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March 5, 2013 at 7:03 PM
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Life origins in deep space simulated

BERKELEY, Calif., March 5 (UPI) -- Complex building blocks of life could have been created on icy interplanetary dust and then carried to Earth, jump-starting life, U.S. researchers say.

Chemists from the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of Hawaii, Manoa, say an experiment simulating conditions in deep space showed such conditions are capable of creating complex dipeptides -- linked pairs of amino acids -- that are essential building blocks shared by all living things.

The discovery suggests the possibility the molecules were "seeded" to Earth by a comet or possibly meteorites, catalyzing the formation of proteins (polypeptides), enzymes and even more complex molecules, such as sugars, that are necessary for life, a UC Berkeley release reported Tuesday.

"It is fascinating to consider that the most basic biochemical building blocks that led to life on Earth may well have had an extraterrestrial origin," UC Berkeley chemist Richard Mathies said.

In an ultra-high vacuum chamber chilled to 10 degrees above absolute zero, University of Hawaii researchers simulated an icy snowball in space including carbon dioxide, ammonia and various hydrocarbons such as methane, ethane and propane. When bombarded with high-energy electrons to simulate cosmic rays in space, the chemicals reacted to form organic compounds essential to life.

An analysis at Berkeley confirmed the presence of complex molecules -- nine amino acids and at least two dipeptides -- capable of catalyzing biological evolution on Earth.

Google hit over ivory ads in Japan

BANGKOK, March 5 (UPI) -- Wildlife and environmental campaigners say they have asked Google to stop advertisements in Japan by companies selling ivory products.

The Environmental Investigation Agency said at an endangered species conference in Bangkok more than 10,000 ads for ivory were running on Google's Japanese shopping site. The organization said it has contacted the search giant asking for the ads to be removed.

The EIA, based in London, said the majority of the ads were for "hanko" -- name seals Japanese people use to sign official documents, which are often inlaid with ivory lettering.

The ads go against Google's own policies against the promotion of elephant or whale products, the EIA said.

"We were really shocked to be honest, to find that one of the world's richest and successful technology companies with such incredible resources had taken no action to enforce their own policies," EIA's Allan Thornton told BBC News, "especially given that elephants are being slaughtered across Africa to provide these trinkets for the public in Japan."

Google has acknowledged the ads violated its own terms, the EIA said.

In a statement, Google said, "Ads for products obtained from endangered or threatened species are not allowed on Google. As soon as we detect ads that violate our advertising policies, we remove them."

The EIA said it informed Google Feb. 22 of the problem but the ads are still up and running.

Google has not responded yet, the EIA said.

Space mission glitch may stay secret

HAWTHORNE, Calif., March 5 (UPI) -- The reasons why a technical glitch delayed a SpaceX capsule's docking with the International Space Station may remain secret because of U.S. laws, experts say.

When SpaceX, based in Hawthorne, Calif., launched a Dragon capsule March 1 to carry supplies to the station, its thrusters developed problems that ground engineers had to overcome, delaying the capsule's docking with the ISS by one day.

SpaceX said it would investigate the malfunction, but it will be restricted in what it can publicly reveal by the International Traffic in Arms Regulations that list commercial capsules like Dragon as munitions, NewScientist.com reported Tuesday.

The U.S. regulations put in place in 1999 are intended to keep technology that could be used in advanced ballistic weapons out of the hands of countries such as China, Iran and North Korea.

"SpaceX will know what went wrong, regardless of ITAR," SpaceX spokeswoman Christina Ra said. "ITAR regulates what we can share."

Commercial space-industry firms, led by the Commercial Spaceflight Federation in Washington, are campaigning to have ITAR relaxed.

"Certainly NASA will find out what happened with SpaceX," Alex Saltman, CSF executive director, said. "And I think there's value to the community in learning about what happened so that people can avoid similar problems in the future.

"Being able to share best practices is important in any industry, and you don't want to put any undue restrictions on that capability."

New iPhone 5S this summer?

CUPERTINO, Calif., March 5 (UPI) -- The next iPhone, likely to be dubbed the iPhone 5S, will arrive this summer, probably in August, an Apple-watching website reported.

The website iMore, citing "sources familiar with the plans," said the 5S will retain the form factor and size of the iPhone 5 but will be equipped with an improved camera and an advanced processor.

The source said Apple could be releasing an updated line of iPads, including an iPad 5 and a second generation of the smaller iPad Mini even earlier, possibly in April, PC Magazine reported Tuesday.

Although many Apple watchers have assumed the next iPad Mini would come with the high-definition Retina display, the source said that would not be the case.

One analyst, Ming-Chi Kuo of KGI Securities, said the new iPhone could be timed with the release of the iOS 7 operating system and may include a fingerprint identification component. He said a July debut is possible and Apple's apparently accelerated release schedule could be "an effort to avoid repeating the fatal mistake of last year of the delayed iPhone 5 launch, which gave competitors room to grab market share."

There have been rumors of a low-cost iPhone to be introduced at the same time, but Apple head Tim Cook has suggested the company would continue to offer the iPhone 4 and 4S as a low-cost alternative and as an entry into developing markets.

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