December 3, 2013

This glowing emergence, less bright than Comet ISON, could either be the comet's nucleus—its icy core—or fragmented remains. NASA states that the latter is more likely.     Photo: Courtesy of NASA

Comet ISON, We Almost Knew Thee

Ashes to ashes, dust to travel deep space

NASA released a statement saying it will continue to investigate the fate of Comet ISON after the comet's intimate encounter with the sun last Thursday appeared to result in distintegration. NASA adds that the comet is likely now "only dust."

ISON, the 4.5-billion-year-old comet that got its start as a Sungrazer when a passing star pushed it from the embrace of the Oort Cloud in 3 million B.C. was discovered just a year ago. Its journey culminated cathartically at its perihelion point, when the comet drew closest to the sun before its parabolic orbit would have slung it back into deep space and past Earth, for what star-gazers hoped would provide a once-in-a-lifetime holiday spectacle.

Instead, solar observatories reported several hours passing with no sign of ISON emerging from the other side of the sun, leading some to believe it had succumbed entirely to solar heat.

But then, at last, something showed: either ISON's shining nucleus or mere fragments of dust and rock that observers speculate will soon begin to fade from view, rapidly.

Our best chance to know for sure will be later this month, if the Hubble Space Telescope makes observations.

But, in all likelihood, Comet ISON is survived by "approximately several trillion siblings," according to a eulogy written by Karl Battams of the U.S. Navy's Sungrazer Comets citizen science project and the NASA-sponsored Comet ISON Observing Campaign.

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Ski euphoria.     Photo: Wojciech Gajda/iStockphoto

Study Says Skiers Happier Than Snowboarders

But both lead to greater overall happiness

Researchers from South Korea inadvertently supplied skiers with more ammunition in the ideological war between which is better: skiing or snowboarding.

According to the study published in the journal Applied Research in Quality of Life, skiers find more pleasure from a day on the slopes than snowboarders. Among the 279 participant study, skiers showed higher levels of pleasure and involvement in their sport than snowboarders did.

In the sample, 126 participants skied, 112 snowboarded and 41 did both. Respondents spent an average of four and a half days at a three resort in South Korea. Happiness was determined by assessing their sense of pleasure, involvement, and satisfaction they subjectively reported after a day out on the snow. The results indicate that whether you're on a board or skis, hitting the slopes occasionally has a positive impact on one's overall health and happiness.

"Adult playfulness can influence people's happiness, while activities and socially convening around a sporting activity such as skiing have positive psychological outcomes and contribute to overall well-being," lead author Hyun-Woo Lee said in a statement.

Now stop reading this article and take a skiing holiday.

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Tiger shark on the hunt     Photo: Mike Ellis/Thinkstock

Another Fatal Shark Attack off Maui

Kayak fisherman dies from shark bite as the tally grows in Maui

A fisherman died on Monday after a shark attack on the south shoreline of Maui. Patrick Briney, a 57 year-old from Stevenson, Washington, was reportedly fishing with artificial lures when a shark bit his leg, which was hanging over the edge of his kayak, according to reports from ABC News. The type of shark involved in still undetermined.

Briney's partner, who was fishing in another kayak, used a tourniquet to stop the bleeding and called for help from nearby boats. Despite his partner's efforts, Briney died prior to reaching the shore, according to Maui News.

This attack comes just three days after another shark bite along the same coastline, prompting officials to close the area until sometime later today.

Shark bite incidents are appearing at a higher frequency this year in Maui; eight attacks have been reported, contributing to 13 total incidents statewide. In August, a German woman lost her arm in a shark attack near southern Maui and died a week later, reports ABC News.

Authorities can't explain the rise in shark incidents during the last 12 months but are conducting a two-year study in an effort to understand the movement of tiger sharks around Maui.

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The target of the operation, the brown tree snake.     Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Air Force Drops Two Thousand Poison Mice on Guam

Aimed at wiping out invasive tree snakes

The U.S. Air Force took to the skies over Guam on Sunday to shower death upon the invasive and troublesome brown tree snake. But instead of napalm, bombs, and mustard gas, planes released 2,000 dead mice, stuffed to the gills with deadly painkillers, which sailed gently down to the earth on tiny cardboard parachutes.

The dead mouse drop was the fourth and largest such operation, part of a $8 million program aimed at wiping out the snakes and saving Guam's endangered bird population.  Officials also hope to save the estimated $4 million it costs annually to repair damages dealt to the island's power infrastructure by snakes working their way into power substations and shorting them out.

The snakes have been highly successful since they arrived on Guam in the 1950s, with a population now believed to be near 2 million. Officials have tried traps, dogs, and hunting programs, all to no avail. Fortunately, the snakes have proven highly sensitive to acetaminophen, the active ingredient in over-the-counter Tylenol. Just one-sixth of a pill is enough to lay a tree snake to rest.

So, thousands of mice are killed, stuffed with Tylenol, and rigged into their tiny parachutes for their final mission. "The cardboard is heavier than the tissue paper and opens up in an inverted horseshoe," assistant supervisory wildlife biologist Dan Vice told KUAM. "It then floats down and ultimately hangs up in the forest canopy. Once it's hung in the forest canopy, snakes have an opportunity to consume the bait."

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    Photo: Kitch Bain / Shutterstock.com

Chimps are People, Too

New York Lawsuit seeks legal personhood for chimpanzees

Tommy is a 26-year-old chimpanzee and he lives in a cement cage in Gloversville, New York, about 50 miles northwest of Albany. On Monday, an animal activist group asked a New York state court to declare Tommy an "autonomous legal person with the fundamental legal right not to be imprisoned," Reuters reports.

The lawsuit seeks to give Tommy and other chimps the "fundamental right to bodily liberty," or what Steven Wise, the president of Nonhuman Rights Project, told Reuters is the basic right to be left alone and not held for entertainment or research.

The challenge: Chimpanzees and other animals are not considered persons before the law. Rather, they are considered more like property that can be bought and sold, something Wise and others hope to put an end to.

Chimps “possess complex cognitive abilities that are so strictly protected when they’re found in human beings,” Wise says. “There’s no reason why they should not be protected when they’re found in chimpanzees.”

Tommy’s case is among three the group is filing this week on behalf of four chimps across New York including 26-year-old Kiko who is caged on private property in Niagara Falls and Hercules and Leo who are used in research at Stony Brook University on Long Island.

"These are the first cases in an open-ended, strategic litigation campaign," Wise says. "We're just going to keep filing suits."

David Favre, a professor at Michigan State University College of Law and seasoned animal law expert told Reuters that the case is the first habeas petition filed on behalf of an animal.

"The focus here is whether a chimpanzee is a 'person' that has access to these laws," Favre says.

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Sochi 2014 Olympic Flame at The North Pole.     Photo: Courtesy of Sochi 2014

Olympic Torch Bearer Catches Fire

Fuel ignites on left shoulder

The line between Olympic torch and human torch momentarily blurred last Wednesday when former bobsledder Pyotr Makarchuk caught fire while carrying the Sochi Olympic flame through the Siberian city of Abakan.

It appears that fuel from the torch leaked onto Makarchuk's arm and shoulder as he jogged through a crowd of bystanders. When his shoulder caught fire, an escort promptly extinguished the blaze. Neither torch bearer nor the bystanders appeared to be injured.

The glitch is the latest snafu in the Sochi Olympic torch relay, the longest torch relay in modern Olympic history. In October, former Olympic champion swimmer Shavarsha Karapetyan jogged with a flameless torch for a few steps on a windy Moscow street until a bystander relit the torch with his cigarette lighter.


Raw video of the incident:

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