Published: Saturday 31 January 2004

oceans in trouble: As per the findings of US scientists, tropical ocean waters have become saltier over the past 40 years, while oceans closer to the Earth's poles have become fresher. The large-scale changes suggest that global warming may be altering the fundamental system that regulates evaporation and precipitation.

hope in sight: Scientists have found living bacteria in a hole drilled more than 1,219 metres deep inside the Earth's crust. The conditions of the hole is said to be similar to those on Mars."The finding proves that life can exist on Mars and other similar planets," says Martin R Fisk, a professor at US-based Oregon State University, who found the bacteria.

painful find: Researchers from the US-based Duke University have found that patients suffering from back pain accounted for US $90 billion spent on healthcare in USA during 1998. The amount represents one per cent of the nation's gross domestic product (GDP) of that year.

astounding history: Humans occupied the freezing lands high above the Arctic circle during the last Ice Age. So concludes Vladimir Pitulko from Russia-based Institute for the History of Material Culture. His conclusion is based on the analysis of New Stone Age artefacts found in northern Siberia. The analysis has pushed back the records of human presence in the Arctic by around 16,000 years.

habitable stars: One tenth of the stars in our galaxy might provide the right conditions to support complex life, according to a new analysis by researchers from the University of New South Wales, Australia. The concept of a galactic habitable zone (GHZ) -- basically a place in the galaxy that can be inhabited -- for the Milky Way was first proposed in 2001. The Australian researchers have now defined a GHZ using a detailed model of the evolution of the Milky Way.

They conclude that a disc-shaped habitable zone emerged about eight billion years ago. The zone has expanded slowly and includes stars born up to about four billion years ago. The next logical step could be a search for life-forms in the GHZ.

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