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Amelia Earhart
(Photo : Flygbragder och bragdflygare, Harald Victorin 1948 / Wikimedia Commons)


Whatever happened to Amelia Earhart?

The 83-year old mystery has long baffled researchers and the world. But, scientists from Penn State University plan on using a new way to unearth clues about the mysterious disappearance of Amelia Earhart by using a nuclear reactor.


The Disappearance of Amelia Earhart

July 2, 1937, has been immortalized as the day one of the biggest icons in American aviation history vanished off of the face of the earth. Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan, her navigator, took off on a Lockheed Model 10-E Electra from Lae, New Guinea, the last leg of their historic attempt to circumnavigate the globe.

Together, they headed for the Howland Island in the Central Pacific Ocean, 2,500 miles away. There, a U.S Coast Guard cutter, the Itasca, awaited to guide the world-renowned aviator for landing on an uninhabited coral atoll.

Sadly, Earhart and Noonan never arrived on Howland Island. Battling various complications such as overcast skies, faulty radio transmission, and diminishing fuel, she was declared dead by the court in January 1939, 18 months after she disappeared.

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Using a Nuclear Reactor

Daniel Beck, manager of the Penn State Radiation Science and Engineering Center engineering program and home to the Breazeale Nuclear Reactor tells Gillespie that they could try to do relevant analysis matching ongoing genetic testing scientists have done on suspected Earhart remains.

Using the nuclear reactor's neutron beams that operate similarly to X-rays, Beck's Laboratory can see trace amounts of various things like paint chips that cannot be seen by the naked eye.

In a statement, Penn State says, "A sample is set in front of the neutron beam, and a digital imaging plate is placed behind the sample. The neutron beam passes through the sample into the imaging plant, and an image is recorded and digitally scanned." 

In this event, Penn State scientists will also be able to analyze edges of the patch to back form a story of how the patch was historically removed. One side of the path, according to experts, have ax marks. If this is the case, the neutron beam would be able to identify if any of the ax materials could be left.

The opposite side, which seems to have been wiggled back and forth until snapping off, likely wouldn't have any trace materials. The patch will likely require months of studying to unearth its secrets.

The upside of the collaboration is that despite the slim chances of finding any clues behind Amelia Earhart's mysterious disappearance, any proof would still hold scientific and cultural value.  Testing the special pieces of metal is a great example for people who are developing neutron radiography even further. 

However, researchers are hopeful that they would be able to provide positive news as soon as possible whether or not it will definitively conclude the mystery of the American aviator's vanishing.

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