November 07, 2013
By SETH BORENSTEIN
Space is vast, but it may not be so lonely after all: A study finds the Milky Way is teeming with billions of planets that are about the size of Earth, orbit stars just like our sun, and exist in the Goldilocks zone — not too hot and not too cold for life.
Astronomers using NASA data have calculated for the first time that in our galaxy alone, there are at least 8.8 billion stars with Earth-size planets in the habitable temperature zone.
The study was published November 4 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.
For perspective, that’s more Earth-like planets than there are people on Earth.
As for what it says about the odds that there is life somewhere out there, it means “just in our Milky Way galaxy alone, that's 8.8 billion throws of the biological dice,” said study co-author Geoff Marcy, a longtime planet hunter from the University of California at Berkeley.
The next step, scientists say, is to look for atmospheres on these planets with powerful space telescopes that have yet to be launched. That would yield further clues to whether any of these planets do, in fact, harbor life.
The findings also raise a blaring question, Marcy said: If we aren’t alone, why is “there a deafening silence in our Milky Way galaxy from advanced civilizations?”
In the Milky Way, about 1 in 5 stars that are like our sun in size, color and age have planets that are roughly Earth’s size and are in the habitable zone where life-crucial water can be liquid, according to intricate calculations based on four years of observations from NASA’s now-crippled Kepler telescope.
If people on Earth could only travel in deep space, “you’d probably see a lot of traffic jams,” Bill Borucki, NASA’s chief Kepler scientist, joked.
The Kepler telescope peered at 42,000 stars, examining just a tiny slice of our galaxy to see how many planets like Earth are out there. Scientists then extrapolated that figure to the rest of the galaxy, which has hundreds of billions of stars.
For the first time, scientists calculated — not estimated — what percent of stars that are just like our sun have planets similar to Earth: 22 percent, with a margin of error of plus or minus 8 percentage points.
Kepler scientist Natalie Batalha said there is still more data to pore over before this can be considered a final figure.
There are about 200 billion stars in our galaxy, with 40 billion of them like our sun, Marcy said. One of his co-authors put the number of sun-like stars closer to 50 billion, meaning there would be at least 11 billion planets like ours.
Based on the 1-in-5 estimate, the closest Earth-size planet that is in the habitable temperature zone and circles a sun-like star is probably within 70 trillion miles of Earth, Marcy said.
And the 8.8 billion Earth-size planets figure is only a start. That’s because scientists were looking only at sun-like stars, which are not the most common stars.
An earlier study found that 15 percent of the more common red dwarf stars have Earth-size planets that are close-in enough to be in the not-too-hot, not-too-cold Goldilocks Zone.
Put those together and that's probably 40 billion right-size, right-place planets, Marcy said.
And that’s just our galaxy. There are billions of other galaxies.
Scientists at a recent Kepler science conference said they have found 833 new candidate planets with the space telescope, bringing the total of planets they've spotted to 3,538, but most aren't candidates for life.
Kepler has identified only 10 planets that are about Earth’s size circling sun-like stars and are in the habitable zone, including one called Kepler 69-c.
Because there are probably hundreds of planets missed for every one found, the study did intricate extrapolations to come up with the 22 percent figure — a calculation that outside scientists say is fair.
“Everything they’ve done looks legitimate,” said MIT astronomer Sara Seager.
November 07, 2013
By Edward Rice, III and Princess Manasseh
LAWT Contributing Writers
It was an average citizen, WWII veteran Raymond Weeks of Birmingham, Alabama who organized a Veterans Day for his city on Nov 11, 1947 to honor all of America’s Veterans for their loyal service. Later U.S. Representative Edward H. Rees of Kansas proposed legislation changing the name of Armistice Day to Veterans Day to honor all who have served in America’s Armed Forces.
While many of us will take the opportunity to stay out late Sunday night and sleep in Monday, very few will understand the reasons why and the sacrifices that accompany this federal holiday.
“Men and women who serve do so for many reasons but few pause to share the depth of those experiences,” explained Los Angeles resident and Air Force Veteran, Dr. Cedrick Bridgeforth. “Having a day set aside where someone acknowledges the sacrifice made by so many who may not even know why they made the choice they made, is an honor that goes beyond words or the waving of a flag.”
One was a seventeen year old wanting to strike out on his own, another was an aspiring nurse who saw the Marines as her ticket to success, still a third was a young man drafted against his will. Here are the stories of veterans shedding some light on the scope of military life, and telling what Veteran’s Day means to them.
“I had always been told I would go to college and I expected I would be successful in life, but no one in my family had gone to college, nor had anyone (in recent memory) served in the military,” said Bridgeforth was recruited in the late eighties by an African American Sergeant who looked professional and confident in the teenagers eyes. “When Staff-Sergeant Thomas McCray presented the Air Force as a viable option and I responded affirmatively, I was really saying ‘Yes’ to being like him,” Bridgeforth recalls.
Robert Miller’s story is rather different. A teenager in the late sixty’s Miller was drafted into the Army during a time of political unrest.
“I went in during a time when they were trying to draft a lot of Black people to Vietnam,” Miller recalls. “People were refusing to draft, they were running away to Canada and other places, it wasn’t a time in America for Black people,” recalled Miller. “It was a militant time, the panther party was going on, there were the hippies up the north, free love all that kind of stuff. JFK had not long been assassinated, it was one of those times in history when it wasn’t popular to go to the military. When you came back people called you baby killers…all kind of stuff was going on.”
Miller served in the US Army from 1966 to 1968. During that same two-year period, Viola Williams served in the Marine Corps, having gone in by choice in pursuit of success.
“During the time that I was in the military it seemed you could be successful if you wanted to, if you had a goal. For women, maybe if you wanted to travel, or maybe wanted to meet your husband, those were options. But for me it was an opportunity to get into something that was my calling. I really didn’t know where it was going to lead me but I felt that no matter where it sent me, it was going to be a positive experience,” Williams remembered.
“I could’ve gotten lost in that environment and the culture, a very male dominated culture. Thankfully I was able to stay focused, it was a great experience that lead me to where I am today.”
Today Williams is a Nurse at the VA Hospital where she sees veterans on a daily basis, many whose military experiences turned out harder than hers.
“Yes I see a lot of homeless men and women veterans, I would say I see more homeless Black veterans than Whites,” shared Williams. “We [the VA Hospital] have programs in place and ones that we’re developing to help homeless veterans transition back into society,” explained Williams. “One of my goals is to develop a network and support group through social media, that informs veterans of the resources available to them. I see so many resources underutilized it hurts my heart.”
Deonte P. Allen Sr. served 12 years in the U.S. Army achieving the rank of Sargent. Going in as a seventeen-year-old Allen chose the military because he wanted to be able to provide for himself.
Joining the military years after Miller, Allen served in active duty during a different war and at a very different time politically.
“One of the best ‘thank you’s’ I’ve ever received from a civilian was while I was in Kabul, Afghanistan. A young boy walked up to me to thank me for protecting him and his family. The only thing the news covered was the few that did not want us there. In reality so many of them appreciate America for helping their country.”
Allen who was deployed to war environments on six different occasions says maturing is the biggest change he underwent in the military,
“I had a care-free attitude when I joined, but I soon realized that I needed to grow up mentally. Realizing that men and women to my left and right depended on me, I knew I had to mature quickly.”
“Veteran’s Day is important to me because our country takes a day to celebrate the men and women that have given a part of their life to serve this great country,” explained Allen. “Being in the military is not for everybody, and the few that decide to join and serve deserve a day to be recognized.”
It’s no secret that since slaves first arrived in America there has not been a war fought by this country that African Americans did not participate in. To this day the proud history established by African Americans in the military such as the Buffalo Soldiers and the Tuskegee Airman continues with our current men and women.
November 07, 2013
By KATHY MATHESON and
PHILADELPHIA (AP) — The nation's top law enforcement officer got a glimpse of the challenges facing ex-offenders attempting to rebuild their lives on Tuesday as he attended an unusual court session and then met with several of them afterward.
Attorney General Eric Holder watched as more than a dozen men on supervised release updated a federal judge on their jobs and personal situations, discussing problems from needing more hours at work to the cost of cataract surgery for the family dog.
The proceeding before District Judge Felipe Restrepo in Philadelphia is part of an innovative re-entry initiative designed to give former inmates the support they need to stay out of jail.
“I’ve got to say, this is really heartwarming to see what you all are doing with your lives,” Holder told the participants afterward in open court. “What we’ve seen here today gives me a great deal of hope.”
Holder wants to find solutions to the country’s overburdened jails and high recidivism rates. The nation spent $80 billion on prisons in 2010, and yet federal facilities are still overflowing at 40 percent above capacity, Holder said.
As part of the “Smart On Crime” program that he launched in August, Holder is arguing for scaling back the use of harsh prison sentences for certain drug-related crimes and expanding a prison program to allow for release of some elderly, non-violent offenders
His visit to Philadelphia was the first of three to promote pioneering crime-prevention initiatives; he’ll visit St. Louis and Peoria, Ill., on Nov. 14.
Federal court officials in Philadelphia began the Supervision to Aid Re-entry, or STAR, program seven years ago. It aims to cut the city’s violent crime rate by addressing the social, family and logistical issues confronting ex-offenders when they return to society.
The former inmates meet as a group with a judge every two weeks. In between, they might be working or taking mandated vocational training or parenting classes. Those who successfully complete the 52-week program can reduce their court-supervised release by a year.
Graduates say each class of 15 to 20 people ends up being a pretty tight-knit group.
“It gave me another family,” said Robert Warner, 46, of Philadelphia. Warner, who served 10 years on drug and gun charges, is now a manager at a suburban fast-food restaurant.
Officials estimate the Philadelphia program has saved $1.5 million in annual incarceration costs, based on fewer revocations of supervised release. Nationally, the revocation rate for offenders not in that type of program is 47 percent; the revocation rate of STAR participants is about 20 percent, officials said.
While Philadelphia’s effort deals with high-risk offenders, the initiative in St. Louis is aimed at helping low-level drug offenders remain drug-free and the effort in Peoria, Ill., substitutes drug treatment for jail time for low-level drug offenders.
In all, 73 of 79 participants in the Peoria program have successfully completed it. The program operated by the U.S. Attorney’s office, a federal court, the probation office and defense lawyers is designed for defendants whose criminal conduct was motivated by substance abuse. The Justice Department says over $6 million has been saved through the program — money that otherwise would have been spent on putting the defendants behind bars.
On Tuesday in Philadelphia, the judge used a friendly, informal tone as he spoke to each man, congratulating them on new jobs, offering encouragement on setbacks, and gently penalizing one for missing an appointment with his probation officer.
For their part, the men shared problems involving driver’s licenses and housing, but one also showed off a new community college ID card and another brought photos of his art projects — which Holder admired. Many then talked with support staff outside the courtroom to address their issues.
Holder later met privately with Warner and several other graduates of the program, including a chef about to work in Paris and a soon-to-be college graduate.
“We don’t spend nearly enough money on these kinds of programs,” Holder said. “You all are the best salesmen for these kinds of efforts.”
Warner said afterward that he began hiring former inmates to help out the judge and probation officers who worked with his class. He said he still talks frequently with people he met in the program, and tries to be a role model for them.
“It makes me feel like a better man,” Warner said. “This program, it works. It really works.”
November 07, 2013
By SARAH EL DEEB
CAIRO (AP) — A court in Egypt upheld Wednesday an earlier ruling that banned the Muslim Brotherhood and ordered its assets confiscated, the state news agency reported. The decision moves forward the complicated process of the government taking control of the Islamist group’s far-reaching social network and its finances.
The Cairo Court for Urgent Matters rejected the Brotherhood's appeal to suspend the Sept. 23 ruling that ordered the group’s assets confiscated and its activities banned.
The sweeping September verdict was viewed as a legal pretext for the interim authorities to move against assets owned or administered by Brotherhood members, including schools, hospitals, charities, and businesses.
It is part of a wider government crackdown against the group following the popularly backed coup in July that removed President Mohammed Morsi, a Brotherhood member and Egypt’s first elected leader after the 2011 fall of autocrat Hosni Mubarak.
Senior leaders have been arrested, and many of them sent to trial on a number of charges, including Morsi himself. His trial began Monday on charges of incitement to murder.
Egypt’s military-backed authorities formed a committee on Oct.2 to review the Brotherhood assets but have not moved against its finances.
Outlawed for most of its 85-year existence — with successive regimes alternating between repression and tolerance — the Brotherhood built its networks largely underground. That made it difficult for authorities to track, since many institutions were registered under individuals’ names.
Brotherhood lawyer Osama el-Helw said the group will file another appeal against Wednesday’s ruling, but this appeal unlike the first will not suspend implementation of the ban unless it is accepted by a court. It is also unlikely to reverse the initial ruling, legal experts said.
Ahmed Ragheb, an independent rights lawyer, said the decision has legal flaws: It comes from the wrong court and its guidelines for a government monitoring Brotherhood assets are unclear.
Technically, Wednesday’s verdict allows the government to move in on the group’s assets. The committee that includes judicial, security and intelligence officials has started to do an inventory of the group’s finances.
The government has come under pressure from politicians and public figures to fast-track the financial crackdown on the group, blaming the government-formed committee of stalling on implementing the court ruling. On Wednesday, the Cabinet asked the committee to issue regular reports about its work.
The leftist Tagammu party, which filed the case demanding the banning of the group, said the new ruling should give the authorities the green light to move.
“The government must take urgent measures to implement the court ruling ... and prove it is serious about implementing the law,” Hani el-Husseini, a Tagammu member, told the official MENA news agency.
El-Helw said the government has already violated due process by forming the committee and allowing it to begin its work while the group had filed for suspension of ruling.
“We will pursue legal means. Let the law be the arbiter,” el-Helw said.
Brotherhood lawyers also said they were considering other legal options, such as filing new court cases against the verdict in a different court.
The group issued a defiant statement saying that the movement was not a “passage in a book” that could be struck out with a “politicized verdict,” but rather consists of “ideas that connect its members.” It said the decision would hurt millions of Egyptians who it claims rely on the Brotherhood’s services.
The initial court’s explanation to ban the group gave few specific legal grounds, and denounced the group in broad political terms, saying that during Morsi’s year in office, “Egyptians found only repression and arrogance.”
The ruling banned the group as well as “any institution branching out of it or ... receiving financial support from it,” which could also force the disbanding of its political wing, the Freedom and Justice Party.
There is another legal case before Egypt’s administrative court seeking to dissolve the group’s offshoot, a non-governmental organization registered after the group rose to power in 2012. The court is holding its next session on Nov. 12.