Hear the Very First Sounds Ever Recorded on Mars, Courtesy of NASA

Predicting the state of the world in 2014 after a visit to the 1964 World's Fair, Isaac Asimov wrote that "only unmanned ships will have landed on Mars, though a manned expedition will be in the works and in the 2014 Futurama will show a model of an elaborate Martian colony." While we haven't seen a Futurama show in some time (other than the one created by Matt Groening), he was certainly right about those unmanned ships, the latest of which, four years after the one about which he prophesied, has just picked up the first sounds ever recorded on the Red Planet. You can hear it, preferably with the use of a subwoofer or a pair of capably bass-reproducing headphones, in the video above.

"That’s the sound of winds blowing across NASA’s InSight lander on Mars, the first sounds recorded from the red planet," writes the New York Times' Kenneth Chang. "It’s all the more remarkable because InSight — which landed last week — does not have a microphone."




Instead it picked up this rumble, which NASA describes as "caused by vibrations from the wind, estimated to be blowing between 10 to 15 mph (5 to 7 meters a second)," with its seismometer and air pressure sensor right there on Mars' Elysium Planitia where it landed. "The winds were consistent with the direction of dust devil streaks in the landing area, which were observed from orbit."

Science fiction enthusiasts will note that InSight's recording of Martian wind, especially in the more easily audible pitched-up versions included in the video, sounds not unlike the way certain films and television shows have long imagined the sonic ambience of Mars. NASA didn't launch InSight to test the theories implicitly presented by Hollywood sound designers — rather, to collect data on the formation of Mars and other rocky planets, as well as to check for the presence of liquid water — but they will equip the next Martian landers they send out in 2020 with proper microphones, and not just one but two of them. Among other scientific tasks, writes Big Think's Stephen Johnson, those microphones will be equipped to "listen to what happens when the craft fires a laser at rocks on the surface." Back here on Earth, one question looms above all others: which musician will be the first to sample all this?

via Big Think

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Anatomy of a Fake: Forgery Experts Reveal 5 Ways To Spot a Fake Painting by Jackson Pollock (or Any Other Artist)

In the old days, determining an art forgery was mostly a matter of narrative deduction, a la Sherlock Holmes.

Thiago Piwowarczyk and Jeffrey Taylor, founders of New York Art Forensics, employ such techniques to establish provenance, tracing the chain of ownership of any given work back to its original sale by researching catalogues, title transfers, and correspondence.




But they also bring a number of high tech tools to the table, to further prove—or in the case of the alleged Jackson Pollock drip painting above, disprove—a work’s authenticity.

In the WIRED video above, these experts, whose pedigree includes degrees in Chemistry, Forensic Science, and Comparative History, a Visual Arts Management textbook, and two Frick Collection Fellowships, break the sleuthing process down to five critical steps:

1. Establish provenance

Obsolete technology has a place in the process too, in the form of a highly unreliable fax, allegedly sent in 1997. It purports to be a photocopy of a typewritten letter from 1970, written by a gallery owner who talked one of the artist’s former girlfriends into parting with a number of works after his death.

Unfortunately for the painting’s current owner, Piwowarczyk and Taylor could find no proof that the gallery or its owner ever existed. The letter also botches Pollock’s death date and oddly, there’s a blank where the sender’s number would normally be.

Due diligence reveals nothing resembling this painting in the catalogue raisonné of Pollock’s work.

2. Close up visual analysis

This can be accomplished with tools as simple as the flashlight and plastic caliper Taylor uses to examine the staple holes found at regular intervals along the unsigned canvas’ edges. In the 1940s, artists started gravitating toward staples over tacks as a method for securing their canvases to stretcher bars, but would Pollock have done so? Likely not, to hear him tell it:

I hardly ever stretch my canvas before painting. I prefer to tack the unstretched canvas to the hard wall or the floor. I need the resistance of a hard surface.

Piwowarczyk and Taylor draw on their other senses, too, when performing this in-depth visual inspection. A deep sniff reveals that teabags were used to discolor the canvas, in hope of making it appear older than it is.

3. Photography with a multispectral imaging camera 

This camera’s ability to see the Ultra-Violet spectrum allows our forensic experts to spot restorations, underdrawing, and pentimenti. Here, the camera revealed an underlying painting whose geometric layout is uncharacteristic of Pollock, as well as a suspiciously amateurish patch job on the back of the canvas, another attempt to make the painting appear older than it is.

4. Examination with an X-ray fluorescence spectrometer

It looks like a cool Star Wars prop, and allows the examiners to identify elements in the pigment. Here, our “Pollock” gets a pass. There’s titanium (as in Titanium White) in evidence, but that’s permissible for anything painted from the 30s onward.

5. Molecular Imaging and Analysis by Raman Spectroscopy

The forger might have gotten away with it if it weren’t for those meddling kids and their Raman Spectroscope! The minuscule samples of paint Piwowarczyk harvests from the canvas reveal all sorts of organic debris that have no place in a Pollock, such as drywall dust and an acrylic that didn’t come into use ‘til the 1960s.

In conclusion, exercise caution and consult the experts before purchasing a high value drip painting this holiday season! According to Piwowarczyk, the fakes—over 100 and presumably still counting—outstrip the number of drip paintings Pollock created throughout his lifetime.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her in NYC from December 6 - 20 for the 10th anniversary production of Greg Kotis’ apocalyptic holiday tale, The Truth About Santa, and the next monthly installment of her book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Psilocybin Could Soon Be a Legal Treatment for Depression: Johns Hopkins Professor, Roland Griffiths, Explains How Psilocybin Can Relieve Suffering

Much of the recent scientific research into psychedelics has picked up where researchers left off in the mid-20th century, before LSD, psilocybin, and other psychoactive drugs became countercultural means of consciousness expansion, and then banned, illegal substances the government sought to control. Scientists from several fields studied psychedelics as treatments for addiction, depression, and anxiety, and end-of-life care. These applications were conceived and tested several decades ago.

Now, thanks to some serious investment from high-profile institutions like Johns Hopkins University, and thanks to changing government attitudes toward psychoactive drugs, it may be possible for psilocybin, the active ingredient in “magic mushrooms,” to get legal approval for therapy in a clinical setting by 2021. “For the first time in U.S. history,” Shelby Hartman reports at Rolling Stone, “a psychedelic drug is on the fast track to getting approved for treating depression by the federal government.”

As Michael Pollan has detailed in his latest book, How to Change Your Mind, the possibilities for psilocybin and other such drugs are vast. “But before the Food and Drug Administration can be petitioned to reclassify it,” Brittany Shoot notes at Fortune, the drug “first has to clear phase III clinical trials. The entire process is expected to take about five years.” In the TEDMED video above, you can see Roland R. Griffiths, Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Johns Hopkins, discuss the ways in which psilocybin, “under supported conditions, can occasion mystical-type experiences associated with enduring positive changes in attitudes and behavior.”

The implications of this research span the fields of ethics and medicine, psychology and religion, and it’s fitting that Dr. Griffiths leads off with a statement about the compatibility of spirituality and science, supported by a quote from Einstein, who said “the most beautiful and profound emotion we can experience is the sensation of the mystical. It’s the source of all true science.” But the work Griffiths and others have been engaged in is primarily practical in nature—though it does not at all exclude the mystical—like finding effective means to treat depression in cancer patients, for example.

“Sixteen million Americans suffer from depression and approximately one-third of them are treatment resistant,” Hartman writes. “Depression is also an epidemic worldwide, affecting 300 million people around the world.” Psychotropic drugs like psilocybin, LSD, and MDMA (which is not classified as a psychedelic), have been shown for a long time to work for many people suffering from severe mental illness and addictions.

Although such drugs present some potential for abuse, they are not highly addictive, especially relative to the flood of opioids on the legal market that are currently devastating whole communities as people use them to self-medicate. It seems that what has most prevented psychedelics from being researched and prescribed has as much or more to do with long-standing prejudice and fear as it does with a genuine concern for public health. (And that’s not even to mention the financial interests who exert tremendous pressure on drug policy.)

But now, Hartman writes, “it appears [researchers] have come too far to go back—and the federal government is finally recognizing it, too.” Find out why this research matters in Dr. Griffiths' talk, Pollan’s book, the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, and some of the posts we’ve linked to below.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Laurie Anderson Creates a Virtual Reality Installation That Takes Viewers on an Unconventional Tour of the Moon

Next year, NASA will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the moon landing, and as part of the celebration will restore the original beige and green control panels from the late 60’s Mission Control. “We want to take you back to July 20, 1969," says director of the non-profit Space Center Houston, the official visitors center for the Johnson Space Center. “You’re going to experience the final few moments before Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the moon for the first time.”

But the agency isn’t only looking back to half a century ago. It’s also looking forward to launching more moon expeditions—in partnership with commercial and international agencies—next year. And while those of us who aren’t astronauts or billionaires are unlikely to ever see the moon up close, Laurie Anderson, NASA’s first artist-in-residence, can transport viewers there for the cost of a ticket to Denmark.




Starting last month and running until January 2019, the country’s Louisiana Museum of Modern Art features Anderson’s new moon-themed virtual reality project as part of its exhibition The Moon: From Inner Worlds to Outer Space.

Created with multimedia artist Hsin-Chien Huang—with whom Anderson collaborated on another beautiful VR experience last year—this project transports visitors to a virtual moon, where they can view constellations invented by Anderson, symbols of things that have, or that seem poised to, disappear: a dinosaur, a polar bear, democracy. “All of those things that you think are so stable are so fragile, and can be lost,” she says in the video introduction to her project above.

So, okay, it’s not the moon Armstrong and Aldrin planted their country’s flag on in 1969. It's also populated by dinosaurs, birds, and other creatures created from a latticework of DNA molecules.

Not only did Anderson and Huang depict a thrilling fantasy VR moon, but they also created a “’hideous’ version,” reports CNN, “in which people had dumped all the radioactive material from Earth. “We did different phases of the moon,” says Anderson, “different aspects, looked not just at the romanticism of the moon but dystopias.” This isn’t her first foray into moon-themed art. As artist-in-residence at NASA since 2003, she has had some time to reflect on the agency’s mission.

After her first year with NASA, she debuted a 90-minute performance piece called “The End of the Moon,” the second in a trilogy she described as an “epic poem” about contemporary American culture. She is not the obvious choice to work for a government agency. Her work has been fiercely critical of the country’s wars and its repression on the domestic front. “Frankly, I find living in American culture at the moment really problematic,” she said back in 2004. “But when I think of NASA, it’s the one thing that feels future-oriented in a way that’s inspiring.”

Looking both backward and forward, next year’s anniversary of the moon landing will give us all reasons to think about humanity’s past and future in outer space. Will it include “unbelievable aspirations,” as Anderson mused, like “the greening of Mars,” or the dystopian dumping of radioactive waste on the Moon? Given the trash and treasure of our current relationship with the cosmos—not to mention our own planet—probably both. See more 2-D excerpts from Anderson and Huang’s piece in the scene test above, and, if you can score a ticket, enter the full VR experience at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art.

via @dark_shark

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Stephen Hawking’s Final Book and Scientific Paper Just Got Published: Brief Answers to the Big Questions and “Information Paradox”

How did it all begin?  Is there a god? Can we predict the future? Is there other intelligent life in the universe? For decades, many of us turned to Stephen Hawking for answers to those questions, or at least supremely intelligent suggestions as to where the answers might lie. But the celebrated astrophysicist's death earlier this year — after an astonishingly long life and career, given the challenges he faced — took that option away. It turns out, though, that we haven't actually heard the last of him: his last book, Brief Answers to the Big Questions (whose trailer you can watch just above), came out just this week.

"The book is quintessential Hawking," writes physics professor Marcelo Gleiser at NPR. "He starts by addressing the questions in physics and cosmology that he dedicated his intellectual life to answer, using easy-to-follow arguments and drawing from everyday images and thought experiments." Hawking's answers to the big questions figure into his view of not just the world but all existence: he believes, writes Gleiser, "that humanity's evolutionary mission is to spread through the galaxy as a sort of cosmic gardener, sowing life along the way. He believes, even if not without worry, that we will develop a positive relationship with intelligent machines and that, together, we will redesign the current fate of the world and of our species."




In parallel with his career as a public figure and writer of popular explanatory books, which began with 1988's A Brief History of Time, Hawking performed scientific research on black holes. The Guardian's science editor Ian Sample describes it as a "career-long effort to understand what happens to information when objects fall into black holes," capped off by a posthumously published paper titled "Black Hole Entropy and Soft Hair." "Toss an object into a black hole and the black hole’s temperature ought to change," writes Sample. "So too will a property called entropy, a measure of an object’s internal disorder, which rises the hotter it gets." In the paper Hawking and his collaborators show that "a black hole’s entropy may be recorded by photons that surround the black hole’s event horizon, the point at which light cannot escape the intense gravitational pull. They call this sheen of photons 'soft hair'."

If that sounds tricky to understand, all of us who have appreciated Hawking's writing know that we can at least go back to his books to get a grip on black holes and the questions about them that get scientists most curious. Much remains for future astrophysicists to work on about that "information paradox," to do with where, exactly, everything that seemingly gets sucked into a black hole actually goes. “We don’t know that Hawking entropy accounts for everything you could possibly throw at a black hole, so this is really a step along the way,” Hawking's collaborator Malcolm J. Perry tells Sample. “We think it’s a pretty good step, but there is a lot more work to be done.” As Hawking surely knew, the big questions — in physics or any other realm of existence — never quite get fully answered.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Learn Anatomy Through a Pictorial History of James Bond 007

Remember the scene in Tomorrow Never Dies when sexy double agent Wai Lin handcuffs James Bond to the shower and leaves him there?

Alternately, remember “Table 9” from anatomist Bernard Siegfried Albinus’ 1749 Tabulae sceleti et musculorum corporis humani?

Kriota Willberg, an educator, massage therapist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, and author of Draw Stronger: Self-Care For Cartoonists and Other Visual Artists, is sufficiently steeped in both Bond and Albinus to identify striking visual similarities.

That shower scene is just one iconic moment that Willberg included in her mini-comic, Pictorial Anatomy of 007.

Agent Bond’s sartorial sense is a crucial aspect of his appeal, but Willberg, a Bond fan who’s seen every film in the canon at least five times, digs below that celebrated surface, peeling back skin to expose the structures that lie beneath.

Sean Connery’s Bond exhibits a veteran artist’s model's stillness waiting for the right time to make his move against Dr. No’s “eight-legged assassin.” Even before Willberg got involved, it was an excellent showcase for his pecs, delta, and sternocleitomastoid muscles.

Leaving her flayed Bonds in their cinematic settings are a way of paying tribute to the antique anatomical illustrations Willberg admires for their dynamism:

…sitting in a chair, taking a stroll, holding its skin or organs out of the way so that the reader can get a better look at deeper structures. Some of the cadavers are very flirty. The pictures remind us that we are the organs we see on the page. They do stuff! 

The New York Academy of Medicine selected Willberg as its first Artist in Residence, because of the way she explores the intersections between body sciences and artistic practices. (Other projects include an intricate needlepoint X-Ray of her own root canal and Stitchin’ Time!, a fictional encounter in which Aulus Cornelius Celsus (c. 25 BCE – c. 50 CE), author of  De Medicina, and surgeon Aelius Galenus (129  – c. 200 CE) team up to repair a disemboweled gladiator.

Is there a squeamish bone in this artist's body?

All signs point to no.

Asked to pick a favorite Bond movie, she names Goldfinger for the mythology concerning the infamous scene wherein a beautiful woman is painted gold, but also 2006’s Casino Royale for keeping the torture scene from the book:

I didn’t think they’d have the balls! Sorry! Poor taste but I couldn’t resist. Although Timothy Dalton physically resembled Bond as described in the books, most of the movies make Bond out to be smarter than Fleming wrote him. I think Judy Dench called Daniel Craig, Casino Royale’s Bond, a “blunt instrument” which is pretty much how he’s written. He’s tough and lucky and that’s why he’s survived. Plus the machete fight is great. 

Sometimes people get too prissy about the body. I am meat and liver and sausage and so are you. Your body is inescapable while you live. You should get to know it. Think about it in different contexts. It’s fun!

When From Russia With Love’s Rosa Klebb punches master assassin, Red Grant, in the stomach, she is squishing a living liver through living abdominal muscles.

Hard copies of Kriota Willberg’s anatomy-based comics, including Pictorial Anatomy of 007, are available from Birdcage Bottom Books.

Listen to an hour-long interview with Comics Alternative in which Willberg discusses her New York Academy of Medicine residency, anatomical research, and the ways in which humor informs her approach here.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Her latest script, Fawnbook, is available in a digital edition from Indie Theater Now.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

You’re Only As Old As You Feel: Harvard Psychologist Ellen Langer Shows How Mental Attitude Can Potentially Reverse the Effects of Aging

You’re only as old as you feel, right? The platitude may be true. In a scientifically verifiable sense, “feeling”—a state of mind—may not only determine psychological well-being but physical health as well, including the natural aging processes of the body.

Harvard psychologist Ellen Langer has spent decades testing the hypothesis, and has come to some interesting conclusions about the relationship between mental processes and bodily aging. In order to do the kind of work she has for decades, she has had to put aside the thorny “mind-body” problem—a longstanding philosophical and practical impasse in figuring out how the two interact. “Let’s forget about how you get from one to the other,” she tells CBS This Morning in a 2014 interview above, “and in fact see those as just words…. Wherever you’re putting the mind, you’re necessarily putting the body.”




What happens to the one, she theorized, will necessarily affect the other. In a 1981 experiment, which she called the “counterclockwise study,” she and her research team placed eight men in their late 70s in a monastery in New Hampshire, converted to transport them all to 1959 when they were in their prime. Furniture, décor, news, sports, music, TV, movies: every cultural reference dated from the period. There were no mirrors, only photos of the men in their 20s. They spoke and acted as though they had traveled back in time and gotten younger.

The results were extraordinary, almost too good to be true, she felt. “On several measures,” The New York Times reported in 2014, “they outperformed a control group that came earlier to the monastery but didn’t imagine themselves back into the skin of their younger selves, though they were encouraged to reminisce." The "counterclockwise" participants "were suppler, showed greater manual dexterity and sat taller…. Perhaps most improbably, their sight improved” as well as their hearing.  Given the seemingly miraculous outcomes, tiny sample size, and the unorthodoxy of the experiment, Langer decided not to publish at the time but continued to work on similar studies looking at how the mind affects the body.

Then, almost thirty years later, the BBC contacted her about staging a televised recreation of the monastery experiment, “with six aging former celebrities as guinea pigs,” who were transported back to 1975 by similar means. The stars “emerged after a week as apparently rejuvenated as Langer’s septuagenarians in New Hampshire.” These experiments and several others Langer has conducted over the years strongly suggest that chronological age is not a linear clock pushing us inexorably toward decline. It is, rather, a collection of variables that include psychological well-being and something called an “epigenetic clock,” a mechanism that UCLA geneticist Steve Horvath has discovered directly correlates with the aging process, and may show us how to change it.

But while Horvath has yet to answer several pressing questions about how certain genetic mechanisms interact, Langer has put such questions aside in favor of testing the mind-body connection in a series of experiments, which engage the aging—or people with specific conditions—in studies that stretch their minds. By creating illusions like the monastery time machine, Langer has found that perception has a significant effect on aging. If we perceive ourselves to be younger, healthier, more capable, more vibrant, despite the messages about how we should look and act at our chronological age, then our cells and tissues get the message. Not only can a change in perception affect aging, but also, Langer theorizes, obesity, cancer, diabetes, and other chronic or life-threatening conditions. Much of her research here gets spelled out in her book, Counterclockwise: Mindful Health and the Power of Possibility.

“Whether it’s about aging or anything else,” says Lager, “if you are surrounded by people who have certain expectations for you, you tend to meet those expectations, positive or negative.” The social expectation for the aging is that they will get weaker, less capable, and more prone to deterioration and illness. Ignoring these expectations and changing our perception of what chronological age means—and doesn’t mean—Langer says, seems to actually slow or partially reverse the decline and to ward off disease. Those psychological changes can come about through interventions like caring for children, plants, or animals and using mindfulness practices to learn how to be attentive to change.

You can read more about Langer and Horvath’s specific findings on aging, psychology, and epigenetics at Nautilus.

Note: you can get Langer's book--Counterclockwise Mindful Health and the Transformative Power of Possibility--as a free audiobook through Audible.com's free trial program. Get more details on the free trial here.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

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