theoretically...

The missing link between cave drawings and modern writing may have been made with some 10,000-year-old stone carvings from Syria, the New Scientist reported.

The stones, taken from the left bank of the river Euphrates, carry ancient pictograms. Danielle Stordeur of the Institute of Oriental Prehistory near Nimes said the pictograms were an intermediate form of communication - more advanced than stone-age cave drawings but not as advanced as real writing.

The flat, oval rocks depict, among other things, an insect connected to something that looks like an owl, a snake, arrows and zigzags. Stordeur said her group would have to find more carvings to decipher the meaning. The area is due to be flooded next year when the Tichrine dam is built.

A German priest has given scientists a better chance of discovering how Saturn got its rings, when an international space probe starts its seven-year voyage to the planet next year. East German books, rescued from the scrap heap by Martin Weskott, a Lutheran pastor, have provided the recipe for a ceramic material essential to a spectrometer for the Nasa Cassini probe.

Modern ceramics, designed to expand and contract as little as possible, would split apart when bonded to glass if the rates of expansion are not similar, whereas older materials such as magnesium silicate are much more similar.

Forget the Freemasons. A new communications system could turn the handshake from a simple greeting to a sophisticated means of transferring information.

The system under development at IBM's Almaden Research Laboratory in San Jose, California is called a Personal Area Network[PAN]. It turns the human body into an extended transmitter, conducting a tiny modulating electric current so anybody wearing a PAN is able to pass data to another PAN user just by shaking hands.

The PAN could also be used to help communication between electronic devices like pagers, mobile phones and watches or even acting as a security check, ensuring that someone is authorised to take money out of a cash dispenser. The prototype transfers data at a speed of 300 bytes per second - slow by modern technology standards. But the researchers claimed future models would reach 12,500 bytes per second.

Ganymede, Jupiter's largest moon, resembles a "living" planet with an active core creating a clear magnetic field, scientists reported. Measurements made by the Galileo spacecraft as it passed by Ganymede earlier this year showed it emitted radiation that could realistically only come from a liquid metal core like Earth's.

Jupiter's moons have long been seen as being more like Earth than the gas giant they orbit. Many have large amounts of water, some have gaseous atmospheres and active volcanoes. Ganymede's magnetic field is only about a tenth that of Earth but that is much more than Earth's moon has, for example, or Venus or Mars.

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