THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 1

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THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 1

CHAPTER ONE

The Red Planet

For Sampson and Celeste McKinney, this is a proud moment, one that makes their 8 month year journey to this space-place worth every blasted boring minute…

Return Trip 3-16-001

The steadily enlarging sphere, which has been a fixture on their view screen for what seemed to be a fortnight, has silently made its presence known. The once reddish blur is now a well-defined reality that needs to be reckoned with. It is, after all, their destination.

From behind the back side of the fourth planet in the Earth’s solar system, an enormous man-made object adds space-colony-1-001itself to this pristine picture, giving them their first glimpse of Space Colony 1 in space; they had seen it last 38 months ago at the cooperative space dock, the last rivets being set in place. This grandest of all achievements of mankind has been towed by a drone-hauler to its present orbit around Mars.

For Sampson and Celeste McKinney, this is a proud moment, one that makes their 8 month year journey to this space-place worth every blasted boring minute. Here in the year 2030, a decade of secrecy has come to an end.

 

Note from Gwen: “Science Fiction was my first inspiration in my quest to write books. THE RETURN TRIP is the first of a series that features the Space Family McKinneythe first family of space exploration for NASA as it efforts to colonize Mars. As it was with ALPHA OMEGA M.D. and CONSTANCE CARAWAY P.I., the book is broken down into daily “episodes” w/an “Episode Catalog” to make the reading experience easier.


THE RETURN TRIP

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Episode 1


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Britbox Beatbox Bumbles – WIF Eye On Britannia

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Bloody Curious

Facts About the

Expansive

British Empire

The British Empire was by far the biggest empire in human history, which doesn’t sound as impressive if we just leave it at that. Consider this; at its height, the tiny island famous for being damp and cold controlled around 24% of Earth’s total area, ruling over 23% of the world population. It was a hugely influential entity, too. Many of our modern technologies first originated there, and its effects can still be seen in many nooks of modern life.

For all of its merits, though, the British Empire was also one of the most controversial empires to have ever existed. While many other European nations had their own territorial empires around the world, the excesses of colonialism are inherently associated with the Brits. For good reason, too, as it was the biggest one of them all, and perfected many of the techniques later used by other colonial powers to keep their numerically-superior colonial subjects in control. Some of them have been extensively discussed in modern discourse – like its prominent role in the establishment of the slave trade – though many of them have been left out of history books.

Because of its size and global influence at its peak, there are still many surprising – and shocking – facts from across the once-mighty British Empire most of us don’t know about.

7. The First Evil Corporation

The British Empire existed as a monarchy throughout its existence, though the true credit for its rapid rise around the world could be squarely given to the East India Company. Think of it as a private firm with its own standing army and patronage from the monarch, as the EIC was instrumental in wrestling control of Britain’s colonies in South and Southeast Asia all on its own.

What most of us forget, though, is that the EIC also pioneered the blueprint for all ‘evil corporations’ to come after it. Its whole business model was set up around efficiently securing the natural resources from its colonies, with support from the central British state in exchange for a bulk of those resources and military backing. It was also the recipient of the world’s first corporate bailout in 1773, when the EIC ran into massive debt and caused banks across Europe to crash. It could be compared to the Wall Street Bailout of 2008, except the EIC was way bigger and more intertwined with global trade at that time than any of those banks ever would be.

6. 1857 Sepoy Revolt

There’s no doubt that the EIC was one of the most successful corporations in history, with control over some of the most resource-rich and populous parts of the world at its peak. What started out as a loose group of merchants just trying to set up trading outposts in the East turned into a state of its own, with little to no oversight from the British government in its early days. If you’re wondering why we don’t hear about it as much as other successful business ventures in history, it’s because of the 1857 revolt in British-controlled India.

While the EIC had a standing army of its own, it wasn’t enough to control a territory as diverse and politically-complicated as India. That’s where the sepoys came in. An anglicized word for sipahi – which translates to soldier – they were soldiers picked from local populations to help the EIC army maintain control of the territory. That plan worked quite well for a while, too, until they decided to coat the rifle cartridges with pig and cow meat.

While the reasons behind the rebellion were diverse and numerous (much like all rebellions), the cartridges turned out to be the final straw. You see, the cartridges had to be picked with the teeth before being reloaded into the rifles, which was offensive to Hindu and Muslim sepoys. It gave way to one of the most brutal rebellions in the history of the British Empire, as the rebels came shockingly close to wrestling control of the whole territory. It caused quite a bit of outrage in Britain, too, as stories of rebels murdering British civilians living in India made its way there.

The rebellion was eventually suppressed, though it fundamentally changed how Britain dealt with its colonies. It marked the end of the East India Company, and put the British Indian territory directly under the monarch. It would stay that way until India’s independence in 1947.

5. Influence On Nazi Ideology

When we talk about the Nazis in the modern context, there’s always an air of shock to it. How could an ideology so opposed to human rights and just generally being nice to others gain a foothold in one of the world’s largest democracies of the time? Many reasons are cited, including the Treaty of Versailles and the Great Depression. While they may have contributed to it to an extent, what we often forget is that Nazi ideology never had to come out of the woodwork in the first place. The most problematic parts of it were already out in the open and widely-practiced, especially in the British Empire.

Hitler was massively influenced by British subjugation and control of its overseas territories – especially India – as he wanted to replicate it for Germany. He even referred to Eastern Europe as ‘Germany’s India’, though as we all know, that didn’t exactly go according to plan. The British Empire also kind of had a racism problem, as is proven by Churchill’s (and other British politicians’ of the time) frequent remarks on the colonies.

Moreover, many parts of the Nazi ideology were already popular across sections of governments in Europe, largely due to other countries wanting to replicate Britain’s success in their own colonies. A huge part of that was written out of Western history after the Second World War, though Hitler’s admiration for the British Empire remains well-documented. Despite that, the British Empire’s influence over the Nazis and fascists in Europe is almost never discussed.

4. The Bengal Famine

We’re no strangers to the disastrous policies of the British Empire, so much so that apologizing for them is a sort of an in-joke among the Brits at this point. From its infamous ‘divide and rule’ doctrine to the botched partitions of various countries in the wake of its departure from them, we’d say that we could fill a book with it, if there weren’t already many books like that. The fallout of those policies is still clearly visible in almost all of its economically-disadvantaged former colonies, in the form of inflamed racial and ethnic tensions as well as their economic backwardness after decolonization.

The Bengal Famine of 1943, however, is rarely ever mentioned as a part of that fallout, despite being one of the most devastating and controversial events in British Empire’s history. The mere fact that it’s known as a famine instead of a disaster caused by artificial scarcity of resources should tell you something about why it’s so rarely talked about. By some estimates, around 3 million of Bengal’s population died as a direct result of it, and many more were left malnourished for years to come, as it took quite some time for the state of Bengal – and India in general – to recover from it.

While the official position of Britain has always been that it was caused by a natural drought, recent studies have found that it wasn’t that natural after all. It was actually caused by the redirection of the food resources to Britain’s war effort and halted rice imports due to the Japanese invasion of Burma, as well as not declaring it a famine-hit region at the right time (or at any time since then). One study done on soil moisture data from that time concluded that Bengal was under no threat of a drought, and that the factors leading to the famine were purely manmade. To this day, the Bengal famine remains one of the most severe and deadly famines in history.

3. Still The Empire On Which The Sun Never Sets

As we said above, the phrase ‘the biggest empire ever’ doesn’t mean much on its own, as we have no intuitive way of quantifying how big that actually is, especially considering that history is full of massive empires – like the Roman and Mongolian empires. Consider this; at its peak, the British Empire was so huge that it was daytime in at least some of its territory, earning it its unofficial nickname ‘the empire on which the sun never sets’. That’s not to say that it was the only empire like that – as other big empires of the time, like Spain, could also qualify for that description at some point in their history – though Britain held that reputation for far longer than any of them.

While Britain is far from its glory days now, surprisingly, the sun still doesn’t set on it, as it still has many of its former colonies under its control. Apart from the British mainland, there are 14 British territories around the world, and we’re assuming all of them are okay with the arrangement as they’ve not yet asked for independence. Some of those territories are British outposts in uninhabited, remote areas – like its Antarctic base – though they still count as British territory for all intents and purposes.

2. Its Contribution To The Current Conflict In The Middle East

No matter which side of the story you listen to, you’d agree that the Middle East is in kind of a mess right now. With multiple factions – many of them extremist, armed groups – vying for control of vast tracts of countries like Syria and Iraq, there seems to be no end to the conflict. Well, not unless everyone mutually decides to call it quits and go back home. It’s made worse by underlying ethnic tensions between the various groups; tensions that have been unresolved and simmering under the surface for quite some time now. “Surely,” you’d probably wonder, “all of this couldn’t have happened overnight.” And you’d be right, because it didn’t.

In case you missed the title of the article, Britain had a huge role to play in what would inevitably, sooner or later, turn the Middle East into what it is today. It all started with the end of the First World War, when the Ottoman Empire’s territories were divided by Britain, with considerable help from France. Known as the Sykes-Picot agreement, the arrangement divided up the whole region according to spheres of influence and territorial ownership of the victors, with little to no regard for the actual ethnic demographics of the place.

To their credit, they didn’t know that they’d have to give up these territories at some point, as colonialism was still going strong around that time. Many terrorist groups in the Middle East still have the removal of the Sykes-Picot agreement as one of their primary aims, something we don’t even consider when we talk about the current state of the region.

1. The Disastrous Afghanistan Invasion

Afghanistan, for some weird reason, has been the focal point of many global conflicts in its history, right from the Soviet invasion in the ’80s to America’s ‘War on Terror’. Like Russia, many countries have discovered the hard way that Afghanistan isn’t the best place to invade, as it’s still a country largely ruled by independent warlords, with little oversight from the central government. The harsh and vast terrain doesn’t help the chances of invading armies, either.

What may be common knowledge now, though, wasn’t back in the middle of the 19th century, when the British Empire decided to make the same mistake as its later counterparts. Its invasion of Afghanistan in 1938 and eventual retreat in 1942 remains one of the empire’s biggest military defeats, despite its technological strength on the battleground.

It all began when the British army – made up of British and Indian soldiers – toppled the Afghan ruler, Dost Mohammed, and installed Shah Shujah Durrani in his place. While their original plan was to take the country and withdraw all of their forces, two of their brigades had to stay back to keep the peace, including their civilian family members. They eventually grew comfortable with their hold on the country, and decided to kick back and relax a bit in Kabul.

It was all going well till the local population started to revolt, as any occupied population would tend to. Because of the rapidly worsening situation, the British decided to take all of their troops (around 4,500 soldiers and 12,000 civilians) and withdraw back into India in 1842, with a promise of safe passage from the local army general. As you probably guessed, the Afghans did not honor that promise, and the British army was harassed and slowly decimated throughout their long journey back across the treacherous terrain. All in all, the entire British army was killed, except one British and a handful of Indian soldiers.


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WIF Eye On Britannia

Amazon = River – NOT = Fulfillment Center

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Amazing Mysteries

of THE Amazon

Not Amazon.com

Depending on who is looking, the mysterious jungles of the Amazon inspire many different urges. The wise fear and respect the incredibly diverse biosphere. The curious enter its jungles with a sense of wonder and harbor hopes of discovery, while the greedy view the green tangle of dense forest as something to be destroyed and converted into a different kind of green.

Sometimes called the lungs of the world, the Amazon basin lies mostly in the South American country of Brazil (although the rainforest spans multiple nations including Peru, Colombia and minor amounts in Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Guyana, Suriname, and the French territory of French Guiana). The Amazon basin itself is huge — almost 2.9 million square miles — or about 35% of South America. Even with the horrible exploitation of slash and burn farming practices, most of its unexplored rainforests are very difficult to penetrate. Under its deep and thick canopy lie many mysteries…

10. The explorer Francisco de Orellana

After Francisco Pizarro conquered the Incan Empire, his half brother Gonzalo Pizarro (who took part in the Incan destruction) arrived in Peru as the ruler of the city of Quito. The local people spoke of a great Kingdom East of the Andes called the Land of Cinnamon, or the famous golden city of El Dorado. In 1541 Pizarro choose one of his trusted underlings, Francisco de Orellana, to accompany him on his quest to find the Kingdoms. From the beginning, things did not go well with the exploration crusade. Thousands of expedition members died or simply disappeared into the wilderness. After crossing the towering mountain peaks of the Andes only a few dozen remained. Pizarro decided to return to Quito and ordered Orellana to try and find more kingdoms to conquer and to also follow the rivers to the Atlantic.

With about 50 men, Orellana built some riverboats and set off down the Amazon. Along the way he recorded encountering multiple riverside cities that they determined were ruled by an Inland Empire. When Orellana interrogated these people about the location of the cities of gold the locals didn’t know what he was talking about. Thinking they were lying, the European conquistadors resorted to torture, eventually turning most of the peoples they came into contact with against them. On June 24, 1542, they came across another group of riverside dwellers. Warned of Orellana’s hostile actions by natives farther upstream, they attacked the Orellana party. While fighting off the brave combatants, the conquistadors were stunned to be fighting women warriors. This would later remind Europeans of the famous Amazon fighters of Greek legend — thus giving the river its name.  On August 26, 1542, the men reached the Pacific, becoming the first Europeans to travel down the Amazon.

Returning to Spain, Orellana spoke of his travels and the great urban areas he encountered along the river. Yet years later when the Spanish were able to finally get back to the Amazon they found nothing but thick jungle. What happened to all the people he saw?

9. The Amazon jungle was once home to millions

When later expeditions tried to find the civilization that Orellana spoke about all they could find along the Amazon river was jungle. Orellana had died soon after his voyage and could not offer any insight or defense for what people now claimed was, at best, an exaggeration, and at worst a lie in hopes of scamming the Spanish crown out of money for a new expedition. For centuries this was the conventional wisdom of the academic world: that the Amazon jungle was sparsely populated with a smattering of now-famous  not-contacted native tribes.

New research is smashing these assumptions, aided by emerging technology like satellite imagery and LIDAR (a laser imaging system that can harmlessly see through forest canopies). Analyzing this data has revealed that during 1200 and 1500 A.D. a huge civilization of millions lived along the Amazon River system.

It is thought that this civilization was ruined by its success as a complex trading network, as newly introduced European diseases spread to every corner of the Empire. People became infected without ever seeing or coming into contact with a sick European. With most of its people dead and its society destroyed, the jungle grew over the abandoned urban settlements within a few years. When European explorers returned years later all they saw was a thick, impenetrable jungle.

8. Black soil

One of the biggest arguments against a large Amazon civilization was the basin’s famously poor soil quality — soil so bad that it could never have supported a civilization with such a large population. Even today, after the jungle is mowed down and its trees burned up, farmers can only grow a limited yield of crops before the soil becomes exhausted and they have to move on and continue the destructive slash and burn farming cycle.

This argument was finally overturned with the discovery of terra preta. Scientists would find patches of rich, dark soil that they termed terra preta. Crops grown in this soil grew exponentially more than crops grown in normal Amazon soil. At first, it was thought to be naturally occurring but then researchers were able to determine that the soil was made by craftsmen of the ancient Amazon civilization through a process scientists are only now beginning to understand.

7. Boiling river

Deep in the Peruvian jungle lies a mysterious boiling river. For decades it was thought to be a myth; it was only when Andrés Ruzo trekked deep into the forest to try and seek it out that it was confirmed to exist. Traveling up river after river, he finally found a river so hot that if anything falls in it is boiled alive. Its non-volcanic origins are a mystery. The river starts off cool and passes through a hot spring before eventually cooling off again. With no known local volcanic activity, researchers are unsure of the boiling river’s origins.

Some suspect that it was actually accidentally created by unscrupulous prospectors that comb the jungles looking for oil or mineral deposits with little care of the environmental consequences of their Wild Wild West drilling techniques. Similar drilling practices caused an ecological disaster in Indonesia: the Sidoarjo mudflow. There, an oil drilling rig unleashed a mud volcano that, for about a decade, has buried multiple villages in as much as 130 feet mud, forced 60,000 people from their homes, and still spurts out mud to this day.

6. Man-made structures are everywhere in the Amazon 

For decades, impoverished farmers have been plundering the incredibly diverse biosphere of the Amazon. The scale of deforestation is mind-boggling. As of 2019 scientists estimate that almost 20 percent of the original Amazon has been slashed and burned. While this ransacking of the rainforest’s unique ecosystem is unforgivable, there have been some startling discoveries among the burnt stumps and charred endangered species.

As the forest retreats from the fires, hundreds of fortified urban areas, as well as mounds of circles, squares, and other geometric shapes, have been revealed. Researchers estimate that hundreds and possibly thousands of more structures are still hidden by the existing jungles. This has been partially confirmed by limited LIDAR scans. These shapes hint at a complex lost civilization. To create such structures would have required astrologers, as they are aligned to the stars, and artisans with complex math knowledge as shown by structures that are difficult to create, like squares in circles. There would also have to be a society that was big enough to support these specialized roles. Only a fraction of the remaining jungle has been revealed by LIDAR scans. As more of the jungle is scanned, more of the lost civilization will be revealed.

5. Amazon nutrients come from Africa

Amazon soil is notoriously poor in nutrients, the most important of which is phosphorus. What phosphorus the Amazon does have slowly leaks away in the massive Amazon River complex. What is even more amazing is that the nutrients it does have do not come from local sources — not even from the landmass of South America. It is replenished through dust from across the ocean.

Hundreds of million tons of wind-borne, phosphorus-rich dust flows from Africa across the Atlantic ocean and drops onto the Amazon, providing valuable nutrients. Over half of the dust fertilizing the Amazon rainforest comes from the Bodélé depression in Northern Chad in the Sahara desert. Winds stir up the dust, where it rises into the upper atmosphere and is carried to South America and the prevailing winds.

4. Something is mysteriously making little silk towers

Deep in the Peruvian Amazon jungles, scientists like spider hunter Phil Torres were mystified by the incredibly intricate silk structures found throughout its trees. If they were human-sized they wouldn’t look out of place as a city plaza or art sculpture. Dubbed “Silkhenge,” these symmetrical “buildings” hearken back to the architecture of the ancients. The tiny silk constructions have two parts: a tall, central tower, and a circular fence that’s about 6 millimeters across.

After months of investigation, researchers were finally able to determine their purpose when a baby spider emerged from the tower. This shocked the researchers, as a spider species that lays just one or two spider eggs is incredibly rare. Even with all their research, spider experts are still unsure of which species make the Silkhenge complexes.

3. Man is causing droughts in the Amazon

One of the greatest fears of climate scientists is Earth’s carbon release feedback loops. One of the more famous examples is the Arctic permafrost. As climate change increases, the worldwide temperatures rise. Nowhere is this more dangerous than the Arctic. There, rising temperatures are melting the permafrost. This in turn is releasing methane and other greenhouse gases that the permafrost had kept trapped under its frozen mass. This released gas is further raising the temperature, melting more permafrost and releasing more greenhouse gases — a feedback loop.

The Amazon jungles are a great carbon sink. When it rains, the jungles grow, and tons after tons of carbon are locked away into Amazon’s vegetation. So much of the Amazon is being deforested that it is causing droughts — droughts so rare that they were thought to be once in hundred-year events. Now they are happening more frequently as fewer trees mean less rain. Episodes of drought in 2005, 2010 and 2015 are alarming scientists as during droughts carbon is actually released from the Amazon as tree growth is stunted and trees die from thirst. From 2005 and through 2008 the Amazon basin lost an average of 0.27 pentagrams of carbon (270 million metric tons) per year. This causes a feedback loop. More deforestation causes less rainfall and droughts. As the more droughts happen, more of the forest dies, causing more droughts — a climate change feedback loop.

2. There’s a plastic eating fungus in the Amazon

One of the greatest innovations of the modern age has been the invention of plastics. It has also been one of our greatest curses. Plastic litters the landscape, causing huge problems — problems so bad that cities and even countries have banned things like plastic bags. In the oceans, discarded plastic has created huge garbage patches that are bigger than Texas. Oceans are littered with so much plastic that it is being mistaken as food by fish and animals. Dead birds and even whales are washing up on shores with stomachs full of plastic debris. The problem with plastic is also its best feature: it is so durable. An answer to this problem might have been found in the Amazon.

Pestalotiopsis microspora is a fungus that may be our way out of our plastic waste crisis. Discovered in the Amazon, scientists have tweaked the fungi into Fungi Mutarium, which turns plastic into food. At present, the process is too slow to be an effective way to deal with the plastic crisis. Hopefully, in the future, a new industry based on this fungus will be created that will be able to deal with the mountains of plastic waste our world creates every… single… day.

1. Amazon forest is an overgrown garden

The lost Amazon civilization is slowly emerging from oblivion. Stories like that told by Spanish explorer Francisco de Orellana are being looked at in a new light. Structures emerging from the ravaged jungles are showing us physical proof of its existence. Their advanced technology, as shown by the mysterious black soil, is now only beginning to be understood. However, one of the biggest vestiges left by their society has been hidden in plain sight.

Studies of the plant species of the Amazon have revealed startling results. While surveying the tree species of the Amazon, scientists discovered a large percentage (too high to be by chance) are domesticated flora like the Brazil nut, the Amazon tree grape, and the ice cream bean tree. The results show that the lost Amazon civilization was advanced in silviculture — or the science of identifying, domesticating, growing, and cultivating trees. Not just any trees, but trees that provide enough food to support millions of people.

The Amazon isn’t a random collection of trees, as would be expected if it was untouched wilderness. No, the Amazon jungles are really just a giant collection of overgrown, man-made orchards.


Amazon = River –

NOT = Fulfillment Center

Outer Space Tracings – WIF Space

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Scary Things

About Space

Image result for space gif

Since the dawn of man (and woman), humankind has gazed longingly at the flickering stars high above in search of meaning, guidance, and inspiration. A gradual progression in science and technology has taught us much about our faraway skies — namely, that it’s cold, dark, and tantalizingly mysterious up there. It’s also scarier than Hell.

Nonetheless, it’s hard not to daydream about the outer limits or simply laugh at Captain Kirk and that space lizard in the worst fight scene ever filmed. Although many elements of the final frontier remain elusive, recent discoveries have revealed an array of terrifying threats that will keep even the bravest star warriors hiding under the covers with the lights on at night.

10. Meteor Showers

Imagine cruising along in your Honda or Chevy GUV (Galactic Utility Vehicle) blasting sound waves on the ol’ satellite when suddenly out of nowhere — BLAMMO — you’re blindsided by a huge boulder. Not only is your insurance rate going to skyrocket, but the nearest space side assistance is billions of miles away. Bummer.

Although this scenario may seem like a sci-fi nightmare, a similar occurrence actually occurred on planet earth in 2013 after a meteorite exploded over the Ural mountains in Russia. By the time the dust settled, over 400 people had been injured, underscoring the disturbing reality that cascading debris can strike without warning.

Fortunately, most large falling objects burn up while traveling through the earth’s atmosphere. Space travelers in the future, however, will have to dodge a spate of other potential hazards, including meteors, comets, and asteroids.

9. Black Holes

Q: What traps light, warps time, and operates on a colossal scale but yet can’t be seen? A: Black Holes. True to its enigmatic label, black holes have been mythically confounding ever since Albert Einstein first introduced the notion with his general theory of relativity in 1916.

Recently, astronomers took the first image ever of a black hole via the Event Horizon Telescope, a network of eight linked telescopes around the world. Although many questions still remain unanswered, black holes are characterized by the way they affect nearby debris, stars, and galaxies — and typically form out of the death of a large star called a supernova (more on that that later). Unlike a planet or star, a black hole doesn’t have a surface but rather occupies a region where matter has collapsed on itself. The amount of concentrated mass is such that nothing can escape its gravitational pull — not even light — and certainly not an astronaut who makes a disastrous wrong turn while lost in space.

Black holes exist in many different sizes, and similar to tornadoes, they tend to move around at high speeds, leaving a trail of destruction in its wake. Even a small one in our Solar System would be catastrophic, tossing planets out of orbit and ripping the sun to shreds. Although intrepid explorers will be tempted to visit these dark voids, nothing so far has ever survived a trip to a black hole.

8. Solar Flares

Our sun is a glorious, awe-inspiring star that provides warmth, light and the necessary temperature for precious life to exist. It’s also steadily expanding —and will someday completely destroy earth, torching our beloved planet like a marshmallow that’s been left too long around a campfire. Fortunately, that won’t happen for billions of years, but in the meantime, solar flares are capable of inflicting tremendous damage with little or no warning.

solar flare is a violent eruption that occurs when stored energy on the sun is suddenly released. This produces another one of those ridiculous hotter-than-Hell numbers, releasing a flash of radiation across the electromagnetic spectrum.

Scientists classify solar flares according to their brightness and in relation to x-ray wavelengths. The largest of categories, X-class flares, are large, disruptive events that can severely damage satellites, wipe out power grids, and basically relegate all “smart” technology to stupid pieces of crap.

7. Eridanus Supervoid

First of all, stop your juvenile snickering. No, this isn’t slang for an epic bowel movement or anything of the sordid kind. The Eridanus Supervoid is believed to be a massive empty section located in the Eridanus Constellation just south of Orion. However, what makes this discovery so intriguing is that it’s not only the largest structure ever observed in the Universe, but it’s missing about 10,000 galaxies — or around 20 percent less matter than other regions. As a result, the oddity could possibly contain an “alternative reality” within this ominous patch of sky.

In 2004, cosmologists at University of Hawaii observed a span stretching 1.8 billion light-years across and located about 3 billion light-years away (1 light year = 5.88 trillion miles). They identified a large Cold Spot on the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB), a map of the radiation left over from the Big Bang, providing a critical tool to study the origin and development of the Universe at cosmic timescales.

The startling revelation presented a perplexing conundrum: the enormity of the cold spot doesn’t align with our current understanding of how the Universe evolved. While it’s not uncommon to find a few small warm and cold patches on the CMB, cold patches of this magnitude are a head-scratching anomaly. According to one report, it’s “too big to exist.”

6. Fermi’s Paradox

In 1942, an Italian-American physicist named Enrico Fermi led an all-star team of scientists to build the world’s first nuclear reactor. This monumental effort was part of the Manhattan Project, a top-secret U.S. government operation that produced the atomic bomb. Afterward, Fermi shifted his attention and extraordinary acumen on solving another complex subject: why haven’t we detected any other alien civilization despite the billions upon billions of other Earth-type planets that most likely exist?

The theory, which came to be known as “Fermi’s Paradox,” posits how the high probability of extraterrestrial life is contradictory to the lack of fact-based, demonstrable evidence supporting it. Naturally, this school of thought discounts the myriad of claims made by people who have allegedly witnessed UFOs or experienced alien encounters — not to mention phenomenons such as Crop Circles and Cargo Cult Theory.

While it’s tough to argue with a genius of Fermi’s stature (especially with our own limited, reptilian brains), we’re left wondering if it’s more frightening that we’re all alone or that hostile life forms are waiting to devour us like a Great White Shark munching seal snacks. Either way, it’s best to keep that aforementioned light on at night.

5. HyperNova

Many subjects dealing with the cosmos involve an impossible-to-fathom number. A hypernova is one of them. In this instance, the astronomical figure relates to the excessive amount of heat and energy generated from an explosion. But first, let’s review what is known about these fascinating wonders.

Novas are relatively small eruptions that occur in double star systems. When a white dwarf’s gravity pulls material away from a companion star, gas piles up and eventually becomes dense enough to ignite in a spark of nuclear fusion. Next, the Supernova, usually marks the death of a large star and the formation of a neutron star. The heat of a supernova can reach 120 million degrees — a temperature five times that of a nuclear blast.

Finally, a hypernova is an ultra-energetic supernova marking the birth of black holes and the release of intense gamma-ray bursts (GRBs), the most energetic form of light. As the mightiest of the Nova family, hypernovae are 5 to 50 times more energetic than a supernova. Additionally, for sake of completion, “Champagne Supernova“ is a song by the mega pop band Oasis, featuring lyrics of which scientists have yet to decipher the meaning…

4. We’re really, really, really small…

Although mother earth appears to be a gigantic sphere of bottomless oceans and endless roads, we’re relatively puny compared to other planets. How small? In terms of relative scale, Jupiter is 2.5 times larger than all the rest of the planets in the Solar System combined. But if you really want to feel minuscule, look no further than our sun — that big fiery 10,000-degree inferno 93 million miles away.

The Sun’s diameter is 109 times bigger than the rock we call home and is so large that 1,300,000 planet Earths could fit inside of it. While the luminous ball appears to be the largest star in the sky, that’s only because it’s the closest. The #1 star in the universe is the gargantuan UY Scuti, a Red Supergiant with a radius around 1,700 times larger than our sun.

But don’t despair, Earthlings. At least now you know how a ladybug feels, clinging to a thin blade of grass.

3. Rogue Planets

These wandering vagabonds (also known as nomad planets, unbound planets, orphan planets, starless planets, etc.) are objects with enough mass to qualify as planets but orbit a galactic center directly. The Universe, despite its vast expanse, consists of a jam-packed arena of activity that often resembles a well-choreographed dance. But a rogue planet disrupts this flow, stumbling recklessly to the beat of its own rhythmless hum while bumping into other cosmic bodies like a drunken ballerina.

Scientists believe rogue planets may have have been ejected from a previous planetary system or have never been gravitationally bound to another body such as a star. Furthermore, our galaxy (aka the Milky Way) alone may have billions of them.

Interestingly, some rogue planets feature a molten core, which combined with an insulated, cold exterior, could possess subterranean oceans that support life. A team of petrologists from Rice University recently theorized that a rogue planet the size of Mars possibly collided with earth 4.4 billion years ago, and could very well have planted the seeds of life while creating enough debris that later developed into our moon.

2. Space Junk

Ever since the start of the space race, man-made objects have been piling up in what has been politely termed “orbital debris.” But that’s being a little too kind. Let’s just call it what it really is: space junk. A wide range of discarded litter now includes thousands of metal fragments, cameras, spent rocket boosters, and even a complete 1958 U.S. satellite (Vanguard-1) that’s currently the oldest artificial hunk of metal still in orbit.

This overflowing galactic garbage, not unlike our polluted oceans, is rapidly nearing a critical juncture; the consequences could be detrimental for both astronauts and those below running for cover from the falling rubbish. There are currently over 1,700  satellites in operation, yet represents less than 10 percent of debris large enough to track from the ground. An obscene amount of smaller objects could also cause serious damage — and sadly, the number will only to continue to climb.

In just one single action from 2007, China destroyed a decommissioned weather satellite during one of its weapons tests, smashing the object into over 150,000 pieces. However, any attempts to clean up spiraling mess could present even more problems in terms of national security (surveillance equipment) and/or result in conflicts over territorial rights. In short, we’re doomed.

1. Zombie Stars

Just when you think we couldn’t be inundated any more movies, TV shows, and books about bloodsuckers and the undead, the science community has joined the fray with “Zombie Stars.”  Really? What’s next brainiacs, a Frankenplanet? Never mind.

As one might guess, a zombie star is something that won’t die. Ever. The monstrous explosion from a supernova typically glows brightly for a while before the dying star is obliterated into space dust. That is unless, for reasons that have yet to be determined, the star manages to avoid death. Adding to the horror show, the zombie star can become a vampire star by sucking fuel and energy from a nearby star to revive itself.

The most famous zombie (for scientists, anyway) is known as iPTF14hls. The star first appeared in 1954 and was thought to have died over a half century ago — but a discovery in 2014 revealed it’s still alive with no plans of retiring. According to the renowned astronomer, Iair Arcavi, a NASA Einstein Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) and the Las Cumbres Observatory, the star’s inexplicable behavior is the “the biggest puzzle I’ve encountered.”

Yikes. If he’s stumped, folks, all we can do is lock the doors to the space station and hope for the best.


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Forbidden Places

You’ll Never

Be Able

to Visit

For a huge part of human history, there were plenty of places left that remained a mystery. But in modern times, it seems like every square inch of the planet is accessible for anyone who has the time, money, and desire to get there. However, there are still plenty of places that truly are forbidden to the general public.

10. The Lascaux Caves Contain Ancient Cave Paintings

Deep in the Dordogne Valley of Southern France, there is a cave that holds a number of ancient secrets. The Lascaux Caves were first found in the year 1940 by a group of 13-year-old boys and their dog. They contain some of the oldest drawings in the history of mankind, and after this discovery, tourists flocked to see the cave. Unfortunately, though, the caves also contain a rare fungus that is slowly destroying the ancient artwork. In 1963, a decision was made to close the caves off from the public, because the belief was that the more human beings visited the cave, the more heat and humidity would come off of their bodies, worsening the problem with the fungus and threatening the paintings. So now, there are security guards watching over the caves full-time to make sure no one goes inside, and they only patrol within for a few minutes just once a week.

In 2010, President Nicolas Sarkozy and eight people in his entourage toured the caves to see the 900 pieces of art, sparking controversy across France. This actually sparked a debate, because many people felt that there should be no exceptions to the rule, even if you’re the President.

9. Only a Few Select People Can Access the Vatican Secret Archives

Inside of Vatican City, there are the Secret Archives filled with classified documents that date back thousands of years. For most of modern history, the Pope was the one and only person who could access the archive. In 1881, the rules were changed to allow a few select Catholic scholars to examine the documents, so long as they go through background checks and a vetting process, which includes receiving permission from the Pope. Even then, the paperwork must be 75-years-old before they are accessible to the scholars, which guarantees that the people who are mentioned in the documents would most likely have passed away before their secrets are ever revealed. So, we’re sorry to say, but you’re not likely to be allowed into the archives any time soon.

Of course, when anywhere is this secret, conspiracy theories abound. And just like literally everything else in the world, some people believe that the Vatican is hiding evidence of aliens. And in 2010, when Dan Brown released his novel Angels and Demons, more and more people began to question what, exactly, the Vatican was trying to hide. So finally in 2012, they held an exhibit where they shared some of the most famous documents with journalists.

8. North Sentinel Island Has a Tribe Isolated From The Outside World

North Sentinel Island is off the coast of India, in the Bay of Bengal. Marco Polo mentioned the island in his book, claiming that the Sentinelese people were cannibals. In the 1800s, a ship crashed on the island, and almost all of the crew was killed by the natives. Its reputation has made this island off-limits from the outside world. As the years went on, only about 150 native Sentinelese people are believed to be left alive.

In the 1970s, National Geographic attempted to film a documentary on the island, but the director was impaled by a spear. Since then, access to the island has been strictly prohibited, and it has been well-known that no one should go there. But it didn’t seem to stop a missionary from going to the island in 2018 in an attempt to convert the native people to Christianity, and he was killed after illegally stepping foot on the island.

7. Surtsey Island Is An Active Volcano

In 1963, an underwater volcano erupted off the coast of Iceland, forming a small island that is just one mile wide. It was given the name Surtsey, after the Norse jotunn Surtr, who brings fire and brimstone upon the Earth and is a key player in Ragnarok. It has continued to remain active ever since. You may remember in 2010, the volcano on the island erupted and spread an ash cloud so large airplane traffic was suspended until it dissipated.

As of right now, the only people who have visited the island are scientists who have permission from the government of Iceland. It is important for them to study what naturally occurs on the island. They want to figure out which animals and vegetation make their way there naturally. Maybe some day tourists will be able to visit, but as of right now, the island is still off-limits to the general public.

6. The Pine Gap Facility in Australia Houses American Spies

Alice Springs, Australia is home to an American military based called the Joint Defense Facility Pine Gap. It was first built in 1966 as a space research laboratory. According to the US National Security Agency, the base is now used to control satellites that track nuclear weapons, locate airstrikes, and gather other types of information. Roughly 600 US citizens live in the base, and they integrate with the rest of Australian society. However, no one is allowed inside without the necessary security clearance.

However, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that there are some Australian citizens who aren’t too happy with the Americans coming in to use their land. The secret base has become a target for anti-war protesters who want it gone. Many Australians have actually tried to break into the base, claiming that they want to show the visiting Americans all about peace and love, only for them to be arrested. Anyone who tries to break into the facility face prison sentences up to seven years.

5. World Leaders Will Escape to Mount Weather At The End of the World

During the Cold War, the Mount Weather Emergency Operations Center was built by the US government’s FEMA program as a place for world leaders to run to in case of a nuclear apocalypse. The 600,000 square foot underground facility sits safely nestled 48 miles away from Washington DC, in the Blue Ridge Mountains. It has its own fire and police force, as well as its own laws, and plenty of supplies to restart society, just in case we ever end up in a Fallout situation. Of course, the nuclear apocalypse has been avoided (for now, at least), and all of those DIY fallout shelters from the 1960s have gone to waste.

But Mount Weather still exists today as the go-to-safe space for politicians. After the terrorist attacks on the Twin Towers in New York City on September 11, 2001, some of the most important government officials in the country were rushed to Mount Weather. Average people are not allowed to visit the facility, though, so we’ll just have to leave it in our imaginations.

4. If You Step Foot on Queimada Grande Island, You Will Probably Die

The Isle of Queimada Grande is just off the coast of Sao Paulo, Brazil. It is also known as “Snake Island,” because it is mostly inhabited by — you guessed it — thousands upon thousands of snakes. The Golden Lancehead Viper, which only exists on that one island. Its venom is five times more powerful than any other snake, and if someone is bitten by one, they will be dead in less than an hour. It has been dubbed one of the most dangerous places in the world.

No one is even sure how the snakes got there in the first place. Rumors have spread that pirates buried a treasure on the island, and that they brought these snakes there to make sure no one could ever reach the gold. But that, of course, is just a legend. For years, no one lived there, except a lighthouse keeper and his daughter. However, they were both killed by the snakes. Now the Brazilian navy only visits the island once a year to make sure the fully automated lighthouse is still working. Vice News decided to film a documentary on the one day of the year that they could actually go together with the navy officials. So, they were able to get extremely rare footage of the island and, of course… the snakes.

3. You’ll Catch Your Death From Gruinard Island

Off the coast of the Scottish Highlands, Gruinard Island was bought by the British government to test deadly diseases. The first trials began by exploding bombs riddled with diseased powder over top of flocks of sheep, and scientists would later inspect the damage. In the wake of World War II, the Brits thought they may need to use Anthrax as a weapon of war. Since they had purchased the island for these life-threatening experiments, they had to make it clear to everyone not to travel there anymore.

There’s even a massive sign on the island that says: “This island is government property under experiment. The ground is contaminated with Anthrax and dangerous. Landing is prohibited.” In the 1980s, the government sent scientists to clean the island, and by 1990, they declared that it was safe to visit. However, even years after the experiments have been completed, many people believe that there are still plague spores in the ground, and that you would be foolish to ever go there.

2. Technological Secrets are Hiding Inside Area 51

Nearly everyone has heard of Area 51, which is a secret American military base in the middle of the Nevada desert. There are dozens of wild rumors and conspiracy theories about the base, mostly claiming that they hold evidence of UFOs and alien life, including the wreckage of the famous Roswell incident in 1947.

Technically, there are plenty of people who work there, so people come and go from the base all the time. But members of the public are not allowed inside. In fact, if you even get too close to the entrance, a white pickup truck will chase you down until you leave. The facility is heavily guarded, with security cameras and sensors. In reality, the base was established during the Cold War, and it is used to test experimental aircraft. Its high level of security is to ensure that no foreign nations can access new technology.

Even though the rational explanations have been published as to the history of Area 51’s existence again and again, people still want to believe it’s really all about hiding little green men. The surrounding area has become a tourist attraction for UFO enthusiasts.

1. Poveglia Island is Probably Haunted

Okay, so maybe you don’t believe in ghosts. But plenty of people believe that Italy’s Poveglia Island is actually haunted, due to its long, horrible history. It was once a hospital for people who were quarantined with the plague. Then, it was used as a hospital for the criminally insane. According to legend, a doctor was performing torturous experiments on the patients, which is why the souls of the suffering are still present on the island.

Scientific studies have shown that so many bodies were buried on the island, 50% of the soil is made of human ash. The Italian government wasn’t sure what to do with it, so they put it up for auction, and sold a 99-year lease to an Italian businessman named Luigi Brugnaro for €513,000. So, basically, Brugnaro gets to use it as his private property, and it will be decades before it returns to the custody of the Italian government.


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Most

Terrifying Places

in

the Known Universe

Like Great Cthulhu, who lies dead and dreaming in the sunken city of R’lyeh, or the nuclear chaos–the blind idiot god–Azathoth, in HP Lovecraft’s stories and other cosmic horror stories, the universe is home to planets and celestial objects that defy our expectations and exhibit truly horrific environments–where humankind was surely never meant to voyage.

10. Trappist-1

Imagine that you stand on the surface of an alien world, where the sky burns dark and crimson, oceans of magma stretch from horizon to horizon and volcanoes constantly resurface the planet. A red globe of light rises slowly above the horizon, but unlike Earth’s star, it barely provides any light at all. Five other worlds appear as moons, forever drifting in the dark, threatening one another in their eternal celestial dance. Brilliant auroras fill the sky, burning and caressing the atmosphere, irradiating the surface and anything that dares to draw breath.

The Trappist-1 system may be the best hope for finding an Earth-like planet yet, with each of its seven planets being very Earth-like. Scientists think that many, if not all, have some sort of atmosphere and feature liquid water.

But—there’s always a but, isn’t there?—it may also be terribly inhospitable.

So far, evidence suggests that these worlds orbit their parent star peacefully. But, if our system is any indication, orbits are rarely static. Earth itself has at times exhibited a more elliptical orbit (which has been used as a possible explanation for our many ice ages).

A bigger threat to emerging life and habitability in the Trappist-1 system, however, may be a process called magnetic induction, causing many of the innermost worlds (even those in the habitable zone) to have oceans of flowing magma (like Io, which orbits Jupiter).

There is also the fact that super-cool dwarf stars like Trappist-1 are extremely active. They flare more than our star does, and this could prove to be particularly dangerous for the planets that orbit at such close proximity.

Trappist-1 is also a very dim star. Super cool dwarfs don’t emit much visible light, so processes like photosynthesis may be impossible. So, we can probably rule out rich vegetation.

9. Wasp-12b Exoplanet

A black shape transits across the surface of a star not unlike our own. It glows with an eerie iron red halo as its parent star devours it, the tidal forces squishing it and inflating the atmosphere until it’s nearly the size of Jupiter.

Welcome to WASP-12b. Deep in the Auriga constellation. Where the tidal forces of its dwarf star parent are so great, they stretch the planet into the shape of a football, and diamond is as abundant as limestone is on Earth. Despite how close the planet is to its star, it emits almost no light, making it one of the darkest exoplanets ever discovered.

But it won’t be around for long, because its host star is devouring it.

8. PSO J318.5-22

In the depths of interstellar space, a lone rogue burns on through the darkness. From within its raging dust clouds, there is no star in the ever-night sky. But, even with no star to warm its skies, somehow, its temperatures rage on into the 800s, and it rains rocky debris and pure iron.

PSO J318.5-22 is a rogue planet, a lonely, wandering jovian class world with no star to call its home. It exists some 80 light years away in the constellation capricornus. The planet is thought to be six times larger than Jupiter, and, surprisingly warm for a free-floating object.

The object is part of a group of stars which formed almost 12 million years ago. That’s relatively recent in cosmic terms. Scientists aren’t quite sure how objects like these end up floating all by their lonesome in the depths of interstellar space.

7. Mira: A Real Shooting Star

Imagine that you wake up in the middle of the night. There’s an odd glow visible from your bedroom window. You go outside and stare up at the night sky. You see a new, bright object in the night sky. At first, you think it’s a comet. But, soon realize that it’s not. It’s a star, shedding its material much like a comet.There’s just one problem, your world is in its way.

You’ve heard of so-called “shooting stars,” which you’ve probably also learned are nothing more than meteoroids burning up in our atmosphere. But what if we told you there were real shooting stars out in the blackness of space?

With a tail of cosmic gas and debris that stretches 13 light years, Mira is quite special. It’s actually part of a binary system, and its partner (Mira-B) feeds off of its stellar partner. A bow shock forms in front of the star, as it swallows up cosmic dust and gas and anything unlucky enough to get in its way.

So, what’s so terrifying about this? Imagine if our world were in its way.

6. Wandering Black Holes (Black Holes)

You’re looking through a telescope, focusing on Jupiter. You notice something warping the stars around the planet’s bright surface. Then, you see a large trail of gas and dust stretching from Jupiter to a dark spot, hurtling through space toward you.

The earth rumbles, and you realize that it’s all over for humanity.

Wandering black holes are terrifyingly common in our Milky Way Galaxy. Scientists have found two possible Jupiter-sized black holes in gas clouds using ALMA, a set of 66 telescopes spread throughout the Atacama Desert in Chile. And it’s thought there are close to 100,000,000 black holes in our galaxy alone.

But what would happen if such a black hole came close to us? Well, unfortunately, if a wandering black hole got anywhere near our star system, the results would be disastrous, throwing the orbits of every planet, even our Sun, into utter chaos. The most terrifying part? We wouldn’t see it coming until Jupiter and the other gas giants ended up getting their atmospheres gobbled up by the black hole’s immense gravity, creating an accretion disk.

5. Supermassive Electric Current

From the bright core of a spiral galaxy shoots a massive jet of glowing material. Getting any closer than 150,000 light years would mean certain death due to immense radiation and the strongest electric field in the universe.

Equalling about a trillion bolts of lightning, the cosmic jet resulting from the supermassive black hole at the core of galaxy 3C303 is the strongest electric current ever detected in the known universe. Scientists aren’t sure why the electric field is so powerful but theorize that it has something to do with the jets created by the supermassive black hole at the galaxy’s center.

Considering that the Milky Way is only estimated to be about 100,000 light years in diameter, that’s quite impressive, if not terrifying.

4. Hand of God

From the depths of space, the apparition of a ghostly hand reaching up to grab the corpse of a star that went supernova. It flashes with dangerous x rays, filling the pulsar cloud that makes up the hand every seven seconds.

Created by a pulsar wind nebula, the hand formation that the pulsar creates is a mystery scientists are still trying to solve. If our Earth were too close to a pulsar like this, and in the direct path of its gamma ray and X-ray jet, all life on Earth (except extremophiles in caves and near volcanic oceanic vents) would likely go extinct.

Pulsars like the one creating the Hand of God nebula are actually rapidly rotating neutron stars, which emit pulses of intense radio waves and electromagnetic radiation. It has been suggested that objects like these, which emit gamma ray radiation, if pointed directly at the Earth, could cause a mass extinction event.

3. The Boomerang Nebula

From within the hourglass nebula, you freeze almost instantly, drifting through space on a collision course with a dying star.

A proto-planetary nebula created by a dying red giant star 5,000 light years from Earth. It’s the coldest object in the known universe. The boomerang nebula’s average temperature is a minus 458 degrees Fahrenheit (or 1-degree Kelvin). For reference, the coldest place on Earth (located in Antarctica) registers minus 133.6 degrees Fahrenheit.

The team of astronomers using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA)–located in the Atacama desert in northern Chile–suggest that the extremely low temperatures may be caused by the collision of a small companion star, plunging into the dying red giant’s surface. The rapid expansion of gas caused by the collision is likely what’s causing the extreme decrease in temperature.

2. RXJ1347

Assuming you had a ship that could get you to this galaxy cluster, it would likely melt within seconds of entering the hottest place in the known universe.

gas cloud surrounding a galaxy cluster in the constellation Virgo is the hottest place in the known universe. It’s thought that this massive celestial heat storm was produced by two galaxy clusters colliding, creating one of the most violent phenomena in the universe. Contained within a 450,000 light year wide area, the cloud shines like a spot light. What’s more terrifying is that the custer is swimming with X-rays.

Now imagine if Earth was contained in that cluster. How long do you think our planet would last?

1. Boötes Void (The Great Nothing)

Imagine that you’re falling through space. You try to orient yourself, but every which way you turn, all you see is darkness. Up is down, is right, is left. No matter where you look, there are no stars, no planets, nothing but pitch-black nothingness to inform your senses. Imagine now, that this is all you’ve ever know, from the dawn of your existence.

A true abyss from which nightmares are spawned.

Boötes Void is the largest void in the known universe. It’s nearly 330 million light-years in diameter, and its existence is somewhat baffling. Most of the universe appears to be sponge like, expanding uniformly, but the presence of such a void, where thousands of galaxies could (or should) easily fit, raises many questions about the origins of the universe.

Answers, such as TYPE 4 or 5 alien civilizations, capable of harnessing the light and energy of their galaxies, to dark energy or other phenomena, have been proposed as potential explanations for Boötes Void. Some even think that it may be the very epicenter of the Big Bang, and others think that its very existence refutes the big bang as a whole.

The fact stands, that Boötes Void is the largest thing ever discovered within the known universe. If the Earth were to be placed at its center, we wouldn’t have known that there were even other galaxies until the 1960s.


Great Mischief in the Great Expanse

– WIF Space

Conquering a New World – WIF Into History

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Why the Conquistadors

Were in

the New World

When Christopher Columbus arrived at Hispaniola (the island now split down the middle between Haiti and the Dominican Republic), he could hardly believe his eyes. With its extraordinary lushness and biodiversity, mighty rivers flowing with gold, and abundance of honey and spices, it was the embodiment of Heaven on Earth, Paradise, the Garden of Eden especially compared to back home.

Even the human inhabitants went about in the nude, with only leaves to cover their genitals. They were also unusually innocent, being entirely without greed. Appearing to lack any concept of property, they shared freely with their alien arrivals?and were overjoyed to receive old broken pottery fragments in return.

Columbus was astounded. If this wasn’t the biblical Garden, he wrote to the King and Queen of Spain, then it must be somewhere nearby. This wasn’t hyperbole either; he was absolutely certain of his claim: Some 5,000 years after God kicked us out, Man had found his way back to Eden.

His plan? To ruin it.

True to form, Columbus immediately set about plundering Hispaniola for its wealth. He built mines, military forts, cities, and farms no doubt devastating forests in the process. Worse, he enslaved the friendly natives to do it for him, threatening to send many back to Europe in chains.

Although he was eventually arrested by the Spanish for his appalling governance of the island, Columbus was far too powerful to lock up. In any case, it did nothing to change human nature. His treatment of the Tano people proved a horrifying portent of the conquest yet to come. Before long, thousands of Europeans followed him across the Atlantic, every one of them hungry for adventure, wealth, and prestige whatever the human cost.

What’s interesting is that while the conquistadors called this strange new continent the New World, they saw everything in terms of the old filtering their understanding and perceptions through Bible stories, classical myths, and outmoded maps and ideas.

Before he stuck a flag in the Garden of Eden, for example, Columbus thought that Cuba was Japan. He even made his crew take an oath on pain of a hundred lashes and having the tongue slit never to contradict his assertion, so insistent was he on imposing the old world on the new.

Likewise, when he came across Antillean manatees, he saw not an exciting new species to classify but a shoal of legendary mermaids (although he did concede they weren’t half as beautiful as in pictures).

Ferdinand Magellan also appealed to mythology when he called the Tehuelche (A’nikenk) of Patagonia giants. Sure, they may have been taller than average, but his encounter reads like a fairy tale: Seeing the first of them singing and dancing on the shore, he and his crew went up to greet them with gifts, cleverly tricking two of the giants into handcuffs and charting a course back to Europe?only for the specimens to die in terror en route.

According to Antonio Pigafetta, a scholar along for the ride, the giants had deep, booming voices and a fear of their own reflection; and they were so tall that even the tallest among the crew only came up to their waists. These giants were later depicted on maps of the New World, alongside mermaids, sea monsters, dragons, and UFOs even though Sir Francis Drake made it clear that they didn’t exist. Having gone looking for the giants himself, Drake concluded they must be a myth and suggested the Spaniards, who probably did not think that ever any English man would come hither to Patagonia to reprove them, had simply made the whole thing up.

But virtually all the conquistadors?Spanish or not were guilty of fanciful projections, imposing time-worn ideas on every square inch of new land, scrutinizing the wide open Western hemisphere through the old narrow lens of the past. Hence they didn’t see the natives as people, they saw them as savages and monsters; and they didn’t see the Aztecs as civilized but as a blasphemous affront to their God.

Basically, the conquistadors were in a world of their own and an often absurd one at that. For hundreds of years they interacted not so much with reality as with a mythological nowhere realm in which nothing was too extraordinary to believe.

El Dorado

In particular, the idea of rivers flowing with gold and other precious metals and gems became a tantalizing trope for the conquistadors?culminating most famously in their obsession with El Dorado.

Spanish for the golden or gilded one, El Dorado originally referred to a man, a fantastically wealthy ruler covered from head to toe in pure gold. The myth most likely originated with the Muisca tradition of crowning a new leader by covering his body in gold dust and rowing him to the middle of a sacred lake surrounded by fires and priests. For the Muisca, the alluringly shimmering metal was a symbol of spiritual power and their connection to the divine. But the conquistadors weren’t interested in ethnology; they were dazzled by the prospect of gold. Hence the legend of the gilded one quickly turned into a city, and the city became an obsession, inspiring boatloads of Europeans to find it.

Among the first to go looking, in 1529 and then again in 1531, was Ambrosius Ehinger, the ambitious German governor of Venezuela. He was aided in his search by hundreds of men including captured Indians and trailed by pigs and dogs. Together, they crossed marshes, rivers, and mountains deep into unknown territory. But in the end, having no qualms about killing or torturing the natives that he came across, Ehinger was slaughtered in return.

Later, in 1541, Gonzalo Pizarro and Francisco de Orellana mounted their own quest from Quito, enslaving natives along the way to help them carry their gear?only to meet with disaster in the end. The same happened to Pedro de Ursa, who was mutinied by his men in 1561.

Even Sir Walter Raleigh was taken in by the myth and twice went in search of the city. Scouring the highlands of Guiana, he ended up battling with the Spanish and losing his son in the process. When he finally returned to England in disgrace, by now an old man, he was beheaded by King James I.

Expeditions for El Dorado were hopelessly open-ended, called off only when they ran out of food (or men) to keep going. After all, they were chasing a mirage across a vast, uncharted continent so there was really no other end in sight. Of course, it didn’t help that any natives they interrogated barely understood what they were looking for, let alone where on Earth it might be, and usually just pointed to the next tribe with a shrug.

Ironically the conquistadors did actually find El Dorado, in one of the first places they looked. In 1536, Gonzalo Jiminez de Quesada conquered the Colombian Cundinamarca plateau, home of the Muisca, and drained their sacred lake. Naturally he found plenty of gold religious offerings from generations of priests and new leaders, but not nearly as much as he wanted. So the conquistadors took their search elsewhere, far from the origin of the myth, and continued to pursue El Dorado until at least 1800, when Alexander von Humboldt finally declared it a sham.

The Seven Cities of Gold

But El Dorado wasn’t the only golden city; there were said to be seven more.

Shipwrecked on an expedition to Florida in the late-1530s, two men (of only four survivors) found themselves wandering the wastes of New Mexico. One was the Franciscan friar and missionary Marcos de Niza and the other a North African slave by the name of Estevanico. Having already been captured by natives and escaped (perhaps explaining the distance they covered), they were keen to avoid any further contact until they reached the nearest safe haven.

But something caught their eye.

Situated on the brow of a roundish hill, de Niza claimed, once he’d made it back to Mexico, was a very beautiful city, the best that I have seen in these parts.? In fact, it looked to be made out of gold. But when Estevanico got too close, he was killed by the native inhabitants and de Niza was forced to run.

It was an irresistible tale. For some, it meant only one thing: The long lost Cities of Gold had been found. Unlike El Dorado, however, these were from the folklore of Spain. When King Roderic lost Hispania to the Muslims in 711-712 AD, he is said to have sent seven of his bishops to found a new one. Sailing across the Atlantic to Antillia one of a number of early phantom islands that was probably the American mainland they each built a city to govern. And then they burned their ships and navigational equipment to ensure they could never go home.

Needless to say, if the legend was true and any of these cities remained, the gold would belong to the Spanish. In 1541, the conquistador Francisco Vazquez de Coronado boldly retraced de Niza’s steps back to the site of the city, accompanied by hundreds of other men and backed by some hefty investments.

Unfortunately, it was only a pueblo, an adobe Zuni settlement that, to a distant observer at sunset, might look a little like it had a kind of glow. It definitely wasn’t made out of gold, though. Plus it had only five neighboring settlements?one short of the fabled seven in total.

The expedition had failed and its financial investors were ruined. It did, however, open up a route to the north, since de Coronado and his men pressed on all the way to Kansas before finally giving up on the search.

The Fountain of Youth

De Niza could hardly be blamed. He was primed to see fantastical things. After all, the shipwrecked expedition that stranded him in the desert in the first place had been in search of the Fountain of Youth a wild and ultimately ruinous goose chase led by Pnfilo de Narvez. Evidently, they’d all been taken in by a rumor about Juan Ponce de Len, who never really looked for the Fountain. Instead, the myth is thought to have been spread as a smear against Ponce de Len’s manhood his quest for eternal youth being a search for an impotence cure.

The Fountain was also mentioned by Pietro Martire d’Anghiera, a contemporary Spanish historian who seems to have believed it was real. In his Decades of the New World, he even gave rough directions:

Beyond Veragua the coast bends in a northerly direction, to a point opposite the Pillars of Hercules  Amongst these countries is an island  celebrated for a spring whose waters restore youth to old men.

This placed it somewhere in the Bay of Honduras, on the island of Boinca or Aganeo. Meanwhile, the Ponce de Len smear pointed more toward his own land of Florida. In truth, though, anyone looking for it, wherever they were, was always on the verge of its discovery. Because whenever the natives were asked for the whereabouts of this miraculous restorative spring, they would have just pointed to water.

The Amazons

Place names were another way for the conquistadors to impose their own version of reality onto the New World. Venezuela (Little Venice), for example, got its name because the stilt houses on Lake Maracaibo reminded Amerigo Vespucci of Venice (Venezia). And it was grouped with other proto-countries (like Colombia, from Columbus) under the Viceroyalty of New Granada, after the city in southern Spain. Indeed, all conquered territories in the New World were collectively branded New Spain.

The Amazon, meanwhile was named for the legendary Amazons, the ancient female warriors from Themiscyra in modern-day Turkey.

Why? Because the conquistadors imagined they lived there.

In 1542, having blustered through the rainforest for almost a year looking for El Dorado, Pizarro and de Orellana’s expedition was in shambles. They’d eaten all their pigs and many of their horses and dogs, and were now facing sickness, starvation, and death. They couldn’t ask the natives for help (on account of all the torture they’d put them through), but they could probably steal something to eat. Desperate not to die in the jungle, Pizarro sent de Orellana and 50 of his men along a wide open river they’d discovered, urging them to come back with food.

But they never did. Evidently the men were a little disgruntled with Pizarro and refused to return upriver to save him, especially from a fate that he probably deserved. (It?s unclear whether de Orellana was in agreement, but he made them all sign a declaration to say that he wasn’t and continued downriver regardless.)

On their meandering way to the sea, they continued to seek El Dorado and the natives kept shrugging their shoulders or more often bracing for attack, having had just about enough of the Spaniards and their conquest. In fact, as they pressed on, de Orellana and his men were shocked to find even women firing arrows from the river bank.

Surely these were no ordinary women, they thought; these women could fight! They were also nude, fair-skinned, and exceptionally skilled with a bow and arrow. They were nothing like the women they knew.

So they had to be the legendary Amazons.

De Orellana assumed their capital must be a few days inland and the riverside villages they passed were outlying vassal states. Of course, when he tortured natives for intel, they only confirmed his suspicions?saying just about anything to make him go away.

In any case, de Orellana and his men were in no mood to go trekking through the jungle in search of this mighty queendom, particularly if it meant certain death. So they sailed on to the Atlantic, returned to New Spain, and got royal backing to settle the region by force. Obviously they never found Amazonia, but they gave it the name all the same. Otherwise, it might have been called New Andalusia, after the region in southern Spain.

The Devil and Prester John

The conquistadors were obviously nuts; that much can be said for sure. But they were really just children at heart vicious, out-of-control, lunatic children, but children nevertheless.

Interestingly, many of their fruitless pursuits?be it for mythical warriors, immortality, untold wealth, or even Paradise itself can be traced to just one earlier myth: the legend of Prester John?s kingdom.

Sometime in the 1160s, long before anyone heard of the ?New World,? a mysterious letter arrived at the court of the Byzantine Emperor Manuel I Comnenus. Purporting to be from one Prester John, a descendant of the Three Magi, it described a vast and otherworldly empire with 72 tributary kingdoms and a strange assortment of inhabitants, including vampires and dog-headed men. It also had a Fountain of Youth, which Prester John claimed could revert anyone to the age of 32, no matter how old they were at the time. He himself had supposedly lived for more than half a millennia by drinking from its waters. There was also a tremendous river, filled with gold and precious gems, that flowed directly from the Garden of Eden. Furthermore, this being a Christian empire, it was entirely free of sin and its people had plenty to eat.

Pope Alexander III, seeing in Prester John a formidable ally for the Crusades, dispatched an envoy to seek out this land. At first, it was thought to be in India, then in Central Asia or possibly Africa. For a while, everyone assumed it was Abyssinia (Ethiopia), which was already a Christian country. Europeans even started addressing the Abyssinian ruler by the name of Prester John, despite his attempts to correct them. They also altered maps of the African kingdom to depict various elements from the letter, including Mount Amara, where Prester John?s sons were allegedly held in captivity.

The real location of his kingdom (if it had one) was never found, but there?s every reason to suspect the New World revived these old hopes.

Obviously, the natives weren’t Christians but neither were they thought to be evil?not entirely. Although Hernan Cort’s described one indigenous leader as a Satanic monster: huge, fat, with hands drenched in blood and blackened with smoke, and a striped black-red face with red mouth and teeth, spilling blood,? this wasn’t the general consensus. The Spanish preferred to see the natives as playthings of the Devil as opposed to the Devil himself, or in other words as souls crying out for salvation.

The existence of the Devil in the New World justified its conquest by the Spanish. So it came to be seen as the Devil’s playground, a New World in mockery of the old. It was the world turned upside down,world inverted by the Devil.

Hence the Aztecs were the inverse of the Israelites, as Satans chosen people against Gods. It wasn’t a New World so much as a black mirror for the old one, a bizarro realm where nothing was new, just darkly topsy-turvy.

This doesn’t excuse their behaviour, of course, but it explains the conquistador mindset.


Conquering a New World –

WIF Into History