what's in a name
June 27, 2014

It's 1937 all over again: Amelia Earhart just left Oakland, California, in her single engine plane, ready to circle the globe.

This Amelia Earhart is no relation to the aviation pioneer who disappeared in the Pacific while attempting to circumnavigate the world, but is instead a 31-year-old traffic and weather reporter looking to follow in the footsteps of her namesake. "I did to a certain extent feel like I needed to become a pilot," she told NBC News.

Earhart will fly about 23,000 miles — 80 percent of that over water — and make 17 stops in 13 countries. It will take close to three weeks to complete the journey, and she will share the cockpit with co-pilot Shane Jordan. If Earhart makes it to the end, she will be the youngest woman ever to fly around the world in a single engine plane.

The aviatrix hopes that the Amelia Earhart spirit will inspire others to follow their dreams. "There are still adventures to be had and things for people to get excited about," she said. Track her progress at The Amelia Project. --Catherine Garcia

May 28, 2015
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It’s a T-I-E: For the second year in a row, the Scripps National Spelling Bee crowned two champions.

Vanya Shivashankar, 13, of Olathe, Kansas, and Gokul Venkatachalam, 14, of Chesterfield, Missouri, battled it out through 20 rounds Thursday night, with Shivashankar tackling words like "thamakau," "hippocrepiform," and "scherenschnitte" and Venkatachalam taking on "pipsissewa," "pyrrhyloxia," and "sprachgefühl." It all came down to "nunatak" — after Venkatachalam spelled it correctly, the pair were named co-champions, with each one walking away with $35,000, a $2,500 U.S. savings bond, and a complete reference library.

Both were competition veterans — it was Shivashankar's fifth year, Venkatachalam's fourth — who have long had their eyes on the prize. "I saw the past two champions and I wanted to do the same and I wanted to get the same," Venkatachalam told USA Today. "I just put in the work." Shivashankar — whose sister, Kavya, won the 2009 bee — dedicated her win to her grandmother, who died in 2013. "All she really wanted was her grandkids to do so well and I hope I make her happy with this," she said. Catherine Garcia

May 28, 2015
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Experts believe that there could be a simple explanation behind the Department of Defense inadvertently sending out live anthrax samples.

The spores are incredibly tiny and very tough, and the irradiation procedure used to deactivate them might not have killed each and every one, John Peterson, a microbiology professor who works with anthrax at the University of Texas Medical Branch, told NBC News. Anthrax spores are 1 micron in diameter, and samples could contain 10 billion spores, making it difficult for an X-ray or gamma ray to kill all the spores. "If a procedure kills 99.999 percent of the bacteria, there would still be 100,000 spores left viable," Peterson said. "They are very difficult to kill."

While anthrax is not fatal if treated in time, spores can be dispersed in the air and stay around for months or years, and it is considered a potential biological weapon. On Wednesday, the Pentagon confirmed samples of live anthrax were sent out to labs in nine states and an Air Force base in South Korea, and at least 26 people who came in contact with the samples are taking antibiotics as a precaution. Investigators say they are looking into the irradiation process that was used to inactivate the spores. Catherine Garcia

Can't we all just get along?
May 28, 2015

Police in Arizona are preparing for a "Draw Muhammad" contest and rally planned for Friday outside of a Phoenix mosque.

The event's organizer, Jon Ritzheimer, has put together two other protests in Phoenix over the past few weeks, with some supporters arriving with profane anti-Islam t-shirts and signs, News 12 reports. The event is being called a "Freedom of Speech Rally," and is taking place three weeks after a similar event in Garland, Texas, where two men who allegedly were supporters of ISIS were killed after shooting a security guard. "I want this to be about pushing out the truth about Islam," Ritzheimer said.

Usama Shami, president of the Islamic Community Center of Phoenix, told News 12 that the FBI and local police have notified him about the event, and says the protesters have the right to assemble. "Everybody has a right to be a bigot," he said. "Everybody has a right to be a racist. Everybody has a right to be an idiot." Shami is urging members of the mosque to attend prayer services Friday night, and to avoid engaging with protesters. "They're not looking for an intellectual conversation," he said. "They're looking to stir up controversy and we're not going to be a part of it." Catherine Garcia

May 28, 2015

Temperatures are rising in Boston, but it's not enough to melt the piles of snow that still dot the landscape.

The piles are filled with garbage and debris picked up by snow plows during the city's record-setting storms this winter and spring, and even with the sun beating down on them now, the piles aren't close to fully melting away. A pile in the Seaport District that was once 75 feet tall is now a mere three stories, with a hodgepodge of junk encapsulated inside the ice. "It's vile," Michael Dennehy, commissioner of the city's Department of Public Works, told The Boston Globe. "We're finding crazy stuff; bicycles, orange cones that people used as space savers. The funniest thing they found was half of a $5 bill. They're looking for the other half still."

Dennehy said crews capture the trash as it slowly breaks free from the mound, and so far they have removed 85 tons of debris. To lighten the mood, workers started a pool to guess when the pile might finally be gone for good, a game Dennehy knows he didn't win. "I said by May 30, but that's this weekend," he said. "It's still weeks away from melting." Catherine Garcia

get out your checkbook
May 28, 2015
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The amusement park rides, elephants, and Bubbles are all gone, but Michael Jackson's Neverland Ranch, now on the market for $100 million, still has plenty of extras, including a railroad station and tracks, a 50-seat movie theater with a private viewing balcony perfect for dangling your baby over, and a massive clock made of flowers.

The late entertainer purchased the Los Olivos, California, ranch for $19.5 million in 1987. Located 40 miles from Santa Barbara, the estate now has a new name, Sycamore Valley Ranch, and the buyer can moonwalk their way through 22 structures spread out across 2,700 acres. The main house is a 12,000-square-foot Normandy-style behemoth with six bedrooms and staff quarters, situated next to a lake. There are two guest houses on the property — one with four bedrooms, the other with two — as well as a swimming pool and cabana, basketball and tennis courts, barbecue area, and the Neverland Valley Fire Department Building, which sadly no longer employs full-time firefighters.

Jackson super fans who don't have an extra $100 million in the bank to purchase the ranch but still want to see it are out of luck; listing agent Suzanne Perkins of Sotheby's International Realty told The Wall Street Journal that "we're not going to be giving tours," and prospective buyers have to go through an "extensive pre-qualification." Catherine Garcia

May 28, 2015
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A groups of researchers would like to find out if Ecstasy could help adults with autism deal with social anxiety.

The team wrote up a proposed study for Science Direct, stating that MDMA, the medical name for Ecstasy, in controlled doses could ease social anxiety. MDMA has been illegal in the U.S. since the 1980s, and is a popular party drug, with users experiencing euphoric highs. The researchers wrote that MDMA has the capacity to "help people talk openly and honestly about themselves and their relationships, without defensive conditioning intervening," and the team would look at using MDMA as a way to reduce social anxiety in adults with autism, not as a treatment for autism itself, Time reports. Catherine Garcia

May 28, 2015

Researchers who analyzed data on 28 different types of cancer in 188 countries from 1990 to 2013 have found that worldwide, a greater percentage of deaths are now caused by cancer.

The report, conducted by the Global Burden of Disease Cancer Collaboration group and published Thursday in JAMA Oncology, found that between 1990 and 2013, the proportion of deaths caused by cancer rose from 12 to 15 percent, and the years of life lost to cancer increased by 29 percent. In 2013, there were 15 million new cases of cancer, 8 million deaths, and 196 million years of healthy life lost. The leading cause of cancer death for the year was tracheal, bronchus, and lung cancer, which killed 1.6 million people.

From birth to age 79, 1 in 3 men and 1 in 5 women developed cancer, researchers said. By taking a look at the data, they believe they can "guide intervention programs and advance research in cancer determinants and outcomes." Catherine Garcia

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