Skin Tight

The pair of so-called “necropants” below were made in the 17th century from a dead man’s skin and are supposed to bring good luck. According to legend, sorcerers would strike a deal where one of them would agree to be made into a pair of trousers after they die, and the “necropants” would then be used for magic… no doubt increasing any young warlock’s chances of pulling down at Ye Olde Oak on a Saturday night, to be sure.

The trousers – currently on display at the Strandagaldur Museum of Icelandic Sorcery & Witchcraft in Holmavik – were made by skinning a dead man who had given his permission to be made into pants after his death. In order to make the magical trousers, the living man would have to strip the skin off of the corpse in one piece.

The wearer of the pants then had to steal a coin from a widow and store it in the scrotum of the trousers next to a magical sign called a nábrókarstafur which are symbols credited with effect preserved in various books of spells. According to the museum, the effects credited to most of these were very relevant to the average Icelanders of the time, most of who were farmers dealing with hard conditions.

The coin was a “tool to gather wealth by supernatural means.” The skin of the pants would then stick to the wearer’s own flesh. “They would immediately be stuck with your own flesh and be part of your body,” said a museum spokesman. “People would be able to use them as long as they lived, but they would have to get rid of them before they die. If they would find someone to take them over they could last forever,” the spokesman said.

Source: UPI / Wiki

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Mapping Galaxies

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That?

Oh, that’s a 600-billion-billion-kilometre-wide chunk of the universe – or at least a simulation of it.

Astronomers working on the Baryon Oscillation Spectroscopic Survey (BOSS) are attempting to map galaxies and hydrogen gas clouds in the universe by looking for the light of super-bright quasars, luminous objects that are thought to be powered by black holes devouring matter. Galaxies and gas clouds leave an imprint on this quasar light as it passes through them, which can be used to deduce their positions.

To make sense of these imprints, the BOSS team create simulations of quasar light passing though cosmos-spanning gas clouds and compare them with the real thing. The picture above shows a simulation of a cube of the universe 65 million light years across. The red blobs are clusters of galaxies, while the blue filaments show regions of low-density filled with clouds of gas.

Source: New Scientist

“I’m a Hot Pink Slug, You’re a Dull Brown Slug” *

[It’s] big. [It’s] slimy. And [it’s] … neon pink?! Meet Triboniophorus aff. graeffei, a new species of 8-inch-long (20-centimeter-long) slug that’s found only on one Australian mountain.

Scientists already knew that a bright-pink slug lived on Mount Kaputar, thinking it was a variety of the red triangle slug, a species common along the east coast of Australia. But new research shows that the colorful critter is actually its own species, said Australia’s National Parks and Wildlife Service ranger Michael Murphy.

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The pink slug is large for slugs, reaching about eight inches in length
Photograph © Michael Murphy / NPWS

“Recent morphological and genetics work by a researcher working on this slug family—the Athorcophoridae—has indicated the Kaputar slugs are a unique species endemic to Mount Kaputar and the only representative of this family in inland Australia,” said Murphy, who’s been stationed on Mount Kaputar for 20 years.

The pink slug had gone unstudied for so long because Australian slug and snail researchers—known as malacologists—are far outnumbered by their koala-investigating brethren, Murphy said. Their research on the new slug will likely be submitted for publication soon, he added. Meanwhile, though, the Australian government has moved to protect this rosy rarity and other unique species by designating their mountain home in New South Wales as an ”endangered ecological area.”

Tens of millions of years ago, Australia was part of a larger southern continent known as Gondwana, which included Australia, Papua New Guinea, India, and parts of Africa and South America. It was covered in rain forests similar to those of modern-day Papua New Guinea.

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Photograph © Michael Murphy / NPWS

A volcanic eruption 17 million years ago on Mount Kaputar kept a small, four-square-mile (ten-square-kilometer) area lush and wet even as much of the rest of Australia turned to desert. This changing environment marooned the plants and animals living on Mount Kaputar from their nearest neighbors for millions of years, making the area a unique haven for species such as the pink slug.

Because the pink slugs live in beds of red eucalyptus leaves, Murphy suspects their color could potentially serve as camouflage, helping the animals blend in to their leafy habitat. “However, [the slugs] also spend a lot of their time high on tree trunks nowhere near fallen leaves, so it is possible that the color is just a quirk of evolution. I think if you are isolated on a remote mountaintop, you can pretty much be whatever color you like,” Murphy noted, adding that the slugs play important roles in their ecosystems—for example, by recycling plant matter.

“I’m a big believer in invertebrates. People tend to focus on the cute and cuddly bird and mammal species like koalas. But these little behind-the-scenes invertebrates really drive whole ecosystems,” Murphy told the Australian Broadcasting Service. Besides the pink slug, researchers have also identified several other invertebrate species that are unique to Mount Kaputar, such as the Kaputar hairy snail and the Kaputar cannibal snail.

These finds, combined with Mount Kaputar’s uniqueness and the growing threat from global warming—temperatures just a degree or two warmer would destroy Kaputar’s flora and fauna—prompted the Australian government’s proposal to preserve Kaputar. “They are a unique and colorful part of our natural heritage, and we should do everything we can to avoid causing their extinction,” Murphy said.

Source: Nat Geo
* Showing my age

Photo – Venus In Transit

Bacoli, near Naples, Italy
6 June 2013
Image: ©Adam Allegro

From his blog catchthejiffy – “Here are the first photos (that I have seen anyways) from Europe of Venus transiting the sun. Conditions were very good for shooting this morning, and I had about a 4 minute window before clouds completely covered the sun. I was shooting with a Nikon D800, 28-300mm lens, Slik Pro tripod, and remote release, and all photos were taken from the Bacoli sea wall just outside of Naples, Italy. No filters were even necessary.”

PHOTOS: The Historic Transit of Venus

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Source: Discovery News

Space Spots Somma-Vesuvius

This was the view out the International Space Station’s cupola on Jan. 1, 2013, around 09:37 UTC, looking nearly straight down the gullet of Italy’s Mt. Vesuvius.

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The. World’s. Most. Dangerous. Volcano.

Vesuvius (“Vesuvio” in Italian) is probably not only the most famous, but also one, if not the most dangerous volcano on Earth. The first eyewitness account of a volcanic eruption that has been preserved has come to us from Vesuvius: In 79 AD, after a century-long slumber, the volcano woke up with terrifying power in an eruption that buried several Roman towns like Pompeii and Herculaneum under several meters of ash. Today, parts of these cities have been excavated and are among the most remarkable archaeological sites of the world, allowing us to have an excellent view on Roman life and culture, where time and life had been frozen in a moment.

Geologically, Mt. Vesuvius, or more correctly the Somma-Vesuvius complex, is about 400,000 years old, as dating of lava sampled drilled from over 1,300 m depth have shown. Present-day Vesuvius is a medium-sized typical stratovolcano volcano reaching a height of 1,281 m a.s.l. It comprises the older volcano, the Somma, whose summit collapsed (likely during the 79 AD eruption), creating a caldera, and the younger volcano, Vesuvius, which since then has re-grown inside this caldera and formed a new cone. Although in a dormant phase at present, Vesuvius is an extremely active volcano and particular for its unusually varied style of activity: it ranges from Hawaiian-style emission of very liquid lava, extreme lava fountains, lava lakes and lava flows, over Strombolian and Vulcanian eruptions to violently explosive, Plinian eruptions that produce large pyroclastic flows.

When one thinks about Vesuvius volcano today, one aspect is eminent: due to the dense population surrounding it, and ever climbing higher and higher up on its slopes, it is certainly among Earth’s most dangerous volcanoes. It is estimated that ore than 500,000 people live in the zone immediately threatened by a future eruption. When this happens is not known; it is possible that Vesuvius has entered into one of its typically century-long lasting phases of dormancy, but volcanoes can be unpredictable. The situation in the Gulf of Naples is further complicated by the presence of another highly active, and potentially as dangerous volcano: the Campi Flegrei, located immediately under a large part of the modern city of Naples.

Europe’s Ticking Time Bomb

Image: NASA via Cmdr Chris Hatfield