Archaeologists and Geographers Team Predict Locations of Ancient Buddhist Sites

For archaeologists and historians interested in the ancient politics, religion and language of the Indian subcontinent, two UCLA professors and their student researchers have creatively pinpointed sites that are likely to yield valuable transcriptions of the proclamations of Ashoka, the Buddhist king of northern India’s Mauryan Dynasty who ruled from 304 B.C. to 232 B.C.

asoka-buddha-palace

In a study published this week in Current Science, archaeologist Monica Smith and geographer Thomas Gillespie identified 121 possible locations of what are known as Ashoka’s “edicts.”

Ashokan edicts

First they isolated shared features of 29 known locations of Ashokan edicts, which were found carved into natural rock formations in India, Pakistan and Afghanistan. They then harnessed species-distribution modeling tactics – which includes examining sophisticated geographic information systems datasets along with Google Earth images – to overlay those unique characteristics against a geological and population map of ancient India. They believe they have identified locations that hold the same characteristics as proven sites and are significantly accurate markers for future discovery.

Predictive modeling can be a powerful new tool for scholars and researchers, Smith said. The known edicts and other archaeological discoveries have previously come about through random discovery or comprehensive surveys of whole regions.

“With the realities of looking for artifacts on a continental scale, we need more effective tools, and a search mechanism like predictive modeling is a high-priority development,” said Smith, emphasizing that many nations are facing the challenge of balancing preservation with much-needed development.

The Ashoka monuments in particular are of huge importance, especially in India, Smith said. They constitute the earliest known writings in the region. The national symbol of the modern nation of India is a sculpture that dates to the time of King Ashoka.

Ashoka’s edicts are also considered to be internationally significant as evidence of the power of an ancient political regime and as tangible expressions of religious practices related to Buddhism.

An excerpt of Ashoka’s edicts from Romila Thapar’s “Ashoka and the Decline of the Mauryas.”

Dhamma

“I consider that I must promote the welfare of the whole world, and hard work and the dispatch of business are the means of doing so. Indeed there is no better work than promoting the welfare of the whole world…For this purpose has this inscription of Dhamma (dharma, righteousness) been engraved. May it endure long.”

Smith’s fieldwork has long taken place on the Indian subcontinent. For this study, and with the support of a transdisciplinary seed grant from the UCLA Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research, she partnered with Gillespie, whose expertise lies in determining the presence or absence of ecological and biological species in a given geography, with a special focus on the plants and trees native to Hawaii.

Gillespie, who has also visited India, said the project captured his imagination.

Gillespie and his team of UCLA doctoral candidates combed through data and images to check off a list of environmental consistencies in the known edict sites. Three factors in particular helped provide a reliable prediction of where more might be found – the specific kind of rock the text is carved in, the estimated population density of the area in A.D. 200-300 and the slope of the rock bearing the text

“The models really give a high probability of occurrence in the sites we identified,” Gillespie said. “Looking at the data of the existing sites, their placement certainly appears to be non-random. The scribes tasked with carving these edicts really seemed to think about the geology of the chosen space, the towns that were nearby, even the low level of the rock face they carved upon.”

Gillespie and Smith hope that their predictive model will allow local students or teachers in India and Pakistan and Afghanistan to make the next discovery of Ashokan edicts.

UPDATE: Earth’s Magnetic Field Shifts Much Faster Than Expected

It was back in January 2014, when NASA’s Balloon Array for Radiation-belt Relativistic Electron Losses (BARREL)’s payload of thallium-activated sodium iodide, NaI(Tl) a crystalline material widely used for the detection of gamma-rays in scintillation detectors, saw something never seen before. During a moderate solar storm in which magnetic solar material collides with Earth’s magnetic field, BARREL mapped for the first time how the storm caused Earth’s magnetic field to shift and move.

earth's magnetic field lines

The fields’ configuration shifted much faster than expected – ‘on the order of minutes’ rather than hours or days. The results took researchers by such surprise causing them to check and re-check instruments and hypothesized outcomes. As a result, their findings were not published until last week on May 12 2016.

barrel

During the solar storm, three BARREL balloons were flying through parts of Earth’s magnetic field that directly connect a region of Antarctica to Earth’s north magnetic pole. One BARREL balloon was on a magnetic field line with one end on Earth and one end connected to the Sun’s magnetic field. And two balloons switched back and forth between closed and open field lines throughout the solar storm, providing a map of how the boundary between open and closed field lines moved.

“It is very difficult to model the open-closed boundary,” said Alexa Halford, a space scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “This will help with our simulations of how magnetic fields change around Earth, because we’re able to state exactly where we saw this boundary.”

solar-earth image cluster_m

We live in the path of the Sun’s outflow of charged particles, called the solar wind. Solar wind particles are accelerated to high speeds by explosions on the Sun or pushed along by plasma – clouds of solar material. Much of this magnetic field loops up and out into space, but then connects back to Earth at the north magnetic pole, near the Arctic Circle.

A portion of Earth’s magnetic field is open as it connects to the Sun’s magnetic field. This open magnetic field gives charged particles from the Sun a path into Earth’s atmosphere. Once particles are stuck to an open field line, they exceedingly accelerate down into the upper atmosphere. The boundary between these open and closed regions of Earth’s magnetic field is anything but constant. Due to various causes – such as incoming clouds of charged particles, the closed magnetic field lines can realign into open field lines and vice versa, changing the location of the boundary between open and closed magnetic field lines.

magnetic-shift

Scientists have known the open-closed boundary moves, but it is hard to pinpoint exactly how, when, and how quickly it changes – and that is where BARREL comes in. The six BARREL balloons flying during the January 2014 solar storm were able to map these changes, and they found something surprising – the open-closed boundary moves rapidly changing location within minutes.

It is possible, but unlikely, that complex dynamics in the magnetosphere gave the appearance that the BARREL balloons were dancing along this open-closed boundary. If a very fast magnetic wave was sending radiation belt electrons down into the atmosphere in short stuttering bursts, it could appear that the balloons were switching between open and closed magnetic field lines.

However, the particle counts measured by the two balloons on the open-closed boundary matched up to those observed by the other BARREL balloons hovering on closed or open field lines only. This observation strengths the case that BARREL’s balloons were actually crossing the boundary between solar and terrestrial magnetic field.

BREAKING NEWS: Magnetic Field Shifts Much Faster Than Expected

It was back in January 2014, when NASA’s Balloon Array for Radiation-belt Relativistic Electron Losses (BARREL)’s payload of thallium-activated sodium iodide, NaI(Tl) a crystalline material widely used for the detection of gamma-rays in scintillation detectors, saw something never seen before. During a moderate solar storm in which magnetic solar material collides with Earth’s magnetic field, BARREL mapped for the first time how the storm caused Earth’s magnetic field to shift and move.

earth's magnetic field lines

The fields’ configuration shifted much faster than expected – ‘on the order of minutes’ rather than hours or days. The results took researchers by such surprise causing them to check and re-check instruments and hypothesized outcomes. As a result, their findings were not published until last week on May 12 2016.

barrel

During the solar storm, three BARREL balloons were flying through parts of Earth’s magnetic field that directly connect a region of Antarctica to Earth’s north magnetic pole. One BARREL balloon was on a magnetic field line with one end on Earth and one end connected to the Sun’s magnetic field. And two balloons switched back and forth between closed and open field lines throughout the solar storm, providing a map of how the boundary between open and closed field lines moved.

“It is very difficult to model the open-closed boundary,” said Alexa Halford, a space scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “This will help with our simulations of how magnetic fields change around Earth, because we’re able to state exactly where we saw this boundary.”

solar-earth image cluster_m

We live in the path of the Sun’s outflow of charged particles, called the solar wind. Solar wind particles are accelerated to high speeds by explosions on the Sun or pushed along by plasma – clouds of solar material. Much of this magnetic field loops up and out into space, but then connects back to Earth at the north magnetic pole, near the Arctic Circle.

A portion of Earth’s magnetic field is open as it connects to the Sun’s magnetic field. This open magnetic field gives charged particles from the Sun a path into Earth’s atmosphere. Once particles are stuck to an open field line, they exceedingly accelerate down into the upper atmosphere. The boundary between these open and closed regions of Earth’s magnetic field is anything but constant. Due to various causes – such as incoming clouds of charged particles, the closed magnetic field lines can realign into open field lines and vice versa, changing the location of the boundary between open and closed magnetic field lines.

magnetic-shift

Scientists have known the open-closed boundary moves, but it is hard to pinpoint exactly how, when, and how quickly it changes – and that is where BARREL comes in. The six BARREL balloons flying during the January 2014 solar storm were able to map these changes, and they found something surprising – the open-closed boundary moves rapidly changing location within minutes.

It is possible, but unlikely, that complex dynamics in the magnetosphere gave the appearance that the BARREL balloons were dancing along this open-closed boundary. If a very fast magnetic wave was sending radiation belt electrons down into the atmosphere in short stuttering bursts, it could appear that the balloons were switching between open and closed magnetic field lines.

However, the particle counts measured by the two balloons on the open-closed boundary matched up to those observed by the other BARREL balloons hovering on closed or open field lines only. This observation strengths the case that BARREL’s balloons were actually crossing the boundary between solar and terrestrial magnetic field.

Astrophysicists Detect Extreme Energetic Processes of a Galaxy

A University of Oklahoma team has detected for the first time the most luminous gamma-ray emission from a galaxy. Named ‘Arp 220’, it is the nearest ultra-luminous infrared galaxy to Earth, and it reveals a hidden extreme energetic processes of a galaxy. The first gamma-ray detection of an infrared ultra-luminous galaxy occurs when the most energetic cosmic rays collide with the interstellar medium causing these galaxies to glow, expanding observations to the highest energy ranges.

apr 217

Team leader Xinyu Dai, professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Oklahoma, made the discovery after collecting data using the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Fermi Gamma-Ray Space Telescope.

“These galaxies are different because of their immense star formation and extra dust that scatters the light and makes them luminous in the infrared,” said co-author Todd Thompson, professor in the Department of Astronomy and Center for Cosmology and Astro-Particle Physics, Ohio State University.

The team developed a collective methodology used to detect gamma-ray emissions from Arp 220. The massive amount of star formation found in infrared luminous and ultra-luminous galaxies suggest a multitude of stars go supernovae ending in one final immense explosion.

A resulting thunderous outburst accelerates charged particles to relativistic velocity eventuating into cosmic rays, which synthesize to particles and light including gamma-ray emissions. Since cosmic rays are difficult to measure, the larger spectrum of gamma-rays reveal a hidden energy component in galaxies.

aPicture444_m

Arp 220’s center contains over 200 enormous star clusters. The most massive of these clusters contains enough material to equal 10 million Suns – twice as massive to any comparable star cluster in the Milky Way. The gamma-ray emission is expected to be tractable showing two compact disks in the nucleus of Arp 200, which contains almost all star-formation activities in this galaxy.

Hubble Finds Clues to the Birth of Supermassive Black Holes

Astrophysicists have taken a major step forward in understanding how supermassive black holes formed. Using data from Hubble and two other space telescopes, Italian researchers have found the best evidence yet for the seeds that ultimately grow into these cosmic giants.

supermassive-black-hole-seed

For years astronomers have debated how the earliest generation of supermassive black holes formed very quickly, relatively speaking, after the Big Bang. Now, an Italian team has identified two objects in the early Universe that seem to be the origin of these early supermassive black holes. The two objects represent the most promising black hole seed candidates found so far.

The group used computer models and applied a new analysis method to data from the NASA Chandra X-ray Observatory, the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, and the NASA Spitzer Space Telescope to find and identify the two objects. Both of these newly discovered black hole seed candidates are seen less than a billion years after the Big Bang and have an initial mass of about 100 000 times the Sun.

“Our discovery, if confirmed, would explain how these monster black holes were born,” said Fabio Pacucci, lead author of the study, of Scuola Normale Superiore in Pisa, Italy.

This new result helps to explain why we see supermassive black holes less than one billion years after the Big Bang.

There are two main theories to explain the formation of supermassive black holes in the early Universe. One assumes that the seeds grow out of black holes with a mass about ten to a hundred times greater than our Sun, as expected for the collapse of a massive star. The black hole seeds then grew through mergers with other small black holes and by pulling in gas from their surroundings. However, they would have to grow at an unusually high rate to reach the mass of supermassive black holes already discovered in the billion years young Universe.

The new findings support another scenario where at least some very massive black hole seeds with 100 000 times the mass of the Sun formed directly when a massive cloud of gas collapses. In this case the growth of the black holes would be jump started, and would proceed more quickly.

“There is a lot of controversy over which path these black holes take,” said co-author Andrea Ferrara also of Scuola Normale Superiore. “Our work suggests we are converging on one answer, where black holes start big and grow at the normal rate, rather than starting small and growing at a very fast rate.”

Andrea Grazian, a co-author from the National Institute for Astrophysics in Italy explains: “Black hole seeds are extremely hard to find and confirming their detection is very difficult. However, we think our research has uncovered the two best candidates so far.”

Even though both black hole seed candidates match the theoretical predictions, further observations are needed to confirm their true nature. To fully distinguish between the two formation theories, it will also be necessary to find more candidates.

The team plans to conduct follow-up observations in X-rays and in the infrared range to check whether the two objects have more of the properties expected for black hole seeds. Upcoming observatories, like the NASA/ESA/CSA James Webb Space Telescope and the European Extremely Large Telescope will certainly mark a breakthrough in this field, by detecting even smaller and more distant black holes.

JUST IN: Study Affirms Jet Stream and Ocean Currents Cause of Sea Ice Differences at Earth’s Poles

Why has the sea ice cover surrounding Antarctica been increasing slightly, in sharp contrast to the drastic loss of sea ice occurring in the Arctic Ocean? A new NASA-led study finds the geology of Antarctica and the Southern Ocean is responsible. A team led by Son Nghiem of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, used satellite radar, sea surface temperature, landform and bathymetry (ocean depth) data to study the physical processes and properties affecting Antarctic sea ice.

antarctica_ice_sheet

They found that two persistent geological factors, the topography of Antarctica and the depth of the ocean surrounding it are influencing winds and ocean currents, respectively, to drive the formation and evolution of Antarctica’s sea ice cover and help sustain it.

Equation:
Sunspots → Solar Flares (charged particles) → Magnetic Field Shift → Shifting Ocean and Jet Stream Currents → Extreme Weather and Human Disruption (mitch battros 1998).

equation2_1998

“Our study provides strong evidence that the behavior of Antarctic sea ice is entirely consistent with the geophysical characteristics found in the southern polar region, which differ sharply from those present in the Arctic,” said Nghiem. Antarctic sea ice cover is dominated by first-year (seasonal) sea ice. Each year, the sea ice reaches its maximum extent around the frozen continent in September and retreats to about 17 percent of that extent in February. Since the late 1970s, its extent has been relatively stable, increasing just slightly; however, regional differences are observed.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Over the years, scientists have floated various hypotheses to explain the behavior of Antarctic sea ice, particularly in light of observed global temperature increases. Examples are: “changes in the ozone hole involved?” – “Could fresh meltwater from Antarctic ice shelves be making the ocean surface less salty” – “Are increases in the strength of Antarctic winds causing the ice to thicken.” Unfortunately, a definitive answer has remained elusive.

Nghiem and his team came up with a novel approach. They analyzed radar data from NASA’s QuikScat satellite from 1999 to 2009 to trace the paths of Antarctic sea ice movements and map its different types. They focused on the 2008 growth season, a year of exceptional seasonal variability in Antarctic sea ice coverage.

To address the question of how the Southern Ocean maintains this great sea ice shield, the team combined sea surface temperature data from multiple satellites with a recently available bathymetric chart of the depth of the world’s oceans. They found the temperature line corresponds with the southern Antarctic Circumpolar Current front, a boundary that separates the circulation of cold and warm waters around Antarctica. The team theorized that the location of this front follows the underwater bathymetry.

QuikScat satellite

When they plotted the bathymetric data against the ocean temperatures, the pieces fit together like a jigsaw puzzle. Pronounced seafloor features strongly guide the ocean current and correspond closely with observed regional Antarctic sea ice patterns.

Study results are published in the journal Remote Sensing of Environment. Other participating institutions include the Joint Institute for Regional Earth System Science and Engineering at UCLA; the Applied Physics Laboratory at the University of Washington in Seattle; and the U.S. National/Naval Ice Center, NOAA Satellite Operations Facility in Suitland, Maryland. Additional funding was provided by the National Science Foundation.

NASA uses the vantage point of space to increase our understanding of our home planet, improve lives and safeguard our future. NASA develops new ways to observe and study Earth’s interconnected natural systems with long-term data records. The agency freely shares this unique knowledge and works with institutions around the world to gain new insights into how our planet is changing.