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NASA's spacecraft Kepler blasts off on a three-year mission in search of Earth-like planets

this artist rendition provided by NASA shows the Kepler space telescope. Kepler is designed to search for Earth-like planets in the Milky Way galaxy

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NASA's Kepler spacecraft blasted off from Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Friday on a three-year mission to find Earth's twin, a Goldilocks planet where it's neither too hot nor too cold, but just right for life to take hold.

The Delta II rocket, carrying the widest field telescope ever put in space, lifted off the launch pad at Cape Canaveral at 10:49 p.m. Eastern time. The launch vehicle headed down-range, gathering speed as its three stages ignited, one after the other, passing over Antigua Island in the Caribbean and later over tracking stations in Australia before climbing into orbit.

Kepler will detect alien worlds by measuring the minuscule dimming of a star's light that occurs when a planet passes in front of it

Kepler will eventually settle down to scan tens of thousands of stars near the constellations Cygnus and Lyra in search of planets where water could exist on the surface in liquid form, a key condition for life as we know it. "We have a feeling like we're about to set sail across an ocean to discover a new world," said project manager Jim Fanson of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Cañada Flintridge. "It's sort of the same feeling Columbus or Magellan must have had."  read more »

MIT Solar Electric Vehicle Team unveils sleek 90-mph car, will compete in World Solar Challenge in Australia

MIT's latest solar race car

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MIT's Solar Electric Vehicle Team, the oldest such student team in the country, has just finished construction of its latest high-tech car and unveiled it to the public this Friday. "It drives beautifully," said George Hansel, a freshman physics major at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a member of the team. "It's fun to drive and quite a spectacle." With six square meters of monocrystalline silicon solar cells and improved electronic systems and design, the car can run all day on a sunny day at a steady cruising speed of 55 mph. The car will be competing in October in the World Solar Challenge race across Australia, and in preparation for that the team plans to drive the car across the United States over the summer. About a dozen team members are expected to go to Australia for the race, although only four will drive the solar car in the competition.

MIT's Solar Electric Vehicle Team, the oldest such student team in the country, has just finished construction of its latest high-tech car  read more »

Sea gypsies: the Samah who live in the Sulawesi Sea off Malaysia's state of Sabah

sea gypsies: two kids on a boat near home

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(Above) Two boys from a community commonly known as sea gypsies paddle their boat close to their home.

Samah live in sea-based lifestyle off Malaysia's state of Sabah

The Samah are an indigenous ethnic group from Malaysia and the Philippines who live a sea-based lifestyle in the Sulawesi Sea off Malaysia's state of Sabah.

sabah is one of a number of groups collectively known as sea gypsies

The Sabah are one of a number of groups collectively known as Bajau, or sea gypsies.

sea gypsies also revere gods of the sea and make offerings when a big catch is brought in

Although sea gypsies are Muslims, they also revere the gods of the sea and make offerings when a large catch is brought in.

sea gypsies build houses on stilts in coastal shallows

Originally the sea gypsies lived a nomadic lifestyle in boats. Nowadays most live in small communities, building houses on stilts in the coastal shallows without fresh water or electricity.

(unquote)  read more »

Australian wildlife rescuers and 100+ island volunteers race to save 200 stranded whales and dolphins off Tasmania

nearly 200 whales and several dolphins beached themselves on King Island off Tasmania on 2 March 2009

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Australian wildlife rescuers were using jetskis and small boats today to try to save nearly 200 pilot whales and a small pod of dolphins beached on an island between the mainland and Tasmania.

Rescuers said only 54 of the 194 whales stranded on King Island had survived, and seven dolphins were still alive. It is the fourth beaching incident near Tasmania in recent months.

about 50 of 194 pilot whales and seven dolphins stranded on King Island were still alive

Rescuers dug trenches in the sand to channel water close to the whales as volunteers doused them with water and draped wet fabric over their bodies to keep them cool. More than 100 volunteers used stretchers to carry dolphins into the shallows, and other officials used small boats and a jetski to pull whales out to sea.

volunteers doused the mammals with water and draped wet fabric over their bodies to keep them cool

Whale strandings happen periodically in Tasmania during their migration to and from Antarctic waters, but scientists do not know why it happens. It is unusual, however, for whales and dolphins to get stranded together.  read more »

More than just child's play at New York International Children's Film Festival: movies where kids call the shots

This year's edition of the New York International Children's Film Festival, which runs from February 27-March 15, demonstrates that the most interesting movies for children are not necessarily always children's movies. Opening the festival is the French and Italian animated feature Mia and the Migoo, directed by Jacques-Remy Girerd

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Sometimes the most interesting movie for children isn’t necessarily a children’s movie. That seeming contradiction lies at the heart of the New York International Children’s Film Festival, which this Friday begins three weekends of screenings, filmmaker visits and voting, culminating in a juvenile version of the Oscars: a prize ceremony and reception on March 15. While the festival’s 100 films from 30 countries offer plenty of animation and fantasy, they also delve into real-world conflicts that affect children’s lives. “With a great many of these films, the filmmaker would say, ‘That’s not a kids’ movie,’ ” Eric Beckman, who founded the festival in 1997 with his wife, Emily Shapiro, said in an interview.

Sita Sings the Blues screens at the New York International Children's Film Festival  read more »

World's tallest buildings (part iii): Taipei Tower 101, Burj Dubai & 1-km High Club (projects under construction)

Taipei 101 - Taiwan, finished in 2003 (1,670 ft - 509.2 m)

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The Taipei Tower 101, Taiwan, completed in 2003 (1,670 ft - 509.2 m)

The Taipei Tower 101, completed in 2003 took just 4 years to build. It is called the 101 because it has 101 floors (stories) above ground, and 5 below. From ground to tip of spire the Sears Tower is still taller than the Taipei 101, however from ground to top of roof the Taipei does win. The Taipei 101 is the first and currently only habitable building in the world to break the half-kilometer mark in height. However, a tower currently under construction known as "Burj Dubai" is going to do away with any controversy so completely that there will be no doubt as to which is the world's tallest building.

Burj Dubai, United Arab Emirates, to be completed in 2009 (2,684 ft - 818 m)

Construction of Burj Dubai during August 2007 - already the world's tallest building

Burj Dubai, United Arab Emirates, to be completed in 2009 (2,684 ft - 818 m)  read more »

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden Kicks off Middle Class Task Force's inaugural meeting with focus on green jobs

Vice President Joe Biden heads the Middle Class Task Force

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Creating green jobs is the first order of business for the White House Task Force on Middle Class Families. Led by Vice President Joe Biden, the Task Force held its inaugural meeting on Feb. 27, 2009 in Philadelphia at the University of Pennsylvania. "At a time when good jobs and good wages are harder and harder to come by - it is critical we find new and innovative work opportunities for middle class families," said Biden. "That's why we're here today - to learn and listen about how investing in green jobs can help build a strong middle class."

President Barack Obama (L), joined by Vice President Joe Biden, signs a set of executive orders that will strengthen the working rights of federal contract workers during a ceremony where he announced Vice President Joe Biden as the head of the newly created Middle Class Working Families Taskforce in Washington on January 30, 2009  read more »

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