Moon had a dramatic, explosive history, study says

The super moon appears in the sky in Cairo, Egypt, October 17, 2016. (REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh)

The super moon appears in the sky in Cairo, Egypt, October 17, 2016. (REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh)

A new model for how the moon formed in the distant past suggests a dramatic, violent collision that altered the Earth’s tilt and spin rate.

Today, the Earth is tilted just over 23 degrees compared to its orbital plane around the sun. According to the new research, scientists think that one possibility is that that angle was much different a very long time ago.

“Evidence suggests a giant impact blasted off a huge amount of material that formed the moon,” Douglas Hamilton, a professor of astronomy at the University of Maryland and a co-author of the new study, said in a statement. “This material would have formed a ring of debris first, then the ring would have aggregated to form the moon. But this scenario does not quite work if Earth’s spin axis was tilted at the 23.5 degree angle we see today.”


Instead, the researchers think that the impact might have knocked the Earth’s tilt off by as much as 60 to 80 degrees, and also set our planet spinning very fast. Eventually, the system dynamics became what they are today.

Hamilton added that their model is just one way the moon’s orbit could have been born.

“There are many potential paths from the moon’s formation to the Earth-moon system we see today,” he said in the statement. “We’ve identified a few of them, but there are sure to be other possibilities.”


The scientists also think the moon moved away from the Earth after the impact.

“As the moon moved outward, the Earth’s steep tilt made for a more chaotic transition as the sun became a bigger influence,” Matija Cuk of the SETI institute said in the statement. “Subsequently, and over billions of years, the moon’s tilt slowly decayed down to the five degrees we see today.” (The moon’s orbit is presently angled about five degrees compared to the Earth’s orbit around the sun.)

In other words, the system as it is now is the result of an explosive past that eventually became more stable.

The new research was published in the journal Nature.

Follow Rob Verger on Twitter: @robverger

Scientists explore a ‘jacuzzi of death’ beneath the sea

The brine pool. (Ocean Exploration Trust)

The brine pool. (Ocean Exploration Trust)

Scientists have sent back eerie photos from deep under the Gulf of Mexico of what’s been called a “jacuzzi of death,” a salty lake with a pretty coastline sitting at the bottom of the sea.

The formation is actually a brine pool, and because the undersea body of water is so salty and low in oxygen, it’s deathly for critters, like fish and crabs, that end up in it.

Crew members from a research ship, the E/V Nautilus, have referred to the undersea lake as the “jacuzzi of despair.” The brine pool has an “ominous crater-like image on seafloor maps,” according to the Nautilus website. The research vessel explored the rare formation and posted photographs and video of it.

The water in the pool is warmer than the rest of the sea, too— hence the jacuzzi nickname.

“It’s warm, but super salty,” Scott Wankel, a scientist with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution said, according to Seeker. “When [marine creatures] fall in they die and get pickled and preserved.”

The pool of death is roughly 82 feet across and is thousands of feet below the surface of the ocean, and while it might be hazardous for most sea life, it is fascinating looking, with edges that have “a  jewel-like rim,” according to the Nautilus Exploration Program.

Beware of the “jacuzzi of despair”! Deep in the Gulf of Mexico, super salty brine pools are toxic to most life: 

Follow Rob Verger on Twitter: @robverger

Hospital report blames patient’s fart for surgical fire


An operating room snafu out of Japan is generating headlines because of its bizarre nature: It seems a patient’s fart ignited a fire that left her with serious burns.

The incident took place at Tokyo Medical Center, reports the Asahi Shimbun. A laser was being used on the cervix of a woman in her 30s when she broke wind, according to a newly released assessment of the April incident released by the hospital.

All equipment was operating normally, leading a panel to conclude that the woman’s gas ignited the laser. “When the patient’s intestinal gas leaked into the space of the operation (room), it ignited with the irradiation of the laser, and the burning spread, eventually reaching the surgical drape and causing the fire,” says the report.

The resulting fire burned much of the patient’s body, though no details are provided about her condition. “This happens,” writes a commenter at Redditwho says he’s a surgeon’s assistant.

“Not the first instance of it a long time either.” The Washington Post explains that it’s the methane and hydrogen in a person’s gas that makes it potentially flammable, though “it’s difficult to overstate how minuscule the chance of that normal bodily function causing a problem truly is.” (A soccer player got booted from a game over his gas.)

This article originally appeared on Newser: Hospital Report Blames Patient’s Fart for Surgical Fire

England launches hunt for ‘witches’ marks’

Daisy-Wheels inscribed with a pair of compasses or dividers found in Saxon Tithe barn, Bradford-on-Avon (Historic England).

Daisy-Wheels inscribed with a pair of compasses or dividers found in Saxon Tithe barn, Bradford-on-Avon (Historic England).

Members of the public in England have been asked to hunt for so-called “witches’ marks” that were carved into old buildings to protect against witchcraft.

Historic England, a government-sponsored organization that aims to preserve the country’s historic buildings and monuments, launched the project on Halloween.

The witches’ marks, also known as apotropaic marks, are ritual protection symbols carved into many historic places, such as medieval churches, houses, barns and even the Tower of London, according to Historic England. However, the marks have never been fully recorded.


Historic England is calling on the public to help create a record of the marks by sharing photos and information about where they are located.

“Witches’ marks are a physical reminder of how our ancestors saw the world,” said Duncan Wilson, chief executive of Historic England, in a statement. “They really fire the imagination and can teach us about previously-held beliefs and common rituals. Ritual marks were cut, scratched or carved into our ancestors’ homes and churches in the hope of making the world a safer, less hostile place.”

The most common type of apotropaic mark is the daisy wheel, or hexafoil, which is often a six-petal “flower” drawn with a pair of compasses. “Daisy wheels comprise a single, endless line which supposedly confused and entrapped evil spirits,” explained Historic England.


Other common apotropaic marks are pentangles, or five-pointed stars, the letters AM (for Ave Maria), the letter M (for Mary) and VV (for Virgin of Virgins). The letters were thought to beseech the protection of the Virgin Mary, say historians.

Apotropaic marks have been found in medieval houses dating from about 1550 to 1750. They have, for example, been recorded at Shakespeare’s birthplace in Stratford-upon-Avon, as well as in medieval barns, where they were etched into the ancient timber to protect crops.

In 2015, a large number of apotropaic marks were discovered at the sixteenth-century Queen’s House in the Tower of London.


“For centuries such marks went unnoticed or were dismissed as meaningless graffiti,” explained David Sorapure, head of building recording at the Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA), in an email to “However, recent research has led to a greater understanding of the intentions and meaning behind such marks and offer an exciting glimpse into the historic use of protective symbols.”

Sorapure explained that because the marks were intended to protect buildings from demonic or harmful forces, they are often found next to ‘vulnerable’ points like doors, windows or chimneys and are often found in churches or high status buildings.

“The use of protective symbols is widely acknowledged to have continued into the 19th century,” he added, noting that masons and carpenters may have kept the tradition for good luck. “A common type found is the mesh, which appears as a series of scratches forming a crosshatch. This is thought to have been intended to act a little like a net to trap demonic forces.”


MOLA experts were involved in the discovery of the witches’ marks in the Tower of London, as well as an early 19th century mark in the historic Banqueting House in London’s Whitehall. Sorapure told that the scorch mark against a Banqueting House roof timber was intended to protect against fire, including lightning strike.

Follow James Rogers on Twitter @jamesjrogers

Inside the quest to restore Leonardo da Vinci’s secret vineyard

NOW PLAYINGInside Leonardo da Vinci’s secret garden

Closed to the public for five centuries, Casa degli Atellani— in the heart of the Milan, Italy– has recently reopened to curious tourists. The estate houses plenty of treasures for fans of Italian history, art and culture. But it’s also home to an intriguing secret dating back to the Renaissance-era—a newly restored vineyard owned by Leonardo da Vinci.

When da Vinci left Florence for Milan in the late 15th century, he arrived with a cover letter that described him as a weapons maker and laid out in exquisite detail the various arms he could produce.

At the bottom of his résumé, he added a couple of lines: In times of peace, he wrote, he could paint and serve as an architect. The man who went on to paint the Mona Lisa and The Last Supper didn’t even bother to mention another skill: grape grower.

A little-known detail about Leonardo’s life and passions is that he owned a small vineyard that the duke of Milan gave to him for painting The Last Supper, says historian and author Jacopo Ghilardotti.

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Today, half a millennium later, that vineyard has been restored to reproduce essentially the same grape the genius cultivated.

It took Leonardo a few years to complete the The Last Supper fresco in the dining hall of the Dominican monastery adjacent to Santa Maria delle Grazie church.
On many days he would accomplish no more than a few brushstrokes. With the vineyard just a stone’s throw from the church, it is thought that he would stroll among the vines during breaks from creating his masterpiece.

“The relationship between Leonardo and nature was exercised in that place in that vineyard,” says Luca Maroni, the professional wine taster who drove the restoration of the vineyard. “There is still the soul of Leonardo there.”

The vineyard would have a tortured history. The French confiscated it when they invaded Milan. Leonardo fled, and when the French begged him to come back, he reportedly did so on the condition that he got his grapes back.

The only property in his will was the vineyard, which he split between his disciple, model and rumored lover, “Salai,” and his valet, Giovanbattista Villani.

What happened in the next few centuries is largely unknown. But a century ago, when the stately homes on the property were joined into one grand villa, Casa degli Atellani , interest developed in identifying the vineyard’s location. Ultimately, it was located. There was a bocce court above it.

In 1943, the Allies bombed Santa Maria delle Grazie. The Last Supper, which had been carefully wrapped up, was undamaged, but fires burned the lawn where the vineyard lay. In 2008, Maroni, along with a team of archeologists from the University of Milan, conducted a dig and found fossils of the original vines.  DNA testing matched them closely with the white wine grape Malvasia di Candia Aromatica.

But it would be several years before da Vinci’s secret garden would open to the public. As Milan was getting ready to host the 2015 Expo,the real work got underway to identify Leonardo’s grapes and replant his vineyard. The owners of the Atellani house, the Castellini family, enthusiastically agreed. That year, they also opened the doors of the property to the public for the first time.

The vines were replanted in the garden of the stately home, which was renovated to preserve the architectural styles of the times.

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So far, there are no grapes growing on the vines but Maroni insists there will be wine produced in 2017. The wine expert estimates there will be a limited production of just 500 bottles of passito— a sweet wine usually imbibed at the end of a meal. If successful, it will be the first wine made in the center of Milan since WWII and the vintners plan to use the same winemaking process da Vinci described in a letter to his wine master in 1508.

Atellani may not be producing wine yet but curiosity is drawing in tourists who want to look around the premises and get a true taste of 15th century life.

“People come from all over the world, cause they really love Leonardo and everything related to Leonardo,” says Ghilardotti.

Fans of the Renaissance artisan have given the attraction glowing reviews online.

It is not known for sure where Leonardo actually lived during his decades in Milan, but now, at least, we know where his grapevines thrived.

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Amy Kellogg currently serves as a Senior Foreign Affairs Correspondent based in Milan, Italy. She joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in 1999 as a Moscow-based correspondent. Follow her on Twitter: @amykelloggfox

Stingray injuries spike at Southern California beach

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Authorities say there’s been a spike in stingray injuries at a Southern California beach even as water temperatures cool.

The Orange County Register reports Sunday that Huntington Beach Marine Safety Lt. Claude Panis says there were 17 reports of injuries on Thursday and another 10 on Friday.

He says stingray injuries tend to occur when the water is warmer and waves are smaller but have been reported amid cooler water temperatures and bigger swells.

Signs have been posted to warn beachgoers. Panis says people have gotten stung during low tide in the afternoon.

He did not know the reason for the surge.

‘Spiders’ on Mars: Citizen scientists investigate strange Martian terrain

"Spidery" channels spotted near Mars' south pole by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

“Spidery” channels spotted near Mars’ south pole by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.  (NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona)

NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) has been surveying strange “spider-like” surface features on Mars for years, and now citizen scientists are helping the orbiter hone in on areas that require further investigation.

These prominent surface features are found near Mars’ south pole, and are believed to be linked to seasonal changes. The planet’s polar ice caps thaw bottom-side first in the spring, causing carbon dioxide to build up and carve deep channels in the terrain, according to a statement from NASA.

“The trapped carbon dioxide gas that carves the spiders in the ground also breaks through the thawing ice sheet. It lofts dust and dirt that local winds then sculpt into hundreds of thousands of dark fans that are observed from orbit,” Meg Schwamb, a planetary scientist from the Gemini Observatory in Hawaii, said in the statement. “For the past decade, [the orbiter’s instrument] HiRISE has been monitoring this process on other parts of the south pole.” [Latest Photos from NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter]

The Context Camera (CTX) aboard the MRO captured the images of these spider-like cracks and crevices, which volunteer citizen scientists have analyzed using the website “Planet Four: Terrains.”

With the observations from this citizen science project, NASA has added 20 new regions to the agency’s seasonal monitoring campaign on Mars. The orbiter’s High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera will explore these regions in greater detail.

“It’s heartwarming to see so many citizens of planet Earth donate their time to help study Mars,” Candice Hansen, HiRISE deputy principal investigator, said in the statement. “Thanks to the discovery power of so many people, we’re using HiRISE to take images of places we might not have studied without this assistance.”

The new places of interest on Mars include some unexpected spider terrain, areas where the surface is composed of material that was ejected from impact craters. Previously, those areas were not associated with carbon dioxide ice sheets, and therefore not thought to have spider-like crevices.

The spider cracks may have formed on the material ejected from craters using a different mechanism than the ice sheets, Hansen said. “Perhaps on surfaces that are more erodible, relative to other surfaces, slab ice would not need to be present as long, or [need to be] as thick, for spiders to form. We have new findings, and new questions to answer, thanks to all the help from volunteers,” Hansen added.

Scientists to study strange star for signs of intelligent life

NOW PLAYINGAre aliens building an extraterrestrial megastructure?

Starting on Wednesday night, scientists on the hunt for extraterrestrial life will begin studying a strange star that has generated plenty of buzz because of its unique behavior.

The distant sun is known as Tabby’s star, and what’s atypical about it is that its brightness does not remain constant. Data show that the star dimmed slightly from 2009 to 2012, and then its brightness dropped by two percent over a period of six months. Now, the Breakthrough Listen project at the University of California, Berkeley, has announced that they will peer at the star using a radio telescope to see if they can detect intelligent life.

“The Breakthrough Listen program has the most powerful SETI equipment on the planet, and access to the largest telescopes on the planet,” Andrew Siemion, director of the Berkeley SETI Research Center and co-director of Breakthrough Listen, said in a statement. “We can look at it with greater sensitivity and for a wider range of signal types than any other experiment in the world.”

Related: Why is this star dimming? Astronomers still don’t know

One farfetched theory about the star is that aliens are somehow responsible for the star’s dimming, perhaps by having built a structure that passes in front of it, although Dan Werthimer, the chief scientist at Berkeley SETI, said he thinks that’s incredibly improbable.

“I don’t think it’s very likely – a one in a billion chance or something like that – but nevertheless, we’re going to check it out,” Werthimer said in the statement.

The Berkeley team is not the first to look for signs of life around this star, which is formally known as KIC 8462852, and no one has found anything yet. They’re going to spend a total of 24 hours over three nights gazing at the star using a large, movable radio telescope in West Virginia, but even in that amount of time they predict that they’ll gather oodles of data that will take a while to analyze.

The star has been a subject of much fascination since it was first described in 2015 by astronomer Tabetha Boyajian, an assistant professor at Louisiana State University.

Earlier in October, Columbia University astronomer David Kipping told that he thinks the most likely explanation for what’s happening with the star is a natural one— it’s just a “gap in our present knowledge” at this point.

Follow Rob Verger on Twitter: @robverger

Impact! New moon craters are appearing faster than thought

A 39-foot diameter impact crater formed between Oct. 25, 2012, and April 21, 2013, and was discovered in a before-and-after image created from two Narrow Angle Camera (NAC) images.

A 39-foot diameter impact crater formed between Oct. 25, 2012, and April 21, 2013, and was discovered in a before-and-after image created from two Narrow Angle Camera (NAC) images.  (NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University)



New craters are forming on the surface of the moon more frequently than scientists had predicted, a new study has found. The discovery raises concerns about future moon missions, which may face an increased risk of being hit by falling space rocks.

The moon is dotted with a vast number of craters, some billions of years old. Because the moon has no atmosphere, falling space rocks don’t burn up like they do on Earth, which leaves the moon’s surface vulnerable to a constant stream of cosmic impacts that gradually churn the top layer of material on its surface. You can see a before-and-after video of a new moon crater here.

Previous studies of lunar craters shed light on how they formed and on the past rate of cratering, which in turn yielded insights on the age of various features of the moon’s surface. However, less was known about the contemporary rate of lunar crater formation, which could give insight on the risk of bombardment that any missions to the moon might face. [The Moon: 10 Surprising Lunar Facts]

To find out more about the present lunar crater formation rate, a group of scientists analyzed more than 14,000 pairs of before-and-after images of the moon’s surface, taken by NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO). These images covered 6.6 percent of the lunar surface — about 960,000 square miles — and could reveal when a spot was crater-free and when it later had a crater. The time gaps between observations spanned between 176 and 1,241 Earth days.

“When looking at just a single image, many of the newly formed features are indistinguishable from their surroundings,” said study lead author Emerson Speyerer, a planetary scientist at the Arizona State University at Tempe. “It’s only with these detailed comparisons with previous images that we can separate out these small surface changes.

The researchers discovered 222 craters on the moon that appeared on the surface after the first LRO images were taken — that is 33 percent more than predicted by current models. These were at least 32 feet across, and ranged up to about 140 feet wide.

The scientists also found broad zones around these new craters that they interpreted as the remains of jets of debris following impacts. They estimated this secondary cratering process is churning the top 0.8 inches of lunar dirt, or regolith, across the entire lunar surface more than 100 times faster than thought.

“I’m excited by the fact that we can see the regolith evolve and churn — a process that was believed to take hundreds of thousands to millions of years to occur — in images acquired over the past several years,” Speyerer told

These new findings also suggest that a number of young features on the moon’s surface, such as recent volcanic deposits, “may in fact be even a bit younger than previously thought,” Speyerer said.

Although the odds of something on the lunar surface suffering a direct hit by asteroidal or cometary debris is very small, Speyerer noted these new findings illustrate the potential dangers posed by the rocks kicked up by these impacts.

“For example, we found an 18-meter (59-foot) impact crater that formed on March 17, 2013, and it produced over 250 secondary impacts, some of which were at least 30 kilometers (18.6 miles) away,” Speyerer said. “Future lunar bases and surface assets will have to be designed to withstand up to 500 meter per second (1,120 mph) impacts of small particles.”

Speyerer said that NASA recently approved a two-year extended mission for theLunar Reconnaissance Orbiter that can help collect more before-and-after images of the lunar surface.

“As the mission continues, the odds increase of finding larger impacts that occur more infrequently on the moon,” Speyerer said. “Such discoveries will enable us to further refine the impact rate and investigate the most important process that shapes planetary bodies across the solar system.”

The scientists detailed their findings online in today’s (Oct. 12) issue of Nature.

Scientists study ‘Death Star’ to save Earth

The Martian moon Phobos.

The Martian moon Phobos.  (Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory)

Computerized modeling of Mars’ moon Phobos has a connection with keeping the Earth safe from asteroids, the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) announced on Wednesday.

Phobos has a huge crater, more than five miles across, and a new computer model out of the LLNL in California simulates the dramatic impact that could have caused that distinctive crater. The research is part of a planetary defence program at LLNL— in other words, studying how to protect Earth from a devastating impact.

“We’ve demonstrated that you can create this crater without destroying the moon if you use the proper porosity and resolution in a 3D simulation,” Megan Bruck Syal, a scientist at LLNL and a part of their planetary defence team, said in astatement about the new Phobos research.

According to LLNL, the object that slammed into Phobos and created what’s called the Stickney crater (which calls to mind the structure of the massive weapon on the Death Star from “Star Wars”) could have been about 820 feet across and been traveling at a speed of about 13,420 mph, in one scenario. Their work will be published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.


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The exercise at LLNL was done using a code called Spheral, and is part of a broader planetary defence initiative at the lab. That program has two elements to it, according to Nolan O’Brien, a public information officer for lab, which is part of the U.S. Department of Energy.

While NASA is keeping an eye on the heavens for objects that could threaten the Earth, LLNL is interested in deflecting such a hazard. That could involve ramming a spacecraft into the asteroid to change its course, or even detonating a nuclear device near it, O’Brien told The nuclear explosion near the asteroid would heat up one part of it, and that would act like a rocket engine, ideally propelling it on a safe course and taking Earth out of the crosshairs.

The second aspect of their work is what happens if the unthinkable occurs, and Earth is hit by a hazardous object, O’Brien said— in that case, they’d want to mitigate the damage.

Earlier this year, NASA opened a new office to track asteroids and comets that could come close to Earth. The Planetary Defense Coordination Office, or PDCO, is part of the agency’s Planetary Science Division. NASA also has an ambitious plan to launch a mission that would grab a boulder from an asteroid and place it in lunar orbit.

“Something as big and fast as what caused the Stickney crater [on Phobos] would have a devastating effect on Earth,” Syal said in the statement. “If NASA sees a potentially hazardous asteroid coming our way, it will be essential to make sure we’re able to deflect it. We’ll only have one shot at it, and the consequences couldn’t be higher.”

Follow Rob Verger on Twitter: @robverger