Science  17 Oct 2003:
Vol. 302, Issue 5644, pp. 367
  1. PROJECT: Star Crossed

    Set up by professional astronomers, lets amateur stargazers join the hunt for planets orbiting alien stars. The founders hope to create a network of sky watchers who can spot extrasolar transits—that is, the moments when a planet outside our solar system passes between its star and Earth. Such eclipses should be visible when a star dims periodically.

    Astronomers have located more than 100 stars with wobbly orbits that suggest the presence of planets. Spotting a planet's extrasolar transit can help experts pin down its size, orbit, and details of its atmosphere, but observers have seen only two so far. Aimed at small colleges and amateur astronomers who own telescopes, the new site explains how to recognize an extrasolar transit and offers advice on picking charge-coupled device detectors and software. A target list provides the coordinates and likely transit date for more than 50 planet-bearing stars. For more details, see a preprint paper by the astronomers who launched the site.

  2. TOOLS: Beat Search Fatigue

    The time-consuming step in running a PubMed search of biomedical papers is often winnowing useful results from the chaff of extraneous hits. Spare yourself some frustration by trying out this free search engine, which automatically groups results by topic. For example, entering “MRI,” the focus of this year's Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine, tucks the hits into folders such as “bone marrow,” “motor cortex,” and “deep brain stimulation.” The tool comes from Pittsburgh-based company Vivisimo, which sells clustering programs but provides several free demos that use the same procedure to organize search results for FirstGov, the trove of U.S. government documents, as well as the Web.

  3. FUN: Test Your Science Prescience

    How high will sea levels rise by 2030? Will we see a cancer cure before 2010? If you want to learn the conventional wisdom on these questions or add your two cents, click on the Foresight Exchange, an online “futures market” hosted by Lucifer Media Corp. of Canmore, Alberta, Canada. The site lets participants bid on the likelihood of a whole range of possibilities, including science and technology developments.

    Although economists consider futures markets a powerful tool for predicting outcomes, ferocious criticism recently prompted the Pentagon to cancel plans for a similar online exchange to anticipate Middle Eastern events, such as terrorist attacks and assassinations (Science, 8 August, p. 749). One reason the Pentagon program drew so much fire was that “players” would earn money for a correct prediction. Foresight Exchange sidesteps that moral morass because prognosticators trade in “FX-bucks,” which buy only bragging rights.

  4. TOOLS: Numbers Crunched While You Wait

    Most Web surfers already spend plenty of time hanging out at the Google home page—or at least passing through. Now Google's search box doubles as a handy scientific calculator, performing mathematical functions such as logarithms, sines, cosines, factorials, and exponents. You can also enter almost any conversion, whether it's “500 calories in joules” or “20,000 leagues in light-years.” For details on possible queries, see:

  5. DATABASE: Microbial Genomes Galore

    A mere 8 years ago, molecular biologists sequenced the genome of an organism for the first time—the nose-dwelling bacterium Haemophilus influenzae. Now that even the human genome has been completed, whole-organism sequences are pouring out of labs. GeneDB, sponsored by the U.K.'s Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, lets you analyze partial and complete genomes for 14 often disease-causing bacteria, protozoans, and fungi, including Schizosaccharomyces pombe, a relative of the widely studied brewer's yeast, and Trypanosoma brucei, a squiggly parasite that causes African sleeping sickness. GeneDB offers the familiar searching tools, allowing you to track down sequences for a particular creature or compare DNA among organisms. The curators plan to add data on gene expression and protein interactions.

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