Kenyan elephant numbers plummet by 1000 in four years









































IT'S a case of up then down for Kenya's second largest population of elephants. After a promising growth spurt, the elephants are now dying faster than they are being born. The decline is being blamed on illegal poaching, driven by Asia's demand for ivory.












The Kenya Wildlife Service recently conducted a census of the Samburu/Laikipia population, the country's second largest. It found that the population lost over 1000 elephants in just four years, and now stands at 6361. Previous censuses in 1992, 1998, 2002 and 2008 had revealed a growing population, which appears to have peaked at 7415 in 2008.












Poaching is suspected. A July report by three conservation groups found that it has been on the rise across Africa since 2006. Poaching is also spreading eastwards from central Africa into countries like Kenya, says Richard Thomas of TRAFFIC in Cambridge, UK, one of the three groups that drafted the report. The July report found that more than half of all elephants found dead in Africa in 2011 had been illegally killed.












The rise in poaching appears to be driven by increasing affluence in China and Thailand, where ivory is often used to make religious sculptures and other decorations.












Organised criminal gangs have capitalised on this increased demand. "If it's worth someone's while to smuggle the ivory, they'll take the risk," Thomas says. There is evidence that gangs are moving into Kenya to hunt elephants.


















































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Horse Racing: World's top horse pulls out of Hong Kong Cup






HONG KONG: The world's top racehorse Cirrus des Aigles has withdrawn injured from Sunday's Hong Kong International Races in a major blow to the competition, one of the richest meetings on the global calendar.

The French gelding was set to headline a stellar line-up for the 2,000-metre Hong Kong Cup and was seeking to make it fourth time lucky at the meet, where he has failed to scoop a prize in his last three appearances.

But it seems that he was unable to shake off his Hong Kong curse after sustaining what Jockey Club vets described as a "soft tissue injury" in his left front tendon, according to the South China Morning Post (SCMP).

He has now been scratched from Sunday's race card so that his injury can be treated.

"It is a relatively mild injury but it would be very unwise to run him in a race," said Dr Chris Riggs, the head of veterinary clinical services at the club, according to the newspaper.

However, executive director of racing Bill Nader remained optimistic that Sunday would still be a great race day.

"Obviously, it's disappointing to lose the world's top-rated horse," he said in the SCMP.

"I think the depth of talent remaining right across our four international races gives us some top-quality compensation," he added.

Cirrus des Aigles became the top-ranked racehorse in training after British champ Frankel retired in October to go to stud.

His withdrawal leaves last year's surprise victor Hong Kong-based California Memory the front-runner for the title, having raced to a late win at the Jockey Club Cup in November on the same Sha Tin course as Sunday's meet.

Other favourites include two more French raiders -- Giofra, who won the Falmouth Stakes against the odds in July, and Saonois who had a surprise win at the Prix du Jockey Club French Derby in June.

This year for the first time one of Queen Elizabeth II's horses will also join the field -- Carlton House came in second to So You Think at the Prince of Wales Stakes at Ascot in June and competes for the Cup in the British monarch's Jubilee year.

The Hong Kong Cup has a prize purse of US$2.8 million and is the world's richest turf race over 2,000m.

It is one of four Group One contests that will take place at Sunday's Longines Hong Kong International Races and offers the largest pot of money. Total prize money at the meeting is US$9.2 million.

The 2,400-metre Hong Kong Vase will see last year's winner Dunaden defending his title after failing to do so at the Melbourne Cup in November.

Britain's Sea Moon looks set to be the French horse's biggest challenger in the US$1.9 million race, having beaten him into second at the Hardwicke Stakes at Ascot.

Also featuring at the meet are the 1,200-metre Hong Kong Sprint and the 1,600-metre Hong Kong Mile, both usually dominated by the home team but with strong international challengers this year.

As well as providing top-flight racing, organisers hope to up the glamour stakes with Oscar-winning British actress Kate Winslet making an appearance in her role as ambassador for Longines, the Swiss watch brand, which is sponsoring the race for the first time.

- AFP/ir



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Ousted U.S. Rep Joe Walsh holds last town hall meeting









Republican Rep. Joe Walsh may have lost reelection last month, but at his final town hall meeting Saturday he showed he had lost none of the passion that made him a tea party favorite in Congress.


More than 100 mostly ardent supporters squeezed into the Wauconda American Legion Hall to hear Walsh, R-McHenry, rail against President Obama, big government and politicians of both parties.


“Our country is going through a revolution,” said Walsh, his voice rising to a shout. “Our freedom is at risk of being lost. If that happens, we’ll have government take over everything and take what you have.”





Walsh spoke nostalgically of an America he described as much more self-sufficient and independent than today. Back then, he said, people cared for the elderly and the unemployed without government assistance.


“That’s the America I believe in,” Walsh said. “We were stronger 80 years ago.”    


The congressman lost decisively to Democrat Tammy Duckworth in the hotly contested battle over Illinois’ 8th Congressional District. During his one term in office, Walsh became known for his anti-Obama rhetoric, a controversy over delinquent child support payments and for his fiery constituent meetings, where he sometimes lost his temper.


On Saturday, he made it clear he would not leave Washington quietly. He said Republicans were afraid to stand up to Obama’s call for increased taxes on families earning more than $250,000 because they did not want to be labeled as the party of the rich.


Walsh predicted an agreement would be reached over the U.S. budget deficit before the so-called “fiscal cliff” of massive tax increases and spending cuts takes effect next month.“We’ll be there in Washington through Christmas and beyond,” Walsh said. “We’re not doing anything but twiddling our thumbs and waiting for Boehner and Obama to come out with a deal. I think there’ll be revenue but not really any spending cuts. I don’t think I’ll like it or support it.”


Many in the standing-room-only crowd said they had voted for Walsh and had come to wish him well.


“Just because Joe lost that doesn’t mean the fight doesn’t go on,” said George Christy, 50, of Barrington.


Walsh vowed to continue the fight in the few weeks he has left as a congressman.


“We began three years ago,” he said. “Be patient and be engaged. Nothing changes over night. We’ll either lose the flag or get it back.”





Read More..

Plants Grow Fine Without Gravity


When researchers sent plants to the International Space Station in 2010, the flora wasn't meant to be decorative. Instead, the seeds of these small, white flowers—called Arabidopsis thaliana—were the subject of an experiment to study how plant roots developed in a weightless environment.

Gravity is an important influence on root growth, but the scientists found that their space plants didn't need it to flourish. The research team from the University of Florida in Gainesville thinks this ability is related to a plant's inherent ability to orient itself as it grows. Seeds germinated on the International Space Station sprouted roots that behaved like they would on Earth—growing away from the seed to seek nutrients and water in exactly the same pattern observed with gravity. (Related: "Beyond Gravity.")

Since the flowers were orbiting some 220 miles (350 kilometers) above the Earth at the time, the NASA-funded experiment suggests that plants still retain an earthy instinct when they don't have gravity as a guide.

"The role of gravity in plant growth and development in terrestrial environments is well understood," said plant geneticist and study co-author Anna-Lisa Paul, with the University of Florida in Gainesville. "What is less well understood is how plants respond when you remove gravity." (See a video about plant growth.)

The new study revealed that "features of plant growth we thought were a result of gravity acting on plant cells and organs do not actually require gravity," she added.

Paul and her collaborator Robert Ferl, a plant biologist at the University of Florida in Gainesville, monitored their plants from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida using images sent from the space station every six hours.

Root Growth

Grown on a nutrient-rich gel in clear petri plates, the space flowers showed familiar root growth patterns such as "skewing," where roots slant progressively as they branch out.

"When we saw the first pictures come back from orbit and saw that we had most of the skewing phenomenon we were quite surprised," Paul said.

Researchers have always thought that skewing was the result of gravity's effects on how the root tip interacts with the surfaces it encounters as it grows, she added. But Paul and Ferl suspect that in the absence of gravity, other cues take over that enable the plant to direct its roots away from the seed and light-seeking shoot. Those cues could include moisture, nutrients, and light avoidance.

"Bottom line is that although plants 'know' that they are in a novel environment, they ultimately do just fine," Paul said.

The finding further boosts the prospect of cultivating food plants in space and, eventually, on other planets.

"There's really no impediment to growing plants in microgravity, such as on a long-term mission to Mars, or in reduced-gravity environments such as in specialized greenhouses on Mars or the moon," Paul said. (Related: "Alien Trees Would Bloom Black on Worlds With Double Stars.")

The study findings appear in the latest issue of the journal BMC Plant Biology.


Read More..

Dallas Cowboys Player Arrested in Teammate's Death













Dallas Cowboys nose tackle Joshua Price-Brent was arrested on an intoxication manslaughter charge today after a single vehicle roll-over killed his passenger, Jerry Brown Jr., who had been a linebacker on the team's practice squad and his former teammate at the University of Illinois.


Price-Brent, 24, was allegedly speeding "well above" the posted 45 mph speed limit at about 2:21 a.m. when he hit a curb, causing his vehicle to flip at least one time before landing in the middle of a service road, Irving Police Department spokesman John Argumaniz said.


Authorities were alerted to the accident by several 911 callers, Argumaniz said. When police arrived, they found Price-Brent pulling Brown from his 2007 Mercedes, which had caught fire.


Brown, 25, was unresponsive and was transported to a local hospital, where he was pronounced dead, Argumaniz said.


It was not known where the men were coming from or where they were going, but Argumaniz said officers suspected alcohol may have been a factor in the crash and asked Price-Brent to perform field sobriety tests.








Kansas City Chiefs Player Jovan Belcher's Murder-Suicide Watch Video





"Based on the results of the tests, along with the officer's observations and conversations with Price-Brent, he was arrested for driving while intoxicated," Argumaniz said.


This is the second week in a row an NFL player has been accused of being involved in another person's death. Jovan Belcher of the Kansas City Chiefs killed his girlfriend early Dec. 1, then committed suicide while talking to team officials in the parking lot at Arrowhead Stadium.


Jovan Belcher: Police Release Dash-Cam Videos of NFL Star's Final Hours


Price-Brent was taken to a hospital for a mandatory blood draw where he was treated for minor scrapes, Argumaniz said. He was then booked on an intoxication manslaughter charge after it was learned Brown had died of injuries suffered in the crash.


It is expected that results from the blood draw could take several weeks, the police spokesman said.


Price-Brent is scheduled to be arraigned Sunday at 10 a.m., when bond will be set, police said.


The second-degree felony intoxication manslaughter charge carries a sentence of two to 20 years in prison and a $10,000 fine. It was not yet known whether Price-Brent had retained an attorney.


The 6-foot-2, 320-pound nose tackle left the University of Illinois as a junior for a career in the NFL. He was picked up by the Cowboys during the 2010 NFL supplemental draft and has played three seasons with the team.


The Cowboys are set to take on the Cincinnati Bengals in Ohio on Sunday.



Read More..

Today on New Scientist: 9 December 2012







Climate talks stumbling towards a deal

As the Qatar climate summit looks set to run into the weekend, we look at some key issues, such as compensation for poor countries harmed by climate change



Twin spacecraft map the mass of the man in the moon

Two satellites called Ebb and Flow have revealed the fine variations in the moon's surface with the most detailed gravity map ever



Just cut down on fat to shed weight

A review of studies involving 75,000 people shows that simply eating less fat made them lighter



North-east Japan quake rattles same fault as last year

A new quake off Japan's Pacific coast revives memories of 2011 tsunami; Fukushima nuclear power station "undamaged"



YouTube reorganises video with automated channels

Software that automatically classifies video into channels catering to specific interests is YouTube's latest ploy to become the future of television



A mathematician's magnificent failure to explain life

An attempt to explain life was career suicide for mathematician Dorothy Wrinch, we learn from Marjorie Senechal's biography I Died for Beauty



Parasite makes mice fearless by hijacking immune cells

The Toxoplasma parasite does its dirty work by getting immune cells to make a chemical normally found in the brain



'Specialist knowledge is useless and unhelpful'

Kaggle.com has turned data prediction into sport. People competing to solve problems are outclassing the specialists, says its president Jeremy Howard



Feedback: Numerical value of 'don't know'

The value of indifference, carbon-free sugar, scientists massacred in the nude, and more



Friday Illusion: 100-year-old quilt reveals 3D vortex

See a mind-bending effect crafted into a recently discovered quilt that changes depending on its colours and dimensions



Space-time waves may be hiding in dead star pulses

The first direct detection of gravitational waves may happen in 2013, if new studies of pulsars affected by galaxy mergers are correct



2012 Flash Fiction shortlist: Go D

From nearly 130 science-inspired stories, our judge Alice LaPlante has narrowed down a fantastic shortlist. Story five of five: Go D by Michael Rolfe



Captured: the moment photosynthesis changed the world

For the first time, geologists have found evidence of how modern photosynthesis evolved 2.4 billion years ago



Commute to work on the roller coaster train

A Japanese train based on a theme park ride could make getting around cleaner - and more fun



BSE infected cattle have prions in saliva

The discovery of tiny levels of prions in cow saliva might pave way for a test for BSE before symptoms develop, and raises questions about transmission



Space bigwigs offer billion-dollar private moon trips

Robots aren't the only ones heading to the moon. The Golden Spike Company will sell you a ticket whether you want to explore, mine or just show off



Human eye proteins detect red beyond red

Tweaking the structure of a protein found in the eye has given it the ability to react to red light that is normally unperceivable




Read More..

Supreme Court to take up issue of gay marriage






WASHINGTON: The US Supreme Court has decided to take up the sensitive issue of gay marriage, hearing challenges to a federal law denying benefits to same-sex couples and California's ban on such unions.

The highest US court will likely hear arguments in the cases in March 2013, with rulings to come in June. Same-sex marriage is currently legal in nine states and the federal capital Washington but barred in 30 other states.

Campaigners on both sides of the debate over marriage equality hailed the court's decision to take up the issue -- although they obviously backed differing views as to what constitutes marriage and family.

As analysts predicted, the court took up one challenge to the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which defines marriage as the legal union of one man and one woman and denies federal benefits to married same-sex couples.

Benefits enjoyed by heterosexual married couples but denied to gays include inheritance rights, tax breaks, filing of joint income tax returns, and health insurance coverage.

President Barack Obama's government does not support this view of marriage and would like the law to be overturned, but conservative campaigners are urging the Supreme Court to rule that the act is constitutional.

The specific case to be heard involves Edith Windsor, a lesbian legally married in Canada who has been told to pay tax on inheriting the estate of her deceased partner.

"While Thea is no longer alive, I know how proud she would have been to see this day. The truth is, I never expected any less from my country," Windsor said in a statement from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

The Supreme Court will rule whether DOMA violates the guarantee of equal protection under the law as guaranteed by the fifth amendment of the US constitution.

It will also decide if the Obama administration's position that DOMA is unconstitutional deprives the Supreme Court of jurisdiction, and whether a complaint by some US lawmakers has legal standing.

Justice Elena Kagan, as Obama's former solicitor general has recused herself on some of the cases in which she had played a role, but this is one on which she can participate.

Kagan's participation avoids the potential for a 4-4 split on the nine-member bench.

The other case taken up was brought by supporters of "Prop 8," a referendum that passed in California in 2008 that defined marriage as being between a "man and a woman" -- but which was overturned by a court of appeal.

If the Supreme Court throws out their appeal, California -- the country's most populous state -- will in effect become the 10th state to permit gay marriage.

In Hollingsworth v Perry, the court will decide whether the 14th amendment of the US constitution, which requires states to provide equal protection under the law to all people, prohibits California from banning gay marriage.

The Supreme Court will also decide whether the petitioners have legal standing in the case.

"Today is a milestone day for equal justice under the law and for millions of loving couples who want to make a lifelong commitment through marriage," said Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, a national gay rights organization.

"As the court has ruled 14 times in the past, marriage is a fundamental right and I believe they will side with liberty, freedom and equality, moving us toward a more perfect union as they have done in the past."

The conservative Family Research Council was also pleased, with president Tony Perkins saying in a statement: "Virtually nothing is more important to the future of our country than marriage and the family."

"The argument that the authors of our Constitution created or even implied a 'right' to redefine 'marriage' lies outside our constitutional law," Perkins added.

Justices did not say what they planned to do with eight other gay marriage petitions they debated behind closed doors on Friday.

It is likely that these, along with a last-minute case on the gay marriage ban in Nevada, will not be heard. But the Supreme Court could also rule that whatever decision it reaches in June should prevail over all the pending cases -- not just the ones heard.

As a country, the United States appears to be slowly moving towards tolerating same-sex unions.

An opinion poll by USA Today/Gallup released this week ahead of the court's decision showed that 53 percent of Americans believe same-sex marriage should be legal, up from 40 percent just three years ago.

Within the lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) community, the poll showed that 91 percent felt residents in their communities had become more accepting of homosexuals in recent years.

Among those whose position has evolved over this period is Obama himself, who always backed strong protections for gay and lesbian couples, but only came out openly in favor of homosexual marriage earlier this year.

"I've just concluded, for me, personally, it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married," Obama said in a May interview with ABC News.

The president said however that a decision on whether to legalize gay marriage should be left to individual states.

- AFP/ck



Read More..

Supreme Court to review gay marriage cases









The Supreme Court will take up California's ban on same-sex marriage, a case that could give the justices the chance to rule on whether gay Americans have the same constitutional right to marry as heterosexuals.

The justices said Friday they will review a federal appeals court ruling that struck down the state's gay marriage ban, though on narrow grounds. The San Francisco-based appeals court said the state could not take away the same-sex marriage right that had been granted by California's Supreme Court.









The court also will decide whether Congress can deprive legally married gay couples of federal benefits otherwise available to married people. A provision of the federal Defense of Marriage Act limits a range of health and pension benefits, as well as favorable tax treatment, to heterosexual couples.

The cases probably will be argued in March, with decisions expected by late June.

Gay marriage is legal, or will be soon, in nine states — Connecticut, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Vermont, Washington — and the District of Columbia. Federal courts in California have struck down the state's constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, but that ruling has not taken effect while the issue is being appealed.

Voters in Maine, Maryland and Washington approved gay marriage earlier this month.

But 31 states have amended their constitutions to prohibit same-sex marriage. North Carolina was the most recent example in May. In Minnesota earlier this month, voters defeated a proposal to enshrine a ban on gay marriage in that state's constitution.

The biggest potential issue before the justices comes in the dispute over California's Proposition 8, the state constitutional ban on gay marriage that voters adopted in 2008 after the state Supreme Court ruled that gay Californians could marry. The case could allow the justices to decide whether the U.S. Constitution's guarantee of equal protection means that the right to marriage cannot be limited to heterosexuals.

A decision in favor of gay marriage could set a national rule and overturn every state constitutional provision and law banning same-sex marriages. A ruling that upheld California's ban would be a setback for gay marriage proponents in the nation's largest state, although it would leave open the state-by-state effort to allow gays and lesbians to marry.

In striking down Proposition 8, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals crafted a narrow ruling that said because gay Californians already had been given the right to marry, the state could not later take it away. The ruling studiously avoided any sweeping pronouncements.

The larger constitutional issue almost certainly will be presented to the court, but the justices would not necessarily have to rule on it.

The other issue the high court will take on involves a provision of the Defense of Marriage Act, known by its acronym DOMA, which defines marriage as between a man and a woman for the purpose of deciding who can receive a range of federal benefits.

Four federal district courts and two appeals courts struck down the provision.

The justices chose for their review the case of 83-year-old Edith Windsor, who sued to challenge a $363,000 federal estate tax bill after her partner of 44 years died in 2009.

Windsor, who goes by Edie, married Thea Spyer in 2007 after doctors told them that Spyer would not live much longer. She suffered from multiple sclerosis for many years. Spyer left everything she had to Windsor.

There is no dispute that if Windsor had been married to a man, her estate tax bill would have been $0.

The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York agreed with a district judge that the provision of DOMA deprived Windsor of the constitutional guarantee of equal protection.

Read More..

Plants Grow Fine Without Gravity


When researchers sent plants to the International Space Station in 2010, the flora wasn't meant to be decorative. Instead, the seeds of these small, white flowers—called Arabidopsis thaliana—were the subject of an experiment to study how plant roots developed in a weightless environment.

Gravity is an important influence on root growth, but the scientists found that their space plants didn't need it to flourish. The research team from the University of Florida in Gainesville thinks this ability is related to a plant's inherent ability to orient itself as it grows. Seeds germinated on the International Space Station sprouted roots that behaved like they would on Earth—growing away from the seed to seek nutrients and water in exactly the same pattern observed with gravity. (Related: "Beyond Gravity.")

Since the flowers were orbiting some 220 miles (350 kilometers) above the Earth at the time, the NASA-funded experiment suggests that plants still retain an earthy instinct when they don't have gravity as a guide.

"The role of gravity in plant growth and development in terrestrial environments is well understood," said plant geneticist and study co-author Anna-Lisa Paul, with the University of Florida in Gainesville. "What is less well understood is how plants respond when you remove gravity." (See a video about plant growth.)

The new study revealed that "features of plant growth we thought were a result of gravity acting on plant cells and organs do not actually require gravity," she added.

Paul and her collaborator Robert Ferl, a plant biologist at the University of Florida in Gainesville, monitored their plants from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida using images sent from the space station every six hours.

Root Growth

Grown on a nutrient-rich gel in clear petri plates, the space flowers showed familiar root growth patterns such as "skewing," where roots slant progressively as they branch out.

"When we saw the first pictures come back from orbit and saw that we had most of the skewing phenomenon we were quite surprised," Paul said.

Researchers have always thought that skewing was the result of gravity's effects on how the root tip interacts with the surfaces it encounters as it grows, she added. But Paul and Ferl suspect that in the absence of gravity, other cues take over that enable the plant to direct its roots away from the seed and light-seeking shoot. Those cues could include moisture, nutrients, and light avoidance.

"Bottom line is that although plants 'know' that they are in a novel environment, they ultimately do just fine," Paul said.

The finding further boosts the prospect of cultivating food plants in space and, eventually, on other planets.

"There's really no impediment to growing plants in microgravity, such as on a long-term mission to Mars, or in reduced-gravity environments such as in specialized greenhouses on Mars or the moon," Paul said. (Related: "Alien Trees Would Bloom Black on Worlds With Double Stars.")

The study findings appear in the latest issue of the journal BMC Plant Biology.


Read More..

Baby Gabriel's Mother Sentenced to Prison













Elizabeth Johnson -- who at one point admitted to killing her son, the missing infant Gabriel Johnson, before saying she gave him away -- told a judge she "deserved the maximum" sentence, before receiving a prison term of 5.25 years, half of the max.


In October, Johnson, 26, was found guilty of custodial interference and unlawful imprisonment stemming from the disappearance of her 8-month-old son, last seen on Dec. 24, 2009. The baby's whereabouts remain unknown.


"I am brokenhearted over my son still being missing," said Johnson, wearing a striped prison jumpsuit. "I'm at a loss because I do deserve the max. What I have done is unconscionable. I would convict myself.


"I do deserve the maximum, I do," she said through tears. "[But it] wasn't how [the prosecution] made it out to be. It wasn't like that. That's all I have to say."


Judge Paul McMurdie said he wished he could design a sentence that would compel Johnson to disclose Gabriel's whereabouts, but could only "sentence her for the offenses [for which] she's been convicted."


Johnson, 26, will serve 5.25 years in an Arizona state prison, followed by four years of probation.










At today's sentencing hearing, prosecutor Angela Andrews called Johnson' actions "despicable," but said the state would drop its request to see Johnson serve out a maximum sentence if she would tell authorities where her son could be found.


Johnson, who has been in jail for the past three years, faced a maximum of 9.5 years in prison on the two convictions. In October, the jury did not reach a verdict on a third charge of kidnapping.


Before Gabriel's disappearance, Johnson had been embroiled in a custody battle with the baby's biological father, Logan McQueary. The couple differed on putting their infant son up for adoption. Johnson had wanted to, McQueary did not.


"I think Elizabeth should be held accountable for her actions, for making my son disappear," Johnson told the court. "She should stay in jail until Gabriel is found or be given the maximum sentence as possible."


While she was fighting with McQueary over custody of their son, Johnson left Tempe, Ariz., with Gabriel and traveled to San Antonio, Texas, on Dec. 18, 2009. Johnson failed to bring Gabriel back to visit with McQueary two days later, violating a court custody order.


Gabriel was last seen with his mother on Dec. 26, 2009. The following day, Johnson sent text messages to McQueary saying she had killed him. Johnson was recorded telling McQueary that she suffocated their son with a towel until he turned blue. She said she then put his body in a diaper bag and put the bag in the trash.


Later, Johnson told authorities she gave Gabriel to a couple she met in a park in San Antonio, though she has never named who she gave the child to.


ABC News' Alexis Shaw contributed to this report.



Read More..

Space bigwigs offer billion-dollar private moon trips









































Robots aren't the only ones heading to the moon. The first private company offering regular trips to the lunar surface plans to start flights in 2020, shuttling people two at a time on exploratory missions. However, with an expected price tag of $1.4 billion per flight, or around $750 million per person, the trek would likely be out of reach for all but the wealthiest moonwalkers.











Today's announcement, at the National Press Club in Washington, DC backs up recent rumours that Alan Stern, a former administrator of NASA's Science Mission Directorate, had founded a company called Golden Spike in Colorado to run commercial moon trips.













Named for the final spike driven into the first US transcontinental railroad line, Golden Spike plans to market to governments, corporations and individuals to routinely send people to the moon for scientific purposes, to mine for resources or simply for prestige.












"Why the moon? Because it's close, because it's enormous, and because we think that there's going to be a strong market for it," says Stern. No tickets have yet been sold. But preliminary talks with space agencies in Asia and Europe are underway, he adds. "We see our main market as selling expeditions to foreign space agencies."











In 2010 President Barack Obama scrapped NASA's Constellation program for sending astronauts to the moon. Shortly afterwards, Stern convened a secret meeting of heavy-hitters in the space industry in Telluride, Colorado, to discuss the possibility of a private lunar mission. A four-month feasibility study led to the company's quiet founding later that year.












Beyond robots













Golden Spike now has several experienced directors and advisors, including Gerry Griffin, former director of NASA's Johnson Spaceflight Center, and Wayne Hale, former chief of NASA's space shuttle programme. It also boasts some colourful characters: Newt Gingrich, a former US presidential candidate who previously championed a lunar colony, and Mike Okuda, a set designer for the Star Trek franchise, are also on the advisory panel.











"One thing you can say about Stern is that he knows the game," says William Whittaker, CEO of Astrobotic Technology, one of many teams competing to put a robot on the moon and win the $20-million Google Lunar X Prize. "As NASA's former science director, he had a favoured insider's perspective. He knows people."













Although several of the firm's directors have NASA experience, Golden Spike will be a purely private enterprise that will not seek government funding, Stern says. The plan is to purchase a rocket and a crew capsule from one or more of the other private space enterprises that have sprung up in recent years, such as SpaceX or Blue Origin.












Golden Spike has signed contracts to begin development of a lunar lander and space suits. Its first lunar mission is expected to cost the company between $7 and $8 billion. To help cover expenses, the company plans to merchandise each mission, for instance, by selling the naming rights for their spacecraft.











Meanwhile, Space Adventures of Arlington, Virginia says it is on track to send people on flights that would circle the moon starting in 2016 or 2017. The price for each flight is $300 million, or $150 million per seat. There are two seats available for the maiden voyage, and one has already been sold, spokesperson Stacey Tearne told New Scientist.













Fred Bourgeois, head of FREDNET, another Lunar X Prize team, worries that the idea of sending people to the moon on private ships is premature. "We need to prove some things with robotic systems first, so we don't put lives at risk," he says. "I would not get on a private mission to the moon today, even though I would love to go."












But Stern says he's confident that robots will get to the moon's surface long before the first Golden Spike flights at the end of the decade. Human beings, he says, will then be needed for activities beyond the capabilities of a robot – from doing field geology to maintaining mining equipment. Says Stern: "We need to start now in order to be ready for the next phase."


















































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Read More..

Bieber miffed at Grammys snub, Brubeck gets nod






LOS ANGELES: Justin Bieber's manager has lambasted the Grammys organisers after the Canadian teen sensation failed to garner a single nomination for this year's music awards.

At the other end of the musical spectrum, late jazz icon Dave Brubeck was honoured with a posthumous nod for the music industry's top prizes, in a little-noticed category at Wednesday night's nominations show.

"The kid deserved it. Grammy board u blew it on this one," tweeted the Bieb's manager Scooter Braum, after the Recording Academy failed to nominate him in any of its 81 categories.

"The kid delivered. Huge successful album, sold out tour, and won people over... this time he deserved to be recognized and I don't really have any kind nice positive things to say about a decision I don't agree with."

And he added: "To his fans... looks like we get to stay the underdog a little longer."

This year's Grammy nominees were announced at a one-hour show in Nashville on Wednesday night, with New York indie pop band fun. picking up six Grammy nominations in its breakout year.

Others with multiple nods for Grammy gongs, to be awarded on February 10 in Los Angeles, included rap artist Frank Ocean, The Black Keys, British rock-folk group Mumford & Sons and ex White Stripes rocker Jack White.

Wednesday's show included a brief mention for jazz pianist and composer Brubeck, hours after he died just short of his 92nd birthday.

Brubeck, whose 1959 album "Time Out" became the first million-selling jazz record of the modern era, with classics like "Take Five" and "Blue Rondo a la Turk", already won a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1996.

But he had never won an individual category Grammy.

That may change in February, after he was shortlisted for Best Instrumental Composition for "Music of Ansel Adams: America", a 22-minute piece inspired by the late photographer and environmentalist's famous black-and-white prints.

Brubeck's son Chris, credited as joint composer, brought the concept to his father who wrote it as a piano score, before his son reworked it into a full orchestral piece, according to industry weekly Billboard.

-AFP/fl



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Preckwinkle rips Emanuel, McCarthy's handling of violence









Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle today publicly blasted Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s crime-fighting strategy and the quality of the public schools he controls, then quickly walked back the remarks.

The Democratic leader said her criticism was targeted at society as a whole and not the mayor personally, much as she did last summer when she harshly criticized former President Ronald Reagan for his role in the war on drugs.

The comments about Emanuel came during a question-and-answer session during a luncheon at the Union League Club. Preckwinkle was asked how to address Chicago violence.

“Clearly, this mayor and this police chief have decided the way in which they are going to deal with the terrible violence that faces our community is just arrest everybody,” Preckwinkle said. “I don’t think in the long term that’s going to be successful.

“We’re going to have to figure out how to have interventions that are more comprehensive than just police interventions in the communities where we have the highest rates of crime. And they’re almost all in African-American and Latino communities.”

Homicides and shootings in Chicago have attracted national attention this year following a spike in the city’s murder rate and brazen incidents such as the shooting of a young man at a funeral for a gang member.

Preckwinkle said much of the problem results from a school system that has a low high school graduation rate.

“We have contented ourselves with a miserable education system that has failed many of our children,” Preckwinkle said, saying more after-school enrichment and job-training programs are needed. “I’m talking about the kids who don’t graduate, let alone the kids who graduate don’t get a very good education, even with a high school diploma.”

Emanuel aides responded with restraint, saying the mayor is taking many of the actions Preckwinkle said were needed, even as he maintained a tough stance on crime.


“Mayor Emanuel strenuously agrees that a holistic approach is necessary to successfully address crime,” Emanuel spokeswoman Sarah Hamilton said in a statement. “His multi-part strategy ranges from improving early childhood education, providing a longer school day and creating re-engagement centers for youth, to delivering wrap-around services, revitalizing the community policing program and working to prevent retaliatory actions by gangs.


“All of these work in tandem, but let's make no mistake, criminals deserve to be arrested,” the statement read.

At a news conference after her speech and question session, Preckwinkle said her criticism of schools wasn’t aimed at Emanuel, who as mayor appoints the Chicago Public Schools board and picks the system’s CEO.

“This was a critique of all of us, it wasn’t aimed at the mayor,” said Preckwinkle, a former CPS high school history teacher.

Preckwinkle also acknowledged that Emanuel is putting more city money into early childhood education, after-school programs and youth job programs — in part through programs coordinated with the county.

Her point, she said, was that education over the long run will do more to quell violence than arresting people and locking them up.

“You know unfortunately we live in a country in which we are much more willing to spend money on keeping people in prison than we are on educating them in our public schools,” she said. “And that’s disgraceful. It reflects badly on all of us.”

She added, “I don’t think we are going to arrest our way out of our violence problems.”

Mayor Emanuel's aides said they just learned of the remarks and are preparing a response.

Preckwinkle is a liberal who has been consistently critical of a justice system that locks up African-American and Latino men in far greater numbers than their white counterparts, particularly for drug crimes when studies show drugs are used in equal numbers across ethnic and racial boundaries

It wasn’t the first time that, while speaking without a script, she made comments that ruffled some feathers.

In August, she said former President Ronald Reagan deserved “a special place in hell” for his role in the War on Drugs, later saying she regretted the “inflammatory” remark.

hdardick@tribune.com

Twitter @ReporterHal



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Space Pictures This Week: Lunar Gravity, Venusian Volcano









































































































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Not 'Wild West': Talking Cyber Ops at Iran's Backdoor












Robert Clark, the operational attorney for U.S. Cyber Command, stood in a grand ballroom with gold flaked ceilings and sparkling chandeliers to address an audience that included men in flowing white robes and veiled women and tried to hammer home a single point: cyber warfare is not the "Wild West."


Clark, who emphasized that he was speaking only in a personal capacity and not on behalf of the U.S. government, wanted to assure the relatively small gathering in the United Arab Emirates that in an age where a new "revolutionary" cyber weapon like Stuxnet is discovered every few months -- usually on computers in Iran, just across the Arabian Gulf -- legal considerations are taken into account before cyber attacks are launched.


"Articles that talk about cyber warfare and [say] that rules of engagement aren't evolving as fast as [the cyber attacks], it's just not true," Clark said. "We have the law of armed conflict applying to any type conflict and it applies to cyberspace operations also... It's just not the Wild West out there."




For most of his presentation, Clark spoke in generalities about the legal aspects of American cyber capabilities because despite the months-old admission from his boss, U.S. Cyber Command chief Gen. Keith Alexander, that the military is developing a "pro-active, agile cyber force," and the oft-cited New York Times report on America's role in developing Stuxnet, the devastating cyber weapon that hit an Iranian nuclear facility in late 2009, no current American officials have gone on record claiming responsibility for an offensive cyber attack.


However, emboldened by a government colleague's praise of Stuxnet earlier this year, Clark couldn't resist using it as a hypothetical example.


He said that before a weapon like Stuxnet would be launched, the same legal criteria would be considered as if it were a physical military attack. Is there an imminent threat from the target? Does it absolutely have to be taken out? Will the attack cause casualties or collateral damage that could and should be avoided?


Answering his own question about casualties, Clark echoed comments from colleague Air Force Col. Gary Brown when he noted the impressive restraint of the worm. Though Stuxnet was discovered on thousands of computers around the world in 2010, cyber researchers quickly realized that it was something of a smart bomb. It would spread harmlessly from computer to computer until it found itself on the exact system configuration -- a control system at an Iranian nuclear facility -- it was meant to target.


"Stuxnet," Clark said, "was a very discriminant weapon."


After Stuxnet was discovered and analyzed, Richard Clarke, a former White House counter-terrorism adviser and current ABC News consultant, said he thought that Stuxnet showed such care to limit collateral damage that it must have been developed with healthy input from anxious lawyers.


Robert Clark's presentation Wednesday was one of the first talks at the Black Hat security conference held at the opulent Emirate Palace Hotel in Abu Dhabi and though most of the presentations were highly technical, Clark wasn't the first and or the last to talk about the cyber struggle over Iran.






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Chemical key to cell division revealed



































In each of our cells, most of the genetic material is packaged safely within the nucleus, which is protected by a double membrane. The biochemistry behind how this membrane transforms when cells divide has finally been unravelled, offering insights that could provide new ways of fighting cancer and some rare genetic disorders.












During cell division, the membrane that surrounds the nucleus breaks down and reforms in the two daughter cells. Researchers have been split on the precise mechanisms that govern membrane reformation. One view is that proteins alone control the membrane's transformations. Another possibility is that changes in lipids – a vast group of fat-related compounds – are responsible.












Experiments had failed to show which of these two ideas was right, because it was difficult to alter lipid levels in specific compartments of cells without affecting other cellular processes.












Banafshe Larijani at Cancer Research UK's London Research Institute and her colleagues have now overcome that hurdle. They came up with a technique that transforms a type of lipid called a diacylglycerol (DAG) into another lipid, within the nuclear membrane.











Chemical cascade













The technique involves inserting two fragments of DNA into the nucleus of a cell. This causes the cell to make two proteins: the first attaches itself to the nuclear membrane, the second floats around the cell. Adding a drug – rapalogue – to the mix causes the second protein to stick to the first, which in turn causes a chemical cascade that transforms the DAG into a different kind of lipid.












Crucially, they targeted a form of DAG that does not bind to proteins, so converting it into a different lipid does not affect any processes involving proteins in the cell.












The team tested the effect of this lipid manipulation on cell division in monkey and human cancer cells. The lower the level of DAG present in the nuclear membrane, the greater the membrane malformation and chance of cell death.












This demonstrates that lipids play a role in nuclear membrane reformation that does not depend on proteins.












Larijani says it "opens the door to finding ways to kill cancerous cells" by focusing on lipids that are important to the nuclear membrane's development.











Sausage pieces













As the nucleus divides, sausage-shaped fragments of its membrane float around the cell. The fragments have curved ends, and Larijani says that changes in lipid composition generate these curves, without which the fragments cannot reassemble correctly into new membranes.











More than a dozen rare genetic conditions such as Hutchinson-Gilford progeria syndrome, which is characterised by premature ageing in children, have been linked to irregularities in cell division. A better understanding of the way the nuclear membrane forms when cells divide could be key to treating these disorders.













The research also offers a new focus for preventing the irregular cell division that underlies many cancers.












"As a result of this work we now know with confidence that DAG plays a structural role in membrane dynamics," says Vytas Bankaitis, at the Texas A&M Health Science Center in College Station, who was not involved in the study. "If we could find a molecule with suitable characteristics, this manipulation could be done [in humans], which is something that has not really been considered before."












Journal reference: PLoS ONE DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0051150


















































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Critics give epic 'Hobbit' middle marks






NEW YORK: Peter Jackson's "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" opens in the US this month and critics say the movie, much like the epic journey it depicts, is adventurous - but an uphill slog.

The fantasy about a Hobbit called Bilbo Baggins, Gandalf the good wizard, 13 raucous dwarves, and a host of evil forces, takes viewers back to the lavishly filmed Middle-earth world that won Oscars and rave reviews in Jackson's previous "Lord of the Rings" trilogy.

But reviews from journalists, who got to see the nearly three-hour movie ahead of its December 14 US premiere, were also somewhere in the middle.

Jackson's technical wizardry, using 3D and 48 frames a second, rather than the ordinary 24 frames, got gasps of admiration, mixed with yawns about overkill.

And while the New Zealand-born director scored high marks for the faithfulness of the adaption from J.R.R. Tolkien's book, there was incredulity - and some cynicism - about the decision to split the relatively slender "Hobbit" into three enormous movies.

"In Jackson's academically fastidious telling, however, it's as if 'The Wizard of Oz' had taken nearly an hour just to get out of Kansas," The Hollywood Reporter said in a bruising review.

"There are elements in this new film that are as spectacular as much of the Rings trilogy was, but there is much that is flat-footed and tedious as well."

Variety's critic took aim at the overwhelming detail poured into 48-frames-a-second pictures.

"Everything takes on an overblown, artificial quality in which the phoniness of the sets and costumes becomes obvious, while well-lit areas bleed into their surroundings, like watching a high-end home movie," Variety said.

"The Hobbit", which was screened for journalists in New York on Tuesday, is a prequel to the darker "Lord of the Rings," introducing the main characters and plot lines that reappear through the entire saga. The cursed golden ring also makes its first appearance.

There are bravura battle scenes, choreographed hordes of Goblins, fantastical caves, and James Bond-style narrow escapes from death for Martin Freeman's Bilbo Baggins and his dwarf friends. As in the three "Rings" movies, the natural settings of New Zealand are breath-taking.

But with so many strange beings attacking each other with swords, and so many arrows, rocks and bodies flying in 3D at the audience, the few intimately staged scenes focusing on just a couple characters can come as a relief.

When the action cut suddenly from the latest mass sword fight to a silent cave inhabited by Andy Serkis' creepy character Gollum, journalists at Tuesday's press screening broke out in a rare smattering of applause.

Jackson defended the decision to stretch the book to three movies, in contrast to the "Rings" trilogy, which was based on three books.

He told reporters Wednesday in New York that in Tolkien's often "breathless" text, "very major events are covered in two or three pages," and that transferring the action to film required a more sumptuous treatment.

Screenwriter and co-producer Philippa Boyens said the different pace responded to the dynamics of working with actors.

"Great actors come to you for the material and if you give them very slight material, you're just not going to get them. We wanted to write for these great actors," she said.

The filmmakers also defended their use of the 48 frames a second. "Fantasy should be as real as possible," Jackson said, "The levels of detail are very important."

The reviews for "The Hobbit" were far from universally negative, and many critics said the three films may well make healthy profits. On the reviews aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the rating of fresh versus rotten tomatoes was a high 78 percent Wednesday.

Great British actor Ian McKellen, who reprised his "Rings" role as Gandalf in "The Hobbit", batted down suggestions that the filmmakers were trying to milk the maximum profit out of Tolkien fans.

"Anyone who thinks Peter Jackson would fall for market forces, instead of artistic imperatives, just doesn't know him, doesn't know the body of his work," McKellen told reporters.

The movies will do well because Bilbo Baggins and his travails are a universal story, he said.

"It's about the little guy that we need and may be expendable, who may not come back."

-AFP/fl



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Jazz icon Dave Brubeck dead








Dave Brubeck changed the sound of jazz in profound ways, unexpectedly becoming something of a pop star in the process.


Starting in the mid-1950s, in fact, he emerged as a symbol of jazz in America, and well beyond, gracing the cover of Time magazine in 1954 and selling more than a million copies of “Take Five” in 1960. To this day, the puckishly syncopated tune remains one of the most recognizable in jazz, though Brubeck didn’t write it – his alto saxophonist, Paul Desmond, did.


Beneath the popular acclaim stood a brilliant, uncompromising composer-pianist who challenged conventional jazz techniques, brought the music to American college campuses and helped break down racial barriers through a music uniquely suited to that task.






Brubeck was en route to an appointment with his cardiologist when he was stricken Wednesday morning, said his longtime manager-producer-conductor, Russell Gloyd. The pianist died of heart failure at Norwalk Hospital, in Norwalk, Conn., near his home in Wilton, Conn.


Brubeck was anticipating a birthday concert Thursday, when he would have turned 92. The performance will go on, but in the form of a tribute, in Waterbury, Conn.


"Dave Brubeck was one of the giants in the music – he changed the way people listened to the music,” said David Baker, distinguished professor of music at Indiana University and a friend of the Brubeck family.


"He could swing in any time signature – it seemed like forward motion was born in his blood,” said pianist Ramsey Lewis, who played four-hand piano with Brubeck at the Ravinia Festival in Highland Park in 2010. Though the Ravinia Festival does not release attendance figures, a huge audience turned out for that concert, a celebration of Lewis’ 75th birthday.


"Playing with Dave at Ravinia was one of the most exciting moments in my life,” added Lewis.


Brubeck’s last performance in the Chicago area was a 2011 Father’s Day show at Ravinia, where the 90-year-old pianist shared the stage with four sons: pianist Darius, trombonist Chris, cellist Matt and drummer Dan. The elder Brubeck also consistently drew large audiences to Symphony Center, where he last played in 2009.


"Dave Brubeck was one of few jazz headliners who was guaranteed to bring in a large crowd,” said Nick Pullia, Ravinia Festival communications director.


Though widely beloved as an elder statesman in jazz during recent decades, Brubeck’s initial burst of immense popularity, more than half a century ago, caused a backlash. When “Take Five” made him a household name, some critics and deejays accused him of selling out, he said in a 1990 Tribune interview.


"But I had a lot of fun with them,” recalled Brubeck. “One of the most internationally known disc jockeys accused me, right on the air, of going commercial.


"So I said to him, on the air: ‘OK, let’s play the (‘Take Five’) record, and you follow along and count it,’” said Brubeck, referring to its underlying rhythmic pattern, which defied the two-, three- and four-beats-to-the-bar techniques of the day.


"And there was this huge blank – he didn’t say anything.


"So I said, ‘Well, why don’t you do it?’


"And he just didn’t answer.


"At that time, hardly any musicians could play ‘Take Five.’ Now a grammar school kid can play it.


"But those were breakthroughs.”


Brubeck ventured even further afield in another piece that, to his surprise, became a popular hit, his “Blue Rondo a la Turk.” Its lush harmonies sounded exotic in the late ’50s, while its switches between offbeat rhythms and bona fide swing were like nothing yet encountered in American music.


For “Blue Rondo,” Brubeck drew inspiration from a characteristically unlikely source: “I heard street musicians playing in Istanbul,” he said in the 2010 documentary film “In His Own Sweet Way.” By transforming Eastern harmonies and regional rhythms through jazz, Brubeck hit upon an alluring sound and a signature hit.






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A 2020 Rover Return to Mars?


NASA is so delighted with Curiosity's Mars mission that the agency wants to do it all again in 2020, with the possibility of identifying and storing some rocks for a future sample return to Earth.

The formal announcement, made at the American Geophysical Union's annual fall meeting, represents a triumph for the NASA Mars program, which had fallen on hard times due to steep budget cuts. But NASA associate administrator for science John Grunsfeld said that the agency has the funds to build and operate a second Curiosity-style rover, largely because it has a lot of spare parts and an engineering and science team that knows how to develop a follow-on expedition.

"The new science rover builds off the tremendous success from Curiosity and will have new instruments," Grunsfeld said. Curiosity II is projected to cost $1.5 billion—compared with the $2.5 billion price tag for the rover now on Mars—and will require congressional approval.

While the 2020 rover will have the same one-ton chassis as Curiosity—and could use the same sky crane technology involved in the "seven minutes of terror"—it will have different instruments and, many hope, the capacity to cache a Mars rock for later pickup and delivery to researchers on Earth. Curiosity and the other Mars rovers, satellites, and probes have garnered substantial knowledge about the Red Planet in recent decades, but planetary scientists say no Mars-based investigations can be nearly as instructive as studying a sample in person here on Earth.

(Video: Mars Rover's "Seven Minutes of Terror.")

Return to Sender

That's why "sample return" has topped several comprehensive reviews of what NASA should focus on for the next decade regarding Mars.

"There is absolutely no doubt that this rover has the capability to collect and cache a suite of magnificent samples," said astronomer Steven Squyres, with Cornell University in New York, who led a "decadal survey" of what scientists want to see happen in the field of planetary science in the years ahead. "We have a proven system now for landing a substantial payload on Mars, and that's what we need to enable sample return."

The decision about whether the second rover will be able to collect and "cache" a sample will be up to a "science definition team" that will meet in the years ahead to weigh the pros and cons of focusing the rover's activity on that task.  

As currently imagined, bringing a rock sample back to Earth would require three missions: one to select, pick up, and store the sample; a second to pick it up and fly it into a Mars orbit; and a third to take it from Mars back to Earth.

"A sample return would rely on all the Mars missions before it," said Scott Hubbard, formerly NASA's "Mars Czar," who is now at Stanford University. "Finding the right rocks from the right areas, and then being able to get there, involves science and technology we've learned over the decades."

Renewed Interest

Clearly, Curiosity's success has changed the thinking about Mars exploration, said Hubbard. He was a vocal critic of the Obama Administration's decision earlier this year to cut back on the Mars program as part of agency belt-tightening but now is "delighted" by this renewed initiative.

(Explore an interactive time line of Mars exploration in National Geographic magazine.)

More than 50 million people watched NASA coverage of Curiosity's landing and cheered the rover's success, Hubbard said. If things had turned out differently with Curiosity, "we'd be having a very different conversation about the Mars program now."

(See "Curiosity Landing on Mars Greeted With Whoops and Tears of Jubilation.")

If Congress gives the green light, the 2020 rover would be the only $1 billion-plus "flagship" mission—NASA's largest and most expensive class of projects—in the agency's planetary division in the next decade. There are many other less ambitious projects to other planets, asteroids, moons, and comets in the works, but none are flagships. That has left some planetary scientists not involved with Mars unhappy with NASA's heavy Martian focus.

Future Plans

While the announcement of the 2020 rover mission set the Mars community abuzz, NASA also outlined a series of smaller missions that will precede it. The MAVEN spacecraft, set to launch next year, will study the Martian atmosphere in unprecedented detail; a lander planned for 2018 will study the Red Planet's crust and interior; and NASA will renew its promise to participate in a European life-detection mission in 2018. NASA had signed an agreement in 2009 to partner with the European Space Agency on that mission but had to back out earlier this year because of budget constraints.

NASA said that a request for proposals would go out soon, soliciting ideas about science instruments that might be on the rover. And as for a sample return system, at this stage all that's required is the ability to identify good samples, collect them, and then store them inside the rover.

"They can wait there on Mars for some time as we figure out how to pick them up," Squyres said. "After all, they're rocks."


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Bodies Found in Hunt for Missing Iowa Cousins













Nearly five months after Iowa cousins Lyric Cook and Elizabeth Collins disappeared, the girls' families have been told two bodies were found by hunters in a wooded area, though the identities of the bodies have not been confirmed, authorities said.


Capt. Rick Abben of the Black Hawk County Sheriff's Office said at a press conference this afternoon that the bodies are being transported to the state's medical office in Ankeny, Iowa, for positive identification.


"It's definitely not the outcome that we wanted, obviously," Abben said. "This is a difficult thing for us to go through."


Lyric, 11, and Elizabeth , 9, vanished shortly after noon on July 13 while on a bike ride in the small town of Evansdale, Iowa, triggering a massive search that brought the town to a standstill. The girls' bicycles and a purse were quickly found near Meyers Lake, but there was no sign of the girls.


PHOTOS From ABC News Affiliate KCRG: The Search for Lyric & Elizabeth






Black Hawk County Police/AP Photo











Missing Iowa Girls Seen Riding Bikes on Surveillance Video Watch Video









Missing Iowa Girls: One Mother Takes 2nd Polygraph Watch Video







On the two-month anniversary of the girls' disappearance, local residents held a prayer vigil and authorities urged members of the public to provide any new information that might help them solve the case.


Authorities said the girls left Elizabeth's house in Evansdale around 12:15 p.m., were spotted at approximately 12:23 p.m. at a nearby intersection and then were seen between 12:30 and 1 p.m. on a road by the lake.


During the following week, authorities canvassed the area and drained the town's lake. Lyric's estranged parents, Misty and Dan Morrissey, at one point became the subject of intense police scrutiny because of their criminal pasts and their lack of cooperation.


Over the summer, the families received a boost when Elizabeth Smart, one of the country's most famous kidnapping survivors, offered some words of encouragement. Police found Smart after a nine-month search in Utah a decade ago.


"For as many bad things that we hear about that happen, for as many kidnappings and terrible stories about finding the remains of children, why can't these girls be the exception?" Smart told the Des Moines Register.


Elizabeth's mother, Heather Collins, told ABC News' Alex Perez in July that the wait for the girls to reappear was an agonizing one.


"A day doesn't seem like a normal day," Collins said. "It's just like it doesn't stop. It keeps dragging and dragging. You're just waiting for a time to go up to your room. You're just waiting, waiting, waiting."


"Whoever's out there, we're just begging you to bring our girls back home," she said.


A $50,000 reward had been offered for information that led to the arrest and conviction of the person responsible for the girls' disappearance.



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