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iStock/Erin McCarthy
iStock/Erin McCarthy

The Weird Physics of H.P. Lovecraft’s "Corpse-City," R’lyeh

iStock/Erin McCarthy
iStock/Erin McCarthy

According to H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos, somewhere sunken in the South Pacific there is a “nightmare corpse-city” called R’lyeh, “built in measureless eons behind history by the vast, loathsome shapes that seeped down from the dark stars.” In his house in this city, the great old god Cthulhu waits, dead and dreaming, for his return to power. In The Call of Cthulhu,” Lovecraft’s most famous story, a crew of sailors accidentally discover a risen part of the city, an island with a “coast-line of mingled mud, ooze, and weedy Cyclopean masonry,” accidentally wake Cthulhu from his sleep, and are either killed or driven mad.

Even if you ignore the monstrous god waiting in its vaults, the architecture and landscape of R’lyeh are enough to test one’s sanity. Exploring the island, the sailors soon discover that “all the rules of matter and perspective seemed upset,” and they struggle to comprehend and describe their surroundings. “One could not be sure that the sea and the ground were horizontal, hence the relative position of everything else seemed phantasmally variable,” one of the sailors, Gustaf Johansen, wrote in his log. Even when they discover a simple door, the sailors couldn’t tell if it “lay flat like a trap-door or slantwise like an outside cellar-door” because the “geometry of the place was all wrong.”

Of course, none of it—the sailors, the city, the island, the dead-dreaming god—are real. If it was, though, would science be able to explain the weird geometry of the city? Benjamin Tippett, a theoretical physicist and mathematician at the University of New Brunswick, gave it a shot. His playful paper, “Possible Bubbles of Spacetime Curvature in the South Pacific,” is a lot of fun and reads like a mashup of a standard science paper and one of Lovecraft’s own stories. Tippett isn’t shy about pulling out the Lovecraftian adjectives and cites the various letters and documents that drive “The Call of Cthulhu” like another scientist might reference previous research. In the process, he sort of becomes a Lovecraftian narrator himself, a scholarly man digging a bit too far into forbidden knowledge on his way to developing what he calls a “unified theory of Cthulhu.”

After poring over the clues and descriptions left by Lovecraft’s characters and employing his “mad general relativity skills,” Tippett thinks that the geometry of R’lyeh was all wrong—not because the architecture curves and angles in strange ways, but because of the space the city occupies. R’lyeh, he says, lies in a “region of anomalously curved spacetime,” and the bizarre geometry of the buildings and changing alignment of the horizon are the consequences of the “gravitational lensing of images therein.” 

In a region of curved spacetime, Tippett explains, light doesn’t travel in reliably straight trajectories, so objects beyond the curved region appear warped and skewed, and the relative positions of two objects, or the flatness of a large object, in the region are difficult to discern. A visitor to R’lyeh, he says, would “see the outside world (and other distant objects upon the island) as if through a large fishbowl. Thus, the horizon would no longer be reliably straight, and the sun and moon would swing wildly through the sky depending on one’s position.”

Tippett thinks his “spacetime bubble hypothesis” can also explain the oddities of how time is perceived in R’lyeh, and maybe even address the “central myth of the Cthulhu cult.” Time, he says, passes slower inside an area of curved spacetime than it does outside of it. This time dilation is probably what allowed the sailor Johansen to “survive adrift at sea for nearly two weeks … in a state of helpless dementia.” It could also mean that Cthulhu, whose cultists describe him as dead and dreaming, neither alive nor truly dead, is simply “in a position where it does not feel the passage of time.” At the center of the spacetime bubble, the god could wait, unchanging, for aeons.

As to what caused or created the curved spacetime bubble surrounding R’lyeh, Tippett can only guess. “An exotic type of matter with which human science is entirely unfamiliar is required for such a geometry to exist,” he says. “Indeed, this is the very species of energy which is theoretically required to build a warp drive or a cloaking device. Only a people capable of crossing vast cosmic distances could have constructed Johansen’s bubble.” 

Or, as he says on his blog, “In proving Johansen wasn’t crazy I accidentally figure out that Cthulhu is probably real, responsible for the island … and I also figure out what he’s doing down there. Of course, as a brave man of science, I can’t go and admit that Cthulhu exists … but you can tell…”

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10 Things We Know About The Handmaid’s Tale Season 2
Hulu
Hulu

Though Hulu has been producing original content for more than five years now, 2017 turned out to be a banner year for the streaming network with the debut of The Handmaid’s Tale on April 26, 2017. The dystopian drama, based on Margaret Atwood’s 1985 book, imagines a future in which a theocratic regime known as Gilead has taken over the United States and enslaved fertile women so that the group’s most powerful couples can procreate.

If it all sounds rather bleak, that’s because it is—but it’s also one of the most impressive new series to arrive in years (as evidenced by the slew of awards it has won, including eight Emmy and two Golden Globe Awards). Fortunately, fans left wanting more don’t have that much longer to wait, as season two will premiere on Hulu in April. In the meantime, here’s everything we know about The Handmaid’s Tale’s second season.

1. IT WILL PREMIERE WITH TWO EPISODES.

When The Handmaid’s Tale returns on April 25, 2018, Hulu will release the first two of its 13 new episodes on premiere night, then drop another new episode every Wednesday.

2. MARGARET ATWOOD WILL CONTINUE TO HELP SHAPE THE NARRATIVE.

Fans of Atwood’s novel who didn’t like that season one went beyond the original source material are in for some more disappointment in season two, as the narrative will again go beyond the scope of what Atwood covered. But creator/showrunner Bruce Miller doesn’t necessarily agree with the criticism they received in season one.

“People talk about how we're beyond the book, but we're not really," Miller told Newsweek. "The book starts, then jumps 200 years with an academic discussion at the end of it, about what's happened in those intervening 200 years. We're not going beyond the novel. We're just covering territory [Atwood] covered quickly, a bit more slowly.”

Even more importantly, Miller's got Atwood on his side. The author serves as a consulting producer on the show, and the title isn’t an honorary one. For Miller, Atwood’s input is essential to shaping the show, particularly as it veers off into new territories. And they were already thinking about season two while shooting season one. “Margaret and I had started to talk about the shape of season two halfway through the first [season],” he told Entertainment Weekly.

In fact, Miller said that when he first began working on the show, he sketched out a full 10 seasons worth of storylines. “That’s what you have to do when you’re taking on a project like this,” he said.

3. MOTHERHOOD WILL BE A CENTRAL THEME.

As with season one, motherhood is a key theme in the series. And June/Offred’s pregnancy will be one of the main plotlines. “So much of [Season 2] is about motherhood,” Elisabeth Moss said during the Television Critics Association press tour. “Bruce and I always talked about the impending birth of this child that’s growing inside her as a bit of a ticking time bomb, and the complications of that are really wonderful to explore. It’s a wonderful thing to have a baby, but she’s having it potentially in this world that she may not want to bring it into. And then, you know, if she does have the baby, the baby gets taken away from her and she can’t be its mother. So, obviously, it’s very complicated and makes for good drama. But, it’s a very big part of this season, and it gets bigger and bigger as the show goes on.”

4. THE RESISTANCE IS COMING.

Just because June is pregnant, don’t expect her to sit on the sidelines as the resistance to Gilead continues. “There is more than one way to resist," Moss said. “There is resistance within [June], and that is a big part of this season.”

5. WE’LL GET TO SEE THE COLONIES.

A scene from 'The Handmaid's Tale'
Hulu

Miller, understandably, isn’t eager to share too many details about the new season. “I’m not being cagey!” he swore to Entertainment Weekly. “I just want the viewers to experience it for themselves!” What he did confirm is that the new season will bring us to the colonies—reportedly in episode two—and show what life is like for those who have been sent there.

It will also delve further into what life is like for the refugees who managed to escape Gilead, like Luke and Moira.

6. MARISA TOMEI WILL APPEAR IN AN EPISODE.

Though she won’t be a regular cast member, Miller recently announced that Oscar winner Marisa Tomei will make a guest appearance in the new season’s second episode. Yes, the one that will show us the Colonies. In fact, that’s where we’ll meet her; Tomei is playing the wife of a Commander.

7. WE’LL LEARN MORE ABOUT THE ORIGINS OF GILEAD.

As a group shrouded in secrecy, we still don’t know much about how and where Gilead began. That will change a bit in season two. When discussing some of the questions viewers will have answered, executive producer Warren Littlefield promised that, "How did Gilead come about? How did this happen?” would be two of them. “We get to follow the historical creation of this world,” he said.

8. THERE WILL BE AT LEAST ONE HANDMAID FUNERAL.

A scene from 'The Handmaid's Tale'
Hulu

While Miller wouldn’t talk about who the handmaids are mourning in a teaser shot from season two that shows a handmaid’s funeral, he was excited to talk about creating the look for the scene. “Everything from the design of their costumes to the way they look is so chilling,” Miller told Entertainment Weekly. “These scenes that are so beautiful, while set in such a terrible place, provide the kind of contrast that makes me happy.”

9. ELISABETH MOSS SAYS THE TONE WILL BE DARKER.

Like season one, Miller says that The Handmaid’s Tale's second season will again balance its darker, dystopian themes with glimpses of hopefulness. “I think the first season had very difficult things, and very hopeful things, and I think this season is exactly the same way,” he told the Los Angeles Times. “There come some surprising moments of real hope and victory, and strength, that come from surprising places.”

Moss, however, has a different opinion. “It's a dark season,” she told reporters at TCA. “I would say arguably it's darker than Season 1—if that's possible.”

10. IT WILL ALSO BE BLOODIER.

A scene from 'The Handmaid's Tale'
Hulu

When pressed about how the teaser images for the new season seemed to feature a lot of blood, Miller conceded: “Oh gosh, yeah. There may be a little more blood this season.”

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NUS Environmental Research Institute, Subnero
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Researchers in Singapore Deploy Robot Swans to Test Water Quality
NUS Environmental Research Institute, Subnero
NUS Environmental Research Institute, Subnero

There's something peculiar about the new swans floating around reservoirs in Singapore. They drift across the water like normal birds, but upon closer inspection, onlookers will find they're not birds at all: They're cleverly disguised robots designed to test the quality of the city's water.

As Dezeen reports, the high-tech waterfowl, dubbed NUSwan (New Smart Water Assessment Network), are the work of researchers at the National University of Singapore [PDF]. The team invented the devices as a way to tackle the challenges of maintaining an urban water source. "Water bodies are exposed to varying sources of pollutants from urban run-offs and industries," they write in a statement. "Several methods and protocols in monitoring pollutants are already in place. However, the boundaries of extensive assessment for the water bodies are limited by labor intensive and resource exhaustive methods."

By building water assessment technology into a plastic swan, they're able to analyze the quality of the reservoirs cheaply and discreetly. Sensors on the robots' undersides measure factors like dissolved oxygen and chlorophyll levels. The swans wirelessly transmit whatever data they collect to the command center on land, and based on what they send, human pilots can remotely tweak the robots' performance in real time. The hope is that the simple, adaptable technology will allow researchers to take smarter samples and better understand the impact of the reservoir's micro-ecosystem on water quality.

Man placing robotic swan in water.
NUS Environmental Research Institute, Subnero

This isn't the first time humans have used robots disguised as animals as tools for studying nature. Check out this clip from the BBC series Spy in the Wild for an idea of just how realistic these robots can get.

[h/t Dezeen]

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