Israel launches missile attack on Fatah office in Gaza City

Israel launches missile attack on Fatah office in Gaza City

Arab nations plan resolution against Tel Aviv’s nuclear programme at IAEA meet

GAZA CITY: An Israeli aircraft fired a missile at an office building early on Wednesday, damaging the structure and knocking out power in part of Gaza City. No injuries were reported.

The air strike hit a two-storey building used by the ruling Fatah movement. The offices provide tutoring lessons to school children, and cash and food assistance to families in the impoverished Tufah neighbourhood.

The attack left a big hole in a wall of the building, smashed windows and destroyed an electrical transformer. Windows on several nearby houses were broken, and a car was damaged by flying debris.

The army confirmed it had targeted a Fatah building. It gave no further details.

Threat to peace

Israel has carried out a series of air strikes in recent days aimed at Islamist militant targets.

Meanwhile, in Vienna, Israel on Wednesday urged Arab nations to abandon a push to have it declared a menace to peace at a 139-nation meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency, suggesting Iran’s suspect nuclear programmes posed the real threat to West Asia.

Gideon Frank, the head of Israel’s Atomic Energy Commission and Israel’s chief delegate to the IAEA’s general conference, was responding to preparations by Arab countries to present a resolution stating that Israel’s secretive atomic programme threatened West Asia peace. Israel “will not be in a position to support” a separate resolution urging all West Asian nations to throw open their nuclear programmes to IAEA controls unless the plan to table a text on an Israeli threat is dropped, he said.

Israel neither confirms nor denies its nuclear status but is considered the only nation in the region with nuclear weapons. Experts say Israel continues to produce atomic weapons and already has more than 200 warheads, as well as the capability to quickly build more. — AP


Scientists plan to deflect asteroids

Scientists plan to deflect asteroids

Alok Jha

LONDON: British scientists are set to go where only Bruce Willis has gone before: chasing after asteroids on a collision course with Earth. In a three-year £300,000 study funded by the U.K. Government-backed Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, engineers will use computer simulations to work out the feasibility of changing the direction of asteroids.

In this series of photos distributed by Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency in Tokyo, an asteroid, informally named Itokawa, after Hideo Itokawa, the father of rocket science in Japan, is shown from different phases while it revolves on its axis once in 12 hours.

“It’s clear from geological records that the Earth has been impacted in the past by large objects,” said Colin McInnes of Strathclyde University. Although none of the space objects currently tracked by NASA are heading for Earth, Professor McInnes said preparing for a potential catastrophe was a valid concern. “You have to place it in context — it’s a small risk but with a high consequence.”

The project will look at a range of methods proposed by scientists over the years, from giant mirrors floating in space which could vaporise parts of an asteroid, to methods that rely more on brute force, such as smashing a rocket into the asteroid to deflect it.

“The deflection methods fall mainly in two categories, kinetic methods and low-thrust methods,” said Gianmarco Radice of Glasgow University.

“Kinetic methods are those which provide an instantaneous change of properties within the asteroid. Sending a nuclear warhead or some sort of exploding device against the asteroid … to create shock wave, for example. Low-thrust methods range from painting the surface of the asteroid with reflective or absorbing paint so that the properties of the surface are changed by attracting more or less light, thus heating or cooling the surface and changing the physical properties of the asteroid.”

Whatever method is used, it would only change the path of the asteroid by minute amounts. “You can make very small adjustments to their orbits to create large changes in their orbits in the future,” said Prof McInnes.

The exact methods used would have to vary depending on the type of asteroid being targeted. Some asteroids, known as rubble piles, are loose collections of rocks and ice. Slamming a rocket into these would be useless because the energy of the impact would just be absorbed, like the crumple zones in a car.

In this case, one method might mean melting part of the surface of the asteroid by concentrated sunlight. A large solar sail or mirror could reflect sunlight on to the surface of the asteroid and burn part of it away. The jets of gas produced would create a small but constant thrust that could deviate the asteroid into a new orbit.

More traditional solid asteroids have a range of options. “Another method is to place some sort of thrusting device on the surface of the asteroid,” said Dr Radice. “It can either have its own fuel source, for example a solar power generator, which will create a very low thrust but over a longer period of time. Or you would have some sort of motor that uses the chemicals inside the asteroids to generate the fuel to work.”

Alternatively, a spaceship could be launched and hurled directly into the asteroid. Meanwhile, the European Space Agency (ESA) has already announced plans to conduct an experiment in deflecting asteroids away from the Earth.

ESA’s Don Quixote mission will consist of two spacecraft: Hidalgo and Sancho. The former craft will smash into an asteroid named Apophis, which is expected to make its closest pass by the Earth in 2029, when it will be only 32,000 km away.

The Sancho spacecraft will watch the collision and record any shift in the asteroid’s trajectory. ESA plans to begin building Don Quixote in 2007, after a competition to select the best design from several European contenders.

– Guardian Newspapers Limited 2005

Vitamin E effect on mice may help understand ageing

Vitamin E effect on mice may help understand ageing

High doses of vitamin E in ageing male mice improved their survival and neurological performance and could help them live longer, says a study that could throw light on the ageing process. Ana Novarro and colleagues from the University of Cadiz in Spain, and Alberto Boveris and colleagues from the University of Buenos Aires in Argentina used aged mice of an average life span of 61 weeks. At 28 weeks of age, half of the study뭩 300 mice were given daily supplements of vitamin E, equivalent to a dosage of about 1.2 ?2.2 grams per day in humans (a level which is as much as five times the upper limit recommended by the US national dietary guidelines). The mice that had received vitamin E supplements lived an average 85 weeks ?40 percent longer than normal.

Smoking may make you blind in later years of your life

Smoking may make you blind in later years of your life

Smokers are more prone to losing their eyesight later in life than non-smokers, says a British study. There are around 500,000 people in the UK with age-related macular degeneration (AMD). Of these, an estimated 54,000 people have the condition as a result of smoking. AMD usually develops after a person reaches 50 years and affects the central part of the retina of the eye. A report by AMD Alliance UK, based on a survey of 1,023 British adults, reveals that only seven percent of people know that AMD affects the eyes, reports the online edition of Daily Mail. Steve Winyard, head of campaigns at the Royal National Institute of the Blind (RNIB) and chairman of AMD Alliance UK, said: “Smoking is the only proven cause of AMD that people can do anything about, yet people are not aware of the link and most people have not even heard of the condition. “The message is simple ?do not take up smoking, and if you do, stop.”

Nitric oxide can help women stay fertile longer

Nitric oxide can help women stay fertile longer

Nitric oxide, a chemical compound, could one day help women in their 30s and 40s remain fertile longer, says a study. Indian-origin scientist Anuradha Goud and colleagues at Wayne State University School of Medicine, in Detroit, studied the effects of nitric oxide on 1,500 eggs gathered from mouse ovarian ducts one to two hours or four to six hours after ovulation. According to a report in science portal Eurek Alert, mouse eggs that aren뭪 fertilised within hours of ovulation begin to age rapidly. After about six hours, these eggs are less likely to be fertilized properly, leading to chromosomal abnormalities in the embryos. To prevent this, they exposed the eggs to varying concentrations of nitric oxide, a multipurpose signaling molecule that helps keep arteries supple and helps men achieve erections.

malfunction of heart devices

Scientist worried over malfunction of heart devices

Scientists in the US are worried over the increasing malfunction of heart devices, which they say were directly responsible for 61 deaths between 1990 and 2002. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released a study at a meeting with physicians and heart-device manufacturers recently, which found that 4,225 defibrillators had failed between 2000 and 2003. Same number of defibrillators failed in the previous 10 years, reports online edition of the Washington Post. Overall, the failure rate of the devices was significantly higher in the second half of the period studied than in the first half, it said.

William H. Maisel, the Harvard Medical School physician who conducted the study, said the increase is significant and contrasts with a consistent decline in the rate at which pacemakers have to be removed. The higher percentage of failures may be a result of design changes that made the devices smaller while their computer memory was increased.

Challenge to evolution science teaching

Challenge to `intelligent design’ teaching

Julian Borger

Test care could decide how evolution is taught.

RELIGION AND science clashed in a drab Pennsylvania courtroom on Monday over a test case that could decide how evolution is taught in America’s state schools.

The civil trial, triggered last year by a classroom battle, marks the beginning of the first major legal assault on evolution science in 18 years. The case also represents the first legal test of “intelligent design,” the belief that life on earth is too complex to be explained by random genetic mutation and therefore a guiding force must be involved.

In Monday’s court hearings, supporters argued “intelligent design” does not stipulate what that guiding force might be, and is therefore not a religion.

Its opponents derided it as a mere repackaging of creationism, the religious dogma that God brought life into being in its present form a few thousand years ago.

It is a test of strength secularist organisations hope will prove decisive in destroying the scientific credibility of intelligent design once and for all. They are therefore determined to pursue it as far as the supreme court if necessary.

The contest was joined on Monday under the weak light bulbs of a federal district court in the Pennsylvania state capital of Harrisburg. In a chamber more accustomed to hearing arguments over taxes and copyright, lawyers debated the meaning of science and the origins of life.

The defendants were the school board from the school of Dover, Pennsylvania, which last year became the first district in the country to require its teachers to question the scientific underpinning of evolution.

“The theory is not a fact. Gaps in the theory exist for which there is no evidence,” Dover teachers had to tell their students. “Intelligent design is an explanation of the origin of life that differs from Darwin’s view.”

The plaintiffs were 11 parents who claimed the statement was religious and therefore a violation of the constitutional separation between church and state.

In the U.S., the case is being portrayed as a replay of the Scopes trial of 1925, in which a Tennessee biology teacher was fined for breaking a state law banning the teaching of evolution. It was known as the “monkey trial” because the teacher, John Scopes, was derided for believing humans were descended from apes.

Secular science has won all the big legal battles since then, but not the struggle for American minds. In an echo of the Scopes trial, some of the Dover parents involved in the case were recently mocked at a local fair by opponents performing a monkey dance around them.

– Guardian Newspapers Limited 2005