Virtual reality resurrects ancient Rome bit by bit

Gazing upon the splendours of ancient Rome is no longer a luxury reserved for visitors to the Italian capital, as temples opened their doors internationally with a digital project launched Wednesday after decades of planning.

Virtual reality resurrects ancient Rome bit by bit

Credit: Rome Reborn Virtual Reality Project/Flyover Zone Productions/AFP

The Rome Reborn tour is the first to show users over 7,000 buildings and monuments from the year AD 320, allowing both those with Virtual Reality goggles or just a computer to explore over 14 square kilometres (five-and-a-half square miles).
“I first came up with the idea in 1974. I was determined to find a way to bring these wonderful monuments to the world, but the technology didn’t exist then,” the project’s director, digital archaeologist Bernard Frischer, told AFP.

“We had to redesign the model three times as technology advanced, but 22 years after we began, and three million dollars (2.6 million euros) later, we’re finally here,” he said.

Virtual reality resurrects ancient Rome bit by bit
Credit: Rome Reborn Virtual Reality Project/Flyover Zone Productions/AFP

Users can currently do a “fly-over” of ancient Rome as well as stop and explore two sites, the Roman forum and the Basilica of Maxentius and Constantine, designed with input from a team of archaeologists.
“We chose AD 320 because we have the most information for that period so we can be as accurate as possible, and after that the empire’s capital moved to Constantinople,” said 69-year-old Frischer.

“At the moment you can travel in a virtual hot air balloon over the ancient city, and teleport between different parts of historic sites to see them as they were and learn more about them.

“In the next two to three years we will add other key sites, such as the Colosseum and the Pantheon,” he said.
Users are able to switch between views of the monuments as they are now — the ruined remains — and as they were then.

The project is named after the words of 15th century papal secretary Flavio Biondo, who is the first documented person to have called for a reconstruction of ancient Rome.

Virtual reality resurrects ancient Rome bit by bit
Credit: Rome Reborn Virtual Reality Project/Flyover Zone Productions/AFP

Frischer, a classics scholar who teaches a PhD in Virtual Heritage, said users wearing virtual reality goggles would eventually be able to train together as gladiators in the Colosseum or race each other in chariots around the Circus Maximus.
Flyover Zone, the company behind Rome Reborn, plans to reconstruct Athens in the time of Socrates and Jerusalem in the period of Jesus Christ.

It is not the only project which allows people to see Rome as it was under various emperors, but those wanting to explore Nero’s Domus Aurea palace and the Caracalla thermal baths have to use virtual reality goggles on site.

Source: AFP [November 22, 2018]

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How Do You Like Your Turkey? Home-Cooked or Rocket-Launched?

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It’s Thanksgiving, which means that you’re probably thinking about food right now. And here at NASA, we have to think about food very seriously when we explore space!

Astronauts Need to Eat, Too!

Like for you on Earth, nutrition plays a key role in maintaining the health and optimal performance of the astronauts. The Space Food Systems team is required to meet the nutritional needs of each crew member while adhering to the requirements of limited storage space, limited preparation options, and the difficulties of eating without gravity. 

Good food is necessary being comfortable on a mission a long way from home — especially for crewmembers who are on board for many months at a time. It’s important that the astronauts like the food they’re eating everyday, even given the preparation constraints!

Astronaut Food Has Not Always Been Appetizing

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The early space programs were groundbreaking in a lot of ways — but not when it came to food. Like today, crumbs had to be prevented from scattering in microgravity and interfering with the instruments. Mercury astronauts had to endure bite-sized cubes, freeze-dried powders, and semi-liquids stuffed into aluminum tubes. The freeze-dried food were hard to rehydrate, squeezing the tubes was understandable unappetizing, and the food was generally considered to be, like spaceflight, a test of endurance.

However, over the years, packaging improved, which in turn enhanced food quality and choices. The Apollo astronauts were the first to have hot water, which made rehydrating foods easier and improved the food’s taste. And even the Space Shuttle astronauts had opportunities to design their own menus and choose foods commercially available on grocery store shelves. 

 The Wonders of Modern Space Food

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Nowadays, astronauts on the International Space Station have the opportunity to sample a variety of foods and beverages prepared by the Space Food Systems team and decide which ones they prefer. They can add water to rehydratable products or eat products that are ready to eat off the shelf.

All the cooking and preparation has been done for them ahead of time because 1) they don’t have room for a kitchen to cook on the space station 2) they don’t have time to cook! The crewmembers are extremely occupied with station maintenance as well as scientific research on board, so meal times have to be streamlined as much as possible. 

Instead of going grocery shopping, bulk overwrap bags (BOBs!) are packed into cargo transfer bags for delivery to the space station. Meal based packaging allows the astronauts to have entrees, side dishes, snacks, and desserts to choose from. 

Taste in Space

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The perception of taste changes in space. In microgravity, astronauts experience a fluid shift in their bodies, so the sensation is similar to eating with a headcold. The taste is muted so crewmembers prefer spicy foods or food with condiments to enhance the flavor. 

We Can’t Buy Groceries, But We Can Grow Food!

Growing plants aboard the space station provides a unique opportunity to study how plants adapt to microgravity. Plants may serve as a food source for long term missions, so it’s critical to understand how spaceflight affects plant growth. Plus, having fresh food available in space can have a positive impact on astronauts’ moods!

Since 2002, the Lada greenhouse has been used to perform almost continuous plant growth experiments on the station. We have grown a vast variety of plants, including thale cress, swiss chard, cabbage, lettuce, and mizuna. 

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And in 2015, Expedition 44 members became the first American astronauts to eat plants grown in space when they munched on their harvest of Red Romaine. 

Earthlings Can Eat Space Food, Too

To give you a clear idea of how diverse the selection is for astronauts on board the space station, two earthlings gave the astronaut menu a try for a full week. Besides mentioning once that hot sauce was needed, they fared pretty well! (The shrimp cocktail was a favorite.)

Space Technology for Food on Earth

Not only has our space food improved, but so has our ability measure food production on Earth. Weather that is too dry, too wet, too hot, or too cool can strongly affect a farmer’s ability to grow crops. We collaborated with the United States Agency for International Development to create a system for crop yield prediction based on satellite data: the GEOGLAM Crop Monitor for Early Warning.

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This map measures the health, or “greenness” of vegetation based on how much red or near-infrared light the leaves reflect. Healthy vegetation reflects more infrared light and less visible light than stressed vegetation. As you can see from the map, a severe drought spread across southern Mexico to Panama in June to August of this year. 

The Crop Monitor compiles different types of crop condition indicators — such as temperature, precipitation, and soil moisture — and shares them with 14 national and international partners to inform relief efforts.

Thanksgiving in Space 

Space food has certainly come a long way from semi-liquids squeezed into aluminum tubes! This year, Expedition 57 crewmembers Commander Alexander Gerst and Flight Engineer Serena M. Auñón-Chancellor are looking forward to enjoying a Thanksgiving meal that probably sounds pretty familiar to you: turkey, stuffing, candied yams, and even spicy pound cakes!

Hungry for More?

If you can’t get enough of space food, tune into this episode of “Houston, We Have a Podcast” and explore the delicious science of astronaut mealtime with Takiyah Sirmons. 

And whether you’re eating like a king or an astronaut, we wish everybody a happy and safe Thanksgiving!

Remains of ‘handless monk’ discovered by site of buried porpoise

The mystery surrounding a tiny island where a porpoise was apparently carefully buried in a medieval grave has deepened after the remains of a handless figure were unearthed.

Remains of 'handless monk' discovered by site of buried porpoise
Credit: Guernsey Archaeology

Archaeologists digging at a religious island retreat have been puzzling over the porpoise find for months, and the discovery of the figure, possibly a monk or drowned person, has added to the sense of wonder over what was taking place there half a millennium ago.

Results of tests on the porpoise have recently come back and suggest it was buried on the island of Chapelle Dom Hue, off the west coast of Guernsey, in the 15th century.

While the tests were being done, archaeologists spotted a human toe bone exposed in a cliff edge about 10 metres from the porpoise site. When they went back again, a foot had begun to appear as wind and rain eroded the cliff.

They began to dig and found a near-complete human skeleton. Philip de Jersey, a States of Guernsey archaeologist, said the body could be that of a monk as it was believed the island was used by residents from a nearby monastery seeking solitude.

De Jersey said the body was oriented roughly east to west, suggesting a Christian burial. Copper and bone buttons were found, possibly indicating that the person was probably clothed when buried.

The man was just 5ft and his skull was badly damaged. But the most intriguing detail is the lack of hands. De Jersey said: “He is lacking hands and wrist bones, which is mysterious. There are medical reasons a person could lose their hands such as leprosy but the toes are in such good condition it seems unlikely.”
It is also possible that the body was not formally buried but is that of a drowned person, possibly a sailor, that may have washed up on the island centuries ago and by chance been buried. De Jersey said: “It may be that it was a body that had been floating around and the hands had been nibbled. The feet might have had footwear on and so be protected.”

The bones would be analysed next year to try to find out more about the person – and any possible link to the porpoise, he said.

Quite why the porpoise was buried so carefully on the island is a mystery. The marine creatures were eaten in medieval times but it would have been easier to dispose of the remains in the sea, which is only a few metres from the site.

De Jersey said it was possible that a monk hid the body of the porpoise because he was not supposed to have it, or that the body was placed in the hole in salt to preserve it and had been forgotten.

Another intriguing theory is that the animal had some sort of religious significance to the people who used the island.

Author: Steven Morris | Source: The Guardian [November 22, 2018]

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