Hurricane Raymond strengthens off Mexico’s Pacific coast3 hours agoView gallery Acapulco (Mexico) (AFP) – Hurricane Raymond picked up strength Monday as it churned off a region of Mexico’s Pacific coast still recovering from a devastating storm last month.In just a few hours, Raymond went from a tropical storm to a Category Three hurricane on the five-point Saffir-Simpson scale, the Miami-based National Hurricane Center (NHC), which tracks hurricanes in the hemisphere, reported at 0900 GMT.Raymond packed maximum sustained winds of 195 kph, with higher gusts. Hurricane force winds extend up to 30 kilometers out from the storm’s center, while tropical force winds extend up to 110 kilometers.”Some additional strengthening is possible during the next day or so,” the NHC warned.Raymond however stalled some 265 kilometers west-southwest of the resort town of Acapulco after steadily moving for hours towards the mainland, the NHC said.Raymond’s storm surge along Mexico’s south-central Pacific coast is nevertheless expected to produce „significant coastal flooding” within the warning ares, and the surge „will be accompanied by large and destructive waves.”Swells generated by Raymond „are likely to cause life-threatening surf and rip current conditions.”View gallery.”A boy stands next to his house detroyed by tropical storm Manuel, in Guerrero state, Mexico, on Sept …The NHC predicted that Raymond would drop between five and 10 centimeters of rain „with isolated amounts up to eight inches [20 centimeters]” over the Mexican states of Guerrero and Michoacan.Authorities in both states issued alerts that included closing ports, evacuating people from flood prone areas, monitoring dams and rivers, and closing schools in some communities.Mexico’s National Weather Service earlier said that the storm was „causing heavy rain, large waves and strong wind in western and southern Mexico.”The head of Mexico’s National Commission on Water, David Korenfeld, predicted „torrential rain” over the next 72 hours, and warned that soil across the region was already saturated with water, increasing the chances of flooding and landslides.In mid-September, Hurricane Manuel struck Guerrero, while another weather system, Ingrid, slammed almost simultaneously into the opposite coast.The two storms claimed 157 lives and left 1.7 million people homeless.Hardest hit was Guerrero, where landslides triggered by Manuel partially buried a mountain community and 101 of the deaths were recorded.View gallery.”View of a flooded street in Acapulco, Guerrero state, Mexico, on September 26, 2013 (AFP Photo/Pedro …The unusual double storm blast occurred during a holiday weekend, leaving thousands of tourists stranded in Acapulco when airports and highways were closed.In Guerrero state alone, 5,000 people are still living in shelters due to the storm.Rain from Raymond is expected to reach Mexico City.Korenfeld said Mexico was on its way this year to breaking a record by being hit by eight named tropical storms or hurricanes — four on each coast.”And we are close to breaking the all-time record of nine named storm strikes in one year,” which was in 2010, he added.There was however a chance that a cold front coming down from the north could hit Raymond and push it back out to the ocean, Korenfeld said.Local officials however are taking no chances: in Michoacan 34 shelters were prepared and school classes were canceled in four municipalities, the secretary of the state government, Jaime Mares Camarena told AFP.In Guerrero, officials kept a close eye on area dams, already bursting at full capacity, and closed area ports to small vessels, since the storm is expected to churn up waves of up to four meters high.In Acapulco, already enduring heavy rain from the outer bands of the storm, locals were boarding up their windows, while classes were suspended for 35,000 students, local Civil Protection officials said. China smog emergency shuts city of 11 million people8 hours ago View galleryPeople ride along a street on a smoggy day in Daqing, Heilongjiang province, October 21, 2013. REUTE BEIJING (Reuters) – Choking smog all but shut down one of northeastern China’s largest cities on Monday, forcing schools to suspended classes, snarling traffic and closing the airport, in the country’s first major air pollution crisis of the winter.An index measuring PM2.5, or particulate matter with a diameter of 2.5 micrometers (PM2.5), reached a reading of 1,000 in some parts of Harbin, the gritty capital of northeastern Heilongjiang province and home to some 11 million people.A level above 300 is considered hazardous, while the World Health Organisation recommends a daily level of no more than 20.The smog not only forced all primary and middle schools to suspend classes, but shut the airport and some public bus routes, the official Xinhua news agency reported, blaming the emergency on the first day of the heating being turned on in the city for winter. Visibility was reportedly reduced to 10 meters.The smog is expected to continue for the next 24 hours.Air quality in Chinese cities is of increasing concern to China’s stability-obsessed leadership because it plays into popular resentment over political privilege and rising inequality in the world’s second-largest economy.Domestic media have run stories describing the expensive air purifiers government officials enjoy in their homes and offices, alongside reports of special organic farms so cadres need not risk suffering from recurring food safety scandals.The government has announced plans over the years to tackle the pollution problem but has made little apparent progress.Users of China’s popular Twitter-like Sina Weibo microblogging site reacted with both anger and bitter sarcasm over Harbin’s air pollution.”After years of effort, the wise and hard-working people of Harbin have finally managed to skip both the middle-class society and the communist society stages, and have now entered a fairyland society!” wrote on user.Other parts of northeastern China also experienced severe smog, including Tangshan, two hours east of Beijing, and Changchun, the capital of Jilin province which borders Heilongjiang.Last week, Beijing city released a color-coded alert system for handling air pollution emergencies, to include the temporary halt of construction, factory production, outdoor barbeques and the setting off of fireworks.Beijing suffered its own smog emergency last winter when the PM2.5 surpassed 900 on one particularly bad day in January.(Reporting By Adam Rose; Editing by Ben Blanchard and Michael Perry) Fukushima operator blames storm for radioactive leaks2 hours agoView galleryTokyo (AFP) – Heavy rain at the Fukushima nuclear plant caused a leak of radioactive water containing a cancer-causing isotope, possibly into the sea, its operator said Monday, as a typhoon approaching Japan threatened further downpours.The leak is the latest in a long line of setbacks at the site, and further undermines agreements between operator Tokyo Electric Power (TEPCO) and the government which limit the level of radioactive contamination in water that goes outside the plant.TEPCO said a barrier intended to contain radioactive overflow was breached in one spot by water contaminated with strontium-90 at 70 times the legal limit for safe disposal.Strontium-90 is produced during nuclear reactions. It accumulates in bones and remains potent for many years, and causes several types of cancer in humans.The admission came as a team of experts from the UN’s nuclear watchdog ended their review of Japan’s progress in cleaning up the wider environment after the tsunami-sparked meltdowns of March 2011 created the worst atomic disaster in a generation.TEPCO has poured thousands of tonnes of water onto badly-damaged reactors at Fukushima to keep them cool and prevent repeat meltdowns.This huge volume of water must be stored in large tanks until it is cleaned of the radioactive substances it picks up in the cooling process.View gallery.”This Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2013 aerial photo shows the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant at Okuma in Fuku …Rain worsens the problem because as it hits polluted surfaces, it becomes contaminated, meaning TEPCO needs to scoop it all up for storage and treatment.While the storage tanks all appeared to have survived the battering from heavy rain on Sunday, the concrete overflow barriers around them were not high enough to contain the rainwater runoff in several places.Meteorologists say a typhoon that is likely to bring further heavy rain is churning its way slowly towards Japan. Forecasters expect it will hit later in the week.In August, 300 tonnes of badly-polluted water leaked from a tank. It is now believed to have mixed with groundwater that is on its way to the sea.Meanwhile, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), whose experts have been in Japan, sounded a largely positive note on progress in dealing with the mess around the Fukushima plant.The mission, which came at Tokyo’s request, is a follow-up to an IAEA visit last year.Japan must review its communication strategies to improve public confidence in the process, the team said in its interim report.View gallery.”A woman reacts in front of collapsed houses following a landslide caused by Typhoon Wipha on Izu Osh …”Japan has done an enormous amount to reduce people’s radiation exposure in the affected areas, to work towards enabling evacuees to go back to their homes and to support local communities in overcoming economic and social disruption,” team leader Juan Carlos Lentijo said in a prepared statement.The report said that „food safety measures (have) protected consumers and improved consumer confidence in farm produce”.Existing screening programmes ensure that whatever is shipped to the market place „is safe for consumers,” he told a press conference.”We ate fish” during the mission in Fukushima, he told reporters.The Japanese government must better inform the public to reduce uncertainty as well as explain the costs and benefits of public programmes, Lentijo said.But he hailed what Japan has done so far, at least outside of the Fukushima plant.Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who has repeatedly insisted the situation is under control, has said he eats Fukushima-grown rice daily. Mars Rover Curiosity Proves Some Earth Meteorites are MartianBy by Miriam Kramer, Staff Writer 2 hours agoView gallery Some pieces of rock that fell to Earth from space are indeed from Mars, new measurements reveal.New data collected by NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity has pinned down the exact ratio of two forms of the inert gas argon in the Martian atmosphere. These new measurements will not only help confirm the origins of some meteorites, they could also help researchers understand how and when Mars lost most of its atmosphere, transforming from a warm, wet planet to the red desert it is today.By understanding exactly how much of the lighter isotope argon-36 is present in the Martian atmosphere and comparing it to the heavier isotope, argon-38, scientists were able to confirm what the composition of a Martian meteorite on Earth should be. [Mars Meteorites: Pieces of the Red Planet on Earth (Photos)]”We really nailed it,” Sushil Atreya of the University of Michigan and lead author of an Oct. 16 paper reporting the finding in Geophysical Research Letters, said in a statement. „This direct reading from Mars settles the case with all Martian meteorites.”Curiosity found that the argon ratio for Mars is 4.2. The lighter form of argon has escaped more readily than the heavier isotope, NASA officials wrote in a statement.View gallery.”This self-portrait, composed of more than 50 images taken by Curiosity’s MAHLI camera on Feb. 3, 201 …If Mars had not lost atmosphere through the course of its planetary history, its argon ratio would be 5.5 — the same as the sun and Jupiter, two cosmic bodies with so much gravity that isotopes cannot escape, NASA officials said.Before this new study, scientists had placed the argon ratio somewhere between 3.6 and 4.5 by analyzing gas trapped inside Martian meteors on Earth, but one of Curiosity’s precise instruments — called Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) — allowed NASA researchers to find the more exact proportion.”Other isotopes measured by SAM on Curiosity also support the loss of atmosphere, but none so directly as argon,” Atreya said. „Argon is the clearest signature of atmospheric loss because it’s chemically inert and does not interact or exchange with the Martian surface or the interior. This was a key measurement that we wanted to carry out on SAM.”Although Curiosity is unable to directly investigate how much atmosphere Mars is losing, NASA’s next Mars mission is designed to do just that, officials with the space agency said. The MAVEN spacecraft (the name is short for Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution Mission) will launch toward the Red Planet in November.NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity has been roaming the surface of the Red Planet since it landed in August 2012.View gallery.”Sientists have identified meteorites, such as this one nicknamed ‘Black Beauty,’ as Martian in orig …Follow Miriam Kramer @mirikramer and Google+. Follow us @Spacedotcom, Facebook and Google+. Original article on SPACE.com. ‘Bionic man’ makes debut at Washington’s Air and Space MuseumBy Lacey Johnson October 18, 2013 8:31 AMView galleryAn engineer makes an adjustment to the robot „The Incredible Bionic Man” at the Smithsonian National …By Lacey JohnsonWASHINGTON (Reuters) – A first-ever walking, talking „bionic man” built entirely out of synthetic body parts made his Washington debut on Thursday.The robot with a human face unveiled at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum was built by London’s Shadow Robot Co to showcase medical breakthroughs in bionic body parts and artificial organs.”This is not a gimmick. This is a real science development,” museum director John Dailey said.The 6-foot-tall (1.83 meter), 170-pound (77-kg) robot is the subject of a one-hour Smithsonian Channel documentary, „The Incredible Bionic Man,” airing on Sunday.A „bionic man” was the material of science fiction in the 1970s when the television show „The Six Million Dollar Man” showed the adventures of a character named Steve Austin, a former astronaut whose body was rebuilt using synthetic parts after he nearly died.The robot on display at the museum cost $1 million and was made from 28 artificial body parts on loan from biomedical innovators. They include a pancreas, lungs, spleen and circulatory system, with most of the parts early prototypes.”The whole idea of the project is to get together all of the spare parts that already exist for the human body today – one piece. If you did that, what would it look like?” said Bertolt Meyer, a social psychologist from the University of Zurich in Switzerland and host of the documentary.The robot was modeled after Meyer, who was born without a hand and relies on an artificial limb. He showed off the bionic man by having it take a few clumsy steps and by running artificial blood through its see-through circulatory system.”It, kind of, looks lifelike. Kind of creepy,” said Paul Arcand, a tourist who was visiting from Boston with his wife.The robot has a motionless face and virtually no skin. It was controlled remotely from a computer, and Bluetooth wireless connections were used to operate its limbs.The bionic creation’s artificial intelligence is limited to a chatbot computer program, similar to the Siri application on the Apple iPhone, said Robert Warburton, a design engineer for Shadow Robot.”The people who made it decided to program it with the personality of a 13-year-old boy from the Ukraine,” he said. „So, he’s not really the most polite of people to have a conversation with.”Assembly began in August 2012 and took three months to finish.The robot made its U.S. debut last week at New York’s Comic Con convention. It will be on display at the museum throughout the fall.(This story has been corrected to fix spelling of documentary host’s first name to Bertolt, not Bertold, paragraph 7)(Additional reporting by Ian Simpson; editing by Barbara Goldberg and Leslie Adler) Stargazer Captures Stunning Image of Edge-On Spiral Galaxy (Photo)By by Nina Sen, SPACE.com Contributor 2 hours agoView galleryAstrophotographer John Chumack took this image of edge-on spiral galaxy NGC 891 (also known as Caldwell …What might appear to some like a flying saucer careening through deep space is actually a photo of a majestic spiral galaxy taken by a veteran astrophotographer.The picture of the galaxy NGC 891, taken by photographer John Chumack, reveals what our host galaxy, the Milky Way might look like if seen edge-on from millions of light-years away.”We see our Milky Way stretch across the night sky horizon to horizon every summer,” Chumack told SPACE.com via email. „Now, if we were to back away from the Milky Way by about 30 million light-years, our Milky Way would look very much as NGC 891 does in this photo.” A light-year is the distance light travels in one year, about 6 trillion miles (10 trillion kilometers).NGC 891, also called Caldwell 23, is located in the constellation Andromeda roughly 30 million light-years away. Both NGC 891 and the Milky Way are considered similar in terms of luminosity and size.Chumack captured the image over 130 minutes of exposure on Sept. 7 from his observatories at Yellow Springs Research Station in Yellow Springs, Ohio. He used a QHY8 Cooled Color Astronomical CCD Camera and a homemade 16″ diameter Fork Mounted Newtonian Scope to take the photo.To see more amazing night sky photos submitted by SPACE.com readers, visit our astrophotography archive.Editor’s note: If you have an amazing night sky photo you’d like to share for a possible story or image gallery, please contact managing editor Tariq Malik at email@example.com. Orionid Meteor Shower Peaking Now: See Shards of Halley’s Comet OnlineBy By Tanya Lewis, Staff Writer 23 hours agoView galleryAstrophotographer Daniel McVey took this photo of an Orionid meteor in Summit County, CO, Oct. 21, 2 The leaves are turning, there’s a nip in the air and the Orionid meteor shower spawned by Halley’s Comet is at its peak overnight tonight (Oct. 20). If the bright moon or bad weather doesn’t spoil the view, stargazers can catch a glimpse of the annual Orionid meteor shower as it reaches its peak late Sunday and early Monday (Oct. 21). The Orionids, so-named because they appear to spring from a region to the north of the constellation Orion’s second brightest star, Betelgeuse, are a less impressive version of the Perseid meteor shower that occurs in August.The online Slooh Space Camera will air a live 15-minute broadcast of the meteors from the Canary Islands off the coast of West Africa at 8 p.m. EDT (0000 GMT/5 p.m. PDT) today. You can watch the Orionid meteor shower webcast live here, courtesy of Slooh officials. [Photos: Orionid Meteor Shower of 2012]Unfortunately for casual observers, the bright moon – which reached its full phase on Friday (Oct. 18) – may wash out most of the view. Weather permitting, viewers can expect to see at most one shooting star every three minutes. That’s about a third as many as are visible in the Perseids or December’s spectacular Geminids.”Moonlit skies from a bright waning gibbous moon make this a less than favorable year for viewing,” a NASA meteor shower guide for 2013 explains. „However, the Orionids are known for being bright meteors, so there still might be a good show in the early hours before dawn.”During tonight’s Slooh webcast, viewers can tweet their questions using the hashtag #Orionid. You can also watch the supernova webcast live on the online Slooh Space Camera website and the Slooh iPad App. The shower will be most visible in the hours around 5 a.m. EDT (0900 GMT), when Orion is highest in the southern sky. The Orionids are dim, so astronomers recommend watching far from urban areas. The meteor shower is visible in both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres.The Orionids usually start to appear around Oct. 17 at a rate of about five per hour. The shower reaches a maximum Oct. 19 through Oct. 23, generally peaking the morning of Oct. 21. By Oct. 25, activity has subsided to five meteors per hour.Orionid meteors are debris from Halley’s Comet. The famous comet, named after English astronomer Edmond Halley, zooms by the sun every 76 years. Last visible from Earth in 1986, the icy visitor won’t return until 2061.Comets are basically balls of dusty ice, so as the sun melts the ice, the comet trails dust and debris behind, which the Earth passes through twice a year during the Eta Aquarid meteor shower in May and the Orionids in October.Editor’s note: If you snap an amazing picture of the Orionid meteor shower or any other night sky view that you’d like to share for a possible story or image gallery, send photos, comments and your name and location to managing editor Tariq Malik at firstname.lastname@example.org.Follow Tanya Lewis on Twitter and Google+. Follow us @Spacedotcom, Facebook and Google+. Original article on SPACE.com. Australia braces for potential ‘mega-wildfire’35 minutes ago View gallery Mount Victoria (Australia) (AFP) – Firefighters were battling an enormous blaze in southeastern Australia Monday, with officials warning it could merge with another to create a „mega-fire” if weather conditions worsen.Crews have been fighting fires that flared in high winds and searing heat across the state of New South Wales last week with more than 200 homes destroyed so far and many others damaged.While dozens of blazes have been contained, 63 were still alight and 17 of them were out of control, enveloping Sydney in a thick white smoke haze that prompted warnings for people to stay indoors and avoid exercise.The main concern Monday was near the town of Lithgow west of Sydney, where a huge fire — with a perimeter of 300 kilometres (187 miles) — has already burned more than 42,000 hectares (103,000 acres) and was threatening the communities of Bilpin, Bell, Clarence and Dargan.Officials fear intensifying heat and winds on Tuesday and Wednesday could push it into another blaze at nearby Mount Victoria in the Blue Mountains and then move towards the populated areas of Katoomba and Leura.Bushfires: state of emergencyPlay video.”„I don’t think I’ve ever used the word mega-fire,” said New South Wales Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons.”But the reality is that the modelling indicates that there’s every likelihood that in the forecast weather conditions that these two fires, particularly up in the back end of the mountains, will merge at some point.”Firefighters spent the night and much of Monday building containment lines to try to prevent such an event, before a predicted worsening of weather conditions.Another major fire around the Springwood area of the Blue Mountains, where almost 200 houses were razed last week, escalated to the emergency declaration level — along with another in Wilton southwest of Sydney, which was later downgraded.”The fire grounds remain dynamic and challenging for firefighters and are particularly susceptible to the wind and the elevated temperatures that we are experiencing,” Fitzsimmons said.Time Lapse Footage Shows Australia BushfirePlay video.”But the fire chief played down earlier suggestions that all communities in the Blue Mountains, where 76,000 people live, could be evacuated.”We are not planning a mass evacuation of the Blue Mountains community,” he said.Instead authorities were taking „a very targeted approach to securing and protecting all the communities”.An emergency warning was issued for the Blue Mountains village of Bell, where residents were urged to evacuate. Other township residents were told to shelter in their homes or warned that they faced several days of isolation without electricity.This included people in the village of Mount Wilson, which was used as the backdrop for scenes in the recent Hollywood blockbuster „The Great Gatsby” starring Leonardo DiCaprio.Major Bushfire Threatens Lithgow, New South WalesPlay video.”Amid the worst fire disaster in the state for nearly 50 years, New South Wales Sunday declared a state of emergency which gives firefighters the power to forcibly evacuate people, with penalties for refusing.State Emergency Services Minister Mike Gallacher said every possible resource was being used, including firefighters drafted in from other states, with the option that the military could be deployed.With hundreds of people evacuated due to the encroaching flames, police revealed they were dealing with reports of looting from victims, although the number of incidents was small.State Premier Barry O’Farrell called looters „scumbags” and vowed to track them down.Meanwhile, an 11-year-old boy was Monday charged with deliberately lighting two fires on the New South Wales Central Coast last week, one of which forced hundreds of people to flee their homes and saw the closure of Newcastle airport.View gallery.”Graphic showing the areas around Sydney, hit by wildfires on Monday that have already destroyed more …Another boy, aged 15, was arrested over one of those blazes while a 14-year-old was charged with starting a separate fire Sunday near Rutherford, a suburb north of Sydney, which was quickly extinguished.Wildfires are common in Australia’s summer months from December-February. But an unusually dry and warm winter and record spring temperatures has seen the 2013/14 fire season start early with warnings of a long, tough summer ahead. Pakistan train bombing STRINGER/PAKISTAN 4 hours agoView gallery9 photos At least five passengers were killed and 16 wounded when a train was bombed and derailed in restive southwest Pakistan on Monday, officials said. It was not immediately clear who was responsible for the bombing, but arid western Baluchistan province is home to several separatist insurgents besides the Taliban and banned sectarian groups. (Reuters) Josef Koudelka, nomad who ‘shapes the world’ with camera lensBy Mihaela RODINA 1 hour agoView galleryBucharest (AFP) – Forty-five years after capturing the Soviet invasion of Prague, Czech-born photographer Josef Koudelka says he is more interested in „shaping the world” with his camera lens than in front-page events.”A photographer’s work is to have an opinion about things, about the world, and to react to the world,” Koudelka, 75, said in an interview in French with AFP in Bucharest where an exhibition of his pictures has opened.”What I do is look through my viewer and try to shape the world. As I do this, the world too is shaping me,” he added.The white-bearded, blue-eyed photographer said that in every country where he has travelled he was after events and people that were not necessarily newsworthy.”The important thing is that I have touched upon the major topics of my times,” he said, citing the gypsies, or Roma, as a subject to which he devoted himself in the 1960s, as well as environment-related topics.Koudelka said his latest book, „The Wall”, comprising panoramic landscape photos he made between 2008 and 2012 along the barrier separating Israel and the Palestinian territories, „is not pro-Palestinian or anti-Israel but against the way man treats the Earth”.”To me, this wall is a crime against the landscape. People can defend themselves but the landscape cannot. There you have a landscape that is holy to a large part of mankind and they are destroying it,” he saiView gallery.”Czech photographer Josef Koudelka poses for a portrait before the opening of his exhibit „Invasion 6 …A self-confessed nomad who emigrated from then Czechoslovakia in 1970, Koudelka said he had never lived for more than three months in one country over the past 40 years.”I don’t really feel like a citizen of any country. I’m not Czech like the Czechs, and I have a French passport but I don’t feel French like the French.””Luckily, because I don’t want to be like the others.”What he says he knows for sure is where he comes from. „It’s southern Moravia. And I know I come from there because there you can find the best music in the world.”In August 1968, the then aeronautical engineer had just returned from a trip to Romania where he had photographed gypsies when the Soviet tanks roared into the Czech capital, wanting to crush a reform movement known as the Prague Spring.”What happened in Czechoslovakia was a tragedy both for the Russians and for myself because I was part of the same system, and what happened to them could have happened to me,” he said.His black and white pictures showing the occupation of the city by Soviet troops were smuggled out of Prague and published anonymously, for fear of reprisals, in the Sunday Times of London.View gallery.”Czech photographer Josef Koudelka talks to the media during the opening of his exhibition „Invasion …The shots that earned him a Robert Capa prize are part of the Bucharest show titled „Invasion 68 Prague”.”Maybe I was just a little idiot with a camera but I think I did a pretty good job,” Koudelka said.Back in his native country in 1990, after the fall of Communism, he said he felt as if he was „drunk”, thrilled „to hear people speak Czech” around him.”It was great to walk in the streets that I knew, to meet people, to look at their faces.”A man constantly on the move who put together 61 pictures taken between 1968 and 1987 in a book called „Exiles”, Koudelka said he agreed with a friend who said: „If exile doesn’t kill you it makes you stronger.””Exile comes with two gifts. One is that you can build your life all over again.””The second one is that if you have the chance to return, which I never thought I would have, you see things with completely different eyes.” NASA reverses ban on Chinese scientists4 hours agoView gallery Beijing (AFP) – NASA has reversed a decision to ban six Chinese scientists from a space conference, Chinese state media said, after prominent US astronomers vowed to boycott the meeting in a row over academic freedom.The US space agency had barred them from participating in the meeting on exoplanets — bodies outside the solar system — in California in early November, saying it was legally obliged to do so because of their nationality.A NASA committee has now written to the six to change course, China’s official Xinhua news agency reported.”We have since been able to clarify the intent of the referenced legislation and are pleased to inform you that this decision has been reversed and your paperwork is being reviewed for clearance,” Xinhua quoted the letter as saying.”We hope you will be able to join us,” it added.View gallery.”This NASA artist’s concept obtained on October 3, 2013 shows Kepler-7b (left), which is 1.5 times th …The initial decision to block the six led to an academic uproar and some leading US astronomers, including Yale University’s Debra Fischer, announced plans to boycott the conference.Geoff Marcy, an astronomy professor at the University of California, Berkeley, wrote in an email to the organisers: „The meeting is about planets located trillions of miles away, with no national security implications.”China’s foreign ministry also blasted NASA’s denial of the researchers’ applications as discriminatory, arguing that politics should have no place at academic meetings.NASA administrator Charles Bolden responded earlier this month by pledging to review the committee’s decision, which he blamed on „mid-level managers” at the agency’s Ames Research Center, which is hosting the event.Ninety-seven percent of NASA staff were sent home without pay due to the partial US government shutdown this month after Congress failed to pass a budget in time. Cambodia seeks life sentences for ex-Khmer Rouge leaders15 hours agoView gallery Phnom Penh (AFP) – Prosecutors demanded life imprisonment Monday for two former leaders of Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge accused of crimes against humanity, delighting survivors hoping for long-awaited justice for the „Killing Fields” atrocities.”Brother Number Two” Nuon Chea, 87, and ex-head of state Khieu Samphan, 82, are accused of playing a leading role in the communist regime’s reign of terror in the late 1970s that left up to two million people dead.Prosecutor Chea Leang said life in prison was „the only punishment that they deserve”.”On behalf of the Cambodian people and the international community we ask you for justice — justice for the victims who perished and justice for the victims who survived today who had to live through such a vicious and cruel regime under the leadership of these two accused and other leaders,” she added.Led by Pol Pot, who died in 1998, the communist regime wiped out a quarter of Cambodia’s population through starvation, overwork and execution between 1975-79 in a bid to forge an agrarian utopia.View gallery.”Cambodians line up to attend the trial of former Khmer Rouge leaders at the Extraordinary Chamber in …Cambodians who survived its brutality welcomed the plea for the harshest possible sentence. The kingdom does not use the death penalty.”I’m very happy. Justice is now near. The court must agree to this life imprisonment request because I lost 29 relatives under the Khmer Rouge,” said Chin Meth, 55, who watched the court proceedings.”I’m very happy with the request for life imprisonment,” said Norng Chan Phal, who as a child survived one of the regime’s most notorious prisons.”Finally justice is being rendered to us.”The two defendants, the most senior surviving Khmer Rouge cadres, were both in court to hear the requested sentence.View gallery.”This handout from the Extraordinary Chamber in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) shows prosecutor Chea L …The kingdom’s UN-backed court is moving closer to a verdict in the complex trial, which has been split into a series of smaller trials.The first trial has focused on the forced evacuation of people into rural labour camps and the related charges of crimes against humanity.’Utter brutality’The evacuation of Phnom Penh in April 1975 was one of the largest forced migrations in modern history.More than two million people were expelled from the capital at gunpoint and marched to rural labour camps.View gallery.”This handout photo taken and released by the Extraordinary Chamber in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) …”It’s a crime against humanity to send millions of people out into the hot countryside, to walk for days, weeks, sometimes months without any organised transportation or any provision of food, water or medical assistance,” said co-prosecutor William Smith.The Khmer Rouge leaders „implemented their criminal programme with utter brutality”, he said.”They decided on who lived and who died. They decided where and how their slaves lived.”The trial, which began hearing evidence in late 2011, is widely seen as a landmark in the nation’s quest for justice.Closing statements are scheduled to be completed by the end of the month, with a verdict expected in the first half of next year.View gallery.”This handout photo released by the Extraordinary Chamber in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) shows form …Other charges of genocide and war crimes are due to be heard in later hearings although no date has yet been set.The defendants deny the accusations, saying they were not aware of the atrocities committed under the regime — a claim rejected by prosecutors.Nuon Chea was „a man willing to kill even his own relatives and revolutionary brothers”, said Smith.Khieu Samphan was also „very involved in crimes”, he added.”The accused were certainly aware of the inhumane conditions faced by the evacuees sent out of the city into the countryside,” Smith said.The trial, which began hearing evidence in late 2011, is widely seen as a landmark in the nation’s quest for justice.Observers and survivors have long raised fears about the speed of proceedings and the advanced age of the accused.Another defendant, former foreign minister Ieng Sary, died aged 87 in March this year, while the case against his wife Ieng Thirith — also an ex-minister — was suspended after the court ruled dementia left her unfit to stand trial.In its historic first trial, the court in 2010 sentenced former prison chief Kaing Guek Eav to 30 years in prison — later increased to life on appeal — for overseeing the deaths of 15,000 people. Britain to cull thousands of rabbits on tiny Scottish island2 hours agoView galleryA rabbit walks in snow on March 20, 2013 in Marlow, northern Germany (AFP Photo/Bernd Wustneck)London (AFP) – The windswept Scottish island of Canna is home to just 12 people — and 16,000 rabbits. But thousands of the bunnies are set to be culled after their frantic burrowing caused a landslide, officials said Friday.The National Trust of Scotland, a conservation charity, said the rabbit population had to be brought back to a „sustainable” level as their digging is damaging buildings on the tiny, remote island off the west coast.”Steps have to be taken to bring the population back under control,” a National Trust spokeswoman told AFP.A landslide on Canna last week is being partly blamed on underground rabbit warrens which weakened the soil structure, she said.”That caused the only road on the island to be impassable for several days,” she added.Canna resident Winnie MacKinnon told The Times newspaper that the rabbits had even uncovered skeletons in the island’s cemetery.”The rabbits are digging up the graveyard and they’re dragging out the bones,” MacKinnon said.She added: „A lot of rabbit pie is being eaten but you cannot keep up with them.”The National Trust is currently looking for a contractor to carry out a cull on the seven-kilometre (four-mile) long island, which is part of Scotland’s ruggedly beautiful Inner Hebrides archipelago.The „most likely” solution is that the rabbits will be shot, the charity’s spokeswoman said. She declined to specify how many rabbits would be culled, but confirmed it would be in the thousands.It is only a few years since Canna was overrun with rats. In 2006 the National Trust launched a two-year operation to eradicate the island’s 5,000 rats, which had been threatening its seabird colony by gorging on unhatched eggs. How Alberta train derailment may hurt the government’s plansBy Steve Mertl | Daily Brew – 19 hours agoThe site of a train derailment near Gainford, Alta. REUTERS/Dan Riedlhuber photoThe weekend derailment and explosion of a petroleum-laden train near Edmonton was the last thing the Conservative government needed. The accident comes as the federal government tries to sell Canadians on its resource-based economic policy.The key to realizing the wealth we pull from the ground is transporting it to market. Pipelines are running into opposition from environmentalists and now rail, which once was taken for granted as a safe, viable alternative, is perceived as increasingly dubious at the same time as the volume shipped by rail has mushroomed.A CN Rail train hauling a mixture of oil and liquified petroleum gas (LPG) tank cars, went off the rails and exploded near Gainford, Alta., about 80 kilometres west of Edmonton, early Saturday morning.The hamlet of about 100 people was evacuated and no one was hurt. But the accident couldn’t help but remind people of the July 6 disaster in Lac-Megantic, Que., when 47 people died after a runaway trainload of American crude oil derailed in the centre of town and blew up, killing 47 people.Since then, Canadians have been treated to a steady diet of news reports about derailments, coupled with debate about the safety of tank cars that transport dangerous goods and of the rail lines themselves.[ Related: A look at some accidents involving trains in Canada in the last six months ]While none have been on the scale of Lac-Megantic, several resulted in oil or chemical spills. The Gainford derailment came closest.“I heard the cars tipping over and there was a huge crash that shook the house — then the fireball,” resident Jeanette Hall told CTV News Channel.The derailment happened 100 metres from her home, generating „unbearable heat.”“My entire front yard was on fire,” Hall said. “I can’t believe we walked away from that.”The fire was so intense and the danger of fresh explosions so high that firefighters opted to let the fire burn itself out.This latest accident has put CN Rail on the defensive. After all, it’s experienced three derailments involving dangerous goods in less than a month.The Canadian Press noted that two days before the Gainford explosion, a CN train derailed near Sexsmith, Alta., with four tank cars going off the tracks while carrying anhydrous ammonia. On Sept. 25, 17 cars of a CN train carrying petroleum, ethanol and chemicals derailed in western Saskatchewan.”CN’s safety record has been very solid, in terms of its main track derailments last year, they were the lowest on record,” CN spokesman Mark Hallman told CP.”The vast majority of commodities, such as dangerous commodities, that are transported from origin to destination, more than 99 per cent reach destination without any accidental release.”A one-per-cent accident rate for dangerous goods seems acceptable, unless that one per cent happens in your backyard.A look at the Transportation Safety Board’s statistics on main-track derailments in the first half of this year shows that while overall derailments rose slightly compared with 2012, they’re well below the five-year average. And derailments involving dangerous goods dropped to 37 from 42 in the same period, with the five-year average at 43.[ Related: CN, feds eyeing oil-by-rail to Prince Rupert, B.C., in same quantity as Gateway ]Train with petroleum derails, explodes in Gainford–Investigators survey the site of a train derailment near the hamlet of Gainford, west of Edmonton October 20, 2013. The Canadian National Railway train carrying petroleum crude oil and liquefied … more Greenpeace Canada is warning these kinds of derailments could become more frequent unless Ottawa really tackles rail safety, including rules for transporting oil on tank cars.”Unless they’re actually willing to bring in serious new safety measures for oil by rail, this will become the new normal,” Greenpeace climae and energy campaigner Keith Stewart told CP.„Three years ago, there was almost no oil being moved by rail. It’s been growing incredibly rapidly and it’s projected to keep growing that way and the safety standards in Canada simply have not kept up to the new ways to move new kinds of oil.”Hallman dismissed Stewart’s safety concerns, noting the oil tank cars at Gainford remained intact; it was the LPG cars that ruptured and caught fire.Federal Transport Minister Lisa Raitt’s office said in a statement Saturday that the government has spent more than $100 million on rail safety and boosted fines for companies that break the rules.Meanwhile in Argentina, at least 80 people were hurt after a commuter train crashed into the bumper at the end of the line at a Buenos Aires station Saturday, the same one where 52 people died last year in a similar accident, The Associated Press reported.Argentine Security Secretary Sergio Berni said it’s too early to say why the train failed to stop. The driver was given a routine alcohol test before his shift but it produced a negative result, Transportation Minister Florencio Randazzo said.Police had to intervene after a mob surrounded the wrecked train and chanted „murderer, murderer!” at the injured driver through the shattered cabin window, AP reported.It’s tempting to compare the two. Is Canada’s rail safety better than Argentina’s?Share your thoughts in the comments below.
View PhotoThis artist’s conception of Cygnus X-1 shows the black hole drawing material from …Black holes may not be bald after all.In a challenge to traditional models of the universe’s gravitational monsters, new research suggests black holes could be quite „hairy,” with more tangled features than previously believed.The gravitational attraction of black holes is so strong that even light cannot escape their pull, making these super-dense objects invisible to outside observers and almost indistinguishable from one another.”The accepted picture is that black holes are very simple objects that can be fully characterized by only 3 quantities: their mass, their angular momentum (how fast they spin) and their electric charge,” Thomas Sotiriou, a physicist at the International School for Advanced Studies of Trieste, told SPACE.com in an email.The electric charge, however, is usually negligibly small, and researchers typically throw it out when describing a black hole.Astronomer John Wheeler, who coined the term „black hole” nearly 50 years ago, famously said that „black holes have no hair” because of their simplicity. Now „hair” is used as a colloquial term among physicists as a stand-in for any other measure needed to describe a black hole that departs from the traditional three-quantity model.For their study, Sotiriou and his colleagues looked at black holes in the context of the equations of scalar-tensor theories of gravity.”These are theories different than Einstein’s theory, general relativity,” Sotiriou wrote in an email. „They also describe the gravitational field in term of curvature of spacetime and predict the existence of black holes. However, they include also a different kind of field — a scalar field — to participate to the mediation of the gravitational interaction.”The researchers found that black holes develop scalar „hair” when ordinary matter surrounds them.”This does not happen in the standard picture,” Sotiriou said.It’s not clear from the study if these strands of scalar „hair” make black holes look much different from the standard picture, and it’s not clear how observable the effect is with current technology, Sotiriou explained.Not only would the existence of „hair” help researchers understand the structure of black holes themselves, proof of „hairy” black holes could represent a paradigm shift, Sotiriou said, since Einstein’s theory does not include a scalar field.The study was detailed in the journal Physical Review Letters.Follow Megan Gannon on Twitter and Google+. Follow us @SPACEdotcom, Facebook or Google+. Originally published on SPACE.com.