Jan 20, 2019


Supermoon Lunar Eclipse To Become The First Pan-American Total Eclipse In 19 Years

When the Sun, Earth, and Moon line up just properly, the shadow cast by our planet can fall onto the Moon. If the alignment is perfect, the result will be a total lunar eclipse, where the entirety of the Moon enters the darkest part of Earth's shadow. During this time, anyplace on Earth's surface that experiences night will be treated to the spectacular show of a completely red, dim Moon.

Total lunar eclipses are relatively common; we get about one per year, on average. But something special is happening on the night of January 20th/21st: the entirety of the North and South American continents will get to experience the full show of the eclipse. This includes the penumbral, partial, and total stages from everywhere in the Americas. It's the first time this will happen since the year 2000, and the last time it will occur until 2058.

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The next time we'll have a total lunar eclipse with the same visibility from Earth won't be until November 30th, 2058: nearly 40 years from now. Skywatchers from the Bering Strait, Iceland, Ireland and the United Kingdom will be able to join everyone living in the Americas in viewing this spectacular sight. This is also the last total lunar eclipse Earth will experience for more than two years, so make sure you take advantage of your chance if the weather allows.

You Don't Look A Day Over 100 Million, Rings Of Saturn

Saturn is famous for its lovely rings, but a new study suggests the planet has spent most of its 4.5 billion years without them.

That's because the rings are likely only 10 million to 100 million years old, according to a newly published report in the journal Science that's based on findings from NASA's Cassini probe.

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It's possible that the rings are the remnants of a comet or some other icy object that made a chance encounter with Saturn and got ripped up, [Philip Nicholson of Cornell University] says. Or, perhaps one of Saturn's icy moons got whacked by an impact with a large comet.

Whatever happened, it's looking more and more likely that Saturn's splendid rings are a temporary phenomenon that humans are lucky to get to see at all. Previous measurements from Cassini helped show that the rings may be disappearing at a rapid clip, as dusty ice particles get pulled down to Saturn by its gravity. In another 100 million years, Saturn's most distinctive feature might be gone.

Earth’s magnetic field is acting up and geologists don’t know why

Something strange is going on at the top of the world. Earth’s north magnetic pole has been skittering away from Canada and towards Siberia, driven by liquid iron sloshing within the planet’s core. The magnetic pole is moving so quickly that it has forced the world’s geomagnetism experts into a rare move.

On 15 January, they are set to update the World Magnetic Model, which describes the planet’s magnetic field and underlies all modern navigation, from the systems that steer ships at sea to Google Maps on smartphones.

The most recent version of the model came out in 2015 and was supposed to last until 2020 — but the magnetic field is changing so rapidly that researchers have to fix the model now. “The error is increasing all the time,” says Arnaud Chulliat, a geomagnetist at the University of Colorado Boulder and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA’s) National Centers for Environmental Information.

Mysterious Repeating Radio Signal Detected In Deep Space For Only The Second Time

For only the second time ever, scientists say they have detected a mysterious repeating radio signal from distant space, with its origin remaining unknown.

A Canadian research team announced the cosmic phenomena’s discovery in the journal Nature on Wednesday. The radio burst, which repeated its signal six times, was detected among 13 other so-called Fast Radio Bursts, or FRBs, in July and August of last year.

“These repeat bursts are consistent with originating from a single position on the sky, with the same dispersion measure,” the researchers’ report states of the detected “repeater.”

Only several dozen FRBs, which last about 1 millisecond, have been detected since their discovery in 2007, as NPR previously reported. Repeating FRBs are even more rare, with the first, labeled FRB 112102, detected in 2007 following a review of telescope data that had been collected in 2001. That repeater, in comparison to this latest sighting, only repeated its signal once.

‘Smallville’ Star Allison Mack Cites Scientology As Defense In Federal Court Case

Lawyers for accused Nxivm sex-slave cult leader and former Smallville star Allison Mack are arguing that she isn’t guilty of inducing forced labor if the Church of Scientology isn’t guilty of the same charge.

In court papers filed yesterday in Brooklyn Federal Court, Mack’s lawyers argued that Mack’s threat to release naked photos and disparaging statements made by cult members against their relatives doesn’t rise to the threat of “serious harm” required to prove someone engaged in forced labor.

Mack and Nxivm leader Keith Raniere are accused of using the photos and statements to get free work and to force sex with Raniere.

“The government argues that Ms. Mack obtained forced labor through ‘threats of serious harm,’ with serious harm being the embarrassment that would result from the exposure of one’s collateral,” the court filing said. “Courts have found, however, that such an outcome, albeit embarrassing, does not amount to serious harm under the statute.”

Congregation ousts pastor over sign outside church saying homosexuality is ‘still a sin’

A Presbyterian pastor in Northern California was removed from his parish this week after he posted a message on the sign outside his church that stated “homosexuality is still a sin.”

The sign that the pastor allegedly made also stated that transgender activist Caitlyn Jenner “is still a man” and that “the culture may change but the Bible does not,” according to NBC News.

"As of today, I am no longer the pastor of Trinity Bible Presbyterian Church," Pastor Justin Hoke posted on Facebook. "I was informed that essentially all but one couple in membership would leave the church if I continued as pastor."

Evangelical group calls for LGBT people to be removed from anti-lynching bill

An evangelical nonprofit is asking lawmakers to remove language from a federal anti-lynching bill that protects Americans on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity before the legislation becomes law.

NBC News reported Wednesday that the nonprofit group, Liberty Counsel, which is designated as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, is lobbying members of the House to remove language referring to "sexual orientation" and "gender identity" in the bill, which passed the Senate unanimously last month.

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The bill, introduced by Sens. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Tim Scott (R-S.C.), makes lynching punishable as a hate crime. Thirty-five other senators formally co-sponsored the bill, which was introduced in July and cleared the Judiciary Committee unanimously in October. It passed the full Senate by voice vote.

The Vatican Says ‘Maybe’ to Hysterectomies

[Luisa] Del Vecchio, who has four children, has always believed in the Catholic Church’s indisputable teachings on birth control: Sex should only be between a man and a woman, and only under conditions that leave the woman “open to the possibility of conception.” That means elective hysterectomies on the basis of pain alone, not life-or-death situations, were a sin.

Del Vecchio had the hysterectomy anyway in 2015. “After consulting with my priest who tried to talk me out of it, I decided I just couldn’t deal with the pain any longer,” she told The Daily Beast. “I was missing work. I often couldn’t get out of bed. I wasn’t able to be a good mother to the children I had. I prayed and went through it even though I was defying God’s will.”

The decision to have her uterus removed turned out to be the easy part. She searched in vain for a physician in a Catholic hospital in Florence who would perform what was a voluntary procedure that defied church teaching. Del Vecchio felt it necessary to consult only devout Catholic doctors, but they all tried to talk her out of it. Finally, she found a female Catholic doctor in Milan who agreed to perform the surgery and who assured her that God would forgive her—eventually.

What made this ancient society sacrifice its own children?

Gabriel Prieto, a professor of archaeology from the National University of Trujillo, peers into the grave and nods. “Ninety-five,” he announces. He’s keeping a running tally of victims, and this one, labeled E95, is the 95th dug up since he first began investigating the mass burial site in 2011. The grim count from this and a second sacrifice site nearby will ultimately add up to 269 children between the ages of five and 14 and three adults. All of the victims perished more than 500 years ago in carefully orchestrated acts of ritual sacrifice that may be unprecedented in world history.

“This is something completely unexpected,” exclaims Prieto, shaking his head in bewilderment. The words have become a kind of mantra as the archaeologist and father struggles to make sense of the harrowing discovery at a site called Huanchaquito-Las Llamas. In our time and culture, the violent death of even one child rends all but the most callous hearts, and the specter of mass murder horrifies every healthy mind. And so, we wonder: What desperate circumstances might account for an act that’s unthinkable to us today?

Archaeologists have found evidence of human sacrifice in all parts of the world. Victims may number in the hundreds, and often they’re deemed to have been prisoners of war, or casualties of ritual combat, or retainers killed upon the death of a leader or the construction of a sacred building. Ancient texts, including the Hebrew Bible, attest to the practice of child sacrifice, but clear evidence of mass killings of children is rare in the archaeological record. Until the discovery at Huanchaquito (pronounced wan-cha-KEE-toe), the largest known child sacrifice site in the Americas—and possibly the entire world—was at Templo Mayor in the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlán (modern-day Mexico City), where 42 children were slain in the 15th century.

Inside This Cult Temple of the 'Flayed Lord,' Sacrificial Horrors Took Place

Archaeologists in Mexico say they've found a temple dedicated to Xipe Tótec, a god associated with rituals involving skinning sacrificial victims.

The discovery marks the first time researchers have found a cult center devoted to Xipe Tótec, or the "Flayed Lord," according to the announcement from Mexico's National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH).

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The Popoloca indigenous people likely built the complex between A.D. 1000 and 1260, archaeologist Noemí Castillo Tejero said in a statement. The area was later conquered by the Aztecs, the empire that still ruled over much of central Mexico when the Spanish conquistadors arrived.

Linked to fertility, war and agricultural renewal, Xipe Tótec was an important god in Aztec mythology. During the spring festival dedicated to him, known as Tlacaxipehualiztli, sacrificial victims were killed in gladiatorial combat or by being splayed out and shot with arrows. The dead were then flayed on another platform and their skin was worn by priests and other ritual participants for days. (According to some accounts, sometimes people would pledge to participate in the ceremony if Xipe Tótec cured their conditions like pimples, inflammation and eye diseases.)

Has AI found a new human ancestor? Footprint of extinct hominid spotted by an algorithm suggests Neanderthals commonly bred with other species

Researchers have identified what may be a previously unknown human ancestor, thanks to the help of artificial intelligence.

A new investigation into the genome of Asian populations has spotted the footprint of a long-ago hominid that appears to have been bred from two different species of human ancestor – Neanderthal and Denisovan.

This ancient hominid, who lived tens of thousands of years ago, then bred with modern humans who arrived to Asia after the ‘Out of Africa’ migration.

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And, the new research from the Institute of Evolutionary Biology (IBE), Centro Nacional de Análisis Genómico (CNAG-CRG) of the Centre for Genomic Regulation (CRG), and the Institute of Genomics at the University of Tartu suggests such hominid hybrids may not have been all that uncommon after all.

The world’s oldest cave paintings were probably made by Neanderthals

New evidence suggests that Neanderthals may have independently practiced symbolic behavior. Neanderthals painted. In February 2018, researchers published an article in Science showing that some cave art is far too old to have been made by Homo sapiens. Dirk Hoffman of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology and his team examined paintings from three caves in Spain: a red geometric shape, from La Pasiego, part of the same cave complex as El Castillo, which they dated to 64,800 years ago; a red hand outline, from Maltravieso, which they dated to 66,700 years ago; and an abstract red swath at Ardales, dated to at least 65,500 years ago. The dates are shocking, and not only because they trump the El Castillo painting by more than 20,000 years. When these three pieces were painted, there were no Homo sapiens anywhere in Europe. We didn’t arrive on the continent until around 44,000 years ago. That leaves Neanderthals as the only possible artists for these Spanish caves.

Because cave art has been studied since 1880, it might seem strange that we could have our image of the artists changed so dramatically now. Part of the problem is that it isn’t easy to date cave art. Carbon dating, which archaeologists use when we need to find out the age of most human artifacts, is not ideal for cave art for three reasons. Carbon dating requires carbon in the paint; black paint is sometimes made of carbon, but red paint is not. Second, carbon dating requires removing a small sample of the paint itself; archaeologists are often reluctant to destroy even a tiny part of these ancient and rare pieces of art. Finally, carbon dating is unreliable for objects older than 50,000 years, which all three of these pieces are.

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To be clear, this new discovery doesn’t mean that all of the cave art was made by Neanderthals. In fact, many of the most famous caves were painted only after Neanderthals went extinct. But this discovery does mean that perhaps Neanderthals should be included along with us as creators of symbolism. If so, it would drastically change our understanding of how Neanderthals behaved. Did they use language, another type of symbolic behavior? Did they have religion? Or music? Studying their art may help us get at the answers to these questions.

Insect collapse: ‘We are destroying our life support systems’

Earth’s bugs outweigh humans 17 times over and are such a fundamental foundation of the food chain that scientists say a crash in insect numbers risks “ecological Armageddon”. When Lister’s study was published in October, one expert called the findings “hyper-alarming”.

The Puerto Rico work is one of just a handful of studies assessing this vital issue, but those that do exist are deeply worrying. Flying insect numbers in Germany’s natural reserves have plunged 75% in just 25 years. The virtual disappearance of birds in an Australian eucalyptus forest was blamed on a lack of insects caused by drought and heat. Lister and his colleague Andrés García also found that insect numbers in a dry forest in Mexico had fallen 80% since the 1980s.

“We are essentially destroying the very life support systems that allow us to sustain our existence on the planet, along with all the other life on the planet,” Lister said. “It is just horrifying to watch us decimate the natural world like this.”

California Monarch Butterfly Population Down 86 Percent in One Year

"It's been hard for me, as I remember the millions of monarchs of the 1980s," said Mia Monroe, a Bay Area-based Xerces Society member who helps lead California's monarch population count. "We only have less than one percent of the monarchs that we once historically had."

Counts typically fluctuate from year to year, but Monroe said this year's dramatic drop is breathtaking. Volunteers, like Monroe, counted the butterflies at 97 sites across California, according to the Xerces Society. There are several historical overwintering sites in the Bay Area for monarchs. Some of the more popular locations are in Marin County near the communities of Bolinas, Stinson Beach and Muir Beach.

The exact cause for this year's sharp decline is not known, but Xerces scientists and researchers with U.C. Davis, Tufts University and Washington State University did observe a low population of the monarchs at the beginning of their breeding season last spring.

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