lives."
Click on the
thumbnails to take a closer look.
An Early Champ - In February of 1880 a group
of Vermont men saw something strange in the waters of the
long, deep lake the separates their state from New York.
According to a report in the Newport Express and Standard
from February 14th, was a creature "covered with scales
which glistened like the precious metals in the sun." The
account turns out to be one of the earliest reports of "Champ"
the legendary lake monster in Lake Champlain. Many others
See an Asteroid - With a pair of binoculars or
a small telescope you should be able to locate the asteroid
Vesa this month. On February 18 it will be the closet
object visible to the star Algieba. Algiebra
is the star that marks the neck of the constellation Leo
the Lion. Leo's head is formed as a backwards question mark.
His foot is the bright star Regulus. In the early
evening of the 18th Leo will appear in the eastern sky.
ISS Moves into the 21st Century - Astronauts
on the International Space Station finally have internet
access. The connection was made last month by hooking an
onboard laptop computer to a desktop computer at Mission
Control. Access is available whenever there is a solid high-speed
communication link between the two. Astronaut Timothy "TJ"
Creamer celebrated by posting the first live Twitter post
truly from space. "Hello Twitterverse!" he wrote. "We r
now LIVE tweeting from the International Space Station --
the 1st live tweet from Space! :) More soon, send your ?s"
Hopefully residents of the ISS are using their online time
well by browsing www.unmuseum.org.
check local listing for area outside of North America.
Nova: Ghosts of Machu Picchu - Why
did the Incas abandon their city in the clouds? On PBS:
Tuesday, February 2 at 8 pm; ET/PT.
Nova: Extreme Cave Diving - A
team of intrepid scientists journey into one of Earth's
most dangerous and beautiful underwater frontiers. On PBS:
Tuesday, February 9 at 8 pm; ET/PT.
On The Science Channel:
Sci Fi Science: How to Build a Flying Saucer - Defying gravity and hurtling through space: the flying saucer is the
ultimate science fiction vehicle. Using cutting-edge research
and theoretical physics, Dr. Michio Kaku reveals how one
day we could all be using the aliens' favorite mode of transport.
Feb 09, 10:00 pm; Feb 10, 1:00 am; Feb 11, 5:00 am; ET/PT.
On The Science Channel
What on Earth is Wrong With Gravity? - Gravity makes everything else possible. It is the key ingredient to
understanding the entire cosmos. Dr. Brian cox, is the one
and only Hollywood physicist, he just can't figure it out!
: Feb 09, 9:00 pm; Feb 10, 12:00 am; Feb 11, 4:00 am; ET/PT.
On The Science Channel
Radioactive Paradise - A team of scientists, historians and divers embark on a scientific journey
to Bikini Atoll to see the effects of 23 atmospheric atomic
test blasts. With the help of a high-tech submersible, the
Pagoo, they explore Bikini's underwater ship graveyard.
Feb 03, 3:00 am; Feb 08, 8:00 pm; Feb 08, 11:00 pm; Feb 10, 3:00 am;
Holy Grail in America - In 1898, a Minnesota farmer clearing trees from his field uproots a
large stone covered with mysterious runes. Now known as
the Kensington Rune Stone, it details a journey of land
acquisition and murder--in the year 1362. Thought by some
to be a hoax, new evidence suggests it could be real, and
a clue that the Knights Templar discovered America 100 years
before Columbus, perhaps bringing with them history's greatest
treasure...The Holy Grail. See how symbols on the Rune Stone
match Templar ruins all over Europe. History tells us the
Templar were massacred on Friday the 13th, but that a Templar
fleet allegedly containing treasure was last seen off Scotland
in the late 1300s. Stones with similar markings as the Rune
stone have been found on islands across the Atlantic Ocean,
as well as in Massachusetts, and Rhode Island. Is it possible
the Templar were leaving clues to an incredible journey
to the New World? On The History Channel: Saturday, February
06 08:00 PM; Sunday, February 07 12:00 AM ; ET/PT.
The Real Wolfman - Follow veteran criminal profiler George Deuchar and renowned cryptozoologist,
Ken Gerhardt as they investigate the legend of the notorious
Wolfman. Between the years of 1764 and 1767, the small French
hamlet of Gevaudan was plagued
by a mysterious beast that attacked and killed 102 villagers.
The victims (mostly women and children) were all maliciously
mauled and decapitated. All bore the bite marks of a non-human
creature, and even more bizarre, many victims were found
undressed and sexually assaulted. For centuries, the true
identify of this mysterious "wolfman" has remained a mystery.
Digging deeply into the mythology of Werewolves, they uncover
reported paranormal transformations, diseases that make
men look and act like animals, strange but true stories
of children raised by wolves, and the truth about wolfsbane
and silver bullets. Their modern-day forensic investigation
leads them to the horrific truth behind the Werewolf murders.
On The History Channel: Saturday, February 13 10:00 PM;
Archive 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007,
Copyright Lee Krystek 2010. All Rights Reserved.