Ancient Papyrus Mystery Solved

Ancient Papyrus Mystery Solved

Scientists have finally unlocked the secrets of a mysterious 2,000-year-old papyrus document.

The strange artifact, which has mirror writing on both sides, has baffled experts for centuries. Written in ancient Greek, the papyrus has been in the possession of the University of Basel in Switzerland since the 16th century.

Scientists have harnessed ultraviolet and infrared technology to decipher the papyrus, discovering that it is not a single papyrus, but several layers of papyrus glued together, according to the University of Basel.  A specialist papyrus restorer was also brought in to separate the sheets.

“This is a sensational discovery,” said Sabine Huebner, professor of ancient history at the University of Basel, in a statement. “The majority of papyri are documents such as letters, contracts and receipts. This is a literary text, however, and they are vastly more valuable.”

Ancient Papyrus Mystery Solved
Scientists at the University of Basel have deciphered the 2,000-year-old papyrus (University of Basel)

Specifically, the papyrus contains an ancient medical text that describes “hysterical apnea,” according to Huebner, who says that the text is either by the Roman physician Galen or an unknown commentary on his work.

Researchers were able to compare the papyrus to the Ravenna papyri, historic documents from the Archdiocese of Ravenna in Italy. These include ancient manuscripts from Galen that were written over and re-used in the medieval era. “The Basel papyrus could be a similar case of medieval recycling, as it consists of multiple sheets glued together and was probably used as a book binding,” explained the University of Basel, in its statement.

Other historic texts have also been in the news recently. Scientists in Denmark, for example, recently found high levels of arsenic in three books from the 16th and 17thcenturies. Experts from the University of Southern Denmark made the startling discovery when they were studying fragments of medieval manuscripts that were used to bind the books.

Ancient Papyrus Mystery Solved
An expert works on the ancient papyrus (University of Basel)

Earlier this year, secret 500-year-old letters sent by King Ferdinand II of Aragon to one of his military commanders were finally deciphered by experts in Spain. The country’s Army Museum called in experts from Spain’s intelligence agency, the Centro Nacional de Inteligencia (CNI), to help decipher the mysterious documents. The letters, which use a combination of 237 letter codes and 88 symbols, had baffled historians.

Ferdinand sent the letters to Gonzalo Fernández de Córdoba, known as the Great Captain, during a military campaign in Italy in the early 16th century.

Researchers in Canada also said they had harnessed artificial intelligence to decode a mysterious 15th-century manuscript. Discovered in the 19th century, the Voynich manuscript uses “alien” characters that have long puzzled cryptographers and historians.

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Greenpeace activists ‘crash’ drone into French nuclear plant

Greenpeace activists flew a drone into the nuclear energy plant operated by EDF in Saint-Vulbas, southeast France, on Tuesday
Greenpeace activists flew a drone into the nuclear energy plant operated by EDF in Saint-Vulbas, southeast France, on Tuesday
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Greenpeace activists said Tuesday they had flown a drone fitted out as a flying Superman into a nuclear energy plant in southeast France, aiming to show how the country’s reactors are vulnerable to terror attacks.

A video released by the environmental group shows the drone zipping through restricted airspace above the Bugey plant about 25 kilometers (16 miles) outside Lyon before crashing into a building on site.

It said the drone struck a storage pool for spent nuclear fuel next to a reactor, one of the most radioactive areas at the site.

“This is a highly symbolic action: it shows that spent fuel pools are very accessible, this time from the air, and therefore extremely vulnerable to attack,” Yannick Rousselet, head of Greenpeace France’s anti-nuclear campaign, in a statement.

French electricity group EDF played down any security risk, saying police forces had intercepted one of two drones launched by Greenpeace at dawn on Tuesday.

“The fuel building is key for security, designed in particular to withstand natural or accidental damage, which ensures its high degree of robustness,” the company said, adding that it would lodge a complaint with police.

Greenpeace has carried out several actions aimed at highlighting the danger posed by French nuclear plants, which generate the bulk of the country’s electricity needs.

In February, eight activists were sentenced to jail terms or fines after breaking into a plant and setting off fireworks last year.

After Greenpeace activists broke into another nuclear plant last November, the French government opened a parliamentary inquiry into nuclear safety and security.

The findings of the report, which include an analysis of potential risks of drones equipped with explosives, are expected to be released soon.

In 2014 and 2015, drone flights were reported over several French nuclear plants, including Bugey, though Greenpeace denied any involvement.

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Bolivia to build museum at bottom of ‘sacred lake’

Titicaca is considered a sacred lake by locals, from which legendary figure Manco Capac is said to have emerged
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Bolivia is to build an underwater museum in its sacred Lake Titicaca, the culture minister said.

The move comes after thousands of priceless artifacts were discovered at the bottom of the abyss.

“It will be both a tourist complex and a centre for archeological, geological and biological research, which will make it the only one in the world,” culture minister Wilma Alanoca said on Tuesday.

The museum will cost $10 million (8.6 million euros) to build, in partnership with Belgian development agency Enabel. Alanoca said Belgium and Unesco would contribute $2 million to the project.

Titicaca holds an important place in the hearts of local people — legend has it that Manco Capac, the son of the Sun God and his wife Mama Ocllo, emerged from its waters.

One of the main figures in Inca mythology, Manco Capac is believed to have founded the Peruvian city of Cusco, the historic capital of the Inca Empire from the 13th to 16th centuries.

Titicaca spans an area of 8,500 square kilometres (3,300 square miles) and straddles the border between Bolivia and Peru. At more than 3,800 meters (12,500 feet) altitude, it is the world’s highest body of fresh water that is navigable by large vessels.

It was the birthplace of several local cultures before the arrival of Spanish colonialists.

The most recent excavations turned up 10,000 artefacts, made from bone, ceramics and metal, cooking utensils, as well as human and animal remains, dating back to the pre-Tiwanaku (before 300 AD), Tiwanaku (300-1100) and Inca (1100-1570) eras.

The museum will be situated close to the town of San Pedro de Tiquina, around 100 kilometers from the capital La Paz.

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Black Hole Destroys Star and Shoots Jet

Black Hole Destroys Star and Shoots Jet
Black Hole Destroys Star and Shoots Jet
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Astronomers have watched the growth of a jet fueled by a shredded star.

When stars zip too close to a supermassive black hole, they enter dangerous territory. How close “too close” is depends on the black hole, but for one that’s 10 million times the mass of the Sun, any star venturing closer than an astronomical unit is done for: The black hole will rip the star apart. Torn asunder, half the star goes whizzing away, while the other half forms a disk of hot gas around its destroyer. This gas heats and glows, appearing to our telescopes as a long-lasting flare.

Astronomers have detected a few dozen of these tidal disruption events (TDEs), usually in optical, ultraviolet, or X-ray wavelengths. Sometimes — maybe 10% of the time — the TDEs come with jets, beams of plasma powered by the newly formed gas disks. At least, that’s what observers infer based on the emission they see; light from the best-studied of the jet-shooting TDEs traveled some 4 billion years to reach us, much too far away for astronomers to see the jet itself.

Reporting June 14th in Science, Seppo Mattila (University of Turku, Finland) and colleagues say they’ve now done just that, successfully watching a shredded-star jet be born and grow over a decade.

The team stumbled across the event while looking for supernovae. The researchers were studying the galactic pileup Arp 299 (a.k.a. NGC 3690), two glorious spiral galaxies colliding some 140 million light-years away. The ongoing merger is driving gas into the galaxies’ central regions, building a brilliant accretion disk around the black hole in the western galaxy and triggering the creation of countless stars, many of which are massive enough to go supernova.

Black Hole Destroys Star and Shoots Jet
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Mattila and colleagues spotted an infrared flare in January 2005 in the western galaxy’s nucleus, near the active black hole. By July, a compact radio source had joined it. As the team watched over the next decade with various ground- and space-based instruments, this radio source grew and stretched into a clumpy streak. Material in the jet at first moved at almost the speed of light, then quickly slowed down to a mere 22% of light speed as it ran into the surrounding gas and dust.

On its own, the existence of the jet doesn’t mean the flare-up is a TDE, cautions Suvi Gezari (University of Maryland). Active black holes are notoriously variable, flaring unexpectedly. But this event, called Arp 299-B AT1, has a big point in its favor: the jet’s angle. A big doughnut of dusty gas surrounds the black hole, and we see this torus from the side. Any jet fed by it would be oriented straight up-down from our perspective, like a pole stuck through an inner tube.

But Arp 299-B AT1’s jet points toward us, skewed only about 25° to 35° from our line of sight. That’s easily done with a disrupted star. A star can shoot toward the black hole at any angle, and the disk of gas created by its destruction can loop around the black hole and launch a jet unaligned with the original disk feeding the black hole.

“It’s a really nice demonstration that this was a star coming in, rather than some unusual flare,” says Andrew Levan (University of Warwick, UK), who like Gezari has spent years working on TDEs but wasn’t involved with the current study.

Arp 299-B AT1 is unusually unremarkable at optical and X-ray wavelengths. There appears to be a whole lot of gas and dust between the TDE and us, blocking and absorbing this radiation and eventually reemitting it in the infrared. Many galaxies’ cores, including our own, are replete with dust, and being able to spot one of these events behind so much dust could clear the way to finding them in galaxies where we’ve missed them before, Levan explains.

Based on the event’s intrinsic brightness and how much energy the team thinks went into heating the surrounding dust, the researchers estimate that it was the death of a star between 2 and 7 solar masses and unleashed a thousand times more radiation than a standard core-collapse supernova.

What a dramatic way to die.

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Pulsar Limits “Fifth Force” Interactions with Dark Matter

Pulsar Limits “Fifth Force” Interactions with Dark Matter
Pulsar Limits “Fifth Force” Interactions with Dark Matter
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A recent experiment to better understand the nature of dark matter constrains a possible “fifth force” of nature to almost zero.

Scientists recently studied a pulsar binary system to constrain the existence of a hypothetical fifth fundamental force of nature.

We already know about four fundamental forces: gravity, electromagnetism, and the strong and weak nuclear forces. However, there are some effects in the universe that cannot be explained by these forces alone. For example, a 2016 experiment in Hungary showed unexpected behavior in the decay of nuclei in the isotype beryllium-8. (After shooting protons at lithium foil, observers saw more electron-positron pairs ejected at a 140-degree angle, which is difficult to explain with standard nuclear physics theories.)

One possibility is the existence of a “fifth force” of nature, which governs the behavior of elementary particles alongside the other four forces. Some scientists suggest this force could work on dark matter, the unseen substance that makes up most of the universe’s mass. We can see dark matter’s effects on ordinary matter, but direct detection has eluded scientists and what it’s made of remains unknown.

Testing for a Fifth Force

One research group tested for a fifth force using a pulsar and its white dwarf star companion. Pulsars, whose atoms have been compacted into neutrons, are so dense that their extreme gravitational fields could enhance any possible interactions with dark matter. The white dwarf, while still sardine-packing its atoms, isn’t nearly so compact. General relativity predicts that normal matter ought to fall freely toward dark matter, but a fifth force that has the ability to interact with both normal and dark matter could strengthen or diminish dark matter’s pull. If a fifth force does exist, the Milky Way’s dark matter halo, whose density ought to peak in the galactic center, would pull on the neutron star and the white dwarf in different ways, slightly altering their orbit.

The researchers chose binary pulsar PSR J1713+0747, which is 3,800 light-years from Earth, lying in the direction of the galactic center. Dark matter is believed to be more populous towards the heart of the galaxy, so the pulsar binary system provides an ideal test how a fifth force would act on dark matter and standard matter. The researchers wanted to see if the movements of the pulsar and white dwarf would differ as they orbited one another.

“If there is a fifth force that acts between dark matter and standard matter, it would not be universal,” says Lijing Shao (Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy, Germany). “It would therefore produce an apparent difference for the neutron star and the white dwarf in their free fall towards dark matter. Thus, the orbit of the neutron star would be different than what is predicted by the general relativity.”

Using 20 years of radio observations of this system, the researchers concluded that if a fifth force does exist, it must have less than 1% of gravity’s strength . (And gravity is already the weakest of the four known forces.) The results appear in Physical Review Letters.

The researchers also discovered that the limits on the density of dark matter at this pulsar system were similar to other tests closer to Earth. In other words, the team didn’t prove or disprove other observations showing that dark matter density increases towards the center of the galaxy.

Beyond Relativity

Aurélien Hees (Observatory of Paris), who was not involved in the study, noted that this work is the first to investigate interactions between a hypothetical fifth force and dark matter in this way. The short rotational period of the pulsar – just 4.6 milliseconds – and its stable rotation made it a good candidate for constraining the effects of the fifth force, he said.

With the fifth force, he explains, “We expect to see something a little bit beyond relativity. We are trying to search for that with all the observations available from Earth.”

Shao says his team hopes to study more binary pulsars closer to the center of the galaxy to better understand the effects of dark matter. Unlike most tests of general relativity, in this case the researchers want to find pulsars moving in relatively slow orbits around their companion The challenge, of course, is finding the pulsars in the first place. He suggested a breakthrough will come when the more sensitive Square Kilometer Array is ready in the 2020s. “Bigger radio telescopes and arrays are better because they more precisely measure the time of the [pulsar signal] arrival,” Shao said.

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Scientist launches hunt for Loch Ness monster’s DNA

Student from New Zealand aims to unravel the mystery of the Scottish lake using modern scientific methods

A model of Nessie tethered by the neck at the Loch Ness Monster Museum. Photo: New Zealand Herald
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Tales of a giant creature lurking beneath the murky waves of Loch Ness have been around for more than 1,500 years and one academic hopes the marvels of modern science can finally unravel the mystery.

Neil Gemmell has travelled from the University of Otago in New Zealand to collect water samples in the Scottish lake, in the hope of finding out more about the creatures that inhabit its depths.

“Over 1,000 people claim that they have seen a monster. Maybe there is something extraordinary out there,” he said as he dropped a five-litre probe into the loch.

Professor Neil Gemmell taking samples on his boat on Loch Ness on June 11, 2018. Photo: AFP
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Gemmell said he would be keeping an eye out for “monster DNA” but the project was more aimed at testing environmental DNA techniques to understand the natural world.

Local Adrian Shine said Gemmell’s findings could contribute to his own long running research programme – The Loch Ness Project.

Adrian Shine runs the Loch Ness Project. Photo: AFP
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The venture was itself inspired by the efforts of earlier international explorers like American Dan Scott Taylor who patrolled the loch in his Beatles-inspired Yellow Submarine in the late 1960s.

“I’m sure that some species will be found which have probably not been described. They’re more likely than anything else to be bacteria,” Shine said. “If you did find something else – and I do emphasis the if – then you would actually get quite a good handle on what sort of creature, what class of animal, it is.”

A 1934 photo said to have been of the Loch Ness monster but was later revealed to be a hoax. Photo: AP
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Theories abound about the true nature of the Loch Ness Monster, from a malevolent, shape-shifting “water horse”, to an aquatic survivor of the dinosaur age, right down to logs, fish, wading birds or simply waves which have been blown out of all proportion.

“Anything that you see on the loch that you don’t understand can be your Loch Ness Monster on that day,” Shine said.

The earliest chronicles of a creature in Loch Ness are attributed to Saint Columba, who brought Christianity to Scotland in the sixth century.

The vast and mysterious Loch Ness in the Scottish Highlands. Photo: AFP
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The last reported sighting was on March 26 this year by an American couple standing on the ramparts of the majestic ruin of Urquhart Castle.

“They described a large shadow moving under the water which they estimated to be around 30 feet in length,” said Dave Bell, skipper of the Nessie Hunter tourist boat. “Last year we had a record number of sightings: 11 in total.”

Urquhart Castle. Photo: AFP
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Bell has never seen anything himself in his many years on the loch, but that does not shake his belief that there is something down there.

“I find it hard to believe that over 1,000 people can be wrong,” he said. “Too many rational, level-headed people have said they have seen what they believe to be a creature in the loch.”

Tourists on Dave Bell’s Nessie Hunter boat on Loch Ness. Photo: Reuters
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The Highlands are experiencing a boom in tourism – and not all of it is related to mythical monsters.

Inverness is the gateway to the North Coast 500, a new 800km (500 mile) trail dubbed “Scotland’s Route 66” which attracted 26 per cent more tourists to the area last year, according to the Highlands and Islands Enterprise agency.

“There’s a lot more people around,” said Joanna Stebbings, operations manager at Loch Ness Lifeboat Station, which carried out a record 33 rescues last year.

Tourists on the Nessie Hunter boat on Loch Ness. Photo: AFP
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“All the hire companies, whether they are kayaks or cruisers or even yachts are fully booked.”

Andrea Ferguson, 56, a schoolteacher from Saint Louis, Missouri, took a trip on Nessie Hunter to try to catch sight of the monster which has fascinated her since childhood.

“So many sightings have been made that there may be a little truth to the Loch Ness monster,” she said. “The loch is huge. It’s even bigger than I thought it was. It’s dark water, very mysterious, there’s lots of fog and mist, and large mountains draped in clouds so it has an aura of majesty and mystery about it. It’s beautiful!”

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