Astrophile: A scorched world with snow black and smoky

Astrophile is our weekly column on curious cosmic objects, from the solar system to the far reaches of the multiverse

Object: Titanium oxide snow
Location: The hot-Jupiter planet HD 209458b

There is something magical about waking up to discover it has snowed during the night. But there's no powdery white blanket when it snows on exoplanet HD 209458b. Snow there is black, smoky and hot as hell – resembling a forest fire more than a winter wonderland. Put it this way: you won't be needing mittens.

HD 209458b belongs to a family called hot Jupiters, gas-giant planets that are constantly being roasted due to their closeness to their sun. By contrast, the gas giants in our immediate neighbourhood, including Jupiter, are frigid, lying at the solar system's far reaches.

HD 209458b is also noteworthy because it is tidally locked, so one side is permanently facing towards its star while the other is in perpetual night. On the face of it, these conditions wouldn't seem to invite snow: temperatures on the day side come close to 2000° C, while the night side is comparatively chilly at around 500° C.

Snow made of water is, of course, impossible on this scorched world, but the drastic temperature differential sets up atmospheric currents that swirl material from the day side to night and vice versa. That means that any substances with the right combination of properties might be gaseous on the day side and then condense into a solid on the night side, and fall as precipitation. Say hello to titanium oxide snow.

Stuck on the surface

Although oxides of titanium make up only a small component of a hot Jupiter's atmosphere, these compounds have the right properties to fall as snow. But there was a snag that could have put a stop to any blizzards. Older computer models of hot Jupiters suggested that titanium oxides condensing in the air on the night side would snow – and remain on the relatively cool surface forever. "Imagine on Earth if you had no mechanism to evaporate water, it would never rain," says Vivien Parmentier of the Côte d'Azur Observatory in Nice, France.

Now he and colleagues have created a more detailed 3D computer model that shows that the snow can become a gas again as it falls and the temperature and pressure increase. Strong updraughts can then blow the titanium oxides back to the upper atmosphere. "The gas can come back on the top layers and snow again and again," says Parmentier.

Snowfall on HD 209458b would be like none you've ever seen. Though titanium dioxide is white and shiny, for example, the snowflakes would also contain silica oxides from the atmosphere, making them black. Since the atmosphere is also dark, snowstorms on the planet would be a smoky affair, the opposite of the white-outs we get on Earth. "It would be like being in the middle of a forest fire," says Parmentier.

Although the team studied a particular hot Jupiter, their model should apply equally to other planets of this type, suggesting hot snow is a common occurrence. Parmentier says we may have already spotted snow clouds on another hot Jupiter, HD 189733b, as spectral analysis of the planet suggests the presence of microscopic particles in its atmosphereMovie Camera.

David Sing of the University of Exeter, UK, who helped identify such particles on HD 189733b, says the team's new model goes a long way to explaining how titanium oxides behave on hot Jupiters. "We're pretty used to water condensing on Earth; there it is titanium because the temperatures are so much hotter."

Hot, black snow – now that would be something to wake up to.


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Cambodians bid farewell to ex-king ahead of cremation

PHNOM PENH: Thousands of Cambodians paid their last respects to their beloved former king Norodom Sihanouk as his body lay in state Saturday ahead of his cremation next week.

The mourners were able to glimpse the late monarch's gilded casket through doorways to the purpose-built crematorium where it was carried Friday in a lavish procession that brought Phnom Penh to a standstill.

His body will be kept at the crematorium until Monday when his wife and his son, current King Norodom Sihamoni, will start the cremation ceremony.

"I had the chance to pay my last respects to the King-Father," 65-year-old Sun Sopho, told AFP, with tears in her eyes, reflecting the sorrow of many who see Sihanouk as a force of stability over six turbulent decades.

"I asked his soul to bless us and to keep peace for the country forever."

The mercurial ex-monarch died of a heart attack aged 89 in Beijing on October 15 last year.

Sihanouk was just 18 when placed on the throne in 1941 by French colonial authorities, but quickly defied his patron's expectations of a pliant king.

A father of 14 children over six marriages, Sihanouk abdicated in 2004 after steering Cambodia through six decades marked by independence from France, civil war, the murderous Khmer Rouge regime, his own exile and finally peace.

Sihanouk -- a self-confessed "naughty boy" who loved to direct films, write poetry and compose songs -- remained hugely popular among Cambodians. But his record is not without controversy.

After being ousted by the US-backed General Lon Nol in 1970, he aligned himself with the Khmer Rouge, only to be placed under house arrest as the communist regime terrorised the nation.

Before the Vietnamese toppled the Khmer Rouge in 1979, Sihanouk took exile in China. He regained his throne in 1993, although his influence was greatly diminished and he abdicated in 2004 to be succeeded by Sihamoni.


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Shootings leave 1 dead, 2 hurt

A bike lies abandoned in the snow near the spot where a 22-year-old man was found fatally shot Friday night.

A bike lies abandoned in the snow near the spot where a 22-year-old man was found fatally shot Friday night.
(Adam Sege, Chicago Tribune)

A pair of shootings on a cold and snowy Friday night left a 22-year-old man dead and two people injured, Chicago police said.

The fatal shooting happened about 8:30 p.m., Chicago Police Department News Affairs Officer Ron Gaines said.

Officers found the man near a three-story apartment building in the 3900 block of North Central Avenue, in the Northwest Side's Portage Park neighborhood.

It was not clear, however, whether the man had been shot there, police said.

Paramedics rushed the man to Our Lady of the Resurrection Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead.

Later, as snow coated Central Avenue road and several squad parked near the scene, police searched for shell casings and photographed a bike lying by the an entrance on the building's north side.

Police have launched a homicide investigation in the shooting.

In a separate shooting, a 19-year-old and a 20-year-old were wounded about 11:30 p.m. near the intersection of South California Avenue and 52nd Street.

Both people were taken to Mount Sinai Hospital, where they were listed in good condition Gaines said.

The shooting happened in the Gage Park neighborhood on the Southwest Side.

Check back for more information.

Twitter: @ChicagoBreaking

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Pictures We Love: Best of January

Photograph by Dieu Nalio Chery, AP

The magnitude 7 earthquake that struck near Port au Prince, Haiti, in January 2010 so devastated the country that recovery efforts are still ongoing.

Professional dancer Georges Exantus, one of the many casualties of that day, was trapped in his flattened apartment for three days, according to news reports. After friends dug him out, doctors amputated his right leg below the knee. With the help of a prosthetic leg, Exantus is able to dance again. (Read about his comeback.)

Why We Love It

"This is an intimate photo, taken in the subject's most personal space as he lies asleep and vulnerable, perhaps unaware of the photographer. The dancer's prosthetic leg lies in the foreground as an unavoidable reminder of the hardships he faced in the 2010 earthquake. This image makes me want to hear more of Georges' story."—Ben Fitch, associate photo editor

"This image uses aesthetics and the beauty of suggestion to tell a story. We are not given all the details in the image, but it is enough to make us question and wonder."—Janna Dotschkal, associate photo editor

Published February 1, 2013

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Gov's Handling of Sandusky Case Under Investigation

The newly-elected attorney general of Pennsylvania is going after the state's governor, Tom Corbett, who was attorney general when child sex allegations against Penn State coach Jerry Sandusky were first brought forward.

Kathleen Kane, a Democrat who was sworn in as attorney general on Jan. 15, said that she will name a special prosecutor in the coming days to investigate Corbett's handling of the Sandusky case. Corbett is a Republican.

The investigation will look specifically at why it took the attorney general's office three years to bring criminal charges against Sandusky while he continued to have access to children.

"Attorney General Kane will appoint a special prosecutor to lead the office's internal investigation into how the Sandusky child abuse investigation was handled by the Office of the Attorney General," Kane's office said in a statement released today.

Corbett's attorney general's office was first notified of the allegations against Sandusky in 2008 when a high school student told his mother and school that Sandusky had molested him. The local district attorney passed the allegation on to the attorney general, then Corbett. Corbett convened a grand jury.

Mario Tama; Patrick Smith/Getty Images

Jerry Sandusky Insists Innocence Before Sentencing Watch Video

Jerry Sandusky Sentencing: Why Did He Release Statement? Watch Video

Jerry Sandusky Claims Innocence in Audio Statement Watch Video

It wasn't until 2011 that sex abuse charges were filed against Sandusky while Corbett had since become governor. Sandusky was convicted on 45 counts of sex abuse in June 2012.

The charges sent shockwaves throughout Pennsylvania, as Penn State's president, two top officials, and legendary coach Joe Paterno all lost their jobs over the scandal.

"Why did it take 33 months to get Sandusky off the streets? Was the use of a grand jury the right decision? Why were there so few resources dedicated to the investigation? Were the best practices implemented?" the statement from Kane's office read.

"At the end of this investigation, we will know the answers to these questions and be able to tell the people of Pennsylvania the facts and give them answers that they deserve," the statement said.

Describing an interview Kane gave the New York Times, the Times said Kane suggested that Corbett did not want to upset voters or donors in the Penn State community before his gubernatorial run in 2009.

Corbett has denied those suggestions. His office did not immediately return calls for comment.

Kane's office preemptively fought back against the idea that the investigation is politically motivated. Kane, a Democrat, defeated the incumbent attorney general, Linda Kelly, a Republican in November 2011. Corbett is a Republican.

"The speculation that this is about politics is insane," a staff member in Kane's office told ABC News today. "You go anywhere in Pennsylvania and anywhere across the country and you'll find individuals asking, 'why did it take three years? Why was there a grand jury? Why make these kids talk to 30 different people about what happened?"

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Swarm-mongering: Brainless blobs flock together

Birds of a feather flock together and now so do brainless, inanimate blobs. Made of microscopic particles, the artificial swarms could shed light on the mysterious mechanisms behind the natural swarming seen in fish and birds. They might also lead to materials with novel properties like self-healing.

Animals such as birds, fish and even humans that move together in swarms have individual intelligence, but Jérémie Palacci of New York University and colleagues wondered whether inanimate objects could also swarm. "From a physicist's point of view, if many different systems behave in the same way there must be an underlying physical rule," he says.

To explore this idea, the team created microscopic plastic spheres, each one with a cubic patch of haematite, an iron oxide, on its surface. When submerged in hydrogen peroxide, the spheres spread out in a disordered fashion. The team then shone blue light on the particles, causing the haematite cubes to catalyse the breakdown of any nearby hydrogen peroxide into water and oxygen. As hydrogen peroxide concentration dropped temporarily in these regions due to the reaction, osmotic forces cause more hydrogen peroxide to flow into them, and that in turn buffets the spheres. The whole process then repeats.

Self-healing swarm

When two spheres come close enough to each other, the balance of chemical forces shifts so that the two spheres are attracted. If there are enough spheres in the same place they will cluster together to form shapes of symmetrically arranged particles, which the team call crystals (see video, above). These crystals continue to be buffeted by the movement caused by the breakdown of hydrogen peroxide – but now they move together as one object, replicating a life-like swarm. Switch off the light, however, and the reaction stops, causing the crystal to lose the forces that hold it together, and the particle distribution becomes disordered once again.

"This system shows that even though the particles have no social interaction or intelligence, you can exhibit collective behaviour with no biology involved," says Palacci. Since the haematite is magnetic, it is even possible to steer the crystals in one direction by applying a magnetic field. Such control might be useful if the artificial swarms are to be harnessed for applications.

As the particles automatically fill any gaps that form in the crystal, again thanks to the chemical dynamics of the system, they could be used to create a self-assembling, self-healing material. The work is published in the journal Science today.

Schooled by fish

Iain Couzin of Princeton University says these kinds of systems are very useful for studying biological collective behaviour because researchers have complete control over their interactions – unlike natural systems.

His team has its own swarming experiment published in the same issue of Science, based on schools of fish that prefer to stay in shade. Their paper shows that shining a light on some of the fish in the school causes them to speed up, to get away from the light. But as a result, non-illuminated fish also speed up, even though, if acting purely as individuals, they would have had no reason to do so. "We show just by using simple interactions that schools can have a sense of responsiveness to the environment that individuals do not have," he says.

Couzin sees no reason why such behaviour should be limited to natural systems. "In future it may be possible to create systems of particles that can make collective decisions – something we often think of as only possible in biological systems," he says.

Journal references: Living crystals: Science, DOI: 10.1126/science.1230020; Fish: Science, DOI: 10.1126/science.1225883

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"The sooner, the better" for COC on South China Sea: Shanmugam

SINGAPORE: Foreign Affairs Minister K Shanmugam has reiterated the need for a Code of Conduct (COC) on the South China Sea, saying the sooner it is started the better.

He said this in a live interview with the BBC on Friday morning, covering issues such as the South China Sea claims, US-China relations and ASEAN.

He was asked whether it is possible to have some kind of resolution via ASEAN.

Mr Shanmugam replied that ASEAN has been trying to make it clear that territorial disputes can only be solved by the claimant states themselves.

But the regional grouping can put in place a structure that shows and tells people how they have to structure their conduct with each other. And this is why ASEAN has been pushing for the COC.

Mr Shanmugam said the COC should apply to all countries in the way they interact with each other in the region.

Asked how concerned Asia should be over what's perceived as an increasingly assertive China, Mr Shanmugam said this has to be looked at in context.

He said no leader of China, as well as leaders of many countries, can afford to be seen to be soft on sovereignty.

The real issue is whether they can put in place a modus vivendi to deal with territorial and sovereignty issues.

Mr Shanmugam pointed out that the actual disputes will take a very long time to settle and stressed that the issue is how countries behave so that the disputes do not escalate into clashes, which could be terrible for the region.

- CNA/ir

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Hadiya Pendleton's 'twin' describes death of best friend

The best friend of Hadiya Pendleton talks about the moments before her friend was shot in Chicago on January 31, 2013. (Heather Charles, Chicago Tribune)

As she and her high school classmates fled from the gunfire, Hadiya Pendleton screamed that she had been shot, fell to the ground, struggled to get up and fell again, according to her best friend.

The best friend and another girl scrambled to Pendleton's side, cradling her in their arms as others ran for help.

"I was holding her hand trying to talk her through it," her best friend told the Tribune on Thursday. "I was like, 'You're going to be fine, you're going to be OK.'"

But Hadiya, 15, died shortly after a bullet pierced her back Tuesday, igniting outrage over the senseless loss of another young victim of Chicago's out-of-control gun violence and leaving her friends staggered by the horrifying chain of events on what had been a carefree afternoon.

In the account that follows, the Tribune is not naming those who witnessed the shooting and its aftermath because the gunman is still at large.

On Tuesday afternoon, the mood outside King College Prep in North Kenwood was jubilant. The students at the elite high school had just finished final exams, classes had let out early and the winter weather was spectacular, tipping into the low 60s.

Hadiya and her best friend, both sophomores, headed toward a nearby Potbelly's, one of their favorite places to eat, the friend said. But on their way, at about 1:30 p.m., they ran into friends who invited them to Harsh Park, just a few blocks away from the school.

"We were like, 'OK, sure, who doesn't want to walk around outside when it's nice?'" Hadiya's best friend said.

As they walked, the group of about a dozen teens discussed which tests had been easy and which had been hard. Some were volleyball players from King and others went to another high school, Hadiya's friends said.

Once they reached the small, residential park, Hadiya and others headed to a playground where they swung in the warm air while chatting about their plans for the summer and their 16th birthdays. Hadiya's best friend said she and Hadiya had talked about a joint sweet 16 party and possibly wearing matching gold heels and colorful outfits to celebrate the occasion.

But then a sudden downpour drove the teens beneath a metal awning where Hadiya played "Misery Business" by the band Paramore on her cellphone and others tweeted and texted as they waited out the rain.

Minutes later, however, Hadiya's best friend said she saw a gun-wielding male scale the park fence and approach the group. She yelled a warning to her friends, but the gunman opened fire, spraying the teens with bullets as they ran.

Hadiya was struck in the back about 2:20 p.m. One teen suffered a graze wound to an ankle. And a 17-year-old junior at King was hit in the left leg below the calf, according to his mother, who said he was trying to protect his girlfriend.

The teen's mother said that her son, an Eagle Scout, didn't realize he had been shot. He felt a little sting in his leg before he looked down and saw blood.

A nurse who lived in the area and was leaving her home at the time of the shooting ran to the group, applied a makeshift tourniquet to the teen shot in the leg and called 911. The nurse instructed the others on how to take care of Hadiya.

In the meantime, another friend of Hadiya's ran to a nearby Subway restaurant, burst through the door and asked to borrow a man's phone to call 911.

But by then wailing police cars whizzed by toward the park, so she called her mom.

"I told her to stay put," her mother told the Tribune. "I can't even tell you, as a mother, what it's like to get that phone call. My goal was to get to my child."

The friend said that she and Hadiya met freshman year at a high school dance camp. The friend joined poms, while Hadiya became a majorette, traveling to Washington last month to perform in a competition with her squad during President Barack Obama's inauguration weekend.

The girls were nicknamed "twins" by classmates and teachers because of their similar appearance, the friend said. From haircut to smile to skin tone to personalities, the two were hard to tell apart, she said.

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Sinkhole Swallows Buildings in China

Photograph from AFP/Getty Images

The sinkhole that formed in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou (pictured) is, unfortunately, not a new occurrence for the country.

Many areas of the world are susceptible to these sudden formations, including the U.S. Florida is especially prone, but Guatemala, Mexico, and the area surrounding the Dead Sea in the Middle East are also known for their impressive sinkholes. (See pictures of a sinkhole in Beijing that swallowed a truck.)

Published January 31, 2013

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Arias' Lawyer Shows Ex-Boyfriend's Lewd Photos

Accused murderer Jodi Arias was kept away from the Mormon friends of her lover Travis Alexander and their torrid sex affair was kept secret by Alexander, even as he sent lewd photos of himself to her online, according to court testimony today.

The testimony in Arias' trial for killing Alexander in 2008 was intended to bolster the defense's argument that she killed him in self defense, that Alexander was a sexual deviant who treated Arias as his "dirty little secret."

Arias' attorneys introduced as evidence photos that Alexander took of his penis and sent to Arias, part of a string of graphic messages and sexual phone calls the two engaged in while Alexander, an elder in the Mormon church, was supposed to be chaste.

Today's witness was the latest in a string called by the defense, including Alexander's former girlfriend Lisa Daidone, who told the court that Alexander had professed to be a virgin.

Daniel Freeman continued his testimony today, describing how he was a friend of both Arias and Alexander but that Alexander kept Arias distanced from his Mormon pals.

"Travis had made more friends at (the Mormon) ward, and had (Ultimate Fighting Championship) fight nights at his house many times, and Jodi was in town, but she wasn't there," Freeman said.

"There was that group of friends, them and Jodi, two different groups, and so Lisa [Daidone] and friends from church were there, but Jodi wasn't there," Freeman said.

Jodi Arias Murder Trial: Former Boyfriend Takes Stand Watch Video

Jodi Arias Murder Trial: Defense's First Day of Witnesses Watch Video

Alexander's behavior, the defense hopes to prove, shows that he mistreated Arias.

Arias, 32, is on trial for murdering Alexander, whom she dated for a year and continued to have a sexual relationship for a year after that. Her attorneys claim that Alexander was abusive and controlling toward Arias, and that she was forced to kill him.

Freeman described how he took a trip with his sister, Alexander, and Arias, and how Alexander had asked him to come along so that he and Arias "would not get physical."

"I don't know that I can say he didn't want to be alone with her, but he liked that when I was there, and my sister was there. They weren't as physical," Freeman said.

Freeman admitted that he had no idea Alexander and Arias had been having a sexual relationship the entire time they were together. He said Alexander never mentioned that to his friends.

In fact, Freeman noted that Alexander was considered to be a church elder when he baptized Arias into the Church of Latter-Day Saints. Both a church elder and a convert were expected to abide by the church's strict law of chastity, which banned any sexual relations outside of marriage.

"One thing people give up in this baptism process was sex," prosecutor Juan Martinez said. "Did you know she was having oral sex with Mr. Alexander at the time of her baptism? Would that be an insincere baptism?"

"She would not be ready to be baptized in that case," Freeman said.

"You were asked about Miss Arias, whether she was worthy of baptism if she was performing oral sex, but what about the elder receiving oral sex?" defense attorney Kirk Nurmi said.

"They would not be worthy of performing that ordinance at that time until they had gone through repentance," Freeman said. "They would go to a discipline council and could face excommunication or a probation period or have their priesthood removed."

Freeman said that Alexander never confessed to having a sexual relationship with Arias.

Freeman's testimony came on the third day of the defense's attempt to paint Alexander as a controlling, sex-obsessed liar who was cruel to Arias. Other witnesses have said that Alexander cheated on other women he dated with Arias, and lied to his friends and family about their relationship.

The defense also had Freeman point out that Alexander was strong and fit. They are expected to conclude that Alexander was physically threatening Arias when she killed him.

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Today on New Scientist: 30 January 2013

Timbuktu's precious scientific texts must be saved

Islamist militants in Mali have burned documents that attest to science in Africa before European colonisation - what remains must be protected

Think that massage feels good? Try adding drugs

Nerve bundles that respond to stroking have been identified and chemically activated in mice

How Obama will deliver his climate promise

The US is set to meet - and maybe exceed - Obama's pledge to cut US emissions by 17 per cent, which could give a boost to international climate talks

Minimum booze price will rein in alcohol abuse

Evidence suggests the UK government's proposal to set a minimum price for alcohol could save thousands of lives, and billions of pounds of public money

First real time-travel movies are loopers

Hollywood has played with time travel for decades, but now physicists have the first movies of what travelling to the past actually looks like

Surfer rides highest wave ever caught

Garret McNamara of Hawaii claims to have ridden the highest wave ever caught by a surfer, a 30-metre monster off the coast of Nazaré, Portugal

Infrared laptop trackpad ignores accidental touches

Longpad is a touchpad that extends the full width of your laptop and uses infrared sensors to ignore any unwanted touches

Close call coming: Averting the asteroid threat

With an errant space rock heading this way, just how good are our asteroid defences - and how do we avert the cataclysm?

The right to fight: women at war

The US military has accepted women into combat. What can science tell us about how women deal with being in the line of fire? And are they any different to men?

Earth and others lose status as Goldilocks worlds

Several planets are taking a hit thanks to a redefinition of the habitable zone - the area around a star in which liquid water can theoretically exist

The 10,000-year bender: Why humans love a tipple

Our taste for alcohol results from an evolutionary tussle between humans and yeast - one in which the microbes have often had the upper hand

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More people volunteering their services to help others: survey

SINGAPORE: More people are giving their time and making the effort to help others, with one in three serving as volunteers in 2012.

A survey by the National Volunteer & Philanthropy Centre (NVPC) found that about 32 per cent of its respondents were volunteers, which is the highest rate since it started the survey in 2000.

The same survey conducted in 2010 had 23 per cent.

The survey, conducted between July and September 2012, found that the increase was largely driven by the interest in informal volunteering.

This refers to activities like reading to the child of a needy neighbour, instead of being part of a formal organisation.

The survey also found that individual donations remained steady at about $1.1 billion in 2012, compared with $1.07 billion in 2010.

Those who earned below $1,000 a month donated a bigger share of their income - at 1.8 per cent.

That's higher than the 0.5 per cent for those earning between $5,000 and below $6,000.

More than 1,500 people took part in the survey, which did not include compulsory community work by students.

- CNA/de

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Hawks' streak ends in 3-2 shootout loss

Blackhawks suffered first loss of the season.

ST. PAUL, Minn. — For the first time this season, the only sounds in the Blackhawks' postgame dressing room were pieces of tape being ripped from pads and hushed tones.

Gone was the celebrating as the Hawks had their six-game winning streak to start 2013 snapped as the Wild edged them 3-2 in a shootout Wednesday night at Xcel Energy Center.

Matt Cullen scored the winner in the shootout for the Wild as the Hawks suffered their first loss on the road in five outings. Cullen and Cal Clutterbuck scored in regulation and Niklas Backstrom earned the victory in goal in relief of Josh Harding for the Wild, playing the second of back-to-back games.

"Those are the tight games in the last three or four games that we found a way to win," said Hawks captain Jonathan Toews, who scored in regulation and in the shootout. "We were this close again and we had a great chance to win in overtime and in the shootout but we just came up a bit short.

"We just wanted to play a patient game and keep wearing them down as much as we could (but) we didn't get on them as much as we wanted to."

Andrew Shaw also had a goal in regulation for the Hawks but it wasn't enough as Corey Crawford suffered the defeat in the first of the six-game trip. The Hawks managed a point and lead the NHL with 13, but fell to 4-0-1 on the road.

"We played a lot better the second half of the game," defenseman Duncan Keith said. "If we had won we probably would be saying we played a great game and we're happy, but we lost in a shootout so we're not going to get down and get negative."

After the Wild struck early in the opening period on Cullen's goal, the Hawks answered when Shaw and Toews scored 1 minute, 31 seconds apart a few minutes later. First, Shaw rushed the net and took a pass from Bryan Bickell and stuffed it past Harding.

Toews put the Hawks ahead when he snapped a quick shot from the left dot that eluded Harding. Wild coach Mike Yeo had seen enough and yanked Harding, who proceeded to take out his frustration on his goalie stick in the tunnel leading to the dressing room.

The Hawks rode the momentum of a strong penalty-killing effort into the intermission but it was short-lived as Clutterbuck redirected a long Tom Gilbert shot in the opening minute of the second.

With Crawford and Backstrom both playing well, the game eventually went to the shootout. It ended when Patrick Sharp rifled a shot off the crossbar and the Wild had the extra point.

"Going to a shootout, anything can happen," Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "We had the play in the last part of the game. It's disappointing, obviously, when you don't win but at least let's get excited about getting back in the 'W' column."

Twitter @ChrisKuc

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New Theory on How Homing Pigeons Find Home

Jane J. Lee

Homing pigeons (Columba livia) have been prized for their navigational abilities for thousands of years. They've served as messengers during war, as a means of long-distance communication, and as prized athletes in international races.

But there are places around the world that seem to confuse these birds—areas where they repeatedly vanish in the wrong direction or scatter on random headings rather than fly straight home, said Jon Hagstrum, a geophysicist who authored a study that may help researchers understand how homing pigeons navigate.

Hagstrum's paper, published online Wednesday in the Journal of Experimental Biology, proposes an intriguing theory for homing pigeon disorientation—that the birds are following ultralow frequency sounds back towards their lofts and that disruptions in their ability to "hear" home is what screws them up.

Called infrasound, these sound waves propagate at frequencies well below the range audible to people, but pigeons can pick them up, said Hagstrum, who works at the U.S. Geological Survey in Menlo Park, California.

"They're using sound to image the terrain [surrounding] their loft," he said. "It's like us visually recognizing our house using our eyes."

Homeward Bound?

For years, scientists have struggled to explain carrier pigeons' directional challenges in certain areas, known as release-site biases.

This "map" issue, or a pigeon's ability to tell where it is in relation to where it wants to go, is different from the bird's compass system, which tells it which direction it's headed in. (Learn about how other animals navigate.)

"We know a lot about pigeon compass systems, but what has been controversial, even to this day, has been their map [system]," said Cordula Mora, an animal behavior researcher at Bowling Green State University in Ohio who was not involved in the study.

Until now, the two main theories say that pigeons rely either on their sense of smell to find their way home or that they follow the Earth's magnetic field lines, she said.

If something screwed up their sense of smell or their ability to follow those fields, the thinking has been, that could explain why pigeons got lost in certain areas.

But neither explanation made sense to Hagstrum, a geologist who grew interested in pigeons after attending an undergraduate lecture by Cornell biologist William Keeton. Keeton, who studied homing pigeons' navigation abilities, described some release-site biases in his pigeons and Hagstrum was hooked.

"I was just stunned and amazed and fascinated," said Hagstrum. "I understand we don't get dark matter or quantum mechanics, but bird [navigation]?"

So Hagstrum decided to look at Keeton's pigeon release data from three sites in upstate New York. At Castor Hill and Jersey Hill, the birds would repeatedly fly in the wrong direction or head off randomly when trying to return to their loft at Cornell University, even though they had no problems at other locations. At a third site near the town of Weedsport, young pigeons would head off in a different direction from older birds.

There were also certain days when the Cornell pigeons could find their way back home from these areas without any problems.

At the same time, homing pigeons from other lofts released at Castor Hill, Jersey Hill, and near Weedsport, would fly home just fine.

Sound Shadows

Hagstrum knew that homing pigeons could hear sounds as low as 0.05 hertz, low enough to pick up infrasounds that were down around 0.1 or 0.2 hertz. So he decided to map out what these low-frequency sound waves would have looked like on an average day, and on the days when the pigeons could home correctly from Jersey Hill.

He found that due to atmospheric conditions and local terrain, Jersey Hill normally sits in a sound shadow in relation to the Cornell loft. Little to none of the infrasounds from the area around the loft reached Jersey Hill except on one day when changing wind patterns and temperature inversions permitted.

That happened to match a day when the Cornell pigeons had no problem returning home.

"I could see how the topography was affecting the sound and how the weather was affecting the sound [transmission]," Hagstrum said. "It started to explain all these mysteries."

The terrain between the loft and Jersey Hill, combined with normal atmospheric conditions, bounced infrasounds up and over these areas.

Some infrasound would still reach Castor Hill, but due to nearby hills and valleys, the sound waves approached from the west and southwest, even though the Cornell loft is situated south-southwest of Castor Hill.

Records show that younger, inexperienced pigeons released at Castor Hill would sometimes fly west while older birds headed southwest, presumably following infrasounds from their loft.

Hagstrum's model found that infrasound normally arrived at the Weedsport site from the south. But one day of abnormal weather conditions, combined with a local river valley, resulted in infrasound that arrived at Weedsport from the Cornell loft from the southeast.

Multiple Maps

"What [Hagstrum] has found for those areas are a possible explanation for the [pigeon] behavior at these sites," said Bowling Green State's Mora. But she cautions against extrapolating these results to all homing pigeons.

Some of Mora's work supports the theory that homing pigeons use magnetic field lines to find their way home.

What homing pigeons are using as their map probably depends on where they're raised, she said. "In some places it may be infrasound, and in other places [a sense of smell] may be the way to go."

Hagstrum's next steps are to figure out how large an area the pigeons are listening to. He's also talking to the Navy and Air Force, who are interested in his work. "Right now we use GPS to navigate," he said. But if those satellites were compromised, "we'd be out of luck." Pigeons navigate from point to point without any problems, he said.

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No Device Eliminates Concussion Risk, Experts Say

As the long-term consequences of concussions become clearer, a cottage industry has popped up to sell athletes and worried parents products designed to mitigate risks of concussions that even helmets cannot prevent.

Despite the bold claims of some companies, however, many experts say the Holy Grail in contact sports -- a device that prevents concussions -- simply does not exist. Indeed, experts say, there is no proof that any current device significantly reduces the risk of concussions beyond the protections already provided by helmets.

"Nightline" found several products for sale online that aim to reduce the risk of concussions or even alert parents and coaches when a kid has supposedly taken a concussion-level hit. The claims the manufacturers make are often breathtakingly reassuring.

Concern about the risk of concussion is mounting at every level of the gridiron from the NFL to colleges and even high schools. Concussions are the most common injury among high school football players.

Jennifer Branin, whose son Tyler Branin is one of the stars of the Woodbridge Warriors high school football team in Irvine, Calif., said "it was scary" the first time he had a concussion.

"He had lost his balance on the field," she said. "He got up and tried to continue, but couldn't keep his balance."

Junior Seau Had Brain Disease, Researchers Say Watch Video

She said the effects of the concussion lingered, causing Tyler to miss a week of school and football practice. Even months later, he complained of difficulty concentrating in class.

Parents such as Jennifer Branin, who is president of the team's booster club, and her husband, Andy Branin, a former college football player himself, were looking for a way to support their son's desire to play football while also keeping him safe.

"He wants to play and, as a mom, you may want to put bubble-wrap around them and protect them forever, but that's not going to happen," she said.

So Jennifer Branin decided to do something. She raised money to buy the team helmet inserts by Unequal Technologies for added protection.

Unequal Technologies, one of the highest profile players in this new market, described its product explicitly on the box as "Concussion Reduction Technology," or "CRT." It is a strip of composite material including bullet-proof Kevlar that is designed to stick inside the helmet as a liner to the existing helmet pads.

Unequal Technologies uses its material in products ranging from padded sleeves to shin guards. The company counts NFL players and X-Games athletes among its fans.

On board as paid spokesmen are Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick and James Harrison, a linebacker for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Harrison is one of the hardest-hitting guys in the NFL and said he uses Unequal Technology's liners in his helmet.

"I don't know what it's made of but it works," Harrison says in one of Unequal's promotional videos. "I really don't feel like I'm taking a risk."

Vick wasn't wearing the CRT product when he suffered a season-ending concussion in November, but he has since promised that he will be wearing it when he returns to the field next season.

Rob Vito, founder and CEO of the Kennett Square, Pa.-based company, said he worked with scientists to create a military-grade composite material that can help protect athletes from all kinds of injuries from head to toe.

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The 10,000-year bender: Why humans love a tipple

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Talent Development Alliance formed to tap into workforce training in China market

SINGAPORE: Singapore has formed a Talent Development Alliance (TDA) to help the country's companies gain a stronger foothold in the China market through education and training.

Driven by IE Singapore, the alliance is the first of its kind in the industry in Singapore with seven institutions from the public and private sectors - Civil Service College, ITE Education Services, NTUC LearningHub, Nanyang Technological University, National University of Singapore and Singapore Management University.

A Memorandum of Understanding was signed on Wednesday.

IE Singapore said as China's economy continues to move from one that's driven by investments to one that's based on consumption, demand in the education and training sectors will grow exponentially.

China's workforce will need skills upgrading and higher education to support this development.

Singapore companies, with their forte in the services sector, as well as in education and training, can leverage these developments to contribute to China's growth.

- CNA/ck

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Girl who performed at Obama inaugural slain on South Side

After taking their exams Tuesday, Hadiya Pendleton and a group of others decided to hang out at a park on Tuesday just blocks away from their high school on the South Side.

But the trip ended in tragedy when the 15-year-old King College Prep sophomore was fatally shot about a week after she attended President Barack Obama’s inauguration and performed at inaugural events with the King College Prep band and drill team.

Penldeton and a16-year-old boy wounded in the attack were shot in a park near the school about 2:20 p.m., in the 4500 block of South Oakenwald Avenue, police said.

Most of those who were in the park were gang members, and those in the group did not stay on scene to help after the shootings, according to police. The shooting occurred around 2:20 p.m. in the 4500 block of South Oakenwald Avenue.

They boy remained in serious condition Tuesday night. He was also a student at King, according to Pendleton’s friends, though her relatives weren’t sure what school the boy attended.

One of the teens was taken in serious to critical condition to Comer Children's Hospital, according to Chicago Fire Department spokesman Will Knight.

The other victim also was taken to Comer and police at first believed both victims' conditions had stabilized by a little after 3 p.m., said Chicago Police News Affairs Officer Veejay Zala.

At Comer this evening, a group of young people sat and stood inside the entrance to the hospital's emergency room, along with the principal of King high school.

Many hugged as they brushed tears from their eyes and consoled each other and Pendleton's parents.

"She was awesome," one girl said of Pendleton outside the hospital's ER.

Friends of the slain girl said King was dismissed early today because of exams, and students went to the park on Oakenwald--something they don't usually do.

Friends said the girl was a majorette and a volleyball player, a friendly and sweet presence at King, one of the top 10 CPS selective enrollment schools. Pendleton performed with other King College students at President Barack Obama’s inaugural events.

Neighbors said students from King do hang out at Harsh Park, 4458-70 S. Oakenwald Ave., and that students were there this afternoon before the shooting took place. A group of 10 to 12 teens at the park had taken shelter under a canopy there during a rainstorm when a boy or man jumped a fence in the park, ran toward the group and opened fire, police said in a statement this evening.

The attacker then got into an auto and left the area, police said.

Neighbors reported hearing shots about 2:20 p.m.

Desiree Sanders said she heard six gunshots and called 911 after a neighbor told her that some teens had been shot. Neighbors told her as many as 10 young people had been hanging out at the small park, and most scattered after the shooting, though a few stayed behind with the victims.

Those in the group were not cooperating with police, however, and investigators had no detailed descriptions yet of either the attacker or the vehicle in which he left. Central Area detectives were investigating, and they had no one in custody as of about 8:20 p.m.

Police crime data show no serious crimes happened in the 4400 or 4500 blocks of South Oakenwald Avenue Dec. 19 to Jan. 20.

“It’s a great neighborhood. Nothing like this has happened since I’ve been here,” on the block, said Roxanne Hubbard, who has lived in the neighborhood for 19 years.

As a matter of policy, Chicago Board of Education officials refuse to confirm whether any child is a student at Chicago Public Schools because a policy on student identification passed by the board several years ago has never been implemented.

Tribune reporter Liam Ford contributed.

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Timbuktu’s vulnerable manuscripts are city’s "gold"

French and Malian troops surrounded Timbuktu on Monday and began combing the labyrinthine city for Islamist fighters. Witnesses, however, said the Islamists, who claim an affiliation to al Qaeda and had imposed a Taliban-style rule in the northern Malian city over the last ten months, slipped into the desert a few days earlier.

But before fleeing, the militants reportedly set fire to several buildings and many rare manuscripts. There are conflicting reports as to how many manuscripts were actually destroyed. (Video: Roots of the Mali Crisis.)

On Monday, Sky News posted an interview with a man identifying himself as an employee of the Ahmed Baba Institute, a government-run repository for rare books and manuscripts, the oldest of which date back to the city's founding in the 12th century. The man said some 3,000 of the institute's 20,000 manuscripts had been destroyed or looted by the Islamists.

Video showed what appeared to be a large pile of charred manuscripts and the special boxes made to preserve them in front of one of the institute's buildings.

However, a member of the University of Cape Town Timbuktu Manuscript Project told eNews Channel Africa on Tuesday that he had spoken with the director of the Ahmed Baba Institute, Mahmoud Zouber, who said that nearly all of its manuscripts had been removed from the buildings and taken to secure locations months earlier. (Read "The Telltale Scribes of Timbuktu" in National Geographic magazine.)

A Written Legacy

The written word is deeply rooted in Timbuktu's rich history. The city emerged as a wealthy center of trade, Islam, and learning during the 13th century, attracting a number of Sufi religious scholars. They in turn took on students, forming schools affiliated with's Timbuktu's three main mosques.

The scholars imported parchment and vellum manuscripts via the caravan system that connected northern Africa with the Mediterranean and Arabia. Wealthy families had the documents copied and illuminated by local scribes, building extensive libraries containing works of religion, art, mathematics, medicine, astronomy, history, geography, and culture.

"The manuscripts are the city's real gold," said Mohammed Aghali, a tour guide from Timbuktu. "The manuscripts, our mosques, and our history—these are our treasures. Without them, what is Timbuktu?"

This isn't the first time that an occupying army has threatened Timbuktu's cultural heritage. The Moroccan army invaded the city in 1591 to take control of the gold trade. In the process of securing the city, they killed or deported most of Timbuktu's scholars, including the city's most famous teacher, Ahmed Baba al Massufi, who was held in exile in Marrakesh for many years and forced to teach in a pasha's court. He finally returned to Timbuktu in 1611, and it is for him that the Ahmed Baba Institute was named.

Hiding the Texts

In addition to the Ahmed Baba Institute, Timbuktu is home to more than 60 private libraries, some with collections containing several thousand manuscripts and others with only a precious handful. (Read about the fall of Timbuktu.)

Sidi Ahmed, a reporter based in Timbuktu who recently fled to the Malian capital Bamako, said Monday that nearly all the libraries, including the world-renowned Mamma Haidara and the Fondo Kati libraries, had secreted their collections before the Islamist forces had taken the city.

"The people here have long memories," he said. "They are used to hiding their manuscripts. They go into the desert and bury them until it is safe."

Though it appears most of the manuscripts are safe, the Islamists' occupation took a heavy toll on Timbuktu.

Women were flogged for not covering their hair or wearing bright colors. Girls were forbidden from attending school, and boys were recruited into the fighters' ranks.

Music was banned. Local imams who dared speak out against the occupiers were barred from speaking in their mosques. In a move reminiscent of the Taliban's destruction of Afghanistan's famous Bamiyan Buddha sculptures, Islamist fighters bulldozed 14 ancient mud-brick mausoleums and cemeteries that held the remains of revered Sufi saints.

A spokesman for the Islamists said it was "un-Islamic" for locals to "worship idols."

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Clinton Talks 2016, Stands by Benghazi Testimony

In her final television interview as Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton told ABC's Cynthia McFadden that she is "flattered and honored" at the intense interest in whether she might run for president in 2016.

But Clinton maintained that right now she's "not focused" on a presidential campaign; instead she said she wants to return to a "normal" life when she steps down from office on Friday.

Watch Cynthia McFadden's full interview with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on "Nightline" tonight at 12:35 a.m. ET

Clinton's first order of business, she said, will be sleep.

"I hope I get to sleep in," she told McFadden with a laugh. "It will be the first time in many years. I have no office to go to, no schedule to keep, no work to do. That will probably last a few days then I will be up and going with my new projects," she said.

"I have been working or attending school full-time since I was 13. This is going to be new for me. I don't know how I'm going to react to it, to be honest."

PHOTOS: Hillary Clinton Through the Years: From Wellesley to the White House, and Beyond

Clinton has had no trouble articulating her reaction to what has arguably been the darkest chapter of her tenure as Secretary of State: the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, in which four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens, were killed.

Hillary's Next Chapter: On Family and Future Watch Video

Secretary Clinton had a heated exchange with Republican Senator Ron Johnson during her five hours of testimony before Congress about the attack last week. Johnson accused the administration of misleading the American people about the cause of the attack, when UN Ambassador Susan Rice, on Sunday political talk shows, blamed it on protesters.

Clinton snapped back at Johnson, "Four Americans are dead. What difference does it make?" For that, she has been sharply criticized by some conservatives.

Clinton said she "absolutely" stands by her response to Johnson, maintaining that the administration has been transparent with the information it knew, when it was available. Clinton said partisan politics have no place in a response to a terrorist attack against Americans.

"I believe that we should in public life, whether you're in the administration or the Congress, de-politicize crisis and work together to figure out what happened, what we can do to prevent it and then put into place both the institutional changes and the budgetary changes that are necessary, " she said.

"When someone tries to put into a partisan lens, when they focus not on the fact that we have such a terrible event happening with four dead Americans but instead what did somebody say on a Sunday morning talk show? That to me is not in keeping with the seriousness of the issue and the obligation we all have as public servants"

FULL TRANSCRIPT: Sec. of State Hillary Clinton's "Nightline" Interview

Asked about her health, Clinton said her recent illness, concussion and blood clot were all a surprise.

"When I got sick and fainted and hit my head I was so surprised, and I thought I would just get up and go to work. And thankfully I had very good medical care and doctors who said, 'No we'd better do an MRI, we'd better do this, we'd better do that,'" she said, calling herself "lucky."

"I know now how split second beset by a virus and dehydrated, what it can do to you."

Though she confirmed she is wearing special glasses to help with double vision, a lingering issue following her illness, Clinton said that she expects to be fully recovered and operating at "full speed" soon.

The Secretary told McFadden that if she does decide to run, she would have "no problem" making her health records public.

"Of course, that goes with the territory," she said.

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Iran launches monkey into space

Lisa Grossman, physical sciences reporter

Last summer, the Iranian Space Agency announced their plan to send a monkey into space - and now they've apparently done it.

According to Iranian state-run television, a press release on the space agency's website, and photos of the event, Iran sent a live rhesus monkey into sub-orbital space aboard a small rocket called Pishgam, or Pioneer. There's even a video posted on YouTube that appears to be of the launch (though New Scientist could not confirm its authenticity).

The report has not been confirmed independently, however, and the US air force's North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) has not reported seeing any missile launches from Iran.

But independent observers say the launch looks legitimate.

"Really, I see no reason not to take their word for it," says Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics who also keeps a log of space launches. He says he's convinced by the photos and discussions he's had with several knowledgeable source in online forums.

In photos released on the Iranian Space Agency's website, the rocket looks like the same kind the agency has launched before, but with a larger nose cone designed to fit a small chamber that can support life. Images also showed a live rhesus monkey strapped to a small seat.

The reports say the rocket went straight up 120 kilometres, which McDowell says qualifies as outer space, but not high enough to reach orbit, and came back down with a parachute.

It's unclear exactly when the launch took place. The press release says that the launch happened on the birthday of Mohammed the Prophet, which is celebrated by Shiites on 29 January, but was celebrated last week elsewhere in the world.

Some countries worry that Iranian rockets capable of carrying animals or people could also carry weapons. Iran has denied any military intention.

"This is not a scary thing because this is not a big new rocket that could hit America or anything like that," McDowell says. "There's nothing military to this. It's purely for propaganda. Nevertheless, it advances their science and their technology by being able to do it."

Iran says the launch is a first step towards sending humans into space, which they intend to do in the next 5 to 8 years. To do that, McDowell says, they'll need to build a larger rocket. The country currently has a vehicle called Safir that has successfully put satellites in orbit, and is developing a more powerful launcher called Simorgh.

The next step will probably be to either launch Safir to carry a human to sub-orbital space, or an unmanned Simorgh flight into orbit to make sure mission controllers can return it to the ground safely.

"They don't want to repeat what the Soviets did" in 1957, McDowell says, "which is put a living being in orbit before you figure out how to get it back."

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Man charged with using another person's credit card to pay for fast food

SINGAPORE: A man who used another person's credit card to pay for a fast food chain's home delivery service on four occasions has been charged with cheating.

Tan Kok Sin, 32, allegedly made the home delivery orders between 29 January and 12 February in 2011.

The orders, each costing more than S$21, were delivered to a residential address in Bukit Panjang.

Tan faces four other charges of using another person's credit card in 2010.

On 27 September 2010, Tan is believed to have used the card three times, to pay for more than S$400 worth of groceries at a supermarket in Woodlands.

He also allegedly used the same card to pay for a rice cooker at an electrical shop on the same day.

If guilty, Tan faces 10 years' jail and a fine.

- CNA/ck

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Butler's 19 points lead Bulls over Bobcats

To Jimmy Butler, it's simple.

Whether he's averaging 45.2 minutes in the five games he started for Luol Deng or playing 31 minutes, 14 seconds in reserve of Deng and others, as he did during Monday's 93-85 victory over the Bobcats, his role remains the same.

"Rebound, guard and make some open shots," Butler said. "Starting gave me a lot more confidence. But I'm still able to do those things (off the bench)."

Indeed, Butler stole the show, backing up his promise with a career-high 19 points and six rebounds, playing at shooting guard alongside Deng for a long second-quarter stretch and most of the final 5:28.

"Jimmy's a big part of the team," coach Tom Thibodeau said. "Lu has been huge for us. We know we have flexibility. You do what's best for the team."

Deng returned after missing five games with an injured right hamstring and finished with 12 points in just over 31 minutes as the Bulls avenged their New Year's Eve home loss to the Bobcats.

"I felt great," Deng said. "I hadn't gone full speed like that, so I was a little worried about the change of speed and direction. So I'm happy I was able not to have any setbacks. It felt a little tight, but it didn't feel like how it felt when I first did it."

Thibodeau admitted he didn't want to overextend Deng's minutes in his first game while casually plugging him for defensive player of the year.

"There may not be a better defender in the league," Thibodeau said.

At least against the speedy, perimeter-driven Bobcats, minutes dropped for Marco Belinelli and Richard Hamilton. Thibodeau even used the combination of Kirk Hinrich and Nate Robinson for a brief third-quarter stretch.

"They went real small," Thibodeau said. "I liked (Butler's) quickness out there defensively."

The Bulls pulled away late in the third after the Bobcats tied it at 55-55 with 3:36 remaining. Joakim Noah, huge again with a double-double, seven assists and five blocks in nearly 45 minutes, scored on a three-point play. Robinson, who contributed 15 points off the bench, fueled a 13-0 run with two 3-pointers as the Bobcats failed to score for 4:24.

With 13 points and 18 rebounds, Noah became the first Bull to grab 15 or more rebounds in four straight games since Dennis Rodman in March 1998.

Robinson poured it on in the fourth, scoring eight points as the Bulls pushed their lead to 14. But old friend Ben Gordon found his range in the final period as well, scoring 10 of his 18 points as the Bobcats trimmed the lead to six late.

That's when Carlos Boozer powered home a left-handed dunk over Bismack Biyombo off a feed from Robinson with 1:24 left to jazz the sellout crowd of 21,308.

"As long as we play the type of basketball we know we're capable of, we can beat any team," Butler said. "We can also lose to any team if we don't."

Twitter @kcjhoop

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Space Pictures This Week: Martian Gas, Cloud Trails

Image courtesy SDO/NASA

The sun is more than meets the eye, and researchers should know. They've equipped telescopes on Earth and in space with instruments that view the sun in at least ten different wavelengths of light, some of which are represented in this collage compiled by NASA and released January 22. (See more pictures of the sun.)

By viewing the different wavelengths of light given off by the sun, researchers can monitor its surface and atmosphere, picking up on activity that can create space weather.

If directed towards Earth, that weather can disrupt satellite communications and electronics—and result in spectacular auroras. (Read an article on solar storms in National Geographic magazine.)

The surface of the sun contains material at about 10,000°F (5,700°C), which gives off yellow-green light. Atoms at 11 million°F (6.3 million°C) gives off ultraviolet light, which scientists use to observe solar flares in the sun's corona. There are even instruments that image wavelengths of light highlighting the sun's magnetic field lines.

Jane J. Lee

Published January 28, 2013

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US Mom Missing in Turkey Took Side Trips

Sarai Sierra, the New York mother who disappeared in Turkey while on a solo trip, took several side excursions out of the country, but stayed in contact with her family the entire time, a family friend told ABC News.

Turkish media reported today that police were trying to establish why Sierra visited Amsterdam and Munich. Police were also trying to establish the identity of a man Sierra, 33, was chatting with on the Internet, according to local media.

Rachel Norman, a family friend, said the man was a group tour guide from the Netherlands and said Sierra stayed in regular touch with her family in New York.

Steven Sierra, Sarai's husband, and David Jimenez, her brother, arrived in Istanbul today to aid in the search.

The men have been in contact with officials from the U.S. consulate in the country and plan to meet with them as soon as they open on Tuesday, Norman said.

After that, she said Sierra and Jimenez would meet with Turkish officials to discuss plans and search efforts.

Family of Sarai Sierra|AP Photo

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Sarai Sierra was supposed to fly back to the United States on Jan. 22, but she never showed up for her flight home.

Her two boys, ages 11 and 9, have not been told their mother is missing.

Sierra, an avid photographer, left New York on Jan. 7. It was her first overseas trip, and she decided to go ahead after a friend had to cancel, her family said.

"It was her first time outside of the United States, and every day while she was there she pretty much kept in contact with us, letting us know what she was up to, where she was going, whether it be through texting or whether it be through video chat, she was touching base with us," Steven Sierra told ABC News before he departed for Istanbul.

But when it came time to pick her up from Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey, Sierra wasn't on board her scheduled flight.

Steven Sierra called United Airlines and was told his wife had never boarded the flight home.

Further investigation revealed she had left her passport, clothes, phone chargers and medical cards in her room at a hostel in Beyoglu, Turkey, he said.

The family is suspicious and said it is completely out of character for the happily married mother, who met her husband in church youth group, to disappear.

The U.S. Embassy in Turkey and the Turkish National Police are involved in the investigation, WABC-TV reported.

"They've been keeping us posted, from my understanding they've been looking into hospitals and sending out word to police stations over there," Steven Sierra said. "Maybe she's, you know, locked up, so they are doing what they can."

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Is Obama about to blow his climate credentials?

The US president could be poised to approve the doubling of imports of tar sands oil, one of the filthiest fuels on Earth

FACED with rising anger from environmentalists last year over his plans for a transcontinental pipeline to deliver treacly Canadian tar sands to Texas oil refineries on the Gulf of Mexico, the CEO of TransCanada, Russ Girling, expressed surprise. After all, his company had laid 300,000 kilometres of such pipes across North America. "The pipeline is routine. Something we do every day," he told Canadian journalists.

But that's the point. It is routine. The oil industry does do it every day. And if it carries on, it will wreck the world.

We need not rely on climate-changing fossil fuels. Alternative energy technologies are available. But fossil fuels, and the pipelines and other 20th-century infrastructure that underpin them, have created what John Schellnhuber, director of Germany's Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, describes in a new paper as "lock-in dominance" (PNAS, DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1219791110). Even though we know how harmful it is, the "largest business on Earth" has ossified and is proving immovable, he says.

The question is how to break the lock and let in alternatives. Schellnhuber, a wily and worldly climate scientist, has an idea, to which I will return. But first the tar-sands pipeline, known as Keystone XL in the parlance of outsize clothing. Proponents say it would create jobs and improve US energy security. But for environmentalists in the US, the decision - due any time - on whether it should go ahead is a touchstone for Barack Obama's willingness to confront climate change in his second term.

Superficially, Keystone XL doesn't look like a huge deal. Since 2010, there has been a cross-border pipe bringing oil from tar sands in northern Alberta to the US Midwest. But this second link would double capacity and deliver oil to the refineries of the Gulf for global export. It looks like the key to a planned doubling of output from one of the world's largest deposits of one of the world's dirtiest fuels. And because the pipe would cross the US border, it requires state department and presidential sign-off.

Environmentalists are up in arms. They fear leaks. No matter what its sponsors suggest, this is no ordinary pipeline. The tar-sands oil - essentially diluted bitumen - is more acidic than regular oil and contains more sediment and moves at higher pressures. Critics say it risks corroding and grinding away the insides of the pipes. The US National Academy of Sciences has just begun a study on this, but its findings will probably be too late to influence Obama.

If there is a leak, clean-up will be difficult, as shown by the messy, protracted and acrimonious attempt to cleanse the Kalamazoo river in Michigan after tar-sands oil oozed into it in 2010.

To make matters worse, the pipeline would cross almost the entire length of the Ogallala aquifer, one of the world's largest underground water reserves, from South Dakota to Texas. Ogallala is a lifeline for the dust-bowl states of the Midwest. While TransCanada has agreed to bypass the ecologically important Sand Hills of Nebraska, where the water table is only 6 metres below the surface in places, a big unseen spill could still be disastrous.

Climate change is still the biggest deal. Extracting and processing tar sands creates a carbon footprint three times that of conventional crude. Obama would rightly lose all environmental credibility if he were to approve a scheme to double his country's imports of this fossil-fuel basket case. Yet he may do it. Why? Because of fossil-fuel lock-in. Changing course is hard. Really hard.

Part of the reason for the lock-in is the vast infrastructure dedicated to sustaining the supply of coal, oil and gas. There is no better symbol of that than a new pipeline. Partly it is political. Nobody has more political muscle than the fossil fuel industry, especially in Washington. And partly it is commercial. As Schellnhuber puts it: "Heavy investments in fossil fuels have led to big profits for shareholders, which in turn leads to greater investments in technologies that have proven to be profitable."

The result is domination by an outdated energy system that stifles alternatives. The potential for a renewable energy revolution is often compared to that of the IT revolution 30 years ago. But IT had little to fight except armies of clerks. Schellnhuber compares this lock-in to the synapses of an ageing human brain so exposed to repetitious thought that it "becomes addicted to specific observations and impressions to the exclusion of alternatives". Or, as Girling puts it, new pipelines become "routine".

What might free us from this addiction? With politicians weak, an obvious answer is to hold companies more financially accountable for environmental damage, including climate change. But Schellnhuber says this won't be enough unless individual shareholders become personally liable, too.

Here, he says, the problem is the public limited company (PLC), or publicly traded company in the US, which insulates shareholders from the consequences of decisions taken in their name. Even if their company goes bankrupt with huge debts, all they lose is the value of their shares. The PLC was invented to promote risk-taking in business. But it can also be an environmental menace, massively reducing incentives for industries to clean up their acts.

"If shareholders were held liable," he says, "then next time they might consider the risk before investing or reinvesting." More importantly, it could prevent us being locked into 20th century technologies that are quite incapable of solving 21st century problems. Fat chance, many might say. But just maybe Keystone XL and its uncanny ability to draw global attention will help catalyse growing anger at the environmental immunity of corporate shareholders.

Fred Pearce is a consultant on environmental issues for New Scientist

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