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Astronaut in Space Sees Mount Etna Volcano Eruption (Photo)


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Astronaut in Space Sees Mount Etna Volcano Eruption (Photo)

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US Military’s ‘Gremlin’ Program Lets Pilots Launch and Snag Drones in Midair


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US Military’s ‘Gremlin’ Program Lets Pilots Launch and Snag Drones in Midair

Nearly Two-Thirds of Cancers Are Due to Random DNA ‘Mistakes’


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Nearly Two-Thirds of Cancers Are Due to Random DNA ‘Mistakes’

10 Crazy Ways Kids Grew Up In The Inca Empire


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10 Crazy Ways Kids Grew Up In The Inca Empire

KATE NEUER MARCH 21, 2017

http://listverse.com/2017/03/21/10-crazy-ways-kids-grew-up-in-the-inca-empire/

The Inca Empire was prosperous from the mid-1430s to 1572 when Spain’s Francisco Pizarro conquered them. This civilization spread from most of Peru, Chile, Ecuador, and part of Southern Colombia. If you were lucky enough not to be part of the 25 percent of kids who died before age five, you would have had a tough upbringing. That doesn’t include all the strange and downright unsanitary things you’d have to endure.

 

10The Ceremony That Killed Children

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Photo credit: Live Science

Yes, Incas sacrificed their kids! This may be more of how a kid died instead of lived in the Inca Empire. It’s crazy to think about, but this ritual (calledcapacocha) was used for special events like a ruler’s death or victory in a battle. It was actually an honor for the chosen child’s family to have their kid sacrificed on the highest mountaintop in Peru. Incas would also sacrifice children to the gods to prevent droughts, widespread illness, etc.

Before the ceremony began, the chosen children were brought to the city’s capital, Cuzco. Tons of citizens gathered to feast there before taking the child up the mountain to sacrifice him or her. Although they didn’t discriminate based on gender, most of the children’s mummies found by archaeologists have been girls.

The kid was given alcohol and poison to drink. This caused the child to vomit and slowly die on the mountain—which could have taken weeks or months to travel to. The child was left to freeze to death if extreme dehydration didn’t take her first. Sometimes, a child was suffocated or died from a massive blow to the head.

9The Incas Were Ageists

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Photo credit: Claus Ableiter

The quipu (pictured above) was the Inca’s way of recording and keeping data. Although we still don’t know how to read a quipu, we do know that the Incas were kind of ageist. About twice a year, they took a census to record the number of people in the empire and to put each individual into one of 10 classes.

The Incas divided their citizens into groups based on age, with those 25–50 years old considered the most prosperous and important to the empire’s economy. The Incas counted them first and considered them higher in class. Next came those who were 60–70 years old, followed by 18- to 20-year-olds, then 10- to 17-year-olds, 5- to 9-year-olds, toddlers, and finally, babies.

This shows that young kids were not seen as beneficial to the Incas. It sounds terrible because the Incas did rely on sacrificing children. Their elders reportedly beat kids often until the children surpassed age nine—probably because kids really needed discipline in this empire.

 

8Learning Advanced Skills As A Little Kid

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Inca children, especially girls younger than nine, knew how to spin yarn made from llama and alpaca fur. Spanish drawings of the civilization show representations of Inca girls doing household chores at around five years old. They also knew how to brew beer.

Still, kids could not drink beer or eat certain foods like sugary, fatty types. They needed to be as healthy as possible for marriage. Teen boys were like shepherds to their llamas while the younger boys started learning how to trap birds and guinea pigs. Incas ate guinea pigs as a common dish.

Unsurprisingly, young girls were expected to be submissive and had to stay away from men until they were put in arranged marriages. They probably didn’t appear to be very feminine at first to the Spanish conquistadors because these girls had to keep their hair cut short and didn’t wear shoes. Their entire lives were spent in preparation for marriage and taking care of a family.

7Sick Kids Had To Sit In Pee

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Photo credit: filmmakeriq.com

If a child was very ill, the Incas believed that he could suck on the umbilical cord (that the parents had preserved) since the umbilical cord soaked up any evil from within the child. It’s unclear how they kept the umbilical cords. However, like the Egyptians, the Incas probably preserved body parts like this by keeping them cold in freezing mountain streams.

Getting a fever, like all kids do at one point or another, was a dreaded thing. At least, it probably would be for us now. This is because soaking in a huge tub filled entirely with the family’s urine supposedly healed kids who had a fever.

6The Babies And Toddlers Were Treated More Like Things

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A Spanish priest recorded how mothers took care of their babies. For fear of giving the babies too much attention or causing them to be constantly needy, the mothers would take the babies to a cold stream in the mountains and bathe them for days.

It wasn’t until the toddlers were two that they earned a name and official place in the family. This was probably because so many newborns and toddlers died in 15th-century Peru. The baby would continue to be taken to these “freezing baths” until they were about two years old. The mother would refrain from even hugging the baby in these early years of the baby’s life.

Of course, a mother would make a pouch sling that wrapped around her back. The baby would sit in the sling while the mother gathered herbs and did other outdoor chores. Once the baby turned two, he or she had a ceremony called rutuchicoy where family members and neighbors gathered to watch the child’s hair be cut for the first time.

 

5Schooling Was Surprisingly Not Sexist (Sort Of)

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Photo credit: filmmakeriq.com

Inca children between the ages of about eight or nine were taken from their homes to attend different schools. The girls and boys may have had different and separate learning to do, but they were fairly equal in their training.

Boys learned Quechua, the language spoken by the Incas. Meanwhile, the girls learned about brewing beer, Inca religion, cooking, and other special skills they would have to use every day.

Of course, only the prettiest girls were selected to go to these special houses for the aqllakuna, which is the word for these chosen women. The boys were also taught about their religion and history at these four-year schools in Cuzco.

It’s not uncommon for some cultures now to separate their females and males. The Incas seemed to be all about class status. Those pretty aqllakunaeither became priestesses or wives to men in higher stations. The Sapa Inca, who was their leader, had hundreds of wives.

Noble or not, boys had to go to school to become warriors or husbands and trappers. It was common for boys to know how to farm. It should be noted that only the richer families could send their kids to school.

4Changing Clothes Was Important If You Were A Kid

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At about age 14, boys changed out of their rags (if they were poor) and wore loincloths to symbolize that they had become men. This is largely because children could marry by the time they were in their teens.

At this age, boys also started putting large plugs in their earlobes. As the years went on, they continued to slowly increase the size of the plug earrings so as to stretch out their ears.

As boys continued to grow into men, they carried around pouches that were like purses. There, they kept cocoa leaves to chew on. The leaves were alsogood luck charms that were held close to their persons.

This shows that the girls were not given as much in terms of accessories or clothing. Nowadays, women are the ones who wear earrings and carry purses. Of course, young women wore dresses longer than the men’s tunics.

Fun fact: The Sapa Inca only wore a new outfit once. Then it was burned. Some nobility (such as the wives and sons of the Sapa Inca) wore clothing more than once but still wore many outfits. The Incas were masters in textiles and clothing, so they had many tunics and dresses along with blankets.

3Kids Wouldn’t Have Normal-Shaped Skulls

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Photo credit: blog.viventura.com

From the time that Incas were babies, their parents would wrap their heads to deform them to look like cones. Since younglings have soft skulls, it is easy to transform them into any shape.

It’s believed that the Incas did this out of the belief that the higher the head, the higher the mind and the closer to their gods. In some cultures, this practice is still in use today. It was very common among the Maya and other ancient civilizations.

Archaeologists found holes in some of the Incas’ skulls due to head injuries. Carving out a hole helped with the swelling if the Incas fought each other too violently with clubs. Surprisingly, this was a common practice.

2Kids Were Probably Introduced To Sex And Marriage Too Young

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Photo credit: Thomas Quine

The discovery of pots and statues of people in sexual positions shows that the Incas were accepting of all sexual activity. It was a cultural understanding that the Incas would have sex before marriage with their prospective spouses. It was also expected that young Incas would have a few lovers before marriage. Homosexual sex was also depicted on pottery.

Although it may seem that the Incas were more progressive in the areas of marriage and sex than some of today’s cultures, chastity was still expected of those chosen women (aqllakuna) until they were married. Knowing that girls were married between the ages of 12 and 14, this means that most of them must have been sexually active before then.

In fact, the Incas separated genders into three groups without much evidence of discrimination. There were straight men, straight women, and a third gender group that included transgender and homosexual individuals. This group was called Tinkuy. So it was possible to be a young homosexual child without feeling the need to hide from society.

1Marriage Was More Of A Business Trial

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Men married at a reasonable age (around 20–25 or in their late teens), but women were often married before ages 14–15. The marriage ceremony was more of a business agreement between the two families. There was a feast, though, and a bit of a celebration. It’s believed that this ceremony was fast and not necessarily happy.

Every year, the leader of each village in the empire would line up all the available boys and girls and pair them off in arranged marriages. If two men wanted to marry the same woman, the parents would have to present reasons to the leader why their son should win her hand. The leader made the final decision, though.

Men of a lower status could only marry one woman. Luckily, the spouses were given a trial period of a few years. If the girl was not happy, she could return home. If the husband wasn’t happy with his wife, he could send her back to her home. It was the custom for the girls to move in with the husband after the husband’s family built them a home.

After studying anthropology at Purdue University along with video production and creative writing, Kate decided to go to LA to earn a graduate degree in writing and producing for television. She strongly believes that everyone can learn a lot from informational television, especially from those programs that focus on history.

10 Bizarre Tales Of The First Emperor Of China’s Quest For Immortality


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10 Bizarre Tales Of The First Emperor Of China’s Quest For Immortality

MARK OLIVER MARCH 21, 2017

http://listverse.com/2017/03/21/10-bizarre-tales-of-the-first-emperor-of-chinas-quest-for-immortality/

Qin Shi Huang was a ruler unlike any the world had ever seen. He rose his armies against every kingdom around him and conquered them all. He became the first emperor of a united China, and he left his mark on the world. He started the Great Wall, built the Terracotta Warriors, and left behind a legacy unlike any before.

No one had ever taken as much from life as Qin Shi Huang —and the thought of losing it terrified him. No matter how many armies he conquered, the specter of death still followed after him. He saw, ever in wait, the inescapability of his own mortality. He refused to accept it. After conquering China, the first Emperor waged a new war against death itself.

 

10He Had All Scholars Focus on Making an Elixir of Immortality

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Qin Shi Huang feared that the people would rebel against him. If they learned about the past, he believed, they might long for a different time—and so he had every book of history, poetry, and philosophy gathered up and burned.

Some believe, though, that this was about more than controlling the people. Qin Shi Huang wanted every wise mind in China working on one thing: thesecret of immortality. After all, he could not have strong minds wasting time on poetry when they could be helping him cheat death.

He had several alchemists put to work developing the elixir of immortality, but that, of course, was an impossible task. When two alchemists admitted they could not do it, Qin Shi Huang became furious. Every intellectual, he ordered, must suffer.

For failing to make him immortal, Qin Shi Huang had 460 scholars buried alive. These men, Qin Shi Huang declared, claimed to be sorcerers. If they really had magic powers, then they could bring themselves back to life.

9He Sent 6000 Virgins off to Find the Mountains of Heaven

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As his scholars had failed him, Qin Shi Huang traveled to Zhifu Island, where he had heard that a man could find the secret to eternal life. There he met the magician Xu Fu, who assured him that it could be done.

Xu Fu promised him that the elixir of immortality was waiting for him on Penglai Mountain. This was not a real place—it was the mythical home of the Eight Immortals, and a pathway to the gods. Here, Xu Fu told the emperor, lived a 1,000-year-old magician named Anqi Sheng who would share the secret.

Qin Shi Huang was pleased. He gave Xu Fu a fleet of ships and let him sail out in search of the elixir of immortality. And, soon, Xu Fu returned, insisting that he had found it. The island of the immortals, Xu Fu said, was full of grass that would give the emperor eternal life—but the immortals demanded a sacrifice. He needed to bring 6,000 virgins to get the elixir.

Qin Shi Huang believed him, and he gave him what he needed. For the next eight years, Xu Fu did not go anywhere near the emperor—he just sailed around the sea with 6,000 virgins, while Qin Shi Huang patiently awaited an elixir that would never come.

As mystical as the story sounds, there is evidence that suggests it is true. On Zhifu Island, Qin Shi Huang etched the words, “Arrive at Fu and carved the stone”—an engraving that is still there today.

 

8He Forbid Anyone from Using First-Person Pronouns

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Qin Shi Huang was convinced that he was going to become an immortal god. He even labeled himself one. After uniting China, he threw away the old title of “king” and took a new one: “huangdi.” It is a word we usually translate to “emperor,” but that is not quite accurate—it really means “god.”

He also made it law that, from now on, no one could use the first-person pronoun “zhen.” Now that all kings had bowed down before him, he declared, no one else could refer to themselves with a term that conferred respect. From now on, every Chinese citizen would have to refer to themselves with the word “wo,” a word that, at the time, meant, “this worthless body.”

After Xu Fu had promised him immortality, though, even Qin Shi Huang stopped using the word “zhen.” Now, he declared, he must be called “The True Man”—a title that told the world that he had become immortal.

7He Made Decoys Ride in His Carriage

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To become immortal, though, Qin Shi Huang would have to stay alive until Xu Fu came back. This was not a sure thing. There had already been many attempts on his life, and he had made many enemies on the path to becoming emperor. He lived in fear of his own death at every moment—and so, when he traveled, he started putting a decoy in his royal carriage.

It ended up saving his life. A man named Zhang Liang was plotting his death. Zhang Liang was a man destined to become the chancellor to the Han king until Qin Shi Huang conquered the Han kingdom and reduced its nobles to nothing. Zhang Liang wanted revenge.

He teamed up with China’s strongest man, Gan Ba, who dragged a 160 lb (72.5 kg) hammer up to the top of a hill and waited for Qin Shi Huang to pass by. When the royal carriages came close, Gan Ba hurled the massive hammer at the royal carriage. The massive iron weight shattered it into pieces andkilled everyone inside.

Qin Shi Huang, though, wasn’t inside. He was behind it, in an undecorated carriage that looked to be made for a commoner. His guards rushed into action, but Gan Ba tackled them head on, giving up his own life so that Zhang Liang could escape.

6He Travelled through a System of Tunnels to Avoid Going Outside

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In his later years, Qin Shi Huang stopped going outside altogether. Unless it was absolutely necessary, he would no longer risk stepping out into the open air. Instead, he had a system of tunnels and underground pathways set up athis castle to make sure he never had to go outside.

He lived in a massive complex that was more than a third of a mile long—in its time, one of the biggest in the world. It held a massive palace surrounded by ten buildings, connected through walkways. These were majestic, heavenly things. One was an elevated walkway that crossed over a river, designed to look like the Milky Way shining in the sky.

In part, he was afraid of assassins, but it was more than that. Death itself was outside waiting for him, Qin Shi Huang believed. He stayed inside of his castles and his tunnels so that he could not be seen by the dark spirits that were searching for him.

 

5A Meteor Fell to the Earth Prophesising His Death

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One year before the emperor died, a meteor fell to the earth. On its own, this could have been seen as an omen, but this was more than just a rock. On the rock that fell from the sky were inscribed the words: “The First August Emperor will die and his land will be divided.”

The Emperor was a superstitious man, but even he did not think the message was really engraved by the gods. He was sure that somebody had carved the rock after it landed, and he wanted to know who. He demanded that the person responsible confess, or everyone would pay.

When no one came forward, he had ever single person who lived near the place where the meteor landed rounded up, thrown in prison, and executed. He even had his men get the meteor itself and destroy it in a fire.

Even then, though, it still bothered him. Reportedly, after giving the order to kill every person there, he called in his musicians and had them play him songs about his immortality.

4He Fought a Sea Monster for Immortality

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After the meteor landed, Qin Shi Huang grew impatient. He sailed off to Zhifu Island once more to find Xu Fu, the magician who had promised him an elixir of immortality.

Xu Fu assured him that he had found Penglai Mountain. Now, though, the path was blocked by a great sea monster, and he had no way to get through. This time, though, Qin Shi Huang would not wait around any longer. He would get a team of archers, he told Xu Fu, and kill the sea monster. This time, Xu Fu was not going to be trusted to go alone. The emperor was coming with them.

Qin Shi Huang and his team of archers sailed into the water, where the found a massive fish they believed to be a sea monster—which, today, is believed to have been a whale. The archers opened fire and killed it. When it was done, Qin Shi Huang returned to Zhifu Island and left a message that is still there today: “Came to Fu, saw enormous stone, and shot a fish.”

Xu Fu didn’t have any excuses left. He was to get the elixir from the immortals, Qin Shi Huang ordered, and return immediately, or else he would face the consequences.

Xu Fu assured the emperor he would do it. Then he gathered up his 6,000 virgins, put them in his ships, and sailed off—and never came back. With no way to keep the act up, he fled to Japan and spent the rest of his life in hiding.

3He Poisoned Himself with Mercury

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Xu Fu never delivered the elixir of immortality, but Qin Shi Huang did not give up. He had his alchemists make him every medicine they could to keep him healthy and alive, and he drank everything they told him would work—including a bottle full of mercury.

Qin Shi Huang was making a tour around his kingdom when the mercury killed him. He had brought a vial of it with him, which his court doctors had assured him was an “immortal medicine.” Instead, though, it cut his life short,killing him when he was only 49 years old.

Qin Shi Huang was a two-month journey away from home, and his chancellors were afraid about what might happen when the people found out he was dead. His advisor, Li Si, was determined to hide that the emperor had died. For the next few months, he pretended Qin Shi Huang was still alive, sending out orders of his own that he claimed came from the emperor.

Meanwhile, the immortal emperor’s dead body was sent home, flanked by carts full of rotting fish to hide the smell of his decaying remains.

2He Tried to Become The God-Ruler Of Hell

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If Qin Shi Huang could not be immortal, he was not going to accept being a peasant in hell. He was determined to become the ruler of the afterlife, and he got ready for it.

Before he even became the emperor, he had started work on his tomb. By the time he died, he had forced 700,000 enslaved laborers to work on it. His tomb was incredible. It had replicas of his palaces and towers, flowing rivers of mercury, and a ceiling full of jewels that recreate the night sky.

And it had the Terracotta Warriors. Qin Shi Huang believed that, when he died, the six states he had defeated would rise up against him in the afterlife. And so he had his army remade out of terracotta to protect him in hell and help him conquer the world of the dead.

Traps were set up to keep anyone from getting in and disturbing the emperor’s resting place. The tomb was buried and seeded with grass and trees to keep anyone from ever finding it. And, to make sure that no one would ever find it, the workers who made it were forced to seal themselves in and die with the emperor inside his tomb.

1He Did Not Choose a Successor

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Qin Shi Huang had not planned on dying. He did not even like to think about it—and so he never sat down and wrote a will. He was determined, after all, tolive forever, and so he saw no need.

With no will, it was not clear who was to take the throne, and the nation soon erupted into chaos. His eldest son Fusu was the obvious choice, but Qin Shi Huang’s advisor, Li Si, did not trust him. To keep Fusu out, Li Si forged a fake order declaring the second son, Huhai, the new emperor. Then he forged another, ordering Fusu to commit suicide.

The boys obeyed the orders they believed came from their father, and Huhai became the second emperor of China. His reign did not last long. Li Si and his co-conspirators soon turned against each other, and one had Li Si arrested and executed.

Li Si’s death was horrible. His nose, hands, feet, and genitals were chopped off, one-by-one, before he was finally cut in half down the waist. Then every member of his extended family, down to the third generation, was executed. Without Li Si, Huhai was unable to stop his people from rebelling, and he was soon overthrown.

In life, Qin Shi Huang had insisted that his dynasty would rule over China for 10,000 generations—but, after his death, it did not even last three years.

The Amazingly Creepy Way Mars Will Kill Its Moon


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The Amazingly Creepy Way Mars Will Kill Its Moon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Peer Into the Guts of a Monster Tornado With This Incredible Simulation


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 Peer Into the Guts of a Monster Tornado With This Incredible Simulation

Credit: UW-Madison

Using a powerful supercomputer, meteorologists have simulated the “El Reno” tornado—a category 5 storm that swept through Oklahoma on May 24, 2011.

A research team led by Leigh Orf from the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Cooperative Institute for Meteorological Satellite Studies (CIMSS) has used a high-efficiency supercomputer to visualize the inner workings of tornados and the powerful supercells that produce them. As part of the project, the researchers recreated a tornado-producing supercell that devastated the Great Plains six years ago. Their new models are providing fresh insights into these monstrous storms and how they form.

During a four-day stretch in late May 2011, several tornadoes touched down over the Oklahoma landscape. One of these storms, dubbed “El Reno,” registered as an EF-5—the strongest category on the Enhanced Fujita scale. This beast of a tornado touched down near Hinton, Oklahoma, where it proceeded to blaze a trail of destruction for nearly two hours. By the time it was over, the storm caused extensive damage along a 63-mile (101 km) long path, killing nine people and injuring 161 others.

To simulate the incredibly complex set of meteorological factors required to produce this particular tornado, Orf’s team was given access to the Blue Waters Supercomputer, located at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Orf’s team used real-world observational data to recreate the conditions at the time of the storm, including a vertical profile of temperature, air pressure, wind speed, and moisture. Together, these ingredients contribute to “tornadogenesis”—the conditions required for a supercell to spawn a tornado.

Unlike a conventional computer program, where code is written to churn out predictable results, the researchers sought to create a “true” representation by feeding archived weather data into software that simulates weather. This provided a degree of variability that’s reflective of how weather works in nature; no two storms are exactly alike. In total, it took the machine more than three days to compile the tornado—a task that would have taken decades for a conventional desktop computer.

Once the main tunnel forms, several “mini” tornadoes form alongside it. They eventually merge, making the tornado even stronger. (Credit: UW-Madison)

Looking at the simulation, the researchers observed numerous “mini tornadoes” that formed at the onset of the main tornado. As the main funnel cloud took shape, the smaller tornadoes began to merge, adding strength to the superstructure and boosting wind speeds.

The simulation revealed several structures that make up a fully-formed tornado, including the streamwise vorticity current (SVC), thought to be a main driver of the tornadic activity (seen in yellow). (Image: University of UW-Madison)

Eventually, a new structure known as the streamwise vorticity current (SVC) formed within the tornado. “The SVC is made up of rain-cooled air that is sucked into the updraft that drives the whole system,” said Orf in a statement. “It’s believed that this is a crucial part in maintaining the unusually strong storm, but interestingly, the SVC never makes contact with the tornado. Rather, it flows up and around it.”

From here, Orf would like to share his team’s data with scientists and meteorologists across the United States. “We’ve completed the EF-5 simulation, but we don’t plan to stop there,” says Orf. “We are going to keep refining the model and continue to analyze the results to better understand these dangerous and powerful systems.”

[University of Wisconsin-Madison]