News & Current Affairs

July 21, 2009

Asia set for total solar eclipse

Asia set for total solar eclipse

Total solar eclipse photographed in Egypt, 2006 (Darren Baskill)

Stargazers will travel long distances to see the eclipse

Millions of people in Asia will see the longest total solar eclipse this century on Wednesday as swaths of India and China are plunged into darkness.

Scores of amateur stargazers and scientists will travel long distances for the eclipse, which will last for about five minutes.

The eclipse will first appear in the Gulf of Khambhat just north of Mumbai.

It will move east across India, Nepal, Burma, Bangladesh, Bhutan and China before hitting the Pacific.

The eclipse will cross some southern Japanese islands and will last be visible from land at Nikumaroro Island in the South Pacific nation of Kiribati.

Elsewhere, a partial eclipse will be visible across much of Asia.

The previous total eclipse, in August 2008, lasted two minutes and 27 seconds. This one will last six minutes and 39 seconds at its maximum point.

Alphonse Sterling, a Nasa astrophysicist who will be following the eclipse from China, scientists are hoping data from the eclipse will help explain solar flares and other structures of the sun and why they erupt.

“We’ll have to wait a few hundred years for another opportunity to observe a solar eclipse that lasts this long, so it’s a very special opportunity,” Shao Zhenyi, an astronomer at the Shanghai Astronomical Observatory in China told the Associated Press news agency.

Solar scientist Lucie Green, from University College London, is aboard an American cruise ship heading for that point near the Japanese island of Iwo Jima, where the axis of the Moon’s shadow will pass closest to Earth.

“The [Sun’s] corona has a temperature of 2 million degrees but we don’t know why it is so hot,” she said.

“What we are going to look for are waves in the corona. … The waves might be producing the energy that heats the corona. That would mean we understand another piece of the science of the Sun.”

The next total solar eclipse will occur on 11 July next year. It will be visible in a narrow corridor over the southern hemisphere, from the southern Pacific Ocean to Argentina.

TOTAL SOLAR ECLIPSE
Infographic (BBC)
In the area covered by the umbra (the darkest part of the shadow), a total eclipse is seen
In the region covered by the penumbra (where only some of the light source is obscured) a partial eclipse is seen

solar

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August 21, 2008

Snail hides from march of history

Snail hides from march of history

By Richard Black
Environment correspondent, BBC News website

National Trust)

The snails were found in a balustrade imported from Rome

A colony of Mediterranean snails has been found at the UK’s Cliveden House, where they have lived in marble-wrapped secrecy for a century.

The snails, never found before in the UK, apparently came from Italy in a balustrade bought by a Lord Astor, a former owner of the mansion.

There are thought to be several hundred of the 11mm-long snails at Cliveden.

John Profumo met model Christine Keeler at the Buckinghamshire house in 1961, which led to a political scandal.

Footballer Steven Gerrard married at the National Trust property last year.

Amidst all this activity – and the visits down the years of luminaries as important as Winston Churchill, George Bernard Shaw and Charlie Chaplin – the Papillifera papillaris snail has been a reclusive guest.

What they’re doing, what they’re eating, we don’t rightly know
Matthew Oates

“They were found by a specialist volunteer who helps us clean the statuary in Cliveden,” said the Trust’s nature conservation adviser Mathew Oates.

“He went to a talk at the local archaeological society given by a snail specialist, mentioned his find, and it turned out he’d spotted the colony which had almost certainly been there since 1896,” he told BBC News.

Common around the Mediterranean, this is believed to be the UK’s only sighting of the species.

School for scandal

It was in 1896 that Cliveden took delivery of a travertine marble balustrade that now runs for about 100 metres along the top of the house’s immaculately coiffured lawns.

“It was purchased and brought over from Rome by the first Viscount Astor,” said John Bignell, visitor services manager at the property.

“He’d been an ambassador in Rome and was a great collector. The Villa Borghese in Rome, which he bought it from, now has a copy.”

When the snails climbed on board is not known, although the balustrade itself dates from about 1816.

At Cliveden, they have lived in crevices in the marble and at the bottom of the balustrade.

“What they’re doing, what they’re eating, we don’t rightly know, although it’s likely they’re feeding on lichen or algae growing on the marble,” said Mr Oates.

“But what’s important is they’ve also been found in two, possibly three other places at Cliveden, so all our eggs are not in one basket from a conservation point of view.”

Cliveden House

Cliveden’s past includes the pool party where John Profumo met Christine Keeler

Over the years, the snails would have had the chance to witness a number of seminal moments in UK politics.

Nancy Astor, wife of the second viscount, was the first woman MP to take her seat.

In the 1930s, ministers, prime ministers and other dignitaries came so often to mull the issues of the day that the circle of habitues gained the sobriquet of the “Cliveden Set”.

But the most notorious event was undoubtedly the meeting of Profumo and Keeler in 1961. The 18-year-old model and call-girl was having an affair with a Soviet military attache; and when she later started an affair with the cabinet minister, and he then lied to parliament about it, his fall was a matter of time.

Still owned by the National Trust, the house itself is used as a hotel. Its most famous recent visitor was probably Liverpool star Steven Gerrard who tied the knot there in June 2007, though whether he or his guests spotted the odd Papillifera papillaris is not on record.

August 14, 2008

Minorities set to be US majority

Minorities set to be US majority

The Statue of Liberty, New York's historical landmark for immigrants

Population projections are subject to a variety of factors

White people of European descent will no longer make up a majority of the US population by the year 2042 – eight years sooner than previous estimates.

The big change is among Hispanics and Asians, whose numbers are expected to double by the middle of the century to form 30% and 9% of the population.

It is projected that black people will account for 15%, a small increase.

The US Census Bureau’s latest projections are based on birth, death and current immigration rates.

According to the bureau’s statistics, ethnic and racial minorities will become the majority by 2042 and account for 54% of the population by 2050.

The process of change has been speeded up through immigration and higher birth rates among US minorities, especially Hispanics.

Non-Hispanic whites, who now make up 66% of the population, will account for 46% by the middle of the century.

‘Ageing baby boomers’

It has long been said that the US is a nation of immigrants but in the past the influx has mainly come from white Europeans.

CENSUS PREDICTION
2050: Minorities will make up 54%
Hispanics: Rise to 30% from 15%
Blacks: Small increase to 15%
Asians: Rise to 9% from 4%

It is likely that the demographic changes will be experienced right across the country – and no longer confined to urban areas as in the past.

Overall, the US population is expected to rise from 305 million people to 439 million by 2050.

The white population will also be ageing. The number of people over 85 years old will triple in the next 40 years.

“The white population is older and very much centred around the ageing baby boomers who are well past their high fertility years,” William Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution think tank, told the Associated Press.

“The future of America is epitomized by the young people today. They are basically the melting pot we are going to see in the future.”

The Census Bureau points out that its projections are subject to big revisions, depending on immigration policy, cultural changes and natural or man-made disasters.

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