Ancient Shrine That May Hold Buddha’s Skull Bone Found in Crypt

Post 7746

Ancient Shrine That May Hold Buddha’s Skull Bone Found in Crypt
Ancient Shrine That May Hold Buddha's Skull Bone Found in Crypt

A skull bone of the Buddha was found inside this gold casket, which was stored in a silver casket within the stupa model, found in a crypt beneath a Buddhist temple.

Credit: Photo courtesy of Chinese Cultural Relics

Model of Stupa – 6

Credit: Photo courtesy of Chinese Cultural Relics

Archaeologists have discovered what may be a skull bone from the revered Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama. The bone was hidden inside a model of a stupa, or a Buddhist shrine used for meditation.

The research team found the 1,000-year-old model within a stone chest in a crypt beneath a Buddhist temple in Nanjing, China. Inside the stupa model archaeologists found the remains of Buddhist saints, including a parietal (skull) bone that inscriptions say belonged to the Buddhahimself.

Model of Stupa – 1

Credit: Photo courtesy of Chinese Cultural Relics

The model is made of sandalwood, silver and gold, and is covered with gemstones made of crystal, glass, agate and lapis lazuli, a team of archaeologists reported in an article published in the journal Chinese Cultural Relics.

Model of Stupa – 2

Credit: Photo courtesy of Chinese Cultural Relics

Inscriptions engraved on the stone chest that the model was found in say that it was constructed during the reign of Emperor Zhenzong (A.D. 997-1022), during the Song Dynasty. Also inscribed on the stupa are the names of people who donated money and material to build the model, as well as some of the people who constructed the model.

Model of Stupa – 3

Credit: Photo courtesy of Chinese Cultural Relics

While the inscriptions say that the skull bone belongs to the Buddha, it is unknown whether it really does come from him. In the journal article, archaeologists didn’t speculate on how likely it is. The bone is being treated with great respect and has been interred in the modern-day Qixia Temple by Buddhist monks.

Discovered beneath the Grand Bao’en Temple, the stupa model — which is 117 centimeters tall and 45 cm wide (nearly 4 feet by 1.5 feet) — was stored within an iron box, which, in turn, was stored within a stone chest.

An inscription found within the stone chest was written by a man named Deming about 1,000 years ago, saying that he is “the Master of Perfect Enlightenment, Abbot of Chengtian Monastery [and] the Holder of the Purple Robe” (as translated by researchers in the journal article). He tells the story of how the Buddha’s parietal bone came to China. [Photos: 1,700-Year-Old Buddhist Sculptures Found in Shrine]

Model of Stupa – 4

Credit: Photo courtesy of Chinese Cultural Relics

Deming wrote that after the Buddha “entered parinirvana” (a final death that breaks the cycle of death and rebirth), that his body “was cremated near the Hirannavati River” in India. The man who ruled India at the time, King Ashoka (reign 268-232 B.C.), decided to preserve the Buddha’s remains, which he “divided into a total of 84,000 shares,” Deming wrote. “Our land of China received 19 of them,” including the parietal bone, he added.

The parietal bone was kept in a temple that was destroyed about 1,400 years ago during a series of wars, Deming wrote. “The foundation ruins … were scattered in the weeds,” Deming wrote. “In this time of turbulence, did no one care for Buddhist affairs?”

Model of Stupa – 5

Credit: Photo courtesy of Chinese Cultural Relics

Emperor Zhenzong agreed to rebuild the temple and have the Buddha’s parietal bone, and the remains of other Buddhist saints, buried in an underground crypt at the temple, according to Deming’s inscriptions. They were interred on July 21, 1011 A.D., in “a most solemn and elaborate burial ceremony,” Deming wrote.

Deming praised the emperor for rebuilding the temple and burying the Buddha’s remains, wishing the emperor a long life, loyal ministers and numerous grandchildren: “May the Heir Apparent and the imperial princes be blessed and prosperous with 10,000 offspring; may Civil and Military Ministers of the Court be loyal and patriotic; may the three armed forces and citizens enjoy a happy and peaceful time …”

Model of Stupa – 7

Credit: Photo courtesy of Chinese Cultural Relics

The parietal bone of the Buddha was buried within an inner casket made of gold, which, in turn, was placed in an outer casket made of silver, according to the archaeologists. The silver casket was then placed inside the model of the stupa.

The gold and silver caskets were decorated with images of lotus patterns, phoenix birds and gods guarding the caskets with swords. The outer casket also has images of spirits called apsaras that are shown playing musical instruments.

Model of Stupa – 8

Credit: Photo courtesy of Chinese Cultural Relics

The parietal bone of the Buddha was placed within the gold inner casket along with three crystal bottles and a silver box, all of which contain the remains of other Buddhist saints.

Engraved on the outside of the model are several images of the Buddha, along with scenes depicting stories from the Buddha’s life, from his birth to the point when he reached “parinirvana,” a death from which the Buddha wasn’t reborn — something that freed him from a cycle of death and rebirth, according to the Buddhist religion.

A large team of archaeologists from the Nanjing Municipal Institute of Archaeology excavated the crypt between 2007 and 2010; they were supported by experts from other institutions in China.

Although the excavations received little coverage by Western media outlets, they were covered extensively in China. Chinese media outlets say that, after the parietal bone of the Buddha was removed, Buddhist monks interred the bone and the remains of the other Buddhist saints in Qixia Temple, a Buddhist temple used today. The Buddha’s parietal bone and other artifacts from the excavation were later displayed in Hong Kong and Macao.

When the bone traveled to Macao in 2012, the media outlet Xinhuareported that “tens of thousands of Buddhist devotees will pay homage to the sacred relic,” and that “more than 140,000 tickets have been sold out by now, according to the [event organizer].”

An article detailing the discoveries was published in Chinese in 2015 in the journal Wenwu, before being translated and published in Chinese Cultural Relics.

Original article on Live Science.


Secret World of Primeval Rivers Lies Beneath Greenland Glacier

Post 7745

Secret World of Primeval Rivers Lies Beneath Greenland Glacier
A secret network of rivers was recently discovered beneath the Jakobsvahn Isbrae glacier in Greenland. The primeval river network is mostly dry, but water may still flow through the riverbeds along the margins of the ice, researchers believe.

Credit: Cooper et al, 2016

A network of ancient rivers lies frozen in time beneath one of Greenland’s largest glaciers, new research reveals.

The subglacial river network, which threads through much of Greenland’s landmass and looks, from above, like the tiny nerve fibers radiating from a brain cell, may have influenced the fast-moving Jakobshavn Isbrae glacier over the past few million years.

“The channels seem to be instrumental in controlling the location and form of the Jakobshavn ice stream — and seem to show a clear influence on the onset of fast flow in this region,” study co-author Michael Cooper, a doctoral candidate in geography at the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom, told Live Science. “Without the channels present underneath, the glacier may not exist in its current location or orientation.” [See Images of Greenland’s Gorgeous Glaciers]

The Jakobshavn Isbrae glacier in Greenland is the world’s fastest glacier; it races toward the sea at the breakneck pace of 11 miles (17 kilometers) per year. The speedy glacier is dumping huge amounts of ice into the sea and is Greenland’s main contributor to sea level rise, raising levels about 1 millimeter (0.04 inches) between 2000 and 2010, researchers previously told Live Science.

Climate scientists have zeroed in on this fast-moving glacier in recent years because it may be a harbinger of climate change to come. It is melting quickly: The glacier has lost more than 9,000 gigatons of ice since 1900, according to a 2015 study in the journal Nature.

As part of the effort to characterize Jakobshavn, Cooper and his colleagues used ice-penetrating radar to peer beneath the massive hunk of ice and analyze the height of the bedrock below.

The radar revealed a secret world, frozen in ice. Beneath Jakobshavn lies a stunning landscape of jaw-dropping canyons, some of which are roughly the size of the Grand Canyon; dramatic ravines; and a lacework of mountain streams. By analyzing the shape of the valleys and canyons beneath the ice, the team determined that these features were likely formed by rivers cutting the rock away over time, rather than by the glacier.

“The shape of the valleys was V-shaped, rather than U-shaped; the flow network had a dendritic or tree-like structure; and the long profiles showed a smooth, concave-up shape,” Cooper told Live Science. These are good clues that the channel system was carved by rivers, not glaciers, he added.

Thus, the landscape must have formed at least 3.5 million years ago, prior to the ice sheet’s formation. At that time, the area may have been much warmer and home to forests and shrubland, Cooper said.

“I imagine the landscape would have been home to a lot of life,” Cooper said.

The glacier has had two effects. Near the interior, where the ice is the thickest, it has preserved the primeval landscape. At the edges, glacial ice has deepened some of the canyons through erosion, Cooper said.

The network of rivers that lies beneath the ice is now mostly dry, but some water does still flow.

“Near the margins, toward the outlet glacier, Jakobshavn Isbrae, the channels may well have water flowing through, as part of the modern-day subglacial drainage system,” meaning water is seeping from the ice’s surface to the bottom of the glacier, flowing along the edges of the ice-sheet bottom, he said.

Original article on Live Science.

Enormous Landslide Detected in Alaska

Post 7744

Enormous Landslide Detected in Alaska

Monday 9:54am
The Lamplugh Glacier rock avalanche (Image: Paul Swanstrom/Mountain Flying Service)

An extraordinarily large landslide has been discovered near Glacier Bay in southeast Alaska. Aerial photos show a snow-capped mountain with a huge chunk taken out of it—and a debris field that extends for nearly seven miles.

The Lamplugh Glacier rock avalanche, which occurred at 8:21 a.m. on June 28, was discovered by Paul Swanstrom, a pilot from Mountain Flying Service. No one was around to witness the event, but it must’ve been an awesome sight. A 4,000 foot-high mountainside collapsed, unleashing an estimated 150 million tons of rock. The rushing debris spilled onto a glacier below, creating a runout field that extended for 6.5 miles.

Image: Paul Swanstrom/Mountain Flying Service

Swanstrom managed to shoot some incredible video as he flew over the debris field.

“This is a very important event,” noted Columbia University research professor Colin Stark in a KTOO article. “We have events like this maybe three to five times per year across the entire world. And the St. Elias Range, and Glacier Bay—Southeast Alaska in general—are hotspots for rock avalanches, or very large landslides.”

Stark estimates that the force of the slide was around 280 giganewtons, which he compared to 100 million cars falling down the slope. Stark and his colleagues were able to detect the landslide using long-distance seismometers, and says he knew about this one “very quickly” after it happened. The slide was so big it registered 2.9 on the Richter Scale.

Image: Paul Swanstrom/Mountain Flying Service

Writing in the AGU’s Landslide Blog, geologist Dave Petley says it’s “a very deep-seated, ridge crest to slope toe failure of unusually large proportions.” Bits of rock and mud flowed on the glacier, creating “complex structures at the toe,” which were likely caused by the “final creeping stage of movement.”

Petley says that this part of Alaska is now the global “hotspot for rock avalanche activity.” There have been at least five major avalanche events near Glacier Bay recently, prompting Petley to say that a “detailed study is urgently needed to understand why this area is so active at present.”

[KHNS, KTOO, AGU Landslide Blog]

George is a contributing editor at Gizmodo and io9.

How Often Does Life Emerge in the Universe?

Post 7743

How Often Does Life Emerge in the Universe?

Monday 3:00pm
An artist’s conception of Kepler-186f, an Earth-like planet that could contain the chemical ingredients for life (Image: NASA Ames/SETI Institute/JPL-Caltech)

Since the 1960s, the Drake Equation has been used to predict how many communicative extraterrestrial civilizations exist in the Milky Way galaxy. Along these same lines, a new formula seeks to estimate the frequency at which life emerges on a planet—a calculation that might allow us to figure out the likelihood of life arising elsewhere in the universe.

The new equation, developed by Caleb Scharf from Columbia Astrobiology Center and Leroy Cronin from the School of Chemistry at the University of Glasgow, can’t yet be used to determine the chances of life existing elsewhere, but it’s a promising start in that direction.

Fundamentally, the researchers hope that their new formula, described in the latest edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, will encourage scientists to study the various factors that link origin-of-life events to specific characteristics within planetary environments. More conceptually, they hope their equation will eventually be used to predict the frequency at which planets experience an origin-of-life event, also known as abiogenesis. As the researchers explained to Gizmodo, “This would allow us to figure out the likelihood of life arising elsewhere in the Universe.”

Above: Video explainer on the Drake Equation

Those familiar with the Drake Equation will be familiar with how this works. Back in 1961, astronomer Frank Drake crafted a probabilistic formula to help estimate the number of active, radio-transmitting alien civilizations in the galaxy. His formula was packed with several unknown values, including the average rate of star formation, the average number of planets that can potentially support life, the fraction of planets that actually go on to develop intelligent life, and so on. We don’t have a definitive answer to the Drake Equation, but we’re certainly getting better at filling in the blanks.

The new formula developed by Scharf and Cronin isn’t an attempt to replace the Drake Equation. Instead, it’s meant as a deep dive into the more granular issue of abiogenesis.

Here’s what the formula looks like:

Where :

  • Nabiogenesis (t) = Liklihood of origin of life events
  • Nb = Number of potential building blocks
  • No = Mean number of building blocks per organism, or biochemically significant system
  • fc = Fractional availability of building blocks during Time t
  • Pa = Probability of assembly per unit time

It looks complicated, but it’s fairly straight forward. The equation is basically saying that the probability of life arising on a planet is closely tied to the amount of life-sustaining chemical “building blocks” available on the planet.

By building blocks, the researchers are referring to the minimum chemicals required to start the processing of making a simple life form. This could be DNA/RNA base pairs or amino acids, but it could also mean any available molecules or materials on the planet that can get involved with the chemical reactions that could lead to life. Chemistry is still chemistry across the universe, but other planets may have stumbled upon different approaches for spawning life.

More specifically, Scharf and Cronin’s equation states that the odds of life emerging on a planet are driven by the number of building blocks that could possibly exist, the number of building blocks available, the probability that these building blocks will actually go on to create life (i.e. assembly), and the number of building blocks needed to produce a given life form. So, in addition to identifying the chemical prerequisites for life, this equation seeks to determine the frequency at which reproductive molecules emerge. Here on Earth, abiogenesis was characterized at the moment when RNA emerged. This critical step was followed by the rise of simple single-celled life (prokaryotes), and then complex single-celled life (eukaryotes).

“Our approach links the chemistry on the planet to the global rate of life starting—this is important as now are starting to find lots of solar systems with multiple planets,” Cronin told Gizmodo. “For example, we think that having a smaller planet nearby—like Mars—is potentially important since it got cooler quicker than the Earth…some chemistry could ‘get started’ and then impact ejections could transport that complex chemistry to earth to help ‘kick-start’ the chemistry on earth.”

Indeed, one of the major realizations of this study is that planets cannot be studied in isolation. As Cronin noted, Mars and Earth may have been involved in cross-contamination at some point in our distant past—an exchange of materials that may have contributed to the rise of life on Earth. This new research suggests that the transfer of chemical building blocks between nearby planets could significantly increase the odds of life arising on them.

So are we any closer to knowing how much life exists in the universe?

“This is a tough question to answer,” said Cronin. “What our work suggests is that solar systems with more than one planet could be excellent candidates for closer study—indeed the main take home message is to concentrate on multi-planet systems and see if any of the planets look ‘alive.” By alive, Cronin says we should look for signs of changing atmospheres, complex chemistry, evidence of complexity, and evidence of variations in climate that could be driven by biological organisms.

We don’t have enough empirical evidence to complete Scharf and Cronin’s equation at the moment, but that could change in the future. Over the coming decades we’ll be able to use the James Webb Telescope and MIT’s Tess Mission (Translating ExtraSolar planet Survey mission) to come up with the missing values. Eventually, and hopefully quite soon, we’ll finally know the answer to this lingering question.

[Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences]

The Amazingly Creepy Way Mars Will Kill Its Moon

Post 7742

The Amazingly Creepy Way Mars Will Kill Its Moon

It was a rough month for Phobos, as astronomers decreed—yet again—that Mars is ripping its lumpy moon apart. But apparently, Phobos’ loss is the Red Planet’s gain. After the satellite is torn to pieces, its fragments will fan out into a disk and 20 million years from now, Mars will become a ringed planet.

That’s the conclusion of a UC Berkeley-led study published this week inNature Geoscience, which takes Phobos’ violent demise to an unexpectedly beautiful conclusion. But this little moon’s fate is more than just a cosmic curiosity. Rather, the researchers argue that Phobos could be a window into the origin of ring systems throughout the Solar System and beyond.

We’ve known for years that Phobos’ days are numbered. A mere 16 miles in diameter, the ruddy, cratered satellite is being reeled in by Mars’ gravity, which means eventually, Phobos should crash into the Red Planet. (In fact,Mars might have already killed another moon in exactly the same manner.) But recently, astronomers have come to suspect that Phobos could be broken up by Mars’ gravity long before a Deep Impact situation develops.

Just as the tug of the Earth on the Moon manifests as tides, Mars’ gravitational pull leaves telltale traces on Phobos—a series of fractures across the moon’s surface. Earlier this month, a NASA-led study concluded that those fractures are the early signs of structural failure, and that 30 to 50 million years from now, miserable Phobos will be shredded to bits by this “tidal flexing.” Ben Black, lead author on the new Nature Geoscience paper, likens the dismemberment of Phobos to a giant pulling apart a granola bar, scattering crumbs and chunks everywhere.

After modeling the break up of Phobos and coming up with their own estimate for the moon’s demise—10 to 20 million years from now—Black and his co-author Tushar Mittal wanted to find out what’ll happen next. Will Phobos’ remains rain down on the Red Planet in an apocalyptic meteorite shower? Or will the moon go out peacefully, its sundered fragments settling into stable orbits around Mars?

Phobos’ Stickney crater (top) was created by an impact that could have torn the moon apart if it were a little more porous. Image Credit: NASA.

A little bit of both, according to Black and Mittal’s new models. Large chunks of Phobos strong enough to resist gravitational breakup will eventually spiral in and collide with Mars in oblique, low-velocity impacts. “The size of any chunks that might crash into Mars is hard to predict,” Black told Gizmodo in an email. But: “We expect them to crash along the equator, so that is where any hazard would be concentrated.” Future Martian planners, take note.

The rest of Phobos will fan out to form a planetary ring system. The exact lifespan of that ring will depend on how close Phobos is to Mars when it breaks apart, something astronomers aren’t yet sure of.

“If the moon broke apart at 1.2 Mars radii, about 680 kilometers above the surface, it would form a really narrow ring comparable in density to that of one of Saturn’s most massive rings,” Mittal said in a statement. “Over time it would spread out and get wider, reaching the top of the Martian atmosphere in a few million years, when it would start losing material because stuff would keep raining down on Mars.”

If, however, Phobos breaks up further from Mars, the ring could persist for up to 100 million years. Either way, it won’t be much of a sight from Earth—while Saturn’s rings get their brilliant sheen from ice, Phobos is composed mainly of dark, carbon-rich rocks. But for anyone living on Mars tens of millions of years from now, the Phobos Ring will be a permanent fixture in the sky.

In our Solar System alone, Saturn, Jupiter, Uranus and Neptune all have ring systems. According to Black, Phobos’ future fate offers one possible scenario for the evolution of planetary rings in the early Solar System, when astronomers suspect there were even more moons surrounding the gas giants. “We expect that inwardly migrating moons like Phobos should be a relatively common product of planet formation,” said Black. “So the same processes we describe for Phobos’ future could have occurred in the past in our Solar System.” In fact, it’s possible that all the ring systems in our Solar System include the shattered remnants of bygone moons.

And if Mars has the gravitational brawn to flatten a moon into a dusty pancake, there’s no reason small rocky worlds beyond our Solar System shouldn’t have ring systems, too. “I think rings may be common although short-lived around planets in other star systems,” NASA’s Terry Hurford, who is involved with other research on Phobos, told Gizmodo in an email. “The rings may not last long but if they are produced frequently then we should see some around planets.”

Who knows, maybe humanity’s second home will have its very own rings. Although given the 30 million-year forecast for Mars—cloudy with a chance of fiery, dismembered moon chunks—I’m honestly not sure how I feel about that possibility.

[Read the full scientific paper at Nature Geoscience h/t Berkeley News]

A Badass New Theory On the Origin of Mars’ Moons

Post 7741

A Badass New Theory On the Origin of Mars’ Moons 

Image: Labex UnivEarths / Université Paris Diderot

Phobos and Deimos, Mars’ lumpy, runty moons, were once pegged as captured asteroids. But the truth is shaping up to be far more interesting. These ruddy satellites could be the lone survivors of a giant impact that eviscerated half of Mars’ surface billions of years ago.

That violent origin story is detailed in a new scientific paper, which used numerical models to show that a Deep Impact-style collision in Mars’ past could have produced many moons, most of which are long gone. This hypothesis resolves several mysteries about Phobos and Deimos, and it can be tested by searching for geologic evidence on the Red Planet.

It’s easy to see why Phobos and Deimos were first labeled asteroids—at 22 and 12 kilometers across respectively, the cratered, potato-shaped moons look an awful lot like rogue space rocks. But the asteroid hypothesis doesn’t square with the moons’ circular orbits and rotational rates, which cannot be produced by Mars’ weak tidal pull.

Another possibility is that Phobos and Deimos formed in place from escaped chunks of Mars and another large object that collided long ago. This hypothesis is supported by Mars’ vast Borealis basin, whose size and shape suggest it was punched out by an impactor thousands of kilometers wide.

Now, a series of computer simulations reconstruct a plausible sequence of events from that ancient cosmic smackdown to the moons of Mars today. Writing this week in Nature Geoscience, a team led by Pascal Rosenblatt of the Royal Observatory of Belgium show that within several hours of being struck, a vast debris disk formed around Mars. A large moon rapidly accreted from the inner part of the disk, where debris was most dense.

Next, the gravitational pull of the large moon concentrated material in the outer disk, allowing smaller moons like Phobos and Deimos to form. But the luckless inner moon—along, perhaps, with many other moonlets—was unstable. It broke up, raining its molten entrails back on the Red Planet’s surface several million years later.

This hypothesis can explain several puzzling features of Phobos and Deimos, including their circular orbits, their unusual geologic composition, and the fact that they both seem to be crumbly and porous, like granola bars that were crushed inside their packaging. And unlike many model simulations of our solar system, this one can actually be tested by hunting for the remains of an ancient, crashed moon on the surface of Mars.

“The destruction of an object hundreds of km in diameter, a few million years after the formation of Borealis, would have left a profound geologic record,” astronomer Erik Asphaug wrote in a Nature News & Views article.

I, for one, am hoping the many moons of destruction hypothesis turns out to be correct. Not only does it add gory detail to the early history of our solar system, it makes Phobos’ miserable fate a bit more fitting.