Comet At hand, Afghan Opium, Bush To Bush

Eyes on the prize: comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko
Eyes on the prize: comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Presidents Xi Jinping and Barack Obama signed a landmark deal to limit their greenhouse gas emissions, The Washington Post reports. China, for the first time, agreed to cap its output by 2030 or even earlier if possible, and pledged to increase the share of non-fossil fuels in its energy mix to 20% in the same period. The U.S. meanwhile will cut its emissions by 26 to 28% levels by 2025, compared to 2005 numbers. The deal was negotiated secretly by the world’s two biggest carbon polluters, who together account for 40% of the world’s emissions. Obama described the plan as “a major milestone in U.S.-China relations.” Making a similar statement in The New York Times, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry explains that “we need to solve this problem together because neither one of us can solve it alone.”

The European Space Agency’s Rosetta mission is in the final hours of an unprecedented attempt to land on the surface of a comet. The spacecraft successfully released its Philae lander early Wednesday, ahead of the planned landing today on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, a large mass of ice and dust some 510 million kilometers from Earth, the BBC reports. If successful, the mission would mark a turning point in space exploration history. Much of the difficulty in landing on the comet is its low gravity. “It's all down to Isaac Newton and the laws of physics now,” said Professor Mark McCaughrean, senior science adviser at the European Space Agency. You can follow the landing here. In the meantime, this series of pictures of the comet are just what you need to relive the 10-year mission, and better understand how it works and what it could teach us.

Five of the world’s biggest banks have been collectively fined $3.16 billion for conspiring to manipulate the $5.3-trillion-a-day foreign currency market, The New York Times reports. The UK’s HSBC, Royal Bank of Scotland, Swiss bank UBS and American banks JP Morgan Chase and Citibank have all been fined by British, U.S. and Swiss regulators. Barclays pulled out of the settlement talks but the probe continues, while Bloomberg writes that Deutsche Bank is also being investigated. “Today’s record fines mark the gravity of the failings we found and firms need to take responsibility for putting it right,” the head of Britain’s Financial Conduct Authority said.


Afghanistan’s opium cultivation expanded to a record-high 553,000 acres in 2014.

Moscow and Tehran reached a deal late Tuesday that will see Russia build two more nuclear reactors in Iran, and possibly another six later, a move that Iran’s top nuclear official described as “a turning point in the relations between our countries,” RT reports. This comes less than two weeks before a November 24 deadline for Iran to sign a deal on curbing its nuclear program with six world powers, including the U.S. and Russia. According to the Los Angeles Times, the reactors will however be operated under the UN’s supervision, a step aimed at reassuring the West that the program won’t be used for military purposes.

After hundreds of years of reducing our physical activity with the help of machines, we now find we need to move to remain healthy. A friendly city is one that forces you to walk more, this Clarin essay opines: “Just as we are about to reach the evolutionary dream of not having to move much, we find ourselves having to think about cities that force us to do so. Fewer than 100 years ago, most of us were engaged in manual work — carrying bags, painting, digging or plowing the fields. Physical activity was a normal part of our lives. Today, we have to go to a gym to move our limbs a bit, and many of us don't even do that much.”
Read the full article, A City Should Force You Off Your Arse.

Mali recorded its second Ebola death, a nurse who had treated an infected man from Guinea at a clinic which is now in quarantine in the capital Bamako, Reuters reports. The woman was however the first to have contracted the disease in the West African country, the first victim being a two-year old girl from Guinea. U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew urged the International Monetary Fund to write off $100 million of the $372 million collectively owed by Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, the three countries worst hit by the virus, which has killed nearly 5,000 people.


Former U.S. President George W. Bush has made clear who he’d like to see in the White House next.

Rookie rowers at New York’s Snowflake Regatta 2014 proudly present you this video of highly cringeworthy rowing.

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In Argentina, A Visit To World's Highest Solar Energy Park

With loans and solar panels from China, the massive solar park has been opened a year and is already powering the surrounding areas. Now the Chinese supplier is pushing for an expansion.

960,000 solar panels have been installed at the Cauchari park

Silvia Naishtat

— Driving across the border with Chile into the northwest Argentine department of Susques, you may spot what looks like a black mass in the distance. Arriving at a 4,000-meter altitude in the municipality of Cauchari, what comes into view instead is an assembly of 960,000 solar panels. It is the world's highest photovoltaic (PV) park, which is also the second biggest solar energy facility in Latin America, after Mexico's Aguascalientes plant.

Spread over 800 hectares in an arid landscape, the Cauchari park has been operating for a year, and has so far turned sunshine into 315 megawatts of electricity, enough to power the local provincial capital of Jujuy through the national grid.

It has also generated some $50 million for the province, which Governor Gerardo Morales has allocated to building 239 schools.

Abundant sunshine, low temperatures

The physicist Martín Albornoz says Cauchari, which means "link to the sun," is exposed to the best solar radiation anywhere. The area has 260 days of sunshine, with no smog and relatively low temperatures, which helps keep the panels in optimal conditions.

Its construction began with a loan of more than $331 million from China's Eximbank, which allowed the purchase of panels made in Shanghai. They arrived in Buenos Aires in 2,500 containers and were later trucked a considerable distance to the site in Cauchari . This was a titanic project that required 1,200 builders and 10-ton cranes, but will save some 780,000 tons of CO2 emissions a year.

It is now run by 60 technicians. Its panels, with a 25-year guarantee, follow the sun's path and are cleaned twice a year. The plant is expected to have a service life of 40 years. Its choice of location was based on power lines traced in the 1990s to export power to Chile, now fed by the park.

Chinese engineers working in an office at the Cauchari park


Chinese want to expand

The plant belongs to the public-sector firm Jemse (Jujuy Energía y Minería), created in 2011 by the province's then governor Eduardo Fellner. Jemse's president, Felipe Albornoz, says that once Chinese credits are repaid in 20 years, Cauchari will earn the province $600 million.

The Argentine Energy ministry must now decide on the park's proposed expansion. The Chinese would pay in $200 million, which will help install 400,000 additional panels and generate enough power for the entire province of Jujuy.

The park's CEO, Guillermo Hoerth, observes that state policies are key to turning Jujuy into a green province. "We must change the production model. The world is rapidly cutting fossil fuel emissions. This is a great opportunity," Hoerth says.

The province's energy chief, Mario Pizarro, says in turn that Susques and three other provincial districts are already self-sufficient with clean energy, and three other districts would soon follow.

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