There Be Pirates

Once known as the wickedest city in the world when it was the playground of British buccaneers and explorers in the 17th century, little now remains of Port Royal.

However, a campaign supported by the Jamaican government was launched this week to secure UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) world heritage status for the sunken city to put it firmly back on the map.

Surveys by a team of experts are under way to mark the land and sea boundaries of what is regarded as one of the most important archeological sites in British history as part of the bid to UNESCO.

A seven-mile spit of golden sand arcs around Kingston bay protecting the capital. At the far end lies the small fishing village of Port Royal (of “Pirates of the Caribbean” fame), which was once a bustling city and key British outpost in the 1600s.

The port, which boasted a population of 7,000 and was comparable to Boston during the same period, was a playground for buccaneers like Henry Morgan, who docked in search of rum, women and boat repairs.

England seized Jamaica from the Spanish in 1655 under the orders of Oliver Cromwell with the aim of establishing a trading base in the Spanish New World.

Merchants and pirates flocked to the new settlement and Port Royal soon became synonymous for excess. There was one tavern for every 10 residents and boasted a thriving prostitution trade.

The city became known as “the Sodom of the New World”, with contemporary writer Charles Leslie noting in his history of Jamaica of the buccaneers: “Wine and women drained their wealth to such a degree that… some of them became reduced to beggary. They have been known to spend 2 or 3,000 pieces of eight in one night and one gave a strumpet 500 to see her naked.”

However, on June 7, 1692, an earthquake and tsunami decimated the coastline, submerging two-thirds of the city and killing an estimated 2,000 people.

The port remained a key strategic British naval base, but the debauchery was washed away with the tsunami. Fort Charles, where Lord Nelson was once stationed, sank three and a half feet during the earthquake but remains standing to this day.

Despite the village being littered with remnants of British military installations, many of the historic colonial buildings are dilapidated.

The algae-covered remnants of the city are under water in an archaeological preserve closed to divers without a permit.

But in recent decades, underwater excavations have turned up artifacts including cannonballs, wine glasses, ornate pipes, pewter plates and ceramic plates dredged from the muck just offshore. The partial skeleton of a child was found in 1998.

At a press conference on Tuesday, experts said it is among the top British archaeological sites in the Western Hemisphere and should be protected for future generations.

“There is outstanding potential here. Submerged towns like this just do not exist anywhere else in the Americas,” said Robert Grenier, a Canadian underwater archaeologist who has worked closely with UNESCO.

Donny Hamilton, Texas A&M University nautical archaeologist, said the consulting team has completed the fieldwork for the world heritage assessment and is working on a management plan.

Port Royal could become a sustainable attraction for tourists but first “there’s got to be something above the ground that people are going to want to come and see,” Mr Hamilton said.

Jamaican officials and businessmen have announced various strategies to renovate the ramshackle town over the years, including plans for modern cruise liners and a Disney-style theme park featuring actors dressed as pirates.

Some area businessmen have grown exasperated with the slow pace of development.

Attribution: UK Telegraph

Full Body Exposure

The enduring image in the public’s mind of the mysterious heads on Easter Island is simply that – heads.

So it comes as quite a shock to see the heads from another angle – and discover that they have full bodies, extending down many, many feet into the ground of the island.

The Easter Island Statue Project (EISP) has been carefully excavating two of 1,000-plus statues on the islands – doing their best to uncover the secrets of the mysterious stones, and the people who built them.

Project director Jo Anne Van Tilburg said: “Our EISP excavations recently exposed the torsos of two 7meter (23 feet) tall statues.”

“Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of visitors to the island have been astonished to see that, indeed, Easter Island statues have bodies!”

“More important, however, we discovered a great deal about the Rapa Nui techniques of ancient engineering.”

Among their discoveries, the team have discovered:

  • The dirt and detritus partially burying the statues was washed down from above and not deliberately placed there to bury, protect, or support the statues
  • The statues were erected in place and stand on stone pavements
  • Post holes were cut into bedrock to support upright tree trunks
  • Rope guides were cut into bedrock around the post holes
  • Posts, ropes, stones, and different types of stone tools were all used to carve and raise the statues upright

The remote island – one of the remotest in the world, tucked away in the South Pacific Ocean – was once home to a Polynesian population, whose history remains mysterious.

They likely sailed to the islands in canoes – a 1,500-mile journey over the open waters, and then, once they landed, they began relentessly carving the stone statues.

This led to their own downfall: By the time Europeans discovered the island in the 1700s, the population had decimated nearly all the trees in the island to help with the statue construction, and the effect on the island’s ecology led to their decline.

The team also discovered that ceremonies were certainly associated with the statues.

On the project website, Van Tilburg said: “We found large quantities of red pigment, some of which may have been used to paint the statues.”

“Finally, and perhaps most poignantly, we found in the pavement under one statue a single stone carved with a crescent symbol said to represent a canoe, or vaka.”

“The backs of both statues are covered with petroglyphs, many of which are also vaka. A direct connection between the vaka symbol and the identity of the artist or group owning the statue is strongly suggested.”
Attribution: Mail Online

Go for a Quick Dip

A quick dip in this pool could well turn into a marathon. It’s the Crystal Lagoon at San Alfonso del Mar resort in Chile.

Swimming a length in this, the world’s largest outdoor pool, would mean stroke after stroke for more than three fifths of a mile – that’s 20 Olympic-size swimming pools.

The enormous man-made lagoon is set halfway up the country’s Pacific coast, in the city of Algarrobo, and is filled with 66 million gallons of crystal clear seawater.

It also hold the Guinness record for the world’s deepest – so if you don’t feel like diving 115ft to the bottom, it might be best to bring some spare goggles.

The pool opened in December 2006 after nearly five years of construction work and is said to have set developers back as much as $1.5 billion.

And on top of that eye-watering initial cost, it takes over $3 million a year to keep it in working order.

It uses a computer-controlled suction and filtration system to suck water in from the ocean at one end and pump it out at the other, while the sun warms it to 26C (79F) – nine degrees higher than the sea.

The pool’s incredible dimensions leave the next biggest floundering in its wake, with the Orthlieb in Morocco measuring a mere 1,575ft long.

Attribution: India Times, Mail Online

Four Dwarfs of the Apocolypse

The shattered remains of planets that bear a striking resemblance to our own Earth have been found around white dwarf stars – offering a vision of what will one day happen to our planet.

University of Warwick astrophysicists found four white dwarves surrounded by the dust of shattered planets.

White dwarfs are the final stage of life of stars like our Sun – once the thermonuclear furnace inside a star ‘burns out’.

 Using the Hubble Space Telescope to carry out the biggest survey to date of the chemical composition of the atmospheres of white dwarf stars, the researchers found that the most frequently occurring elements in the dust around these four white dwarfs were oxygen, magnesium, iron and silicon — the four elements that make up roughly 93 percent of the Earth.

It’s evidence that the small, dense stars are surrounded by the ‘corpses’ of worlds they’ve ‘eaten’.

At least one of the stars is in the process of sucking in the planet’s core – rich in iron, nickel and sulphur – at a rate of around a million kilos a second. 

Professor Boris Gänsicke of the Department of Physics at the University of Warwick, who led the study, said the destructive process which caused the discs of dust around these distant white dwarfs is likely to one day play out in our own solar system.

‘What we are seeing today in these white dwarfs several hundred light-years away could well be a snapshot of the very distant future of the Earth.

‘As stars like our Sun reach the end of their life, they expand to become red giants when the nuclear fuel in their cores is depleted.

‘When this happens in our own solar system, billions of years from now, the Sun will engulf the inner planets Mercury and Venus. It’s unclear whether the Earth will also be swallowed up by the Sun in its red giant phase — but even if it survives, its surface will be roasted.

‘During the transformation of the Sun into a white dwarf, it will lose a large amount of mass, and all the planets will move further out. This may destabilize the orbits and lead to collisions between planetary bodies as happened in the unstable early days of our solar system.

‘This may even shatter entire terrestrial planets, forming large amounts of asteroids, some of which will have chemical compositions similar to those of the planetary core. In our solar system, Jupiter will survive the late evolution of the Sun unscathed, and scatter asteroids, new or old, towards the white dwarf.

However an even more significant observation was that this material also contained an extremely low proportion of carbon, which matched very closely that of the Earth and the other rocky planets orbiting closest to our own Sun.

This is the first time that such low proportions of carbon have been measured in the atmospheres of white dwarf stars polluted by debris.

This clear evidence that these stars once had at least one rocky exoplanet which they have now destroyed, the observations must also pinpoint the last phase of the death of these worlds.

The atmosphere of a white dwarf is made up of hydrogen and/or helium, so any heavy elements that come into their atmosphere are dragged downwards to their core and out of sight within a matter of days by the dwarf’s high gravity.

Given this, the astronomers must literally be observing the final phase of the death of these worlds as the material rains down on the stars at rates of up to 1 million kilograms every second.

Not only is this clear evidence that these stars once had rocky exoplanetary bodies which have now been destroyed, the observations of one particular white dwarf, PG0843+516, may also tell the story of the destruction of these worlds.

This star stood out from the rest owing to the relative overabundance of the elements iron, nickel and sulphur in the dust found in its atmosphere. Iron and nickel are found in the cores of terrestrial planets, as they sink to the center owing to the pull of gravity during planetary formation, and so does sulphur thanks to its chemical affinity to iron.
Therefore, researchers believe they are observing White Dwarf PG0843+516 in the very act of swallowing up material from the core of a rocky planet that was large enough to undergo differentiation, similar to the process that separated the core and the mantle of the Earth.

The University of Warwick led team surveyed more than 80 white dwarfs within a few hundred light-years of the Sun, using the Cosmic Origins Spectrograph onboard the Hubble Space Telescope.

To Boldly Go

 More than three decades after launching, NASA’s workhorse spacecraft is now close to the edge of our solar system.

According to recent research published in Geophysical Letters, the probe is now 111 astronomical units from the sun – meaning it is 111 times further from the sun than it is from the Earth.

Voyager 1 has been exploring the fringes of the solar system since 2004 – and it is now close to the very edge of our solar system, affording the first-ever ‘alien’s eye’ view of our planet.

The probe is still detecting ‘spikes’ in the intensity of cosmic ray electrons – which lead scientists to think it’s still within the ‘heliosheath’, the very outer edge of our solar system.

Voyager 1 still has a little way

V’GER

  to go before it completely exits the solar system and becomes the first manmade probe to cross into interstellar space, or the vast space between stars.

 The spacecraft has enough battery power to last until 2020, but scientists think it will reach interstellar space before that – in a matter of several months to years.

Chief scientist Ed Stone of the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory said the timing is unclear because no spacecraft has ever ventured this far.

‘The journey continues,’ Stone told a meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco. For the past year, Voyager 1 used its instruments to explore the new region.

It appeared to be the cosmic doldrums where solar winds streaming out from the sun at 1 million mph have dramatically eased and high-energy particles from outside are seeping in  a sign that Voyager 1 is at the doorstep of interstellar space.

Scientists expect to see several telltale signs when Voyager 1 finally crosses the boundary including a change in the magnetic field direction and the type of wind. Interstellar wind is slower, colder and denser than solar wind.

Even with certain expectations, Stone warned that the milestone won’t be cut-and-dried.

‘We will be confused when it first happens,’ Stone said.

Voyager 1 and its twin, Voyager 2, were launched in 1977 to tour the outer planets including Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. After their main mission ended, both headed toward interstellar space in opposite directions. Voyager 2 is traveling slower than Voyager 1 and is currently 9 billion away miles from the sun.

The Groundscraper

For most hotels the key selling point is a room with a view, particularly if it towers over a bustling cityscape or sprawling countryside.

But designers behind this new luxury resort have gone in the completely opposite direction to attract customers – by creating a ‘groundscraper’ hotel built 16 floors beneath the earth’s surface.

The hugely ambitious underground hotel project will see a 19-storey, 380-room structure chiselled out of a giant quarry in Songjiang, near Shanghai.

Designers have set aside a site about 30 miles from the city of Shanghai, in an abandoned quarry at the foot of Tianmashan Mountain.

While towering skyscrapers boast of rooftop restaurants and penthouse luxury, the InterContinental Shimao Shanghai Wonderland’s bottom two floors will include an underwater restaurant, athletic complex for water sports and 10-meter deep aquarium.

Surrounding the unique hotel will be a 428,000 square-meter theme park, complete with room for bungee jumping and rock climbing overlooking the descending 16 floors.

Project developers Shimao Property Group worked with British engineering firm Atkins to design the imaginative hotel, which they hope to complete in late 2014 or early 2015.

It is thought the vast project will cost at least $555 million, with nightly rooms starting at around $320.

Attribution: Mail Online

Battleship Island

Deserted, decaying and crumbling into the sea. Visitors to this abandoned settlement could be forgiven for thinking they had entered a long-forgotten war zone.

However, this is Gunkanjima – Japan’s rotting metropolis. And it has been described as the most desolate place on Earth.

Gunkanjima is a deserted island of concrete that is slowly crumbling away on Japan’s west coast.

Meaning ‘Battleship Island’ in English, Gunkanjima’s real name is Hashima and it is one of 505 uninhabited islands in the Nagasaki Prefecture (territory), about 15 kilometers (9.5 miles) from Nagasaki itself. It earned its nickname due to its resemblance to the military warship.

Despite being off-limits to travellers, the island has become an irresistible magnet for urban explorers who go to extraordinary lengths to investigate and photograph the island’s abandoned buildings.

Gunkanjima was once just a small reef but, following the discovery of coal in 1810, was turned into mining facility during the industrialisation of Japan. It gave rise to its own population of workers and inhabitants who were all densely-packed into a self-contained metropolis.

The 15-acre island was populated between 1887 and 1974, reaching its peak in 1959 with 5,259 inhabitants. However, as petroleum replaced coal during the 1960s, Japan’s mines were hit by closures which eventually reached Gunkanjima.

Within a matter of days of the mines closing in 1974, the workers and their families deserted the island, leaving their possessions, which still lay where they were left.

After 35 years of closure, the landing ban was lifted on Gunkanjima in 2009, meaning it was no longer illegal for boats to dock at the island. However, it still remains illegal to venture inside the city’s walls, meaning urban explorers must go to great lengths to covertly trespass the island.

Attribution: Japan Guide, Daily Mail