Robots Invade Japan!
T Tauri Stars, Pyramid Secrets,
Titan Mysteries, Mars, Amalthea,

Phthalates, Mad Max & More!
Robots Invade Japan!
Honda Introduces Smarter 'Asimo' Humanoid Robot

TOKYO December 11, 2002 (Reuters and Honda Press Release) - If you're lucky, the next time you visit a Honda showroom you could be assisted by the Japanese automaker's next-generation humanoid robot, "Asimo." 

Honda Motor Company unveiled on Wednesday an improved version of its two-year-old robot, which can now do much more than ring the famed opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange as it did in February this year. 

The new model, which Honda plans to begin leasing next month, can greet and recognize people, as well as perform advanced commands such as moving in the direction indicated by reading hand gestures.

If asked, it can even provide real-time information such as the weather by tapping into the Internet or other network sources. 

Honda, considered one of the most innovative Japanese companies and a leader in developing humanoid robots for home use, said it would use the 4-foot-tall Asimo at several of its dealerships in Japan next year.

The automaker currently leases the previous version of Asimo to International Business Machines Corp and six other companies as a high-tech receptionist and hospitality robot. Honda said it would continue making improvements to enable more practical and involved functions. It hopes the robot will one day become a useful household companion, although with an annual rental fee of $161,500 now, officials said that would take a while.

But there was no question over Asimo's entertainment value as Honda demonstrated its newly added functions to a roomful of reporters. 

"Please don't come so close," Asimo pleaded in its high-pitched, childlike voice, backing up as a Honda assistant approached it. 

"As you can see, you can also teach it to recognize strangers," said chief engineer Yoshiaki Sakagami, drawing a roar of laughter from the crowd. 

Here are the key features of the new robot from Honda's Press Release:

Advanced communication ability thanks to recognition technology
1. Recognition of moving objects 
2. Posture/gesture recognition 
3. Environment recognition 
4. Sound recognition 
5. Face recognition 

Network integration
1. Integration with user's network system 
2. Internet connectivity

Advanced communication ability thanks to recognition technology 

Recognition of moving objects 

Using the visual information captured by the camera mounted in its head, ASIMO can detect the movements of multiple objects, assessing distance and direction. Specifically, ASIMO can: follow the movements of people with its camera; follow a person; and greet a person when he or she approaches. 

Recognition of postures and gestures 

Based on visual information, ASIMO can interpret the positioning and movement of a hand, recognizing postures and gestures. Thus ASIMO can react not only to voice commands, but also to the natural movements of human beings. For example, ASIMO can: recognize an indicated location and move to that location (posture recognition); shake a person's hand when a handshake is offered (posture recognition); and respond to a wave by waving back (gesture recognition).

Environment recognition 

ASIMO is able to assess its immediate environment, recognizing the position of obstacles and avoiding them to prevent collisions. Specifically, ASIMO can: stop and start to avoid a human being or other moving object which suddenly appears in its path; and recognize immobile objects in its path and move around them.

Distinguishing sounds 

ASIMO's ability to identify the source of sounds has been improved, and it can distinguish between voices and other sounds. For example, ASIMO can: recognize when its name is called, and turn to face the source of the sound; look at the face of the person speaking, and respond; and recognize sudden, unusual sounds, such as that of a falling object or a collision, and face in that direction.

Face recognition 

ASIMO has the ability to recognize faces, even when ASIMO or the human being is moving. For example, ASIMO can: recognize the faces of people which have been pre-registered, addressing them by name, communicating messages to them, and guiding them; and recognize approximately ten different people.

Advanced communication ability thanks to recognition technology 

Integration with user's network system 

ASIMO can: execute functions appropriately based on the user's customer data; greet visitors, informing personnel of the visitor's arrival by transmitting messages and pictures of the visitor's face; and guide visitors to a predetermined location, etc. 

Internet connectivity 

Accessing information via the Internet, ASIMO can become a provider of news and weather updates, for example, ready to answer people's questions, etc.

New Robots for Mars

NASA News Release

December 9, 2002 - With just over a year to go before NASA's twin Mars Exploration Rovers land on the red planet, members of the science team are previewing the mission's goals and candidate landing sites at a special session of the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco. 

"The twin rovers will be able to travel the distance of several football fields during their missions. They will carry sophisticated instruments that effectively make them robotic geologists, acting as the eyes and hands of the science team on Earth," said Dr. Mark Adler, mission manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. "We are very busy at JPL building and testing the two rovers and the spacecraft that will land them safely on Mars." 

Remote sensing instruments will be mounted on a rover mast, including high-resolution color stereo panoramic cameras and an infrared spectrometer for determining the mineralogy of rocks and soils. When interesting scientific targets are identified, the rovers will drive over to them and perform detailed investigations with instruments mounted on a robotic arm. 

Rover instruments include a microscopic imager, to see micron-size particles and textures; an alpha-particle/x-ray spectrometer, for measuring elemental composition; and a Moessbauer spectrometer for determining the mineralogy of iron-bearing rocks. Each rover will carry a rock abrasion tool, the equivalent of a geologist's rock hammer, to remove the weathered surfaces from rocks and analyze their interior. 

"All the instruments on the payload are undergoing intensive calibration and test activities in preparation for flight," said Dr. Steve Squyres, principal investigator for the science payload at Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y. 

"Once at Mars, the instruments will be used, together with the rover's ability to traverse long distances, to study the geologic history of the two landing sites," Squyres explained. The scientific focus of the mission is to investigate what role water played there, and to determine how suitable the conditions would have been for life. 

NASA scientists are in the process of picking the landing site for each rover. Four sites look the most promising. "Three of the sites, Terra Meridiani, known as the Hematite site, Gusev, and Isidis show evidence for surface processes involving water. These sites appear capable of addressing the science objectives of the rover missions: to determine if water was present on Mars and whether there are conditions favorable to the preservation of evidence for ancient life," said Dr. Matt Golombek, landing site scientist at JPL. The fourth site, Elysium, appears to contain ancient terrain, which may hold clues to Mars' early climate when conditions may have been wetter. 

The launch period for the first rover opens May 30, 2003, and the second rover's launch period opens June 25, 2003. The first rover will reach Mars January 4, 2004, and the second arrives January 25, 2004. Each rover will have a primary mission lasting at least three months on the martian surface. 

The Jet Propulsion Laboratory manages the Mars Exploration Rover mission for NASA's Office of Space Science, Washington, D.C. JPL is a division of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena. 

Pictures of the rovers at JPL can be viewed at: 

More information about the mission is on the Internet at: 

T Tauri Stars
Vanderbilt University News Release

December 9, 2002 - If David Weintraub and Jeff Bary are right, there may be a lot more planets circling stars like the Sun than current models of star and planet formation predict.

The associate professor of astronomy at Vanderbilt and his graduate student are taking a critical look at T Tauri stars. These are stellar adolescents, less than 10 million years old, which are destined to become stars similar to the Sun as they age.

Classical T Tauri stars – those less than 3 million years old – are invariably accompanied by a thick disk of dust and gas, which is often called a protoplanetary disk because it is a breeding ground for planet formation. Most older T Tauri stars show no signs of encircling disks. Because they are not old enough for planets to form, astronomers have concluded that most of these stars must loose their disk material before planetary systems can develop.

Weintraub and Bary are pursuing an alternative theory. They propose that most older T Tauri stars haven't lost their disks at all: The disk material has simply changed into a form that is nearly invisible to Earth-based telescopes. They published a key observation supporting their hypothesis in the September 1 issue of the Astrophysical Journal Letter and the article was highlighted by the editors of Science magazine as particularly noteworthy. The two researchers currently are preparing to publish additional evidence in support of their hypothesis.

The dense disks of dust and gas surrounding classical T Tauri stars are easily visible because dust glows brightly in the infrared region of the spectrum.

Although infrared light is invisible to the naked eye, it is readily detectable with specially equipped telescopes.

The second group of T Tauri stars that are somewhat older – between three to six billion years – and show no evidence of disks have been labeled as "naked" or "weak line" T Tauri stars.

Because there is no visible evidence that naked T Tauri stars possess protoplanetary disks. So astronomers have concluded that the material must have been absorbed by the star or blown out into interplanetary space or pulled away by the gravitational attraction of a nearby star in the first few million years.
According to current theories, it takes about 10 million years to form a Jupiter-type planet and even longer to form a planet like Earth.

If the models are correct and if most Sun-like stars loose their protoplanetary disks in the T Tauri stage, then very few stars like the Sun are likely to possess planetary systems.

This picture doesn't sit well with Weintraub, however. "Approaching it from a planetary evolution point of view, I have not been comfortable with some of the underlying assumptions," he says.

Current models do not take the evolution of protoplanetary disks into account. Over time, the disk material should begin agglomerating into solid objects called planetesimals.

As the planetesimals grow, an increasing amount of the mass in the disk becomes trapped inside these solid objects where it cannot emit light directly into space. The constituents of the disk that astronomers knew how to detect – small grains of dust and carbon monoxide molecules – should quickly disappear during the first steps of planet building. "Rather than the disk material dissipating," says Bary, "It may simply become invisible to our instruments." 

So Weintraub and Bary began searching for ways to determine if such "invisible protoplanetary disks" actually exist. 

They decided that their best bet was to search for evidence of molecular hydrogen, the main constituent of the protoplanetary disk, which should persist much longer than the dust grains and carbon monoxide. Unfortunately, molecular hydrogen is notoriously difficult to stimulate into emitting light: It must be heated to a fairly high temperature before it will give off infrared light.

The fact that T Tauri stars are also strong X-ray sources gave them an idea. Perhaps the X-rays coming from the star could act as an energy source capable of stimulating the molecular hydrogen. To produce enough light to be seen from earth, however, the molecular hydrogen could not b mixed with dust and had to be at an adequate density. Studying various theories of planet formation, they determined that the proper conditions should hold in a "flare region" near the outer edge of the protoplanetary disk.

The next step was to get observation time on a big telescope to put their out-of-the-mainstream theory to the test. After repeated rejections, they were finally allocated viewing time on the four-meter telescope at the National Optical Astronomical Observatory in Kitt Peak, Arizona. When they finally took control of the telescope and pointed it toward one of their prime targets – a naked, apparently diskless T Tauri star named DoAr21 – they found the faint signal for which they were searching.

"We found evidence for hydrogen molecules where no hydrogen molecules were thought to exist," says Weintraub.

When Bary calculated the amount of hydrogen involved in producing this signal, however, he came up with about a billionth of the mass of the Sun, not even enough to make the Moon. As they argued in their Astrophysical Journal Letter article, they believe that they have detected only the proverbial tip of the iceberg, since most of the hydrogen gas will not radiate in the infrared. But the calculation raises the question of whether the molecular hydrogen that they detected is part of a complete protoplanetary disk or just its shadowy remains. Although they do not completely answer the question, additional observations that the two are readying for publication provides additional support for their contention that DoAr21 contains a sizeable but invisible disk.

The new observations are the detection of the same molecular hydrogen emission line around three classical T Tauri stars with visible protoplanetary disks. The strength of the hydrogen emission lines in the three is comparable to that measured at DoAr21. In addition, they have calculated the ratio between the mass of hydrogen molecules that are producing the infrared emissions and the mass of the entire disk in the three systems. For all three they calculate that the ratio is about one in 100 million.

"If the ratio between the amount of hydrogen emitting in the infrared and the total amount of hydrogen in the disk is about the same in the two types of T Tauri stars, which is not an unreasonable assumption, this suggests the naked T Tauri star has a sizable but hard-to-detect disk," says Bary.

Weintraub and Bary admit that they have more work to do to in order to convince their colleagues to adopt their theory. They have been allocated time on a larger telescope, the eight-meter Gemini South in Chile and plan to survey 50 more naked T Tauri stars to see how many of them produce the same molecular hydrogen emissions. If a large number of them do, it will indicate that they have discovered a general mechanism involved in the planetary formation process. They also intend to search for a second, fainter hydrogen emission line. If they find it, it will provide additional insights into the excitation process. 

Currently, the number of naked T Tauri stars that have been discovered is much greater than the number of known classical T Tauri stars. If Weintraub and Bary are proven right, however, and a significant percentage of the naked T Tauri stars develop planetary systems, it means that solar systems similar to our own are a common sight in the universe.

New Zealand Signs Kyoto Pact
WELLINGTON December 10, 2002 (Reuters) - New Zealand ratified the Kyoto Protocol on climate change Tuesday, saying signing up to the accord will begin a transition to a sustainable-energy economy. 

"Climate change is a global problem and a concerted international effort is required to combat it," Prime Minister Helen Clark said at the signing. "The Kyoto Protocol is the international community's response to climate change and New Zealand is playing its part." 

The Kyoto pact aims to cut greenhouse gas emissions from the developed world, which account for the overwhelming bulk of the gases, by 2012 to 5.2 percent below 1990 levels. 

Clark said New Zealand's policies had been tailored to ensure continued international competitiveness. 

"Agriculture, the engine of our economy, has been exempted from charges on its emissions and we will tackle those emissions through research. We look ahead to the post-Kyoto era with confidence." 

New Zealand produces between 70 million and 90 million tons of carbon dioxide a year. About half of its greenhouse gases come from the methane and carbon dioxide emissions of more than 50 million sheep and cattle. Those industries earn about one-third of New Zealand's export earnings. 

The government announced plans earlier this year for a carbon tax some time after 2007, which will raise energy prices between six and 19 percent. However, New Zealand expects to earn as much as NZ$1.4 billion ($703 million) from carbon sink credits generated by its big commercial forests. 

New Zealand opposition political parties and some business groups have opposed ratification while major trading partners, including the United States and Australia, remain outside the agreement. 

Nearly 100 countries have ratified the controversial protocol, which needs at least 55 states contributing at least 55 percent of the industrialized world's 1990 greenhouse gas emissions to come into force. 

The United States, the world's biggest polluter, has declined to ratify the protocol because of fears it will damage its economy, but the agreement is expected to come into force next year when Russia ratifies it. 

The protocol's ratification was a campaign promise of New Zealand's minority, center-left, Labor-led coalition government in the mid-year general election, but it needed the support of the Green Party to ensure passage.
Pyramid Secrets!
Was Maya Pyramid Designed to Chirp Like a Bird? 

By Bijal P. Trivedi
National Geographic Today

Chichen Itza December 6, 200 (National Geographic) - Clap your hands in front of the 1,100-year-old Temple of Kukulcan, in the ancient Mayan city of Chichen Itza, and, to some researchers' ears, the pyramid answers in the voice of the sacred quetzal bird. 

"Now I have heard echoes in my life, but this was really strange," says David Lubman, an acoustical engineer who runs his own firm in Westminster, California. The Maya, he believes, may have built their pyramids to create specific sound effects. 

A handclap at the base of Kukulcan's staircase generates what Lubman calls a "chirped echo"—a "chir-roop" sound that first ascends and then falls, like the cry of the native quetzal. 

To Lubman, the dimensions of Kukulcan's steps suggest that the builders intended just such an acoustical mimicry. The lower steps have a short tread length and high riser—tough to climb but perfect for producing a high-pitched "chir" sound. The steps higher up make a lower-pitched "roop." 

"If you have a structure with these dimensions, it will chirp," Lubman says. He has noted the same effect at the Pyramid of the Magician in the Classic Mayan city of Uxmal, near Chichen Itza on the Yucatan peninsula. 

Lubman and Mexican researchers led by Sergio Beristain, president of the Mexican Institute of Acoustics, have investigated acoustical phenomena in Chichen Itza and the great ancient metropolis, Teotihuacan. 

On Wednesday they presented their research at a meeting of the Acoustical Society of America in Cancun, Mexico. 

Quetzals—More Valuable Than Gold

The elusive quetzal, also known as the kuk, deserved homage. The bird inhabits the cloud forests of Central America, and its feathers, along with jade, were among the most precious commodities in Mesoamerica. To the Maya and Aztecs, the quetzal's emerald green iridescent tail feathers were more valuable than gold. 

At Kukulcan, Lubman made recordings of the echo and compared them with recordings of the quetzal from Cornell University's ornithology lab, in Ithaca, N.Y. 

"They matched perfectly. I was stunned," Lubman says. "The Temple of Kukulcan chirps like a kuk." 

Lubman envisions Mayan priests facing a crowd at Kukulcan and clapping. The pyramid would then "answer" in the voice of the quetzal, a messenger of the Gods. 

A specialist on the acoustics of worship spaces, Lubman first noticed the chirping echo in 1998 during a visit to Chichen Itza, when tour guides demonstrated the effect. 

The echo reminded Lubman of the work of Steven Waller, a biochemist and amateur acoustician in La Mesa, Calif., who has observed that ancient cave or rock paintings, as in the Great Gallery in Horseshoe Canyon, Utah, often show up in locations where echoes or other special acoustical effects occur. 

Any sanctuary that cultivates perfect acoustics is "a way of stating God's favor," Lubman says. Concert halls, too, share in the mystery.

Acoustics Important to the Maya 

The quetzal echo remains open to scientific debate. "It's an interesting phenomenon," says Karl Taube, an archaeologist at the University of California, Riverside, and an authority on ancient Mesoamerican writing and art. "The question is whether it was intentional or not." 

However, Taube points out that "acoustics were clearly important to the Maya." Many of the cities had open plazas for ceremonial dances where, as Mayan art illustrates, kings and rulers performed in jade and seashell belts. 

"These (belts) would have made a tremendous sound as they performed dances in the ceremonial plazas," Taube says. 

Initially inspired by Lubman's work, Beristain and his researchers discovered echo phenomena at the staircase of the main pyramid at La Ciudadela at Teotihuacan. The city of Teotihuacan, near the site of modern Mexico City, was founded in 100 B.C. 

A handclap directly in front of the pyramid's main staircase produces a chirped echo. 

Handclaps from different positions along the base of the staircase likewise trigger the echo—but with different musical tones spanning half an octave. 

Local Indians, Beristain says, "told us about the other notes. It is like getting the sound of the Quetzal, but in a range of different notes. I'm sure we will observe these effects at other pyramids, like Chichen Itza," he adds. 

Lubman and Beristain plan to extend their studies to other pyramids and ceremonial sites in Mexico to hear just where and how the past still echoes.

Great Pyramid's Stones Counted

By Jennifer Viegas
Discovery News

Egypt December 4, 2002 (Discovery) — A new study conducted by the Supreme Council for Antiquities in Egypt has determined that the Great Pyramid of Khufu at Giza consists of one million limestone rocks. 

The number is under half of the previously estimated amount of 2.3 million stones, indicating that the Egyptian pyramid builders were even more organized and efficient than previously thought. 

Zahi Hawass, secretary general of the Supreme Council, said that the Great Pyramid was considered to be a national project that all Egyptians took part in, according to an Egyptian State Information Service report last week. The report also mentioned that Hawass and his team analyzed the administrative organization and work scheme used in the construction of the 450-foot tall monument.

Lisa Schwappach, curator of the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum in San Jose, Calif., explained that the Pyramids of Giza arose out of a work program around 4,500 years ago designed to keep people busy when the Nile River flooded on a yearly basis. Since farming dominated ancient Egyptian life, millions of workers would sit idly for months, waiting for the waters to recede. 

"The ancient Egyptian Government helped them find constructive activity by creating work projects for the masses. Conveniently enough, this made them too busy to think about overthrowing the government or protesting taxes," Schwappach told Discovery News. "The Pyramids at Giza were very high on the list." 

She explained that workers were divided into "gangs." The gangs were organized into "crews," then "phyles" probably based on village or region of origin, and finally divisions among the phyles. 

"Competition between the gangs was fostered by a special honor for those that moved the most stones in a day — they could write the name of their gang in the pyramid; talk about getting close to the king! One "gang" name is 'Friends of Khufu,'" said Schwappach who added that the pyramid building site had "many workers, carefully organized, working together, much like a construction site in the modern world." 

Both men and women are believed to have worked on the pyramids, with the women likely hauling the baskets of rock chips that were used to build ramps next to the pyramids, according to Schwappach. Each stone, weighing approximately 2.5 tons, then would be slid up the ramp where it would be carefully set into place. 

As for the determination about the new Great Pyramid stone count, Schwappach commented, "What construction worker wouldn't want to move 1 million limestone blocks — if the alternative was to move 2.3 million?"

Pre-Mayan Written Language Found in Mexico

Veracruz December 5, 2002 (Globe and Mail UK) – Scientists believe they have found evidence of the earliest form of written communication in the New World, a pre-Mayan language that could shed light on the ancient peoples who populated what is now Mexico.

Several years of research in the Mexican state of Veracruz has turned up a number of finds suggesting that a people known as the Olmecs operated an organized state-level political system that included the use of a 260-day calendar.

The finds include a cylindrical seal and handful of carved stone plaques; the former is thought to have been used to imprint clothing with symbols and the latter used as a form of jewelry. Both of them would have indicated rank or authority within a hierarchical society.

Other finds included human and animal bone, food serving vessels and hollow figurines.

"The connection between writing, the calendar and kingship within the Olmecs is indicated in these communications, dating to 650 B.C., which makes sense, since the Olmecs were the first known peoples in Mesoamerica to have a state-level political structure, and writing is a way to communicate power and influence," said Mary Pohl, anthropology professor at Florida State University.

The research, was was funded primarily by the National Science Foundation, will be published Friday in the journal Science.

The discovery counters conventional wisdom about the infancy of written communications in the Americas, leading to speculation that three ancient languages — Mayan, Isthmian and Oaxacan — could share as a common ancestor the script of the Olmecs.

"It was generally accepted that Mayans were among the first Mesoamerican societies to use writing," said John Yellen, an archeologist and program manager for the National Science Foundation. "But this find indicates that the Olmecs' form of written communication led into what became forms of writing for several other cultures."

Dr. Pohl, who led the excavations at San Andres, near La Venta, has worked for years to analyze and fine-tune the estimated dates of the artifacts discovered in the initial dig.

"We knew we had found something important," she said. "The motifs were glyph-like but we weren't sure at first what we had until they were viewed more closely."

It is unclear what happened to cause the downfall of the Olmecs, Dr. Pohl says.

"Flooding due to changing courses of rivers over time led to the abandonment of the Olmec settlement at San Andres and probably other sites in this area," she suggested. "It is possible, too, that the Mayans increased their power and came to dominate, taking over trade routes, leading to the end of the Olmecs as we know it."

More on the Olmec Civilization - 
Titan Mysteries!

December 7, 2002 - Enshrouded in an atmosphere impenetrable to the visible light, Saturn's largest moon has never revealed its surface. No one has been able to see through the orange-brown atmospheric haze and admire the unknown world below. 

Still, researchers know that Titan is a planet-size organic reactor where "building blocks" of life are being generated as they might have been created 4 billion years ago on Earth. 

In some ways, Titan resembles early Earth. Its dense atmosphere is mostly composed of nitrogen and some methane. Scientists once believed that early Earth's atmosphere was reducing like Titan's and that it allowed fast assembly of long organic molecules. Today many argue that Earth's primordial atmosphere contained nitrogen and a lot of carbon dioxide. 

"This type of atmosphere is neutral for oxidation and reduction reactions and does not allow an easy and direct formation of long chains of organic molecules," says University of Arizona planetary sciences Professor Jonathan I. Lunine. "Some particular circumstances may be required to create them. Although there isn't much carbon dioxide on Titan, if we see that complex organic molecules are created on Titan, it would be a very important lesson about the early Earth and the environment in which life originated." 

"Titan has organics, but in what form and how much is not clear. These molecules are generated in the atmosphere and over time are deposited on the moon's surface. Until recently, researchers have been very careful in their speculations about what might be happening after these molecules get to the surface of Titan," Lunine says. 

The atmospheric pressure at Titan's surface is 50 percent higher than on Earth, which is pressure comparable with pressure at the bottom of a 10-foot-deep swimming pool. Titan's thick atmosphere protects the surface and organics from harmful cosmic rays and ultraviolet radiation.

The NASA Cassini spacecraft launched in 1997 with the mission to study Saturn and its moons will reach its target in 2004. It carries the European Space Agency's Huygens probe, which will descend through Titan's atmosphere and land on the surface.

The Cassini-Huygens mission will conduct a 4-year survey of Titan's surface and atmosphere through remote sensing and in-situ techniques. 

"The Cassini mission has the potential to teach us as much about Titan as we know about Mars today. We will learn about the surface composition, find out more about the atmosphere, and see what the surface looks like. The Cassini orbiter will measure the shape of Titan's gravitational field, which will help determine the nature of Titan's interior," Lunine says. 

"Titan will be full of surprises. One of them will be organic chemistry processes on the surface. It would be interesting to see what their products might be," he adds. 

"I also hope that Cassini-Huygens will tell us if there are places on Titan where the organic molecules look different, and therefore, might be modified over time. Particularly exciting would be finding out if there are any variations in the apparent organic composition that are correlated with impact carters or sites of volcanism. If that turns out to be true, these should be the places to visit in the future," he says. 

Could Titan host primitive life? "It is not the right place, it is too cold," Lunine says. "Others have argued that life could exist in the deep interior of Titan where liquid water may be available all the time. It is possible, but finding it would be extremely difficult. I do not see Titan as the place to search for life. But it certainly is the place to explore the chemistry that may have led to its origin." 

For life to be possible, Titan would need liquid water, which is not stable for long because Titan is too cold. However, many of the large icy moons in the outer solar system host active water volcanism. Most of them contain a lot of liquid water, which flows across their surfaces in the same way lava does on Earth. Their internal heat initiates a melt that rises to the surface. These moons also contain various substances that are antifreezes (e.g. ammonia or formaldehyde). They are mixed into the water which lowers the density of liquid water and helps the water come up to the surface through the more dense icy crust. Titan is the second largest moon in the solar system, and if it hosts such volcanic processes, then water exists temporarily on the surface.

Titan can also be heated with large impacts. In the early 1990s, Carl Sagan and W. Reid Thompson of Cornell University suggested that impacts on the surface of Titan would melt the icy crust and produce liquid water. Lunine and a colleague from Moscow have been modeling impacts on Titan to see what fraction of the crater would become liquid due to an impact. They calculate that an impact of a one-kilometer-diameter comet can turn about 5 percent of a crater¹s interior into liquid. Their simulations also show that the areas potentially containing organic matter would not be heavily shocked in an impact. Organic material survives such events and would be tossed in the crater where the liquid water would exist. When life on Earth originated about 4 billion years ago, large impacts were frequent. 

"An organic soup on Earth did not have much uninterrupted time to form products relevant to life. Undoubtedly, the environment was changing dramatically, as young Earth was struck by other impacts or altered by volcanism," Lunine says. 

Although today the solar system is relatively a quiet place, a one-kilometer-diameter object could hit Titan once every 10 million - 50 million years. 

"There should be areas that haven't been changed in geologically recent time and where the products of organic processes that happened after that impact should be preserved. These may not be possible to investigate with the Cassini-Huygens probe, but could be done with the following missions. We are very optimistic that there are places on Titan where organic matter might be dropped into the liquid water at the bottom of the crater after an impact. This water can be available for hundreds or even up to a thousand years," Lunine says. A thousand years is very short on a geologic time scale, but it's a long time for organic chemistry. 

"No scientist has a thousand years, so we can't proceed at this time scale in the laboratory. Though we don't have a chance to see organic reaction on Titan in action, we may find the products of organic chemistry if we go to the right place," he adds. "If Cassini finds that organic matter looks the same everywhere on the surface, then this probably did not happen. But we need to go and see." 

The chance that the Huygens probe will land in the right place is infinitesimal, but the Cassini orbiter can map the surface and tell if amino acids or peptides might be present. "We have been designing miniature laboratory equipment that may be eventually sent to Titan to analyze the properties of organic molecules on the surface," Lunine says. The search would be for fossil organics, not fossil life, that have been modified at the bottoms of craters.

Mars News!
NASA Selects Mars Scout Concepts

NASA NEWS RELEASE December 6, 2002 - In the first step of a two-step process, NASA selected four proposals for detailed study as candidates for the 2007 "Scout" mission in the agency's Mars Exploration Program. NASA's Mars 2007 Scout selection process is the first fully competed opportunity for scientific missions to the Red Planet. 

"This Scout selection will serve as a trailblazer for what we plan to be a continuing line of a small, yet exciting, class of Mars missions," said Orlando Figueroa, Director for the Mars Exploration Program at NASA Headquarters, Washington. 

"These four outstanding proposals represent innovative ideas for exploring Mars on a modest budget to answer several priority questions about the Red Planet," said Dr. Ed Weiler, Associate Administrator for Space Science at NASA Headquarters.

"I'm very pleased that this competition produced such a wide range of incredibly exciting ideas and I congratulate all members of the science teams involved," he said. 

Following detailed mission-concept studies, due for submission by July 2003, NASA intends to select one of the mission proposals by August 2, 2003, for full development as the first Mars Scout mission. The mission developed for flight will be launched in 2007. 

The selected proposals were judged to have the highest science value among 25 proposals submitted to NASA in August 2002 in response to the Mars Scout 2002 Announcement of Opportunity. Each will receive up to $500,000 to conduct a six-month implementation feasibility study focused on cost, management and technical plans, including educational outreach and small business involvement. 

"Each of the selected missions pursues some of the greatest unknowns about potential biological activity on Mars, including such issues as the presence of organic molecules or their byproducts," said Dr. Jim Garvin, NASA's Lead Scientist for Mars Exploration in Washington. 

The selected mission concepts, and the Principal Investigators, are: 

SCIM (Sample Collection for Investigation of Mars): Professor Laurie Leshin, Arizona State University, Tempe. This innovative mission would sample atmospheric dust and gas using aerogel and use a "free-return trajectory" to bring the samples back to Earth. Such samples could provide breakthrough understanding of the chemistry of Mars, its surface, atmosphere, interior evolution and potential biological activity.

ARES (Aerial Regional-scale Environmental Survey): Dr. Joel Levine, NASA Langley Research Center, Hampton, Va. ARES offers to provide the first in situ measurements of the near- surface atmospheric chemistry within the Mars planetary- boundary layer, thereby providing critical clues to the chemical evolution of the planet, climate history, and potential biological activity.

Phoenix: Dr. Peter Smith, University of Arizona, Tucson. This mission proposes to conduct a stationary, in situ investigation of volatiles (especially water), organic molecules and modern climate. It aims to "follow the water" and measure indicator molecules at high-latitude sites where Mars Odyssey has discovered evidence of large ice concentrations in the Martian soil. 

MARVEL (Mars Volcanic Emission and Life Scout): Dr. Mark Allen, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. This mission proposes to conduct a global survey of the Martian atmosphere's photochemistry to search for emissions that could be related to active volcanism or microbial activity, as well as to track the behavior of water in the atmosphere across a full annual cycle. 

The Mars Scout competition is designed to augment or complement, but not duplicate, major missions being planned as part of NASA's Mars Exploration Program or those under development by foreign space agencies. The selected Scout science mission must be ready for launch before December 31, 2007, within a total mission cost cap of $325 million. 

The Mars Scout Program is managed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., for the Office of Space Science, Washington.

New Theory on Martian Water

AP Science Writer

Washington December 5, 2002 (AP) — Mars never had oceans as some researchers have claimed, but instead is a cold, dry planet that was pounded by water-bearing asteroids and showered with scalding rain that carved vast gullies and valleys. This suggests the Red Planet was a less than favorable place for life as we know it, a new study claims.

The study, appearing this week in the journal Science, sheds new light on a continuing debate by Mars researchers about how much water there was on Mars, where did it go and how did it form the planet's intricate pattern of canyons, river beds and deltas.

Using Mars photos and computer simulations, researchers at the University of Colorado at Boulder concluded that immense asteroids pounded Mars some 3.6 billion years ago, bringing vast quantities of water to the young planet and releasing powerful shock waves of heat that melted existing underground deposits of ice.

Owen B. Toon, senior author of the study, said at least 25 craters on Mars were gouged out by asteroids 100 to 240 kilometers in diameter. The impact of such large space rocks would have propelled into the atmosphere millions of tons of superheated rock vapor and melted ice. It also would have unleashed a blast wave heated to more than 2,000 degrees Celsius and blanketed the entire planet with heated rock several hundred meters thick.

"The atmosphere would be hotter than a self-cleaning oven," Mr. Toon said. "When the water was released from the atmosphere, it would fall as scalding rain."

The blanket of hot rocks "would be a global thing, causing rivers to form anywhere. The ice would be melting all over the planet," he said.

Based on the erosion features on Mars, the researchers estimated that after a major impact, more than 45 meters of water would flow in some areas, carving the riverine features. By some calculations, they said, there could be many decades with rainfall of 2 meters a year.

Between impacts, Mr. Toon said, Mars would eventually cool, turning again into a dry, chilled planet with water present only as subsurface ice.

"We believe these events caused short periods of a warm and wet climate, but overall, we think Mars has been cold and dry for the majority of its history," co-author Teresa Segura said.

Mr. Toon said that since the moist and warm periods were short, the conditions were not favorable for life to evolve on the planet's surface. Peter Smith, a University of Arizona planetary scientist, said that if warmth and liquid water were available on Mars only episodically, "then you have a pretty gloomy picture for life."

But he said there were other forces on the planet, particularly volcanic action, that may have created subsurface pools of water where microscopic life could have lived.

"In my opinion, they haven't closed the book on the prospects for the evolution of life on Mars," he said.

He applauded the study, saying, "Assuming their calculations are correct, this must have happened on Mars."

Ronald Greeley, a planetary researcher at Arizona State University, said the study by Mr. Toon, Ms. Segura and others "has the potential to tie together several loose ends regarding Mars surface history." Water ejected into the atmosphere by asteroid impacts, he said, "could account for many of the apparently water-eroded features."

However, Mr. Greeley said the study "doesn't put a nail in the coffin" for evolution of life on Mars. Like Mr. Smith, he said hydrothermal systems powered by volcanic action and subsurface brine pools could still exist and would be favorable for the evolution of life.

Jupiter Moon Amalthea Full of Holes
NASA NEWS RELEASE December 9, 2002 - NASA's Galileo spacecraft continues to deliver surprises. Galileo's seven-year run continued with the discovery that Jupiter's potato-shaped inner moon, named Amalthea, appears to have a very low density, indicating it is full of holes. 

"The density is unexpectedly low," said Dr. John D. Anderson, an astronomer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), Pasadena, Calif. "Amalthea is apparently a loosely packed pile of rubble," he said. 

The empty gaps between solid chunks likely take up more of the moon's total volume than the solid pieces, and even the chunks are probably material that is not dense enough to fit some theories about the origin of Jupiter's moons. "Amalthea now seems more likely to be mostly rock with maybe a little ice, rather than a denser mix of rock and iron," said JPL's Dr. Torrence Johnson, project scientist for Galileo. 

This red-tinted moon measures about 270 kilometers (168 miles) in length and half that in width. Anderson and colleagues estimated Amalthea's mass from its gravitational affect on Galileo, when the spacecraft passed within about 160 kilometers (99 miles) of the moon on Nov. 5. Dr. Peter Thomas at Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y., had calculated Amalthea's volume from earlier Galileo images of the moon. 

Amalthea's overall density is close to the density of water ice, Anderson reports today at the fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco. However, the moon is almost certainly not a solid hunk of ice. "Nothing in the Jupiter system would suggest a composition that's mainly ice," Anderson said.

Amalthea's irregular shape and low density suggests the moon has been broken into many pieces that cling together from the pull of each other's gravity, mixed with empty spaces, where the pieces don't fit tightly together.

"It's probably boulder-size or larger pieces just touching each other, not pressing hard together," Anderson said. 

Johnson said, "This finding supports the idea that the inner moons of Jupiter have undergone intense bombardment and breakup.

"Amalthea may have formed originally as one piece, but then was busted to bits by collisions." 

Amalthea does not have quite enough mass to pull itself together into a consolidated, spherical body like Earth's moon or Jupiter's four largest moons. The density estimate, obtained from Galileo's flyby, extends an emerging pattern of finding irregularly shaped moons and asteroids to be porous rubble piles.
What's more of a surprise, Johnson and Anderson said, is the density estimate is so low that even the solid parts of Amalthea are apparently less dense than Io, a larger moon that orbits about twice as far from Jupiter. 

One model for the formation of Jupiter's moons suggests moons closer to the planet would be made of denser material than those farther out. That's based on a theory that early Jupiter, like a weaker version of the early Sun, would have emitted enough heat to prevent volatile, low-density material from condensing and being incorporated into the closer moons. Jupiter's four largest moons fit this model, with the innermost of them, Io, also the densest, made mainly of rock and iron. However, the new finding suggests, even if Amalthea is mostly gaps, its solid chunks have less density than Io. 

Galileo's flyby of Amalthea brought the spacecraft closest to Jupiter since it began orbiting the giant planet on Dec. 7, 1995. After more than 30 close encounters with Jupiter's four largest moons, the flyby was the last for Galileo. Galileo has been put on course for a mission-ending impact with Jupiter on Sept. 21, 2003. Galileo's long and successful career will come to an end on the Jovian surface. The spacecraft, although still controllable from Earth, is running out of propellant. Researchers are looking forward to more surprises and new data, as Galileo approaches the foreboding giant planet. 

Galileo left Earth aboard NASA's Space Shuttle Atlantis in 1989. JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the Galileo mission for NASA's Office of Space Science, Washington.

Can Phthalates Cause Sperm Damage?
By Laura MacInnis

WASHINGTON December 10, 2002 (Reuters) — Everyday exposure to a chemical ingredient used to preserve many cosmetics and fragrances may contribute to sperm damage in adult men, according to a study published Monday. 

In one of the first studies of the effects of substances known as phthalates on humans, Harvard University researchers found signs of correlation between exposure to a common type of the chemical and damage to the DNA of human sperm. 

The study, published in the government journal Environmental Health Perspectives, does not show whether this DNA damage could leave men infertile or cause birth defects, the researchers said. 

Last month, the U.S. Cosmetic Ingredient Review panel, an industry-sponsored watchdog, sparked fury from health and environmental lobbyists when it voted to allow the continued use of three types of phthalates in perfumes and beauty products, saying they were safe in their current uses. 

Phthalates, used to make fragrances last longer and to soften plastics like baby toys, have been linked in previous studies to birth defects in animals, but no evidence has proved they are harmful to humans. 

The American Chemistry Council maintains that phthalates are safe and the U.S. government so far has declined to limit their use. But the European Union banned their use in some products, including baby toys, in 1999. 

The study, conducted at a Massachusetts fertility clinic, analyzed urine and semen samples from 168 men believed to have normal levels of exposure to diethyl phthalates through the use of cosmetics products and plastics. 

Russ Hauser, a Harvard University School of Public Health professor and senior author of the study, said preliminary results suggested exposure to those phthalates was associated with increased DNA damage in sperm, but said it was too early to tell how severe the damage was. 

"What the significance of it is, we don't know. What it predicts in terms of end points in the fetus or child is really unclear at this point," he said in a telephone interview. 

Hauser said his group planned to extend its research to include between 700 and 800 men in order to verify the findings, and to cross-reference results with findings of other studies measuring factors like pregnancy success rates. 

"This paper shows early findings in a relatively small number of men," he said. "Our next step here really is to expand the study, and repeat the analyses." 

But a group that has been fighting the use of phthalates, Health Care Without Harm, said the study showed they were right. 

"The correlation found in this study is extremely troubling and deserves urgent follow up," Dr. Ted Schettler, science director of the Science and Environmental Health Network said in a statement on behalf of the group.
Digital Salvation for Aboriginal Art
By Sharon Mascall

Melbourne December 10, 2002 (BBC) - Uluru, or Ayers Rock as Australia's white settlers called it, is an icon of the Outback attracting millions of visitors every year. Its traditional Aboriginal owners, called Anangu, have been visiting the rock for millennia, documenting their creation stories and history at over 90 rock art sites around the base. 

Now, in a world first, they have teamed up with scientists from the University of Melbourne to preserve their art and ancestry in digital format. 

"It's very much what some people would call a keeping place," explains Cliff Ogleby, from the University's Department of Geomatics. "There are keeping places here, there is a men's keeping place and women's keeping place where things that are important to them can be kept and looked after. In this case it happens to be digital versions of plans, photographs, video and sound." 

Anangu people compare the rock to a cathedral, holding the spirits of their ancestors. But it is a sacred site that is regularly defaced. 

Every week large padded envelopes of so-called "Sorry Rocks" are posted back to the Park authorities, with letters from far and wide, telling stories of bad luck blamed on a piece of red rock removed from the site. But it is vandalism that leaves the most damage - scratches, graffiti and even spray paint. 

"That happened once before," explains Leroy Lester of the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park Rock Art Conservation Unit. "He sprayed Big Dave or something like that. We looked at the visitor book and saw Big Dave in there, an address and everything. That's how we busted him." 

The Anangu people recognize that "Big Dave" was just part of the problem. Hot desert winds, rare bursts of rain and even the occasional kangaroo, rubbing up against the rock to escape the desert heat, all play a part in damaging the rock art. 

It is hoped that computer technology will help Anangu people to preserve their stories and ancestry for generations to come. 

"We know these stories from creation. These stories have been passed down to our grandparents and so on," explains Mick Starkey, Cultural Heritage Co-ordinator. "At the moment we're trying to readjust ourselves and use western technology in a really good way." 

The system is able to store images and drawings of the art. It is also designed to record the testimonies of aboriginal elders as they explain the significance of the sites on video or in audio format. The aim is for Anangu people to compile the material themselves, without outside help, and store it in a digital "keeping place" of their own design. 

Cliff Ogleby is optimistic that they will able to handle the technology. 

"We have developed this at their request," he said. "These are people who drive Toyota Troupies and have mobile phones. When they're on fire-fighting duty, they go out with a GPS and radios. Technology is not alien and never has been. This is just a different sort of technology."
Genre News: Firefly, Taken, Mad Max, Glenn Quinn, Elijah Wood, Angel, Jon Stewart, Tom Hanks, Smallville and More!

Firefly Seeks New Network
By FLAtRich

Hollywood December 13, 2002 (eXoNews) - According to Firefly: Immediate Assistance and, the suspense has ended for the cast and crew of Firefly. Fox has decided not to continue the show.

Firefly got off to a slow start in its Fox Friday night slot, slowed even more by postponement through the World Series. Fox didn't seem to know how to promote the space western either, running ads back to back with John Doe, a series about an amnesiac. The network also balked at Whedon's original two-hour pilot episode, which set up the premise of a band of adventurers 500 years in the future.

Executive Producer Tim Minear is quoted on "We did get word tonight, Fox won't be ordering any new eps. That translates to 'cancelled.' We will finish shooting the ep now in production (I'm directing, in fact Joss came down to the set to break the bad news to cast and crew -- we wrapped early, but are back at it in the am), we'll finish post on all eps, and Fox says they're going to somehow air all eps."

The campaign to keep the show alive continues however, with the new goal of finding another home for Firefly. The first choice is UPN, where Buffy lives and rumors have it that the network recently offered Sarah Michelle Gellar a whole lot of money to play The Slayer for another season.

UPN has also previously indicated an interest in Angel, Joss Whedon's show on the WB.

The Firefly: Immediate Assistance website is asking fans of Firefly to start sending postcards to UPN Entertainment President Dawn Tarnofsky-Ostroff and CBS honcho Les Moonves immediately, asking them to consider a takeover.

For more information on how you can help to keep Firefly flying - 

TimMinear.Net - 

Firefly Fan site -

[Why didn't Firefly take off? Maybe because nobody remembers the era of great TV westerns? Check out our previous story - Firefly's Last Roundup! Ed.]

Taken Revisited
By FLAtRich

Hollywood December 13, 2002 (eXoNews) - Sci Fi Channel is now calling Taken "the biggest event in television history".

I thought landing on the moon was the biggest event in television history myself, but I'm an old guy now compared to Sci Fi publicists and I suppose Sci Fi has a right to brag. After a slow and rather depressing start, Steven Spielberg Presents Taken picked up considerably in the second week before flying toward The Big Ending.

Until Sci Fi brings it back as a regular series, of course.

The first week of Taken suffered from a lack of originality (see my review of the first episode), with Leslie Bohem's screenplays cloning many classic and schlock science fiction works from the past on the subject of visitors from other planets. Key elements from Ray Bradbury's Martian Chronicles, X-Files, and other films and TV treks to flying saucerland - including Spielberg's own Close Encounters of the Third Kind - pepper the 10-episode series.

Hardcore science fiction readers and watchers will find it all a bit predictable, even with the Spielberg touch. I'll avoid spoilers here, but let's just say I knew what Allie was doing in the farmhouse immediately.

If you keep watching, Taken will abduct you. There are many fine actors working here, many new faces to TV. In fact, everyone in the cast is great. The direction and effects are also first-rate.

The turning point came for me with the introduction of Dr. Chet Wakeman, played by Matt Frewer. Frewer was cyberhero Edison Carter in Max Headroom, an aborted ABC series from 1987-1988, and Frewer's wry sense of humor was just what Taken needed after the first week.

Until Chet Wakeman shows up, Taken is humorless to the point of boredom.

Not that Frewer is playing Chet Wakeman for laughs - quite the contrary. The Wakeman character is definitely a bad guy, hooked up with Mary Crawford (Heather Donahue), who is the heir to Taken's first Big Bad, Owen Crawford (Joel Gretsch). But Frewer's take on Wakeman makes the character likeable despite his evil ways and there are times when Frewer overshadows almost everyone else on the show.

If there is a Best Supporting Actor nomination to be had here, it certainly should go to Matt Frewer.

The real star of Taken is Dakota Fanning (as Allie Keys.) You just have to see this fine young actress to understand. She is simply amazing!

Episode 6 "Charlie and Lisa" was particularly memorable. We got to know Emily Bergl as Lisa Clarke in this one and the spook stuff was enhanced by X-Files and MillenniuM veteran director Thomas J. Wright. (Chris Carter's legacy lives!)

For more info -

Mad Max Returns!

LOS ANGELES December 10, 2002 (Reuters) - Mel Gibson will earn almost $25 million to return to the "Mad Max" franchise for a fourth time, Hollywood trade paper Daily Variety said in its Tuesday edition.

The $104 million project, called "Fury Road," will start shooting in Australia next May. The project is set up at Twentieth Century Fox, a unit of News Corp.'s Fox Entertainment Group Inc.

George Miller, who directed and co-wrote the first three films, will direct "Fury Road" from a script he has been crafting for the past three years, the paper said. 

It did not reveal plot details other than to note that "Mad" Max Rockatansky will once again roam the lawless, post-apocalyptic Australian outback. 

The "Mad Max" franchise kicked off in 1979, and was followed in 1981 by "Mad Max: The Road Warrior" and 1985 by "Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome." Daily Variety noted that for all their iconic value, the trilogy grossed only $69 million at the U.S. box office. 

Gibson, 46, whose films include the "Lethal Weapon" franchise, the Oscar-winning "Braveheart" and the comedy "What Women Want," scored a big hit this year with the supernatural thriller "Signs."

Glenn Quinn - "Angel" Actor Dies 
By Josh Grossberg 

Hollywood December 9, 2002 (E!) - Glenn Quinn, the Irish actor best known as the half-demon Doyle on Angel, has apparently succumbed to demons of his own. 

Quinn's body was found on December 3 at a North Hollywood home. Over the weekend, authorities blamed his death on a "suspected overdose." The coroner will make an official determination following an autopsy and toxicology tests, with the final report due in a few weeks. 

Glenn Martin Christopher Francis Quinn was born on May 28, 1970, in Dublin. He and his family relocated to the States in 1988. 

He got his first break playing a pool shark in the Richard Marks video "Satisfied" followed by a supporting role as a drummer in the 1991 John Travolta vehicle Shout, in which Quinn shared an onscreen kiss with then unknown Gwyneth Paltrow. 

His biggest exposure came courtesy of Roseanne, where he played Mark Healy, Becky Connor's slightly dim but likable boyfriend and then husband. His Roseanne stint lasted from 1990 until the ABC sitcom went off the air in 1997. 

All those years on Roseanne forced Quinn to hide his Irish accent. However, he finally had an opportunity to show off his brogue while stealing scenes as semi-demon Allan Francis Doyle opposite David Boreanaz and Charisma Carpenter on the inaugural season of Angel in 1999. 

Quinn's tenure on the Buffy the Vampire Slayer spin-off lasted just one season.

He wound up getting written off the WB's supernatural series for undisclosed reasons--creator Joss Whedon was always vague about why the popular character was offed and fans had clamored for Quinn's return ever since. 

Before his Angel demise, Quinn spoke fondly of the role. "I've been hiding it for so long that it's amazing to have some freedom. It was like putting on an old pair of shoes--it's bringing my soul back to life," he once told the Irish Times, regarding his chance to break out the accent. 

The WB declined to issue a statement on Quinn's death. 

Quinn's film credits include 1992's Dr. Giggles, Campfire Tales, Live Nude Girls and most recently the indie release RSVP. His TV résumé contains appearances on 1990's CBS sitcom Bagdad Café and ABC's 1992 medieval fantasy series Covington Cross with Ione Skye, as well as the TV movies Call Me Anna, Silhouette and his last, the VH1-produced At Any Cost. Quinn spent his non-acting downtime as a part-time rock 'n' roller, playing the L.A. club scene with various bands. 

He is survived by his mother, Bernadette, and two sisters, Sonya and Louisa. According to his publicist, Quinn was memorialized in a private funeral service Saturday.

Hobbit Hero Has Elvish Tattoo
By Paul Majendie 

PARIS December 9, 2002 (Reuters) - For Frodo Baggins, The Fellowship of the Ring really did come true. 

"Toward the end, the fellowship was a reality," said Elijah Wood, the hobbit hero in the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy filmed back to back in New Zealand on a grueling 18 month-schedule. 

For the 21-year-old American, who first found fame as a child actor, it was an experience that changed his life forever. The bond between the actors grew as strong as the on-screen ties between the diminutive hobbits fighting the forces of evil in J.R.R. Tolkien's fantasy classic. 

"We worked together, we fought together for the film and helped each other," he said on a promotional tour to Paris for the European premiere of "The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. In every sense of the word, we became a real fellowship and in many ways we still are today and I don't think they will ever stop." 

Wood and eight other actors all had special tattoos done to mark their silver screen bond. "Mine is on my hip. It says Nine in the Elvish tongue," he said of one of Tolkien's 14 invented languages. Now the actors are touring the world promoting the second film, much of the pressure is off for cast and crew on the mammoth $300 million project. 

For the first movie -- "The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring" was a worldwide smash, grossing $860 million and landing four Oscars. Wood, who was so determined to get the part that he sent director Peter Jackson his own specially shot audition video, said of the fame game: "It certainly hasn't overwhelmed me." 

For he, like British teen-ager Daniel Radcliffe in the "Harry Potter" movies, has found himself plastered on giant billboards around the world. 

"It is absolutely integral that you keep your feet on the ground and keep in perspective what is important. Everything associated with fame is so fleeting," Wood said.

He still waxes lyrical about the filming process for the young actors propelled into one of the most ambitious cinema projects ever attempted. 

"We all came to New Zealand for that one purpose. We were all away from our respective homes. You immediately connect with people fast when you are all in the same boat. You all rely on each other," he said. 

And at the tender age of 21, he has no fear of being forever typecast as Frodo Baggins, the plucky little hobbit. 

"It will be part of my life for the rest of my life. I am really proud of the films. But I haven't let up. I don't want to stop working." 

Sam Directs Angel 

Hollywood December 9, 2002 (Sci Fi Wire) - Sean Astin, who played Sam in the Lord of the Rings film trilogy, told SCI FI Wire that he took on a completely different role when he took a job directing an upcoming episode of The WB's vampire series Angel, which he just finished.

"The episode is called 'Soulless,'" Astin said in an interview. "On some level I felt like I had arrived. I was driving onto the Paramount lot, and I was a director. When we went on location, right before I got to the house we were shooting at, I saw this huge line of trucks and the catering tent and I thought, 'Hey.' I'd look at the slate, and it said, 'Director: Sean Astin.' I went, 'Wow, really cool.'

"But it was hard. It was a lot harder than I thought it was going to be. It's a very specific challenge, directing episodic television, and I was fortunate enough, ... right after doing Lord of the Rings, [to] observe Alex Graves on The West Wing for a week and to observe Alan Ball for a week on Six Feet Under and to observe Richard Lewis on C.S.I.

"I literally just sat there on the sets, watching these directors work and trying to get to know the powers-that-be so I could maybe get a slot on one of those shows. It's a very unique beast. It's not like what [Rings director] Peter Jackson is able to do, in terms of creating his vision. You have to synthesize 37 disparate personalities and attitudes.

"I thought of it as being like The Green Mile. Remember Michael Clarke Duncan in The Green Mile, when he sort of sucked the cancer out of somebody and blew it up in the air? I had to suck all the disparate feelings from all these different people, then get rid of it and allow them to do their work. It was fascinating and challenging, and I look forward to doing more of that if I can."

The actor-director is somewhat less forthcoming about when it comes to revealing the "Soulless" storyline.

"I'm nervous about what I should say about it," Astin said. "It's got a very loyal coterie and following that's on the Internet, and they want to know what happens next. But it's a great episode. It's an episode in which Angelus [David Boreanaz] factors prominently. I think it will air during the February sweeps."

Angel Fan site - 

Jon Stewart in NBC Sitcom Deal
By Josef Adalian 

HOLLYWOOD December 9, 2002 (Variety) - In his first stab at primetime series television, late-night veteran Jon Stewart will write and executive produce an NBC sitcom starring fellow "Daily Show" writer/actor Stephen Colbert. 

Stewart and Colbert will co-write the pilot script for the project, which will borrow heavily from Colbert's experiences growing up in South Carolina. The untitled series is being developed for NBC's fall 2003 schedule. 

Stewart said he and Colbert already are flush with ideas.

"We were just thinking about what would happen if a gay man and a straight woman lived together in a bar in Boston and ate spiders for $50,000 every episode," Stewart told Daily Variety. "We're going to try to do a show that has everything that's worked on NBC before. Before it's over, Stephen could end up helming a genial black family. He could be the next Cosby."

NBC executive VP of development Karey Burke said the show will be a "modern-day Andy of Mayberry" story, with elements of both family and office-based comedies. 

"The show will really reflect the sensibility of Jon and Stephen, who are known for adult, sophisticated, intelligent comedy," Burke said. "It's completely within the NBC brand." 

Colbert was attached to an NBC pilot last year, and while the project didn't move forward, network executives were anxious to develop another show around the comic. When they found out Stewart and Colbert were interested in working on a show together, they didn't waste any time jumping on board. 

"There's a history of hit comedies built on talent that have worked together before," Burke said, citing as a classic example Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David teaming for "Seinfeld." "These guys have been collaborators for years, and now they're just taking their act on the road." 

Stewart said the real impetus for the project was his desire to get Colbert to stop yakking about his past. 

"I'm just tired of Stephen telling me stories about how he grew up," Stewart quipped. "I figured if we write it all down in script form, he'll stop talking about it."

ABC Sets Premiere Dates for Veritas, Dragnet and Miracles

LOS ANGELES December 10, 2002 ( - ABC is aiming to keep the male viewers that flock to "Monday Night Football" coming back to the network when the NFL season ends.

The network announced the premiere dates for three midseason dramas Tuesday (Dec. 10). The action-adventure "Veritas: The Quest," cop show "Dragnet" and supernatural drama "Miracles" will debut Monday, Jan. 27. All three series seem targeted at the men who make "MNF" a top-10 program.

Jan. 27, coincidentally -- or more likely, not -- is the day after the Super Bowl, which ABC is broadcasting this year. That means viewers will probably see a large number of promotional spots for the new shows during the game.

"Veritas" will air at 8 p.m. ET. It stars Alex Carter ("The Day Reagan Was Shot" ) and Ryan Merriman ("Taken" ) as a father-and-son team of archeologists. Eric Balfour ("Six Feet Under"), Cynthia Martells and Anrold Vosloo ("The Mummy" ) also star.

The show was created by "Tomb Raider" writers Patrick Massett and John Zinman.

"Dragnet," an update of the classic Jack Webb show, will follow "Veritas" at 9 p.m. Ed O'Neill ("Married ... with Children," "Big Apple") stars as Joe Friday, with Ethan Embry ("Sweet Home Alabama," "FreakyLinks") as his partner, Frank Smith. "Law & Order" guru Dick Wolf is the executive producer.

The spooky "Miracles" caps the night at 10 p.m. Skeet Ulrich stars as a young clergyman who investigates and usually debunks miracles for the Catholic Church. When something he cannot explain happens, he leaves the church to join an independent group investigating the phenomena.

"Mothman Prophecies" writer Richard Hatem penned the "Miracles" pilot, and former "Angel" showrunner David Greenwalt is an executive producer with Hatem, Roger Birnbaum and Gary Barber.

Hanks, Imax Return to Space
By Michael Fleming 

NEW YORK December 6, 2002 (Variety) - Space buff Tom Hanks has partnered with Imax to mount "Magnificent Desolation," a 3-D documentary that aspires to give moviegoers the feeling of what it was like to visit the moon. 

Hanks' Playtone Prods. banner will produce, and he will narrate. The project grew out of Imax's recent relaunch of "Apollo 13," which starred Hanks. 

"When we showed Tom the footage that ("Apollo 13" director) Ron Howard and (producer) Brian Grazer approved, Tom said it was time to act on his dream to do this documentary about what people did and thought while they were actually on the moon," said Greg Foster, president of Imax Filmed Entertainment. "He said the stories have all been about how hard it was to get there and back, never about what it felt like to be there. 

The picture, which draws its title from Buzz Aldrin's description of the sensation he had during the Apollo 11 moon landing, will use NASA footage of the 12 men who walked on the moon between 1969 and 1972, still photographs by Michael Light and voiceover footage and commentary compiled by scholar Eric Jones. 

It will be co-directed by Mark Herzog and Mark Cowen, who were Emmy-nominated for "We Stand Alone Together: The Men of Easy Company."

WB Hosts 'Smallville' Auction

Hollywood December 9, 2002 (Sci Fi Wire) - The WB is sponsoring an eBay charity auction of autographed items from its Superman series, Smallville, to benefit Children Now and the National Wildlife Federation. The auction runs through Dec. 16.

Items for sale, accompanied by certificates of authenticity, include items modeled on real props from the series. These include Smallville High School T-shirts, jackets, backpacks and baseball caps, autographed by one or more Smallville stars, including Tom Welling, Kristin Kreuk or Michael Rosenbaum.

This auction also features Clark Kent's SHS class ring, as worn by Welling on the show. Proceeds will benefit Children Now, an organization that helps poor and at-risk children around the nation, and the National Wildlife Federation, a conservation group dedicated to protecting wildlife, wild places and the environment.

Smallville Official Site - 

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