Sunday Reader: Noah and His Ark

"Noah's Ark" by Charles Willson Peale

“Noah’s Ark” by Charles Willson Peale

Instead of the Noah you know, the one who built the ark, sheltered all those animals, sailed for 40 days and 40 nights and got to see God’s rainbow, meet a new, updated version.

This Noah shows up in a tough little essay written by Amy Leach, of Bozeman, Montana, who knows her science, knows there’s a flood coming—a flood of humans, seven billion and counting, already swamping the Earth, crowding the land, emptying the sea, and her more modern Noah—informed, practical, not inclined to miracles—has a different plan. He announces,

Noah-Text-1-1

The old Noah, you may remember, squeezed eight humans (wife, kids, their spouses) and at least two of every critter, big and small, onto his crowded ship. But the new Noah, being more practical, feels he can winnow a little. “Everybody” is a lot of animals, more than you know. Back in the day, Amy Leach writes,

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And, honestly, (I’m thinking to myself), if the world lost a scorpion or two, would anyone notice? Or want them back? And blotchy toads, biting little flies—some animals are hard to keep going on a tight, crowded ship. On the last voyage, dormitory assignments were beyond difficult.

And all those supplies? Amy Leach writes how the first Noah would have had

Noah-Text-3

This doesn’t mean we don’t care, new Noah says to the animals. We definitely, absolutely want to bring a bunch of you with us. But, we’ve got to be practical.

Even if our ark has grown to the size of a planet, carrying everybody through is not going to be logistically possible, which is why, he says,

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And anyway, that first Noah? He lived in a different age, a time they call the Holocene, before humans began to dominate and crowd out the other species. Back then, there weren’t as many people. And there were more kinds of animals, closer by, hiding in the woods, clucking in the yard, so the world was more various then, more intimate, more riotous, and thinking about it (a little wistfully, if only for a moment), the new Noah quietly recalls that on that first ark…

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And now, animals, it’s time for many of you to step away. You’ve had your unruly eons. They were wild, unplanned, noisy, great fun. Natural selection ran the world. Crazy things happened. Those were good times, Amy’s essay concludes…

Noah-Text-6-1-2

Amy Leach is a writer living in Bozeman. Her collection of very short pieces—about jellyfish, beaver, salmon, plants that go topsy turvy and stand on their heads—are collected in a wonderful little book called “Things That Are.” In this blog post, I do to Amy what the new Noah is doing to our planet: I edited her down, sliced, diced, slimmed (lovingly, I hope), trying to give you a taste for her fierce, crazy prose. But like the planet, she’s wilder in the original, so I hope you go there and sample the unedited version.

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Sunday Reader: A Chocolate Bar A Day Keeps The Stroke Away

We've all known that dark chocolate is an anti-oxidant. Now medical science proves what we chocolate-lovers have always known - chocolate in general is pretty good for you too!

We’ve all known that dark chocolate is an anti-oxidant. Now medical science proves what we chocolate-lovers have always known – chocolate in general is pretty good for you too!

It’s the ultimate comfort food which is known to produce the same chemical in the brain as falling in love. Now scientists at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland have shown that chocolate need no longer be a guilty pleasure after finding that eating up to two bars a day appears to protect against heart disease and stroke.

Although dark chocolate has long been known to have health benefits, the new study found that milk chocolate may also provide valuable nutrients which lower the chance of heart problems.

It is the latest research to highlight the value of the treat. Previously chocolate have been shown to reduce memory loss, prevent diabetes, reduce stress, protect the skin against sun damage and lower cholesterol.

To find out if it was beneficial for the heart researchers at the University of Aberdeen looked at the snacking habits of 21,000 people over 12 years. They found that eating up to 100g of chocolate every day lowered the risk of dying from heart disease during that time by 25 per cent. The chance of suffering a stroke also fell by 23 per cent.

Professor Phyo Myint, Chair in Old Age Medicine at Aberdeen University, said: “Cumulative evidence suggests that higher chocolate intake is associated with a lower risk of future cardiovascular events.

“This may indicate that not only flavonoids, but also other compounds, possibly related to milk constituents, such as calcium and fatty acids, may provide an explanation for the observed association.”

The researchers also carried out a review of the available published evidence on the links between chocolate and cardiovascular disease, involving almost 158,000 people. In each of the relevant studies they found a significantly lower risk stroke and heart disease associated with regular chocolate consumption.

Curiously, those who ate the most chocolate were slimmer, exercised more often and had lower blood pressure. The researchers suggest that the findings could be partially skewed by mis-reporting of food intake or the fact that people with a higher heart disease risk profile eat less chocolate and foods containing it than those who are healthier.

Commenting on the study Professor Naveed Sattar, of the University of Glasfow said:

“It may be that some folk are, perhaps substantially, under-reporting how much chocolate they eat since they really do not wish to tell the truth because they know they should try to avoid high density calories like chocolate. I would not be rushing out to buy chocolate for a treat – rather, if peckish, a piece or two of fruit is far better, and comes from nature itself. However the authors conclude that the evidence suggests that ‘higher chocolate intake is associated with a lower risk of future cardiovascular events.”

Health experts said that new study added to growing evidence that chocolate could be beneficial to health but warned against over indulging.

Dr Tim Chico, Reader in Cardiovascular Medicine and Consultant Cardiologist at the University of Sheffield, said:

“These studies taken together suggest that there might be some health benefits from eating chocolate. However, it is also clear that chocolate has the potential to increase weight, which is unequivocally bad for cardiovascular health. The message I take from this study is that if you are a healthy weight, then eating chocolate (in moderation) does not detectibly increase risk of heart disease and may even have some benefit.”

Prof Aedin Cassidy, Professor of Nutrition at the University of East Anglia (UEA), added: “We need long term trials to further understand the importance of chocolate for heart health.”

Dr Shamim Quadir, Research Communications Manager at the Stroke Association, said: “While this study builds on previous research and suggests a link between a higher intake of chocolate (up to 100g per day) and lower risk of stroke, it is very hard to establish a single dietary component that will have a positive, or negative, effect on the health of an individual.

“We all can reduce our risk of stroke by exercising regularly, consuming a healthy, balanced diet and getting our blood pressure checked.”

The research was published in the June BMJ journal Heart.

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Sunday Reader: NASA Leads Development of a New System to Manage Low Altitude Drones

mojave_ca

“The sky could become increasingly crowded as personal and commercial uses of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), commonly called drones, become more popular.”

That’s the assessment of Parimal Kopardekar, manager of NASA’s Safe Autonomous Systems Operations project, as innovators constantly conceive new beneficial civilian applications for these aircraft, including goods delivery, infrastructure inspection, search and rescue, and agricultural monitoring.

To address the growth of this quickly evolving technology, NASA and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) recognize that a UAS traffic management (UTM) system for low-altitude airspace is needed.

Last year, NASA’s Ames Research Center in the heart of California’s Silicon Valley released an open a call to invite government, industry and academic partners to collaborate with NASA to conduct and identify research needs and to accelerate the development of such a system.

Around that same time, several major technology companies, such as Amazon and Google, announced plans to launch their own UAS applications. However, before these and any other commercial efforts take flight, a safety system must be in place to make sure the new flying unmanned aircraft don’t collide into buildings, airplanes or one another.

By leveraging the valuable byproducts of NASA’s aeronautics research, its decades of experience with air traffic management, and the body of knowledge concerning the convergence of commercial innovations with NASA ideas and concepts, NASA is helping to define a new era of aviation.

Using the power of collaborative innovation to work alongside many committed government, industry and academic partners, NASA is benefitting from commercial sector investment in UAS technology, enabling the agency to lead research and development into a cloud-based UTM system.

“NASA wants to create a system that would keep track of and deliver important information to operators of UAS, such as which areas they should avoid, whether any other vehicles are trying to operate in the same airspace, and what the weather will be like in a given area,” says Kopardekar.

The NASA team is researching and testing ways to communicate this data to UAS while they’re in flight, such as dynamic geo-fences, or virtual barriers, giving UAS operators the most updated information in real-time.

NASA hopes to use UTM as a tool to bring more people together and bridge the gap between commercial innovation and NASA’s air traffic management research. By working with partners who provide their own vehicles, low altitude radar, radio frequencies, or cellphone towers, NASA will gain access to more technology for UTM applications to demonstrate unmanned aircraft systems can be safely operated at low altitudes.

While NASA and the UAS industry face steep challenges, a number of companies are already addressing some of these issues. One collaborator has developed systems that automatically check a UAS’s battery life and surrounding terrain, while another is building a database to keep UAS away from private residences.

Other companies have launched prototypes for low altitude tracking and avoidance systems and are using tools that manage fleet operations related to commercial UAS operations. These technologies must meet federal requirements to begin operations as a test bed for an unmanned aircraft traffic management.

NASA values all of the collaborators who joined the plan to build a low altitude traffic management system for unmanned aircraft systems. To date, more than 100 organizations, large and small, are contributing their expertise. Still, there are research needs. NASA continues to look for additional collaborators to address those needs.

One of the biggest challenges to integrating UAS into the national airspace beyond line of sight is developing a system that enables the aircraft to see and be seen by other aircraft. At low altitude, one solution may exist in cellphone tower technology to track and monitor both commercial and civilian aircraft. NASA is in the initial stages of exploring this concept with telecommunication providers, such as Verizon. Any system developed would not require tracking, receiving or interfering with information from any personal mobile devices.

“While these are only examples of the innovative commercial technologies being developed by companies that are working with NASA, the secret to effective collaboration is individuality,” says Kopardekar. “You want everyone to feel free to contribute ideas to a project as a means of increasing engagement.”

As a next step, NASA and the Silicon Valley chapter of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International are co-hosting a three-day convention next month to bring together a broad domestic and international audience of government and civilian representatives, industry and academia, aviation, agriculture, film and other industries, to understand and define the UAS impact and challenges ahead.

Speakers include NASA and FAA executives and industry innovators who will address concerns and ideas for what is possible for UAS as we enter the next era of aviation, as well as voices from the diverse community of potential UTM stakeholders.

On the Web: The 2015 UTM Convention will be held July 28-30 at Ames Research Center, and registration is open now.

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Sunday Reader: Scientists Discover World’s Only Known Warm-Blooded Fish

Meet the Opah - or Moonfish - the first and only known case of a fully warm-blooded fish.

Meet the Opah – or Moonfish – the first and only known case of a fully warm-blooded fish. Photo: NOAA

Heated blood makes Opah a high performance predator that swims faster, sees better.

New research by NOAA Fisheries has revealed the opah, or moonfish, as the first fully warm-blooded fish that circulates heated blood throughout its body much like mammals and birds, giving it a competitive advantage in the cold ocean depths.

The silvery fish, roughly the size of a large automobile tire, is known from oceans around the world and dwells hundreds of feet beneath the surface in chilly, dimly lit waters. It swims by rapidly flapping its large, red pectoral fins like wings through the water.

Fish that typically inhabit such cold depths tend to be slow and sluggish, conserving energy by ambushing prey instead of chasing it. But the opah’s constant flapping of its fins heats its body, speeding its metabolism, movement and reaction times, scientists report today in the journal Science.

That warm-blooded advantage turns the opah into a high-performance predator that swims faster, reacts more quickly and sees more sharply, said fisheries biologist Nicholas Wegner of NOAA Fisheries’ Southwest Fisheries Science Center in La Jolla, Calif., lead author of the new paper.

“Before this discovery I was under the impression this was a slow-moving fish, like most other fish in cold environments,” Wegner said. “But because it can warm its body, it turns out to be a very active predator that chases down agile prey like squid and can migrate long distances.”

This car-tire-size opah, known as the moonfish, is the first warm-blooded fish that has ever been discovered.

This car-tire-size opah, known as the moonfish, is the first warm-blooded fish that has ever been discovered. Photo: NatGeo

Gills show unusual design

Wegner realized the opah was unusual when a coauthor of the study, biologist Owyn Snodgrass, collected a sample of its gill tissue. Wegner recognized an unusual design: Blood vessels that carry warm blood into the fish’s gills wind around those carrying cold blood back to the body core after absorbing oxygen from water.

The design is known in engineering as “counter-current heat exchange.” In opah it means that warm blood leaving the body core helps heat up cold blood returning from the respiratory surface of the gills where it absorbs oxygen. Resembling a car radiator, it’s a natural adaptation that conserves heat. The unique location of the heat exchange within the gills allows nearly the fish’s entire body to maintain an elevated temperature, known as endothermy, even in the chilly depths.

“There has never been anything like this seen in a fish’s gills before,” Wegner said. “This is a cool innovation by these animals that gives them a competitive edge. The concept of counter-current heat exchange was invented in fish long before we thought of it.”

The researchers collected temperature data from opah caught during surveys off the West Coast, finding that their body temperatures were regularly warmer than the surrounding water. They also attached temperature monitors to opah as they tracked the fish on dives to several hundred feet and found that their body temperatures remained steady even as the water temperature dropped sharply. The fish had an average muscle temperature about 5 degrees C above the surrounding water while swimming about 150 to 1,000 feet below the surface, the researchers found.

While mammals and birds typically maintain much warmer body temperatures, the opah is the first fish found to keep its whole body warmer than the environment.

A few other fish such as tuna and some sharks warm certain parts of their bodies such as muscles, boosting their swimming performance. But internal organs including their hearts cool off quickly and begin to slow down when they dive into cold depths, forcing them to return to shallower depths to warm up.

Warmth provides competitive edge

Satellite tracking showed opah spend most of their time at depths of 150 to 1,300 feet, without regularly surfacing. Their higher body temperature should increase their muscle output and capacity, boost their eye and brain function and help them resist the effects of cold on the heart and other organs, Wegner said.

Fatty tissue surrounds the gills, heart and muscle tissue where the opah generates much of its internal heat, insulating them from the frigid water.

Other fish have developed limited warm-bloodedness (known as regional endothermy) to help expand their reach from shallower waters into the colder depths. But the opah’s evolutionary lineage suggests that it evolved its warming mechanisms in the cold depths, where the fish can remain with a consistent edge over other competitors and prey. Recent research has found distinctive differences among opah from different parts of the world, and Wegner said scientists are now interested in comparing warm-blooded features among them.

“Nature has a way of surprising us with clever strategies where you least expect them,” Wegner said. “It’s hard to stay warm when you’re surrounded by cold water but the opah has figured it out.”

NOAA research surveys off California have caught more opah in recent years, but biologists are not sure why. Current conditions may be favoring the fish, or their population may be growing. Opah are not usually targeted by fishermen off California but local recreational anglers and commercial fisheries occasionally catch the species. The opah’s rich meat has become increasingly popular in seafood markets.

“Discoveries like this help us understand the role species play in the marine ecosystem, and why we find them where we do,” said Francisco Werner, director of the Southwest Fisheries Science Center. “It really demonstrates how much we learn from basic research out on the water, thanks to curious scientists asking good questions about why this fish appeared to be different.”

On the Web: 

SWFSC’s Opah Research portfolio 

SWFSC’s Opah Research in the Eastern Pacific Ocean

Flickr album — opah

View more images in the Opah Image Gallery

NOAAFishWatch page on opah

San Diego Union Tribune article on opah

Interview with National Geographic on SWFSC opah research

GreenSeas-BlueSeas: Illustrated Guide to the California Current

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Sunday Reader: Oklahoma City 20 Years Later

Photo courtesy of the Daily Oklahoman - AP

Photo courtesy of the Daily Oklahoman – AP

Twenty years ago, a truck bomb went off outside the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, killing 168 people and injuring hundreds.

Two convicts, a commander-in-chief seeking to comfort his nation, heroes and survivors emerged from the attack, which until Sept. 11, 2001, was the worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil and is the worst act of domestic terrorism in American history

Updates on key figures from that day…

Terry Nichols

The explosion was set off by Timothy McVeigh, an anti-government militant. McVeigh was executed in 2001 at an Indiana federal prison; his lethal injection was broadcast through a closed-circuit feed in Oklahoma so survivors and relatives of victims could see him put to death.

His co-conspirator, Terry Nichols, was convicted of 161 counts of first-degree murder, which included one count of fetal homicide for killing an unborn child, and other charges. A jury deadlocked on the death penalty, so Nichols, 60, is currently serving multiple life sentences with no possibility of parole at a federal penitentiary in Colorado.

Terry Nichols is pictured leaving the Federal Court Building in Wichita, in this file photo taken May 10, 1995, after being charged in the April 19 Oklahoma City bombing. Photo courtesy of Reuters

Terry Nichols is pictured leaving the Federal Court Building in Wichita, in this file photo taken May 10, 1995, after being charged in the April 19 Oklahoma City bombing.
Photo courtesy of Reuters

Bill Clinton

President at the time, Clinton declared a federal emergency in Oklahoma City while comforting Americans who were in shock over the attack.

“You have lost too much, but you have not lost everything. And you have certainly not lost America, for we will stand with you for as many tomorrows as it takes,” he said in a moving speech from an Oklahoma City prayer service on April 23, 1995, four days after the bombing.

While Clinton’s focus is now on the health, economic and climate change work he does through his foundation, he has paid tribute to Oklahoma City victims throughout the years. On the fifteenth anniversary of the bombing, Clinton wrote an op-ed in the New York Times about lessons learned from the attack. He will speak at today’s 20th anniversary remembrance ceremony in Oklahoma City.

The Firefighter in the iconic photo

The tiniest victims were in a daycare center in the Murrah Building. Nineteen children died that day, including Baylee Almon, a 1-year-old who had her birthday just the day before.

In a photo that became the most symbolic image of the attack, Oklahoma City firefighter Chris Fields is seen cradling limp, bloodied Baylee, who’s covered in soot.

Oklahoma City firefighter Chris Fields, holds Baylee Almon, who was thrown from a daycare center on the first floor of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building when the explosion occurred. Photo: CHARLES PORTER IV / © CHARLES PORTER IV/ZUMA PRESS

Oklahoma City firefighter Chris Fields, holds Baylee Almon, who was thrown from a daycare center on the first floor of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building when the explosion occurred.
Photo: CHARLES PORTER IV / © CHARLES PORTER IV/ZUMA PRESS

Fields is now approaching his 30th year as a firefighter and said that he took on a big brother role to Baylee’s mother after the bombing.

“I was the last one to hold her baby,” he said, his voice breaking. “It’s still emotional to talk about it.”

Fireman Chris Fields, seen in 1996, a year after the terrorist attack. Photo courtesy of STEVE LISS / THE LIFE IMAGES COLLECTION/GETTY

Fireman Chris Fields, seen in 1996, a year after the terrorist attack.
Photo courtesy of STEVE LISS / THE LIFE IMAGES COLLECTION/GETTY

Speaking about the photo, he told the Tulsa World earlier this week,

“I’ve heard people say that it kind of wraps everything up into one picture, and I guess that makes sense. You know, you look at it and you can see everything, the rescue effort, the innocence that was lost. It’s all wrapped up in one image. I know I’ll never be able to forget her.”

The unexpected prize-winning photographer

The photo of Fields and Baylee was plastered on newspapers’ front pages around the world, and won a Pulitzer Prize. It was taken by Charles Porter IV, an aspiring photojournalist and banker who was 25 years old.

Porter has largely stayed out of the spotlight since the photo was taken, doing only sparse media interviews.

He told the Newseum in Washington last month that he ran to his car to get his camera as soon as he heard the blast, which sounded like “a sonic boom.”

“I didn’t know that I had taken this picture, oh man, I framed that one great. No. It was just automatic,” he said.

Porter didn’t know right away that he had an iconic photo. He had it developed at a nearby Walmart, then submitted it to The Associated Press after a friend told him he should. He was shocked by the resulting global media response.

“I didn’t know how to handle it,” he said.

Baby Baylee’s mother

Aren Almon-Kok was a 23-year-old single mother when Baylee was killed in the bombing. She spoke about how hard anniversaries — Baylee’s birthday, the day of the attack — have been for her.

“People talk about closure, and I don’t think there’s necessarily any. I think you just kind of learn to live with it differently,” she said. “She would’ve been 21 this year, so that’s been tough … I just feel like a part of me is gone.”

The chair dedicated to bombing victim Baylee Almon is pictured in the Field of Empty Chairs at the Oklahoma City National Memorial at dusk in Oklahoma City, Tuesday, April 14, 2015. Photo courtesy of SUE OGROCKI/AP

The chair dedicated to bombing victim Baylee Almon is pictured in the Field of Empty Chairs at the Oklahoma City National Memorial at dusk in Oklahoma City, Tuesday, April 14, 2015.
Photo courtesy of SUE OGROCKI/AP

Now married with two children, Almon-Kok said the photo represents so much more than just the death of her daughter.

“When I look at it, I don’t see Baylee. I see a symbol. And that’s basically everybody that died in the building that day was somebody’s child. Everybody was loved by somebody.”

Almon-Kok and her family throw a birthday party every year in Baylee’s honor, and she’s stayed in touch with Fields, the firefighter.

The youngest survivor

PJ Allen was barely 2 when the bomb tore through his daycare center at the Murrah Building. He had broken bones, burns over 55 percent of his body, lung damage from breathing in debris, and a tracheotomy tube until he was 10. He was in the hospital for three months after the attack, and still has trouble breathing.

“Whenever I look at or go through any of the limitations I have to deal with, any of the after- effects of that day, I just look at it as a blessing. What happened to me was what needed to happen for me to survive,” Allen, now 21, said. He and Joe Webber, another survivor from the daycare were two of only six children at the daycare to make it out of the building.

Nekia McCloud, PJ Allen, Brandon Denny, Chris Nguyen and Joseph Webb, left to right, reunite for the first time in ten years at the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma April 12, 2015. The five, along with Rebecca Denny, were the only children to survive the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995. Photo courtesy of Reuters

Nekia McCloud, PJ Allen, Brandon Denny, Chris Nguyen and Joseph Webb, left to right, reunite for the first time in ten years at the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma April 12, 2015. The five, along with Rebecca Denny, were the only children to survive the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995.
Photo courtesy of Reuters

Both are now students at Oklahoma State University. Allen has ambitions of running a hotel when he graduates, and Webber is studying zoology and art. Webber has a scar that runs from his ear to his jaw from facial lacerations he sustained during the attack.

“It wasn’t really till high school that it dawned on me how significant it was, the event itself and that I made it out,” Webber said.

The man who caught Timothy McVeigh

McVeigh took off from the explosion in a yellow Mercury getaway car, a gun holstered to his side. He was stopped in Noble County, Oklahoma, an hour later when the fact that the car was missing a tag caught the attention of Charlie Hanger, a state trooper. Hanger told Oklahoma’s News 9 last month that he thought he was just making a routine traffic stop.

Hanger brought McVeigh into jail for unlawfully carrying a weapon, but it wasn’t until two days later that McVeigh was identified as the bombing suspect.

“There was a lot of divine intervention that took place,” Hanger told News 9. “This is an arrest you never dream of making.”

Hanger still works for Noble County and is now sheriff there.

The grieving sister-turned-representative

Dr. Margaret “Peggy” Clark was a veterinarian with the Department of Agriculture who stopped by her Murrah Building office for last-minute business when the bomb went off and killed her. She left behind three little girls who her sister, Susan Winchester, decided to help raise.

Winchester also decided to get involved with politics: In 1998, she was elected to the House of Representatives, where she served until 2008.

Winchester is now on the board of the Oklahoma City National Museum and Memorial, and is spearheading the Oklahoma Standard campaign, which aims to perpetuate the swell of volunteering seen in the bombing’s aftermath.

“Someone came and tried to destroy Oklahoma and the heartland and our nation. And we, as Oklahoma, said, ‘No, you can’t do that to us,” Winchester said.

Thoughts and prayers for all.

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Sunday Reader: Mersey Ferry Gets Bedazzled

Mersey Ferry Snowdrop repainted in the so-called dazzle camouflage to confuse the enemy, this time, to commemorate the centenary observance of World War I.

Mersey Ferry Snowdrop repainted in the so-called dazzle camouflage to confuse the enemy, this time, to commemorate the centenary observance of World War I.

Seven ship painters spent 10 days in March 2015 covering a Mersey ferry in the reds, oranges, blues, yellows, pinks, greens, blacks and whites carefully specified by Sir Peter Blake and the one obvious thing now is that no one’s going to miss it.

“It is a crazy concept,” said Blake on board the ship he has now “dazzled” with wild colours and patterns. “They’ve done it so beautifully and it looks fantastic. It is very exciting to see it.”

The Mersey ferry Snowdrop has become the third vessel to be painted in this way in homage to the artists 100 years ago who painted British ships in “dazzle camouflage” to mislead German U-boat captains.

The organisation 14-18 Now, responsible for five years of art commissions marking the first world war centenary, estimate that 8 million people haveseen two contemporary dazzle ships that were unveiled last year on the Thames in London and on Liverpool waterfront. The Snowdrop is now the only one that will actually go anywhere.

Blake was chosen in part because of his long association with Liverpool, one that extends beyond his design for the Beatles album Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club band in 1967.

 Sir Peter Blake, below left, on board the Snowdrop. Photograph: Chris Thomond

Sir Peter Blake, below left, on board the Snowdrop. Photograph: Chris Thomond

Earlier this month, Blake recalled his first visits to Liverpool 63 years ago when he was stationed in Belfast for his national service:

“I used to get the ferry from Liverpool. It was an old cattle ship and one had recently sunk so people were nervous, obviously. I remember coming back from Belfast on a New Year’s Eve and it was really rough – it was full of Irish Guards, all very drunk, and lots of nuns terrified of the soldiers.”

In 1961 Blake won the prestigious Liverpool-based John Moores Painting Prize – “junior section”, he stressed – ahead of artists including David Hockney and Lucian Freud.

“I’m very proud of it,” he said. “I remember coming up on the train and having a party in my room at the Adelphi and meeting the Liverpool poets. It was pre-Beatles, they hadn’t broken yet, but there was a definite vibe in the city and great music going on.

The artwork, called Everybody Razzle Dazzle, is the biggest of Blake’s long career, but creating it was similar to doing a small watercolor, he said. Working on a computer, he initially planned it all in monochrome but quickly realised it needed colour. “It has to be cheerful: it would have been dour in black and white really.

“I was slightly nervous that there might be some diehards who’d think I’d messed it up, they preferred the old livery. But I was very respectful of it: I checked things like whether I was okay to change the funnel.”

The first world war anti-submarine gunboat HMS Kildangan, pictured in its dazzle camouflage in 1918. Photograph: IWM/Getty Images

The first world war anti-submarine gunboat HMS Kildangan, pictured in its dazzle camouflage in 1918. Photograph: IWM/Getty Images

The plan is for the Snowdrop to have its Blake livery for two years. It set off for its first newly dazzled journey on Thursday with Bill Haley and the Comets’ Razzle Dazzle playing on a loop. Not far away from its setting-off point is is a static vessel, the Edmund Gardner, dazzled by the the Venezuelan artist Carlos Cruz-Diez last year.

Liverpool’s mayor, Joe Anderson, said the city was proud to have great things in pairs: two great cathedrals, two great football teams. “We’ve got two ferries and I hope the other one will be painted as well … I was told not to say that.”

The dazzle ship project shines light on a story largely forgotten today. During the first world war, professional artists would paint wild patterns on British ships to confuse the enemy. The idea was that U-boat captains would spot the ship but have no idea of what class it was, or if it was coming or going.

It was, Blake said, the invention of optical art and he had a great time following in the original dazzle artists’ footsteps.

Blake praised the painters at the Cammell Laird shipyard in Birkenhead who had done the hard work. “We came up about a month ago when they were still working on it. To see it today when it’s all beautifully cleaned and polished is terrific.”

Arthur Hardacre, who led the team of painters, said it had been a bit like a very big paint-by-numbers exercise. “It was no big problem really, it’s all paint.”

The result is magnificent though. “It is absolutely fantastic and it’s great that visitors to the Mersey will see such a colourful ship.”

The project was commissioned by the Liverpool Biennial, 14-18 Now and Tate Liverpool.

On the Web: 

14-18 Now

MV Snowdrop

Dazzle Ferry – Liverpool Biennial

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Sunday Reader: Shroud 2.0 – An App for the Shroud of Turin

A screenshot from the free version of Shroud 2.0.

A screenshot from the free version of Shroud 2.0.

Shroud 2.0 is a high-tech app that gives the user a look at Christianity’s most important artifact.

Several years ago on Good Friday, according to a New York Times article, a company named Haltadefinizione that makes ultra-high resolution images, released Shroud 2.0. The app is a hip, modern, high-tech look at one of the religion’s potentially most important artifacts, the Shroud of Turin.

The app provides (for a price) a detailed glimpse at the Shroud. To get their high-resolution photo, says Haltadefinizione, they captured 1649 photos of the cloth, “each of which represents the area of the size of a business card, creating a single image of 12 billion points stored in one file of 72 Gigabytes, equal to the contents of 16 DVDs.” (The free version of the app provides just a basic photo.)

According to some Christian believers, the Shroud was the cloth worn by Jesus when he was buried following crucifixion—his resurrected body rising from its folds. “The Vatican,” for its part, says USA Today, “has never claimed that the 14-foot linen cloth was, as some believers claim, used to cover Christ after he was taken from the cross 2,000 years ago.”

According to scientists, the Shroud was a fourteenth century work of art: “Many experts have stood by a 1988 carbon-14 dating of scraps of the cloth carried out by labs in Oxford, Zurich and Arizona that dated it from 1260 to 1390, which, of course, would rule out its used during the time of Christ.” New findings dating the cloth to the fourth or fifth century (published in a book, not a scientific publication) put the 1988 results in dispute, but obviously more work will be needed.

To be fair, the patches that were tested were not as old as the main part of the shroud.  In fact the patches were actually repairs made to the shroud after being in a fire in the 1300s, so naturally they would test from that time period.

The 4m-long linen sheet was damaged in several fires since its existence was first recorded in France in 1357, including a church blaze in 1532.

It is said to have been restored by nuns who patched the holes and stitched the shroud to a reinforcing material known as the Holland cloth.

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Sunday Reader: Tomb of Celtic Prince Uncovered in France

Aerial view showing the site in Lavau, France, where a Celtic prince's tomb was found. Here, a large trench can be seen surrounding the princely tomb, which dates to the early fifth century B.C. (Photo credit: Copyright Denis Gliksman/Inrap)

Aerial view showing the site in Lavau, France, where a Celtic prince’s tomb was found. Here, a large trench can be seen surrounding the princely tomb, which dates to the early fifth century B.C. (Photo credit: Copyright Denis Gliksman/Inrap)

Archaeologists with France’s National Institute of Preventive Archaeological Research have discovered the tomb of a Celtic prince dating to the fifth century B.C.

Many of the artifacts of 2,500-year-old lavish tomb and chariot of the prince are completely preserved in their intricate detail.

The ancient princely tomb, which was discovered in a large burial mound, was filled with stunning grave goods, including gorgeous pottery and a gold-tipped drinking vessel. The giant jug was decorated with images of the Greek god of wine and revelry, and was probably made by Greek or Etruscan artists.

The stunning new finds “are evidence of the exchanges that happened between  the Mediterranean and the Celts,” Dominique Garcia, president of France’s National institute of Preventive Archaeological Research (INRAP), told journalists at a field visit, according to France 24.

Archaeologists in France recently unearthed the fifth century B.C. grave of a Celtic prince and his chariot. One of the lavish grave goods found in the burial mound was a large cauldron meant for feasting. The handles of the bronze cauldron are decorated with the Greek deity Achelous. Credit: Copyright Denis Gliksman/Inrap

Archaeologists in France recently unearthed the fifth century B.C. grave of a Celtic prince and his chariot. One of the lavish grave goods found in the burial mound was a large cauldron meant for feasting. The handles of the bronze cauldron are decorated with the Greek deity Achelous.
Credit: Copyright Denis Gliksman/Inrap

Ancient trade routes

Though the heartland of the Greek  city-states was clustered in Greece in the fifth and sixth centuries B.C., the economic powerhouses later expanded their reach throughout the Mediterranean. At their peak, the Greek and Western Etruscan city-states had settlements dotting coastlines all the way to modern-day southern Spain to the south and to the Black Sea, near modern-day Russia, to the north.

Researchers carefully excavate at the Lavau site where the ancient princely tomb and cauldron were found. The funerary complex where the artifacts were found spans an area of about 150 square feet (14 square meters), making it one of the largest such structures known to archaeologists from the Hallstatt period at the end of the Early Iron Age, the researchers noted. (Photo credit: Copyright Denis Gliksman/Inrap)

Researchers carefully excavate at the Lavau site where the ancient princely tomb and cauldron were found. The funerary complex where the artifacts were found spans an area of about 150 square feet (14 square meters), making it one of the largest such structures known to archaeologists from the Hallstatt period at the end of the Early Iron Age, the researchers noted. (Photo credit: Copyright Denis Gliksman/Inrap)

One of the key trading centers for this region was Massilia, in what is now modern-day Marseille, France. Merchants from the East came to the region seeking slaves, metals and amber, according to an INRAP statement about the find.

Many of the Mediterranean merchants bestowed impressive goods from Greek and Etruscan cultures as diplomatic gifts, in hopes of opening new trade channels. As a result, the Celts who ruled centrally located inland regions in the central river valleys amassed great wealth. The most elite of these ancient rulers were buried in impressive burial mounds, some of which can be found in Hochdorf, Germany, and Bourges, France.

At the center of the burial mound, called a tumulus, which measures about 130 feet (40 meters) across, the deceased individual and his chariot reside at the center of a funerary complex. (Photo credit: Copyright Denis Gliksman/Inrap)

At the center of the burial mound, called a tumulus, which measures about 130 feet (40 meters) across, the deceased individual and his chariot reside at the center of a funerary complex. (Photo credit: Copyright Denis Gliksman/Inrap)

Long burial tradition

The current site — located in the little village of Lavau, France, just a few hours’ drive south of Paris — served as an ancient burial place for centuries. In 1300 B.C., the ancient inhabitants left burial mounds with bodies and the cremated remains of people, archaeologists have found. Another burial at the site, dating to about 800 B.C., holds the body of an ancient warrior bearing a sword, along with a woman bedecked in solid-bronze bracelets.

The current tomb was part of a set of four burial mounds that were grouped together, dating to about 500 B.C., though the tomb itself is likely younger than the rest of the burials. People continued to use the ancient cemetery during the Roman period, when some of the graves were emptied and replaced by newer graves.

Archaeologists excavated a bronze cauldron, measuring about 3.3 feet (1 meter) across, that they found in the princely tomb in Lavau. (Photo credit: Copyright Denis Gliksman/Inrap)

Archaeologists excavated a bronze cauldron, measuring about 3.3 feet (1 meter) across, that they found in the princely tomb in Lavau. (Photo credit: Copyright Denis Gliksman/Inrap)

a close-up view of the head of a feline adorning the opening of the bronze cauldron found in the princely grave within the funerary complex in Lavau. (Photo credit: Copyright Denis Gliksman/Inrap)

a close-up view of the head of a feline adorning the opening of the bronze cauldron found in the princely grave within the funerary complex in Lavau. (Photo credit: Copyright Denis Gliksman/Inrap)

The newly discovered funeral chamber was found in a giant mound about 130 feet (40 meters) wide — one of the largest found from that time period. Inside lies the body of an ancient prince in his chariot. In a corner of the tomb, someone had placed several basins; a bronze bucket; a fluted piece of pottery; and a large, sheathed knife.

The most striking find was a stunning bronze cauldron, about 3.3 feet (1 m) in diameter, that may have been made by the Greeks or the Etruscans.

The giant jug has four handles, with images of the Greek god Achelous, a Greek river deity. In this depiction, Achelous is shown with horns and bulls’ ears, as well as a beard and three moustaches. The stunningly worked cauldron also depicts eight lion heads, and the interior contains an image of the Greek god Dionysus, the god of winemaking, lying under a vine and looking at a woman.

Inside the bronze cauldron from within the princely tomb, scientists found a decorated Greek wine jug. A black-figure decoration on the jug shows Dionysus lying under a vine facing a female, possibly a banquet scene, which is common in Greek iconography, the researchers said. (Photo credit: Copyright Denis Gliksman/Inrap)

Inside the bronze cauldron from within the princely tomb, scientists found a decorated Greek wine jug. A black-figure decoration on the jug shows Dionysus lying under a vine facing a female, possibly a banquet scene, which is common in Greek iconography, the researchers said. (Photo credit: Copyright Denis Gliksman/Inrap)

“This appears to be a banquet scene, a recurrent theme in Greek iconography,” researchers from INRAP, which is overseeing the excavations at the site, said in a statement.

The cauldron, which was likely used by the ancient Celtic aristocrats in feasts, is also covered in gold at the top and the base.

On the Web:  Exceptional Iron-Age elite tomb discovered in France

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Sunday Reader: Irish Brewery was a Safe Haven for WWI Troops

A view across the cask yard, St. James's Gate Brewery c. 1906-13. Guinness was one of the city's 'outstanding employers'.

A view across the cask yard, St. James’s Gate Brewery c. 1906-13. Guinness was one of the city’s ‘outstanding employers’.

More than 800 Guinness employees fought in the Great War with an estimated 103 dying in combat.

This week, the world-renowned brewery launched the Diageo Guinness World War 1 Archive Exhibition in the Little Museum of Dublin.  The exhibition charts the lives of several of these men.

The Guinness Brewery c. 1916.

The Guinness Brewery c. 1916.

Many of the Guinness employees joined the 19th Royal Hussars before the war and served until 1919. The men, however, were not allowed to wear the uniform when they returned. They were treated as outcasts. In spite of this, the brewery at St. James Gate was one of the few places that welcomed them. It was a safe haven for them.

Guinness archivist Deirdre McParland with archive founder and UK broadcaster Gay Byrne, whose uncle Richard worked at the brewery and served in WWI.

Guinness made special provisions for employees who joined the armed forces.

A War Gifts Committee was established to dispatch parcels to men in action and the brewery provided financial support to the families of soldiers.

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Sunday Reader: Think Rings of Saturn – Only Bigger

If your eyes could only see the color red, this is how Saturn's rings would look. Many Cassini color images, like this one, are taken in red light so scientists can study the often subtle color variations of Saturn's rings. These variations may reveal clues about the chemical composition and physical nature of the rings. For example, the longer a surface is exposed to the harsh environment in space, the redder it becomes. Putting together many clues derived from such images, scientists are coming to a deeper understanding of the rings without ever actually visiting a single ring particle. This view looks toward the sunlit side of the rings from about 11 degrees above the ringplane. The image was taken in red light with the Cassini spacecraft narrow-angle camera on Dec. 6, 2014. The view was acquired at a distance of approximately 870,000 miles (1.4 million kilometers) from Saturn and at a Sun-Saturn-spacecraft, or phase, angle of 27 degrees. Image scale is 5 miles (8 kilometers) per pixel. Phot courtesy of NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

If your eyes could only see the color red, this is how Saturn’s rings would look.
Many Cassini color images, like this one, are taken in red light so scientists can study the often subtle color variations of Saturn’s rings. These variations may reveal clues about the chemical composition and physical nature of the rings. For example, the longer a surface is exposed to the harsh environment in space, the redder it becomes. Putting together many clues derived from such images, scientists are coming to a deeper understanding of the rings without ever actually visiting a single ring particle.
This view looks toward the sunlit side of the rings from about 11 degrees above the ringplane. The image was taken in red light with the Cassini spacecraft narrow-angle camera on Dec. 6, 2014.
The view was acquired at a distance of approximately 870,000 miles (1.4 million kilometers) from Saturn and at a Sun-Saturn-spacecraft, or phase, angle of 27 degrees. Image scale is 5 miles (8 kilometers) per pixel.
Photo courtesy of NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

If you think you’ve seen big rings in our own solar system, think again. Say hello to J1407b

When the University of Rochester’s Eric Mamajek tells other astronomers about the object he and his colleagues discovered about 430 light-years from Earth, they tend to be skeptical—very skeptical. And no wonder: What he’s found is a giant ring system, sort of like Saturn’s, but some 200 times bigger, circling what may be an exoplanet between ten and 40 times the size of Jupiter. If you put these rings in our own Solar System, they’d stretch all the way from the Earth to the Sun, a distance of 93 million miles (150 km). And what’s more, there’s evidence that the rings are sculpted by at least one exomoon—something that also happens at Saturn, but not remotely on this scale.

“It took us a year even to convince ourselves of what we were seeing,” says Mamajek, whose paper is based on a new analysis of observations taken back in 2007 by the SuperWASP planet search project. At the time, the observations seemed to make no sense: when a planet passes in front of a star, you usually see a dip in starlight that lasts for up to a few hours. In this case, the starlight dimmed for two months.

It wasn’t a steady dip, either. The star would fade, then brighten, then fade again, in a way that made no sense at all. When Mamajek and his group stumbled on the data in 2010, he says, “I took a printout of the light curve, put it on the wall, and stared at it for a week.” Crazy as it seemed, the most plausible explanation was a giant ring system with gaps like Saturn’s that let more or less light through at different times during the passage. “It’s the same indirect way the rings of Uranus were discovered in 1977,” he says.

The planet itself doesn’t show up in the observations, but that could be explained if the ring system is slightly off-center as it moves in front of the star. You can see how this works in an animation put together by Mamajek’s collaborator Matthew Kenworthy, of the University of Leiden, in the Netherlands.

The star which the new planet orbits is thought to be very young—about 16 million years, compared with our own Solar System’s 4.6 billion. If the scientists are right about what they’re seeing, the mammoth ring system will get smaller over time as the outer bands condense into moons. “That’s what you see in [our] Solar System,” says Kenworthy. “You have rings tucked in close to the planets and moons further out. So presumably we’re seeing the intermediate step.”

This is an artist's conception of the extrasolar ring system circling the young giant planet or brown dwarf J1407b with Saturn and its ring system to scale (in upper right quadrant). The rings are shown eclipsing the young sun-like star J1407, as they would have appeared in early 2007. The best fit model is consistent with a system of at least 30 rings, and there are gaps where satellites ("exomoons") may have already formed. Image courtesy Ron Miller/University of Rochester

This is an artist’s conception of the extrasolar ring system circling the young giant planet or brown dwarf J1407b with Saturn and its ring system to scale (in upper right quadrant). The rings are shown eclipsing the young sun-like star J1407, as they would have appeared in early 2007. The best fit model is consistent with a system of at least 30 rings, and there are gaps where satellites (“exomoons”) may have already formed.
Image courtesy Ron Miller/University of Rochester

It all seems familiar, except for the ring system’s size, which is unprecedented—and which is the reason other astronomers are waiting to be convinced. “I agree with the authors that it’s appropriate to consider an interpretation based on rings,” says Eric Ford, an expert on exoplanets at Penn State. The idea that the outer parts would condense into moons relatively quickly, however, means that we’re seeing the rings at their full extent during a very narrow window of existence—the sort of coincidence that scientists don’t love to see. “Whenever your explanation involves catching something during a phase that won’t last very long,” Ford says, “it’s a little concerning.”

Much of the doubt could be erased if astronomers could see the rings pass by again on another orbit around the star. Unfortunately, that hasn’t happened: they’ve got only the single passage back in 2007, meaning the exoplanet is on a relatively long orbit. “We think it’s at least ten or 15 years,” says Kenworthy.

They don’t know for sure, though, and since it’s tough to keep big telescopes aimed at this one star hoping for another passage, the astronomers have recruited members of the high-end amateur group, the American Association of Variable Star Observers, to monitor the situation. They’re also going back through digitized versions of old images from observatories around the world, looking for evidence of other stars that faded mysteriously for a while without explanation. “Now that we know what we’re looking for,” Mamajek says, “we might find that there are lots of them out there.”

They might, that is, if they’re really seeing rings. “I keep telling people, ‘if you can think of a better explanation, please let me know,’” Mamajek says, and he means it. So far, he has no takers. “The signal is very strong,” says Harvard’s David Kipping, who is doing his own search for exomoons, “and its difficult to believe the instrument could misbehave on such a huge scale. I think many of us find the signal interesting,” he says. That, by itself, is enough to keep the astronomy community looking.

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