Sunday, July 30, 2006

Scientists Say Erie Mirage Could Be Real

"Scientists say it's a mirage, but others swear that when the weather is right, Clevelanders can see across Lake Erie and spot Canadian trees and buildings 50 miles away.
Eyewitness accounts have long been part of the city's history.

'The whole sweep of the Canadian shore stood out as if less than three miles away,' a story in The Plain Dealer proclaimed in 1906. 'The distant points across the lake stood out for nearly an hour and then faded away.'

'I can see how this could be possible,' said Lawrence Krauss, chairman of the Physics Department at Case Western Reserve University.

Krauss and Joe Prahl, chairman of the Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Department at Case, said mirages can occur during an atmospheric inversion, in which a layer of cold air blankets the lake, topped by layers of increasingly warm air. When this happens, it can cause the light that filters through these layers from across the lake to bend, forming a lens that can create the illusion of distant objects.

The scientists said the air has to be extremely calm for the mirage to appear. If the wind blows, it distorts or dissolves the image.

Prahl and Krauss said such a mirage is rare. But Tom Schmidlin, a meteorologist in the Geography Department at Kent State University, said it's hardly unheard-of.

"It's not terribly unusual. Sailors are always exposed to this kind of thing," he said.

Prahl, who regularly sails his 30-foot sloop Seabird from Cleveland to Canada, has never seen it.

But Bob Boughner, a reporter for the Chatham Daily News in Ontario, said he's seen Cleveland from across Lake Erie twice, the first time four summers ago while driving along a road near the lake. He saw it again two summer ago while driving along the same road.

All of a sudden, there was Cleveland, just off the Canadian shore, as if it were just across a river, he said.

"I happened to look across the lake and, geez, I couldn't believe the sight," he said. "I could see the cars and the stoplights. I could even make out the different colors of the vehicles. It lasted a good two or three minutes."

Boughner said he remembers his aunt Melba Bates, who lived all her life on Lake Erie and recently died in her late 90s, talking about being able to see Cleveland, but he didn't believe her.

"I thought she was making up stories," he said. "But sure enough, I could see the same damned thing. When it shows up, it looks like you can touch it."

Friday, July 28, 2006

Nazi Aircraft Carrier Found in Baltic Sea

"Poland's navy said a sunken shipwreck in the Baltic Sea is almost certainly Nazi Germany's only aircraft carrier - the Graf Zeppelin, which disappeared nearly 60 years ago.

The Polish oil company Petrobaltic discovered the shipwreck July 12 on the sea floor about 40 miles north of the port city of Gdansk. Suspecting it could be the wreckage of the Graf Zeppelin, the Polish Navy sent a survey vessel to inspect it earlier this week, Navy spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Bartosz Zajda said Thursday.

'We are 99 percent sure - even 99.9 percent - that these details point unambiguously to the Graf Zeppelin,' said Dariusz Beczek, the commander of the survey vessel.

The Graf Zeppelin was Germany's only aircraft carrier during World War II. It was launched in 1938, but never saw action due to Hitler's disenchantment with his navy and political squabbles in the Nazi high command. After Germany's defeat in 1945, the Soviet Union took control of the ship."

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Cavemen, Chimps and Us - Newsweek Technology

"It is the holy grail of human paleontology, a window on a crucial moment in our evolution. Last week scientists at the Max Planck Institute in Germany announced they would attempt to sequence the Neanderthal genome—the complete DNA of the closest known relative to modern humans, a species that disappeared from the Earth about 30,000 years ago. It is the next best thing to having a living Neanderthal for comparison—and, in theory, if you know all the genes, you could create living Neanderthals. Not that anyone has any plans to do that.

What would they be like? From their skeletons, we know they would be robust and barrel-chested, with a heavy jaw and brow; from their caves it appears they could use primitive tools and buried their dead. But they seem to have lacked modern humans' capacity for abstract thought; although they spread overland through the Middle East and Europe, they apparently never crossed a body of water they couldn't see across. Anthropologists are divided on whether they had language, and although they presumably were able to breed with Homo sapiens, there's no clear evidence they ever did. Even bringing them back to life wouldn't necessarily clear up the mystery of how and why, having lived in Europe for some 200,000 years, they failed to survive contact with modern humans, who began spreading into Europe 50,000 years ago. The most widely held theory is that our ancestors killed them off."

Click the title above to read the entire article

Scientists: Warming Triggers 'Dead Zone'

"Bottom fish and crabs washing up dead on Oregon beaches are being killed by a recurring 'dead zone' of low-oxygen water that appears to be triggered by global warming, scientists say.

The area is larger and more deadly than in past years, and there are signs it is spreading north to Washington's Olympic Peninsula.

Scientists studying a 70-mile-long zone of oxygen-depleted water along the Continental Shelf between Florence and Lincoln City have concluded it is being caused by explosive blooms of tiny plants known as phytoplankton, which die and sink to the bottom.

The phytoplankton are eaten by bacteria, which use up the oxygen in the water. The recurring phytoplankton blooms are triggered by north winds generating a rollover of the water column in a process known as upwelling."

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

First Men on Moon Saw UFOs

"In the documentary 'Apollo 11: The Untold Story,' shown on Britain's Channel Five on Monday night, July 24, astronaut Buzz Aldrin says he, Neil Armstrong and Michael Collins all saw a UFO shadowing their spacecraft. Apollo 11, which took off on July 16, 1969, was the first manned mission to the moon. Aldrin says, 'There was something out there, close enough to be observed, and what could it be?'

In the documentary, he says, 'Now, obviously the three of us weren't going to blurt out, 'Hey, Houston, we've got something moving alongside of us and we don't know what it is,' you know? We weren't about to do that, because we knew that that those transmissions would be heard by all sorts of people and somebody might have demanded we turn back because of aliens or whatever the reason is.' He says NASA knew about the UFO but covered up the information.

It has just been learned that all but two of the 700 boxes of Apollo 11 videos are mysteriously missing from the National Archives. The footage of the Apollo 11 mission was recorded on special 1-inch magnetic tape, and the only machines that can play it are at Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, which is being closed in the fall of 2006.

Astronaut Gordon Cooper, who took part in the earlier Mercury and Gemini missions, had his first UFO sighting as an Air Force pilot. He later said that a UFO landed at Edwards Air Force Base. In 1985, Cooper testified at the UN, saying, 'I believe that these extraterrestrial vehicles and their crews are visiting this planet from other planets, which obviously are a little more technically advanced than we are here on Earth. For many years I have lived with a secret, in a secrecy imposed on all specialists and astronauts. I can now reveal that every day, in the USA, our radar instruments capture objects of form and composition unknown to us." Astronaut Edgar Mitchell, who was the 6th man to walk on the moon, has also said he believes in the existence of UFOs."

Monday, July 24, 2006

Egypt to Move Famous Ramses Statue in Cairo

"A giant statue of Pharaoh Ramses II will be moved next month from a congested square in downtown Cairo to a more serene home near the Great Pyramids in a bid to save it from corrosive pollution, Egypt's antiquities chief said Monday.

Exhaust fumes from trains, cars and buses, as well as subway vibrations, are damaging the more than 3,200-year-old granite statue at Ramses Square, its home since the early 1950s, when it was taken from a temple at the site of the ancient Egyptian capital of Memphis.
The 125-ton statue - a popular feature on postcards and guide books - will become part of a new museum about a mile from the pyramids.

...Ramses II was a warrior king who is credited with bringing Egypt unprecedented power and splendor during his 67-year reign. He died in 1225 B.C."

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Reason eyes are transparent becomes clear - LiveScience -

"It is the transparent part of the eye, but for scientists, its origin was anything but clear.

Now researchers have pinpointed why the cornea, the thin covering that allows light into the eye, is completely see-through. The discovery could lead to potential cures for eye disease and possibly even cancer.

Unlike almost every other part of the body, the cornea has no blood vessels and therefore no color. While that much was known, scientists couldn’t figure out how the body kept blood vessels from growing there.

The new research shows the area harbors large stores of a protein that binds to growth factors, material the body produces to stimulate blood vessel formation. The protein forms a sort of lock on the growth factors, so no blood vessels are produced, leaving the area totally colorless.

“Drugs designed to manipulate the levels of this protein could heal corneas that have undergone severe trauma or help shrink tumors fed by rapidly growing abnormal blood vessels,” said Reza Dana, head of the Cornea Service at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary and an associate professor at Harvard Medical School. “In fact, the next step in our work is exactly this.”

The new discovery, which Dana and colleagues called unexpected, will be published this month in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The discovery could lead to research aimed at finding a way to restrict blood vessel growth using the body’s own mechanisms. A breakthrough on that front could in turn be valuable in fighting tumors, which rely on a steady blood supply and can cause blood vessels to grow uncontrollably.

Now that scientists have identified an off-switch for blood vessel production, the next step, they say, is to direct it at places in the eye or elsewhere where blood vessels are growing and the body would simply be better of without them."

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Skydiver gets ready for 25-mile jump

"Frenchman Michel Fournier is readying himself and his equipment to attempt a record-setting free fall from the stratosphere.

Dubbed 'The Big Jump,' Fournier is eyeing next month for his supersonic free fall from about 130,000 feet (40 kilometers) — roughly 25 miles above Earth. The dive from a balloon-carried gondola is slated to take place above the plains of Saskatchewan in Canada.

The 62-year-old Fournier is an experienced parachutist, pilot and former military officer. He hopes his ultra-sky dive will contribute to the development of future technologies and the safety of stratospheric flight — specifically by astronauts in high-altitude emergencies that are outfitted with the proper survival equipment.

If successful, Fournier will beat four world parachuting records from the border of space:

Altitude record for free fall
Altitude record for human balloon flight
Time record for longest free fall
Speed record for fastest free fall — breaking the sound barrier in the process"

Friday, July 14, 2006

Star Trek Maze

"An undated handout image released July 14, 2006, shows a 32-acre maze dedicated to cult TV show 'Star Trek' on a English farm near York in northern England. Tom Pearcy used satellite technology to help him design the huge maze at his farm to celebrate 40 years since the airing of the first episode of the show, which starred William Shatner as Captain James Kirk."

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Tycoon to Test Space Station Technology

"A hotel tycoon's dream of building an inflatable commercial space station is taking a step toward reality - or a reality check - with the launch of a satellite that will test the technology behind the orbital outpost.

The fact-finding mission scheduled for this week will explore the feasibility of Robert Bigelow's planned commercial space complex. When finished by 2015, he said, it will consist of balloon-like modules strung together like sausage links and serve as a hotel, laboratory, college or entertainment venue.

Artist's rendering of a Bigelow module

The planned liftoff from Russia of Bigelow Aerospace's privately funded Genesis I spacecraft will mark the beginning of the startup's attempt to break into the fledging manned commercial spaceflight business.

Bigelow, who made his fortune with the Las Vegas-based Budget Suites of America hotel chain, has remained mum about the exact launch date of the prototype. But the Russian space agency Roskosmos posted on its Web site that Genesis was scheduled to launch Wednesday aboard a converted Cold War ballistic missile from the Dombarovsky missile base in the southern Ural Mountains."

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Navy, Whale Advocates Settle in Sonar Suit

"The Navy can use high-intensity sonar for Pacific warfare exercises, but must stay away from some sensitive marine habitat and increase monitoring for whales, under an agreement reached Friday with environmental groups.

Four days earlier, a judge banned the sonar over concerns it could harm marine mammals.
The settlement prevents the Navy from using the sonar within 25 miles of the newly established Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Marine National Monument during its Rim of the Pacific 2006 exercises, and also imposes a variety of methods to watch for and report the presence of marine mammals.

'Military readiness does not require, and our laws do not allow, our natural resources to be sacrificed in the name of national defense,' said Joel Reynolds, a Natural Resources Defense Council attorney.

The Navy said it could begin using the sonar as soon as this weekend. The sonar portion of the exercises, which began June 26, is intended to train sailors to detect and hunt stealthy submarines.

"We want to ensure that the U.S. Navy and its partner navies get the benefit of this opportunity to train in anti-submarine warfare," said Rear Adm. James Symonds, director of environmental readiness.

Environmentalists claim whales have stranded themselves on beaches after being exposed to high-intensity mid-frequency sonar. In some cases, whales bled around the brain and in the ears. The sonar is also claimed to interfere with the ability of marine mammals to navigate, hunt, take care of their offspring and avoid predators."

Hawking Seeks Answers on Humanity's Future

"Some questions even stump Stephen Hawking.

The famed British astrophysicist and best-selling author has turned to Yahoo Answers, a new feature in which anyone can pose a question for fellow Internet users to try to answer. By Friday afternoon, nearly 17,000 Yahoo Inc. (YHOO) users had responded.

Hawking's question: 'In a world that is in chaos politically, socially and environmentally, how can the human race sustain another 100 years?'

Some of the answers were short - 'get rid of nuclear weapons' - and others vague - 'Somehow we will.' Many were doubtful: 'I don't think it is possible unless we expand into space,' one user wrote.

A number of people suggested thinking differently, ending bickering or fostering cooperation.

Officials at the University of Cambridge, where Hawking is a mathematics professor, confirmed that Hawking wrote the message but said he would have no further comment.

Hawking's groundbreaking research on black holes and the origins of the universe has made him one of the best-known theoretical physicists of his generation. Author of the global best seller "A Brief History of Time," Hawking is known for proposing that space and time have no beginning and no end.

Lately, he's been pondering about the fate of humans.

In a June 13 speech in Hong Kong, Hawking said the survival of the human race depends on its ability to find new homes elsewhere in the universe because there's an increasing risk that a disaster will destroy Earth.

He said that if humans can avoid killing themselves in the next 100 years, they should have space settlements that can continue without support from Earth.

Hawking is one of 10 celebrity questioners Yahoo solicited as part of its "Ask The Planet" campaign.

The Sunnyvale, Calif., Internet company spent weeks trying to track Hawking down but got his participation within a day of reaching the correct assistant, said Patrick Crane, vice president of marketing for Yahoo Search.

The question was submitted a few days before the Hong Kong speech and posted this past Wednesday.

Over the next week, Yahoo employees are expected to work with Hawking to sift through the answers and select one or several to highlight as best responses.

Yahoo Answers, like an offering from Google Inc. (GOOG) and one planned by Microsoft Corp. (MSFT), is among the services aimed at tapping the collective intelligence. It's based on the premise that humans as a group can do a better job at finding information than machines or any single person can.

Anyone can ask or answer a question, regardless of expertise, although Yahoo will eventually implement a rating system meant to elevate users with better reputations, based on their past questions and answers.

Questions typically get 6 to 10 answers.

Past celebrity participants include Donald Trump, Isaiah Washington, Al Gore and "Click & Clack," the hosts of NPR's "Car Talk." U2 lead singer Bono closed the celebrity series Friday by asking, "What can we do to make poverty history?"

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Navy, Environmentalists Face Off on Whales

"While the Navy was staging war games and hunting down 'enemy' submarines with sonar off the island of Kauai two summers ago, more than 150 lost and disoriented whales were swimming chaotically in the shallows of Hanalei Bay.

Pod of melon-headed dolphin

That mass stranding was a scene neither the Navy nor environmentalists want to see repeated as 40 ships from eight countries return to the islands this month for the world's largest international maritime war games.

But the two sides agree on little else, including whether sonar was to blame for that incident.

The continuing dispute highlights a deep divide over how to best protect marine mammals while safeguarding the nation's defenses.

This week, environmentalists won a temporary restraining order to stop the Navy from using a high-intensity sonar during this year's Rim of the Pacific 2006 exercise, which had scheduled sonar use to start Thursday.

The federal judge's order Monday came just days after the Defense Department granted the Navy a six-month exemption from certain federal laws protecting marine species to allow use of the "mid-frequency active sonar." Environmentalists had argued that the exemption was aimed at circumventing their lawsuit.

The Navy's failure to take a "hard look" at the environmental impact of war games was an "arbitrary and capricious" violation of the National Environmental Policy Act, U.S. District Judge Florence-Marie Cooper wrote in granting the restraining order.

Cooper ordered the two sides to meet to discuss mitigation measures in an effort to avoid further litigation. She also scheduled a hearing for July 18 on whether to replace the temporary restraining order with a preliminary injunction.

Government lawyers were reviewing the ruling and the Navy will probably respond soon, said Jon Yoshishige, a spokesman for the U.S. Pacific Fleet in Hawaii.

The Natural Resources Defense Council, the environmental group leading the legal battle, says whales have stranded and died on beaches around the world after being exposed to high-intensity, mid-frequency sonar. It says sonar can interfere with the ability of marine mammals to use their own underwater sounds to navigate, avoid predators, find food and care for their young.

Joel Reynolds, council senior attorney, said this shows the Navy has to be especially careful when it uses sonar in the biologically rich water around Hawaii.

"Whales and other marine life should not have to die for practice," Reynolds said. "Of course the Navy needs to train, and our lawsuit doesn't seek to prevent them from training. Our goal is simply to require them to incorporate a series of common-sense measures."

The military did not plan to use the sonar inside the national marine monument area that President Bush designated in early June in the waters off the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. The sonar was to be used in waters surrounding only the main Hawaiian Islands, according to the Navy.

The Navy acknowledges sonar can hurt, even kill, whales, but it says many factors cause marine mammals to become stranded, including pollution, disease, starvation and collisions with ships.

The Navy also says it has been using sonar around the Hawaiian islands for a half century without marine mammal strandings attributable to the underwater noise.

Environmentalists point the stranding of more than 150 disoriented melon-headed whales in Hanalei Bay two summers ago while the U.S. Navy and its allies were using sonar in a nearby war game. An April report by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said naval sonar may have prompted the melon-headed whales, normally found in deep water, to seek refuge in Hanalei Bay.

The Navy says no evidence from that incident conclusively blames sonar."

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Camera on Space Telescope Is Repaired

"A balky camera on the Hubble Space Telescope has been restarted and will begin taking pictures again tomorrow evening, NASA officials said yesterday.

The Advanced Camera for Surveys, which consists of three electronic cameras that can detect light from ultraviolet to near infrared wavelengths, malfunctioned June 19.
Engineers quickly suspected a problem with the power supply, but spent a week and a half investigating to be certain. Other instruments on the telescope continued operating.

On Thursday, engineers decided to switch the camera to a backup electronics system. That switch was performed Thursday evening, and the camera was turned back on yesterday morning. Tests showed that it was operating properly. 'Everything worked out great,' said Susan Hendrix, a NASA spokeswoman.

The advanced camera, one of the telescope's main instruments, was installed by astronauts during a 2002 space shuttle mission. It offers sharper images and a wider angle of view than earlier instruments."