Extraordinary claims. Ordinary investigations.

Archive for the 'Science' Category

Solar System in 30 Megapixels

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French artist Licoti created a breathtaking artwork representing our Solar System, 30.000 pixels long. Above, a very small part, click to download the full 18Mb file on Wikimedia, or navigate to the infinite and beyond through the video below.

[via Byte que eu gosto]

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Explaining the giant holes in Guatemala

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They are an amazing sight: even though the initial size figures were eventually corrected to a more comprehensible 66 feet diameter crater, 100 feet deep, those are still impressive and quite regular holes. The one in the image above engulfed a factory in the end of June at Zona 2, Guatemala, while a similar event happened in 2007 a few miles away, Zona 6. Below, an image of the 2007 hole:

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While people were puzzled and many joked about these giant holes in the ground, the event in 2007 resulted in two casualties and the one a month ago in one death. Taking this seriously, we have to explain that these features are not mysterious nor have anything to do with “UFO tunnels”. Both features were ultimately the result of intense storms – and it’s an interesting coincidence that the new hole opened after tropical storm Agatha, since Agartha is the legendary city inside the hollow Earth.

These features do not lead to the center of Earth, however, at their bottom a hundred feet down what one finds is quite simply a sewage water collecting system. The infographic below, from Nuestro Diario (June 30th, p.5), illustrates how exactly below the opened hole a water collector tunnel around 10 feet in diameter goes through.

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A few days ago a team of geologists also explored the bottom of the Zona 2 hole, you can find the whole Picasa set of photos here. All the soil in the giant hole didn’t disappear magically, it was simply washed away with the water and on to the sewage system. So much so that the sole victim’s body in the Zona 2 hole, Edwin Roberto Velásquez Salazar, was found days later in Las Vacas river, where the water from the collector system ends up.

Not only at the bottom of these giant holes one finds tunnels of the water collecting system: more importantly, perhaps, is that both of these holes were originally vertical shafts, that is, there were already originally vertical holes there, even though they were obviously not that large. Unfortunately many water draining shafts and tunnels were built in the 1950s and some were not properly recorded, and as the city grew some buildings were built over some shafts. That seems to be the case here.

Local geologists suggest then that the heavy water stream from the storm must have damaged the underground collecting tunnels, a problem aggravated by the fact that there was a difference in the level of tunnels. The graphic below (click to enlarge, from Diario de Centroamérica) illustrates, above, the proposed evolution of the holes in the first (above) and second holes.

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Add to that that the soil in the city is particularly fragile, basically pumice fill – ash flows made up of loose, gravel-like particles deposited during ancient volcanic eruptions, and there’s no mystery here.

Days after the recent hole, called by many a giant sinkhole, geologist Sam Bonis, who was part of the team that investigated the 2007 case, correctly pointed out that it wasn’t in fact a sinkhole. As he told Discovery News (and National Geographic), "Sure, it looks a lot like a sinkhole. And a whale looks a lot like a fish, but calling it one would be very misleading."

According to Bonis, the hole was rather a “piping feature”, and the further info, photos and graphics here may help understand the giant holes in Guatemala.

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Graphic: Nuestro Diario

[Almost all the info for this post comes from the blog “Ciudad Nueva zona 2 Guatemala”, with updated and detailed information on the events. It was suggested to me by friend José Ildefonso, who also provided me with most of the other information on the case]

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Laser Stars? Laser Planets!

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I always assumed lasers were one of the things we technological apes were first to create in the Universe, much like a watch. If there’s a watch, there must be a watchmaker, as one chap famously argued. He was quite right, though the analogy doesn’t quite apply to other seemingly complex things which are subject to that evolution thing.

But lasers can be as delicate and complex as a watch. If there is a laser, there should be a “lasermaker”, I thought, so much so that they were first built only 50 years ago, decades after the idea was first proposed by none other than Albert Einstein and many years after their predecessors, the Masers, were demonstrated. And there can’t be self-reproducing lasers, right?

Well, as far as we know, that’s also right, and there are also no animals capable of emitting lasers, the baby above being a work of fiction which I suspect involves Photoshop (I can tell by the pixels).

But today I discovered at long last that there are natural lasers. This is quite a thing, as even if you already knew about that, I’ll say it also involves Martians! HG Wells! And Alien Abductions!

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First things first, as the acronym properly tells, the LASER, or Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation, works by stimulated emission, which can be used as an amplification effect by exciting a medium to obtain a population inversion. In the first Ruby laser, seen above, that worked by exciting a ruby crystal with small impurities through a coiled flash tube at just the right energy. It does resemble a watch, doesn’t it? It’s quite a gadget. That’s how I pictured the classical laser.

Shortly thereafter, gas lasers, where an electric discharge stimulates a gas, instead of a flashing light a crystal, were created. These are the ones of interest if you are talking about natural lasers, because it would be quite impractical to think of giant crystals with flashing lights pumps occurring in nature. A column of excited gas on the other hand could perhaps happen somewhere, sometime.

For instance, one tantalizing idea involves creating laser beams by dropping a large asteroid into a star. It would vaporize, producing a streak of slightly cooler material interacting with the hot, excited plasma of the star. An excited column of gas amid a star. According to theory, “amplified spontaneous emission, or laser action occurs”, with a beam emitted “as a narrow precisely aligned with the meteor streak”. And this is just one proposed way for a natural Laser Star.

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If that sounds interesting, it’s still somewhat debated. What is not speculation, and has actually been astronomical fact for more than 30 years, is that there are laser planets. Or better yet, that Mars and Venus atmospheres are emitting laser beams. Towards Earth!

In 1976 they were first observed coming from Mars by students of Charles Townes, himself a Nobel laureate for his works with Masers and lasers. They were not powerful like anything coming from a Death Star, but they were an emission 100 million times brighter than expected.

mars That would be eventually explained because the emission had been amplificated. It was a laser, a natural laser, where the population inversion in excited gas occurred in carbon dioxide at the upper levels of the atmosphere of Mars. The pump exciting that is the solar radiation itself, and the effect is thus strongest near the solar point. The red circle centered on Chryse Planitia represents the region over which the laser emissions were detected.

Chryse Planitia, by the way, is where the Viking 1 probe landed in that very same year of 1976. Were the Martians defending themselves? This may be a silly joke, but here comes HG Wells.

As many have remarked, “death rays” were a staple of science fiction long before the advent of lasers, even before Albert Einstein proposed the basic concept. In “The War of the Worlds” (1898), Wells gave the Martians a terrible heat ray.

“in some way they are able to generate an intense heat in a chamber of practically absolute non-conductivity. This intense heat they project in a parallel beam against any object they choose, … Heat, and invisible, instead of visible, light. Whatever is combustible flashes into flame at its touch, lead runs like water, it softens iron, cracks and melts glass, and when it falls upon water, incontinently that explodes into steam.”

How appropriate it is, then, than natural lasers were detected coming from Mars, and here’s the amazing detail: as they come from carbon dioxide gas lasers, they are lasers in the near infrared. They are invisible, and are the closest things to a heat ray. Wells was right.

Venus’ atmosphere also emits natural laser, also by the same mechanism, also in the infrared, and in fact there are proposals to help detect extrasolar planets exactly by looking for natural lasers.

So, there you have it, I was completely flabbergasted by nature, all the while assuming the laser was a human marvel when Mars and Venus atmospheres had been beaming not-so-terrible laser heat rays towards me my entire lifetime. HG Wells didn’t know about that, but his science fiction was so good it got that part somewhat right.

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I promised this also involved alien abductions, and it does, even though it’s a tenuous connection. One of the episodes of the classic sci-fi series Outer Limits is “The Bellero Shield”, aired in 1964 shortly after the invention of laser.

The story involves a scientist who sends a powerful beam to space. An alien comes down the beam, using it as means of travelling, and among the many things he says, telepathically, he tells how “In all the universes, in all the unities beyond the universes, all who have eyes have eyes that speak."

This quote would be important because in an hypnosis session a few days later, Barney Hill, of the famous Hill alien abduction case, would say that the aliens who abducted him had “eyes that spoke”. Add that to the fact that the drawings he made of the alien are quite similar to the TV show alien, as you can see above (the sketches (L), the sci-fi alien (R)), and you get one amazing bit of psychosocial hypothesis applied to ufology by Martin Kottmeyer in “The Eyes that Spoke”.

One last thing, and this was just the last surprise I had. By reading the Laser Stars website, I recognized one name. Dr Donald H. Menzel was one of the pioneers to suggest laser action in atmospheres. If you know your ufology, Menzel was the also the pioneer UFO skeptibunker.

Mind. Blown. [with many thanks to Igor Zolnerkevic]

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Zooming into a Mandelbox

Split point”, the new video by teamfresh deep zooming a fractal, this time a 3D Mandelbox.

The color palette and the nice quality rendering emphasize the similarity with architecture, perhaps gothic. The fact it resembles a box also reminded me of the Lament Configuration from Hellraiser.

Teamfresh also produced a deep zoom into the good ol’Mandebrot set. [via misterhonk]

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Schrödinger’s cat

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Has finally been found. [Akermarks, via Elton!]

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