Burned Out star harbors signs of Earthlike planets

By Will Dunham

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Chemical elements observed around a burned-out star known as a white dwarf offer evidence Earth-like planets once orbited it, suggesting that worlds like our own may not be rare in the cosmos, scientists said on Thursday.

Astronomers at the University of California, Los Angeles and University of Kiel in Germany studied a white dwarf called GD 362 located 150 light-years away in our Milky Way galaxy. They figured out the chemical composition of a large asteroid that was ripped apart by gravitational forces as it approached GD 362, finding it was similar to the Earth’s crust. It was rich in iron and calcium and low in carbon, much like a strong rock, they said.

The white dwarf is surrounded by dusty rings, probably made up of objects shredded as they ventured too close. “It’s probably quite similar to Saturn’s rings,” UCLA astronomer Michael Jura said in a telephone interview.

GD 362 once was a star similar to the sun. After billions of years, it ballooned into a “red giant” as part of its death process, expelling most of its outer material, then degenerated into a burnt-out remnant called a white dwarf.

The fact that the asteroid is so similar in make-up to the Earth, as well as the moon, indicates that rocky planets like our own may have orbited the star eons ago, Jura said. And if such planets currently populate our solar system and existed in a planetary system around this white dwarf, they may well be fairly common in the universe, Jura added.

The research, based on observations made using the Keck I Telescope in Hawaii, will appear in the Astrophysical Journal. It is the latest evidence found by astronomers indicating that planets like Earth are found outside our solar system.

European astronomers in April said they detected the most Earth-like planet yet outside the solar system orbiting a star 20.5 light-years from here, with temperatures that could harbor water and perhaps life. A light year is about 6 trillion miles, the distance light travels in a year.

Jura said that his study’s fresh evidence of Earth-like planets outside our solar system lends support to the possibility of extraterrestrial life. “It’s more than just daydreams,” Jura said. “It’s realistic to imagine that there are other places relatively similar to the Earth which would be a habitat. But, of course, we have no evidence whatsoever that they (alien life forms) do exist.”

The rocky asteroid had a diameter of roughly 125 miles (200 km) and may have been smashed by GD 362 between 100,000 and a million years ago, the astronomers said. While the white dwarf has a mass close to that of our sun, it has collapsed to such a point that its diameter is approximately that of the Earth.

GD 362 may offer a glimpse into our solar system’s future. Astronomers believe the sun in perhaps 5 billion years will go through the same process, ending up as a white dwarf.

UCLA astronomer Benjamin Zuckerman said when our sun starts to expand in size and lose mass, the planets closest to the sun, Mercury and Venus, will get engulfed and destroyed. Other planets, probably including Earth, and the asteroid belt b

The research, based on observations made using the Keck I Telescope in Hawaii, will appear in the Astrophysical Journal. It is the latest evidence found by astronomers indicating that planets like Earth are found outside our solar system.

European astronomers in April said they detected the most Earth-like planet yet outside the solar system orbiting a star 20.5 light-years from here, with temperatures that could harbor water and perhaps life. A light year is about 6 trillion miles, the distance light travels in a year.

Jura said that his study’s fresh evidence of Earth-like planets outside our solar system lends support to the possibility of extraterrestrial life. “It’s more than just daydreams,” Jura said. “It’s realistic to imagine that there are other places relatively similar to the Earth which would be a habitat. But, of course, we have no evidence whatsoever that they (alien life forms) do exist.”

‘Thousands wrongly being treated for depression’

ANGUS HOWARTH

DOCTORS are over-diagnosing depression, resulting in thousands of people wrongly being prescribed drugs to treat it, an expert warns today.

Professor Gordon Parker says the current threshold for what is considered to be “clinical depression” is too low and he fears that it might lead to the condition becoming less credible. He argues that the problem has been reduced to the “absurd” and we risk medicalising normal human distress and viewing any expression of depression as necessary of treatment.

Prof Parker, a psychiatrist based at Australia’s University of New South Wales, says it is “normal to be depressed” and points to his own cohort study, which followed 242 teachers. After 15 years of research, 79 per cent of respondents had already met the symptom and duration criteria for major, minor or very mild “subsyndromal” depression.

Anti-depressants have a range of side-effects. About 25 per cent of patients have problems when stopping them and studies have found that they can cause a rise in suicidal thoughts and actions. Patients also report a loss of libido.

Prof Parker blames the over-diagnosis of clinical depression on a change in its categorisation, in 1980, which saw the condition split into “major” and “minor” disorders. He says that the simplicity and gravitas of “major depression” gave it credit with clinicians, while its descriptive profile set a low threshold.

Criterion A required a person to be in a “dysphoric mood” for two weeks, which included feeling “down in the dumps”. Criterion B involved appetite change, sleep disturbance, drop in libido and fatigue. This model was then extended to include what Prof Parker describes as a seeming subliminal condition, “subsyndromal depression”.

Writing in the British Medical Journal, Prof Parker said: “It is normal to feel depressed. A low threshold for diagnosing clinical depression risks treating normal emotional states as illness.

“Now, anti-depressant drugs have a large share of the drug market. Reasons for the over- diagnosis include lack of a reliable diagnostic model and marketing of treatments beyond their true utility in a climate of heightened expectations.

“That many people with substantive clinical depression do not have their condition diagnosed does not mean that depression is under-diagnosed.” He added: “Depression will remain a non-specific ‘catch all’ diagnosis until commonsense prevails.”

Last year, a group of charities, including the Mental Health Foundation and Mind, called for a “large, sustained cash injection to improve psychological treatments”.

A recent study in the United States found that as many as one-quarter of people currently labelled as depressed were reacting normally to stressful events. It suggested that even psychiatrists regularly miss the broad picture. Some experts say that once patients tick enough boxes for symptoms, then they get diagnosed as depressed even though they may just be sad.

However, Dr Andrew McCulloch, chief executive of the Mental Health Foundation, said: “It is very unlikely that depression is over-diagnosed in the UK. Vast numbers never seek help: they will struggle; some enough to take their own lives.” But he added: “A GP ought to be able to offer a range of treatments, including counselling and exercise, not just medication. Medication is relied upon heavily in the UK by GPs and patients and is often prescribed when an alternative might have been more suitable.”

Last updated: 16-Aug-07 00:09 BST

NYC Must Stop Spraying Pesticides Immediately

No Spray Coalition

The No Spray Coalition is appalled by Mayor Bloomberg’s decision to renew mass-spraying of dangerous pesticides in the Bronx and Queens. Furthermore, we condemn the New York City government’s advice to residents and visitors that they personally use insect repellants containing DEET on themselves and their children. DEET is especially dangerous for children and should NEVER be used; it is associated with numerous infant deaths.

The No Spray Coalition is also deeply troubled by NYC’s reckless spraying of Anvil 10 + 10 to kill mosquitoes.

“After years of litigation to stop this reckless spraying of pesticides which has contributed to skyrocketing increases in cancer and asthma, and now the collapse of bee colonies in the New York area, I am outraged that the Bloomberg Administration is renewing its mindless criminal poisoning of the people and environment of our City,” said Howard Brandstein, coordinator of SOS-FOOD and a plaintiff in a federal lawsuit brought seven years ago by the No Spray Coalition and other organizations against Rudolph Giuliani and the New York City government.

That lawsuit ended in April 2007, when NYC signed a settlement agreement acknowledging, among other stipulations, that pesticides:

– may remain in the environment beyond their intended purpose – cause adverse health effects – kill mosquitoes’ natural predators (such as dragonflies) – increase mosquitoes’ resistance to the sprays, and – are not presently approved for direct application to waterways.

The Department of Health contravenes that settlement by now stating that “there are no significant risks of adverse impact to human health associated with the proper use of this product,” said No Spray Coalition coordinator Mitchel Cohen. “This is simply not true,” Cohen said, claiming that the spraying puts many New York City residents and visitors at grave risk.

“These kind of ignorant and lying politicians and bureaucrats apparently have no problem destroying our health in order to ‘save’ us from the so-called West Nile virus,” Howard Brandstein added. “Clearly, the spraying jeopardizes a thousand times more people than the disease.”

The pesticide the City is spraying — “Anvil 10 + 10” — belongs to a class of adulticides known as pyrethroids, which are endocrine disruptors. They mimic hormones such as estrogen, and may cause breast cancer in women and drastically lower sperm counts in men. Pyrethroids have also been associated with prostate cancer, miscarriages and preterm delivery, asthma, toxicity to many vital organs including the nervous system, liver, kidneys and the gastro-intestinal tract, skin rashes, itching and blisters, and nausea and vomiting.

Anvil contains the cancer-causing chemical piperonyl butoxide, which the Environmental Protection Agency lists as a suspected carcinogen. It also contains Sumithrin — a synthetic toxin, made in the laboratory — as well as benzene-related chemicals (which the label calls “inert ingredients.”)

Thousands of New Yorkers were severely sickened by the spraying in 1999 and 2000. A number of members of the No Spray Coalition, including several of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, died from pesticide-related illnesses.

Many suffer from Multiple Chemical Sensitivities (MCS) or Asthma caused or exacerbated by the spraying. “The City administration must be made to understand that pesticides are extremely dangerous to human health as well as to the natural environment, and have long-term consequences,” Cohen said.

The No Spray Coalition strongly urges the City to stop pesticide spraying immediately, reconsider its entire approach, and seek alternative, safe means to control mosquitoes. There are natural, safe ways for each person to ward off mosquitoes. The City should not be poisoning the entire population.

You can get more information at http://www.NoSpray.org.

No Spray Coalition P.O. Box 739 Peck Slip Station New York, NY 10272

hotline: #718-670-7110 website: www.nospray.org listserve: SprayNo@yahoogroups.com email: editor@nospray.org

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Pesticides and the Studies Testimony of Mitchel Cohen, to the Department of Sanitation

Even tiny amounts of pesticides kill fish, horseshoe crabs (which, in addition to being the oldest creatures on the planet, are indispensable for scientific research), butterflies, bees, birds, dragonflies, etc., as well as mosquitoes and unwanted critters. The labels on Malathion, Pyrethroids, and piperonyl butoxide (a so-called synergist and a carcinogen) all warn against spraying over or near bodies of water.

Pesticides are especially dangerous for brain and nerve development in young children, and for elderly people. Bicycles and Wheelchairs pick up pesticides on their wheels and bring them into the apartment or house. Children touch the sprays and put their fingers into their mouths.

In April 2007, the City agreed to settle a 7-year-old lawsuit against its massive and indiscriminate spraying of toxic pesticides brought under the Clean Water Act by the No Spray Coalition, which I coordinate. In addition to winning $80,000 for a number of local grassroots environmental and wildlife protection groups, as part of the settlement agreement the City admitted (and I quote): “Pesticides may remain in the environment beyond their intended purpose, … cause adverse health effects, … kill mos-quitoes’ natural predators, … increase mosquito resistance to the sprays, … and are not present-ly approved for direct application to waterways.”

The following seven groups of published studies speak directly to this grave issue, which is one of extraordinary environmental INjustice.

i. Centers for Disease Control study that found that all residents of the United States, including residents of New York City and State, now carry dangerously high levels of pesticides and their residues in our bodies, which may have onerous effects on our health. (Third National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals, Centers for Disease Control, 2005);

ii. U.S. Geological Study, which shows that a large percentage of waterways and streams throughout the United States, including those in New York City and State, has been found to contain environmentally destructive pesticides that may severely impact on animal and aquatic life. (U.S. Geological Survey: The Quality of Our Nation’s Waters, Pesticides in the Nation’s Streams and Ground Water, 1992-2001, http://pubs.usgs.gov/circ/2005/1291/);

iii. Studies confirming that pesticides are both a trigger for asthma attacks and a root cause of asthma (Salam, et al: Early-life environmental risk factors for asthma findings from the children’s health study. Environmental Health Perspectives 112(6):760-765.), and that asthma is epidemic throughout New York City;

iv. Cicero Swamp Study, showing that pesticides killed off the natural predators of mosquitoes and that mosquitoes came back much stronger after the spraying, because all of their natural predators (which have a longer reproductive cycle) were dead. These studies were done in New York state for mosquitoes carrying Eastern Equine Encephalitis, and found a 15-fold increase in mosquitoes after repeated spraying, and that virtually all of the new generations of mosquitoes were pesticide-resistant. (Journal of the Am Mosquito Control Assoc, Dec; 13(4):315-25, 1997 Howard JJ, Oliver New York State Department of Health, SUNY-College ESF, Syracuse 13210, USA);

v. Studies that show that pesticides have cumulative, multigenerational, degenerative impacts on human health, especially on the development of children which may not be evident immediately and may only appear years or even decades later (The Multigenerational, Cumulative and Destructive Impacts of Pesticides on Human Health, Especially on the Physical, Emotional and Mental Development of Children and Future Generations. A Submission to The House of Commons Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development by Physicians and Scientists for a Healthy World, February 2000; Guillette, Elizabeth, et al: Anthropological Approach to the Evaluation of Pre-school Children Exposed to Pesticides in Mexico. Environmental Health Perspective, Vol. 106, No.6, June 1998; Kaplan, Jonathan et al. Failing Health. Pesticides Use in California Schools. Report by Californians for Pesticide Reform, 2002, American Academy of Pediatrics, Committee on Environmental Health; Ambient Air Pollution: Respiratory Hazards to Children, Pediatrics 91, 1993);

vi. Studies that show that pesticides make it easier for mosquitoes and other organisms to get and transmit West Nile Virus due to damage to their stomach lining. (Haas, George. West Nile virus, spraying pesticides the wrong response. American Bird Conservancy, October 23, 2000); and,

vii. Studies that show that pyrethroid spraying is ineffective in reducing the number of the next generation of mosquitoes. (Efficacy of Resmethrin Aerosols Applied from the Road for Suppressing Culex Vectors of West Nile Virus, Michael R. Reddy, Department of Immunology and Infectious Diseases, Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, Massachusetts, et. al., Vector-Borne and Zoonotic Diseases, Volume 6, Number 2, June 2006)

The use of toxic pesticides to control mosquitoes is a significant Environmental Justice issue; there have been no realistic environmental impact studies in the last few years on spraying in NYC; no studies in NYC of the pesticide-spraying’s effects on human health and the natural environment; and no studies of cumulative impacts of different pesticides on the population.

Mitchel Cohen