Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Star Cluster to Hide Behind Moon

By Joe Rao

If you live anywhere to the north of a line that runs across North America from roughly Queen Charlotte Island in British Columbia southeast to near Jacksonville, Florida and clear skies are forecast for Friday evening, Sept. 19, then be sure to be outside during the mid-evening hours and watch for the rising of the waning gibbous moon. If you have binoculars or a telescope you will also see the moon moving in front of the famous Pleiades star cluster.

This event is called an occultation, from the Latin occultatio, a hiding, or an "eclipse" of a star or planet. Put another way, it's when one celestial body — in this case, the moon — passes in front of and obscures another, here being the Pleiades. This is one in a series of Pleiades occultations that have been visible this year from various parts of the world. Last month, on Aug. 23, a Pleiades occultation was widely visible across Europe and Asia. Next month, on Oct. 17, eastern Asia and northwestern parts of North America will be favored.

For about the 60 to 90 minutes our natural satellite will slowly cover and uncover a number of the "Pleiads." The brightest stars of the cluster will appear to disappear along the bright side of the moon, reappearing later in dramatic fashion along the moon's unilluminated limb: seemingly "popping-on" suddenly as if someone threw a switch.

Much of the western half of the United States will miss out on the occultation, as the moon will have already moved past the Pleiades by the time it rises. Nonetheless, the view in binoculars of the moon sitting just below and the lower left of the Pleiades cluster as they come up over the east-northeast horizon late on that Friday evening should still make for an interesting sight.

For most locations within the prime viewing area, the occultation will already be in progress as the moon rises and will also be positioned at a rather low altitude. Therefore, a clear and unobstructed view toward the east-northeast is strongly recommended.

Prospective viewers will probably have to wait at least a half an hour after the moon rises for it to lift sufficiently up above the haze that normally hangs close to the horizon to get a good view. Interestingly, as seen from parts of Nova Scotia and northern Newfoundland, the brightest Pleiad (Alcyone) will appear to graze the moon's lower limb. Generally speaking, the sky beginning at about 10 p.m. local time onward will provide the best overall view for most locations. As the moon slowly climbs higher in the east-northeast sky, it will gradually uncover more and more of the cluster.

The best views will be over eastern Canada and the Northeast United States, where the rising moon should appear well above the horizon haze during the occultation. Places farther west will see the moon lower and closer to the horizon.

Interestingly, some European observers will be able to see the moon occult the northernmost members of the star cluster, notably Maia and Taygeta. Keep in mind that for this part of the viewing zone, the occultation will occur on Saturday morning, September 20 between about 2 and 3 hours Greenwich Time, with the moon high up in the southeast sky.

For a maps depicting the viewing zones for the six brightest Pleiads, as well as a complete listing of times for dozens of cities in North America and Europe, go to the International Occultation Timing Association (IOTA) web site.

Joe Rao serves as an instructor and guest lecturer at New York's Hayden Planetarium. He writes about astronomy for The New York Times and other publications, and he is also an on-camera meteorologist for News 12 Westchester, New York.

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Immigrant Sun: Our Star Could Be Far From Where It Started In Milky Way

This image is from a computer simulation showing the development and evolution of the disk of a galaxy such as the Milky Way. (Credit: Rok Roškar)

A long-standing scientific belief holds that stars tend to hang out in the same general part of a galaxy where they originally formed. Some astrophysicists have recently questioned whether that is true, and now new simulations show that, at least in galaxies similar to our own Milky Way, stars such as the sun can migrate great distances.

What's more, if our sun has moved far from where it was formed more than 4 billion years ago, that could change the entire notion that there are parts of galaxies – so-called habitable zones – that are more conducive to supporting life than other areas are.

"Our view of the extent of the habitable zone is based in part on the idea that certain chemical elements necessary for life are available in some parts of a galaxy's disk but not others," said Rok Roškar, a doctoral student in astronomy at the University of Washington.

"If stars migrate, then that zone can't be a stationary place."

If the idea of habitable zone doesn't hold up, it would change scientists' understanding of just where, and how, life could evolve in a galaxy, he said.

Roškar is lead author of a paper describing the findings from the simulations, published in the Sept. 10 edition of the Astrophysical Journal Letters. Co-authors are Thomas R. Quinn of the UW, Victor Debattista at the University of Central Lancashire in England, and Gregory Stinson and James Wadsley of McMaster University in Canada. The work was funded in part by the National Science Foundation.

Using more than 100,000 hours of computer time on a UW computer cluster and a supercomputer at the University of Texas, the scientists ran simulations of the formation and evolution of a galaxy disk from material that had swirled together 4 billion years after the big bang.*

The simulations begin with conditions about 9 billion years ago, after material for the disk of our galaxy had largely come together but the actual disk formation had not yet started. The scientists set basic parameters to mimic the development of the Milky Way to that point, but then let the simulated galaxy evolve on its own.

If a star, during its orbit around the center of the galaxy, is intercepted by a spiral arm of the galaxy, scientists previously assumed the star's orbit would become more erratic in the same way that a car's wheel might become wobbly after it hits a pothole.

However, in the new simulations the orbits of some stars might get larger or smaller but still remain very circular after hitting the massive spiral wave. Our sun has a nearly circular orbit, so the findings mean that when it formed 4.59 billion years ago (about 50 million years before the Earth), it could have been either nearer to or farther from the center of the galaxy, rather than halfway toward the outer edge where it is now.

Migrating stars also help explain a long-standing problem in the chemical mix of stars in the neighborhood of our solar system, which has long been known to be more mixed and diluted than would be expected if stars spent their entire lives where they were born. By bringing in stars from very different starting locations, the sun's neighborhood has become a more diverse and interesting place, the researcher said.

Such stellar migration appears to depend on the galaxy having spiral arms that twist their way through the galaxy, as are present in the Milky Way, Roškar said.

"Our simulated galaxy is very idealized in the formation of the disk, but we believe it is indicative of the formation of a Milky Way-type of galaxy," he said. "In a way, studying the Milky Way is the hardest thing to do because we're inside it and we can't see it all. We can't say for sure that the sun had this type of migration."

However, there is recent observational evidence that such migration might be occurring in other galaxies as well, he said.

Roškar noted that the researchers are not the first to suggest that stars might be able to migrate great distances across galaxies, but they are the first to demonstrate the effects of such migrations in a simulation of a growing galactic disk.

The findings are based on a few runs of the simulations, but it is expected additional runs using the same parameters and physical properties would produce largely the same results.

"When you swirl cream into a cup of coffee, it will rarely look exactly the same twice, but the general process, and the resulting taste, is always the same," said Wadsley, the team member from McMaster University.

The scientists plan to run a range of simulations with varying physical properties to generate different kinds of galactic disks, and then determine whether stars show similar ability to migrate large distances within different types of disk galaxies.

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Hubble Finds Unidentified Object in Space, Scientists Puzzled

This is exactly why we send astronauts to risk their life to service Hubble: in a paper published last week in the Astrophysical Journal, scientists detail the discovery of a new unidentified object in the middle of nowhere. I don't know about you, but when a research paper conclusion says "We suggest that the transient may be one of a new class" I get a chill of oooh-aaahness down my spine. Especially when after a hundred days of observation, it disappeared from the sky with no explanation. Get your tinfoil hats out, because it gets even weirder.

The object also appeared out of nowhere. It just wasn't there before. In fact, they don't even know where it is exactly located because it didn't behave like anything they know. Apparently, it can't be closer than 130 light-years but it can be as far as 11 billion light-years away. It's not in any known galaxy either. And they have ruled out a supernova too. It's something that they have never encountered before. In other words: they don't have a single clue about where or what the heck this thing is.

The shape of the light curve is inconsistent with microlensing. In addition to being inconsistent with all known supernova types, is not matched to any spectrum in the Sloan Digital Sky Survey database.

The only thing the astronomers—working on the Supernova Cosmology Project—can tell is that it appeared all of the sudden in the direction of a cluster with the catchy name of CL 1432.5+3332.8, about 8.2 billion light-years away. Hubble caught a spark that continued to brighten during a 100-day period, peaking at the 21st magnitude, only to fade away in the same period of time.

Apparently, a scientist at the LHC declared that the object is similar to the flash that an Imperial Star Destroyer does when reaching Warp 10. Either that or some dust on the Hubble lenses, so someone tell NASA to get some Windex up there too. [Sky and Telescope]

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Cannabis suggests treatment for chronic pain

By Yun Xie

Cannabinoids, chemical compounds found in cannabis, are drawing the interest of medical scientists, as they contain compounds that may lead to treatments for ailments ranging from bacterial infections to nausea from chemotherapy. In a report from the journal Pain, British scientists attempted to figure out how cannabinoids affected (surprise!) pain and determine if they are effective against chronic pain.

Many of the biological effects of cannabinoids like the psychoactive THC (Δ9-tetrahydrocannibinol) occur when they bind to one or both of two cannabinoid receptor subtypes: CB1 and CB2. The neurons of the central nervous system express CB1, while CB2 is mostly located in the periphery, in systems such as lymphoid tissues.

Since most pain occurs in the periphery, cannabinoids that can selectively bind CB2 are more interesting than those that are inclined to target CB1. CB1 is associated with the central nervous system, which means that targeting its activities can produce many negative side-effects.

Although past studies have examined the processes that occur when CB2 agonists (drugs that activate it) suppress acute and chronic pain in animals, not much work has been done on humans. In order to design optimal clinical trials, it is important to know where drugs interact with CB2 and how pain suppression occurs in humans. In performing the new functional studies on CB2, the British scientists examined human tissues from a large variety of sources, including people who have experienced no injuries, suffered traffic accidents, undergone upper limb amputations, and went through various surgical procedures.

For the first time, the scientists were able to show that both uninjured and injured people had CB2 receptors in their dorsal root ganglion neurons, which are located along the vertebral column at the spine. In addition, CB2 protein was found in the same location as TRPV1, which is responsible for transmitting various painful stimuli. Their close proximity allows CB2 drug binding to regulate the sensitivity of TRPV1, causing the analgesic effect. The authors mention that CB2 agonists have other modes of action in human bodies that reduce pain, such as inducing the release of β–endorphins and inhibiting inflammation.

The scientists conclude that "CB2 agonists may produce new therapy for chronic pain." They also write that "CB2 agonists deserve clinical trials for nociceptive, inflammatory and neuropathic chronic pain." For any such clinical trials, the results of their study will be valuable, as they have located active populations of CB2 neurons and added to the knowledge of how they function.

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New ant species discovered in the Amazon likely represents oldest living lineage of ants

This new species of blind subterranean predatory ant Martialis heureka was discovered in the Amazon by Christian Rabeling at the University of Texas at Austin. It belongs to the first new subfamily of living ants discovered since 1923 and is a descen ...
This new species of blind, subterranean, predatory ant, Martialis heureka, was discovered in the Amazon by Christian Rabeling at the University of Texas at Austin. It belongs to the first new subfamily of living ants discovered since 1923, and is a descendant of one of the first ant lineages to evolve over 120 million years ago. Credit: Christian Rabeling, the University of Texas at Austin

A new species of blind, subterranean, predatory ant discovered in the Amazon rainforest by University of Texas at Austin evolutionary biologist Christian Rabeling is likely a descendant of the very first ants to evolve.

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The new ant is named Martialis heureka, which translates roughly to "ant from Mars," because the ant has a combination of characteristics never before recorded. It is adapted for dwelling in the soil, is two to three millimeters long, pale, and has no eyes and large mandibles, which Rabeling and colleagues suspect it uses to capture prey.

The ant also belongs to its own new subfamily, one of 21 subfamilies in ants. This is the first time that a new subfamily of ants with living species has been discovered since 1923 (other new subfamilies have been discovered from fossil ants).

Rabeling says his discovery will help biologists better understand the biodiversity and evolution of ants, which are abundant and ecologically important insects.

"This discovery hints at a wealth of species, possibly of great evolutionary importance, still hidden in the soils of the remaining rainforests," writes Rabeling and his co-authors in a paper reporting their discovery this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Rabeling collected the only known specimen of the new ant species in 2003 from leaf-litter at the Empresa Brasileira de Pesquisa Agropecuária in Manaus, Brazil.

He and his colleagues found that the ant was a new species, genus and subfamily after morphological and genetic analysis. Analysis of DNA from the ant's legs confirmed its phylogenetic position at the very base of the ant evolutionary tree.

Ants evolved over 120 million years ago from wasp ancestors. They probably evolved quickly into many different lineages, with ants specializing to lives in the soil, leaf-litter or trees, or becoming generalists.

"This discovery lends support to the idea that blind subterranean predator ants arose at the dawn of ant evolution," says Rabeling, a graduate student in the ecology, evolution and behavior program.

Rabeling does not suggest that the ancestor to all ants was blind and subterranean, but that these adaptations arose early and have persisted over the years.

"Based on our data and the fossil record, we assume that the ancestor of this ant was somewhat wasp-like, perhaps similar to the Cretaceous amber fossil Sphecomyrma, which is widely known as the evolutionary missing link between wasps and ants," says Rabeling.

He speculates that the new ant species evolved adaptations over time to its subterranean habitat (for example, loss of eyes and pale body color), while retaining some of its ancestor's physical characteristics.

"The new ant species is hidden in environmentally stable tropical soils with potentially less competition from other ants and in a relatively stable microclimate," he says. "It could represent a 'relict' species that retained some ancestral morphological characteristics."

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When in Doubt, Spit It Out

Michael Nagle for The New York Times

A DATE WITH DNA K. C. Dustin and his wife, Debra Netschert, give saliva samples.

IT was a funny thing to be doing in a cocktail dress.

Michael Nagle for The New York Times

Rupert Murdoch, Barry Diller, Anne Wojcicki and Diane von Furstenberg at the DNA sample party last week.

Debra Netschert, a financial analyst, was sitting next to her husband, K. C. Dustin, an equities salesman, and spitting into a test tube at a party last week in Chelsea to promote a DNA testing company.

As a soundtrack that included “Whole Lotta Love” blasted, the couple were submitting samples for tests that could reveal disturbing news, like his propensity to develop throat cancer or the chances of her having pregnancy complications.

But Ms. Netschert adopted the party mood, focusing, at first, on the less consequential details about her heredity. “I want to figure out why I have freckles,” she said.

It was taking a few minutes to fill the tube with the required amount of saliva, so Ms. Netschert had a dry-mouthed moment to consider what the couple might do if her husband turned out to be carrying a gene that could doom his offspring.

“Then maybe we’ll adopt instead,” she said. “Really.”

Some people might fear a world where widespread DNA testing would remove the mysteries of their futures or even strip them of privacy. But the testing company 23andMe, which was the host of what it billed as a “spit party” in the middle of New York Fashion Week, filled with celebrities, wants people to think of their genomes as a basis for social networking. As in: You are invited to join the group Slow Caffeine Metabolizers.

Co-founded by Anne Wojcicki, the wife of a founder of Google, the company, which has token financial backing from Harvey Weinstein and Wendi Murdoch, hopes to make spitting into a test tube as stylish as ordering a ginger martini.

“It’s fun to learn about your own genome,” the 23andMe Web site says.

Typically, customers register and pay online — the price of a test was cut by nearly two-thirds to $399 last week — and are sent a testing kit. A customer spits into a tube, mails it in, and about a month later receives results via a Web account. The information on 89 genetic markers include details of customers’ ancestry as well as what current research suggests are proclivites to certain diseases and other genetic traits like one’s appetite for sugar and responsiveness to antidepressants.

Customers have been able to share their results with whomever they choose online, or keep the information private, since shortly after the company began offering the tests in November. A new feature allows customers to post DNA-related questions in a community forum.

A select group, which included family and friends of the owners, began using the forum in recent weeks, and some customers have begun networking with others who share their traits, such as lacking a sense of smell. Others are posting notices, seeking those who share a mutation in the gene called ACTN3, which is associated with muscle response, wondering if their fellows share a lack of musical talent.

“If you want to have a community around psoriasis,” Ms Wojcicki said, “we’d like to be able to allow you to form a psoriasis-specific community.”

Ms. Wojcicki’s own offline networking has built support for her company. She met Ivanka Trump in St. Barts, where Ms. Wojcicki and her husband, Sergey Brin, were spending the New Year holiday aboard a boat.

She had met Rupert and Wendi Murdoch, Mr. Weinstein and others at the Allen & Company annual conference in Sun Valley, Idaho, in 2004. This past July, she was back at the conference and told her friends about the idea for the spit party. They offered their support.

“I was sitting at a table at Allen & Company with Wendi Murdoch, Barry Diller, Diane von Furstenberg, Anderson Cooper and Sergey, and we were talking about tongue curling,” Ms. Wojcicki recalled. “Barry cannot roll his tongue, but Anderson Cooper can do a really complicated four-leaf clover.”

COMPREHENSIVE DNA tests may one day be a normal part of medical care, but right now 23andMe’s efforts to make genetic testing an impulse buy disturbs many researchers.

“People think if you have money to spend on this, why not buy a test instead of a model train for Christmas,” said Dr. Alan Guttmacher, acting director of the National Human Genome Research Institute of the National Institutes of Health. “It can be neat and fun, but it can also have deep psychological implications, both for how you view yourself and how others view you, depending on who else has access to the information.”

Ms. Wojcicki and Linda Avey, the company’s other founder, say their chief goal is to advance science by compiling a database of genetic information that medical researchers can tap (while protecting customers’ anonymity). Customers cannot opt out of having their information anonymously shared, but they can refuse to participate in surveys focusing on specific traits.

When customers see their results on the screen, they are instructed about which findings are based on widely accepted science and which are less certain because the research is considered preliminary.

Quintin Lai, a research analyst at the investment firm Robert W. Baird & Company, said 23andMe is following a different business model than its two chief rivals, DeCODEme and Navigenics. When Navigenics releases test results to customers, it assigns a “genetic counselor” who can explain what the results mean.

“If the gatekeeper is going to be a physician,” Mr. Lai said, “then the industry is going to go through the channels of educating physicians that this is a normal test, and physicians will begin recommending it to patients, and the industry’s growth will be much slower.”

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Michael Nagle for The New York Times

Dylan Lauren, Harvey Weinstein and Wendi Murdoch at the DNA sample party last week.

Michael Nagle for The New York Times

A photo of Wendi Murdoch loomed over the “spit party.”

As the party throbbed in the ground floor space of Barry Diller’s IAC Building on West 18th Street, Mr. Weinstein, the film producer, who has acquired the Halston clothing brand, joked that DNA testing was as buzzworthy as the fashion shows taking place all week. “Now that I’m in the fashion business,” he said, “I think genetics is a natural extension.”

Ms. Murdoch said she, her two children with Mr. Murdoch, her husband and his 99-year-old mother had all been tested.

“I think she’s the oldest one in the database,” Ms. Murdoch said. She added that she was pleased by results that showed Mr. Murdoch had inherited a gene from his mother associated with the heart, and that she is still hale. (His father died of a heart attack at 67.)

In a telephone interview before the party, Ms. Trump said she and five friends had been tested by 23andMe and used the company’s Web site to share results with one another. “I have a very low chance of becoming obese,” Ms. Trump said. “That makes me exceedingly happy.”

Not everyone is as genetically blessed as Ms. Trump. “There’s been a bit of heckling back and forth across my friend group,” said Ms. Trump, 26. “My oldest and best friend since childhood signed up at the same time as I did, so we have pointed out some of those things. I gave her a little ribbing that she better watch her caloric intake in the next 5 to 10 years.”

Jared Kushner, the owner of The New York Observer, who has dated Ms. Trump, said at the party that he had also been tested. But Ms. Trump said he had not shared his results with her. Asked if she would ditch a suitor if he had unfavorable genetics, she said: “That’s a tough question. I’m going to say no.” She paused. “It depends on what came up though.”

Navigenics and DeCODEme do not offer social networking capabilities. Kari Stefansson, the chief executive of DeCODEme, which is based in Iceland, said 23andMe is in the entertainment business, unlike his company, which has made many genome research discoveries.

“We are looking at DeCODEme as a serious product for analysis of medical issues,” he said.

His company stopped offering its tests for sale to New York State residents, as did Navigenics, after the State Department of Health sent letters informing the companies that it is illegal to offer medical tests in New York without proper licensing. Claudia Hutton, a spokeswoman for the Health Department, said that 23andMe also received such a letter, along with three dozen other DNA-testing companies.

A spokeswoman for 23andMe, Rachel Cohen, said the matter was being negotiated with the state. “We are still talking to them and hammering out the best method to do it to take into account their interest in regulating the industry,” Ms. Cohen said.

Ms. Hutton said that if 23andMe has continued offering tests since receiving their warning letter in December, the company could be fined $2,000 for each test done on a New York resident. There was no sign of a Department of Health inspector at the party.

But Roberto De Mitri, director of product management for a software company, was there. He stood at a computer playing with a 23andMe demonstration.

He said he and his fiancée had talked about how it was scary that someone might insist on seeing a potential mate’s DNA test before moving ahead in a relationship. But his curiosity had been piqued enough that he was spitting into a vial. After all, he said, the sharing of test results would not be that different than vetting a potential partner’s finances before forging ahead.

“You check that now,” he said, clicking on an icon. “Unless you fall completely in love.”

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Large Hadron Collider's Hacker Infiltration Highlights Vulnerabilities

By Brandon Keim

Though the Large Hadron Collider's infiltration by hackers did not disrupt the historic project, experts warn that its computer systems are vulnerable -- though at least their exploitation won't destroy Earth.

Shortly after physicists activated the Collider on Wednesday, hackers identifying themselves as Group 2600 of the Greek Security Team accessed computers connected to the Compact Muon Solenoid detector, one of four key subsystems responsible for monitoring the collisions of protons speeding around the 18-mile track near Geneva, Switzerland.

A few scientists had worried that the experiment could inadvertently create a planet-swallowing black hole. Physicists called this impossible, or at least extraordinarily unlikely. But the hack raises a different sort of worst-case scenario: the largest and most complicated science experiment in history, intended to reveal basic information about the composition of matter, derailed by malevolent intruders.

"The LHC experiments have very complex computer systems for data recording and analysis and even more sensitive systems for experiment control, trigger and data acquisition," said MIT physicist and Collider collaborator Frank Taylor. "You could imagine that penetrating the 'real time domain' could have catastrophic consequences."

The hackers were stopped before they could access the Collider's central computer system, but were described by the Telegraph as being "one step away" from full control of the CMS. They deleted one as-yet publicly unidentified file -- the hacker equivalent, perhaps, of counting coup.

"We're pulling your pants down because we don't want to see you running around naked looking to hide yourselves when the panic comes," wrote the intruders in a note left on the Collider's website.

"There seems to be no harm done. From what [the computer security team] can tell, it was someone making the point that CMS was hackable," said James Gillies, spokesman for Cern, to the Telegraph.

Computer security at the Collider has received less attention than other aspects of the historic experiment, but insiders have previously expressed concern.

In November, an article in the computer affairs newsletter of CERN -- the European Organization for Nuclear Research, home to the Collider -- warned of potential security breaches.

"Vulnerability scans at CERN using standard IT tools have shown that commercial automation systems often lack even fundamental security precautions: some systems crashed during the scan, while others could easily be stopped or have their process data altered," wrote CERN computer security officer Stefan Luders.

The consequences of a breach, wrote Luders, "are inherent to the design of CERN's accelerators and the affiliated experiments. All run a variety of control systems: some of them are complex, some of them deal with personnel safety, and some of them control or protect expensive or irreplaceable equipment. Thus, CERN's assets and their proper operation are at stake."

But those worried by hacker-unleashed black holes and Big Bang energies can rest easy. "The LHC is just a bunch of magnets that steer the proton beams plus radio frequency cavities to accelerate them," said Northeastern University physicist Stephen Reucroft. "The amount of energy involved is miniscule. Similarly, the CMS is a magnet with a lot of sensors operating under a variety of voltages. Not much damage could be done there by diddling with the computer."

Of course, damage is relative when discussing the controls of a six billion dollar experiment.

"Hacking is a bad thing," said Lee Smolin, a professor at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics who is not involved with the Collider. "It can damage the work of thousands of people who have been working for decades to advance science."

Images: The endcap of the Compact Muon Solenoid Detector, from WikiMedia Commons; a screenshot of the CMS website (now unavailable) after the hack; and researchers standing inside the CMS, courtesy of the Insitute for Research on the Fundamentals of the Universe.

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Church apologises to Charles Darwin over theory of evolution

Church says sorry to Charles Darwin over his Evolution Theory
The Church of England will make an official apology to naturalist Charles Darwin for criticising his famous theory of evolution.

Coming 126 years after his death, the church's apology will focus on how wrong it was for senior bishops in the past to misunderstand and attack Darwin's theory about man being descended from apes.

Senior church officials will post the apology in the form of an article written by the Reverend Dr Malcolm Brown on the church's website tomorrow.

"Charles Darwin, 200 years from your birth (in 1809), the Church of England owes you an apology for misunderstanding you and, by getting our first reaction wrong, encouraging others to misunderstand you still,'' the article says, according to extracts printed by The Mail on Sunday newspaper.

"But the struggle for your reputation is not over yet, and the problem is not just your religious opponents but those who falsely claim you in support of their own interests.''

But the apology by Dr Brown, who is the director of mission and public affairs of the Archbishops' Council, has been dismissed as "pointless'' by Darwin's great great grandson Andrew Darwin.

"Why bother? he said.

"When an apology is made after 200 years, it's not so much to right a wrong, but to make the person or organisation making the apology feel better.''

But Dr Brown says everyone makes mistakes, the church included.

"When a big new idea emerges that changes the way people look at the world, it's easy to feel that every old idea, every certainty, is under attack and then to do battle against the new insights,'' he writes.

"The church made that mistake with Galileo's astronomy and has since realised its error.

"Some Church people did it again in the 1860s with Charles Darwin's theory of natural selection.

"So it is important to think again about Darwin's impact on religious thinking, then and now.''

Dr Brown said there was nothing incompatible between Darwin's scientific theories and Christian teaching.

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Hurricane Ike destroys oil platforms in Gulf of Mexico.

ike.jpgHurricane Ike “appears to have destroyed a number of oil production platforms and damaged some of the pipelines in the Gulf of Mexico, federal officials said Sunday.” Lars Herbst, regional director for the Minerals Management Service, said at least 10 production platforms have been destroyed by the storm, and possibly many more. Herbst said, “It’s too early to say if [the impact of Ike is] close to Katrina- and Rita-type damage.” In his advocacy for more offshore oil drilling, John McCain has falsely claimed Hurricanes Katrina and Rita did not “cause significant spillage” and that the platforms “very successfully” survived the impact of the storms. In fact, as the Wonk Room’s Brad Johnson has demonstrated, those hurricanes caused hundreds of oil spills resulting in significant environmental damage.

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California’s 220 MPH High-Speed Train Will Be Emissions-Free