Google is shutting down an airfare search API in a setback for travel booking competitors

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Google just cut off a key airfare data feed used by many major travel websites

Image: Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Google announced on Wednesday that it’s shutting down an automated airfare data feed in a move that could kneecap third-party travel booking sites as the search giant pushes its own competing tools. 

The platform, which is set to close in April of next year, has been used to power pricing features on major travel services and airline sites like Orbitz and United Airlines, according to TechCrunch. A Google spokesperson told Bloomberg the shutdown was due to “low interest.”

The company did not immediately respond to our request for comment.

Google first announced the change in an FAQ posted to the data feed’s web page on Tuesday. Hacker News commenters also claim feed users received an email notification as well.

Google added the feed in 2011 as part of a $700 million acquisition of MIT-born travel software company ITA. At the time, a federal judge ruled that Google had to keep the data accessible to third parties for at least five years in order to satisfy concerns that the deal could hurt fair market competition.

Now that the deadline has elapsed, it’s not much of a surprise that Google is killing it off. The company has begun to double down on its own booking tools that compete directly with leading brands like Expedia and Priceline.

It’s possible that many of the bigger names in the industry saw this decision coming and took steps to avoid relying on Google for that reason. A spokesperson for Priceline-owned Kayak.com said the site doesn’t use ITA’s data despite being named as a client in the past.

But the decision could make it harder for smaller upstart travel sites to break into an industry where reliable data is often expensive and hard to come by.

A Google spokesperson told Bloomberg that the closure will only affect the company’s cheaper version of the API—QPX Express. A premium program will still be available to bigger corporate clients for a heftier fee.

  

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You and your BFFs need these social headphones

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You and your BFFs need these social headphones

Jam out together.
Jam out together.

Image: Wearhaus

Everyone and their mother has an opinion about headphones. These days, the options are limitless: headphones can be wireless, with the ability to go underwater, and customized to look however you want them to. Now, headphones are evolving again

A few years ago, two UC Berkeley dropouts named Richie Zeng and Nelson Zhang had never designed any kind of commercial product. But they had an idea: what if headphones provided a social experience? That’s how Wearhaus Arc Social Headphones were born. 

Zeng and Zhang managed to raise $75,000 in initial funding and went ahead with developing their headphones. After creating a prototype, they proceeded to hold a round of Kickstarter fundraising and managed to rake in almost $250,000. Now, anyone can purchase a pair of Wearhaus Arc Social Headphones.

Let’s back up for a second and dive into what it means to have a pair of “social” headphones. Remember that feeling of sharing a pair of earbuds with a friend, heads tapped together, listening to the same song? The Wearhaus Arc Social Headphones replicate that experience by allowing you to sync up multiple people to listen to the same audio, whether it’s music, a movie, a podcast, or whatever else you’re listening to. 

The headphones work by, essentially, daisy-chaining a Bluetooth connection. A future update will even allow up to 63 people to be connected at once. According to the product listing, 40mm dual-diaphragm drivers help create precision-tuned, high-fidelity sound that can all be adjusted by  touch controls on the earcup. The built-in wireless mic can even be used for phone calls. 

Unlike many other wireless headphones with low battery life, Wearhaus lasts up to 15 hours. You won’t even notice time flying because the noise-mitigating memory foam cushions are so comfortable. Plus, you’ll look dope thanks to the fully customizable light rings that can display five million different color combinations.

Buy them now for $149.99, which is a solid discount of 25% off $199.99 for a limited time.  Mashable readers can save and extra $30 off a single pair with coupon code WEARHAUSSAVE1 and $75 off a 2-pack with coupon code WEARHAUSSAVE2.

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Want Stronger Bones? Better Start Ripping Shots Of Tequila (According To Science)

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tequila shot

Shutterstock / Tequila Studio

A while back, I was surprised to learn on Bar Rescue that the Margarita is the #1 most sold cocktail in America. I was surprised until I realized that almost everybody loves tequila. Even if someone says they hate tequila they’ll still admit they’d rather take a shot of tequila than gin, right? Right.

Tequila’s led to some of the most memorable nights in my life. From watching the sunrise in Mexico on NYE to watching the sunrise from a rooftop in Manhattan, I’ve lost an inordinate amount of sleep thanks to tequila. As it turns out, tequila isn’t just a party elixir. It actually has some medicinal properties.

I came across this tweet last night from @robfoxthree referencing a FOX 11 article discussing how scientists had determined that tequila can potentially improve bone strength and density. Growing up, I was always told that I needed to drink milk in order to have strong bones. This is some game-changing news because I can’t stand drinking milk alone:

The 2016 study found that substances in the blue Agave tequilano plant, which is used to make tequila, improve the body’s absorption of calcium and magnesium.
As reported by Science Daily, both minerals are essential to maintaining good bone health.
The study, conducted by the Center for Research and Advanced Studies in Mexico, found mice that ingested agave fructans produced 50% more osteocalcin, which is a protein that signifies new bone production, than mice that did not.
The leader of the study, Dr. Mercedes López, said “The consumption of fructans contained in the agave, in collaboration with adequate intestinal micriobiota, promotes the formation of new bone, even with the presence of osteoporosis.” (via)

The article goes on to say that a report from Harvard suggests the negative effects of tequila might outweigh the positive effects of bone growth, and more research is needed in order to determine just how beneficial tequila and the blue agave plant is towards bone growth.

I’m sort of the ‘shoot first, ask questions later’ type of guy. So I’m going to just take this news and start ripping more tequila shots on the regular until research comes out that tells me I shouldn’t. Do I actually need stronger bones? Hell no. I’ve only broken one bone in my entire life and it was the tiniest bone in my wrist (intramural soccer at SMU got real). I’m not worried about my bone density. But that doesn’t mean I’m not down to grow some stronger bones.

To read the article in full on FOX 11 you can click here.

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The Best Las Vegas Hacks From Our Readers

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Vegas is more than the Strip, but that’s where all the juicy lit-up photos are taken. (Photo by Lasvegaslover)

Las Vegas might be the most-hacked city in the country. If you google for tourist tips, you’ll get handed a free well whisky and twenty bucks for the slots by the time you click “I’m feeling lucky.” Well now the internet has one more guide to a town nicknamed after the concept of sin. This week on Hack Your City, we asked for Vegas hacks from Lifehacker readers. Here are the greatest hits.

Where to Go

Food

For starters, get off the Strip before you eat:

Some more Chinatown suggestions from fielddayforthesundays (who also likes the slice of white at the Cosmos’s Secret Pizza.

Head out to Chinatown to eat. Raku is worth all the write-up it deserves. Make a reservation a week before. Also, head to The Golden Tiki before, or after, to get a banging cocktail with some Dole whip.

Reader apocryphal adds more Chinatown eats: Chada Thai, Sweets Raku, and Monta Noodle House. “Also Forte, for Russian and Eastern European tapas, especially the stroganoff. Drink the Gypsy Juice with care…”

And here Alex, some free advertising for your sister’s gelato place:

If you end up in Chinatown, there’s a great little gelato (yes gelato in Chinatown) place on Spring Mountain and like Arville. Very reasonably priced. Shameless plug—my sister in law owns it. Take an Uber, though. Parking is ridiculous and there’s an 80% chance you will be involved in a 1.5 mph collision with a Civic.

Or stay on the Strip:

Mixeddrinks chimes in: “Bouchon in Venetian is the stand out for me. Their Foie Gras is well worth the price, the portion might be small, but you don’t need to get full on it, plenty of other eateries to get full later at. Try the items on their Et de plus and go fill up in any of the other great eats that are even cheaper but as good.”

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Suzapalooza has a steak tip: “It used to be on their ‘secret’ menu, but they finally just put it out there: the steak special at Ellis Island on Koval. Very cheap and I suspect, possibly horsemeat, but hey, where else can you get one for just $7.95? Dig in!”

More restaurants via BoxingNerd:

Vegas has a really large Pacific islander community, so get some great Hawaiian grub. Ross J’s in Henderson is my favorite Hawaiian spot. Late night eats, go to California hotel for some Oxtail soup (really popular place to sober up). I can’t recommend enough to try Bachi Burger.

It’s not really Evil Week any more at Lifehacker, but you could still try this evil reservation hack:

If you feel bad, you could always call and cancel all your unused reservations.

Booze

You can do a lot of your drinking for free by playing slots or gambling at the casino bar. But Suzapalooza suggests some real drinking establishments: “Best bars off the Strip: Frankie’s Tiki Room on Charleston, next to UMC, and Herbs and Rye, on Sahara. Also fun- Atomic Liquors off of Fremont St.”

Split the difference with cheap beer:

And if you’re over 30 but you still want to club:

Gambling

You can gamble in Vegas before you’ve even left the airport. But we still have a couple tips.

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To max out your odds, several readers recommend you get off the Strip, where regulations actually enforce looser slots. Just move over to Fremont Street and your money will last longer.

Learn craps at Sam’s Town, says That’s a porcupine, not a poop. It’s like swing dance lessons for your money:

Sam’s Town, way off-strip, a little bit redneck, has a one hour craps lesson they offer twice a day on Fridays (maybe other days too?). The dealer there flat out tells you which bets make sense and which are a waste of money, and at the end, you get $40 of match play. Not too shabby.

Attractions

You don’t have to hang out at casinos to have fun. You could ride the Ferris wheel:

Drink and watch people bungee jump at the Stratosphere:

Check out the grisly Mob Museum:

Or just admire the casinos from the outside:

We got some good references to the video game Fallout: New Vegas, but That’s a porcupine, not a poop has a sincere tip: “Travel to some of the sites in Fallout: New Vegas. It’s amazing how many are real-world locations.”

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I’m in love with the wholesome itinerary from reader Sprzout. I’d watch this low-key version of Honeymoon in Vegas:

How to Get Around

Multiple readers suggest Uber and Lyft over the local cabs. Others suggest public transportation:

If you do pick the Monorail, here’s a map:

Reader robhoitt says that limos work great (and cheaply) for groups:

If you do Vegas for a conference or group, give a limo a try. Limos are regulated to $80/hr for standard limos, and can hold up to 8. So if 8 folks split a limo you’ll pay $10 each, and the driver will give you an hour’s worth of tour. We did this a couple times while I conferenced there, and our driver took us to a bunch of cool off- the-beaten-path places. Including the Pawn Stars shop. The drive-thru wedding chapel and even managed to do a drive-by as the volcano was going off at the Mirage! Now that was an awesome $10 to spend!

The travel hacking starts as soon as you book your ticket into town. If you’re coming from the east coast, damnthisburnershitsux recommends taking the last flight in, especially the night before a conference (a common reason for visiting Vegas). They like to arrive at 10:30, try to score a room upgrade by refusing a smoking room, grab some late eats, and go to bed around 1, which will feel like 4 AM, to prevent jet lag from waking them up at the crack of dawn.

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Get ready to walk a lot, especially inside the casino, says damnthisburnershitsux:

Bring sneakers, it may be a block from where you are to where you are going but it’s going to be a mile through a casino. I generally hit 20,000 steps per day at conferences, I’ve learned to just wear sneakers the whole time.

Freebies and Discounts

You can score upgrades, comps, and discounts everywhere in Vegas, where normal laws of vacation supply and demand are upended by the prospect that you’ll gamble all your money back into the city.

Many commenters recommended tipping the hotel staff for a room upgrade:

The best time for your tip, say many commenters, is when you’re handing over your ID and credit card. Just slip the twenty into the same handful.

The old $20 tip also works for upgrading seats at live shows:

KorBri says to buy your Cirque tickets online. “ALWAYS go on MGM or Cirque website. They always have online deals, usually 2 for 1.”

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“Also, tip the dealers,” says John Miller’s Right Testicle (Jesus, people!). “There’s no rule saying you have to, but it’s considered poor form to not share a portion of your earnings if you hit a huge payoff. At least 5% is considered good form.”

And any time you think you might get a comp, just ask, and grease the wheels:

Same goes for finding things to do and places to eat. Ask your Uber driver, ask your concierge, ask your bartender.

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BabylonSlim has a few suggestions for high rollers. For example: “If you’re going to gamble a substantial sum, visit the V.I.P. Customer Service Desk at the hotel to negotiate a discount on your losses.” (If you’re not, says Slim, try the ten-cent roulette at the El Cortez.)

“If you’re gambling,” says Cfer, “sign up for a players card Day 1. (Most seasoned Vegas-goers know this). If you even remotely think you plan on returning to Vegas at a later date this will also pay off in discounted room offers and resort credits.”

“Always, always, always get a player’s card,” agrees John Miller’s Right Testicle (I hate you so much). “That’s how the hotel keeps track of how much you spend, which is how they know that they can offer comps.”

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These cards bring some free money too, says KevinNeedsThisForReasons: “If it’s your first time, an easy way to gamble for free is joining a casino’s rewards card, you usually get $10 in slot credits. Or play in the mornings, the table minimums are usually lower when it’s slow – and the dealers can help you learn the games.”

To save money as a group, ditch the hotels for an Airbnb, and make your own breakfast and lunch:

Here’s one risky snack hack for the price-conscious slots player:

And if you’re willing to risk embarrassment, John Miller’s etc. suggests sneaking into the VIP room:

If you know where to find them, the VIP check-in rooms of most hotels offer free food and beverages. Some require a room card to get in, some don’t. In the former case, you’re out of luck, but in the latter, just act like you belong and be ready with an “oh, thanks for letting me know” if you get questioned.

Get Out of the City

“Vegas is a hub in the desert,” says dug deep. “Use it to explore. Red Rock Canyon, Valley of Fire, Hoover Dam, hot springs, and even the Springs Preserve is fun. Next time we’re headed to Vegas we’ll do an overnight trip to the Grand Canyon. Seriously, pick a direction and go.”

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KorBri lists some really good holes in the ground: “Grand Canyon, Antelope Canyon, RedRock Canyon, Death Valley, Zion and Bryce Canyon.”

Or, says David, get high: “Mt. Charleston – About a 45 minute drive north on Highway 95. Beautiful views, a couple of nice lodges, much cooler than the Valley floor in the summer and a chance to play in the snow in the winter.”

“I go almost yearly for work conferences,” adds damnthisburnershitsux. “This past spring my wife flew out the last day and we rented a car and did 6 days in Southern Utah, Zion is 2.5 hrs, Bryce another hour, Capital Reef a bit more and then we looped back down the same way.”

Try some unique museums, and learn about the beginning of the end of the world:

Check out the original thread for more tips, and leave yours below. Next week we’ll get your advice on a diverse metropolitan area known mostly for its corrupt old white men. That doesn’t narrow it down much, huh.

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The Great Pyramid of Giza is hiding a huge unexplored space — and scientists used cosmic rays to find it

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pyramids giza egypt camel rider khufu great pyramid shutterstock_654844426

  • The Great Pyramid of Giza is the largest and oldest in Egypt, was built for the Pharoah Khufu around 2560 BC.
  • Researchers spent two years studying the pyramid using muons — high-speed particles created after cosmic rays strike Earth’s atmosphere.
  • Muons can penetrate deep into rock and reveal hidden voids and chambers to special film and detectors.
  • Using muons, physicists detected a void at least 100 feet long above the Grand Passageway leading to Khufu’s tomb.
  • No one knows what the void is, but at least one archaeologist believes it’s a not a room or chamber filled with artifacts.

More than 4,500 years after their construction, the Pyramids of Giza continue to flaunt their secrets.

A team of more than three dozen researchers on Thursday announced the discovery of a huge and unexplored void in Khufu’s pyramid, also called the Great Pyramid — the largest of three main structures in Giza.

What’s more, the team used cosmic rays to locate the void and estimate its size through millions of tons of rock. The cavernous space is roughly 100 feet long and sits almost directly above the Grand Gallery: a towering passage that leads to the tomb of Pharoah Khufu.

"This void was hidden in the construction of the pyramid. It is not accessible and we needed this new technique, at the right time, to identify it and to discover it," Mehdi Tayoubi, a co-founder of the HIP Institute and a leader of the research effort, called ScanPyramids, told reporters during a Wednesday press briefing.

The research group published its findings Thursday in the journal Nature.

"A lot of people tried to dig some tunnels looking for chambers," he added. "But as far as I know, no one has tried to dig something in this area. There was no theory expecting to find something as big as the Grand Gallery here."

ScanPyramids Big Void 3D Artistic view inclined option

Tayoubi and his colleagues assert the "Big Void" is neither a data anomaly nor porous rock or loose rubble; in fact, the team is 99.9999% certain it exists, and a foremost expert on Egypt’s pyramids agrees with that conclusion.

"I don’t think this is bulls—," Mark Lehner, an archaeologist and Egyptologist at the Ancient Egypt Research Association, told Business Insider. "I put credence in the results, and I think they have indications of a large empty space."

However, Lehner — who served on an Egypt-based advisory committee overseeing ScanPyramids’ project, yet wasn’t involved in the work — said the void is not likely packed full of undiscovered mummies, golden talismans, and other ancient artifacts.

How to probe a pyramid with cosmic rays

Known Grand Gallery 1

Pyramids are confounding objects to study because they are so large; it’s tough to see how they’re constructed (and what they’re hiding) without boring, digging, or blasting away their ancient and stony features.

"In the past it was easy. You have a scientist, and he says, ‘I see a hidden door here,’ and he can go and destroy this door and see what is behind it," Hany Helal, a pyramids expert at Cairo University and a ScanPyramids team member, told Business Insider during the press briefing. "Now, no one can allow for trial-and-error."

Khufu’s pyramid is a especially difficult case: It’s not only the largest and most ancient Egyptian pyramid, making its hidden internal structure all the more labyrinthine, but also a prized national heirloom.

Its construction of high and deeply embedded tunnels and chambers, like the Great Gallery, is also exceptional, Lehner said.

"In the popular imagination, it’s the classic pyramid. But really it’s the anomaly," Lehner added. "Nobody knew what Khufu did and no one did it afterward."

cosmic rays

However, the ScanPyramids team realized the same non-destructive technology used to peer inside volcanoes, called muography, might be used to probe structures like Khufu’s pyramid.

Muons are fast-moving, short-lived elementary particles that constantly shoot down from the sky. They’re made when cosmic rays from supernovas, merging neutron stars, black holes, and other high-energy objects reach Earth and pummel air molecules.

This creates a shower of particles, including muons, of which thousands pass through our bodies every minute.

Muons pass through air unhindered, and get weakly absorbed or deflected by rock. So, by setting out special muon-detecting film and devices inside a pyramid, any cavities will show up as bright spots (since fewer are being absorbed by rock and more are making it to a piece of film or a detector).

khufu great pyramid void chamber room muon scan scnapyramids hip institute

Inside the Great Pyramid, however, just 1% of muons reach inner chambers.

This is why it took ScanPyramids two years to round up enough data: It takes months to expose a piece of film or run a detector, and the team used three different techniques to show beyond a doubt the void exists.

Nothing to see here?

ScanPyramids team Augmented reality review of ScanPyramids Big Void

With the void discovered, but some details about it unknown, including its exact height and angle within the pyramid The group is also wary about labeling it a "room" or "chamber," since it’s not certain that is the case.

"For the moment it seems very difficult to access this very big void," Tayoubi said, adding that more research will be needed to define its shape and extent without destroying and internal masonry.

Helal and others would ultimately like to bore a small hole into slabs of rock to reach the void, pop in a tiny yet capable robot, and explore the space remotely.

Lehner is not sure anything other than secrets about the structure of the pyramid will be found inside, though.

As he explained to Business Insider, Khufu’s father determined what pyramids should look like, but it was under Khufu’s reign that their construction was pioneered — and experimented with.

"Nobody is assessing the reality of, the fabric of the pyramid itself," Lehner said. "This pyramid looks very regular from a distance, but it was made with a considerable slop factor."

Khufus Pyramid aerial viewFor example, he said, there are many "relieving structures," including extra ceilings and spaces stacked above the King’s Chamber near the pyramid’s center. Lehner said ancient Egyptians over-engineered these sections as insurance policies against structural collapse — a problem risked both by the crushing mass of the pyramid and shoddier construction of regions filled with rubble and sand.

And that’s where Lehner’s self-described "shoot-from-the-hip" hypothesis about the void’s purpose and role comes in.

"For all the world, I’ll bet this is a relieving space for the Grand Gallery," he said, noting the feature exists right below the void. "They probably thought they needed some kind of relieving space to separate the slop factor from the fine masonry."

Put another way: The big void may be nothing more than a stone-roof attic that protects a magnificent attraction several stories below it.

ScanPyramids did not say how much its two-year effort cost in time for publication, but Lehner suspects it was expensive — and, despite commending the discovery, thinks such resources may be put to better use.

"Years ago I realized I had to turn my back to the pyramids to understand them," Lehner said. "To understand the pyramids, we need to understand how ancient Egypt worked — their economy, where they lived, what they ate, what drove them."

Lehner, who runs a field school for young archaeologists interested in ancient Egypt, added that the void’s discovery is not really a "wow moment." More shocking, he said, was when archaeologists found a simple pyramid construction logbook.

Such documents reveal much, much more about the pyramids than the monuments themselves, he added, and they’re found only through traditional and relatively inexpensive archaeological field work — not bespoke particle physics devices.

"Would the people of a 3,000-year-old civilization be better served by finding a hole?" he asked. "Or a year’s worth of Business Insider?"

SEE ALSO: 17 popular ‘facts’ about outer space that scientists have totally debunked

DON’T MISS: A student found an ancient Canadian village that’s 10,000 years older than the Pyramids

Join the conversation about this story »

NOW WATCH: This mysterious pyramid-shaped mountain in space is actually a gigantic ice volcano

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Stunned Scientists Detect Suspected Hidden Chamber Within Great Pyramid of Giza

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Khufu’s Pyramid 3D cut aerial view. The fuzzy white dots represent the location of the newly discovered void. (Image: ScanPyramids Mission)

Though they were constructed nearly 5,000 years ago, the Great Pyramids of Egypt are still packed with secrets. Using a technique that leverages the power of cosmic rays, scientists have confirmed the presence of a large empty space within Khufu’s pyramid—a void that’s signaling the presence of a possible hidden chamber.

It’s tempting to think that all the great archaeological discoveries from ancient Egypt have already been made, but new research published today in Nature shows there’s still plenty for us to uncover.

An investigation into the internal structure of Khufu’s pyramid—the largest pyramid in Giza—has revealed the presence of a large and inaccessible “void” within the structure. The researchers who led the study, Mehdi Tayoubi from the HIP Institute in France and Kunihiro Morishima from Nagoya University in Japan, won’t go so far as to say the cavity is a hidden chamber, but they’re reasonably convinced the internal feature is a deliberate architectural feature of the pyramid. As to what’s inside is anyone’s guess, but the presence of artifacts and funeral items are not out of the question, according to Egyptologists.

Cross section of the Great Pyramid showing the location of the void. This interpretation shows it in a horizontal position, but the researchers say it could also be inclined, tipped downward toward the North Face Corridor. Could an undiscovered tunnel connect the two hidden features? (Image: ScanPyramids Mission)

The discovery was made possible through the unlikely intersection of archaeology and particle physics. By making meticulous measurements of muons—elementary particles that rain down on Earth from deep space and are capable of traveling through solid objects—researchers were able to characterize the densities within the pyramid, revealing the presence of an empty space that measures at least 100 feet (30 meters) in length.

The Structures Within

That Khufu’s pyramid may still hold a chamber waiting to be found is within the realm of possibility.

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This massive structure was built on the Gaza Plateau during the Egyptian Fourth Dynasty (c. 2613 to 2494 BC) by the Pharaoh Khufu (sometimes referred to as Cheops), who reigned from 2509 to 2483 BC. The pyramid initially measured 481 feet (146 meters) in height, and was the tallest structure in the world for more than 3,800 years.

There are three known rooms inside the monument: the King’s Chamber, the Queen’s Chamber, and an unfinished room cut into the bedrock upon which the pyramid was built. There’s also the Grand Gallery, a sloped hallway-like structure measuring 28 feet (8.6 meters) high, 153 feet (46.7 meters) long, and about 6 feet (2 meters) wide. The original entrance leading to these internal structures, known as the “descending corridor,” is located at the North Face, but today, tourists are allowed to enter the pyramid through a tunnel attributed to Caliph al-Ma’mun (around AD 820).

A glimpse inside the Great Gallery. The void is located directly above this spectacular structure, and it’s roughly the same size and shape. (Image: ScanPyramids Mission)

Archaeologists don’t have the original blueprints to Khufu’s pyramid, and there’s no consensus on how the structure was created or what hidden features may still lie inside. The only known documents, written on papyri, only describe the logistics of the construction, such as how the stones were transported (fun fact: the Great Pyramid contains an estimated 2.3 million blocks).

Finding a New Way With Cosmic Rays

Detecting hidden chambers or corridors is not easy for archaeologists, who mustn’t damage ancient structures in any way. Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities is very strict about what can and cannot be done to these historic monuments, requiring scientists to come up with innovative new ways of exploring the pyramids.

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Back in the 1960s, archaeologist Luis Alvarez came up with the idea of using muons—a type of elementary particle that’s capable of penetrating dense materials—to peer inside Khafre’s pyramid (the second largest of the Giza Pyramids). Unfortunately, his team lacked the technological and scientific know-how to pull it off, but Alvarez’s idea has proven its worth. Today, the technique, known as muography, has been used by archaeologists to analyze ancient Roman structures and Mexican pyramids, and by geologists to explore features such as volcanoes. Muography has also been used to assess damage at the beleaguered Fukushima nuclear power plant, and by the US military to find hidden caves and tunnels in Afghanistan.

In terms of the physics involved, muon particles originate from the interactions of cosmic rays with the atoms in the upper atmosphere. They pepper the Earth at nearly the speed of light (they’re harmless to humans and other animal life), and researchers can visualize the presence and trajectory of these particles using various muon detection schemes. Muons are only partially absorbed by solid objects, and can thus penetrate stone. But by mapping the positions and trajectories if these particles, researchers can visualize the internal composition of solid structures—revealing things such as stone formations or open-air cavities.

“Similar to X-rays which can penetrate the body and allow bone imaging, these elementary particles can keep a quasi-linear trajectory while going through hundreds of meters of stone before decaying or being absorbed,” write the researchers in the new study.

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Last year, the ScanPyramids project—the same team of researchers involved in this latest discovery—used muography and infrared thermography (which measures temperature) to uncover a corridor directly above the Great Pyramid’s original entrance. Using the same idea, the researchers have now discovered the large void located directly above the Grand Gallery.

To validate the presence of the void, the researchers recruited specialists from three different institutions. Each team employed their own unique muon detection technique, and stationed their scanners both within and outside the pyramid.

A researcher from Nagoya University at work. This muon detector was positioned within the Queen’s Chamber. (Image: ScanPyramids Mission)

Researchers from Nagoya University used nuclear emulsion films to track the muons in three dimensions, a team from France’s Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission (CEA) used scintillator hodoscopes (scintillating materials emit light when particles pass through it), and researchers from KEK High Energy Accelerator Research Organization did it using gas-based detectors. Because only one percent of muons reach the detectors, data must be meticulously accumulated over the course of several months (the exposures began in December 2015).

Explaining the Void

All three teams reached the same conclusion—there’s a large, open cavity directly above the Great Gallery, and it’s about the same size and shape. The void is about 100 feet (21 meters) above ground level, and is at least 100 feet (30 meters) long, but the researchers aren’t sure of its inclination.

So what is it?

During a press conference held earlier today, the researchers stubbornly refused to speculate. “We’re avoiding the word ‘chamber,’” said Mehdi Tayoubi. “We know that it’s a big void, but we’re not calling it a chamber.” The ScanPyramids scientists admitted they’re not experts in this area, and that specialists in Egyptian architecture should use this discovery as an invitation to join in and help explain the mysterious cavity.

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“There are still many architectural hypotheses to consider; in particular, the big void could be made of one or several adjacent structures, and it could be inclined or horizontal,” write the researchers in the study. “The detailed structure of the void should be further studied…more interdisciplinary collaborations [will be required to help understand] the pyramid and its construction process.”

The researchers used augmented reality to create a 3D reconstruction of the void. (Image: ScanPyramid Mission)

Importantly, the researchers were able to rule out “non-void” possibilities. Because small gaps or crevices cannot be detected using the muon technique (it can only detect wide open spaces), there’s virtually no way the space is a “swiss cheese” of stone, as some scientists have speculated. It’s also unlikely, the researchers say, that it’s just a sign of interior wear-and-tear, some kind of collapse or construction flaw in the design, or the juxtaposition of small and large stones. Importantly, the area in question produced the same muon data patterns as scans made of the Grand Gallery—a known “void” within the structure.

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Kathlyn M. Cooney, an Associate Professor of Ancient Egyptian Art & Architecture at the University of California Los Angeles, says it’s too early to speculate about the true nature of the void, but a hidden chamber is not an impossibility. Coony, who wasn’t involved in the new study, said Khufu and his father Sneferu, unlike their Third Dynasty predecessors, began to “float” chambers within their pyramids.

“To construct these internal structures they had to build from the bottom up,” she told Gizmodo, “They had to create the chambers and passages as they built upwards.” To make these interior structures inaccessible (which seems to be the intent), Cooney says the ancient Egyptians refrained from making adjoining corridors, and case the pyramid from the outside to prevent access. “It was brilliant,” she said, “but it was a short-lived phenomenon, and it didn’t happen very often after these two kings.”

Like the ScanPyramids archaeologists, Cooney doesn’t know what’s inside the void, but she said “it would be extraordinary to find potential materials [such as] funerary items and treasures that are almost 5,000 years old.”

Potential Paths Forward

The obvious question at this stage is to ask what archaeologists plan on doing to find out more about this mysterious structure. During the press conference, the researchers said they’d like to perform more long term muon scans of the structure, and from different positions. This should allow them to create a more accurate picture of the space, and possibly find more hidden features.

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More radically, INRIA researcher Jean-Baptiste Mouret, a member of the ScanPyramids team, is currently designing an innovative robot that will be capable of squirming through a very small hole, and possibly fly like an aerial drone once it’s within the cavity (welcome to archaeology in the 21st century).

An aerial view of the Great Pyramid. (Image: ScanPyramid Mission)

Unfortunately, the void is located in a very difficult place to access, and some drilling may be required. This prospect could be minimized should the researchers discover hidden adjoining corridors. Take the recently discovered corridor above the original entrance; this passageway could contain a tunnel all the way to the void in a mirror image of the structures below it.

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“If an exploration has to be imagined, a good starting place would be from the suspected corridor at the North Face,” explained the researchers at today’s presser. “But for the moment there is no discussion about that—this is not our responsibility. But because we are engineers, and because we love innovation, we asked Jean-Baptiste to join our team…and we’re currently in the thinking and design process.”

But as Cooney explained to Gizmodo, the researchers will still have to get past the Egyptian antiquities ministry.

“When you claim something like this, and even when you’ve got great science behind you, the Egyptians still have control over their national patrimony,” she said. “Ultimately, it’ll be up to them as to how they’ll want [the pyramid] investigated and analyzed as the archaeologists move forward.” She also says that outside researchers (which is the case here) will have to work with an Egyptian team, and work within the convoluted Egyptian political process.

Lastly, Cooney made a plea to both the press and the public to remain patient.

“We need to stop rushing archaeological discoveries that don’t need to be rushed and push scientists to make declarations about discoveries that aren’t yet proven,” she told Gizmodo, “It’s important to remember the old adage, ‘archaeology is destructive,’ and realize that the next generation will be able to do it better.”

[Nature]

from Gizmodo http://bit.ly/2yoUscB
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