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NASA Spacecraft Spots “Dancing Sprites” And Colorful Electrical Bursts in Jupiter’s Sky For First Time

Nobody had ever seen these bright, transient luminous events dancing across alien skies – until now.

Elias Marat

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New high-definition imagery captured of Jupiter by NASA’s Juno spacecraft is revealing colorful, lighting-like bursts of energy in the upper atmosphere of our solar system’s largest planet.

The phenomena – haunting, jellyfish-like spurts of red lightning dubbed “sprites” and glowing disks known as “elves” – are common occurrences in the upper reaches of the Earth’s atmospheres during thunderstorms, and were first discovered in 1989. Since then, they have been sighted over every continent besides Antarctica.

Scientists have theorized that any planet that has lightning would also produce these super-fast electrical bursts that occur up to 60 miles up in the Earth’s sky, reaching toward space. Researchers predicted that this would certainly be the case in Jupiter’s massive, roiling atmosphere.

However, nobody had ever seen these bright, transient luminous events dancing across alien skies – until now.

Since 2016, Juno has orbited Jupiter and collected troves of images of its aurorae through the spacecraft’s ultraviolet light, or ultraviolet spectrograph instrument (UVS). When scientists began processing some of these images, they noticed an unexpected detail: bright, narrow streaks of ultraviolet emissions that appeared in a flash before quickly vanishing.

“In the process of putting together those images, we noticed that very occasionally we saw these surprising, short-lived, bright flashes,” said Juno scientist Rohini Giles during a Tuesday press conference at the annual meeting of the American Astronomical Society’s Division for Planetary Sciences, according to Business Insider.

“We then went and searched through all of the data that we’ve taken over four years of the mission and we found a total of 11 flashes all with very similar properties,” she added. The outbursts only lasted mere milliseconds.

On Tuesday, her team published a new study on these phenomena in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets.

Here on Earth, sprites often resemble alienlike jellyfish-style creatures dangling from the ionosphere, or the layer that lies just above the dense lower atmosphere. In other cases, they look like vertical pillars of light with thin, curling tendrils – and these are called carrot curls due to their resemblance to the root vegetable.

Sprites were given their quasi-magical name by late University of Alaska physics professor Davis Sentman, who devised the name for this weather phenomenon due to it being “well suited to describe their appearance” and fleeting, fairy-like nature – much like the mischievous characters from English folklore.

Sprites occur when lightning strikes the ground, releasing positive electrical energy that requires balancing by an equal and oppositely charged electrical discharge into the sky. The sprites also occur much higher into the sky than regular lightning, which strikes in between electrically charged air, clouds, and our planet’s surface.

In some cases, lightning strikes also send electromagnetic pulses upward, producing glowing disks known as elves.

“On Earth, sprites and elves appear reddish in color due to their interaction with nitrogen in the upper atmosphere,” Giles noted. “But on Jupiter, the upper atmosphere mostly consists of hydrogen, so they would likely appear either blue or pink.”

The Juno team is still unable to confirm whether the events were actually caused by lightning strikes, mainly because the probe’s device that detects lightning is on the opposite side of the spacecraft from its UVS. The images from the two devices are also taken 10 seconds apart, which is far too long a period of time for both instruments to analyze the same flash of light.

However, the researchers are confident that the 11 outbursts detected were transient luminous events. In each case, they disappeared in a flash, emitted massive amounts of hydrogen, and took place 186 miles above Jupiter’s water clouds – far too high to be simple lightning.

“We’re continuing to look for more telltale signs of elves and sprites every time Juno does a science pass,” Giles said.

“Now that we know what we are looking for, it will be easier to find them at Jupiter and on other planets,” she added. “And comparing sprites and elves from Jupiter with those here on Earth will help us better understand electrical activity in planetary atmospheres.”

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Mexico Senate Votes in Landslide To Legalize World’s Largest Cannabis Market

Elias Marat

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Mexico is hurtling toward legalizing cannabis for a variety of uses, opening up the Latin American country to becoming the largest legal marijuana in the world.

Just days prior to the Thanksgiving holiday in the U.S., Mexico’s Senate approved a bill that would put an end to prohibition measures in a landslide vote of 82 to 18, with seven abstentions.

Lawmakers in the ruling Morena party have been working hard to seal the approval of the landmark cannabis legalization bill before the current congressional session draws to a close in December. Morena, alongside its allies, holds majorities in both chambers of Congress.

The bill is designed to “improve living conditions” and “contribute to the reduction of crime linked to drug trafficking,” according to its text.

The move would amount to a huge U-turn after decades of anti-drug policies led to the explosive growth of transnational cartels – and ferocious local cartel wars – in Mexico. In recent years, violence related to drug cartels has claimed upwards of 10,000 lives.

Advocates of legalization in Mexico have long argued that legalizing the plant would allow the country to advance alternative drug policies, halt the criminalization of drug users and refocus its security efforts to better address public health.

The demands of advocates came significantly closer to being realized in 2018, when the Mexican Supreme Court ruled that recreational marijuana should be permitted. One year prior, legislators voted to legalize the plant for medical purposes.

While Mexico has a long and storied history of cannabis usage, the consumption of the plant is still not as culturally accepted on a widespread level as in the United States. However, the creation of legal commercial markets for the sale and purchase of the plan will likely displace the large systems of illicit cultivation in the country.

Socially conservative Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, popularly known by his initials AMLO, has largely shied away from vocally supporting the legalization of the plant. However, Lopez Obrador has long endorsed the need to radically reform the country’s laws to put an end to rampant drug violence in Mexico, where drug cartels still hold sway over the illicit trade of narcotics.

But while the president hasn’t been an outspoken champion of legalization efforts, members of his center-left party such as Senate leader Ricardo Monreal and senior cabinet members like Interior Minister Olga Sanchez have been clear in their calls to open the doors to legalizing and regulating the recreational usage of cannabis.

Under the proposed measures, Mexico would place strict controls on ownership and the supply chain used for domestic production and international commerce of cannabis. The trade surrounding the industry would also have to comply with various forms of financial source verification, ensuring that the business doesn’t fall into the hands of criminal syndicates, writes Forbes.

Under the bill, adults over 18 will be allowed to cultivate and possess up to 28 grams of cannabis for personal use. Possession of up to 200 grams would also be decriminalized.

Individuals would be allowed to grow up to 20 plants provided their annual yield isn’t in excess of 480 grams. Medical patients would be able to grow over 20 plants, if necessary. Public consumption of cannabis would also be allowed in all spaces besides those marked as “100 percent smoke-free.”

Cannabis sales would also be subject to a 12 percent tax, with revenue going toward drug abuse programs. The new laws and regulations would be enforced and overseen by the Mexican Institute of Regulation and Control of Cannabis.

Advocates have also expressed caution about moving forward while taking into account social equity concerns and safeguards to prevent transnational corporations from monopolizing the massive, burgeoning weed market in the North American country.

The success of these efforts would make Mexico the largest country in the world, by population, to legalize cannabis. With a population exceeding 125 million people, Mexico would quickly become the largest consumer market for cannabis products, marking a huge step forward in bringing the international cannabis marketplace out of the shadows.

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Bizarre

Monolith Identical To One Found in Utah Appears on Hillside in Romania

Elias Marat

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A metal monolith nearly identical to one that was discovered in the U.S. state of Utah has appeared on a hillside in Romania, not far from a historic fortress.

The mysterious three-sided structure’s appearance in the Balkan country comes around the same time that the monolith in Utah was removed from its remote desert location by an “unknown party,” local authorities said over the weekend.

The shiny pillar was found just last Thursday on Batca Doamnei Hill in the city of Piatra Neamt in the country’s northeastern Neamt County, reports the Daily Mail.

The monolith was located several yards from the Dacian fortress Petrodava, an important archaeological landmark and fort that was built by the ancient Dacian people between 82 B.C. and 106 A.D.

The Dacian fortress was written about by Roman polymath and philosopher Claudius Ptolemy and is the the oldest historical monument in the region. It is believed that the fortress was burned down in the 2nd Century A.D. around the time when the Romans conquered the region, although the ruins of the fortress are still intact and comprise parts of the city wall.

The monolith lies close by, with one side facing Mount Ceahlău, a famous Carpathian mountain listed as one of the country’s Seven Natural Wonders and known to locals as the Holy Mountain.

“We have started looking into the strange appearance of the monolith,” said Neamt Culture and Heritage official Rocsana Josanu. “It is on private property, but we still don’t know who the monolith’s owner is yet. It is in a protected area on an archaeological site.”

“Before installing something there, they needed permission from our institution, one that must then be approved by the Ministry of Culture.”

The strange object bears a striking resemblance to the one recently found, and subsequently disappeared, in the southeastern Utah desert.

The origins of that 12-foot (four-meter) high metal block remain unclear.

The discovery of the monolith by Utah public safety workers in the southwestern U.S. state generated significant viral buzz, with many comparing the monolith to those that trigger massive leaps in human progress in the classic Stanley Kubrick sci-fi film, “2001: A Space Odyssey.”

Others bemoaned the discovery of the object in the turbulent year 2020, with some social media users complaining that the discovery of the monolith had triggered their anxiety over worsening fortunes in the year, including a possible extraterrestrial invasion.

“This is the ‘reset’ button for 2020. Can someone please press it quickly?” one social media user quipped.

However, the structure was removed on Friday night “by an unknown party” from the public land it was found on, the Bureau of Land Management’s Utah office said in a statement.

“We have received credible reports that the illegally installed structure, referred to as the ‘monolith’, has been removed from Bureau of Land Management (BLM) public lands by an unknown party,” the bureau said in a statement.

A Utah Department of Public Safety helicopter crew had found the object last Monday while surveying for bighorn sheep.

“IT’S GONE!” the agency said in an Instagram post. “Almost as quickly as it appeared it has now disappeared,” the department continued, adding, “I can only speculate” about the cause of its disappearance, adding the emoji symbol for extraterrestrials.

“Maybe it will stop by and visit us in Canada!!” one person commented.

For the time being, however, the monolith may have decided to park itself in the Carpathian mountain range of Romania.

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Ancient History

Megalodon Fossils Show How Biggest-Ever Shark Had Nurseries All Over the World

Elias Marat

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The massive megalodon, the largest shark to ever roam the seas, had their own nursery areas all over the globe that allowed the apex predators to raise their young and populate the world prior to their extinction.

A new study, published in the Royal Society journal Biology Letters, reveals that nurseries belonging to the massive creatures have been found in across vast geographic distances where fossils belonging to both young and old megalodons were discovered.

The five likely nurseries include sites off Spain’s east coast, two off the coast of the United States, and two in Panama.

Megalodon (Otodus megalodon), whose name means “large tooth,” lived between 23 million and 3.6 million years ago until it went extinct during a period of global cooling. For 13 million years, the megalodon was the king of the sea.

The megalodon was not only the largest shark in the world, but also the biggest fish – and quite possibly the most powerful predator – to ever exist. Its teeth alone measured 18 centimeters long, and evidence shows that it could have grown to reach up to 60 feet in length.

However, because megalodon bodies were mostly comprised of cartilage – which cannot fossilize – the shark’s teeth, vertebrae and fossilized feces have been the main way researchers have calculated the shark’s body measurements.

The existence of the nurseries shows that young megalodon were still quite susceptible to attacks by other predators.

To keep the young megalodon safe, their shark parents would give birth to their young in shallow, warm water nurseries located near coastlines. In these special regions, juvenile megalodon were able to access their prey while facing few dangers from rival predators.

“Our analyses support the presence of five potential nurseries ranging from the Langhian (middle Miocene) to the Zanclean (Pliocene), with higher densities of individuals with estimated body lengths within the typical range of neonates and young juveniles,” the scientists wrote in the abstract for the study.

“These results reveal, for the first time, that nursery areas were commonly used by O. megalodon over large temporal and spatial scales, reducing early mortality and playing a key role in maintaining viable adult populations,” the authors added.

The nurseries were ideal sites that allowed young megalodons to mature into adults in a process that took about 25 years.

Experts investigated 25 teeth belonging to megalodon that were found in the Reverté and Vidal regions in Tarragona, Spain. The study led to the conclusion that these locations were filled with sharks that had body lengths consistent with the normal range of newborns and young juveniles, measuring 13 feet in length for one-month-old sharks to 36 feet in length for older juveniles.

A separate study released in September found that a 52.5-foot-long adult megalodon had heads that measure up to 15.3 feet long, with dorsal fins measuring about 5.3 feet tall and tails reaching 12.6 feet. To put this into perspective, an adult human could stand on a shark’s back and be roughly the same height as the dorsal fin.

The study’s findings also reveal that the shark’s reliance on nurseries likely played a role in their demise, when the world cooled near the end of the Pliocene period and sea levels declined.

“Ultimately, the presumed reliance of O. megalodon on the presence of suitable nursery grounds might have also been determinant in the demise of this iconic top predatory shark,” the authors of the study noted.

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