Thursday, September 13, 2012

Sandstone caves of Nottingham

Video: Nottingham Caves Survey
Boing Boing mentions a post over at the BLDG BLOG on the caves of Nottingham, which are being mapped as part of the Nottingham Caves Survey. They are, in many respects, similar to those at Cappadocia (manmade, cut into sandstone bedrock and cliffsides).

The storied history of the caves which inlcudes ties to Robin of Locksley--has long been the spark of tall tales. From the article:
Incredibly, there are more than 450 artificial caves excavated from the sandstone beneath the streets and buildings of Nottingham, England—including, legendarily, the old dungeon that once held Robin Hood—and not all of them are known even today, let alone mapped or studied. The city sits atop a labyrinth of human-carved spaces—some of them huge—and it will quite simply never be certain if archaeologists and historians have found them all.

"Even back in Saxon times, Nottingham was known for its caves," local historian Tony Waltham writes in his helpful guide Sandstone Caves of Nottingham, "though the great majority of those which survive today were cut much more recently." From malt kilns to pub cellars, "gentlemen's lounges" to jails, and wells to cisterns, these caves form an almost entirely privately-owned lacework of voids beneath the city.
Here's a look at some maps they've created:

Some interior shots:

Images: Nottingham Cave Survey and BLDG BLOG

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

10 lost civilizations --some maybe not so familiar

What are the ten most familiar civilzations you think of when you hear the word "lost"? There's several on this remarkably ordered list over at io9 of ancient civilizations that I wasn't aware of. We've all heard of the Maya and Easter Island, but there's a few that (I am ashamed to admit) I missed in Archeology 101 from college. For instance:
Click to enlarge
4. Catalhöyük
Often called the world's oldest city, Catalhöyük was part of a large city-building and agricultural civilization thriving between 9,000-7,000 years ago in what is today south-central Turkey. What's interesting about Catalhöyük is its structure, which is quite unlike most other cities since. It contained no roads as we know them, and was instead built sort of like a hive, with houses built next to each other and entered through holes in the roofs. It's believed that people farmed everything from wheat to almonds outside the city walls, and got to their homes via ladders and sidewalks that traversed their roofs. Often, these people decorated the entrances to their homes with bull skulls, and buried the bones of their honored dead beneath the packed dirt of their floors. The civilization was pre-Iron Age and pre-literate, but they nevertheless left behind ample evidence of a sophisticated society, full of art and and public ritual, that was possibly 10,000 strong at many points in its 2,000 year existence. Why did people eventually abandon the city? It is unknown.
And I'm ashamed to say I don't think I knew there was a city here in the US--prior to Europeans arriving.
Click to enlarge
5. Cahokia
Long before Europeans made it to North America, the so-called Mississippians had build a great city surrounded by huge earthen pyramids and a Stonehenge-like structure made of wood to track the movements of the stars. Called Cahokia today, you can still see its remains in Illinois. At its height between 600-1400 AD, the city sprawled across 6 square miles, and contained almost a hundred earthen mounds as well as an enormous grand plaza at its center. Its population might have been as much as 40,000 people, some of whom would have lived in outlying villages. The people of this great city, the biggest so far north in Mesoamerica, were brilliant artists, architects, and farmers, creating incredible art with shells, copper, and stone. They even diverted a branch of the local Mississippi and Illinois rivers to suit their needs for irrigation. It's not entirely certain what led people to abandon the city starting in the 1200s, but some archaeologists say the city had always had problems with disease and famine (it had no sanitary system to speak of), and that people left for greener (and healthier) pastures elsewhere on the Mississippi River.
Great historical inspiration for getting the gears turning and fantastic fodder for stories, indeed!

Images are from the full article over at io9.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Centuries old shipwreck found at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico

Here's a few great shots of an old copper-hulled ship that sank more than 200 years ago in the Gulf of Mexico. Among the artifacts are a canon, some plates and bottles, and several muskets.

A newly discovered 200-year-old shipwreck was found 200 miles off the Gulf Coast in more than 4,000 feet of water by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The wooden hull of the ship has nearly disintegrated, but a greenish copper shell that once protected the ship's wood remains behind.
Not many details are available at the moment, but just imagine the story behind this incredible find!

Photos: NOAA Okeanos Explorer Program via AP
Check out the full story at MSNBC

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Let's Build the Starship Enterprise!

I've said it before, and I'll say it again--we should fund a spaceship Kickstarter for a REAL spaceship. It's by no means a new idea, but someone has finally made a case for a workable plan.

The founder of the Build the Enterprise website, BTE Dan, says he's got an idea to build the starship Enterprise (or a reasonable version of it) to fly in actual outer space in 20 years.

Granted, there will be a few concessions (i.e., no warp speed) but he contends that the technology and know-how to construct an interplanetary space vessel exists--and we can do it in just two decades.

From the Build the Entperise FAQ:
Q: BTE-Dan, do you really think it’s technically possible to build the USS Enterprise over the next two decades?

A: Yes. It’s within our technological reach to build a full-sized Enterprise with 1g gravity. This Gen1 Enterprise can go on missions to key points of interest in our solar system, like Mars and Venus. It will be the biggest ship of any kind ever built by humans, and it will be larger than the tallest building in the world. It’s possible to build the Enterprise, and it would be a monumental achievement for us humans who inhabit the planet earth.

Q: How would building the Enterprise alter our manned space program?

A: The USS Enterprise from Star Trek is a cultural icon, and we should latch part of the US space program on to this icon and build from there. We need a far grander vision of what we should be doing to get humans up into space and how we might gain a permanent foothold there. If we aren’t going to get a sustainable presence up there, then we should stop spending money for putting humans into space and instead focus on robotic missions like sending more advanced rovers to Mars, Venus, and elsewhere. If we are going to ask taxpayers to pay billions of dollars for projects to put Americans into space, it should be for an idea that they can relate to and be inspired by. The general form and characteristics of the spaceship should be inspirational – and building the first generation of USS Enterprise would surely be inspirational.

Q: Well the ship is inspired by the Star Trek Enterprise, but it’s not the same. Please explain why it’s different.

A: It’s different because the technologies we have to work with in the first half of the 21st century are much different than the technologies that will exist in the 23rd century when Star Trek is set. We can only dream of what technologies may exist by then. So we can stay as true to the themes of the Enterprise ship as is possible given our technological limitations. We have to re-configure interior sections of the ship quite a bit. But it will still be a magnificently impressive ship. When completed, and given the missions that it will be capable of doing, it will be as inspirational as putting astronauts on the moon in 1969.
He makes a reasoned argument for realizing a spaceship, (I'll give him that!) though I think with it would likely take about twice that time to shake out any technical snafus along the way. Still, that's a mere fraction of the 2 and a 1/2 centuries that the Star Trek series postulates the possibility of the Enterprise. And really, who would give up cruising around the solar system in their own hot rod?

Here's a video of a proposed artificial gravity wheel to accomodate human habitation on long journeys. It's a neat solution that essentially turns the manned areas of the ship on it's side.

If only we could get an X Prize to build one of these!


Thursday, May 10, 2012

Weirdest underwater lifeforms

Gizmodo's got a great video line-up of strange sealife they just posted. Here are two of my "favorites" (I guess?) for all-out weirdness. They'd make great aliens in some sci-fi story, no?

I agree with Gizmodo's assessemtnt that this Pacific Barrel-eyed Fish
looks like it has a tiny pilot inside.

This Predatory Tunicate looks like a giant cellophane Muppet.

Head on over for the full list. Fair warning: there's a definite lack of cuteness to some of these critters.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The Diversity of "Jellyfish"

I'm dusting off some old draft posts that I'd meant to put up earlier. This video "There's no such thing as a jellyfish" is a great primer on the critters. Plus its food for thought on a whole mess of topics, like life sciences, marine biology, and even astrobiology.

Also, it's breathtakingly gorgeous video!

Back at it

Has it really been almost a year between posts? Yikes! I didn't intend for that to happen, but life gets in the way I guess. Well, I'm working on a few posts to get back in the swing of things.

There may be a few new features/changes in store for ToA. I expect to make some cosmetic updates as well.

Stay tuned!

Martian test run in Austrian ice caves!

These amazing photographs are of a simulation experiment in ice caves located underneath Dachstein mountain in Austria that are serving as a test environment for space suits. Why would we need to test space suits in a cave? you ask. Well, so when we go to MARS we can see if perhaps life found a way to thrive underground.  

As you can see from these last two images, the trial also includes some rover robot testing. Pretty cool!

See caves are a great place for microbes to hang out because they benefit from a protected habitat that shields them from cosmic radiation, which is a known buzzkill when it comes to biology.

From Spiegal:
A dozen experiments are being conducted simultaneously in the caves. For example, the Magma Mars rover developed in Poland is navigating an ice surface. On board, it is carrying the Wisdom radar system, which is to be used on the next European Mars mission. The system can be used to analyze rocks at a depth of up to 3 meters (almost 10 feet). "Here in the ice, we can even examine as far as 10 meters deep," says project worker Stephen Clifford of the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston.

Without a doubt, though, the most spectacular test object is the "Aouda.X" Mars space suit. Tester Daniel Schildhammer is currently making his way in the space suit simulator through a giant cavern that is dotted with rocks. The shining silver suit, which weighs 45 kilograms (around 100 pounds), is also one of a kind, and is named after a Jules Verne character. In his classic novel "Around the World in 80 Days," the book's hero, Phileas Fogg, falls in love with the Indian princess Aouda.
Researcher Gernot Grömer, an astrophysicist at the University of Innsbruck goes on to talk about what makes caves ideal test environments.
"We've known for some time now that there are caves on Mars. And if there actually was life on its surface once, then they would have been the ideal places to retreat to." In astro-biological terms, there is certainly something to that: Cave systems, with their constant temperatures, elevated levels of humidity and, in particular, the protection they offer from cosmic radiation, seem the perfect refuge for simple life forms seeking a retreat. Still, the impressive images Dachstein has to offer were certainly a very pleasant side-effect for all the stakeholders.
Even got a little Jules Verne in there! Great stuff. Reminds me of another post a ways back.

This all is helping me close in on an idea I've had since that initial post on the crystal caves. Just amazing that we have these incredible images and research like this is actually being conducted. I'm in awe!

Image sources:
Spiegel Online

Props to Boing Boing