The F-35 and the US’s newest carrier are getting ready to dominate the seas

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The F-35 and the US’s newest carrier are getting ready to dominate the seas


f 35b uss america ordnance carrier.JPG

US Navy

Ordnance is prepared for an F-35B Lightning II short takeoff/vertical landing aircraft on the amphibious assault ship USS America.

The F-35B Marine variant just completed important developmental tests designed to push the joint strike fighter to it’s limits aboard the US’s newest aircraft carrier, the USS America.

The F-35B proved it can perform its short takeoffs with a variety of weapons loadouts, some of which can be asymmetrical. These tests had been done on land before, but carrier takeoffs are a different beast.

f35b on uss america

An F-35B taxis on the flight deck of USS America on October 31, 2016.

“There is no way to recreate the conditions that come with being out to sea,” than going out there and testing onboard a carrier, said Gabriella Spehn, a F-35 weapons engineer from the Pax River Integrated Test Force in a Navy statement.

But even at sea aboard the America, which can get up to 25 mph, the F-35B performed as expected.

“As we all know, we can’t choose the battle and the location of the battle, so sometimes we have to go into rough seas with heavy swells, heave, roll, pitch, and crosswinds,” said Royal Air Force squadron leader and F-35 test pilot Andy Edgell.

International partners, like Edgell, participated in the testing onboard. While other nations lack the large deck aircraft carriers that the US has, several other nations, like the UK and Japan, operate smaller carriers that await the F-35B.

“The last couple of days we went and purposely found those nasty conditions and put the jets through those places, and the jet handled fantastically well. So now the external weapons testing should be able to give the fleet a clearance to carry weapons with the rough seas and rough conditions,” Edgell said.

“We know the jet can handle it. A fleet clearance will come — then they can go forth and conduct battle in whatever environment.”

However, another first occurred on board. The America’s weapons department assembled over 100 bombs for the F-35B to carry.

For many of the sailors in the Weapon’s Department of the America, part of a new class of US carriers meant specifically to accommodate the F-35, this was their first chance at actually handling and assembling ordnance.


f 35b uss america ordnance carrier 1.JPG

US Navy

Sailors assigned to the amphibious assault ship USS America and F-35B Lightning II Marine Corps personnel prepare to equip the aircraft with inert 500-pound GBU-12 Paveway II laser-guided test bombs during flight operations.

“Being able to do this feels like we are supporting the overall scope of what the ship is trying to achieve. Without ordnance, to us, this ship isn’t a warship. This is what we do,” said Petty Officer 1st Class Hung Lee.

According to sailors on board, the team went from building one bomb in four hours, to building 16 in three hours.

After a troubled road filled with cost overruns and setbacks, the F-35B finally appears to be nearing readiness.

Uss america

The amphibious assault ship USS America conducts flight operations while underway to Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) 2016.


Top 10 Mystifying Mummies

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Top 10 Mystifying Mummies


Mummies fascinate and terrify, challenging our basic understanding of death and decay. There seems to be something “unnatural” about remains that refuse to rot. Given their state of preservation, mummies are treasure troves for people in search of the past. However, they also serve as powerful memento mori—reminding us that we, too, will one day be among their ranks.

10Everlasting Lama


In 2015, the mummified corpse of Buddhist lama Dashi-Dorzho Itigilov was discovered in Mongolia’s Songinokhairkhan province. The 90-year-old remains were found in the depths of a monastery, seated in lotus position and wrapped in calfskin. Born in 1842, Lama Dashi-Dorzho was a monk of the Tibetan Buddhist school.

In 1927, Dashi-Dorzho, age 75, gathered his students and announced that he was preparing to die. He advised his acolytes to look upon his body in 30 years. He entered the lotus position, began to chant a prayer for the dead, and passed away. Exhumed 30 years later, his body was still in the lotus position and nearly completely intact. He was reburied in a secret grave for protection against Stalinist forces. Amgalan Dabayev, age 88, had been at the first exhumation and led researchers to the lama’s unmarked grave. The body is currently on display in Ivolginsk monastery.


9Lemon Grove Mummies


Photo credit: Lemon Grove Mummy Info via Ancient Origins

In 1980, a housewife discovered the mummified remains of a young girl and an infant while cleaning out her garage in Lemon Grove, California. The woman immediately alerted authorities. Initially conducting a murder investigation, police soon discovered that the woman and the infant died centuries ago.

The house was previously inhabited by two teens, who became obsessed with mummies. They learned that tribes of Northern Mexico often left their dead in caves, where the cool, dry air would naturally mummify the corpses. The teens spent a month in Chihuahua exploring caves. They found the two mummies but couldn’t reveal them to archaeologists without admitting to having committed a crime. They decided to smuggle the mummies back to California. The teens were drafted into Vietnam and had a friend watch over the box containing the remains for over a decade before they were discovered.

8Gospel Mummy


Photo credit: Rylands Library via Christian Today

Researchers believe that they have discovered the oldest-known gospel text in the mask of a mummy. The papyrus scrap contains what may be a section of The Gospel of Mark, dating to before AD 90. If that date is correct, the scrap would be decades older than the previous oldest-known gospel. The date was determined using carbon analysis, handwriting investigation, and comparison to other dated documents.

The discovery was made utilizing a technique that allows glue to be removed from papyrus, while keeping any writing intact. The technique remains controversial, as it can permanently damage mummy masks. Pharaohs were buried with elaborate masks of gold. However, ordinary folk made due with masks of papyrus, linen, glue, and paint. Papyrus was expensive during the period, and more often than not, it needed to be reused. Researchers have discovered Greek texts, business documents, and even personal correspondence inside mummy masks.


7The Salt Men


Photo credit: Nasser-sadeghi

A functioning salt mine in Northwestern Iran has produced six naturally preserved mummies. Chehrabad Salt Mine’s “salt men” range in date from 539 BC to AD 640. Their beards, hair, and even clothing are often nearly perfectly preserved. In some cases, stomachs, colons, and last meals are intact.

The most recent discovery was made in 2007. Experts have identified this mummy as a Roman-era miner killed by falling rocks or an earthquake. The first five salt men discovered were given to scientists for research. However, the newly discovered mummy will remain underground. There is concern about the Iranian government’s lack of equipment and facilities to help preserve the salt man.

A Stanford folklorist believes the salt men might be connected with satyr legends. Their protruding jaws, snub noses, and hair bear uncanny resemblance to depictions of satyrs in ancient accounts, including St. Jerome’s tale of a satyr head on display in Antioch.

6Siberian Child Mummy


Photo credit: Yamalo-Nenets regional Museum and Exhibition Complex via The Siberian Times

In 2015, archaeologists unearthed a child mummy from the Zeleny Yar necropolis in Northern Siberia. Dated to the 13th century, the remains belong to a boy between six and seven years old. His body was cocooned in birch bark and copper. The permafrost and metal naturally preserved his remains. Buried with a bronze axe, the boy appears to have been of a higher social status than other remains discovered at the site.

Tissue samples were taken of his internal organs, which remain intact. Experts believe they will be able to extract viable genetic material from the boy. They have already started to collect DNA from native Siberian populations in an attempt to discover the boy’s modern relatives. South Korean scientists are working to create a facial recreation. Given the excellent state of preservation, they believe it will be a success.

5Secret Of The Statue


A Dutch art collector discovered a 1,000-year-old mummified monk hidden inside a Buddha statue that he purchased from China. The corpse was too fragile to be removed. Experts believe the mummy was displayed in the open for 200 years before it was encased in the statue during the 14th century. In 2014, CT scans revealed that the monk’s organs were missing. The hollow cavities were filled with thousands of paper scraps cloaked in Chinese characters. They found he was seated on a cloth covered in inscriptions, which indicate he was a Buddhist monk named Liuquan.

Experts believe Liuquan may have performed self-mummification. The practice requires a special diet and a toxic tea, which will make the body too poisonous to be consumed by maggots and bacteria. The ancient process is known in Thailand, China, and Japan. Few were able to endure it, and those who could were revered.


4Tuli Mummy


Photo credit: South African Journal of Science via The Conversation

In 2008, a game lodge patrol stumbled upon the first mummy ever discovered in Botswana. Dubbed the Tuli Mummy, the over-200-year-old remains were wrapped in calfskin. At first, the patrol officer thought he had come across a poacher’s kill but quickly realized otherwise. The dry conditions naturally preserved the body. Mummification was not a common practice in Southern Africa.

A CT scan revealed that the Tuli mummy was over 50 at the time of his death and also suffered from a degenerative spinal condition. The scans were unable to find any internal organs, meaning they completely dried or were removed after death. Most think removal is unlikely, given the lack of mummification traditions in the region. Researchers were able to extract DNA from the Tuli mummy. Analysis revealed that he is related to modern Khoesan and Sotho-Tswana populations.

3Dirty Thoughts


Photo via Seeker

Researchers recently discovered that the skull of a 3,200-year-old Egyptian mummy is filled with dirt. CT scans revealed sediment filling the cavity, which still contained the brain. Researchers had never seen a dirt-filled mummy head before. The presence of the brain means the mummy probably came from the New Kingdom, between the 16th and 11th centuries BC. After this period, brain removal became standard. The dirt in the skull may reflect an experimenting embalmer and suggests flux in mummification techniques.

Named Hatason, the mummy was shipped from Egypt to San Francisco in the late 1800s. It is now on display at the Legion of Honor Museum. Her coffin and clothing indicate she was a commoner. There were no amulets in her coffin, and her bones were jumbled inside wrappings shaped into a body. Gender is usually determined through the pelvis, but Hatason’s was crushed. Researchers believe her skull looks female.

2Guanajuato Mummies


Guanajuato, Mexico, enforced a strict grave tax between 1865 and 1958. If relatives failed to pay, their loved ones were “evicted.” Due to local conditions, the exhumed corpses were often naturally mummified. These remains were housed in an ossuary. It quickly became chock full of mummies and rebranded itself as a museum in 1894. The collection contains many gruesome-looking specimens, including a pregnant mummy and the world’s smallest mummy.

Ignacia Aguilar may be the most intriguing of the Guanajuato mummies. During the midst of a cholera outbreak, a nonthreatening heart condition caused her to be incorrectly pronounced dead. Her family quickly buried her—alive. Years later, when the body was exhumed, they discovered her face-down in her coffin, covered in scratch marks, with a mouth full of blood from gnawing on her arm. Her remains, complete with mouth frozen in scream, are still on display at the museum.

1The Screaming Mummy


Photo via Ancient Origins

In 1881, archaeologists discovered a mysterious mummy in a royal grave cavern south of Cairo. When the body was unwrapped in 1886, researchers discovered the man’s face frozen in a scream. With no identifying marks on his sarcophagus, the mummy was initially labeled “Unknown Man E” before he was given the more apt name of “the screaming mummy.”

Some believe the screaming mummy was an official who served in the far reaches of Egypt’s empire and was embalmed by novices. This might account for the presence of quicklime as well as the goat and sheepskins covering the body. According to Egyptian tradition, goats and sheep were unclean animals, and their presence in a grave would render the deceased incapable of reaching the afterlife. However, they were common in foreign graves. Others suggest he was a foreign prince or disgraced royalty—possibly even Prince Pentewere, who was accused of plotting to kill his father, Ramses III.

Abraham Rinquist is the executive director of the Winooski, Vermont, branch of the Helen Hartness Flanders Folklore Society. He is the coauthor of Codex Exotica andSong-Catcher: The Adventures of Blackwater Jukebox.

Astronomers just discovered one of the most massive objects in the universe hiding behind the Milky Way

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Astronomers just discovered one of the most massive objects in the universe hiding behind the Milky Way


vela constealltion stars NGC 2547 eso

European Southern Observatory

Stars and galaxies in the constellation Vela, where a massive new supercluster has been found.

Through the thick fog of our own galaxy, astronomers have spotted an ultimate prize: one of the largest-known structures in the universe.

Called the Vela supercluster, the newly discovered object is a massive group of several galaxy clusters, each one containing hundreds or thousands of galaxies.

“I could not believe such a major structure would pop up so prominently” after an observation of that region of space, said Renée Kraan-Korteweg, an astrophysicist at the University of Cape Town in South Africa, in a press release.

Kraan-Korteweg and her team published their discovery of the supercluster, named after the constellation Vela where it was found, in the Monthly Notices Letters of the Royal Astronomical Society.

A giant hiding behind the Milky Way


vela supercluster galaxies university cape town jarrett labeled

Thomas Jarrett/University of Cape Town

The locations of the Shapley supercluster and its newly discovered partner, the Vela supercluster.

It may be hard to believe that such a huge object could go unnoticed, but it makes more sense when you consider where we all live.

The Milky Way is our expansive galactic home. It hosts more than 100 billion stars, trillions of planets, and colorful clouds of gas and dust.

This makes for a brilliant playground to study individual objects, like black holes, the formation of alien solar systems, or potentially habitable extrasolar planets.

But if you’re an astronomer trying to peer beyond the Milky Way and into the deeper universe, all of this stuff is in your way:

This is especially true of objects behind the galactic plane, which is us looking through the 100,000-light-year-wide disk of the Milky Way from the inside-out.

That cross-section of the Milky Way’s disk of stars, gas, and dust is actually what we see when we look up in the sky in a very dark place:

To peer through it, Kraan-Korteweg and her colleagues combined the observations of several telescopes: the newly refurbished South African Large Telescope (SALT) near Cape Town, the Anglo-Australian Telescope (AAT) near Sydney, and X-ray surveys of the galactic plane.

Using that data, they calculated how fast each galaxy they saw above and below the galactic plane was moving away from Earth. Their number-crunching soon revealed that they all seemed to be moving together — indicating a lot of galaxies couldn’t be seen.

“[I]t became obvious we were uncovering a massive network of galaxies, extending much further than we had ever expected,” Michelle Cluver, an astrophysicist at the University of the Western Cape, said in the release.

The researchers estimate that Vela supercluster is about the same mass of the Shapley Supercluster of roughly 8,600 galaxies, which is located about 650 million light-years away. Given that the typical galaxy has about 100 billion stars, researchers estimate that Vela could contain somewhere between 1,000 and 10,000 trillion stars.

Their calculations also show Vela is about 800 million light-years distant and zooming farther and farther away from us at a speed of about 40 million mph (18,000 kilometers per second).

Despite that extra and rapidly increasing distance, however, Vela’s influence can’t be denied. The researchers estimate that Vela’s gravitational tug on the Local Group of galaxies, which includes the Milky Way, has sped them up by about 110,000 mph (50 kilometers per second).

That’s quite a pull, and could help tell the incredible story of how our Milky Way galaxy — and we — got here.


Did NASA Mars Rover Find a Signature of Past Life?

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Did NASA Mars Rover Find a Signature of Past Life?

Did NASA Mars Rover Find a Signature of Past Life?

Home Plate opaline silica (left) occurs in nodular masses with digitate structures that resemble those at El Tatio (right).

Credit: ASU/Ruff & Farmer

During its wheeled treks on the Red Planet, NASA’s Spirit rover may have encountered a potential signature of past life on Mars, report scientists at Arizona State University (ASU).

To help make their case, the researchers have contrasted Spirit’s study of “Home Plate” — a plateau of layered rocks that the robot explored during the early part of its third year on Mars — with features found within active hot spring/geyser discharge channels at a site in northern Chile called El Tatio.

The work has resulted in a provocative paper: “Silica deposits on Mars with features resembling hot spring biosignatures at El Tatio in Chile.” [5 Bold Claims of Alien Life]

Field work

As reported online last week in the journal Nature Communications, field work in Chile by the ASU team — Steven Ruff and Jack Farmer of the university’s School of Earth and Space Exploration — shows that the nodular and digitate silica structures at El Tatio that most closely resemble those on Mars include complex sedimentary structures produced by a combination of biotic and abiotic processes.

“Although fully abiotic processes are not ruled out for the Martian silica structures, they satisfy an a priori definition of potential biosignatures,” the researchers wrote in the study.

Ancient setting

Spiritlanded on Mars in January 2004, a few weeks before its twin, Opportunity, touched down in a different part of the Red Planet. Both golf-cart-size rovers were tasked with looking for signs of past water activity during their missions, which were originally planned to last three months.

Spirit encountered outcrops and regolith composed of opaline silica (amorphous SiO2nH2O) in an ancient volcanic hydrothermal setting in Gusev crater.

An origin via either fumarole-related acid-sulfate leaching or precipitation from hot spring fluids was considered possible. “However, the potential significance of the characteristic nodular and [millimeter]-scale digitate opaline silica structures was not recognized,” Ruff and Farmer noted in the new study.

Spirit imagery shows opaline silica nodular outcrops adjacent to Home Plate showing typical stratiform expression. White outline highlights nodular silica outcrop. Rover wheel tracks are roughly 1 meter apart. Rolling wheels did not deform the roughly 6-inch-high high outcrop (lighter tracks) compared with the inoperative dragging wheel in a later traverse (darker track).

Spirit imagery shows opaline silica nodular outcrops adjacent to Home Plate showing typical stratiform expression. White outline highlights nodular silica outcrop. Rover wheel tracks are roughly 1 meter apart. Rolling wheels did not deform the roughly 6-inch-high high outcrop (lighter tracks) compared with the inoperative dragging wheel in a later traverse (darker track).

Credit: ASU/Ruff & Farmer

El Tatio: Mars-like conditions

The physical environment of El Tatio offers a rare combination of high elevation, low precipitation rate, high mean annual evaporation rate, common diurnal freeze-thaw and extremely high ultraviolet irradiance.

“Such conditions provide a better environmental analog for Mars than those of Yellowstone National Park (USA) and other well-known geothermal sites on Earth,” suggested Ruff and Farmer. “Our results demonstrate that the more Mars-like conditions of El Tatio produce unique deposits, including biomediated silica structures, with characteristics that compare favorably with the Home Plate silica outcrops. The similarities raise the possibility that the Martian silica structures formed in a comparable manner.”

Biosignature definition

Previously, a NASA science team defined a potential biosignature as “an object, substance and/or pattern that might have a biological origin and thus compels investigators to gather more data before reaching a conclusion as to the presence or absence of life.”

“Because we can neither prove nor disprove a biological origin for the microstromatolite-like digitate silica structures at Home Plate, they constitute a potential biosignature according to this definition,” Ruff and Farmer wrote.

Spirit of future exploration

Spirit bogged down on Mars in May 2009, becoming stuck in soft soil.

In late January 2010, after months of attempts to free the rover, NASA dubbed the wheeled robot a stationary research platform. The lack of mobility and the harsh climes of Mars conspired to seal Spirit’s fate, with attempts to regain contact with the robot ending in May 2011. Subsequently, NASA announced the end of contact efforts and the completion of Spirit’s mission. (Opportunity is still going strong today.)

The ASU researchers suggested that a future and specially instrumented rover mission could perhaps provide a more definitive assessment of possible biogenicity of Home Plate silica structures.

“However, because of the challenges in obtaining unambiguous evidence in situ, coordinated microscopic and compositional analyses of samples returned to laboratories on Earth may be required to reach a robust conclusion as to the presence or absence of past Martian life in these rocks,” Ruff and Farmer stated.

The new study can be viewed here:

Leonard David is author of “Mars: Our Future on the Red Planet.” The book is a companion to the National Geographic Channel six-part series airing in November. A longtime writer for, David has been reporting on the space industry for more than five decades. Follow us @Spacedotcom,Facebookor Google+. Story published on