Scientists unravel the mystery behind deadly cave once believed to be the gateway to hell


Scientists are unravelling the mystery behind a deadly cave the ancient Romans believed was the gateway to hell.

The gruesome grotto in the city of Hierapolis was said to instantly kill any creature that ventured into it – and experts may finally know how.

Poisonous gases emitted from the cave are believed to have suffocated the animals that were ritually sacrificed there, according to a 2018 study.

Dating back 2200 years, the sacred spot in modern day Turkey was unearthed by archaeologists from the University of Salento a decade ago.

It comprises a stone doorway leading to a cave-like grotto. The doorway is built into one wall of a square arena with raised seating around its edges.

Historical records show the site was used for grim religious ceremonies in which castrated priests led bulls to their deaths.

Crowds would watch as noxious fumes pouring from the gate as a visible mist asphyxiated the otherwise healthy cattle.

The priests who accompanied them, however, would return unharmed – seemingly spared by the Gods they served.

Researchers discovered the cave after spotting that birds flying near its entrance quickly dropped dead, meaning it’s just as lethal today.

In a 2018 paper, a team from University of Duisburg-Essen in Germany blamed the site’s toxic properties on underground volcanic activity.

The gate – named after Plutonium, or Pluto, the god of the underworld – is built directly above a deep fissure running beneath Hierapolis.

That fissure releases vast volumes of CO2. The research team measured the amount of the harmful gas that seeps out of the cave over time.

They found the chemical formed a “lake” that rose 40cm (15.75 inches) above the arena floor.

“In a grotto below the temple of Pluto, CO2 was found to be at deadly concentrations of up to 91 per cent,” scientists wrote in the journal Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences.

“Astonishingly, these vapours are still emitted in concentrations that nowadays kill insects, birds, and mammals.”

The gas is deadliest at dawn after a night of accumulating in the cave, and is dissipated by the sun in the daytime, researchers said.

The concentration was above 50 per cent at the bottom of the lake, rising to 35 per cent at 10cm – which could kill a human.

Above 40cm, however, levels of the gas dropped off dramatically.

Tourists would pay to buy small animals such as birds and sacrifice them at the site by throwing them from the stands, according to the paper.

On feast days, larger creatures would be sacrificed by the priests, who were tall enough to steer clear from the deadly CO2.

“While the bull was standing within the gas lake with its mouth and nostrils at a height between 60 and 90cm, the large, grown priests (galli) always stood upright within the lake caring that their nose and mouth were way above the toxic level of the Hadean breath of death,” the team wrote.

“It is reported that they sometimes used stones to be larger.”

The site was first described by Greek historians Strabo and Plinius as a gateway to the underworld.

“This space is full of a vapour so misty and dense that one can scarcely see the ground,” Strabo (64 BCE – 24 CE) wrote in one text.

“Any animal that passes inside meets instant death. I threw in sparrows and they immediately breathed their last and fell.”

Work at the historic site continues.

This article originally appeared on The Sun and was reproduced with permission



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Cathy McMorris Rodgers fights government control of broadband rates in expansion plan



House Democrats want to spend $100 billion to expand broadband internet to poor rural and inner-city communities and make permanent a COVID-19 program that pays $50 a month of the internet bill for low-income families while setting maximum prices that providers can charge in some cases.

The pandemic highlighted the importance of being able to afford online access for everyday activities such as going to school or seeing a doctor, President Biden and top Democrats on Capitol Hill say.

The issue fits into the Democrats’ priority of reducing racial inequity in the U.S. Studies show that Black and Hispanic families are less likely than White families to have broadband service at home.

Republicans say the proposed price controls and subsidies are more examples of the Democrats’ push for the biggest expansion of government since the New Deal.

“We all want to close the digital divide, but the only way to truly achieve this is to lead with solutions that drive results — not more government centralized power,” said Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington, the top Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which has jurisdiction over broadband expansion.

“The policies proposed by our Democratic colleagues and the Biden administration include federally regulating the rates that private companies can charge for broadband service,” she said.

Although 90% of Americans have access to internet connections that are fast enough to do homework, have video visits with doctors or stream movies, Democrats say rural school districts had to rig school buses with Wi-Fi so their students could do homework during the pandemic shutdowns.

“These are not luxuries. They’re necessities to participate in society,” Rep. Michael F. Doyle, a Pennsylvania Democrat on a key subcommittee examining the issue, said at a recent hearing.

The Democrats’ $100 billion Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act, sponsored by House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn of South Carolina and Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, includes $80 billion to subsidize the construction of high-speed internet in areas of the country that do not have it.

Mr. Biden also has proposed spending $100 billion in his $2.25 trillion American Jobs Plan to extend high-speed internet to all areas of the country.

Vice President Kamala Harris described high-speed internet as a basic necessity.

“We have a legacy of saying, ‘We are going to have a commitment, a national commitment, to making sure everyone has access to the basic things they need.’ Now in this year of our Lord 2021, that is broadband,” she said last month during a visit to Plymouth, New Hampshire, to tout the infrastructure plan.

Rural areas frequently lack the broadband service that’s prevalent in urban areas, but liberal groups promoting greater internet access argue that broadband providers don’t build high-speed internet in poorer urban neighborhoods because residents can’t afford it.

Critics call it “digital redlining.”

The term refers to a past practice by banks to not lend Blacks money to buy homes in certain areas, a practice that contributed to racial segregation.

Democrats and Republicans teamed up to include a $50 monthly subsidy to help low-income people pay for broadband service during the pandemic. The temporary benefit was in the $900 billion coronavirus relief package signed by President Trump in December.

The subsidy was not included in the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package that Mr. Biden signed in March. Congressional Democrats now want to make the subsidy permanent at an estimated cost of $6 billion over the next five years.

Mr. Biden’s plan and the congressional Democrats’ bill also would try to push companies to lower their rates by increasing competition. They would subsidize efforts by local governments to start their own internet service for residents. That, however, would involve the federal government overriding laws in 22 states that bar or discourage the creation of municipal broadband service.

Particularly alarming to Republicans and broadband companies is that congressional Democrats would take steps toward federal limits on internet service prices.

Under the House and Senate bills, the federal subsidies to expand internet service would come with strings attached. Broadband companies using the money would have to offer an “affordable option” for people making up to 136% of the federal poverty rate, which is about $26,500 for a family of four.

The Federal Communications Commission would set the price companies would have to charge.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo would go further.

Mr. Cuomo, a Democrat, in April signed into law a requirement that all broadband companies doing business in the state offer $15 high-speed internet service to 7 million low-income residents.

The cable industry fears that Mr. Biden hinted in his American Jobs Plan that he is open to government-regulated rates.

Mr. Biden floated the idea for internet price controls in a fact sheet outlining his infrastructure plan.

“Continually providing subsidies to cover the cost of overpriced internet service is not the right long-term solution for consumers or taxpayers,” it said. “Americans pay too much for the internet — much more than people in many other countries — and the president is committed to working with Congress to find a solution to reduce internet prices for all Americans.”

Michael Powell, head of the NCTA-The Internet and Television Association, an industry group representing cable companies offering broadband service, called price control proposals “misguided.”

The idea would be tied up in the courts for years, he said, leading to a “thorny, lengthy morass of complexity that would drag on for years.”

Meanwhile, he said, low-income people wouldn’t get any help during that time.

The industry is more supportive of continued federal subsidies for low-income customers, said Mr. Powell, a former chairman of the FCC.

Still, broadband access is a particularly attractive issue for Democrats and fits neatly into their agenda of addressing racial disparities.

According to the Pew Research Center, 80% of White adults in February had broadband service at home, compared with 71% of Black adults and 65% of Hispanic adults.

A memo prepared by the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Democratic staff said a disproportionate percentage of the roughly 15 million students who do not have the internet at home are Black, Hispanic or American Indian.

“As Congress works on President Biden’s American Jobs Plan, it is critical that we consider solutions to our nation’s infrastructure challenges that not only close the digital divide, but address historic inequities that have for far too long left behind Black, Hispanic, tribal and low-income communities,” Mr. Doyle said at the hearing. “These proposals represent the once-in-a-generation investment we need to address these deep-seated digital inequities in our society.”

George S. Ford, an economist at the FCC during the Clinton administration, told lawmakers that rate regulation could backfire.

Forcing companies to charge a lower price for low-income people would reduce how much they have to expand broadband service, said Mr. Ford, chief economist at the Phoenix Center for Advanced Legal & Economic Public Policy Studies, a Washington think tank that employs many former career staff with federal agencies.

Mrs. Rodgers said Republicans understand the importance of making it easier to get broadband service, whether “to work from home, educate their children, access health care, connect with loved ones and maintain their communities of worship.”

She said a better course than regulating rates or making the low-income subsidies permanent would be to leave the companies alone. She cited a study by the United States Telecom Association that broadband companies invested $1.78 trillion from 1996 through 2019 to build internet access. Mrs. Rodgers also questioned whether focusing on prices — either by regulating rates or continuing the subsidies — is the most effective way to allow more people to get online.

Mr. Ford agreed. He said that when the Census Bureau asked those without internet access at home in 2019 why they weren’t online, 60% said they weren’t interested and 18% said they couldn’t afford it or that it wasn’t worth the price.

“If you’re going to look at this as a price issue, you’re going to be disappointed in five years when it didn’t solve the problem,” he said.

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NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft begins its 2-year trip home with asteroid debris


With rubble from an asteroid tucked inside, a NASA spacecraft fired its engines and began the long journey back to Earth on Monday, leaving the ancient space rock in its rearview mirror.

The trip home for the robotic prospector, OSIRIS-REx, will take two years.

OSIRIS-REx reached asteroid Bennu in 2018 and spent two years flying near and around it before collecting rubble from its surface last fall.

The University of Arizona’s Dante Lauretta, the principal scientist, estimates the spacecraft holds between 200 grams and 400 grams of mostly bite-size chunks. Either way, it easily exceeds the target of at least 60 grams.

It will be the biggest cosmic haul for the U.S. since the Apollo moon rocks. While NASA has returned comet dust and solar wind samples, this is the first time it’s gone after pieces of an asteroid. Japan has accomplished it twice, but in tiny amounts.

WATCH | NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft collects asteroid sample:

A NASA spacecraft descended to an asteroid and momentarily touched the surface to collect a handful of cosmic dust. Michael Daly, lead scientist for the instrument that mapped the asteroid’s surface, answered some questions from two special guests.  18:44

Scientists described Monday’s departure from Bennu’s neighbourhood as bittersweet.

“I’ve been working on getting a sample back from an asteroid since my daughter was in diapers,” said NASA project scientist Jason Dworkin. “Now she’s graduating from high school, so it’s been a long journey.”

OSIRIS-REx was already nearly 300 kilometres from the solar-orbiting Bennu when it fired its main engines Monday afternoon for a fast, clean getaway.

Colorado-based flight controllers for spacecraft builder Lockheed Martin applauded when confirmation arrived of the spacecraft’s departure: “We’re bringing the samples home!”

Scientists hope to uncover some of the solar system’s secrets from the samples vacuumed last October from Bennu’s dark, rough, carbon-rich surface. The asteroid is an estimated 490 metres wide.

Bennu — considered a broken chunk from a bigger asteroid — is believed to hold the preserved building blocks of the solar system. The returning pieces could shed light on how the planets formed and how life arose on Earth. They also could improve Earth’s odds against any incoming rocks.

Although the asteroid is 287 million kilometres away, OSIRIS-REx will put another 2.3 billion kilometres on its odometer to catch up with Earth.

The SUV-sized spacecraft will circle the sun twice before delivering its small sample capsule to Utah’s desert floor on Sept. 24, 2023, to end the more than $800 million-mission. It launched from Cape Canaveral, Fla. in 2016.

The precious samples will be housed at a new lab under construction at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, already home to hundreds of kilograms of lunar material collected by the 12 Apollo moonwalkers from 1969 to 1972.

Scientists initially thought the spacecraft stored 1 kilogram of asteroid rubble, but more recently revised their estimate downward. They won’t know for certain how much is on board until the capsule is opened after touchdown.

“Every bit of sample is valuable,” Dworkin said. “We have to be patient.”



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Mark Zuckerberg should cancel ‘Instagram for kids’ plan, AGs say



A bipartisan group of 44 attorneys general has written to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg urging him to drop company plans for a version of Instagram for children under the age of 13, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey announced Monday.

The attorneys general in the letter said they are concerned about social media’s effects on the physical and emotional well-being of children, the potential for increased cyberbullying, possible vulnerability to online predators, and what they called Facebook‘s “checkered record” in protecting children on its platforms.

“It appears that Facebook is not responding to a need, but instead creating one, as this platform appeals primarily to children who otherwise do not or would not have an Instagram account,” said the letter, signed by the attorneys general of 40 states, the District of Columbia and three U.S. territories.

Children under 13 are technically not allowed to use the Instagram app in its current form due to federal privacy regulations. But Facebook in March confirmed a report by Buzzfeed News, saying it is “exploring a parent-controlled experience” on Instagram.

“It’s shameful that Facebook is ignoring the very real threat that social media poses to the safety and well-being of young children in an attempt to profit off of a vulnerable segment of our population,” Healey said in a statement.

Facebook in a statement Monday said it is simply “exploring” Instagram for kids and would make every effort to protect children and would not show advertising on such a platform.

“We agree that any experience we develop must prioritize their safety and privacy, and we will consult with experts in child development, child safety and mental health, and privacy advocates to inform it,” the company said. “We also look forward to working with legislators and regulators, including the nation’s attorneys general.”

Facebook also pointed out that it is a founding sponsor of the Digital Wellness Lab at Boston Children’s Hospital, launched in March to study the effects of digital technology on kids’ “brains, bodies, and behaviors.”

The effort of the attorneys general is backed by Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood.

Facebook faces a critical choice: will they plow ahead with their ill-conceived plan to ensnare young children, or will they listen to the growing chorus of parents, experts, advocates, lawmakers and regulators who are telling them that an Instagram kids’ site will undermine young children’s healthy development and right to privacy?” Executive Director Josh Golin said in a statement.

Facebook faced similar criticism in 2017 when it launched the Messenger Kids app, touted as a way for children to chat with family members and friends approved by parents.

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Now WhatsApp on desktop will work without an active mobile connection | Technology News


It functions in a way that after you log in to the recent beta builds of WhatsApp Web, users see a message that informs them that they don’t need to keep their phone connected to use WhatsApp’s desktop app, the web app, or Portal, according to the report. But only four devices will be able to use the feature at a time.





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Ransomware attacks rising across U.S., cybersecurity pros warn



Ransomware attacks are spiking in the United States and aimed at a wide range of targets, according to cybersecurity experts in the private sector and government.

The malicious software deployed by cyberattackers requires payment in exchange for restoring access to data or systems that are being held hostage.

The average number of monthly ransomware attacks in the U.S. has shot up in the last nine months, according to data gathered by the cybersecurity firm Check Point Research. The uptick started late last year, when the FBI said it had an increase in ransomware complaints during 2020’s final months. 

“In the Utilities sector in the U.S. we can see on average around 300 weekly cyberattacks [per] organization, while the global sector has around 650,” Ekram Ahmed, Check Point spokesperson, said in an email. “Furthermore, in recent weeks an average of 1 in every 88 Utilities organization in the U.S. suffered from an attempted ransomware attack, up by 34% compared to the average from the beginning of 2021.”

The spread of ransomware has coincided with the COVID-19 pandemic pushing more people online.

Brett Callow, threat analyst at software company Emsisoft, said he has observed the targets of ransomware becoming much bigger.

“In the last few years, ransomware has gone from mainly targeting [small and midsize businesses] to targeting much larger orgs, including governments and multinationals,” Mr. Callow said in an email.

Mr. Ahmed said Check Point had observed health care as the most targeted sector followed by the government. But the spread of ransomware is not limited to any one industry.

For example, the FBI on Monday formally attributed the ongoing cyberattack against Colonial Pipeline, a major supplier of U.S. fuel to “Darkside ransomware.”

The Georgia-based Colonial Pipeline Company has said it transports approximately 45% of all fuel consumed on the East Coast, including gasoline, diesel, home heating oil, jet fuel and fuel for the military.

Ransomware has also done damage at the local level, too. The Metropolitan Police Department in D.C., for example, fell victim to a ransomware attack last month as well.

“I think that what’s going on anecdotally is that attackers think that their time may be coming to an end with around the world governments thinking of cracking down more and more on these cybersecurity incidents and so they seem to be unleashing everything,” Matthew Prince, co-founder and CEO of security company Cloudflare, said on CNBC.

The U.S. federal government is among the governments reviewing its approach to cracking down on ransomware and deterring cyberattackers. Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers said last month that the Justice Department had witnessed a “very significant increase” in ransomware attacks.

The Justice Department set up a ransomware task force to review the issue with input from the national security division, criminal division, and U.S. attorneys offices, said Mr. Demers at an event hosted by the Project for Media & National Security at George Washington University in April.

Whether police, the pipeline company, and others choose to pay ransomware attackers for restored access to various data and systems remains to be seen. Depending on who is responsible for the ransomware attacks, payments could put the victims in a tricky legal situation if they run afoul of cyber-related sanctions.

Mr. Demers, however, noted last month that the Justice Department did not have a history of prosecuting many victims making hostage payments. He said prosecuting those making ransomware payments had the potential to put the government in a “more adverse posture” with the victims it may need to work alongside in the cyber realm in the future. 

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Be Aware! There is no link between 5G and COVID-19, DoT urges public not to be misled by baseless claims | Technology News


The telecom department on Monday asserted that there is absolutely no link between 5G technology and the spread of COVID, as it urged the public not to be misguided by baseless and false messages being circulated on social media platforms.

The claim that 5G trials or networks are causing coronavirus in India is “false” and without any scientific basis, an official release said.

The Department of Telecommunications (DoT) said several misleading messages are being circulated on various social media platforms, claiming that the second wave of coronavirus has been caused by the testing of the 5G mobile towers.

“…These messages are false and absolutely not correct…The general public is hereby informed that there is no link between 5G technology and spread of COVID-19 and they are urged not to be misguided by the false information and rumours spread in this matter. The claims linking the 5G technology with the COVID-19 pandemic are false and have no scientific basis,” it said.

The testing of the 5G network has not yet started anywhere in India, therefore the claim that 5G trials or networks are causing coronavirus in India is “baseless”, it contended.

“Mobile towers emit non-ionizing Radio frequencies having very minuscule power and are incapable of causing any kind of damage to living cells including human beings.

DoT has prescribed norms for exposure limit for the Radio Frequency Field (i.E. Base Station Emissions) which are 10 times more stringent than the safe limits prescribed by International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) and recommended by WHO (World Health Organization),” it said.

Outlining the initiatives already taken, the DoT said it has a well-structured process so that operators strictly adhere to these prescribed norms.

“However, any citizen having any apprehension about any mobile tower emitting radio waves beyond the safe limit prescribed by the department, a request for EMF measurements/testing can be made on Tarang Sanchar portal at https://tarangsanchar.Gov.In/emfportal,” the department said.

Last week, industry body COAI had expressed concern over false information and rumours linking 5G technology with the spread of COVID-19 and had dismissed the unsubstantiated and unverified claims in this regard.

Cellular Operators’ Association of India (COAI) said it came across multiple messages on social media platforms mentioning 5G spectrum trials as the probable cause of rising cases of COVID-19.

“We would like to clarify that these rumours are absolutely false. We urge people not to fall for such baseless misinformation,” SP Kochhar, Director General of COAI said in a statement last week.

Several nations have already rolled out 5G networks and people are using these services safely, COAI had emphasised.

COAI – whose members include Reliance Jio, Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea – had urged the public not to fall for fake messages in this regard.

The association had highlighted that telecom services are the lifeline for the nation, especially in the current times.

“In fact, these networks are keeping people safe by enabling work from home, online classes, e-health and online doctor consultations…Hundreds of millions of people depend on these networks to access real-time information when they need it the most,” COAI had pointed out. 

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