News briefs:July 21, 2010
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Today on Wikinews : China attempts to clean up an oil spill in the Yellow Sea; astronomers believe they may have discovered the most massive star yet; Australian politicians promise school tax breaks ... after the cooking show is over and, in history, the Wingfoot Air Express crashes into a bank in Chicago.
Today is Wednesday, July 21, 2010. I'm Dan Harlow and this is Wikinews.
After an oil pipeline in China exploded and spilled around 1,500 tonnes of oil into the Yellow Sea near the city of Dalian, the government has launched a cleanup operation consisting of more than 800 vessels.
The spill occurred on Friday, after a pipeline at the port exploded. The oil terminal at the port has been closed ever since. Authorities have been using 24 ships designed for cleaning up oil, and today ordered around 800 civilian fishing boats to join the operation.
The spill has been halted, although an oil slick which measured 50 square kilometers at its height remains in the harbor, and ships are using absorbent foam to remove oil from the water, as well as barriers to keep oil from reaching the shore. Despite their efforts, parts of the coast reportedly have a slick of oil evident on beaches and rocks.
Although rough seas have affected the cleanup, authorities expect to have completed the operations within ten days.
According to domestic media, concerns over safety at the port have been raised in the past; a government study in 2006 noted that five projects at the port were at risk of accidents.
The spill has caused ongoing disruptions to the port's operations, with several ships, including six oil tankers carrying a total of around twelve million barrels of oil, having been diverted to other ports both in China and other countries.
On a "brighter" note,
European astronomers have discovered the largest star yet on record; it is approximately 300 times the mass of our sun, beyond the previously accepted limit of 150 solar masses.
Paul Crowther, professor of astrophysics at the University of Sheffield, led the team of researchers that discovered the star. The team used the Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Chile, and data archived from the Hubble Space Telescope. The newly discovered star, designated R136a1, was discovered in the R136 star cluster in the Tarantula nebula in the Large Magellanic Cloud, a neighboring galaxy about 165,000 light-years away.
The researchers estimate that the current mass of the star is about 265 solar masses, and could have been about 320 solar masses just after its birth.
"Unlike humans," says Cowther, "these stars are born heavy and lose weight as they age. Being a little over a million years old, the most extreme star R136a1 is already middle-aged, and has undergone an intense weight loss programme, shedding a fifth of its initial mass over that time, or more than 50 solar masses."
Astronomers not involved in the discovery, while still impressed, warn of the possibility that the team could have mistaken two relatively close stars for one large one.
"What they're characterizing as a single massive star," Mark Krumholz, an astronomer at the University of California, told the Associated Press, "could in fact be a binary system too close to be resolved."
Another astronomer, Phillip Massey from the Lowell Observatory in Arizona, also warns that this may be the case. Massey explained that the star's weight had been inferred using scientific models that were subject to change.
The researchers believe that the stellar heavyweight record could be held by this star for quite some time. Cowther elaborates: "Owing to the rarity of these monsters, I think it is unlikely that this new record will be broken any time soon."
To put into perspective the size and luminosity of this star, if it were to replace our sun it would be as bright as our sun compared to the moon and according to team member Raphael Hirschi from Keele University, "Its high mass would reduce the length of the Earth's year to three weeks, and it would bathe the Earth in incredibly intense ultraviolet radiation, rendering life on our planet impossible,"
- Music credit Ice
Australian opposition leader Tony Abbott has pledged private school relief if the Liberal/National coalition wins the upcoming federal election. The pledge came in response to the Australian Labor Party leader, and current Prime Minister, Julia Gillard proposing a uniform and school equipment tax break expansion.
Abbott's proposal includes an offer of tax rebates for sending a child to a private school. For students in primary school, prep to grade 6, the rebate will rise to $500 Australian a year per student and families will be then able to claim 50% rebate up to AU$1000.
“We are expanding the rebate so it can be claimed for school fees and also for other educational costs such as tuition and special educational costs for children with, for instance, dyslexia,” Abbott said at a press conference in Brisbane.
Before the election was called, Gillard had aimed to pledge $220 million over four years to expand the current tax breaks to cover refunds each worth $390 for primary school uniforms and $779 for high school uniforms, as well as refunds for other school equipment like texts books and computers.
"We all know that uniforms can be an expensive part of sending kids to school, but this change, along with the existing refund for textbooks and computers, will help families with that cost," stated Gillard.
An opposition spokesperson claimed that the “obvious flaw in Labor's policy is that it only applies to stationery, computer expenses and uniforms [...] You know as a parent that you need help for a whole range of expenses. Extra teachers for children with dyslexia or the costs of doing music and all the other expenses like excursions and so forth.”
The expansion is expected to cost $760 million in total and one that Abbott claims needs to happen as “cost of living pressures tend to be greatest when your kids are at school”.
As contentious as the Australian elections are turning out to be,
A televised debate between Australia's candidates for Prime Minister in the upcoming election has been rescheduled and shortened — to avoid a clash with popular cookery show MasterChef.
The pre-election debate traditionally lasts 90 minutes and occurs at 1930 on the first Sunday of the campaign.
With the grand finale of the cooking competition already scheduled for that time, and expected to attract around four million viewers, the decision has been made to move the debate forward to 1830 and shorten it to 60 minutes.
When asked about MasterChef, Prime Minister Julia Gillard replied: "I can understand the fascination with cooking and eating, so I know many Australians will watch that show. But I think Australians still pay some regard to the debate and the election campaign."
The debate between Gillard and her Liberal/National Coalition primary opponent Tony Abbott has already been the subject of controversy. Former PM Kevin Rudd had committed to holding three debates before the election. Gillard insisted she only wanted one.
Australian Greens leader Bob Brown had also wished to be part of the debate, but joked that he probably had more chance of appearing on MasterChef.
On this day in history (8:52) 
- Music credit The Dread
In 1919, the Wingfoot Air Express, a dirigible owned by the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company, crashed into the Illinois Trust and Savings Building in Chicago in what was, up to that point, the worst dirigible disaster in United States history.
The airship was transporting people from Grant Park to the White City amusement park when it caught fire at about 4:55pm while cruising at an altitude of 1200 feet over the Chicago Loop. When it became clear the dirigible was lost, the pilot, Jack Boettner, and chief mechanic, Harry Wacker, used parachutes to jump to safety. A second mechanic, Henry Weaver, died when his parachute caught fire and another passenger, Earl H. Davenport, a publicity agent for the White City Amusement Park remained in the blimp and died when the airship crashed. A fifth person, photographer E. H. Horton, who parachuted from the dirigible broke both legs and later died at a hospital.
Inside the Illinois Trust & Savings Bank building, 150 employees were closing up the day's business in and around the main banking hall, which was illuminated by a large skylight, when the remains of the Wingfoot struck the skylight directly and flaming debris fell through to the banking hall below.
According to Harriet Messinger, a switchboard operator, "There was a shadow and I looked up to the roof. Instantly a crash sent the glass flying on [to] the heads of those below. The girls hesitated, many of them stunned by glass or too frightened to run. Then the huge machine came through. It seemed to fill the bank with flames that searched out every corner. The heaviest part, the engines and tanks, fell to the floor and exploded."
The intense heat made rescue operations very difficult and rescue workers had to wait a half an hour before they could get at the horribly burned bodies trapped under the wreckage. In all, ten employees of the bank were killed and another 27 injured.
No official cause of the accident was determined, though the pilot told a New York Times reporter that it might have been caused either by static in the air (as they were unusually high and in less than optimal atmospheric conditions) or that the engines had backfired, creating a spark due to the fuel mixture being "a little too lean".
In the aftermath of the accident, the city of Chicago adopted a new set of rules for aviation over the city and the crash led to the closing of the Grant Park Airstrip and the creation of Chicago Air Park.
And those are the top headlines for Wednesday, July 20, 2010
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