What Is Firefly?
Buffy and Angel Win! Dilithium,
Europa's Ocean,
Venus Bugs,
Chimps Versus Humans & More!
What Is Firefly?
By FLAtRich

Hollywood September 29, 2002 (eXoNews) - As if you didn't know, Firefly is an amazing new show on Fox created by Joss Whedon. If you really didn't know, Whedon created Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Angel. Even if you did know, Whedon also co-produces Firefly with Tim Minear, who was an executive story editor on Chris Carter's X-Files and later became executive producer of Angel.

Both of these guys did lots of other things, but we're here to talk about Firefly, and why it may be destined to become  television's latest cult science fiction favorite.

Firefly is a shoot-em up action show set in the wild west days of space, when Earthmen have basically taken over the entire galaxy.

There is plenty of room for humans because there are no pointy-eared Vulcans or blue-skinned Andorians in the Firefly universe. Whedon has left prosthetic aliens to the Trek franchise, Andromeda, and Farscape. In Firefly, it's just us homo sapiens. No vampires either, so crossovers with Buffy are unlikely.

It's 500 years from now and the Alliance has just won a galactic civil war. The group of intrepid adventurers aboard the transport ship Serenity were on the losing side and now they must scrounge for work to stay alive. Sometimes the work is not so legal and it's tough in the post-bellum galaxy. The stars are full of carpetbaggers and big bads. Due to their past political preferences, the crew also has to avoid running into Alliance soldiers along the way.

Like any Whedon show, there's a whole lot more to Firefly than that, but you'll have to tune in Friday nights at 8PM for the real story, because only he can tell it.

The first episodes of Firefly introduced a rather large cast all at once. Long-time Whedon fans probably caught the characters immediately, but just for the record here are their names and their jobs on Serenity.

Malcolm "Mal" Reynolds (Nathan Fillion) is the captain of the Serenity. He's an intelligent, two-fisted action kind of guy, a little reminiscent of Angel. None of that dark brooding self-doubt stuff, though. No time for that in the Alliance-controlled galaxy.

Jayne (Adam Baldwin) is a mercenary soldier who has signed on until something better comes along. He'd just as soon leave Mal and the others behind to save his own ass. If Jayne looks kind of familiar, check out your X-Files reruns.

Zoe (Gina Torres) is a soldier who fought with Mal during the civil war. She's Mal's Number One, but forget it boys, she's married. You wouldn't want to mess with her anyway.

Wash (Alan Tudyk) is the Serenity's pilot and Zoe's husband. He's calm, funny, and content to do his job - probably because he's got Zoe.

Kaylee (Jewel Staite) is the Serenity's engineer, or "mechanic" according to Firefly. Good sense of humor, stays in the ship and has great faith in Mal. A bit like Willow in the old days, and a bit like Fred on Angel.

Book (Ron Glass) is the elder statesman of the crew, and he's a preacher man. Looks like William Powell in his later years, and he's wise, but not Giles. Book is searching for something.

Simon Tam (Sean Maher) is a rich kid doctor who doesn't seem to trust Mal all that much. Good doctor, but he has another agenda. River Tam (Summer Glau) is his sister and that other agenda, mainly because she's a psychic and hunted by Alliance evil-doers who want to abuse her powers. Ah, perhaps there is some mysticism in the galaxy after all!

Inara (Morena Baccarin) is last but certainly not least! This lady is a babe who could give Cordy a run for her makeup kit! Inara is a licensed professional courtesan, making her the most respectable member of Serenity's party by current galactic standards. She has an un-professional thing for Mal too.

So did I mention that the first two episodes of the show were GREAT and Whedon's done it again? The critics agree. Read The New York Times article on Joss Whedon and Firefly here and join the adventure Friday nights at 8PM /7C on Fox.

Official Firefly site - http://www.fox.com/firefly 

Unofficial Firefly fan site - http://www.fireflyfans.net 

Anti-Environmental Bush Paybacks
Washington, DC/Oakland, CA September 25th, 2002 (Earthjustice) - In a report released today, Earthjustice and Public Campaign established in detail for the first time the strong correlation between big corporate contributions to the Bush-Cheney campaign and Republican National Committee (RNC) and Bush administration policy paybacks that benefit these interests.

"These contributions and policy paybacks tell the story of how corporate interests brought the Bush administration to power so that it could weaken the law to benefit the companies’ bottom line," the groups said. The report, entitled PAYBACKS, makes an accounting of industrial contributors to the Bush-Cheney campaign and the industry-friendly policies that have become the regular order of business since President Bush took office. The report also names some of the top environmental officials within the administration who built their careers as lawyers and lobbyists for the industries they are now in charge of regulating. 

"The Bush administration’s anti-environmental agenda doesn’t just appear to be made-to-order for polluting industry interests. It is," conclude Earthjustice and Public Campaign in PAYBACKS. "Industries now reaping the benefits of an administration intent on eliminating important environmental and public health safeguards are the same ones that helped underwrite the Bush-Cheney campaign and the RNC with more than $44 million in contributions."

"Over thirty years of progress in addressing environmental problems – spurred by public servants and private individuals of all political persuasions – is being squandered by this administration," said Buck Parker, executive director of Earthjustice. "The Bush administration is giving away our nation’s clean water and air, national forests, and public lands to its corporate contributors."

"Because you have to pay to play in the current campaign finance system, anti-environmental special interests with plenty of cash see all their policy wishes granted. Meanwhile, the public’s interest in a healthy environment is ignored," said Nick Nyhart of Public Campaign. 

The report, which is available on the web (www.earthjustice.org  and www.publicampaign.org), focuses on the investments made by timber, mining, oil and gas, coal-burning utilities, chemical, and other manufacturing interests. PAYBACKS shows how these investments resulted in handsome returns for polluting and resource extractive industries in the form of anti-environmental policy decisions, often facilitated by Bush administration political appointees who are former industry lawyers and lobbyists. 

The groups also will launch a website today (www.GeorgeWBuy.com) that presents some of the information from the report. "The GeorgeWBuy website is an accurate depiction of the sad reality: the Bush administration has put the public’s health and precious natural resources on the auction block," said Parker.
Hairy-kneed Camels Get Protection
BERLIN September 26, 2002 (AP) — A wild hairy-kneed camel that drinks salt water and can survive in the harshest conditions, including on a former nuclear test site, will be better protected from poachers and other threats under new status granted by a U.N. convention, a spokeswoman said Wednesday. 

Joining the Bactrian camel in being newly elevated to the United Nations Environment Program agency's most-protected list were the great white shark, the blind river dolphin, and several other species. 

The camels, discovered in 1999 on the edge of the Tibetan mountains, number fewer than 1,000 and are being threatened by poachers and encroaching human populations whose domestic camels compete for scarce resources. 

The Bactrian camel is thought to be a distinct species and will be reduced in numbers by more than 80 percent in 30 years unless protected, scientist John Hare, who found a herd on a former nuclear testing site on the border of Mongolia and China, told the Convention on Migratory Species in Bonn. 

Elevating the species to the convention's "Appendix I" status means that countries are obliged to take immediate measures to prevent them from being killed, caught, or used for scientific research, said Veronika Lenarz, a spokeswoman for the convention. 

Delegates from the 80 countries represented at the convention also threw their support behind a campaign spearheaded by Prince Charles and Birdlife International to save the albatross, some 100,000 of which are estimated to die every year when they become snared by longline fishing boats and are pulled under water. 

The convention meets every three years and wrapped up its weeklong conference Tuesday.
Genre News: Buffy and Angel Win! Farscape, William Shatner, Doom, Monk and More!
Buffy and Angel Win Top Drama Picks!
By FLAtRich

Hollywood September 29, 2002 (eXoNews) - CUT TO The Beach Boys singing: "Wouldn't it be nice?" CUT TO Network executives tearing out their hair. CUT TO Joss Whedon with a big grin.

Buffy The Vampire Slayer didn't even get nominated for the top drama Emmy, but Zap2it readers voting in the entertainment site's 2002 Emmy Straw Poll righted the wrong and voted Joss Whedon's Slayer saga their 2002 favorite for Outstanding Drama Series.

Whedon actors David Boreanaz, Charisma Carpenter, Alexis Denisof and Alyson Hannigan also won as top viewer picks. (About bloody time, too! Ed.]

The Zap2it poll was conducted online during the months following this year's Television Academy 2002 Emmy Nominations announcement.

Zap2it.com is the web's leading Entertainment site, with a keen eye for genre show news and daily reports on overnight and overall ratings results.

The pollsters first asked visitors to write in their nominations, then calculated the favorites and offered a chance to vote for the most popular TV shows and actors nominated. Zap2it garnered "over 15,000 entries in 11 categories" during the nomination process.

The final results were a far cry from Academy votes in the Drama categories. No West Wing winners here, and this year's much ballyhooed cable show Six Feet Under only scored one 7% vote in one category.

Joss Whedon fans didn't stop with Outstanding Drama Series. All of the winners in all of the drama categories were either Buffy or Angel cast members, with Angel's David Boreanaz getting the highest percentage vote in any category.

You can measure network hype and power against popular opinion for yourself: none of this year's Academy-voted Emmy Drama winners even made their categories in the the Zap2it Straw Poll nominations.

Here's the breakdown:

Outstanding Drama Series:

Zap2it Winner: "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" -- 41%
Zap2it Second Place: "ER" -- 30%
Zap2it Third Place: "24" -- 12%
Zap2it Fourth Place: "Alias" -- 10%
Zap2it Fifth Place: "Six Feet Under" -- 7%

Outstanding Lead Actor In a Drama:

Zap2it Winner: David Boreanaz ("Angel") -- 63%
Zap2it Second Place: Kiefer Sutherland ("24") -- 13%
Zap2it Third Place: Noah Wyle ("ER") -- 12%
Zap2it Fourth Place: Anthony Edwards ("ER") -- 7%
Zap2it Fifth Place: Martin Sheen ("The West Wing" -- 5%

Outstanding Lead Actress In a Drama:

Zap2it Winner: Charisma Carpenter ("Angel") -- 39%
Zap2it Second Place: Sarah Michelle Gellar ("Buffy the Vampire Slayer") -- 27%
Zap2it Third Place: Sela Ward ("Once and Again") -- 23%
Zap2it Fourth Place: Jennifer Garner ("Alias") -- 8%
Zap2it Fifth Place: Marg Helgenberger ("CSI: Crime Scene Investigation") -- 3%

Outstanding Supporting Actor In a Drama:

Zap2it Winner: Alexis Denisof ("Angel") -- 32%
Zap2it Second Place: James Marsters ("Buffy the Vampire Slayer") -- 25%
Zap2it Third Place: Nicholas Brendon ("Buffy the Vampire Slayer") -- 20%
Zap2it Fourth Place: Victor Garber ("Alias") -- 14%
Zap2it Fifth Place: Bradley Whitford ("The West Wing") -- 9%


Outstanding Supporting Actress In a Drama:

Zap2it Winner: Alyson Hannigan ("Buffy the Vampire Slayer") -- 38%
Zap2it Second Place: Maura Tierney ("ER") -- 23%
Zap2it Third Place: Emma Caulfield ("Buffy the Vampire Slayer") -- 20%
Zap2it Fourth Place: Leslie Hope ("24") -- 10%
Zap2it Fifth Place: Allison Janney ("The West Wing") -- 9%


Zap2it is so cool! - http://www.zap2it.com

To read the full article and see who won the straw poll in comedy categories, go here: http://tv.zap2it.com/news/tvnewsdaily.html?28125 

Farscape News
By FLAtRich

Hollywood September 29, 2002 (eXoNews) - The convention folks at Creation Entertainment want you to know that the Burbank Farscape Convention Gold Weekend Packages are now sold out. Daily preferred seating (including autographs), evening show tickets, and general admission tickets are still available.

The Burbank Farscape Con will be held November 22-24 at the Burbank Airport Hilton. Farscape stars Claudia Black, Gigi Edgley, Wayne Pygram, Anthony Simcoe, Raelee Hill and Kent McCord will be there. Details at: http://www.creationent.com/cal

Creation is also sponsoring a Farscape Music Video contest for the Burbank Con. Fans can "submit your own Farscape music video for possible showing at this Official Farscape event! Entries should be no more than 5 minutes long, and only one per tape: submissions should be on standard VHS tape. You may submit up to two."

Contest submissions must be received by Friday, November 15th. Winners also get "a $100 Creation gift certificate good for merchandise either by mail, online or at any Creation event."

So get those videos in the mail now to:
Creation's Farscape Music Video Contest
1010 N. Central Ave. 4th Floor
Glendale, CA 91202

Claudia Black, Anthony Simcoe, Virginia Hey, Gigi Edgley and Wayne Pygram will also be among the stars at the New York Farscape Con, November 29-30 at the Brooklyn Marriott Hotel.

The Save Farscape Campaign continues. For the latest breaking news and to help save the show from oblivion, go to: http://farscape.wdsection.com 

For more info on the good fight, you can also join the Save Farscape Announcements group on Yahoo! Groups - http://groups.yahoo.com/group/SaveFarscapeAnnouncements 

Official Farscape Site - http://www.farscape.com 

Creation Entertainment - http://www.creationent.com 

Sci Fi Farscape Site - http://www.scifi.com/farscape  

Contact The Henson Company for notification about upcoming Farscape projects - farscape@henson.com 

And the lovely Virginia Hey's Official site - http://www.virginia-hey.com 

Paramount Tries Bad Guy 
By Zorianna Kit

Hollywood September 26, 2002 (Hollywood Reporter) - Paramount Pictures is in negotiations to pick up feature film rights to "Bad Guy," an independently published comic book, which Barry Josephson and screenwriter David Hayter will produce.

The comic's creators, Jason Harris and Zack Morrissette, will write the screenplay, which will be supervised by Hayter, writer of such projects as the comic book-turned-feature film franchise "X-Men" and "The Scorpion King," among others.

"Bad Guy" is set in a world in which those who wish to be superheroes can interview at the Oden Co., which then puts candidates through various genetic, physical and mental tests. Oden then decides on an appropriate superpower, costume and city in which the chosen ones will be based to fight crime.

When the superheroes get bored on the job and begin abusing their powers - using them for evil rather than good - a mortal named John takes it upon himself to fight the villains via contract killings.

Sci Fi Airs Shatner in Esperanto!

LOS ANGELES September 24, 2002 (Zap2it.com) - The Sci Fi network is taking a bold risk by airing a "cursed" film.

"Incubus" stars a pre-"Star Trek" William Shatner and is the first (and last) film ever shot in Esperanto, the "universal language" developed in 1887 by Dr. L.L. Zamenhof. All Esperanto words are spelled as pronounced. All nouns end in -o, all adjectives end in -a, and all verbs have only one form for each tense or mood.

[According to the IMDb, there are six other films with Esperanto versions, including Charlie Chaplin's The Great Dictator (1940) and Andrew Niccol's sci-fi hit Gattaca (1997). Ed.]

After its release in France in 1965, the art house film experiment was lost for 30 years. In that span of time, the movie's cast and crew experienced several murders, a suicide and a kidnapping.

Directed by "The Outer Limits" creator Leslie Stevens, "Incubus" is set on the mysterious island of Nomen Tuumm. Inhabited by succubi, female demons who lure corrupt men to an untimely death, the island is thrown into turmoil when one of the women falls for Shatner's noble character. The leader of the succubi, the Incubus, is summoned to end the affair.

"Incubus" will make its world television debut on Sci Fi on Sunday, Oct. 13 at 1 a.m. ET, immediately following "William Shatner's Full Moon Fright Night."

[No mention of this premiere on Shatner's web site, but a quick check with the IMDb reveals that the music for Incubus was done by an Outer Limits alumnae Dominic Frontiere. The IMDb also adds: "Just one year after this film came out, as its prints were being destroyed, William Shatner was cast in "Star Trek" (1966), cinematographer Conrad L. Hall got his first Academy Award nomination, actor Milos Milos killed Mickey Rooney's ex-wife and then killed himself, and actress Ann Atmar committed suicide." Ed.]

Bill Shatner is always working. He'll be competing at the Kentucky Fall Classic Horse Show Lexington, Kentucky from October 2-6, 2002, hosting One Hit Wonders on VH1, narrating Cosmic Odyssey on The Science Channel, and making the convention rounds.

As usual, Shatner also has a new book on the way. This one is called "I'm Working On That."

The Official William Shatner site - http://www.williamshatner.com 

The Official Incubus site - http://www.incubusthefilm.com 

Sci Fi Channel - http://www.scifi.com 

More about Incubus at the IMDb - http://www.imdb.com/Details?0059311

Warners To Film Doom
By Zorianna Kit

Hollywood September 25, 2002 (Hollywood Reporter) - Warner Bros. Pictures is in final negotiations to pick up the feature film rights to id Software Inc.'s video game property "Doom" in a progress-to-production deal that will see the project go in front of the cameras in 15 months, or the rights revert back to the software company.

Studio-based John Wells Prods. will produce "Doom" with recently departed worldwide production president-turned-producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura. Once the deal is firmly in place, a writer will be put on board to pen the screenplay. Although the video game was controversial because of its violence when it was originally released, the feature film version will aim for a PG-13 rating.

"Doom," a first-person shooter, launched in 1993, and a third installment is scheduled for release next year. The feature film's story line will most resemble the third "Doom," which is set in the future at a paramilitary base on Mars, where a scientific experiment goes awry and accidentally opens a portal to hell. The vastly outnumbered hero fights off the forces of hell as they come from the portal onto the deserted base.

This will be the basis for the feature version, without the constraints of the first-person shooter format.

USA Picks Up Second Season of 'Monk'

LOS ANGELES September 24, 2002 (Zap2it.com) - Viewers obsessed with "Monk" will get to see their favorite germ-phobic detective again next summer.

USA Network has picked up the series for a second 13-episode season, set for summer 2003. In its first season, the show has become a hit by basic-cable standards, averaging 4.5 million viewers each week.

"It has been a wonderful experience," Jeff Wachtel, USA's executive vice president for series, tells The Hollywood Reporter. "It is a great example of developing a mainstream franchise with an original sensibility." 

"Monk" stars Tony Shalhoub ("Wings," "The Man Who Wasn't There" ) as Adrian Monk, a brilliant detective who suffers from obsessive-compulsive disorder. Once a member of the San Francisco police force, he now consults the department on cases with the help of his nurse/assistant, Sharona (Bitty Schram).

After premiering on USA in July, the show got a second run on ABC, where it averaged 8.3 million viewers opposite FOX's phenomenon "American Idol." ABC, which originally developed the series but then passed on it, was so pleased with the results that it's airing additional episodes early in the fall season, starting Thursday (Sept. 26).

ABC is also negotiating with USA to get a second run of the show next season.

[Monk's September 26th "return" to ABC (as a rerun) against Friends, Scrubs and the latest Survivor clone scored an impressive 5.1/8 overnight. Compare that to Push, Nevada's new episode with a lowly 3.1/5 in the 9PM slot. Hello Mr. Monk, goodbye Push. Ed.]

Official Monk web site - http://www.usanetwork.com/series/monk 

Look Up Dilithium
Oxford September 26, 2002 (BBC) - Science fiction terms have become official language with the inclusion of Jedi, Klingon and Tardis in the latest edition of the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary. Also getting a mention is Blairite, the term used for supporters of prime minister Tony Blair. 

The terms are among some 3,500 extra words which have been included in the dictionary which is published on Thursday by Oxford University Press. The tome replaces the last version - which was published nearly 10 years ago in 1993. 

In the intervening years such phrases as ladette, singleton and shedload have become so commonplace as to elevate their status from pure slang. And sci-fi films such as Star Wars and Men In Black have made a case for the inclusion of a "shedload" of space-based words. 

These include Klingon, Warp Drive, Dilithium and parallel universe. 

In the fast-moving world of politics, many new 21st century phrases have made it to the edition. The world is now very familiar with asylum seeker, bed-blocking, just war and name and shame which now find a place among the pages. 

There is even a place in the 4,000-page dictionary for the ill-fated Millennium Dome, ensuring that the name will not just be confined to history. 

Angus Stevenson, co-editor of the shorter Oxford English Dictionary said politics and current affairs provide "fertile subjects" for today's dictionary. But he added: "We include words that achieve a certain level of usage whatever their origins, making sure that slang terms are clearly identified." 

And some may well merit an explanation. 

In particular the word wedgie which, according to Thursday's edition of the Independent, denotes the action of pulling up the material of someone's underwear tightly between their buttocks, as a practical joke. 

To be included in the dictionary words must have been used five times, in five different sources over five years. The edition is described as the most comprehensive dictionary of current English and its history from 1000AD to the present day.
Amateur Astronomers Needed
LONDON September 25, 2002 (Reuters) - Amateur astronomers around the globe are being enlisted to help the professionals monitor stars with planets orbiting around them. 

Astronomers in the United States have set up a program to co-ordinate the efforts of experienced amateurs in discovering transiting extra-solar planets. 

"They want amateurs to sign up to a program called Transitsearch to spur the discovery of planets that pass between us and their parent stars," New Scientist magazine said on Wednesday. 

The program was set up by Tim Castellano of NASA Ames Research Center and Greg Laughlin of the University of California, Santa Cruz after they learned that a Finnish amateur astronomer had charted the path of a planet across the star HD 209458. 

"They are now searching for amateurs worldwide to monitor stars already known to have planets orbiting them, and have posted a list of target stars and predicted transit times at www.transitsearch.org," the magazine added. 

The scientists are hoping the transit information will provide data about a planet's mass and density and its composition and atmosphere. 

"Collaborations between professional and amateur astronomers aren't new, but they're growing because of the falling cost of high-quality equipment now within the reach of many amateurs," the magazine said.

Join up with Transitsearch at: http://www.transitsearch.org 

Get Your Very Own Genetic Code on Disc!
By Helen Briggs 
BBC News Science Reporter 

Cambridge September 23, 2002 (BBC) - Soon everybody could have a personal copy of their complete genetic code, for medical reasons or perhaps curiosity. A British company says it is close to perfecting a gene sequencing method that could "read" someone's genome in a day.

Meanwhile, Craig Venter - the US scientist who helped decode the first complete draft of the human genome - is reported to be taking orders from millionaires who want to know their genetic make-up. 

Dr Venter says he will be able to provide an individual's genome on a CD in about a week for $712,000 (£400,000) from later this year. The data could reveal whether someone has genes that give them a higher risk of developing diseases such as Alzheimer's. It might even give an idea of how and when they will die. 

The British company, Solexa, was set up by two Cambridge University chemists. It says it has developed a quicker, cheaper method to sequence human DNA. This will be used at first to provide a service mapping an individual's single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) - the "letters" of the DNA code that differ between individuals. 

These minute differences could explain why some people are predisposed to diseases such as cancer and diabetes, while others are not. 

Solexa's ultimate goal is to sequence an individual's entire genome in 24 hours for $1,000 (£562). Chief executive officer, Nick Mc Cooke, envisages a scenario where you would visit your GP for a blood test and get a complete map of your genetic code. He says such information could potentially improve human health but must be interpreted properly by a health professional. 

"It is possible to contemplate at some point in the future that your complete code is kept confidentially with the rest of your medical records," he told BBC News Online. "It would shed light on your genetic predisposition to disease and response to certain medications." 

Genewatch UK, an independent pressure group, says there is an urgent need for better regulation of genetic testing. 

"The interpretation of what it means for your future is highly uncertain and often disputed," said Deputy Director, Dr Helen Wallace. "We wouldn't like to see any company marketing this kind of test until a regulation exists to check whether that test is valid or useful." 

The human genome is a string of three billion DNA "letters", comprising all the instructions needed to build and maintain a human being. Two draft versions of the human genome were published in February 2001, in what was hailed as a landmark in scientific achievement. 

The effort, which took many years, was carried out by an international public consortium of scientists and a private US company, Celera, headed by Dr Venter, who has now stepped down. The DNA came from a small number of undisclosed individuals, who are currently the only people in the world to have had their genomes sequenced. 

However, Dr Venter recently revealed that his DNA was among the samples used in the Celera work.
Researchers Grow Teeth
BOSTON September 26, 2002 (AP) - A team of scientists grew accurate versions of natural teeth in a laboratory, raising the possibility of an eventual replacement for manmade implants such as dentures, bridges and crowns. 

The scientists, based at Forsyth Institute, were reportedly the first to grow such a complex tooth structure from a collection of individual cells. 

"This is very exciting, and I don't think it's expected," said R. Bruce Donoff, dean of the Harvard School of Dental Medicine. 

Researchers said it would be at least a decade before the technique could be used to help patients. The results appear in the October issue of the Journal of Dental Research. 

The Forsyth scientists manipulated pigs' dental stem cells — primordial cells that differentiate into the various tooth structures — to make enamel, which gives teeth their distinctive, hard exterior. 

The next goal was to grow tooth roots, said Pamela C. Yelick, who led the project. 

Forsyth Institute - http://www.forsyth.org 
The Third Door
Egypt State Information Service September 26, 2002 - Minister of Culture and Chairman of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, Farouq Hosni, said on Monday that the US National Geographic Society's mission discovered a third door inside the Queen's chamber in the Pyramid of (Cheops) Khufu. 

Hosni pointed out that the new find was supervised by the Egyptian archaeologists. 

Last Tuesday, Egyptian and foreign archaeologists conducted a scientific experiment by sending a robot, the Pyramid Rover, inside the Great Pyramid, which peered into a narrow shaft and opened into the Queen's Chamber. 

On his part, Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, Egyptologist Zahi Hawas, said that they sent the robot all the way through the upper northern shaft and found that the pyramid's passage sloped northward into different directions, since the ancient Egyptians endeavored to avoid the Pyramid’s great hall. 

The new discovery, Hawas said, reveals that there are three doors inside the Great Pyramid, leaving the Egyptologists in a state of perplexity. 

Hawas stated that such doors were constructed for religious purposes due to the books found there, such as "the gateways," "the cavities," and "two roads" which guided the dead to the hereafter and warned them against the dangers they might face. Hawas said that the Great Pyramid’s entrance was facing the polar star until the interior design of the Pyramid was changed, forming a labyrinth of corridors to mislead thieves. 

Hawas added that the Pharaohs might have used such doors as a symbol of their ascendance to heaven.
Europa's Ocean
By Helen Briggs 
BBC News Science Reporter 

September 27, 2002 (BBC) - The chances of finding life on another planet have received a boost. Data from the Galileo space probe's journey to Jupiter suggests an ocean on its moon, Europa, is somewhat Earth-like. 

Scientists in the United States think the moon's icy crust is relatively thin. There seem to be cracks and vents, which would allow gases, heat and organic matter to reach what may be water beneath. 

Dr Richard Greenberg and colleagues at the University of Arizona, Tucson, came to this conclusion after looking at images of the moon's cracked surface.

The images were captured by the space probe Galileo, which has been flying past some of Jupiter's many moons over the past few years. Dr Greenberg's team thinks the Europan sea has parallels with some of Earth's icy oceans. Surprisingly, perhaps, it appears to be more like the Arctic Ocean than Lake Vostok.

Lake Vostok in Antarctica is one of the deepest-known bodies of fresh water on the planet. At least 30 million years old, it is a model for some of the ice-covered oceans elsewhere in the Solar System. 

Some have proposed that the lake might contain previously undiscovered life-forms. But Vostok is now thought to be too isolated from surface influences to harbor anything more than the most primitive organisms. 

Europa, though, appears more like the Arctic Ocean, the Earth's smallest ocean, which occupies the region around the North Pole. The Arctic Ocean is exposed to air and heat by the cracking and melting of ice. 

Europa too seems to have surface-to-ocean connections via cracks, thermal vents, and tidal displacement, according to the Arizona team. Europa's ocean is turning out to be increasingly unlike Lake Vostok, says Dr Cynan Ellis-Evans of the British Antarctic Survey. He says the latest evidence suggests Jupiter's moon has a frozen layer of ice a few kilometers thick, similar to the sea ice of the Arctic. 

"In thermodynamic terms life abhors equilibrium," he says. "These new interpretations suggest that a Europan ocean and its ice cap could be dynamically interacting with the moon's surface atmosphere over short time scales that increase opportunities for life to exist and evolve." 

One intriguing possibility is that clouds of sulfur from Jupiter's volcano, Io, could make it across to Europa.

"If we're getting a sulfur source going into the lake it's an exciting possibility," Dr Ellis-Evans adds. "It increases the opportunity for life".

Astrobiologists had thought the ice sheet covering the moon was too thick to allow anything to get in. The new research will give them food for thought. 

"It is informed speculation which suggests that the condition and environment will be suitable for life," says Dr Mark Burchell, a space scientist at the University of Kent in Canterbury, UK. One scenario is that a meteorite crashing into Europa could have punched through the ice, carrying the building blocks of life. 

"Dust and meteorites carrying organic or volatile materials could have been delivered to the ocean below the surface," he says. 

The American space agency is seriously considering sending a robotic probe to Europa to drill through the ice.
The research, published in the US journal Reviews of Geophysics, will be welcome news for the scientists lobbying NASA to go.

NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory - http://www.jpl.nasa.gov 

Galileo Mission site - http://galileo.jpl.nasa.gov 

Titan Probe Passes Test
JPL Press Release September 26, 2002 - The Huygens probe, riding aboard the Saturn-bound Cassini spacecraft, stepped flawlessly through a test run last week of the activities it will perform when it descends through the soupy atmosphere of Titan less than 28 months from now. 

"All the probe subsystems and probe instruments did just what they are supposed to do," said European Space Agency systems engineer Shaun Standley, stationed at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. For the multinational Cassini-Huygens mission, NASA provided the large Cassini spacecraft, which will begin orbiting Saturn July 1, 2004, and the European Space Agency provided the Huygens probe, which will parachute into the atmosphere of Titan, Saturn's largest moon, on Jan. 14, 2005. 

Last week's Huygens checkout was the 10th since launch on Oct. 15, 1997. The probe is sleeping for most of the seven-year journey. About every six months, though, engineers wake it up to check its health and exercise the moving parts in its valves and pumps. 

"As nearly as possible, we put the probe through all the stages of the real descent sequence," Standley said. The sequence lasts about five hours. Since Huygens remains inside a protective shell, the simulation can't include every instrument activity nor, of course, one-time events such as parachute deployment. The checkout does turn on each instrument for the periods they will be used as the probe descends, take data from each, and send the data to Cassini for transmission to Earth. That allows evaluation of the subsystems, such as power, computers and transmitter, as well as each instrument. 

Results of the checkout have been evaluated by engineers and scientists at the Huygens Probe Operations Center in Darmstadt, Germany, and at the home institutions for each of the probe's instruments in France, United Kingdom, Germany, and the United States. 

The Huygens atmospheric structure instrument will analyze features such as temperature, pressure and lightning at different layers of Titan's atmosphere. Instruments named the gas chromatograph mass spectrometer and the aerosol collector and pyrolyser will work in tandem to collect, break down and identify particles and gases, including organic chemicals in the atmosphere. The descent imager/spectral radiometer will take pictures and spectra of the atmosphere and surface. The Doppler wind experiment will track how winds carry the probe. And the surface science package will investigate physical properties of Titan's surface. 

Additional information about the Cassini-Huygens mission is available online at http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov 
Bugs on Venus
Texas September 26, 2002 (BBC) - Scientists in the United States say clouds high in the atmosphere of the planet Venus contain chemicals that may suggest the presence of life.

Space probes have never found any sign of life on Venus, which has an extremely hot surface and an atmosphere that contains a mixture of poisonous chemicals. 

But Dirk Schulze-Makuch and Louis Irwin, from the University of Texas, say the Venusian atmosphere is "relatively hospitable" and may be home to large numbers of bacteria. 

"From an astrobiology point of view, Venus is not hopeless," the scientists claim after finishing their research, reported in the New Scientist magazine. 

However, most astronomers remain skeptical and the general consensus is that life on the Earth's closest neighbor would be impossible. 

Using data from the Russian Venera space missions and also the US Pioneer Venus and Magellan probes, the researchers have been studying the high concentration of water droplets in the Venusian clouds. 

They noticed oddities in its chemical composition that they say could be explained by the presence of microbes. 

The scientists found hydrogen sulphide and sulfur dioxide - two gases which react with each other, and are not seen in the same place unless something is producing them. 

They also say that - despite solar radiation and lightning - the atmosphere contains hardly any carbon monoxide, suggesting that something is removing the gas. 

The researchers told the New Scientist that "bugs living in the Venusian clouds could be combining sulfur dioxide with carbon monoxide and possibly hydrogen sulphide or carbonyl sulphide in a metabolism similar to that of some early Earth bugs". 

They also believe the temperatures of Venus was once much cooler and there could have been oceans on the planet. 

"Life could have started there and retreated to stable niches once the runaway greenhouse effect began," Mr Schulze-Makuch says. 

But most scientists are skeptical. They say that tiny droplets of water are not enough to support life.
Running the Trail for Sacred Sites
By KIM BACA
Associated Press Writer

Sacramento September 27, 2002 (AP) - For centuries, young American Indians have run a series of trails that stretch from the muddy red waters of the Colorado River to the Arizona-California line. Running the trail has been at the center of the Quechan Nation's religion, traditions and history. Now 30 young men are running to try to save the paths for the next generation. 

The runners are making a 700-mile relay trek through California to focus attention on state legislation that seeks to protect ancient sites like the one they hope to safeguard from becoming a gold mine. 

The group wants Gov. Gray Davis to sign a bill that would require local governments to notify a tribe of proposed construction within 20 miles of a reservation and to protect sacred sites from development. Opponents of the bill said it could grant tribes veto power over both private and public land. The California Chamber of Commerce said the bill threatens to delay or stop public improvement projects, school buildings and new homes. 

Davis, who has until month's end to sign or veto the bill, has not publicly taken a position. 

"This is not only for politics," said 15-year-old runner Richard "Ticky" Smith, a Quechan tribal member who has sweated through triple-digit temperatures in California's Central Valley this week. "It's for all the elders _ the ones that passed on, the ones who are sick, the ones who can't run or walk or hear or see. It's also for the future." 

The run began last Friday in Sacramento, Calif., and is expected to end Saturday at the tribe's Imperial Valley reservation. The proposed mine site _ at Indian Pass, a remote spot near the Arizona-California line _ sits on federal land outside their reservation. 

Lillian Sparks, an analyst for the National Congress of American Indians, said no state has enacted legislation similar to the bill before the governor. 

"California is really taking initiative to protect Native American sacred places, and we're hoping other states will follow through until we can get protection at the federal level," said Sparks. 

Across California, about 300 sites that average a quarter-acre each need protection, according to the Native American Heritage Commission. Under the legislation, a local government would hire an outside investigator such as an anthropologist to check historical records and determine whether a site has long been considered sacred. The investigator also would look at whether the area has a shrine or other religious artifacts. 

The bill stems from Quechan opposition to plans by Glamis Gold Ltd., a Reno, Nev.-based company that wants to build an open pit gold mine on 1,600 acres of BLM land near the tribe's reservation. The Bureau of Land Management parcel includes a site of religious ceremonies that contains ancient pottery shards and petroglyphs. 

Charles Jeannes, senior vice president of Glamis, said the proposed state bill could ruin the company's efforts to create an operation on which it already has spent $15 million. Jeannes said the bill now on Davis' desk would hamper development statewide by only allowing construction of projects on sacred sites that have an overriding environmental, public health or safety reason. 

"It's a fairly narrow exception and it gives the native tribe any right to veto any project they deem sacred," he said. 

The Clinton administration rejected the gold mine plan, citing "undue impairment" to Quechan sacred land, but the Bush administration rescinded that ruling in October 2001. Quechan president Mike Jackson said the issue is about continuing a tradition for his 3,000 tribal members. 

"We want to preserve our history just like any other person," he said. "We should enjoy our religious rights like anybody else." 

The bill, SB1828: http://www.sen.ca.gov 

Indian Pass: http://www.sacredland.org/indian_pass.html 

Map of Endangered Sacred Sites - http://www.sacredland.org/involved.html 
Iron Age Puzzle
By John Innes 

Orkney Scotland September 26, 2002 (The Scotsman) - Archeologists are trying to work out why 100 bodies lie buried around an Iron Age home in Orkney. The stone building on the remote island of Westray is the best preserved house from the period ever found in Scotland.

As a dig at the site came to an end yesterday, the skeletons of six or seven Pictish people were carefully removed for analysis.

“Everywhere we’ve looked we’ve found bones,” said Graeme Wilson, from EASE Archaeology, the company leading the excavation. “We’ve only scratched the surface so far, but it looks as if the entire mound covering the house is full of bones – between 50 and 100 individuals could well be buried here.”

The team working at the site – the Knowe of Skea – believe that a house was first built on the remote headland around 2,000 years ago. The evidence suggests it was abandoned at some stage, then taken over again in Pictish times, in the seventh or eighth century AD, when the island was still a pagan community.

“It’s a very important site, but it’s also very baffling,” said Mr. Wilson. “It’s about the best preserved Iron Age site I’ve seen in Scotland. It’s obviously a house of some kind and yet it has burials surrounding it. We just can’t make sense of what was happening here – it’s very confusing.”

The headland is in an isolated corner of the island, battered by Atlantic storms in winter. It would have been an inhospitable place for living people, leading the archaeologists to believe it may have served a ritual purpose linked to the burial of an entire community.

“This is an exposed location and it would have been a very odd place to build a house,” said Mr. Wilson. “We’ve found very few finds associated with a settlement – but everywhere we’ve looked we’ve found skeletons.”

The bones are from people of all ages and both sexes. Some of the bodies were laid out straight, some were crouched and lying on their side and one was on its back.

“This was a pre-Christian pagan burial site and we need to come back for another two summers if we are to get a better understanding of what happened here,” he added. “This is a very rare opportunity to excavate a prehistoric cemetery and we have a wonderful opportunity to find out more about the people buried here – how they lived and died. It seems as if the entire mound is a cemetery – and that in the middle we have a house. One thing is for sure – this a very strange place.”

The dig was sponsored by Historic Scotland and Orkney Islands Council.
Spooky Nebra Disc at Coven Site
Nebra, Germany September 25 2002 (IOL) - Archaeologists offered a first glimpse on Wednesday of a lost culture's holy site atop a German peak, and confirmed it as the source of the world's oldest map of the heavens.

The exact location has been kept secret for weeks, amid fears that treasure-seekers would move in and disturb Bronze Age remains. The site is atop the Mittelberg, a 252m hill in the Ziegelroda Forest, 180km south-west of Berlin.

Adding a spooky touch is the discovery that, seen from the Mittelberg, the sun sets every June 22 behind the Brocken, the highest mountain in northern Germany. The Brocken is in a direct line of sight on a clear day, 85km to the north-west.

The Brocken is fabled in northern European mythology as the place where witches gather for a coven every April 30.

Scientists are still scratching their heads at the full meaning of a 32cm bronze-and-gold disc found by treasure hunters on the Mittelberg in 1999. The map on its face shows the Brocken as well as 32 stars including the Pleiades.

Experts in pre-history can only guess at the identity of the people who made the "Nebra Disc" 3,600 years ago.

"This disc, with the oldest concrete representation of the stars in the world, was placed in a pit in the middle of a ringwall during the early Bronze Age," Harald Meller, the chief archaeologist in the state of Saxony-Anhalt, said on Wednesday. "We still don't know if it was a princely grave or a treasure store for holy objects."

On Wednesday reporters were shown a clearing where the archaeological dig had gone down about half a meter into the soil, leaving what appeared to be loose stone walls standing. The site was once surrounded by wooden palisades and a complex of defensive ditches.

Wolfhard Schlosser, an expert in ancient astronomy at the University of the Ruhr, added, "The ringwall was built in such a way that the sun seemed to disappear every equinox behind the Brocken."

Experts believe the map and site formed an observatory, which was used to set the calendar for planting and harvesting crops.

The nearby forest contains 1 000 barrows or princely graves from the period, but little else is known about the lost people, who are not mentioned in ancient Greek or other Mediterranean sources.

Meller said two bronze swords found at the site had been made with a technique unique to Mycenaean and Anatolian swords, and had a similar shape to arms found in modern Romania and Hungary. The site is to become a tourist attraction when the dig finishes in a year or two.
French Car Runs on Air!
By Jon Sopel 
BBC Europe Correspondent 

Paris September 25, 2002 (BBC) - Engineers in France believe they have come up with the answer that environmentalists and economists have spent years searching for: a commercially viable, 100% non-polluting car, which costs next to nothing to run. 

The latest prototype will be unveiled on Thursday at the Paris motor show. 

Like everything else about this vehicle, it all sounds impossible. 

When we went to the company's factory-cum-design shop just outside Nice in the South of France a black blanket was put between us and it. But we were told it has a steering wheel in the middle, with passenger seats either side, a boot the size of the biggest estate, but in overall size terms is no bigger than a Smart car. 

The air is compressed at pressure about 150 times the rate you would put into car tires or your bicycle. An earlier version of the car that we drove was noisy and slow, and a tiny bit cumbersome. But then this vehicle will not be competing with a Ferrari or Rolls Royce. And the manufacturers are not seeking to develop a Formula One version of the vehicle. 

What the company is aiming at is the urban motorist: delivery vehicles, taxi drivers, and people who just use their car to nip out to the shops. 

The latest vehicle is said to have come on leaps and bounds from the early model we drove. It is said to be much quieter, a top speed of 110 km/h (65 mph), and a range of around 200 km before you need to fill the tanks up with air. The car comes fitted with its own compressor so you can fill up at home. But that would take four hours. 

The company has developed the technology to refill the vehicle in three minutes, although there are no service station forecourts with the compressed air machines to do that yet. 

And the cost? Cyril Negre, the head of Research and Development at MDI cars, reckons a full tank of air would be about 1.50 euros. And for that you can drive knowing that you are pumping nothing harmful into the atmosphere. But the difference between success and failure in the motor industry is investment and faith. On paper the car works; around the industrial estate that we took the early prototype, it works. 

Now the question is: how to make the leap from concept to the market? Will the dream become something more than so much compressed air?

Chimps Not So Close to Humans
By John Pickrell
National Geographic News

Houston September 24, 2002 (National Geographic) - For decades, scientists have agreed that human and chimpanzee DNA is 98.5 percent identical. A recent study suggests that number may need to be revised.

Using a new, more sophisticated method to measure the similarities between human and chimp DNA, the two species may share only 95 percent genetic material.

The result is surprising, said David Nelson, a geneticist at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, "in that it's more than twice as much difference as we thought" existed. 

DNA is the nucleic acid found in all cells that stores and transmits genetic information from one generation to the next. By comparing the similarity of DNA between two species, scientists can determine how closely they are related. 

Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, first discovered the astonishing genetic similarity between the two species in the mid 1970s, when they compared proteins in humans and chimpanzees, (Pan troglodytes), and found that they were 99 percent identical. 

Further experiments by the same team showed that 98.5 percent of DNA sequences are shared by humans and chimps. The same methods showed that two humans share 99.9 percent of their DNA. In contrast, the DNA of humans and mice is only around 60 percent similar. 

Revisiting the Numbers 

"People were initially very surprised by the close proximity," said Nelson. Ideas about the uniqueness of man led some people to expect that the chimpanzee would have quite different DNA, he said. 

At the time, said Nelson, the results helped resolve a debate regarding the relationships among the great apes—a group which also includes the gorilla, (Gorilla gorilla), and the orangutan, (Pongo pygmaeus). The DNA data proved that humans and chimps are more closely related to one another than either is to the gorilla. 

Using the more sophisticated methods that became available in the 1980s and 1990s, scientists revisited the question of how much DNA humans and chimps share, and came to similar conclusions. 

However, these researchers may have been missing some crucial information, said Roy J. Britten, a geneticist at the California Institute of Technology in Corona del Mar. Britten is a co-developer of the method originally used to look for genetic similarities in the 1970s. 

The early methods only take into account certain types of evolutionary change called substitutions, said Britten. Substitutions occur when one of the four molecules that join to form DNA—called a nucleotide—is replaced by one of the other three types. 

However, this isn't the only type of change, or mutation, that can occur through evolution, said Britten. Single nucleotides or whole sections of DNA can end up being deleted or inserted into the existing sequence. These kinds of changes are known as indels, he said. 

Due to the paucity of long strings of accurately sequenced DNA data, it hasn't been possible until recently to compare the number of indels between sequences, said Nelson. 

Britten decided to re-examine the question of genetic similarity looking at both indels and nucleotide substitutions. He compared long DNA sequences—735,000 nucleotides in length—taken from both the human and chimpanzee genome databases. Britten reports his findings in the upcoming issue of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The study became available online September 23. 

Filling the Gaps 

While the results confirmed that single nucleotide substitutions did account for roughly 1.4 percent of the differences, in accordance with previous estimates, Britten also found that indels account for a further 3.9 percent of divergence. This gives a rough estimate of five percent difference, he said. 

"There seems to be a deep interest in this question," of how genetically similar we are with chimpanzees, said Britten. "Increasing the number is mostly a technical matter though; we are still the same distance away as we were before, and that is about five million years," he said. 

The new estimate could be a little misleading, said Saitou Naruya, an evolutionary geneticist at the National Institute of Genetics in Mishima, Japan. "There is no consensus about how to count numbers or proportion of nucleotide insertions and deletions," he said. 

Indels are common in the non-functional sections of the genome, said Peter Oefner, a researcher at Stanford's Genome Technology Center in Palo Alto, California. Scientists estimate that up to 97 percent of DNA in the human genome has no known function. However, he added, indels are extremely rare in gene sequences. 

"We haven't observed a single indel in a [gene] to date between human and chimp," said Oefner. Therefore, the revised estimate doesn't alter the amount of DNA that holds information about our species. Humans and chimps still differ by about one percent in gene sequences, he said. 

Nevertheless, "5 percent is probably closer to what people thought [the difference would be] a priori," said Nelson. Even the smaller figure of 1.5 percent is quite large across the three billion or so nucleotides that make up the human genome, he said. 

Researchers hope that studying the differences between the human and chimpanzee genomes could provide insight into language, intelligence, and other factors that define our species. To this end researchers are now in the process of deciphering the chimpanzee genome. 

Despite the small genetic differences between our species, the chimpanzee doesn't suffer from many afflictions that regularly affect people—illnesses ranging from malaria to some types of cancer. Studying the genetic differences between chimps and humans may provide insight into some of these human diseases.


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