Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Could dark streaks in Venus' clouds be microbial life?

Via by Keith Cooper

The question of life on Venus, of all places, is intriguing enough that a team of U.S. and Russian scientists working on a proposal for a new mission to the second planet—named Venera-D—are considering including the search for life in its mission goals.

If all goes as planned, an unmanned aerial vehicle could one day be cruising the thick, sulfuric acid clouds of Venus to help determine whether dark streaks that appear to absorb ultraviolet radiation could be evidence of microbial life.

Venus has long been a focus of Russian planetary science, which has the proud legacy of the record-breaking Venera space probes that landed on the Venusian surface in the late 1970s and early 1980s. With many questions remaining unanswered, the joint mission of Roscosmos and NASA, if approved, would see an orbiter launch towards Venus in 2025 with the aim to make remote-sensing observations of the planet and its atmosphere; deploy a lander on the surface; and search for future landing sites.

Among several possible additions to the mission are a small sub-orbiter to study Venus' magnetosphere, and either a balloon or an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) taking measurements of the atmosphere over a long duration.

Should the UAV be approved, its main goal would be to take meteorological measurements to determine why the atmosphere rotates so fast relative to the surface, a phenomenon known as super-rotation. This fast rotation was discovered in the 1960s by astronomers tracking the motion of the dark streaks in the atmosphere. Puzzlingly, astronomers do not know the origin and composition of these dark streaks, nor do they understand why the streaks haven't mixed with the rest of the atmosphere and why they are absorbing ultraviolet light.

The Strange Story of How Walt Disney Banished Rasputin’s Ghost from Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion

“The Ogre”, Rasputin’s alter-ego, as it now appears in the Haunted Mansion |
Via Long Forgotten
Via by Greg Newkirk

The Haunted Mansion is one of the most beloved attractions at Disney theme parks, thrusting visitors into a spooky world filled with dancing phantoms and eye-popping special effects, but there was one spirit planned for the ride who was so scary that Walt Disney himself barred him from inclusion: Rasputin’s ghost.

On August 9, 1969, The Haunted Mansion made its debut in Anaheim, California’s Disneyland to rave reviews. Disney’s Imagineers had managed to capture the picture-perfect representation of a classic haunted mansion from cinema and pull it into the real world, mischievous ghosts and all.

The attraction was a technological marvel at the time, featuring a blend of state-of-the-art animatronics and old-school theatrical illusions that wowed crowds and established the Haunted Mansion as a signature Disney icon. But what you might not know is that development on the iconic ride began nearly two decades earlier, and involved some pretty famous phantoms.

Walt Disney first began mulling over concepts for the Haunted Mansion in the 50s, enlisting many of his favorite artists to help bring the project to reality. Initially, the attraction was designed with storylines that would have featured the ghosts of famous historical characters like Jack the Ripper, Guy Fawkes, Ivan the Terrible, and more.

Crossrail dig unearths 13,000 Victorian jam jars


Thousands of Victorian jam jars and pickle pots have been discovered beneath a former nightclub during the building of Crossrail, it has emerged.

The Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA) found more than 13,000 pots in an old vault at the site of the new Elizabeth line station in Tottenham Court Road.

The space beneath the old Astoria nightclub had been used as a dumping ground by Crosse & Blackwell, which had a large factory on the site until 1921.

MOLA said the find was "remarkable".

The items, including bottles of Mushroom Catsup, Piccalilli pots and and jars for jam and marmalade, were found in a large cistern beneath the former warehouse.

MOLA archaeologist Nigel Jeffries said the cistern would have been used to power steam engines to run the factory, but had been taken out of use when the building was redesigned in the 1870s.

It had then been used as a landfill site for the pots.

Top 10 Bizarre Witch Burials

Photo credit: The Hunterian Museum via Headlines News
Via by Geordie McElroy

The extreme nature of “witch” burials reflects how deep our fear of sorcery goes—even from beyond the grave. It is not uncommon for the witches to be weighed down or have their jaws forced open. The designation “witch” is political. Because belief in divination and curses is universal to humans, spell-casters are always an easy scapegoat. Often, unexplained illnesses and misfortune are attributed to witchcraft. Many of these “witches” suffered from physical deformities, revealing our deep prejudice against anyone out of the norm.
10. Nailed Witch

In 2011, archaeologists unearthed the 800-year-old remains of a witch, who had seven nails driven through her jawbone. Located in Tuscany, the site was considered a witches’ graveyard after an earlier discovery of a woman buried with 17 dice. The game was forbidden for women 800 years ago. Both women are believed to have been between 25 and 30 years old and were found in shallow graves without coffins or even burial shrouds. In addition to the seven nails in the witch’s jaw, she was surrounded by 13 nails, which likely pinned down her clothing.

The nails suggest that the locals were terrified of the witch returning from the dead. The nails in the jaw may have specifically prevented her from uttering curses from beyond the grave. The biggest mystery is why these suspected witches were buried in consecrated ground, which goes against the traditions of the era.

9. Rita Of Rollright

In 2015, an amateur treasure hunter discovered the remains of a 1,400-year-old Saxon witch near the Rollright Stones in Warwickshire, England. According to legend, the Neolithic site was created when a witch turned a power-hungry king and his knights to stone. The woman was discovered with an early Saxon religious utensil known as a patera, which has led some to speculate that she was a pagan witch. Standing 150 centimeters (4’11”), the petite Saxon sorceress has been dubbed “Rita.”

Dated to around AD 600, Rita is not the Rollright Witch of legend; the site was constructed between 2500 and 2000 BC. Along with the patera, Rita was found with a spindle whorl, a large amber bead, and an amethyst-set silver mount, suggesting she was of high status. Roman soldiers originally used pateras to make divine offerings. The long, thin handle of Rita’s patera differs from the Roman variety.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Biased Ghost Research: Is Seeing Really Believing?

Via by Hayley Stevens

When ghost hunters attempt to research ghosts in a scientific way one of the first mistakes that they will make is insisting that although their methodology might look unscientific to the outside observer, this simply isn’t the case. Ghost hunters often conduct their investigations in the dark, use pieces of equipment that have no real use in ghost research (such as EMF meters, REM pods, Dictaphones and similar), may employ the use of psychics and mediums, and use spirit communication techniques because they claim that they are attempting to experience the occurence reported to them by the eye-witness. This is so that when they experience the activity for themselves they can then try to distinguish – scientifically – what the cause is.

The problem here, of course, is that unless the eye-witness experiences what they report while in the company of a medium, with the lights turned out, while using an EMF meter and holding some dowsing rods, then all the ghost hunter is actually doing is priming themselves to have a weird experience. This will then be erroneously linked to the original experience as evidence that something has occurred that may be considered as potential evidence of the paranormal. It isn’t always possible to replicate the exact conditions in which an experience happens, but ghost hunters often make a lot of effort to conduct their research in a manner that is as unlike the original conditions as possible.

The value in telephoning the dead

The ‘Wind Phone’ (kaze no denwa). Image from Mikinee.
Via by Chris Kavanagh

This week’s episode of the popular NPR podcast This American Life featured a touching story (available to listen to here) about how some people in Japan who had lost loved ones in the 2011 tsunami were making a pilgrimage (of sorts) to a phone booth on a hill in the town of Otsuchi in order to ‘speak with’, or more accurately send messages to, their deceased relatives. The so-called ‘wind phone’ (kaze no denwa) is comprised of a simple disconnected rotary phone which is located in a white phone booth that overlooks the Pacific ocean. The phone is owned by a 70 year old gardener named Itaru Sasaki who had installed the phone in his garden prior to the disaster in order to give him a private space to help him cope with the loss of his cousin. However after the devastation of the tsunami, news about the phone gradually spread and eventually it became a well known site with various reports suggesting that three years after the disaster it already had experienced 10,000 visitors.

The phone-booth featured in a documentary by the Japanese public broadcaster NHK during the five year memorial of the tsunami and they managed to get permission from both the visitors and Sasaki to record and broadcast some of the conversations that people were having in the booth. These recordings, with English translations, make up the bulk of the segment on This American Life and they are, as you might expect, heartbreaking to listen to. The reporter who made the piece for NPR, Miki Meek, does a great job of providing the necessary contextual explanations about customs and social etiquette in Japan, as well as providing accurate voiceover translations. A poignant point that is raised repeatedly is just how mundane most of the conversations are, with people relating events from their daily life and, in stereotypical Japanese fashion, reassuring the dead that they are working hard and telling them not to worry. In the piece this is framed as being something particular to Japan with Meek explaining:

“The idea of keeping up a relationship with the dead is not such a strange one in Japan. The line between our world and their world is thin. Lots of families keep a Buddhist altar for their dead relatives in the living room. My uncle has one for our family; there are photos on a little platform and everyday he leaves fresh fruit and rice for them, lights incense and rings a bell. It’s a way to stay in touch. To let them know they are still a big part of our family.”

Maine’s Haunted Parsonsfield Seminary is Home to Aggressive Ghosts and Overwhelming Sadness

Via by Dana Matthews

For two centuries, Parsonsfield Seminary in Maine served as an educational institution, and for a time, was even part of the Underground Railroad. As you can imagine, it’s seen it’s fair share of residents over the years, but according to locals, many of them never left.

Parsonsfield Seminary, which is made up of four large buildings, is not only one of the area’s most beloved National Historical Sites, it also has a reputation as being one of the most haunted locations in Maine. Lucky for us paranormal enthusiasts, they’ve embraced both their spooky reputation and the ghost hunters who’ve made it a paranormal hotspot.

Originally founded by the Free Will Baptists, the Parsonsfield Seminary was a fully-functioning high school from 1832 all the way up to 1949 when it was forced to close its doors due to underfunding. During the 1840s, students and teachers even housed fugitive slaves in the seminary, sheltering them as they made their way from the South to find freedom in Canada.

Throughout the years a number of documented deaths have taken place on the grounds of the campus, some of which occurred during a mysterious fire in 1953. Flames began to pour out of the building around midnight, and though an investigation was conducted, a suspect was never caught, nor was the reasoning behind the blaze ever discovered.

10 Horrifying Haunted Villages Around The World

Via listverse.con by Estelle Thurtle

Villages are usually quiet, small places where the atmosphere is rich with history. Sometimes, however, history comes back to haunt the inhabitants . . . On this list are some of the most haunted villages from around the world.
10. Bramshott

Ask about haunted villages in the UK, and most people will immediately say “Pluckley!” But about 90 minutes from Pluckley lies the village of Bramshott, in Hampshire. Bramshott has been around since before 1086. By the 1700s, the village had an inn called Seven Thorns, where many crimes—including murder—took place.

Around the time that all these violent crimes were happening, paranormal sightings began and still continue to this day. Bramshott is believed to have up to 17 ghosts haunting it, including Mistress Butler, who dwells alongside the river where she drowned herself in 1745, and the Flute Boy, who roams the lanes of the village and sometimes even climbs the trees. He plays beautiful music and often appears close to the apparition of a white calf. Other ghosts include the White Lady, the Grey Lady, and a young boy murdered by highwaymen in 1772.

9. Kuldhara

Kuldhara in India used to be inhabited by the Paliwal Brahmins until all of them abandoned the village overnight in 1825. The story goes that a diwan fell in love with the daughter of the village chieftain and threatened the Paliwal Brahmins with exorbitant taxes if they did not hand the girl over to him. Hence, they disappeared overnight and left a curse in their wake: Anyone who attempted to make the village their home would lose their lives.

Kuldhara remains abandoned except for tourists and paranormal investigators passing through its streets. Investigators have reported seeing unexplained apparitions as well as being touched on the shoulder by an unseen presence during their visits there. Perhaps most chilling is the discovery of handprints on their vehicles after they completed their investigation.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Strange Sicilian Standing Stone Syncs With Solstice

Via by Brett Tingley

A Neolithic standing stone has been discovered in Sicily which has been found to align perfectly with the winter solstice. The stone was found in Gela, a small town on Sicily’s southern coast, when a group of historians and archaeologists were conducting a survey of abandoned World War II bunkers in the area. After radiocarbon dating, this “Sicilian Stonehenge” has been dated to between 3,000 and 6,000 B.C.

The 23-foot (7-meter) stone stands upright and has a hole carved through the top. Once a year, on the winter solstice, the sun aligns perfectly with the hole early in the morning. Researchers witnessed the sun pass through the hole this year at 7:23 am. While some are hailing the discovery as a “calendar rock,” Giulio Magli, archaeo-astronomer at the Polytechnic University of Milan, told Seeker that the only conclusion which can currently be made about the stone is that it can mark the winter solstice:

We should not consider the holed stones as a precise calendars or an instruments to observe the sun’s cycle, but rather monuments that provided information on the solstices for practical and agricultural purposes.

Restless Ghosts of the Dead Still Linger in Chillingham Castle’s Haunted Torture Dungeon

Via by Dana Matthews

At first glance, Chillingham Castle, looks like something right out of a fairytale, but the reality of Chillinham’s bloody history is anything but. Unless, of course, your idea of a fairytale includes gruesome tortures, mass murder of children, and the violent ghosts of people burned alive.

Built in the 12th century in the northern part of Northumberland, England, Chillingham was originally intended to be a monastery, but since 1246 the infamous castle has been owned by the same continuous bloodline, and not all of them were very nice. It was the distinguished Grey family who scooped up the surrounding forest and palace, and while renovating the massive building, added a dungeon and torture chamber or two.

For a time, the castle was the first line of defense against invading Scots making their way across the border on William Wallace’s orders. That’s where the dungeons came in. Quite often, prisoners were sealed up and interrogated in the deepest darkest holes of the castle, and more often than not, were subjected to terrible tortures. Men would have their arms and legs broken before being tossed down through a trap door, falling twenty feet into the dungeon below.

Scientists Develop New Method to Help Speed Search for Extraterrestrial Life

Via by Jessica Lachenal

As we cruise on into the future (read: look for ways to get off this hecking planet, or maybe help), the methods we utilize to find life on other planets will continue to change. After the discovery of and subsequent research into “new planet” Proxima b (which orbits the next closest star to Earth’s own sun), scientists believe that the conditions on Proxima b may be sufficient enough to house extraterrestrial life. They can’t confirm the existence of such conditions, though, until well into 2030, when telescope technology can catch up to confirm these hypotheses.

Enter: University of Colorado Hubble fellow Matteo Brogi, who describes a method that may cut that wait time by ten years, allowing us to find out more about Proxima b by 2020. According to, Brogi’s method combines two already common techniques used to examine stars and exoplanets: “direct imaging” and high-resolution spectroscopy. The former is a technique that astronomers use to locate a planet and the star it orbits. By “dimming” the light of the star, the planet comes into focus—it’s easier to see thanks to reduced glare, basically.

10 Mysterious Hidden Texts

Photo credit: Smithsonian Museum via Mashable
Via by Geordie McElroy

The archaeological record is filled with hidden messages from the past. Often, these secret texts hide in plain sight. They are buried under monuments and secreted away in machinery. Many times, they exist concealed in later works, remaining only as traces invisible to the naked eye. Modern technology like X-rays, CT scans, multispectral imaging, and robots are bringing these long-lost works to light.
10. Codex Selden

For decades, researchers were convinced that the Codex Selden contained hidden messages beneath its surface. Lost for nearly 500 years under a layer of gypsum and chalk, this precolonial Mexican manuscript is made of leather strips covered with a gesso, a plaster-like material. In 2016, hyperspectral imaging finally allowed researchers to peer within the Mixtec manuscript’s surface, revealing hidden text and images beneath. The technique works by taking high-resolution images across an entire spectrum of wavelengths.

The process of scanning the whole manuscript is ongoing. Until it is completed, researchers are reluctant to comment on the hidden content. What little they have revealed is tantalizing. New characters and text have recently emerged. The hidden text reads sideways across the page, rather than the bottom-to-top orientation of the manuscript’s surface. Researchers report that there are many more discoveries to be made within the pages of the Codex Selden.

9. Secret Message In Lincoln’s Watch

On April 13, 1861, Jonathan Dillon, an Irish immigrant and watchmaker, carved a hidden message in Abraham Lincoln’s pocket watch. Employed by M.W. Galt and Co. jewelers in Washington, DC, Dillon was repairing the president’s watch the day Confederate forces fired on Fort Sumter, which led to the US Civil War. The message would remain hidden until the Smithsonian opened the timepiece in 2009.

Dillon’s inscription read: “The first gun is fired. Slavery is dead. Thank God we have a president who at least will try.” Dillon and the president never met, and Lincoln never saw the message hidden within his timepiece.

In the 1850s, Lincoln purchased the gold pocket watch from George Chatterton, a jeweler in Springfield, Illinois. Lincoln tended away from the ostentatious, but the gold watch was a sign of his prominent law career. In 1958, the 16th president’s great-grandson, Lincoln Isham, donated the watch to the Smithsonian.