Saturday, February 3, 2018

Lasers Reveal a Maya Civilization So Dense It Blew Experts’ Minds


Photo
Tikal, home to temples and palaces, is one of the best known Maya sites in northern Guatemala. Credit Justin Lane for The New York Times

They were hidden there, all this time, under the cover of tree canopies in the jungles of northern Guatemala: tens of thousands of structures built by the Maya over a millennium ago.
Not far from the sites tourists already know, like the towering temples of the ancient city of Tikal, laser technology has uncovered about 60,000 homes, palaces, tombs and even highways in the humid lowlands.
The findings suggested an ancient society of such density and interconnectedness that even the most experienced archaeologists were surprised.
"Everywhere that we looked, there was more settlement than we expected," said Thomas Garrison, a National Geographic explorer and an archaeologist at Ithaca University. "We knew there was going to be more, but the scale of it really blew our minds."
Researchers found the structures by shooting lasers down from planes to pierce the thick foliage and paint a 3-D picture of the ground below. The technology is called Light Detection and Ranging, or lidar.


NICARAGUA
FEB. 2, 2018
By The New York Times
The method has been used elsewhere, including around the Angkor Wat temple in Cambodia. But this lidar project is the largest ever undertaken. More than 800 square miles of the Maya Biosphere Reserve in Guatemala's Petén region have been mapped, according to an exclusive report by National Geographic, which is airing a Feb. 6 television special about the project.

"This world, which was lost to this jungle, is all of a sudden revealed in the data," said Albert Yu-Min Lin, an engineer and National Geographic explorer who worked on the television special. "And what you thought was this massively understood, studied civilization is all of a sudden brand new again."
The lasers are only the first step, he added, noting that he and archaeologists still had to trek through jungles to verify the data while contending with thick undergrowth, poisonous snakes, swarms of killer bees and the odd scorpion.

Photo
Lidar data highlighted about 60,000 structures that had been hidden in the jungle for hundreds of years. Credit Wild Blue Media/National Geographic
The project was started by Pacunam, a Guatemalan nonprofit organization, and carried out with help from the National Center for Airborne Laser Mapping, which is based at the University of Houston. The lidar technology essentially allows researchers to spot bumps in the landscape. Most of the ruins look like rocky mounds — even in person, and to the naked eye — but experts can often identify a collapsed quarry, palace or street.
The Maya culture was known for its sophisticated approach to agriculture, arts and astronomy. The peak era for the civilization, which some archaeologists refer to as the Classic Period, is generally considered to have lasted from around A.D. 250 to 900.
The total population at that time was once estimated to be a few million, said Diane Davies, an archaeologist and Maya specialist based in the United Kingdom. But in light of the new lidar data, she said it could now be closer to 10 million.

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Dr. Davies was not involved in the lidar project but considered it "really big, sensational news." She said the data should encourage people not only to re-evaluate Maya civilization, but also to learn from it.
"To have such a large number of people living at such a high level for such a long period of time, it really proves the fact that these people were highly developed, and also quite environmentally conscientious," she said.
Among the structures uncovered were roads, built wide and raised high above the wetlands to connect fields to farmers and markets to metropolises. There were also small dwellings, quarries and intricate irrigation systems. "We're seeing the spaces in between, and that's where really interesting stuff was happening," Dr. Garrison said.
He added that in addition to changing people's perception of the Maya culture, lidar represented "a sea change" in the field of archaeology.
"I don't think you see a lot of discoveries happening across the sciences right now that sort of turn a discipline on its head," he said. "It's exciting to know that it can still happen."


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Thursday, February 1, 2018

This Land Was Stolen for You and Me


This 1876 woodcut designed by A.R. Waud and engraved by J.P. Davis shows Samoset, the first Native American to make contact with the pilgrims of Plymouth Colony. (Wikimedia)
Donald Trump is right about one thing: This is our New American Moment.
America has a great opportunity, and as United States Olympic hockey coach Herb Brooks said almost 40 years ago, "Great moments are born from great opportunity."
But before every U.S. citizen can "be proud of this land that we love," we have to start being honest about America.
Native Americans have a saying: "Treat the earth well: it was not given to you by your parents, it was loaned to you by your children. We do not inherit the Earth from our Ancestors, we borrow it from our Children."
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Americans could learn a lot from Native Americans, the only true "legal" citizens of the United States. A Native American underscored this point at an anti-illegal immigration protest in Arizona a few years ago.
Next time someone calls another immigrant "illegal," remind them that America was founded on illegal immigration.
"The pilgrims that came over on the Mayflower were undocumented immigrants," explained Cenk Uygur on The Young Turks. "They did not have any papers. They didn't ask the permission of the Native Americans to land here. And then they certainly didn't ask the permission of the Native Americans when they started butchering them. And then moving them onto reservations. And then violating those agreements. And moving them again. And having them die on the road. And then having them die on the reservations. And then having them die in the fields that they used to hunt in and live in."
If Native Americans had built a wall, America might look a little different. To be clear, the land of our country was stolen from Native Americans by undocumented immigrants. Anyone who is complaining about illegal immigrants needs to stop.
Jennifer Mendelsohn, a Baltimore-based freelance journalist, started a project called #resistancegenealogy to point out the blatant and rampant hypocrisy of the anti-immigrant stance. Mendelsohn confronts anti-immigration public figures on Twitter with their own family histories. One of her targets was White House Director of Social Media Dan Scavino Jr., who called for an end to "chain migration." Mendelsohn looked up Scavino's family history and explained how his ancestors are like immigrants being condemned.
"If you are not Native American or [your ancestors] did not arrive here in chains, then you or your ancestors immigrated to the U.S.," Mendelsohn told The Times of Israel.
"People in genealogical glass houses shouldn't throw stones, and we're all in genealogical glass houses metaphorically speaking," she added.
Since we are all in this American experiment together, we have to create fair immigration policy—not a ransom note—that works for the 21st century. That will require compromise, but the solution is not as hard as some claim.
Set up a system that provides a path to citizenship for the immigrants who are productive members of society—the millions of undocumented citizens who are living, working and paying taxes in America. Law-abiding immigrants are contributing billions of dollars to the U.S. economy. Give those immigrants, young and old, a reasonable path to citizenship. They should not have to wait 10 to 12 years.
Not all immigrants are "rapists and drug dealers." In fact, the data show that crime is not correlated with immigration. With a vetting system, we can identify the undocumented undesirables, the real criminals. Find them. And deport them.
Treating every immigrant as a criminal is wrong. Labeling undocumented immigrants as "illegal" is inhumane. Forcing people to live in fear and uncertainty is un-American. Or perhaps the vitriol surrounding our immigration debate is as American as apple pie. If that's the case, we need to start being un-American.
Every U.S. citizen needs to recognize and accept the truth about U.S. history. Stop with the bogus "this is our country—go home" arguments. Enough with the "illegal" talk. Remember: Every U.S. citizen who is not a Native American or a descendant of slaves had ancestors who immigrated to America. Every U.S. citizen who is not a Native American is living on stolen land.
Think about that when you're standing for the national anthem or listening to Woody Guthrie.
If we wanted to put "This Land Is Your Land" in proper historical context, Guthrie's lyrics would read like this:
This land is not your land, this land is not my land
From California to the New York island
From the redwood forest, to the gulf stream waters
This land was stolen for you and me
As I went walking that ribbon of highway
I saw above me that endless skyway
I saw below me that golden valley
This land was stolen for you and me
I roamed and rambled and I followed my footsteps
To the sparkling sands of her diamond deserts
And all around me, a voice was sounding
This land was stolen for you and me
There was a big high wall there that tried to stop me
Sign was painted, it said private property
But on the back side, it didn't say nothing
This land was stolen for you and me
When the sun comes shining, then I was strolling
In the wheat fields waving and dust clouds rolling
The voice was chanting as the fog was lifting
This land was stolen for you and me
This land is not your land and this land is not my land
From California to the New York island
From the redwood forest, to the gulf stream waters
This land was stolen for you and me.
None of us were around when this country was founded. Maybe some of us would have treated the Native Americans better if we had been.
Yolanda Lopez riffs off the Montgomery Flagg "Uncle Sam" poster in 1981. (Center for the Study of Political Graphics)
We can begin to make amends by being honest about America's roots. Then we can pass some enlightened immigration reform.

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Native American confronts 'anti-illegal immigration' protesters

The truth is, Europeans are the invaders.

Miles Davis playlist on Spotify





Sunday, January 28, 2018

Really!


America Is Destined for Decline Without More Immigrants


America urgently needs the brains and drive of people who now live in other countries.
by
Noah Smith
August 18, 2017, 5:00 AM PDT

We're better with them than without them.
Photographer: Mohammed Elshamy/Anadolu/Getty Images

In response to President Donald Trump's moves to curb immigration, economists and pundits have spilled a lot of ink on the topic of whether immigration hurts the native-born. We've reminded the public that the vast bulk of evidence shows that immigrants don't drive down wages for the native-born, and that immigrants -- especially skilled ones -- make a positive fiscal contribution and integrate rapidly into American culture. We've pointed out that undocumented immigration has gone into reverse during the past decade, and that the immigrants that are currently coming to the U.S. tend to be much more highly educated than earlier waves. All these things show that immigration is clearly not a danger to native-born Americans.
But one thing relatively few do is to make a positive economic case for immigration. Immigrants aren't a danger, but are they an economic necessity? That's an important question to ask, because legal immigration to the U.S. has slowed down:

What Immigration Wave?

Number of permanent residencies granted as share of U.S population
Sources: Migration Policy Institute, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis
The answer is that the U.S. probably does need to keep immigrants coming in order to maintain its prosperity.
The standard economic case for immigration is based on population aging. U.S. fertility rates are below replacement level, and the native-born population is aging steadily. That means that if native-born Americans are going to retire comfortably, the country needs immigrants, especially those with skills. Taxes paid by immigrants help support health care and social services for native-born Americans. Immigrants increase the pool of buyers for houses and stocks owned by old people. This saves many of the native-born from struggling in their golden years.
QuickTake Skilled Immigrants
A second case relies on the innovation and entrepreneurship that immigrants generate. Newcomers to the U.S. tend to be highly entrepreneurial -- something we sorely need in a time when the country is creating fewer startup businesses. Skilled immigrants also tend to be highly innovative, especially when paired with other smart and talented workers; this is one reason skilled immigrants raise the wages of their native-born counterparts.
These cases are both true enough. But the U.S. economy could certainly trudge on without immigrants -- it would be a slightly poorer place, and old people would have to scrimp and save more. Is there a really inescapable economic reason why immigrants are so essential to the country's economic future?
There might be. That reason is agglomeration -- the tendency of economic activity to cluster in highly productive cities.
Why do cities even exist? Why isn't economic activity spread out, with factories dotting the landscape and corporate headquarters in sleepy suburbs? One key reason is that businesses need to be near their customers, while customers -- who are also workers -- need to live near their employers. This basic principle was key to the theories of Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman. Krugman's idea is surprisingly powerful, and can explain many features of how countries -- and even the entire world -- develop.
There's a second reason cities are so crucial to a nation's productivity. When knowledge workers -- engineers, designers, managers and other creative folks -- live near each other, ideas tend to flow freely between them, increasing innovation and progress. Companies that rely on these workers can also take advantage of having a lot of them in a small area -- an effect known as a thick market. The innovative potential of cities is especially key to the modern knowledge economy.
This is why immigrants are so vital. With a growing population, agglomeration effects work their magic. With a steady influx of new people, new businesses form to take advantage of local labor and local demand, while creating high-value products to sell to the rest of the world. But when population shrinks, the virtuous cycle can become a vicious one -- businesses don't want to invest in a place where the labor supply and the demand for their products are going to shrink.
Economists such as Sari Pekkala and William Kerr have studied whether skilled immigrants create virtuous cycles of agglomeration, and so far the evidence points to yes. Others, like Yale's Michael Peters, are investigating whether refugee flows have a similar effect, and initial results are encouraging. Immigration really does help create the dense clusters of economic activity that make countries like the U.S. rich.
This isn't just an academic issue, though. In order to maintain its position as the world's leading economy, the U.S. must avoid the ills of a shrinking market that now plagues countries in Europe and East Asia. With China rapidly growing wealthier, the world's economic center of gravity is shifting in that direction. The size of the Chinese market is tempting every global company to locate its factories and offices and research centers close to that huge, dense market instead of in the graying U.S.
So far, the U.S. has resisted this pull because of its wealth. China's huge numbers of workers and consumers now have total purchasing power roughly equal to the U.S.'s richer, more productive population. But as China continues to develop, that balance will shift. Unless the U.S. population continues to grow, particularly with skilled, highly productive workers, it could find itself slowly regressing.
So continued immigration isn't just safe for the U.S.; it is an economic imperative.
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.
To contact the author of this story:
Noah Smith at nsmith150@bloomberg.net
To contact the editor responsible for this story:
James Greiff at jgreiff@bloomberg.net
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Canadians Greet Bombardier Decision With Pride and a Little Snark


Photo
The Bombardier aerospace company, with a plant in Montreal, Quebec, has become a global symbol of Canadian engineering prowess. Credit Christinne Muschi/Reuters

MONTREAL — When the United States' own federal trade agency on Friday quashed the Trump administration's attempt to impose duties of nearly 300 percent on imported jets made by the storied Quebecois aerospace company Bombardier, Canadians could have been forgiven for reacting with a decidedly un-Canadian dose of triumphalism.
This being Canada, a country of chronic apologies that sometimes suffers an inferiority complex when confronted by its swaggering neighbor to the south, the chest-thumping wasn't exactly loud. But in a province where Bombardier is an inextricable part of the economic and cultural fabric, the surprising decision generated no small amount of satisfaction — and, in some cases, a little snark worthy of President Trump.
"Dear Boeing and Trump Protectionists hurting Canadian and American jobs — take that!!" Marion Bialek, a Montrealer, wrote on Twitter.
Others were more diplomatic.
Bombardier — which can trace its roots to the 1920s when its founder, Joseph-Armand Bombardier, built his first "snow vehicle" to help people travel across rural Quebec — described the decision as "a victory for innovation, competition, and the rule of law."
The ruling by the United States International Trade Commission was a heavy blow to Boeing, which had accused Bombardier of breaching American trade rules by unfairly subsidizing its products, and undermining sales of Boeing's Max 7. In retaliation, the Commerce Department had decided to impose heavy duties on Bombardier's new CSeries aircraft, a move that threatened thousands of jobs in Canada, Britain and beyond.
Continue reading the main story
In Quebec, a proud province of 8.4 million people, where Bombardier is as firmly entrenched in the culture as Celine Dion, poutine and the Montreal Canadiens, the victory was all the sweeter because of perceptions that the company had been bullied by the Trump administration.
"We have a long history here in Canada of being in the shadow of the United States — whatever they do we follow — but this time both the provincial and federal governments didn't back down," said David Chartrand, a former Bombardier assembly line worker who is now the Quebec coordinator for the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers. The union represents more than 40,000 Canadian workers in air transport, including several thousand who work for Bombardier.
He added: "A decision like this encourages us to say, 'When you are right you are right.' On both sides of border there is a desire to protect jobs but you don't have to trash the other side."
Photo
A worker inspecting a Bombardier CSeries aircraft at a factory in Belfast, Northern Ireland. The CSeries was targeted by the Commerce Department for heavy tariffs. Credit Clodagh Kilcoyne/Reuters
As it is, the country's economic and media elite had already been fulminating at the aggressive America First tactics of Mr. Trump's Commerce Department. Writing in Maclean's, Kevin Carmichael, a senior fellow at the Center for International Governance Innovation, called its behavior the equivalent of "the schoolyard tough smearing a Cheez Whiz sandwich on the face of an innocent." Boeing, he pointedly noted, earned revenue of about $95 billion in 2016 compared with Bombardier's $16 billion.
"Before he started picking on 'Rocket Man,' and the National Football League, President Donald Trump, the bully-in-chief, targeted his country's closest trading partners," like Canada, Mexico and Germany, he wrote.
The belief that Bombardier was being picked on had a particular sting in Quebec, given the company's place in local imagination and history. Before the 1960s and the so-called Quiet Revolution — a political and social upheaval that uprooted a traditional society in Quebec centered on Roman Catholicism — many among the French-speaking majority in Quebec were relegated to agrarian and other menial or low-paying jobs, while the English-speaking minority dominated industry. Then came Bombardier, among the first Quebecois companies to become a national champion, and one that grew into a global symbol of Canadian engineering prowess.
"There is a strong pride in Bombardier in Quebec because it is a business with Francophone roots and one of only a handful of even Canadian companies that have attained such a level of international success," said Karl Moore, an associate professor in the Desautels management school at McGill University, noting that Canadian business had viewed Trump's populist economic nationalism with growing disquiet.
On Friday, near Bombardier's sprawling factory, which employs about 2,000 workers, local residents said that Mr. Trump's perceived strong-arming of the company had sent shudders through the local economy, from the mom-and-pop shops where factory workers eat to the gas stations that fill their cars.
Robert Denis, a salesman at Budget Propane, said Mr. Trump has insulted Quebec's honor. "We wish that Mr. Trump would go away," he said. Still, Mr. Denis noted, Bombardier had lost some luster in recent months after it had announced plans to award millions to several top executives while cutting thousands of jobs. Following backlash, the company backed down.
Working for Bombardier has long been considered a ladder to the "Canadian Dream," offering the security of a unionized factory job that was handsomely paid.
Mr. Chartrand, 48, who began working for Bombardier at age 20, said he was particularly aggrieved by the Commerce Department's stance since Bombardier workers were the "brothers and sisters" of Mr. Trump's working-class base, buffeted by the same forces of globalization that have hit American manufacturing.
Dominique Anglade, the economy minister in Quebec's National Assembly, said in an interview that the decision was a victory for open markets but had resonance in Quebec that extended far beyond economics.
Referring to the CSeries planes, she said, "There is a little piece of every Quebecer in those planes."

Jasmin Lavoie contributed reporting.

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Quantum Theory Predicts That The Future Could Be Influencing The Past (Yes You Read That Correctly)


September 19, 2017
  
Physicist and Nobel laureate Richard Feynman once said, "We choose to examine a phenomenon which is impossible, absolutely impossible, to explain in any classical way, and which has in it the heart of quantum mechanics. In reality, it contains the only mystery."
And it's true. Multiple theories, such as quantum entanglement, have exited the theoretical realm and been confirmed within the mainstream. Even browsing through some previously classified documents in the CIA's electronic reading room, you can see how Black Budget science confirmed some of these topics decades ago, yet we never heard about it through the mainstream. Here is a prime example of a document on quantum entanglement. From this document we can see that its existence was confirmed decades ago.
What's also interesting about that document is that it discusses telepathy, a phenomenon directly related to and made possible by discoveries within quantum physics. "Parapsychology" pr "Psi" and quantum physics go hand in hand.
Now, a recent paper, published in Proceedings of The Royal Society Asupports the argument that quantum theory must be "retrocausal,"or that an effect can occur before its cause.
Hard to wrap your head around, isn't it? But just because something cannot be understood, does not mean it isn't real, and we shouldn't dismiss things we don't understand. This is often seen with concepts like telepathy, even though they've been confirmed and verified, if covertly.
Take this document, for example, which examines the "paranormal ability to break through spatial barriers."
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Lis Zyga from Phys.org points out the appeal of retrocausality:
First, to clarify what retrocausality is and isn't: It does not mean that signals can be communicated from the future to the past—such signaling would be forbidden even in a retrocausal theory due to thermodynamic reasons. Instead, retrocausality means that, when an experimenter chooses the measurement setting with which to measure a particle, that decision can influence the properties of that particle (or another particle) in the past, even before the experimenter made their choice. In other words, a decision made in the present can influence something in the past.
Clearly, if this theory is correct, our concept of "time" is flawed — physical processes can actually run forward and backwards while being described by the same physical laws.
Zyga, however, makes some comments that show a lack of awareness with regards to certain concepts, as she argues that "the whole idea of retrocausality is so difficult to accept because we don't ever see it anywhere else. The same is true of action at a distance."
Action at a distance is the idea that physical systems can be moved, changed, or influenced without being physically touched by anything else. It refers to the nonlocal interaction of objects that are separated in space. Again, this has been shown to be a real phenomenon, and it's been well documented multiple times. So, the statement that "we don't really see it anywhere else" actually isn't true.
Another great example, using quantum systems, comes from a paper published in the peer-reviewed journal Physics Essays. It explains how this experiment has been used repeatedly to explore the role of consciousness in shaping the nature of physical reality.
It was published by Dr. Dean Radin, who you will see in the lecture below. He's the chief scientist at the Institute of Noetic Sciences.
He produced incredible results: Human intention, via meditators, was able to actually collapse the quantum wave function. The meditators were the "observer" in this case.
In fact, as Radin points out in his lecture, a "5 sigma" result was able to give CERN the Nobel Prize in 2013 for finding the Higgs particle (which turned out not to be Higgs after all). In this study, they also received a 5 sigma result when testing meditators against non-meditators in collapsing the quantum wave function. This means that mental activity, the human mind,  attention, and intention, which are a few labels under the umbrella of consciousness, compelled physical matter to act in a certain way.

"Observations not only disturb what has to be measured, they produce it. . . . We compel [the electron] to assume a definite position. . . . We ourselves produce the results of the measurement."
If this weren't true, then why, for example, would the American Institutes for Research arrive at the following conclusion about action at a distance?:
The statistical results of the studies examined are far beyond what is expected by chance. Arguments that these results could be due to methodological flaws in the experiments are soundly refuted. Effects of similar magnitude to those found in government-sponsored research at SRI and SAIC have been replicated at a number of laboratories across the world. Such consistency cannot be readily explained by claims of flaws or fraud.
Even as far back as 1985, a report prepared by the Army Research Institute disclosed that "the data reviewed in this report constitute genuine scientific anomalies for which no one has an adequate explanation for."
This new paper, published by Matthew S. Leifer from Chapman University in California and Mathew F. Pusey from the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Ontario, Canada, wanted to find out if time, like matter, behaves differently at the quantum scale.
The researchers developed a model, based on action at a distance, where they exchanged space for time. So, as entanglement shows, there is really no separation between objects, or information is actually travelling faster than the speed of light.  But, if causality ran backwards, this would posit that the particle in the present could actually affect the particle that it was/is entangled with, back through time. Meaning that, not only are two particles connected, showing that space is just the concept that provides the illusion of separation, they are also still "entangled," regardless of time, which is why there are quantum theories predicting that what happens in the present can actually change what happened in the past.

The Delayed Choice/Quantum Eraser 

The delayed choice/quantum eraser experiment has been used multiple times, as well as repeated, to show how time doesn't exist in the way we currently understand it. In 2007, (Science 315, 966, 2007) scientists in France shot photons into an apparatus and showed that their actions could retroactively change something which had already happened.
As Asher Peres, a pioneer in quantum information theory, once pointed out: "If we attempt to attribute an objective meaning to the quantum state of a single system, curious paradoxes appear: quantum effects mimic not only instantaneous action-at-a-distance, but also, as seen here, influence of future actions on past events, even after these events have been irrevocably recorded." 

Wheeler's Cosmic Scale Explanation of the Delayed Choice Experiment

John Wheeler uses a great analogy to illustrate a portion of this concept.
He asks us to imagine a star emitting a photon billions of years ago, heading in the direction of planet Earth. In between, there is a galaxy. As a result of what's known as "gravitational lensing," the light will have to bend around the galaxy in order to reach Earth, so it has to take one of two paths, go left or go right. Billions of years later, if one decides to set up an apparatus to "catch" the photon, the resulting pattern would be an interference pattern. This demonstrates that the photon took one way, and it took the other way as well.
One could also "peek" at the incoming photon by setting up a telescope on each side of the galaxy to determine which side the photon took to reach Earth. As we know from the double slit experiment, the very act of measuring or "watching" which way the photon comes in means it can only come in from one side. The pattern will no longer be an interference pattern representing multiple possibilities, but a single clump pattern showing "one" way.
What does this mean? It means how we choose to measure the "now" affects what direction the photon took billions of years ago. Our choice in the present moment affects what has already happened in the past.
Quantum entanglement exists, regardless of time, which means two bits of matter (physical systems) can actually be entangled in time.


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Astronomers Are Annoyed at a New Zealand Company That Launched a Disco Ball Into Orbit


The Humanity Star is a poetic and entirely useless satellite. For astronomers, however, it's a pain in the ass.

Jan 25 2018, 5:30am

Image: Rocket Lab/Twitter

On Saturday, the New Zealand space company Rocket Labs successfully sent a payload into orbit on its Electron rocket for the first time. Among the objects on board the rocket were two commercial satellites and the "Humanity Star," a geodesic disco ball designed by Rocket Labs.
The Humanity Star is purely an art object, with no real purpose other than looking good. According to Rocket Lab, the "bright, blinking satellite" is visible to the naked eye at night and is "designed to encourage everyone to look up and consider our place in the universe." Aside from the fact that there are several other bright, blinking satellites in orbit that are visible to the naked eye and actually serve a useful function, Rocket Lab's gesture is a rare nod to poetry in an industry that is usually pragmatic to the point of fault.
Despite the company's best intentions, not everyone is happy about the addition of a gleaming disco ball in the night sky.
Following the announcement of the mystery Rocket Lab payload, a number of astronomers and space enthusiasts took to Twitter to voice their concerns about the satellite. Ian Griffin, an astrophotographer and the director of New Zealand's Otago Museum, called it an "act of environmental vandalism" and said New Zealand was the "first country to deliberately 'tag' the cosmos."
Tim O'Brien, a professor of astrophysics at the University of Manchester asked "why don't we all just celebrate the shared experience of seeing the International Space Station (or many other satellites), which actually has humans on it and is doing something useful, unlike this superfluous stunt."
We don't know whether Rocket Lab considered the effect its satellite might have on astronomy before launching the object. Motherboard reached out to the company for comment and will update this post if we hear back.
While it's easy to dismiss these criticisms as a bunch of stuffy cynicism from scientists who've forgotten how to have fun, they do point to some serious issues in space law about how low earth orbit is used by private companies.
For starters, space debris is a serious and rapidly growing problem that lacks any practical solution and it's hard to see the Humanity Star as anything more than some extra junk in space. According to Rocket Lab, the Humanity Star is on a decaying orbit and will burn up in the atmosphere within nine months, which should limit its impact on other orbital objects. To the company's credit, this orbital period is a lot shorter than many other satellites in low earth orbit, but about on par with other cubesats that actually do have a scientific purpose.

Rocket Lab's disco ball could also be construed as a marketing gimmick, raising the question about who has the right to advertise in space. The UN's Moon Treaty prohibits any national actor from claiming territory on the Moon or other celestial bodies, but that's about the closest thing to commercial regulations about space. So far, the handful of extant international space treaties about haven't caught up to the times and conspicuously lack any clauses about commercial actors.


Until some hard questions about commercial rights to space resources—including the night sky—are answered in any explicit way, companies will continue to be able to use the final frontier as they see fit, whether that's for mining asteroids or putting their billionaire CEO's sports car into Mars orbit.

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