Are Angels Real?

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Are Angels Real?

 Are Angels Real?

Angels surround us all the time — figuratively if not literally — especially during the holidays. They appear in paintings, etchings, figurines, T-shirts, posters and just about everything else. Angels appear in several religions; for example, in Islam, angels are said to be made of light, while Christian angels were willed into being by God.

Early versions of angels had no gender, though later Christian angels were tall, slender males with soft features, often dressed in flowing robes specially tailored around their large white wings. Angels are said to be either immortal or greatly long-lived.

Though originally they were specifically religious figures, angels have become more secular over the years, and today they are widely associated with the New Age movement populated by pagans, atheists and those who consider themselves “spiritual.” Books about angels and angelic contact are enormously popular, with titles like “Where Angels Tread” and “Angels: Who They Are and How They Help.” They typically contain discussions of angels in scripture along with heartwarming true stories of modern-day miracles attributed to the heavenly visitors. Popular television shows such as “Highway to Heaven” (1984-1989) and “Touched by an Angel” (1994-2003) helped cement the prominence of angels in American popular culture.

Angels occasionally feature in reports of near-death experiences, though mostly in those who have a pre-existing belief in them. Among UFO believers, some claim that alien abductors are actually angels instead of extraterrestrials. Erich von Daniken, for example, author of several popular (if scientifically dubious) books in the 1970s, claimed that Biblical stories of Abraham and Joseph describe them meeting aliens, not angels.

The word “angel” comes from the Greek word “anglos,” which means “messenger” in Hebrew. Angels can take many forms, usually appearing as human or a glowing light or aura. Often — especially in cases of averted tragedy or disaster — angels will not be seen at all, but instead their presence recognized by their actions. If something good, unexpected, and seemingly inexplicable happens, it’s often assumed to be the result of divine or angelic intervention.

The angels most people are familiar with today are the Christian angels, which originated from the Hebrew Testaments. The Catholic Church devoted considerable effort to describing and developing an extensive hierarchy of angels. There were many different types of angels, archangels, seraphim, and so on, with an official census of nearly half a million.

In his book “A Dictionary of Angels” (The Free Press, 1967) researcher Gustav Davidson devotes nearly 400 pages to identifying and listing angels. Many angels were created (or endorsed) by religious authorities, but others were fabricated by quasi-religious scholars and laypeople. As Davidson notes, “To invent an angel, a hierarchy, or an order in a hierarchy, required some imagination but not too much ingenuity. It was sufficient merely to 1) scramble letters together of the Hebrew alphabet; 2) juxtapose such letters in anagrammatic, acronymic, or cryptogrammatic form; and 3) tack on to any place, property, function, attribute or quality” using the suffixes “-el” or “-irion.” Thus, according to Davidson, “Hod (meaning splendor) was transformed into the angel Hodiel.” In this way, just as the ancient Greeks essentially created a pantheon of gods to worship, angel enthusiasts created a pantheon of angels—some more historically legitimate than others.

In Christianity and Islam, angels function mainly as God’s messengers (mostly announcing births and deaths), but in modern times they function more as guardians. Indeed, the word “angel” has come to describe any hero or benefactor. Though angels, by their nature, serve God, they also serve mankind directly. Angels perform a wide variety of tasks, from healing the sick and finding lost keys to smiting enemies and, of course, winning football games. Many believe that angels come when summoned, and there is a long tradition of people using magic spells and charms to bring angels to them.

Despite centuries of theological speculation about angels — from their number to their duties to how many can dance on the head of a pin — no one knows if they exist outside of stories and legends. Many people believe they do.

Plato and Aristotle, for example, were convinced that they exist. In modern times, polls suggest that nearly 70 percent of Americans think angels are real. In their book “Paranormal America,” sociologists Christopher Bader, F. Carson Mencken and Joseph Baker note, “Angels pervade popular culture in books, television shows, and movies. … Believers exchange informal testimonials in newsletters and interpersonal conversations about the potential power of angels to influence the world, and more than half of Americans (53 percent) believe that they have personally been saved from harm by a guardian angel.”

A 2007 Baylor Religion Survey found that 57 percent of Catholics, 81 percent of black Protestants, 66 percent of Evangelical Protestants, and 10 percent of Jews reported having a personal experience with a guardian angel. And 20 percent of those who identified themselves as having no religion also claimed having encountered an angel.

In one famous 2008 angel encounter, a North Carolina woman named Colleen Banton claimed that an angel miraculously healed her daughter. While in a hospital’s waiting area, Banton noticed that a patch of sunlight appeared through a nearby window and shone in the hallway outside her daughter’s room. Her daughter soon got better, and Banton attributed the recovery to the angelic visit. (While everyone was glad at the girl’s recovery, others noted that the patch of sunlight regularly appears in that spot, at the door of patients who both do and don’t recover.)

Though angels are said to dwell in heaven, their visits to the earthly realm are not always benevolent. The most famous angel, of course, is Satan, who rebelled against God and was cast out of heaven. He started his own outfit and has been doing well ever since. Biblical angels wage warfare, lay siege to cities and kill people. The archangel Michael, for example, is often depicted as the leader of God’s Army, destroying armies with his terrible powers and flaming sword. These avenging angels seem to have disappeared in modern times in favor of the benevolent variety.

Angels are enduringly popular for many reasons, including that they represent unconditional love and appeal to personal experience. Any good luck, meaningful coincidences or unexpected pleasant surprises can be interpreted as the work of angels. Whether real or fictional, angels have been with humans for millennia, and their presence will continue to comfort.

Benjamin Radford is deputy editor of Skeptical Inquirer science magazine and author of six books including Scientific Paranormal Investigation: How to Solve Unexplained Mysteries. His website is

Amazing Images: The Best Science Photos of the Week

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Amazing Images: The Best Science Photos of the Week

 Each week we find the most interesting and informative articles we can and along the way we uncover amazing and cool images. Here you’ll discover 10 incredible photos and the stories behind them.

A Last Defense:

Treetop-dwelling ants have an explosive defensive move.

[Full Story: Exploding Ants Kill Foes, and Themselves, with a Blast of Toxic Goo]

Living on the EDGE:

No, that’s not hair. This endangered turtle’s mohawk is made of algae.

[Full Story: Punk-Rock Turtle Has ‘Green Hair,’ Will Probably Die Alone]

An Inside Look

Stunning new microscope images reveal human cancer cells slinking through blood cells and show molecules coursing through a zebrafish embryo’s tiny ear canal.

[Full Story: Scientists Built A New Microscope To Watch Cells, And The Footage is Breathtaking ]

Yellowstone Hotspot:

But researchers are now closer than ever to understanding how magma got into the hot bowels of the supervolcano where it lies today.

[Full Story: The Weird Pit of Magma Beneath Yellowstone Is Still a Mystery]

Built-In Self-Defense:

If you invite the deadly, armored stonefish to a party, know this: It’s going to bring not one, but two “switchblades” with it.

[Full Story: This Creepy Fish Packs ‘Switchblades’ in Its Face and Could Kill You with Its Venom]

Dancing in the Deep:

An unidentified species of squid recently performed an unusual “twisted” ballet.

[Full Story: This Contorted Mystery Squid May Be the ‘Most Bizarre’ Ever Seen]

Freaky Finned Babe:

An epic GIF shows the slithering specter of a shark embryo within. And apparently, Jaws Jr. is none too pleased about the bright light shining into its home.

[Full Story: Sharks Lay Eggs. Here’s Some Creepy Footage of What That Looks Like.]

Fire-Driven Storms:

Wildfires can fuel “dirty” thunderstorms that fill the stratosphere with as much smoke as a volcanic eruption.

[Full Story: These ‘Dirty’ Thunderstorms Fill the Sky with As Much Smoke As a Volcanic Eruption]

Strange and Dangerous Goings-On:

What’s the story behind a mysterious gathering of octopus mothers?

[Full Story: Hundreds of Purple Octopus Moms Are Super Weird, and They’re Doomed]

Lost in the Deep:

Just over a century after the polar explorer’s Endurance sank, another scientific expedition will search of the wreck.

[Full Story: Polar Explorer Shackleton’s Lost Ship Could Be Hidden Under Antarctic Ice]

Melanoma: Symptoms, Treatment and Prevention

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Melanoma: Symptoms, Treatment and Prevention

Moles with irregular coloring should be checked by a dermatologist for melanoma.

Credit: Doris Day.

Melanoma is a type of skin cancer that begins in the skin’s pigment-producing cells, called melanocytes. These cells make melanin, which is responsible for the color in skin, eyes and hair.

The National Cancer Institutesaid that only 2 percent of all skin cancers are melanoma, so it is very rare. It is also very dangerous. Of all types of skin cancer, melanoma is the deadliest. In 2017, the National Institute of Health (NIH) estimates that there will be 87,110 new cases of melanoma and 9,730 deaths.

While men are usually diagnosed in their 60s, women can get the disease at any age, with risk increasing based on family history and amount of sun exposure. Melanoma is one of the highest cancer killers of women in their mid-20s to mid-30s, said Doris Day, a dermatologist in New York City and an attending physician at Lenox Hill Hospital, also in New York.

“Melanoma is the least common, but most serious of all the skin cancers,” Day told Live Science. Basal cell and squamous cell skin cancers occur more often than melanoma, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation.

Exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays from sunlight is a leading cause behind melanoma. When sunlight hits melanocytes, they make more of the pigment melanin, darkening the skin. This can result in a tan, freckles or moles — the vast majority of which are benign.

Researchers think that enough UV radiation exposure can damage the DNA in melanocytes, causing them to grow out of control into a tumor. Blistering sunburns in childhood, use of tanning beds and any excessive exposure to UV radiation increases the risk for melanoma, according to the Mayo Clinic.

A melanoma tumor often originates in an existing mole or starts as its own lesion that looks like a mole. People with more than 50 ordinary moles are more likely to develop melanoma, according to the National Cancer Institute.

Melanoma also strikes fair-skinned people more often. Having less pigment in your skin means you have less protection from UV radiation. Caucasians are 30 times more likely to develop invasive melanoma than people of African descent, according to the National Cancer Society.

Melanoma tumors most often occur in areas of the body that are exposed to direct sunlight such as the arms, legs, head and face, according to the Mayo Clinic. Yet, melanoma can form anywhere on the body where there is melanin, including the eyes and the small intestines, according to the National Cancer Institute.

“I had somebody who had it in the bellybutton, and that’s not somewhere that gets a lot of sun exposure,” Day said. “It can occur anywhere in your body.”

One type of melanoma, called acral lentiginous melanoma, may appear as a black or brown discoloration on the soles of the feet, under the nails or on the palms of the hand.

Since melanoma can occur in areas of the body with little to no sun exposure, doctors believe a combination of genetic and environmental factors — including UV exposure — may lead to melanoma, according to the Mayo Clinic.

People with a family history of melanoma are more likely to develop the cancer. One in 10 people diagnosed with melanoma have a family member who was also diagnosed with the disease, according to the National Cancer Institute.

The first signs of melanoma appear as an unusual mole or as changes to an existing mole.

A mole that is asymmetric in shape, has a ragged border, has uneven coloration, is larger than the diameter of a pencil eraser and has changed in appearance may be a sign of melanoma.

An easy way to remember what changes to look for in moles is to refer to your ABCs: A is for asymmetry, B is for border, C is for color, D is for diameter and E is for evolving, Day said.

A mole that bleeds or itches is also a warning sign for melanoma.

Trained dermatologists can perform head-to-toe screenings to find any irregular moles. However, the only way to diagnose melanoma is with a biopsy, according to the Mayo Clinic.

A MelaFind scanner, a technology developed in conjunction with NASA, can also help doctors examine suspect moles. The researchers who developed MelaFind scanned and biopsied more than 10,000 brown marks, and developed an algorithm that gives information about the lesion, Day said.

The scan, which costs about $175 out of pocket for an examination of several spots, can look 0.08 inches (2 millimeters) down into the skin, and doesn’t require cutting, Day said.

If the scan finds the spot may be cancerous, doctors will biopsy the area and send it to a lab, where researchers “look at the pattern of cells and how quickly they’re dividing, and then they give us a report,” Day said.

Melanoma is the most serious type of skin cancer. Learn more about melanoma at

Melanoma is the most serious type of skin cancer. Learn more about melanoma at

Melanoma often has good prognosis when the cancer is caught early. If the lesion has not spread beyond the surface of the skin, simple surgery may be enough to cure cancer.

“If it’s less than 1 millimeter [0.04 inches], then we just cut it out with a good margin,” Day said.

The National Cancer Institute estimates people diagnosed with localized melanoma have a five-year survival rate of 91.7 percent. Luckily, 84 percent of melanoma cases are diagnosed at this stage.

However, if melanoma spreads to other parts of the body, it can be difficult to treat, according to the NIH.

If the spot is more than 1 millimeter in depth, doctors may do a sentinel node biopsy, which uses a dye to see if the tumor has spread to the lymph node system. Then, doctors will remove the spot, as well as the dyed lymph nodes, which are then checked for cancer. If the sentinel nodes are cancer-free, then the cancer probably hasn’t spread, and doctors won’t have to remove more lymph nodes, Day said.

If a person has melanoma, doctors will also check the person’s head and chest.

“Every cancer has its place it likes to go,” Day said. “Melanoma likes to go to the brain and the lungs, so we get chest X-ray and a brain scan.”

If melanoma has spread under the skin to nearby lymph nodes, the five-year survival rate is 62 percent. If it has spread to distant parts of the body, the five-year survival rate is 16 percent.

People whose melanoma has spread beyond their skin may require chemotherapy, radiation or biological therapy to treat the cancer. Traditional chemotherapy doesn’t work well for melanoma, but many patients use interferon, a protein that helps the immune system.

“[But] interferon unfortunately was not an ideal treatment because it extends life for 11 months or so in advanced cases, but it was a miserable 11 months,” Day said.

Now, doctors can map each person’s melanoma to see whether it has a genetic pattern that can be treated with chemotherapy. “And if it does, there are some specific chemo agents that work better, and have a much greater chance of remission and long-term survival with [fewer] side effects,” Day said.

Metastatic, or spreading, melanoma used to be a death sentence, but now it’s “basically a chronic illness,” she said.

The National Cancer Institute has a list of current medications and treatments for melanoma. There are currently many medical trials being performed with possible new treatments for melanoma.

Preventing melanoma can be a lifelong task, but it only takes a few simple precautions to reduce the risk.

Avoiding tanning beds is an easy step, as is wearing sunscreen year-round. Choose a sunscreen that has a high SPF rating for the best protection. “Use a sunscreen of at least 30 SPF, even on overcast days,” said Dr. Dheeraj Taranath, a regional medical director with MedExpress in Reading, Pennsylvania. Here is some important information on sunscreen. Wearing hats, visors and tightly woven clothing is also a great way to block UV rays.

Finally, staying out of the midday sun — between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. — will protect skin from the sun’s radiation when it is strongest.

“Stay out of the sun and get regular skin cancer screenings so that if you find it, you find it early,” Day said.

Additional reporting by Alina Bradford, Live Science Contributor.

Additional resources

Mysterious Eye Cancer Cases Pop Up in 2 States, and Doctors Can’t Explain

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Mysterious Eye Cancer Cases Pop Up in 2 States, and Doctors Can’t Explain It

Mysterious Eye Cancer Cases Pop Up in 2 States, and Doctors Can't Explain It

The circled spots in this eye are melanomas.

Credit: Auburn Ocular Melanoma

Dozens of people in Alabama and North Carolina have developed a rare eye cancer — and doctors don’t know what’s behind the apparent spike in cases in these areas, according to news reports.

So far, 18 people with this eye cancer, known as ocular melanoma, have been identified in Huntersville, North Carolina; and another group of more than 30 people in Auburn, Alabama, also say they’ve been diagnosed with the condition, according to CBS News. The condition typically affects just six out of every 1 million people per year, CBS reported.

What’s more, three of the Alabama cases are friends who attended Auburn University at the same time.

“Most people don’t know anyone with this disease,” Dr. Marlana Orloff, an oncologist treating some of the patients at Thomas Jefferson University’s Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center (SKCC) in Philadelphia, told CBS News. “We said, ‘OK, these girls were in this location, they were all definitively diagnosed with this very rare cancer — what’s going on?'” [10 Do’s and Don’ts to Reduce Your Risk of Cancer]

Right now, doctors don’t know the answer to the question, but they say something in the environment could be a factor, CBS reported.

Ocular melanoma is a cancer that develops in cells in the eye that produce the pigment melanin, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO). The cancer usually begins in the middle layer of the eye called the uvea. The exact cause of ocular melanoma is unknown, but according to AAO, risk factors for the condition include: exposure to sunlight or tanning beds over long periods; light eye color; older age; and certain inherited skin conditions or having a mole in the eye.

Ocular melanoma can cause vision loss, and the cancer may also spread to other parts of the body, including the liver, lungs and bones, according to the Mayo Clinic. About 3 out of 4 people (75 percent) diagnosed with ocular melanoma survive at least five years after their diagnosis, according to the American Cancer Society.

In Huntsville, researchers who studied the group of cases there recently announced that they did not find anything that could be directly attributed to the cause of the cancer cases, according to local news outlet WCNC.

One of the Auburn patients has set up a Facebook page to raise awareness, and so far, 36 people have responded saying they also attended Auburn University and were diagnosed with ocular melanoma.

“We’ve got to have it so that we can start linking all of them together to try to find a cause,” Lori Lee, an Auburn University graduate with the cancer, told CBS News.