Get cirrus in the fight against climate change

FEATHERY cirrus clouds are beautiful, but when it comes to climate change, they are the enemy. Found at high-altitude and made of small ice crystals, they trap heat - so more cirrus means a warmer world. Now it seems that, by destroying cirrus, we could reverse all the warming Earth has experienced so far.

In 2009, David Mitchell of the Desert Research Institute in Reno, Nevada, proposed a radical way to stop climate change: get rid of some cirrus. Now Trude Storelvmo of Yale University and colleagues have used a climate model to test the idea.

Storelvmo added powdered bismuth triiodide into the model's troposphere, the layer of the atmosphere in which these clouds form. Ice crystals grew around these particles and expanded, eventually falling out of the sky, reducing cirrus coverage. Without the particles, the ice crystals remained small and stayed up high for longer.

The technique, done on a global scale, created a powerful cooling effect, enough to counteract the 0.8 °C of warming caused by all the greenhouse gases released by humans (Geophysical Research Letters, DOI: 10.1002/grl.50122).

But too much bismuth triiodide made the ice crystals shrink, so cirrus clouds lasted longer. "If you get the concentrations wrong, you could get the opposite of what you want," says Storelvmo. And, like other schemes for geoengineering, side effects are likely - changes in the jet stream, say.

Different model assumptions give different "safe" amounts of bismuth triiodide, says Tim Lenton of the University of Exeter, UK. "Do we really know the system well enough to be confident of being in the safe zone?" he asks. "You wouldn't want to touch this until you knew."

Mitchell says seeding would take 140 tonnes of bismuth triiodide every year, which by itself would cost $19 million.

If you would like to reuse any content from New Scientist, either in print or online, please contact the syndication department first for permission. New Scientist does not own rights to photos, but there are a variety of licensing options available for use of articles and graphics we own the copyright to.

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Sailing: Olympic sailing champion visits Singapore

SINGAPORE: Xu Lijia, the 25 year old who became the first Chinese to win a gold medal in the dinghy class after finishing first in the laser radial class at the 2012 London Olympics, is in town.

The Chinese athlete shared her experiences with local sailors at a talk, which attracted 500 participants. The talk also saw the launch of the Character Development Through Sailing programme.

The Shanghai native, who won bronze in the same class at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, said that it was not just about winning, but also enjoying the journey.

She had to beat many odds including injuries, physical limitations and the lack of a proper support structure for the sport in China.

"It is about promotion, promoting this sport not only in Singapore, China but... in whole of Asia. I hope that Asia can become stronger and stronger and (compete) with the European countries," she said.

- CNA/jc

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Nude woman hits nude fiance with car, CHP says

Authorities are investigating after a woman in San Bernardino County allegedly struck her fiance with a car. The California Highway Patrol said both were naked at the time of the Thursday incident.

CHP officials told KTLA News that the couple were in the parked car on Phelan Road in Phelan when Alberto Giovanni Bravo got out and walked in front of the vehicle. For reasons that are not clear, the woman, identified as 22-year-old Hesperia woman, got behind the wheel and ran into him.

Bravo was thrown onto the hood of the car and then tossed to the ground as the vehicle preceded to cross the road and run into a chain-link fence and some trees before coming to a stop.

The man was airlifted to a hospital and was said to be in serious condition. The woman, whose name was not released, was treated for non-life-threatening injuries. She was arrested on suspicion of felony DUI.

“Part of this investigation is of a sensitive nature and still under investigation,” a CHP officer told the Daily Press.

-- A Times staff writer

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Pictures: The Story Behind Sun Dogs, Penitent Ice, and More

Photograph by Art Wolfe, Getty Images

If you want the beauty of winter without having to brave the bone-chilling temperatures blasting much of the United States this week, snuggle into a soft blanket, grab a warm beverage, and curl up with some of these natural frozen wonders.

Nieve penitente, or penitent snow, are collections of spires that resemble robed monks—or penitents. They are flattened columns of snow wider at the base than at the tip and can range in height from 3 to 20 feet (1 to 6 meters). The picture above shows the phenomenon in central Chile. (See pictures of the patterns in snow and ice.)

Nieve penitente tend to form in shallow valleys where the snow is deep and the sun doesn't shine at too steep an angle, said Kenneth Libbrecht, a physicist at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena who studies ice crystal formation.

As the snow melts, dirt gets mixed in with the runoff and collects in little pools here and there, he said. Since the dirt is darker in color than the surrounding snow, the dirty areas melt faster "and you end up digging these pits," explained Libbrecht.

"They tend to form at high altitude," he said. But other than that, no one really knows the exact conditions that are needed to form penitent snow.

"They're fairly strong," Libbrecht said. "People have found [the spires] difficult to hike through."

Jane J. Lee

Published January 25, 2013

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At least 30 die in riots over Egyptian death sentences

PORT SAID, Egypt/CAIRO (Reuters) - At least 30 people were killed on Saturday when Egyptians rampaged in protest at the sentencing of 21 people to death over a soccer stadium disaster, violence that compounds a political crisis facing Islamist President Mohamed Mursi.

Armored vehicles and military police fanned through the streets of Port Said, where gunshots rang out and protesters burned tires in anger that people from their city had been blamed for the deaths of 74 people at a match last year.

The rioting in Port Said, one of the most deadly spasms of violence since Hosni Mubarak's ouster two years ago, followed a day of anti-Mursi demonstrations on Friday, when nine people were killed. The toll over the past two days stands at 39.

The flare-ups make it even tougher for Mursi, who drew fire last year for expanding his powers and pushing through an Islamist-tinged constitution, to fix the creaking economy and cool tempers enough to ensure a smooth parliamentary election.

That vote is expected in the next few months and is meant to cement a democratic transition that has been blighted from the outset by political rows and street clashes.

The National Defense Council, which is led by Mursi and includes the defense minister who commands the army, called for "a broad national dialogue that would be attended by independent national characters" to discuss political differences and ensure a "fair and transparent" parliamentary poll.

The statement was made on state television by Information Minister Salah Abdel Maqsoud, who is also on the council.

The National Salvation Front of liberal-minded groups and other Mursi opponents cautiously welcomed the call, but demanded any such dialogue have a clear agenda and guarantees that any deal would be implemented, spokesman Khaled Dawoud told Reuters.

The Front spurned previous calls for dialogue, saying Mursi had ignored voices beyond his Islamist allies. The Front earlier on Saturday threatened an election boycott and to call for more protests on Friday if demands were not met.

Its demands included picking a national unity government to restore order and holding an early presidential poll.


The political statements followed clashes in Port Said that erupted after a judge issued a verdict sentencing 21 men to die for involvement in the deaths at the soccer match on February 1, 2012. Many were fans of the visiting team, Cairo's Al Ahly.

Al Ahly fans had threatened violence if the court had not meted out the death penalty. They cheered outside their Cairo club when the verdict was announced. But in Port Said, residents were furious that people from their city were held responsible.

Protesters ran wildly through the streets of the Mediterranean port, lighting tires in the street and storming two police stations, witnesses said. Gunshots were reported near the prison where most of the defendants were being held.

A director for Port Said hospitals told state television that 30 people had been killed, many as a result of gunshot wounds. He said more than 300 had been wounded.

Inside the court in Cairo, families of victims danced, applauded and some broke down in tears of joy when they heard Judge Sobhy Abdel Maguid declare that the 21 men would be "referred to the Mufti", a phrase used to denote execution, as all death sentences must be reviewed by Egypt's top religious authority.

There were 73 defendants on trial. Those not sentenced on Saturday would face a verdict on March 9, the judge said.

At the Port Said soccer stadium a year ago, many spectators were crushed and witnesses saw some thrown off balconies after the match between Al Ahly and local team al-Masri. Al Ahly fans accused the police of being complicit in the deaths.

Among those killed was a former player for al-Masri and a soccer player in another Port Said team, the website of the state broadcaster reported.


On Friday, protesters angry at Mursi's rule had taken to the streets for the second anniversary of the uprising that erupted on January 25, 2011 and which brought Mubarak down 18 days later.

Police fired teargas and protesters hurled stones and petrol bombs. Nine people were killed, mainly in the port city of Suez, and hundreds more were injured across the nation.

Reflecting international concern at the two days of clashes, British Foreign Office Minister for the Middle East Alistair Burt said: "This cannot help the process of dialogue which we encourage as vital for Egypt today, and we must condemn the violence in the strongest terms."

On Saturday, some protesters again clashed and scuffled with police in Cairo, Alexandria and other cities. In the capital, youths pelted police lines with rocks near Tahrir Square. In Suez, police fired teargas when protesters angry at Friday's deaths hurled petrol bombs and stormed a police post.

"We want to change the president and the government. We are tired of this regime. Nothing has changed," said Mahmoud Suleiman, 22, in Cairo's Tahrir Square, the cauldron of the 2011 anti-Mubarak revolt.

Mursi's opponents say he has failed to deliver on economic pledges or to be a president representing the full political and communal diversity of Egyptians, as he promised.

"Egypt will not regain its balance except by a political solution that is transparent and credible, by a government of national salvation to restore order and heal the economy and with a constitution for all Egyptians," prominent opposition politician Mohamed ElBaradei wrote on Twitter.

Mursi's supporters say the opposition does not respect the democracy that has given Egypt its first freely elected leader.

The Muslim Brotherhood, which propelled Mursi to office, said in a statement that "corrupt people" and media who were biased against the president had stirred up fury on the streets.

The frequent violence and political schism between Islamists and secular Egyptians have hurt Mursi's efforts to revive an economy in crisis as investors and tourists have stayed away, taking a heavy toll on Egypt's currency.

(Additional reporting by Omar Fahmy, and Peter Griffiths in London; Writing by Edmund Blair; Editing by Mark Trevelyan)

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Today on New Scientist: 25 January 2013

Hagfish gulped up in first video of deep-sea seal hunt

Watch the first sighting of a seal's underwater eating habits spotted by a teenager watching a live video feed

World's oldest portrait reveals the ice-age mind

A 26,000-year-old carved ivory head of a woman is not just an archaeological find - a new exhibition in London wants us to see works like this as art

Dung beetles navigate using the Milky Way

Forget the Pole Star: on moonless nights dung beetles use the Milky Way to follow a straight path with their dung ball

Stress's impact can affect future generations' genes

DNA analysis has yielded the first direct evidence that chemical marks which disable genes in response to stress can be passed on to offspring

Uncharted territory: Where digital maps are leading us

The way we use maps is evolving fast, says Kat Austen, and it will change a great deal more than how we navigate

Feedback: Tales of the stony turd industry

Fossilised faeces in Shitlington, confusing railway notices, organic water, and more

Duolingo gives language learning a jump start

First evidence that Duolingo, a new website that helps you learn a language while translating the web, actually works

Dolphins form life raft to help dying friend

A group of dolphins was caught on camera as they worked together to keep a struggling dolphin above water by forming an impromptu raft

Zoologger: Supercool squirrels go into the deep freeze

Hibernating Arctic ground squirrels drop their body temperatures to -4 °C, and shut their circadian clocks off for the winter

Greek economic crisis has cleared the air

The ongoing collapse of Greece's economy has caused a significant fall in air pollution, which can be detected by satellites

Body armour to scale up by mimicking flexible fish

Armour that is designed like the scales of the dragon fish could keep soldiers protected - while still letting them bend

Astrophile: Split personality tarnishes pulsars' rep

Pulsars were seen as cosmic timekeepers, but the quirky way in which one example shines suggests we can't take their behaviour for granted

Shrinking proton puzzle persists in new measurement

The most precise experiment yet to find the proton's radius confirms that it can appear smaller than our theories predict - is new physics needed?

Tight squeeze forces cells to take their medicine

A short sharp squash in these channels and a cell's membrane pops open - good news when you want to slip a molecule or nanoparticle in there

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Polling Day commences for 31,600 voters in Punggol East

SINGAPORE: Punggol East residents will head to the polls on Friday, Polling Day, as Singapore marks its second by-election in eight months.

Some 31,600 voters in Singapore and 59 voters overseas will cast their votes in a four-cornered fight for the single member constituency (SMC).

The Punggol East single member seat fell vacant in December 2012 when former Speaker of Parliament and MP for the ward Michael Palmer resigned over an extramarital affair.

A writ of election was issued by President Tony Tan on 9 January 2013, declaring 16 January as Nomination Day and 26 January as Polling Day.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said at the announcement of the by-election that he wanted to give Punggol East residents their own MP in Parliament before Singapore focused back on its "busy national agenda". This includes the upcoming White Paper on population, the Budget 2013 debate and the Our Singapore Conversation project.

Voters issued with poll cards are reminded to bring their identity card or passport for verification at polling stations. Their poll card will indicate the polling station nearest to their home, at which they would cast their vote.

Polling stations will be open from 8am until 8pm.

The four candidates contesting the Punggol East by-election are Dr Koh Poh Koon from the People's Action Party, Mr Kenneth Jeyaretnam from the Reform Party, Mr Desmond Lim Bak Chuan from the Singapore Democratic Alliance and Ms Lee Li Lian from the Workers' Party.

Mr Lim and Ms Lee contested Punggol East SMC in the 2011 General Election but lost to PAP's Michael Palmer.

The Returning Officer for the by-election is Mr Yam Ah Mee.

Results are expected after 10pm on Friday.

A special by-election programme will be aired on Channel NewsAsia from 9pm Singapore/Hong Kong time.

- CNA/jc

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Mother beats up daughter's 12-year-old friend; caught on tape, police say

A San Pedro mother has been charged with going to a fight between her 12-year-old daughter and another schoolmate and beating the girl. The incident was captured on a cellphone video.

Amber Lee Gutierrez, 33, is facing a charge of felony assault by means likely to produce great bodily injury after she was arrested by Los Angeles police in connection with the Jan. 14 fight in a West Gaffey Street alley.

Gutierrez's daughter and another child had allegedly agreed to fight in the alley near their school. But Gutierrez, according to prosecutors, accompanied her child to the alley and then became involved in the conflict. The incident was recorded by an onlooker, according to prosecutors

The two girls from Dana Middle School had agreed to fight but then the other girl turned up with the mother and another woman. In the video the mother can be seen delivering blows to the child. The incident left the child with a possible broken arm. During the conflict the adults yelled expletives and allegedly called the child who is African American a racial slur.

Gutierrez faces a possible maximum state prison term of seven years. Prosecutors say at this point no juvenile case has been presented at this time, but the LAPD is continuing to investigate.


Universal Studios fire out at site of closed Terminator 2 ride

Actor who voiced Charlie Brown arrested on suspicion of stalking

Conrad Murray's appeals lawyer says doctor witnessed jail shoving

-- Richard Winton

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5 Amazing Animal Navigators

A house cat named Holly, which made news this week for trekking nearly 200 miles (320 kilometers) back to her hometown, isn't the only supernavigator in the animal kingdom.

"Any animal that comes back to the right place after a long travel, or comes back to the same place again and again following a major movement, is amazing," said Martin Wikelski, a migration expert at the Max Planck Institute. (Read about great animal migrations in National Geographic magazine.)

Many animals have a built-in magnetic system, "like a regular compass," said Wikelski, who is also a National Geographic emerging explorer. (National Geographic News is part of the National Geographic Society.)

However, much is still unknown about how animals navigate—for instance, no one can explain Holly's incredible journey, the New York Times reported.

But more and more research is pointing to the role of smell in navigation, Wikelski noted.

"It's one of the most important mechanisms to tell you where you are and lead you home."

Wikelski told us about five impressive navigators that he believes push the limits of what's possible.

1. Eels. These long, bony fish make epic, mysterious treks across entire oceans. The European eel, for example, is born in European rivers but travels all the way to the Sargasso Sea (map), a distance of thousands of miles, to spawn. The baby eels then return to European rivers and, once it's time for them to spawn, follow their parents' path to very same place in the Sargasso Sea. "Nobody really knows how they do it," Wikelski said.

2. Bar-Tailed Godwit. This shorebird can fly in one go from its Alaska breeding grounds across the entire globe to New Zealand. In 2007, a female bar-tailed godwit got a feather in its cap for the longest nonstop bird migration ever measured—7,145 miles (11,500 kilometers) from Alaska to New Zealand. The bird completed the journey in just nine days, according to biologists who tracked the flight using satellite tags.

3. Blackpoll Warbler. This North American forest dweller has figured out an express way of getting to its winter refuge in Venezuela, Wikelski said. The bird fattens itself up before snagging a ride on a trade wind, sailing from the northeastern U.S. to South America in a hundred hours—entirely over the open ocean. "That's completely crazy," he said. On the way back home, the bird takes the more scenic route, stopping on land to rest and refuel.

4. Mexican Free-Tailed Bat. These flying mammals are common in Texas, where they form colonies in the millions. Wikelski, who was involved in a tracking study of the bats, discovered that they can fly up to 40 miles (70 kilometers) from their home caves in search of moths or mosquitoes. "At some point they turn around and … basically know how to find [their way] back," Wikelski said. Evidence suggests the animals use both landmarks and the smell of their fellow cave bats to point them home. (See bat videos.)

5. Sahara Desert Ant. These insects travel relatively long distances—up to 0.3 mile (0.5 kilometer)—from their central nest sites to search for food. Even though the ants run chaotically in many directions, they remember exactly how far they've gone by counting their steps, as well as navigating via polarized light patterns from the sun, Wikelski said. Finding their way back home is critical for these desert denizens—if they stay outside too long, they'll get fried in the sun.

These are just a sampling of incredible animals on the move. What other animal navigators have you observed? Tell us your stories in comments and we'll showcase the best ones.

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Five die in Egypt violence on anniversary of uprising

CAIRO/ISMAILIA, Egypt (Reuters) - Five people were shot dead in the Egyptian city of Suez during nationwide protests against President Mohamed Mursi on Friday, the second anniversary of the uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak.

One of the dead was a member of the security forces, medics said. Another 280 civilians and 55 security personnel were injured, officials said, in demonstrations fuelled by anger at the president and his Islamist allies in the Muslim Brotherhood.

Thousands of opponents of Mursi massed in Cairo's Tahrir Square - the cradle of the revolt against Mubarak - to rekindle the demands of a revolution they say has been hijacked by Islamists who have betrayed its goals.

Street battles erupted in Cairo, Alexandria, Suez and Port Said. Arsonists attacked at least two state-owned buildings as symbols of government were targeted. An office used by the Muslim Brotherhood's political party was also torched.

The January 25 anniversary laid bare the divide between the Islamists and their secular rivals.

This schism is hindering the efforts of Mursi, elected in June, to revive an economy in crisis and reverse a plunge in Egypt's currency by enticing back investors and tourists.

Inspired by the popular uprising in Tunisia, Egypt's revolution spurred further revolts across the Arab world. But the sense of common purpose that united Egyptians two years ago has given way to internal strife that had already triggered bloody street battles last month.

"Our revolution is continuing. We reject the domination of any party over this state. We say no to the Brotherhood state," Hamdeen Sabahy, a popular leftist leader, told Reuters.

The Brotherhood decided against mobilizing for the anniversary, wary of the scope for more conflict after December's violence, stoked by Mursi's decision to fast-track an Islamist-tinged constitution rejected by his opponents.

The Brotherhood denies accusations that it is seeking to dominate Egypt, labeling them a smear campaign by its rivals.


There were conflicting accounts of the lethal shooting in Suez. Some witnesses said security forces had opened fire in response to gunfire from masked men.

News of the deaths capped a day of violence which started in the early hours. Before dawn in Cairo, police battled protesters who threw petrol bombs and firecrackers as they approached a wall blocking access to government buildings near Tahrir Square.

Clouds of tear gas filled the air. At one point, riot police used one of the incendiaries thrown at them to set ablaze at least two tents erected by youths, a Reuters witness said.

Skirmishes between stone-throwing youths and the police continued in streets around the square into the day. Ambulances ferried away a steady stream of casualties.

Protesters echoed the chants of 2011's historic 18-day uprising. "The people want to bring down the regime," they chanted. "Leave! Leave! Leave!" chanted others as they marched towards the square.

"We are not here to celebrate but to force those in power to submit to the will of the people. Egypt now must never be like Egypt during Mubarak's rule," said Mohamed Fahmy, an activist.

There were similar scenes in Suez and Alexandria, where protesters and riot police clashed near local government offices. Black smoke billowed from tires set ablaze by youths.

In Cairo, police fired tear gas to disperse a few dozen protesters trying to remove barbed-wire barriers protecting the presidential palace, witnesses said. A few masked men got as far as the gates before they were beaten back.

Tear gas was also fired at protesters who tried to remove metal barriers outside the state television building.

Outside Cairo, protesters broke into the offices of provincial governors in Ismailia and Kafr el-Sheikh in the Nile Delta. A local government building was torched in the Nile Delta city of al-Mahalla al-Kubra.


With an eye on parliamentary elections likely to begin in April, the Brotherhood marked the anniversary with a charity drive across the nation. It plans to deliver medical aid to one million people and distribute affordable basic foodstuffs.

Writing in Al-Ahram, Egypt's flagship state-run daily, Brotherhood leader Mohamed Badie said the country was in need of "practical, serious competition" to reform the corrupt state left by the Mubarak era.

"The differences of opinion and vision that Egypt is passing through is a characteristic at the core of transitions from dictatorship to democracy, and clearly expresses the variety of Egyptian culture," he wrote.

Mursi's opponents say he and his group are seeking to dominate the post-Mubarak order. They accuse him of showing some of the autocratic impulses of the deposed leader by, for example, driving through the new constitution last month.

"I am taking part in today's marches to reject the warped constitution, the 'Brotherhoodisation' of the state, the attack on the rule of law, and the disregard of the president and his government for the demands for social justice," Amr Hamzawy, a prominent liberal politician, wrote on his Twitter feed.

The Brotherhood says its rivals are failing to respect the rules of the new democracy that put the Islamists in the driving seat via free elections.

Six months into office, Mursi is also being held responsible for an economic crisis caused by two years of turmoil. The Egyptian pound has sunk to record lows against the dollar.

The parties that called for Friday's protests list demands including a complete overhaul of the constitution.

Critics say the constitution, which was approved in a referendum, offers inadequate protection for human rights, grants the president too many privileges and fails to curb the power of a military establishment supreme in the Mubarak era.

Mursi's supporters say enacting the constitution quickly was crucial to restoring stability needed for economic recovery.

(Additional reporting by Ahmed el-Shemi, Ashraf Fahim, Marwa Awad, Shaimaa Fayed and Yasmine Saleh in Cairo and Abdel Rahman Youssef in Alexandria; Writing by Tom Perry; Editing by Robert Woodward)

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Shrinking proton puzzle persists in new measurement

A puzzle at the heart of the atom refuses to go away. The most precise measurement yet of the proton's radius confirms that it sometimes seems smaller than the laws of physics demand – an issue that has been hotly debated for two years.

The latest finding deepens the need for exotic physics, or some other explanation, to account for the inconsistency. "If we were in a hole before, the hole is deeper now," says Gerald Miller of the University of Washington in Seattle, who was not involved in the new measurement.

The saga of the proton radius began in 2010, when a group led by Randolf Pohl at the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics in Garching, Germany, determined the width of the fuzzy ball of positive charge – and found it was smaller than had been assumed.

Previous teams had inferred the proton's radius, which is impossible to measure directly, by studying how electrons and protons interact. One method uses the simplest atom, hydrogen, which consists of one electron and one proton. A quirk of quantum mechanics says that an electron in an atom can only orbit its proton at certain distances, corresponding to different energy levels. The electron can jump between levels if it absorbs or releases energy in the form of a photon of light.

Ball of charge

By measuring the energy of photons emitted by an excited hydrogen atom, physicists can figure out how far apart the energy levels are, and thus the distances of the permitted electron orbits. A theory called quantum electrodynamics then allows them to calculate how far the proton's ball of charge must extend to keep the electrons at those distances.

This method gave a charge radius for the proton that was about 0.877 femtometres, less than a trillionth of a millimetre.

Pohl and colleagues used a novel method. They created an exotic version of hydrogen that replaces the electron with a muon, a particle that has the same charge as the electron but is 200 times heavier. Its extra bulk makes it more sensitive to the proton's size, meaning radius measurements based on muons are orders of magnitude more precise.

The new method didn't just make the measurements more precise. It also changed them: the muonic hydrogen gave a radius of 0.8418 femtometres, 4 per cent less than before.

Scandalous result

That might not sound like much, but in the world of particle physics, where theory and experiment can agree to parts in a billion, it was scandalous. A lively discussion sprang up, with some physicists claiming problems with Pohl's experiments and interpretations, and others suggesting gaps in the standard model of particle physics.

Pohl and colleagues have now repeated their experiment. The measurement of the radius is now even more precise than in 2010 – and it is still 4 per cent smaller than the value from hydrogen-based experiments.

Pohl reckons that there are three likely explanations. His experiment could have errors, although the confirmation makes that less likely. Alternatively, the electron experiments could be off. "This would be the most boring possibility," says Pohl.

The third, and most exciting, possibility is that muons do not interact with protons in the same way as electrons. In other words, the proton's apparent radius changes a little bit depending on which particle it is interacting with.

If true, that might require the existence of unknown particles that alter the way the muon interacts with the proton. Those particles could, in turn, solve some of the problems with the standard model of particle physics. They could, for instance, provide a candidate for dark matter, the mysterious stuff that makes up more than 80 per cent of the mass in the universe.

Monumental idea

Miller, Pohl and Ron Gilman of Rutgers University in Piscataway, New Jersey helped organise a workshop with 50 proton experts in Trento, Italy, last October to hash out the details of the problem – and arrived at a verdict of sorts. "Because the muon experiments seem to be so solid, the most popular answers were that there's some beyond-the-standard-model physics differentiating between muon and electron, which would be very important," Gilman says.

"That would be monumental, truly," Miller says.

But Miller also has a less radical suggestion, which could reconcile all the measurements without invoking new particles. According to quantum electrodynamics, two charged particles can interact with each other by exchanging a photon – it's as if they spontaneously create a basketball and throw it between them, he says.

The equations also allow for a more complicated interaction where the particles create two balls, and juggle them. Until now this type of interaction was considered too rare to be important, but Miller reckons that the muon's greater mass could make it a better juggler. That would strengthen the proton's interaction with it and make the proton look smaller to the muon without requiring any new physics.

All these ideas will be up for review in a few years' time when new experiments, including shooting muons at protons to see how they scatter and building muonic helium atoms to measure their energy levels, are completed.

"It's quite likely that through other experiments, in two to three years we might get an end to this," Miller says. "It shouldn't take forever."

Journal reference: Science, DOI: 10.1126/science.1230016

If you would like to reuse any content from New Scientist, either in print or online, please contact the syndication department first for permission. New Scientist does not own rights to photos, but there are a variety of licensing options available for use of articles and graphics we own the copyright to.

All comments should respect the New Scientist House Rules. If you think a particular comment breaks these rules then please use the "Report" link in that comment to report it to us.

If you are having a technical problem posting a comment, please contact technical support.

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Oil prices rise on strong economic indicators

NEW YORK: Oil prices jumped Thursday on greater economic optimism following strong economic indicators in the US, China and Europe.

A barrel of US benchmark West Texas Intermediate futures for delivery in March settled at US$95.95 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange, up 72 cents.

In London, Brent North Sea crude for March delivery ended at US$113.28 a barrel, up 48 cents from Wednesday.

"The economic news from China looked pretty good and this is adding to ... reports suggesting that the global recession is nearing an end, and that is making people more bullish about oil demand," said Michael Lynch of Strategic Energy and Economic Research.

Oil prices have steadily risen since mid-December, gaining more than 12 per cent since Dec. 10.

Figures from British bank HSBC showed China's manufacturing activity in January hitting a two-year high.

"China has been a main driver of oil demand growth for the last decade and (if there is) strong growth, that is a very bullish indicator for the market," said Lynch.

Also Thursday, US jobless claims came in well below expectations, an unexpectedly strong result for the second week in a row.

In Europe, a purchasing managers index, an indicator of manufacturing and services activity, in January reached its highest level in 10 months.

"It is too soon to call this the turn in the European economy, but some are bound to see it that way," said analyst Chris Low of FTN Financial.

The greater optimism came as weekly data from the US Department of Energy pointed to a larger build of oil stockpiles than expected.

The results showed a gain of 2.8 million barrels, whereas analysts had predicted an increase of 1.7 million barrels.

- AFP/jc

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Porn director sexually assaulted teenage girl, police say

Glen Phernambucq was arrested after allegedly performing a lewd act on a teen in porn movie shoot, police say.A registered sex offender was arrested for allegedly performing a lewd act on a 17-year-old boy while directing a porn film shoot at an abandoned home in Ahaheim, police said Wednesday night.

Christopher Glen Phernambucq allegedly convinced the victim and another 17-year-old boy to take part in the film after meeting them on Facebook, Anaheim police said.

He told the boys that he directed porn films, police said. He filmed the boys at the abandoned home near East Colorado Avenue and North Red Gum Street.

"During the filming, Phernambucq performed lewd acts on at least one of the 17-year-old males," the Anaheim Police Department said in a statement.

Phernambucq, who was on parole for making child pornography, was taken into custody.

Anyone with information is asked to call Orange County Crime Stoppers at (855) TIP-OCCS.


Bell's Rizzo wants trial moved out of L.A. Times' circulation area

Manti Te'o hoax: Woman sent photo to 'comfort' classmate's cousin

L.A. councilmen question $4 million in LAX public relations contracts

— Robert J. Lopez

Photo: Christopher Glen Phernambucq. Credit: Anaheim Police Department

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Deformed Dolphin Accepted Into New Family

In 2011, behavioral ecologists Alexander Wilson and Jens Krause of the Leibniz-Institute of Freshwater Ecology and Inland Fisheries in Germany were surprised to discover that a group of sperm whales (Physeter macrocephalus)—animals not usually known for forging bonds with other species—had taken in an adult bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus).

The researchers observed the group in the ocean surrounding the Azores (map)—about 1,000 miles (1,600 kilometers) off the coast of Lisbon, Portugal—for eight days as the dolphin traveled, foraged, and played with both the adult whales and their calves. When the dolphin rubbed its body against the whales, they would sometimes return the gesture.

Among terrestrial animals, cross-species interactions are not uncommon. These mostly temporary alliances are forged for foraging benefits and protection against predators, said Wilson.

They could also be satisfying a desire for the company of other animals, added marine biologist John Francis, vice president for research, conservation, and exploration at the National Geographic Society (the Society owns National Geographic News).

Photographs of dogs nursing tiger cubs, stories of a signing gorilla adopting a pet cat, and videos of a leopard caring for a baby baboon have long circulated the Web and caught national attention.

A Rare Alliance

And although dolphins are known for being sociable animals, Wilson called the alliance between sperm whale and bottlenose dolphin rare, as it has never, to his knowledge, been witnessed before.

This association may have started with something called bow riding, a common behavior among dolphins during which they ride the pressure waves generated by the bow of a ship or, in this case, whales, suggested Francis.

"Hanging around slower creatures to catch a ride might have been the first advantage [of such behavior]," he said, adding that this may have also started out as simply a playful encounter.

Wilson suggested that the dolphin's peculiar spinal shape made it more likely to initiate an interaction with the large and slow-moving whales. "Perhaps it could not keep up with or was picked on by other members of its dolphin group," he said in an email.


But the "million-dollar question," as Wilson puts it, is why the whales accepted the lone dolphin. Among several theories presented in an upcoming paper in Aquatic Mammals describing the scientists' observations, they propose that the dolphin may have been regarded as nonthreatening and that it was accepted by default because of the way adult sperm whales "babysit" their calves.

Sperm whales alternate their dives between group members, always leaving one adult near the surface to watch the juveniles. "What is likely is that the presence of the calves—which cannot dive very deep or for very long—allowed the dolphin to maintain contact with the group," Wilson said.

Wilson doesn't believe the dolphin approached the sperm whales for help in protecting itself from predators, since there aren't many dolphin predators in the waters surrounding the Azores.

But Francis was not so quick to discount the idea. "I don't buy that there is no predator in the lifelong experience of the whales and dolphins frequenting the Azores," he said.

He suggested that it could be just as possible that the sperm whales accepted the dolphin for added protection against their own predators, like the killer whale (Orcinus orca), while traveling. "They see killer whales off the Azores, and while they may not be around regularly, it does not take a lot of encounters to make [other] whales defensive," he said.

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North Korea to target U.S. with nuclear, rocket tests

SEOUL (Reuters) - North Korea said on Thursday it would carry out further rocket launches and a nuclear test that would target the United States, dramatically stepping up its threats against a country it called its "sworn enemy".

The announcement by the country's top military body came a day after the U.N. Security Council agreed to a U.S.-backed resolution to censure and sanction North Korea for a rocket launch in December that breached U.N. rules.

North Korea is not believed to have the technology to deliver a nuclear warhead capable of hitting the continental United States, although its December launch showed it had the capacity to deliver a rocket that could travel 10,000 km (6,200 miles), potentially putting San Francisco in range, according to an intelligence assessment by South Korea.

"We are not disguising the fact that the various satellites and long-range rockets that we will fire and the high-level nuclear test we will carry out are targeted at the United States," North Korea's National Defence Commission said, according to state news agency KCNA.

North Korea is believed by South Korea and other observers to be "technically ready" for a third nuclear test, and the decision to go ahead rests with leader Kim Jong-un, who pressed ahead with the December rocket launch in defiance of the U.N. sanctions.

China, the one major diplomatic ally of the isolated and impoverished North, agreed to the U.S.-backed resolution and it also supported resolutions in 2006 and 2009 after Pyongyang's two earlier nuclear tests.

Thursday's statement by North Korea represents a huge challenge to Beijing as it undergoes a leadership transition, with Xi Jinping due to take office in March.

China's Foreign Ministry called for calm and restraint and a return to six-party talks, but effectively singled out North Korea, urging the "relevant party" not to take any steps that would raise tensions.

"We hope the relevant party can remain calm and act and speak in a cautious and prudent way and not take any steps which may further worsen the situation," ministry spokesman Hong Lei told reporters at a regular press briefing.

North Korea has rejected proposals to restart the talks aimed at reining in its nuclear capacity. The United States, China, Russia, Japan and the two Koreas are the six parties involved.

"After all these years and numerous rounds of six-party talks we can see that China's influence over North Korea is actually very limited. All China can do is try to persuade them not to carry out their threats," said Cai Jian, an expert on Korea at Fudan University in Shanghai.

Analysts said the North could test as early as February as South Korea prepares to install a new, untested president or that it could choose to stage a nuclear explosion to coincide with former ruler Kim Jong-il's Feb 16 birthday.

"North Korea will have felt betrayed by China for agreeing to the latest U.N. resolution and they might be targeting (China) as well (with this statement)," said Lee Seung-yeol, senior research fellow at Ewha Institute of Unification Studies in Seoul.


Washington urged North Korea not to proceed with a third test just as the North's statement was published on Thursday.

"Whether North Korea tests or not is up to North Korea," Glyn Davies, the top U.S. envoy for North Korean diplomacy, said in the South Korean capital of Seoul.

"We hope they don't do it. We call on them not to do it," Davies said after a meeting with South Korean officials. "This is not a moment to increase tensions on the Korean peninsula."

The North was banned from developing missile and nuclear technology under sanctions dating from its 2006 and 2009 nuclear tests.

A South Korean military official said the concern now is that Pyongyang could undertake a third nuclear test using highly enriched uranium for the first time, opening a second path to a bomb.

North Korea's 2006 nuclear test using plutonium produced a puny yield equivalent to one kiloton of TNT - compared with 13-18 kilotons for the Hiroshima bomb - and U.S. intelligence estimates put the 2009 test's yield at roughly two kilotons

North Korea is estimated to have enough fissile material for about a dozen plutonium warheads, although estimates vary, and intelligence reports suggest that it has been enriching uranium to supplement that stock and give it a second path to the bomb.

According to estimates from the Institute for Science and International Security from late 2012, North Korea could have enough weapons grade uranium for 21-32 nuclear weapons by 2016 if it used one centrifuge at its Yongbyon nuclear plant to enrich uranium to weapons grade.

North Korea has not yet mastered the technology needed to make a nuclear warhead small enough for an intercontinental missile, most observers say, and needs to develop the capacity to shield any warhead from re-entry into the earth's atmosphere.

North Korea gave no time-frame for the coming test and often employs harsh rhetoric in response to U.N. and U.S. actions that it sees as hostile.

The bellicose statement on Thursday appeared to dent any remaining hopes that Kim Jong-un, believed to be 30 years old, would pursue a different path from his father, Kim Jong-il, who oversaw the country's military and nuclear programs.

The older Kim died in December 2011.

"The UNSC (Security Council) resolution masterminded by the U.S. has brought its hostile policy towards the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea (North Korea) to its most dangerous stage," the commission was quoted as saying.

(Additional reporting by Christine Kim in SEOUL, Ben Blanchard and Sui-Lee Wee in Beijing; Writing by David Chance; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan and Ron Popeski)

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Snaps from space: Bleak landscapes become abstract art

18:27 23 January 2013

Yesterday, Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield dropped a puck from space for his favourite hockey team's opening game. In the meantime, he's been busy tweeting his latest photos of astounding landscapes from the International Space Station. Here are a few of our favourites. Sandrine Ceurstemont

Image 1 of 6

The Australian outback looks like an abstract painting in this view, its iron-rich soil appearing even more vivid from far above. Ridges in its flat topography resemble brushstrokes.

(Image: Chris Hadfield/Canadian Space Agency/ISS)

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US oil price slumps after pipeline cutback

NEW YORK: US crude oil prices closed sharply lower Wednesday, dragged down by news that a key pipeline had cut capacity due to a bottleneck.

New York's main contract, West Texas Intermediate, for delivery in March, tumbled US$1.45 from Tuesday's close to settle at US$95.23 a barrel.

In London trade, meanwhile, Brent North Sea crude for delivery in March settled at US$112.80 a barrel, an increase of 38 cents.

The New York market, which had been trading slightly lower for most of the session, dived after the operator of the Seaway pipeline told shippers that capacity had been reduced because of an unexpected problem at a delivery point.

"When that headline came out, the WTI immediately came under a significant amount of pressure," said Andy Lipow, an independent oil analyst.

The Seaway carries crude stocked in Cushing, Oklahoma, the main oil terminal in the world's biggest crude consumer, to refineries in the Gulf of Mexico.

Lacking sufficient pipeline capacity to bring oil to refineries, Cushing stockpiles have swollen recently to new record highs, weighing on futures prices.

Traders were keenly awaiting the US Department of Energy's latest weekly report on petroleum stockpiles. The data will be published Thursday, one day later than normal, due to a public holiday on Monday.

"Traders now expect upcoming US government oil inventory data to show crude-oil stocks dropped 2.3 million barrels last week," ETX Capital markets analyst Ishaq Siddiqi said.

Siddiqi said there had been a "bit of profit taking in crude following four sessions of gains, with many (traders) expecting refiners to start seasonal maintenance that will reduce crude oil demand."

- AFP/jc

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'Charlie Brown' actor stalked plastic surgeon, police say

 Peter Robbins; Charlie Brown

A former child actor who provided the voice of Charlie Brown in several "Peanuts" animated television specials from 1965 to 1969 is set to be arraigned Wednesday on charges of making threats and stalking.

Peter Robbins, 56, who lives in Oceanside with his dog, Snoopy, was arrested at the border Monday as he was returning from Mexico. He is set to be arraigned in San Diego Superior Court on five felony charges.

Robbins has managed real estate in Van Nuys, hosted a radio talk-show in Palm Springs, and made an appearance at the 2008 Comic-Con convention in San Diego. As a youth, Robbins had appearances on several television shows, including "My Three Sons" and "Rawhide."

A plastic surgeon obtained a restraining order against Robbins three weeks ago, claiming Robbins threatened her because he was displeased with the breast augmentation the surgeon performed on Robbins' girlfriend, according to the North County Times. It was unclear whether the criminal charges involve Robbins' alleged threats to the surgeon.


Students hit with pepper spray at Narbonne High School

Bell's Rizzo wants trial moved out of L.A. Times' circulation area

Hacienda Heights school locked down after possible weapon threat

-- Tony Perry in San Diego

Photo: Peter Robbins; Charlie Brown. Credit: KSWB-TV

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10 Ways Obama Could Fight Climate Change

One of the biggest surprises of President Barack Obama's inaugural address on Monday was how much he focused on fighting climate change, spending more time on that issue than any other.

"We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations," Obama said.

The President pointed out that recent severe weather supplied an urgent impetus for energy innovation and staked the nation's economic future on responding to a changing climate.

"We cannot cede to other nations the technology that will power new jobs and new industries—we must claim its promise," Obama said. "That's how we will maintain our economic vitality and our national treasure—our forests and waterways; our croplands and snowcapped peaks. That is how we will preserve our planet, commanded to our care by God."

So what could the President reasonably do to deliver on that vow? National Geographic asked experts in climate research, energy innovation, and oceanography. Here are ten of their suggestions:

1. Sunset coal with new incentives and regulations. "Provide incentives to phase out the oldest, most polluting power plants," said Robert Jackson, a climate scientist at Duke University. It's already happening, to some degree, as more of the nation transitions to natural gas. Earth scientist Bill Chameides, dean of Duke's Nicholas School of the Environment and a former chief scientist at the Environmental Defense Fund, urges the administration to use its Clean Air Act authority to promulgate carbon regulations for existing power plants like it has for new ones: "Doing that will force fuel switching from coal to natural gas." (Related: "6 Ways Climate Change Will Affect You.")

2. Invest federal stimulus money in nuclear power. It's hardly a perfect fuel, as accidents like Japan's Fukushima fallout have shown, but with safety precautions new nuclear plants can meaningfully offset dirtier types of energy, supporters say. "Nuclear is the only short- to medium-term way to really get away from fossil fuels," said Peter Raven, president emeritus of the Missouri Botanical Garden. He said the damage done by relentless global warming will far exceed the damage done by faults in the nuclear system.

3. Kill the Keystone pipeline. The controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline is up for review again by the White House this year. "The first thing he should do to set the tone to a lower carbon economy is to reject the Keystone pipeline," said Raymond Pierrehumbert, a geophysical scientist at the University of Chicago. The pipeline was never going to be a major driver of global emissions, but Pierrehumbert and some other environmentalists say that by killing it the President would send a clear message about America's intent to ramp down fossil fuels. (See pictures of the animals that helped kill the Keystone pipeline.)

4. Protect the oceans by executive order. Land use is complicated, but large swaths of oceans can be protected by executive fiat. Just as President George W. Bush designated the world's largest marine monument northwest of Hawaii in 2006, Obama could single-handedly protect other areas. National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Sylvia Earle said the President should focus on parts of the Arctic that are under U.S. control, putting them off limits to energy production, commercial fishing, and mineral exploration. Marine sanctuaries won't stop climate change, but they can give marine species a better chance of adapting to it by reducing the other man-made threats the animals face. (Read about the many benefits of marine reserves.)

5. Experiment with capturing carbon. Huge untapped reserves of natural gas and oil make it unlikely that the U.S. will transition away from fossil fuels in the immediate future. Instead, said Wallace Broecker, geology professor at Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, we should attack the atmosphere's carbon surplus directly. "[Obama] could make available funds to build and test prototype air capture units" to capture and store CO2, said Broecker. Removing some carbon from the atmosphere could buy valuable time as policy makers and scientists explore more permanent solutions.

6. Grow government research for new energy sources. The Department of Energy has a nimble program that's tasked with innovative energy research—the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy. The ARPA-E funds research in biofuels, transmission, and battery storage, with an annual budget of $275 million. Last year, DOE officials requested at least $75 million more. Increasing funding for ARPA-E, said Rafe Pomerance, former deputy assistant secretary of state for environment and development and currently an environmental consultant, "you get new technologies that undercut coal, oil, and gas." Plus, he said, you get a competitive advantage if American researchers uncover the next big idea in new energy.

7. Tax carbon. Congress would have to agree, but many climate experts say that the most meaningful way to tackle emissions is to set a price on carbon. "We should be asking people to pay the cost of putting carbon into the atmosphere as they buy the fuel," said Josh Willis, climate scientist and oceanographer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. To gain political support for the idea, Obama would probably have to show that the tax would help accelerate technology, grow new industries, and pay down the deficit.

8. Dial back the federal government's energy use. With more than 1.8 million employees, $500 billion in annual purchasing power, and 500,000 buildings to operate, the federal government has been a leader in reducing energy use since Obama signed a 2009 executive order to cut waste. "I would urge him to keep using the power of government to promote energy conservation," said Syndonia Bret-Harte, an Arctic biologist who studies climate change at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks.

9. Build a scientific clearinghouse for climate information. "I advocate for building a better information system on what is happening and why," said Kevin Trenberth, head of the Climate Analysis Section at the U.S. National Center for Atmospheric Research. That involves compiling observations related to climate change from around the world and using the data to refine climate modeling. Think of it as a one-stop, user-friendly website that clearly demonstrates how weather data from around the globe are influenced by broader shifts in the planet's climate.

10. Keep talking. Despite a consensus among top scientists, the world still needs some convincing on climate change. A CNN poll last week found that just 49 percent of Americans agree that global warming is real and is due to human activities. "The most important thing the President can do is to build on his inaugural comments to heighten the sense of urgency about rapid climate destabilization and clarify its connection to virtually every other issue on the national agenda," said David Orr, environmental studies professor at Oberlin College. That means using the bully pulpit to show how a more volatile climate affects everything from agriculture to transportation to 21st-century warfare.

Christine Dell'Amore, Rob Kunzig, and Jane J. Lee contributed reporting.

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Cameron promises Britons vote on EU exit

LONDON (Reuters) - Prime Minister David Cameron promised Britons a vote on quitting the European Union, rattling London's biggest allies and some investors by raising the prospect of uncertainty and upheaval.

Cameron announced on Wednesday that the referendum would be held by the end of 2017 - provided he wins a second term - and said that while Britain did not want to retreat from the world, public disillusionment with the bloc was at "an all-time high".

"It is time for the British people to have their say. It is time for us to settle this question about Britain and Europe," Cameron said in a speech, adding that his Conservative party would campaign for the 2015 parliamentary election on a promise to renegotiate the terms of Britain's EU membership.

"When we have negotiated that new settlement, we will give the British people a referendum with a very simple in or out choice to stay in the European Union on these new terms; or come out altogether. It will be an in-out referendum."

A referendum would mark the second time British voters have had a direct say on the issue. In 1975, they decided by a wide margin to stay in, two years after the country had joined.

Most recent opinion polls have shown a slim majority would vote to leave amid bitter disenchantment, fanned by a hostile press, about the EU's perceived influence on the British way of life. However, a poll this week showed a majority for staying.

Cameron's position is fraught with uncertainty. He must come from behind to win the next election, secure support from the EU's 26 other states for a new British role, and hope those countries can persuade their voters to back the changes.

He also avoided saying exactly what he would do if he failed to win concessions in Europe, as many believe is likely.

Critics, notably among business leaders worried about the effect on investment, say that for years before a vote, Britain may slip into a dangerous and damaging limbo that could leave it adrift or effectively pushed out of the EU.

The United States, a close ally, is also uneasy about the plan, believing it will dilute Britain's international clout. President Barack Obama told Cameron last week that Washington valued "a strong UK in a strong European Union" and the White House said on Wednesday it believed Britain's membership of the EU was mutually beneficial.

Some of Britain's European partners were also anxious and told Cameron on Wednesday his strategy reflected a selfish and ignorant attitude. However, Angela Merkel, the leader of EU paymaster Germany, was quick to say she was ready to discuss Cameron's ideas.


French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius was less diplomatic: "If Britain wants to leave Europe, we will roll out the red carpet," he quipped, echoing words Cameron used recently to urge France's rich to escape high taxes and move to Britain.

French President Francois Hollande repeated his refusal of special deals: "What I will say, speaking for France, and as a European, is that it isn't possible to bargain over Europe to hold this referendum," he said. "Europe must be taken as it is.

"One can have it modified in future but one cannot propose reducing or diminishing it as a condition of staying in."

Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti was more positive. He said he agreed with Cameron on the need to make the EU more innovative and welcomed the idea of a British referendum, saying he thought Britons would ultimately vote to stay in the bloc.

Billed by commentators as the most important speech of Cameron's career, his referendum promise ties him firmly to an issue that has bedeviled a generation of Conservative leaders.

In the past, he has been careful to avoid bruising partisan fights over Europe, an issue that undid the last two Conservative prime ministers, John Major and Margaret Thatcher.

His speech appeared to pacify a powerful Euroskeptic wing inside his own party, but deepen rifts with the Liberal Democrats, the junior partners in his coalition. Their leader, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, said the plan would undermine a fragile economic recovery.

Sterling fell to its lowest in nearly five months against the dollar on Wednesday as Cameron was speaking.


Cameron said he would take back powers from Brussels, saying later in parliament that, when it came to employment, social and environmental legislation, "Europe has gone far too far".

But such a clawback - still the subject of an internal audit to identify which specific powers he should target for repatriation to London - is likely to be easier said than done.

If Cameron wins re-election but then fails to renegotiate Britain's membership of the EU, a 'Brexit' could loom.

Business leaders have warned that years of doubt over Britain's EU membership would damage the $2.5 trillion economy and cool the investment climate.

"Having a referendum creates more uncertainty and we don't need that," Martin Sorrell, chief executive of advertising giant WPP, told the World Economic Forum in Davos. "This is a political decision. This is not an economic decision.

"This isn't good news. You added another reason why people will postpone investment decisions."

Cameron has been pushed into taking such a strong position partly by the rise of the UK Independence Party, which favors complete withdrawal from the EU and has climbed to third in the opinion polls, mainly at the expense of the Conservatives.

"All he's trying to do is to kick the can down the road and to try and get UKIP off his back," said UKIP leader Nigel Farage.

Euroskeptics in Cameron's party, who have threatened to stir up trouble for the premier, were thrilled by the speech.

Conservative lawmaker Peter Bone called it "a terrific victory" that would unify 98 percent of the party. "He's the first prime minister to say he wants to bring back powers from Brussels," Bone told Reuters. "It's pretty powerful stuff".

Whether Cameron holds the referendum remains as uncertain as the Conservatives' chances of winning the election. They trail the opposition Labour party in opinion polls, and the coalition is grappling with a stagnating economy as it pushes through unpopular public spending cuts to reduce a large budget deficit.

Labour leader Ed Miliband said on Wednesday his party did not want an in-or-out referendum.


Cameron said he would campaign for Britain to stay in the EU "with all my heart and soul", provided he secured the reforms he wants. He made clear the Union must become less bureaucratic and focus more on free trade.

It was riskier to maintain the status quo than to change, he said: "The biggest danger to the European Union comes not from those who advocate change, but from those who denounce new thinking as heresy," he said.

Asked whether, if he did not succeed in his renegotiation strategy, would recommend a vote to take Britain out, he said only: "I want to see a strong Britain in a reformed Europe.

"We have a very clear plan. We want to reset the relationship. We will hold that referendum. We will recommend that resettlement to the British people."

Cameron said the euro zone debt crisis was forcing the bloc to change and that Britain would fight to make sure new rules were fair to the 10 countries that do not use the common currency, of which Britain is the largest.

Democratic consent for the EU in Britain was now "wafer thin", he said:

"Some people say that to point this out is irresponsible, creates uncertainty for business and puts a question mark over Britain's place in the European Union. But the question mark is already there: ignoring it won't make it go away."

A YouGov opinion poll on Monday showed that more people wanted to stay in the EU than leave it, the first such result in many months. But it was unclear whether that result was a blip.

Paul Chipperfield, a 53-year-old management consultant, said he liked the strategy: "Cameron's making the right move because I don't think we've had enough debate in this country," he said.

"We should be part of the EU but the EU needs to recognize that not everybody's going to jump on the same bandwagon."

Asked after the speech whether other EU countries would agree to renegotiate Britain's membership, Cameron said he was an optimist and that there was "every chance of success".

"I don't want Britain to leave the EU," he told parliament later. "I want Britain to reform the EU."

In the 1975 referendum, just over 67 percent voted to stay inside with nearly 33 percent against.

(Additional reporting by Paul Taylor in Davos, Alexandra Hudson in Berlin, Brenda Goh in London, Jeff Mason in Washington and James Mackenzie in Rome; Editing by Guy Faulconbridge, David Stamp and Alastair Macdonald)

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MIT website hacked in tribute to Aaron Swartz

Hal Hodson, technology reporter

A tribute to internet activist Aaron Swartz replaced the homepage for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology today, in an apparent act of protest over the university's role in the legal case that led up to Swartz's suicide on 11 Jan.

For a short time, visitors to the home page found a message that read: "R.I.P. Aaron Swartz. Hacked by grand wizard of Lulzsec, Sabu. God Bless America. Down With Anonymous." The background was watermarked with words from a blog post, written by Swartz, titled "Immoral".

Attributing the defacement to "grand wizard of Lulzsec, Sabu" lent the page a sarcastic air, as it's widely known that the former Lulzsec leader was outed as an FBI informant last year.

The attack on MIT's website came amid widespread criticism of how the university handled the case against Swartz, including an article in The New York Times that quoted Swartz's father as saying: "We don't believe [MIT] acted in a neutral way. My belief is they put their institutional concerns first."

According to MIT's service status page, network service was restored within the university as of 1:30 pm EST. The university had not yet returned New Scientist's request for comment when this story was published.

This is the second time since Swartz' death that the MIT site has been the target of attacks. Previously, an MIT sub-domain was replaced with a manifesto for reform of computer and copyright laws. The authors claimed to be operating as a part of the online activist group, Anonymous.

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White House gives grudging welcome to debt limit plan

WASHINGTON: The White House said Tuesday that President Barack Obama would not block a Republican plan to extend government borrowing authority by three months but would prefer a longer term debt ceiling hike.

Defusing a showdown with Obama, Republican House leaders are ready to permit the government to borrow more money to meet its obligations until May 18, despite earlier demands that debt ceiling hikes be matched by spending cuts.

The move would effectively remove the debt ceiling question from a looming conflagration with Republicans on Capitol Hill over spending cuts due to come into force at the end of next month and a soon-to-expire government budget.

White House spokesman Jay Carney noted that the debt ceiling workaround still had to make it past opposition from some conservative Republican members of Congress.

"If it does and it reaches the president's desk he would not stand in the way of the bill becoming law," he said, but added that Obama did not believe it was good for the economy in general to raise the debt ceiling in "increments."

"He believes we ought to do this for longer periods of time," Carney said, adding that Congress should give Obama authority to raise the debt limit on his own if it was not up for the job.

"Having said that, what we saw happen last week was significant, in our view. The House Republicans made a decision to back away from the kind of brinkmanship that was very concerning to the markets, very concerning to business, very concerning to the American people."

The government hit its statutory US$16 trillion debt limit last year but the administration used extraordinary measures to postpone the devastating economic shock waves that would result from defaulting on its obligations until late February or early March.

The House bill would withhold salaries of members of Congress if the chamber or the Senate does not pass a fiscal 2014 budget by April 15.

The Democratic-held Senate has not voted on a budget since 2009, and the government is being funded through temporary resolutions every six months.

Democratic leaders have said they would introduce a budget plan in the coming months, and pledged to consider the debt limit bill pass the House.

Obama has repeatedly warned that he will not negotiate with Republicans over the debt limit, pointing out that it concerns money available not for fresh spending, but for debt obligations already entered into by Congress.

Some conservative Republicans expressed concern Tuesday about their leadership's plan, though the bill would still be expected to pass the House of Representatives.

Republican Representative Tim Huelskamp said he would vote no, arguing that "raising the debt ceiling for a budget to be named later" is probably something he will not be able to vote for.

Representative Thomas Massie also expressed disquiet.

"I'm still having a lot of reservations about raising the debt limit for three months clean. It's a hard thing to do," he said.

Representative David Schweikert of Arizona was also opposed, saying the vote should be a chance for Republicans to demand a budget bill that balances the budget in 10 years.

- AFP/jc

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Nurse had sex with corpse, police allege

About L.A. Now

L.A. Now is the Los Angeles Times’ breaking news section for Southern California. It is produced by more than 80 reporters and editors in The Times’ Metro section, reporting from the paper’s downtown Los Angeles headquarters as well as bureaus in Costa Mesa, Long Beach, San Diego, San Francisco, Sacramento, Riverside, Ventura and West Los Angeles.

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Space Pictures This Week: Solar Tantrum, Petroglyphs at Night

Photograph by Tony Rowell, Your Shot

This image of Native American petroglyphs, or rock art, shot against the Milky Way, was taken in California's eastern Sierra Nevada on January 14.

Petroglyphs—one of many forms of rock art—are created by scraping, rubbing, or chiseling designs into the patina coating desert rocks. Depending on the conditions surrounding a piece of rock art, these designs can endure for hundreds to thousands of years. (Watch a video about Arizona's rock art.)

Erosion and natural processes, such as plant growth, can fade or destroy the designs. They can also fall victim to vandalism and theft.

According to news reports, one of the most recent incidences was discovered in late October 2012. Unknown perpetrators hacked six petroglyphs out of the cliff face at the Eastern Sierra Volcanic Tableland near Bishop, California (map). They damaged others using saws and hammers.

Published January 22, 2013

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Netanyahu claims election win despite losses

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Hawkish Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu emerged the bruised winner of Israel's election on Tuesday, claiming victory despite unexpected losses to resurgent center-left challengers.

Exit polls showed the Israeli leader's Likud party, yoked with the ultra-nationalist Yisrael Beitenu group, would still be the biggest bloc in the 120-member assembly with 31 seats, 11 fewer than the 42 they held in the previous parliament.

If the exit polls compiled by three local broadcasters prove correct - and they normally do in Israel - Netanyahu would be on course for a third term in office, perhaps leading a hardline coalition that would promote Jewish settlement on occupied land.

But his weakened showing in an election he himself called earlier than necessary could complicate the struggle to forge an alliance with a stable majority in parliament.

The 63-year-old Israeli leader promised during his election campaign to focus on tackling Iran's nuclear ambitions if he won, shunting Palestinian peacemaking well down the agenda despite Western concern to keep the quest for a solution alive.

The projections showed right-wing parties with a combined strength of 61-62 seats against 58-59 for the center-left.

"According to the exit poll results, it is clear that Israel's citizens have decided that they want me to continue in the job of prime minister of Israel and to form as broad a government as possible," Netanyahu wrote on his Facebook page.

The centrist Yesh Atid (There is a Future) party, led by former television talk show host Yair Lapid, came second with 18 or 19 seats, exit polls showed - a stunning result for a newcomer to politics in a field of 32 contending parties.

Lapid won support amongst middle-class, secular voters by promising to resolve a growing housing shortage, abolish military draft exemptions for Jewish seminary students and seek an overhaul of the failing education system.

The once dominant Labour party led by Shelly Yachimovich was projected to take third place with 17 seats.


The mood was subdued at Netanyahu's Likud party election headquarters after the polls closed, with only a few hundred supporters in a venue that could house thousands.

"We anticipated we would lose some votes to Lapid, but not to this extent. This was a Yesh Atid sweep," Likud campaign adviser Ronen Moshe told Reuters.

A prominent Likud lawmaker, Danny Danon, told CNN: "We will reach out to everybody who is willing to join our government, mainly the center party of Yair Lapid."

If the prime minister can tempt Lapid to join a coalition, the ultra-Orthodox religious parties who often hold the balance of power in parliament might lose some of their leverage.

After a lackluster campaign, Israelis voted in droves on a sunny winter day, registering a turnout of 66.6 percent, the highest since 1999 when Netanyahu, serving his first term as premier, was defeated by then-Labour Party leader Ehud Barak.

The strong turnout buoyed center-left parties which had pinned their hopes on energizing an army of undecided voters against Netanyahu and his nationalist-religious allies.

Opinion polls before the election had predicted an easy win for Netanyahu, although the last ones suggested he would lose some votes to the Jewish Home party, which opposes a Palestinian state and advocates annexing chunks of the occupied West Bank.

The exit polls projected 12 seats for Jewish Home.

Full election results are due by Wednesday morning and official ones will be announced on January 30. After that, President Shimon Peres is likely to ask Netanyahu, as leader of the biggest bloc in parliament, to try to form a government.

The former commando has traditionally looked to religious, conservative parties for backing and is widely expected to seek out self-made millionaire Naftali Bennett, who heads the Jewish Home party and stole much of the limelight during the campaign.

But Netanyahu might, as Danon suggested, try to include more moderate parties to assuage Western concerns about Israel's increasingly hardline approach to the Palestinians.


British Foreign Secretary William Hague warned Israel on Tuesday it was losing international support, saying prospects for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict were almost dead because of expanding Jewish settlements.

U.S.-brokered peace talks broke down in 2010 amid mutual acrimony. Since then Israel has accelerated construction in the West Bank and east Jerusalem - land the Palestinians want for their future state - much to the anger of Western partners.

Netanyahu's relations with U.S. President Barack Obama have been notably tense and Martin Indyk, a former U.S. ambassador to Israel, told the BBC the election was unlikely to change that.

"President Obama doesn't have high expectations that there's going to be a government in Israel committed to making peace and is capable of the kind of very difficult and painful concessions that would be needed to achieve a two-state solution," he said.

Tuesday's vote is the first in Israel since Arab uprisings swept the region two years ago, reshaping the Middle East.

Netanyahu has said the turbulence, which has brought Islamist governments to power in several countries long ruled by secularist autocrats, including neighboring Egypt, shows the importance of strengthening national security.

He views Iran's nuclear program as a mortal threat to the Jewish state and has vowed not to let Tehran enrich enough uranium to make a single nuclear bomb - a threshold Israeli experts say could arrive as early as mid-2013.

Iran denies it is planning to build the bomb, and says Israel, widely believed to have the only nuclear arsenal in the Middle East, is the biggest threat to the region.

The issue barely registered during the election campaign, with a poll in Haaretz newspaper on Friday saying 47 percent of Israelis thought social and economic issues were the most pressing concern, against just 10 percent who cited Iran.

One of the first problems to face the next government, which is unlikely to take power before the middle of next month at the earliest, is the stuttering economy.

Data last week showed the budget deficit rose to 4.2 percent of gross domestic product in 2012, double the original estimate, meaning spending cuts and tax hikes look certain.

(Reporting by Jerusalem bureau; Editing by Alastair Macdonald)

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