Saturday, October 27, 2007

INFLUENZA: A Real Threat

H5N1: Humanity's greatest threat

As I post this in October 2007 the bird flu virus is making a couple of significant mutations that will allow it to transfer more easily from birds to humans. While this is a scary development, it also is a hopeful one. Meaning, we are one step closer in figuring out how the "jump" from birds to humans is made. Maybe knowing how it happens will allow our scientists to find a way for preventing it.

The last killer pandemic was in 1918. I've read numbers ranging between 20 MILLION and 50 MILLION deaths in that year. My paternal and maternal grandparents were all approximately five years old during this tragedy. I'm thankful they lived. If any one of the four of them had died I would either not exist today or be a different person (which is the same as saying I (this I) would not exist. That scenario is the same for anyone reading this, regardless of how many lines of progeny you go back, whether it's one, two or three.

Pandemic test undertaken by financial services paints dire scenario

Patrick Thibodeau

October 24, 2007 (Computerworld) If a pandemic strikes the U.S., it will kill about 1.7 million people, hospitalize 9 million, exhaust antiviral medications and reduce basic food supplies, according to a planning scenario developed by financial service firms preparing for such a catastrophe.

This particular disaster occurred only on paper. But those grim numbers are some of the pandemic planning assumptions used by nearly 3,000 banks, insurance companies and security firms in a just-concluded, three-week, paper-based exercise that may have been the largest pandemic test of its kind.

In each week of this drill, participants -- some 10,000 people were involved -- received an updated scenario and were asked to assess their capability to deliver services as the pandemic deepened and then abated.

"We wanted to look at the impact a pandemic can have on our sector," said George Hender, chairman of the Financial Services Coordinating Council, in a teleconference Wednesday. "One of the things that we tried to do is put some real stress on the firms."

During the height of the pandemic, which was estimated to occur midway through the scenario, participants were asked to consider operating with an absentee rate of nearly 50% -- above the 35% to 40% rate federal officials believe may actually happen, said Hender. "We deliberately took the rate up much higher to see where their stress points were," he said.

The financial services groups are now sharing the pandemic flu exercise information, and all the scenarios are available for download.

The U.S. Department of Treasury is also a sponsor of the test, and Valerie Abend, deputy assistant secretary for critical infrastructure protection and compliance at the department, said the financial services industry has been "thinking long and hard about a pandemic."

"We are one of the most prepared, I would argue, if not the most prepared of the critical infrastructures that are out there," said Abend.

But the financial services firms won't really know how prepared they are until the end of the year. The thousands of pages of data collected during the test, which began in the last week of September, are still being analyzed and a final report is due at year's end. But based on some preliminary feedback from participants, the financial service firms weren't handing out too many gold stars for readiness.

When asked "based on the lessons learned from the exercise, how effective are your organization's business continuity plans for a pandemic," 56% answered "moderately," the next highest group was "minimally," at 28%. Only 12% said their business continuity planning was very effective.

The three-week scenario compresses the 12-week period a pandemic wave would likely last. Among the other things that may happen in an actual pandemic are school closings, as well as blackouts or brownouts in major metro areas because of degraded service as a result of absenteeism. Internet service throughput could be reduced by 50% due to congestion, and Web browsing timeouts would become common. Airlines would cut schedules, and garbage would pile up on streets.

Many frustrations would arise. Working ATMs might be scarce, and call centers may not have enough staff to help. Health insurance claim volume would rise 20%. Auto claims are expected to fall 10%, since there would be less traffic on the road. But for those who are driving, gas prices would be high and fuel supplies reduced.

HERE is some interesting reading about the 1918 PANDEMIC.

I knew it all along. Really.

Study Reveals Why Flu Thrives in Winter

Dave Mosher
LiveScience Staff Writer

For the first time, scientist have solid evidence suggesting exactly why the flu is so common in winter.

A new animal study suggests that the influenza virus' success hinges on low relative humidity and cold temperatures. Such conditions keep the virus more stable and in the air longer than warm, humid conditions, scientists said. And apparently, the frosty weather's role is more important than that of the human body in helping the virus thrive.

"We've always thought the immune system wasn't as active during the winter, but that doesn't really seem to be the case," said study coauthor Peter Palese, a virologist at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City.

When we cough or sneeze, tiny droplets of water enter the air and hang around until they drop to the ground—or an unsuspecting passerby breathes them in. Once inside our airways, any flu viruses that have hitched a ride on the droplets can launch an attack.

"We found that the flu's transmission period is much, much longer when temperatures and humidity levels are low," Palese told LiveScience.

He thinks that the conditions not only suck away the droplet's water weight, allowing them to float in the air longer, but also dry out virus-blocking mucous and cells in our airways. Bigger viral doses combined with the body's disabled means to flush them out, Palese said, gives the flu a better fighting chance to infect a person, regardless of their immune system's strength.

This correlation has been obvious, Palese acknowledged, but solid explanations for wintertime viral success have eluded scientists because modeling human-like disease transmission in animals is difficult. Many animals, such as mice, fail to transmit the viruses that make humans sick.

"The only animals that can model virus transmission are ferrets, but they're very expensive, big and hard to work with," he said. "They also like to bite a lot." By reading an 88-year-old medical study, however, Palese's team discovered that guinea pigs simulate human coughing and sneezing extremely well.

"I never believed what my grandmother told me about getting sick when it's cold, but it turns out she was right," Palese said. "Guinea pigs aren't humans, but this is some of the best evidence yet to explain the seasonality of the flu."

Although the flu spreads primarily through the air, the viruses can survive on doorknobs, handrails and other surfaces. Medical experts report that frequent hand washing, especially before meals, can lower the risk of picking up as well as transmitting diseases such as the flu.

Palese and his colleagues' complete findings are detailed in the October issue of the online journal PLoS Pathogens.


Also see some really interesting facts, answered questions and a video on the potential for a BIRD FLU PANDEMIC.

Saturday, October 20, 2007


A previously, unknown to man, species of dinosaur has been discovered AND IT'S A GIANT!

Dinosaur skeleton unearthed in Argentina

By MICHAEL ASTOR, Associated Press Writer

The skeleton of what is believed to be a new dinosaur species — a 105-foot plant-eater that is among the largest dinosaurs ever found — has been uncovered in Argentina, scientists said Monday.

Scientists from Argentina and Brazil said the Patagonian dinosaur appears to represent a previously unknown species of Titanosaur because of the unique structure of its neck. They named it Futalognkosaurus dukei after the Mapuche Indian words for "giant" and "chief," and for Duke Energy Argentina, which helped fund the skeleton's excavation.

"This is one of the biggest in the world and one of the most complete of these giants that exist," said Jorge Calvo, director of the paleontology center at the National University of Comahue, Argentina. He was lead author of a study on the dinosaur published in the peer-reviewed Annals of the Brazilian Academy of Sciences.
Scientists said the giant herbivore walked the Earth some 88 million years ago, during the late Cretaceous period.

Since the first bones were found on the banks of Lake Barreales in the Argentine province of Neuquen in 2000, paleontologists have dug up the dinosaur's neck, back region, hips and the first vertebra of its tail.

"I'm pretty certain it's a new species," agreed Peter Mackovicky, associate curator for dinosaurs at Chicago's Field Museum, who was not involved with the discovery. "I've seen some of the remains of Futalognkosaurus and it is truly gigantic."

Alexander Kellner, left, a researcher with the Brazilian National Museum, and Argentine paleontologists Jorge Calvo, center, and Juan Porfiri, display parts of a skeleton of what could be a new dinosaur species, a 105-foot plant-eater, Futalognkosaurus dukei dinosaur, during a news conference in Rio de Janeiro, Monday, Oct. 15, 2007. The Patagonian dinosaur was uncovered on the banks of Lake Barreales in the Argentine province of Neuquen and according with the scientists the giant herbivore walked the Earth some 88 million years ago, during the late Cretaceous period. (AP Photo/Ricardo Morales)

Calvo said the neck alone must have been 56 feet long, and by studying the vertebrae, they figured the tail probably measured 49 feet. The dinosaur reached over 43 feet tall, and the excavated spinal column weighed about 9 tons when excavated. One neck vertebra alone measured more than 3 feet high.

Jeff Wilson, an assistant professor of paleontology at the University of Michigan, who was asked to review the finding, said he was impressed by the sheer amount of skeleton recovered.

"I should really try to underscore how incredible it is to have partial skeleton of something this size," Wilson said in telephone interview. "With these kind of bones you can't study them by moving them around on the table; you have to move around them yourself."

"It shows us the upper limit for dinosaur size," Wilson added. "There are some that are bigger but they all top out around this size."

Patagonia also was home to the other two largest dinosaur skeletons found to date — Argentinosaurus, at around 115 feet long, and Puertasaurus reuili, 115 feet to 131 feet long.

Comparison between the three herbivores, however, is difficult because scientists have only found few vertebrae of Puertasaurus, and while the skeleton of Futalognkosaurus (FOO-ta-long-koh-SOHR-us) is fairly complete, scientists have not uncovered any bones from its limbs.

North America's dinosaurs don't even compare in size, Mackovicky added in a phone interview. "Dinosaurs do get big here, but nothing near the proportions we see in South America."

The site where Futalognkosaurus was found has been a bonanza for paleontologists, yielding more than 1,000 specimens, including 240 fossil plants, 300 teeth and the remains of several other dinosaurs.

"As far as I know, there is no other place in the world where there is such a large and diverse quantity of fossils in such small area. That is truly unique," said Alexander Kellner, a researcher with the Brazilian National Museum and co-author of the dinosaur's scientific description.


Wednesday, October 10, 2007


If you read through this article you'll soon come to realize that our fate; our possible exposure to deadly viral/bacterial toxins is in the hands of people who have a large number of idiots in their midst. Sure there are lots of accidents, but there's also lots of carelessness which causes "accidents". In the future, an extinction level action could be caused by one of these idiots. Maybe it has always been this way. Maybe we've been "within an inch of going out" for the last thirty years. Who knows? Remember, this is only one article and these are only a few incidents that have been reported or discovered. And this is only one country. If humanity doesn't fall victim to itself, it may to ever strengthening, ever mutating strains of the deadly toys of idiots.

Mishandling of germs on rise at US labs

By LARRY MARGASAK, Associated Press Writer

American laboratories handling the world's deadliest germs and toxins have experienced more than 100 accidents and missing shipments since 2003, and the number is increasing as more labs do the work.

No one died, and regulators said the public was never at risk during these incidents. But the documented cases reflect poorly on procedures and oversight at high-security labs, some of which work with organisms and poisons that can cause illnesses with no cure. In some cases, labs have failed to report accidents as required by law.

The mishaps include workers bitten or scratched by infected animals, skin cuts, needle sticks and more, according to a review by The Associated Press of confidential reports submitted to federal regulators. They describe accidents involving anthrax, bird flu virus, monkeypox and plague-causing bacteria at 44 labs in 24 states. More than two-dozen incidents were still under investigation.

The number of accidents has risen steadily. Through August, the most recent period covered in the reports obtained by the AP, labs reported 36 accidents and lost shipments during 2007 — nearly double the number reported during all of 2004.

Likewise, the number of labs approved by the government to handle the deadliest substances has nearly doubled to 409 since 2004, and there are now 15 of the highest-security labs. Labs are routinely inspected by federal regulators just once every three years, but accidents trigger interim inspections.

In a new report by congressional investigators, the Government Accountability Office said little is known about labs that aren't federally funded or don't work with any of 72 dangerous substances the government monitors most closely.

"No single federal agency ... has the mission to track the overall number of these labs in the United States," said the GAO's report, expected to be released later this week. "Consequently, no agency is responsible for determining the risks associated with the proliferation of these labs."

The House Energy and Commerce investigations subcommittee plans hearings Thursday on the issue. The lab incidents have sparked bipartisan concern.

"It may be only a matter of time before our nation has a public health incident with potentially catastrophic results," said Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich., the panel's chairman.

The subcommittee's senior Republican, Ed Whitfield of Kentucky, added: "Currently, there is a hodgepodge system of federal oversight regulating the ... laboratories responsible for researching the deadliest germs and diseases. At Thursdays hearing, I expect to probe witnesses about how to improve oversight of these laboratories in a post 9-11 world."

Lab accidents have affected the outside world: Britain's health and safety agency concluded there was a "strong probability" a leaking pipe at a British lab manufacturing vaccines for foot-and-mouth disease was the source of an outbreak of the illness in livestock earlier this year. Britain was forced to suspend exports of livestock, meat and milk products and destroy livestock. The disease does not infect humans.

Accidents aren't the only concern. While medical experts consider it unlikely that a lab employee will become sick and infect others, these labs have strict rules to prevent anyone from stealing organisms or toxins and using them for bioterrorism.

The reports were so sensitive the Bush administration refused to release them under the Freedom of Information Act, citing an anti-bioterrorism law aimed at preventing terrorists from locating stockpiles of poisons and learning who handles them.

ILC Dover technician William Ayrey is seen in a self-contained biosuit in Frederica, Del., Monday Oct. 1, 2007. Suits made by ILC Dover, and other manufacturers, are worn in the highest security level laboratories that work with dangerous germs and toxins. Suits such as these protect workers from organisms and poisons so dangerous that illnesses they cause have no cure. (AP Photo/Gary Emeigh)

Among the previously undisclosed accidents:

_In Rockville, Md., ferret No. 992, inoculated with bird flu virus, bit a technician at Bioqual Inc. on the right thumb in July. The worker was placed on home quarantine for five days and directed to wear a mask to protect others.

_An Oklahoma State University lab in Stillwater in December could not account for a dead mouse inoculated with bacteria that causes joint pain, weakness, lymph node swelling and pneumonia. The rodent — one of 30 to be incinerated — was never found, but the lab said an employee "must have forgotten to remove the dead mouse from the cage" before the cage was sterilized.

_In Albuquerque, N.M., an employee at the Lovelace Respiratory Research Institute was bitten on the left hand by an infected monkey in September 2006. The animal was ill from an infection of bacteria that causes plague. "When the gloves were removed, the skin appeared to be broken in 2 or 3 places," the report said. The worker was referred to a doctor, but nothing more was disclosed.

_In Fort Collins, Colo., a worker at a federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention facility found, in January 2004, three broken vials of Russian spring-summer encephalitis virus. Wearing only a laboratory coat and gloves, he used tweezers to remove broken glass and moved the materials to a special container. The virus, a potential bio-warfare agent, could cause brain inflammation and is supposed to be handled in a lab requiring pressure suits that resemble space suits. The report did not say whether the worker became ill.

Other reports describe leaks of contaminated waste, dropped containers with cultures of bacteria and viruses, and defective seals on airtight containers. Some recount missing or lost shipments, including plague bacteria that was supposed to be delivered to the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology in 2003. The wayward plague shipment was discovered eventually in Belgium and incinerated safely.

The reports must be submitted to regulators whenever a lab suffers a theft, loss or release of any of 72 substances known as "select agents" — a government list of germs and toxins that represent the horror stories of the world's worst medical tragedies for humans and animals.

A senior CDC official, Dr. Richard Besser, said his agency is committed to ensuring that U.S. labs are safe and that all such incidents are disclosed to the government. He said he was unaware of any risk to the public resulting from infections among workers at the high-security labs, but he acknowledged that regulators are worried about accidents that could go unreported.

"If you're asking if it's possible for someone to not report an infection, and have it missed, that clearly is a concern that we have," Besser said.

Texas A&M's laboratory failed to report, until this year, one case of a lab worker's infection from Brucella bacteria last year and three others' previous infection with Q fever — missteps documented in news reports earlier this year. The illnesses are characterized by high fevers and flu-like symptoms that sometimes cause more serious complications.

"The major problems at Texas A&M went undetected and unreported, and we don't think that it was an isolated event," critic Edward Hammond said. He runs the Sunshine Project, which has tracked incidents at other labs for years and first revealed the Texas A&M illnesses that the school failed to report.

Rules for working in the labs are tough and are getting more restrictive as the bio-safety levels rise. The highest is Level 4, where labs study substances that pose a "high risk of life-threatening disease for which no vaccine or therapy is available." Besides wearing wear full-body, air-supplied suits, workers undergo extensive background checks and carry special identification cards.

"The risk that a killer agent could be set loose in the general population is real," Hammond said.

In other lab accidents recounted in the reports, the Public Health Research Institute in Newark, N.J., was investigated by the FBI in 2005 when it couldn't account for three of 24 mice infected with plague bacteria. The lab and the CDC concluded the mice were cannibalized by other plague-infested mice or buried under bedding when the cage was sterilized with high temperatures.

The lab's director, Dr. David Perlin, told the AP it would be impossible for mice to escape from the building and said a worker failed to record their deaths.

"I feel 99 percent comfortable that was the case," Perlin said. "The animals become badly cannibalized. You only see bits and pieces. They're in cages with shredded newspaper. You really have to search hard with gloves and masks."

A worker at the Army's biological facility in Fort Detrick, Md., was grazed by a needle in February 2004 and exposed to the deadly Ebola virus after a mouse kicked a syringe. She was placed in an isolation ward called "The Slammer," but the Army said she did not become ill.

In other previously undisclosed accidents:

In Decatur, Ga., a worker at the Georgia Public Health Laboratory handled a Brucella culture in April 2004 without high-level precautions. She became feverish months later and tested positive for exposure at a hospital emergency room in July. She eventually returned to work. The lab's confidential report defended her: "The technologist is a good laboratorian and has good technique."

In April this year at the Lovelace facility in Albuquerque, an African green monkey infected intentionally with plague-causing bacteria reached with its free hand and scratched at a Velcro restraining strap, cutting into the gloved hand of a lab worker. The injured worker at the Lovelace Respiratory Research Institute received medical treatment, including an antibiotic.

The National Animal Disease Center in Ames, Iowa, reported leaks of contaminated waste three times in November and December 2006. While one worker was preparing a pipe for repairs, he cut his middle finger, possibly exposing him to Brucella, according to the confidential reports.

A researcher at the CDC's lab in Fort Collins, Colo., dropped two containers on the floor last November, including one with plague bacteria.

A worker at Walter Reed Army Institute of Research-Naval Medical Research Center in Silver Spring, Md., sliced through two pair of gloves while handling a rat carcass infected with plague bacteria. The May 2005 report said she was sent to an emergency room, which released her and asked her to return for a follow-up visit.

(this is a yahoo link which won't have much of a "shelf life" - it could disappear any day)

Monday, September 24, 2007

The Yucatan Peninsula / The Chicx­u­lub Crat­er

Here are two articles on the same subject - a very interesting subject to me.
Just so you know, we're WAY overdue for another hit. I mean like in any day now. And all we have watching the near Earth objects are a handful of private people working their asses off watching 1-3% of the sky. We're JUST NOW at the end of the asteroid shower that wiped out the dinosaurs.

Distant space collision meant doom for dinosaurs

By Will Dunham

A collision 160 million years ago of two asteroids orbiting between Mars and Jupiter sent many big rock chunks hurtling toward Earth, including the one that zapped the dinosaurs, scientists said on Wednesday.
Their research offered an explanation for the cause of one of the most momentous events in the history of life on Earth -- a six-mile-wide (10-km-wide) meteorite striking Mexico's Yucatan peninsula 65 million years ago.
That catastrophe eliminated the dinosaurs, which had flourished for about 165 million years, and many other life forms, and paved the way for mammals to dominate the Earth and the eventual rise of humankind, many scientists believe.
The impact is thought to have triggered a worldwide environmental cataclysm, expelling vast quantities of rock and dust into the sky, unleashing giant tsunamis, sparking global wildfires and leaving Earth shrouded in darkness for years.
U.S. and Czech researchers used computer simulations to calculate that there was a 90 percent probability that the collision of two asteroids -- one about 105 miles wide and one about 40 miles wide -- was the event that precipitated the Earthly disaster.
The collision occurred in the asteroid belt, a collection of big and small rocks orbiting the sun about 100 million miles from Earth, the researchers report in this week's issue of the journal Nature.
The asteroid Baptistina and rubble associated with it are thought to be leftovers, the scientists said.
Some of the debris from the collision escaped the asteroid belt, tumbled toward the inner solar system and whacked Earth and our moon, along with probably Mars and Venus, said William Bottke of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado, one of the researchers.


The collision is believed to have doubled for a while the number of impacts occurring in this part of the solar system.
In fact, while the bombardment of this region of the solar system due to this shower of debris peaked about 100 million years ago, the scientists said the tail end of the shower continues to this day. Bottke said many existing near-Earth asteroids can be traced back to this collision.
"Imagine breaking up a big, big boulder on top of a hill and all the fragments rolling down the hill. And somewhere at the bottom is a village called Earth," Bottke said in a telephone interview.
The dinosaur-destroying meteorite, thought to have measured 6 miles across, plunged into Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula and blasted out the Chicxulub (pronounced CHIK-shu-loob) crater measuring about 110 miles wide. The researchers looked at evidence on the composition of this meteorite and found it consistent with the stony Baptistina.
The researchers estimated that there also was about a 70 percent probability that the prominent Tycho crater on the Moon, formed 108 million years ago and measuring about 55 miles
across, also was carved out by a remnant of the earlier asteroid collision.
Philippe Claeys of Vrije Universiteit Brussel in Belgium, who was not involved in the research, said by e-mail the findings were "clear evidence that the solar system is a violent environment and that collisions taking place in the asteroid belt can have major repercussions for the evolution of life on Earth."
Bottke emphasized that point. "Dinosaurs were around for a very long time. So the likelihood is they would still be around if that event had never taken place," Bottke said.
"Was humanity inevitable? Or is humanity just something that happened to arise because of this sequence of events that took place at just the right time. It's hard to say."

Asteroid “crime family” blamed in dinosaur wipeout

Sept. 5, 2007
Courtesy Southwest Research Institute
and World Science staff

As­tro­no­mers have long be­lieved that some sort of as­ter­oid or com­et im­pact killed the di­no­saurs about 65 mil­lion years ago. Now they say they have likely iden­ti­fied what the ob­ject was—or at least, which fam­i­ly it came from.

The di­no­saurs fell vic­tim to one of many broken-up chunks of a once-bigger as­ter­oid, a group known as Bap­tis­tina family as­ter­oids, re­search­ers say. In fact, they add, frag­ments of that same rock have been pelt­ing Earth for eons, and we’re only about now at the bom­bard­ment’s end.
The U.S.-Czech re­search team com­bined ob­serva­t­ions with com­put­er sim­ula­t­ions to reach the con­clu­sions. They es­ti­mat­ed that the par­ent body of the di­no­saur-killer was some 170 kilo­me­ters (106 miles) wide.

Around 100 mil­lion years be­fore the di­no­saurs’ cat­a­stroph­ic end, this co­los­sus was float­ing through space deep in­side the So­lar Sys­tem’s main as­ter­oid belt be­tween Mars and Ju­pi­ter, the sci­en­tists said. That’s when it slammed in­to an­oth­er as­ter­oid about a third as wide, cre­at­ing thou­sands of large chunks.

One of those even­tu­ally found its way here and wiped out the great rep­tiles, the sci­en­tists con­tin­ued. With 90 per­cent cer­tain­ty it left the gi­ant pock­mark now called Chicx­u­lub crat­er on Mex­i­co’s Yu­ca­tan Pen­in­su­la, they said.

But that frag­ment was­n’t the only one to dis­rupt Earth or its neigh­bor­hood, the sci­en­tists added: a huge Moon crat­er called Ty­cho al­so has 70 per­cent like­li­hood of be­ing caused a Bap­tis­tina fa­mily mem­ber.

When the par­ent body broke up, its off­spring con­tin­ued mov­ing in si­m­i­lar or­bits to its own, the re­search­ers ex­plained. But these or­bits grad­u­ally changed due to forc­es pro­duced when they ab­sorbed sun­light and re-emitted the en­er­gy as heat. The family spread out, and some mem­bers drifted in­to a near­by “dy­nam­i­cal su­per­high­way,” a zone from which they could es­cape the main as­ter­oid belt and slip in­to or­bits that cross Earth’s path.

The com­puta­t­ions sug­gest that about 20 per­cent of sur­viv­ing mul­ti­-kilometer- sized frag­ments in the Bap­tis­tina family were lost in this way, with some 2 per­cent of those go­ing on to strike Earth. The re­sult: a pro­nounced in­crease in the num­ber of large as­ter­oids hit­ting our pla­net, the re­search team said.

Both Earth and Moon show ev­i­dence of a two-fold in­crease in the forma­t­ion rate of large crat­ers over the last 100 to 150 mil­lion years, they con­tin­ued. “The Bap­tis­tina bom­bard­ment pro­duced a pro­longed surge in the im­pact [rate] that peak­ed roughly 100 mil­lion years ago,” said Da­vid Nes­vorny of the South­west Re­search In­sti­tute in San An­to­nio, Tex­as, one of the re­search­ers.

“We are in the tail end of this show­er now. Our sim­ula­t­ions sug­gest that about 20 per­cent of the pre­s­ent-day, near-Earth as­ter­oid popula­t­ion can be traced back to the Bap­tis­tina fam­i­ly,” said the in­sti­tute’s Wil­liam Bot­tke, an­oth­er col­la­bo­ra­tor.

Fur­ther ev­i­dence im­pli­cat­ing the Bap­tis­ti­nas comes from the 180-kilometer wide Chicx­u­lub crat­er, long thought to be as­so­ci­at­ed with the di­no­saurs’ mis­for­tune, re­search­ers added. Sam­ples from the crat­er re­veal a chem­i­cal com­po­si­tion con­sist­ent with that of the Bap­tis­tina as­ter­oids, which are of a type known as car­bo­na­ceous chon­drites. These are of great in­ter­est to sci­en­tists be­cause of their prim­i­tive make­up: they’re be­lieved to con­sist of pris­tine ma­te­ri­al si­m­i­lar to that of the cloud from which the So­lar Sys­tem formed.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Living Forever? Is Immortality Even Possible?

Nanotechnology is coming. I posted about it before HERE. The old saying, "It takes money to make money", is still true, and there's still time to become very wealthy with the right investments. That is, if the bush/cheney fiasco doesn't collapse our entire monetary system. If that happens, none of this will matter because we'll all be on all fours wrestling stale candy bars from rat's mouths and fresh water will make a wealthy "barterer".

Anyway, this is a good article. It may be considered "fringe" by the status quo, but what revolutionary idea/invention wasn't? And if it is "fringe", it's intelligent "fringe".

Ray Kurzweil Aims to Live Forever

By Jay Lindsay, Associated Press

WELLESLEY, Mass. (AP) -- Ray Kurzweil doesn't tailgate. A man who plans to live forever doesn't take chances with his health on the highway, or anywhere else.

As part of his daily routine, Kurzweil ingests 250 supplements, eight to 10 glasses of alkaline water and 10 cups of green tea. He also periodically tracks 40 to 50 fitness indicators, down to his "tactile sensitivity.'' Adjustments are made as needed.

"I do actually fine-tune my programming,'' he said.

The famed inventor and computer scientist is serious about his health because if it fails him he might not live long enough to see humanity achieve immortality, a seismic development he predicts in his new book is no more than 20 years away.

It's a blink of an eye in history, but long enough for the 56-year-old Kurzweil to pay close heed to his fitness. He urges others to do the same in "Fantastic Voyage: Live Long Enough to Live Forever.''

The book is partly a health guide so people can live to benefit from a coming explosion in technology he predicts will make infinite life spans possible.

Kurzweil writes of millions of blood cell-sized robots, which he calls "nanobots,'' that will keep us forever young by swarming through the body, repairing bones, muscles, arteries and brain cells. Improvements to our genetic coding will be downloaded via the Internet. We won't even need a heart.

The claims are fantastic, but Kurzweil is no crank. He's a recipient of the $500,000 Lemelson-MIT prize, which is billed as a sort of Academy Award for inventors, and he won the 1999 National Medal of Technology Award. He has written on the emergence of intelligent machines in publications ranging from Wired to Time magazine. The Christian Science Monitor has called him a "modern Edison.'' He was inducted into the Inventors Hall of Fame in 2002. Perhaps the MIT graduate's most famous inventions is the first reading machine for the blind that could read any typeface.

During a recent interview in his company offices, Kurzweil sipped green tea and spoke of humanity's coming immortality as if it's as good as done. He sees human intelligence not only conquering its biological limits, including death, but completely mastering the natural world.

"In my view, we are not another animal, subject to nature's whim,'' he said.
Critics say Kurzweil's predictions of immortality are wild fantasies based on unjustifiable leaps from current technology.

"I'm not calling Ray a quack, but I am calling his message about immortality in line with the claims of other quacks that are out there.'' said Thomas Perls, a Boston University aging specialist who studies the genetics of centenarians.

Sherwin Nuland, a bioethics professor at Yale University's School of Medicine, calls Kurzweil a "genius'' but also says he's a product of a narcissistic age when brilliant people are becoming obsessed with their longevity.

"They've forgotten they're acting on the basic biological fear of death and extinction, and it distorts their rational approach to the human condition,'' Nuland said.

Kurzweil says his critics often fail to appreciate the exponential nature of technological advance, with knowledge doubling year by year so that amazing progress eventually occurs in short periods.

His predictions, Kurzweil said, are based on carefully constructed scientific models that have proven accurate. For instance, in his 1990 book, "The Age of Intelligent Machines,'' Kurzweil predicted the development of a worldwide computer network and of a computer that could beat a chess champion.

"It's not just guesses,'' he said. "There's a methodology to this.''

Kurzweil's been thinking big ever since he was little. At age 8, he developed a miniature theater in which a robotic device moved the scenery. By 16, the Queens, N.Y., native built his own computer and programmed it to compose original melodies.
His interest in health developed out of concern about his own future. Kurzweil's grandfather and father suffered from heart disease, his father dying when Kurzweil was 22. Kurzweil was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes in his mid-30s.

After insulin treatments were ineffective, Kurzweil devised his own solution, including a drastic cut in fat consumption, allowing him to control his diabetes without insulin.

His rigorous health regimen is not excessive, just effective, he says, adding that his worst sickness in the last several years has been mild nasal congestion.

In the past decade, Kurzweil's interests in technology and health sciences have merged as scientists have discovered similarities.

"All the genes we have, the 20,000 to 30,000 genes, are little software programs,'' Kurzweil said.

In his latest book, Kurzweil defines what he calls his three bridges to immortality. The "First Bridge'' is the health regimen he describes with co-author Dr. Terry Grossman to keep people fit enough to cross the "Second Bridge,'' a biotechnological revolution.

Kurzweil writes that humanity is on the verge of controlling how genes express themselves and ultimately changing the genes. With such technology, humanity could block disease-causing genes and introduce new ones that would slow or stop the aging process.

The "Third Bridge'' is the nanotechnology and artificial intelligence revolution, which Kurzweil predicts will deliver the nanobots that work like repaving crews in our bloodstreams and brains. These intelligent machines will destroy disease, rebuild organs and obliterate known limits on human intelligence, he believes.

Immortality would leave little standing in current society, in which the inevitability of death is foundational to everything from religion to retirement planning. The planet's natural resources would be greatly stressed, and the social order shaken.

Kurzweil says he believes new technology will emerge to meet increasing human needs. And he said society will be able to control the advances he predicts as long as it makes decisions openly and democratically, without excessive government interference.

But there are no guarantees, he adds.

Meanwhile, Kurzweil refuses to concede the inevitably of his own death, even if science doesn't advance as quickly as he predicts.

"Death is a tragedy,'' a process of suffering that rids the world of its most tested, experienced members -- people whose contributions to science and the arts could only multiply with agelessness, he said.

Kurzweil said he's no "cheerleader'' for unlimited scientific progress and added he knows science can't answer questions about why eternal lives are worth living. That's left for philosophers and theologians, he said.

But to him there's no question of huge advances in things that make life worth living, such as art, cultural, music and science.

"Biological evolution passed the baton of progress to human cultural and technological development,'' he said.

Lee Silver, a Princeton biologist, said he'd love to believe in the future as Kurzweil sees it, but the problem is, humans are involved.

The instinct to preserve individuality, and to gain advantage for yourself and children, would survive any breakthrough into biological immortality -- which Silver doesn't think is possible. The gap between the haves and have-nots would widen and Kurzweil's vision of a united humanity would become ever more elusive, he said.
"I think it would require a change in human nature,'' Silver said, "and I don't think people want to do that.''

Tuesday, July 24, 2007


Take a leap into hyperspace

Haiko Lietz

EVERY year, the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics awards prizes for the best papers presented at its annual conference. Last year's winner in the nuclear and future flight category went to a paper calling for experimental tests of an astonishing new type of engine. According to the paper, this hyperdrive motor would propel a craft through another dimension at enormous speeds. It could leave Earth at lunchtime and get to the moon in time for dinner. There's just one catch: the idea relies on an obscure and largely unrecognised kind of physics. Can they possibly be serious?

The AIAA is certainly not embarrassed. What's more, the US military has begun to cast its eyes over the hyperdrive concept, and a space propulsion researcher at the US Department of Energy's Sandia National Laboratories has said he would be interested in putting the idea to the test. And despite the bafflement of most physicists at the theory that supposedly underpins it, Pavlos Mikellides, an aerospace engineer at the Arizona State University in Tempe who reviewed the winning paper, stands by the committee's choice. "Even though such features have been explored before, this particular approach is quite unique," he says.

Unique it certainly is. If the experiment gets the go-ahead and works, it could reveal new interactions between the fundamental forces of nature that would change the future of space travel. Forget spending six months or more holed up in a rocket on the way to Mars, a round trip on the hyperdrive could take as little as 5 hours. All our worries about astronauts' muscles wasting away or their DNA being irreparably damaged by cosmic radiation would disappear overnight. What's more the device would put travel to the stars within reach for the first time. But can the hyperdrive really get off the ground?

“A hyperdrive craft would put the stars within reach for the first time”

The answer to that question hinges on the work of a little-known German physicist. Burkhard Heim began to explore the hyperdrive propulsion concept in the 1950s as a spin-off from his attempts to heal the biggest divide in physics: the rift between quantum mechanics and Einstein's general theory of relativity.

Quantum theory describes the realm of the very small - atoms, electrons and elementary particles - while general relativity deals with gravity. The two theories are immensely successful in their separate spheres. The clash arises when it comes to describing the basic structure of space. In general relativity, space-time is an active, malleable fabric. It has four dimensions - three of space and one of time - that deform when masses are placed in them. In Einstein's formulation, the force of gravity is a result of the deformation of these dimensions. Quantum theory, on the other hand, demands that space is a fixed and passive stage, something simply there for particles to exist on. It also suggests that space itself must somehow be made up of discrete, quantum elements.

In the early 1950s, Heim began to rewrite the equations of general relativity in a quantum framework. He drew on Einstein's idea that the gravitational force emerges from the dimensions of space and time, but suggested that all fundamental forces, including electromagnetism, might emerge from a new, different set of dimensions. Originally he had four extra dimensions, but he discarded two of them believing that they did not produce any forces, and settled for adding a new two-dimensional "sub-space" onto Einstein's four-dimensional space-time.

In Heim's six-dimensional world, the forces of gravity and electromagnetism are coupled together. Even in our familiar four-dimensional world, we can see a link between the two forces through the behaviour of fundamental particles such as the electron. An electron has both mass and charge. When an electron falls under the pull of gravity its moving electric charge creates a magnetic field. And if you use an electromagnetic field to accelerate an electron you move the gravitational field associated with its mass. But in the four dimensions we know, you cannot change the strength of gravity simply by cranking up the electromagnetic field.

In Heim's view of space and time, this limitation disappears. He claimed it is possible to convert electromagnetic energy into gravitational and back again, and speculated that a rotating magnetic field could reduce the influence of gravity on a spacecraft enough for it to take off.

When he presented his idea in public in 1957, he became an instant celebrity. Wernher von Braun, the German engineer who at the time was leading the Saturn rocket programme that later launched astronauts to the moon, approached Heim about his work and asked whether the expensive Saturn rockets were worthwhile. And in a letter in 1964, the German relativity theorist Pascual Jordan, who had worked with the distinguished physicists Max Born and Werner Heisenberg and was a member of the Nobel committee, told Heim that his plan was so important "that its successful experimental treatment would without doubt make the researcher a candidate for the Nobel prize".

But all this attention only led Heim to retreat from the public eye. This was partly because of his severe multiple disabilities, caused by a lab accident when he was still in his teens. But Heim was also reluctant to disclose his theory without an experiment to prove it. He never learned English because he did not want his work to leave the country. As a result, very few people knew about his work and no one came up with the necessary research funding. In 1958 the aerospace company Bölkow did offer some money, but not enough to do the proposed experiment.

While Heim waited for more money to come in, the company's director, Ludwig Bölkow, encouraged him to develop his theory further. Heim took his advice, and one of the results was a theorem that led to a series of formulae for calculating the masses of the fundamental particles - something conventional theories have conspicuously failed to achieve. He outlined this work in 1977 in the Max Planck Institute's journal Zeitschrift für Naturforschung, his only peer-reviewed paper. In an abstruse way that few physicists even claim to understand, the formulae work out a particle's mass starting from physical characteristics, such as its charge and angular momentum.
Yet the theorem has proved surprisingly powerful. The standard model of physics, which is generally accepted as the best available theory of elementary particles, is incapable of predicting a particle's mass. Even the accepted means of estimating mass theoretically, known as lattice quantum chromodynamics, only gets to between 1 and 10 per cent of the experimental values.

Gravity reduction
But in 1982, when researchers at the German Electron Synchrotron (DESY) in Hamburg implemented Heim's mass theorem in a computer program, it predicted masses of fundamental particles that matched the measured values to within the accuracy of experimental error. If they are let down by anything, it is the precision to which we know the values of the fundamental constants. Two years after Heim's death in 2001, his long-term collaborator Illobrand von Ludwiger calculated the mass formula using a more accurate gravitational constant. "The masses came out even more precise," he says.

After publishing the mass formulae, Heim never really looked at hyperspace propulsion again. Instead, in response to requests for more information about the theory behind the mass predictions, he spent all his time detailing his ideas in three books published in German. It was only in 1980, when the first of his books came to the attention of a retired Austrian patent officer called Walter Dröscher, that the hyperspace propulsion idea came back to life. Dröscher looked again at Heim's ideas and produced an "extended" version, resurrecting the dimensions that Heim originally discarded. The result is "Heim-Dröscher space", a mathematical description of an eight-dimensional universe.

From this, Dröscher claims, you can derive the four forces known in physics: the gravitational and electromagnetic forces, and the strong and weak nuclear forces. But there's more to it than that. "If Heim's picture is to make sense," Dröscher says, "we are forced to postulate two more fundamental forces." These are, Dröscher claims, related to the familiar gravitational force: one is a repulsive anti-gravity similar to the dark energy that appears to be causing the universe's expansion to accelerate. And the other might be used to accelerate a spacecraft without any rocket fuel.

This force is a result of the interaction of Heim's fifth and sixth dimensions and the extra dimensions that Dröscher introduced. It produces pairs of "gravitophotons", particles that mediate the interconversion of electromagnetic and gravitational energy. Dröscher teamed up with Jochem Häuser, a physicist and professor of computer science at the University of Applied Sciences in Salzgitter, Germany, to turn the theoretical framework into a proposal for an experimental test. The paper they produced, "Guidelines for a space propulsion device based on Heim's quantum theory", is what won the AIAA's award last year.

Claims of the possibility of "gravity reduction" or "anti-gravity" induced by magnetic fields have been investigated by NASA before (New Scientist, 12 January 2002, p 24). But this one, Dröscher insists, is different. "Our theory is not about anti-gravity. It's about completely new fields with new properties," he says. And he and Häuser have suggested an experiment to prove it.

This will require a huge rotating ring placed above a superconducting coil to create an intense magnetic field. With a large enough current in the coil, and a large enough magnetic field, Dröscher claims the electromagnetic force can reduce the gravitational pull on the ring to the point where it floats free. Dröscher and Häuser say that to completely counter Earth's pull on a 150-tonne spacecraft a magnetic field of around 25 tesla would be needed. While that's 500,000 times the strength of Earth's magnetic field, pulsed magnets briefly reach field strengths up to 80 tesla. And Dröscher and Häuser go further. With a faster-spinning ring and an even stronger magnetic field, gravitophotons would interact with conventional gravity to produce a repulsive anti-gravity force, they suggest.

“A spinning ring and a strong magnetic field could produce a repulsive anti-gravity force”

Dröscher is hazy about the details, but he suggests that a spacecraft fitted with a coil and ring could be propelled into a multidimensional hyperspace. Here the constants of nature could be different, and even the speed of light could be several times faster than we experience. If this happens, it would be possible to reach Mars in less than 3 hours and a star 11 light years away in only 80 days, Dröscher and Häuser say.

So is this all fanciful nonsense, or a revolution in the making? The majority of physicists have never heard of Heim theory, and most of those contacted by New Scientist said they couldn't make sense of Dröscher and Häuser's description of the theory behind their proposed experiment. Following Heim theory is hard work even without Dröscher's extension, says Markus Pössel, a theoretical physicist at the Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics in Potsdam, Germany. Several years ago, while an undergraduate at the University of Hamburg, he took a careful look at Heim theory. He says he finds it "largely incomprehensible", and difficult to tie in with today's physics. "What is needed is a step-by-step introduction, beginning at modern physical concepts," he says.

The general consensus seems to be that Dröscher and Häuser's theory is incomplete at best, and certainly extremely difficult to follow. And it has not passed any normal form of peer review, a fact that surprised the AIAA prize reviewers when they made their decision. "It seemed to be quite developed and ready for such publication," Mikellides told New Scientist.

At the moment, the main reason for taking the proposal seriously must be Heim theory's uncannily successful prediction of particle masses. Maybe, just maybe, Heim theory really does have something to contribute to modern physics. "As far as I understand it, Heim theory is ingenious," says Hans Theodor Auerbach, a theoretical physicist at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich who worked with Heim. "I think that physics will take this direction in the future."

It may be a long while before we find out if he's right. In its present design, Dröscher and Häuser's experiment requires a magnetic coil several metres in diameter capable of sustaining an enormous current density. Most engineers say that this is not feasible with existing materials and technology, but Roger Lenard, a space propulsion researcher at Sandia National Laboratories in New Mexico thinks it might just be possible. Sandia runs an X-ray generator known as the Z machine which "could probably generate the necessary field intensities and gradients".

For now, though, Lenard considers the theory too shaky to justify the use of the Z machine. "I would be very interested in getting Sandia interested if we could get a more perspicacious introduction to the mathematics behind the proposed experiment," he says. "Even if the results are negative, that, in my mind, is a successful experiment."

From issue 2533 of New Scientist magazine, 05 January 2006, page 24

Who was Burkhard Heim?
Burkhard Heim had a remarkable life. Born in 1925 in Potsdam, Germany, he decided at the age of 6 that he wanted to become a rocket scientist. He disguised his designs in code so that no one could discover his secret. And in the cellar of his parents' house, he experimented with high explosives. But this was to lead to disaster.
Towards the end of the second world war, he worked as an explosives developer, and an accident in 1944 in which a device exploded in his hands left him permanently disabled. He lost both his forearms, along with 90 per cent of his hearing and eyesight.

After the war, he attended university in Göttingen to study physics. The idea of propelling a spacecraft using quantum mechanics rather than rocket fuel led him to study general relativity and quantum mechanics. It took an enormous effort. From 1948, his father and wife replaced his senses, spending hours reading papers and transcribing his calculations onto paper. And he developed a photographic memory.
Supporters of Heim theory claim that it is a panacea for the troubles in modern physics. They say it unites quantum mechanics and general relativity, can predict the masses of the building blocks of matter from first principles, and can even explain the state of the universe 13.7 billion years ago.

ABELL 2218

Since I was a child I have had an extraordinary interest in space and time. Spacetime. Our telescopes allow us to look back in time. The more distant the object we see, the further back in time we see it. On a smaller scale you can do this right now. Anything you look at- a tree on the horizon, the Moon, even yourself in a mirror is really a past version. You are seeing the object of your current vision as it was at the time the light left it. The determining factor is the amount of time it takes for light reflecting from that object to reach your retina. In most cases, it is unnoticeable to you. In all cases, it is not really considered. Light from the Sun in the sky takes 8 minutes to "reach" us here on Earth, hence the Sun is said to be 8 light minutes away. If it were to go supernova, we wouldn't know it for 8 minutes. Of course, the knowledge at that point wouldn't do us any good because we'd be dead.

Although none of us living on this tiny little insignificant "speck of dust" can comprehend the vastness of space, it certainly fascinates us. It is our true larger environment and it has been in existence for over 15 BILLION years and will exist BILLIONS of years after our species has succumbed to a natural or self-made disaster. We have only existed for an instant and will be gone "in the blink of an eye". To us, the Universe is eternal.

Abell 2218: A Galaxy Cluster Lens

Credit: W. Couch (University of New South Wales), R. Ellis (Cambridge University), NASA
Explanation: Gravity can bend light. Almost all of the bright objects in this Hubble Space Telescope image are galaxies in the cluster known as Abell 2218. The cluster is so massive and so compact that its gravity bends and focuses the light from galaxies that lie behind it. As a result, multiple images of these background galaxies are distorted into faint stretched out arcs - a simple lensing effect analogous to viewing distant street lamps through a glass of wine. The Abell 2218 cluster itself is about 3 billion light-years away in the northern constellation Draco.
Courtesy NASA, January 11, 1998 Hubble photograph)

Tuesday, July 17, 2007


Here's another blow to those silly and ignorant bush lovin' creationists:

Possible Link to Lucy's Ancestors Found

Robin Lloyd
LiveScience Senior Editor

New jaw fossils might suggest a direct line of descent between two species of early humans, including the one to which "Lucy" belongs.

The 3.2 million-year-old Lucy, the earliest known hominid, was found in Ethiopia in 1974 by U.S. paleontologists Donald Johanson and Tom Gray. Lucy and her kind, Australopithecus afarensis, stood upright and walked on two feet, though they might also have been agile tree-climbers.

Anthropologists have suspected an ancestor-descendant relationship between the Lucy species and a predecessor--Australopithecus anamensis--based on their similarities but lacked fossils from an intervening period.

Now, Australopithecus fossils found in the Woranso-Mille area of the Afar Region, Ethiopia, fill the date gap between A. anamensis (4.2 to 3.9 million years ago)—and the Lucy species (3.0 to 3.6 million years ago). The species identifications for all the bones remain uncertain, though it appears that some are A. afarensis.

Yohannes Haile-Selassie, a physical anthropologist at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, says his team's 2007 field season in the Woranso-Mille region uncovered the key evidence.

"We recovered fossil hominids that date to between 3.5 and 3.8 million years ago," Haile-Selassie said in a prepared statement. "These specimens sample the right time to look into the relationship between Australopithecus anamensis and Australopithecus afarensis and will play a major role in testing the ancestor-descendant hypothesis."

The team had found teeth from this time frame at the site over the past few years, but the new material includes more complete jaws that will enable better comparisons, he said.

At least 40 hominid specimens have been recovered from the site so far, including the complete jaws and a partial skeleton found in 2005.

Ethiopia, Kenya and Tanzania have yielded many of the earliest hominid and ape fossils that have allowed anthropologists to piece together the history of human evolution.


Thursday, July 05, 2007


Key to Giant Space Sponge Revealed

Ker Than
Staff Writer

One of the strangest moons in our solar system is Hyperion, a Saturnian satellite so pockmarked by deep craters that it looks like a giant, rotating bath sponge adrift in space. New image analyses suggest the moon's odd appearance is the result of a highly porous surface that preserves craters, allowing them to remain nearly as pristine as the day they were created.

The finding is just one of several new details about the quirky moon revealed in two studies published in the July 5 issue of the journal Nature. Scientists determined that Hyperion is composed mostly of water ice and that the bottoms of its craters are covered in a dark red gunk that could be the key to resolving some of the moon's other strange properties.

One odd moon

Hyperion is all kinds of weird. It is one of the largest non-spherical bodies in the solar system. The moon is oval shaped and about 250 miles (400 km) at its widest point. Unlike most of Saturn's other satellites, it is not tidally locked to the ringed-planet. Earth's moon is tidally locked, which is why we always see the same face of it. Instead, Hyperion undergoes "chaotic rotation," meaning its axis of rotation shifts so much that scientists can't reliably predict its orientation in space.

Perhaps the most striking thing about Hyperion, however, is its extremely pitted appearance. Hundreds of craters cover the surface, with most averaging 1 to 6 miles (2 to 10 kilometers) wide.

The latest analyses of data obtained by NASA's Cassini spacecraft during its flybys of Hyperion in 2005 and 2006 show that about 40 percent of the moon is empty space.

Hyperion's high porosity could explain its sponge-like appearance, scientists say. A large meteor striking Earth's moon will gouge a deep hole on the surface and send up a giant spray of rock and dust. The excavated material rains back down onto the lunar surface and into other craters, partially filling them in. In contrast, the surface of Hyperion is so brittle that an object striking it will create a hole but not send any material flying. Surrounding craters remain as deep as when they first formed.

"Theoretical work suggests that if you have a porous target, craters may be more compressional instead of being explosive and tossing stuff out," said Peter Thomas of Cornell University, who led one of the studies.

Mystery gunk

The new analyses also confirmed that Hyperion is composed mostly of water ice with very little rock. "We find that water ice is the main constituent of the surface, but it's dirty water ice," said Dale Cruickshank, a researcher at NASA Ames Research Center who led the second study. "Fresh water ice would look very bright in reflected sunlight, but this is definitely dingy."

Cruickshank's team attributes the moon's dinginess to contamination by a dark, organic material that litters Hyperion's surface and is concentrated in several of its craters.

The reddish gunk contains long chains of carbon and hydrogen and appears very similar to material found on other Saturnian satellites, most notably Iaeptus.

The third-largest moon of Saturn, Iaeptus is an unusual two-toned world with one half covered in gleaming ice and the other half coated in the same mysterious dark material that covers Hyperion.

A smashing idea

This link has some scientists speculating that Hyperion's strange shape and Iaeptus' odd paint job share a common origin. "Maybe Hyperion got hit and is the origin of this dark stuff which then got spewed out and got swept up by Iapetus," Cruickshank told

According to this idea, a giant object collided with a still-round Hyperion in the distant past. The impact sent Hyperion into a cosmic spin that it is still reeling from today and caused a shower of dust-like particles to fly outwards through space, where it struck an unaware Iapetus full in the face.

"That's not completely implausible," Cruickshank said. If Iapetus "ran into a dust storm as it orbited around Saturn, the dust would be distributed the way we see it."
As to what the object might have been that struck Hyperion, Cruickshank notes that the same reddish gunk can also be found on other icy objects in the outer solar system, including other moons, Kuiper belt objects and comets.

Sunday, June 24, 2007


Here's an interesting idea practice/implementation:

Professor Loses Weight With No-Diet Diet

By BROCK VERGAKIS, Associated Press Writer

When Steven Hawks is tempted by ice cream bars, M&Ms and toffee-covered almonds at the grocery store, he doesn't pass them by. He fills up his shopping cart.
It's the no-diet diet, an approach the Brigham Young University health science professor used to lose 50 pounds and to keep it off for more than five years.

Hawks calls his plan "intuitive eating" and thinks the rest of the country would be better off if people stopped counting calories, started paying attention to hunger pangs and ate whatever they wanted.

As part of intuitive eating, Hawks surrounds himself with unhealthy foods he especially craves. He says having an overabundance of what's taboo helps him lose his desire to gorge.

There is a catch to this no-diet diet, however: Intuitive eaters only eat when they're hungry and stop when they're full.

That means not eating a box of chocolates when you're feeling blue or digging into a big plate of nachos just because everyone else at the table is.

The trade-off is the opportunity to eat whatever your heart desires when you are actually hungry.

"One of the advantages of intuitive eating is you're always eating things that are most appealing to you, not out of emotional reasons, not because it's there and tastes good," he said. "Whenever you feel the physical urge to eat something, accept it and eat it. The cravings tend to subside. I don't have anywhere near the cravings I would as a 'restrained eater.'"

Hawks should know. In 1989, the Utah native had a job at North Carolina State University in Raleigh and wanted to return to his home state. But at 210 pounds, he didn't think a fat person could get a job teaching students how to be healthy, so his calorie-counting began.

He lost weight and got the job at Utah State University. But the pounds soon came back.

For several years his weight fluctuated, until he eventually gave up on being a restrained eater and the weight stayed on.

"You definitely lose weight on a diet, but resisting biological pressures is ultimately doomed," Hawks said.

Several years later and still overweight at a new job at BYU, Hawks decided it was time for a lifestyle change.

He stopped feeling guilty about eating salt-and-vinegar potato chips. He also stopped eating when he wasn't hungry.

Slowly and steadily his weight began to drop. Exercise helped.

His friends and co-workers soon took notice of the slimmer Hawks.

"It astonished me, actually," said his friend, Steven Peck. "We were both very heavy. It was hard not to be struck."

After watching Hawks lose and keep the weight off for a year and a half, Peck tried intuitive eating in January.

"I was pretty skeptical of the idea you could eat anything you wanted until you didn't feel like it. It struck me as odd," said Peck, who is an assistant professor at BYU.

But 11 months later, Peck sometimes eats mint chocolate chip ice cream for dinner, is 35 pounds lighter and a believer in intuitive eating.

"There are times when I overeat. I did at Thanksgiving," Peck said. "That's one thing about Steve's ideas, they're sort of forgiving. On other diets if you slip up, you feel you've blown it and it takes a couple weeks get back into it. ... This sort of has this built-in forgiveness factor."

The one thing all diets have in common is that they restrict food, said Michael Goran, an obesity expert at the University of Southern California. Ultimately, that's why they usually fail, he said.

"At some point you want what you can't have," Goran said. Still, he said intuitive eating makes sense as a concept "if you know what you're doing."

Intuitive eating alone won't give anyone six-pack abs, Hawks said, but it will lead to a healthier lifestyle. He still eats junk food and keeps a jar of honey in his office, but only indulges occasionally.

"My diet is actually quite healthy. ... I'm as likely to eat broccoli as eat a steak," he said. "It's a misconception that all of a sudden a diet is going to become all junk food and high fat," he said.

In a small study published in the American Journal of Health Education, Hawks and a team of researchers examined a group of BYU students and found those who were intuitive eaters typically weighed less and had a lower risk of cardiovascular disease than other students.

He said the study indicates intuitive eating is a viable approach to long-term weight management and he plans to do a larger study across different cultures. Ultimately, he'd like intuitive eating to catch on as a way for people to normalize their relationship with food and fight eating disorders.

"Most of what the government is telling us is, we need to count calories, restrict fat grams, etc. I feel like that's a harmful message," he said. "I think encouraging dietary restraint creates more problems. I hope intuitive eating will be adopted at a national level."

On the Net:
National Institute for Intuitive Eating

Tuesday, June 19, 2007


Humans share 99% of genes with mice (how about that for proof of evolution?). In fact, 81% of those genes are identical. In other words, we share a common ancestor. Its not a stretch to expect numerous breakthroughs for human physiology since both genomes have been mapped out. As technology expands exponentially and discoveries are made everyday, this one could be working any day. The slowdown will be in the government's approval. Europe always has the latest "goodies" long before the United States. Anyway, in this case, if its offered I'm sure there will be plenty of "guinea pig" volunteers. But hey, as the article states, there's always a sensible diet with a combination of the proper exercising.

Anti-Fat Protein Keeps Overeating Mice Slim

By E.J. Mundell

HealthDay Reporter
Mice gorging on high-calorie, high-fat diets for two weeks stayed slender, thanks to an "anti-obesity" protein injected into their brains, Italian researchers report.

Eating all you want and never getting fat does seem like a dream come true. And experts cautioned that it might stay a dream -- at least for humans -- for the foreseeable future.

"Whether this translates to humans and whether it translates to humans without tremendous side effects is another story," said Cathy Nonas, director of the obesity and diabetes programs at North General Hospital in New York City, and a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association.

The study was published in this week's issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

According to Nonas, a "wonder drug" that wards off obesity while allowing people to eat all they want has long been the goal of pharmaceutical companies worldwide. So far, most research efforts have focused on agents that "rev up" metabolism to burn off excess calories.

"People have been working on the idea of looking at molecules, peptides, to see whether they could increase energy expenditure without major side effects," Nonas said.

This latest research, led by Alessandro Bartolomucci of the Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche, in Rome, focused on a protein byproduct of the Vgf gene, which has long been linked to metabolism.

Bartolomucci's group first identified this protein, a peptide called TLQP-21, in the brains of rats. "It was an unproved assumption that VGF-derived peptides could regulate metabolism," the Italian team noted.

Exploring further, the researchers isolated TLQP-21 and injected it into the brains of lab mice every day for 14 days. At the same time, the mice were given high-fat diets that would normally trigger weight gain.

In this case, however, that didn't happen.

According to the researchers, the mice stayed slim because the peptide boosted their metabolic rate.

"When TLQP-21 is chronically injected into the cerebral ventricles, it increases [the mice's] energy expenditure and rectal temperature," Bartolomucci explained. Both of these changes signified a sped-up metabolism.

The peptide also affected key factors in metabolism and calorie-burning, he said. These included a rise in blood levels of the hormone epinephrine, as well as changes in locomotor and thyroid function.

Furthermore, in treated mice placed on a standard diet, "adipose [fat] tissue slightly decreased," Bartolomucci said. At the same time, the number of cellular receptors linked to fat-burning and energy expenditure rose.

All of this could explain why mice fed the high-fat diet kept their skinny physiques when they were given TLQP-21, Bartolomucci said.

The Italian researcher believes TLQP-21 has potential as an anti-obesity agent for use in humans. But he stressed that, "we are in an early stage of research. Indeed, this is the first study where the peptide is identified and the first study where its role in metabolic function has been tested."

Nonas agreed that it is a very big leap to assume that safety and efficacy in mice will translate to humans. First of all is the problem of drug-delivery.

"You can only do brain injections to a rat and a mouse," she pointed out. "You'd have to go a long way before you could take that and turn it into something that would work in a pill form or be injected into fat tissue."

The potential side effects of revving up the metabolism are also daunting. "You can have cardiac side effects, things like irregular heartbeat," Nonas said. "Then, there are headaches, heat and temperature-control things."

And even if people could eat high-fat diets without gaining weight, that doesn't mean they'd stay healthy. "We know plenty of people who are lean all their lives and still have clogged arteries from eating unhealthy foods," Nonas pointed out.

Any anti-obesity pill would only offer people a boost in fighting weight gain -- it would probably never be the total solution, she said.

In the meantime, people do have a proven, effective way of fighting or reducing obesity -- sensible diets and regular exercise.

"I'm not saying that that isn't really hard to do," Nonas said. "It will never be easy. But there will never be any magic bullet."

LAKES...of Methane on TITAN

Lost lakes of Titan are found at last

Lakes of methane have been spotted on Saturn's largest moon, Titan, boosting the theory that this strange, distant world bears beguiling similarities to Earth, according to a new study.

Titan has long intrigued space scientists, as it is the only moon in the Solar System to have a dense atmosphere -- and its atmosphere, like Earth's, mainly comprises nitrogen.

Titan's atmosphere is also rich in methane, although the source for this vast store of hydrocarbons is unclear.

Methane, on the geological scale, has a relatively limited life. A molecule of the compound lasts several tens of millions of years before it is broken up by sunlight.
Given that Titan is billions of years old, the question is how this atmospheric methane gets to be renewed. Without replenishment, it should have disappeared long ago.

A popular hypothesis is that it comes from a vast ocean of hydrocarbons.

But when the US spacecraft Cassini sent down a European lander, Huygens, to Titan in 2005, the images sent back were of a rugged landscape veiled in an orange haze.
There were indeed signs of methane flows and methane precipitation, but nothing at all that pointed to any sea of the stuff.

But a flyby by Cassini on July 22 last year has revealed, thanks to a radar scan, 75 large, smooth, dark patches between three and 70 kilometers across (two and 42 miles) across that appear to be lakes of liquid methane, scientists report on Thursday.

They believe the lakes prove that Titan has a "methane cycle" -- a system that is like the water cycle on Earth, in which the liquid evaporates, cools and condenses and then falls as rain, replenishing the surface liquid.

As on Earth, Titan's surface methane may well be supplemented by a "table" of liquid methane that seeps through the rock, the paper suggests.

Some of the methane lakes seem only partly filled, and other depressions are dry, which suggests that, given the high northerly latitudes where they were spotted, the methane cycle follows Titan's seasons.

In winter, the lakes expand, while in summer, they shrink or dry up completely -- again, another parallel with Earth's hydrological cycle.

The study, which appears on Thursday in the British weekly journal Nature, is headed by Ellen Stofan of Proxemy Research in Virginia and University College London.
Titan and Earth are of course very different, especially in their potential for nurturing life. Titan is frigid, dark and, as far as is known, waterless, where as Earth is warm, light and has lots of liquid water.

But French astrophysicist Christophe Sotin says both our planet and Titan have been sculpted by processes that, fundamentally, are quite similar.

The findings "add to the weight of evidence that Titan is a complex world in which the interaction between the inner and outer layers is controlled by processes similar to those that must have dominated the evolution of any Earth-like planet," Sotin said in a commentary.

"Indeed, as far as we know," Sotin added, "there is only one planetary body that displays more dynamism than Titan. Its name is Earth."

Sunday, June 17, 2007


Our SCIENTISTS have discovered this. And its promising WHY? We haven't even been to the Moon since the early 70s. Our "space program" with all of its unmanned missions is weak at best. Maybe someday it will matter that there are possibly TENS OF BILLIONS of "Class M" planets out there, but unfortunately I'll never live to see those pioneering days. I still can't help being excited to hear about this though.

Potentially habitable planet found


For the first time astronomers have discovered a planet outside our solar system that is potentially habitable, with Earth-like temperatures, a find researchers described Tuesday as a big step in the search for "life in the universe."

The planet is just the right size, might have water in liquid form, and in galactic terms is relatively nearby at 120 trillion miles away. But the star it closely orbits, known as a "red dwarf," is much smaller, dimmer and cooler than our sun.

There's still a lot that is unknown about the new planet, which could be deemed inhospitable to life once more is known about it. And it's worth noting that scientists' requirements for habitability count Mars in that category: a size relatively similar to Earth's with temperatures that would permit liquid water. However, this is the first outside our solar system that meets those standards.
"It's a significant step on the way to finding possible life in the universe," said University of Geneva astronomer Michel Mayor, one of 11 European scientists on the team that found the planet. "It's a nice discovery. We still have a lot of questions."

The results of the discovery have not been published but have been submitted to the journal Astronomy and Astrophysics.

Alan Boss, who works at the Carnegie Institution of Washington where a U.S. team of astronomers competed in the hunt for an Earth-like planet, called it "a major milestone in this business."

The planet was discovered by the European Southern Observatory's telescope in La Silla, Chile, which has a special instrument that splits light to find wobbles in different wave lengths. Those wobbles can reveal the existence of other worlds.
What they revealed is a planet circling the red dwarf star, Gliese 581. Red dwarfs are low-energy, tiny stars that give off dim red light and last longer than stars like our sun. Until a few years ago, astronomers didn't consider these stars as possible hosts of planets that might sustain life.

The discovery of the new planet, named 581 c, is sure to fuel studies of planets circling similar dim stars. About 80 percent of the stars near Earth are red dwarfs.
The new planet is about five times heavier than Earth. Its discoverers aren't certain if it is rocky like Earth or if its a frozen ice ball with liquid water on the surface. If it is rocky like Earth, which is what the prevailing theory proposes, it has a diameter about 1 1/2 times bigger than our planet. If it is an iceball, as Mayor suggests, it would be even bigger.

Based on theory, 581 c should have an atmosphere, but what's in that atmosphere is still a mystery and if it's too thick that could make the planet's surface temperature too hot, Mayor said.

However, the research team believes the average temperature to be somewhere between 32 and 104 degrees and that set off celebrations among astronomers.

Until now, all 220 planets astronomers have found outside our solar system have had the "Goldilocks problem." They've been too hot, too cold or just plain too big and gaseous, like uninhabitable Jupiter.

The new planet seems just right — or at least that's what scientists think.

"This could be very important," said NASA astrobiology expert Chris McKay, who was not part of the discovery team. "It doesn't mean there is life, but it means it's an Earth-like planet in terms of potential habitability."

Eventually astronomers will rack up discoveries of dozens, maybe even hundreds of planets considered habitable, the astronomers said. But this one — simply called "c" by its discoverers when they talk among themselves — will go down in cosmic history as No. 1.

Besides having the right temperature, the new planet is probably full of liquid water, hypothesizes Stephane Udry, the discovery team's lead author and another Geneva astronomer. But that is based on theory about how planets form, not on any evidence, he said.

"Liquid water is critical to life as we know it," co-author Xavier Delfosse of Grenoble University in France, said in a statement. "Because of its temperature and relative proximity, this planet will most probably be a very important target of the future space missions dedicated to the search for extraterrestrial life. On the treasure map of the Universe, one would be tempted to mark this planet with an X."
Other astronomers cautioned it's too early to tell whether there is water.

"You need more work to say it's got water or it doesn't have water," said retired NASA astronomer Steve Maran, press officer for the American Astronomical Society. "You wouldn't send a crew there assuming that when you get there, they'll have enough water to get back."

The new planet's star system is a mere 20.5 light years away, making Gliese 581 one of the 100 closest stars to Earth. It's so dim, you can't see it without a telescope, but it's somewhere in the constellation Libra, which is low in the southeastern sky during the midevening in the Northern Hemisphere.

Before you book your extrastellar flight to 581 c, a few caveats about how alien that world probably is: Anyone sitting on the planet would get heavier quickly, and birthdays would add up fast since it orbits its star every 13 days.

Gravity is 1.6 times as strong as Earth's so a 150-pound person would feel like 240 pounds.

But oh, the view. The planet is 14 times closer to the star it orbits. Udry figures the red dwarf star would hang in the sky at a size 20 times larger than our moon. And it's likely, but still not known, that the planet doesn't rotate, so one side would always be sunlit and the other dark.

Distance is another problem. "We don't know how to get to those places in a human lifetime," Maran said.

Two teams of astronomers, one in Europe and one in the United States, have been racing to be the first to find a planet like 581 c outside the solar system.
The European team looked at 100 different stars using a tool called HARPS (High Accuracy Radial Velocity for Planetary Searcher) to find this one planet, said Xavier Bonfils of the Lisbon Observatory, one of the co-discoverers.

Much of the effort to find Earth-like planets has focused on stars like our sun with the challenge being to find a planet the right distance from the star it orbits. About 90 percent of the time, the European telescope focused its search more on sun-like stars, Udry said.

A few weeks before the European discovery earlier this month, a scientific paper in the journal Astrobiology theorized a few days that red dwarf stars were good candidates.

"Now we have the possibility to find many more," Bonfils said.

UFOs and their occupants

What the hell are these things? I used to think that the UFOs were extraterrestrial in nature. Now...I just don't know what to think. I do believe that Travis Walton, Whit Strieber, Betty Andreasson, Karla Turner and thousands of other "abductees"- famous and not so famous ARE TELLING THE TRUTH. I believe there are greys and other humanoids. Maybe they're from "shadow worlds/existences with abilities that seem extraordinary and magical to us. I, like many others, would like to know the truth in my lifetime.

UFO Research: Findings vs. Facts

By Leonard David
Senior Space Writer

For decades now, eyes and sky have met to witness the buzzing of our world by Unidentified Flying Objects, termed UFOs or simply flying saucers. Extraterrestrials have come a long way to purportedly share the friendly skies with us.

UFOs and alien visitors are part of our culture—a far-out phenomenon when judged against those "low life" wonders Bigfoot and the Loch Ness monster.

And after all those years, as the saying goes, UFOs remain a riddle inside a mystery wrapped in an enigma. Why so? For one, the field is fraught with hucksterism. It's also replete with blurry photos and awful video. But then there are also well-intentioned and puzzled witnesses [See Top 10 Alien Encounters Debunked].

Unusual properties
There have been advances in the field of UFO research, said Ted Roe, Executive Director of the National Aviation Reporting Center on Anomalous Phenomena (NARCAP), based in Vallejo, California.

"The capture of optical spectra from mobile, unpredictable luminosities is one of those innovations. More work to be done here but [there are] some good results already."

NARCAP was established in 2000 and is dedicated to the advancement of aviation safety issues as they apply to, what they term Unidentified Aerial Phenomena (UAP).
Roe said that a decade from now, researchers should have even better instrumentation at their disposal and better data on UAP of several varieties. His forecast is that scientific rigor will prevail, demonstrating that there are "stable, mobile, unusual, poorly documented phenomena with quite unusual properties manifesting within our atmosphere," he told

Paradigm shifting
NARCAP has made the case that some of these phenomena have unusual electromagnetic properties. Therefore, they could disrupt microprocessors and adversely effect avionic systems, Roe explained, and that for those reasons and others UAP should be considered a hazard to safe aviation.

"It is likely that either conclusion will fly in the face of the general assertion that UAP are not real and that there are no undocumented phenomena in our atmosphere," Roe continued. That should open the door, he said, to the realization that there's no good reason to discard outright the possibility that extraterrestrial visitation has occurred and may be occurring.

"Physics is leading to new and potentially paradigm shifting understandings about the nature of our universe and its physical properties," Roe said. "These understandings may point the way towards an acceptance of the probability of interstellar travel and communication by spacefaring races."

Sacred cows to the slaughter
As UFO debunker Robert Sheaffer's web site proclaims, he's "skeptical to the max." He is a fellow of the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal and a well-known writer on the UFO scene.

Being an equal-opportunity debunker, Sheaffer notes that he refutes whatever nonsense, in his judgment, "stands in the greatest need of refuting, no matter from what source it may come, no matter how privileged, esteemed, or sacrosanct … sacred cows, after all, make the best hamburger."

Sheaffer told, in regards to the cottage industry of UFO promoters, there's a reason there are still so many snake-oil sellers.

"It's because nobody, anywhere, has any actual facts concerning alleged UFOs, just claims. That allows con-men to thrive peddling their yarns," Sheaffer said. "UFO believers are convinced that the existence of UFOs will be revealed 'any day now'. But it's like Charlie Brown and the football: No matter how many times Lucy pulls the football away—or the promised 'disclosure' fails to happen—they're dead-certain that the next time will be their moment of glory."

Trash from the past
"I would have to say that we're stuck in neutral," said Kevin Randle, a leading expert and writer on UFOs and is known as a dogged researcher of the phenomena. There's no real new research, he said, and that's "because we have to revisit the trash of the past."

Randle points to yesteryear stories, one stretching back in time to a supposed 1897 airship crash in Aurora, Texas, long proven to be a hoax by two con men—yet continues to surface in UFO circles.

Then there's the celebrated Thomas Mantell saga, a pilot that lost his life chasing a UFO in 1948. There are those that contend he was killed by a blue beam from a UFO, Randle said "even though we have known for years that the UFO was a balloon and he violated regulations by climbing above 14,000 feet without oxygen equipment. I mean, we know this, and yet there are those who believe that Mantell was killed by aliens."
Randle's advice is to the point: "We need to begin to apply rigorous standards of research … stop accepting what we wish to believe even when the evidence is poor, and begin thinking ahead."

Paucity of physical evidence
"I've no doubt that UFOs are here to stay," said Seth Shostak, Senior Astronomer at the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California. "I'm just not convinced that alien craft are here to stay … or for that matter, even here for brief visits.

"First, despite a torrent of sightings for more than a half-century, I can't think of a single, major science museum that has alien artifacts on display," Shostak said. "Contrast this paucity of physical evidence with what the American Indians could have shown you fifty years after Christopher Columbus first violated their sea-space. They could have shown you all sorts of stuff—including lots of smallpox-infested brethren—as proof that they were being 'visited,'" he said.

When it comes to extraterrestrial visitors in the 21st century, the evidence is anecdotal, ambiguous, or, in some cases, artifice, Shostak suggested.

Calling it "argument from ignorance", Shostak pointed to the claim that aliens must have careened out of control above the New Mexico desert simply because some classified government documents sport a bunch of blacked-out text. "How does the latter prove the former?"

Sure, the missing verbiage is consistent with a government cover-up of an alien crash landing, Shostak said. "But it's also consistent with an infinitude of other scenarios…not all of them involving sloppy alien pilots," he added.

Shostak said that it is not impossible that we could be visited. It doesn't violate physics to travel between the stars, although that's not easy to do.

"But really, if you're going to claim—or for that matter, believe—that extraterrestrials are strafing the cities, or occasionally assaulting the neighbors with an aggression inappropriate for a first date, then I urge you to find evidence that leaves little doubt among the professionally skeptical community known as the world of science."

Residue of sightings
Why is there precious little to show that world of science that UFOs merit attention?
"Obviously there is not a simple answer, but part of it is reluctance of the scientific community to support such research," explained Bruce Maccabee, regarded as a meticulous researcher and an optical physicist using those talents to study photographs and video of unexplained phenomena.

Why this reluctance?

"In my humble opinion it is largely a result of 'tradition'…tradition set by the U.S. Air Force in the early years when they publicly stated that everything was under control, they were investigating…and finding nothing that couldn't be explained," Maccabee said.

Nevertheless, Maccabee observed, work on the phenomenon will carry on.
"UFO studies will continue until all the old cases have either been explained or admitted to being unexplainable—meaning a residue of sightings that could be ET related—and/or until people stop seeing unexplainable UFO-like events throughout the world," Maccabee concluded.