German voters defeat Angela Merkel


Beheaded France's Sarkozy sends a warning message to Germany's Merkel on Austerity politics, cartoon by Zapiro

Today there were elections in the most populous state in Germany, North Rhineland-Westphalia.

As expected, it was a defeat for the Rightist national government coalition of Ms Angela Merkel.

The two parties of Merkel’s coalition, her own CDU party and the FDP party, got only a third of the vote.

The state president of the CDU, Norbert Röttgen (who had been parachuted especially for the election to North Rhine-Westphalia by Ms Merkel herself), resigned after hearing about the election disaster.

The winners were the local Social Democrats, whom Ms Merkel had attacked for not being sufficiently pro-austerity.

Voters in North Rhine-Westphalia inflicted a heavy blow on Chancellor Angela Merkel yesterday and strengthened the Social Democrat-Green regional government: here. And here.

Chancellor Angela Merkel suffered a massive defeat in the election in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) on Sunday. The Christian Democratic Union (CDU) lost 8.3 percent and recorded its worst-ever result, 26.3 percent, in Germany’s most populous state: here.

Taiwan religious releases kill animals


This video is called National FongHuangGu Bird Park (國立鳳凰谷鳥園), NanTou, Taiwan, 12/20/2010.

From the Buddhist Channel:

Taiwan‘s Buddhist rites “killing millions” of animals

Channel News Asia, 13 May 2012

TAIPEI, Taiwan — Tens of millions of animals, mostly fish and birds, are dying every year in Taiwan because of so-called “mercy releases” by Buddhists trying to improve their karma, according to animal welfare activists.

The government is now planning to ban the practice, saying it damages the environment and that a large proportion of the 200 million or so creatures released each year die or are injured due to a lack of food and habitat.

Around 750 such ceremonies are carried out in Taiwan each year, according to the Environment and Animal Society of Taiwan.

Negotiations have seen some groups agreeing to halt the practice, but others have yet to accept a ban, Lin Kuo-chang, an official from the government’s Council of Agriculture, told AFP on Sunday.

Proposed amendments to current wildlife protection laws would see offenders facing up to two years in jail or fined up to 2.5 million Taiwan dollars (US$85,000) for such unauthorised releases, he said.

he Environment and Animal Society Taiwan said some native species are under threat because of foreign species released into the wild by religious groups: here.

Eared grebe and reed warbler


Yesterday, Saturday 12 May 2012, I had planned to go to the beautiful Groene Jonker nature reserve. However, illness prevented me from going.

Fortunately, someone who was able to go to the Groene Jonker gave me these photos for my blog.

Sedge warbler singing, Groene Jonker, 12 May 2012

Close to the reserve entrance, one of many sedge warblers. Most reedbed birds are rather difficult to see. Sedge warblers are a bit easier than most species, as they often sit on reed stem tops and have song flights.

Blue tit, Groene Jonker, 12 May 2012

A blue tit landed close to the sedge warbler. It caught an insect and flew away.

Spoonbills flying. A common sandpiper. Mallards with ducklings.

Reed warbler singing, Groene Jonker, 12 May 2012

A bit further, a reed warbler singing. Reed warblers are often more difficult to see and photograph than sedge warblers, as they tend to hide in the lower regions of reedbeds.

Reed warbler, Groene Jonker, 12 May 2012

Great crested grebes, Groene Jonker, 12 May 2012

A great crested grebe family: two parents, four chicks. The parents try to feed the chicks a fish. Though it is not a big fish, it is still too big for the chicks.

Great crested grebes and fish, Groene Jonker, 12 May 2012

Then, a smaller relative of the great crested grebes: an eared grebe (see also here).

Eared grebe, Groene Jonker, 12 May 2012

Finally, just before the reserve exit, another reedbed bird, often very difficult to see: a singing Savi’s warbler.

Savi's warbler, Groene Jonker, 12 May 2012

Phylogeography of a Habitat Specialist with High Dispersal Capability: The Savi’s Warbler Locustella luscinioides: here.

Saturn’s strange radio waves


This video is called 5.6k Saturn Cassini Photographic Animation.

From the Daily Galaxy:

May 12, 2012

Weekend Feature: “Saturn‘s Strange Voice” — Radio Waves Vary at Its North and South Hemispheres

Data from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft show that the variation in radio waves controlled by the planet’s rotation is different in the northern and southern hemispheres. Moreover, the northern and southern rotational variations also appear to change with the Saturnian seasons, and the hemispheres have actually swapped rates.

Click to hear Saturn‘s Eerie Voice.

“The rain of electrons into the atmosphere that produces the auroras also produces the radio emissions and affects the magnetic field, so scientists think that all these variations we see are related to the sun’s changing influence on the planet,” said Stanley Cowley, co-investigator on Cassini‘s magnetometer instrument.

“These data just go to show how weird Saturn is,” said Don Gurnett, Cassini’s radio and plasma wave science instrument team leader, and professor of physics at the University of Iowa, Iowa City. “We thought we understood these radio wave patterns at gas giants, since Jupiter was so straightforward. Without Cassini’s long stay, scientists wouldn’t have understood that the radio emissions from Saturn are so different.”

Saturn emits radio waves known as Saturn Kilometric Radiation, or SKR for short that sound like bursts of a spinning air raid siren, since the radio waves vary with each rotation of the planet. This kind of radio wave pattern had been previously used at Jupiter to measure the planet’s rotation rate, but at Saturn, as is the case with teenagers, the situation turned out to be much more complicated.

When NASA’s Voyager spacecraft visited Saturn in the early 1980s, the radiation emissions indicated the length of Saturn’s day was about 10.66 hours. But as its clocking continued by a flyby of the joint ESA-NASA Ulysses spacecraft and Cassini, the radio burst varied by seconds to minutes. A paper in Geophysical Research Letters in 2009 analyzing Cassini data showed that the Saturn Kilometric Radiation was not even a solo, but a duet, with two singers out of sync. Radio waves emanating from near the north pole had a period of around 10.6 hours; radio waves near the south pole had a period of around 10.8 hours.

A new paper led by Gurnett shows that, in Cassini data, the southern and northern SKR periods crossed over around March 2010, about seven months after equinox, when the sun shines directly over a planet’s equator.

The southern SKR period decreased from about 10.8 hours on Jan. 1, 2008 and crossed with the northern SKR period around March 1, 2010, at around 10.67 hours. The northern period increased from about 10.58 hours to that convergence point.

Seeing this kind of crossover led the Cassini scientists to go back into data from previous Saturnian visits. With a new eye, they saw that NASA’s Voyager data taken in 1980, about a year after Saturn’s 1979 equinox, showed different warbles from Saturn’s northern and southern poles. They also saw a similar kind of effect in the Ulysses radio data between 1993 and 2000. The northern and southern periods detected by Ulysses converged and crossed over around August 1996, about nine months after the previous Saturnian equinox.

Cassini scientists don’t think the differences in the radio wave periods had to do with hemispheres actually rotating at different rates, but more likely came from variations in high-altitude winds in the northern and southern hemispheres.

Two other papers involving Cassini investigators were published in December, with results complementary to the radio and plasma wave science instrument – one by Jon Nichols, University of Leicester, and the other led by David Andrews, also of University of Leicester.

In the Nichols paper, data from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope showed the northern and southern auroras on Saturn wobbled back and forth in latitude in a pattern matching the radio wave variations, from January to March 2009, just before equinox. The radio signal and aurora data are complementary because they are both related to the behavior of the magnetic bubble around Saturn, known as the magnetosphere.

The paper by Andrews, a Cassini magnetometer team associate, showed that from mid-2004 to mid-2009, Saturn’s magnetic field over the two poles wobbled at the same separate periods as the radio waves and the aurora.

As the sun continues to climb towards the north pole of Saturn, Gurnett’s group has continued to see the crossover trend in radio signals through Jan.1, 2011. The period of the southern radio signals continued to decrease to about 10.54 hours, while the period of the northern radio signals increased to 10.71 hours.

“These papers are important in helping to explain the complicated dance between the sun and Saturn’s magnetic bubble, something normally invisible to the human eye and imperceptible to the human ear,” said Marcia Burton, a Cassini fields and particles scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

The European Space Agency (ESA) has announced a €1.1 billion unmanned mission to the ice moons of the planet Jupiter. A robotic spacecraft, named the JUpiter ICy moons Explorer (JUICE), is set to launch in 2022 and arrive at Jupiter in 2030. It will study Europa, Callisto and Ganymede, three of the four “Galilean satellites,” named after the Galileo Galilei, who first observed them in 1610: here.

Voyager spacecraft approaching interstellar space—35 years after launch: here.

NGC 4178 enjoyed the single life. Even though the flat, disc-shaped galaxy was getting on a bit, it had a svelte spiral figure to be proud of. Its central black hole was perfect: not too small, not too large. It had never been involved in a major merger with another galaxy, and wanted to keep it that way. None of the unsightly bulges and warps associated with too much socialising for NGC 4178: here.

Voyager 1 is going, going, but not quite gone from the Solar System: here.

In a historic scientific and technical accomplishment, NASA astronomers operating the Voyager 1 spacecraft confirmed on September 12 [2013] that after 36 years and 19 billion kilometers, humanity’s most distant object has entered interstellar space. Moreover, the findings of Voyager 1′s research team show that the probe left the solar system more than a year before: here.

Dutch honey buzzard research


This video is about a honey buzzard excavating a wasps’ nest.

A new report on honey buzzards in the Netherlands has been published on the Internet.

It is about honey buzzard ecology in the Veluwe region, and in the area around Lochem, 2008-2010.

The report says about their research on food for young honey buzzards:

A total of 503 prey animals were collected, by far most of them in or below the nests. Approximately 4% of the prey were birds (nestlings or recent fledglings only), frogs and slow worms were something more than 1% and (nests of) bumblebees almost 2%.

The rest, 92% of the prey, consisted of wasp honeycombs (Table 7). The annual variation was particularly small: the proportion of wasps ranged from 90.8% in 2008 to 92.7 in 2009.