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    Saturday, February 25, 2006

    Mini robots to undertake major tasks?

    The MICRON project team set out to build a total of five to ten micro robots, just cubic centimetres in size. One fully functional robot that the project did achieve could be tested in three different scenarios. The first was a medical or biological application, in which the robot was handling biological cells, injecting liquid into them. The second scenario was micro-assembly, in which the robot soldered tiny parts. The final scenario looked at atomic force, with the robot mounting atomic force and doing experiments on it.
    The results were encouraging. The experiments showed that the cell injection is entirely feasible, as is the micro soldering. Robots with this sort of capability, and mobility, would be perfectly suited to lab work, such as the micro assembly of prototypes. Tasks such as cell injection could be performed on a mass scale.
    With MICRON now having run its course, the project team is currently working on the project reports and evaluation. “What’s missing is the integration work, and this is what we will try to do next within the Swarm project,” says IPR´s Joerg Seyfried. “This will build on MICRON to produce robots with a ‘swarm’ intelligence – that is, with limited capabilities, but able to communicate with each other.”
    The tiny robots of science fiction tales might be smarter, but, as Seyfried points out, “We’re working on the smallest size range currently being worked on by a few other groups worldwide – like MIT. On a European level, MICRON is unique.”
    This was seized 4 u at Information Society Technologies

    New spaceport in Singapore

    My favorite travel agency Space Adventures, Ltd. announced that it plans to develop an integrated spaceport in Singapore that will offer suborbital spaceflights, as well as operate astronaut training facilities and a public education and interactive visitor center. Spaceport Singapore, in addition to providing suborbital spaceflights, will offer a wide range of space and high-altitude experiences for those who wish to experience various aspects of astronaut training. These include parabolic flights that will allow passengers to experience the thrill of weightlessness, G-force training in a centrifuge, and simulated space walks in a neutral buoyancy tank. Visitors can fly in a variety of jet aircraft, enjoy the exhilarating flight simulators and interactive exhibit experiences, or simply learn about the history and technology of space travel. The consortium supporting Spaceport Singapore is a combination of commercial, research, entertainment and tourist interests. Along with Space Adventures, is Octtane Pte, Batey Pte Ltd., Lyon Capital Inc., DP Architects, ST Medical and KPMG Corporate Finance who are all involved with this project. For more information on Spaceport Singapore, please visit
    This was seized 4 u at Space Adventures

    Friday, February 24, 2006

    Abe Vigoda got 85

    Yes, Abe Vigoda is still alive (as of this posting). In fact, he's celebrating his 85th birthday today - more than 20 years after people magazine mistakenly reported his death. Well, there's no need to endlessly question his mortality any longer. Just download the "Abe Vigoda status" extension for Firefox to keep tabs on whether or not he's still alive.

    This was seized 4 u at Boing Boing

    I'm questioning the liability of this extension and hope that Steve does his feature about the creditability & swiftness of this Firefox extention on this page as soon as possible!

    Family Takes Picture on June 17th of Every Year Since 1976

    Meet Diego and Susy. On June 17th, 1976 Diego and Susy sat for a photograph. And every subsequent year, on June 17th, they and their growing family sat for another photograph. They do this to "...stop a fleeting moment, the arrow of time passing by." They have posted their photographs on the web to share with us their fleeting moments.

    This was seized 4 u at ZoneZero

    uBrowser Introduces New 3D Browser

    This just in.. from the developer's web site...

    "uBrowser is a simple Web Browser that illustrates one way of embedding the Mozilla® Gecko rendering engine into a standalone application using LibXUL. In this case, the contents of the page is grabbed as it's being rendered and displayed as a texture on some geometry using OpenGL™. You are able to interact with the page (mostly) normally and visit (almost) any site that works correctly with Firefox® 1.5.

    Its purpose is to provide a test bed and a proof of concept for the software I'm working on at Linden Lab. By releasing the source code I'm hoping that others can benefit from what I've learnt as well as help fix bugs and identify areas for improvement. It is not meant as a replacement for your regular 2D browser."
    This was seized 4 u at uBrowser

    A computer that could be integrated with the human body

    A molecular computer that uses enzymes to perform calculations has been built by researchers in Israel. Itamar Willner, who constructed the molecular calculator with colleagues at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in Israel, believes enzyme-powered computers could eventually be implanted into the human body and used to, for example, tailor the release of drugs to a specific person's metabolism.
    The team built their computer using two enzymes - glucose dehydrogenase (GDH) and horseradish peroxidase (HRP) - to trigger two interconnected chemical reactions. Two chemical components - hydrogen peroxide and glucose - were used to represent input values (A and B). The presence of each chemical corresponded to a binary 1, while the absence represented a binary 0. The chemical result of the enzyme-powered reaction was determined optically.
    The enzyme computer was used to perform two fundamental logic computations known as AND (where A and B must both equal one) and XOR (where A and B must have different values). The addition of two further enzymes - glucose oxidase and catalase - connected the two logical operations, making it possible to add together binary digits using the logic functions.
    Enzymes are already widely used to assist calculations using specially encoded DNA. These DNA computers have the potential to surpass the speed and power of existing silicon computers because they can perform many calculations in parallel and pack a vast number of components into a tiny space. But Willner says his enzyme computer is not designed for speed – it can take several minutes to perform a calculation. Rather, he envisages it eventually being incorporated into bio-sensing equipment and used, for example, to monitor and react to a patient's response to particular dosages of a drug. "This is basically a computer that could be integrated with the human body," Willner told New Scientist. "We feel you could implant an enzyme computer into the body and use it to calculate an entire metabolic pathway." Martyn Amos from University of Exeter, UK, also sees great potential for such devices. "The development of fundamental devices such as counters is vital for the future success of bio-molecular computers," he told New Scientist.
    "If such counters could be engineered inside living cells, then we can imagine them playing a role in applications such as intelligent drug delivery, where a therapeutic agent is generated at the site of a problem," Amos says. "Counters would also offer a biological 'safety valve', to prevent engineered cells proliferating in an uncontrolled fashion."
    This was seized 4 u at New Scientist

    Thursday, February 23, 2006

    Microbes convert 'Styrofoam' into biodegradable plastic

    Bacteria could help transform a key component of disposable cups, plates and utensils into a useful eco-friendly plastic, significantly reducing the environmental impact of this ubiquitous, but difficult-to-recycle waste stream, according to a study scheduled to appear in the April 1 issue of the American Chemical Society journal, Environmental Science & Technology.

    The microbes, a special strain of the soil bacterium Pseudomonas putida, converted polystyrene foam — commonly known as Styrofoam™ — into a biodegradable plastic, according to Kevin O’Connor, Ph.D., of University College Dublin, the study’s corresponding author. The study is among the first to investigate the possibility of converting a petroleum-based plastic waste into a reusable biodegradable form.

    This was seized with many thanks! 4 u at Science Blog

    'Borg' Computer Collective Designs NASA Space Antenna

    Like a friendly, non-biological form of the Borg Collective of science fiction fame, 80 personal computers, using artificial intelligence (AI), have combined their silicon brains to quickly design a tiny, advanced space antenna. If all goes well, three of these computer-designed space antennas will begin their trip into space in March 2006, when an L-1011 aircraft will take off from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The airplane will drop a Pegasus XL rocket into the sky high above the Pacific Ocean. The rocket will ignite and carry three small Space Technology (ST5) satellites into orbit. Each satellite will be equipped with a strange-looking, computer-designed space antenna. Although they resemble bent paperclips, the antennas are highly efficient, according to scientists. "This is the first time an artificially evolved object will have flown in space," observed Jason Lohn, who led the project to design the antennas at NASA Ames Research Center, located in California's Silicon Valley. The three 'microsats,' each no bigger than a typical TV, weigh only about 25 kilograms (55 pounds) each. Slightly bigger than a quarter, each antenna, able to fit into a one-inch space (2.5 by 2.5 centimeters), can receive commands and send data to Earth from the satellites. Together, the spacecraft will help scientists study magnetic fields in Earth's magnetosphere.

    This was seized 4 u at NASA

    Man-made Star Shines in the Southern Sky

    Scientists celebrate another major milestone at Cerro Paranal in Chile, home of ESO's Very Large Telescope array. Thanks to their dedicated efforts, they were able to create the first artificial star in the Southern Hemisphere, allowing astronomers to study the Universe in the finest detail. This artificial laser guide star makes it possible to apply adaptive optics systems, that counteract the blurring effect of the atmosphere, almost anywhere in the sky.
    On 28 January 2006, at 23:07 local time, a laser beam of several watts was launched from Yepun, the fourth 8.2m Unit Telescope of the Very Large Telescope, producing an artificial star, 90 km up in the atmosphere. Despite this star being about 20 times fainter than the faintest star that can be seen with the unaided eye, it is bright enough for the adaptive optics to measure and correct the atmosphere's blurring effect. The event was greeted with much enthusiasm and happiness by the people in the control room of one of the most advanced astronomical facilities in the world.
    It was the culmination of five years of collaborative work by a team of scientists and engineers from ESO and the Max Planck Institutes for Extraterrestrial Physics in Garching and for Astronomy in Heidelberg, Germany.

    After more than one month of integration on site with the invaluable support of the Paranal Observatory staff, the VLT Laser Guide Star Facility saw First Light and propagated into the sky a 50cm wide, vivid, beautifully yellow beam. "This event tonight marks the beginning of the Laser Guide Star Adaptive Optics era for ESO's present and future telescopes", said Domenico Bonaccini Calia, Head of the Laser Guide Star group at ESO and LGSF Project Manager.
    Normally, the achievable image sharpness of a ground-based telescope is limited by the effect of atmospheric turbulence. This drawback can be surmounted with adaptive optics, allowing the telescope to produce images that are as sharp as if taken from space. This means that finer details in astronomical objects can be studied, and also that fainter objects can be observed.
    In order to work, adaptive optics needs a nearby reference star that has to be relatively bright, thereby limiting the area of the sky that can be surveyed. To overcome this limitation, astronomers use a powerful laser that creates an artificial star, where and when they need it.
    The laser beam, shining at a well-defined wavelength, makes the layer of sodium atoms that is present in Earth's atmosphere at an altitude of 90 kilometres glow. The laser is hosted in a dedicated laboratory under the platform of Yepun. A custom-made fibre carries the high power laser to the launch telescope situated on top of the large Unit Telescope.
    High resolution images and their captions are available on this page.
    This was seized 4 u at the European Southern Observatory

    Quantum computer works best switched off

    Even for the crazy world of quantum mechanics, this one is twisted. A quantum computer program has produced an answer without actually running. The idea behind the feat, first proposed in 1998, is to put a quantum computer into a “superposition”, a state in which it is both running and not running. It is as if you asked Schrödinger's cat to hit "Run".
    With the right set-up, the theory suggested, the computer would sometimes get an answer out of the computer even though the program did not run. And now researchers from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have improved on the original design and built a non-running quantum computer that really works.
    They send a photon into a system of mirrors and other optical devices, which included a set of components that run a simple database search by changing the properties of the photon.
    The new design includes a quantum trick called the Zeno effect. Repeated measurements stop the photon from entering the actual program, but allow its quantum nature to flirt with the program's components - so it can become gradually altered even though it never actually passes through.
    "It is very bizarre that you know your computer has not run but you also know what the answer is," says team member Onur Hosten.
    This scheme could have an advantage over straightforward quantum computing. "A non-running computer produces fewer errors," says Hosten. That sentiment should have technophobes nodding enthusiastically.
    This was seized 4 u at New Scientist

    Wednesday, February 22, 2006

    Explorers Discover Huge Cave and New Poison Frogs

    A cave so huge helicopters can fly into it has just been discovered deep in the hills of a South American jungle paradise. Actually, "Cueva del Fantasma"—Spanish for "Cave of the Ghost"—is so vast that two helicopters can comfortably fly into it and land next to a towering waterfall. It was found in the slopes of Aprada tepui in southern Venezuela, one of the most inaccessible and unexplored regions of the world. The area, known as the Venezuelan Guayana, is one of the most biologically rich, geologically ancient and unspoiled parts of the world. This is the first geographic report and photographic evidence of such an immense cave. However, researchers say, it isn’t really a cave, but a huge, collapsed, steep gorge. As a bonus, researchers also discovered a new dendrobatid frog species, Colostethus breweri, named for the frog’s identifier, Charles Brewer-Carías. Dendrobatid frogs make up the group of amphibians commonly known as "poison dart" frogs.
    This was seized 4 u at

    The origin of the galactic background emission

    Using the most sensitive X-ray map of the Galaxy, obtained combining 10 years of data of Rossi XTE orbital observatory, scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics have discovered the origin of the galactic background emission. They show that it consists of emission from a million accreting white dwarf binaries and hundreds of millions of normal stars with active coronas.
    Nearly 400 years after Galileo determined that the wispy Milky Way actually comprises a multitude of individual stars, scientists using NASA's Rossi X-ray Timing Explorer have done the same for the X-ray Milky Way. The origin of the so-called galactic X-ray background has been a long-standing mystery. Scientists now say that this blanket of X-ray light is not diffuse, as many have thought, but emanates from untold hundreds of millions of individual sources dominated by a type of dead star called a white dwarf.
    If confirmed, this new finding would have a profound impact on our understanding of the history of our galaxy, from star-formation and supernova rates to stellar evolution. The results solve major theoretical problems, yet point to a surprising undercounting of stellar objects. Scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics (MPA) in Garching, Germany, and the Space Research Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences in Moscow discuss these results in two papers published in Astronomy & Astrophysics.
    "From an airplane you can see a diffuse glow from a city at night," said Dr. Mikhail Revnivtsev of MPA, lead author on one of the papers. "To say a city produces light is not enough. Only when you get closer do you see individual sources that make up that glow - the house lights, street lamps and automobile headlights. In this respect, we have identified the individual sources of local X-ray light. What we found will surprise many scientists."
    X-rays are a high-energy form of light, invisible to our eyes and far more energetic than optical and ultraviolet light. Our eyes see individual stars sprinkled in a largely dark sky. In X-ray bandwidths the sky is never dark; there is a pervasive and constant glow.
    The science team concluded that the Milky Way galaxy is indeed teeming with X-ray stars, most of them not very bright, and that scientists over the years had underestimated their numbers by perhaps a hundredfold. Surprisingly, the usual suspects of X-ray emission - black holes and neutron stars - are not implicated here. At higher X-ray energies, the X-ray glow arises almost entirely from sources called cataclysmic variables. A cataclysmic variable is a binary star system containing a relatively normal star and a white dwarf, which is a stellar ember of a star like our sun that has run out of fuel. On its own, a white dwarf is dim. In a binary, it can pull away matter from its companion star to heat itself in a process called accretion.
    This was seized 4 u at The Max Planck Society

    Breath Capture™ - Capture the breath of a loved one & keep them close.

    This one is really great. I got the link from a friend & I just love it and want to encourage you to use this great service.
    The following are statements from their website:
    "Everyone is born with it.
    A desire to be near the ones we care about most. And we find ways to remember them when they're away. A lock of hair. Letters. An old photo. And now there's Breath Capture™. Capture the breath of a loved one or friend and keep them close. Forever."
    Later On: "Air in the form of human breath is no longer simply air. Breath is present when we laugh and cry, whisper and shout, sing and sigh. And once captured, it can be a powerful reminder of those we long to be around. In short, Breath Capture™ preserves not only the memory of someone, but who they are. So wherever you go, they’ll always be close. If love is in your heart, you will feel the closeness of your friends and loved ones with Breath Capture. And you can keep it that way forever."
    About: "Breath Capture is a patent-pending method and apparatus for collecting human breath as a keepsake display. A loved one or friend breathes into a personalized tube for 5 seconds to displace the air and fill it with their breath. The container is then permanently sealed and becomes a keepsake for a friend, or loved one."
    "Breath Capture is a small company with a big heart. We’re here to spread love around the world. More love can’t be a bad thing. Right? It only takes two people. Two people, with an undying friendship or love for each other. That’s it. Pretty soon, the love starts spreading."

    Breath Capture has thought of everything and provides the ultimative test for all of you that are sceptic about their services. Is Breath Capture for real? Please leave your comments.

    Tuesday, February 21, 2006

    Unipage - the "pdf" for webpages

    Unipage is a way to store a complete web page as just one file that you can directly view in a browser. All of the page's images, styling, and even functionality are kept together instead of being scattered in separate files. I have checked it and it workes just fine for me with Firefox & Opera. You get one single file which in fact is smaller then the complete website would be itself, there is no hassle with different files (pictures, flash animations etc.) and you have portable documents. I like that...
    Some browsers are known not to display Unipage files properly. This is simply due to their lack of support for the 'data: URI' standard. A known lack of support is in Internet Explorer versions 6 and below.
    I'm wondering about the name - better Trademark "Unipage™". Searching the web I found dozens of companies & sites called "Unipage" but nothing about The concept is still in an early stage, its a great idea & everyone can participate in the public beta.

    Walls Of Confusion or who is Web2.0?

    Dion Hinchcliffe has written an interesting story about the lack of understandning and good communication when it comes to the terms about online software "Web 2.0" and has identified "Five Walls of Confusion":
    * The Wall of Buzzwords

    * The Wall of Hype

    * The Wall of Complexity

    * The Wall of Significance

    * The Wall of Ignorance.

    Read more at where this was seized 4 u

    Early humans evolved not as hunters but as prey for animals

    The popular view of our ancient ancestors as hunters who conquered all in their way is wrong, researchers have told a major US science conference. Instead, they argue, early humans were on the menu for predatory beasts. This may have driven humans to evolve increased levels of co-operation, according to their theory. Despite humankind's considerable capacity for war and violence, we are highly sociable animals, according to anthropologists. James Rilling, at Emory University in Atlanta, US, has been using brain imaging techniques to investigate the biological mechanisms behind co-operation. He has imaged the brains of people playing a game under experimental conditions that involved choosing between co-operation and non-co-operation. From the parts of the brain that were activated during the game, he found that mutual co-operation is rewarding; people reacted negatively when partners did not co-operate. Dr Rilling also discovered that his subjects seemed to have enhanced memory for those people that did not reciprocate in the experiment. By contrast, our closest relatives - chimpanzees - have been shown not to come to the aid of others, even when it would pose no cost to themselves. "Our intelligence, co-operation and many other features we have as modern humans developed from our attempts to out-smart the predator," said Robert Sussman of Washington University in St Louis. According to the theory espoused by Professor Sussman, early humans evolved not as hunters but as prey for animals such as wild dogs, cats, hyenas, eagles and crocodiles. He points to the example of one ape-like species thought to be ancestral to humans, Australopithecus afarensis. A. afarensis was what is known as an "edge species"; it could live in trees and on the ground, and could take advantage of both. "Primates that are edge species, even today, are basically prey species, not predators," Professor Sussman explained. Dr Agustin Fuentes at the University of Notre Dame agrees with the predation hypothesis. He believes early humans were subject to several evolutionary pressures, including predation. But he also thinks they were expending more energy at this time and that child-rearing became more demanding. All these factors contributed to an emergence of sociable behaviour in hominids that made them harder targets for predators. Dr Fuentes points to fossil evidence of predation in two different groups of humanlike species: Australopithecus and Paranthropus. The latter group, it appears, could not adapt to pressures such as predation, and became extinct between one and 1.2 million years ago. The scientists outlined their work at the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting in St Louis, US.
    This was written by Paul Rincon & seized 4 u at BBC News

    Monday, February 20, 2006

    Science invents invisible buildings?

    A new optical effect has been created in a London laboratory that means solid objects such as walls could one day be rendered transparent.
    Researchers from Imperial College London and the University of Neuchatel, Switzerland, have pioneered the technique which could be used to see through rubble at earthquake sites,
    or look at parts of the body obscured by bone. The effect is based on the development of a new material that exploits the way atoms in matter move, to make them interact with a laser beam in an entirely new way.The work is based on a breakthrough which contradicts Einstein's theory that in order for a laser to work, the light-amplifying material it contains, usually a crystal or glass, must be brought to a state known as 'population inversion'. This refers to the condition of the atoms within the material, which must be excited with enough energy to make them emit rather than absorb light. Quantum physicists, however, have long predicted that by interfering with the wave-patterns of atoms, light could be amplified without population inversion. This has previously been demonstrated in the atoms of gases but has not before been shown in solids.
    In order to make this breakthrough, the team created specially patterned crystals only a few billionths of a metre in length that behaved like 'artificial atoms'. When light was shone into the crystals, it became entangled with the crystals at a molecular level rather than being absorbed, causing the material to become transparent.
    This new transparent material created by the entanglement is made up of molecules that are half matter and half light. This allows light to be amplified without population inversion for the first time in a solid. Professor Chris Phillips, of Imperial College London, says: "This real life 'x-ray specs' effect relies on a property of matter that is usually ignored - that the electrons it contains move in a wave-like way. What we have learnt is how to control these waves directly. The results can be pretty weird at times, but it's very exciting and so fundamental. At the moment the effect can only be produced in a lab under specific conditions but it has the potential to lead to all sorts of new applications."
    This was seized 4 u at Imperial College

    Microsoft free internet voice service challenges Skype & Vodafone

    Microsoft has developed a Skype-style free internet voice service for mobile phones that City analysts believe could wipe billions off the market value of operators such as Vodafone. The service is included in a mobile version of Microsoft Office Communicator due to be released this year. It will take the form of a voice-over internet protocol (VoIP) application that allows Office users to make free voice calls over wi-fi enabled phones running Windows Mobile software. It uses the internet as a virtual phone network as well as accessing e-mail, PowerPoint and other Office applications.
    Cyrus Mewawalla, an analyst at Westhall Capital, believes VoIP, when backed by Microsoft, will have a more devastating effect on mobile operators than it did on the fixed-line operators, which saw their voice revenues slashed after the introduction of VoIP services such as Skype.
    “Internet voice does not even have to take market share to force traditional operators to cut their prices. The mere thought of free voice is enough to make customers push for price cuts,” said Mewawalla, predicting a bloodbath for mobile operator stocks.
    Operators such as Vodafone and O2 believe they will be able to fight off the threat from Microsoft’s entry into the mobile voice market. Peter Erskine, chief executive of O2, told The Business: “This is not the first time Microsoft has tried to enter the mobile market and they still have a very long way to go.” Erskine said because Micro-soft’s service runs on a mobile version of Office, its appeal initially will be to business users rather than private consumers.
    But Ballmer last week said: “Most people have a personal life and they have a professional life. And they want the device that goes in their pocket to give them one glimpse of their information, whether it happens to be part of their private life or part of their professional life.” It is this formula that won Microsoft domination of the desktop.

    Sunday, February 19, 2006

    An “engine” to generate social behavior?

    A game designer presents his work on a computer engine that automates an assortment of nonverbal expressions.
    The goal: to help soldiers learn unfamiliar languages by interacting with animated characters.
    A set of commands orchestrates a range of nonverbal expressions used for characters in "Social Puppet." On the screen, computer-generated characters shrug, wink, nod, wave or cross their arms as they follow one’s every move with an attentive gaze. Meanwhile, a USC-developed system module called “Social Puppet” is pulling the strings. Once a given character is designed, a simple set of standard commands orchestrates a whole range of nonverbal expressions. The same commands work for any other character in the game.
    “Human communication is only partly verbal,” said Hannes Högni Vilhjálmsson of the USC Information Sciences Institute, who designed the game. He calls the software an “engine” to generate visual social behavior, and will present it at the AAAS annual meeting in St. Louis Feb. 16-20.

    Oak Tree Found in Indiana Gravel Pit May be 6,000 Years Old

    EDINBURGH, Ind. Feb 17, 2006 (AP)— A large oak tree dug up last summer in a gravel pit could be 6,000 years old or more and might have been entombed by a glacier during the last ice age, scientists say.

    Researchers at three universities, including Hillsdale College in Michigan, are awaiting radiocarbon test results to pinpoint the age of the tree, which a southern Indiana dredge operator found under 40 feet of sand and gravel.

    This was seized 4 u at ABC News


    Astronomers get shortlist of possible ET addresses

    Astronomers looking for extraterrestrial life now have a short list of places to point their telescopes. They include nearby stars of the right size, age and composition to have Earth-like planets circling them, scientists said on Saturday. But cuts in federal funding mean that private philanthropists who pay for the bulk of their work may find out first when and if extraterrestrial life is discovered, the astronomers told a meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Margaret Turnbull of the Carnegie Institution of Washington released her "top 10" list of potential stars to the meeting. They will be the first targets of NASA's Terrestrial Planet Finder, a system of two orbiting observatories scheduled for launch by 2020. "There are 400 billion stars in the galaxy, and obviously we're not going to point the Terrestrial Planet Finder ... at every one of them," said Turnbull. So, on behalf of the space agency NASA and the now independently funded Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, or SETI, she narrowed down the list to stars that could have planets with liquid water orbiting them. "We want to see these habitable planets with our own eyes," she added. So the star cannot be too bright, or it will obscure the planet. Variable stars, which grow hotter and cooler, probably would not be conducive to life, so they were thrown out, as were stars that are too young or too old. Some are too gassy to have spawned planets like Earth, which contains a lot of metal. Others have massive companions whose gravity could interfere with the steady conditions needed for life to evolve. Turnbull's top 10 list includes 51 Pegasus, where in 1995 Swiss astronomers spotted the first planet outside our solar system, a Jupiter-like giant. Others include 18 Sco in the Scorpio constellation, which is very similar to our own sun; epsilon Indi A, a star one-tenth as bright as the sun; and alpha Centauri B, part of the closest solar system to our own. "The truth is when looking at these so-called 'habstars,' habitable solar systems, it is hard to really rank them. I don't know enough about every star to say which one is the absolute best one," Turnbull said. Jill Tarter of the SETI Institute, set up after U.S. government funding for the program was cut, said the current budget threatens other astronomical programs. She said research and analysis budgets were cut by 15 percent in the fiscal year 2007 budget proposed this year by U.S. President George W. Bush. "In the case of astrobiology, the cut is to 50 percent of what it was in 2005," Tarter told a news conference. "We are facing what we consider an extraordinarily difficult financial threat." She said NASA once had a policy of what to do, whom to call, and how to announce the news if someone detected a signal of intelligent life from space. "Today it is in fact a group of very generous philanthropists who will get the call before we get a press conference," Tarter said. They include Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen and Microsoft chief technology officer Nathan Myhrvold. Carol Cleland of the University of Colorado argued that astronomers are limiting themselves by looking for planets that closely resemble Earth. "I actually think we ought to be looking for life as we don't know it," Cleland told a news conference. She said life on Earth is all so similar -- based on DNA made up of specific building blocks -- that it is likely to have had a single origin. Life elsewhere may be built from different ingredients, or structured very differently, she said.