Excerpt from The Science of The Dogon, by Laird ScrantonThe information presented in the preceding chapters demonstrates a direct relationship between the symbols and themes of the Dogon creation story and known scientific facts relating to the formation of the universe, matter, and biological reproduction. This relationship is a broad and specific one that is couched in clear definitions and supported by priestly interpretations and cosmological drawings. The parallels between Dogon myth [...]
Dr. Rita Louise, GuestWhy Did Our Ancestors Inter This Ancient Massive Architectural Wonder?Located at the highest point of the Germus range in the southeastern Anatolia region of Turkey is the mysterious site of Göbekli Tepe. Excavations at Göbekli Tepe commenced in 1995 after German archaeologist Klaus Schmidt realized what was thought to be a Byzantine cemetery was actually a prehistoric site. Schmidt quickly unearthed a number of T-shaped pillars, which set th [...]
Excerpt from space.com A telescope will soon allow astronomers to probe the atmosphere of Earthlike exoplanets for signs of life. To prepare, astronomer Lisa Kaltenegger and her team are modeling the atmospheric fingerprints for hundreds of potential alien worlds. Here's how: The James Webb Space Telescope, set to launch in 2018, will usher a new era in our search for life beyond Earth. With its 6.5-meter mirror, the long-awaited successor to Hubble will be large enough to detect potential biosignatures in the atmosphere of Earthlike planets orbiting nearby stars. And we may soon find a treasure-trove of such worlds. The forthcoming exoplanet hunter TESS (Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite), set to launch in 2017, will scout the entire sky for planetary systems close to ours. (The current Kepler mission focuses on more distant stars, between 600 and 3,000 light-years from Earth.)
Astronomer Lisa Kaltenegger
While TESS will allow for the brief detection of new planets, the larger James Webb will follow up on select candidates and provide clues about their atmospheric composition. But the work will be difficult and require a lot of telescope time. "We're expecting to find thousands of new planets with TESS, so we'll need to select our best targets for follow-up study with the Webb telescope," says Lisa Kaltenegger, an astronomer at Cornell University and co-investigator on the TESS team. To prepare, Kaltenegger and her team at Cornell's Institute for Pale Blue Dots are building a database of atmospheric fingerprints for hundreds of potential alien worlds. The models will then be used as "ID cards" to guide the study of exoplanet atmospheres with the Webb and other future large telescopes. Kaltenegger described her approach in a talk for the NASA Astrobiology Institute's Director Seminar Series last December. "For the first time in human history, we have the technology to find and characterize other worlds," she says. "And there's a lot to learn."
Detecting life from space
In its 1990 flyby of Earth, the Galileo spacecraft took a spectrum of sunlight filtered through our planet's atmosphere. In a 1993 paper in the journal Nature, astronomer Carl Sagan analyzed that data and found a large amount of oxygen together with methane — a telltale sign of life on Earth. These observations established a control experiment for the search of extraterrestrial life by modern spacecraft. "The spectrum of a planet is like a chemical fingerprint," Kaltenegger says. "This gives us the key to explore alien worlds light years away." Current telescopes have picked up the spectra of giant, Jupiter-like exoplanets. But the telescopes are not large enough to do so for smaller, Earth-like worlds. The James Webb telescope will be our first shot at studying the atmospheres of these potentially habitable worlds. Some forthcoming ground-based telescopes — including the Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT), planned for completion in 2020, and the European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT), scheduled for first light in 2024 — may also be able to contribute to that task. [The Largest Telescopes on Earth: How They Compare] And with the expected discovery by TESS of thousands of nearby exoplanets, the James Webb and other large telescopes will have plenty of potential targets to study. Another forthcoming planet hunter, the Planetary Transits and Oscillations of stars (PLATO), a planned European Space Agency mission scheduled for launch around 2022-2024, will contribute even more candidates. However, observation time for follow-up studies will be costly and limited. "It will take hundreds of hours of observation to see atmospheric signatures with the Webb telescope," Kaltenegger says. "So we'll have to pick our targets carefully."
Set to see its first light in 2021, The Giant Magellan Telescope will be the world’s largest telescope.
Getting a head start
To guide that process, Kaltenegger and her team are putting together a database of atmospheric fingerprints of potential alien worlds. "The models are tools that can teach us how to observe and help us prioritize targets," she says. To start, they have modeled the chemical fingerprint of Earth over geological time. Our planet's atmosphere has evolved over time, with different life forms producing and consuming various gases. These models may give astronomers some insight into a planet's evolutionary stage. Other models take into consideration the effects of a host of factors on the chemical signatures — including water, clouds, atmospheric thickness, geological cycles, brightness of the parent star, and even the presence of different extremophiles. "It's important to do this wide range of modeling right now," Kaltenegger said, "so we're not too startled if we detect something unexpected. A wide parameter space can allow us to figure out if we might have a combination of these environments." She added: "It can also help us refine our modeling as fast as possible, and decide if more measurements are needed while the telescope is still in space. It's basically a stepping-stone, so we don't have to wait until we get our first measurements to understand what we are seeing. Still, we'll likely find things we never thought about in the first place."
A new research center
The spectral database is one of the main projects undertaken at the Institute for Pale Blue Dots, a new interdisciplinary research center founded in 2014 by Kaltenegger. The official inauguration will be held on May 9, 2015. "The crux of the institute is the characterization of rocky, Earth-like planets in the habitable zone of nearby stars," Kaltenergger said. "It's a very interdisciplinary effort with people from astronomy, geology, atmospheric modeling, and hopefully biology." She added: "One of the goal is to better understand what makes a planet a life-friendly habitat, and how we can detect that from light years away. We're on the verge of discovering other pale blue dots. And with Sagan's legacy, Cornell University is a really great home for an institute like that."View Article Here Read More
Excerpt from news.discovery.com The geode (above), described in the latest issue of Comptes Rendus Palevol, was found in the Cioarei-Boroşteni Cave, Romania. A Neanderthal had painted it with ochre. "The Neanderthal man must have certainly attached an aesthetic importance to it, while its having been painted with ochre was an addition meant to confer symbolic value," said Marin Cârciumaru of Valahia University and colleagues. The researchers also noted that "the geode was undoubtedly introduced into the cave by the Neanderthal," since they ruled out that it could have originated in the cave itself.
Was the geode used in rituals, or was it just a treasured object of beauty? Its precise meaning to the Neanderthal remains a mystery for now.
Based on archaeological finds, necklaces made out of Spondylus (a spiky, colorful mollusk) were all the rage. (Above) This specimen has more of a reddish hue, but Michel Louis Séfériadès of CNRS notes that most are "a highly colored, very attractive purplish crimson." Séfériadès added that the shells were valued, early trade items and that they are now "found in the archaeological remains of settlements and cemeteries, in graves, and as isolated finds." Some of the shells were made into jewelry, including necklaces and bracelets.
We sing about "five gold rings," but the rings would more likely have been ivory back in the day -- as in around 50,000 years ago, before ivory-producing animals were mostly hunted to extinction. Early humans in northern regions, for example, made rings out of mammoth ivory. A Neanderthal site at Grotte du Renne, France yielded a carefully crafted ivory ring (above), as well as grooved and perforated "personal ornaments," according to archaeologist Paul Mellars of Cambridge University.
Charcoal (shown avove), ochre and other materials were applied to the face by early Homo sapiens as well as by other human subspecies.
The ochre, used to paint the geode, mentioned earlier, was also used as makeup, hair dye, paint (to create rock and cave art), as well as to color garments.
Early humans used combs made out of shells and fish bones to both comb their hair and as personal decoration. (Above)
The shell from the Venus comb murex, a large predatory sea snail, is just one species that seems perfect for this purpose. Gibraltar Museum researchers Clive Finlayson and Kimberley Brown also found evidence that Neanderthals valued large, elaborate feathers, which the scientists suspect were worn by the individuals.
Nearly all early cultures had coveted figurines holding probable symbolic value. Some of the earliest carved objects are known as "Venus" figurines. They present women with exaggerated sexual features. Their exact meaning remains unclear. (Above)
Pendants made of animal teeth were common and probably served many different functions, such as showing the hunter's success, offering symbolic protection, and just as fashion.
Some of the funkiest-looking teeth were made into worn objects.
Animal teeth could be on a gift list dated to 540,000 years ago, and possibly earlier, as a recent study in the journal Nature found that a population of Homo erectus at Java, Indonesia, was collecting shark teeth and using them as tools and possibly as ornamentation.
The world's oldest known musical instrument is a bone flute (Above). While the earliest excavated flute dates to about 42,000 years ago, comparable flutes were probably made much earlier.
Flutes, like most of the items on this list, were not essential to survival, but yet they somehow contributed to the prehistoric peoples' quality of life.
FOUNTAIN HILLS, Ariz. — If words like UFO, extraterrestrial, crops circles and abductee have ever piqued your paranormal interest, do yourself a favor and head to the International UFO Congress.
The annual conference—which holds the Guinness record for being the largest convention dedicated to unidentified flying objects—takes place in the picturesque desert town of Fountain Hills, and this year it ran from Feb. 18 to 22. It's worth noting that Arizona is known as a hotbed of activity when it comes to sightings. Thousands flock to the annual event, which is produced by Open Minds, a paranormal research organization.
Each attendee has his or her own reason for being there. My goal was to find out if modern science and technology have changed the game when it comes to UFO sightings and evidence gathering.
"A lot of people think, go to a UFO convention, it's going to be tinfoil hats, but that's not what this is. We have NASA astrobiologists speak, scientists, high-ranking military officials, the works. I mean, there's a lot of really credible people covering this subject," said UFO Congress co-organizer and paranormal journalist Maureen Elsberry.
Air Force UFO documents now available online
When attending a UFO conference, the best approach is to come in with an open mind, ask lots of questions and talk with people about why they are there. Everyone has a story, from the speakers to the attendees, and even the vendors (some of whom double as ufologists).
The highlight of this year's conference was undeniably the speaker series, and it was standing room only to see one man, Bob Lazar. Lazar first spoke out in 1989, claiming that he'd worked as a government scientist at a secret mountainside facility south of Area 51's main site, where he saw remarkably advanced UFO technology. Critics have sought to discredit Lazar, questioning his employment record and educational credentials.
During the conference, George Knapp, an investigative TV reporter in Las Vegas who broke the Lazar story in '89, led an onstage question-and-answer session with Lazar, who discussed the work he did at a place called S4. Lazar spoke in detail about the alien UFO hangars and UFO propulsion systems he was allegedly asked to reverse engineer, and even loosely sketched them out for the audience.
"All the science fiction had become reality," said Lazar, who was noticeably uncomfortable and clearly surprised by the fact that, decades later, he remains such a draw.
You never know whom you'll bump into at the Congress. In the vendor hall, I met sculptor Alan Groves, who traveled all the way from Australia to peddle his "true to scale" Zetan alien figurines. I wondered if his side gig was lucrative, only to realize he was selling the figures like hotcakes. Then we talked about his day job, and he told me he's worked on special and creature effects for films such as "Star Wars," "Alien," "Labyrinth" and "Jurassic Park."
Many of the attendees told me that hard evidence is a requirement for ufologists and paranormal field experts. Derrel Sims, also known as Alien Hunter, told me he spent two years in the CIA, and also has served as a police officer and licensed private investigator.
He said his first alien encounter happened at age 4, and others in his family have also seen aliens. In 38-plus years of alien research, Sims has learned this: "If you look, the evidence is there." To date, he said, more than 4,000 pieces of that evidence exist.
Sims is adamant about only working with evidence-based methods, using DNA tests and collecting samples as well as relying on ultraviolet, infrared and x-ray tools in his research. He said that, in 1992, he discovered aliens leave their own kind of fluorescent fingerprint, and he continues to test for these clues. He added that if you have had an alien encounter, it's important to react quickly to gather evidence: "fluorescence" stays on the skin for only 24 hours. He said that other marks aliens leave include "scoop" marks, which are an identifying thread some abductees have in common.
Another commonality he's discovered is heritage. He said that, in his research, he has found 45 percent of all abductions happen to Native Americans, Irish and Celtic people, and he said that women also have a higher chance of being abducted.
When it comes to filming hard-to-explain phenomena, Patty Greer, who makes documentaries about crop circles, said that quadcopters — a.k.a. drones — have added production value to her films. Lynne Kitei, who covered a mass UFO sighting in her book and in the documentary The Phoenix Lights, said that even low-tech tools, like the 35mm film she used, are still a reliable way to gather proof of inexplicable flying craft, especially because they offer something an iPhone doesn't: negatives.
White House responds to UFO request
Night vision also offers added opportunities for UFO researchers, according to Ben Hansen, who was the host and lead investigator of SyFy channel's "Fact or Faked: Paranormal Files." He's now the owner of Night Vision Ops, an online store that sells night-vision technology. Hansen said that the consumer accessibility of new military-grade technologies in thermal and light amplification scopes are upping the game for the everyday UFO enthusiast.
To close out an intense few days on site at the Congress, Hansen's team invited me to a night watch near Arizona's Superstition Mountains. It was fascinating to see the latest optics add incredible clarity to the night sky, amplifying available light up to 50,000 times beyond what the unaided eye can see. Using the right technology, we were also able to see that a certain flying object, which made everyone nearby jump, wasn't a UFO after all. It was a bat.
I was surrounded by some serious tech all weekend, and it was eye-opening to see the ways that UFO hunters are gathering scientific evidence to learn more about the paranormal world. But I have to say, the gadget that was the most useful to me at the conference was my iPhone, which I used to download a free nightlight app for kids. For the few hours I managed to sleep, it was with the soothing illumination provided by "Kiwi the Green Koala." In short, I was officially freaked out.
Boffins in Australia have applied a hundreds-of-years-old astronomical rule to data from the Kepler planet-hunting space telescope. They've come to the conclusion that the average star in our galaxy has not one but two Earth-size planets in its "goldilocks" zone where liquid water - and thus, life along Earthly lines - could exist.
“The ingredients for life are plentiful, and we now know that habitable environments are plentiful,” says Professor Charley Lineweaver, a down-under astrophysicist.
Lineweaver and PhD student Tim Bovaird worked this out by reviewing the data on exoplanets discovered by the famed Kepler planet-hunter space scope. Kepler naturally tends to find exoplanets which orbit close to their parent suns, as it detects them by the changes in light they make by passing in front of the star. As a result, most Kepler exoplanets are too hot for liquid water to be present on their surfaces, which makes them comparatively boring. Good planets in the "goldilocks" zone which is neither too hot nor too cold are much harder to detect with Kepler, which is a shame as these are the planets which might be home to alien life - or alternatively, home one day to transplanted Earth life including human colonists, once we've cracked that pesky interstellar travel problem.
However there exists a thing called the Titius-Bode relation - aka Bode's Law - which can be used, once you know where some inner planets are, to predict where ones further out will be found.
Assuming Bode's Law works for other suns as it does here, and inputting the positions of known inner exoplanets found by Kepler, Lineweaver and Bovaird found that on average a star in our galaxy has two planets in its potentially-habitable zone.
That doesn't mean there are habitable or inhabited planets at every star, of course. Even here in our solar system, apparently lifeless (and not very habitable) Mars is in the habitable zone.
Even so, there are an awful lot of planets in the galaxy, so some at least ought to have life on them, and in some cases this life ought to have achieved a detectable civilisation. Prof Lineweaver admits that the total lack of any sign of this is a bit of a puzzler.
"The universe is not teeming with aliens with human-like intelligence that can build radio telescopes and space ships," admits the prof. "Otherwise we would have seen or heard from them. “It could be that there is some other bottleneck for the emergence of life that we haven’t worked out yet. Or intelligent civilisations evolve, but then self-destruct.”
Of course, humans - some approximations of which have been around for some hundreds of thousands of years, perhaps - have only had civilisation of any kind in any location for a few thousand of those years. Our civilisation has only risen to levels where it could be detectable across interstellar distances very recently.
There may be many planets out there inhabited by intelligent aliens who either have no civilisation at all, or only primitive civilisation. There may be quite a few who have reached or passed the stage of emitting noticeable amounts of radio or other telltale signs, but those emissions either will not reach us for hundreds of thousands of years - or went past long ago.
It would seem reasonable to suspect that there are multitudes of worlds out there where life exists in plenty but has never become intelligent, as Earth life was for millions of years before early humans began using tools really quite recently.
But the numbers are still such that the apparent absence of star-travelling aliens could make you worry about the viability of technological civilisation if, like Professor Lineweaver, you learn your astrophysics out of textbooks and lectures (and publish your research, as we see here, in hefty boffinry journals like the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society).
But if movies, speculofictive novels and TV have taught us anything here on the Reg alien life desk, it is that in fact the galaxy is swarming with star-travelling aliens (and/or humans taken secretly from planet Earth for mysterious purposes in the past, or perhaps humans from somewhere else etc). The reason we don't know about them is that they don't want us to. View Article Here Read More