Sunday, March 23, 2014

“Vimānas” / Flying Machines in the Sanskrit Epics 0f Early India

Practically every Hindu and Buddhist in the world (we’re talking hundreds of millions of people here) has heard of the ancient flying machines referred to in the Ramayana and other texts as Vimānas.

Vimāna (pronounced—Vi+māna) is a word with a number of possible meanings ranging from temple or palace to mythological flying palaces described in the epics of Sanskrit. 

You might say the epics referenced here are lengthy narrative poems, ordinarily concerning a serious subject containing details of events important to a culture or nation. To take things a step further, the ancient Sanskrit Epics, incorporated into both the Ramayana and the Mahabharata Epics, may be termed the “History” or “Great Compositions”, referring to epic poems that form a canon or rule of early Hindu scripture; and we all know that “Sanskrit” is an ancient language of India that is used mainly in literature and Hindu religious writings.

The forerunners of the flying Vimanas described in the Sanskrit Epics are typically referred to as “flying chariots” that were used by various “gods”.  The first flying Vimāna mentioned in Hindu texts was the vehicle used by the king of Sri Lanka in the Ramayana. It was described as follows:“The Pushpaka [“flowery”] Vimana that resembles the Sun and belongs to my brother was brought by the powerful Ravana [the 10-headed king of the demons]; that aerial and excellent Vimana going everywhere at will ... that chariot resembling a bright cloud in the sky ... and the King [Rama] got in, and the excellent chariot at the command of the Raghira, rose up into the higher atmosphere.”

It’s not to terribly difficult to acknowledge that “Flying chariots,” “celestial cars,” “mechanical birds,” “winged vehicles,” or “aerial cities” were most common in ancient India. But then as we related in an earlier post (early October of 2011), chariots flown by gods are not unique to Indian epics. Other examples include the Greek god Apollo who flew the “Sun Chariot”; the mythological Persian king, Kay Kavus, piloted a “Flying Throne” to China; and Thor, of the Norse tradition, steered the “Chariot of Thunder”.

There’s far more to the notion of ancient flying machines. Most are accounts from ancient scriptures such as the Bible or other holy books. However the most impressive and detailed description of all must be the ancient Indian flying machines or Vimānas
described in the ancient Sanskrit Epics. As indicated above, writings about these machines can be found in many Indian scripts.  In 1875, the Vymaanika-Shaastra, a fourth century BC text which is an ancient Hindu manuscript purporting to be an ancient document on the construction and use of flying machines, was discovered in a temple in India. The book dealt with the operation of ancient Vimānas and included information on steering, precautions for long flights, protection of the airships from storms and lightning, and how to switch the drive to solar energy, or some other “free energy” source, possibly some sort of “gravity drive.”

In fact, the ancient Indians wrote entire “flight manuals” on the care and control of various types of Vimānas. The Samara Sutradhara is a scientific publication dealing with every possible aspect of air travel in a Vimāna; there you’ll find no less than 230 stanzas dealing with construction, take-offs, cruising for thousands of miles, normal and forced landings, and even what to do when a collusion with birds occur!

Writings vary as to the type of fuel these aircraft used, some assert that the Vimānas operated on a mercury powered vortex engine; others describe a yellow liquid. In the Vymaanika-Shaastra text referenced above, which claims its sources are from ancient writings, there is dialog about three types of flying machines; in addition, 31 parts for these vehicles and 16 materials are described that have been used in their construction. The “ancient” named Bharadvajy the Wise who used prior / earlier scientific texts as his source described about 70 experts and 10 specialists with aerospace proficiency. Here, the Vimanas purportedly “traveled with the speed of wind” and “gave forth a melodious sound”.

The fact of the matter is that aerial battles and chases are common in ancient Hindu literature too, but what, you might ask, did these airships look like.   

Basically there were two different types of Vimāna. The first was possibly “man-made” and had wings; you might say these flying machines are very much like our modern airplanes, the second is a non-aerodynamic shaped, disc-like or cylinder-
shaped craft most likely not made by human beings. These particular aircrafts (disc-like) were capable of astonishing maneuvers by today’s standards and are generally associated with modern UFO’s.

The ancient Mahabharata, one of the two major Sanskrit Epics of ancient India, speaks of a Vimāna as “an aerial chariot with sides of iron and clad with wings.”  In the Ramayana Epics (second of the Sanskrit Epics) a Vimāna is described as a double-decked, circular (cylindrical) aircraft with portholes and a dome. Here too it was said to fly with the “speed of the wind”, and generated a “melodious sound”. 

Vimānas are mentioned even today in standard Indian literature and media reports. An article titled “Flight Path” by the Indian journalist Mukul Sharma appeared in the major newspaper, The Times of India, on April 8, 1999 which talked about Vimānas and ancient warfare.  So, you might say according to some interpretations of surviving epics, India’s “future” seems to have happened a long time ago.  

And why not . . . in 1997 someone actually built a scaled-up radio controlled (RC)
version of the “object” depicted here.   However this RC model included the additions of an engine and a propeller. You might say the flight tests were quite successful; in fact the radio controlled aircraft not only flew but performed several airborne loops, rolls and other maneuvers, and then finished up with a perfect landing.



Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Spheres of Costa Rica Re-examined

You may recall the Post titled “Artifacts That Baffle Modern Man” a bit more than two years past (late February 2012) which in part quantified that “in the 1930’s, hundreds of stone spheres were found scattered throughout the Diquis Delta of Costa Rica in Central America, ranging from a few centimeters (1 centimeter = 2.54ths  of an inch) to over 2 meters (6.5 feet) in diameter and weighing as much as 15 tons. The spheres are near perfect in shape.  Dating estimates, range from 200 BC all the way up to 1500 AD”.

The ancient stone spheres of Costa Rica were made famous by the original sequence of “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” when a mockup of one of the enigmatic relics almost crushed Harrison Ford (Indiana Jones).

Most archeologists believe the stones were first created around 600 A.D., and dating to after 1,000 A.D. sometime before the Spanish conquest.  You see, the spheres are dated in the pottery style so radiocarbon dates are associated with archeological deposits found in very close proximity to the stone spheres.   The biggest problem with this methodology may be that it often gives the latest or most probable use of the sphere but it will not establish when it was made. The bottom line is that these objects may have been used for centuries before they were left sitting for the past thousand years or so.   This alone makes it very difficult to say exactly when they were completed. 

Although we may not have yet determined when or why these mysterious stones were made, most research suggests the primary “design technique” that was used was pecking, grinding, and hammering with other stones. Though most of the stones display obvious signs of erosion, some spheres that have been found still have what appear to be marks from the blows of hammer stones. For this reason it’s generally thought that that’s how they were formed, by hammering on big rocks and sculpting them into a spherical shape.

The simple truth is that the people generally thought to have made them didn’t leave written records. Therefore we only have archeological data to try to reconstruct the circumstance which brought about their creation.  Wouldn’t you know it; the culture of the people who are believed to have made them became extinct shortly after or just before the Spanish conquest.

(Left) Stone Sphere Located on the University of Costa Rica’s Campus

Just as you’d expect there are several other schools of thought that surround the stones, such as they came from Atlantis, or that they are really “freaks” of nature. Some local legends even claim that the native inhabitants had access to a potion of some mysterious sort which enabled them to soften the rock for sculpting.  Believe it or not, research led by Joseph Davidovits of the Geopolymer Institute in France, has lent some support of this later theory, but it is not supported by geological or archaeological evidence.

‘Ancient’ locals often say that the stone spheres were “Tara’s cannonballs”. Tara (Tlatchque), don’t you know, was the god of thunder who used a giant blowpipe to shoot the balls at the Serkes (the wind and hurricane gods) when they tried to enter the region.

It has been claimed that the spheres are perfect, or very near perfect in roundness, but some spheres are known to vary by at least 5 centimeters (2) in diameter. In any case the stones have been damaged and eroded over the years, and therefore it’s impossible to know exactly what their original shape was.  Never the less, a safe bet is that the original design was oval; which lends some credibility to the “cannonball” theory.

Some say the most outrageous theory may be that humans didn’t have the ability to make the near-perfect spherical shape absent some sort of undiscovered technology, so they must have been created with the help of aliens or the people of Atlantis.  However, common sense suggests this notion is not correct because we all know Ancient Aliens used Proton Torpedoes (not cannonballs) and there is no reason to suspect Atlantis was located anywhere near Costa Rica.  


Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Coal vs. Natural Gas

Coal’s Not King Anymore

Over the past several years, the US has experienced a shift away from Coal-fired power electric generation plants in favor of Natural Gas–fired power generation.

Most US power plants are powered by either Natural Gas or Coal through steam-powered turbines. The fossil fuels are used to heat a water supply which produces steam, which flows through a turbine to generate electricity. For more than twelve months now, Natural Gas has had a 28 percent market share in US power generation and Coal has had a 39 percent market share, totaling 67% of the overall market share between the two fossil fuels. The balance of US electricity is produced by nuclear, petroleum, and renewable sources such as Hydro, Wind, and Solar.

Many large coal-burning utilities have invested Billions of Dollars to install pollution-control equipment on their biggest coal-fired plants in their effort to meet EPA standards. However they are replacing or shutting down smaller coal plants for which such expenditures can’t be justified.  Several utilities, such as CMS Energy Corp. based in Jackson, Michigan are backing away from coal projects because the recession is giving them more breathing room to figure out other ways to meet future energy needs such as buying electricity from other companies.      Progress Energy Inc. of Raleigh, N.C., plans to close four coal-burning plants and replace two of them with gas-fired plants by 2017. The bottom line: The Company (Progress Energy) says it’s cheaper to build gas-fired plants than it is to outfit the Coal powered units with the necessary pollution-control equipment.

Large US Companies like American Electric Power Co (AEP), based in Columbus, Ohio and Duke Energy Corp. (Duke) of Charlotte, N.C are trying to find ways to use coal more cleanly. But they have each suffered several setbacks; political and otherwise.

Because of circumstances like these, Coal-burning facilities are expected to continue to slip in the years to come, so says the U.S. Energy Information Administration.   Natural Gas, on-the-other-hand, is expected to soar dramatically; primarily, many economists say, because of price.

Falling prices, to a bit more than $3.50 per one million British thermal units (BTUs), has helped Natural Gas capture an ever-increasing share of the power generation market. Hardly a week goes by without a power generating company announcing plans that push Coal to the wayside; typically in favor of Natural Gas.

Natural Gas has the edge in Europe as well.   For example in 2009, far more Natural Gas-burning plants than Coal-burning plants were built in the European Union—24 percent more new capacity versus 8.7 percent respectively.

However in China and India, no such shift is occurring. Both nations rely on coal (an abundant local resource) for most of their electric power source and they lack the sort of unified gas pipeline networks that has made switching to Natural Gas possible in the U.S. and Europe.  It’s worth mentioning that China’s government has pledged to roughly double the percentage of electricity the country gets from non-fossil fuel sources, from 8% to 15%, by 2020; and India has agreed to cut its carbon emissions by 20% below 2005 levels by 2020. But let’s not get our hopes to high because the country (India) doesn’t have enough domestic Natural Gas to support a large-scale shift to that type of fossil fuel.

Historically, when natural gas supplies appeared to be declining and market prices increasing, utilities started building Coal-fired plants.  However in recent years the nations glut of Natural Gas unleashed by hydraulic fracturing coupled with the resulting low prices make it seem like a no-brainer: Ditch Coal-fired electric plants, and all the excess baggage associated with both air pollution & water consumption, and switch to Natural Gas. Trends over the past few years suggest that’s starting to happen nationally, as Natural Gas seems destined to overtake Coal for generating electricity.

Since mid-2010, Natural Gas prices have rarely touched above $4.00 per MMBtu (millions of British thermal units). The exception: During times of crises or during and just after natural disasters such as hurricane Katerina in late August and September of 2005.  Many of us may recall that from 2005 through 2008, natural gas prices were extremely unstable; but mostly high, trading generally ranged from $6 to nearly $16 per MMBtu (million British thermal units).

Natural Gas prices have been depressed over the past few years mostly due to a huge influx of production. This production resulted from the growing use of technologies in the US such as horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, which made areas that were previously unprofitable more economically viable.

In all fairness to the Natural Gas Industry, there are several benefits beyond low prices that we should consider that I’ve borrowed from a National Geographic Quiz:

On average, power plants that run on natural gas emit half as much carbon dioxide, less than a third of the nitrogen oxides, one percent of the sulfur oxides, and much lower levels of mercury than plants that burn coal.

Coal-burning power plants are responsible for more than 50% of human-caused releases of mercury in the U.S.

The top three coal producers are China, the United States, and India. The biggest natural gas producers are the United States, Russia, Canada, and Iran.

The world has an estimated 948 billion short tons (2,000 lbs. = 1 Short Ton) of coal in the ground and 850 trillion cubic meters of recoverable natural gas reserves.

About 100,000 Americans have died in accidents in coal mines over the past hundred years. The deadliest year was 1907, when 3,242 deaths occurred. Thanks to safety improvements, the death toll has dropped steadily, but it remains higher in developing countries.

When you consider that about 40% of the world’s electricity is generated by burning Coal, while about 21% is generated by burning Natural Gas (a number that’s projected to increase dramatically in the immediate future), we can only hope that the past few years of declining prices are a good measure of things to come.  But then Natural Gas prices have already climbed more than 30% in 2014, due largely to depleted inventories and higher demand as bitterly cold temperatures grip much of the nation. Natural Gas hit a five year peak of $6.15 on February 19th.

And then there’s this: “Rising political tensions in Ukraine spilled over to global energy markets Monday (03/03/14), pushing crude oil prices to their highest levels of 2014”. Do you think this on-going event might affect Natural Gas prices?  Maybe investing in Clean Coal Technology is a good idea after all.

The truth is that nobody’s going to tear down a Half-Billion-Dollar Coal-fired plant to put in a new Natural Gas plant; just because Natural Gas is slightly cheaper, fact is, in a recent analysis, it was predicted that no more than 20 percent of Coal-fired electric power plants nationally will shift to Natural Gas over the next 20 years.  So you might call the coming transition a “slow death” for King Coal.