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More Subtle Than Any Beast of the Field

Hello I Must Be Going: Vanishing Twins

Weave of the Gods

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World’s rarest things, Part 1

World’s rarest things, Part 2

World’s rarest metals (Or, what’s $1 billion per troy ounce?)

Asteroid Facts Part 1

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Free (well, naturally) online Latin date conversion

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Real-life shortwave espionage: The mysterious Lincolnshire Poacher “numbers” station [mp3 2.2M]

I have a vewy gweat fwiend in Wome: Adventures in popedom

Not your father’s world history (19 chapters)

LIPOMANIA: Lipograms on Monday’s Child, Sing a Song of Sixpence, Mary Had a Little Lamb, Jack & Jill

A clerihew or two

Higgledy-piggledies / Jiggery-pokeries

Martian Curiosities

Weird word of the week

Here are all the cheeses mentioned in the famous Monty Python “Cheese Shop” sketch.

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The Pia Zadora/Rondo Hatton connection

Curious Notions: The Occasional Blog
Not Your Father’s World History Part 17:
“The astrophysics community had to scurry...”

20 March 2006

Pulsar Co-Discoverer
S. Jocelyn Bell
Pulsar Co-Discoverer

Curious Article No. 26:

There are a couple of lines of evidence we can follow that might ultimately lead us to ETs, for real. One is the so-called Starchild skull owned by a family valuing its privacy but earnestly promoted by an evolutionary revisionist named Lloyd Pye.

On casual inspection it appears to have belonged to a child who suffered from hydrocephaly and was cradle-boarded. The former is a disorder in which fluid builds up inside the cranium and causes it to expand abnormally. The latter was a common Amerindian practice which involved binding an infant’s head to a plank to gradually flatten it for aesthetic purposes.

Many of the Starchild’s features, though, convinced Pye there was far more to the story. He lent the skull for a year to Vancouver craniofacial plastic surgeon Dr Ted J. Robinson, M.D. (Medical Council of Canada/Royal College of Surgeons) who in turn invited two other craniofacial surgeons and an oral surgeon, a dentist, three radiologists, two ophthalmologists, a pediatrician, and a forensic odontologist to study the skull and see if it might yield to a prosaic explanation. They found:

  • The skull is genuine and unaltered and carbon dates to 900 years ±40.
  • Its bone thicknesses are less than half of normal, as is its weight.
  • Although its geometry is unprecedented (over ten standard deviations outside the norm) the skull is highly symmetrical and elegant and does not resemble any recorded human deformity.
  • The unremarkable sutures between the skull plates, along with other factors, clearly rule out hydrocephaly.
  • There are no frontal sinuses or brow ridges and its eye sockets are less than half the normal depth.
  • Within those sockets the optic nerves exited toward the bottom rather than at the rear where they should in humans.
  • The skull’s brain volume exceeded an average adult’s by 15%, yet judging by its dentition we’re looking at a child. Abnormal bulging at the skull’s sides and other peculiarities helped to accommodate that larger brain.
  • The flattening at the rear of the head was natural and could not possibly have been imposed by a cradle board.
  • The ear canals are unusually low on the head yet 50% deeper than normal.
  • The skull’s floor supported the brain’s weight in an anomalous fashion and the neck beneath it would have only been half the normal thickness.

  • The skull’s mitochondrial DNA indicates a male of an Amerindian mother, but its nuclear DNA so far evades analysis and funding shortfalls have stalled further progress. Pye speculates the skull may be that of a human/alien hybrid. In view of the profound incompatibilities that would likely exist between an ET’s DNA and our own, let’s be a little less sensationalistic and suggest instead a genetically modified human. We perform GM ourselves to improve crops and create glow-in-the-dark aquarium fish, but we certainly weren’t doing it 900 years ago let alone with humans. So who was?

    The other item relates to pulsars. These are celestial objects which broadcast electromagnetic signals that typically pulse about once per second, though they can be much slower or faster. Out of the 1500-plus pulsars known so far the slowest pulses 0.083 per second (one cycle every 12 seconds) and the fastest, 716. A Belfast-born astronomy graduate student named Jocelyn Bell discovered the first pulsar in the summer of 1967 under the direction of Dr Antony Hewish with an antenna she and others built near Cambridge, U.K. At 81.5 MHz (about the frequency of television channel 5 in the U.S.) Bell found a remarkably precise signal which pulsed every 1.339 seconds and which rose and set with the stars, meaning it was hailing from outside the solar system.

    The first thought occurring to Bell and Hewish was that the signal might be artificial and so they dubbed it LGM-1 for Little Green Men. They anguished over the heady implications of this but soon Cornell astronomer Tommy Gold came to the rescue. He proposed that LGM-1 and its successors were not ET beacons after all but neutron stars — several solar masses jammed into tiny globes no more than 20 miles (30 km) or so in diameter and spinning like maniacs — emitting narrow radio beams that sweep past our view to create the pulsations. We call this explanation for pulsars the lighthouse model.

    But as their instrumentation continually improved, observers documented more and more complexities and subtleties within these signals. The astrophysics community had to scurry to keep up and incorporate ever more byzantine accessories into its lighthouse model to keep it afloat. Some pulsar features simply defied explanation. Most hated to vent such heresies out loud but Carl Sagan finally saw fit to revive Bell’s and Hewish’s original ET-related inferences, at least for the sake of discussion.

    Then in 2000 Dr Paul LaViolette published Talk of the Galaxy in which he greatly expands on Sagan’s insights and asserts not only that the lighthouse model should be put out of its misery once and for all but that someone, somewhere, deliberately engineered pulsar broadcasts to appear as non-natural as possible. Among other things, he points out:

  • The timings and shapes of the pulses averaged over periods of several minutes are phenomenally regular, yet the timings and shapes of the individual pulses can vary substantially. The lighthouse model shouldn’t allow that.
  • Quite a few pulsars subdivide their main pulses into many very fine secondary pulses. These can be rapid, less than half a millisecond, plus their rates can also oscillate with time.
  • A pulsar’s overall rate slows over time — measurably by as little as a microsecond every two million years. But while doing so it can, without warning, flip back to a quicker rate and resume its slowdown.
  • A pulsar can, in mid-cycle, cut its power way down and continue at a drastically reduced level for minutes or weeks. It can then switch back on and pick up exactly where it had broken off in the stronger transmission’s wave shape.
  • Some pulsars have two or more transmission modes, each of which may have a different wave shape, polarization, or other aspect. The pulsar can snap back and forth between them.
  • The spatial distribution of pulsars is conspicuously non-random. Their placements from our perspective favor the angle of a radian, which unlike a degree is a culturally neutral unit. Also, mainstreamers assume pulsars result from supernova explosions but their locations and those of supernova remnants don’t mesh very well.
  • It seems we’re pretty darn lucky to lie within the narrow sweep of so many of these signals. It’s as though we or someone nearby were meant to see them.

  • As Sagan himself said, turning an existing star into a pulsar should be similar in principle to generating smoke signals with an existing fire and a blanket. Attenuating that much of a star’s output, even such a tiny one, is beyond our current means but not unreasonably so. There should certainly be others out there who can do this easily.

    Jocelyn Bell Photo: NMPFT/Syndication International/Science & Society Picture Library

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