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Along the frozen trail


Post 8335

Along the frozen trail

https://www.bostonglobe.com/news/bigpicture/2017/03/24/along-frozen-trail/kMyr3rTmFUk4CtmsuHUWBI/story.html?p1=BP_SeePhotos

For 25 years, intrepid mushers and their teams have completed the more than 200-mile icy loop that makes up the annual Can-Am Crown 250 sled dog race. On March 5, a Quebec competitor beat the field to the finish in Fort Kent, Maine, for an eighth title, a record. The Can-Am includes three races: typically 30, 100, and 250 miles. But it’s the longest race that you’ll hear about on the car radio, with updates slipped between songs as the race unfolds almost entirely out of public view. Spectators catch a glimpse of racers at the start, cheering the teams as they run through downtown Fort Kent before disappearing into the woods. The teams won’t reemerge for hours, miles away at Portage Lake, the first checkpoint, where they’ll stop to feed their dogs, bed them down on hay, and wrap them in blankets for a rest. Warm winter weather wreaked havoc on the usual course this year with ice starting to run on some rivers that racers usually cross, and some trails being rendered impassable. Officials rerouted the checkpoints, trimming the 250-mile race to 209. Even with the shorter haul, it still takes days to complete the race, with mushers resting at mandatory intervals and then heading back into the bitter cold to harness their dogs. Sleep takes place in spurts and many legs are run in the dead of night with only a headlamp to illuminate the narrow trail.–By Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff
1
A team belonging to Gilles Harnois of Quebec waits patiently for the start of the 209-mile race. There are three Can-Am Crown races: 30, 100, and 250 miles, but some of the usual trails were impassable this year because of the thaw, and the longest race had to be shortened by 41 miles. (Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff)
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Dogs on Mainer Ashley Patterson’s team take off. (Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff)
3
Brian J. Theriault, a master snowshoe maker from Fort Kent, Maine, watches the start. (Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff)
4
As the first racer pulls into Portage Lake after the initial 69.1-mile leg, two men hop off their snowmobiles to plant American and Canadian flags in a snowbank overlooking the area where the dogs must rest. (Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff)
5
Salt coats a vehicle used to transport a team of dogs to the start of the 2017 Can-Am Crown. (Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff)
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Ice covers Maxime Leclerc-Gingras’s beard as the Quebec contestant crosses the finish line of the 30-mile race. (Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff)
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Around dawn, a dog still covered by a wool blanket looks around the Lake Portage checkpoint. (Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff)
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Sled dogs hit the snow in Fort Kent, Maine, at the start of the Can-Am Crown, where spectators brave near-zero temperatures. (Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff)
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A musher mixes hot water with food for her dogs at the Portage Lake stop. Mushers are required to carry everything they need for their own and their dogs’ safety. (Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff)
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Dogs begin to howl as they are strapped into their racing harnesses before being led to the starting line of the 2017 Can-Am Crown Race. (Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff)
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With temperatures near zero, bait fish left outside of a bob house are frozen to the ice near where mushers in the 209-mile race will cross. (Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff)
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Martin Massicotte of Quebec and his team cross Portage Lake at sunrise on the second day of the Can-Am Crown 250 (shortened to 209 miles this year because of an early thaw). From here, they will run the 54.5 miles to the Allagash checkpoint, then rest for four hours before the 45.5-mile leg back to the finish line in Fort Kent. (Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff)
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A musher applies balm to his dog’s paw pads before the start of the race. (Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff)
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Carl Routhier, of Rouyn-Noranda, Quebec, rests with his dogs at the Allagash checkpoint on the second day of the race. (Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff)
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A musher rests his hand on one of his sled dogs at the finish line of the 30-mile race. (Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff)
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After their four-hour rest, Ashley Patterson and her team take off in the dark from the Allagash checkpoint. (Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff)
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Spring blossoms


Post 8334

Spring blossoms

https://www.bostonglobe.com/news/bigpicture/2017/03/31/spring-blossoms/FkStGDDKdGbSyW71rdDj6O/story.html?p1=Gallery_InThisSection_Bottom

Bleak winter landscapes transform into splendors of color all over the world.–By Leanne Burden Seidel
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A visitor walks below cherry blossoms in Wuhan University, in central China’s Hubei province on March 14. (AFP/Getty Images)
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A visitor takes a picture of blooming cherry blossoms at Ueno Park in Tokyo, Saturday, March 25. Cherry blossom season has officially kicked off in Tokyo, marking the beginning of spring for the Japanese. (Eugene Hoshiko/Associated Press)
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People visit an area with rapeseed blossoms in full bloom in front of Mount Fuji at Azumayama Park in Ninomiya, suburb of Tokyo, on Feb. 13. (KAZUHIRO NOGI/AFP/Getty Images)
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Almond trees in full blossom stand in a field near the West Bank city of Nablus, Feb, 21 (ALAA BADARNEH/EPA)
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Crocuses and spring snowflakes blossom three weeks ahead the beginning of spring on March 3, in Cologne, Germany. (FEDERICO GAMBARINIAFP/Getty Images)
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Eve Chick, 3 years old, runs under cherry blossoms at the Moomin Adventures at Kew Gardens Easter Festival at Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew in London, March 30. (Kirsty Wigglesworth/Associated Press)
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The Eiffel Tower rises from behind blossoming flowers and trees, in Paris, France, Tuesday, March 14. (Christophe Ena/Associated Press)
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Tourists take photos of the cherry blossoms around the Tidal Basin in Washington, DC, USA, March 25. Despite the late season freeze that damaged half of the cherry blossoms people are out in the warm weather to see the annual bloom. (SHAWN THEW/EPA)
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Visitors enjoy the cherry blossoms at the Yuyuantan Park during spring festival in Beijing, Wednesday, March 29. (Andy Wong/Associated Press)
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A bird flies by flowers of an orange silk cotton tree, which is popular in central Myanmar for its edible flowers, in Naypyitaw, Myanmar. Myanmar’s summer season starts in March and ends in early June. (Aung Shine Oo/Associated Press)
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A visitor takes photos as cherry trees around Tidal Basin are in peak bloom March 27 in Washington, DC. The blossoms survived after a late winter ice and snowstorm freezed and killed more than 50% of the developed Yoshino cherry blossoms two weeks ago. (Alex Wong/Getty Image)
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A bee lands on a crocus blossom in the Old Southern Cemetery in Munich, Germany, March 5. Weather forecasts predict changeable weather for Germany during the next few days. (Tobias Hase/dpa via AP)
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A man passes beneath a blossoming tree as he walks near a bed of daffodils in St. James’s Park in central London on March 16. (DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP/Getty Images)
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Cactus flowers blossom during the superbloom of wildflowers at the Anza-Borrego desert in Borrego Springs, California, USA, March 16. The once-in-a-decade event resulted from a winter of heavy rains soaking Southern California after years of drought. (EUGENE GARCIA/EPA)
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A view of flowering Magnolias at the Wilhelma Zoo in Stuttgart, Germany, March 29. (RONALD WITTEK/EPA)
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Visitors pick tulip flowers in the first Italian tulip field, planted by a Dutch couple to recreate the tradition in the Netherlands where you can pick your own tulip, in Cornaredo, near Milan, Italy, , March 29. (Antonio Calanni/Associated Pres)
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Sleet falls on tree blossoms on Capitol Hill in Washington, early March, 14. (J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press)
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Flowers blossom on the Spree river shore in Berlin, Germany, March 24. (FELIPE TRUEBA/EPA)
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A doll is placed in a cherry blossom tree while onlookers take pictures with their smartphones in the Gucun Park in Shanghai, March 4. (JOHANNES EISELE/AFP/Getty Images)
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A sea of blossoming crocuses covers the castle grounds in Husum, Germany, March 16. (Carsten Rehder/dpa via AP)
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An almond tree blossoms as the snow covers Avila, Spain, on March 23. (RAUL SANCHIDRIAN/EPA)
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A blossoming tree is pictured on March 10 in Herdecke, Germany. (BERND THISSEN/AFP/Getty Images)
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Rosegold pussy willow emerges at the Arnold Arboretum in Boston on March 13. (Lane Turner/Globe Staff)
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Blossoming almond trees on a property in the town of Librilla in Murcia, Spain, Feb. 16. (MARCIAL GUILLEN/EPA)
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A bee hovering over crocus flowers looking for food on one of the first sunny, spring-weather days this year in Warsaw, Poland, March 27. (Czarek Sokolowski/Associated Press)
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Flowering almond trees on display in a street in Gimmeldingen near Neustadt, Germany, March 20. (RONALD WITTEK/EPA)
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A couple walk past spring flowers at the end of a clear spring day, in Pamplona, Spain, March 28. (Alvaro Barrientos/Associated Press)

Deadly chemical attack in Syria


Post 8333

Deadly chemical attack in Syria

https://www.bostonglobe.com/news/bigpicture/2017/04/07/deadly-chemical-attack-syria/wQOtuGMD7hinSUI4vX2ITO/story.html?p1=Gallery_InThisSection_Bottom

Earlier this week, over 80 civilians died in a chemical weapon at
tack in Syria. In response, President Trump ordered a US missile strike targeting the Syrian air base.
1
A man carries a child following a chemical attack at a makeshift hospital in the town of Khan Sheikhoun, northern Idlib province, Syria. (Edlib Media Center, via AP)
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A Syrian doctor treats a child following a chemical attack in the town of Khan Sheikhoun, northern Idlib province, Syria. The attack killed more than 80 people on Tuesday, (Edlib Media Center, via AP)
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Victims of the suspected chemical weapons attack lie on the ground, in Khan Sheikhoun, in the northern province of Idlib, Syria. (Alaa Alyousef via AP)
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A Syrian child receives treatment after a chemical attack at a field hospital in Saraqib, Idlib province, northern Syria, April 4. (EPA)
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The scene showing victims of a chemical attack in the town of Khan Sheikhoun, northern Idlib province, Syria on April 4.The suspected chemical attack killed dozens of people on Tuesday, Syrian opposition activists said, describing the attack as among the worst in the country’s six-year civil war. (Edlib Media Center, via AP)
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SAbdul-Hamid Alyousef, 29, holds his twin babies who were killed during a chemical weapons attack, in Khan Sheikhoun in the northern province of Idlib, Syria. Alyousef also lost his wife, two brothers, nephews and many other family members in the attack that claimed scores of his relatives. (Alaa Alyousef via AP)
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Protesters shout slogans against Russia for its alleged role in a chemical attack in Idlib province, Syria, near the Russian Consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, April 4. (SEDAT SUNA/EPA)
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Nikki Haley, United States’ Ambassador United Nations, shows pictures of Syrian victims of chemical attacks as she addresses a meeting of the Security Council on Syria at U.N. headquarters, April 5. (Bebeto Matthews/Associated Press)
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Vladimir Safronkov (C), Russia’s Deputy Ambassador to the United Nations, talks to a staff member during an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council about a chemical attack in Syria at United Nations headquarters in New York., April 5. (Justin Lane/EPA)
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Syrian first aiders and civil defense volunteers hold placards and photos showing victims of the recent alleged chemical attack Khan Sheikhoun, during a gathering to show solidarity with the victims in Douma, Syria, April 5. (MOHAMMED BADRA/EPA)
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Dozens of members of a Turkish trade union carry black-painted coffins with images of the attack’s child victims, in protest of this week’s chemical weapons attack that killed more than 80 people in northern Syria, in Ankara,Turkey, April 7. The group of some 250 members of a pro-government union on Friday held funeral prayers for the victims of the assault in front of the Iranian embassy in Ankara, before marching to the Russian embassy. (Burhan Ozbilici/Associated Press)
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A Senate staffer removes photographs of the gas attack in Khan Sheikhoun, Syria that killed more than 100 people following a press conference with Democratic Senator from Maryland Ben Cardin and Republican Senator from Florida Marco Rubio in the US Capitol in Washington DC, April 5. The Senators put the blame for the attack squarely on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. (JIM LO SCALZO/EPA)
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The guided-missile destroyer USS Porter fires a Tomahawk land attack missile on April 7, in the Mediterranean Sea. The USS Porter was one of two destroyers that fired a total of 59 cruise missiles at a Syrian military airfield in retaliation for a chemical attack that killed scores of civilians this week. The attack was the first direct U.S. assault on Syria and the government of President Bashar al-Assad in the six-year war there. (Ford Williams/U.S. Navy via Getty Images)
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President Donald Trump prepares to speak at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Fla., April 6, after the U.S. fired a barrage of cruise missiles into Syria Thursday night in retaliation for this week’s gruesome chemical weapons attack against civilians. (Alex Brandon/Associated Press)
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People, hold an Islamic flag and chant slogans during a demonstration against the chemical attack in Idlib, Syria, following a prayer in Istanbul, April 7. Some hundreds of people gathered in the courtyard of the mosque in Istanbul following Friday prayers to protested against the attack and prayed for the victims. (Emrah Gurel/Associated Press)
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This Oct. 7, 2016 satellite image shows Shayrat air base in Syria. The United States blasted a Syrian air base with a barrage of cruise missiles on April 7, in retaliation for this week’s chemical weapons attack against civilians. (DigitalGlobe/U.S. Department of Defense via AP)
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A Syrian woman rests in a hospital in Reyhanli, Turkey, April 7. Turkish media, quoting Turkey’s Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag and other officials, says autopsy results show Syrians were subjected to chemical weapons attack in Idlib, Syria. (Associated Press)
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The guided-missile destroyer USS Porter (DDG 78) launced a missile strike while in the Mediterranean Sea, April 7. (Ford Williams/US Navy via EPA)
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Copies of the popular Japanese daily Nikkan Gendai newspapers showing pictures of US President Donald J. Trump are stacked at a kiosk of a railway station in Tokyo, Japan, April 7. (FRANCK ROBICHON/EPA)
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Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) answers questions at the U.S. Capitol about the recent U.S. attack in Syria April 7, in Washington, DC. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)
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Iranians shout anti-US slogans after the Friday prayer ceremony in Tehran, Iran, April 7. Following US air-strike in Syria, Iran has strongly condemned the US air strick to an air base in Syria. (ABEDIN TAHERKENAREH/EPA)
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Tthe burned and damaged hangar warplanes which was attacked by U.S. Tomahawk missiles, at the Shayrat Syrian government forces airbase, southeast of Homs, Syria, early April, 7. (Syrian government TV, via AP)
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A boy participates in a special prayer for the victims of the chemical attack in Idlib, Syria, following Friday prayers in Istanbul, April 7. Some hundreds of people gathered in the courtyard of the mosque in Istanbul following Friday prayers to protested against the attack and prayed for the victims. (Emrah Gurel/Associated Press)

Animal expressions


Post 8331

Animal expressions

https://www.bostonglobe.com/news/bigpicture/2017/04/12/animal-expressions/jqzgvgqvk5GqncG2shUP1O/story.html?p1=BP_SeePhotos

A look at the interesting faces of all kinds of creatures and different forms of communication among the species.–By Leanne Burden Seidel
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Almost two-year-old baby orangutan Dalai looks on in the zoo in Dresden, Germany, March 30. Dalai was born to mother Daisy in June 2015. (FILIP SINGER/EPA)
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The 14-week-old polar bear winks at the zoo Hellabrunn in Munich, Germany on Feb. 24. (GUENTER SCHIFFMANN/AFP/Getty Images)
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A lamb jumps around while frolicking in a pasture at Scandia Creek Farm in Poulsbo, Wash., on March 8. Vehicle traffic on Scandia Road often comes to a complete stop with those passing by taking a moment to watch the antics of the lambs, which are a sure sign of spring. (Meegan Reid/Kitsap Sun via AP)
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Orangutan keeper Devi Sumantri (L) holds Vena, a seven-month-old baby orangutan at the Air Hitam Besar village. Villagers on the Indonesian part of jungle-clad Borneo island often keep the critically endangered apes as pets even though the practice is illegal. (ADEK BERRY/AFP/Getty Images)
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A dophin during the Autism Speaks Light It Up Blue event at Brookfield Zoo on April 2, Brookfield, Illinois. (Daniel Boczarski/Getty Images)
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Cows frolick around as they enter a meadow of a farm in Ouderkerk aan de Amstel, The Netherlands, March 20. The cows were released back to the open range after spending the winter indoors. (OLAF KRAAK/EPA)
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Amarok, a wolf of the species ‘canis lupus’ in the Santa Fe Zoological Park in Medellin, Colombia, April 6.. The wolf was found in the Colombian municipality of La Estrella (northwest) and will be transferred in the next few days to a sanctuary in the United States, where he will continue his recovery process and will be intoduced into the wild. Amarok will join a pack at the Colorado Wolf and Wildlife Center, in Denver, a center dedicated to the rescue of this species. (LUIS EDUARDO NORIEGA A./EPA)
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A Siamang swings on ropes at the Pittsburgh Zoo in Pittsburgh, March 28. (Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press)
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A white lion cub yawns on the back of the mother ‘ Kiara’ in their enclosure in the zoo in Magdeburg, Germany. Four white lion cubs were born in the zoo on Dec. 25, 2016. (Peter Gercke/dpa via AP)
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Whooper swans fight for food at Lake Tysslingen, near Orebro, Sweden, March 20. Hundreds of migrating swans descended these days on the lake on their journey north to breed. (JANERIK HENRIKSSON/EPA)
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Malaysian tiger cubs play in a nursery at the Cincinnati Zoo Botanical Gardens, March 29, in Cincinnati. Three cubs were born on Feb. 3 to 3-year-old Cinta, a first-time mother, in the zoo’s captive breeding program who rejected her offspring prompting zookeepers to intervene. (John Minchillo/Associated Press)
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A young Chinese crocodile lizard sits on the hand of an employee of the Dresden Zoo. in Dresden, eastern Germany, March 30. (Sebastian Kahnert/dpa via AP)
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Viatu, a gorilla at the Frankfurt zoo, Germany, appears to be eyeing the photographer while at the gorilla enclosure, March, 22. (ARMANDO BABANI/EPA)
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A baby Nile hippopotamus born prematurely , and named Fiona rests her chin on the rim of a tub in her enclosure at the zoo in Cincinnati on March 23. The zoo says the hippo, which weighed 29 pounds at birth and is the first Nile hippo born at the zoo in 75 years, is getting more independent and now tops 100 pounds (45.36 kilograms), meaning her days of napping on her human caretakers’ laps are dwindling. (Angela Hatke/Cincinnati Zoo Botanical Garden via AP)
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A Weimaraner is judged on the third day of Crufts Dog Show at the NEC Arena on March 11, in Birmingham, England. First held in 1891, Crufts is said to be the largest show of its kind in the world, the annual four-day event, features thousands of dogs. (Matt Cardy/Getty Images)
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Visitors look at a walrus (Odobenus rosmarus) on March 6, in a zoo Hamburg. (AXEL HEIMKEN/AFP/Getty Images)
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A ‘Scottish Fold’ cat presented during a cat exhibition in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, March 19. Cats breeders and owners from Kyrgyzstan gathered in Bishkek to present their feline pets. (IGOR KOVALENKO/EPA)
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George Lewys, age 5, poses with two Forest Giant Owl butterflies (Caligo eurilochus) that sat on slices of oranges at the Natural History Museum on March 30, in London, England. (Jack Taylor/Getty Images)
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Lupita, a Cotton-top tamarin baby is carried by her mother at Franklin Park Zoo on March 3. These small primates can be found in the understory and canopy of the tropical forest in northwestern Colombia. (David L. Ryan/Globe Staff)
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A Sloth bear cub (Melursus ursinus) in Berlin, Germany, Feb. 24. The bear cub was born Christmas Eve. (FREDERIC SCHWEIZER/ZOO BERLIN/EPA)
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Dogs at the Crufts Dog Show at the NEC Arena on March 10 in Birmingham, England. (Top row L-R) Freddie, a two-year-old French bulldog dog, Danny, a 3-year-old Japanese Chin dog, Prince, a 18-month-old Coton de Tulear dog, Nancy, a 18-month-old Lowchen or Little Lion Dog bitch, (Middle row L-R) Louis, a two-year-old Yorkshire Terrier dog, Bentley, a three-year-old Bolognese dog, Mork, a 9-month-old Cavalier King Charles Spaniel dog, Jackson, a 2-year-old Toy poodle dog, (Bottom row L-R) Oki, a Japanese Shiba Inu dog, Lamby, a 18-month-old Chihuahua bitch, Abfab, a two-year-old Yorkshire Terrier, and Agnes, a Pug bitch, (Matt Cardy/Getty Images)
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A green iguana sits at the zoo of San Salvador, El Salvador, March 3. (OSCAR RIVERA/EPA)
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Orangutan mother Raja sits with her cub in their compound at the zoo in Leipzig, eastern Germany, April 3. The baby orangutan was born on March 25. (Jan Woitas/dpa via AP)
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A baby pygmy hippo (R) in the water with her mother ‘Kambiri’ at Taronga Zoo in Sydney. Zoo-goers in Australia were introduced to a rare baby pygmy hippo, the first of its kind born at Taronga Zoo in seven years. (PAUL FAHY/AFP/Getty Images)
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Almost two years old male baby orang-utan Dalai rests to his mother Daisy in the zoo in Dresden, Germany, March 30. (FILIP SINGER/EPA)
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A brown bear reacts to a quadrocopter drone launched by a visitor in a shelter for bears rescued from circuses and private restaurants of Ukraine, near Zhytomyr on March 24. (SERGEI SUPINSKY/AFP/Getty Images)
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A 12-day old impala calf stands with its mother (2-R) and fellow impalas in their enclosure in Veszprem Zoo in Veszprem, Hungary, March 22. (Boglarka Bodnar/EPA)
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A squirrel climbs a tree on March 14 in a park in Cologne. (HENNING KAISER/AFP/Getty Images)
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Elderly Egyptian man, Naguib, and a stray dog and cat look out from the window of his burnt-out room where he lives along with stray dogs and cats at in Cairo, Egypt, March 11. (MOHAMED HOSSAM/EPA)
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Lemurs play inside their enclosure at Tbilisi Zoo, in Tbilisi, Georgia, April 4. (ZURAB KURTSIKIDZE/EPA)
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A pigeon eats a piece of bread in Moscow on April 6. (KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV/AFP/Getty Images)
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A toad tries to escape a bucket of voluntary frog rescuers near a main road near Hont, Budapest, Hungary, March 11. (Peter Komka/EPA)
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Siberian tigers, who were donated by Riga Zoo in Latvia, rest in Tbilisi Zoo, Georgia on April 3. (Shakh Aivazov/Associated Press)
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A healer feeds a cheetah cub born on Feb. 1, at the Safari Beekse Bergen, in Hilvarenbeek, on Feb. 21. (REMKO DE WAAL/AFP/Getty Images)
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A gray goose (Anser anser) gives one of its chicks a bite to stop it from moving away from the group as the goose family swims in the nature reserve Wagbachniederung near Karlsruhe, Germany, April 6. (RONALD WITTEK/EPA)
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A newborn male elephant-calf (C) walks with its mother and another herd member as it appears in their enclosure in the Cologne Zoo, in Cologne, Germany, March 20. The elephant baby was born the night before. (FRIEDEMANN VOGEL/EPA)
37
The club emblem peacock spreads his feathers as a female walks by near the fourth tee during the third round of the HSBC Women’s Champions at Sentosa Golf Club on March 4 in Singapore. (Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
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An abandoned bear stands in its cage before receiving treatment from members of the international animal welfare charity “Four Paws” at the Mumtaz al-Nour zoo in eastern Mosul on Feb. 21. (SAFIN HAMED/AFP/Getty Images)

More Evidence That Aliens Aren’t Trying to Communicate With Us


Post 8330

More Evidence That Aliens Aren’t Trying to Communicate With Us

Today 11:30am

The “Sombrero Galaxy.” (Image: Hubble)

Some SETI researchers believe the best way to detect aliens is to search the skies for their laser beams. In the largest survey of its kind, astronomers scanned 5,600 stars in search of these optical signals—and they found…absolutely nothing. Nada. Zilch. Here’s what that means to SETI and the ongoing hunt for alien intelligence.

In a new study accepted for publication at the Astronomical Journal, SETI astronomers Nathaniel Tellis and Geoffrey Marcy from the University of California Berkeley report that they were unable to detect optical signatures of advanced extraterrestrials in over 67,000 individual spectra produced by nearly 5,600 stars in the Milky Way Galaxy. Revealingly, around 2,000 of these stars are suspected of hosting warm, Earth-like planets, suggesting that advanced civilizations either don’t get into the habit of transmitting powerful laser beams across the cosmos, or they simply don’t exist. More practically, it means we should look for optical signals elsewhere, and expand our search to include an assortment of other potential alien signatures. Simply put, we’re not done searching for ET.

Listening for radio signals is so old school. All the cool kids are now searching for laser beams. (Image: Contact)

That said, the null result is undeniably discouraging. Laser signals would be an effective, cheap, and easy way for an advanced civilization to get our attention. Using technology similar to what we have today, aliens could deliberately transmit artificial infrared, visible, or ultraviolet emissions at our star. These directed signals could attract our attention by being continuous and abnormally powerful, or by containing tell-tale signs of artificiality, such as unexplained pulsing, or a string of binary data expressing some kind of mathematical phenomena (e.g. prime numbers or pi).

Prior to this study, SETI researchers had evaluated around 20,000 stars in search of optical signals at Harvard’s Oak Ridge Observatory, spending about 10 minutes on each object. Clearly, if the laser blinking frequency is longer than that, or if ET’s laser transmission station is temporarily out of service, we’re out of luck. Not surprisingly, nothing interesting has been detected thus far.

In an effort to conduct a more thorough review of the heavens, Tellis and Marcy analyzed a trove of data collected by the Keck 10-meter telescope and its high resolution spectrometer, HIRES, between 2006 and 2016 as part of the California Planet Search (CPS). The 5,600 stars included in the study, the majority of which are located within a distance of 300 million-light years, produced 67,708 individual stellar spectra, averaging 96 spectral signals per star.

“This study leverages the huge amount of data collected by the Keck telescope over decades, mostly as part of planet-hunting projects,” explained Penn State astronomer Jason Wright, who was not involved in the study, in an interview with Gizmodo. “That makes it sensitive to relatively low laser powers from thousands of the most nearby and interesting stars. It’s a great example of how SETI can ‘piggyback’ off of other science, looking for signals that might have been overlooked or thrown out because they were not expected or they look very similar to known sources of noise.”

Armed with this data, the researchers then set about the task of searching for spectral signatures that, in the words of the authors, “would be expected from extraterrestrial optical lasers.” The power of these lasers ranged from 3 kW to 13 MW, which isn’t extreme by any measure. Unlike radio signals, which dissipate over vast distances, laser light manages to hold its integrity as it travels through space. “We may imagine that beings more technologically advanced than humanity would be capable of constructing…laser launchers with power levels at least as high as those detectable here, for any of the 5,600 star systems we surveyed,” explained the researchers in their study.

An example of a false positive in a signal. This extraterrestrial laser candidate was found in an observation of TW Hydrae. The blip turned out to be heated gas in the protostellar disk around the star. (Image: Tellis and Marcy, 2017).

To analyze this decade’s worth of data, Tellis and Marcy developed an algorithm that was (at least in theory) able to discern a possible alien signal within the natural spectra of a star. If an artificial signal was directed towards Earth,
it would be detectable as an unusually high number of protons compared with the background emissions of the star. The algorithm was configured to flag any occurrence of three consecutive pixels that exceeded the researchers’ thresholds.

“We searched our spectra for ‘brightenings’ of the star, relative to the light it is already emitting, that were both tight in wavelength and in space,” Tellis told Gizmodo. “Finding a signal that matched the instrumental profile of Keck HIRES would have almost unequivocally meant we were seeing laser light, as the normal stellar spectra contain only thermally broadened emission lines. This is one of the key advantages to using Keck, as it has high enough spectral resolution to distinguish the two.”

The thresholds were very liberal, resulting in an initial batch of 5,023 candidates. The researchers manually parsed these results (literally eyeballing the data), pruning the list down further and further as they pinpointed the source of each false positive. The most common sources of these false positives included cosmic rays, gamma rays, radioactivity from the observatory, molecules in Earth’s atmosphere, and emissions from the parent stars. Eventually, Tellis and Marcy had to concede defeat.

“We found no such laser emission coming from the planetary region around any of the 5,600 stars,” conclude the researchers in their study.

This result would seem to strike a blow to the suggestion that advanced civilizations might last for thousands or millions of years, all the while sending hello messages to up-and-coming neighbors. If even a small fraction of the 2,000-or-so systems with potentially Earth-like planets surveyed had technological civilizations who took the time to deliberately beam megawatt-lasers towards us, we should have detected them by now.

“These results put an upper bound on the number of civilizations transmitting lasers at us while we were observing,” said Tellis. “It is only one type of communication, but we believe that for targeted communication, lasers are highly efficient.” That said, he admitted that lasers as a communication medium seem good to us at this time due to our relative youth, and that his team’s strategy relies on serendipity. “We have to ‘catch’ their broadcast,” he said. “Nevertheless, we believe it is a valuable result that the galaxy is apparently not teeming with such bright lasers.”

So either advanced alien civilizations don’t behave in this way (e.g. they hide their presence or engage in other activities), or they don’t exist. It’s also possible that technological civilizations are exceptionally rare in the galaxy (both in time and space), greatly limiting the ability of the researchers to detect a signal. As the authors of the new study admit, “We may begin to wonder if arguments along the lines of the so-called Fermi paradox have some merit.” Indeed, the eerie silence of space is getting louder with each new attempt to detect alien intelligence.

Undaunted, the researchers are planning on an expanded search. As part of the $100 million Breakthrough Listen effort, they will now turn their attention to stars that were overlooked in the study, including brown dwarfs and other odd astronomical phenomena. In addition to optical signals, SETI researchers can look for other potential signs of alien intelligence, such as microwave or neutrino emissions, Dysonian megastructures, industrial waste signatures, transiting space habitats, and so on.

If the aliens are out there, we’ll find them. Eventually.

[The Astronomical Journal (preprint available at arXiv)]

TRAPPIST-1 Has Some Serious New Competition For Best Place to Find Aliens


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TRAPPIST-1 Has Some Serious New Competition For Best Place to Find Aliens

Today 1:00pm

Artist’s rendition of exoplanet LHS 1140b. (Image: ESO/spaceengine.org)

It seems like every week, there’s a new contender for Coolest Planet Where There Are Definitely Aliens. For those of us who want to believe, this is an emotionally exhausting cycle, as we’re built up and let down time and again. At the risk of fucking with our fragile hearts even more, it’s worth mentioning that a recently discovered exoplanet 39 lightyears from Earth might actually give the current favorites—Proxima b and the TRAPPIST-1system—a run for their money.

This rookie, known as LHS 1140b, hails from the constellation Cetus (the sea monster). It was initially discovered in 2014 by Harvard astronomers who are part of The MEarth Project, which hunts for exoplanets. The team first spotted the rocky planet using the transit method, meaning they noticed a dip in the light output of its parent star, a red dwarf called LHS 1140, when it passed in front in our line of sight.

“We originally thought it was just something funny going on in the atmosphere,” Harvard astronomer Jason Dittmann, the study’s lead author, told Gizmodo. “It was only about a year later, when I was going back through our data with a machine learning based algorithm…that I pulled this 2014 transit out and flagged it as possibly real.”

Dittmann and his team of researchers followed up on the observation using the European Southern Observatory (ESO) HARPS instrument, which allowed them to confirm the planet’s orbital period, mass, and density. The group’sresearch will be published in Nature on April 20th (nice).

Though it’s much closer to its sun than Earth is to ours, LHS 1140 is a lot cooler than our life-giving buddy. It just so happens that as a result, LHS 1140b lies squarely in the habitable zone, which means that hypothetically, it could support flowing water. Even though it’s only about 1.4 times the size Earth, it’s about seven times as massive, indicating that it is probably a rocky world with a dense iron core. Naturally, researchers are already pumped about the possibility of life there.

“This is the most exciting exoplanet I’ve seen in the past decade,” Dittmann said in a statement. “We could hardly hope for a better target to perform one of the biggest quests in science—searching for evidence of life beyond Earth.”

It’s not just enough to be excited about this planet, though; there’s a bit of exoplanetary competition going on here. Even the researchers are having some fun encouraging the rivalry between LHS 1140b, Proxima b, a potentially Earth-like exoplanet discovered just five light years away in 2016, and the seven Earth-sized planets recently spotted around the ultracool dwarf star TRAPPIST-1.

“The LHS 1140 system might prove to be an even more important target for the future characterization of planets in the habitable zone than Proxima b or TRAPPIST-1,” researchers Xavier Delfosse and Xavier Bonfils said. “This has been a remarkable year for exoplanet discoveries!”

Still, Dittmann thinks that the TRAPPIST-1 system, also located roughly 40 light years away, stands out as a particularly intriguing.

“I really want to emphasize that both our system and TRAPPIST-1 are exciting and both worthy of intense future study,” he told Gizmodo. “LHS 1140 is brighter at optical wavelengths because it’s slightly bigger than the TRAPPIST-1 star. So, when the future 30 meter optical telescopes are built (the Giant Magellan Telecopes and European Extremely Large Telescope), LHS 1140 can feasibly be studied by these telescopes.”

Indeed, we won’t know much more about any of these planets’ habitability until we can observe their atmospheres, which will require more powerful telescopes than today’s state-of-the-art. There are already concerns about the habitability of Proxima b, which, like LHS 1140b, orbits a red dwarf. Some scientists worry that the frequent solar storms from Proxima b’s host star could strip it of its atmosphere, dashing our chances of finding biosignatures there. It’s possible this could be a concern with LHS 1140b, too.

“There’s definitely a concern that high energy radiation from M dwarfs might ‘spoil’ the habitability of their planets,” Dittmann said. “In the case of Proxima b, the star seems to be very active, flaring quite often. This is also true in the case of TRAPPIST-1. In contrast, LHS 1140 is slowly rotating (130 days), and we haven’t seen any flares from the star. We also expect—and hope to check with future data—that the star is very quiet at high energies as well. So, at least in the present day, LHS 1140b finds itself orbiting a very nice, quiet host star.”

Ultimately, time will tell. NASA’s James Webb Telescope (JWT), which is set to launch in October 2018, could provide some of the answers alien huntersastronomers are desperately seeking. Once it’s completed, JWT will be themost powerful space-based telescope ever deployed—it’ll be used to peer into the atmospheres of all of these planets and more.

When it comes to exoplanetary supremacy, there can only be one. Just kidding, I hope they all have alien babies hiding inside them.

[ESO]