Boston Marathon bombing trial isn't going anywhere: panel rejects request to move trial

A U.S. appeals court has rejected a bid by the defense team for Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, arguing that it’s their job to weed out biased jurors.

It was the fourth request to move the trial out of Boston, where Tsarnaev has been accused of working with his brother, who died shortly after, to plant bombs at the Boston Marathon in April 2013, killing three and wounding 260, according to a CNN report.

Defense attorneys argue that there’s no way Tsarnaev will get a fair shake in the city where the dramatic events that gripped the nation occurred, but they have so far been unable to convince judges involved to move the case to another city.

It has already been almost two years since Tsarnaev has been captured, and jury selection hasn’t even begun yet with constant appeals, jury selection, and even snowstorms that have buried the city.

Judge George O’Toole has winnowed the jury field down to 70 prospects after questioning 256 in recent weeks. Three times before, the defense tried to get O’Toole to move the trial, and three times the judge rejected the appeals.

Next week, attorneys will weed out more jurors, and then 12 jurors and six alternates will be formally seated to hear opening statements in what is sure to be a dramatic and high-profile trial that will probably last well into June.

If found guilty of using weapons of mass destruction to kill at a large public event, the jury would then decide if he should get life in prison or die of lethal injection.

Prospective jurors have been questioned in detail about their biases toward Tsarnaev, and whether they would consider the death penalty in a state that hasn’t allowed it for a long time. The death penalty was removed in the state back in 1984, and the last execution was in 1947. However, since the case will be tried in federal court, the death penalty is an option.


In 3D: Very Large Telescope peers deeper into cosmos than ever before

According to a European Southern Observatory (ESO) statement, the Very Large Telescope has carried out unprecedented observations that enable the most detailed three-dimensional view of a small sector of the distance Universe.

The observations were gathered by the telescope’s MUSE instrument, focused on a region known as the Hubble Deep Field South. Deep field images are generated through long exposures of small regions of the sky, providing data on the most distance and earliest parts of the cosmos.

Over several days in 1995, NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope captured the iconic Hubble Deep Field. Two years later, Hubble produced a similar image of the southern sky, dubbed the Hubble Deep Field South. Though amazing and elucidating, the Hubble deep field images could not reveal all the galaxies present in the field of view.

MUSE, however, is able to discover those additional galaxies and provide more data on the entire field of view. After a mere 27 hours of observation, MUSE had amassed data on the distances, motions, and compositions of galaxies in the deep field, and uncovered over 20 galaxies so distant and so faint that they were previously invisible.

MUSE gathered around 90,000 light spectra – the different component colors of light at each pixel in the image. This information was used to detected previously unrecognized objects and determine the distances to 189 galaxies in the field. Some of those galaxies were comparatively nearby, while others are so distant that they were observed as they were when the Universe was less than a billion years old.

“Now that we have demonstrated MUSE’s unique capabilities for exploring the deep Universe, we are going to look at other deep fields, such as the Hubble Ultra Deep field. We will be able to study thousands of galaxies and to discover new extremely faint and distant galaxies. These small infant galaxies, seen as they were more than 10 billion years in the past, gradually grew up to become galaxies like the Milky Way that we see today,” said study leader Roland Bacon, MUSE principal investigator at the Centre de Recherche Astrophysique de Lyon.

The new research was published on February 26 in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics.


Osama bin Laden's personal letters expressed intention for more U.S. attacks

A terrorism trial of an accused Al-Qaeda operative revealed a lot about the mind of its former leader, Osama bin Laden. Before his death in 2011, he planned more terrorist attacks on the U.S. and Britain.

The revelations came about during the terrorism trial of Abid Naseer. The Pakistani student was arrested for a plot to bomb a shopping mall in Birmingham, England.

Naseer is being tried in New York City because American prosecutors were eager to try Al-Qaeda members in America. They also claim that Naseer was going to blow up a subway in New York.

Prosecutors read documents seized during the fatal raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound in 2011 that killed the terrorist leader who masterminded 9/11. The documents expressed his desire to kill more Americans.

“Striking America at home is of the highest and top importance and is the main way to reach what we want,” said one bin Laden letter. “The impact on Americans from a strike inside America cannot be compared with hitting them outside the country.”

One letter advocated for Al-Qaeda to disrupt America. The letter also mentioned the Al-Qaeda operation could do more damage in America than in Iraq or Afghanistan.

“One large operation inside America affects the security and nerves of 300 million Americans, whereas killing one thousand soldiers during eight years or more has a weak effect on their mental strain as a whole.”

The letter wanted terrorist plots to be carried out using common household items, like the boxcutters the 9/11 attackers used on the planes they hijacked.

“Guide the brothers towards new methods like using the simplest things such as household knives, gas tanks, fuel, diesel and others like airplanes, trains and cars as killing tools,” said a document.

“Try to benefit from the brothers with previous criminal conviction to obtain weapons,” continued the document.

Though the letter mentioned a terror cell going to Britain, during the trial, Naseer said he never met bin Laden.

“I do not condone 9/11,” said Naseer, who is defending himself in court. “The events of 9/11 are not justified in the name of Islam… I have never met Osama bin Laden.”


Immense black hole dates to the early history of the universe

A new paper published in the February 26 issue of the journal Nature describes a supermassive black hole that existed when the universe was only 875 million years old, a small fraction of its current age of 13.8 billion years. According to a Nature News & Views article by Bram Venemans of the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy, the black hole’s mass is the equivalent of 12 billion Suns.

The supermassive black hole was discovered by a team led by Xue-Bing Wu of the Department of Astronomy and Kavli Institute for Astronomy and Astrophysics at Peking university in Beijing. The team recognized the giant black hole in optical and near-infrared observations thanks to the rapid rate at which it was accreting gas. The black hole is an ultraluminous quasar; its extreme brightness is due to the energy emitted by the gas as it is pulled towards the black hole.

The newly discovered quasar is the brightest object yet observed from the universe’s early history. The extreme luminosity and age of this quasar will help reveal the composition of intergalactic gases in the early universe; as the light from the quasar passed through the gases on its way to Earth, the atoms in the gases absorbed certain wavelength’s. The abundances of hydrogen, helium, and various metals will be calculated from the resultant spectrum.

Every massive galaxy, such as our own Milky Way, houses a supermassive black hole at its heart. Previous studies have shown that the masses of a supermassive black hole and its host galaxy are closely related, with a ratio of black-hole mass to galactic mass of 0.14 to 0.5 percent. In the ancient galaxy that housed the newly identified quasar, if this ratio held true, between 4 trillion and 9 trillion solar masses in stars would have been present. The newly found quasar will help scientists understand the processes that formed giant galaxies and black holes during the early evolution of the cosmos.


Dawn sees two mysterious bright spots on Ceres that could be ice

According to a NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory statement, the Dawn probe has recently sent back additional images of the dwarf planet Ceres, the largest object in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, showing two strange bright spots. One of the bright areas was recently reported based upon an earlier set of images.

Dawn is fast approaching Ceres and is now about 29,000 miles away; the spacecraft will assume orbit around 590-mile-wide Ceres on March 6. Dawn will study Ceres for 16 months, accruing data that should provide new insights into its origin, evolution, and surface features.

In the meantime, scientists are not yet sure what to make of the mysterious bright spots on Ceres. At Dawn’s current distance, the spots are too small to be resolved with the onboard camera. The two spots, one of which is somewhat brighter than the other, appear to occupy the same crater basin, perhaps suggesting that they were created through a process similar to volcanism.

“This is truly unexpected and still a mystery to us,” said Andreas Nathues, lead investigator for the framing camera team at the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research.

Ceres is Dawn’s second stop in the asteroid belt; the probe visited 326-mile-wide Vesta, the second most massive body in the asteroid belt, in 2011 and 2012. Dawn captured over 30,000 images of Vesta, shedding light on its makeup and evolution.

According to NASA’s Solar System Exploration Ceres page, Ceres is a nascent planet, its formation disrupted by Jupiter’s powerful gravitational field. Observations by the Herschel Space Observatory suggest that large amounts of water ice are present under the surface of Ceres, forming a layer between the rocky core and the outer crust. The presence of discreet layers in its interior makes Ceres more similar to our solar system’s rocky planets, such as Earth and Mars.


Alaska's pot legalization will boast some of 'the most sensible marijuana laws' in U.S.

The cultural change towards marijuana use continues to grow. Alaska is the latest, and most conservative, state to legalize marijuana.

Alaska is the third state to legalize pot after Colorado and Washington State. A voter-passed initiative passed in November and the measure goes into effect this month.

Marijuana became legalized in Alaska, a Republican-leaning state. While Alaska is conservative, many voters are libertarians who advocate for more socially progressive policies about drug use.

The law was also legalized thanks to the young Native Alaskan population, despite the fact many older Native Alaskans were initially against the measure.

“That was really significant, because it showed that the generational divide extends even to Native communities, and maybe even more excessively there,” said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance.

Marijuana advocates are pleased with the voter-approved measure.

“Support for ending marijuana prohibition bans spans the political and ideological spectrums,” said Mason Tvert, director of communications for the Marijuana Policy Project, which advocated for legal pot in all 50 states.

“Adults who wish to use marijuana will finally be able to do so without fear of being punished. Law enforcement officers will no longer have to spend their limited time and resources arresting adults simply for using a substance that is objectively safer than alcohol. Instead, they can focus on addressing more serious crimes,” added Tvert.

“Alaska now has some of the most sensible marijuana laws in the nation,” said Dr. Tim Hinterberger, chair of the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol.

The failed war on drugs and racial disparities with drug convictions could have also led to voters supporting the legalization of marijuana. Though African-Americans consume drugs less than Whites, they are more likely to go to prison for drug possession.

“Some people support making marijuana legal because it’s a matter of ending a failed government program; others support it because they believe it’s a civil rights issue in which communities of color are being disproportionately impacted,” said Hinterburger.

“Reasons vary, but it’s one of the few issues where we see very conservative people and very progressive people in agreement, and we expect to see more red states passing similar laws in the future,” added Hinterberger.

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Clinton insists tech world cannot properly advance with current gender inequalities

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke on Tuesday at the first Watermark Silicon Valley Conference for Women in Santa Clara. Clinton argued that gender equality in the workplace and equality for women are necessary to ensure a country’s economic and political stability.

“Where women are included you are more likely to have democracy, ” Clinton said in her speech. “[I can] literally count on one hand the number of women who have come [to Sillicon Valley] and turned their dreams into billion dollar businesses… we cannot afford to leave all that talent on the sidelines.”

Clinton, who is considered to be the clear frontrunner for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination despite having yet to formally announce that she is seeking a bid in the race, delivered a keynote address at Tuesday’s event. The event focused on the professional development and leadership of women.

“We’re going backwards in a field that is supposed to be all about moving forward,” Clinton said after citing the fact that women now receive only 18 percent of computer science degrees, whereas in the 1980s women took home 38 percent of those degrees. “Our economy seems to be operating like it’s 1955.”

Following the speech, Kara Swisher, co-executive editor of the tech website Re/code, spoke with Clinton about the progress that the former Secretary of State would like to see on issues like equal pay and family leave.

In addition, Swisher asked Clinton whether or not she plans to run for President.

“I am talking to a lot of people,” Clinton responsed. “There are a lot of things I would love to see our country do…all in good time.”

When asked whether having a female president would make a difference, Clinton responded that the increase in women serving in the Senate over the last several decades has already had an impact. She called for more women to take the lead and help other women, but clarified that it would not necessarily mean doing something big and dramatic. “You don’t have to run for office… but if you do, more power to you.”


NYPD must face 'a hard truth' regarding racism and brutality, says commissioner

The New York Police Department has had many issues concerning race and justice. NYPD police commissioner Bill Bratton addressed those concerns at an African-American church in New York.

The last few months have been fraught with racial tension between police and African-Americans. The high-profile death of Eric Garner at the hands of police has further strained the poor relationship between the NYPD and African-Americans. Bratton made an attempt to heal the divide in a recent speech at Greater Allen AME Church in Southeast Queens.

“The NYPD needs to face the hard truth that in our most vulnerable neighborhoods, we have a problem with citizen satisfaction, ” said Bratton. “We are often abrupt, sometimes rude, and that’s unacceptable.”

Bratton added the problem with police brutality and African-Americans has been a historic problem in the city.

“The best parts of American history would have been impossible without the police. Many of the worst parts of black history would have been impossible without police, too,” said Bratton.

“Slavery, our country’s original sin, sat on a foundation codified by laws and enforced by police, by slave-catchers,” added Bratton.

Bratton also mentioned another case of police brutality against a Black man in the 1960’s.

“An NYPD lieutenant shot and killed a 15-year-old African-American boy in Yorkville. The killing ignited six nights of riots in Harlem and Bedford-Stuyvesant and half a decade of urban unrest in cities across the country,” said Bratton.

Despite the history of abuse, Bratton has vowed to repair the broken relationship between the NYPD and African-Americans. Bratton asked the audience not to judge all cops based on the abusive actions of a few officers.

“Our critics need to face the hard truth that they misrepresent us,” said Bratton.


NASA prepares for launch of satellites to study Earth’s magnetic field

According to a NASA statement, the launch of the Magnetospheric Multiscale (MMS) mission is scheduled for 10:44 p.m. on March 12 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. NASA will convene a briefing on the mission at 3:00 p.m. EST on Wednesday, February 25.

The briefing will be held at NASA Headquarters in Washington and will be broadcast on NASA Television and NASA’s website. The briefing will be carried out by four mission scientists, including Jeff Newmark, interim director of NASA’s Heliophysics Division; Jim Burch, principal investigator for the MMS Instrument Suite at the Southwest Research Institute; Craig Tooley, MMS Project Manager at the Goddard Space Flight Center; and Paul Cassak, an associate professor at West Virginia University in Morgantown.

According to the MMS mission website, four identical probes will orbit Earth to observe a mysterious process known as magnetic reconnection. The probes’ orbits will take them through known magnetic reconnection locations. Previous missions, THEMIS and Cluster, have carried out preliminary observations of reconnection occurrences, but MMS will be the only mission dedicated solely to exploring reconnection.

Each MMS probe is an octagon 11 feet in diameter and powered by solar panels. Each spacecraft carried 25 sensors comprising 11 instruments. The quartet of probes will orbit in a pyramidal formation, allowing them to study the entire three-dimensional structure of a reconnection.

Magnetic reconnection is when magnetic field lines interact and emit huge amounts of energy in the form of heat, accelerated charged particles, and matter flows. Reconnection happens only in plasma, the soup of positive and negative particles that fill space and constitute stars, accounting for around 99% of the observable universe. Reconnections can occur around Earth as the Sun’s magnetic field interacts with our planets’; on the side of Earth facing the Sun, matter and energy from the Sun can enter Earth’s own magnetosphere, while on the night side, reconnections might play a role in initiating the aurora.


Record amount of ice covers Great Lakes, creates municipal headaches

The current prolonged bitter cold snap covering a majority of the country has almost completely frozen the Great Lakes. According to scientists, the ice buildup across the greater basin area of the region could remain well into year, which would disrupt local shipping industry.

“The official ice concentration is on par with where we were at last year,” said Anne Clites, physical scientist for the Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory, a division of NOAA. “However, the situation has changed quite a bit this past week. If you were looking at the current ice two weeks ago it was significant, but not nearly what we have today.”

The ice cover is so dense that it is a problem for the area’s shipping economy; the Coast Guard has deployed icebreakers in order to make safe passage for cargo vessels carrying products vital for weathering winter month, such as heating oil and road salt. Authorities have been working to no avail to free a stranded freighter approximately 360 miles east of Cleveland from ice pack about 10 feet thick.

“We’re probably going to be looking at situations like we had last year, where we had to put together convoys — lots of vessels together to make it through,” said Coast Guard spokesman Lorne Thomas.

Currently, the GLERL estimates ice coverage on the lakes to be about 85 percent, an amount that is expected to increase and possibly eclipse the record of 92 percent ice coverage of last year during the infamous polar vortex. And due to the heat retention properties of large bodies of water, the ice will most likely remain on the lake well into the summer– in 2014 the last ice on the Great Lakes melted in June. “So we started this season with below-water temperatures to begin with,” said George Leshkevich, a physical scientist with the lab.