Astronomers have been scratching their heads over a series of mysterious radio bursts, so rare & intense, up until recently many of them even questioned their cosmic origin. First detected in 2007 through a telescope in Australia, the radio signals are known as fast radio bursts (FRBs) or Lorimer bursts, in honor of West Virginia University astrophysicist Duncan Lorimer, who was the first to discover & describe them on a scientific paper.
Since then, fewer than a dozen FRBs have been detected, the last one by the Arecibo observatory in Puerto Rico, on November 2, 2012 --as reported by National Geographic 2 weeks ago. By now we've only established 3 factors about the bursts: They are incredibly fast (lasting only a few milli-seconds), incredibly bright, and they seem to come from really, REALLY far away (as in billions of light years away).
But what causes them?
Because the signals are so brief and bright, they must be coming from a rather dense source, says astronomer Scott Ransom of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory. “That means a compact object – i.e., a neutron star or a black hole – is likely somehow to blame,” he says.
Just what that compact object is has yet to be explained. One theory suggests that giant flares erupting from highly magnetic neutron stars, known as magnetars, cause the bursts. Others suggest the bursts result from colliding neutron stars or black holes, evaporating primordial black holes, large magnetic stars, or are the death spasms produced when massive, slowly spinning neutron stars collapse into black holes. That last object, proposed in 2013, is known as a blitzar.
Notice that all these hypotheses have 1 thing in common: they assume the bursts are caused by some natural, albeit exotic phenomena. But would it be so ludicrous to speculate that FRBs have an artificial origin? That's what I humbly proposed on my Mysterious Universe column last week; something that could be easily dismissed as the nonsensical delusions of a woo-woo schmuck...
Well, turns out I'm not the only schmuck wondering about FRBs: In a comment left at the NatGeo page, none other than SETI founder Frank Drake is also proposing these mysterious bursts might be good candidates for a signal sent by some advanced civilization:
Indeed, [...] it is a worthy speculation that the FRBs might be a “hailing” message from a distant altruistic civilization. For many years, SETI scientists have speculated about the possible design of a hailing signal — a signal which announces loudly the existence of another civilization, and possibly leads the receiving civilization to a radio channel bearing much information. Without knowing which stars might be the home of other intelligent civilizations, the sending civilization might well adopt a strategy of sending hailing signals to large numbers of potential ETI-supporting stars. To achieve maximum probability of discovery, the right strategy is to send a very narrow-beam, powerful signal. In this case, one can send to only one star at a time, and so the strategy leads to a paradigm in which the transmitting beam is steered to a large number of stars sequentially, leading to the signals being detected possibly as short bursts which may repeat after some long time period. So we should search for more FRBs!
Daily Grail readers have no doubt read of the famous 'Wow!' signal, detected on August 15, 1977, which to this day is still considered the signal closest to filling the criteria of what intelligent ETs would be transmitting through outer space --or at least, the criteria of what modern science currently assumes intelligent ETs would be capable of doing…
There was also a time, when astronomers seriously considered the possibility that pulsars were actually alien beacons, perhaps built & used by some incredibly powerful space-faring civilization, to help them navigate through the stellar oceans. The fact pulsars are now largely considered a natural phenomenon --the same as FRBs-- IMO speak of the current paradigm incongruence we're stuck in: On the one hand, scientists assure us that intelligent life is more than likely widespread throughout the Cosmos; but on the other hand, to propose an observed astronomical event as a sign of these assumed extraterrestrial civilizations, is still largely regarded as a wild speculation --Martian face, anyone?
In recent weeks I've posted two separate stories regarding the topic of how we are locked into a certain perspective by our human-based perception of events in time, and thus 'blind' to many other aspects of reality (see 'Life Too Slow to See' and 'The Language of the Birds'). So when I came across the TED Talk below earlier this week, I thought it provided a beautiful summation of those thoughts (and extension, moving beyond just our limited perception in time, but also in space). In 'Hidden Miracles of the Unseen World', filmmaker Louie Schwartzberg gives us a glimpse of the things we are missing:
We live in a world of unseeable beauty, so subtle and delicate that it is imperceptible to the human eye. To bring this invisible world to light, filmmaker Louie Schwartzberg bends the boundaries of time and space with high-speed cameras, time lapses and microscopes. At TED2014, he shares highlights from his latest project, a 3D film titled "Mysteries of the Unseen World," which slows down, speeds up, and magnifies the astonishing wonders of nature.
A nice short lecture (27 mins) from Rupert Sheldrake on "how even in our most ordinary perceptions our minds are not confined to the insides of our heads".
Issue 9 of the wonderful online magazine Nautilus is now available to read, and offers a fantastic collection of articles on the theme of 'Time'. One of the pieces I recommend checking out is George Musser's article "The Quantum Mechanics of Fate", which delves into the (possible) mystery of retrocausality in modern physics:
Physicists as renowned as John Wheeler, Richard Feynman, Dennis Sciama, and Yakir Aharonov have speculated that causality is a two-headed arrow and the future might influence the past. Today, the leading advocate of this position is Huw Price, a University of Cambridge philosopher who specializes in the physics of time. “The answer to the question, ‘Could the world be such that we do have a limited amount of control over the past,’ ” Price says, “is yes.” What’s more, Price and others argue that the evidence for such control has been staring at us for more than half a century.
That evidence, they say, is something called entanglement, a signature feature of quantum mechanics...
...The standard interpretation of entanglement is that there is some kind of instant communication happening between the two particles. Any communication between them would have to travel the intervening distance instantaneously—that is, infinitely fast. That is plainly faster than light, a speed of communication prohibited by the theory of relativity.
...Price asks us to consider the impossible: that doing something to either of the entangled particles causes effects which travel backward in time to the point in the past when the two particles were close together and interacting strongly. At that point, information from the future is exchanged, each particle alters the behavior of its partner, and these effects then carry forward into the future again. There is no need for instantaneous communication, and no violation of relativity.
Before we get too carried away with the possibilities afforded by retrocausality, it should be noted that even those investigating it clearly say it's all a bit speculative right now. Furthermore, Musser points out that, even assuming retrocausality is real, "our control of the past is very limited — as it must be, if the universe is to avoid imploding in a big logical paradox. Quantum mechanics is set up to deny you that influence. It creates an eddy in the river of time, but only a little one" (sidenote for anyone else that thought it: yes I did hear Arthur Dent saying "Ah, is he?" when I read that sentence).
Nevertheless, I couldn't help thinking of Professor Daryl Bem's controversial findings that suggest humans may have the ability to 'feel the future'. I wonder what those physicists investigating retrocausality might say about what it allows in terms of presentiment in humans - still inconceivable, or is it a mechanism for such an effect?
Make sure you check out all the stories in Issue 9 of Nautilus, there is some truly fascinating and beautiful writing to enjoy (for instance, see this wonderful piece on the life and work of acclaimed physicist John Archibald Wheeler).
Link: "The Quantum Mechanics of Fate"
Two species of spider have been discovered building life-like spider effigies from dead insects, leaves, & twigs. What's remarkable is that one species is in Peru, the other in the Philippines. Scientists think the spider sculptures either help lure prey or scare off predators. Perhaps the spiders are just very lonely. Or even more disturbing, the effigies are shrines of worship. So far, "terrific pig" hasn't been seen written in the web.
The spider behaviour raises some very interesting questions about evolution, questions that may be uncomfortable or even heretical for the hard materialists. I'm not convinced this is just random Darwinian trial & error. Science has taken us far, but there's something else at play here that the materialists fall far short of explaining. The dead leaf moth and countless other examples in nature hint at other possibilities. Could mavericks like Rupert Sheldrake be on the right track?
"The day science begins to study non-physical phenomena, it will make more progress in one decade than in all the previous centuries of its existence." ~ Nikola Tesla
In the meantime, bow to the Great Spider Lord Clikzzrt.
Further reading from the Grail archives:
- Go home evolution, you're... creepily superintelligent?
- Biologist Rupert Sheldrake on the Ten Dogmas Holding Science Back.
Is there safety in numbers when it comes to science? Some 90 scientists and academics have co-signed a letter, written by Etzel Cardeña of Lund University and published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, that calls for more mainstream support of open and honest investigation of parapsychological topics, and related mysteries of human consciousness. Cardeña stresses six points in support of his call:
1) Research on parapsychological phenomena (psi) is being carried out in various accredited universities and research centers throughout the world by academics in different disciplines trained in the scientific method (e.g., circa 80 Ph.D.s have been awarded in psi-related topics in the UK in recent years). This research has continued for over a century despite the taboo against investigating the topic, almost complete lack of funding, and professional and personal attacks. The Parapsychological Association has been an affiliate of the AAAS since 1969, and more than 20 Nobel prizewinners and many other eminent scientists have supported the study of psi or even conducted research themselves.
2) Despite a negative attitude by some editors and reviewers, results supporting the validity of psi phenomena continue to be published in peer-reviewed, academic journals in relevant fields, from psychology to neuroscience to physics.
3) Increased experimental controls have not eliminated or even decreased significant support for the existence of psi phenomena, as suggested by various recent meta-analyses.
4) These meta-analyses and other studies17 suggest that data supportive of psi phenomena cannot reasonably be accounted for by chance or by a “file drawer” effect. Indeed, contrary to most disciplines, parapsychology journals have for decades encouraged publication of null results and of papers critical of a psi explanation. A psi trial registry has been established to improve research practice.
5) The effect sizes reported in most meta-analyses are relatively small and the phenomena cannot be produced on demand, but this also characterizes various phenomena found in other disciplines that focus on complex human behavior and performance such as psychology and medicine.
6) Although more conclusive explanations for psi phenomena await further theoretical and research development, they do not prima facie violate known laws of nature given modern theories in physics that transcend classical restrictions of time and space, combined with growing evidence for quantum effects in biological systems.
Cardeña notes that though the 90 co-signers of the letter "differ in the extent to which we are convinced that the case for psi phenomena has already been made", they are united in their view of science "as a non-dogmatic, open, critical but respectful process that requires thorough consideration of all evidence as well as skepticism towards both the assumptions we already hold and those that challenge them".
You can view the full letter, and list of co-signers, at Frontiers in Human Neuroscience.
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The phenomenon of earthquake lights has long been a subject of interest to those of a Fortean mindset - not surprising, given the crossovers with other Fortean areas including ufology and other 'earth lights'-related phenomena such as will o' the wisps etc (for a fascinating Fortean take on the phenomenon, see "Shaking Stars, an article by Geoff Falla that we featured in Darklore Vol 3). These mysterious lights have sometimes been reported as orbs or globes of light (for instance, on November 12 1988, a bright purple-pink globe of light moved along the St. Lawrence River near Quebec, just eleven days before a powerful earthquake), while on other occasions it has been reported simply as an odd glow, and even sometimes just as strangely illuminated clouds.
Happily, this week we've also seen some mainstream press coverage of new research into the topic which may just bring a greater understanding of when and how it happens: in a study published in Seismological Research Letters, a team of researchers looked at 65 earthquakes over the last four centuries that had earthquake light reports associated with them, and analyzed the geologic circumstances of each to look for any discernible patterns:
“We built a pretty large database of earthquakes with earthquake lights that happened around the world,” says [Robert] Thériault, a geologist with the Quebec Ministry of Natural Resources. “And eventually, when we started to look at them, we found a really striking pattern.”
Worldwide, roughly 95 percent of seismic activity occurs at the boundaries between two or more tectonic plates. But the vast majority of earthquake lights (85 percent) occurred in association with a quake within a tectonic plate at sites of continental rifting, a category that represents just five percent of all earthquakes. Additionally, most of the remaining 15 percent occurred with earthquakes caused by two plates sliding past each other (a transform fault), rather than one plate is pushed underneath another (a subduction zone).
Additionally, the scientists found that earthquake lights appear disproportionately before or during earthquakes, rather than afterward. They don’t yet have an explanation for the unusual location patterns of earthquake lights, but they think they can explain this trend in timing.
Their model, developed over the past few years by co-author Friedemann Freund of San Jose State University, also involves rocks conducting energy up to the surface, but not all the way up to the ionosphere.
“The process starts deep in the crust, where rocks are subjected to high stress levels, prior to the stress being released to produce an earthquake,” Thériault says. In certain types of rock, Freund has shown in lab experiments, this stress can break apart pairs of negatively-charged oxygen atoms that are linked together in peroxy bonds.
When this happens, each of the oxygen ions are released, and these can flow through cracks in the rock, towards the surface. At that point, the thinking goes, high-density groups of these charged atoms will ionize pockets of air, forming a charged gas (a plasma) that emits light.
Given that tectonic stresses build up over time before being released in the earthquake, the researchers suggest that these strange lights might be used in the future as an early-warning sign that a quake is imminent. Readers of this site will know this is not a new idea though - we've previously discussed (almost a decade ago) Michael Persinger's Tectonic Stress Theory, which covers much the same territory. The new paper, though, seems to have done a good job in narrowing down when and in what circumstances the strange phenomenon of earthquake lights tend to occur. See the links at the bottom of this post for more Daily Grail reading related to this fascinating topic.
Original Paper: "Prevalence of Earthquake Lights Associated with Rift Environments"
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Japanese engineers have created a system that not only levitates objects, but can also move the objects up, down, left, and right using external controls. Using ultrasonic standing waves from four arrays of speakers, the researchers noted that millimetre-sized particles "were levitated and moved three-dimensionally", extending upon previous work that had achieved movement along one fixed axis.
You can read more about the study in this Arxiv paper: "Three-dimensional Mid-air Acoustic Manipulation by Ultrasonic Phased Arrays". Or just watch the video above and gawp...
- "Fairy-Tale Physics", by Jim Baggott.
- "Beyond Neuroscience: The Challenge of Yoga", by Donald J. DeGracia.
- "What's Next?", by Dean Radin.
- "The Fourth Phase of Water: Beyond Solid, Liquid, and Vapor", by Gerald H. Pollack.
Grab a free PDF of EdgeScience 16 from the SSE website, or the print version from MagCloud. If you do grab the free PDF, please consider a small donation to help the EdgeScience team continue with this excellent publication, via the button on the webpage. There's also a link to join the SSE on that page if you want to keep up with the latest academic research into the fringe areas of science.
Do plants grow better if you talk to them? The idea is pervasive in modern society, although it probably has its roots (no pun intended) in the work of Dr. Gustav Fechner, a German experimental psychologist, who in 1848 suggested that plants would thrive if given attention and talked to. Since then, opinion (and experiments) seems to have alternated between confirming and debunking the idea, though that hasn't stopped keen gardeners (such as Prince Charles) from having a chat with their gardens.
The Mythbusters team have always been happy to investigate this sort of folklore, and a number of years ago when they tested this they returned a verdict of 'Plausible' based on their experimental findings. Here's the episode in question:
Now, for those that are interested in the topic, the Mythbusters currently have an interactive, online experiment running in which two plants are being monitored, one of which is being 'talked to' by a synthesized voice which is reading aloud tweets sent to the plant. It's not exactly scientific, given it seems to be a sample of only two plants, but a neat set-up all the same:
Does talking to plants help them grow? Become a MythBuster and find out. Tweet a message, and your words will be read aloud to the plant. Go ahead, get something off your chest, wish it well, or just pass along today's musings. The plant doesn't care; it just wants to hear from you.
As I write this, it seems that plant being talked to has definitely grown more than the plant sitting in silence. Is there an effect, or is it pure chance? If there is an effect, what causes it? Do sound waves encourage growth (see this recent story for more)? Is it any sound, or only certain sounds or frequencies? Or is it a magnetic field from the speakers surrounding the plant? What do you think?
Link: Talk to a Plant