Current Events


Drought Reveals 3,400-year-old Palace
June 30, 2019
Mittani Empire palace A drought has lowered water levels in an Iraqi reservoir so much that an ancient palace is once again visible. The palace stood fewer than 70 feet from what was the eastern bank of the Tigris River. Large mud brick walls dominate the western edge of the palace, which was built on sloping terrain. According to cuneiform writing on a tablet found at the sight, the palace was called Kemune, dates to about 1800 B.C., and was established by the Mitanni Empire, which ruled over what is now parts of Syria and was then Mesopotamia and ancient Syria.

Signed Neil Armstrong 'Giant Leap' Photo Sells for $52,000
June 24, 2019
Neil Armstrong on the Moon A signed photo of Neil Armstrong about to step on the Moon has sold for $52,247 at auction. Armstrong signed the photo, which depicts him just before he took the "giant leap for mankind" that made him famous. The presale estimate was $15,000. The family of Richard Windmiller Sr., the onetime of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration photo department, had owned the photo. The photo was a still shot from the original video transmission of Armstrong's descent down the ladder of the Apollo 11 lunar module. A camera mounted on the spacecraft captured the moment and many afterward. Armstrong later signed the still, which was developed in a photo lab when the crew returned. He signed five stills in all.

Italy Named Host Country for 2026 Winter Olympics
June 24, 2019
2026 Olympics logo Italy will be the host country for the 2026 Olympics, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has announced. The Winter Games will take place Feb. 6–22, 2026, in Milan and Cortina d'Ampezzo. It will be the first Olympics to have more than one official host city; the cities are nearly 200 miles apart. It will be the third time overall and the second time in two decades that Italy will play host to the Winter Olympics. The 1956 Games were in Cortina d'Ampezzo, and the 2006 Games were in Turin. Rome was the host city for the 1960 Summer Olympic Games. The other nation in the running was Sweden, with a bid from Stockholm-Are that had a curious carrot of a bobsled track in Sigulda, Latvia.

Norwegian Island Seeks Status as Time-free Zone
June 21, 2019
Timeless island The residents of the northern Norwegian island of Sommarøy have declared themselves out of time–really. It's not that they've missed a deadline; it's that they want to stop ruled by the clock. Many of the 300 or so people who live on the island have petitioned their local member of Parliament to campaign on their behalf for a proposal to be declared the world's first time-free zone. They are already do things like have a coffee on the beach at 2 a.m. because it's still light. The island spends the months of November, December, and January in darkness but also goes from mid-May to late July in constant daylight.

Former Egyptian President Morsi Dies in Court
June 18, 2019
Mohamed Morsi, Egypt's first democratically elected President, has died. He was 67. Morsi had been in court yet again, being tried on charges of espionage. Speaking from within a glass cage in which he was confined during his many court sessions, he had warned of national security concerns surrounding his desire to reveal a number of secrets when he collapsed. He died a short time later. He had diabetes, and the harsh conditions of his imprisonment–he was often placed in solitary confinement–would not have been an ideal complement to such a medical condition.Morsi had already been sentenced to 20 years in prison, having been convicted of ordering members of the Muslim Brotherhood to use violence to break up a protest against him; a number of people died in the fracas. Family members oversaw his private burial, at a cemetery in eastern Cairo.

Museum Moves Massive 'Mascot' Sphinx to Main Hall
June 13, 2019
Penn Museum Sphinx A massive stone sphinx has moved from one part of a museum to another. The 13-ton statue representing Ramses II has sat in the Egypt Gallery of Philadelphia's Penn Museum since 1926. The technology used to move it didn't exist when the statue arrived at the museum. Museum officials used high-powered air compression to create a hoverboard-like transfer scenario and moved the statue 250 feet into the museum's main entrance hall. The first step was to create a 3D scan of the sphinx, to determine its weight and its density. Then, they employed a more traditional solution, a number of hydraulic gantries. That's when high tech took over. Workers placed the sphinx on a set of four air dollies that effectively floated the statue onto scaffolding, off which the hydraulic gantries took over again and put the sphinx on a track that resembled something used underneath a roller coaster. The rate of transport was very slow and involved travel through a removed door and window, around a few hairpin turns, and through another window. In planning the move, museum officials discovered that the building didn't match its blueprints.

Texas Bill Protects Sidewalk Lemonade Stands
June 11, 2019
Lemonade stand You can have your lemonade and sell it on the street, too–at least in Texas. Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law what amounts to legal protection for children's lemonade stands, one of the hallmarks of low-level economic initiative for young people all over the country. Abbott celebrated the signing of the bill by brandishing a big glass of lemonade. The impetus for the bill was a well-known instance in 2015 of police shutting down the lemonade stand of Overton's Andria and Zoey Green because they didn't have the correct paperwork.

Phenomenal: 8 Winners at Spelling Bee
May 30, 2019
Spelling Bee 2019 winners In the end, there were eight. The Scripps National Spelling Bee ended in an eight-way tie. It was only the third time in the event's history that more than one contestant had won. The 2014, 2015, and 2016 competitions had co-champions. After 20 rounds, anyone left onstage (meaning haven't misspelled a word) is a winner. In this case, that number was eight. A recent rule change allowed for no more than three winners. The 2017 and 2018 competition rules included a written tiebreaker test focusing on both spelling and vocabulary, in order to end up with just one winner. The tiebreaker was not needed, and event officials canceled the tiebreaker for this year.

LEGO Set Marks 50th Anniversary of Moon Landing
May 30, 2019
Apollo 11 in LEGO The makers of LEGO, the iconic building bricks that millions of children have used to build things for several generations, have released a special edition set to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon landing. NASA and LEGO worked together to create the LEGO Creator Expert NASA Apollo 11 Lunar Lander. The 1,087-piece seat includes pieces to make a model of the lunar lander, two fully suited astronauts, some of their equipment, a few lunar craters, and an American flag. The LEGO set goes on sale on June 1 and will sell for US$99.99.

50 Qualify for Spelling Bee Finals
May 29, 2019
The full complement of spellers will take part in the final round of the 92nd Scripps National Spelling Bee. A total of 369 spellers got all their words right through the first three rounds. The rules for the final round stipulate that no more than 50 competitors can move on to the final round. Spelling Bee officials determine the final cuts based on results of the preliminary test, a written examination that competitors completed on Monday. The complete list of finals participants is here.

Spelling Bee Officials Issue Rare Reinstatement
May 29, 2019
2019 National Spelling Bee Max Greenspan A rare reinstatement punctuated the opening round of this year's Scripps National Spelling Bee. The word was "mot juste." The speller was Max Greenspan, 13, from Scottsdale, Ariz. He got all but the last letter and then paused, trying to decide whether he needed to continue. Head judge Mary Brooks rang the bell, which means that a speller has misspelled the word. But the two-minute time period that spellers are given had not expired. Max walked, dejected, to the side of the stage. However, officials reviewed his situation and ruled that the head judge was not justified in ringing the bell. Max got a reprieve.

Teacher to Keep Windows Open after Finding High CO2 Levels
May 28, 2019
A teacher in England has vowed to keep his classroom windows open, after research showed very high levels of carbon dioxide when the airflow was diminished. Physics teacher Alby Reid of Reigate Grammar, a school Reigate, Surrey, had tested levels of carbon dioxide in his classroom during a recent two-hour lesson period and had found that the level of CO2 was 2,300 parts per million (ppm). A normal amount found outdoors is 400 ppm. Studies have shown that higher levels of CO2 can lead to declines in student attendance and academic performance because of fatigue or even cognitive impairment, caused by a low level of oxygen. As well, studies have found that accompanying poor air circulation are high levels of dust, danger, germs, and microbes.

Mona Lisa Comes Alive in AI-produced Video
May 29, 2019 Mona Lisa
Mona Lisa is doing more than smiling in a new video, the result of artificial intelligence. A group of researchers built a neural network powered by an extremely sophisticated algorithm with the purpose of simulating facial features and used the famous painting by Leonardo as an illustration of the new capability. The neural network "learned" the way that human faces move by churning through datasets gathered from three humans who looked somewhat like the woman in the famous painting. In three video clips, the woman in the painting turns her head and moves her lips.

National Spelling Bee to Kick Off
May 25, 2019

Spelling Bee logo The Scripps National Spelling Bee will take place May 27–30 at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center in National Harbor, Md. The action begins on the 27th, with a preliminaries test. Onstage spelling rounds begin the next day, and the finals take place on May 30. Of the 565 participants, 295 are male and 270 are female. The youngest participant is 7 and is in first grade; the oldest is 15. The grade with the most students is 8th, with 216. A total of 162 spellers have participated previously; of those, 120 are in their second year, 35 are in their third year, five are in their fourth year, and two are competing for the fifth time. The participants are from all 50 states and from U.S. territories and a handful of other countries, including the Bahamas, Canada, Ghana, Jamaica, Japan, and South Korea.

Climatestrike Has Record Crowds Again Worldwide
May 24, 2019
Climate strike May 2019 In another planned example of global cooperation, a record number of students skipped school on Friday to demand action on climate change. As the day dawned in cities around the globe, students (and many adults) gathered peacefully in public places, wielding signs and chanting slogans, calling for their governments to do something to slow the rate of global warming. It was a repeat of the March 15 Climatestrike, the participants of which numbered more than 1.6 million people in more than 100 countries. In the May 24 event, the number of countries was 110, the number of events topped 2,500, and the number of participants was a record.

Wreck of Infamous Slave Ship Clotilda Found, Officials Say
May 24, 2019
Clotilda Archaeologists are all but certain that they have discovered the remains of the Clotilda, the last remaining ship to sail from Africa to America. The wreck has been found in Mobile Bay. The ship transported 110 men, women, and children from Africa to Alabama in 1860, long after the international slave trade had been banned. The ship's captain then burned the ship, which sank into obscurity. Now, officials say, they have found the wreck.

Boy, 12, Invents Retractable Clothes Drying Rack
May 22, 2019

Automatic clothes rack inventor A 12-year-old Chinese boy has won top prize at a regional science contest for an automatic clothes drying rack that answers the call of the weather. Lu Jiezhen, who is in the 6th Grade at North-East Women's Education Center in Nanning, in China's Guangdong Province, found inspiration for the invention in necessity: a scolding from his mother. Lu's family had hung a load of clean clothes out to dry. Lu was supposed to watch for rain and, if it came, run outside and bring the clothes in, so they didn't get even more wet. He forgot. His mother wasn't happy. Lu admitted his mistake and set up making sure that it wouldn't happen again. The result was a clothes rack that includes a network of sensors that have two functions: any hint of rain results in the clothes rack's retracting under a waterproof tarp. Even better, another sensor is light-sensitive, so when the rain has stopped and sunlight has returned, the rack moves itself back out from underneath the tarp, so the clothes can dry.

Ukrainian President Names Ex-TV Execs as Advisers
May 22, 2019
Newly sworn-in Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has selected some of his former TV show colleagues to play roles in his administration. Zelenskiy, who before his election was most well-known for playing the president on TV, has named a producer in the Kvartal 95 TV studio, Serhiy Trofimov, as deputy head of the presidency. In a similar vein, Zelenskiy named Ivan Bakanov, who was in charge of the TV studio and who also set up Zelenskiy's political party, as deputy head of the state security service. Other such officials taking up such roles will be Kvartal 95 production company co-founder Serhi Shefirm, who will serve as first aide to the president, and Kvartal 95 scriptwriter Yuriy Kostiuk, who will serve as an administration deputy.

Ford Goes Forward with 'Walking' Delivery Robot
May 22, 2019
Ford Digit robot Automaker Ford has unveiled a walking robot called Digit, which has the appearance of two legs, which it uses to move, and the appearance of two arms, with which it can hold things while "walking." Agility Robotics built the programmable robot, which operates using data from Lidar and onboard stereo cameras. The robot can carry up to 40 pounds and can go up and down stairs successfully and use its arms to stop itself from falling. It can be folded up when not in use.

Young Michelangelo Sketch Unearthed in Private Collection
May 22, 2019
Michelangelo's Seated Man What an eminent art historian thinks is the earliest-known drawing by Michelangelo is now on display for the world to see. The renowned Renaissance Man drew a sketch called The Seated Manwhen he was 12 or 13 and an apprentice in the studio of Domenico Ghirlandaio, himself a well-known artist and instructor. Michelangelo drew the sketch about 1487, according to Italian Renaissance scholar Sir Timothy Clifford, who said that he identified the sketch as being done by Michelangelo in part because of the drawing style. Clifford emphasized the man's rounded chin and very hard line under the nose as being hallmarks of Michelangelo's style. Other leading Michelangelo scholars have agreed with Clifford's assessment. It was remarkable that the sketch exists, Clifford said, because Michelangelo was obsessed in destroying his early works.

Billionaire to Pay All College Graduates' Debts
May 19, 2019
Robert F. Smith Billionaire Robert F. Smith has promised to pay the student loan debts of nearly 400 college graduates. Smith made the announcement during his commencement at Morehouse College. School officials are still calculating the total amount owed by the 396 people who will benefit, but early estimates were that the total would be more than $10 million. Smith founded Vista Equity Partners, a firm that buys and sells software companies, and became the richest African-American man in America; his personal net worth was recently estimated to be about $5 billion. He made the offer on behalf of him and his family. He earlier made a $1.5 million grant to the college.

Maine Bans Native American School Mascots Statewide
May 19, 2019
Maine has banned the use of Native American symbols as educational institution mascots. The state legislature, in a unanimous vote, passed the bill that would prohibit public schools, colleges, and universities from such representations; Gov. Janet Mills signed the bill into law. No high school in the state now has a Native American mascot. The last one to make that happen did so in March 2019, the result of a grassroots movement that began two decades ago.

Ukrainian Actor Assumes Presidency, Dissolves Parliament
May 19, 2019
Volodomyr Zelenskiy inauguration It was several shades of new as Ukrainian TV star Volodymyr Zelenskiy assumed the presidency of his country. The 41-year-old comedian and star of a TV show in which he plays the Ukrainian president had a surprisingly easy victory over incumbent Petro Poroshenko, winning 73 percent of the vote. He further dispensed with tradition before and during his inauguration. He walked to the ceremony, rather than riding in a motorcade. He high-fived several people along the way and stopped to take a selfie with one of them. He dissolved the country's parliament, the Supreme Rada, and called a snap election, supplanting the one already scheduled to take place in October.

Statue of Liberty Museum Opens
May 17, 2019
Statue of Liberty original torch A new museum dedicated to the Statue of Liberty is now open. The 26,000-square-foot museum is on Liberty island, right next to the iconic statue. The centerpiece of the new museum is the statue's original copper torch, which was damaged in an explosion in 1916 and replaced in 1985. (The replacement was a gold-plated replica.) Also on display are other artifacts that, along with the torch, have been limited access, behind the economic threshold of a special tier of ticket. Now, anyone who visits Liberty Island can enjoy the museum without having to pay anything.

School Lunch Shaming a Hot Button Issue Again
May 17, 2019

Lunch shaming is back in the national conversation after a couple of high-profile instances in two northeastern states. Many school districts have adopted the idea of offering different school lunches to students who have incurred lunch debt because the districts say that they have found no other way to pay the bill. The National School Lunch Program, created in 1946, provides meals to students at more than 101,000 schools at little or no cost. Estimates of the number of American children currently enrolled in the program exceed 31 million. Some students' families cannot afford to pay the cost, and so some schools have resorted to not serving those students the same food that is served to other students who do not have school lunch debt.

Brexit Cross-party Talks at an End; No Deal Reached
May 17, 2019
It's unclear what's next for the United Kingdom government's plan to find support for any sort of deal to coincide with Brexit, now that cross-party talks between the nation's two largest political parties have ended. Prime Minister Theresa May and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn have been meeting with some regularity for several weeks, in an attempt to find agreement on a plan to put in place some mechanisms for dealing with the approaching U.K. exit from the European Union. Now, however, Corbyn has pulled out of the discussions, saying that he doesn't see how any agreement could be reached. Corbyn further said that he didn't have confidence that any deal that he might strike with May would be adhered to by her successor.

SAT Board Adds 'Adversity Score'
May 17, 2019

The SAT exam will soon include an "adversity score," organizers said.

SAT text The College Board, the New York-based nonprofit that oversees the popular college entrance examination, included 50 schools in a beta test of this addition in 2018; those schools and 150 more will be the first 200 to implement the new score later this year. The program began in 2015. College Board officials said that the goal of including the adversity score was to offset a perceived advantage enjoyed by students from higher economic backgrounds and that the results of that beta test helped disadvantaged students achieve that goal. To determine the score, the College Board will use a total of 15 factors that incorporate a student's economic and social background.

Romans Plugged Pompeii Potholes with Molten Iron: Archaeologists
May 17, 2019
Pompeii potholes The Romans living in Pompeii used molten iron to repair their stone streets, archaeologists have found.The team found traces of the iron in various places in or near the Italian city's paving stones. The iron would have been heated to a very high temperature and then poured into the holes, filling the space as it cooled, the archaeologists said. Such a repair strategy would have been faster and less expensive than a full-blown repaving exercise. What the archaeological team doesn't yet know is how the Romans poured the molten iron. They have not found remains of any equipment that would have been used. As well, no other instance of such of a use for molten iron has yet been uncovered in areas occupied by the Romans.

New Airport Designed to Increase Machu Picchu Visitors
May 17, 2019
Machu Picchu Work is progressing on a new airport designed to bring more tourists to the Inca citadel Machu Picchu, a tourist attraction that is already straining under the number of visitors it gets. In the nearby town of Chinchero, workers are preparing the landscape for a multibillion-dollar international airport that is already the target of a bidding war between companies from as far away as South Korea. The new airport would have larger runways that could accommodate direct flights from the U.S. and other nearby countries. At the moment, visitors to Machu Picchu fly into Cusco, which has one small runway, capable of accepting smaller planes from Lima and La Paz, Bolivia, after first flying to those cities.

Hershey Bars to Feature Emojis in Limited Run
May 17, 2019
Hershey's emojis bars The chocolate maker Hershey's is releasing a limited edition bar that will feature different designs on each panel. Each 12-panel bar will feature 12 different emojis. The company is using a total of 25 different popular emojis in all, including the iconic smiley face, sunglasses face, winking face, thumbs-up, clap hands, and other familiar figures. Both regular and snack size bars will include the emojis. In what amounts of a relatively limited run, Hershey's will make 25 million of the emoji-imprinted bars. That's an estimated one-tenth of one year's production. The packaging will feature a large emoji as well.

'Done!': Marking 150 Years of the Transcontinental Railroad
May 11, 2019
Transcontinental Railroad 150 years A group of re-enactors commemorated the 150th anniversary of the completion of the largest part of the Transcontinental Railroad, part of a wider celebration attended by thousands of people at the Golden Spike National Historical Park at Promontory Summit in Utah. It was there on May 10, 1869, that two railroad companies met to drive the Golden Spike and complete the biggest step in many people's dream of a coast-to-coast rail journey. Workers by the thousands starting laying track in Sacramento, Calif., and Council Bluffs, Iowa, and then met on that historic day in that historic place, 66 miles northwest of Salt Lake City. Along the way, Central Pacific had laid 690 miles of track and Union Pacific had laid 1,087 miles of track. Later that year, workers completed the final leg to the West coast, with tracks leading from Sacramento to Oakland. In another repeat performance, a re-enactor sent a short yet significant message via telegraph: "Dot, Dot, Dot. Done!" That message, sent in 1869, meant that the Pacific Railway had been completed.

Hidden Chamber Discovered at Nero's Golden Palace
May 11, 2019 Nero palace hidden chamber
Archaeologists have discovered a hidden chamber in the famed Domus Aurea palace of the Roman emperor Nero. The chamber had been covered since the palace was built in the 1st Century A.D. Working on a restoration project at the Colosseum heritage park, Italian archaeologists found an opening in a wall that led to a 15-foot-high underground chamber that was once connected to Nero's palace. The emperor ordered his huge, sprawling palace built beginning in A.D. 64, after the Great Fire of Rome. Dotting the arched roof chamber are a large number of still-vivid frescoes, depicting birds, panthers, aquatic creatures, and a sphinx. One painting shows a panther attacking a weapon-wielding man. Armed centaurs feature in another painting. Other frescoes show flowers, fruits, and leaves. The god Pan is shown in a full-length portrait. The team of archaeologists reported being most impressed with the painting a sphinx, the winged mythical beast that featured, among other places, in the Greek story of Oedipus. The sphinx is shown in a crouching position.

Party Store Closures a Microcosm of Helium Shortage
May 11, 2019
Helium-filled balloonsParty City's closing of 45 stores is the latest in a series of consequences resulting from a growing global shortage of helium. The East Hanover, N.J. retailer, which boasts a large online presence and nearly 900 bricks-and-mortar stores nationwide, has seen reduced sales and large losses lately, which led to the store closing announcement. Initial reports were that the closings were directly to the helium shortage, but Party City officials later said that the closings were part of a plan to revamp the business model, which includes the opening of four smaller stores later this year. In the past 10 years alone, global helium supply has been well below demand level (notably in 2012). Causes included shipping and delivery problems and natural disasters at plants, which cut into existing supply.

Gameboard Found at U.K. Roman Ruins, Reused in Floor
May 6, 2019
Archaeologists at one of the United Kingdom's most celebrated Roman digs have unearthed a stone slab that they think was a game board in ancient times. The place is Vindolanda, a fort on Hadrian's Wall in what is now Northumberland that was a vibrant center of trade for about 400 years, ending in the 4th Century. Among the significant finds also chronicled at the Vindolanda site are the famed Vindolanda Letters, which include the oldest surviving Latin writing in a woman's hand, a party invitation. A volunteer digger found the piece of stone that was thought to have been a game board as part of a floor, in an example of repurposing. The floor is of a building behind the Vindolanda bath house, which has been newly excavated. The game was called Ludus latrunculorum, and it was played throughout the Roman Empire. It was a two-player game that challenged players to move different-colored pieces around the board, which would have been covered with a square grid. Trapping one of your opponent's pieces between two of your own results in your opponent's having to remove that piece. Whichever player captures all opposing pieces wins the game.

Pyramid-builders Cemetery Found Near Giza
May 6, 2019 Giza mummies
Archaeologists digging on the Giza Plateau, site of the famous Pyramids, have unearthed a cemetery housing the 4,500-year-old remains of builders of those pyramids. Among the tombs and shafts discovered was a tomb belonging to a family who lived during the Fifth Dynasty, in the 3rd Century B.C. Inside the tomb were the remains of Behnui-Ka, who served as a priest and judge to three kings, and Nwi Who, who had three important roles in the reign of Khafre. Also found was a limestone statue showing a man and his wife and his son.

End of an Era: Japanese Emperor Vacates Throne

May 1, 2019
Akihito abdication In a relatively brief ceremony, Japanese emperor Akihito gave up his throne, after 31 years on the Chrysanthemum Throne. The 85-year-old gave way to his son, Naruhito. Akihito began the day of ceremonies in the morning, with a Shinto ceremony to report his intentions to the mythological ancestors of the imperial family. The main ceremony, which took place in front of about 300 people, lasted just more than 10 minutes and involved the emperor's symbolically returning an imperial sword, jewels, and seals to the country, so that his successor can take them up.

Notre Dame Gargoyles to Rise from Ashes in 3D Printing Plan
April 29, 2019
Notre Dame cathedral gargoyle and chimera It's a high-tech solution to an age-old problem. A Dutch company is offering to use 3D printing techniques to recreate the famed gargoyles from Paris's iconic Notre Dame cathedral using ashes from the fire that consumed the spire and a large part of the wooden interior of the 850-year-old building. The company is Concr3De, which specializes in 3D printing. The company has access to highly detailed 3D models made by Andrew Tallon, a Belgian-American art professor. In all, he and Columbia's Paul Blaer collected 1 billion points of data in the five days of scanning. He also took high-resolution panoramic photos in order to create a mapping opportunity of photo to scan. Concr3De officials said that they would extend their offer to include the chimeras, another kind of mythical creature featured on the walls of the iconic building.

Oil Sanctions on Venezuela Take Effect
April 28, 2019
U.S. sanctions against Venezuela are now in effect, promising strong action against anyone who buys oil from Venezuela's state-owned Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA). The U.S. Government announced the sanctions several week ago, as a way to express the country's disapproval with the conduct of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, who was recently re-elected in an election that many inside the country and many observers from outside the country considered are questionable in conduct. In January 2019, opposition leader Juan Guaido invoked an obscure part of the constitution and declared himself as the party's rightful leader. The two political leaders have clashed publicly for the past few weeks. The U.S. Government also announced that it would block assets of Venezuela's foreign minister, Jorge Arreaza, and that it certified Guaido's naming of his own board to head up the refining and gas station chain Citgo, which has been the largest buyer of Venezuelan oil.

Egypt Amendments Strengthen Sisi Hold on Power
April 28, 2019
Abdel Fattah al-Sisi Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi can now run for office again, after a national referendum changed the country's constitution. Al-Sisi, the minister of defense and head of the army who led the coup that ousted Mohamed Morsi in 2013, was himself elected President in 2014 and vowed not to challenge the constitutional provision that limits the leader of the country to two four-year terms. He was re-elected in 2018. Under the terms of the two amendments, which had already been approved 531–22 by the Egyptian Parliament, the presidential term is now six years, not four, meaning that Sisi's current term would end in 2024; further, he is now allowed to run for another six-year term.

Ukrainian Actor Parlays TV Role as President into Electoral Victory
April 21, 2019 Volodomyr Zelensky
Life has imitated art, as an actor who plays the Ukrainian president on TV has been elected Ukraine's President. Volodymyr Zelensky has declared victory over the incumbent, Petro Poroshenko, after exit polls showed a wide disparity between the vote totals for the two candidates: Zelensky won 73 percent of the vote, and Poroshenko got 25 percent. It was the second round of elections. The first, which featured 38 candidates, resulted in no one candidate receiving a majority of the vote. Zelensky, with 30 percent, and Poroshenko, with 16 percent, were the top two vote-getters. Zelensky is a political novice who is perhaps most well-known for his role as the Ukrainian president in the TV show Servant of the People. The main character, Vasyl Holoborodko, begins as a schoolteacher with no political experience but emerges as a strong national leader. The show has been on the air for nearly four years and routinely garners an audience of half of the country's population of 42 million. He has also starred in movies, including the Russian-language hit Love in the Big City.

Titanic Letter Describing Early Near-collision Up for Auction
April 21, 2019
Titanic near collision letter A U.K. auction house is selling a letter written by a member of the Titanic crew a few days before the ocean liner's sinking that describes what could have been an even earlier collision. Steward Richard Geddes wrote to his wife, Sarah, on April 11, 1912, the day after the "unsinkable ship" left the port of Southampton. In the letter, Geddes explains how the Titanic and another ship, the SS City of New York, came within a few feet of each other as the Titanic first left. The other ship, Geddes wrote, broke its ropes and the Titanic had to steer clear quickly. Many people onboard interpreted the near-collision as a sign of trouble ahead. They were proved correct on the night of April 14, when the ocean liner hit an iceberg and sank less than three hours later. Geddes, who in the letter said he hoped his wife was not worrying, did not make it out alive.

Blind Sailor Completes Nonstop Pacific Crossing
April 20, 2019 Mitsuhiro Iwamoto
A Japanese sailor who is blind has sailed across the Pacific Ocean without stopping. Mitsuhiro Iwamoto is the first visually impaired person to make the 8,700-mile crossing. Iwamoto, 52, sailed a 40-foot yacht named Dream Weaver from San Diego, California, to Fukushima, Japan. Iwamoto was at the controls, and his navigator, American Doug Smith, relayed wind directions and potential hazards. Iwamoto also used an audio compass and a vocalized GPS. The trip took two months.

Competition to Design New Notre Dame Cathedral Spire
April 18, 2019
Notre Dame cathedralThe French government will have an international competition to design a spire to replace the one that a fire destroyed at the famed Notre Dame cathedral, Prime Minister Édouard Philippe said. The more than 400 firefighters that battled the blaze and kept the bell towers and the rest of the building intact saved a number of artworks and relics, and those will be moved to the Louvre; the artworks and relics had been at Paris City Hall for safekeeping. A day after the fire, exactly 24 hours after it started, cathedrals around the country tolled their bells in honor of the famed central cathedral. A ceremony in Paris featured readings from Victor Hugo's famed novel Notre-Dame de Paris, known in English as The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Within a day of the blaze, the book was atop France's online bestseller list.

Study Finds Big Rise in Plastic Trash in Atlantic Ocean
April 18, 2019
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is probably the most well-known ocean area littered with tons and tons of plastic. However, scientists in the U.K. have been collecting data on marine plastic for more than 60 years and have now released the results of a decadeslong study that found that the amount of plastic in the North Atlantic Ocean is large as well.

Much of Notre Dame Cathedral Intact after Fire, Officials Say
April 16, 2019
Notre Dame cathedral interior Notre Dame's spire is gone, but much of the cathedral's spirit remains. People gathered in the thousands at a vigil a day a blaze tore through Paris's symbolic heart of a building. The fire that consumed the iconic 300-foot spire burned through a large amount of wood on the inside and outside of the building, but some treasures were saved by the more than 500 firefighters who battled the blaze for 15 hours, at one point risking their lives by staying inside to build a wall of water between the fire and the bell towers. Fire officials revealed that the 850-year-old cathedral was within 15 to 30 minutes from being entirely consumed. As it was, a large amount of the wooden frames inside were charred.

Notre Dame Cathedral Damaged by Fire
April 15, 2019
Notre Dame cathedral in flames Fire has demolished the spire of one of the world's most famous landmarks, the Notre Dame cathedral, but firefighters have saved the main structure and iconic bell towers of the 850-year-old structure. The cathedral, on the Ile de la Cite, one of two islands in the River Seine, in the center of the city, has been the victim of fire and smoke damage created by a fire in the attic that then spread across the roof. Firefighters numbering in the hundreds battled the blaze deep into the night and stopped the blaze from consuming the entire cathedral. The scaffolding around the building was symbolic of a $6.8 million renovation project, which had started a few years ago.

Seychelles President Makes Underwater Plea for Ocean Protection
April 14, 2019
Seychelles President Danny Faure To make a speech supporting better protection for the world's oceans, Seychelles President Danny Faure climbed inside a submersible and went below the surface. The broadcast, from 406 feet below sea level in the vessel Ocean Zephyr, was part of Faure's expanded efforts to campaign for a better understanding of how sea level rise will affect island nations such as his. In 2018, the Seychelles declared 81,000 square miles of water in the surrounding area as protected; the goal is to protect 30 percent of its natural waters by 2020. The protection limits fishing and tourism in the area.

Ukrainian President Has One-man Debate
April 14, 2019
Ukraine presidential debate What if they had a two-man debate and only one man showed up? That was the case in Kiev, as incumbent President Petro Poroshenko was the only one to appear onstage for a televised debate. His chief rival, TV comedian Volodymyr Zelensky, did not attend the event, at Olympic Stadium. The two men will face in a runoff election this week, after neither garnered enough of the vote in a previous election to win the presidency outright. Poroshenko got just 16 percent of the vote in the March 31 first round of elections. Zelensky was the leading vote-getter, with more than 30 percent of the vote. In all, 38 candidates were on the ballot. The candidate with the third-most votes was former prime minister Yluia Tymoshenko. Since that first election, Zelensky, who is known for playing a president on television, has made few public appearances and has campaigned largely using social media.

Colorful 4,300-year-old Tomb of Nobleman Found in Egypt
April 14, 2019
Khuwy tomb Egypt has taken the wraps off a well preserved tomb of a nobleman who lived 4,300 years ago. The tomb, near the Cairo-area necropolis of Saqqara, belonged to Khuwy, a senior official who lived during the Fifth Dynasty. The pharaohs of that dynasty ruled for about 150 years from the early 25th Century B.C. to the mid-24th Century B.C. Archaeologists found the mummified remains of Khuwy inside the tomb. Hieroglyphs drawn within the tomb list his many titles. One of those titles was "sole friend," the equivalent of a senior official to the pharaoh. Khuwy is thought to have served the Fifth Dynasty pharaoh Djedkare Isesi. His mummy was found during excavations in the 1940s. As well, archaeologists recently found on a nearby granite column an inscription containing the name of that pharaoh's wife, Queen Setibhor.

Cave Wall Messages Written in Cherokee Language
April 10, 2019
Cherokee wall painting Archaeologists have confirmed that Cherokee gathered in an Alabama cave 200 years ago and wrote ceremonial messages using their newly created alphabet. The messages, some of which were written backward, appear on the wall of Manitou Cave, near what was then Willstown but is now Fort Payne. Some of the messages were appeals to supernatural forces to aid the Cherokee's efforts in a contest of stickball, a prime sport preferred by the Native American tribe most famous for embarking on the Trail of Tears. Archaeologists know that the messages were put on the wall on April 30, 1828 because one of the messages contains that date. That was not long before the advent of the Indian Removal Act, which stipulated that the Cherokee and other tribes would have to give up their ancestral lands and head west. The great Cherokee leader Sequoyah, who lived nearby, created his alphabet in 1821. More properly known as a syllabary because it is 85 characters based on the syllables of the Cherokee language. The Cherokee accepted it as official in 1825, just three years before the newly identified cave wall messages were written.

Brexit Deadline Extended to October 31
April 10, 2019
The United Kingdom will not be forced to leave the European Union on April 12. That is the result of a meeting of the European Council, which offered October 31 as a new date for U.K. Prime Minister Theresa to present details of how Brexit would happen. May has agreed to the date. Meeting in Brussels, leaders of all of the other members of the European Union agreed to the extension. Unanimity is a requirement of such decisions. French President Emmanuel Macron made waves by speaking out against a longer extension than the June 30 date that May had earlier requested. German Chancellor Angela Merkel led the drive toward approving the October 31 date, and Macron eventually agreed. May still has to convince Parliament to approve some sort of deal regarding citizenship, trade, and a host of other issues that would result in the country's leaving the EU.

Brexit Deadline Fast Approaching
April 8, 2019
Brexit The days are few before the United Kingdom is scheduled to leave the European Union. The split will happen on April 12 unless circumstances change. U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May has, in recent days, engaged in discussions with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, in hopes of breaking the deadlock that has kept May's deal from passing Parliament. May's Conservative Party does not have a majority in Parliament and so must depend on members of other parties to approve the deal that May hammered out with EU negotiators weeks ago. That support has so far been lacking.

Upscale 'Snack Bar' Found in Pompeii
April 8, 2019
Archaeologists have uncovered a snack bar at Pompeii. The thermopolium, its proper Greek name (meaning "a place where something hot is sold"), was a staple around the Roman world, with several already discovered at Pompeii and elsewhere. Customers could get a drink or a bite of hot food, Pompeii snack bar wall just like at today's snack bars. Such places were popular, especially with the poor, who usually could not afford a private kitchen; as well, people who didn't have time to cook at home would frequent a thermopolium. On one wall behind this latest discovery is a painting of a Nereid, a mythical sea nymph, holding a lyre and riding a horse with a sea dragon-like tail. She is flanked by dolphins in the marine scene. An ancestor of today's restaurant, the thermopolium was usually a small room with an L-shaped masonry counter, inside which were dolia, or earthenware jars, that stored dried food. More upscale thermopolia would have had frescoes on the wall.

Hardtack That Survived Lusitania Sinking Up for Auction
April 8, 2019
Lusitania hardtack biscuit A hardtack cracker that survived the 1915 sinking of the ocean liner Lusitania is up for auction. The cracker, or biscuit as such things are known in the United Kingdom and current and former members of its commonwealth, comes with a note written by the British soldier who found the biscuit, in a lifeboat that took some survivors of the ocean liner's sinking to Ireland, to what is now Cobh but what was then Queenstown. Henry Aldridge and Son will do the auctioneering. The pre-sale estimate of the biscuit is a range from $3,920 to $6,533. The biscuit is one of only two known to still exist, the auction house said, adding that the other is on display in a museum in Ireland.

Natural Causes Preserved Terracotta Army's Weapons: Study
April 4, 2019 Terracotta Army
Scientists say that natural elements, not some ancient precursor to anti-rust technology, kept the Terracotta Army's weapons intact all these years. The very large collection of armed soldiers was discovered in 1974 by a group of farmers digging a well. Made up of more than 7,000 life-size clay sculptures of armed warriors, the army guards the tomb of China's first emperor, Qin Shi-huang-di, who died in the 3rd Century B.C. Not long after the discovery, scientists found traces of chromium salt oxide, a substance now known to resist rust, on some of the weapons held by the warriors. Some scientists formed the theory that the Chinese knew of chromium's anti-rusting properties all those years ago. However, new analysis had found that the real cause of preservation was in the soil itself and the surrounding air.

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David White