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First Unlooted Royal Tomb of Its Kind Unearthed in Peru

Three queens were buried with golden treasures, human sacrifices.

Heather Pringle
for National Geographic
Published June 27, 2013

It was a stunning discovery: the first unlooted imperial tomb of the Wari, the ancient civilization that built South America's earliest empire between 700 and 1000 A.D. Yet it wasn't happiness that Milosz Giersz felt when he first glimpsed gold in the dim recesses of the burial chamber in northern Peru.

Giersz, an archaeologist at the University of Warsaw in Poland, realized at once that if word leaked out that his Polish-Peruvian team had discovered a 1,200-year-old "temple of the dead" filled with precious gold and silver artifacts, looters would descend on the site in droves. "I had a nightmare about the possibility," says Giersz.

So Giersz and project co-director Roberto Pimentel Nita kept their discovery secret. Digging quietly for months in one of the burial chambers, the archaeologists collected more than a thousand artifacts, including sophisticated gold and silver jewelry, bronze axes, and gold tools, along with the bodies of three Wari queens and 60 other individuals, some of whom were probably human sacrifices. (Related: "First Pictures: Peru's Rare, Unlooted Royal Tomb"

Peru's Minister of Culture and other dignitaries will officially announce the discovery today at a press conference at the site. Krzysztof Makowski Hanula, an archaeologist at the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru in Lima and the project's scientific adviser, said the newly unearthed temple of the dead "is like a pantheon, like a mausoleum of all the Wari nobility in the region."



U.S. government makes its first-ever Bitcoin seizure

By Tim Sampson on June 26, 2013

The U.S. government may not print Bitcoin, or regulate it, but apparently the feds can still seize it.

Earlier this week, the federal Drug Enforcement Agency reported that it had seized 11.02 bitcoins—roughly $814—from a South Carolina man attempting to buy illegal substances with the world's leading digital currency. It's the first known seizure of Bitcoin by the U.S. government, signaling just how seriously the feds take Bitcoin and the online black markets it fuels.

A report from the DEA notes that the money was netted in April. Little detail is provided about the seizure, which appears on the third-to-the-last page of a 128-page document. Its not even clear what substance the suspect was trying to buy. But for Bitcoin experts, the particulars of this case are less important than the apparent fact that the U.S. government is performing sting operations on Bitcoin sites.

"The DEA appears to have been the first agency to seize actual Bitcoins from an individual with this seizure," wrote Brian Cohen and Adam B. Levine on the blog Let's Talk Bitcoin. "Exactly how the Bitcoin was seized is not known as of this writing."

How the funds were seized is still technically a mystery, but the authors of the Let's Talk Bitcoin piece and others have their theories. The prevailing wisdom is that a Bitcoin seizure could have occurred one of two ways. Since there is no evidence that Bitcoin itself was compromised, a DEA agent would have either had to take control of a computer with an unencrypted wallet and transfer the amount to a DEA controlled wallet, or they would have had to set up a "honeypot" sting on the popular Silk Road Internet black market, where Bitcoin is regularly used to purchase contraband. In that case, the alleged criminal would have unknowingly transferred the Bitcoins to the DEA himself.


WikiLeaks Volunteer Was a Paid Informant for the FBI


On an August workday in 2011, a cherubic 18-year-old Icelandic man named Sigurdur “Siggi” Thordarson walked through the stately doors of the U.S. embassy in Reykjavík, his jacket pocket concealing his calling card: a crumpled photocopy of an Australian passport. The passport photo showed a man with a unruly shock of platinum blonde hair and the name Julian Paul Assange.

Thordarson was long time volunteer for WikiLeaks with direct access to Assange and a key position as an organizer in the group. With his cold war-style embassy walk-in, he became something else: the first known FBI informant inside WikiLeaks. For the next three months, Thordarson served two masters, working for the secret-spilling website and simultaneously spilling its secrets to the U.S. government in exchange, he says, for a total of about $5,000. The FBI flew him internationally four times for debriefings, including one trip to Washington D.C., and on the last meeting obtained from Thordarson eight hard drives packed with chat logs, video and other data from WikiLeaks.

The relationship provides a rare window into the U.S. law enforcement investigation into WikiLeaks, the transparency group newly thrust back into international prominence with its assistance to NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. Thordarson’s double-life illustrates the lengths to which the government was willing to go in its pursuit of Julian Assange, approaching WikiLeaks with the tactics honed during the FBI’s work against organized crime and computer hacking — or, more darkly, the bureau’s Hoover-era infiltration of civil rights groups.

“It’s a sign that the FBI views WikiLeaks as a suspected criminal organization rather than a news organization,” says Stephen Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists’ Project on Government Secrecy. “WikiLeaks was something new, so I think the FBI had to make a choice at some point as to how to evaluate it: Is this The New York Times, or is this something else? And they clearly decided it was something else.”

The FBI declined comment.



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Thursday Toon roundup 1- Let Freedom Ring and Flags Fly

Location of upwelling in Earth's mantle discovered to be stable

This is a diagram showing a slice through the Earth's mantle, cutting across major mantle upwelling locations beneath Africa and the Pacific. Credit: C. Conrad (UH SOEST)

A study published in Nature today shares the discovery that large-scale upwelling within Earth's mantle mostly occurs in only two places: beneath Africa and the Central Pacific. More importantly, Clinton Conrad, Associate Professor of Geology at the University of Hawaii – Manoa's School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology (SOEST) and colleagues revealed that these upwelling locations have remained remarkably stable over geologic time, despite dramatic reconfigurations of tectonic plate motions and continental locations on the Earth's surface.

"For example," said Conrad, "the Pangaea supercontinent formed and broke apart at the surface, but we think that the upwelling locations in the mantle have remained relatively constant despite this activity."

Conrad has studied patterns of tectonic plates throughout his career, and has long noticed that the plates were, on average, moving northward. "Knowing this," explained Conrad, "I was curious if I could determine a single location in the Northern Hemisphere toward which all plates are converging, on average." After locating this point in eastern Asia, Conrad then wondered if other special points on Earth could characterize plate tectonics. "With some mathematical work, I described the plate tectonic 'quadrupole', which defines two points of 'net convergence' and two points of 'net divergence' of tectonic plate motions."

When the researchers computed the plate tectonic quadruople locations for present-day plate motions, they found that the net divergence locations were consistent with the African and central Pacific locations where scientists think that mantle upwellings are occurring today. "This observation was interesting and important, and it made sense," said Conrad. "Next, we applied this formula to the time history of plate motions and plotted the points - I was astonished to see that the points have not moved over geologic time!" Because plate motions are merely the surface expression of the underlying dynamics of the Earth's mantle, Conrad and his colleagues were able to infer that upwelling flow in the mantle must also remain stable over geologic time. "It was as if I was seeing the 'ghosts' of ancient mantle flow patterns, recorded in the geologic record of plate motions!"


First transiting planets in a star cluster discovered

by Elizabeth Howell

(Phys.org) —All stars begin their lives in groups. Most stars, including our Sun, are born in small, benign groups that quickly fall apart. Others form in huge, dense swarms that survive for billions of years as stellar clusters. Within such rich and dense clusters, stars jostle for room with thousands of neighbors while strong radiation and harsh stellar winds scour interstellar space, stripping planet-forming materials from nearby stars.

It would thus seem an unlikely place to find alien worlds. Yet 3,000 light-years from Earth, in the star cluster NGC 6811, astronomers have found two planets smaller than Neptune orbiting Sun-like stars. The discovery, published in the journal Nature, shows that planets can develop even in crowded clusters jam-packed with stars.

"Old clusters represent a stellar environment much different than the birthplace of the Sun and other planet-hosting field stars," says lead author Soren Meibom of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA). "And we thought maybe planets couldn't easily form and survive in the stressful environments of dense clusters, in part because for a long time we couldn't find them."

The two new alien worlds appeared in data from NASA's Kepler spacecraft. Kepler hunts for planets that transit, or cross in front of, their host stars. During a transit, the star dims by an amount that depends on the size of the planet, allowing the size to be determined. Kepler-66b and Kepler-67b are both less than three times the size of Earth, or about three-fourths the size of Neptune (mini-Neptunes).



Nightfall, anyone?

Physicists create tabletop antimatter 'gun'

(Phys.org) —An international team of physicists working at the University of Michigan has succeeded in building a tabletop antimatter "gun" capable of spewing short bursts of positrons. In their paper published in the journal Physical Review Letters, the team describes how they created the gun, what it's capable of doing, and to what use it may be put.

Positrons are anti-particles, the opposite twin of electrons. Besides being created in physics labs, they are also found in jets emitted by black holes and pulsars. To date, the creation of positrons for study has involved very big and expensive machines. One of those is the particle accelerator at CERN. Another is a device built by scientists at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory that created positrons by firing a hugely powerful laser at a tiny disc made of gold. Other recent work by researchers at the University of Texas has involved building a desktop sized accelerator. This new effort builds on that work—this team has built a device not more than a meter long that is capable of generating short bursts of both electrons and positrons, very similar they report, to what is emitted by black holes and pulsars.

To achieve this feat, the team fired a petawatt laser at a sample of inert helium gas. Doing so caused the creation of a stream of electrons moving at very high speed. Those electrons were directed at a very thin sheet of metal foil which caused them to smash into individual metal atoms. Those collisions resulted in a stream of electron and positron emissions—the two were then separated using magnets.

The researchers report that each blast of their gun lasts just 30 femtoseconds, but each firing results in the production of quadrillions of positrons—a density level comparable to those produced at CERN. The researchers suggest their device could be used to mimic the jet streams from black holes and/or pulsars, hopefully offering some answers to questions such as, what sort of proportion of particles are present in such streams, how much energy is in them, and in what ways do the particles in them interact with the environment into which they are spewed.


Toon: Best Gay Pride Parade Ever!

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