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Archive for April, 2010

Will Puerto Rico become the fifty-first state in America?

Posted by 3citynewswire on 04/29/2010

The U.S. House is voting  on a bill that could ultimately result in Puerto Rico becoming the fifty-first state. The notion of Puerto Rican statehood is nothing new. Residents of the commonwealth have voted three times on the question of whether Puerto Rico should become a state, most recently in 1996. Each time, residents voted to retain the island’s extant status.

This time could be the “charm” for Democrats in Congress, who see a golden opportunity in winning Puerto Rican over as  a state. Seating two more senators and as many as six Congressmen likely to align themselves with the Democrats would give the party in power even more control going forward.

The resolution before the House, which leaders hasten to assure worried Americans is non-binding, would work differently from the previous measures voted on by the citizens of Puerto Rico. This bill, H.R. 2499, would have two parts. The first would be a referendum asking Puerto Ricans not whether they wanted their homeland to become a state—as in past votes—but whether they wanted to change to “a different political status.” The question seems loaded since the answer is pretty much known in advance to be “yes.” There are enough Puerto Ricans unhappy with their current political status to vote in favor of something else.

That “something else” is spelled out in part two of the legislation, which allows for three choices. In the language of H.R. 2499, those choices are:

  1. “Independence: Puerto Rico should become fully independent from the United States;”
  2. “Sovereignty in Association with the United States: Puerto Rico and the United States should form a political association between sovereign nations that will not be subject to the Territorial Clause of the United States Constitution;”
  3. “Statehood: Puerto Rico should be admitted as a State of the Union.”

Democrat money is on the citizens of Puerto Rico rejecting the first two options. That means there would be only one option left, statehood.

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Damaged Asteroid Probe Limping Home

Posted by 3citynewswire on 04/29/2010

Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency Hayabusa probe hovering over an asteroid, artist rendering

Battered, drained of fuel, and travel-weary, Japan’s asteroid-sampler is almost home. The Hayabusa, which the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) launched in 2003, is scheduled to drop its sample canister in the Australian outback in June. But, the project leaders warn, there’s still a chance than the beleaguered sojourner won’t make it. And even if it does successfully return to Earth, it’s possible that the sample capsule may not contain extraterrestrial rock.

Hayabusa spent three months exploring the Itokawa asteroid in late 2005, even making an unplanned landing on the asteroid’s surface. The probe spent up to a half-hour on Itokawa, making it the first spacecraft to lift off from an asteroid. The craft also took 1,600 pictures and more than 100,000 infrared images.

But things soon turned sour. Hayabusa’s instruments for collecting asteroid samples didn’t deploy as expected, leaving the Japanese research team uncertain how much, if any, material the probe will have on board when it comes back home.

While telemetry showed that Hayabusa likely did not fire its projectile as planned while on Itokawa’s surface, scientists are hoping that bits of dust or pebbles traveled through the probe’s funnel and into its sample return capsule.

There have been plenty of other difficulties, too. Since its launch in 2003, Hayabusa has lost three of its four ion engines, leaked out all of its chemical propellant and is down to a single reaction wheel. The trouble delayed Hayabusa’s departure from Itokawa, which forced JAXA to postpone the craft’s return to Earth from 2007 until 2010.

In November JAXA nearly conceded that Hayabusa would never come home. Then, in a stroke of innovation combined with good fortune, the engineers managed to combine the parts that still worked from two of the thrusters to propel the craft. Now it just might make it back.

The saga of the Hayabusa outlines the ambitious nature of President Obama’s newly revised space plan for the United States. (Last Thursday Discover covered the difficulty of a daring manned mission to an asteroid that he proposed. But for a journey of far more than a thousand miles, the successful return of the Hayabusa would be a terrific first step.

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Ice Found on the Surface of an Asteroid for the First Time

Posted by 3citynewswire on 04/28/2010

Artist conception of asteroid 24 Themis

A slushy cocktail of water-ice and organic materials has been directly detected on the surface of an asteroid for the first time. The finding strengthens the theory that asteroids delivered the ingredients for Earth’s oceans and life, and could make astronomers rethink conventional models for how the Solar System evolved.

It has long been thought that asteroids, which lie in a belt between Mars and Jupiter, are rocky bodies that sit too close to the Sun to retain ice. By contrast, comets, which form further out beyond Neptune, are ice-rich bodies that develop distinctive tails of vaporized gas and dust when they approach the Sun. However, this distinction was blurred in 2006 by the discovery of small objects with comet-like tails in the asteroid belt1, says astronomer Andrew Rivkin of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland.

To investigate the composition of these ‘main-belt comets’, Rivkin and his colleague Joshua Emery, of the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, turned the infra-red telescope at Mauna Kea, Hawaii, onto the asteroid 24 Themis — the parent body from which two of the smaller comet-like asteroids observed in 2006 were chipped. Emery and Rivkin took seven measurements of 24 Themis over a period of six years, each time looking at a different face of the asteroid as it travelled around its orbit. They consistently found a band in the absorption spectrum of light reflected from its surface that indicated the presence of grains coated in water ice, as well as the signature of carbon-to-hydrogen chemical bonds — as found in organic materials. Rivkin and Emery’s work is published in this week’s Nature2.

“Astronomers have looked at dozens of asteroids with this technique, but this is the first time we’ve seen ice on the surface and organics,” says Rivkin.

The result was independently confirmed by a team led by Humberto Campins at the University of Central Florida in Orlando. He and his colleagues observed 24 Themis for 7 hours one night, as it almost fully rotated on its axis. “Between us, we have seen the asteroid from almost every angle and we see global coverage,” says Campins. He and his team also publish their findings in this week’s Nature3.

Julie Castillo-Rogez, an astrophysicist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, describes the findings as “huge”. “This answers the long-term question of whether there is free water in the asteroid belt,” she says.
Icy interloper

Because 24 Themis lies only about 479 million kilometres from the Sun (roughly three times the mean distance from Earth to the Sun), it is surprising that the surface ice has not all been vaporized. Both teams speculate that more ice may be held in a reservoir beneath the asteroid’s surface, shielded from the Sun, and that this ice is slowly churned up as the asteroid is struck by small bodies in the belt, thus replenishing the surface ice.

The findings lend weight to the idea that asteroids and comets are the source of Earth’s water and organic material. Geochemists think that the early Earth went through a molten phase when any organic molecules would have dissociated, so new organic material would have had to be delivered to the planet at a later time, says Campins. “I believe our findings are linked to the origin of life on Earth,” he says.
To assess the plausibility of this scenario, astronomers must determine whether the make-up of 24 Themis is typical of other asteroids and, if so, what exactly they hold, says Castillo-Rogez. A priority should be to search for water ice on near-Earth asteroids that could be targeted by NASA’s planned robotic and manned missions. “If we find ice samples that contain the same ratio of deuterium [‘heavy hydrogen’ made up of one neutron and one proton] to hydrogen as seen on Earth, that would be a strong pointer,” she says.

However, 24 Themis may not be a typical member of the belt — it could be an interloper that formed beyond Neptune, along with the comets, which was later knocked inwards, says Rivkin. If so, this would fit well with the controversial ‘Nice model’ of the evolution of the Solar System. Proposed in 2005, this model suggests that the giant planets — Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune — and asteroids migrated to their present orbits after formation4.

Either way, says Rivkin, “The old-fashioned picture of the Solar System in which asteroids are asteroids and comets are comets is getting harder to sustain.”

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Iraqis held at a secret prison in Baghdad tortured

Posted by 3citynewswire on 04/28/2010

A soldier closes the gate at an Iraqi-run prison in Baghdad. Human Rights Watch says the torture of detainees at a secret prison was routine.

Iraqis tortured at secret Baghdad prison, says watchdog

Under Saddam Hussein, Iraq’s prisons were notorious for their brutal torture chambers.

Today, it seems, the abuse may be continuing, seven years after his fall from power.

Beatings, electric shocks and rape commonplace according to Human Rights Watch interviews with detainees

Iraqis held at a secret prison in Baghdad were routinely tortured using whips, electric shocks and rape, according to an investigation by Human Rights Watch.

The organisation said it had interviewed 42 men who were among about 300 detainees transferred from the secret facility in the old Muthanna airport in west Baghdad to al-Rusafa into a special block of 19 cage-type cells over the past several weeks. The existence of the secret prison was revealed in the Los Angeles Times.

All the detainees interviewed, Human Rights Watch said, described the same methods of torture.

“The jailers suspended their captives handcuffed and blindfolded upside down by means of two bars, one placed behind their calves and the other against their shins. All had terrible scabs and bruising on their legs. The interrogators then kicked, whipped and beat the detainees. Interrogators also placed a dirty plastic bag over the detainee’s head to close off his air supply. Typically, when the detainee passed out from this ordeal, his interrogators awakened him with electric shocks to his genitals or other parts of his body.”

Human Rights Watch called on the Iraqi authorities to hold a thorough investigation into the allegations, which come at a time of heightened political uncertainty and tension after close parliamentary elections last month. The former prime minister Ayad Allawi, whose cross-sectarian coalition won a surprise victory, today called for the formation of an impartial caretaker government to prevent the country from sliding into violence and counter what he says are efforts by the prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, to change the results.

US officials fear that the disclosure of a secret prison in which Sunni Arabs were systematically tortured would not only become an international embarrassment, but would make it harder for Maliki to put together a viable coalition government.

Human Rights Watch said the stories of torture were credible and consistent, with most of the 300 detainees displaying fresh scars and injuries that they said were a result of routine and systematic torture. All were accused of aiding and abetting terrorism, and many said they were forced to sign false confessions.

“The horror we found suggests torture was the norm in Muthanna,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “The government needs to prosecute all of those responsible for this systematic brutality.”

The men interviewed said the Iraqi army detained them between September and December 2009 after sweeps in and around Mosul, a stronghold of Sunni militants, including al-Qaida in Mesopotamia. They told Human Rights Watch that torture was most intense during their first week at Muthanna. Well-informed sources told Human Rights Watch that the secret facility was under the jurisdiction of Maliki’s military office.

One 24-year-old detainee, called I, said he was raped numerous times with a broomstick and pistol. An interrogator told him that they would rape his mother and sister if he did not confess. During another beating, interrogators hit him so hard that he lost several front teeth.

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American ark-hunter says the latest discovery could be a hoax.

Posted by 3citynewswire on 04/28/2010

Mount Ararat

Dr. Price, who is director of the Center for Judaic Studies at the conservative Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., was the archaeologist on the Chinese-led team in 2008 when this alleged discovery was first made. He says he has “difficulties with a number of issues related to the evidence at hand.”

Price declined to elaborate. However, a leaked email from Price – which he confirms that he wrote – shows that he has reason to believe that a group of local Kurdish men trucked wood up to the mountain and staged the scene. A group of Kurdish workers “are said to have planted large wood beams taken from an old structure in the Black Sea area (where the photos were originally taken) at the Mt. Ararat site. … During the summer of 2009 more wood was planted inside a cave at the site. The Chinese team went in the late summer of 2009 (I was there at the time and knew about the hoax) and was shown the cave with the wood and made their film,” Price writes in the email.

Price is a longtime searcher himself for the ark. As a member of Noah’s Ark Search LLC, he had gone on a number of expeditions to Mount Ararat.

Price was not the only member to withdraw from the Chinese-led team over questions about their purported finding.

elaborate hoax for the Chinese team.

Leaked email from Price: Here is a excerpt from his message

I was the archaeologist with the Chinese expedition in the summer of 2008 and was given photos of what they now are reporting to be the inside of the Ark. I and my partners invested $100,000 in this expedition (described below) which they have retained, despite their promise and our requests to return it, since it was not used for the expedition. The information given below is my opinion based on what I have seen and heard (from others who claim to have been eyewitnesses or know the exact details).

To make a long story short: this is all reported to be a fake. The photos were reputed to have been taken off site near the Black Sea, but the film footage the Chinese now have was shot on location on Mt. Ararat. In the late summer of 2008 ten Kurdish workers hired by Parasut, the guide used by the Chinese, are said to have planted large wood beams taken from an old structure in the Black Sea area (where the photos were originally taken) at the Mt. Ararat site. In the winter of 2008 a Chinese climber taken by Parasut’s men to the site saw the wood, but couldn’t get inside because of the severe weather conditions. During the summer of 2009 more wood was planted inside a cave at the site. The Chinese team went in the late summer of 2009 (I was there at the time and knew about the hoax) and was shown the cave with the wood and made their film. As I said, I have the photos of the inside of the so-called Ark (that show cobwebs in the corners of rafters – something just not possible in these conditions) and our Kurdish partner in Dogubabyazit (the village at the foot of Mt. Ararat) has all of the facts about the location, the men who planted the wood, and even the truck that transported it.

In short, Randall was duped. I feel bad about it because I know him. He’s a good guy with real degrees (so please don’t equate him with charlatans like Ron Wyatt). Yeah, he should have known better. But at least he’s being honest here.


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UFO hovered over apartment says East Texan(Video)

Posted by 3citynewswire on 04/28/2010

[Source KLTV] NACOGDOCHES, TX – A Nacogdoches man gazed into Sunday night’s sky,(April 25-2010) and was transfixed by mysterious bright shapes. He says he saw a UFO. “It was just sitting up there, just bouncing up and down, bouncing up and down, moving back and fourth,” said Albert Davis.

He was driving home from work with his family when bright, flickering lights caught his eye. “We knew it wasn’t from here on Earth because…we’ve seen jets flying around and I don’t think [it was] jets,” said Davis. “We knew jets couldn’t make the moves it was making.”

Davis says the UFO hovered above his apartment for two hours. Then, he spotted more. “And, one was over there and one was in the back out there – pretty good distance out in the back,” he said. “It was just following us.”

Davis believes what he saw was a flying saucer. He says he has never seen anything like it light up the night sky before. “[It] changed colors, threw something out of it, made a circle, it just made a circle and it shot back down toward the east way [and] disappeared,” said Davis.

Astronomer Norman Markworth studies the East Texas sky. He says there is a logical explanation for this sighting. “There’s a well-known psychological phenomena that if you look at something bright against a blank background it might appear to move on you,” explained Markworth. “So, I feel certain that what we have here is a sighting of Venus.”

Despite what anyone thinks, Davis says he knows exactly what he saw and will never forget. “Now, I’ll probably look into space every night wondering if it’s going to return or what’s going to happen next,” he said.

Davis says he is a little nervous after his UFO sighting and has had trouble sleeping


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Space Station to Receive New Anti-Matter Detector Component

Posted by 3citynewswire on 04/28/2010

Scientist plan on replacing the liquid helium cooled magnet, in the anti-matter detector, with an Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer. This will increase the life span of the detector from 3 years to about 18 years.

The AMS (anti-matter spectrometer) is designed to search for anti-matter particles as well as perform other experiments. The device is equipped with over 300,000 data channels that require compression with an on-board supercomputer before the information can be transmitted to Earth.

AMS functions by sampling high-energy particles from deep space. The sensitivity of the AMS is more than 100 to 1,000 times more sensitive than previous instruments.

Samuel Ting of MIT is overseeing a 500 member global team of scientist to work on this 1.5 billion dollar project. This was made possible because US President Barack Obama has proposed to extend the space station for a minimum of 5 years beyond 2015, with an additional budget of 3 billion dollars per year.

In an interview Ting stated: “This really is the very first very, very precise particle physics detector. You enter into a totally new domain. It’s very hard to predict what you’ll find.”

The AMS (anti-matter spectrometer)

The AMS (anti-matter spectrometer)

The AMS is a prototype that flew on a 1998 space shuttle mission and was recently taken out of a clean room storage facility in Germany. By replacing the liquid helium cooled magnet with the AMS cuts the power of the magnetic field that is used bend the path of charged cosmic particles while they pass through various detectors.

Ting is optimistic that having the less powerful AMS in orbit the extra years would more than compensate for the liquid helium cooled magnet. There are also spares on hand if it ever requires replacement.

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American anthropology professor plans to teach UFO course

Posted by 3citynewswire on 04/28/2010

UFO Trindade Brazil 1958, Photo from Brazilian Navy survey ship. Source: Hynek, J. Allen

UFOs and other unexplained phenomena in space should be studied in university courses just like English and math.

That’s the position of an American anthropology professor who is putting together the curriculum for a credit course to cover the subject.

“My interest in UFOs stems from . . . my interest in anthropology and in different world views and how they affect people’s perceptions and behaviours,” said Prof. Philip Haseley of the Niagara County College, a state university in New York.

He argues that there is a large body of evidence around UFO sightings and other space news and that students and scientists should have the opportunity to study it, research it and document findings.

“There is an enormous amount of evidence to investigate,” said Haseley, who is also section director of the Western New York Mutual UFO Network.

“It needs to have exposure to a university setting to students and to faculty who see it being taught as a legitimate subject.

“To me, it is something that is a no-brainer. It ought to have been done a long time ago and the fact that it hasn’t been done strikes me as extraordinarily strange.”

There are classes at other universities in the U.S. already.

“It is something I would like to see a lot more of,” said Haseley.

University of B.C. astronomy and astrophysics Prof. Douglas Scott said UFOs are covered in lectures but the test for students is that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

“There are lots of things people see in the sky, and people who study them in detail,” said Scott, adding that his department regularly gets calls from people reporting “weird things” in the sky.

“There is no evidence that there are aliens coming to visit us. But of course we should study these things — a good scientist should be open minded.

“Frankly, all astronomers would kill to find out that there are really aliens coming to Earth. It would be fantastic . . . There is no evidence that we have been visited by aliens even though most astronomers probably believe they are out there.”

Chris Rutkowski, research co-ordinator for Ufology Research based in Winnipeg, supports the study of UFOs as a legitimate university subject.

“I think what [Haseley] is saying is sound in the sense that it should be discussed more openly in an academic and scholarly setting,” said Rutkowski, author of The Canadian UFO Report: The Best cases Revealed.

“I think it is a matter of being brave enough to think about UFOs rationally in an academic setting.”

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Amazing First Up-Close Images Of The Sun

Posted by 3citynewswire on 04/22/2010

The Sun performs for SDO – AIA Soon after the instruments opened their doors, the Sun began performing for SDO with this beautiful prominence eruption. This AIA data is from March 30, 2010, showing a wavelength band that is centered around 304 Å. This extreme ultraviolet emission line is from singly ionized Helium, or He II, and corresponds to a temperature of approx. 50,000 degrees Celsius.

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NASA panel agrees to Kepler team request to withhold key observations.

Posted by 3citynewswire on 04/19/2010

Kepler, the NASA mission manoeuvring to spot the first Earth-like extrasolar planet, is supposed to publicly release data in June for the 156,000 stars at which the orbiting telescope stares. But on Monday a NASA advisory panel recommended that Kepler be allowed to censor 400 “objects of interest” — presumably good planet candidates — until February 2011, giving the mission team more time to firm up discoveries, rule out false positives and publish. If enacted, the new policy would represent a selective editing of data on the basis of its science content, rather than its quality — unprecedented for such NASA missions.

As Kepler astronomers get ever closer to the prize — an Earth-sized planet orbiting in the habitable zone of a parent star — some astronomers are advocating open sharing of data, with its benefit of bringing additional eyes and ideas to bear on ballooning data sets that swamp the resources of any individual team. Others, however, want to maintain more control over the candidate planets, which can remain in limbo for years while awaiting confirmation. This closed approach ensures not only ultimate bragging rights in the scientific literature, but also enables more cautious media announcements in a field that has suffered embarrassing retractions.

“It’s come to a head,” says William Borucki, Kepler’s principal investigator at NASA Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California.

Half-baked candidates

Since its launch on 6 March 2009, Kepler, with its 0.95-metre telescope, has been staring at the same field of stars near the northern star of Vega, looking for tiny reductions in starlight caused by a planet passing in front of a star’s face. In January, the Kepler team announced the discovery of five new exoplanets. Borucki says that the team, as of last week, has found 328 more candidates — but that as many as 50% of these may be false positives, where objects such binary stars confuse the picture.

The option to delay Kepler’s data release, made by NASA’s astrophysics advisory subcommittee, was a compromise between giving the Kepler team its full preference — to censor 500 objects until the mission’s end in November 2013 — and sticking with the original data policy, enacted last year, that would have required Kepler to turn over its first 43 days worth of data on 15 June. NASA astrophysics director Jon Morse says he will make a final decision based on the committee’s advice in the next week or so.

Many astrophysics programmes allow researchers a proprietary period with the data. For instance, guest observers on the Hubble Space Telescope get exclusive use of their data for a year before public release. But the tradition for NASA Discovery missions — small, principal-investigator-led missions like Kepler — is to make calibrated data available immediately. That policy has already been changed once for Kepler, last year, when the team was given more than a year to pursue confirmations and work out the kinks in its data processing.

But Borucki says more time is needed because a mission launch delay meant that the team missed out on a season of the ground-based follow-up observations that are needed to verify candidate exoplanets. He also worries about releasing “half-baked” candidates that the media will jump on without an understanding of their uncertainty. “My worry is less of being scooped than it is of putting out inaccurate estimates of what exoplanets are really like out there,” he says.

Keeping secrets

Exoplanet astronomers outside the mission, however, are critical of what they say is an overly cautious approach. Scott Gaudi, an astronomer at Ohio State University in Columbus, says external astronomers might help the Kepler team, as it will be unable on its own to follow up and confirm all its candidate planets. “I think Kepler is being far too conservative, and far too closed about what’s going on,” he says, “and I think it’s to the detriment of science”.

The Kepler team also shouldn’t worry too much about scientific competitors taking the team’s data and beating it at its own game, says Malcolm Fridlund, the European Space Agency (ESA) project scientist for the COROT spacecraft (Convection, Rotation and Planetary Transits), a French mission that also looks for planets but which has a 0.3-metre telescope — smaller than Kepler’s. Fridlund says there is “no way” the COROT team was planning to use the public Kepler data as it is too busy trying to confirm its own backlog of several hundred candidates.

COROT has a similar data policy to Kepler’s current plan — a proprietary period of one year. But Fridlund, who is ESA’s study scientist for a planned follow-up planet-hunting mission called PLATO (Planetary Transits and Oscillations of Stars), wants to do things differently next time. The policy for the future mission will require the immediate dissemination of data. “You get a larger community and you get a bigger workforce for free,” he says. “It’s clear that the more people you get involved, the more support you get.”

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