Homes destroyed by wildfires raging in Australia13 hours agoView gallerySYDNEY (AP) — Authorities were assessing damage from almost 100 wildfires burning across Australia’s most populous state Friday that killed one man, razed an unknown number of homes and forced hundreds of residents to evacuate.Milder conditions were helping firefighters after Thursday’s unseasonably hot temperatures and strong winds fanned flames across the parched landscape and threatened towns surrounding Sydney.Rural Fire Service spokeswoman Natalie Sanders said the number of fires in New South Wales state had dropped from more than 100 overnight to 94, burning across 86,000 hectares (330 square miles). But 28 continued to burn out of control, she said.Rural Fire Service Deputy Commissioner Rob Rogers said interstate firefighters were on their way to help fight the blazes, including one burning near the town of Lithgow, west of the Blue Mountains, across a front 25 kilometers (16 miles) wide.Assessment teams and police were moving into the destruction zones in search of survivors and victims, he said. Officials also were trying to determine how many homes were destroyed”I know some information that’s been passed to me that just in one street, there were 40 homes lost,” Rogers told Nine Network television.The Fire Service said a 63-year-old man had a fatal heart attack while he was fighting a fire at his home at Lake Munmorah, north of Sydney, late Thursday.View gallery.”In this photo provided by the New South Wales Rural Fire Service, smoke rises from a fire near Lithg …Two firefighters were hospitalized with injuries, and one had undergone surgery, New South Wales Premier Barry O’Farrell said. He did not detail the injuries.A plane carrying infrared imaging equipment flew over the fires Thursday night and recorded heat spots where maps showed homes were located, Emergency Services Minister Mike Gallacher said. The red and orange spots indicated the homes were burning.”Sadly, where most of these little red dots were, that’s where yesterday morning there used to be houses,” Gallacher told Nine.Blue Mountains Mayor Mark Greenhill visited the devastated village of Winmalee, on Sydney’s western fringe, where the risk had subsided after some streets were almost entirely razed.”It’s been an awful 24 hours for the Blue Mountains” region, Greenhill told Nine.”We’ve lost possibly scores of homes, I can’t put the number closer than that,” he said. „In the area that we’re standing at at the moment, we’re talking about 40 to 50 homes (destroyed) which is just awful.”The fire front was still visible from Winmalee on Friday, but had moved toward the neighboring village of Springwood where homes were being evacuated.View gallery.”In this photo provided by the New South Wales Rural Fire Service, smoke rises from a fire near Sprin …Hundreds of residents spent Thursday night in dozens of evacuation centers in the Blue Mountains and elsewhere in New South Wales. Most were unaware of the fate of their homes.Rogers said firefighters wouldn’t be able to extinguish the blazes before high temperatures and strong winds are forecast to return on Sunday and Monday.Temperatures west of Sydney were expected to reach around 23 degrees Celsius (73 degrees Fahrenheit) on Friday — around 10 degrees Celsius (18 degrees Fahrenheit) cooler than on Thursday. Gentle breezes had replaced strong winds.”It’s calmed down a lot since yesterday, but make no mistake: We’ve got thousands of kilometers of fire front that we are faced with trying to deal with,” Rogers said.”This is absolutely far from being over,” he added.A smoky haze from the fires hung over downtown Sydney, where even inside high-rise office buildings, the stench of smoke permeated the air.Wildfires are common throughout Australia in the warmer months. In February 2009, wildfires killed 173 people and destroyed more than 2,000 homes in Victoria state.
Lunar Eclipse Rises With Full Moon Tonight: Watch It Live OnlineBy by Miriam Kramer, Staff Writer 3 hours agoView gallery The full moon will dip into Earth’s shadow tonight (Oct. 18), producing a lunar eclipse that can be seen by keen observers around the world.Weather permitting, skywatchers in Africa, Europe, western Asia, and the eastern parts of North and South America will get the chance to observe part of the southern portion of the moon passing into Earth’s penumbra — the planet’s outer shadow.The shading will be subtle, but during the penumbral lunar eclipse, the moon will be partially in shadow for about four hours with the time of deepest eclipse occurring at 7:50 p.m. EDT (2350 GMT). At that moment, the Earth’s outer shadow will cover 76.5 percent of the lunar disk. [See amazing photos of a penumbral lunar eclipse]You can also watch the eclipse online. The online Slooh Space Camera will air a live broadcast of the entire four-hour eclipse starting at 2:45 p.m. EDT (1845 GMT). Slooh’s team of experts will join the show at 7:30 p.m. EDT (2330 GMT) to comment during the eclipse’s peak. You can watch the penumbral eclipse webcast live on SPACE.com, courtesy of Slooh.View gallery.”
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Skull discovery suggests early man was single speciesBy Kerry Sheridan 4 hours agoView gallery This handout photo received October 17, 2013 courtesy of the Georgian National Museum shows a complete, approximately 1.8-m Washington (AFP) – A stunningly well-preserved skull from 1.8 million years ago offers new evidence that early man was a single species with a vast array of different looks, researchers said.With a tiny brain about a third the size of a modern human’s, protruding brows and jutting jaws like an ape, the skull was found in the remains of a medieval hilltop city in Dmanisi, Georgia, said the study in the journal Science.It is one of five early human skulls — four of which have jaws — found so far at the site, about 100 kilometers (62 miles) from the capital Tbilisi, along with stone tools that hint at butchery and the bones of big, saber-toothed cats.Lead researcher David Lordkipanidze, director of the Georgian National Museum, described the group as „the richest and most complete collection of indisputable early Homo remains from any one site.”The skulls vary so much in appearance that under other circumstances, they might have been considered different species, said co-author Christoph Zollikofer of the University of Zurich.”Yet we know that these individuals came from the same location and the same geological time, so they could, in principle, represent a single population of a single species,” he said.The researchers compared the variation in characteristics of the skulls and found that while their jaw, brow and skull shapes were distinct, their traits were all within the range of what could be expected among members of the same species.”The five Dmanisi individuals are conspicuously different from each other, but not more different than any five modern human individuals, or five chimpanzee individuals, from a given population,” said Zollikofer.”We conclude that diversity within a species is the rule rather than the exception.”Under that hypothesis, the different lineages some experts have described in Africa — such as Homo habilis and Homo rudolfensis — were all just ancient people of the species Homo erectus who looked different from each other.It also suggests that early members of the modern man’s genus Homo, first found in Africa, soon expanded into Asia despite their small brain size.”We are thrilled about the conclusion they came to. It backs up what we found as well,” said Milford Wolpoff, a paleoanthropologist at the University of Michigan.Wolpoff and Adam Van Arsdale of Wellesley College published a study in the journal Evolution last year that also measured statistical variation in characteristics of early skull fossils in Georgia and East Africa, suggesting a single species and an active process of inter-breeding.”Everyone knows today you could find your mate from a different continent and it is normal for people to marry outside their local group, outside their religion, outside their culture,” Wolpoff told AFP.”What this really helps show is that this has been the human pattern for most of our history, at least outside of Africa,” he added.”We don’t have races. We don’t have different subspecies. But it is normal for humans to vary, and they have varied in the past.”But not all experts agree.”I think that the conclusions that they draw are misguided,” said Bernard Wood, director of the hominid paleobiology doctoral program at George Washington University.”What they have is a creature that we have not seen evidence of before,” he said, noting its small head but human-sized body.”It could be something new and I don’t understand why they are reluctant to think it might be.”In fact, the researchers did give it a new name, Homo erectus ergaster georgicus, in a nod to the skull as an early but novel form of Homo erectus found in Georgia.The name also retracts the unique species status of Homo georgicus given to the jaw that was found in 2000 along with other small, primitive skulls.The jaw lay a few yards (meters) from where Skull 5, belonging to the same owner, was later discovered in 2005.Co-author Marcia Ponce de Leon of the University of Zurich said Skull 5 was „perfectly preserved” and „the most complete skull of an adult fossil Homo individual found to date.”Its discovery, in such close quarters with four other individuals, offered researchers a unique opportunity to measure variations in a single population of early Homo, and „to draw new inferences on the evolutionary biology” of our ancestors, she said.
There’s more to koalas than you think Long before we started going loopy for lemurs, slow loris and sloths, we had koalas – the original poster child for cute and cuddly animals that make us go „Aww!” Although most people know that koalas live in Australia and eat eucalyptus leaves, there is so much more to know. Here’s the lowdown on the marsupials from Down Under. 1. Although they are commonly called koala „bears,” koalas are marsupials and have nothing at all to do with bears, except that they are cute like a teddy bear. 2. The word „koala” is thought to have come from the Aboriginal word meaning „no drink.” Although koalas do drink water on occasion, most of their hydration requirements are fulfilled by the moisture they get from eating eucalyptus leaves. 3. They eat about two and a half pounds of eucalyptus leaves a day; so many, in fact, that they take on the fragrance of the oil … and end up smelling like cough drops. 4. A newborn koala is the size of a jellybean. Called a joey, it is a while before it reaches full-blown ridiculously cute status; joeys are born blind, earless and without fur. Also see: 15 cute animals that could kill you 5. After birth, a momma koala will carry the jellybean baby in her pouch for about six months; after it emerges, the newborn clings to its mother’s back or belly until it is around a year old. 6. Tucked into trees, koalas sleep for up to 18 hours during the day. 7. Koalas may look soft and cuddly, but to the touch, not so much. They have a thick wooly fur that protects them from both heat and cold and also helps to repel water. In fact, their fur is the thickest of all marsupials. 8. In ideal conditions in the wild, male koalas live to about the age of 10; females may live a few years longer. 9. There were once millions of koalas, but the popularity of their sturdy fur resulted in massive hunting of them in the 1920s and ’30s, leading to a major decline in their numbers. 10. Habitat destruction, traffic deaths and attacks by dogs kill an estimated 4,000 koalas yearly; at this point, there are fewer than 100,000 koalas in the wild. Fortunately, there are many efforts being made to protect them.
Art from space – The view from above ESA/CNES – J-P. Haigneré 21 hours agoView gallery10 photos Is it abstract art? No. These mesmerizing images were the product of science. Shot by French astronauts on missions to the International Space Station, they remind us of what a strange and beautiful planet we live on.
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