; Phantoms and Monsters: Pulse of the Paranormal

Monday, September 05, 2011

Just the Facts? Another Driverless Car, Alien Life on 'Dune' and New Orang Pendek Search

Another Driverless Car

Hi Lon,

Just read about the driverless car on P&M and wish to add my sighting of a driverless car. It was prior to 1982 because I graduated from chiropractic college that year in the Houston, TX, area and the sighting occurred before that year on the 610 Loop (South Loop) westbound and continued around the SW corner of the Loop onto the West Loop (northbound). It was probably 1980, give or take a little. My husband, also a D.C., was driving and I was in the front passenger seat. The car, which was a plain, dark sedan, was in the lane next to me. We played fall-behind and catch-up as two cars driving about the same speed on a multi-lane highway will for a few minutes before it registered in my mind that the car had no driver. At that point I asked my husband to position me so I could get a better look. It was a completely empty car. I have wished a thousand times that I had insisted we follow the car, but at the time all I could think of was to get away from that thing as fast as I could.

That was certainly neither the first nor the last completely weird experience I have had, but it would have been easy to follow the car and I sure wish I had done that. Rest assured, if I ever spot another driverless car...

Linda in Bryan, TX


I don't care what anybody says about the original movie 'Dune'...it's one of my favorites - Lon

Alien life more likely on 'Dune' planets

Desert planets strikingly like the world depicted in the science fiction classic "Dune" might be the more common type of habitable planet in the galaxy, rather than watery planets such as Earth, researchers suggest.

Their findings also hint that Venus might have been a habitable desert world as recently as 1 billion years ago.

Nearly everywhere there is water on Earth, there is life. As such, the search for life elsewhere in the universe has largely focused on "aqua planets" with a lot of liquid water on their surfaces — either terrestrial planets largely covered with oceans, such as Earth, or theoretical "ocean planets" completely covered by a layer of water hundreds of miles deep, somewhat like thawed versions of Jupiter's moon Ganymede.

To be habitable, aqua planets must orbit their stars in a so-called "Goldilocks zone" where they are neither too hot nor too cold. If they are too far from the Sun, they freeze; if they are too close, steam builds up in their atmospheres, trapping heat that vaporizes still more water, leading to a runaway greenhouse effect that boils all the oceans off the planet, as apparently happened on Venus. Eventually, such planets get so hot, they force water vapor high enough into the atmosphere for it to get split into hydrogen and oxygen by ultraviolet light — the hydrogen then escapes into space, the oxygen likely reacts with the molten surface and gets incorporated into the mantle , and the planet's atmosphere loses all its water over time.

Instead of aqua planets with abundant water on their surfaces, researchers investigated what "land planets" might be like, ones with no oceans and vast dry deserts, but perhaps oases here and there. The planet Arrakis depicted in science fiction classic "Dune" is one exceptionally well-developed example of a habitable land planet, said planetologist Kevin Zahnle at NASA Ames Research Center. Arrakis is essentially a bigger, warmer, sparsely inhabited version of Mars with a breathable oxygen atmosphere and polar regions cool and moist enough to have small water icecaps and morning dew.

The scientists reasoned the scarcity of water on a land planet might actually help it have a larger habitable zone around its star. For one thing, a land planet has less water for snow and ice that can reflect sunlight back into space. As such, it can in principle absorb more heat to better resist global freezing, enlarging the cold outer limits of its habitable zone. In addition, the dearth of water in a land planet's dry atmosphere makes it trap less heat than an aqua planet, helping it avoid a runaway greenhouse effect and expanding the inner, hotter edge of its habitable zone. Also, the less water there is in the atmosphere, the less there is for ultraviolet radiation to break up into hydrogen and oxygen.

Researcher Yutaka Abe at the University of Tokyo with Zahnle and their colleagues experimented with a number of simple three-dimensional global climate models for Earth-sized planets. For their simulations of land planets, they left the rotation rates, atmospheric pressures and carbon dioxide levels unchanged but removed oceans and vegetation, leaving behind groundwater locked underneath the surface.

The scientists discovered that a land planet's habitable zone was three times bigger than an aqua planet's. "A pale blue dot is not the only model for an Earth-like habitable planet," they report in their paper, which was recently published in the journal Astrobiology. "The first habitable planet is more likely to be a member of the land planet class than the aqua class."

When analyzing what the cold outer limits were for these worlds, Abe and his colleagues found that complete freezing of an aqua planet occurred when the amount of sunlight dipped below 72 to 90 percent of what Earth receives, depending on how its axis of the rotation was tilted toward the Sun. On the other hand, land planets were better at resisting global freezing, with sunlight dipping below 58 to 77 percent before the planet completely iced over. This means land planets could be farther away from their stars and remain potentially habitable.

When it came to the hot inner limits of these planets, the researchers calculated that liquid water could remain stable at the poles of an aqua planet — its coldest areas — only until the amount of sunlight it received exceeded 135 percent that of modern Earth. In comparison, liquid water could remain stable at the poles of a land planet until it received 170 percent of Earth's sunshine, meaning it could orbit closer to its star and still be habitable.

Such a land planet might be much like the fictional planet of Arrakis, "although I don't think the sandworms sound possible to me," Zahnle said. "The picture of the equatorial zone being just too hot to live at is there, as well as the poles being habitable. I would actually think that the poles would be a good deal wetter than in 'Dune' — there would be more open water at the poles, maybe even small streams and lakes and such."

Planetary scientist Jim Kasting at Pennsylvania State University, who did not take part in this study, said this is clever research. However, Kasting was uncertain if these findings actually will help find new habitable planets, whether they be land or aqua. In order to tell if any worlds are habitable by our standards, they need to exhibit signs of water, and "it is not clear that there is enough water on these 'Dune' planets to be observed [by our telescopes]. So I don't think this will change our strategy for looking remotely for life."

Zahnle disagreed. "These planets might not exhibit signs of water that we can see, but they would of oxygen," he said. "Also, we're finding that water is so ubiquitous, it cannot be regarded as a signature of a planet's habitability."

If anything, since land planets can get closer to stars than aqua planets and still be habitable, Zahnle expected habitable land planets to be discovered before habitable aqua ones. The closer a planet is to its star, the faster it orbits and the more often it dims its star's light, making it easier for our telescopes to spot.

Kasting also was not convinced that small amounts of water are stable on a planetary surface. He suspected that the little water on a land planet would get sucked up by rocks or get pulled down into the mantle or both.

Zahnle agreed, "but we're not looking for planets that are habitable permanently, just ones that might be habitable long enough for life. No planet is habitable permanently, not even Earth."

Earth itself may one day become a desert world, researchers added. As our sun ages, it is brightening at a rate of 9 percent every billion years, radiation that will eventually deplete our planet's liquid water by breaking it down into hydrogen and oxygen. However, they calculated that Earth might still remain habitable in the billions of years before the Sun begins dying — it might avoid the runaway greenhouse effect that made Venus unlivably hot -- and only lose about a third of its oceans before the Sun's death.

One interesting question the habitability of land planets raises is whether or not Venus, the hottest planet in the solar system, ever could have fostered life. Assuming that Venus once had oceans of liquid water, the researchers' calculations suggest "it is possible that Venus went through a period where it was a dry but habitable planet," Zahnle said.

Indeed, Venus could have persisted as a habitable land planet until as recently as roughly 1 billion years ago. Zahnle said that Venus back then would have been "very hot in the tropics, cooler and wetter at the poles. Sort of Earth-like, not a lot of carbon dioxide."

Future research can investigate precisely how habitable Venus might once have been, Zahnle added. - physorg


Hypnotism show in Colombian school causes mass hysteria

Magician Miller Zambrano Posada was taken into custody after 41 students went into a hypnotic trance after his show in Mocoa, Colombia. The Institución Educativa Ciudad high school’s “fun day,” complete with circus acts, clowns and the much awaited hypnotism act turned awry after several children went into a mass panic attack and had to be taken to the hospital. In what was supposed to be the highlight of the day, 590 high school students paid 700 pesos ($0.40) to witness a few of their class mates obey suggestions given by a hypnotist magician.

Twelve children were called to the stage, and then four were returned to their seats; the remaining eight were put into trance by Zambrano with hand movements, deep eye contact and a monotone voice. Zambrano made them lift their arms, walk in circles, cry like babies, laugh hysterically, bark like dogs and act like chickens. Students laughed and clapped at the end of the show and when Zambrano left the stage, the students were ushered back to their classrooms.

As the students returned, several developed bizarre symptoms. Police at the scene reported some of the students were crying, others dived into the ground for no reason, others hit their chest with their palms. One girl went as far as to scream that she was seeing the devil, and before too long a larger group had a mass panic attack. Strangely enough, only one of the 36 girls and 5 boys affected, had shared the stage with the hypnotist, who was put in police custody as parents, students and a few teachers accused him of witchcraft.

Doctor William Orlando Galarza, director of the José María Hernández hospital where the pupils were taken, said that to different degrees, all children presented symptoms of collective hypnosis. Most of the children have been released from hospital and only one had to be re-admitted. Mortified Zambrano, told police he has been doing this very act for many years in different places, and it is the first time something like this happened. - hispanicallyspeakingnews


The search for Orang Pendek continues

The Center for Fortean Zoology has organized another expedition to Sumatra in search of the famed Orang Pendek, a short, powerful, bipedal hominoid, sightings of which have been reported for centuries by the indigenous people of the Sumatran rain forests.

Here is the information given to me by expedition leader and cryptid researcher Adam Davies:

“We leave Friday, September 9, 20011 and will return on the 25th of September, late night. I will be leading the expedition, which is entitled The CFZ Sumatra Expedition 2011. There will be two teams to maximise our chances of finding evidence of the creature. Continue reading at theparanomalist


Vampire Cruise

Hundreds of vampire enthusiasts will sail Alaska's fabled Inside Passage in a summer 2012 cruise tailored to their interests that combines gazing at glaciers with a late-night costume ball, organizers said on Thursday.

The "Vamps at Sea" cruise is scheduled for late June, which is a time of near-constant daylight in the far north.

"They've got curtains and they can block everything out -- so it can be as dark as we want it," said organizer Linda Wolf, president of Los Angeles-based agency Cruises Cruises Cruises Inc, who is herself a fan of the vampire genre.

Cruise groups have been organized around myriad interests, with everyone from bird lovers to marathon runners getting their own boat trips.

Still, the Vamps at Sea cruise promises to be special, said Buckwheat Donahue, executive director of the convention and visitors bureau in Skagway, a historic gold rush town that is on most cruise itineraries.

"This is going to be fun," Donahue said. "I can't imagine what people are going to be dressed like coming off the boat."

The group will sail on a Holland America ship, the Zuiderdam, and will hit the usual ports of call such as Juneau, Glacier Bay and Ketchikan.

But there will be other special features, including a late-night costume ball, a scavenger hunt and a vampire talent show, Wolf said. There is also a literary angle to the cruise, with vampire-genre authors scheduled to speak, including a relative of the late "Dracula" writer Bram Stoker, according to the cruise website.

Themed cruises and organized cruise groups are becoming increasingly popular, Donahue said. - au.news.yahoo