UK Cannibals,
Space Sailors,
and Dick Dale!
Cannibals Feasted In Britain AD 130
LONDON FEBRUARY 27, 2001 (Reuters) - Cannibals feasted in Britain as recently as AD 130, meaning the grisly practice did not die out 10,000 years ago as previously thought, say archaeologists.

A team from Bristol University digging in central England found a 2,000-year-old human thigh bone, which the diner had purposefully split in half lengthways before scooping out the bone marrow.

"It's the first really good evidence that food has been extracted from human carcasses. This practice cannot happen accidentally," Dr Mark Horton, the team leader, told Reuters.

Carbon dating showed the bone was from between 30 BC and AD 130 -- locating it roughly around the time of the Roman conquest. Previously the last evidence of cannibalistic activity in the UK dated back 10,000 years.

"This is the first (such find) in recent history. It's one of a series of what appear to be sacrificial victims," Horton said.

"This region was an important centre for underworld cults ...and this was a highly structured deposit that can only have got there as a result of some form of ritual activity," he said.

The team excavating the cave 10 metres underground in Alveston, Gloucestershire, have found the remains of at least seven people and Horton said there could be as many as 50.

"My guess is that it wasn't widespread. It appears to be a cataclysmic event," he added.

US-Russian Project To Test Space Sail Propelled By Sun's Rays
BY ANDREW BRIDGES
AP Science Writer
 

PASADENA FEBRUARY 27, 2001 (AP) -- A U.S.-Russian group plans to launch a space sail this spring that floats, not on the wind, but on the gentle pressure of the sun's rays.

Backers expect the 30-minute suborbital test flight will show that a tightly packed sail can unfurl in space. A second, more ambitious mission will follow in October, when the group sends a larger version on what it hopes will be a voyage around the Earth.

"We'll count ourselves as successful if we fly even a short time in that mode,'' said Louis Friedman, manager of the Cosmos 1 project and executive director of The Planetary Society, a space advocacy group. "The Wright brothers flew for 12 seconds and they had a successful flight. If we can fly not 12 seconds but 12 minutes, 12 days or 12 weeks, we'll be happy,''

A converted intercontinental ballistic missile will send both missions aloft from a Russian nuclear submarine in the Barents Sea -- an unlikely but relatively inexpensive option that has kept the project's budget to $4 million.

Cosmos Studios, a science-based entertainment company founded by Ann Druyan, widow of the late astronomer Carl Sagan, and Joe Firmage, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur and sometimes UFO investigator, is footing the bill.

"We are proud to be a part of this historic mission, which is a critical baby step to the stars,'' said Druyan, Sagan's longtime collaborator.

Since solar sails were first proposed in the 1920s, scientists have studied the possibility of harnessing the steady pressure of sunlight to propel spacecraft. The advantage is the same boasted by the sailboat: there is no need to carry fuel, which can be expensive to launch into space.

The American and European space agencies, and at least one private company, hope that future missions can rely on the technology.

"If the Planetary Society mission is successful, it will be very useful to NASA,'' said Hoppy Price, manager of solar sail technology development at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Solar-driven spacecraft will be slow to accelerate, but with time should reach velocities that will make travel across great distances possible.

"It allows you to travel, come back and go out again because you don't have to refuel,'' Price said.

The April launch will test the deployment of just two petal-shaped blades of Mylar polyester film. At the end of the brief flight the sail -- about one-fifth as thick as a garbage bag -- will fall to Earth.

For the orbital flight later this year, a larger eight-petal design will be launched. Inflatable trusses will pull the sail material from a canister and become rigid to support the sail's shape. Each of the triangular petals can be turned to steer the spacecraft, allowing it to tack like a sailboat.

"The goal is to be the first solar sail flight,'' Friedman said.

The orbiting spacecraft will gradually spiral away from Earth as sunlight pushes on the 720-square-yard sail. The 88-pound craft will carry two cameras and several instruments and should appear in the night sky as a point of light as bright as the full moon.

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Follow this story at The Planetary Society website - http://www.planetary.org

Hacker Gets Top-Secret Space Codes
STOCKHOLM MARCH 2, 2001 (Reuters) – An unidentified computer hacker has got hold of top secret U.S. computer system codes for guiding space ships, rockets and satellites, a lawyer in Sweden said Friday.

Computer experts raided the offices of an information technology company in Stockholm last month and found a copy of the source codes for the software program OS/COMET developed by U.S. firm Exigent Software Technology, Johan Starell, legal counsel for Exigent in Sweden, told Reuters. A source code contains full details of how a software program works.

OS/COMET has been deployed by the U.S. Air Force on the NAVSTAR Global Positioning System (GPS) Colorado Springs Monitor Station, Exigent said in a statement in December. The suspected source codes theft, carried out remotely over the Internet on Christmas Eve last year from the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory in Washington D.C., was detected on December 27.

The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) was put on the case. The trail led to Freebox.com, an Internet Web server run by the Swedish IT company Carbonide, Starell said.

"A stolen source code was found on their server but nothing indicates they had anything to do with getting it there," Starell told Reuters.

Analyses of the Carbonide server accessed by the hacker known only by the username "LEEIF" showed that the perpetrator had been able to hide his or her true identity by breaking into the account of a genuine Freebox.com client and using that person's Internet account.

"We couldn't get any further information about where it came from or find out if it had been copied and sent elsewhere," he said.

"Sweden seems like a closed chapter. We can't get any further here," he added.

The OS/COMET source code could be used by terrorists to disturb computer systems guiding various space programs or it could have been stolen in industrial espionage for commercial advantage, the Swedish tabloid Expressen reported.

US Probe Finally Goes Silent on Asteroid Eros
By Deborah Zabarenko

WASHINGTON MARCH 2, 2001 (Reuters) - The U.S. spacecraft, NEAR, which beat long odds to land on asteroid Eros, was resting in silence on Thursday after a two-week mission extension to gather bonus scientific data from the space rock's surface.  The bus-sized space probe sent its last pieces of information via NASA's Deep Space Network late Wednesday, ending a five-year voyage that exceeded all expectations.

"This mission has been successful far beyond what was in the original mission plan," mission director Robert Farquhar said in a statement.

Besides orbiting the asteroid for a year, NEAR also got pictures of another asteroid Mathilde and was the first spacecraft ever to land on an asteroid on Feb. 12.

"All this at no extra cost," said Farquhar, who is based at Johns Hopkins University's Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland. "When you talk about 'faster, cheaper, better,' this is what 'better' means."

The $223 million mission, launched in 1996, was expected to end after its year-long scrutiny of Eros. But after accomplishing its central objective scientists decided to try to set it down on the 21-mile-long asteroid, some 196 million miles from Earth.

Not only did the craft land gently enough that its solar panels continued to operate, but it continued to send back data to Earth. that allowed officials at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration to extend the mission by two weeks to receive more data from the craft's Gamma Ray Spectrometer.

"FANTASTIC MISSION"

Jacob Trombka, whose scientific team assesses information from this instrument, was ecstatic.

"It's been quite a fantastic mission, we've been getting good data," Trombka said in a telephone interview from NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center outside Washington.

The spectrometer was built to examine the gamma rays and X-rays on Eros to determine the space rock's composition. X-rays can only "look" at a fine layer of dust on the surface, while gamma ray observation can "see" perhaps 5 inches down.

Most of the time, it did this from NEAR's orbit of Eros, Trombka said, despite a certain amount of distracting background noise. But after the landing of NEAR Shoemaker -- which officially stands for Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous and also honors the late astronomer Gene Shoemaker -- scientists had a better vantage point.

The chemical composition of Eros is important to astronomers seeking clues to the origins of planets like Earth. Eros may in fact be a planetesimal, one of the most primitive bodies in the solar system.

"It's going to take us a couple of years to really get it down," Trombka said of the bonus scientific data collected from Eros's surface. "We're milking the things that are really easy right away ... but it's in the very small details, the things that are excruciating to pull out, where some of the most important scientific discoveries come."

One benefit was instantly apparent to Trombka, though. For years, he said, there had been a push by scientists to put a gamma ray spectrometer on a planetary rover, but officials worried that the delicate instrument might not withstand the jostling over rocky terrain, such as that on Mars.

By landing NEAR -- which was never meant to land -- and beaming back information from the gamma ray spectrometer, Trombka said, "We've gotten basic data to prove that this rover concept can work on planetary surfaces."

More information on the NEAR mission can be viewed online at http://near.jhuapl.edu

Galileo Images Show Slushy Surface on Jupiter's Moon
March 1, 2001 (Reuters) - Digital images of Jupiter's largest moon show a bright flat surface that scientists said on Wednesday was probably caused by eruptions of icy volcanic material.

Using stereo images from the Galileo and Voyager space missions, scientists at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri and researchers in California and Texas have identified variations on the surface of Ganymede, the largest moon in the solar system.

"What we think we're seeing is evidence of an eruption of water on the surface of Ganymede," said William McKinnon, a professor of earth and planetary sciences at Washington University.

"They're very much like rift valleys on the Earth and they're paved with something pretty smooth. The material in the troughs is more like terrestrial lava in terms of its fluidity," he added in a statement.

The research published in the science journal Nature adds more evidence about the formation of Ganymede's unusual features which scientists have been hotly debating.

Understanding what caused parts of Ganymede's surface to be ripped apart while other areas were left untouched will help scientists understand how Jupiter's moons evolved.

The stereo images show bright flat terrain that McKinnon and his colleagues believe is evidence of water or slush that emerged one billion years ago.

"We can see this material is banked up against edges of the walls of the trough and appears to have been pretty fluid, much more so than solid, albeit warm, ice. These features directly support the idea that they were created by volcanism," said McKinnon.

In a commentary on the research, Louise Prockter of the Applied Physics Laboratory at The Johns Hopkins University in Maryland said the research improves scientific knowledge about the giant moon.

As more images of Ganymede taken by Galileo are analyzed its secrets will be revealed.

"They should tell us more about the relative effects of volcanic and tectonic activity on this giant among moons, and so about the evolution of both its surface and its interior," she said.

Galileo was launched aboard the space shuttle Atlantis on October 18, 1989. The Voyager images are from the 1970s.

Dick Dale Answers Five Questions
By JEFF SIMONS, Associated Press

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. February 28, 2001 - Amanda Plummer and Tim Roth jump up from their table in a Los Angeles coffee shop, whip out their pistols and kick off a brazen early morning holdup. It's the opening scene of "Pulp Fiction" and what follows is a surge of power.

Not gun power. Guitar power.

It's Dick Dale ripping out the opening riffs of "Misirlou," a ferocious, nails-scraping-the-slate fusion of frenzied flamenco and Motor City metal that jump-starts Quentin Tarantino's 1994 film.

Like Jerry Garcia's Deadheads, Dale has, over his 40-year career, garnered his own die-hard following. At a smoke-choked show at the Launchpad, his fans, dressed in their off-color T-shirts, were ubiquitous.

Dressed in black jeans, shirt, boots and Harley-Davidson jacket, the 63-year-old rock musician pumped out a nonstop set that included "Misirlou," "Spear Dance" and "Trail of Tears."

His first single, released in 1962, was the guitar instrumental "Let's Go Trippin'."

He continued recording and performing his brand of surf music during the '60s and '70s, making appearances in the films "Beach Party," "A Swingin' Affair" and "Muscle Beach Party."

"Spatial Disorientation" is his latest album.

1. What's the story behind "Misirlou" and "Pulp Fiction"?

Dale: Quentin Tarantino came to me and said, 'I've been a fan for years. Your song "Misirlou" is a masterpiece. It's like "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly." It's like "Ben-Hur." It's very heraldic.'

'Misirlou' goes back to the beginning of time. It's not a Greek folk song like people think; it's an Egyptian song.

I created my version of 'Misirlou' at the Rendezvous Ballroom (in California) when a little kid asked if I could play something on a single string. So I went home and tried to figure out what to do. I was playing 'Misirlou' very slow and realized the sound was too thin, so I added a little bit of a Gene Krupa beat and speeded it up. Eventually 'Misirlou' became my anthem.

2. What does the title of your latest album, "Spatial Disorientation," mean?

Dale: Well, it means left is right and right is left. And me being a pilot, you can experience this if you're not careful in what you do. But when we play, that's what takes place. We not only go into spatial disorientation, we put everyone else into spatial disorientation where they're on a roller-coaster ride of emotion, of sounds that go anywhere. Nothing is played the same way twice. Nothing is ever solid - in a certain pattern - except my application of rhythm. And my rhythm is very disciplined, and it's done a certain way. It's a pulsation - an application of accentuation - and that's why we sound so big. That's the key to the whole power thing, no matter what we play.

3. Your music often sounds like a mix of Spanish minor modes and heavy metal. Are there are other influences coming into play?

Dale: My music is a mixture of everything. It's a mixture of sadness, happiness, anger. Spanish is only one of the modes I play. Other modes I play come from the different indigenous people that I've met, including the indigenous people of Australia.

4. Why do you refer to yourself as a "manipulator of instruments"?

Dale: I'm playing these instruments - drums, trumpet, guitar - from my soul, from within. But I'm not playing them with the knowledge of a person who has been to a school of music. I've never taken a lesson in my life; I play strictly by ear.

5. What about the origins of surf music?

Dale: Some people say surf music started in the '60s, but it didn't. It started in 1958. That's when I started creating those sounds. It's Dick Dale music. They call it surf music because I was surfing. They could have called it 'Tarzan of the Jungle' music. ... Because I was raising lions and tigers and cheetahs and leopards. And a lot of that sound came from the roar of my mountain lions and at the same time, when I started surfing, it came from the roar of the ocean. So they could have called me 'Dick Dale, king of the lions' because that's what I had.

New Rules in Sperm and Egg's Cat-and-Mouse Game
By NATALIE ANGIER

February 27, 2001 (NY Times) - Heard the one about why it takes 100 million sperm to fertilize an egg? Because none of them will stop to ask for directions.

An alternative, and more molecularly correct, answer might be: because the egg keeps changing the lines to the yolk.

In a report that makes huevos rancheros of longstanding assumptions about the evolutionary stability, passivity and all-round dullness of the egg, as opposed to the foaming energy and vibrant mutability of the sperm, Dr. Willie J. Swanson of Cornell and his colleagues have shown that three reproductive proteins in the mammalian egg are among the most rapidly evolving molecules found anywhere in the body.

Two of these proteins, called ZP2 and ZP3, are sperm docking parts on the zona pellucida, the lustrously elaborate coat that surrounds the egg and controls passage into the egg's yolky interior, where its chromosomes reside; while the third protein, called oviductal glycoprotein, plays a still-mysterious but clearly critical role in fertilization.

All three molecules are evolving at a panting pace more typically associated with the famed changelings of the immune system than with an operation as basic and universal as the joining of gametes.

The fact that the genes encoding these female reproductive proteins are as mutable as genes designed to keep parasites at bay demonstrates that the relationship between sperm and egg, while essential to the persistence of all sexually reproducing creatures, is nevertheless a fractious one, Mars versus Venus stripped to its molecular skivvies.

"You'd think that the fusion of gametes would be so basic that it would important to conserve" over evolutionary time, said Dr. Swanson. "But it turns out that these are among the 10 percent fastest evolving genes in the genome, and they show great specificity from one species to the next."

Scientists who study the evolution of reproduction had long focused on the male half of the equation, and they had reported evidence that males were under relentless selective pressure to change and adapt, whether in the constituents of their sperm, the volume of their semen, the shapeliness and frilliness of their genitalia or any other masculine attributes, all for the sake of ensuring that their sperm is chosen.

The discovery, which appears in the current issue of The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, offers the first proof that Darwinian selection drives the evolution of female reproductive proteins as well.

"For a strange set of reasons, some of them technical, some of them not, all the proteins that had been recognized as fast-changing had been male," said Dr. Mariana F. Wolfner, another author on the report. "What's neat about this paper is that it shows that the female proteins keep up with the boys."

The exact dynamic between the egg proteins and their counterparts on the sperm remain unclear.

Dr. Victor D. Vacquier of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego, an expert in reproductive proteins, observes that scientists know a lot more about the nuances of the immune system and the workings of genes generally than they do about the details of fertilization.

Nevertheless, the basic pas de deux is thought to proceed roughly along these lines: The sperm struggles to latch onto the zona pellucida and crack the code of the egg in advance of all the other flagellating contenders; the egg doesn't like being pushed around, it wants to retain control over the terms of fusion, and so — ha ha! — it switches the code to its lock; the sperm rather testily adapts its coat to the new password; and so on, over the generations, back and forth, green eggs and spam.

"Just as there's a cat-and-mouse game between a virus and the host's immune system, so there seems to be a cat-and-mouse game between sperm proteins, and proteins in the egg," said Dr. Charles F. Aquadro of Cornell, a co-author.

But what purpose does all this cattiness and rattiness serve? The researchers said there were a couple of hypotheses to explain why the sperm and egg have so much trouble seeing eye to eye.

By one theory, the gametes may simply have different ideas about timing. The sperm wants to act fast: to fuse with a docking port on the egg and begin the so-called acrosomal reaction, the little biochemical striptease routine in which it loses its head and worms its way into the cytoplasm.

The trouble with that hasty approach, from the egg's perspective, is that every sperm in the neighborhood has the same sense of urgency, and should more than one sperm manage to get past the zona pellucida — a condition called polyspermy — the whole business is lost: no embryo can result, and the egg dies.

So the egg tries to slow things down through a deft and perpetual recasting of its armor. Granted, the overzealous sperm cells would not benefit from polyspermy either, but if each sperm is competing with all the other sperm cells to reach nuclear heaven, and if each is doomed should it fail to fertilize the egg in any case, it simply lacks the discipline, and the evolutionary incentive, to refrain from pushing.

The egg is the one that must strive for a state of monospermy, and reclaim it whenever a sperm threatens through mutational artistry to breach security. Alternatively, the egg may have more in mind than mere sperm counting; it may be judging the sperm cells as well.

The egg may be exercising a form of so-called cryptic female choice: selecting the best sperm from the batch with which to fuse. If so, then sperm cells would be under perpetual pressure either to improve themselves or to figure out a trick to subvert the capacity of the zona pellucida to reject them. And the eggs in turn would keep battling back for the right to decide their partner.

Whatever the precise spur to the conflict, the researchers have demonstrated that the genes encoding ZP2 and ZP3, as well as the oviductal glycoprotein, are under so-called adaptive selection — they're changing rapidly for a reason, rather than at random.

To prove their case, Dr. Swanson and his colleagues took advantage of the abundant amount of sequence information available in genetic databases, with sequences for the relevant egg proteins spelled out for mammals as diverse as macaques, house cats, house dogs, house mice, sewer rats, marmosets, baboons, sheep and humans.

Researchers looked at the egg genes across a variety of species, and used novel statistical tools developed by Dr. Ziheng Yang of University College in London that compared different types of sequence changes in different regions of each gene. They then were able to show that the number of changes in the coding regions of the gene — the important segments that inscribe the working parts of the protein — significantly exceeded the changes in the neutral, noncoding portions of the gene.

In other words, this wasn't a case of mere genetic drift and mutational slop at work; there was selective pressure to change in those parts of the genes that really counted — the parts responsible for the shape of the egg's gateway to tomorrow.

Yet, lest there be despair over this latest sign of the pervasiveness of the war between the sexes, the researchers suggest that the pressure and counterpressure on the gametes to change their recognition proteins could be one of the engines powering speciation.

In short, the staggering biological diversity that makes the world worth inhabiting could owe as much to conflict between sperm head and egg sheath as it does to other presumed sources of species divergence, like geological and climate change, or the race between predator and prey.

Where better to declare a new border between fissioning species than at the site where sperm and egg so warily fuse?

Over easy at last!


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