Thursday, December 14, 2017

New ‘Air-Eating’ Bacteria Lends Hope to Search for Alien Life

Via by Brett Tingley

Over the last several years, the search for alien life has been heating up thanks to discoveries made both in space and here on Earth, prompting one top SETI researcher to predict that we’re only a decade or two away from finally discovering we’re not alone. While we all wish humanity’s first contact will resemble Close Encounters of the Third Kind, the truth is we are likely going to discover microbial life in space long before we make contact with intelligent bipedal aliens. But hey, microbes are cool right? They’re certainly a lot less frightening than green men with ray guns.

Two discoveries this week may further add the likelihood that our first cosmic neighbors will be of the microscopic variety. First, a new study found that Jupiter’s moon Europa displays evidence of active plate tectonics, indicating there is likely a subsurface ocean beneath the moon’s surface. Plate tectonics could also mean that the salts on Europa’s surface could potentially be reaching such an ocean and creating nutrients that any alien ocean life would need to survive. So, while not quite a discovery of life, it’s a discovery of a possibility of sustaining life. That’s hopeful.

Boeing CEO: The first person to Mars will be in one of our rockets

Source: NASA
Via by Robert Ferris

Take that Elon Musk! Boeing will beat SpaceX to Mars, CEO Dennis Muilenburg told CNBC.

Musk has made it clear that sending humans to Mars is one of his primary goals, even saying it is the reason he started SpaceX in the first place.

But Boeing is in the final assembly stages of building a rocket called the Space Launch System with NASA, and the company will be the first to bring humans to the red planet, Muilenberg told "Mad Money" host Jim Cramer in an exclusive interview.

Boeing expects to have the system ready for a test flight in 2019.

Chirps, hums and phantom noises — how bizarre events in Cuba changed embassy workers’ brains

Via by Avi Selk

They would sometimes wake in the night to hear a disembodied chirping somewhere in the room, or a strange, low hum, or the sound of scraping metal.

Sometimes they felt a phantom flutter of air pass by as they listened. Others in the room would often not notice a thing, the Associated Press reported, and the noises would cease if the person moved just a few feet away.

And then, usually within 24 hours of these bizarre events, bad things happened to those who heard the noises.

What exactly two dozen Americans experienced at the U.S. Embassy in Cuba — in incidents last year and then again in August — remains a mystery to science and the FBI. They have alternately been blamed on a high-tech sonic weapon or a mysterious disease, and have caused a diplomatic crisis because U.S. officials blame Cuba for the attacks.

Now physicians are preparing to release a report on what happened to the people who heard the sounds, the AP reports, including physical changes in their brains.

Workers and their spouses at the U.S. diplomatic compound in Havana began complaining of maladies in late 2016, as Anne Gearan wrote for The Washington Post, after hearing strange, localized sounds in their homes.

Their symptoms included a loss of hearing or sight, vertigo and nausea. Some people struggled to recall common words.

Scientists Inject Information Directly Into Monkey Brains

Via by Paul Seaburn

Get your political jokes ready because this story is sure to generate tons of suggestions on how it can be beneficial to everyone in Washington, London, Beijing, Berlin, Pyongyang and anyplace else where people seem to be acting like monkeys. A team of neuroscientists has injected electronic instructions into the premotor cortex of monkeys that resulted in the animals getting instructions to complete actions without any other instructions, cues or stimuli. Can the instruction be to just shut up?

“What we are showing here is that you don’t have to be in a sensory-receiving area in order for the subject to have an experience that they can identify.”

In their study, published in the journal Neuron, neuroscientists Dr. Kevin A. Mazurek and Dr. Marc H. Schieber, describe how they used two rhesus monkeys to demonstrate how instructions can be sent to the premotor cortex using injections of electrical stimulus. The premotor cortex is part of the motor cortex in the brain’s frontal lobe that controls the planning, control, and execution of voluntary movements. The premotor cortex feeds directly to the spinal cord but its functions are not fully understood … which is why these two neurosurgeons met with two rhesus monkeys.

10 Historical Murder Mysteries Still Waiting For An Answer

Via by Radu Alexander

The sad reality is that we will never be able to solve all crimes. Despite the best efforts of law enforcement, justice isn’t always served, and closure forever eludes some victims’ families. Sometimes, no one may even realize a crime has been committed until it’s far too late to do anything about it.

History is filled with cases that would stump even Sherlock Holmes. Often, this isn’t because they were the works of criminal masterminds but because there were almost no clues to go on. As of now, these ten murders remain mysteries, and the more time passes, the less likely they are to ever be solved.
10. The Skeleton In The Cellar

The Lost Towns Project is an ongoing archaeological enterprise to rediscover and excavate lost settlements from colonial Maryland. In 2003, researchers were examining a site called Leavy Neck in Anne Arundel County when they discovered a skull in a 17th-century cellar that was used for trash.

As the team kept excavating, they found the rest of the skeleton stuffed inside the shallow pit with enough force to displace a kneecap and curl the toes under. It became increasingly clear that the body was likely the victim of foul play.

Eventually, archaeologists became convinced they had a colonial cold case on their hands and brought in forensic anthropologist Dr. Doug Owsley to help. He identified the remains as belonging to a 16-year-old male of European descent. There were numerous signs suggesting he was in poor health, including compressed vertebrae from prolonged hard labor.

Forensic specialists concluded that the teenager was, most likely, an indentured servant. Furthermore, his right wrist suffered perimortem fractures, as if the victim tried to block a heavy blow.[1] This, along with the quick burial, suggested murder.

Based on items surrounding the body, the boy was probably killed between 1665 and 1675. This was at a time when laws were passed to protect indentured servants from abuse. Archaeologists believe that the teenager was killed by his master, who dumped the body in the trash pit to hide his crime. The identities of both killer and victim remain a mystery for now.

9. The Wrong Archaeologist

In 1911, Michigan scholar Herbert Fletcher DeCou became part of a team of US archaeologists who excavated the ancient Greek city of Cyrene in modern-day Libya. On the morning of March 11, the camp was awakened by shots and screams. The expedition’s director, Richard Norton, was informed that DeCou had been killed while on his way to the dig site on the Acropolis. Witnesses said that three Arabs concealed themselves behind a wall, waited for DeCou to pass by, and shot him two times before making their escape on horseback.

It was widely believed that the assassins didn’t target DeCou specifically but wanted to kill a high-profile American and mistook DeCou for the director. This was shortly before the outbreak of the Italo-Turkish War, where Libya became an Italian colony, and resentment against the West was high among certain groups.

Richard Norton’s statement concurred with this notion. He also unofficially endorsed certain hearsay which was pervasive in the country at the time. The rumor was that the Arab assassins acted under Italian influence.[2] Obviously, the Italians denied this vehemently and, instead, floated the story that the Michigan archaeologist was targeted by a Bedouin man for sleeping with his wife.

For a time, the assassination had the makings of a serious international incident. No relevant diplomatic papers have ever been made public, and nobody was ever charged with DeCou’s murder.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Massive, distant black hole 'shouldn't exist'

Image Credit: NASA / Alain Riazuelo
Via by Andrew Griffin

Scientists just found a very huge, very young supermassive black hole. As far as we know, it shouldn't be able to exist, and it just might re-write our understanding of the early universe.

It is the most distant black hole ever seen by scientists. And it is so far away that we are seeing something that formed when the universe was only five per cent of its current age – something that scientists say shouldn't be able to happen.

Our understandings of the formation and beginnings of the universe suggest that a black hole with such a huge mass shouldn't actually have been able to form, scientists say.

"This is the only object we have observed from this era," said Robert Simcoe, the Francis L. Friedman professor of physics at MIT's Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research. "It has an extremely high mass, and yet the universe is so young that this thing shouldn't exist.

"The universe was just not old enough to make a black hole that big. It's very puzzling."

The Psychic Tea Rooms of 1930s New York Didn’t Predict All the Police Raids

A detective peers into a tearoom in 1959.
Bettmann/Getty Images
Via by Anne Ewbank

On April 17, 1929, Mikette Cuba was fined $100 for a most unusual crime: illegal fortune telling. She had looked in the tea cup of an undercover policewoman, and predicted “a trip across water” and “a tall dark man.” But she made one fatal mistake. She accepted 25 cents in return for the premonition and fell into a New York Police Department trap. Charging money for fortune telling was illegal, and the Police Department was waging war against “tea rooms of occult nomenclature.”

From the late 1920s and onwards, fortune-telling tea rooms flourished in American cities from Pittsburgh to Portland. They emerged out of decades of popular interest in the supernatural, and the most popular theme was a stereotypical depiction of Romani life. Staff wore colorful shawls, fiddlers provided entertainment, and elaborately dressed fortune tellers read tea leaves, palms, or crystal balls for excited guests.

At venues such as Mikette Cuba’s workplace, the Gypsy Tea Room on 5th Avenue, the New York Herald Tribune explained that “a peep into the future is offered as inducement toward purchase of tuna fish salad with mayonnaise dressing, nut bread and pimento sandwiches, a dill pickle, ice cream, tea, and angel cake.”

Legally, these peeps into the future had to be free. American laws against fortune telling had already been on the books for hundreds of years, but by the 1920s, they had been tightened and enforced. Fortune tellers in New York weren’t allowed to take any payment from guests, or even from tea house proprietors. They could only accept tips. Anyone caught straightforwardly telling fortunes for money was fined under New York’s “Statute of Prediction” or charged with disorderly conduct.

Could a Ouija Board Contact Black Eyed Children?


A pair of paranormal investigators in England have announced plans to try and contact the infamous Black Eyed Kids using, of all things, a Ouija Board.

Dale Makin and Justin Cowell will be venturing into the notorious British forest known as Cannock Chase, where a series of BEK sightings allegedly took place back in 2014, as part of a forthcoming documentary.

The duo insist that their investigation will be scientific, although skeptics are likely to scoff at such a suggestion since they will be doing their 'research' using a Ouija Board.

Nonetheless, Makin and Cowell are undeterred those who doubt the veracity of the board's purported powers as well as those who do believe, but feel that it is dangerous to play with the device in this manner.

Bizarre Underwater Encounters with Ghosts and Mysterious Monsters

Via by Brent Swancer

There are plenty of strange sightings of ghosts and mystery monsters on land or on sea, but one interesting area of such anomalous reports are those that happen under the waves in the dark waters of our planet. Here divers have come across a whole new world of the paranormal, cryptozoology, and other less definable mysteries, encountering things in the water that most would probably not expect to find there, things beyond our wildest dreams or even nightmares. From ghosts, to mermaids, to other strange creatures, here are some truly intriguing tales of the strangeness these divers have seen through their masks.

One very curious type of strange underwater encounter is that of what appear to be ghosts or spirits of some sort dwelling in the watery depths. Underwater is not the sort of locale one might usually associate with hauntings, but such reports are actually more numerous than you might at first think. Many of these phenomena tend to congregate around shipwrecks, and it seems that in a sense such wrecks are the haunted houses of the sea. By far one of the more well known and investigated such haunted sites is a place called called Chuuk Lagoon, also more commonly known as Truk Lagoon, in Micronesia, which when taken with its surrounding beautiful and picturesque azure waters seems to be a place far removed from ghosts, yet this is also a place with a dark history that stands in stark contrast to the bright tropical splendor to be found here.

During World War II, a massive U.S. led naval and air attack was launched here in 1944, in an offensive called Operation Hailstone, which sought to drive out the Japanese forces using Truk Lagoon as a base of naval operations and crucial stop-off point for supplies. Over two bloody days, from February 17 to 18, 1944, the merciless attacks would sink around 60 ships in the lagoon, including naval and merchant ships alike, as well as hundreds of aircraft, making it one of the largest underwater graveyards in the world. It is also estimated that around 3,000 people died in the attack, and considering the massive loss of life here and the rusted ships, tanks, and aircraft absolutely littering the bottom of the lagoon it is perhaps no surprise that it should be said to be quite haunted.

Top 10 Scary Facts About Artificial Intelligence

Via by Oliver Taylor

We are in the fourth industrial revolution, which is characterized by advances in robotics and self-driving car technology, the proliferation of smart home appliances, and more. At the forefront of all these is artificial intelligence (AI), which is the development of automated computer systems that could match or even surpass humans in intelligence.

AI is regarded as the next big thing—so big that future technologies will be dependent on it. But then, do we really know what we are getting ourselves into? Here are ten scary facts about artificial intelligence.
10. Your Self-Driving Car Might Be Programmed To Kill You

Let’s assume you’re driving down a road. Then, a group of children suddenly appear in front of your car. You hit the brakes, but they don’t work. Now, you have two options: The first is to run over the children and save your life. The second is to swerve into a nearby wall or bollard, thus saving the children but killing yourself. Which would you pick?

Most people agree they will swerve into the bollard and kill themselves.

Now imagine that your car is self-driving, and you’re the passenger. Would you still want it to swerve into the bollard and kill you? Most people who agreed they would swerve into the bollard if they were the driver also agreed that they would not want their self-driving car to swerve into the bollard and kill them. In fact, they won’t even buy such car if they knew it would deliberately put them at risk in an accident.

This takes us to another question: What would the cars do?

The cars will do what they were programmed to do. As things are, makers of self-driving cars aren’t talking. Most, like Apple, Ford, and Mercedes-Benz, tactfully dodge the question at every instance. An executive of Daimler AG (the parent company of Mercedes-Benz) once stated that their self driving cars would “protect [the] passenger at all costs.” However, Mercedes-Benz refuted this, stating that their vehicles are built to ensure that such a dilemma never happens. That is ambiguous because we all know that such situations will happen.

Google came clean on this and said its self-driving cars would avoid hitting unprotected road users and moving things. This means the car would hit the bollard and kill the driver. Google further clarifies that in the event of an impending accident, its self-driving cars would hit the smaller of any two vehicles. In fact, Google self-driving cars might be seeking to be closer to smaller objects at all times. Google currently has a patent on a technology that makes its self-driving cars move away from bigger cars and toward smaller cars while on the road.[1]

9. Robots Might Demand Rights Just Like Humans

With the current trends in AI, it’s possible that robots will reach a stage of self-realization. When that happens, they may demand for their rights as if they were humans. That is, they’ll require housing and health care benefits and demand to be allowed to vote, serve in the military, and be granted citizenship. In return, governments would make them pay taxes.

This is according to a joint study by the UK Office of Science and Innovation’s Horizon Scanning Center. This research was reported by the BBC in 2006, when AI was far less advanced, and it was conducted to speculate the technological advancements they might be seeing in 50 years’ time. Does this mean that machines will start demanding citizenship in about 40 years? Only time will tell.[2]

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Ghost Hunting at HMP Shepton Mallet with Haunted

Via by Hayley Stevens

We’re standing in the room that used to house the gallows. Paul Toole- a tour guide for the prison -is telling us about how a ghost burned his hand. It’s dark and torches are shone on his hand where there sits a scar. It looks quite like a cigarette burn which has healed. I mentally note “because it is a cigarette burn which has healed.”

I’m visiting Shepton Mallet prison with Danny Robins and Simon Barnard ahead of an overnight ghost hunting event with Haunted Happenings. Danny (pictured above with yours truly) hosts Haunted and that’s why we’re at the prison, because he wants to explore what ghost hunting is really about. You can listen to episode 6 of Haunted here, to hear what happened. Paul has agreed to speak with Danny prior to the ghost event taking place, and so there’s a group of just five of us wandering around the dark, foreboding Shepton Mallet prison. It’s such a cold November evening that when we stop so that Paul and Danny can discuss a particular aspect of the prison haunting, the rest of us gently- and quietly -keep moving in any way we can to stay warm.

Before we reach the execution room, we’re shown through the myriad of corridors, wings, courtyards, and rooms. At one point, we’re standing in a small yard separated from a larger courtyard by a gated wall. We’re on a doorstep, about to enter the prison buildings for the first time. Danny, Simon, and Paul are stood in the doorway, and myself and Paul’s wife, Nikki, are stood a bit further back. Suddenly, from behind us, I hear a sound and I turn to see who is joining us. As I do so, I’m pretty sure someone ducks out of sight from the gateway we’d just walked through, and behind the tall wall to the side.

“Did you hear chains?” Nikki, whispers to me, excitedly. I agree. I guess the power of suggestion really is strong. I thought I’d heard footfall, but it must have been prison chains. We ignore the noise at first, but then I hear something a second time and I place my torch against my thigh to hide the light and I go to investigate the source of the noise. Once at the gate, I shine my torch through and around, but there’s nobody there.

Strange Conspiracies and Conundrums at New York’s Mysterious Plum Island

Via by Brent Swancer

Some places seem to invite stories of conspiracies, cover-ups, and vast intrigue. Whether they deserve all of the attention or not, there is some quality to them that draws in dark stories of hidden government experiments and secrecy. One such place lies not far from New York City, in the United States, sitting mostly unnoticed right there in a major center of civilization, but which has all of the hallmarks of a good shadowy conspiracy tale. Secluded, off-limit island? Check. Secretive laboratory facility? Check. Government obfuscation of what is going on there? Check. With so many of the pieces in place this little island has perhaps rightfully managed to conjure up stories of sinister research and strange experimentation on both animals and human beings, and has cemented itself as ground zero for a plethora of bizarre tales.

Sitting just off New York’s Long Island sitting in Gardiner’s Bay is a tiny speck of land measuring only 3 miles (4.8 km) long and 1-mile (1.6 km) wide, known as Plum Island. It is mostly a nondescript and unassuming little piece of rocky land that most would normally not give much thought to, but Plum island is wreathed in a colorful history shrouded in secrecy and mystery. Originally purchased by the U.S. government in 1899, the island went on to become the site for a military base called Fort Terry, which was mostly meant to be an artillery sentry post. This military function continued with the start of World War II, when the base became an antisubmarine outpost for a government wary of enemy subs prowling the coast, and it was eventually decommissioned in the aftermath of the war.

The island then was used by the Army Chemical Corps for some years before it was repurposed for use by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), who established the Plum Island Animal Disease Center (PIADC) on the island in 1954. The facility was ostensibly involved in research into animal borne diseases that could be devastating to livestock, such as foot and mouth disease, and develop vaccines for these, although the full extent of the list of pathogens they were involved in researching has always been a well-guarded secret. Indeed, with the USDA’s acquisition of Plum Island it very quickly became locked down with incredibly tight security and numerous signs warning visitors to stay away, with no one allowed to come too close and boats or tourists turned away in no uncertain terms.

Perhaps it is this sudden veil of utter secrecy that circulated rumors amongst a nervous populous that there was something more going on at this top secret facility than was let on, and whispers of conspiracies became louder when the Plum Island Animal Disease Center was taken over by the United States Department of Homeland Security in 2003 and later turned into the new National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility. It did not go unnoticed that workers and scientists on the island were ferried back and forth on special government vessels under armed guard, and reporters, boaters, and curiosity seekers were, and still are, strongly warned not to take photographs of the island or indeed come anywhere near it. Although the government claimed this is simply due for the need for tight security of a facility hosting potentially harmful microbes in a post-9/11 world, it is undoubtedly pure rocket fuel for conspiracy theories, and Plum Island has many.