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Earth-mass planet at Alpha Centauri

Planet Found in Nearest Star System to Earth

ESO’s HARPS instrument finds Earth-mass exoplanet orbiting Alpha Centauri B

European astronomers have discovered a planet with about the mass of the Earth orbiting a star in the Alpha Centauri system — the nearest to Earth. It is also the lightest exoplanet ever discovered around a star like the Sun. The planet was detected using the HARPS instrument on the 3.6-metre telescope at ESO’s La Silla Observatory in Chile. The results will appear online in the journal Nature on 17 October 2012.

"Our observations extended over more than four years using the HARPS instrument and have revealed a tiny, but real, signal from a planet orbiting Alpha Centauri B every 3.2 days", says Xavier Dumusque (Geneva Observatory, Switzerland and Centro de Astrofisica da Universidade do Porto, Portugal), lead author of the paper. "It’s an extraordinary discovery and it has pushed our technique to the limit!"

The European team detected the planet by picking up the tiny wobbles in the motion of the star Alpha Centauri B created by the gravitational pull of the orbiting planet. The effect is minute — it causes the star to move back and forth by no more than 51 centimetres per second (1.8 km/hour), about the speed of a baby crawling. This is the highest precision ever achieved using this method.

Full article

Source: European Southern University     Date: 16 October 2012


Emergency exit? That'll be £250,000

Economists can win £250,000 by coming up with a way for debt-burdened countries to leave the eurozone

Even with rampant inflation, £250,000 is a lot of money, but it's up for grabs to the economist who can come up with the best way for a country to make an "orderly exit" from the euro.

The man stumping up the cash for this lavish new award, Lord Wolfson of Aspley Guise – otherwise known as Next boss, Simon Wolfson – clearly shares the markets' scepticism that Europe's leaders will come up with a long-term solution to the sovereign debt crisis at this Sunday's summit.

Neil O'Brien, director of the Policy Exchange thinktank, which will administer the Wolfson prize, said: "While there's been a lot of speculation about countries leaving the euro, there has been too little detailed research on the many complex questions this would raise."

Policy Exchange's instincts may be Conservative and eurosceptic but the results should also be of interest to the thousands of protesters in Greece and the teenagers joining lengthening dole queues in Spain and Portugal, where there are many years of austerity ahead.

Source and comments

Source: The Guardian     Date: October 18 2011


New rules scramble Scrabble tradition

AFP - Scrabble lovers are unscrambling the momentous news that the board game will for the first time allow proper nouns, and even words spelled backwards. Distributors Mattel say they are launching Scrabble Trickster in Britain this summer - and allowing a heavy dose of the unthinkable.

"The makers of Scrabble have confirmed that they are making plans to change the rules for the first time to introduce new challenges to the game for a special edition," Mattel said in a statement. That includes permitting words back to front and proper nouns, longtime Scrabble no-nos. Use of celebrities' names are likely to fuel a new "war of words," the statement said.

Mattel spokeswoman Julia Jensen underlined that the changes only affect the Trickster. "This is a special edition and the rules don't impact the original Scrabble game," she told AFP. The new game will not be sold in the United States, where rival Hasbro, not Mattel, owns the rights to Scrabble. Mattel has the rights everywhere outside North America.

Source: The Independent     Date: 10 April 2010


Reinfeldt: Bankers' bonus bubble has burst

BRUSSELS - EU leaders unite on financial supervision ahead of G20 summit.

EU leaders claimed last night to have put to an end the era of profligate bonuses for bankers. At the conclusion of an informal meeting of EU leaders in Brussels, Fredrik Reinfeldt, the prime minister of Sweden, who chaired the meeting, said: “The bonus bubble burst tonight.”

The meeting had been called to co-ordinate the EU's position ahead of a summit of leaders of the G20 developed and developing countries that is to be held in Pittsburgh on 24-25 September. The G20 meeting is supposed to take further steps to agree on the governance of financial markets and prevent a repetition of the financial crash of last year.

The text agreed by EU leaders says that the G20 should agree that bonuses could be reduced and even cancelled depending on banks' financial performance. “We have to move away from the current culture of compensation based on short-term rewards,” Reinfeldt said. Reinfeldt said it would be a “provocation to citizens” to allow banks which “owed their survival to massive support from taxpayers” to pay out huge bonuses based on future results. European Commission President José Manuel Barroso said EU citizens were “horrified at banks receiving public money receiving bonuses”.

US President Barack Obama, who will chair the Pittsburgh meeting, has been to new rules on bonuses. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who strongly favours strict rules, is speaking to Obama ahead of the Pittsburgh meeting on Friday in a bid to persuade him to change his stance.

Merkel said she was “very happy” the language on remuneration was sharper in the final text than it was in the draft. Jean-Claude Juncker, Luxembourg's prime minister, who chairs meetings of the Eurogroup, the eurozone finance ministers, said that EU leaders “broadly agreed between us that the bonus system must be reviewed”, but added that they did not agree on a cap on bonuses. “The British do not like that,” he said, while Luxembourg supported it. Nicolas Sarkozy, France's president, said that there were different ways of achieving the same effect. “Europe is united”, he said, in not wanting a repeat of the crisis.

By Simon Taylor

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Source: European Voice     Date: 18 September 2009


Ulysses Hears the Siren's Song

PASADENA - Ulysses, a joint NASA and European Space Agency mission, will officially cease operations Monday, June 29, when the command to switch off the transmitter is uplinked to the spacecraft. Ulysses, which operated for more than 18 years, had charted the unexplored regions of space above the poles of the sun.

The Ulysses orbital path is carrying the spacecraft away from Earth. The ever-widening gap has progressively limited the amount of data transmitted. Ulysses project managers, with the concurrence of ESA and NASA, decided it was an appropriate time to end this epic scientific adventure.

Space Shuttle Discovery launched Ulysses on Oct. 6, 1990. A combination of solid fuel motors propelled Ulysses out of low-Earth orbit and toward Jupiter. Ulysses swung by Jupiter on Feb. 8, 1992. The giant planet's gravity bent the spacecraft's flight path southward and away from the ecliptic plane, putting the probe into a final orbit that would take it over the sun's south and north poles.

The European Space Agency's European Space Research and Technology Centre and European Space Operations Centre has managed the mission in coordination with NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Ulysses is tracked by NASA’s Deep Space Network. A joint ESA/NASA team at JPL has overseen spacecraft operations and data management. Teams from universities and research institutes in Europe and the U.S. provided the 10 instruments on board.

More information about the mission is available at: [1]

Source: NASA     Date: 26 June 2009


Court rejects challenge over ME treatment

LONDON - Charities have condemned a court decision to throw out a bid by two ME sufferers to change guidance given to NHS doctors on treating the condition.

Douglas Fraser, a former violinist for the Scottish Philharmonic Orchestra, and Kevin Short, an engineer from Norfolk, argued that the guideline issued by Nice, the England and Wales NHS spending watchdog, unlawfully restricted the range of treatments available. They claimed that decisions made by Nice were biased, or appeared to be biased, and that this was a view "shared across the ME community". Mr Fraser and Mr Short, who both suffer from Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME), also known as chronic fatigue syndrome, have had their careers curtailed by the illness.

Guidelines for diagnosis and management of ME were introduced last August and recommended that ME sufferers be treated with cognitive behavioural therapy and graded exercise therapy, in an effort to alleviate symptoms. Lawyers for the two men complained that Nice's panel of experts had a "predisposition" for recommending the two therapies to the exclusion of other treatments. However, Mr Justice Simon yesterday cleared Nice of the accusation, rejecting it as "damaging" and "harmful". He said it "may cause health professionals to hesitate before they involve themselves in this area of medicine".

ME charities attacked the outcome, saying the two therapies were largely ineffective and reinforced the view ME was a psychological rather than a physiological disorder. A survey by the ME Association last year found that only 26% were helped by cognitive behavioural therapy, while 56% reported that graded exercise therapy actually made them feel worse. Simon Lawrence, chairman of the ME Group, which represents the most severely affected sufferers of ME, said: "This is certainly a very sad day for everyone with neurological ME. Therapies have in many cases caused widespread problems for ME sufferers. We feel that much research into neurological ME was sidelined in favour of more mainstream therapies that are more suitable for patients with totally different conditions."

Nice's guidelines are not automatically applied in Scotland, where recommendations are made by NHS Quality Improvement Scotland. A spokesman for NHS QIS said it did not currently issue official guidelines on treating ME, with decisions left to the discretion of individual doctors. But Helen Brownlie of Scot ME, a Glasgow-based ME support group, said even though Nice guidelines were not binding, doctors in Scotland were influenced by it. She said: "They were pushing graded exercise therapy, even though there's no evidence for it. I think it's totally misguided." One ME sufferer from Edinburgh, who did not want to be named, said she had been offered cognitive behavioural therapy and physiotherapy, which had little effect. She said: "Cognitive behavioural therapy is all psychological - the thinking is that the illness is all in your head, and you just have to try and take control of your own life. They're also quite keen to give you anti-depressants. "I also did a physiotherapy course which wasn't terribly successful."

Source: The Herald     Date: 14 March 2009


Obama wins historic US election

WASHINGTON - Democratic Senator Barack Obama has been elected the first black president of the United States, prompting celebrations across the country. "It's been a long time coming, but tonight... change has come to America," the president-elect told a jubilant crowd at a victory rally in Chicago. His rival John McCain accepted defeat, and called on his supporters to lend the next president their goodwill.

The BBC's Justin Webb says the result will have a profound impact on the US. He says the American people have made two fundamental statements about themselves: that they are profoundly unhappy with the status quo, and that they are slamming the door on the country's racial past.

Mr Obama appeared with his family, and his running mate Joe Biden, before a crowd of tens of thousands in Grant Park, Chicago. Many people in the vast crowd, which stretched back far into the Chicago night, wept as Mr Obama spoke. "If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible, who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time, who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer," he said. He said he had received an "extraordinarily gracious" call from Mr McCain. He praised the former Vietnam prisoner-of-war as a "brave and selfless leader". "He has endured sacrifices for America that most of us cannot begin to imagine," the victor said.

He had warm words for his family, announcing to his daughters: "Sasha and Malia, I love you both more than you can imagine, and you have earned the new puppy that's coming with us to the White House." But he added: "Even as we celebrate tonight, we know the challenges that tomorrow will bring are the greatest of our lifetime - two wars, a planet in peril, the worst financial crisis in a century. The road ahead will be long. Our climb will be steep. But America - I have never been more hopeful than I am tonight that we will get there." Hours after Mr Obama's victory was announced, crowds were still celebrating on the streets of Washington DC and Mr Obama's hometown of Chicago.

From red to blue

Mr Obama captured the key battleground states of Pennsylvania and Ohio, before breaking through the winning threshold of 270 electoral college votes at 0400 GMT, when projections showed he had also taken California and a slew of other states. Then came the news that he had also seized Florida, Virginia and Colorado - all of which voted Republican in 2004 - turning swathes of the map from red to blue. Projected results have yet to be announced for the states of North Carolina and Missouri, which are believed to be too close to call. However, at 1100 GMT, Mr Obama's share of the popular vote stood at 52.3%, compared with Mr McCain's 46.4%.

The main developments include:

  • Mr Obama is projected to have seized Ohio, New Mexico, Iowa, Virginia, Florida, Colorado, Indiana and Nevada - all Republican wins in 2004.
  • He is also projected to have won: Vermont, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Delaware, Massachusetts, District of Columbia, Maryland, Connecticut, Maine, New Jersey, Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, New York, Rhode Island, California, Hawaii, Washington, Oregon.
  • Mr McCain is projected to have won: Montana, Alaska, Kentucky, South Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Arkansas, Alabama, Kansas, North Dakota, Wyoming, Georgia, Louisiana, West Virginia, Texas, Mississippi, Utah, Arizona, Idaho, South Dakota.
  • Turnout was reported to be extremely high - in some places "unprecedented".
  • The Democrats increased their Senate majority by five seats, but fell short of the 60 needed to stop blocking tactics by Republicans. They also increased their majority in the House of Representatives.
  • Exit polls suggest the economy was the major deciding factor for six out of 10 voters.
  • Nine out of 10 said the candidates' race was not important to their vote, the Associated Press reported. Almost as many said age did not matter.

Several states reported very high turnout. It was predicted 130 million Americans, or more, would vote - more than for any election since 1960. Many people said they felt they had voted in a historic election - and for many African-Americans the moment was especially poignant. John Lewis, an activist in the civil rights era who was left beaten on an Alabama bridge 40 years ago, told Atlanta's Ebenezer Baptist Church: "This is a great night. It is an unbelievable night. It is a night of thanksgiving."

Besides winning the presidency, the Democrats tightened their grip on Congress. The entire US House of Representatives and a third of US Senate seats were up for grabs.

Source: BBC News     Date: 5 November 2008


India launches first Moon mission

NEW DELHI - India has successfully launched its first mission to the Moon. The unmanned Chandrayaan 1 spacecraft blasted off smoothly from a launch pad in southern Andhra Pradesh to embark on a two-year mission of exploration.
The robotic probe will orbit the Moon, compiling a 3-D atlas of the lunar surface and mapping the distribution of elements and minerals.
The launch is regarded as a major step for India as it seeks to keep pace with other space-faring nations in Asia.
Indian PM Manmohan Singh hailed the launch as the "first step" in a historic milestone in the country's space programme. "Our scientific community has once again done the country proud and the entire nation salutes them," Mr Singh said in a message.
The launch was greeted with applause by scientists gathered at the site. The chief of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), Madhavan Nair, said it was a "historic moment" for the country. "Today what we have charted is a remarkable journey for an Indian spacecraft to go to the moon and try to unravel the mysteries of the Earth's closest celestial body and its only natural satellite," Mr Nair said.
The BBC's Sanjoy Majumder in Delhi says there has been a lot of excitement about the event, which was broadcast live on national TV.[2]

Source: BBC News     Date: 22 October 2008


The 2008 Nobel Peace Prize

OSLO - The Norwegian Nobel Committee has decided to award the Nobel Peace Prize for 2008 to Martti Ahtisaari for his important efforts, on several continents and over more than three decades, to resolve international conflicts. These efforts have contributed to a more peaceful world and to “fraternity between nations” in Alfred Nobel’s spirit.

Throughout all his adult life, whether as a senior Finnish public servant and President or in an international capacity, often connected to the United Nations, Ahtisaari has worked for peace and reconciliation. For the past twenty years, he has figured prominently in endeavours to resolve several serious and long-lasting conflicts. In 1989-90 he played a significant part in the establishment of Namibia’s independence; in 2005 he and his organization Crisis Management Initiative (CMI) were central to the solution of the complicated Aceh question in Indonesia. In 1999 and again in 2005-07, he sought under especially difficult circumstances to find a solution to the conflict in Kosovo. In 2008, through the CMI and in cooperation with other institutions, Ahtisaari has tried to help find a peaceful conclusion to the problems in Iraq. He has also made constructive contributions to the resolution of conflicts in Northern Ireland, in Central Asia, and on the Horn of Africa.

Although the parties themselves have the main responsibility for avoiding war and conflict, the Norwegian Nobel Committee has on several occasions awarded the Nobel Peace Prize to mediators in international politics. Today Ahtisaari is an outstanding international mediator. Through his untiring efforts and good results, he has shown what role mediation of various kinds can play in the resolution of international conflicts. The Norwegian Nobel Committee wishes to express the hope that others may be inspired by his efforts and his achievements.

Source: Nobelprize.org     Date: 10 October 2008