Archive for category Space exploration

Surf’s up…

I presume that, like me, you have spent some time over the summer studying up on the great Biblical flood.

Actually, although I have given the whole subject some philosophical thought over the years, I stumbled on a slightly new take on it with one of the books I bought for my summer reading. It was a book by Graham Hancock, who is a well-established researcher and writer of ancient geology, archeology and astronomy.

He started this book looking at another discovery of megalithic pillars, found in Southern Turkey (yawn more big rocks left by the ancients). The only somewhat interesting feature is that a major part of this structure had been so well preserved that it could be accurately dated to 9,600 bc, much older than any of our previous estimates for great monoliths, including the great pyramids of Giza. But then Hancock actually got my interest a bit more when he then turned to a place referred to as the Scablands of North America.

Channelled ScablandsThroughout the 20th century there had been much debate around the formation of these monumental channels. To put them into perspective, what is referred now to as “The Dry Falls” would have, at the time they were formed, been almost three times higher than Niagara Falls and 50% higher than the Victoria Falls in southern Africa. They would also have been six times wider than Niagara. So the great debate in the 20th century community of geologists was the cause. The geological establishment always favoured the gradual erosion theory following the end of the ice age around 12,000 years ago when Canada and this northern part of North America was under two kilometres of ice. A few geologists who did not buy this gradual erosion, arguing the impact on the landscape was just too dramatic for erosion and had to be the result of a catastrophic event. The two camps argued for a few decades and the community eventually ‘met in the middle’ with the theory of the collapse of a glacial lake causing the dramatic creation of the channels. But neither side really believed in this middle ground. The gradual erosion side were just of that geological religion and the catastrophic geologists just thought that the lake in question, Missoula, would never have contained anywhere near enough water volume to result in the scouring today visible.  But they simply had no alternative theory to seize.

But enter the 21st century and geologists are now studying an apparently unrelated geological feature: nano diamonds. A team of 25 Geophysicists, with Richard Firestone, a nuclear physicist as its team leader and including Jim Kennett, an oceanographer at the University of California, presented a paper in 2007 claiming that evidence found in a number of 12,900 year old carbon-rich sites (in the form of nano-diamonds) across North America and one site in Belgium, convinced them that a comet had come into earth’s atmosphere in the time of the last ice age, with North America taking the biggest hit, and caused the extinction of the great animals that once roamed through North America. The absence of a crater was explained by the fact that it would have impacted on the 2km deep ice sheet over Canada and Northern USA. The nano-diamond evidence was created by thermal heat up to, or greater than, 2,200 degrees centigrade. The evidence of glass-like carbon is the smoking gun, or at least the residue from a smoking gun. The evidence began to mount over the next few years. The search has now found evidence of this residue over North America and Northern Europe.

meteorAha, say the catastrophic geologists of the Scablands study. We have our cause. A 2km wide comet (as estimated from the nano-diamond evidence) impact landing on the 2km ice sheet of North America would account for an instant melting of 10% of the icecap which volume of water would certainly be supported by the evidence of the scablands. Further Geophysical evidence from Greenland core studies of the earth’s temperature movements over the millennia show that the earth was emerging from an ice age 13,000 years ago and warming up again quite nicely before it was suddenly plunged back into another ice age. Game, set and match. It’s not rocket science, the idea of a comet hitting earth is not outrageous sci-fi. A little one did land in Siberia in 1908, a meteor land in Russia back in 2013. These things happen. But if this big 2km one hit Canada 12,800 years ago spraying debris over two continents, melting 10% of the Canadian ice cap ice cap in minutes and also some of the ice sheet along northern Europe, then that would have been one very big wall of water plunging into the ocean and sweeping across the globe. Bigger than any tidal wave we have ever known. The Indonesian tidal wave disaster a few years ago would have been just a kid jumping into a paddling pool incident by comparison. So was this the great flood, made most famous by the story of Noah in the Bible but also turning up in other ancient myths? The climatic impact would have caused massive tidal waves, rains for months and the dust in the atmosphere would have blocked the sun and plunged the planet back into ice age conditions.

We learn from the Bible that this event was foretold to Noah who built an ark to survive the impending flood with only his immediate family of wife, three sons and their wives, with plants and animals as the only survivors on the planet. That is where the story beggars belief. That a mating pair of every animal with all the seeds of plants survived on this ark is a bit far-fetched. That the whole of humanity today was based on the interbreeding of first cousins from three marriages is a bit scary.

However Graham Hancock went down this same path of study linking the Comet strike of 12,800 years ago with the great flood myths. One part of his research led him to the writings of the prophet Zarathustra who is reported by Pluto to have lived 5,000 years before the Trojan War. Exactly when that was no one is quite sure, but it is known that Zarathustra borrowed from more ancient writings. His writings talk of the prediction of a great serpent that would sweep through the sky and bring forth a great winter. That sort of aligns with the comet and subsequent plunge back to the ice age. But then the Zoroastrian texts, as they are known, talk of the building of an underground shelter to survive this impending great winter. Into this underground shelter, called a Vara, some remnants of humanity would take refuge, keeping safe the seeds of all animals and plants until the dire winter passed and spring returned. The texts specified that no lepers, lunatics, impotent or deformed humans would be taken into this Vara; and only the seeds of the fruits and vegetables that are ‘fullest of food and sweetest of odour’. Vara was to be constructed on three subterranean levels, each smaller than the one above, the largest with nine streets, the middle with six streets and the smallest three streets. It also described the use of “uncreated lights that shine from below’ since the sun and moon would not be visible. Someone called Yima was given responsibility by the Gods for the construction. He was to bring the seeds of men and women, the seeds of every kind of fruit and of tree. Finally we learn from these texts that ‘every fortieth year, to every couple two are born, a male and a female. And thus it is for every sort of cattle.’ There is also a note that the humans live in Vara for 150 years. Moreover, intriguingly, the births of offspring to every couple do not result from sexual union but from the seeds deposited in the Vara. Actually as sci-fi as this Zorastrian text sounds, it resonates with how we would try to survive a cataclysmic global event today and is much more plausible than Noah and his sons and the animals on their ark being the source of all life today.

Cabbadicia ancient underground city, Turkey

Now here’s the thing, being a great traveller and researcher, Hancock went in search of such underground laboratory/ depository and did find that in Turkey’s Cappadicia region there are a large number of underground structures carved out of solid rock and usually, as described with Vara, consisting of multiple levels. He actually visited the one called Derinkuyu, in 2013.  Eight of its levels are open to the public, but there are others below still closed off. It also features a subterranean tunnel several kilometres long connecting with another underground ‘city’. Large stone doors shaped like millstones and weighing around half a ton were located ready to be rolled into place to block access. They had a remarkable system of ventilation shafts connecting from the bottom levels to the surface. It was a remarkable feat carved from volcanic rock and extending over four square kilometres. In Turkey over two hundred underground complexes have been found, forty of them at three or more levels. These may have been built before the great Flood to survive the climatic catastrophe of a comet strike or built much later as defence against marauders. We just don’t know.

I will very briefly paraphrase Hancock’s further research, as I am sure you have had enough for one blog already. But he studied ancient scripts in Egypt and Mesopotamia relating to this same period, roughly 12,000 years ago, and found reference to “the seven sages who set forth in ships to all parts of the world to take with them humans, animals and seeds with which to repopulate a world that had been devastated by the great flood”. Possibly Noah was one of these seven sages? And while they may have repopulated the species of a highly civilised and technically advanced race that existed before the flood of 12,800 years ago, no doubt there were still many thousands of simplistic hunter-gatherer humans around the globe, such as those in southern Africa, southern Asia, Australia and South America who had survived the great flood. They were well south of the North American ice sheet and also out of range of the main impact of the comet so possibly were the ones who witnessed the arrival of these god-like humans from the Middle East with their hi-tech magic who came to show them how build great pyramids and temples and how to fashion metals and gems. Uluru, virtually in the centre of Australia, may even have its secrets from the dreamtime.

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A universal language

“So what do you know about the tower of Babel?” I asked Danny over coffee. Seemed as good a morning-talk subject as any. “The one in the Bible? asked Danny, “dunno, why?”.

So the ‘why the subject itself occurred to me’ is that I was thinking about the linguistic challenge facing the multi-national astronauts working in the international space station. I recalled the Biblical story that God confused the one common language on earth in order to prevent men building the Tower of Babel to reach the heavens. So that just seemed an interesting mirror to the past.

The ‘why I asked Danny’ was because he had been raised in a religious school and spent some time of his career teaching in a Jewish school; I thought with that background he might have an insight or at least a conspiratorial opinion on a classic Bible story. But no, it drew a blank. He told me to Google it; that’s school teaching 21st century style.

So to summarise the Biblical story according to Genesis 11: ‘throughout the land mankind spoke one language and they moved eastwards to the land of Shimar (Sumer). And they said: “Come let us build a town and tower with its top reaching to heaven”.’ The Tower of Babel, a baked brick structure intended to reach the heavens, was halted by God and his angels, because (Gen. 11: 6-9) “the Lord said, ‘If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.’ So the Lord scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. That is why it was called Babel—because there the Lord confused the language of the whole world.”

Akkadia & Sumer 2200 bcBut what was it about this Babel tower that so concerned the God of the Bible, Yahweh? The Tower in question was built in Shimar (Sumer) which was Mesopotamia (now southern Iraq). Archeology dates the arrival of humans into Mesopotamia between 3500 and 4500 BC. as they moved eastwards from the Mediterranean. This is from carbon dating the virgin soil beneath the earliest records of human occupation. The Bible records in Genesis 10:10, that a descendant of Noah’s son, Ham, a man named Nimrod was the first ‘king’ of this region and built his  city called Nippur. We know from unearthed and translated Sumerian tablets that a six-seven story Ziggurat had been built in the city of Nippur where this priest-king lived.

 

The Sumerians are known for their skilled metalwork, stonework and statues. But more importantly they developed mathematics system based on 60, a twelve-month calendar based on moon cycles and a cuneiform alphabet which they used to keep records on clay tablets using a stylus. We also know that the oldest records of the science of astronomy are from Sumerian tablets dated back to the 3rd millennium bc and that they demonstrate that the Sumerians had a sophisticated knowledge of the solar system.

Mesopotamian Pottery tablet VA/243

Mesopotamian Pottery tablet VA/243

The tablet VA/243 shows all known planets in the solar system in correct relative size, including Pluto and, importantly, showed planets circuiting the sun (represented by the star of David). It was not until the 16th century AD that modern astronomers worked out that it was the earth travelling around the sun not the sun travelling around the earth.

 

 

Venus and Jupiter visible to the naked eye, align 30 June 2015

Venus and Jupiter aligned 30 June 2015

While the five planets out to Saturn can be seen with the naked eye and were known  to ancient astronomers, Uranus was only discovered by William Herschel in 1781, Neptune discovered by Johann Galle in 1846 and Pluto by Clyde Tombaugh in 1930. And yet these three outer planets are depicted accurately on this 3,000 BC Sumerian tablet.

 

 

Babylon itself is first mentioned in tablets around 2300 BC as a small city in Akkad. Its status grew and around 1800 BC, a ruler named Hammurabi expanded the borders of the Akkadian/ Babylonian Empire, conquering Sumer. Babylon is recorded as replacing Nippur as the “Holy City of Mesopotamia”. The Babylonians adopted the Sumerians cuneiform alphabet and then adapted it to their own Akkadian language.

The literal words of Genesis 11 are that the whole earth spoke one language. But this is the Bronze age. There were well-established civilisations in Egypt, Ethiopia, Greece, Sparta, Troy, China, Europe, North and South America and archaeology demonstrates that there were already many languages around the world. Being so concerned about this one baked-brick tower trying to reach the heavens also seems a bit pointless when  just along the road the Egyptians were building their pyramids, in Britain Stonehenge was built 3000 bc, in South America pyramids were being built and the remains of many ziggurats have been uncovered throughout Mesopotamia, having been built between 3000 BC and 600 BC.

So perhaps it was not the tower itself that was of concern but rather what was actually inside the tower. Perhaps it was no more than an historical account of the Babylonians conquering the Sumerians, plundering the library of knowledge, cosmology and science stored in the Priest-King’s Ziggurat in Nippur and replacing the Sumerian cuneiform language with the Akkadian cuneiform language so that the knowledge contained in the Sumerian tablets would become confused within a generation.

And so it could get all too academically speculative or just dismissed as another Biblical myth that just doesn’t quite stack up against archeological evidence, except for the uncanny message that it is recorded in the Bible which tells us that a common language would enable men to reach the heavens and so a diversity of language was imposed on man to prevent that achievement; and that situation is now being challenged 4-5,000 years later.

While the modern exploration of the heavens was initiated as part of the USA/USSR cold war, it is today very much a global mission. USA launched the space station Freedom in 1987 with support from the European Space Agency (Columbus Laboratory) and Japan (Japan Experimental Laboratory). In 1990 NASA launched the Hubble space telescope into low earth orbit. Russia then abandoned its plans for a successor to the Mir space station and in 1993  became a partner of the International Space Station (ISS). Without Russian support, the Western partners probably would have had to give up the Freedom Space Station.

Though NASA no longer sends its own shuttles into space, it has an agreement to help staff the ISS until 2020 and, as part of this agreement, will continue to send astronauts to the ISS in conjunction with the Russian Federal Space Agency. So astronauts from around the world, including Japan, Canada, Europe in addition to Russia and the United States, travel to the ISS. Several languages are spoken on board. This communication challenge is assisted by the spoken dialogue computer on the ISS, named Clarissa, which is programmed to understand both English and Russian. But future NASA astronauts will be required to learn Russian before they go into space. Because the Russian Federal Space Agency is facilitating the space flight to and from the ISS, it makes sense that the NASA wants astronauts to be able to correspond with their fellow space travelers. For over ten years all European astronaut activities are conducted at the European Astronaut Centre in Germany. In fact all the other astronauts on the ISS: Americans, Russians, Japanese and Canadians are also trained with European laboratory equipment. And European astronauts receive training in either Houston, USA, Star City in Russia, Tsukuba in Japan or Montreal, Canada to learn to operate the systems and components of the partners. The arrangement between the international partners is that any partner who owns a laboratory or another infrastructure element on the station trains the astronauts of all partners for it. We will also soon have to take into account that China, as the emerging dominant global economy, will probably start playing a much larger role in reaching the heavens.

To seriously explore the heavens we need international financial and intellectual co-operation and so we really do need a common language. An Anglo-Asian-Euro common language may possibly evolve in time, but it seems far more likely that Apple.com will much sooner adapt Clarissa into a virtual common language by translating multiple languages instantaneously into a receiving earpiece; sreating a virtual common language. The confusion of language will then be unravelled. Maybe they will name it Nimrod. And when we understand each other, will “nothing we plan to do be impossible for us”?

So from the rubble of the Tower of Babel emerges, 4-5,000 years later, the Satellite of Apple reaching the heavens; such is the imagination of man. But will the Gods intervene again? Will the satellite come crashing down to earth and will Apple’s universal language become confused? And just how did the ancient Sumerians know about the outer planets 4-5,000 years ago?

This is the conversation I was trying to have with Danny. Coffee has that effect on me, its surprising that it is still legal. I must contact Peter Jackson and see if there’s a movie in it before I come down from my caffeine buzz.

 

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