'Amazing' Glimpses of Pluto from Space Probe Dazzle NASA

'Amazing' Glimpses of Pluto from Space Probe Dazzle NASA 

U.S. space researchers say it is "amazing" and "fun" to see the images sent back by the New Horizons probe as it gradually moves closer to Pluto.

The probe will make its closest pass to Pluto on Tuesday when it will be just about 12,500 kilometers (about 7,800 miles) from the surface.

But scientists have been thrilled by what New Horizons has sent back so far, calling it a whole new view of Pluto.

Pluto is pictured in this July 7, 2015, handout image from New Horizons' Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI).
Pluto is pictured in this July 7, 2015, handout image from New Horizons' Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI).

Pluto is pictured in this July 7, 2015, handout image from New Horizons' Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI).

"It's just amazing what we are seeing now," NASA's John Spencer said Saturday. "We are seeing these crazy black-and-white patterns. We have no idea what those mean. We are seeing a lot of circular things that we are wondering are those craters or are they something else. ... We are having a lot of fun just really speculating."

The planets in the solar system travel in elliptical orbits, not perfect circles, so the distance between their paths changes. Right now, Pluto is about 4.8 billion kilometers, or almost 3 billion miles, from Earth.

NASA launched New Horizons in 2006, just before the International Astronomical Union reclassified Pluto as a "dwarf" planet. The Union said Pluto lies in a region of the outer solar system beyond the other planets called the Kuiper Belt. Other astronomers still regard Pluto as a full planet.

NASA scientists say this first close-up exploration of the Kuiper Belt will give them a look at what the solar system was like just after it was formed and possibly more information on how life on Earth developed.


Nations Mark World Population Day 

Nations around the globe marked World Population Day on Saturday — "a reminder of our common responsibility to build a more sustainable and just future," U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said.

The United Nations said the "unprecedented decrease in mortality" in the developed world in the 19th century that spread to other parts of the world in the 20th century was "one of the major achievements of humanity," resulting in a world population that grew from 1 billion in 1810 to 7 billion by 2012.   

The theme for World Population Day this year is "Vulnerable Populations in Emergencies" and is intended to highlight the special needs of women and adolescent girls during conflicts and humanitarian disasters.

"With nearly 60 million individuals having fled conflict or disaster, women and adolescent girls are particularly vulnerable," U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said.  "Violent extremists and armed groups are committing terrible abuses that result in trauma, unintended pregnancy and infection with HIV and other diseases. Shame and accountability rest squarely on the shoulders of the perpetrators who wage cowardly battles across the bodies of innocents."

Kerry said, "in a fragile world, where war and persecution are displacing record numbers of people, those with the least power need the most protection."

"We must enable women, adolescent girls and young people to play their full role in peace talks, peace building and recovery, and to ensure that governments comply with international law and bring perpetrators of sexual violence to justice," said Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, executive director of the U.N.'s Population Fund. 

"By prioritizing health, rights and the full participation of women, adolescent girls and young people in public life, we increase our prospects for a more just, stable and peaceful world."


Remembering Hollywood Icon Omar Sharif

Actor Omar Sharif, an icon of Hollywood's glamorous era, has died at the age of 83.
During his long career, the Egyptian-born Sharif won international acclaim and numerous awards. His role as Sherif Ali in David Lean's 1962 epic Lawrence of Arabia earned him two Golden Globe awards and an Oscar nomination. He won a further Golden Globe three years later for Doctor Zhivago, in which he starred as a physician caught up in the Russian Revolution. 

In 2009, when he came to Washington to accept a lifetime achievement award from the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee, he spoke with VOA’s Mohamed Elshinnawi.

Omar Sharif credited the 1962 film Lawrence of Arabia with launching his international acting career. The role also made Sharif an attractive cultural emissary for his native Egypt. At the time, he was a matinee idol; and Gamal Abdel Nasser was the country's charismatic, anti-Western leader:

"I arrived in Hollywood when Nasser was in power. And Nasser at that time in the ‘60s was viewed in America just as badly as Saddam Hussein before they took him out,” he said. “So if you can imagine an Iraqi actor before the Iraq war would come and become a star in Hollywood; you couldn't conceive it.”

“Now,” he added, “this was a very lucky thing, because I was lucky to find the right part in a great film - Lawrence of Arabia was a great film, probably one of the greatest films ever made - and so I was very lucky and I was immediately nominated for an Academy Award."

The Arab actor received a warm welcome in Hollywood. He said felt no tensions during the four years in the 1960s when he lived and worked in the U.S. Sharif, however, told VOA he was saddened by what he saw as a widening gap between America and the Arab world in the 21st century.

"The world was different,” he said. “it was not like today where we have this terrible hatred between each other, between some of the Arabs and some of the Americans, those extreme radicals, so it was a different world. It is not the same world anymore."

He said he thought the September 11 terrorist attacks led many Americans to form gross misperceptions of Arabs and Muslims, and that they struggle to distinguish among the small groups of Muslims who are hostile to the West and the majority who, he said, are peace-loving.

Sharif - who was brought up Roman Catholic and converted to Islam when he married - often sought roles that show how Muslims can live in harmony with people of other faiths.

In a 2003 French drama, Monsieur Ibraham, he played a Muslim shopkeeper in Paris who adopts a Jewish boy. The film won him the Cesar - the French equivalent of the Oscar - as well as some of his best reviews in decades.

The late international movie star advocated building bridges among cultures through dialogue.

"We must be reasonable, all of us, them - the Americans - and we have to be reasonable and not have hatred at all,” he said. “We must have comprehension and try to … sit down and talk and be reasonable."

The actor remained active, doing voice-over work and taking small movie and TV roles, the last being the 2013 French-Moroccan drama Rock the Casbah. His son, actor Tarek Sharif, revealed in May that his father was suffering from Alzheimer's.

Omar Sharif's death, Friday in Cairo, was from a heart attack.


Donors Pledge Billions for Ebola Recovery 

The United Nations said the international community has pledged more than $3.4 billion in additional funds to help three West African states recover from the Ebola epidemic that killed more than 11,000 people and devastated their economies.

The meeting convened by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon at U.N. Headquarters in New York raised an additional $3.4 billion in pledges to help in the recovery efforts of the three countries affected by Ebola.

The finance ministers of Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone had requested $3.2 billion to support a strategy aimed at getting their countries to zero infections for the next 24 months.

But at the end of the session, donor countries and international agencies had pledged well above what many analysts had predicted.

More than $5 billion

Conference pledges, combined with earlier promised donations bring the total funds pledged to $5.18 billion.

Speaking after the conference Friday, Helen Clark, head of the U.N. Development Program, said the conference went beyond financing "to forge new partnerships in support of recovery" between affected countries and donor partners.

Some of the early pledges included $495 million from the European Union, $745 million from the African Development Bank, $360 million from the Islamic Development Bank, $266 million from the U.S. and $340 million from Britain.

Warns against complacency

African Union Chairman Robert Mugabe warned the donor community against complacency, adding that “as long as West Africa still had cases of Ebola, the rest of our interconnected world was not safe."

Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf echoed the sentiment.

Sirleaf told the conference Friday that the "world has a great stake in how we respond to this global threat." She said the money would help the people of the three West Africa countries to rebuild their lives.

“The world is more interconnected and the Ebola knows not national boundaries," she said.

Guinea's president Alpha Conde called for debt cancelation for the three countries, and Sierra Leone's President Ernest Bai Koroma warned against complacency now that the epidemic is on the decline.

Challenge ahead

The main challenge now is how the funds will be collected and disbursed to the affected communities.

International aid agency Oxfam welcomed the financial support but asked that donor countries follow through with their pledges.

In the past there have been reports of promises that have been unfulfilled after such high-level donor meetings conclude.

In other cases, money donated for humanitarian responses is often unaccounted for, leaving affected communities without the necessary help.  

In a statement released after the conference, Oxfam said, “It is now the donors’ and recipient governments’ responsibility to ensure that the promised funds are delivered in the most transparent and useful way.”

Ebola cases

In another development Friday, tests on the recent Ebola cases in Liberia show the virus is genetically similar to the strands that infected people in the region more than six months ago.

Health officials said the findings mean that the new outbreak is probably not due to the virus entering Liberia from neighboring countries.

Officials said the transmission was likely either undetected for weeks or was reactivated by an Ebola survivor.

Ebola is thought to be able to survive no more than 21 days in the blood. However, scientists say the virus might be able to survive for months in semen and some soft tissue.

'Amazing' Glimpses of Pluto from Space Probe Dazzle NASA 'Amazing' Glimpses of Pluto from Space Probe Dazzle NASA Reviewed by Ajit Kumar on 10:11 AM Rating: 5

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