Captain Cook’s ship Endeavour ‘found’ in Newport Harbor

File photo - Crew members sit atop the masts of a replica of the famous 18th century ship The Endeavour in Botany Bay. (REUTERS/David Gray)

File photo – Crew members sit atop the masts of a replica of the famous 18th century ship The Endeavour in Botany Bay. (REUTERS/David Gray) (REUTERS)

Marine archaeologists say they have likely found HMS Endeavour, which Capt. Cook sailed on when he discovered Australia, at the bottom of Newport Harbor.

The Rhode Island Marine Archaeology Project (RIMAP) says that Endeavour, which was renamed Lord Sandwich, is one of 13 ships scuttled in Newport Harbor in 1778. Lord Sandwich had been used to transport troops during the American Revolution and was scuttled in the days leading up to the Battle of Rhode Island.

The vessel was a bark, or three-masted sailing ship.

Related: Home long thought to be Monroe’s turns out to be guest house

RIMAP used a grant from the Australian National Maritime Museum to locate documents in London that identify the groups of ships in the 13-vessel fleet, and where each group was scuttled. “One group of 5 ships included the Lord Sandwich transport, formerly Capt. James Cook’s Endeavour Bark,” said RIMAP, on its website.

RIMAP says that it knows the general area of Newport Harbor where the five ships were scuttled and has already mapped four of the sites there.  “A recent analysis of remote sensing data suggests that the 5th site may still exist, too,” the group explained. “That means the Rhode Island Marine Archaeology Project now has an 80 to 100% chance that the Lord Sandwich is still in Newport Harbor.”

A RIMAP spokesman told FoxNews.com that the group will provide more details of its plans to confirm the fifth shipwreck at a meeting on May 4. RIMAP will also outline what needs to be done to confirm which ships are in which locations.

Related: Titanic treasures sold at UK auction

“The next phase of the archaeological investigation will require a more intense study of each vessel’s structure and its related artifacts,” explains RIMAP, on its website. “However, before that next phase may begin, there must be a proper facility in place to conserve, manage, display, and store the waterlogged material removed from the archaeological sites.”

May 4 marks Rhode Island’s 240th birthday. “For RIMAP to be closing in one of the most important shipwrecks in world history, for that ship to be found in Newport, and for it to have an international reputation, should be an intriguing birthday gift for all of Rhode Island,” explains RIMAP, on its website.

Related: The ‘Ghost Fleet of Mallows Bay’ in pictures

Marine archaeologists have made a number of fascinating finds in recent years. Last year, for example, treasure said to belong to the infamous pirate Captain Kidd was found by divers in the waters of the Indian Ocean off Madagascar.

Earlier this year the 500-year old wreck of a Portuguese ship piloted by an uncle of explorer Vasco da Gama was found off the coast of Oman.

Follow James Rogers on Twitter @jamesjrogers

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Incredible ‘cobra’ skyscraper concept unveiled

(Vasily Klyukin)

(Vasily Klyukin)

Could we one day see a skyscraper that looks like a snake?

Newly-released concept designs by Russian businessman and futurist Vasily Klyukin show an incredible and highly unusual building.

Dubbed “Asian Cobra Tower,” the structure would contain offices or apartments, according to Klyukin’swebsite. Although the actual size of the concept building is unknown, the website said that the snake’s open jaws could serve as a restaurant or nightclub that would overlook the city.

Related: After 9/11: How to Build a Safer Skyscraper

The building’s lights would change colors, acoording to Klyukin, similar to when a snake sheds its skin.

In local legends and widely-accepted folklore, snakes are often viewed as symbols of protection, wisdom and eternal life. “Snakes and dragons are custodians of threshold, temples, treasure, esoteric knowledge and all lunar gods,” Klyukin wrote, on his website.

Related: California company wants to ‘hover’ buildings, protecting against earthquakes

“The diamond-shaped pattern on the back of the snake is the symbol of Yang and Yin, duality and reunification of the Sun and the Moon, male and female principles, conciliation of opposites, and androgyny,” he added.

Other concept designs by Klyukin, author of the novel  “Collective Mind,” include a woman-shaped skyscraper dubbed “Venus” and a huge jaguar-shaped building.

NASA’s next great space telescope: The quest begins

Spitzer Space Telescope

Spitzer Space Telescope (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

The hunt is on! NASA has begun a quest to select its next big instrument to study the cosmos.

Observatories such as the Hubble Space Telescope have revolutionizedhumanity’s view of the cosmos. And upcoming projects, such as the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) and the WFIRST-AFTA mission — which the agency aims to launch in 2018 and the mid-2020s, respectively — promise to make big discoveries of their own.

But what will happen after that? What kind of space telescope does NASA aim to build a few decades from now? The picture is getting a little clearer: Earlier this month, the space agency announced that it is forming four working groups to investigate possible concepts for a large-scale space mission that would likely launch in the 2030s. [The Most Amazing Views of the Cosmos from Hubble]

One of the four mission concepts is focused on direct imaging of the surfaces of exoplanets, to potentially search for signs of life. The other three concepts are for space telescopes built to detect specific wavelengths of light: the ultraviolet/optical/near-infrared range, similar to what Hubble sees; X-ray light; and far-infrared light. The space agency is now accepting applications from scientists to join one of the four groups. Paul Hertz, director of NASA’s astrophysics division, delivered a town hall talk at the 227th meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Florida earlier this month, in which he announced the formation of the groups and put out a call for applications.

The groups will put together a report that will show what kind of science each concept could accomplish, what capabilities it would have, what limitations exist for building it, and how each space telescope would benefit the entire astronomy community. Much of the potential science that each mission could accomplish was written about at length in NASA’s 2013 Astrophysics Roadmap: “Enduring Quests, Daring Visions: NASAAstrophysics in the Next Three Decades.”

Here is a brief description of each of the four mission concepts and what they hope to accomplish.

The habitable exoplanet imager mission

Scientists have indirectly identified about 2,000 planets outside Earth’s solar system using the Kepler Space Telescope and other instruments. Now, scientists want a way to look directly at exoplanets that aren’t too far from Earth. A direct-imaging planetary telescope could potentially reveal the atmospheres and surface conditions of alien worlds, and would search for signs of habitability or even bio-activity (yes, alien life), according to Bertrand Mennesson, an exoplanet scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, who is helping to lead this mission concept group.

The so-called “HabEx” mission would “help assess the prevalence of habitable planets and [the] possibly of primitive life in our galaxy,” Mennesson told Space.com in an email. HabEx would also allow scientists to look at the atmospheres and surface conditions on all kinds of planets, including ice giants, gas giants and rocky planets, around various types of stars and in various solar system arrangements.

Such a telescope would also capture images of young planetary systems in the early stages of formation, providing a look at solar system evolution across the galaxy. Direct imaging of exoplanet atmospheres has already been demonstrated from the ground, Mennesson said.

Large ultraviolet, optical and infrared (LUVOIR) telescope

The Hubble Space Telescope, with its 7.9-foot-wide primary mirror, has revolutionized how humans see the cosmos. Imagine what a space telescope with a 39-foot mirror could do.

There have been many proposals in the astronomy community for a 26- to 39-foot telescope that collects light in the ultraviolet, optical and infrared wavelengths, as Hubble does. One of the most recent such proposals has been named the “High Definition Space Telescope,” (HDST), but the general concept is called LUVOIR (Large Ultraviolet Visible Infrared). (The $8.8 billion JWST has a 21.3-foot-wide mirror and will collect light mostly in the infrared, with some capability in the optical range.)

“LUVOIR could study the formation of stars and planets in our galaxy, map the evolution of galaxies, illuminate the birth of the first stars in the universe and probe into black hole environments,” said Aki Roberge, a scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, who is helping to lead the group for this mission.

A LUVOIR telescope could also have some overlap with an exoplanet direct-imaging instrument such as HabEx, and would be able to characterize the atmospheres and surfaces of a wide range of planets, potentially identifying signatures of life. These capabilities are discussed extensively in an HDST report that was published in 2015.

“There will likely be a greater emphasis on astrophysics capabilities in the LUVOIR study than in the HabEx study, though both will be looking hard at exoplanet capabilities,” Roberge told Space.com in an email. “LUVOIR may enable a broader range of exoplanet observations. The two teams aim to collaborate on the overlapping science and technical aspects as much as we can.” [The Strangest Alien Planets]

X-ray surveyor mission

The X-ray universe has already revealed itself to be a strange and beautiful place, through observations (and jaw-dropping images) taken with various space telescopes, including NASA’s Chandra X-Ray Observatory, the European Space Agency’s XMM-Newton observatory and NASA’s NuSTAR mission.

All of these telescopes have helped scientists study a wide variety of fascinating cosmic objects, including supernovas (exploding stars), black holes (and the disks of matter that swirl around them), galaxies and mysterious dark matter. [Photos: The X-Ray Universe Revealed by Chandra]

A new X-ray surveyor could provide insight into how matter behaves in some of the cosmos’ most extreme environments, such as the region around a black hole, proponents say. It could provide a look at the birth and growth of the first supermassive black holes in the universe, and would allow scientists to look at how galaxies have formed and evolved over the lifetime of the universe (13.8 billion years). This backward glance would also reveal a look at the evolution of the larger structure of the universe according to the NASA Astrophysics Roadmap, and NASA scientists working with the concept group.

The X-ray surveyor would look out to the edge of the visible universe, allowing scientists to observe how galaxies have formed and evolved over the lifetime of the universe (about 13.8 billion years). This backward glance would also reveal a look at the evolution of the larger structure of the universe.

If NASA does end up building the X-ray Surveyor, the mission would provide orders of magnitude more sensitive than any other X-ray mission, the scientists said.

Far-IR surveyor mission

All the stars in the universe collectively radiate an incredible amount of visible light, but scientists now know that as much as half of that starlight is blocked by dust clouds, and then reradiated as infrared light.

“If you don’t do things in the infrared, you’re missing half the picture, effectively,” Kartik Sheth, a program scientist in the astrophysics division at NASA Headquarters, told Space.com.

With a next-generation far-infrared space telescope, scientists could study how stars and planets form by studying in detail the nurseries where these cosmic babies come to life. Infrared observations are also especially good for identifying the chemicals present in distant cosmic objects. This could mean looking for water in newly forming solar systems.

The vast majority of elements in the universe are made by stars (which means that “we are made of starstuff,” as the late astronomer Carl Sagan famously said). A next-generation far-infrared telescope could study stars at various stages of their life cycles to reveal when and where different elements are being made. Effectively, such an instrument would provide scientists a list of ingredients in many cosmic objects, advocates say.

The far-infrared mission concept would look at a range of wavelengths that fall between what will be observed by JWST and the ground-based Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), which is coming online in Chile. This particular range of light gets distorted by Earth’s atmosphere, which means scientists must put an infrared telescope into space to capture them properly. The instruments on NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope that captured light in the far-infrared range have all shut down (although a few shorter wavelength instruments are still operational). Following Spitzer’s retirement, there will be no space observatories studying the far-infrared wavelength range. The only other observatory operating in this wavelength range is NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA), which is a modified Being 747 aircraft that can fly to altitudes where the Earth’s atmosphere is significantly thinner. It is currently the largest airborne observatory in the world.

“The far-infrared community has not had a space-mission like Hubble or Chandra that has continuously operated for a long time,” Sheth said.

Which mission will be selected?

NASA invests in missions of various sizes, such as the Fermi Gamma Ray Telescope, or the Wide Field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE). But the four mission concepts being reviewed by the newly announced working groups will be large-scale missions that follow in the footsteps of Hubble, JWST and WFIRST-AFTA (whose name is short for Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope-Astrophysics Focused Telescope Assets). Missions of this size take decades to complete, which is why NASA is starting the process now, even though any of these missions might not begin operating until the mid-2030s or 2040, Hertz said.

The decision about which, if any, of these concepts becomes a reality will likely be strongly influenced by a group outside of NASA. Every 10 years, the National Academy of Sciences’ National Research Council puts together a committee to talk about what priorities the astronomy and astrophysics communities should set for the coming decade. The committee then releases a report, known as the “decadal survey,” that makes specific recommendations for the next 10 years. Past surveys have recommended current NASA projects including JWST and WFIRST-AFTA. NASA typically follows the recommendations set by this survey.

The four concept groups will work to provide the decadal committee with all the information they need to make a decision about which mission concept should become a reality. One of these mission concepts may inform NASA’s next big mission to explore the cosmos.

Behold the biggest prime number ever: 22 million digits

File photo - German electronic band Kraftwerk performs with a 3D stage set during the 47th Montreux Jazz Festival in Montreux July 17, 2013. (REUTERS/Denis Balibouse)

File photo – German electronic band Kraftwerk performs with a 3D stage set during the 47th Montreux Jazz Festival in Montreux July 17, 2013. (REUTERS/Denis Balibouse)

The longest prime number ever found has been discovered by a computer in Missouri, and it’s a doozy: 274,207,281–1 has 22,338,618 digits, the Guardianreports. The number also known as M74207281 was found by a computer tied to the Great Internet Mersenne Prime Search (GIMPS), a 20-year-old project that connects computers around the world looking for prime numbers.

In addition to this one, professor Chris Cooper’s computers at the University of Central Missouri have unearthed three other record prime numbers—numbers that can only be divided by themselves and one—and this one’s a rare type of prime (only 49 of them exist, per the project site): a Mersenne prime, which can be written as one less than a power of two.

It’s a huge find not just scientifically, but also physically: Wired UK notes that a downloaded text copy of the number runs nearly 22MB. Perhaps pointing out the obvious, the Mersenne site notes “this prime is too large to currently be of practical value,” but computers toiling day and night to unearth primes can help gauge hardware functionality—for instance, GIMPS computers recently found a bug in Intel Skylake CPUs.

Big prime numbers are also typically used for security encryption by banks and retailers, notes the BBC, though those numbers usually cap off at hundreds of digits. M74207281 was actually discovered by the Missouri computer in September, but a glitch caused the notification about the find to go unsent, and no one noticed it until the computer got a routine checkup, the website notes.

As the Guardian points out, the quest to find the highest prime will go on indefinitely, “since there an infinite number of them”—and a nonprofit technology organization is offering a $150,000 prize to whomever finds a 100-million-digit prime first.

7th Period of Periodic Table Is Now Complete

ESTABLISHING ELEMENT 113 INVOLVED SOME HEAVY COMPETITION, MORE THAN A DECADE

By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 4, 2016 12:14 PM CST

(NEWSER) – As the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry puts it in a press release, “The 7th period of the periodic table of elements is complete.” It has verified the discovery of elements 113, 115, 117, and 118, effectively filling the 7th row and “rendering science textbooks around the world instantly out of date,” reports the Guardian. The elements currently have temporary working names and symbols. IUPAC’s Dec. 30 announcement will ultimately lead to permanent ones, which the discoverers can now propose; the release specifies that “new elements can be named after a mythological concept, a mineral, a place or country, a property or a scientist.” One candidate for the highly radioactive element 113: japonium, per the Japanese government-affiliated Riken Nishina Center for Accelerator-Based Science, which was given credit for the element.

The Guardian notes the element will be the first to have a name bestowed on it from Asia. The AP reports that the Japanese scientists behind the synthetic element started working to create it in 2003 “by bombarding a thin layer of bismuth with zinc ions traveling at about 10% the speed of light.” They were in competition with a team of Russian and American scientists who were also gunning for the naming rights after announcing that same element’s discovery in 2004. But the honor went to Japan, and the team leader says he intends to spend part of 2016 coming up with it. A bit of science-wow from the AP: “Isotopes of element 113 have a very short half-life, lasting for less than a thousandth of a second, making its discovery very difficult. After twice succeeding to create it, the group tried for seven years before further success, in August 2012.” (A sophomoric prank also lurks on the periodic table.)

 

Kosuke Morita of Riken Nishina Center for Accelerator-Based Science points at periodic table of the elements during a press conference in Wako, Saitama prefecture, near Tokyo Thursday, Dec. 31, 2015.
Kosuke Morita of Riken Nishina Center for Accelerator-Based Science points at periodic table of the elements during a press conference in Wako, Saitama prefecture, near Tokyo Thursday, Dec. 31, 2015.   (Kyodo News via AP)

500-Year-Old Design Used to Build World’s Longest Ice Bridge

 Image result for 500-Year-Old Design Used to Build World's Longest Ice Bridge

THE ICE BRIDGE SHOULD BE STRONG ENOUGH TO HOLD A 2-TON CAR

By Michael Harthorne,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 29, 2015 5:45 PM CST

(NEWSER) – In a move Leonardo da Vinci would definitely think is pretty cool, 150 students and volunteers will be using one of the Renaissance master’s old designs to create the world’s longest ice bridge, Discovery News reports. Construction on the project—helmed by Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands—started Monday, and the 213-foot-long bridge is scheduled to be completed Feb. 13. The team is using da Vinci’s 500-year-old plans for a never-built bridge in Turkey. “The ice bridge has the same construction principle as that of da Vinci’s: The only load on the whole structure is compression,” according to a university press release. Once the bridge is completed, it is expected to be strong enough to hold a 2-ton car. It will be used by pedestrians until the ice melts.

The team will be using 900 tons of pykrete to create the bridge, Gizmag reports. According to the press release, pykrete is water mixed with 2% paper fiber and is stronger and tougher than normal ice when frozen. The team will be spraying the pykrete onto a giant balloon acting as a mold, which will ultimately be removed. The bridge is being built in Juuka, Finland, under what the press release calls “severe conditions.” (The high temperature in Juuka on Tuesday was approximately 12 degrees Fahrenheit.) “This will not only be a test of teamwork and perseverance, but also a race against time,” Discovery News states. “Stopping the work at any time will cause the equipment to freeze.” Students and volunteers will be on staggered shifts to keep work going 24 hours a day. (A scientist recently made ashocking discovery about da Vinci’s most famous work.)

 

A 3D rendering of the world's longest ice bridge, which is currently being built in Finland.
A 3D rendering of the world’s longest ice bridge, which is currently being built in Finland.   (Eindhoven University of Technology)

This Man’s Plan: Swim Around the World in 450 Days

 

MARTIN STREL WILL PASS THROUGH BODIES OF WATER IN 100-PLUS COUNTRIES

By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Sep 11, 2015 9:07 AM CDT

(NEWSER) – Martin Strel swims with a knife strapped to his right leg—in case he encounters sharks, “vampire” fish, and other deadly marine life in the world’s wildest waters. Yesterday, the 60-year-old marathon swimmer from Phoenix announced the toughest feat of his life: a 10,000-mile around-the-world voyage on water to draw public attention to increasing aquatic pollution. “And for peace and love,” Strel added in his native Slovenian. He aims to circle the globe in about 450 days, starting in Long Beach, Calif., on March 22 and passing through oceans, rivers, canals, and other bodies of water in more than 100 countries. He’ll swim about five to 12 hours each day, depending on the weather and changing currents; an escort boat will offer emergency support and space for small breaks.

Since 2000, Strel has swum the entire length of five rivers—the piranha-infested Amazon, the Danube in Eastern Europe, China’s Yangtze, the Parana in South America, and the Mississippi, earning him the nickname “Big River Man.” On his South American swims, he watches out for the candiru, the “most dangerous fish on the planet” (it bores into every human cavity and grows by feeding on human flesh and blood); says piranhas “are OK”; and isn’t freaked out by sharks, which he says leave him alone if he swims in the same direction as them and doesn’t confront them. He’s still finalizing details of his adventure, a multimillion-dollar jaunt that will once more include the Panama and Suez canals, the English Channel, and the Amazon, as well as the Atlantic and Pacific oceans and the Red Sea. Strel says he welcomes anyone who’s interested to join him for stretches of the route.

 

Martin Strel illustrates the route for his planned Strel World Swim at North Cove Marina in Manhattan yesterday.
Martin Strel illustrates the route for his planned “Strel World Swim” at North Cove Marina in Manhattan yesterday.   (Photo by Stuart Ramson/Invision for Martin Strel/AP Images)

Tennessee tree house puts all other forest dwellings to shame

 house_tree.jpg

The treehouse stands 97 feet in the air and is built on six load bearing trees. (Chuck Sutherland/ YouTube)

Today we learned that some dreams might lead to one heck of a tree house.

Seeker Stories (h/t Digg) caught up with Chuck Sutherland who was taken by the Minister’s Tree House in Crossville, Tennessee.

As Sutherland relays, the tree house is stunning. It stands 97 feet in the air, which is thanks to six load bearing trees.

Anyone who has ever considered having a similar arboreal abode, either as a child or an adult, can appreciate the spectacle thanks to a wonderfully insightful video.

If only we had bigger trees and more lumber as kids:

Seeker Stories explains, via the video: “The tree house was named after the man who decided to build it, Minister Horace Burgess. According to Horace, the idea for the tree house came to him in a vision while he was deep in prayer.”

The daydream led to a 14-year architecture project that once welcomed the curious and the faithful.

While the video offers hope, however slim, that the tree house may one day welcome tourists anew, it is indeed closed.

RoadsideAmerica.com offers directions to the site but also delivers a stern warning: “Remember that when you visit, you will be trespassing, and that the tree house is not a funhouse. There are no safety precautions. You visit at your own risk.”

Now the video cited obvious fire concerns for the closing, but we might be apprehensive to meander about the inner recesses knowing how questionably it was built.

Still, Sutherland states in the video that this was all part of the intrigue for tourists: “Those are the things that made it fun and attracted people.“

For some reason we are drawn to the intrigue of danger, which may be why it seemed so inviting to have a tree house of your own growing up — no matter the state of your respective backyard forest.

While the landmark may be closed at the moment, we’d like to thank Seeker Stories for pulling back the curtain on a hidden gem tucked away in Tennessee.

More from TravelPulse:

Japanese Theme Park Celebrating 30th Anniversary of Ghosts `n Goblins

Costa Rica Up Close

The Netherlands Has a Rocking Rubber Boat Party And We Are Jealous

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5 Active Alaskan Volcanoes

Originally available here

Superhighway: Russian official proposes road that could connect London to NYC

bigroad.jpg

The proposal would include oil and gas pipelines and a rail system, and could connect existing roads in Europe and even the U.S. (FoxNews.com)

Road trip!

One of Russia’s most powerful tycoons and a close pal of President Vladimir Putin has proposed a long and winding road that theoretically could connect Great Britain to Alaska, via Mother Russia. And while a nearly 13,000-mile highway sounds like a stretch – a really long stretch – the major roadblock is likely money, not feasibility.

“This is an inter-state, inter-civilization, project,” Russian Railways boss Vladimir Yakunin told the Russian Academy of Science, where he presented his plan for the Trans-Eurasian belt Development, which he acknowledged would cost “trillions” of dollars.

The road would link thousands of miles of existing byways and bridges across Russia, a span of more than 6,000 miles. From the west, it could then connect to roads in Europe, including the Chunnel Tunnel, which connects Great Britain and France.

“This is an inter-state, inter-civilization, project.”- Vladimir Yakunin, head of Russian Railways

From it eastern terminus in Siberia’s Chukotka region, the road would be just 55 miles across the Bering Sea from the isolated Alaskan city of Nome, a major obstacle except in the context of Yakunin’s massive proposed undertaking. If a connection to Nome was followed by a U.S.-built road to Fairbanks, the global triptik would be possible.

Yakunin didn’t directly address the Bering Sea issue, but a ferry system might be the least expensive method.

The thoroughfare would share its easement with a high-speed rail and oil and gas pipelines that Yakunin said could help spur development in such remote zones as Siberia.

The Siberian Times reported March 23 that Yakunin has been working on the ambitious project with Viktor Sadovnichy, the president of Moscow State University.

The project would span the entire length of Russia, linking existing networks in Europe and Asia and creating the first-ever modern route from the Pacific Ocean in the east to the Atlantic Ocean in the west. Yakunin said it could generate an immense number of jobs, sprout new cities and spur development of Siberia and the Far East.

Vladimir Fortov, head of the Russian Academy of Science, said the project is “very ambitious and expensive,” but added that it would “solve many problems in the development of the vast region.”

“The idea is that basing on the new technology of high-speed rail transport we can build a new railway near the Trans-Siberian Railway with the opportunity to go to Chukotka and Bering Strait and then to the American continent,” Fortov said.

If anyone has the juice to make the humongous highway happen, it could be the 66-year-old Yakunin. Not only is he a close friend of Putin, he has even been rumored to be Putin’s handpicked successor.

Taj Mahal gardens found to align with the solstice sun

TajMahal1.jpg

File photo. (REUTERS/Vijay Mathur)

If you arrived at the Taj Mahal in India before the sun rises on the day of the summer solstice (which usually occurs June 21), and walked up to the north-central portion of the garden where two pathways intersect with the waterway, and if you could step into that waterway and turn your gaze toward a pavilion to the northeast — you would see the sun rise directly over it.

If you could stay in that spot, in the waterway, for the entire day, the sun would appear to move behind you and then set in alignment with another pavilion, to the northwest. The mausoleum and minarets of the Taj Mahal are located between those two pavilions, and the rising and setting sun would appear to frame them.

Although standing in the waterway is impractical (and not allowed), the dawn and dusk would be sights to behold, and these alignments are just two among several that a physics researcher recently discovered between the solstice sun and the waterways, pavilions and pathways in the gardens of the Taj Mahal.

The Taj Mahal is a mausoleum built by Mughal Dynasty emperor Shah Jahan (who lived from 1592 to 1666) for his favorite wife Mumtaz Mahal (who lived 1592-1631). Her name meant “the Chosen one of the Palace.”

The summer solstice has more hours of daylight than any other day of the year, and is when the sun appears at its highest point in the sky. The winter solstice (which usually occurs Dec. 21) is the shortest day of the year, and is when the sun appears at its lowest point in the sky.

Amelia Carolina Sparavigna, a physics professor at the Polytechnic University of Turin in Italy, reported the alignments in an article published recently in the journal Philica.

Gardens of Eden

The Mughal dynasty built the gardens in the “charbagh” style, a system developed in Persia that involves dividing a garden into four sections, Sparavigna noted in her article.

“It is well known that the Mughal gardens were created with the symbolic meaning of Gardens of Eden, with the four main canals flowing from a central spring to the four corners of the world,” she wrote. Her research shows that solstice alignments can be found not only in the Taj Mahal gardens, but also in gardens built through time by different Mughal emperors.

Although the alignments at the Taj Mahal likely had symbolic meanings, it’s also possible that the architects of the structure used the solstice sun to help build the Taj Mahal, which is precisely oriented along a north-south axis. [In Photos: A Walk Through Stonehenge]

“In fact, architects have six main directions: two are joining cardinal points (north-south, east-west) and four are those given by sunrise and sunset on summer and winter solstices,”Sparavignawrote in her paper.

Sparavigna told Live Science in an email that the alignments seen at the Taj Mahal, compared with solar alignments seen at other gardens, are particularly precise. In “the case of Taj Mahal, these gardens, which are huge, are perfect.”

New technologies

Sparavigna made the discoveries by using an app called Sun Calc, which uses Google Earth satellite imagery to help calculate the direction at which the sun rises and sets on a given day and location.

Over the past decade the availability of free, high-resolution Google Earth imagery, combined with the development of apps like Sun Calc and Sollumis, has made it easier for researchers to discover and study solar alignments at historical sites.

“Before software and satellites, we had to use traditional maps or plans, obtained after local surveying, and equations to determine the solar [angles] and draw them on maps. In fact, the use of satellites [makes] this work very fast and visually attractive,” Sparavigna told Live Science.

In December 2014, she published another paper reporting her discovery of solstice alignments at a Roman fort in northern England.

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