Extraordinary claims. Ordinary investigations.

Archive for March, 2009

Robot and Giant Squid: Ultimate Battle

Alright, the actual video may not be as dramatic as the headline for this post, but it is interesting nonetheless – the robotic arm does poke a very big squid. I couldn’t find an official source confirming the video, but everything seems to check.

From the information in the video itself and a little research, we can infer that it was captured on October 26, 2008, by an underwater Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) operated by Petrobras during a rigid gas pipeline installation near Espirito Santo, Brazil. I don’t know in what unit of measurement the “ROV Depth” is given, but it’s probably in meters, which would mean the squid enwrapped itself around the ROV at a depth of more than 400 meters.

Now, to the giant question: is it really a giant squid? As far as I could check, the ROV is probably a Subsea7-Warrior, which is around 1.7 meters (66 inches) wide. And from the video, the squid looks roughly the same length as the ROV itself. So, yes, I think it was a giant squid. Not that huge, but giant indeed. Not that I’m a zoologist either, so be sure to check again for any updates. [Read the update below: it’s not an Architeutis, but a Dana Octopus Squid]

Some have suggested it could be a more common “Jumbo”, or Humboldt squid, but the Humboldt squid is found in the waters of the Humboldt Current in the Eastern Pacific Ocean. Petrobras works in the Atlantic Ocean. There are other big squids such as Onykia or Kondakovia, but they don’t seem to match depth, location and appearance quite well either.

Considering the first film of a live giant squid was taken on 2006, this new Brazilian video would be pretty relevant. Taken by an underwater ROV, it would be similar to the more recent Magnapinna footage, and as far as I know, it would be also the first sighting near the Brazilian shore. I would more than welcome any comments, corrections, professional opinions, official sources and confirmation for this new footage.

[hat tip to Konda, thanks!]

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UPDATE: Frederico T. Magalhaes, from the Biology Institute of the Campinas State University, writes us:

“I’m a zoologist specialized in dealing with mollusks, and by the images I can say this is a Taningia danae. A species of bioluminescent squid that reaches up to around 1,70m and lives in deep waters. It was filmed alive for the first time in its habitat in 2005, before that it was known only through dead specimens and parts. Here’s an image of the video [which is also below], and here is one being examined in a lab. There’s also this nice illustration. It’s different from Architeutis sp., specially because the fins extend all along the mantle, shorter arms, no hooks and smaller size. You can see an Architeutis sp here. I hope this helps!”

It sure does, thank you very much Frederico!

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Magenta and all the colors of the grey matter


Above you can see the visible light spectrum, which can be understood as electromagnetic waves with different frequencies, going from the longer ones on the right to the shorter ones to the left. Go even lower and you enter the infrared, microwave and radio waves, go higher and you advance over the ultraviolet, X and gamma rays.

We see the visible light spectrum everywhere, and in a specially beautiful form in the rainbow. It’s common to think that the rainbow contains all the colors, so much so that the expression "all the colors of the rainbow" has 134,000 hits on Google, almost all of them referring to all the colors in the world.


Now, find magenta in the spectrum. It’s simply not there. All the colors of the rainbow do not contain the magenta. How can we see it then? Is it a “magical color frequency” that don’t actually exist?

An article from Liz Elliot suggested last month by the folks of BoingBoing provoked a lot of discussion by claiming quite simply that “magenta ain’t a color”. It sounds unbelievable and yet…

And yet, well, it’s not actually true. Keep reading because the amazing thing is, the truth is even stranger.

Read more

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Recommended reading: Heflin, UMMO, Adamski…


Above, Ufofu reproduces the famous Rex Heflin photos: Reconstitution des photos de Rex Heflin (in French). Can you see the string? Also from Ufofu, below, an analysis of the too-good-to-be-true Maslin Beach photos: Les OVNIs de Maslin Beach.


And if that wasn’t enough, ufofu also takes a look at Marian Apparitions. But back to classic cases, you can’t get more classic than Kenneth Arnold’s sighting. Eric Maillot suggests an explanation in L’ESCADRILLE D’OVNIS DE KENNETH ARNOLD ET L’HYPOTHESE OUBLIEE (PDF). And Marc Hallet has George Adamski. Biographie critique. All in French.

But you can also enjoy some Spanish in this adorable comic about the UMMO myth. Click on the image for the whole lot, even if you don’t understand the language, you may get an idea of the myth promoted in this fascinating piece of the UFO controversy (the symbol has even made an appearance in LOST):


If you really enjoy that English language though, you cannot miss “Xenology – An Introduction to the Scientific Study of Extraterrestrial Life, Intelligence, and Civilization”, by Robert A. Freitas Jr. It’s a lot to read, Freitas has just made the whole book available online.


“Topics include the history of the idea of extraterrestrial life; comparative planetology, stars, and galaxies; xenobiology (definition/origin of life, exotic biochemistries, and possible alien bioenergetics, biomechanics, sensations, reproduction, and intelligence); extraterrestrial civilizations (energy sources, biotechnology, interstellar travel, alien weapons, planetary and stellar engineering, xenosociology, and extraterrestrial governments and culture); interstellar communication techniques; and the sociology, legal issues, and appropriate interaction protocols pertaining to first contact.”

When you see all these words together, you may have a bad feeling from all the dubious stuff that is usually presented about these topics. One more reason to read Xenology: it’s a serious, sober approach that separates fact from speculation, but which also doesn’t fear to speculate.

Good reading! [hat tip to Manuel Borraz and José Juan Montejo Aguilera]

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Heat Screams: the Rijke Tube Spirits

Have you ever heard the sound of heat? In a way that’s what you can hear with the curious Rijke Tube, an effect discovered by Dutch physicist P.L. Rijke in 1859.

Consisting of nothing more than a long tube open at both ends in which a red hot wire gauze is introduced, the sound is very loud: in the demonstration above by Yoshiaki Watanabe of Doshisha University, Japan, they got 160dB, “equivalent to the sound coming from 100 aircraft engines”, he says. From a simple red hot wire gauze.

The sound comes from a self-amplifying standing wave formed by the interaction of the air heated by the gauze and the fundamental frequency of the tube. It was first explained by Lord Rayleigh in 1879, and the understanding means the Rijke tube can produce a continuous deafening sound by heating the gauze with an electrical resistance.

You can also change its frequency by adjusting the tube’s length, and I wonder if a Rijke tube organ was ever made – a Google search sadly didn’t turn anything like it. The principle also has more practical applications in combustors that can burn more efficiently – and yes, they hum too.

But did I just write that the Rijke tube was discovered by Rijke in 1859? Because actually the effect is being reproduced for quite a long time in the Japanese Narukama Shiji ritual. In this old tradition, the priests heat a bamboo rice pot and when they remove the top, something quite extraordinary happens.


Well, not that extraordinary if you already know the Rijke tube without all the ritual. Fact is, the rice pot “sings”, and a strong and long sound is interpreted as a good sign (more details, in Japanese, here). Certainly a rice pot shouting “Ooooo…” must be good.

kamai The priests, unsurprisingly, didn’t speak of self-amplifying standing sound waves, but rather attributed the sound to the spirits and gods. If you look at how the rice pot is made, however, you will see all the elements of the Rijke tube. Lord Rayleigh didn’t know that he wasn’t only explaining the effect described by his Dutch fellow twenty years before, he was also shedding light into an age-old ritual practiced thousands of miles away and which people interpreted as divine voices. How else would they explain it?

But this is not only the story of science clarifying mysteries and bringing knowledge to the world. One must credit these priests who managed to notice the effect long ago and even turned it into a ritual, without understanding exactly how or why it worked.

We already blogged about the Mpemba effect, described by Aristotle (!), then Francis Bacon (!) and even René Descartes (!), but ignored by science until it was rediscovered in 1963 by Tanzanian high-schooler (!!!) Erasto Mpemba. But we don’t even have to go to these varied phenomena, we can stay with sound, because the Ancient Greeks did a magnificent work in the Epidaurus theater. And is there a better way to show how amazing it is that 14,000 spectators could hear the play in this +2,300 years old theater than Rickrolling?

See how distant the Rickrollers are. The acoustics is amazing, and all sorts of explanations were given throughout history, from the shape of the theater to the winds or maybe even… spirits. It was only recently, very recently, though, that it was understood by a team of the Georgia Institute of Technology that the secret is in the seats. The limestone seats act as an acoustics filter that eliminates the low-frequency background noises while also reflecting the high-frequency noises of the actors towards the spectators.

Alas, the Ancient Greeks didn’t get what was happening and were unable to reproduce the Epidaurus acoustics elsewhere. The fact they did it by accident is amazing by itself. Thousands of years without science didn’t stop people from accidentally stumbling upon complex effects that science itself would take a long time to catch up with. Forteans already know this, and well, it is very true.

It’s highly improbable that an integrated circuit, or even a transistor, would emerge by accident without science. There’s only so much you can go blindfolded, even if you can go somewhere. And even if science takes a long time to catch up, when it does it usually goes way beyond the mere puzzled contemplation of the effect or the association with unpredictable (and inexistent) gods and spirits. The effect is reproduced, understood and applied.

As scientists should perhaps look more seriously to anecdotal stories and old superstitions for the possibility they still hide unusual and perhaps complex effects so far ignored, Fort should not have been so dismissive of established science. Fortunately, most of the contemporary Forteans embrace the scientific method with more enthusiasm.

Cumulative knowledge may advance more slowly, but it’s cumulative, and after a few centuries we have actually reached far beyond the wildest powers of ancient gods. You can reproduce the Rijke tube with rice or metal pellets and three tin cans. A strong and long sound will be the sign you reproduced an interesting physical effect, and understanding it, a prediction that you are on your way to better appreciating the world around you for all the beautiful and unexpected complexities it has.

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ScienceBlogs Brazil!


NEW YORK and SÃO PAULO (March 17, 2009) – ScienceBlogs.com, the web’s largest science community, announced today the launch of its newest international site, ScienceBlogs Brazil.

ScienceBlogs Brazil brings together the most original and influential voices within the Brazilian science community, some of whom have already won accolades for their blogging. Edited from São Paulo by Carlos Hotta and Atila Iamarino, ScienceBlogs Brazil launches today with 23 Portuguese-language blogs on topics ranging from genetics to the environment. “I think we need people committed to raising scientific awareness in Brazil,” said Carlos Hotta, “and I am certain that ScienceBlogs Brazil will turn our local voices into global ones.”

With its growing science community and emphasis on science as a cornerstone of economic growth under a multi-year, multi-billion dollar Science, Technology and Innovation Plan of Action for National Development, Brazil is emerging as a vital player in global science culture. The country is the fifth most populous in the world and has over 67 million Internet users.

“We are thrilled with the growth of ScienceBlogs around the world and the rich conversation that it engenders,” said Fabien Savenay, Senior Vice President for Seed Media Group, the parent company of ScienceBlogs. “We are excited to now bring this conversation to South America.”

And the most surprising thing must be that this Fortean blogger is now also part of ScienceBlogs Brazil, with 100nexos – in Portuguese, of course. Many of the posts I originally write for 100nexos in Portuguese end up here in English in the science section. And vice-versa.

The paranormal ones usually come from or go to my other project, CeticismoAberto,  meaning “Open Skepticism”, which I’m also very proud to say is the most visited Brazilian website in its genre. That is: a “skeptical” website is the most visited website about ufology and the paranormal in Brazil. It has more than double the pageviews of the second-place.

This week, besides being BoingBoinged two times, I was also thrilled to be recommended by Richard Wiseman. As well as links from Posthuman Blues and the many from Anomalist and others. I can only thank them. And please forgive me for being so full of myself, but I’m amazed that these varied sources I enthusiastically read everyday… they actually read what I write and even suggest it to others.

It’s really unbelievable! I wouldn’t believe it, and yet, the extraordinary evidence is there!

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