In some Icelandic sagas—embellished stories of Viking life—sailors relied on so-called sunstones to locate the sun’s position and steer their ships on cloudy days.
The stone would’ve worked by detecting a property of sunlight called polarization. Continue reading Vikings Navigated With Translucent Crystals?
On the battlefields of the Somme, history and geology meld. Beneath the chalky earth, men carved messages, memorials and poems into the walls of tunnels that were dug almost a century ago during the First World War. Explosions in the tunnels buried countless men and reshaped the surface, where grass and trees now soften the cratered landscape. Many of the soldiers’ bodies — and their words — remain buried. Continue reading Modern Tools Reveal World War I Tunneling Tricks
NASA is unlikely to be the operator of the next spacecraft to land on the moon, but the U.S. space agency is considering sending along some red tape.
As dozens of private teams race to return to the moon as soon as next year, spurred on by $30 million in prize money from Google and the X Prize Foundation, NASA is wrestling with how to safeguard the historic and scientific value of more than three dozen sites containing remnants of America’s golden era of space exploration, including the spot where Neil Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin Jr. left the first footprints on the lunar surface. Later this month, the agency plans to issue what it calls “recommendations” for spacecraft, or future astronauts, visiting U.S. government property on the moon. Continue reading NASA to Launch Guidelines to Protect Lunar Artifacts
Buddhist artists in Bamiyan, Afghanistan, may have painted with oils centuries before European Renaissance painters developed the technique.
A team led by Marine Cotte at the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility in Grenoble, France, has analyzed tiny samples of paintings sent by a UNESCO conservation team from a site where the Taliban destroyed two giant Buddha statues in 2001. Initial scans with ultraviolet light led researchers to suspect the presence of oil, and “we have confirmed it,” says Cotte. Twelve of 50 murals depicting colorful Buddhas and mythical creatures, painted in caves behind the statue niches, included pigments bound in plant oils. Oil offers “more freedom” to artists, says Cotte, as it doesn’t set instantly like the gypsum or calcium salt pigments also used in the caves.
Helen Howard of the National Gallery in London says European oil paintings date back to the 12th century, but whether oil was used earlier isn’t known because “analysis hasn’t often been carried out on very early paintings.” UNESCO team leader Yoko Taniguchi of the National Research Institute for Cultural Properties in Tokyo said in a statement that ancient Romans and Egyptians were known to use drying oils, but only as medicines and cosmetics. Thus, the team writes in April’s Journal of Analytical Atomic Spectrometry, the Afghan samples could be the “oldest example of oil paintings on Earth.”
Originally appeared in Science Magazine as a Random Sample: [html] [pdf]