Feb 8, 2017


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Triple treat: Eclipse, comet, full moon all coming Friday night

As required during any lunar eclipse, the moon will be full Friday night. And this month it's nicknamed the "snow" moon.

According to the Farmers' Almanac, full moon names date back to Native Americans in the northern and eastern U.S. Each full moon has its own name.

"The tribes kept track of the seasons by giving distinctive names to each recurring full moon," the almanac reports. "Their names were applied to the entire month in which each occurred."

. . .

A few hours after the eclipse, Comet 45P, which has been visible after sunset for the past two months through binoculars and telescopes, makes its closest approach to Earth, when it will be "only" 7.4 million miles away, NASA said.

A pole reversal: Scientists discuss an anomaly in the Earth’s magnetic field

What currently has geophysicists like us abuzz is the realization that the strength of Earth’s magnetic field has been decreasing for the last 160 years at an alarming rate. This collapse is centered in a huge expanse of the Southern Hemisphere, extending from Zimbabwe to Chile, known as the South Atlantic Anomaly. The magnetic field strength is so weak there that it’s a hazard for satellites that orbit above the region – the field no longer protects them from radiation which interferes with satellite electronics.

And the field is continuing to grow weaker, potentially portending even more dramatic events, including a global reversal of the magnetic poles. Such a major change would affect our navigation systems, as well as the transmission of electricity. The spectacle of the northern lights might appear at different latitudes. And because more radiation would reach Earth’s surface under very low field strengths during a global reversal, it also might affect rates of cancer.

We still don’t fully understand what the extent of these effects would be, adding urgency to our investigation. We’re turning to some perhaps unexpected data sources, including 700-year-old African archaeological records, to puzzle it out.

Archaeologists to break ground at biblical site where Ark of the Covenant stood

One of the few remaining unstudied major biblical sites, where according to the Bible the Ark of the Covenant was kept for two decades, will be excavated by archaeologists this summer for the first time.

Organizers hope the anticipated study of Kiryat Ye’arim (also transliterated as Kiriath Jearim) will shed light on the site’s significance during the Iron Age, the period associated with the biblical account of King David.

Kiryat Ye’arim is mentioned over a dozen times in the Bible as a Judahite town situated near Jerusalem during the period of the judges and King David — the Iron Age, in archaeological terms.

The biblical town is associated with the hill where the Deir El-Azar monastery is situated, next to modern Arab town of Abu Ghosh, 12 kilometers (7 miles) west of Jerusalem’s Old City. A modern Jewish town founded nearby is named after the ancient site.

Hundreds of ancient earthworks built in the Amazon

Findings by Brazilian and UK experts provide new evidence for how indigenous people lived in the Amazon before European people arrived in the region.

The ditched enclosures, in Acre state in the western Brazilian Amazon, were concealed for centuries by trees. Modern deforestation has allowed the discovery of more than 450 of these large geometrical geoglyphs.

The function of these mysterious sites is still little understood - they are unlikely to be villages, since archaeologists recover very few artefacts during excavation. The layout doesn't suggest they were built for defensive reasons. It is thought they were used only sporadically, perhaps as ritual gathering places.

The structures are ditched enclosures that occupy roughly 13,000 km2. Their discovery challenges assumptions that the rainforest ecosystem has been untouched by humans.

Nun receives death threats for suggesting Mary was not a virgin

A nun in Spain who says she received death threats for suggesting that Mary probably had sex with her husband, Joseph, has apologised for any offence caused but accused her critics of deliberately misunderstanding her point.

Sister LucĂ­a Caram, a well-known Dominican nun with more than 183,000 Twitter followers, appeared to contradict church teaching when she appeared on Spanish TV on Sunday to discuss sex and faith.

“I think Mary was in love with Joseph and that they were a normal couple – and having sex is a normal thing,” she told the Chester in Love show, adding: “It’s hard to believe and hard to take in. We’ve ended up with the rules we’ve invented without getting to the true message.”

. . .

“I think the church has had a poor attitude to it for a long time and has swept it a bit under the carpet,” she said. “It wasn’t a taboo subject; it was more something that was considered dirty or hidden. It was the denial of what I believe to be a blessing.”

Hallucinogenic plant ayahuasca gains foothold in US

"Western medicine and psychiatry often struggle in treating substance abusers and alcohol abusers," Grob said. "So it's certainly worth looking at it."

While scientists in the United States confront legal obstacles in studying the brew, much research is being conducted in other countries, notably Spain and Brazil, where ayahuasca is legal.

Grob cited a pilot study in Brazil involving people suffering from chronic depression and who didn't respond well to anti-depressants.

"The preliminary results are positive," he said.

Asteroid 2017 AG13 slips through Earth’s defences

A HIGHRISE-sized asteroid slipped quietly past the Earth yesterday, twice as close as the Moon. We didn’t see it coming.

Now designated 2017 AG13, the 10-storey (25-35m) tall space rock was first spotted late on Sunday by the Catalina Sky Survey. It was travelling at 16 kilometres every second.

“This is moving very quickly, very nearby to us,” an expert with astronomy news website Slooh, Eric Feldman, said during a hastily arranged live broadcast of the fly-by yesterday.

He said the asteroid was roughly the same size as that which exploded in the sky above Chelyabinsk, Russia, in 2013. This blast shattered windows and caused minor damage to buildings over a wide area. More than a thousand people were reportedly injured by flying glass and debris.

Meet Saccorhytus coronarius, Humans’ Earliest-Known Ancestor

The ancient animal, named Saccorhytus coronarius, is the most primitive example of a so-called deuterostome.

The creature is thought to be the common ancestor of a huge range of species, and the earliest step yet discovered on the evolutionary path that eventually led to humans, hundreds of millions of years later.

Forty-five phosphatized specimens of Saccorhytus coronaries were collected from the Kuanchuanpu Formation, Hexi, Xixiang County, Shaanxi Province, central China.

They were analyzed by experts from the University of Cambridge in the UK, the University of Kassel in Germany, Northwest University, China University of Geosciences and Xi’an Shiyou University in China. The research was published in the journal Nature on January 30, 2017.

'Star Wars gibbon' is new primate species

A gibbon living in the tropical forests of south west China is a new species of primate, scientists have concluded.

The animal has been studied for some time, but new research confirms it is different from all other gibbons.

It has been named the Skywalker hoolock gibbon - partly because the Chinese characters of its scientific name mean "Heaven's movement" but also because the scientists are fans of Star Wars.

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