Frankenstein Lives!
Dracula Bat Scandal, Head Lice,
Nitrogen Rain, Celtic Cannibals,
Mooning Uranus & More!
Dr. Frankenstein Would Be Proud!

Toronto October 29, 2002 (Globe and Mail) - Eyes, ears, hearts, kidneys, penises, brains -- there are artificial replacement parts for all these organs. Man-made machinery is being installed in human bodies, and science fiction is becoming medical fact.

Rapid progress is being made in the new disciplines of biomedical engineering and robotics, and thousands of individuals with diseased organs may benefit. "What we're trying to do is advance medical science with engineering and biological tools," says Dr. Ajit Yoganathan, director of the Georgia Tech Bioengineering Center. Certainly, there is a need for spare parts: With an aging population, the number of people awaiting organ transplants is rising, as is the need for prosthetic limbs.

But the artificial-organ industry is also catering to graying baby boomers, who will not age quietly, but instead wish to retain their mobility, vision, memory and sexual prowess. And, as the ethical debate over fusing man and machine continues, intricate questions arise. "There's no [legal] act even proposed about body parts," says Dr. George Annas, professor of health law at the Boston University School of Public Health.

If a person with a prosthetic limb commits a crime, for example, will a clever lawyer be able to blame the implant, deflecting guilt from the individual?

And if society struggles with genetically modified foods, how will it deal with mechanically modified people? Will labeling be mandatory: 5-per-cent robot?

There are no simple answers, only an unpredictable future, as the original biomedical engineer, Dr. Frankenstein, anticipated almost 200 years ago in the Mary Shelley novel: "I had worked . . . for the sole purpose of infusing life into an inanimate body . . . but when those muscles and joints were rendered capable of motion, it became a thing such as even . . . [philosophers] could not have conceived."

Consider this sampling of human-machine hybridization. 

Passive parts

There is a long history of implanted materials: glass eyes, synthetic hair, dentures, silicone-gel breasts and permanently fixed metal rods that stabilize fractured bones. Cosmetic surgeons are now implanting special moulds for a more masculine chin, higher cheekbones, a more beautifully angled nose and less prominent frown lines. But all such passive gadgets, once in the body, just sit there, unlike the new-generation implants. 

Activated tissues

The era of artificial skin is here, which will greatly aid severe burn victims. Almost "alive," artificial skin is made of specially layered fibers, which are activated once grafted onto a burn site. The substitute skin acts as a temporary scaffold, allowing a person's own skin to regrow in its place, healing without scars, as the artificial fibers are absorbed.

A related product is artificial cartilage, which is injected into arthritic knees, allowing the person's natural cartilage to regenerate, cushioning the joint from further wear and tear.

What is remarkable is that artificial skin and cartilage can be custom-designed. "It is now possible to tailor the thickness, areas, shapes and internal architecture of these devices . . . [for] various wound circumstances," says Dr. John Brekke, whose firm, THM Medical, is a leader in tissue regeneration.

But such activated parts, though a welcome medical development, may have unforeseen consequences, which are now debated at medical conferences. Want to change your skin color, perhaps to a tint not found in nature? How about yearly facial skin replacement for youthful looks? Or reshaped ears for that alien look? A dorsal fin for better swimming? 

Private parts

Having a metal or inflatable rod inserted inside your penis -- for an erection on demand -- is usually restricted to men with severe impotence, which can be caused by diabetes, excessive smoking, spinal cord injury or prostate-cancer surgery. But baby boomers have decided that satisfying sex for life is not only a medical need, but an inalienable right, and the artificial-organ industry is obliging.

Men whose erectile difficulties are mostly psychological, and who are not helped by medication, are now receiving penile prostheses. With the semi-rigid malleable metal implant, "the erection can last as long as wanted," says Dr. Claudio Urlich, a professor of urology at the University of Costa Rica.

The inflatable rod variety has miniature hydraulic pumps, and is deflated "by pressing relief valves," according to Dr. Steven Morganstern, a urologist at the Atlanta Men's Health Center, and author of Overcoming Impotence. Dr. Morganstern estimates that 90 per cent of his implant patients have "fulfilled expectations," noting that performance-anxiety is eliminated. Remarkably, these devices are so well stitched into the body, that men can still father children.

Internal organs

There are thousands of people with heart pacemakers, which release electrical impulses into the heart, like a ticking metronome, to keep it beating regularly.

Beyond pacemakers, however, the experience with artificial mechanical hearts has been disappointing. Patients have not survived for long, succumbing to blood clots or infections. For now, Heart Assist Devices (HADs), small pumps that help the existing damaged heart, are used.

But advances in miniaturization and computerization are leading to more ambitious projects: Research is under way for fully autonomous artificial hearts, kidneys and livers.

An intriguing advance is a heart transport method known as the Portable Organ Preservation System (POPS), developed at the Center for Advanced Biomedical Research at Boston University Medical School. When doctors harvest organs from people who have just died, they place the retrieved hearts and kidneys into the POPS, to preserve the organs for a few days. And then the organs come to life.

"In the simplest terms, it makes the organ believe it is still in the body," says Dr. Waleed Hassanein, a heart surgeon who developed the machine. "The heart naturally starts beating," and kidneys start producing urine, which can be tested. The organs actually become healthier once outside their original owner.

The ethical dilemmas continue to build, and health and legal scholars are on new ground. For example: Does a living but unbodied organ have rights? Can it be sold to the highest bidder?

If freshly harvested organs can be preserved for longer periods, will the overseas industry in black-market organs flourish further?

Flexing parts

Hip- and knee-replacement surgery is common, as an aging population leads to more people with degenerated arthritic joints. But these replacement joints are still just passive parts, even though they move. The artificial hip, for example, is just a sophisticated ball-and-socket contraption.

But the next level of integration is bionics (bio-mechanics), in which the body talks to the machine, actually giving the artificial part its cue to function. Dextra is a prosthetic hand, which was developed at Rutgers University, and is one of the first artificial limbs to use a person's own nerves to feed electricity to the machine's fingers.

"Communication is key," says Dr. William Craelius, the biomedical engineer who developed Dextra. "Human-machine communication could soon lose its distinction as the No. 1 obstacle to bionics." With a seamless human-to-device connection, Dextra patients have such natural control that they can type and play the piano.

With the development of synthetic muscle, entire joints need not be replaced, but select muscles can be restored.

So far, scientists at the Artificial Muscle Research Institute at the University of New Mexico hope to help people who have lost muscle function. But as the technology progresses, researchers could also reinforce existing muscles, perhaps inserting muscles into new locations, leading to entirely new movements and power.

"Imagine if our [research and] computers become greenhouses for a new kind of nature," says Dr. Peter Bentley, a computer scientist at University College, London, and author of Digital Biology: How Nature and Technology are Transforming Our Lives. 

Sensing technologies

There are now computerized silicon implants for all five senses -- hearing, sight, smell, taste and touch. And the gadgets are amplifying our conscious awareness.

The cochlea is the snail-shaped hearing part of the ear, and cochlear implants for the deaf, known as the bionic ear, are common. The device is surgically implanted near the ear canal. Its microphone picks up sound, bypassing the deaf ear, and sends signals directly to the brain. They are so successful that 80 per cent of recipients hear well enough to have conversations.

Such instruments, which are fluent in the brain's own language of electricity, are a major -- even ominous -- scientific advance. "These . . . devices join the two worlds of information processing, the silicon world of the computer to the water world of the brain," says Dr. Peter Fromherz, a physicist at the Max Planck Institute for Biochemistry in Germany.

The bionic eye implant, the Artificial Retina Component Chip (ARCC), was developed at the Johns Hopkins University, and mimics the retina, allowing the blind to see. ARCC is a silicon chip that has 100,000 light sensors packed into a 0.4-millimetre sliver. The sensors respond to light the way the retina does, converting the energy into faint electricity, sending the impulses to the brain via the optic nerve.

But Dr. William Dobelle, a pioneering biomedical engineer, has gone further, and developed an artificial-vision system that bypasses the human eye entirely. A camera is worn on special glasses, images are sent to a computer worn on a belt, and impulses travel by electrodes that have been surgically stuck into the brain's vision centres, the visual cortex at the back of the head.

The result? A hazy, outline-only image, but the formerly blind recipients are elated. Dr. Dobelle ambitiously declares, "As our technology improves . . . braille, the long cane and the guide dog will become obsolete as surely as the airplane replaced the steamship." 

The human machine

As scientists modify and bypass our sense organs, learning how to communicate directly with the brain, they are considering brain implants -- pacemakers for the brain -- for various conditions.

For example, why not permanently implant electrodes in the specific sites known to provoke seizures, depression, hyperactivity, Parkinson's or Alzheimer's disease? Perhaps the electrodes can self-regulate, zapping the problem before it builds, or they can be turned on with conscious will, or even by another person remotely.

"Now we're treating the brain like circuitry," says Ray Kurzweil, a computer scientist and author of The Age of Spiritual Machines: When Computers Exceed Human Intelligence. Other scientists want to move beyond diseases, and upgrade the human form, expanding consciousness. For example, implanted devices could extend human perceptions, giving people superhuman senses. Perhaps you would like the high-frequency hearing of a dog, or the sonar echolocation of a dolphin, or the night vision of an owl? Or even internal wireless Internet access with a mouse controlled by your thoughts?

"Our machines will become much more like us, and we will become much more like our machines," says Dr. Rodney Brooks, director of the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory at MIT, and author of Flesh and Machines: How Robots Will Change Us.

It seems that neither science nor the imagination has any boundaries, as reality overtakes fiction.

Dr. Shafiq Qaadri is a Toronto family physician with a special interest in medical education.

Stardust Will Flyby Annefrank Asteroid
Pasadena October 30, 2002 (NASA) - It will be a moment tinged with history when the Stardust spacecraft makes an encounter with Asteroid 5535 Annefrank this weekend. The flyby will test many of the systems and procedures to be used when Stardust makes its encounter with comet Wild 2 in little more than a year. 

"It turns out to be a tremendous plus because you end up having a full dress rehearsal more than a year ahead of the encounter," said Donald Brownlee, a University of Washington astronomy professor who is the mission's chief scientist. "It's a little like a dress rehearsal for a wedding – you expect things to be fine, but you practice just to make sure. If the unexpected does happen at the rehearsal, it's not a problem at the real ceremony." 

Stardust, launched in February 1999, is designed to capture particles from Wild 2 and return them to Earth for analysis. The spacecraft already has collected grains of interstellar dust. It is the first U.S. sample-return mission since the last moon landing in 1972. 

Brownlee described Annefrank as typical for asteroids found in the inner asteroid belt, just beyond the orbit of Mars. Stardust's main camera will capture images, but the asteroid's relatively small size (2½ miles across) and the spacecraft's distance (about 1,900 miles) mean the images won't be very detailed, he said. The closest approach to the asteroid will be at 8:50 p.m. PST (11:50 p.m. EST) on Friday. 

"We're just fortunate to have a target there that we can approach at this time," he said. 

Asteroid 5535 was discovered by prolific German asteroid hunter Karl Reinmuth in March 1942 but was not named Annefrank until long after World War II. 

The discovery came barely three months before Frank, a Jewish teenager, joined her parents, her sister and four others hiding from the Nazis in Amsterdam, Holland. For two years the group remained in their hideaway, subsisting with help from a small circle of outsiders. Anne recorded their life and her thoughts in a diary that was to become one of the world's most famous books. The group was discovered in 1944 and sent to Nazi concentration camps. All except Anne's father perished. Otto Frank survived the war and returned to Amsterdam, where he published his daughter's diary. 

Now Annefrank happens to be the asteroid that lies on the right course to help Stardust and its controllers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., prepare for the tasks they face come Jan. 2, 2004. 

On that day, Stardust will fly within 75 miles of Wild 2's main body, close enough to trap small particles from the coma, the gas-and-dust envelope surrounding the comet's nucleus. Stardust will be traveling at about 13,400 miles per hour and will capture comet particles traveling at the speed of a bullet fired from a rifle. The main camera, built for NASA's Voyager program, will transmit the closest-ever comet pictures back to Earth. 

There are differences, however, between how the spacecraft will function during the Annefrank flyby and the comet encounter. For one thing, if it runs into serious problems during the asteroid encounter it will be able to go into "safe mode," where the spacecraft turns its solar power collectors toward the sun and essentially protects itself. But when it approaches Wild 2 (pronounced Vilt two), Stardust will be working without a net – the "safe mode" function will be turned off. 

Brownlee said the Annefrank flyby is "a very good test," the kind that ideally every mission should have. Such tests are particularly important, he said, for low-cost missions such as those in the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Discovery program, of which Stardust is a part. 

"When we have the comet encounter, we want as few first-time events as possible," Brownlee said. "This fortunate opportunity at the asteroid increases our probability of success next year at the comet." 

Besides the UW and JPL, the Stardust collaboration includes Lockheed Martin Astronautics.

Stardust mission home page - 
Dracula Gives Bats Bad Rap!
By Alex Cukan
United Press International

Newfoundland October 25, 2002 (UPI) - As creatures of the night, bats fit well with the motifs of Gothic fiction, not to mention the ghosts and goblins of Halloween.

Bram Stoker's novel, "Dracula," appeared in 1897, but according to English Professor Elizabeth Miller of Memorial University of Newfoundland, Canada, the 1931 classic film, "Dracula," starring Bela Lugosi, provided the most memorable and lasting images of both the vampire count and bats that survive to this day. 

Except vampire bats are found neither in Europe nor the United States and they cannot attack and drain the blood of humans as described in "Dracula." 

Of the 1,000 species of bats, only three are known as vampires. They are found only in Central and South America, they tend to attack cattle and other livestock and their salvia is being studied to develop new anticoagulant drugs for heart patients.

Perhaps bats should be regarded more like the character of another topical movie, "Batman," as nocturnal forces for good.

According to Bat Conservation International, based in Austin, Texas, and dedicated to dispelling the myths surrounding Order Chiroptera, single little brown bat can catch 1,200 mosquito-sized insects in one hour. A colony of 150 big brown bats can protect local farmers from up to 33 million or more rootworms each summer. Agricultural plants such as bananas, mangoes, cashews, dates and figs rely on bats for pollination and seed dispersal. 

"The most prevalent myths are that bats are blind, are dirty, can have rabies but the most common myth is that they fly in your hair," Nancy Simmons, chair of the division of Vertebrate Zoology at the American Museum of Natural Science in New York, told United Press International. 

In reality, some bats can see better than humans, are clean and groom themselves like cats, are social, are the only flying mammals, they don't fly into a person's hair and less than 1 percent have rabies but they pose little threat to people who do not handle them, Simmons explained.

"Bats get a bad rap because most people don't know anything about them, have never seen them and to them they are mysterious and fast and therefore feared," Simmons said. "They can be as small as the tip of your little finger or some in the tropics have a wing-span of 6 feet." 

Bats socialize and sleep in the daytime and from dusk to dawn they forage for food. They emit high-pitched pulsing sounds that bounce off obstacles. The echoes give them information so detailed they can detect a morsel of food as thin as a human hair. In fact, bat sonar is 1,000 times more sensitive than the artificial systems used by humans. Most bats eat insects but some eat fruit, some fish, some hibernate and some migrate south to Mexico or beyond in the winter to find insects. 

"It's my experience that many people are taught to fear things and many have never seen a bat so the misconceptions grow," she said. 

One place to see bats in action is zoos. The Oregon Zoo in Portland has the ability to exhibit 200 to 300 bats but usually exhibits less.

"We have a reduced light environment so the visitors can see the bats, at night when the visitors are gone, we turn up the lights so the bats think it's daytime," Blair Csuti, the zoo's conservation program coordinator, told UPI. "Mainly we have straw-colored fruit bats and Rodrigues bats, which in the 1970s were endangered (with a population down) to 70, but after conservation efforts there are 500 of these bats in captivity in zoos in the United States."

The Rodrigues bats come from an island in the Indian Ocean that had been forested, but only 2 percent of the forest remains, eliminating their shelter and habitat. 

"There is also a conservation effort on the island to restore the habitat and now 2,500 bats are on the island," Csuti said. 

Fruit bats are an important part of rain forest. They disperse seeds and some pollinate certain plants. More than 300 plant species rely on the fruit bats for pollination and seed dispersal.

Food for the fruit bats -- apples, bananas, grapes and other fruit -- is the zoo's second-most expensive. Only elephant feed costs more.

Another place to see bats in action is the annual August bat festival in Austin, Texas, where more than 2,000 celebrate the "Freetail-Free-For-All," an evening described by Bat Conservation International as "great food, freebies, freetails, and fun where we'll watch the spectacular emergence of more than one million bats at the best time of year to view them."

BCI was instrumental in protecting the 20 million Mexican free-tails from Bracken Cave, Texas, that eat approximately 200 tons of insects nightly. According to the organization, bats, which are found on every continent except Antarctica, are exceptionally vulnerable to extinction because they have only one pup a year. Some bat species are solitary and mate for life, but many species live in large colonies so an act of vandalism, such as throwing a cherry bomb in a cave, or destroying a habitat can cost thousands of the creatures their lives. 

Another place to see bats in action is the premiere of "Blood Suckers," produced by WNET-TV in New York City, for its "Nature" series, to be broadcast on PBS the week of Nov. 17. 

Wildlife filmmaker Mark Ferns, the producer of "Bloody Suckers," a fan of B-grade vampire movies, was intrigued to find that real vampire bats in South America were not discovered until into the 19th century, so the Transylvanian legends of a bat-like Dracula had developed independently. 

Although vampire bats usually feed on chickens and cattle, Ferns, who is also a fan of realty TV, decided to film himself being bit by a vampire bat. 

"I thought Ferns' approach of animals that suck blood -- vampire bats, leeches, mosquitoes, a butterfly, a South American insect and an Amazonian fish -- was unique," Fred Kaufman, a "Nature" producer, told UPI. "All have misconceptions, and Ferns offered himself to be bitten by them and describe the experience," he said.

"I was vaccinated for every conceivable illness I could contract but I was worried about unknown diseases that cannot be tested for such as mosquito-borne diseases for which there are no shots or good treatments, like Dengue and Ross River fevers," Ferns said in a statement.

"We spent weeks waiting all night trying to video wild vampires by using no infrared cameras, using no visible light, because they are very cautious and could always tell where we were hidden, probably finding us with their echolocation." 

UPI attempted to interview Ferns, who has said he is feeling OK and that all medical tests were negative, but he was in a cave somewhere in New Zealand.

Clinton Aide Slams Pentagon UFO Secrecy
By Richard Stenger

Washington October 22, 2002 (CNN) --One winter night in 1965, eyewitnesses saw a fireball streak over North America, bank, turn and appear to crash in western Pennsylvania. Then swarms of military personnel combed the area and a tarp-covered flatbed truck rumbled out of the woods.

Now a former White House chief of staff and an international investigative journalist want to know what the Pentagon knows, calling on it to release classified files about that and other incidents involving unidentified flying objects, or UFOs.

"It is time for the government to declassify records that are more than 25 years old and to provide scientists with data that will assist in determining the real nature of this phenomenon," ex-Clinton aide John Podesta said Tuesday.

A Pentagon spokesperson could not be reached for comment regarding the requests for information.

Despite earning little credence, cases of strange aerial phenomena that defy explanation abound -- whether witnessed by thousands of Arizona residents, commercial airline pilots or a U.S. president. The new initiative is not setting out to prove the existence of aliens. Rather the group wants to legitimize the scientific investigation of unexplained aerial phenomena.

Podesta was one of numerous political and media heavyweights on hand in Washington, D.C., to announce a new group to gain access to secret government records about UFOs. Specifically, the Coalition for Freedom of Information (CFI) is pressing the Air Force for documents involving Project Moon Dust and Operation Blue Fly, clandestine operations reported to have existed decades ago to investigate UFOs and retrieve objects of unknown origins.

One of the most mysterious cases, the Kecksburg, Pennsylvania incident of December 5, 1965, is the first cited in the group's request for records through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Despite an official government story that the object was a meteorite, some eyewitnesses claimed that a military truck took an acorn-shaped object the size of a small car from the rural Pennsylvania crash site to an Air Force base in Ohio.

"We can't come up with a reason why this information is being withheld. The government won't even acknowledge that the incident took place but we know that it did," said Leslie Kean, a California-based freelance reporter who drafted the FOIA request.

In the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, the government did take the UFO search seriously and top generals considered the pros and cons of informing the U.S. public, Kean said, citing top secret memos. In 1969, however, the Air Force terminated Project Blue Book, concluding that no reported UFOs were threats to national security. Paradoxically, Kean notes, the military continues to deny some requests for UFO information by citing national security concerns.

Backed by the Sci-Fi channel, the CFI hopes to reduce the scientific ridicule factor in this country when the topic is UFOs.

"There's definitely evidence of strange phenomenon in the world. These are well documented," said Kean, who has written for The Nation, the Boston Globe and the International Herald Tribune. "Most people don't think that there is evidence because they haven't look for it. There's such a little green men mindset in this culture. It's hard to work your way through that."

The CFI director Ed Rothschild also works for Podesta's public relations firm, PodestaMattoon, which is coordinating the new group at the behest of the Sci-Fi channel. He said the initiative was a call for serious investigation, not a publicity stunt for the cable network.

"The Sci-Fi channel has had an interest in [UFOs] for some time. The difference here is that they are focusing attention on the serious, factual side of the issue, and that scientists have not had a chance to thoroughly examine it," Rothschild said.

"Of course it could help programming. But Sci-Fi thought they had some resources they could bring to the table."

BBC's Bonnybridge Web Cam - 

Stronger Breed of Head Lice!
Associated Press Writer 

California October 28, 2002 (AP) - John Clark is trying to solve a problem that's left hundreds of parents — not to mention their children — scratching their heads in search of answers.

Over-the-counter shampoos are losing their effectiveness against head lice, parasites that can plague 12 million schoolchildren each year. Clark and researchers at the University of California have been trying to find out why some head lice don't die when doused and scrubbed with pesticide-based shampoos. 

"The lice are becoming resistant and the resistant lice are taking over," Clark said. 

The reason, he said, lies in the shampoos' active ingredient that attacks the insects' central nervous systems and causes the critters to suffocate. The poison acts in the same way as DDT, a pesticide that was widely used to kill lice before it was banned in the United States in 1973. After three decades of exposure to DDT, lice began developing a genetic immunity to it.

The pesticide-laced shampoos, which were made available without a prescription in the 1980s, helped the resistant strain of lice evolve, public health experts said. 

"We get calls from child care providers and schools who say lice are increasingly more difficult to get rid of," said Steven Shuman, the state Department of Public Health's deputy director for maternal, child and family health. "When people get lice, they want to get rid of them as fast as possible. And that leads to a misuse of the products designed to kill them." 

In samples of head lice sent to him from school nurses across the country, Clark said he has no problem finding bugs with the genetic makeup that makes them stronger than the pesticide. 

"We started hearing about resistance in 1994," Clark said. "I would say that between five and 10 years at the most, they won't be effective at all." 

But studying dead head lice tells only so much. In order to get a sense of how the parasites behave and exactly how they react to pesticides, researchers had to design an environment where the louse — which has only been able to survive on a human scalp — can live. 

"Nobody wants these things living on them, so we had to create an artificial scalp to study them while they're alive," Clark said. 

Clark and the other researchers, funded by a $500,000 grant from the National Institute of Health, have been trying to replicate conditions of a human scalp where a louse can feed on blood and lay eggs. In a setup that looks nothing like a human head, the lice are placed inside tubes with a tuft of human hair. A thin plastic membrane stretches over the bottom of the tube, fooling the lice into believing it is a scalp. The tube is then lowered into a container of blood, which a louse can feed on through the membrane. 

"They lay their eggs there, they raise their kids there and they eat there," Clark said. "They're happy." 

Miwa Takano-Lee, a researcher at the University of California at Riverside who helped design the artificial scalp, said the device will help scientists study why lice spread so rapidly among people. 

"Everybody assumes they're transported from head-to-head contact," Takano-Lee said. "But they do not jump. We're trying to figure out what motivates them to disburse. They have everything they need when they're on a person's scalp, so it doesn't make sense why they would want to leave." 

But the research goes beyond the interest of science. When many students — including some in Massachusetts — are diagnosed with head lice, some are not allowed to attend class. In a rush to relieve their children's' itchy scalps and anxious to save the hours it could take to comb lice out of their hair, parents often turn to insecticide-based shampoos. 

"I speak to so many frustrated parents," said Debrah Altschuler, president of the National Pediculosis Association, a Needham-based nonprofit group that advocates against the misuse of pesticidal lice treatments. "They've spent all this money on products that didn't do anything, and their kids still have lice." 

Altschuler, who said using chemical lice treatments can cause cancer and other health hazards if used incorrectly, said picking lice and their eggs off a scalp is the best way to get rid of them. 

"We are not entirely anti-pesticide or anti-chemical," she said. "But we need to reserve those treatments in a way that they'll be safe and effective." 

A convenient solution to lice control might be found in the development of new products that mix different active ingredients, Clark said. By mixing compounds that kill lice differently, it would take the insects longer to develop a resistance than if they were subjected to just a single poison. 

"If we're going to get a handle on control, it's going to have to be done through very controlled prescription use of pesticides," Clark said. "When these things are sold over-the-counter, they're not used properly. And that leads to the problems we're seeing now." 

Head lice info - 

Federal Judge Halts Ocean Map Project
SAN FRANCISCO October 28, 2002 (AP) - A federal judge ordered the National Science Foundation on Monday to stop firing sound blasts into the Gulf of California because it harms whales. 

Magistrate Judge James Larson sided with conservationists who said sound blasts used to map the ocean floor have disrupted marine life in the ocean between Baja California and mainland Mexico. 

Larson ordered such aspects of a $1.6 million research project undertaken by the foundation to end immediately. 

The Center for Biological Diversity asked the court last week to stop the research, saying two dead whales found on the Mexican coast last month likely beached themselves because of noise from air guns aboard the government vessel. 

Government lawyers argued environmentalists had proven no connection between the beached whales and noise from the air guns. James Coda, assistant U.S. attorney for Northern California, said the government may appeal.
NYC Underwater by 2080?
By Sugita Katyal 

NEW DELHI October 27, 2002 (Reuters) - By the year 2080, Manhattan and Shanghai could be underwater, droughts and floods could become more extreme and hundreds of millions of people will be at risk from disease, starvation and water shortages. 

That is the picture that a Greenpeace senior official painted of the future if the world failed to take urgent steps to curb greenhouse gas emissions and limit global warming.

"We're talking of about the submergence of islands, submergence of Shanghai, the submergence of Bombay, the submergence of New York City," Greenpeace climate policy director Steve Sawyer told Reuters late on Friday. 

"Manhattan would be under water." 

Sawyer, who is in New Delhi for a 10-day annual U.N. climate change conference, said global warming would lead to the melting of the Greenland ice sheet, which in turn would cause a five to seven meter (16 to 23 ft) sea-level rise and the inundation of coastal regions. 

"Most coastal cities would be uninhabitable in their present forms...and that's a catastrophic change of the shape of continents." 

Some environmentalists have said that recent climate disasters around the world -- from droughts in India, Australia and the United States to floods in Europe -- have been graphic harbingers of some of the expected consequences of global warming. The U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has predicted that by 2100 global average surface temperature will be 1.4 to 5.8 degrees Celsius higher than it was in 1990. 

Sawyer said an increase in temperatures would lead to more extreme droughts and a rise in frequency and intensity of tropical cyclones. "What these temperature changes are going to do to the hydrological cycle, particularly in the tropics, is not a very pretty picture."

Between 2050 and 2080, tens of millions of people would be more at risk of malaria, coastal flooding and starvation and hundreds of millions of people would be at risk from water shortages, he said. 

Delegates from 185 countries are attending the climate conference, which is likely to be the last major climate meeting before the 1997 Kyoto Protocol is expected to come into force early next year. The Kyoto Protocol aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the developed world by 2012 to 5.2 percent below 1990 levels. But the United States, the world's biggest air polluter, has refused to ratify the treaty, which it sees as flawed because it does not bind developing countries. It also says it would hurt the U.S. economy. 

The Earth Summit in Johannesburg earlier this year was widely criticized by environmentalists and vulnerable Pacific nations for barely touching on the problem of global warming. The United States was singled out for criticism.
Genre News: Firefly, William Shatner, Ghost Ship, Beatles, Andromeda, I Spy & More!
Firefly Wins Fan Hugs
By FLAtRich

Hollywood October 30, 2002 (eXoNews) - It may be too soon, or it may be too little too late, but Firefly fans have already started organizing to save the show from cancellation.

Joss Whedon's sometimes brilliant space-western on Fox has suffered badly in the ratings war for Friday night and as a victim of major league baseball. Some fans say the show never had a chance to attract an audience before Fox pre-empted it for final playoff games.

Last week's Firefly ratings between World Series games were up, but not nearly enough by past Fox standards. Fans of The Lone Gunmen and MillenniuM remember that Fox Friday night time slot all too well, and LG overnights were significantly higher than what Whedon and Minear's gun-slinging spacers are getting now. Lone Gunmen cast members even compared the two shows' woes in a recent web chat on the Sci Fi Channel website (see link below.)

In any case, all may not be lost. According to Sci Fi Wire, Fox recently ordered three more episodes of Firefly and Whedon himself hits the director's chair for episode eleven, which goes into production on November 4th.

Perhaps Fox will take a look at their own history and decide to let Firefly ride. X-Files, still the most popular program to ever air on Mr. Murdock's network, spent more than one season in the bottom 50 of the Nielsens before rocketing to fame. Similar slow start-ups plagued countless TV classics, including Star Trek, M*A*S*H, Cheers and Mary Tyler Moore.

The thing is, Whedon's shows are different and they take a while to sink in. No Allie McBeal meets Charlie's Angels formula here (as in Fox's "girls club".) Firefly is a distinct leap away from any other genre offering this year. Hopefully Fox will let Captain Mal and his crew find their niche. Even Whedon's own Buffy had to wait a while for a mass audience to understand just what it is that sets Ms. Gellar and company apart from the vast wasteland, and Firefly is made of the same stuff.

But if Fox tries to shoot down Firefly, the fans will be ready! So check out the Firefly Immediate Assistance site right now at 

Official Fox site -

Firefly Fan site -

Lone Gunmen Chat on - 

Shatner Does The Great Pumpkin

Hollywood October 31, 2002 (eXoNews) - The folks at Sci Fi Channel have decided to curse us with Kirk's bad movies for All Hallows Eve! Sci Fi sez:

"HAVE A WILLIAM SHATNER FULL MOON FRIGHT NIGHT HALLOWEEN! Thursday, Oct. 31, from 7AM to 5AM ET/PT - Or call it "Howl-oween" — since you'll be howling with laughter as William Shatner humorously hosts 11 chilling films from FULL MOON PICTURES!

What could be more frightening? Maybe Sci Fi could repeat that pre-TOS Esperanto Shatner flick they had on earlier this month. Now THAT was truly horrible!

But seriously, boys and ghouls, Bill does represent a time-honored tradition begun by Zacherley in the Fifties and continued by Elvira in the Eighties. Shatner is Shatner, and he's always fun, so don't be afraid to tune in.

And speaking of Sci Fi Channel, what was that much over-hyped and ultimately pathetic Clive Barker Saint Sinner thing all about? Did Sci Fi really pay for that trash and cancel Farscape in the same year? Is Barker trying to become the 21st Century's Ed Wood Jr.? Saint Sinner made Plan Nine From Outer Space look like Hitchcock!

Sci Fi is everywhere. Check your local listings, but be selective - quality is apparently not an issue at Sci Fi Channel.

Sci Fi Channel online - 

William Shatner's Official site -

AMC Horror Sweepstakes

New York October 28, 2002 (eXoNews) - As an alternative to Mr. Shatner and his sidekicks, AMC is holding their annual Halloween Monster Fest all week. AMC is showing a lot of the original Universal Horror films with a few Hammers thrown in. The faces are familiar, but at least Boris and Bela are still showing someplace!

There is also an online sweepstakes thing at AMC, but exercise caution if you don't already have the latest Macromedia Shockwave Player installed. Hit the AMC site without it and Macromedia will force a download that may leave you as frustrated as Larry Talbot under a full moon! [I have no idea how big the download was, BTW. Can't find the directory it wound up in, but it took at least 15 minutes via 56K. It shows up in Windows XP Install/Uninstall Control Panel applet as Shockwave, but doesn't say anything about size. Ed.]

Not only does the player download start without asking, but the install dumps you out of AMC's site at the end to get you to register with Macromedia. To make matters more insulting, when you go back to AMC you'll have to suffer through another 3.5 MB install to get the Goldpocket interface and play the game.

Did I mention that the game is boring but the prizes are cool?

Check it out if you dare at 

Ghost Ship Sweeps

Hollywood October 30, 2002 (eXoNews) - And don't miss the Ghost Ship Giveaway promo! "Warner Bros. and are giving away cool merchandise to celebrate the release of GHOST SHIP, starring Julianna Margulies, Gabriel Byrne, Isaiah Washington."

Mugs, hats and a dvd player with that neet Ghost Ship logo! Cool!

The giveaway runs thru November 2nd. Winners will be drawn randomly on the week of November 4, 2002 and notified by E-mail. 

Yeoh in The Masked Crusader
By Winnie Chung

HONG KONG October 29, 2002 (Hollywood Reporter) - Michelle Yeoh is donning her actress-producer hat again for a stint as a female Robin Hood with a new film, "The Masked Crusader," to be directed by cinematographer-turned-director Jingle Ma.

The $10 million film will be produced by Yeoh and partner Thomas Chung under the auspices of her company, Mythical Films, which is associated with Chung's Han Entertainment. Principal photography is expected to start in January in Hong Kong, China and Japan.

"Masked Crusader" is based on the legendary Wong Ngung, who fought for justice for the underdog and was a popular subject of black-and-white films of the 1960s, with many of the top actresses of the time portraying her. This version, set in the year 2009, will be the first time a modern-day film has been made about her.

It was 40 Years Ago Today!

Port Sunlight UK October 28, 1962 - If you've forgotten, or never really understood, why The Beatles were so cool, now's your chance to relive the innocence of The Day. The Beatles Ultimate Experience Database has put a transcript of the Fab Four's first radio interview online.

Here's a sample. [The interviewer is referring to the side of the Mersey that the boys are visiting for their interview, I guess. Ed.]

MONTY: "I would like to just ask you-- and we're recording this at Hume Hall, Port Sunlight-- Did any of you come over to this side before you became famous, as it were? Do you know this district?"
PAUL: "Well, we played here, uhh... I don't know what you mean by famous, you know.
PAUL: "If being famous is being in the Hit Parade, we've been over here-- we were here about two months ago. Been here twice, haven't we?"
JOHN: "I've got relations here. Rockferry."
MONTY: "Have you?"
JOHN: "Yes. Oh, all sides of the water, you know."
PAUL: "Yeah, I've got a relation in Clorton Village-- Upton Road."
RINGO: (jokingly) "I've got a friend in Birkenhead!"
MONTY: "I wish I had."
GEORGE: (jokingly) "I know a man in Chester!"

Read the entire transcript here - Beatles First Radio Interview (October 28th, 1962) - 

And cheers to R. Stevie Moore for the tip. Gear, fab, RSM! -

Pixar Eyeing 'Knick Knack' 
By Sheigh Crabtree 

Hollywood October 28, 2002 (Hollywood Reporter) - Can a grumpy snowman find life among the tropical fishes? That's a question Pixar Animation Studios plans to answer with the summer release of "Finding Nemo."

The Bay Area studio, which won its first Oscar for a computer animated short film, is considering dusting off its classic 1989 short "Knick Knack" and attaching it to the theatrical release of the upcoming father-son underwater adventure "Nemo."

"One of our goals is to have a short film before every Pixar animated feature," said John Lasseter, Pixar executive vp and "Knick Knack" director. "We kind of alternate between (making) new short films and pulling ones out of the vault that people haven't seen too much. For 'Finding Nemo,' we're talking about putting 'Knick Knack' on the front because a lot of people haven't seen it."

Woolvett Writes Andromeda Episode

Hollywood October 29, 2002 (Sci Fi Wire) - Gordon Michael Woolvett, who plays Seamus Harper in the syndicated SF TV show Gene Roddenberry's Andromeda, told SCI FI Wire that he wrote the script for an upcoming season-three episode, his first.

"It's going to be episode 19 of this season," Woolvett said in an interview. "I don't know what I'm allowed to tell you at all about what it's about. ... It's not a Haper-centric episode. We go really far away, farther than we've ever been, and we discover something brand new."

Woolvett's script was ordered by Andromeda's new head writer, Robert Engels (Twin Peaks), the actor said.

"I pitched them a couple of episodes," he said. "I wrote two scripts. ... The first one was initially turned down by [former executive producer and series co-creator] Robert [Hewitt] Wolfe way back when. And then the second one I pitched to Bob Engels, and he passed on it, because he said it didn't fall into play with our series the way it was going. It was an episode that had a lot to do with alternate realities, and we already had a number of alternate realities that season, so it would end up being sort of repetitive episodes in a row. But he did say that he liked that script, and who knows? There may be room down the road for it in subsequent seasons. But he did like my writing and encouraged me to try again. So I pitched him another idea, and, you know, three's the charm, they say."

Andromeda Official Site -

I Spy European Mission

Hollywood October 30, 2002 (eXoNews) - Eddie is back. In a reversal of Cosby's role in the classic TV show I Spy, Murphy finally gets to do Bond. Just to show their support, Sony Pictures is running a couple of contests. The best one seems to be a trip to Europe (well, yeah!)

"If you can handle touring around some of Europe's most amazing cities, then you're qualified to be an agent on the I SPY "All Around Europe" mission.

Enter for a chance to win the trip of a lifetime to Paris, France and Budapest, Hungary, where I SPY was filmed, and a premium "Spy Kit," consisting of a Sony digital camera and Sony Clie from Sony Electronics.

Other prizes include amazing Sony Electronics "Spy Kits" consisting of a Sony Portable TV, Sony CD Walkman and more!"

Sign up for the contest here - 

Nitrogen Rain!
Newcastle October 28, 2002 (Independent UK) Hold on to your hats for the next global environment crisis: we've had acid rain, the hole in the ozone layer and the greenhouse effect. The new menace is an excessive accumulation of compounds of nitrogen in the earth and in the air. In many parts of the world fertilizer is, literally, falling from the sky. As the Weather Girls might have sung: "It's raining N!"

Many of us are aware of the problem of nitrogen oxides from car exhausts causing smog in cities. However, the subtle effects of nitrogen compounds are less immediately visible. A gas called nitrous oxide is accumulating in the upper atmosphere. It is 200 times more potent than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas, and has been implicated in the thinning of the ozone layer. Ammonia from animal waste dissolves in rain water and falls back to the earth as fertilizer. This disrupts delicate plant communities that thrive only in nitrogen-depleted environments. Other compounds of nitrogen also cause rain to become acidic.

In an effort to understand the problem, the Natural Environment Research Council, with the environment ministry DEFRA and the Scottish Executive, has launched a £7m research program called Gane – "global nitrogen enrichment". The program's scientific co-coordinator is Professor Alan Davison, of the University of Newcastle. "Nitrogen enrichment has been ignored for too long," he says. "It needs to be raised much higher up the agenda."

The key to the problem lies in the way that nitrogen is cycled between its different chemical forms, and how man has radically interfered with the natural balance.

As a gas, nitrogen makes up four-fifths of the atmosphere. It is almost completely chemically unreactive in this form, but compounds of nitrogen – nitrogen atoms chemically combined with other atoms – are essential for life. There are two main ways by which nitrogen in its gas form becomes chemically altered to make it available to living organisms, a process called nitrogen fixing. The first is by populations of microbes that inhabit the soil and roots of leguminous plants. These convert atmospheric nitrogen into amino acids, the building blocks of protein, which are taken up by plants and incorporated into the food chain. Naturally occurring nitrogen-fixing organisms are thought to process 110 million tons of nitrogen a year. A further 10 million tons is fixed by the action of lightning – a high-temperature chemical process that forces atmospheric nitrogen to react with oxygen.

This 120 tons of fixed nitrogen was, for millennia, sufficient to keep the world's natural ecosystems supplied each year. Then man came along. Early farmers discovered that crops would grow better with manure spread on the land; that livestock thrived on certain plants, such as clover; and that other plants, such as soybean and other legumes, were rich in protein and nutritious. Deliberate cultivation of these nitrogen-fixers started to tilt the natural balance.

The big change came in Victorian times. In a speech to the British Association for the Advancement of Science in 1898, the scientist Sir William Crooke said: "England and all civilized nations stand in deadly peril of not having enough to eat." There was insufficient nitrogen fertilizer to grow the quantity of food needed to satisfy demand. Man had to find ways of fixing nitrogen. A few years later, the German chemist Fritz Haber showed how it was possible to take nitrogen from the air and react it with hydrogen to make ammonia, from which nitrates could be produced. When his countryman Carl Bosch showed how to do this on an industrial scale, the era of mass-produced artificial fertilizers had begun.

Nowadays, around 80 million tons of nitrogen is fixed each year as fertilizer. A further 30 million tons is fixed by cultivation of legumes, notably soybean. Together, these have doubled the quantity of nitrogen taken out of the air and made chemically reactive. The final "big fixer" is the combustion of fossil fuels in power stations and motor cars. The high temperatures cause the nitrogen in the air to form a variety of oxide gases. These account for a further 25 million tons of fixed nitrogen each year.

"In other words, through our efforts we are more than doubling the quantity of fixed nitrogen in the Earth and its atmosphere than would be achieved if nature was left to its own devices," says Professor Davison. "The polluting aspects of nitrogen oxides, the smogs in cities, are only a small part of the problem. Huge areas are being affected in ways that are not so obvious."

For a start, there is the production of nitrous oxide by microbes in the soil. An excess of fixed nitrogen results in more nitrous oxide being generated. This finds its way into the upper atmosphere, where it is a potent greenhouse gas.

"Nitrous oxide is of great concern," says Davison. "The UK has obligations under various agreements to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, so Gane aims to provide DEFRA with the science to underpin policy decisions."

Another problem is the precipitation of nitrogen compounds from the air – it literally rains fertilizer. Ammonia is produced in significant quantities from intensive animal production – pigs, cattle and poultry. This enters the atmosphere, where it dissolves and is precipitated in rain. An estimated 230,000 tons of nitrogen in the form of ammonia is deposited on the UK in rain. Around 150,000 tons of nitrogen oxides also come back to earth in rainwater.

"It is difficult to give accurate figures, but most of England gets somewhere between 15 and 30 kilograms of nitrogen per hectare of land each year from the sky," says Davison. "Some places might get as much as 60 kilos. If you consider that a farmer growing wheat will add between 150 and 250 kilos of nitrogen fertilizer over the same area, the quantities are very significant."

The problem with this is the effect on wilderness areas that have, otherwise, remained largely undisturbed by man. "If you start to fertilize areas you will change the flora," says Davison. "Some plants will take advantage of this – stinging nettles and blackberries, for example – and begin to dominate at the expense of others. By adding fertilizer to natural vegetation you will almost certainly damage the biodiversity."

As well as its fertilizing effect, nitrates dissolved in rainwater are acid. "Since we have managed to control acid rain from sulphur, nitrogen in rain is the biggest acidifier," says Professor Davison. "This results in soils and streams becoming acid, which can have harmful ecological effects."

What can be done? Research programs such as Gane are attempting to fill the huge gaps in our knowledge of the "new" nitrogen cycle. "When political decisions are being made, the decision-makers need to have reliable science to hand," says Davison. "We are trying to understand the underlying science of the way that the environment is becoming enriched with nitrogen. It is only recently that people have recognized this as an important global issue. It is clear that there are difficult scientific problems and political challenges ahead."

GANE website - 

Panel Probes Enron Link to Wind Farms
Associated Press Writer 

WASHINGTON October 25, 2002 (AP) - Government investigators said Friday they want to find out whether a former Enron Corp. executive improperly hid the company's stake in three California wind power farms. 

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which launched the investigation, said it also will hold hearings on whether the three small power producers should lose their licenses to sell wholesale electricity to U.S. utilities. 

"If these allegations are true, they conflict in material respects with the representations made by the small power producers," FERC said in its order. 

The three Enron-affiliated California wind power farms — Sky River, Victory Garden and Zond Windsystems — were recertified by FERC in June 1997 as qualified to sell wholesale electricity to U.S. utilities, several months after Enron acquired Portland General Electric utility. 

As part of that recertification, officials at each farm told FERC that Enron would transfer ownership interests to partnerships not affiliated with Enron. A 1978 federal law requires electric utilities to buy renewable energy from FERC-approved facilities owned by independent power producers. 

Under that law, intended to lessen dependence on foreign oil by cutting demand for traditional fossil fuels, FERC designates which facilities qualify and oversees the rates that the producers charge buyers. 

In an eight-page order issued Thursday, FERC said that it was following up on "serious allegations" by the Justice Department earlier this month in its criminal case against former Enron chief financial officer Andrew Fastow. 

Gordon Andrew, a spokesman for Fastow, said Friday said neither he nor his client would comment on the commission's action. 

Prosecutors alleged in federal court in Houston that Fastow and former aide Michael Kopper created two partnerships, known together as RADR, to disguise Enron's interest in the California wind farms through supposedly independent investors.
8,000 California Birds Killed in Bid to Stop Virus

LOS ALAMITOS October 24, 2002 (NY Times) — Trying to contain a month-old outbreak of a deadly bird virus known as exotic Newcastle disease, state and federal agriculture officials have killed more than 8,000 birds in Southern California, including thousands of chickens, dozens of household pet birds, several peacocks and four ostriches.

The devastating infection has not spread to California's commercial poultry operations, most of which are in Northern California, but Canada, Taiwan, Poland and South Korea have already banned imports of most poultry products from the state. The European Union has imposed an embargo on live poultry, hatching eggs and fresh meat from poultry and game birds from the United States until the infection is brought under control, officials said.

Officials from the California Department of Food and Agriculture and the United States Department of Agriculture have established an emergency Newcastle disease task force on a military training base in Los Alamitos, about 30 miles south of Los Angeles. 

The group now includes 171 officials to inspect hundreds of homes and small farms in Los Angeles, Riverside and San Bernardino Counties where the infection is feared to have spread. So far, 73 premises have been quarantined in an effort to contain the virus.

Dr. Richard E. Breitmeyer, the State of California's chief veterinarian, said he had seen hopeful signs in recent days that the spread was slowing, although he is far from ready to declare the virus contained.

"We're not finding a lot of cases of massive die-offs," Dr. Breitmeyer said. "Those occurred two to three weeks ago when birds were literally dying in front of our eyes."

He said he had been startled by the number of people in the Los Angeles metropolitan region who keep chickens and other fowl on their property as pets or sources of food.

"The sheer volume of these backyard birds has been eye-opening to us," Dr. Breitmeyer said. "Some of these birds, including chickens, are like pets to these people. It's amazing how emotionally attached people get to them."

The disease was first spotted in late September by a private veterinarian in Compton, a low-income Los Angeles suburb. A client brought in a sick chicken with symptoms similar to those of Newcastle disease: sneezing, weight loss and lethargy. The chicken soon died and was submitted to the state laboratory for testing, where results came back positive for Newcastle disease. State animal health experts quickly moved to try to assess the extent of the infection and began door-to-door inspections of homes and farms raising birds.

Newcastle disease devastated California's poultry industry in the early 1970's, when 12 million birds were destroyed. The disease was traced to imported parrots and macaws from Central and South America, which came in contact with birds from nearby commercial poultry operations. Since then, federal agriculture officials have set up inspection and quarantine stations at the borders to try to keep diseased birds out. But wild birds and smuggled exotic species and fighting cocks occasionally arrive carrying the virus.

The disease is often transmitted at bird shows, cockfights and swap meets and can be carried by humans, although it does not make people sick.

In that regard, it is like foot-and-mouth disease, which is debilitating to livestock but has little effect on humans, Dr. Breitmeyer said. The response by the authorities is similar: kill all the diseased animals and any that might have come in contact with them, then quarantine the premises until the virus is eradicated by disinfectants.

Dr. Breitmeyer said he was not certain how the disease was transported to California this time, but he said the strain here was genetically similar to a viral strain seen in Mexico in 2000 that led to the destruction of 13 million broilers.

Bill Mattos, president of the California Poultry Federation, said he had warned member farmers to impose stringent biosecurity measures at their poultry farms, disinfecting workers when they arrive and leave and giving them laundered coveralls for each shift. Still, migratory birds can transmit Newcastle disease, he said, and there was no assurance that it would not spread northward to California's $2.5 billion poultry industry, with catastrophic economic results.

"When Newcastle gets into a commercial flock, you might as well kill them all," Mr. Mattos said.

When inspectors find a diseased bird, they immediately quarantine the premises and remove all birds on the property, which are quickly killed using carbon dioxide gas. Then investigators trace the movement of the birds to try to locate other diseased flocks. Owners are compensated with state money based on the market value of the birds, although that often leads to difficult negotiations, Dr. Breitmeyer said.

"We try to determine a fair value for the birds, but it doesn't take into account the emotional value they might have to the owners," he said. "But most people are being surprisingly cooperative when we make clear to them how devastating this is to poultry."
Cannibalism Among Early Celts?
By Jennifer Viegas
Discovery News

Berkshire UK October 25, 2002 (Discovery) — Possible evidence for cannibalism and witchcraft recently was found during excavation work at a site for Eton College's rowing course at Dorney Lake in Berkshire, England. 

Five human leg bones displaying what could be signs of cannibalistic activity were unearthed at the site, which is now owned by Eton, a posh British secondary school favored by royals. The bones, dating from 2000-1000 B.C., may add to the growing body of evidence that the early Celts practiced cannibalism. Last year, similar bones from approximately the same time period were discovered in a cave at Alveston, South Gloucestershire. Findings about the Eton excavation are published in the latest issue of Current Archaeology. 

The Eton leg bones were described as having "smashed ends" and "signs of gnawing." 

Tim Allen, author of the paper and a researcher with Oxford Archaeology, the firm responsible for the Eton dig, wrote, "Microscopic analyses showed clear traces of cut marks as well, suggesting that the bones had been deliberately defleshed and damaged before deposition." 

Cannibalism generally is associated with religious activity, according to Mark Horton, an archaeologist at Bristol University in England. He discovered the Alveston bones last year. The Eton bones were found with evidence supporting the theory that rituals took place at the Berkshire site, which consists of three islands flanked on the east by the River Thames and on the west by a small stream called Crest Brook. During the Bronze and Iron ages a number of bridges were constructed from the islands across the Thames. 

"The bridges were not just structural, they also had a ritual element, for they appeared to be used as platforms for offerings," Allen wrote. Upright wooden stakes with pots at their bases were found near the bridges. In addition to the human bones, animal skulls were found at a sandbank in the middle of a channel. 

"We interpret all this as a deliberate burial rite, placing bodies or their bones on sandbanks or directly in the river," explained Allen. 

Tim White, professor of integrative biology at the University of California at Berkeley, and author of the Princeton University Press Book Prehistoric Cannibalism, believes that it's possible cannibalism took place at the Eton site. 

"Paola Villa and colleagues in France have published extensively on continental Neolithic and Bronze Age cannibalism," said White. "(However) damaged bones don't necessarily imply cannibalism; it is the nature and context of the damage that is important in warranting such claims." White added that gnawing by dogs or other animals must be ruled out first. 

Another finding indicates that the final early resident of the Eton site may have been an Anglo-Saxon 6th-7th century witch. 

"(Her grave) was accompanied by a collection of objects including an amethyst pendant," wrote Allen. "Such isolated burials have been seen as wise women or witches kept separate from the community, or as foundation burials linking new settlements (such as nearby Saxon Boveny) with the distant past."
New Trick to Find Earth-size Planets
By Richard Stenger

Rochester NY October 26, 2002 (CNN) --An innovative method to find small planets around other stars has turned up a possible distant world with only one-tenth the mass of Jupiter, astronomers announced this week.

The technique could in time detect planets as small as Earth, in contrast to conventional searches that are mostly limited to gas giants, the University of Rochester researchers said.

The planet orbits Epsilon Eridani, which is about ten light-years from Earth. Among known exoplanets, the object would be one of the least massive and have perhaps the longest orbit, comparable to Pluto's path around the sun.

"We're very excited because this will open up the possibility of finding planets that we'd probably never detect just looking at the parent star," said physicist Alice Quillen, lead author of a report in the current issue of The Astrophysical Journal Letters.

Nearly all of the 100 or so known exoplanets have been identified through two means. Some have been detected as they pass in front of parent stars, dimming their light output at regular intervals. Others have been found due to their gravitational influences on parent stars. Those with large masses and in-close orbits can sometimes tug the star enough for astronomers to detect the telltale wobble. Most found through that method practically hug their parent stars, some with orbits comparable to Mercury, the planet nearest the sun.

In contrast, Quillen and colleague Stephen Thorndike studied unusual dust patterns around Epsilon Eridani, a young star encircled by a dust ring, much like our sun was in its infancy.

"Not all stars have large concentrations of dust, but those that do, like Epsilon Eridani, can display certain telltale patterns in their dust fields. These patterns can betray the existence of a planet," the Rochester, New York team said in a statement.

Quillen first ran computer simulations to see how celestial objects in elliptical orbits, like Pluto, would swirl up dust around a star. The dust clumps observed around Epsilon Eridani look like the work of a smaller planet, but she cautioned that the data is too preliminary to confirm.

"The fact that the dust around this star closely matches what we expected to see if a planet were present doesn't mean we know for sure that a planet is really there," she said.

Additional observations over several years will be necessary to pin down the planet, Quillen said. Other planet-hunting astronomers had mixed reactions to the report.

"I have always thought that modeling the features in dusty rings was a promising way to find planets in very wide orbits," said Artie Hatzes, director of the observatory in Thueringia, Germany. "Although it is a promising technique, I am not sure how much the results depend on the modeling since it is such an indirect technique. Any planet found in this way would have to be confirmed by other means just to be sure."

Debra Fischer of the University of California, Berkeley welcomed the technique but cautioned that stars with dust disks like Epsilon Eridani are rare. Another Berkeley astronomer, Steve Vogt, seemed less enthusiastic.

"Sounds like a long shot to me," he said. "It's quite a stretch to go from a theoretical model, which makes blobs in a map on a disk, to announcing the detection of a planet. There are no doubt many ways to make blobs in a disk, without having planets there."
Mooning Uranus for the 21st Time!
Pasadena October 25, 2002 (NASA) - A new moon of the planet Uranus has been discovered and confirmed by a team of astronomers including Dr. Christophe Dumas of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. 

This most-recently discovered natural satellite, named S/2001 U 1, brings the total number of confirmed Uranian moons to 21. S/2001 U 1 and five others like it have very irregular, eccentric orbits that do not share the same orbital plane as the larger moons of Uranus. Ranging in size from 10 to 20 kilometers (about 6 to 12 miles), these moons are thought to be remnants of ancient collisions that occurred at the early stage of planetary formation. 

"The irregular satellites like S/2001 U 1 are very difficult to find because they are faint and tend to be very distant from the planet," Dumas said. "It is hard to distinguish them from the background stars, and this requires special observing techniques. Because these objects formed far from the Sun, they are probably similar in composition to the most primitive objects of the solar system." 

Identifying S/2001 U1 as a moon and mapping its orbit required intense effort and observation from several telescopes located in North and South America. It was first spotted by Drs. Matthew Holman of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, Cambridge, Mass., and J.J. Kavelaars, now at Dominion Astrophysical Observatory, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, in August 2001 in images obtained at Cerro Tololo Observatory in Chile. Dumas and Dr. Phil Nicholson from Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y., re-observed it from Palomar Observatory, near San Diego, Calif., a month later. The object was then followed from Chile again, using the 8-meter (26-foot) European Southern Observatory telescopes. 

The discovery of the moon was a collaboration of 11 astronomers, led by Holman; Kavelaars; Dr. Brett Gladman, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada; and Dr. Jean-Marc Petit, Observatoire de Besançon, Besançon, France. 

JPL is a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.

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