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A philosopher’s words emerge from charred, ancient scrolls

By Ashley Strickland, CNN

(CNN) — When Mount Vesuvius erupted nearly 2,000 years ago, volcanic debris buried Pompeii and created a city forever frozen in time.

Researchers consider the doomed metropolis to be one of the world’s most poignant archaeological sites.

Pompeii’s well-preserved expanse holds a multitude of finds that continue to surprise archaeologists as they unearth more of the lost city.

Intact items such as chariots, frescoes and even graffiti have shed light on what ancient Roman life was like in the prosperous resort before the cataclysmic event — and provided evidence of when the eruption occurred.

And now, researchers investigating artifacts from the neighboring city of Herculaneum are using new technology to peek beneath Vesuvius’ blanket of ash and mud to uncover more of history’s best kept secrets.

The wonder

Artificial intelligence has revealed the first nearly complete passages to be decoded from the charred, brittle Herculaneum scrolls.

The hundreds of burnt papyrus scrolls, which managed to survive Vesuvius’ eruption inside what experts believe was likely the house of Julius Caesar’s father-in-law, appear as though they could crumble at any moment.

But technological advances are making it possible to virtually unwrap the scrolls for the first time since AD 79, allowing papyrologists to translate the words of the philosopher Philodemus.

“(In these passages) he’s persuading the people who are listening to him to sort of relax, find good friendships, spend your time living in the moment and enjoying pleasures,” said Roger Macfarlane, a professor of classical studies at Brigham Young University.

Ocean secrets

It’s known as the most dangerous and terrifying part of the ocean.

The Drake Passage, spanning 600 miles (965 kilometers) wide, is squeezed between South America and Antarctica.

Landmasses help to slow storms that gather strength across oceans. But there is nothing to stop screaming winds, towering waves and the world’s strongest storms that whip up in the deep waters of the Drake.

The marine region’s underwater mountains intrigue scientists, and it’s a crossing that ship captains ferrying tourists must make — and they do it with a healthy dose of fear.

Fantastic creatures

A serene image of a polar bear napping on an iceberg off Norway’s Svalbard archipelago has received the Wildlife Photographer of the Year People’s Choice Award.

“Whilst climate change is the biggest challenge we face, I hope that this photograph also inspires hope; there is still time to fix the mess we have caused,” said British amateur photographer Nima Sarikhani, who took the image.

The winning photo will be on display until June 30 at London’s Natural History Museum, along with finalist images showcasing a sweet moment of lion parenting and glowing moon jellyfish beneath the northern lights.


Australian scientists have discovered an unlikely ally in their quest to track endangered species: spiders.

Not only do the fine webs spun by the eight-legged critters trap prey such as flies, the silken structures also are capturing environmental DNA.

When researchers collected spiderwebs from Western Australia’s Perth Zoo and the Karakamia woodland sanctuary, they were able to identify genetic material from 93 animals.

“With only trace amounts of DNA needed to identify animals, this cheap and non-invasive method could be a game-changer in how we explore and protect our terrestrial biodiversity,” said Joshua Newton, a doctoral student at Curtin University’s School of Molecular and Life Sciences.

Meanwhile, a new finding could explain why insects cluster beneath bright artificial lights at night — and it’s not because they’re drawn to the glow like “moths to a flame.”

Other worlds

Mimas, one of Saturn’s tiniest moons, is known for a giant crater that gives the satellite an uncanny resemblance to the Death Star from the “Star Wars” films.

Now, astronomers think the cratered chunk of ice orbiting Saturn has a deep secret: a hidden ocean.

An international team of researchers analyzed data collected from NASA’s Cassini mission and noticed that Mimas’ spin and orbital motion have changed over time likely due to the presence of a global ocean beneath its icy crust.

The study team was surprised to discover that the ocean is relatively young, astronomically speaking, at only 5 million to 15 million years old. Mimas could change the way scientists understand ocean worlds across our solar system, which may harbor life beyond Earth.


Share these fascinating reads with your friends:

— Archaeologists unearthed an ancient burial site, including a rare wooden bed used in a Roman funeral, during excavations in the heart of London.

— The PACE mission launched this week to study the “invisible universe” of Earth’s microscopic marine life and atmospheric particles from space.

— A “super-Earth”— plus evidence of a second Earth-size planet — has been spotted orbiting in the habitable zone of a star 137 light-years away.

— Researchers found a fresh clue that sheds light on how microscopic tardigrades, also called water bears, are able to survive in some of Earth’s most challenging environments.

— Curious about what April’s total solar eclipse will look like in your city? Check out our interactive map to see how much of the sun’s face will be blocked, based on your location.

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