News Briefs 03-06-2016

“…What is the aim of a physical theory?”

Quote of the Day:

“If the aim of physical theories is to explain experimental laws, theoretical physics is not an autonomous science; it is subordinate to metaphysics.”

Pierre Duhem

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News Briefs 02-06-2016

Asking the big questions...

Thanks Kat, @Red_Pill_Junkie and @UnlikelyWorlds.

Quote of the Day:

There's a one in billions chance we're in base reality.

Elon Musk

How Long Would It Take for Evidence of Our Civilisation to Disappear?

In discussing the possibility of lost civilisations, the question is often asked: if there was an advanced civilisation in antiquity - say, more than 10,000 years ago - how much evidence would actually be left for us to find? The above video covers this in asking the question, what would happen if humans disappeared from the planet:

After 10,000 years, the only reminiscence that people were here someday, will be the remains of a few stone constructions, among which [would be] the pyramids in Egypt and the Great Wall of China. Mount Rushmore National Memorial will be there almost intact for several hundreds of thousands of years.

(via Gizmodo)

News Briefs 01-06-2016

Rare photo of me at work in the Grail bunker...

Thanks @GrailSeeker and @JohnReppion.

Quote of the Day:

Times are bad. Children no longer obey their parents and everyone is writing a book.

Cicero (43BCE)

King Tut Was Buried With a Dagger of "Extraterrestrial Origin"

King Tut's Space Dagger

In 1922, Howard Carter stunned the world with his discovery of the 'lost tomb' of the Egyptian King Tutankhamun (18th dynasty, 14th C. BCE), still intact with its treasures (and body of the now-famous boy-king) having remained safe from looters over the millennia. Three years into his investigation of the contents of the tomb, Carter found two daggers within the wrapping of Tut's mummy: one on the right thigh, with a blade of iron, and another on the abdomen - this one with a blade of gold.

While for most people the latter might seem the more interesting, it is the dagger with the blade of iron that has been of more interest to archaeologists. In ancient Egypt, minerals such as copper, bronze, and gold were used extensively from the 4th millennium BCE, but - despite the significant amounts of iron ore in the area - iron was very rarely used until the 1st millennium BCE. As such, there has long been a debate as to whether the dagger found on Tut's thigh might have been made out of meteoritic iron, which was highly venerated by the ancient Egyptians.

The dagger, pictured above, is certainly a thing of beauty. At 34.2cm (roughly 14 inches) long, it has a finely manufactured, non-rusted blade of iron, and a handle largely made of fine gold with a rounded knob of rock crystal at the end. Additionally, it was protected by a gold sheath decorated with a floral lily motif on one side and with a feathers pattern on the other side, terminating with a jackal’s head.

But is it from space? Scientists set out to answer that question in a recent study, which has just been published in the journal Meteoritics & Planetary Science under the title "The meteoritic origin of Tutankhamun’s iron dagger blade" Lead author Daniela Comelli and her team of researchers (thankfully) used a non-destructive technique known as X-ray fluorescence (XRF) to determine the composition of the dagger at two different places on the surface of the blade.

Their analysis - carried out at the Egyptian Museum of Cairo - demonstrated that the two buik constituents of the dagger's blade were iron (Fe) and nickel (Ni), with minor concentrations of cobalt (Co). And, importantly, they found that the nickel contributed around 10.8% of the full weight of the blade:

Iron meteorites are mostly made of Fe and Ni, with minor quantities of Co, P, S, and C, and trace amounts of other siderophile and chalcophile elements...The Ni content in the bulk metal of most iron meteorites ranges from 5 wt% to 35 wt%, whereas it never exceeds 4 wt% in historical iron artifacts from terrestrial ores produced before the 19th century.

[Additionally] the Ni/Co ratio in the dagger blade is consistent with that of iron meteorites.

Their conclusion: "The blade’s high Ni content, along with the minor amount of Co and a Ni/Co ratio of ~20, strongly suggests an extraterrestrial origin".

Location of space dagger on King Tut's body

This finding, along with last year's discovery that a 5000-year-old bead from the beginnings of Dynastic Egypt was also made from the remains of a meteorite, reinforce the idea that the ancient Egyptians attributed great value to iron from meteorites.

In this new paper, the researchers do feel that their finding "provides important insight into the use of the term “iron”, quoted in relationship with the sky in Mesopotamian, Hittite, and Egyptian ancient texts":

Beside the hieroglyphic “bja”, which already existed before the XIX dynasty with a broad meaning (as “mineral, metal, iron”), a new composite term “bja n pt”, literally translated as “iron of the sky,” came into use in the 19th dynasty (13th C. BCE) to describe all types of iron. In the same period, we can note a text at Karnak
probably describing a meteorite. The introduction of the new composite term suggests that the ancient Egyptians, in the wake of other ancient people of the Mediterranean area, were aware that these rare chunks of iron fell from the sky already in the 13th C. BCE, anticipating Western culture by more than two millennia.

I mentioned some fascinating details about the ancient Egyptian veneration of meteorites, sourced from researchers Robert Bauval and Adrian Gilbert, in my post about the beads last year, so I won't discuss it again at length here. But at the end of that post is an interesting hypothesis that wasn't explored much further: could the sacred Egyptian 'Ben-Ben stone' (like other omphalos stones) have originally been a conical meteorite? And, while we're speculating: could its shape have ultimately given rise to the shape of the pyramids?

This new research at least adds to the collection of very cool artefacts from space, including the Buddhist iron man (stolen by Nazis no less), and this more modern Japanese meteorite sword.

Related stories:

News Briefs 31-05-2016

We're not in Endor anymore...

Thanks Kat.

Quote of the Day:

Watch out for each other. Love everyone and forgive everyone, including yourself. Forgive your anger. Forgive your guilt. Your shame. Your sadness. Embrace and open up your love, your joy, your truth, and most especially your heart.

Jim Henson

Is It Really a Good Idea to Try and Contact Extraterrestrial Species?

Alien attack in the movie Independence Day

While we are all now familiar with SETI - the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, by searching the skies looking for alien broadcasts - in recent years a lesser known aspect to that quest has been generating plenty of debate. A number of researchers - including one of SETI's most well-respected and recognised scientists, Seth Shostak - have been arguing that a comprehensive approach to searching for aliens should include us trying to make contact with them, referred to as both 'Active SETI' and METI (Messaging to ET Intelligence).

But is this really a good idea? Should we be shouting out our location to the cosmos, when we don't know the intentions of any alien intelligences lurking out there? This is one of the major criticisms of Active SETI voiced in a recent paper on arXiv.org, "Reviewing METI: A Critical Analysis of the Arguments".

The author, John Gertz, points out that in the medical sciences, any proposed experiment must pass ethics review boards. Some experiments are deemed to be too dangerous, or unethical, and are rejected. And yet, "astronomers face no such ethical reviews, since theirs is normally an observational science only", he notes. But "when it comes to METI, which is not observational but manipulative, and on which may hinge the very fate of the world, perhaps they should."

In the paper, Gertz lists and critically evaluates the most common arguments in favour of an Active SETI approach, but finds them wanting:

Whenever one hears a “scientist” assert that ET must be altruistic, or that ET surely knows we are here, or that the closet ET civilization is at least 'x light years' away, ask to see the data set on which they base their conclusions. As of today, no such data set exists. In the absence of any evidence whatsoever, whether one believes that the extraterrestrial civilization we might first encounter will be benign, in the fashion of Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind, or ET, or malicious, asin Ridley Scott’s Alien, or robotic, or something else entirely is strictly a matter of one’s personal taste. SETI experiments seek to learn what actually resides or lurks out there in the universe. METI plays Russian roulette without even knowing how many bullets are in the chamber.

It would be wiser to listen for at least decades if not centuries or longer before we initiate intentional interstellar transmissions, and allow all of mankind a voice in that decision. The power of SETI has grown exponentially with Moore’s Law, better instruments, better search strategies, and now thanks to (Russian billionaire) Yui Milner’s visionary investment, meaningful funding. The advances are so profound that it is reasonable to say that the SETI of the next 50 years will be many orders of magnitude more powerful than the SETI of the last 50 years.

[Seth] Shostak, perhaps METI’s most articulate proponent, knows this and has widely predicted that we will achieve Contact within the next two decades. So why can he and his fellow METI-ists not wait at least until then before initiating transmissions?

What do you think? Should we shout out to the cosmos and see if anybody shouts back? Or is it safer not to tempt the fates?

Paper: "Reviewing METI: A Critical Analysis of the Arguments"

(h/t Norman Redington)

News Briefs 30-05-2016

Grammar Nazis - what purpose do they serve anyhow?

Thanks Kat.

Quote of the Day:

Although I think that life may be the result of an accident, I do not think that of consciousness. Consciousness cannot be accounted for in physical terms. For consciousness is absolutely fundamental. It cannot be accounted for in terms of anything else.

Erwin Schrödinger