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Thursday, November 15, 2007

Life on Earth May Have Come From Mars

Life on Earth May Have Come From Mars

H.G. Wells might not have been that far off when he wrote about aliens from Mars coming to Earth.

"It may not be likely," NASA researcher David Morrison told National Geographic News, "but we cannot exclude the possibility that we are, in effect, all Martians."

Panspermia, or the idea that Earth was "seeded" by life from outer space, is centuries old but until lately has not had much scientific evidence to support it.

But a European experiment last month demonstrates that microscopic life could indeed survive inside rocks hurtling through space.

A team led by John Parnell from the University of Aberdeen in Scotland embedded fossilized microbes into a fake meteorite strapped to the exterior of the Russian Foton M3 scientific-research probe, which went into orbit on Sept. 26 and came back to Earth 12 days later.

"In the bit of rock we got back, some biological compounds have survived," Parnell told National Geographic News.

The large number of rocks from Mars that end up on Earth lends credence to the hypothesis that terrestrial life may have had its origin on the Red Planet, which 4 billion years ago was much more hospitable than Earth was at the same time.

Alien Life Can Survive Trip to Earth, Space Test Shows

We could have alien origins, say scientists who sent fossilized microscopic life-forms into space and back inside an artificial meteorite.
The researchers attached the baseball-size rock to the outside of the European Space Agency's Foton M3 spacecraft to test whether biological material could survive the round-trip journey.

Sculpted from stone from the Orkney Islands in northern Scotland, the rock contained fossilized microbes and the molecular signatures of microbes.

The unmanned spacecraft was launched by rocket from Kazakhstan's Baikonur Cosmodrome carrying 43 experiments. The craft landed in Kazakhstan on September 26 after orbiting the planet for 12 days.

"In the bit of rock we got back, some biological compounds have survived," said project leader John Parnell from the University of Aberdeen in Scotland.

Preliminary findings suggest that it's possible simple organisms could arrive via meteorites, he said.

The research also suggests that living microbes would likely have survived in a slightly bigger rock, he added.

"This study of organic material is completely new," he said.

Previous artificial meteorite experiments have examined only the degree to which rocks melt upon entering the atmosphere.

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5th planet

5th planet found circling sun-like star

The newly discovered satellite orbiting 55 Cancri, in the constellation Cancer, is more like Saturn than Earth.

Astronomers have discovered a new planet orbiting a sun-like star 41 light-years away, marking the first known planetary quintet outside our solar system.

The newfound planet and four others circle the star 55 Cancri in the constellation Cancer, the researchers said this week. Although it resides in the star's so-called habitable zone, a place where liquid water and mild temperatures should exist, it is more like Saturn than Earth and therefore not likely to support life.

Still, scientists have not ruled out the possibility of finding an Earth-like planet within the system as technology improves.

"It's a system that appears to be packed with planets," said co-discoverer Debra Fischer, an astronomer at San Francisco State University.

The newly discovered planet, the fourth-farthest from 55 Cancri, is about 45 times the mass of Earth and has an orbit of 260 days. It was detected after nearly two decades of observation by ground-based telescopes using the Doppler technique, which measures a planet's stellar wobble.

The other planets in the 55 Cancri system were discovered between 1996 and 2004. The innermost planet is believed to resemble Neptune; the most distant is thought to be Jupiter-like.

Scientists have detected about 250 exoplanets, or planets orbiting a star other than the sun.

The 55 Cancri star holds the record for number of confirmed planets. Only one star is known to have four planets; several others have three or fewer.

The research will appear in a future issue of the Astrophysical Journal. It was funded by NASA, the National Science Foundation and the University of California.

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Cacao beans were first used for alcohol

Cacao beans were first used for alcohol

Cacao beans were first used for alcohol, research finds

People who lived in present-day Honduras about 3,400 years ago fermented the pulp of the plant before they began using it to make cocoa, archaeologists say

Humans began exploiting cacao beans for alcohol before they started using them to make chocolate, according to new findings from a remote Honduran village that push the earliest known use of cacao back about 500 years.

Residue scraped from pottery vessels dating to 1400 BC to 1100 BC indicates that residents of the Ulua Valley fermented the sweet pulp of the chocolate plant to make an alcoholic drink well before they began grinding the bitter seeds and mixing them with honey and chiles to produce the equivalent of modern cocoa.

The consumption of fermented cacao is much more recent than the production of wine and beer, which date to about 5400 BC in Iran and 7000 BC in China.

The chocolate drinks, which had an alcohol content of about 5%, had a special role in feasting, entertaining and binding indigenous groups together, said archaeologist John S. Henderson of Cornell University, who led the team reporting the find Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Henderson and archaeologist Rosemary A. Joyce of UC Berkeley have been excavating at Puerto Escondido in the alluvial valley of the Ulua River for more than a decade. The site has been called the Cradle of Chocolate because of its fertile soil and perfect conditions for cacao beans.

The beans were used as currency by the Olmecs and other peoples in the region for hundreds of years. Money literally "grew on trees," Henderson said.

Puerto Escondido has been continuously occupied since about 2000 BC by a largely agrarian people that shared a loose-knit society with the peoples around them, he said. The identity of the people who lived there in the second millennium BC is not clear, but they may have been precursors of the Olmec, whose civilization began to emerge around 1100 BC.

Before the current study, the oldest known use of cacao was marked by the discovery of a bottle containing traces of the material excavated from a grave in Colha in northern Belize. The bottle dated to 600 BC.

Archaeologist Patrick E. McGovern of the University of Pennsylvania Museum, who was involved in dating early uses of fermented beverages around the world, heard about Henderson and Joyce's efforts to date cacao use at Puerto Escondido and volunteered his services.

McGovern was able to extract traces of theobromine, the characteristic marker of Central American cacao, from the porous surfaces of pottery shards they sent him. "The results were astounding," he said. "Every vessel that he had chosen and was tested gave a positive signal for theobromine."

Although no traces of alcohol remain in the vessels, the pottery was of a type that is still used for alcoholic drinks. Pottery characteristically used for nonalcoholic chocolate drinks did not appear until a few hundred years later, the team said.

Henderson speculates that the story is not over yet and that they may find evidence of cacao use even earlier than 1500 BC.

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cars that don't need gasoline.

Gas-free cars will soon hit streets
Coming soon to a freeway -- or driveway -- near you: cars that don't need gasoline.

American Honda Motor Co., Ford Motor Co. and General Motors Corp. announced plans at the Los Angeles Auto Show on Wednesday to put alternative fuel technology vehicles on the road in California in coming months. A few drivers will even get to park them in their garages.

Honda and GM's Chevrolet have developed hydrogen fuel cell-powered cars for limited test use, while Ford is producing a plug-in hybrid vehicle. And although none are being manufactured in large quantities -- mass production is still years away -- the limited trials will be a tantalizing taste of what's likely to come.

The FCX Clarity is what Honda calls a "production" version of a hydrogen fuel cell car it first exhibited two years ago. It promises zero emissions and luxury features such as heated seats and Bluetooth connectivity while getting about the equivalent of 68 miles per gallon.

Honda says it will lease the four-door sedans to a limited number of people in Irvine, Santa Monica and Torrance by next summer. (Those areas are being targeted because they're near hydrogen refueling centers.) The three-year lease -- the first time fuel cell cars will have been made commercially available anywhere -- will be $600 a month, or about the cost of a BMW 5 Series, Honda executives said.

Motorists will be able to keep the cars at home and drive them as they please while being mindful that the fuel tank allows them to go 270 miles between fill-ups. The leases include insurance and mechanical service from Honda.

The Japanese automaker won't say how much each FCX Clarity costs to make but admits the lease comes nowhere near to covering its expenses. Hydrogen fuel cell cars, which convert hydrogen into electricity used to power a motor, can cost $1 million or more each to make.

"At the end of the lease, we definitely want them back," said Dan Bonawitz, vice president of corporate planning and logistics for Honda. The company will use the lease term to gather information on the vehicle.

GM, meanwhile, says it will distribute 100 hydrogen fuel cell-powered Chevrolet Equinox crossovers over the next half year, including 10 that it will lend to Walt Disney Co. Like the Honda FCX, the Equinoxes will be used for company research.

"These will give up a good practical test of where these cars belong," said GM Vice Chairman Bob Lutz, adding that other Equinoxes will end up in "the hands of the public" and celebrities.

Honda and GM are focusing on Southern California because of its relative abundance of hydrogen fuel stations. Beyond Santa Monica, Irvine and Torrance, there are stations in Burbank, Diamond Bar and Long Beach, and about 20 others in the state. In many other parts of the country, there are no stations.

In California, Bonawitz said, hydrogen per kilogram, the unit used for the fuel, costs $4 to $10. A tank could cost $16 to $40 to fill.

Ford, meanwhile, is lending 20 plug-in hybrid Escapes to Southern California Edison.

The utility, which will use them as fleet vehicles, is to take delivery next month. Ford said it had planned to announce the partnership on "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno" but was unable to do so because of the writers strike.

Jennifer Moore, corporate news manager for Ford, says the company will use the test to study the commercialization possibilities of lithium-ion batteries and the behavior of plug-in drivers. "How do people use them? How often will they charge them? These are the questions we'll be asking," Moore said.

Who will be driving them is another question. Moore said Edison might use them as standard fleet vehicles or let employees drive them as their personal cars. And whereas Disney will use its Chevy Equinoxes as corporate shuttles, Honda wants to make sure some regular folks get behind the wheel.

To that end, it will have four fuel cell cars on hand at the Auto Show today and it will allow test drives by invited motorists and a few members of the media.

Skeptics point out that neither plug-in hybrids nor fuel cell vehicles are anywhere near ready for prime time, and are perhaps a decade or more away from true commercialization.

The tests by Honda, Ford and GM are "a demonstration on the part of the carmakers that they're green," said David Healy, an analyst at Burnham Securities. "Or at least that they look like they're green."

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Microsoft outlines Xbox game download issues

Report on official Microsoft Web site lists the mostly minor problems that the titles may have when downloaded on the 360.

Yesterday, Microsoft announced that a selection box of original Xbox games would be available to download through Xbox Live as part of a birthday celebration for the service.

Nobody likes a party pooper, but today, a note on the official Xbox Web site lists some 'known issues' with the titles currently scheduled for launch.

Firstly, the publisher logos which show up at the start of all games may appear 'choppy' on first playing, and any additional content within games, including trailers or demos, will not be supported--unlikely to be a major issue since the games were originally released some time ago.

Specific issues have also been found in the following titles: In Fable, there are "random bursts of audio static and some minor texture issues." In Halo, there are some "very mild" framerate drops, and HDMI 720p is not supported for PAL users of Psychonauts. Fusion Frenzy also has some minor frame rate issues, whereas Crimson Skies: High Road to Revenge "very rarely" has minor flickering at the top of the screen, and the "press A to continue" message is missing when a host player leaves a multiplayer game.

Microsoft is getting ready to celebrate 5 years of Xbox Live, starting December 5th they are going to allow Xbox Live subscribers to turn on their Xbox 360 and download full original Xbox games over the Xbox Live Marketplace. Games will include Halo, Psychonauts, and Crimson Skies: Road to Revenge.

Other games which will be included are Fable and probably a few others. The games are going to be sold for only 1200 Microsoft points of just $15. This is going to be a great deal.

Also on November 15th, the actual 5 year anniversary of Xbox Live, Microsoft is going to give every game on Xbox Live one free Xbox Live Arcade download.

Korean gamers will be able to download Hexic 2 as their free game, while the rest of the world will get Carcossonne. Every Xbox Live subscriber since 2002 will also get 500 free Microsoft points.

This is big news as Microsoft will now be able to compete with the PS3 and Nintendo Wii as the PS3 offers original PlayStation games for download, while the Wii offers the Virtual Console with NES, SNES, Genesis, N64 games and more for download.


The Xbox is a sixth generation video game console produced by Microsoft Corporation. It was Microsoft's first foray into the gaming console market, and competed directly with Sony's PlayStation 2, and the Nintendo GameCube. It was first released on November 15, 2001 in North America; February 22, 2002 in Japan; and on March 14, 2002 in Europe. The Australian launch came on April 26 of the same year. It is the predecessor to Microsoft's Xbox 360 console. The Xbox was Microsoft's first product that ventured into the console arena, after having collaborated with Sega in porting Windows CE to the Dreamcast console.

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