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The Pella curse tablet, from the Cemetery of Agora.

This lead tablet measures 30x6 cm, and dates to the first half of the 4th century BC. It was discovered rolled into the right hand of a dead man.

The numerous curse tablets from the ancient Greek world indicate one thing of importance: women in the classical period did not on the whole make use of curse tablets to bind lovers to them. […]

The only known example of a curse tablet definitely used by a woman in the period under discussion comes from the 4th century BC, from Pella in Macedonia. A woman, Thetima, asks of the daimones: ‘May he indeed not take another wife than myself by let me grow old by the side of Dionusophon.’ 

Women, particularly in cities such as classical Athens, had little say (if any) in whom they married, and little scope for romantic interests prior to marriage […].

-Matthew Dillon, Girls and Women in Classical Greek Religion (2003), page 178.

Here’s a translation of the tablet, via Bryn Mawr College Classics:

Of Thetima and Dionysophon the ritual wedding and the marriage I bind by a written spell, as well as (the marriage) of all other women (to him), both widows and maidens, but above all of Thetima; and I entrust (this spell) to Macron and to the daimones. And were I ever to unfold and read these words again after digging (the tablet) up, only then should Dionysophon marry, not before; may he indeed not take another beside myself, but let me alone grow old by the side of Dionysophon and no one else. I implore you: have pity for [Phila (?)], dear daimones, [for I am indeed bereft (?)] of all my dear ones and abandoned. But please keep this (piece of writing) for my sake so that these events do not happen and wretched Thetima perishes miserably [—-] but let me become happy and blessed.

Artifact courtesy of & currently located at the Museum of PellaCentral Macedonia. The first photo is taken by Filos96, the second image is via the Wiki Commons.

Posted 13 hours ago


April 21, 1972 — Astronauts John Young and Charlie Duke go on the first spacewalk of the Apollo 16 mission.

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International Dark Sky Week - April 20-26

International Dark Sky Week, created in 2003 by high-school student Jennifer Barlow, is a key component of Global Astronomy Month (April). The International Dark-Sky Association aims to spread awareness to the issues around light pollution as well as provide solutions to mitigate it. 

In 2001, “The First World Atlas of the Artificial Night Sky Brightness” reported two-thirds of the U.S. population and more than 50% of the European population had already lost the ability to see the Milky Way with the naked eye (x). The report also showed that 63% of the world population and 99% of the population of the European Union and the United States (excluding Alaska and Hawaii) lived in regions where the night sky is brighter than the threshold for light-polluted status set by the International Astronomical Union. In 1994, an earthquake knocked out the power in Los Angeles. Many residents called local emergency centres reporting a strange “giant, silvery cloud” in the dark sky. That giant, silvery cloud was the Milky Way, which many residents had just seen for the first time. 

Light pollution can also affect human health. Light photons need to impact the retina for biologic effects to occur. Nuisance light becomes a health hazard when there is a lot of artificial light at night, in cities like Manhattan or Las Vegas. This is because there is more opportunity for the retina to be exposed to photons that might disrupt circadian rhythm. The circadian clock is a 24-hour day/night cycle, which affects physiologic processes in most organisms. There is a large amount of epidemiologic evidence that indicates a consistent association between exposure to indoor artificial nighttime light and health problems such as breast cancer (x). This association does not prove that artificial light causes the problem, however laboratory studies have shown exposure to light during the night disrupts circadian and neuroendocrine physiology, which then accelerates tumour growth (x).

Flora and fauna are also affected by light pollution. Prolonged exposure to artificial light has been shown to affect trees from adjusting to seasonal variations, which then affects wildlife that depend on trees for their natural habitat (x). Research on wildlife species has shown that light pollution can alter behaviours, foraging areas, and breeding cycles. 

One dramatic example of this is sea turtles. Many species of sea turtles lay their eggs on beaches, and the females of the species return to the same beaches to nest. When these beaches are brightly lit at night, these lights can disorient the females who then wander onto nearby roadways and get struck by vehicles (x). Sea turtle hatchlings typically head toward the sea by orienting away from the dark silhouette of the landward horizon. With bright artificial lights on the beach, these hatchlings become disoriented and navigate toward the artificial light source, never finding the sea.

The image used shows the Bortle Dark Sky Scale, created by John E. Bortle and published here: (1, 2). It is a guide for amateur astronomers and is a nine-level numeric scale that measures the night sky’s and stars’ brightness of a particular location. Class 1 represents the darkest skies available on Earth while Class 9 shows inner-city skies

Reducing light pollution is not just about being able to see the night sky much more effectively. It is also about saving money, energy and reducing greenhouse gases while protecting the environment, wildlife, and improving human health. This is not to say that artificial lighting is bad; it is when artificial lighting becomes inefficient, annoying, and unnecessary that it is known as light pollution. To aid in minimising light pollution, you can shield outdoor lighting, or at least angle it downward and use light only when needed. Motion detectors and timers are also useful. Use only the amount of illumination you need and try reducing lamp wattage.

Stay tuned on The Universe for Dark Sky Week: we’ll be showcasing various Night Sky photographers and their issues with light pollution, throughout the week.


For more information on light pollution, click here.
Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6
Image is a screenshot of the Light Pollution Simulation / Bortle Scale

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NASA plans a robotic mission to search for life on Europa | io9

It looks like it’s finally going to happen, an actual mission to Jupiter’s icy moon Europa — one of the the solar system’s best candidates for hosting alien life.

Yesterday, NASA announced an injection of $17.5 billion from the federal government (down by $1.2 billion from its 2010 peak). Of this, $15 million will be allocated for “pre-formulation” work on a mission to Europa, with plans to make detailed observations from orbit and possibly sample its interior oceans with a robotic probe. Mission details are sparse, but if all goes well, it could be launched by 2025 and arriving in the early 2030s.

This is incredibly exciting. Recent evidence points to a reasonable chance of habitability. Its massive subsurface ocean contains almost twice as much water as found on Earth. The water is kept in liquid state owing to the gravitational forces exerted by Jupiter and the moon’s turbulent global ocean currents. The good news is that a probe may not have to dig very deep to conduct its search for life; the moon’s massive plumes are ejecting water directly onto the surface.

[Read more]

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Happy Earth Day to the only home we’ve ever known.

This is the first image of the entire Earth ever taken. (Apollo 8, 1968)

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