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eyes on the U.S.

U.S. Election: Five Things To Know For Final Stretch Before Nov. 6



Sure, it may come down to a few undecided voters in some sleepy town in Ohio, but U.S. presidential elections are also by now very much global events. So as the world prepares to follow the final countdown to Tuesday's showdown between President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, here are FIVE QUICK TIPS to guide us through the next four days...on the way to the next four years.

1. TRACK STATES, NOT NATIONAL POLLS: According to just about any national survey of voters, the race is extra tight right down to the wire. The Washington Post has a daily updated "tracking" survey that has shown each candidate circling around 48% virtually every day for the past three weeks.

But it's better to follow how the race is shaping up in certain key states. Remember that the President is elected by the total votes of the "electoral college," which totals the ballots in the individual states' "winner-take-all" contests. (So for example, if candidate X wins Florida by just one vote, he garners ALL 29 of the state's Electoral College votes...270 is the magic number to win the election)

Polls show most of the 50 are firmly locked in for one or the other candidates: dubbed a decade ago Red (Republican) and Blue (Democratic) states. But a few, including big prizes like Ohio and Florida, and suddenly key smaller states like New Hampshire and Nevada, are still considered up for grabs.

Though harshly contested by some, New York Times statistical whiz Nate Silver is wagering as of Friday that Obama has an 80% chance of victory.

Study THIS MAP at Politico.com....

.... and compare it to the one BELOW, which shows the 2008 tally.

[rebelmouse-image 27085969 alt="""" original_size="500x291" expand=1]

2. SANDY EFFECT: The cynics and political insiders (yes there is some crossover between these two categories!) were calculating the effects of the so-called Superstorm Sandy even before it hit land. So far it seems to have given a small boost to Obama, who has generally praised for his handling of the disaster. He also got some unexpectedly effusive praise from Republican Governor Chris Christie when touring the destruction in New Jersey.

Also late Thursday, New York City's influential and self-declared "independent" mayor Michael Bloomberg announced that he would vote for Obama, pushed in the wake of the storm to base his vote largely on the question of fighting global warming. Romney, meanwhile, without the benefit of the presidential role, has struggled to figure out how to react to the storm and keep up the partisan campaign push.

3. GROUND GAME With this linguistic reference to American football, campaign watchers say the real key to victory is the behind-the-scenes structure for canvassing voters door-to-door during the campaign -- and getting them to the polls on Election day. Television commercials and unexpected gaffes aside, it may be that it's the better-organized campaign that wins on Tuesday.

4. WHERE, WHAT, WHEN TO WATCH If you're American, go vote. If you're not, you'll want to see how they all ended up voting. Tuesday will be a long day, with lots of chatter on and off social networks... and little worthwhile information. Major media outlets will be polling voters all day, but cannot "call" winners in the individual states until voting is closed. That means it is unlikely that top news organizations will be calling the race before midnight East Coast time.... but if you study the above maps, and the latest polls, you may be able to figure it out earlier. Still, our suggestion to folks in Asia and Europe: Go to bed Tuesday, and follow the results Wednesday morning.

5. BATTLE FATIGUE Tired yet? Well then, you know how she feels...

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Life On "Mars": With The Teams Simulating Space Missions Under A Dome

A niche research community plays out what existence might be like on, or en route to, another planet.

Photo of a person in a space suit walking toward the ​Mars Desert Research Station near Hanksville, Utah

At the Mars Desert Research Station near Hanksville, Utah

Sarah Scoles

In November 2022, Tara Sweeney’s plane landed on Thwaites Glacier, a 74,000-square-mile mass of frozen water in West Antarctica. She arrived with an international research team to study the glacier’s geology and ice fabric, and how its ice melt might contribute to sea level rise. But while near Earth’s southernmost point, Sweeney kept thinking about the moon.

“It felt every bit of what I think it will feel like being a space explorer,” said Sweeney, a former Air Force officer who’s now working on a doctorate in lunar geology at the University of Texas at El Paso. “You have all of these resources, and you get to be the one to go out and do the exploring and do the science. And that was really spectacular.”

That similarity is why space scientists study the physiology and psychology of people living in Antarctic and other remote outposts: For around 25 years, people have played out what existence might be like on, or en route to, another world. Polar explorers are, in a way, analogous to astronauts who land on alien planets. And while Sweeney wasn’t technically on an “analog astronaut” mission — her primary objective being the geological exploration of Earth — her days played out much the same as a space explorer’s might.

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