Solving the 5,000-Year-Old Murder of Otzi the Iceman

In 1991, the mummified body of a 5,000-year-old murder victim was discovered in melting ice at a rock-gully crime scene high in the Italian Otzal Alps. Nicknamed “Otzi“, the estimated 45-year-old man and his possessions were incredibly well preserved. His skin, hair, bones, and organs were cryopreserved in time, allowing archeological researchers a phenomenal insight into human life in the Copper Age.

The frozen corpse also gave modern science the opportunity to forensically investigate and positively determine how Otzi the Iceman was killed.

The story began on a sunny September day, when two hikers were traversing a mountain pass at the 3210-meter (10,530 foot) level and saw a brown, leathery shape protruding from the ice amidst running melt-water. Examining closely, they found a human body which they thought might be the victim of a past mountaineering accident.

The hikers reported it to Austrian police who attended the following day and quickly realized they were dealing with an ancient archeological site. A scientific team was assembled and, over a three-day period, the remains were extracted and taken to the Institute of Forensic Medicine in Innsbruck.

Such an incredibly valuable find soon led to a jurisdictional argument between the Austrian and Italian governments and an immediate border survey was done, finding Otzi had been lying ninety-two meters inside of Italian territory. Italy gained legal possession of the body and artifacts, however in the interests of science and history, everything was kept at Innsbruck until a proper, climate-controlled facility was built at the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology in Bolzano, Italy, where Otzi the Iceman now rests.

Many questions arose. Who was he? Where did he come from? How long ago did he live? And, of course, what caused his death?

Technological advances over the past twenty-five years have answered some —> Read More

Gravitational Waves Discovered: A New Window on the Universe

An illustration of Markarian 231, a binary black hole 1.3 billion light years from Earth. Their collision generated the first gravitational waves we've ever detected. Image: NASA

“Ladies and Gentlemen, we have detected gravitational waves. We did it.”With those words, Dave Reitze, executive director of the U.S.-based Laser Interferometry Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO), has opened a new window into the universe, and ushered in a new era in space science.Predicted over 100 years ago by Albert Einstein, gravitational waves are ripples in space-time. They travel in waves, like light does, but they aren’t radiation. They are actual perturbations in the fabric of space-time itself. The ones detected by LIGO, after over ten years of “listening”, came from a binary system of black holes over 1.3 billion light years away, called Markarian 231.The two black holes, each 30 times as massive as the Sun, orbited each other, then spiralled together, ultimately colliding and merging together. The collision sent gravitational waves rippling through space time.LIGO, which is actually two separate facilities separated by over 3,000 km, is a finely tuned system of lasers and sensors that can detect these tiny ripples in space-time. LIGO is so sensitive that it can detect ripples 10,000 times smaller than a proton, in laser beams 4 kilometres long.Light is—or has been up until now—the only way to study objects in the universe. This includes everything from the Moon, all the way out to the most distant objects ever observed. Astronomers and astrophysicists use observatories that can see in not only visible light, but in all other parts of the electromagnetic spectrum, to study objects in the universe. And we’ve learned an awful lot. But things will change with this announcement.”I think we’re opening a window on the universe,” Dave Reitze said.Another member of the team that made this discovery, astrophysicist Szabolcs Marka from Columbia University, said, “Until this moment we had our eyes on the sky and we couldn’t hear the music.”Gravitational waves —> Read More

Supreme Court Suspends Clean Power Plan

The U.S. Supreme Court blocked the Clean Power Plan, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s rule limiting greenhouse gas emissions from the existing fleet of fossil fuel-fired power plants on Tuesday. The court, in a 5–4 decision split along party lines, put a stay on enforcement of the Clean Power Plan, which is designed to cut carbon dioxide emissions from power plants 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2030.

“We remain confident that we will prevail on the merits,” said the White House in a statement. “Even while the litigation proceeds, EPA has indicated it will work with states that choose to continue plan development and will prepare the tools those states will need.”

But others felt the move could be indicative that the Clean Power Plan will not survive legal scrutiny.

“Should the D.C. Circuit uphold the rule, I think the stay is indicative that the court is likely to want to hear this case,” said Scott Segal, a partner in Bracewell LPP’s Policy Resolution Group. “Even the most ardent supporters would have to concede that this does not bode well for the current rule.”

The EPA’s authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions stems from the 2007 Supreme Court decision Massachusetts v. EPA, which found that carbon dioxide qualified as a “pollutant” and was subject to regulation under the Clean Air Act. But Bloomberg reported that the court’s intervention casts doubt on the legal prospects for the Clean Power Plan, which some utilities, coal miners and more than two dozen states are challenging as an overreach of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s authority and an intrusion on states’ rights. The D.C. Circuit Court willreview the merits of their lawsuits on June 2. The order blocks the Clean Power Plan from taking effect while legal battles play —> Read More

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