Biden touts Switzerland — woops, Sweden — in NATO expansion

Biden touts Switzerland — woops, Sweden — in NATO expansion
US President Joe Biden walks off stage after addressing media representatives during a press conference at the NATO summit, IFEMA Convention Center, Madrid, June 30, 2022. (AFP)
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Updated 30 June 2022

Biden touts Switzerland — woops, Sweden — in NATO expansion

Biden touts Switzerland — woops, Sweden — in NATO expansion
  • Quickly realizing his stumble, Biden said: ‘Switzerland, my goodness. I’m getting really anxious here about expanding NATO,’ he joked, before adding for the record: ‘Sweden’
  • Biden, 79, has long been known for his verbal gaffes during a political career spanning half a century

MADRID: NATO’s latest expansion momentarily got really interesting with even Switzerland about to join — at least for a second in a Joe Biden verbal slip Thursday.
At a press conference marking the end of the NATO summit in Madrid, the US president recounted the behind-the-scenes talks putting militarily non-aligned Finland and Sweden on track to join the Western alliance in a major rebuff to Russia.
Except he misspoke, saying there was a plan to call the leader of famously neutral Switzerland about joining.
Quickly realizing his stumble, Biden said: “Switzerland, my goodness.”
“I’m getting really anxious here about expanding NATO,” he joked, before adding for the record: “Sweden.”
Biden, 79, has long been known for his verbal gaffes during a political career spanning half a century.


David Bowie’s handwritten ‘Starman’ lyrics sell for over £200,000

David Bowie’s handwritten ‘Starman’ lyrics sell for over £200,000
Updated 27 September 2022

David Bowie’s handwritten ‘Starman’ lyrics sell for over £200,000

David Bowie’s handwritten ‘Starman’ lyrics sell for over £200,000
  • The handwritten lyrics sold for five times as much as the £40,000 estimate
  • The lyrics were previously on display as part of the V&A Museum's David Bowie Is collection

LONDON: David Bowie’s original handwritten lyrics for the pop classic “Starman,” part of an album that catapulted him to international stardom, on Tuesday sold at auction in Britain for £203,500.
Released as a single in 1972, the song about a Starman who would “like to come and meet us but he thinks he’d blow our minds” featured on the Ziggy Stardust concept album.
The handwritten lyrics sold for five times as much as the £40,000 estimate.
The winning bidder was Olivier Varenne, director of acquisitions and alliances and collections at the Museum of Old and New Art in Tasmania, on behalf of a private collector.
“We had almost unprecedented interest from around the world for this historic piece of memorabilia,” said Paul Fairweather of Omega Auctions.
“We’re very pleased with the incredible price achieved and are sure the lyrics will be rightly prized and treasured by the winning bidder.”
The lyrics were previously on display as part of the V&A Museum’s David Bowie Is collection. They had been owned by the same person since the 1980s.
The A4 page features handwritten amendments and edits by Bowie, including corrected spelling mistakes and additions.
The lyrics were sold as part of a David Bowie and glam rock sale on Tuesday.
In 2019, the first demo of Bowie singing Starman sold for 51,000 pounds after gathering dust in a loft for nearly five decades.
Bowie can be heard telling his guitarist Mick Ronson, who died in 1993, that he has not finished singing the song when he tries to end the demo.
The singer, born David Jones, died aged 69 in New York in 2016.


‘A new era’: NASA strikes asteroid in key test of planetary defense

‘A new era’: NASA strikes asteroid in key test of planetary defense
Updated 27 September 2022

‘A new era’: NASA strikes asteroid in key test of planetary defense

‘A new era’: NASA strikes asteroid in key test of planetary defense
  • DART’s celestial target is an asteroid “moonlet” about 560 feet (170 meters) in diameter that orbits a parent asteroid five times larger called Didymos as part of a binary pair with the same name, the Greek word for twin

CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida: A NASA spaceship on Monday struck an asteroid seven million miles away in order to deflect its orbit, succeeding in a historic test of humanity’s ability to prevent a celestial object from devastating life on Earth.

The Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) impactor hit its target, the space rock Dimorphos, at 7:14 p.m. Eastern Time (2314 GMT), 10 months after blasting off from California on its pioneering mission.

“We’re embarking on a new era, an era in which we potentially have the capability to protect ourselves from something like a dangerous hazardous asteroid impact,” said Lori Glaze, director of NASA’s planetary science division.

Dimorphos — a 530-foot (160-meter) asteroid roughly comparable in size to an Egyptian pyramid — orbits a half-mile long big brother called Didymos. Never seen before, the “moonlet” appeared as a speck of light around an hour before the collision.

Its egg-like shape and craggy, boulder-dotted surface finally came into clear view in the last few minutes, as DART raced toward it at roughly 14,500 miles (23,500 kilometers) per hour.

NASA scientists and engineers erupted in applause as the screen froze on a final image, indicating that signal had been lost and impact had taken place.

To be sure, the pair of asteroids pose no threat to our planet as they loop the Sun every two of our years.

But NASA has deemed the experiment important to carry out before an actual need is discovered.

By striking Dimorphos head on, NASA hopes to push it into a smaller orbit, shaving 10 minutes off the time it takes to encircle Didymos, which is currently 11 hours and 55 minutes.

Ground telescopes — which can’t see the asteroid system directly but can detect a shift in patterns of light coming from it — should provide a definitive orbital period in the coming days and weeks.

The proof-of-concept has made a reality of what has before only been attempted in science fiction — notably in films such as “Armageddon” and “Don’t Look Up.”

Minutes after impact, a toaster-sized satellite called LICIACube, which already separated from DART a few weeks ago, was expected to make a close pass of the site to capture images of the collision and the ejecta — the pulverized rock thrown off by the strike.

LICIACube’s pictures will be sent back in the next weeks and months.

Also watching the event: an array of telescopes, both on Earth and in space — including the recently operational James Webb — which might be able to see a brightening cloud of dust.

The mission has set the global astronomy community abuzz, with more than three dozen ground telescopes participating, including optical, radio and radar.

“There’s a lot of them, and it’s incredibly exciting to have lost count,” said DART mission planetary astronomer Christina Thomas.

Finally, a full picture of what the system looks like will be revealed when a European Space Agency mission four years down the line called Hera arrives to survey Dimorphos’ surface and measure its mass, which scientists can currently only guess at.

Very few of the billions of asteroids and comets in our solar system are considered potentially hazardous to our planet, and none are expected in the next hundred years or so.

But wait long enough, and it will happen.

We know that from the geological record — for example, the six-mile wide Chicxulub asteroid struck Earth 66 million years ago, plunging the world into a long winter that led to the mass extinction of the dinosaurs along with 75 percent of all species.

An asteroid the size of Dimorphos, by contrast, would only cause a regional impact, such as devastating a city, albeit with greater force than any nuclear bomb in history.

How much momentum DART imparts on Dimorphos will depend on whether the asteroid is solid rock, or more like a “rubbish pile” of boulders bound by mutual gravity — a property that’s not yet known.

If it had missed, NASA would have another shot in two years’ time, with the spaceship containing just enough fuel for another pass.

But its success marks the first step toward a world capable of defending itself from a future existential threat.

“I think Earthlings can sleep better, definitely I will,” said DART mission systems engineer Elena Adams.


Google celebrates Saudi National Day with Doodle

Google celebrates Saudi National Day with Doodle
Updated 23 September 2022

Google celebrates Saudi National Day with Doodle

Google celebrates Saudi National Day with Doodle
  • Doodle marks the Kingdom’s 92nd national day

LONDON: Google has joined Saudi Arabia in the celebrating of its national day with one of its famous Google Doodles, with an image of the Kingdom’s flag on the search engine’s homepage on Friday.

Only visible in Saudi Arabia, the doodle marks the Kingdom’s 92nd national day – known in Arabic as Al-Yaom-ul-Watany.

It was in 1932 that a royal decree was signed calling for the unification of the dual Kingdom of Nejd and Hejaz under the name of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

The Google doodle features the Kingdom’s green flag which was adopted in 1973.


Outspoken Myanmar beauty queen held by Thai immigration

Outspoken Myanmar beauty queen held by Thai immigration
Updated 23 September 2022

Outspoken Myanmar beauty queen held by Thai immigration

Outspoken Myanmar beauty queen held by Thai immigration
  • Han Lay has been held at Bangkok's main international airport since Thursday after arriving on a flight from Vietnam
  • In a post on her verified Facebook page on Friday, Han Lay said she feared the Myanmar police would come and get her at the airport

BANGKOK: A Myanmar beauty queen who spoke out against the military coup in her homeland appealed Friday for help after being refused entry to Thailand by immigration officials.
Thaw Nandar Aung, better known by her professional moniker Han Lay, has been held at Bangkok’s main international airport since Thursday after arriving on a flight from Vietnam.
She made headlines in March 2021 when she urged the world to “save” the people of Myanmar from the military, which had seized power a month earlier.
Thai immigration officials said she was denied entry to the kingdom because of a problem with her passport.
In a post on her verified Facebook page on Friday, Han Lay said she feared the Myanmar police would come and get her at the airport.
“I request to Thai authority from here please help for me,” she wrote in English, adding that she had contacted the UN refugee agency.
A Thai official told AFP that Myanmar police had not spoken to her and said it was up to her to decide where to fly to from Bangkok.
While in Bangkok competing in the Miss Grand International contest, the former psychology student spoke out against the coup, which ousted the civilian government led by Aung San Suu Kyi.
“I want to say from here to the world: please support the Myanmar people,” she told Thailand’s Khaosod English news outlet.
“So many people die in Myanmar by the guns of the military... Please save us.”
Myanmar has been in chaos since the coup, with the junta struggling to quell resistance to its rule.
A military crackdown on dissent has left more than 2,300 civilians dead, according to a local monitoring group.
The junta puts the civilian death toll at almost 3,900.


Israeli researchers find opium residue in 3,500-year-old pottery

Israeli researchers find opium residue in 3,500-year-old pottery
Updated 20 September 2022

Israeli researchers find opium residue in 3,500-year-old pottery

Israeli researchers find opium residue in 3,500-year-old pottery
  • The joint investigation by the Israel Antiquities Authority and Weizmann Institute of Science began in 2012
  • Researchers found pottery vessels at the site that resembled poppy flowers dating back to the 14th century BC

YEHUD, Israel: Israeli archaeologists said Tuesday they had discovered opium residue in 3,500-year-old pottery pieces, providing evidence to support the theory that the hallucinogenic drug was used in ancient burial rituals.
The joint investigation by the Israel Antiquities Authority and Weizmann Institute of Science began in 2012 when excavations in the central Israeli town of Yehud revealed a series of Late Bronze Age graves.
Researchers found pottery vessels at the site that resembled poppy flowers — from which opium is derived — dating back to the 14th century BC.
They then examined whether they had served as containers for the drug, which earlier writing had suggested was used in burial rituals in Canaan, and found “opium residue in eight vessels,” the researchers said in a statement.
These were likely “placed in graves for ceremonial meals, rites and rituals performed by the living for their deceased family members,” said Ron Be’eri, an archaeologist with the antiquities authority.
During these ceremonies, “family members or a priest on their behalf” would “attempt to summon the spirit of their dead relatives... and enter an ecstatic state by using opium,” Be’eri said.
But he acknowledged that much remained unknown about its use in ancient times. “We can only speculate what was done with opium,” he said.