Greetings, fellow Coppertops! Our mission aboard the Nebuchadnezzar this week will take us to the high atmosphere as well as the bottom of the sea; we'll search for evidence of monsters either buried under six feet of dirt, or hiding behind six-foot-tall gates; and before our flight is over we'll pay our respects to a man whose vision took him to the Red Planet and beyond Alpha Centauri. All hands on bridge then —and stop complaining about the food, dammit!
(10) No matter the experience and the gear, every pilot knows that sometimes you just run out of luck; and no story seems to encapsulate this better than Amelia Earhart's. For 75 years the tragic disappearance of this brave woman (along with his navigator Fred Noona) over the Pacific has inspired and captured the public's imagination; and as often happens with popular idols dying under unclear circumstances, several theories have risen in an attempt to fill in the gaps.
The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR) is a non-profit foundation which has investigated Earhart's case for several years, and they have recently reported new findings leading to the conclusion that, after failing to find their marked re-fueling destination, the pair of aviators managed to land on a little uninhabited atoll now known as Nikamuroro island, where they may have managed to survive —for a while at least— while desperately trying to send SOS signals through their radio. Using modern equipment, TIGHAR concluded that "57 of the 120 signals reported at the time are credible, triangulating Earhart’s position to have been Nikumaroro Island."
"When the search failed, all of the reported post-loss radio signals were categorically dismissed as bogus and have been largely ignored ever since," Mr. Gillespie said. But the results of the study, he said, “suggest that the aircraft was on land and on its wheels for several days following the disappearance.”
Will this latest evidence finally close the chapter on Earhart's death? Unless TIGHAR manage to find the missing plane, my guess is... no.
(9) Earhart's attempt to circumnavigate the globe ended in tragedy, but Solar Impulse's attempt of an intercontinental flight using nothing but the power of the sun was an indisputable success. The solar-powered aircraft, weighing only as much as an average family car, took off from Madrid and landed in Morocco after a 20-hour trip across the Mediterranean.
This is certainly exciting news not only because solar-based tech is getting more robust and may one day trickle down to the mass markets, but also because such kind of technology will come in handy for more thorough exploration of the planet Mars --let's go have a bird's eye view of Cydonia, shall we?
(8) The sun could become the key to a brighter tomorrow, but it could also turn into the source of our doom. We've discussed the dangers of powerful CMEs in previous Pills of the Week, but now a new research has been published detailing the effects of a mysterious radiation burst recorded in tree rings between 774-775 A.D. Whatever caused it, it seemed to have been a very powerful event since it increased the levels of Carbon-14 20 times the amount of normal rate of variation.
But now scientists are facing a true cosmic puzzle, because there could only be two astronomical events (that we know of) which could have provoked such a powerful mark in the tree rings: A supernova, or a proton storm from a giant solar flare. And of those two it's the solar flare the one that makes more sense, since if a star had exploded during the Middle Ages then surely we would have found plenty of historical records describing such an extraordinary event? And there aren't; and neither there are any remnants of such an Astro-Kaboom that could be detected with our radio-telescopes.
Same case with the solar flare, which would have also made a vast chunk of the human population go "Whooa!" and leave some record of it. But Fusa Miyake --the scientist from Nagoya University in Japan leading the team that published the paper-- says we shouldn't be too quick in dismissing the solar flare hypothesis, because it might be possible that CMEs that are not particularly strong could still send a strong stream of super-accelerated protons towards our direction. So maybe it was a matter of our little planet being in the right place at the wrong time?
It's news like this which keeps me repeating: "Yo Sunnie you scary!"
(7) Man, if only we could ask the trees about that weird burst which marked their rings, right? Um, waitiminite... what if we could?? A new article in Scientific American ponders about the level of awareness of plants, and whether they may be able to 'see', 'smell' and even 'feel' --or at least their planty equivalent. That's at least what Daniel Chamovitz, director of the Manna Center for Plant Biosciences at Tel Aviv University proposes in his new book "What a Plant Knows":
"[...] While plants don’t have neurons, plants both produce and are affected by neuroactive chemicals! For example, the glutamate receptor is a neuroreceptor in the human brain necessary for memory formation and learning. While plants don’t have neurons, they do have glutamate receptors and what’s fascinating is that the same drugs that inhibit the human glutamate receptor also affect plants. From studying these proteins in plants, scientists have learned how glutamate receptors mediate communication from cell to cell. So maybe the question should be posed to a neurobiologist if there could be a botany of humans, minus the flowers!"
What I find fascinating about these new approaches to botany, is how it might relate to the future search for life --and even intelligent life-- in exotic extraterrestrial ecosystems. Different chemical processes can accomplish similar results, but they are conditioned by the pressures of their particular environmental circumstance. So, could it be possible that in some distant future we might find a non-localized form of intelligent life with processes that are clocked in different times-spans than the ones we humans experience? Maybe someday some student of Chamovitz might confirm what the McKenna brothers have been telling us all along:
"You monkeys only think you're running things"
So I for one welcome our rooty overlords.
(6) Beautiful geometric patterns can be found all around the plant kingdom, and indeed the whole natural world, but a few puzzling patterns are believed by some to be the signature of non-human intelligence. These Euclidean forms are not found on land, though, but on the skies: A strange swirling pattern of smoke and light observed in several Middle Eastern countries, including Georgia, Armenia, Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan. The sighting caused many scared Israelis to call the police, more for fear of a hostile attack from one of their neighbors than fear of an alien invasion.
This is of course not the first time such phenomena have been observed, with the famous 'Norway Spiral' of 2009 being the most notable example. And as with Norway's, scientists and skeptics are proposing the same explanation with this new spiral: the testing of a Russian ballistic missile.
I think the Middle Eastern spiral may very well be explained this time with the missile test. But I personally still think the Norway spiral could have been something else; in any case, if the Russians are making more of these tests they may want to make the proper notifications beforehand, lest another one of their missiles could be misinterpreted as an actual attack that would trigger a retaliation of very nasty repercussions --and let's no forget that the same scenario might also happen with an actual UFO making a flyby over nations where paranoia is the norm.
(5) But the skies are not the only place where people are looking for signs of the unknown. The team of treasure hunters --now renamed 'UFO hunters'-- aboard the Ocean Explorer are making the rounds on the news again in the search for what is now being generally called the Baltic Sea UFO.
Now, I've tried to stay away from this story because I feel it's been overtly exploited and sensationalized, not only by the media but by the treasure hunters themselves; for instance, every time I read Baltic Sea UFO I puke a little in the mouth --how can that anomaly registered by the sonar be called a unidentified FLYING object, when it's in the bottom of the frigging ocean!!-- and even if the anomaly turns out to be something different than a natural rock formation, there could be other plausible explanations for it --a sunken Russian warship for example-- yet the would-be UFO hunters know very well they need something to catch the public's imagination; and since they gathered a group of investors to finance the filming of a documentary, my guess is they thought they had nothing to lose: of they go down and find something out of the ordinary, they come back as heroes; and if they don't find anything at all, by new TV viewers are so accustomed to be disappointed by all the 'Finding-whatever' reality shows infesting cable channels, they would be able to get away with it if the search was properly presented with the usual editing tricks and whistles --"Oh! what's that?"
But now the updates of the mission is that the team really thinks they have found something unusual. And there's already been some conspiracy theories surrounding the expedition, claiming the area is being blocked by a "U.S. and Russian military exercise." With all this going on I suppose I need to keep open-minded, yet I'm not rising my expectations too much. Stay tuned... I guess.
(4) UFOs are at the core of our modern myths, but we've never lost our taste for the oldies. Now comes news that a team of archeologists in Bulgaria have found a man buried near the apse of a church near the Black Sea, with an iron stick in his chest --proof that people of the era feared the corpse would come back to life as a vampire.
"Experts believe that the man may have been an intellectual and perhaps a medic, as such individuals often raised suspicions in the Middle Ages."
I can understand the fear, for worse than a ravenous undead with a lust for blood, is one that's performing you a prostate examination while drinking from your neck.
In any case pinning the suspect cadaver with an iron stick was just one of the traditional methods to prevent the Nosferatu from pestering the living; my favorite method consisted of placing a handful of salt inside the coffin, since then the vampire would be so obsessed with counting the grains he would not bother to leave its tomb --I guess if were to update the measure we'd have to replace the salt for Pokemon trading cards, thank God for obsessive-compulsive abominations!
(3) If you are on the search of despicable fiends, you don't have to dig very deep though. In fact, just leave the shovel and hop on a plane that takes you to the Westfields Marriott Washington Dulles hotel in Chantilly, Virginia, where you'll meet scores of protesters gathered for the biggest show in the alternative media: the 2012 Bilderberg group meeting.
You'll find the usual players: the angry protesters with loudspeakers and signs on the one side of the fence, and the stone-faced private security guards keeping them at bay while the Bilderbergers arrive in their black limousines, to discuss behind closed doors how to build a better world --what exactly that means to them is anyone's guess.
"They just want to get on and help us, quietly and secretly. Like a corporate cross between Santa Claus and a big friendly squid."
Oi! that's a bit of a harsh metaphor innit? I prefer to view them as a sort of hedgefund toothfairies that on the cover of night leave you a coin under your pillow --for a 29.99% interest rate you'll need to cover, if you want to keep the rest of your teeth of course.
(2) As hard as it trying to find openness amongst the elite controlling the destiny of this world, is also trying to find evidence of extraterrestrial intelligence. After the completion of the first survey of nearby exoplanets using what is known as very long baseline interferometers (VLBIs) --a method in which you super-impose electromagnetic waves in order to extract information based on their minute discrepancies-- astronomers have a disappointing announcement to make: there are no signs of ETs in the local neighborhood, leading once more to the suspicions that the human race is confined to the Boondocks of the galaxy.
So with the disappointment comes the hermeneutic rant: what does it mean that we can't find the evidence of intelligence we're looking for? And what will it take to erase Fermi's annoying smirk from his face once and for all?
Dismissing the obvious answer every MU member worth its tinfoil is already screaming to the screen --I hear you brotha!-- one of my favorite solutions to the Fermi paradox is the Quarantined Earth hypothesis: blocking any trace of intelligent signals from reaching our telescopes the same way parents try to block adult content from the browsers of their immature children. Maybe if we finally proof we are on the lookout of something else beside porn & trolling the rest of the galaxy, our alien overlords will finally take pity on us --And now if you'll excuse me, I need to make a small pause because my pants have suddenly ignited. BRB.
(1) Even if the real aliens have managed to elude our paparazzi impulses using our most advanced equipment, that hasn't stop visionaries from propelling their minds outside the boundaries of our world using nothing but paper and a typewriter. That was the case of Ray Bradbury, whose passing joined the entire Interwebz in honor of the huge legacy he left behind. As a man who dreamed of future worlds and space exploration yet rejected the cumber of the modern life, it seems quite fitting that the Martian chronicler chose to embark on his new journey during the transit of the planet Venus.
The poet of Sci-Fi's golden age, his travel of 91 orbits around the sun served to confirm one uplifting fact: although exceedingly rare, there are signs of intelligent life on planet Earth.
Fare thee well, master Bradbury, with our appreciations for making us taller. And Godspeed.
Until next time, this is RPJ jacking out. See you all at the Meeting Hall.