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Exoplanet Clues

PPARC Press Release September 17, 2002 - British astronomers, together with Australian and American colleagues, have used the 3.9m Anglo-Australian Telescope [AAT] in New South Wales, Australia to discover a new planet outside our Solar System - the 100th to be detected.

The discovery, which is part of a search for solar systems that resemble our own, will be announced today (Tuesday) at a conference on "The origin of life" in Graz, Austria. This takes the total number of planets found outside our solar system to 100, and scientists are now seeing a pattern in the orbits, giving clues to how they form.

The new planet, which has a mass about that of Jupiter, circles its star Tau1 Gruis about every four years. Tau1 Gruis can be found in the constellation Grus (the crane) and is about 100 light years away from Earth. The planet is three times as far from its star as the Earth is from the Sun.

'Now our searches have become precise enough to find many planets in orbits like those in our Solar System, we are seeing clues which may help us understand how planets are formed.' said UK team leader Hugh Jones of Liverpool John Moores University.
'We are seeing a pattern for these planets to be of two types, those very close-in and another set with orbits further out. This Tau1 Gruis planet builds this second group. Why are there these two groups? We hope the theorists will be able to explain this.'

The long-term goal of this program is the detection of true analogues to the Solar System. This discovery of a companion planet to the Tau1 Gruis star with a relatively long-period orbit and mass similar to that of Jupiter is a step toward this goal. The discovery of other such planets and planetary satellites within the next decade will help astronomers assess the Solar System's place in the galaxy and whether planetary systems like our own are common or rare.

'The Anglo-Australian Telescope is providing the most accurate planet-search observations in the Southern Hemisphere', said Dr Alan Penny, the other UK team member from the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory.

The researchers have found that as they probe for planets in larger orbits, the distribution of planets around stars is quite different from that of binary stars orbiting one another, where there is a smooth distribution of orbits.

In contrast to the early discoveries of exoplanets, we now find that less than 1 in 5 exoplanets are to be found very close to their stars, a few orbiting with a period of 5 to 50 days but most giant planets are orbiting at large distances from their host stars. This supports the idea that they are formed at Jupiter-like distances from their host star. Dependent on the details of the early solar system, most giant planets probably spiral inwards towards their star until they reach a point where a lack of frictional forces stops their further migration.

To find evidence of planets, the astronomers use a high-precision technique developed by Paul Butler of the Carnegie Institute of Washington and Geoff Marcy of the University of California at Berkeley to measure how much a star "wobbles" in space as it is affected by a planet's gravity. As an unseen planet orbits a distant star, the gravitational pull causes the star to move back and forth in space. That wobble can be detected by the 'Doppler shifting' it causes in the star's light. The AAT team measure the Doppler shift of stars to an accuracy of 3 meters per second - bicycling speed. This very high precision allows the team to find planets.

The team are supported by the UK Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council, the Australian government, the US National Science Foundation and NASA.

Particle Physics & Astronomy Research Council Web site - http://www.pparc.ac.uk 

Download a huge version of the illustration above (2291 X 2953 628KB) - http://www.pparc.ac.uk/Nw/Press/planet_hires.jpg 

Universe Goes Crunch in 10 Billion Years!

STANFORD UNIVERSITY NEWS RELEASE September 18, 2002 - The recent discovery that the universe is expanding at an ever-increasing rate has led many astronomers to forecast a dark and lonely future for our galaxy. According to some predictions, the rapidly accelerating universe will cause all galaxies to run away from each other until they are no longer visible. In this widely accepted scenario, our own Milky Way will become an isolated island adrift in a sea of totally black space 150 billion years from now. 

But two new studies by Stanford University cosmologists suggest that it may be time to rethink this popular view of a "runaway universe." Instead of expanding exponentially, our cosmos may be in danger of collapsing in a "mere" 10 to 20 billion years, according to the Stanford team. 

"The standard vision at the moment is that the universe is speeding up," said physics Professor Andrei Linde, "so we were surprised to find that a collapse could happen within such a short amount of time." 

Linde and his wife, Renata Kallosh -- also a professor of physics at Stanford -- have authored two companion studies that raise the possibility of a cosmic "big crunch." 

"We tried our best to come up with a good theory that explains the acceleration of the universe, but ours is just a model," Linde noted. "It's just part of the answer." 

If the Linde-Kallosh model is correct, then the universe, which appears to be accelerating now, will begin to slow down and contract. 

"The universe may be doomed to collapse and disappear," Linde said. "Everything we see now, and at a much larger distance that we cannot see, will collapse into a point smaller than a proton. Locally, it will be the same as if you were inside a black hole. You will just discontinue your existence."

Einstein's "blunder"

The fate of the cosmos has been hotly debated for decades. 

In the early 20th century, Albert Einstein, along with most physicists, believed that the universe was static -- even though the equations he developed for his general theory of relativity in 1917 suggested that space itself was either contracting or expanding. 

To ensure that his new theory was consistent with nature, Einstein invented the "cosmological constant": an arbitrary mathematical term he inserted into his equations to guarantee a static universe -- at least on paper. To Einstein, the cosmological constant may have represented some kind of invisible energy that exists in the vacuum of empty space -- a force strong enough to repel the gravitational force exerted by matter. Without this mysterious vacuum energy opposing gravity, the universe eventually would crash in on itself, according to general relativity theory. 

But observations by astronomer Edwin Hubble and others in the 1920s proved that distant galaxies are not stationary but are, in fact, moving away from one another. Since the universe was expanding, Einstein no longer needed an antigravity factor in his equations, so he rejected the cosmological constant as irrelevant. 

"First Einstein introduced the cosmological constant in his equations, then he said that this was the biggest blunder of his life," Linde observed. "But I recently heard that, apparently, he still liked the idea and discussed it many years later -- and continued writing equations that included it."

Dark energy

Fast-forward to 1998, when two independent teams of astronomers discovered that not only is the universe expanding, it is doing so at an ever-faster pace. Their findings were based on observations of supernovae -- exploding stars that emit extraordinarily bright light. 

A supernova is a rare event, but new telescopes equipped with sophisticated electronic sensors allowed the research teams to track dozens of stellar explosions in the sky. What they saw astonished the world of astronomy: The supernovae, it turned out, actually were speeding up at a rate that outpaced the predicted gravitational pull of matter. 

What force could be strong enough to overcome gravity and cause the universe to accelerate? Perhaps Einstein was right all along -- maybe there is some kind of vacuum energy in space. Einstein called it the cosmological constant, and 80 years later, astronomers would give this invisible force a new name -- dark energy. 

"The supernova experiments four years ago confirmed a simple picture of the universe where approximately 30 percent of it is made of matter and 70 percent is made of dark energy -- whatever it is," Linde observed. 

Overnight, a concept that Einstein had rejected was now considered the dominant force in the universe. 

"The cosmological constant remains one of the biggest mysteries of modern physics," Linde pointed out.

Negative energy

Current predictions that dark energy will continue to overwhelm gravity and produce a runaway universe are based on the assumption that the total density of dark energy in the universe is greater than zero and will remain so forever. 

This seems obvious at first glance, since logic dictates that the density of dark energy has to be a positive number. After all, how could the universe be filled with "negative energy"? 

But in the strange world of quantum physics and elementary particle theory, everyday logic doesn't always apply. 

"During the last year, physicists came to the realization that it is very difficult to understand the origin of positive dark energy in the most advanced versions of elementary particle theory -- such as string theory and extended supergravity," Linde said. 

"We have found that some of the best attempts to describe dark energy predict that it will gradually become negative, which will cause the universe to become unstable, then collapse," he added. "People who studied general relativity many years ago were aware of this, but to them, this was an academic possibility. It was weird to think about negative vacuum energy seriously. Now we have some reasons to believe it." 

The Linde-Kallosh model produced another surprising result: The cosmos will collapse in 10 to 20 billion years -- a timeframe comparable with the age of the universe, which is estimated to be about 14 billion years old. 

"This was really strange," Linde recalled. "Physicists have known that dark energy could become negative and the universe could collapse sometime in the very distant future, perhaps in a trillion years, but now we see that we might be, not in the beginning, but in the middle of the life cycle of our universe." 

The good news, wrote Linde and Kallosh, is that "we still have a lot of time to find out whether this is going to happen."

Cosmic bubbles

Linde is quick to acknowledge that the collapsing universe scenario is not the final word on the fate of the cosmos. 

"Astronomy is a science once known for its continuous errors," he quipped. "There was even a joke: 'Astrophysicists are always in error but never in doubt.' We are just in the very beginning of our investigation of this issue, and it would be incorrect to interpret our results as a reliable doomsday prediction. In any case, our model teaches us an interesting lesson: Even the most abstract theories of elementary particles may end up having great importance in helping us understand the fate of the universe and the fate of humanity." 

Direct observation of space with state-of-the-art telescopes, satellites and other instruments will answer many unresolved questions, he added. "We're entering the era of precision cosmology, where we really can get a lot of data, and these data become more precise. Perhaps 10 years, 20 years, 30 years, I don't know, but this is the timescale in which we will get a map of the universe with all its observable parts. So things that were a matter of speculation will gradually become better and better established." 

Linde helped pioneer inflationary cosmology -- the theory that the universe began not with a fiery big bang but with an extraordinarily rapid expansion (inflation) of space in a vacuum-like state. According to inflationary theory, what we call the universe is just a minute fraction of a much larger cosmos. 

"The universe actually looks, not like a bubble, but like a bubble producing new bubbles," Linde explained. "We live in a tiny part of one bubble, and we look around and say, 'This is our universe.' " 

If our bubble collapses into a point, a new bubble is likely to inflate somewhere else -- possibly giving rise to an entirely new form of life, Linde said. 

"Our part of the universe may die, but the universe as a whole, in a sense, is immortal -- it just changes its properties," he concluded. "People want to understand their place in the universe, how it was created and how it all will end -- if at all. That is something that I would be happy to know the answer to and would pay my taxpayer money for. After all, it was never easy to look into the future, but it is possible to do so, and we should not miss our chance." 

Graduate student Sergey Prokushkin and Marina Shmakova, a research associate at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center, also contributed to the studies. Research was supported with grants from the National Science Foundation, the Templeton Foundation, the U.S. Department of Energy and the Stanford Graduate Fellowships program.

Signs of Water Found in Atmosphere of Far Planets

LONDON September 18, 2002 (Reuters) - Italian astronomers have found signs of water, a necessary ingredient for life, in the atmosphere of planets orbiting distant stars. Having water does not mean other planets will be teeming with life but if the discovery is confirmed it will fuel speculation that it could be possible. 

"This would be a historic discovery -- the first detection of a prebiotic molecule in an extrasolar planet," Cristiano Cosmovici, of the Institute for Cosmic and Planetary Science in Rome, told New Scientist magazine Wednesday. 

His team used a 32-yard radio telescope to search for water maser emissions, telltale microwaves which could indicate water in a planet's atmosphere when it is bathed in the infrared light of its star. 

Cosmovici said his team found the emissions in three planetary systems. 

Hugh Jones, of Liverpool John Moores University, said it could be an exciting first step in the search for signs of life on other planets. 

"Water's at the top of the shopping list of ingredients for life," he told the magazine.

A Second Moon - or Space Junk?
By Richard Macey and Deborah Smith 

September 18, 2002 (Sydney Morning Herald) - Our world has a new neighbor, but no-one knows what it is or where it came from.

On September 3, Bill Yeung, an amateur astronomer looking for asteroids, saw a faint point of light zipping across the night sky in California.

He sent his observations to the Minor Planet Centre, in Massachusetts, which ran them through a computer to produce a surprise. The object, now tagged J002E3, was circling Earth on a 45-day orbit, looping out twice as far as the Moon. Records showed it was not there six months ago.

Astronomers are debating whether it is a small asteroid that strayed too close to the Earth and was snared by its gravity, becoming our second moon, or is just a bit of man-made junk.

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which controls America's unmanned planetary probes, says it "seems to match the expected brightness" of the third stage of the Saturn 5 rocket that hurled Apollo 12 to the moon in November 1969.

However, Tony Beresford, of the Astronomical Society of South Australia, who has tracked satellites from his Adelaide home for 40 years, says no-one is sure. There is a chance it could be a 30-metre asteroid - and our second moon.

"I haven't seen anyone prepared to offer odds on what it is," he said. "At the distances involved ... it certainly does not match any orbit anybody has ever planned to use for a spacecraft."

After being jettisoned, Apollo 12's rocket stage circled the Earth for several months before a close pass of the Moon flung it into solar orbit.

He said the stage may have passed close by Earth in April or May, entering an area where Earth's and Sun's gravities balance. Once there, it could easily have slipped back into Earth orbit.

Even if the object is a new moon, it will not be around for long. NASA says it has a 20 per cent chance of hitting the Moon next year and a three per cent probability of crashing to Earth in the next decade.

Dr Beresford said if it did collide with Earth, it could "explode in the atmosphere with the force of a thermo-nuclear bomb". However, he said it was far more likely that it would pass close to the Moon and be slung back into solar orbit.

Wild West Mars Possible

LEICESTER, England September 11, 2002 (Reuters) - Mars could resemble the lawless Wild West if privately funded adventurers seeking to exploit the planet get there before government-backed expeditions, a leading British astronomer said on Wednesday. 

Before humans make it to Mars, the entire solar system will probably have been explored by flotillas of tiny robotic craft, but within a century there could be a permanent presence on the planet, Sir Martin Rees of the Institute of Astronomy told a science conference. 

Once an infrastructure is established the costs of getting to Mars will go down, which could open up the possibility for different types of expeditions. 

"If they were governmental or international (expeditions), Antarctic-style restraint might be feasible. On the other hand, if the explorers were privately funded adventurers of free-enterprise, even anarchic disposition, the Wild West model would be more likely to prevail," he said. 

Mars, the fourth planet from the sun, was first photographed from space in 1965. More recent missions landed on the surface of the rocky, cold Red Planet and discovered the possible presence of liquid water. 

Amateur astronauts have already paid millions for a trip in space. If more efficient propulsion systems and fuel needed to escape the Earth's gravity could be situated on the ground, rather than as part of the cargo, the trip would be much easier and cheaper. 

Rees envisions a type of "space elevator" that could lift people and payloads from the ground to a satellite. 

"The rest of the voyage could be powered by a low-thrust, perhaps nuclear, rocket," he told the British Association science conference.

[Buffy creator Joss Whedon agrees. Check out his new "space western" Firefly for six-shooter action Fridays at 8 PM on Fox.]

Genre News: Ratings and Premieres, Chiller Theater Expo, Creative Emmys, Farscape, Buffy vs. Dawn & More!

Genre Ratings and Premieres - The Big Bad!
By FLAtRich

Hollywood September 21, 2002 (eXoNews) - It's been an interesting week. ABC's Push, Nevada premiered on Tuesday, but it looks like sitcoms still rule. John Ritter's new one on ABC at 8PM won Tuesday's overnights with a 10.8/18 rating, followed by another faceless half hour ABC yuk fest with a 10.6/18.

After Ritter's lead and all the hype, Push, Nevada limped in at a mere 7.9/13. ABC reran the premiere on Thursday at 8PM followed by Push, Nevada episode two at 9PM (which is the scheduled regular timeslot for Push, Nevada), but the 8PM rerun lost out to the latest Survivor clone on CBS, a Friends rerun on NBC, and even wrestling on UPN. The 9PM episode sounded a clunk of doom, garnering only a 5.4/9. Not good for an ABC show.

I liked Push, Nevada, but it is not Twin Peaks. The story seems very linear, unlike works by master storyteller David Lynch. Push, Nevada has good characters, though, and great sets and production values. I didn't like Jon Polito getting killed off in the first week, but maybe things aren't Really What They Seem, eh? More likely with those ratings, Push, Nevada will be very short-lived on ABC (who are famous for canceling both Twin Peaks and Max Headroom.)

Wednesday gave us Enterprise, dragging in at impulse speed with a 4.9/8. This was a major ratings disappointment, down from a 9.1/13 overnight for last year's premiere. So was the solution to last season's cliffhanger. Trapped hundreds of years in the future, Captain Archer (Scott Bakula) managed to make some adjustments to his communicator, place a holographic call to T'Pol (Jolene Blalock), and snag a ride home via an unspecified device left behind on the ship by a time traveler.

We've seen this kind of techno twist (tricorder modifications usually) all too often since the original Trek series, but it was more believable when Spock did it.

The Enterprise cast managed to rise above that one groan point in the script, giving stellar performances as usual. Linda Park (Ensign Hoshi Sato) was particularly good (and naked - wow!) in this one, and Bakula rewarded the baddie with a satisfying two-fisted comeuppance ala Kirk. Let's just hope the writers work a little harder on future solutions and UPN manages to get those ratings up. We'd hate this to be a last season journey for Enterprise.

UPN followed Enterprise with Twilight Zone, the latest attempt to revive Rod Serling's brainchild without Rod. (It's never worked in the past, so let's try it again!) Twilight Zone came in with a weak 4.6/8 overnight, but it deserved worse. The show offered two half-hour stories, both predictable and neither coming anywhere near the quality of the Serling produced classics. UPN premiered a theatrical trailer for Star Trek: Nemesis to hold over Trek fans, but failed to offer the
Twilight Zone pilot episode directed by Trek's Jonathan Frakes. Twilight Zone got a lot of early press over Frakes' involvement, but apparently the producers or UPN didn't really understand the tie-in angle.

Paramount would have been better off showing the Nemesis trailer during Enterprise. A quick look at last season's numbers at http://www.treknation.com/episodes  shows just how badly that 4.9/8 rating could hurt Enterprise.

Firefly debuted Friday at 8PM on Fox with an even more unspectacular 4.1/8, but it was a grand adventure just the same!

Joss Whedon and co-producer Tim Minear (Angel) really delivered 100% on Whedon's space western as fans expected. The show began with a brief introduction to explain the Firefly universe and then launched into a first-rate storyline populated by terrific new Whedonesque characters. It was all-action and all fun, just like Buffy and Angel have always been. The outer space frontier setting (no aliens, no Spandex) was beautifully rendered and scribes Whedon and Minear managed to introduce the entire cast and their roles quickly without hampering the pace.

If you saw it, you probably already have Firefly favorites. I'm particular to Mal, the roguish captain of the good ship Serenity, and the doctor's mysterious sister, but the rest of the crew were just as likeable. Hope they're around for more than a few more episodes!

Fox is a dangerous network for sci-fi and genre shows. The amazing Space: Above and Beyond lasted only two seasons (canceled due to production costs) and cult favorite Brisco County Jr. (also a western-sci fi blend) died an untimely death on the fourth network. Not to mention Chris Carter's Harsh Realm, Lone Gunmen and the stuttering network support for MillenniuM and X-Files toward the end.

Firefly will have to get it's ratings up to survive - a 4.1/8 isn't good news. Trust No One, Joss!

Fox followed Firefly with John Doe, which took off with a 6.0/11, beating 60 Minutes on CBS and all the other major network fare. Dominic Purcell appeared butt naked in the opening, which may explain the ratings because the rest was pretty standard TV fare.

Purcell plays John Doe, a man who awakes on an island knowing every trivial fact on record about everything but can't remember his own name or where he came from. That as a given, the first episode came across like a sort of reverse Nowhere Man meets The Visitor (both of those shows were canceled.) Doe uses his Mr. Data-like knowledge to grow rich, turn private detective, link up with local cops (Janye Brook and John Marshall Jones), and ultimately save a missing child.

Purcell is a good looking lad fully dressed, somewhat reminiscent of Michael Landon, and John Doe may turn out to be another Touched By An Angel with one wild card. Doe has a mysterious birthmark (no, not on his butt!) which may help him solve the mystery of his identity and will undoubtedly lead him to a secret conspiracy of big bads. John Doe also brings character actor William Forsythe (Al Capone in The Untouchables) back to the small screen as a nightclub owner named Digger, which might be a reason to tune in regularly.

Buffy returns this week on Tuesday at 8PM on UPN, followed by the premiere of Haunted at 9PM (which doesn't look particularly original, but you never can tell.) Smallville also comes back at 9PM Tuesday on WB, and that's probably where I'll be.

WB wants you to know that Smallville will repeat on Sundays this year as a sort of super lead-in for Charmed and Angel.

Zap2it is throwing an online chat with Kevin Sorbo of Andromeda on September 27th at 6 p.m. (ET)/ 3 p.m. (PT). Submit your questions for Kevin here: http://www.zap2it.com/index/community/1,4011,,FF.html 

Andromeda returns for its new season starting September 30th on a syndicated station near you.

Check out our eXoNews Hip Genre Network Show Schedule and our Vital Linx page to find web sites for favorite genre shows and more!

Chiller Theater Expo 2002 Approaches
By FLAtRich

New Jersey September 20, 2002 (eXoNews) - You had to be there! Staying up late on Friday nights to see Zacherley rising out of his beat-up old coffin with a laugh to introduce Bela and Boris in those wonderful old Universal classics.

Zacherley was TV's very first horror host, and I can still do a good imitation of that laugh. I was just a little kid, of course, merely an infant! Hey, what can I say? It warped me forever!

Amazing but true, Zacherley is still with us (no one knows for sure if he is really alive, but he never claimed to be back then either.) He's shamefully haunting cyberspace and his evil minions are planning a big horror expo in October with really bizarre guest stars.

Boris and Bela have declined to attend, but Walter Koenig, Nichelle Nichols, Lou Ferrigno, J. G. Hertzler & Robert O'Reilly (Klingon Chancellors Martok and Gowron from Deep Space Nine) and Tippi Hedren will be there. If that doesn't grab you, how about Timmy from Lassie (Jon Provost), Jonathan Harris from Lost In Space, and Traci Lords from... well, we all know where Traci has been.

That's not all! The list includes some really obscure folks, including a "special reunion for the cast of Land of the Giants, bringing many of the actors and actresses together for the first time in many years." Yep, that's right. We're talking Gary Conway, Don Marshall, Don Matheson, and Deana Lund!

Never even heard of Land of the Giants? Don't let that stop you! How about Alan Ruck (Kirk's replacement captain in the beginning of Star Trek Generations), Jay North (TV's Dennis the Menace), Johnny Whitaker (from the original Family Affair), Lisa Loring from the Addams Family, and Warren Stevens from Forbidden Planet!

How much more obscure can you get? If you are already in NJ, you know you hafta' go! Check out the Chiller Theater site for all the info at - http://www.chillertheater.com

Pay tribute to Zacherley at http://www.zacherley.com 

Some Genre Shows Actually Win Creative Arts Emmys
By FLAtRich

Hollywood September 20, 2002 (eXoNews) - Yes, I know. Buffy failed to win its one "Creative Arts" Emmy nomination. No. Joss didn't lose to The Family Guy as reported by some fan sites. Buffy was nominated for Outstanding Music Direction, and lost to the Opening Ceremony Salt Lake 2002 Olympic Winter Games.

Big bad? Yes. But it could have been worse. Give some credit to all those Olympics musicians playing horns in the snow. And it could have actually been The Family Guy.

Non-fanatics please note that the "Creative Arts" Emmys are separate from the "Actual" Emmys. "Actual" Emmys are announced on a big, expensive, boring prime time TV show that you all should boycott this year. "Actual" Emmys historically go to financially successful network series with big ratings numbers, rather than creative shows. Hence the separate "Creative Arts" Emmy awards for behind the scenes craftsmen, right?

Well, no. This year's "Creative Arts" Emmys inexplicably included Outstanding Guest Actor and Actress awards for Drama and Comedy. Why Guest Actors are more "Creative" than Best Actors was not explained. [Cloris Leachman won one. So that's good anyway... Ed.]

Here are some genre shows who actually copped "Creative Arts" Emmys. Let's hear it for them, troops! These people make it happen! [To the artisans behind Buffy, Angel and the rest - our condolences. We hate the Emmys around here. Once more. With feeling. - Mr. Ed.]

Alias got Outstanding Art Direction for a Multi-Camera Series and Outstanding Cinematography for a Single-Camera Series.

"James Dean" got Outstanding Art Direction for a Miniseries, Movie or a Special.

24 got Outstanding Single-Camera Picture Editing for a Series.

Enterprise got Outstanding Hairstyling for a Series and Outstanding Special Visual Effects for a Series.

CSI got Outstanding Makeup for a Series. [This one puzzles me. Over Buffy and Angel and Enterprise? Ed.]

The Mists Of Avalon got Outstanding Makeup for a Miniseries, Movie or a Special.

Futurama got Outstanding Animated Program (For Programming One Hour or Less).

Smallville got Outstanding Sound Editing for a Series. [For the pilot - and the sound was amazing on that episode! Ed.]

Dinotopia got Outstanding Special Visual Effects for a Miniseries, Movie or a Special.

Predictably, the usual shows took the rest, with Fraser racking up three new ones this year for a grand total record of 30 Emmys and also the record for most-honored series in TV history. Doesn't that just say it all?

Be sure to visit the eXoNews Best 5 TV Shows of All Time site and get revenge. Fraser isn't even in the Top 20! :o)>

And vote for your real Emmy favorites in the Zap2it Emmy Straw Poll - http://tv.zap2it.com/news/emmys/02

Too Late For Farscape? 

By MIKE WHYBARK 
Cinescape News Editor

September 18, 2002 - FARSCAPE lead Ben Browder appeared on CNN-HEADLINE NEWS last night in an interview which focused on the fan campaign to keep FARSCAPE on the air. Browder was interviewed by Alicia Davis.

The actor gave mad props to the internet fan base of the show, stating, "The interaction with the fans started almost from the inception of the show, when we were just airing on SCI FI. Very early on, the only reaction we had was on the internet... We would gauge how the audience was responding by what we were reading on the internet." 

The internet fan base has undoubtedly been critical in the surprisingly well-organized "Save FARSCAPE" campaign currently underway. Despite the scrappy outcry, Browder had discouraging words in the interview on the outcome of the campaign:

"At this point, it looks like we're not gonna see a fifth season."

The FARSCAPE website is now encouraging campaigners to contact other networks with expressions of support. 

Click the wanted poster for the Save Farscape site or see our Save Moya story last issue for more info on the campaign and Farscape.

Jolie and Hawke Taking Lives 
By Zorianna Kit

Hollywood September 19, 2002 (Hollywood Reporter) - Angelina Jolie is in negotiations and Ethan Hawke is in talks to star in Warner Bros. Pictures/Village Roadshow Pictures' "Taking Lives." There is no director or start date as of yet. Jolie's announcement had been expected, with the project marking the first time the actress would be working with Warners.

"Lives" would find Hawke reteaming with the same studio for which he starred in last year's "Training Day." He was nominated for his first Academy Award -- in the best supporting actor category -- for that role.

Based on the book by British author Michael Pye, "Lives" is the story of a female FBI profiler who must bring in a serial killer who has spent 20 years assuming the identities of the people he has killed.

Reeve Blames Bush and Catholic Church 

Hollywood September 18, 2002 (Sci Fi Wire) - Superman star Christopher Reeve, who is paralyzed from the neck down, blamed the Catholic church and President Bush for obstructing research that might free him from his wheelchair, the Reuters news service reported.
Reeve told the British Guardian newspaper that the Bush administration had caved in on the issue of embryonic stem-cell research after the Catholic church expressed opposition to cloning, Reuters reported.

"If we'd had full government support, full government funding for aggressive research using embryonic stem cells from the moment they were first isolated, at the University of Wisconsin in the winter of 1998, I don't think it unreasonable to speculate that we might be in human trials by now," Reeve said.

Reeve added that he was "angry and disappointed" that Bush had hampered developments in stem-cell research, which might have led to human trials aimed at rebuilding the nervous systems of quadriplegics.

 
Buffy and Dawn

Hollywood September 19, 2002 (Sci Fi Wire) - Michelle Trachtenberg, who co-stars as Dawn on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, told SCI FI Wire that it's too early to say whether or not the show's upcoming season will be its last and that it's also premature to assume Dawn would take center stage next year if the series were to forge on without star Sarah Michelle Gellar.

"People ask me what do I see as the future of Buffy," the actress said in an interview. "Honestly, I view the future of Buffy as every next episode."

Trachtenberg added, "I haven't even read the script for episode six yet, because we haven't gotten it, and we start shooting it in two days. I look at it episode by episode and even day by day, because I can't project what will happen at the end of the season. I have no idea what will happen, so I don't know how to interpret the end of the season. I prefer to look at it as, 'OK, we're doing this, and it will make this kind of notch in Buffy's television history.'"

As to the rumors that Buffy might morph into Dawn the Vampire Slayer, Trachtenberg sounded open to the idea.

"I'm a fan of Dawn," Trachtenberg said. "I like her as a character. I like playing her. I love the show. So whatever happens, it's up to Joss [Whedon, the series creator and executive producer]. I'd want the original heart of Buffy to be there. If there's one second where someone would doubt Buffy the Vampire Slayer, we probably shouldn't go on. But whatever they decide, I'll be here. I'll be thinking about Dawn and having fun."

Buffy the Vampire Slayer returns at 8PM, Tuesday September 24 on UPN.

The Official Buffy site - http://www.buffy.com

Unlocking The Out-Of-Body Experience
By Patricia Reaney 

LONDON September 18, 2002 (Reuters) - Swiss scientists think they have pinpointed the area of the brain where out-of-body experiences are triggered. 

While they used electrodes to stimulate the brain of a female epilepsy patient during treatment, the woman began describing feeling as though she had left her body and was floating above it. 

"I see myself lying in bed, from above," the 43-year-old patient told Olaf Blanke and his colleagues at the University Hospitals of Geneva and Lausanne. 

Blanke and his team produced the phenomenon by stimulating an area in the right cortex of the brain called the angular gyrus, which is involved in spatial cognition. How they did it is reported in the journal Nature on Wednesday. 

"It suggests that this experience is related to a specific part of the brain," Blanke told Reuters. "It seems to be that this area is important for brain processes that could be related to out-of-body experience." 

Scientists suspect that about 10% of people brought back from the brink of death experience something similar, but it has been difficult to prove it actually occurs. 

The phenomenon has also been reported by some migraine, epilepsy and stroke patients. 

The Swiss researchers produced the sensation, which lasted for about 2 seconds, three times in the patient. She reported feelings of lightness and floating about 2 meters above the bed, close to the ceiling. 

When Blanke's team asked the woman to look at a part of her body from the heightened position, her legs for example, she had illusions and reported seeing her legs "becoming shorter." 

"She saw this. It was very real. She had the feeling she punched herself in the head if she bent the arm a bit," Blanke said. 

The scientists suspect that the angular gyrus matches up visual information, how the body is seen, and touch and balance sensations that create the mind's representation of the body. 

They believe an out-of-body experience may occur when the two do not link up. 

Blanke does not know why the phenomenon occurs in people who have been near death but he said it could be due to a lack of oxygen or a disconnection or malfunction of certain brain regions. 

He hopes his work will stimulate more collaboration between neurologists and scientists who have been involved in the phenomenological approach, to better understand out-of-body experiences.
Radioactive Waste Plant Construction Begins
By Linda Ashton
Associated Press

RICHLAND, Wash. September 19, 2002 (AP) — In a scrubby sagebrush desert not far from the Columbia River, lethal leftovers from the Cold War era are finally about to be cleaned up.

After a decade of fits and starts, construction has begun on a $4 billion waste treatment complex at the Hanford nuclear reservation, the biggest environmental cleanup project in the country. 

Environmental advocates say it's none too soon.
At least 67 of Hanford's 177 underground tanks, some of them decrepit and well past their intended service lives, have leaked more than 1 million gallons of radioactive brew into the soil.

The waste has contaminated the aquifer, and the tanks are just seven miles from the Columbia River, which borders Hanford. 

"There's a lot at stake," said John Britton, a spokesman for Bechtel National, which was hired to rescue the stranded project last year after the previous contractor's cost estimates doubled to $15.2 billion. 

State regulators have squabbled with the Energy Department over the project since the early 1990s, when the department scuttled a plan to turn some of the waste into grout and bury it in sealed containers. The agencies later argued over missed deadlines and uncertain federal budgets, until a kind of detente was achieved. 

"Right now our focus is on getting the thing built," said Sheryl Hutchison, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Ecology. 

The new plant will turn radioactive waste from plutonium production into more manageable glass cylinders. The process, called vitrification, mixes radioactive waste with glass-forming materials, then melts them at 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit to make a molten glass that is poured into canisters for long-term storage. 

The most radioactive glass will end up at some kind of national repository, likely Yucca Mountain in Nevada, where it will take 10,000 years to decay. The less radioactive waste will be buried in trenches in the 560-square-mile reservation here.

But exactly how much of the nearly 54 million gallons of radioactive waste will be turned into glass is still being debated within the Energy Department. The Bush administration wants the agency to study less expensive but still effective ways to treat low-activity radioactive waste. 

"There's a lot of concern they'll not empty those tanks," Hutchison said. 

Another source of concern is an Energy Department plan to reclassify some highly radioactive residual waste at several sites, including Hanford, which could mean it would be left in the tanks. The Natural Resources Defense Council and two Indian tribes are suing the Energy Department in federal court in Idaho over the plan. 

Roy Schepens, the new manager for the Energy Department's Office of River Protection, which is overseeing the project, wouldn't comment on the litigation. But he said he's considering a number of alternatives for low-activity waste, including a technology that uses superheated steam to treat waste and turn it into a cat litter-like substance, and bulk vitrification, where waste is turned into glass in an existing container rather than transferred to one later. Any such plans would have to be approved by state regulators. 

For now, the focus is on constructing the plant. In 2005, the plant should be ready for non-radioactive testing, and in 2007, "hot" testing is scheduled to begin. 

Crews at a test facility will use safe, simulated waste to find the best way to remove the radioactive mix of liquid, salt cake and sludge from the tanks. 

Plutonium was made at the site for more than 40 years for the nation's nuclear arsenal, including the bomb that was dropped on Nagasaki during World War II. 

Hutchison said the Energy Department and its contractors are making good progress on the cleanup, which is being closely watched. The legal decree governing cleanup at Hanford sets a goal of retrieving 99 percent of the waste from the tanks, or as much as is technically feasible, and treating the waste by 2028. 

"I intend to beat the 2028 date," Schepens said.

Puffins Make Big Comeback!
Glasgow September 18, 2002 (BBC) - Puffins have bred on Ailsa Craig off the Ayrshire coast for the first time in 50 years. Scientists say the discovery justifies the decision to eradicate the population of rats on the rocky outcrop. 

In the 1870s, when puffins used to fly over the island, their huge numbers were said to cause a "bewildering darkness". But humans brought rats by mistake to Ailsa Craig in the 19th century, apparently carried on ships supplying the newly-built lighthouse.

Puffins were particularly vulnerable because of their burrow nests and their numbers declined from tens of thousands to only a few hundred by the 1930s.  None had bred for more than half a century. 

In 1991, a project began in collaboration with the University of Glasgow, the island's owner, the Marquess of Ailsa and Scottish Natural Heritage with advice from the pest control company Rentokil. 

Several tons of poison were flown there by navy helicopter and more baiting took place in 1992. No rats have been recorded on the island since then. 

Dr Bernard Zonfrillo, from the university, said: "It's wonderful to see the puffins back breeding. At least two pairs were seen carrying fish to their chick on Ailsa Craig this summer. Given time and left to their own devices, I hope their numbers will gradually increase." 

Professor Pat Monaghan, from the university's department of environmental and evolutionary biology, added: "The loss of bio-diversity that occurs when predators like rats are introduced to offshore islands is tragic." 

Scientists say other seabirds and even rare plants, reptiles, and some other mammal species are flourishing on the island.
Jerusalem's Ancient Pyramids
Cincinnati September 18, 2002 (University of Cincinnati News Release) - Despite massive excavations in recent years, few images exist to tell us what Jerusalem looked like in the first century – a period important to Christians as their founding as well as to Jews because of the flourishing and ultimate destruction of the Temple. That's why University of Cincinnati professor Steven Fine was thrilled – and surprised – to find an overlooked view of this revered city and era in an ancient artifact displayed at the Cincinnati Art Museum. 

Visiting the museum, Fine, the head of the Judaic Studies department in UC's McMicken College of Arts and Sciences, was excited to see some of the gifts of Nelson Glueck on display. He noticed a small stone burial casket of the type produced in Jerusalem between about 20 B.C. and 66 A.D. Fine had written extensively on these artifacts, known as ossuaries and was intrigued enough to look more closely. That's when Fine made a discovery of his own. He noticed a unique image carved into the surface of the ossuary: a building resting upon a broad pedestal and topped with three triangles representing ancient pyramids, or cones, atop a tomb. 

"I immediately knew that I was looking at the stylized image of a massive Jerusalem tomb of the first century, the period of the early Rabbi known simply as Hillel, and of Jesus of Nazareth," he says. 

In recent years a few other images on ossuaries showing mausoleums topped with pyramids have also come to the attention of scholars. The Cincinnati ossuary image is unique, however, because three pyramids are presented, Fine says. 

The scholar reports on his discovery in the published version of his 2001 Rabbi Louis Feinberg Memorial Lecture, Art and Identity in Latter Second Temple Period Judaea: The Hasmonean Royal Tombs at Modi'in, which is scheduled for distribution Oct. 29 at the final lecture of Judaic Studies' Lichter Lecture Series at UC. Fine's full report on the ossuary will appear next year in the prestigious Journal of Jewish Studies, published in Oxford (England). Scholars have long known that pyramids once graced the Jerusalem skyline. One example is the Tomb of the Kings, the burial place of a royal family from Central Asia that converted to Judaism during the first century. Literary sources suggest this tomb also had three pyramids above it, Fine says. But none of these structures with more than one pyramid is still standing in Jerusalem, he notes.

"The Tomb of the Kings is there in Jerusalem, but they have only found little pieces of the pyramids, not the pyramids," he says. Also in Jerusalem are the Tomb of Zechariah and the Tomb of Jason, which have single pyramids on top, and the Tomb of Absalom, which is crowned with a cone. A structure with five pyramids carved into the side of a hill still stands at Petra in Jordan, Fine notes. 

In first-century Jerusalem, ossuaries were commonly used to store the skeletal remains of loved ones after they had decomposed for a year or so in a tomb or mausoleum. The ossuary in this case measures 18.2 inches long, 6.7 inches wide and 8 inches high. 

Glenn Markoe, curator of classical and near Eastern art at Cincinnati Art Museum, welcomes Fine's interpretation of the ossuary carving. 

"We're always trying to learn things by excavating our own collections here. There's all kinds of wonderful information hidden in the museum's objects and works of art," he says. 

Fine now marvels at the process and chance of discovery. He notes that you don't have to be an archaeologist who excavates to make a significant discovery about ancient life. "This whole process of discovery can take a number of different paths," he says. "You have to keep your eyes open."

Toothy Dino Found in China
Beijing September 18, 2002 (BBC) - One could hardly say it was the prettiest creature ever to have walked the Earth. Chinese scientists revealed a 128-million-year-old dinosaur on Wednesday with a large set of rabbit-like incisors. It looks very strange. 

The creature, called Incisivosaurus gauthieri, belongs to the theropod class of dinosaurs, predators such as the fearsome Tyrannosaurus rex, which moved about on two legs. 

Researchers from the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing, say this animal probably enjoyed plant food - unlike its big cousin, which liked nothing better than to rip apart and eat another beast. 

The remains were unearthed in the Yixian Formation, rocks from Liaoning in northeast China that have produced a wealth of spectacular fossils, including dinosaurs with feathers. 

Xing Xu, from the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology, and colleagues describe I. gauthieri and its teeth in the latest edition of the journal Nature. They say these prominent features show theropods were more diverse than scientists had thought. 

"The paired first premaxillary teeth are very similar to the incisors found in a few specialized mammalian lineages, such as rodents... which use them for gnawing. Incisivosaurus represents the first theropod displaying distinct dental adaptations for an herbivorous diet." 

Other experts say the rodent-like teeth do not necessarily mean the dinosaur was a plant-eater, but agree the traditional view of predatory two-legged dinosaurs is changing. 

Joshua Smith, from Washington University in St Louis, US, said: "The classic view of predatory dinosaur teeth is that they are all basically the same and are shaped more or less like serrated steak knives. However, it is becoming more and more obvious as we begin to look closely at theropod teeth that they are far more complex than we have been led to believe, and that the steak-knife view isn't accurate."
The Diatom's Glass House
Princeton University News Release September 18, 2002 - Why live in a glass house? For diatoms -- tiny ocean-dwelling organisms that live in exquisitely ornate glass cases -- the benefit turns out to be enormous.

In a paper published in the Sept. 13 issue of Science, Princeton scientists show that diatoms probably depend on glass to survive because the material facilitates photosynthesis. However, their study suggests that this domestic arrangement has a much bigger beneficiary: the entire planet, which owes its present-day, oxygen-rich and carbon-poor atmosphere in part to diatoms and their effective use of glass. 

Diatoms are one-celled organisms that are so prolific they account for a quarter of all the photosynthesis on the planet. In photosynthesis, organisms use sunlight and carbon dioxide to make sugar and oxygen.

"These guys proliferated at a time when atmospheric carbon dioxide took a big dive" 40 to 60 million years ago, said geochemist Allen Milligan, who conducted the study in collaboration with Francois Morel, director of the Princeton Environmental Institute.

The low carbon dioxide levels, while good for us today, posed a serious problem for plant life: how to perform photosynthesis when one of the raw ingredients is in short supply. Milligan and Morel found that diatoms solved the problem by encasing themselves in glass, which has chemical properties that help them concentrate carbon dioxide inside their vessels. With this device, diatoms flourished and now play an important role in keeping carbon dioxide levels low.

Diatoms have been a source of fascination since the first microscopes of the 1600s allowed scientists to sketch their intricate glass cases in pen and ink. The tough porous shells also have a variety of commercial uses. Swimming pool owners commonly use diatomaceous earth, which is rich with old diatom shells, to filter contaminants from pool water. In the 1860s, Alfred Nobel invented dynamite by using silica from diatoms to stabilize nitroglycerine into a portable stick.

"What we didn't know was what good this glass wall is to the diatom itself," said Milligan.

According to Milligan and Morel's study, the answer may have less to do with the structural properties that make diatoms useful to people than with the chemistry of silicon, a chief ingredient of glass.

The researchers found that silica in the glass changes the acid-base chemistry of the water inside the shell, creating ideal conditions for one of the chemical reactions involved in photosynthesis.

By evolving this built-in reaction vessel, diatoms have had a tremendous impact, said Morel. "They are among the most successful organisms on earth."

The discovery is likely to be useful to scientists in a number of disciplines, said Morel, because it links two previously separate areas of research: the study of carbon and how it cycles through water, biological organisms and the atmosphere, and the study of silicon and how it cycles between water, diatoms and sediments.

Scientists who are trying to map past variations in the earth's climate, for example, might use fossil records of diatoms and other indicators to infer how carbon dioxide concentration and diatom abundance have influenced each other at different points in the past. Having a firm grasp of such historical processes has become increasingly important as scientists try to predict the effects of greenhouse gas emissions, including carbon dioxide.

The study also offers an explanation for why diatom shells are so ornate. The many pores and filigrees create a lot of surface area, exposing much more glass to water than would be the case for a smooth structure. That extra surface area might make photosynthesis more efficient for the diatom. "These are very pretty things and their beauty might in fact be related to their function," said Morel.

100 Million Year-Old Penis!
LEICESTER, England September 13, 2002 (Reuters) - Sex was first recognized in the fossil records more than 500 million years ago and the oldest known penis is about 100 million years old, a conference heard on Friday. 

It belongs to an ostracod, an early crustacean related to crabs, shrimps and water fleas, and was found in a fossil sample unearthed in Brazil. 

"To my knowledge it is the oldest penis. I don't know of any older," Professor David Siveter, of the University of Leicester, told the British Association science conference. 

Dinosaurs were around 100 million years ago but the only known dinosaur fossils are of bones, not soft tissue. In fact the ostracod fossil had not one penis but two. 

Siveter, an expert in paleontology, believes ostracods are very sexy animals because they have the second longest sperm in the animal kingdom. A one millimeter ostracod can produce a single sperm 10 millimeters long. 

"An ostracod has the longest sperm to body ratio of any animal known to man, so clearly it has to have special equipment to deal with the sperm. It doesn't have one penis, it has two. We found the two penises in a 100 million year old fossil," he said. 

By studying gender and sexuality and how far it goes back in the fossil record, Siveter said scientists can learn more about how animal reproduction evolved and behavioral traits. 

In a separate presentation, Professor Scott Sampson of the University of Utah Museum of Natural History in the United States said that dinosaurs probably used their enormous horns, pikes, plates and crests to attract the opposite sex, in a similar way that peacocks use their colorful array of feathers. 

Some of the appendages were used as weapons but Sampson said others were simply not strong enough to be useful against an enemy and like deer or antelope they used the horns to impress potential mates. 

"I think the evidence is quite strong that dinosaurs did too," he said.
Instant Antimatter!
By Dr David Whitehouse 
BBC News Science Editor 

Geneva September 18, 2002 (BBC) - Physicists have mass produced antimatter, a crucial first step towards precision studies of its properties that may help solve one of the greatest mysteries of the Universe.

Antihydrogen has been made before, but only a handful of atoms at a time. Now, the CERN particle accelerator in Geneva, Switzerland, has produced more than 50,000. 

Antimatter is the mirror image of ordinary matter and both should have been created in equal quantities at the birth of the Universe. That everything around is predominantly ordinary matter is therefore a major puzzle. 

CERN is the European Organisation for Nuclear Research. 

"This is a milestone that has opened up new horizons, to enable scientists to study symmetry in nature and explore the fundamental laws of physics which govern the Universe," said Professor Michael Charlton University of Wales at Swansea. 

In the latest experiment, researchers used the CERN accelerator to create antiprotons and trapped them in a vacuum chamber. 

A radioactive source, meanwhile, was used to create positrons, which were held in a separate trap. The antiprotons were then fed into the pool of positrons, where the two combined to form antihydrogen. The antimatter was short-lived being destroyed when it bumped into normal matter. Detectors picked up the unique radiation signatures of antimatter as it was annihilated. 

For years researchers have wanted to create significant amounts of antimatter to test the so-called Standard Model, which describes fundamental particles and their interactions. Such a test is important because if antihydrogen does not behave the same way as normal hydrogen "the textbooks would have to be rewritten", says CERN's Jeffrey Hangst. 

Antimatter is destroyed whenever it collides with matter, turning both into bursts of radiation. Scientists believe this process was crucial in the earliest stages of the Universe billions of years ago. Today, the Universe consists of predominantly one form of matter and scientists are not sure why this is so.

David Christian of Fermilab in the US praised CERN's achievement. 

"They've got a lot more big steps they need to make, but this one is a big step," he said. However, not everyone is convinced by the latest research which has been published in the journal Nature. 

Even within CERN, there are questions being raised. A spokesman for a rival research group said he doubted that antihydrogen had been produced in the latest experiment. Harvard physicist Gerald Gabrielse said: "Our long experience with these very difficult experiments warns that antihydrogen may not have really been produced." 

He added that upcoming publications by his group "will show how it is possible to be fooled". 

Any thoughts of using antimatter to power a starship or create a weapon is still in the realm of science fiction. 

Making antiprotons requires 10 billion times more energy than it produces. For example, the antimatter produced each year at CERN could power a 100 watt light bulb for just 15 minutes.

Ad Repetition May Confuse Consumers
By Sue Toye

University of Toronto News Release September 16, 2002 - Everybody remembers the pink bunny promoting batteries that keep going and going but is it Energizer or Duracell? 

Contrary to popular belief in marketing, repetition in advertising does not always improve consumers' memory for brand claims, says a U of T study. "Consumers often do not absorb the information from ads, so repeating the ads doesn't necessarily lead to better memory of that product and its slogan," says Sharmistha Law, a marketing professor at U of T at Scarborough and the Rotman School of Management. "Instead, it can cause consumers to confuse a brand with its competitors."

In her study, Law examined students' abilities to remember slogans and match slogans to products. On computer screens, two groups of students viewed 20 ads with real product names but fictitious slogans.

Ten ads appeared once; another 10 appeared three times. One group saw the entire product name and slogan on screen; the second group initially saw only the first letter of the product - for example, the "U" in UPS - followed later by the entire product name and slogan. (The purpose of the second group was to mentally engage the students to enhance their memories.) 

Law found that ad repetition was actually a disadvantage for students in the first group - 50 per cent incorrectly matched products and slogans of those ads viewed three times compared to 38 per cent of incorrect matches for those ads viewed only once. In the second group, however, only 35 per cent made incorrect matches for ads viewed repeatedly, suggesting viewers are better able to remember product names if they are mentally engaged with the material.

The study, published in the Journal of Marketing Research, was funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.

Shrinking Ozone Hole
By Michael Perry

SYDNEY September 18, 2002 (Reuters) — The hole in the ozone layer over Antarctica may close within 50 years, as the level of destructive ozone-depleting CFCs in the atmosphere is now declining, one of the world's leading atmospheric scientists said on Tuesday. 

Paul Fraser with the Australian government's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) said he had measured a decline in ozone-destroying gases since 2000. 

"The major culprit in the production of the ozone hole is CFCs, and they have started to decline in the lower atmosphere," Fraser said. 

"We think the ozone hole will recover by about 2050," said Fraser, from CSIRO's atmospheric division and a lead author on a U.N. report on the ozone layer released on Monday. 

The report said ozone-depleting gases in the upper atmosphere had been at or near their peak in 2000, but the world was making steady progress towards the recovery of the ozone layer. 

It said scientific data showed levels of ozone-depleting gases in the lower atmosphere were "declining, albeit slowly," but the ozone would be vulnerable for a decade. The ozone layer is essential for life on Earth, shielding the planet from the harmful ultraviolet-B radiation from the sun and completely screening out lethal UV-C radiation. 

Chlorine from chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) is responsible for destroying part of the ozone layer over Antarctica. CFCs have been widely used since the 1930s in refrigerators and air conditioners and remain in the atmosphere for decades. 

Under the 1987 Montreal Protocol, developing countries committed themselves to halving consumption and production of CFCs by 2005 and to achieving an 85 percent cut by 2007. 

Fraser, who monitors CFCs from Australia's southern island of Tasmania, said that in 1950 the atmospheric level of chlorine from CFCs had been zero, rose to a peak of 2.15 parts per million in 2000, but had fallen one percent a year since 2000. 

"We are now at a point where the atmosphere can actually remove CFCs faster than they are being released into the atmosphere," said Fraser, adding the actual decline in CFCs had not been measured when the U.N. report was compiled in 2000. 

The U.N. report, the latest in a series of four-yearly reports reviewing the ozone layer since the Montreal Protocol, said the reduction in CFCs proved the protocol was working. 

But the report warned that the hole over Antarctica would only close fully if countries continued to adhere to the protocol and if there were no other factors adversely affecting the ozone layer like a major increase in greenhouse gases. 

"These results confirm that the Montreal Protocol is achieving its objectives. During the next decades we should see a recovery of the ozone layer," said the report.

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