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SCIENCE

'Blunting' lightning strikes

new mexico - The most striking feature of most lightning conductors are their sharp-tipped ends. But these pointed rods aren't as effective as rods with blunt tips, according to researchers at the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology. Over a period of seven years, the team observed the performance of blunt- and sharp-tipped aluminum rods that were paired next to each other atop the 12,000-foot South Baldy Peak. In every instance, lightning chose to strike a blunt-tipped rod rather than its pointy-ended neighbor. The researchers emphasize that, although pointed rods - an invention of Benjamin Franklin - may not be the most efficient conductor, lightning still tends to strike pointed rods in the absence of any blunt-tipped poles.

TECHNOLOGY

A fair beam for sailing

Hamburg, Germany - What's the most likely leisure pursuit for millionaires of the future? Perhaps sailing yachts in outer space. The European Space Agency has developed a solar-powered sail that it hopes to test on a modified SS-18 Russian rocket later this year. In theory, the immense 1,920 sq. yard sail will be propelled in orbit by pressure exerted by solar beams. The success of the experiment will depend on whether the light sail, which weighs a mere 77 pounds, will unfurl in space without a hitch. Scientists hope that the technology will eventually allow sail-powered probes to orbit the sun and observe solar activity.

ASTRONOMY

EPA, phone Jupiter!

Volcanic activity from one of Jupiter's moons, Io, emits dust streams that travel as far as 175 million miles, according to a report in Nature magazine. Analysis of data from the Galileo spacecraft, which has been orbiting the planet since 1995, reveals that Jupiter's magnetic field affects the frequency of the dust gushes. Presumably, the 11-year-old Galileo craft could benefit from a good sweep with a new broom.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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