Hot stuff: New testing on a fragment of King Tut's mummy reveals his remains caught fire after being entombed in his sarcophagus.
Hot stuff: New testing on a fragment of King Tut's mummy reveals his remains caught fire after being entombed in his sarcophagus.Courtesy Jon Bodsworth
We've documented the travails leading to the demise of young King Tut many times here on Science Buzz. But headlines today just add more fuel to the King Tut woe fire (so to speak). Tests done on a small fragment of Tut's mummy that is held in Great Britain show that his mummy caught fire. And that fire, researchers believe, occurred after Tut was mummified and entombed in his sarcophagus through spontaneous combustion from the mixture of embalming oils, wrapping fabric and oxygen. A virtual autopsy done as part of this research also concludes that Tut died from being run over by a chariot. All in all, not a very good day of news for young King Tut.


Tell me Ouija board: What is the science that makes you actually work?
Tell me Ouija board: What is the science that makes you actually work?Courtesy Majail0711
Hey, it's Halloween. Do you have a seance to go to tonight after you finish your trick and treating?

And what's a good seance without a Ouija board? You know it's the quickest way to connect with the dead and find out those mysterious secrets that aren't accessible any other way.

It's been quite a while since I last touched a Ouija board. But I do remember being amazed how that little pad just skimmed across the board to give us answers to our questions. It's fun and mystical. And (SPOILER ALERT) it's all based on science.

The current issue of Smithsonian delves into the history and science behind the board. You can get all the details right here. Since the board's beginnings, the creators had insights into the ideometer effect. That's a fancy term for the automatic muscular movements that take place in our bodies without our conscious will or volition. It's like what happens to us when we cry during the sad part of a movie or flick away an annoying bug pestering us. People using a Ouija board are subtly moving the pointer around the board without realizing they are doing so.

Research conducted a couple years ago quantified what was happening. People were asked random fact-based questions that were challenging. Just hearing the questions and answering without a Ouija board, participants got about 50 percent correct, which was what researchers expected. But when participants were asked similar questions while seated at the Ouija board, that correct response rate jumped up to 65 percent.

The researchers account of the difference by people tapping into their non-conscious knowledge and using the ideometer effect to guide the Ouija board pointer across the board. And people actually do better answering questions on topics that they don't think they know the answer to than topics that they do.

So, if you do happen to find yourself sitting around a Ouija board tonight, be careful what you ask it. You might just get the answer to something you've been burying away in your mind for a long time!!!

Happy Halloween and feel free to share your observations here with other Buzz readers on the science of Ouija boards.

Compost for you: Moving from right to left, you can see how microbes deconstruct organic garbage into compost.
Compost for you: Moving from right to left, you can see how microbes deconstruct organic garbage into compost.Courtesy Thor
That's right. There is something rotten, smelly, nasty happening right in the lobby of the Science Museum of Minnesota. We've got compost on display. You can see the three phases of compost from fresh organic garbage to midway decomposed waste to finished compost. And you can learn all about the science that makes it possible to turn trash into ground-enriching treasure. Here's the link to the web content that accompanies this exhibit. Oh, and don't worry about the smell. The case the compost is presented in has special filters to keep any nastiness from getting out!


Orion power on: Technicians work inside the Orion crew module to prepare it for its first power on, a major milestone in Orion’s final year of preparations before EFT-1.
Orion power on: Technicians work inside the Orion crew module to prepare it for its first power on, a major milestone in Orion’s final year of preparations before EFT-1.Courtesy Lockheed Martin
From a NASA press release:

NASA's first-ever deep space craft, Orion, has been powered on for the first time, marking a major milestone in the final year of preparations for flight.

Orion's avionics system was installed on the crew module and powered up for a series of systems tests at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida last week. Preliminary data indicate Orion's vehicle management computer, as well as its innovative power and data distribution system -- which use state-of-the-art networking capabilities -- performed as expected.

All of Orion's avionics systems will be put to the test during its first mission, Exploration Flight Test-1(EFT-1), targeted to launch in the fall of 2014.

"Orion will take humans farther than we've ever been before, and in just about a year we're going to send the Orion test vehicle into space," said Dan Dumbacher, NASA's deputy associate administrator for exploration systems development in Washington. "The work we're doing now, the momentum we're building, is going to carry us on our first trip to an asteroid and eventually to Mars. No other vehicle currently being built can do that, but Orion will, and EFT-1 is the first step."

Orion provides the United States an entirely new human space exploration capability -- a flexible system that can to launch crew and cargo missions, extend human presence beyond low-Earth orbit, and enable new missions of exploration throughout our solar system.

EFT-1 is a two-orbit, four-hour mission that will send Orion, uncrewed, more than 3,600 miles above the Earth's surface --15 times farther than the International Space Station. During the test, Orion will return to Earth, enduring temperatures of 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit while traveling 20,000 miles per hour, faster than any current spacecraft capable of carrying humans. The data gathered during the flight will inform design decisions, validate existing computer models and guide new approaches to space systems development. The information gathered from this test also will aid in reducing the risks and costs of subsequent Orion flights.

"It’s been an exciting ride so far, but we're really getting to the good part now," said Mark Geyer, Orion program manager. "This is where we start to see the finish line. Our team across the country has been working hard to build the hardware that goes into Orion, and now the vehicle and all our plans are coming to life."

Throughout the past year, custom-designed components have been arriving at Kennedy for installation on the spacecraft -- more than 66,000 parts so far. The crew module portion already has undergone testing to ensure it will withstand the extremes of the space environment. Preparation also continues on the service module and launch abort system that will be integrated next year with the Orion crew module for the flight test.

The completed Orion spacecraft will be installed on a Delta IV heavy rocket for EFT-1. NASA is also developing a new rocket, the Space Launch System, which will power subsequent missions into deep space, beginning with Exploration Mission-1 in 2017.

Amazing solar canyon display

by Anonymous on Oct. 26th, 2013

Fascinating video showing magnetic solar filament bursting from the Sun's surface and its rippling after-effects. Here's more about it from NASA:

"A magnetic filament of solar material erupted on the sun in late September, breaking the quiet conditions in a spectacular fashion. The 200,000 mile long filament ripped through the sun's atmosphere, the corona, leaving behind what looks like a canyon of fire. The glowing canyon traces the channel where magnetic fields held the filament aloft before the explosion. Visualizers at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. combined two days of satellite data to create a short movie of this gigantic event on the sun.

In reality, the sun is not made of fire, but of something called plasma: particles so hot that their electrons have boiled off, creating a charged gas that is interwoven with magnetic fields.

These images were captured on Sept. 29-30, 2013, by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory, or SDO, which constantly observes the sun in a variety of wavelengths.

Different wavelengths help capture different aspect of events in the corona. The red images shown in the movie help highlight plasma at temperatures of 90,000° F and are good for observing filaments as they form and erupt. The yellow images, showing temperatures at 1,000,000° F, are useful for observing material coursing along the sun's magnetic field lines, seen in the movie as an arcade of loops across the area of the eruption. The browner images at the beginning of the movie show material at temperatures of 1,800,000° F, and it is here where the canyon of fire imagery is most obvious. By comparing this with the other colors, one sees that the two swirling ribbons moving farther away from each other are, in fact, the footprints of the giant magnetic field loops, which are growing and expanding as the filament pulls them upward.“

Cave painting by Charles R. Knight: Evidently fossil artwork goes way back.
Cave painting by Charles R. Knight: Evidently fossil artwork goes way back.Courtesy Public domain via Wikipedia
I didn't enter anything this year but despite the 16 day government shutdown the 4th annual National Fossil Day Art & Photography Contest had plenty of submissions from other folks around the country. This year's theme was "Your nomination for a National Fossil". I'm not sure everyone's artwork expressed that but there are many fine pieces.

The winning entries can be viewed here.

This week Time has an amazing feature showing time lapse satellite images taken from space document land-use changes over 30 or 40 years at significant locations around the world. Watch a lake practically dry up in Asia. See the retreat of the Columbia Glacier in Alaska. View the sprawl of Las Vegas across the Nevada desert. And there's much, much more including an option to select a spot on Earth you especially care about. Cool stuff.


Ever since I was a kid I've loved playing with magnets. They're just so amazing! Remember those nifty, magnetic Scottie Dogs you could buy? Often one was black and the other was white but sometimes they were the same color. You could set them up on the table and push one away with the other until the loose one flipped around and the two joined together with a dull snap. Or how about using a magnet underneath the table to move a paperclip around the tabletop? That was always fun. I still like playing with magnets. When I worked in the Dino and Fossils gallery here at the museum, I carried a magnet with me and would demonstrate the magnetic properties of iron ore, especially the very magnetic mineral, magnetite.

I've been watching some videos lately about magnets and magnetism, and an oddball magnetic liquid called ferrofluid, which you can make in your kitchen. Anyway, I've gathered some videos here to share with our Buzz audience. The first (above) is about the strongest magnet in the world! The next is a levitation demonstration using neodymium magnets, followed by a couple videos utilizing ferrofluid, and ending with instructions on how to make your own at home.


With the announcement of the Ultimate Dinosaurs: Giants of Gondwana exhibit comming to the Science Museum of Minnesota, I was thinking back to all the questions I have had regarding dinosaurs. Tyrannosaurus rex: the Tyrant Lizard King on display at the Royal Tyrrell Museum in Drumheller, Alberta.
Tyrannosaurus rex: the Tyrant Lizard King on display at the Royal Tyrrell Museum in Drumheller, Alberta.Courtesy Mark Ryan

Questions like: "Who gets to name Dinosaurs?" "What is this dinosaur named after?" and "What does this name mean?". I thought that I'd take some time here to answer these questions.


Fun Facts about Archaeology: Excavation Day: KAYSC Bilir, Nge, and Malcolm screening material
Excavation Day: KAYSC Bilir, Nge, and Malcolm screening materialCourtesy Science Museum of Minnesota

-It's not paleontology. Paleontology is when you dig up bones, etc from dinosaurs. You don't dig up dinosaurs.
-Archaeology is basically digging up people's cultural artifacts. People's everyday items.
-Archaeology is not just digging up the dirt; it's digging up some one's everyday life and their past and their every day items. it is a fine art of digging up things slowly, patiently, and gently.
-If you find gold or money or anything else, you have to turn it in and report it.
-You have to ask permission from the state archaeologist to do a dig, even if you are a famous archaeologist.
-When you become an archaeologist, you learn a lot of new things. I have enjoyed learning how to clean artifacts and how to learn how to tell the difference from artifacts in the screen at the excavation.

My favorite thing we have done is going to the excavation. It was the hardest thing we've done because we had to work in the hot hot sun all day.