Wednesday, November 30, 2011
"By astronomical standards, that's right next door," Katy Garmany, the Deputy Press Officer at the National Optical Astronomy Observatory, told HuffPost.
Astronomers frequently discover new planets (according to Time magazine, we're up to over 2,000), but Garmany said that what's exciting about Kepler 21-b is that the planet is relatively Earth-sized. While its mass is about 10 times the size of our planet, its radius is only 1.6 times the size of Earth's.
"Until a few years ago, the smallest extra-solar planet that we had discovered was the size of Jupiter or Saturn, which are about ten times bigger than the Earth," Garmany said. "Now we're getting down to something almost the size of the Earth, showing that we have the technology to find the earth-size planets."
Monday, November 28, 2011
Guereza colobus monkeys appear to join the chorus to advertise their size and dominance.
The scientists managed, for the first time, to trigger a forest-wide chorus using a recording.
They reported their lastest insight into this early morning "wall of sound" in the journal Behavioural Ecology and Sociobiology.
Anne Marijke Schel carried out the work at Budongo Conservation Field Station, Uganda, as part of her PhD project.
She and her colleague, Prof Klaus Zuberbuhler from the University of St Andrews, Scotland, wanted to find out why the monkeys took part in what they described as a "vocal spectacle".
"The behaviour usually starts before dawn by one individual calling somewhere in the forest," said Dr Zuberbuhler.
"Typically, this is contagious so that his calling spreads first to neighbouring groups, until a large part of the forest is covered by calling monkeys."
The scientists recorded the dawn chorus and used playback experiments to see if they could trigger one of a forest-wide calls to find out more about why the animals joined in.
Dr Schel explained: "It took a while, but we eventually found out that we could trigger a chorus if we played the recording continuously [for] about 60 seconds.
"This was much faster than if the chorus started naturally."
Several species of monkey perform a dawn choruses, including howler monkeys, which appear to claim their territory by calling
Gibbons are notoriously vocal in the morning. Pairs sing loud duets that are thought to repel intruders and advertise their pair bond.
Dr Schel's studies also revealed that the call of relatively diminutive males would always elicit a response.
"We think it's the case that if someone very small calls, you counter-call to show off that you're bigger and more dominant," she explained.
Dr Reinmar Hager, an evolutionary biologist from the University of Manchester explained that dawn chorusing, which most people associate with the early morning twittering of songbirds, actually plays an important role in primate society, especially male-male competition and territoriality.
He added that understanding its role would help us understand primate social systems.
"Knowledge of this is crucial for species preservation and [understanding] the habitat they require," he said.
"[Research into] vocal communication in non-human primates will [also] help us understand the role of more sophisticated communication patterns in human interactions and why they may have evolved.
"After all, our ancestors were non-speaking apes and our language presumably evolved from such acoustic signals.
Monday, November 21, 2011
U.S. District Judge Linda Reade said former Sageville Elementary School principal Robert Burke was a danger to the community who betrayed children, their parents and a society that puts great trust in school administrators. She said he deserved the maximum prison term after pleading guilty to producing child pornography in August.
Reade recounted how Burke, 43, hid a small video camera near a bathroom sink or on his own belt on 12 occasions between January and June to capture images of the genitals of at least 59 students between the ages of 5 and 11. She said he had one of the biggest collections of child pornography she'd ever heard of - 32,000 images and 12,000 videos, mostly of young boys performing sex acts.
"This is one of the most aggravating circumstances and crimes that I've ever seen," she said. "This, I must say, is the most depraved I have had for some time."
Reade issued the sentence, which also included a fine of $25,000, after six parents of boys who were taped urged her to lock him away. Speaking in open court without giving their names to protect their children's identities, they said their kids would be scarred for the rest of their lives after learning someone they trusted had violated their privacy in such a way.
"This is a person who woke up every day and made a conscious decision to exploit boys over and over and over," said one mother of two victims, who said she felt guilty for putting them in harm's way by volunteering at the school. "His life as a caring and devoted principal has been a fraud."
Another mother of two victims said she taught for five years under Burke, and accused him of pushing out veteran teachers so he could have more control over school operations. She said her children kept asking, "but mom, why would he do something like this?"
"My boy is never going to forget this for as long as he lives," added the father of a 10-year-old boy.
Investigators arrested Burke at his Dubuque home in June after an FBI agent in Washington linked his computer to images of child pornography that were being shared on the Internet. During the raid, they found his collection of pornography on several hard drives. During an interview the same day, he told investigators about how he hid cameras at the school, which they did not know about at the time.
Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation special agent Ward Crawley testified Monday that Burke saved the video files on his computer with the child's first name and last initial in most cases, and investigators identified 59 students whose genitals were recorded and a number of others who were unknown. He said a forensic examination of Burke's computer equipment found that he had considered sharing the images on the Internet but apparently had not done so.
During one online chat, he told another person he had images of "some boys peeing at urinals" but did not yet have them in a format ready to share. "Let me know if you're interested and I'll get those files ready," Burke said, according to Crawley.
"Although Burke victimized many young children and caused tremendous concern to the entire community, the harm in this case might have been even worse had law enforcement not intervened when it did," U.S. Attorney Stephanie Rose said in a statement. "The federal, state and local law enforcement officers whose excellent work put a stop to Burke's criminal behavior should be commended, as should the school administrators, educators, and parents whose assistance in this case was invaluable."
Burke, a former Catholic school principal who had been at Sageville since 2004, denied ever sexually abusing students and a federal investigation did not uncover any evidence to the contrary. Reade noted that Burke once put a camera down a student's swimming trunks under circumstances that were not explained.
Burke had asked Reade to show leniency and let him become a productive member of society again as soon as possible. His attorney, Mark Brown, argued that a sentence of 20 years or less would have been appropriate, noting that Burke accepted responsibility and the maximum sentence was typically reserved for predators who sexually abused children. Reade called that argument unwarranted.
Reading from a hand-written statement that he had problems handling through his handcuffs, Burke said he wanted to apologize.
"My selfish actions violated the privacy of the students, betrayed the trust of the parents, brought much negative attention to an excellent school," he said. "I allowed a very personal problem to hurt many people, and for that, I am very sorry."
"This has been a vivid wake-up call. I've learned my lesson."
Monday, November 7, 2011
The judge told the court he was remanding Conrad Murray in custody without bail because he was a convicted felon and a flight risk
A panel of seven men and five women took two days of deliberation to reach a verdict.
Michael Jackson died on 25 June 2009 from an overdose of the powerful anaesthetic propofol.
Murray, 58, could now receive a maximum prison term of four years and lose his licence to practise medicine.
There was a shriek in the courtroom as the verdict was read.
Outside the courthouse, the BBC's Peter Bowes said that at the moment the verdict was read, the crowd along the street erupted with cheers and chanting.
Jackson's family sat in the courtroom, weeping quietly.
LaToya Jackson told the Associated Press news agency the family was overjoyed at the verdict.
"Michael was looking over us," she said.
During the trial, Dr Murray's lawyers argued that Jackson self-administered a lethal dose of the drug while he was out of the room.
When the verdict was announced there was a stifled scream in the courtroom from the Jackson family entourage and a huge roar from the fans packed on to the pavement outside.
Police had to corral the crowds and shepherd the media from the main road as they gathered for the lunchtime verdict, crushed outside the court and clutching phones and touch pads to watch the announcement streamed live on the internet.
Some of the die-hard fans were in floods of tears as they celebrated the "relief" that "justice had been done".
The jury of seven men and five women took less than a day and a half of deliberations to find Conrad Murray guilty of involuntary manslaughter.
Murray was the man Michael Jackson entrusted as his personal doctor and the man who provided him with propofol - the anaesthetic drug he was using to get to sleep.
The die-hard Jackson fans will have nothing to do now the trial is over, after having gathered each day in tribute to the king of pop and taken part in a daily lottery for a seat in the public gallery.
But they'll be back at the end of the month when Dr Murray will appear again for sentencing - he faces a maximum of four years in jail.
Dr Murray was remanded in custody without bail until he receives his sentence, set for 29 November.
Explaining his decision, the judge said Dr Murray was now a convicted felon and had considerable ties outside the state of California, meaning he could not guarantee that the doctor would remain in the state.
Dr Murray sat silently in court, shifting slightly in his seat as the verdict was read out.
Court officers began to handcuff the physician as the judge made his final announcements, before leading him away into custody.
The jury - made up of one African American, six whites and five Hispanics - deliberated on Friday and through the morning on Monday.
Outside the court, fans of Michael Jackson were cheering and chanting, "Guilty! Guilty!" in the run-up to the verdict being announced.
During the six-week trial, 49 witnesses and more than 300 pieces of evidence were presented to the court.
Michael Jackson, who had been out of the public eye for several years, died in 2009 as he was preparing for a series of comeback performances at the O2 arena in London.
In his closing argument last Thursday, the prosecution said Dr Murray had caused the star's death through negligence, depriving Jackson's children of their father and the world of a "genius".
LA District Attorney Steve Cooley said the verdict sent a strong message
The defence argued that Jackson was a drug addict who caused his own death by giving himself an extra dose of propofol while the cardiologist was out of the room at the star's rented mansion in Los Angeles.
However, lawyers for Dr Murray dropped a key argument midway through the trial - that the pop superstar had drank the propofol. But they continued to argue that Jackson had somehow dosed himself otherwise.
Each side of the trial called their own expert witness on the anaesthetic drug,
There is no law against administering propofol, but the prosecution's case rested on the argument that Dr Murray was grossly negligent by doing so outside a hospital setting and without the proper monitoring equipment.
In some of the more shocking moments of the trial, the jury heard a recording of Jackson, sounding incoherent and slurred, speaking about his upcoming concert series, as well as viewing a photo of a lifeless Jackson on a gurney.
Frazier - also known as Smokin' Joe - had been receiving hospice care in Philadelphia after being diagnosed with cancer several weeks ago.
The 67-year-old was the first man to beat Muhammad Ali in 1971, but lost his next two bouts with Ali.
He held the world title between 1970 and 1973.
On Sunday, Frazier's manager Leslie Wolf said the boxer's condition was very serious but that doctors and Frazier's team were "doing everything we can".
Frazier won an Olympic gold medal in 1964 after going to the Games as a replacement for Buster Mathis, who had beaten him in the trials but could not attend the Games due to an injury.
He won the heavyweight title in 1970 by defeating Jimmy Ellis in New York.
Three years later he lost the title to George Foreman.
The curiosity of two women strangers at the weekend led to a dramatic rescue of an eight-year-old girl in Uganda, who had been tied upside down to the roof bars by her mother, apparently, as a punishment for allegedly stealing an earring worth $0.2 (USh500).￼
It was about 2:30pm (East Africa Time) when two women who were walking past the house heard a feeble voice crying for help in a locked room. The voice was of a pupil of Kabingo Primary School in Mpigi District.
She had been tied at the legs and arms and left alone in that position for more than six hours, the police said.
Ms Rachael Nakiganda, a witness, said the women grew suspicious and called a police officer to ascertain what the matter was with the crying child in a locked room."The officers came and broke the padlock, only to find the child hanging on the bar in pain and could barely talk," she said, adding that residents cut the ropes as police went after the child's mother, who was at work.
The child was found with severe burns on her buttocks and hands, which she said were inflicted on her by her mother after accusing her of failing to do house chores.
The child also had severe injuries around the wrist and legs and could barely talk. By Sunday evening, she was still undergoing treatment and medical examinations.
Masaka Police community liaison officer Julius Musiime confirmed that they were holding the barmaid and food vendor, adding that they were waiting for a report from police surgeon before charging her with child torture, illegal confinement and causing bodily harm to a child.
Tuesday, November 1, 2011
Worldwide there are only about 50,000 to 80,000 narwhals, as they are more commonly known, with about two-thirds of these whales summering in the fjords and inlets of Nunavut in northern Canada.
Scientists are hoping to learn more about narwhals through a new effort to track them as they move around the icy waters of northern Canada, as well as more about how declining amounts of sea ice are affecting the creatures.
"Although we've been working on a better understanding of the narwhal in the past seven or eight years, it was only recently that people have figured out how to fit satellite radios to them, so we know where they go and what they're eating," said Pete Ewins, an Arctic species specialist for the environmental group WWF-Canada.
A new project tagged nine narwhals in Tremblay Sound off the coast of the northern province of Nunavut back in August. The scientists restrained the whales, which can weigh up to 3,500 pounds (1,600 kilograms), and fitted them with a satellite radio that has a transmitter mounted with Teflon rods to the blubber near the whale's dorsal area.
"The whole system is no bigger than a Blackberry cellphone, with a little transmitter the length of a pencil that sticks up," Ewins told OurAmazingPlanet.
When a narwhal comes to surface, the radio unit contacts with the air and activates the signal transmission. The animal's location is then sent via satellite to the researchers.
Of those nine whales fitted with the device, seven still have trackers that are transmitting information. For the others, the system likely malfunctioned or fell off. Eventually all of the trackers will be slowly expelled by the animals' immune system.
While seven whales isn't a huge sample size, Ewins said that a lot of information can be gained by watching where the whales go. "Their position tells you depth of water over which they're spending the dark days of winter," he said.
Preserving Arctic waters
In addition to the basic coordinates, digital sensors also record the depth and the duration of each whale's dive. From that information, scientists can infer what the whales are eating during different times of the year, and how the thickness of sea ice in different parts of the Arctic impacts their behavior. [Infographic: Tallest Mountain to Deepest Ocean Trench]
The information can also be used to make a case for keeping these northern waters free from oil and gas exploration. Since narwhals are both protected and acoustically sensitive, knowing their locations could help the government make better decisions to preserve marine environments.
"The local native Inuit, who are our partners, are concerned about the changes in the sea ice but also the prospect of noisy ships and explosions to test for oil and gas," Ewins said.