Spot Colonies on Mars!
Dirty Oscar
, Noah's Ark,
Blue Jets & Red Sprites, Uranus,
Larsen B Collapse, and More!
Spot Colonies on Mars A Sign of Life?

March 14, 2002 (ESA) - Are dark spots that appear near the south pole of Mars in early spring, a sign of life on the Red Planet? No-one can say for sure, according to a group of scientists who met at ESTEC, ESA's technical center in the Netherlands. But the spots are certainly fascinating, the meeting agreed, and well worth a detailed look by Mars Express, the European Space Agency's Mars mission, when it goes into orbit around the Red Planet in late 2003. 

Agustin Chicarro, ESA project scientist for Mars Express, called the meeting after the spots began fuelling controversy here on Earth last summer. "As a geologist, I found the spots quite perplexing and very exciting. I wanted to tap a broad spectrum of expert opinion to decide whether they warrant closer examination by Mars Express," he said. 

The controversy began when Andras Horvath, Tibor Ganti and Eors Szathmary from the Planetarium and the Institute for Advanced Study, Budapest, suggested that the spots could be colonies of Martian microbes which wax and wane with the season. Michael Malin and Kenneth Edgett, designers of the Mars Orbital Camera on board NASA's Mars Global Surveyor spacecraft, which recorded the images of the spots, had previously suggested an explanation involving evaporation and re-freezing of predominantly carbon dioxide ice. The meeting considered these and other possibilities. 

Spots Appear in Spring, Disappear in Summer

The spots appear on dunes found on the floors of craters in the south and north polar regions. The Hungarian team has examined the southern spots in detail. "They appear in late winter and by summer they have disappeared. They appear first at the margins of the dune fields and rarely appear on the ridges of dunes," Szathmary told the meeting. Their location (which is independent of the elevation of the land) and shape (which is circular on flat surfaces but elongated on slopes) seem to be at odds with a physical explanation alone, say the Hungarian scientists who have proposed a biological explanation instead.

The spots are colonies of photosynthetic Martian microorganisms, they hypothesize, which over-winter beneath the ice cap. As the Sun returns to the pole during early spring, light penetrates the ice, the microorganisms photosynthesize and heat their immediate surroundings. A pocket of water, which would normally evaporate instantly in the thin Martian atmosphere, is trapped around them by the overlying ice. As this ice layer thins, the microorganisms show through gray. When it has completely melted, they rapidly desiccate and turn black. This explains why many dark dune spots have a black center surrounded by a gray aureole, say the Hungarian scientists. 

Although there are several examples of black microorganisms growing in hostile environments on Earth, there could be a non-biological explanation for the dark color of the spots on Mars, Marcello Coradini, ESA's Solar System Missions coordinator, told the meeting. "Images taken by the Giotto spacecraft showed that the black color of cometary nuclei is formed when a mixture of carbon and water ice is exposed to ultraviolet radiation," he said. Experiments on board Mars Express could help to determine whether the same had happened on Mars. 

Life at the Extreme on Earth

The meeting heard that microorganisms have been found living in water pockets trapped within the ice cover of very salty lakes in Antarctic dry valleys. However, this environment, although hostile, is far more benign than that found in the Martian dune spots region, David Wynn-Williams from the British Antarctic Survey told the meeting. Temperatures at the Martian south pole reach -126 degrees Celsius compared with - 70 degrees Celsius in Antarctica. The thin Martian atmosphere also transmits far more damaging UV radiation than even the ozone-depleted atmosphere above the Antarctic. 

Nobody knows just how tolerant life can be to these and other environmental stresses. On Earth, cyanobacteria, for example, come with a very efficient UV filter, said Wynn-Williams. "We are going to put some Antarctic microbes into space on the International Space Station to find out just how much UV they can take," he said.

A dearth of water, however, could be the biggest problem for Martian microorganisms. Martian south polar ice is thought to consist mainly of carbon dioxide and there may be insufficient water ice to sustain even the hardiest of microbes. GianGabriele Ori from the Gabriele D'Annunzio University in Pescara, Italy, doubted whether there is any ice at all over the dunes in question. "The dunes appear very distinct in the images," he said. "If there is a covering of ice, it must be very thin." 

Physical Explanations

Nonetheless, Ori did not rule out a biological explanation for the spots. "There could be a geological process which is supporting biological activity," he said. One possibility is the gradual release of gas including water vapor from below the Martian crust. "Such gas release could be responsible for the spots without biological activity. But the gas could also fuel biological activity," he said. 

John Bridges from the Natural History Museum in London argued for an investigation of similar spots found in the northern polar region, pointing out that wind blown dust could have a role in their formation. Rock weathering, though, was dismissed as a cause "because the spots turn from black to white to black again - and you can't reverse weathering," said Ori. 

The meeting agreed, however, that other geological explanations could not be ruled out. "The biological explanation is by far the most complex and is much less likely than a physical or chemical explanation," according to Wynn-Williams. "What we need to settle this is ground truth. We have to go there," said Ori. 

Mars Express Could Take a Look

No lander is presently planned to visit the dark dune spot areas. The Mars Express lander, Beagle 2, will touch down on Isidis Planitia, a large plain just north of the equator, at the end of 2003. However, several instruments on the Mars Express orbiter can observe selected areas of the Martian surface at very high resolution. "If the dark dune spots are selected as targets for analysis, many outstanding questions about the spots could be answered," said Chicarro. 

OMEGA, the infrared mapping spectrometer, for example, could determine the mineral composition of the spots, allowing some hypotheses to be eliminated. PFS, the planetary Fourier spectrometer, could measure the amount of carbon dioxide and water ice present, the temperature of the spots compared with their surroundings and the pressure of the local atmosphere. MARSIS, the radar sounder, could determine the thickness of the ice and the HRSC, the camera, could take high resolution, 3D, full-colour images of the spots. 

Images and data from orbit may eliminate some hypotheses, but proof of life on Mars will require landers and possibly humans to see the evidence firsthand. A future Mars lander could carry a Raman spectrometer capable of detecting the sorts of pigments used by microbes on Earth to harness solar energy for photosynthesis and to protect them from UV, Wynn-Williams told the meeting. Opportunities to fly this and other innovative instruments to Mars could be provided by Aurora, ESA's program of planetary exploration currently under discussion. 

Malcolm Fridlund, project scientist for Darwin, an ESA mission to search for life on extrasolar planets, however, ended the meeting on a philosophical note which expressed an understandable sentiment: "I find it hard to believe," he said "that Martian life, the last vestiges of a fertile time 3.5 billion years ago, has hung on by a thread for all this time until humans have developed the technology to find it." 

Several papers on dark dune spots on Mars will be presented at the European Geophysical Society annual conference in Nice, France, 22-26 April 2002.

Meet The First Native American Astronaut

By Philip Chien
Indian Country Today

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. March 20, 2002 (ICT) - The first seven NASA astronauts were all white Anglo-Saxon Protestants. And all of the astronauts who flew on the pioneering Mercury, Gemini and Apollo missions were white males.

It wasnít until the space shuttle era that minorities and women were encouraged to apply and qualified ones were interested. The first American woman and first black astronaut flew in 1983, and the first Asian-American in 1985. But no American Indians -- until now.

Maj. John Herrington, a Navy test pilot, is scheduled to fly on the STS-113 mission in September. His great-grand mother is a full-blooded Chickasaw and his father comes from a Choctaw heritage. But Herrington notes "I didnít grow up in the culture, so I canít tell you what lifeís like on a reservation. A lot of things I did in my life, the problems, paralleled a lot of things you see in the [American Indian] community. Just from what Iíve learned. Iíve always been proud of the fact that Iím Chickasaw. 

"We were proud of the fact that we didnít grow up in that culture. In the 40s, 50s, 60s, you didnít talk about being Indian, certainly in Oklahoma. You didnít talk about it -- people wanted you to blend in. You didnít learn the language. My granny didnít talk to her son. My grandpa didnít talk to my mom in the language. My granny was fluent in it, but you didnít pass it down, it was something you didnít do. So I never learned the Chickasaw language."

Herrington was born in 1958 in Wetumka, Oklahoma. His family moved around many times because of his fatherís work in electronics manufacturing. So Herrington and his brother and sister grew up in Colorado, Wyoming and Texas.

He notes that in the 1970s his mother wanted him to know more about his cultural background. "She said ĎYou are a Chickasaw, letís get you enrolled in the tribe. That we have you identified -- what your heritage is,í" he said.

"But as I look back on it, I think ĎWhat things would you have done different growing up.í I would have loved to have learned more, to stay in Oklahoma and learned more. I would have loved to have learned much more from my parents and grandparents than what I was taught. Itís inherent to the kind of person you are. What you believe in and what you believe about other people.

"When I lived in Wyoming, I distinctly remember being in seventh grade on Main Street on Friday nights and watching cowboys and Indians get in fights. Alcoholism was rampant; there was a lot of racism. It was real prevalent. But I wasnít part of the community; I was just a little kid going to junior high. I was dark skin, dark complexion. People treated my mom with disrespect at the junior high where she worked because she was Indian. You see it, but it doesnít register. I do remember what I saw when I was there, it wasnít pretty.

"I know what my heritage is, thatís who I am. If I go to New Mexico and I meet people who have grown up and lived all of their lives on reservations, I can meet my uncle. Identical, same type of person, same personality. We just didnít grow up in that environment. Itís just a part of you.

"I identify with all of the people I meet, because weíre all the same. Be they Hopi, or Eskimo, or Mohawk. You meet the people and you have this connection and say yeah that makes sense to me, and you realize there is a connection no matter where youíre from."

In 1996 NASA selected Herrington as its first American Indian astronaut. But he is not the first Native involved with the space program, or even the first in his family. His father, James Herrington, owned a patent on an electronic device flown on the Apollo moon missions.

Only a small percentage of an astronautís time is spent flying in space, or even in training for a specific mission. Most of an astronautís career is spent in technical positions supporting other shuttle missions or representing the entire astronaut corps at technical meetings. Herrington had one of the most desirable positions for an astronaut, helping to strap fellow astronauts into the shuttle as they prepared to fly in space. He said, "I think the most enjoyable job Iíve had is working at the Cape. To be able to strap your office-mates into a vehicle and do that work and in very short order watch them fly in to space, the job satisfaction is incredible. Iíve had so much fun the past two years."

Last September Herrington got the important phone call he was waiting for. "Wow. There are three neat phone calls you get -- the first is when you come to get interviewed. The second is when you get selected. The third is youíve been assigned to a flight. You remember that very well. You always wonder when itís going to happen. It takes your breath away. This is what Iíve worked for so long, and I get the opportunity to do it. I want to do a good job, I want to do very well."

Since then Herrington has been in training as a member of the STS-113 crew, currently scheduled for launch in September. The mission has two extremely important goals. First the mission will exchange long-duration space station crews. Herrington will be with the shuttle when it launches and lands. However the shuttle will launch with a fresh three-person space-station crew and return to Earth with a crew which is finishing its four-month stay in space. 

In addition the shuttle will carry a 29,000-pound, 42-foot piece of the space stationís truss. Five shuttle flights are required to assemble the football-field long truss. Two robot arms are needed to move the truss from the shuttleís cargo bay to the space station, one arm mounted on the shuttle and one on a mobile cart mounted on the space station. After the truss is in place Herrington and fellow astronaut Michael Lopez-Alegria will make three spacewalks to make connections between the new truss and the space station.

Herrington noted "If I can be [the flight engineer] or walk in space that would be fantastic. I get to do both. Isnít that something? I couldnít ask for more."

Astronauts are permitted to carry a small number of personal items as souvenirs of their missions. Most choose symbolic items like school pendants or jewelry for their family. Herrington is thinking about several Native items. He said, "Iíve been presented with a couple of beautiful eagle feathers Iíd like to fly. Some music. Maybe a little bit of tobacco and corn. Some really basic things which tie to the traditions. It would be a good way to carry into space the thoughts and good wishes of the people Iíve met."

While Herrington is the only American Indian astronaut there are many native Americans involved in the space program as engineers, scientists and in other roles.

Astronauts Assigned for Future Long-term Expeditions

March 19, 2002 (NASA) - As continuous habitation of the International Space Station (ISS) nears the 18-month mark, NASA has named crewmembers to begin specialized training for future long-term expeditions to the orbiting research facility. 

Three crewmembers have been assigned to train for the ninth expedition aboard the station. Veteran Russian Cosmonaut Gennady I. Padalka (Col., Russian Air Force) will serve as station commander, and first-time flyers Astronaut E. Michael Fincke (Lt. Col., USAF) and Cosmonaut Oleg D. Kononenko will serve as flight engineers for Expedition Nine. 

Padalka previously served as commander of Russian Space Station Mir Mission 26 and ISS Expedition Four backup commander. A graduate of the Eisk Military Aviation College, he served as a pilot and senior pilot in the Russian Air Force. 

Fincke, a member of the 1996 astronaut class, served as backup flight engineer for Expedition Four. He has two Bachelor of Science degrees from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), a master's in Aeronautics and Astronautics from Stanford University, and a master's in Physical Sciences (Planetary Geology) from the University of Houston-Clear Lake. Kononenko has a degree from the Kharkov Aviation Institute and a post-graduate degree from the Kuibyshev Aviation Institute (Samara). 

Astronaut Daniel M. Tani, who flew in space for the first time aboard STS-108 in December 2001, will serve as Fincke's backup for Expedition Nine. Tani, also a member of the 1996 astronaut class, has undergraduate and graduate degrees in mechanical engineering from MIT. Cosmonauts Aleksandr F. Poleschuk and Roman Y. Romanenko will serve Russian backup crewmembers. 

Astronaut John L. Phillips, Ph.D., has been named as backup flight engineer for Expedition Seven, replacing Paul Richards, who resigned from NASA last month to pursue private interests. Richards flew as a mission specialist on STS-102 in March 2001. 

Phillips was a member of the STS-100 crew in April 2001 and had been assigned as a backup crewmember for the Expedition Eight crew. Replacing Phillips in that role is Charles J. Camarda, Ph.D. Camarda is a member of the 1996 astronaut class and currently serves as a Mission Control Center communicator with the space station crew. He is a graduate of the Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn. He has a master's degree from George Washington University and a doctorate in aerospace engineering from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. Camarda joins astronaut Leroy Chiao and cosmonaut Mikhail B. Kornienko as the backup crew for Expedition Eight.

Another Ohio Nuclear Plant Raises Concerns
WASHINGTON March 20, 2002 (Reuters) ó U.S. regulators Tuesday ordered 69 nuclear plants to submit reactor safety information after finding unexpected corrosion at an Ohio plant owned by FirstEnergy Corp. that raised broader concerns. 

FirstEnergy last month shut its Davis-Besse nuclear power plant in Oak Harbor, Ohio, due to corrosion inside the reactor chamber. 

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) wrote to 69 U.S. plants with pressurized water reactors similar to Davis-Besse's seeking information on their structural integrity. The agency said it did not believe the problems at the Ohio plant could release radiation into the atmosphere but that they could reduce its margin of safety. 

The other 34 reactors, which use boiling water reactors, were not required to take any action. There are 103 total operating U.S. nuclear power plants, which generate about 20 percent U.S. electricity supplies. 

Regulators gave the utilities two weeks to respond, a short turnaround that "reflects the seriousness with which we view this," an NRC spokesman said. 

While refueling the Ohio plant in February, FirstEnergy found an area on top of a high-pressure vessel which contains the nuclear reaction that showed unusual wear. Corrosion left less than one-quarter inch of stainless steel to protect the top of the reactor vessel, normally shielded by 6.5 inches of carbon steel, the NRC spokesman said. The NRC said it expects that a corrosive coolant leaking from the reactor core ate through the pressure vessel but has not announced definite findings. "The issue could have generic implications for other pressurized water reactors," the spokesman said. 

The NRC said it will use the new information to determine if its current inspection and maintenance practices are adequate. 

FirstEnergy's 925-megawatt plant supplies electricity to the Midwest electricity grid. 

NRC inspections now underway at Davis-Besse show boric acid in the cooling water was a contributing cause of corrosion. Boric acid is added to the water to control the speed of the nuclear reaction. 

Last year, the NRC identified 13 reactors that either developed or were believed highly susceptible to developing tiny cracks that could damage power plant equipment and cause lengthy shutdowns for repairs. Of the 13 units, cracks were found and repairs were made at three. Eight did not show cracks. Two plants ó the Davis-Besse plant and American Electric Power's Cook 2 unit in Michigan ó were to be inspected. Repairs were made at the 1,090-megawatt Cook 2 reactor earlier this year.
Dirty Politics Mar Oscar Race

By Daniel B. Wood
Christian Science Monitor 

HOLLYWOOD March 20, 2002 (CSM) - Everyone knows politicians have to be great actors. Now, it's getting harder and harder to be an Academy Award-winning actor without becoming a politician.

Hollywood watchers say the pre-show campaign for this year's Oscars has devolved into stump speeches, daily media briefings, and smear tactics Ė the Academy Awards equivalent of running for mayor of New York. Or Detroit. Although studios have long mounted extensive campaigns to sway the 6,000 members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in their balloting for this Sunday's Oscars, this year's lobbying has taken on the intensity and vitriol of a cinematic version of politics. Call it "Bulworth" meets "Primary Colors."

"I'm not sure if I am a filmmaker anymore or trying to run for Congress," said Peter Jackson backstage at the recent Screen Actors Guild Awards. "You find yourself becoming a sort of politician in an election year ... the line gets a bit blurred.

The "vote for me" Oscar campaigns of 2002 are fueled by shrinking profit margins by movie studios. In addition to the prestige of winning a key Oscar, the victorious studios have been able to extend the cinema life of their movies by pulling in moviegoers curious to see what all the fuss was about. And when the movies arrive on DVD and video, they come with a stamp proclaiming "Best Picture" or "Best Actor" on the box. "Oscar" wins also keep movie-based merchandise Ė figurines, posters, video games Ė on store shelves longer.

"Hollywood has reached a whole new level of competitiveness this year for the bragging rights that go along with winning an Oscar," says Damien Bona, author of two books on the Oscars.

"In addition to giving a pat on the back and generating audiences for the winning films, winning the Oscar clearly helps for getting future projects funded and increasing salaries," says Mr. Bona. "In a town of fragile egos where everyone is afraid of losing jobs, this is the most competitive year I've ever seen."

The biggest spark of controversy this year came when media stories started to question the veracity of "A Beautiful Mind," a movie which portrays Nobel Prize-winning mathematician John Nash's triumph over schizophrenia. The film has been hotly favored to win Best Picture this year. But some have accused the film, which is an adaptation of a biography by Sylvia Nassar, of omitting key details of the protagonist's life, such as a divorce and alleged anti-Semitism and bisexual tendencies.

'Mind' games 

Universal, the studio backing the movie, has reacted angrily, accusing an unnamed rival studio of drumming up the stories as part of a smear campaign. This past Sunday, Mr. Nash himself appeared on national TV to counter the rumors about his life.

That's not the only "scandal" surrounding "A Beautiful Mind." Russell Crowe, who portrays Nash in the film, recently had an altercation backstage with a TV producer who cut short the broadcast of his acceptance speech at a British awards show.

Prior to the incident, Crowe had been considered a lock for the Best Actor Oscar this year. After initial reticence to apologize to the shaken producer, Crowe made amends as a storm of bad publicity grew over the incident, leading some to accuse the actor of doing so only out of political expediency.

But, following what many called his "boorish faux pax," a series of top stars Ė including Mel Gibson, Julia Roberts, and Kevin Spacey Ė began endorsing Denzel Washington, nominated in the same category for "Training Day."

Adding to the imbroglio is an argument over race. Mr. Washington joins Will Smith and actress Halle Berry as a group of three African-American actors nominated for an Academy Award this year. The last time there were three black nominees was in 1972, and no African-American has won Best Actor since Sidney Poitier in 1963.

In an industry that is famously liberal, many here feel guilty that more African-Americans don't have gold statuettes on their mantelpieces. With African-American director Spike Lee and NAACP president Kweisi Mfume weighing in on the debate, the Oscar race has only intensified.

The result: more spending by studios to push their nominees and more spin and counterspin. The whole affair is prompting Mr. Crowe to speak out.

"I think we ought to examine the amount of money we are spending on these [Oscar] campaigns," said Crowe backstage at a recent awards show. "As soon as it costs that much money, that takes people to a different place. This is supposed to be about the joy of filmmaking, about celebration and it shouldn't get into these kind of politics."

Campaign coffers 

Studios are spending a reported 20 percent more than last year on Oscar-promotion campaigns that typically run around $15 million. For example, trade publications have come packaged with color pullouts and inserts that include DVDs with outtakes from nominated films.

Analysts say that the spending blitz dates back to 1998 when Dreamwork's "Saving Private Ryan," an early favorite for Best Picture that year, was beaten out by a strong, PR blitz by Miramax's "Shakespeare in Love." The same studios had Best Picture nominees last year, and this.

Whether the motives are personal or economic, it is clear that an Oscar win can result in tens of millions more for a film still in the theaters. One example is 1999's "Best Picture," "American Beauty" which earned $33 million more during the nomination process (from $75 million to $108 million), and then another $22 million after the awards, reaching $130 million, domestic gross.

Studios are also are making sure their highly favored nominees miss no chance for exposure. In particular, "Best Actress" nominees Sissy Spacek (for "In the Bedroom") and Ms. Berry (for "Monster's Ball") have been particularly visible.

Besides parading nominees nonstop onto shows from "Leno" and "Letterman," to "Good Morning, America," it also means pitching stories to national periodicals by making nominees available to reporters.

"It's unbelievable how visible the top nominees have become on mainstream shows and feature articles," says Dave Karger, a critic and analyst for Entertainment Weekly magazine. "Publicists are jockeying for space and air time for their clients with an energy and tenacity that is almost unimaginable."

Neck-and-neck race 

On the heels of skate-judge scandals in Utah, the growing cinematic realpolitik is disturbing to some, and to others it's just a healthy sign that this year's Oscar race is that close. Even though the academy has 5,700 members, some analysts say the top awards could be decided by as little as half-a-dozen votes.

"Four of the five pictures nominated for Best Picture are strong potentials so the vote will be so fragmented that just a few votes will make the difference," says Martin Grove, columnist for Hollywood Reporter Online.

Besides "neck-and-neck" Oscar tallies which could be closer than the Florida 2000 face-off between Bush and Gore, other political analogies are everywhere.

From mainstream papers such as USA Today, to trade press such as Hollywood Reporter, media outlets are recounting who is up and who is down, based upon an emerging set of "polls" in the form of pre-Oscar award shows that allegedly define "front runners" and "dark horses."

But if all this generates more wattage and higher stakes by Oscar time, that's just show biz, say many observers.

"This isn't shocking really, it's reality," says Lisa Schwarzbaum, movie critic for Entertainment Weekly. "Oscars have always been about more than 'pure' artistic merit. With thousands of people voting, each with personal agendas and interests, what wins is inevitably a mix of merit, zeitgeist and odds. What's shifted in recent years is the degree to which the campaigning has become visible."

DNA Computer Solves a Complex Problem

March 14, 2002 (NASA) - A DNA-based computer has solved a logic problem that no person could complete by hand, setting a new milestone for this infant technology that could someday surpass the electronic digital computer in certain areas. 

The results are published in the online version of the journal Science on March 14 and will also run in the print edition. 

The new experiment was carried out by USC computer science professor Dr. Leonard Adleman, who made headlines in 1994 by demonstrating that DNA -- the spiraling molecule that holds life's genetic code -- could be used to carry out computations. 

The research was partially supported by grants from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., and NASA's Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif., as part of the Computing, Information and Communication Technology Program. 

The idea was to use a strand of DNA to represent a math or logic problem, and then generate trillions of other unique DNA strands, each representing one possible solution. Exploiting the way DNA strands bind to each other, the computer can weed out invalid solutions until it is left with only the strand that solves the problem exactly. 

Although they are still nowhere near primetime, "DNA computers do have several attractive features," said Adleman, distinguished professor of computer science and biological sciences and holder of the Henry Salvatori Chair in Computer Science in the USC School of Engineering. "They are massively parallel, compute with extremely high energy-efficiency and store enormous quantities of information." 

Adleman's first experiment proved that computing with molecules was possible. But the problem solved -- to find the shortest route among seven cities -- could easily have been solved by a person with a pencil and paper. Adleman's new experiment solves a problem requiring the evaluation of more than one million possible solutions -- too complex for anyone to solve without the aid of a computer. 

It required a set of 20 values that satisfy a complex tangle of relationships. Adleman's chief scientist, Nickolas Chelyapov, offered this illustration: Imagine that a fussy customer walks onto a million-car auto square and gives the dealer a complicated list of criteria for the car he wants. 

"First," he said, "I want it to be either a Cadillac or a convertible or red." Second, "if it is a Cadillac, then it has to have four seats or a locking gas cap." Third, "If it is a convertible, it should not be a Cadillac or it should have two seats." 

The customer rattles off a list of 24 such conditions, and the salesman has to find the one car in stock that meets all the requirements. (Adleman and his team chose a problem they knew had exactly one solution.) The salesman will have to run through the customer's entire list for each of the million cars in turn -- a hopeless task, unless he can move and think at superhuman speed. This serial method is the way a digital electronic computer solves such a problem. 

In contrast, a DNA computer operates in parallel -- with countless molecules shimmying around together at once. This is equivalent to each car having a valet inside who will listen to the customer read his list over a PA system and will drive off the lot the moment his car fails one of the conditions. By the time the customer finishes his list, his dream car will be waiting alone on the lot. 

While the time needed to solve problems of this class (called "NP-complete problems") increases exponentially (2, 4, 8, 16 ... ) for serial computers, it increases only linearly (2, 4, 6, 8 ... ) for parallel computers. 

In principle, then, the DNA computer should outstrip the electronic computer on savagely complex combinatorial problems -- breaking encryption schemes, for example. Unfortunately, Adleman said, the DNA computer currently is too error-prone to achieve its great potential. 

"In the past century we've become really good at controlling electrons," he said. "It would take a breakthrough in the technology of working with large biomolecules like DNA for molecular computers to beat their electronic counterparts." 

Still, even if no one finds a way to beat electronic computers on very complex problems, Adleman said, DNA computers might find applications in other areas. "It's possible that we could use DNA computers to control chemical and biological systems in a way that's analogous to the way we use electronic computers to control electrical and mechanical systems," he said. 

Adelman suggested, for example, that such systems might someday be engineered into living cells, allowing them to run precise digital programs that would interact with their natural biochemical processes. "We've shown by these computations that biological molecules can be used for distinctly non-biological purposes," he said. "They are miraculous little machines. They store energy and information, they cut, paste and copy. 

"They were built by 3 billion years of evolution, and we're just beginning to tap their potential to serve non-biological purposes. Nature has given us an incredible toolbox, and we're starting to explore what we might build." 

Other co-authors of the Science paper were Ravinderjit S. Braich, a post-doctoral student; Cliff Johnson, a neurobiology Ph.D. graduate student and Paul W.K. Rothemund, who received his Ph.D. and is now at Caltech. The research was also supported by grants from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Administration, the Office of Naval Research and the National Science Foundation.

DNA Test Sheds Light on Old West

VIRGINIA CITY, Nev. March 10, 2002 (AP) - Archaeologists combing through artifacts beneath the burned floorboards of a house in this 19th century mining town are using DNA testing in a way never used before to learn new secrets about the Old West.

Some of the tests just down the hill from the Bucket of Blood Saloon might tell a story of the frontier rarely seen in Westerns or on the Bonanza television series that helped make Virginia City famous. 

Beneath the remains of a small house at 18 North G St., traces of morphine were detected on a 125-year-old glass hypodermic syringe. In addition to the needles and syringe found beneath the floorboards, a urethral irrigator, used to treat venereal disease symptoms, was also discovered. 

Researchers think they found either an opium den or the office of a doctor who treated prostitutes and their customers on the edge of the town's rollicking red-light district in the 1860s and 1870s. 

It is believed to be the first time DNA residue has been extracted from historical artifacts other than human remains, according to independent experts and leaders of the joint research by Portland State University and the Nevada State Historic Preservation Office. They say the technique, which uses nuclear DNA testing, will help give historians a better glimpse into daily life on the Western frontier, including the racial makeup of the townspeople. 

"Hollywood has made us think of Virginia City as a Bonanza-type setting, and even tourism today has carried that theme," said Julie Schablitsky, an archaeologist with Portland State's Urban Studies and Planning Department. She presented the findings in January at the Society for Historical Archaeology's annual conference in Mobile, Ala. 

"This is an area where people from all over the world toiled hard above and below the ground. ... Back then you could get morphine and a syringe at the local pharmacy. It was not a big deal," she said. 

DNA testing confirmed that the syringe and six needles were used by at least four people, men and women, including at least one who was black. Experts say the ability to use DNA to link gender, race and number of people to personal items recovered at archaeological sites is a breakthrough. 

"Schablitsky's innovative application of DNA analysis opens up an entirely new way of documenting and understanding their lives from the material things that they left behind," said Donald Hardesty, an anthropology professor at the University of Nevada, Reno, who specializes in the American West. 

At its peak in the 1860s, Virginia City was "one of the great mining districts of the world, one of the richest places ever found in human history," said Ron James, Nevada's state historic preservation officer and author of two books on the history of the Comstock Lode. 

"We have a very good idea from what was written at the time of what it was like to be white, rich and male in 19th century Virginia City. But the rest of the story has to be pieced together by whatever means," James said. "Any time you can talk about working-class men, women and minorities, that provides a great opportunity to make the picture of history more clear." 

Research has established that Virginia City, with a population of 60,000 at its peak, was unusually diverse for its time. 

"At any one time, about 50 percent of the people there were immigrants from other places. It was a mixed racial group," Schablitsky said. 

When Schablitsky began digging in the summer of 2000, she expected to find beads, buttons and straight pins used by a dressmaker who once operated a shop there, as well as children's toys from a family of British immigrants. 

"We didn't expect to discover a syringe and needles and an irrigator," she said.

Lolo's Husband Detained in Murder Probe

MARSEILLE, France March 21, 2002 (Reuters) - A court ordered on Wednesday that the husband of late French porn star Lolo Ferrari be detained while he is investigated for her murder, his lawyer said.

Ferrari, who was billed as "the woman with the biggest breasts in the world" and had a reputed 71-inch (177.5 cm) silicone-enhanced bust, died in March 2000 of what police initially said were natural causes.

They then investigated the possibility that she was suffocated.

The detention of her husband, Eric Vigne, came after he was placed under official investigation in February on suspicion of her murder.

Vigne's lawyer said he would ask for his release.

Veteran Mountain Climber to Search for Noah's Ark

By Lee Chi-dong
Staff Reporter 

March 16, 2002 (Korea Times) - A veteran South Korean mountaineer will try to find Noah's Ark, a rumored biblical relic that some believe is hidden on a mountain in eastern Turkey. 

"I plan to depart for the one-month ascent of Mt. Ararat on July 15,'' said Heo Young-ho, 48, who is one of the most renowned mountain climbers in Korea. "Although I am not a Biblical scholar, I would like to do it out of curiosity,'' he told The Korea Times yesterday. 

Heo, who started climbing mountains during his childhood, has already conquered the highest peaks in the seven continents, including Mt. Everest, and traveled to both the South and North Pole. 

"I am so glad to have the chance to challenge Mt. Ararat,'' said Heo, who is to head a five-member exploration squad, "It is the first time that a team has been formed for such a purpose.'' 

According to the Bible account in the Book of Genesis, Noah's Ark came to rest over 4,300 years ago on the mountain, after God destroyed the world with a flood. 

Since 1991, the Turkish government has prohibited foreign access to the 5,165-meter-mountain, located in the nation's northeast corner, as they claim that Bible scholars and archaeologists from around the world have caused significant damage. Even locals are only allowed to stay there for five days. 

However, the authorities gave unusual approval to the Korean exploration team, which is sponsored by the Research Institute for Creation History. 

Heo vowed to do his best to find Noah's Ark, regardless of the controversy about whether it exists or not. 

"I think it will take only a few days to reach the summit, which is one kilometer in diameter,'' he said, "We will spend the rest of the time searching the icecap of the mountain.'' 

More on Noah - 

Shameless plug for LaBontť Prints - 

Genre News: Firefly, Rodriguez, Star Trek, Spielberg, Michael Dorn, Dead Zone, Depp and Madonna!

Signing On and Off

Hollywood March 20, 2002 (eXoNews) - Variety has named TV newbie Morena Baccarin as the actress signed for Joss Whedon's Firefly to replace Rebecca Gayheart (Earth 2 and Urban Legend), who dropped out shortly after joining the cast. Whedon is the creator of Buffy and co-creator of Angel and is an Executive Producer on both. Firefly is a Whedon-style space epic due for Fox's fall season.

The entertainment bible also says Roswell's Adam Rodriguez (Jesse) has signed on with CBS to join their new fall series C.S.I. Miami. No word from UPN yet on the fate of Roswell, but expectations for renewal are not high in the Roswell fanbase.

Still another report from Variety confirms that Roddenberry hand-picked successor, Star Trek Exec Rick Berman has been signed to a new 5-year deal at Paramount to produce movies (Berman is at the helm of the new STTNG movie - Nemesis), TV shows (he's also the guy in charge of Enterprise), TV movies and as a consultant for Paramount theme parks. Berman says his future will include earthbound projects in addition to his Star Trek legacy.

None of this necessarily means that there will be more STTNG movies after Nemesis, but it's probably a positive indicator. Patrick Stewart recently remarked that the latest STTNG film was ripe for a sequel and Gates McFadden (Dr. Beverly Crusher), Marina Sirtis (Deana Troi) and other STTNG cast members have expressed satisfaction with their roles in Nemesis and the script. TrekToday reports that Nemesis has completed principal photography, and reportedly features cameo returns by other Trek alumnae, including Wil Wheaton (Wesley Crusher), Whoopi Goldberg (Guinan) and Majel Barrett Roddenberry (Lwaxana Troi).

Trekkers can trek out to the theaters for the newest  Trek trek around Christmas. Enterprise is currently riding high with fans and critics alike, Wednesdays on UPN.

More Star Trek news can be found at the Official Site - 

and at the ultimate fan site - 

Spielberg-Sci Fi Taken Final Picks

LOS ANGELES March 20, 2002 ( - The sweeping alien epic "Taken," which is scheduled to air in December on the SCI FI Channel, has finally filled out all the roles. Dakota Fanning, the 8-year-old actress who co-starred with Sean Penn in the critically acclaimed "I Am Sam," will play the lead role of Allie, a young girl who serves as the film's narrator.

Also newly cast in the show are Matt Frewer ("Max Headroom"), Desmond Harrington ("We Were Soldiers" ) and James McDaniel ("NYPD Blue").

The 20-hour adventure miniseries will run over the course of 10-consecutive nights and is being produced by the SCI Fi Channel, DreamWorks Television and Steven Spielberg. The story will weave together the stories of three generations and 50 years of close encounters with aliens.

Dorn Will Direct Enterprise 

Hollywood March 20, 2002 (Sci-Fi Wire) - Star Trek: The Next Generation star Michael Dorn told SCI FI Wire that he will direct an upcoming episode of UPN's Enterprise, the latest Trek actor to step behind the camera on the new series.

"We actually got it in our movie deal," Dorn said in an interview, referring to Star Trek: Nemesis, in which he will reprise his role as Worf. "They asked, 'What would [you] like?' and I said, 'I've been really trying to [direct].' They said, 'OK, great,' and that's how it happened."

Dorn, who previously directed Deep Space Nine, V.I.P. and Through the Fire, a sitcom pilot he also co-stars in with STTNG alumna Marina Sirtis, added, "I'm very psyched about it. It's a great episode. It's going to be a lot of fun. I've always wanted to do an Enterprise. It's a terrific show. I don't even know what [the episode] is going to be called. They've got a working title now. But I just got the beat sheet for it. It's a pleasure-planet episode, and that's all I'm going to tell you."

Dorn's episode will air right before the season finale.

Former Trekkers Enter Dead Zone 

Hollywood March 20, 2002 (Sci-Fi Wire) - Michael Piller, executive producer of USA Networks' upcoming supernatural series The Dead Zone, told fans on the show's official Web site that he'll be making use of former Star Trek colleagues.

The cast includes Nicole de Boer, who played Dax on the last season of Deep Space Nine, as Sarah.

In addition, Joe Menosky, who wrote for Star Trek: The Next Generation, has signed on as executive consultant, Piller said. Piller himself acted as an executive producer of TNG, DS9 and Voyager.

The Dead Zone, starring Anthony Michael Hall and based on Stephen King's book, will begin airing on USA in June.

Depp Flies To Neverland 

Hollywood March 19, 2002 (Sci-Fi Wire) - Johnny Depp (Ed Wood) will play Sir James M. Barrie, the Scottish author of the play Peter Pan, in Miramax Films' Neverland, to be directed by Marc Forster, Variety reported. Shooting is set to begin in June in London.

David Magee adapted Neverland from Allan Knee's play The Man Who Was Peter Pan.

It tells the story of how Peter Pan came to be staged, based on the author's relationship with four fatherless boys and their mother in turn-of-the-century London, the trade paper reported.

Madonna Sings For Bond

London March 20, 2002 (BBC) - Madonna is to compose and perform the title song for the 20th James Bond film, Die Another Day. Her name has been linked with the 007 adventure for weeks, but it was not clear until now whether or not she would sing the main theme. 

Producers Michael Wilson and Barbara Broccoli said they were "thrilled" that Madonna would be recording the song. The star was "recognized as the world's most exciting songwriter and performer", they said in a statement. 

Madonna joins a long line of famous names who have recorded songs for Bond films, including Paul McCartney, Tom Jones, Matt Monro, Shirley Bassey, Tina Turner and Nancy Sinatra. 

Pierce Brosnan is making his fourth appearance as Bond, alongside co-star Halle Berry. The Irishman has extended his contract to play Bond for a fifth time. 

The latest film reportedly opens with a dramatic hovercraft chase in the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea. The action then moves on to Hong Kong, Cuba, Iceland and London. 

The film marks the 40th anniversary of the popular series which began in 1962 with Dr No, starring Sean Connery.

Official Madonna Fan Club - 

Thousands of Dead Starfish

Holkham UK March 19, 2002 (BBC) - Thousands of starfish have been washed up on a stretch of English coastline. 

They were stranded on a mile-long part of the beach at Holkham after exceptionally strong winds churned up the seabed off north Norfolk. 

"It happens perhaps once a year," said Nigel Croasdale, manager of The Sea Life Sanctuary aquarium at nearby Hunstanton. 

"It's got nothing to do with pollution or global warming or anything like that. It's just a freak of nature. Very strong winds cause the seabed, where the starfish are feeding on shellfish, to be disturbed and the starfish are washed ashore. A few may survive but most of them will dry out and die." 

Ron Harold, an English Nature warden with responsibility for managing coastal areas around Holkham, added: "We had some very strong north-easterly winds towards the end of last week and an exceptionally large number of starfish have been washed ashore. Some are still alive but they are under extreme stress and they will perish." 

The natural phenomenon - known as a wreck of starfish - is said to be as thick as a carpet in places. 

Masses of razorshells have been washed up alongside the starfish.

Blue Jets and Red Sprites 

By Peter N. Spotts
Christian Science Monitor 

Los Alamos, N.M. March 14, 2002 (CSM) - For researchers Victor Pasko and Mark Stanley, tossing a keenly sensitive digital video camera into their kit as they headed to Puerto Rico last September was an afterthought. 

It turned out to be a good move. During the last hour of the last night they were in the field, the two men recorded an event that may help solve a long-standing mystery about earth's electrical system.

The duo was preparing to spend a month in Puerto Rico to track the effect of lightning on the earth's ionosphere using radar at the National Radiotelescope and Ionospheric Center at Arecibo.

But they also thought they might have a chance to capture the antics of blue jets and sprites - elusive fountains of light that lance upward from the tops of thunderheads or plunge from the bottom of the ionosphere during thunderstorms. Ever since these discharges were first captured on video in 1989, scientists have puzzled over the role they might play in the earth's electrical system.

As the two monitored a thunderstorm roughly 200 kilometers (124 miles) away, a blue jet erupted from the top of the thunderhead. In less than a second, the jet reached the ionosphere, then vanished. The camera, in the right place at the right time, captured the event.

"You could see this with the naked eye. It was one of the most impressive things I've ever seen in my life," says Dr. Stanley, an atmospheric physicist at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in Los Alamos, N.M.

Previous images taken by other scientists had suggested that blue jets and sprites reached altitudes of 42 kilometers. Last year's jet, however, reached 70 kilometers, leading the team to claim that their sequence of images represents the first conclusive evidence for a direct electrical path between a thundercloud top and the ionosphere - like the cloud-to-ground path lightning provides.

"This was one of the most shocking results we got on the trip," Stanley says.

With 45,000 thunderstorms daily around the globe, the team speculates that such discharges in tropical regions could play a role in charging the earth's "battery.".

The two terminals of this battery are the earth's surface and the ionosphere, explains Dr. Pasko, an associate professor of electrical engineering and a researcher at Penn State University's Communications and Space Sciences Laboratory.

He notes that at very low frequencies in the electromagnetic spectrum, the earth's surface acts like a metal shell. So does the ionosphere - a layer of the atmosphere filled with charged particles that begins at an altitude of 60 kilometers. Like the two terminals in a car battery, these two shells exhibit a difference in electrical potential, or voltage. In the car battery, the difference is 12 volts. In the atmosphere, it's 300,000 volts.

Pasko notes that the atmosphere acts as an insulator, preventing all but a weak current from flowing between the "terminals."

"There's a lot of interest in understanding how the battery is charged and maintained," Stanley says.

Thunderstorms are important in this process, he continues, because cloud-to-ground lightning delivers a net flow of charge to the surface. "But no one has seen charge flowing from a cloud to the ionosphere," he says. "There's been a big debate over whether this could happen."

Sprite Sites - and 

NASA to Keep Launch Times Secret
Washington March 19, 2002 (BBC) - The American space agency (Nasa) has announced that from now on all shuttle launch times will be kept secret until 24 hours in advance to guard against possible terror attacks. 

Under the new policy, NASA will announce a possible four-hour launch window in advance and then only reveal the exact time of blast-off 24 hours ahead of the actual event. The new protocol, approved late last week by top NASA officials, marks the first time in more than a decade that all precise launch times have been kept secret. 

"NASA is choosing to be extra careful," Kennedy Space Center spokesman Bruce Buckingham said. 

The next launch, of the shuttle Atlantis, is due to take place on 4 April and it will occur some time between 1400 (1900 GMT) and 1800 (2300 GMT). Once NASA releases the precise time of lift-off, all the other details about the flight, including the predicted landing time, will be made public, Mr Buckingham said. 

"What we're trying to do is protect the credibility of this agency with the public and the press, and also with the security measures that this nation has put into place at the highest government level," spokesman Kyle Herring said, at NASA's Washington headquarters. 

Mr Herring said that as a civilian agency NASA wanted to give the public as much information as possible about its activities. "But we also want to protect the national assets, that is the hardware, the crew and the personnel that work for this agency," he added. 

It is still undecided whether and how NASA will confirm the start of the launch countdown - the countdown clocks which are on public view will not start ticking until 24-hours ahead of blast-off. 

On Monday, the crew for the next mission were at the launch site rehearsing the countdown as normal, but for security reasons NASA did not announce their arrival in advance. The crew of seven will be engaged in a space station assembly mission. The new plan is part of a clamping down on security in the wake of the 11 September attacks. 

The launch times of the December and March shuttle missions had been made public before 11 September, but both take-offs occurred amid unprecedented security, which is set to continue for the foreseeable future, Mr Herring said. 

The new policy took some time to develop and will remain in place for subsequent missions, "with the caveat that it will be reviewed on a flight-by-flight basis", Mr Herring said. Even stricter rules were applied for seven shuttle flights between 1985 and 1990, in which the spacecraft were carrying classified satellites for the US Defense Department. 

Then, the launch times were not announced until nine minutes before take-off and a news blackout was placed over each flight.
Costly Sony Robot Sings and Dances

TOKYO, Japan March 20, 2002 (AP) --The newest Sony Corp. family member has a photographic memory, an extensive vocabulary and a jukebox-like knowledge of music. He also comes with a clunky, sci-fi name and a price tag resembling that of a luxury car.

The silver, round-eyed "SDR-4X" humanoid robot was unveiled Tuesday and will go on sale later this year. Sony Corp. would not say much more about its plans for the 23-inch tall robot.

"This robot was designed to live with people in homes," said Toshitada Doi, Sony executive vice president.

For that, the robot has sensors on the bottom of its feet to help it walk on uneven surfaces such as carpeting and has been programmed to tumble without falling apart and then get up on its own, Doi said.

The SDR-4X is an upgraded version of a humanoid robot shown about a year ago. It has two cameras to see things better, including being able to tell the difference between the edge of a table and the patterns on the floor. That has been a challenge for another Sony product, the puppy-shaped robot Aibo, which has only one camera. The new robot will be considerably more expensive than Aibo, which already has sold more than 100,000 units worldwide. The latest Aibo model sells for $1,400 in Japan and $1,500 in the United States.

"This robot will be cost as much as one car, a luxury car," Doi said.

For that money, the SDR-4X can carry on simple conversations with its 60,000-word vocabulary, recognize color, dodge obstacles in its path and even sing once programmed with music and lyrics. The robot also can be programmed to recognize 10 people through their faces, stored as digital images shot with its camera, and their voices, picked up through seven microphones. It also will remember their names.

In a demonstration, the robot sang in harmony, shaking its hips and waving its arms in tempo. It also balanced itself on a surfboard tilting at various angles.

Sony is one of several Japanese companies beefing up their robot divisions. Entertainment robots have become a fad in gadget-loving Japan, with toy makers coming out with cheaper imitations. Honda Motor Co. has developed a walking robot called "Asimo" that greets visitors at showrooms and recently rang the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange.

Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, which has focused on industrial robots, sold two entertainment robots to a museum. They talk with children, play simple games and draw pictures. Mitsubishi will not disclose their price but said their development cost $1.5 million.

Yaskawa Electric Corp., which supplies robots to auto assembly lines, has developed a $105,000 bed-shaped robot that can help rehabilitation patients who need to strengthen their legs.

Mysterious Gold Cones Were Wizards' Hats

By Tony Paterson

Berlin March 17, 2002 (Telegraph UK) - Wizards really did wear tall pointed hats - but not the crumpled cloth kind donned by such fictional characters as Harry Potter, Gandalf and Merlin. 

The wizards of early Europe wore hats of gold intricately embellished with astrological symbols that helped them to predict the movement of the sun and stars.

This is the conclusion of German archaeologists and historians who claim to have solved the mystery behind a series of strange yet beautiful golden cone-shaped objects discovered at Bronze Age sites across Europe.

Four of the elaborately decorated cones have been uncovered at sites in Switzerland, Germany and France over the past 167 years. Their original purpose has baffled archaeologists for decades.

Some concluded that they were parts of Bronze Age suits of armor; others assumed that they served as ceremonial vases. 

A third theory, which had gained widespread acceptance until now, was that the cones functioned as decorative caps that were placed on top of wooden stakes that surrounded Bronze Age sites of worship.

Historians at Berlin's Museum for Pre- and Early History, however, claim to have established with near certainty that the mysterious cones were originally worn as ceremonial hats by Bronze Age oracles. Such figures, referred to as "king-priests", were held to have supernatural powers because of their ability to predict accurately the correct time for sowing, planting and harvesting crops.

"They would have been regarded as Lords of Time who had access to a divine knowledge that enabled them to look into the future," said Wilfried Menghin, the director of the Berlin Museum which has been carrying out detailed research on a 3,000-year-old 30in high Bronze Age cone of beaten gold that was discovered in Switzerland in 1995 and purchased by the museum the following year.

Mr Menghin and his researchers discovered that the 1,739 sun and half-moon symbols decorating the Berlin cone's surface make up a scientific code which corresponds almost exactly to the "Metonic cycle" discovered by the Greek astronomer Meton in 432bc - about 500 years after the cone was made - which explains the relationship between moon and sun years.

"The symbols on the hat are a logarithmic table which enables the movements of the sun and the moon to be calculated in advance," Mr Menghin said. "They suggest that Bronze Age man would have been able to make long-term, empirical astrological observations," he added. The findings radically alter the standard image of the European Bronze Age as an era in which a society of primitive farmers lived in smoke-filled wooden huts eking out an existence from the land with the most basic of tools. 

"Our findings suggest that the Bronze Age was a far more sophisticated period in Europe than has hitherto been thought," Mr Menghin said.

Another cone, found near the German town of Schifferstadt in 1835, had a chin strap attached to it. The cone, which is also studded with sun and moon symbols, is the earliest example found and dates back to 1,300bc.

Other German archaeologists have suggested that the gold-hatted king-priests were to be found across much of prehistoric Europe. Prof Sabine Gerloff, a German archaeologist from Erlangen University, has found evidence that five similar golden cones were exhumed by peat diggers in Ireland during the 17th and 18th centuries. These objects, described at the time as "vases", have disappeared. Prof Gerloff says, however, that her research suggests almost conclusively that they were hats worn by Bronze Age king-priests. She is also convinced that a Bronze Age cape of beaten gold - the "Gold Cape of Mold" discovered in Wales in 1831 - was part of a king-priest's ceremonial dress.

Prof Gerloff has used computers to create an impression of a Bronze Age oracle wearing a golden hat and with an elaborately decorated golden cape wrapped tightly around the shoulders.

Japanese Observatory Views Uranus and Two Moons

Japan March 17, 2002 (NAOJ) - This image of Uranus, its ring system, and two of its satellites Miranda (top-center) and Ariel (bottom-left) is from Subaru Telescope's Coronagraphic Imager with Adaptive Optics (CIAO) combined with Subaru Telescope's adaptive optics system (AO). 

On March 13, 1781, British astronomer William Herschel discovered an object that appeared large compared to a star during observations with a homemade 6.3 inch (16 cm) telescope. The object, which was initially thought to be a comet, turned out to be a new planet outside Saturn's orbit, and was named Uranus. 

Uranus revolves around the Sun in approximately 84 years on an elliptic orbit whose average radius is approximately 1.7 billion miles (2.8 billion kilometers). Unlike other planets, Uranus spins on its side with respect to its orbital plane. Since 1851, over 10 satellites and 10 rings have been discovered around Uranus. 

This image was taken during tests of the combined use of CIAO and AO in July 2001. It combines near-infrared images in three different filters, so the colors are not the same as what we would see in the optical. In this color scheme, methane, the dominant component of Uranus's atmosphere, shows up as blue. 

Scientists from several research institutes and universities, in addition to the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan, participated in the development of CIAO and Subaru Telescope's AO system. The team from Kobe University processed this image.

Discovery Shows How Maya Used Solar Cycles

By Luis Alfredo Martinez

Tegucigalpa March 15, 2002 (EFE via COMTEX) - Honduran scientists have discovered architectural alignments and observation points for viewing the sun during equinoxes, solstices and zeniths in the main plaza of the Mayan ruins at Copan, confirmed by measurements from that ancient civilization's calendar. 

The discovery confirms that the Maya were indeed great astronomers, as believed by scientists for the last 100 years. 

Some of the alignments may be observed next Wednesday when the spring equinox takes place, said Maria Cristina Pineda, the director of the Central American Astronomic Observatory of Suyapa at the National Autonomous University of Honduras (UNAH). Pineda and archeologists Ricardo Agurcia and Vito Veliz have been involved in astro-archaeological research since 1998, with the help of UNAH funding and graduate school students in this particularly Central American subject matter. 

Pineda underscored that the discovery will give "new meaning" to the Great Plaza at the Copan Ruins, adding that their findings will be published in a U.S. journal, Astroarchaeology. 

The solar alignments between stelae (monumental stone objects with inscriptions, paintings, or reliefs), alters and architectonic structures during equinox's, solstices and zeniths have only been found at Copan, among all centers of Mayan culture in Central America, Pineda told EFE. The solar cycles are also related to the 16 Mayan governors, since some alignments occur between stelae for successive governors, she said. 

During solar cycles, "the sun rises from the governors' heads and sets on them," Pineda said, explaining that sunrises and sunsets symbolize life and death for the Maya. The alignments also occur among other structures in the plaza. 

Any visitor to Copan may notice that the stelae are oriented in an east-west direction which has led to much speculation on the relationship between the Sun and other heavenly bodies and which Pineda and the other researchers have confirmed. Overall, there are 19 alignments at Copan's main plaza; four for the two equinox's, six for the two zeniths and nine for the two solstices, winter and summer. During the summer and winter solstices, the alignments produce amazingly symmetrical oblique lines, which can be observed using computer imagery. 

The findings also confirm long-standing suspicions that "the Maya were great astronomers," Pineda said. "Now the reason why has been answered." 

"We are showing that the plaza is an important observation site" that was used for meetings of the Mayan governors with the population and possibly for ceremonies and information on crops and plantings, according to Pineda. 

With only the first stage of work completed, researchers will now focus on the relationship between Copan and the Moon and planets such as Mars, Venus and Jupiter. The "the big (remaining) question" in Mayan astronomy is why Copan is located exactly on latitude 15 which makes the recently confirmed series findings possible.

Agencia EFE (Spanish) - 

Ancient Inca town called `Unparalleled' Archeological Find
By Craig Mauro

LIMA, Peru March 19, 2002 (AP) ó Explorers have found the extensive ruins of an Inca town, complete with human remains, sprawled spectacularly across a mountain in southern Peru, the expedition leaders said yesterday.

The ancient settlement clings to the slopes of a rugged peak in a region of the Andes Mountains where the Incas hid after the Spanish conquest. It consists of more than 100 structures, including a ridge-top truncated pyramid, ceremonial platforms and an 8-kilometre-long irrigation channel.

British author Peter Frost, who led an eight-member expedition to the area last year, said it is the largest Inca site found since 1964, when American explorer Gene Savoy discovered Vilcabamba, considered the capital of the empire's jungle refuge.

"Few, if any, Spanish conquistadors ever reached the southern part of Vilcabamba," Frost said in an interview. "This site may ultimately yield a record of Inca civilization from the very beginning to the very end, undisturbed by European contact ó an unparalleled opportunity.''

The Incas ruled Peru from the 1430s until the arrival of the Spaniards in 1532, constructing stone-block cities and roads and developing a highly organized society.

The settlement is 400 kilometers southeast of Lima and about 40 kilometers southwest of Machu Picchu, Peru's most famous Inca ruins and its top tourist destination.

Frost, 56, who writes about Inca history and guides hiking tours in the Andes, first saw ruins in 1999 while leading an adventure trek nearby. He returned in May, 2001, with a month-long expedition sponsored by the National Geographic Society.

"The site turned out to be far more extensive than we expected," said Alfredo Valencia, a Peruvian archeologist who participated in the dig. "It's spread over 6 square kilometers and is up around 3,500 meters on very steep terrain, and its natural beauty is stunning.''

Tiahuanaco Monolith Returned to Lake Titicaca
La Paz March 17, 2002 (IOL) - A massive stone monolith belonging to the ancient Tiahuanaco culture was returned to its original site near Lake Titicaca on Saturday, after being on exhibit for 70 years in the Bolivian capital. The 20-ton sculpture, known as the Bennett Monolith, was pried from its cement and stone base in downtown La Paz by about a hundred workers using heavy machinery. 

A crowd of 2 000, including Bolivian Aymara Indian shamans, cheered, clapped, danced and blew on ceremonial wind instruments when the workers gently laid the seven metre-high, two metre-wide stone sculpture onto the flat bed of a gigantic semi truck. The vehicle then crawled along the highway at 20 kilometres per hour on its way to the ruins of Tiahuanaco, located 70 kilometres east at an altitude of about 3 960 metres above sea level. The monolith will be installed inside a recently-built museum at the Tiahuanaco ruins. 

The Tiahuanaco, or Tiwanaku, culture was centred just south of Lake Titicaca, the world's highest navigable lake, which straddles the border between Bolivia and Peru. The culture reached its highest level of development from AD 200 to 600, and influenced societies all along the Andes mountain range with fine stone masonry, textiles and pottery. One of Tiahuanaco's best-known structures is the Gateway of the Sun, a doorway cut from a single piece of stone. 

The monolith itself is named after the US archaeologist Wendell Bennett, who dug it up from the site in 1932. The following year a German, Arthur Posnasky, moved the monolith to La Paz to prevent locals from cutting it up for use as building material. Researchers believe the Tiahuanaco fell into decline following a devastating decade-long drought. The city was also located on the shores of the lake before the lake receded several kilometres. 

The Tiahuanaco society, which eventually broke up into several Aymara-speaking nations, was conquered by the pan-Andean Inca empire from Peru in the 15th Century.
Mark Twain's Frog Not Yet Out of the Weeds

By Brian Smith

Oakland, CA March 15th, 2002 (Earthjustice) - On March 22, 2002 tune in for "Celebrated Jumping Frog," a 90-second radio program featuring the storied California red-legged frog of Gold Rush era fame.

This frog, listed as "Threatened" under the US Endangered Species Act, is currently the focus of a major legal dispute, spearheaded by Earthjustice, over its "critical habitat" designated last year by the US Fish and Wildlife Service. 

The program is produced by Earth & Sky radio series and sponsored in part by the National Science Foundation. It airs on about 400 public and 200 commercial radio stations nationwide. To find your local station please visit the Earth & Sky website or send an email to .

You can also listen to the show online anytime, where you'll also find a link to an interview with Dr. Robert Stack, director of the Jumping Frog Research Institute in Calaveras County and Peter Galvin, Conservation Biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity in Berkeley, California. 

Earth & Sky radio series is a non-profit, internationally syndicated radio program produced in Austin, Texas and celebrating its 11th year of science programming. Hosted by Deborah Byrd and Joel Block, the 13-year former hosts and creators of the astronomy program Stardate, Earth & Sky's mission is to inspire curiosity about science and nature in the 21st century.

Earth and Sky - 

Larsen B Antarctic Ice Shelf Breaks Apart

Cambridge March 19, 2002 (BBC) - An Antarctic ice shelf that was 200 metres thick and had a surface area of 3,250 square kilometres has broken apart in less than a month.

UK scientists say the Larsen B shelf on the eastern side of the Antarctic Peninsula has fragmented into small icebergs. 

Researchers from the British Antarctic Survey (Bas) predicted in 1998 that several ice shelves around the peninsula were doomed because of rising temperatures in the region - but the speed with which the Larsen B has gone has shocked them. 

"We knew what was left would collapse eventually, but the speed of it is staggering," said Dr David Vaughan, a glaciologist at the Bas in Cambridge. "[It is hard] to believe that 500 billion tonnes of ice sheet has disintegrated in less than a month." 

The climate on the peninsula has changed rapidly in the last 50 years. The region has experienced a 2.5-degree-Celsius rise in average temperatures - an increase greater than for any location in the Southern Hemisphere. However, the picture generally in Antarctica is a complicated one with temperatures in the interior actually falling over the same period. There is also some evidence that the retreat of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, on the other side of the peninsula to the Larsen B shelf, has halted. 

The Larsen B was one of five ice shelves - huge masses of ice that are floating extensions of the ice sheets covering the land - that had been steadily shrinking because of climate change, Dr Vaughan said. But the break up of the ice mass would not raise sea levels because the ice was already floating, he added. Sea levels would only be affected if the land ice behind it now began to flow more rapidly into the sea. 

The UK scientists were first alerted to the Larsen B collapse by US colleagues studying images from the American space agency's Modis satellite. The British Antarctic Survey then dispatched its research ship RRS James Clark Ross to the area to obtain photographs and samples. Scientists hope the data gathered on site will help them determine when such an event last happened and which ice shelves are threatened in future. 

The US-based National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) said on Tuesday: "This is the largest single event in a series of retreats by ice shelves in the peninsula over the last 30 years. 

"The retreats are attributed to a strong climate warming in the region. We know that the climate in this area has been relatively stable for at least 1,800 years, but now it is starting to change," Dr Vaughan told the BBC. "Has it been kicked off by (human induced) global warming or is it something a bit more natural? For glaciologists this is fascinating because we can see the processes at work and we can predict with more certainty what is going to happen in the rest of Antarctica. As far as global implications are concerned, there are few as far as the present event is concerned."

Locally, however, Dr Vaughan said there would be ecological changes as organisms moved into the seabed area no longer covered by ice. 

US scientists also reported on Tuesday that an iceberg more than nine times larger than Singapore had broken off Antarctica. The National Ice Center said the berg, named B-22, broke free from an ice tongue in the Amundsen Sea, an area of Antarctica south of the Pacific Ocean. It is more than 64 kilometers (40 miles) wide and 85 kilometers (53 miles) long, and covers an area of about 5,500 square kilometers. 

Icebergs are named for the section of Antarctica where they are first sighted. The B designation covers the Amundsen and eastern Ross seas and the 22 indicates it is the 22nd iceberg sighted there by the US National Ice Center. 

Greenpeace Predicted Collapse in 1997

Greenpeace March 19, 2002 (eXoNews) - In statements on their website, Greenpeace gently reminded us that they predicted the collapse of the Larsen B shelf in 1997.

"In 1997 a Greenpeace expedition to the region discovered a large crack in the ice shelf and predicted a collapse of the ice shelf in the near future.

"Greenpeace climate change specialist Erwin Jackson, on board the MV Arctic Sunrise said: "It has taken centuries to millennia for these ice shelves to form and in a few short decades they care crumbling into nothing. From these sudden collapses, which are induced by local warming, it is clear that the vast bastions of floating ice around the edges of Antarctica are very fragile if human activities lead to more warming the climate."

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