Monday, February 29, 2016

The belief of witchcraft as something evil and capable of doing supernatural things (such as placing a curse on a neighbor or telling the future), comes from ancient times. 

Religious texts like the Bible condemned anything that did not seem to come from God.

In the Middle Ages, THOUSANDS (maybe even millions) of people were killed on suspicion of being witches.

Even though some people did not believe that witchcraft actually did anything -that it had any supernatural powers, most people were afraid of it in case it did have powers or in case they were killed by being accused of being witches.

Pilgrims, Puritans, and settlers that came from England to America, brought those beliefs and fears with them. 
In one small town, Salem Village, Massachusetts, those beliefs in the supernatural were to become a very public show, like the biggest news of the century for them, like a reality TV show happening in real life in front of them.

In the house of a minister, Reverend Samuel Parris, his daughter Elizabeth and his niece Abigail (in the picture on the left) had been acting strange in their house: “getting into holes and creeping under chairs and stools”, speaking weirdly and to themselves, staring into nothing, and even crawling on the floor like animals
The town doctor couldn’t find anything physically wrong with them so he said they must have had a spell on them -here’s the start of something wrong, as you wouldn’t expect a doctor to diagnose someone as having something supernatural. Doctors can only diagnose physical and mental illness.

So because of this diagnosis, the Reverend Parris confronted the girls and the girls started accusing people, starting with their slave and then neighbors.

The women were tried in court, even a 4-year old was tried and mistreated as a possible witch.
About 200 people ended up being tried in court, accused by the kids or by neighbors -neighbors that wanted each other’s land or property, or were mad at each other for other reasons. They saw this trial as an opportunity to get revenge or get the things they wanted.

The accusers (also called witnesses or afflicted), made their story bigger and bigger every time they testified in court. They put on a big show in court, acting like they were being hurt right there by the witches.

The judges also did not conduct the trial correctly -they mistreated the accused women and men, they did not question them properly, and conducted these questionings in front of the whole community, which may have influenced people to accuse each other. It’s like the judges and ministers were just trying to convict people of witchcraft, whether they had proof or not.

Can you imagine accusing your neighbor of being a witch, of being evil, just because you want their stuff or because you want revenge? Even though you know that they are probably going to die for what you are saying against them?

There other witch trials in the new America, and other people were killed. But the Salem Witch Trials lasted longer, had more suspects, and killed more people. Twenty people were executed and 5 died while in jail.

Afterwards, -after all the deaths, only some of the accusers confessed about their lies and asked for forgiveness, but the damage had been done.

Maybe the girls had been sick, maybe her parents really believed they had a witch’s curse. But the accusers did not get a fair trial, and people took advantage of the fear of witches to start accusing and mistreating their neighbors. That is the danger with believing in supernatural stuff without looking for other explanations.

To Read More:


Salem Witch Trials: A Reference Guide, by David K. Goss. Published by Greenwood Press. Dec 2007.

The Salem Witch Mania, by Benjamin C. Ray. Published by Osford University Press. Mar 2010.

Friday, February 26, 2016

On Fridays we feature amazing discoveries and facts, because, yes, the world is full of wonders that are real and natural-occurring (without divine or supernatural intervention).

This week we are going back in time, when giants roamed the earth.

Large animals like elephants, rhinoceroses, and giant squids are amazing to watch and wonder at. But thousands and millions of years ago there were even bigger animals. Thanks to archaeologists and scientists, we know a lot today about those animals too.

The most famous large animals are perhaps dinosaurs. There seems to be so many variations of them (from flying, to small, to large, to herbivore, to carnivorous) and Hollywood movies have made them famous. Although we don’t exactly what dinosaurs looked like (their colors, etc.) because they lived millions of years ago, before humans, we have discovered enough bones and remains to learn a lot about them. One of the most interesting pieces of fossil is actually their poo. Read about how their feces are helping scientists understand more about how dinosaurs lived: BBC.

Thanks to the Ice Age movies, you may know about the Woolly Mammoth. It is believed they existed more than 400 thousand years ago, could reach over 4 meters tall and weigh over 6 tons (12,000 pounds!). It’s called “wooly” because it was covered in fur and long hairs. The Woolly Mammoth became extinct because of climate change (yes, the Ice Age) and being hunted by humans. We know they existed because even as recent as last year we have been discovering their remains. Watch here: National Geographic.

Another large animal that’s extinct is the Steller’s Sea Cow -named after George Stellers, who discovered the creature in 1741. As you can see in the picture, this sea cow closely resembles the Manatee, although it was much bigger (could grow to 8 meters and weighted up to 10 tons!). It was a gentle and tame creature, which made it vulnerable to humans, and in just 27 years it was hunted to extinction.

The Baiji White Dolphin lived for about 20 million years, before humans destroyed it in the last century. As humans used the dolphin’s territory, these creatures were wiped out due to pollution, heavy fishing, and boat propeller accidents. It is not officially extinct, but no one has seen a Baiji White Dolphin since 2002.

As much as we admire and learn about these and other magnificent big creatures that lived before our times, it is important to recognize that, with few exceptions like the dinosaurs, humans are largely responsible for the disappearance of many of these animals -from hunting to destroying their habitat.

If we care about the world we live, we should respect all lives, including animals.

To Read More:

  • Huge Kangaroos and 5-meter lizards: Australian giants: BBC.
  • These people are trying to bring the Woolly Mammoth back from extinction: Long Now.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

This is a roundup of interesting, cool, and weird* things reported in the past week:

  • No, that is not a monkey on Mars (VIDEO): MSN.
  • This "Sea Monster" is no monster at all: The Herald.
  • This teen has an idea for cleaning up the entire Great Pacific Garbage Patch: Inhabitant.
  • New YouTube video doesn't show Bigfoot, just a prankster in a suit: MSN.

* Yes, weird stuff happens virtually all the time. Doesn't mean aliens/ghosts/conspiracy did it.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Indeed, ghosts are everywhere: in scary places, in scary stories, in scary movies, and scary videos.

We love and fear to be scared by ghosts. We can’t resist them. Even if we are not sure that ghosts are real, we may get scared when we hear an odd bump we weren’t expecting.

You probably have a ghost experience yourself or have heard one from one of your friends or relatives.

First of all, what is a “ghost experience”? It is a very vague phrase that can mean anything from seeing someone that you know is dead to hearing bumps or seeing things move apparently by themselves. Just because they are weird and spooky, people rush to call them ghosts, sometimes without looking for another possible explanation.

What are ghosts? Ghosts are the spirit of dead people. The spirit remains in the human world instead of travelling to wherever they are supposed to go. This is vague too -as some say ghosts are transparent (see-though) figures, while others say ghosts are shadowy.

It seems like humans have always wondered what happens after we die, if there is an “afterlife”. It hurts when a loved one dies, so wouldn’t it be great if they went to someplace nice after they die, if we could see them again? Many religions have explanations for what happens to people after they die: they are reborn in another body, they go to another place like heaven or hell or somewhere in between. This is called “wishful thinking”: believing or making decisions based on something that we imagine may be pleasing but that has no evidence, no proof.

Are ghosts real? Besides what people think and hope, there is no scientific proof that ghosts are real. Someone may hear strange noises, but that’s not proof. Even pictures are not proof of ghosts -many pictures have been proven to be faked, manipulated with the camera or the exposure process, or in the computer, or with an app. Even if a picture is not faked, there are other explanations for what can seem like a ghost (the lightening, double exposure, movement, wet lenses, even your hair getting in front of the camera can produce an “orb” effect, etcetera).

Some examples:

Are those orbs ghosts? Well, that seems to be a cemetery so those must be ghosts, right?
Noooooo -read what we said about photos in the paragraph above  about camera issues -it could be hair or a wet lens, or even faked.

This is the famous "British party group ghost photo”. Discovery News does a nice and detailed job of explaining why this is not a ghost on the background -from the wrong explanation that people gave to what the figure could truly be. Read it in full here.

"The Cooper Family Falling Body”, One of the oldest and most famous ghost photo: it was simply faked and the Website gives the explanation. Read it in full here.

*** NOTE: This article is part of a series on Ghosts.
** Still to come: Can psychics communicate with the dead? Has any ghost hunting found ghosts?

To Read More:

  • -         10 Scientific Explanations for Ghostly Phenomena: ListVerse.
  • -         Video: Do Ghosts Exist? Discovery News.

Friday, February 19, 2016

On Fridays we feature amazing discoveries and facts, because, yes, the world is full of wonders that are real and natural-occurring (without divine or supernatural intervention).

This week we are going high, high up.

Thanks to the advances in technology, scientists can learn more about space than ever before, and thankfully, they share their discoveries with us.

The Hubble Space Telescope for example, helped scientists understand that Pluto, which has always been considered one of the nine solar planets, doesn’t qualify as a planet after all. It orbits the sun like other planets and it is in our solar system, but it is smaller -so small that it cannot even “clear objects out of its path”. Pluto, is actually a dwarf planet or plutoid, together with Eris and Makemake -other objects found near Pluto.
                                        Pluto photo from NASA

NASA (the National Aeronautics and Space Administration), launched a rover named Curiosity, which arrived to Mars in 2012. Since then, it has been sending photos from Mars, giving us our first intimate glimpse of the planet, and yes, filling our curiosity and giving us more understanding of that planet like never before (no Martians have been found though). The robot has been snapping selfies in different areas of Mars, and NASA even created a 360-degree “virtual reality” video on YouTube -for your pleasure.
                                     Selfie courtesy of NBC News

Satellites continue to be one of the most important tools that scientists use to study space. They are cheaper than rovers and telescopes. They have a clear view of space, clouds, and oceans. They explore asteroids, the history of stars and planets. They take pictures of the planets, the sun, dark matter, and black holes.

           The Jason-2 satellite. Credits: NASA

Studying space is exciting. It connects us to the universe. We may even discover a galaxy far away and life somewhere out there one day (basic or intelligent, but life nonetheless).

To Read More:

 - 17 Amazing Hubble Discoveries:
- Get Immersed in Curiosity’s 360 Degree mars Dune: Discovery News.
- NASA’s Kids Club: NASA.

- Satellites capture all 26 letters of the ABCs from space: LiveScience.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

This is roundup of interesting, cool, and weird* things reported in the past week:

  • No, the Ancient Greeks did NOT have laptops: Discovery News.
  • Pictures of mummified animals -the Egyptians believed animals were sacred so they mummified millions: BBC.
  • A trains station CAT (yes, a real feline) in England gets a job promotion: MSN.
  • Spider for the win (against a snake!): ABC News.

* Yes, weird stuff happens virtually all the time. Doesn't mean aliens/ghosts/conspiracy did it.

Monday, February 15, 2016

So, what if you don’t believe in Bigfoot, ghosts, or aliens?
What do you do with friends and people who do believe in that stuff?

Well, you don’t have to fight everybody and be left without friends. You don’t have to argue about everything.

You overhear people talking about aliens or magical bracelets? Whatever floats their boat, man, good for them. Your friends are talking about Slender Man… well, sorry for them.

But what if someone asks you your thoughts about something? What if they show you a video or a picture or an article that they say is proof of something? Like, Bigfoot or an UFO or ghosts?

1.     Consider the source and motivation:

Consider the source, where this is posted: is it on an educational Website, a scientific Website, or just someone’s personal Website?

Who is telling you this thing? Is it a scientist, someone professional who has studied the thing they are showing you? Or is it some random guy who according to his own opinion, this thing must be what he says it is?

Think about why they posted this: it could be to simply entertain (because it’s funny, cool, or interesting), it could be a hoax, it could be advertising (you know, to get you to buy something), put there just to get Likes, Subscribers, or Followers.

2.     It is not your job to prove that’s not 

Bigfoot (or an alien, or a ghost, or whatever it is they are claiming). It is your friend’s job or whomever is showing it to you, or the YouTube channel -it is their responsibility to prove it to you, with scientific evidence.

They’re the ones making this big claim so they are the ones that have to prove it.
And just saying, “well don’t you see it’s blurry, don’t you see it looks like Bigfoot?” -that’s not proof.

“Well, the guy who took the video says it’s real” -that’s not proof (remember that people can lie, or it can be a hoax, or advertising, or just unknown).

“But how do you explain that sound, or that bottle falling by itself?” -you don’t have to explain it. You don’t know how it happened it, you weren’t there. But that doesn’t mean it’s a ghost that did it.

The point is, don’t immediately believe what you are looking at or listening to. Consider the source and motivation (like we explained above).

And, you don’t have to prove or explain that whatever it is is not what they say it is -it’s them that have to prove (with facts, scientific evidence) that it is what they say it is. They’re saying something incredible so they have to prove it.

At the end, you can agree to disagree and keep your friends.

To Read more:

Friday, February 12, 2016

Deep in the Sea

On Fridays we feature amazing discoveries and facts, because, yes, the world is full of wonders that are real and natural-occurring (without divine or supernatural intervention).

This week we are going deep down.
Space suits, ships, satellites, and telescopes are great for exploring space. But the ocean is more difficult to get into. It’s even called “The Final Frontier” because it hasn’t been explored as much as earth and space.

One of the main issues with exploring deep is visibility. This a typical view from a subsea robot (pretty boring, eh?):

Exploring deep in the ocean is also expensive: “A simple seafloor survey to run a 100 mile pipeline costs a cool $50 million” (Carlyle).

Also, one of the main reasons for exploring space is to discover intelligent life out there or see if we could live in another planet. That is not possible in the sea: “The pressures are too great, and no engineering or materials conceivable today would allow us to build livable-sized spaces on the deep sea floor” (Carlyle).

But, technology does advance to get us in deeper and for longer.
The Census of Marine Life is made up of more than 2,500 scientists from all over the world who took on the challenge of exploring deep, and in the last two decades or so have discovered thousands of previously unknown species, making us more excited about marine life.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has an office for ocean exploration and research funded by the government. They have done several expeditions, including the Gulf of Mexico, Cayman Islands, Indonesia, and even Galapagos Island.

It seems like scientists and the government are pushing forward with their explorations of the deep seas, much to the delight and wonder of the public.

To Read More:

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

This is roundup of interesting, cool, and weird* things reported in the past week:

  • Yeah, this is a very cool NATURAL formation, but not an actual "hand of God": BBC.
  • A sad case that may be getting some good news -this man with "tree man disease". Doctors are forming a medical board to assess the possibility of performing surgery and removing these painful and ostracizing warts: Global News.
  • You're familiar with fire drills, right? Well this zoo in Tokyo had a "animals escape" drill: AFP
  • Ohh, cool: Orangutans may one day play video games with zoo guests: Mental Floss.

* Yes, weird stuff happens virtually all the time. Doesn't mean aliens/ghosts/conspiracy did it.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Do aliens exist?
The simple answer is that most likely, aliens do exist. The universe is an infinite place and us humans haven’t even explored our own galaxy completely. So yeah, it is totally possible for other planets to have living organisms, living things.

But, are there aliens on our earth? Walking around in disguise or waiting beneath the ground to attack us one day? Do aliens visit us from time to time?

Even though we haven’t explored the entire universe, astronomers do understand enough to know that if there are beings in outer space, they probably live not in our Solar System, but on planets many light-years away. “The trip from their world to our world would be extremely difficult, requiring incredible amounts of energy, dedication, and sacrifice” . Just like it is practically impossible for us to travel outside our Solar System, it would be nearly impossible for others in far-away planets to travel to ours.

We have many satellites and advanced technology ourselves so that if an alien was approaching earth we would be able to detect it. No government in any country and no scientist has ever confirmed the existence of aliens in our planet. Not even J. Allen Hynek, famous astronomer and UFO researcher. He was unsatisfied with how the government investigated UFO reports. He investigated over 10,000 sightings and could not prove the existence of aliens.

What about all those UFOs? Well, that’s just what it means, that we haven’t identified those flying objects. It doesn’t mean they are alien spaceships. In almost 100 years of UFOs sightings, not one has been proven to be extraterrestrial.

Don’t feel bad if you still think that there are aliens. Many famous and smart people have said they believe in aliens. The fact is that, as we said in the beginning, we are probably not alone in the universe. There probably is intelligent life in another planet. In our planet Earth, we haven’t found any aliens yet. Even when we encounter something we don’t know, it doesn’t mean it’s aliens.

The bottom line is that no one has ever turned up any scientific evidence that would prove the existence of aliens.

Asimov, Isaac. UFOs. 2005. Gareth Stevens Publishing, Milwakee, WI.

To read more:
-         About astronomer J. Allen Hynek: Academic Kids.
-         Are we getting closer to discovering life in another planet? Time For Kids.

Do you want us to discuss any popular alien theories, like UFO sightings, Crop circles, Roswell, or abductions? Let us know in your comments or the Contact Us form below.

Friday, February 5, 2016

On Fridays we're going to feature amazing discoveries and facts, because, yes, the world is full of wonders that are real and natural-occurring (without divine or supernatural intervention).

This week we are introducing the cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum, both buried "alive" by Mount Vesuvius's eruption.

Mt. Vesuvius erupted in late 79 A.D. The eruption most likely lasted for 24 hours, but the pumice and volcanic ash continued to pour for two more days, burying the towns and its people under its path. The eruption was sudden and fast (people didn’t even know Vesuvius was a volcano), not giving much of a chance for many survivors. An estimated 25,000 people died. But there were a few survivors, such as Pliny the Younger, whose account (he wrote what he saw and his interviews with other survivors) is where we find much of what we know about what happened those days.

Pompeii wasn’t destroyed. It was buried and because of the lack air and humidity it was preserved -its art, texts, artifacts, buildings, even bodies. Pompeii served as testimony of how Romans lived, their culture, their everyday life, which is really important because Rome was the most important nation at the time, but Pompeii provided another reference, not only from the city of Rome.

You may be familiar with Pompeii, since it's more popular and well known, but an adjacent city, Herculaneum, was also buried by Vesuvius (as were other smaller villages in the area) and later rediscovered and it has been better preserved. Since Pompeii was discovered first, was a larger city, and very popular it has suffered from being mismanaged by excavators, the government, and the visitors. But Herculaneum has been very well taken care of by archaeologists and conservators.

“Pompeii is spectacular; Herculaneum more real,” said Judy Lawrence of England, who visited both sites this summer. “This place makes you cry.” (NY Times)

Today, some of the art pieces and texts extracted from Pompeii and Herculaneum are in museums, but most of it is still in the cities, preserved for the millions of visitors who go there every year.

To Read More:

- 25 Mind-blowing facts about the Pompeii destruction: List25.
- Herculaneum (Ercolano): A Buried Treasure: Life in Italy.

- Houses and Society in Pompeii and Herculaneum by A Wallace-Hadrill (Princeton University Press, 1994): at your local Library or

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

This is roundup of interesting, cool, and weird* things reported in the past week:

  • Woman wakes up to find this exotic animal cuddling on her chest. She screams, it screams back. MSN.
  • Woman says she is a cat trapped in a human body. NY Daily News.
  • Did you hear about the "strange lights" in Canberra, Australia? Another UFO hoax revealed: Doubtful News.
  • Real glow-in-the-dark critters: National Geographic.
  • Could these shapes in Mars have been caused by Microbes? Scientists are wondering: MSN.

* Yes, weird stuff happens virtually all the time. Doesn't mean aliens/ghosts/conspiracy did it.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Were or are unicorns real?
Many animals (like the dodo bird and dinosaurs) have been extinct for a long time but we do know they existed.
Is it possible that some horse-looking or large animal with a single horn ever roamed the earth?
YES! It’s possible.
Even today we have the rhinoceros and the narwhal, who are single-horn real animals.
The Indian Rhinoceros                                                              A Narwhal

But the possibility of a single-horn animal, does not automatically make the animal magical.
When people talk about unicorns, they usually refer to a supernatural being (a white horse with pointy horn) with magical powers.
That, most definitely DOES NOT EXIST.
It is not a creature of the gods, that lives in heaven, and comes to visit earth. Its horn does not purify or cure illnesses.

Why do some people believe that such a creature does exist?
Many of the early stories about unicorns come from Persia (modern Iran). As far back as 400 B.C. the Greek historian Ctesia wrote about unicorns being a “single-horned beast that came from India” . Around 700 B.C. Pliny the Elder also wrote about the “Monoceros”, an Indian beast with a stag’s head, elephant’s feet, boar’s tail, and the rest of the body like a horse. Neither Ctesia nor Pliny ever saw such a creature themselves, but they retold the stories and brought the myth to our Western world.
It is possible that the Indian rhinoceros or the narwhal were mistaken for unicorns. Tales were told and embellished more as people told others and the story got retold.
There has never been found remains or fossils or real evidence of unicorns.
Of course, if unicorns don’t exist, then their tears (and their supposed powers) don’t exist either.

To read more:
-          About the early stories about unicorns and where the myths come from: Today I Found Out.
-          Animals most likely mistaken for unicorns:
-          It’s a deer with deformity: National Geographic.
-          North Korea says unicorns are real (a case where you have to study the source and the reason for the claim, before you believe it):

Hamilton, John. Unicorns and Other Magical Creatures. 2005. ABDO Publishing Company, Edina Minnesota.