Great Balls of . . . Fools Gold Found in Mexico

article-2318151-1995A25C000005DC-373_634x427Archaeologists from the Mexico National Institute of Archaeology and History recently discovered a 2000-year-old secret chamber buried under an ancient pyramid temple in Teotihuacan, Mexico.

And in that chamber, the archaeologists’ robot discovered hundreds of golden metallic spheres made out of pyrite, otherwise known as Fool’s Gold.  Luckily, a flying drone was there to capture the images.

No this isn’t the next Indiana Jones film. This is real, folks.

Interestingly, the name Teotihuacan means “the place where men become gods.”

Of course the big questions are: Were the mysterious spheres part of some kind of burial ritual? Was the placement of the spheres relevant? Is there some natural quality to the material that was valued, perhaps for its sound or its luminous quality?

Or maybe it was just a game played by ancient guardians of the tunnel to pass the time (Maybe they kept dropping the balls into the pit by mistake — “Oops, I’m not getting that one!”).

I guess it’s one more piece of the mystery behind an ancient civilization that disappeared suddenly in the year 700. For mere, here’s the full article.

Objects in the Telescope Are Closer Than They Appear

Kepler-telescopeOr at least Earth-like planets are. NASA’s Kepler space telescope has revealed potentially billions of Earth-like planets within 13 light years of our sun.

Specifically, there are a huge number of sun-like red dwarf stars that have been identified in our galaxy (like 75 billion of them), many with planets orbiting around them. Astronomers at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics estimate that six percent of red dwarf stars in the galaxy could hold Earth-like planets. That’s almost 5 billion potential Earth-like planets.

Now that they know where to look, future NASA missions will be able to explore further and test for signs of life.

According to NASA, “Kepler is the first NASA mission capable of finding Earth-size planets in or near the habitable zone.”

Click here for the Huffington Post article on the topic. And here’s more about the Kepler Space Program.

Dr. Evil would have fun with this one. Cue Austin Powers dramatic space music…

 

Where Was That Photo Taken? U.S. Spy Agencies Want to Know

Osama_bin_Laden_compound2

Bin Laden’s Compound (and Image Stash) Sajjad Ali Qureshi via Wikimedia

For anyone who saw Zero Dark Thirty, I’m sure you’d agree it was fascinating how they were able to draw inferences from  observing aerial images of the building they hoped Osama Bin Laden was hiding out in.

But what about all the photographic evidence they found in the computers retrieved from the building?

According to a report in PopSci, IARPA (the US Intelligence advanced research agency) recently launched a program called the Finder Program, which will enable a human analyst to use software to determine where any photo was taken, based on supporting evidence. It would then produce the GPS coordinates.

This would certainly be useful in assessing terrorist, propaganda, organized crime, and other intelligence photos.

If you have expertise in this area, they’d love to hear from you.

Just think; with software like that, you could win all those magazine contests that ask: Where was this photo taken?

If You See a Flying Humvee, You’re Not Drunk

Flying HUMVEECue the Flight of the Valkyries music from Apocalypse Now. Here come the flying Humvees. At least if DARPA (the U.S. Defense  research organization) gets its wish.

Designs for the so-called Transformer (TX) Program have already entered the prototype phase, with ground and flight demonstrations slated for 2015.

Not only will this baby be a roadworthy aircraft, it’ll need to be able to stop on a time for vertical takeoff and landing; be light enough to fly but strong enough for heavy road duty (and resistance to small arms fire); and be as easy to drive and pilot as a car.  Now we’re talkin’

Hey, if it doesn’t work out, they can always use the Chitty Chitty Bang Bang design. I’m sure Dick Van Dyke wouldn’t mind.

chitty-chitty-bang-bang

It’s the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)

It’s incredible how far and wide-reaching misconceptions can spread, and certainly the Mayan “end of the world” prophecy for December 21st, 2012 is no exception. I know from my nonfiction writing (much of which is based on history) that falsities run rampant, even in history books and, dare I say, TV shows. So I shouldn’t be too surprised.

The first hint that you’re being misinformed is when you come across an article or website that highlights the classic circular sun stone calendar that looks like this:

Aztec Calendar

Don’t get me wrong, it’s a perfectly legitimate calendar. It’s just that, well… it’s NOT MAYAN!!!  It’s Aztec! The Mayans never even saw this calendar.

So, anyone passing it along as the Mayan calendar and then making predictions of the end of the world, is not exactly starting off on a credible foot. Unfortunately, about 90% of the websites I’ve seen on the Mayan calendar mistakenly reference the Aztec calendar (and even the popular cartoons, like the one below).

maya_cartoon

In actuality there are three Mayan calendars, the civil calendar (the circular Haab calendar, pictured below, which covers about 52 years — the average lifespan of a person at the time), the ritual/sacred calendar (Tzolkin, which is also circular and interlocks with the Haab calendar), and the one in question, the long count calendar. Below is a picture of the Haab calendar (note the Disney-esque cartoon-like center, which easily differentiates this from the Aztec sun stone):

mayan-calendar

 

This is the long count calendar, which is the one everyone’s been talking about with regard to the apocalypse. It’s a column — not circular.

Mayan-Calendar-300x200

 

Now, as for that pesky 12/21/12 reference. To understand that, it’s important to understand how the Mayan long count calendar works.

One B’ak’tun is 144,000 days or about 394 years. 20 B’ak’tuns make up a Piktun.

There are higher orders as well (20 Piktuns make up a Kalabtun, 20 Kalabtuns make up a Kinchiltun, and so on), all of which are referenced in Mayan tablets when depicting events in the distant future.

We are currently nearing the end of the 13th B’a’ktun (which began in the 15th century). The next B’ak’tun starts December 21st, 2012. The current Piktun doesn’t end until the year 4772.

The only mention of the 13th B’ak’tun (the end of which correlates to December 21st, 2012) is on the following stone tablet.

tortuguero_2012_1

The section highlighted makes reference to the 13th B’ak’tun as a time when a new god, dealing with change and wisdom, will reign, and generally a big celebration occurs at the change of a cycle. There is no reference to the end of the world or anything remotely resembling an apocalyptic event.

Overall, the Mayan calendar depicts 5 columns that work sort of like an odometer, with the leftmost column representing B’ak’tuns (it starts at zero and bumps up one cycle every 394 years), then, moving left to right, the next four columns are …

Katuns (cycles approx every 20 years), Tuns (cycles approx yearly), Uinals (cycles every 20 days), and Kins (cycles every day). There is some debate whether the B’ak’tuns reset to zero after 13 B’ak’tuns or 20, but most scholars say 20.

So, on December 21st, the Mayan calendar would look like:  14.0.0.0.0. On the 22nd, it would look like 14.0.0.0.1, and so on.

Keep in mind, there are higher orders than B’ak’tuns, as I mentioned, and these are references on other tablets, but they’re not part of the Mayan calendar per se. Why?

The same reason our computer systems in the last century only had two digits for the year (the famous Y2K problem). It seemed good enough at the time.  Either that, or they ran out of room, like the cartoon says (albeit showing the wrong calendar).

For those familiar with Y2K, when we hit the year 99, every computer programmer in the world was scampering to change their systems to a 4 digit year (though some people kept a 2 digit year and coded their systems to bump up the century if the year was less than 40 — which means we’ll have the same problem again in 2040). But I digress.

In any case, what we have is the Mayan equivalent of the Y2K problem. Nothing more, nothing less. Of course, people into new age science may talk about the alignment of the planets and stars, and there may be some some truth in that (the Mayans, after, all, were brilliant astronomers), but I’ll leave you to decide what that does or doesn’t mean for world consciousness.

As for the rise of a new Mayan god, keep in mind, the ancient Mayans also believed in bloodletting and human sacrifice.

Meanwhile, let’s all have a Mayan-like party (minus the human sacrifice) and celebrate the end of the 13th B’ak’tun and the beginning of the 14th on December 21st!

2000 Year-Old Computer a True Mystery

Imagine finding a sophisticated computer device from the 2nd century BC with 30-70 precision-engineered moving parts that could predict the movement of the sun, moon, and planets in our solar system?

Well that’s exactly what was discovered by a sponge diver in 1900, over a century ago, in a Roman shipwreck off of the Greek island of Antikythera. Dubbed the Antikythera Mechanism, the device still baffles modern day technologists.

It took a century to even figure out how it worked and what it was used for, and even then, the solution involved multiple nations and several disciplines of expertise.

Experts believe it was part of a cargo looted from Rhodes en route to a celebration in Rome given by Julius Caesar. The mechanism now sits in the Archaeological Museum of Athens.

Some cite its origins to the Greek mathematician Archimedes (c. 287 BC – c 212 BC), as the Roman philosopher Cicero made mention of General Marcus Marcellus taking home several of Archimedes’s machines. Whether those machines and this device are of the same ilk remains to be seen.

This begs a few questions:

  • Did this machine have some specific end goal in mind or was it merely for astronomical study?
  • Where did this technology disappear to? (we know that much technology, including plumbing, was lost with the Dark Ages).
  • Was there a higher intelligence involved or was this simply a matter of ancient peoples being much more brilliant than we give them credit for?

(For instance, the ancient Chinese had flushing toilets, as did the Romans. Yet in the 1800s, the British were using chamber pots. Indeed, toilets were literally “reinvented” at least 5 times throughout world history, the last time after the cholera epidemic in England)

  • What other advanced technologies existed in ancient Greece that were lost?

For more, check out the Antikythera Mechanism Research Project website. Also, here’s the Wikipedia entry on the topic.

 

NASA’s Curiosity Sparks Bizarre Mars Chatter Amid True Beauty

From a large circular boulder to UFO-like objects in the sky, the Internet is abuzz with rumors and speculation about various anomalies captured by NASA’s Curiosity rover on Mars.

Here’s a Huffington Post article that includes some interesting video and slideshows.

Of course, some of these very anomalies have already been debunked, as this article on NBC news shows, including a horizon anomaly (aka impact cloud), flying saucers (aka dead pixels), white dot UFOs (aka photoshopped), ancient fingers/shoes/animals (aka rocks), and so on. I’m still waiting to hear about the above-mentioned boulder (pictured).

But amid all this chatter about strange sightings, some true beauty has been captured, as in this photo below (which looks a lot like some terrain I visited in Iceland). Additional stunning photos can be found in this CBS News article.

 

 

As an aside, did you know that a day on Mars is 40 minutes longer than a day on Earth? Who says you can’t buy time? I’m ready to move there. Maybe I’ll get more done.  Apparently, NASA personnel working on the project, are supposed to set their clocks according to Mars time, and one family of a NASA flight director for the mission has followed suit.

Send in the Drones: Unmanned Flyers and Submersible Robots go Public

According to PopSci, the world’s biggest event for unmanned vehicles, put on by AUVSI (Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International), is now highlighting unmanned drones, submersible robots, and other vehicles for non-military use.

Up to now, drones have primarily been a military resource, but now they can be leveraged for everything from agricultural and environmental use, law enforcement, public safety, forestry, mining and more. As one commenter noted, even the film industry could make use of the technology. As for submersible robots, they could be used for undersea exploration, harbor security, polar science missions, and who knows what else.

The skies, they are a-changin’.

For the full article, including videos, click here.

The Real Jurassic Park – Mutant Mosquitoes Gone Wild

In a “life imitates art” scenario, a biotechnology firm is working with the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District to introduce genetically engineered mosquitoes into Key West to reduce the spread of dengue fever.

Turns out a specific breed of mosquito (Aedes aegypti) is the culprit for spreading dengue fever, and the plan is for genetically engineered sterile male mosquitoes to fly in, outnumber the virile males, and mate with the females.

Interesting idea. The proposal involves releasing 5,000-10,000 of these babies as an initial test, followed by a larger test of , oh let’s say… one million of them in Key West. What could go wrong?

Ian Malcolm of Jurassic Park fame would have a field day with this one. I can just hear him now:

“Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should”

At the very least, I could see some interesting sci-fi twists on this. For the full article, click here. Oh, and in honor of this news, here’s a list of Ian Malcolm quotes.

Human Origins Tied to Sharks – Something’s Fishy

According to researchers, a now extinct bony fish species that evolved from sharks some 460 million years ago is the common ancestor of all jawed vertebrates, including humans. Check out the latest research on human-shark ancestry here.

This is especially interesting when you look at it from the context of ancient Sumerian myths, which talk of amphibious demi-gods called Apkallu that emerged from the sea to teach humans about civilization, the solar systems, gardening, and other bits of wisdom.

With all the space research under way, are we looking in the right place? As Chief Brody said, “We’re gonna need a bigger boat.”

In other water-related news, NASA has reported a giant tropical salt lake on Titan, one of Saturn’s moons.  The only catch is, the lake is filled with liquid hydrocarbons, as the surface temperature is -297 degrees Fahrenheit (-183 degrees Celsius).  So you’ll need a sweater.