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 veryhotthread  Author  Topic: Stuff & Nonsense  (Read 127741 times)
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« Reply #3930 on: May 7th, 2011, 11:17am »

Hollywood Reporter

Imagine Denies 'Dark Tower' Trilogy in Turnaround As Questions Mount

1:57 AM 5/6/2011
by Borys Kit, Matthew Belloni

The ambitious plan by Universal, Imagine Entertainment and NBC to turn Stephen King’s The Dark Tower opus into a film trilogy with a television supplement has hit a major snag.

Word leaked Thursday that Universal and its new owners at Comcast had serious budget issues with the massive project. Spearheaded by Imagine’s Ron Howard and Brian Grazer as well as writer-producer Akiva Goldsman, Dark Tower was to have been a film trilogy with a TV component in between the movies. Javier Bardem was in negotiations to star in the Howard-directed first movie and the first TV component, with options for the other two movies; in April, Mark Verheiden came aboard to co-write the TV component with Goldsman.

But multiple sources told THR Thursday that the project was in trouble and on the verge of being put in turnaround.

Imagine president Michael Rosenberg, however, vehemently denies that the project has been shelved.

"Dark Tower is not in turnaround," Rosenberg tells THR, adding "there are issues and on-going budget discussions with almost every film in development."

A Universal spokesperson declined to comment.

Two sources close to the project say that Comcast executives have heavily scrutinized the plan, mainly due to budgetary concerns. The sources also say that the final portion of the project has been found creatively lacking.

A final decision is said to be expected soon on whether to move forward, seek additional financing partners or cancel the project entirely. But cast and crew have been told to stop prepping the project.

If Dark Tower does become available to other studios, it won’t be a cheap project to take on. Insiders say that Universal paid $5 million for the rights. That doesn’t include the hefty fees for Howard, Grazer and Goldsman, not to mention Oscar-winner Bardem’s fees for not only the movie but the TV show (he’d be paid more than the average TV star).

Warner Bros. is one potential home for the project. The studio vied for Dark Tower rights last year and is already developing The Stand, King’s post-apocalyptic mega-novel. Insiders say Warners would at least kick the tires on Dark Tower.

Another potential home is Sony, for whom Imagine and Goldman made The Da Vinci Code and its sequel, Angels & Demons.

This isn't the first time a pricey Universal project has been stopped in its tracks by the Comcast regime. At the Mountains of Madness, Guillermo del Toro's $150 million horror project with Tom Cruise attached, was put into turnaround earlier this year.

Sources said that if Universal were to put Dark Tower into turnaround, it would incur a $10 million penalty.

Kim Masters contributed to this report.

http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/heat-vision/imagine-denies-dark-tower-trilogy-185926

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« Reply #3931 on: May 8th, 2011, 07:40am »

New York Times

May 7, 2011
Nuclear Agency Is Criticized as Too Close to Its Industry
By TOM ZELLER Jr.

In the fall of 2007, workers at the Byron nuclear power plant in Illinois were using a wire brush to clean a badly corroded steel pipe — one in a series that circulate cooling water to essential emergency equipment — when something unexpected happened: the brush poked through.

The resulting leak caused a 12-day shutdown of the two reactors for repairs.

The plant’s owner, the Exelon Corporation, had long known that corrosion was thinning most of these pipes. But rather than fix them, it repeatedly lowered the minimum thickness it deemed safe. By the time the pipe broke, Exelon had declared that pipe walls just three-hundredths of an inch thick — less than one-tenth the original minimum thickness — would be good enough.

Though no radioactive material was released, safety experts say that if enough pipes had ruptured during a reactor accident, the result could easily have been a nuclear catastrophe at a plant just 100 miles west of Chicago.

Exelon’s risky decisions occurred under the noses of on-site inspectors from the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission. No documented inspection of the pipes was made by anyone from the N.R.C. for at least the eight years preceding the leak, and the agency also failed to notice that Exelon kept lowering the acceptable standard, according to a subsequent investigation by the commission’s inspector general.

Exelon’s penalty? A reprimand for two low-level violations — a tepid response all too common at the N.R.C., said George A. Mulley Jr., a former investigator with the inspector general’s office who led the Byron inquiry. “They always say, ‘Oh, but nothing happened,’ ” Mr. Mulley said. “Well, sooner or later, our luck — you know, we’re going to end up rolling craps.”

Critics have long painted the commission as well-intentioned but weak and compliant, and incapable of keeping close tabs on an industry to which it remains closely tied. The concerns have greater urgency because of the crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi plant in Japan, which many experts say they believe was caused as much by lax government oversight as by a natural disaster.

The Byron pipe leak is just one recent example of the agency’s shortcomings, critics say. It has also taken nearly 30 years for the commission to get effective fireproofing installed in plants after an accident in Alabama. The N.R.C.’s decision to back down in a standoff with the operator of an Ohio plant a decade ago meant that a potentially dangerous hole went undetected for months. And the number of civil penalties paid by licensees has plummeted nearly 80 percent since the late 1990s — a reflection, critics say, of the commission’s inclination to avoid ruffling the feathers of the nuclear industry and its Washington lobbyists.

Although the agency says plants are operating more safely today than they were at the dawn of the nuclear industry, when shutdowns were common, safety experts, Congressional critics and even the agency’s own internal monitors say the N.R.C. is prone to dither when companies complain that its proposed actions would cost time or money. The promise of lucrative industry work after officials leave the commission probably doesn’t help, critics say, pointing to dozens over the years who have taken jobs with nuclear power companies and lobbying firms.

Now, as most of the country’s 104 aging reactors are applying for, and receiving, 20-year extensions from the N.R.C on their original 40-year licenses, reform advocates say a thorough review of the system is urgently needed.

The agency’s shortcomings are especially vexing because Congress created it in the mid-1970s to separate the government’s roles as safety regulator and promoter of nuclear energy — an inherent conflict that dogged its predecessor, the Atomic Energy Commission.

“It wasn’t much of a change,” said Peter A. Bradford, a former N.R.C. commissioner who now teaches at Vermont Law School. “The N.R.C. inherited the regulatory staff and adopted the rules and regulations of the A.E.C. intact.”

Mr. Bradford said the nuclear industry had implicitly or explicitly supported every nomination to the commission until Gregory B. Jaczko’s in 2005. Mr. Jaczko, who was elevated to chairman by President Obama in 2009, had previously worked for both Representative Edward J. Markey, the Massachusetts Democrat and longtime critic of the nuclear industry, and Senator Harry Reid, the Nevada Democrat and current Senate majority leader who sought to block a nuclear waste repository in his state.

Mr. Jaczko acknowledges that the agency needs to move faster on some safety issues. But he defends its record. “I certainly feel very strongly that this is an independent regulator that will make what it thinks are the right decisions when it comes to safety,” he said. “There will be people who will agree, and some people who will disagree. That’s part of the process.”

For all the agency’s shortcomings as a regulator, even the most vocal critics acknowledge that it should not be compared to the Minerals Management Service, the scandal-plagued agency that oversaw the oil and gas industry and was reorganized by Mr. Obama after the BP oil spill last year.

Still, David Lochbaum, a frequent critic of the N.R.C. who recently worked as a reactor technology instructor there, said the agency too often rolled the dice on safety. “The only difference between Byron and Fukushima is luck,” he said.

No Rejections

In recent years, the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant in Vernon, Vt., has had several serious operational problems.

Situated on the banks of the Connecticut River, the 39-year-old Vermont Yankee, whose reactor is similar in design to the stricken plant in Japan, suffered the partial collapse of a cooling tower in 2007. In January 2010, the plant’s operator, Entergy, discovered that nearby soil and groundwater had been contaminated by radioactive tritium, which had apparently leaked from underground piping. Just months before, the company assured state lawmakers that no such piping existed at the plant.

The Vermont Senate, concerned about the problems, voted overwhelmingly last year to prevent the plant from operating beyond the scheduled expiration of its license on March 21, 2012 — invoking a 2006 state law, unique to Vermont, that requires legislative approval for continued operations.

But one day before the quake and tsunami that set Japan’s crisis in motion, the N.R.C. approved Vermont Yankee’s bid for license renewal — just as it has for 62 other plants so far. Its fate is now the subject of a federal lawsuit.

“How does a place like that get a license renewal?” Mr. Lochbaum said. “Because they asked for one. Absent dead bodies, nothing seems to deter the N.R.C. from sustaining reactor operation.”

Indeed, no renewal application has been turned down by the agency since the first one was granted in 2000, although some have been sent back for more work before winning approval.

It was not always so.

When the industry first set out in the 1980s to prove that the original 40-year licenses on its aging plants could be safely renewed for 20 years, two plants — Yankee Rowe in Massachusetts and Monticello in Minnesota — were offered as test cases. The N.R.C.’s criteria for relicensing essentially required that operators prove that they were in compliance with their current license and that they had an adequate plan to manage the aging equipment for the extra 20 years. That tripped up Yankee Rowe’s bid, because inspectors looking at its current operations found serious flaws in its reactor vessel. Rather than earn a renewal, the plant shut down with eight years left on its original license.

The failure threw the industry into turmoil. In 1992, Northern States Public Power, owner of the Monticello plant, complained that the agency was examining details beyond those necessary for license renewal.

With billions of dollars of revenue and investment at stake for each plant, the N.R.C. changed the rules in 1995, scrapping the requirement that operators prove they were complying with their current license. Instead, the renewal process would focus only on the aging management plan. The agency described the change as providing a “more stable and predictable regulatory process for license renewal.”

But James Riccio, a nuclear policy analyst with Greenpeace, said, “The N.R.C. rule change gutted a substantive process and replaced it with a rubber stamp. They placed industry profits ahead of public safety.”

To be sure, license renewal is still arduous. According to a 2007 audit by the inspector general’s office, an operator typically spends two years and up to $20 million preparing an application, and the commission on average spends two years and $4 million reviewing it.

But the audit also concluded that it was often impossible to know whether the agency had truly conducted an independent review of an application or why approval was granted. In some cases, for example, long passages in the commission’s assessment of a renewal appeared to have been simply copied and pasted directly from the application.

And in a 2008 follow-up memo described to a reporter, the N.R.C.’s inspector general, Hubert T. Bell, went further, suggesting that the N.R.C. staff was unable to adequately document its reviews and may have destroyed essential records.

Asked about those issues, Mr. Jaczko said that the copying and repetition was intentional.

“We want licensees to take those programs that we find are the best practices and use those,” he said. “So in many cases, those were showing up in applications and the staff was then looking at those and saying yes, those were acceptable.”

more after the jump
http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/08/business/energy-environment/08nrc.html?_r=1&hp

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« Reply #3932 on: May 8th, 2011, 07:44am »

Guardian

Muslim-Christian clashes kill 10 in Cairo

Two churches set on fire after claims a Christian woman was being prevented from converting to Islam

Ian Black in Cairo
Sunday 8 May 2011 12.28 BST


Egypt's transitional government has called a crisis meeting after Muslim-Christian clashes in Cairo left 10 dead and cast a new cloud over hopes for peaceful post-revolutionary change.

A Coptic church in the Imaba neighbourhood was set on fire after fighting broke out over claims that a Christian woman was being held and prevented from converting to Islam.

Initials reports on Egyptian state TV said six Muslims and three Copts had been killed, and there were nearly 200 injured. The death toll later rose to 10. The army, sensitive to alarm about deteriorating security, was quick to announce that 190 people arrested in connection with the violence would be tried in military courts.

Eyewitness described how several hundred Muslims massed outside the St Mina church demanding the woman be surrendered. Gunfire rang out and stones and petrol bombs were thrown before the army and emergency services were able to bring the situation under control. A second church was burned down.

Imbaba, which has some of Cairo's worst slums, was quiet but tense on Sunday, with tanks, troops and police on the streets. Copts called for a march to the US embassy off Tahrir Square to demand international protection.

Egyptian media described the attackers as Salafis, strictly fundamentalist Muslims who want to see the imposition of sharia law. The Salafis, often with links to Saudi Arabia, are seen as having gained prominence because security is far less repressive now than before the revolution. It is also widely believed that elements of the Hosni Mubarak regime are encouraging them.

"It's the previous regime that is responsible for this," one resident said at the scene. George Ishaq, a pro-democracy activist, said: "We demand that the higher military council punish all those responsible. This is a crime, not sectarian strife."

The incident was quickly condemned by the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt's main Islamist group. "We should crack down on that violence and not let those people ruin what we achieved in the January revolution," Essam El-Erian, the brotherhood spokesman, warned in a TV interview. "The Imbaba incident clearly shows that there are some people who are still working behind the scenes to ignite sectarian strife in Egypt."

Erian echoed suggestions that attacks were encouraged by members of the now disbanded National Democratic party, which ruled Egypt during the Mubarak era.

Last month 13 people died in similar Muslim-Coptic clashes in another neighbourhood of the capital. Copts make up about 10% of Egypt's 80 million people.

Over the weekend democracy activists held a conference to discuss the future of the revolution before parliamentary elections planned for September.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/may/08/muslim-christian-clashes-cairo-church

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« Reply #3933 on: May 8th, 2011, 07:47am »

LA Times

Families of dead miners feel let down by Washington

A year after 29 coal miners were killed in West Virginia, a safety bill has failed and a backlog of safety cases has grown.

By Kim Geiger, Tom Hamburger and Doug Smith, Washington Bureau

May 8, 2011
Reporting from Montcoal, W.Va.

As he delivered a eulogy last year for 29 men killed in the worst coal mine disaster in four decades, President Obama bowed his head and repeated a plea he had heard from mining families: "Don't let this happen again."

Looking at the audience that filled the Beckley, W.Va., convention center hall, he asked: "How can we fail them?"

A year later, many family members say that Washington has failed them, and some of the president's closest congressional allies agree.

While there have been improvements, many of the glaring problems revealed by the explosion at the Upper Big Branch mine remain unaddressed.

At the top of the list: a regulatory system that allowed mine operators cited for repeated safety violations to keep operating while they pursued appeals that can drag on for a year or more. At the time of the explosion in April 2010, the appeals system had a backlog of 16,000 cases. Today, the backlog has grown to more than 19,000 appeals.

"We've been messing around for a year," said Rep .George Miller (D-Martinez), who introduced a bill last summer that would have dealt with the backlog and other issues brought to light by the deadly explosion. "The sad thing is that nothing will happen until the next major disaster."

Miller's proposal included provisions that miners and their families had requested repeatedly: protection for whistle-blowers and greater liability for corporate officers who knowingly put workers at risk.

But the bill was defeated in the House last year as an anti-government mood swept the country and an industry lobbying campaign targeted swing-district members. Campaign contributions from the industry spiked shortly after the explosion and rose steadily through the rest of the year.

At first, Miller thought a broad-scale approach would succeed. Public sympathy for miners was high after the explosion, and passions were inflamed by reports that the mine owner, Massey Energy Co., had one of the nation's worst records for safety violations — and a routine practice of contesting them.

Current law allows mines to delay elevated sanctions by appealing citations that could be used as a basis for shutting down mines.

Safety violations at the Upper Big Branch mine spiked in 2009. Federal regulators ordered miners out of portions of the mine for repeated serious violations at nearly 19 times the national rate.

"Why wasn't it made to shut down?" asked Gary Quarles, a miner who formerly worked in the Upper Big Branch mine and whose son Gary Wayne Quarles died in the accident.

Ten days after the explosion, Obama told federal officials that action was necessary to "tackle the backlog of cases" that allowed some companies "to evade their responsibilities" for safety by taking advantage of delays.

Officials of the Mine Safety and Health Administration said Upper Big Branch should have been flagged for shutdown well before the explosion. A preliminary report on the explosion suggests that a serious safety violation — failure to deal with combustible coal dust — may have contributed to the deadly blast.

Massey did not accept those findings. M. Shane Harvey, Massey's general counsel, said safety had been a company priority.

"We treat citations seriously and we are working diligently to constantly improve safety at our operations," Harvey said. "Massey has urged Congress to provide the resources to clean up the appeals backlog. The backlog does not benefit Massey or any other operator."

Nearly 300 citations issued at Upper Big Branch between January 2008 and the time of last year's explosion are still pending review by the appeals board.

GOP members of Congress argued that Miller's proposal was too sweeping, and premature. After all, they said, the official final report on the explosion had not yet been completed.

Industry lobbying against the bill was intense. The National Mining Assn. alone reported spending $3.2 million on lobbying last year, a portion of it to oppose Miller's bill. That effort was joined by hundreds of other companies and trade associations including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Overall, the mining industry made $6.4 million in political donations in the 2010 cycle, according to data provided by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, which developed a detailed history of mining industry lobbying and campaign expenditures in collaboration with The Los Angeles Times.

The industry coalition targeted vulnerable moderate Democrats in swing districts, warning them that the legislation could cost jobs.

Concerned about the fraying prospects, Miller removed sections of his bill governing construction workers and sand and gravel mines. But he insisted on including underground gold, copper and other hard-rock mineral mines after two workers died in an accident at a Nevada gold mine last August.

Nevada Democratic Reps. Shelly Berkley and Dina Titus were among those who had expressed support for Miller's effort — in part because it initially included provisions to protect construction workers — but ultimately voted against the amended bill.

Titus said in a recent interview that the legislation should have focused only on coal mining.

"If the bill was not as far-reaching, it would have had a better chance," she said.

Berkley did not respond to requests for comment.

Titus received $21,000 in campaign contributions from mining interests during the 2010 cycle, and Berkeley received $22,000.

Just before the House voted last December, the Chamber of Commerce designated the bill as a "key vote," a signal that it could be used to help determine which candidates to support or oppose in upcoming elections.

The bill failed to win the two-thirds majority necessary to pass in the House during the hectic lame-duck session.

The Obama administration's mine safety chief, Joseph Main, said that despite the legislative failure, his division launched its own surprise-inspection initiatives, issued unprecedented shutdown orders and obtained funds for increased personnel to help reduce the backlog at the Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission, which considers appeals from his division.

The agency issued 20 withdrawal orders at another Massey mine last month after a surprise inspection revealed conditions that "place miners at serious risk to the threat of fire, explosion and black lung."

While Main said he believed mines were safer today than they were a year ago, he acknowledged that his effort had had only a limited effect. In part that's because of the backlog: Increased enforcement produced more citations, which produced more appeals, contributing to longer delays.

Among family members of the dead miners, the inaction in Washington has brought a mixture of disappointment and despondency.

Last year's 48 mining deaths represented the highest fatality rate in coal mining since 1992.

"How many lives is it going to take before Congress realizes that these miners need more protection than what they've got?" asked Clay Mullins, a miner whose brother died inside the Upper Big Branch mine.


http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/la-na-coal-mine-safety-20110508,0,3265401.story

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« Reply #3934 on: May 8th, 2011, 07:59am »

Geeky Gadgets

Thermochromic Urinal Makes Peeing Fun
By Glenn Santos


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Alright, cat’s out of the bag. The truth is we’ve always enjoyed drawing stuff with pee. A gross use of body fluid, yes, but creativity has no bounds. Such a mindset likely produced the Thermochromic Urinal pictured. There’s scant detail about who made it or where it’s used. Judging by the photographic evidence, however, it does take a fresh approach to the concept of a urinal.

As its name suggests, the Thermochromic Urinal is a heat sensitive wall that registers the temperature of the urine on its surface. It’s nutty, but also looks like fun. (And a work of art.)

Since the pee graphic is done in bright orange, the Thermochromic Urinal presents a rare opportunity for pee artists to scrawl their names with whizz. Amazing.

http://www.geeky-gadgets.com/thermochromic-urinal-makes-peeing-fun01-05-2011/

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« Reply #3935 on: May 8th, 2011, 12:14pm »

Reuters

By Natsuko Waki
LONDON | Fri May 6, 2011 11:43am EDT

LONDON (Reuters) - A commodities sell-off is bringing a sudden chill to financial markets where investors were already turning cautious about the prospect of a slowdown in China and other emerging economies given steady monetary tightening.

Silver and crude oil saw a dramatic plunge in the past week, registering record single-day falls on Thursday.

Oil has lost as much as 17 percent in the past week alone, while the broader Reuters-Jefferies CRB index, a global commodity benchmark, dropped more than 8 percent, on track for its biggest weekly fall since July 2008.

While moves are seen more driven by unwinding of speculative positions rather than a sudden reappraisal of the otherwise favorable global economic outlook, they are enough to prompt investors to scale back their risky bets.

The coming week brings key data and events for China, whose series of policy actions to curb inflation raised jitters growth momentum is slowing in the world's second largest economy.

The China-U.S. strategic and economic dialogue kicks off on Monday, with data on trade balance, inflation, industrial production and retail sales all due later in the week.

Emerging stocks, measured by MSCI have erased almost all of their gains since January, while their developed counterparts

have fallen more than 3 percent from their three-year peak set in the past week.

"We see high correlations between equities and commodities, due to a demand effect coming from emerging economies, and that's contributing to a general move toward a defensive stance," said Christoph Riniker, strategist at Julius Baer.

"It will be difficult for equities in the next few weeks and we may have a prolonged period of sideways trading before the market picks up again. But we don't expect a huge sell-off given there's a lack of opportunities in other asset classes.

China has raised interest rates four times and banks' reserve requirements seven times since October, when it declared that it would make fighting inflation a priority.

Beijing has also allowed the yuan to rise against the dollar by guiding it toward successive record peaks. Many expect the yuan to post steady gains throughout this year.

Central banks in Korea, Chile and Poland are expected to raise interest rates in their policy meetings in the coming week, joining Russia and India which have already raised the cost of borrowing in the past week.

TAKING A BREAK

Equities are increasingly moving in tandem with commodities, with the 60-day rolling correlation between the CRB index and MSCI world equity index moving to 0.7, its highest since July 2010, from a recent low of 0.1 posted in March. Thomson Reuters' Lipper data showed funds that focus on metals, resources and energy took a hit in the week ended May 4.

The gold and natural resource funds had net outflows of $729 million, the most in net redemptions since the week ended September 2, 2009. Energy sector funds had outflows of $723 million, a reversal from the $343 million inflows in the prior week.

Over the past week the economic data flow has turned less positive, with global surveys showing manufacturing growth in the United States and China slowing in April.

"Commodity markets have a tendency to cascade because speculators are positioned simultaneously, creating a rush for the exit," said John Ventre, portfolio manager at Skandia Investment Group.

"For real money investors a soft patch in data is not significant enough to warrant significant asset allocation changes. I would come back to neutral see if opportunities appear over the summer."

Growth momentum in export-driven economies such as Germany might also turn lower given the dollar's recent decline to a three-year low, at a time when inflationary pressures in the euro zone stand at a 30-month high.

Goldman Sachs said the S&P 500 index has not fully reflected the recent downshift in the macro picture, saying that a short-term correction to the 1,275 area was possible.

"As the recent data suggest, if we are no longer in a period of accelerating growth and if the data continue to point to a slowing cycle, a short-term tactical index correction... would not be hard to envisage," Goldman said in a note to clients.

JP Morgan has taken profit on its aggressive longs in equities within its model portfolio given the impact of growth downgrades, while it stayed net long on stocks.

"The earnings surprise phase is now completed and attention is likely to shift to the economic data flow... Any remaining downside growth risks are not enough, though, for us to turn flat on equities as we do believe that much of recent economic weakening will turn out temporary."

(Editing by Toby Chopra)

http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/05/06/us-markets-weekahead-idUSTRE7452U120110506

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« Reply #3936 on: May 8th, 2011, 1:08pm »

Purr! Calm down! grin

Telegraph

Charging towards the camera in all its fearsome glory, it is clear this lion was not too keen on having his photograph taken.

By Richard Alleyne, Science Correspondent
5:06PM BST 08 May 2011

The picture, taken in the Kalahari Desert, in South Africa, was one of the winning entries in the Travel Photographer of the Year competition currently going on display at Royal Geographical Society.

It was taken by the renowned Dutch photographer Marsel Van Oosten last year.

The exhibition includes images from the mud mosque in Djenne, Mali, to a young boy swimming with his pet shark in Indonesia.

Featuring the winning shots from the 2010 awards, the exhibition has been curated by the renowned British landscape photographer Nick Meers.

It also some items from the Society’s remarkable archive of more than half a million artworks, negatives, lantern slides and albums including iconic images such as Herbert Ponting and Frank Hurley’s Antarctica photographs.


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Marsel Van Oosten


The free exhibition, due to run until 10 June,

Meanwhile, the 2011 TPOTY competition is opening for entries on Tuesday.

Categories include "Cultures and Traditions", "Exotic", "Natural Elements" and "Spirit of Adventure".

Dr Rita Gardner, Director of the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) said: “Photography has a unique power to instantly inspire and inform us in equal measure about the landscapes, people and places of our world.

"As an avid photographer, I welcome this opportunity for the Society’s historic collection to be linked with some of the very best contemporary images, reflecting our long-term commitment to the photographic image as both a means of visual record and also as a source of pleasure and inspiration.”

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/wildlife/8501063/Fearsome-beauty-lion-is-caught-on-camera-in-full-charge.html

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« Reply #3937 on: May 9th, 2011, 08:12am »

Washington Post

Japanese utility to shut 3 coastal nuclear reactors while seawall, tsunami defenses added

By Associated Press
Updated: Monday, May 9, 5:23 AM

TOKYO — A Japanese utility agreed Monday to shutter three nuclear reactors at a coastal power plant while it builds a seawall and improves other tsunami defenses there.

Chubu Electric Power Co. acted at a special board meeting after Prime Minister Naoto Kan requested the temporary shutdown at the Hamaoka plant amid concerns an earthquake magnitude 8.0 or higher could strike the central Japanese region sometime within 30 years.

The government’s decision came after evaluating Japan’s 54 reactors for quake and tsunami vulnerability after the March 11 disasters that crippled the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant in northeast Japan.

Chubu Electric President Akihisa Mizuno described Kan’s request as “extremely serious.” His company’s response reflects its commitment to putting safety first, he said.

“We believe that our efforts to strengthen safety will restore trust among people in the region and society,” he said at a news conference.

The utility will shutter the No. 4 and No. 5 reactors at the plant, Mizuno said. It will also indefinitely delay a planned resumption of the No. 3 reactor, which has been shut down for regular maintenance since late last year.

The plant’s non-operating No. 1 and No. 2 reactors were slated for decommission before the disaster.

About 79,800 people live within a 6-mile (10-kilometer) radius of the Hamaoka plant about 125 miles (200 kilometers) west of Tokyo.

Nuclear energy provides more than one-third of Japan’s electricity, and shutting the Hamaoka plant is likely to exacerbate power shortages expected this summer. The three reactors account for more than 10 percent of Chubu’s power supply.

The Hamaoka plant is a key power provider to central Japan, including nearby Aichi, home of Toyota Motor Corp.

The company estimates electricity demand will climb to 25.6 million kilowatts per month during July and August when temperatures are highest. Without power from the Hamaoka plant, it is projecting “a very difficult” situation through the summer, Mizuno said.

Kan told reporters he welcomed the news.

“It was a very good decision,” he said, adding that his administration would do its best to help Chubu avoid power shortfalls.

Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry Banri Kaieda said the government stands ready to provide financial support to the utility to cover related costs and losses.

Since the March 11 disasters, Chubu Electric drew safety measures that include building a 40-foot-high (12-meter) seawall nearly a mile (1.5 kilometers) long over the next two to three years, company officials said. Chubu also promised to install more emergency backup generators and other equipment and improve the water tightness of the reactor buildings.

The Hamaoka plant lacks a concrete sea barrier now. Sand hills between the ocean and the plant are up to 50 feet (15 meters) high, deemed enough to defend against a tsunami around 26 feet (8 meters) high, officials said.

The company said the reactors would be shut down after preparations are made, but it did not specify a target date. The government earlier estimated the improvements could take two years.

The operator of the Fukushima nuclear plant, Tokyo Electric Power Co., has said the tsunami that wrecked critical power and cooling systems there was at least 46 feet (14 meters) high.

The March 11 quake and tsunami left more than 25,000 people dead or missing on the northeast coast and triggered the worst nuclear crisis since Chernobyl in 1986.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/utility-to-shut-down-hamaoka-nuclear-plant-in-central-japan-over-safety-concerns/2011/05/09/AFLVqNWG_story.html?hpid=z3

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« Reply #3938 on: May 9th, 2011, 08:20am »

NASA

NASA Managers Meet to Discuss Endeavour's Launch
Mon, 09 May 2011
05:37:35 AM PDT


NASA managers have retargeted space shuttle Endeavour's launch to no earlier than Monday, May 16. After a meeting on Friday, they also extended the length of Endeavour's STS-134 mission to the International Space Station from 14 to 16 days. If Endeavour launches on May 16, liftoff would be at 8:56 a.m. EDT.

At 3 p.m. today, NASA Space Shuttle Program Launch Integration Manager Mike Moses and Shuttle Launch Director Mike Leinbach will hold a news conference at Kennedy Space Center in Florida to discuss the progress of repairs since Endeavour's launch postponement on April 29. The news conference will air live on NASA Television and online at www.nasa.gov/ntv.

Over the weekend, Kennedy technicians installed and checked out new wiring that bypasses the suspect electrical wiring connecting the switchbox to the heaters. They also ran the heaters for up to 30 minutes to verify they are working properly and complete retesting of the other systems powered by the switchbox. Teams will begin closing out Endeavour's aft compartment and will begin launch countdown preps today.

http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/shuttle/main/index.html

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« Reply #3939 on: May 9th, 2011, 08:26am »

Wired Threat Level

Battle Brews Over FBI’s Warrantless GPS Tracking
By Kim Zetter
May 9, 2011 | 7:00 am
Categories: Surveillance


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An abandoned FBI vehicle-tracking device.
Photo: Jon Snyder/Wired.com



Kathy Thomas knew she was under surveillance. The animal rights and environmental activist had been trailed daily by cops over several months, and had even been stopped on occasion by police and FBI agents.

But when the surveillance seemed to halt suddenly in mid-2005 after she confronted one of the agents, she thought it was all over. Months went by without a peep from the FBI surveillance teams that had been tracking her in undercover vehicles and helicopters. That’s when it occurred to her to check her car.

Rumors had been swirling among activists that the FBI might be using GPS to track them — two activists in Colorado discovered mysterious devices attached to their car bumpers in 2003 — so Thomas (a pseudonym) went out to the vehicle in a frenzy and ran her hands beneath the rear bumper. She was only half-surprised to find a small electronic device and foot-long battery wand secured to her metal fender with industrial-strength magnets.

“I think I must have found it right after they put it on, because there was no grime on it at all,” she told Wired.com recently.

The use of GPS tracking devices is poised to become one of the most contentious privacy issues before the Supreme Court, if it agrees to hear an appeal filed by the Obama administration last month. The administration is seeking to overturn a ruling by a lower court that law enforcement officials must obtain a warrant before using a tracker.

The constitutional matter until now has been left to district courts around the country to decide, resulting in a patchwork of conflicting rulings. Meanwhile, a federal lawsuit filed in May by an Arab-American college student alleges that the FBI violated his privacy rights by placing the device on his car without a warrant, and that the bureau targeted him simply because of his ethnic background.

In the midst of this legal controversy, Threat Level decided to take a look inside one of the devices — which are generally custom-made for law enforcement. Working with the teardown artists at iFixit, we examined the device Thomas found on her car nearly six years ago, which you can see in the photos and video accompanying this story.

When Thomas found the device on her vehicle back in 2005, she ripped it from the underside of her fender, but quickly grew fearful the FBI would raid her house if agents suspected she’d removed it. So she carried it in a duffel bag in her trunk for a week, while she and her boyfriend considered what to do.

When her lawyer called a local U.S. attorney to inquire about the device, the prosecutor acknowledged it belonged to the feds and said they wanted it back. But Thomas refused to hand it over, and the FBI seemed to drop the matter. Her attorney told Threat Level the government “basically abandoned it.”

She provided it to Wired.com recently, after reading the story about Afifi discovering a tracker on his car. She said she wanted to raise more awareness about how the technology is being used for stealth surveillance.

GPS vehicle trackers, based on technology first used by the military for navigation, have become a popular law enforcement tool for tracking people. Cruder than other forms of surveillance — they report only where a suspect’s car goes, not who is in the car or what occupants do when they arrive at a location — it’s nonetheless frequently used for supplementary surveillance. That’s because in most jurisdictions, investigators don’t need court approval to slap a tracking device on a driver’s car, and because the devices provide a stealthier and more cost-effective approach to surveillance than a team of cops trailing a suspect around the clock.

The devices, however, have become one of the most divisive Fourth Amendment issues facing courts around the country. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in California ruled last year that using a GPS tracker was no different than physically trailing a suspect in public, and that such surveillance was not protected by the Fourth Amendment, even if agents placed the device on a suspect’s car while it was parked in his driveway.

But Judge Alex Kosinski, in the dissenting opinion, called the use of GPS trackers without a court order “straight out of George Orwell’s novel 1984” and said they give government “the power to track the movements of every one of us, every day of our lives.”

A federal appeals court in Washington, D.C., agreed with him when it ruled in a different case last year that collecting data from a GPS device planted on the Jeep of drug suspect Antoine Jones amounted to a search, and therefore required a warrant. Prosecutors argued that the device only collected the same information anyone on a public street could glean from following the suspect. But Judge Douglas Ginsburg wrote in his ruling that the persistent, nonstop surveillance afforded by a GPS tracker was much different from physically tracking a suspect on a single trip.

“Unlike one’s movements during a single journey, the whole of one’s movement over the course of a month is not actually exposed to the public because the likelihood anyone will observe all those movements is effectively nil,” he wrote. What’s more, the bulk of data gleaned by such a device over time could help deduce a lot about a person, such as whether he associated with political groups, was a heavy drinker or weekly churchgoer, was an unfaithful husband or an outpatient receiving regular medical treatment.

The Obama administration called the ruling “vague and unworkable,” and filed a writ in April asking the U.S. Supreme Court to review the case. A decision on whether the high court will hear the case is pending.

It’s not known how many people are tracked with GPS devices every year, but the devices don’t always go undetected. An elderly Arab-American in the San Francisco Bay Area reportedly discovered a vehicle tracker on his car in 2009, while he attended a free auto-repair workshop and let the instructor demonstrate an oil change on his vehicle.

A 20-year-old Arab-American college student named Yasir Afifi discovered a device attached to his car last year when he took the vehicle into an auto shop for an oil change. After a friend posted photos of it on Reddit.com, and readers identified it as a GPS tracker, the FBI showed up at Afifi’s apartment demanding he return the device. He’s since filed a lawsuit (.pdf) over the tracking.

Although the Justice Department has said the devices are used by investigators “with great frequency,” neither the department nor local law enforcement agencies are required to compile or disclose statistics about their use in the way the Justice Department is required to report annually to Congress on the use of national security letters issued to ISPs and other businesses for customer records.

Kathy Thomas doesn’t know if the FBI obtained a warrant to place the tracker on her car. But she said authorities never charged her with any crime. Threat Level could find no federal case filed against her.

Her FBI file, which she obtained under a Freedom of Information Act request, makes it clear the surveillance was part of a nationwide investigation of activists connected to Earth First, the Earth Liberation Front and the Animal Liberation Front — groups the FBI considered “left-wing anarchists” whose members sometimes advocated criminal activity to further their aims.

Thomas, who provided Threat Level with only a handful of the 800 redacted pages she received in her request, says she organized activities with Earth First and participated in animal rights activities, but never belonged to the two other groups. Instead, she was a member of Food Not Bombs.

The FBI reports indicate agents likely turned to the GPS tracking device after it became increasingly difficult to tail her physically.

Thomas had begun engaging in countersurveillance maneuvers, FBI agents claimed in the documents, including speeding, running red lights, making unsafe lane changes and weaving through congested traffic to evade them. A July 2004 report describes how she drove one day into the cul-de-sac where she lived and sped around to confront and photograph cars she believed were tailing her. The report says Thomas was becoming “extremely surveillance-conscious,” and that agents “were made [recognized as agents] on two separate occasions.”

Thomas says the surveillance was a daily occurrence for months. Then in April 2005 she confronted an agent who was following her on the freeway. She took an exit ramp and stopped, and when he pulled up behind her, she got out of her car to yell at him, shaking a glass Perrier bottle in her hand. She says the agent laughed at her, and after that the surveillance stopped. Or so she thought.

She found the GPS tracker on her car a few months later.

http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2011/05/gps/

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« Reply #3940 on: May 9th, 2011, 08:30am »

LA Times

Autism rates may be higher than thought

In a South Korea study, the first to take a broad look at the prevalence of autism spectrum disorders,
researchers find one case in every 38 children. The incidence may be similar in the U.S.

By Shari Roan, Los Angeles Times
10:36 PM PDT, May 8, 2011

The incidence of autism may be much higher than previously thought in the United States and elsewhere in the world, according to a rigorous, comprehensive study of the condition conducted in South Korea, researchers reported Monday.

In the first study to take a broad-population look at the prevalence of autism spectrum disorders — types of autism ranging from severe symptoms to the milder Asperger's syndrome — researchers found a rate of 2.64% among South Korean children. That's 1 in 38 children, a rate far higher than the estimate of 1 in 110 children for the U.S. by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The study, being published Monday in the American Journal of Psychiatry, suggests that, under rigorous examination, many more children may be affected than previously suspected.

The study "is different in the sense that they are screening the entire population of children" including those who have never been flagged with a potential problem, said Geraldine Dawson, chief scientific officer of the research and advocacy group Autism Speaks and an autism researcher at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. "It raises a question, I think, of whether we are underestimating the prevalence in the U.S. as well as elsewhere."

The five-year study, funded partly by Autism Speaks and led by Dr. Young-Shin Kim of the Yale Child Study Center, differed significantly in methodology from earlier autism-prevalence studies. This likely accounts for the dramatically different findings, Kim said.

Previous studies assessing population-wide autism rates typically focused on high-risk populations — such as classrooms of special education students. In contrast, the study conducted in South Korea assessed more than 55,000 children, ages 7 to 12, not only from special education classrooms and mental health service organizations but also regular schools.

Using several diagnostic techniques and measures to evaluate the children, the study found that the rates of autism spectrum disorder among the children in special education and mental health services programs were similar to estimates elsewhere in the world — from 0.6% to 1.8% of the population.

But when students in regular schools were part of the assessment, the prevalence rate rose to 2.64%.

Children in regular schools are more likely to be higher functioning and thus undiagnosed. The study in South Korea found, for example, that many of the children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder who were in regular schools "looked very different" from autistic students in special education classes, Kim said. Many had Asperger's syndrome, a milder form of the condition. These children tended to have normal intelligence but poor social skills.

Kim said children in regular American classrooms should be included in future studies to get a better measure of the incidence of autism spectrum disorders. If that were done, she added, the prevalence of the condition in the U.S. and other countries also would be in the range of 2% to 3%.

The study was conducted in South Korea so that scientists could test whether diagnostic criteria could be applied in a variety of cultures, and because South Korea has robust health and education systems that allowed for this type of study.

The conclusions are more far-reaching, Dawson said.

"This study clearly confirms that autism is a significant, global, public health concern that transcends cultural, ethnic and geographic boundaries," she said. "We do need to do this type of study in the U.S. … Until we do, we won't know what the population prevalence is."

Laura Schreibman, a veteran autism expert and psychology professor at UC San Diego, said the findings, if confirmed, were "scary" but should be replicated. It is possible, she added, that there are more undiagnosed cases of children with mild autism in South Korea than elsewhere.

"Is there something about the Korean culture? Are they less likely to come forward because of stigma associated with this?" she said. "How much can we generalize this finding to the worldwide population?"


http://www.latimes.com/health/la-he-autism-korea-20110509,0,524140.story

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« Reply #3941 on: May 9th, 2011, 08:34am »

Fox News

Pakistani Media Reportedly Outs CIA Chief

Published May 09, 2011 | FoxNews.com

The U.S. is investigating why Pakistani media broadcast the name of a man they said is the CIA’s Islamabad station chief and if it was an attempt to out the agent following the killing of Usama bin Laden.

The raid by U.S. Navy SEALs that resulted in the Al Qaeda leader’s death put further strain on the already tender relationship between the two countries. Pakistan has adamantly denied that it had any knowledge that bin Laden was hiding for years in a military city not far from its capital.

The alleged name of the Islamabad station chief -- one of the CIA’s most significant and sensitive assignments -- was first broadcast Friday by ARY, a private Pakistani television channel, The Wall Street Journal reported. The channel was covering a meeting between the station chief and the director of the Directorate of Inter-Services Intelligence, Pakistan’s spy agency.

While the Associated Press learned that the name reported was incorrect, ARY’s Islamabad bureau chief told The Journal that not broadcasting the name would have hurt the story’s credibility.

There are currently no plans to withdraw the chief from assignment, and neither the CIA nor Pakistan’s spy agency would respond to the newspaper for comment.

Asad Munir, a former intelligence chief with responsibility for the tribal zone, told the AP very few people know the name of the CIA station chief in Islamabad. But he said that releasing it would not necessarily jeopardize the station chief's safety.

"Normally people in intelligence have cover names," Munir said. "My name was known to everybody. Only if there is a photograph to identify him could it put his life in danger."

If the Pakistani government was behind the attempt to publicize the name it would be the second outing of its kind in the past six months.

In December, the CIA pulled its then-Islamabad chief out of Pakistan amid death threats after his name emerged publicly.

In that case, Pakistan’s Directorate of Inter-Services Intelligence denied it was behind the unmasking, and warned such allegations could damage its fragile counterterrorism alliance with the U.S.

Now, a week after the U.S. raid, Ambassador Husain Haqqani said in an interview with ABC’s “This Week” that Pakistan was "offended" by the "violation of our sovereignty,” but that “heads will roll” if an investigation reveals any “complicity” regarding sheltering bin Laden within the government.

"Pakistan wants to put to rest any, any misgivings the world has about our role," Haqqani said, but also added that the U.S. needed to convince Pakistan that it was really an ally.

Survivors of the raid, including children, are in Pakistani custody. The U.S. says it wants access to bin Laden's three widows and any intelligence material its commandos left behind at the Al Qaeda leader's compound.

Meanwhile, in an interview with CBS’ “60 Minutes,” President Obama said both countries are going to have to investigate how bin Laden was able to operate in relative security in northern Pakistan.

"We think that there had to be some sort of support network for bin Laden inside of Pakistan. But we don't know who or what that support network was. We don't know whether there might have been some people inside of government -- people outside of government. And that's something that we have to investigate. More importantly, that's something the Pakistani government has to investigate," Obama said. "But these are questions we're not going to be able to answer three or four days after the event. It's going to take some time for us to be able to exploit the intelligence we were able to gather on site."

National Security Adviser Tom Donilon, pressing Pakistan, also said Sunday that the U.S. wants access to all information gathered by the Pakistanis at the compound and urged the country to follow through on the investigation.

"It is important ... for the Pakistanis to investigate what happened here. We don't have evidence at this point that the political, military and intelligence leadership of Pakistan knew about the bin Laden operation in Abbottabad, Pakistan. But that issue is front and center in Pakistan right now. It does need to be investigated," Donilon told "Fox News Sunday."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2011/05/09/pakistani-media-reportedly-outs-cia-chief/

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« Reply #3942 on: May 9th, 2011, 1:04pm »

I got this today in an email.
Crystal


"Ain’t it shame that WE were not GREEN when we were kids?

In the line at the store, the cashier told the older woman that she should bring her own grocery bag because plastic bags weren't good for the environment.
The woman apologized to him and explained, “We didn't have the green thing back in my day."

The clerk responded, "That's our problem today. The former generation did not care enough to save our environment."

He was right, that generation didn't have the green thing in its day. Back then, they returned their milk bottles, soda bottles and beer bottles to the store. The store sent them back to the plant to be washed and sterilized and refilled, so it could use the same bottles over and over. So they really were recycled.

But they didn't have the green thing back in that customer's day.

In her day, they walked up stairs, because they didn't have an escalator in every store and office building. They walked to the grocery store and didn't climb into a 300-horsepower machine every time they had to go two blocks.

But she was right. They didn't have the green thing in her day.

Back then, they washed the baby's diapers because they didn't have the throw-away kind. They dried clothes on a line, not in an energy gobbling machine burning up 220 volts - wind and solar power really did dry the clothes. Kids got hand-me-down clothes from their brothers or sisters, not always brand-new clothing.
But that old lady is right; they didn't have the green thing back in her day.

Back then, they had one TV, or radio, in the house - not a TV in every room. And the TV had a small screen the size of a handkerchief, not a screen the size of the state of Montana .
In the kitchen, they blended and stirred by hand because they didn't have electric machines to do everything for you. When they packaged a fragile item to send in the mail, they used a wadded up old newspaper to cushion it, not styrofoam or plastic bubble wrap.

Back then, they didn't fire up an engine and burn gasoline just to cut the lawn. They used a push mower that ran on human power. They exercised by working so they didn't need to go to a health club to run on treadmills that operate on electricity.

But she's right; they didn't have the green thing back then.

They drank from a fountain when they were thirsty instead of using a cup or a plastic bottle every time they had a drink of water. They refilled their writing pens with ink instead of buying a new pen, and they replaced the razor blades in a razor instead of throwing away the whole razor just because the blade got dull.

But they didn't have the green thing back then.

Back then, people took the streetcar or a bus and kids rode their bikes to school or walked instead of turning their moms into a 24-hour taxi service. They had one electrical outlet in a room, not an entire bank of sockets to power a dozen appliances. And they didn't need a computerized gadget to receive a signal beamed from satellites 2,000 miles out in space in order to find the nearest pizza joint.

But isn't it sad the current generation laments how wasteful the old folks were just because they didn't have the green thing back then?"

~

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« Reply #3943 on: May 9th, 2011, 1:31pm »

TrekMovie.com


German TV Fail: Star Trek’s Maquis NOT Involved In Bin Laden Mission
May 6, 2011
by Anthony Pascale
Filed under: Fandom, Great Links, Humor, Trek Franchise

Yesterday a German news station had a major image fail. While covering the US Navy SEALs operation to kill Osama bin Laden they mistook a Star Trek fan-made emblem for the Maquis for the actual SEAL Team Six emblem.


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SEAL TEAM SIX


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STAR TREK



On Thursday the German news channel N24 was covering the death of Osama bin Laden and how the US Navy’s "SEAL Team Six" headed up the mission in Pakistan last Sunday. At one point N24 host Mick Locher showed off what he thought was the official emblem for SEAL Team Six, check it out:


Video after the jump
http://trekmovie.com/2011/05/06/geman-tv-fail-star-treks-maquis-not-involved-in-bin-laden-mission/

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« Reply #3944 on: May 9th, 2011, 3:31pm »

Big Asteroid's Approach in November Excites Astronomers
Published May 09, 2011
| Space.com

An asteroid the size of an aircraft carrier will come closer to Earth this autumn than our own moon does, causing scientists to hold their breath as it zooms by. But they'll be nervous with excitement, not with worry about a possible disaster.

There's no danger of an impact when the asteroid 2005 YU55 makes its close flyby Nov. 8, coming within 201,700 miles (325,000 kilometers) of Earth, scientists say.

So they're looking forward to the encounter, which could help them learn more about big space rocks.

"While near-Earth objects of this size have flown within a lunar distance in the past, we did not have the foreknowledge and technology to take advantage of the opportunity," Barbara Wilson, a scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., said in a statement. "When it flies past, it should be a great opportunity for science instruments on the ground to get a good look."

Getting to know YU55

Asteroid 2005 YU55 is about 1,300 feet (400 meters) wide. It was discovered in December 2005 by the Spacewatch program at the University of Arizona in Tucson.

Because of the asteroid’s size and orbital characteristics, astronomers have flagged 2005 YU55 as potentially dangerous down the road. But the upcoming encounter is no cause for alarm, researchers said.

"YU55 poses no threat of an Earth collision over, at the very least, the next 100 years," said Don Yeomans, manager of NASA's Near-Earth Object Program Office at JPL. "During its closest approach, its gravitational effect on the Earth will be so minuscule as to be immeasurable. It will not affect the tides or anything else."

This round space rock has been in astronomers' cross hairs before. In April 2010, astronomers at the National Science Foundation's Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico generated some ghostly radar images of 2005 YU55 when the asteroid was about 1.5 million miles (2.3 million km) from Earth.

But those pictures had a resolution of just 25 feet (7.5 meters) per pixel. The November close pass should provide some sharper images.

Researchers are eager to train the instruments of both facilities on 2005 YU55 in November.

"So stay tuned," Yeomans said. "This is going to be fun."

Read more: http://www.foxnews.com/scitech/2011/05/09/big-asteroids-approach-november-excites-astronomers/#ixzz1LtB4EPiv


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