Salisbury Plain

An ancient wooden version of Stonehenge has been unearthed at the site of the world famous Bronze Age monument in Wiltshire.

The sun rises behind Stonehenge

The sun rises behind Stonehenge Photo: AFP/GETTY
The discovery of the timber henge just metres from its giant stone double has been hailed as the most exciting find the site in 50 years.
Archaeologists conducting a multi-million pound study unearthed a circular ditch surrounding a smaller circle of deep pits about a metre wide, which are thought to have once been filled by timber posts.

The new henge, which means a circular monument dating back to the Neolithic and Bronze ages, was found just 900 metres (2,950ft) from the stone circle on Salisbury Plain.
Archaeologists believe it was constructed at the same time as Stonehenge was being completed – around 4,500 years ago.
The timber ring has two entrances on the north-east and south-west sides and surrounds an ancient burial mound, which is thought to have appeared much later.
Data from the site is being collected in order to build a virtual picture of what the area looked like at the time Stonehenge was built.
Opinion is divided as to why the ancient landmark was constructed, but many experts believe it was a used as a cemetery for the first 500 years.
A British academic claimed last year that the site had been used as a dance arena for listening to “trance-style” music.
Professor Vince Gaffney, the archaeologist from the University of Birmingham who is leading the dig, said he was “certain” that further discoveries would be made as 90 per cent of the land around Stonehenge has never been excavated.
“The presumption was this was just an empty field – now you’ve got a major ceremonial monument looking at Stonehenge,” he said.
“This is probably the first major ceremonial monument that has been found in the past 50 years or so.
“This is really quite interesting and exceptional, it starts to give us a different perspective of the landscape.”
The excavation is being funded by the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for Archaeological Prospection and Virtual Archaeology, in Vienna, and the University of Birmingham, and is assisted by the National Trust and English Heritage.
Thousands of druids and sun worshipers gathered at Stonehenge to watch dawn break on the Summer Solstice last month.

Most Massive Star Detected

Evidence suggests a newly found star is more than 300 times bigger than the sun — twice the size of anything previously discovered.

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Irene Klotz
By Irene Klotz Wed Jul 21, 2010 08:10 AM ET 1 Comments | Leave a Comment

  • A star more than 300 times more massive than the sun was detected about 22,000 light-years away.
  • That size is twice as big as previously known stars.
  • Previous claims of stars more than 150 times the mass of the sun have turned out to be clusters.
massive star

A new image of the R136 cluster shows the cluster at the lower right. The image provides unique details on the stellar content of the cluster. Click to enlarge this image.
ESO/P. Crowther/C.J. Evans

Get big, die young. Such is the fate of behemoth stars, the largest of which are about 150 times the mass of the sun. A new study, however, finds evidence for stars more than twice that size, including an uber-giant so luminous that it makes the light of our sun look no brighter than the glow of the full moon in comparison.
Isolating the light of the biggest stars is a difficult and tedious process. Massive stars are rare, distant, short-lived and crammed inside dense clusters that are shrouded in dust. In the past, reports of stars up to 2,000 times the size of the sun all turned out to be clusters of stars, not single, massive objects.
“People have been trying to find the most massive star and to determine the upper mass limit of stars, but it’s like prospecting for gold. You have to sift through a whole lot of junk and there’s also a lot of fool’s gold,” said Rochester Institute of Technology astronomer Donald Figer.
Armed with new high-resolution imagery, an international team of astronomers is throwing down the gauntlet again with studies on NGC 3603, a very young star cluster located about 22,000 light-years away in the Milky Way’s Carina spiral arm, and RMC 136a, which resides in the Tarantula Nebula, located 165,000 light-years away in our neighbor galaxy, the Large Magellanic Cloud.
In addition to chemical analysis and precision position measurements, astronomers checked they weren’t seeing binary pairs by scanning for telltale X-rays that would come from the clash of solar winds. They didn’t find any, leading the team to conclude that they had, in fact, uncovered several stars in the Large Magellanic Cloud cluster which began their lives between 165 and 320 times the mass of the sun.
Among their findings, the star R136a1, found in the R136 cluster, is the most massive star ever found, with a mass of about 265 solar masses and with a birthweight of as much as 320 times that of the sun.
The Milky Way’s giant stars were more modest — 105 to 170 solar masses — and were included to validate computer models that also were used in the study.
“We can rule out that we have two stars close by,” Raphael Hirschi, an astrophysicist with Keele University in the United Kingdom, told Discovery News. “We have achieved a high enough resolution to definitely rule out that it might be a cluster of stars.”
Lead scientist Paul Crowther, at the University of Sheffield in the United Kingdom, said stars about 300 solar masses could be the new limit, at least in our corner of the universe.
“We considered stars with 1,000 solar mass, but there weren’t any clusters big enough. You don’t get big stars in small clusters,” Crowther told Discovery News.
Figer, for one, isn’t convinced.
“The claims in the paper rely on a series of assumptions and uncertain models, and there are possible interpretations that are not discussed,”  he wrote in an email to Discovery News. “It would be interesting to see another study that could examine these claims.”
The study appears in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

Mayan King’s Tomb Found in Guatemala

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Analysis by Rossella Lorenzi Mon Jul 19, 2010 11:59 AM ET 2 Comments | Leave a Comment

Maya Treasure Archaeologists digging in Guatemala’s jungle-covered Peten region have discovered a Mayan royal tomb packed with a hoard of carvings, ceramics and children’s bones.
Dating from about 350 to 400 A.D., the unlooted tomb, about 6 feet high, 12 feet long, and 4 feet wide, lay hidden beneath the El Diablo pyramid in the city of El Zotz.
It was unearthed in May, but the finding has only just been made public at a news conference in Guatemala City.
The archaeologists, led by Stephen Houston, professor of anthropology at Brown University in Providence, R.I., were investigating the site of a small temple when they came across a series of blood-red bowls. They contained the remains of human teeth and fingers.
Digging through several layers of flat stones and mud, the team finally unearthed a hole in the ground.
“We’d been using a small stick to probe for cavities. And, on this try, the stick went in, and in, and in … I saw nothing but a small hole leading into darkness,” Houston said.
As a light was lowered into the hole, “an explosion of color in all directions — reds, greens, yellows,” struck the archaeologists.
Perfectly preserved for over 1,600 years, there was a tomb filled with pieces of wood, textiles, thin layers of painted stucco, cord and ceramics.
“I poked my head in and there was still, to my astonishment, a smell of putrification and a chill that went to my bones,” Houston said.
The tomb contained the remains of an adult male — a king only known from hieroglyphic texts.
“From the tomb’s position, time, richness and repeated constructions atop the tomb, we believe this is very likely the founder of a dynasty,” Huston said.
According to Huston, the king was buried in a traditional dancer’s costume, adorned with small “bells” of shell with, probably, dog canines as clappers.
Most likely, his body, which rested on a raised bier that collapsed to the floor, had an elaborate headdress with small glyphs on it.
The archaeologists also found a blade, which they suspect was used for cutting and grinding through bone or some other hard material. Its surface was covered with red organic residue.
Though the substance still needs to be tested, “it doesn’t take too much imagination to think that this is blood,” Houston said.
The tomb also contained the bones of six children, who may have been sacrificed at the time of the king’s death.
“We still have a great deal of work to do,” Houston said. “Royal tombs are hugely dense with information and require years of study to understand. No other deposits come close.”

Putting yourself in the Mood

Not too long ago (about a fortnight), an idea for a series of stories for young children in the 5 -7 year old bracket occurred to me. So I began to create a series of characters and the events that surround them. There are a few questions that you have to ask yourself before, during and after you start a small endeavour like this.
Who are the characters, what world do they inhabit, do you make them believable, how scary are you allowed to make some of the story’s, and more importantly how sophisticated must the language used be.

Time marches on and with it each subsequent generation’s way of viewing the world of storytelling. 
When I was five, the books I read were by Beatrix Potter and Enid Blyton; such innocent stories, such simple words.
I am currently writing number eleven in a series of twelve about a honey bear cub called ‘Ursus’. He has two friends – Ig the earwig and Prickle the hedgehog. While I’m trying very hard to keep each adventure as simple as possible word wise, it’s not an easy task believe me. Anyone who tells you different is a liar quite frankly.
Then there is that other major criteria – what mood you’re in when you are writing. Yesterday I was feeling very morose and the story reflected that. Today I feel upbeat and the one I’m working on right now reflects that fact also.

Should adults be allowed to write for children? Who knows, I don’t. I guess it’s up to the reader in the end – hey ho…

The Knights’ mark on Malta

The urban, cultural and political profile of the Maltese islands is deeply marked by the presence of the Knights of St John over a period of 268 years. The Order has left its mark decisively in the collective memory of the Maltese.
The book Malta – The Order Of St John gives a global picture of this multinational institution in those crucial years when Grand Master L’Isle Adam moved the convent from Rhodes to Malta, when legendary Grand Master de Valette withstood the Turkish assault in 1565, when Grand Masters Wignacourt, Cotoner and Carafa turned Malta into a centre of Mediterranean corsairing and Grand Masters Vilhena and Pinto tried to imitate the central European absolutist princes. It all came to a sudden – but not unexpectedly – end in 1798 when Grand Master Hompesch handed over Malta to the rising star on the European horizon, Napoleon. The various diplomatic attempts of the Knights to regain their island failed.
The book also provides the reader with an overview of the most important monuments connected with the Knights in Malta and Gozo.
The series Malta’s Living Heritage, of which this books forms part, aims to bring together academic text and graphic content, thus appealing to a wider audience.
Each volume is packed with the most updated information, colour photography by Daniel Cilia and exclusive illustrations prepared by a team of international illustrators.
The books in the series by Midsea Books are Malta: Prehistory And Temples by David H. Trump; Malta: Phoenician, Punic And Roman by Anthony Bonanno and Malta: The Medieval Millennium by Charles Dalli.
Malta: The Order Of St John by Thomas Freller is the fourth volume in the series.

Subterranean Living May Await Moon and Mars Colonists

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Analysis by Ray Villard Sun Jul 18, 2010 03:46 PM ET 3 Comments | Leave a Comment

41 years ago this Tuesday our moon was first visited by a small shiny craft that descended like a falling star onto the frozen lava plains of the Sea of Tranquility. Apollo astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin then climbed out and walked the surface of a world untouched for over 4 billion years.
WIDE ANGLE: The Moon Landings

Let’s fast-forward to an imaginary time much later in this century. A similarly spidery craft descends to the the Sea of Tranquility, but to the viewer’s amazement it files down into a gaping hole on the moon’s surface, like bee going into a hive.
This is a conceivable scenario for far future moon colonists.
Over the past year, NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) has photographed unusual “pit craters” that poke into the moon’s crust for hundreds of feet. These are thought to be the collapsed ceilings of underground lava tubes that crisscross the moon as lunar rilles.
When life was just emerging on Earth streams of molten lava flowed across the moon and then solidified. Such tubes on Earth form when lava from a volcano starts to cool and harden a crust. Hot lava underneath continues flowing in channels.

Earth_lava tube

The moon’s frozen tunnels could provide a natural shelter from the extremes on the lunar surface. Assuming we decide to return to the moon someday — it’s not on NASA’s agenda, for now — the lava tubes would allow for ant farm-like colonies of humans living underground.
The tunnels would shield colonists from micrometeorites, lethal x-ray blasts from our petulant sun, and cosmic rays from the galaxy. Temperature inside the tubes would remain a constant -35 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s chilly, but much more stable for complex equipment. On the surface, machinery and structures would degrade under temperature extremes that swing from +250 degrees to -250 during the lunar day/night cycle.
The Hadean fantasy landscape that would await the first lunar spelunkers would be straight out of science fiction tale. Some tubes may be filled with frozen lava while other may present complex labyrinths.


A big enough skylight would allow automated cargo ships to gingerly descend to the lava tube floor for easy offloading at Moonport 1. A combination of nuclear and solar power generators would keep the colonists toasty. Lighting would cycle to follow a circadian rhythm to keep colonist in sync with Earth’s 24-hour day (vs. the moon’s two-week-long day).
Lava tubes could also make great habitats for future Mars colonists. Mars orbiter photos reveal skylight holes on the flanks of the giant shield volcano Olympus Mons. More can be found along the southeast flank of neighboring Arsia Mons as well as the sides of the northern shield volcano Alba Patera. These would provide the same luxuries to colonists as lunar lava tube bases. But Mars pioneers might end up discovering native microorganisms inside the caves. But at least no giant spider-bats as imagined in the cheesy 1959 sci-fi film, “The Angry Red Planet.”
Thing_come Underground cities on Earth were the staple of pulp science fiction. My favorite is the vast subterranean Utopian city in the 1936 H.G. Wells scripted film “Things To Come.” (Today it has an uncanny resemblance to the Marriott Marquis hotel on downtown Atlanta, Georgia –- except that the 47-story hotel is definitely above ground!)
Japan’s Kaguya (Selene) orbiter first found three pit craters each the diameter of three football fields end-to-end. The LRO team has added ten candidate craters –- one, ironically enough, in the Sea of Tranquility. (Tranquility Place here, vacationers welcomed!)
The team is planning to acquire stereo images of both large and smaller lava tube skylights now being discovered. The detailed topographic will better confirm the origin of these unusual features.
Photo Credit: Mark Robinson

Egypt: Ramesses II temple unearthed in Upper Egypt

Beni Suef, 15 July (AKI) – Excavations in Upper Egypt’s Ehnasia archaeological area in Beni-Sueif recently uncovered the remains of a 3,000 year old temple dating from the reign of ancient Egyptian pharaoh Rameses II.

“Inside the remains of this temple, excavators uncovered ten cartouches of Ramesses II and beneath them a relief saying that the ruler had built this temple for himself in Ehnasia,” said the head of Egypt’s Supreme Archaeology’s Pharaonic Section, Sabri Abdel Aziz in a statement on Thursday.

Ramesses II ruled Egypt from 1279-1213 BC and was the son of Seti I, whose secret ‘tomb within a tomb’ was uncovered in June by a team of Egyptian archaeologists in the Valley of the Kings in central Egypt.

A collection of mud-brick structures dating to the fourth and fifth century AD were also found at the site of the Ramesses II era temple, according to Aziz.

A collection of terracotta statues depicting Isis, Aphrodite and Horus were found inside along with pots and clay lamps, he said.

The team of archaeologists will continue excavation of the temple during the next archaeological season, Aziz said.

Ramesses II is regarded as one of Egypt’s most powerful pharaohs and was nicknamed ‘the Great Ancestor’ by his successors.

The famous twin temples at Abu Simbel, carved out of the rocks, the Ramesseum at Thebes, and Pi-Ramesses, a city complete with zoo near the old city of Avaris, are among the monuments built during his reign.

Our Eavesdropping-on-ET Strategy Not Likely to Work

Bad news for SETI: Even with the most sensitive radio telescopes yet designed, humans probably won’t find intelligent aliens by listening in on their phones and televisions, a new study finds.
“Eavesdropping on ET is very hard, even with the latest radio telescopes,” said astronomer Duncan Forgan of the University of Edinburgh, a coauthor of the study. “If we don’t try any other ways of searching for aliens, then we may never find them.”
Forgan and astronomer Robert Nichol of the Institute of Cosmology and Gravitation in the U.K. set out to test the suggestion that rather than building expensive telescopes dedicated exclusively to listening for signals from aliens, SETI — the search for extra-terrestrial intelligence — could be done on the cheap by piggy-backing on other astronomy missions.
Some astronomers hoped SETI searches could ride on the coattails of the planned Square Kilometer Array, which will probe the history of the universe with thousands of small antennas spread out either Australia or South Africa.
“We focused on the SKA because it will be an incredible advancement in radio astronomy,” Forgan said. “It will be the most powerful radio telescope ever built.”
The SKA will also be sensitive in the same frequency range that cellphones, radio and television operate in. If the aliens out there are anything like us, that frequency range is exactly where we should expect to find them, astronomers have suggested.

In 2007, astrophysicists Abraham Loeb and Matias Zaldarriaga of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics calculated that signals similar to those used in human military radar could be detected from more than 160 light-years away using a telescope in the Netherlands called LOFAR, and more than 650 light-years away using the SKA.
But assuming these aliens have technology like ours, there won’t be enough time to find them, Forgan and Nichol argue. Humans, the only intelligent civilization we know of, have been communicating using radio waves for only about 100 years — and we’re beginning to go quiet. Advances in technology mean less power is needed to broadcast, and digital communication is starting to replace radio altogether.
Forgan and Nichol randomly generated about 500,000 alien civilizations based on current theories of planet formation, and an optimistic guess as to how many would develop life. They then assumed that each civilization broadcasts in radio for 100 years, and they can hear each other from up to 300 light-years away.
“All communication disappears,” the team wrote. Even with a telescope like the SKA, the odds of eavesdropping on another civilization are one in 10 million. The results were posted in a paper on the astronomy preprint website and accepted for publication in the International Journal of Astrobiology.
A more fruitful strategy would be to target our searches, Forgan suggests. We may not be able to hear leaked signals, but we could still pick up a deliberate beacon from a civilization that wanted to announce its presence. A telescope dedicated to searching for such a beacon, like the Allen Telescope Array in northern California, would improve the odds to one in 10 thousand.
Jill Tarter of the SETI Institute thinks Forgan underestimates the usefulness of the SKA. “The SKA is being built with a large field of view and many simultaneous beams, so that there should in fact be significant observing time available for SETI,” she said.
Whatever the odds, Loeb thinks we should eavesdrop, anyway. “Rather than speculate about how generic is our own evolution and whether others will be the same, we should just search,” he said. He points out that a lot of technological advances are driven by social forces. For example, Earth gave off the most radio waves during the Cold War, when radar ballistic missile searches were common.
“Politics are impossible to predict, they don’t follow laws of physics,” he said. “We should just explore the sky, and try to set as strong limits as we can.”
Forgan agrees. “We should always continue to eavesdrop as it is a cheap search method, especially if we piggy-back,” he said. “If you don’t listen, you won’t hear anything.”
Image: SKA

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