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Ancient Tablets Decoded; Shed Light on Assyrian Empire

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© University of Akron
Ancient clay tablets (such as the one pictured) inscribed with cuneiform script, a type of ancient writing once common in the Middle East, have been found in southeastern Turkey.
Meticulous ancient notetakers have given archaeologists a glimpse of what life was like 3,000 years ago in the Assyrian Empire, which controlled much of the region between the Mediterranean Sea and the Persian Gulf.

Clay tablets inscribed with cuneiform, an ancient script once common in the Middle East, were unearthed in summer 2009 in an ancient palace in present-day southeastern Turkey.

Palace scribes jotted down seemingly mundane state affairs on the tablets during the Late Iron Age - which lasted from roughly the end of the ninth century B.C. until the mid-seventh century B.C.

But these everyday details, now in the early stages of decoding, may open up some of the inner workings of the Assyrian government - and the people who toiled in the empire, experts say.

Telescope

Saturn's Mysterious Hexagon Emerges from Winter Darkness

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© NASA
A still from a movie from Cassini, made possible only as Saturn's north pole emerged from winter darkness, showing new details of a jet stream that follows a hexagon-shaped path and has long puzzled scientists.
After waiting years for the sun to illuminate Saturn's north pole again, cameras aboard NASA's Cassini spacecraft have captured the most detailed images yet of the intriguing hexagon shape crowning the planet.

The new images of the hexagon, whose shape is the path of a jet stream flowing around the north pole, reveal concentric circles, curlicues, walls and streamers not seen in previous images. Images and the three-frame animation are available here, here, and here.

The last visible-light images of the entire hexagon were captured by NASA's Voyager spacecraft nearly 30 years ago, the last time spring began on Saturn. After the sunlight faded, darkness shrouded the north pole for 15 years. Much to the delight and bafflement of Cassini scientists, the location and shape of the hexagon in the latest images match up with what they saw in the Voyager pictures.

Binoculars

Hubble telescope finds galaxies from infancy of universe

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© NASA/ESA/PA
The new Hubble image showing galaxies more distant than any seen before

Images of some of the most distant galaxies in the Universe have been captured by the Hubble Space Telescope.

The galaxies, identified by British astronomers, date back to when the Universe was in its infancy - less than a billion years after the Big Bang.

The astronomers say that the 35 galaxies are probably the oldest ever observed.

The measurements were made using the new Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3), an infrared telescope that was installed during the most recent Space Shuttle servicing mission in May.

Light from very distant galaxies is "stretched out" as it travels through space, making it appear redder.

"Having a new camera on Hubble, which is very sensitive in the infrared means we can identify galaxies at much greater distances than was previously possible," Stephen Wilkins, an astrophysicist at the University of Oxford, said.

Pharoah

Egypt Ignores Rebuff and Demands British Museum Return Rosetta Stone

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Egypt's most senior antiquities official will visit Britain tomorrow to push on with a campaign to have the Rosetta Stone returned from the British Museum to its native country.

Speaking in his offices, amid piles of Pharaonic books, museum records and archaeological dig requests, Zahi Hawass, the head of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities, said he would not be swayed by the British Museum's refusal to return the item, which he considers the "icon of Egyptian identity".

Dr Hawass, who will meet egyptologists in London, has been encouraged in his campaign by his success in securing the return of five ancient fresco fragments from the Louvre in Paris . Dr Hawass is also pursuing the return of the Queen Nefertiti bust from Neues Museum, Berlin, the Dendera Zodiac from the Louvre and a bust of the pyramid builder Ankhaf from the Boston Museum of Fine Art.

Dr Hawass, 52, said he has an "entire department" working to uncover evidence of other stolen Egyptian antiquities.

Bizarro Earth

Climategate: A Willful Ignorance

"Future generations will wonder in bemused amazement that the early 21st century's developed world went into hysterical panic over a globally averaged temperature increase of a few tenths of a degree, and, on the basis of gross exaggerations of highly uncertain computer projections combined into implausible chains of inference, proceeded to contemplate a roll-back of the industrial age." - MIT Professor Richard Lindzen, PhD, Atmospheric Science

"On such (climate) models we are supposed to wager trillions of dollars - and substantially diminished freedom."- George F. Will, syndicated columnist, Washington Post
Long ago I took one science course in college because it was required, not because I had any great interest in science. The course was zoology and only my end of semester paper on raccoons, an assigned subject, avoided a failing grade. To this day, more than 50 years later, I still recall that its Latin name was Procyon lotar.

Magnify

Scientists Reveal Key Structure from Ebola Virus

Scientists at The Scripps Research Institute have determined the structure of a critical protein from the Ebola virus, which, though rare, is one of the deadliest viruses on the planet killing between 50 and 90 percent of those infected.

Described in the advance, online Early Edition of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), the research reveals how a key component of the Ebola virus, called VP35, blocks the human immune system, allowing the virus uncontrolled replication. The structure represents a major step forward in understanding how the deadly virus works, and may be useful in the development of potential treatments for those infected.

"After infection, the virus and immune system are in a race," said Erica Ollmann Saphire, Ph.D., associate professor at Scripps Research, who led the three-year effort to solve the structure. "If the virus can hide its molecular signatures, it can suppress immune responses and replicate unchecked. This new understanding of the mechanism that Ebola virus uses to evade the immune system opens the door for developing drug therapies."

Sherlock

Ancient Temple Architects May Have Been Chasing a Buzz From Sound Waves


Emerging archaeology in a new study highlighted by the Old Temples Study Foundation suggests that sound and a desire to harness its effects may have been equally important as vision in the design of humankind's earliest ancient temples and monumental buildings.

Six-thousand-year-old ancient temples are giving up acoustic clues for modern scientists. Intriguing new research on ancient temples in Malta and highlighted by the Old Temples Study Foundation is resonating through international archaeology and interdisciplinary classics research. Reaching beyond the scope of traditional archaeology, a multi-disciplinary approach has opened a new dimension for the study of the ancient world.

Satellite

Why we shouldn't release all we know about the cosmos

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© NASA
Europe's Planck satellite will measure the big bang's afterglow with unprecedented precision
Cosmologists are doing the happy dance. The European Space Agency's Planck mission is busy surveying the cosmic microwave background, aka the "echo" of the big bang, and in 2013 will release a feast of data that promises to deliver profound new insights into the origin of the universe.

Surely a victory for science? Only, it seems, if cosmologists can resist the temptation to gorge themselves on all those goodies.

A trio of astronomers have warned that, unless we use the information sparingly, we risk squandering a once-in-eternity opportunity (see arxiv.org/abs/0909.2649). If the whole data set is released at once, as is planned, any new ideas that cosmologists come up with may have to remain untested because they will have no further data to test them with.

This is a problem unique to cosmology. In other sciences, additional information is always available: you can always reset and rerun an experiment, or go out into the field to collect more data. Because of our fixed location in the universe, however, cosmology doesn't have that luxury. There is only a finite amount of information we can gather about the universe, and once we gather all there is to know about one aspect of it - in this case the temperature fluctuations in the cosmic microwave background - the well runs dry.

Info

Life on Mars theory boosted by new methane study

Scientists have ruled out the possibility that methane is delivered to Mars by meteorites, raising fresh hopes that the gas might be generated by life on the red planet, in research published tomorrow (Wednesday 9 December 2009) in Earth and Planetary Science Letters.

Methane has a short lifetime of just a few hundred years on Mars because it is constantly being depleted by a chemical reaction in the planet's atmosphere, caused by sunlight. Scientists analysing data from telescopic observations and unmanned space missions have discovered that methane on Mars is being constantly replenished by an unknown source and they are keen to uncover how the levels of methane are being topped up.

Info

Researchers examine correlation between political speeches, voting

Although politicians are often criticized for making empty promises, when it comes to their voting records, their words may carry more weight than previously thought, according to findings by two Penn State information technology scientists.

The researchers used a computer model to compare voting records from the 110th Congress -- Jan. 3, 2007 to Jan. 3, 2009 -- to each senator's floor statements on the issues to determine whether the two matched up.

They did this by creating a computer-based regression model to scan the floor speech text and compare it to each senator's DW-Nominate score, a measure of how conservative he or she is based on voting record.