Drillers strike scientific gold after breaking into magma chamber by accident

A crew drilling on the Big Island of Hawaii has struck scientific gold after accidentally breaking into a molten lava chamber underground for the first time.

Magma - the molten rock that is the central ingredient in the evolution of planets, has never been found in its natural habitat before now.

The chance discovery far beneath the Earth's surface gives scientists an unprecedented opportunity to study the important substance.

As scientists, we've hypothesized about the nature and behavior of magma in literally countless studies, but before now the real thing has never been found or been physically investigated,' Professor Bruce Marsh from The Johns Hopkins University said.

Magma reaches temperatures of more than 1,000C underground before it is ejected from the earth in volcanoes in lava spouts.

'Once magma erupts, it begins cooling unusually quickly and it loses any gases that it may contain, so it really is a different animal,' Professor Marsh said.

'We've never seen, until now, the real animal in its natural habitat. And it's not going anywhere: it's caged, so to speak.'

The chamber also contains a highly unusual type called 'dacite', which is not common in the geology of Hawaii. It is believed to be made by, in effect, distilling basalt, the material which makes up the floor of the ocean.
Professor Marsh, nicknamed the 'Magma PI,' has spent his career investigating the processes by which magma is forced from the bowels of the planet to the surface and creates the geologic features - continents, mountains, valleys - among which we live.

He is collaborating on the find with William Teplow, a consultant to Nevada-based Ormat Technologies. They announced the discovery yesterday at the 2008 meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco.

The company discovered the magma during drilling operations at its Puna Geothermal Venture power plant in October 2005.

They hit a chamber of the magma about a mile and a half down while drilling an injection well. The substance quickly rose about 20 feet up into the drill hole before becoming glasslike as it cooled. Ormat workers redrilled the area several times, with the same result.

The company has installed a permanent seismic and ground monitoring network to provide early warning of any impending volcanic activity for the power plant and

Buried in each other's arms: Scientists discover remains of world's most ancient nuclear family

The Flintstones may not have been so far-fetched after all.

A team of archaeologists have discovered the remains of the earliest known nuclear family - a Stone Age mother, father and two sons who lived more than 4,600 years ago.

The find sheds tantalising new light on the life of our prehistoric ancestors living at the dawn of civilisation in Europe. It also suggests that modern family values have been thriving since before the time of Stonehenge.

The family - who appear to have been slaughtered in a raid by a rival tribe - were identified from fragments of DNA in their skeletons. The boys were aged eight and four.

They were buried near three other graves containing the skeletons of nine others.

Many of the bodies had injuries - suggesting that they were victims of a violent raid from a rival tribe or village. One women had a stone projectile point in her spine, and another had a fractured skull. Several bodies had injuries on their arms and hands.

Dr Alistair Pike, head of archaeology at the University of Bristol, who took part in the study, said: "This is a particularly significant find because it is the first time we can conclusively prove a family has been buried together.

"Graves which have been discovered pre-dating this find show mass collections of maybe hundreds of skeletons thrown together.

"This grave could be a watershed in the rise of the significance of the family, as previous evidence shows that around this time inheritable wealth became an important factor in family life.

"Whoever buried the family obviously knew they were family and deemed it important they were buried together facing one-another."

The burials took place in Germany around the same time that Stonehenge was being erected in England.

The family were buried near three other graves containing the skeletons of nine other people in a Stone Age cemetery at Eulau in Saxony-Anhalt.

They were discovered in 2005, but the DNA tests have only just been completed.

The mother was aged around 35 to 50 - old age for those days. She was carefully laid to rest on her left side with her head pointing towards the rising sun. The father - who was between 40 and 60 - was placed in a mirror position.

However, unusually for the period, the boys were positioned facing their parents, the scientists report in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Another 13 bodies were buried near by around the same time.

Other couples nearby were touchingly buried face-to-face with their arms and hands interlinked.

Each of the graves contained at least one child - ranging from newborn babies to children aged ten years old. There were no teenagers or young adults.

Dr Wolfgang Haak of the University of Adelaide, who led the study, said: "By establishing the genetic links between the two adults and two children buried together in one grave, we have established the presence of the classic nuclear family in a prehistoric context in Central Europe - to our knowledge the oldest authentic molecular genetic evidence so far.

'Their unity in death suggests a unity in life.'

As well as discovering the family ties between the bodies, the researchers also studied the chemical make up of their teeth to find out where they spent their childhood.

Growing teeth contain tell-tale traces of the minerals and metals in the food that a child eats.

They found that many of the women spent their childhoods in a different region from the men and children. That suggests that women were marrying out of their families and moving to the location of their new male partners.

Dr Alistair Pike said: 'Such traditions would have been important to avoid inbreeding and to forge kinship networks with other communities.'

The remains are now on permanent display in the Landesmuseum Sachsen-Anhalt in Germany.

The changes faced by our prehistoric ancestors

The third century BC was the end of an era for our prehistoric ancestors.

It was the dying days of the Stone Age, a time when the old bone and flint tools which had served mankind for millennia were being replaced with new-fangled metals like copper.

New farming techniques - and new livestock - were arriving from the warmer lands of the south and east.

And people were on the move - crossing the English Channel, exploring the islands off Europe's coast and trekking across the continent.

The Neolithic farmers of Germany lived in small villages in rectangular homes made of wooden posts and twigs, covered in a thick layer of clay and chalk.

The roofs were thatched allowing smoke from the central fire to escape. The huts were large enough for a big family to huddle around the central fireplace.

By 2600BC prehistoric families had been farming for thousands of years.

They were skilled at growing wheat and barley, and keeping pigs, cattle and sheep.

Dogs had been domesticated and would have been used as companions as well as protection.

They used the wheat to make bread and cakes, and possibly even beer.

They still gathered what food they could from the wild - apples, nuts, cherries, honey, peas and berries.

Although Neolithic means new stone age, it should really be called the copper age. Copper axes and knives were used by the wealthy - although stone tools and arrow heads were more common.

The clothes were simple. They wore leather coats and jackets, woollen leggings and maybe even simple shoes made from animal skins tied up with twine. They made pots and beakers, and decorated them with a distinctive cord design.

Almost nothing is known about their culture and beliefs. But the tender way they treated the dead, placing tools and jewellery around the carefully positioned body, suggests a belief in the afterlife.

In Britain at this time, society was organised enough to arrange the creation of the huge monuments of Stonehenge - using vast slabs dragged from Wales - and Silbury Hill, a vast mound of earth 130ft high.

Thousands flee as wildfires scorch LA and threaten to plunge the city into darkness

Wildfires threatening Los Angeles could plunge the entire city and its 3.8million inhabitants into darkness.

A massive blaze in the heavily populated San Fernando Valley broke out on Thursday night, destroying dozens of properties and threatening vital power supply lines.

Fanned by 70mph winds, the fire has spread over 2,600 acres, forcing 10,000 residents to evacuate.
LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has declared a state of emergency.

He said: 'This is the worst fire we've had for more than a dozen years.

'People should prepare for rolling blackouts throughout the city.'

As these pictures show, the blaze has left some of the most sought-after addresses in southern California looking like the aftermath of a nuclear attack.
Yesterday, West Wing actor Rob Lowe, whose family was among the residents evacuated in the face of 200ft-high flames, described the bushfire transformation of the wealthy neighbourhood of Montecito as ‘like something from Armageddon’.

Mr Lowe told how he and his son were forced to flee their home after a phone call from his wife telling them to 'Get out'.

She said the Californian town of Montecito, a favourite celebrity hideaway where the actor's neighbours include Oprah Winfrey and John Cleese, was going up in flames.

'We got in the car and pulled out of the driveway and the entire mountain behind us was in flames 200 feet high, shooting into the air,' he said.

'It was like something from Armageddon.'
Neighbours in the posh suburb were last night still coming to terms with the damage wreaked by what started as a small fire in the hills above the town.

Within five hours 100 luxury homes – one belonging to Back To The Future actor Christopher Lloyd – had been reduced to ashes.

Cars were left charred, their alloy wheels melting in the inferno. Fanned by 70mph winds, known locally as ‘sundowners’, the fire raged out of control over 2,000 acres of prime California real estate.

More than 1,000 firemen, supported by water-dropping helicopters, fought the fire as temperatures reached in excess of 70C (158F).

The only consolation was that just 13 people were injured.

So far the huge wildfire has destroyed at least 70 multi-million dollar mansions in the town.

Rosie Neeley, 31, fled with her parents before their house was consumed by fire overnight.

'When we saw the flames coming down the canyon, we knew it was too late.' she said.

Longtime residents Cheryl and Gary Jensen, both 59, said they, too, were first alerted to the danger by a phone call and drove away as flames neared.

They returned yesterday to find their $2million home leveled, a half-melted refrigerator still visible in the remains of their kitchen.
'It's all dust now,' said Mrs Jensen.

The brush fire engulfed more than 800 acres in about six hours on Thursday, ripping through entire blocks of mansions in a community dubbed 'America's Riviera.'

TV helicopters showed several large homes in flames on the steep hillsides of the town around five miles south of the city of Santa Barbara.

Firefighters were largely powerless to stop the destruction.

Montecito is about 90 miles from Los Angeles in coastal Santa Barbara County.

Comedian Cleese recently listed his £6m oceanfront Montecito home, he co-owns with his third ex-wife Alyce Faye Eichelberger, for sale.

The Monty Python star also had an equestrian ranch in the town which he sold in July for £8.3m.
About 2,500 residents were forced to flee the flames, and 20,000 people in the wider area were without power.

'From just watching, it’s grown significantly in size. It’s a very serious situation.

'Emergency personnel are in the area. We’ve got calls out for additional emergency personnel,' Santa Barbara county spokesman William Boyer told theThe Santa Maria Times.
'It looked like lava coming down a volcano,' Leslie Hollis Lopez said as she gathered belongings from her house.

'It’s very tenuous. We’re hoping the winds are favorable.'

Michaelo Rosso told KCAL TV as he prepared to leave his home: 'You can just hear the explosions ... of vehicles, homes,' . 'It sounds like the Fourth of July out here.'
A residence hall and several classrooms were destroyed at Westmont College, a private Christian university, and about 800 students were evacuated to the school's fireproof gymnasium, where they were out of harm's way.

By early Friday, the relentless fire had spread five miles north to the fringes of Santa Barbara city, where at least 20 homes were damaged, officials said.
In an unusual - and risky - move, three water-dropping helicopters were dispatched to the area. Such missions are not normally undertaken at night.

Many of the homes in the area are holiday or second homes.

Other residents include mobile-phone pioneer Craig McCaw, and Google Inc chief executive Eric Schmidt, who reportedly paid about $20m for comedian Ellen DeGeneres' compound earlier this year.

Moon mission inspires India to launch own version of Google Earth

Space-hungry India is planning to launch an improved version of Google Earth using its own satellite system, just weeks after conquering the moon.

Its space agency hopes to unveil a prototype of Bhuvan - the Sanskrit for Earth - by December and launch the programme to the public by March.

Officials claim the mapping system will generate clearer images and zoom into a distance of just 10m.
The state-owned service, which will initially cover only India, will be free to use on the web.

'We've created a lot of value added products out of satellite data of the Indian region', Dr. V. Jayaramna, a director at Isra, told the Financial Times.

'We will introduce Bhuvan in phases. Over the next three to four months, the first lot [of map data] will come out and then more in a systematic manner.'

The move comes just weeks after India stepped up its position in the space race with the blast-off of the country's first unmanned space mission to the moon.
Chandrayaan-1, which was built by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), will create a 3D map of the lunar surface over two years.

India is following in the footsteps of rival China, after the emerging Asian power celebrated its first space walk in September.

'What we have started is a remarkable journey,' G. Madhavan Nair, chairman of ISRO, said.

Chandrayaan-1 lunar orbiter is expected to mark the achievement tomorrow as it drops a probe, painted in the colours of the Indian flag, on the moon's surface.
But critics argue that India should address the poverty at home before competing with space leaders including China and Japan.

The latest project has sparked speculation that India will develop its own global positioning system, providing for TomTom-like devices for cars.

It is already working towards a satellite-based global aviation navigation system.

And scientists revealed earlier this week that designs for an Aditya spacecraft to study the sun are nearly complete.

Google Earth displays satellite images of varying resolution of the Earth's surface, giving users a bird's eye view of things like houses and cars.

Mysterious glowing aurora over Saturn confounds scientists

A stunning light display over Saturn has stumped scientists who say it behaves unlike any other planetary aurora known in our solar system.

The blueish-green glow was found over the ringed planet's north polar region just like Earth's northern lights.

It was discovered by the infrared instruments on NASA's Cassini spacecraft.
'We've never seen an aurora like this elsewhere,' said Tom Stallard, a scientist working with Cassini data at the University of Leicester.

'This aurora covers an enormous area across the pole. Our current ideas on what forms Saturn's aurora predict that this region should be empty, so finding such a bright aurora here is a fantastic surprise.'

Auroras are caused by charged particles streaming along the magnetic field lines of a planet into its atmosphere.

Particles from the sun cause Earth's auroras. Many, but not all, of the auroras at Jupiter and Saturn are caused by particles trapped within the magnetic environments of those planets.
Jupiter's main auroral ring is caused by interactions in Jupiter's magnetic environment and remains constant in size. Saturn's main aurora is caused by the solar wind, and changes size dramatically as the wind varies. However, the newly observed aurora at Saturn doesn't fit into either category.

The new infrared aurora appears in a region hidden from NASA's Hubble Space Telescope. Cassini observed it when the spacecraft flew near Saturn's polar region.

In infrared light, the aurora sometimes fills the region from around 82 degrees north all the way over the pole. This new aurora is also constantly changing, even disappearing within a 45 minute-period.

'There is something special and unforeseen about this planet's magnetosphere and the way it interacts with the solar wind and the planet's atmosphere,' Cassini scientist Nick Achilleos from the University College London said.

The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency.

Ancient Rome rises from the ruins thanks to Google Earth

Ancient Rome has risen from the ruins thanks to a new version of Google Earth that lets you tour the city on your computer in 3D.

Visitors can explore the capital of the Roman Empire as it was in 320 AD - regarded by many historians as its heyday.

The three dimensional world - created by Google and available to download for free - lets users stand in the centre of the Forum, stroll across the arena of the Colosseum or fly through the Arch of Constantine.
Each building has been carefully reconstructed and positioned using historical records, perfectly recreating the biggest and most important metropolis of the ancient world.

Google claims the site will be invaluable to historians, students and school children - as well as helping to bring the city to life for tourists.

Although some city centres such as San Francisco and Munich and famous landmarks have been recreated in three dimensions, this is the first time users have been able to walk around an ancient city.

Only 300 original ruins of the great capital are still standing today but Google created the computer model based on 6,700 buildings reconstructed by students and scholars from the time of Emperor Constantine - the first Roman Christian emperor. Pop-up 'information bubbles' provide extra detail at 250 sites around the ancient city.

Bernard Frische, director for the Institute of Advanced Technology in the Humanities at the University of Virginia who was involved in recreating the virtual Rome, said: 'The project is the continuation of five centuries of research by scholars, architects and artists since the Renaissance who have attempted to restore the ruins of the ancient city with words, maps and images.

'The partnership with Google Earth is another step in creating a virtual time machine which our children and grandchildren will use to study the history of Rome.'

Google joined forces with the Rome Reborn Project and Past Perfect Productions to create the computer graphics.

It is based on a physical model - the Plastico di Roma Antica - created by archaeologists and model makers between 1933 and 1974 and which is housed in a Roman museum.

The biggest building is the Colosseum - the elliptical amphitheatre at the heart of the city where Gladiatorial battles were fought for up to 80,000 spectators.

The model also reveals how Trajan's Column - a 125ft monument at the centre of the Forum - can be seen from across the city - and lets explorers tour Ludus Magnus - the gladiatorial training school.

The Mayor of Rome, Gianni Alemanno added: 'Ancient Rome 3D is a great opportunity to rediscover the importance of Ancient Roman culture, which is at the base of the Italian, European and, more generally, Western identities.'

More than 400 million people have downloaded Google Earth since it was launched in June, 2005.

The Earth at night: Stunning images of the cities that light up the globe

It may look like an intriguing star constellation far away in space, but these lights are actually far closer to home. This image shows London at night as viewed by the International Space Station.

Taken by astronaut Donald Pettit on his last mission on the ISS, it shows England's capital shortly after 7.22pm on a cloudy February 4, 2003. He is due to return to space for the second time on the shuttle Endeavour later this week and no doubt looks forward to capturing yet more stunning images.

London's orbital motorway, the M25, is most clearly running south of the city. The darkened Thames river estuary fans out to the east, while dark pockets slightly west of the densely packed lights in the centre reveal Hyde Park and Regent's Park.

Mr Pettit captured his images after he constructed a device called a camera mount called a barn-door tracker on board the station.
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It is commonly used by astronomers on the ground to capture images of the stars, which compensates for the rotation of the Earth relative to the stars. However, Mr Pettit used it to compensate for the movement of the space station relative to the Earth below.

The careful coordination kept the target city in the same position during a long exposure, producing detailed photos. The astronauts have now captured hundreds of images of cities from around the world with this technique with a level of detail of about 60 metres.

Border cities like Ciudad Juaréz, Mexico and El Paso, Texas, show cultural differences influencing city planning.

On the U.S. side of the Rio Grande, El Paso is marked by the brightly-lit Interstate Highway that cuts through the city. The American-style grids of the city differs markedly from Ciudad Juaréz, which has a European inspired pattern of curved streets.

Cities from different regions of the Earth can also be identified by the different colours that the lights throw off. Japanese cities such as Tokyo glow a cooler blue-green than other regions of the world and patches of orange along the shore of Tokyo Bay reveal more advanced orange sodium vapour lamps, compared to the light green mercury vapour lamps inland.

As populations expand and urban areas grow, individual cities will merge into ever larger bright blobs. More roads will connect those cities to form an illuminated, lace-like web across the continents. And the snappers on the ISS no doubt hope there will be someone up in space to chart the changes.

Pictured: The eco-friendly power plant that uses 624 giant movable mirrors to create electricity

From a distance it looks like an elaborate laser light show.

But this tower wreathed in light is the first part of a massive solar energy project to provide an alternative to burning fossil fuels.

The 'solucar' solar park, near Seville, Spain, produces 11 megawatts of electricity from the sun's rays, collected by 624 giant movable mirrors.

The mirrors, known as heliostats, concentrate the rays onto the top of a 100 metre tower, where it is used to produce steam to drive a turbine, which then produces electricity.

With around 320 days a year of sunshine, there's no shortage of fuel, and the entire park was created by Spanish engineering companies.

It is the first of a set of solar power generation plants aimed at generating 300 megawatts of electricity by 2013.

Cops find crack pipe in woman's buttocks

Police who arrested a woman for stealing money from a car found a glass crack pipe hidden between her buttocks.

Cops made the surprise discovery during a routine search on Evelyn Russo while she was being booked for taking $2 in change.

Russo, 38, of Palm City, Florida, had denied having any drugs or drug paraphernalia on her.

She was charged with auto burglary and introducing contraband into a detention facility. Russo was being held on $5,000 bail on Wednesday.

The flawless flautist: The musical robot that plays Flight Of The Bumblebee perfectly

Classical musicians could have good reason to be worried as scientists have developed a musical robot that makes no mistakes.

Waseda University’s robotic flautist can play the challenging musical score of the ‘Flight of the Bumblebee’ almost flawlessly.

And the robot has been designed with a human-like quality that allows it to engage with the audience, making in a contender for concert performances.

The Waseda Flutist No. 4 Refined IV was unveiled at the BioRob 2008 conference in Arizona two weeks ago.

Thanks to a series of technical advances, the latest version makes smoother transitions between notes than the original model built in 2003.

The robot’s mouth and lungs have been carefully designed to mimic the expert air control of a professional flautist.

The scientists created artificial lips with the elasticity of human lips and embedded pins, which control their shape.

The robot’s tongue has been redesigned to enable the double-tonguing technique – the high-speed playing used throughout the famous ‘Flight of the Bumblee’.

It even has an in-built mechanism to create vibrato, which can take human players years to master, that changes the amplitude and frequency of the robot’s airflow.

The lungs are composed of two air-tight acrylic cases, with a bellow that allows them to breathe in and out.

And the robot's eyes have two cameras that allow it to interact with the audience and other musicians, so we could soon see it playing duets with people.

Research on the musical robot began in 1990, with the aim that it would eventually rival human musicians.

But the WF-4RIV is more than just a gimmick. The makers hope to make it sophisticated enough to achieve better human-computer interaction and then teach music to pupils.

Rocket woman builds 300mph jet car in her back garden

Speed demon Carolynne Campbell has built a 300mph rocket car in her back garden that goes from 0-100mph in less than half a second.

The fearsome motor is 10 times more powerful than Lewis Hamilton's F1 car.

Its four hybrid rockets are fuelled by nitrous oxide and bio-fuel and produce a total 8,000lbs of thrust - equivalent to the power of a Red Arrows jet fighter.

Carolynne, 57, has spent £40,000 and five years designing and building the 400kg monster from scratch. She had to apply for an explosives licence before firing up the engines - which reach an incredible 2,500 degrees C.

Carolynne started the dream project with partner David Knight, 64, after seeing a dragster car fitted with a rocket at the Santa Pod race track, in Northants.

But David was forced to take a back seat after he was diagnosed with a brain tumour, leaving designated driver Carolynne to do the bulk of the construction.

The full-time carer, from Rushden, Northants., who is trained in graphic design, has been tinkering with cars since she was a child.

She managed to muddle through with the advice of David who has been involved in drag racing and building cars for 30 years.

She said: 'I've mucked around with cars and engines since I was a kid, and I studied design, so between us, we worked it out.

'Our original model had just one engine but I thought it was a bit slow, so instead of just one rocket, we've fitted four.'

The car - called 'Laffin Gas' - costs £500 to take for a spin, using 35kg of nitrous oxide.

Carolynne's hybrid rockets are fired into life by a small firework that ignites nitrous oxygen, splitting the oxygen and nitrogen into separate gases.
The oxygen burns a solid fuel, rape seed oil, that is soaked into dense cardboard tubes.

Carolynne can throttle up and down and shut the rockets off quickly by controlling the flow of liquid nitrous into the rocket.

The chassis of the car is made of aeroplane grade aluminium, titanium and chromium molybdenum steel. It is brought to a halt with two parachutes.

Constrained by the cost, Carolynne only puts Laffin Gas through its paces four or five times a year on a quarter mile dragster track at the Shakespeare County Raceway, Warwickshire.

She has so far reached speeds of 200mph but hopes to hit 300mph on their next trial in January - which would make her the fastest woman in UK.

Carolynne is unfazed at driving at high speeds.

She said: 'I get nervous before I drive but only because we always have spectators and I worry the rockets won't work.

'Its actually quite a smooth ride and not too noisy.'

Financing Laffin Gas - which would have cost £250,000 if built by professionals - has been a struggle, especially after David was diagnosed with a brain tumour in 2004.

The mechanical engineer has since undergone seven operations to remove the tumour which have damaged his short term memory and impaired his movement.

The money for materials and fuel has come from restoring and selling old cars and motorbikes.

Essential safety equipment, such as a helmet and a fireproof suit has been donated by well wishers.

Carolynne said: 'Working on the car and raising the dosh to buy parts has helped me take my mind off David's illness.

'I used it as a form of stress relief to cope with visiting him in hospital every day.'

Carolynne hopes to be able perform with the rocket car in the future, touring Europe.

How I discovered the finer points of acupuncture

With growing clinical evidence of its effectiveness in treating everything from post-operative pain and nausea to backache, acupuncture has gained acceptance in mainstream medicine.

But to those who have never tried it, the treatment, in which the skin is pricked with needles at key points of the body, may still seem strange and mysterious.

According to acupuncture theory, points lie along meridians of the body - or channels - through which chi, a vital energy, is said to flow.

Although there is no physical basis for this concept in Western medical terms, over thousands of years (and patients) Chinese doctors have discovered certain effects when a needle is inserted into these points.

And the British Medical Association, it seems, agrees. In 2000 it approved acupuncture for conditions that included back and dental pain - and it is routinely offered on the NHS.

I first visited a Chinese doctor ten years ago. I was 25, a yoga teacher, and despite countless tests, dermatologists could find no cause for the eczema I had suffered for eight years on my face, back, chest and legs.
I hoped acupuncture would provide what I was looking for. But needles scared me and I hated blood tests.

After my first session I could barely believe it. I'd hardly felt a thing.

I walked out with seven bags of 'herbs', which I was to brew up like tea and drink twice a day. The acupuncture cost £35 and the herbs, to last a week, were a further £30.

After six weeks my eczema began to clear up.

I visited a doctor for acupuncture once a month for two years and the treatment ended when I decided my condition was under control.

It was this incredible experience that led me to train as a practitioner of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) at the University of Westminster in London.

I worked as an acupuncturist at Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, treating HIV and AIDS patients, before moving into private practice.

Life at the sharp end

Q: What does 'acupuncture' mean?

A: It comes from the Latin acus, meaning 'needle', and pungere, to 'prick'. The technique is more than 2,000 years old, although there is evidence of similar practices from the early Bronze Age, around 3,000 BC.

Q: How does it work?

A: Some studies suggest that the pain-killing action is associated with the release of natural endorphins, and others that inserting needles into certain points 'switches off' electrical nerve pathways that make the brain recognise pain. Despite more than 10,000 published papers there is no conclusive answer.

Q: What does acupuncture treat?

A: It can be effective in the treatment of chronic lower back pain, neck pain, post-operative nausea and vomiting, headaches, and other nerve pain relief. Combining acupuncture with conventional infertility treatments such as IVF greatly improves the success rates. In China, it is used to treat skin conditions, digestive or sleeping problems, depression and stress.

Q: Does it hurt?

A: No. The needles are much finer than those used to draw blood. A dull ache or heaviness around the needle is a normal sensation to expect. It should never feel sharp.

Q: What are the needles made of?

A: Traditional needles were made of bone, stone, or metal. Modern disposable ones are made of stainless steel with a smooth rounded end.

Q: Are there any adverse effects?

A: Minor bleeding is seen in about three per cent of patients, which stops after a few minutes. Around two per cent will experience bruising.

Q: Can you have acupuncture alongside conventional medicine?

A: Yes. China devotes 25 per cent of its annual health budget to TCM therapies, used in conjunction with modern Western medicine. Here it is part of a treatment 'package'.

Q: How long does treatment usually last?

A: A single treatment lasts about an hour. Five weeks of one-a-week treatment, with a review, is standard.

Q: What ages is it suitable for?

A: Any age, even babies. But with children under seven finger-tapping is used, not needles.

Formula Zero: As Hamilton gears up for the Grand Prix, McLaren unveil the radical F1 car of the future

With Lewis Hamilton poised for glory this weekend, the McLaren driver's team has unveiled its spectacular take on the F1 car of the future.

The sleek Formula Zero Racer would race on steep, transparent tracks, allowing spectators a clear view of the action - even from below.

The concept car, designed by Mercedes, is one of nine ambitious designs entered in the LA Design Challenge 2008.

Nine Southern Californian studios will go head to head in the contest to develop the best racing car for ‘Motorsports in 2025’.

Formula Zero Racer is designed to mix the thrill of F1, the dynamics of bobsledding and the efficiency of yachting.

Mercedes says the design is reminiscent of the Mercedes Benz racing heritage of the 1930s.

But Formula Zero, geared to form part of F1’s green revolution, would be loaded with high-tech features to extract the maximum thrust from electric motors, with an aero-efficient solar skin and an aerodynamic rigid sail.

So while Hamilton will be hurtling towards the finish line on Sunday, racing stars would also score vital points for energy efficiency in the revamped sport of 2025.

Each team would be allocated the same amount of stored energy, with winners determined not only by time but also energy efficiency.

Google's rival to iPhone and Blackberry go on sale in UK today

Google's first mobile phone will go on sale in Britain from today.

The G1 is aimed squarely at competing with Apple's iPhone and RIM's Blackberry. It will be available exclusively from TMobile.

The handset is the first of several expected to use Google's software, called Android.
A Google T-Mobile G1 mobile telephone is seen on display at a T-Mobile store in New York

The Google G1 phone: Experts believe it lacks the 'cool factor'

The company hopes that by linking the handset to its email and websearch products, it can drive traffic and lucrative advertising to its site.

Unlike the iPhone, Google has allowed developers to create free software for the handset. Although Apple does let consumers download extra software, it is tightly controlled and many applications must be paid for.

The G1 will be available for free to customers signing up for T-Mobile's £40-and-above tariffs, which include unlimited data for web surfing.

But some analysts claim the phone may struggle to compete with the iPhone. Ernest Doku of mobile phone comparison site Omio.com said: 'Despite the popularity of the Google brand, the G1's design lacks the inherent cool factor that made the iPhone 3G such a mass-market success.'

He believes Google could tarnish its brand if the phone fails: 'The launch of the G1 is important not only because it's Google's first foray into the mobile market, but because it's also the launch of an entirely new mobile phone operating system.

'Android is the equivalent of releasing an alternative to Microsoft's Windows - and equally as risky.'

The phone went on sale in the US last week, and the Evening Standard has tested the American version which is very similar to the British model.
Users navigate either touching the screen or via a small trackpad. Under the screen hides a full qwerty keyboard, which does give it an edge over the iPhone.

But the G1 doesn't have the slickness of its Apple rival.

With Google's might behind it, it's well worth keeping an eye out for future versions - but for now, it's really one for internet addicts rather than average consumers.


When Google's G1 mobile phone going on sale tomorrow, it faces tough competition from the rest of the phone industry. Here are its main competitors:


Superb touchscreen and the best music player around - but the on screen keyboard can be fiddly. From free on contract, 2 megapixel camera, 16gb memory.

5/5, apple.com


Excellent email phone, although doesn't quite have the web browsing capabilities of the iPhone. From free on contract, 2 megapixel camera, 1gb memory (expandable via memory card).

5/5, blackberry.com


The best here for phone features, and a decent all rounder with a superb camera.
From free on contract, 5 megapixel camera, 16gb memory (expandable via memory card).

U.S. fighter pilot: 'I was ordered to fire 24 rockets at UFO flying over East Anglia'

Former US Air Force fighter pilot Milton Torres is convinced he had an encounter with an alien spaceship in the skies over England in the 1950s.

He was warned to keep quiet about the incident, but eventually talked about it 31 years later, the newly-released Ministry of Defence files show.

On the night of May 20 1957, Dr Torres, then aged 25, was on standby at RAF Manston in Kent when he received an urgent order to scramble.

He was told to intercept a UFO with "very unusual flight patterns" over East Anglia that ground radar operators had been tracking for some time.

It was so cloudy he could not see anything, but the object showed up clearly on his radar as similar in size to a B-52 bomber.

He was then ordered to fire a full salvo of 24 rockets at the object - something that came as a sobering shock to him.

But before he could carry out this instruction the UFO suddenly darted off and disappeared from his scope in a matter of seconds.

The next day a man claiming to be from the US National Security Agency threatened him with losing his flying status if he told anyone what happened.

Dr Torres, now 77 and living in Miami, Florida, said he was flying at about Mach 0.92, while the UFO was travelling at over Mach 10.

He said: "I think it was an alien spacecraft. It had a propulsion system that was beyond us - either magnetism or anti-gravity."

Until 1967 the MoD had a policy of destroying UFO files every five years because they were considered of "transitory interest".

This means the incident could have vanished without a trace had Dr Torres not been moved to mention it at a USAF veterans reunion in 1988.

The retired civil engineering professor urged people with more information about the strange encounter to come forward.

"There are people who are still alive on Earth who know about this. I'm talking about the RAF, USAF, whatever," he said.

Dr David Clarke, a UFO expert and journalism lecturer, suspects the US military may have been testing a top-secret machine designed to project phantom aircraft on to Soviet radar.

"I think the most likely explanation is that he was basically a pawn in some sort of exercise involving electronic spoofing warfare," he said.

But Dr Torres remains convinced what he saw on the radar came from beyond our solar system, insisting: "This is something that's not man-made."

Secret MoD documents released for the first time also show how the captain of Flight AZ 284 had a similar close encounter to Milton Torres.

As the pilot began his descent into Heathrow, he saw something alarming overhead.

Shaped like a missile, the object suddenly veered across the airliner's path causing the pilot to shout 'Look out!' as he attempted to avert a mid-air collision 22,000ft above the Kent countryside.

Travelling at an estimated 120mph, it passed less than 1,000ft from the passenger jet before disappearing from radar screens, leaving the pilot and accident investigators baffled.

The documents reveal that Ministry of Defence staff accept that an Unidentified Flying Object zooming above Lydd caused the near miss.

The incident took place at 7.58pm on April 21, 1991, and was investigated by the Civil Aviation Authority and military experts.

Having ruled out the possibility of it being a missile, weather balloon or space rocket, the MoD was forced to conclude that it was a genuine UFO and close the inquiry.

The unexplained close encounter is one of many recounted in military UFO documents released today by the National Archives.

The Alitalia aircraft was on a routine flight from Milan to Heathrow with 57 people on board when the ten-foot long object, which had no exhaust flame, was spotted by pilot Achille Zaghetti.

He told accident investigators: 'I saw for about 3.4 seconds a flying object, very similar to a missile, light brown coloured.

'At once I said, "Look out, look out" to my co-pilot, who saw what I had seen.

'As soon as the object crossed us I asked the ACC (area control centre) operator if he saw something on his screen and he answered, "I see an unknown target 10nm ( nautical miles) behind you".'

At 10.25pm that night there was a report to Brentwood police in Essex of a dark flying object in the sky which had no engine noise or lights.

Southern TV also broadcast a story about a 14-year-old boy who reported seeing a missile flying at low level before climbing through the cloud and disappearing on the same evening.

Radar images of the object showed that the UFO was initially labelled 'cruise missile??' but checks on Army firing ranges and U.S. and British naval ships established that it was not a military weapon or 'space related' activity.

On July 2 a secret MoD report concluded: 'These departments have not been able to confirm the identity of the object sighted by the Alitalia crew.

'In the absence of any clear evidence which could be used to identify the object, it is our intention to treat this sighting like that of any other Unidentified Flying Object and therefore we will not be undertaking any further investigation into the sighting.'

Other incidents recorded in military files the same year include a 'wingless projectile' seen on June 17, 1991.
Four passengers on board a Boeing 737 saw it pass beneath the airliner as it climbed from Gatwick Airport headed for Hamburg.

Gatwick air traffic controllers were alerted but said they were 'unaware of anything unusual occurring at that time'.

A weather balloon had been released in the area around this time, but the description and timing did not match the wingless object, according to military files.

On July 15 the crew of a Britannia Airways 737 descending into Gatwick at 14,000ft reported seeing a 'small black lozenge-shaped object' travelling at high speed just 100 yards from the aircraft.

Air traffic control confirmed a 'primary contact' visible on the radar ten nautical miles behind the 737 travelling at 120mph.

Immediately air traffic controllers warned a following aircraft to turn left to avoid the object, although the pilot said he never saw it.

An investigation completed in April 1992 was unable to explain the incident but suggested the unidentified object could have been an escaped balloon.