Saturday, October 25, 2008

10 Optical Illusions In 2 Minutes

Stunning Pictures And Photos

(Photo from Smashing Magazine)

From Smashing Magazine:

Photography is a very powerful medium and a very difficult craft. Excellent photos don’t only display some facts — they tell stories, awake feelings and manage to share with the audience the emotions a photographer experienced when clicking the shot button. Taking excellent pictures is damn hard as you need to find a perfect perspective and consider the perfect timing. To achieve brilliant photography you need practice and patience. However, it is worth it: the results can be truly stunning.

Below you’ll find 50 brilliant photos and stunning pictures — some pictures tell stories, some are incredibly beautiful, some are funny and some are very sad.

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Astronomers Witness Supernova's First Moments

ONE IN 10,000: Astronomers caught a lucky break when a pair of supernovae exploded in spiral galaxy NGC 2770 within a few weeks of each other. While studying the first explosion, SN 2007uy, they caught the second supernova, SN 2008D, in real-time. NASA / Swift Science Team/ Stefan Immler

From The Scientific American:

Lucky catch supports long-standing view of supernova shock wave

Astronomers have observed for the first time the thunderclap of x-rays that announces a star has exploded into a supernova. Researchers monitoring spiral galaxy NGC 2770, approximately 88 million light-years away, observed a brief but intense flash of x-rays in early January, followed by a prolonged afterglow of visible and ultraviolet light—the hallmark of a supernova.

Although the x-ray outburst lasted only seven minutes, it flashed 100 billion times brighter than the sun in that time. Based on that brightness and the duration of the flash, researchers conclude that the star (SN 2008D) was approximately 20 times the size of the sun and was blown apart by a shock wave expanding outward at 70 percent the speed of light.

Writing in Nature, the group says the discovery offers the first direct evidence for astrophysical models of supernova shock waves that date to the 1970s.

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The History Of Hangovers

(Photo from The New York Times)

A Few Too Many -- The New Yorker

Is there any hope for the hung over?

Of the miseries regularly inflicted on humankind, some are so minor and yet, while they last, so painful that one wonders how, after all this time, a remedy cannot have been found. If scientists do not have a cure for cancer, that makes sense. But the common cold, the menstrual cramp? The hangover is another condition of this kind. It is a preventable malady: don’t drink. Nevertheless, people throughout time have found what seemed to them good reason for recourse to alcohol. One attraction is alcohol’s power to disinhibit—to allow us, at last, to tell off our neighbor or make an improper suggestion to his wife. Alcohol may also persuade us that we have found the truth about life, a comforting experience rarely available in the sober hour. Through the lens of alcohol, the world seems nicer. (“I drink to make other people interesting,” the theatre critic George Jean Nathan used to say.) For all these reasons, drinking cheers people up. See Proverbs 31:6-7: “Give . . . wine unto those that be of heavy hearts. Let him drink, and forget his poverty, and remember his misery no more.” It works, but then, in the morning, a new misery presents itself.

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Leg Up

Oscar Pistorius of South Africa (L) chases Martyn Rooney of Great Britain. (Photo from Slate)

From Slate:

The emerging supremacy of artificial limbs.

Oscar Pistorius was born with defective legs. Before his first birthday, they were amputated below the knee. That didn't stop him. Now 21, he has broken three world track records for disabled athletes and is racing to qualify for the 400 meters at this summer's Olympics. If he can shave four-tenths of a second off his best time, he'll make it.

How has he done it? One answer is superhuman grit. The other is superhuman legs. Pistorius runs on carbon-fiber prostheses made for sprinting. In January, the International Association of Athletics Federations declared them ineligible, claiming they were better than human legs. But on Friday, the Court of Arbitration for Sport overturned that decision, clearing his path to the Olympics.

Go, Oscar, go. We're all rooting for you to cross that finish line in Beijing. Just one note of caution: Don't win.

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What Happens To Your Web Stuff When You Die?

Will your photos and websites live on after you've gone? (Image from


Ensure your profiles and pics stay up if you pop your clogs

Technology can do many wonderful things, but sadly it can't stop the Grim Reaper - so what happens to your web posts when you die? Will your photos, blogs and websites still be around for your grandchildren to read, or will your online presence disappear when you do?

The law is clear enough, as Struan Robertson, Legal Director with Pinsent Masons and Editor of explains. "You can bequeath your copyright to others," he says. "So I can say in my will that I'm leaving all my rights in my photographs or website to a friend. If I don't do that, the copyright will belong to my estate - and in most cases it will survive for 70 years after my death."

Your estate may own the copyright, but that doesn't mean your stuff will stay online. "In most cases contracts will terminate with your death," Robertson says, "although it can depend on the terms of the contract."

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Planets Thought Dead Might Be Habitable

(Image From National Geographic)

From Live Science:

Astronomers have long talked about a "habitable zone" around a star as being a confined and predictable region where temperatures were not to cold, not to hot, so that a planet could retain liquid water and therefore support life as we know it.

The zone may not be so fixed, it turns out. Some extrasolar planets that one might assume are too cold to host life could in fact be made habitable by a squishing effect from their stars, a new study found.

A planet's midsection gets stretched out by its star's gravity so that its shape is slightly more like a cigar than a sphere. Some planets travel non-circular, or elongated paths around their stars. As such a world moves closer to the star, it stretches more, and when it moves farther away, the stretching decreases.

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Scientists Fixing Hubble Contend With Antiquated Computers

This full-size mock up of the Hubble Space Telescope's computer system, is where NASA astronauts train before going up to work on the telescope, and where Goddard Space Flight Center scientists test their theories about how to fix Hubble. (Photograph courtesy of NASA)

From Popular Mechanics:

NASA scientists trying to find out what went wrong during last week's repair of the Hubble Space Telescope find themselves dealing with 486 processors and other outdated computer technology. But sometimes, mission managers say, simple is good when you're out in space—as long as you know how to talk to decades-old computers.

The Hubble needs service—again. The space telescope has beamed gorgeous images of the universe down to Earth for 17 years and has undergone four servicing missions by space shuttles. A September 27 failure in the Science Data Formatter pushed back a planned fifth and final servicing mission aboard the space shuttle Atlantis from this month until February 2009. While trying to switch over some of the telescope's electrical systems to redundant backup versions remotely, the team at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland hit two anomalies that caused the telescope to enter "safe mode" and stop most science operations. Goddard scientists think they have found the cause, and hope that operations will resume this weekend. But perhaps finding a few problems should come as no surprise—not only have Hubble's backup systems sat idle for 18 years, but the telescope operates with computer systems long outdated here on Earth.

Read more ....

Friday, October 24, 2008

Out of Thin Air: How Money is Really Made

Newer bills cary security threads, color-shifting ink and watermarks. None of that insures the money will grow, however. For that, you need lots of lending and even more faith.

From Live Science:

Making money in 2008 looks like a grim proposition, but not because U.S. government printing presses can't create enough dollar bills.

The U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing (whose web site name perhaps says it all: churns out about 38 million bills of varying denominations daily, all worth $750 million in face value. Facilities in Fort Worth, Texas and Washington D.C. use 18 tons of ink per day to keep up.

Yet 95 percent of fresh notes simply replace those already in circulation. Common $1 bills last about 21 months, while a $100 bill can go for roughly 7.4 years before requiring replacement. Taken all together, these physical bills represent just a drop in the bucket of global money.

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Drought Resistance Is The Goal, But Methods Differ

Jacqueline Heard directs Monsanto's program for drought-tolerant crops at its research center in Mystic, Connecticut. (Wendy Carlson for The New York Times )

From International Herald Tribune:

GRAND ISLAND, Nebraska: To satisfy the world's growing demand for food, scientists are trying to pull off a genetic trick that nature itself has had trouble accomplishing in millions of years of evolution. They want to create varieties of corn, wheat and other crops that can thrive with little water.

As the world's population expands and global warming alters weather patterns, water shortages are expected to hold back efforts to grow more food. People drink only a quart or two of water every day, but the food they eat in a typical day, including plants and meat, requires 2,000 to 3,000 quarts to produce.

For companies that manage to get "more crop per drop," the payoff could be huge, and scientists at many of the biggest agricultural companies are busy tweaking plant genes in search of the winning formula.

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Computer Circuit Built From Brain Cells

Image Is From Reading Eagle

From New Scientist Tech:

For all its sophistication and power, your brain is built from unreliable components – one neuron can successfully provoke a signal in another only 40% of the time.

This lack of efficiency frustrates neuroengineers trying to build networks of brain cells to interface with electronics or repair damaged nervous systems.

Our brains combine neurons into heavily connected groups to unite their 40% reliability into a much more reliable whole.

Now human engineers working with neurons in the lab have achieved the same trick: building reliable digital logic gates that perform like those inside electronics.
Built from scratch

Elisha Moses at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel, and his students Ofer Feinerman and Assaf Rotem have developed a way to control the growth pattern of neurons to build reliable circuits that use neurons rather than wires.

The starting point is a glass plate coated with cell-repellent material. The desired circuit pattern is scratched into this coating and then coated with a cell-friendly adhesive. Unable to gain purchase on most of the plate, the cells are forced to grow in the scratched areas.

The scratched paths are thin enough to force the neurons to grow along them in one direction only, forming straight wire-like connections around the circuit.

Using this method the researchers built a device that acts like an AND logic gate, producing an output only when it receives two inputs.

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Giant Spider Eating A Bird Caught On Camera

From The Telegraph:

Photographs of a giant spider eating a bird in an Australian garden have stunned wildlife experts.

The pictures show the spider with its long black legs wrapped around the body of a dead bird suspended in its web.

The startling images were reportedly taken in Atheron, close to Queensland's tropical north.

Despite their unlikely subject matter, the pictures appear to be real.

Joel Shakespeare, head spider keeper at the Australian Reptile Park, said the spider was a Golden Orb Weaver.

"Normally they prey on large insects… it's unusual to see one eating a bird," he told

Mr Shakepeare said he had seen Golden Orb Weaver spiders as big as a human hand but the northern species in tropical areas were known to grow larger.

Queensland Museum identified the bird as a native finch called the Chestnut-breasted Mannikin.

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New Earthbound Telescopes Will Be Hundreds of Times Sharper Than Hubble

Smart Starlight: The Hubble Space Telescope sees a star as a blob (simulated, left), but MROI will be able to see features on the surface. Star spots (simulated, right) can indicate a star’s age because they are caused by magnetic activity that ebbs as a star gets older.

From Popular Mechanics:

One mountaintop telescope may not be able to do it alone, but a new array of telescopes under construction in the New Mexico desert will offer never-before-seen cosmic vistas.

On a 10,500-ft.-high mountaintop above the New Mexico desert, construction has begun on a $45 million array of telescopes that will reveal enlightening details of stars and black holes. The Magdalena Ridge Observatory Interferometer (MROI), named for its mountaintop perch, will capture distant light in as many as 10 movable 1.4-meter (about 4 1/2-ft.) telescopes. When these light beams are combined, they will create images that will be hundreds of times sharper than those of the Hubble Space Telescope, according to Chethan Parameswariah, the lead electronics engineer on the project. MROI’s ability to capture images of natural processes that before had only been measured indirectly will provide insight into the formation of planets, the life cycle of stars and patterns of radioactive cosmic dust. The first two telescopes will arrive in 2010; researchers hope to start observations by 2012.

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"Gladiator" Tomb Discovered In Rome

From The CBS:

Archaeologists Uncover Mausoleum Belonging To Roman General Who Inspired Oscar-Winning Epic

(CBS/AP) The tomb of a rich Roman general, believed to be the inspiration for the main character of the Oscar-winning movie "Gladiator," has been found on the outskirts of Rome.

Ongoing construction work along the northbound Via Flaminia uncovered the remains of a mausoleum that archaeologists believe to be at least fifteen yards long.

An inscription among the remains gives reason to believe that the tomb belongs to a patrician known as Marcus Nonius Macrinus, a proconsul who achieved major victories for Marcus Aurelius, emperor from 161 AD until his death in 180 AD.

Macrinus, a favorite of the emperor, is thought to have been the inspiration for the writers of the 2000 Ridley Scott film when imagining the character played by Russell Crowe in the award-winning epic.

Senior archaeologist Daniela Rossi of Rome's Superintendency for Archaeology said inscriptions indicate the tomb belonged to Macrinus, a well-known figure from a family from Brescia in northern Italy. Rossi said Macrinus had a unique resume: "Police commissioner, magistrate, proconsul of Asia, and committees of the Emperor. He was very close to Marcus Aurelius who wanted him in the war against the Marcomanni," a Germanic tribe.

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The World's Top 10 Worst Pollution Problems

From Scientific American:

From the residue of mining to untreated sewage, the world is grappling with a host of environmental problems.

The "I Trust My Legs" gold mine in Ghana is a local affair, where miners shift silt from rudimentary pits and then combine it with mercury. The element (a toxic metal that can cause brain damage) captures all the gold in the dirt and then, when the mixture is heated, dissipates into the air, leaving just gold bits behind. Unfortunately, in what is known as artisanal mining, the mercury also enters the lungs of miners, their families and others nearby. The United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) estimates that some 15 million miners, their families and neighbors (including 4.5 million women and 600,000 children) are affected by the fumes, which are known to cause brain damage and even death.

Such gold mining is just one of world's most pressing global pollution problems, according to the Blacksmith Institute, an environmental health group based in New York City. Among the others: air pollution in homes from cooking, industrial smog in cities, untreated sewage, metal smelting and the recycling of lead (which causes brain damage) from old batteries.

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Science On The 'Fringe'

From Live Science:

FRINGE takes viewers on a wild ride using sciences that traditionally lie on the "fringe" of mainstream science, such as mind control or teleportation. But with so much research being done in these fields, many of the show’s ideas are actually ripped from science magazines and journals.

"We start by finding ideas right out of the headlines from a science magazine or the announcement for new research grant and we think, 'what is the next step or how can we push the boundaries?'" said Whitman. "For example, in episode three one of the characters was receiving messages in his brain telepathically and the Monday before the show aired, we saw an article on the CNN website that explained how the U.S. Army was developing a helmet that uses brain waves to help soldiers talk to each other."

Whitman and Chiappetta are "media consultants," not scientists, and while they’ve been advisors on several TV shows, they note their expertise comes from curiosity and researching science journals and the popular press, not formal training. Chiappetta has a law degree from the University of Texas, and Whitman has his PhD in economics from New York University.

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Thursday, October 23, 2008

Brain Starts To Slow Down At 40

From The Telegraph:

Life does not begin at 40 - it just slows down.

According to the latest research, our brain is fastest at 39 and afterwards, it declines "at an accelerating rate." That means that reactions also slow, claim the researchers.

The loss of a fatty skin that coats the nerve cells, called neurons, during middle age causes the slowdown, experts say.

The coating acts as insulation, similar to the plastic covering on an electrical cable, and allows for fast bursts of signals around the body and brain.

When the sheath deteriorates, signals passing along the neurons in the brain slow down. This means reaction times in the body are slower too.

Scientists at the University of California, Los Angeles, say that after 40 the body "loses the battle" to repair the protective sheaths.

The finding was made after researchers tested how quickly men aged from 23 to 80 could tap their index fingers in ten seconds.

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Pictured: Stunning Images Of Spiral Galaxy 50Million Light Years Away

Diffuse clouds made up from dust and complex organic molecules can be seen in the long-range images of NGC 7331 (Image from the Daily Mail)

From The Daily Mail Online:

It can usually only be seen as a faint fuzzy spot through the average telescope, but these stunning images show just how magnificent the spiral galaxy NGC 7331 can be.

The galaxy is around 50million light years away in the northern constellation, Pegasus, and is similar in size to our own 'Milky Way' galaxy.

The long-exposure photographs were taken with a LAICA camera (Large Area Imager) by the Calar Alto Observatory, based in southern Spain, who attached a camera to a 3.5m telescope to capture the impressive shots.

The outstanding spiral structure of NGC 7331 is seen shining behind a number of stars belonging to our galaxy the Milky Way, and in front of a rich background populated by an overwhelming variety of distant galaxies.

A thin haze of the ghostly, fuzzy and dusty nebulae known as galactic cirrus is visible. The diffuse clouds are made up from dust, complex organic molecules and gas.

NGC 7331 was discovered by the astronomer Wilhelm Herschel in 1784. The sharpness of the images are believed to represent the deepest view of the region to date.

Read more ....

Chinese Angry Over Microsoft Anti-Piracy Tool

From MSNBC/Reuters:

Program turns computer screen black if installed software fails validation

BEIJING - Chinese Internet users have expressed fury at Microsoft's launch of an anti-piracy tool targeting Chinese computer users to ensure they buy genuine software.

The "Windows Genuine Advantage" program, which turns the user's screen black if the installed software fails a validation test, is Microsoft's latest weapon in its war on piracy in China, where the vast majority of 200 million computer users are believed to be using counterfeit software, unwittingly or not.

"Why is Microsoft automatically connected with my computer? The computer is mine!" one angry blogger wrote on popular Chinese web portal "Microsoft has no right to control my hardware without my agreement."

Another blogger railed over the cost of authorized versions.

"If the price of genuine software was lower than the fake one, who would buy the fake one?" he wrote.

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McGill Physicists Find A New State Of Matter In A 'Transistor'

A replica of the first working transistor. (Image Wikimedia)

From E! Science News:

McGill University researchers have discovered a new state of matter, a quasi-three- dimensional electron crystal, in a material very much like those used in the fabrication of modern transistors. This discovery could have momentous implications for the development of new electronic devices. Currently, the number of transistors that can be inexpensively crammed onto a single computer chip increases exponentially, doubling approximately every two years, a trend known as Moore's Law. But there are limits, experts say. As chips get smaller and smaller, scientists expect that the bizarre laws and behaviours of quantum physics will take over, making ever-smaller chips impossible.

This discovery, and other similar efforts, could help the electronics industry once traditional manufacturing techniques approach these quantum limits over the next decade or so, the researchers said. Working with one of the purest semiconductor materials ever made, they discovered the quasi-three-dimensional electron crystal in a device cooled at ultra-low temperatures roughly 100 times colder than intergalactic space. The material was then exposed to the most powerful continuous magnetic fields generated on Earth. Their results were published in the October issue of the journal Nature Physics.

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Space Programs Poised for Major Expansion in Asia

From National Defense Magazine:

SAPPORO, Japan — Japan’s government is about to kick off a major expansion of the nation’s space programs. The goal is to broaden the scope of space research from traditional areas such as exploration into new military and commercial applications.

The intent is to boost the country’s space industry and, over time, become less dependent on foreign suppliers such as the United States.

“There was a huge inferiority complex for the Japanese industry, that we needed to catch up with the top-level, state-of-the-art technology,” says Hokkaido University associate professor Kazuto Suzuki.

These goals would have been unrealistic until Japan’s legislature passed a law that for the first time creates a dedicated space bureau — run by a controversial politician, Seiko Noda.

“They knew they had to change their space law and their space organization because they were not structured and organized in order to compete in the 21st century,” says Vincent Sabathier, senior fellow and director of space initiatives at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

The Japanese government beginning in the 1970s invested 4 trillion yen into research and development projects, including satellites, rockets, launchers, exploration spacecraft, and most recently, Kibo, the experimental module that was installed aboard the International Space Station this summer.

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Do Five Simple Things A Day To Stay Sane, Say Scientists

From Times Online:

Simple activities such as gardening or mending a bicycle can protect mental health and help people to lead more fulfilled and productive lives, a panel of scientists has found.

A “five-a-day” programme of social and personal activities can improve mental wellbeing, much as eating fruit and vegetables enhances physical health, according to Foresight, the government think-tank. Its Mental Capital and Wellbeing report, which was compiled by more than 400 scientists, proposes a campaign modelled on the nutrition initiative, to encourage behaviour that will make people feel better about themselves.

People should try to connect with others, to be active, to take notice of their surroundings, to keep learning and to give to their neighbours and communities, the document says.

Its advice to “take notice” includes suggestions such as “catch sight of the beautiful” and “savour the moment, whether walking to work, eating lunch or talking to friends”. Examples of learning include mending a bike or trying to play a musical instrument.

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California Is Due for a Katrina-Style Disaster

(Click to Enlarge)
Image from Wired Science

From Wired Science:

When the next big earthquake hits the San Francisco Bay Area, it will be a catastrophe of Hurricane Katrina proportions. Hundreds, perhaps thousands of people will die, and hundreds of thousands will become homeless. Economic losses will be on the order of $200 billion, the vast majority of it uninsured. Outside help will be desperately needed, but difficult to coordinate and execute.

And just as before Hurricane Katrina, scientists have been sounding the alarm, warning that the disaster is inevitable. It's not a matter of if, but when the "Big One" will strike.

"The reality is that we could have a large earthquake at any time," said geologist David Schwartz of the U.S. Geological Survey.

The Bay Area is lined with faults capable of delivering a knock-out blow. But one in particular is poised to rupture sooner than later. Geologists have determined that the average time between major earthquakes on the Hayward fault is 140 years. The last big one was October 21, 140 years ago.

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Invention: Hurricane Pacifier

Releasing smoke particles into the lower reaches of a hurricane can shift energy to its periphery and reduce the severity of the storm, say the authors of a new patent application (Image: WIPO)

From New Scientist Tech:

Interest in hurricane mitigation has peaked since Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans in 2005, and any means of limiting the damage wrought by these huge storms would be welcomed by governments and vulnerable populations alike.

Now an Israeli team says it has developed a way to take the sting out of the storms. Their new patent application says seeding hurricanes with smoke particles could lower wind speeds enough to mitigate their destructive potential.

A hurricane's destructive potential is proportionally related to the strongest winds inside it, and only a small reduction in wind speed is needed to dramatically reduce the damage it causes.

Hurricanes derive their immense power from warm waters on the surface of the sea. As the water evaporates, it rises into the hurricane and eventually condenses and falls as rain, releasing its latent heat energy as it does so – a process known as "heat cycling".

Daniel Rosenfeld and colleagues at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem say injecting smoke into the lower parts of a hurricane causes water vapour to condense at a lower altitude than usual, and form droplets that are too small to fall as rain.

Read more ....

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Sizing Up The Earth

"Earth" is the largest atlas ever produced and weighs over 30 kilos. (Image from CNN)

From CNN:

LONDON, England (CNN) -- It is being billed as the ultimate book about the world and it is something of a landmark in its own right. "Earth" -- the biggest atlas ever to be published -- promises to be a luxurious benchmark in cartography.

Created by Millennium House, "Earth" -- complete with a clam shell case -- measures 610 x 469 millimeters and weighs in at over 30 kilos.

The price is pretty hefty too. The leather bound, gilt-edged book will set you back around $3500.

Its existence owns much, if not all, to the perseverance of Australian businessman Gordon Cheers who has been dreaming of creating such a book for over 20 years.

Cheers, who has spent much of his working life at some of the world's major publishing houses, couldn't convince his various employers to take the project on. Penguin said no. So did Random House.

Undeterred, Cheers decided to start his own company, Millennium House, which produces a wide range of high quality reference books.

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It Was Very Warm In The Artic 6000-7000 Years Ago

Settlement: Astrid Lyså in August 2007 in the ruined settlement left by the Independence I Culture in North Greenland. The first immigrants to these inhospitable regions succumbed to the elements nearly 4000 years ago, when the climate became colder again. (Credit: Eiliv Larsen, NGU)

Less Ice In Arctic Ocean 6000-7000 Years Ago
-- Science Daily

ScienceDaily (Oct. 20, 2008) — Recent mapping of a number of raised beach ridges on the north coast of Greenland suggests that the ice cover in the Arctic Ocean was greatly reduced some 6000-7000 years ago. The Arctic Ocean may have been periodically ice free.

”The climate in the northern regions has never been milder since the last Ice Age than it was about 6000-7000 years ago. We still don’t know whether the Arctic Ocean was completely ice free, but there was more open water in the area north of Greenland than there is today,” says Astrid Lyså, a geologist and researcher at the Geological Survey of Norway (NGU).

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Google Invests In Preventing Disease

Electron micrograph of the bird flu virus. Google is funding an initiative to spot dangerous pathogens that leap from animals to humans. Image: Corbis

Pandemics: Google Takes On Real Viruses -- The Guardian

The search giant Google has pledged to fund research aimed at detecting and preventing virulent new diseases

Google has pledged to try to stop the next global pandemic by investing $15m in a series of hi-tech health schemes.

Money from the internet giant will provide funding for six projects that aim to detect new diseases and understand the conditions that help them spread – potentially saving millions of lives in the process.

"Business as usual won't prevent the next Aids or Sars," said Dr Larry Brilliant, the executive director of "The teams we're funding today are on the frontiers of digital and genetic early-detection technology."

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Fusion Projects Hang In Limbo

This rendering shows the proposed ITER fusion
reactor. Click on the image for a larger version.

Form Cosmic Log/MSNBC:

The current round of financial uncertainty is coming at just the wrong time for America's largest and smallest fusion research programs.

In its simplest form, nuclear fusion involves combining the nuclei of hydrogen atoms to produce helium atoms, plus a smidgen of energy. It's the energy reaction that powers the sun as well as hydrogen bombs. For decades, scientists have been trying to tame the process to produce what could be an abundant, high-yield power source that is less environmentally problematic than nuclear fission.

Federal funding currently backs three strategies for fusion power:

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Lethal Build-Up Of Ozone Poses Threat To UK

(Photo from NASA)

From The Guardian:

Scientists call for global measures amid warnings that the gas damages health and the environment

Britain is ignoring the dangers posed by one of the world's worst air pollutants: ozone. Researchers say that levels of the gas - a powerful contributor to global warming and the cause of hundreds of deaths a year from respiratory illnesses - are rising at an alarming rate.

They have also warned that measures to curtail the gas are failing. As a result, ozone-related deaths, of which there are about 1,500 a year in the UK, could rise by 50 per cent over the next decade. Stronger international treaties need to be set up to counter the threat, they insist.

'A lot more interest needs to be taken in ozone - not only as a cause of global warming but as an immediate threat to human health and to the environment,' said Professor Piers Foster of Leeds University, an author of the most recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. 'It could have a significant impact on the planet.'

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Offshore Wind May Power the Future

OFFSHORE WIND: Placing turbines in deep waters offshore could provide a bonanza of power while keeping turbines out of sight--if technical hurdles can be overcome. ©Hans Laubel/

From Scientific American:

The waters of the Jersey Shore may soon become home to the nation's first deepwater wind turbines. New Jersey officials recently announced the state would help fund an initiative by Garden State Offshore Energy to build a 350-megawatt wind farm 16 miles (26 kilometers) offshore. The state wants by 2020 many more of these parks, at least 3,000 megawatts worth, or about 13 percent of the state's total electricity needs.

"This is probably the first of many ambitious goals to be set by states," says Greg Watson, a senior advisor on clean energy technology to the governor of Massachusetts. "Three thousand megawatts is significant. With that you're able to offset or even prevent fossil fuel plants from being built."

The federal government is about to open up to wind energy development vast swaths of deep ocean waters, and states and wind park developers are vying to be the first to seize the new frontier. Wind parks in these waters can generate more energy than nearshore and onshore sites, they don't ruin seascape views, and they don't interfere as much with other ocean activities.

Read more ....

VIDEO: Ancient Temples Found In Peru -- National Geographic

The link to the video is HERE.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

'Western' Diet Increases Heart Attack Risk Globally

From E! Science News:

The typical Western diet — fried foods, salty snacks and meat — accounts for about 30 percent of heart attack risk across the world, according to a study of dietary patterns in 52 countries reported in Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association. Researchers identified three dietary patterns in the world:

* Oriental: higher intake of tofu, soy and other sauces;
* Prudent: higher intake of fruits and vegetables; and
* Western: higher intake of fried foods, salty snacks, eggs and meat.

The Prudent diet was associated with a lower heart attack risk than the Oriental, researchers said.

"The objective of this study was to understand the modifiable risk factors of heart attacks at a global level," said Salim Yusuf, D.Phil., the study's senior author.

Previous studies have reached similar conclusions about the Prudent and Western diet in the United States and Europe. This study broadens those findings and identifies a unique dietary pattern that researchers labeled "Oriental" (because of a higher content of food items typical of an Oriental diet.) The dietary pattern recommended by the American Heart Association is similar to the Prudent diet described in this study.

Read more ....

Current Mass Extinction Spurs Major Study Of Which Plants To Save

From E! Science News:

The Earth is in the midst of the sixth mass extinction of both plants and animals, with nearly 50 percent of all species disappearing, scientists say. Because of the current crisis, biologists at UC Santa Barbara are working day and night to determine which species must be saved. Their international study of grassland ecosystems, with flowering plants, is published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"The current extinction event is due to human activity, paving the planet, creating pollution, many of the things that we are doing today," said co-author Bradley J. Cardinale, assistant professor of ecology, evolution and marine biology (EEMB) at UC Santa Barbara. "The Earth might well lose half of its species in our lifetime. We want to know which ones deserve the highest priority for conservation."

He explained that the last mass extinction near the current level was 65 million years ago, called the Cretaceous Tertiary extinction event, and was probably the result of a meteor hitting the Earth. It is best known for the extinction of non-avian dinosaurs, but massive amounts of plant species became extinct at that time as well.

Read more ....

'Junk' DNA May Have Important Role In Gene Regulation

From Science Daily:

ScienceDaily (Oct. 20, 2008) — For about 15 years, scientists have known that certain "junk" DNA -- repetitive DNA segments previously thought to have no function -- could evolve into exons, which are the building blocks for protein-coding genes in higher organisms like animals and plants. Now, a University of Iowa study has found evidence that a significant number of exons created from junk DNA seem to play a role in gene regulation.

The findings, which increase understanding of how humans differ from other animals, including non-human primates, appear Oct. 17 in the open-access journal PLoS Genetics.

Nearly half of human DNA consists of repetitive DNA, including transposons, which can "transpose" or move around to different positions within the genome. A type of transposon called retrotransposons are transcribed into RNA and then reintegrated into the genomic DNA. The most common form of retrotransposons in the human genome are Alu elements, which have more than one million copies and occupy approximately 10 percent of the human genome.

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The Coming Clean Water Shortage

Photo: This 4-year-old girl in Ghana walks 2 1/2 miles twice each day to carry water for her family.

Thirsty World: Desperate Quest For Water -- CNN

The following is an excerpt from "What Matters," the latest book by "Day in the Life" series creator David Elliot Cohen. For more information, see

Water is the key to life. It is fundamental to all human activities. Water grows the food we eat, generates the energy that supports our modern economies and maintains the ecological services on which we all depend. Yet billions of people worldwide still lack access to the most basic human right: safe, clean, adequate water.

As you would expect, the vast majority of these people are among the poorest in the world, living in sub-Saharan Africa and southern Asia.

Brent Stirton's images tell many stories if you know how to read them -- from the tragedy brought by lack of safe water or too much water, to the joy and life-changing effects that a new water system can offer.

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Africa Needs Disease Warning Systems

From Cosmos Magazine:

BARCELONA: Africa needs early warning systems to deal with the increased threat of disease spreading from wild animals to humans caused by climate change, health experts say.

Speaking at the International Union for Conservation of Nature congress in Barcelona, Spain, the scientists said that many wildlife pathogens, such as Ebola, may spread as a result of changing temperatures and precipitation caused by climate change

Monitoring patterns

"Building warning systems and undertaking disease surveillance in places like the Congo Basin would be cheaper than building expensive machines to control an outbreak," said William Karesh, head of the Field Veterinary Program at the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS).

The early warning systems he suggested include monitoring disease patterns in wild animals, and monitoring environmental changes and how these affect the behaviour of wild animals and pathogens.

According to Karesh, these offer both fertile ground for building early warning systems and areas for future research. "Wild animals are more susceptible to new diseases than domesticated animals, and are good indicators of an impending outbreak," he said.

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Hi-Tech Brings Families Together

From the BBC:

Technology is helping families stay in touch like never before, says a report.

Instead of driving people apart, mobile phones and the net are helping them maintain social ties, says the Pew Internet report.

Families are also among the keenest users of technology, the survey of 2,252 Americans revealed.

It found that using the net was often a social activity within families, with 51% of parents saying they browsed the web with their children.

"Some analysts have worried that new technologies hurt family togetherness, but we see that technology allows for new kinds of connectedness built around cell phones and the internet," said Tracy Kennedy of the University of Toronto who helped to write the Networked Families report.

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My Comment: My mom (who is 82) loves her iChat .... specially when her grandkids are online.

Volcanoes May Be Original Womb Of Life

Close view of Stromboli Volcano erupting incandescent molten lava fragments.
Credit: USGS and B. Chouet in December 1969

From Live Science:

Fifty years ago, a chemist named Stanley Miller conducted a famous experiment to investigate how life could have started on Earth.

Recently, scientists re-analyzed his results using modern technology and found a new implication: The original sparks for life on our planet could have come from volcanic eruptions.

The 1950s experiment was designed to test how the ingredients necessary for life could arise.

Miller and his University of Chicago mentor Harold Urey used a system of closed flasks containing water and a gas of simple molecules thought to be common in Earth's early atmosphere. They zapped the gas with an electric spark (representing lightning on ancient Earth), and found that after a couple of weeks the water turned brown. It turned out that amino acids, the complex molecules that make up proteins, had formed from the simple materials in the flasks.

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A New Class of Antibiotics Could Offer Hope Against TB

Indian Tuberculosis (TB) patients stand in a queue for sputum collection at a Tuberculosis Treatment Centre in New Delhi. Manan Vatsyayana / AFP / Getty

From Time Magazine:

Eighty years after the discovery of penicillin, researchers say they are on the verge of developing a new class of antibiotics.

Publishing in the Oct. 17 issue of the journal Cell, scientists at Rutgers University describe a group of antibiotic compounds, first isolated decades ago from naturally occurring antibacterial substances in soil. Among them, researchers say, is a compound called myxopyronin that shows great promise. It has been synthesized in the lab and shown to be safe in animal trials, and although the drug hasn't been tested in humans yet, cell-based experiments suggest that it is potent enough to kill a wide range of stubborn bugs, including drug-resistant strains of tuberculosis and the deadly type of staph known as MRSA.

The Rutgers research reflects a much-needed, if slow, renewal of scientific interest in antibiotics development. The last two decades of the 20th century saw nearly zero progress, and in those years several disease-causing bacteria evolved resistance to commonly used drugs. Researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that more than 40% of staph infections in the U.S. in 2006 were MRSA — a bug that now kills more Americans a year than AIDS. Today, the first line of treatment against MRSA is vancomycin, a formidable antibiotic that has been around since the 1950s and is otherwise typically considered a drug of last resort. In the developing world, health workers report a proliferation of XDR (extensively drug-resistant) and MDR (multidrug-resistant) tuberculosis, against which the current first-line antibiotics, rifamycins, developed in the 1960s, have also become useless.

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Monday, October 20, 2008

NASA Launches Probe To Study Edge Of Solar System

File picture shows shows an ultraviolet image of the sun in something approaching "true color". NASA on Sunday launched a probe into space on a two-year mission to study the distant edge of the solar system. (AFP/NASA/File/Michael Benson)

From Yahoo News/AP:

WASHINGTON (AFP) – NASA on Sunday launched a probe into orbit high above earth to study the distant edge of the solar system where hot solar winds crash into the cold outer space.

The Interstellar Boundary Explorer (IBEX) was launched at 1745 GMT, according to images broadcast live by the US space agency.

The small probe was deployed on a Pegasus rocket which dropped from the bay doors of a Lockheed L-1011 jet flying at 12,000 meters (40,000 feet) over the southern Pacific Ocean near the Marshall Islands.

"The count went really smooth... and everything appears to be going well," NASA assistant launch manager Omar Baez said shortly after the launch.

The IBEX is on a two-year mission to take pictures and chart the mysterious confines of the solar system -- including areas billions of kilometers (miles) from earth.

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Black And White TV Generation Have Monochrome Dreams

From The Telegraph/Science:

Do you dream in black and white? If so, the chances are you are over 55 and were brought up watching a monochrome television set.

New research suggests that the type of television you watched as a child has a profound effect on the colour of your dreams.

While almost all under 25s dream in colour, thousands of over 55s, all of whom were brought up with black and white sets, often dream in monchrome - even now.

The findings suggest that the moment when Dorothy passes out of monochrome Kansas and awakes in Technicolor Oz may have had more significance for our subconscious than we literally ever dreamed of.

Eva Murzyn, a psychology student at Dundee University who carried out the study, said: "It is a fascinating hypothesis.

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The Passenger Jet That Just Missed Colliding With A UFO 22,000ft Above Kent

From Daily Mail:

As the captain of Flight AZ 284 began his descent into Heathrow, he saw something alarming overhead.

Shaped like a missile, the object suddenly veered across the airliner's path causing the pilot to shout 'Look out!' as he attempted to avert a mid-air collision 22,000ft above the Kent countryside.

Travelling at an estimated 120mph, it passed less than 1,000ft from the passenger jet before disappearing from radar screens, leaving the pilot and accident investigators baffled.

Secret documents released for the first time reveal that Ministry of Defence staff accept that an Unidentified Flying Object zooming above Lydd caused the nearmiss.

The incident took place at 7.58pm on April 21, 1991, and was investigated by the Civil Aviation Authority and military experts.

Having ruled out the possibility of it being a missile, weather balloon or space rocket, the MoD was forced to conclude that it was a genuine UFO and close the inquiry.

The unexplained close encounter is one of many recounted in military UFO documents released today by the National Archives.

The Alitalia aircraft was on a routine flight from Milan to Heathrow with 57 people on board when the ten-foot long object, which had no exhaust flame, was spotted by pilot Achille Zaghetti.

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More Problems With Hubble

Hubble Telescope

From Science News:

Hubble’s resurrection is suspended while engineers examine two anomalies
Two anomalies onboard the orbiting Hubble Space Telescope, which stopped transmitting data on September 27, caused engineers to suspend re-activation of Hubble’s science equipment. Engineers encountered problems following an intricate maneuver to circumvent a piece of failed hardware. Hubble is currently orbiting Earth in a dormant “safe mode” while the malfunctions are assessed.

In an October 17 teleconference, NASA scientists said that it is too soon to know the details of the failures. “We are in the early stages of going through a mountain of data that has been downloaded,” said Art Whipple, manager of the Hubble Systems Management Office at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., at the teleconference. “This is a marathon, not a sprint.”

These latest anomalies came at a critical time, during the team’s attempt on October 16 to wake up all of Hubble’s science equipment and restore the orbiting telescope to full science capabilities.

The late September failure in Hubble’s science data formatting unit halted all science data communications to Earth. Since then, Hubble has been orbiting Earth silently, performing only basic health and safety functions, with almost all of its science observations suspended.

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Space Expectations

THE MIND OF WERNHER VON BRAUN: In the October 18, 1952, issue of Collier's, von Braun sketched out the 190-foot- (58-meter-) tall "orbit-to-orbit space ship," which he designed to transport people from a space station to lunar orbit.

From Scientific American:

German rocket physicist and astronautics engineer Wernher von Braun played a crucial role in developing the rocket technology, including the Saturn 5 , that put U.S. astronauts on the surface of the moon in 1969. Just 17 years earlier, when spaceflight was little more than a dream, von Braun worked for the U.S. Army building ballistic missiles. It was during this time that the future and first director of NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., would share his vision of manned space exploration. A series of articles published in Collier's magazine in the early 1950s revealed many ideas that later became reality (including space stations, lunar missions and satellites) and some that never got off the ground (a rocket operated by three rhesus monkeys).

Von Braun's sketches for the magazine's illustrations are up for bid by U.K. auctioneers Bonhams Wednesday. The auction house, which expected the lot of 35 drawings and letters to fetch up to $25,000, was pleasantly surprised with the winning bid came in at $132,000.

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Genetic-based Human Diseases Are An Ancient Evolutionary Legacy, Research Suggests

Artistic illustration of a phylostratigraphy.
(Credit: Irena Andreic, Ruđer Bošković Institute, Zagreb)

From Space Daily:

ScienceDaily (Oct. 19, 2008) — Tomislav Domazet-Lošo and Diethard Tautz from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Biology in Plön, Germany, have systematically analysed the time of emergence for a large number of genes - genes which can also initiate diseases. Their studies show for the first time that the majority of these genes were already in existence at the origin of the first cells.

The search for further genes, particularly those which are involved in diseases caused by several genetic causes, is thus facilitated. Furthermore, the research results confirm that the basic interconnections are to be found in the function of genes - causing the onset of diseases - can also be found in model organisms (Molecular Biology and Evolution).

The Human Genome Project that deciphered the human genetic code, uncovered thousands of genes that, if mutated, are involved in human genetic diseases. The genomes of many other organisms were deciphered in parallel. This now allows the evolution of these disease associated genes to be systematically studied.

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Monopoly Brings Out the Worst in People

From Live Science:

Last weekend we had some folks over to play Monopoly. There were four adults and three kids, and we all wanted some family fun.

It's always chancy playing board games with good friends because people with dice in their hands, even very nice, mild mannered people, often turn cutthroat.

With this group, it started as the parents set up the board and the kids ran around.

Half the parents, it seemed, wanted to make sure our fiscally innocent children were protected from unscrupulous players. "Let's let the kids win," said one mother.

But the other parents didn’t give a hoot about the kids. "It's their fault if they don't understand economics. Let's take them for all they've got," said one father.

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Men's Reactions Peak At Age 39

From Live Science:

This explains everything.

Scientists asked 72 men, ranging in age from 23 to 80, to tap their index fingers as fast as they could for 10 seconds. The researchers also did brain scans to measure in each subject the amount of myelin — a fatty sheath of insulation that coats nerve axons and allows for signaling bursts in our brains.

Both the tapping speed and the amount of myelin was found to decline "with an accelerating trajectory" after age 39.

Study leader George Bartzokis, professor of psychiatry at UCLA, called the results "pretty striking" and said: "That may well be why, besides achy joints and arthritis, even the fittest athletes retire and all older people move slower than they did when they were younger."

The myelination of brain circuits was known to peak in middle age. Bartzokis and others have long argued that brain aging might be primarily related to the myelin breakdown.

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Sunday, October 19, 2008

Could Solar Power Satellites Beam Down Gigawatts of Energy?

Image from NASA

From Treehugger:

How pie-in-the-sky is Ben Bova's space satellite scheme? Mr. Bova, the president emeritus of the National Space Society and a prolific science fiction author, penned a column in last Sunday's Washington Post calling on the next president to build an armada of solar power satellites (SPS) -- basically large accumulations of solar cells -- to help meet a substantial chunk of our energy needs. The idea of building orbiting solar systems in space is nothing new (see my posts about Japan's Space Solar Power Systems and India's space plans); the concept, as described by its creator, aerospace engineer Peter Glaser, would be a satellite in high orbit (where sunshine is always present) that would use microwave transmission to beam solar power to receiving stations on Earth.

The obvious benefit: a continuous 24-hour, 365-day supply of solar energy. Powered by solar energy itself, a single SPS could generate up to 10 gigawatts of power continually, according to Bova. If that's even remotely true, just imagine how much continuous power a group of these SPSs could provide.

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Protective Shield Of The Sun Is Shrinking

From The Sydney Morning Herald:

LONDON: The protective bubble around the sun that helps to shield the Earth from harmful interstellar radiation is shrinking and getting weaker, NASA scientists have discovered.

New data from the Ulysses deep-space probe show that the heliosphere, the protective shield of energy that surrounds our solar system, has weakened by 25 per cent over the past decade and is now at it lowest level since the space race began 50 years ago.

Scientists, baffled at what could be causing the barrier to shrink in this way, were set to launch a mission overnight to study the heliosphere.

The Interstellar Boundary Explorer, or Ibex, will orbit 240,000 kilometres above the Earth and "listen" for the shock wave that forms as our solar system meets interstellar radiation.

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The Final Frontier: An Essay By Stephen Hawkings

From Cosmos Magazine:

In the 1960s the space race created a fascination with science and great technological advances. To find alien life we need to take back up that mantle, says astrophysicist Stephen Hawking, and send people further into space.

Why should we go into space? What is that justification for spending all that effort and money on getting a few lumps of Moon rock? Aren't there better causes here on Earth?

In a way, the situation was like that in Europe before 1492. People might well have argued that it was a waste of money to send Columbus on a wild goose chase over an almost unimaginable distance. Yet, the discovery of the New World made a profound difference to the old one.

Spreading out into space will have an even greater effect; it will completely change the future of the human race and maybe determine whether we have any future at all.

It won't solve many of our immediate problems on Earth, but it will give us a new perspective on them and cause us to look both outwards and inwards. With luck it could unite us to face a common challenge.

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Man's Oldest friend: Scientists Discover The Grandad O Modern Dogs... From 31,700 Years Ago

A Siberian husky, thought to most resemble the Paleolithic dogs of our forefathers
(Photo from Daily Mail)

From Daily Mail:

For hundreds of years they've been considered man's best friend, and now it seems dogs have been around longer than thought.

Scientists have discovered the oldest-ever remains of dogs dating back 31,700 years - that's 221,900 in dog years...

The remains push back the date for the earliest dog by 14,000 years, and suggest the forefathers of the modern canine were a lot stronger and a lot hungrier than next-door's Fido.

From studying the fossils, found at Goyet Cave in Belgium, the international team of scientists believe the animals subsisted on a diet of horse, musk ox and reindeer.

Lead author Mietje Germonpré, a paleontologist at the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences, said: 'In shape, the Paleolithic dogs most resemble the Siberian husky, but in size, however, they were somewhat larger, probably comparable to large shepherd dogs.

'The Paleolithic dogs had wider and shorter snouts and relatively wider brain cases than fossil and recent wolves.'

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