September 29th, 2010
Not too far from its star, not too close. So it could contain liquid water. The planet itself is neither too big nor too small for the proper surface, gravity and atmosphere.
It's just right. Just like Earth.
"This really is the first Goldilocks planet," said co-discoverer R. Paul Butler of the Carnegie Institution of Washington.
The new planet sits smack in the middle of what astronomers refer to as the habitable zone, unlike any of the nearly 500 other planets astronomers have found outside our solar system. And it is in our galactic neighborhood, suggesting that plenty of Earth-like planets circle other stars.
Finding a planet that could potentially support life is a major step toward answering the timeless question: Are we alone?
Scientists have jumped the gun before on proclaiming that planets outside our solar system were habitable only to have them turn out to be not quite so conducive to life. But this one is so clearly in the right zone that five outside astronomers told The Associated Press it seems to be the real thing.
"This is the first one I'm truly excited about," said Penn State University's Jim Kasting. He said this planet is a "pretty prime candidate" for harboring life.
Life on other planets doesn't mean E.T. Even a simple single-cell bacteria or the equivalent of shower mold would shake perceptions about the uniqueness of life on Earth.
But there are still many unanswered questions about this strange planet. It is about three times the mass of Earth, slightly larger in width and much closer to its star — 14 million miles away versus 93 million. It's so close to its version of the sun that it orbits every 37 days. And it doesn't rotate much, so one side is almost always bright, the other dark.
Temperatures can be as hot as 160 degrees or as frigid as 25 degrees below zero, but in between — in the land of constant sunrise — it would be "shirt-sleeve weather," said co-discoverer Steven Vogt of the University of California at Santa Cruz.
It's unknown whether water actually exists on the planet, and what kind of atmosphere it has. But because conditions are ideal for liquid water, and because there always seems to be life on Earth where there is water, Vogt believes "that chances for life on this planet are 100 percent."
The astronomers' findings are being published in Astrophysical Journal and were announced by the National Science Foundation on Wednesday.
The planet circles a star called Gliese 581. It's about 120 trillion miles away, so it would take several generations for a spaceship to get there. It may seem like a long distance, but in the scheme of the vast universe, this planet is "like right in our face, right next door to us," Vogt said in an interview.
That close proximity and the way it was found so early in astronomers' search for habitable planets hints to scientists that planets like Earth are probably not that rare.
Vogt and Butler ran some calculations, with giant fudge factors built in, and figured that as much as one out of five to 10 stars in the universe have planets that are Earth-sized and in the habitable zone.
With an estimated 200 billion stars in the universe, that means maybe 40 billion planets that have the potential for life, Vogt said. However, Ohio State University's Scott Gaudi cautioned that is too speculative about how common these planets are.
Vogt and Butler used ground-based telescopes to track the star's precise movements over 11 years and watch for wobbles that indicate planets are circling it. The newly discovered planet is actually the sixth found circling Gliese 581. Two looked promising for habitability for a while, another turned out to be too hot and the fifth is likely too cold. This sixth one bracketed right in the sweet spot in between, Vogt said.
With the star designated "a," its sixth planet is called Gliese 581g.
"It's not a very interesting name and it's a beautiful planet," Vogt said. Unofficially, he's named it after his wife: "I call it Zarmina's World."
The star Gliese 581 is a dwarf, about one-third the strength of our sun. Because of that, it can't be seen without a telescope from Earth, although it is in the Libra constellation, Vogt said.
But if you were standing on this new planet, you could easily see our sun, Butler said.
The low-energy dwarf star will live on for billions of years, much longer than our sun, he said. And that just increases the likelihood of life developing on the planet, the discoverers said.
"It's pretty hard to stop life once you give it the right conditions," Vogt said.
The National Science Foundation: http://www.nsf.gov
September 29th, 2010
Thanks to the leadership of President Obama, Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader Reid, the Democratic Party is facing the biggest defeat in midterm elections in the past 110 years, perhaps surpassing the modern record of a 74-seat gain set in 1922. They will also lose control of the Senate.
Republicans are now leading in 54 Democratic House districts. In 19 more, the incumbent congressman is under 50 percent and his GOP challenger is within five points. That makes 73 seats where victory is within easy grasp for the Republican Party. The only reason the list is not longer is that there are 160 Democratic House districts that were considered so strongly blue that there is no recent polling available.There is no Democratic message. President Obama is heralding education — an issue never mentioned on the campaign trail. Secretary of State Clinton is trying to restart the peace talks in the Middle East. Attorney General Holder is re-evaluating online national-security taps. And a hundred Democrats are scrambling about on their own trying to get reelected!
The Democratic campaigns they are waging are formulaic. They make no attempt to defend the administration, but run away from it where possible. They never mention the words stimulus, healthcare reform, card-check, GM takeover or cap-and-trade.
Instead, they are running almost exclusively negative ads. They base their campaigns on tax liens, failed marriages, DWIs and the like. Where there is a paucity of dirt, they resort to three prefab negatives: that their opponent favors a 23 percent national sales tax, that he wants to privatize Social Security and that he is shipping jobs overseas.
The Republican answers are simple. Republicans want a 23 percent value-added tax (VAT) only as part of eliminating the income tax. Some Republicans do back letting people under 55 divert one-third of their FICA taxes to approved investment alternatives, and most voters agree with them. But, on the campaign trail, simply saying — accurately — that “I oppose any change at all in Social Security for our seniors” takes care of it. And Republicans rebut the jobs overseas charge by citing how the incumbent backed cash-for-clunkers, where 40 percent of the cars bought were foreign; the TARP bailout, which paid billions to overseas banks; and the GM bailout, where two-thirds of the jobs were overseas.
It is a pathetic defense, easily pierced and defeated.
Now the field of battle will increasingly shift. The marginal Democrats — the freshmen and sophomores — are mostly gone. The seats of Southern conservative Democrats largely already lost. Now the combat shifts to the previously safe seats occupied by many in the House leadership, including, perhaps, the seats of Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (Md.) and Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank (Mass.).
This new attack will force the Democrats to spend their resources defending their base and make it even easier to pick off marginal members. And while Republican resources shift to the previously solidly Democratic districts, eager donors anxious to develop relationships with the new Republican majority will fill their shoes.
In the Senate, Republicans lead in eight Democratic seats: North Dakota, Indiana, Arkansas, Colorado, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, West Virginia and Illinois. In Nevada, the ninth, Harry Reid has been stuck at 44 percent of the vote since Aug. 1, when his Social Security/Medicare attack was rebutted. He is dead in the water. His negatives flood the airwaves but are not working, and the ads run by Karl Rove’s American Crossroads have him pinned down.
For the 10th seat, the GOP has five options: New York, where Joe DioGuardi is only one point behind Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand in the latest published poll; California, where Sen. Barbara Boxer is stubbornly below 50; Washington state, where the lead has seesawed back and forth between Dino Rossi and Sen. Patty Murray; Connecticut, where Linda McMahon has closed to 50-45; and Delaware, where Christine O’Donnell may yet come back and has closed the gap to nine points.
And where is Obama while all this is happening? Proposing new initiatives on education!
September 29th, 2010
(CNN) - The wild three-way Senate race in Alaska now appears to be a two-person fight for the top spot, according to a new poll.
A CNN/Time/Opinion Research Corporation survey released Wednesday indicates that 38 percent of likely voters in the state support GOP nominee Joe Miller, with 36 percent saying they back Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who was narrowly defeated by Miller in last month's GOP primary.
Murkowski is now running as a write-in candidate in the general election.
According to the poll, 22 percent back Sitka Mayor Scott McAdams, the Democratic nominee, with four percent either undecided or not supporting any of the three candidates listed in the survey.
Miller's two-point advantage over Murkowski is within the survey's sampling error.
Late last month, Murkowski conceded defeat in her bid for her party's nomination. The senator, who is part of a political dynasty in Alaska, was upset in the August 24 primary by Miller, a previous longshot who enjoyed strong support from Tea Party activists and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.
"It looks like Alaska Democrats may be planning to do some strategic voting," CNN Polling Director Keating Holland said.
Nearly four in ten Democratic likely voters say they plan to write in Murkowski's name. That's an indication that a lot of Democrats are more interested in defeating Miller than they are in electing a member of their own party."
Murkowski's support is high among women, lower-income voters, and senior citizens - all groups that give her 43 percent of their vote.
"Senior citizens may be a hidden advantage to Murkowski's write-in candidacy," Holland said. "Not only are they slightly more likely to vote in midterms, they are also the most experienced voters and may be most familiar with the often puzzling process of casting a write-in vote."
In the gubernatorial contest, the poll indicates that incumbent Gov. Scott Parnell leads former state lawmaker Ethan Berkowitz, the Democratic nominee, 57 to 38 percent among likely voters. Parnell, who was elected lieutenant governor in 2006, assumed the governorship in the summer of 2009 when Palin stepped down.
The CNN/Time/Opinion Research Corporation poll was conducted Sept. 24-28, with 1,528 adults, including 927 likely voters in Alaska, questioned by telephone. The survey's sampling error is plus or minus three percentage points for likely voters.
– CNN Deputy Political Director Paul Steinhauser contributed to this report
September 29th, 2010
Former Marine Mac McQuown has embarked on a new mission.
This new mission has several goals, each of which are noteworthy, but the details of the mission's design are what provide the twist.
You see, Mac intends to actually take a 7,000 mile journey across the US and back on foot, and the journey will begin at the site of Ground Zero. One of the goals of Mac's mission is to raise awareness of the 9/11 attack to the point of having that day of tragedy designated as a National Holiday in remembrance of those who were lost. Mac will have on hand, throughout his entire journey, a petition for everyone he comes across to sign in support of the 9/11 Holiday, and believe me, when a tired and burly Marine who has walked thousands of miles asks you to sign a piece of paper for your Country, it's probably best to just go ahead and do so.
While one of Mac's mission goals is for the remembrance of those Americans who were lost, another goal will be for some very special Americans who are living, and this goal is noteworthy of its own accord. Mac intends to also bring some long and overdue awareness to those American Veterans who have been paralyzed or wounded in the service of their Country. This will include Veterans of all services and of both former and current conflicts.
Mac states that his main reason for doing this is "to let us never forget," a sympathy that virtually all Americans of every stripe can agree with no matter their ideology or affiliation. Mac served his Country well as a Marine for 20 years and has executed his duty all over the world while receiving numerous decorations and citations. He currently lives in Stafford, Virginia.
For more information on how to help Mac or to learn more about his mission, please visit this link: Baldmanwalking.com
If you would like to sign Mac's 9/11 Holiday Online Petition, please visit this link:
In order to view Mac's sponsors, please visit this link:
Mac on FaceBook: MacBaldmanwalking
September 29th, 2010
Sharif El-Gamal has had a surreal eight months. The 37-year-old property developer behind the Islamic community centre and prayer space near Ground Zero says he never anticipated the row over its location.
Living on the upper west side of Manhattan and visiting the Jewish community centre there gave him the vision for a similar project which would serve the people of lower Manhattan.
Now he has been labelled an Islamic supremacist who wants to build a victory mosque at the site where nearly 3,000 people were killed by al-Qaeda.
The man who thought of himself as a New Yorker has been thrust into the role of ambassador for Muslim Americans in what is a fraught, politicised, and emotionally charged arena.
"I never held myself or my faith accountable for the horrific events of 9/11," says Mr Gamal, standing outside 51 Park Place, the unremarkable-looking building two-and-a-half streets away from from Ground Zero.
"Today I am experiencing identity theft. Al-Qaeda and Osama Bin Laden have stolen my identity as a Muslim.
"I have been trying to understand why there is such ignorance, hatred, bigotry and fear of what we're trying to do. People are associating that we are a part of them, and we have nothing to do with such extremists."
In his smart new office downtown, Mr El-Gamal shows us the latest plans for Park 51. Only about 20% of the building at most will be a Muslim prayer space. The rest will include a swimming pool, classrooms, facilities for the elderly - even a culinary school.
But some of the media reporting of the project has suggested that a mega mosque is about to be built.
"It's not a mosque. It's not mega," he says.
"It's going to have a strong and robust interfaith element, and it's going to serve the community of lower Manhattan."
The prayer space will help Muslims living and working in the financial district to fulfil their obligation to pray five times a day, he argues.
But opposition to the project has been vocal. Pamela Geller is a conservative blogger who led a rally against the Islamic centre on the anniversary of the the 11 September 2001 attacks.
"To build a 15-storey mega-mosque on the hallowed ground of Ground Zero is deeply offensive and deliberately provocative. It's part of the Islamic Supremacist agenda," she says after a busy day doing media interviews on the topic.
"I think it's spitting in my face and telling me it's raining. Look at all the divisiveness. It's an issue of common decency, of human compassion, and they should move it. To build a shrine to the very ideology that inspired the attack is healing? How?"
Mr Gamal claims there has been a campaign of deception involving inaccuracies and falsehoods about the proposed Islamic Centre.
"The narrative is one of deception, and what's been fuelling the fire is misinformation about the project," he says, which is why this week the young developer is doing media interviews for the first time since the row intensified.
But a group of relatives who lost their loved ones on 11 September is also calling for the centre to be moved, saying it is insensitive to have it where it is.
Mr Gamal says he is "very aware of the pain" they went through.
"But at the same time I need to let them know that this is one of the most competitive real estate markets in the world, and it took us four years to acquire this real estate," he says.
"This is about giving back to the community, this is about establishing our identity as Americans."
He insists that the centre will not take money from Hamas, as its critics have alleged, or any other militant group.
"We will not allow anyone to participate who doesn't share the values of Park 51. We plan on being a model for funds coming into a not for profit."
He says the centre should be built in three to five years, and when asked if he has raised the $100m it will cost to build, he says he has received "expressions of interest".
Mr Gamal is set on reclaiming his identity from those like Osama Bin Laden who he feels hijacked it.
He sees the community centre as a way to build trust, through pluralism, dialogue and tolerance.
"We have as Americans a right to be here, and we also have a responsibility to build bridges of reconciliation with the families of those who died on 11 September," he says.
"There is nothing I could say or do that would make their pain go away. But one of the things that is a fact is we are a part of this community. "
Six-hundred people a week already pray on the first floor of 51 Park Place, even before the site has been developed.
The Muslim prayer space by Ground Zero is a fact, even as the debate over its right to exist continues.