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Nature Turned the Sky Above Rome into Terrifying TV Static

Drivers looked up and saw the Matrix.

William Gibson’s seminal sci-fi novel Neuromancer opens with an unforgettably bleak line: “The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.” The dystopic 1984 novel is set in Chiba City, Japan, but it may as well have been set in Rome in 2018. In a photo of the city posted to Reddit on Thursday, the sky appeared to be obscured with the densest TV static.

At the horizon line of the viral image, you can just make out the remains of a sunset, in pale blue and orange, struggling to push through the monochrome fuzz. It’s no use. The irrepressible mass of black specks, barely any light shining between them, aggressively subdues the sun into its pathetic corner.

Dystopic though this year has seemed, this is not an image of Rome succumbing to the singularity. Rather, it’s actually an image that has repeated itself in various iterations for centuries. It’s not static that’s filling the sky; it’s thousands and thousands of starlings.

Thousands of starlings flood the sky over Rome in this viral Reddit image posted Thursday.

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Starlings, a type of small, annoying (hey, even Audubon says so) songbird, return in huge numbers to Rome each autumn, seeking warmth and refuge from frigid Eastern Europe and Scandinavia. By some estimates, up to 4 million birds descend on Rome each year, drawn to the city’s relative warmth compared to neighboring regions. Four million birds is a lot of birds — certainly enough to obscure the sunlight in a small patch of sky.

That starlings turn the ancient city into a sci-fi movie set is the least of the Roman population’s concerns about the tiny birds. The biggest issue is that they poop everywhere, covering streets, buildings, Vespas, and trees with thick layers of foul guano. Since the starlings feast in the copious olive groves outside of Rome, their poop is also especially oily.

Starlings prove there is strength in numbers.

In recent years, Romans have struggled to find a way to control the swarming birds, since the peregrine falcons, their natural predators, have not succeeded in shepherding them. Many residents have had to resort to pruning the trees on which the birds nest and blasting the cries of predatory birds on loudspeakers to frighten the starlings away. Some have tried using trained falcons to drive them away (not eat them, their owners assured the press). Others scare them in a charmingly old-fashioned way: by banging on pots and pans.

So, while this phenomenon appears to be a horror scene from the tech-inundated future, it’s actually a remnant of an age-old natural force, serving as a reminder that nothing humans devise can ever be more terrifying than what nature has already wrought.

You Can Save Up to 30 Percent on Your Power Bill With Arcadia Power

Connect to clean, low-cost energy and bring down your power bill for free.

Given the chance, most of us would jump at the opportunity to bring down our power bills. But there’s a prevailing assumption that doing so involves dealing with steep upfront costs before the savings actually come in. Arcadia Power presents a different solution, however, and it’s willing to give new users $20 off their first utility bill for trying out the platform.

The World’s Oldest Preserved Sperm Are Still Swimming Strong

"What is true for the sheep is also true for humans."

On Sunday, Australian scientists announced that they’d thawed 50-year-old sheep semen and successfully impregnated living sheep with it. The semen, which was frozen in 1968, stayed frozen in liquid nitrogen as part of a project aimed at proving that sperm could remain viable after long-term cold storage. The University of Sydney researchers behind the project say that their work could expand options for young cancer patients who may want to save semen samples before starting radiation treatment. This would allow them to have children later in life, even if they haven’t found a partner yet.

Scientists Think a Gene Causes Birth Control to Fail in Some Women

"We have just always assumed a woman had done something wrong."

Today, there are a variety of contraceptives available that greatly lower the odds of becoming pregnant, but there’s no guarantee attached to any one method.

While ineffectiveness is often blamed on women not taking their birth control properly, new research suggests some women carry a gene that breaks down the hormones commonly found in contraceptives, meaning that they can still become pregnant even if they use hormonal birth control. A study on the gene was published Tuesday in Obstetrics & Gynecology.

Evidence of “Moderate Drinking” Shows Small Health Risk

That evening glass of wine isn't actually good for you.

By Hassan Vally, The Conversation
on
Filed Under Data & Health

For the past three decades or so, the conventional wisdom has been that drinking alcohol at moderate levels is good for us.

The evidence for this has come from many studies that have suggested the death rate for moderate drinkers is lower than that for non-drinkers. In other words, we thought moderate drinkers lived longer than those who didn’t drink at all.

CIA Psychic Pioneer Explains How Physics Would Have to Change for ESP

"Our answer is a member of the class of things that can explain psychic abilities."

The film The Men Who Stare at Goats had a long laugh at the United States Army’s 20-year-long attempt to use psychic powers to kill animals. Those experiments grew out of the work of physicist Russell Targ, Ph.D., whose studies on psychic “remote viewing” at the Stanford Research Institute in the 1970s drew the attention of the CIA, which later turned it into the goat-felling Stargate Project. That project was abandoned in 1995, and Targ’s work has been panned as pseudoscience ever since. But he stands by what he saw: people who could perceive hidden targets using only their minds.