|Galactic Black Hole, |
Deadly Sonar and
|Galactic Black Hole! |
Black Hole In The Milky Way
By JOHN BIEMER
Associated Press Writer
Massachusetts September 5, 2001 (AP) - A powerful new X-ray telescope has yielded evidence that virtually clinches the case for the existence of a supermassive black hole at the center of our galaxy, astronomers say.
Scientists generally hold that almost every galaxy revolves around a black hole. Previous studies have estimated that the center of our galaxy, the Milky Way, contains something very dense and massive, which most scientists already believed was a black hole.
Black holes are extremely dense celestial objects. Their gravity is so powerful that not even light can escape them, making them invisible to conventional telescopes.
To study them, astronomers observe stars and gas swirling around the center of a black hole before they fall into its invisible core like water swirling down a drain. Before going in, matter stacks up as if in a logjam, where it heats up and generates X-rays.
In the new study, led by Frederick Baganoff of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, scientists used NASA's $1.5 billion Chandra X-ray telescope to observe a flare of X-ray energy produced where the lip of the black hole should be. The clear-cut image of the flare was the first of its kind.
The flare dimmed and brightened over 10 minutes, the time it would take for light to travel about 93 million miles around the lip of a black hole.
That means the object that is believed to be a black hole is fairly small in space terms. The mass stuffed within that area is about 2.6 million times that of the sun.
"We are now able to say that indeed all of the mass, by implication, is within that small region, and there is nothing we know that can be that dense and not be a black hole,'' Baganoff said.
The apparent black hole is 24,000 light-years from Earth.
Richard Mushotzky, an astronomer with NASA's Goddard Spaceflight Center in Greenbelt, Md., said the new findings push previous evidence of a black hole in the center of the Milky Way "one step further.''
"It's gone from a reasonable supposition to very hard to believe it's not true,'' he said.
The study appears in Thursday's issue of the journal Nature.
The observations would not have been possible without the Chandra observatory, NASA's most powerful X-ray telescope. Launched into orbit two years ago, it uses four cylindrical nesting mirrors to funnel incoming X-rays.
Such X-rays are absorbed by the atmosphere and cannot be detected well by ground-based telescopes.
Scientists believe there are billions of black holes in the universe, including many that are thousands of times more massive and vastly more luminous than the object at the center of the Milky Way.
Because scientists did not have an image of an X-ray flare before, some suggested that the dense object in the center of our galaxy was a clump of dark stars rather than a black hole.
Chandra Catches Milky Way Monster Snacking
Official Chandra X-ray Observatory Center Press Release
Massachusetts September 5, 2001 (CXOC) - For the first time, a rapid X-ray flare has been observed from the direction of the supermassive black hole that resides at the center of our galaxy. This violent flare captured by NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory has given astronomers an unprecedented view of the energetic processes surrounding this supermassive black hole.
A team of scientists led by Frederick K. Baganoff of MIT detected a sudden X-ray flare while observing Sagiattarius A*, a source of radio emission believed to be associated with the black hole at the center of our Galaxy.
"This is extremely exciting because it's the first time we have seen our own neighborhood supermassive black hole devour a chunk of material," said Baganoff. "This signal comes from closer to the event horizon of our Galaxy's supermassive black hole than any that we have ever received before. It's as if the material there sent us a postcard before it fell in."
In just a few minutes, Sagittarius A* became 45 times brighter in X-rays, before declining to pre-flare levels a few hours later. At the peak of the flare, the X-ray intensity dramatically dropped by a factor of five within just a 10-minute interval. This constrains the size of the emitting region to be no larger than about 20 times the size of the "event horizon" (the one-way membrane around a black hole) as predicted by Einstein’s theory of relativity.
The rapid rise and fall seen by Chandra are also compelling evidence that the X-ray emission is coming from matter falling into a supermassive black hole. This would confirm the Milky Way's supermassive black hole is powered by the same accretion process as quasars and other active galactic nuclei.
Dynamical studies of the central region of our Milky Way Galaxy in infrared and radio wavelengths indicate the presence of a large, dark object, presumably a supermassive black hole having the mass of about 3 million suns. Sagittarius A* is coincident with the location of this object, and is thought to be powered by the infall of matter into the black hole. However, the faintness of Sagittarius A* at all wavelengths, especially in X-rays, has cast some doubt on this model.
The latest precise Chandra observations of the crowded galactic center region have dispelled that doubt, confirming the results of the dynamical studies. Given the extremely accurate position, it is highly unlikely that the flare is due to an unrelated contaminating source such as an X-ray binary system.
"The rapid variations in X-ray intensity indicate that we are observing material that is as close to the black hole as the Earth is to the Sun," said Gordon Garmire of Penn State University, principal investigator of Advanced CCD Imaging Spectrometer (ACIS), which was used in these observations. "It makes Sagittarius A* a uniquely valuable source for studying conditions very near a supermassive black hole."
The energy released in the flare corresponds to the sudden infall of material with the mass equivalent to a comet. Alternatively, the scientists speculate that this flare could have been caused by the reconnection of magnetic field lines just outside the event horizon, similar to phenomenon responsible for solar flares but on a tremendous scale.
In either scenario, the energy released would be accompanied by shock waves that accelerated the electrons near the black hole to nearly the speed of light, leading to an outburst of X-rays. A longer-term increase in radio emission was also observed beginning around the time of theflare, indicating that the production of high-energy electrons was increasing.
"It's truly remarkable that we could identify and track this flare in such a crowded region of space," said Mark Bautz of MIT. "This discovery would not have been possible without the resolution and sensitivity of Chandra and the ACIS instrument."
The team first observed Sgr A* with ACIS on September 21, 1999, and again on October 26-27, 2000. The X-ray flare was detected in the second observation.
Other members of the team are Niel Brandt, George Chartas, Eric Feigelson, Leisa Townsley (Penn State), Yoshitomo Maeda (Insititute of Space and Astronautical Science, Japan), Mark Morris (UCLA), George Ricker (MIT), and Fabian Walker (CalTech).
The ACIS instrument was developed for NASA by Penn State and MIT under the leadership of Garmire. NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, AL, manages the Chandra program, and TRW, Inc., Redondo Beach, CA, is the prime contractor for the spacecraft. The Smithsonian's Chandra X-ray Center controls science and flight operations from Cambridge, MA.
Images are available on the World Wide Web at: http://chandra.harvard.edu AND http://chandra.nasa.gov
|Hawking Warns AI Could Surpass Human Brains |
BERLIN September 1, 2001 (AP) - If humans hope to compete with the rising tide of artificial intelligence, they'll have to improve through genetic engineering, according to famed British physicist Stephen Hawking.
In an interview released Saturday with the newsmagazine Focus, Hawking said science could increase the complexity of DNA and "improve" human beings.
He conceded that it would be a long process, "but we should follow this road if we want biological systems to remain superior to electronic ones."
"In contrast with our intellect, computers double their performance every 18 months," he added. "So the danger is real that they could develop intelligence and take over the world."
"We must develop as quickly as possible technologies that make possible a direct connection between brain and computer, so that artificial brains contribute to human intelligence rather than opposing it," Hawking said.
Hawking, the author of the best-selling "A Brief History of Time," holds a prestigious Cambridge University chair once held by Sir Isaac Newton.
The 59-year-old lives with Lou Gehrig's disease and uses a motorized wheelchair and computer voice synthesizer.
Professor Hawking's Home Page - http://www.hawking.org.uk
|Fiery Object Lights Up East Coast Sky |
|TRENTON NJ September 6, 2001 (AP) - A fiery object that streaked across the sky over much of the East Coast early Thursday was a Russian rocket that re-entered the atmosphere after orbiting Earth since 1975, according to Navy officials. |
The SL3 rocket body re-entered the atmosphere shortly before 6 a.m. about 100 miles off Delaware, said Navy Cmdr. Rod Gibbons, a spokesman for the U.S. Space Command at Colorado Springs, Colo.
"The object was not designed to survive re-entry" and likely burned up before any pieces could reach the ground, Gibbons said.
Gibbons said the rocket was one of 8,300 man-made objects the center was tracking in space. Some 17,000 such objects have re-entered Earth's atmosphere since the late 1950s, he said.
People from Massachusetts to Virginia reported seeing the object.
Charles Tekula, 49, a commercial fisherman in Long Island, was with his son at about 5:30 a.m. when he saw the sky light up.
"At first thought it was a jetliner coming toward us, but then I saw a smoke trail," he said.
"My son said it looked like a big, slow-moving firework across the sky." Tekula said. "We were speechless, it was the most fantastic thing I'd ever seen."
Officials at the National Weather Service and the Naval Observatory had earlier speculated that the object was a meteor.
|Bush Works to Keep Records Secret |
By JOHN SOLOMON
Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON September 6, 2001 (AP) — Prepared to invoke executive privilege for the first time, President Bush is moving toward a showdown with a GOP-led House panel over whether lawmakers are entitled to see documents about prosecutors' decision making.
Senior administration officials told The Associated Press that Bush has accepted the advice of White House counsel Alberto Gonzales and is ready to make an executive privilege claim to keep the House Government Reform Committee from seeing memos involving three Clinton-era criminal cases.
The committee planned to up the ante Thursday by serving Attorney General John Ashcroft with a subpoena demanding access to the documents and expanding its request to cover even more cases.
Ironically, the battle against the Bush administration is being waged by a fellow Republican, Rep. Dan Burton of Indiana. He argues the administration's stance is a threat to Congress' oversight responsibility.
"If this unprecedented policy is permitted to stand, Congress will not be able to exercise meaningful oversight of the executive branch,'' Burton said.
Executive privilege is a doctrine recognized by the courts that ensures presidents may get candid advice in private without fear of it becoming public.
The privilege, however, is best known for the unsuccessful attempts by former Presidents Nixon and Clinton to keep evidence secret during impeachment investigations.
Gonzales has recommended that Bush make the privilege claim if Burton's committee subpoenas the memos or seeks to question Ashcroft about them, administration officials said.
The Bush administration knows of at least four other instances in which executive privilege was cited involving similar documents, the officials said.
A senior administration official said that while the memos involve cases during Clinton's presidency, Bush was prepared to invoke the privilege and create a clear policy that prosecutors' discussions should be off-limits from congressional scrutiny.
White House lawyers and the president concluded that "the fair administration of justice requires full and complete deliberations and that most often can best be accomplished when prosecutors think through their options in private,'' the official said, speaking only on condition of anonymity.
The claim would be the latest in a string of efforts by the new administration to restrain the flow of information to Congress about private deliberations.
Vice President Dick Cheney has rebuffed requests by the General Accounting Office and a Democratic congressman to divulge information about people he met with and how he helped develop Bush's energy policy. The White House signaled anew Wednesday it does not intend to turn over any Cheney documents to the GAO's comptroller general.
"The comptroller general has exceeded his lawful authority and the statute under which GAO is operating does not apply in this instance,'' White House spokeswoman Anne Womack said. The GAO is Congress' investigative and auditing arm.
Ashcroft indicated last week that the administration intended to reverse the practice of sharing prosecutors' deliberative documents with congressional committees.
Burton's committee has for months been seeking Justice Department memos about prosecutors' decisions in cases involving Democratic fund raising, a former Clinton White House official and a former federal drug enforcement agent.
The committee on Wednesday drafted a subpoena to be served on Ashcroft demanding those documents as well as 13 new types of documents involving the FBI's handling of mob informants in the Boston area over three decades, according to a draft obtained by the AP.
Several such memos were shared with Congress during both Republican and Democratic administrations. Most recently in the 1990s such documents were turned over to the Whitewater, fund-raising, pardons and impeachment investigations.
But the concept of extending executive privilege to Justice Department decisions isn't new. During the Reagan years, executive privilege was cited as the reason the department did not tell Congress about some memos in a high-profile environmental case.
And Clinton's attorney general, Janet Reno, advised Clinton in 1999 that he could invoke the privilege to keep from disclosing documents detailing department views on 16 pardon cases.
Legal experts are split on how such a claim might fare in a court challenge.
"Prosecution is a core executive function and from that starting point, a claim of executive privilege is quite a good one,'' said John Barrett, a former Iran-Contra prosecutor who now teaches law at St. John's University.
But Noah Feldman, a constitutional law professor at New York University, said the fact that several prosecutorial decision-making memos have been disclosed to Congress in the past without apparent harm to the presidency could influence courts as they balance the competing interests of Congress and the White House.
"The courts are going to have to weigh carefully whether to extend the privilege to a prosecutorial decision,'' he said.
|Arctic Town Urged to Get It On |
|HELSINKI September 5, 2001 (Reuters) - A councilor in a Finnish town above the Arctic Circle has challenged residents to produce more babies to boost its dwindling population, promising to step down if they reach a target quota. |
Teuvo Niemela, chairman of the town council of Inari in Finnish Lapland, vowed not to stand for re-election in 2004 if at least 80 babies are born next year and at least 85 the year after, in a town which had a population of 7,366 last year.
"This is a challenge at least to those who want to get rid of me," Niemela said.
"I am prepared also to begin operating in the field myself, and in fear of that I think many Inari people will reproduce," said Niemela, an ear, nose and throat doctor who already has two adult daughters.
The birth rate has been falling in Inari, where temperatures can drop below minus 45 Celsius (-49 Fahrenheit) in winter. Last year only 69 babies were born there, down from more than 100 in 1995, and 75 babies are expected this year, Niemela said.
Niemela has in the past dug into his own pockets to encourage Inari mothers. He paid 20,000 markka ($3,000) to the mother of the first baby born in the town last year, and one markka to the father, which he said corresponded to the father's input.
|Eyeless Creature Turns Out to Be All Eyes |
By JONATHAN ABRAHAM
September 4, 2001 (NY Times) - The brittlestar, a relative of the starfish, seems to be able to flee from predators in the murky ocean depths without the aid of eyes. Now scientists have discovered its secret: its entire skeleton forms a big eye.
A new study shows that a brittle star species called Ophiocoma wendtii has a skeleton with crystals that function as a visual system, apparently furnishing the information that lets the animal see its surroundings and escape harm. The brittlestar architecture is giving ideas to scientists who want to build tiny lenses for things like optical computing.
"This study shows how great materials can be formed by nature, far beyond current technology," said Dr. Joanna Aizenberg, a material scientist at Lucent Technologies' Bell Laboratories and the lead author of the study.
"They form very interesting unique structures that have interesting mechanical and optical applications," Dr. Aizenberg said. "They form nearly perfect microlenses."
The study, published on Aug. 23 in the journal Nature, was conducted by an international team that included material scientists, theoretical physicists, chemists and biologists.
The brittlestar, also known as the serpent star, is an invertebrate that has five waving arms attached to a disk.
Researchers were puzzled because the brittlestars not only appeared to be able to see without eyes, but also seemed to see better than some other primitive marine organisms.
The brittlestars move quickly to catch prey and change color from dark brown in daytime to gray at night.
"This type of brittlestar seems to be much more sensitive to light," Dr. Aizenberg said, "as they detect predators and locate hideouts."
Dr. Sonke Johnsen of Woods Hole National Oceanographic Institution, who was not involved in the study, said: "It was suspected that brittle- stars were one big compound eye. This looks like it's the case."
The brittlestars secrete a crystalline form of calcium carbonate called calcite and organize it to make crystals in any shape or form.
"It is an observation of a phenomenon never seen before, the use of a crystal lattice to focus light," said Dr. Steve Weiner of the structural biology department of the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel and an author of the study.
The only other crystals like these in nature appeared to be in the eyes of the long-extinct marine organisms called trilobites, Dr. Weiner said.
The researchers investigated the skeletal structures of the light-sensitive species of brittlestar and of others that do not respond to light. They found that only the light-sensitive species had the layer of lenses.
The study used optical lithography, a technique used for computer chip etching that is similar to the childhood experiment of taking a lens on a sunny day to concentrate light and burn holes through paper. Brittlestar crystals were placed above photosensitive material, and light was shined through them.
The crystals acted as lenses, collecting light and focusing it on points that corresponded to nerve bundles, part of the brittlestar's diffuse nervous system.
The brittlestar lenses optimize light coming from one direction, and the many arrays of them seem to form a compound eye, said Dr. Alexei Tkachenko of Bell Laboratories, another author of the study.
The beadlike lenses of these brit tlestars focus light at least 10 times as well as the microlenses now made in laboratories. Since the brittlestar lenses are single crystals, there is no distortion.
Optical computing could eventually benefit tremendously from such microlenses, said Dr. Daniel Morse, chairman of the biomolecular science and engineering program at the University of California at Santa Barbara.
Arrays of microlenses that imitated the brittlestar's, Dr. Morse said, may someday be used to build systems that will "become more competitive with other electronic or magnetic systems that are the basis for the computing and telecommunication systems in use today."
Dr. Aizenberg pointed out that the brittlestar appeared to have solved a problem that had stumped technology. "In general," she said, "arrays of microlenses are something that technology tried a couple of years ago. Nobody knew something like that already existed in nature."
|Biotech Mutants: Blue Roses and Spider-Goats! |
WASHINGTON September 06, 2001 (Reuters) - A new generation of genetically engineered products, ranging from blue roses to anti-HIV spinach, is being developed to benefit consumers, the nonprofit Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology said on Thursday.
The group said it had reviewed dozens of new gene-spliced plant and animal products being tested in laboratories to broaden a continuing public debate over the risks and benefits of biotechnology.
The image of U.S. biotech foods suffered during the past year because of the recall of many brands of taco shells, snack chips and other food accidentally contaminated with a corn variety known as StarLink.
StarLink, made by Aventis SA, was approved by the Environmental Protection Agency in 1998 for use as animal feed but banned from human food since regulators feared it might trigger allergies.
The high-profile StarLink incident briefly affected U.S. corn exports to key markets such as Japan, where consumers have rejected many genetically altered foods. It also unleashed protests by U.S. activists, who contend stricter regulations are needed to rein in biotech plants and animals until their impact on the environment and human health is thoroughly studied.
The Pew report did not endorse gene-spliced products or forecast which new ones would succeed in the market.
"The report should not be viewed as an endorsement of biotechnology or any of the potential future applications," it said. "Much of the research cited is an early stage, and many of the applications face significant technical, economic, marketing and regulatory challenges before they can be commercialized."
The report did, however, highlight several innovative plants and animals.
Gene-altered foods such as corn, lettuce, tomato, soybeans, cowpeas, potatoes and even tobacco could become an important way to vaccinate people against certain diseases cheaply and safely, the Pew report said.
Scientists at Thomas Jefferson University announced earlier this year they were working on gene-spliced spinach to produce proteins that would help suppress deadly HIV infection.
The researchers introduced a gene expressing the protein into a common plant virus and then inserted the genetic material into the spinach plant, according to the report.
"Technology developers believe that edible vaccines could offer advantages over conventional immunization programs by eliminating both the need for purification and the hazards associated with injection," the report said.
BLUE ROSES, SPIDER SILK
Gene engineering also means that home gardeners and florists may soon see blue blossoms on carnations, chrysanthemums, roses, lilies and gerberas.
Those five leading varieties of cut flowers cannot be bred for blue color using traditional breeding techniques because none contain the enzyme pathways to produce blue pigments, according to the report.
But transgenic flowers can have colors in the blue-to-mauve range, widening the color palette.
The addition of genes also means that cut flowers can be developed with longer lives and stronger stems for floral arrangements.
Another biotech project seeks to introduce a spider gene into goats so protein harvested from their milk can be used to make ultra-strong spider silk. The silk would be especially valuable in bulletproof vests, surgical sutures and other industrial products.
And scientists are developing ways to use gene-spliced plants to absorb or detoxify polluted soil and air. At least 45 kinds of plants are known to accumulate metals such as copper, cadmium, cobalt, selenium and zinc, the report said.
The new generation of bioengineered products for consumers and industry is a departure from current gene-spliced plants, which were mostly designed to benefit farmers and herbicide manufacturers.
About 68 percent of soybean acreage, 69 percent of cotton acreage and 26 percent of corn acreage planted by American farmers this year used genetically modified seeds, according to the U.S. Agriculture Department.
|Alaska Requests Radiation Tests For Amchitka Island |
ANCHORAGE September 5, 2001 (AP) - Alaska's environmental officials have asked the U.S. government to investigate possible radiation contamination on and around Amchitka Island, where the military exploded atomic devices from 1965 to 1971.
In a letter to U.S. Department of Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham last month, the state said a thorough assessment is needed to reassure Alaska natives on other Aleutian islands that subsistence foods are safe. Amchitka is uninhabited, but people who live on nearby islands rely on fishing and hunting.
The energy department has said it has found no evidence that buried radiation from the tests may be leaching to the surface or into the ocean. But the agency has conducted no tests for radiation there since the 1970s, state officials say.
Two years ago, the energy department agreed to finance a medical surveillance program for people who worked on the island during the atomic era, and Congress has funded a benefits program for former Amchitka workers who later developed radiation-related cancers.
(Thirty years ago, a group of twelve American and Canadian protesters sailed a chartered boat into the nuclear test site in Amchitka. This was the first organized action by the group called Greenpeace. Ed.)
Alaska Community Action on Toxics: http://www.akaction.net/pages/critical/amchitk.html
|Citibank ATMs Crash Nationwide |
|NEW YORK September 5, 2001 (AP) - Citibank's nationwide system of 2,000 automated teller machines crashed Tuesday evening. |
The cause of the outage, which began at 5 p.m. and lasted about four hours, was an internal software problem, Citibank spokesman Mark Rodgers said.
About 2 million U.S. households hold consumer banking accounts at Citibank, he said.
"Citibank sincerely regrets any inconvenience this temporary interruption may have caused its customers," Rodgers said.
Citibank said it will waive any fees its customers incurred because of the outage, including convenience fees charged by competing banks whose ATMs are used by Citibank customers.
Citibank, a unit of financial services giant Citigroup, is one of the largest consumer banks in the world.
|King Hit in Face with Cream Cake |
STOCKHOLM September 6, 2001 (Reuters) - A 16-year-old boy threw a strawberry cream cake in the face of Sweden's King Carl XVI Gustaf on Wednesday, Swedish television reported.
The boy, one of approximately 500 onlookers as the King and Queen Silvia visited a park near the town of Varberg in southwest Sweden, suddenly rushed toward the king, squeezed past his bodyguards and threw the cake straight into the royal face, public service news channel SVT said.
SVT carried no live footage of the incident but showed a still picture of the king's soiled face.
The reason for the deed against the head of the Nordic country's generally popular royal family was not immediately clear. The youth was arrested immediately and had been questioned by police, STV said.
If convicted of attacking a member of the royal family, the offender can be sent to prison for up to six years, STV said.
King Carl XVI Gustaf joins a list of heads of state and government, other politicians and high-profile business leaders who have had cakes or pies thrown at them in the past year.
World Bank President James Wolfensohn, Microsoft boss Bill Gates, former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl and the Swedish finance and trade ministers have been recent victims.
|E. coli Scare Prompts Beef Recall in 35 States |
|By KEVIN O'HANLON |
LINCOLN NE August 30, 2001 (AP) - The nation's biggest beef processor, IBP Inc., is recalling 500,000 pounds of ground beef from 35 states and the District of Columbia, saying it may be contaminated with the deadly E. coli bacteria.
The recall was voluntary and no illnesses have been associated with the meat, IBP said Wednesday, adding that it presents no danger if properly handled and thoroughly cooked. The government recommends cooking all ground beef to 160 degrees to destroy bacteria.
IBP recalled 266,000 pounds of ground beef in June.
The contamination of the E. coli O157:H7 bacteria was discovered through samples collected by the Agriculture Department's Food Safety and Inspection Service.
The beef was produced Aug. 7 in a Dakota City plant and distributed in 5- and 10-pound packages.
The beef was distributed to wholesalers, distributors and grocery stores in: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Maine, Maryland, Michigan Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, North Dakota, Nebraska, New Jersey, Nevada, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Washington D.C., West Virginia and Wisconsin.
The meat shipped to wholesalers bears the product code EST 245C SELL/FREEZE BY Aug. 25 A (or B) Box Codes D0271BH or D0371BH.
E. coli O157 can cause bloody diarrhea and dehydration and it can be deadly, especially in children, people with suppressed immune systems and the elderly. The bacteria kills an estimated 60 Americans each year and sickens an estimated 73,000.
|$300 Million Navy Sonar is Deadly to Whales and Dolphins |
By REBECCA MAHONEY
Associated Press Writer
BAR HARBOR Maine September 6, 2001 (AP) — Eighteen months ago, the Navy deployed a powerful mid-range sonar during a submarine detection exercise in the deep water canyons of the Bahamas.
Within hours, at least 16 whales and two dolphins beached themselves on the islands of Abaco, Grand Bahama and North Eleuthera. Scientists found hemorrhaging around the brain and ear bones — injuries consistent with exposure to extremely loud sounds. Eight whales died.
Now, the March 2000 strandings are being used as a battle cry for opponents of an even stronger low-frequency sonar the Navy wants to use to detect a new generation of quiet submarines.
A growing number of environmentalists and lawmakers want to stop deployment of the system because they fear it will harm whales, dolphins and loggerhead turtles. The state of Maine is particularly concerned about the impact on endangered northern right whales.
"I appreciate the nation's needs for national security, but I also believe that the evidence shows (this new) sonar is harmful to the marine environment,'' said Rep. John Baldacci, D-Maine.
The Navy, which has spent $300 million developing the system, is awaiting a review of its plan for a five-year deployment. A final decision by the National Marine Fisheries Service is expected this fall.
The Navy contends the sonar is imperative to national security because other nations, including Russia, Germany and China, are already developing super-quiet submarines that can avoid traditional detection.
It says it will protect whales with a 1,100-yard buffer zone backed up with traditional sonar and lookouts to determine the presence of whales.
Still, critics say the risk to whales and other marine life under those guidelines far outweighs any advances in submarine detection.
"Sonar is a very important defense, but it's like practicing dropping nuclear bombs — it will have a very important environmental impact,'' said Ken Balcomb, a marine biologist who witnessed the Bahama stranding in front of his house.
Whales are more susceptible to sonar interference than many mammals because they rely on sound for communication, feeding, mating and migration.
The proposed sonar is a type of low-frequency active sonar called the Surveillance Towed Array Sensor System, or Surtass LFA. The Navy wants to use it on four warships capable of sweeping 80 percent of the world's oceans.
According to the Navy's proposal, the sonar would transmit signals as loud as 215 decibels — the underwater equivalent of standing next to a twin-engine F-15 fighter jet at takeoff.
But the Navy contends the loudest noise a whale would encounter is 180 decibels because of the safety zone, said Joe Johnson, the Navy official in charge of managing the environmental tests.
The Navy's tests on four species were able to attain only an estimated level of 150 decibels. At that level, the sonar affected the length of humpback whale songs but didn't lead to other extreme behaviors, said Roger Gentry, an acoustics expert from the National Marine Fisheries Service.
But some biologists believe whales are irritated by sounds louder than 110 decibels. At 180 decibels, they contend, a whale's ear drums could explode — similar to how an opera singer shatters glass.
The Navy admits the Bahamas stranding was likely caused by mid-range sonar but contends the low-frequency active sonar wouldn't harm whales.
Mid-range sonar, used in the Bahamas can be heard over shorter distances by many marine animals. Low-frequency sonar can travel several hundred miles but is audible to fewer animals; the downside is the transmissions are on the same frequency used for communication by many large whales, including humpbacks.
Critics believe there have been other strandings linked to sonar, but the whales in the Bahamas were the only ones to be fully examined.
In 1996, 12 Cuvier beaked whales beached themselves in Greece during NATO exercises involving the same low-frequency sonar the Navy wants to use. But those whales decomposed before scientists could conduct an investigation.
Marsha Green, an animal behaviorist with the Ocean Mammal Institute in Reading, Pa., fears the worst if the sonar is deployed.
"Can you imagine a world without whales?'' she said. "It would be like a world without songbirds. We would all regret it.''
National Marine Fisheries Service: http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov
|Young Stars in Orion May Solve Mystery of Our Solar System |
Washington September 6, 2001 (PSU) - Scientists may have to give the Sun a little more credit. Exotic isotopes present in the early Solar System--which scientists have long-assumed were sprinkled there by a powerful, nearby star explosion--may have instead been forged locally by our Sun during the colossal solar-flare tantrums of its baby years.
The isotopes--special forms of atomic nuclei, such as aluminum-26, calcium-41, and beryllium-10--can form in the X-ray solar flares of young stars in the Orion Nebula, which behave just like our Sun would have at such an early age. The finding, based on observations by the Chandra X-ray Observatory, has broad implications for the formation of our own Solar System.
Eric Feigelson, professor of astronomy and astrophysics at Penn State, led a team of scientists on this Chandra observation and presents these results in Washington, D.C., today at a conference entitled "Two Years of Science with Chandra".
"The Chandra study of Orion gives us the first chance to study the flaring properties of stars resembling the Sun when our solar system was forming," said Feigelson. "We found a much higher rate of flares than expected, sufficient to explain the production of many unusual isotopes locked away in ancient meteorites. If the young stars in Orion can do it, then our Sun should have been able to do it too."
Scientists who study how our Solar System formed from a collapsed cloud of dust and gas have been hard pressed to explain the presence of these extremely unusual chemical isotopes. The isotopes are short-lived and had to have been formed no earlier than the creation of the Solar System, some five billion years ago. Yet these elements cannot be produced by a star as massive as our Sun under normal circumstances. (Other elements, such as silver and gold, were created long before the creation of the solar system.)
The perplexing presence of these isotopic anomalies, found in ancient meteoroids orbiting the Earth, led to the theory that a supernova explosion occurred very close to the Solar System's progenitor gas cloud, simultaneously triggering its collapse and seeding it with short-lived isotopes.
Solar flares could produce such isotopes, but the flares would have to be hundreds of thousands of times more powerful and hundreds of times more frequent than those our Sun generates.
Enter the stars in the Orion Nebula. This star-forming region has several dozen new stars nearly identical to our Sun, only much younger. Feigelson's team used Chandra to study the flaring in these analogs of the early Sun and found that nearly all exhibit extremely high levels of X-ray flaring--powerful and frequent enough to forge many of the kinds of isotopes found in the ancient meteorites from the early solar system.
"This is a very exciting result for space X-ray astronomy," said Donald Clayton, Centennial Professor of Physics and Astronomy at Clemson University. "The Chandra Penn State team has shown that stellar-flare acceleration produces radioactive nuclei whether we want them or not. Now the science debate can concentrate on whether such irradiation made some or even all of the extinct radioactivities that were present when our solar system was formed, or whether some contamination of our birth molecular cloud by external material is also needed."
"This is an excellent example of how apparently distant scientific fields, like X-ray astronomy and the origins of solar systems, can in fact be closely linked," said Feigelson.
The Orion observation was made with Chandra's Advanced CCD Imaging Spectrometer, which was conceived and developed for NASA by Penn State and Massachusetts Institute of Technology under the leadership of Gordon Garmire, the Evan Pugh Professor of Astronomy and Astrophysics at Penn State. The Penn State observation team includes Pat Broos, James Gaffney, Gordon Garmire, Leisa Townsley and Yohko Tsuboi. Collaborators also include Lynne Hillenbrand of CalTech and Steven Pravdo of the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
|Transsexual Passenger Sues United Airlines |
CHICAGO September 5, 2001 (AP) - A transsexual has filed suit against United Airlines, claiming he was ordered to get off an airplane and change into men's clothing before re-boarding.
Richard Ward, also known as Sarah West, was on a flight from Omaha, Neb., to Chicago, where he was scheduled to take a connecting flight home to London.
When Ward showed United staff his British passport, identifying him as a man, United employees told him to get off the plane and change into men's clothing, according to the lawsuit filed Tuesday in Cook County Circuit Court.
Ward says he showed United staff a letter from his doctor that explained it was normal for him to dress as a woman because he was undergoing treatment for "male to female transsexualism." But Ward claims he was told he would not be able to fly until he looked more like his passport photo.
United spokesman Andy Plews said he could not comment specifically because he had not seen the lawsuit.
"United's record on diversity speaks for itself," Plews told the Chicago Sun-Times. "We were named one of Fortune's top 50 companies on diversity."
The lawsuit seeks more than $50,000 in damages.
Sarah's homepage - http://trans.sister.org
United Airlines homepage - http://www.ual.com
|Robert Mueller Takes Control of FBI |
By MATT KELLEY
Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON September 3, 2001 (AP) - Robert Mueller is starting work as head of a beleaguered FBI with a pledge that the bureau will admit to its mistakes, hold agents and managers accountable and work to fix problems.
Mueller, a former top Justice Department official, is taking over an agency Tuesday that faces more than a half-dozen investigations and a series of recent embarrassments.
Congress, the Justice Department and outside experts are reviewing several FBI blunders, including:
-The case of veteran FBI counterintelligence agent Robert Hanssen, who was caught and confessed earlier this year to selling secrets to the Russians.
-Why the FBI took until just before Timothy McVeigh's scheduled execution to turn over hundreds of documents to the Oklahoma City bomber's lawyers. The problem prompted Ashcroft to delay McVeigh's execution for more than a month.
-Whether top FBI officials are immune from punishment while agents take the blame. Justice Department Inspector General Glenn Fine is also looking into claims of retaliation against the agents assigned to review the FBI's handling of the bloody 1992 standoff with white separatists at Ruby Ridge, Idaho.
A report earlier this year by prosecutor Randy Bellows was highly critical of the FBI's handling of the spy investigation of Los Alamos National Laboratory scientist Wen Ho Lee.
Bellows wrote that the FBI botched the Lee investigation by relying too heavily on Energy Department suspicions of the Taiwan-born nuclear scientist. Lee was never charged with spying and the criminal case against him for mishandling nuclear secrets crumbled after a federal judge accused FBI agents of making misleading statements.
Lee, who had been charged with 59 felonies and held in solitary confinement for nine months, pleaded guilty to one charge. He was set free last year.
Mueller takes over as agents wrap up back-to-basics training on everything from ethics to records retention. Agents have been required to attend eight hours of such training, part of a program put in place by former FBI Director Louis Freeh in response to the series of problems, including the belated discovery of the Oklahoma City bombing documents.
One of Mueller's last acts as a top assistant to Attorney General John Ashcroft in May was approving a subpoena for an Associated Press reporter's home telephone records.
President Bush picked Mueller, a former federal prosecutor in San Francisco and Boston, to help fix the FBI's problems after Freeh stepped down.
In his Senate confirmation hearings, Mueller said he would make it his "highest priority to restore the public's confidence in the FBI, to re-earn the faith and trust of the American people." He said he would move aggressively to find and fix the agency's problems.
Mueller, 57, was confirmed by the Senate in early August but waited a month to take over so he could have surgery to remove a cancerous prostate. Doctors said the cancer had not spread and Mueller has an excellent chance of avoiding a recurrence.
A New York City native, Mueller earned his bachelor's degree from Princeton University, a master's in international studies from New York University and a law degree from the University of Virginia.
He is a Vietnam veteran, honorably discharged from the Marines as a captain with a Bronze Star, two Navy commendation medals, a Purple Heart and the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry.
He served as U.S. attorney in San Francisco and Boston and as the Justice Department's assistant attorney general in charge of its criminal division under the first President Bush. There, he supervised the prosecutions of Panamanian strongman Manuel Noriega and mob boss John Gotti and headed the investigation of the BCCI banking scandal and the 1988 bombing of Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland.
His last stint at the Justice Department was earlier this year, when he was brought in from January through May as an acting deputy attorney general during the transition to the Bush administration.
It was then that he approved the subpoena for the home telephone records of AP reporter John Solomon, who wrote about a federal wiretap of Sen. Robert Torricelli, D-N.J. News media leaders and free-press groups have denounced the action as an improper use of government authority.
|French Bishop Convicted for Keeping Quiet About Sexual Abuse |
|By FREDERIC VEILLE |
PARIS September 4, 2001 (AP) - A bishop was found guilty Tuesday of keeping quiet about a priest who sexually abused children, marking the first time in over 150 years that a high-ranking French clergyman has been convicted of a crime.
Bishop Pierre Pican, 66, received a three-month suspended sentence for hiding knowledge that a priest in his diocese had raped and molested boys from 1996 to 1998.
The sentence by the court in the Normandy town of Caen was lighter than the 4 to 6 month suspended prison term sought by the prosecution, and the three years in prison the bishop could have faced.
Still, it shocked church officials that a court would convict a man named by the pope and that so-called "professional secrecy" was at issue in the trial.
The priest, the Rev. Rene Bissey, was convicted in October of raping and sexually abusing 11 minors in the mid-1990s and sentenced to 18 years in prison. Bissey told a court last week that he had decided not to appeal his conviction.
Pican, in charge of the Bayeux-Lisieux diocese in Normandy, in western France, had learned of Bissey's acts in confidential talks - outside the church confessional where secrets are considered sacrosanct.
Defense lawyers argued the bishop's silence was motivated by respect for "professional secrecy," which gives priests and bishops the right to speak confidentially to one another.
"This judgment is today the starting point for a dusting off of the notion of professional secrets ..." said attorney Jean Chevais, representing victims of the priest. "The church must no longer cover up these crimes."
Pican made no comment as police escorted him from the courtroom in Caen. He has 10 days to appeal the decision.
Several cases of pedophilia have prompted the Conference of Bishops of France to reaffirm its condemnation of pedophilia among priests - and lay down guidelines for bishops.
In November, the conference said priests who sexually abuse children "must answer before the law" and that no bishop "can remain passive ... and even less so cover up (such) acts."
During his trial in June, Pican acknowledged he knew about the priest's behavior but later conceded he had made an "error of appreciation" in terms of how serious they were.
A spokesman for the Conference of Bishops said he was pleased the relatively light punishment "does not call into question" the right to keep professional secrets.
"This isn't a severe sentence, but I'm still surprised," the Rev. Stanislas Lalanne said, noting that there were no allegations children were sexually abused after Pican spoke with the priest.
Bissey is one of nearly 30 priests in France convicted over the past decade of pedophilia, according to the conference. Eleven received prison terms. Another 20 pedophilia-related cases involving priests are pending.
While such cases are increasingly ending up in courtrooms, it is rare that the church hierarchy faces trial for covering up.
William Ryan, a spokesman for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said no Catholic clergyman in the United States has ever been convicted of failing to come forward to report sexual abuse.
However, a bill pending in the Massachusetts legislature would require clergy to report suspected child abuse. The bill, which passed a House committee in July and is awaiting hearings before the full House and Senate, won crucial endorsement last month from the state's Roman Catholic Church.
While the legislation would require clergy to report suspicions of child abuse, that does not include anything they learned from church confessions.
The Massachusetts church reversed its opposition to the bill just as Boston Cardinal Bernard Law was named in a lawsuit by two dozen alleged victims of a former priest in eastern Massachusetts. As part of the suit, Law admitted in court documents in June that he transferred John Geoghan to another parish even after he had been told that Geoghan had molested seven boys.
In Britain, two archbishops have faced controversy over their handling of pedophile cases among priests. Between 1995 and 1999, 21 Catholic priests in Britain and Wales were convicted of offenses against children.
"This is the end of a long battle," said Yann Rebillard, one of Bissey's victims after the verdict. "The church now has to take a long look at itself. It must break the wall of silence."
The last time a bishop was convicted of anything in France was in 1841 in Angers, but, then, it was over a murder by a priest in his diocese.
France has about 26,000 Roman Catholic priests and about 100 bishops.
|Cloudy Weather Has Silver Lining for British Motorists |
LONDON September 6, 2001 (Reuters) - Newly installed solar-powered parking meters have fallen victim to Britain's notoriously gloomy weather, allowing hundreds of motorists to escape paying for tickets, the Daily Telegraph newspaper reported on Thursday.
City officials in Nottingham spent 1 million pounds on 215 high-tech meters earlier this year after studies showed local authorities in sun-drenched Mediterranean countries had saved a fortune in maintenance costs.
But the council reckoned without the relentless lack of sun in the average British summer, let alone the monotonous gray of the British winter.
Despite better than average sunshine last month, more than a quarter of the machines have stopped working, to the delight of local motorists who have benefited from free parking periods.
"This is an ill-thought scheme," Nottingham city councilor Sally McNamara told the paper.
The council has called in the meters' suppliers to adjust the machines ahead of winter.
|Earthlings Asked to Name New Space Observatory |
|PASADENA September 6, 2001 (Reuters) - NASA on Wednesday asked Earthlings to find a friendly name for a new space-based observatory that will allow scientists to search for new planets at the farthest reaches of the universe. |
The observatory, due to be launched in the summer of 2002, is currently called the Space Infrared Telescope Facility, or SIRTF for short.
"We are hoping to tap the creativity of the public to find a name suitable for this important mission that will help enrich our knowledge of the universe," said Doris Daou, an education and outreach spokeswoman for the mission, which is being managed by NASA's JPL laboratory.
Members of the public have previously dreamed up the names for the Hubble space telescope, the Chandra X-ray observatory and the Sojourner rover used in the Mars Pathfinder mission.
The SIRTF will allow scientists to study objects by looking for the heat they radiate in the infrared wavelength and will search for dusty discs around other stars where planets might be forming.
The deadline for nominations is December 20, 2001 and must be accompanied by a short essay explaining the reasons behind the suggested name. If the name of a person is proposed, the person must be deceased.
To suggest a name, go here: http://sirtf.caltech.edu/namingcontest
|Reward Offered for Despicable Eagle-Alligator Killers |
PORT ST. JOHN FL September 6, 2001 (AP) - Officials are offering a reward for information leading to the arrest of culprits who killed a bald eagle and dismembered and hanged an alligator from a palm tree, dressed as a Florida wildlife officer.
Wildlife officials offered a $1,500 reward for information about the eagle and $1,000 for the alligator's death.
"We don't know yet who committed these pathetic and despicable acts, so we are blanketing the state with information about the reward in the hope that someone comes forward," said Lt. Joy Hill of the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
Both attacks happened last week, about 50 miles apart in east-central Florida. Officials do not believe the attacks are connected.
A 10-foot alligator, dressed in the green jacket of a state wildlife officer and with the name of a conservation officer pinned to its neck, was found hanging from a tree Aug. 29 by tourists boating on the St. Johns River in western Brevard County.
Fifty miles away, the eagle was found on the side of a road near St. Cloud, south of Orlando. The bald eagle is the only animal protected by its own federal law.
|Video Addict Teen Kills Parents in Siberia |
|MOSCOW September 5, 2001 (Reuters) - A 17-year-old Siberian whose mother and father objected to his video slot machine habit brought his friends around and beat his parents to death with bars, Itar-Tass news agency reported on Wednesday. |
"Even our hardened cops were shocked when they learned the reason why the youngsters had taken iron bars in their hands and beaten the parents of one to death," Tass quoted a police spokesman in the Siberian town of Tyumen as saying.
The news agency, quoting police, said the youth continued playing at the local video arcade, "with money he found on his parents," for a week and a half, until his elder brother came home on vacation and found the bodies in the outdoor bathroom.
Police arrested him at the video arcade.
Tass quoted the police as saying the youths had confessed they planned to use the same methods to "persuade" other parents not to interfere in their hobby.
Russian cities are awash with unregulated video gambling dens, where youths play slot machines in darkness for hours on end.
|Priest Performed Exorcism on Dying Mother Teresa |
By Kamil Zaheer
CALCUTTA September 6, 2001 (Reuters) - An exorcism was performed on Mother Teresa a few months before she died because of fears that she was being attacked by the devil, the Archbishop of Calcutta said on Thursday.
The half-hour exorcism took place while Mother Teresa, who devoted her life to caring for the "poorest of the poor," was in a Calcutta hospital for treatment of heart problems and was unable to sleep.
Exorcism is the casting out of an evil spirit through prayer.
"When doctors said they could not find a medical reason for her sleeplessness, I thought she might be getting attacked by the devil," Archbishop Henry Sebastian D'Souza told Reuters.
"I wanted her to calm down and asked a priest, in the name of the church, to perform an exorcism prayer on her. She happily agreed. After he performed these prayers, she slept very well that night," he said.
The Nobel prize-winning nun, who founded the Missionaries of Charity, was put by Pope John Paul on the fast-track to sainthood soon after her death in 1997 at the age of 87.
The 79-year-old Sicilian-born priest, Rosario Stroscio, who performed the exorcism, told Reuters she had been "behaving strangely" just before the special prayers.
HARASSED BY SATAN
"She was a little dazed and behaved strangely. Maybe Mother Teresa was under harassment from Satan. But after the prayers, she was quite calm," Stroscio, who has lived in Calcutta for 62 years, said.
The archbishop who oversaw preparation of a 35,000-page report on the nun's life that was sent to the Vatican last month as part of her canonization process said, "since she was such a holy person, the devil could (have been) tempted to attack her."
The pope waived for Mother Teresa the normal five-year period usually required between a person dying and the beatification process starting.
Beatification, in which a person is declared as blessed, is a major step toward canonization or sainthood. Mother Teresa is already popularly known as the "saint of the gutters" for her work among the poor and sick.
Mother Teresa who was born in Macedonia, came to India in 1937. She founded the India-based worldwide order of the Missionaries of Charity 52 years ago with 12 members.
"I did nothing special. In the history (of the Catholic Church), hundreds of saints have gone through such things (as exorcism)," Stroscio said.