"Sense of Wonder" Maintenance

2007-01-16 05:20:00

Diamond Stars

From this BBC Science article:

Twinkling in the sky is a diamond star of 10 billion trillion trillion carats, astronomers have discovered.

The cosmic diamond is a chunk of crystallised carbon, 4,000 km across, some 50 light-years from the Earth in the constellation Centaurus.

It's the compressed heart of an old star that was once bright like our Sun but has since faded and shrunk.

Astronomers have decided to call the star "Lucy" after the Beatles song, Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.

Yeah, somebody missed the point. John Lennon's drug habits aside, the reader could be forgiven for asking "how exactly do we know that a star millions of light years away has a diamond core?" Fortunately, no human channels were using in the making of this conclusion:

The huge cosmic diamond - technically known as BPM 37093 - is actually a crystallised white dwarf. A white dwarf is the hot core of a star, left over after the star uses up its nuclear fuel and dies. It is made mostly of carbon. For more than four decades, astronomers have thought that the interiors of white dwarfs crystallised, but obtaining direct evidence became possible only recently. The white dwarf is not only radiant but also rings like a gigantic gong, undergoing constant pulsations. "By measuring those pulsations, we were able to study the hidden interior of the white dwarf, just like seismograph measurements of earthquakes allow geologists to study the interior of the Earth. "We figured out that the carbon interior of this white dwarf has solidified to form the galaxy's largest diamond," says Metcalfe.

Virgins and Dragons

The sexy critter you see on the left is named Flora. Flora has pulled off one of the greatest party tricks of all time: a virgin pregnancy. Apparently a great many species of lizard can do this, and it's known as parthenogenesis. (This story is also notable for bringing out some of the worst puns in the history of journalism.)

From a CNN article:

Parthenogenesis has occurred in other lizard species, but Buley and his team said this was the first time it has been shown in Komodo dragons -- the world's largest lizards. Scientists at Liverpool University in northern England discovered Flora had had no male help after doing genetic tests on three eggs that collapsed after being put in an incubator. The tests on the embryos and on Flora, her sister and other dragons confirmed that Komodo dragons can reproduce through self-fertilization. "Those genetic tests confirmed absolutely that Flora was both the mother and the father of the embryos. It completely blew us away because it [parthenogenesis] has never been seen in such a large species," Buley explained. A Komodo dragon at London Zoo gave birth earlier this year after being separated from males for more than two years.

The Hidden History of the Inca

"Incan civilization was a technological marvel. When the Spanish conquistadors arrived in 1532, they found an empire that spanned nearly 3,000 miles, from present-day Ecuador to Chile, all served by a high-altitude road system that included 200-foot suspension bridges built of woven reeds. It was the Inca who constructed Machu Picchu, a cloud city terraced into a precarious stretch of earth hanging between two Andean peaks. They even put together a kind of Bronze Age Internet, a system of messenger posts along the major roads. In one day, Incan runners amped on coca leaves could relay news some 150 miles down the network. Yet, if centuries of scholarship are to be believed, the Inca, whose rule began 2,000 years after Homer, never figured out how to write. It's an enigma known as the Inca paradox, and for nearly 500 years it has stood as one of the great historical puzzles of the Americas. But now a Harvard anthropologist named Gary Urton may be close to untangling the mystery."

(Click on the image to the left for an enlarged copy.) This whole story has a powerful resonance with a Brainsturbator article I've been working on since the site started about communication with extraterrestrials. It might wind up becoming a book, because it ties into signal vs. noise, information vs. data, and all manner of core issues that have obsessed me for my entire conscious life. (And possibly before, who knows.)

All of the quotes in this section are from an outstanding Wired article about Khipu, which is full of the grimly hilarious paragraphs like this:

Once, at the beginning of the 17th century, a group of Spaniards traveling in the central Peruvian highlands east of modern-day Lima encountered an old Indian carrying khipu that he insisted held a record of "all [the Spanish] had done, both the good and the bad." Angered, the Spanish burned the man's khipu, as they did countless others over the years.

It is precisely this kind of behavior that would make communication with ET intelligence difficult. Because the naked truth of the matter is, although there are certainly intelligent humans, you'd be hard pressed to argue that humans are an "intelligent species". I'm about 0% kidding with that statement. Any honest and comprehensive survey of human behavior would have to conclude that we are an irrational and violent species that occasionally produces truly incredible specimens of rare talent, intelligence and compassion. History is also pretty clear on what happens to those occasional gems: statistically, they get killed. We can see this in our own recent history here in the United States -- Martin Luther King, for example, was rewarded for his courage and moral clarity with a bullet to the brain.

Some of the knots did survive, though, and for centuries people wondered if the old man had been speaking the truth. Then, in 1923, an anthropologist named Leland Locke provided an answer: The khipu were files. Each knot represented a different number, arranged in a decimal system, and each bundle likely held census data or summarized the contents of storehouses. Roughly a third of the existing khipu don't follow the rules Locke identified, but he speculated that these "anomalous" khipu served some ceremonial or other function. The mystery was considered more or less solved.


Born Without Fingerprints

Naegeli Syndrome is very rare -- but yet, since most reports peg it at "one in every two to four million people", it's really not all that rare. With a world population of 6 billion, that means there's somewhere between three and six thousand humans running around with no fingerprints. This is simultaneously a complicated pain in the ass, and a great way to get unusual jobs. From a National Geographic article, we glean the following:

The lack of fingerprints can cause vexing social problems, which are magnified because few people have heard of the condition. Cheryl Maynard of Fairfax, Virginia, is part of the fifth generation of her family to have inherited DPR from her mother's side. "My father was in the military and he had top-secret clearances," she recalled. "We moved a lot, and everywhere we went they'd say, What do you mean your wife doesn't have fingerprints? What do you mean that you have kids without fingerprints?"

It's not all cloak and dagger glamour, though -- Naegeli Syndrome also creates severe skin complications and people affected often have no teeth. For more information, we recommend this excellent article over at Seed Magazine.

Lions Just Wanna Make Out, Yo

Based off this photo, pretty much everyone can guess what happens next -- the panicked screaming, the crunching of bones, the vain attempts to pull the body away from the ravenous feline destroyer -- but this was a little different. The lion, in this case, actually wanted to make out and cuddle with Ana Julia Torres, who rescued him from a circus where he was malnourished and beaten. (No word on wether or not the circus management was later fed to the lion, as per Intergalactic Law.)

Further Reading for Depressed Primates

Brainsturbator Library has some books that might pique your interest in the cosmos around you even more than this utterly amazing, groundbreaking and award-winning article already has.

The Book of the Damned -- Charles Fort A classic in it's field, Fort was like a Ripleys! for grownups -- or at least potheads -- collecting weird, amazing and confusing anomalies from all over the world. This book is still pretty darn cool to this day.

8 Lectures on Yoga -- Aleister Crowley It's a funny, thought-provoking and quick read, plus it's a great intro to Yoga, which is a rock-solid method for staying healthy and happy.

Also, check out the Brainsturbator stash of NLP books, and learn that depression is strictly optional. You choose to be down, you can choose to be up. I know there is nothing more obnoxious than being told this while you are depressed.

...And If None of This Worked...

Then, by God, we're going to pull out all the stops and show off our gallery of George W. Bush repeatedly and publicly indulging his homosexual fetish for men with bald heads:


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