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Archive for December 2008

December 31, 2008 Permalink

Israel and Gaza

Back in June, 2008, Egypt helped broker a 6-month cease-fire agreement between Israel and Hamas, the ruling body in the Gaza Strip. Though the cease-fire was broken several times by both sides, it largely held. Toward the end of the cease-fire in December, Israel, while closing Gaza's borders since November, indicated that it might extend the agreement, if Hamas ceased all Qassam rocket attacks. Qassam rockets are the crude but deadly homemade missiles often launched towards Israeli territory (over 3,000 times in 2008 alone). Hamas leaders, angered by the blockade and seemingly little political headway made over the past 6 months, recently stepped up rocket attacks on Israel once again. Israel has now responded with five days (so far) of air attacks and Naval bombardment on Gaza, resulting in over 350 dead, nearly 1,500 wounded and countless buildings and smugglers' tunnnels destroyed. Hamas has threatened to increase the rocket attacks send suicide bombers into Israel in retaliation, and Israel is massing troops and tanks around Gaza for a possible ground assault. (37 photos total)

A trail of smoke is seen after the launch of a rocket from the northern Gaza Strip aimed towards Israel on December 27, 2008. (REUTERS/Baz Ratner)
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December 22, 2008 Permalink

Big Picture on Holiday

Just a brief note - starting today, The Big Picture will be on holiday until its next entry on Friday January 2nd, 2009. Thank you so much, every one of you who has viewed, commented, and participated in this blog this year - it's really completely blown me away, and my life is richer (and a bit busier) for it. (more inside)

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December 22, 2008 Permalink

Round trip with Endeavour

NASA's space shuttle Endeavour recently returned to the Orbiter Processing Facility (OPF) at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, after its successful mission to the International Space Station. The shuttle, being a reusable spacecraft, has a cycle of preparation, execution and recovery - Endeavour has been through this cycle 22 times now, since 1992. Here is a look at one full cycle for one space shuttle, starting with the landing of Endeavour from its previous mission (STS-123) on March 26th, and ending with its return to Florida 9 months (and 6.6 million miles) later, after mission STS-126. (31 photos total)

In the 16th night landing at NASA's Kennedy Space Center, space shuttle Endeavour approaches Runway 15 to end the STS-123 mission on March 26th, 2008 - a 16-day flight to the International Space Station. The mission completed nearly 6.6 million miles. The STS-123 mission had delivered the first segment of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency's Kibo laboratory and the Canadian Space Agency's two-armed robotic system, known as Dextre. Endeavour will soon be transported to the Orbiter Processing Facility to ready it for its next mission, STS-126. (NASA/Tom Joseph)
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December 19, 2008 Permalink

2008, the year in photographs (part 3 of 3)

2008 has been an eventful year to say the least - it is difficult to sum up the thousands of stories in just a handful of photographs. That said, I will try to do what I've done with other photo narratives here, and tell a story of 2008 in photographs. It's not the story of 2008, it's certainly not all stories, but as a collection it does show a good portion of what life has been like over the past 12 months. This is a multi-entry story, 120 photographs over three days. Look for part 1 and part 2 earlier. (40 photos total)

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama waves to the crowd at a rally in the rain at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, Va. Saturday, Sept. 27, 2008. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
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December 18, 2008 Permalink

2008 in photographs (part 2 of 3)

2008 has been an eventful year to say the least - it is difficult to sum up the thousands of stories in just a handful of photographs. That said, I will try to do what I've done with other photo narratives here, and tell a story of 2008 in photographs. It's not the story of 2008, it's certainly not all stories, but as a collection it does show a good portion of what life has been like over the past 12 months. This is a multi-entry story, 120 photographs over three days. Look for part 1 from yesterday and part 3 tomorrow. (40 photos total)

Imam Hashim Raza leads mourners in prayer during a funeral for Mohsin Naqvi at al-Fatima Islamic Center in Colonie, N.Y., Monday, Sept. 22, 2008. Naqvi was a Muslim, a native of Pakistan (he emigrated to the U.S. with his family when he was 8 years old and became a citizen at 16) and a U.S. Army officer. He was killed by a roadside bomb while on patrol in Afghanistan. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)
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December 17, 2008 Permalink

The year 2008 in photographs (part 1 of 3)

2008 has been an eventful year to say the least - it is difficult to sum up the thousands of stories in just a handful of photographs. That said, I will try to do what I've done with other photo narratives here, and tell a story of 2008 in photographs. It's not the story of 2008, it's certainly not all stories, but as a collection it does show a good portion of what life has been like over the past 12 months. This is a multi-entry story, 120 photographs over three days. Watch for part 2 and part 3 tomorrow and the next day. (40 photos total)

Lightning bolts appear above and around the Chaiten volcano as seen from Chana, some 30 kms (19 miles) north of the volcano, as it began its first eruption in thousands of years, in southern Chile May 2, 2008. Cases of electrical storms breaking out directly above erupting volcanoes are well documented, although scientists differ on what causes them. Picture taken May 2, 2008. (Carlos Gutierrez)
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December 15, 2008 Permalink

2008 Greek riots

On the night of Saturday, December 6th, two Special Guards of the Greek police clashed with a small group of young men. The exact details of what took place are still unclear, but it is known that one of the Guards fired three shots, and one of those bullets caused the death of 15-year-old Alexander Grigoropoulos - whether the injury was made by an accidental ricochet or deliberate shot remains to be determined. The two Guards are now in jail awaiting trial, the shooter charged with homicide. This incident sparked an immediate and widespread response in the form of angry demonstrations and riots in many Greek cities that have continued at varying levels to this day - though dimming in intensity recently. Alexander's death appears to have been a catalyst, unleashing widespread Greek anger towards many issues - police mistreatment of protesters, unwelcome education reforms, economic stagnation, government corruption and more. (37 photos total)

A policeman looks toward burning barricades during riots in Athens December 7, 2008. (REUTERS/John Kolesidis)
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December 12, 2008 Permalink

The Hajj and Eid al-Adha

Yesterday marked the end of the Muslim festival Eid al-Adha, or "Feast of Sacrifice" - which also marks the end of the Hajj, the annual pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia. One of the pillars of Islamic faith, the Hajj must be carried out at least once in their lifetime by any Muslim who has the ability to do so. This year, nearly 3 million Muslims made the Hajj, without major incident, and are now returning to their homes across the world. Muslims who stayed closer to home celebrated Eid al-Adha, commemorating the the willingness of Ibrahim (Abraham) to sacrifice his son to God. Traditional practices include ritual prayers, the sacrifice of animals (usually sheep), distribution of the meat amongst family, friends and the poor, and visiting with relatives. (41 photos total)

Muslim pilgrims perform the "Tawaf" ritual around the Kaaba at Mecca's Grand Mosque before leaving the holy Saudi city at the end of the annual Hajj pilgrimage on December 10, 2008. The official Saudi News Agency (SPA) reported that the most recent statistics put the total number of pilgrims this year at more than 2.4 million, almost 1.73 million from abroad and 679,000 from within the kingdom, mostly foreign residents. (KHALED DESOUKI/AFP/Getty Images)
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December 10, 2008 Permalink

Scenes from Guantánamo Bay

During a military judicial hearing on Monday in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and four other detainees charged with coordinating the attacks of September 11th told Judge Col. Stephen Henley that they wished to stop filing legal motions and to confess in full. However, some of the detainees hedged their statement - suggesting they might change their minds if they could not be assured of execution. By January, some of the nearly 250 men at Guantánamo Bay Detention Facility will have been locked up for seven years. Collected here are photos of the multiple detention facilities at Guantánamo Bay - all photographs either reviewed by or released by the U.S. Military. (30 photos total)

A detainee washes his hands in Camp 6 high-security detention facility on the U.S. Naval Base in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, Wednesday, Nov. 19, 2008. By January, some of the men will have been locked up on this U.S. military base in Cuba for seven years. President-elect Barack Obama has vowed to close the detention center at Guantánamo and is weighing what to do with the roughly 250 foreigners who are being held. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley)
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December 8, 2008 Permalink

Green Sahara

Photographer Mike Hettwer has been kind enough to share with us some of his photographs depicting what remains of the Green Sahara. About 9,000 years ago, a very wet climate prevailed in parts of the Sahara Desert called the Neolithic Subpluvial period. Lasting several thousand years, this Green Sahara was home to many grassland and woodland animals as well as humans. While on an expedition for dinosaur fossils with paleontologist Paul Sereno in Niger in 2000, Hettwer discovered a burial area containing hundreds of skeletons from two distinct cultures, each thousands of years old - the Kiffian and Tenerian. Also found in the dry and desolate site were hunting tools, pottery, and bones of large land animals and fish. Mike Hettwer's photographs have appeared in 2,500 magazines, newspapers books and web sites - many of these photos are from his article "Lost Tribes of the Green Sahara" in the Sep. 2008 issue of National Geographic. Also included are related photos from other expeditions, and with paleoanthropologist Meave Leakey. (17 photos total)

In the Gobero Area of the Sahara Desert in Niger, a 6,000 year old "Tenerian" skeleton was found with his middle finger in his mouth for reasons that are unknown. The average daily high temperature in this part of the Sahara Desert was 120F degrees (49C), a far cry from the Green Sahara 4-9,000 years ago. (© Mike Hettwer)
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December 5, 2008 Permalink

2008 Asian Beach Games

About a month ago in Bali, Indonesia, the inaugural 2008 Asian Beach Games came to its conclusion. Intended to promote sports and culture, the games (held every two years) encourage tourism, support local economies and allow host countries like Indonesia to present a more global face to the world. The 2008 games brought 6,000 athletes to compete in 71 events in 19 sports. Sports included well-known games like beach volleyball and triathlon, and some sports better known to asians, like sepak takraw, kabaddi and pencak silat. The next Asian Beach Games are scheduled to be hosted by Oman in the year 2010. (25 photos total)

Daiki Masuda of Japan dives out of the water in the swim leg of the men's triathlon on day nine of the 2008 Asian Beach Games at Mertasari Beach on October 26, 2008 in Bali, Indonesia. (Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)
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December 3, 2008 Permalink

Venice under water

The recent "acqua alta" (high water) in Venice, Italy reached a depth of 1.56 meters (5 ft, 1 in.) on Monday - the deepest flood in 22 years, and the fourth highest flood level in recent history, claimed Venice's Tide Center. The water began to subside on Tuesday, while residents and tourists made their way through the city, hip-waders or not - one man even took the opportunity to ride his wakeboard through Piazza San Marco (until police stepped in). Although this flood was severe enough for the mayor to ask tourists to temporarily stay home, Venetian floods are fairly routine, several occurring every year, and residents usually take it all in stride. (25 photos total)

Tourists take photos of each other in the flooded Piazza San Marco in Venice December 1, 2008. Large parts of Venice were flooded on Monday as heavy rains and strong winds lashed the lagoon city, with sea levels at their highest level in 22 years. Ferry and water taxi services in the city were suspended and Venice's mayor urged people to stay indoors. Tourists and residents struggled to get across the city over raised walkways. The Centro Maree, which forecasts water levels, said sea levels in the Adriatic rose 1.56 meters (5.1 ft) - a level not seen since 1986. (REUTERS/Manuel Silvestri)
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December 1, 2008 Permalink

Hubble Space Telescope Advent Calendar 2008

As we head into the traditional western Holiday Season, I'd like to present this Hubble Space Telescope imagery Advent Calendar. Every day, for the next 25 days, a new photo will be revealed here from the amazing Hubble Space Telescope. As I take this chance to share these images of our amazing Universe with you, I wish for a Happy Holiday to all those who will celebrate, and for Peace on Earth to everyone. - Alan (25 photos total - eventually)

In January 2002, a dull star in an obscure constellation suddenly became 600,000 times more luminous than our Sun, temporarily making it the brightest star in our galaxy. The star, called V838 Monocerotis, has long since faded back to obscurity, but observations of a phenomenon called a "light echo" around the star have uncovered remarkable new features over the following years (this animation covers two years' time). The light echo is light from the earlier explosion echoing off dust surrounding the star. Light from the outburst traveled to the dust and then was reflected to Earth. Because of this indirect path, the light arrived at Earth months after light from the star that traveled directly from the star. (NASA, ESA) More (see this on Google Sky)
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December 1, 2008 Permalink

Mumbai after the smoke has cleared

On Monday most of Mumbai, India attempted a return to normal activity, in the wake of the 60-hour-long siege last week. Some facts about the attacks are a bit clearer now, others still hazy. Based in part on the confessions of the only terrorist captured alive - Azam Amir Kasav (also identified elsewhere as 'Ajmal Qasab'), Indian officials now say that there were only 10 gunmen involved, all members of Lashkar-e-Taiba, a Pakistani militant group with links to the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir - though Pakistan officially denies any involvement. According to recent reports, the ten attackers were responsible for the deaths of 172 people, including 19 foreigners, and 239 wounded. While mourners of the victims attended to their loved ones, and people all over the world held vigils, a Muslim graveyard in Mumbai refused to bury the nine dead gunmen - an official saying that they were not true followers of the Islamic faith. (35 photos total)

An Indian soldier stands guard outside the Taj Mahal Palace & Tower Hotel following an armed siege on November 29, 2008 in Mumbai, India. (Uriel Sinai/Getty Images)
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