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Friday, Nov 28th

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Northwest at risk of megaquake like one in Chile

Just 50 miles off the Pacific Northwest coast is an earthquake hotspot that threatens to unleash on Seattle, Portland and Vancouver the kind of damage that has shattered Chile.

The fault has been dormant for more than 300 years, but when it awakens — tomorrow or decades from now — the consequences could be devastating. Recent computer simulations of a hypothetical magnitude-9 quake found that shaking could last 2 to 5 minutes — strong enough to potentially cause poorly constructed buildings from British Columbia to Northern California to collapse and severely damage highways and bridges.

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Chilean Quake Likely Shifted Earth’s Axis, NASA Scientist Says

The earthquake that killed more than 700 people in Chile on Feb. 27 probably shifted the Earth’s axis and shortened the day, a National Aeronautics and Space Administration scientist said.

Earthquakes can involve shifting hundreds of kilometers of rock by several meters, changing the distribution of mass on the planet. This affects the Earth’s rotation, said Richard Gross, a geophysicist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, who uses a computer model to calculate the effects.

“The length of the day should have gotten shorter by 1.26 microseconds (millionths of a second),” Gross, said today in an e-mailed reply to questions. “The axis about which the Earth’s mass is balanced should have moved by 2.7 milliarcseconds (about 8 centimeters or 3 inches).”

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Milky Way galaxy littered with 'alien' stars

Dwarf galaxies gobbled up by our own Milky Way make up about a quarter of the 160 star-packed "globular clusters"  littering the galaxy, astronomers report Tuesday.

In the Monthly Notioves of the Royal Astronomical Society report,  which was led by Duncan Forbes of the United Kingdom's University of Swinburne, a team looked at chemical signatures of 93 globular clusters.  The clusters are balls containing hundreds to millions of stars littered throughout the galaxy.

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Space rock contains organic molecular feast

Scientists say they have confirmed that a meteorite that crashed into earth 40 years ago contains millions of different organic compounds. It is thought the Murchison meteorite could be even older than the Sun.

"Having this information means you can tell what was happening during the birth of the Solar System," said lead researcher Dr Philippe Schmitt-Kopplin.

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'Super-Earths' orbit nearby stars

Planet-hunters have discovered two "super-Earths" orbiting two nearby Sun-like stars. These rocky planets are larger than the Earth but much smaller than ice giants such as Uranus and Neptune.

Scientists say the discoveries are a step towards finding potentially habitable planets - smaller planets that are comparable to the Earth. Details of the new planets are described in two papers in the Astrophysical Journal.

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Horse genome unlocked by science

The genome of a domestic horse has been successfully sequenced by an international team of researchers. The work, published in the journal Science, may shed light on how horses were domesticated.

It also reveals similarities between the horse and other placental mammals, such as bovids - the hoofed group including goats, bison and cattle. The authors also found horses share much of their DNA with humans, which could have implications for medicine. Horses suffer from more than 90 hereditary diseases that show similarities to those in humans.

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Mobile phone users cannot walk in straight line

People chatting on mobile phones are oblivious to their surroundings and can pose a risk to themselves and others, scientists have claimed. Researchers made the discovery by watching the movements of hundreds of people as they crossed a university campus.

They then got a clown to ride a unicycle around the campus square and asked how many phone users spotted him as they walked by. They found that those that used mobile phones meandered randomly and failed to ackowledge other pedesterians. More than two-thirds also failed to notice the clown, even though he wore a purple and yellow shirt, outsized shoes and a giant red nose.

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