|Is Earth Alone? |
Hiroshima, El Niño Returns?
Archeopteryx, Ireland Atlantis?
2004 Fall TV Schedule & More!
|Is Earth Alone? Our Planetary System Unique? |
By Jacqueline Ali
August 6, 2004 (BBC) - The Solar System could be unique amongst planetary systems in the Universe, astronomers have announced. New analysis by UK astronomers suggests our own planetary system may have formed in a very different way to those spotted orbiting other stars.
The findings suggest that one formation mechanism may not fit all planetary systems, as other astronomers have previously suggested.
The study appears in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.
In fact, these exoplanets have several important attributes that are entirely at odds with the Solar System as we know it.
Smaller planets similar to the Earth's relatively humble proportions - and rocky composition - are noticeably absent, although the researchers admit that this may be because smaller planets are more difficult to spot. Also, the large exoplanets are significantly closer to their stars than those in our own system are to the Sun.
Our Sun and Global Climate
August 2, 2004 - Since the middle of the last century, the Sun is in a phase of unusually high activity, as indicated by frequent occurrences of sunspots, gas eruptions, and radiation storms.
The number of sunspots varies over an 11-year activity period, which in turn is subject to longer term variations.
For example, in the second half of the 17th century, there were hardly any sunspots at all.
Since the cosmic rays are partially deflected by the solar magnetic field filling interplanetary space, the production rate of Beryllium-10 in the atmosphere varies with the strength of this magnetic field, which in turn is associated with the number of sunspots.
On the other hand, the cosmic ray intensity entering the Earth’s atmosphere varies opposite to the solar activity, since the cosmic ray particles are deflected by the Sun’s magnetic field to a greater or lesser degree. According to a much discussed model proposed by Danish researchers, the ions produced by cosmic rays act as condensation nuclei for larger suspension particles and thus contribute to cloud formation.
|By Eriko Sugita |
HIROSHIMA August 6, 2004 (Reuters) — The mayor of Hiroshima rebuked Washington on Friday — the 59th anniversary of his city's atomic bombing by the United States — for wanting to develop small nuclear weapons that he feared would be easier to use.
Hiroshima Mayor Tadatoshi Akiba made the remarks at a ceremony attended by about 40,000 people, including Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi plus survivors and relatives of victims of the world's first atomic attack.
"The egocentric world view of the U.S. government is reaching extremes," Akiba told the annual memorial ceremony at the city's Peace Park, near where the bomb was dropped. "Ignoring the United Nations and its foundation of international law, the U.S. has resumed research to make nuclear weapons smaller and more 'usable'."
The Peace Bell was tolled at 8:15 a.m. — the moment a U.S. warplane dropped the bomb on August 6, 1945 and destroyed the city — and there was a minute of silence.
"The morning of August 6, 59 years ago, was just another summer morning, but a single atomic bomb changed it into a morning that humankind will never forget," 11-year-old Koya Yurino told the assembly.
Paper cranes symbolizing peace were draped around the park and incense burned on prayer altars as Akiba placed three books containing the names of the bomb's victims under the park's arch-shaped cenotaph.
A few thousand names are added each year.
The southwestern city of Nagasaki was bombed three days after Hiroshima, leading to Japan's surrender and the end of World War II.
But with the average age of Hiroshima's survivors now well over 70, there are signs that support for the country to assume a greater global military role is growing.
|University of Alberta News Release |
August 6, 2004 - Every mom and dad can tell you that keeping children busy helps stave off cries of boredom--and now there is scientific backing to prove it.
Dr. Anthony Chaston and his research colleague, Dr. Alan Kingstone, have proven, once and for all, that time really does fly when you're having fun.
Or, at least, it flies when your attention is engaged.
|El Niño Returns?|
|By Rene Pastor |
NEW YORK August 6, 2004 (Reuters) - El Niño, the dreaded weather anomaly which has killed hundreds and spawned disasters across the Asia-Pacific region over the years, could possibly develop by late 2004, the Climate Prediction Center of the U.S. National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration said.
In a monthly report devoted to monitoring El Niño which was issued late Thursday, the Center said sea surface temperatures have risen in the central Pacific Ocean and may "indicate the possible early stages of a warm episode."
The Center added on its web site "El Niño conditions are expected to develop during the next three months,"
There is about "a 50 percent chance that the NOAA operational definition for El Niño will be satisfied for the period June-August 2004," the Center predicted.
"Approximately half of the statistical and coupled model forecasts indicate near neutral conditions in the tropical Pacific through the end of 2004. The remaining forecasts indicate El Niño conditions will develop within the next 3-6 months," it added.
A Kelvin wave which is pushing the warm waters eastward has been observed, contributing to "an increase in the subsurface temperature anomalies in the central and east-central equatorial Pacific (Ocean). This Kelvin wave is expected to reach the South American coast during August," the Center said.
El Niño is a weather phenomenon which leads to an abnormal warming of waters in the equatorial Pacific Ocean, recurring roughly once every three years.
The anomaly was first noticed by Latin American anchovy fishermen in the 19th century and was named in honor of the Christ child because it would take place around the year-end Christmas holiday season.
Severe El Niños, as happened in 1997/98, would cause searing drought in Australia, the Philippines and Indonesia while spawning rampant flooding in Chile, Ecuador and Bolivia. Another Niño in 2002/03 caused the worst drought in Australia in a century.
The warming of Pacific Ocean waters can cause floods and drought as far as South Africa and trigger severe winter storms in California.
El Niño killed hundreds of people in 1997/98 and caused billions of dollars in damages. Before that, another El Niño in 1977/78 likewise killed hundreds and caused several hundred million dollars in damages.
NOAA El Niño site - http://www.cpc.ncep.noaa.gov/products/analysis_monitoring/lanina
|Two Inca Observatories Discovered in Peru|
|LIMA August 1, 2004 (AFP) - US and Peruvian archaeologists have discovered two Inca observatories in central Peru, which they said are the most imposing of the stone structures found to date. |
The discovery of the observatories, announced Friday, is the result of five years of searching in Huanuco province.
One of the two, known as Ushnu, is larger than the observatory of Cuzco, the largest previously found, archaeologist Juan Luis Pino told the local media. It measured 48m long, 32m wide and 4mhigh.
The observatory's principal function was to help the Incas decide where to build according to the positions of the sun and the moon, he said.
Pino said the site continues to be venerated by the local population, although it is no longer used as an observatory.
|University of Texas at Austin News Release |
AUSTIN Texas August 4, 2004 – Using computer imaging to model a fossil of an Archeopteryx animal, a scientific team led by a University of Texas at Austin geologist has provided strong evidence that the forerunner to birds had a brain equipped to handle delicate flight maneuvers.
"This animal had huge eyes and a huge vision region in its brain to go along with that, and a great sense of balance," said Dr. Timothy Rowe. "Its inner ear also looks very much like the ear of a modern bird."
Rowe co-directs the university's High-Resolution X-ray Computed Tomography (UTCT) facility, where he was able to help determine the bird-brain features of Archeopteryx from a fossil fragment brought to him by Angela Milner. The paleontologist at London's Natural History Museum is a co-author of the Nature paper that will be published Aug. 5, about the findings.
Rowe and other scientists revere the 147-million-year-old specimen that was originally discovered in German limestone in 1861 because it was found a year after Charles Darwin published "On The Origin of Species," and supports the theory of evolution. The new findings suggest it will also help define when bird flight began.
Dinosaurs found in China and elsewhere during the past decade have caused scientists to speculate that some had feathers, but couldn't fly. This research, Rowe said, disproves the theory that Archeopteryx was among those dinosaurs.
Rowe and Dr. Richard Ketcham, who manages the UTCT facility, took 1,300 images of the skull fragment that once held the creature's brain, eyes and ears using the university's sophisticated CT scanner. Ketcham then spent months removing artifacts that marred the images so the scientists could reconstruct the size and the features of the brain using 3-D modeling software.
The upper bones that covered the creature's braincase were overlapped in the squashed fossil. Computer modeling allowed the scientists to reposition the skull bones next to each other as they likely occurred in life. The repositioning suggested that the creature had a brain about three times larger than crocodiles and other modern reptiles, and of a similar size to many modern birds.
"There are living birds that have brains that are relatively smaller than Archeopteryx," Rowe said.
However, it had little nervous system hardware to process smells.
The bird predecessor would have used that sensory information from wing feathers to make body adjustments during flight.
|Humans Can Speed Evolution|
|Georgia Institute of Technology News Release |
Atlanta (August 4,2004) — It’s no secret that life in the 21st century moves at a rapid pace. Human inventions such as the Internet, mobile phones and fiber optic cable have increased the speed of communication, making it possible for someone to be virtually in two places at once. But can humans speed up the rate of one of nature’s most basic and slowest processes, evolution? A study by J. Todd Streelman, new assistant professor of biology at the Georgia Institute of Technology suggests that humans may have sped up the evolutionary clock for one species of fish.
Cichlid fish are well known to biologists for their rapid rate of evolution. While it takes many animals thousands of years to form new species, the cichlids of Africa’s Lake Malawi are estimated to have formed 1,000 new species in only 500,000 years, lightning speed in evolutionary terms. In the 1960s a fish exporter may have unwittingly set the stage for an evolutionary explosion when he introduced individuals of the species Cynotilapia afra to Mitande Point on the lake’s Thumbi West Island. As of 1983, the species hadn’t budged from Mitande Point. But when Streelman, then at the University of New Hampshire, Durham, and colleagues went to the island in 2001, they found the fish had evolved into two genetically distinct varieties in less than 20 years. The study appears in the August 13 edition of Molecular Ecology.
"This is a great example of human-induced evolution in action," said Streelman. "It adds to a growing list of cases, including introduced salmon, flies and plants, where human disturbance has set the stage for contemporary evolution on scales we’ve not witnessed before."
The fish have evolved into two genetically distinct and differently colored populations, one on the north side of the island, the other on the south, said Streelman. Cichlid color patterns are important in mate selection, so these distinct markings may promote the evolution of new species.
Whether or not that happens and how long it will take is a question to which Streelman is eager to find the answer.
"It could be that we'll have new species in another 20 years, although this depends on a number of factors. Either way, we have a wonderful opportunity to follow the evolutionary trajectory of these populations over time. We plan to return to the island next July to do further study," he said. "Thumbi West will be a valuable place to work for years to come."
Georgia Institute of Technology - http://www.gatech.edu
|Chinese Sex Toys|
|SHANGHAI August 6, 2004 (AFP) - China's eastern metropolis of Shanghai opened its 2004 Adult Expo, further stripping away notions that the communist party-ruled country remains prudish in matters of sex. |
For citizens, buyers and the simply curious, the adult sex toy exhibition promises a vibrant display of "Muscular Dragon" vibrators, "Healthy Horse" condoms, "Plump Lady" blow-up sex dolls and even an American porn star.
The platinum blond actress, Cindy Crawford, 23, -- no relation to the supermodel of the same namesake -- has taken a break from her usual film duties to promote her new line in China's hot sex toy market.
"Given my line of work, getting into the sex toy (business) was pretty closely related," the Las Vegas native said as she was mobbed by Chinese men seeking her autograph.
Turnover of sex products in China, including condoms, exceeded 100 billion yuan (12 billion dollars) in 2003 and is expanding at around 30 percent a year, organisers say.
"At first, five years ago, Chinese people were not very receptive and didn't like the idea of vibrators and sex toys", said the president of China-based High Tech Novelties Martin Tucker.
"The industry is growing daily if not hourly," said Tucker.
Since China opened up the industry in 1993, it has seen an explosion of sex shops, now estimated to number around 20,000.
In many ways China is still a conservative country where sex is not openly discussed, said Durex condom brand manager Zhang Bing.
"For many Chinese some of the pictures and toys here might be too much, but things have changed tremendously since I was a child, especially because of the explosion in AIDS and sexually transmitted diseases," she said.
|Ireland Is Atlantis?|
|By Kevin Smith |
DUBLIN August 6, 2004 (Reuters) - Atlantis, the legendary island nation over whose existence controversy has raged for thousands of years, was actually Ireland, according to a new theory by a Swedish scientist.
Atlantis, the Greek philosopher Plato wrote in 360 BC, was an island in the Atlantic Ocean where an advanced civilization developed some 11,500 years ago until it was hit by a cataclysmic natural disaster and sank beneath the waves.
Geographer Ulf Erlingsson, whose book explaining his theory will be published next month, says the measurements, geography, and landscape of Atlantis as described by Plato match Ireland almost exactly.
"I am amazed no one has come up with this before, it's incredible," he told Reuters.
"Just like Atlantis, Ireland is 300 miles long, 200 miles wide, and widest across the middle. They both have a central plain surrounded by mountains.
"I've looked at geographical data from the rest of the world and of the 50 largest islands there is only one that has a plain in the middle -- Ireland."
Erlingsson believes the idea that Atlantis sank came from the fate of Dogger Bank, an isolated shoal in the North Sea, about 60 miles off the northeastern coast of England, which sank after being hit by a huge floodwave around 6,100 BC.
"I suspect that myth came from Ireland and it derives from Dogger Bank. I think the memory of Dogger Bank was probably preserved in Ireland for around 3,000 years and became mixed up with the story of Atlantis," he said.
Erlingsson links the boundaries of the Atlantic Empire, as outlined by Plato, with the geographic distribution of megalithic monuments in Europe and Northern Africa, matching Atlantis' temples with well-known burial sites at Newgrange and Knowth, north of Dublin, which pre-date the pyramids.
His book, "Atlantis from a Geographer's Perspective: Mapping the Fairy Land," calculates the probability Plato would have had access to geographical data about Ireland as 99.98 percent.
Previous theories about Atlantis have suggested it may have been around the Azores islands 900 miles west of the Portuguese coast, or in the Aegean sea. Others locate it solely in the long-decayed brain of Plato.
|Genre News: Fall Network TV Season 2004|
Fall Season 2004: Don't Blink
August 8, 2004 (eXoNews) - Well, let's be honest. There aren't any new "genre" shows in your fall future. Contrary to popular opinion, there are some new dramas on the broadcast network schedules, but the only fantasy and sci fi / thriller shows are returning favorites and most of these are on their last legs, as network TV descends once again into the grape juice valley of depression.
The networks call this mutated form of quiz show "reality". I argued that this label was wrong a couple of years ago - and I still prefer "contest show" to "reality show" - but the networks were right.
And what can the more discerning viewer hope for when most of America would prefer to watch shiny yuppies bob for worms?
Well, we have the half-dozen or so network genre returnees, including Charmed, Smallville, Tru Calling, Enterprise and Joan of Arcadia.
That's five and depending on your definition of alternate reality, there's also West Wing.
ABC is mounting Desperate Housewives on Sundays at 9 PM. This one is told from the vantage point of a dead housewife, which gives it that genre sort of ring (in fact, it sounds like the same device that Fox was supposed to use on Still Life, a show that never made it to air last season), but ABC admits that Desperate Housewives is a "primetime soap", so we'll have to hope the cast can make it fun.
Teri Hatcher is one of the players, so I'm willing to watch and see. Teri can be excellent given half the chance.
Jack and Bobby is not about the Kennedys, but is supposed to be about one of two brothers who grows up to be president of the USA. The growing up isn't set in the past, so the premise sounds a little too complex for the current contest program majority. David Nutter directs, but he also did Tarzan, which failed in this WB time slot last season despite its Charmed lead-in at 8 PM.
ABC is offering Boston Legal at 10 PM on Sundays, starring James Spader and William Shatner as lawyers or something. As you probably know, it's a spin-off of The Practice. Maybe it will be more interesting than its sire, but it will also be opposite Crossing Jordan on NBC, and I already like Jordan too much to miss her.
LAX is the airport abbreviation for Los Angeles International Airport, so you can guess what this one's about. NBC says "when it comes to stories to tell, well, the sky's the limit." Unfortunately, the stars are aging Heather Locklear and Blair Underwood, who are about as likely to be working airport security as Madonna and Denzel Washington. CSI: Miami is opposite on CBS, so I wouldn't expect LAX to last.
Tuesday has no new shows worth mentioning. Navy NCIS, one of my favorites last season, returns to CBS at 8 PM. Those contest shows plug up the 9 PM slot. The big three continue to fight it out for market dominance at 10 PM with older returning dramas that I don't watch anymore.
ABC is trying to get Lost at 8 PM opposite Clark and Lois, and NBC is going to Hawaii.
Oooh. Mysterious creatures stalking the jungle. Maybe they landed in Dinotopia? Can ABC really hope to keep this premise alive for more than a few episodes? I doubt it, but genre vets Terry O'Quinn (MillenniuM) and Daniel Dae Kim (Angel) are along for the flight.
Thursday looks just like last year. Fox has returned Tru Calling, giving us Tru and her crew in the 9 PM slot opposite CSI: Las Vegas on CBS. This may actually be a good thing, as no one ever expects to out rate the original CSI. In any case, I'm happily surprised Tru Calling is back, but there is nothing else I would care to watch on Fox this season and nothing remotely promising coming up from the former X-Files network.
There was talk of a genre show called Point Pleasant from ex-Buffy producer-writer Marti Noxon, but no sign of it happening at this point.
UPN is probably plotting to beam the last survivor of the Great Franchise out quickly, as they have put it opposite Joan of Arcadia on CBS.
The Trek people promise a new direction, however, and there are reports that Brent Spiner and Bill Shatner may guest during the season. On a less promising note, T'Pol will get married.
What's next? T'Pol gives birth to an alien Nazi, of course!
The recent subplot with Harm and his adopted daughter Mattie worked well at first but got a bit soapy, even though Hallee Hirsh is really great as Mattie. Let's get back on those ships and planes, JAG!
Friday winds up the week's dramas at 10 PM with two newbies, Medical Investigation on NBC and Dr. Vegas on CBS. Medical Investigation (soon to be shortened to MI) is probably just another show about dissecting corpses, but NBC says "Based on true accounts, these are the stories of the National Institutes of Health, America's most elite unit of medical experts." Yawn.
Dr. Vegas stars Rob Lowe as the casino doctor and Joe Pantoliano as the casino general manager in CBS's obvious attempt to capture the success of NBC's Las Vegas, which was NBC's obvious attempt to capture the success of CBS's CSI: Las Vegas.
I think NBC won that battle.
In case you haven't seen the James Caan show on NBC, it's very funny, surprisingly action-packed and extremely fast.
It has Josh Duhamel for the girls and Nikki Cox, Vanessa Marcil, Molly Sims and my favorite Marsha Thomason for the boys.
Las Vegas is a very hard act to follow.
Elsewhere, Steven Spielberg is producing a western mini-series called Into The West for TNT, and we will hopefully see new stuff from the good folks at USA as well.
|Click here for last week's Genre News!|