Signs of water on Saturn moon

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March 30th, 2019

Orbiting the moon, Cassini snapped high-resolution images of what appears to be the eruption of icy jets and giant water vapor plumes from geysers similar to those in the United States’ Yellowstone Park.

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“The rare occurrence of liquid water so near the surface raises many new questions about the mysterious moon,” a NASA statement said.

Carolyn Porco, Cassini imaging team leader at the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colorado, said that NASA now has “the smoking gun” that may prove the existence of water on the moon.

“However, if we are right, we have significantly broadened the diversity of solar system environments where we might possibly have conditions suitable for living organisms,” Ms Porco said.

Some scientists have said Enceladus should be added to the short list of places within the solar system most likely to have extraterrestrial life.

The findings were published in Friday’s issue of the journal Science.

Not rushing to conclusions

A senior scientist at NASA’s Astrobiology Institute, David Morrison, cautioned against rushing to judgment about whether the tiny moon could support life.

Scientists generally agree habitats need several ingredients for life to emerge, including water, a stable heat source and the right chemical recipe.

“It’s certainly interesting, but I don’t see how much more you can say beyond that,” Mr Morrison said.

Scientists do believe Mars and Jupiter’s icy moons might have, or once had, conditions hospitable to life.

Saturn is around 1,300 million kilometres from Earth. Enceladus measures 505 kilometres across and is the shiniest object in the solar system.

It was long thought to be cold and still. But scientists now believe it is a geologically active moon that possesses an unusually warm south pole.

The water is believed to vent from fissures in the south pole. Ms Porco said the venting has probably been going on for at least several thousand years, potentially providing a lasting heat source.

Cassini-Huygens mission

Cassini was launched in October 1997, carrying with it the European Space Agency’s Huygens probe. Huygens separated from Cassini in December 2004 to land on Saturn’s largest moon, Titan.

Cassini is on a four-year mission to survey the ringed giant and its satellites.

The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency.

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New flag for Venezuela

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March 30th, 2019

On the flag the horse is galloping left instead of right and there is also an additional star, a bow and arrow representing Venezuela’s indigenous people and a machete to represent the labor workers, among other changes.

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Thousands of Chavez supporters and soldiers marched in a parade dedicated to the new flag as army helicopters and F-16 warplanes swooped overhead.

Floats, dancers and troops paraded past Mr Chavez, while his opponents held a small, boisterous march to protest the new flag.

Mr Chavez has been leading what he calls a “Bolivarian Revolution” to install socialism and help the poor.

As the symbol was hoisted he applauded and smiled as soldiers stood at attention at an outdoor ceremony marking the 200th anniversary of Venezuela’s tri-colour flag.

“The white horse is now liberated, free, vigorous, trotting toward the left, representing the return of Bolivar and his dream,” Mr Chavez said. “Long live the fatherland!”

Critics call the changes a waste of money. The new flag and coat of arms will eventually be adopted in the currency, passports and government documents.

When several Chavez supporters hung the new flag from light posts along the protest route, some opposition marchers pulled it down.

The two groups struggled over the flag, shouting, until police separated them. Opposition protesters held the old seven-starred flag, saying it will remain their national symbol.

Venezuela’s solidly pro-Chavez National Assembly approved the new flag and coat of arms last week.

The horse on the coat of arms, which appears on the official flag’s upper left corner, previously galloped right with its neck craning back the other way.

Mr Chavez has said the horse looked unnatural gazing backward, and historical drawings showed it was supposed to be running “freely to the left”.

Many have suggested the horse’s turnabout is simply a metaphor for Mr Chavez’s politics.

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British defence secretary John Reid told the House of Commons that there are now many more Iraqi forces ready to carry out duties performed until now by British troops.

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He said there are about 235,000 members of the Iraqi security forces now trained and equipped with 5,000 more signing up each month.

British forces will still control operations for both their own troops and Iraqis for the time being, he said.

“But let me stress that the significant reductions I have announced are not part of the handover of security responsibilities to the Iraqis themselves…,” he said.

A Joint Committee to Transfer Security Responsibility, involving coalition partners and Iraqis, will meet in the coming weeks to discuss whether conditions were right for some provinces to begin a full handover.

Ten percent of forces

The announcement marks a reduction of about 10 percent in British strength in Iraq. The country’s troops are mainly based in Iraq’s four southern provinces.

The date for a full pull-out of all US-led coalition troops from Iraq has been the source of much media speculation in Britain.

British Lieutenant General Nick Houghton told The Daily Telegraph earlier this month that Britain will withdraw most of its troops from Iraq by the middle of 2008 under a phased withdrawal that could begin within months.

Mr Reid played down fears of civil war and said that although violence had surged in some areas, particularly after the bomb attack on the Shia mosque in Samarra, north of Baghdad, there were pleas for calm from the leaders of Iraq’s rival communities.

“Our analysis is that civil war is neither imminent nor inevitable,” he added, after some commentators expressed concern that the violence could escalate into all-out conflict between Iraqi opposition groups.

He also reiterated his stance on Britain’s presence in Iraq, stating: “We will stay as long as we are needed and wanted and until the job is done. Today marks another significant step in that direction.”

Committed to Iraq

Britain continued to be “steadfastly” committed to Iraq and the coalition, he added.

Reaction to the announcement was mixed with Christopher Langton, from the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies, saying that remaining forces were unlikely to be overstretched.

Troops were likely to be withdrawn from “softer areas” with fewer violent attacks, the former British army colonel added.

Anti-war campaigners said it was not enough and demanded a full pull out.

The smaller opposition Liberal Democrats, which was opposed to military action, called for a clear exit strategy, while the main opposition Conservatives asked if the draw down was connected to Afghanistan.

About 4,600 extra British troops are to be sent to Afghanistan, including 3,300 to help with reconstruction and counter-narcotics in the lawless southern Helmand province.

About 1,100 British troops are already in Afghanistan but Mr Reid stressed that the Iraq pullout was not connected with Afghanistan.

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Haneef case 'not a mess'

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March 30th, 2019

Attorney-General Philip Ruddock denies the Haneef case is "a mess", despite reports that police allegedly wrote terror suspects' names in the doctor's diary.

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Meanwhile, a peak legal body has called on Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews to grant Mohamed Haneef a temporary visa so he can remain in the community pending trial on a terrorism related charge.

VIDEO: Diary bungle?

The federal government accused the lawyers representing Gold Coast doctor Mohamed Haneef of waging a campaign to undermine anti-terrorism laws.

Mr Ruddock dismissed allegations the case against Haneef had been bungled, saying some civil libertarians were prepared to say anything to achieve their ends.

The case against the Indian-born doctor has been plagued by a series of leaks of documents.

"These matters should not be dealt with in the way in which they have, either by leak or by counter-leak or whatever," Mr Ruddock said today.

Asked on Southern Cross radio whether the case was a mess, he replied: "No, what I think has happened is that people who have views about the nature of the law are determined to try and bring it into disrepute.

Referring to an admission by Haneef's barrister Stephen Keim SC that he had leaked a record of interview to the media, Mr Ruddock said: "Equally I don't believe the defence, as they did, should be putting records of interview into the public arena.

"I don't think people in official positions should be putting information in the public arena that should go to a court."

'Unethical'

He said the legal profession had acted unethically in revealing the transcript of the Australian Federal Police (AFP) interview with Haneef.

"There are certainly some people in the legal profession, particularly those who come out of the civil liberties groups, who have a view anything goes, and you see that in the nature of the comments they make."

Mr Ruddock also described as unhelpful a weekend report, subsequently denied by the AFP, that it had uncovered evidence Haneef had been planning to blow up a Gold Coast skyscraper.

Haneef is charged with providing support to a terrorist organisation by giving his mobile phone SIM card to a relative who has since been charged over last month's failed UK bomb plot.

Calls for bridging visa

Law Council of Australia president Tim Bugg urged Mr Andrews to issue a bridging visa to prevent the Gold Coast doctor being detained for more than a year pending his trial.

"In reality, he is not in detention because of the charges against him or because he has been deemed a threat to the community," he said.

"He is in detention because he no longer has a valid visa."

"After hearing evidence and robust arguments from both sides, a court has already decided that Dr Haneef is not a flight risk and is not a threat to the community," Mr Bugg said.

"If Mr Andrews' decision was made for a proper purpose, then his aim was not to detain Dr Haneef but to deport him.

"That not being a likely prospect in the near future, he should consider issuing a bridging visa."

'Keystone cops'

Earlier Foreign Minister Alexander Downer deflected criticism of the handling of the Haneef case.

He said Queensland Premier Peter Beattie was trying to undermine public support for the AFP with his criticism of the Haneef affair.

Mr Beattie yesterday said the AFP investigation into the Gold Coast doctor made the police look like "keystone cops".

Today, Mr Downer berated the premier, saying his comments were a partisan broadside designed to hurt the AFP.

"Mr Beattie goes around and calls the federal police keystone cops, he is trying to undermine public support in the federal police for party political reasons," Mr Downer told the Nine Network.

"I think we can do better than that as a society from our premiers."

Mr Beattie earlier called on the AFP to be frank with the public, after a series of leaks and inconsistencies he said were damaging the case.

He said he was annoyed to read reports, from anonymous sources, suggesting AFP officers had found photographs of a Gold Coast building on Haneef's computer.

"These sort of leaks … to me are just crazy and unacceptable in a climate where everyone is working to defeat terrorism," he told ABC Radio yesterday.

"The level of cynicism which is developing here is going to continue, and then that undermines public confidence in the anti-terrorism laws."

Mr Downer refused to comment on the Australian report which said federal investigators wrote in Haneef's diary.

"Let the court decide on these things. Let's not have the media trying to hear the whole case before the court does."

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Mr Lindberg stepped down as a third whistleblower stepped up to tell the Cole inquiry that senior managers within AWB sanctioned payments of $300 million in kickbacks to Saddam Hussein.

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Former AWB executive, Nigel Officer, admitted to the inquiry that the wheat contracts sent to the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs (DFAT) and the United Nations did not provide the full picture.

He says they did not mention trucking fees imposed by the Iraqi Grains Board because AWB knew it was what he called a ‘grey area’ that might contravene UN sanctions.

Asked if it was a deliberate decision not to reveal details to DFAT or the UN, Nigel Officer said, “…it was not a deliberate decision not to advise them.”

“Just to leave them uninformed?” asked Commissioner Terence Cole

“Correct”, Mr Officer said.

“That was the decision that was taken?” asked Counsel Assisting the Commission, John Agius SC.

“That was the decision taken, yes.” Mr Officer replied.

“Whose decision?” Mr Agius asked.

“That was a collective corporate decision.” Mr Officer said.

Email evidence

The inquiry was also shown an email from an AWB executive, dated April 2000, which referred to a planned meeting between AWB executives and the Prime Minister’s Parliamentary Secretary at the time, Bill Heffernan – and to a later meeting with Mark Vaile, now the Deputy Prime Minister.

The AWB executive proposed discussing trade opportunities in Iraq and the company’s arrangement with the Iraqi Grains Board.

First scalp claimed

Meanwhile, one of AWB’s first executives to give evidence at the inquiry has become its first casualty.

Managing Director, Andrew Lindberg, resigned in what AWB’s Board says is the best interests of the company.

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Thousands more are without drinking water after treatment plants were inundated, contaminating supplies.

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VIDEO: Widespread damage

The latest worries come after a dismal summer which has seen floods across swathed of the country. On Friday, more than a month’s rain fell on parts of England and Wales in just a few hours.

Floodwaters were still rising late on Sunday, with rivers bursting their banks and more rain forecast for the beginning of the week.

The Association of British Insurers said damage as a result of the extreme weather conditions could cost hundreds of millions of dollars to repair.

Evacuation by boat

Prime Minister Gordon Brown is expected to tour some of the worst-hit areas on Monday, after monitoring the situation over the weekend.

Areas of Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire, Worcestershire and Berkshire are under water.

The town of Tewkesbury, on the banks of the River Severn, is completely cut off by flooding, with police bringing in boats to evacuate residents.

"You can't blame anyone," Tewkesbury Mayor Ken Powell told the BBC. "This is certainly down to the weather."

Thousands of people are spending their second night in emergency shelters after their homes were flooded.

"We are tired, fed up and we don't know when we are going home,” said Darren Carr, 34, one of those stranded at a sports centre in Gloucester.

"Everyone here has been brilliant in the way they have looked after us but we just want our own beds and a shower now."

Water supplies threatened

Others whose property escaped damage are being urged to conserve drinking water, as officials warned it could be three days before supplies return to normal.

"We must wait for the flood water to subside before we can begin to assess the damage done to equipment and machinery," said Andy Smith, Severn Trent's director of water services.

"We are therefore urgently appealing to customers to use water sparingly and, in that way, help one another to make the remaining supplies last longer."

Tankers full of clean water are being delivered to towns across the affected areas.

Parts of the country’s rail network are still suffering delays and cancellations because of the weather, which saw hundreds of drivers stranded in their cars on the M5 highway on Friday night.

The motorway has since reopened, but many smaller roads remain impassable.

Britain’s Environment Agency has been criticised for failing to ensure sufficient flood defences were in place, but Environment Secretary Hilary Benn said the conditions were "unprecedented".

"This was very, very intense rainfall," he told the BBC's Sunday AM program. With some areas receiving 13cm in 24 hours, "even some of the best defences are going to be overwhelmed".

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"Federal Labor supports the Tasmanian Community Forest Agreement (TCFA) which provided for the additional protection of over 170,000 hectares of forest, including 45,000 hectares of forest on private land through the Forest Conservation Fund," he said.

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But Mr Rudd said a Labor government would not protect any Tasmanian forests not already included in Regional Forest Agreements (RFA) or the state's $250 million Community Forest Agreement.

"The Tasmanian Community Forestry Agreement fully embraces the conservation objectives we hold near and dear as a party," he said.

Forestry funding

Included in the $20 million package is $9 million to boost the export of forest products through a Forest Industries Development Fund and $8 million to address major knowledge gaps about the impact of climate change on forestry and the vulnerability of forest systems.

Skills shortage

The policy includes the long-term future of the state's forestry community with plans to help address the industry's skills crisis and encourage value-adding to improve exports.

It also includes a crackdown on illegally logged timber imports and prepares for the impact of climate change.

Another $1 million will be for a new Forest and Forest Products Industry Skills Council to be known as ForestWorks, $1 million to develop skills data and $1 million to help regional governments and the industry to combat illegal logging.

"A Rudd Labor government will provide Tasmanians' forestry community with certainty and security for the future while ensuring the ongoing protection of Tasmania's old growth forests as provided for under the RFA (Regional Forest Agreement)," he said in a statement.

New policy

The announcement dispenses with former opposition leader Mark Latham's forestry policy for the state, a plan which was blamed for the loss of two Labor seats in the 2004 federal election.

Mr Latham's plan called for saving up to 240,000 hectares of old-growth forests and the creation of an $800 million fund to protect forest jobs.

Announcement praised

National Association of Forest Industries chief executive Catherine Murphy gave the plan tentative support and said it looked like it meant no more forests would be locked up.

"Although the industry will be seeking more detail, the policy appears to have provided the Tasmanian forest industry with much needed short-term certainty that no more resource from public forests will be put in reserves," she said.

Premier Paul Lennon welcomed Mr Rudd's pledge not to protect any more of the state's forests from logging.

He said Mr Rudd's policy "finally ends the tired and unnecessary practice of the state being used as election bait".

"We can move forward with unity and confidence under this policy," Mr Lennon said.

Criticism

Australian Conservation Foundation executive director Don Henry called on the ALP to honour its April national conference commitment to further protect identified Tasmanian high-conservation value, old growth forests, rainforests and other ecosystems.

"Labor's announcement leaves many tens of thousands of hectares of high conservation value forest on Tasmanian public land unprotected from logging," Mr Henry said in a statement.

"Spectacular parts of Tasmania that are vital for tourism and the environment like the Florentine, the Weld and the Blue Tiers remain open to logging under the terms of this statement.

"This announcement does nothing to secure the future of the Tasmanian forest industry. Rather it will entrench division and uncertainty."

Unions

The Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) said it would support Mr Rudd at this year's election over his pledge not to protect any more of the state's forests from logging.

"The ghost of Mr Latham has now been laid to rest," CFMEU state secretary Scott McLean said.

"Labor's forestry policy announced in October 2004 was a disaster, just five days away from the federal election.

"It cost the party dearly, but this time around the Rudd forest policy provides the security we have been looking for.

"It means that we will still have access to forests for harvesting, there will be no further lock-ups, and provisions already made between the state and federal governments remain in place."

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Carbon exchange goes live

By
March 1st, 2019

Australia's first carbon trading exchange went live today, setting the bid price of $8-point-50 a metric tonne.

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The exchange is a joint venture between the existing niche bourse – the Australian Pacific Exchange – and a new entity, the Australian Carbon Exchange.

Diversified telecommunications services provider M2 Telecommunications Group Ltd became the first buyer – placing an order to purchase $5,000 worth of carbon offsets on the exchange.

"M2 has made a commitment to social and environmental responsibility within our company charter," M2 managing director Vaughan Bowen said.

"While the carbon footprint generated by the telco industry is not as substantial as other sectors, every sector should be contributing."

At 1201 AEST today, 600 metric tonnes of Australian Greenhouse Office – accredited voluntary emission reductions (VERs) – were traded on the exchange at $8.50 each.

Carbon trading allows rich countries to meet greenhouse gas emissions targets by paying poor countries to make emissions cuts for them, through the exchange of tradable carbon credits.

Critics

But the head of Australia's biggest energy retailer is concerned a significant number of companies could be carved out of Australia's mandatory carbon trading scheme.

AGL Energy chief executive Paul Anthony has questioned the viability of oil and gas producer Santos Ltd's plan to spend $7 billion on a liquefied natural gas plant at Gladstone in Queensland.

"First and foremost, the question we ask ourselves is how much of industry is going to be carved out by having free permits," Mr Anthony told Sky News Sunday Business.

"That leaves the remainder of the industry having to pick up – if you like – the tab for the remainder."

The government's trading scheme, due to go live in 2012, would fail if overall aspirational targets were set too low, permits were set too leniently or permits were given away, Mr Anthony said.

The lack of a carbon price, or the existence of a carbon trading exchange, in Australia has forced companies that want to trade carbon voluntarily, like AGL, to trade on an exchange in Chicago.

Meanwhile, Mr Anthony said Santos's LNG proposal could affect gas prices as a new supplier came on to the market on the eastern seaboard, but he was not totally convinced they would be able to pull off the ambitious project.

"There are two question marks," Mr Anthony said.

"One, can they withstand the capital intensity of building such a very large project given their market cap, and secondly, can they secure sufficient molecules of gas to ever bankroll such a large project."

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Satellites to track logging

By
March 1st, 2019

Mr Turnbull announced today Australia will participate in a system of satellite tracking stations to help monitor forest cover in the region.

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The surveillance is aimed at helping countries track illegal logging.

Funding boost

Foreign Affairs Minister Alexander Downer and Mr Turnbull announced Australia will give $10 million to Indonesia and contribute almost $12 million to a World Bank program as part of the federal government's $200 million global climate initiative.

They said $10 million would go to Indonesia and $11.7 million to the World Bank's new global Forest Alliance to help fund sustainable forest management and international efforts to reduce global deforestation.

The funding is being provided from the federal government's $200 million Global Initiative on Forests and Climate Change.

Satellites tracking

Mr Turnbull said the use of technology in the fight against deforestation would be on the agenda at a meeting of about 70 countries in Sydney this week.

"We're going to need technology, we're going to need money, we're going to need goodwill and a lot of cooperation," Mr Turnbull told ABC Radio.

"Some of the largest deforesters will be there in the sense that countries like Indonesia and Brazil, the countries of big tropical forests where most of the deforestation is occurring, are going to be present.

"There's no point funding the protection of a forest in one valley if the forest in the adjoining valley is all clear-felled."

The report said countries would be asked to join the scheme so the results could be fed into an international database.

Criticism

But Greenpeace spokesman Steven Campbell said a similar program was already up and running and funds should be directed elsewhere.

"One of the biggest problems with deforestation in our region in places such as Indonesia and Papua New Guinea, is the level of corruption and poor governance in the forest," he said.

"The best thing that the government can do is to stop the importation of illegal timber in Australia, because we import about $400 million worth of illegal timber every year."

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Mr Rudd today was touring the Tasmanian marginal Liberal electorates of Braddon and Bass, which Labor lost in 2004 after former leader Mark Latham announced his forestry policy to quarantine up to 240,000 hectares of old-growth forests from logging.

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The Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) said it would support Mr Rudd at this year's election over his pledge not to protect any more of the state's forests from logging.

"The ghost of Mr Latham has now been laid to rest," CFMEU state secretary Scott McLean said.

"Labor's forestry policy announced in October 2004 was a disaster, just five days away from the federal election.

"It cost the party dearly, but this time around the Rudd forest policy provides the security we have been looking for.

"It means that we will still have access to forests for harvesting, there will be no further lock-ups, and provisions already made between the state and federal governments remain in place."

Mr Rudd announced a $20 million support package for the forestry industry at a timber yard in the Braddon constituency town of Smithfield this morning.

He said the ALP would not protect any Tasmanian forests not included in the Regional Forest Agreements or the state's $250 million Community Forest Agreement.

The plan includes $8 million to help the industry adapt to the effects of climate change and a $9 million development fund to increase forestry exports.

Tasmanian Greens leader Peg Putt said Mr Rudd's challenge was to be forward-looking in relation to the forest debate in Tasmania and to "embrace a transition to a modern industry that allows the protection of high conservation value forests that are on the chopping block, and moves to non-conflictive use of alternative wood sources that are abundantly available".

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