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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... Science Frontiers ONLINE No. 94: Jul-Aug 1994 Issue Contents Other pages Home Page Science Frontiers Online All Issues This Issue Sourcebook Project Sourcebook Subjects The Incorruptibility Of The Ganges The Ganges is 2525 kilometers long. Along its course, 27 major towns dump 902 million liters of sewage into it each day. Added to this are all those human bodies consigned to this holy river, called the Ganga by the Indians. Despite this heavy burden of pollutants, the Ganges has for millennia been regarded as incorruptible. How can this be? Several foreigners have recorded the effects of this river's "magical" cleansing properties: Ganges water does not putrefy, even after long periods of storage. River water begins to putrefy when lack of oxygen promotes the growth of anaerobic bacteria, which produce the tell-tale smell of stale water. British physician, C.E . Nelson, observed that Ganga water taken from the Hooghly -- one of its dirtiest mouths -- by ships returning to England remained fresh throughout the voyage. In 1896, the British physician E. Hanbury Hankin reported in the French journal Annales de l'Institut Pasteur that cholera microbes died within three hours in Ganga water, but continued to thrive in distilled water even after 48 hours. A French scientist, Monsieur Herelle, was amazed to find "that only a few feet below the bodies of persons floating in the Ganga who had died of dysentery and cholera, where one would expect millions of germs, there were no germs at all. More recently, D.S . Bhargava, an Indian ...
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... kilometers of ice, it remains liquid as geothermal heat seeps up through its floor. Surprisingly, the thick ice cover does not preclude all contact with the surface above. The covering ice sheet moves slowly across the lake and, as it does so, its bottom melts a bit, releasing frozen-in oxygen as well as life forms -- still-living microorganisms and dead creatures that fell onto the Antarctic ice thousands of years ago. Thus, there is a perpetual source of food and new life. Cores drilled from the ice sheet capping Lake Vostok have brought up a great diversity of live microbes that have survived despite the low temperatures and passage of time. A living unicellular alga was found 2,375 meters down in ice about 110,000 years old. Spore-forming bacteria brought up from 2,395 meters are about 200,000 years old and still alive! Although science has proclaimed that Lake Vostok biology must consist entirely of microorganisms, no one really knows what is down there. Another fascinating fact is that some 70 other subglacial bodies of fresh water have been found under the central Antarctic ice sheet. Lake Vostok is only part of a "vast hydrological system." (Kapitsa, A.P .; "A Large Deep Freshwater Lake beneath the Ice of Central East Antarctica," Nature, 381:684, 1996. Monastersky, R.; "Giant Lake Hides beneath Antarctica's Ice," Science News, 149:407, 1996) Comment. Antarctica's "vast hydrological system" could be linked to a global ...
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... Science Frontiers ONLINE No. 158: Mar - Apr 2005 Other pages Home Page Science Frontiers Online All Issues Last Issue Next Issue Sourcebook Project Sourcebook Subjects Contents Archaeology Untranslatable Mohenjo-Daro Script? A very Early Compound Machine Khufu's Secret Burial Chamber: A Phony Discovery? Astronomy Allez Allez Old Galaxies in a Young Universe Biology Do Dolphins Sense the Coriolis Force? Disappearing Animals Wayward DNA: Does it Affect the Shapes of Family Trees? Geology Bermuda Triangles in the Desert! Plate-techtonics 'theory' is slowly and inevitably Dyning Geophysics Hum Update Psychology Motherese: A precursor of Human Language? Unclassified Multimedia Communications in the Cosmos Computer Bacteria ...
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... proceeds "blindly"; that is, mutations are random and unrelated to the biological needs for survival. This assumption is enshrined in R. Dawkins' book The Blind Watchmaker . Catchy though this title is, it looks more and more like the Watchmaker sees something. For over a decade, experiments have hinted that those mutations that are helpful to an organism's survival occur more often than those that are not "adaptively useful." This controversial phenomenon is termed "adaptive mutation." (SF#64 and SF#96*) A recent issue of Science presents two more papers that seem to confer the gift of sight on the old Watchmaker. Biochemist J.A . Shapiro, in a commentary accompanying the two Science papers, highlights a significant feature of adaptive mutation in bacteria: The genetic changes involved are multicellular. In other words, DNA rearrangements in one cell are actually transferred to other cells. But most profound of all for the whole science of biology is his sentence: "The discovery that cells use biochemical systems to change their DNA in response to physiological inputs moves mutation beyond the realm of 'blind' stochastic events and provides a mechanistic basis for understanding how biological requirements can feed back onto genome structure." (Shapiro, James A.; "Adaptive Mutation: Who's Really in the Garden?" Science, 268:373, 1995.) Comment. Random mutation has been a linchpin of Neo-Darwinism because it is "scientific"; that is, non-supernatural. We see in adaptive mutation that other scientific mechanisms ...
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... from the bottom of the river and floated to the surface, then shot like missiles into the sky and out of sight. They were the size of beach balls, and many flew out of the water every few minutes, surfacing about 10 metres apart. I am told that this happens every year at the same time. Locals say it is caused by a serpent releasing her eggs. Does anyone know of this phenomenon?" A. Pentecost answered. He noted first the similarity of the Mekong phenomenon to the will-o '- the-wisp or ignis fatuus. The usual explanation of ignis fatuus blames the spontaneous combustion of marsh gas. However, the Mekong lights are initially seen under the water where there would not be enough oxygen to support combustion. Pentecost suggested instead phosphorescent bacteria or the "cold flame" of phosphorus vapor which might form through diphosphane decomposition. (Pentecost, Allan, et al; "Mekong Mystery," New Scientist, p. 96, September 6, 1997.) References. The Mekong phenomenon may be allied with the many examples of luminous aerial bubbles. See SF#102 and a good collection of them in category GLD7 in our Catalog Lightning, Auroras. From Science Frontiers #114, NOV-DEC 1997 . 1997-2000 William R. Corliss ...
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... appears often in Science Frontiers. Currently, he is promoting the theory that many of the earth's hydrocarbon deposits (gas, oil, graphite, etc.) are not of biological origin but are formed rather when primordial methane outgases from the planet's interior. A vanishingly small number of geologists buy Gold's theory. Nevertheless, the Swedish State Power Authority and some private investors have been impressed enough to fund a drilling project at the Siljan Ring, a meteorite crater 150 miles north of Stockholm. There are no significant sources of biogenic hydrocarbons nearby, but oil seeps are not uncommon around the Ring. Mainstream theory cannot account for these seeps, but Gold's theory can: primordial methane streaming up through the cracked granite shield is converted, probably with the help of bacteria, into oil and hydrocarbon sludge. "Ridicuous," say the mainstreamers. Recently, the drilling program, which has reached the 22,000foot level, brought up 60 kilograms of very smelly black sludge with the consistency of modeling clay. The gunk seems to have a biological origin. In addition to the black sludge, the drillers have been encountering increasing quantities of various hydrocarbon gases as the hole went deeper. All very supportive of Gold's hypothesis. Establishment geologists are having difficulties explaining these results. They blame contamination by drilling lubricants and/or the surface oil seeps. Gold discounts these explanations. (Anonymous; "Going for Gold," Scientific American, 259:20, August 1988. Also: Begley, Sharon, and Lubenow, Gerald C.; " ...
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... Of course, nematodes are not as pretty as birds and fish, but they are nevertheless bona fide species of life. Examination of the Rockall mud and that from other seabed sites has convinced the nematode counters that there may be as many as 100 million nematode species on our planet. When other classes of life are added, the figure rises to at least 130 million. (Pearce, Fred; "Rockall Mud Richer than Rainforest," New Scientist, p. 8, September 16, 1995.) Comments. Lifeless molecules can apparently unite to form an almost infinite array of life forms! The next reservoir of unexplored biodiversity may be the crevicular realm -- all those fluid-filled crevices and channels that extend miles down into the earth's crust. They are full of bacteria and other unrecognized microscopic life forms. As for extraterrestrial habitats, who can even guess? From Science Frontiers #102 Nov-Dec 1995 . 1995-2000 William R. Corliss ...
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... contact with a human cell. The two separating membranes will dissove and the cell contents will mix. The once-independent and widely different cell nuclei will fuse, forming a single hybrid cell with a common membrane. Even more astonishing, this totally new biological entity will often divide and produce an endless line of the new hybrid. As might be expected, some hybrids do not remain true and revert to one or the other of the original species. Although cell fusion has been observed only under laboratory conditions, it seems to represent a near-universal cell phenomenon that might be realized rarely under natural conditions. The implications for the history of life are far-reaching. For example, the mitochondria in human cells that help our bodies use oxygen to obtain energy may well be descendants of bacteria that once fused with primitive cells. The same may be true for the chloroplasts in plant cells. (Thomas, Lewis; "Cell Fusion: Does It Represent a Universal Urge to 'Join Up'?" Science Digest, 86:52, December 1979.) Comment. Natural cell fusion might make large evolutionary steps possible and be much faster than endless small genetic changes. Are we all composite creatures? From Science Frontiers #10, Spring 1980 . 1980-2000 William R. Corliss ...
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... "Precious little in the way of biochemical evolution could have happened on the earth. It is easy to show that the two thousand or so enzymes that span the whole of life could not have evolved on the Earth. If one counts the number of trial assemblies of amino acids that are needed to give rise to the enzymes, the probability of their discovery by random shufflings turns out to be less than 1 in 1040000." They conclude that the genes that control the development of terrestrial life must have evolved on a cosmic scale, where there has been more time and much more room for shufflings. (Hoyle, Fred, and Wickramasinghe, Chandra; "Where Microbes Boldly Went," New Scientist, 91:412, 1981.) Comment. Could not the "new" bacteria that appeared in the Mt. St. Helens area, as described in LIFE'S ORIGIN WITHIN THE EARTH? , have drifted down through the atmosphere into the lakes and ponds -- a sort of modern, ever-continuing panspermia? It is interesting to note here that even Hoyle, who has espoused the Steady State theory of the cosmos, seems to require the creation of life followed by evolution. This need for an origin of life is a human philosophical weakness. In principle, matter and life, too, could have always existed. From Science Frontiers #18, NOV-DEC 1981 . 1981-2000 William R. Corliss ...
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... Contents Other pages Home Page Science Frontiers Online All Issues This Issue Sourcebook Project Sourcebook Subjects The Nomads Within Us It was originally believed that human chromosomes were fixed at conception and all subsequent organic development proceeded from the instructions encoded on them. Biologists have recently discovered that genes grasshopper about, constantly modifying genetic instructions -- at least that's the current thinking. Additional modification of genetic instructions seems to be accomplished by entities called "nomads" or "mobile dispersed genetic elements." One type of nomad is a simple ring of DNA called a plasmid. Plasmids seem to be identical to a kind of virus called a retrovirus, which can penetrate into cells and tamper with gene expression; that is, the way genetic instructions are interpreted. Plasmids have been discovered in maize, fruit flies, bacteria, and, now, humans -- and healthy people at that. No one is quite sure what these plasmids do. Even though they look like retroviruses, they may not be associated with illness, but rather help organisms adapt to changing environments. But no one really knows. (Anonymous; "Human Wandering Genes Can Live on Their Own," New Scientist, 94:18, 1982.) Comment. So, the human body is not only beset by new genetic instructions and the static introduced by invading viruses and other disease agents, but it has an indigenous population of nomads continually fiddling with our cells' genetic instructions. Our bodies seem more like Grand Central Station with trains loaded with new biological ideas constantly arriving from far and near -- maybe even from outer ...
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... . The expected boundary (" suture") between two old tectonic plates thought to exist at 3 km according to surface geology had not yet appeared at 7.5 km. Most interestingly, crevicular structure (crevices and pores) existed at almost all depths, even though theory said they could not because of intense pressures. And these voids were filled with fluids. P. Keher, a KTB scientist, was amazed at what the drill found: "When I started 25 years ago, the idea was that the deeper you go into the crust, the drier it gets." (Kerr, Richard A.; "Looking -- Deeply -- into the Earth's Crust in Europe," Science, 261:295, 1993.) Comment. Deep-living bacteria were not mentioned in the above article, but Soviet scientists claim to have pumped them up from 12 km down! Outer space may not be our final frontier despite the introductory blurb to Star Trek! From Science Frontiers #90, NOV-DEC 1993 . 1993-2000 William R. Corliss ...
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... of $40 million, drilling at the Siljan Ring has been terminated. The drill penetrated to 6.8 kilometers before it got stuck. No significant methane had been found. The experts snickered! But the story is not finished, at least as far as Gold is concerned. He maintains that the drilling stopped just short of an apparent reservoir at 7.2 kilometers (probably located by seismic methods). Another, deeper hole will vindicate him, he believes. After all, there are tantalizing hints: The drillers did find an assortment of hydrocarbons that could have been deposited by upward-seeping methane. Skeptics say they are derived from the drilling fluids. Tons of micrometer-sized grains of magnetite were taken out of the hole. Gold opines that these grains were synthesized by bacteria subsisting upon seeping methane at a depth of 6 kilometers. Russian drillers on the Kola Peninsula report the existence of intriguing circulating fluids as far down as 12 kilometers. Despite the problems and disappointments at the first hole, some Swedish investors seem ready to finance a second hole at the Siljan Ring. (Kerr, Richard A.; "When a Radical Experiment Goes Bust," Science, 247:1177, 1990.) Reference. To read more on primordial methane and the Siljan Ring, refer to ESC16 in our catalog: Anomalies in Geo logy. Ordering information here . From Science Frontiers #69, MAY-JUN 1990 . 1990-2000 William R. Corliss ...
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... Science Frontiers ONLINE No. 39: May-Jun 1985 Issue Contents Other pages Home Page Science Frontiers Online All Issues This Issue Sourcebook Project Sourcebook Subjects How Animals Might Get Inverted The above title is just a literary ploy. We don't know how upside-down animals get that way; and, obviously, we don't think anyone else does either. Nevertheless, biologists are now discovering some radical things about life that could lead to some real "answers." First, we have a case of genetic material being transferred from a fish to a bacterium. The case at hand is the light-producing bacterium that provides the ponyfish with its luminous organ. In this symbiotic arrangement, the fish somehow passes genetic instructions to its retinue of bacteria. (Lewin, Roger; "Fish to Bacterium Gene Transfer," Science, 227:1020, 1985.) Comment. Perhaps symbiotic relationships are fine-tuned by the mutual exchange of information! Second, the role of viruses in transferring genetic material across species barriers is at last getting some serious attention. (Remember how Fred Hoyle was snickered at for promoting this idea in his books?) D. Erwin and J. Valentine, of the University of California, are now pointing out how a whole colony of "hopeful monsters" might be created en masse by an attack of viruses carrying new genetic blueprints. (And remember how Richard Goldschmidt got the same treatment as Fred Hoyle for suggesting "hopeful monsters" decades ago? (Anonymous; "Gene-Swapping Breaks Barriers in Evolutionary Theory," ...
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... if a large meteor impact excavated a 60milewide crater. "Phinney's group used a computer to calculate where 1,000 particles would go if ejected from Earth in random directions, moving about 2.5 kilometers per second faster than the minimum speed necessary to escape. Of the 1,000 hypothetical particles, 291 hit Venus and 165 returned to Earth; 20 went to Mercury, 17 to Mars, 14 to Jupiter and 1 to Saturn. Another 492 left the solar system completely, primarily due to gravitational close encounters with either Jupiter or Mercury that 'slingshot' them on their way." (Eberhart, Jonathan; "Have Earth Rocks Gone to Mars?" Science News, 135:191, 1989.) Comment. One implication from the preceding analysis is that terrestrial bacteria and spores could well have infected every planet in the solar system and perhaps even planets in nearby star systems! Conceivably, if other star systems had histories like ours, biological traffic might be quite heavy in interstellar space. In fact, extraterrestrial life forms may be arriving here continually; and we may be such ourselves! From Science Frontiers #63, MAY-JUN 1989 . 1989-2000 William R. Corliss ...
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... large and complex that one is unsure that physics is up to the task of explaining these tangled structures consisting many hundreds of atoms. Some of these doubts have been relieved by recent advances in protein chemistry. It appears that the different types of protein folds, which number in the thousands, can be classified and sorted into distinct structural families -- just like the much simpler crystals of salt, quartz, galena, etc fall into orderly classes. The clear implication is that protein folds and, by extension via further research, the protein molecules themselves, are also natural and reducible just like the salt crystals. If proteins are natural, perhaps even more complex biological forms are also, and so on up the complexity ladder to viruses (which often look like crystals through the microscope), bacteria, and even (gasp!) mammals. This is, of course, reductionism in the extreme. But the successes with protein folding have led two New Zealand biochemists to speculate as follows: If it does turn out that a substantial amount of higher biological form is natural, then the implications will be radical and far-reaching. It will mean that physical laws must have had a far greater role in the evolution of biological form than is generally assumed. And it will mean a return to the pre-Darwinian conception that underlying all the diversity of life is a finite set of natural forms that will recur over and over again anywhere in the cosmos where there is carbon-based life. (Denton, Michael, and Marshall, Craig; "Laws of Form Revisited, ...
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... Neurons Do Advanced Math," Science, 292:185, 2001.) Hornets Install Magnetic Markers. Hornets of the species Vespa orientalis affix a tiny crystal of magnetic mineral in the roof of each of the brood-rearing cells in their nests. These crystals are roundish and about 0.1 millimeter in diameter. The mineral is ilmenite with the formula: FeTiO3. The purpose of the magnetic crystals is obscure. The favored explanation is that the hornets use them as guides during nest construction -- sort of like those little flags human surveyors set out. This explanation assumes that hornets can somehow sense and make use of the complex magnetic field created by an array of many tiny magnets. Another question asks where the magnetic crystals come from. Do the hornets secrete them like the magnetotactic bacteria or do they gather them from their environments? (Stokroos, Ietse, et al; "Keystone-Like Crystals in Cells of Hornet Combs," Nature, 411:654, 2001.) Comment. It would be so easy to dismiss the hornets' little crystals as just one more animal gee-whiz fact, but we should not. Did the hornets first recognize that magnetic crystals would be useful to them and then set out to find some or, even more remarkably, evolve the ability to secrete them? Did their (presumed) magnetic sense evolve solely for the purpose of employing magnetic markers during nest building? There are more questions, but you get the idea. From Science Frontiers #138, NOV-DEC 2001 . 2001 William R. Corliss Other Sites ...
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... et al; "Evidence for a Large-Scale Reorganization of Early Cambrian Continental Masses by Inertial Interchange True Polar Wander," Science, 277:541, 1997. Also: Sawyer, Kathy; "Global Shift May Have Sped Evolution," Washington Post, July 25, 1997.) Comment. O.K ., but those much more recent frozen mammoths are still hard to explain. If a chunk of seafloor can founder once, the same thing might have happened twice -- say, just a few thousand years ago. But why should large chunks of seafloor sink so suddenly? Neither reference touches on this! K. Wise has pointed out that actually the Cambrian Explosion did not see the greatest increase in biological innovation. The earlier Archaean Explosion produced 17 new phyla of bacteria employing an extraordinary range of different metabolisms. Although some 38 new phyla did emerge from the Cambrian Explosion, they utilized only one type of metabolism. (Wise, Kurt P., "The Archaean Explosion," CEN Technical Journal, 10:315, 1996.) Comment. What triggered the more innovative Archaean Explosion? Reference. Our Catalog Inner Earth contains a long section entitled "Problems in Measuring and Interpreting Paleomagnetism." This book is described here . This 90 pole shift was synchronous with the Cambrian Explosion of new life forms. Of course, North America really looked quite different then. See Astonomy for a Martian pole shift. From Science Frontiers #113, SEP-OCT 1997 . 1997-2000 William R. Corliss ...
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... should not be down there in any quantities according to current theory, but that's what they are drilling for. Isn't it futile to fight such a well-established dogma that oil and gas have biological origins and therefore must be looked for only where life once thrived? Not any longer! Enough anomalies have accumulated to seriously challenge the idea that oil and gas are byproducts of ancient animal life. Here are a few of these anomalies: The geographical distribution of oil seems derived from features much larger in scale than individual sedimentary features. The quantities of oil and gas available are hundreds of times those estimated on the basis of biological origins. The so-called "molecular fossils" found in oil and claimed as proof of a biogenic origin are simply biological contaminants, particularly bacteria that feed upon the petroleum. Petroleum is largely saturated with hydrogen, whereas buried biological matter should exhibit a deficiency of hydrogen. Oil and gas are often rich in helium, an inert gas which biological pro cesses cannot concentrate. The great oil reservoirs of the Middle East are in diverse geological provinces. There is no unifying feature for the region as a whole and, especially, no sediments rich in biological debris that could have produced these immense concentrations of oil and gas. If oil and gas do not come from decaying organic matter, where do they originate? Some scientists, such as T. Gold, say "from the earth's core." As the earth accreted long ago, it collected abundant carbonaceous material from carbonaceous chondrites and comets containing organic sludge. Under the ...
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