Visit eXoNews for more recent news!

Iraq Nuclear Looting!
Wolverine, Mercury's Eclipse, 
Bush Secret Wilderness Plan!

Otzi, Galaxies Collide & More!
UN Agency Worried Over Iraq Nuclear Looting!
By Louis Charbonneau
Reuters

VIENNA, Austria May 6, 2003 (Reuters) — The U.N. nuclear watchdog agency said Monday it had asked the United States to let it send a mission to Iraq to investigate reports of widespread looting at the country's nuclear facilities.

The spokeswoman for the International Atomic Energy Agency said IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei had written to the United States with a request to send a mission to Iraq "... to investigate the state of the facilities there."

"We have not yet received a response," spokeswoman Melissa Fleming said. She added the letter was dated April 29, nearly a week ago. "We have been assured by the U.S. that they would secure these facilities, but the agency finds these reports (of looting) disturbing."

U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said, "We're in touch with them (IAEA) on various issues all the time. But there's no decisions at this point about what role they may or may not play in terms of evaluating and monitoring at this point."

Last month the IAEA asked the United States to secure Iraq's nuclear facilities to protect them from looters in the post-war chaos. Washington assured the U.N. it would prevent the removal of material from these sites.

But the Washington Post reported Sunday that sites housing large amounts of highly radioactive material appeared to have been looted and that it was impossible to say whether nuclear materials were missing.

Boucher said Monday, "Coalition forces have secured the facilities that house the natural and low enriched uranium that was at those sites. (I would) Remind you none of this material was usable in nuclear weapons; all of this uranium would require significant processing in order to be suitable for enrichment for weapons use."

The IAEA, whose nuclear weapons inspectors returned to Baghdad last November after a four-year hiatus, has a detailed inventory of radioactive materials stored at the Tuwaitha nuclear research facility and other sites in the country which may have been looted.

Tuwaitha had been sealed by the IAEA, but U.S. forces were reported to have broken some of the seals last month and to have entered the site.

The mission ElBaradei wants to send to Iraq would be separate from the teams who hunted for signs Baghdad renewed its ambitious atomic weapons program, as Washington had alleged, before the United States decided to use military force to disarm Iraq.

"This would be an investigative mission to find out what has happened at the facilities," Fleming said.

WORRIED ABOUT DIRTY BOMBS

While most of the radioactive material found at these sites would be unusable for atomic weapons, the IAEA is concerned some of it could end up in the hands of terrorists who could use it for so-called dirty bombs.

A dirty bomb is made by attaching radioactive material to a conventional explosive like dynamite to disperse it over a wide area. These bombs are aimed more at creating panic than physical damage.

Secretary of State Colin Powell said Sunday he had no information from military or intelligence sources about the looting referred to in the Washington Post's eyewitness report.

"I don't know that there was a special concern that there was nuclear-related material at that particular site," he said.

(Additional reporting by Emma Thomasson in Berlin and Richard Balmforth in Moscow)
Wolverine Ain't So Tough!
NEW YORK May 5, 2002 - Lesson one: don't steal a bear's dinner. Last week, a wolverine - a ferocious member of the weasel family able to kill a caribou - learned this the hard way, according to a team of researchers from the New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS).

Scientists Kristine and Bob Inman, while tracking the wolverine as part of a WCS study of these rare carnivores, discovered that the animal's radio collar began emitting a "mortality signal," indicating it hadn't moved in several hours. They later found the wolverine's carcass, showing clear evidence that it had been killed by a bear. Nearby, they discovered the carcass of an elk, along with additional evidence that the wolverine had attempted to drag it away from the bear, thus instigating the fatal encounter.

"This incident, where a wolverine decided to battle it out head-on with another carnivore ten times his size, substantiates the species' ferocious and intrepid reputation. The center of the conflict, an elk, may have been a "winter-kill," frozen in the snow until discovered by the bear emerging from its winter hibernation," said Kristine Inman.

The wolverine was one of a number of individuals WCS researchers have been tracking in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem for the past two winters. Researchers are investigating threats to wolverine populations to provide state and federal agencies with data about survival and reproductive rates, travel corridors and habitat use.

The degree to which increasing development and back-country recreational use in mountainous areas threatens wolverine populations is unknown. Understanding threats to this rare and elusive animal is essential to its conservation.

Last month, another team of WCS researchers discovered another carnivore oddity, when they learned that a mountain lion they were tracking in Yellowstone National Park had been attacked and killed by a pack of wolves.

Wildlife Conservation Society - http://www.wcs.org

Looking for Universal WIMPs
By Jeremy Lovell

LONDON April 29, 2003 (Reuters) - British scientists equipped with state of the art detectors deep underground in northern England have begun a search for one of the most tantalizing secrets of the universe -- known as Dark Matter.

"If we are successful in our quest then we are looking at a place in the history books," Neil Spooner of Sheffield University said on Tuesday.
"This will be one of the great discoveries of our time."

Teams of scientists around the world are racing to be the first to discover the truth about Dark Matter, which cannot be seen because it does not emit light. They believe it makes up the vast majority of the universe.

Scientists say stars account for less than one percent of the mass of the universe, with gas clouds and other objects accounting for close to another five percent.

No one is quite sure what makes up the missing remainder, which has been dubbed Dark Matter.

In a bid to identify the prime suspect known as Weakly Interacting Massive Particles or WIMPs, British scientists have installed highly sensitive detectors 3,600 feet down a salt mine at Boulby on the North Yorkshire moors. They are buried deep underground in an area of low natural radioactivity where intervening rock should shield them from interference and filter out cosmic bombardment.

"This is an outstanding research facility equipped with some of the world's most sensitive Dark Matter detectors," Ian Halliday, chief executive of the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council, said in a statement.

"It is a crucial addition to the UK's resources in a research field where British scientists are playing a world-leading role -- the race by physicists around the globe to discover these exotic, as yet undetected, Dark Matter particles."

The theory is that although billions of sub-atomic particles called WIMPs are passing through the atmosphere and the earth every second they only rarely encounter the nucleus of an atom, making it judder slightly.

The detectors are designed to be able to detect these tiny collisions which are so rare that scientists calculate that in a 2.2 pound block of material less than one WIMP a day will strike the nucleus of an atom and make it move.

Mercury's Mini-Eclipse
European Southern Observatory (ESO) Press Release

May 5, 2003 - A solar mini-eclipse! On May 7, 2003, Mercury, the innermost planet in the solar system, will pass in front of the Sun and produce a solar eclipse. But this event will hardly be noticed. Mercury's small disk will indeed barely be bigger than the point of a pencil.

Even the smallest sunspots on the solar surface are as big as the Earth and measure 10,000 km or more in diameter, while Mercury's equatorial diameter is only 4878 km.

Bathed in intense sunlight, this small, hot planet moves around the Sun in an elliptical orbit at a mean distance of only 58 million km, much closer to the Sun than other inner planet, Venus (108 million km) and the Earth (150 million km).

The disk of Mercury is very small and will be very difficult to see.

A powerful telescope is needed to observe this event and to show clearly how Mercury moves across the solar disk. The disk of Mercury is indeed only 13 arcseconds across (while the solar disk measures about 1800 arcseconds).

This corresponds to the size of a 1 EURO coin located at the top of the Eiffel Tower as seen from the ground. Therefore, Mercury will only block 1/20,000th of the Sun's light.

Mercury Transits

Passages of Mercury in front of the Sun, or "Mercury Transits" in astronomical terminology, are comparatively rare events, due to the different orbital inclinations of the Earth and Mercury as they move around the Sun.

In order for a Mercury transit to happen, the planet must be located directly between the Earth and the Sun and also near one of the two points in its orbit where Mercury's orbital plane intersects that of the Earth. We then face the dark side of Mercury - the hemisphere that is not illuminated by the Sun - and see it as a small dark spot moving across the bright solar disk.

There are about 13 Mercury transits each century and they follow in time intervals of approximately 13, 7, 10 and 3 years. The most recent one took place in November 1999 and the next will be on May 7, 2003 and November 8, 2006.

The next Mercury transit happens on Wednesday morning this week. It lasts from about 7:13 hrs CEST (Central European Summer Time) until 12:32 hrs CEST (5:13 to 10:32 UT) and the contour of the small planet as it moves across the solar disk can be seen from all places where the Sun is above the horizon and the sky is clear. The best observing conditions are from Europe, Africa and Asia.

Observations of the transit

Note, however, that this event cannot be observed with the unaided eye - this would also be extremely dangerous because the enormous brightness of the Sun will cause total blindness in a fraction of a second!

Observations can only be made by means of telescopes which project the solar image onto a white screen.

Public observatories, planetaria and other educational institutions will arrange special events on this occasion. News about such arrangements will appear in the local press.

Live images on the web

On this special occasion and in order to provide for everybody the chance to watch this event, the European Southern Observatory (ESO) and the European Association for Astronomy Education (EAAE), together with the Institut de Mecanique Celeste et de Calcul des Ephemerides (IMCCE) and the Observatoire de Paris in France, are providing live images and a running commentary for all interested parties. It is also planned to display images obtained at observatories in the Belgium, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Italy and Spain, and possibly others. The availability will depend on the weather situation in the various places.

Full information and many weblinks to other educational sites are available via the special website at:

http://www.eso.org/outreach/eduoff/vt-2004/mt-2003/mt-intro.html

On this site, extensive background information about Mercury and the Sun can be found and, in particular, useful sheets for school students and teachers in many languages. Live images from professional telescopes (depending on the weather at the observing sites) will be available on the special webpage:

http://www.eso.org/outreach/eduoff/vt-2004/mt-2003/mt-display.html

and it will also be possible to ask questions in "real-time" to astronomers via this page.

Venus Transit on June 8, 2004

The Mercury Transit of May 7 is also a kind of "general rehearsal" to the even rarer Venus Transit event on June 8, 2004. The last such event took place in 1884, so that no living person has ever seen one. The above mentioned organizations are also preparing for a major public event on that occasion. Provisional information is already available at the VT-2004 website at: http://www.eso.org/outreach/eduoff/vt-2004

Man Saws Off Head in South Africa
KwaZulu-Natal May 6, 2003 (SAPA) - A 31-year-old man sawed his head off in full view of staff and customers at a supermarket in Richards Bay, northern KwaZulu-Natal, on Monday afternoon, police said.

Superintendent Jay Naiker said Emmanuel Gumbi walked into the butchery section of Shoprite branch, switched on an electric meat saw, positioned his neck near the blade and sawed off his head.

He said Gumbi did not leave a suicide note.

Naiker said Gumbi's family said they had been shocked by the incident because he never showed signs of depression.
Experts List Stolen Iraqi Art
By JOSEPH COLEMAN
The Associated Press

PARIS May 5, 2003 (AP) - Art experts, curators and law enforcement officials gathered at Interpol headquarters Monday to create a computerized list to help customs agents catch any looted Iraqi treasures that pass through their borders.

Compiling an easily accessible description of looted antiquities was at the top of the agenda for the two-day meeting in the southeastern city of Lyon.

But tracking down stolen Iraqi art won't be easy. Museum inventories, which may have been incomplete to start with, were destroyed or scattered in pillaging during the chaotic aftermath of the U.S.-led invasion. Thousands of pieces of art - some of them priceless antiquities - are believed missing, but so far there is no agreement on even how much art was taken.

The conference brings together experts from the International Council of Museums, UNESCO - the U.N. heritage agency - and other officials, including U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft, who will speak to the meeting on Tuesday.

Interpol said that one key proposal was "to significantly expand Interpol's existing database of stolen art to include the thousands of other items now missing in Iraq."

Iraq's museums held millennia-old artworks from the Assyrian, Sumerian and Babylonian cultures. Ancient Mesopotamia - modern-day Iraq - was the cradle of urban civilization.

Figuring out what is missing has been a central task of investigators.

"We don't yet have a complete record of all the stolen objects, and we don't have any means to verify that a certain object is indeed coming from that collection," said Giovanni Boccardi with UNESCO's World Heritage Center in Paris.

UNESCO also hopes to send a fact-finding mission to Iraq to help piece together inventories and more fully assess the damage.

Interpol, the international police organization, already has a database of 21,000 other stolen artworks that includes photographs and descriptions. Interpol's 181 member countries have quick access to that information through a computer program.

Interpol also publishes a CD-ROM for the private sector, prints posters of the "most wanted" stolen treasures and lists recent thefts on its Internet site.

The United States, whose military has been widely criticized for doing nothing to stop the pillaging, is also moving to recover the missing art. The FBI is coordinating efforts with international law enforcement, and the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq has begun broadcasting messages on the radio offering rewards to Iraqis to return antiquities.

At a conference in London last week, the world's top curators pressed U.S. authorities to go further by tightening up Iraq's borders, saying artifacts were still being smuggled out of the country.

Many artworks are believed to have disappeared into a shadowy and profitable network of traffickers and their customers. Koichiro Matsuura, UNESCO director-general, says the world market in stolen antiquities amounts to $5 billion a year, second only to drugs.

Interpol - http://www.interpol.int
Bush Secret Wilderness Plan Wipes Out Protections!
Salt Lake City May 5th, 2003 (Earthjustice) - Conservation groups filed papers in the United States District Court late Friday firing back at Gale Norton’s plan to freeze wilderness consideration on more than 200 million acres of public land managed by the Bureau of Land Management.

In a filing before a federal district court judge in Utah, national and state conservation groups from eight western states charged that Norton’s Department of the Interior had violated the law, the US Constitution, and federal court decisions when it secretly agreed to forever surrender the BLM’s authority to review and protect its wilderness quality lands.
The agreement came in the settlement of a lawsuit brought by the state of Utah against the federal government.

Federally designated wilderness areas are off limits to road building, logging, mining, and off-road vehicle use.

BLM lands at risk include stunning red-rock canyons and the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah, 14,000-foot peaks as well as the badlands of Vermillion Basin and waterfalls of the Roan Plateau in Colorado, desert grasslands in New Mexico, redwood forests in the Headwaters area of California, the Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument as well as pristine Sonoran desert in Arizona.

From isolated basin and range country in Nevada to forestlands of Oregon to Sequoia forests in California, many of America’s last wild jewels are suddenly opened to business as a result of the government’s settlement with Utah.

None of these lands will be considered for wilderness protection if the Norton settlement agreement stands.

For photos of the areas at risk, see www.suwa.org  or www.tws.org .

"Why would BLM end the process for identifying and protecting irreplaceable wilderness jewels deserving of protection? One reason --so they can be opened to exploitation by oil companies and other commercial interests," explained Heidi McIntosh of Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.

Earthjustice attorney Jim Angell, who is representing the coalition, said, "The federal government is rushing to develop some of America’s last wild lands. Truly wild lands, that support native plants and animals aren’t being made anymore. It’s clear to most Americans that it’s best to first identify and protect the pristine. You can always mine, log, drill, and bulldoze later if you decide that’s what’s most important."

Sue and Settle Scam

The conservationists noted the secret deal between the state and the federal government followed the Bush administration pattern of "sue and settle," whereby the federal government sells out public lands protections under the guise of settling a lawsuit brought by development friends.

This approach cuts the public out and guts federal environmental laws behind closed doors with few fingerprints on the deal.

Earthjustice - http://earthjustice.org

Grand Staircase - http://www.go-utah.com

Arizona Sierra Club - http://www.arizona.sierraclub.org

Travel Naked Air!
Cancun May 6, 2003 (SAPA) - Eighty-nine passengers donned smiles but not their clothes on a flight from the United States to a Mexican beach resort that was touted as the first for nudists.

A spokesperson for the organizer, Castaways Travel in Houston, Texas, confirmed on Monday that the Boeing 727 flew from Miami to Cancun on Saturday, with a return planned a week later.

The nudists paid $499 (about R3 572) for a flight on Naked-Air and were required to be clothed when they went through security and boarded the plane. However, as soon as the plane reached cruising altitude, they were allowed to strip.

The only requirement: "Nude etiquette always requests you have a towel between you and the seat," Castaways Travel head James Bailey said.
Pregnant Male Seahorses!
Georgia Institute of Technology Research News Release

May 5, 2003 - Male pregnancy in seahorses may do more than reverse traditional gender roles. It could also influence the way new species form from single populations of these ancient creatures.

Studies have shown that most new species arise from geographically, and therefore genetically, isolated populations. But some seahorses likely diversify in a process called sympatric speciation, in which new species arise from a single population that has no geographic barriers to inhibit gene flow, according to a paper published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

"We think there’s a fairly strong case that sympatric speciation may have occurred in seahorses," said Georgia Institute of Technology Assistant Professor of Biology Adam Jones, the lead author on the PNAS paper. "We’re not arguing that all speciation in seahorses is sympatric. The majority of speciation is probably due to some geographic barrier to genetic migration. But in some instances it looks like sympatric speciation occurred."

Driving the sympatric speciation process in seahorses is the fish’s size-similar mating practice imposed by male pregnancy, extended male parental care and monogamy, Jones said. Seahorses choose similar-size mates to have the best chances for successful reproduction.

The female inserts ripe eggs into the male’s brood pouch, where the eggs are fertilized, embed and incubate for 10 days to six weeks, depending on the species.

"Male reproductive rates, the size of the brood pouch and the number of eggs that a female produces all increase with the size of the seahorse," Jones explained. "So if you’re a large seahorse, you want to mate with another large seahorse so you’re not wasting your eggs or your brood pouch space. So this kind of mating is the real mechanism for sympatric speciation. A lot of forms of parental care might not cause that size-specific restraint in mating, but this one does."

In addition to size-specific mating, a process called disruptive selection is also necessary for sympatric speciation to occur, Jones said. Disruptive selection occurs when large-sized and small-sized individuals survive better than mid-sized animals.

To test their hypothesis, Jones and his co-authors developed a computer-based genetic model to determine if the rate of size-similar mating in their field study population was sufficient enough to produce disruptive selection and, in turn, sympatric speciation. The model allows simulated populations to evolve at the rate of size-similar mating that Jones and his colleagues observed in a seahorse species off the coast of Perth, Australia. Under these conditions, the model indicated sympatric speciation does occur with fairly modest levels of disruptive selection.

Further research on sympatric speciation could reveal patterns of genetic variation in species pairs that researchers suspect might have undergone sympatric speciation.

Project Seahorse - http://www.seahorse.mcgill.ca/intro.htm

Otzi News - Ancient Iceman Was Hi-Tech Warrior
By Robin McKie

Bolzano Italy May 4, 2003 (Observer UK) - When hikers spotted a corpse poking from the Schnalstal glacier in the Austrian-Italian Alps in 1991, they thought they had found the body of a lost climber.

Then researchers took a closer look and announced the iceman was an ancient shepherd, a primitive farm worker who had got lost in the mountains and had died of hypothermia.

Yet now, after 12 years of careful research, scientists have discovered the truth about Otzi the Iceman: that he was the Stone Age equivalent of a hi-tech trooper kitted with complex weapons and survival gear.

This is the startling picture revealed by scientists who have completed the full reconstruction of the oldest, best-preserved human body known to science.

It shows that Otzi - named after the Otzal Alps, where his body was discovered - carried sophisticated armory and wore warm, protective clothing that would have rivaled the fleeces and waterproof anoraks worn by mountaineers and soldiers today.

Otzi's equipment included a flint dagger, a longbow of yew, plants with powerful pharmaceutical properties, three layers of clothing made of deer and goat hides, a bearskin hat, a framed backpack, a copper axe, dried fruit and other foods wrapped in moss for protection and a fire-making kit that included flints and ores for making sparks.

In addition, the iceman had tattoo marks on his back that suggest he had undergone acupuncture while food experts concluded that his last meal was made up of goat meat and bread cooked in a charcoal oven.

'Otzi was extremely well equipped, each object fashioned from the material best suited to its purpose,' state the Otzi scientists in the latest issue of Scientific American. 'The items are testament to how intimately his people knew the rocks, fungi, plants and animals in their immediate surroundings.'

Far from being a poor shepherd who had got lost and wandered to a lonely, icy death, Otzi was well-armed and well-protected when he died. Some scientists believe he may have been murdered - a theory backed by Italian scientists' announcement, in 2001, that they had discovered an arrowhead in Otzi's back, just under his left shoulder. This has still to be verified by other researchers.

His body was originally discovered on a high ridge just inside the Italian border with Austria. Only later did scientists realize he was the oldest and best preserved mummy in the world.

Then a battle began between the two countries over ownership of his 5,300-year-old corpse, a dispute eventually won by Italy after it was decreed that Otzi's resting place lay a few hundred feet inside its side of the border.

Otzi now rests in a special chamber - in the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology in Bolzano - in which his body is preserved in air chilled to minus 6C and kept at 99 per cent humidity.

Initial investigations revealed Otzi was about 5ft 2in tall, in his mid-forties, and probably had a beard. Then archaeologists revisited the site of the body's discovery to uncover new evidence while researchers began studying the seeds and plants he was carrying, the contents of his stomach, the state of his skin, nails and hair, the make-up of his weapons and composition of his clothes.

Analyses have forced researchers to overturn most of their initial ideas about Otzi's supposed primitive status, state the Scientific American authors: botanists Professor James Dickson, of Glasgow University and Klaus Oeggl of Innsbruck University, and ecologist Linda Handley of the Scottish Crop Research Institute at Invergowrie, near Dundee.

For example, they reveal that Otzi's longbow was made of yew - 'the best wood for such purpose because of its great tensile strength,' they say. Long bows of yew gave the English army its crucial advantage at Agincourt, a power Otzi and his people had discovered thousands of years earlier.

In addition, Otzi was found to have been carrying two pieces of birch bracket fungus, which is known to contain pharmacologically active compounds. In short, he had his own first-aid kit.

Then there was his clothing: leggings, loincloth and jacket made of deer and goat hide; a cape made of grass and the bark of the linden tree; a hat of bearskin; shoes insulated with grass, with bearskin soles and goatskin uppers. He was protected against Alpine weather.

Clearly, Stone Age Europeans were sophisticated individuals who exploited local resources and led lives that were far from brutish or short.

It is clear Otzi had been unwell: his fingernail growth patterns suggest he had been very ill three times in the last six months of his life. Austrian scientists have discovered he had become infested with intestinal parasitic worms that would have triggered diarrhea and dysentery.

Dickson and colleagues have carried out studies of moss species in the region, and conclude - from the samples found in Otzi's backpack- that he probably came from Juval Castle to the South, where archaeologists have found evidence of prehistoric settlements.

The mystery still to be resolved concerns Otzi's identity. He was not a shepherd: as the scientists say, 'no wool was on or around his person, no dead collie by his feet, no crook in his hand'. He was not a hunter: his bow was unstrung and most of his arrows lacked heads.

'Other early ideas about Otzi are that he was an outlaw, a trader, a shaman or a warrior. None of these has any solid basis, unless the piece of fungus he was carrying had medicinal or spiritual use for shamans,' they conclude.

South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology - http://www.bolzano-bozen.it/musei01-e.htm

Otzi comics - http://www.brg-landeck.asn-ibk.ac.at/galerie/gal1/galerie01.htm

Army Ants Defy Evolution
Cornell University Press Release

ITHACA NY May 5, 2003 - Army ants, nature's ultimate coalition task force, strike their prey en masse in a blind, voracious column and pay no attention to the conventional wisdom of evolutionary biologists.

The common scientific belief has been that army ants originated separately on several continents over millions of years. Now it is found there was no evolution. Using fossil data and the tools of a genetics detective, a Cornell University entomologist has discovered that these ants come from the same point of origin, because since the reign of the dinosaurs, about 100 million years ago, army ants in essence have not changed a bit.

"Biologists have wondered why army ants, whose queens can't fly or get caught up by the wind, are yet so similar around the world. Army ants have evolved only once and that was in the mid-Cretaceous period," says Sean Brady, a Cornell postdoctoral researcher in entomology, whose study was conducted while he was doctoral candidate at the University of California-Davis.

Brady's paper, "Evolution of army ant syndrome: the unique origin and long-term evolutionary stasis of a novel complex of behavioral and reproductive adaptation," will be published on the Web by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (PNAS) Online Early Edition between May 5 and May 9 before being printed in PNAS.

Army ants are quite unlike the ants commonly found at family picnics. They have what scientists call the "army ant syndrome," comprising three characteristics: the ants are nomadic, they forage for prey without advance scouting, and their wingless queens can produce up to 4 million eggs in a month.

While this syndrome is found in every army ant species around the world, scientific papers have postulated that army ants evolved these characteristics multiple times after the breakup of the supercontinent Gondwana about 100 million years ago.

In total, Brady studied the DNA of 30 army ant species and 20 possible ancestors within the army ant community, divided between the New World species in Ecitoninae and the Old World groups Aenictinae and Dorylinae. He specifically sought information from four different genes to uncover clues to their relationships. "Essentially I built a genetic family tree. Then I took that family tree and looked at its genetic tree rings to postulate what happened in the past," he said.

Brady combined the genetic data with the army ant fossil information and the ants' morphological (form and structure) information to establish ages for the different ant species. Combining this data, Brady found that all the species share some of the same genetic mutations. "If they share those mutations, we can infer they evolved from the same source," Brady said.

Instead of proving the common assumption that the Old World and the New World army ants developed their lineage independently on separate continents, the entomologist showed the ants evolved only once -- on Gondwana.

Brady examined the army ants' behavior on his trips to the Amazon jungle, Brazil's savanna region and the country's coastal rain forest near Săo Paulo. Periodically millions of army ants would march together through his camp, he says, like a flowing river of red. While the ants move silently, their presence is announced. "The other insects are scared, and they make noises as they flee the invading army," Brady says. "Ant birds follow the ants from the sky and feast on the remnants left behind by the ants. You will hear the high-pitched chirping of the other insects, and you'll hear them and other small animals scurrying in fear. They know what is next."

PNAS Online Early Edition - http://www.pnas.org/papbyrecent.shtml

Vikings Raped, Pillaged, Did The Ironing
May 5, 2003 (Daily Record UK) - Vikings were responsible for introducing ironing to Scotland. The pillaging Scandinavians were surprisingly conscious of their appearance and regularly smoothed their clothes.

Excavations across Scotland have revealed evidence that the Nordic warriors used ironing boards and smoothing stones to make the job easier.

Dr Euan MacKie, of Glasgow University, said he found out about the ironing culture by chance 10 years ago, when his colleague's child found a piece of a whalebone on the Hebridean island of North Uist.

He said: "It is probably right to say Vikings introduced ironing to Scotland. The archaeological findings from before the Viking era have produced no evidence of similar activity. But only a few of their ironing boards and smoothing balls have been found here. The ones that have been discovered have been in female burial sites, which suggests women did most of the ironing. Vikings tend to be known as murderous invaders and vandals but that was just the wild part of them."

It is believed ironing was initially introduced in areas where Vikings settled, such as Orkney, Shetland, the Western Isles and Caithness. An excavation in Orkney uncovered a 950AD Viking whalebone ironing board from a burial ship.

And it was identified as an early version because similar equipment was still being used in Norway during the early 19th century.
Galaxies Collide!
May 1, 2003 - A dusty spiral galaxy appears to be rotating on edge, like a pinwheel, as it slides through the larger, bright galaxy NGC 1275 in this NASA Hubble Space Telescope image.

These images, taken with Hubble's Wide Field Planetary Camera 2 (WFPC2), show traces of spiral structure accompanied by dramatic dust lanes and bright blue regions that mark areas of active star formation. Detailed observations of NGC 1275 indicate that the dusty material belongs to a spiral system seen nearly edge-on in the foreground. The second galaxy, lying beyond the first, is actually a giant elliptical with peculiar faint spiral structure in its nucleus. These galaxies are believed to be colliding at over 6 million miles per hour.

NGC 1275 is about 235 million light-years away in the constellation Perseus. Embedded in the center of a large cluster of galaxies known as the Perseus Cluster, it is also known to emit a powerful signal at both X-ray and radio frequencies. The galaxy collision causes the gas and dust already existing in the central bright galaxy to swirl into the center of the object. The X-ray and radio emission indicates the probable existence of a black hole at the bright galaxy's center.

While the dark dusty material in the Hubble image falls inward, NGC 1275 displays intricate filamentary structures at a much larger scale outside the image. This is a typical feature of bright cluster galaxies. Additional observational evidence of strong interactions between at least two galaxies, and possibly a few smaller galaxies, includes the formation of new stars and large star clusters. Although similar in shape to the old globular clusters in the Milky Way galaxy, NGC 1275's clusters are much younger and contain 100,000 to a million stars each.

This image was created from archived blue and red Hubble WFPC2 data taken in 1995 by John Trauger (JPL) and Jon Holtzman (NMSU). The Hubble Heritage team, along with collaborators Megan Donahue, Jennifer Mack, and Mark Voit (STScI), took follow-up WFPC2 observations at infrared wavelengths in 2001 to help produce this full-color image.

The Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) is operated by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, Inc. (AURA), for NASA, under contract with the Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, MD. The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA).
Genre News: Eliza Dushku, Joss on Buffy, Anna Paquin, Stephen King, Daffy Duck, James Brown & More!
Eliza Dushku in Wrong Turn
By FLAtRich

Hollywood May 6, 2003 (eXoNews) - Don't have a coronary when you see the ads for Eliza Dushku in Wrong Turn - it's not a Faith the Slayer movie! According to the plot on the official Wrong Turn website, Eliza stars here in a lost-in-the-woods slasher flick.

There isn't much more to say about the plot until the movie comes out on May 30th and then it will probably rise or fall on Eliza's performance. That's not a bad bet for a quickie thriller considering the admirable work Eliza Dushku has done so far in her film outings and as Faith on Buffy and Angel.

She'll have some expert help, too.

Wrong Turn was produced by Hollywood's legendary Stan Winston, who has credits on too many classy sci-fi and horror films to list (from Terminator to Jurassic Park and A.I.)
Winston has garnered four Oscars and nine Oscar nominations for his efforts.

Wrong Turn was shot by Emmy-winning ex-X-Files cinematographer John Bartley, who also did the Roswell series and The Visitor.

The director is Rob Schmidt, who made an ill-timed movie called American Heroes in 2001, a government conspiracy thriller about how Neil Armstrong's moon walk was a fake.

The writer is Alan McElroy, who wrote Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers. The plot sounds like a Halloween bit, come to think of it.

Desmond Harrington (Jesse Keys in Taken) co-stars, but Eliza is definitely top-billed in this one and it's not surprising that the premiere comes only days after the final episode of Buffy.

Dushku also has a promising  supernatural TV pilot in the works for Fox called True Calling.

Wrong Turn Official site - http://www.wrongturnmovie.com 

No official site for Eliza Dushku, but this one is nice: http://www.edushku.com

Joss Says Buffy Grew Up Fast

Hollywood May 6, 2003 (Sci Fi Wire) - Joss Whedon, creator of UPN's Buffy the Vampire Slayer, told SCI FI Wire that the series has exceeded his expectations as it winds up its seventh and final season.

"It's been very close to what I envisioned, except that it grew up a lot more," Whedon said in a conference call interview with reporters.

"When I started the show, I didn't know its full potential, because I just sort of had the basic notion of 'It's tough to make it in high school, and it'll be funny and evolving and scary and really hit on things that people can relate to.'"

Whedon added that he was pleasantly surprised by his cast, including star Sarah Michelle Gellar.

"I didn't know how good my actors would be," he said.
"I didn't know how long we'd go and how much they'd grow and change and how far we could go with the medium and how much the network would let us do.

"Or networks, I should say. So did I know I was going to make a musical? Or did I know even that Buffy was going to sleep with Angel, and he would go bad? No. It just kept growing."

Even as the show enters its home stretch, it remains true to its roots, Whedon said.

"The basic idea that I think we're very true to, especially in the last episode, of the empowerment of girls and the toughness of this life, was always there, but it grew beyond my best imagining."

The final episode of Buffy airs at 8 p.m. ET/PT on May 20.

Buffy Official Site - http://www.buffy.com

Anna Paquin Keeps Rogue Life in Perspective

Los Angeles May 7, 2003 (Sydney Morning Herald) - A cairn terrier with a striking resemblance to Toto is chewing the wall of a Los Angeles hotel room.

"Dee Dee, stop!" pleads Anna Paquin who has returned to the screen as the mutant Rogue in X-Men 2 with Hugh Jackman and Halle Berry among the ensemble.

"I think the traveling is making her really grumpy," Paquin says.

The actress could be excused for being grumpy herself. She had just arrived from the London premiere and was getting ready for more of the same here. But the 20-year-old actress has her perspective intact.

"My life has all been documented in gruesome detail, but it will sure make one killer photo album for my kids," she says. After all, Paquin has spent her adolescence on screen, from her Academy Award-winning performance in The Piano at age 11 to Spike Lee's 25th Hour last year. Unlike other young stars, Paquin understands what it takes to keep early and consistent success from going to her head.

"I don't really like to think about myself unless I have to," she says. "People get so obsessed with themselves, but I'm, like, 'Why?' There are so many more interesting things to think about."

She means no disrespect, but she keeps her supporting-actress Oscar in the closet.

"You can't really feel pressure like that or else you drive yourself crazy thinking, 'Ah! Not another non-Oscar-caliber performance!' The accolades are a bonus," she says, "but it's not why you do the work."

Paquin, who lives in Manhattan, plans to major in English at Columbia University, where she has been earning a degree between films. The New Zealand-raised star reads Hemingway and Fitzgerald ("They're so depressing and glamorous at the same time!") and has returned to ballet, which she danced as a child.

"Anna is strikingly intelligent," says Gregor Jordan, who directed Paquin in the summer war movie Buffalo Soldiers, co-starring Joaquin Phoenix. "She's so well-read. She can (participate in) a conversation about anything. Our set was mostly big strong tough guys and a lot of testosterone, but she was never out of place."

She had an advantage.

"On set, we played a lot of cards together," remembers Shawn Ashmore, who plays Iceman and Paquin's boyfriend in X2.

In the movie, Paquin's Rogue drains the life force out of people, even as her romance with Iceman flourishes. The two even lip-lock in a heated - yet dangerous - exchange.

"She taught me how to play hearts," says Ashmore. "I was terrible. I think that's why she always wanted to play."

Paquin admits to having a new man in her life.

"We've only been together for a few months," she says, declining to name him. "He is not an actor."

Paquin has plans for her few months of downtime. At the top of her list is a return to the theatre. She made her stage debut in 2001 in Rebecca Gilman's Off-Broadway play The Glory of Living (it was directed by Paquin's 25th Hour co-star Philip Seymour Hoffman), and was in the London hit This Is Our Youth last year. A play, she says, is both "terrifying and exciting.

"I would just love to be in New York for a while working. It would be such a great treat to go home at the end of the day, hang out with my friends, just have a regular life," she said.

Official X2 site - http://www.x-men-the-movie.com

Shatner Scores Worst Beatles Cover of All Time

LONDON May 5, 2003 (Reuters) - "Star Trek" star William Shatner's version of "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds" has been picked as the worst Beatles cover of all time.

Shatner's spoken word massacre of the Beatles classic was chosen as the biggest crime against the Fab Four in a poll conducted by the digital TV channel Music Choice. 

Second place went to British TV's singing piglets Pinky and Perky for their unforgettable "All My Loving." 

Former Formula One star Damon Hill was fourth for his version of "Drive My Car" while Hollywood star Jim Carrey reached No. 6 with his "I Am The Walrus." 

""The likes of Damon Hill, Jim Carrey and William Shatner are best advised to stick to the day job," said Simon Bell of Music Choice.

William Shatner's Official site - http://www.williamshatner.com

King Stories Found in School Newspaper 

LISBON FALLS MAINE May 5, 2003 (AP) - Copies of the Lisbon High School student newspaper from the mid-1960s have become collectors items. 

That's because they contain two original stories by an author listed as "Steve King." 

The stories, "The 43rd Dream" and "Code Name: Mousetrap," are believed to be among the earliest published works of best seller Stephen King, who grew up in Durham and attended Lisbon High at that time. 

The old newspaper copies were discovered last year when retired English teacher Prudence Grant cleaned out her file cabinet. She sold the copies on the online auction site eBay, where they fetched $400 to $800 per copy. 

Grant never had King in class, but she was an adviser for the school newspaper, The Drum, which King wrote for. Grant remembers him as "a goofy guy who went on to do far, far, far better than any of us." 

Rocky Wood, one of the authors of the CD-ROM "The Complete Guide to the Works of Stephen King," said he sent copies of the stories to King for verification. However, King has been out of town and hasn't been able to look at them, said his personal assistant, Marcia DeFilippo. 

"We don't have exact verification by Stephen right now, but we hope to have him look at the stories soon," said DeFilippo.

Official Stephen King site - http://www.stephenking.com

Gilligan's Island Composer Dies 

LOS ANGELES May 4, 2003 (AP) - George Wyle, who wrote the theme song to "Gilligan's Island" and directed music for singers including Andy Williams, has died at the age of 87. 

Wyle also wrote the Christmas classic "The Most Wonderful Time of the Year" and more than 400 other songs.

He died Friday of leukemia at the Encino-Tarzana Regional Medical Center in Tarzana, his son Jerry Weissman said. 

"The Ballad of Gilligan's Island," which Wyle wrote with the show's creator and producer Sherwood Schwartz, became one of the most popular television theme songs. The show debuted on CBS in 1964 and ran until 1967, but its reruns remained popular for years. 

"America doesn't want great music themes," Wyle once said of the song. "Just something it can remember."

Right-click here to download The Ballad of Gilligan's Island (midi version - 17 KB).

Official Gilligan's Island Fan Club - http://www.gilligansisle.com

Bob Denver Fan Club - http://www.bobdenver.com

Space-Age Daffy Duck Joins Cartoon Network

Hollywood May 1, 2003 (Sci Fi Wire) - The Cartoon Network will premiere two new animated series this summer, one featuring a teenage Robin and another bringing a Space-Age Daffy Duck to the screen, the network announced.

The new shows—Teen Titans and Duck Dodgers—will join returning shows The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy and The Justice League.

In Teen Titans, based on the DC Comics series, Robin the Boy Wonder unites teen superheroes Cyborg, Starfire, Beast Boy and Raven as they join forces to defend the world . Teen Titans premieres July 19.

Looney Tunes characters Daffy Duck and Porky Pig find themselves in the 24-1/2 century in Duck Dodgers.
Daffy's Duck Dodgers and Porky's Space Cadet must save the Earth from Martian Commander X-2 (Marvin the Martian).

Each episode consists of two 11-minute cartoons; the show premieres August 23rd.

The Cartoon Network - http://www.cartoonnetwork.com

James Brown Turns 70

AIKEN SC May 3, 2003 (AP) - The Godfather of Soul is celebrating 70 - and feels good.

"It's been seven decades alive and over five decades onstage, and I still feel good," James Brown said from his Beech Island home.

Brown, who celebrated his birthday Saturday, says he recently lost 13 pounds and is focused on good health.

"I'm getting back into my clothes again. I stopped eating late at night," Brown said.

The two-time Grammy award winner has recorded more than 110 charted singles including "Out of Sight," "(Get Up I Feel Like Being a) Sex Machine," "I Got You (I Feel Good)" and "Say It Out Loud - I'm Black and I'm Proud."

He won the music industry's top award in 1965 for "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag" and for "Living In America" in 1987. Brown said he's not ready to retire yet.

Upcoming tours include shows in Russia, at London's Royal Albert Hall and the Hollywood Bowl. "I'll also play for President Bush in a few weeks," he said.

Nice James Brown site - http://www.godfatherofsoul.com

Pooh Corporate Battle Continues
By Peter Henderson 

LOS ANGELES May 2, 2003 (Reuters) - A U.S. federal judge has ruled tentatively that the granddaughter of Winnie the Pooh's creator could not have the U.S. marketing rights to the lovable bear, her lawyer said on Friday, delivering a blow to the Walt Disney Co. in its fight for Pooh's financial honeypot. 

If finalized, the ruling would be a major victory for Stephen Slesinger Inc., the company that currently holds the Pooh copyright and has been a thorn in the side of Disney for more than two decades, filing lawsuits and claiming Disney owes it millions in back royalty payments.

Judge Florence-Marie Cooper of the U.S. District Court in Los Angeles has reviewed the copyright case and will hear oral arguments on Monday. But in her initial ruling designed to clarify the legal issues in the case, Cooper held that Clare Milne could not use a change in U.S. copyright law to reclaim the U.S. rights to Winnie the Pooh next year, her lawyer David Nimmer told Reuters.

Her grandfather, British author A.A. Milne, sold the U.S. rights in 1930 to American literary agent Stephen Slesinger. 

Nimmer stressed that the ruling was not final. "We are confident in the strength of our position," he told Reuters. 

Other people familiar with the case said that such initial judgments were rarely changed. 

Disney, which makes about $1 billion of Pooh-related merchandise each year under the disputed contract with Slesinger, joined Milne asking the court for a judgment on her behalf, although it did not ask for assignment of the U.S. rights to itself. 

Disney has said it made a deal with Milne to continue making Pooh products if she won and their efforts were seen as a bid to undermine the Slesinger side or at least put extra pressure on it in a closely watched multi-million dollar battle over stuffed animals and decals on children's clothing. 

HUNDREDS OF MILLIONS OF DOLLARS 

Disney has said a ruling against it in its legal battle with Slesinger could cost the company hundreds of millions of dollars, and it recently asked a federal court to remove the case from the California superior court, which has been hearing it for the last decade. 

Disney argued the change in court jurisdiction was required since the copyright issue -- a federal matter -- had been raised. 

Slesinger lawyer Bonnie Eskenazi said that Disney's efforts to change courts was a bid to draw out the case for even more years. "It is one of Disney's classic delay tactics," she said.

Disney denies that and recently accused Slesinger of hiring unlicensed private detectives to steal documents from its offices and rummage through its trash, an argument it expects to give it the upper hand in the case. 

Bert Fields, the lead lawyer for Slesinger, dismissed the accusations of theft in a recent interview with Reuters but said that detectives had gathered papers from a Disney dumpster. 

"Taking trash from a publicly accessible trash bin, even if it is on private property, is acceptable," Fields said. 

Eskenazi said the case was in limbo, thanks to Disney's request for the federal court to review the main case. 

A victory for Slesinger over Clare Milne on Monday would almost certainly mean that the Disney-Slesinger lawsuit would continue to be heard in California Superior Court.

Winnie 2003 calendar - http://www.nbp.org/winnie03.html

Paperback books by Rich La Bonté - Free e-previews!