Sunday, December 22, 2013

An Extra Passenger

Saturday, November 9, 2013

The Little Miracle Mule

    His name was bigger than he was.  And actually, he never should have been born in the first place.  When Winterhawk's Kule Mule Amos was born in 2007 he immediately gained both popular and scientific attention.  Mules just don't give birth to mules.

    His mother was Kate, a mule who belonged to Laura and Larry Amos, owners of an outfitting operation.  His father was a donkey.  Scientists at the University of California begged tor the baby and his mother, but Amos felt that they should be free to roam their Colorado home rather than be locked up in stalls at the university for the rest of their lives.

     The reason female mules rarely reproduce is because rather than having 65 chromosomes, female mules have 63 chromosomes, which cannot be split evenly to produce a fertile egg.  Somehow, Kate was able to overcome that and produce a viable egg.  Although genetic studies on Kate's genome were begun, money and lack of sample materials from Kate prevented studies which might have shed some light on this rare birth.

    Partly because of his rarity and partly because of his weak legs, Kule Mule was never used as a pack animal.  Nevertheless, people came from around the world to see the little wonder mule. 

    In 2010, Kule Mule slipped on ice in his pasture during a winter storm.  He was unable to get up and died of internal injuries.  His malformed back legs may have contributed to his inability to get back up.  He has not been forgotten, however.  When The Denver Post reprinted an article on social media sites, over 67,000 people clicked on the story in three days.  It looks like Kule Mule's story will live on for a very long time.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Earthquake Creates New Island

A 7.7 magnitude earthquake located in the sea near Gwadar, Pakistan, killed more than 500
people and left another 100,000 homeless on September 24, 2013.  But it also created something

An island emerged a little more than half a mile (1 kilometer) offshore near Gwadar, Pakistan.

As an island, it does not look particularly attractive.  It is actually composed of fine sands, mud,
and a solid rock core.  So far it is only about 250 to 300 feet (75 to 90 meters) wide and about 60
to 70 feet (15 to 20 meters) above water.

Unfortunately, the tiny newcomer may not survive for very long.  These islands are reasonably
common in this part of the world.  Earthquakes often heave up new islands when shallow
pockets of methane or carbon dioxide are released.  The islands tend to sink back beneath the
sea as the underlying gases vent.  The effect is very much like letting the air out of a baloon.

The movement of coastal plates such as the interaction between the Arabian continental place
and the Eurasian crustal plates also cause sediments on the sea floor to rise above sea level.  In
either case these islands rarely survive for long. 

In the case of this new island, methane is being released, which means it will likely disappear
back into the sea. 

If you’re interested in reading more about this and similar islands, check here

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Are Cane Toads Killing Australian Crocodiles Just by Being Eaten?

Australian dwarf crocodiles, whose normal food sources are rapidly vanishing, have begun
eating cane toads instead.  But this new diet is killing them.

The cane toads were introduced in Australia from their homes in Central and South America in
1935 to help control beetles threatening the island’s sugar cane industry.  Now it is estimated
that there might be as many as 100 million of these large amphibians scattered throughout
Australia and they are now considered a dangerous pest.

In 2012, many volunteers signed up to cull these toads, which are threatening not only dwarf
crocodiles, but other reptiles as well, including goannas, snakes and quolls. The toads secrete a
toxin from glands located behind their eyes and on their backs.

The deaths of the freshwater crocodiles and other predators may produce a cascade of
unpredictable ecosystem changes.  This is typical when a new species is produced into a more-
or-less stable ecosystem.  Another example of this problem arose from the introduction of giant
snakes into the Florida Everglades. 

Apparently young crocodiles are more vulnerable to the cane toads’ venom than adults, which
will almost certainly affect future populations of the dwarf crocodiles.

The cane toads appear to be expanding south into the dry interior of Australia, where they will
encounter crocodiles and other predators at water holes.  There is a bit of hope, however, in that
surviving crocodiles may develop a higher tolerance for the cane toads’ toxin.  Some
blacksnakes, which had previously been hit hard by the toads, appear to have developed some
immunity to their poison.

Researchers are carefully monitoring the populations of both cane toads and crocodiles, hoping
to be able to predict the long-term effects of this rivalry on the Australian ecosystems. 

You can read more here:

Sunday, September 8, 2013

What Made This Web?

Troy Alexander, a  young graduate student, found an entirely new type of web under a tarp near
the Tambopata Research Center located in the Peruvian Amazon.  Then he found a few more.
But when he tried to identify the creatures that made them, he found no answer so far. Not even
the scientists know. 

The web resembles a circular western horse corral surrounding and protects a tiny spire.  It is
about 0.8 inches (roughly 2 centimeters) across.  Alexander believes the spire either contains
eggs or perhaps tiny pupae.  Seeking answers, he posted photos of his find on Reddit, asking for
help in identifying the maker of the odd web.  So far, he has drawn a blank, even from well-
known arachnologists.  There were plenty of guesses, however.  Some thought it might be a
cocoon, others that it might be a new type of fungus, or a protective defense for spider eggs.

It is entirely possible that whatever made this strange form might be a previously unidentified
species of spider or other insect.  Experts believe that there are literally millions of unknown
species of arthropods (spiders and other insects) alone.  In a survey conducted in Panama’s
jungle, 25,000 species of insects and spiders, along with other arthropods, were identified.
Surveyors discovered that about 70% of these species were previously unknown.   

Based on the results of the Panama survey, insect specialists could have their hands full for years
in trying to identify and study these tiny jungle denizens. 

If you’d like to see a photo of this fascinating web, go here   

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Gigantism - The Tragic Story of a Victim

Las Vegas teenager Tanya Angus was a tall, pretty girl.  At 5 feet 8 inches tall, she stood slightly above some of her school friends.  But then, in 1999, she suddenly began to gain both weight and height.  When she passed away, she stood 7 feet 2 inches tall and weighed nearly 400 pounds. 

What happened?  Tanya had developed a non-cancerous tumor on her pituitary gland.  This resulted in the
development of a rare disorder called acromegaly.  Her body was releasing too much growth hormone, and there was no way to control it.

Tanya’s case is typical of adult acromegaly.  Victims develop a benign, or noncancerous tumor on the
pituitary gland, which is located at the base of the brain.  This gland produces several hormones besides the growth hormone, but in Tanya’s case it was the growth hormone that caused the worst of her medical problems. It was this hormone that caused her bones and other tissues to grow out of control.  The pressure created by the growing tumor causes headaches and impaired vision.

    Tanya must have gone through hell.  She needed specially made shoes and could not wear pullover shirts or sweaters.  Jewelers stretched her rings to size 20 and added chain to her necklaces.  Eventually she ended up in a wheelchair.  She ate one meal per day, but some people believed that she lacked the discipline to control her weight.  Her medications caused her face to swell.   

    Eventually, Tanya became an advocate for others suffering from acromegaly.  But her life ended suddenly
when she caught a cold and developed a fatal tear in her heart.

    Tanya’s story is one of the courage of a young woman.  It also points out that even though acromegaly is a
relatively rare disease, there is much work to be done to find a way to control and secure it for the sake of its victims and their families.  I hope someone takes up Tanya’s cause and provides help for those helpless sufferers.

There’s more information about acromegaly at this site

Sunday, August 25, 2013

When is a Dead Man Really Dead?

Tony Yahle had been dead for 45 minutes, and hospital staff at Kettering Medical Center were preparing to move his body to the morgue.  Then his son stepped up and said, “Dad, you’re not going to die today.”  At that second, Yahle’s heart began to beat.  Doctors are at a loss to explain his sudden recovery.

It began when Yahle’s family realized he was not breathing and had no pulse.  They performed CPR while waiting for paramedics to arrive, but all efforts to revive him failed.  He was rushed to Kettering Medical Center with no heartbeat or other vital signs.  Doctors spent 45 minutes trying to revive him before declaring him dead.  It was then that his 17-year-old son shouted, “Dad, you’re not going to die today.”

At that point, Yahle’s heart monitor started showing up tiny electrical signals once or twice a minute.  His
cardiologist noticed them and renewed efforts to revive his patient.  Gradually, Yahle’s heart rate began to increase.  Finally, the cardiologist was able to say that Yahle would live through the bizarre incident.

Yahle later was transferred to Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center.  He woke up five days later.
Eventually he was allowed to go home to rest and recover.  When asked, the 37-year-old Yahle said he was feeling fine and planned to return to work the following Monday.

Interestingly enough, as I was preparing this article, I ran across stories of two other people, a man and a woman, who had also suddenly revived after having been declared dead by medical personnel.  Both had been dead approximately 45 minutes. 

Ordinarily, when oxygen to the brain has been cut off for a much shorter period of time than 45 minutes, there is significant brain damage.  In each of these three cases, the victims did not seem to experience obvious damage to their brains.  Is there some sort of “magic window” at 45 minutes in which some people can be restored with minimal or no damage? 

If you’d like a little more information, you’ll find it here:

Monday, August 19, 2013

Is This a Vampire Cemetery?

Construction workers working on a road near Gliwice in southern Poland uncovered four skeletons.  Later, another thirteen skeletons turned up.  All seventeen were found with their skulls placed between their knees or hands and stones placed on top of the skulls. 

According to archaeologists, this is the way suspected vampires were buried during the 15th and 16th centuries in Poland in order to prevent them from returning to life. 

So far, a total of 43 graves have been located at the grave site.  The other bodies were not treated in the same way as the seventeen.  Since the cemetery was located near an execution site, it is possible that some, if not all, of the victims were actually executed and then buried nearby. 

It is interesting that there was no sign of clothing or buttons found on the bodies.  It is probable, however, that the bodies were stripped of jewelry, coins, and other valuable items by either the executioners or the people who actually buried the bodies.

The skeletons are being removed from the site for testing designed to determine the ages of the victims and the possible causes of death.  Researchers are also studying church and court records to try to identify at least some of the individuals buried in this strange graveyard. 

There’s another article, along with a few photographs here:

Saturday, August 10, 2013

What is This Stone Structure?

There is a strange stone cairn at the bottom of the Sea of Galilee.  It was discovered more than ten years ago, but information about it is only now becoming public.

The cairn (a stacked pile of rocks) is estimated to be 32 feet tall and is cone-shaped.  It is huge, with a diameter of 230 feet at its base.  Built of stacked, rough basalt cobbles and boulders, its weight is estimated at 60,000 tons.

It is probable that the mysterious cairn was built when sea levels were lower and most likely is more than 4,000 yearsold, although investigations into its actual age are still underway.  Archaeologists are hoping to find artifacts or other evidence to help them identify the cairn’s purpose. 

Similar cairns often mark graves.  If that is the case, the individual buried there would have had a high status
deserving of such a massive structure. It is also possible, of course, that the cairn was dedicated to an entire family group.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

When Did Humans Really Reach the New World?

There are a number of archaeologists who say they have found evidence that people had ventured into the New World much earlier than the iconic Clovis culture.  In almost every case, their evidence has been dismissed by their colleagues.  So it is no real surprise that one of the most recent studies is being hotly contested.

A research team led by Christelle Lahaye of Michel de Montaigne Bordeaux 3 University in France led a team which excavated a rock shelter in Brazil.  They found 113 stone tools inside the site buried in ancient sediments.  Careful analysis of those sediments revealed that some of the tools had been buried 22,000 years ago, at least 6,000 years earlier than the oldest reliably dated Clovis artifacts.

One of the first criticisms of the team’s findings came from John McNabb of the University of Southampton in the United Kingdom.  He pointed out that evidence in rock shelters is open to different interpretations.  Rocks falling from cave ceilings and walls often resemble crude tools. But in the case of the Brazilian rock shelter, the “tools” are made of rock that is not naturally present at the site, suggesting that they were brought in from elsewhere. The team has found that some of those stones originated at least 10 miles away.

There is one more piece of elusive evidence that has not been discovered yet.  No human remains have been found.  Nor has any ancient cave art, a sure sign of human occupation, turned up at the cave or other nearby sites. 

LaHaye and her team are studying the original rock shelter and others nearby, looking for more evidence of human occupation.  It will be interesting to see how their investigation develops.  If this team can uncover more proof that people were in the Americans 22,000 years ago, there may yet be hope that some of the other claims for early occupation might be taken more seriously.

For more information about this intriguing find, go here

Saturday, July 27, 2013

24 People Missing in Nome, Alaska - Where Did They Go?

Twenty-four people vanished in Nome, Alaska between 1960 and 2004. None have ever been seen again. So what happened to them? No one, not even the FBI, knows to this day.

With a population of roughly 3,500 residents, Nome is by no means a large town. But it serves as a hub for a number of smaller tribal villages who go there to do their banking, shopping, and socializing. Nome boasts two airports and two radio stations along with a harbor and a lively business district, complete with bars.

When you look closely at it, 24 missing people over a period of 44 years does not sound like a large number. But the fact that none of them were ever found does raise some interesting questions.

Nome lies in the middle of one of the harshest environments in the world. It sits on the treacherous Bering Sea coast where sudden storms, packed ice and rough seas are common. Coupled with the fact that Nome is fairly tolerant of drinking by their Native American populations and visitors, many people have concluded that the missing people brought their Permanent Fund checks to town, got drunk, and simply vanished into the night, never to be seen again.

There are, of course, almost as many theories as there are missing people. For some, these unfortunate people fell victim to the region’s dangerous environment. Others suspect that least a few may have fallen victim to a serial killer.  Some wonder if they might have been kidnapped by aliens.
Alaska has more reports of missing persons than any other state. In 2004 alone, more than 3,400 people were reported missing. The state is rugged, with a harsh and unforgiving climate, and lonely. It is easy to walk out on a nice day only to be enveloped by a sudden blizzard or ice storm. Falls from rocky hillsides and sudden spills into an icy river no doubt account for at least some of the disappearances. Others may fall victim to predators.

Since no bodies or other evidence has ever been recovered of the missing 24 people, it is not likely this mystery will ever be solved.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Missouri’s Mysterious Spook Light

Though it’s usually referred to as the Joplin Spook Light and sometimes as the Hornet Spook Light, this mysterious glowing ball is associated with Oklahoma as well. Its story goes back more than a hundred years.

Apparently this light is only seen on Devil’s Promenade Road located approximately 12 miles southwest of Joplin, Missouri. It is capable of changing colors, though it is usually orange. It is round, varying from baseball to basketball size. It invariably is seen traveling from east to west along the four-mile stretch of Devil’s Promenade Road, and it is said to appear every night, usually between ten o’clock and midnight.

Some witnesses say that it spins at high speeds down the center of the road, then rises and hovers above the treetops before disappearing. Others have said that it sways from side to side.  It has even been reported to appear inside cars.

The earliest reports of the spook light date from 1836 when it was supposedly first seen by Native Americans moving along the infamous Trail of Tears. The first published report was in 1881 in a pamphlet called the “Ozark Spook Light.”

There are several legends associated with the Spook Light. One tells of a man who got lost in the woods and never made it home. His wife took a lantern and set out to look for him, but in vain. She set out night after night look for her missing husband. Eventually she died, but each night, according to the story, her ghost sets out with a lantern in a vain search for her man.

The oldest legend seems to be that of a Quapaw Indian maiden and her lover. Her father would now allow the young couple to marry, so they ran away. As pursuing braves closed in on them, the couple leaped to their deaths above the Spring River. The light was supposedly born that night and represents the ill-fated lovers.

The Spook Light has, of course, been the subject of extensive investigations, both by paranormal investigators and scientific organizations, including the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. No one so far has come up with a satisfactory explanation. Among the theories are natural gas, electrical charges which may be originating from the nearby New Madrid Fault. So far, however, none of the possible explanations can be proven.

Although apparently it defied attempts to photograph it for many years, photos and even video have recently begun to emerge. There’s a great video of the spook light here:

Monday, July 15, 2013

Why Is This Statue Moving?

There is an ancient Egyptian statue in a museum in Manchester, England that has been causing a lot of consternation lately. It has been rotating in its sealed glass case. What’s more, the movement has been caught on camera.

Time-lapse footage indicates that the statue only moves during the day, supporting a theory that
 oot traffic through that part of the museum may be generating enough vibration to allow it to move. There is one problem with that theory. Other statues in the same case do not move. It also moves only 180 degrees and stops.

Religious statues have been known to perform miraculous acts, even moving on occasion. But this statue is that of an Egyptian official named Nebsenu and dates back to around 1800 B.C.  The figure stands in the traditional Egyptian position with the left foot forward. It is wearing a kilt and shoulder-length hair. A request for offerings of bread, beer and beef is carved on its back.

The question is, why, after all these years, has this statue decided to move now? It has been at the museum for 80 years, having been donated in 1933 by Annie Barlow. And why does it only turn 180 degrees? Is it looking for its dinner (you know - the bread, beer and beef)?

If you’d like to find out a little more, visit here

Saturday, July 6, 2013

“Dark Lightning” - How Dangerous Is It?

Scientists have known for the last ten years or so that thunderstorms can generate brief, powerful bursts of gamma rays. These rays are so bright that they can affect instruments hundreds of miles away. Because they can originate near the same altitudes at which commercial aircraft routinely fly, scientists have been studying them to determine just how dangerous gamma ray radiation might be to crew and passengers. But the research was hampered because scientists did not know exactly how thunderstorms generate gamma rays. Now, it seems, there may be at least a few answers to that question.

Scientists at Florida Tech have created a physics-based model showing how thunderstorms product high-energy radiation. The model suggests that thunderstorms can sometimes produce a highly unusual form of electrical breakdown involving high-energy electrons and their anti-matter equivalent known as positrons. The interactions between these particles produces an explosive growth in the number of these high-energy particles, which results in the gamma ray flashes. The particles rapidly discharge the energy in the thundercloud. This phenomenon creates a kind of electrical breakdown within the storms, but produces very little light. For that reason, these gamma ray discharges are known as “dark lightning.”

How dangerous is this “dark lightning” to aircraft passengers and crew who might find themselves caught in the “wrong” thunderstorm? According to the Florida Tech researchers, passengers in aircraft flying near the tops of the storms experience radiation doses equivalent to about ten chest x-rays, or about the same amount of radiation they would receive from natural background sources over a year. But if the aircraft is near the middle of the storm, that radiation dose could be about ten times larger.

Pilots try very hard to avoid thunderstorms, but inevitably a few plans do end up flying inside electrified storms.  When that happens, people may be exposed to sizable doses of radiation caused by the dark lightning. Researchers are now turning their attention to how often this might actually occur, and what the long-term effects of these high exposures might be.

If you would like to read more technical information about dark lightning, visit here

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Mexico’s Bermuda Triangle - The Zone of Silence

There’s an area in Mexico’s Chihuahuan desert that’s just plain different. Many people are familiar with the odd phenomena at Sedona and electromagnetic anomalies and disappearances in the Bermuda Triangle. But Mexico’s La Zona Del Silencio, or Zone of Silence, seems to exhibit all of these phenomena, plus a lot more.

Located about 400 miles west of El Paso, Texas near a place called the Trino Vertex in Mexico, the Zone of Silence is a weird patch of desert that is all but uninhabited. There is a tiny settlement called Ceballos about 25 miles from the heart of the Zone. It is not yet well known, visited only by few outsiders and researchers working at a complex built by the Mexican government to study the area and its plants and animals.

The earliest known documented incident in the Zone occurred in the 1930s when pilot Francisco Sarabia reported his instruments went wild as he flew over the area and his radio stopped working. This phenomenon bears a striking resemblance to many incidents reported by people crossing through the Bermuda Triangle.

In the 1970s, an errant American missile fired at the White Sands Missile Base in New Mexico inexplicably went off course and crashed in the region. The Mexican government allowed the U.S. Air Force to investigate the crash. The Americans made a remarkable discovery. Local magnetic fields create a zone strong enough that no signal can penetrate the area. This includes both radio and satellite signals.

Scientists have discovered some unusual geological phenomena in the Zone. For example, it contains substantial magnetite and uranium deposits. Some scientists believe these deposits create electromagnetic pulses which disrupt radio and other signals. The area also attracts more than its share of meteorites.

Naturally, there are numerous reports of UFOs and aliens, which is surprising considering the Zone’s sparse population. Most of the reports follow familiar patterns. Area ranchers report strange lights and UFOs. Burned brush and vegetation have sometimes been found at reported UFO landing sites. Area ranchers have said that the night skies are often filled with mysterious lights.

 Some of the oddest stories involve three blonde strangers, two men and a woman, who all speak perfect Spanish.  These people have often been seen by multiple witnesses. According to one story, these long-haired people are regular visitors at one ranch. They ask for water, but never for food or other supplies. When asked by the rancher where they came from, they answered "from above."

There’s another interesting story involving the blonde strangers. When a visitor to the research facility became lost in the desert, the trio appeared and directed him back to the center. A TV news crew that became stuck following a cloud burst was helped by the same three strangers. This story has an odd distinction: The news crew reported that the trio was wearing long raincoats and baseball caps. No one seems to know where they live. In an area with such a tiny population, usually someone knows where their neighbors live, but in this case the locals either do not know or they are not saying.

There is yet another weird fact about the Zone of Silence. It is located just north of the Tropic of Cancer and at the same latitude as those of the Egyptian pyramids and the famous Bermuda Triangle. Many scientists and researchers see this as nothing more than an interesting coincidence, but others see much more.

If you’d like to find out more, visit here and here

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Can This Simple Discovery Stop Drug-Resistant Tuberculosis?

Tuberculosis is one of the most feared diseases in today’s world. Worse yet, this infection, which killed 1.4 million people in 2011, has become increasingly resistant to the drugs used to treat it. Experts estimate that about 650,000 people currently have multi-drug resistant cases with about 9% suffering from extensively drug-resistant infections.

Now a team of researchers at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine at Israel’s Yeshiva University has stumbled over what may be a simple, inexpensive addition to existing tuberculosis drugs that can destroy the bacteria causing the disease.

The team, led by Dr, William Jacobs, Jr., were attempting to discover why TB bacteria were becoming resistant to isoniazid, a front-line drug used in treating tuberculosis. They grew tuberculosis bacteria in laboratory cultures and began studying them in hopes of finding out how the bacteria developed drug resistance. They discovered that the isoniazid-resistant bacteria lacked a molecule known as mycothiol.

The team reasoned that the bacteria that could not make their own mycothiol might contain more cysteine (an amino acid). They added isoniazid and cysteine to their cultures, expecting the bacteria to develop resistance. To their great surprise, the cultures died.

The team then recreated the experiment, this time using vitamin C instead of cysteine. Once again, their culture died.  Another experiment showed that Vitamin C by itself produced the same result.

Since an estimated 95% of tuberculosis deaths occur in poor or low-income countries, the discovery that vitamin C, which is cheap and easily available, can kill the bacteria, there is now hope that cheaper drugs can help mitigate the horrific effects of tuberculosis.

So far, researchers do not know whether vitamin C will actually work on humans. But they have enough evidence to proceed with a clinical trial. The results should be interesting.

For more technical information on this discovery, visit

Monday, June 10, 2013

Amphibians Are Disappearing

For more than two decades, amphibians such as frogs, toads and salamanders are known to have suffered significant population declines all over the world. Now it seems that they are vanishing at a faster rate than previously estimated, at least in the United States and likely throughout the rest of the world.

In the United States, amphibian populations may be completely gone from half of their current habitats in another 20 years. A study of 48 species at 34 sites in California, Colorado and Florida was conducted over a ten-year period by the U.S. Geological Survey. Researchers were shocked to find that amphibian population declines are more widespread and severe than had been previously thought. In fact, scientists have calculated that amphibians are vanishing at a rate of about 3.7 percent per year.

What is even more disturbing is that amphibians considered threatened by the International Union for Conservation of Nature are vanishing at an even faster rate calculated at 11.6 percent per year, which means that these already- endangered animals will disappear from half of their current habitat in only six years.

About one-third of the world’s amphibian species are in decline. The IUCN report attributes the causes of the population declines to habitat loss, disease, invasive species, pollution and climate change. Some scientists believe that declining amphibian populations point to a general collapse of the world’s ecosystems. Amphibians may be more sensitive to pollution and climate change than mammals and reptiles. Amphibians are important in pest control and occupy a significant place in the food chain by serving as prey for many species of birds, snakes and fish. Their decline will almost certainly lead to population reductions in these predator species.

Is this the beginning of the end for many species throughout the world?  Can we learn from this disturbing trend?  Is there anything we can do about it?  Only time will tell, and time is certainly not on the side of these ancient animals.

There’s more on the amphibian declines, especially as it relates to Colorado, here

Friday, May 31, 2013

Sometimes It Pays to Look Back

My featured story this week on my “World’s Oldest Stuff” blog is about an ancient artificial pigment called Egyptian Blue. This pigment has a unique property which is now being investigated for use in modern applications as varied as specialized inks and medical imaging.

Egyptian Blue is an artificial pigment which most experts believe was first created in Egypt more than 4,500 years ago. At some point in time, researchers discovered that when a red light is applied to the pigment, it reflects infrared light. Museum conservators and archaeologists have taken advantage of this unique property to spot fake artifacts and to verify others for more than ten years. Now other researchers have made new discoveries about this ancient coloring agent.

A team of chemists at the University of Georgia studying Egyptian Blue’s primary molecule, calcium copper tetrasilicate, have discovered the pigment can reflect infrared radiation even when reduced to the thickness of a single layer a thousand times thinner than a human hair. Now they’re busy dreaming up uses for this discovery.

Tina Salguero, a member of the University of Georgia team, believes the calcium copper tetrasilicate could be used in medical imaging applications since infrared radiation can easily pass through human tissue. Other possible applications might include new types of security inks used to prevent the forgery official documents and paper currencies. Other potential applications for the molecule involve possible uses in LED and optical fiber technologies.

Both LEDs and optical fibers transmit signals using infrared light. Since calcium copper tetrasilicate works so well in extremely tiny quantities, it might be possible to further miniaturize electronic components, for example.

Did the ancient Egyptians know about the unique reflecting properties of Egyptian Blue? Unless they had some way of producing red light, the answer is that they probably did not. But we keep finding out that the ancient ones knew things we are only now discovering. Personally, I wouldn’t put anything past them.

Archaeology’s website is at

If you’d like to read my article about the "World’s Oldest Pigment," go here

Friday, May 17, 2013

Real Life Hobbit Houses

I accidentally stumbled across this site while I was looking for other things. The website’s creator has assembled a colorful collection of Tolkien-inspired homes around the world. They’re not weird or strange (okay, maybe a little), but they are intriguing, and many are downright appealing. Go pay this site a visit. I think you’ll be glad you did.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

A New Mystery at Teotihuacan

I’ve written several stories about Teotihuacan, and now I’m writing another one. Researchers studying a tunnel beneath the pyramid known as the “Temple of the Feathered Serpent” discovered hundreds of metallic spheres. The significance of these balls, carved from pyrite, is unknown, but the tunnel was believed to have been used by priests and/or rulers for secret rituals.

Archaeologists initially used robots equipped with laser scanners and infrared cameras to explore parts of the tunnel that had not been previously excavated. Now they plan to excavate the remainder of the tunnel and adjoining chambers. They believe important artifacts are awaiting discovery along with the gold-colored spheres. The tunnel has lain undisturbed for about nearly 2,000 years.

The city of Teotihuacan was already abandoned when it was first discovered by the Aztec, who called it the City of the Gods. It has been slow to give up its secrets, partly because no writing system has been discovered there, which is odd considering the high level of organization required to construct and govern it. No one knows who built thecity, which is believed to have been a major cultural and trading center.

If you would like to read more about Teotihuacan, start here

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Jamestown Colonists Survived by Eating Their Own

The winter of 1609-10 was exceptionally brutal and the colonists of Jamestown were not equipped to survive. They had alienated their Native American neighbors early on by raiding villages for food and supplies and violently taking over land the natives considered their own. So when the settlers began to run out of food, their neighbors would not only not help them, but laid siege to James Fort to prevent supplies from reaching the colony. That winter became known as “the starving time.” As many as 200 of the original 300 settlers died and others were left severely weakened by hunger, disease and cold.

Now, it seems that some of the settlers found a way to survive. They resorted to cannibalism.

Rumors had circulated almost from the start that the colonists had eaten one another, but until recently, no one had found evidence to support the stories. Now, however, that has changed with the discovery of the bones of a 14-year-old girl whose skull and tibia show the distinctive marks of butchery. Even more telling, perhaps, was that her bones were found in a trash site located in the cellar of one of the original homes.

Who was she? Researchers say that she was European and believe she may have arrived a few months before winter began in 1609. Forensic scientists have recreated her face and experts are researching documents and other materials in an attempt to identify her. No one knows at this time whether she was murdered or whether she died of natural causes. Researchers have named her “Jane.”

The surviving settlers were rescued at least when a group of settlers who had been shipwrecked in Bermuda finally arrived in May 1610 with fresh supplies.

There’s more detailed information, along with a photo of “Jane,” at

Sunday, April 28, 2013

A Brick in the Mouth Kept Vampires Away?

How do you starve a vampire? Back in the 16th century, you put a brick in his or her mouth.

When archaeologists began digging in a 16th century graveyard on the Lazaretto Nuovo island north of Venice, they uncovered more than a hundred corpses which had been buried in a mass grave during a vicious plague epidemic that swept the area in 1576. Among the bodies they unearthed was that of a woman thought to have been about 60 years old when she died of plague. Someone had shoved a brick in her mouth.

Since the causes and origins of epidemics such as the Black Death were not understood at the time, medical and religious texts of the time often attributed the rise of plagues to vampires. This viewpoint was supported by the dead themselves. Gravediggers often encountered bloated bodies, sometimes with hair and fingernails still growing, and blood seeping out of their mouths. While we understand now that these phenomena are the natural result of decomposition, to the people of the day they indicated that the person was “undead.” The buried vampires would then cast spells that would spread the plague and swell their own ranks. Eventually, it was thought, the vampire would become strong enough to rise from the grave.

The best way to kill a dead body involved shoving a rock or brick into the mouth of the “vampire.” This was usually done by a priest or gravedigger, probably accompanied by appropriate prayers and other incantations. The elderly woman seems to have been the only one targeted as a vampire. No other corpses in this particularly cemetery appear to have suffered the same fate.

There is one other possible explanation for the brick: Was this really an attempt to stop a vampire, or was it a case of a husband’s revenge against a nagging wife?

If you’d like more information, here’s a good place to start.

Friday, April 19, 2013

What Was That Owl Trying to Tell Me?

I’ve had a few strange experiences in my own life over the years. One of them involved a great horned owl I encountered late one night while working as a security officer watching over an empty building. I’ve never forgotten that night, or my odd “conversation” with the great bird, but I’ve always wondered what it was trying to say.

Since I’ve written the story elsewhere, I won’t repeat it here. But if you’d like to know what happened, just go here.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Crabs Are Getting Bigger - Is Carbon Dioxide to Blame?

A recent study of blue crabs from the Chesapeake Bay and other areas shows that crabs and other crustaceans are growing at up to four times their normal rate. But the same conditions are causing oysters and scallops to grow at a rate of one–fourth of their normal speed. So what’s causing this ecological chaos? It looks like it’s carbon dioxide that is gradually falling from the air into the world’s oceans. And that’s bad news for the oysters.

A research team from the University of North Carolina’s Aquarium Research Center, led by marine geologist Justin Baker Ries conducted a study in 2009 in which they raised crabs in high- carbon tanks. They found that the creatures grew bigger and bigger, but that they actually ate fewer oysters. They also found that while the animals grew bigger and faster, which helped make them less vulnerable to predators, they spent much of their energy producing new shells rather than gaining flesh.

Oysters and scallops, on the other hand, are growing much more slowly than normal because of the same carbon dioxide levels. Smaller oysters are easier prey, so the number of survivors living to adulthood is almost certain to be lower than it was in the past despite the crabs’ loss of appetite.

Maryland and Virginia have worked hard to improve oyster populations in Chesapeake Bay.  One of the reasons is that oysters filter pollutants from the bay’s waters. Over the last hundred years, however, drops in oyster populations have reduced the filtering cycle in the bay from once every three weeks to approximately once every three years. Some experts predict the current trend will continue so long as atmospheric carbon dioxide levels continue to rise.

It is hoped that a way will be found to stabilize the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem. Oysters help to increase biodiversity in the bay’s environment and are credited with helping to reduce erosion on shorelines.

Seafood lovers are also losing out. Even though the crustaceous are growing faster, they are no meatier than their ancestors. Fewer, smaller scallops and oysters also will negatively impact the fishing industry.

Can the denizens of Chesapeake Bay and other affected areas adjust to the new levels of carbon dioxide in time? We can only hope that “life finds a way.”

There’s more discussion about the crabs and their potential effect on Chesapeake Bay here

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Powers, Arizona’s Haunted Hotel

The Gadsden Hotel, built in 1907, is listed on the National Historic Register. It has appeared in movies and early in its history served as a home and meeting place for nearly all of the region’s great movers and shakers. A white marble staircase and gold-leaf topped marble columns decorate the lobby. A 42-foot Tiffany stained-glass mural and stained-glass skylights illuminate the mezzanine. So what’s that translucent cowboy doing sitting on the couch?

There have been so many incidents that the hotel keeps a logbook to allow guests and staff to record their experiences, which seem to occur year round. There are so many reports that no one thinks much of them any more. The reports are kept in binders behind the front desk. Hotel employees take the ghosts in stride, and their unseen guests seem happy and not vindictive.

Room 333 seems to be a particularly active area. One woman reported that she was joined in bed by an invisible visitor. Apparently her experience was somehow soothing and not frightening, and she did not ask for a different room. One guest reported that his golf clubs flew across the room. Televisions sometimes turn on and off in that room.

Some of the spirits appear to be cowboys and someone saw a Mexican soldier. A young boy and a well-dressed woman have also been seen. A housekeeper reported being slapped in the face by an unseen hand. A Florida man checked into the governor’s suite but raced into the lobby a few minutes after entering his room, claiming that a woman was taking a shower in the bathroom.  When he and a hotel staffer checked, the shower was completely dry and empty. The guest decided not to stay.

While a few guests have left when they learned the hotel is haunted, many others come to stay when they find out about the ghosts. The hotel’s manager declined an invitation by a priest to conduct an exorcism. She believes the ghosts are actually good for business.

The Gadsden has been investigated by amateur ghost hunters and has appeared on television.  Visitors have sent eerie photographs of phenomena they say they witnessed, including a photo showing the image of a translucent cowboy sitting on a couch in the lobby.

If you’d like to read more, go here

Thinking about booking a stay? Here’s the Gadsden Hotel’s website:

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Is There a Hidden Treasure Trove at Machu Picchu?

Since its discovery by the legendary Hiram Bingham more than 100 years ago, the mountaintop city called Machu Picchu has yielded invaluable insights into the lives of its Inca builders. Now one researcher believes there is a great treasure trove of gold and silver hidden behind an intentionally blocked entranceway.

Machu Picchu somehow escaped discovery by marauding Spanish conquistadors. Following its discovery by Bingham in 1911, archaeologists and historians have swarmed over the site. Among their major finds are a rich burial site, an equally rich tomb thought to be that of a high-ranking official, and a cache of gold and silver objects believed to be an offering to the Inca gods. And the search is far from over.

French-born archaeologist Thierry Jamin believes he has located a rich tomb hidden behind a blocked entranceway.  He claims that an electromagnetic survey completed in 2012 yielded evidence of several chambers and a staircase. He also believes, based on a survey using “molecular frequency discrimination,” that there is an extensive deposit of gold and silver in the “tomb.”

Thierry has some impressive credentials. He spent fifteen years in the Peruvian jungle and discovered nearly thirty archaeological sites. But so far he has been denied permission to excavate his discovery. David Ugarte, the man in charge of the site, believes that Jamin is a treasure hunter more interested in fame than in unlocking Machu Picchu’s secrets. Ugarte and other scientists also believe that excavations at Thierry’s site might affect the stability of the city itself.

Is Thierry right about the treasure vault? No one will no anytime soon. One thing is certain, however. There are still many secrets to be discovered at Machu Picchu. In the meantime, more than a million people visit this unique and beautiful city every year. It is possible that some of them may be literally walking over some of those secrets.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Are Monarch Butterflies Becoming Extinct?

The monarch butterfly population has been decreasing for three straight years. In fact, their numbers have declined significantly for six of the last seven years. But when they arrived at their Mexican winter refuge this year, their numbers had declined by a whopping 59%. Entomologists studying the monarch butterfly say that there are now only one-fifteenth as many monarchs today as there were in 1997. Are these beautiful creatures facing extinction? And if so, why?

Only a few years ago, black-and-gold Monarchs were common throughout the United States and Canada brightening gardens and entertaining children and adults. For many, Monarchs were seen as symbols of summer. Now they are a rare sight. Entomologists say that the Monarch population is at its lowest since records began to be kept 25 years ago.

The World Wildlfe Fund, which funds the annual Monarch census, says a major reason for the drop in population is probably the use of herbicides. Monarchs feed on milkweed, which is destroyed as a pest throughout Mexico, the United States and Canada. Other factors may include logging operations and the diversion of rivers and streams.

In February 2013, butterfly colonies wintering in the Mexican state of Michoacan were devastated by torrential rains and mudslides. Experts estimate that the area containing the trees butterfly colonies use as their winter quarters has dwindled from an estimated 22 acres (7.44 hectares) down to 2.9 acres (1.92 hectares). It is believed that as many as 50 million butterflies can inhabit a single hectare.

An organization called Monarch Watch is launching a campaign to encourage the planting or preservation of milkweed to help save the butterflies. They hope to bring about changes in roadside management, gardening and farming practices.

Other reasons cited by the experts include ecotourism, especially in their Mexican winter habitat, and illegal logging in an area especially set aside for the butterflies. A special reserve, called the Monarch Butterfly Special Biosphere Reserve was set up to protect the Monarchs in 1986. Logging is banned in the reserve, but trees are still being felled there without regard for the butterflies living in them. Researchers are also trying to discover whether this radical die-off may be part of the butterfles’ natural cycle.

No one can say whether the Monarchs can recover. One thing is certain, though. The world will be a poorer place if these beautiful little creatures go extinct.

For more information about this eco-crisis and how you can help, go here

Friday, March 15, 2013

Evolution in Reverse

Those pesky little dust mites might upset a long-accepted rule in genetics according to researchers at the University of Michigan. And it turns out that this might be a good thing if you suffer from allergies.

Researchers determined that dust mites actually reversed their evolutionary path. Beginning millions of years ago as specialized parasites, they lived inside warm-blooded invertebrates but caused harm to their host. Then they evolved into free-living mites who lived their lives in nests. Later, when people began making sofas, mattresses and pillows, carpets, and other soft, ready-made hiding places, the dust mites devolved once again to take advantage of the new environment.

One of the foundations of the study of evolutionary biology is the idea that evolution only proceeds forward and cannot be reversed. This supposition, called Dollo’s law, has now been challenged by the dust mites. Now that one example of devolution has been discovered, how many more can we expect to find?

Friday, March 8, 2013

The Man Who Was Buried in Three Places at the Same Time

The distinguished author-poet Thomas Hardy passed away on January 11, 1928. One of the most respected authors in Britain at the time of his death, his works included 18 novels, including “Tess of the d’Urbervilles” and “Jude the Obscure” along with more than a thousand poems. But a problem arose when his friends and relatives began planning his funeral.

Hardy’s literary status was such that it was assumed that he should be buried at the legendary Poets Corner in Westminster Abbey. But in his will, Hardy had directed that he be buried near the grave of his late first wife at St. Michael’s Church in Stinsford, a few miles from his home in Dorchester.

Hardy had married Emma Lavinia Gifford in 1870, but the marriage was tumultuous and the couple were barely speaking when Emma died suddenly in 1912. Despite the fact that his relationship with his wife was so badly strained, Hardy poured out his grief and love in a massive body of lyrical poetry that easily surpassed any work he had done previously.

Despite his obvious grief over the loss of Emma, Hardy married his secretary, Florence Dugdale, just over a year later. Florence was 40 years younger than her employer and continued to manage his affairs until his death.

Hardy’s literary status was such that it was assumed that he should be buried at the legendary Poets Corner in Westminster Abbey. But in his will, Hardy had directed that he be buried near the grave of his late first wife, his parents and grandparents at St. Michael’s Church in Stinsford, a few miles from his home in Dorchester.

The argument over Hardy’s burial place was finally settled by a strange compromise. His heart was removed and placed in a casket. The rest of Hardy’s body was cremated and the ashes were placed in another coffin. At 2:00 p.m., the ashes, along with a spadeful of dirt from Dorset were interred at Poets Corner. At the same time, Thomas Hardy’s heart was buried at St. Michael’s Church in Stinsford.

Not to be outdone, the people of Dorcester held a memorial service at the same time for the great poet who had lived among them for so many years, even though they had no remains to bury in their churchyard.

Thomas Hardy’s status as one of the greatest novelists and poets England had ever produced has never been challenged. The unique set of funerals for this beloved man bears testament to an enduring regard for both the man and his literature. His graves are still visited by people wishing to pay their respects for the man and his immortal work.

There’s a great website detailing Thomas Hardy’s life and works at

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Shouldn’t He Be Hungry by Now?

He hasn’t eaten since January 2, 2009, but he seems to be none the worse for the experience, although he seems a little lethargic. But for No. 1 and his fellow giant isopods, that’s pretty normal.

He is a giant isopod called No. 1 and lives at Japan’s Toba Aquarium. He and his kind are sometimes known as “scavengers of the deep” because they feed only on dead fish, whales, squids and other marine animals. Hie caretakers have tried to entice him to eat by offering him all sorts of tidbits, including squid tentacles. He has ignored all their efforts so far.

No. 1 is a member of the genus Bathynomus. The largest member of the genus, It is closely related to shrimp and crabs, and a land-based insect known as a pill bug. Some people in fact refer to No. 1 and his relatives as giant pill bugs. The resemblance between the marine giants and the garden-variety of pill bugs is obvious.

The giant isopod can grow to a length of over 16 inches, with a hard, segmented shell that allows the animal to roll itself into a protective ball when threatened. It has very complex compound eyes, typical of many insects and large antennae to help it navigate the sea floor.

Giant isopods are known to be able to survive long periods without eating, although generally captive specimens usually have to eat at least every eight weeks. This makes No. 1 a record- holder for his current fast.

These creatures are usually solitary animals and reproduce by laying eggs. The females carry the eggs in a pouch until the young crustaceans are ready to emerge as small, but nearly fully formed adults. They can be found in most of the world’s oceans. They seem to prefer deep water and are usually found in waters ranging in depth from 550 feet (170 m) to more than 7,000 feet (2,140 m).

If you’re interested in seeing photos of this sea-going pill bug, visit here:

Friday, February 22, 2013

World War II’s Killer Tank

When this Churchill tank came ashore at Sword Beach in June, 1944, no one could have known how dangerous it really was - and not to the Germans.

The tank was called “experimental” because it was built with a new type of turret designed to give better protection to its crew. It was sent to a forward squadron which had suffered heavy crew losses over a period of several days. Its hastily assembled crew named their new tank “Alice” in honor of the wife of its oldest crewman.

On July 1, 1944, Alice went on her first patrol. As she entered a village believed to be free of German troops, a lone German antitank crew opened fire on her, shattering the turret. The three- man turret crew died instantly., another was killed by debris and a fifty died in a hail of bullets.  The tank skidded off the road into a dyke, losing a track in the process. A Crocodile following Alice saw the antitank gun and destroyed it with its flamethrower.

After burying its crew, the tank was recovered from the dyke and hauled back to Sword Beach.  Engineers at the plant where the turret had been built wanted to study the damage, so she was sent back to Yorkshire, England. As she was being unloaded in the factory yard, Alice slipped sideways off the concrete ramp, pinning the yard foreman and a worker against the ramp and killing both men instantly.

The experimental turret was determined to be unsuccessful and she was refitted and sent to a training regiment. Alice now was assigned to a three-man training crew and two instructors.  After a night of heavy rain, the two instructors went back to their base at Catterick, leaving the young trainees alone with the tank. The boys decided to seek shelter under the tank. At first light, the camp guards discovered that the tank had sunk into the mud, crushing the three young trainees.

The Royal Army told the families of the three trainees that the young men had died in a training accident. Alice was moved to the RAC Gunnery School in Dorset where she was used in training tank gunners and fitters.

All went well for awhile, but in October 1946, a trainee gunner had a misfire. The procedure in that case was to wait two minutes, then move the tank downrange for safety. The crew then left the tank and the breech was opened to eject the shell and place it safely on the ground. But this time the Range Control officer violated the protocol. He took the place of the tank’s driver and drove the tank onto the range. Then he climbed into the turret and opened the breech. The hot shell exploded into the turret and killed the Range Control Officer. Eleven people were now dead.

Alice was stripped of all usable parts and left on Bindon Hill as a target to be shot at by any tank needing some practice. Over the years, she gradually broke down into a rusty pile of scrap metal. But the old tank wasn’t finished.

In August 2004 a German student was walking near Bindon Hill when it began to rain. He decided to take shelter in Alice’s rusting remains. The torrential rain continued, along with thunder and lightning. Suddenly there was an explosion and the tank was thrown into the air, along with the student. The cause of the explosion was never determined.

Alice never killed again. But she had been involved in eleven deaths during her long, deadly lifetime. And she had never killed a single enemy soldier.

Friday, February 15, 2013

The Sudarium of Ovieto

 Most of the Christian world is aware of the famous, although controversial, Shroud of Turin. Fewer are aware of an equally impressive bit of cloth that may hold clues to the origins and authenticity of the Shroud. And it has a better documented history than the Shroud of Turin.  This mysterious cloth is known as the Sudarium (“sweat cloth”) of Ovieto. It is believed by some to be the cloth placed over Jesus’ face after his crucifixion.

The bloodstained cloth, measuring about 84 x 53 centimeters, bears no image of a face. But there are some intriguing similarities to the Shroud of Turin. First, blood stains on both cloths are Type AB, common among Middle Eastern peoples, but relatively rare among Europeans. A comparison of the location of the blood stains on both the Sudarium and the Shroud of Turin show that there is an exact fit of many of the stains on both cloths, indicating that one was laid over the other on the dead man’s face.

A study by Dr. Alan Whanger compared the stains on the Sudarium with those on the image of the face on the Shroud of Turin. Dr. Whanger made use of the Polarized Image Overlay Technique and showed that there were seventy points of coincidence on the front parts of each cloth, and fifty on the back. For many, this is conclusive evidence that both cloths were used to cover the same face, believed to be that of Jesus.

According to documents written by Pelagius, 12th-century Bishop of Oviedo, the Sudarium remained in Palestine until about 614 AD, when Jerusalem was conquered by Persian King Chosroes II. It was rescued and sent first to Alexandria, but moved again when Chosroes II invaded Alexandria in 616. It was then taken to Cartagena, Spain, and sent to Seville, where it remained for some years.

St. Isidore took the chest containing the Sudarium to Toledo when he became bishop there, but was taken north in 718 to protect it from the invading Muslims. It remained in a cave known as Monsacro until King Alfonso II completed the special chapel, where it remains to this day. In March of 1075, the chest was officially opened in the presence of King Alfonso VI, his sister and Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar (“El Cid). An inventory was made of the relics of the chest, including the Sudarium.

The Sudarium, along with other relics, is kept in a silver-covered reliquary box in the Cámara Santa of the Cathedral of San Salvador, Oviedo, Spain. The chapel was built by King Alfonso II of Asturias in 840 AD especially to house the cloth. The Sudarium is publicly displayed only three times each year.

Does the Sudarium of Ovieto help to prove that the Shroud of Turin is real? Its provenance is certainly better documented, adding weight to the argument that the Shroud is much older than many people believe it is. Unfortunately, the tests that could help establish the authenticity of both cloths may never be made. It may be that non-destructive tests allowed at some future date can help to prove or disprove the authenticity of both cloths. Only time will tell.

For a more technical analysis of the Sudarium and its possible relationship to the Shroud of Turin, visit here

Friday, February 8, 2013

The Day the Mississippi River Ran Backwards

 The ground had been shaking for months beginning on December 16, 1011. The New Madrid Fault had suddenly become active. The first two powerful quakes shook the city of New Madrid, knocking people off their feet, opening fissures and snapping large trees. The second of the two quakes has been estimated to have registered 8.6 on the Richter Scale. This quake caused landslides that destroyed several communities. It was said that the tremor woke First Lady Dolley Madison thousands of miles away in Washington, D.C.

On February 7, 1812, the strongest of the earthquakes struck. Estimated at 8.8 magnitude, this one was arguably the strongest quake ever to strike the continental United States. It caused church bells to ring in Boston, Massachusetts and brick walls to fall in Cincinnati.

The Mississippi River turned brown and whirlpools suddenly developed as the riverbed bucked. Thirty boats were thrown over waterfalls created by the heaving of the riverbed. Small islands in the middle of the river disappeared. New Lakes, including Reedfoot Lake in Tennessee and Big Lake at the Arkansas-Missouri border were created in depressions caused by land subsidence. And finally, a phenomenon known as a fluvial tsunami caused the mighty Mississippi River to flow backwards for several hours.

No one will ever know for certain how many people actually died in the series of earthquakes by the time they ended in March 1812. The area was sparsely populated at the time, but at least 1,000 people likely lost their lives, and many more suffered physical and property damage.

Experts today continue to worry about the possibility that the New Madrid Fault will become active again. If the 19th century swarm of massive earthquakes were to happen today, the result would be absolutely disastrous over a wide area east of the Mississippi River.

For more information on the New Madrid Fault, visit this site

Friday, February 1, 2013

The 1859 Carrington Event

 On September 1, 1859, amateur astronomer Richard Carrington was working in his private observatory sketching a cluster of enormous dark spots on the surface of the Sun. Suddenly two patches of bright, white light erupted from the sunspots, vanishing about five minutes later. Later that night the world began to experience the devastating effects of what became known as the 1859 Carrington Event.

The Carrington Event was caused by a gigantic solar flare, and the resulting geomagnetic storm that affected our planet is believed to be the largest ever to hit the earth. It actually consisted of two separate storms and caused confusion and chaos around the world.

Brilliant, colorful auroras appeared all over the planet as electrified gas and subatomic particles entered Earth’s atmosphere. The skies glowed so brightly that confused birds began to chirp and workmen arose to start work. People living in the southern parts of the United States, Jamaica and Cuba, and even in Australia were startled when they saw northern lights, which rarely appear so far south.

Skies on the eastern coast of the United States appeared to be blood red. Some observers wondered if neighboring areas had somehow caught fire. Others thought they were looking at an especially brilliant sunrise, though daybreak was still hours away. In Boston, Massachusetts, people found that they could read their newspapers under the bright sky. Some thought the world was coming to an end.

The most devastating effect of the phenomena was that the event interrupted telegraph service around the world. Telegraph lines across North America went out of service. Currents flowing through telegraph wires were so powerful that circuits caught fire. Telegraph paper caught fire as the chemicals used in the paper reacted to the electromagnetic effects of the storm and operators did not dare touch their keys.

On September 2, the chaos continued after the arrival of a second storm. Telegraph operators working at the American Telegraph Company’s office in Boston found that they could neither transmit nor receive telegrams. Then they figured out the atmosphere was so charged that they could disconnect their batteries and actually use the power produced by the magnetic storm to transmit messages to Portland, Maine. Later that morning, they were able to reconnect their batteries and transmit, although there were sporadic problems throughout much of the day.

If an event the size of the 1859 Carrington Event were to occur today, the result would be absolute chaos. Our modern world is absolutely dependent on electronic devices such as computers, power grids, satellite communications, GPS, and so forth. A large event such as the Carrington Event would potentially cause massive shutdowns of anything that relied on electronic devices. Airplanes could fall from the skies, most cars would stop in their tracks, power grids would fail. The result would be absolutely catastrophic.

Solar flare activity is now known to operate in an 11-year cycle of high and low activity.  Is it possible that another Carrington Event could erupt during a period of high activity? Yes, it is.

There’s more detail on the 1859 Carrington Event here.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Were D. D. Home’s Strange Powers Real?

Scottish-born Daniel Dunglas Home was said to be able to levitate at will, put his hand into a burning fire without injury, and to visibly stretch his own body. He did these things in front of credible witnesses and was never caught cheating.

What did Home do and how did he do it? See the full story here

Friday, January 18, 2013

A Gorilla Family Reunited

Once again, humans have underestimated their gorilla cousins, at least in this case.

Zookeepers at Ireland’s Dublin Zoo loaned 11-year-old Kesho to the London Zoo in 2010 in the hope that he would successfully breed with the London Zoo’s female gorillas. Left behind were his little brothers, Alf, then 7, and 4-year-old Evindi.

Kesho proved to be unable to produce offspring, so he was returned to Ireland two years later, where he was placed in a new home at Wiltshire’s Longleat Safari Park, which had just built a new $5 million enclosure to house its gorillas.

Alf was already at the park, but zookeepers were uncertain whether the two animals would get along together. So they built a temporary cage to keep the brothers separated until they could see how the pair would react to one another. Kesho and Alf surprised their keepers.

Even though Kesho had gained about 200 pounds during his absence, it was obvious to the observers that the two gorillas immediately recognized one another. Overcome with obvious joy, the brothers excitedly reached through the cage to touch each other.

Twenty-four hours later, the gorillas were finally allowed to be together. They hugged and squeezed one another, wrestled and slapped one another’s shoulders. Even the most cynical observer could easily see that the two brothers reacted to their reunion after their long separation just like a pair of human brothers would. Silverback gorillas like Kesho are often reserved around other gorillas, but both he and Alf acted like children on a playground. The reunion was captured on camera and can be seen here.

The brothers had another surprise waiting for them. Their younger brother Evindi, now six years old, joined his older siblings at the safari park. The little family is now united, hopefully never to be separated again.

The gorillas’ behavior shows that they are not only emotionally attached to their family members, but that separating them might even cause emotional damage. Should zookeepers think twice about separating gorilla family members? It looks like they should.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Supernatural Church Bells

For most churchgoers today, the ringing of church bells serves only to call them to worship. But in centuries past, these bells were believed to protect parishoners from the ghoulies and ghosties that haunted their daily lives.

In 14th century England, ringing church bells was thought to help protect the people against the devastations of the Black Plague. That belief persisted in certain parts of England. A Dr. Francis Hering wrote in the late 17th century that the bells somehow purified the air.

In the Middle Ages, newly installed bells received gifts when they were inistalled and consecrated, and became the focus of feasting and joyful celebrations.

Not everyone, it seems, celebrated the installation of a new church bell. Witches were said to fear the bells and went to great lengths to steal them. Apparently, ghosts also were affected by the ringing of church bells. Bells rung during a funeral were thought to drive away the ghost of the person being buried.

Even today, there are stories of church bells ringing by themselves just before a catastrophic event took place. The famous French author Alexandre Dumas recorded one such story said to have happened in 1407. According to Dumas, bells were heard to ring just before an ancient Roman bridge collapsed into the Rhone River.

There may be some justification for the spontaneous ringing of church bells just before certain events take place. It is possible that some church bells might be disturbed by the rumblings of an imminent earthquake. The same might be true for awakening volcanoes.

The people of many cultures believed (and some still believe) that loud noises and raucous music drive away evil spirits and malevolent ghosts. It makes some sense, then, that church bells would have replaced the banging of drums and kettles to serve the same purpose when Christianity took over the responsibility of protecting its people from evil.