Extraordinary claims. Ordinary investigations.

Archive for September, 2008

Helicoprion: stranger than fiction

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If you thought the fictional Ningen was bizarre, behold the Helicoprion. And this horrifying sea creature is, or actually, was very real, as evidenced by their peculiar lower teeth, fossils of which have been found. It may have grown up to 20 feet long.

As we all know and fear, sharks are indeed killing machines and as such make a lot of use of their teeth. So much so that most species known today are constantly replacing them. They are not attached to their jaw, are placed in several rows, and when a tooth falls, the one behind it takes its place. Somewhat like a conveyor belt. Of very sharp teeth.

But it has not always been this way, and the Helicoprion was a shark-like fish that arose in the oceans of the late Carboniferous 280 million years ago, and eventually went extinct during the early Triassic some 225 million years ago.

You see, the Helicoprion kept growing new teeth throughout its life, but they did not fall. Instead, the teeth grew in spiral fashion, with new, larger ones being added.

It’s actually funny that scientists didn’t know at first how to fit the spirals they found in the fish:

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It was not until the discovery of the skull of a relative, Ornithoprion, that it was realized that the tooth-whorl was in the lower jaw. It is difficult to know much about ancient shark-like fish because all that remain from them are usually their teeth. The rest of their body, including their cartilage, is lost to time.

You can see more artistic conceptions of the creature by Gary Staab, in the Field Museum, and the Las Vegas Natural History Museum, though the one at the beginning of this post is clearly the winner. There’s also an illustration of a Helicoprion feeding on ammonites. This may look like a joke – a spiral-toothed fish eating a spiral mollusk –, but as Wikipedia says, this is a serious hypothesis for the spiral-teeth.

Another ancient (and extinct) shark-like fish that did not shed its teeth, but kept growing them, was the Edestus. Scary, but not anything as horrible as the Helicoprion.

I think nobody, even in art, had ever thought of a tooth-whorl jaw for a shark-like fish. Cthulhu probably has one like that, but Lovecraft didn’t describe it. He knew we would go insane.

[via UMAfan]

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Hit by a Particle Accelerator Beam

AnatoliBugorski3 Anatoli Bugorski was checking a component of the U-70 synchrotron particle accelerator when he accidentally put his head in the beam’s path. It was the fatidic fateful day of July 13, 1978, and as the safety devices failed, Bogorski later told that he saw a flash “brighter than a thousand suns”, as protons near the speed of light traveled right through his head. But he did not feel any pain.

The proton beam went through the left side of his head. Soon that side of his face swelled beyond recognition, and in the next days the skin fell, showing the path the particle beam had through his face, brain and cranium.

Radiation doses hundreds of times weaker are fatal, and Anatoli Bugorski was therefore taken to a hospital in Moscow where the doctors could watch his inevitable demise. But this was Soviet Russia, where particles accelerate YOU!!

Bugorski not only survived, but completed his PhD without virtually any damage to his intellectual abilities, except for a marked fatigue, loss of hearing and having the left side of his face paralyzed. He married and has a son. He was interviewed by Wired around ten years ago.

He did not get any superpowers either. Not as far as we know.

Given the relatively huge size of protons – nearly 2,000 times heavier than electrons – they don’t dissipate much when they hit the body, and are therefore used in radiotherapy. Bugorski’s incident was an accidental demonstration of this fact. Although the radiation dose was enormous, it was composed of a narrow beam that didn’t disperse much as it traveled inside his head.

The case is reminiscent of the classic neurological story of Phineas Gage, though Bugorski didn’t report any behavioral changes.

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We don’t know if the flash he reported was real, that is, if it was the result of particles and radiation stimulating his eyes, or if it was only subjective, either by his nerves being fried or perhaps entirely imagined.

But it’s interesting to note that a small group of human beings who, like Bugorski, were subjected to a high dose of particle beams also reported seeing flashes of light.

We are talking about astronauts more vulnerable to cosmic rays when in orbit. The Apollo 11 folks were the first to walk on the Moon, but they were also the first humans to report periodical bright flashes coming from nowhere. Further investigation of the subject, going from Apollo and ongoing to this day established that these flashes are not product of imagination. In space, the cosmic rays going through the astronaut’s eyes can stimulate the retina either directly or via secondary radiations.

We can guess that were you to be hit by a highly energetic particle beam, one of the first – or last – things you would see would be a flash “brighter than a thousand suns”.

[hat tip RicBit]

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Top Secret: Jet-flying Gorillas

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“The story of the first military jet aircraft to fly in the United States—an aircraft that apparently no one could see.
The date was 1942; the location was Muroc Army Air Field (today Edwards Air Force Base). Whenever it was on the ground, the P-59 was fitted with a fake propeller for the sake of secrecy.
Unfortunately for secrecy, at the local watering hole, test pilots mixed with P-38 pilots stationed nearby. After slugging down a few drinks, the test pilots bragged about flying a propellerless aircraft and were immediately labeled as liars by the P-38 crowd—fighting words for sure. Subsequently, test-pilot Jack Woolams decided to put them in their place, not with his fists but with something far more effective.
He rented a gorilla suit and took off wearing it along with a big cigar protruding from his mouth and a derby hat on his head. Once airborne, he found a lone P-38 pilot, pulled alongside, giving the P-38 pilot a clear view of the jet and gorilla suit, then waved, much to the shock of his intended target. The next day when queried at the local watering hole, not a single P-38 pilot had seen an "escaped gorilla" or knew anything about it. The explanation: why of course, it must be that P-38 pilots could only see what they believed was possible. Yeah, right. Apparently, the P-38 pilots never again questioned the possibility of propellerless aircraft, let alone the honesty of test pilots."

From the Snopes forum, now, this is such a good tale, even if it’s completely apocryphal. As Snopes further notes:

"Although the events are not even a century old, already there are more than one version of the Jack Woolams tale. All are slightly different. One version relates that there were multiple sightings of the gorilla-piloted jet and that the base psychiatrist talked several P-38 pilots out of believing what they saw. Who knows? The fact is, that even if someone sees and believes a phenomenon, it doesn’t mean they will honestly talk about it. And if they do, it doesn’t mean that the details will be perfectly remembered in the historical record—especially if there isn’t one."

I have just seen a History Channel documentary on the history of jet propulsion, where a former test pilot told that tale in camera, so at the very least we know that it’s a real rumor around the place. The fake propellers attached to the secret jet airplane when wandering in the ground is a fact, as can be seen in the photo below:

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Though it’s not very plausible that Woolams may have used a whole gorilla suit, it’s not that wild to think he may have played a joke and used a gorilla mask to waive to another pilot. What that pilot may have thought of a propellerless aircraft piloted by a gorilla, we may never now.

Truth or not, a wonderful tale, and I was impressed that there seems to be no reference to it in UFO circles. This is surely related to speculations regarding the classic Father Gill sighting, for instance, MILABs and all the ideas about the government disinformation. Granted, we don’t know if it’s true, but we don’t know that about real UFOs either.

"Even if someone sees and believes a phenomenon, it doesn’t mean they will honestly talk about it. And if they do, it doesn’t mean that the details will be perfectly remembered in the historical record—especially if there isn’t one."

[via Anomalist]

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More Shiny Saucers

Footage of a metallic saucer from Italy, you can visit the website address stamped in the video if you want to see more. This has all the appearance of a static, small model (probably made of metallic plates or even saucers), suspended by wires. The apparent movement is not by the saucer, but simply achieved by the filmmaker moving below it.

I can’t prove it’s a hoax (not with this video on Youtube, at least), but pay attention also to the fact that instead of the implied flying saucer flying away (like flying saucers should do), it’s instead the filming that’s abruptly cut, for not apparent reason. Other than the fact this saucer is going nowhere until they cut the wires.

This style of images and videos was much more common in the first years of ufology, as we all know, Adamski being the most famous culprit. He was not alone, and the series produced by Apolinar “Paul” Villa is often reproduced, though for some reason usually without mentioning his name.

As Leopoldo Zambrano Enríquez pointed to us, the photo below is yet another evidence of Villa’s embarrassing hoaxes.

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“You can see that the UFO is an object no bigger than 30 cm. The [orange] reflection in its bottom is evidence that it’s over the truck’s hood”. Indeed.

And let’s not forget Billy Meier, of course. As Mexican researcher Luis Ruiz Noguez says, “Beware of the Shiny Silver Discs”.

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Play God – or Velikovsky

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Orbitrunner is a little fun game where you control a star freely, attempting to create a stable planetary system – without letting any of the planets go outside the boundaries or collide with any of the other bodies, including their own tiny satellites!

The game quickly teaches intuitive concepts related to gravitation, and you soon discover in practice what is a gravitational slingshot, elliptic orbits plus some more things.

It may look simple at first, but as you advance in the levels of the game you soon realize that stable planetary systems with many bodies are not that easy to create. Then, keep in mind that this game – in just two dimensions and with a simulated gravity acting instantly at a distance – is a very simplified version of the real Universe around us.

The casual encounter of celestial bodies creating a planetary system was considered seriously by astronomers as a plausible hypothesis for the creation of our own solar system until not long ago, and now you may better understand why those who considered this idea also assumed that planetary systems were probably extremely rare in the Universe.

In recent years, with the discovery of hundreds of extra-solar planets, scientists now believe that most of the stars we see in the sky may have planets orbiting nicely around them, which must have been formed very differently from this game, “condensed” naturally and gradually from nebulas along the star.

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Not that catastrophic collisions are entirely dismissed by astronomers, much on the contrary. Current theories for the origin of our own Moon, for instance, suggest that it was the result of the shock with our planet with a gigantic protoplanet, which ejected great amounts of matter from our planet’s core to the space, forming our unusually big satellite.

In its extreme version, and much like this web game, though, were the theories of one Immanuel Velikovsky. According to him, not only did the planets dance and collide around everywhere in our solar system, but these events occurred very recently, accounting for many biblical stories.

The odds that Velikovsky was right? Let a monkey play Orbitrunner and see if it hits a top score. Or read some good old Stephen Jay Gould writing about the Russian guy.

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