2nd Semester - 2001
Last September, the Corriere della Sera published an article entitled "Two Italian sentries in action controlling asteroids". The Italian "sentries" in question - asteroid-busters -are a gigantic white parabola thirty-two metres across, situated in the piane of Medicina near Bologna, and a telescope on the Asiago plateau. A boxed insert in the article gives a succinct description of asteroids or small planets of various sizes, from a few kilometres to
1,303 kilometres in diameter. After reading that article by Giovanni Caprara I smiled and mused on the fact the writer must certainly feel very much at home in those icy interstellar spaces. And in fact Giovanni Caprara, see his article on page 146, is the only joumalist, and perhaps the only Italian, whose name has been given to an asteroid. So when he talks about small planets, it's as if he's telling stories about his family. A scientific correspondent for Corriere della Sera, after studying engineering at the Politecnico, Milan, Caprara immediately dedicated himself to astronomical and aerospace research. He has also collaborated with the RAI, El Pais, the astronomical review Orione, and has written books published by Mondadori on this subject which fascinates him and, in turn, is fascinating for his Italian and foreign readers. Last year he was awarded the Conscientia prize for scientific journalism jointly by four Milan universities, the Statale, Cattolica, Bocconi and Politecnico. Giovanni provides us with an intriguing account of some of the robots travelling beyond the confines of our skies, paving the way to future explorations among the planets, moons and asteroids. Among these robots are Ulysses, the probe build by the European Space Agency and the first spacecraft to fly over the Sun's poles. Then there is Galileo orbiting Jupiter, while bound for Saturn, the Cassini-Huygens robot will divide, leaving the spacecraft Cassini to orbit Saturn, while the probe Huygens lands on Titan. There are a bewildering number of other robots hurtling through space, such as the two spacecrufts launched in the early 1970s, Pioneer 10 and 11, which, having passed by Jupiter and Saturn are continuing their mission in the cosmos. In 2 million years time Pioneer 10 will fly past a star in the Taurus constellation, while Pioneer 11 will take a little longer- a mere 4 million years - to reach a star in the Aquila constellation.
It's quite amazing that there are scientists and technicians capable of making calculations in millions of years, almost as if they are confident that one day they will be around to check the accuracy of their forecasts!
Another collaborator whose star shines in the little galaxy of the Ligabue Magazine is Francesco Petretti, a well-known face to RAI TV audiences. Francesco is a young biologist who teaches Management of Animal Resources at the University of Camerino, a specialised school dedicated to the Management of the Natural Environment. He has studied the ecology of the serpent eagle, birds of the steppe, the rock partridge, and is a scientific consultant for the Italian WWF and Quark and frequent expert guest on Geo & Geo, another TV programme. He speaks in such a smiling calm way and explains complex matters with such simplicity that suddenly they seem clear to us, as if he were announcing well-known, commonplace truths. He never says more than is strictly necessary and shuns all sensational effects. In short, he is a completely natural and accomplished populariser. I should add that he has also written several books and made prize-winning documentaries on nature studies. For us he has written (see page 64) an intriguing article on the Bale Mountains in Ethiopia, which boast the largest surviving Afro-alpine moorlands, an environment only found on the highest peaks in the Black Continent. The area is also the original home of Coffea arabica, the precious plant which has become a commodity prized and sought-after worldwide. The Bale Mountains, with peaks over 4,300 metres high, were unexplored until the end of the nineteenth century. Highly unusual flora and fauna have survived in the area. In addition to the Ethiopian wolf there are other indigenous Bale Mountains animals I had never even heard of, such as the nyala, Malcolm toad, colobus monkeys and species of Tragelaphus. At this point many readers will be reaching for their encyclopaedias,
while we set off - guided by the steady compass of Viviano Domenici, a frequent contributor to Ligabue Magazine- for Turkmenistan in search of treasures belonging to those Lords of the Desert, who, 4,000 years ago, controlled the oasis routes through Central Asia. Here, too, there is no lack of surprising material found in the excavations carried out by the archaeologists of the Ligabue Study and Research Centre, especially in the capital Gonur, described by Giancarlo Ligabue as once being "a great caravanserai...
A constant flow of caravans arrived here. They unloaded goods and exotic products, including precious lapis lazuli and then set off again loaded with riches brought by other caravans."
Leaping from Central Asia to Peru we find our colleague Giulia Castelli Gattinara accompanied by Mario Polia on the Condor Cordillera. On the peak of Cerro Saquir, 3,000 metres up, Polia has discovered the tomb of a priest of the Mitupampa Temple of Jaguars, dating back around 4,000 years. Mario Polia is an ltalian archaeologist and anthropologist with international reputation, mainly due to his research in Peru, which we have already illustrated in this magazine, while Giulia Castelli Gattinara is a journalist in the field of archaeology, whose many merits include knowing how to simply and masterly illustrate her subject, as she demonstrates in the article on page 36
Among the very interesting things she recounts is a remarkable discovery: a fruit used in ceremonies of human sacrifice to the Jaguar god is the ulluchu from Carica candicans, a plant with blood-clotting properties that keep wounds open. The victim's blood thus continued to flow for around three hours, the time required to finish the macabre rite. On page 92 another worthy colleague, Sandra Gastaldo, plunges us into the world of the great Italian adventure-story writer Emilio Salgari, with a survey of works arousing in us the desire to re-read the tales of Yanez and Sandokan. Lovers of uncontaminated tropical paradises will be keen to visit the Andaman Islands in the Bay of Bengal, before mass tourism ruins their appeal.
They are described on page 122 by Marco Cattaneo, deputy editor of the review Le Scienze, and Jasmina Trifoni, a journalist with the monthly Meridiani, a passionate traveller and expert on Indian culture.