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 Post subject: Re: news from the lab
PostPosted: Sat Aug 05, 2006 2:36 pm 
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Tablet May Have Oldest Writings, Expert Says


SOFIA, Bulgaria (Aug. 5) - An almost 7,000-year old stone tablet found in Bulgaria bears carvings that might turn out to be one of the world's oldest inscriptions, a prominent Bulgarian archaeologist said Thursday.


"These signs are unique and apparently bear a meaning," Nikolai Ovcharov told a press conference. Ovcharov said he had received the tablet from a private collector who had unearthed it 20 years ago.

The collector asked to remain anonymous, because he risked criminal prosecution for looting or criminal possession of antiquities. The tablet, about three inches, carries five distinct signs each made up of two elements, Ovcharov said. "This could be the prototype of a script," he added.

Two similar tablets also dating back to the 5th millenium B.C. have also been found in Bulgaria many years ago. It could be argued that their carvings, although rather schematic, are part of the same proto-script, Ovcharov said.


08-05-06 05:31 EDT


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 Post subject: Re: news from the lab
PostPosted: Sat Aug 05, 2006 2:40 pm 
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Updated: 08:18 AM EDT


Particle Accelerator Reveals Archimedes' Hidden Writings
By TERENCE CHEA, AP


SAN FRANCISCO (Aug. 5) - Previously hidden writings of the ancient Greek mathematician Archimedes are being uncovered with powerful X-ray beams nearly 800 years after a Christian monk scrubbed off the text and wrote over it with prayers.

Over the past week, researchers at Stanford University's Linear Accelerator Center in Menlo Park have been using X-rays to decipher a fragile 10th century manuscript that contains the only copies of some of Archimedes' most important works.

The X-rays, generated by a particle accelerator, cause tiny amounts of iron left by the original ink to glow without harming the delicate goatskin parchment.

"We are gaining new insights into one of the founding fathers of western science," said William Noel, curator of manuscripts at Baltimore's Walters Art Museum, which organized the effort. "It is the most difficult imaging challenge on any medieval document because the book is in such terrible condition."

Following a successful trial run last year, Stanford researchers invited X-ray scientists, rare document collectors and classics scholars to take part in the 11-day project.

It takes about 12 hours to scan one page using an X-ray beam about the size of a human hair, and researchers expect to decipher up to 15 pages that resisted modern imaging techniques. After each new page is decoded, it is posted online for the public to see.

On Friday, members of the public watched the decoding process via a live Web cast arranged by the San Francisco Exploratorium.

"We are focusing on the most difficult pages where the scholars haven't been able to read the texts," said Uwe Bergmann, the Stanford physicist heading the project.

Born in the 3rd century B.C., Archimedes is considered one of ancient Greece's greatest mathematicians, perhaps best known for discovering the principle of buoyancy while taking a bath.


The 174-page manuscript, known as the Archimedes Palimpsest, contains the only copies of treatises on flotation, gravity and mathematics. Scholars believe a scribe copied them onto the goatskin parchment from the original Greek scrolls.

Three centuries later, a monk scrubbed off the Archimedes text and used the parchment to write prayers at a time when the Greek mathematician's work was less appreciated. In the early 20th century, forgers tried to boost the manuscript's value by painting religious imagery on some of the pages.

In 1998, an anonymous private collector paid $2 million for the manuscript at an auction, then loaned it to the Walter Arts Museum for safekeeping and study.

Over the past eight years, researchers have used ultraviolet and infrared filters, as well as digital cameras and processing techniques, to reveal most of the buried text, but some pages were still unreadable.

"We will never recover all of it," Noel said. "We are just getting as much as we can, and we are going to the ends of the earth to get it."


08-05-06 04:52 EDT


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 Post subject: Lab News
PostPosted: Mon Aug 07, 2006 7:01 am 
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Fascinating.

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A self-indulgent superfluity, and the person who juggles stocks and shares
Is an essential part of the economy. Something is Wrong" -Pam Brown.
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 Post subject: Re: news from the lab
PostPosted: Sat Oct 14, 2006 1:50 am 
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Exoplanet trapped between fire and ice
POSTED: 1:13 p.m. EDT, October 13, 2006
By Ker Than
SPACE.com
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(SPACE.com) -- The poet Robert Frost wondered if Earth would wind up a world of fire or ice. Astronomers have discovered that a distant planet is both.

With one side always hot as lava and the other chilled possibly below freezing, Upsilon Andromeda b is a giant gas planet that orbits extremely close to Upsilon Andromeda, a star 40 light-years from our solar system in the constellation Andromeda.

"If you were moving across the planet from the night side to the day side, the temperature jump would be equivalent to leaping into a volcano," said study leader Brad Hansen of the University of California, Los Angeles.

Researchers think Upsilon Andromeda b is absorbing and then immediately radiating heat from its star [animation], so that one side is always hotter than the other. It's also possible the planet is tidally locked to its star the way the Moon is with Earth, so that one side of the planet always faces -- and is always heated by -- its star.

Upsilon Andromeda b was discovered in 1996. It is what's known as a "hot-Jupiter," a gas giant circles its star in a very tight orbit, in this case 4.6 days. Two other planets also circle Upsilon Andromeda, but farther out.

The new finding, detailed online in the journal Science, marks the first time any kind of temperature variation has been seen across the surface of a planet outside our solar system.

How hot?
Using infrared data collected by NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope, the researchers calculated that temperatures on the sunlit side of the Upsilon Andromeda b were between 2,550 to 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit (1,400 to 1,650 degrees Celsius) but only minus 4 to 450 degrees Fahrenheit (20 to 230 degrees Celsius) on the dark side. Jupiter, in contrast, maintains an even temperature all around.

Spitzer made infrared measurements of the planet at five different points during its orbit and found that its light levels went up and down, depending on whether its sunlit or dark side was facing Earth. From this data, astronomers calculated the temperature difference between the two sides.

"If the planet had just one equilibrium temperature, then all we would get would be a flat line," Hansen explained in a telephone interview.

The findings likely apply to other hot-Jupiters as well, the researchers say.

"This observation completely changes our thinking about hot gas giant exoplanets," said study team member Sara Seager of the Carnegie Institution of Washington.

"Most astronomers expected them to be more uniformly heated, much like Jupiter. But this planet clearly has a hot side and a cool side."

However, it's possible that Upsilon Andromeda's larger-than-average size has something to do with it, Hansen said. The star around which this planet orbits is slightly hotter and a little bit more massive than the Sun, he said. "How much that has an effect we don't really know."



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 Post subject: Re: news from the lab
PostPosted: Sat Oct 14, 2006 1:54 am 
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Earth wobbles linked to extinctions
POSTED: 2:49 p.m. EDT, October 11, 2006
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LONDON, England (Reuters) -- Wobbles or variations in the Earth's orbit and tilt are associated with extinctions of rodent and mammalian species, Dutch scientists said on Wednesday.

They studied rodent fossil records in central Spain dating back 22 million years and found that the rise and fall of mammal species was linked to changes in the Earth's behavior which caused cooling periods.

"Extinctions in rodent species occur in pulses which are spaced by intervals controlled by astronomical variations and their effects on climate change," Dr Jan van Dam, of the Utrecht University in the Netherlands, said.

The researchers found two cycles corresponding to the disappearance of rodent species. One lasts 2.4 million years and is linked to variations in the Earth's orbit. The other is a 1.2 million year cycle relating to shifts in the tilt on the Earth on its axis.

The cycles are associated with lower temperatures, changes in precipitation, habitats, vegetation and food availability which are the main factors influencing the extinction peaks, the study published in the journal Nature said.

"Rodents are very sensitive to seasonal changes because they have such a short lifespan," said Van Dam, adding that they represent one of the best mammal fossil records.

At the moment, the Earth is at the beginning of a cycle but the planet's climate system has changed so much in the past 3 million years that it is difficult to predict what will happen in the future.

"The environment is responsible to what happens to species," said Van Dam. "Biological factors are secondary, according to our results."

Copyright 2006 Reuters. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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 Post subject: Re: news from the lab
PostPosted: Mon Oct 16, 2006 6:53 am 
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Saw this in the news. Very interesting. I actually first saw the idea proposed in a fantasy book...One of Gemmel's Jon Shannow books in fact, IIRC.

Ah, interesting times.

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 Post subject: Re: news from the lab
PostPosted: Wed Oct 25, 2006 5:01 pm 
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In formative years, the sun had sisters
POSTED: 12:20 p.m. EDT, October 25, 2006
By Robin Lloyd
Special to SPACE.com
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(SPACE.com) -- The sun had sisters when it was born -- hundreds to thousands of them, according to new research.

And at least one was a supernova, providing further support for the idea that there could be lots of planets around other stars since our solar system emerged in such an explosive environment.

"We know that the majority of stars in our galaxy were born in star clusters," said Leslie Looney, who arrived at the solar sibling finding along with his colleagues at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

"Now we also know that the newborn solar system not only arose in such a cluster, but also survived the impact of an exploding star. This suggests that planetary systems are impressively rugged and may be common in even the most tumultuous stellar nurseries."

The evidence for the solar sisters was found in daughters -- such as decayed particles from radioactive isotopes of iron -- trapped in meteorites, which can be studied as fossil remnants of the early solar system.

These daughter species allowed Looney and his colleagues to discern that a supernova with the mass of about 20 suns exploded relatively near the early sun when it formed 4.6 billion years ago; and where there are supernovas or any massive star, you also see hundreds to thousands of sun-like stars, he said.

The cluster of thousands of stars dispersed billions of years ago due to a lack of gravitational pull, Looney said, leaving the sisters "lost in space" and our sun looking like an only child ever since, he said.

The research will be detailed in the Astrophysical Journal.

The finding also has exciting implications for life in other solar systems, Looney said, since most stars are born in clusters.

"If our favorite planet, Earth, was born in the nasty environment of a cluster, with the increased radiation and gravitational effects, then the majority of stars could also have planets," Looney told SPACE.com. "Not only have planets, but have planets where terrestrial life can occur."

Astronomers now should focus more attention on how planets form in clusters, he said. "It may be easier to form planets than we expected," he said.

When massive stars explode and go supernova, they create radioactive isotopes that are blown outward and mix with nebular gas and dust as they condense into stars and planets. In the case of our solar system, that means some of the isotopes were trapped in the rocks that hardened to form the early solar system.

Meteorites are remnants of those rocks, so they contain the radioactive offspring, or daughter species, of the isotopes created by the supernova.

Looney and his colleagues used measured abundances of the daughter species to calculate that the supernova sibling was about 0.32 to 5.22 light-years from the sun. The closest star system to the sun today is Alpha Centauri at 4.36 light-years.

"The supernova was stunningly close," said Looney's co-author Brian Fields. "Our solar system was still in the process of forming when the supernova occurred."



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 Post subject: Re: news from the lab
PostPosted: Wed Oct 25, 2006 5:05 pm 
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Tagging sheds light on monarch butterfly
POSTED: 11:38 a.m. EDT, October 25, 2006
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GRAPEVINE, Texas (Reuters) -- It is a delicate process but for Gayle Hall it is a labor of love: tagging monarch butterflies as part of a program to monitor the movements of one of nature's most celebrated migrants.

"I've tagged 580 monarchs for release today." she said as she held one of the insects gently in her hand, the tiny tag a clear white circle standing out from the intricate orange, black and white of its wing.

Hall's butterflies were released at an annual festival in the Texas city of Grapevine that honors the monarchs, famed for their overland migrations from Canada to Mexico and back again.

Hall is Grapevine's director of events and has tagged many a monarch over the years.

Some monarchs travel up to 3,000 miles (5,000 km) in a journey which is unique in the butterfly world.

Grapevine, a heavily-forested city just north of Dallas, lies on the monarch migration route and insects released at previous festivals have been found in Mexico.

Each tag -- which is pressed onto the insect's wing -- has a unique identification number and a toll-free telephone number and e-mail address to contact if a person happens to catch the butterfly or finds one dead.

The information is helping scientists to gather a database on the monarchs, which face a range of threats.

Monitoring monarchs
"It varies, but in good years we tag somewhere between 80,000 and 100,000 monarchs," said Chip Taylor, an insect ecologist at the University of Kansas who heads up Monarch Watch, the monitoring program behind the tags.

Most of the monarchs are caught in the wild for tagging though some, such as the insects released at the Grapevine festival, are farmed by breeders.

Even the reared ones instinctively join the migration, which is currently taking places with hundreds of millions of butterflies heading south to their Mexican wintering grounds.

Taylor said the program enabled scientists to gather data while raising public awareness -- twin goals crucial to monarch conservation.

"Usually people who find these things have never heard of our program and are quite astonished when they find a tag," Taylor told Reuters in a telephone interview.

The program has been in place since 1992 and Taylor said the one certainty to emerge from the 14-year database was that monarch populations varied widely from year to year, mostly it seemed from weather-related factors.

The populations which winter at several sites west of Mexico City are the benchmark for monarch numbers and they are counted by the hectares they cover. Each hectare (2.47 acres) is estimated to hold between 25 to 75 million monarchs.

The biggest recorded wintering population in the past 14 years was in 1996-1997, when 21 hectares were cloaked in a blaze of orange and black.

This year Taylor expects the butterflies to cover around 6.5 hectares -- well below the average of nine hectares, mostly because of dry conditions this summer over much of the insect's range.

"If you are going to conserve an organism you really have to understand the dynamics of the population and get a handle on the numbers," Taylor said.

This is very much a long-term project -- Taylor said 14 years was not enough time to tell if the population was in decline or not, though other factors suggested it probably was.

"The long-term outlook for the monarchs is not good," he said, pointing to illegal logging in Mexico and urban development in the United States -- two forces that were eating away at its habitat. Climate change linked to greenhouse gas emissions could well be another threat.

The insects already have plenty of natural hazards en route including predatory birds.

The autumn migration is the highlight of the cycle. The spring and summer migrations span generations in a gradual recolonization of the northern territory before the last batch makes the long trek back to Mexico.

At the Grapevine festival, delighted children released the insects from envelopes.

One may eventually wind up in a collector's net elsewhere and make its own individual contribution to the database.

Copyright 2006 Reuters. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.



I have been to Pointe Pelee National Park over in Canada to see the fall butterfly migration. It is a thing of stunning beauty! ******************************************************

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 Post subject: Re: news from the lab
PostPosted: Thu Oct 26, 2006 4:28 am 
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That must be awesome. I've seen footage, but that's all.

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 Post subject: Re: news from the lab
PostPosted: Fri Nov 10, 2006 9:06 pm 
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Cave an Ice Age time capsule
POSTED: 3:40 p.m. EST, October 30, 2006
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SPRINGFIELD, Missouri (AP) -- The bear that left a 3-foot-long claw mark in an Ice Age clay bank was the largest bear species ever to walk the earth, about 6 feet tall at the shoulder and capable of moving its 1,800 pounds up to 45 miles per hour in a snarling dash for prey.

The claw mark by the extinct giant short-faced bear still looks fresh today in a southwest Missouri cave that some scientists are calling a national treasure -- an Ice Age time capsule sealed for thousands of years.

Discovered accidentally five years ago on the outskirts of Springfield, Riverbluff Cave is slowly yielding its fossil treasures as a small team of scientists and volunteers gingerly explores it while trying to preserve a rich bed of remains, from bones to tracks and dung.

"We found 5,000 microfossils in just one 1-foot by 2-foot block of clay," said lead paleontologist Matt Forir, the naturalist for Springfield-Greene County Parks.

Remains in the cave date back at least 830,000 years and possibly over 1 million years. At some point at least 55,000 years ago, it was sealed by rocks and mud until a construction crew blasted a hole in one end while building a road in September 2001.

The first major excavation is set for this fall after years of carefully surveying the 2,000-foot-long cave and collecting remains from the cave floor or protruding from the limestone and clay walls.

Just based on what was on the surface, the finds so far include mammoth and horse bones and beds clawed out of the clay by the short-faced bear, possibly while denning with cubs. Peccary tracks are the first proof that herds of the pig-like animals roamed in caves rather than just being dragged in by predators.

There are tracks of large cats, possibly saber-toothed tigers or American lions. Foot-long shells of previously unknown turtle species stick out of a wall.

Forir said every discovery raises new questions. Mammoth bones and a juvenile tooth dated around 630,000 years ago came from one of two species and it will require more adult remains to tell which one it is. He hopes the excavation will provide answers.

"We either have the oldest wooly mammoth in North America or the youngest Meridian mammoth. Most of the stuff in this cave is like that, always raising more questions," he said.

Paleontologist Larry Agenbroad, who heads a major mammoth excavation project called The Mammoth Site in South Dakota, said the number of remains of large animals and the fact that Riverbluff Cave was sealed like a time capsule make it a rarity.

"This is a national paleontological treasure," he said.

Greg McDonald, senior curator of natural history for the National Park Service, said Riverbluff Cave offers rare insight into Ice Age ecology. By combining animal bones with other traces, including tracks and dung, it can show how Ice Age animals lived, what they ate and what killed them off.

"It's a unique combination of traces and the quality of preservation that makes it such a phenomenal site," McDonald said. "It's probably going to become a major reference site that will help us better understand the remains we have at other sites."

If research confirms that dung in the bear beds is from the short-faced bear, it would be a first and could provide real clues about what the bears ate, McDonald said.

Forir said the short-faced bear was the largest land predator of its time, roaming much of North America and catching its prey with a jaw power of more than 2,000 pounds per square inch. Its name comes from a shortened muzzle, more like a lion's than a black or brown bear's.

"It was the T-Rex of the Ice Age," Forir said.

The cave remains closed to the public to preserve its remains. After an attack by vandals, it was sealed by the county behind locked metal doors equipped with an alarm.

But with the help of the Springfield-Greene County library system and Ozarks Technical Community College, Forir installed a fiber optic network that lets him broadcast pictures from the cave for school classes and the public.

"This is where the Ice Age meets the Space Age," he said.

The cave has also spawned another educational project, Missouri's first natural history museum.

Forir won a grant to build a 4,000-square-foot building near the cave that will house a new Natural History Museum of the Ozarks. The museum, which should be constructed by early 2007, will showcase the cave's findings as well as regional natural history.

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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 Post subject: Re: news from the lab
PostPosted: Fri Nov 10, 2006 9:11 pm 
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Could our big brains come from Neanderthals?
POSTED: 10:32 a.m. EST, November 8, 2006
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WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- Neanderthals may have given the modern humans who replaced them a priceless gift -- a gene that helped them develop superior brains, U.S. researchers reported Tuesday.

And the only way they could have provided that gift would have been by interbreeding, the team at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and the University of Chicago said.

Their study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, provides indirect evidence that modern Homo sapiens and so-called Neanderthals interbred at some point when they lived side by side in Europe.

"Finding evidence of mixing is not all that surprising. But our study demonstrates the possibility that interbreeding contributed advantageous variants into the human gene pool that subsequently spread," said Bruce Lahn, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute researcher at the University of Chicago who led the study.

Scientists have been debating whether Neanderthals, who died out about 35,000 years ago, ever bred with modern Homo sapiens. Neanderthals are considered more primitive, with robust bones but a smaller intellect than modern humans.

Lahn's team found a brain gene that appears to have entered the human lineage about 1.1 million years ago, and that has a modern form, or allele, that appeared about 37,000 years ago -- right before Neanderthals became extinct.

"The gene microcephalin (MCPH1) regulates brain size during development and has experienced positive selection in the lineage leading to Homo sapiens," the researchers wrote.

Positive selection means the gene conferred some sort of advantage, so that people who had it were more likely to have descendants than people who did not. Lahn's team estimated that 70 percent of all living humans have this type D variant of the gene.

"By no means do these findings constitute definitive proof that a Neanderthal was the source of the original copy of the D allele. However, our evidence shows that it is one of the best candidates," Lahn said.

The researchers reached their conclusions by doing a statistical analysis of the DNA sequence of microcephalin, which is known to play a role in regulating brain size in humans. Mutations in the human gene cause development of a much smaller brain, a condition called microcephaly.

By tracking smaller, more regular mutations, the researchers could look at DNA's "genetic clock" and date the original genetic variant to 37,000 years ago.

They noted that this D allele is very common in Europe, where Neanderthals lived, and more rare in Africa, where they did not. Lahn said it is not yet clear what advantage the D allele gives the human brain.

"The D alleles may not even change brain size; they may only make the brain a bit more efficient if it indeed affects brain function," Lahn said.

Now his team is looking for evidence of Neanderthal origin for other human genes.

Copyright 2006 Reuters. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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 Post subject: news from the lab
PostPosted: Thu Nov 30, 2006 1:48 am 
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Study: Galactic baby boom influenced life on Earth
POSTED: 1:34 p.m. EST, November 27, 2006
By Sara Goudarzi
SPACE.com
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(SPACE.com) -- The stellar baby boom period of the Milky Way sparked a flowering and crashing of life here on Earth, a new study suggests.

Some 2.4 billion years ago when the Milky Way started upping its star production, cosmic rays -- high-speed atomic particles -- started pouring onto our planet, causing instability within the living. Populations of bacteria and algae repeatedly soared and crashed in the oceans.

The researchers counted the amount of carbon-13 within sedimentary rocks, the most common rocks exposed on the Earth's surface. When algae and bacteria were growing in the oceans, they took in carbon-12, so the ocean had an abundance of carbon-13.

Many sea creatures use carbon-13 to make their shells. If there is a lot of carbon-13 stored in rocks, it means life, the origin of which is still unknown, was booming. Therefore, variations in carbon-13 are a good indicator of the productivity of life on Earth.

The researchers found that the biggest fluctuation in productivity coincided with star formation, which had an affect on Earth's climate and therefore on the productivity of life on our planet.

According to one theory, when a star explodes far away in the Milky Way, cosmic rays penetrate through the Earth's atmosphere and produce ions and free electrons.

The released electrons act as catalysts and accelerate the formation of small clusters of sulfuric acid and water molecules, the building blocks of clouds. Therefore, cosmic rays increase cloud cover on Earth, reflecting sunlight and keeping the planet relatively cool.

Although cold and icy times are generally considered unfriendly to life, the data reveals that biological productivity kept oscillating between very high and very low. The reason, the researchers suggest, is that stronger winds during icy epochs stirred the oceans and improved the supply of nutrients in the surface waters.

"The odds are 10,000-to-1 against this unexpected link between cosmic rays and the variable state of the biosphere being just a coincidence, and it offers a new perspective on the connection between the evolution of the Milky Way and the entire history of life over the last 4 billion years," said study author Henrik Svensmark of the Danish National Space Center.

The study was detailed in a recent issue of the journal Astronomische Nachrichten.



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 Post subject: news from the lab
PostPosted: Fri Dec 01, 2006 12:18 am 
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Ancient astronomical device thrills scholars
POSTED: 11:55 a.m. EST, November 30, 2006
Story Highlights• Ancient calculator was an astronomical instrument of great precision
• The device could track the movements of the sun and moon through the zodiac
• Scholar says there is nothing like it in the history of astronomy


LONDON, England (Reuters) -- An ancient astronomical calculator made at the end of the 2nd century BC was amazingly accurate and more complex than any instrument for the next 1,000 years, scientists said on Wednesday.

The Antikythera Mechanism is the earliest known device to contain an intricate set of gear wheels. It was retrieved from a shipwreck off the Greek island of Antikythera in 1901 but until now what it was used for has been a mystery.

Although the remains are fragmented in 82 brass pieces, scientists from Britain, Greece and the United States have reconstructed a model of it using high-resolution X-ray tomography.

They believe their findings could force a rethink of the technological potential of the ancient Greeks.

"It could be described as the first known calculator," said Professor Mike Edmunds, a professor of astrophysics at Cardiff University in Wales.

"Our recent work has applied very modern techniques that we believe have now revealed what its actual functions were."

The calculator could add, multiply, divide and subtract. It was also able to align the number of lunar months with years and display where the sun and the moon were in the zodiac.

Edmunds and his colleagues discovered it had a dial that predicted when there was a likely to be a lunar or solar eclipse. It also took into account the elliptical orbit of the moon.

"The actual astronomy is perfect for the period," Edmunds told Reuters.

"What is extraordinary about the thing is that they were able to make such a sophisticated technological device and to be able to put that into metal," he added.

The model of the calculator shows 37 gear wheels housed in a wooden case with inscriptions on the cover that related to the planetary movements.

Francois Charette, of the Ludwig-Maximilians University in Munich, Germany, said the findings, reported in the journal Nature, provide a wealth of data for future research.

"Newly deciphered inscriptions that relate to the planetary movements make it plausible that the mechanism originally also had gearings to predict the motion of the planets," he said in a commentary.

Edmunds described the instrument as unique, saying there is nothing like it in the history of astronomy. Similar complicated mechanisms were not been seen until the appearance of medieval cathedral clocks much later.

"What was not quite so apparent before was quite how beautifully designed this was," he said. "That beauty of design in this mechanical thing forces you to say 'Well gosh, if they can do that what else could they do?'"

Copyright 2006 Reuters. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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 Post subject: news from the lab
PostPosted: Fri Dec 01, 2006 1:13 am 
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Study: Humpback whales have 'human' brain cells
POSTED: 10:43 a.m. EST, November 27, 2006
Story Highlights• Finding may help explain some of the behaviors seen in whales
• Spindle neuron cells in humpback brains also found in humans, apes
• Structures that resemble "islands" found in humpback cerebral cortex

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- Humpback whales have a type of brain cell seen only in humans, the great apes, and other cetaceans such as dolphins, U.S. researchers reported on Monday.

This might mean such whales are more intelligent than they have been given credit for, and suggests the basis for complex brains either evolved more than once, or has gone unused by most species of animals, the researchers said.

The finding may help explain some of the behaviors seen in whales, such as intricate communication skills, the formation of alliances, cooperation, cultural transmission and tool usage, the researchers report in The Anatomical Record.

Patrick Hof and Estel Van der Gucht of the Department of Neuroscience at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York studied the brains of humpback whales and discovered a type of cell called a spindle neuron in the cortex, in areas comparable to where they are seen in humans and great apes.

Although the function of spindle neurons is not well understood, they may be involved in cognition -- learning, remembering and recognizing the world around oneself. Spindle cells may be affected by Alzheimer's disease and other debilitating brain disorders such as autism and schizophrenia.

The researches found spindle neurons in the same location in toothed whales with the largest brains, which the researchers said suggests that they may be related to brain size. Toothed whales such as orcas are generally considered more intelligent than baleen whales such as humpbacks and blue whales, which filter water for their food.

The humpbacks also had structures that resembled "islands" in the cerebral cortex, also seen in some other mammals.

These islands may have evolved in order to promote fast and efficient communication between neurons, the researchers said.

Spindle neurons probably first appeared in the common ancestor of hominids, humans and great apes about 15 million years ago, the researchers said -- they are not seen in lesser apes or monkeys.

In cetaceans they would have evolved earlier, possibly as early as 30 million years ago, the researchers said.

Either the spindle neurons were only kept in the animals with the largest brains or they evolved several times independently, the researchers said.

"In spite of the relative scarcity of information on many cetacean species, it is important to note in this context that sperm whales, killer whales, and certainly humpback whales, exhibit complex social patterns that included intricate communication skills, coalition-formation, cooperation, cultural transmission and tool usage," the researchers wrote.

"It is thus likely that some of these abilities are related to comparable histologic complexity in brain organization in cetaceans and in hominids."

Copyright 2006 Reuters. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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 Post subject: Re: news from the lab
PostPosted: Mon Dec 11, 2006 4:54 am 
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Report: Ebola killing African gorillas
POSTED: 10:16 a.m. EST, December 8, 2006

Story Highlights

• Ebola outbreaks in Congo and Gabon have killed 3,500 gorillas, possibly 5,500
• Also evidence of a large number of chimpanzee deaths from the epidemic
• In 2002, ebola flared in among people in the region, killing dozens


WASHINGTON (AP) -- Recent outbreaks of ebola among people in Africa also killed thousands of gorillas, animals already threatened by hunting, a new study reports.

Outbreaks in Congo and Gabon in 2002 and 2003 killed as many as 5,500 gorillas and an uncounted number of chimpanzees, a research team led by Magdalena Bermejo of the University of Barcelona in Spain reports in Friday's issue of the journal Science.

While conservationists had raised concern about gorilla mortality previously, Bermejo's study provides an estimate of how many died in the epidemic.

"Add commercial hunting to the mix, and we have a recipe for rapid ecological extinction," the researchers wrote. "Ape species that were abundant and widely distributed a decade ago are rapidly being reduced to a tiny remnant population."

Ebola hemorrhagic fever is marked by fever, headache, joint and muscle aches, sore throat and weakness, followed by diarrhea, vomiting, stomach pain -- and many suffer internal and external bleeding.

The researchers began studying gorillas in the region in 1995 and by 2001 were focusing on 143 animals who had become accustomed to having people around.

In 2002, ebola flared in among people in the region, killing dozens, and 130 of the gorillas in the study also perished. The researchers turned their attention to another group of 95 gorillas, but a 2003 ebola outbreak killed 91 of those animals.

That prompted the team to analyze the regional pattern of gorilla deaths and they concluded the disease spread primarily from gorilla to gorilla starting in the north and moving southward through the region. They concluded that at least 3,500 gorillas died in the outbreaks and possibly as many as 5,500.

They also found evidence of a large number of chimpanzee deaths but said they did not have enough evidence to make an estimate of the total.

The research was funded by Energy Africa Oil Company, the European Union and the University of Barcelona.

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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