The Legend of Lyonesse

Lyonesse is a lost island off the coast of Cornwall in England. It’s famous both as the home of Sir Tristan in Arthurian legends and for its mysterious disappearance. According to folk stories, the land was drowned in a single night as punishment for the sins of its inhabitants. Only one man escaped, racing ahead of the flood on a white horse. Modern archeologists speculate that the legend refers to several of the Isles of Scilly. These were above sea level at the time of the Roman conquest of Britain but were later covered by water due to changing currents and ice melt. Diving expeditions have found the remains of many settlements on the submerged islands. In spite of various scientific explanations, the legend remains. Locals will tell visitors to listen for the bells of drowned Lyonesse, which can be hearing ringing under the water on stormy nights.

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The Last Unexplored Place on Earth

The landscape could be in upstate New York, western Maine, or any number of other scenic places: a few large lakes, many small ones, wide rivers and slow-flowing streams, water-filled hollows and soggy ground, all set in a stony land. But that’s where the resemblance to familiar landscapes ends. Here, no clouds float by, no rain falls, and no stars shine; there is no sunlight or moonshine, and no air at all. Instead, spread over this water-rich landscape, covering it almost completely and sealing it in, is 5 million square miles of glacial ice, roughly two miles thick and a million years old. This bizarre scene is found in Antarctica, the coldest place on Earth. If it were possible to lift up the giant ice sheets, that watery, stony terrain is what would remain. But of course it is not possible, so nobody knows what the buried landscape really looks like or how many living things may be down there. As of only a few decades ago, no one knew this world of buried lakes and rivers even existed. Now scientists are paying serious attention to it. Journalists have dubbed it “the last unexplored place on Earth” and “one of Earth’s last frontiers.”

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Credit: Discover Magazine


The SETI Institute and French startup Unistellar announced a partnership today to commercialize a new telescope that promises to deliver an unparalleled view of the cosmos to amateur astronomers, and provide the opportunity to contribute directly to cutting-edge science. Unistellar's new eVscope leverages "Enhanced Vision" imaging technology and now provides three unique features never before offered in a compact mass-market instrument thanks to this partnership:

- Enhanced Vision produces extremely sharp, detailed images of even faint astronomical objects by accumulating their light and projecting it into the telescope's eyepiece.

- Autonomous Field Detection (AFD) powered by GPS, enables the eVscope to pinpoint celestial objects of interest without complicated alignment procedures or expensive equatorial mounts.

- Campaign Mode, a revolutionary and exciting feature developed at the SETI Institute, takes advantage of the telescope's advanced imaging technology and allows users around the world to participate in observing campaigns to image and collect data on objects of special interest to researchers.

"Classical high-end telescopes are wonderful tools for observing the four main planets. But they are generally disappointing for viewing fainter and more distant objects, which remain inaccessible to amateur astronomers," said Laurent Marfisi, Unistellar CEO. "Our telescope will revolutionize amateur astronomy by allowing people to see in real time, celestial objects that until now have only been available as images in books or online. Our compact 4.5-inch telescope allows observers to see objects fainter than Pluto and achieve sensitivity equivalent to a one-meter telescope!"

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Credit: SETI Institute
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Lasting Images

The morning mist surrounding Tawstock Castle melts through the day to reveal far reaching views of Devon. Set out in the early morning when the 18th century castle feels like it's shrouded in mystery– it'll seem as if you've entered a fantastical world where noble families battle for a throne, epic love stories begin, and dragons determine the fate of the world.

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credit: Airbnb

Levanevsky’s Flight

In 1937, the famed Soviet pilot Sigizmund Levanevsky took charge of what was intended to be the first cargo-passenger flight over the North Pole from Moscow to Fairbanks, Alaska. The distance was enormous, and experts thought that a full year of preparation would be needed. In a bid to impress Stalin, the officials in charge decided to do it in three months. The risks were so obvious that the aircraft’s radio officer even joked that the crew members were flying to their deaths. Unsurprisingly, something went wrong, and the man known to the American press as “the Russian Lindbergh” disappeared along with his six-man crew. During takeoff, the far-right engine was clearly emitting smoke, but engineers on the ground predicted it would soon stop. Nineteen hours later, a radio message was received: “The far-right engine has quit due to a problem with the oil system. Entering overcast skies. Elevation 4,600 meters. Will attempt a landing.” Russian, Canadian, and American rescue teams combed the Arctic, but no trace of the aircraft could be found.

Over the years, there have been various theories about the final resting place of Levanevsky and his crew. The most plausible involves a radio operator from Point Barrow, Alaska, who was told local Inuit had witnessed an aircraft crash into the water near the Jones Islands. A visiting schooner attempted a search of the area, with the crew noting that their compass needle was pointing straight down at one point. However, no wreckage could be found and the search had to be called off due to ice. A report was sent to Moscow, but it was quickly forgotten about after World War II broke out. Another theory suggests that there was a navigational error when the flight crossed the North Pole and was forced to descend below cloud level. Unbeknownst to the crew, they ended up making an accidental 80-degree turn, headed back into the Soviet Union, and crashed into Siberia’s Lake Sebyan-Kyuyel. A magnetic anomoly was apparently detected in the depths of the lake, but no more evidence could be found and the theory largely ran out of steam in the late ’90s.

Perhaps the most bizarre theory is that Levanevsky was forced to land on an ice floe, where he was rescued by a German submarine. He then supposedly offered his services to the Luftwaffe, even participating in the bombing of Moscow.

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credit: Listverse

King Tut’s Wife

A group of archaeologists made a breakthrough discovery when they found a tomb that may belong to King Tut’s wife.

The tomb, which resides near the tomb of Pharaoh Ay from the 18th Dynasty, was discovered in Egypt’s Valley of the Kings and could belong to Ankhesenamun, famed Egyptian archaeologist Zahi Hawass told Live Science.

Hawass, who was the former head of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities, said he’s certain there’s a tomb there because his team found four foundation deposits. However, he said it’s unclear to whom the tomb belongs to.

The archaeologist explained to Live Science that the deposit sites are “caches or holes in the ground that were filled with votive objects such as pottery vessels, food remains and other tools as a sign that a tomb construction is being initiated.”

He said it’s possible the tomb belongs to Tutankhamun’s wife, Ankhesenamun. She married Ay after the young pharaoh’s death, Hawass said, and her tomb could be next to Ay’s. He noted that his team would continue to search the site.

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The Mystery of Ross 128

Some very "peculiar signals" have been noticed coming from a star just 11 light-years away, scientists in Puerto Rico say. The mystery has gripped the internet as speculation mounts about the potential for a discovery of alien life on the red dwarf star known as Ross 128—despite the best attempts of astronomers to put such rumors to rest. Something unusual first came to light in April and May, when the team was studying a series of small and relatively cool red dwarf stars, some of which are known to have planets circling them. Ross 128 is not known to have planets, but "we realized that there were some very peculiar signals in the 10-minute dynamic spectrum that we obtained from Ross 128" said Abel Mendez, director of the Planetary Habitability Laboratory at the University of Puerto Rico at Arecibo.

The signals were observed May 13 at 0053 GMT, and "consisted of broadband quasi-periodic non-polarized pulses with very strong dispersion-like features," he wrote. "We believe that the signals are not local radio frequency interferences (RFI) since they are unique to Ross 128 and observations of other stars immediately before and after did not show anything similar." Since the signals are likely too dim to be picked up by other radio telescopes in the world, Mendez said that scientists at the Arecibo Observatory joined with astronomers from SETI (Search for ExtraTerrestrial Life) would use the Allen Telescope Array and the Green Bank Telescope to observe the star for a second time late Sunday. The results of these observations should be posted by the end of the week...

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Lasting Images

The International Space Station (ISS) is circling some 240 miles above the surface of Earth and filming our planet from space. The largest man-made satellite is currently orbiting the Earth and providing a glimpse into the wonders of outer space, streamed live over the internet. The spectacular feed from the ISS gives people on Earth a chance to see the incredible views that astronauts admire in space.

Planet X

Last year, the existence of an unknown planet in our Solar system was announced. However, this hypothesis was subsequently called into question as biases in the observational data were detected. Now Spanish astronomers have used a novel technique to analyse the orbits of the so-called extreme trans-Neptunian objects and, once again, they point out that there is something perturbing them: a planet located at a distance between 300 to 400 times the Earth-Sun separation. Scientists continue to argue about the existence of a ninth planet within our Solar System. At the beginning of 2016, researchers from the California Institute of Technology (Caltech, USA) announced that they had evidence of the existence of this object, located at an average distance of 700 AU or astronomical units (700 times the Earth-Sun separation) and with a mass ten times that of Earth. Their calculations were motivated by the peculiar distribution of the orbits found for the trans-Neptunian objects (TNO) of the Kuiper belt, which apparently revealed the presence of a Planet Nine or X in the confines of the Solar System.

However, scientists from the Canadian-French-Hawaiian project OSSOS detected biases in their own observations of the orbits of the TNOs, which had been systematically directed towards the same regions of the sky, and considered that other groups, including the Caltech group, may be experiencing the same issues. According to these scientists, it is not necessary to propose the existence of a massive perturber (a Planet Nine) to explain these observations, as these are compatible with a random distribution of orbits. Now, however, two astronomers from the Complutense University of Madrid have applied a new technique, less exposed to observational bias, to study a special type of trans-Neptunian objects: the extreme ones (ETNOs, located at average distances greater than 150 AU and that never cross Neptune's orbit).

For the first time, the distances from their nodes to the Sun have been analysed, and the results, published in the journal 'MNRAS: Letters', once again indicate that there is a planet beyond Pluto.

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The Lost Map of Columbus

For several centuries scholars have been searching for the lost map of Christopher Columbus. The map is referred to by Colum­bus’ contemporaries, and by the historian Las Casas, as one he used to navigate by to the New World. In 1929 a map was discovered in the former Imperial Palace (The Seraglio) in Constantinople, authored by a Turkish admiral of the 16th Century, Piri Reis. In the inscriptions written on this map the author states that the western part, showing the American coasts, was copied from a map that had been in the possession of Christopher Columbus, but which had fallen into the hands of Piri Reis with the booty seized from eight Spanish ships captured by him in a battle off the coast of Valencia in 1501 or 1508.

The Piri Reis map attracted the attention of President Kemal Ataturk, and of the American Secretary of State, Henry Stimson, who, in 1932, asked the Turkish Government for a color facsimile of the map, and for a search of Turkish archives and collections to see if the lost map of Columbus might not be found. The facsimile of the map now hangs in the Map Division of the Library of Congress, but the original Piri Reis worked from— Columbus’ own map (or a copy of it)—was never found. The reason that this map has remained so long undiscovered appears to be, simply, that it is very different from the other contemporary maps and is not at all what scholars would expect to find in a map of Columbus.

It is not a map Columbus himself made, but one he found in the Old World...

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Surging Heat May Limit Aircraft Takeoffs

Rising temperatures due to global warming will make it harder for many aircraft around the world to take off in coming decades, says a new study. During the hottest parts of the day, 10 to 30 percent of fully loaded planes may have to remove some fuel, cargo or passengers, or else wait for cooler hours to fly, the study concludes. The study, which is the first such global analysis, appears today in the journal Climatic Change. "Our results suggest that weight restriction may impose a non-trivial cost on airline and impact aviation operations around the world," said lead author Ethan Coffel, a Columbia University PhD. student. The authors estimate that if globe-warming emission continue unabated, fuel capacities and payload weights will have to be reduced by as much as 4 percent on the hottest days for some aircraft. If the world somehow manages to sharply reduce carbon emissions soon, such reductions may amount to as little as 0.5 percent, they say. Either figure is significant in an industry that operates on thin profit margins. For an average aircraft operating today, a 4 percent weight reduction would mean roughly 12 or 13 fewer passengers on an average 160-seat craft.

This does not count the major logistical and economic effects of delays and cancellations that can instantly ripple from one air hub to another.

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From Here to Infinity

One of the most fascinating and mind-bending topics to discuss is that of our own reality and the notion that the way we experience our Universe may not be the only version of events out there. If the number of Universes is truly infinite, and the many-world interpretation of quantum mechanics is true, are there parallel Universes out there, where everything in it evolved exactly the same way as our own, except for one slightly quantum outcome is different? Are there other Universes with slightly different versions of ourselves? Or let’s ask it this way: is it possible that there’s a Universe where everything happened exactly as it did in this one, but you made a single choice that had your life turn out as completely differently as a result? Where you took that trip, quit that job, kissed that girl, went to that school? Then there is the idea that there is a Universe out there where everything with a non-zero probability of having happened is actually the reality—but there are a lot of steps to get there.

The inflationary state, for example, must have happened for not just a long amount of time, but for an infinite amount of time.

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The Charred Scrolls of Herculaneum

A palimpsest containing an ancient medical treatise beneath biblical text has been discovered by the monks of St. Catherine’s Monastery in South Sinai, according to a report in Ahram Online. Minister of Antiquities Khaled El-Enany said the manuscript was found during restoration work in the monastery’s ancient library, which holds some 6,000 manuscripts. The leather pages of the palimpsest were first used in the sixth century A.D. for a recipe attributed to the Greek physician Hippocrates. Three other medical recipes, and pictures of medicinal herbs, had also been recorded on its pages by an anonymous scribe. During the medieval period, the pages were scraped and reused for the text of the Codex Sinaiticus, an early version of the Christian scriptures. “This was done due to the high cost of leather at that time,” explained Ahmed Al-Nimer, supervisor of Coptic archaeology for the ministry. Many of the ancient world’s literary masterpieces remain lost—for example, only seven of the purported 123 plays of Sophocles exist today. It remains to be seen what unknown works might lie among the unread Herculaneum papyri.

There is a real possibility of recovering long-vanished classics of ancient Greek and Roman literature, especially since additional scrolls may still be discovered in the unexcavated parts of the villa.

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The Worlds of TRAPPIST-1

A new study is trying to work out if there might be vegetation in the TRAPPIST-1 system, and how we would go about finding it. Led by Tommaso Alberti from the University of Calabria in Italy, the team looked at how much land and water might be expected on each planet, and from that deduced that any vegetation should notably change the appearance of each world. The research is available on arXiv, and will be published in The Astrophysical Journal. TRAPPIST-1 shot to stardom earlier this year, when it was discovered there were seven rocky planets in orbit around this red dwarf star 40 light-years away – the most rocky planets we had found in one system. At least three of these appeared to be in the habitable zone of the star, where conditions could be just right for liquid water – and maybe life – to exist.

In this study, rsearchers used a “simply climate-vegetation energy-balance model” to study the climate of each planet. TRAPPIST-1d was found to be the most stable world for Earth-like conditions, residing in a position that was most suited to liquid water. While we can’t directly look at the planets, we can look at the star’s light coming through their atmosphere. In the future, we may also be able to see light reflected on their surfaces, which could be vital in trying to work out if they are habitable. In this latest study, the researchers said that the outgoing radiation from each planet might be dependent on the vegetation and also on the atmospheric composition, so further studies of the planets could reveal some of their surface features.

Once the greenhouse effect of an atmosphere is properly accounted for, the team said that future telescopes could confirm the presence of both continents and vegetation on the TRAPPIST-1 worlds, or indeed other planets.

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Credit: IFLscience
Space art by Michael Böhme

Seat 14C: The Origin Story

At 4:58am on June 28th, 2017, the passengers on board ANA Flight 008, en route from Tokyo to San Francisco, are cruising at an altitude of 37,000 feet, approximately 1,500 nautical miles off the West Coast of the United States. A small bump, otherwise noted as a barely perceptible bout of turbulence, passes Flight 008 through a temporary wrinkle in the local region of space-time. What these passengers will soon find out as they descend into SFO is that the wrinkle has transported them 20 years in the future, and the year is now 2037. Read the stories of the passengers from Flight 008, imagined by the world’s top science fiction storytellers, as they discover a future transformed by exponential technologies.

Write your own story from the perspective of the passenger in Seat 14C for a chance to join the seatmap and win a $10,000 prize package, including a trip for two to Tokyo.

On Vacation

I'm going on a little weekend getaway trip and I won't be able to update my journal until Monday.
Please check back next week for more exciting stories!

Yours truly,

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Our Tangled Ancestry

According to a report in Science, researchers led by Johannes Krause and Cosimo Posth of the Max Planck Institute for Human History have made the surprising discovery that Neanderthals may have decended from a female member of the lineage of modern humans. They sequenced mitochondrial DNA, which is inherited through the maternal line, from a 120,000-year-old Neanderthal femur excavated from southwest Germany’s Hohlenstein-Stadel Cave in 1937. They then compared the data with the mitochondrial DNA of other Neanderthals and Neanderthal ancestors, Denisovans—a hominin closely related to Neanderthals, and modern humans. The study suggests that sometime between 470,000 and 220,000 years ago, a female relative of modern humans interbred with a male Neanderthal, possibly in the Middle East. Over many generations, her mitochondrial DNA may have eventually replaced Neanderthals’ ancestral mitochondrial DNA. The study could explain why Neanderthals and Denisovans, who have similar nuclear DNA, do not share similar mitochondrial DNA.

Critics say analysis of mitochondrial DNA from additional Neanderthal samples is needed in order to show the material wasn’t inherited from a common ancestor of Neanderthals and modern humans.

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credit: Archaeology Magazine