Large asteroid to pass earth on January 26

A half-kilometer-long asteroid will fly past earth on Monday (January 26), approaching as close as 1.2 million km from the planet, about three times the distance from earth to the moon.

The asteroid, designated 2004 BL86, was discovered on January 30, 2004 by the Lincoln Near-Earth Asteroid Research project in New Mexico.

Monday’s fly-by will be the closest such a large asteroid has been to earth until asteroid 1999 AN10 passes earth in 2027. Asteroid 1999 AN10 is expected to pass the earth from an even closer distance of one lunar distance.

NASA scientists say that asteroid 2004 BL86 poses no threat to Earth, but hope NASA will be able to learn more about asteroids from this event because of asteroid 2004 BL86’s relatively large size and close proximity during the flyby.

The asteroid will be so bright and so close to earth on Monday night that even amateur astronomers with small telescopes or strong binoculars will be able to spot it.

NASA scientists will observe asteroid 2004 BL86 by directing microwave beams at the asteroid and collecting the radar pulses that bounce back off the target. Using the collected data, NASA scientists will be able to determine the make-up of the asteroid and how the asteroid was formed, as well as what the asteroid looks like.

It is likely that this will be the closest asteroid 2004 BL86 will get to earth for at least the next 200 years. If asteroid 2004 BL86 were to hit earth, it would create a crater of approximately 10 km in diameter, causing global firestorms, acid rain and an enhanced greenhouse effect.


Jet Propulsion Laboratory (NASA) News, The Guardian





U.S. government studies show 2014 warmest year on record

(NVO) – 2014 was the warmest year on record.

That’s according to separate studies by U.S. space agency NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

They say the 10 warmest years ever on record have all taken place since 1997, and that the finding bolsters the argument that people are altering the Earth’s climate.

NASA Climate Scientist John Tucker.


“What we all hope is that all of the observations which we collect will be interpreted by our leaders and they will realize that it’s important to have a constant climate on the planet. This is very important for our civilization and not to perturb it. And that’s what I hope happens.”

The scientists say the record temperatures were spread around the globe… from Europe to North Africa, from the western U.S. to far eastern Russia and elsewhere.

Scientists warn of grave consequences in this century if global temperatures keep rising.. rising ocean levels, deadly extreme weather, and droughts that can harm food production.


Duke University reverses plan for bell tower Muslim call to prayer

Duke University cancels plans to allow the Muslim call to prayer to emanate from its chapel bell tower amid criticism from conservative Christians.

DURHAM, NORTH CAROLINA, UNITED STATES (JANUARY 16, 2015) (NBC) – Duke University scrapped plans on Thursday (January 16) to allow the Muslim call to prayer to emanate from its chapel bell tower, university officials said, amid fierce criticism from conservative Christians and anger from alumni.

Earlier in the week, university officials said the weekly chant by Muslim students, known as the adhan, would be amplified from Duke Chapel beginning on Friday.

“They apparently bent to pressure,” said Khalilah Sabra, executive director of the Muslim American Society.

A Muslim call to prayer was held at the university on Friday, but it did not come from the bell tower.

“We were presented with some significant and credible concerns about safety and security,” explained university spokesman Michael Schoenfeld of the decision.

In addition, the school received negative feedback from the university community, including alumni, he said.

Evangelist Franklin Graham was among those who protested the broadcasting of the Muslim call to prayer.

“My problem is using the chapel that was built to be a house of worship that worshiped Jesus Christ as the Son of God,” he said, after urging donors and alumni to boycott the university in a Facebook post.

Duke University has Methodist roots but is non-sectarian.

The Gothic-style Duke Chapel, one of the school’s best-known landmarks, is an interfaith locale where Hindu students, as well as groups from various Christian denominations, hold services.

Muslim students have held Friday services in the building’s basement for several years.


Obama on the use of the word “Bro”

(NVO) – U.S. President Barack Obama offered some insight into the use of the word “bro” after the British Prime Minister told The Daily Mail, that Obama calls him, “bro”.

At a joint news conference with UK Prime Minister David cameron Obama explained, “As many of you know, David recently noted how comfortable the two of us are working together. This sent some commentators into a tizzy. Some explored the linguistic origins of the word ‘bro’. Others debated its definition. Several analyzed how this term has evolved over time. Some seemed confused and asked, ‘What does Obama mean?’, so let me put this speculation to rest, put simply David is a great friend , he is one of my closest and most trusted partners in the world.” He added, “Great Britain is our indispensable partner.”

Cameron, in turn, called Obama a great friend to Britain noting that the UK and US share the same values adding “and most of the time we speak the same language.”

For many years, the United States and Britain have shared a special relationship, but the comity between the nations’ leaders is so close that President Barack Obama often calls David Cameron “bro,” the British Prime Minister told The Daily Mail.

“The President has said the special relationship is stronger than it has ever been privately and in public and I agree,” Cameron said.

“Yes, he sometimes calls me ‘Bro,’” he acknowledged.

The revelation has elicited a rather in-depth discussion in Britain of the meaning of the term “bro” on radio and in print – and not all of it has been positive.


Swiss franc surge hits emerging Europe bank sector

Debtors in Poland left with sky-rocketing loans after the Swiss central bank’s surprise move to let the franc surge, sending shock waves through the banking sector in central and eastern Europe.

WARSAW, POLAND (JANUARY 16, 2015) (REUTERS) – The Swiss central bank’s surprise move to let the franc surge sent shock waves through the banking sector in central and eastern Europe (CEE), where widespread mortgages denominated in francs suddenly became much harder to service.

Analysts said Poland looked especially exposed to the currency swing that could boost bad loans and poses a policy headache for governments watching citizens’ purchasing power dwindle.

FX-borrowers in Poland were left with loans that sometimes more than doubled in value.

“The property I own is worth 250 thousand zloty and the loan I have to pay off for now is (worth) 550 thousand zloty. I already paid back 100 thousand,” said Violetta Gorgol, who took out a loan in 2006, when the rate of the Swiss franc to the zloty was 2,6.

“The trap was in the fact that Swiss franc allowed you to take a higher loan than the zloty, because the credit rating was calculated in a different way,” she said, adding that her bank insisted on offering her a loan in the Swiss currency.

Another CEE country affected by the surge, Hungary, already got ahead of the curve last year by fixing exchange rates for many borrowers who had taken out mortgages in Swiss francs to capitalise on low interest rates, only to lose out when the franc surged during the financial crisis.

The banks that issued those loans had to pick up the bill for fixing the rates, but a Hungarian market source said they were safe too because they had already converted their Swiss francs into forints last year and closed their positions.

Similar ideas had circulated in Poland but were never formed into concrete legal proposals.

“By taking an FX loan, we agree to a certain risk. Those 560 thousand people have taken this risk, they agreed to it. They paid very low installments for a few years, later is wasn’t so bad either and now the worse times have arrived,” said real estate market analyst, Marcin Krason.

“It is not in the interest of the bank to dispossess the flat owner, take over the flat and auction it; this is not profitable for the bank. Banks do it very seldom, they prefer for the debtor to pay off the loan,” Krason added.

Analysts say it is impossible to assess the impact of the Swiss franc strengthening on banks at the moment, but shares in Polish banks led Warsaw bourse decliners immediately after the SNB move.

The chief executive of mBank, Cezary Stypulkowski, told reporters there is no reason to worry about Polish banks and that the situation would stabilise soon.

Several banking sources in Warsaw said that there may be pressure now on the government to introduce a relief scheme for borrowers of Swiss franc mortgages.

Opposition party MP Pawel Szalamacha said his party would like to introduce a similar scheme to the one introduced by Hungary, but the government has remained silent on the matter.

“The banking sector, the financiers would like nothing to happen, for people to pay back the loans with the exchange rate 4,2 or 4,5, for the financial sector to gain that higher profit, that rain of gold,” Szalamach told Reuters.

“Our proposal is to give to those people the possibility to repay the loan recalculated according to the exchange rate from January 14, 2015 – from the day before the so called earthquake, which was the decision of central bank of Switzerland,” he added.

Hardship for borrowers could turn into a political issue in a year when Poland is to vote in presidential and parliamentary elections.

In Austria, Swiss franc loans made up 96 percent of the 25.7 billion euros (19.73 billion pounds) in foreign-currency loans households held at the end of September, posing a problem for lenders like Erste, Raiffeisen and Bank Austria. Regulators banned the issue of such loans in 2008.


Vatican briefing speaks about gay marriage following pope warning

Vatican spokesman speaks about the Catholic church’s position on gay marriage following Pope Francis’ warning against an “ideological colonisation of the family”, a reference to gay marriage around the world and to a heated debate in the Philippines about a government population control plan.

MANILA, PHILIPPINES (JANUARY 16, 2015) (REUTERS) Pope Francis on Friday (January 16) warned against an “ideological colonisation of the family,” a reference to gay marriage around the world and to a heated debate in the Philippines about a government population control plan.

The pope made his impromptu comments at a rally for families in Manila on a day that began with an appeal to the government to tackle corruption and hear the cries of the poor suffering from “scandalous social inequalities” in Asia’s most Catholic country.

Speaking at a news conference in Manila later in the evening Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said:

“Well I think it is well known the perspective of the church on the family is that the family is based on the union of the marriage of a man and a woman. And a family is, for us, a union of a man and a woman, and children come from this union. This is for us the family. Then if there are persons who desire to have community in other ways, then they do, but this is not for us a family.”

Asked if the term “ideological colonisation” specifically referred to gay marriage, Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, Archbishop of Manila, explained where he thought the term, used by the pope, had come from.

“In the synod of bishops last October, the extraordinary synod, there were some bishops and lay people especially from Africa, who said that foreign help or foreign aid extended to them often times is linked to some measures that the receiving country is somehow forced to accept. Some of those conditions for the aid seemed to be an acceptance or a welcoming of some views regarding marriage or sexuality which could be alien to the position held by the receiving country or culture.”

While the pope has said before that marriage must be between a man and a woman, his use of the phrase “ideological colonisation” appeared to be an appeal to developing countries not to follow the lead of nations where gay unions are already legal.


Swiss central bank decision was completely seismic – Charles Stanley

Retail foreign exchange brokers from New Zealand to New York were nursing hefty losses from the Swiss National Bank’s shock move to abandon a cap on its currency. Charles Stanley Chief Economist Jeremy Batstone-Carr says the Swiss National Bank’s decision was completely seismic, the obvious winner here will be euro zone manufacturing and the obvious loser will be the Swiss exports sector.



“Hi there, yes I certainly agree that – well first of all the Swiss National Bank’s decision to uncap the Swiss franc was of course completely seismic, it hardly needs for me to say that. It is a micro-economic event, all currency moves are adjustment factors so therefore there will be winners and losers and the obvious winner will be euro zone manufacturing one imagines because the euro will weaken on the foreign exchanges and the obvious loser will be the Swiss exports sector. It is also fair to say that holders of Swiss denominated debt will also suffer of course because the Swiss National Bank cut the countries rate from -0.25 to -0.75 percent.”



“I think the copper price is certainly falling very sharply but you need to see the bigger picture here which pertains not just to copper but to the commodity complex more generally. And the point that I’d like to make is that if you step away from the day to day cut and thrust of financial market action what are bonds, what are commodity prices telling you about the outlook for the global economy? There is a major difference there from what equities are telling you which is by and large that everything is just about all right we are in a moderation, we are in a growth recession but we are not in a stagnation. If you look at bond pricing and if you look at commodity pricing I think you would have to argue the other way and the concern I have of course is that in relation to commodities other than oil this is not simply a question of weak or substantial supply, it is actually a question of weak demand and that I think does pose major challenges.”



“Turning to the Russian economy our view is very much in line with consensus. That the economy is in a very very bad place at the moment and of course the plunge in the currency has made matters significantly worse. I think that Russian consumers are indeed going to have to brace themselves for a few very challenging months ahead. But of course the country, it could be argued is well versed in dealing with the economic crises and therefore I suspect that many in Russia will simply just accept this as part of the inevitability associated with the aggressive sanctions being imposed on the country by the west and of course in part the falling oil price which may also have something to do with the sanctions process.”


Pope says “ideological colonisation” threatens traditional family

Pope Francis warns of ideological colonisation of the family during a rally where he meets with Filipino families, including relatives of migrant workers.

MANILA, PHILIPPINES (JANUARY 16, 2015) (HOST BROADCASTER)- Pope Francis on Friday (January 16) warned against an “ideological colonisation of the family,” a reference to gay marriage around the world and to a heated debate in the Philippines about a government population control plan.

The Pope made his impromptu comments at rally for families in Manila on a day that began with an appeal to the government to tackle corruption and hear the cries of the poor suffering from “scandalous social inequalities” in Asia’s most Catholic country.

Addressing an evening rally of families, he spoke of an “ideological colonisation that we have to be careful about that is trying to destroy the family”. He said it was coming from “outside” and had to be resisted.

While the Pope has said before that marriage must be between a man and a woman, his use of the phrase “ideological colonisation” appeared to be an appeal to developing countries not to follow the lead of nations where gay unions are already legal.

Speaking in Spanish through a translator, he also heaped praise on Pope Paul VI, who enshrined the Catholic Church’s opposition to artificial birth control in the controversial 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae (On Human Life).

Francis said Paul “had the strength to defend openness to life” at a time when the Church was under pressure to change its position against contraception because of population growth.

“I think of Paul VI, blessed Paul VI, in a moment of that challenge of a growth of populations, he had the strength to defend openness to life,” he said.

The Philippines Church is opposed to a government decision to introduce a family planning law – allowing public health centres to hand out contraceptives, such as condoms and pills, and teach sex education in schools.

In a country where more than 80 percent of the 100 million population is Roman Catholic, the Church opposed the law, effectively blocking its passage for 13 years, for fear it would lead to a spike in abortions. The Philippines has one of the highest birth rates in Asia.

Local media estimated that the crowd in an indoor arena reached 16,000 people while another 18,000 flocked to the venue grounds, hoping to catch a glimpse of the Pope.

Before Pope Francis spoke, families gave their testimonies and messages to Francis in Filipino, English and Sign Language.

Ediza Pumarada, wife of a migrant worker, said economic difficulties and the lack of good jobs in the Philippines pushed her husband to find employment in Singapore, three years after they were married.

Through her work she said she saw the effect of migration of the family unit.

“We witness family disintegration and abandonment of children even among our closest relatives. Migration continues to challenge the structure, roles and functions of the family, communities and the larger society. Children went astray in life because of the lack of presence and proper guidance of their parents,” she said.

Francis closed saying that, “every threat to the family is a threat to society itself.”

Earlier on Friday, Francis, a champion of the poor, pulled no punches when addressing Philippine officials in calling for a more just and caring society in the Philippines, which is about 80 percent Catholic.

Aquino took office in 2010 on the promise of transparency, good governance and battling corruption to lift the Philippines from poverty.

However, he has struggled to shed the country’s image as one of the most corrupt in Asia as he continues to defend his allies, while at the same time chasing down politicians, bureaucrats and generals associated with the past administration.

The Pope urged government officials “to reject every form of corruption, which diverts resources from the poor, and to make concerted efforts to ensure the inclusion of every man and woman and child”.

The Philippines has laid on the largest security operation in its history, with about 50,000 police and soldiers on hand.