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Lines of Nasca!
Beyond Pluto - 2004 DW!
Salt? Naachtún, Killing Coral,
The Star Ripper & More!
Lines of Nasca!

European Space Agency Press Release

February 20, 2004 - Visible from ESA's Proba spacecraft 600 kilometers away in space are the largest of the many Nasca Lines; ancient desert markings now at risk from human encroachment as well as flood events feared to be increasing in frequency.

Designated a World Heritage Site in 1994, the Lines are a mixture of animal figures and long straight lines etched across an area of about 70 km by 30 km on the Nasca plain, between the Andes and Pacific Coast at the southern end of Peru. The oldest lines date from around 400 BC and went on being created for perhaps a thousand years. 

They were made simply enough, by moving dark surface stones to expose pale sand beneath. However their intended purpose remains a mystery. It has variously been proposed they were created as pathways for religious processions and ceremonies, an astronomical observatory or a guide to underground water resources.

The Nasca Lines have been preserved down the centuries by extreme local dryness and a lack of erosion mechanisms, but are now coming increasingly under threat: it is estimated the last 30 years saw greater erosion and degradation of the site than the previous thousand years before them.

In the image to the upper right, acquired by the Compact High Resolution Imaging Spectrometer (CHRIS) instrument aboard Proba on 26 September 2003, the 18.6 meter resolution is too low to make out the animal figures although the straight Nasca Lines can be seen faintly.

Clearest of the straight markings is actually the Pan-American Highway, built right through the region – seen as a dark marking starting at the irrigated fields beside the Ingenio River, running from near the image top to the bottom right hand corner.

Associated dirt track roads are also visible amidst the Nasca Lines. Clearly shown in the Proba image is another cause of damage to the Lines: deposits left by mudslides after heavy rains in the Andean Mountains.

These events are believed to be connected to the El Niño phenomenon in the Pacific Ocean – first named by Peruvian fishermen hundreds of years ago – and one concern is they are becoming more frequent due to climate change.

A team from Edinburgh University and remote sensing company Vexcel UK has been using data from another ESA spacecraft to measure damage to the Nasca Lines, with their results due to be published in the May Issue of the International Journal of Remote Sensing. Their work involves combining radar images from the Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) instrument aboard ERS-2. Instead of measuring reflected light, SAR makes images from backscattered radar signals that chart surface roughness.

Nicholas Walker of Vexcel UK explained: "Although the instrument lacks sufficient resolution to unambiguously distinguish individual lines and shapes, by combining two satellite images using a technique known as SAR interferometric coherence it is possible to detect erosion and changes to the surface at the scale of centimeters".

"Some de-correlation comes simply from the geometry of the area as seen by the instrument in space, with low coherence around areas overshadowed by Andean foothills to the east of the Nasca plain," said Iain Woodhouse of Edinburgh University. "The second major loss is seen in the river valleys, due primarily to agricultural activity taking place during the two-year period. 

"The third is changes in the surface of the plain due to run-off and human activity. The dark lines crossing the plain are roads and tracks serving local communities and the power line, as well as the Pan American Highway, the only surfaced road in this region of Peru." 

The de-correlation observed is most likely caused by vehicles displacing stones along these tracks and the sides of the Pan-American Highway. The de-correlation from the run-off is distinct from this as it follows the characteristic drainage patterns down from the foothills. 

"Interferometric coherence seems to provide an effective means for monitoring these two major sources of risk to the integrity of the markings," Woodhouse concluded. "We are developing the technique to include more sensors and data of higher spatial resolution, so as to encourage the establishment of a long term and frequent monitoring program supporting conservation efforts in the area."

ESA website -

Beyond Pluto - 2004 DW!

LOS ANGELES February 20, 2004 (AP) - Astronomers think they have found a frozen object 4.4 billion miles from Earth that appears to be more than half the size of Pluto and larger than the planet's moon. If confirmed, the so-called planetoid would become the largest object found in our solar system since the ninth planet was first spied in 1930.

Preliminary observations suggest the frozen celestial body is 10 percent larger than Quaoar, a 800-mile-diameter object found in 2002.

"Right now it looks like it could be bigger than Quaoar, which would put it bigger than anything since Pluto," Mike Brown, a California Institute of Technology astronomer, said Thursday.

Brown and colleagues Chad Trujillo, of the Gemini Observatory in Hawaii, and David Rabinowitz, of Yale University, discovered the object late Monday with the 48-inch Samuel Oschin Telescope at the Palomar Observatory outside San Diego.

The telescope has a whopping 150-megapixel camera, which the astronomers use to take three images of the same patch of sky at 90-minute intervals.

Comparing the trio of images reveals the presence of a distant object in orbit, since they change position from picture to picture and clearly stand out against the static backdrop of distant stars.

"We simply look for things that move," Brown said. "Even things that are 4 billion miles away move -- they move very little, they inch across our screen -- but we it's enough to know there's something out there."

The object, dubbed 2004 DW, lies at the outer fringes of the Kuiper Belt, a swarm of frozen rock and ice beyond the orbit of Neptune.

Pluto is the largest known Kuiper Belt object, although it's traditionally considered a planet. Its moon, Charon, is about 800 miles across.

The newfound frozen world is the 15th object larger than 300 miles in diameter found in the region.

Preliminary measurements suggest the object follows an elliptical orbit that takes it as close as 2.7 billion miles to the sun and as far out as 4.7 billion miles, Brown said.

It takes the object an estimated 252 years to complete one orbit of the sun.

Astronomy at the California Institute of Technology -

Torn Fabric Puzzle on Mars

Pasadena February 21, 2004 (Ananova) - Scientists have called for caution after microscopic images of Martian soil taken by NASA's Opportunity rover showed puzzling threadlike features. 

The mission's top scientist says the shapes could be torn fabric from the air bags that cushioned the spacecraft during its rough landing.

The threads range from a few millimeters to a few centimeters long and are extremely thin.

"Before I would get too excited about something like this, I would recall that this vehicle landed using an awful lot of fabric, and that fabric took quite a beating in the process of going through it," Steve Squyres said at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena.

"I don't know that these things are Martian," he said.

The best way to identify the shapes would be to drive the rover a long distance from where air bags bounced or were torn up and see if any more threads appear, he said.

The R5,5-billion double mission - which includes Opportunity's twin rover, Spirit, at work on the other side of the planet - is looking for geologic evidence that cold, dry Mars was once wetter and more hospitable to life.

Additional information is available from JPL at

Click here for the eXoNews Mars Update Page!

Universe Not Dying!

By Maggie Fox

Washington February 21, 2004 (Reuters) - Cosmologists had a bit of good news on Friday - they are just about twice as certain as they were before that the Universe is not going to be ripped apart.

But if we really want to know what will happen, the United States must continue to care for the orbiting Hubble Space Telescope, or build a replacement soon, the researchers said.

The team at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore said they had found more evidence about a mysterious force called dark energy.

Discovered only six years ago, dark energy may make up 70 percent of the universe. It holds the key to the future of the universe, depending on how strong and how permanent it is.

Being Earthbound, the only way cosmologists can try to learn about it is through indirect observations. They use Hubble to look at the oldest, most distant supernovae they can find, and measure the light coming from them.

This light would have left the exploding stars billions of years ago and its color, known as red shift, tells astronomers about how fast they were accelerating at the time. This gives clues about the expansion of the universe and its age.

"In 1998 we first detected that the universe was accelerating and was apparently being driven to that state by this very mysterious dark energy that appears to make up 70 percent of the universe," the Institute's Adam Reiss told reporters. "That took us all by surprise. We don't really understand what it is."

One hope is that it is the explanation for Einstein's theoretical cosmological constant, a number that will predict whether the universe will collapse in a "big crunch," be completely blown apart in a "big rip" or just drift steadily until the galaxies are so far apart they cannot be seen - in effect taking the stars from the sky.

"Right now we're about twice as confident than before that Einstein's cosmological constant is real, or at least dark energy does not appear to be changing fast enough (if at all) to cause an end to the universe anytime soon," Reiss added.

He and his colleagues will post a paper in the online version of the Astrophysical Journal explaining their findings.

"If Einstein was right and dark energy remains at the strength it is for all time, the Universe will expand forever," Reiss said.

While this sounds more pleasant than a big crunch or a big rip, it also means a cold, dark and lonely future.

Not that this will matter to humans, as it is an estimated 55 billion years off.

Still, it would be nice to know what is going to happen and the researchers have been dismayed to learn that with the space shuttle grounded, Hubble may be allowed to die.

It takes regular shuttle missions to maintain Hubble but after the shuttle Columbia broke up a year ago, killing the seven astronauts aboard, Nasa has been forced to ground the other shuttles and rethink the program.

Reiss said the telescope, or a good replacement, is crucial for his team's work.

"We are pushing to very, very faint supernovae and we can't do this from the ground," he said. "I am hopeful that Hubble will last longer and I am hopeful we can continue to harvest these kind of data."

Save the Hubble! Sign an online petition here:


By Ibon Villelabeitia 

MANAURE, Colombia February 20, 2004 (Reuters) - Leticia Arguelles squints out into the blinding salt fields where she has labored since childhood. The evening sun fades and a group of ragged workers shovel the last glistening mounds of salt into wheelbarrows.

Since before the arrival of the Spaniards in the 16th century, Colombian Wayuu Indians have harvested salt in the wind-swept region of Guajira. Today, government neglect, foreign competition and land disputes threaten to end the trade, endangering the livelihood of thousands of Wayuus. 

"Salt is our way of life," said Arguelles, her leather-skinned face covered with a brown sun cream made of mushrooms. "Without salt, our children can't go to school. Without salt, the town of Manaure will die." 

With its sun-drenched deserts and heavy winds, the peninsula of Guajira, on the northeastern coast of Colombia, has near-perfect conditions for salt extraction. 

Early each morning, hundreds of Wayuu families -- including many women and children -- leave their wooden shacks to harvest salt at the mine in Manaure. Armed with shovels, picks and wooden wheelbarrows, the Wayuu salt workers brave the burning rays of the sun for hours. 

Salt in Manaure is produced by evaporation. Fresh sea water is pumped into shallow ponds divided by dikes. The salt crystallizes into massive slabs, which sometimes reach two yards deep. 

The salt workers break up the slabs to reach for the better quality layers underneath. The salt is then raked into mounds and transported to the port, ready to be loaded. Most of the salt produced at Manaure is for industrial use and cattle. 

Salt, one of the oldest commodities in the world, has been traded since ancient times, determining trade routes. For centuries it was used as a preservative, and the Roman army paid its soldiers in salt -- thus the term salary. 

For the Wayuu, one of Colombia's 80 indigenous groups, salt is more than a way of life. It has deep symbolic and religious importance, and many of their legends have to do with salt. 

But this lifestyle could soon disappear. Some 2,000 Wayuu families depend on the salt. 

The mine, owned by a state firm in liquidation, has been on a steady decline for years. Lack of fresh investments, aging infrastructure and cheaper salt from Chile has turned the mine unprofitable, said manager Maria del Pilar Yepes.

In 1991, following a new constitution which recognized indigenous rights in Colombia, the government and the Wayuu reached an agreement over the exploitation of the salt mines. 

The deal called for the creation of a new salt company in which Wayuu Indians would have a 25 percent stake. The state would provide social security coverage, build a public hospital and a school center. 

The agreement was largely ignored by the state, prompting condemnation by many right groups. 

Some foreign companies have been approached to invest in the mine, said Yepes. But the Wayuu, who regard Manaure and its salt mines as ancestral land, oppose privatization. 

Protests at the mine have become common, and production has dwindled over the years from 600,000 tons per year to 200,000 tons. 

Some experts have suggested that the economic future of wind-swept Guajira is the creation of wind power to generate electricity for sale to other parts of the country. 

Meanwhile, Alicia Ramirez Puchaina, a salt trader, said she will continue working at the salt field until her last day. 

If the mine closes, she said the Wayuus would turn to smuggling. Poverty, lawlessness and a trading tradition that goes back to the days of English and Dutch pirates has turned Guajira into a smuggler's paradise. 

"I have worked in this salt field since the day my mother brought me. We are not leaving the salt fields," she said.

Lost World Under North Sea
Birmingham UK February 15, 2004 (BBC) - A prehistoric lost world under the North Sea has been mapped by scientists from the University of Birmingham. The team used earthquake data to devise a 3D reconstruction of the 10,000-year-old plain. 

The area, part of a land mass that once joined Britain to northern Europe, disappeared about 8,000 years ago. The virtual features they have developed include a river the length of the Thames which disappeared when its valley flooded due to glaciers melting. 

Professor Bob Stone, head of the Department of Engineering's Human Interface Technology Team, said they were working to ensure the visual accuracy of the environment. 

"This is the most exciting and challenging virtual reality project since Virtual Stonehenge in 1996. We are basing the computer-generated flora on pollen and plant traces extracted from geological core samples retrieved from the sea bed." 

Dr Vincent Gaffney, director of the University's Institute of Archaeology and Antiquity and lead investigator on the project said they still had a lot of work to do. 

"We intend to extend the project to visualize the whole of the now submerged land bridge that previously joined Britain to northern Europe as one land mass, providing scientists with a new insight into the previous human occupation of the North Sea."

By Frank Jack Daniel

GUATEMALA CITY February 19, 2004 (Reuters) - Archeologists are exploring a ruined kingdom in Guatemala to work out how it survived centuries of conflict in the ancient Mayan Indian world before being abandoned to the jungle more than 1,200 years ago. 

Known as Naachtún, the city-state played a strategic and possibly unique diplomatic role in the turbulent politics of the Mayan civilization. 

In early February, a 32-person expedition team led by Canadian archeologist Kathryn Reese-Taylor left Guatemala City for the remote Peten jungle area near the border with Mexico to excavate at Naachtún, a Mayan name meaning "distant stone." 

The team will try to explain how Naachtún survived the collapse of the great pre-classic Mirador civilization and then went on to blossom during centuries of conflict that followed. 

It appears to have flourished between around 500 and 800 A.D., believed to be a time of almost constant warfare in the Mayan area, with Tikal and Calakmul, the two regional superpowers locked in a frequently vicious internecine fight for supremacy. 

"Tikal and Calakmul hated each others' guts, fought wars, captured each others kings and more to the point they generated alliances around them," said project co-director, Peter Matthews. 

Naachtún was located directly en route between the two great powers and came to be vitally important to both the war and trade strategies of the rival kingdoms. 

"If Tikal or Calakmul ever needed to launch an attack directly on the other they would have to go through Naachtún," said Reese-Taylor. 

Archeologists are not sure whether Naachtún was neutral territory like Switzerland where people from both sides would come in and discuss with each other or more like Afghanistan, a strategically placed entity where warring third parties would vie for influence. 

The team also believes the remote site's real name is actually Masul, one of a handful of Mayan kingdoms named in hieroglyphic carvings whose precise location has long been a mystery. 

It was only named Naachtún arbitrarily by U.S. archeologist Sylvanus Morley in the 1920s.

Studded with pyramids, numerous stone carvings and a sprawling 10-acre palace complex, Naachtún was founded around 400 BC and is believed to have been home to up to 20,000 people at the peak of its powers. The site today is 80 miles north of the city of Flores. 

Hieroglyphic records shows that the heavily fortified city shifted allegiances repeatedly, unusual in the highly polarized classic era of Mayan civilization. 

One explanation is that the rival powers recognized the importance of the site as a frontier between them and wanted to control it to use it as a kind of early warning system. 

Tikal finally won the upper hand over Calakmul, but after centuries of fighting the two great civilizations began to unravel at the end of the eighth century. 

This time Naachtún didn't survive either, and the kingdom was abandoned from around 800 AD. It was rediscovered by gum tappers at the start of the 20th century.


The last serious exploration attempt at Naachtún was a three-week visit by the Carnegie Institution in Washington in 1933 that produced the only map of the site. 

Cash-strapped Guatemalan authorities welcome the archeology team, which will carry out vital restoration work and pay for rangers to protect Naachtún from looters. 

But Yvonne Putzeys, who heads the government's archeological institute, warns that the Mirador Basin, of which Naachtún is a part, is at risk from population pressure and economic interests. 

Many sites in the Mirador Basin suffer extensive looting of valuable artifacts, and the digging of innumerable looter trenches frequently damages the foundations of ancient monuments. 

At the same time, illegal loggers active in the region trade in rainforest hardwoods, threatening the habitat of rare species such as jaguars and tapirs. 

"It is essential that we implement systematic protection right away, to stop the cultural and natural destruction," Putzeys said. 

Now though, loggers, looters, and land-hungry settlers compete for the region's natural and cultural resources with environmentalists and archeologists, while mega-development projects threaten to bring new roads connecting Mexico to Central America.

Stonehenge Tunnel Debate Continues

Stonehenge UK February 17, 2004 (IC WALES) - A row over government plans to tunnel beneath the World Heritage site of Stonehenge is set to erupt at the opening of a public inquiry.

The controversy centers over the proposal to dig under Stonehenge on Salisbury Plain and questions over whether the Government's plans go far enough to protect an irreplaceable asset.

The Campaign to Protect Rural England objects to the scheme, arguing it falls short of the long bored tunnel, which would represent the best environmental option.

George McDonic, Chairman of CPRE Wiltshire said: "The scale and impact of the Government proposals would seriously damage the visual character of the area and substantially worsen the physical division of the World Heritage Site.

"This scheme fails to realize the potential for the full reunification of the unique Stonehenge archaeological landscape."

The project has been described by the Government as an "exceptional environmental scheme".

The Government originally promoted a more damaging cut and cover tunnel, but in December 2002 the Secretary of State, Alistair Darling announced this would be changed to a bored tunnel 1.3 miles long.

The CPRE believes the tunnel will still have a major impact on the setting of the World Heritage Site, with tunnel portals degrading the landscape near the stones and the road and associated earth works more than 300 yards wide in some places, affecting a large area.

Paul Hamblin, CPRE's Head of Transport Policy said: "Most of the time road building offers little in the way of a solution for long-term transport problems, but around Stonehenge there is unusual agreement a tunnel is needed.

"When building new roads we should do all that we can to ensure they are to the highest environmental standards. The Government needs to dig deep to find what it takes to deliver a longer tunnel for this priceless world asset."

Killing Coral!

SYDNEY February 21, 2004 (AFP) - The brightly-colored corals that make Australia's Great Barrier Reef one of the world's natural wonders will be largely dead by 2050 because of rising sea temperatures, according to a report released Saturday. 

Instead of the rich environment depicted in the recent movie Finding Nemo, the coral reef will be bleached out and replaced by ordinary seaweed, costing the tourism industry billion of dollars, the report into the impact of global warming says. 

Authors Hans and Ove Hoegh-Guldberg -- the head of Queensland University's marine studies centre and his economist father -- spent two years examining the effects of rising sea temperature on the reef for Queensland tourism authorities and the World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF). 

Their 350-page report found no prospect of avoiding the "chilling long-term eventualities" of coral bleaching because greenhouse gases were already warming the seas as part of a process it said would take decades to stop. 

"Coral cover will decrease to less than five percent on most reefs by the middle of the century under even the most favorable assumptions," the report said. "This is the only plausible conclusion if sea temperatures continue to rise." 

Warmer sea waters make corals suffer thermal stress, eventually making them bleach and die. 

The report said this could occur if temperatures increased by as little as one degree centigrade, well below the two to six degrees water temperatures around the reef are expected to rise by over the next century. 

"There is no evidence that corals can adapt fast enough to match even the lower projected temperature rise," it found.

Organisms reliant on coral would become rare or even face extinction, the report said. 

It said the bleaching would cost the economy up to eight billion dollars (6.24 billion US) and 12,000 jobs by 2020 under the worst-case scenario. 

Even under the best case scenario, about 6,000 jobs would be lost and tourists would be forced to visit "Great Barrier Reef theme parks" offshore to view the remaining coral. 

The reef covers more than 345,000 square kilometers (133,000 square miles) off Australia's northeast coast, making it the world's largest coral reef. 

Consisting of 2,900 interlinked reefs, 900 islands and 1,500 fish species, scientists consider it the world's largest living organism. 

Yet the delicate habitat faces numerous environmental threats, including chemical run off from farms, over-fishing, bleaching and the parasitic Crown-of-Thorns starfish, which attacks coral. 

The government announced plans in December to reduce farm run off and ban fishing in about a third of the reef in a bid to protect Australia's number one tourist drawcard. 

But the report's authors said the government needed to do more, recommending Canberra ratify the Kyoto protocol on reducing greenhouse gases and take the lead in emission reduction. 

The WWF said urgent measures must be put in place to minimize reef damage and reduce greenhouse gases. 

"The argument for instant action is undeniable," WWF said in a statement. "Major reductions in greenhouse gas emissions must occur now, not in five or ten years time. This is likely to deliver major benefits to our societies both in the near-term and at times beyond 2050."

Undiscovered Dinosaurs
St Louis February 11, 2004 (BBC) - Up to 500 dinosaur groups may remain undiscovered, yet our knowledge of the creatures and how they were related is relatively complete, a scientist says. The figure of 500 may seem a lot, but this is a maximum possible value. 

The expert behind the study actually thinks the dinosaur fossil record is between one-half and two-thirds complete, which is comparatively good. The data comes from an analysis of more than 250 dinosaur groups and their family tree branches. 

Julia Heathcote, a graduate student at Washington University in St Louis, US, used statistical analysis to determine how much missing data there might be on dinosaur groups to how much researchers actually have. 

She also calculated how well proposed splits in the dinosaur family tree matched the fossil evidence over time. The research was carried out in collaboration with researchers from the Natural History Museum in London. 

"The whole Dinosauria fossil record I would say is moderately good, which was a surprise, because I thought it would be much worse," said Ms Heathcote. 

Although there had been previous attempts to analyze evolutionary patterns with the dinosaur fossil record, she added, these patterns could only be interpreted in a useful way when the ages of fossils were taken into account. Ms Heathcote claimed that her work could be added to by other researchers as new dinosaur specimens are discovered and see where the new discovery fits in with previous ones. 

Another calculation gave how much missing data there is to the minimum missing data possible if all dinosaur groups were arranged in a family tree in order of age. 

"[The analysis] draws together all of the data of the past 150 years," said Ms Heathcote. "You can see how far back these dinosaurs go, see their relationships with each other." 

Previous studies have attempted to provide complete dinosaur family trees. Researchers at the University of Bristol have combined 150 previously published evolutionary trees to form one supertree of 277 dinosaur groups.
The Star Ripper!

European Space Agency Press Release

February 18, 2004 A super-massive black hole has ripped apart a star and consumed a portion of it, according to data from ESA's XMM-Newton and NASA's Chandra X-ray observatories. These results are the best evidence yet that such a phenomenon, long predicted by theory, does actually happen.

Astronomers believe that a doomed star came too close to a giant black hole after a close encounter with another star threw it off course. As it neared the enormous gravity of the black hole, the star was stretched by tidal forces until it was torn apart. This discovery provides crucial information on how these black holes grow and affect the surrounding stars and gas.

"Stars can survive being stretched a small amount, as they are in binary star systems, but this star was stretched beyond its breaking point," said Dr Stefanie Komossa of the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics (MPE) in Germany, who led the international team of researchers. "This unlucky star just wandered into the wrong neighborhood."

While other observations have hinted that stars are destroyed by black holes (events known as ‘stellar tidal disruptions’), these new results are the first strong evidence. 

Observations with XMM-Newton and Chandra, combined with earlier images from the German Roentgensatellite (ROSAT), detected a powerful X-ray outburst from the centre of the galaxy RXJ1242-11. 

This outburst, one of the most extreme ever detected in a galaxy, was caused by gas from the destroyed star that was heated to millions of degrees before being swallowed by the black hole. The energy liberated in this process is equivalent to that of a supernova. "Now, with all of the data in hand, we have the smoking gun proof that this spectacular event has occurred," said co-author Prof. Guenther Hasinger, also of MPE.

The black hole in the centre of RX J1242-11 is estimated to have a mass about 100 million times that of the Sun. By contrast, the destroyed star probably had a mass about equal to that of the Sun, making it a lopsided battle of gravity. "This is the ultimate ‘David versus Goliath’ battle, but here David loses," said Hasinger.

The astronomers estimated that about one hundredth of the mass of the star was ultimately consumed, or accreted, by the black hole. This small amount is consistent with predictions that the momentum and energy of the accretion process will cause most of the destroyed star's gas to be flung away from the black hole. 

The force that disrupted the star in RXJ1242-11 is an extreme example of the tidal force caused by differences in gravity acting on the front and back of an object. The tidal force from the Moon causes tides in the oceans on Earth, and tidal force from Jupiter pulled Comet Shoemaker-Levy apart before it plunged into the giant planet.

The odds that stellar tidal disruption will happen in a typical galaxy are long, about one in ten thousand. If it happened at the centre of the Milky Way, the resulting X-ray source would be about 50 000 times more powerful than the strongest X-ray source in our galaxy. However, such an event would not pose a threat to Earth because of the intervening distance of 25 000 light years.

Other dramatic flares have been seen from galaxies, but this is the first to have been studied with the high spectral resolution of XMM-Newton and the high spatial resolution of Chandra. Both instruments have made a critical advance. Chandra showed that the RXJ1242-11 event occurred in the centre of a galaxy, where the black hole lurks. The XMM-Newton spectrum revealed the fingerprints expected for the surroundings of a black hole, and allowed other possible astronomical explanations to be ruled out. 

Evidence already exists for super-massive black holes in many galaxies, but looking for tidal disruptions represents a completely independent way to search for black holes. Observations like these are urgently needed to determine how quickly black holes can grow by swallowing neighboring stars.

ESA website -

Genre News: Saving Angel, Time Machine, Green Hornet, Teri Hatcher, William Gibson, Spike Lee & More!

Saving Angel: Online Petitions
By FLAtRich

February 21, 2004 (eXoNews) - I'm sorry too, but I must be dark and brooding and negative here about Angel's chances of surviving cancellation. Those of you who are regulars at eXoNews Genre know I'm a big fan of Angel and anything Whedon, but the truth is out there.

Firstly (is that a word?), Angel is in syndication now. That means loads of non-WB local stations and cable programmers have picked up the first four seasons as reruns and are currently airing our favorite vampire with a soul regularly. Any deal to continue Angel as a series off The WB would probably be only for new episodes (maybe plus season five) which is a limited selling point.

Pickups of Roswell and Buffy by UPN gave that network several seasons to show along with new stuff. With all those "previously on Angel" episodes out there on other channels, the show would have to do much better than Buffy did on UPN to keep its adoption papers.

Sci Fi is an unlikely target as well. Sci Fi got a windfall with Stargate because it was originally on pay cable and only in light distribution when Sci Fi picked up the whole Stargate enchilada.

Secondly, while this week's viewer online petition response is admirable (over 50,000 people have signed the first petition so far), fan response via email and the web has never really saved anything in recent memory. It is a nice thank you to show stars and production people, but remember Farscape and Firefly before you get your hopes up. (Not to mention John Doe, The Lone Gunmen and all the others.)

If you really want to help, write a letter and put a stamp on it. The networks consider spending money for a stamp to be a committed viewer response.

Third, and saddest of all, the overnight Nielsen ratings for Angel have not gone up significantly as of this week.

Yes, the numbers for the absolutely delightful "Smile Time" episode did improve over the miserable viewer response to Cordelia's final appearance, but Angel's numbers are still not close enough to its lead-in Smallville to give The WB any reason to recant their decision.

All of you who love the show and are currently signing petitions and joining online Save Angel sites and firing off dead bats to The Frog may have been watching Angel all along, but the truth is you didn't get enough of your friends to watch from the beginning of this season. If you had been insistent and helped elevate Angel's ratings this year, the current tenants of Wolfram & Hart wouldn't be facing that guy with the black hood.

The WB press announcement made it very clear. The network likes the show and its cast and Joss and his crew. They just see the writing on the casket and they figure they owe it to all of us to let the show die with dignity.

Literate TV series programming is on the way out, let's face it. TV is locked into a game show syndrome, inappropriately dubbed "reality". TV viewers have embraced shows that require almost entirely passive watching. CSI-style dramas have flooded the drama market because they have no real plot to figure out. Same with cold case dramas and missing persons. No thinking required, see?

Joan of Arcadia (and I like this one) is successful because it is safely rooted in religion and family and cops and soap. They have the best new cast on TV, a vet network producer who has (as far as I know) never failed, and a mutated tried and true formula. (They also have a great theme song.)

The only truly quirky scripted show that is succeeding this season is Monk, and USA simply doesn't require mile high ratings. Monk is number one in the cable world and that is enough for the red, while and blue network.

Smallville is still weird and doing OK, but the Superman fanbase is as big as you can get. Their numbers are great for The WB, by the way, but Smallville would never have lasted one season on a "major" network.

What else is dead or dying?

Tru Calling, for one. This show had such a limited premise that I doubted it would run four weeks on Fox, but the writing and cast turned out to be superb and Tru gets better every episode. Fox must have had some sort of iron contract with its star because they ordered a full season despite bargain basement numbers. I wouldn't count on Tru returning, though.

Star Trek: Enterprise. What more can be said? (You made a major mistake with that damned awful theme song, Berman. I told you so.) The end of the Roddenberry era.

The Handler flopped on CBS. Another one with an excellent cast. Sort of Mission Impossible 2004. What happened here?

They got twice the numbers Angel did, but it's different axes for different networks.

So, back to our champion. Any chance that The WB will about-face and bring our gang back for another season?

I don't think so, and all the traditional web-based fan whining in the world won't help.

It's time for Plan B, guys.

Save Angel -

Also check out

Read this interview with J. August Richards (Gunn) on the cancellation -

Joss Whedon's post to the Bronze Beta board was in last week's Genre News.

Angel's Season 3 DVD Box arrived on February 10th from Fox Home Entertainment. Order it direct at

Angel Official site -,7353,||139,00.html

eXoNews Angel Fan Poll -

Television Academy Shakes Up Emmy Rules

LOS ANGELES February 20, 2004 (AP) — The television academy is shaking up Emmy rules to try to freshen a competition that sees the same shows winning trophies year after year.

As part of changes approved this week by the academy's Board of Governors, members will have the opportunity to choose up to 10 nominees per category double the current five.

The top five vote-getters will end up as the nominees in each category, keeping the number of contenders the same as it has been traditionally.

But the mix should be more representative of the growing bounty of programming on cable and newer broadcast channels, academy spokeswoman Pam Ruben Golum said Friday.

"This gives the approximately 12,000 academy members a chance to expand the field of nominees," she said.

Unlike the Academy Awards, which recognize a new crop of films each year, the Emmys fall into rerun territory because shows are eligible as long as they air original episodes in the Emmy calendar year.

The result has been winning streaks like that of NBC's White House drama "The West Wing," named best drama series for the last four consecutive ceremonies.

It makes for impressive records but predictable shows. Observers have also complained that less mainstream fare, such as UPN's "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," are routinely shut out of major awards.

The modification, one of several approved by the board Wednesday, comes under new Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Chairman Dick Askin.

"Our awards rules and procedures have remained virtually unchanged over the last ten years," Askin said, adding that the approach will be "more representative of television as it is today."

Among other changes, the board also altered how many episodes must be submitted in the drama and comedy series categories. More episodes, six rather than three, must be included as an original submission seeking nomination; for the final round of judging to determine winners, voters will consider six rather than the previous eight episodes.

The new rules will be in effect when academy members vote on the 2004 prime-time Emmy, to be held Sept. 19 and air on ABC. Nominations will be announced July 15.

Time Machine Mini-Series

Hollywood February 20, 2004 (Sci Fi Wire) - The DreamWorks SKG Fansite reported a rumor that a TV miniseries is in the works based on the 2002 Time Machine movie.
Citing anonymous sources, the site reported that Time Machine executive producer Arnold Leibovit is in talks with The David Wolper Organization and Warner Brothers to continue the story as a multipart miniseries and a possible TV series.

Warner and DreamWorks jointly distributed The Time Machine, based on H.G. Wells' classic SF novel.

Directed by Wells' great-grandson Simon Wells, The Time Machine starred Guy Pearce and Samantha Mumba.

[And it sadly lacked the mainspring of the George Pal version. Ed.]

The Green Hornet Strikes Back 

LOS ANGELES February 18, 2004 (AP) - Kevin Smith is creating new buzz around "The Green Hornet." 

The filmmaker behind "Chasing Amy," "Dogma" and the upcoming "Jersey Girl" will write and direct a new film about the masked crimefighter and his martial-arts sidekick, Kato, Miramax Films announced Wednesday.

"Long-time comics geek gets to make comic book movie?" Smith said, speculating about a possible newspaper headline. "This is a dream come true." 

"The Green Hornet" chronicled the adventures of billionaire vigilante Britt Reid as he rode around catching bad guys in a sci-fi car. It was created by Fran Striker and George Trendle, who also worked together to create "The Lone Ranger." 

The story started out as radio serial that launched in 1936 and later became a popular comic book. But it's probably best remembered as a 1966 TV series with Van Williams as the Hornet and Bruce Lee as Kato. 

Smith, who often plays the mum, comic-book loving character Silent Bob in many of his movies, is a real-life comic lover who sold most of his collection to help finance the $27,000 budget of his 1994 black-and-white comedy "Clerks." 

In addition to his film work, Smith has written for the Marvel Comics book "Daredevil" and the DC Comics character "Green Arrow." He also owns a comic store in Red Bank, N.J. 

"Kevin knows more about comic characters, books and the creative process than anyone else I have ever met," said Miramax co-chief Harvey Weinstein, who approved the project. 

Smith promised his "Green Hornet" adaptation would be an "exciting, chop-socky-filled action flick, but it's gonna have a compelling story, believable characters, and great dialogue to boot! Let's roll, Kato!" 

Kevin Smith's Web site -

Refunds Headed to Millions of Music Buyers 
AP Business Writer 

LOS ANGELES February 20, 2004 (AP) - Millions of U.S. music fans will soon begin receiving refund checks as part of a $144 million settlement of a price-fixing lawsuit against five distributors and three retailers. 

Checks for $13.86 each were mailed Friday to about 3.5 million consumers who bought CDs, vinyl records or cassettes between 1995 and 2000 and filed refund claims by last March. 

Attorneys general for 43 states and territories filed the antitrust lawsuit in 2000, alleging the companies illegally conspired to raise the prices of their products by imposing minimum pricing policies. All the companies denied any wrongdoing. 

"The refunds provide a measure of much-deserved justice to consumers in California and across the nation who were gouged because of the defendants' deals to stifle competition and artificially inflate music CD prices," said California Attorney General Bill Lockyer. 

About $47.4 million was being paid in consumer refunds. The companies also were giving 5.6 million music CDs, worth about $77 million, to libraries and schools across the country. About $20 million of the final settlement was used to pay for attorneys fees and other administrative costs, said Tom Dressler, Lockyer's spokesman. 

A federal judge in Portland, Maine, approved the settlement in December. Defendants included Sony Music Entertainment, EMI Music Distribution, Warner-Elektra-Atlantic Corp., Universal Music Group and Bertelsmann Music Group, as well as retailers Tower Records, Musicland Stores and Transworld Entertainment. 

The settlement barred the companies from entering into any agreements to control the price at which retailers sell their CDs. The companies also can't refuse to deal with retailers who opt to sell their CDs below their suggested price. 

The states and territories that were a party to the settlement are: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming, Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. 

CD settlement Web site:

The Adventure of the Missing Vampire Diaries
By Kenneth Jones

Tampa February 19, 2004 (Playbill) - Sherlock Holmes get mixed up in theatre history in a new play, Sherlock and Shaw: The Adventure of the Missing Vampire Diaries, by Aubrey Hampton, March 4-21 at the Equity theatre Hampton co-founded in Tampa, Florida.

In London in the 1880s, theatre producer William Terriss has been murdered outside the stage door of the Lyceum Theatre. Turns out, the blood has been drained out of him. It was reported that Sir Henry Irving's business partner, Bram Stoker, had given Terriss a copy of his manuscript, "Vampire Diaries," and now the papers have disappeared. 

"Seven famous people are suspect in this strangest of whodunits," according to production notes from Gorilla Theatre, Tampa's only Equity company. 

Gorilla's resident playwright and producer Hampton based his latest murder-mystery on the actual murder of William Terriss who was stabbed outside The Lyceum.

Hampton states in notes, "As Shaw would say, 'It was too true to be good.' When I began looking into this mystery, I saw the pieces fall together. All the famous people knew each other and had reasons to be involved in the murder." 

In the fictional yarn, George Bernard Shaw hires master sleuth Sherlock Holmes to track down the sanguinary killer. In this all star line-up, history and theatre are woven throughout. Dr. Watson (played by Richard C. Adams) and Inspector Lastrade (Steven Clark Pachosa) join Sherlock Holmes (Sean Sanczel) in unraveling the tangled tale. 

The play includes theatre folk such as Shaw (Tom Oakes), Sir Henry Irving (Jack Brand), Ellen Terry (Eileen Koteles), Alla Nazimova (Jessica Alexander), Oscar Wilde (David C. Baker) and Harley Granville-Barker (Slake Counts). J. Stephen Jorge plays Wilde's protg, Bobby Hunt. 

Designers are Allen Loyd (set) and Dawn Krumvieda (lighting). The production is co-directed by Aubrey Hampton and Crystal Solana Bryan.

For information, call (813) 879-2914 or visit

Teri Hatcher, Selma Blair, Christopher Lloyd and Jeff Goldblum Joining TV Pilots 
By Nellie Andreeva 

LOS ANGELES February 18, 2004 (Hollywood Reporter) - Selma Blair and Teri Hatcher have landed roles in ABC pilots, while Christopher Lloyd and Jeff Goldblum have been tapped for pilots at CBS and NBC, respectively. 

Blair's ABC romantic comedy, tentatively titled "DeMarco Affairs," revolves around three sisters who inherit their family's full-service wedding planning business. Blair will play the middle sister, who is a pillar of strength on the outside but vulnerable on the inside. 

The show's creator/executive producer Jason Katims and executive producer David E. Kelley are said to have had their eye on Blair for some time. 

Blair, who starred on the WB Network's comedy "Zoe, Duncan, Jack & Jane," has been primarily busy on the feature side, appearing in such movies as "The Sweetest Thing" and "Cruel Intentions." She recently signed on to appear in the Weitz brothers' feature "Synergy," and next appears in "Hellboy." 

Hatcher will play one of the leads in ABC's "Desperate Housewives," a serial drama that takes a darkly humorous look at the secretive lives of four women living in an Anytown, USA, cul-de-sac. Hatcher plays a lonely woman who has been divorced for two years and lives with her daughter. She joins Felicity Huffman (news) and Eva Longoria.

Hatcher most recently starred in the Sci Fi Channel telefilm "Momentum." Her credits also include the features "Spy Kids" and "Tomorrow Never Dies" and the ABC series "Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman." 

Lloyd will co-star in CBS' drama pilot "Clubhouse," a coming-of-age drama about a New York Yankees batboy. Lloyd, who joins Dean Cain and Mare Winningham, will play a retired baseball coach.
Best known for his role in the "Back to the Future" trilogy, Lloyd was recently seen in the TNT telefilm "The Big Time." 

Goldblum has been tapped to star in Paul Reiser's NBC comedy pilot "My 11:30," which centers on a shallow playboy New York financial consultant (Goldblum) who, after his high-pressure job and hectic lifestyle send him into a meltdown, begins to see a no-nonsense therapist. 

Last year, Goldblum starred in NBC's two-hour movie/backdoor pilot "War Stories." On the big screen, he most recently appeared in the offbeat comedy "Igby Goes Down." 

Robert Sean Leonard, meanwhile, has been cast in Fox's untitled drama pilot about a team of doctors who diagnose the toughest medical cases that have baffled the rest of the medical community.
Leonard, perhaps best known for his starring turn in "Dead Poets Society," will play an oncologist. 

And Jennifer Aspen (NBC's "Come to Papa," Fox's "Party of Five") has joined ABC's untitled family comedy pilot, playing the wife of standup comic Rodney Carrington.

Gibson Recognizes Pattern 

Vancouver February 20, 2004 (Sci Fi Wire) - SF author William Gibson told The Philadelphia Inquirer that his current novel, Pattern Recognition, represents a departure, as it's set in the present, not the dystopic future of his cyberpunk novels, such as Neuromancer.

"It started as an attempt to prove that I could write a book set right now that would feel very much like the rest of my stuff," Gibson told the newspaper from his home in Vancouver, B.C.

The novel centers on Cayce Pollard, a "cool-hunter" who ferrets out developing consumer trends, the newspaper reported.

"The dire thing that multinational globalization seems to be doing is reducing the amount of genuine stuff in the world and replacing it with imitation genuine stuff," Gibson said.

But, he added, "In my own life I'm much more gleefully complicit than Cayce would ever be happy being. I don't mind the extent to which William Gibson is a brand as well as being me. It makes for an interesting life."

Pattern Recognition is now available in paperback.

[I read Pattern Recognition in hardback and I must add a piece of advice for Mr. Gibson - Go back to the future, Bill! Ed.]

Spike Talks Oscar 
AP Entertainment Writer

NEW YORK February 20, 2004 (AP) - Oscars? Spike Lee don't need no stinkin' Oscars. 

Sure, the director votes for the Academy Awards. And the outspoken filmmaker would surely give an acceptance speech for the ages.

But that doesn't mean he's waiting around for a golden statue to fall into his lap. 

No, Lee is sticking to what he does best: making provocative films; running his ad agency, Spike DDB; and rooting for the Knicks.

Spike DDB has just released a three-minute movie to promote Microsoft's new Wrist Net service, which beams information like headlines and sports scores directly into specially equipped watches.

And Lee, 46, is finishing his new feature film, "She Hate Me," about a man who starts a business impregnating lesbians. 

AP: So you're making this new movie, something with lesbians ... 

Lee: No no no no no. It's called 'She Hate Me.' It's coming out this summer on Sony Classics, starring Anthony Mackie — he was the young brother battling Eminem at the end of "8 Mile" — Kerry Washington, Ellen Barkin, Monica Bellucci, Woody Harrelson, John Turturro, Brian Dennehy. Q-Tip's in it. It's about a young African-American who gets involved in some shady things and gets set up at his company and he's fired. Because of his predicament he puts his morals and values aside and starts a business impregnating lesbians who want to have kids.

AP: Personally impregnating them? 

Lee: It depends. Any way you want it. Artificial insemination or the real thing, $10,000 each. In a month he impregnates 19 women. 

AP: How far into the movie before you get to that point? 

Lee: That's the first 10 minutes (big laughter). Nah, I'm joking. But really, it's a comedy. What's great about this film, this is an examination of what's happening in this country that's really demonstrated by the Super Bowl. I'm not just talking about Janet. You look at the commercials, the rest of the halftime show, it wasn't just Janet, it was the whole thing. So this film really talks about the moral ethic of this country, and how money is God. It's an examination of the moral and ethical decline of America, from the boardroom to the bedroom. We deal with Ken Lay and Enron, WorldCom, (former Tyco CEO Dennis) Kozlowski, Adelphia, all these crooks. 

AP: You mentioned John Turturro is in it. You've "broken" a lot of actors in your movies. 

Lee: I didn't break John Turturro, but he's one of my dear friends. I've done like 18 or 19 films, and he's appeared in more of them than anyone. But I gave Rosie Perez her first role, Martin Lawrence's first film, "Jungle Fever" was Halle Berry's first film, Clockers was Mekhi Phifer's first film ... 

AP: Are these accidents or on purpose?

Lee: We always earmark two or three spots to give someone really talented a platform to shine, a jump-off. 

AP: What was Halle like playing the crackhead in "Jungle Fever"? 

Lee: I didn't want to cast her. She looked too good! I said, "Halle, I can't believe you as a two-dollar crack ho." She said, "Spike, believe me." She came to the set the first day, I ain't recognize her. 

AP: "Jungle Fever" was about interracial relationships. You ever date a white girl? 

Lee: (Slowly shakes his head.) But it's no big thing. The thing people misconstrued about "Jungle Fever" is that Spike Lee was saying all interracial marriages are awful.

Lee: What we were showing was that the relationship between Wesley's character and Annabella Sciorra's character, it wasn't built on a foundation. It was built on myths. She was with him because she heard about the prowess of the sexual black man. He bought into the myth that the white woman is the epitome of beauty. 

AP: What's your feeling about the Oscars these days? Do you vote?

Lee: I vote, but I take it with a grain of salt. Not just for African Americans, but just in general. You give an organization, some group, the power to validate your work of art — that can be paralyzing. ... "Malcolm X" was bigger than the Academy Awards. "Do the Right Thing" was bigger than the awards. We got two nominations for "Do the Right Thing." I got a best original screenplay nomination. Danny Aiello got best supporting actor, and he lost to Denzel (Washington) in "Glory." But you know what got best picture that year? 

AP: Nope.

Lee: "Driving Miss Daisy." "Do the Right Thing," there are classes on that in universities all across the country. That film is still being watched. Every year it's growing in stature. No one talks about "Driving Miss Daisy." There's nothing there. 

AP: Any favorites for best actor this year? 

Lee: Lemme ask a question. How many nominations did "Cold Mountain" get? ... When you ever seen a film that takes place during slavery with no slaves in it? 

AP: People have been agitating about that. 

Lee: Lemme ask you a question. When I was in third and fourth grade, there was a re-release of "Gone with the Wind," and our teacher took us to see it. This was like '67, '68. Even at that young age, I knew those roles were stereotypical. Hattie McDaniel won the supporting actress Oscar, and another great African-American actress was in it, Butterfly McQueen. They were such great actresses, despite the straitjacket of those stereotypes, they were able to put some of their humanity into it. Now, both "Gone with the Wind" and "Cold Mountain" romanticize the South. But we're going backward if 'Gone with the Wind' is more progressive than "Cold Mountain." "Gone with the Wind" was made in 1939. In 2004 we're not even in it? We're going backward. I don't understand it.

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