PLEASE NOTE:


*

CCNet 131/2001 - 7 December 2001
================================


"With the telescope, we aim to discover so-called near earth objects
(NEO), such as asteroids and comets, some of which may threaten to hit the
Earth. We will also detect space debris. Another mission is to
determine the orbits of these objects....It is possible to push the
orbit of a huge asteroid off collision course. Mankind has the means of
avoiding such a collision, say by readjusting the orbit by a mere one
centimetre or so, if there is ample time to prepare with the world's best
in space science and technology."
--Syuzo Isobe, Bisei Spaceguard Centre, 6 December 2001


"Jonathan Hensleigh, who wrote "Armageddon," about an asteroid
hitting Earth, confesses that he hadn't really worried much about the
scenes of devastation in his movie, which included computerized images
of a smoldering twin towers. The documentary juxtaposes these movie
illusions against the moment when the smoke billowing out of the World Trade
Center was real. "When we made `Armageddon,' we all of us certainly didn't
think we were going to be seeing any of those images in real life," Mr.
Hensleigh says. Later, he says, when it actually does happen and
you're watching it on CNN, "frankly, it gives you the creeps."
--Julie Salmon, The New York Times, 4 December 2001


(1) JAPAN'S SPACEGUARD CENTRE TO TRACK CELESTIAL CLUTTER
    Space Daily, 6 December 2001

(2) MOON OR CAPTURED ASTEROID?
    The Christchurch Press, 3 December 2001

(3) EXPLORERS VIEW 'LOST CITY' RUINS UNDER CARIBBEAN
    Carlos Trenary <carlos.trenary@vanderbilt.edu>

(4) THE SUN'S CHILLY IMPACT ON EARTH
    Andrew Yee <ayee@nova.astro.utoronto.ca>

(5) WHAT MAKES EUROPE PINK?
    Andrew Yee <ayee@nova.astro.utoronto.ca>

(6) ROSETTA REUNION AS LANDER IS DELIVERED AND MATED
    Andrew Yee <ayee@nova.astro.utoronto.ca>

(7) UK ASTRONOMERS TO BUILD UNIQUE RADIO TELESCOPE
    Jacqueline Mitton <aco01@dial.pipex.com>

(8) MAGI WERE PERSIAN PRIESTS
    Hermann Burchard <burchar@mail.math.okstate.edu>

(9) NEW DATING SYSTEM
    S. Fred Singer <singer@sepp.org>

(10) SCIENCE RESEARCH IN AUSTRALIA REACHES NEW HEIGHTS (DEPTHS?)
     Michael Paine <mpaine@tpgi.com.au>

(11) A SIGN FROM ETI?
     Michael Paine <mpaine@tpgi.com.au>

(12) AND FINALLY: BETTER THAN VIAGRA - CHRISTMAS TREES CAN BUILD LOVE BONDS
     Ananova, 7 December 2001

=================
(1) JAPAN'S SPACEGUARD CENTRE TO TRACK CELESTIAL CLUTTER

>From Space Daily, 6 December 2001
http://www.spacedaily.com/news/011206122014.4a54dyc0.html

TOKYO (AFP) Dec 06, 2001

A Japanese space observatory started work Thursday to install a wide-angled
telescope to track celestial debris with the ultimate aim of preventing a
disastrous impact on Earth.
The telescope's aperture is just one metre (39.4 inches) but it boasts a
field of view at three degrees, one of the largest in the world, according
to Bisei Spaceguard Centre executive director Syuzo Isobe.

The two-year-old centre, managed by the Tokyo-based non-profit organisation
Japan Space Forum, is located in the mountain town of Bisei, some 600
kilometres (375 miles) west of Tokyo.

"With the telescope, we aim to discover so-called near earth objects (NEO),
such as asteroids and comets, some of which may threaten to hit the Earth.
We will also detect space debris," Isobe told AFP.

"Another mission is to determine the orbits of these objects," he said.

Isobe noted the probability that an asteroid with a diameter of one
kilometre or more hits the Earth every 500,000 years. "It will cause a
global catastrophe and destroy civilisation," he said. He added, however,
there had been so far no discovery of an NEO posing such danger.

It is possible to push the orbit of a huge asteroid off collision course,
Isobe said.

"Mankind has the means of avoiding such a collision, say by readjusting the
orbit by a mere one centimetre or so, if there is ample time to prepare with
the world's best in space science and technology."

The telescope, scheduled to be set in place by the end of the year, will
also be used to monitor a stationary orbit at an altitude of 36,000
kilometres (22,500 miles), where satellite debris is concentrated.

This debris has been growing in amount and significance, following recent
events in which old satellites and space stations have fallen back to the
Earth, including Russia's Mir.

At Bisei, a smaller telescope will take hundreds of images of different
parts of the sky every night to discover new asteroids.

The new telescope will then follow up the new asteroids and make the
measurements needed to work out their orbits, according to the centre's
website (http://www.schoolsobservatory.org.uk/tel/bo).

It says that discovering an asteroid is only the first part of the
telescope's mission: tracking it to ward off a potential collision with
Earth is also imperative.

All rights reserved. İ 2000 Agence France-Presse

===========
(2) MOON OR CAPTURED ASTEROID?

The Christchurch Press, 3 December 2001

Natalie Jones, of Rangi Ruru Girls' School, asks: Why does Triton, a moon of
Neptune, rotate in the opposite direction to Neptune?

Alan Gilmore, an astronomer at the University of Canterbury's Mount John
Observatory, responds:

We think this is because Triton is not an original moon of Neptune but an
asteroid captured by Neptune's gravity. Other planets also have maverick
moons. Saturn's satellite Phoebe and several of Jupiter's small distant
moons move in orbits different from the big moons.

The current idea is that moons formed at the same time as their planets. A
cloud of dust and gas gathered together, and most of it became the planet. A
small amount of it went into a disc spinning around the planet's equator,
like Saturn's ring but much bigger. The disc coalesced into moons, all
moving in circular orbits in the same plane.

Later, some planets captured asteroid-sized objects that strayed into their
neighbourhood. Since these captured moons were not part of the disc, their
orbits are quite different from the other moons.

There is an old theory that Pluto was once a moon of Neptune until it and
Triton got into a gravitational tangle. This resulted in Pluto being kicked
into an orbit around the Sun while Triton's orbit was reversed. We don't
believe this now.

Since 1992, we've learned that Pluto is merely the biggest of a belt of icy
asteroids that orbit beyond Neptune. Triton was almost certainly one of
those asteroids before it was captured.

Copyright 2001 Independent Newspapers Limited.

=============
(3) EXPLORERS VIEW 'LOST CITY' RUINS UNDER CARIBBEAN

>From Carlos Trenary <carlos.trenary@vanderbilt.edu>

I don't know whether or not you had heard about this yet. Very fascinating.

------------
http://abcnews.go.com/wire/SciTech/reuters20011206_346.html

Explorers View 'Lost City' Ruins Under Caribbean

By Andrew Cawthorne

HAVANA (Reuters) - Explorers using a miniature submarine to probe the sea
floor off the coast of Cuba said on Thursday they had confirmed the
discovery of stone structures deep below the ocean surface that may have
been built by an unknown human civilization thousands of years ago.

Researchers with a Canadian exploration company said they filmed over the
summer ruins of a possible submerged "lost city" off the Guanahacabibes
Peninsula on the Caribbean island's western tip. The researchers cautioned
that they did not fully understand the nature of their find and planned to
return in January for further analysis, the expedition leader said on
Thursday.

The explorers said they believed the mysterious structures, discovered at
the astounding depth of around 2,100 feet and laid out like an urban area,
could have been built at least 6,000 years ago. That would be about 1,500
years earlier than the great Giza pyramids of Egypt.

"It's a really wonderful structure which looks like it could have been a
large urban center," said Soviet-born Canadian ocean engineer Paulina
Zelitsky, from British Columbia-based Advanced Digital Communications (ADC).

"However, it would be totally irresponsible to say what it was before we
have evidence," Zelitsky told Reuters.

Zelitsky said the structures may have been built by unknown people when the
current sea-floor actually was above the surface. She said volcanic activity
may explain how the site ended up at great depths below the Caribbean Sea.

In July 2000, ADC researchers using sophisticated side-scan sonar equipment
identified a large underwater plateau with clear images of symmetrically
organized stone structures that looked like an urban development partly
covered by sand. From above, the shapes resembled pyramids, roads and
buildings, they said.

"ULISES" ASSISTS UNDERWATER ODYSSEY

This past July, ADC researchers, along with the firm's Cuban partner and
experts from the Cuban Academy of Sciences, returned to the site in their
ship "Ulises." They said they sent a miniature, unmanned submarine called a
Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) down to film parts of the 7.7-square-mile
area.

Those images confirmed the presence of huge, smooth, cut granite-like blocks
in perpendicular and circular formations, some in pyramid shapes, the
researchers said. Most of the blocks, measuring between about 6.5 and 16
feet in length, were exposed, some stacked one on another, the researchers
said.

Others were covered in sediment and the fine, white sand that characterizes
the area, the researchers said.

The intriguing discovery provided evidence that Cuba at one time was joined
to mainland Latin America via a strip of land from the Yucatan Peninsula,
the researchers said.

"There are many new hypotheses about land movement and colonialization, and
what we are seeing here should provide very interesting new information,"
Zelitsky said.

ADC's deep-water equipment includes a satellite-integrated ocean bottom
positioning system, high-precision side-scan double-frequency sonar, and the
ROV. The company currently is commissioning what it calls the world's first
custom-designed ocean excavator for marine archeology to begin work both at
the Guanahacabibes site and at ship wrecks.

ADC is the deepest operator among four foreign firms working in joint
venture with President Fidel Castro's government to explore Cuban waters
containing hundreds of treasure-laden ships from the colonial era.

The Canadian company already has discovered several historic sunken Spanish
ships.

In an earlier high-profile find, ADC was testing equipment in late 2000 off
Havana Bay when it spotted the century-old wreck of the American battleship
USS Maine. The ship had not been located since it blew up mysteriously in
1898, killing 260 American sailors and igniting the Spanish-American War.

The rush of interest in Cuba's seas in recent years is due in part to the
Castro government's recognition that it does not have the money or
technology to carry out systematic exploration by itself, although it does
have excellent divers.

American companies are prohibited from operating in Cuba by the long-running
U.S. embargo on the Communist-run island.

Copyright 2001 Reuters News Service.
 
==============
(4) THE SUN'S CHILLY IMPACT ON EARTH

>From Andrew Yee <ayee@nova.astro.utoronto.ca>

Cynthia O'Carroll
Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.       December 6, 2001
Cynthia.M.OCarroll.1@gsfc.nasa.gov
Phone: (301) 614-5563

Release No. 01-111

THE SUN'S CHILLY IMPACT ON EARTH

A new NASA computer climate model reinforces the long-standing theory that
low solar activity could have changed the atmospheric circulation in the
Northern Hemisphere from the 1400's to the 1700's and triggered a "Little
Ice Age" in several regions including North America and Europe. Changes in
the sun's energy was one of the biggest factors influencing climate change
during this period, but have since been superceded by greenhouse gases due
to the industrial revolution.

During the Little Ice Age, access to Greenland was largely cut off by ice
from 1410 to the 1720's. At the same time, canals in Holland routinely froze
solid, glaciers advanced in the Alps, and sea-ice increased so much that no
open water was present in any direction around Iceland in 1695.

Drew Shindell of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, New York, N.Y.,
and other researchers have used a computer model to reconstruct climate and
atmospheric conditions from the present back to the Little Ice Age.

They determined that a dimmer sun reduced the model's westerly winds,
cooling the continents during wintertime. Shindell's model shows large
regional climate changes, unlike other climate models that show relatively
small temperature changes on an overall global scale. Other models did not
assess regional changes.

During the coldest part of the Little Ice Age, from 1645 to 1715, there is
believed to have been a decrease in the total energy output from the sun, as
indicated by little or no sunspot activity. Known as the Maunder Minimum,
astronomers of the time observed only about 50 sunspots for a 30-year period
as opposed to a more typical 40-50,000 spots. The sun normally shows signs
of variability, such as its eleven-year sunspot cycle. Within that time, it
goes from a minimum to a maximum period of activity represented by a peak in
sunspots and flare activity.

Beginning in 1611, Galileo Galilei made drawings of lower sunspot activity
before the Maunder Minimum. Records of sunspot activity during the Minimum
from other astronomers confirm the lower number of sunspots over the70 year
event.

During those periods of low solar activity, levels of the sun's ultraviolet
radiation decrease, and can significantly impact ozone formation in the
stratosphere. "The changes in ozone that we modeled were key in producing
the enhanced response," Shindell said. "The changes in the upper atmosphere
then feed down to the surface climate."

Between the mid-1600's and the early 1700's the Earth's surface temperatures
in the Northern Hemisphere appear to have been at or near their lowest
values of the last millennium. European winter temperatures over that time
period were reduced by 1.8 to 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit (1-1.5 Celsius). This
cool down is evident through derived temperature readings from tree rings
and ice cores, and in historical temperature records, as gathered by the
University of Massachusetts-Amherst and the University of Virginia.

Shindell noted that the effects of this period of a dimmer sun were
concentrated more regionally than globally. "Global average temperature
changes are small, approximately .5 to .7 degrees
Fahrenheit (0.3-0.4C), but regional temperature changes are quite large."
Shindell said that his climate model simulation shows the temperature
changes occurring mostly because of a change in the Arctic Oscillation/North
Atlantic Oscillation (AO/NAO).

This oscillation is basically a hemispheric-scale see-saw of atmospheric
pressure and temperature between the mid latitudes and the Arctic which
modulates the strength of the westerly jet stream winds. These winds are
reduced as the AO/NAO shifts in response to a dimmer sun. Because the oceans
are relatively warm during the winter due to their large heat capacity, the
diminished flow creates cold land temperatures by reducing the transport of
warm Pacific air to America, and warm Atlantic air to Europe. During this
shift, winter temperatures cooling of as much as 2 to 4 degrees Fahrenheit
(1-2 C).

The paper, "Solar forcing of regional climate change during the Maunder
Minimum," by authors Shindell, Gavin Schmidt and David Rind from NASA's
Goddard Institute for Space Studies and co-authors Michael Mann and Anne
Waple, from the Universities of Virginia and Massachusetts respectively,
appears in the December 7 issue of the journal Science.

"The period of low solar activity in the middle ages led to atmospheric
changes that seem to have brought on the Little Ice Age. However, we need to
keep in mind that variations in solar output have had far less impact on the
Earth's recent climate than human actions," Shindell said. "The biggest
catalyst for climate change today are greenhouse gases," he added.

For more information, see:
http://www.gsfc.nasa.gov/topstory/20011207iceage.html

==============
(5) WHAT MAKES EUROPE PINK?

>From Andrew Yee <ayee@nova.astro.utoronto.ca>

New Scientist

UK CONTACT:
Claire Bowles, New Scientist Press Office, London
Tel: +44(0)20 7331 2751 or email claire.bowles@rbi.co.uk

What makes Europa pink? Does Europa's rosy glow betray a flourishing colony
of bugs?

THE red tinge of Europa, one of Jupiter's moons, could be caused by frozen
bits of bacteria. Their presence would also help explain Europa's mysterious
infrared signal. Europa is mostly frozen water, but it absorbs infrared
radiation differently to how normal ice does. Researchers think this is
because something is binding the water molecules together. Salts of
magnesium sulphate frozen within the ice, for example, would make the
molecules vibrate at different frequencies. But no one has managed to come
up with the perfect mix of salts to explain all of Europa's spectrum.

Astrogeophysicist Brad Dalton wondered if something else was bound up with
the water molecules. "Just on a lark, I asked a colleague of mine at
Yellowstone if he had any IR spectra of extremophile bacteria," he says, and
he was shocked by how well they matched Europa's mysterious spectrum. Then
he analysed three kinds of bacteria under the same sort of conditions as
Europa: its temperature is about -170 C and at 0.01 millibars it has
virtually no atmosphere.

Preliminary results show that all three species, the ordinary gut bacteria
Escherichia coli, and extremophiles Deinococcus radiodurans and Sulfolobus
shibatae, are just as good at explaining Europa's IR spectrum as the salts.
However Dalton says the two species that thrive under extreme conditions are
obviously more likely candidates for life on the icy moon. They also happen
to be pink and brown, which would help explain the red patches on the moon's
face.

Bacteria couldn't survive on Europa's surface, but there might be liquid
water inside Europa's icy crust capable of supporting life. "They could be
blasted out to the surface in some kind of eruption and flash frozen," says
Dalton. He plans to present his results at the Lunar and Planetary Science
conference next spring.

Glenn Teeter from the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Washington
state says bacteria aren't the simplest explanation for Europa's spectrum.
"It does strike me as a bit far fetched," he says. But it can't be ruled out
until we go there to see.

Author: Nicola Jones

New Scientist issue: 8th December 2001

PLEASE MENTION NEW SCIENTIST AS THE SOURCE OF THIS STORY AND, IF PUBLISHING
ONLINE, PLEASE CARRY A HYPERLINK TO: http://www.newscientist.com

=============
(6) ROSETTA REUNION AS LANDER IS DELIVERED AND MATED

>From Andrew Yee <ayee@nova.astro.utoronto.ca>

ESA Science News
http://sci.esa.int

06 Dec 2001

Rosetta reunion as Lander is delivered and mated

The Rosetta Lander, designed to be the first spacecraft in the history of
space exploration to make a soft-landing on the icy nucleus of a comet, has
now joined its 'mother craft' at the European Space Research and Technology
Centre (ESTEC) in the Netherlands.

Over the coming months, the two elements of the most ambitious mission ever
to explore a comet will undergo a complex test programme to prepare them for
their eight-year trek to the depths of the Solar System.

"The Lander successfully completed a comprehensive series of environmental
tests in Germany," said Philippe Kletzkine, ESA manager for the Rosetta
Lander. "These included vibration tests, thermal-vacuum tests and magnetic
tests, as well as measurements of its electromagnetic
characteristics, mass and centre of gravity."

"In other words, the respective engineering specialists weighed it, checked
its balance when spinning, and measured how magnetic it is," he explained.
"Then they simulated the hazardous conditions associated with the launch and
the trek through space by shaking it and changing
its temperature by more than 100 degrees Celsius in an airless chamber."

After the prolonged programme of testing at the premises of IABG in Munich,
the Rosetta Lander was transported inside an air conditioned container to
the ESA test facilities in Noordwijk, the Netherlands. No time was wasted
upon arrival, as the engineers worked long shifts over the weekend to
unload, check out and attach the 96 kg Lander to its eject mechanism and
Lander interface. By 3 December, the Lander was ready to be mated to its
much larger 'mother craft'.

Over the next few weeks, the combined spacecraft will undergo a major
'integrated systems' test to ensure that the Orbiter control computers can
communicate with the attached Lander and that the Lander responds in the
correct way. This will be followed in late January with a four-week
thermal-vacuum test, when the spacecraft will be alternately baked and
frozen to check its ability to survive the extreme temperatures they will
experience during the long journey to Comet
Wirtanen.

ESA's comet chasing Rosetta spacecraft comprises an Orbiter and a Lander.
The Orbiter is scheduled to arrive at Comet Wirtanen and brake into orbit
around its solid nucleus in the summer of 2011. Once the surface of the
comet's nucleus has been surveyed in unprecedented detail and a suitable
landing site has been selected, the Lander will separate from the Orbiter
and slowly descend a few kilometres to the pristine surface.

Over a period of several weeks, the suite of nine instruments will send back
close-up pictures, drill into the organic crust, sample the primordial ices
and gases and probe the internal structure of this cosmic snowball.

"Working in unison, the Lander and the Orbiter will revolutionise our
understanding of comets," said Rosetta project scientist, Gerhard Schwehm.
"They will lead to amazing discoveries about the most primitive building
blocks of the Solar System."

For more information please contact:

Philippe Kletzkine
Lander manager in the Rosetta project
ESTEC
The Netherlands
Tel: +31 71 565 3761
E-mail: Philippe.Kletzkine@esa.int

Dr. Gerhard Schwehm
Rosetta project scientist
ESTEC
The Netherlands
Tel: +31 71 565 3539
E-mail: Gerhard.schwehm@esa.int

USEFUL LINKS FOR THIS STORY

* Rosetta Lander home page at MPAe
  http://roland.mpae.gwdg.de/
* Rosetta Lander home page at DLR
  http://www.rosetta-lander.net
* More about the Rosetta Lander
  http://sci.esa.int/content/doc/e0/2272_.htm
* More about Rosetta
  http://sci.esa.int/rosetta/

IMAGE CAPTIONS:

[Image 1:
http://sci.esa.int/content/searchimage/searchresult.cfm?aid=13&cid=12&oid=29101&ooid=29087 ]
Rosetta Lander during thermal vacuum testing at IABG, Munich. The Lander is
seen from above (with respect to the attitude at launch), illuminated by the
artificial Sun. The Landing gear is extended (3 legs). The 'bright columns'
in the lower half of the picture are a support stand, or 'test adaptor'; it
is not part of the Lander but its purpose is to let the Lander stand in the
right position in the test facility.

Scale: when the landing gear is stowed the Lander forms a cube of (roughly)
1m x 1m x 1m.
Rosetta Lander photo taken on 2 November 2001 at IABG, Ottobrun (near
Munich).

[Image 2:
http://sci.esa.int/content/searchimage/searchresult.cfm?aid=13&cid=12&oid=29101&ooid=29092 ]
The Rosetta Lander is integrated with the Orbiter at ESTEC, 3 December
2001: the spacecraft is lying on its side while the Lander is lowered
down onto the Orbiter.

[Image 3:
http://sci.esa.int/content/searchimage/searchresult.cfm?aid=13&cid=12&oid=29101&ooid=29093 ]
The Rosetta Lander after integration with the Orbiter at ESTEC, 3 December
2001: the Lander is now attached to the Orbiter and the spacecraft has been
rotated to be in the correct orientation.

[Image 4:
http://sci.esa.int/content/searchimage/searchresult.cfm?aid=13&cid=12&oid=29101&ooid=29094 ]
Another view of the Rosetta Lander integrated with the Orbiter at ESTEC, 3
December 2001: in the foreground the (stowed) landing gear can be seen
attached to the baseplate (lower face) of the Lander. The side faces, which
are covered with a solar array, are shielded by non-flight black protective
covers.

================
(7) UK ASTRONOMERS TO BUILD UNIQUE RADIO TELESCOPE

>From Jacqueline Mitton <aco01@dial.pipex.com>

THE FOLLOWING PRESS NOTICE HAS BEEN RECEIVED FROM JODRELL BANK OBSERVATORY,
UNIVERSITY OF MANCHESTER, UK, AND IS FORWARDED FOR YOUR INFORMATION. NOTE
THAT CONTACT INFORMATION IS AT END OF THE MAIN TEXT.

Jacqueline Mitton (Royal Astronomical Society Press Officer)

Manchester. Wednesday 5 December 2001. 3.00 p.m. GMT

UK Astronomers to Build Unique Radio Telescope

UK astronomers are poised for a new era of discovery with the development of
e-MERLIN, the world's most powerful radio telescope. This ambitious project
will use new technology  to connect antennas across the UK, creating the
largest and most sensitive linked network in the world.

The 217km MERLIN radio-telescope array, run by The University of
Manchesterıs Jodrell Bank Observatory, is to be given a £7.8m upgrade. This
has been made possible by the agreement, announced today, of the Particle
Physics and Astronomy Research Council (PPARC) to continue funding MERLIN
operations, so assuring the future of Jodrell Bank.

Professor Andrew Lyne, Director of the Jodrell Bank Observatory, welcomed
the PPARC announcement:

"The enhancement to MERLIN will give UK astronomers access to one of the
worldıs major astronomical research instruments. This development reflects
the proven technical excellence of the University staff and their
world-leading research programmes."

Dr. Philip Diamond, Director of the MERLIN/VLBI National Facility added:

"In combination with the newly resurfaced 76m Lovell telescope, the upgrade
will give a 30-fold increase in sensitivity.  This will enable the enhanced
instrument, called e-MERLIN, to probe far deeper into the Universe,
achieving in one day what would currently take three years of continuous
observation."

The upgrade is to be funded by the North West Development Agency (NWDA) and
a consortium of three universities ­ Manchester, UMIST and Cambridge. The
NWDA have agreed in principle to a contribution of up to £2.5 million, and
its Chief Executive, Mike Shields, welcomed today's news:

"I am delighted that the NWDA's funding contribution will help to secure the
future of Jodrell Bank - a longstanding symbol of scientific endeavour in
the North West. This package will not just maintain Jodrell Bank's position
at the leading edge of world astronomy, but will also help to maintain the
region's reputation for excellence in the future."

MERLIN is the UK's national radio-imaging facility and the only world-class
astronomical facility based solely in the UK.  No other radio facility in
the world can routinely match the resolution of the Hubble Space Telescope.
The completion of the new instrument in 2007 will help keep the UK at the
forefront of astronomical research for years to come.

Radio-astronomy is crucial to the understanding of our Universe because
radio waves penetrate the clouds of dust and gas that hamper observations at
other frequencies. e-MERLIN will have unprecedented sensitivity and an
imaging capability equivalent to viewing a 1p piece at a distance of 50
miles.  It will thus open up new areas of science, particularly in fields
such as extragalactic astronomy and cosmology, star formation across the
Universe and studies of the extreme conditions around black holes.

The current MERLIN telescope is made up of seven radio-antennas sited around
the UK. Much of the increase in sensitivity created by the upgrade will be
due to the introduction of optical fibre connections between the antennas.
This will allow a far greater proportion of the radio waves actually
collected by the individual antennas to be brought back to Jodrell Bank than
by the existing microwave radio links.

Dr. Diamond thanked Sir Martin Harris, Vice-Chancellor of the University of
Manchester, for playing such a crucial role in putting together the capital
funding package. He warmly welcomed the various partners involved in the
project and also wished to thank the Cheshire County Council, North West
Members of Parliament, and local Councillors for their great support,
without which the project may well not have come to fruition.
 
Professor Tom Millar, Head of UMIST's Astrophysics Group said:

"I and my colleagues are very pleased to be part of this exciting
development and look forward to using e-MERLIN to advance significantly our
research on star formation and the late stages of stellar evolution."

Richard Hills, Professor of Radio Astronomy at Cambridge, said:

"This is very good news for the future of UK Radio Astronomy. One of the
MERLIN antennas is located here and we are delighted to be playing a part in
the project. We are very much looking forward to using the enhanced
facility."

End of release.

Related images may be downloaded from the following URL:
http://www.jb.man.ac.uk/news/e-MERLIN/


============================
* LETTERS TO THE MODERATOR *
============================

(8) MAGI WERE PERSIAN PRIESTS

>From Hermann Burchard <burchar@mail.math.okstate.edu>

Dear Benny,

in several fascinating CCNet notes, Mark Kidger debates the question of
whether the Magi of the nativity were Persian or from Babylon (CCNet Aug 31,
Sep 7, Dec 5). As I tried to explain (CCNet Sep 5), this really should not
be a debatable issue as the Magi were the priests, or priestly clan, of the
Persian religion of Zoroastrianism, GENERICALLY (similiar to the Jewish
tribe of the Levites furnishing the priestly caste of the Hebrews). There
might have been an occasional impostor, a magician (see below).

>From Cyrus on, Babylon remained in the Persian realm, under one dynasty or
another, (until the Moslem conquest 629 CE). Hundreds of Magi would have had
residence in Babylon. Thus, "Persian"  and "Babylonian" are in no way
contradictory or mutually exclusive terms when applied to the Magi.

Of course, the Persians are given huge credit in the Bible for releasing the
Jews from the Babylonian captivity after the Persians under Cyrus the Great
in 538 BCE took the city. The Persian kings even supplied monetary funds,
building materials, and letters of protection for the returning Jews to
rebuild Jerusalem.

Hence Mark is certainly wrong when he writes (CCNet Sep 7) "..Persians did
sack Babylon and would have taken Jews as booty in the same way that the
Babylonians themselves had taken many thousands of Jews to Babylon after
they sacked Jerusalem... The issue of how settled it is that the Magi were
Persian or not is less clear to me.  Most writers do assume that they were
Babylonian..."

The English word MAGIC is of Greek origin. The connection is not without
interest:  As a part of the Zoriastrian religion they believe in good angels
(amesha spentas, etc) and evil spirits (devas - demons) with a special
scripture for defeating demons (Vendidad). Among the Hellenes
this gave them the reputation that they had power over spirits - magical
powers. These facts may not be as widely known as they could, but all this
is easily found (start with Mary Boyce although she has a somewhat narrow
focus on occasion).

The Christian religion was initially heavily influenced by the Magi, as can
be seen from many aspects of New Testament (NT) stories, theology, and
ethics. A concurrent and probably related revival of Zoroastrianism existed
in Armenia during the early decades of the Common Era sponsored by their
Parthian kings. For this reason the Armenian Church became the oldest
national church.  The Parthians were non-Persian rulers of Persia from about
200 BCE - 250 CE.  The 800 year rivalry between Rome and Persia in the
Middle East, with Rome generally but not always having the upper hand,
precluded any enduring Zoroastrian legacy within Christianity.

The memory of the nexus was lost until the 18th century when Europeans made
contact with Parsis of Bombay, surviving Zoroastrians. But see Mark Kidger's
wonderful accounts of Persian allusions in the church in Ravenna and Marco
Polo's Persian encounters. Contact was not lost instantly!
Also, there are still small pockets of Zoroastrianism in Persia in remote
mountains of Persia, see recent PBS (BBC?) series on Alexander the Great.
Zoroastrianism came to be denounced as gnosticism, and the rise of
Manicheism did more damage. Mohammed wisely included angels and other
Zoroastrian features in Islam.

The true meaning of the Star of Bethlehem (to me) is the acknowledgement of
the Zoroastrian heritage in the NT, properly veiled. This indebtedness
submerged in the Judaism of Jesus and his apostles is evident in ethical and
theological concepts such as the kingdom of heaven, faith (amen), peace
(shalom), the beatitudes (blessed - ashri), immortality, the holy spirit,
angels, and demons (which the Pharisees - Parsis also had brought home upon
their return from the Captivity under Ezra and Nehemia). The religions of
other, neighboring nations were known to ancient peoples, and largely
co-mingled outside of temple precincts, where jealous priesthoods
ruled.

Probably there were significant astronomical events, feared if suggestive of
a possible comet.  Personally, I like the nova possibility the best. If
bright enough it must have inspired awe, that conjunctions did not, as Mark
Kidger tells us. A nova would be quickly distinguished as benign in
distinction from a comet, were it is necessary to wait out its development.
The star is adduced by Matthew to give legitimacy to the story. The thought
of legitimacy is said to have motivated much of his writing, emphasizing
myth and mythological allusions from the Hebrew Bible.  Is the myth
important or the ethics? I think the latter. Under the Parthians,
Christianity was allowed to spread into Persia, the Marco Polo story could
have had its origin then.  Afterwards, the Persians got rid of the Parthians
and of Christianity along with the foreign rulers, clearly a measure
designed to stiffen their backs vis-a-vis the constant struggle against an
increasingly Christian Rome, even with persecutions continuing for several
more decades.

Regards,
Hermann

=============
(9) NEW DATING SYSTEM

>From S. Fred Singer <singer@sepp.org>

Dear Benny

The learned discussions about the Star of Bethlehem and the Calendar brings
to mind the ingenious proposal by my late colleague, the noted geologist
Cesare Emiliani;

Set the beginning of the calendar in the early Holocene by simply adding
10,000 years to all dates after Christ and restating the dates BC. It would
eliminate the Year Zero problem and get rid of the BC/AD business.

He published the idea in Nature and organized a special session of the AGU
on this topic a few years ago.

Best                Fred

===========
(10) SCIENCE RESEARCH IN AUSTRALIA REACHES NEW HEIGHTS (DEPTHS?)

>From Michael Paine <mpaine@tpgi.com.au>

Dear Benny

Although nothing to do with the CCNet Charter, CCNet subscribers might be
interested in some recently "published" scientific research in Australia:
BELLY BUTTON LINT - THE HOLE STORY
The results are finally in the bag for Dr Karl's Belly Button Lint Survey.
What causes belly button lint and who gets it? All is revealed. You can also
see belly button lint up-close-and-personal, be boggled by belly button
facts and peruse the astute observations of our survey respondents. A big
thank you to everyone who contributed.
http://www.abc.net.au/science/k2/lint/default.htm:)

Michael Paine

PS Dr Karl Kruszelnicki is a brilliant promoter of science in Australia and
occasionally mentions Spacegaurd on his popular radio show.

=============
(11) A SIGN FROM ETI?

>From Michael Paine <mpaine@tpgi.com.au>

Benny,

Please see http://www.improbable.com/news/2001/nov/friendship-finger.html

HotAIR: The Cosmic Finger of Friendship! - does this Hubble image reveal a
message from ETI?
I certainly see this sign quite often driving on Sydney's roads!:)

Michael Paine

===========
(12) AND FINALLY: BETTER THAN VIAGRA - CHRISTMAS TREES CAN BUILD LOVE BONDS

>From Ananova, 7 December 2001
http://www.ananova.com/news/story/sm_466991.html?menu=news.scienceanddiscovery

US psychologists say couples who decorate their Christmas trees together
have happier marriages.

A study into relationship satisfaction found those who share religious
rituals have a better chance of building a stronger bond.

It found many couples use festivals such as Christmas to make their
relationships stronger.

Psychologists Barbara Fiese and Thomas Tomcho, of Syracuse University,
interviewed 120 couples who had been married for an average of nine years.

Each was asked about the importance of religion when they were growing up
and in their current families.

They were also asked questions like "Do you confide in your mate?" and "How
often do you laugh together?".

Fiese and Tomcho found that religion, through its rituals, is related to
marital satisfaction.

The authors write: "In the context of a changing society in which marriage
is a vulnerable institution, religious ritual practices may preserve
relationships and serve as a positive template for future generations."

The findings are reported in the Journal of Family Psychology published by
the American Psychological Association.

Copyright 2001, Ananova

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