Letters from the August 26, 2006, issue of Science News

Dust to dust

In “Not a planet?” (SN: 6/17/06, p. 382), Alycia Weinberger says, “The discovery of a disk around the planetary-mass companion to 2M1207 should be a bit of a relief to planet-formation theorists” because it casts doubt on the object being a planet. But wouldn’t our early solar system have been composed of at least two planets, Jupiter and Saturn, that had extensive disks around them before their satellites coalesced into moons?

Howard Zimmerman
New York, N.Y.

Researchers say that Jupiter and Saturn indeed had their own disks, but they think that 2M1207 formed as a star in its binary system because it’s relatively massive and is far from its partner.—R. Cowen

No jolting news

The possible link between coffee consumption and reduced occurrence of alcohol-related cirrhosis (“Coffee protects against alcoholic cirrhosis,” SN: 6/24/06, p. 397) seems worthy of further study. Although the beneficial effect may be due to any of a variety of coffee ingredients, it would seem rather straightforward to investigate a correlation in caffeinated and decaffeinated beverages.

Wayne H. Warren Jr.
Greenbelt, Md.

Since tea consumption didn’t appear to have any anticirrhosis effect in the study, the pivotal coffee ingredient doesn’t appear to be caffeine.—C. Brownlee

Buried information

Information, and especially pictures, of these strange mammals is always of interest (“Naked and Not: Two species of mole rats run complex societies underground,” SN: 6/24/06, p. 394). I wanted to check on the statement about “several dozen species in sub-Saharan Africa.” Alas, I was unable to do so. Science News hadn’t bothered to include either generic or specific names for any species discussed. How unfortunate to have this very important piece on Jennifer Jarvis’ life’s work marred by editorial lapses.

Scott McCleve
Douglas, Ariz.

“Mole rat” is applied to rodents in several families, but the article focused on the Bathyergidae, which includes the Damaraland mole rat (Cryptomys damarensis) and the naked mole rat (Heterocephalus glaber). Walker’s Mammals of the World recognizes 14 species, but Chris Faulkes of the University of London says that DNA evidence supports even more.—S. Milius

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