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Science & Nature

September 22, 2018 - September 28, 2018

Bangkok meet fails to finalize draft on climate change rules

Delegates meet for a United Nations climate change conference in Bangkok, Sunday, Sept 9, 2018. The six-day Bangkok meeting has failed in its aim of completing fruitful preparations so an agreement can be reached in December on guidelines to implement the 2015 Paris Climate Change Agreement. (AP Photo/Kaweewit Kaewjinda)

Kaweewit Kaewjinda

Bangkok (AP) - An international meeting in Bangkok fell short of its aim of completing fruitful preparations to help an agreement be reached in December on guidelines for implementing the 2015 Paris climate change agreement.

The six-day meeting, which ended on Sunday, Sept. 9, was scheduled to step up progress in the battle against rising global carbon emissions by adopting a completed text that could be presented at the COP24 conference in Katowice, Poland, three months from now.

A primary objective of the 2015 Paris agreement, to which 190 nations subscribe, is to limit the global temperature increase by 2100 to less than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) and as close as possible to 1.5 degrees, which is vital to the survival of island nations threatened by rising seas. But the absence of guidelines for meeting that goal has led to fears that not enough action is being taken.

There have been notable disagreements over fair financing for implementation of the rules by developing countries, and the technical details of their reporting on progress.

Patricia Espinosa, executive secretary for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, said Sunday at the closing press briefing for the Bangkok meeting that progress was made on most issues but nothing was finalized.

The meeting was attended by representatives of most of the countries party to the Paris agreement, as well as the United States, which has announced that it is pulling out of the pact.

Espinosa said there was “limited progress” on the issue of contributions from developed nations to developing countries, adding that she is “hopeful” that future discussions will be productive because of the importance of the issue.

“On the core issues of forward-looking climate finance and the degree of flexibility developing countries should be given on the information and reporting requirements for national commitments under the Paris Agreement, negotiators were stalemated in Bangkok,” said a statement from Alden Meyer, director of strategy and policy for the Union of Concerned Scientists, a U.S.-based activist group.

“It’s now up to the incoming Polish presidency and officials leading negotiations to find ways to bridge the deep differences on these issues and to secure agreement in Katowice on a robust, comprehensive package of rules to implement the Paris Agreement,” he said.

Harjeet Singh, climate policy manager for ActionAid International, said Sunday that a vital component of the Paris agreement is for wealthy nations to provide financial assistance to developing countries as they fight natural disasters brought by climate change.

But he said wealthy and developed countries “led by the United States and including countries such as Australia, Japan and even the European Union” refused to clearly show “how much money they are going to provide and how that is going to be counted.”

Advocacy for the developing countries was led at the meeting by China, said Meyer, but was also supported by others, including India, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Malaysia.

Activists were critical of Washington’s lobbying at the meeting, especially because President Donald Trump has announced plans to have the U.S. withdraw from the Paris pact, which had been heavily promoted by his predecessor, Barack Obama.

“The U.S. has announced its withdrawal from the Paris Agreement but still negotiates as if it is a Party, weakening international cooperation by not contributing to finance and technology transfer to developing countries,” Meena Raman, legal adviser at Third World Network, said in an emailed statement.

Climate change is a polarizing issue in the United States, and some states and local communities have announced policies supporting the Paris agreement.

Thousands of governors, mayors, company CEOs and civil society leaders are expected to gather in San Francisco for the Global Climate Action Summit.

NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity snaps dusty selfie

This composite image from Aug. 9, 2018 photos made available by NASA shows the Curiosity rover at Vera Rubin Ridge on Mars. A thin layer of dust is visible on the nuclear-powered rover, the result of a storm that enveloped the planet this summer. The darkish sky is from dust still in the atmosphere. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS via AP)

Marcia Dunn

Cape Canaveral, Fla. (AP) - NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity has snapped a dusty but cool selfie.

NASA released the panorama this week. A thin layer of dust is visible on Curiosity, the result of a storm that enveloped Mars this summer. The darkish sky indicates dust still clogging the atmosphere in August, when the panorama was shot by Curiosity’s mast camera. The rover had just drilled for a new rock sample.

Curiosity is nuclear-powered and therefore unaffected by the lack of sunlight. NASA’s older rover Opportunity, however, relies on solar power and has been silent since June. Flight controllers hope as the Martian sky continues to clear, Opportunity will get back in contact. But after almost 15 years exploring the red planet, Opportunity may not have the strength or ability for a comeback.

September 15, 2018 - September 21, 2018

Russia says air leak at space station caused by drill hole

Moscow (AP) - Russia’s top space official says that last week’s air leak at the International Space Station was a drill hole that happened during manufacturing or in orbit.

The leak, which was discovered last week, was traced to a small hole in one of the Russian Soyuz capsules docked at the station. The leak was patched over with a sealant that officials said was airtight.

Russian news agencies on Tuesday quoted Roscosmos chief Dmitry Rogozin saying that the hole was drilled by “an unsteady hand” potentially during manufacturing. But he said that it was possible that the hole was drilled while the capsule was already in orbit. He didn’t say if he suspected one of the astronauts.

Three Americans, two Russians and a German are currently aboard the station.

Researchers hope some objects survived Brazil museum fire


This combination of two undated handout photos provided by Brazil’s National Museum shows the skull of Luzia Woman, left, and a reconstruction of Luzia, right, at the National Museum of Brazil in Rio de Janeiro. In the mid-1990s, tests by scientists determined it was the oldest fossil in the Americas. It was given the name “Luzia,” homage to “Lucy,” the famous 3.2-million-year-old remains found in Africa. (Museu Nacional Brasil via AP)

The National Museum, seen from above, stands gutted after an overnight fire in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Monday, Sept. 3, 2018. (AP Photo/Mario Lobao)

This undated handout photo provided by Brazil’s National Museum shows a mummified head produced by the Jivaro of the Ecuadorian Amazon, at the National Museum of Brazil in Rio de Janeiro. The famous heads shrunk by the so-called “people of the waterfall” were prepared in complex rituals and had a deep spiritual significance. (Museu Nacional Brasil via AP)

Marcelo Silva De Sousa & Mauricio Savarese

Rio de Janeiro (AP) - Researchers held out hope that a famed skull and other valuable objects might somehow be recovered from the ashes of a massive blaze that tore through Brazil’s National Museum after firefighters found bone fragments from the collection.

Officials have said as much as 90 percent of Latin America’s largest collection of treasures might have been lost in a fire that broke out Sunday. Aerial photos of the main building showed only heaps of rubble and ashes in the parts of the building where the roof collapsed.

The firefighters “found fragments of bones in a room where the museum kept many items, including skulls,” Cristiana Serejo, the museum’s vice director, said Tuesday. “We still have to collect them and take them to the lab to know exactly what they are.”

In its collection of about 20 million items, one of the most prized possessions is a skull called Luzia, which is among the oldest fossils ever found in the Americas.

Despite the evident loss, Serejo told journalists Tuesday that staff members were “reasonably optimistic about finding some more items inside.”

Parts of the collection were saved when a professor rushed into the fire, and parts were held in other buildings - though some of those were also at risk. For instance, the electricity went out in an annex on the site, causing some frozen specimens to begin to rot.

Paulo Buckup, a professor of zoology at the museum, recounted Tuesday how he and a few other people pulled out mollusks and marine specimens as the fire gathered steam, going into and out of the building several times until it became too dangerous. He said the group tried to identify in the dark the most irreplaceable objects, but said they only saved a “minuscule portion of the heritage that was lost.”

Many have already said that regardless of what is salvaged, the loss will be immeasurable. Marina Silva, a candidate for president in upcoming elections, called it a “lobotomy of Brazilian history.”

The Globo newspaper wrote in an editorial published Tuesday: “The size of the catastrophe is vast: It struck the national memory, through the loss of the important historical collection; it affected the sciences, interrupting research; and it represents a cultural loss impossible to quantify. We only know that it is enormous.”

With the cause still under investigation, the disaster has led to a series of recriminations amid accusations that successive governments haven’t sufficiently funded the museum, and it has raised concerns that other institutions might be at risk. Officials have said it was well known that the building was vulnerable to fire and in need of extensive repair.

The national development bank announced Tuesday that it would make $6 million available for museums looking to upgrade their security or fire-prevention plans.

On Monday, government officials promised $2.4 million to the National Museum shore up its gutted building and vowed to rebuild the institution.

UNESCO, the U.N.’s cultural agency, has offered financial and technical assistance, and French and Egyptian officials also have offered help. The museum was home to Egyptian artifacts, and Egypt’s ministries of foreign affairs and antiquities have expressed concern over the fate of those objects.

September 8, 2018 - September 14, 2018

Drought reveals ancient ‘hunger stones’ in European river


On of the so called “hunger stones” exposed by the low level of water in the Elbe River in Decin, Czech Republic, Thursday, Aug. 23, 2018. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek)

Decin, Czech Republic (AP) - Due to this summer’s drought in Central Europe, boulders known as “hunger stones” are reappearing in the Elbe River.

The low water levels in the river that begins in the Czech Republic then crosses Germany into the North Sea has exposed stones on the river bed whose appearances in history used to warn people that hard times were coming.

Over a dozen of the hunger stones, chosen to record low water levels, can now be seen in and near the northern Czech town of Decin near the German border.

The oldest water mark visible dates to 1616. That stone, which is considered the oldest hydrological landmark in Central Europe, bears a chiseled inscription in German that says: “When you see me, cry.”

Expert: Fires will get deadlier as cities grow, planet warms


A destroyed house stand near the sea one month after a deadly wildfire tore through holiday homes near Athens, on at the seaside area of Mati. Authorities are still investigating the cause of the fire that killed more than 90 people and touched off a political spat that forced country’s minister of public order to resign. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

Athens, Greece (AP) - A senior German scientist who will lead an independent inquiry into this summer’s deadly Greek wildfire says fires are expected to pose a greater threat worldwide in the coming decades.

Johann Goldammer, who heads the Global Fire Monitoring Center at Germany’s Max Planck Institute for Chemistry, met with Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras in Athens on Thursday after agreeing to head the inquiry into Greece’s deadly July 23 wildfire.

The blaze killed 96 people and gutted hundreds of homes in a seaside area near Athens.

Goldammer says that climate change, growing cities and changes in land use and commercial agriculture have created an increased the risk of deadly wildfires globally.

Scientists find perfectly preserved ancient foal in Siberia

In this image made from video, scientists examine the fossil of a horse in Yakutia, Russia, Thursday, Aug. 23. Scientists from Russia’s Northeast Federal University said that the foal is estimated to be 30,000 to 40,000 years old. (AP Photo)

Moscow (AP) - Russian scientists have found the carcass of an ancient foal perfectly preserved in the Siberian permafrost.

The fossil discovered in the region of Yakutia has its skin, hair, hooves and tail preserved. Yakutia is also famous having wooly mammoth fossils found in the permafrost.

Scientists from Russia’s Northeast Federal University who presented the discovery Thursday said the foal is estimated to be 30,000 to 40,000 years old. They believe it was about two months old when it died.

Semyon Grigoryev, head of the Mammoth Museum in the regional capital of Yakutsk, was surprised to see the perfect state of the find. He noted it’s the best-preserved ancient foal found to date.

The foal was discovered in the Batagaika crater, a huge 100-meter (328-foot) deep depression in the East Siberian taiga.

September 1, 2018 - September 7, 2018

Germany: No preparations made in case of alien landing

A long exposure picture shows driving cars on the highway just before sunrise near Frankfurt, central Germany on Friday, Aug. 17. (AP Photo/Michael Probst)

Berlin (AP) - The German government says it has made no preparations for the possibility that aliens might land in the European country.

In a response to questions from opposition Green Party lawmaker Dieter Janecek, the government said “there are no protocols or plans for a possible first contact with alien life.”

Justifying that stance, the government added it believes “a first contact on German territory is extremely unlikely, based on today’s scientific knowledge.” Janecek linked the government’s responses to a media article Saturday.

Separately, German news agency dpa reported Saturday the classic children’s book “The Little Prince” has been translated into Klingon - the fictitious language of the eponymous space race in the science fiction franchise “Star Trek.”

Dpa quoted Saarbruecken-based translator Lieven L. Litaer as saying the book, titled “ta’puq mach,” will be published in October.

Modi says India will send manned flight into space by 2022


Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi addresses the nation on the country’s Independence Day from the ramparts of the historical Red Fort in New Delhi, India, Wednesday, Aug. 15, 2018. India will send a manned flight into space by 2022, Modi announced as part of India’s Independence Day celebrations. (AP Photo/Manish Swarup)

Ashok Sharma

New Delhi (AP) - India will send a manned flight into space by 2022, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced Aug. 15 as part of India’s Independence Day celebrations.

He said India will become the fourth country after Russia, the United States and China to achieve the feat and its astronaut could be a man or a woman. The space capsule that will transport India’s astronauts was tested a few days earlier.

Rakesh Sharma was the first Indian to travel in space, aboard a Soviet rocket in 1984. As part of its own space program, active since the 1960s, India has launched scores of satellites for itself and other countries and successfully put one in orbit around Mars in 2014.

It hopes to showcase its technological ability to explore the solar system while also using research from space and elsewhere to solve problems at home. The $1 billion-a-year space program has already helped develop satellite, communication and remote-sensing technologies and has been used to gauge underground water levels and predict weather in the country prone to cycles of drought and flood.

India won independence from British colonialists in 1947. Modi’s 80-minute speech, broadcast live from the historic Red Fort in New Delhi, comes months before national elections.

Weekly Update

HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]

Bangkok meet fails to finalize draft on climate change rules

NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity snaps dusty selfie

Russia says air leak at space station caused by drill hole

Researchers hope some objects survived Brazil museum fire

Drought reveals ancient ‘hunger stones’ in European river

Expert: Fires will get deadlier as cities grow, planet warms

Scientists find perfectly preserved ancient foal in Siberia

Germany: No preparations made in case of alien landing

Modi says India will send manned flight into space by 2022