Great Balls of Mars! Curiosity Finds a Strange Sphere on the Red Planet

Ballin' on Mars

Let it be said: for a supposedly 'dead' planet, Mars keeps throwing out cool anomalies for us. From odd 'lights' to a buried robot, there's hardly a dull day when it comes to looking for the strange. And here's the Red Planet's anomaly du jour: a perfect little sphere, quietly sitting atop another, separate, piece of flat rock.

Relax folks, it's totally explainable:

According to MSL scientists based at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif., the ball isn’t as big as it looks — it’s approximately one centimeter wide. Their explanation is that it is most likely something known as a “concretion.” Other examples of concretions have been found on the Martian surface before — take, for example, the tiny haematite concretions, or “blueberries”, observed by Mars rover Opportunity in 2004 — and they were created during sedimentary rock formation when Mars was abundant in liquid water many millions of years ago.

Or, maybe it's just the ripe fruit that seems to have fallen from the Martian ball tree at the left of this image...

Martian Ball Tree

(Thanks to Alienated for the heads-up)

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Has Skeptic Michael Shermer Seen the Light?

Michael Shermer

I've long been a critic of the writings and methods of high-profile 'skeptic' Michael Shermer (I explained why way back in 2004). A long-time columnist for Scientific American, Shermer has regularly pointed out the many ways that anomalistic events are in reality caused by faulty thinking - sometimes employing pseudoscientific techniques, and perhaps even outright deception - to make his point.

Which makes his most recent column for Sci-Am, "Anomalous Events That Can Shake One’s Skepticism to the Core " quite a weird one. Because in it, he admits that a recent experience (which occurred on his wedding day) rattled him. Check out the column for the full anecdote, but here's his conclusion:

Had it happened to someone else I might suggest a chance electrical anomaly and the law of large numbers as an explanation—with billions of people having billions of experiences every day, there's bound to be a handful of extremely unlikely events that stand out in their timing and meaning. In any case, such anecdotes do not constitute scientific evidence that the dead survive or that they can communicate with us via electronic equipment.

Jennifer is as skeptical as I am when it comes to paranormal and supernatural phenomena. Yet the eerie conjunction of these deeply evocative events gave her the distinct feeling that her grandfather was there and that the music was his gift of approval. I have to admit, it rocked me back on my heels and shook my skepticism to its core as well. I savored the experience more than the explanation.

The emotional interpretations of such anomalous events grant them significance regardless of their causal account. And if we are to take seriously the scientific credo to keep an open mind and remain agnostic when the evidence is indecisive or the riddle unsolved, we should not shut the doors of perception when they may be opened to us to marvel in the mysterious.

Don't get me wrong, I'm very happy that Michael Shermer has finally seen (at least some of) the light when it comes to the personal impact of anomalistic experiences, and how pat explanations offered by others sometimes just don't cut it. I'm just a bit...skeptical...that a guy who has for years talked down on and attempted to debunk these type of events suddenly flips in his view. Perhaps the event really did rock him to his core; or perhaps he thought his old-school debunking attitude wasn't playing as well in 2014, or perhaps he just needed a bit of a controversy to drum up some page hits, or even distract people from other events (Shermer has recently been at the centre of somewhat of a controversy regarding his interactions with women in the skeptical movement).

Let's just say I'm cautiously optimistic that one of the leaders of the 'skeptical' movement has had a genuine insight to 'the other side'...

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News Briefs 25-09-2014

1 week from today I'll return to the Paradigm Symposium for the 3rd time, in what will surely be another epic event. Hope to see you there!
(I'm also planning on taking a bit of a time-off in October, so you kids better behave)

Quote of the Day:

"Those of a materialist persuasion like to say, “Oh you people who believe in reincarnation, you believe in life after death, you’re just doing that because you find it comforting. It comforts you to imagine that life might go on.” To that, I would reply, “What utter nonsense.” It’s not comforting at all. On the contrary, it’s more comforting to imagine that there are no consequences. The materialist view is actually the comforting one! The view of reincarnation and the notion you must account for the life you’ve lived, and that there will be consequences for it, is a deeply disturbing notion, as a matter of fact. And it requires you to examine the life you lived very, very closely and very, very carefully. So I think there’s a lot of nonsense talked around this subject. And I try in my work to shed some alternative light on it."

~Graham Hancock

Jacques Vallee Turns 75 - and to Celebrate, We're Bringing Passport to Magonia Back into Print!

Passport to Magonia

A big happy birthday - or should I say bon anniversaire - to our good friend, legendary ufologist Jacques Vallee, who turns 75 today! To celebrate, here's some exciting news: Jacques is partnering with Daily Grail Publishing to re-release his all-time classic Passport to Magonia, a ground-breaking exploration of the strange crossover between elements of fairy folklore and UFO contact cases. Yay!

Since publishing Jacques' Messengers of Deception back in 2008, I've had many people pleading with me to persuade JV to republish Passport to Magonia. Even roughed-up second-hand copies of the book have been going for $60 and upwards, so take note - we're aiming to make shiny new hardcover, paperback and ebook editions available for much less than that. If you've been wanting to add Passport to Magonia to your book collection - and let's face it, what true Fortean wouldn't - then hang in there for a couple of months, when we make the new edition available.

DMT & the Hebrew Prophets: New Book by Dr Rick Strassman

20 years since his seminal DMT studies, recorded in his book DMT: The Spirit Molecule (Amazon US/Kindle, UK/Kindle), Dr Rick Strassman has released a new book that's sure to get Joe Rogan excited.

In (take a breath before reading this out loud) DMT and the Soul of Prophecy: A New Science of Spiritual Revelation in the Hebrew Bible (Amazon US), Strassman looks at the striking similarities between the visions of Hebrew prophets - including Ezekiel, Moses, Adam, and Daniel - and the experiences reported by the volunteers of his DMT studies. Strassman proposes a new model of consciousness and visionary experiences -- theoneurology, in which the Divine can communicate with us through DMT. Strassman's model is a counterpoint to neurotheology, and will no doubt rock the boat of neuroscience.

It promises to be a fascinating read, and a sample chapter available here certainly whets the appetite. If Mitch Schultz (who made a terrific film based on Dr Strassman's book) is considering a sequel, I reckon DMT 2: Hebrew Boogaloo would be a good title.

Via Disinfo.

Related:

Georgia Guidestones Get a 2014 Update...Literally!

Georgia Guidestones 2014 Block

Conspiracy message boards have gone into overdrive with the revelation that the infamous Georgia Guidestones have a new addition: a mysterious niche at the top of one of the monoliths has been filled with a small cube/cornerstone with the numbers '20' and '14' carved into adjacent faces. Naturally, there has been some speculation on these messageboards that the block is a message - from the secret society behind the Guidestones - that the apocalypse supposedly predicted by the modern megaliths will occur this year.

As might be expected, the truth of the situation is difficult to pin down, although it may not necessarily involve Illuminati overlords. In 2013, the person who originally cut the notch out of the Guidestones (apparently on September 11, 2009) was apprehended by authorities upon returning to the site with two other men, with the missing granite cube in tow:

“Deputies got a call to go out there, and there was a gentleman there from Alabama that had the piece of granite that was taken almost four years ago”, said Investigator Darren Scarborough with the Elbert County Sheriff’s Office. “Told the officers that he had it, and he had been out there in 2009 and took the small piece of granite off.”

Scarborough says the whole incident has the sheriff’s office scratching their heads a little bit.

“We don’t know what their intentions were with the piece of granite or why they were back out there late Friday night/early Saturday morning”, said Scarborough. “We have talked to the gentleman, who is in charge of the guidestones, and we have the piece of granite back, but we are not sure what will be done with it.”

So perhaps the '2014' cube is simply an official replacement for the piece of stone that was cut out? Not so, according to this article. And in the comments, someone notes that they called Elbert county officials about the situation, and "was told that the 2014 cube was considered to be vandalism, and will be replaced with the actual missing piece".

A strange situation, compounded by the sad news that the Guidestones were once again recently defaced with graffiti. For anybody buying into the ridiculous paranoia about the Guidestones being a threat from the Illuminati to exterminate a large proportion of the world's population, make sure you read my Darklore essay on the traditions behind the monument, titled "Beyond the Apocalypse".

(h/t Chris Skelton)

Update:

The cube has now been removed - and found to be engraved on every side (20, 14, 16, 8, MM, JAM). Here's footage of the removal:

(Thanks to @Eastonwordsmith for the heads up.)

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News Briefs 23-09-2014

Sunrise at Stonehenge on the equinox….

Quote of the Day:

To learn who rules over you, simply find out who you are not allowed to criticise.

Voltaire

Are We All Persons of Interest?

Person of Interest

You are being watched. The government has a secret system —a machine— that spies on you every hour of every day. I know, because I built it. I designed the machine to detect acts of terror, but it sees everything.

So begins the opening monologue on the CBS television show Person of Interest, spoken by the designer of 'The Machine', technology genius and billionaire, Harold Finch. The Machine is a mass surveillance computer system, monitoring data input from just about every electronic source in the world (phones, cameras, computers etc), which it analyzes in order to predict violent acts. But given its omnipotence, there are far too many predictions to act on, and so instead it is programmed to only pass on 'relevant' threats - ie. major terrorist events - to the government.

The procedural element of the show is that Finch has a software backdoor that sends him the 'irrelevant' predictions so that he can try to stop that violent act occurring as well: each episode, he and his small team of law enforcement officers and former government agents are given the social security number of an individual connected to the threat, though the team do not know if the individual is the victim or the perpetrator.

The larger story arc, however, is all about the Machine – how Harold came to build it and the effect of doing so on both him and those around him; the power that such surveillance hands to whomever controls it, and the lengths some would go to in order to have that control; and what might happen if such a powerful 'intelligence' became sentient. And of course, the question that hangs over the entire storyline, is the debate between how surveillance can be used to keep people safe, versus how it can be used in corrupt ways.

The show is science fiction, but given the news stories listed below, we might say only barely – the Person of Interest future doesn't seem that far off at all.

Surveillance via your own smartphone

We already know that smartphones can track everywhere you go via the built-in GPS, and the Person of Interest team certainly utilise that function to their advantage. But in the show, Finch's team also often take advantage of ... Read More »

News Briefs 22-09-2014

Whew!

Thanks, Percival.

Quote of the Day:

To all climate change deniers, before you start posting about how there have been periodic major droughts in California for thousands of years, please name the branch of science that provided you that information. I'll answer that for you - climate science. Now please provide an explanation for why you accept the conclusions of climate science regarding the distant past but reject its conclusions about today's climate. Please include examples of why conclusions about the Earth's past climates are more rigorous than conclusions about today's climate.

Timothy Doran, in a comment here.