Friday, December 25, 2015

The Catalan Atlas


Catalan Atlas – Record of the State-of-the Art

The best work from the Majorcan cartographic school of the14th century is the Catalan Atlas which was probably produced in 1375 and attributes but without certainty to Cresques Abraham. The atlas has been recorded already in Charles V’s library in the record drawn by Gilles Malet and in 1930, was copied by Jean Blanchet.

The Atlas is said to be historically important as a record of the `state of the art’ of geographic knowledge of the 14th century. It comprises of details drawn from Marco Polo’s narrative that had made it the most precise depiction of Asia. Moreover it also marked a departure from some mapmaking conventions of the middle Ages. Some though not all unverifiable information together with mythical being which had been includedin the maps for centuries had been omitted by the mapmaker.

The Catalan Atlas, in this respect, marks the transition to the empirical approach of the Renaissance. From around 1803 to 1838, Charles Simonneau was a French map publisher and a map seller in Paris, France and the label with his reprint of the Catalan Atlas portrays a location at 6 rue de la Paix, advertising `Globes, Spheres, Atlases, Geographic and Historical, Old and Modern as well as Geographic Maps, Topographical and Celestial, French and Foreign’.

Composed of 6 Vellum Leaves

From 1839 till at least 1860, the firm’s maps were sold under the imprint of `Longuet, successor of Simonneau.The Catalan Atlas was initially composed of 6 vellum leaves which were folded down the middle, the leaves presently are cut into half and painted in different colours, silver and gold. Each of the half leaf has been mounted on one side of five wooden panels and the first half of the first leaf together with the second half of the last leaf seems to be mounted on the inner boards of a brown leather binding.

 Each of the leaf measures around 65 x 50 cm, an overall size of 65 x 300 cm. The first two leaves comprise of a compilation of cosmographical, astrological and astronomical text that is translated into Catalan. The texts seem to highlight the spherical shape and the state of the known world of the earth. Moreover they also offer useful information to sailors on tides and how to calculate time at night.

Intended to be Read with the North at the Bottom

Besides this, the text are also supplemented by various illustrations, a tide table, the figure of a man marked with the signs of the zodiac, a perpetual calendar together with a large circular chart bordered by the four seasons that provide information on the zodiac, the seven known planets as well as a diagram of the constellations.

The remaining four leaves tend to make up the real map which is divided into two parts and portrays several illustrations of cities, where the governmental adherences are represented by a flag. Christian cities have been marked with a cross while the other cities are marked with a dome. Oceans and seas are signified by wavy blue vertical line. The nautical charts as usual have the place names of important ports recorded in red while the others are in black.

 The Catalan Atlas unlike several other nautical charts is intended to be read with the north at the bottom and hence the maps are adapted from left to right, from the Far East to the Atlantic.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015



Ollantaytambo – Best Remaining Example of Inca Town Planning

Ollantaytambo, an attractive town is situated towards the western side of the Sacred Valley, around two and a half hours journey by bus from Cusco. The town is on top of the original Inca foundations and is one of the best remaining examples of Inca town planning.

It is divided in blocks or canchas which are completely undamaged. Each of the blocks have only a single entrance that tends to lead into a central courtyard and the houses seem to surround the courtyard. Controlled by two huge Inca ruins, the village of Ollantaytambo also known to the locals as well as the visitors as Ollanta is the best example of Inca city planning with narrow cobblestone streets which have been constantly inhabited since the 13th century.

Ollanta is an amazing place and is perfect for exploring the mazy narrow byways, stone buildings and babbling irrigation channels that takes you back in time. Moreover it also provides access for good hiking as well as biking. The town is placed at the foot of remarkable Inca ruins that protects the planned entrance of the lower Urubamba Valley and the temple area is towards the top of steep terracing.

Excellent Defence for the Town

This has provided an excellent defence for the town where the stones for these buildings was brought from a quarry high up from the opposite end of the Urubamba River. The complex was still under construction during the time of the conquest and has never seemed to be completed.

After the defeat of Manco Inca by the Spanish at Sacsayhuaman followed by the unsuccessful siege of Cusco he withdrew to Ollantaytambo. In order to capture Manco Inca, Hernando, the younger brother of Francisco Pizarro led a force of 70 cavalry, 30 foot soldiers together with a large contingent of natives.

The Inca’s forces that were joined by the neighbouring jungle tribes, showered down arrows, spears as well as rocks on the unfortunate Spanish troops. In a smart move, the Inca flooded the plains below their stronghold and made the movement difficult for the horses wherein Hernando unexpectedly ordered a hasty withdrawal. The only place which resisted attacks from the Spanish was Ollantaytambo.

Qollqas Featuring Ventilation Systems

The Incas had built many storehouses out of fieldstones over the hills surrounding Ollantaytambo with their locations at high altitudes. This provided more wind and lower temperature thus saved their contents from being decayed. Furthermore, the Ollantaytambo qollqas featured ventilation systems which are believed to be utilised to store the production of the agricultural terraces that were built around the place.

 It was said that grains were poured through the windows on the uphill area of each building and emptied through the downhill side window. Presently Ollantaytambo is suffering for being an access for Cuzco and the jungle since there does not seems to be any alternate roads. Big semi-trucks as well as buses pass through the narrow main streets. Locals are concerned with the disruption of town life as well as the effect of extreme exhaust on the ruins and talks on alternative road does not seems to take any positive turn.

Ollantaytambo tends to have some of the oldest constantly occupied buildings in South America. Being a stronghold of Inca resistance, once upon a time, it seems to be strangely well preserved. Several of the tourist visits Ollantaytambo since it is the beginning of the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu and the ruins seems to be very fascinating.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Hidden Portrait 'Found Under Mona Lisa', says French Scientist

Second PortraitBeneath the Top Layer of Famous Painting

According to BBC reports, the art world is bustling with claims made by a French scientist who has discovered a portrait of another woman beneath the top layer of the most famous painting of the world, the Mona Lisa. According to Newsweek, a Paris-based company, Lumiere Technology, working closely with galleries and museums, co-founded by Pascal Cotte, digitised in fine art pieces, had been researching Da Vinci’s signature piece for 10 years utilising a technology known as the Layer amplification Method – LAM.

It involves shining `intense’ light to a painting and then measuring the bounced back reflection to scale what is beneath it. Its website claims to have digitized works by Marc Chagall, Pablo Picasso, Claude Renoir and Vincent Van Gogh. BBC which is airing a documentary regarding the discovery reports thatCotte had gained access by the Louvre to the Mona Lisa in 2004.Cotte states that underneath the surface of the Mona Lisa is an image of a woman looking off to the side and not straight ahead with various physical characteristics than the model which tends to smile down on the crowds at the Louvre.

Image Lacks Famed Direct Gaze & Smile

Cotte informs that the hidden image lacks both the famed direct gaze and the smile of Mona Lisa which was observed by projecting it to intense light. A camera which measured the light’s reflection enabled Cotte to reconstruct what had been created with each layer of paint.

The Telegraph notes that the hidden portrait, for instance displays a woman who has a bigger head, nose, hands and smaller lips. BBC informed an Oxford University art history professor that the newly discovered model was probably not the beginning of a completely different painting but an evolution of the final Mona Lisa wherein Da Vinci had kept the painting over the previous version till he received the result he desired. He has commented that he is convinced that the Mona Lisa is Lisa.

According to BBC, that analysed the painting, the Louvre on its part, had refrained from commenting since it was not part of the scientific team. The theory seems to be controversial and not without its critics It is claimed that the hidden portrait represents the original `Lisa’ and what we see is believed to be Lisa Gherardine, the wife of a Florentine merchant and is a different being altogether.

Mona Lisa – Topic of Various Scientific Examinations

However, emeritus professor of History of Art at the University of Oxford, Martin Kemp, who is quoted by the BBC, had informed that though the images shown by Cotte, portrays Da Vinci’s artistic process, they tend to represent an evolution in the creation of the Mona Lisa instead of separate paintings. The Mona Lisa has been the topic of various scientific examinations for more than half a century.

 Recent techniques comprised of infrared inspections together with multi-spectral scanning. Andrew Graham-Dixon, an art historian has made a BBC documentary known as The Secrets of the Mona Lisa, researching historical documents connected to the painting together with Cotte’s scientific discoveries. He informs that he has no doubts that this is definitely one of the stories of the century and there would possibly be some reluctance on the authorities at the Louvers in changing the title of the painting since that is what all have been talking about and it will be goodbye Mona Lisa, she is somebody else’.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Enceladus’s Underground Ocean That Could Host Life


Saturn’s Enceladus – Similar to Deep Oceans on Earth

An enormous breakthrough in the search for life on other planets has been revealed by scientists. Spacecraft of Nasa’s Cassini had provided scientist with the first clear evidence that moon of Saturn, Enceladus tends to exhibit signs of current day hydrothermal activity which is similar to that seen in the deep oceans on Earth. If the same is confirmed, it would make the moon Enceladus, the only known body in the solar system beside the Earth where hot water as well as rocks tend to interact underground.

 It is said that the activity would make the moon a much more attractive place for hunting microbial life. Astrobiologist consider the 314 mile wide Enceladus as one of the best bets of the solar for hosting life beyond the Earth. The satellite is said to be covered by an icy shell and is geologically active, as proved by the powerful geysers which tend to blast constantly from its south polar region. The clouds tend to contain substantial amount of water, which according to the scientists have originated from a subsurface ocean. Earlier research recommended that the ocean is in contact with the rocky mantle of Enceladus with possibility of all kinds of interesting chemical reactions.

No Sunlight Flowing in Underground Sea

The scientists discovered weird life form in hydrothermal vents on the ocean bottom, on Earth, where there seems to be no sunlight flowing through the underground sea of Enceladus. However, any microbes which tend to exist there could gain access to two different sources metabolism-supporting energy sources, molecular hydrogen and the heat provided by hydrothermal vents.

NASA states that the implications of this activity on a world besides our planet tend to open up exceptional scientific possibilities. These discoveries add to the possibility that Enceladus which comprise of a subsurface ocean, displaying remarkable geologic activity could contain an atmosphere which could be suitable for living organisms, according to John Grunsfeld astronaut and associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission directorate in Washington.He further added that the location in our solar system where the extreme environments takes place in which life could exist, may bring us closer to answering queries to : `are we alone in the Universe’.

Hydrothermal Activity – Seawater Infiltrates/Reacts with Rocky Crust

Hydrothermal activity tends to take place when the seawater infiltrates and reacts with rocky crust and arises as a heated mineral laden solution, which is a natural event in the ocean on Earth. As per two science papers, the effects were the first clear indications that an icy moon could have same on-going active processes. The first paper published in the journal Nature relates to microscopic grains of rock that were noticed by Cassini in the Saturn system.

A four year extensive analysis of data from the spacecraft, laboratory experiments and computer simulations directed the researchers to the conclusion that the tiny grains probably formed when the hot water containing dissolved minerals from the moon’s rocky interior travelled upwards coming in contact with cooler water. According to the researchers, the subsurface sea of Enceladus contains dissolved sodium chloride like the Earth’s ocean but is full of sodium carbonate, also known as washing soda or soda ash. Study team members state that this alien water body is possibly similar to terrestrial soda lakes like the Mono Lake in California than it is to the Atlantic as well as Pacific oceans.

Hypothetical Planet Vulcan


Planet Vulcan Presumed to Be Orbiting Around the Sun

In the present model of the solar system, the planet Mercury seems to be the closest to the Sun. Planet Vulcan was the planned planet presumed to be orbiting around the Sun in the area between Mercury and Sun. Based on the calculation of Le Verrier, the proposal of planet was done to explain the peculiarities in the orbit of Mercury and the French mathematician, Le Verrier was the one who had predicted the existence of the planet Neptune by calculations to clarify the orbit of Uranus.

He assumed that the peculiarities in the orbit of Mercury could be owing to some unknown planet orbiting between the Sun and Mercury. Numerous investigators were involved in the study of the new planet Vulcan though no such planet seemed to be found. Peculiarities in orbit of Mercury had been clarified by the Theory of General Relativity of Albert Einstein. Besides Mercury, asteroid 2007 EB with a semi-major axis of 0.55 AU has the smallest known semi-major axis revolving around the Sun. Director of the Paris Observatory, Francois Arago, had suggested to the French mathematician Urbain Le Verrier, in 1840, to work on the topic of orbital motion of the planet Mercury around the Sun.

Purpose – Recommend a Model for Planet Mercury

The purpose of the study was to recommend a model for the planet Mercury based on the laws of motion and gravitation of Sir Isaac Newton.Towards 1843, Le Verrier had published his provisional theory on the topic that would be tested at the time of transit of Mercury across the face of the Sun in 1843. However his theory failed in matching the observation.

 He then published a thorough study of Mercury’s motion again. The consistency of the study meant that any deviation from prediction would be the result of some unknown factor and there would still be some discrepancy. During the motion of Mercury, its perihelion progresses by a small amount each orbit, technically known as perihelion precession. The value observed differs from the value predicted by Classical mechanics by around 43 arc seconds per century. Le Verrier assumed that the unwarranted precession could be described with the presence of a small planet within the orbit of Mercury, proposing the name `Vulcan’ for this object.

Astronomer Denies the Passage of any Planet over the Sun

Lescarbault, a country doctor at Orgeres, France had reported Le Verrier that he had seen an object which was a size of a planet cross the disc of the Sun on March 26, 1859. Lee Verrier had been to Orgeres and had interviewed the amateur astronomer regarding the unidentified planetary object. Lescarbault had estimated the duration of the transit as 1 hour, 17 minutes and 9 seconds.

He was completely convinced from the observation of Lescarbault and believed that he had seen the transit of an earlier unknown planet. He announced the discovery of Vulcan on January 2, 1860, at a meeting of the Academic des Sciences in Paris. Apparently not all accepted the discovery of Vulcan and renowned French astronomer, Emmanuel and Liais claimed that they had been studying the surface of the sun through a telescope which as powerful as the telescope of Lescarbault at the same time when reported by him. Liais has strongly denied the passage of any planet over the Sun during the time indicated.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Why Nobel Prize was not Awarded Gandhi subsequently for 5 Times


Mahatma Gandhi Continues to be Strongest Models of Peace/Non-Violence

Over 60 years after his death, the leader of India’s independence movement, Mahatma Gandhi still continues to be one of the strongest models of peace and non-violence all over the world. Yet the query remains answered as to why he was not granted the world’s greatest honour for peace inspite of being nominated five times as well as shortlisted thrice for the Nobel Prize?

The issue had come up when Kailash Satyarthi, children’s rights activists of India, had been awarded the prize jointly with Pakistan’s Malala Yousafzai. Norwegian historian and Nobel Peace Prize expert, Oivind Stenersen, had informed The Wall Street Journal that awarding Mr. Satyarthi the peace prize had been a smart move by the committee.

He commented that it always had a guilty conscience since Gandhi did not get the prize and that they knew that the committee had been looking for an Indian for quite some time. The selection committee had provided a host of reasons on the official website of the Nobel Peace Prize on why Mr Gandhi had never received the popular prize.

In 1937, during Mr Gandhi’s first nomination, the adviser of the selection committee, Jacob Worm-Muller had been critical about him stating that according to the Nobel Foundation, `he was undoubtedly a good, noble and ascetic person, a prominent man who is deservedly honoured and loved by the masses of India’.


Several Critics in International Peace Movement

Mr Worm-Muller, at the same time had written that ‘there were sharp turns in his policies that could hardly be satisfactorily explained by his followers. He is a freedom fighter and a dictator, an idealist and a nationalist; He is frequently a Christ, but then, suddenly an ordinary politician’.

He added that Mr Gandhi had several critics in the international peace movement and was not consistently pacifist and should have known that some of his non-violent campaigns towards the British could degenerate into terror and violence.

He also believed and had mentioned in his report to the selection committee, that Mr Gandhi was too much of an Indian nationalist and one could say that it is significant that his well-known struggle in South Africa was for the sake of the Indian only and not of the blacks whose conditions of living was even worse.

Mr Gandhi – First & Foremost a Patriot

One of the committees was also of the opinion that Mr Gandhi had not been a `real politician or supporter of international law, nor a humanitarian relief worker or an organizer of international peace congresses. Mr Gandhi had been nominated for the award again in 1938 and 1939, though was shortlisted a second time only in 1947 when the Nobel Peace Committee Advisor Jens Arup Seip had been less critical of Mr Gandhi than Mr Worm-Muller.

Selection committee chairman, Gunnar Jahn had mentioned in his diary that `while it is true that Gandhi is the greatest personality among the nominees, plenty of good things can be said about him, we should remember that he is not only an apostle for peace, he is first and foremost a patriot.

 Moreover, we have to bear in mindthat Gandhi is not naïve. He is an excellent jurist and a lawyer’. In 1948, Mr Gandhi had been shortlisted for the third time just days prior to his assassination which had prompted the selectors to think whether the awards could be given subsequently.