War imperils artifacts:The casualties of the gulf war...

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January 22, 1991

War imperils artifacts:

The casualties of the gulf war could include some of mankind's greatest treasures.

As American-led armies gathered last year in the region, Iraq's director general of antiquities and heritage, Mu'ayyad Said Damorji, issued a plea to archaeologists around the world.

"As you know, the Iraqi Museums, including the main Iraq Museum and the archaeological sites, are now under the danger of total destruction," he wrote in a letter.

In the awkwardly translated message, he said, "We are astonished" that no scholars' outcry had been raised around the world "to prevent the danger of war breakout into the area, and at the same time to stop all the unpredictable consequences on the Iraqi cultural properties which concern all humanity."

The fears expressed by Damorji are shared by many American scientists. Should bombs, shells or missiles strike the Iraq Museum, located on a bank of the Tigris River a few miles from Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's residence, most archaeologists agree that it would be a major catastrophe. Some of the oldest remains of Neanderthals, extinct relatives of mankind's ancestors, were found in Iraq and are kept at the Iraq Museum. They are about 100,000 years old.

Scientists create light show:

A core of green melted into purple streaks during a 30-second light show in Marquette, Mich., created by barium gas released by scientists.

The gas was released early Sunday from a satellite 18,000 miles above Panama as part of research probing Earth's magnetic field.

Scientists want to learn more about geomagnetic storms that can disrupt electrical transmission systems and satellite communications.

In cloudless areas, the light show appeared as a bright green point followed by a spreading purple glow in Michigan's southern sky.

It was the sixth of seven gas releases since Jan. 12.

The research is a joint project between the space agency and the Air Force. The gas clouds are tracked from 13 ground stations and three planes.

Howard said Sunday's glow was visible from clear areas in North and South America, Africa and England, where it appeared low in the western sky.

Condor eggs spur hopes:

Two pairs of California condors have laid eggs in captivity, raising hopes that the four rare birds might be freed later this year, wildlife officials said.

Keepers discovered the two eggs while monitoring the condor mates in Los Angeles Zoo and the San Diego Wild Animal Park via closed circuit cameras. The eggs, laid hours apart Saturday, were quickly removed from the nests.

There are just 40 California condors known to exist and all are in captivity -- 21 at the San Diego park and 19 at the Los Angeles Zoo. The eggs are the first clutch of 1991.

"It's significant for us because it's really early in the season," said Mike Wallace, the zoo's bird curator and condor program director.

If the pairs do well at producing eggs, "there's a good chance" they will be released into the wild, said the park's spokesman, Tom Hanscom.

Astronomer dies:

Chet Brian Opal, an astronomer, research scientist and astrophysicist, died last Saturday at St. David's Hospital in Austin, Texas.

He was 48 and lived in Austin.

He died of cancer, said his companion, Karen Bell.

Opal had been a research scientist at the University of Texas and at its McDonald Observatory at Mount Locke since 1984.

His research interests were comets, hot stars and star formation and included the launching of two rockets to observe Halley's Comet in 1986. More recently he was working on the development of a new device to detect light spectrums of stars.

A 1969 graduate of Johns Hopkins University with a doctorate in physics, Opal had worked for 13 years as a research scientist at the E.O. Hulbert Center for Space Research at the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington.

Lake disaster looming:

Scientists are warning that another disaster is possible at a lake in Cameroon that suddenly released huge amounts of carbon dioxide in 1986, killing 1,700 people as well as cattle, birds and other animals.

The deadly gas came from the bottom of Lake Nyos, and an international team has concluded that about 300 million cubic meters of the gas have again accumulated under the lake, making it "very dangerous" to those who have resettled there.

The group estimated that 3 million cubic meters are being added annually, a meter being slightly longer than a yard.

The gas is assumed to be of volcanic origin, accumulating in water at the bottom of the lake until turbulence or some other factor releases it. The lake is in a volcanic region of Cameroon, in west Africa.

"Another gas disaster could occur at any time, "so the carbon dioxide in Lake Nyos should be reduced as a matter of urgency," the group reported in a recent letter to the journal Nature.

It suggested that gas-laden water be pumped from the bottom of the lake through a series of pipes.

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