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  Research Sheds New Light On Asteroid DisasterJanuary 30, 2008 11:43 An asteroid that exploded over Siberia a century ago, leaving 800 square miles of scorched or blown down trees, wasn't nearly as large as previously thought, a researcher concludes, suggesting a greater danger for Earth.

According to supercomputer simulations by Sandia National Laboratories physicist Mark Boslough, the asteroid that destroyed the forest at Tunguska in Siberia in June 1908 had a blast force equivalent to one-quarter to one-third of the 10- to 20-megaton range scientists previously estimated.

Better understanding of what happened at Tunguska will allow for better estimates of risk that would allow policymakers to decide whether to try to deflect an asteroid or evacuate people in its path, he said.

"It's not clear whether a 10-megaton asteroid is more damaging than a Hurricane Katrina," Boslough said. "We can more accurately predict the location of an impact and its time better than we can a hurricane, so you really could get people out of there if it's below a certain threshold."

On Tuesday, an asteroid at least 800 feet long was making a rare close pass by Earth, but scientists said there was no chance of an impact. The closest approach of 2007 TU24 will be 334,000 miles -- about 1.4 times the distance of Earth to the moon. An actual collision of a similar-sized object with Earth occurs on average every 37,000 years.

Although the computer simulation shows the Tunguska asteroid was smaller, its physical size isn't known. That would depend on such factors as speed, shape, how dense or porous it was and what it was made of, Boslough said.
  U.S. Spy Satellite, Power Gone, May Hit EarthJanuary 27, 2008 07:11 A disabled American spy satellite is rapidly descending and is likely to plunge to Earth by late February or early March, posing a potential danger from its debris, officials said Saturday.

Officials said that they had no control over the nonfunctioning satellite and that it was unknown where the debris might land.

“Appropriate government agencies are monitoring the situation,” Gordon Johndroe, a spokesman for the National Security Council, said in a statement. “Numerous satellites over the years have come out of orbit and fallen harmlessly. We are looking at potential options to mitigate any possible damage this satellite may cause.”

Specialists who follow spy satellite operations suspect it is an experimental imagery satellite built by Lockheed Martin and launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California in December 2006 aboard a Delta II rocket. Shortly after the satellite reached orbit, ground controllers lost the ability to control it and were never able to regain communication.

“It’s not necessarily dead, but deaf,” said Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and an analyst for various government space programs.
  Researchers A Step Closer To Synthetic LifeJanuary 24, 2008 21:25 Researchers at the Venter Institute in Rockville, Md., have completed phase two of a three-part plan to create synthetic life.
Craig Venter, the scientist-entrepreneur who founded the institute and jump-started the race to map the human genome, announced the achievement Thursday.

The research team succeeded in creating a man-made copy of the genome for a bacterium, the first time that's been done. A genome is the complete set of DNA in the chromosomes of a living organism, the instruction set for how an organism works.

But while they were able to copy the genome of an existing organism, they weren't able to create a brand new one. Essentially, they managed to write the "software code" for a bacterium but they haven't yet figured out how to turn it on and make it live.

Once that's possible, it opens the door to building made-to-order organisms that could do things natural organisms don't: plants that take up large amounts of carbon from the atmosphere to slow global warming, microbes that turn grass clippings into fuel, bacteria that eat sugar and produce medicine.
  The Best Stocks For 2008January 22, 2008 08:47 Interesting collection of companies on this list.
  Prodigy And Tragedy: How America Lost A True GeniusJanuary 20, 2008 17:08 Viewed from the distance of half of a century, and with all the knowledge of the extraordinary and unhappy path he was to beat through life, the pictures are heartbreaking. We are always moved by concentration and tension in children. And here is Bobby Fischer in a shirt that looks like it could be his pyjama top, biting his nails as he contemplates the arrangement of chessmen before him. He is playing in his first masters' event, in New York, the Lessing J. Rosenwald tournament of 1956, and he is thirteen years old. He does not win - older, more experienced and cunning heads prevail: the Polish-born Samuel Reshevsky, a child prodigy himself long ago, now nearing the end of his career, takes first place - but Fischer scores such a dazzling triumph in his game against Donald Byrne that his name is made.

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Like the teenage David Beckham's spectacular 60-yard lob over the hapless Wimbledon goalkeeper, the win announces the arrival of a very special talent. Thousands of miles away, the game brought Fischer to the attention of the world's only chess superpower. Chess had been systematically encouraged by the Bolsheviks after the October Revolution, and by the late 1950s the St Petersburg-born engineer Mikhail Botvinnik was world champion and his nearest rivals - Bronstein, Smyslov, Tal and Petrosian - were all Soviet citizens. This was the home of top-flight chess, and in chess if you want to get better you have to play against the very best.
  Britain Slams Russia After Closing Culture OfficesJanuary 17, 2008 08:29 Britain accused Russia of "conduct not worthy of a great country" on Thursday after what it called a campaign of intimidation by security services forced its cultural centers in two Russian cities to halt operations.

The British Council has been involved in an escalating dispute with Moscow over the legality of its Russian branches, part of a wider diplomatic argument over the murder in 2006 of a former Russian agent in Britain.

The British Council said it would suspend its work in St Petersburg and Yekaterinburg after Russian staff were summoned for interviews by the Federal Security Service (FSB) domestic intelligence agency, the main successor to the Soviet-era KGB.

British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said Russia's behavior towards the British Council was "reprehensible, not worthy of a great country."

"Russia's actions therefore raise serious questions about her observance of international law, as well as about the standards of behavior she is prepared to adopt towards her own citizens," Miliband said.