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The Warsaw Voice » Other » August 13, 2008
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In brief
August 13, 2008   
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Archeological Finds in Turkmenistan

This year's expedition of the Polish Archeological Mission to Iran and Central Asia has made a sensational discovery. Archeologists working on the Mele Hairam site in the Sarakhs oasis in southern Turkmenistan unearthed finds that rank among the biggest discoveries in the history of archeology in the area. Polish archeologists led by Prof. Barbara Kaim uncovered the best conserved temple yet of the cult of fire dating from the Parthian and Sasanian periods (2nd-7th century AD).

The temple has a preserved fire altar in the shape of an hour glass, a furnace where holy ashes were kept, stucco-decorated podiums, and paintings of Sasanian rulers. In three rooms the archeologists found several artifacts made of ivory. Among these were large hairpins with the heads of cockerels, the mythical Simorga bird and pomegranate fruit, and plaques depicting Sasanian rulers sitting either on thrones or horseback. The archeologists also found more than 300 coins and a mound of ceramic pieces. With these the archeologists were able to piece together several amphorae with double-jawed horizontal spouts and numerous other vessels, one of which is decorated with geometrical designs and has a scene with figures just below the spout.

Extrasolar Planet Sighted

An international team of astronomers has sighted a distant planetary system with a small planet not much bigger than Earth. Discovering a planet with a mass similar to that of Earth is considered to be the "Holy Grail" of research into planets that lie outside our solar system.

The planet, called MOA-2007-BLG-192Lb, is about 3.3 times the size of Earth. The planet orbits its host star, or "brown dwarf," with an orbital radius similar to that of Venus.

Polish astronomers were involved in the research project, and they precisely established the planetary system's parameters.

The research results were one of the topics at a recent American Astronomical Society conference and were written about in the scientific periodical The Astrophysical Journal.

The MOA-2007-BG-192 Lb planet is located within the Sagittarius star constellation and is 3,000 light years away from the Sun. The planet's orbital path takes three terrestrial years to complete. The planet's mean distance from the brown dwarf at the center of the newly discovered planetary system is comparable to the distance of Venus from the Sun, or some 108 million kilometers.

The astronomers found the system using a technique called gravitational microlensing. This takes advantage of the fact that light is bent as the rays pass close to a massive object, like a star. The method was first proposed by Polish astrophysicist Prof. Bohdan Paczyński, who died in 2007. The method was further developed by a Polish team from the University of Warsaw led by Prof. Andrzej Udalski that worked on a project known as the Optical Gravitational Lensing Experiment.

The technique employed to find the new planet uses the gravitational field of a star like a lens-magnifying the light from a distant background star. This effect occurs only when the two stars are in almost perfect alignment, which happens very rarely indeed, astronomers say.

Toric Lenses Implanted

Poland's first two eye operations to implant artificial toric lenses were recently carried out in Warsaw by Prof. Jerzy Szaflik, a Polish specialist in ophthalmology. Both operations were successful.

Toric lenses are oblong in shape and help cure cataracts and simultaneously correct astigmatism. Cataracts are common in one or both eyes in 40 percent of people aged 75 years or over but can also be hereditary.

The procedure to correct cataracts consists of the removal of the opaque diseased lens and its replacement with an artificial one. This is one of the most common ophthalmic procedures and has a high success rate. A more complicated procedure faces 40 percent of people with astigmatism, the result of an irregularly shaped cornea with two focusing points, resulting in blurred vision at most distances. Up to now they either had to wear special glasses or undergo corrective laser surgery. An acrylic toric lens, oblong in shape, is chosen based on a diagram of the shape of the patient's cornea and is fitted during the operation to correct the irregular shape of the cornea.

Seals Return to the Baltic

A seal sanctuary on Poland's Hel Peninsula is working to make up for losses in the Baltic Sea's natural seal population caused by man through pollution, fishing and sailing. The sanctuary, which is part of a research facility belonging to Gdańsk University's Oceanography Institute, provides a place for biological and ecological research into marine wildlife.

The facility breeds and treats gray seals. All the seals, whether born in the sanctuary or rescued, are eventually released into the wild. The aim is to allow gray seals to live as they did previously, with the whole sea as their habitat. Some of the animals are fitted with monitors, thanks to which researchers can collect invaluable information about the seals' movements, feeding grounds and rest areas. The scientists' intervention strengthens the seals' natural resources and contributes to the building up of seal colonies along the Polish coast. Seals are bred in salt-water pools, and the uniqueness of this breeding farm is that all the gray seals, after being weaned and having learned to catch live fish, will be released into their natural environment in areas where the animals can be guaranteed peace and safety.

Prototype Fuel-Cell Generator Built

A team of researchers led by Prof. Tadeusz Uhl of the AGH University of Science and Technology in Cracow has built a prototype fuel-cell generator that produces electricity and heat. The device has passed all technical tests and may soon be cleared for practical application.

The generator, designed to provide 16kW of electrical power and 10kW of thermal energy at 60-percent efficiency, is capable of meeting the electricity needs of a single-family home. In 10 or 15 years, fuel-cell generators may replace other power generation systems and be used on a wide scale. At present, a fuel cell's lifetime is 27,000 hours, or around three years, on average. After this period, it is necessary to replace the membrane. By 2010 a fuel cell's lifetime is expected to be extended to 10 years.

The researchers, sponsored by Cracow company Energocontrol, are also working to design a hydrogen fuel-cell generator to power portable devices such as electric saws, drills, lawnmowers and rescue equipment. There are plans to expand the project to include research into hydrogen production technology. "We are thinking of installing additional solar batteries or a wind turbine and an electrolyzer to produce hydrogen from water," says Uhl. "Another goal is to design a smaller source for mobile applications. The largest number of inquiries we receive from Polish and foreign manufacturers involve such applications."

Intelligent Massage

Massage has an impact on some forms of cognitive ability, according to research findings by Henryk Pędziwiatr, Ph.D., of the Pedagogy and Psychology Institute of the University of Zielona Góra.

Massage improves circulation not only in the massaged area but also across the whole body. As a result, it can be deduced that massage can affect various forms of body functioning. One theory is that massaging the muscles of the upper part of the torso and the neck improves the flow of blood to the head and muscle tone in this part of the spine. "As a result, massage stimulates physiological processes in the brain and, consequently, its cognitive processes," Pędziwiatr says.

Pędziwiatr has conducted research into the effects of massage in the context of cognitive functioning. Forty-six women aged 23-63 took part in the trial. After deep massage, light stroking and rubbing on the back and shoulder girdle, symmetrically on both sides of the back, Pędziwiatr recorded changes in the women in parameters related to learning and memory processes.

Archeologists Discover Burial Ground

Polish archeologists working under Prof. Piotr Bieliński of the University of Warsaw have discovered a burial ground with unique grave artifacts in the As-Sabiyah desert in Kuwait. The archeologists unearthed four stone tumuli, or circular graves. In one of the graves, they found over 100 seashell and stone beads, a seashell ring, a decorative mother-of-pearl breastplate, and lapis lazuli and pearl beads.

In the second half of the 3rd millennium BC and the first half of the 2nd millennium BC, lapis lazuli, a semi-precious stone imported from Afghanistan, was highly prized in Mesopotamia, which was the center of civilization at that time. It is possible that an unknown trade route ran across the As-Sabiyah desert in the 3rd millennium BC. The pearl items are a unique archeological find in Kuwait.

The archeologists believe that the burial ground belonged to a nomadic people who buried the most important members of the community in tumuli located on a plateau visible from afar.

Dwelling From 12,000 Years Ago

Archeologists have found a hollow dug in the ground 12,000 years ago in Ćmielów, near Sandomierz in southeastern Poland. "These are probably the remains of a hut," say Michał PrzeĽdziecki of the Archeology Institute of the University of Warsaw and Witold Migal of the Archeology Museum in Warsaw.

The hollow is the remains of a structure built by the Magdalenian people, who are famous for their cave paintings. The hollow is not a natural formation, as indicated by the perfectly smooth surface of its walls and bottom. It is around 2 meters in diameter and 0.6-0.7 meters deep. The hollow differs from similar structures found in Poland because of its trapezoidal cross-section, with the distance between the walls widening towards the bottom. It is the only site of this kind found in Poland. Additionally, one of the walls contains another structure filled with limestone rubble. Its original function is unclear. At a distance of around 1.5 meters from the hollow the archeologists noticed three dark patches on the ground. After investigation, they came to the conclusion that these could be traces of columns that supported a roof over the hollow.

Compiled by Tadeusz Belerski
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