Thursday, February 28, 2013

Did We Doom the Mammoths?

An artist's rendering of an Ice Age mammoth skeleton on display at the Page Museum at the La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles An artist's rendering of an Ice Age mammoth skeleton on display at the Page Museum at the La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles

Courtesy of the Page Museum/La Brea Tar Pits/Reuters

Climate change killed the last mammoths. Hunkered down on their final holdout, Siberia?s Wrangel Island, the shaggy herbivores died out as rising seas shrank their refuge and warm weather baked their cool grasslands. By 3,700 years ago, within the span of written human history, mammoths disappeared.

But the real reason there are no more mammoths?and cloning projects aside, the reason we?ll never get to hug an adorable baby mammoth at a petting zoo?is a hotly contested topic. Mammoths wound up hopelessly marooned on a Siberian island in the first place because they were wiped across the rest of their range?an impressively disheartening fact when you realize that the behemoths once trod the widespread ?mammoth steppe? grasslands from western Spain through northern Asia to the interior of North America. Explanations for their disappearance have historically involved climate change, ?hyperdisease,? comet impact, and hungry humans. Figuring out what happened to mammoths and other lost species is not just an exercise for academic keepers of the dead. If we can understand the mechanics of extinction and how life responds to fluxes like climate change, we might be able to use the dead to look to the future.

Just as non-avian dinosaurs were only part of a major mass extinction 66 million years ago, mammoths are but one icon of a deeper loss of biodiversity. The Pleistocene extinction saw the death of much of the world?s most spectacular megafauna (creatures that weighed more than 44 kilograms, or 97 pounds) from Australia, Asia, Europe, and the Americas. Mammoths, giant ground sloths, sabercats, and terror birds were among the losses. Some species that survived the die-off were swept from parts of their ranges; there are no more spotted hyenas in Europe, for example.

This global disaster did not occur all at once. There is a pattern in the geological record of extinction, one that seems to follow the path of wandering humans.

Mass extinctions are murder mysteries. In the case of the Pleistocene extinction, two culprits are likely intertwined: humans and climate change. Other suspects don?t hold up. The kind of indiscriminate hyperdisease that would kill smilodons (in the cat family), dire wolves (dog family), woolly mammoths (elephant family), and all the other lost forms wildlife is totally unknown. The proposal that North America?s extinction pulse was caused by a falling comet lacks solid support. ?

From Australia to North America, large mammals and assorted other creatures often disappeared shortly after the arrival of humans on their continent, whether it was 50,000 years ago or 10,000 years ago. We know that humans hunted at least some of the lost mammals. Butchered bones found at archaeological sites include the remains of mammoths and mastodons. At the same time, the world was going through its last oscillation from an Ice Age world to the one we know today. The cool, dry global climate gave way to a warmer, wetter one. Pleistocene creatures had to move with their favored environments, adapt to their new surroundings, or go extinct. What paleontologists continue to tussle over is how important humans and climate change were to the Pleistocene crisis.

From the perspective of Deep Time, the Pleistocene extinctions happened extremely rapidly. If we were able to travel 66 million years into the future and look back at the Pleistocene fossil record, the event might appear to be instantaneous. Since we?re so close to the massive bleed of species, though, we can pick through the evidence with more resolution.


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Saturday, February 23, 2013

Oil Painting

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Choosing an oil painting reproduction for your home can add just the right touch to a room. You may want to explore your love of art through a favorite artist, or review catalogs to see the variety of options available. There are many types of reproductions to express your own style.
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Friday, February 22, 2013

Fuji Japan publishes eight X100S full-size samples and seven X20 full-size samples

Put on your pixel peeping glasses. Turn on the good monitor. Fire up the printer. Pixel-peeping time! Fuji Japan has published real-world JPEG samples from its two most recent compacts with RAW. Here come eight Fuji X100S samples and seven Fuji X20 samples. Enjoy! (via Foto Act. #1 and Foto Act. #2).

Speaking of Fuji and things X*, the Photography Blog published JPEG samples taken with the 14mm f2.8 XF prime lens. Most are real-world but also included are their standard bookcase ISO-range test scene.

Speaking of the 14mm f2.8 XF, it is currently in-stock at its starting price of $900 at B&H Photo and Adorama.

Both the Fuji X100S and X20 are currently in a state of pre-order for $1300 and $600 respectively. You can track them at the Stock Status page or using the Javascript-embedded self-updating widgets right below...


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Lisa Bloom Joins 'Today' as Legal Analyst - TVNewser

Are you or someone you know new to social media? Get up and running on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter in our Social Media 101 online event and workshop for beginners starting Tuesday, February 26. Over 5 weeks, you?ll learn tips and tricks to build your profiles, engage your audience, and grow your business or personal brand.?Register today.


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Oscars 2013: Behind The Scenes Of Hollywood's Biggest Night

The biggest night in Hollywood is nearly upon us, and it seems like the entire town is busy preparing to make sure everything goes off without a hitch. Six hundred celebrities and filmmakers can't just feed themselves, you know! The Oscars are a massive production involving everything from construction to sculpting and fine dining, so [...]


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Thursday, February 21, 2013

Floral signs go electric: Bumblebees find and distinguish electric signals from flowers

Feb. 21, 2013 ? Flowers' methods of communicating are at least as sophisticated as any devised by an advertising agency, according to a new study, published February 21 in Science Express by researchers from the University of Bristol. However, for any advertisement to be successful, it has to reach, and be perceived by, its target audience. The research shows for the first time that pollinators such as bumblebees are able to find and distinguish electric signals given out by flowers.

Flowers often produce bright colours, patterns and enticing fragrances to attract their pollinators. Researchers at Bristol's School of Biological Sciences, led by Professor Daniel Robert, found that flowers also have their equivalent of a neon sign -- patterns of electrical signals that can communicate information to the insect pollinator. These electrical signals can work in concert with the flower's other attractive signals and enhance floral advertising power.

Plants are usually charged negatively and emit weak electric fields. On their side, bees acquire a positive charge as they fly through the air. No spark is produced as a charged bee approaches a charged flower, but a small electric force builds up that can potentially convey information.

By placing electrodes in the stems of petunias, the researchers showed that when a bee lands, the flower's potential changes and remains so for several minutes. Could this be a way by which flowers tell bees another bee has recently been visiting? To their surprise, the researchers discovered that bumblebees can detect and distinguish between different floral electric fields.

Also, the researchers found that when bees were given a learning test, they were faster at learning the difference between two colours when electric signals were also available.

How then do bees detect electric fields? This is not yet known, although the researchers speculate that hairy bumblebees bristle up under the electrostatic force, just like one's hair in front of an old television screen.

The discovery of such electric detection has opened up a whole new understanding of insect perception and flower communication.

Dr Heather Whitney, a co-author of the study said: "This novel communication channel reveals how flowers can potentially inform their pollinators about the honest status of their precious nectar and pollen reserves."

Professor Robert said: "The last thing a flower wants is to attract a bee and then fail to provide nectar: a lesson in honest advertising since bees are good learners and would soon lose interest in such an unrewarding flower.

"The co-evolution between flowers and bees has a long and beneficial history, so perhaps it's not entirely surprising that we are still discovering today how remarkably sophisticated their communication is."

The research was supported by the Leverhulme Trust.

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Journal Reference:

  1. Dominic Clarke, Heather Whitney, Gregory Sutton, and Daniel Robert. Detection and Learning of Floral Electric Fields by Bumblebees. Science, 21 February 2013 DOI: 10.1126/science.1230883

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Disclaimer: Views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of ScienceDaily or its staff.


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Strategy Analytics: Apple's iPhone 5 tops world smartphone sales for Q4 2012

Strategy Analytics Apple's iPhone 5 tops world smartphone sales for Q4 2012

According to Strategy Analytics, Apple's iPhone 5 was already the best-selling smartphone in the US, and the survey outfit says that it also outsold all other models elsewhere on the planet, too. Cupertino's new bauble sold an estimated 27.4 million units during the period to dethrone last quarter's champ, the Samsung Galaxy S III, which landed in around 15.4 million hands globally. To top it off, the iPhone 4S actually shipped an estimated 17.4 million units to bump Samsung's best-seller down to third place, giving Apple the two most popular handsets on the planet and over 20 percent of the global market. Of course, the Korean maker might be throwing down soon with a new contender, and we know how fast you can go from champ to chump in the smartphone game.

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Strategy Analytics: Apple iPhone 5 Becomes World's Best-Selling Smartphone Model in Q4 2012

Boston, MA - February 20, 2013 - According to the latest research from Strategy Analytics, Apple's iPhone 5 overtook Samsung's Galaxy S3 to become the world's best-selling smartphone model for the first time ever in the fourth quarter of 2012. A rich touchscreen, extensive distribution and generous operator subsidies have propelled the iPhone 5 to the top spot.

Neil Shah, Senior Analyst at Strategy Analytics, said, "Apple's iPhone 5 smartphone model shipped an estimated 27.4 million units worldwide during the fourth quarter of 2012. The iPhone 5 captured an impressive 13 percent share of all smartphones shipped globally and it has become the world's best-selling smartphone model for the first time ever. A rich touchscreen design, extensive distribution across dozens of countries, and generous operator subsidies have been among the main causes of the iPhone 5's success. In addition to the iPhone 5, Apple shipped an estimated 17.4 million iPhone 4S units for 8 percent smartphone share globally in Q4 2012. Apple's iPhone 5 and iPhone 4S are currently the world's two most popular smartphone models."

Neil Mawston, Executive Director at Strategy Analytics, added, "Apple's iPhone 5 and iPhone 4S together accounted for 1 in 5 of all smartphones shipped worldwide in Q4 2012. This was an impressive performance, given the iPhone portfolio's premium pricing. We estimate Samsung's Galaxy S3 was the world's third best-selling smartphone model and it shipped 15.4 million units globally, capturing 7 percent share in the fourth quarter of 2012. Samsung's Galaxy S3 has long proven wildly popular with consumers and operators across North America, Europe and Asia. However, global demand for the Galaxy S3 appears to have peaked and Samsung will surely be keen to introduce its rumored Galaxy S4 upgrade in the coming weeks to fight back against Apple's popular iPhone range."

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Another victory for Snohomish High School football star


Posted on February 19, 2013 at 7:33 PM

Updated today at 8:06 PM

Over the last three years, he's become the hometown hero of Snohomish High School.? Ike Ditzenberger is a special needs student turned football star who gained YouTube fame in 2010.? Now, he's back in the spotlight for a different reason.

Ike is almost 20 years old, and like most special needs students, he's been in high school for more than four years.

"Ike is now what he calls a super senior, so he's in his 13th year of school, and he is a special needs boy with down syndrome," said his mother, Kay Ditzenberger.

Video of his first touchdown in October 2010 has been viewed around the world.? Since then, he's been the heart of his school's team.

Because of Ike's age, the current Washington Interscholastic Activities Association rules would make him ineligible to play football next year.

It's something Ike was incredibly disappointed about.? He loves the sport, and his parents say football and wrestling helped him both socially and emotionally.

"He's actually become a completely different person," she said.

Ike's friends and teammates saw that transformation firsthand.? So when a government teacher told them to come up with legislation to pitch to lawmakers in Olympia, they instantly thought of Ike.

"As an assignment in government class they put together a bill and called it the Ike Bill," said Kay.

The 'Ike Act', also known as Senate Bill 5172, would allow him and other special needs students to participate in extracurricular activities for the duration of their time in high school, no matter their age.

Several state lawmakers quickly jumped on board, and that's all it took to catch the attention of the WIAA.

WIAA Executive Director Mike Colbrese says a change to the state law books isn't' necessary.? Instead, he decided to immediately change the current WIAA policy.? He says Ike will be allowed to play football next year, and the requests of other special needs' students will be reviewed and decided on a case-by-case basis.

Ditzenberger was thrilled when he heard the news.

Still, his mother and a few others plan to continue to push the bill named for her son.

She says it's necessary to protect their basic civil rights.

"I wish this for all special needs children, for all children, regardless of their ability," she said.? "Special needs children should have access to the same resources as other kids."

The concern of the WIAA is that changing the state law would create a slippery slope.? For example, a team might be given a competitive physical advantage if a 21-year-old, high functioning special needs student is on their team.

A statement from WIAA reads:

"Through discussions between the WIAA staff, Snohomish High School students and administration, along with a family member of a special needs student, the Association will on a case-by-case basis waive WIAA rule 18.14.0 - Season Limitations.? The case-by-case review allows the Association to determine a consistent course of action for all waiver requests."

Regardless of what happens, Ike and his friends consider it a victory, because the boy that loves football so very much will get to play another season.



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Monday, February 18, 2013

Apple Posts Two New iPad Ads: 'Alive' and 'Together' [Video]

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HARRISON FORD AND CALISTA FLOCKHART Family Vacation In Brazil | Babyrazzi ????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????


?Star Wars? actor Harrison Ford, Calista Flockhart and son Liam take in the sites at Ipanema Beach in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on Sunday afternoon. Despite their high-powered Hollywood profiles, the hunky 70-year-old actor and his TV show actress wife looked like any other tourist family, enjoying the sunshine and sipping on coconut water as they walked.

Take a look at our photos below and tell us Babyrazzi readers, where do you like to vacation with your family?

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Sunday, February 17, 2013

U.S. hopes to finalize IMF vote reforms soon: U.S. official

MOSCOW (Reuters) - The Obama administration is hoping to move ahead shortly with legislation to finalize IMF voting reforms agreed in 2010, which will make China the third-largest voting member in the global financial institution, a senior U.S. official said on Saturday.

The official, speaking at the end of a Group of 20 meeting of finance ministers in Moscow, said the administration was actively discussing legislation with relevant members of Congress.

The 2010 package cannot be finalized until it gets the go-ahead from the United States, which has effective veto power over the historic deal that was meant to have been approved by all IMF member countries in October last year, but was stalled by the U.S. presidential election.

It is part of a broader plan by the IMF to give emerging market powers greater voting clout in the organization.

China, Brazil and other large emerging market economies have long contended that the IMF's voting set-up unfairly benefits Europe and the United States, which dominated the IMF since its founding after World War Two.

(Reporting By Lesley Wroughton, editing by Mike Peacock)


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David Cameron's India trade trip: why we owe a debt to India

This history ? passed down by grandparents and repeated in school textbooks ? lives on in India?s national memory. It surfaces in moments of tension, as happened last year when angry British MPs accused India of ?ingratitude? over our aid donations when the government in New Delhi gave a ?13 billion fighter plane order to our French rivals.

And it?s apparent in recent reports in Indian newspapers about Britain ?clamping down? on the numbers of students allowed to come here or on visa restrictions for Indian workers.

The question is, how do we move beyond this latent resentment at a history we cannot change, and start making better memories? With this in mind, the Prime Minister is said to be considering voicing Britain?s regret for the worst excesses of its empire rule during his three-day visit, for outrages like the 1919 Amritsar massacre, when up to a thousand peacefully protesting Indians, including women and children, were shot dead by British troops.

An unambiguous statement of regret may come as a relief to Sir James Bevan, the UK?s high commissioner in India, who endured an excruciating moment shortly before Christmas following a speech to promote our common values as free-market democracies. An elderly Sikh gentleman stood and said he?d been jailed for campaigning for democracy and independence. Why hasn?t Britain apologised for that?

The high commissioner squirmed. He said he hadn?t been born at the time and that in any case he wanted to focus on the future. Sir James had no mandate to say otherwise, but the Sikh gentleman?s heartfelt plea raises fundamental questions about what kind of country we are, and how we explain that the Britain which today sends its troops abroad to promote democracy once jailed Indians who politely demanded it. Why can?t we look that man in the eye and tell him we?re sorry for locking him up?

The common answer is that it would be a meaningless gesture. David Cameron wasn?t personally responsible for Amritsar. Should he also say sorry to the Palestinians for Richard the Lionheart?s Crusade? Ought the Italians to make reparations for the Roman conquest of Britannia? It would be absurd.

India, however, does fall into a different category. There are more than eight million people alive today who were at least 15 years old at the time of independence ? and for many, the cruelties of the British Raj are not ancient history but living memory. They may be grateful for the railways we left behind or the parliamentary system we established, yet the memories of some are shaming.

One such person is Subadhra Khosla, an 85-year-old retired social worker who joined Gandhi?s non-violent movement for independence as a child and was sentenced to three years ?rigorous imprisonment? in Lahore when she was just 13.

Her ?crime? was to join a sit-down protest against British rule during heavy monsoon rains on August 26 1942. ?They took me, my mother, brother and younger sister to the police station and then the magistrates? court. I was given one year for each of three offences. I had to work hard in jail for one year and two months,? she told me last week.

Far worse acts were committed by Britain in the name of empire. They may have largely been forgotten here, but in India the memories are still painfully raw. They include the Bengal famine during the Second World War, in which more than a million Indians were allowed to starve to death after their rice paddies were turned over to produce jute for sandbags. Sir Winston Churchill ignored pleas to divert food ships.

The historian and author William Dalrymple believes the truth of colonial rule around the world needs to be taught as part of the new British history curriculum. His children studied the Tudors and Germany under the Nazis ?over and over again?, but had not learnt of the atrocities carried out by Britain in India and Afghanistan. ?Millions of people were killed, it [colonial rule] rested on a mountain of skulls, and people need to know that,? he says.

Dalrymple had arrived in India in 1984 after watching The Jewel in the Crown, the ITV series about the last days of the Raj, ?with the belief that they loved the British. Nothing in the world prepared me for the negative side of British rule.

?We have to say, 'Personally, I don?t like what happened, I?m very sorry about what happened,? but we can?t take responsibility for 600 years of history,? he says.

Pavan Varma, author of Being Indian, believes that the Raj still survives in the minds and cultural habits of Indians today, and that one of the country?s greatest challenges is to reconnect with the indigenous languages and cultures that were displaced by a policy of anglicisation.

?If the Prime Minister says, 'If there is anything in the past for any living Indian, we apologise,? we have no problem,? he says.

Varma believes that India?s main challenge, though, is to reclaim its cultural identity: ?The Union flag comes down, the Tricolour goes up but when a country rules for a hundred years so much of that past sails into the future.?

How Britain reconciles its colonial rule as it seeks a thriving trading and cultural relationship with India was recently addressed in a British Council-led initiative called ?Re-imagine: India-UK cultural relations in the 21st century?. The research project heard that while the two countries have 200 years of ?shared history?, they had become estranged and that the young in Britain and India today know little about contemporary life in the other.

Rob Lynes, head of the British Council in India, says the legacy of empire is less of an issue than the challenge of connecting with the next generation.

One of his contributors had told him that the UK needs to fall in love with India again. ?There is a sense here that the UK has been complacent in its relationship with India and in some cases may have taken it for granted because of our shared history,? he says.

We in this country should remember how much of that ?shared history? played a crucial part in making us who we are. The United Kingdom came about in 1707 in no small part because members of Scotland?s nobility wanted East India Company trading positions for their sons ? the lure of India cemented the Act of Union.

India?s spices and pickles changed our tastebuds, its words crept into our language, and its men fought our wars and safeguarded our independence.

Around two and a half million Indians fought alongside British forces in the Second World War, helping to defeat Rommel?s forces in North Africa and halting the advance of Japanese troops at Kohima in north-east India in heroic hand-to-hand combat. By the end of the war Britain owed ?1.25 billion of its total ?3 billion war debt to India, but also much more that could not be quantified. Thirty Indian soldiers were awarded Victoria Crosses for their part in defending the freedoms we cherish today.

An apology for the worst excesses of empire will be appreciated, and for many it may be necessary, but it will not do as much for our future relationship as a genuine ?thank you?. Perhaps by stressing our gratitude for how India has shaped modern Britain, David Cameron could start to rekindle and put right what has often been a one-sided love.

Veteran Gandhian Subadhra Khosla says she doesn?t need an apology for being jailed at 13. The English were ?crushing the Indians? during the Raj, but ?there?s no need to say sorry?, she says. ?We should love each other. We are human beings, children of God and we should create goodwill.?


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Saturday, February 16, 2013

Editorial Cartoon of the Week: State of the Union

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2 space rocks hours apart point up the danger

FILE - In this 1953 file photo, trees lie strewn across the Siberian countryside 45 years after a meteorite struck the Earth near Tunguska, Russia. The 1908 explosion is generally estimated to have been about 10 megatons; it leveled some 80 million trees for miles near the impact site. The meteor that streaked across the Russian sky Friday, Feb. 15, 2013, is estimated to be about 10 tons. It exploded with the power of an atomic bomb over the Ural Mountains, about 5,000 kilometers (3,000 miles) west of Tunguska. (AP Photo, File)

FILE - In this 1953 file photo, trees lie strewn across the Siberian countryside 45 years after a meteorite struck the Earth near Tunguska, Russia. The 1908 explosion is generally estimated to have been about 10 megatons; it leveled some 80 million trees for miles near the impact site. The meteor that streaked across the Russian sky Friday, Feb. 15, 2013, is estimated to be about 10 tons. It exploded with the power of an atomic bomb over the Ural Mountains, about 5,000 kilometers (3,000 miles) west of Tunguska. (AP Photo, File)

In this photo provided by a meteorite contrail is seen over Chelyabinsk on Friday, Feb. 15, 2013. A meteor streaked across the sky of Russia?s Ural Mountains on Friday morning, causing sharp explosions and reportedly injuring around 100 people, including many hurt by broken glass. (AP Photo/

This image provided by NASA/JPL-Caltech shows a simulation of asteroid 2012 DA14 approaching from the south as it passes through the Earth-moon system on Friday, Feb. 15, 2013. The 150-foot object will pass within 17,000 miles of the Earth. NASA scientists insist there is absolutely no chance of a collision as it passes. (AP Photo/NASA/JPL-Caltech)

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) ? A space rock even bigger than the meteor that exploded like an atom bomb over Russia could drop out of the sky unannounced at any time and wreak havoc on a city. And Hollywood to the contrary, there isn't much the world's scientists and generals can do about it.

But some former astronauts want to give the world a fighting chance.

They're hopeful Friday's cosmic coincidence ? Earth's close brush with a 150-foot asteroid, hours after the 49-foot meteor struck in Russia ? will draw attention to the dangers lurking in outer space and lead to action, such as better detection and tracking of asteroids.

"After today, a lot of people will be paying attention," said Rusty Schweickart, who flew on Apollo 9 in 1969, helped establish the planet-protecting B612 Foundation and has been warning NASA for years to put more muscle and money into a heightened asteroid alert.

Earth is menaced all the time by meteors, which are chunks of asteroids or comets that enter Earth's atmosphere. But many if not most of them are simply too small to detect from afar with the tools now available to astronomers.

The meteor that shattered over the Ural Mountains was estimated to be 20 times more powerful than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima during World War II. It blew out thousands of windows and left more than 1,000 people injured in Chelyabinsk, a city of 1 million. And yet no one saw it coming; it was about the size of a bus.

"This is a tiny asteroid," said astronomer Paul Chodas, who works in NASA's Near-Earth Object program in Pasadena, Calif. "It would be very faint and difficult to detect ? not impossible, but difficult."

As for the three-times-longer asteroid that hurtled by Earth later in the day Friday, passing closer to the planet than some communications satellites, astronomers in Spain did not even discover it until a year ago. That would have been too late for pre-emptive action ? such as the launch of a deflecting spacecraft ? if it had been on a collision course with Earth.

Asteroid 2012 DA14, as it is known, passed harmlessly within 17,150 miles of Earth, zooming by at 17,400 mph, or 5 miles per second.

Scientists believe there are anywhere from 500,000 to 1 million "near-Earth" asteroids comparable in size to DA14 or bigger out there. But less than 1 percent have actually been spotted. Astronomers have catalogued only 9,600 of them, of which nearly 1,300 are bigger than 0.6 miles.

Earth's atmosphere gets hit with 100 tons of junk every day, most of it the size of sand, and most of it burning up before it reaches the ground, according to NASA.

"These fireballs happen about once a day or so, but we just don't see them because many of them fall over the ocean or in remote areas. This one was an exception," NASA's Jim Green, director of planetary science, said of the meteor in Russia.

A 100- to 130-foot asteroid exploded over Siberia in 1908 and flattened 825 square miles of forest, while the rock that is believed to have wiped out the dinosaurs 65 million years ago was a monster 6 miles across.

The chances of Earth getting hit without warning by one of the big ones are "extremely low, so low that it's ridiculous. But the smaller ones are quite different," Schweickart said. He warned: "If we get hit by one of them, it's most likely we wouldn't have known anything about it before it hit."

Chodas said the meteor strike in Russia is "like Mother Nature is showing us what a small one ? a tiny one, really ? can do."

All this points up the need for more money for tracking of near-Earth objects, according to Schweickart and the former space shuttle and station astronaut who now heads up the B612 Foundation, Ed Lu.

A few years ago, Schweickart and others recommended NASA launch a $250 million-a-year program to survey asteroids and work up a deflection plan. After 10 years of cataloging, the annual price tag could drop to $75 million, they said.

"Unfortunately, NASA never acted on any of our recommendations," he lamented. "So the result of it is that instead of having $250 million a year and working on this actively, NASA now has $20 million. ... It's peanuts."

Congress immediately weighed in on Friday.

"Today's events are a stark reminder of the need to invest in space science," said Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, chairman of the House science, space and technology committee. He called for a hearing in the coming weeks.

Bill Cooke, head of the Meteoroid Environments Office at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., said the space agency takes asteroid threats seriously and has poured money into looking for ways to better spot them. Annual spending on asteroid-detection at NASA has gone from $4 million a few years ago to $20 million now.

"NASA has recognized that asteroids and meteoroids and orbital debris pose a bigger problem than anybody anticipated decades ago," Cooke said.

Schweickart's B612 Foundation ? named after the asteroid in Antoine de Saint-Exupery's "Le Petit Prince" ? has been unwilling to wait on the sidelines and is putting together a privately funded mission to launch an infrared telescope that would orbit the sun to hunt and track asteroids.

Its need cannot be underestimated, Schweickart warned. Real life is unlike movies such as "Armageddon" and "Deep Impact." Scientists will need to know 15, 20 or 30 years in advance of a killer rock's approach to undertake an effective asteroid-deflection campaign, he said, because it would take a long time for the spacecraft to reach the asteroid for a good nudge.

"That's why we want to find them now," he said.

As Chodas observed Friday, "It's like a shooting gallery here."


Associated Press writer Alicia Chang in Los Angeles contributed to this story.




B612 Foundation:

Associated Press


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5,500 attend Connecticut gun control rally

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) ? Thousands of people, including some first-time activists moved by the deadly shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, rallied at Connecticut's state Capitol on Thursday demanding lawmakers toughen gun laws.

Holding signs that read: "We are Sandy Hook. We deserve change" and "Let's get this done," many in crowd ? estimated by the state Capitol Police at 5,500 ? said they wanted to make sure their opinions were heard. They said they did not want them overshadowed by vocal gun rights advocates who've successfully defeated gun control measures in Connecticut in the past, such as limits on the size of ammunition magazines.

"We have reached a tipping point Connecticut. Our hearts are broken," said Nancy Lefkowitz, one of two mothers who formed the grassroots organization March for Change and helped organize the Valentine's Day rally.

The rally came exactly two months after a man went on a shooting rampage at the elementary school in Newtown before taking his own life.

Twenty-four-year-old Jillian Soto pleaded with policymakers to not forget the six educators and 20 first-graders who were killed and immediately pass gun reform legislation. Her sister, Victoria Soto, was one of the teachers killed. She said no one else needs to lose a family member.

"It's not about political party or hidden agendas. It's about life," she said. "And my life and the lives of so many are now changed forever because of what guns can do in the wrong hands."

In an interview before the rally, Soto said she felt the need to publicly come forward on her sister's behalf, keeping her memory alive and demanding a change in gun laws.

"She fought to save her children in her classroom," Soto said. "And I'm here fighting for the same thing, to save everybody's lives here, because we need to do something to change."

Thursday's event, one of the larger state Capitol rallies in recent years, comes as a special bipartisan task force created by the General Assembly attempts to reach consensus on possible law and policy changes affecting guns, mental health and school security. Legislators hope to vote on a package of recommendations later this month or early March.

While both Democratic and Republican state politicians appeared at the rally, including Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, it's not a given there will be bipartisan support for many of the proposals pushed by rally attendees. They include a ban on high-capacity magazines and all military-style assault weapons, annual registration renewals for handguns, universal background checks and mandatory safe storage of weapons.

One key GOP leader, House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero Jr., a member of the bipartisan task force, declined to attend, saying he felt it was inappropriate to appear at any rally touting a specific legislative agenda as the task force is still deliberating. Republican Senate Minority Leader John McKinney, whose district includes Newtown, has not committed his support to the March for Change group's agenda. He was interrupted by shouts of "pass the law" when he spoke generally about the importance of choosing love instead of a culture of violence in society.

"Democracy is great thing. People can come and march on their Capitol and their elected representatives and say what they say. If people want to heckle, that's fine," McKinney said afterward. "It is an example, though, of why sometimes laws don't get passed. Because people aren't willing to sit down and listen to perhaps another side or other sides and talk with one another."

Julius Magyari of Stamford, a gun rights advocate who quietly sat in a lawn chair at the back of the rally, said there are some common sense responses to the Newtown shooting, such as improving mental health screening and requiring gun safety classes. But Magayari, who competes in shooting events, is concerned lawmakers are being swayed by the emotions of the Newtown shooting and will pass laws that won't work or will harm lawful gun owners.

Magyari also attended a recent gun rights rally at the Capitol that drew more than 2,000 people and a daylong legislative hearing on guns. He said he has doubts lawmakers will pass a truly bipartisan plan and believes many already have made up their minds.

"The people who are against it, are against it," he said, referring to gun rights. "They're not listening to who is coming in."

Ron Pinciaro, executive director of Connecticut Against Gun Violence, said he is optimistic state lawmakers will reach a bipartisan deal on gun control measures because of public pressure to act. He said much of that pressure is coming from people who've never gotten involved in the political process before.

"Maybe they've voted, but really not much more than that. But they're moved. They're very moved and they want something done," he said. "And at the end of the day, I think the legislators have to listen, will listen. And it's a bipartisan thing because we're talking about our children now."


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Friday, February 15, 2013

Nuclear plant U-turn hits support for Bulgaria's ruling party

SOFIA (Reuters) - Support for Bulgaria's opposition Socialists rose further in February, narrowing the lead of the ruling GERB party following the government's U-turn on the Belene nuclear power project, a Gallup International poll showed on Friday.

Backing for the center-right GERB led by Prime Minister Boiko Borisov was 22.6 percent in February, down from 23.8 percent in January, while support for the Socialists, who led the previous government, jumped to 22.1 percent.

Support for the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) was 19.7 percent a month ago. Bulgaria will hold parliamentary elections on July 7.

GERB suffered a major blow last month when 60.6 percent of the Bulgarians who voted in the country's first referendum since the fall of communism backed building the Belene plant on the Danube river, hoping it would create jobs and cut power bills.

Last March, the government abandoned the multi-billion dollar project, saying the Balkan state could not afford the cost estimated to be more than 10 billion euros ($13.34 billion)after failing to attract Western investors.

Delayed reforms, low incomes and lack of decisive steps to uproot widespread cronyism and corruption have hurt GERB's popularity. Bulgaria's unemployment rate hit 11.4 percent its highest since last March.

Gallup said its poll, conducted between January 31 and February 7, was completed before the start of recent protests against high electricity bills. On Friday, Bulgarians took to the streets in several cities for a seventh day in a row.

Bulgaria's economic stability in recent years has come at the expense of low living standards in the country, where the average monthly pension is $176 and the average salary $460.

Support for the ethnic Turkish MRF party rose fractionally to 7.3 percent in February from 7.0 percent a month earlier.

(Reporting by Angel Krasimirov)


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