Visit eXoNews for more recent news!

The Winds of Saturn!
Supernova Shock Wave! Flat Stars!
Smart Bricks, Balthild's Sexy Seal,
African Genesis Proof & More!
NASA Spacecraft Will Probe Saturn's Winds
Associated Press Writer

Pasadena June 16, 2003 (AP) - Astronomers say the winds of Saturn appear to be slowing dramatically just as NASA's Cassini spacecraft approaches the ringed gas planet.

Other researchers who study giant planets say the finding is surprising because little change has been detected in the winds of neighboring planets like Jupiter.

A comparison of images taken from one of the Voyager missions in the early 1980s and photos taken by the Hubble Space Telescope from 1996 to 2002 indicate that winds have slowed by about 40 percent at the equator of Saturn.

Saturn is the solar system's windiest planet, with wind speeds peaking at 1,000 mph. With the sudden change, the peak winds now are whipping around the planet at about 600 mph.

By comparison, the highest surface wind ever recorded on Earth was a gust of 231 mph clocked on Mount Washington in New Hampshire on April 12, 1934.

The researchers who performed the Saturn analysis say they do not know why its winds are slowing, unlike the steady winds on Jupiter.

"I think most atmospheric scientists would be willing to bet a substantial amount of money that a giant planet's winds don't do things like this," said the study's co-author, Richard French, a Wellesley College professor who has been a principal Hubble researcher for the past seven years.

More than a century of recorded observations of Jupiter, including Voyager and Galileo spacecraft surveys, have shown its winds move at a relatively constant speed without changing.

Recent studies of the other two gas giants in the outer solar system, Uranus and Neptune, also indicate wind speed is fairly constant, although their winds circulate in the opposite direction of Jupiter and Saturn.

In the new study published in the June 5 issue of the journal Nature, French and Agustin Sanchez-Lavega of the Universidad del Pais Vasco in Bilbao, Spain, suggest that the unique rings of icy particles that encircle Saturn may influence the wind speed by casting shadows on the planet's surface during the 30 Earth years it takes Saturn to make a single orbit around the sun.

Researchers who did not participate in the study agree that shadows could cool the Saturn atmosphere enough to slow the winds.

"The ring shadow moves from the northern hemisphere to the southern hemisphere and back again during the Saturn seasons," said Andy Ingersoll, a Caltech astronomer and expert on the atmospheric dynamics of other planets.

"That's a pretty unusual environment, and it probably has an effect," Ingersoll said.

Heat drives the winds on planets. But the two main heat sources — the sun and geothermal energy — are fairly weak on Saturn and the other distant gas giants. Temperatures in Saturn's upper atmosphere are as low as minus 288 degrees Fahrenheit.

And unlike the inner planets such as Earth that have cores of molten rock, the gas giants have only small cores that are likely made of hydrogen that is compressed into a metallic form by the enormous pressure of their atmospheres.

French and Sanchez-Lavega estimated the reduction in Saturn's wind speeds by comparing motions at the top of its deep cloud layer, which is 155 miles thick.

They tracked the movement of clouds or prominent storm systems on the Voyager photos from 1980-81, then compared them to the speed of cloud and storm system motion from the Hubble's higher-resolution images taken in 1996-02.

The Cassini spacecraft is due to arrive next year for a long mission orbiting Saturn, and may provide more direct measurements to help explain the mystery of the diminishing winds, Ingersoll said.

Nature magazine:

Jet Propulsion Laboratory:

Japanese Mars Probe In Trouble
Associated Press Writer

TOKYO June 17, 2003 (AP) - Five years late, low on fuel and with its heating system on the blink, Japan's first Mars-bound probe, the $88 million Nozomi, or "Hope," appears to be in serious trouble.

Mission controllers trying to keep the mission alive face a major test Thursday, when Nozomi is scheduled to make its second swingby of Earth. The maneuver is intended to use the Earth's gravity as a slingshot to send the probe on its final trajectory to Mars.

Experts admit the probe is limping.

"We are doing everything we can, but we don't know whether we will be able to succeed," Osamu Shimamoto, of the Education Ministry's Space Policy Division, said Tuesday. "We are praying that this swingby will work."

A failure for the mission, one of several from around the world now aimed at Mars, would be a great disappointment for Japan's space program, which has been struggling with cost overruns and an apathetic public. If Nozomi reaches the planet at all, it will likely arrive at about the same time as the European Space Agency's Mars Express orbiter and its British-built Beagle 2 lander, and two U.S. Mars rovers.

According to Shimamoto, the Nozomi is forecast to reach Mars between late December 2003 and early January 2004.

Two other U.S. satellites are already in Mars orbit.

Nozomi, Japan's first mission to another planet, was launched from a pad in Kagoshima, southwestern Japan, on July 4, 1998, to gather data on the atmosphere and topography of Mars. But it soon ran into trouble. Though originally scheduled to arrive at Mars in October 1998, its first swingby of Earth failed to give it sufficient speed. Mission controllers then had to adjust its course to save fuel, resulting in the five-year delay.

In April last year, a burst of solar flares damaged Nozomi's heating system and cut off most communication with the probe. The computer control systems on the probe were intact, however, allowing engineers on Earth to repair the spacecraft.

Experts now fear that even if this week's swingby is successful, the probe may not be able to pull off a maneuver required to put it into Mars orbit if its heating system isn't fixed. Yasunori Matokawa, director of the Kagoshima Space Center, where the mission was launched, said controllers expect Thursday's swingby to be a success.

"I don't think there will be a problem," he said. "We've done all we can and now we just have to see what happens."

But he said the larger problem will be fixing the shorted out heating system and other damage caused by the April solar flare-up. He said controllers will try to do that in mid-July.

Nozomi's troubles contrast sharply with several recent successes marked by Japan in space. Last month, Japan launched a probe designed to bring back surface samples from an asteroid, a feat that has never before been accomplished. In March, it launched its first spy satellites, primarily because of concerns over neighboring North Korea's development of nuclear weapons and long-range missiles.

But this country's sagging economy has aggravated concerns about cost overruns and bureaucratic waste, prompting Japan to plan a major overhaul of its space program this fall.

Institute of Space and Astronautical Science Nozomi Mission homepage -
Supernova Shock Wave!

June 9, 2003 - Remnants from a star that exploded thousands of years ago created a celestial abstract portrait, as captured in this NASA Hubble Space Telescope image of the Pencil Nebula.

Officially known as NGC 2736, the Pencil Nebula is part of the huge Vela supernova remnant, located in the southern constellation Vela. Discovered by Sir John Herschel in the 1840s, the nebula's linear appearance triggered its popular name. The nebula's shape suggests that it is part of the supernova shock wave that recently encountered a region of dense gas. It is this interaction that causes the nebula to glow, appearing like a rippled sheet.

In this snapshot, astronomers are looking along the edge of the undulating sheet of gas. This view shows large, wispy filamentary structures, smaller bright knots of gas, and patches of diffuse gas. The Hubble Heritage Team used the Advanced Camera for Surveys in October 2002 to observe the nebula. The region of the Pencil Nebula captured in this image is about three fourths of a light-year across.

The Vela supernova remnant is 114 light-years (35 parsecs) across. The remnant is about 815 light-years (250 parsecs) away from our solar system.

The nebula's luminous appearance comes from dense gas regions that have been struck by the supernova shock wave.
As the shock wave travels through space [from right to left in the image], it rams into interstellar material.

Initially the gas is heated to millions of degrees, but then subsequently cools down, emitting the optical light visible in the image.

The colors of the various regions in the nebula yield clues about this cooling process. Some regions are still so hot that the emission is dominated by ionized oxygen atoms, which glow blue in the picture. Other regions have cooled more and are seen emitting red in the image (cooler hydrogen atoms). In this situation, color shows the temperature of the gas. The nebula is visible in this image because it is glowing.

The supernova explosion left a spinning pulsar at the core of the Vela region. Based on the rate at which the pulsar is slowing down, astronomers estimate that the explosion may have occurred about 11,000 years ago. Although no historical records of the blast exist, the Vela supernova would have been 250 times brighter than Venus and would have been easily visible to southern observers in broad daylight. The age of the blast, if correct, would imply that the initial explosion pushed material from the star at nearly 22 million miles per hour. As the Vela supernova remnant expands, the speed of its moving filaments, such as the Pencil Nebula, decreases. The Pencil Nebula, for example, is moving at roughly 400,000 miles per hour.

The Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) is operated by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, Inc. (AURA), for NASA, under contract with the Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, MD. The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA).

Terror System Flags David Nelsons
LOS ANGELES June 15, 2003 (AP) - David Nelson is not an easy name to have these days. Across the country men with this name say they have been pulled off airplanes, questioned by FBI agents and harassed when traveling by air.

The nationwide dragnet for terrorists has caused the name to raise red flags on airline screening software, but some federal officials say the problem is essentially a computer glitch, the Los Angeles Daily News reported Sunday.

David Nelsons in at least four states, including California, Oregon, Alaska and South Dakota, have reported getting stopped.

Even the former child star of ABC-TV's "The adventures of Ozzie and Harriet," was stopped by a ticket agent at John Wayne Airport in December while en route to visit his daughter in Salt Lake City.

Now a Newport Beach film producer, David Nelson, 66, told the Daily News that after airline ticket agents stopped him, two police officers quickly recognized him, and he was allowed to board his flight.

"I don't think (terrorists) have the middle name 'Ozzie,'" he recalled telling an agent.

For other David Nelsons, the experience was more difficult.

Actor David Nelson, 35, of Hollywood said that on a recent trip to Hawaii, a ticket agent at Los Angeles International Airport took one look at his driver's license and said, "Oh boy. Here's another David Nelson."

Nelson said the ticket agent told him the name brings up a "red flag" for terrorists. A few months before on a New York-bound airplane, he had been told to exit the plane and was searched by FBI agents before reboarding.

"When you get back on the plane, people look at you funny," he said.

After agents requested to search him several times before the Hawaii flight, Nelson said he turned around and went home.

A so-called "no-fly" list was introduced after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and is meant to prevent potential terrorists from boarding planes. The TSA gets names from law enforcement officials and hands the list over to airlines to screen passengers. In April, Transportation Security Administration spokesman Nico Melendez said those on the no-fly list pose, or are suspected of posing, a threat to civil aviation and national security.

"We do not confirm the presence of a particular name of an individual on a list," he said. "It's security information that we just won't do."

Melendez told the Daily News that the "David Nelson" problem is due to a name-matching technology used by many airlines. He said it's not the name but letters in the name that are randomly flagged by the software. But David Kennedy, director of research services for TruSecure Corp., a Virginia-based firm that specializes in intelligence security, said he thinks it's more likely the name is on the no-fly list.

"I'm more inclined to believe there is a bad David Nelson out there they're looking for," he said.

Either way, since there is little to identify those on the list other than their names, it is difficult for many to get their names removed. In response, TSA has established a hot line for those who feel they were wrongly selected.

TSA website :
Another Road Map: Bush To Weaken Forest Roadless Rule
Oakland CA June 11, 2003 (Earthjustice) - The Bush administration announced major efforts to weaken the Roadless Area Conservation Rule, considered by many to be the greatest forest conservation legacy of our times.

The Roadless Rule protects 58.5 million acres of wild forests in America’s national forests and grasslands.

Most of the lands protected by the rule are in the western states and Alaska.

The new administration initiatives will drop the nation’s two largest national forests, Alaska’s Tongass and Chugach, from the roadless rule and open these protected areas to industrial development. Alaska’s Tongass Rainforest is particularly vulnerable to massive industrial scale clearcutting as the Forest Service is planning 49 old growth logging projects in areas which are currently protected by the rule.

The administration also announced it will establish a loophole to allow governors to opt out of the rule for national forests in their states. This will allow logging, roadbuilding and other forms of development in states where political or financial pressures to develop these formerly pristine forest lands become too great for governors to withstand. It will also allow governors to make political decisions over resources belonging to all Americans.

"Allowing governors in states like Utah and Wyoming to opt out of protecting the national forests in their states is like letting Alabama and Mississippi opt out of civil rights laws," said Earthjustice attorney Doug Honnold.

Honnold successfully defended the roadless rules before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

In spite of the rule’s validity being upheld at the appeals court, the Bush administration used a lawsuit filed by the state of Alaska challenging the rule as a vehicle to strip protections from the Alaska forests under the guise of settling the lawsuit.

Earthjustice attorney Eric Jorgensen noted, " In another sweetheart deal for the timber industry, the Bush administration took a winning legal hand and figured a way to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory by selling out roadless protections in Alaska."

Roadless lands in America’s national forests are needed to provide clean drinking water to millions of Americans as well as islands of refuge for America’s fish and wildlife. They also are prime areas where millions of Americans hunt, fish and camp every year.

"Rather than provide for the many, this administration has moved to provide for the few; it’s wealthy corporate friends who want to plunder the riches of wild lands belonging to all Americans," said Marty Hayden of Earthjustice.

The administration announced it would undertake several new executive rulemaking procedures over the remainder of 2003 to achieve the weakening of the rule. They announced that they would publish a proposed rule to drop the Alaska’s Tongass Rainforest before the end of the month and the other proposals would be published in the federal register in September. In the meantime bills are making their way through both the House and Senate in an effort to protect roadless areas from the back-room deals being struck by the f the White House by Congressionally reinstating roadless protections over the 58.5 million acres.

Earthjustice -

Job Interview Goes Bad
OKLAHOMA CITY June 10, 2003 (Reuters) - A note to all job seekers: you know that your employment interview did not go well when your prospective boss calls the police in to arrest you.

Anthony Kaleb Phillips, 20 was hauled away from an interview for a job with a construction company in Stillwater, Oklahoma last week after employees recognized the job applicant as the person seen on a surveillance videotape robbing the same business just one day before, police said on Monday.

Phillips is expected to be arraigned this week on burglary charges for stealing a $100 tool from the construction company and about $1,000 worth of items from an employee's car parked at the office, court officials said.

"When he went out there to apply for the job, there was no one there. So he just helped himself to some items and left," said Payne County Undersheriff Kenneth Willerton. "However, he was caught on videotape."

A day after the robbery, Phillips applied for a job with the construction company, and was arrested. Needless to say, he didn't get the job.
Flat Stars!
ESO Press Release

June 11, 2003 - To a first approximation, planets and stars are round. Think of the Earth we live on. Think of the Sun, the nearest star, and how it looks in the sky.

But if you think more about it, you realize that this is not completely true.

Due to its daily rotation, the solid Earth is slightly flattened ("oblate") - its equatorial radius is some 21 km (0.3%) larger than the polar one.

Stars are enormous gaseous spheres and some of them are known to rotate quite fast, much faster than the Earth.

This would obviously cause such stars to become flattened. But how flat?

Recent observations with the VLT Interferometer (VLTI) at the ESO Paranal Observatory have allowed a group of astronomers to obtain by far the most detailed view of the general shape of a fast-spinning hot star, Achernar (Alpha Eridani), the brightest in the southern constellation Eridanus (The River).

They find that Achernar is much flatter than expected - its equatorial radius is more than 50% larger than the polar one!

In other words, this star is shaped very much like the well-known spinning-top toy, so popular among young children.

The high degree of flattening measured for Achernar - a first in observational astrophysics - now poses an unprecedented challenge for theoretical astrophysics.

The effect cannot be reproduced by common models of stellar interiors unless certain phenomena are incorporated, e.g. meridional circulation on the surface ("north-south streams") and non-uniform rotation at different depths inside the star.

This new measurement provides a fine example of what is possible with the VLT Interferometer already at this stage of implementation.

It bodes well for the future research projects at this facility.

With the interferometric technique, new research fields are now opening which will ultimately provide much more detailed information about the shapes, surface conditions and interior structure of stars.

And in a not too distant future, it will become possible to produce interferometric images of the disks of Achernar and other stars.


Now, That's Reality!
DUBLIN June 16, 2003 (Reuters) - An Irish reality television show nearly sank without trace Friday after the ship carrying contestants around the country's treacherous coastline hit the rocks and broke up.

Terrified contestants taking part in state broadcaster RTE's "Cabin Fever" program were winched to safety by helicopter after the boat they were supposed to stay aboard for eight weeks ran aground near Tory Island, Donegal, in northwest Ireland.

A producer with the company making the program -- flagged as the Irish television event of the summer -- said all precautions had been taken, the ship thoroughly checked before setting out and the crew trained in sea survival.

"I have no idea how it happened," he told RTE.

He said the incident had not been caught on film as the camera crew had not been on duty.

"(But) we would rather not have one hell of a program -- we would rather have a safe ship," he said.

Lifeboats rushed to the ship's aid after crew members sent out a distress call Friday afternoon. RTE said the vessel, carrying 10 contestants competing for a cash prize, the camera team and ship's crew, had later "completely broken up" and was "unsalvageable."

However, it added the show would go on. A replacement ship was being found in England, and filming of the endurance test contest -- an Irish version of British reality TV hit "Big Brother" -- would continue on nearby Tory Island.
Smart Bricks Could Save Lives
University of Illinois Press Release

CHAMPAIGN IL June 12, 2003 - A "smart brick" developed by scientists at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign could monitor a building's health and save lives.

"This innovation could change the face of the construction industry," said Chang Liu, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at Illinois. "We are living with more and more smart electronics all around us, but we still live and work in fairly dumb buildings.

By making our buildings smarter, we can improve both our comfort and safety."

In work performed through the university's Center for Nanoscale Science and Technology, Liu and graduate student Jon Engel have combined sensor fusion, signal processing, wireless technology and basic construction material into a multi-modal sensor package that can report building conditions to a remote operator.

The prototype has a thermistor, two-axis accelerometer, multiplexer, transmitter, antenna and battery hidden inside a brick. Built into a wall, the brick could monitor a building's temperature, vibration and movement. Such information could be vital to firefighters battling a blazing skyscraper, or to rescue workers ascertaining the soundness of an earthquake-damaged structure.

"Our proof-of-concept brick is just one example of where you can have the sensor, signal processor, wireless communication link and battery packaged in one compact unit," Liu said. "You also could embed the sensor circuitry in concrete blocks, laminated beams, structural steel and many other building materials."

To extend battery life, the brick could transmit building conditions at regular intervals, instead of operating continuously, Liu said. The battery could also be charged through the brick by an inductive coil, similar to those used in electric toothbrushes and certain artificial heart pumps.

The researchers are currently using off-the-shelf components in their smart bricks, so there is "lots of room for making the sensor package smaller," Engel said. "Ultimately, we would like to fit everything onto one chip, and then put that chip on a piece of plastic, instead of silicon, to make it more robust."

Silicon is a rigid, brittle material, which can easily crack or break. "Sensor packages built on flexible substrates would not only be more resilient," Engel said, "they would offer additional versatility. For example, you could wrap a flexible sensor around the iron reinforcing bars that strengthen concrete and then monitor the strain."

Liu and Engel have already crafted such sensors by depositing metal films on flexible polymer substrates. Dubbed "smart skin" by its inventors, the sensor material can be wrapped around any surface of interest, such as a robotic finger. "While a typical tactile sensor can only measure surface roughness, our sensor material can determine roughness, hardness, temperature and conductivity," Liu said. "The combined input gives you a much better idea of the type of material being touched."

The researchers' smart skin is fabricated at the university's Micro and Nanotechnology Laboratory. Although the skin is not yet wireless, Engel is working on the analog-to-digital conversion process to utilize existing wireless technology.

The smart bricks, however, are fully wireless. In addition to keeping tabs on a building's health, applications include monitoring nurseries, daycares and senior homes, and creating interactive "smart toys" that respond to the touch of a child.

"In a smart doll, for example, sensor capability would distinguish between caressing and slapping, allowing the doll to react accordingly," Liu said. "In the gaming industry, wireless sensors attached to a person's arms and legs could replace the conventional joystick and allow a 'couch potato' to get some physical exercise while playing video games such as basketball or tennis. The opportunities seem endless."

Star Factory Found!
ESO Press Release

June 16, 2003 - Based on a vast observational effort with different telescopes and instruments, ESO-astronomer Dieter Nürnberger has obtained a first glimpse of the very first stages in the formation of heavy stars.

These critical phases of stellar evolution are normally hidden from the view, because massive protostars are deeply embedded in their native clouds of dust and gas, impenetrable barriers to observations at all but the longest wavelengths.

In particular, no visual or infrared observations have yet "caught" nascent heavy stars in the act and little is therefore known so far about the related processes.

Profiting from the cloud-ripping effect of strong stellar winds from adjacent, hot stars in a young stellar cluster at the center of the NGC 3603 complex, several objects located near a giant molecular cloud were found to be bona-fide massive protostars, only about 100,000 years old and still growing.

Three of these objects, designated IRS 9A-C, could be studied in more detail. They are very luminous (IRS 9A is about 100,000 times intrinsically brighter than the Sun), massive (more than 10 times the mass of the Sun) and hot (about 20,000 degrees).

They are surrounded by relative cold dust (about 0°C), probably partly arranged in disks around these very young objects.

Two possible scenarios for the formation of massive stars are currently proposed, by accretion of large amounts of circumstellar material or by collision (coalescence) of protostars of intermediate masses.

The new observations favor accretion, i.e. the same process that is active during the formation of stars of smaller masses.

For more information and pictures, go to the ESO website at

Queen Balthild's Erotic Royal Seal
By David Keys
Archaeology Correspondent

East Anglia June 15, 2003 (Independent UK) - A semi-pornographic royal seal, discovered in a field in East Anglia, is providing historians and archaeologists with vital clues to the life of one of the Dark Ages' most bizarre celebrities.

Queen Balthild is now thought to have been born an Anglian aristocrat, who was then sold into slavery. She married the King of the Franks, became a ruthless ruler and murderer, but was finally made a saint before she died.

With her somewhat intimidating name - Balthild means literally "Bold Battle" in Anglo-Saxon - she has long been an enigma to scholars of Dark Age history. But the discovery, by a metal-detector enthusiast, of her royal seal matrix buried in a field in East Anglia is shedding new light on her extraordinary story.

The gold seal matrix, which was originally attached to a ring, is one of the most important Dark Age artifacts ever found in Britain. On one side is a human face with her name inscribed around it in Frankish form. On the other side are two naked figures thought to portray Balthild and her husband, the Frankish (French) king, having sex. The respectable side, according to this month's BBC History magazine, was used to seal official documents, while the reverse was no doubt used to seal more private correspondence between royal husband and wife.

An analysis of her name suggests that Balthild was a member of one of the Anglian (rather than Saxon) tribes and therefore almost certainly came from an Anglian area, namely Suffolk or Norfolk.

Second, the field in which the seal matrix was found - just a few miles east of Norfolk's county town, Norwich - has been yielding further Anglo-Saxon finds, suggesting that the matrix came from a long-vanished settlement, conceivably associated with her descendants.

Reconstructing Balthild's early life has long been a challenge to scholars, but new research now suggests that she was born around 627 and that she may well have been connected in some way to the last pagan king of East Anglia, a usurper called Ricberht who was ousted by his Christian rival Sigabert, the rightful heir to the throne, with French help.

The victorious Sigabert (whose name, aptly, means "Shining Victory") had invaded East Anglia after spending several years at the court of the Frankish king.

As a young girl, Balthild was sent to the same French royal court as a slave - perhaps as a relative of the defeated Ricberht.

She joined the household of the king's chief administrator, Erchinoald, whose unwanted sexual overtures she rapidly learnt to resist. Just as well - for she soon met the French king, Clovis II.

The pair appear to have fallen for each other and were married in 648. They had three sons, each of whom later became a Frankish king.

In 657 Clovis died, and Balthild took over as regent until her son came of age. By all accounts she was a ruthless ruler: as part of a continuing struggle with the church, she seems to have been responsible for the murder of at least nine French bishops. When her son Clothar came of age in 664, Balthild's rule ended - and she was virtually imprisoned in a convent. There she dedicated herself to a life of unexpected piety until her death in 680.

The wedding present from Clovis - the royal seal ring - must have been one of her most treasured and intimate possessions. How it ended up in a field near Norwich is a mystery. But it is conceivable that it was returned to her East Anglian family estate after her death. An analysis of all the other finds from the field - brooches, a finger ring, a pendant, belt fittings - does indeed hint that a high-status Anglo-Saxon residence once stood on the site.

For Dr Andrew Rogerson, a leading archaeologist at Norfolk Museums and Archaeology Service, which has recorded all the finds from the area, the seal is simply "the most extraordinary single object" he has ever examined.

Preparing Humans for Mars
ESA Press Release

June 13, 2003 - A human mission to Mars may still be some time away, but scientists are already aware of the many hazards that must be overcome if the dream is to become a reality.

One particular cause for concern is the potential for physiological and psychological problems that could arise from the conditions of weightlessness, isolation and confinement experienced during a journey that could last six months or more.

To address these concerns ESA, in cooperation with the French space agency CNES, NASA and two Antarctic research organizations, is seeking proposals from scientists wishing to participate in two pioneering ground-based studies to simulate some of the side effects of extended periods of space flight.

The first of these Research Announcements is for opportunities to conduct medical, physiological and psychological research at the Concordia station, a new scientific base that is being built in Antarctica by IPEV - the French Polar Institute, and PNRA - the Italian Antarctic Programme. Although proposals put forward under this Research Announcement may or may not be relevant to space exploration, the space agencies recognize that Concordia’s unique environment will be invaluable for preparatory activities related to future human Mars missions.

“As one of the most isolated places on Earth, Concordia will provide an excellent analogue environment to replicate aspects of a mission to Mars,” said study leader Oliver Angerer. “For eight to nine months of the year the base will be completely cut off, so the occupants will have to learn to be fully autonomous.”

From the selected proposals, an integrated research program will be created with a start date in spring 2006. The program will be aimed at increasing knowledge of human adaptability to extreme environments - isolation, confinement, climate, altitude - and improving medical care in isolated locations.

In the second Research Announcement, ESA and the French Space Agency CNES are collaborating with NASA to solicit research proposals to address two of the cornerstones of the European Programme for Life and Physical Sciences and Applications utilizing the International Space Station (ELIPS).

Muscle and bone physiology - the effects of changes of load on muscles and bone mass; and

Integrated physiology - the understanding of blood pressure and heart regulation

Transatlantic cooperation for this effort is welcome and NASA has issued an equivalent Research Announcement specifically for US investigators.

As opportunities for investigating human physiology in orbit are very limited, it is planned to simulate the effects of long-term microgravity on the ground by studying the human body's response to head-down tilt bed rest over a period of 60-90 days. The study, which will take place at a specialized French bed rest facility of the Institute for Space Medicine (MEDES) in Toulouse, will also evaluate preventative strategies and countermeasures to combat the associated adverse effects.

Male astronauts and volunteers predominated during previous studies in simulated and real microgravity, so the planned study for 2004/05 will investigate about 25 female volunteers (intervention groups and control group) and, if scientifically justified, a male control group consisting of about seven volunteers. This should reveal the differences and similarities in the response of the female and male physiology to musculoskeletal unloading.

“Essential driving factors behind the two research studies are oriented towards both application and exploration,” explained study leader Peter Jost. “In this way, the results will benefit the ESA Life Sciences Programme, with important spin-offs for medical science. Ultimately, advanced strategies will be developed to further improve health and safety during long-term stays on the International Space Station, and to facilitate a human mission to Mars.”

European Space Agency website -

Man Wins Plane Toilet Ice Lawsuit
SANTA CRUZ CA June 16, 2003 (AP) - A Santa Cruz man won a suit against American Airlines alleging that one of the company's planes released two chunks of toilet waste, known euphemistically as "blue ice," onto the skylight of his boat.

After the chunks came crashing down and damaged his boat, Ray Erickson tracked down the plane — American Airlines Flight 1950 — and sued in small claims court. He received the court's ruling in the mail Friday. A judge ordered the airline to pay him $3,236 - almost the entire amount Erickson had sought.

Mike Fergus, a spokesman for the Federal Aviation Administration, was surprised at the decision.

"I'll be darned," said Fergus, who hadn't heard of any similar suits succeeding before.

The airline has 30 days to appeal the ruling. Airline officials could not be reached to comment Saturday.
New Evidence of African Genesis
Los Alamos National Laboratory Press Release

LOS ALAMOS NM June 12, 2003 - An international team of scientists, including a researcher from Los Alamos National Laboratory, has discovered fossilized skulls that lend further credence to the hypothesis that modern humankind originated in Africa.

The discovery, highlighted in two companion papers as the cover story of the journal Nature, also indicates that this ancient predecessor of modern man conducted early mortuary practices on their deceased contemporaries and may have dined on hippopotami.

The international team, know as the Middle Awash Research Group, discovered fossilized skulls of two adults and a child who lived 160,000 years ago in what is now the Afar Region of northeastern Ethiopia. The age of the fossils makes them the world's oldest near-modern humans, meaning that they are a subspecies of Homo sapiens - modern man. Researchers named the new subspecies Homo sapiens idaltu (idaltu means "elder" in the Afar language).

The team found skull, tooth and bone fragments as well as an entire cranium in sediments near Herto village in 1997.

It took researchers years to successfully reconstruct and stabilize the fossilized remains.

One of the adult skulls and the child's skull bear marks indicating that they had been altered by stone tools. The child's skull shows evidence of polishing, perhaps from repeated handling, in an area where the base of the cranium was broken away.

Anthropologists have found similar bone modifications in societies where the skulls of ancestors were preserved and venerated, leading the research team to believe that the marks are the result of a similar mortuary practice conducted by Homo sapiens idaltu.

Los Alamos geologist Giday WoldeGabriel, a co-leader of the research team, used geologic clues to characterize and describe the environment in which Homo sapiens idaltu lived.

Although much of Europe was under ice as a result of major glaciation, the ancient hominids lived near the shore of a shallow freshwater lake that had been formed by major fault that blocked a river in the area. Fossils indicate that the lake was inhabited by abundant catfish, crocodiles and hippos.

In fact, it was a fossil of a butchered hippopotamus skull discovered by professor Tim White, one of the team's leaders from the University of California at Berkeley, that attracted the team to the excavation area where the skulls were found.

Stone tool marks on fossilized remains indicate that Homo sapiens idaltu at Herto had a taste for hippo, but researchers are unclear whether the hominids hunted the animals for food or scavenged them.

The Herto fossils have lent credence to the idea that modern man originated in Africa and spread throughout the world from there. The new subspecies is anatomically similar to modern humans.

Previous to the Herto discovery, the oldest near-modern humans ranged from 90,000 to 130,000 years old and were found in Africa and the Middle East. The Herto remains predate the Middle Eastern remains by some 30,000 years.

But most significant to the research team, Homo sapiens idaltu is unmistakably a non-Neanderthal. As such, the Herto fossils indicate that near humans had evolved in Africa long before European Neanderthals disappeared.

Consequently, the Herto remains conclusively demonstrate that there never was a Neanderthal stage in human evolution, and that Neanderthals were merely a branch of the evolutionary tree that later went extinct, according to professor F. Clark Howell of U.C. Berkeley, a co-author of the Nature paper.

The bones therefore lend further support to the "Out of Africa" hypothesis.

The Middle Awash Research Group has discovered a wealth of fossils in the Afar Region throughout the past decade.

The group's finds include fossils of six early hominids of various ages from six million- to one million years ago to the Herto fossils - the team's youngest find to date.

Los Alamos News website -

Genre News: Gregory Peck, James Coburn, William Marshall, Hulk, Emmy Rossum, Bowie Tour & More!
Gregory Peck and James Coburn: Resurrection
By FLAtRich

Hollywood June 17, 2003 (eXoNews) - Gregory Peck died last week, but it was an A&E Biography on the late James Coburn that got me thinking about The Great Mystery of Hollywood Stars.

Gregory Peck will always be remembered as Captain Ahab in Moby Dick (1956) or Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird (1962) or even Dr. Josef Mengele in The Boys From Brazil (1978), but the Gregory Peck in my mind's eye is the younger hero from Hitchcock's Spellbound or The Paradine Case in the Forties.

Screen actors and actresses have a mysterious ability to become young again after they accept their final role. Could Hollywood be the secret of eternal youth?

The A&E James Coburn story triggered this thought because Coburn was always a particular hero of mine.

A film in which Coburn starred called The President's Analyst (1967) ranks in my Top Ten Favorite Films of All Time.

It is a comedy about blossoming US cultural and political change in the Sixties, a wonderful tale about Dr. Sidney Schaefer, LBJ's renegade psychiatrist who knows too much and is pursued by minuscule FBI agents, international spies and the omnipresent Phone Company.

The President's Analyst was written and directed by satirist Theodore J. Flicker. Flicker was a member of The Compass Players (AKA Second City) in the Fifties.

The President's Analyst was a box-office failure when it was released, but it now stands with Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove as one of the few satires of the period that still works.

And nobody could have played Dr. Sidney Schaefer better than James Coburn. From contented professional to frazzled fugitive and paranoid hippie dropout to reluctant revolutionary, Coburn created a perfect Odysseus of the Sixties revolution.

James Coburn died in 2002, credited with some hundred and fifty film and TV roles. He developed rheumatoid arthritis a decade after his role as secret agent Derek Flint first made him famous and almost disappeared into physically limited, stereotyped film and TV parts for twenty years.

He bounced back in the 1990s and finally won a much-deserved Oscar for Best Actor in a Supporting Role in Affliction (1997).

The James Coburn who won that Academy Award was a beautiful old character actor, but when I think of James Coburn, I see the young hero or bad guy of the Sixties and Seventies. The long-legged, scruffy, and finally relaxed Dr. Sidney Schaefer of The President's Analyst, fresh from his defeat of evil government and corporate conspirators and settled back into a happy ending with his perfect mate and the biggest smile in Hollywood as the final frame fades to credits.

Like stars in the night sky, our screen heroes illuminate us from the past even after they are gone.

Actor William Marshall Dies at 78

LOS ANGELES June 16, 2003 - Actor William Marshall, who played a variety of roles, from Shakespeare's "Othello" on stage, to "Blacula" in the camp movie classic, has died. He was 78.

Marshall, who suffered in recent years from Alzheimer's disease, died Wednesday in a Los Angeles rest home.

The actor appeared in several dozen films and in popular television series such as "Star Trek" in the 1960s and "The Jeffersons" in the 1980s.

But he was in love with theater and taught acting workshops on college campuses and at the Mufandi Institute in Watts. He was director of the institute in the 1960s.

He also brought a number of prominent African American figures to the stage.

He portrayed singer Paul Robeson and the statesman Frederick Douglass, a role he spent 15 years researching. He eventually played the part of the famed abolitionist on television.

Marshall was born in Gary, Ind., and studied acting at the Actors Studio and the Neighborhood Playhouse in New York City after spending several years as an art student at New York University.

Douglass was not the only role that Marshall reprised. He played the Moorish king in "Othello" in Europe and the United States. The London Sunday Times once hailed him as "the best Othello of our time."

Marshall played a different kind of character in the 1972 movie, "Blacula" and its sequel, "Scream, Blacula, Scream!", but he brought the same dignity to the title role of the African prince.

Originally conceived as a dimwitted count, Marshall modeled the character on the original Count Dracula, the tormented Eastern European royal in Bram Stoker's 19th century novel.

Marshall is survived by three sons and one daughter. His life partner of 42 years, Sylvia Jarrico, said a memorial service will be held this summer.

Ang Lee Takes Risks with Mean Green Hulk
By Bob Tourtellotte

LOS ANGELES June 16, 2003 (Reuters) - Taiwan-born director Ang Lee, perhaps best known for his Oscar-winning "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," is taking a big risk with the splashy summer popcorn flick "Hulk."

"Hulk," which debuts on Friday, is about the comic book character whose altered DNA has made him 15-feet tall, green, muscle bound and extremely angry.

Lee shelled out a reported $150 million on the movie, spent nearly a year away from home to help animators create the computerized Hulk and put his reputation as an Oscar-caliber director on the line.

Lee's "Crouching Tiger," a Chinese-language martial arts film set in the 19th century, won the Academy Award for best foreign language film in 2000.

Lee sits inside his trailer on the Universal Studios lot days after finishing "Hulk" and admits he's feeling stressed out.

"It's the responsibility of making a big movie. It's the invisible pressure," he told Reuters. "They (the cast, crew and studio) have tried to give me so much and go way out to give me what I want, and if I feel like I don't make them happy, or disappoint them ... it hurts. It really hurts me."

"Hulk" tells the tale of young Bruce Banner who, through a failed experiment by his father and a twist of fate in a laboratory experiment, has his genes altered radically to become the Hulk.

The film's backers, including Lee, call it part action movie, part Greek tragedy -- a story in which the sins of the father are revisited on the son.

"I like the depth," said Eric Bana, the Australian actor who plays Banner. "It's something we haven't seen before" in an action flick.

Producer/screenwriter James Schamus, who worked with Lee on "Crouching Tiger," "The Ice Storm" and "Sense and Sensibility" said his first pass at the story was filled with smashing cars, villains and superheroes.

He admits it was bad. So, he went back to the 1962 Marvel comics that launched the Hulk and extracted a story of a father whose scientific and human failures harm his son years later.

For loyal comic book fans who may think Lee's "Hulk" will be too touchy-feely, think again.

"This is a drama, a family drama," said Lee, "but with big action." His slumping shoulders twitch and he laughs.

Lee calls "Hulk" the most challenging movie he's ever made due to its complexity. Schamus said Lee is a man who can't resist a challenge.

After "Crouching Tiger," Schamus said, "I knew he wanted something to stretch his imagination. I told him this was just pure play. We can go as far as your imagination can take you."

Sometimes that imagination took Lee underneath the Hulk's very own green skin. The animators at Industrial Light & Magic said when they were unsure of exactly what Lee wanted in a scene, he went to their computer labs and demonstrated.

They have the videotape to show it. There is the relatively small Lee rising up out of a crouch, starting to shake his fists, stomping on the ground. His face tightens into a rage and seems to turns red (The Hulk, of course, turns green).

Lee is Hulkifying, transforming from a mild-mannered director into an angry green, pulverizing machine.

That was months ago, of course, when the film was still being made, and now it's ready for the big screen.

With pent-up audience demand and marketing muscle behind it, "Hulk" is virtual shoe-in to earn big box office bucks in its debut weekend and Lee knows this. "I would like the movie to be at least interesting, inspiring. I know it's intense," Lee said. And with that, he relaxes just a little more.

Official Hulk site -

Marvel Comics -

Spike Blocks TNN Name Change

NEW YORK June 13, 2003 (AP) - An appeals court judge on Friday denied a request to let the TNN cable television network change its name to "Spike TV" until a dispute with filmmaker Spike Lee over the use of the name is resolved.

A spokesman for TNN said the network would proceed as scheduled with the programming it had planned for Spike TV, but would not change its name on Monday as it had planned.

"Until this matter is resolved, our name will remain TNN," Dan Martinsen said.

Viacom Inc., TNN's parent company, announced in April that it would change TNN's name to "Spike TV" to try to attract more men to an audience that is already about two-thirds male.

Lee sued Viacom, claiming that people would mistakenly think he was associated with the network. He said TNN was deliberately trying to mislead the public and capitalize on his image and prestige.

A full, five-judge appeals panel is scheduled to hear arguments in the case Tuesday.

TNN (AKA "Spike"):

Canceled Shows 2002-2003
By FLAtRich

Hollywood June 16, 2003 (eXoNews) - In the why didn't I think of that well maybe because I have a life department, Pazsaz Entertainment has provided TV fans with a list of all the shows that were cancelled and won't return for the new fall season.

So here's where to look if you were confused about "hiatus" announcements for ABC's Miracles or UPN's Platinum or hoping that Fox's John Doe would be resuscitated.

Or if you were pulling for WB's Sabrina The Teenage Witch or even holding on for the three unaired episodes of Joss Whedon's Firefly.

Forget it. They're history.

Some of the axings were costly ratings embarrassments to their networks, like Dinotopia (ABC), Fastlane (FOX), Robbery Homicide Division (CBS) and All American Girl (ABC).

Other shows whimpered to a close with lesser fanfare like Futurama (Fox), Arli$$ (HBO), Odyssey 5 (SCIFI), and The Black Sash (WB).

Many will return as reruns, of course, and Firefly will reportedly show up on DVD by December. I wouldn't be too surprised to see Platinum appear on the DVD shelves too.

There sure were a lot of them, kids! What can I say? Just shoot me.

Pazsaz canceled shows page -

Easy Rider Fonda Attends NH Bike Week

HOOKSETT, N.H. June 14, 2003 (AP) - Peter Fonda, who played Captain America in the 1969 biker film, "Easy Rider," is in New Hampshire for Bike Week in Laconia and will be the grand marshal for Sunday's parade.

The 63-year-old Fonda said that although it's liberating to head out on the highway on your motorcycle, the rider must be focused on the task at hand.

"When I'm on my bike ... I'm 100 to 200 yards ahead of myself," he said this week. "You don't have a chance for your mind to wander, or else your bike will, and you might hit a tree or something."

The nine-day annual bike rally, which attracts thousands of people, includes bike shows, racing and scenic tours of the state.

Fonda added: "Now that we've made it through the 1980s and 1990s, a lot of people are interested in going back to that time. We like to think about when we were all idealists. Now very few of us think we can make a change."

Laconia Motorcycle Week Official site -

Phantom Film Finds Emmy Rossum
By Andrew Gans

Hollywood June 13, 2003 (Playbill) - A 16-year-old New Yorker, Emmy Rossum, has landed a lead role in the upcoming film of Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Phantom of the Opera.

Really Useful Films announced June 13 that Rossum will play opera singer Christine Daae, whose voice is inspired by the Phantom. Already an acclaimed opera singer, Rossum has been performing with the Metropolitan Opera since the age of seven. She appeared in the television productions "The Audrey Hepburn Story," "Songcatcher" and "An American Rhapsody" and was recently seen in Clint Eastwood's "Mystic River" at the Cannes Film Festival.

Rossum will join 33-year-old Scottish actor Gerard Butler, who will play the title role, created on stage in London and on Broadway by Tony Award winner Michael Crawford. Butler began his career on the stage opposite Ewan McGregor in the stage adaptation of "Trainspotting." His feature-film credits include "Mrs. Brown," "Tomorrow Never Dies," "Dracula 2000" and "Reign of Fire."

Joel Schumacher will direct the feature-film version of Lloyd Webber's musical, which begins principal photography Sept. 15 at the Pinewood Studios in the U.K.

Lloyd Webber recently bought the Phantom film rights back from Warner Bros., although Warner Bros. will distribute the film in North America; Entertainment Film Distributors will distribute the film in the U.K. with Odyssey International handling international sales.

Official Emmy Rossum website -

Woody Allen Appears in Pro-France Video
Associated Press Writer

NEW YORK June 13, 2003 (AP) - America's leaders may have quibbles with France, but Woody Allen is in love with French kissing — not "freedom" kissing. And the American director is letting the world know it.

Long popular in France, he appears in a promotional video aimed at luring tourists back to the land of champagne, now that the war in Iraq is officially over.

"I don't want to have to refer to my French-fried potatoes as freedom fries and I don't want to have to freedom-kiss my wife when what I really want to do is French-kiss her," the 67-year-old New Yorker says in the seven-minute film produced by the French government, titled "Let's Fall in Love Again."

Joining Allen are other Francophiles, including jazz musician Wynton Marsalis, Paris Review magazine editor George Plimpton and star chef Daniel Boulud — all appearing free of charge.

Also praising France in the video is Chris Jensen, who visited the country with fellow New York City firefighters after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack — at the expense of French tourism officials.

"The firehouse hasn't been the same. It's too bad we can't use the wine," Jensen says in the video, after his group was treated to a French culinary session with chef Paul Bocuse while in France.

The soundtrack includes "J'ai Deux Amours" ("I Have Two Loves") sung by the late Josephine Baker (news), an American who lived in Paris and presented the Vincent Scotto song at a 1930 Paris revue.

The video promoting France was shown to media representatives in 14 U.S. cities, in hopes of spreading the word that Americans are welcome in France — their visits eased by special travel and hotel deals.

For months, France was a hard sell as a tourist destination after vocally opposing America's war efforts in Iraq.

One Web site published a list of French companies to boycott, while merchants selling French wine to Americans urged consumers to keep buying French wines.

Relations between the two allies reached their lowest level in decades.

In the first quarter of 2003, amid a bad economy and a general fear of travel during wartime, there were an estimated 15 percent to 20 percent fewer Americans visiting France, compared to the same period a year earlier, according to preliminary statistics issued by the French Government Tourist Office.

Last year, about 2.7 million Americans visited France.

The Iraq-linked French-American friction follows last year's reaction to a spate of anti-Semitic attacks in France. American Jewish groups advised Americans attending the Cannes Film Festival to speak out against the incidents — or to stay away.

Allen, who is Jewish, showed up in Cannes and said that he "never felt the French people were in any way anti-Semitic."

Now, the director says he hopes the two nations will put their differences behind them.

Recently, President Bush — headed for the Middle East — stopped in Evian, France, to meet with French President Jacques Chirac. The two men smiled and shook hands for the cameras.

For his part touting France, Allen stood in the courtyard of a Manhattan theater, and said: "The United States and France have been great friends and great, great allies going back many, many years."

His defense of France is timely: In his latest comedy film, "Hollywood Ending," Allen plays a filmmaker whose latest movie bombs at home and is a hit in France. His agent tells him: "Here, you're a bum, there you're a genius."

The filmmaker responds: "Thank God the French exist."

French Tourist Office:

David Bowie Tour A Reality

LONDON June 16, 2003 (Reuters) - British singer David Bowie will perform in London, Birmingham and Manchester in November as part of his first global tour for nearly a decade.

Tickets for the three UK concerts went on sale Monday through Web site

The "A Reality" tour will also include concerts in Dublin, Copenhagen, Stockholm, Helsinki, Oslo, Rotterdam and Milan on its European leg.

Venues in North America and elsewhere have yet to be announced.

Bowie is one of the world's richest music stars thanks to a string of hit albums and singles in the 1970s and 1980s including "The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust," "Heroes" and "Low."

In recent years he has continued to record new material, with less success, while concentrating on other ventures including internet radio and Web sites.

The British and Irish dates are Manchester MEN Arena on Nov. 17, Birmingham NEC Arena on November 19, Dublin The Point on Nov. 22 and London Wembley Arena on Nov. 25.

Official David Bowie site -

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