Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Worlds Oldest Woman Dies At Age 116!

(BBC) Maria Esther de Capovilla - officially the world's oldest woman - has died in Ecuador aged 116, relatives said.

Capovilla died at dawn on Sunday in the coastal city of Guayaquil after succumbing to pneumonia. Her funeral was planned for Monday.

Born in 1889, the same year as Charlie Chaplin and Adolf Hitler, Capovilla was 22 when the Titanic sank and 79 when astronauts first set foot on the Moon.

Her family said donkey milk might be key to her longevity.

Capovilla was born in Guayaquil, to a well-to-do Ecuadorean family which traced its ancestry to the Spanish conquistadores.

She was said to enjoy painting, embroidery, dancing and walking. In her youth she would also drink fresh milk from the donkeys at her aunt's farm - something relatives credit with helping her live so long.

She is said never to have smoked, ate regular small meals, and only drank in moderation.

She was also fervently religious, and took communion every Friday, said reports.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Proof That Aztecs Resisted And Ate Invaders!

CALPULALPAN, Mexico (Reuters) - Skeletons found at an unearthed site in Mexico show Aztecs captured, ritually sacrificed and partially ate several hundred people traveling with invading Spanish forces in 1520.

Skulls and bones from the Tecuaque archaeological site near Mexico City show about 550 victims had their hearts ripped out by Aztec priests in ritual offerings, and were dismembered or had their bones boiled or scraped clean, experts say.

The findings support accounts of Aztecs capturing and killing a caravan of Spanish conquistadors and local men, women and children traveling with them in revenge for the murder of Cacamatzin, king of the Aztec empire's No. 2 city of Texcoco.

Experts say the discovery proves some Aztecs did resist the conquistadors, led by explorer Hernan Cortes, before the Spaniards attacked the Aztec capital, Tenochtitlan, now Mexico City.

History books say many indigenous Mexicans welcomed the white-skinned horsemen in the belief they were returning gods but turned against the Spaniards once they tried to take over the Aztec seat of power in a conflict that ended in 1521.

"This is the first place that has so much evidence there was resistance to the conquest," said archaeologist Enrique Martinez, director of the dig at Calpulalpan in Tlaxcala state, near Texcoco.

"It shows it wasn't all submission. There was a fight."

The caravan was apparently captured because it was made up mostly of the mulatto, mestizo, Maya Indian and Caribbean men and women given to the Spanish as carriers and cooks when they landed in Mexico in 1519, and so was moving slowly.

The prisoners were kept in cages for months while Aztec priests selected a few each day at dawn, held them down on a sacrificial slab, cut out their hearts and offered them up to various Aztec gods.

Some may have been given hallucinogenic mushrooms or pulque -- an alcoholic milky drink made from fermented cactus juice -- to numb them to what was about to happen.


"It was a continuous sacrifice over six months. While the prisoners were listening to their companions being sacrificed, the next ones were being selected," Martinez said, standing in his lab amid boxes of bones, some of young children.

"You can only imagine what it was like for the last ones, who were left six months before being chosen, their anguish."

The priests and town elders, who performed the rituals on the steps of temples cut off by a perimeter wall, sometimes ate their victims' raw and bloody hearts or cooked flesh from their arms and legs once it dropped off the boiling bones.

Knife cuts and even teeth marks on the bones show which ones had meat stripped off to be eaten, Martinez said.

Aztec warriors whitened the bones with lime and carried them as amulets. Some were used as ornaments in homes.

In Aztec times, the site was called Zultepec, a town of white-stucco temples and homes where some 5,000 people grew maize and beans and produced pulque to sell to traders.

Priests had to be brought in for the ritual killings because human sacrifices had never taken place there, Martinez said.

On hearing of the massacre, Cortes renamed the town Tecuaque -- meaning "where people were eaten" in the indigenous Nahuatl language -- and sent an army to wipe out its people.

When they heard the Spanish were coming, the Zultepec Aztecs threw their victims' possessions down wells, unwittingly preserving buttons and jewelry for the archaeologists.

The team began work in 1990 and is only now finishing its investigation. It found remains of domestic animals brought from Spain, like goats and pigs.

"They hid all the evidence," said Martinez. "Thanks to that act, we have been allowed to discover a chapter we were unaware of in the conquest of Mexico."

Friday, August 04, 2006

Strange Twin New Worlds Found!

A pair of strange new worlds that blur the boundaries between planets and stars have been discovered beyond our Solar System.

A few dozen such objects have been identified in recent years but this is the first set of "twins".

Dubbed "planemos", they circle each other rather than orbiting a star.

Their existence challenges current theories about the formation of planets and stars, astronomers report in the journal Science.

"This is a truly remarkable pair of twins - each having only about 1% the mass of our Sun," said Ray Jayawardhana of the University of Toronto, co-author of the Science paper.

"Its mere existence is a surprise, and its origin and fate a bit of a mystery."

'Double planet'

The pair belongs to what some astronomers believe is a new class of planet-like objects floating through space; so-called planetary mass objects, or "planemos", which are not bound to stars.

They appear to have been forged from a contracting gas cloud, in a similar way to stars, but are much too cool to be true stars.

And while they have similar masses to many of the giant planets discovered beyond our Solar System (the largest weighs in at 14 times the mass of Jupiter and the other is about seven times more massive), they are not thought to be true planets either.

"We are resisting the temptation to call it a 'double planet' because this pair probably didn't form the way that planets in our Solar System did," said co-researcher Valentin Ivanov of the European Southern Observatory (ESO) in Santiago, Chile.

'Amazing diversity'

The two objects have similar spectra and colours, suggesting that they formed at the same time about a million years ago.

They are separated by about six times the distance between the Sun and Pluto, and can be found in the Ophiuchus star-forming region some 400 light years away. They go under the official name Oph 162225-240515, or Oph 1622 for short.

"Recent discoveries have revealed an amazing diversity of worlds out there," said Dr Jayawardhana. "Still, the Oph 1622 pair stands out as one of the most intriguing, if not peculiar."

His colleague, Dr Ivanov, said they were curious to find out whether such pairs are common or rare.

"The answer could shed light on how free-floating planetary-mass objects form," he added.

Oph 1622 was discovered using the ESO's New Technology Telescope at La Silla, Chile. Follow-up studies were conducted with the ESO's Very Large Telescope.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Alien Hunters Pound SETI!

(The Register)
Alien hunters today pounded the SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) Institute here with e-mails and phone calls, following claims made this weekend that the organization has covered up the detection of signals from space.

Allegations of a SETI cover up were made last night on the fringe-friendly Coast to Coast radio show hosted by Art Bell. During the broadcast, professional SETI watcher Steven Greer, the CEO of Space Energy Access Systems, claimed that insiders told him that SETI discovered a high concentration of signals from space, and that another organization stepped in to block those signals. SETI, however, maintains that it has not seen any signals of note.

According to Greer, the space communications have caused a major stir at SETI, which hunts for intelligent life in outer space.

"They have had numerous extraterrestrial signals," Greer said, during the radio broadcast. "They were apparently searching in a spectrum or in an area . . . where they hit the mother lode. The signals were so numerous that they began to have their systems externally jammed by some sort of human agency that did not want them to continue receiving those signals."

And where did Greer get this fantastic information? Apparently, from a well-known source within SETI.

"This person, if I were to say who he is, almost every one your listeners would probably known the name," Greer said.

Bell's Coast to Coast show is famed for dealing with matters that many would consider far from reality. The radio host has enjoyed a phenomenal career discussing ghosts, UFOs and things that go berserk in the night with an eclectic set of guests. But it's worth noting that Bell, who only hosts the show on the weekends now, and regular host George Noory often break stories such as the Dubai ports deal well before the national media.

That's not the case this time around, according to SETI.

"There's been nothing like that at all," said a spokesman, who described Greer, as "the bane of SETI's existence."

Greer runs a SETI rival, if you will, called CSETI and often claims that SETI is withholding evidence of alien life from the public. His comments triggered a torrent of e-mails and phone calls to hit SETI today, according to the SETI spokesman.

In this particular instance, the fine people at SETI seem a bit more tethered to the reality spectrum. Greer, after all, relied almost exclusively on hearsay in his discussion with Art Bell. In addition, Greer claimed that members of SETI were in on some type of conspiracy to keep alien life secret while at the same time being attacked by a third party trying to block alien signals from SETI. That's an awful lot of maneuvering - most of which makes little sense.

That said, technophiles should enjoy guessing who Greer's secret source might be.

Back in the day, SETI had serious backing from one of HP's early employees - Bernard Oliver. Over the years, the organization has received funds from such Silicon Valley institutions as NASA Ames, HP, Sun Microsystems, and the Gordon and Betty Moore foundation. Microsoft co-founder and space buff Paul Allen is also a major SETI backer.