The world really did come close to disaster in 2012
In spite of what fantasists, conspiracy theorists, incompetent interpreters of the Mayan calendar and Roland Emmerich suggested, the world did not end on the 21st of December 2012. But earlier that year, on the 23rd of July, the world really did come extremely close to what NASA estimates would have been a $2 trillion economic and technological disaster.
A coronal mass ejection — a huge burst of hot plasma — from the surface of the sun exploded into space. And if it had hit the Earth, the burst of charged particles would have severely damaged Earth's infrastructure of satellites, computers, the electrical grid, medical equipment, and smartphones. Unshielded electric circuits would be fried.
"If it had hit, we would still be picking up the pieces," Daniel Baker, of the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado, told The Guardian. He adds that "[i]f the eruption had occurred only one week earlier, Earth would have been in the line of fire."
The sun periodically blows off huge quantities of plasma. The last time Earth was struck was 1859, an event referred to in astronomy as The Carrington Event for its discoverer Sir Richard Carrington. That was before we came to rely on electrical equipment and computers for our modern way of life. But even then, it caused telegraph lines to spark enough to set fire to some telegraph offices. And the Northern Lights, were visible as far south as Cuba.
Nobody knows when such an event will occur again, but FEMA warns Americans should be prepared for the possibility, and recommends a series of steps for preparation, including making back-up copies of important digital data and information, keeping your car's gas tank at least half full, and filling plastic containers with water and placing them in your refrigerator or freezer.
X-ray shows SpongeBob SquarePants inside of child
When Dr. Ghofran Ageely received the x-ray of his 16-month-old patient, he was not expecting to see SpongeBob SquarePants looking back at him.
— World News Tonight (@WNTonight) January 28, 2015
The radiology resident at King Abdulaziz University Hospital in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, was caught off guard when he saw the cartoon character clearly show up in the image. "I thought it was just a pin," Ageely told ABC News in an email. "But when I opened the front view I was shocked to see SpongeBob looking at me with a big smile. Its angle and rotation are just perfect."
The tiny figure appeared to be a pendant, and it was safely removed from the child through a scope.
Deflategate: The NFL is hiring Columbia physicists to advise on 'gas physics'
Patriots coach Bill Belichick acknowledged that he's "not a scientist" when he floated the theory that "atmospheric conditions" and not human meddling was behind New England's under-inflated footballs in their Super Bowl–clinching win against the Indianapolis Colts. So the National Football League is hiring actual scientists — the Columbia University physic department, in fact — to help the league understand how weather and temperature affect football pressure, The New York Times reports.
Lorin Reisner, a partner in law firm the NFL hired to look into "deflategate," called the Columbia physic department on Monday requesting "to consult with a physicist on matters relating to gas physics," according to notes taken by an administrative manager and a follow-up email, both seen by The Times.
There has actually been a fairly heated debate over Belichick's espoused theory, though it should be noted that team loyalties may be clouding judgments: Some of the high-profile scientists siding with Belichick are from the Boston area (a.k.a Patriots central), while Bill Nye ("the Science Guy"), who pooh-poohed the explanation on TV, is from Seattle, home to New England's rival Seahawks in the upcoming Super Bowl. For what it's worth, NFL football maker Wilson Sporting Goods Co. calls Belichick's nature-did-it excuse "BS."
Luckily, the NFL isn't relying entirely on science: It has hired investigators from Renaissance Associates to look over video and other electronic evidence.
Let this website turn your tweets into poetry
Do you compare your tweets to a summer day? If so, a new website can help you turn your 140-character prose into a sonnet (possibly) worthy of Shakespeare.
Poetweet was developed by the Brazil Contemporary Art Center (b_arco) in San Paolo, which says the poems "are made by combining all user tweets and finding rhymes between them, creating curious results and sometimes surreal." The process is simple: Go to the site, enter your Twitter handle, and then choose between a sonnet (14 lines), rondel (4 lines, 4 lines, 5 lines) or an indriso (eight verses).
In mere moments, Poetweet scans your profile and gives you a poem based on your musings. Results will vary, of course, depending on what you've tweeted about — Carolyn Kellogg from the Los Angeles Times said her poem turned out "pretty awful" — but who knows, it could show you're the next Dickinson or Frost.
'Let it Go' team writing song for Oscars host Neil Patrick Harris
Since we haven't reached peak Frozen yet, the songwriters behind the movie's earworm "Let It Go" will pen an original musical number for this year's Academy Awards.
Host Neil Patrick Harris and special guests will perform an "original multimedia musical sequence" called "Moving Pictures," producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron announced Tuesday. Songwriters Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez said they are huge fans of Harris, and "when he asked us to write him a song for this year's show we said 'Yes!' before he could finish the sentence — it's possible he may have been asking us for something else." The Academy Awards will take place Feb. 22.
Thieves steal gold from museum after smashing car into entrance
A trio of brazen thieves crashed a stolen SUV into the entrance to the Wells Fargo History Museum in San Francisco and took off with $10,000 worth of gold nuggets.
— NBC Nightly News (@NBCNightlyNews) January 27, 2015
At about 2:30 a.m. Tuesday morning, the ski mask–wearing suspects held up a security guard at gunpoint and then grabbed at least 10 ounces of gold before taking off in a four-door sedan, NBC Bay Area reports. Wells Fargo spokesman Ruben Pulido said in a statement the company was "disturbed" by the heist, but "grateful no team member was harmed." Historic stagecoaches on the premises were not damaged.
This wasn't the first time thieves in San Francisco have used vehicles in their bold burglaries; last year, burglars drove into the Chanel store near Union Square, and two weeks ago two men backed a U-Haul into a Patagonia store near Fisherman's Wharf. Police do not think any of the incidents are related.
Sheldon Silver is out as New York Assembly speaker
After a second day of closed-door meetings, Democrats in the New York State Assembly announced late Tuesday that embattled Speaker Sheldon Silver's long tenure will end Monday. It's unclear if Silver agreed to step aside, though he told reporters he "will not hinder a succession process." Majority Leader Joseph Morelle, from Rochester, will take over as interim speaker until the Assembly elects a new speaker, with a vote tentatively scheduled for Feb. 10.
Morelle is a leading candidate to replace Silver, 70, who has led the Assembly since 1994, but New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) is eager to have a speaker from the city, like Silver. Assemblyman Joseph Lentol, from Brooklyn, said that the Assembly Democrats won't allow de Blasio or Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) any input in their selection. Silver, fighting federal corruption charge, is not resigning his seat.
After investigation, Mexico declares 43 missing students dead
The 43 college students who have been missing from southern Guerrero state in Mexico since September have been declared dead by Mexico's attorney general, Jesus Murillo Karam.
Murillo Karam cited confessions from suspects and forensic evidence from the scene where he said the students were killed after being captured by police and handed over to a gang in the city of Iguala. "The evidence allows us to determine that the students were kidnapped, killed, burned, and thrown into the river," he said during a press conference.
Murillo Karam said that a local gang, Guerreros Unidos, thought the men were rival gang members, but analyst Alejandro Hope told The Associated Press this motive makes no sense, as several suspects say they knew they were students. "We know the who, the what, the when and the where," he said. "We don't know the why. They have yet to tell a compelling story of why this happened. It doesn’t matter how many people they detain — unless they answer that question, the whole thing will remain under a halo of mystery."
Congressman says Hillary Clinton willing to testify again regarding Benghazi
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has said she will testify again in front of Congress about the 2012 attack in Benghazi, Libya.
"She said, I'll do it, period," Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), the ranking Democrat on the House select committee on Benghazi, told The Hill. "If the committee wants her to come, she's willing to come."
On Tuesday, Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), chairman of committee, said that he planned to summon Clinton. "Every witness who has relevant information needs to be talked to," he told reporters. If she didn't testify, it would be "an incomplete investigation." The attack killed four Americans, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens, and an inquiry by the House Intelligence Committee found that "there was no intelligence failure prior to the attacks."
Study finds sugary drinks connected to earlier menstruation
A new study has found a link between drinking sugary drinks and earlier menstruation in girls.
Researchers looked at data from 5,583 girls between the ages of 9 and 14 who had not yet started their period. From 1996 to 1998, they answered a diet questionnaire annually, and by 2001, 159 had still not yet started to menstruate. After controlling for maternal age at menarche, physical activity, several behavioral and dietary factors, and birth weight, researchers discovered that girls who drank one-and-a-half 12 ounce cans of non-diet soda or sweetened iced tea had their first period an average of 2.7 months earlier than girls who drank less than two cans a week.
"Our findings are robust, and not dependent on body mass index," lead author Karin B. Michels, an associate professor of epidemiology at Harvard, told The New York Times. "Sugared beverages are not healthy to begin with, and there should be heightened attention to avoiding them." Studies have already shown that starting menstruation at an earlier age is associated with an increased risk of endometrial and breast cancer later in life.
Obama drops plan to cut tax benefits on 529 savings accounts
On Tuesday, President Obama dropped his proposal to remove the ability for people to withdraw money tax-free from 529 college savings plans.
The administration said that the tax break disproportionately benefited the wealthy, with more than 70 percent of accounts held by families who make at least $200,000 annually, and wanted to redirect more money to the middle class, The Washington Post reports. The White House faced criticism from parents and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, who said the accounts are one of the best ways for families to save for college. "The President's plan has the puzzle pieces necessary to bring the middle class back, but this particular piece didn't fit," Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) said.
Officials say the backlash became "such a distraction" that it was decided the plan needed to be abandoned.