Wizard battles and demon circles revealed in newly translated Christian texts

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Wizard battles and demon circles revealed in newly translated Christian texts

By Owen Jarus – Live Science Contributor 6 hours ago

The texts describing the wizard battle are from the Monastery of Saint Macarius the Great in Egypt. This image shows the shrine of St. Macarius in the monastery.(Image: © Danita Delimont / Alamy)

Have you ever heard the story of a wizard battle that supposedly took place when an early church was constructed? Or how about the story of a border guard who defied King Herod’s orders and spared Jesus‘ life? Scholars have now translated these and other “apocryphal” Christian texts (stories not told in the canonical bible) into English for the first time. 

More than 300 Christian apocryphal texts are known to exist, Tony Burke, a professor of early Christianity at York University in Toronto, Canada, wrote in the book he edited “New Testament Apocrypha More Noncanonical Scriptures (Volume 2)” (Eerdmans, 2020). “Apocryphal texts were integral to the spiritual lives of Christians long after the apparent closing of the canon and that the calls to avoid and even destroy such literature were not always effective” wrote Burke. 

Ancient Christians often debated which texts told the truth about Jesus and which did not. By the end of the fourth century the church had ‘canonized’ the texts which they thought were accurate and included them in the bible. 

Related: From Jesus’ time: The 10 most interesting biblical discoveries

Wizard battle

One of the newly translated texts tells of a wizard battle that took place at the ancient city of Philippi, in Greece. Shown here, the ruins of Philippi . (Image credit: Shutterstock)

One of the newly translated texts tells of a battle against ‘diabolical’ wizards who are trying to destroy an ancient church being built as a dedication to the Virgin Mary in the city of Philippi in Greece. 

The text is written in Coptic, an Egyptian language that uses the Greek alphabet, and may have originally been written around 1,500 years ago, Paul Dilley, a professor of religious studies at the University of Iowa, who translated the text, wrote in the book. The story is told in two texts that were both from the Monastery of Saint Macarius the Great in Egypt. At that time, much of the population around the Mediterranean had converted to Christianity, although some still followed polytheistic faiths. 

“There was a tendency to identify the remnants of polytheism with ‘magoi’ or ‘wizards’ who posed dangers to the Christian community, sometimes openly, sometimes clandestinely,” Dilley told Live Science. 

In the text, the Virgin Mary comes to Bishop Basil (who lived from A.D. 329-379) in a dream and tells him where to find an image of her that is “not made by human hands,” the translated text says. She also directs him to place the image in the sanctuary of her church on top of two columns, which he will find in a temple outside of Philippi. 

“These two columns have been set up since the time of the giants. Demonic images cover them. It is not possible for anyone to take them down except through the order of my beloved son [Jesus],” the Virgin Mary says in the text. 

Related: 6 Interesting facts about Jesus, the man

In this story, when Basil takes a group out to the temple he is confronted by a group of wizards who knew diabolical magic. “When they heard about these plans [to move the columns], they went with great disturbance and wretchedness and they made some great diabolic illusions.” 

Basil takes a staff that had been placed on a “sign of the saving cross” and puts the staff on the columns. “I placed it [the staff] upon the two columns, and immediately a great rumbling happened under the columns. Suddenly, they [the columns] leapt up at their bases and thus they rolled until they came to the place of the city’s stadia,” Basil says in the text. 

The wizards stop them, and the magical tug of war between the wizards and Basil’s group comes to a standstill; as night comes, Basil decides to dismiss his group and rest. 

When Basil goes to sleep, the Virgin Mary comes to him in another dream and vows that the wizards will be defeated: “Those who did this evil deed of impertinent magic, behold, they are blind, grasping,” she says. 

Later on, after Basil wakes up, water bubbles up beside the columns creating a stream that miraculously heals people. The wizards were not so fortunate, as “immediately the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them,” the text says. Basil also finds that the image has been placed on the columns by the Virgin Mary herself. 

Today the two surviving copies of the text are in the Vatican Apostolic Library and the Leipzig University Library. 

Border guard helps Jesus

Another newly translated text tells of a bandit named Dimas (also called Dymas/Dismas) who was crucified next to Jesus. The text claims that Dimas once worked as a border guard and was crucified after aiding Jesus and his family when they were fleeing to Egypt. The text says that Jesus was a baby at the time and his family was fleeing King Herod who wanted to kill Jesus. 

This apocryphal text is written in Latin and dates back to the 12th or 13th century, said Mark Bilby, a senior assistant librarian of scholarly communication and lecturer of Religious Studies at California State University, Fullerton, who translated the text. Bilby notes that during the Middle Ages there were a number of stories that claim to tell the story of the criminals crucified beside Jesus. The text was likely written in a French monastery Bilby noted. 

“I think the storyline is wholly fictitious, as a legend built on top of at least 10 discrete earlier legends” Bilby told Live Science. In the book, Bilby noted that this story and others like it may have been intended “to carry an implicit call for the young to leave family, join the Crusades, and become a friend of Jesus in and around the Holy Land.” 

The story takes place, according to the text, when Herod was trying to find and kill Jesus, and the guards had received orders to kill any infant boy they came across. To watch for Jesus, Dimas and his father guarded the border between Judea and Egypt, the story goes.Advertisement

In the text Dimas’ father goes off to do his rounds and tells Dimas to watch the border crossing carefully. Shortly afterward, Joseph and Mary arrive at the border carrying a poorly-clothed baby Jesus. Dimas approaches the family and asks about Jesus. Mary is afraid that Dimas is going to snatch Jesus away but Joseph talks to Dimas and convinces him to let them go. 

Joseph convinces Dimas that a poor family posed no threat to Herod. “It is fitting that you all watch out for the sons of the rich men of this region who are capable of begrudging his superiority at a later time. Yet, when you see people squalid in misery, it is not appropriate to reproach them with these talks,” Joseph says in the text. 

Dimas lets them cross the border and even provides the family with some food. When Dimas’ father finds out, he is furious. “What will I do now? Bound by oath, I will not be able to lie. If he [King Herod] convicts me of treason, he will kill me in place of the boys,” Dimas’ father says. 

Herod later summons Dimas, who tells him of the family that was allowed to escape. Dimas is disowned by his father and turns to banditry. 

Related: Cracking codices: 10 of the most mysterious ancient manuscripts

“Expelled from his father’s house and neighborhood, he commenced engaging in banditry, and it became a tribulation, because he was hardened with weapons and perversity…” the text says. About 30 years later Dimas is captured during the time that Pontius Pilate was prefect (governor) of Judea and is crucified beside Jesus (who is now an adult) the text says. When they are about to be crucified, Dimas confesses the sins he made as a bandit and is forgiven by Jesus. 

The only surviving copy of the text is in the library of the Grand Séminaire in Namur, Belgium.

Demon trapping

Another newly translated text, this one in Greek, tells how the Apostle Peter trapped seven demons who were masquerading as angels in the city of Azotus (also called Ashdod in what is now Israel). 

Though it dates to the 11th or 12th century, the story was likely originally written centuries earlier, perhaps around 1,600 years ago. “The narrative resonates with the context of the fourth and fifth-century speculations about sin, but its loose form and lack of regimentation seem to represent an early phase in that development” wrote Cambry Pardee, a visiting professor of religion at Pepperdine University, London, in the book. 

The author of the text “was writing a work of fiction, valorizing the adventures of the great Christian hero Peter,” Pardee told Live Science. While the events are fictional, “it is very likely, though, that many common Christians who encountered this legend, either as a writing or in spoken form, would have believed it to be a true account, a lost story from Peter’s life” Pardee said. 

Related: The Holy Land: 7 amazing archaeological finds

In the text, Peter, who is suspicious of the “angels,” marks a circle around them and states “my Lord Jesus Christ, let your glory be revealed through the Holy Spirit. Are these, as they say, angels of your divinity or spirits who hate what is good?'” (translation by Cambry Pardee)

One translated text tells of Saint Peter using a circle to trap seven demons, while in the city of Azotus (Ashdod), which is shown here. (Image credit: Shutterstock)

Six of the demons admit to Peter that they are demons of deception, sexual immorality, falsehood, adultery, avarice and slander. The seventh demon challenges Peter and asks why demons are treated so badly compared to humans, saying that human sins are forgiven by Christ but demon sins are not. “You have the partiality of Christ; for which reason he chastises us, but he spares you when you repent. Therefore when he leads a prostitute and a tax collector and a denier and a blasphemer and a slanderer into his kingdom, then he ought to gather all of us with you!” Advertisement

The demon also notes that humans should stop blaming demons for their mistakes. “I, the devil, am not their troubler, but they themselves fall down. For I have become weak and am without vigor. Therefore, I no longer have a place nor an arrow, for everywhere people have become Christians. Therefore let them guard themselves and not cast blame” the demon says. Peter then lets the demons go. 

The only surviving copy of this text is in the Biblioteca Angelica library in Rome. 

Originally published on Live Science.

Bizarre ‘Headless Chicken Monster’ Drifts Through Antarctic Deep

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Bizarre ‘Headless Chicken Monster’ Drifts Through Antarctic Deep

By Mindy Weisberger October 22, 2018

A swimming pink sea cucumber gets its unusual nickname from its resemblance to a plucked, decapitated chicken.(Image: © Australian Antarctic Program)

Meet the real-life “chicken of the sea”: a strange, pinkish-red creature with a body like a plump-breasted and decapitated chicken, earning the creature the name “headless chicken monster.”

In truth, it is neither a chicken nor a monster. It’s the swimming sea cucumber Enypniastes eximia, and scientists recently captured video of this bizarre, hen-mimicking swimmer in the Southern Ocean near eastern Antarctica, where it has never been seen before.

Footage shows the colorful sea cucumber drifting through the water; fins at the top and bottom of its tubby, translucent body almost resemble the stubby wings and legs on plucked, pink poultry ready for the pot. If you squint, you might think you’re looking at the result of an ill-fated tryst between a chicken and Aquaman. [In Photos: Spooky Deep-Sea Creatures]

Not everyone recognizes the gelatinous sea cucumber’s similarity to a chicken, though its appearance is undeniably peculiar. Photos of the crimson creature that were shared around the Live Science newsroom prompted comparisons to “a frilly pillow case,” “a bloody flying squirrel,” “a raw steak with fins” and “what you’d get if you asked a machine learning algorithm to make you a picture of a fish.” [Editor’s note: All of these are wrong; it looks like a floating chicken head.]

The so-called headless chicken monster, previously found only in the Gulf of Mexico, was recently detected by scientists with the Australian Antarctic Division (AAD), part of the Australian Department of the Environment dedicated to investigating Antarctica and the Southern Ocean. The researchers used new camera technology to detect the swimming sea cucumber at a depth of about 9,800 feet (3 kilometers) below sea level, AAD representatives said in a statement.

On average, E. eximia measures between 2 and 8 inches (6 to 20 centimeters) in length; adults’ colors can range from dark reddish brown to crimson, though juveniles are typically a paler shade of pink, according to a study published in 1990 in the journal Smithsonian Contributions to the Marine Sciences.

While most types of sea cucumbers spend the majority of their time on the sea bed, swimming sea cucumbers like E. eximia land only to feed, researchers reported in the 1990 study.

Cameras designed for the AAD expedition were deployed on fishing lines, according to a YouTube video the agency shared yesterday (Oct. 21). The equipment is durable enough to be tossed over the side of a boat and can operate reliably for extended periods of time in the total darkness and crushing pressures of the deep ocean, AAD program director Dirk Welsford said in the statement.

“Some of the footage we are getting back from the cameras is breathtaking, including species we have never seen in this part of the world,” Welsford said.

In addition to offering glimpses of unusual marine life such asE. eximia, the new camera system reveals the complex interplay of life in Southern Ocean depths, Welsford said. It will help scientists to advise policy makers about conserving vulnerable ecosystems that are threatened by commercial fishing, Welsford explained.

Originally published on Live Science.

Small World: Gallery of Microscopic Beauty

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Small World: Gallery of Microscopic Beauty

By Stephanie Pappas 

Kangaroo Rat Kidneys

(Image credit: Dr. Lynne Chang, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA )

Keratin filaments in the cytoplasm and nucleus of rat kidney cells help the cells maintain their shape in this Nikon Small World image by Harvard’s Lynne Chang. The annual photograph competition highlights microscopic images, and winners will be announced in October. [Gallery of Last Year’s Winners]

Tiny Trap

(Image credit: Mr. Jose R. Almodovar, Microscopy Center, Biology Department, UPR Mayaguez Campus, Mayaguez, Puerto Rico )

Jose R. Almodovar of the UPR Mayaguez Campus took this photo of a bladderwort bladder for the 2011 Nikon Small World photography contest. Bladderworts are carnivorous plants that trap tiny organisms in their bladders for digestion.

Silver Wattle Anther

(Image credit: Dr. Marta Guervos, Image Processing Unit, Scientific-Technical Facilities, University of Oviedo Asturias, Spain )

Dr. Marta Guervos of the University of Oviedo in Asturias, Spain zoomed in on the anther of a silver wattle or mimosa tree for the 2011 Nikon Small World photography competition.

Red Velvet

(Image credit: Dr. David Maitland, http://www.davidmaitland.com, Feltwell, UK )

Dr. David Maitland of Feltwell, UK gets very close to a red velvet mite, a tiny arachnid, for his Nikon Small World entry.


(Image credit: Dr. Witold Kilarski, EPFL-Laboratory of Lymphatic and Cancer, Lausanne, Switzerland )

Parasitic filaria worms (in red) inside the lymphatic cells of a mouse’s ear, taken for the 2011 Nikon Small World competition by Dr. Witold Kilarski of the EPFL-Laboratory of Lymphatic and Cancer in Lausanne, Switzerland. The worms are a parasitic nematode. Some species are known to infect humans.

Cow Cells

(Image credit: Dr. Torsten Wittmann, University of California, San Francisco)

The University of San Francisco’s Dr. Torsten Wittmann captured this shot of bovine pulmonary artery cells stained so that actin, mitochondria and DNA appear in yellow and blue.

For more photos, and to vote on your favorite, visit www.nikonsmallworld.com.

Amazing Astronomy: Victorian-Era Illustrations of the Heavens

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Amazing Astronomy: Victorian-Era Illustrations of the Heavens

By Live Science Staff 

Jovial Jupiter

(Image credit: E.L. Trouvelot, New York Public Library)

A chromolithograph of the planet Jupiter, observed Nov. 1, 1880, at 9:30 p.m. The piece of art reveals Jupiter’s Great Red Spot, akin to a hurricane on Earth, which has been raging on the planet for hundreds of years.

Tangle of Sunspots

(Image credit: E.L. Trouvelot, New York Public Library)

A group of sunspots and veiled spots observed on June 17, 1875 at 7:30 a.m. Sunspots are magnetic regions on the sun, which appear in images as dark spots and whose magnetic field strengths thousands of times stronger than Earth’s magnetic field.

Aurora Borealis

(Image credit: E.L. Trouvelot, New York Public Library)

Aurora borealis as observed March 1, 1872, at 9:25 p.m. Glowing lights that seem to dance across the sky, the aurora borealis occurs when charged particles from the sun enter our atmosphere, smashing into the gases there and releases energy in the form of light. Depending on the gas molecule involved in the smash-up, the lights take on different colors. For instance, a common color, pale yellowish-green, is produced by collisions with oxygen molecules, while blue or purplish-red result from crashes with nitrogen molecules, according to the Northern Lights Center in Canada. They are called aurora borealis in the Northern Hemisphere and aurora australis in the Southern Hemisphere.

Orion’s Nebula

(Image credit: E.L. Trouvelot, New York Public Library)

The great nebula in Orion produced from a study made in the years 1875-1876.

Moon Mare

(Image credit: E.L. Trouvelot, New York Public Library)

Mare Humorum is a small circular mare, spanning about 275 miles (443 kilometers), on the near side of the moon. Shown here is Trouvelot’s artwork of the mare based on a study in 1875. It is about 275 miles across. The mountains around the mare mark the edge of an old impact basin, according to NASA.

The Red Planet

(Image credit: E.L. Trouvelot, New York Public Library)

The planet Mars observed Sept. 3, 1877, at 11:55 p.m.

Shooting Stars

(Image credit: E.L. Trouvelot, New York Public Library)

The November meteors, as observed between midnight and 5 a.m. on the night of Nov. 13-14 1868.

Sun Loops

(Image credit: E.L. Trouvelot, New York Public Library)

Solar protuberances, as observed on May 5, 1873, at 9:40 a.m. These structures form from the gases of the sun’s outer atmosphere called the corona. They have lower temperatures compared with the surrounding environment and can extend millions of miles.

A Great Comet

(Image credit: New York Public Library)

In June 1881, a brilliant comet streaked across the skies of the northern hemisphere. E.L. Trouvelot illustrated the Great Comet of 1881 as he saw it.

Total Eclipse

(Image credit: New York Public Library)

A total eclipse of the sun observed July 29, 1878, at Creston, Wyoming Territory and illustrated by Trouvelot.

Saturn’s Stunning Light

(Image credit: New York Public Library)

Trouvelot observed Saturn on November 30, 1874 and produced this illustration.

Study casts doubt on ‘sky disk’ thought to be oldest representation of the heavens

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Study casts doubt on ‘sky disk’ thought to be oldest representation of the heavens

By Tom Metcalfe – Live Science Contributor 4 days ago

The Nebra Sky Disk of bronze decorated with gold is one of Germany’s most famous archaeological artifacts. But a new study suggests it dates to the Iron Age, at least 1,000 years later than scientists had thought.(Image: © Anagoria/CC BY 3.0)

One of Germany’s most famous ancient artifacts may not be what it seems, if a new study is to be believed.

Fierce debate over the Nebra Sky Disk has been reignited by a new study that suggests it is at least 1,000 years younger than previously thought, and probably doesn’t have any of the elaborate meanings proposed for it.

The 12-inch-wide (30 centimeters) bronze disk inlaid with gold circles, arcs and crescents was reportedly unearthed in 1999 near the town of Nebra, in Germany’s Saxony-Anhalt state. 

Experts have long debated where the disk originated and what meaning, if any, it holds; some have even declared it is fake (and created very recently) — although scientific tests suggest it’s an authentic artifact that may date from Europe’s pre-Celtic Bronze Age, up to 3,800 years ago.

If that dating is correct, then the Nebra Sky Disk is the oldest-known representation of the heavens anywhere in the world, said Jan-Heinrich Bunnefeld, an archaeologist at Saxony-Anhalt’s State Museum for Prehistory in the city of Halle, where the disk is now on display (The next oldest is an ancient Egyptian star map on the ceiling of a tomb from about 3,500 years ago).

“The Nebra Sky Disc features the oldest concrete depiction of cosmic phenomena,” Bunnefeld told Live Science in an email. “It is a key find, not only for the discipline of archaeology, but also for astronomy and the history of religions.”

The researchers argue that motifs of the full moon, crescent moon and stars were common in the Iron Age from about 800 B.C. to 50 B.C. — such as on this Early Celtic sword found near Munich, from about 500 B.C. (Image credit: State Archaeological Collection Munich, Manfred Eberlein)

Ancient artifact

But a new study casts doubts on the origins and meaning of the Nebra Sky Disk. 

Writing this month in the journal Archäologische Informationen, University of Munich archaeologist Rupert Gebhard and Rüdiger Krause, an archaeologist at Goethe University in Frankfurt, argue that the artifact could not have been unearthed at the location near Nebra, according to a statement.

That also means the sky disk probably isn’t from the Bronze Age at all. In addition, a new examination of its iconography suggests the artifact dates to the period of the Celtic Iron Age between about 2,800 and 2,050 years ago, the researchers wrote.

The study has created outrage in parts of the archaeological scene in Germany, where the Nebra Sky Disk is considered a national treasure and an emblem of early European civilization — and where any challenges to its provenance or authenticity are aggressively confronted.

“It’s like Beethoven’s Ninth,” Gebhard told Live Science, referring to the composer’s famous symphony, a nationally revered symbol of German achievement. 

“That makes it difficult for me … you can understand that people are not very happy about this.”

This photograph shows the Nebra Sky Disk before restoration work was carried out at the State Museum for Prehistory at Halle. It shows the corrosion and damage to the desk, including a fragment of gold missing from the circle near the center. (Image credit: Hildegard Burri-Bayer)

Bronze Age hoard

The biggest reason the new study casts doubt on the sky disk’s provenance is that scientific evidence suggests it was not part of a hoard of Bronze Age axes, swords and bracelets allegedly unearthed by treasure hunters near Nebra in 1999, although it was initially thought to be, Gebhard said.

The collectors sold the disk and hoard to a black-market collector for around 70,000 German marks ($42,000) and it was sold on for up to a million German marks ($600,000), until police recovered the hoard in 2002 and handed it over to state archaeologists.

A court found the two treasure hunters guilty in 2005 for the illegal excavation, sentencing the pair to several months in jail.

Statements made by the treasure hunters in their attempts to appear to be cooperating with authorities explains the resulting confusion about the location of the artifacts, Gebhard said.

Related: 10 historical treasures the world lost in the last 100 years

But archaeological evidence, soil analysis and studies of trace isotopes (variations of an element with different numbers of neutrons) in the metals of the disk show it must have been found somewhere else, and then sold as part of the hoard from Nebra: “If you go back to the basics, then you won’t find any argument that these objects belong together,” he said.

Gebhard hopes the treasure hunters will eventually explain where they actually unearthed the Nebra Sky Disk, information that would cast new light on its origins.

“I think our article now brings some movement in this story,” he said. “I hope it will be the first step to get some information about the original site.”

Disputed origins

Past analysis of the construction of the disk and the metals that were used shows the Nebra Sky Disk was made in several phases. Its creators first added a central group of gold stars, which have been interpreted as the Pleiades, and a large gold circle and crescent, which have been interpreted as the full and crescent moon. 

They later rearranged some of the gold stars, also adding two “horizon” arcs to the edges of the disk which may show the movement of the sun on the winter and summer solstices. 

During a later phase, the artists added an arc near the bottom edge of the disk, which was previously interpreted as a “solar boat” carrying the sun through the sky. 

Proponents of the disk’s Bronze Age origins say the artifact represents a sophisticated understanding of astronomical phenomena as well as the intricacies of religious thought at the time.

Archaeologists at the Saxony-Anhalt State Museum for Prehistory in Halle, who support the Bronze Age dating, insist the latest study is wrong. They say some of the soil samples suggest the sky disk could have been part of the Nebra hoard, while chemical analysis of its metals establish its earlier date.

“Gebhard and Krause are ignoring important publications and quoting only those facts that seem useful to underline their theory,” deputy state archaeologist Alfred Reichenberger said in a statement. “The theory of an Iron Age date for the Nebra Sky Disc is demonstrably incorrect.”

But Gebhard said the iconography of the sky disk shows it was probably made in the Iron Age, possibly by peoples in the north of Germany who were strongly influenced by the Celtic civilization farther south. 

Iron Age swords and other objects from the region are also decorated with symbols of the moon and stars that reflect the symbolic importance of the night, he said.

Any new interpretations of the Nebra Sky Disk would have to account for the uncertainty of its origins, Gebhard said. “We just have to start at the very beginning again.” 

Originally published on Live Science.

The Most Dangerous Space Weapons Ever

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The Most Dangerous Space Weapons Ever

By Space.com Staff December 21, 2016

Space-based laser offers a powerful pulse of energy to destroy missiles in flight.(Image: © U.S. Air Force.)

Wild Space Weapons Ideas

U.S. Air Force

While space has been an excellent forum for peaceful exploration, it is also an excellent high ground from which to gain a military advantage. Spy satellites have been in use for decades. And in one form or another, as long as the Space Age has been around, various agencies have envisioned using space as a platform for missile launches or other activities. In this slide show, check out the top 10 space weapon concepts from over the years. (This slideshow was updated on Dec. 21, 2016).

FIRST STOP: Missiles


Missiles have actually been used for about 1,000 years, although Encyclopedia Britannica points out that there is no authoritative history of the first rockets. China is usually cited as the location where rockets first appeared, followed by Europe. Metal-cylinder rockets were first used in India in the 18th century, which sparked an English version from Sir William Congreve. Rockets were also used in a limited way in the Mexican-American War, the American Civil War and the First World War.

Vast improvements in rocketry, however, began to show up in the military field in the Second World War. Both the Axis Powers and the Allies used missiles, but it was the German V-2 rocket that attracted the most attention, due to the more than 1,000 missiles that were fired at Britain. When Germany lost the war, several of the nation’s rocket scientists were picked up by the Soviet Union and the United States. This helped improve rocket technology in both countries and spurred the space race between the superpowers. Missiles are, of course, still in use today, especially as intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs, see future slides for more information).



Enemies facing down a device that blasts streams of molten metal probably won’t stand much of a chance. This idea, popularized in science fiction novels such as Arthur C. Clarke’s “Earthlight” (1955), may become real someday thanks to the funding of the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

The Magneto Hydrodynamic Explosive Munition (MAHEM) was announced in 2008. While no updates have occurred for quite some time, the page for MAHEM is still active on DARPA’s website. The program promises “the potential for higher efficiency, greater control, and the ability to generate and accurately time multiple jets and fragments from a single charge,” with what DARPA officials wrote is “lethality precision.” MAHEM could possibly be deployed on rockets, the officials added.

Project THEL

Northrop Grumman

The Tactical High Energy Laser (THEL) program ran between 1996 and 2005, according to Northrop Grumman. THEL was created as a joint project between the United States and Israel. During that decade of development, the ground-based system destroyed 46 mortar rounds, rockets and artillery —  all of which were airborne.

While the program is no longer active, Northrop Grumman says the technology is now being reconstructed for the U.S. Army’s Solid State Laser Testbed Experiment that, like THEL, will take place at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico.

NEXT: Weaponized Satellites

Weaponized Satellites

With so many satellites orbiting the Earth, how hard would it be to outfit one with a weapon ready to fire at the Earth, or other satellites, as needs dictated? While such a concept would go against agreements such as the Outer Space Treaty, which bans weapons of mass destruction in orbit, a few military organizations have discussed it in recent years by.

One famous U.S. project from the 1950s was Project Thor, which never got past the conceptual stage. Various concepts for space weapons over the years included “Rods from God,” which would drop kinetic-energy weapons from orbit, as well as small satellites that would have onboard targeting systems allowing them to aim at other satellites or at the ground below. 

NEXT: Soviet Almaz Space Station

Soviet Union’s Almaz Space Station


The Almaz space station was conceived in the 1960s, designed to make it easier for the Soviet Union to search for sea-based targets, according to Russian space expert Anatoly Zak, who runs the website Russian Space Web. It was believed that having humans in orbit would provide a powerful platform for orbital reconnaissance and allow the rapid changing of targets as battles evolved.

The Soviet Union focused on the race to the moon in the 1960s, delaying the first deployment of Almaz until 1973. It was announced to the world as Salyut-2, the second Salyut space station, so as not to make others aware the Soviets had two space station projects, let alone a military one, Zak wrote.

A failure in Salyut-2 prevented a crew from visiting, but the subsequent Almaz space stations Salyut-3 and Salyut-5 did have crews on board. (Salyut-4 never was sent to orbit.) The cosmonauts are reported to have performed surveillance on at least one mission, and to have fired a cannon in 1975, but technical problems with the stations prevented most missions from running for their scheduled lengths.

NEXT: U.S. Manned Orbiting Laboratory

U.S. Manned Orbiting Laboratory

U.S. Air Force

The Manned Orbiting Laboratory (MOL) was a U.S. Air Force project that, despite never launching an astronaut, had an eventful life from 1963 to 1969 (the program’s years of activity). Some of the milestones the project saw included selecting 17 astronauts, creating a launch site at California’s Vandenberg Air Force Base and modifying the NASA Gemini spacecraft to accommodate the new program.

One of the program’s main objectives was reconnaissance, under a code name of Project Dorian. The camera system was intended to get photographs of the Soviet Union, among other hotspots, with a resolution better than any satellite of its time could have achieved. MOL also could have carried missiles (not nuclear, but something to cause a scare) and nets to nab enemy spacecraft. Many new details were unveiled in late 2015 with the release of more than 20,000 pages of MOL documents.

The program was cancelled after estimated costs ballooned. (MOL was expected to cost more than $3 billion in dollars of the day, with $1.3 billion already spent, at the time of cancellation.) Some of the would-be MOL astronauts, such as Bob Crippen and Richard Truly, transferred to NASA for the first space shuttle flights.

NEXT: Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles

Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles

U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Ian Dudley

ICBMs (Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles) are land-based missiles that can fly more than 3,500 miles (5,600 kilometers), according to Encyclopedia Britannica. The Soviet Union sent aloft the first ICBM in 1958, and the U.S. first fired one in 1959, followed by a few other nations. Israel, India and China have recently developing ICBMs, and North Korea may be doing so as well.

ICBMs can be navigated by computer or satellite and pinpointed to land on a particular city or, if sophisticated enough, a target within a city. While they are most famous for being able to carry nuclear weapons, they could also deliver chemical or biological weapons — although as far as people know, that potential has never been realized. The Soviet Union and United States agreed to reduce their ICBM stockpiles in 1991 as part of the Start I treaty, but Russia and the U.S. still have and test ICBMs today.

NEXT: U.S. Air Force’s X-37B

X-37B orbital test vehicle

U.S. Air Force

After four missions in space, it’s still not fully clear what the X-37B space plane is doing up there in orbit — but some people have speculated that the vehicle could be some sort of Air Force weapon.

The reusable plane looks like a smaller version of NASA’s space shuttle, but it is operated robotically and can stay in orbit for more than a year at a time. For its fourth (ongoing) mission, in 2015, the U.S. military confirmed a couple of the payloads — a NASA advanced materials investigation and an Air Force experimental propulsion system, for example — but most details about X-37B missions remain classified.

An Air Force Tech Report video in 2015 had many ideas about what the plane could be doing up there, such as bombing from space, interfering with enemy satellites, performing reconnaissance or perhaps doing all of the above at the same time. But Air Force officials have always denied that the X-37B is a weapon, stressing that the spacecraft is testing out technologies for future spacecraft and carrying experiments to and from space.

NEXT: Anti-Satellite Systems

Anti-satellite Systems

Air Force photo illustration

In 1985, an F-15A jet fired an anti-satellite missile at Solwind P78-1, a satellite that discovered several sun-grazing comets but was scheduled for decommissioning due to its instruments beginning to fail. Solwind P78-1 was destroyed with the Air-Launched Miniature Vehicle (ALMV) fired from the plane, but the test generated more than 250 pieces of space debris big enough to show up in tracking systems. Congress forbade further tests by the end of year, and the Air Force stopped the program in 1987.

The successful test was part of a larger U.S. push at the time to find a way to destroy satellites without breaking the rules of treaties that banned nuclear weapons on spacecraft. Examples listed by the Union of Concerned Scientists included the Strategic Defense System (sometimes called “Star Wars”) and the Air Force/Navy Mid-Infrared Advanced Chemical Laser that was designed to be fired from the ground. A test in 1997 appeared to overwhelm or damage the satellite sensor that was targeted. Later efforts included the kinetic-energy ASAT (which was cancelled) and the Counter Communications System, which used radio-jamming capabilities.

Anti-satellite systems have also been investigated by the Soviet Union, China and India, among others. For example, a famous 2007 anti-satellite test by China generated a huge cloud of space junk. In 2013, a shard of the destroyed satellite hit a Russian satellite and destroyed that, too.

NEXT: Asteroid Projectiles

Manipulating an Asteroid

NASA/Don Davis

Scientists know that asteroids are the ultimate killers. After all, a 6-mile-wide (10 km) space rock is believed to have wiped out the dinosaurs roughly 66 million years ago. Audiences have seen the potential human impacts in movies such as “Meteor”(1979)“Deep Impact”(1998) and “Armageddon”(1998). And even relatively small asteroids can have a big impact, thanks to the tremendous speeds at which space objects travel. For example, scientists think the object that exploded over the Russian city of Chelyabinsk in February 2013, generating a shock wave that shattered thousands of windows and wounded 1,200 people (as a result of the flying glass shards), was just 66 feet (20 meters) wide.

But manipulating an asteroid is in the realm of science fiction, for now. NASA does have a proposed asteroid mission on the books; initially, the agency proposed moving a small asteroid close to Earth for scientific investigation, but elected to pluck a boulder off an asteroid instead. This Asteroid Redirect Mission is currently scheduled to launch in the early 2020s.

Even though some experts say asteroids are “lousy weapons,” because they’re only useable once every few hundred years, science fiction has you covered there as well. Aliens wipe out Buenos Aires with an asteroid in the 1997 film “Starship Troopers,” for example. Space rocks have even wiped out Martians in books such as “Protector” (1973), by Larry Niven.

Follow us @SpacedotcomFacebook or Google+. Originally published on Space.com.

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Facial reconstruction reveals Egyptian ‘mummy portrait’ was accurate except for one detail

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Facial reconstruction reveals Egyptian ‘mummy portrait’ was accurate except for one detail

15 Incredible Places on Earth That Are Frozen in Time

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15 Incredible Places on Earth That Are Frozen in Time

By Stephanie Pappas November 07, 2018

Where time stands still

(Image credit: Chao-Wei Juan/Flickr/CC BY-NC 2.0)

There are places in this world that never stop changing, like Rome — built on the ruins and debris of its previous iterations — or New York, with its ever-rising skyline.

And then there are places where time stands still. Whether frozen in time by natural disaster or simply left behind because no one cared to stay, these spots stand virtually undisturbed, encapsulating a moment of the past.


(Image credit: Shutterstock)

The ancient city of Pompeii was arrested in time in A.D. 79 by Mount Vesuvius. The volcano buried the town and any inhabitants who could not evacuate in a thick layer of volcanic ash. The bodies of the dead decomposed, leaving behind voids in the ash that archaeologists later filled with plaster and excavated, resulting in the eerie death casts that made Pompeii famous. But the volcano preserved other things too, from advanced plumbing facilities to colorful carved frescos and graffiti. Excavations have revealed the nitty-gritty details of life in A.D. 79, including at-home first aid equipment and tiny barbecues that probably cooked quick, casual meals.

Two Guns, Arizona

(Image credit: Thomas Hawk/Flickr/CC BY-NC 2.0)

Among the American West’s weirder ghost towns is Two Guns, an abandoned roadside attraction. According to Atlas Obscura, Two Guns was nothing but a few scattered homesteads until the early 1920s, when it became a travel stop on what would morph into the famous Route 66. An eccentric entrepreneur named Harry Miller leased the site, building a mini-zoo and fake Native American ruins. Exploiting the late 19th-century deaths of a group of Apache warriors killed during a battle with the Navajo people, Miller gave tours of the cave where they died and even sold skulls he said were from those Apache. Miller later shot the landowner who leased him the land, but was acquitted. In 1929, after a fire and a legal battle over the land ownership, Miller left. Route 66 soon left too, rerouted across the canyon. Two Guns changed hands a few times before burning down again in 1971. Today, only a few stone buildings and part of the old zoo’s mountain lion enclosure remain.

Salton Riviera, California

(Image credit: David McNew/Getty)

When the Salton Sea formed, quite by accident in 1905, people called it a miracle. Thanks to an irrigation accident, water from the Colorado River filled a formerly dry lakebed in southeastern California. The resulting lake, the Salton Sea, became a resort attraction (it’s still a state recreation area today).

Within a few decades, though, the disaster of the Salton Sea became apparent. With no outlet, the lake concentrated both salt and agricultural runoff, turning it into a stinking environmental disaster, complete with piles of dead fish along the shore. Most of the buildings near the lake have been abandoned, and local authorities have agreed to let the Salton Sea wither. As of 2018, 40 percent less water is being directed into the Salton Sea than at its inception, according to The Verge, which will gradually lower the lake level by 20 feet (6 meters). As lake turns to dust, more residents may flee, according to The Verge; the air in the Imperial Valley is among the worst in the country.

Hashima Island, Japan

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Once the site of a major coal-mining operation and home to more than 5,000 people, Japan’s Hashima Island is now heavily built up — but empty. The island is a mere 16 acres (6.3 hectares) in area and is almost entirely covered by the marks of humanity: a seawall, multi-story buildings and an abandoned shrine. The island was abandoned in 1974 after all its coal was depleted. In 2009, it opened to tourism, and, in 2015, it became a UNESCO World Heritage Site. If you can’t get there in person, you can tour the island in great detail via Google Earth.

Pripyat, Ukraine

(Image credit: Sean Gallup/Getty)

It was a bit like a modern Pompeii. On April 26, 1986, an explosion at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant caused the release of 5 percent of the reactor’s radioactive core. According to the World Nuclear Association, 28 people perished in the following weeks because of acute radiation sickness. In the nearby town of Pripyat, 45,000 people had to leave overnight; ultimately, more than 220,000 people would have to evacuate the contaminated zone around the plant.

The buildings left behind are full of shattered glass and abandoned furniture. An abandoned Ferris wheel sits by a long-unused merry-go-round. Nature has reclaimed the catastrophe zone, with wolves, moose and wild boar roaming where humans used to bustle.  

Kolmanskop, Namiba

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

The bone-dry Namib Desert is a hard place for life to survive. The town of Kolmanskop didn’t manage to.

Founded in the early 1900s after diamonds were discovered in the region, Kolmanskop was built by the Germans who controlled what is now Namibia at the time. The architecture is oddly Teutonic, with arched windows and wrought-iron railings. According to the now-ghost-town’s website, residents survived thanks to water trucked in from 75 miles (120 kilometers) away. By the 1920s, the diamond mines were drying up and new deposits were found elsewhere. The town shrank rapidly, and it was finally abandoned for good in 1956.

Sanzhi UFO Houses

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(Image credit: Chao-Wei Juan/Flickr/CC BY-NC 2.0)

The Sanzhi UFO Houses were a row of oddly shaped pod-like buildings put up in the late 1970s as a resort on the northern tip of Taiwan. The two-story pod-buildings were never finished, but they were painted a cheery pink and yellow, making them look as though some friendly futuristic extraterrestrial had just dashed down to the store for a cup of sugar and might be back at any minute. These odd ghost buildings wouldn’t last forever, though; they were demolished in 2010 to make way for new development.

Deception Island, Antarctica

(Image credit: Ville Miettinen/Flickr/CC BY-NC 2.0)

Can something qualify as a ghost town if it’s on a largely uninhabited continent? Deception Island might. This outpost in Antarctica has been a whaling station and the site of several scientific labs, but it’s also the caldera of an active volcano. In 1967 and 1969, that volcano erupted, destroying the British and Chilean scientific stations that were active at the time. According to Atlas Obscura, the island is now visited by the occasional seasonal science team and by tourists who enjoy views of the place’s deserted airplane hangar and rusting boilers and tanks.

Craco, Italy

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Located in the “instep” of Italy’s boot, the village of Craco dates to A.D. 1060 (though monks and earlier settlers lived in this rugged region prior to that time). Throughout the Middle Ages, about 1,500 people lived in Craco at any given time. It had four plazas, multiple churches, and, by the 1800s, it was big enough to be split into two districts, according to the local historical society.

But Italy is a seismically active place, and the slopes where Craco was built are steep and unstable. In the mid-1900s, earthquakes and landslides damaged the town. In 1963, the last residents left, relocated to another village nearby. Today, the abandoned town is a historical site and tourist attraction.

Oradour-sur-Glane, France

Image credit: Shutterstock

A tragic casualty of World War II, Oradour-sur-Glane was destroyed by the Waffen SS in 1944. It was a horrific atrocity. On June 10 of that year, Nazi forces entered the village and rounded up its citizenry on the pretense of doing identity checks. Instead, they separated the village’s men from its women and children and began to massacre them. They killed 642 men, women and children, then set the village on fire. Only a handful of people survived.

After the war, France decided to leave the village as it was in memory of the massacre. A Centre de la Mémoire stands at the sight to guide visitors through the abandoned buildings and execution sites. The village crypt contains artifacts like watches and clocks stopped at the time of the fires.

Bodie, California

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

California’s Gold Rush brought an influx of settlers hoping to strike it rich in gold. These settlers built boomtowns almost overnight — and abandoned them just as quickly when the gold veins tapped out.

Bodie, California, is one of those towns. Gold was discovered in the area near Mono Lake in 1875, according to the California Department of Parks and Recreation. The town of Bodie sprung up to house the miners working the vein. Since 1962, the former mine town has been a designated National Historic Site and a state park, left as it was when the last residents moved on.

Mandu, India

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Mandu, in Madhya Pradesh, India, is a preserved town that dates to at least the sixth century A.D. It’s known for its lavish architecture, including India’s biggest fort and a massive palace constructed in 1508 and named for Baz Bahadur, who ruled Mandu from 1555 to 1562. According to legend, Bahadur fell in love with a singing shepherdess named Roopmati, whom he made his queen. But a Mogul army invaded Mandu, taking the city and kidnapping Roopmati. She is said to have poisoned herself to avoid the attention of the Mogul general.

Today, visitors can see temples, tombs and multiple palaces built in Mandu over the centuries. Perhaps the most famous is the Jahaz Mahal, or Ship Palace, which is built between two artificial lakes so that it seems to float.

Angkor, Cambodia

(Image credit: Ian Walton/Getty)

Another ancient-site-turned-tourist-destination, Angkor Wat is one of the largest temples ever built. It was constructed between about A.D. 1113 and 1150 as a Hindu temple, and was later converted into a Buddhist temple. The city surrounding Angkor Wat, Angkor, may have once been home to a million people.

Angkor is no longer a metropolis, but a UNESCO World Heritage site that archaeologists and conservationists are trying to save from encroaching jungle and damage by modern tourists. More than 100,000 people still live in the shadow of the temple, many living an agrarian lifestyle like the generations that came before them.

Tyneham, England

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

In 1943, the British government asked residents of Tyneham, England, to make a major sacrifice for the war effort: leave their homes. The villagers had a month’s notice, the BBC reported, before the village and its surroundings were taken over as a tank firing range in advance of D-Day, the day in 1944 when Allied forces invaded northern France at Normandy and ultimately liberated France from Nazi occupation.

Tyneham residents, all 225 of them, were told they’d get to return to their village after the war, but the government ended up keeping the land for military training. The village has been empty since and is now in ruins. Stone and brick buildings stand quietly, their roofs and windows long-gone. Visitors are allowed in on weekends, and the old church has been reopened. It’s used for occasional concerts and special services.

Humberstone, Chile

Image credit: Shutterstock)

In the late 1800s, Chile experienced a rush not on gold, but on salt. Entrepreneurs and miners high-tailed it to the Atacama Desert, which is rich in potassium nitrate, or saltpeter. A major ingredient in agricultural fertilizers, saltpeter made up 80 percent of Chilean exports in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, according to the BBC.

One of the mining towns that sprung up in this saltpeter rush was Humberstone, founded in 1872. It was once home to more than 3,000 people, mainly saltpeter diggers and refiners and their families. But during World War I, Allied powers blocked Germany from importing saltpeter, and the Germans developed synthetic fertilizers in response. Saltpeter lost its value. Humberstone became a ghost town. The dry desert air has kept the rot away, and many of the town’s buildings stand just as they did a century ago. 

Vikings may not have been blonde, or Scandinavian

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Vikings may not have been blonde, or Scandinavian

Mummy Found Hiding Inside Ancient Buddha Statue

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Mummy Found Hiding Inside Ancient Buddha Statue

By Tia Ghose February 23, 2015

During routine restoration, researchers discovered a surprise hidden in an ancient gold-painted Chinese Buddha statue: a mummy hidden inside. The mummy was once the Buddhist monk Liuquan, according to text found with the statue.(Image: © ©Ben Heggelman (Meander Medical Centre, Amersfoort) / Universityhospital Mannheim)

Editor’s Note: This story was updated on March 3 at 10:10 a.m. E.T.

A Chinese statue of a sitting Buddha has revealed a hidden surprise: Inside, scientists found the mummified remains of a monk who lived nearly 1,000 years ago.

The mummy may have once been a respected Buddhist monk who, after death, was worshipped as an enlightened being, one who helped the living end their cycle of suffering and death, said Vincent van Vilsteren, an archaeology curator at the Drents Museum in the Netherlands, where the mummy (from inside the Buddha statue) was on exhibit last year.

The secret hidden in the gold-painted statue was first discovered when preservationists began restoring the statue many years ago. But the human remains weren’t studied in detail until researchers took scans and samples of tissue from the mummy late last year.

The mysterious statue is now on display at the Hungarian Natural History Museum in Budapest. [Image Gallery: Inca Child Mummies]

Mysterious history

The papier-mâché statue, which has the dimensions, roughly, of a seated person and is covered in lacquer and gold paint, has a murky history. It was likely housed in a monastery in Southeastern China for centuries. It may have been taken from the country during the Cultural Revolution, a tumultuous period of social upheaval in Communist China starting in 1966 when Chairman Mao Zedong urged citizens to seize property, dismantle educational systems and attack “bourgeois” cultural institutions. (The current owner bought the statue legally.)

A gold-painted papier-mâché statue of the Buddha contained the mummified remains of an ancient Buddhist monk who lived during the 11th or 12th century. Here, a researcher inspects the statue. (Image credit: © Drents Museum)

The statue was bought and sold again in the Netherlands, and in 1996, a private owner decided to have someone fix the chips and cracks that marred the gold-painted exterior. However, when the restorer removed the statue from its wooden platform, he noticed two pillows emblazoned with Chinese text placed beneath the statues’ knees. When he removed the pillows, he discovered the human remains.

“He looked right into the bottom of this monk,” van Vilsteren told Live Science. “You can see part of the bones and tissue of his skin.”

The mummy was sitting on a rolled textile carpet covered in Chinese text.

Researchers then used radioactive isotopes of carbon to determine that the mummy likely lived during the 11th or 12th century, while the carpet was about 200 years older, van Vilsteren said. (Isotopes are variations of elements with different numbers of neutrons.)

In 2013, researchers conducted a CT scan of the mummy at Mannheim University Hospital in Germany, revealing the remains in unprecedented detail. In a follow-up scan at the Meander Medical Center in Amersfoort, Netherlands, the researchers discovered that what they thought was lung tissue actually consisted of tiny scraps of paper with Chinese text on them.

The text found with the mummy suggests he was once the high-status monk Liuquan, who may have been worshipped as a Buddha, or a teacher who helps to bring enlightenment after his death.

Last year, the mummy was on display at the “Mummies – Life Beyond Death” exhibit at the Drents Museum in Netherlands, before moving to the Hungarian Natural History Museum in Budapest.

Common practice

Mummies from this period are fairly common in Asia. For instance, researchers in Mongolia recently found a 200-year-old mummified monk still in the lotus position, the traditional cross-legged meditative pose.

It’s not clear exactly how Liuquan became a mummy, but “in China, and also in Japan and Laos and Korea, there’s a tradition of self-mummification,” van Vilsteren said.

In some cases, aging Buddhist monks would slowly starve themselves to eliminate decay-promoting fat and liquid, while subsisting mainly on pine needles and resin to facilitate the mummification process, according to “Living Buddhas: The Self-Mummified Monks of Yamagata, Japan,” (McFarland, 2010). Once these monks were near death, they would be buried alive with just a breathing tube to keep them holding on so they could meditate until death.

“There are historical records of some aging monks who have done this practice,” van Vilsteren said. “But if this is also the case with this monk is not known.”

Editor’s Note: This story was updated to note that the current owner of the Buddha bought the statue legally.

Follow Tia Ghose on Twitterand Google+. Follow Live Science @livescienceFacebook & Google+Originally published on Live Science.