The Pale Blue Dot

So, I’ve got a bunch of new posts coming up for you!

Lately, I’ve been quite a bit of a space nerd, so I’ve been wandering the solar system and the discovered reaches of the great space that surrounds us. And frankly, feeling quite betrayed by teachers and schools that didn’t teach me near enough about our own solar system, I’ve been collecting facts and theories about our neighbouring planets and stars.

In the vast reaches of the universe we’re but a tiny little fragment of stardust, and since this is our world, our home and mysterious environment, how could I not be interested?

I will take the freedom to educate and update our knowledge about space, starting with our own solar system. I can’t help but think that you will be as amazed as I am by the information at hand.

Starting with the very middle of our own system, the Sun, I will try to bring the very most, interesting facts that I can muster to find.

Some of the posts may or may not be excluded due to lack of information or interest, so if there’s one post you specifically don’t want to miss, vote to show your interest!

All credit to NASA for the image. Earth from space, of course.

Meteor showers!

It’s not about holes this time!

So, while I was up last night, or well, this morning, I went out on the balcony with Jessica. Usually we tend to see tiny, white, star-like floating objects which we’re not really sure what they are (I managed to film one a while back, maybe I’ll get it on the internet so someone can tell me what kind of a dummy I am for not realizing it was something like a plane), and this time we saw pretty many of them. I would try to explain it as some kind of aircraft, but they’re rather faint and tend to move rather quickly (faster than a plane) and over large areas of the sky before slowly fading away, and mostly their paths aren’t straight or so, but rather irregular.

Anyhow, that’s not really what I came on here to say. Most of you have heard of google maps, whether you’re a regular internet lurker or not, but there’s also Google Sky Maps, and I happen to have such a thing on my phone. What I really was trying to do was to confirm that this particularily bright object we’d spotted was in fact Uranus, but the app seemed to be mucking about a bit, however I did spot something just above Orion on the little screen.

I use this app quite frequently, but there was an entirely new icon which said “Orionids“, and I had absolutely no clue what it was.

Naturally I googled it.

And I found something quite astonishing. Not only have I an interest in fascinating sites on the surface of the planet, but I’m actually quite the space nerd as well.

I found that October is quite the month for watching meteor showers, and the Orionids are just that. You’ve likely heard about Holley’s Comet, it travels along it’s elliptical orbit around the sun and out towards the outer reaches of the solar system, a journey that takes 75,32 years. While close to the sun the heat releases gas and dust from the comet, and this is left behind as a trail of debris. Earth passes through this trail two times each year, and the debris entering the atmosphere causes shooting stars, or meteor showers. These occur in May and in October each year.

The showers start around October 2nd and carries on until November 11th, but peaks about October 19th to the 22nd. And you can see these meteor showers from anywhere on the planet.

They’re called Orionids simply because the radiant (the place in the sky where the meteors appear to originate from as you watch them from Earth) is between the constellations Orion and Gemini. While showers and the coming of comets around this time has been documented as early as 240 BC, it’s only recently (in 1705) that it’s been found that it’s actually the very same comet returning. The man who first discovered this was Edmund Halley, after whom the comet is named.

The last time Halley’s Comet passed by Earth was in 1986, and an armada of space probes were sent out to examine it more closely. The next time it will come passing by and once again become visible through the naked eye is in June 2062.

As the comet passed by in 1910 it caused a bit of mass hysteria as it was revealed through spectroscopy that the tail contained cyanide, and that the Earth was about to pass through it. Though the gas disperses fairly quickly and the low concentration of gas really didn't affect life on the planet at all.

What we can see of the meteors are really just them hitting the atmosphere and vaporising at 80 t0 120 km above ground, meteors that are big and/or compact enough to pass through the atmosphere and actually plunge into the surface of the planet are called meteorites, though I’m not sure if that has ever happened with debris from Halley’s comet.

Well, this year will be a so-so year for watching the meteor showers, as the moon will obscure a lot of the comets. But as well as a few comets you will also be able to see Mars somewhere about the constellation of Leo.

Aside from the Orionids though, you will also be able to see the Draconids on saturday evening (October 8th), usually this shower isn’t all too great, with only a few meteors per hour, but the canadian astronomer Paul Wiegert has predicted that this annual shower may actually turn into a meteor storm, with a thousand meteor visible per hour. It has happened before in 1933 and 1946, and also a few less impressive showers (still with hundreds of meteors per hour though) happened in 1952, 1985 and 1998.

In November there will also be Leonids (16th -18th), and Taurids (late October-early November). Specially the Leonids are known for causing huge meteor showers.

Orbit diagram for the inner solar system and Halley’s Comet; http://ssd.jpl.nasa.gov/sbdb.cgi?sstr=1P;orb=1;cov=0#orb

All pictures in this post came from wikipedia.

 

 

 

L’Empire de la Mort

As you may or may not know, I have a macabre side to myself. And hence, the long anticipated new post is very macabre.

The title “L’Empire de la Mort” is french “The Empire of the Dead”, and is part of an inscription over the entrance to the Catacombs of Paris. You’ve surely heard of it, the vast ossuary beneath the city in the old tunnels of the limestone quarry. Other than a final resting place for more than 6 million parisians, the tunnels have been used by the French resistance during the Second World War, as well as the Germans, who used part of the tunnels as a bunker. Not to mention bandits, sorcerers and urban explorers.

And I know what you’re thinking; “What, more holes? Seriously?” You should probably ask Freud what this all could mean.

Skulls and bones in rows and rows.

Anyhow, the first to mine limestone from this place were the Romans, in 60 B.C.E. However, they only used the limestone that was easily available in open air quarries. But in 1180 C.E; Philippe-Auguste was building ramparts outside the city to protect it, and since Paris was already taking place over the landscape, tunneling became the only way to get any limestone out of those mines. And it is doubtlessly a vast tunneling system that took form under his rule.

They kept digging around freely until the weight of the city eventually caved in on the hollow chambers underneath, and on April 4th in 1777, the Inspection Générale des Carrières was formed and sent down into the underground maze to reinforce, and close off the sections deemed too dangerous.

So when did they decide to fill the tunnels with bones? Well, in the 1800’s the parisian cemeteries were getting full. The corpses were piling up high. Cimetière des Innocents (Cemetery of the Innocents) held 30 generations of human remains by the ends of it’s use. On top of this families paid the priests to bury their relatives on the burial grounds close to the curches, and in the end the ground was swelled up 10 feet against the cemetery walls. Some walls even crumbled under the pressure and rotting bodies fell out into the streets. I’m not kidding. And they even had special little charnel houses built in the graveyards in order to stuff the bodies in there. The stench was likely horrid. And people started getting sick from the pestilence spread from the corpses.

This is when people decided to bother the dead and move the remains for the sake of the living. Seeing as disturbing the dead is considered a bit of a taboo in most places of the world (even though there’s actually, at the time of writing; October 3rd 2011, still certain places where you eat your dead relatives) this happened in long, black, silent processions during the night.

In 1785, you could in the dark of the night se wagons, covered in black cloth, filled with bones, pulled by horses walk the streets, accompanied by priests. This image tickles my macabre side greatly.

The moving of remains carried on until at least 1814, and the catacombs were even before then a tourist attraction (though not as frequently visited by people just wishing to see the sights as today). The first part of the tunnel to receive any bones was named; “Carrière de la Tombe Issoire”.

A sign, and more bones and skulls in rows and rows.

Throughout the catacombs there are signs marking where the bones came from, as well as the year they were set there, at least through the tour part of the tunnels, in other parts the bones are simply piled on top of eachother, and going through the passages forces you to crawl over bones and skulls from countless dead.

Official documents claim that the tunnels stretch out for 300 km (aside from the catacombs) but although I cannot confirm my sources I have heard that there’s far more.

Today, you can, as previously mentioned, take tours through parts of the catacombs, exploring the rest of the enormous system is illegal, but that, along with the risk of falling down seemingly endless shafts, getting lost, or just dying of pure fright down there just isn’t enough for some people.

August 23rd the police even found an underground cinema in the catacombs, put there by an urban explorer group called “La Mexicaine de Perforation” (The perforated Mexicans, called so after a bar called Le Mexico which the members frequent). Much like an underground amphitheatre with a fully functional cinema projector, telephones, internet access, a bar and restaurant, and even toilets. The entrance was hidden behind a sign which said there were some kind of construction going on, with a hidden camera taking pictures of whoever passed by, and a tape recorder playing the sound of a barking dog, to scare off intruders.

When the police returned to the location they found a note which said “Ne cherchez pas” – “Do not try to find us” or “Do not search”, and all the equipment had been removed as well.

A photographer who claimed to be close to the group said that it was a shame that the cinema was found, but it was not the end of the world. “There were plenty where that came from. […] You guys have no idea of what’s down there.”

And I get pretty damn curious to find out what lies there in the bowels of the Earth, in the underbelly of Paris.

However there are plenty of other underground tunnels under several other grand cities, but I shall try to regain focus of the actual theme of this post. Holes and bones, ossuaries.

Besides this huge complex of tunnels in paris, you have plenty of other ossuaries all over the world;

Capela dos Ossos, Èvora, Portugal.

Capuchin Crypt, Rome, Italy. (The only location in this post I have actually visited myself!)

Capuchin Catacombs, Palermo, Italy. The thing which differs this ossuary from the others is that the bodies in it are actually mummyfied. No, folks, this girl isn't alive, she's settled in for the neverending sleep. In 1920, this is a picture of her in 1955.

And finally, the Sedlec Ossuary, Czech Republic. In this ossuary the bones have been moved around over the ages, remodeled and refashioned into chandeliers and various other decorations.

Finally, some links to some pages which I found helpful or very interesting on the subject(s);

An article from Ghostvillage
– http://www.ghostvillage.com/legends/2003/legends28_10042003.shtml

An article from Parisloque
– http://www.parislogue.com/catacombs

An article on the underground cinema from the Guardian
– http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2004/sep/08/filmnews.france

And another one from CBS News
– http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2004/09/27/world/main645876.shtml

As well as a little something from an urban explorer through National Geographic – http://www.nationalgeographic.com/adventure/travel/paris.html

All the pictures in this post came from http://www.wikimedia.org/ !

Flooded Sinkholes

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, it’s been a while since I made one of these posts. Let’s hope I’m not too rusty, and look at this;

That's right, gasp in awe!

This picture has been floating around on the internet for a long time, and it’s quite possible that many of you have seen it already, or heard of it. What you’re looking at is The Great Blue Hole of Belize, sometimes called only The Great Blue Hole.

The Great Blue Hole is by far the most famous blue hole in the world, but it is not the only one, nor the deepest, or strangest. I will present some more water-filled holes upon the face of the Earth to you, but let’s start with a little something on this one.

Jacques-Yves Cousteau made this big beauty of a hole famous through his popular tv series called “The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau”, and he also announced the hole one of the top 4 scuba diving sites in the world. In 1971 he arrived with his ship Calypso and her crew to explore the grand abyss and chart it, and what they found was quite exciting: stalactites and stalagmites 30 meters (98 ft) below sea level, and deeper still. This of course implies that the hole was formed above sea, well, which also the ledges inside the 124 m (406 ft) cave deep implied. They also found that many of the stalactites were off-vertical by 5 degrees, which implies that the cave was once in a different angle, until some kind of geological shift moved it into the way it stands today.

However, 26 years after Jaques Cousteau went to the site, another expedition ventured into the depths to try to unravel the past of the sinkhole. The californian scientists Anthony Jones and Robert Dill led the expedition of 1997 into the hole, gathering a whole bunch of pieces of stalactites to analyse (this is apparently one of the few times when you’re allowed to damage salactites, to do isotope analysis), and they found that the cave was formed in at least four episodes 153,000; 66,000; 60,000 and 15,000 years ago, which also explains the ledges at 21, 49 and 91 meters (69, 161 and 299 ft) below the surface. At these four times in history there were climate changes and lower temperature that could have formed the Great Blue Hole indeed.

Huge stalactites inside the Blue Hole.

So, the opening is a round, circular dark hole that makes you feel like you’re going to be sucked into the depths until you simply cease to exist. Well, come to think of it, the hole is only 124 m (407 ft) deep, which means that it isn’t deeper than it is across (approximately 318 m (984 ft) ) and the lucid water makes in not all that hard to see pretty deep into the cave. And there’s also fishes living around the hole, groupers, nurse sharks and various reef sharks makes an appearance, occasionally bullsharks and hammerheads have been sighted too.

At 90-101 m (295-331 ft) below the surface however, is a strange, turbid, brown layer of water, before there’s once again lucid water below it, pretty much like above except a lot darker and with a complete lack of oxygen.
The brown layer is filled with hydrogen sulphide, which is created as organic substances sink into the hole and is decomposed by various micro-organisms. The micro-organisms deplete the oxygen at the bottom of the hole, and therefore there is nothing below the sulphide except great rocks of limestone. The sulphide makes the water more acidic and it erodes the limestone walls of the cave, which could contribute to the hourglass shape.

Anyhow, it’s not completely certain how the sinkhole was created, you need to remember that the “real” bottom of the hole is below thousands of years of sediments, and the sea level did sink in the past, but not enough for a hole of this size to be carved out. For sinkholes to be created you need a powerful flow of freshwater, which the small and lonely Lighthouse Reef Atoll would not be able to produce.

Now, there are plenty of blue holes, in the Bahamas, for example. The whole place is made out of carbonite rocks, and the seawater has hollowed out countless cave systems in the layers of stone, and most of them have yet to be discovered and explored. Those blue holes we’re talking about, however, have been eaten out by the sea from below, the black holes I’m about to tell you about however, are different. They’ve been formed by erosion from the rising and sinking sea levels, and eventually turned into big, round lakes.

There are more than 30 black holes in the Bahamas, all except one of them are on the biggest island, Andros. The other one is on Grand Bahama.

Now the black hole I’m going to tell you about it The Black Hole of South Andros. Now, I am not a scientist, and I doubt you are if you’ve found your way to this blog for some information on this black lake, so I’m going to try to keep most of the scientific gibberish out of the post, but you can find it here in case you actually are a scientist and you think my simpleton version just isn’t enough.

I will also disappoint you with a lack of images, you see, the Black Hole isn’t really any kind of tourist attraction, your biggest chance of ever seeing it is through the window of a plane, and I really can’t find you any pictures of it. It’s approximately as big across as the Blue Hole of Belize, but rather more, black, I imagine, and surrounded by land. In difference to the blue hole, diving is prohibited, and also very dangerous, and I imagine it’s not a very pleasant dive either.

Anyhow, the black holes have always been seen from the planes, but back in 1985 they were believed to be merely craters after meteorite impacts, and even though there are a lot of people in the area, no one bothered with a scientific expedition until 1999, and leading that expedition was the experienced cave diver, lawyer, and geomicrobiologist Stephanie Schwabe. The waters were tested, all the way to the bottom, revealing that there were no oxygen deep down, however, once they dived down they were surprised despite numerous tests.

At 17.7 m (58 ft) below the surface there was a strange, muddy bottom. And the lake had been measured to be 47 m (154 ft) deep. As Stephanie touched the bottom she noticed to her surprise that it was hot, and the jelly-like surface was disturbed by her touch. Would you dive into that? Me neither. But she did. She dove through this 36°C fake bottom and down into the water underneath. You see, once the jelly-like layer ended there was the same clear water as above, but in complete darkness. You might think that this is similar to the Blue Hole of Belize, and it is, except this bacterial layer was eating the light, raising the temperature and highly toxic at that.

Once the divers returned to the surface they realized that all the metal they’d worn had turned black.

Now, above the bacterial layer there’s your usual, common water. 26°C, as is common in the area, also some fish and zooplankton, at 17.7-19 m, (58-62 ft) where the ca 1 m thick layer of bacteria starts, the temperature rises to 36°C, and even 40°C. Those bacteria are called “phototrophic purple sulphur bacteria”, and to exist all they need is light and sulphur. The purple sulphur bacteria exists in other places of the world, but usually just around 5-10 m (16-32 ft) below the surface, perhaps the lucidity of the water made it favorable for the bacteria to go deeper.

There’s a lot of scientific terms around those bacteria, but I wont go into them, but there’s estimated to be 5.6 tons of dryweight bacteria in the lake. In the bacterial layer the density is 10 million living cells in one millilitre.

And the bottom layer of the lake, below the bacteria, is your common water, but with a significant lack of light and oxygen, and the temperature drops to 26°C once again. The floor of the lake is covered with purple-orange microbial mats, and many specialists believe that this might be what the ocean floor looked like 3.5 billion years ago when there was almost no oxygen in the water.

And if you made it through that big heap of text I’ll give you a little reward now. I’ll admit I was going to give you a long one about El Zacatón and Pozzo del Merro, but I doubt you’re in any condition to read it right now. So let’s head on to the little reward;

Dean's Blue Hole and a man diving in it.

Dean’s Blue Hole is another blue hole (Duh) where the room of water expands from the opening close to the surface of the water, which is approximately 25×30 m (82×98 ft), and the hole becomes larger and larger until it reaches 100 m (328 ft) in diameter (… And diafeet?). And what I really wanted to show you is this video that scares me and fascinates me.

If you’re interested in more posts like this, with less text, I direct you to The Eye of Africa and The Door to Hell.

The Eye of Africa

Okay, now look at this;

 

This is the richat structure in Mauritania.

Is it a crater after a meteorite? Is it the site of nuclear testing? Is it on another planet?

Well, as you might have guessed it’s time for one of my infamous essays again, I guess it’s bad for me to be out of school. Not that I wrote that many essays for school anyways.

So, the Eye of Africa; it was first discovered by astronauts James A. McDivitt and Edward H. White on the Gemeni 4, the 8th crewed flight into space, by NASA at least. Sometime between June 3rd and 7th 1965 they saw the strange circular shape in the middle of the desert. It might have looked something like this;

I left a piece of Africa's western coast so you can get an idea of the size of this thing, the eye is over to the right.

It’s about 50 kilometres in diameter (about 30 miles) and has been used as a landmark for astronauts since it was found.

Scientists are still debating the origin of this strange eye, at first it was indeed believed to be a meteor-made crater, but since the surface of the structure is actually flat, and more of an upwards dome than a crater it’s not a generally accepted theory. It has also been believed to be created from volcanic activity, but the currently, most widely accepted theory is that it’s simply shaped by an uplift, or so called anticline.

An anticline is a fold in the rocks of the earth, imagine a flat surface of layered cloth, then them being pushed together, thus creating an upwards fold, that is an anticline, in nature it’s mostly covered by other “cloths” as well, but in theory that’s it, correct me if I’m wrong though.

Another picture, it's really looking cool.

Why the structure is round is still quite the mystery, but there are similar marks around Africa’s deserts, such as these two;

The Brandberg intrusion in Namibia

The Jebel Uwaynat in the corner of Egypt, Sudan and Libya.

But they’re not nearly as magnificent as the Eye. Not quite as round either.

Now, the brown, dark rock you can see around the eye on some of the pictures are sedimentary rocks, and the Eye itself is primarily bands of resistant paleozoic quartzite, which is forming the ridges sticking up like circles, and the valleys between them are less erosion-resistant types of rock.

Anyways, it’s quite amazing, right?

Awesome, right?

(As usual the images were borrowed from other places with information on the Eye, feel free to visit them and find out things I’ve skipped or missed or completely misunderstood. Also here’s some things about the Brandberg intrustion and Jebel Uwaynat, and a google maps location of the Eye.)

The Door to Hell

Alright, so I don’t know if this is interesting to any of you, but I think it’s pretty cool. Did you know there’s a place on earth called “The Door to Hell”? Well, now you do. It’s in Turkmenistan, close to a small village called Darvaza (or Derweze) in the middle of the Kara-Kum desert,  and it’s actually a huge, burning hole with a diameter of 50-100 meters.

This is the hole at night, obviously.

Quite cool, eh?

You might wonder how there came to be a big, burning hole in the middle of the desert? Well, back in 1971, when Turkmenistan was still a part of Soviet Russia (Now sovereign since 1991) when they were drilling for gas they discovered a big underground chamber filled with natural gas, and the volume of the chamber and the weight of the drilling rig caused the ground to collapse and drag the rig down underground. In order to not let the massive amounts of methane into the atmosphere someone came up with the idea to set the gas on fire. And they believed that the hole would only burn for a couple of days, maybe a week.

But, ladies and gentlemen, this hole is still burning. And no one can estimate how much gas there still is.

Though in April 2010 Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow (the president of Turkmenistan) visited the place and ordered that the hole should be closed, or that something else should be done in order to not have the fire influence other drill rigs in the area, as Turkmenistan plans to increase it’s production of natural gas.

Seriously, it's a big, burning hole.

I’d love to go see this place in person, but going to Turkmenistan might be a little tough on my wallet, and as it might be closed soon by order of the president it might already be a little late to plan such a trip. Well, it’s still a rather awesome thing though.

(The images were borrowed from other articles on the place, you can go there in order to read things I might have skipped or missed out, or see more images from the site.)