telegraph - Howard Smith, a senior astrophysicist at Harvard, made the claim that we are alone in the universe after an analysis of the 500 planets discovered so far showed all were hostile to life.
Dr Smith said the extreme conditions found so far on planets discovered outside out Solar System are likely to be the norm, and that the hospitable conditions on Earth could be unique.
“We have found that most other planets and solar systems are wildly different from our own. They are very hostile to life as we know it,” he said.
He pointed to stars such as HD10180, which sparked great excitement when it was found to be orbited by a planet of similar size and appearance to Earth.
But the similarities turned out to be superficial. The planet lies less than two million miles from its sun, meaning it is roasting hot, stripped of its atmosphere and blasted by radiation.
Many of the other planets have highly elliptical orbits which cause huge variations in temperature which prevent water remaining liquid, thus making it impossible for life to develop.
A separate team of scientists recently declared the chance of aliens existing on a newly discovered Earth-like planet “100 per cent”.
Professor Steven Vogt , of the Carnegie institution in Washington, said he had “no doubt” extraterrestrial life would be found on a small, rocky planet found orbiting the red dwarf star Gliese 581 last September.
Such hopes are likely to be raised further in the coming weeks, when Nasa's Kepler satalite is expected to confirm the existence of hundreds of new planets.
But Dr Smith dismissed the claims, insisting that other extrasolar planets differ starkly from our own and that even if they did support life, it would be impossible for humans to make contact.
"Extrasolar systems are far more diverse than we expected, and that means very few are likely to support life.
"Any hope of contact has to be limited to a relatively tiny bubble of space around the Earth, stretching perhaps 1,250 light years out from our planet, where aliens might be able to pick up our signals or send us their own.
But communicating would still take decades or centuries.
37-year-old Maine hypnotist convicted for using craft to keep a 14-year-old girl quiet about their sexual relationship
wmtw - A jury on Tuesday afternoon convicted a 37-year-old hypnotist accused of using his craft to keep a 14-year-old girl quiet about a sexual relationship they were having.
Jurors found Aaron Patton guilty on all counts including four charges of gross sexual assault.
The attorney for Patton argued that the girl was 16 when the two had a consensual sexual relationship. In Maine the age of consent for sexual activity is 16.
Patton began treating the girl, now 17, with hypnotism when she was 8 years old to break her of a nail-biting habit.
The girl testified Monday that when she was 14 they began having sex and afterward Patton would hypnotize her to keep quiet about their encounters.
The Sun Journal of Lewiston said the girl testified she was in love with Patton and kept it secret for two years.
Patton is being held on $5,000 cash bail at the Androscoggin County Jail.
BBC show declares astrology 'rubbish'
guardian - Professor Brian Cox and Dara O'Briain have unleashed the wrath of Britain's astrologers with their comments about the ancient art on BBC2's "Stargazing Live" show, with the result that the Astrological Association of Great Britain have started a petition they plan to send to the BBC.
The section of the program that caused the fuss has been described in truly harrowing terms by 'respected astrologer' Angela Cornish, in an e-mail that was published by the SkyScript blog:
"If you didn't happen to see it, there were two presenters, Professor Brian Cox and Dara O'Briain. All was going well until they got to a part where they had models of the planets in our solar system on a table and Dara was explaining that all of the planets orbit at different speeds and distances away from the Sun. He said only the earth orbits the Sun in 365 days and returns to its own place, showing that horoscopes are nonsense. He then went on to add "Let's get this straight once and for all, Astrology is rubbish" The other presenter, Brian Cox, then agreed and said "in the interests of balance on the BBC, yes astrology is nonsense."
Shocking stuff, I think you'll agree.
This is not the first time that Brian Cox has waded into the astrology controversy that has raged in science for literally almost none of the last couple of centuries. The hackles of Britain's astrologers were raised last year, when Cox took a moment during his Wonders of the Solar System series to explain to the public that "astrology is a load of rubbish," a statement which pretty much echoes the scientific consensus on the matter, which says that, "astrology is a load of rubbish." It's a position that was first reached by Islamic scholars at least 650 years ago, and has been studiously ignored by such great minds as Jonathan Cainer ever since.
Since then, TV's most clean-shaven male Professor has become a bit of a lightning rod for astrologically-guided criticism, and the Astrological Association of Great Britain's new petition names him personally:
The Association will be requesting that the BBC make a public apology and a statement that they do not support the personal views of Professor Brian Cox or Dara O'Briains on the subject of astrology. We also request that the BBC will commit to making a fair and balanced representation of astrology when aired in the future.
On the second sentence at least I think we can all agree. I'd love to see the BBC give a fair and balanced representation of astrology. In fact sod it, let's extend that to all newspapers as well.
Such a representation would depict astrology as a pseudoscience with no real basis in evidence that was already being ridiculed in the Dark Ages, and note that after thousands of years astrologers still can't produce statistically meaningful results.
It would observe that any apparent successes of astrology probably owe more to the use of cold-reading techniques, convenient vagueness, and the exploitation of psychological quirks like confirmation bias or the Forer effect, and express amazement at the continued ability of the astrological industry to lift hundreds of millions of euros, pounds and dollars out of the pockets of customers each year.
Finally, it would make the point that intellectually-speaking, the pursuit of meaningful predictions in astrology isn't so much flogging a dead horse as punching a piece of rock and wondering why it won't say anything. Fair and balanced reporting is not the best thing to ask for when your views have about as much credibility as Andy Coulson's future in journalism.
Anyway, the Association's statement goes on to say (with my bolding) that:
"Communications the Association have received show that dissatisfaction is growing with Professor Brian Cox's support for Dara O'Briain's denigration of astrology in his Stargazing Live BBC2 television programme on 3rd January 2011 (see the portion commencing 17'30" and 19'45" into the programme). His justification was fragmentary astronomy and empty of logic. Yet he allowed the total condemnation of astrology. This is particularly disappointing, because for the previous nine months the Association had explained carefully to the BBC the reasons why Professor Cox's understanding of astrology was unreliable; following his gratuitous and unsubstantiated dismissal of it in Wonders of the Solar System (BBC2 28th March 2010 episode). "
Let's just leave aside the sheer burning irony of astrologers talking about "fragmentary astronomy and empty logic," because that's too easy. I do have to feel a bit sorry for whichever poor sod at the BBC has had to spend the last 9 months being educated at the hands of the AAGB's crack team of letter-writers. That said, I would dearly love to know what sort of evidence they presented.
I very much doubt the BBC are going to listen to this petition, but just in case, I say we start our own little petition here - if you agree with Brian Cox and Dara O'Briain (and let's face it, reality) that "astrology is a load of rubbish", feel free to leave a comment below supporting the BBC's stance. If I get more than a few, I'll put them in a letter and pass it on to the Beeb myself.
Woman hanged nephew's 'devil dog' from tree before burning it after it chewed her Bible
dailymail - A US woman has been charged with animal cruelty after allegedly hanging her nephew's pit bull from a tree with an electrical cord and burning its body after it chewed on her Bible. Animal control officers said that 65-year-old Miriam Smith told them she killed a female dog named Diamond because it was a 'devil dog' and she worried it could harm neighbourhood children.
Smith's nephew left the one-year-old animal at the home he shared with his aunt during the recent winter weather while he went away. When he returned, he could find no trace of the dog and assumed she had broken the chain where she was usually tied at the front porch of the house.
An environmental enforcement officer came across the dog's body under a mound of dried grass, stinking of kerosene. The dog had an orange extension cord wrapped tightly around its neck and its body was partially burned.
Authorities said bail was not immediately set for Smith, who remains jailed in Spartanburg County, South Carolina after her weekend arrest. Smith is charged with ill treatment of animals in general, torture, according to an arrest warrant. She faces 180 days to five years in prison if convicted.
Mom horrified baby listed for sale in online classified
cbc - A young Sydney, Nova Scotia, mother is horrified her seven-month-old son was listed for sale in an online classified advertisement.
"I just felt disgusted that somebody would actually do that," Shannon MacLean told CBC News on Tuesday. "It's kind of sick, when you think about it."
MacLean found out about the ad on Kijiji when Cape Breton regional police visited her Friday night. Police hope to find out who put up the Kijiji ad.
They received a call just after 10 p.m. local time Friday from someone who had seen a For Sale ad for a two-month-old on Inglis Street in Sydney.
Police went to the address listed in the ad and met the parents, checking on the baby at the same time, said Desiree Vassallo, a spokeswoman for the police service. Police are satisfied the parents did not know anything about the ad and were shaken by the incident.
The ad posted the family's home address, MacLean said, and she is afraid it has endangered her son, Jayden.
"I'm very angry about that," MacLean said. "We could have had pedophiles or people come to our house looking for my son. It's pretty serious."
Vassallo said police believe the ad was a hoax.
"Obviously it was a concerning issue to us and so we did follow up on it to make sure that there wasn't anything of concern happening there," Vassallo told CBC News.
"We were able to confirm that at this point, it does, unfortunately, seem like a hoax or a joke."
The ad has since been taken down. Vassallo thinks any danger to the child was short-lived.
"Thanks to the concerned citizen alerting us to the ad, he contacted us as soon as he saw it pop up, so we were able to follow up on this quite shortly after it was posted," she said.
"So, thankfully, we were able to eliminate what we feel was a risk."
It may have just been a bad joke but police are taking it very seriously, Vassalo said. They are trying to track down the internet provider address from which the ad was sent.
"We have a member here who specializes in the internet," Vassallo said. " We are drawing on their skills help us to track down an IP address."
MacLean hopes the person who put up the ad is found and is made to realize how it endangered her son.
"Don't put fake ads on Kijiji because it's pretty serious and pretty disgusting that someone would go that low to do that and it's pretty immature," she said.