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EXN Science Wire: Daily news from the world of science

By Discoverychannel.ca Staff, June 29, 1999

In today's stories:
  • The cause of debilitating headaches
  • New software helps get Chinese people on-line
  • The world's oldest telescope

    The cause of headaches
    Scientists in Britain may have unlocked the secrets of certain types of headaches. Using a new brain scanning technique, researchers at London's Institute of Neurology were able to identify an abnormality in the brain they think is responsible for cluster headaches. These headaches strike suddenly and cause debilitating pain on one side of the head near the eyes or cheeks. When the researchers scanned the brains of headache sufferers and compared them to the brain scans of people who didn't suffer from headaches, they found that there were distinct differences in brain structures. Headache sufferers had an excess of grey cells in the hypothalamus, an area of the brain that controls the body's internal clock. This is the first time scientists have found a link between the structure of the brain and headaches. Previously, headaches were thought to be caused solely by chemical imbalances.

    Voice recognition helps Chinese people get on-line.
    A new computer program could help millions of Chinese people get on-line. The Chinese alphabet is complex and elegant. It also has thousands of characters, which makes it impossible to use a keyboard to type in Chinese. A special shorthand that inserts fragments of characters has been developed, but it takes years to learn. So, Chinese computer programmers are turning to a system that hasn't worked very well here in North America – voice recognition. So far, the software has achieved a 95 per cent success rate, and is twice as fast as the shorthand technique.

    World's oldest telescope?
    Most people believe that Italian astronomer Galileo invented the telescope, but another Italian scientist at the University of Rome says otherwise. He says the origin of the telescope may go back thousands of years. According to Giovanni Pettinato, a rock crystal lens, currently on display in the British Museum, is the oldest telescope. Called the Nimrud lens, it was discovered in the ancient Assyrian city of Nimrud (in what is now Iraq) in 1850 . Pettinato believes the lens was used by Assyrian astronomers as a telescope more than three thousand years ago. They saw more in the night sky than was possible with the naked eye alone. For example, the Assyrians saw the planet Saturn as a god surrounded by a ring of serpents. Pettinato says that would be a logical assumption to make if they saw Saturn's rings through a primitive telescope. But experts on Assyrian archaeology aren't convinced. They say the optical quality of the Nimrud lens is so low, it couldn't have shown much. As for the Assyrians' view of Saturn surrounded by a ring of serpents? Experts say the Assyrians saw serpents everywhere, and the Saturn connection may just be a coincidence.

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