by David Powell
Wandering rocks in Death Valley:One of the wierdest things in the US's Death Valley is the tale of the moving rocks, rocks up to 320 kg that are wandering over the surface of a dry and flat lake bed called the "Racetrack", leaving clear trails behind them. No one has seen them move, but move they do. Some geologists now think that under wet and cold conditions the rocks become embedded in a sheet of ice and the whole thing moves when a wind comes up - kinda like a mini glacier.
Why be left handed?:Despite all the disadvantages of being left-handed, the trait still exists to the puzzlement of biologists. The latest theory may (or may not) explain why. It's thought that left-handedness has survived because it gives an advantage in a fight. As long as it is rare enough, a right hander will face an unfamiliar style whenever they face a leftie, while a left hander wont have that disadvantage since they will be used to facing right handers. The hint came when they examined the number of lefties amongst top sports people. Individual sports such as swimming have the same proportion of lefties as the general population, but in sports that involve face-to-face duels, a much higher % of lefties succede - in fact half of the top rated fencers are lefties.
The oldest BBQ:Remains from what may the world's oldest BBQ have recently been discovered in Brittany, dating back to over 400,000 years old. And what was on the menu? Roast rhinoceros!
Starship Enterprise:The Interstellar Propulsion Society, dedicated to developing ways of sending people beyond the solar system, was established in August. The society hopes to nurture research that will lead to it's goal, providing a forum for scientists and engineers to collaborate, an internet library on interstellar propulsion research and to fund research. The society is being backed by organisations such as NASA and Boeing Aerospace.
The X-Files - New Mexico, 1947:It has long been a favourite claim of UFO types that a spaceship crashed at Roswell, New Mexico, in 1947 and that since then the USA government has been involved in a great coverup (hence the tv series, The X-Files). An investigation by the US congress has revealed that while there was a coverup, it was about work being done at the nearby air force base. They also stated that the document Majestic 12, supposedly proving the UFO story, was a fake. Believe as you will.
No barriers to time travel?:Physicists have now demolished the last remaining theoretical barrier to time travel. They have solved the paradox, well known to sf readers, of going back and changing events so that you were never born, so you could never go back and ... They applied the "principle of least action" and found that only non-paradoxical time travel works. That means you cannot create a paradox if you travel back into the past. Given that physicists know of "how" to make several different types of time machine, only the engineering difficulties remain - the most popular time machine is based on a pair of black holes.
Werewolf gene:A disease known as "hypertrichosis" or Werewolf Syndrome has become the latest target of geneticists. The disease results in dense hair growing all over the face and upper body. Given the location of the gene they speculate that it may be a throwback to a more primitive human (an avatism) and that other features, now lost in the course of evolution, may be lurking in our genes.
T-rex no longer the king:The dinosaur Tyrannosaurus rex has long been held to be the king predator of the dinosaur age, but no longer. The "new" king is an aptly named beastie called Giganotosaurus, which is estimated to have been up to 8 tonnes in weight and 13 metres high.
Can the Great Wall of China be seen from space?:One of the most widely believed urban legends of the 20th century is that the Great Wall is the only artificial object seen from space (excluding city lights). The claim is, however, just a myth. Not only do photographic experts say the wall is too narrow to be seen, but astronauts (who should know) have said that it is not visible. To add insult to the injury, apart from streetlights, the Dutch podders are the only things visible from space. Incidently, the other great urban legend is the mass-suiciding lemmings; that too is just a myth.
The Dracula drug:A new drug that helps prevent blood clotting was originally isolated from the saliva of the vampire bat. The drug, naturally enought, has been called Draculin.
Jurassic genes:While the idea of ressurecting extinct dinosaurs from dna trapped in insects entombed in amber owes more to fantasy than science, scientists have been able to ressurect a much simpler form of life from within it's amber tomb. Raul Cano, whose work inspired Jurassic Park, has successfully ressurected over 1500 species of bacteria, fungi and yeast. His team have even developed "Jurassic Ale", a beer based on a yeast from the Jurassic age.
Another planet?:Astronomers may have found another extra-solar planet, but if it's real then it'll be one of the wierdest known. The planet, of Jupiter mass, orbits so close to its sun (51 Pegasus) that it's year is only four Earth days long. The star is a twin of Sol and from the planet's surface would fill 1/3 of the sky and raise the planet's surface temperature to 1200 C.
Carrots ARE good for eyes:Most readers should be familiar with the old saying that carrots are good for your sight; well, workers have discovered that the essential ingredient in carrots (vitamin A) helps combat the most common form of blindness in older people. Perhaps the source of the saying.
What is reality?:One of the wierdest things to come from quantum mechanics - that events don't have outcomes until they are measured - has been verified by a new experiment. What this means is that "there is no reality in the absense of measurement." In simple terms, reality is what you percieve.
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