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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.

FaceApp Uncannily Captures These Classic Biological Signs of Aging 

A guide to what it is, exactly, that makes faces look so old.

This week, celebrities ranging from the Jonas Brothers to Ludacris gave us a peek into what they might look like in old age, all with the help of artificial intelligence. But how exactly has FaceApp taken a stable of celebrities and transformed them into elderly versions of themselves? The app may be powered by A.I., but it’s informed by the biology of aging.

One Personality Trait Is Key to Whether or Not You Should Own a Dog

An animal behaviorist explains the science behind a "dogpersonship."

By Paul McGreevy
Filed Under Animals, Data & Human Behavior

The news of a fatal dog-bite incident in Melbourne last week has shocked dog lovers around the country.

A 61-year-old man was dead by the time police arrived at the property in Mill Park; his 58-year-old wife is in the hospital with serious injuries. The dog in question, a Staffordshire terrier, belonged to the couple’s son.

Why NASA Shut Down Systems on Voyager 2 as It Soars Into Interstellar Space

We're not giving up on the nearly 42-year-old spacecraft just yet.

Launched in 1977, engineers at NASA have managed to keep the Voyager 1 and 2 spacecraft flying for nearly 42 years – longer than any other spacecraft in history. But as NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory announced July 8, it’s time to shut parts of Voyager 2 down.

Voyager 2 is over 11.2 billion miles from Earth, but it’s traveling at 34,391 miles per hour — that’s 10 miles per second — so that distance is increasing at a rapid rate. In December 2018, it became the second man-made object ever, after Voyager 1, to enter what’s considered interstellar space. It did so as it broke through the heliosphere, the bubble of ionized particles that envelops the solar system.

"Killer Heat" Tool Shows How Many Extreme Heat Days Will Affect Your City

A new report "shows a hotter future that's hard to imagine today."

Record-breaking temperatures rattled Europe last month, contributing to a scorcher so hot it was declared the hottest June of the past 139 years. Now, climate scientists say July 2019 is on course to become the hottest month ever, and citizens across the Central and Eastern United States are preparing for a crippling heatwave. According to a new report from the Union of Concerned Scientists, these extreme heat events are not going away any time soon.

The Scientific Difference Between LSD and Magic Mushrooms

Two hallucinogens, both alike in trippiness.

Hallucinogens are a wide group of drugs with a diverse range of capabilities. Some have been proven to alleviate ailments like PTSD and anxiety; others will definitely make you crap your pants while thinking your roommate has turned into a giant crane. The two most popular hallucinogens are magic mushrooms and LSD, technically known as lysergic acid diethylamide. While they have similar effects, both drugs have enough differences between them that any potential user should be less than chill about considering them the same.