News Briefs 1-12-2014

Your soundtrack for today's news briefs is an echo from the past...

Thanks David.

Quote of the Day:

We protect our money behind safes, we protect our security behind the Pentagon, behind giant walls. But we allow any kind of idea through our skulls.

Grant Morrison

Archaeologists Uncover the World's Largest Ancient Stone Block at Baalbek

Trilithon stone at Baalbek

The above image, of the “Hajjar al-Hibla” (Stone of the Pregnant Woman) in the quarry at Baalbek, Lebanon, is one of my favourite historical pictures ever. The massive monolith has widely been regarded as the heaviest stone block ever cut by humans, with an estimated weight of around 1250 tons.

Little did we know, however, that a bigger monolith lurked nearby. In fact, right beside it. Archaeologists have excavated another block beside the Hajjar al-Hibla, that dwarfs it, clocking in at an almost unimaginable 1650 tons:

Below the “Hajjar al-Hibla” and directly beside of it, there is another megalithic stone block, even bigger than the first one: it measures ca. 19,60x6x5,5m. In order to determine the exact height, the trenches should be extended in one of the next archaeological expeditions at the site. The second block weighs 1,650 tons. Archaeologists concluded that the block was meant to be transported without being cut. This means, that it is the biggest known ancient stone block.

And here it is, lying to the immediate right of its more well-known sibling.

Largest monolith in the world

I'm calling it.

Wanderers: A Vision of Humanity's Expansion into the Solar System

Wanderers is a vision of humanity's expansion into the Solar System, based on scientific ideas and concepts of what our future in space might look like, if it ever happens. The locations depicted in the film are digital recreations of actual places in the Solar System, built from real photos and map data where available.

If you liked Interstellar at all then you will love this - it's a short film to make a space geek cry. A stunning look at the new life that could await us in the off-world colonies - on the moons, the asteroids and space stations - beautifully rendered. Wing suits in space. Walking on alien moons. Hell. Yes.

Monsters in America: A Cryptozoological Map of the United States

Monsters in America Map

Unsure of what to get the anomalist in your life for Xmas? No doubt you've already bought them all of Daily Grail Publishing's books (*ahem*), so the next best thing might be this cool map of American monsters for hanging on their study wall. In terms of endorsements, it's got the best in the (monster) business, with our friend, Director of the International Cryptozoology Museum (and Darklore contributor) Loren Coleman giving it his backing:

The cryptid-filled, cartographically accurate Monsters in America: A Cryptozoological Map of the United States should be on the walls of every museum, library, and researcher's office interested in the science of as-yet-to-be-discovered animals. Hog Island Press has produced an informative, affordable, high quality collectible, which also serves as an educational tool useful for your next road trip, a future research trek, or everyday bibliographic study. There is not a fake on the map. I love the heavy paper stock. Discover and obtain yours today!

Follow the link to view a more detailed image of the map, and also purchasing instructions!


Star Wars: The Force Awakens Teaser Trailer

It's still a year away, but Disney has released an 88-second teaser trailer for Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens. There's no shot of Jar Jar Binks Han, Luke, or Leia. No wookie's roar or a golden droid's "Oh my!" But there's the Millennium Falcon in a dog-fight with TIE Fighters over the sand dunes of Tatooine! X-Wings piloted by rebel scum zooming over water. A soccer-ball droid who will surely get kicked around at some point in the movie. And three new characters: John Boyega, who's the right height for a Stormtrooper; Daisy Ridley, driving something you wouldn't want to get hit by and looking very much like Natalie Portman's granddaughter; and Adam Driver bringing the Dark Side of the Force back with a very impractical but wicked looking lightsaber (a little religious symbolism going on there?).

Episode VII is directed by JJ Abrams, who recently rebooted the Star Trek franchise. Many Trekkies weren't happy with his reimagining of their beloved Captain James T. Kirk, and this has caused trepidation in the Star Wars community. However, Abrams himself admitted he was never really a big Star Trek fan; and to me, Star Trek: Into Darkness, felt like a dress rehearsal for Star Wars. Khan and Spock's fight on top of the moving barges could be a Jedi fight, sans lightsabers. Then there was Kirk dodging Klingons in a suspiciously Millennium Falcon-shaped ship. And last, but not least, the R2D2 easter egg. ST:ID certainly felt like an audition to direct a Star Wars movie! I like Abrams, his Spielberg-ET homage Super 8 was an underrated movie, and he's a genuine Star Wars geek. I can't wait to see him rejuvenate the Star Wars universe.

Post your thoughts (and bad feeling about this) below. When the trailer ended with the John Williams score, I felt like partying like an Ewok with bonfires and fireworks. December 2015 can't come soon enough! Incidentally, last week I had a very vivid dream I was watching scenes from the new Star Wars movie. An ageing Han Solo was visiting the Millennium Falcon for the last time, telling another person, "She'll never fly again." I'm glad this is a dream that didn't come true! Now excuse me, this scruffy looking nerf herder is going to watch the teaser trailer for the 88th time.

May the Force be with you.

John Boyega Star Wars Force Awakens Disney stormtrooper tatooine

Star Wars Force Awakens stormtrooper Imperial Disney

Star Wars Force Awakens Daisy Ridley Tatooine Disney

Sith Dark Force Star Wars Awakening Disney lightsaber

News Briefs 28-11-2014

“We are not born into the world. We are born into something that we make into the world.”

Quote of the Day:

“All points in space became equal to all other points in space, and it was meaningless to speak of anything as being separate from anything else.”

Michael Talbot

News Briefs 27-11-2014

The plan to replace Thanksgiving day with Bigfoot day has hit a bit of a snag…

Quote of the Day:

"Doesn't take 100 days to decide if murder is a crime, it takes 100 days to figure out how to tell people it isn't…"

~Chris Rock

Europa: Alien Ocean in Our Backyard

Roving in Mars is cool, don't get me wrong. But there's a reason why by now the Red Planet has become a collective Rorschach test for all those enthusiasts striving to take Pareidolia to unexpected levels: Unless you're a hardcore geology nerd, Mars is just too featureless; too arid, too... lifeless.

Which is why a mission to Jupiter's moon Europa would be far more exciting. As explained in this video by NASA-JPL astrobiologist Kevin Hand, the Jovian world has the most ideal conditions to discover not only organic molecules churning out beneath its ice cap by hydrothermal vents, but perhaps even a whole new alien ecosystem of complex aquatic lifeforms, evolved thanks to the tidal waves created by Jupiter's massive gravity pull over its moon, as envisioned by Arthur C Clarke in the 1st sequel of the 2001 tetralogy.

That discovery would add a whole new volume in the book of Life, and would surely change the entire course of human history.

...Unless we end up receiving an "attempt no landing there" from our Firstborn overlords. That would be cool, too.

Newspaper Headline from 1803 Reports Anomalous Meteor Shower

Meteor illustration by Concejalía de Cultura del Ayto

In the tradition of Charles Fort, our good friend (and Darklore contributor) Blair MacKenzie Blake has collected a newspaper 'clipping' (more correctly, found an eBay listing for a collectable newspaper) that discusses an anomalous meteor shower way back in 1803.

This electrical phenomenon was observed on Wednesday morning last at Richmond, and its vicinity, in a manner that alarmed many, and astonished every person who beheld it. From one until three in the morning, those starry meteors seemed to fall from every point in the heavens, in such numbers as to resemeble a shower of sky rockets.

...Several of those shooting meteors, were accompanied with a train of fire, that illuminated the sky for a considerable distance. One in particular, appeared to fall from the Zenith, of the apparent size of a ball of eighteen inches in diameter, that lighted for several seconds the whole hemisphere.

...Since writing the above, we have been informed that several of the largest of these shooting meteors, were observed to descend almost to the ground before they exploded.

However, rather than being - as the eBay listing has it - an "1803 headline display newspaper UFO / Flying Saucers seen over RICHMOND Virginia", this report was likely witness testimony of a particularly magnificent manifestation of the Lyrid meteor shower. In fact, an article written about this newspaper story, which collated it with other witness reports, was published in Popular Astronomy in 1931 (click for a PDF of the article).

What I found interesting about the testimony, however, was the mention of the sounds heard:

Hissing meteors

During the continuance of this phenomenon, a hissing noise in the air was plainly heard, and several reports, resembling the discharge of a pistol.

The 1931 article also mentions a witness at another location as saying that "we distinctly heard a hissing in the air, but heard no reports".

This mention of a hissing sound (and pistol-like reports) reminded me of a fascinating article which appeared in the Journal of Scientific Exploration (Volume 7, Issue 4), "Progress in Explaining the Mysterious Sounds Produced by Very Large Fireballs" (which I originally discussed in this Grail story). In it, author Colin Keay notes that "for about ten percent of those who do witness a very luminous meteor fireball, the mental impression is heightened by strange swishing, hissing and popping noises coincident with its passage across the sky. Such sounds are quite anomalous in that they imply acoustic propagation at the speed of light."

A suggested explanation for these anomalous sounds has been that the plasma trail produced by a fireball as it ionises the air in the atmosphere might be generating extra low frequency (ELF) radio waves. And in June this year a sky survey offered possible confirmation of this theory.

And to finish with an interesting sidenote regarding meteors and anomalous science: just a few days after the report above, a meteor shower in France occurred, the investigation of which (by Jean-Baptiste Biot) provided some solid evidence to the scientific establishment that rocks did actually fall from the heavens - marking a change from previous skepticism of eyewitness reports of this unlikely occurrence - and it is perhaps the event which could be said to have given birth to the science of meteoritics.