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Sixth Extinction!
World Peace, Planet Sedna!
Otero Mesa, Teotihuacán,
Io's Lakes, Wonderfalls & More!
The Sixth Extinction!

AP Science Writer 

WASHINGTON March 20, 2004 (AP) - A steep decline in birds, butterflies and native plants in Britain supports the theory that humans are pushing the natural world into the Earth's sixth big extinction event and the future may see more and more animal species disappearing.

In an effort that sent more than 20,000 volunteers into every corner of England, Scotland and Wales to survey wildlife and plants, researchers found that many native populations are in big trouble and some are gone altogether. 

"This is the first time, for instance, that we can answer the question, 'Have butterflies declined as badly as birds?'" said Jeremy A. Thomas, an ecologist with the National Environment Research Council in Dorchester, England, and the first author of a study appearing in the journal Science. 

A survey of 58 butterfly species found that some had experienced a 71 percent population swoon since similar surveys taken from 1970 through 1982. Some 201 bird species were tracked between 1968 and 1971, and then again from 1988 to 1991, with a population decline of about 54 percent. 

Two surveys of 1,254 native plant species showed a decrease of about 28 percent over 40 years.

Thomas said that other scientists, noting losses of mammals and other animals, have speculated about the loss of insects, but the British butterfly study is the first to actually document over decades such a steep decline. 

"Population extinctions were recorded in all the main ecosystems of Britain," Thomas and his co-authors wrote. This supports the theory, they said, that "the biological world is approaching the sixth major extinction event in its history." 

Thomas said that some past extinctions have killed off more than 90 percent of all life forms and "nobody is suggesting we are at that point." 

But, he said, "if this goes on for the foreseeable future then within a short period in geological time we will be getting toward the level of a major extinction." 

Scott Miller, a biologist with the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History, said the British study was impressive in its thoroughness. He said, "They may not be representative of the world as a whole, but they have the best data."

The data support the idea that the rise of humans over tens of thousands of years — along with climate changes — is reshaping the natural world in ways that aren't thoroughly understood. 

Scientists have identified five extinction events in Earth's history, with some so severe that more than 90 percent of all life forms died. The last and most famous extinction was the Cretaceous-Tertiary event some 63 million years ago that killed the dinosaurs and allowed the rise of mammals. It is thought to have been caused by an asteroid hitting Earth. 

"We are in the middle of a sixth extinction event that began about 50,000 years ago" with the expanding role in the world of human beings, said Paul S. Martin, a zoologist and geochemist at the University of Arizona in Tucson. "It's happening, but it's slower and it is not clear it will be as severe as some of the others." 

Stuart Pimm, an ecologist at Duke University, said in Science that the British study results "show that we have likely underestimated the magnitude of the pending extinctions." 

Miller and Martin both point to the hundreds of species, mostly large animals and birds, that already are gone, some wiped out directly through human action. 

Martin said the fossil records show that the disappearance of many animals in Australia, Madagascar and North America started about the time that humans arrived. Gone from the natural North American environment, for instance, are mammoths, camels, giant sloths and saber-toothed tigers. 

The causes of the other extinctions are not well understood. The largest ended the Permian Period some 250 million years ago. All but about 4 percent of all species disappeared then. There were three other lesser-known events in the Ordovician (435 million years ago), the Devonian (357 million years ago) and the Triassic (198 million years ago) periods.

Spaniards Protest Against Iraq War and 3-11 Attacks

By Emma Graham-Harrison

MADRID March 20, 2004 (Reuters) - Chanting "bring back the troops," Spaniards on Saturday protested against the Iraq occupation as police pressed inquiries into bombings that may have been radical Muslim revenge for Spain's support of the war.

The demonstrations, part of worldwide rallies on the anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, came a week after the surprise election of a new Socialist government that has indicated it will pull Spanish troops out of Iraq. 

"It's a total outrage," said Adrian Moazas, 13, at a march of at least 10,000 people through Madrid's historic center. "I'm protesting against the war and the attacks." 

Demonstrations took place all over Spain from midday. 

"I want to remind both the government and the terrorists that Spanish society said 'No' to the war," film producer Lila Pla Alemany said on her way to a protest in Barcelona, Spain's second city. "The government took the country to war, but it was ordinary people who got hurt and killed by the terrorists."

Acts of commemoration and minutes of silence also took place to honor victims of the Madrid train blasts believed to be the first Islamist strike in the West since the September 11, 2001 attacks on New York and Washington. 

Last year's strong Spanish opposition to the Iraq war has resurfaced since the March 11 train bombings that killed 202 and wounded more than 1,800. 

Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar's government was widely criticized for hastily blaming armed Basque separatists ETA for the attacks, and the ruling party lost a March 14 election in the charged political climate. 

On election eve a purported spokesman for al Qaeda claimed responsibility for the attacks, calling them retaliation for Spanish backing of U.S.-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. 

Incoming Socialist leader Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero has labeled the war and occupation a "disaster" and "fiasco," and said Spain's 1,300 troops will come home unless the United Nations takes over in Iraq by mid-year.


Police pursuing leads on a possible al Qaeda link have rounded up 10 suspects and say there will be more arrests. The 10 include six Moroccans, two Indians and one Spaniard. The nationality of the 10th detainee has not been made public. 

The Spaniard, a miner, led four Moroccans to an explosives store from where they stole the dynamite for the synchronized blasts on four early morning commuter trains coming into central Madrid, newspaper El Pais said on Saturday. 

A Spanish judge has accused three Moroccans of 190 murders and of belonging to a terrorist group. The two Indians were accused of cooperating with a terrorist group. 

Those five denied any links to Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network and said they were asleep at the time of the attacks. 

The party atmosphere at many of Saturday's demonstrations contrasted with the somber mood when nearly 12 million Spaniards poured on to the streets the day after the bombs. 

One man in Madrid danced on stilts wearing a white anti-war T-shirt, while others banged drums, released balloons, or waved Cuban, Iraqi and Palestinian flags. 

"Your War, Our Dead" and "No Blood for Petrol" read placards waved by the crowd. One group carried a banner saying "Killers" and portraying U.S. soldiers next to the name of a Spanish TV cameraman Jose Couso killed by U.S. fire in Iraq a year ago.

Muslim Veil Could Cut Cancer Risk?
RIYADH March 19, 2004 (Reuters) - Veiled women are protecting more than their modesty - they are also less prone to nose and throat cancers because their veils screen out viruses, a Canadian doctor was quoted Friday as saying. 

Professor Kamal Malaker said women in Saudi Arabia, many of whom wear a full face-covering veil, suffered a low rate of the Epstein Barr Virus which causes nasopharyngeal cancer. 

"The hijab (veil) is a protection against upper respiratory tract infection," the Saudi Gazette quoted Malaker as saying. "In the kingdom, nasopharyngeal throat cancer ailment is very low among women as compared to men." 

"It is interesting how a very simple social custom can have a profound effect on a human's life," said Malaker, head of radiation oncology at King Abdul Aziz hospital in the conservative Muslim kingdom.
Planet Sedna!

California March 15, 2004 (BBC) - The distant object that some astronomers think could be the Solar System's 10th planet may have a moon.

The new planetary candidate, which has been named Sedna, rotates more slowly on itself than expected, suggesting it may have a satellite orbiting it. 

One of the scientists who found Sedna has been giving further details of its discovery at a news conference. Observations show it measures less than 1,700km (about 1,000 miles) in diameter, which is smaller than Pluto. 

"We think that there's evidence there is a satellite around Sedna," said Dr Mike Brown, of the California Institute of Technology, US, and leader of the research team that found the body.

"We're hoping in the very near future to get some observations from the Hubble Space Telescope that should put that question to rest." 

Sedna was first seen on 14 November 2003 with the 48-inch Samuel Oschin Telescope at California's Mount Palomar Observatory. Astronomers from the California Institute of Technology, Yale University and the Gemini Observatory were involved in the discovery. 

Sedna, which is named after the Inuit goddess of the ocean, is both very shiny and very red - the reddest object in the Solar System after Mars. 

Sedna, or 2003 VB12, as it was originally designated, is the most distant object yet found orbiting our Sun. It is currently three times further away than Pluto (average distance to the Sun is 5.9 billion km or 3.6 billion miles). 

"The Sun appears so small from that distance that you could completely block it out with the head of a pin," said Dr Brown. He added that, in his view, the object's apparently small size suggested it should not be classified as a true planet. 

Dr Brown suggested the "planetoid" was probably half-rock and half-ice, but further work was needed to verify this. Follow-up studies by the Tanagra Observatory have measured the thermal radiation coming from Sedna to help provide some estimate of its size. 

Researchers believe that Sedna's surface temperature is about -240 degrees Celsius (-400 degrees Fahrenheit). The object is usually even colder, because it approaches the Sun only briefly during its 10,500-year solar orbit.  At its most distant, Sedna is 130 billion km (84 billion miles) from our star, which is 900 times Earth's solar distance (149 million km or 93 million miles). 

Although Sedna could be a so-called Kuiper Belt object, its discoverers doubt this. The object's elliptical orbit is unlike anything previously seen by astronomers. It could be the first detection of the long-hypothesized "Oort cloud", a faraway repository of small icy bodies that supplies some of the comets that streak by Earth. 

The cloud is believed to surround the Sun and extend outward halfway to the nearest star. But Sedna is 10 times closer than the predicted distance of the Oort cloud. Dr Brown said this "inner Oort cloud" might have been formed by gravity from a rogue star near the Sun in the Solar System's early days. 

"What we think must have happened is that early in the history of the Solar System there must have been many, more stars very close to the Sun than there are now," he added. "And the reason that would have happened is if when the Sun was born, it was born in a cluster with many, many other stars tightly bound together." 

In recent years, astronomical work has thrown up several big objects beyond Neptune. 

Quaoar, found in 2002, is about 1,200km (745 miles) across. Ixion, discovered in 2001, is 1,065 km (660 miles) wide. Varuna, detected in 2000, has a diameter of approximately 900 km (560 miles). And only in February this year, scientists announced the discovery of the object 2004 DW, which is thought to be 1,600km (995 miles) across. 

The new discovery will reignite the debate about what constitutes a planet. 

One group of astronomers believes that Pluto is not a true planet but merely one of the largest of a vast number of minor objects in the outer Solar System. These scientists would like to see it demoted. 

So far, astronomy's governing body, the International Astronomical Union, has refused to do so.

Asteroid Misses Earth

Associated Press Writer 

PASADENA March 20, 2004 (AP) - A 100-foot-diameter asteroid passed close but harmlessly by Earth on Thursday, astronomers said.  The hurtling rock passed about 26,500 miles above the southern Atlantic Ocean at 2:08 p.m. PST. 

It was the closest recorded encounter between Earth and an asteroid, said Steven Chesley, an astronomer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory who works on a program looking for such objects. 

Such encounters, however, are actually believed to occur at the rate of one every two years and have simply not been detected, he said. 

"There certainly have been closer encounters that we didn't know about," he added. 

Astronomers were continuing to observe the asteroid, 2004 FH, which was expected to be beyond the moon's orbit by early Friday. It won't come fairly close to Earth again until 2044, when it will be within 930,000 miles. 

Chesley said there was a lingering chance, on the order of one in a million, that it could hit sometime in the future, but that possibility is expected to be eliminated as its orbit is further refined. 

The asteroid was close enough to Earth on Thursday to be visible through binoculars from vantage points in the southern hemisphere, Asia and Europe, Chesley said. 

If it had hit Earth it likely would have broken up in the atmosphere. Its shock wave could have been strong enough to break windows on the ground, but nothing like the disastrous climate-changing effects that could result from the impact of an asteroid more than a half-mile in diameter, he said. 

Astronomers had to scramble to observe 2004 FH because it was only discovered late Monday during a survey by two telescopes in New Mexico. 

Near-Earth Object Program:

Lincoln Near Earth Asteroid Research program:

Otero Mesa

By Chris Roberts
Associated Press 

HUECO VILLAGE, Texas March 19, 2004 (AP) — An oil man gazes out over the vast New Mexico grasslands known as Otero Mesa and envisions a pipeline linking wells that produce clean-burning natural gas and keep fuel prices down.

An ecologist sees a unique ecosystem that is home to hundreds of species of animals and plants and wants it to stay that way.

What happens next is up to the federal government, and officials are getting plenty of input from people like oil and gas producer George Yates and grasslands expert Walter Whitford.

This stretch of high desert is turning into a battlefield for broader questions about oil and gas drilling on public lands across the country.

The Bush administration has pushed for increased development, notably in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Democratic candidates campaigning in New Mexico earlier this year all pledged greater protection for the mesa, and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson described it as "sacred."

Dotted with cholla cactus and yucca and grazed by antelope, Otero Mesa is an hour's drive east of El Paso, Texas. The mesa covers roughly 2 million acres of Chihuahua desert grassland, extending about 40 miles north of the Texas-New Mexico line.

In 1998, a test well drilled by Yates' company indicated enough natural gas reserves to justify a pipeline, and a rush on drilling permits began. That prompted the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), which owns the land, to revise the area's 1986 management plan. The revision is expected to be finalized in May or June by the state BLM director.

The plan would allow drilling of 140 test wells, with 84 going into production. It would close about 88,000 acres to leasing and temporarily close another 35,800 of potential wildlife habitat while the effects of development are evaluated.

The land bureau, which is bound by a multiple-use mandate, says the proposal provides more protection than the old plan by limiting the overall amount of disturbance as well as on some of the leased plots.

Interior Secretary Gale Norton called it "the most restrictive fluid minerals plan ever developed by the Bureau of Land Management."

Linda Rundell, the land bureau's state director, said she doesn't see the mesa ever being a big gas and oil producer. On the roughly 70,000 acres of federal land in the area that has been leased for oil and gas development, there are now only two successful wells.

"We're talking about something, to us, that seems like small potatoes," she said.

No one seems to be happy, and there are whispers of political influence.

Yates — president of the Roswell, New Mexico–based Harvey E. Yates Co., known as HEYCO — says the proposed rules are too restrictive and will "retard development of the area." He argues that the area is anything but pristine, having been grazed and prospected for many years, and that natural gas drilling is one of the least destructive fuel-extraction methods.

"I do not buy the argument that the land can't be reclaimed after the exploration process," Yates said.

Whitford, a professor emeritus at New Mexico State University who has studied area grasslands for 40 years, says the digging and scraping required for development won't heal easily and could provide a toehold for exotic plant species.

Otero Mesa has the nation's largest contiguous patch of black gramma grass, which isn't available as a commercial seed and takes decades to re-establish itself. The area is also unique for its lack of mesquite, thanks to a stony crust about a foot beneath the topsoil that blocks the taproots of mesquite and other invaders.

Whitford is concerned that digging for pipelines will crack the crust, letting in new plants and changing the food and habitat for the animals.

Environmental groups and New Mexico state officials are threatening legal action if the plan is approved without changes.

They claim politics has polluted the process, saying protections in the land bureau's initial draft were weakened after the 2000 presidential election and noting that Yates' company made more than $200,000 in GOP donations. Yates also hosted a GOP fundraiser attended by Vice President Dick Cheney in 2002.

Norton said administration officials in Washington, D.C., were not involved in creating the plan. Land bureau officials say the changes were made in response to public comment.

"A lot of criticism has been directed that Washington has been directing this, and it's not true," said bureau spokesman Hans Stewart.

Yates says if he were trying to sway opinion, he would be contributing to Democrats. He also said he has never discussed drilling on Otero Mesa with Cheney.

US Will Help Clean Up Atomic Mess
By Louis Charbonneau

WASHINGTON March 19, 2004 (Reuters) — The head of the U.N. atomic watchdog said Thursday the United States would help it clean up all the weapons-grade nuclear material spread across the globe to keep it from from being used in bombs. 

International Atomic Energy Agency chief Mohamed ElBaradei met with Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham to follow up on discussions he had with President Bush this week.

ElBaradei told reporters after the meeting at the Department of Energy that he and Abraham discussed a number of issues, particularly a plan to clean up highly enriched uranium and plutonium still in civilian sites.

"There're about a 100 facilities in 40 countries with research reactors and others that still use highly enriched uranium (HEU). The president agreed that this is unacceptable," ElBaradei said.

The atomic energy agency is pushing a plan under which reactors fueled by HEU would be converted to ones using low-enriched uranium, which would not be suitable for a bomb. The weapons-grade material would be evacuated to Russia, the United States, or elsewhere.

Both the United States and Russia made reactors that used highly enriched uranium, though such reactors have become obsolete.

"A lot of it's Russian," ElBaradei said. "There are 21 Russian HEU reactors around the world."

However, he said, "Irrespective of whether it's Russian, irrespective of whether it's American, we need to clean up the mess, if you like, clean up the potential threat."

Asked who would pay for the recovery of the HEU and conversion of the plants, ElBaradei said, "I don't think the resources are an issue."

Earlier this month, the IAEA supervised an airlift to Russia of enriched uranium from a reactor near Tripoli, the Libyan capital. It said the metal was almost pure enough to be used in a nuclear weapon. Libya has agreed to give up its weapons of mass destruction programs.

The IAEA has often said the chances of terrorists being able to build a full-scale nuclear weapon were slim. It says the real danger was that terrorists would make a "dirty bomb" — a conventional bomb laced with radioactive material.

A dirty bomb would cause more panic than actual physical damage, nuclear experts say.

It would take 55 to 80 pounds of highly enriched uranium to make a conventional nuclear bomb, but a Vienna-based nuclear expert said that it would be possible to make a crude nuclear-fission device with "just a few kilos" of HEU. The result would be "a very badly done — but done — nuclear weapon," he said.

Maps of US Nuclear Power Reactors (general locations) -
Teotihuacán Muons

By Alistair Bell

TEOTIHUACAN, Mexico March 16, 2004 (Reuters) - Remnants of space dust that constantly shower the world are helping unlock the secrets of a 2,000-year-old Mexican pyramid where the rulers of a mysterious civilization may lie buried.

Deep under the huge Pyramid of the Sun, north of Mexico City, physicists are installing a device to detect muons, subatomic particles that are left over when cosmic rays hit Earth.

The particles pass through solid objects, leaving tiny traces which the detector will measure, like an X-ray machine, in a search for burial chambers inside the monolith.

Since there are fewer muons in an empty space than in solid rock or earth, scientists will be able to spot any holes inside the pyramid, a sacred site in the city of Teotihuacán, which rose and fell around the same time as ancient Rome.

"If we detect an area where there is less density than expected, that gives us an indication that there is probably a hole there," said Arturo Menchaca, head of the National Autonomous University's physics institute.

Archaeologists would then likely tunnel into the pyramid in the hope of finding a burial chamber and solving the riddle of who ruled the city now known as Teotihuacán, also home to the smaller Pyramid of the Moon and a huge temple to a fierce serpent god.

Housing 150,000 people at its apogee, the city exerted influence over territory stretching hundreds of miles, to modern-day Guatemala, but no one knows its true ancient name or who its founders were.

The name Teotihuacán ("The Place Where Men Become Gods") was given by awed Aztecs who inhabited the area 700 years after the city was abandoned around A.D. 600. The Aztecs were stunned by the monumental buildings and precise city planning.

A Nobel Prize-winning scientist, Luis Alvarez of the University of California at Berkeley, used muon technology in a scan of the Khephren pyramid in Egypt in the 1960s.

"Alvarez proved there were no hidden chambers in that pyramid, and it is now in scientific literature," said Menchaca, dressed in a hard hat in a cave directly under the Pyramid of the Sun.

His team built the muon detector at a cost of $500,000 in the Mexican university's labs, and he plans to install it in the coming months in the cave below the 206-feet-high (63-meter-high) pyramid.

Used for religious ceremonies several thousand years ago, the dark, humid cave is linked to the outside by a narrow tunnel passable only by one person at a time.

A prototype detector set up in the cave has already found the first muons in the pyramid overhead. The physicists hope to detect around 100 million of the particles in a year of tests after the gadget proper is set up in a few months' time.

Muon technology could also be used by U.S. border agents in the war on terror, says the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico.

"It's very credible. We have developed a muon detector system that can be used for national security to detect nasty things in containers and trailers that we don't want to enter the country," laboratory spokesman Kevin Roark said.

Muons, born when energy particles from space collide with the Earth's troposphere, constantly bombard us but are harmless and almost unnoticeable.

When they pass by a detector, muons ionize gas trapped between two plates, which in turn causes an electric current that can be measured.

The method is more accurate, cheaper, and more versatile than X-rays but has only been developed in recent decades due to advances in subatomic physics.

At Teotihuacán, archaeologists hope the muon detector will be able to show whether the pyramid, as well as being the city's state temple, is the last resting place for a king, or perhaps several.

Archaeologist Linda Manzanilla, Mexico's leading expert on the site, reckons the city in its early days may have been run by a coalition of four rulers, and not a single king like the Maya or Aztec civilizations in ancient Mexico.

"It is likely that those who started the four-way system, the first four, are the ones who would be inside the Pyramid of the Sun," she said.

The number four is a constant theme in the city, split into four different residential zones. A vessel from Teotihuacán found elsewhere shows four figures who appear to be co-rulers around a god of thunder, Teotihuacán's state deity. 

"Teotihuacán is up there with Rome, one of the biggest preindustrial cities in the world. Constantinople is also maybe there, but no Chinese city was of this magnitude. Egypt didn't even have cities," Manzanilla said.

The Pyramid of the Sun was probably a fertility symbol built around A.D. 80 and shaped like a mountain to counteract the evil influence of two nearby volcanoes known to have gone through unusually violent eruptions at the time.

Nobody knows what ethnic roots the city's inhabitants had or what language they spoke as they left no written records.

"I wish they would invent a time tunnel and we can hear them speak. What ethnic group did they represent?" said Manzanilla.

Neanderthals Versus Humans
By Larry O'Hanlon
Discovery News

California March 17, 2004 (Discovery) — The verdict is in: humans and Neanderthals did not date — much. 

Genetic evidence from Neanderthal and early human bones indicates that if there was any intermixing of the two species, it was so little that it left no genetic trace. The discovery was published in the current edition of PloS Biology. 

"I thought this was an incredibly significant paper," said Stanford University anthropologist Richard Klein. "So much of the time in paleoanthropology and other 'softer' sciences the arguments seem to go on forever."

This work by a team of European scientists led by Svante Paabo finally brings some solid evidence into the matter, he said. 

For years anthropologists have been debating whether humans, when they wandered north into Europe from Africa more then 30,000 years ago, might have interbred with Neanderthals who lived there, said Klein. The evidence, until now, was mostly restricted to the shape of fossil bones.

Now, by isolating the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) from four Neanderthals and five contemporary European early humans, the team has found no evidence of any noticeable genetic crossover. 

Earlier attempts by Paabo's lab to extract intact genetic material from Neanderthal bones and comparing it to modern humans were inconclusive because of the difficulties of avoiding contaminating the samples with the genetic material of the lab workers who did the work, the researchers explain.

That's why this time they compared the mtDNA from Neanderthals to their contemporary humans — all of whom had mtDNA very different from modern humans.

That's not to say no mixing went on, the researcher cautioned. It would take a lot more samples from a larger number of fossils to rule out small amounts of mixing.

"About 50 early modern human remains would need to be studied to exclude a Neanderthal [sic] mtDNA contribution of ten percent," Paabo and his colleagues reported. "To exclude a five percent contribution, one would need to study more early modern human remains than have been discovered to date." 

So the final word on how little the Neanderthals contributed to the modern human gene pool is that it's impossible to say. 

For Klein's part, he suspects that humans and Neanderthals were just too different to find each other romantically interesting. "It's not that they couldn't, perhaps, but they probably weren't interested."

Early humans would have probably found Neanderthals very odd-looking and strange-acting, said Klein. So odd-looking, he said, that if you dressed a Neanderthal in a suit and put him on a subway, most people would probably move to another car. 

The very prominent jaw and cheekbones, the large nose, as well as the swept-back forehead and low I.Q., would probably make a Neanderthal appear repulsive to most humans.

The Lava Lakes of Io

University at Buffalo State University of New York Press Release

BUFFALO March 19, 2004 - Investigations into lava lakes on the surface of Io, the intensely volcanic moon that orbits Jupiter, may provide clues to what Earth looked like in its earliest phases, according to researchers at the University at Buffalo and NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. 

"When I look at the data, it becomes startlingly suggestive to me that this may be a window onto the primitive history of Earth," said Tracy K. P. Gregg, Ph.D., assistant professor of geology in the UB College of Arts and Sciences. 

"When we look at Io, we may be seeing what Earth looked like when it was in its earliest stages, akin to what a newborn baby looks like in the first few seconds following birth," she added. 

Gregg and Rosaly M. Lopes, Ph.D., research scientist at JPL, gave a presentation about Io's volcano, Loki, on Tuesday (March 16, 2004) at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in Houston. 

Scientists have been interested in Loki, considered the most powerful volcano in the solar system, because of debate over whether or not it is an active lava lake, where molten lava is in constant contact with a large reservoir of magma stored in the planet's crust. 

Using models developed to investigate temperature changes on active lava lakes on Earth, Gregg and Lopes have concluded that Loki behaves quite differently from terrestrial lava lakes. 

Gregg suggests that Loki and other lava lakes on Io might be more similar volcanologically to fast-spreading mid-ocean ridges on Earth, like the Southern East Pacific Rise. 

According to Gregg, plate tectonics on Earth make these features long -- as in thousands of kilometers -- and narrow -- as in less than 10 kilometers wide. Io, on the other hand, has no plate tectonics and a similar release of heat and magma would be circular, like Loki. 

"These lava lakes could be an Ionian version of mid-ocean ridges," functioning the way these ridges do on Earth, spilling huge amounts of lava on its surface, thus generating new crust, she said. 

During the most intense periods of its eruption cycle, Gregg said, Loki churns out about 1,000 square meters of lava -- about the size of a soccer field -- per second. 

"All planets start out hot and spend their 'lifetimes' trying to get cold," explained Gregg. This effort by planets to "chill," she explained, is an attempt to attain a similar temperature to that of outer space, which is 4 Kelvin, or minus 269 degrees Celsius. 

On Earth, she explained, the shifting of the planet's tectonic plates, which focus the eruption of volcanoes at their boundaries, function to cool down the planet's surface. Io never developed plate tectonics because it is stuck in an incessant orbit between Jupiter and Europa, another of the Jovian planet's moons. 

"Io just never grew up," she said, "since it's continually being pushed around by Jupiter and Europa." But, she added, Earth only developed plate tectonics after it had been in existence for perhaps 200 to 500 million years. 

Gregg and Lopes analyzed data obtained by the Galileo spacecraft, which orbited Jupiter for 14 years, finally disintegrating in Jupiter's atmosphere last fall. 

The University at Buffalo is a premier research-intensive public university, the largest and most comprehensive campus in the State University of New York.

University at Buffalo -

How High Heels?
Institute of Physics UK Press Release

March 19, 2004 - As Sex and the City's Carrie finally wanders off the UK's television screens, physicists at the Institute of Physics in London have devised a formula that high-heel fans can use to work out just how high they can go. Based on your shoe size, the formula tells you the maximum height of heel you can wear without toppling over or suffering agonies. 

h = Q•(12+3s /8) 

h is the maximum height of the heel (in cm)
Q is a sociological factor and has a value between 0 and 1 (see below to work this out)
S is the shoe size (UK ladies sizes). This factor makes sure that the base of support is just good enough for an experienced and sober, high-heel wearer not to fall over. 

"Although at first glance our formula looks scary" said Dr Paul Stevenson of the University of Surrey who carried out the research for the Institute, "It's actually pretty simple as it's based on the science you learnt at school and which you never thought you would use in real life, in this case Pythagoras' theorem 1 Applying this to shoes can tell us just how high the heel of the foot can be lifted above the ground." 

Dr Stevenson went on to describe how 'Q' – the essential sociological factor had been worked out. 

"Essentially this part of the formula explains what women have always known – that you don't buy shoes just because they are comfortable, you can afford them and they look good – many other variables come into play" 

'Q' is defined as follows: 

p • (y+9) • L 
Q =  ----------------------------------
(t+1) • (A+1) • (y+10) • (L+£20)

The variables are: 

p – the probability that wearing the shoes will help you 'pull' (in a range from 0 to 1, where 1 is pwhooar and 0 is stick to carpet slippers). If the shoes are a turn-off, there's no point wearing them. 

y – the number of years experience you have in wearing high heels. As you become more adept, you can wear a higher heel. Beginners should take it easy. 

L – the cost of the shoes, in pounds. Clearly, if the shoe is particularly expensive, you can put up with a higher heel. 

t – the time since the shoe was the height of fashion, in months (0 = it's the 'in thing' right now!). One has to suffer for one's art, and if the shoes are terribly fashionable, you should be prepared to put up with a little pain. 

A – units of alcohol consumed. If you're planning on drinking, be careful to give yourself a little leeway for reduced coordination. 

So using this formula, if Carrie Bradshaw, who is an experienced high-heel wearer (let's guess at 5 years experience) wears her latest drop-dead gorgeous designer originals when sober, she can cope with a heel height of a staggering 12.5 centimeters (just over 5 inches.) However, if she over-indulges in cocktails, the 'safe' heel height (and perhaps also Carrie) plummets. Using the same example as above, if she consumes 6 units of alcohol she would be better advised to stick to shoes with only 2cm heels. 

Laura Grant, a physicist from Liverpool University welcomes the Institute's new formula commenting, "many of my physicist colleagues have no trouble understanding quantum mechanics but can't figure out how women can wear high heels. Now I can explain to them how I minimize the probability of tripping up".

Institute of Physics UK -

Genre News: Wonderfalls, Century City, Angel, Hellboy, Jeri Ryan, Paul Newman, Little Richard & More!

The Week That Wasn't - Mid-Season Shows Reviled
By FLAtRich

March 20, 2004 (eXoNews) - New shows! Oh, boy!

Oh, well.

Wonderfalls was delightful. I won't try to convince you because people who drop by this site to read about TV will mostly agree. Let's just say that given time, this show could become a big favorite with a large cross-section of viewers.

It has philosophy and depth. It has magic and special effects. It is funny. It has cute gals and guys and a gay character and leaves plenty of questions unanswered, ala X-Files.

In fact, Wonderfalls reminded me of comedy episodes of X-Files or MillenniuM. Likely, considering Tim Minear has a hand in the mix (see below.)

The first two episodes were great but ratings for Wonderfalls aren't so good. Fox paired a rebroadcast of the pilot with Tru last Thursday. Maybe somebody at Zorro Network finally realized that mixing genre shows with genre shows could equal bigger audience?

Nah. They'll never figure that out. Move along.

I did not watch The Stones premiere. Is it just me, or does it take a lot of gall to give a sitcom the same name as one of the most famous rock and roll bands in history? Nice try, CBS, but who wants another sitcom anyway? Thankfully, The Stones was reported "dead on arrival" by at least one critic and was the lowest rated show of the week. All twenty Robert Klein fans watched it, though.

Don't ask. The same critic hated Game Over on UPN. Good because it was awful.

Touching Evil on USA was a surprise. Another cop show, yes, but the two-hour pilot zipped along well. The concept is a cop who was shot in the brain and died for ten minutes and then came back, but not with super powers. Detective Dave Creegan went a little nuts and was off the force in psycho rehab for a year. He's back now, but he's more than a little odd. Not restrained odd like Monk, USA's more acclaimed sleuth, but unrestrained odd. Seems something got knocked out when the bullet hit his gray matter and Creegan has no "shame" when it comes to defeating the big bads.

Jeffrey Donovan is Creegan and Vera Farmiga plays his Scully, Detective Susan Branca. Donovan is crazy but fun - much like series Executive Producer Bruce Willis might have played the part.

Miss Farmiga is very familiar looking and after a while I realized she rather resembles Jennifer Love Hewitt, something I'm not certain she'd want to hear.

USA claims the critics think this is the "best new" cop show, etc. We'll see. Touching Evil airs on USA Fridays at 10 PM while Mr. Monk is on hiatus (Monk returns this summer.) 

I also tuned in for Century City on CBS, and if this is what the future is like in 2030, god help us! Everybody on this show except Kristin Lehman was wearing a strip of dull-colored cloth knotted at the throat. What's with that? Ties suck. Are you really telling me that the future lies in ties?

Thankfully, Miss Lehman contributed more than just her fashion awareness and good looks to Century City's first episode (and she has plenty of both.) She also had some nice scenes and her character Lee May Bristol had a backstory, which is more than can be said for anyone else on the show. It seems Lee May was part of an experimental program to genetically engineer super kids. Some might argue this implausible given Century City's timeline - the show is set in 26 years in the future, so that experimental program would be going on right now - but I'll let it ride because that was the only good sci-fi bit on the show.

The rest of the future according to CBS was truly frightening, but not because of the first episode storyline where people could make clones of themselves. It was truly frightening because CBS is telling us that nothing changes in the next 26 years. (Those were some ugly today suits with those ugly future ties, man!) There was also some embarrassing nonsense about old rock stars, so I guess TV music won't change either.

Gene Roddenberry would shut off his TV and leave town.

Technological wonders of the Century City future will include legal documents printed on transparent paper and transparent computer screens. How the hell can you read something printed on transparent paper, much less a transparent monitor?

Nobody actually did any reading on Century City, of course.

Law courts will be holographic at the hearing stage, but people will still wear today's expensive gold wristwatches and stand around talking a lot during jury trials, which will be held on old Perry Mason sets.

The worst thing about Century City was the premise that cloning would be a moral issue in 26 years. Don't you believe it! It's hardly one now. (They're cloning George Bush and his entire cabinet as you read this sentence.)

The best thing about Century City is Hector Elizondo as Martin Constable and Miss Lehman as Lee May. These two are always welcome in my living room because they have unique style. The rest of the actors could have been cloned from any cast of The Practice. Maybe those less familiar guys will have a chance to break out, maybe not. Given the overall success CBS has been having with drama in the last couple of years, the network doesn't have to keep a series that doesn't score high. Century City didn't.

And speaking of tanking out, Stephen King's Kingdom Hospital was so bad by the third episode that I just turned it off, never to be watched again. Brother, what a dog!

I flipped over to Charlie Chaplin in The Gold Rush on TCM that night.
Now there was a guy who had something original to say, Mr. King.

Wonderfalls Official -

Touching Evil Official -

Century City -


Minear Posts Open Letter to Genre TV Fans
By FLAtRich

March 16, 2004 (eXoNews) - Executive Producer Tim Minear, who has been through it all while working on such TV classics as X-Files, Angel, and Lois and Clark has posted an online plea to genre fans on his website. Tim wants us to watch Wonderfalls on Fox, presumably before it's too late.

Minear was also Joss Whedon's partner on the sci-fi western series Firefly, which failed on Fox last season. Most fans blame the Zorro Network for Firefly's quick exit from TV. Whedon has since resurrected the show as a upcoming feature film at Universal. 

Wonderfalls is the brainchild of Bryan Fuller and Todd Holland. Fuller, a former Trek writer on both DS9 and Voyager, also created the successful pay-tv series Dead Like Me.

Holland is a co-executive producer and director on Fox's Malcolm in the Middle. He also directed episodes of Twin Peaks, Amazing Stories, Eerie Indiana, Larry Sanders and even Friends.

If you mix all these shows together in a barrel and toss them over Niagara Falls, you might get an idea of what Wonderfalls is like, but the best way is to tune in Friday nights at 9PM / 8c. (You can always tape JAG. Nothing much has been happening there lately anyway.)

If you do want to test the waters with something new, you'd better hurry. Wonderfalls debuted a week or so back on Fox, the reality game network, to high praise from critics but low ratings. [We liked it a lot, but we don't watch Fox much any more. Ed.]

"Some of the folks at the network are telling me that 'Wonderfalls' is the best reviewed new series they've had in ages -- maybe ever." Minear says in his open letter. "I'm currently sitting on a stack of raves from all over the country, from major magazines, newspapers, small dailies, internet sites, etc. They seem to be doing me no good. Also, uncomfortable because of the sitting.

"The big brains at the network, while happy with the reviews, tell me that good reviews don't bring in an audience. Guess they were right. We premiered on Friday, March 12th to less than great numbers."

It's no hype that the show and its star Caroline Dhavernas got rave reviews.

The New York Times' Virginia Hefferman reported Wonderfalls "beautifully shot and written with wit... Dhavernas is delightful."

Steve Johnson at the Chicago Tribune said "the series looks and feels like nothing else on television... it all remains, almost magically, in balance, a delicate, roadside-attraction wonderland where mysteries of the cosmos, lowbrow popular culture, family dysfunction, longing and, mostly humor can coexist."

The San Francisco Chronicle's Tim Goodman called Wonderfalls "unquestionably the best new drama series of the 2003-04 season... this is your time to love TV."

Wonderfalls airs Fridays at 9PM / 8c on Fox.

Go to Minear's site to read the rest -

Official Wonderfalls -

Saving Angel Campaign Launches Aggressive Billboard

Los Angeles March 19, 2004 (PRWEB) - In an effort to bring the attention of network executives and Hollywood movers-and-shakers to the campaign to save Angel, Save Angel ( and took the streets with a mobile Billboard campaign.

A 10' x 22' billboard, mounted on both sides of a truck, began winding through the streets of Los Angeles. The billboard campaign follows-up on ads placed in Variety Magazine and Hollywood Reporter.

The campaign wants other Angel fans to know "if a special event comes up, please contact us at, and we'll do our best to get the truck there."

Please check out the Saving Campaign website for more!

Saving Angel: "We Will Follow Angel To Hell...Or Another Network" -  and

Angel's Food Drive
Press Release

Los Angeles March 18, 2004 - Fans of the WB's 'Angel' have been up in arms since news of the show's cancellation was made public in February. Having raised thousands of dollars for ads, billboards and various promotional campaigns, fans refuse to let their hero slip from the network's 2004-2005 season lineup.

A new fan campaign focuses on 'Helping the Helpless', in honor of Angel, the show's titular hero, who has spent the past five years atoning for the sins he committed as a soulless vampire. In an attempt to capture the attention of 'The Powers That Be' at the WB, a website has been set up at and a discussion group has been formed at

Fans are encouraged to visit the website and donate to the Los Angeles Regional Foodbank. Donations are accepted online, by phone or regular mail. Links are available to allow fans to contact the media after donating. A Pledge Book allows fans to leave their names, contribution amount and a message. 

The campaign will run from March 17th through the 31st.

Angel's Food Drive -

4 More Years of Jon Stewart
AP Television Writer 

NEW YORK March 19, 2004 (AP) - Whoever runs for president in 2008 will be covered by Jon Stewart on "The Daily Show." The star of the Comedy Central mock newscast has re-upped for four more years, the cable channel announced Thursday. 

"A lot of people like to get out when their show's still going well," Stewart said. "This gives me the opportunity to beat this thing into the ground." 

Besides hosting "The Daily Show," Stewart serves as an executive producer and writer. His contract had been set to expire at the end of this year.  Stewart joined the program in January 1999, taking over for Craig Kilborn. It premiered in 1996.

The original idea of a parody newscast has grown during Stewart's tenure into a leading source of topical satire — and, oddly enough, even a primary news source for some viewers.  So far this year, viewership has averaged 1 million for the weeknight 11 p.m. EST airing — an all-time high for the show. 

The program has won several Emmys as well as a Peabody Award for its yearlong "Indecision 2000" political coverage. On "The Daily Show," Stewart and his "correspondents" skewer both politicians and the media who cover them. 

"Of course, it is still eight months to Election Day," he declared on a recent broadcast, "but the campaign is starting to fall into its own natural rhythm: falsely macho Kerry comment, falsely indignant Bush response." 

But "The Daily Show" pokes fun at nothing more than itself. 

Earlier this week the program cried foul upon learning that the Bush administration had released simulated news features to TV stations that promoted certain Bush policies.  How, wailed "Daily Show" senior media ethicist Rob Corddry, could a little show like his hope to compete with the federal government in producing fake news? 

"The Daily Show" will continue to report on the Bush vs. Kerry face-off, going on the road to Boston during the Democratic National Convention in July and covering the Republican National Convention from the show's home base in New York.

The Daily Show Official -

Ron Perlman on Hellboy 

Hollywood March 18, 2004 (Sci Fi Wire) - Ron Perlman told SCI FI Wire that Hellboy director Guillermo del Toro fought a long battle for him to play the title demon-gone-good in his big-screen adaptation of the Dark Horse comic book.
Hellboy opens April 2.

"Guillermo could have made the movie on many occasions if he wasn't hellbent on having Ron Perlman play Hellboy," the actor said in an interview.

"There was such a magical coming together of forces along the way that made this so sweet for me and for Guillermo." Perlman, who had previously appeared in del Toro's films Cronos and Blade 2, added, "Guillermo got to make this film and he got to make it totally on his own terms.

I finally got to break through and got to play the role and ride a horse that was as big and as unwieldy as this. Hellboy is just a labor of love. It's been made in a spirit that's pretty rare in a world that's kind of bottom-line. So, we really enjoyed every moment of it, every aspect of filmmaking. The shoot was idyllic and joyful and full of good humor and passion. Guillermo's spent the past seven months holed up [in an editing room] putting the finishing touches on it, and pretty soon everyone will get to see what we got ourselves into."

The actor went on to note that he's optimistic about Hellboy because del Toro, during their phone conversations in recent days, told him that he's "incredibly happy" with the way in which the film is coming together.

"It's always been his baby and I've always felt if he's happy, then I'm happy," Perlman said.

"And he seems really happy. I haven't seen the finished film yet, so one always reserves judgment until one sits down and watches a film from beginning to end. When it's a finished product, a film washes over you and takes on a life of its own. So far I've seen scenes from it, and I'm thrilled."

New House of Wax
By Chris Gardner

LOS ANGELES March 19, 2004 (Hollywood Reporter) - Jared Padalecki ("Gilmore Girls") is preparing to check into "House of Wax", a remake of the 1953 horror classic starring Vincent Price. 

The Warner Bros. film starts shooting in May in Australia, with director Jaume Collet-Serra at the helm. 

Padalecki, fresh from filming a role in Fox's "Flight of the Phoenix," will join Elisha Cuthbert, Chad Michael Murray and Paris Hilton in the remake. He would play the love interest of Cuthbert's character. Padelecki also co-starred in the Olsen twins' "New York Minute," which opens in May.

[But will it be in 3-D? See  where House of Wax is god. Ed.]

Jeri Ryan and Other Pilot News

LOS ANGELES March 17, 2004 ( - "Star Trek: Voyager" and "Boston Public" star Jeri Ryan is reportedly in final negotiations to join Kim Delaney in the supernatural CBS pilot "Sudbury." The erstwhile Seven of Nine leads a round of casting news that also features new work for John Ratzenberger, Henry Winkler and Ethan Embry.

"Sudbury" comes from Warner Bros. TV, Becky Hartman-Edwards and the "Practical Magic" production team of Denise DiNovi and Sandra Bullock. Delaney and Ryan would play sisters in a small town who also just happen to be witches.

Also at CBS, Ratzenberger (an Emmy nominee as Cliff on "Cheers") has joined the network's untitled Andrew Kennedy comedy playing one of the parents of a young couple (Kennedy and Christa Miller).

"CSI: New York" has added a new member of its investigative team in Carmine Giovinazzo ("Black Hawk Down," "Shasta McNasty").

Over on NBC, Jeffrey Nordling ("Once and Again"), Henry Winkler ("Happy Days," "Arrested Development") and Darryl M. Bell ("Homeboys in Outer Space") will star in the comedy pilot "Beverly Hills SUV."

The pilot, from Larry Wilmore ("Whoopi") focuses on salesmen at a Los Angeles SUV dealership and will be directed by James Burrows.

In other NBC casting news, Owain Yeoman (the upcoming "Troy") will appear in the comedy "The Friendlys" opposite Ana Gasteyer and Julie Bowen, playing the British ex-husband of Bowen's character.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, Embry will co-star in FOX's "Lucky Us." The comedy centers on a couple (Chyler Leigh, Embry) who go on a blind date and end up having a baby. "Dutch" star Embry most recently co-starred in Dick Wolf's "Dragnet" update and has appeared in features including "Sweet Home Alabama" and "Timeline."

The UPN drama "Kevin Hill" has added Michael Michele ("ER"), while the ABC comedy "The Savages" will feature Andrew Eiden, Shaun Sipos, Erik Von Detten and Mitchel Musso as four of its central kids.

Paul Newman Does Dalton Trumbo
By Frank Rizzo

NEW HAVEN March 17, 2004 (Variety) - Paul Newman will return to the boards this summer when he takes the title role in "Trumbo," to benefit the Westport Country Playhouse, run by his wife, Joanne Woodward. 

Newman, who last appeared on Broadway in "Our Town" last year, will play the blacklisted writer July 13-15 and July 19-21 as part of Westport Country Playhouse's abridged summer season. Peter Askin directs and Gordon MacDonald will play Trumbo's son. Tickets for the six-performance run will be available only to WCP subscribers and donors of $100 and more. 

This summer's Westport season will be held off-site at the Ridgefield Playhouse for Movies & the Performing Arts. The change of site is due to renovation and expansion at Westport's summer home, expected to be completed next year for its 75th anniversary. 

Making up the shortened two-play season will be Frank McGuinness' "Someone Who'll Watch Over Me," staged by Ethan McSweeney (June 24-July 11), and Moliere's "The School for Husbands," directed by Doug Hughes (July 29-Aug. 15). 

The Westport theater also will present a film series at the Fairfield Community Theater, with actors at screenings to discuss the movies they were in. 

Lineup includes New York Times critic Janet Maslin and Gene Wilder for "Young Frankenstein" June 29; Turner Classic Movies host Robert Osborne and Jane Powell for "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers" July 6; author Stewart Stern and Woodward for "Rachel, Rachel" July 20 (and July 22 at the Ridgefield theater); and critic Susan Granger and Keir Dullea for "2001: A Space Odyssey" Aug. 3.

Westport Country Playhouse website -

The Ridgefield Playhouse website -

Little Richard Reaches the Heart
By Jonathan Cohen 

AUSTIN, Texas March 18, 2004 (Billboard) - Music legend Little Richard put his larger than life personality on display for all to see Thursday during a keynote address at the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas.
Interviewer Dave Marsh could scarcely get a word in edgewise with the artist, who was scheduled to perform later at the Austin Music Hall. 

Rambling from story to story and frequently speaking in rhyme, Richard described his experiences with other rock legends in their formative days.

Of Jimi Hendrix, who played in Richard's band before striking out as a solo act, he said, "Jimi was a ladies man. If he saw a lady, he'd forget everything else. When he was with me, he didn't play that kind of guitar. He played Elmore James, Sonny Boy Williamson and the blues. My brother fired him without my permission."

He recalled turning down an opportunity to sign off on the Beatles' cover of "Good Golly Miss Molly," which the group wanted him to shop around to U.S. record labels.

"I didn't bring the tape," he said. "Now, I wish I did because they offered me 50% of the royalties!" 

On sharing the stage with rising star James Brown: "He came to Macon, with a group called the Flames. They weren't famous but they called themselves the Famous Flames. So I let them come onstage and they sang 'Please Please.' When got through begging for an hour, I had to wait an hour to get my mic back!" 

The artist encouraged up-and-coming artists to devote themselves to their craft, and not be bothered with genre constraints. "Soul ain't nothing but an expression," he says. "You can have soul in classical music or blues or jazz. When you sing from the heart, it reaches the heart." 

Now 71, Richard still tours regularly but admits he has no interest in recording new material.

"I've had offers, but I think, if it ain't broke, don't fix it," he said. "New disc jockeys are going to play new artists. You don't need a record when you get to a certain stage of life. General Electric don't need to make a new light bulb. They're still the electric company. I'm Little Richard and I'm going to be here." 

Little Richard replaced Antonio "L.A." Reid as the keynote speaker after the latter lost his job as president of Arista Records in January.

Unofficial Little Richard fansite -

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