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Stories of modern science ... from UPI

By ELLEN BECK, United Press International   |   Sept. 3, 2002 at 8:30 AM   |   Comments

A CORNFIELD CLUE TO CAHOKIA

Archaeologists have a dug up a fascinating clue to the mystery of Cahokia in an Illinois cornfield near St. Louis. A 900-year-old square hilltop village challenges their previous ideas about the area's first people -- the Cahokia, a huge "mother culture" that suddenly appeared and just as suddenly vanished in the 11th century. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Professor Tim Pauketat says they had thought large Cahokian populations settled only on the floodplains and their villages sprawled in free-form fashion, but this discovery of a ridge-sitting village with four linear sides and a set orientation of buildings "was mind-blowing." Pauketat's hunch is the site was a farming village, a "feeder" for Cahokia, and an administrative outpost where a top official and functionaries oversaw farming and "controlled that piece of the economy."


SPACE STATION SUNRISE

This first week of September is a good time to catch the International Space Station as it flies over major U.S. cities before dawn, NASA says. It looks like a bright star materializing like a supernova in the predawn sky when it's hit by rays from the morning sun. They key is knowing when to look and the Web site to find out is science.nasa.gov. To see a "space station supernova" skywatchers will have to be early risers, around 5 a.m. NASA says the predawn sky will seem ordinary at first then the horizon will glow a bit and the yellow-planet Saturn might catch the eye halfway up the eastern sky. The ISS then will appear, gliding eastward into the sunlight. It will surge in brightness until it rivals or outshines every other star in the sky.


GENE KEY TO ALCOHOLIC HEART FAILURE

A faulty enzyme gene may be the reason why some alcoholics can drink mostly what they want and their hearts stay perfectly fine while others get heart disease, including a form of heart failure known as cardiomyopathy. Researchers at Jefferson Medical College and Hospital Clinic in Barcelona, Spain, and Philadelphia say this opens up new territory for looking at other genetic predispositions for alcohol-related diseases. The study is found in Tuesday's Annals of Internal Medicine. In alcoholics who develop cardiomyopathy, the more they drink, the weaker the heart. A third of that weakening is directly linked to the quantity of alcohol consumed but the rest may be due to the gene for the angiotensin-converting enzyme, which plays a role in hypertension and other cardiovascular conditions. If that gene has an extra piece or a piece missing, it is associated with higher levels of ACE.


NEW TECTONIC PLATE THEORY

James Jackson of the University of Cambridge in Great Britain says it may be time to re-think the "jelly sandwich" approach to plate tectonic theory. He writes in September's issue of Geology the prevailing view has been the plates are rigid blocks consisting of crust and upper mantle. They are like a "jelly sandwich," with a weak lower crust lying between a strong upper crust and a strong uppermost mantle. Jackson's paper looks at a recent reassessment of earthquake depth distributions and gravity anomalies and suggests the layer in which earthquakes occur -- usually the upper crust, but sometimes the whole crust -- may be the only significant source of strength in the continental lithosphere, and that the upper mantle beneath the continents is relatively weak. If correct, this change has several implications for continental tectonics and mechanics. Jackson says patterns of surface faulting likely are controlled by the strength of the crustal blocks, not the mantle, and transient flow within a crust may require melt and fluid input.

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(EDITORS: For more information about CAHOKIA, contact Andrea Lynn at 217-333 -2177 or e-mail at a-lynn@uiuc.edu. For SPACESTATION, Dr. Tony Phillips at phillips@spacesciences.com. For ALCOHOLGENE, contact Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia at 215-955-6000, and for TECTONIC, contact Ann Cairns at 303-357-1056 or e-mail at acairns@geosociety.org)

© 2002 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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