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March 7, 2013 at 7:03 PM
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Drive across U.S. to use no gasoline

MURFREESBORO, Tenn., March 7 (UPI) -- An alternative fuels researcher says he will drive across the United States from coast to coast starting Saturday -- and will use no gasoline in doing it.

Cliff Ricketts of Middle Tennessee State University says his five-day, 2,600-mile journey will be fueled by hydrogen from water separated by solar power, all produced on the MTSU campus in Murfreesboro.

"We're showing how America could be energy independent if the need arises," Ricketts said in a university release Thursday.

"Hydrogen can be made from natural gas," he said. "[But] our hydrogen comes from water. With hydrogen, everything's natural. The solar is all natural and it's sustaining."

Most of the route Ricketts and backup driver Terry Young will be driving in two Toyotas -- a 1994 Tercel and a 2005 Prius -- is on Interstate 40 through Tennessee, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California.

The vehicles will be refueled at night from hydrogen tanks in accompanying separate vehicles because hydrogen is not available everywhere, he said.

"If you were to ask me which is more significant to mankind, putting a man on the moon or driving coast to coast in five days with the sun and hydrogen from water as the only fuel sources," Rickets said, "I believe the latter is more significant.

"This has environmental implications, economic implications and world peace implications."

Unidentified life pulled from frozen lake

ST. PETERSBURG, Russia, March 7 (UPI) -- Water samples from an ancient lake buried under ice near the South Pole contain a type of life not found anywhere else on Earth, Russian researchers say.

Bacteria found in probes of water from sub-glacial Lake Vostok do not match any of the 40-plus known subkingdoms of bacteria, Sergei Bulat of the Laboratory of Eukaryote Genetics at the St. Petersburg Nuclear Physics Institute said.

"After excluding all known contaminants ... we discovered bacterial DNA that does not match any known species listed in global databanks," Bulat told RIA Novosti Thursday. "We call it unidentified and 'unclassified' life."

Seven samples of the same species of bacteria were found in water frozen on the head of the drill that in 2012 reached the lake buried beneath a 2.1-mile-thick ice sheet.

Attempts to identify the newly discovered microorganism showed it did not fit any of the main categories of microorganisms in its taxonomic domain, the researchers said.

Scientists have long suspected unique species of extremophile microbes, sustained by geothermal heat and capable of surviving in Vostok's dark depths, might have evolved in the lake.

"If it were found on Mars, people would call it Martian DNA," Bulat said. "But this is DNA from Earth."

FTC goes after spam texts, 'free' offers

WASHINGTON, March 7 (UPI) -- U.S. regulators say they've targeted marketers sending millions of spam text messages trying to steer consumers to websites falsely promising "free" gift cards.

In complaints filed in courts around the United States, the Federal Trade Commission has charged 29 defendants with collectively sending more than 180 million unwanted text messages to consumers, many of whom had to pay for receiving the texts.

The messages promised consumers free gifts or prizes, including gift cards worth $1,000 from major retailers such as Best Buy, Walmart and Target.

Consumers who clicked on the links in the messages found themselves having to provide sensitive personal information, apply for credit or pay to subscribe to services to get the supposedly "free" cards, an FTC release said Thursday.

"Today's announcement says 'game over' to the major league scam artists behind millions of spam texts," Charles A. Harwood, Acting Director of the FTC Bureau of Consumer Protection, said in the release. "The FTC is committed to rooting out this deception and stopping it. For consumers who find spam texts on their phones, delete them, immediately. The offers are, in a word, garbage."

The complaints filed by the FTC targeted both defendants who sent the unwanted text messages and those who operated the allegedly deceptive websites.

The defendants sent text messages to random phone numbers, including to consumers who do not have a text message subscription plan and thus had to pay to receive the message, the FTC said.

Mars rover 'sleeping' through solar storm

PASADENA, Calif., March 7 (UPI) -- NASA says the computers on its Mars rover Curiosity have been put to sleep to wait out a solar storm bombarding the Red Planet.

Solar storms spewing out a jet of radiation and charged particles at millions of miles per hour usually have little effect on Earth because of the planet's protective magnetic field although strong space storms can cause problems with satellites and electronics and communication systems.

Mars, without a similar protective magnetic field, will bear the brunt of the current solar storm, experts said.

"Space weather can be nasty!" geologists Ken Herkenhoff of the rover's science team wrote from the USGS's Astrogeology Science Center explaining the decision to put the rover to sleep.

The rover has been in the middle of sorting out another problem caused when one its two redundant computers developed memory problems. Engineers had switched Curiosity to a backup computer during troubleshooting, a process that has been put on hold to wait out the solar storm, Wired.com reported Thursday.

Curiosity has been in a "safe" mode as engineers worked repair the computer problems to resume science operations.

"Storm's a-comin'! There's a solar storm heading for Mars. I'm going back to sleep to weather it out," the rover tweeted from its official feed from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.

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