That Hidden ‘Superhenge’ Was a Super Dud

By Carl Engelking | August 16, 2016 3:52 pm
An artist's conception of the "Superhenge" that never was.

An artist’s conception of the “Superhenge” that never was. (Credit: LBI ArchPro, Juan Torrejón Valdelomar, Joachim Brandtner)

Last year, researchers announced that a “Superhenge” buried underground a couple miles from Stonehenge was poised to upstage the iconic monument.

Archaeologists with the Stonehenge Hidden Landscapes Project hitched ground-penetrating radar devices to trailers towed by four-wheelers and tractors. Using these advanced instruments, they constructed a 3-D picture of what was buried beneath.

Based on the images, the team believed it had discovered a row of roughly 90 standing stones, some that were originally 15 feet tall, buried near Durrington Walls just two miles from Stonehenge.

This year, when shovels hit dirt — ground-truthing as archaeologists say — they didn’t find a Superhenge. There was no evidence of large buried stones — sorry druids. Still, the dig added yet another perplexing twist to the history of one of mankind’s most intriguing monuments.

What They Found 

So what did archaeologists find? It turns out the structures picked up on radar were actually large pits that contained wooden posts long ago. Here’s what National Trust archaeologist Nicola Snashall told BBC News:

“What we’ve discovered are that there are two enormous pits for timber posts. They have got ramps at the sides to lower posts into. They did contain timbers, which have been vertically lifted out and removed at some stage. The top was then filled in with chalk rubble and then the giant henge bank was raised over the top.”

Snashall says builders of Stonehenge constructed the beginnings of a large timber circle around Durrington Walls once the settlement in the area went out of use.

The dig wasn’t a complete “dud” by any means, as it built a more accurate picture of what was, or wasn’t, at the site long ago. And it’s a safe bet that Stonehenge hasn’t revealed all its secrets. Over the past few years, researchers have identified several new structures in the countryside around Stonehenge.

They’ve also learned that those iconic stones might have been hand-me-downs, and that Stonehenge builders loved to barbecue.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, top posts
MORE ABOUT: archaeology

18-Year Study Links Neonicotinoids to Bee Colony Decline

By Nathaniel Scharping | August 16, 2016 2:59 pm
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(Credit: Dancestrokes/Shutterstock)

A type of insecticide used on oilseed rape plants in the U.K. is likely to blame for worrying declines in bee populations across the pond.

Over the past few decades, bee populations around the world over have declined precipitously. Habitat loss, viruses and pesticides are fingered as culprits, but a recent 18-year study in England focuses the blame largely on neonicotinoids, a type of insecticide approved there in 2002 for agricultural use. The researchers monitored 62 species of bees between 1994 and 2011, including 34 species of bees that forage on oilseed rape plants and 28 that do not. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Living World, top posts

5 Times Scientists Tackled Conspiracy Theories, and Won

By Nathaniel Scharping | August 16, 2016 1:20 pm
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(Credit: Everett Collection/Shutterstock)

Conspiracy theories are something of a plague for scientists: no matter how much research is done on some topics, a vocal minority will insist that the facts just aren’t true.

So it’s gone for vaccines, climate change and 9/11, and so it will go on, in all likelihood. In some cases, it may be best to simply ignore the conspiracy agitators, but, as a 2010 article in EMBO Reports points out, some of the biggest scandals start out looking very much like outlandish conspiracy theories—the Watergate scandal in the 1970s, for example.

Perhaps the best attitude toward conspiracies is to follow the advice popularized by Carl Sagan: “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Living World, Technology

Tabletop Black Hole Yields Evidence of Hawking Radiation

By Anna Nowogrodzki | August 15, 2016 4:27 pm
blackhole

(Credit: NASA-JPL / Caltech)

Black holes aren’t perfectly black.

For the first time, using a model of a black hole that traps sound instead of light, scientists have seen spontaneous evidence of what comes out of them.

These particles are so few and faint that it’s not feasible to observe them for an astrophysical black hole, so Jeff Steinhauer at Technion–Israel Institute of Technology made a tabletop version of a black hole that sucks in sound instead of light. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space & Physics, top posts

WATCH: Space Is the Place to View Meteor Showers

By Carl Engelking | August 15, 2016 4:11 pm
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(Credit: NASA)

For many people the finest Perseid meteor shower in 20 years was obscured by clouds — curse you atmosphere!

But for the lucky crew aboard the International Space Station, viewing conditions are always perfect — they just look down instead of up. Given this excellent view, it was a no-brainer for scientists to set up a super-sensitive, high-definition camera in the station’s Window Observational Research Facility to record meteors as they zip through Earth’s atmosphere. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space & Physics, top posts
MORE ABOUT: stargazing

Sound Science: Researchers Take Acoustic Levitation to a New Level

By Carl Engelking | August 15, 2016 2:59 pm
levitation-acoustic

(Credit: Andrade et al., 2016)

Acoustic levitation conjures images of Star Trek­-style tractor beams and ultrasonic hover boards, but in reality floating objects on a cushion of sound occurs on far smaller scales. That’s in part due to one challenge: objects typically won’t float if they’re larger than the sound wave used to lift them.

Marco Andrade and Julio Adamowski at the University of São Paulo in Brazil, along with Anne Bernassau at Heriot-Watt University in the United Kingdom, proved it’s possible to surmount this limitation. In an experiment that looks cooler than it sounds, they levitated a polystyrene sphere that was 3.6 times larger than the 14-millimeter ultrasonic wave used to lift it. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space & Physics, top posts

An Earth-like Planet Might Be Orbiting Proxima Centauri

By Carl Engelking | August 12, 2016 11:31 pm
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Proxima Centauri shines brightly in the image from Hubble. (Credit: Hubble ESA)

Microsoft added the “Start” button to Windows in 1995, which was the same year scientists discovered the first exoplanet orbiting a star like ours – technically, astronomers found several terrestrial planets orbiting a pulsar in 1992.

But in 20 years, give or take, we’ve grown spoiled by the abundance of exoplanets in the universe. Kepler, the planet-hunter, has confirmed over 2,200 of them. Today, it’s safe to assume nearly every star has its companions.

The ante for hyping a new exoplanet discovery is a little higher these days, but if rumors are true, this one makes the grade: astrophysicists from the European Southern Observatory (ESO) plan to announce they’ve spotted an Earth-like exoplanet orbiting the nearest star, Proxima Centauri, in its habitable zone. This, according to an anonymous source quoted in a report that appeared Friday in Der Spiegel.

“The still nameless planet is believed to be Earth-like and orbits at a distance to Proxima Centauri that could allow it to have liquid water on its surface—an important requirement for the emergence of life,” the source said.

And, for what it’s worth:

 

Big News, If It’s True

At just over 4 light-years from Earth, Proxima Centauri is our sun’s nearest neighbor, and it’s part of a triple-star system that includes the better known Alpha Centauri. The star’s proximity has made it an obvious target for many past exoplanet searches. All of them have come up short, which makes the most recent rumors all the more remarkable.

If the early reports ring true, scientists will announce this Earth-like planet near the end of August. Discover has reached out to an ESO spokesperson for comment.

Reason to Hold Our Breath

Although media reports say the rumored planet orbits in a region that’s potentially favorable for life, these smaller stars are less stable, and Proxima Centauri is known to have violent flares at times. Its occasional tantrums have made astronomers skeptical of finding life around red dwarf stars in the past.

However, skepticism has softened some in recent years, and SETI recently launched a major initiative to search for life around 20,000 red dwarfs, as these stars are the most common in the Milky Way galaxy.

Still, Proxima Centauri is only “close” on a cosmic scale. It would still take humans far too long to reach the planet with current technologies. Flying laser-sailing nanocraft to the yet-to-be-confirmed planet might be our next best bet, and that’s a pretty solid “plan b”.

Discover associate editor Eric Betz contributed to this report. 

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space & Physics, top posts
MORE ABOUT: exoplanets

Scientists ‘Reprogram’ Mouse Cortical Neurons With Light

By K. N. Smith | August 12, 2016 2:54 pm
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Calcium imaging techniques record the firing of individual mouse neurons and their pulses of electricity. (Credit: Yuste Laboratory/Columbia University)

In 1949 psychologist Donald Hebb built a theory for how neurons in the brain behave during the learning process — basically, neurons that fire together wire together.

Hebbs theorized that stimulating a group of neurons together causes these cells to then stick together and form a group — a neuronal ensemble. Repeatedly activating the ensemble, he believed, strengthened the connections between them, allowing them to all fire more efficiently. Today, Hebbian theory underlies biological explanations for learning, memory formation and brain plasticity. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Mind & Brain, top posts

Long Ago, Venus Looked Strikingly Similar to Earth

By John Wenz | August 12, 2016 1:16 pm

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It’s hard to imagine now, but hellish Venus may once have had balmy temperatures and shallow seas. Even with Venus’ much slower rotation rate, it may have even looked a whole lot like Earth.

Of course, that’s gone now. In a paper published in Geophysical Research Letters, researchers were able to make the Venus of old come alive by using climate modelling software to reconstruct the Venus of the past. Instead of a world surrounded by a thick, toxic fog that inhibits the planet with scorching temperatures, the model found a world surrounded by seas with a temperate climate. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space & Physics, top posts
MORE ABOUT: solar system

Yes, Some Greenland Sharks Are Old, but 400 Years Old?!

By Bridget Alex | August 11, 2016 1:00 pm
A Greenland shark swims near the surface after its release near a research vessel. (Credit: Julius Nielsen)

A Greenland shark swims near the surface after its release near a research vessel. (Credit: Julius Nielsen)

Never ask a female her age — unless, of course, she’s a 16-foot-long Greenland shark and it’s for science.

The shark species was shown to have remarkable longevity, living up to 400 years and reaching sexual maturity around 150 years, according to a paper published Thursday in Science. The researchers estimated the ages of 28 female Greenland sharks by radiocarbon dating proteins in their eye lenses and relying on the bomb pulse — a spike in radioactivity released globally by nuclear weapons in the 1950s and 60s. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, top posts
MORE ABOUT: animals, ocean
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