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O Starry Night!
Beagle 2 Mars! MESSENGER!
Nuclear Fusion! Spitzer Treks!
Where's Osama bin Hiding?
O Starry Night!

Stardust
University of Washington Press Release

December 19, 2003 - After a nearly five-year chase, the Stardust spacecraft will finally meet comet Wild 2 on the day after New Year's. It's a moment Donald Brownlee has anticipated for nearly 25 years.

"This could prove to be a pivotal time for science, a remarkable opportunity to gather evidence that might actually tell us how the planets formed and give us clues about how life on Earth began," said Brownlee, a University of Washington astronomer and principle investigator for the Stardust mission.

On Jan. 2, Wild 2 (pronounced Vilt) will overtake Stardust about 242 million miles from Earth, on the other side of the sun. The spacecraft will capture tiny grains streaming through the coma, the gas-and-dust envelope around the comet's icy nucleus. A tennis-racquet shaped collector, using a wispy material called aerogel, will harvest comet grains as they speed past.

Meanwhile, a high-gain antenna will transmit close-up pictures and sensitive instruments will gather data about the comet. Though the encounter will last about 12 hours, the really intense activity will be over in a matter of minutes. The action will be monitored closely in Stardust's nerve centers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., and Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Denver.

The comet particles will be traveling five times faster than a bullet from a rifle, but the aerogel will stop them in a fraction of an inch. However, because aerogel is as much as 99.9 percent empty space, it will not damage the grains or appreciably alter their characteristics, Brownlee said.

The spacecraft is scheduled to return to Earth in January 2006 and a capsule containing its treasure – less than an ounce of comet dust – will parachute to the Utah desert. The contents will be sent to NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, and then parceled out to scientists around the world, who will begin trying to unlock secrets of the early solar system.

Thousands of tons of microscopic comet particles blanket Earth each year.

"Unfortunately, they are difficult to find among the earthly materials," Brownlee said. "And even when extraterrestrial particles can be found, they are cosmic orphans – there is no way to determine their origin."

And such particles cannot give the same kind of information as those taken directly from a comet like Wild 2, he said. That's because Wild 2 only recently started orbiting close to the sun and so there hasn't been enough time for the sun's heat to destroy characteristics that have been preserved in the cold of deep space for billions of years. Before 1974, the comet's solar orbit extended from Jupiter to beyond Uranus. But Jupiter's gravity altered Wild 2's course, bringing it close enough – just beyond the orbit of Mars – to make the Stardust mission feasible.

"This gives us a real opportunity to find out if our long-held suspicions are right, that comets played a major role in the origin of life," Brownlee said. "No one really knows how life began, but we're certain that carbon was key to the process. Comets are the most carbon-rich materials in the solar system, and we know they are full of organic compounds that fall on the Earth all the time."

In addition, comets delivered a significant share of the Earth's water.

Brownlee, along with colleague Peter Tsou at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, began considering the possibility of a comet mission in 1980.

Five years later he and a team of NASA scientists tried to formulate a mission to Halley's comet, but that proved to be unworkable. However, technological advances and the fortunate orbit change made a mission to Wild 2 possible.

Stardust, the fourth in the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's series of Discovery missions and the first mission designed to return samples from beyond Mars, was launched from Cape Canaveral, Fla., on Feb. 7, 1999. It is currently on its third giant loop around the sun, and will have traveled some 3.1 billion miles by the end of its voyage.

In November 2002, the spacecraft successfully tested systems it will use in the Wild 2 encounter during a flyby of Asteroid 5535 Annefrank. During its nearly five years in space, it also has captured interstellar dust using the opposite side of the collector that will gather the grains from Wild 2.

Stardust is a collaboration of the UW, NASA and its Jet Propulsion Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology, and Lockheed Martin Space Systems. Other key members are The Boeing Co., the Max-Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics, NASA Ames Research Center and the University of Chicago.

Stardust site - http://stardust.jpl.nasa.gov

Beagle 2 Mars Mission!

Scientists Await First Call From Beagle
Beagle Media Centre Press Release

25-Dec-03 10:20 GMT - Early this morning, the Beagle 2 spacecraft landed on the surface of Mars at the end of a 250 million mile (400 million km), six-month trek to the Red Planet. Although the first attempt to use NASA's Mars Odyssey orbiter to communicate with the lander three hours later was unsuccessful, scientists and engineers are still awaiting the best Christmas present possible - the first faint signal to tell them that Beagle 2 has become only the fourth spacecraft to make a successful landing on Mars.

"This is a bit disappointing, but it's not the end of the world", said Professor Colin Pillinger, lead scientist for the Beagle 2 project. "We still have 14 contacts with Odyssey programmed into our computer and we also have the opportunity to communicate through Mars Express after 4 January."

The next window to receive confirmation that Beagle 2 has successfully landed and survived its first night on Mars will be between 10 pm and midnight (GMT) tonight, when its simple carrier signal (rather than the tune composed by Blur) may be picked up by Jodrell Bank radio observatory in Cheshire, UK. This has a much greater chance of success because the giant telescope is able to scan the entire side of the planet facing the Earth.

Another overflight by Mars Odyssey will take place around 18.15 GMT tomorrow evening, followed by daily opportunities to contact Beagle 2 via the Mars Odyssey spacecraft and the radio telescopes at Jodrell Bank and Stanford University in the United States.

There are several possible explanations for the failure of Odyssey to pick up Beagle 2's signal. Perhaps the most likely is that Beagle 2 landed off course, in an area where communication with Mars Odyssey was difficult, if not impossible. Another possibility is that the lander's antenna was not pointing in the direction of the orbiter during its brief passage over the landing site. If the onboard computer had suffered a glitch and reset Beagle 2's clock, the two spacecraft could be hailing each other at the wrong times.

The Beagle 2 lander entered the thin Martian atmosphere at 2.47 GMT today. Traveling at a speed of more than 12,500 mph (20,000 km per hour), the probe was protected from external temperatures that soared to 1,700 degrees C by a heat shield made of cork-like material.

As friction with the thin upper atmosphere slowed its descent, onboard accelerometers were used to monitor the spacecraft's progress. At an altitude of about 4.5 miles (7.1 km), Beagle's software was to order the firing of a mortar to deploy a pilot parachute, followed one minute later by deployment of the 33 ft (10 m) diameter main parachute and separation of the heat shield.

At a few hundred meters above the surface, a radar altimeter was to trigger the inflation of three gas-filled bags. Cocooned inside this protective cushion, Beagle 2 was expected to hit the rust-red surface at a speed of about 38 mph (60 km/h). As soon as the bags made contact with the surface, the main parachute was to be released so that the lander could bounce away unhindered. Like a giant beach ball, the gas bag assembly was expected to bounce along the surface for several minutes before coming to rest at 2.54am GMT.

Finally, a system of laces holding the three gas-bags onto the lander was to be cut, allowing them to roll away and drop Beagle 2 about 3 ft (1 m) onto the surface. The whole descent sequence from the top of the atmosphere to impact was to take less than seven minutes.

The "pocket watch" design of Beagle 2 ensured that it would turn upright irrespective of which way up the little lander fell. After the onboard computer sent commands to release the clamp band and open the lid, the way would be clear to deploy the four, petal-like solar panels and initiate charging of the batteries.

Confirmation of the successful landing would be provided by a musical "beeping" signal of 9 digitally encoded notes, composed by British rock group Blur. This signal should be picked up by Mars Odyssey as it passes overhead and then relayed to Earth.

Mars Beagle Timeline
Particle Physics & Astronomy Research Council Press Release

December 19, 2003 - We have separation! That was the message from the European Space Operations Centre (ESOC) in Darmstadt, Germany, to announce that the British-built Beagle 2 spacecraft is now flying independently from its Mars Express "mother ship".

Initial confirmation that the separation maneuver has been successful came at 10.42 GMT, when Mars Express mission control at ESOC received telemetry data to indicate that electrical disconnection had taken place between Beagle 2 and the orbiter. This was followed at 11.12 GMT by confirmation that the two spacecraft had mechanically separated.

It is hoped that the orbiter's onboard Visual Monitoring Camera (VMC) has been able to capture images showing the slowly spinning Beagle 2 pulling away from Mars Express. If all goes well, these images should be available early this afternoon.

"I'd like to congratulate everyone who has been a part of this project, particularly the team that built the Spin up and Eject Mechanism," said UK Science Minister, Lord Sainsbury. "This is an extraordinary example of the best of British engineering as well as the best of British science."

Comparing it to a two-legged soccer match, both of which were being played away, Beagle 2 Lead Scientist Prof. Colin Pillinger said, "We've got a 1-0 result in the first leg, we're playing the second leg on Christmas Day."

The separation maneuver involved the use of a spring mechanism to give the lander a gentle push away from the orbiter. Now stabilized as it spins like a top at a rate of 14 rpm, Beagle 2 is pulling ahead of Mars Express at a rate of about 0.3 m/s (1 ft/s).

The separation marked the first key landmark at the beginning of a tense week for the Beagle 2 team. From now on, Beagle 2 will be on its own and looking after itself in terms of stability, power, thermal control and entry sequencing.

Following a carefully targeted ballistic trajectory, the 68.8 kg probe will remain switched off for most of the 5 million kilometer coast phase to Mars. Then, a few hours before entering the Martian atmosphere, an onboard timer will turn on the power and boot up Beagle's computer. Beagle 2 must rely on its own battery until its solar arrays are fully deployed on the surface.

Early on 25 December, Beagle 2 will plunge into the atmosphere at a speed of more than 20 000 km per hour (12,500 mph) before parachuting to its planned landing site, a broad basin close to the Martian equator, known as Isidis Planitia. Later that day, Mars Express should enter orbit around Mars.

Beagle 2 was named to commemorate Charles Darwin's five-year voyage around the world in HMS Beagle (1831-36). The outcome of Darwin's groundbreaking studies, including his observations of the unique wildlife on the Galapagos Islands, was the publication of On the Origin of Species (1859), which described his revolutionary theories of evolution.

Beagle 2 weighs about 68 kg and is 0.95 m in diameter.

Attached to ESA's Mars Express spacecraft, it was launched by a Soyuz/Fregat rocket from Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on 2 June 2003.

By the time it arrives on the Martian surface, Beagle 2 will weigh 33 kg, of which 9 kg will be science instruments. This is the most ambitious experiment package ever flown in space.

Timeline
25th Dec 02:47 GMT Beagle 2 enters Mars atmosphere
02:54 GMT Beagle 2 lands on Mars
03:00 GMT Mars Express orbital insertion
05:15 GMT Mars Odyssey orbiter flies over Beagle 2 - first possible signal retrieval from the lander
07:00 GMT First evaluation of Mars Express orbital insertion
07:15 GMT Sunset on Mars (18:35 local solar time)
20:02 GMT Sunrise on Mars (07:02 local solar time)
22:45 GMT Possible direct capture of Beagle 2 signals at Jodrell Bank Observatory (UK)
26th Dec 07:55 GMT Sunset on Mars (18:36 local solar time)

Beagle 2 - http://www.beagle2.com

Fat-free Mice!

BY HELEN R. PILCHER

Israel December 19, 2003 (Nature) - Researchers have made cholesterol-free mice. The rodents may shed light on how the fat-like substance works in humans.

Cholesterol is an essential part of cell membranes and cell communication. Too much leads to cardiovascular problems. Too little is thought to be fatal.

Yet the cholesterol-free animals appear to be relatively normal.

"We were surprised that these mice develop into adulthood with little effect," says Elena Feinstein of Quark Biotech, in Nes Ziona, Israel, who produced the animals1.

An estimated 105 million Americans have high cholesterol. As blood levels increase, fatty deposits begin to clog up arteries. If a blockage forms, it can cause a heart attack or stroke. Exercise and healthy eating reduce cholesterol and decrease the risk of heart disease.

Understanding how the molecule works may help researchers to develop new cholesterol-lowering drugs, says Feinstein.

The team altered a gene called Dhcr24, which encodes a cholesterol-making enzyme. Instead of cholesterol, the mice produced its precursor, a similar molecule called desmosterol. This hints that some cholesterol-like molecules may be interchangeable, says Feinstein.

The newborn pups were 25% smaller than normal animals, and were also infertile. This shows that cholesterol is not essential for embryonic development, but is necessary for reproduction. The pups were small because they found it difficult to absorb fat from their mothers' milk. At weaning, when the animals switched to carbohydrate-rich chow, their growth caught up. The mice are now around a year old.

The mutant mice that did survive may have done so by hijacking maternal cholesterol, warns cholesterol expert David FitzPatrick from the MRC Human Genetics Unit in Edinburgh, UK. Humans can't do this.

Humans who carry a similar mutation are extremely rare - the two known cases died of multiple organ failure.

MESSENGER to Mercury!

JHU Applied Physics Laboratory Press Release

December 19, 2003 - Less than six months from its scheduled launch to Mercury, NASA’s MESSENGER spacecraft is set for the next round of tests to prepare it for the first orbital study of the innermost planet.

MESSENGER was shipped today from the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Md. — where it was designed and built — to the environmental testing facilities at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. The 20-mile delivery capped nearly four years of detailed design, assembly and testing on one of the most complex spacecraft APL has ever built.

With features ranging from a lightweight composite structure and miniaturized instruments to a heat-radiation system and protective ceramic-fabric sunshade, MESSENGER (short for MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging) is well equipped for a 5-year cruise through the inner solar system and a yearlong study of Mercury starting in July 2009.

"We’re sending a spacecraft to orbit a planet where the sun is 11 times brighter than what we see on Earth and temperatures can climb past 800 degrees Fahrenheit," says MESSENGER Project Manager David G. Grant, of APL. "This is an incredible engineering and scientific challenge that no one has ever tried before, and the team is doing all it can on the ground to make sure MESSENGER succeeds at Mercury."

This week engineers finished the first of MESSENGER’s "shake and bake" tests, checking the spacecraft’s structural strength atop large vibration tables at APL. Over the next 10 weeks at Goddard the team will check MESSENGER’s balance and alignment; put it before speakers that simulate the noise-induced vibrations of launch; and seal it in a large thermal-vacuum chamber that duplicates the extreme heat, cold and airless conditions of space. In March, MESSENGER will be sent to Kennedy Space Center/Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., and prepared for its May 2004 launch aboard a Boeing Delta II rocket.

"Each part of the spacecraft has passed individual vibration and environmental tests, and under tougher conditions than we expect they will see at Mercury," says James C. Leary, MESSENGER mission systems engineer at APL. "Now we’re looking at MESSENGER as a whole system. By the time it launches MESSENGER will have been thoroughly tested."

Carrying seven scientific instruments – including a camera, laser altimeter, magnetometer and several spectrometers – the solar-powered MESSENGER will image Mercury globally for the first time. It also will gather data on the composition and structure of Mercury's crust, its geologic history, the nature of its thin atmosphere and active magnetosphere, and the makeup of its core and polar materials. While cruising to Mercury the spacecraft will fly past the planet twice – in 2007 and 2008 – snapping pictures and gathering data critical to planning the mission's orbit phase.

Sean C. Solomon of the Carnegie Institution of Washington leads MESSENGER as principal investigator; the Applied Physics Laboratory manages the mission for NASA's Office of Space Science and will operate the spacecraft. GenCorp Aerojet, Sacramento, Calif., and Composite Optics Inc., San Diego, provided MESSENGER’s propulsion system and composite structure, respectively. APL, Goddard Space Flight Center, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and University of Colorado, Boulder, built the spacecraft’s scientific instruments.

MESSENGER website - http://messenger.jhuapl.edu

Cats Try to Eat Owner
LOS ANGELES December 18, 2003 (AP) - A group of hungry cats began to eat their 86-year-old owner after she suffered an apparent stroke and couldn't get up for nearly a week, officials said Thursday.

Mae Lowrie, who lives with seven cats, was discovered unconscious and riddled with bite marks Wednesday night at her Panorama City apartment, Fire Department and hospital officials said.

She was listed in fair condition at Kaiser Permanente Medical Center, said hospital spokeswoman Lisa Kort.

"The cats were trying to survive in the conditions that they were in, faced with the outcome they had. They did what they had to do to survive," animal control Officer Ernesto Poblano told KABC-TV. "The cats were all emaciated, very, very emaciated."

Lowrie may have suffered a stroke, said Jim Wells, spokesman for the Los Angeles Fire Department.

The woman's apartment manager alerted authorities after neighbors realized they hadn't seen Lowrie in several days.

Wells said Lowrie, who was believed to have been stricken about a week before she was found, was also dehydrated.

The cats, apparently without food for that time, also tried to eat Lowrie's small dog, said Jackie David, a spokeswoman for the city Animal Services Department. The terrier showed signs of hypothermic shock, severe dehydration, respiratory illness and was later euthanized, she said. One of the cats, a kitten, was found dead.
Nuke News: Nuclear Fusion
Nuclear Fusion is Back!
By Dr David Whitehouse
BBC News Science Editor

Washington December 19, 2003 (BBC) - Scientists involved in the next step to harness nuclear fusion - the power of the Sun - are meeting to decide where to put the $5bn fusion reactor. It will take a decade to build the fusion machine which releases energy in a similar way to the Sun's furnaces.

Scientists say the new reactor will be the first such prototype to give out a lot more power than it consumes. Two venues are in contention, Cadarache in southern France and front-runner Rokkasho-mura in Japan. Competition between the two sites has been intense. The winner is expected to be announced on Friday or Saturday at a meeting in Washington, DC.

The International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) is the boldest nuclear initiative since the Manhattan Project - the effort to build the first atom bomb.

In a conventional nuclear power station the splitting atoms inside radioactive material take place in a controlled chain reaction whose by-product is heat, which is used to generate electricity.

Nuclear fusion takes a different approach, seeking to emulate the Sun.

Two atoms of deuterium - a heavy form of hydrogen - are forced together under extremely high temperatures - tens of millions of degrees. When they fuse they release fast neutrons which can be used to heat a thermal blanket which in turn is used to generate electricity.

Advocates of fusion power point out there is an almost limitless supply of deuterium available as it can be derived from seawater. France and Japan are the finalists for the venue for ITER, but member nations are split.

The European Union is backing France but Japan, Canada, China, Russia, South Korea and the United States are reported to be favoring Japan.

"We have the structure, scientific and technical environment to ensure that this scheme can start up with competence, expertise and solid safety guarantees," French Research Minister Claudie Haignere said.

"If our site is chosen, Japan will cover the costs that are needed," said Hidekazu Tanaka, a senior official of the Japanese Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology ministry.

ITER would be the world's largest international cooperative research and development project after the International Space Station. Scientists say that ITER will be the first fusion device to produce thermal energy at the level of an electricity-producing power station.

Its goal will be to produce 500 megawatts of fusion power for 500 seconds or longer during each individual fusion experiment and in doing so demonstrate essential technologies for a commercial reactor.

But they are all agreed that taming the power of the Sun will not be easy.

The superhot gas in which the fusion takes place is notoriously difficult to control. The gas, termed a plasma, has to be kept hot and contained for fusion to take place. So far no one has achieved a prolonged self-sustaining fusion event.

ITER - http://www.iter.org

Yucca Mountain Battle Continues
By Erica Werner
Associated Press

WASHINGTON December 19, 2003 (AP) — Nevada's legal team will tell a federal appeals court that the government is trying to store nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain even though it does not meet the original legal requirements for a dump, lawyers said Thursday.

The hearing Jan. 14 before a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit will cover six lawsuits that the state filed against the federal government between 2000 and 2002, and that have been consolidated.

For Nevada, which has failed in the political arena for over two decades to stop the dump, the courts might represent the state's best chance of keeping out 77,000 tons of the nation's most radioactive waste, lawyers said at a media briefing. The waste would be buried for 10,000 years at a desert site 90 miles from Las Vegas.

"I think that this is the first time that any court in this country is really going to look at the fundamental legal merits of this project," said Joe Egan, Nevada's lead lawyer in the Yucca case.

Egan and other lawyers outlined a series of arguments that accuse the government of learning, after it began studying Yucca Mountain, that the site could not satisfy Congress's original mandate of "geological isolation." Instead studies demonstrated that the site would be at risk of dangerous seepage, they said.

Rather than abandon the site, the Energy Department changed the rules and declared it suitable, the lawyers said.

They accused the department of improperly evaluating the environmental effects of the project and said Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham unlawfully recommended its approval to President Bush. They contend the Environmental Protection Agency and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission failed to comply with the law in developing licensing rules and standards for the project.

Energy Department spokesman Joe Davis said the department has followed the law and that a nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain would be safe. He said Nevada's lawsuits "are simply misguided."

"In the end, if the science doesn't meet the standards, it's not going to be built. In the end, we believe the science will meet the standards," Davis said.

Congress and Bush approved sending nuclear waste to Yucca Mountain last year, but the department does not expect to open the site until at least 2010.

The department still must apply for a license from the NRC, which it plans to do a year from now.

NY Times Reporters Defy Order to Reveal Sources
By Caroline Drees
Security Correspondent

WASHINGTON December 18, 2003 (Reuters) - In a case that has raised concerns about journalists' rights, two New York Times reporters on Thursday defied an order by a U.S. federal judge to disclose their sources in a lawsuit filed by a scientist once suspected of spying.

New York Times reporters James Risen and Jeff Gerth are among five journalists subpoenaed by Wen Ho Lee, who has filed a lawsuit against the government for allegedly violating the federal Privacy Act by leaking personal information from his employment records to the reporters.

U.S. District Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson denied the journalists' motions to quash the subpoenas in October and ordered them to appear on Thursday and disclose the identity of their sources on Lee.

"Risen and Gerth answered the questions, although on some of the questions they chose to take advantage of their First Amendment privilege on identifying sources," New York Times' Vice President for Corporate Communications Catherine Mathis told Reuters.

Journalist advocacy groups and lawyers say the importance of Jackson's order goes far beyond the Lee lawsuit, and threatens what they argue are First Amendment rights of freedom of the press.

Making reporters reveal their sources destroys their credibility and independence, they argue.

"The New York Times and its journalists have had a long-standing practice of protecting confidential sources, a principle we believe is critical for the press to provide a free flow of information to the public," Mathis said.

But in his order, Jackson said "the court has some doubt that a truly worthy First Amendment interest resides in protecting the identity of government personnel who disclose to the press that the Privacy Act says they may not reveal."

NO ABSOLUTE PRIVILEGE

Lee subpoenaed the reporters in hopes their testimony would prove the U.S. Departments of Justice and Energy and the Federal Bureau of Investigation violated his privacy rights.

U.S. law does not grant absolute privilege to journalists which would be comparable to that of a priest or doctor.

The other subpoenaed reporters are Robert Drogin of the Los Angeles Times, Josef Hebert of the Associated Press and Pierre Thomas, formerly of CNN and now working for ABC News. Neither the reporters nor their companies were immediately available for comment.

A source close to the case said the three other journalists were due to give their depositions in early January.

"There is no question that we are in very dangerous territory here. No question at all," said Lucy Dalglish, executive director of advocacy group Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.

"It's very seldom that you see such an all-out attack on the reporters' privilege like this," she said.

Lee was fired from his job at the Energy Department's Los Alamos National Laboratory in March 1999 amid allegations of spying for China. He was never charged with espionage and pleaded guilty to one count of downloading nuclear weapons design secrets to a nonsecure computer after the government's case against him collapsed.
Spitzer Treks Where No Telescope Has Gone Before

By PAUL RECER
AP Science Writer

WASHINGTON December 19, 2003 (AP) - NASA unveiled the first views Thursday from its space infrared telescope, a super-cooled orbiting observatory that can look through obscuring dust to capture images never before seen.

The telescope, a $670 million project launched in August, can detect extremely faint waves of infrared radiation, or heat. Astronomers for the first time are able to peer into the heart of stellar fields that had been blocked from the view of conventional telescopes by dense clouds of dust and gas.

"This gives us a powerful new capability that will enable us to see things not seen before and to answer questions we couldn't even ask before. This is a very powerful new tool for astronomy," Michael Werner, an astrophysicist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., said at a news conference. He is the project scientist for the Spitzer Space Telescope, named in honor of the famed astronomer Lyman Spitzer Jr.

Added Giovanni Fazio, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and a Spitzer researcher: "We are now able for the first time to lift the cosmic veil that has blocked out view and see the universe in all of its components."

Some of the first views from the Spitzer included:

A galaxy that was mostly blurred in the view of other telescopes. In the Spitzer image, there are vast fields of stars in a spiral necklace surrounding the galaxy. The image also detects clouds of glowing carbon dust.

A patch of sky that appears black and empty in visible light telescopes is revealed by the Spitzer to be a stellar nursery, a large cloud of dust wherein stars and other bodies are forming,

"That's what the solar system looked like in the beginning," said Fazio.

An object 3.25 billion light years away that is almost invisible to other instruments is seen as a highly energetic galaxy, glowing with an energy 1,000 times that of the Milky Way, the home galaxy of the sun and Earth.

Embedded within the clouds of the galaxy are organic molecules, such as carbon dioxide and cyanide, that are thought to be the chemical building blocks of life.

A comet streaking through the solar system some 550,000 million miles from the sun. It is surrounded by a cloud about 20 times bigger than Jupiter; the Spitzer sees to the comets glowing core.

John N. Bahcall of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, N.J., said the Spitzer will enable astronomers to study the birth pangs of stars and the formation of planets out to the very edge of the universe.

"We will be able to see things that human beings have never before seen," he said. "This will change the way astronomers do astronomy."

The telescope completes NASA's original plan to orbit telescopes to study segments of the electromagnetic spectrum, the visible and invisible radiation that fills the universe, which is partially or completely blocked by the Earth's atmosphere.

The Hubble, launched in 1990, gathers images in visible, ultraviolet and near-infrared waves. The Compton, launched in 1991, studied gamma rays, a high energy form of radiation. Its mission ended in 1999. The Chandra Observatory, launched in 1999, studies X-ray radiation from supernovas and black holes.

Now the Spitzer collects infrared radiation which is invisible to the naked eye, but which is able to penetrate dust and gas.

Virtually all objects in the universe emit some infrared, or heat, radiation. To detect it, the Spitzer is rather like a telescope within a vacuum jug. All the instruments detecting infrared are cooled by liquid helium and shielded from the heat-producing parts of the craft.

The telescope was launched into an orbit that trails the Earth. This keeps it away from the planet's heat and enables the Spitzer to operate at a minus-450 degrees F, just 10 degrees above absolute zero.

The store of liquid helium, used at its present rate, is expected to last almost six years, officials said.

Spitzer, a Princeton University astronomer, proposed in 1946, long before the first orbital rocket, that the nation put telescopes into space, above the obscuring effects of the atmosphere.

Spitzer was a leader in efforts to persuade Congress to pay for a fleet of orbiting telescopes. He also played a major role in the 1990 launch of the Hubble Space Telescope. He died in 1997.

Spitzer is considered one of the most significant astronomers of the 20th century, the author of textbooks still studied in college. He did fundamental studies of the interstellar medium, the gas and dust that fill vast reaches of space and which play a key role in the formation of stars and planets.

Spitzer Space Telescope: http://sirtf.caltech.edu

Miami Police May Have Broken International Laws
MIAMI December 19, 2003 (AP) — Police in Miami may have violated various international laws and covenants on civil rights and use of force when they crushed protests against a free trade meeting last month, rights group Amnesty International said.

In a letter to Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, dated Dec. 16 and made public Thursday, the human rights watchdog repeated a call for an independent inquiry into police actions that led to more than 200 arrests and dozens of injuries.

"Concerns include reports of the indiscriminate and inappropriate use of nonlethal weapons on nonviolent protesters resulting in scores of injuries, the obstruction of those providing medical treatment, multiple and random arrests ... and the denial of the right to freedom of expression and association," Americas program director Susan Lee wrote.

Amnesty said preliminary investigations suggested police violated the United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, among other covenants.

Miami was shut down for the Nov. 17 to Nov. 21 Free Trade Area of the Americas meeting, at which little progress was made toward creating the world's biggest free trade zone.

Phalanxes of riot police, backed by helicopters and armored cars, chased protesters through the city center after the main opposition rally on Nov. 20 by firing volleys of rubber bullets, pepper spray, and tear gas.

While a few protesters threw rocks, the great majority of the 15,000 unionists, environmentalists, retirees, small farmers, anarchists, and civil rights activists who took part in the Nov. 20 march against the FTAA were peaceful.

Amnesty said many were shot with rubber bullets while running away from police. Volunteer medics appear to have been targeted while helping the injured.

Miami Police Chief John Timoney has promised an internal review of police tactics, and has won the firm backing of city officials for the "restraint" shown by officers in preventing a repeat of the 1999 world trade riots in Seattle.

Critics say a police review is far from adequate.

A fledgling Citizens Investigative Panel, set up after a series of police corruption scandals, also plans hearings.
Where's Osama?

WASHINGTON December 19, 2003 (AP) - Al-Qaida suspects are being interrogated. Afghan and Pakistani villagers are being courted. Troops and unmanned aircraft are poised to strike.

But finding Osama bin Laden remains enormously difficult, much more so than capturing Saddam Hussein, say American intelligence officials, lawmakers and analysts.

More than two years after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, there is little indication that U.S. forces are about to capture bin Laden.

Bin Laden is believed to be hiding in the vast, rugged mountains that separate Afghanistan and Pakistan, where the population is largely sympathetic and U.S. forces have limited access and mobility.

"As opposed to finding the needle in the haystack, now the needle is in a mountain chain," said Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan.

For all the United States' sophisticated spy satellites and powerful weapons, the key to finding bin Laden will likely boil down to having the right tip passed on to the right analyst at the right time - much as U.S. officials say was the case in last weekend's successful capture of Saddam in Iraq.

"The lesson that we learn and relearn constantly is that you need good human intelligence," said Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., a Senate Armed Services Committee member who recently traveled to Afghanistan. "You need sources on the ground that are willing to tell us where bin Laden is located. That's the hardest type of intelligence to get."

U.S. authorities "have to win over the confidence of people, or pay them, or get lucky and pick up somebody up and get them to talk," said Reed, a West Point graduate and former company commander with the 82nd Airborne Division.

Officials have tried to pry information from al-Qaida suspects seized in Afghanistan, Pakistan and elsewhere. After Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, believed to be al-Qaida's No. 3 figure, was arrested in March, information from his interrogation led to raids along the southwestern stretch of the Pakistani border with Afghanistan. But those didn't lead to any arrests.

"I'm not sure if there have been any close calls. I'm skeptical," said one U.S. intelligence official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Some critics have said the United States should devote more resources - including military and special operations forces - to the hunt for bin Laden.

"The United States does not have unlimited military resources," said Larry Johnson, a former State Department deputy chief of counterterrorism. "If you're going to devote air assets to lifting troops in Iraq, those assets are no longer available to lift troops in Afghanistan."

But America's top general, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Richard Myers said this week that the United States, which has about 11,000 troops hunting militants in Afghanistan, is unlikely to send many more troops.

During a pre-Christmas, morale-boosting visit to troops in Afghanistan, Myers said bin Laden will be caught one day "with absolute certainty."

The public also appears optimistic.

On Wednesday, an Associated Press poll conducted by Ipsos-Public Affairs showed that two-thirds of 1,001 adults were confident the United States would capture or kill bin Laden, who is believed to have orchestrated the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. That's up from about half who felt that way in a poll in September.

Many tribes in the region are sympathetic to al-Qaida and wary of Americans. Bin Laden's supporters have a religious fervor and a willingness to die for his cause.

Saddam's support was secular. And, although he inspired the loyalty of many, he also had countless enemies in Iraq.

Language difficulties have also complicated the search for bin Laden. Few Americans can speak the Pashtun language and must rely on translators. Foreigners are easily identifiable in the sparsely populated region.

"I don't know how you get 600 people into an area like that without detection and escape," Roberts said of the Afghan border area. There were 600 soldiers in the force that carried out the raid on Saddam in Iraq.

U.S. personnel have considerable flexibility to pursue intelligence leads and conduct raids in Afghanistan. But across the border, they must be mindful of Pakistani sovereignty.

Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf has become a key ally in fighting terrorism, but his support within his own country is shaky, especially in the tribal areas along the border.

The terrain also is daunting. While Saddam was found in a "spider hole," as it was dubbed by the military, "you've got spider caves by the hundreds in Afghanistan and Pakistan," said Karl Inderfurth, assistant secretary of State for South Asian affairs during the Clinton administration.

And bin Laden is skilled at hiding, long used to life on the lam, in contrast to Saddam.

Rep. Porter Goss, R-Fla., chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said post-Cold War intelligence funding cuts and a reduced emphasis on human spying have hurt the search for bin Laden.

But Goss said he was encouraged by how intelligence agencies and military forces are working more closely together now.

"That's going to yield results," he said. "It has in Iraq."

Genre News: Boreanaz Best Actor, Nip/Tuck, Keanu Superman, Peter Pan, Passion, Firefly & More!

Angel, Fred and Lorne Get the Nod

Los Angeles December 20, 2003 (eXoNews) - International Press Academy Satellite Awards Nominations were announced on December 17th. Unlike their press colleagues at the Golden Globes, the IPA seems to notice talent slightly more over ratings in their TV choices.

Angel star David Boreanaz was nominated for Best Actor in a Dramatic Series.

Angel's Amy Acker (Fred) and Gina Torres (Jasmine) were both nominated for Best Supporting Actress, and Andy Hallett (Lorne) was nominated for Best Supporting Actor.

Smallville's Michael Rosenbaum (Lex) was also nominated in the Best Supporting category, as was Mary Steenburgen for Joan of Arcadia.

Amber Tamblyn was nominated for Best Actress for Joan.

Nip/Tuck's Julian McMahon was nominated for Best Actor and Joely Richardson for Best Actress.

The Satellite awards, now in their eighth year, acknowledge outstanding artists, films, shows and interactive media. The final choices and presentations will take place on the 21st of February, 2004 at the St. Regis Hotel in Century City, California.

For the entire list of nominations - http://www.pressacademy.com/satawards/ipa-satelliteawards-nominees.html

Angel on The WB - http://www.thewb.com/Shows/Show/0,7353,||139,00.html

The eXoNews Angel Fan Poll - http://flatdisk.net/angel

Nip/Tuck and Joan of Arcadia Get Globe Nominations
By Cynthia Littleton

LOS ANGELES December 18, 2003 (Hollywood Reporter) - FX's "Nip/Tuck," Fox's "Arrested Development" and the BBC's "The Office" were the big surprises on the TV side of this year's batch of Golden Globe Award nominees.

As expected, HBO's six-hour miniseries "Angels in America", based on Tony Kushner's award-winning play, dominated the nominations overall for TV programs with a total of seven bids.

"Nip/Tuck", FX's provocative drama about rival plastic surgeons in Miami, earned a best drama series nod in its first year of eligibility and seemed to edge out the other FX contender, "The Shield", from best series contention, though "Shield" star Michael Chiklis earned a nomination for lead drama series actor, a category he won last year. "Nip/Tuck" joined four other familiar contenders in the category, CBS' "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation," Fox's "24", HBO's "Six Feet Under" and NBC's "The West Wing".

(HBO's critical fave "The Sopranos" was not eligible for Globe consideration this year because it did not air new episodes during the 2003 calendar year.)

On the comedy series side, the Globe nomination can only be a boon to Fox's critically praised but little-watched new sitcom "Arrested Development." The critically lauded BBC comedy "The Office" also got the attention of Globe voters, landing a nomination for its airings on the BBC America cable channel. Rounding out the category were NBC's "Will & Grace", HBO's "Sex and the City" and USA Network's "Monk". (Last year's comedy series winner, HBO's "Curb Your Enthusiasm," was also ineligible for Globes glory this year.)

In the acting categories, the absence of "Sopranos" contenders opened up slots for newcomers. Globes voters made room for two new faces in the lead drama actress field: Amber Tamblyn, the much-praised young star of CBS' freshman drama "Joan of Arcadia" and Joely Richardson of "Nip/Tuck", along with Frances Conroy of "Six Feet Under", in her first Globe nomination, and repeat nominees Allison Janney of "The West Wing" and Jennifer Garner of ABC's "Alias".

For drama actor, William Petersen of CBS' "CSI" earned his first nomination, as did Anthony LaPaglia for CBS' "Without a Trace". In addition to Chiklis, the category was rounded out by return nominees Martin Sheen of "West Wing" and Kiefer Sutherland of "24".

Peter Pan Has Girl Power

Hollywood December 19, 2003 (Sci Fi Wire) - Olivia Williams, who plays Mrs. Darling in the upcoming live-action Peter Pan, told SCI FI Wire that the fantasy film fills a gap in movies for girls.

"I'm five months pregnant, so I've been thinking about that quite a lot recently," Williams told reporters at a news conference to promote Pan. "One of the lovely things that Janet Patterson, ... who designed ... the costumes, said [is that] there are no movies for little girls. And that if little girls don't like Toy Story or Superman or whatever comic strip is ... fashionable at the time, there is nothing."

Peter Pan, based on the play and book by English writer J.M. Barrie, fills that need, Williams said.

"We all know little girls who love pink dresses, who want to be adventurous and brave, like Wendy, but who also are feminine and like ... love stories," she said. "And this is the film for all those little girls who are interested in the things that girls are traditionally interested in, which a lot of movies don't cater [to] now."

The movie centers on Wendy Darling (newcomer Rachel Hurd-Wood) and her adventures in Neverland with the boy who never grows up (played by Jeremy Sumpter).

"I think that I would say to my own daughter, ... if it's a girl, to just ... have a childhood," Williams said. "That's what I hope for. I don't think you can suppress information, but just make it more fun to be a child than to be a mini-adult." Peter Pan opens Christmas Day.

Peter Pan Official site - http://www.peterpanmovie.net

Keanu To Play Superman?

Hollywood December 19, 2003 (Sci Fi Wire) - IGN FilmForce reported a rumor that Keanu Reeves has met with director Allen Coulter about playing the lead in Truth, Justice and the American Way, the proposed biographical movie about TV Superman actor George Reeves. Should the Matrix star pass, then Viggo Mortensen (Lord of the Rings) might be offered the role, the site added. (Keanu Reeves and George Reeves are not related.)

Hugh Jackman, Ben Affleck and Dennis Quaid have all been approached for the part at different times, the site reported.

Meanwhile, the movie is aiming to begin filming in Los Angeles in March or April 2004. Location scouting, production design work and casting are currently underway, the site reported.

Benicio Del Toro is reportedly awaiting further script revisions before committing to play Lamar Moglio, the fictionalized private eye hired by George Reeves' mother to investigate her son's curious death, the site reported. If Del Toro passes, then the role might go to James Gandolfini.

Sharon Stone and Annette Bening are said to be in the running to portray George Reeves' spurned lover, Toni Mannix, with The Ring's Naomi Watts as Lenore Lemmon, the actor's younger girlfriend, the site reported.

Anti-Bush Iraq Documentary - Bootlegs Welcome!
By Steve Gorman

LOS ANGELES December 19, 2003 (Reuters) - In the midst of a film industry crackdown on digital movie piracy, filmmaker Robert Greenwald is urging rampant, unauthorized copying of his documentary criticizing the Bush administration's reasons for invading Iraq.

The 56-minute film, "Uncovered: The Whole Truth about the Iraq War," concludes that President Bush and his team distorted intelligence data and misled the American public ahead of the March invasion that toppled the regime of Saddam Hussein.

Greenwald has bypassed movie theaters and television, and instead has organized "parlor screenings" in thousands of homes across the United States with the help of Internet-based liberal advocacy group, MoveOn.org.

People attending can buy DVD or VHS copies that they in turn are urged to reproduce and pass along for free to others.

"You have my permission to give it away. This film is meant to be a tool, so you will take it and do with it as you will," Greenwald implored a recent audience in Los Angeles.

Some 50,000 copies have been sold, raising nearly $800,000, since the campaign began in November, organizers said.

Greenwald said proceeds will go toward the cost of the film and future projects. Last Sunday alone, nearly 3,000 parlor screenings were held simultaneously where "Uncovered" was seen by about 100,000 people, said co-producer Kate McCardle.

Greenwald, whose previous credits include the feature film "Steal This Movie" about 1960s radical Abbie Hoffman, believes his new film may be the first to be widely circulated in such a manner.

It's a strategy that runs contrary to current Hollywood studio policy to carefully control film distribution and safeguard intellectual property at all costs.

"We wanted to get it out quickly and get it into as many hands as fast as we could," he told Reuters. "It's real democracy in action."

RALLYING CRY

The film features former CIA officials, diplomats, weapons inspectors and military experts rebutting administration prewar assertions that Iraq posed a threat to the United States. They conclude the White House exaggerated, ignored or manipulated intelligence to fabricate reasons for deposing Hussein.

Their comments are juxtaposed with statements by President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and other officials making a case that Iraq was aligned with terrorists and held weapons of mass destruction.

As intended, the film has become a rallying cry for anti-war activists and Bush administration critics.

Financed by MoveOn and the left-leaning Center for American Progress, headed by former President Bill Clinton's chief of staff, John Podesta, the film has since drawn the support of such groups as Veterans for Peace, Military Families Speak Out and Physicians for Social Responsibility.

On Wednesday night, an invitation-only showing in Los Angeles drew a handful of notable celebrities, including Ed Asner and James Cromwell, and representatives of four Democrats running for president -- Howard Dean, John Kerry, Wesley Clark and Dennis Kucinich -- who embraced the movie and its message.

All four have criticized U.S. conduct toward Iraq, and made it a centerpiece of their campaigns. They seized on "Uncovered" as a means of refocusing attention on the origins of the war at a time when the Bush administration is exalting in the recent capture of Saddam Hussein.

"It's a rare show of unity," Kerry campaign representative Jennifer Hidges said. "We agree that we were lied to ... so there's a sense of betrayal among a lot of Democrats."

Asner said he doubted the movie would sway staunch Bush supporters but could prove useful to Democrats.

"There are many, many people out there who are too afraid to take a stand, and the value of this piece is it may coax them out of their shell of fear," he said.

The Uncoverd web site - http://www.truthuncovered.com

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

WELLINGTON New Zealand December 19, 2003 (AP) - "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe," the beloved fantasy novel by C.S. Lewis, will be made into a film in New Zealand, a newspaper reported Friday.

New Zealander Andrew Adamson, best known for the Oscar-winning animated feature "Shrek," will direct the film and Walden Media will produce it.

"We are extremely happy and excited to be starting work on the film in New Zealand," Wellington's Dominion Post Newspaper quoted Adamson as saying.

The movie is expected to be the first of five films based on Lewis' seven Chronicles of Narnia books, to which Walden holds the film rights.

Director Peter Jackson shot the three "Lord of the Rings" films, based on J.R.R. Tolkien's fantasy book series, in New Zealand using its unspoiled landscapes.

The $110 million budget film will start production preparations early in 2004, although work on the Chronicles has already started at Jackson's Weta Workshop in Wellington.

A spokeswoman for Weta confirmed it was currently working on the project, but declined to give details.

Shooting, much of it in South Island forests, high country and coastal areas, will begin mid-2004, the reports said.

Taxpayers will help foot the bill for the film, which will be made using a screen production grant scheme set up by the government this year.

Under the plan, production companies can receive up to 12.5 percent of their total costs back at the end of production.

"The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe," published in 1950, is the second and best-known novel in the seven-part Narnia series. It also includes "The Magician's Nephew," "The Horse and His Boy," "Prince Caspian," "The Voyage of the Dawn Treader," "The Silver Chair" and "The Last Battle."

Stripperella and Gary The Rat Officially Dead
BY DENISE MARTIN

Hollywood December 14, 2003 (Variety) - Drop an anvil on them - they're through.

It seems cable's latest wave of adult animation has fizzled. Frosh toons "Stripperella," "Kid Notorious," and "Gary the Rat," have come limping out of the gate for cable's primetime and latenight ratings wars despite heavy advance buzz among industryites.

Amid varying themes and production values, this trio of toons is facing an uphill battle to attract auds as standalone shows on cablers. Viewers know what they're getting with Cartoon Network --- all cartoons, all the time --- but don't have the patience to stick to time-slot jumping toons on cablers like Spike TV and Comedy Central with a diverse number of offerings. Insiders say the forecast on renewals for the frosh group is grim.

Comedy Central's "Kid," inspired by the storied escapades of movie producer Robert Evans, flatlined after tallying a 1.6 million viewer debut. After swapping nights three episodes in, skein recently posted a .3 coverage rating or 571,000 total viewers, 166,000 of them in the key persons 18-34 demographic.

Spike TV's "Gary the Rat," exec produced and voiced by Kelsey Grammer, bowed to 1 million eyeballs only to dip to the 300,000 viewers.

Toon-friendly MTV stumbled this summer with its teen "Spider-Man," voiced by Neil Patrick Harris, which saw males 18-34 averaging under 200,000.

By way of comparison, Cartoon Network's weekday three-hour animation block Adult Swim, brings in between 500,000 and 800,000 viewers in the 18-34 demographic alone.

Jim Strader, a partner in AniManagement, which represents cartoonists, notes that it takes a fresh angle to win eyeballs, pointing to auds of 5 million in the heyday of "South Park."

"These networks have tried to use the celebrity angle as a marketing tool and, in their eagerness, bet on some bad shows," he says. "At the end of the day, Comedy Central may figure out how to grow an audience, but if anyone was hoping for the next 'South Park,' this batch ain't it."

Mike Lazzo, senior VP of Cartoon Network's Adult Swim, explains launching in a vacuum can be challenging.

"We do animation full-time, so it's understandably tough going for networks that don't have an environment like ours. But if I'm Spike, and I see wrestling is my strongest asset, I'm looking for more like it," Lazzo says.

The bottom line, however, may outweigh the minimal viewer draw.

Ancillary business is rich for cartoons --- DVDs and merchandising have rocketed "The Simpsons" into a billion-dollar business and revived cult fave "The Family Guy."

Toons also deal in lower production costs and license fees than those of original scripted fare found on FX or USA, making animation a safer investment.

And then there's the publicity factor.

Spike's exec VP of programming and development Kevin Kay, a Nickelodeon alum, acknowledged the lackluster ratings but noted the net's animation block, "The Strip," has paid off in terms of attention.

"I think we were looking for buzz and 'The Strip' has accomplished that with a lot of positive feedback. 'Stripperella' has gotten guys' attention. 'Gary' is smart and funny. It made people look and see that we're trying to do something different," Kay says. "Regardless of the ratings holding up, those are important qualifier for us."

Pamela Anderson -starrer "Stripperella" premiered well to 2 million viewers, but has plummeted with male auds, nabbing just 214,000 men 18-49 in its newest episode. Still, Kay trusts in Pam to keep the guys gawking and will launch an additional six segs on Spike early next year.

And lured by the Holy Grail of a breakout hit like "South Park," cabler appetites for animation continue to swell.

VH1 is three episodes into "Ill-Ustrated," a caricature-based show that skewers pop culture. Comedy Central recently put "Drawn Together," a half-hour being billed as the first animated "reality" show, into production.

Spike is fast-tracking "This Just In," a topical toon centering on three guys riffing on the day's headlines. Producing celebs continue to line up as well, including John Leguizamo and Denis Leary.

[We told you so. Pamela is great in the flesh, but Stripperella was strictly for boobs. Ed.]

Pope Blesses Gibson's Passion

VATICAN CITY December 18, 2003 (AP) - Pope John Paul II has seen "The Passion," Mel Gibson's Biblical epic on the crucifixion of Christ, and said the film "shows how it was," a Church official said Thursday.

The official said the film's co-producer reported that the pope told his secretary the film was an accurate portrayal of Christ's death. "It shows how it was," the pontiff was quoted as saying.

The pope's apparent approval of "The Passion" follows similar praise from several top Vatican officials, who have rejected complaints by some Jewish leaders who say the film suggests Jews were responsible for Christ's death.

The church official, who spoke on condition he not be identified, said two screenings were recently held so the ailing, 83-year-old pontiff didn't have to sit through one long production.

Papal spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls declined Thursday to confirm or deny whether the pope had seen the film or what his impressions were.

Gibson's production company has arranged a number of private, pre-release screenings for Vatican officials. However, plans for a screening at a Vatican-sponsored film festival on spirituality earlier this month were scrapped because Gibson's Icon Productions company said the final edit was not then ready.

Gibson plans to open the film in the United States on Feb. 25 -- Ash Wednesday on the Roman Catholic calendar.

The Passion Official site - http://www.thepassionofthechrist.com

Young TV Viewers Leaving Prime-Time

NEW YORK December 19, 2003 (AP) - On many days, 20-year-old New York college student Andrew Myers doesn't bother turning on his TV until 11 at night. He'll catch up on Jon Stewart, David Letterman, and maybe a "Seinfeld" rerun.

Young television viewers haven't disappeared, contrary to the worries of many network executives. Many of them are simply watching TV later.

Savvy cable executives have responded to the increased late-night viewership, and may even have accelerated the trend.

"I don't think it's totally rocket science to note that young people are up late at night," said Kathryn Mitchell, executive vice president of programming at Comedy Central. "They weren't catered to, and now they are."

Prime time is defined as 8 to 11 p.m. for the broadcast networks. Myers said he reserves that time for schoolwork, or going out with friends. If there's a show on then that he wants to see, he'll save it on his digital video recorder.

"The majority of my TV watching is late at night, when I'm done with all of the other stuff that I'm doing," Myers said.

Such cable channels as MTV, Comedy Central, FX, Bravo and VH1 effectively start their prime time at 10. That's when high-profile programs "Nip/Tuck," "The Osbournes," "Real World," "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy," "Crank Yankers" and "Joe Schmo" are first shown.

The 10 p.m. hour is popular for cable because there's less broadcast competition. Fox, the WB and UPN - all young-skewing networks - air local news then. ABC, CBS and NBC tend to show either dramas or newsmagazines, which gives, say, Comedy Central a good counterprogramming opportunity.

Another new development is cable channels rerunning their best shows after midnight.

When its high-profile 10 p.m. to midnight shows, including those featuring Stewart and Colin Quinn, are over each night, Comedy Central immediately reruns the two-hour block. MTV and VH1 have started doing something similar with their lineups.

Comedy Central has more people watching from midnight to 2 a.m. than it does from 6 to 8 p.m., Mitchell said.

"If I'm home at 2 in the morning and I'm flipping through the channels, I'm astounded at the good content you can get," said Brian Graden, top programming executive for MTV and VH1.

Night owl viewership, from 1 a.m. to 6 a.m., increased 35 percent for people aged 18 to 34 between 1999 and 2003, according to Nielsen Media Research.

During the same period, prime-time viewership decreased 3 percent in that age group. It's been more concentrated this year: viewing for young men is down 7 percent since last fall. People in this age group do a little more than one-quarter of their TV-watching during traditional prime time, down 10 percent in four years, Nielsen said.

No one can quite explain the time shift. Betsy Frank, chief researcher for the MTV Networks, suggests there's more video-game playing during the earlier hours. Perhaps there's simply fewer shows on between 8 p.m. and 11 p.m. that they want to watch.

Oddly, another network taking advantage of this trend is Nickelodeon, which airs reruns of classic TV shows under the Nick at Nite banner between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m.

Its reruns of "Charles in Charge" fell flat early in the evening. But it draws more than one million viewers, on average, when it airs at 5 a.m., shocking network executives.

Nick at Nite sells itself to viewers as television comfort food, and many responded during economic tough times and in the months after Sept. 11, 2001, said Larry Jones, Nick at Nite general manager.

The network has conducted studies to prove there's a vibrant, engaged audience out there late at night. Many advertisers believe that a lot of televisions on at that hour play to a snoring audience.

"I think a lot of the networks are completely in the dark about this," Jones said. "For sure, the broadcasters are."

The big networks don't ignore young viewers late at night. Jimmy Kimmel, Conan O'Brien, Craig Kilborn and Carson Daly all have wee-hour talk shows with youthful audiences. But the cable networks argue those are all the same kind of program, and they're providing an alternative.

"If you're my daughter, who's 20, would you rather watch Jay Leno or something that's tailored to your demographic?" said Larry Gerbrandt, television analyst for Kagan World Media.

Firefly on DVD!
By FLAtRich
eXoNews Firefly Die-hard

[This review is a rerun from last week for those of you who haven't bought Firefly: The Complete Series DVD Set yet. Wait 'til you see "Mrs. Reynolds"! Wow! Ed.]

December 14, 2003 (eXoNews) - I just got the coolest Xmas gift! Well, it wasn't really an Xmas gift, it was a birthday gift from last October, but it is still the coolest Xmas gift because it was on my Wish List at Amazon since last October and it finally came out the other day and I remembered I had the Amazon Virtual Gift Certificate (or whatever it's called) waiting there for it to come out so while I was buying Major Powers & The Star Squad toys and Animal Planet Reptile Buckets for the kids I found the number and typed it in and added Joss Whedon's Firefly: The Complete Series DVD Set to my order and here it is, sitting right next to my keyboard waiting to be watched!

It's the coolest because fan power made it happen.

I'm cool because I was unashamedly one of those die-hard Firefly fans who supported the show right up to and after Fox cancelled it.

Yeah, I was one of those fans who wrote it up and sent postcards and cheered when Joss Whedon announced that all of the missing episodes would be included in the DVD set at some future time and waited until now faithfully and have finally been rewarded by The Powers That Be with, count 'em, fourteen Firefly episodes and additional special features including Joss Whedon actually singing the Firefly Theme!

I so deserve to sit back and watch these DVDs until my eyeballs drop out or the Firefly movie that Joss Whedon is currently writing in a sure thing deal with Universal appears in my local theater, even if I'm sounding a bit like Fred after Angel rescued her from Lorne's alternate demon dimension.

And you're cool too if you go out and get your very own Joss Whedon's Firefly: The Complete Series DVD Set and don't even wait for somebody to maybe give it to you as a holiday gift in two weeks.

You're cool because you will finally get to see what the dimwits at Fox never understood, namely the reason that TV is a dying thing except for Angel and a few other shows.

TV just can't handle Quality.

DVDs are the future of great science fiction, man, not broadcasts pockmarked with inane commercials and network proselytizing about what's on next or what sub-mutant reality babe will do when asked to eat worms for money in a string bikini on Tuesday while she marries some guy pretending to be a stockbroker who is really an out-of-work fast food server, not meaning any disrespect to those citizens who are currently flipping cow entrails onto stale buns and asking you if you want extra ketchup.

So don't wait. Joss Whedon's Firefly: The Complete Series DVD set is out and ready to be taken home and enjoyed the way good stories are meant to be enjoyed.

You can get it at Amazon or Barnes and Noble or probably at a store near you.

Do it. Thank me later.

Firefly Fan Site - http://www.fireflyfans.net

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