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Jan. 10, 2013 at 7:01 PM
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Telescopes to probe universe's origin

SAN DIEGO, Jan. 10 (UPI) -- U.S. physicists working with a massive telescope in Chile say they hope to detect space-time fluctuations produced immediately after the birth of the universe.

A team from the University of California, San Diego, has been awarded a $4.3 million grant to build and install two more telescopes to create a three-telescope combination to be known as the Simons Array, after the Simons Foundation, which provided the funds.

"The Simons Array will inform our knowledge of the universe in a completely new way," physics Professor Brian Keating said in a UCSD release.

The researchers said they will search for fluctuations in space-time, also known as "gravitational waves," thought to have imprinted the "primordial soup" of matter and photons of the Big Bang that later coalesced to become gases, stars and galaxies and all the structures in the universe we now see.

Last year, the first telescope of the Simons Array was set up in Chile's Atacama Desert, one of the highest and driest places on Earth at 17,000 feet above sea level and considered one of the planet's best locations for such a study.

"The Simons Array will have the same or better capabilities as a $1 billion satellite, and with NASA's budget constraints, there are no planned space-based missions for this job," Keating said.

The project is a collaboration between scientists from UC San Diego, UC Berkeley, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, University of Colorado, McGill University in Canada and the KEK Laboratory in Japan.

Study: Cosmetics used in death rituals

MEXICO CITY, Jan. 10 (UPI) -- Archaeologists say findings suggest the ancient Teotihuacan people of Mexico exhumed their dead and dignified them with cosmetics as a ritual honor.

Spanish researchers working with the National University of Mexico said the evidence comes from analyzed remains of cosmetics in the graves of pre-Hispanic civilizations on the American continent, a release from the Spanish Foundation for Science and Technology said Wednesday.

In the case of the Teotihuacans, they said, these cosmetics were apparently used as part of rituals to honor their city's most important people.

"The conclusion that we have reached, given the structure of the pigments found, is that they are remains of cosmetics that were used in rituals following burial," study lead author Maria Teresa Domenech Carbo of the Polytechnic University of Valencia in Spain said.

"At that time it was common to periodically practice a kind of remembrance worship of the deceased high nobility."

In those times the deceased were not buried in graves in special areas but instead were buried underneath the floor of their homes, she said.

"The priest would go to the home and would pay homage to the deceased with the family present," Domenech said. "Cosmetics were used by the priest carrying out the ceremony and formed a part of the ritual."

Teotihuacan is one of the major archaeological sites in Mexico because of its proximity to Mexico City and its spectacular great Mayan pyramid.

Anti-aircraft laser weapon demonstrated

DUSSELDORF, Germany, Jan. 10 (UPI) -- A German defense company has demonstrated a laser weapon it says successfully shot down two drone aircraft at a distance of a mile.

Rheinmetall Defense said the high-energy system using two lasers has also been used to cut through a steel girder almost two-thirds of a mile away, the BBC reported.

The laser weapons system, with a power output of 50 kilowatts, used a combination of radar and optical systems to detect and track two incoming drones, the company said.

Radar provided an approximate location of the targets, it said, then the optical system took over to pinpoint the drone's position.

Rheinmetall said it plans to make the laser system mobile and it testing it mounted on a number of vehicles.

Weapons based on lasers are being developed by a number of countries, and U.S. company Raytheon introduced a 50 kilowatt anti-aircraft system at the Farnborough Airshow in 2010, which has also successfully downed unmanned aircraft in tests.

Mercury said risk in developing countries

UNITED NATIONS, Jan. 10 (UPI) -- People in developing countries are facing increasing health and environmental risks linked to exposure to mercury, a U.N. report says.

Parts of Africa, Asia and South America are at risk of increasing emissions of mercury into the environment, mostly the use of the toxic element in small-scale gold mining and through the burning of coal for electricity generation, a release from the U.N. Environment Program said Thursday.

"Mercury, which exists in various forms, remains a major global, regional and national challenge in terms of threats to human health and the environment," UNEP's Executive Director Achim Steiner, said in a statement.

Mercury released from industry and other man-made sources can circulate in the environment for up to centuries at a time, the UNEP report said, requiring years or even decades before reductions in mercury emissions have a demonstrable effect on mercury levels in nature and in the food chain.

Emissions of the toxic metal from small-scale gold mining have doubled since 2005, the report authors said, and rising gold prices will almost certainly lead to further increases.

Annual emissions from small-scale gold mining are estimated at 727 tons, 35 per cent of the global total, they said.

Action by governments, industry and civil society are needed to strengthen efforts to reduce mercury emissions and, Steiner said.

"Mercury has been known as a toxin and a hazard for centuries -- but today we have many of the alternative technologies and processes needed to reduce the risks for tens of millions of people, including pregnant mothers and their babies," he said. "A good outcome can also assist in a more sustainable future for generations to come."

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