Saturday, September 27, 2008

Does Hot Water Freeze Faster Than Cold Water?

From Live Science:

Determining whether or not hot water can freeze faster than cold water may seem like a no-brainer. After all, water freezes at 0 degrees Celsius. And wouldn’t water hot enough to kill E. coli bacteria (about 120 degrees Fahrenheit or 50 degrees Celsius) take a longer path than cooler water at a fall New England beach (about 60 degrees Fahrenheit or 15 degrees Celsius) towards a frigid future as ice? While a logical assumption, it turns out that hot water can freeze before cooler water under certain conditions.

This apparent quirk of nature is the "Mpemba effect," named after the Tanzanian high school student, Erasto Mpemba, who first observed it in 1963. The Mpemba effect occurs when two bodies of water with different temperatures are exposed to the same subzero surroundings and the hotter water freezes first. Mpemba’s observations confirmed the hunches of some of history’s most revered thinkers, such as Aristotle, Rene Descartes and Francis Bacon, who also thought that hot water froze faster than cold water.

Evaporation is the strongest candidate to explain the Mpemba effect. As hot water placed in an open container begins to cool, the overall mass decreases as some of the water evaporates. With less water to freeze, the process can take less time. But this doesn’t always work, especially when using closed containers that prevent evaporated water from escaping.

Read more ....

Rocket Man Is Sucessful Crossing The English Channel -- News Updates And Links

Yves Rossy flies across the channel using his jet wing. The former Swiss Air pilot traced the route first flown by French aviator Loius Bleriot (Fabrice Coffrini / AFP / Getty Images)

Rocket Man Completes First One-Man Jetpack
Flight Across Channel -- Daily Mail

He came. He soared. He conquered.

Birdman Yves Rossy powered into the record books yesterday with a remarkable cross-Channel flight - and a grin almost as big as his wingspan.

The Swiss adventurer stood on the White Cliffs of Dover after flying from France with a jet-propelled wing on his back and declared: 'It's like a dream come true.'

He parachuted into an English field 22 miles from Calais 13 minutes after takeoff. The 49-year-old aviator flew at up to 125mph after jumping from a plane 8,200ft above France.

Four jet engines on the single, 8ft wing allowed him to prove what he has always believed - that with a little help from technology, there's no reason why man shouldn't fly like a bird.

Read more ....

More News on The Rocket Man

"Fusion Man" makes historic Channel flight -- Reuters
Exclusive: I followed jetman Yves Rossy during the historic Channel crossing -- Times Online
To infinity... or just Dover?: Jetman crosses the English Channel -- The Independent
Jet Man Crosses English Channel -- New York Times
Swiss pilot flies across English Channel by jetpack -- National Post
Swiss 'rocketman' crosses the English Channel in 10 minutes (Pictures) -- L.A. Times

What's Driving China's Space Efforts?

This undated photo released on Tuesday September 23, 2008, by China's official Xinhua news agency shows technicians help the Shenzhou-7 manned spaceship to dock with the Long-March II-F rocket at an assembly plant. (AP Photo/Xinhua, Qin Xian'an)

From The BBC:

The launch of Shenzhou-VII by China is another reminder of the country's growing confidence and capability in space.

It delivers a message to the traditional space powers: after a slow start, China is rising fast.

This mission is a critical step in a "three-step" human spaceflight programme aimed at docking spacecraft together to form a small orbiting laboratory and, ultimately, building a large space station.

It has sent a robotic spacecraft, Chang'e, to the Moon and there are plans to land a robotic rover on the lunar surface in 2010.

Last year, China faced international criticism when it used a medium-range ballistic missile to destroy an ageing weather satellite in a weapons test.

But what are the forces driving Beijing's space endeavours?

Read more ....

In A Storm Surge, Elevation Is The Key To Survive

Ike Obliterated Most Homes, But Spared One On Church Street -- Houston Chronicle

There's a new landmark in Gilchrist, one of the towns on Bolivar Peninsula that Hurricane Ike ravaged and left for dead.

The fire station is gone. The post office is gone. Every structure on the gulf side of this tight-knit community is gone.

Except for one house.

Standing tall, as if in defiance of Ike's windy, watery wrath, is the home of Pam and Warren Adams, who built the place in 2005 after Hurricane Rita destroyed their older home on the same lot.

On Friday, the first day many residents were allowed back on the peninsula, the couple returned to Church Street, ready to help neighbors whose homes no longer stood with theirs.

"I think I'm going through survivor's guilt," said Pam Adams, even though her home is uninhabitable, its main floor covered with mud brought in by the storm surge. "But the fact that the house is standing, that it survived, is awesome. Gilchrist is still here. It's faith and hopefulness."

The Adams had already been back to see their house, so they knew what to expect. But for the people who live west of Rollover Pass — the residents and homeowners returning to the peninsula for the first time since the hurricane — it was surreal.

Read more ....

Friday, September 26, 2008

UN Urged To Coordinate Killer Asteroid Defences

From The New Scientist:

The technology to detect and deflect dangerous space rocks already exists – all that's missing is someone to coordinate its use.

That is the finding of a two-year investigation by the Association of Space Explorers (ASE), an international group of astronauts, cosmonauts, and members of space community. The group unveiled the results of its research at the offices of the Google Foundation in San Francisco yesterday.

The report asks the UN to assume responsibility for responding to potentially catastrophic asteroid threats. "For 4.5 billion years, we've been bashed continuously by asteroids. It's time for that to stop," former Apollo 9 astronaut Rusty Schweickart told the assembly.

The ASE's vision is first for a global information network, coordinated by the UN, that uses data from ground- and space-based telescopes to find, track and rate the risk of near-Earth objects (NEOs).

Currently, NASA is watching 209 NEOs, none of which is considered to be dangerous. But a threat is likely to be detected within the next 15 years, according to the ASE. "New telescopes coming online will increase these discoveries by a factor of 100," said Ed Lu, astronaut on space shuttle Atlantis.

Read more ....

Extracting Energy From The Tides

Water Powered: Two prototype balloons for CETO’s wave farm. Photo by Jason Thomas

Burning the Tide -- Popsci

Alan Burns made a fortune in the oil business. But as oil wanes, he’s convinced that clean energy will be—must be—the next big thing. And so this inventor has poured his fortune into a challenge far greater than finding new oil deposits: extracting energy from the ocean

Alan Burns breaks the surface with a huge grin on his face, his baggy black wetsuit hanging off his body like walrus skin. It’s a scorching February afternoon, and we’re floating in the clear blue water of the Indian Ocean. To our left is the Australian resort island of Rottnest. To our right—just beyond Burns’s dazzling white yacht—is several thousand miles of open sea. And beneath us, the kelp forest where we had been diving moments before is swaying to the rhythm of the waves. “Can you feel the power down there?” Burns asks as we bob in the water, his sunburned cheeks puckered up behind a dripping diving mask. “This is what made me think of it, really.”

Burns is a prodigious inventor and a staunch supporter of clean energy, but he’s no sentimental environmentalist. He’s an oilman. He made his first fortune in the mid-1970s with oil and gas discoveries off Australia’s northwestern coast. In 1987 he founded the exploration company Hardman Resources, which, after an extremely profitable series of finds off the coast of Africa, was sold in 2006 to another oil company for more than $1 billion. Today the 67-year-old entrepreneur is among the wealthiest men in Perth, the tropical, seaside capital of Western Australia. And although he still runs a mineral-exploration company, he spends 90 percent of his time nurturing the wave-power-generation system he first sketched out some 30 years ago.

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Van Gogh Painting Uncovered By New Xray Machine

Rolling back the centuries: Dr Karen Rickers, above, fires the accelerator

From The Telegraph:

A new technique promises to reveal hundreds of masterpieces hidden beneath later works. Harry de Quetteville reports

It amounts to the biggest single art find: a host of unseen works by masters old and new, from Rembrandt to Van Gogh and Picasso. But these works can't be seen on the walls of any gallery or museum. And they are hidden not in a safe or bank vault, but on canvases which the artists themselves painted over.

Now, however, scientists are employing a revolutionary technique to reveal these spectacular images. Using circular particle accelerators, hundreds of metres across, they fire Xrays 10,000 times more powerful than any hospital scan at the priceless paintings.

It is not the first time that art historians have employed science to peer beyond the façade of masterworks. Leonardo, Brueghel and Courbet are some of the many artists whose canvases are emerging as ultra-valuable palimpsests, where the original image has been muffled by over-eager restoration or concealed by over-painting.

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New Life Found in Old Tombs

From Live Science:

Talk about secrets of the crypt: Two newly discovered species of bacteria have been found on the walls of ancient Roman tombs.

Bacteria often grow on the walls of underground tombs, causing decay and damaging these archaeological sites. Scientists in Italy found the two new microbes while studying decayed surfaces in the Catacombs of Saint Callistus in Rome.

The Catacombs of Saint Callistus are part of a massive underground graveyard that covers 37 acres. The tombs, named after Pope Saint Callistus I, were built at the end of the second century. More than 30 popes and martyrs are buried in the catacombs.

The new bacteria, part of the Kribbella genus first discovered in 1999, were isolated from whitish-gray patinas, or coatings, on surfaces in the catacombs. They have been named Kribbella catacumbae and Kribbella sancticallisti.

The discovery is detailed in the September issue of the International Journal of Systematic and Evolutionary Mircobiology.

Read more ....

Why Earth's Magnetic Field Flip-Flops

Earth's magnetic field may actually be two fields from separate sources. Credit: Dreamstime

From Live Science:

Every so often, Earth's magnetic field flips on its head, turning the magnetic North Pole into the South Pole and vice versa.

It last happened 780,000 years ago, and is predicted to occur again in about 1,500 years ... maybe. The overall frequency is hard to predict — there was one period in Earth's history when the field didn't reverse for 30 million years.

Why these flip-flops happen at all is a great riddle, but a new hypothesis on the origins of the magnetic field could shed light on the reason.

Read more ....

The Finest Science Images of 2008: Your Pick

From Wired Science:

The year's finest science images and visualizations have been announced -- and now it's your turn to pick a winner.

The entries come from the 2008 International Science and Engineering Visualization Challenge, sponsored by the National Science Foundation and the journal Science.

Below are not only the winners of the photography, illustration and visualization categories, but the runners-up. The images are so uniformly amazing that you might prefer one of the contenders.

One week from now, we'll close the voting and announce your category winners -- and, of course, the über-winner.

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Scientists Report Advance in Stem Cell Alternative

Human embryonic stem cell (gold) growing on a layer of supporting cells (fibroblasts).

From the Washington Post:

Scientists reported yesterday that they have overcome a major obstacle to using a promising alternative to embryonic stem cells, bolstering prospects for bypassing the political and ethical tempest that has embroiled hopes for a new generation of medical treatments.

The researchers said they found a safe way to coax adult cells to regress into an embryonic state, alleviating what had been the most worrisome uncertainty about developing the cells into potential cures.

"We have removed a major roadblock for translating this into a clinical setting," said Konrad Hochedlinger, a Harvard University stem cell researcher whose research was published online yesterday by the journal Science. "I think it's an important advance."

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Russia, Georgia and the Space Station

An Editorial From The New York Times:

Unless the Senate acts soon, the United States could lose its access to the International Space Station. The country is in a bind because NASA plans to retire the aging space shuttle fleet two years from now. Without a Congressional waiver, the agency will be barred from buying seats on Russia’s space vehicles.

Many members of Congress are understandably furious over Russia’s invasion of Georgia. Unless they approve a waiver, the United States will have to remove its crew from the space station in 2011 — leaving a very expensive investment essentially to the Russians.

The shuttles’ successor vehicle, the Orion, won’t be ready before 2015. That leaves a five-year gap where the only way to reach the station is via Russia’s Soyuz vehicles. The capsules carry Russian cosmonauts and ferried American astronauts after the Columbia accident.

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Space Exploration Key To Mankind's Survival: NASA Chief

NASA Administrator Michael Griffin

From Breitbart/AFP:

Mankind's very survival depends on the future exploration of space, said NASA chiMichael Griffin in an interview with AFP marking the 50th anniversary of the US space agency.

This journey, said the veteran physicist and aerospace engineer, is full of unknowns and has only just begun.

"Does the survival of human kind depend upon it? I think so," he said.

Griffin compared the first walk on the Moon with Christopher Columbus's first voyage to the Americas.

"He travelled for months and spent a few weeks in the Americas and returned home. He could hardly have said to have explored the New World.

"So we have just begun to touch other worlds," said Griffin.

"I think we must return to the Moon because it's the next step. It's a few days from home," he said, adding Mars was also "only a few months" from Earth.

Read more ....

Thursday, September 25, 2008

More News On China's Experimental Space Drive

Chinese Say They're Building 'Impossible' Space Drive
-- Wired Magazine

Chinese researchers claim they've confirmed the theory behind an "impossible" space drive, and are proceeding to build a demonstration version. If they're right, this might transform the economics of satellites, open up new possibilities for space exploration –- and give the Chinese a decisive military advantage in space.

To say that the "Emdrive" (short for "electromagnetic drive") concept is controversial would be an understatement. According to Roger Shawyer, the British scientist who developed the concept, the drive converts electrical energy into thrust via microwaves, without violating any laws of physics. Many researchers believe otherwise. An article about the Emdrive in New Scientist magazine drew a massive volley of criticism. Scientists not only argued that Shawyer's work was blatantly impossible, and that his reasoning was flawed. They also said the article should never have been published.

Read more ....

Ageing Mars Rover To Embark On Epic Two-Year Journey To Giant Crater... Despite Wobbly Wheel

Great Endeavour: An artist's impression of the Mars rover Opportunity, which will make a seven-mile journey from one crater to another over the next two years

From The Daily Mail:

The ageing but intrepid Mars rover Opportunity is set to embark on a two-year mission it may never complete - a seven-mile journey to a crater far bigger than one it has called home for two years, NASA have revealed.

The golf-cart-sized robot with a wobbly front wheel climbed out of Victoria crater earlier this month and scientists at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California are steering the probe toward a crater more than 20 times larger, dubbed Endeavor.

But with the rover able to travel only 110 yards per day, the mission control team at JPL said it could take two years for Opportunity to reach its destination. There is no guarantee the vehicle will survive the trip.

Opportunity, like its twin rover Spirit, semi-idle for the moment on the opposite side of Mars, is well past its original three-month life expectancy.

The seven-mile stretch between Victoria and Endeavor craters matches the total distance the rover already has covered in the four-and-a-half years since landing on the planet.

Read more ....

Simple Device Which Uses Electrical Field Could Boost Gas Efficiency

From E!Science News:

With the high cost of gasoline and diesel fuel impacting costs for automobiles, trucks, buses and the overall economy, a Temple University physics professor has developed a simple device which could dramatically improve fuel efficiency as much as 20 percent. According to Rongjia Tao, Chair of Temple's Physics Department, the small device consists of an electrically charged tube that can be attached to the fuel line of a car's engine near the fuel injector. With the use of a power supply from the vehicle's battery, the device creates an electric field that thins fuel, or reduces its viscosity, so that smaller droplets are injected into the engine. That leads to more efficient and cleaner combustion than a standard fuel injector, he says.

Six months of road testing in a diesel-powered Mercedes-Benz automobile showed that the device increased highway fuel from 32 miles per gallon to 38 mpg, a 20 percent boost, and a 12-15 percent gain in city driving.

The results of the laboratory and road tests verifying that this simple device can boost gas mileage was published in Energy & Fuels, a bi-monthly journal published by the American Chemical Society.

Read more ....

Rocks May Be Oldest on Earth, Scientists Say

Researchers report that this rock is 4.28 billion years old and
formed when the Earth was less than 300 million years old.

From The New York Times:

A swath of bedrock in northern Quebec may be the oldest known piece of the Earth’s crust.

In an article appearing in Friday’s issue of the journal Science, scientists report that portions of that bedrock are 4.28 billion years old, formed when the Earth was less than 300 million years old.

“These rocks paint this picture of an early Earth that looked pretty much like the modern Earth,” said Richard Carlson of the Carnegie Institution of Washington and one of the authors of the paper.

Other scientists are intrigued, but not yet entirely convinced that the rocks are quite that old.

“There is a certain amount of healthy skepticism that needs to play a role here,” said Stephen J. Mojzsis, a professor of geological sciences at the University of Colorado. Dr. Mojzsis said the new research was well done, but that he thought these were younger sedimentary rocks, pressed together out of the remnants of earlier rocks that were indeed 4.28 billion years old.

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A New Era For Wave Energy

From CNN:

LONDON, England (CNN) -- The renewable energy sector has received a boost with the inauguration of the world's first commercial wave power project off the Portuguese coast.

Developed by a Scottish engineering company, Pelamis Wave Power Limited, the Pelamis Wave Energy Converters (PWEC) have been towed into position three miles off the coast of Agucadoura in north Portugal.

The first phase of the project is using three PWEC to generate 2.25 megawatts of power at a cost of nine million euros.

If successful, a second phase will see energy generation rise to 21 megawatts from a further 25 machines providing electricity for 15,000 Portuguese homes.

The project is a joint venture between Pelamis Wave Power Limited, Babcock and Brown Ltd -- a global specialist asset manager, Energias de Portugal (EDP) and Portuguese energy group EFACEC.

Read more ....

Colorful Study Probes Climate Change, Fall Foliage

From ABC News:

Where tourists swarm to see fall colors, study examines climate change's effects

Could climate change dull the blazing palette of New England's fall foliage? The answer could have serious implications for one of the region's signature attractions, which draws thousands of "leaf peepers" every autumn.

Biologists at the University of Vermont's Proctor Maple Research Center will do some leaf peeping of their own to find out — studying how temperature affects the development of autumn colors and whether the warming climate could mute them, prolong the foliage viewing season or delay it.

Using a three-year, $45,000 U.S. Department of Agriculture grant, they're planning to measure the color pigments in leaves exposed to varying temperatures in hopes of finding a pattern. The study starts next month, although some experiments are already under way.

"It is getting warmer, and people want to know how that's going to affect this big process that's so important to us," said research associate Abby van den Berg.

Read more ....

NAS Reports: 50 Million Year Cooling Trend

Graph above added by Anthony - not part of original article

From Watts Up With That?:

With all the focus on human-triggered global warming, it may be hard to imagine that the world is riding a 50-million-year-long cooling trend.

But it is, and blame the trend on a continental-scale collision, say geophysicists Dennis Kent of Rutgers University and Giovanni Muttoni of the University of Milan in Italy.

Researchers say there is strong evidence that increases in atmospheric CO2 contributed to a warm spell 50 million years ago dubbed the Early Eocene climate optimum - the warmest period in 65 million years. But over the following 15 million years, deep sea temperatures fell by about 10.8 degrees F., reflecting a significant cooling at the surface. This cooling ultimately allowed the cycle of ice ages to emerge.

Drs. Kent and Muttoni have mined paleomagnetic and other data and suggest that atmospheric CO2 dropped because India collided with Eurasia, shutting down a productive, natural CO2 factory.

Read more ....

China launches riskiest space mission yet

From Space Daily:

China on Thursday launched its riskiest space flight yet, sending three men into orbit on a mission that will include the nation's first ever space walk, state media said.

The Shenzhou VII spacecraft lifted off from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre in northwest China at 9:10 pm (1310 GMT) in the presence of President Hu Jintao and other senior leaders, state television reported live.

"The successful launch marked the first victory of the Shenzhou VII mission," a triumphant Hu said.

As the spacecraft entered its pre-set orbit, the three astronauts kept in contact with ground control, occasionally waving to a camera as notebooks floated around in the weightlessness of their shuttle cabin.

Hu earlier saw off the three, led by 41-year-old Zhai Zhigang, as they prepared for their 68-hour journey to space and back.

Read more ....

Formula Discovered For Longer Plant Life

From Science Daily:

ScienceDaily (Sep. 24, 2008) — Molecular biologists from Tuebingen, Germany, have discovered how the growth of leaves and the aging process of plants are coordinated.

Plants that grow more slowly stay fresh longer. Scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology in Tuebingen, Germany, have shown that certain small sections of genes, so-called microRNAs, coordinate growth and aging processes in plants.

These microRNAs inhibit certain regulators, known as TCP transcription factors. These transcription factors in turn influence the production of jasmonic acid, a plant hormone. The higher the number of microRNAs present, the lower the number of transcription factors that are active, and the smaller the amount of jasmonic acid, which is produced by the plant.

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World’s Largest Tsunami Debris Discovered

Tongatapu boulder. (Credit: Courtesy of M. Hornbach)

From Science Daily:

ScienceDaily (Sep. 25, 2008) — A line of massive boulders on the western shore of Tonga may be evidence of the most powerful volcano-triggered tsunami found to date. Up to 9 meters (30 feet) high and weighing up to 1.6 million kilograms (3.5 million pounds), the seven coral boulders are located 100 to 400 meters (300 to 1,300 feet) from the coast.

The house-sized boulders were likely flung ashore by a wave rivaling the 1883 Krakatau tsunami, which is estimated to have towered 35 meters (115 feet) high.

“These could be the largest boulders displaced by a tsunami, worldwide,” says Matthew Hornbach of the University of Texas Institute for Geophysics. “Krakatau’s tsunami was probably not a one-off event.” Hornbach and his colleagues will discuss these findings at the Joint Annual Meeting of the Geological Society of America (GSA), Soil Science Society of America (SSSA), American Society of Agronomy (ASA), Crop Science Society of America (CSSA), and the Gulf Coast Association of Geological Societies (GCAGS), in Houston, Texas, USA.*

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China Near's Completion Of Its Own Emdrive

Wired reports that China will build the Controversial Emdrive.

This site has covered the Emdrive several times before, including the controversy, and the upside. A successful superconducting system would be most efficient at nulling out gravity (3 tons of lift per kilowatt).

Read more ....

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Father Of The Internet: 'Web Is Running Out Of Addresses'

From Times Online:

The world is about to run out of the internet addresses that allow computers to identify each other and communicate, the man who invented the system has told The Times.

Vint Cerf, the “father of the internet” and one of the world’s leading computer scientists, said that businesses and consumers needed to act now to switch to the next generation of net addresses. Unless preparations were made now, he said, some computers might not be able to go online and the connectivity of the internet might be damaged.

Mr Cerf said that internet service providers in particular needed to prepare and that time was running out for a smooth transition.

Every computer and online device is assigned a unique IP address, but the pool of unallocated numbers is about to dry up.

Read more ....

Melamine 'Widespread' In China's Food Chain

From New Scientist:

Melamine, the chemical that has tainted milk formula in China and made thousands of children ill, may have been part of the food chain in China for a long time, say food experts. But the health effects of long-term exposure in adults are unclear.

So far, 53,000 infants have fallen ill after drinking formula milk deliberately adulterated with melamine. Four babies have died, 13,000 have been hospitalised and 104 are in a critical condition with kidney stones caused by the adulterant. A girl in Hong Kong has become the first case of poisoning outside China.

The makers of baby formula require their milk to have a high protein content, which they determine by measuring its nitrogen content. But farmers who produce milk that doesn't meet this standard can beat the test by mixing it with melamine powder.

Read more ....

Planets Caught In "Catastrophic Collision"

Planetary collision: An artist's rendering depicts planets colliding in a Sun-like binary star system about 300 light-years from Earth, in the constellation Aries.

From Cosmos Magazine:

LOS ANGELES: Two planets about 300 light-years from Earth slammed into each other recently, marking the first time evidence of such a catastrophic collision has been seen by scientists.

Astronomers from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and the California Institute of Technology (CALTECH) said the crash involved two planets orbiting a star in the Aries constellation.

Massive and catastrophic

The collision was uncovered while astronomers were attempting to measure the star's age, and found an unusually large amount of dust orbiting the star.

"It's as if Earth and Venus collided with each other," said Benjamin Zuckerman, a UCLA professor of physics and astronomy. "Astronomers have never seen anything like this before. Apparently, major catastrophic collisions can take place in a fully mature planetary system."

The astronomers' research will be published in December in the Astrophysical Journal. The collision was an "ultimate extinction event" that would have wiped out any life on either planet in minutes, the report says.

The prospect of Earth suffering an apocalyptic collision with another planet or asteroid has been fodder for science-fiction writers and film-makers ever since Philip Wylie and Edwin Balmer's 1933 novel When Worlds Collide.

Read more ....

Weaker Solar Wind Won't Slow Global Warming, May Threaten Astronauts

From Popular Mechanics:

If a spacecraft keeps chugging along for long enough, eventually it may find something startling.

Ulysses, a satellite operated by NASA and the European Space Agency, has been observing solar wind—charged particles ejected by the sun's upper atmosphere—since its launch in 1990. It's been around long enough to see two solar minimums, when the sun's radiation reaches the lowest point in an 11-year cycle, and a solar maximum, when the sun spouts sunspots and spews its highest level of radiation. But what Ulysses found during the most recent solar minimum has surprised astrophysicists: The solar wind was 20 to 25 percent weaker than during the last minimum, NASA and ESA announced at a press conference on Tuesday, and the weakest since they began measuring it at the dawn of the space age a half-century ago.

It's an exciting find for scientists studying the stars—a new weather condition adds a new variable in terms of research. But what does a weak solar wind really mean?

Read more ....

Pictured: The Dark Matter Galaxy That Could Be Orbiting Our Milky Way

The recently discovered galaxy 'Segue 1' orbits the Milky Way, and is believed to
be composed of mainly dark matter

The Daily Mail:

A satellite galaxy made almost entirely of dark matter could be orbiting the Milky Way, a new image has revealed.

It is one of 24 neighbouring galaxies spotted by the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, which has recorded the night sky in greater detail than ever before.

The results have doubled the number of known dwarf galaxies orbiting the Milky Way.

The latest finding is particularly significant as it appears to have a very low light-to-mass ratio - a billion times less bright than the Milky Way itself.

Yale Professor of Astronomy Marla Geha, who led the team that made the discovery, believes that the galaxy, named 'Segue 1' is mainly composed of dark matter.

The scientists studying the galaxy believe this is due to the fact that despite having a mass of a million suns, it is not nearly as bright as it should be.

Read more ....

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Caffeine Experts At Johns Hopkins Call For Warning Labels For Energy Drinks

From E!Science News:

Johns Hopkins scientists who have spent decades researching the effects of caffeine report that a slew of caffeinated energy drinks now on the market should carry prominent labels that note caffeine doses and warn of potential health risks for consumers. "The caffeine content of energy drinks varies over a 10-fold range, with some containing the equivalent of 14 cans of Coca-Cola, yet the caffeine amounts are often unlabeled and few include warnings about the potential health risks of caffeine intoxication," says Roland Griffiths, Ph.D., one of the authors of the article that appears in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence this month.

The market for these drinks stands at an estimated $5.4 billion in the United States and is expanding at a rate of 55 percent annually. Advertising campaigns, which principally target teens and young adults, promote the performance-enhancing and stimulant effects of energy drinks and appear to glorify drug use.

Without adequate, prominent labeling; consumers most likely won't realize whether they are getting a little or a lot of caffeine. "It's like drinking a serving of an alcoholic beverage and not knowing if its beer or scotch," says Griffiths.

Read more ....

Green Ways To Care For Your Pet

Dirty Dogs and Carbon Cats -- The Slate

The greenest ways to care for your pet.

This one is a little gross, but I have lots of pets at home, and most of my weekly waste is composed of dog and cat poop. What's the best way to dispose of all that so that I don't end up hurting the environment?

The Lantern has never been trusted to care for any pet larger than a hamster—rest in peace, Fonzie!—so he'll admit that this question falls a little outside his comfort zone. But your question raises an important point: To own a dog or cat can significantly increase the ecological footprint of your household. The Lantern hopes to cover other aspects of domestic animal husbandry in the future, but today let's focus one of the most important ways you can manage your pet's "pawprint": responsible waste disposal.

Whether you have a dog or a cat, you'll have two problems to deal with: How do you collect your animal's poop, and what do you do with it once you have it in hand? Most dog owners have been conditioned to clean up after their pets when they walk on public streets and sidewalks. But it's just as important to dispose properly of dog waste in your own backyard. Pet waste contains bacteria that can contaminate local waterways if it washes from your lawn into storm drains. In large enough quantities, this pollution can remove oxygen from streams and rivers and contribute to algal blooms, threatening marine life.

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Sun's Wind And Output On Extended Dimmer Switch: Scientists

From CNews Science:

WASHINGTON - The sun has dialled back its furnace to the lowest levels seen in the space age, new measurements from a space probe show.

But don't worry - it's too small a difference to change life on Earth, scientists say.

In fact, it means satellites can stay in orbit a little longer.

The solar wind - a stream of charged particles ejected from the sun's upper atmosphere at 1.6 million kilometres per hour - is significantly weaker, cooler and less dense than it has been in 50 years, according to new data from the NASA-European solar probe Ulysses.

And for the first time in about a century, the sun went for two months this summer without sunspots, said NASA solar physicist David Hathaway.

Read more ....

New Optics Technology To Study Alien Worlds

Artist's concept of the New Worlds Observatory. The dark, flower-shaped object in the center is the star shade. (Credit: NASA and Northrop Grumman)

From Science Daily:

ScienceDaily (Sep. 24, 2008) — NASA Goddard scientist Rick Lyon has been working on potential missions and technologies to find planets around other stars (called exoplanets or extrasolar planets) since the late 1980s. Only recently has he begun to believe that NASA may actually fly a planet-finding mission in his lifetime.

"This is the closest it’s come to being real," he said.

Lyon and other scientists and engineers at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., have joined teams studying optics technologies for three possible exoplanet missions: the Extrasolar Planetary Imaging Coronagraph (EPIC), the New Worlds Observer (NWO), and the eXtrasolar Planet Characterization (XPC) mission.

The possibility of a mission devoted to planet finding is tantalizing, especially to those interested in ratcheting up a science that began 13 years ago when astronomers found and confirmed the existence of the first planet outside the solar system. Since then, scientists have confirmed nearly 300, most of which are gas giants like Jupiter. However, most of these detections have been indirect, because the planets are too faint to be seen directly. Instead, their presence is revealed by measuring how much the unseen world's gravity pulls on its parent star.

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Chocolate Helps Heart Stay Healthy

From Live Science:

A small square of dark chocolate daily protects the heart from inflammation and subsequent heart disease, a new study of Italians suggests. Milk chocolate might not do the job.

However, this guilty pleasure has a limit.

Specifically, only 6.7 grams of chocolate per day (or 0.23 ounces) represents the ideal amount, according to results from the Moli-sani Project, one of the largest health studies ever conducted in Europe. For comparison, a standard-sized Hershey's Kiss is about 4.5 grams (though the classic Kiss is not made of dark chocolate) and one Hershey's dark chocolate bar is about 41 grams (so a recommendation might be one of those weekly).

Chronic inflammation of tissues in the circulatory system is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease, such as myocardial infarction or stroke. So doctors strive to keep patients' inflammation under control. One marker for inflammation in the blood is called C-reactive protein.

The researchers found a relationship between dark chocolate intake and levels of this protein in the blood of 4,849 subjects in good health and free of risk factors (such as high cholesterol or blood pressure, and other parameters). The findings are detailed in the latest issue of the Journal of Nutrition.

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5 Myths About Wind Energy

Analysts estimate it would take at least 260,000 turbines, each 300 feet tall, to meet the United States' electricity needs. These turbines are in King City, Mo.
Credit: MU Cooperative Media Group, Steve Morse photo

From Live Science:

Editor's Note: Each Wednesday LiveScience examines the viability of emerging energy technologies — the power of the future.

Wind energy might be the simplest renewable energy to understand. Yet there are misconceptions about what makes the wind industry turn.

The United States now has nearly 17,000 megawatts of wind power installed, which can supply about 1.2 percent of the nation's demand for electricity, according to a recent report from the Department of Energy (DOE).

With these numbers projected to grow in the coming years, it might be good to be aware of a few myths that are blowing in the wind.

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Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Saturn's Rings May Be Billions of Years Old

From Universe Today:

Saturn's enigmatic rings may be much older and also much more massive than previously thought, according to a new study. Because Saturn's rings look so clean and bright, it was thought the rings were younger than the planet itself, which is estimated to be about 4.5 billion years old. But using data from the Cassini spacecraft's UVIS (Ultraviolet Imaging Spectrograph) instrument, Principal Investigator Dr. Larry Esposito and his team used computer simulations to study colliding particles in Saturn's rings and their erosion by meteorites. Their results support the possibility that Saturn's rings formed billions of years ago, perhaps at the time when giant impacts excavated the great basins on the Moon. The findings also suggest that giant exoplanets may also commonly have rings.

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More Fears On Global Warming

Researchers believe the Arctic Ocean seabed is thawing in patches and releasing greenhouse gases

New Global Warming Threat As Scientists Discover Massive Methane 'Time Bomb' Under The Arctic Seabed -- Daily Mail

Global warming could rapidly accelerate as millions of tons of methane escape from beneath the Arctic seabed, scientists warned today.

Huge deposits of the greenhouse gas - 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide - are rising to the surface as the Arctic region heats up, according to preliminary findings.

Researchers found massive stores of sub-sea methane in several areas across thousands of square miles of the Siberian continental shelf and observed the gas bubbling up from the sea floor through 'chimneys', according to newspaper reports.

The researchers believe escaping sub-sea methane is connected to rises in temperatures in the Arctic region.

One of the expedition leaders, Orjan Gustafsson, of Stockholm University in Sweden, said researchers had found 'an extensive area of intense methane release'.

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UK Experts Say Stonehenge Was Place Of Healing -- Summary Of News Reports

A view of Stonehenge at sunrise. Two bluestone fragments found at Britain's prehistoric Stonehenge monument could prove that the mysterious stone circle was once a centre of healing, archaeologists said Monday. (AFP/File/Carl de Souza)

UK Experts Say Stonehenge Was Place of Healing
-- ABC News

The first excavation of Stonehenge in more than 40 years has uncovered evidence that the stone circle drew ailing pilgrims from around Europe for what they believed to be its healing properties, archaeologists said Monday.

Archaeologists Geoffrey Wainwright and Timothy Darvill said the content of graves scattered around the monument and the ancient chipping of its rocks to produce amulets indicated that Stonehenge was the primeval equivalent of Lourdes, the French shrine venerated for its supposed ability to cure the sick.

An unusual number of skeletons recovered from the area showed signs of serious disease or injury. Analysis of their teeth showed that about half were from outside the Stonehenge area.

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More News On Stonehenge

Stonehenge was built in 2300 BC as a 'prehistoric Lourdes', first dig in 44 years reveals -- Daily Mail
Stonehenge was ancient healing site: experts -- AFP
Stonehenge may have been pilgrimage site for sick -- Yahoo News/Reuters
Dig hints at Stonehenge’s healing role -- MSNBC
Stonehenge may have been an ancient Lourdes -- LA Times
Archeologists 'solve' mystery of Stonehenge -- CNews Science
Stonehenge was place of healing: experts -- The West

CERN'S Large Hadron Collider Shut Down Till Spring 2009 -- News Updates

A technician walks under the core magnet of the CMS (Compact Muon Solenoid) experiment at the European Organization for Nuclear Research CERN (Centre Europeen de Recherche Nucleaire) in the French village of Cessy, near Geneva, in this March 22, 2007 file photo. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

The world's largest physics experiment is on hold until spring while scientists and engineers try to figure out what caused a helium leak into the tunnel deep beneath the Large Hadron Collider, its operator says.

Making the tunnel warm enough for humans, then giving them the time to inspect the magnets blamed for the Sept. 19 leak, will take three to four weeks, the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) says in a statement. CERN believes a faulty electrical connection between two magnets that will guide protons in planned collision studies is behind the leak.

After the magnets are inspected and fixed, the collider must then undergo a scheduled winter maintenance, CERN says.

CERN Director General Robert Aymar admits that the delay "is undoubtedly a psychological blow."

“Nevertheless … I have no doubt that we will overcome this setback with the same degree of rigor and application,” Aymar says.

When we spoke to Judy Jackson of Fermilab yesterday, she told us that "there inevitably are going to be setbacks along the way — it's part of the process" of starting up a particle accelerator. You can read more about what she and theoretical physicist Sean Carroll had to say about the unexpected delays here.

More News On CERN's Atom Smasher

Large Hadron Collider shuts down early for the winter -- Science News
"Big Bang" collider to restart in spring 2009 -- Reuters
Collider halted until next year -- BBC News
Repairs and onset of winter mean Europe's atom smasher on ice until spring -- CNews Science
Atom smasher will have to wait until spring -- CNN Science
Supercollider shut down until spring -- MSNBC
CERN says collider will have to wait until spring -- International Herald Tribune
Damage to atom smasher forces 2-month halt -- LA Times
'Big Bang Machine' to Be Shut Down Until Spring -- FOX News
Collider halted till next year over magnets problem -- Independent
Faulty Transformer Sidelines Atom Smasher -- CBS News
Atom-smasher shut down for two months after malfunction -- China View
Atom-smasher findings out soon -- News 24
Melted wire may shut down collider until '09 -- San Francisco Chronicle
LHC meltdown before first collision -- Nature News
The Large Hadron Collider News -- Nature News

Rescue Shuttle At Launch Pad For Hubble Trip

Hubble Telescope

From CNews:

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — In an unprecedented step, a space shuttle was moved to the launch pad Friday for a trip NASA hopes it will never make — a rescue mission.

The shuttle Endeavour is on standby in case the seven astronauts who go up on Atlantis next month need a safer ride home.

Atlantis and its crew are headed into space for one last repair job on the 18-year-old Hubble Space Telescope. It’s a venture that was canceled when first proposed a few years ago because it was considered too dangerous.

The risk is this: If Atlantis suffers serious damage during launch or in flight, the astronauts will not be at the international space station, where they could take refuge for weeks while awaiting a ride home. They would be stranded on their spacecraft at the Hubble, where NASA estimates they could stay alive for 25 days. Air would be the first to go.

Endeavour and four more astronauts would need to blast off on a rescue flight as soon as NASA determined Atlantis was too damaged to fly home.

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Duelling Banjos Ain't Got Nuthin On Duelling Birdsong

Birds' Harmonious Duets Can Be 'Aggressive Audio Warfare,'
Study Finds -- eScienceNews

Researchers reporting in the September 4th Current Biology, a Cell Press publication, have new insight into the motivating factors that drive breeding pairs of some tropical bird species to sing duets. Those duets can be so closely matched that human listeners often mistake them for solos. They now report evidence that male and female rufous-and-white wren partners sing as a way of keeping track of one another when they are apart. But the duets, as pleasant as they may sound, also have a more sinister purpose. During confrontations with rivals, the wrens essentially duel one another with their duets.

The discovery was made possible by sophisticated sound recording technology developed by the University of Windsor and Cornell University team. That system, including eight microphones recording to a single laptop computer, allowed them to triangulate the duetting birds' positions in the dense tropical forests of Costa Rica where they live.

"Your first impression after you hear the duet of a pair of tropical birds is one of great harmony and cooperation," said Daniel Mennill of the University of Windsor. "Their duets require coordination and synchronization, and my multi-microphone recordings confirm that birds do coordinate their activities by performing duets. But there is a darker side to duetting; tropical birds also perform duets in very aggressive contexts, and respond with special aggression to rival individuals of the same sex. Their voices are beautiful harmonies, but they're also aggressive audio warfare."

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The US Has No Option But To Use Russia's Soyuz Craft

The Soyuz TMA-9 crew capsule closes in on the space station with Earth as a backdrop, as seen in this September 2006 photo taken from the station. TMA-9 is due to become the longest-serving Soyuz craft in space history, with its landing coming 214 days after launch.

From Space Travel:

After 2010, the United States will likely be unable to deliver its astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) on its own. For several years Russia's Soyuz craft will remain the only vehicle available to do that, and the U.S. may find it hard to do without Russian cooperation.

During Senate hearings on Wednesday, September 17, William Burns, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, said the U.S. is depending on Russia for its ISS flights and that the Bush administration was in support of a Congressional amendment to exempt Russia's Soyuz vehicles from existing sanctions.

On Tuesday, September 23, the U.S. Congress will consider an amendment, supported by President George W. Bush, allowing the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to buy Russian Soyuz spacecraft and launch services.

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Wind Power's Impact On Climate

From The New York Times:

Q. Could a plan being explored to use wind to produce a third of the power for New York City affect weather systems?

A. The usual objections raised to wind farming involve aesthetic issues, expense, noise and fears of danger to wildlife, and the issue of weather impact from wind farming has not been conclusively studied.

There has been at least one preliminary study of wind farming that suggested the possibility of an adverse effect on local weather systems from a large wind farm with many rotors in one area. But the researchers also suggested that potential problems could be ameliorated by redesigning the rotors to produce less turbulence.

The study, published in October 2004 in The Journal of Geophysical Research, used a hypothetical model of a wind farm much larger than any that had been built: 10,000 turbines, with rotor blades 165 feet long, in a 60-by-60-mile grid in north-central Oklahoma.

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Monday, September 22, 2008

7,000 Years Ago, Neolithic Optical Art Flourished

Earliest Op-Art? Little is known about the Cucuteni-Trypillians. Excavation data revealed that they lived in proto-cities in what is now Romania, Ukraine and the Republic of Moldova. Their op-art like pottery, as shown in the piece here, was dominated by repeating lines, circles and spirals.

From MSNBC/Science:

An egalitarian Neolithic Eden filled with unique, geometric art flourished some 7,000 years ago in Eastern Europe, according to hundreds of artifacts on display at the Vatican.

Running until the end of October at the Palazzo della Cancelleria in the Vatican, the exhibition, "Cucuteni-Trypillia: A Great Civilization of Old Europe," introduces a mysterious Neolithic people who are now believed to have forged Europe's first civilization.

Little is known about these people — even their name is wrapped in mystery.

Archaeologists have named them "Cucuteni-Trypillians" after the villages of Cucuteni, near Lasi, Romania and Trypillia, near Kiev, Ukraine, where the first discoveries of this ancient civilization were made more than 100 years ago.

The excavated treasures — fired clay statuettes and op art-like pottery dating from 5000 to 3000 B.C. — immediately posed a riddle to archaeologists.

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Neanderthals Had A Taste For Seafood

The Gibraltar caves from the sea. All have evidence of Neanderthal occupation.
Photograph: Natural History Museum, London

From The Guardian - Science:

The last of the Neanderthals feasted on warmed mussels, baby seals and washed-up dolphins, according to fossil hunters working in ancient seaside caves in Gibraltar.

Excavations in the giant Gorham's and Vanguard caves on the Rock's eastern flank unearthed flint stone tools and remnants of seafood meals alongside the long-dead embers of hearths, which have been carbon-dated to around 28,000 years ago.

The findings suggest that Neanderthals who lived in the caves exploited the plentiful resources that the Mediterranean shoreline provided, and may help explain why groups living in Gibraltar clung on to life while those elsewhere became extinct around 7,000 years earlier.

An international team led by Chris Stringer at the Natural History Museum in London and Clive Finlayson at the Gibraltar Museum uncovered bones and shells that had clearly been butchered with primitive cutting and stripping tools.

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Continental Clash Cooled The Climate

From Science News:

The collision between India and Asia set off events that likely caused long-term cooling in Earth’s climate

When the tectonic plate carrying India slammed into Asia about 50 million years ago, the ensuing geological changes triggered a long-term cooling trend. That trend later enabled Antarctic ice sheets to grow, a new study suggests.

Before the collision, volcanoes along the rim of southern Asia spewed immense quantities of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Much of that planet-warming greenhouse gas came from seafloor, carbonate-rich sediments that were shoved below Asia by tectonic movements, says Dennis V. Kent, an earth scientist at Rutgers University in Piscataway, N.J. Carbon in those sediments soon reappeared in the atmosphere as the carbon dioxide spewing from volcanoes. When the India-Asia collision removed those seafloor sediments, that source of carbon dioxide disappeared, Kent and his colleagues argue in an upcoming Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Simultaneously, erosion of rocks on the Indian subcontinent — in particular, the chemical weathering of a large amount of basaltic rocks formed from volcanic eruptions just a few million years earlier — consumed large volumes of carbon dioxide. That double whammy, the researchers speculate, caused atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide to plummet, cooling Earth significantly.

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Picture For Today

Image of Sun and Moon at the North Pole: Real or Work of Art?

(Click To Enlarge)

Has this image been showing up in your email inbox, forwarded on from excited friends? Along with it may be the following words: "This is the sunset at the North Pole with the moon at its closest point. And you can also see the sun below the moon. An amazing photo and one not easily duplicated. You may want to save this and pass it on to others." It is a beautiful picture, but is it a real photo?

The answer is here.

New Test Shows If You Are A Shopaholic

From Live Science:

A new shopaholic test could tell if you should you leave your credit card at home when heading out to the mall.

The test makes it clear that there's shopping and then there's over-the-top purchasing that can wreak havoc on a person's life. People who become preoccupied with buying stuff and repeatedly spend money on items, regardless of need, are commonly referred to as shopaholics. Scientists call it compulsive buying.

The new test was administered along with a survey that revealed that nearly 9 percent of a sample of 550 university staff members, mostly women, would be considered compulsive buyers. Past studies had put the incidence of compulsive buying somewhere between 2 percent and 8 percent 15 years ago, and more recently, at nearly 6 percent, the researchers say. Other research has found men are just as addicted to shopping as women.

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Super Atoms

This superatom of aluminum and hydrogen is surprisingly stable.

Small, But Super -- Science News

These 'atoms' can't leap tall buildings in a single bound, but they have special powers

Gold comes in many colors. Since ancient times, glass artists and alchemists alike have known how to grind the metal into fine particles that would take on hues such as red or mauve. At scales even smaller, clusters of just a few dozen atoms display even more outlandish behavior. Gold and certain other atoms often tend to aggregate in specific numbers and highly symmetrical geometries, and sometimes these clusters can mimic the chemistry of single atoms of a completely different element. They become, as some researchers say, superatoms.

Recently researchers have reported successes in creating new superatoms and deciphering their structures. In certain conditions, even familiar molecules such as buckyballs — the soccer-ball–shaped cages made of 60 carbon atoms — unexpectedly turn into superatoms.

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Return Of The ’70s Weirdos

From Newsweek:

That photo of 11 weirdos in '70s clothes you may have seen on the Internet really is the original Microsoft team, snapped Dec. 7, 1978, on the eve of the company's move from Albuquerque, N.M., to Seattle. Almost 30 years later, a few weeks before Bill Gates's departure from Microsoft, the group (looking better) reconvened.

Bob Greenberg (center of old photo, in red sweater), then a programmer and now a tech and financial consultant, had won a photo portrait in a contest and used it to commemorate the soon-to-be disrupted group. The picture was shot in a shopping mall.

"The photo really does capture a moment of time and the spirit we had in the office," says cofounder Paul Allen (bottom right), now a media and sports mogul. Signing up for a little company in the then unknown field of PC software was a crazy leap of faith. "I could have had an office and a title from a respectable company—but I thought this would take off," says programmer Gordon Letwin (second row, right). He stuck around Microsoft until taking leave in 1993. Bob O'Rear (second row left, above Gates), the most experienced of the group (he'd been a NASA engineer, now he's a cattle rancher), concurs—sort of. "My concept of success for us was that someday we'd have 40 people or so."

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