Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Sorry Liz, but THIS is the real face of Cleopatra

By Fiona Macrae

From Elizabeth Taylor to Sophia Loren, there have been many faces of Cleopatra. But this might be the most realistic of them all.

Egyptologist Sally Ann Ashton believes the compute regenerated 3D image is the best likeness of the legendary beauty famed for her ability to beguile.

Likeness: The computer-generated 3D image has been pieced together from images on ancient artefacts

Pieced together from images on ancient artefacts, including a ring dating from Cleopatra's reign 2,000 years ago, it is the culmination of more than a year of painstaking research.

The result is a beautiful young woman of mixed ethnicity - very different to the porcelain-skinned Westernised version portrayed by Elizabeth Taylor in the 1961 movie Cleopatra.

Realism: The result is a strikingly beautiful young woman of mixed ethnicity

Dr Ashton, of Cambridge University, said the images, to be broadcast as part of a Five documentary on Cleopatra, reflect the monarch's Greek heritage as well as her Egyptian upbringing.

'She probably wasn't just completely European. You've got to remember that her family had actually lived in Egypt for 300 years by the time she came to power.'


Detail: Image of Cleopatra on the temple walls of Dendera

The picture of the queen contrasts with several other less flattering portrayals. For instance, a silver coin which went on show at Newcastle University's Sefton Museum last year showed her as having a shallow forehead, pointed chin, thin lips and hooked nose. Her lover, the Roman general Mark Antony, fared little better.

The reverse side shows him to have bulging eyes and a thick neck. The queen's appearance has long been the subject of debate among academics. While Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra made reference to her youthful looks and 'infinite-variety', many believe she was short and frumpy with bad teeth.

Liz Taylor in the 1963 film Cleopatra

Iconic: Liz Taylor in the 1961 film Cleopatra

A statue of Cleopatra exhibited at the British Museum in 2001 portrayed her as plain, no more than 5ft tall and rather plump.

Born in Alexandra in 69BC, into a Macedonian Greek dynasty which had ruled Egypt for three centuries, Cleopatra acceded to the throne at 17. Three years later she seduced Julius Caesar, bearing him a son, Caesarion.

After Caesar was assassinated she courted Mark Antony before committing suicide on his death. Legend has it that she put an asp, a venomous serpent, to her breast.

Cleopatra graphic

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RSi Unveils Power-Generating Transparent Photovoltaic-Glass Window

Your Self-powered Electronic Future

Selfpowereddevicespossiblewithout_2 A sound-powered cellphone might sound like donuts that help you lose weight, an anti-hangover alcohol or an ad for "Guaranteed returns, work from home, APPLY NOW" - but it might well be possible. A team of Texan scientists have published a paper claiming a breakthrough allowing audio-energized electronics.

Piezoelectric materials can convert between electrical energy and mechanical motion. Normally we use them that way, forming the heart of speaker systems, but recent advances have increased interest in running them backwards. Any situation where things are moving anyway is potentially a power source. One Japanese train station is already testing electricity generating floors in a train station, harnessing power from a million passengers a day, while the US Army is obviously interested. Piezoelectric suits would mean less weight for soldiers to carry - the very act of walking would power small electronics.

Professor Tagin's paper states there is a magic mini-size for piezoelectric parts which radically enhances their efficiency. At around twenty-one nanometers, their model shows a hundred per cent increase in electricity generation. Such an increase is not impossible (piezeolectrics are very far from being totally efficient converters), but before anybody throws out their charger they should wait for a working prototype.

Or even for a complete model. The paper presenting this case is a rapid communication paper, which certain key elements of the derivation replaced with the phrase "We suppress further details (which will also be presented elsewhere)", but without that magic little superscript-number which would tell you where that elsewhere is. It's certainly not unusual for this to happen in science - getting the exciting headline out the door to pave the way for your main paper - but neither is waiting for the full picture before organizing your "We don't need batteries anymore" party.

The final barrier between man and machine is being broken down. The ultimate in input is on the way, with the beginnings of a machine that can tell what you're thinking about. If you can think of awesome applications of this technology, cool. If you can think of terrifying ones, congratulations on having a better understanding of the world.

The work is led by Dr Kang Cheung of the RIKEN Brain Research Institute, who could honestly only sound more like a Bond villain if he had a "Von" in there somewhere. The work is based on functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI), an uprade to MRI which focuses on the flow of blood through the brain.

A surprising amount of information can be extracted from blood flow. While you might think it's just "Fast heartbeat = active, slow = sitting on your ass", in the brain the massive network of capillaries is much more complex. Active neurons consume oxygen at an increased rate, and since oxygen and de-oxygenated blood have different magnetic susceptibilities the areas of activity light up on the fMRI computer screen.

A group of Japanese research institutions have worked to harness this intra-intelligence-organ intel into images, and can now successfully recreate ten-by-ten black and white images. Images, this part is important, read directly out of the living brain of a human and displayed on a computer screen. Further, the team believe that more complex images and eventually emotions and ideas are just a matter of time.

Don't worry about your boss delving into your daydreams just yet - the equipment needs calibration for each person, and the minor issue of said person being strapped down into an fMRI machine. But watch out: if there's on thing we in general, and the Japanese in particular, are good at, it's miniaturization.

Posted by Luke McKinney.

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Drillers break into magma chamber

By Jonathan Amos
Science reporter, BBC News, San Francisco

Kilauea (J.D.Griggs/USGS)
Kilauea is one of the most active volcanoes on Earth

It has been described as a geologist's dream - a unique opportunity to study up close the volcanic processes that built the Earth's continents.

Drillers looking for geothermal energy in Hawaii have inadvertently put a well right into a magma chamber.

Molten rock pushed back up the borehole several metres before solidifying, making it perfectly safe to study.

Magma specialist Bruce Marsh says it will allow scientists to observe directly how granites are made.

"This is unprecedented; this is the first time a magma has been found in its natural habitat," the Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, professor told BBC News.

"Before, all we had to deal with were lava flows; but they are the end of a magma's life. They're lying there on the surface, they've de-gassed. It's not the natural habitat.

"It's the difference between looking at dinosaur bones in a museum and seeing a real, living dinosaur roaming out in the field."

Professor Marsh has been discussing the discovery here at the American Geophysical Union's Fall Meeting 2008.

In control

This is not the first time drillers have encountered magma; the depth of the hit and the setting are, however, thought to be unique.

The exploratory well was being put down in the east of Hawaii's Big Island, through the basalt lava fields formed by Kilauea Volcano.

It could be this is how continents could have been started to be built on the planet
Bruce Marsh

The idea was to find steam from waters heated deep underground in fractured rock, to drive turbines on the surface to generate electricity. The company behind the project, Puna Geothermal Venture, has had a successful power operation in the area for 15 years.

But the drillers were shocked - not only to hit magma but to also hit such a big heat source at the relatively shallow depth of 2.5km.

"It's hotter than hell; it's over a thousand degrees centigrade," said Professor Marsh.

Bill Teplow, a consulting geologist with US Geothermal Inc, who oversaw the drilling, stressed there was no risk of an explosion or of a volcanic eruption at the site.

"It was easily controlled in the well bore because of the magma's highly viscous nature. It flowed up the well bore 5-10m but then the cool drilling fluid caused it to solidify and stop flowing," said Mr Teplow.

"At no time were we in danger of losing control of the well."


See Kilauea erupting earlier this year

The breakthrough was made in 2005. Only now are researchers confident enough about their work to discuss the details publicly.

They are not sure how large the magma chamber is, but some initial testing suggests it may have been put in place by activity from Kilauea in the 1950s, perhaps even the 1920s.

Professor Marsh said the chamber was docile and slowly cooling. The consistency of the magma was like chilled pancake syrup, he said.

It is hoped the site can now become a laboratory, with a series of cores drilled around the chamber to better characterise the crystallisation changes occurring in the rock as it loses temperature.

The magma is a dacite, making it chemically distinct from the basalt which forms nearly the entire mass of the Hawaiian Islands and the surrounding oceanic crust. It has a much higher silica content.

Hawaii Islands (BBC)

Dacite magma chemistry is similar to that of the granitic core of the continents. Professor Marsh said the Puna material, therefore, may represent the first time that the actual process of differentiation of continental-type rock from primitive oceanic basalt had been observed in situ.

"Granites are about 75% SiO2 and basalts are about 50%. Average continental material is probably in between, at about 60%," explained Professor Marsh.

"Here's one that turns out to be 67% silica. It's up there; it's a very respectable silicic magma. And it's in the middle of the ocean, and it could be this is how continents could have been started to be built on the planet."

Geothermal experts are also fascinated by the event. The Kilauea encounter is by far the shallowest and the hottest encounter of rock in a commercial operation, and it will be studied to see if there are lessons that can be applied to electrical generation project elsewhere in the world.

"We were at about 2.5km which is pretty routine drilling depth," explained Mr Teplow.

"But that is half the depth of experimental projects in Europe and Australia where they are drilling very deep into hot granite - some 5-5.5km down - and getting 260C rock; and here we're getting 1,050C rock."

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My Charlie Brown Christmas

posted by: Jerry Stone

It happens every year. Right on the heels of the most gluttonous Thursday of my life, it strikes: Christmas season.

In fact, it seems like even before Thanksgiving is over, the makeshift pumpkin patches of Halloween have magically transformed into Christmas tree lots. Rooftops are trimmed with various blinking colorful lights. And front lawns are now covered with inflatable or mechanical woodland creatures–or both.

It all walks a thin line between festive and seizure inducing.

And just as would be shoppers have claimed another Wal-Mart employee, I am stuck there with my annual Frosted Mini-Wheats dilemma: The kid in me really wants a fresh Christmas tree, but the adult in me cannot justify it.

I know what you are probably thinking. Why not an artificial tree? All I can say is that it’s just not the same.

As a kid, my father and I went to tree farms where we would chop one down in its prime. Not one of those “lots” people go to these days. I have very fond memories of being covered in tree sap, and impaled with pine needles. All of which I cherish to this day.

Do you know how hard it is for an environmentalist to reconcile memories of chopping down a tree? It sucks.

I have tried other options. My favorite is the Christmas rosemary bush. It comes all Christmas-tree-shaped. And it isn't like the smell of rosemary is a horrible thing.

But in the end, it’s not the same. I come back to this point because I think this is the same dilemma we all face everyday. As we work towards a greener lifestyle, how do we balance habits that we cherish with “what is right?”

I’d like to say I know, but I really don’t. Do you?

As for the Christmas tree, well, most years I just don’t get one. Instead I cruise the lots like a meth addict, taking in that pine fresh smell and reminiscing about the good ol’ days. But some years I do break down and buy one.

Don’t even get me started on whether or not I should get it flocked.

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Drillers Accidentally Create First Live Magma Observatory

By Alexis Madrigal


SAN FRANCISCO, California — Drillers accidentally hit a pocket of molten rock underneath a working geothermal energy field in Hawaii, a lucky break for geologists that could allow them to map the geological plumbing that created everything we know as land.

The unprecedented discovery could act as a "magma observatory," allowing scientists to test their theories about how processes transformed the molten rock below Earth's surface into the rocky crust that humans live on today.

"This is like Jurassic Park for magmatic systems," said Bruce Marsh, a geologist at Johns Hopkins University. "You can go to museums and see dinosaur skeletons. But if a paleontologist could see a dinosaur frolicking in the open countryside, it would be absolutely spellbinding. And this is what it is for me to see this thing in in its natural habitat."

Scientists know a lot about lava, but far less about its subsurface predecessor, magma, the molten material that originates deep in the crust and cools into rock near the surface, sometimes erupting as lava. They've developed models of magma's behavior based on how recently created land looks, but they've never glimpsed the stuff where the vast majority of it actually resides, underneath the crust that covers the globe. Understanding magma and how it forms land could shed light on how our continents came to be composed the way they are.

"This is how we built the Earth," Marsh said. "We built the Earth from very primitive materials, materials that remelted and remelted and distilled and eventually you get continental material."

"It's exciting," said geologist Peter Kelemen of the Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University. He agrees that a live magma chamber could reveal some fundamental things about how crust is formed.

Because this is the first encounter scientists have had with underground magma, they are still putting together plans for how to best study it. They will likely drill more holes into the chamber and send instruments down to take measurements of size and characteristics.

"We don't really understand how the chemical differentiation of magma occurs," he said. Some theories suggest the separation of buoyant and non-buoyant material is responsible for creating different types of crust, a process that would be dependent on convection.

"The subsurface magma chamber could be convecting," Kelemen said. "That would be interesting."

Previously, the closest scientists have been able to get to magma has been in Hawaiian lava lakes. But the magma becomes stagnant and cools. The magma in the chamber is insulated from the air, and geologists will be able to study it in action.

Like so many other discoveries in the history of science, this one was an accident and completely unexpected.

One day in 2005, a commercial geologist was boring a hole deep into Hawaii's crust, looking for a place to inject waste fluid from the Puna Geothermal Plant back into the Earth. It was a routine process; the company had spent months drilling into basalt. As per their standard operations, the engineer sent the drill bit crunching through some more rock, pulled back and then went to reset the bit to drill deeper. But something strange had happened.

"My colleague called me as soon as he saw it. He's a very experienced geologist and as soon as he saw it, he knew immediately that we were into something very different, especially the way it behaved coming up the wellbore," said Bill Teplow, a consulting geologist with U.S. Geothermal. "The driller can actually feel it. He pulled the drill string up and when he set it down, he didn't set down on bottom, he set down 30 feet up."

The geologist re-drilled the hole several times with the same result. When they looked at samples of the rock, it wasn't the gray basalt that looks like cooled lava, it was clear and glassy.

"This is a singular event," Marsh said. "It's first contact with the inner Earth where the magma lives."

In this case, the body of magma is sitting underneath a standard geothermal field, with all of the geological tools — like massive drilling rigs — that can aid their quest.

"This could be the first magma observatory in the Earth," Marsh said.

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NSF Reports on Jellyfish Gone Wild

by Jeremy Elton Jacquot, Los Angeles

jellyfish swarm

Image from Monty Graham/Dauphin Island Sea Lab

If you have any interest whatsoever in jellyfish—and, really, who doesn't?—then you should head on over to the National Science Foundation (NSF) website and read their special report on the environmental causes and ramifications of large jellyfish swarms. The interactive site is chock-full of videos, pictures (of course), interesting trivia (for example: a single jellyfish may release up to 45,000 eggs in a day) and several excellent primers on the species' ecology and swarm behavior.

moon jellyfish

Image from NOAA

It's no secret that jellyfish have slowly, but steadily, begun taking over the oceans in recent years. Thanks to climate change, overfishing, habitat deterioration and other anthropogenic impacts, jellyfish have flourished, both in size and in sheer numbers, often forming swarms of hundreds of millions of organisms.

The Japanese had a harrowing experience in the summer of 2005 when almost 500 million jellyfish—each weighing around 450 pounds—took up residence in the Sea of Japan on a daily basis. On a global scale, the massive swarms have cost the fishing and tourism industries hundreds of millions, perhaps even billions, of dollars in damage since 1980.

As Kimberley wrote about a few months ago, many biologists believe the growing presence of these gelatinous, seemingly innocuous, creatures signals that something is deeply wrong with the world's marine ecosystems. If the pace of their invasion is any indication, it may already be too late to save some of the most vulnerable ones.

Though jellyfish populations typically rise and fall over a 16 to 18-year period, their natural life and reproductive cycles seem to have accelerated under conditions of global warming and anthropogenic impact; indeed, 2008 marked the eight consecutive year that their numbers continued their meteoric rise.

Here are a few more interesting tidbits you'll find on the NSF's website:

1 microsecond is the time it takes a jellyfish stinger to hit its target. The discharge of the jellyfish's stinger is among the fastest movements in nature.

1/3 of the total weight of all life in Monterey Bay is from gelatinous animals.

20-40 people are killed annually from box jellyfish stings in the Philippines alone.

Some of the areas that have witnessed the largest increases in numbers—and the most spectacular swarms—include Hawaii, the Gulf of Mexico, the Bering Sea, the Mediterranean Sea, Australia, the Black Sea and the North Sea. You can see the full breakdown of swarm locations in recent years here.

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TOP TEN NEWS STORIES: Most Viewed of 2008

An alien-like squid with "elbows" is caught on video, the world's biggest atom smasher fires up, and unknown "structures" are detected tugging at our universe, and more. These are the most read stories covered by National Geographic's daily news team in 2008.

Top ten stories picture 10. Total Solar Eclipse on August 1: Where, How to See It
The eclipse's path of totality swept across northern Canada into central Russia and Mongolia before ending in China.

Top ten stories picture 9. Bigfoot Discovery Declared a Hoax
Shockingly, no evidence emerged to support the claimed discovery in August of the corpse of a seven-foot-tall (two-meter-tall) Sasquatch in the southern U.S.

Top ten stories picture 8. Oldest Living Tree Found in Sweden
A 9,550-year-old "Christmas tree" discovered on a Swedish mountain is the planet's most ancient known living plant, scientists announced in April.

Top ten stories picture 7. Great Pyramid Mystery to Be Solved by Hidden Room?
The discovery of a sealed space in Egypt's Great Pyramid, announced this past fall, may help solve a centuries-old mystery: How did the ancient Egyptians move two million 2.5-ton blocks to build the ancient wonder?

Top ten stories picture 6. Sky Show December 1: Jupiter, Venus, Moon Make "Frown"
The planetary bodies shone just a few degrees apart in an unusual cosmic conjunction on November 30, joined by the moon for a celestial trifecta on December 1.

Top ten stories picture 5. Hurricane Gustav to Become Gulf Coast Monster?
Hurricane Gustav was on the cusp of becoming a supercharged storm on August 27, when experts said developing high-pressure system could deflect it into the central Gulf of Mexico.

Top ten stories picture 4. Unknown "Structures" Tugging at Universe, Study Says
The universe is racing toward something beyond it, a study found this past fall. This "dark flow" may be evidence that our universe is part of something bigger—the multiverse.

Top ten stories picture 3. Portal to Maya Underworld Found in Mexico?
A newfound underground labyrinth filled with stone temples and pyramids—some underwater—likely relates to Maya myths of the afterlife, archaeologists said in August.

Top ten stories picture 2. Large Hadron Collider "Actually Worked"
The atom smasher's first step toward recreating post-big bang conditions was a September success. "Oh wow," exclaimed one scientist at the event, "it actually worked!" Just days later, it broke down.

Top ten stories picture 1. Alien-like Squid With "Elbows" Filmed at Drilling Site
At an extremely deep oil-drilling site, a remote control submersible's camera captured an eerie surprise: an alien-like, long-armed, and "elbowed" Magnapinna squid, scientists said in November.

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Arctic warming 'points to ice-free summers'

By Matthew Moore

Arctic warming 'points to ice-free summers'
In parts of the region air temperatures were 7C higher than normal for the season Photo: AP

Scientists have detected that autumn air temperatures in the region are higher than expected, due to a phenomena called Arctic amplification under which increased melting of sea ice in the summer accumulates heat in the ocean.

Climate-change researchers had not expected to observe Arctic amplification for 10 to 15 years, suggesting that global warming is more advanced that previously thought.

A study from the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco will show that the phenomena has been taking place for five years and will likely intensify in the future, raising the prospect of ice-free summers in the Arctic.

In parts of the region, such as the Beaufort Sea north of Alaska, air temperatures were 7C higher than normal for the season.

Julienne Stroeve of the US National Snow and Ice Data Centre, who jointly led the study, told The Independent: "The warming climate is leading to more open water in the Arctic Ocean. As these open water areas develop through spring and summer, they absorb most of the sun's energy, leading to ocean warming.

"In the autumn, as the sun sets in the Arctic, most of the heat that is gained in the ocean during summer is released back into the atmosphere. It is this heat-release back to the atmosphere that gives us Arctic amplification."

The Arctic had been predicted to see ice-free summers by 2070, but many scientists are now predicting it could happen within the next 20 years, according to the newspaper.

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Good news for wind, bad for ethanol in major energy study

By Tim De Chant

Growing concerns over climate change and energy security have kicked research on alternative energy sources into high gear. The list of options continues to expand, yet few papers have comprehensively reviewed them. And fewer still have weighed the pros and cons in as much depth as a new study published earlier this month in the journal, Energy & Environmental Science. The results are a mixed bag of logical conclusions and startling wake-up calls.

The review pits twelve combinations of electric power generation and vehicular motivation against each other. It is a battle royal of nine electric power sources, three vehicle technologies, and two liquid fuel sources. It rates each combination based on eleven categories. And it was all compiled by one man, Mark Jacobson, professor of civil and environmental engineering at Stanford University.

"I felt a need to pull together all the information we had plus that from other sources to quantify and rank... the best and worst proposals,” Jacobson told Ars.

The results of his mathematical ranking are both rational and unexpected. Wind power emerged as the overall victor. When teamed with battery electric and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, it claimed the top two spots by winning seven of the eleven categories. Photovoltaics are an unexpected also-ran, failing to make the top five. Politically favored ethanol stands out as the big loser of the study, falling behind "clean coal," a technology many consider a dead end. Ouch.

Such an undertaking suits Jacobson. He and his research group have broad experience in the alternative energy field. They have covered a variety of topics, from wind power to aerosol pollution to health and vehicle emissions. A few years ago, he dipped his toe into the policy arena. This study is his latest contribution.

"My hope is that policy makers will use this information and begin to focus on the best solutions to climate change, air pollution, and energy security," Jacobson said.

He's off to a good start. Two major alternative energy plans—RePower America and the Pickens Plan—already use information from Jacobson's compendium to bolster their proposals. He has also presented his results to New Mexico Senator Jeff Bingaman, Chair of the US Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, and shared early findings with the US House of Representatives Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming.

An alternative energy encyclopedia

Jacobson's success with policy makers should come as no surprise. He has created an encyclopedia of current knowledge on alternative energy sources for the 21st Century. In addition to evaluating many proposed sources of "green" electricity and fuel, he summarizes the technologies with respect to several categories. His ranking covers everything from water usage to terrorism to a proposed solution's effect on wildlife.

The breadth of these categories may have precipitated some of the unanticipated results. Jacobson emphasized two categories over the others—global warming emissions and mortality. The latter appears to be a novel addition to the ranking system, quantifying deaths caused both by pollution and war or terrorism. Nuclear and ethanol fared poorly in both categories.

Nuclear power, while clean at the point of generation, suffered from high emissions in this study. Nuclear pollutes throughout its lifespan. It starts with pollution from ore mining and continues through to plant decommissioning and waste storage. Nuclear also dropped in the rankings—although not by much—due to the risks posed by nuclear proliferation. Jacobson made an intriguing assessment of nuclear power’s mortality score. First, he envisioned a nightmarish, but not inconceivable, scenario—a “limited nuclear exchange,” or the detonation of 50 fifteen kiloton bombs. He estimated the deaths directly resulting from the bombings, and then calculated the number of deaths caused by soot and pollution from the burning cities. To arrive at the final result, he tempered this worst case scenario with a probability score, a number that attempts to gauge the likelihood of such an event.

Bad news for Eddie Ethanol

Cradle-to-grave emissions also sunk corn and cellulosic ethanol. While ethanol's direct tailpipe emissions are offset by subsequent crops, much of the carbon released early in the process is never recaptured, the paper said. With the expansion of farmed fuel, lands once considered marginal would fall under the till. The carbon stored within these targeted ecosystems is enormous, and its release would be extremely difficult to offset. And while ethanol attempts to address carbon emissions, it does nothing to reduce other gases responsible for climate change and respiratory diseases.

The pace of climate change may be unpredictable, but experts agree that significant warming will occur by the end of the century. Many scientists are urging quick action, so any delays in addressing the problem will further compound the issue. Wind, for example, is a proven and commercially available technology. It would be responsible for zero emissions due to delays in bringing the technology to production capacity. "Clean coal," on the other hand, is anything but proven, and so it drops in rank.

As is common in reviews, Jacobson relies on findings from previous studies. Some may consider this a deal breaker, but the paper is remarkably straightforward. All numbers, assumptions, and formulae that form the ranking’s backbone are listed in a detailed appendix (PDF).

With the economy currently in shambles and gas prices well below $2 a gallon, alternative energy sources may be the last thing people want to think about. But now may be the best time to act. The US labor market shed another 58,000 jobs last week alone, so plenty of workers await employment. And installing the capacity to power all road-going vehicles with electricity would be surprisingly easy. By comparison, the United States put 300,000 planes into the air during World War II. For that same effort, Jacobson says we could install between 73,000 and 144,000 five megawatt wind turbines. Doing so would prevent 15,000 pollution-related deaths a year and trim U.S. carbon emissions by nearly a third. This alone would not suffice to curtail US contributions to global warming, but it would be a start.

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Scientists Warn Large Earth Collider May Destroy Earth

BATAVIA, IL—In October, Fermilab scientists joined a growing number of physicists around the world in warning that the Very Large Earth Collider—a $117 billion electromagnetic particle accelerator built to study astronomical phenomena by colliding Earth into various heavenly bodies—could potentially destroy Earth when it sends the planet careening headlong into Mars, Jupiter, or even the sun.

Enlarge Image Earth

"The Large Earth Collider will surely gain us priceless scientific insight by offering a brief glimpse of the universe at the moment of its destruction," Fermilab director Gordon Josephs said. "But because the Collider achieves this by hurtling Earth into another large celestial object, there are some who feel the risks associated with annihilating our world are too high. All I know for certain is that this rigorous debate will only end when we activate the VLEC, make the Earth collide with another planet, and obtain results through firsthand observation."

"That's just good science," Josephs added.

Physicists at CERN and Brookhaven National Laboratory, who underwrote the VLEC's construction with donations from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, agree that there are "some troubling variables" whenever attempting to launch Earth through the vacuum of space into a massive body of solid matter. Yet, they insist, the academic benefits of a planetary collision outweigh any risk of annihilating the Earth.

"When we boil the oceans, tear the tectonic plates from the globe, and peel back the layers of the Earth to expose its molten core, we'll be seeing firsthand what end-times researchers have only theorized about," said Greg Giddings, a planetologist at the University of Michigan. "It might be worth the chance—which, if you ask me, is very small—of destroying the Earth in the process just to see that."

"There will always be Chicken Little types," theoretical physicist and futurist Michio Kaku said. "When the first nuclear reaction was achieved, there were those who said its very existence made it a weapon of unspeakable power, and there is evidence they may have been right. It's probably worth asking if the Very Large Earth Collider may in fact pose some minute danger to the Earth."

While the project remains controversial, physicists agreed in late November to reconvene and evaluate the risk factor of the project after a small-scale field test, during which the Very Large Earth Collider will be turned on at 10 percent capacity, catapulting Earth into the moon at only half the speed of light.

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