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Mythic death ray remains a mystery

By Associated Press
Published October 23, 2005

SAN FRANCISCO - It wasn't exactly the ancient siege of Syracuse, but rather a curious quest for scientific validation.

According to sparse historical writings, the Greek mathematician Archimedes torched a fleet of invading Roman ships by reflecting the sun's powerful rays with a mirrored device made of glass or bronze.

More than 2,000 years later, researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Arizona set out to recreate Archimedes' fabled death ray Saturday in an experiment sponsored by the Discovery Channel program MythBusters.

Their attempts to set fire to an 80-year-old fishing boat using their own versions of the device, however, failed to either prove or dispel the myth of the solar death ray.

The MIT team's first attempt with their contraption made of 300 square feet of bronze and glass failed to ignite a fire from 150 feet away. It produced smoldering on the boat's wooden surface but no open flame. A second attempt from about 75 feet away lit only a small fire that burned itself out.

Mike Bushroe of the University of Arizona's Lunar and Planetary Laboratory tried a mirrored system shaped like flower petals, but it failed to produce either smoke or flames.

Peter Rees, executive producer of MythBusters, said the experiment showed Archimedes' death ray was most likely a myth.

[Last modified October 23, 2005, 01:21:14]


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