Science Frontiers
The Unusual & Unexplained

Strange Science * Bizarre Biophysics * Anomalous astronomy
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About Science Frontiers

Science Frontiers is the bimonthly newsletter providing digests of reports that describe scientific anomalies; that is, those observations and facts that challenge prevailing scientific paradigms. Over 2000 Science Frontiers digests have been published since 1976.

These 2,000+ digests represent only the tip of the proverbial iceberg. The Sourcebook Project, which publishes Science Frontiers, also publishes the Catalog of Anomalies, which delves far more deeply into anomalistics and now extends to sixteen volumes, and covers dozens of disciplines.

Over 14,000 volumes of science journals, including all issues of Nature and Science have been examined for reports on anomalies. In this context, the newsletter Science Frontiers is the appetizer and the Catalog of Anomalies is the main course.


Subscriptions to the Science Frontiers newsletter are no longer available.

Compilations of back issues can be found in Science Frontiers: The Book, and original and more detailed reports in the The Sourcebook Project series of books.

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Please note that the publisher has now closed, and can not be contacted.


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... Science Frontiers ONLINE No. 85: Jan-Feb 1993 Issue Contents Other pages Home Page Science Frontiers Online All Issues This Issue Sourcebook Project Sourcebook Subjects Three Views Of Mortality The death of matter. Physicists have maintained for over a century that the Second Law of Thermodynamics guarantees that our universe with run down one day and that life must cease. This cold reductionist view is seconded by recent evidence that protons, long con sidered immortal, may after all decay. The consequences of proton decay are even more dismal than the dire predictions of thermodynamics: "Perhaps the most disturbing piece of speculation to come out of theoretical physics recently is the prediction that the whole universe is in decay. Not only do living things die, species go extinct, and stars burn out, but the apparently immutable protons in the nucleus of every atom are slowly dissolving. Eventually -- in more than a quadrillion years -- nothing will be left of the universe but a dead mist of electrons, photons, and neutrinos." (Flam, Faye; "Could Protons Be Mortal after All?" Science, 257:1862, 1992.) The death of memory. With increasing entropy and decaying protons on their minds, it comes as no surprise that physicists likewise believe that when one dies, that's it . An afterlife is impossible. How do physicists conclude this? In a letter to the American Journal of Physics, J. Orear proffered an interesting sort of "proof": "One such proof: human memory is stored in the circuitry of the brain and after death ...
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... in a recent issue of Science. Now two teams of researchers have induced millions of electrons to flow simultaneously both ways around a superconducting ring with a non-superconducting notch in it, a gizmo known as a superconducting quantum interference device, or SQUID. This is all pretty weird but it just one more paradoxical phenomenon allowed by quantum mechanics. You see, in quantum mechanics, an object can exist in two or more states at the same time. This is, of course, a statement of fact rather than an explanation appealing to one's common sense -- a common occurrence in the quantum world. (Cho, Advising "Physicists Unveil Schroedinger's SQUID," Science, 287:2395, 2000) Heat flowing from cold to hot. The revered Second Law of Thermodynamics seems to tell us that heat always flows from hot to cold. But out in space, under special conditions, physicists seem to hedge a bit. The groundbreaking experiment was carried out onboard the Mir space station last year as part of the French-Russian Perseus mission. By warming a copper-and sapphire-walled cell filled with a drop of liquid sulfur hexafluoride and one tiny bubble of gaseous sulfur hexafluoride in near-zero gravity, scientists triggered a slight compression of the bubble. That gentle squeeze raised the temperature of the gas above that of the cell walls. For this to happen, heat must have been transferred from the cooler walls to the hotter gas, scientists report in the 1 May Physical Review Letters. This weird phenomenon can be tossed off as a "transient ...
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... Science Frontiers ONLINE No. 24: Nov-Dec 1982 Issue Contents Other pages Home Page Science Frontiers Online All Issues This Issue Sourcebook Project Sourcebook Subjects Islands Of Hope For Life Eternal Frautschi examines expanding "causal" regions in the universe, where entropy (disorder) does not increase as fast as the maximum predicted by Thermodynamics. The conclusion of this highly theoretical paper is that, even in these "islands of hope," life and the order it requires cannot survive indefinitely if it is restricted to solid substances. But, ". .. it stands as a challenge for the future to find dematerialized modes of organization (based on dust clouds or an e- e+ plasma?) capable of self-replication. If radiant energy production continues without limit, there remains hope that life capable of using it forever can be created." (Frautschi, Steven; "Entropy in an Expanding Universe," Science, 217:593, 1982.) Comment. Who said Science was a conservative journal? This smacks of scifi tales of electrolife and Hoyle's Black Cloud. From Science Frontiers #24, NOV-DEC 1982 . 1982-2000 William R. Corliss ...
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... Science Frontiers ONLINE No. 32: Mar-Apr 1984 Issue Contents Other pages Home Page Science Frontiers Online All Issues This Issue Sourcebook Project Sourcebook Subjects Natural Laser Beacons "It has long been realized that the Earth's upper atmosphere cannot be in thermodynamic equilibrium, and during the last decade astronomers have made telescopic observations of nonequilibrium processes taking place in the upper atmospheres of our Earth-like neighbors, Mars and Venus. A preliminary analysis by Michael Mumma, of Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, and his colleagues. indicated that processes analogous to optical pumping in laboratory lasers were taking place and led to the coining of the term 'natural lasers.' Now, Deming and colleagues from the Goddard team have taken new observations of emission from Mars and Venus at wavelengths near 10 micrometers. and modelled them to show that stimulated emission -- the effect which makes lasers so powerful -- accounts for up to seven per cent of the total emission. This is not a large amplification factor by laboratory standards, particularly for a CO2 laser. But, the authors speculate that the sheer size of the natural lasers could make them useful tools in the future for communicating with distant civilizations beyond our own planetary system." The atmospheres of Mars and Venus are almost pure CO2 . The CO2 molecules are excited by the absorption of energetic solar photons; then, thermally emitted photons at about 10 micrometers from lower reaches of the atmosphere collide with the excited molecules, stimulating them to emit another 10-micrometer photon, thus doubling the number of photons. This is typical laser action. ...
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... Science Frontiers ONLINE No. 124: Jul-Aug 1999 Issue Contents Other pages Home Page Science Frontiers Online All Issues This Issue Sourcebook Project Sourcebook Subjects Measuring Spirituality!" The connection between matter and spirit has been debated for millennia. The central mystery is that certain material objects (human beings) contrive to be conscious and to possess a spiritual dimension. This implies that matter itself has some rudimentary spiritual character." From this opening paragraph, D. Jones advances his thesis by assuming that the spiritual world occupies the same space as the material world. The two "worlds," though are usually only very weakly coupled. However, during the 12-billionyear history of the universe they have had ample time to come into thermodynamic equilibrium. In other words the average temperatures of the material and spiritual worlds are equal; i.e ., 3 K, the same as the microwave background. It is, of course, this low average temperature of the spiritual world that accounts for the chill felt when a spiritual entity (ghost) enters a room and is coupled to the material world. Continuing on this tack, Jones now plans to measure whether holy relics and other material objects with high spiritual value cool faster than non-spiritual objects. He also hopes to work with biological materials, specifically the human brain, which is the seat of consciousness and spiritual thought. Human brains, particularly those of holy men, should be tightly coupled to the cold spiritual world. These human brains should cool much faster than, say, a sirloin steak. Speculating even further ...
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... Contents Other pages Home Page Science Frontiers Online All Issues This Issue Sourcebook Project Sourcebook Subjects Has the second law been repealed?" From the largest to the smallest scales, the universe is evolving. Matter, in the form of galaxies, is undergoing a colossal expansion. Gas, condensed into stars, is radiating thermonuclear energy out across an infall of matter, drawn by gravity. The simplest of chemical reactions and the most complex of biological activities are occurring on the surface of the earth in a state far from equilibrium; they are heated by the sun and cooled by the vacuum of space. This pervasive cosmic imbalance is the driving force in producing an environment conducive to the formation of structure and complexity." This sweeping statement seems to apply to the entire universe. The Second Law of Thermodynamics, however, insists that, on the average, for the entire universe, the above paragraph cannot be true. The article introduced by this unqualified assertion about the evolution of the universe is really about self-organizing chemical reactions. We classify it under biology because the authors imply that some biological phenomena are self-organizing. The famous Belousov-Zhabotinskii reaction is used as the prime example of chemical self-organization. First, one takes a shallow dish filled with a solution of bromate ions in a highly acidic medium. Here's what happens: "A dish, thinly spread with a lightly colored liquid, sits quietly for a moment after its preparation. The liquid is then suddenly swept by a spontaneous burst of colored centers of chemical activity. Each newly formed region creates ...
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... Science Frontiers ONLINE No. 56: Mar-Apr 1988 Issue Contents Other pages Home Page Science Frontiers Online All Issues This Issue Sourcebook Project Sourcebook Subjects The new holism -- but is it whole enough?In the short space of two weeks, the New Scientist printed two articles that confront the obvious complexity of nature. Not only is this complexity persistent under the attack of the Second Law of Thermodynamics, but it seems to actually increase with time. Do formative or guiding principles exist that science does not take into account? The two articles have very different answers. The creative cosmos. "Most people accept without question that the physical world is coherent and harmonious. Yet according to the traditional scientific picture, the Universe is just a random collection of particles with blind forces acting upon them. There is, then a deep mystery as to how a seemingly directionless assembly of passive entities conspire to produce the elaborate structure and complex organisation found in nature." The author of this introductory paragraph, P. Davies, asks, as we all do, "What is the origin of this creative power?" In groping for an answer, he presents first a common example of "blind" organization: the hexagonal convection cells in a pan of heated water. Using for a stepping stone the cooperative action of atoms in a laser, he leaps to the development of an embryo from a single strand of DNA! All such systems are "open"; that is, energy can flow in and out. They are also nonlinear, which means that chaotic, unpredictable action ...
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... Science Frontiers ONLINE No. 87: May-Jun 1993 Issue Contents Other pages Home Page Science Frontiers Online All Issues This Issue Sourcebook Project Sourcebook Subjects Cosmic Soot And Organic Asteroids Just as we were getting used to carbonaceous chondrites and tarry comets, we have been hit with cosmic soot and organic asteroids. Truly, it seems as if the universe is one vast factory of complex chemicals. This is not a trivial observation, for it betrays a synthesizing, efflorescent cosmos rather than a universe slowly succumbing to the deepfreezing Second Law of Thermodynamics. Any of these soots and tars wafting down upon the surface of a suitable planet might initiate or accelerate life processes. Cosmic soot. A 70-year-old astronomical enigma is the origin of the DIBs (Diffuse Interstellar absorption Bands). These dark absorption bands in stellar spectra have never been correlated with known chemical compounds. Now, L. Allamandola and F. Salama (NASA-Ames) find that the DIBs may be due to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons! A more digestible descriptor would be "soot," like that found in automobile exhaust and on your barbecued steak. (Weiss, Peter; "Cosmic Soot Fills Space between the Stars," New Scientist, p. 15, March 13, 1993.) Organic asteroids. Some asteroids are abnormally red. Newly discovered asteroid 5145 Pholus is 3 times brighter at near-infrared wavelengths than it is in the visible portion of the spectrum. The best explanation so far for this redness is that 5145 Pholus is veneered with organic compounds called "tholins." Tholins are synthesized ...
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... Science Frontiers ONLINE No. 88: Jul-Aug 1993 Issue Contents Other pages Home Page Science Frontiers Online All Issues This Issue Sourcebook Project Sourcebook Subjects There never was a "crater"!Humans favor tales with beginnings and endings, perhaps because we are mortal ourselves. The universe must, we suspect, have been created either naturally or supernaturally, and it will end either according to the Laws of Thermodynamics or by fiat on Judgment Day! Some scientists, though, see other possibilities. In 1948, F. Hoyle, H. Bondi, and T. Gold proposed that the universe had no beginning and was, therefore, infinitely old. Originally, they hypothesized that, as the universe expanded, new matter was continuously created, and thus the density of matter stayed about constant in time. This Steady State Universe was kicked around for a while but ultimately consigned to the cosmological wastebasket. Now, the idea is being revived as the prevailing Big Bang Universe runs into problems, which have been documented perhaps too thoroughly in past issues of SF. The revised steady state model has jettisoned the idea of continuous creation in favor of many discrete "creation events," which will doubtless be called "little bangs." They also fill space with small metallic needles which absorb microwaves and reemit the uniform microwave background. The new theory needs more work, but Hoyle and his colleagues write in the June 20 issue of the Astrophysical Journal: "This paper is not intended to give a finished view of cosmology. It is intended rather to open the door to a new view ...
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... -June 1998 Issue Contents Other pages Home Page Science Frontiers Online All Issues This Issue Sourcebook Project Sourcebook Subjects More Disorder Here Produces Order There Physicists use the word "entropy" to describe the well-observed tendency of the universe to run down; that is, become more disorderly. In some situations, though, the increase in disorder (entropy) in one part of the universe can create order elsewhere. For example, if you add tiny plastic spheres of two sizes to salty water, you will not get a uniform mixture. Instead the larger spheres will pack together into tightly ordered crystaline shapes (representing more order) while the smaller spheres become more disordered. It is like watching cream unstir itself from coffee. It smacks of magic, but it is all within the laws of thermodynamics. This strange "force" exerted by entropy may explain some puzzling biological phenomena, such as the expulsion of nuclei from mammalian red blood cells before they enter the bloodstream as sacks of hemoglobin. The idea being that the increasing entropy of the proliferating hemoglobin molecules (analogous to the smaller spheres) is maximized when the nuclei (large spheres) are squeezed out of the cells altogether. (Kestenbaum, David; "Gentle Force of Entropy Bridges Disciplines," Science, 279:1849, 1998.) Comments. The red-blood-cell example presented in the article is on shaky ground, because while mammalian red blood cells do lack nuclei those of birds and reptiles retain theirs. (See BMC6 in Mammals II .) In the above context, the origin of life ( ...
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... , carbonaceous chondrites, etc.), it is likely that many other planets also possess deep stores of hydrocarbons. In these deep, warm, protected, energyrich "wombs," complex biospheres might readily evolve. In Gold's view, deep biospheres may be the rule and surface life the exception! Finally, Gold sees life as merely a natural process with no more meaning and purpose than accelerating the breaking of chemical bonds and thereby increasing entropy! "It has been said that nature abhors a vacuum, but nature doesn't care much for free energy either. All of biology is just a device for degrading energy from chemical sources, and on the surface from the great temperature differential between the hot sun and the cold of space. Perhaps biology is just a branch of thermodynamics, and there is no sudden beginning of life, but a gradual systematic development toward more efficient ways of degrading energy. .. .The chemical energy available inside a planetary body is then more likely to have been the first energy source and surface creatures -- like elephants and tigers and people -- which feed indirectly upon solar energy are just a specific adaptation of that life to the strangely favorable circumstances on the surface of our planet." (Gold, Thomas; "An Unexplored Habitat for Life in the Universe," American Scientist, 85:408, 1997.) Undiscovered microbial life may exist kilometers beneath the surfce. These microbes may be the source of the biological molecules found in the oil shown seeping upwards. Gold believes this oil was originally abiotic. From Science ...
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... Science Frontiers ONLINE No. 36: Nov-Dec 1984 Issue Contents Other pages Home Page Science Frontiers Online All Issues This Issue Sourcebook Project Sourcebook Subjects Order from disorder?The apparent creation of order in a universe that is supposed to be running down is the subject of a thoughtful report by Wallace and Karen Tucker. They give additional examples of order arising from disorder in astronomy (spiral galaxies, superclusters), from chemistry (Belousav-Zhabotinsky reactions), and biology (embryonic development). Again and again, they ask why order persists on increasing when the Second Law of Thermodynamics seems to demand more disorder. Throughout the article, the Tuckers employ the card-shuffling analogy. If nature is shuffling the cards of the universe, why are so many royal flushes being dealt? They introduce the works of Ilya Prigogine and others which focus on chemical situations (the Belousov-Zhabotinsky reactions), where reaction by-products actually make the reaction more likely and in which large, stable spiral and ring-shaped structures appear spontaneously. At the macroscopic level, shock waves from supernovas can (at least in computer models) stimulate the formation of spiral arms in galaxies. The article concludes with a quote from astronomer David Layzer: "The universe is unfolding in time but not unraveling; on the contrary, it is becoming constantly more complex and richer in formation." (Tucker, Wallace, and Tucker, Karen; "Against All Odds: Matter and Evolution in the Universe," Astronomy, September 1984.) Comment. Now Layzer's statement seems a ...
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... All Issues This Issue Sourcebook Project Sourcebook Subjects Carnot Creatures Photosynthesis is the ultimate source of energy for most of the life forms we recognize here on earth. Sure, there are also a few creatures that derive their energy by oxidizing the sulfides dissolved in the 400 water gushing forth from deep-sea vents. We will call them "geochemical creatures" to separate them from the "photosynthetic creatures" we are more familiar with. But, in principle at least, there could also be "Carnot creatures", whose metabolisms depend upon temperature differences like almost all human-built engines. Some bizarre animal, such as a meter-long tube worm, could plant one end on a hot rock surface and dangle the other in cold seawater to reject waste heat from its Carnot engine. Since thermodynamic-cycle efficiencies can approach 60% compared with only 10% for photosynthesis, evolution would have been remiss if it had not tried to evolve "Carnot creatures." For, as D. Jones comments below, Carnot creatures would be adaptable to many more habitats in the universe than photosynthetic creatures, which must have a sun with a very specific electromagnetic spectrum. "Many worlds, from distant 'brown dwarf' stars to the satellites of giant planets, may have internal heating but no effective 'Sun'. If Carnot life is possible, it may well have evolved in such dark and distant places -- making life abundant throughout the Universe. Indeed, our distant descendants may be able to harness Carnot biochemistry to sustain themselves on geothermal or residual browndwarf warmth when the Sun finally ...
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... being accelerated through the dense centre of the cluster and fired out into the Universe at large. If this happens, the ejected galaxies are moving at more than the escape velocity from the system, so estimates of the total mass in the system based on the assumption that all the galaxies are in bound orbits will be incorrect" (Anonymous; "Expanding Clusters Confuse Astronomers," New Scientist, p. 13, March 2l, 1985.) Comment. In previous entries, we have seen jets of stars being squirted into space, immense shells of stars being ejected by elliptical galaxies, and other cosmic sowings of astronomical systems. Now, entire galactic clusters are being thrown around the universe. This hard-ly seems a universe that is "running down," as the Laws of Thermodynamics would have us believe. Somebody or something is stirring the pot -- a pot in which biological systems and perhaps super-biological systems are ingredients in the stew. From Science Frontiers #39, MAY-JUN 1985 . 1985-2000 William R. Corliss ...
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... . This fact does not mean that it is easy to understand. In fact, there are eight competing "interpretations" of quantum mechanics, none of which is completely convincing. No wonder, because quantum mechanics implies four characteristics of the universe that are seriously at odds with our everyday experience: The quantization of the properties of matter; The probabilistic nature of physical measurements; Entanglement; that is, the mysterious instantaneous connection of objects and processes across immense distances; and Superposition; for example, an electron is both here and there until we look at it! A. Zeilinger, University of Vienna, advances the idea that we can truly understand quantum mechanics only when we discover an underlying principle -- something akin to the concept of energy which led to the quantification of the laws of thermodynamics. (Incidentally. we only think we know what energy is, but it is a human construct and is not a physical dimension like mass or distance.) Zeilinger asserts that the underlying principle of quantum mechanics is the quantization of information. Every inquiry science makes into the nature of the universe, says Zeilinger, can be reduced to a yes-or-no question; i.e ., a 1 or 0. To a scientist, nature is really like a person on a witness stand being hammered by a prosecutor (i .e ., a scientist) with yes-or-no questions. In other words, nature appears quantized because our knowledge of it is quantized. (von Baeyer, Hans Christian; "In the Beginning Was the Bit," ...
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