Historically Horrible Houseguests

If you’re going to be a houseguest there are some easy rules to follow - don’t make a mess, don’t insult the host, and, perhaps most easy to follow, don’t kill anyone. Sadly, for a group of folks in Glencoe, Scotland in 1692 their houseguests decided to not follow these rules. In fact, they massacred their hosts, members of the MacDonald clan.

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Derek Alexander, the head of Archaeology at the National Trust for Scotland is leading a research team to find out why, in the late 17th century, the Glencoe branch of the well-known and respected MacDonald clan were brutally murdered.

In a new archaeological undertaking Alexander and his team will be “trying to find remains that tie the landscape to the story of the massacre.” The story, it seems, we do know.

In Glencoe, Scotland roughly 70-80 people, most linked to the MacDonald clan, lived in several farm settlements. These people lived a modest life by farming, raising cattle, and engaging in some light, but typical for the time, tribal stealing from other clans (usually cattle).

Their standard life took a major turn in early February, 1692 when two companies of soldiers (a total of roughly 120 men) came to Glencoe with orders to lodge there and throughout the valley. It was a duty of the people to house and feed soldiers, so this act in and of itself was not incredibly surprising.

However, after two relatively uneventful weeks the commanding officer of all the soldiers, Robert Campbell of Glenlyon, “carried out secret orders to "put all to the sword" in Glencoe.” The people of Glencoe and even the soldiers, seemed to have no idea of these gruesome orders.

On the night of February 13th, a brutal blizzard blew through Glencoe, causing whiteout conditions. It was during this time that, according to BBC, “systematically killing everyone they could. 38 lay dead the next morning, including the chief, MacIain. Many more escaped into the hills, some finding shelter before the elements could kill them, some, including MacIain’s elderly wife, dying on the mountainside.”

However, the low number (38 would be less than half the village) is attributed to soldiers being disgusted with their orders and horrified at an order towards people who had been taking care of them for two weeks and warning families ahead of time. Sadly, roughly 40 people froze to death before they could reach the safety of the next village, although some remained alive to tell the tale.

But what was the reason behind this horrific mass-murder? The village chief not swearing his oath of allegiance to the King. It was a punishment and warning to other Highlanders the price of not swearing fealty and acknowledging the king. Although, the villagers claimed that the reason for missing the deadline was not recklessness or a feeling of superiority, but heavy snow which cased travel delays. Others claimed it was a punishment for the rebellious Highlanders who were also Catholic.

The archaeological team from NTS is currently working through three sites, specifically three farm settlements where the remains of building foundations are. Although the researchers are still in the early stages at the sites, they hope to find the archaeological evidence that aligns with this mythic story.

The archaeological study and research is still in its early stages, and we will be sure to keep you updated!


This above image is entitled "Some sun breaks through onto the Buachaille Etive Mòr on an otherwise cloudy day" and is part of the Highlands, although not tied to the current archaeological search. It is by Graham Grinner Lewis and is liscensed under CC BY 2.0. 

Sachs Covered Bridge

Located in a bucolic stretch of Pennsylvania, one of its most historic covered bridges is also one of the country’s most haunted. Looking at the preserved bridge one would hesitate to call it haunted, as it looks like something out of a Thomas Kinkade painting. Sachs Covered Bridge in Gettysburg, designated Pennsylvania’s “most historic bridge in 1938” and also on the National Register of Historic Places has quite a storied, and potentially haunted, history.

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Before it was haunted, it was a bridge built in 1852. Sach’s bridge is a “Town Truss” bridge, which is a lattice-like bridge. Almost ten years later, it became an important bridge during the Civil War. On July 1st, 1863 the bridge was crossed by I Corps of the Union Army marching towards Gettysburg. Just four days later, much of Robert E. Lee’s Army would retreat back over the bridge after the Union victory in the Battle of Gettysburg.

But not every Confederate soldier made it safely across the bridge. Rumor has it that three Confederate soldiers who had attempted to desert during Gettysburg were found and cut here. Perhaps even more interesting is that there is another rumor that these alleged Confederate soldiers were not deserters at all, but spies. Although neither story has been totally verified, many people who have had experiences at the bridge report hearing battle fire, screams of people that sound as if they’re being wounded and killed, and others have even reported seeing full-bodied and uniformed apparitions of these soldiers! Even more mention feeling cold spots and even seeing a strange, dark, and unexplainable mist.

This bridge is like many bridges in America, especially many covered bridges: haunted. What makes bridges so haunted? Why does every town - big and small alike, seem to have some sort of haunted bridge lurking just on the periphery?

In folklore, bridges often serve s important points in stories - where devils make deals, where trolls live, and especially where ghosts lurk. Is it because we come so close to being washed away should a wood plank give out or our cars fail on top? Is it because the “Imp of the Impure” calls us to the edge and asks what would happen if we jumped?

In my mind, I think it is because it is a liminal space. In between nature and man-made, danger and safety, and the known and the unknown, because we know where the road will take us but not the river.

This image was taken by Kevin A. Trostle and is liscensed under CC BY-SA 3.0. 

Am Fear Liath Mòr

You’ve heard of Yeti and Bigfoot...but what about Scotland’s take on a strange, hairy, large creature that craves solitude? Surprisingly there is one and he inhabits Scotland’s Ben Macdui mountain. His name, Am Fear Liath Mòr is his name, but he is also called the Fear Liath or the Big Grey Man.

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He is typically described as being very large (roughly 8-10 feet tall), his body is covered in short, coarse hair, and he has very broad shoulders. It is also reported that the creature is known to gesticulate wildly with long, ungainly arms. He is usually seen at the summit of Ben Macdui in the Cairngorm mountain, but there have been several sightings off the very top as well.

The most infamous account and sighting of this strange creature was, surprisingly, by a very well-respected scientist and Professor named Norman Collie. His colleagues remarked that he was an “unshakable man certainly not given to flights of fancy.”

At a meeting of the Cairngorm Club in 1925, he told the strange tale of his experience at Ben Macdui over 20 years ago, in 1891.

"I was returning from the cairn on the summit in a mist when I began to think I heard something else than merely the noise of my own footsteps. Every few steps I took I heard a crunch, then another crunch as if someone was walking after me but taking steps three or four times the length of my own. I said to myself 'this is all nonsense'. I listened and heard it again but could see nothing in the mist . As I walked on and the eerie crunch, crunch sounded behind me I was seized with terror and took to my heels, staggering blindly among the boulders for four or five miles nearly down to Rothiemurchus Forest. Whatever you make of it I do not know, but there is something very queer about the top of Ben MacDhui and will not go back there again by myself I know." - Norman Collie, Cairngorm Club, Aberdeen, Scotland, 1925

This is one of the earliest known sightings of Fear Liath, but, as Scotclans.com reports: “Having broken his silence Collie discovered that he was not the only person who had experienced something terrifying on these slopes. He received letters from other climbers who had also had this feeling of terror or in some cases who had seen a large dark shape coming towards them on the mountain. This sinister creature has become known as the “Fear Liath” or “Am Fear Liath Mòr”

One of these letters from Dr. A.M. Kellas, who shared his experience on Ben Macdui with his brother. According to ellas, his brother and him had just reached the summit when, shortly after, they saw a large figure making its way towards them. Frightened, even with the distance, the brothers fled when it went into a dip in the summit and made their way down, not wanting to bump into the strange, large creature again.

In a way, this creature seems more similar to the Yeti than Bigfoot in its intents. Like the Yeti, it inhabits a specific location and does not seem to completely hide themselves from humans. In fact, they may even take an interest in keeping humans alive (perhaps, in the mist, the Fear Liath was making sure the Professor was alright).

However, one thing that seems to be unique about Fear Liath, and, perhaps most sad, is the common report of “overwhelmingly negative energy, feelings of despair and fear to the point of those experiencing these feelings wanting to commit suicide.” Some even report a fleeting desire to jump off a cliff close by to many of the sightings called Lairg Ghru Pass. Although the creature, in reports, does not seem to do anything harmful or aggressive towards humans it creates an unshakable sense of dread that is enough to make climbers flee for their lives back down the mountainside.

Some scientists tackled this strange myth and came to an interesting conclusion, according to Historic Mysteries, “There is a phenomenon researchers call a Brocken Spectre, Brocken Bow or Mountain Spectre. It is a trick of light that plays on the eye which makes a person believe an enormous shadow creature is facing the observer. This optical illusion results when a projection of the observer’s own shadow reflects onto a misty mountainside or cloud bank opposite the sun.” Although, it does appear as if this has been tested or recreated on Ben Macdui. So, perhaps the Big Grey Man is up there waiting for you to come across him.

The above is an image of the "Roof of Scotland. Twinned with Mars. The barren lands around the head of the Allt a' Choire Mor just north of the summit of Ben MacDui. The usual route up passes through here, a tricky navigational challenge on a tourist hill. There is a higher place, but it's the area of very high ground that impresses here." taken by Richard Webb and is liscensed under Creative Commons 2.0 Generic.

Forget Mars, What About Venus?

While the search for life and a place where humans could go next, many minds drift towards Mars. But, what about the other planets? In a paper published on March 30th, 2018 in Astrobiology an international team of researcher laid out a case for “the atmosphere of venus as a possible niche for extraterrestrial life.” So, perhaps it could support us as well.

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How could a planet known so well as being a hothouse...according to Space.com “one-dry and hot enough to melt lead, with an atmospheric pressure 90 times greater than that of Earth at sea level.” ever support life? Well, as you may know there is a belief that Venus was once quite like Earth...roughly 2 billion years ago.

In the paper mentioned in introduction, the team presents a solid starting ground for why we should look at Venus, "Venus has had plenty of time to evolve life on its own," explains Limaye [the head of research for the paper], noting that some models suggest Venus once had a habitable climate with liquid water on its surface for as long as 2 billion years. "That's much longer than is believed to have occurred on Mars."

Even though Venus is subject to some extreme weather, it is not entirely impossible that there could not still be life lingering even on the surface. Take for example, an AL favorite: the water bear (tardigrades). Tardigrades’ ability to enter a state called cryptobiosis allows them to withstand extreme famine, heat, cold, and other inhospitable conditions. Shockingly, Tardigrades 30 years old were revived in a Japanese lab and not only did they live, they thrived an reproduced! Perhaps the tardigrades have a cousin up on Venus who can do the very same.

Even if life on the surface is non-existence, that doesn’t snuff out the light of the hope for life around Venus. Recently, there has been some research into the fact that there may not have been a climate-based extinction because its atmosphere and skies above are quite cozy, in fact, they are similar to Earth’s. Space.com posits, “ so it's possible that Venusian life — if it ever existed — didn't die out with the dramatic climate shift long ago but rather retreated into the clouds.”

However, there are some things we don’t quite know that still put Venus in question. For example, we’re not sure what the water situation is. In fact, there is a chance that the water on venus has been destroyed by “extensive lava flows in the last billion years…[which] likely have either destroyed or covered up the planet's earlier terrestrial history.

Cynthia Phillips, a planetary geologist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California recently said, "I think we should really take another look at Venus,"

The above image is entitled "Artist's conception of a balloon probe" and is in the public domain.

Messages from the Grave

Cemeteries allow a host of meaning and activities to be grafted upon them. For some, they are a beautiful, bucolic place to memorialize loved ones, for others it is a place to go ghost hunting and catch a scare, others treat it as a place to learn more about the past, and for even mit is a final resting plce. Living human beings place many more activities, meanings, and symbolism onto graveyard and cemeteries...but what about the meaning that gravestones are showing us?

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Why shouldn’t we analyze headstones, cemeteries, and graveyards from the last 300 or so years with a similar care and interest that we show to burial mounds and graveyards of thousands of years past? How we mark our dead is a cultural phenomena that is easy to overlook and even easier not to think about...for who among us wants to plan the design of our tombstone? So springs the study, analysis, and interpretation of cemetery art. These symbols - from crosses to flowers - can tell us even more about the deceased than the written inscription on their stone. This is especially important when so much of the writing has become unreadable or never existed in the first place.

One of my favorite that I had come across was something I had seen several times before, but never quite understood it: a torch turned upside down. Why put such a puzzling image to mark someone’s final resting place? Well, because it symbolizes eternal life. How? Because despite it’s inverted position, the flame continues to burn on in defiance of natural laws. Perhaps people buried under these symbols were visionaries.

Plants and animals also play into the symbolism. For example, roosters and dolphins signify a resurrection. Lambs usually indicate the death of a child whereas owls symbolize wisdom and old age. Oaks highlight supernatural power, violets highlight faithfulness, and wreaths mean victory in death.

Another favorite was the butterfly. Perhaps it is my own bias peeking through but I always think butterflies seem quite cheesy. However, the Greek word for butterfly is “psyche.” If you’ve ever dabbled in Greek philosophy, you might know that psych is also the greek word for soul. To take it even a step further butterflies begin life as caterpillars, cocoon themselves (almost as if in a coffin), and remerge as butterflies. In a strange way, is the grave acting as some sort of cocoon for a grander experience?

Even more interesting, according to 99% Invisible, “Others symbols are tied to orders, institutions and professions, like stumps associated with the Woodmen of the World; squares and compasses with Masonic orders; a mortar and pestle with pharmacists; a palette and brush with artists; anvils with blacksmiths; anchors with sailors; and linked chains with the Independent Order of Odd Fellows.” Continuing on tha idea, Eagles often symbolize a military career.

Another element I find interesting are all the different symbols that hands in different positions can mean. Clasped hands are usually linked to faith and prayer. A hand with a pointed finger (either upwards or downwards) indicates mortality, a downward hand can also specifically represent a sudden or unexpected death. A hand holding a heart usually represents charity, whereas a hand holding a book highlights the “embodiment of faith.”  

What other symbols have you noticed are prevalent in cemeteries and graveyards? What do you think they could mean?



This image of the German cemetery in Sighișoara, Romania, taken by Myrabella. It is liscensed under CC BY-SA 4.0. 

Too Much of a Good Thing? The Planets of TRAPPIST-1

In our consistent search for life outside of our planet, we have found some surprisingly good candidates. One thing scientists look for is water. As far as we know, water is essential to life. On NASA’s website they write, “Water is essential at the molecular level to moving life beyond its basic building blocks; thus, searches for extraterrestrial life usually involve a search for liquid water.” But too much water might also be a problem.

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Cue TRAPPIST-1, a planetary system 39 light years away from the solar system. The planets were discovered thanks to the transit method (in which a telescope watches a star for small dips in brightness. These dips can let scientists know if an exoplanet is passing in front of it). The star is roughly the same size as Jupiter and there are believed to be at least 7 planets in orbit. All the planets “transit their star, meaning that they pass in front of it.” Most of the planets appear to be about as big as Earth and Venus, and, thanks some clever scientists, we can also deduce that these planets receive an amount of light similar to many of our solar system. Most importantly, these planets are in the “habitable zone”, meaning that liquid water could exist on the surface.

The planets are rocky and, as a new study suggests, have a lot of water...maybe even too much water, according to researchers from School of Earth and Space Exploration at Arizona State University.

The planets are called B, C, D ,E, F, G, H and some of them contain surprising amount of water. For example, B and c are believed to have around 10% water by mass. However, the further out planets F and G are roughly 50% water. Now, I know what you’re going to say…”But Earth is 70% water!” and, well, you’re right in a way. Earth’s surface area is 70% water...but it only accounts for .2% of its mass.

Basically, these planets could be insanely wet. Extreme Tech puts it in plain terms, “The outer planets would have more than 1,000 times the volume of water we have on Earth.” And while water seems to be a necessity of life...too much water “could impede the development of life because there are certain chemical processes that occur on dry land. In addition, the pressure of all that water pressing down on the mantle could prevent most volcanic activity. Without the carbon dioxide from volcanic activity, even planets in the habitable zone could have fallen victim to a runaway snowball effect.”

Although originally seen as a great place to further explore the possibility of life, the TRAPPIST-1 seems to be a less successful investigation. In a study published by the researchers in the journal Nature Astronomy they note, “With no exposed land, key geochemical cycles including the drawdown of carbon and phosphorus into oceanic reservoirs from continental weathering will be muted, thus limiting the size of the biosphere," the researchers wrote in the new study, which was published online today (March 19) in the journal Nature Astronomy. "As such, although these planets may be habitable in the classical definition of the presence of surface water, any biosignature observed from this system may not be fully distinguishable from abiotic, purely geochemical sources.”

Ultimately, the excess of water has the power to potentially shut down some of the needed geological processes that allow life to get its bearing on the world.







The above image is liscensed under Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0) by Flickr User Driver Photographer.

The Green Lady of Caerphilly Castle

Sprawling across an impressive 30 acres, Caerphilly Castle is Wale’s largest castle. It began its life as a medieval fortress built between 1268-1271, by Gilbert de Clare. The castle’s design is based on a “concentric ring of walls, something not seen in Britain before. It also has an extensive ring of water defenses and huge gatehouses. This mammoth stronghold remains a striking testament to the Anglo-Norman domination of the area.” Its impressive age, size, and strength is legendary enough...but there is a ghost that haunts these halls. She is known as  the Green Lady of Caerphilly Castle.

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This story begins with Alice de la Marche of France, the niece of Henry II and wife of Earl Gilbert de Clare. Alice was a woman with refined tastes, a passionate nature, and had a bit of a wild side. This wild side caused some friction between her and her husband, as she “came to resent her husband’s warring disposition.”

On a seemingly normal day, Gruffudd the Fair (who was also Prince of Brithdir) visited the castle. He immediately caught Alice’s eye and she quickly became enamored with this handsome, well-spoken prince. Before long, the two were lovers. Unfortunately for the secret couple, Gruffudd, unable to handle his guilt, confessed his secret relationship to a monk. This monk was loyal to de Clare, who he quickly informed.

Seeing red due to his anger, he immediately sent his wife back to Franche and ordered his men to hunt down Gruffudd.

Gruffudd, who was forewarned of de Clare’s search, also succumbed to anger and revenge. He hunted down the monk that shared his secret with de Clare and hung him from a tree. Not long after this excursion, de Clare’s man caught up to him. Just a short time later, Gruffudd would also be hanging.

Soon after, a page was sent to inform Alice of her lover’s demise at her husband’s hands. Unable to handle the fact that she helped cause her lover’s death, she dropped dead. Although she died in France, it is said her ghost returned to Caerphily Castle to haunt its great ramparts.

After a few weeks of investigating the Lady in White stories, I was surprised to come and find an interesting sub-genre of Lady in Green stories. Although the above story does share some similar stories to Lady in White stories, Lady in Green stories seem to 1) take place in castles and 2) involve some royal or noble lineage.

Back to Alice, though. She is dressed in green, representative of her husband’s envy, and she wanders the halls in silent solitude. Some say she is stuck in purgatory for her sins, others say she is waiting to meet once again with Gruffudd, and still more say she is still in shock...even all these days later.

Other accounts also give her a unique ability -ability to turn herself into ivy. If you spy her through her guise and she likes you, she will reach out to shake your hand and vanish shortly after.

The cover image is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license. You can view it here.


Brownies Make Finicky (but useful) Roomates

On the blog we cover a lot of strange things from strange animal evolution to haunting entities that have allegedly scared people to death. Something we don’t cover enough? The sweeter side of folklore. So, today we dive into one of my favorite house buddies - the Brownies

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Much of the Brownie folklore is centered in Scotland, specifically the Highlands and several Islands. Much of this is because there is quite a bit of farmland in these places. You know what kind of residences need a lot of help? You guessed it, farmers! The Brownies main job is helping out these fine folk who have tough days and could use an extra helping hand around the house and barn.

Brownies are usually classed as a kind of Fairy. More specifically, they’re a “Hob”, also known as a house spirit. According to Witchcraft Today: An Encyclopedia of Wiccan and Neopagan Traditions Brownies were said, “to be short (about three feet tall) and ragged, with pointed ears, brown complexions, and brown clothes.” Furthermore, “Brownies are traditionally portrayed as intelligent beings who seek out deserving people to serve.”

They tend towards the most “deserving” families, hard-workers who could use a helping hand. To the households they worked for, they didn’t just help with household chores...they also brought luck to the farm. The happier they were (usually aided by cakes and saucers of milk) the luckier the family would be. However, if they go on the bad side of Brownies...it could get a little hairy. And, Brownies are particular. While they do love sweet treats, honey, and milk they do not like to see this as payment for their actions. In fact, if you try to pay them they might get so upset they leave! It is best to do it naturally and as a thoughtful action instead of a cold transaction.

Brownies are nocturnal and do much of their helpful chores and tasks at night. In fact, some folklore claims “that the cock crows not in order to awaken humans but to tell Brownies that it is time to retire.”


If you are interested in attracting a Brownie, there are a few things you can do:

  • Live in a rural area (especially on a farm or near a mill)

  • Live in a place with lots of hiding places for the creatures to sleep durng the day and remain unseen.

  • Make sure your house is cozy

But, before you want to attract a Brownie be wary that they are fickle creatures and that upsetting or offending them can end badly for you. Brownies are loyal creatures and stay at a residence for quite some time. There is one specific Brownie that lived in Leithenhall in southern Scotland. It was rumored that the Brownie had lived at the residence for nearly 300 years and each time someone new took over, the Brownie would present himself and make himself known.

However, once when the residence was changing hands it stood empty for several years. The Brownie, not ready to leave, grew hungry and cold. He was quite sad over the death of the previous owner and longed for busy work and a new family to take care of.

When the new owner finally arrived, the Brownie excitedly presented himself to him. The new owner was quite shocked at the appearance of the unusually lonely and haggard Brownie. He ordered his fleet of servants to get the Brownie new clothes, food, and comfort. Although this was done in kindness, the Brownie immediately took offense and deserted the hall. Shortly after, Leithenhall fell into ruin.

So while Brownies may seem the like the perfect extra roommate you might have to walk on eggshells (and always have a little extra milk) to keep them happy and your luck and life in good standing.


This is an image from  title, "Queen's Treasure Series, The Brownie" -- which you can read here! No known copyright restrictions. 

Thismia neptunis Re-Emerges from the Underworld

Thismia neptunis, after 150 years of invisibility has returned to view. The flower comes from a family of plants often referred to as ‘Fairy Lanterns’. Thismia neptunis is notable for many things including the fact that it is a mycoheterotroph. Mycoheterotrophs are flowering plants that have abandoned photosynthesis, making them parasitic plants.

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Mycoheterotrophs have to derive their nutrients from another plant, which is why many call them ‘parasitic’. Because the Thismia neptunis does not need to rely on photosynthesis it is able to live underground and away from sunlight. Thismia neptunis, “obtain [its] nutrition indirectly from the plant via a mycorrhizal fungus.” This fungus attaches itself to the photosynthetic plant and acts as a bridge between the plant and Thismia neptunis so that nutrients can flow from plan root to the fungus bridge and finally to the Thismia neptunis.

Thismia neptunis was first recorded 151 years ago by an Italian botanist named Odoardo Beccari. While on a trip to the jungles of Malaysia he stumbled across the supremely alien looking Thismia neptunis. The Thismia neptunis la on the rich, wet dirt of the rainforest in an area called Matang massif, alongside a river. Although he was sure it was a plant...it was unlike any plant he had ever come across. It had no leaves, no chlorophyll, and didn’t appear to perform photosynthesis. Furthermore, it also appeared to flourish underground. To Beccari, it seemed more like a fungus...or even an insect.

The plant itself was odd looking, to say the least. It has a creamy, white stem that poked up from the ground ever-so-slightly. The bulb on top almost looks like a dirty q-tip (seriously). It is pale with orange coloring at the top, and, at the very top of the bulb...an opening “like the mouth of a sea-worm.” One of the most interesting aspects of the flower are the three “red, hairy appendages sticking straight up like a shrimp’s long antennae from flat protrusions around the bulb -- part of its pollen-producing organ.” Underneath the stem is a simple root system whose aim is to collect nutrients from underground fungi.

On his 1866 trip, Beccari did not have a camera to document his findings. So, he illustrated the strange plant and made several notes on this new, bizarre species. After this, the strange plant was never seen or documented again.

Recently, however, the Thismia neptunis has come back to greet us. In a new paper published in the academic journal, Phyotaxa on Feburary 21st, 2018 a group of Czech researchers believe it is “only the second finding of the species in total."

Thismia neptunis lives most of its life underground and only appears above-ground when it flowers...and flowering is rare. Although we don’t know for sure it is possible that blooms only appear a few weeks at a time or, potentially, not even every year.

The researchers who recently re-discovered the plant still aren’t quite sure how the plant pollinates. But, interestingly enough, two different species of dead flies were found inside the flower. It is surmised that these may act as pollinators.

Finding Thismia neptunis is part of an on-going research effort to discover “long-lost” plants and flowers. Researchers on this project hope that they may continue discovering more long-lost lants from Beccari’s time in Malaysia. There is hope that this goal could be accomplished, thanks to the fact that where Beccari once researched and where the scientists are now “has remained largely undisturbed.”



the image above: Thismia neptunis Becc. Beccari, O., Malesia, vol. 1: t. 11, fig. 6 (1877-1883) [O. Beccari]. It is in the public domain. 

Tardigrade Update: A New Type of Tardigrade Revealed!

At Astonishing Legends, we love waterbears, also known as tardigrades. Seriously! You can read another AL blog post that goes over them here. Naturally, we like to stay abreast with all tardigrade updates and there was a particularly notable one at the end of February 2018. A new type of tardigrade has been discovered!

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Scientists recently discovered an entirely new species of tardigrades living amongst the moss on the surface of a Japanese parking lot. How did these creatures hiding in plain sight go undiscovered for so long? Well...why would you look for a tardigrade in a parking lot?

Luckily, a bioscientist named Kzuharu Arakawa, moved into an apartment complex that used this parking lot. Curiosity likely got the best of this bioscientist and one day he decided to take a sample of moss from the building’s parking lot for analysis.

Furthermore, and even luckier, Arakawa actually studies the molecular biology of tardigrades! Arkaware told LiveScience, "Most of [the] tardigrade species were described from mosses and lichens—thus any cushion of moss seems to be interesting for people working on tardigrades," Arakawa told LiveScience in an email. But, he said, "it was quite surprising to find a new species around my apartment!”

This newfound tardigrade has been named ‘Macrobiotus shonaicus” and is the 168th species that has been discovered in Japan. There are roughly 1,200 species of tardigrades overall.

Arakawa notes that he rounteily samples moss he finds around town, but simply got lucky with the discovery in his parking lot. Another special thing, he noted, was that the tardigrades he discovered were not only able to survive in a laboratory environment, but they could also reproduce in them which is rare.

The eggs of  this tardigrade (Macrobiotus shonaicus) are also of note. Its eggs “have a solid surface and flexible filaments protruding outwards, similar to those of two other recently described species, M. paulinae from Africa and M. polypiformis from South America.” Furthermore, Scientific American reports that these eggs are studded with “miniscule, chalice-shaped protrusions, each of which is topped with a ring of delicate, noodle-like filaments. ” It is guessed that these filaments may aid in the egg attaching to the surface where its laid.

Another strange thing about its reproduction, “M. shonaicus has two sexes, where other tardigrades that are culturable in labs have been mostly parthenogenetic (females reproduce by themselves without male population)."

We can’t wait to see what we learn next about these fascinating creatures!


Image: A new species of tardigrade, Macrobiotus shonaicus, has been discovered in Japan. Image: D. Stec et al., 2018

Ravens Are Evolving

Ravens have been harbingers of doom, witches’ familiars, and dastardly throughout folkloric history.  And, like ravens themselves, their evolutionary path has been anything but cut and dry.

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Speciation is fairly commonplace and well known theory in evolution. Speciation is when one species diverges into two. Creatures produced through speciation are common and well known in our daily life - finches, croatian lizards, and squirrels that live in the rims of the Grand Canyon are all examples. A new species is not able to reproduce with members of the original population.

But, ravens are changing that. Scientists have recently discovered that distinctly separate lineages of ravens, which have evolved separately for about 1-2 million years, now appear to be consolidating. In other words, it appears as if raven’s are involved in speciation reversal.

The study that discovered this utilized DNA samples from ravens over a period of about 20 years. The evidence they present shows that common ravens on the western coast of North America have split into 3 genetically distinct groups. However, two of these lineages “appear to be in the process of melding back into one, scientists report Thursday in the journal Nature Communications.”

According to National Geographic,  “two lineages—or groups that were on their way to becoming separate species—become one. Scientists call this “reticulate evolution,” says Kearns, and it’s been seen in only a handful of other species, including finches and two kinds of fish.” These species, specifically, are the Holartic and California lineages.

The study involved a genetic analysis of 400 birds spanning the geographical range of he two two populations. It now appears that the two populations have combined to create a hybrid of two original linages. According to the Guardian, “the pure California type no longer exists)”

Despite these revelations the birds seem to exhibit the same behavior, they sound the same, and do no seem to continue interbreeding with the other two groups, despite the possibility since their geographical ranges overlap.

Scientists are currently investigating what prompted the merger between the two populations. Overall, this finding reveals just how complicated biology really is...as it seems to suggest that we might need to rethink some things we thought were set in stone.

This is an image of "A Northwestern Crow at Stanley Park, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada." It is liscensed under CC BY-SA 2.0. It was taken by Snowmanradio


The West Virginia Penitentiary

Located in Moundsville, West Virginia The West Virginia Penitentiary has been listed “on the top ten list of the Department of Justice’s as one of the “most violent.” Originally established in 1866, Moundsville’s walls housed over 100 years worth of inmates. Although the last of the inmates were relocated in 1995, some say ghosts of time past still wander the building. Also, like many buildings of this time, although it was originally only built for 480 prisoners by the 1930s there were usually a total of 2,400. In fact, sometimes three prisoners would be assigned to one 5x7 cells.

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Due to the overcrowding riots, escapes, murders, and uninhabitable conditions were common place. Roughly 36 murders took place within the walls and 94 men were executed. Not to mention, the instruments of torture that lay behind the prison’s captivating acade. Specifically, the kicking jenny which was “an instrument invented and built in the prison. It is made somewhat in the shape of a quarter-circle, with the highest end about three or four feet above the platform upon which it is set. The prisoner is stripped naked and bend over upon the machine.” After this,  “His feet are fastened to the floor with ropes, while his hands, which are stretched over the upper end, are tied with roped attached to small blocks, by which a tension so strong that the frame of the prisoner can almost be torn in two can be made with a slight pull.” Finally, “after the prisoner is placed in position the Superintendent, or whoever does the whipping, takes a heavy whip, made of sole leather, two pieces of which, about three feet long, are sewed together, and the ends scraped slightly rounding, the lash being three inches broad at the handle, tapering to a point. With the whip, the prisoner is beaten until he is almost dead, or the strength of the man who is doing the whipping gives out."

Hauntings are nothing new in Moundsville. In fact, they were reported as early as the 1930s. The first report came from guards on duty and not necessarily the prisoners. Guards would often report that they saw inmates “walking freely on the grounds so alarms were sounded.” Once the alarms were tripped, the area was investigated. However, no one ever found the inmates wandering around that were reported by guards or had seemingly tripped the alarm. The repeated false sightings became increasingly common and the reputation of the haunted prison increased.

Like many haunted buildings throughout America, it is rumored that the prison was constructed upon land that once was a burial ground for Native Americans. So many believed that this was the cause for the negative energy and hauntings that the ground of the prison has been blessed many times. However, it is rumored that an unknown curse remains as punishment for disturbing the rest of the dead.

One of the most frightening haunts of the old prison is a being referred to as ‘Shadow Man’. The name comes from this spirit’s practice of lurking amongst the dark corners of the prison, casting his shadow and darkness among the halls and cells of the building. According to witness reports, the Shadow Man has no visible features. Witnesses also report feeling very intimidated when seeing this being. Although his identity is unknown, many speculate he may be a guard that used to check on the cells and walk the halls and life. Others believe he may be an inmate trying to find a way out of the darkness.

Red Snider is another spirit who can’t seem to leave. He was murdered while in prison and some say he can still be seen wandering the halls. “A man that worked on a haunted house in the prison claimed that while he was walking around with his tools, someone, not living, grabbed him by his arm. The man maintained when questioned that nobody else was near him during this event.”

There are several areas known as particular hot spots among ghost hunters and tour guides of the prison. Some of these places are to be expected, such as the North Wagon Gate which is where death row inmates were taken to be hung, Death row itself, and the chapel. One interesting area that is also reportedly haunted is the ‘Sugar Shack’. The Sugar Shack was a recreation room in the basement to be used when prisoners could not go outside due to adverse conditions. In this room there are often reports of chatter and cold spots.

The building is one of the most haunted places in West Virginia, and potentially all of America.

This image is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license. It was taken by Rhonda Humphreys. More information can be found here.

Over 90 New Exoplanets Found!

Kepler - you’ve heard of it, right? If you haven’t, no worries! The Kepler is a space observatory equipped with a camera. The Kepler Mission’s aim is to explore “the structure and diversity of planetary systems.” In particular, earth-sized planets.

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How does the kepler find planets? Gizmodo sums it up nicely “Kepler performs its search for planets by sniffing for minute dips in a star’s brightness, which are suggestive of a planet orbiting in front of it.” Recently, Kepler found a whopping 90+ new exoplanets.

Exoplanets, in short, is a planet that orbits a star outside the solar system. They play a major role in not only better understanding our universe but in the search for life.

The 95 new exoplanets came from an original 275 candidates from data provided by the Kepler Mission. 149 were defined as “real exoplanets” and of these 149 a whopping 95 were confirmed to be brand new discoveries.

These newly discovered planets include rocky, Earth-like worlds that range in sizes from similar to our own...to even larger than Jupiter!

Exoplanets are very important because each one helps scientists understand where exactly our Solar System fits in the larger context of space. For example, through studying we have realized that our space neighborhood is...a bit strange. Many star systems that Kepler has allowed us to view “ blazingly hot and massive gas giants that sit uncomfortably close to their host stars, or binary star systems in which complex gravitational effects make it difficult for planets to form.”

Several upcoming space missions, like the Transiting Exoplanets Survey Satellite, will allow astronomers to take innovative steps toward characterizing, studying, and analyzing exoplanets that might be capable of supporting life.


The above image is an  artist’s impression shows several of the planets orbiting the ultra-cool red dwarf star TRAPPIST-1. New observations, when combined with very sophisticated analysis, have now yielded good estimates of the densities of all seven of the Earth-sized planets and suggest that they are rich in volatile materials, probably water. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license.

The Bunyip

Despite its cutesy name, the Bunyip is a beast to be feared. It makes its home primarily in the creeks and swamps of Australia. It is amphibious and has been described in a variety of ways, although the consensus is it has a round head, long neck, and a body that looks something like a cross between an ox and a manatee. A report in the Wagga Advocate in 1872 said ‘it was half as long as a retriever dog... its body was jet black.’ You can tell one is near if you hear "booming or roaring noises" and you should pay heed to these noises, as they are notorious for having a taste for human flesh...especially for women and children.

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Bunyips appear to be nocturnal and does its best work creeping up on animals and humans in the dark. For this reason, Aboriginal tribes were understandably frightened to go near any waterholes, wells, swamps, and waterbeds after dark. 

Long before Europeans ever set foot on Australia, the Aboriginal tribes told tales of the Bunyip. Bill Wannan, a researcher of Australian folkore told the Murray River team, which specializes in tourism, "that old Aborigines told him that the ‘bunyips devoured humans, coming up on them in silence and when least expected."

When Europeans began to land and make contact with Aboriginal tribes they heard tell of the Bunyip. It is believed that Europeans might have, originally, deeply feared the Bunyip. Why? As Folklore Thursday succintly puts it, "Imagine [the First Fleet of British people, half of which were convicts] first reactions to seeing a kangaroo, an echidna or a platypus? No wonder the tales of the Bunyip were accepted by the settlers." After seeing so many strange creature, who were they to take a skeptic route when it came to the Bunyip. 

As noted, eye-witness accounts tend to be spotty regarding a similar description bu they can all agree on one thing...whatever they saw terrified them. 

A newspaper article from 1845 reports, "The Bunyip, then, is represented as uniting the characteristics of a bird and of an alligator. It has a head resembling an emu, with a long bill, at the extremity of which is a transverse projection on each side, with serrated edges like the bone of the stingray. Its body and legs partake of the nature of the alligator. The hind legs are remarkably thick and strong, and the forelegs are much longer, but still of great strength. The extremities are furnished with long claws, but the (natives) say its usual method of killing its prey is by hugging it to death. When in the water it swims like a frog, and when on shore it walks on its hind legs with its head erect, in which position it measures twelve or thirteen feet in height."

The 1800s seemed to be the most popular time for reported Bunyip sightings and a “Bunyip skull” was discovered in 1846 and put on display. However, it was later found out to be a hoax and was likely the skull of a deformed horse or cow.

What are some of the more skeptic approaches to the Bunyip? Well, it might be the "rare appearance of fugitive seals far upstream" and the cry itself might be "that of the bittern marsh bird." Others claim the Bunyip may be an old "cultural memory of the diproodon passed down from the times when mega fauna roamed the Australian landscape." Diprotodons resembled giant wombats and was over three meters long. It might also simply be a cautionary tale to avoid midnight jaunts around swamps one could easily fall and drown in. Real or not, I think an Australian swamp is one of the last places I'd like to be. 



The above image is public domain. 
Caption: ABORIGINAL MYTHS. - THE BUNYIP (caption) - photomechanical reproduction : halftone. State Library of Victoria Accession Number: IAN01/10/90/12 Image Number: mp006089 Notes: Print published in the Illustrated Australian news. Title printed below image l.c. Publication:    Melbourne : David Syme & Co., Engraved in image l.l.: J. Macfarlane

Is 50 Berkeley Square the Most Haunted House in London?

This blog is taking us across the pond to jolly old England. Emphasis on "old" and the older a place is, the better chance it has to be mired in mystery, misery, and a haunting presence. Specifically, we'll be discussing some of the myth and mystery behind 50 Berkeley Square in London which has allegedly been haunted for 200+ years.

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Haunted Houses by Charles Harper, published in 1913, writes about Berkeley in his book. Although he recognizes that the house has little scare to it in the early 1900s he notes that there was a time "When number 50 wore an exceedingly uncared for appearance. Soap, paint, and whitewash were unused for years, and grime clung to brickwork and Windows alike. The area was choked with wasted hand-bills, wisps of straw, and all the accumulations that speedily made a derelict London house. The very picture of misery; and every passing stranger stopped the first errand-boy, and asked various questions, to which the answer was, generally, " 'aunted 'ouse,"; or, if the question happened to be "Who lives there?" the obvious reply was "Ghostesses..."

(sidenote: "Ghostesses" is my new favorite word)

50 Berkeley Square stands four-stories tall and was construction began in 1740 and lasted through the early 19th centuries. It was created by architect William Kent and is located in the West End of London. The square itself boasts several impressive tenants like Winston Churchill and Robert Clive. Although we don't quite know the ver first tenants of the home, we do know that it was the home of George Canning in the early 1800s until his death in 1827 whereupon it was leased by Miss Curzon, who would live there until her own death at the age of 90 in 1859. It would later be host to dozens of tenants - ranging from hermits to families.

When Canning as living in the house, it was said that he reported strange noises coming from the uppermost floors but never told anyone anything terrified him, nor did he see the brown horror...something the house would eventually become infamous for.

One of the earliest accounts of the haunted home took place in 1840. When Robert Warboys, a 20-year old student, stayed the night as a bet. You see, the house had already acquired a bit of a neighborhood reputation but nothing beyond gossip had been taken seriously until this day.  Warboys thought it was just town gossip and eagerly agreed to spend a night alone in the second floor bedroom. He persuaded the landlord to let him stay the night. The landlord was hesitant to relinquish the room, but gave it to Warboys on two conditions: 

1. Warboys needed to be armed, preferably with a pistol.

2. At the first sign of anything "unusual", the landlord should be summoned immediately through a cord that hung in the room and linked to a bell n the landlord's room.

Warboys agreed.

Shortly after midnight, Warboys was finally alone in the room and settling into sleep. Not an hour had passed when the landlord heard a frantic ringing. He sprinted upstairs and unlocked the door. At first glance, nothing in the room was amiss. Until the landlord's eyes landed on Warboys. The fearless, strong young man of a few hours ago was now cowering in the corner and wearing an expression of pure terror. A pistol, recently shot, was still smoking. A bullet was embedded in the wall. Warboys did not explain what had happened and left.

30-odd years later in 1872, another brave man stayed the night in the house on a bet. His name was Lord George Lyttelton. He decided to set up a bed in the attic. Although he did not believe the nonsense stories, like Warboys, he did believe just enough to bring with him a shotgun...just for good measure. That night, according to Lyttelton, an apparition appeared in front of him. It was brown, tendrilled, and misty. He took aim at the strange thing...but found nothing when the smoke cleared. Lyttelton would later in life say that 50 Berkeley Square was "supernaturally fatal to body and mind."

In 1879 a new family was due to move in and their maid was cleaning and preparing the rooms. Specifically, she was preparing a guest room in the attic. Soon after she went upstairs desperate screams were heard. When the family ran up to see what was wrong they saw her, on the floor, backed into the corner and whispering "don't let it touch me." We don't know what the maid saw exactly because after her scare she was taken to the hospital where she died the next day. 

Seemingly unperturbed the incident, the man for whom the room was being prepared, Captain Kentfield, said he still planned to spend the night in that very room. In the evening, he headed upstairs with a candle and the household reports they heard him close the door. Roughly 30 minutes later, terrible screams came from the room followed by a gunshot. The household rushed upstairs to help but found him dead on the floor his face twisted in terror.

It is believed that the thing shot by Lyttelton is what was also seen by the maid, Kentfield, and Warboys. It is known today as the "Nameless thing of Berkeley Square." According to Cryptopia, "This unidentifiable monstrosity is said, by some, to be a vile, phantasmagorical killer from beyond the grave… though there is some evidence to suggest that it may be a bizarre, mutant cephalopod, which lurks in the filthy labyrinth of the London sewer system waiting to rise up and kill again."

In fact, it would return in 1943...30 years after Harper had claimed the house was no longer haunted. Two sailors from Portsmouth, Edward Blunden and Robert Martin needed a place to stay the night after drinking...however, they had spent most of their lodging money. They noticed a "To Let" sign on the then-abandoned 50 Berkeley Square and decided to break into the basement and stay the night. However, they soon found the basement uncomfortable, damp, and full of rats so they travelled upstairs to find a better spot. Well, that spot just so happens to be the now-notorious room.  Blunden apparently expressed to Martin that he felt a presence and distinctly unease, however Martin dismissed this. They started a fire, cracked open a window, and soon fell asleep. Shortly after midnight, like so many of the other stories, Blunden awoke to the floor creaking. This is what followed: "Little by little a sliver of dim, grayish light crept across the wooden floor. Too terrified to move, Blunden managed to wake his accomplice.

The two men sat up as they heard a strange, moist, scraping sound slowly approach them. Later, Martin claimed that it sounded as if something were dragging itself across the floor." The two men leapt to their feat and the creature's tendrils undulated beneath them. Unlike in other stories when Blunden went to grab the rifle, the creature fought back...perhaps it had learned its lesson about guns after all these years. According to Blunden, the creature wrapped itself around the young sailor's throat. Martin, still in a panic, ran from the house and screamed for help and found a police officer. The officer followed him back to the house, however when they went upstairs they found no sign of Blunden. They searched the house and finally made their way to the basement and saw something they were not prepared for. Blunden's dismembered corpse lay in the rock-walled cellar in a heap, with his head turned to the side. The young man's eyes, like so many before him, were filled with terror.

From 1937 to 2015, the house was bought by BP and most recently occupied by Maggs Bros, a firm of antique book dealers. The current owner is not listed. However, as early as 2015 the Maggs Bros were not able to use the uppermost floors of the home. Why? "The police have placed a sign, a warning saying that the upper most rooms are not to be used for anything, not even storage."


The above image is from flickr user Centophobia and is liscensed under Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0). 

The 2014-2017 Fairy Census

Apparently some paperwork infiltrates the paranormal world as well as ours...so, cue the Fairy Census. The research presented in 160,000+ words in this report is courtesy of http://www.fairyist.com/survey/. This is an on-going questionnaire about those who "see fairies, when and why." Surprisingly, the goal of the census is not to prove fairies exist. In fact, the researcher, Simon Young, wants to get a better understanding of who sees fairies and under what circumstances these sightings and experiences happen. 


While this may seem a little strange, the questionnaire and the study itself will actually be published in association with Simon Young and Ceri Houlbrook (ed), Magical Folk: British and Irish Fairies, 500 AD to the Present (Gibson Square 2017), a collection of fairylore essays by
folklorists and historians.

Here is the information gathered from each experience:

  • Gender
  • The time it took place
  • Age of the respondent when the experience took place
  • Location (in particular...near water, on a country road,  building, etc)
  • Company (alone or with others)
  • Time of day of the experience
  • Duration of the experience
  • Mood of the fairy (friendly, angry, etc)
  • Frequent with which the respondent has supernatural expereince 
  • Any special state reported before the expereince (did you just wake up? were you picking blackberries? etc)
  • Any special phenomena connected to the experience (loss of sense of time, profound silence, etc)

After these base questions, several more follow including:

  • ‘If you heard fairy music or sounds how would you describe these?’
  • ‘Do you know if the place of the experience had a reputation for fairies?’ ‘And if
  • so did you know this prior to your experience?’
  • ‘Why do you think your experience was a fairy experience, as opposed to a ghost or an alien or an angel or some other type of anomalous experience?’
  • ‘What in your opinion are fairies?’
  • ‘Do you have any other comments or thoughts?’ 

It is also important to note that not all contributions were published - including "joke" replies, ones with not information, etc. Young also notes that "I am convinced of the sincerity of the vast, vast majority of respondents. Whether you believe in fairies or not these people clearly had extraordinary experiences, experiences that sometimes changed their lives. In four or five cases I suspect that the respondent made up the account for fun, or found themselves bored late at night on the internet with a whisky. After reading hundreds of accounts you get a feel for patterns within impossible experiences and these suspect accounts don’t conform. I have included the 15 suspect accounts, anyway, because I can hardly edit out experiences that smell rotten, to my subjective and possibly flawed judgment. But, reader, beware!"

One thing that I, and Young, found quite interesting was fairy sightings were sometimes seen as glowing orbs of light. We know that orbs are a bit infamous in the AL world...but could fairies be behind these interesting glimpses in our photos?

Here are some of the sightings that specifically references this phenomena. All page numbers are those noted at the top page of each entry:

  • "At first I thought they were lightning bugs, but the lights weren’t the same as what I remembered from when I was a child. The lights seemed to flutter around and around. Not really landing." - pg 24


  • "I was sitting in my living room one night and I saw a little ball of light whizz past the window. Then there were several other little orbs of glowing light. They were around the size of tennis balls, and on closer inspection you could see the outline of spindly little bodies glowing." - pg 67


  • "I suddenly had this strong urge to play with my camera by the window. It was dark outside and I pressed halfway down on my camera and through the viewfinder, there were about three large blue orbs right by the window pane, as if they were looking in on us from the outside!" - pg 112


  • "When I heard my mom and one of our friends talking excitedly. They kept pointing at something up on the dirt road. I looked up. What they were seeing were lights, like glowing orbs the size of a fist. I remember thinking they were fireflies at first, but they were way too big and they didn’t blink on and off." - pg 221

Another intriguing thing the author notes is the focus of fairy stories from the English-speaking world. Is this because this is where fairies live? Was it because the fairy census was not accessible enough to non-English speakers? What do you think?


The above image is an illustration by E. Stuart Hardy for "The Book of Gnomes" Fred. E. Weatherly, 1895. It is liscensed under Public Domain.


The hunt for alien life, as we have covered here before on the blog, hasn't lost any steam. In late 2017, NASA confirmed the two finalist projects that would be part of its "New Frontiers" program. The first will be named CAESAR and will focus on taking and returning with a sample from the nucleus of a comet. However, the second project, Dragonfly, might be of even more interest to AL listeners. Dragonfly aims to use a drone-like rotorcraft to study the prebiotic chemistry and potential of habilitation on Titan, Saturn's largest moon.

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Both will be funded with $4 million to further work on their idea and in 2019 NASA will choose one to build and launch (likely in the mid 20s). However, if Dragonfly is chosen it wouldn't even be able to arrive at Titan until 2034(ish). 

Now, back to Dragonfly. The project is led by Elizabeth (Zibi) Turtle who is a planetary scientist with John Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory. Why Titan? According to what scientists have learned about Titan, it has an "Earth-like landscape of rivers and lakes filled with liquid methane." It also featured hydrocarbon seas that "may contain amino acids and other interesting molecules." 

The Dragonfly researchers succinctly sum up the importance of focusing on Titan on their website, writing: "Titan is an ocean world, and the only moon in our Solar System with a dense atmosphere, which supports an Earth-like hydrological cycle of methane clouds, rain, and liquid flowing across the surface to fill lakes and seas.”

The rotorcraft that would be built for Dragonfly would take samples from air and ground armed with a full suite of spectrometers, drills, and cameras for testing and analysis. It would be able to travel up to 100 kilometers between different sites and would also be able to recharge batteries. This would give the machine a relatively long life span. Turtle says the additional time would allow the team to, "evaluate how far prebiotic chemistry has progressed in an environment where we know we have the ingredients for life."

The above image is a natural color of the crescent Titan was taken on April 19, 2015. It is a public domain image. 


The Witch of the Pine Barrens

The Pine Barrens are home to more than one mystery. Although you have heard our Jersey Devil series and read the old blog post about time travel in the Pine Barrens...you might not have heard of the Pine Barrens Witch (or, at least one of them): Peggy Clevenger.

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Peggy lived in a now defunct Piney town - Pasadena. She lived with her husband, William (Bill) Clevenger during the 1800s and, at one time, helped operate a stagecoach Inn in the late 1800s.

From "The Pine Barrens by John McPhee" here is a poem about Peggy:

The Pine Barrens once had their own particular witch
Pineys put salt over their doors to discourage visits
From the witch of the Pines, Peggy Clevenger
It was known she could turn herself into a rabbit, 
For a dog was once seen chasing a rabbit
And the rabbit jumped
Through the window of a house, 
And there - in the same instant
In the window - stood Peggy Clevenger

On another occasion, a man saw a lizard
And tried to kill it with a large rock
When the rock hit the lizard, the lizard disappeared
And Peggy Clevenger materialized on the spot
And smacked the man in the face
Clevenger is a Hessian name

Peggy lived in Pasadena
Another of the now vanished towns
Five miles east of Mt. Misery
It was said she had a stocking full of gold
Her remains were found one morning
In the smoking ruins of her cabin, but
There was no trace of the gold.

ver. 2: 

The Witch of the Pines

Pineys put salt over their door to discourage visits
from the witch of the pines - Peggy Clevenger

It was known
she could turn into a rabbit
For a dog
was once seen chasing a rabbit
and the rabbit jumped through the window of a house

There in the same instant in the window
Stood the form of one Peggy Clevenger

Again, a man saw a lizard to kill
Crushing it with a large rock
The rock hit the lizard and the lizard disappeared

There on the spot to smack the man in the face
Stood Peggy, the Hessian Clevenger

In Pasadena, another
Of the now vanished towns
It was said Peggy
Had a stocking full of gold

In the ruins of the cabin there was no trace of the gold
Only the remains of the witch, Peggy Clevenger


Peggy clearly has some "classic" with capabilities - like the ability to turn into a hare (you might remember some of the witch/hare lore from our Bell Witch series). Her other likenesses, such as a Lizard, also align with several aspects of witch lore. Not to mention, she allegedly dwelt only a few miles from Mt. Misery, which sounds very fitting for a witch!

Interestingly we enough, we track down Peggy's identity through two articles, from December 1857, about Peggy Clevenger's death. 

The first is entitled "A Terrible Affair" and was published in the New Jersey Mirror 10 December 1857. The article confirms both her location and fiery death saying, " situate on the Old Shore road, about half way between Mount Misery and Cedar Bridge, was destroyed by fire, one night last week, and sad to relate, Mrs. C. perished in the flames."

The article continues on describing her as "Old Mother Clevenger" and also noting her advanced age and the fact that she lived alone. Although her residence was only a one-story cabin, she was "well known to persons in the habit of travelling the road."

The writer also noted an interesting detail about the week preceding her death: "A night or two previous to the fire, her hogs were poisoned and her horses throat was cut." This seems strangely specific and is quite unsettling. 

Despite her rumors to be a witch, the paper did want to see the culprits brought to justice. The guessed reasoning behind the arson was believed to be because she refused to supply "he drunken brutes at the Coalings with liquor." Although, that is just gossip. Furthermore, this article also mentions that it was known she was "in possession of some money" , which the poem also notes.

The following week, the New Jersey Mirror 17 December 1857 was released with a correction to the article from one of the accused party's employer, JW Cox, stating, "I have made as thorough an investigation as I could, and from the facts I gather from her children and others who were present, I am fully satisfied that no one was implicated in the matter—but that the fire originated from the chimney or fire-place. The old lady was in the habit of providing a bountiful supply of fuel, and piling it up near the fire, when about retiring for the night."

Not only does Cox deny that the fire was on purpose, he also discredits Peggy's character saying, "the day previous to the fire, provided herself with a quantity of opium, to the use of which she was much addicted. When under the influence of opium, she was frequently much deranged."

Although we may never know what really happened that night, or how Peggy became known as a witch, it is an interesting story in Piney history.

This image is entitled Pine Barrens 2, Author Jim Lukach. It is licensed under  Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic.

The Search for Life on Mars Goes Underground

The search for life on Mars seems to have been in the forefront of many civilians, scientists, and government's minds for decades upon decades. We have visualized, recently, it in movies like the Martian...but what ways are we currently searching for life on the red planet?

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For some time, we have been searching for signs of life by investigating portions of Mars where "sediment accumulated long ago, like the ancient lake-bed environment that NASA's curiosity rover discovered inside Mars' 96-mile-wide Gale Crater." The idea behind this is that because, on Earth, habitats like these provided archeologists with rich findings that informed them about the life that was there long ago.

But, this method hasn't turned out to be as fruitful as expected. Why? Well, because Mars is not Earth.

The researchers behind a "Perspectives" piece that was published online Dec. 18 in the journal Nature Geoscience write: "We must recognize that our entire perspective on how life has evolved and how evidence of life is preserved is coloured by the fact that we live on a planet where photosynthesis evolved."

One important thing to keep in mind is how long Mars has been cold. Because of its size relative to Earth, its core cooled much faster than Earth's. In fact, if Mars did ever support life it would have had to have done so a billion years earlier than Earth...which is a little unlikely (but not hopeless).  "Mars may have been cold, arid, oxidizing and generally inhospitable at the surface for much of its history; however, hydrothermal conditions in the near surface or subsurface might have been considerably more clement," said the researchers.

This information will be used to re-tool our approach to the hunt for life on Mars. In 2020, NASA plans to launch a life-hunting Mars rover that will collect rock samples to bring back to Earth. Jack Mustard, a geology professor at Brown University in Rhode Island, said he'd like the 2020 rover to investigate exposed "mineralized fracture zones." He goes on to explain to Space.com that "These would be places where there was fluid flow in the crust, and where you get mixing between different fluids from different sources that have potentially different concentrations of important elements, as well as dissolved hydrogen, for example."

By prioritizing spots like these, where subsurface life may have once been successful, we may be able to find evidence of life on Mars. Space.com also mentions you wouldn't have to dig deep, "NASA's Spirit rover stumbled onto one inside Mars' Gusev Crater back in 2008 when its wonky wheel scraped away some surface dirt."

Although, as previously mentioned, the chance for life on Mars is not guaranteed it is interesting and exciting to see new methods being applied to the search.



The above image is a picture was taken by the Viking Lander 1 on February 11, 1978 on Sol 556. The large rock just left of the center is about two meters wide. This rock was named "Big Joe" by the Viking scientists. The top of the rock is covered with red soil. Those portions of the rock not covered are similar in color to basaltic rocks on Earth. Therefore, this may be a fragment of a lava flow that was ejected by an impact crater. The part of the Lander that is visible in the lower left is the cover of the nuclear power supply. This image is in the public domain.

Where does the Legend of Friday the 13th Come From?

In American culture, Friday the 13th is a notorious day...but do we know why? Like any legendary day...how the date became infamous is a little hard to track down. 

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First, let's dive a little into 13. Like 666, 13 also seems to be a number mired in bad luck ad mystery. In fact, according to refinery29, 13 has "countless malevolent origins." Ancient Norse Lore holds that " evil and turmoil were first introduced in the world by the appearance of the treacherous and mischievous god Loki at a dinner party in Valhalla. He was the 13th guest, upsetting the balance of the 12 gods already in attendance." Notably, Judas was the 13th guest at the last supper. It should also be noted that 13 only seems to be a concern in the Western world (in places like ancient Egypt, 13 is lucky and other numbers are evil...like 4 in much of Asia). Finally, in the ancient world 12 was considered a "perfect number." This can be seen today - calendars with 12 months, a day is 2 parts of 12 hours, etc. Because 13 follows this perfect number, it is "found lacking and unusual."

Now that we know a little bit about 13...let's dive deeper into the lore surrounding Friday the 13th. We've established 13 isn't a number held in the highest esteem, likewise neither was Friday. In fact, the literature from the middle ages often linked Friday to meager harvests, bad business, and disastrous travel. Even in the perennial Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer made sure to note, "And on a Friday fell all this mischance."  

So, is Friday the 13th simply the marriage of two unlucky/evil/mysterious things? Maybe, but maybe not. The fear of Friday the 13th is so significant it has a name - paraskevidekatriaphobia. You can also see the effects of it in elevators - although not every building skips a "13" button on the elevator, you may notice that several do...especially older buildings.

Others believe it has a religious origin. As mentioned above, there were 13 guests at Jesus' last supper the night before his death on Good Friday. 

Others believe that popular culture is to blame. For example, Thomas W. Lawson's popular novel Friday, the Thirteenth published in 1907. In the book, a man takes advantage of the superstition of Friday the 13th to create a Wall Street panic.

In more recent times, movies like the Friday the 13th have further popularized and, in a way, normalized the unluckiness and noterity of Friday the 13th.

Snopes has several interesting anecdotes and pull quotes from different historical sources that seem to support that Friday the 13th isn't at the luckiest of days. You can read through them by clicking the third "link" at the top of the page!

In 2018, Friday the 13th will fall on April 13 and July 13.

The above image is liscensed under Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)
 and is from Flickr user Frédéric BISSON