Heracles freeing Prometheus from his torment by the eagle (Attic black-figure cup, c. 500 BC)Click to zoom
|An artist's illustration of a monster supermassive black hole at the heart of a quasar in the distant universe. Scientists say the newfound black hole SDSS J010013.02+280225.8 is the largest and brightest ever found.|
Excerpt from space.com
Astronomers have discovered the largest and most luminous black hole ever seen — an ancient monster with a mass about 12 billion times that of the sun — that dates back to when the universe was less than 1 billion years old.
It remains a mystery how black holes could have grown so huge in such a relatively brief time after the dawn of the universe, researchers say.
Supermassive black holes are thought to lurk in the hearts of most, if not all, large galaxies. The largest black holes found so far in the nearby universe have masses more than 10 billion times that of the sun. In comparison, the black hole at the center of the Milky Way is thought to have a mass only 4 million to 5 million times that of the sun.
So far, astronomers have discovered 40 quasars — each with a black hole about 1 billion times the mass of the sun — dating back to when the universe was less than 1 billion years old. Now, scientists report the discovery of a supermassive black hole 12 billion times the mass of the sun about 12.8 billion light-years from Earth that dates back to when the universe was only about 875 million years old.
This black hole — technically known as SDSS J010013.02+280225.8, or J0100+2802 for short — is not only the most massive quasar ever seen in the early universe but also the most luminous. It is about 429 trillion times brighter than the sun and seven times brighter than the most distant quasar known.
The light from very distant quasars can take billions of years to reach Earth. As such, astronomers can see quasars as they were when the universe was young.
This black hole dates back to a little more than 6 percent of the universe's current age of 13.8 billion years.
"This is quite surprising because it presents serious challenges to theories of black hole growth in the early universe," said lead study author Xue-Bing Wu, an astrophysicist at Peking University in Beijing.
Accretion discs limit the speed of modern black holes' growth. First, as gas and dust in the disks get close to black holes, traffic jams slow down any other material that's falling into them. Second, as matter collides in these traffic jams, it heats up, emitting radiation that drives gas and dust away from the black holes.
The newfound quasar SDSS J0100+2802 has the most massive black hole and the highest luminosity among all known distant quasars, as shown in this comparison chart of the black hole's mass and brightness.
Scientists still do not have a satisfactory theory to explain how these supermassive objects formed in the early universe, Wu said.
"It requires either very special ways to quickly grow the black hole or a huge seed black hole," Wu told Space.com. For instance, a recent study suggested that because the early universe was much smaller than it is today, gas was often denser, obscuring a substantial amount of the radiation given off by accretion disks and thus helping matter fall into black holes.
The researchers noted that the light from this black hole could help provide clues about the dark corners of the distant cosmos. As the quasar's light shines toward Earth, it passes through intergalactic gas that colors the light. By deducing how this intergalactic gas influenced the spectrum of light from the quasar, scientists can deduce which elements make up this gas. This knowledge, in turn, can provide insight into the star-formation processes that were at work shortly after the Big Bang that produced these elements.
"This quasar is the most luminous one in the early universe, which, like a lighthouse, will provide us chances to use it as a unique tool to study the cosmic structure of the dark, distant universe," Wu said.
The scientists detailed their findings in the Feb. 26 issue of the journal Nature.
Excerpt from usatoday.com
The mummified remains of a monk have been revealed inside a nearly 1,000-year old Chinese statue of a Buddha.
The mummy inside the gold-painted papier-mâché statue is believed to be that of Liuquan, a Buddhist master of the Chinese Meditation School who died around the year 1100, researchers said. It's the only Chinese Buddhist mummy to undergo scientific research in the West.
The statue was on display last year at the Drents Museum as part of an exhibit on mummies. It was an cited as an example of self-mummification, an excruciating, years-long process of meditation, starvation, dehydration and poisoning that some Buddhist monks undertook to achieve enlightenment and veneration.
When the exhibit ended in August, a CT scan at the Meander Medical Center in the Netherlands revealed the seated skeleton. Samples taken from organ cavities provided one big surprise: paper scraps printed with ancient Chinese characters indicating the high-status monk may have been worshiped as a Buddha.
The finding was first reported in December but did not get wide notice. Irish Archaeology carried a report over the weekend, which apparently started the news ball rolling.
A CT scan has revealed a mummified Chinese monk inside a Buddha statue. The remains date back about 1,000 years. Video provided by Newsy Newslook
But the revelation is not, as some reports claim, "a shocking discovery," The History Blog notes: "It was known to be inside the statue all along ... that's why it was sent to the Drents Museum in the first place as part of the Mummies exhibition."
The mummy's existence was discovered in 1996 when the statue was being restored in the Netherlands, Live Science writes, explaining what was found, how its age was determined and when the first detailed skeletal imaging was performed.
DNA tests were conducted on bone samples, and the Dutch team plans to publish its finding in a forthcoming monograph.
Researchers still have not determined whether the monk mummified himself, a practice that was also widespread in Japan and that was outlawed in the 19th century. If he did, the process was gruesome, as Ancient Origins explains:
For the first 1,000 days, the monks ceased all food except nuts, seeds, fruits and berries and they engaged in extensive physical activity to strip themselves of all body fat. For the next one thousand days, their diet was restricted to just bark and roots. Near the end of this period, they would drink poisonous tea made from the sap of the Urushi tree, which caused vomiting and a rapid loss of body fluids. It also acted as a preservative and killed off maggots and bacteria that would cause the body to decay after death.
In the final stage, after more than six years of torturous preparation, the monk would lock himself in a stone tomb barely larger than his body, where he would go into a state of meditation. He was seated in the lotus position, a position he would not move from until he died. A small air tube provided oxygen to the tomb. Each day, the monk rang a bell to let the outside world know he was still alive. When the bell stopped ringing, the tube was removed and the tomb sealed for the final thousand day period of the ritual.
At the end of this period, the tomb would be opened to see if the monk was successful in mummifying himself. If the body was found in a preserved state, the monk was raised to the status of Buddha, his body was removed from the tomb and he was placed in a temple where he was worshiped and revered. If the body had decomposed, the monk was resealed in his tomb and respected for his endurance, but not worshipedIf you find yourself in Budapest before May, the Buddha mummy statue is on display at the Hungarian Natural History Museum.
Excerpt from thenextdigit.comRecently, a new research has been done, which found that the ancient cities were similar to the current modern-day cities in terms of size as well as the density of those settlements. In the research paper, the researcher explains that modern cities with large amount of populations as well as density, are similar to the characteristics of ancient cities. The research claims that the character of the inhabitants of ancient cities is similar to those of inhabitants of modern cities.
The study was done by the researchers at Santa Fe Institute and at the University of Colorado Boulder. The main objective of the researchers is to find the functionality of the settlements and they started to find out whether current cities and ancient cities are similar in nature.
Scott Ortman, Researcher at Department of Anthropology, University of Colorado Boulder says,
“Our findings indicate the fundamental processes behind the emergence of scaling in modern cities have structured human settlement organization throughout human history, and that contemporary urban systems are best-conceived as lying on a continuum with the smaller-scale settlement systems known from historical and archaeological research.”
The researcher grouped together and analyzes the structures as well as dimensions of both cities and estimated the way of construction of monuments, housing styles, the amount of people stayed in a region and so on. They found the place or region where the density was high, the productivity was more.
Ortman also said that the results were amazing and unbelievable for them and added that the modern world is radically different from the ancient world with its capitalism, democracy, industrialization and so on. They also noticed that, once the population of a particular area grew, then the productivity of that same place rose high. Even a few patterns that are used in the ancient human societies were same as that we are following in our modern urban system.
“It was amazing and unbelievable,” Ortman said. “We’ve been raised on a steady diet, telling us that, thanks to capitalism, industrialization, and democracy, the modern world is radically different from worlds of the past. What we found here is that the fundamental drivers of robust socioeconomic patterns in modern cities precede all that.”
|The oldest samples are sedimentary rocks that formed 3.2 billion years ago in|
northwestern Australia. They contain chemical evidence for nitrogen
fixation by microbes.R. Buick / UW
A spark from a lightning bolt, interstellar dust, or a subsea volcano could have triggered the very first life on Earth.
But what happened next? Life can exist without oxygen, but without plentiful nitrogen to build genes – essential to viruses, bacteria and all other organisms – life on the early Earth would have been scarce.
The ability to use atmospheric nitrogen to support more widespread life was thought to have appeared roughly 2 billion years ago. Now research from the University of Washington looking at some of the planet’s oldest rocks finds evidence that 3.2 billion years ago, life was already pulling nitrogen out of the air and converting it into a form that could support larger communities.
“People always had the idea that the really ancient biosphere was just tenuously clinging on to this inhospitable planet, and it wasn’t until the emergence of nitrogen fixation that suddenly the biosphere become large and robust and diverse,” said co-author Roger Buick, a UW professor of Earth and space sciences. “Our work shows that there was no nitrogen crisis on the early Earth, and therefore it could have supported a fairly large and diverse biosphere.”
The results were published Feb. 16 in Nature.
The authors analyzed 52 samples ranging in age from 2.75 to 3.2 billion years old, collected in South Africa and northwestern Australia. These are some of the oldest and best-preserved rocks on the planet. The rocks were formed from sediment deposited on continental margins, so are free of chemical irregularities that would occur near a subsea volcano. They also formed before the atmosphere gained oxygen, roughly 2.3 to 2.4 billion years ago, and so preserve chemical clues that have disappeared in modern rocks.
Even the oldest samples, 3.2 billion years old – three-quarters of the way back to the birth of the planet – showed chemical evidence that life was pulling nitrogen out of the air. The ratio of heavier to lighter nitrogen atoms fits the pattern of nitrogen-fixing enzymes contained in single-celled organisms, and does not match any chemical reactions that occur in the absence of life.
“Imagining that this really complicated process is so old, and has operated in the same way for 3.2 billion years, I think is fascinating,” said lead author Eva Stüeken, who did the work as part of her UW doctoral research. “It suggests that these really complicated enzymes apparently formed really early, so maybe it’s not so difficult for these enzymes to evolve.”
Genetic analysis of nitrogen-fixing enzymes have placed their origin at between 1.5 and 2.2 billion years ago.
“This is hard evidence that pushes it back a further billion years,” Buick said.
Fixing nitrogen means breaking a tenacious triple bond that holds nitrogen atoms in pairs in the atmosphere and joining a single nitrogen to a molecule that is easier for living things to use. The chemical signature of the rocks suggests that nitrogen was being broken by an enzyme based on molybdenum, the most common of the three types of nitrogen-fixing enzymes that exist now.
Molybdenum is now abundant because oxygen reacts with rocks to wash it into the ocean, but its source on the ancient Earth – before the atmosphere contained oxygen to weather rocks – is more mysterious.
The authors hypothesize that this may be further evidence that some early life may have existed in single-celled layers on land, exhaling small amounts of oxygen that reacted with the rock to release molybdenum to the water.
“We’ll never find any direct evidence of land scum one cell thick, but this might be giving us indirect evidence that the land was inhabited,” Buick said. “Microbes could have crawled out of the ocean and lived in a slime layer on the rocks on land, even before 3.2 billion years ago.”
Future work will look at what else could have limited the growth of life on the early Earth. Stüeken has begun a UW postdoctoral position funded by NASA to look at trace metals such as zinc, copper and cobalt to see if one of them controlled the growth of ancient life.
Other co-authors are Bradley Guy at the University of Johannesburg in South Africa, who provided some samples from gold mines, and UW graduate student Matthew Koehler. The research was funded by NASA, the UW’s Virtual Planetary Laboratory, the Geological Society of America and the Agouron Institute.
|Planck has mapped the delicate polarisation of the CMB across the entire sky|
Excerpt from bbc.com
Scientists working on Europe's Planck satellite say the first stars lit up the Universe later than previously thought.
The team has made the most precise map of the "oldest light" in the cosmos.
Earlier observations of this radiation had suggested the first generation of stars were bursting into life by about 420 million years after the Big Bang.
Planck's data indicates this great ignition was well established by some 560 million years after it all began.
"This difference of 140 million years might not seem that significant in the context of the 13.8-billion-year history of the cosmos, but proportionately it's actually a very big change in our understanding of how certain key events progressed at the earliest epochs," said Prof George Efstathiou, one of the leaders of the Planck Science Collaboration.
The assessment is based on studies of the "afterglow" of the Big Bang, the ancient light called the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB), which still washes over the Earth today.
Prof George Efstathiou: "We don't need more complicated explanations"
It contains a wealth of information about early conditions in the Universe, and can even be used to work out its age, shape and do an inventory of its contents.
Scientists can also probe it for very subtle "distortions" that tell them about any interactions the CMB has had on its way to us.
One of these would have been imprinted when the infant cosmos underwent a major environmental change known as re-ionisation.
Prof Richard McMahon: "The two sides of the bridge now join"
These hot giants would have burnt brilliant but brief lives, producing the very first heavy elements. But they would also have "fried" the neutral gas around them - ripping electrons off the hydrogen protons.
And it is the passage of the CMB through this maze of electrons and protons that would have resulted in it picking up a subtle polarisation.
Impression: The first stars would have been unwieldy behemoths that burnt brief but brilliant lives
The Planck team has now analysed this polarisation in fine detail and determined it to have been generated at 560 million years after the Big Bang.
The American satellite WMAP, which operated in the 2000s, made the previous best estimate for the peak of re-ionisation at 420 million years.
The problem with that number was that it sat at odds with Hubble Space Telescope observations of the early Universe.
Hubble could not find stars and galaxies in sufficient numbers to deliver the scale of environmental change at the time when WMAP suggested it was occurring.
Planck's new timing "effectively solves the conflict," commented Prof Richard McMahon from Cambridge University, UK.
"We had two groups of astronomers who were basically working on different sides of the problem. The Planck people came at it from the Big Bang side, while those of us who work on galaxies came at it from the 'now side'.
"It's like a bridge being built over a river. The two sides do now join where previously we had a gap," he told BBC News.
That gap had prompted scientists to invoke complicated scenarios to initiate re-ionisation, including the possibility that there might have been an even earlier population of giant stars or energetic black holes. Such solutions are no longer needed.
No-one knows the exact timing of the very first individual stars. All Planck does is tell us when large numbers of these stars had gathered into galaxies of sufficient strength to alter the cosmic environment.
By definition, this puts the ignition of the "founding stars" well before 560 million years after the Big Bang. Quite how far back in time, though, is uncertain. Perhaps, it was as early as 200 million years. It will be the job of the next generation of observatories like Hubble's successor, the James Webb Space Telescope, to try to find the answer.
Being built now: The James Webb telescope will conduct a survey of the first galaxies and their stars
- Planck's CMB studies indicate the Big Bang was 13.8bn years ago
- The CMB itself can be thought of as the 'afterglow' of the Big Bang
- It spreads across the cosmos some 380,000 years after the Big Bang
- This is when the conditions cool to make neutral hydrogen atoms
- The period before the first stars is often called the 'Dark Ages'
- When the first stars ignite, they 'fry' the neutral gas around them
- These giants also forge the first heavy elements in big explosions
- 'First Light', or 'Cosmic Renaissance', is a key epoch in history
The new Planck result is contained in a raft of new papers just posted on the Esa website.
These papers accompany the latest data release from the satellite that can now be used by the wider scientific community, not just collaboration members.
Dr Andrew Jaffe: "The simplest models for inflation are ruled out"
It was hoped that Planck might find direct evidence in the CMB's polarisation for inflation - the super-rapid expansion of space thought to have occurred just fractions of a second after the Big Bang. This has not been possible. But all the Planck data - temperature and polarisation information - is consistent with that theory, and the precision measurements mean new, tighter constraints have been put on the likely scale of the inflation signal, which other experiments continue to chase.
What is clear from the Planck investigation is that the simplest models for how the super-rapid expansion might have worked are probably no longer tenable, suggesting some exotic physics will eventually be needed to explain it.
"We're now being pushed into a parameter space we didn't expect to be in," said collaboration scientist Dr Andrew Jaffe from Imperial College, UK. "That's OK. We like interesting physics; that's why we're physicists, so there's no problem with that. It's just we had this naïve expectation that the simplest answer would be right, and sometimes it just isn't."
Excerpt from space.com
By by Elizabeth Howell
In 1938, Orson Welles narrated a radio broadcast of "War of the Worlds" as a series of simulated radio bulletins of what was happening in real time as Martians arrived on our home planet. The broadcast is widely remembered for creating public panic, although to what extent is hotly debated today.
Still, the incident serves as an illustration of what could happen when the first life beyond Earth is discovered. While scientists might be excited by the prospect, introducing the public, politicians and interest groups to the idea could take some time.
How extraterrestrial life would change our world view is a research interest of Steven Dick, who just completed a term as the Baruch S. Blumberg NASA/Library of Congress Chair of Astrobiology. The chair is jointly sponsored by the NASA Astrobiology Program and the John W. Kluge Center, at the Library of Congress.
Dick is a former astronomer and historian at the United States Naval Observatory, a past chief historian for NASA, and has published several books concerning the discovery of life beyond Earth. To Dick, even the discovery of microbes would be a profound shift for science.
"If we found microbes, it would have an effect on science, especially biology, by universalizing biology," he said. "We only have one case of biology on Earth. It's all related. It's all DNA-based. If we found an independent example on Mars or Europa, we have a chance of forming a universal biology."
Dick points out that even the possibilities of extraterrestrial fossils could change our viewpoints, such as the ongoing discussion of ALH84001, a Martian meteorite found in Antarctica that erupted into public consciousness in 1996 after a Science article said structures inside of it could be linked to biological activity. The conclusion, which is still debated today, led to congressional hearings.
"I've done a book about discovery in astronomy, and it's an extended process," Dick pointed out. "It's not like you point your telescope and say, 'Oh, I made a discovery.' It's always an extended process: You have to detect something, you have to interpret it, and it takes a long time to understand it. As for extraterrestrial life, the Mars rock showed it could take an extended period of years to understand it."
The ALH84001 meteorite, which in a 1996 Science publication was speculated to be host to what could be ancient Martian fossils. That finding is still under dispute today.
Mayan deciphermentsIn his year at the Library of Congress, Dick spent time searching for historical examples (as well as historical analogies) of how humanity might deal with first contact with an extraterrestrial civilization. History shows that contact with new cultures can go in vastly different directions.
Hernan Cortes' treatment of the Aztecs is often cited as an example of how wrong first contact can go. But there were other efforts that were a little more mutually beneficial, although the outcomes were never perfect. Fur traders in Canada in the 1800s worked closely with Native Americans, for example, and the Chinese treasure fleet of the 15th Century successfully brought its home culture far beyond its borders, perhaps even to East Africa.
Even when both sides were trying hard to make communication work, there were barriers, noted Dick.
"The Jesuits had contact with Native Americans," he pointed out. "Certain concepts were difficult, like when they tried to get across the ideas of the soul and immortality."
A second look by the Mars Global Surveyor at the so-called Viking “Face on Mars” in Cydonia revealed a more ordinary-looking hill, showing that science is an extended process of discovery.
Indirect contact by way of radio communications through the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI), also illustrates the challenges of transmitting information across cultures. There is historical precedence for this, such as when Greek knowledge passed west through Arab translators in the 12th Century. This shows that it is possible for ideas to be revived, even from dead cultures, he said.
It's also quite possible that the language we receive across these indirect communications would be foreign to us. Even though mathematics is often cited as a universal language, Dick said there are actually two schools of thought. One theory is that there is, indeed, one kind of mathematics that is based on a Platonic idea, and the other theory is that mathematics is a construction of the culture that you are in.
"There will be a decipherment process. It might be more like the Mayan decipherments," Dick said.
The ethics of contactAs Dick came to a greater understanding about the potential c impact of extraterrestrial intelligence, he invited other scholars to present their findings along with him. Dick chaired a two-day NASA/Library of Congress Astrobiology Symposium called "Preparing for Discovery," which was intended to address the impact of finding any kind of life beyond Earth, whether microbial or some kind of intelligent, multicellular life form.
The symposium participants discussed how to move beyond human-centered views of defining life, how to understand the philosophical and theological problems a discovery would bring, and how to help the public understand the implications of a discovery.
"There is also the question of what I call astro-ethics," Dick said. "How do you treat alien life? How do you treat it differently, ranging from microbes to intelligence? So we had a philosopher at our symposium talking about the moral status of non-human organisms, talking in relation to animals on Earth and what their status is in relation to us."
Dick plans to collect the lectures in a book for publication next year, but he also spent his time at the library gathering materials for a second book about how discovering life beyond Earth will revolutionize our thinking.
"It's very farsighted for NASA to fund a position like this," Dick added. "They have all their programs in astrobiology, they fund the scientists, but here they fund somebody to think about what the implications might be. It's a good idea to do this, to foresee what might happen before it occurs."
Excerpt from space.com Over the next two weeks, you have an excellent chance to spot one of the most rarely observed objects in the sky, the zodiacal light. The zodiacal light takes its name from the ancient band of 12 constellations through which the...
A view of the excavations at Helike. Drekis, Wikimedia CommonsExcerpt from popular-archaeology.com A team of scholars and students will return to explore and investigate the site now thought to be the remains of the lost city of Helike, the lege...
By Shelly Barclay
The Tarim Mummies or the Mummies of Xinjiang are mysterious mummies that were discovered in the foothills of the Tian Shan Mountains in China. What is so mysterious about them is that some of them date back to roughly 4,000 years ago, a time when it was thought that there were no westerners in that area. However, there must have been, because the Tarim mummies are Caucasian. Not only that, but they wear similar garments and share similar burial practices of some European countries.
The first of the Tarim mummies was discovered by Wang Binghua in 1978. Wang had been searching for ancient settlements along in the northeast of Xinjiang when a local man directed him to Quizilchoqa. It was there that Wang uncovered the first mysterious Tarim mummy. Over time, these mummies were discovered in four different sites in the Tarim Basin area. More than one hundred of them have been uncovered so far.
The Tarim mummies are unusually well preserved. This is interesting because the people who buried them did not practice mummification. The sites where these mummies have been found, lie on the edges of the Taklamakan Desert. When these ancient people buried their dead, the hot climate and rocky soil helped to keep the deceased’s body preserved, though it should have decomposed hundreds of years ago. Some of these corpses rival the Ancient Egyptian mummies in their extraordinary preserved state.
Another very strange thing about the Tarim mummies is the attire in which they were buried. If the fact that some of them had blond hair and blue eyes hadn’t given away the fact that they were westerners that had settled in what is now Xinjiang, the clothing they wore when they were buried would have.
One of the mummies, the Yingpan Man, was six feet six inches tall and wore a red tunic with gold embroidery. He also wore a gold foil burial mask. This burial clothing is far more indicative of western influence than of Eastern. Other Tarim mummies have also been found wearing decidedly western clothing. One of the oddest bits of clothing found any of these mummies are the flat-brimmed pointy “witch hats” that were discovered on the “Witches of Subeshi.”
Researchers have been able to decipher a number of things about the people who buried these mummies since their discovery. This is largely due to the work of Dr. Victor Mair, the man who brought the Tarim mummies into the public eye. It is known that the ancient people rode horses, used chariots and had at least some medical knowledge. One of the Tarim mummies was found with evidence of a surgical wound on its neck, which had been sutured at some point.
Since the discovery of the caucasian-featured Tarim mummies in Xinjiang, scientists have been trying to uncover links between the ancient people who buried these mummies and modern citizens of the area. Thus far, several links have been discovered and hypothesized, but it is difficult to make them public or credible because of political unrest in the area. Nonetheless, there are many people who are certain that the Tarim mummies represent the first Caucasians to settle in the area. If this is fact, then it will mean that western man settled in the area roughly one thousand years before scientists had previously thought they did.
"The towers of fiery colors are actually dust in the galaxy and beyond that has been polarized," the JPL says of this recently released map of the universe. It shows light in the 353GHz range, wavelengths longer than our eyes can see. ...
The canonical Bible is filled with mysterious characters, many of whom drop in for a cameo, do their thing, and then slide out, never to be heard from again. Some are merely extras, but some have a contextual presence that begs further examination. And some are, well, just weird.
Probably the single most mysterious figure in the Bible, Melchizedek was a priest-king of Salem (later known as Jerusalem) in the time of Abram (Abraham), suggesting a religious organization, complete with ritual and hierarchy, that predated the Jewish nation and their priestly lineage from the tribe of Levi. He is only portrayed as active in one passage, although he is alluded to once in Psalms, and several times in the New Testament’s Epistle to the Hebrews.
Some Jewish disciplines insist that Melchizedek was Shem, Noah’s son. He is thought of, in Christian circles, as a proto-messiah, embodying certain traits later given to Christ. New Testament writings assert that Christ was “a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek,” indicating an older and deeper covenant with God than the Abrahamic-Levite lineage.
Hebrews 7, though presents him in a more unusual light. In verses 3 and 4:
“Without father, without mother, without descent, having neither beginning of days, nor end of life; but made like unto the Son of God; abideth a priest continually. Now consider how great this man was, unto whom even the patriarch Abraham gave the tenth of the spoils.”
Not only do these verses grant Melchizedek a hierarchical level above the most important Jewish patriarch, they assign him mystical qualities. Some take this to mean an earlier incarnation of Christ. Others see it as an ancient manifestation of the Holy Spirit. His identity, role, and theological function have long been debated.
The paucity of scriptural references have added to the mystery, making him a somewhat spectral figure. As such, newer spiritual traditions, as well as New Age quacks, have taken liberties with his persona. Gnostics insisted he became Jesus, and he is cited as a high-level priest in Masonic and Rosicrucian lore. Joseph Smith wrote that he was the greatest of all prophets, and Mormons still trace their priesthood back to him. The Urantia, a 20th-century pseudo-Bible that claims to merge religion, philosophy, and science, insists he’s the first in an evolutionary succession of deification manifestations, with Abraham being his first convert.
There is even a school of thought that Melchizedek is a title or assumed character name, sort of a theological 007, played by a series of Judeo-Christian James Bonds.
The lore of Melchizedek is confusing but deep and fascinating. Apocryphal books give us more details, some cryptic, some relatively mundane. The Second Book of Enoch is particularly informative, insisting Melchizedek was born of a Virgin. When his mother Sophonim (the wife of Noah’s brother Nir) died in childbirth, he sat up, clothed himself, and sat beside her corpse, praying and preaching. After 40 days, he was taken by an archangel to the Garden of Eden, protected by angels and avoiding the Great Flood without passage on Uncle Noah’s ark.
9 Cain’s Wife
Cain was, according to Genesis, the first human ever born. He later killed his younger brother Abel in a hissy fit over his sacrifice of meat being more favored than Cain’s sacrificial fruit basket. God put a mark on Cain and cursed the ground he farmed, forcing him into a life as a wandering fugitive.
That part of the story is fairly well known. Later, though, we read that he settled in the Land of Nod, and, all of a sudden, he has a wife. Absolutely nothing else is mentioned about her. We don’t even know where she came from. In fact, the question of where Cain got his wife, when his immediate family were apparently the only people in the world, has sent many a perceptive young Sunday schooler down the road of skepticism.
Some have posited a mysterious other tribe of people, maybe created after Adam and Eve, maybe even another race or species. But the standard response is that Adam and Eve had many other sons and daughters to populate the Earth. The only way to keep the human race going would be to mate with siblings, nieces, nephews, and cousins.
In fact, though the Holy Bible is silent on her identity, the apocryphal Book of Jubilees tells us exactly who was Cain’s wife: his sister Awan, who bore his son Enoch.
8 Joseph Barsabbas
After Judas Iscariot turned in his resignation by selling out his boss, Jesus’s disciples rushed to fill the open position and bring the number back up to a more theologically apt 12. The remaining disciples, including the newly convinced Thomas, looked over the candidates from the 120 or so adherents who followed Jesus. Then they cast lots to pick who would fill the position.
It went to Matthias, a fairly mysterious character himself. We don’t know where he came from or his previous occupation. Some think he was actually the diminutive Zacchaeus, the tax collector who climbed a sycamore tree to get a better glimpse of Jesus’s ride on the donkey.
The man who lost out was Joseph Barsabbas, also known as Joseph Justus. We know nothing solid about him, even less than we know about Matthias.
There is, however, one bit of interesting speculation. A list of names presented in Mark 6:3 includes some of Christ’s earliest and most loyal adherents. One of these is a man named Joses, and another is James the Just. Biblical scholar Robert Eisenman suggests that James carried on Jesus’s work, and the writer of the Book of Acts assigned him an alias to minimize his importance.
7 The Beloved Disciple
In the Gospel of John, several references are made to “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” This particular favorite is present at the Last Supper, the crucifixion, and after the resurrection. The writer of the Gospel of John even states that the testimony of this disciple is the basis for the text. But there is considerable debate over the identity of this mystery figure.
The most obvious nominee is John the Apostle, one of Christ’s inner circle of 12 and the namesake of the Gospel. But none of the 12 apostles were present at the crucifixion, so that crosses him off the list. Lazarus, resurrected by Christ, is also considered. He seems to have been present at the cited events and is referred to specifically, in the story of His death and resurrection, as “he whom Thou lovest.”
Mary Magdalene, Judas, Jesus’s brother James, or an unnamed disciple, possibly even a Roman or governmental official, have all been considered. There is even a school of thought that John is an interactive gospel, with the reader being the beloved disciple.
6 Simon Magus
“Simony” is the selling of church position or privilege. It is named for Simon Magus, or Simon the Magician, who makes only a brief appearance in the Bible, in Acts 8:9–24. Simon has since become synonymous with heretical thought, and religious exploitation.
He is presented as a powerful magician with a large following of in Samaria, who converts to Christianity and wishes to learn from apostles Peter and Phillip. When he sees the gifts of the Holy Spirit, including speaking in tongues and an ecstatic spiritual state, he offers the men money if they will give him the secret to passing these gifts to others. They are not amused.
Apocryphal texts reveal quite a bit more, like his alleged ability to levitate and even fly, emphasizing that he was something akin to a cult leader in his hometown. It is suggested that his conversion is more for economic purposes than spiritual, and he set himself up as a messianic figure himself, competing for the Jesus dollar with his own homespun theology.
He is thought by some to be a founder of Gnosticism, a patchwork of various religious systems that relied heavily on Judaic and Christian symbolism.
Not unlike Simon Magus, Onan’s brief appearance inspired a name for a particular action.
He was the second son of Abraham’s grandson Judah, the patriarch and namesake of one of the 12 tribes of Israel. His older brother, Er (yes, just “Er”) was “wicked in the sight of the Lord,” so God killed him. What he did to deserve such an execution remains a mystery.
Tradition at the time dictated that Er’s widow, Tamar, become Onan’s wife. Onan had to impregnate her to keep the lineage alive, but he was not as wild about the idea. Maybe it was the thought of impending fatherhood, or Tamar just wasn’t his type. So, taking matters into his own hands, he committed the first recorded act of coitus interruptus. Or, as Genesis 38:9 so poetically put it: “And Onan knew that the seed should not be his; and it came to pass, when he went in unto his brother’s wife, that he spilled it on the ground, lest that he should give seed to his brother.” God was displeased and slew Onan.
The whole tale gets even more sordid. Onan had a younger brother, Shelah. Customarily, he would have been next in line to impregnate Tamar, but Judah forbade it. Tamar, rather than graciously accepting forced spinsterhood, seduced Judah and (became pregnant) by the old man. Judah fathered twins Zerah and Perez, the latter of whom was listed by Matthew as an ancestor of Jesus’s earthly father Joseph...
Some have even suggested that Onan’s death warns that sex is meant only for purposes of reproduction, and not for pleasure.
Nicodemus was a member of the Sanhedrin, a council of men who ruled on Jewish law and governance. He became a friend, follower, and intellectual foil for Jesus, whose egalitarian teachings often ran counter to the Sanhedrin’s rigid decrees. He was also a Pharisee, a leader within the Jewish community who toadied up to the Roman government at the time of Christ’s arrest and subsequent crucifixion.
He is mentioned three times in the New Testament, all in the Gospel of John. He subtly defends Jesus as the Pharisees discuss His impending arrest. Later, he helps prepare Jesus’s body for burial, indicating he had become an adherent to Christ and His teachings.
The first time he is mentioned, however, is in dialogue with Jesus, and these conversations reveal some of the most important aspects of Christian theology, such as the notion of being “born again” and the most famous reference to the divinity of Christ, John 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
This detailed conversation explores the divide between the Old Covenant’s dogmatic and exclusive Jewish Law and the New Covenant’s spiritually inclusive concepts. But for a vital contributor to such an important passage of the New Testament, Nicodemus remains a mysterious figure. Some scholars have suggested he may be Nicodemus ben Gurion, a Talmudic figure of wealth and mystical power. Christian tradition suggest he was martyred, and he is venerated as a saint. His name has come to be synonymous with seekers of the truth and is used as a character in many works of biblically inspired fiction.
3 James The Just
He is considered, next to Paul and Peter, the most important apostolic figure in the Church’s history. The Book of Acts specifically names him the head of the Christian church in Jerusalem, and he is frequently cited, both scripturally and apocryphally, as being consulted by both Paul and Peter. So who is he?
Traditionally, he is thought of as Jesus’s brother (or, more precisely, His half-brother). Jesus is listed, in the Gospels, as having siblings, some younger than Him. One was named James.
But James was a common name, and there are several mentioned in the Bible. Two of the 12 disciples were named James, but both are listed as having different fathers than Jesus, and neither went on to become James the Just. James the son of Zebedee went on to be known as James the Great, and James the son of Alphaeus was called James the Less.
It is known that he was a contemporary of Jesus, although he seems to have had no real inner-circle status during Christ’s ministry. The apocryphal Gospel of Thomas says Christ Himself designated James to lead the movement upon His death. The Apostle Paul initially seems respectful, even subservient, to “James the Lord’s brother,” calling him a “pillar” of the movement, even though he was later to disagree with him on matters of doctrine.
Some, though, have suggested the “brother” designation was spiritual, rather than physical. St. Jerome, among others, suggested that the doctrine of perpetual virginity indicated James could be a cousin, which, given the tribal associations and clannishness of the Jewish community of the time, seems valid. Such a relationship would indicate a certain social proximity without necessarily being a true sibling.
2 Simon The Zealot
Of Christ’s 12 disciples, none are more mysterious than Simon the Zealot. His name was meant to differentiate him from Simon Peter and has come to symbolize, for some, that he was a member of a similarly named political movement that advocated Jewish defiance to Roman law. Some have speculated that he acted, within Christ’s inner circle, as a political adviser. His presence then indicated that Jesus had a revolutionary political agenda.
The truth is much less exciting. The “Zealot” movement did not take place until long after the time that Christ would have given Simon his sobriquet, and there has never been any serious evidence that Simon, despite the designation, was a political radical. The name, and the word upon which it is based, did not take on those aggressive undertones until the movement itself was in full swing. More than likely, Simon was given his name because of intense spiritual devotion, rather than any radical political stance.
Nothing else is known of him, at least not with any surety. The Catholic Encyclopedia mentions him as possibly being a brother or cousin of Jesus, with no real evidence. The Eastern Orthodox tradition says he developed his zeal when Jesus attended his wedding and changed water into wine. Some legends say he was martyred; the philosopher Justus Lipsius somehow got it into his head that he was sawed in half.
Cited twice specifically, but alluded to frequently in general terms, the Nephilim were a race of violent giants that lived in the pre-Flood world at the same time as humanity. Were they, as some suggest, the offspring of demons and human women? Fallen angels themselves? Or simply the descendants of Seth mentioned in the Dead Sea scrolls, a tribe of cranky cases cursed by God for their rebelliousness? Regardless, they evolved and became known by other names, like the Raphaim, and frequently battled humans for land and power.
The most storied of them was Og, the King of Bashan. He was killed, along with his entire army, and his kingdom was ransacked. All of the survivors—men, women, and children—were put to death, and the strongest and most powerful line of Nephilim descendants was eliminated. Some Nephilim bloodlines continued to do battle with the Israelites, though they were becoming less powerful and dying out. One tribe, the Anakim, allied themselves with the human tribes in Philistia. Goliath was thought to have been one of the last few descendants of the Nephilim.
Goliath’s height is given in the earliest manuscripts as 275 centimeters (9′). That’s hardly as awe-inspiring as the creature laying in Og’s bed, which measured, according to Deuteronomy, 400 centimeters (13′ 6″). That’s basically Yao Ming sitting on Shaquille O’Neal’s shoulders.
Biblically, descendants of the Nephilim could not have survived the Flood, even though Og and other giants are post-Flood figures. Some biblical literalists have attributed their later existence to the descendants of Noah’s family hooking up, once again, with demons. Or, being fallen angels and not human, they did survive the flood.
Jewish tradition gets deeper into information about the Nephilim and their descendants, going against the grain of the biblical account. It tells of Og booking passage on the Ark by promising to act as a slave to Noah and his family. Other accounts have him hanging on to the side of the Ark and riding the flood out rodeo-style.
The ancient solar system Kepler-444Excerpt from seattletimes.com By MARCIA DUNN AP Aerospace WriterA newly discovered solar system -- with five small rocky planets -- makes ours look like a baby.An international team of astronomers ann...
This illustration shows what the newly discovered long-necked dinosaur may have looked like.Excerpt from cnn.com Paleontologists have discovered a 50-ft "dragon" dinosaur species in China that may have roamed the earth 160 million years ago in t...
Excerpt from space.com
Most people have two eyes. Humans evolved to use them together (not all animals do). People form a continuous, stereoscopic panorama movie of the world within in their minds. With your two eyes tilted upward on a clear night, there's nothing standing between you and the universe. The easiest way to enhance your enjoyment of the night sky is to paint your brain with two channels of stronger starlight with a pair of binoculars. Even if you live in — or near — a large, light-polluted city, you may be surprised at how much astronomical detail you'll see through the right binoculars!
Our editors have looked at the spectrum of current binocular offerings. Thanks to computer-aided design and manufacturing, there have never been more high-quality choices at reasonable prices. Sadly, there's also a bunch of junk out there masquerading as fine stargazing instrumentation. We've selected a few that we think will work for most skywatchers.
There was a lot to consider: magnification versus mass, field of view, prism type, optical quality ("sharpness"), light transmission, age of the user (to match "exit pupil" size, which changes as we grow older), shock resistance, waterproofing and more.
The best binoculars for you"Small" astronomy binoculars would probably be considered "medium" for bird watching, sports observation and other terrestrial purposes. This comes about as a consequence of optics (prism type and objective size, mostly). "Large" binoculars are difficult to use for terrestrial applications and have a narrow field of view. They begin to approach telescope quality in magnification, resolution and optical characteristics.
Most of our Editors' Choicesfor stargazing binoculars here are under $300. You can pay more than 10 times that for enormous binocular telescopes used by elite enthusiasts on special mounts! You'll also pay more for ruggedized ("mil spec," or military standard) binoculars, many of which suspend their prisms on shock mounts to keep the optics in precise alignment.
Also, our Editors' Choices use Porro prism optics. Compact binoculars usually employ "roof" prisms, which can be cast more cheaply, but whose quality can vary widely. [There's much more about Porro prisms in our Buyer's Guide.]
We think your needs are best served by reviewing in three categories.
- Small, highly portable binoculars can be hand-held for viewing ease.
- Medium binoculars offer higher powers of magnification, but still can be hand-held, if firmly braced.
- Large binoculars have bigger "objective" lenses but must be mounted on a tripod or counterweighted arm for stability.
Best Small Binoculars
Editor's Choice: Oberwerk Mariner 8x40 (Cost: $150)
Oberwerk in German means "above work." The brand does indeed perform high-level optical work, perfect for looking at objects above, as well as on the ground or water. Founder Kevin Busarow's Mariner series is not his top of the line, but it benefits greatly from engineering developed for his pricier models. The Oberwerk 8x40’s treat your eyes to an extremely wide field, at very high contrast, with razor-sharp focus; they are superb for observing the broad starscapes of the Milky Way. Just 5.5 inches (14 cm) from front to back and 6.5 inches wide (16.5 cm), the Mariners are compact and rugged enough to be your favorite "grab and go binoculars." But at 37 ounces, they may be more than a small person wants to carry for a long time.
Runner-Up: Celestron Cometron 7x50 (Cost: $30)
Yes, you read that price correctly! These Celestron lightweight, wide-field binoculars bring honest quality at a remarkably low price point. The compromise comes in the optics, particularly the prism's glass type (you might see a little more chromatic aberration around the edges of the moon, and the exit pupil isn't a nice, round circle). Optimized for "almost infinitely distant" celestial objects, these Cometrons won't focus closer than about 30 feet (9.1 meters). But that's fine for most sports and other outdoor use. If you're gift-buying for multiple young astronomers – or you want an inexpensive second set for yourself – these binoculars could be your answer. Just maybe remind those young folks to be a little careful around water; Celestron claims only that the Cometrons are "water resistant," not waterproof.
Honorable Mention: Swarovski Habicht 8x30 (Cost: $1,050)
From the legendary Austrian firm of Swarovski Optik, these "bins" are perfect. Really. Very sharp. Very lightweight. Very wide field. Very versatile. And very expensive! Our editors would have picked them if we could have afforded them.
Honorable Mention: Nikon Aculon 7x50 (Cost: $110)Nikon's legendary optical quality and the large, 7mm exit pupil diameter make these appropriate as a gift for younger skywatchers.
Best Medium Binoculars
Editor's Choice: Celestron SkyMaster 8x56 (Cost: $210)
A solid, chunky-feeling set of quality prisms and lenses makes these binoculars a pleasant, 38oz. handful. A medium wide 5.8 degrees filed of view and large 7mm exit pupil brings you gently into a sweet sky of bright, though perhaps not totally brilliant, stars. Fully dressed in a rubber wetsuit, these SkyMasters are waterproof. Feel free to take them boating or birding on a moist morning. Their optical tubes were blown out with dry nitrogen at the factory, then sealed. So you can expect them not to fog up, at least not from the inside. Celestron's strap-mounting points on the Skymaster 8x56 are recessed, so they don't bother your thumbs, but that location makes them hard to fasten.
Runner-Up: Oberwerk Ultra 15x70 (Cost: $380)
The most rugged pair we evaluated, these 15x70s are optically outstanding. Seen through the Ultra's exquisitely multi-coated glass, you may find yourself falling in love with the sky all over again. Oberwerk's method of suspending their BAK4 glass Porro prisms offers greater shock-resistance than most competitors’ designs. While more costly than some comparable binoculars, they deliver superior value. Our only complaint is with their mass: At 5.5 lbs., these guys are heavy! You can hand-hold them for a short while, if you’re lying down. But they are best placed on a tripod, or on a counterweighted arm, unless you like shaky squiggles where your point-source stars are supposed to be. Like most truly big binoculars, the eyepieces focus independently; there’s no center focus wheel. These "binos" are for true astronomers.
Honorable Mention: Vixen Ascot 10x50 (Cost:$165)These quirky binoculars present you with an extremely wide field. But they are not crash-worthy – don't drop them in the dark – nor are they waterproof, and the focus knob is not conveniently located. So care is needed if you opt for these Vixen optics.
Best Large Binoculars
Don't even think about hand-holding this 156-ounce beast! The SkyMaster 25x100 is really a pair of side-by-side 100mm short-tube refractor telescopes. Factor the cost of a sturdy tripod into your purchase decision, if you want to go this big. The monster Celestron comes with a sturdy support spar for mounting. Its properly multi-coated optics will haul in surprising detail from the sky. Just make sure your skies are dark; with this much magnification, light pollution can render your images dingy. As with many in the giant and super-giant class of binoculars, the oculars (non-removable eyepieces) focus separately, each rotating through an unusually long 450 degrees. Getting to critical focus can be challenging, but the view is worth it. You can resolve a bit of detail on face of the new moon (lit by "Earthshine") and pick out cloud bands on Jupiter; tha's pretty astonishing for binoculars.
Runner-Up: Orion Astronomy 20x80 (Cost: $150)
These big Orions distinguish themselves by price point; they're an excellent value. You could pay 10 times more for the comparably sized Steiners Military Observer 20x80 binoculars! Yes, the Orions are more delicate, a bit less bright and not quite as sharp. But they do offer amazingly high contrast; you'll catch significant detail in galaxies, comets and other "fuzzies." Unusually among such big rigs, the Astronomy 20x80 uses a center focus ring and one "diopter" (rather than independently focusing oculars); if you’re graduating from smaller binoculars, which commonly use that approach, this may be a comfort. These binoculars are almost lightweight enough to hold them by hand. But don't do that, at least not for long periods. And don't drop them. They will go out of alignment if handled roughly.
Honorable Mention: Barska Cosmos 25x100 (Cost: $230)They are not pretty, but you're in the dark, right? Built around a tripod-mountable truss tube, these Barskas equilibrate to temperature quickly and give you decent viewing at rational cost. They make for a cheaper version of our Editors' Choice Celestron SkyMasters.
Honorable Mention: Steiner Observer 20x80 (Cost: $1,500)Not at all a practical cost choice for a beginning stargazer, but you can dream, can't you? These Steiner binoculars are essentially military optics "plowshared" for peaceful celestial observing.
Why we chose NOT to review certain types
Image stabilized?Binoculars with active internal image stabilization are a growing breed. Most use battery-powered gyroscope/accelerometer-driven dynamic optical elements. We have left this type out of our evaluation because they are highly specialized and pricey ($1,250 and up). But if you are considering active stabilization, you can apply the same judgment methods detailed in our Buyer's Guide.
Comes with a camera?A few binoculars are sold with built-in cameras. That seems like a good idea. But it isn't, at least not for skywatching. Other than Earth's moon, objects in the night sky are stingy with their photons. It takes a lengthy, rock-steady time exposure to collect enough light for a respectable image. By all means, consider these binocular-camera combos for snapping Facebook shots of little Jenny on the soccer field. But stay away from them for astronomy.
Mega monster-sized?Take your new binoculars out under the night sky on clear nights, and you will fall in love with the universe. You will crave more ancient light from those distant suns. That may translate into a strong desire for bigger stereo-light buckets.
Caution: The next level up is a quantum jump of at least one financial order of magnitude. But if you have the disposable income and frequent access to dark skies, you may want to go REALLY big. Binocular telescopes in this class can feature interchangeable matching eyepieces, individually focusing oculars, more than 30x magnification and sturdy special-purpose tripods. Amateurs using these elite-level stereoscopes have discovered several prominent comets.
Enjoy your universeIf you are new to lens-assisted stargazing, you'll find excellent enhanced views among the binocular choices above. To get in deeper and to understand how we picked the ones we did, jump to our Buyer's Guide: How to Choose Binoculars for Sky Watching.
You have just taken the first step to lighting up your brain with star fire. May the photons be with you. Always.
Skywatching Events 2015Once you have your new binoculars, it's time to take them for a spin. This year intrepid stargazers will have plenty of good opportunities to use new gear.
On March 20, for example, the sun will go through a total solar eclipse. You can check out the celestial sight using the right sun-blocking filters for binoculars, but NEVER look at the sun directly, even during a solar eclipse. It's important to find the proper filters in order to observe the rare cosmic show.
Observers can also take a look at the craggy face of the moon during a lunar eclipse on April 4. Stargazers using binoculars should be able to pick out some details not usually seen by the naked eye when looking at Earth's natural satellite.
Skywatchers should also peek out from behind the binoculars for a chance to see a series of annual meteor showers throughout the year.
Excerpt from news.asiaone.com CAPE CANAVERAL, US - Scientists using Europe's comet-orbiting Rosetta spacecraft have discovered that the complicated ancient body is coated with surprisingly simple organic molecules and surrounded by a changing clou...
|The Esquel meteorite consists of gem-quality crystals embedded in metal.|
Excert from bbc.com
Researchers have decoded ancient recordings from fragments of an asteroid dating back billions of years to the start of the Solar System.
They found tiny "space magnets" in meteorites which retain a memory of the birth and death of the asteroid's core.
Like the data recorded on the surface of a computer hard drive, the magnetic signals written in the space rock reveal how Earth's own metallic core and magnetic field may one day die.
The work appears in Nature journal.
Using a giant X-ray microscope, called a synchrotron, the team was able to read the signals that formed more than four-and-a-half billion years ago, soon after the birth of the Solar System.
Dr James Bryson University of CambridgeIt's like a cosmic archaeological mission”
The meteorites are pieces of a parent asteroid that originally came from asteroid belt, between Mars and Jupiter.They represents the left-over fragments of a planet that failed to form. The magnetic recording within it traps a signal of the precise moments when an iron-rich core formed in the asteroid as well as when it froze, killing its magnetic field.
The new picture of metallic core solidification in the asteroid provide clues about the magnetic field and iron-rich core of Earth.
Core values "Ideas about how the Earth's core evolved through [our planet's] history are really changing at the moment," lead researcher Dr Richard Harrison, from the University of Cambridge, told BBC News.
"We believe that Earth's magnetic field is linked to core solidification. Earth's solid inner core may have started to form at very interesting time in terms of the evolution of life on Earth.
"By studying an asteroid we get to see this in fast forward. We can see the start of core solidification in the magnetic records as well as its end, and start to think about how these processes work on Earth."
The Earth's magnetic field will likely die off when the core completely freezes
Tiny particles, smaller than one thousandth the width of a human hair, trapped within the metal have retained the magnetic signature of the parent asteroid from its birth in the early Solar System.
"We're taking ancient magnetic field measurements in nano-scale materials to the highest ever resolution in order to piece together the magnetic history of asteroids - it's like a cosmic archaeological mission," said Dr James Bryson, the paper's lead author.
"Since asteroids are much smaller than Earth, they cooled much more quickly, so these processes occur on a shorter timescales, enabling us to study the whole process of core solidification."
Prof Wyn William, from the University of Edinburgh, who was not involved in the study, commented: "To be able to get a time stamp on these recordings, to get a cooling rate and the time of solidification, is fantastic. It's a very nice piece of work."
The key to the long-lived stability of the recording is the atomic-scale structure of the iron-nickel particles that grew slowly in the asteroid core and survived in the meteorites.
Making a final comment on the results, Dr Harrison said: "In our meteorites we've been able to capture both the beginning and end of core freezing, which will help us understand how these processes affected the Earth in the past and provide a possible glimpse of what might happen in the future."
|Cassiopeia: A supernova remnant|
Excerpt from news.discovery.com
One of the least likely places you might think astronomers would learn about ancient supernovae is at the bottom of the ocean, but in new research scientists have done just that.
Through the careful analysis of ocean sediment, tiny particles that originated from deep space have settled on the seabed, locking the chemical secrets to supernova processes that would have otherwise remained a mystery.
“Small amounts of debris from these distant explosions fall on the earth as it travels through the galaxy,” said lead researcher Anton Wallner, of the Australian National University. “We’ve analyzed galactic dust from the last 25 million years that has settled on the ocean and found there is much less of the heavy elements such as plutonium and uranium than we expected.”
Supernovae are powerful explosions triggered when massive stars reach the ends of their lives. During these powerful events, many elements are forged, including elements that are essential for life to thrive — such as iron, potassium and iodine.
Wallner and his team studied samples of sediment from the bottom of a stable area at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean. But when measuring the quantities of plutonium-244, a radioisotope that is produced by supernovae, they found something strange in their results — there was 100 time less plutonium-244 than predicted.
Plutonium-244 has a half-life of 81 million years, making it an excellent indicator of the number of supernovae that have exploded nearby in recent galactic history. “So any plutonium-244 that we find on earth must have been created in explosive events that have occurred more recently, in the last few hundred million years,” said Wallner.
But the fact that there is less recent deposition of the heaviest of elements, despite the fact that we know supernovae have erupted nearby, suggests a different formation mechanism may be responsible for plutonium-244 and elements like it.
“It seems that these heaviest elements may not be formed in standard supernovae after all,” concludes Wallner. “It may require rarer and more explosive events such as the merging of two neutron stars to make them.”