First Evidence Found of a Comet Strike on Earth

Comets haven’t been observed entering Earth’s atmosphere (shown here: Hale-Bopp in 1997).

Saharan glass and a brooch belonging to King Tut provide the first evidence of a comet directly impacting Earth, a new study claims. The finding may help unlock some of the mysteries surrounding the birth of our solar system.

A brooch owned by Tutankhamun. Photograph courtesy Jon Bodsworth via University of the Witwatersrand

About 28 million years ago a comet exploded over Egypt, creating a 3600°F (2000°C) blast wave that spread out over the desert below. The fiery shockwave melted the sand, forming copious amounts of yellow silica glass scattered over 2,300 square miles (6,000 square kilometers) of the Sahara.

Polished into the shape of a scarab beetle, a large piece of this glass found its way into a brooch owned by the famed Egyptian boy king Tutankhamen.

“Because there is no sign of an impact crater, it has been a mystery as to what kind of celestial event actually could have caused this debris field, but a small, black stone found lying in the middle of the glass area caught our attention,” said study co-author David Block, an astronomer at Wits University in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Saharan Surprise

A tiny slice of the black pebble was put through isotopic analysis, which definitely ruled out that it came from a meteor. Instead, the analysis showed that the pebble possessed the unique chemical signature of a comet, measured in terms of elements such as argon and carbon.

“It was then basically a matter of running the movie backwards in time and predicting what temperatures were needed to create the conditions we find that make up the fragment today,” Block says. “So when I saw the result of the analyses, I was completely ecstatic to realize that such a piece of cosmic history has been found for the first time right on our doorstep.”

Read more at National Geographic

Veterans groups move to end shutdown

Many veterans on honor flights have moved the barricades to see the memorial. | AP Photo 

In a strong display of unity, leaders of the nation’s major veterans’ groups plan to speak out against the continuing government shutdown at an event on Tuesday at the World War II Memorial, POLITICO has learned.

Among the groups expected are the American Legion, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Disabled American Veterans, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America and the Military Officers Association of America, according to two sources familiar with the planning.

Veterans’ groups have been unified in their scathing indictment of the government shutdown, arguing it’s making it harder for veterans and their families to receive the government benefits and services that they are entitled to.

Read more at POLITICO

Thousands rally in Israel to remember slain PM Rabin

The demonstrators carried portraits of Rabin – who was assassinated after addressing a rally in the same square on November 4, 1995 – and banners with slogans against racism and intolerance. (AFP)

Tens of thousands of Israelis gathered in Tel Aviv on Saturday to mourn peace-seeking Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin on the 18th anniversary of his assassination by a Jewish extremist.

The demonstrators were mainly young people representing a wide political spectrum but protesting against Israeli radicals opposed to peace with the Palestinians, an AFP reporter said.

The demonstrators carried portraits of Rabin – who was assassinated after addressing a rally in the same square on November 4, 1995 – and banners with slogans against racism and intolerance.

Read more at Al Arabiya

Shutdown Politics: Support for Democratic Takeover of House Spikes

John Nichols – The Nation

The numbers that matter in Washington are not the ones tossed around in discussions of debt ceilings or continuing resolutions.

The numbers that matter are found in the polls of public reaction to the ongoing government shutdown, and to the prospect that a bad circumstance could grow dramatically worse with the undermining of the “full faith and credit” of the federal government.

Those poll numbers explain why there has been at least some movement on the part of House Republicans—who engineered the shutdown as part of a scheme to derail implementation of the Affordable Care Act—to back down from their most hardline positions.

The latest data from NBC News and The Wall Street Journal is devastating for the GOP.

Fifty-three percent of Americans surveyed blame the GOP for the shutdown, while just 31 percent blame President Obama. Overall, approval ratings for the president are far better than those for the Republicans, and approval of the Affordable Care Act has spiked since the standoff began.

Read more at The Nation

Turkey Cracks Down on Cleavage

How do you know whether a regime that frees women to wear Islamic headscarves at work is liberal and furthering democracy, or Islamist and restricting it?

The question concerns Turkey’s government, which in the space of a few days has ended a headscarf ban for civil servants (except in the judiciary and security services), but also caused a female TV music-show presenter to be fired for showing too much cleavage.

The headscarf ban was a piece of unabashed social engineering introduced in the 1920s to make Turkey, the rump of the former Ottoman Empire and Islamic Caliphate, secular. If you are liberal and not Islamophobic, ending the ban is a good thing: Women should not be excluded from the workplace just because they are devout and believe this requires covering their hair, period.

But what if the change — which Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan introduced as part of a broad “democratization” package — is part of a wider plan of social re-engineering, this time designed to impinge on the liberties of non-religious conservatives? If so, the numerous cases in which women were discriminated against, fired or passed over for promotion for wearing a headscarf even outside of work would now be repeated in reverse: Women who don’t wear headscarves to work, and men whose wives don’t cover their hair, will be discriminated against, fired and passed over for promotion.

Turkey’s secularists say this is already happening to men whose wives show their locks. That’s hard to prove, but the real issue is trust — secularists believe the worst of Erdogan’s intentions. Are they right?

Read more at Bloomberg

Hummingbirds: hovering on the brink of extinction

I have been fascinated by hummingbirds ever since I was given a pack of wild animal cards in hospital while my tonsils were removed and fell in love with Heliothrix aurita, a speck of fire and jade. And also wine-red Topaza pella, perched in a jungle whisking a crimson tail.

I still have those cards. Their pictures seem crude now, but when I was eight I was enraptured. The Aztecs said the Earth’s first flower was fathered by the god of poetry in the shape of a hummingbird; and everything about hummingbirds seems tailor-made for a poet.

Birds see ultraviolet light, and female hummingbirds have a taste for iridescence, so males have turned themselves into flying jewels. Their metallic sheens, glancing as soap bubbles, are reflected in equally iridescent names for which taxonomists have plundered all the shimmer in the lexicon.

There are more than 300 species: words such as emerald, copper, bronze, gold, fire, sapphire, lazuline, emerald and sunbeam spill like Aladdin’s treasure through the list: amethyst woodstar, blue-headed sapphire, Brazilian ruby, buff-winged starfrontlet – you marvel not only at nature’s capacity for spangly variation but the human urge to match it in language.

Hummingbird nests – the size of a nutshell, spun out of plant down, covered with lichen, bound by spider’s silk – are works of art straight out of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Hummingbird tongues, almost transparent, are liquid-trapping miracles of bioengineering that change shape as they flick in and out of the nectar. Their tips are forked: the V’s inside edges have feathery tufts that draw in nectar by capillary action. When hummingbirds sleep they fall into hibernation-like torpor. Metabolism drops, temperature zooms to near-hypothermic levels and breathing slows so drastically that if you find a sleeping hummingbird you think it’s dead. Which, in the Peruvian Andes, makes it a symbol of resurrection.

Read more at The Telegraph

Monarch butterfly numbers drop to new lows

Few monarchs in eastern Canada this year

The number of monarch butterflies now on their migration to Mexico appear to to be at record lows. A monarch feeds on silky red milkweed, in a monarch way station as part of Monarch Watch, a continental effort to create backyard habitats for the butterflies along their migratory routes. (Steve Smedley/The Pantagraph/Associated Press)

Monarch butterflies appear headed for a perhaps unprecedented population crash, according to scientists and monarch watchers who have been keeping tabs on the species in their main summer home in Eastern and Central North America.

There had been hope that on their journey north from their overwintering zone in Mexico, the insects’ numbers would build through the generations, but there’s no indication that happened.

Only a small number of monarchs did make it to Canada this summer to propagate the generation that has now begun its southern migration to Mexico, and early indications are that the past year’s record lows will be followed by even lower numbers this fall.

Elizabeth Howard, the director and founder of Journey North, a citizen-scientist effort that tracks the migrations of monarchs and other species, says one indicator for the robustness of the monarchs is the number of roosts they form in late August and September, something Journey North monitors throughout the migration periods.

Read more at CBC News

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Obama Sets Conditions for Talks: Pass Funding and Raise Debt Ceiling

WASHINGTON — In their first meeting since a budget impasse shuttered many federal operations, President Obama told Republican leaders on Wednesday that he would negotiate with them only after they agreed to the funding needed to reopen the government and also to an essential increase in the nation’s debt limit, without add-ons.

The president’s position reflected the White House view that the Republicans’ strategy is failing. His meeting with Congressional leaders, just over an hour long, ended without any resolution.

As they left, Republican and Democratic leaders separately reiterated their contrary positions to waiting reporters. The House speaker, John A. Boehner, Republican of Ohio, said Mr. Obama “will not negotiate,” while the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, Democrat of Nevada, said Democrats would agree to spending at levels already passed by the House. “My friend John Boehner cannot take ‘yes’ for an answer,” Mr. Reid said.

The meeting was the first time that the president linked the two actions that he and a divided Congress are fighting over this month: a budget for the fiscal year that began on Tuesday and an increase in the debt ceiling by Oct. 17, when the Treasury Department will otherwise breach its authority to borrow the money necessary to cover the nation’s existing obligations to citizens, contractors and creditors.

Only when those actions are taken, Mr. Obama said, will he agree to revive bipartisan talks toward a long-term budget deal addressing the growing costs of Medicare and Medicaid and the inadequacy of federal tax revenues.

Read more at The New York Times

Our Democracy Is at Stake

By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN

This time is different. What is at stake in this government shutdown forced by a radical Tea Party minority is nothing less than the principle upon which our democracy is based: majority rule. President Obama must not give in to this hostage taking — not just because Obamacare is at stake, but because the future of how we govern ourselves is at stake.

What we’re seeing here is how three structural changes that have been building in American politics have now, together, reached a tipping point — creating a world in which a small minority in Congress can not only hold up their own party but the whole government. And this is the really scary part: The lawmakers doing this can do so with high confidence that they personally will not be politically punished, and may, in fact, be rewarded. When extremists feel that insulated from playing by the traditional rules of our system, if we do not defend those rules — namely majority rule and the fact that if you don’t like a policy passed by Congress, signed by the president and affirmed by the Supreme Court then you have to go out and win an election to overturn it; you can’t just put a fiscal gun to the country’s head — then our democracy is imperiled.

This danger was neatly captured by Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank, when he wrote on Tuesday about the 11th-hour debate in Congress to avert the shutdown. Noting a shameful statement by Speaker John Boehner, Milbank wrote: “Democrats howled about ‘extortion’ and ‘hostage taking,’ which Boehner seemed to confirm when he came to the floor and offered: ‘All the Senate has to do is say ‘yes,’ and the government is funded tomorrow.’ It was the legislative equivalent of saying, ‘Give me the money and nobody gets hurt.’ ”

Read more at The New York Times