Latest news from those kinky scientists who live out on the edge. Damn heretics.

Cuttlefish Conundrums

Cuttlefish, how do they work?

Two things stand out for me from that intriguing short video. Firstly, the thought that they disguise themselves by "consciously manipulat[ing] their skin". Secondly, that they mimic different environments, despite being color blind. Crazy.

Spooky Cloud Behaviour

Now this would have had me wondering had I seen it with my own eyes - a small cloud moves in strange ways, jumping from one position to another:

The explanation, provided by a meteorologist, has to do with the electric fields present within clouds (responsible for, most obviously, lightning):

The answer lies in this: ice crystals, especially long needles, tend to become aligned with the ambient electric field.

So what you are seeing is sunlight reflecting off ice crystal faces that are constantly being oriented by the developing electric field just above the [cumulonimbus] top. Then there is a discharge in the cloud, and the field collapses momentarily, and the crystals begin to realign again. Then this just keeps happening over and over.

Read more over at Bad Astronomy.

EdgeScience #9

Issue 9 of the free PDF magazine EdgeScience is now available to download from the website of the Society for Scientific Exploration (SSE). In the new issue:EdgeScience 9

  • Robert McLuhan on anecdotal evidence.
  • David Talbott on "The Plasma Universe of Hannes Alfvén".
  • Bernard d. Beitman on coincidence studies.
  • Patrick Hugyhe writes in memory of William Corliss.

More content as well as that listed above, plus all eight previous issues remain available to download from the website, and there is an iPad app for viewing the PDF release as well.

Don't forget also: if you enjoy the mag, send a bit of love via the PayPal button to help ensure the future of this excellent free e-zine (or alternatively pick up a paper copy for $4.95). According to a recent email from the organisation, the SSE "is in serious financial trouble", and so the future of EdgeScience, and the Journal of Scientific Exploration, may well be in doubt. If you value researchers willing to go out on a limb and investigate the fringes of science, then please do support both EdgeScience with a donation, and the SSE with membership/subscription to JSE.

Déjà Vu and Parallel Universes

Dr Michio Kaku explores the question of whether the experience of déjà vu could possibly be related to parallel universes...

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F**king Quantum Magnets, How Do They Work?

Witch, witch, burn him!!! Tel-Aviv University demonstrates quantum superconductors locked and levitating in a magnetic field.

I just want to know when I can have one to play with.

Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun

There's an interesting story over at Universe Today, asking if a recent comet hit caused an explosion on the Sun:

This amazing video from the SOHO mission (Solar and Heliospheric Observatory) shows a sun-diving comet hitting the solar surface on October 1, 2011 and unexpectedly a huge explosion occurs shortly after. Are the two events related? Probably not, but solar scientists don’t know for sure. The region where the CME originated was on the opposite side of the Sun from the comet hit, so that is very great distance. Scientists say there is no known mechanism for comets to trigger a CME.

Seeing this video I was immediately reminded of a blog entry that Jameske posted many years ago here at TDG, titled "Comet Vomit", in which he linked to a number of videos showing possible interaction between comets and the Sun:

According to Fred Whipple, from whom the dirty snowball comet theory originated, comets are composed of a nucleus usually around 5 to 10 Km in diameter, irregular in shape, and made of a loose agglomeration of ice, rock and hydrocarbons. The nucleus is surrounded by a diffuse atmosphere of material called a coma that can expand to up to 250000 km in diameter on close approach to the sun to form little more than vacuum, and they have highly elliptical orbits.

...Given the above it follows that there is absolutely no connection whatsoever between this comet and the sun, and this comet and the sun, and this comet and the sun, and this comet and the sun, and this comet and the sun, and this comet and the sun.

Finding patterns in coincidences, or is this some genuine, as yet unknown interaction between comets and our star? I look forward to seeing future scientific research into this fascinating little mystery...

Update: Some critical comments about the possibility of a connection from Phil 'Bad Astronomy' Plait and at the Sungrazing Comets website. Also this video from the Bad Astronomer:

Shaking Up Earthquake Science

Back in May I posted a story about the discovery of changes in the Earth's ionosphere leading up to the catastrophic Japanese earthquake (and subsequent tsunami) of March 2011. A research team led by Dimitar Ouzounov of the NASA Goddard Space Flight Centre found that...

...before the M9 earthquake, the total electron content of the ionosphere increased dramatically over the epicentre, reaching a maximum three days before the quake struck.

At the same time, satellite observations showed a big increase in infrared emissions from above the epicentre, which peaked in the hours before the quake. In other words, the atmosphere was heating up.

Last week an independent paper offered support for this 'warning signal' for massive earthquakes. According to the American Geophysical Union blog, geophysicist Kosuke Heki of Hokkaido University in Sapporo, Japan, has reported the same suggestive buildups of electrons in a new scientific paper:

“The claim that earthquakes are inherently unpredictable might not be true, at least for M9 [magnitude 9] class earthquakes,” Heki writes in an article accepted for publication in Geophysical Research Letters, Japan Earthquakea journal of the American Geophysical Union.

The study suggests that the total electron content, or TEC, in the ionosphere starts increasing as much as eight percent above background levels prior to massive earthquakes, with the biggest effect above the rupturing fault. The electron buildup before the Japan earthquake started 40 minutes before disaster struck.

...Days after the devastating magnitude 9.0 Tohoku-Oki earthquake struck Japan, Heki downloaded data from satellites that are part of the GPS Earth Observation Network. He was interested in oscillations of the TEC when acoustic waves echo from the epicenter into the ionosphere.

“I thought I’d see a very strong signal after this earthquake,” Heki says. “And in the course of working on that, I found something strange happened.” The TEC was higher before the expected oscillations occurred than it was after the oscillations, so he took another look at the raw data from the GPS satellites.

...But changes in total electron content aren’t rare, Heki says. Solar flares and other ionospheric disturbances can cause fluctuations. So he looked at TEC prior to other major earthquakes, including the 2010 Chile earthquake.

“I saw almost the same signature as the Tohoku earthquake,” Heki says. And although there were fewer GPS stations operational during the 2004 Sumatra quake, those showed a similar TEC anomaly. Smaller quakes, around magnitude 8.0 and below, don’t appear to have the same TEC increases.

You can download Heki's paper from his website (PDF download).

There appears to be some difference between the two papers regarding the maximum TEC in the ionosphere, with Heki's saying it started 40 minutes before the earthquake, while Ouzounov et al's paper put the timeframe in days. Neither paper references each other though, so perhaps Heki did not analyse the days in advance of the quake, but only the immediate hours surrounding it? In any case, fascinating insights into the invisible earth changes that take place when a major geological event occurs.

And as I mentioned in my previous post, could these changes be responsible for (oft-ridiculed) reports of 'earthquake lights'? Coincidentally, on the same day I came across the above news, I also stumbled across this podcast interview with David Brumbaugh, director of the Arizona Earthquake Information Center, discussing all the suggestions for a mechanism behind the anomalous phenomenon:

It's a bird, it's a plane, it's... an earthquake? by Scienceline

What do you think? Is there a relationship between the changes in the ionosphere and the mystery of earthquake lights?

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Zoo Animals Sense Earthquake in Advance

There's a long-held belief that animals sense earthquakes in advance, although the evidence is largely 'anecdotal' and thus many scientists remain skeptical. Well, here's some more anecdotes to add to the list: the Smithsonian Zoo in Washington, D.C. has released a post-earthquake update in which it describes some of the unusual animal behaviour in the lead up to yesterday's 5.9 quake:

The red ruffed lemurs sounded an alarm call about 15 minutes before the quake and then again just after it occurred.

...About five to ten seconds before the quake, many of the apes, including Kyle (an orangutan) and Kojo (a Western lowland gorilla),Red-ruffed lemur abandoned their food and climbed to the top of the tree-like structure in the exhibit.

About three seconds before the quake, Mandara (a gorilla) let out a shriek and collected her baby, Kibibi, and moved to the top of the tree structure as well.

Iris (an orangutan) began “belch vocalizing” — an unhappy/upset noise normally reserved for extreme irritation — before the quake and continued this vocalization following the quake.

...The Zoo has a flock of 64 flamingos. Just before the quake, the birds rushed about and grouped themselves together. They remained huddled during the quake.

Dr. Don Moore, the zoo's associate director for animal care sciences, theorized that the animals were picking up on sounds or vibrations below the level of human perception. "I think given that they're sensing it beforehand, they must be sensing the pre-rumbles that create some kind of vibration in the ground," Moore said, "or hearing something we can't hear."

However, one interesting facet of the report is the revelation that the zoo's pandas "did not appear to respond to the earthquake" - previous reports from earthquakes in China have suggested that the iconic bear species may have some 'pre-quake perception'. Another fascinating behavioural insight from the report: the ducks and beavers jumped in the water at the onset of the earthquake and stayed in there until well after it was finished.

Dark Matters

Grailers might enjoy this upcoming series on The Science Channel, which looks at various fringe/heretical/abominable science topics: Dark Matters, hosted by Fringe star John Noble ('Dr Walter Bishop'):

Dark Matters premieres on August 31 - check your TV guide for times. According to Noble, the stories in the show "are as outlandish as a great sci-fi script or as disturbing as a classic horror tale — the only difference is that they’re all true... The series offers a glimpse into the dark side of science, as well as human nature."

Read more at Entertainment Weekly.

Shaking Stars

This article is excerpted from Darklore Volume 3, which is available for sale from Amazon US and Amazon UK. The Darklore anthology series features the best writing and research on paranormal, Fortean and hidden history topics, by the most respected names in the field: Robert Bauval, Nick Redfern, Erik Davis, Loren Coleman, and Daniel Pinchbeck, to name just a few. Darklore's aim is to support quality researchers, so it makes sense to support Darklore.

You can read more sample articles from the Darklore series at the Darklore website.


Shaking Stars
The Remarkable Guernsey Meteor and Earthquake of 1843

by Geoff Falla

Meteors or ‘shooting stars’ are not that uncommon, and most of us must have seen these at some time or another. Those of us who are interested in astronomy, and look at the night sky more often, will have seen meteors quite frequently. Usually seen as just a brief streak of light, lasting perhaps for a second or so, a meteor can be missed if we happen to be looking in just a slightly different direction at the time. Some meteors are much more spectacular, very bright and leaving a luminous trail in the sky, fading away after a short time. Even these occasional, much brighter meteors are not expected to be in view for more than perhaps five or ten seconds at most.

Meteors are not usually thought of as being related to earthquakes in any way. After all, meteors are a phenomenon of the sky, with only some of the larger ones continuing down to the ground as meteorites. Earthquakes are a result of movements in the Earth’s crust, mostly happening near ocean margins and in areas of geological fault lines.

Earthquakes or earth tremors of any intensity are fortunately rare in the Channel Islands, but they do happen very occasionally. The most significant event of this kind was recorded in Guernsey in 1843, and was preceded by what was thought to be a large and very slow moving meteor. However, all meteors travel at great speed as they burn away in the atmosphere. There is occasionally a report of a large ‘fireball’ type of meteor which remains visible for longer than normal, because of its size and the time taken to burn away, but meteors of any kind are certainly not known for slow progress across the sky.

The luminous object seen over Guernsey in December 1843 was something really exceptional.