A Close Up Look at a Comet as the Rosetta Space Probe Finally Closes in on its Prey

Comet 67P

Ten years ago, the European Space Agency launched the Rosetta space probe on a ten-year mission to 'hunt' Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko. Over the last few days, Rosetta has finally closed in on its prey, and today ESA scientists put it into 'orbit' around the comet (not a natural gravitational orbit yet, but a triangular, thruster-assisted orbit). It will slowly edge closer over coming days and weeks, before eventually deploying the Philae* lander to drop on to the comet itself.

But as part of the celebrations today, the ESA released the amazing image above of the comet (click for higher resolution), taken a few days ago from a distance of around 300km (today Rosetta is only around 100km away). It's a gnarly looking beast, almost dumbbell shaped with many house-sized boulders visible on its surface (the entire comet is around 4km in diameter). Not to mention that shadowy bit on the end looks like it could easily house an exogorth...

With Rosetta in 'orbit', the ESA are now updating their website fairly regularly with new images as they are downloaded from the probe...keep an eye on the Rosetta blog and the Rosetta mission image gallery for updates, and what are sure to be jaw-dropping pictures of another world.

* Both Rosetta and Philae are named after the Rosetta Stone and its place of discovery

New Nazca Lines Discovered In Peru

Nazca Peru geoglyph

Hidden for centuries beneath the sand and stone of Peru's Nazca Desert, strong winds have revealed previously unknown giant geoglyphs. Spotted from the air by pilot and researcher Eduardo Herrán Gómez de la Torre, a bird, camelids, and what may be a 60 metre long snake are among the shapes identified so far. From the few photos released, the new geoglyphs are distinctly different in style to the more famous lines such as the condor pictured below. Archaeologists are currently assessing the authenticity of the geoglyphs, how old they are, and where they fit in the menagerie of animals and geometric designs that cover an area approximately 280 square miles.

Hopefully the discovery adds to our understanding of the Nazca Lines, whose purpose has remained a mystery since they were first presented to the Western world in 1939. German mathematician Maria Reiche, who set up home among the geoglyphs and dedicated her life to deciphering the lines, amassed evidence showing they had astronomical meaning. The spider has since been identified with the constellation Orion. The lines may also have practical uses, identifying sources of water, vital for survival in one of the driest places on Earth.

More sensationally, Erich von Däniken wondered in his 1968 book Chariots of the Gods if the lines were landing strips for extraterrestrial visitors. The late Philip Coppens also thought the lines were intended to be seen from above; not by alien aircraft but shamanic flight, out of body experiences induced by altered states of consciousness.

Nazca Lines spider Peru Amazon Inca

Many of the animals represented are not native to the Nazca plateau. The monkey and hummingbird, for example, are all found on the other side of the Andes. The magnificent spider has been identified as a type known as Ricinulei, an arachnid so rare it has only been found in remote parts of the Amazon rainforest. The wildlife and geometric designs combine to present an enigmatic cosmology lost to time. It's easy to understand Reiche's passion for the geoglyphs, and the lure of their mystery.

In his book Fingerprints of the Gods, Graham Hancock mentions the 16th century Spanish traveler Luis de Monzon, who collected local traditions linking the lines to the Viracocha, a red-bearded god who brought civilisation to the pre-Inca world and whose companions may have been survivors of a lost civilisation. I'm sure if you asked him today, Graham would agree there may be a shamanic connection. Geometric shapes and animals are common in visions induced by altered states of consciousness. There is a long history of hallucinogenic use on both sides of the Andes, from ayahuasca in the Amazon to the San Pedro cactus in the highlands. I personally believe shamanism is the key to unlocking the mystery, and the ancient traditions that are still practiced in Peru today.

In his wonderful book A Sacred Landscape: The Search for Ancient Peru, historian Hugh Thompson suggests the lines were followed for ancient rituals, some of which still exist in various forms today. British archaeologist Clive Ruggles has also identified a labyrinth design at Nazca which was "not meant to be ‘seen’ from outside at all, but rather to be experienced from within. It was meant to be walked."

The Nazca lines are many things, a combination of astronomical alignments, mythology, shamanism, and ritual. However, I doubt very much that aliens, with the technology to travel vast interstellar distances, would need lines scratched in the dirt to navigate. The lines can only have been made by locals -- Atlanteans, of course, in their mysterious cities of gold!

Joe Rogan: The Majesty of Life

A nice little monologue by Joe Rogan, set to music and images, on how psychedelics and other border experiences offer a means for us to snap out of the routines that have blinded us to the majesty of life, and 'reset' ourselves. (NSFW language warning)

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Our Enduring Fascination with Portals to Another World or Dimension


Today sees the release of Lev Grossman's The Magician's Land (Amazon US/Amazon UK), the concluding chapter of his excellent Magicians series. Over at the A.V. Club, Grossman discusses 5 favorite magic portals in fantasy fiction, with some interesting insights into our fascination with doorways to other magical places or dimensions:

There’s an appeal to those portals, and it’s always been extremely primal to me. Even when I was 8 and read The Lion, The Witch, And The Wardrobe for the first time, it hit me like a truck. Of course this can’t possibly be all there is. There has to be some alternative to this world that’s all around me. If I could just look in the right direction, I could see it. There’s something so seductive about that idea, and I knew I had to write about it at some point. I remember reading [the first book in] A Song Of Ice And Fire in the ’90s and thinking, Martin has remade epic fantasy completely. He’s taken the Tolkien tradition and transformed it. Nobody had done that for the C.S. Lewis tradition, which has always had more of an air of middle-grade fiction about it. Could you take that idea of the portal fantasy and drag it into adulthood? What would it look like? That’s where The Magicians came from, trying to reengineer that subgenre for adults.

Grossman mentions just a few of the famous magical portals from history, but when I began to think about it, the idea of magical portals is amazingly prevalent, from fantasy right through to science fiction (hence the Stargate image at the top of this post).

It's a genre that has always appealed to me, so if you've got some favourite 'portal fiction' to share, please do so in the comments!

Link: Lev Grossman lists his 5 favorite magic portals in fantasy fiction

News Briefs 05-08-2014

Fly, you fools

Quote of the Day:

I think it would be great to be born on Earth and to die on Mars. Just hopefully not at the point of impact

Elon Musk

Looking for Mothman: Planet Weird Visits Point Pleasant


Alien stalker, inter-dimensional cryptid, herald of Doom, Tibetan Garuda or just a big-ass owl. Everybody has their pet theory about the true nature of the Mothman; but the only thing that's certain, is that 46 years after the collapse of the Silver Bridge in December of 1967, the mystery immortalized by John Keel and Gray Barker remains as captivating as ever.

Our good friends at Who Forted?, Greg and Dana Newkirk, have just shared a video about their very own personal pilgrimage to the Mothman Mecca - made as part of their Planet Weird series - and it seems the trip had a long-lasting impression on the young Forteans:

In the late 60s, a mysterious creature known as Mothman terrorized Point Pleasant, WV. In this clip, shot exclusively to field test new video equipment used in Planet Weird, Greg and Dana take a midnight adventure to the secluded TNT bunkers where the monster is alleged to have made its home.

I tweeted the thrill-seeking couple, asking about their personal impressions of visiting the infamous TNT area, which for a while was ground zero of most of the Mothman sightings between 1966 and 1967. This was their response:

I found the acoustic quality of the former World War II munitions plant to be interesting, and perhaps in some way connected to the high strangeness experienced by the inhabitants of the small West Virginia town, which will no doubt continue to lure Fortean aficionados for many years to come... like moths to the flame.

Mysterious Forces: Exploring the Poltergeist Phenomenon


Christopher Laursen is a PhD Candidate in the Department of History at the University of British Columbia whose dissertation focuses on poltergeist phenomena. I first met him at the Parapsychological Association’s 2012 conference, and have been glad that his web magazine, the Extraordinarium, has allowed me to continue following developments in his research over the past few years. His PhD dissertation, titled Mischievous Forces, looks at the shifting perspectives on poltergeist phenomena in the 20th century, focusing on changing research paradigms in the United States and UK during this period. It’s with great pleasure that I had the opportunity to interview him via email regarding his work and recent developments in his studies, including an online survey of people who have experienced purported poltergeist phenomena (Click Here to take the survey).

DM: What is a poltergeist? How accurate is what we see in the popular media?

CL: Poltergeist refers to a strange phenomenon in which there are unusual noises, such as knocking or scratching sounds, and movements of objects, as if they were displaced or thrown by an invisible being. There can be spontaneous fires and appearances of liquids or objects among other things. These manifestations happen repeatedly, but they tend to be time-limited. They start happening out of the blue, and then just as mysteriously, they tend to disappear a month or two later. Sometimes the anomalous phenomenon lasts just a few days, and I’ve also seen reports in which manifestations stretch across years. It is something that has been recorded as early as the fourth century, and it is likely to have been experienced even earlier in history. Furthermore, the phenomenon has occurred all around the world, albeit under different names and interpretations that are culturally specific.

The historical reports I have read certainly have had their share of strange moments, but most of them are a catalogue of relatively mundane anomalous events. The tea cup slides three inches across the countertop. A bar of soap bends around a corner to fly from the kitchen shelf into the living room. A woman enters her bedroom to find the curtains aflame. Three knocks are heard from the ceiling at 11:40 p.m., but no one is upstairs. There isn’t anywhere near the level of paranormal fury that has been depicted in most TV shows and movies.

This isn’t to say that anomalous events do not bring tension to those who experience them; emotions and anxieties are heightened in many cases since no one really knows what’s going on or what’s going to happen next. In other cases, people are

News Briefs 04-08-2014

Don't you believe it!

Quote of the Day:

Three things cannot be long hidden: the sun, the moon, and the truth.


Adiós to the Red Pills of the Week

Because everything that has a beginning, has an end. Today I close another chapter in my life, with the final edition of my weekly column at Mysterious Universe, the Red Pills of the Week.

Mind you, this does not mean I will stop my role as contributor for MU; now instead of a regular column comprising of a top-ten of top-five news recap, my articles will be centered on a single subject, which may or may not deal with a trending topic. More bang for your buck, as it were.

Speaking of bangs, I decided to properly say good-bye to the RPotW with a final batch of red pills, but instead of the usual flavor, these ones have a much more personal & nuanced taste: A collection of 'tips' or recommendations, from someone who's been on this journey of discovery, which would hopefully come in handy to any potential newcomer.

Jack in & join me for one last spin aboard the Nebuchadnezzar --as always, black trench coats are optional.