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Category Archives: Humor and Observations

Did Van Gogh shoot himself? Auction of pistol reignites debate.

The auction of a pistol said to have been used by the painter Vincent van Gogh to shoot himself has reignited a debate about who actually pulled the trigger: Did Van Gogh commit suicide, or was he shot by someone else?

The gun will be auctioned in France on Wednesday (June 19), where it’s expected to sell for more than $50,000.

For years, most Van Gogh experts have accepted the explanation that he shot himself in the chest with a pistol in a suicide in July 1890. [30 of the World’s Most Valuable Treasures That Are Still Missing]

Such a gun was found more than 70 years later, in a field near the French farming village of Auvers-sur-Oise where Van Gogh died, and it has widely been accepted as the weapon he used to shoot himself.

Van Gogh lived on for 30 hours before dying from the wound. His last words, according to his brother Theo, were “the sadness will last forever.”

In the years since his death, the Dutch expressionist painter, who cut off his left ear in a dispute with the painter Paul Gauguin has become the archetype of a despairing, suicidal artist overcome by depression.

But in 2011, biographers Gregory White Smith and Steven Naifeh argued that Van Gogh didn’t shoot himself, but was shot accidentally by 16-year-old René Secrétan, who was spending the summer in the village.

According to their biography “Van Gogh: The Life” (Random House, 2011), Secrétan and his brother both befriended and bullied Van Gogh when he stayed at Auvers — and that Secrétan possessed the gun involved.

Based on a number of lingering mysteries about the last hours of Van Gogh’s life, the authors proposed that the artist was shot during a scuffle with Secrétan; then, he implied that he had shot himself, in order to cover for the boys, they wrote in an essay in Vanity Fair.

The theory that Van Gogh was shot by another is disputed by some experts on the life of the artist. But Naifeh told Live Science that he was more convinced than ever that Secrétan shot Van Gogh.

Mystery weapon

The gun being auctioned in Paris next week is a Belgian-made 7mm Lefaucheux revolver — a popular small caliber handgun at that time.

The gun matches the description of the 7mm bullet taken from Van Gogh’s body by his doctor, and it is theorized that its low power may be why Van Gogh didn’t die immediately but staggered back to his hotel with the bullet still lodged in his chest.

The pistol was found by a farmer in 1965 — 75 years after Van Gogh’s death — in a field at Auvers, badly corroded and beyond use. It was then given to the family who owned the hotel where Van Gogh died.

Grégoire Veyrès, the auctioneer for Auction Art who is conducting the sale, told Live Science that an investigation by the writer Alain Rohan determined that the corroded weapon had been buried in the ground for at least 50 years. [In Photos: Van Gogh Masterpiece Reveals True Colors]

Rohan’s investigative work was accepted as valid by the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, which displayed the gun in a 2016 exhibition about the artist’s mental illness, Veyrès said.

According to Van Gogh expert Martin Bailey, who writes regularly on the artist for the Art Newspaper in London, the gun is accepted among many Van Gogh scholars as the weapon that he used to take his own life.

Death debated

According to Van Gogh expert Martin Bailey, who writes regularly on the artist for the Art Newspaper in London, the gun is accepted among many Van Gogh scholars as the weapon that he used to take his own life.

“I believe it highly likely, although not certain, that it is the actual gun,” Bailey told Live Science, adding that the Van Gogh Museum had also stated there was a “strong possibility” that this was the gun he used.

While the 2011 biography by Smith and Naifeh was “excellent,” he said, many Van Gogh experts didn’t accept their theory.

“I am convinced that it was suicide, not murder or manslaughter,” he said. “Van Gogh’s family and close friends believed it was suicide.”

Naifeh, who won a Pulitzer Prize with Smith in 1991 for their biography of the American painter Jackson Pollock, said his discussions with forensic experts had strengthened his belief that Secrétan shot the artist.

“I have only become more convinced that it is more likely that he was shot in a scuffle than that he wasn’t,” he told Live Science.

Naifeh noted that there was no evidence linking the gun either to Van Gogh or to the manner of his death.

“What forensic evidence is there to tie Vincent van Gogh to this gun? And, even if there were forensic evidence tying Vincent to this gun, what does this say about who pulled the trigger?” he asked: “Those are the two big questions, and I do not see any answers.”

Although Van Gogh is one of the most famous artists in the world — one of his paintings of a farmed field, completed a year before his death, sold for $81 million in 2017 — he sold only one painting during his lifetime, for 400 francs.

The most expensive Van Gogh painting to date was sold for $82 million in 1990, the “Portrait of Dr. Gachet” from 1890. Gachet was the doctor who would ultimately attend his death later that year.

Original article on Live Science.

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Scientists develop new laser that can find and destroy cancer cells in the blood

Cancer cells can spread to other parts of the body through the blood. And now, researchers have developed a new kind of laser that can find and zap those tumor cells from the outside of the skin.

Though it may still be a ways away from becoming a commercial diagnostic tool, the laser is up to 1,000 times more sensitive than current methods used to detect tumor cells in blood, the researchers reported June 12 in the journal Science Translational Medicine.

If the tests do come back positive, that typically means there’s a high concentration of circulating tumor cells in the blood; at that point, the cancer has likely spread widely to other organs and it’s often “too late to effectively treat patients,” Zharov added. [Top 10 Cancer-Fighting Foods]

Years ago, Zharov and his team came up with the idea of an alternate, noninvasive method to test larger quantities of blood with a greater sensitivity. Taking the familiar route, they tested it in the lab, then on animals and recently brought it to clinical trials in humans.

The new technology, dubbed the Cytophone, uses pulses of laser light on the outside of the skin to heat up cells in the blood. But the laser only heats up melanoma cells — not healthy cells — because these cells carry a dark pigment called melanin, which absorbs the light. The Cytophone then uses an ultrasound technique to detect the teensy, tiny waves emitted by this heating effect.

They tested the technology on 28 light-skinned patients who had melanoma and on 19 healthy volunteers who didn’t have melanoma. They shone the laser onto the patients’ hands and found that within 10 seconds to 60 minutes, the technology could identify circulating tumor cells in 27 out of 28 of those volunteers.

Finding and killing tumor cells

The device didn’t return any false positives on the healthy volunteers, and it didn’t cause safety concerns or side effects, they said. Melanin is a pigment that is normally present in the skin, but skin cells aren’t harmed, Zharov said. Even though the skin produces melanin naturally, this laser technique doesn’t harm those cells. That’s because the laser light exposes a relatively a large area on the skin (so it’s not focused enough on individual skin cells to damage them), while the laser energy is more concentrated on the blood vessels and circulating tumor cells, he added.

Unexpectedly, the team also found that after the treatment, the cancer patients had fewer circulating tumor cells. “We used a relatively low energy” with the primary purpose of diagnosing rather than treating the cancer, Zharov said. Yet, even at that low energy, the laser beam seemed able to destroy the cancer cells.

Here’s how it works: As the melanin absorbs the heat, the water around the melanin inside the cells begins to evaporate, producing a bubble that expands and collapses, mechanically destroying the cell, Zharov said.

“Our goal is by killing these cells, we can help prevent the spreading of metastatic cancer,” he said. But he hopes to conduct more research to optimize the device further to kill more tumor cells, while still being harmless to other cells.

They also haven’t yet tested the device on people with darker skin, who have higher levels of melanin. Even so, only a very small percentage of African Americans get melanoma.

The team hopes to expand the technology to find circulating tumor cells released by cancers other than melanoma. These cancer cells don’t carry melanin, so to detect them, the researchers would first need to inject the patients with specific markers or molecules that would bind to these cells so that they can be targeted by the laser. They have so far demonstrated that this technique could work on human breast cancer cells in the lab.

Originally published on Live Science.

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Plans to ‘hack Earth’s weather’ could start World War 3, scientists warn

Climate change may end up causing World War 3 if individual countries start to try and save themselves by hacking the weather with a process called geoengineering.

Many experts are in favor of geoengineering, which involves manipulating the atmosphere by blocking sunlight or isolating excess carbon, but weather hacking in one region could have negative impacts in another and lead to global conflict, according to scientists.

When speaking on the sun blocking topic, geoengineering researcher Juan Moreno-Cruz told Business Insider: “The threat of war never is out of the question.”

If geoengineering is going to happen then all countries would have to be informed and agree because some areas may be more negatively affected than others.

Andrea Flossmann, a scientist at the World Meteorological Organization, explained in a WMO report: “The atmosphere has no walls. What you add may not have the desired effect in your vicinity, but by being transported along might have undesired effects elsewhere.”

Earth’s temperatures are set to soar to dangerous levels so a lot of scientists think the unknown consequences of geoengineering are worth the risk.

The worse case scenario is that Earth’s atmospheric chemistry is irreversibly altered and causes freak weather conditions like monsoons, hurricanes and heatwaves that could kill thousands and increase global tensions.

However, geoengineering may be the only way to reach the goals for reducing climate change set out in the Paris agreement and so many countries may agree to trial it anyway.

This story originally appeared in The Sun.

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People smoked pot to get high 2,500 years ago, study says

Getting high on marijuana may not be a modern pastime, as archaeologists have found the earliest clear evidence to date that people were smoking cannabis for its psychoactive properties some 2,500 years ago.

They found evidence of burned cannabis with high levels of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) (the cannabis ingredient responsible for the high) on 10 wooden incense burners, known as braziers; the burners were found alongside eight human burials at an ancient site known as Jirzankal Cemetery (also called Quman Cemetery) on the Pamir Plateau of western China.

One of the tombs that archaeologists excavated on the Pamir Plateau.

One of the tombs that archaeologists excavated on the Pamir Plateau. (Xinhua Wu)

The burners all carried a mystery residue, which a chemical test soon revealed to be cannabis. “To our excitement, we identified the biomarkers of [cannabis],” study co-researcher Yimin Yang, a professor in the department of archaeology and anthropology at the University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, told reporters at a news conference. [25 Odd Facts About Marijuana]

Researchers have known for decades that ancient people in eastern China cultivated cannabis as long ago as 3500 B.C. But this cannabis was grown as an oil-seed and fiber crop, and so it had low psychoactive properties. In other words, the ancient people harvesting cannabis for these purposes probably weren’t smoking or ingesting it for its high.

The cannabis residues found in the braziers, however, tell another story. It’s likely that ancient people purposefully selected cannabis plants with high THC levels and then smoked them as part of a ritual or religious activity associated with these burials, “perhaps, for example, aimed at communicating with the divine or the deceased,” the researchers wrote in the study.

Ancient cemetery

Archaeologists began excavating Jirzankal Cemetery in 2013, and were intrigued to find the braziers, which held heating stones. To determine what these ancient people had burned, the archaeologists partnered with Yang’s team, which used a technique known as gas chromatography mass spectrometry (GC/MS) to analyze the chemical residues on the braziers.

In the first test, the researchers found biomarkers of cannabis on the internal charred wood of a brazier. Then, they analyzed an ancient sample of cannabis from the 2,500-year-old Jiayi Cemetery in Turpan, China, where the plant was found laid across a man’s chest as a burial shroud. This test showed preserved components of cannabis, including cannabinol (CBN), cannabidiol (CBD) and cannabicyclol (CBL).

While THC does not preserve well, CBN is a good indicator that it’s present. Intriguingly, the researchers found ample CBN on the wooden braziers and on two of the stones, indicating that its THC levels were higher than those typically found in wild plants. As a control, they tested samples from the outside of the braziers, but didn’t find any cannabinoids.

Of note, the burials are more in line with the ancient mortuary practices from ancient Central Asia, including the modern-day countries of Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, than they are from China, the researchers said.

Where did the psychoactive pot come from?

Most wild cannabis, as well as early cultivated varieties of the plant, contain low levels of psychoactive compounds. So where did this high-THC variety come from?

The researchers have two main ideas. Perhaps a wild variety of pot with high psychoactive levels arose naturally, and then humans found and cultivated it. “I agree that humans are always going to be looking for wild plants that can have effects on the human body, especially psychoactive effects,” study co-researcher Robert Spengler, the laboratory director at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Germany, told reporters.

How did cannabis with high THC levels come about? Given that Jirzankal Cemetery is high up in the mountains — more than 9,800 feet (3,000 meters) above sea level — perhaps the plants encountered stressors there that led them to create more psychoactive properties, the researchers said.

In this line of thinking, the extreme mountain environment — such as low temperatures, low nutrient availability, high exposure to ultraviolet rays and strong light intensity — may have caused the plants to change how they produced or metabolized certain compounds, which could lead to the creation of greater amounts of psychoactive compounds, the researchers said.

“This is potentially linking these plants — the plants with higher THC production — to higher elevation,” Spengler said. “But that’s all fairly theoretical, so we really cannot pinpoint exactly what the mechanisms for the higher THC level are.”

Another idea is that humans — either intentionally or inadvertently — played a role in increasing the plant’s psychoactive properties. Perhaps people bred different marijuana plants that led to varieties with higher THC levels.

“Some of them may have been rapidly domesticated by humans simply moving them or transporting them [along trade routes such as the silk road] … from the Caucasus all the way to East Asia,” Spengler said. “So, it’s possible that humans were still inflicting evolutionary changes on these plants without actually intensively cultivating them.”

That said, it’s still an “open debate” whether the psychoactive pot occurred naturally, or whether humans played a role, he said.

The study is the latest to look at cannabis’s origins and historic uses. In May, another group of researchers posited that the cannabis plant likely originated high on the Tibetan Plateau, according to an analysis of fossil pollen. The new finding “provides yet another piece in the biomolecular archaeological puzzle of the ‘abiding mystery of Central Asia’ and its impact on human cultural and biological development through the millennia,” Patrick McGovern, the scientific director of the Biomolecular Archaeology Project at the Penn Museum in Philadelphia, who was not involved in the study, told Live Science. “Much more remains to be learned.”

The study was published online today (June 12) in the journal Science Advances.

Originally published on Live Science.

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Irony

Bullet Ridden Sign

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Stunning Monet unseen for 87 years eyes $44.6 million at auction

One month after Claude Monet’s “Meules” sold for a whopping $110.7 million at Sotheby’s New York, a beautiful painting of waterlilies that’s been in a private collection for 87 years is set for auction.

Part of Monet’s “Nymphéas” collection, the painting is expected to fetch up to $44.6 million next week when it goes on auction in London for the first time ever.

The Impressionist’s masterpieces have garnered record-breaking bids. His “Meules” raked in more than twice the high end of the estimate at Sotheby’s in New York last month, according to Forbes.

 

“Monet’s Nymphéas are among the most iconic and celebrated Impressionist paintings and their profound impact on the evolution of Modern Art marks them as Monet’s greatest achievement. The artist’s famous lily pond in his garden at Giverny provided the subject matter for most of his major later works, paintings whose significance in forging the path for subsequent artists is now fully recognized,” the Sotheby’s catalog copy states.

Claude Monet's Nymphéas (1908), oil on canvas. 

Claude Monet’s Nymphéas (1908), oil on canvas.  ((Sotheby’s London))

“The theme of waterlilies, that became Monet’s most celebrated series of paintings, recorded the changes in his style and his constant pictorial innovations. The present painting, which dates from 1908, is a powerful testament to Monet’s enduring vision and creativity in his mature years,” according to the famous auction house.

“This beautifully lyrical and softly ephemeral Nymphéas painted in 1908 is a timeless reflection of Monet’s vision and innovation,” Thomas Boyd-Bowman, head of Sotheby’s Impressionist and Modern Art Evening Sales in London, told Forbes. “Acquired in 1932, it has remained a hidden treasure in the same family collection for decades and will now make its very first appearance at auction.”

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Mysterious large mass discovered on Moon bewilders scientists: ‘Whatever it is, wherever it came from’

A large mass of unknown material has been discovered on the largest crater on the Moon and scientists aren’t sure what it is.

According to an April 2019 study published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, the researchers believe the mass could contain metal from an asteroid that crashed into the celestial satellite, which resulted in the aforementioned crater, known as the Lunar South Pole-Aitken basin.

“Imagine taking a pile of metal five times larger than the Big Island of Hawaii and burying it underground. That’s roughly how much unexpected mass we detected,” lead author Dr. Peter James, assistant professor of planetary geophysics at Baylor University, said in a statement.

 

At roughly 1,550 miles in diameter, the Lunar South Pole-Aitken basin stretches across approximately one-fourth of the Moon, according to NASA. The Moon’s circumference is roughly 11,000 kilometers.

This false-color graphic shows the topography of the far side of the Moon. The warmer colors indicate high topography and the bluer colors indicate low topography. The South Pole-Aitken (SPA) basin is shown by the shades of blue. The dashed circle shows the location of the mass anomaly under the basin. (Credit: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center/University of Arizona)

This false-color graphic shows the topography of the far side of the Moon. The warmer colors indicate high topography and the bluer colors indicate low topography. The South Pole-Aitken (SPA) basin is shown by the shades of blue. The dashed circle shows the location of the mass anomaly under the basin. (Credit: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center/University of Arizona)

In addition to being the largest crater on the Moon, the Pole-Aitken basin is also one of the largest known impact craters in the solar system and is thought to be approximately 4 billion years old.

James and his team looked at data from NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) mission and the changes in gravity they discovered surprised them.

“When we combined that with lunar topography data from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, we discovered the unexpectedly large amount of mass hundreds of miles underneath the South Pole-Aitken basin,” James said. “One of the explanations of this extra mass is that the metal from the asteroid that formed this crater is still embedded in the Moon’s mantle.”

The anomaly – “whatever it is, wherever it came from,” James added – is weighing down the basin floor by more than half a mile. The team of researchers ran computer simulations that show the iron-nickel core of an asteroid could have been placed into the upper mantle of the Moon following impact.

“We did the math and showed that a sufficiently dispersed core of the asteroid that made the impact could remain suspended in the Moon’s mantle until the present day, rather than sinking to the Moon’s core,” James noted.

One other possibility for the unexplained mass is that it could be an area where dense oxides compiled following the last stage of lunar magma ocean solidification.

Whatever it is, James said the basin is “one of the best natural laboratories for studying catastrophic impact events, an ancient process that shaped all of the rocky planets and moons we see today.”

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