Greetings, fellow Coppertops! Here we are ready for another exciting trip inside the Fortean Matrix, where we’ll study ancient gamma ray bursts along with ancient Martian lakes, Neanderthal babies & artificial brains. And as we observe the launching of another private space mining enterprise, we’ll ready ourselves to visit once more the epic saga that happened a long time ago, in a galaxy far far away. You’ll excuse me if I don’t get up my chair, for I had a very rough Kung-Fu session with Trinity –that girl is sure flexible, y’all!
(10) In ancient Egypt the lowly dung beetle was revered and immortalized in jewels & sculptures. But now modern scientists have discovered something remarkable about these insects: that they are able to orient themselves with the aid of the Milky Way.
Turns out the beetle loves to run in straight lines when they are pushing their little ball of crap, but it was previously assumed that they guided themselves through the Sun & the Moon. New observations determined that the beetles keep their straight lines even in moonless nights, so South African researcher Dr. Marie Dacke took a couple of dung beetles inside a planetarium where she could control the type of star fields the insects could see overheard.
The beetles performed best when confronted with a perfect starry sky projected on to the planetarium dome, but coped just as well when shown only the diffuse bar of light that is the plane of our Milky Way Galaxy.
Dr Dacke thinks it is the bar more than the points of light that is important.
“These beetles have compound eyes,” she told the BBC. “It’s known that crabs, which also have compound eyes, can see a few of the brightest stars in the sky. Maybe the beetles can do this as well, but we don’t know that yet; it’s something we’re looking at. However, when we show them just the bright stars in the sky, they get lost. So it’s not them that the beetles are using to orientate themselves.”
One wonders if the ancient Egyptians were already aware of the orienting strategy of the dung beetles. Regardless, this story kind of offers a valuable lesson for our modern life: When pushing the $#it for a living, never lose sight of the stars –or else you’ll be just running in circles.
(9) But stars can be deadly too. In a previous installment of the Pills we discussed the mystery surrounding a strong radiation burst that was recorded on tree rings, which occurred around 1200 years ago. Back in those days the 2 main candidates to explain away the radiation spike were a supernova or a massive solar flare, but both hypotheses were not convincing enough. Now a new solution has been given, which seems to match both the strong energy signature as well as the lack of mention of such an event in historic records: A gamma ray burst produced by the collision of two black holes or neutron stars inside our own galaxy. This solution explains the lack of visible light emission, which would have caused quite a lot of Medieval folks go to “Whooa!”.
Which then again leaves us with another pesky enigma: Did the gamma burst created a couple of Medieval Hulks running around Europe? Would that explain the rise of the Inquisition too? I’m sure that sooner or later Stan Lee will exploit this interesting historical event.
(8) Or maybe the gamma ray burst was the result of some ancient alien experiment gone terribly wrong? Such ideas are impossible to prove, unless we finally found some tangible evidence of an extraterrestrial civilization buried in the fossil record… or a piece of coal.
Which is exactly what some Russian scientists are claiming, according to a weird news article published this week in the English version of The Voice of Russia. The discovery was made by a citizen of Vladivostok, while he was feeding the fire of his heat stove during a cold winter night. The man noticed a strange object embedded into one of the pieces of coal, and decided to send it to a group of scientists for analysis. The scientists allegedly reached the conclusion that the symmetrical detailing & the nature of the metal alloy suggested an artificial origin. And due to the age of the coal deposits from which the lump was extracted, the cog wheel was at least 300 million years old.
Is this evidence of extraterrestrial visitation? And why would a spacefaring civilization would still use cogwheels & clockwork machinery –unless we’re talking about Luddite aliens here. Couldn’t this be instead evidence of an ancient civilization that for some reason was destroyed, as it is suggested by many religious mythologies? Or perhaps this is more akin to the para-psychological phenomenon of apports.
Or maybe this is all just a big cog-wheeled hoax. Share your thoughts in the comment section.
(7) One of the stories from Russia I’ve always been interested in has to do with a remote village where, as the story goes, one day a female Almas –the Russian version of Bigfoot– was captured. The hairy female was named Zana, and in a rather kinky version of Planet of the Apes, Zana ended up conceiving a few babies sired by different village members. If true, then this story implies a common ancestry between the Almas & Homo Sapiens, and that such cross-species coupling might not have been too uncommon in the history of our lineage.
Of course, the only way to know for certain if our ancestors & our cousins did the deed would be if some of them were still around. And although looking for Bigfoot or his overseas counterparts has proven unfruitful so far, perhaps there’s a way Science could lend a hand.
At least that was what many implied after reading Der Spiegel’s interview with Harvard geneticist George Church, who said his lab research team was so close to cloning a Neanderthal that all that was needed was an ‘adventurous woman’ volunteering as the surrogate mother.
Unfortunately after the story was picked up by Gawker & other sites, Church went out to clarify that he was NOT looking to put an ad on Craigslist looking for the would-be mother of a Neander-baby, and that it was all a big misunderstanding. That’s too bad, because I was about to contact him & suggest my older sister for this noble endeavor –after all, she happens to find this guy attractive!
(6) Although George Church may never get to hear the cries of a baby Neanderthal, there are some folks living in the Umantilla Indian reservation in Oregon who think they know what the screams of a Sasquatch sound like –the answer? Effing terrifying!
Some tenants of the reservation’s 190 rentals and 32 homes admitted being afraid and one man reported that his dogs were too terrified to go outside, said Josh Franken, the housing authority’s interim director.
“This guy was rather scared himself,” Franken said. A rumor quickly spread that the cries were made by “a young Bigfoot that had got separated from the rest of his clan,” he said.
Or maybe the young Bigfoot is looking for an audition in America’s Got Talent. Stranger things have happened in that show…
(5) In space, no one can hear you scream. In Mars things are slightly different, although it won’t be anytime soon until human beings finally decide to take the long trip to the our cousin planet.
But that could certainly change if, say, we found unquestionable evidence of past or present life on Mars. And now scientists have found the strongest geological evidence of a wetter past on the Red Planet, in the form of an ancient crater lake fed by groundwater. The discovery was made thanks to the Mar’s Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) probe, which found traces of carbonate & clay minerals at the bottom of the McLaughlin crater.
“These new observations suggest the formation of the carbonates and clay in a groundwater-fed lake within the closed basin of the crater,” NASA said of the findings, which were published in the online edition of Nature Geoscience.
I’m no rocket scientist, but if I were in charge of the JPL Mars missions, I’d start preparing the deployment of a rover inside that crater ASAP.
(4) Sending robots to another planet is one thing. But what about sending them to the bottom of the ocean? That’s the US Navy’s current planning, who seem determined to not staying behind their Air Force buddies in the dronification of modern warfare. That’s why they want to pack aerial drones and ‘other intelligence-gathering technology’ inside capsules capable of withstanding deep pressure, and distribute them all across the seven seas to wait until needed.
The idea is not without merit IMO, since such technology could help us put remote sensors on the ocean floor, which would enable scientists to keep track of things like temperature changes in ocean currents, migration flow of fish population, etc. The question is, would USOs (Unidentified Submarine Objects) mind if we started to invade their domain?
(3) If we start scattering the oceans with drones, just how intelligent do we want them to be? And what if you had a drone inside your very own web browser? Would you be cool with that?
Well, that’s basically Singularity Evangelist Ray Kurzweil’s idea, now that he’s been hired by the Google guys to work on some of his concepts of A.I. He envisions a powerful personal assistant which would provide you with suggestions based on your phone conversations & email exchanges. And if that doesn’t give you a few goosebumps then think of this: what if the A.I. could be hacked with a malware virus, or put in the service of the NSA to eavesdrop on all civilian communications?
…What if something like that already exists on the black world?
In any case, first Kurzweil would have to prove that his A.I. concepts are feasible, and given the unsuccessful development of the field in the last 30 years, perhaps it will take many more decades before we have to start worrying about the indiscretions of our cybernetic secretaries.
(2) Drones in the oceans, artificial brains. It would seem that the future with which we dreamed of in our childhood is finally catching up with us. And to add to our amazement comes news of a new private enterprise , Deep Space Industries, seeking to mine & process the vast resources of space asteroids. The people behind these bold business plans –Deep Space is allying themselves with another company called Planetary Resources– aim to build a trillion-dollar market, and eventually help shape the human race into a space-faring species.
“Deep Space Industries announced today that it will send a fleet of asteroid-prospecting spacecraft out into the solar system to hunt for resources to accelerate space development to benefit Earth. These ‘FireFly’ spacecraft utilize low-cost cubesat components and get discounted delivery to space by ride-sharing on the launch of larger communications satellites.”
[…] “Bringing back asteroid materials is only a step on the way to much bigger things for DSI. The company has a patent-pending technology called the MicroGravity Foundry to transform raw asteroid material into complex metal parts. The MicroGravity Foundry is a 3-D printer that uses lasers to draw patterns in a nickel-charged gas medium, causing the nickel to be deposited in precise patterns.
“‘The MicroGravity Foundry is the first 3-D printer that creates high-density high-strength metal components even in zero gravity,’ said Stephen Covey, a co-founder of DSI and inventor of the process. ‘Other metal 3-D printers sinter powdered metal, which requires a gravity field and leaves a porous structure, or they use low-melting point metals with less strength.'”
3D-printers in space sound like a good idea. Maybe such machines could help us retrofit metallic asteroids and turn them into complex habitats, or even space vessels, the same way our ancestors found it wise to take advantage of natural sites for the construction of buildings, instead of starting from scratch.
But, with any promise comes a menace: if space companies become more powerful and rich than sovereign nations, then how does that affect our political and democratic landscape?
(1) Will these asteroid barons start building Death Stars of their own in order to demand ransom to Earthly states? That’s probably an unlikely scenario, but the same could have been said a year ago of the notion that Walt Disney would buy the rights to Star Wars from George Lucas.
And less than 72 hours ago a huge disturbance in the Geekosphere was felt, when it was announced that J.J. Abrams would be in charge of directing Episode VII —The Lens Flare Strikes Back?
So not only Star Trek but now also the Star Wars saga are in the hands of Spielberg’s protegé. All I can say is that I hope J.J. doesn’t go all Jar Jar with what is still the most important story in my personal fantasy realm. Hell hath no wrath as a scorned nerd!
Until next time, this is RPJ jacking out. Happy spoon-bendings, everyone!