Behold! The supermoon!
Thanks to its close proximity to Earth over the weekend, the moon appeared up to 14% larger and 30% brighter than its everyday self, providing photographers a perfect opportunity to take some stunning photos - a selection of which can be seen above.
Photos: Aris Messinis, Menahem Kahana, Monte Fortefilippo / AFP/Getty Images, Kay Neitfeld / EPA, Scott Eisen / Associated Press, David Roark / Getty Images
NEED TO KNOW
Arms and the man. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad claims his forces have already taken delivery of a first shipment of Russian missiles and expect to receive the rest shortly.
Russia pledged to meet Syria’s order for its S-300 anti-aircraft rockets despite fierce objections from other countries — notably Israel, which says the missiles are capable of hitting deep inside its territory and will be treated as a threat. “If, God forbid, they do reach Syria,” Israel’s defense minister warned earlier this week, "we will know what to do."
Iraq under attack. At least 11 people are dead in the latest violence to hit Iraqi cities, today the capital, Baghdad, and the northern town of Mosul.
Bombings and suicide attacks have become a daily danger in Iraq, with casualties at some of their highest rates since the slaughter of 2006 and 2007. Just yesterday, 28 people were killed. Almost 600 people died in May alone, and more than 700 in April. So far the government has proved incapable of stemming, let alone stopping, the bloodshed.
WANT TO KNOW
There’s only one thing worse than not escaping from North Korea: escaping. At least if you go to Laos, that is. Previously considered a relatively safe stop on the"underground railroad" out of North Korea, Laos has just obliged nine young escapees to go back from whence they came, where, it’s feared, they’ll face Pyongyang’s retribution for daring to flee.
Better-fated defectors have slammed the governments of Laos, China (which also participated in the return) and South Korea (which didn’t stop it) for collectively enabling the repatriation. The US has expressed “concern” and urged North Korea’s neighbors to be more helpful next time. As for the unlucky nine, their fate remains unknown.
Whose life comes first, a woman’s or her unborn child’s? Neither, according to judges in El Salvador, who have made a ruling that means both might be lost. Against medical advice, the country’s Supreme Court decided that a gravely ill woman should not be allowed to end her pregnancy, despite the fact that her baby is not expected to survive beyond birth.
El Salvador is one of the few countries to outlaw abortion even in cases when it would save the mother’s life, an uncompromising stance that rights groups say constitutes a form of torture. This woman’s appeal was denied; but more than ever, her plight has intensified activists’ calls for El Salvador to terminate its abortion law.
STRANGE BUT TRUE
Jurassic Park, the Ice Age edition. Scientists believe they’re one elephant-sized step closer to seeing woolly mammoths roam the earth once more, after they managed to retrieve fresh blood and preserved muscle tissue from one of the ancient beast’s carcasses. The samples, it’s hoped, could one day allow the extinct species to be cloned.
The surprise is that anyone was able to gather them in such prime condition: the Russian research team prodded the mammoth’s belly with a pick, apparently, to find liquid blood come running out. The muscle tissue was also startlingly intact. “The meat looks pretty fresh, reddish in color in several places,” said one scientist. “I can’t say that the smell was very fresh, though.”
NEED TO KNOW
Ready, aim, don’t fire. North Korea has moved two mid-range missiles away from its eastern seaboard, signalling that it’s not planning on firing them at South Korean or US targets any time soon.
North Korea’s military moved the weapons there last month, at the height of the neighborly dispute. Since then, Pyongyang has toned down the war talk in favor of non-military threats, including imprisoning a US national and pulling its workers out of a joint North-South industrial complex. Just enough to ensure that South Korean President Park Geun Hye and President Barack Obama still have plenty to complain about at their summit in Washington later today.
WANT TO KNOW
The longest decade. Three young women have been found imprisoned in a house in Cleveland, ten years after each separately went missing. Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michele Knight finally managed to escape yesterday, after attracting the attention of a neighbor. Police say the women, all in their 20s, are now in hospital and as well as can be expected.
Three brothers have been arrested, including the home owner. They have 10 years’ worth of questions to answer.
Where’s the world’s worst place to be a mother? According to UK charity Save the Children, it’s the Democratic Republic of Congo. A woman or girl in the DRC has a one-in-30 chance of dying from maternal causes, compared to a one-in-12,200 risk in the world’s safest spot, Finland.
That difference is part of a much larger pattern: 10 countries in sub-Saharan Africa score lowest for maternal health, child mortality, education and levels of women’s income and political status, while all the top three are Nordic countries. (The USA, by the way, is 30th.) Save the Children is calling for dedicated investment to end what it calls the “startling” disparity.
Gangsters? Grenades? Turf wars? It’s not 1920s Chicago, it’s current-day Japan. Faced with a shrinking pot of spoils, five mafia syndicates are waging an unusually vicious gang battle in the coastal prefecture of Fukuoka, home to the largest number of organized crime groups in the country. Authorities’ attempts at a crackdown have been met with increasingly audacious fighting that’s sucking in police and, at times, innocents.
GlobalPost reports on Japan’s yakuza wars.
STRANGE BUT TRUE
Arachnophobia: it’s the only reasonable response. So the “black widow spiders eat the males after sex” thing is a myth, they say. They’re not as cannibal-ly like everyone thinks, they say. No – because they’re even cannibal-ier.
Researchers have discovered that it’s not just female spiders that kill and eat their mates, it’s the males too. And they do it before they’ve even got anywhere, simply because they don’t consider them an attractive mate. It’s almost enough to make tarantulas seem positively cute. Almost… except, y’know, not.
NEED TO KNOW
Dhaka counts its dead. The search is not yet over for people trapped under a collapsed multi-story building outside the Bangladeshi capital, but it’s already clear that this is one of the worst industrial disasters in a country that’s had many of them. At least 175 people are dead and hundreds more feared trapped, the victims mostly women workers at garment factories that are believed to supply several Western retailers.
While the government declared a period of national mourning, thousands of Dhaka’s garment workers took to the streets to demand factories close for the day. Will foreign customers join them in demanding safer conditions for the people who make our cheap clothes?
More than one in four Spaniards are out of work. The latest figures reveal that unemployment in Spain has risen to an eye-popping 27.2 percent, the highest it’s been in more than 35 years. Youth unemployment, meanwhile, is at 57.2 percent, for which frankly we’ve run out of adjectives.
The government is due to present its latest plan to tackle the recession tomorrow, but short of a worldwide boom in castanets, it’s hard to see what could make an immediate difference to the lives of Spain’s 6.2 million unemployed.
When is a recession not a recession? When it’s not the third. The UK has been saved, by a wafer-thin margin, from a dreaded “triple-dip” recession. Above expectations its economy managed 0.3 percent growth in the first three months of 2013, and thereby, to avoid the UK’s third recession in five years.
It’s a bullet dodged for the government and its austerity program; with growth that measly, however, few others have reason to celebrate.
WANT TO KNOW
They knew his name. Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the suspected mastermind of the Boston Marathon bombings, was placed on a US terrorism database a full 18 months before the attacks, officials say.
The CIA ordered his name added to a vast list of potential threats after receiving a tip-off from Russia that he had become a follower of radical Islam. The FBI, however, which investigated Tsarnaev six months earlier at Russia’s request, said it never found any of the warning signs that would have prompted it to put him on the higher-alert terror watch list.
Those decisions will inevitably leave questions about what could have been done differently, some of which intelligence officials will attempt to answer in a senate briefing later today. But so far it seems that Tsarnaev and his co-accused younger brother can’t be traced to a known extremist group. Is it possible they learned terrorism online – and if so, who else is doing the same?
All aboard. Nigeria has resurrected its Lagos-Kano railway, a 700-mile route that links the two regional hubs of the country’s north and south. The government says the cross-country train line will breathe new life into the economy and, even more ambitiously, give Nigerians a powerful symbol of national unity.
GlobalPost rides the railway that Nigeria hopes will get it back on track.
STRANGE BUT TRUE
Is NASA’s Mars rover a teenage boy trapped in an exploration bot’s body? It’s a valid question now we see what, fresh from the rover’s return from spring break, its tracks have drawn in the Red Planet’s dust. It looks like… well, you can see what it looks like.
Let’s just hope that toilet humor is, truly, universal.
NEED TO KNOW
Koreas cut off. North Korea has severed its last remaining channel of communication with the South, since “war may break out at any moment.” As of today, calls to the military hotline used to liaise on the countries’ shared industrial complex will go unanswered.
That’s one way to block out unwelcome advice. North Korean officials earlier warned the South’s President Park Geun-hye that she’d better "watch her tongue" after urging Pyongyang to give up its nuclear ambitions. North Korea would never be so indiscreet, of course: its politburo has announced that it will meet in the coming days to discuss an “important issue” and a “drastic turn” – though on what or when that’ll be, it’s remaining typically tight-lipped.
WANT TO KNOW
DOMA or don’t? The US Supreme Court will soon complete its hearings on same-sex marriage, on which basis justices will have to decide whether to strike down or uphold the Defense of Marriage Act. Today’s session will focus on whether legally wed gay couples should be denied federal benefits because their marriage does not fit DOMA’s legal definition of “a union between a man and a woman.”
A ruling on both that and yesterday’s case (the legality of California’s ban on same-sex marriage) is due by the end of June. Here’s what SCOTUS might or might not decide.
Myanmar’s Muslims are under attack. The government has imposed curfews in three more towns where mosques and Muslim-owned shops and homes have been the target of violence, the escalation of riots that began in Meikhtila one week ago. The UN’s special envoy says the attacks are no indiscriminate rampage, but have been staged with “brutal efficiency.”
The people whipping up anti-Muslim malice the loudest are nationalist Buddhist monks. GlobalPost goes inside their efforts to divide Buddhist from Muslim.
His bad. David Petraeus, the former CIA director who resigned abruptly four months ago when he could no longer conceal an affair with his biographer, has apologized for, well, all that. In his first public address since the unpleasantness, Petraeus said he was “keenly aware that I am regarded in a different light now than I was a year ago,” and that if so it was no one’s fault but his own.
He deeply regrets what happened, Petraeus says, but “life doesn’t stop with such a mistake. It can and must go on.” Does this show of humility mean that the general believes his once illustrious career can and must go on, too?
STRANGE BUT TRUE
It’s not magic, it’s science. Researchers at the University of Texas say they’ve created a real-life invisibility cloak, just like the ones fantasized about by sci-fi fans, oh, forever. OK, so it’s not just like those: for a start, it only works in microwave light. (Don’t ask us to explain exactly how. Something to do with scattering incoming light waves, apparently.)
The developers say the same technique could in principal be applied in visible light, but only to very tiny objects. Objects only micrometers big. Objects so small as to be practically… invisible, in fact.
If you saw a particularly dazzling star near the moon on Sunday or Monday night, don’t panic: it wasn’t yet another meteorite, it was just Jupiter.
Jupiter and the moon may have appeared to have had a close encounter to those of us on Earth, but it’s instead an optical illusion. The moon lay 250,000 thousand miles away from the Earth on Feb. 17, according to EarthSky.org, while Jupiter was over 1,800 times further away.
Moon passes close to Jupiter in rare celestial encounter
Photo by NASA
You might have heard about the asteroid that’s going to have a close shave with Earth next week.
Asteroid 2012 DA14, as it’s officially known, will pass by Earth on Feb. 15 at a distance of 17,200 miles, closer than some satellites orbiting our planet.
The 143,000-ton asteroid is 50 meters wide, or roughly half the size of a football field, and thought to be made of stone (as opposed to minerals or metals).
If the news calls up images of “Armageddon” or “Deep Impact” in your mind, have no fear, we’re safe this time.
GlobalPost talked to Nicholas Moskovitz, apostdoctoral fellow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Department of Earth, Atmospheric & Planetary Sciences, about flying space rocks, Hollywood disaster movies and some of the more far-fetched ideas out there to defend the Earth against asteroids.
Is Asteroid 2012 DA14 a threat to Earth? Q & A (VIDEO)
Photo by NASA Earth Observatory/ National Map Seamless Server/Courtesy
Need to know:
Was Yasser Arafat murdered? It’s a question that’s been asked for years, and forensic scientists have begun carrying out the tests on his remains that could finally answer it.
The Palestinian leader’s remains wereexhumed this morning from the mausoleum in the West Bank in which they were sealed eight years ago, sans autopsy. Experts from France, Switzerland and Russia have been given samples from Arafat’s body and the concrete of his tomb, which they will test independently for any evidence of foul play.
They’ll have a tough job to find it, even if it’s there. What they’re looking for is polonium 210 – the radioactive isotope, beloved of murderous Russians, that an investigation by Al Jazeera said was present on Arafat’s clothes; and that, crucially, has a half-life of less than five months, meaning that any traces in his body would be virtually undetectable by now. Israel denies they were ever there, and has blamed Arafat’s death – not especially helpfully – on a substance even more elusive: “Palestinium,” which it says he overdosed on.
Results are expected sometime next year.
Want to know:
Rebels in the Democratic Republic of Congo have apparently agreed to withdraw their forces from the eastern towns they captured last week.
After crisis talks in neighboring Uganda, the commanders of the M23 rebel group promised to pull out of the regional capital, Goma, as well as nearby Sake – and to stop their threatened march southward, toward Kinshasa. But witnesses say there is no sign of a withdrawal yet, and have reported fresh fighting north of Goma and across the border in Rwanda.
Both Rwanda and Uganda are accused of fuelling the rebellion, though they deny it and insist they’re leading efforts to broker peace. The DRC’s government, meanwhile, is seen as too inept, its army too corrupt, to resolve the crisis. As GlobalPost’s Tristan McConnell reports from Goma, in this conflict, there are no good guys – just an ever-growing number of victims.
Dull but important:
After almost 12 hours of talks for the third time in two weeks, the euro group and International Monetary Fund finally caved, excuse us, agreed on a new deal for Greece.
Greece’s creditors agreed to cut around $51 billion off its debts, which will go down to “just” 124 percent of gross domestic product by 2020. (It would otherwise have been 144 percent.) The euro-zone finance ministers also pledged to sign off on releasing the next installment of Greece’s bailout – some $57 billion – in just over two weeks.
The deal is being hailed as a breakthrough for the whole of Europe, and has already boosted European stocks and the euro. As for Athens, Prime Minister Antonis Samaras promised: “A new day begins for all Greeks.”
Fatima Qortoum was just 9 years old when she saw the her 7-year-old brother’s brains fall out of his head. He was struck with shrapnel after an Israeli airstrike. That was 2008. Last week, another one of Fatima’s younger brothers was critically injured when an Israeli attack knocked him to the ground.
So it comes as little surprise that Fatima, like thousands of other children in the Gaza Strip, suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. She and the other survivors of Israel’s week-long assault on Gaza will long be haunted by the noise and force of the strikes, the sight of the dead and injured, and the fear in the eyes of their parents.
GlobalPost’s Erin Cunningham reports on the children growing up under siege and under attack, as well as the adults trying to help them overcome their trauma – before it breeds a new generation of enemies.
Strange but true:
Look at this image of one of Saturn’s moons. Remind you of anything? Yep, all that thermal data is a dead ringer for Pac-Man.
What’s more, it’s not a fluke: scientists say this picture is the second to remind them of the iconic yellow eater. Both Saturn’s Thethys and Mimas moons show the same distribution of heat and cold.
Scientists now believe that there must be a pattern at work, but they’re still not sure why the heat signals take this shape.
"The Saturn system – and even the Jupiter system – could turn out to be a veritable arcade of these characters," one researcher (and, we imagine, very excited video-game nerd) said.