What’s the News: The helicopter that crashed during the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound earlier this week was a stealth design that the US government had kept secret, according to aviation experts. The military is still keeping mum and the SEALs—keeping with protocol—burned the aircraft after it went down. But information gleaned from photos of the surviving tailboom (the part that holds the rear rotor) and clues from other stealth aircraft suggest the helicopter was an H-60 Blackhawk, heavily modified to escape radar detection and fly more quietly—explaining why Pakistani air forces didn’t detect the helicopters.
The fires in western Russia continue to burn. Though the overall area now ablaze has shrunk, the number of individual fires has actually risen today. The death rate in Moscow has doubled, and Russia is racing to stop the flames from spreading to areas still affected by radiation from the Chernobyl nuclear disaster a quarter-century ago.
While firefighting goes on, attention turns to the “why?” Russia‘s fire explosion has people wondering if there’s a bigger reason behind it. The topic seems particularly urgent because another major natural disaster is happening not so far away: in northern Pakistan, where exceptionally heavy monsoon rains have caused crushing floods. The big question–whether global warming is responsible–is still unanswered, but scientists do agree that a large weather pattern links the events.
According to meteorologists monitoring the atmosphere above the northern hemisphere, unusual holding patterns in the jet stream are to blame. As a result, weather systems sat still. Temperatures rocketed and rainfall reached extremes [New Scientist].
You’ve probably seen diagrams of the jet stream on weather charts, where a thick band represents its air currents that surge from west to east. However, New Scientist reports, a “blocking event” caused by west-pushing Rossby waves has slowed the jet stream’s flow. This happens from time to time, and it sets the stage for extreme conditions when weather systems hover over the same area.
As of this writing, the “Everybody Draw Mohammed Day” Facebook page has nearly 83,000 likes and is rising steadily. Presumably, none of those fans are in the government of Pakistan, as the page prompted the conservative Muslim country to block first Facebook, but then also YouTube, parts of Wikipedia, and other Web sites—more than 450 in all.
The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) keeps itself busy scanning the Internet for material that it says would offend its population, the second-largest Muslim population of any country. Two years ago it temporarily banned YouTube until the site removed cartoons of Mohammed. Typically the PTA bans particular links, but this week it complained that the amount of objectionable material on Web was increasing and decided to cut off it citizens from some of the biggest sites on the Web. The ban is said to run through the end of May, giving Web sites the chance to remove offending materials if they choose.
Social networking sites are extremely popular in Pakistan, a country of 170 million, where more than 60 percent of the population is under the age of 25. Pakistan has about 25 million Internet users, almost all of them young, according to Adnan Rehmat, a media analyst in Islamabad [The New York Times].