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Friday, December 6, 2013

Missing Syrian Nuns Safe

Despite early morning allegations that Syrian rebels had abducted a number of Orthodox nuns, in a bid to exchange their lives for the freedom of 1,000 female prisoners held in government jails. By nightfall, al-Jazeera had obtained a video of the nuns denying such. Earlier this week, Pope Francis called for prayers for the nuns, which had gone missing from a Greek Orthodox convent after rebels seized the Aramaic speaking town of Maalula on Monday. State media suggested terrorists had kidnapped the nuns for use as “human shields”, but today’s revelation appears to reduce worry for the safety of the clerics. One of the nuns said in the video, “A group brought us here and protected us, and we’re very, very happy with them.”

International Troops Greeted by Surging Violence in CAR

As hundreds of troops arrived in the Central African Republic (CAR) from neighboring countries and the United Kingdom and France, thousands of Central Africans flocked to the international airport seeking armed protection from an uptick in violence in the already restive country. The former French colony has been roiled by ethno-religious tensions since largely Muslim Séléka rebels seized power last spring, then promptly turning on the civil population, leading to retaliatory internecine violence from “anti-balaka” militias formed by the Christian majority. The violence that began yesterday was the worst the capital of Bangui has experienced since the beginning of the turmoil.

“This horrific cycle of violence and retaliation must stop immediately,” a United Nations spokesperson said, citing cases of rival Séléka and “anti-balaka” militias raiding homes and killing adults and children. “Civilians must be protected.”

U.S. Launches Spy Satellites

Late last night, Vandenberg Air Force Base in California witnessed a 19-story tall Atlas V rocket lift off from Space Launch Complex 3, carrying a secret U.S. government payload. According to United Launch, 12 small spacecraft called CubeSats, four of which were developed by the U.S. Army, piggy backed on the mission.

The mission, code-named NROL-39, was cheered on by the Office of the Department of National Intelligence via a number of twitter posts, including a picture of the mission’s logo. “NROL-39 is represented by the octopus, a versatile, adaptable, and highly intelligent creature. Emblematically, enemies of the United States can be reached no matter where they choose to hide,” says Karen Furgerson, spokesperson for the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO). “‘Nothing is beyond our reach’ defines this mission and the value it brings to our nation and the war fighters it supports, who serve valiantly all over the globe, protecting our nation.”

Sharks Return Home to Give Birth

A new study suggests sharks return to the site of their birth to give birth themselves. The practice, called natal philopatry, has been observed in a number of other marine species, perhaps most notably in salmon but it is also evinced in sea turtles. In this study, researchers followed the slow maturing lemon sharks from their births around the Bimini Islands in the Bahamas from 1995 until last year.

Lead researcher Kevin Feldheim says his team has not discovered the mechanism behind the migratory behavior, but they believe it could be widespread in other shark species. “The maternally inherited DNA does show structure in other species and it is often attributed to the mothers coming back to specific sites to give birth,” said Feldheim, adding, “We don’t know whether they are coming to where they were born like in lemon sharks. It is very possible that this occurs in other shark species.”

Weekend Read: The Big Sleep

Drug company Merck has developed a novel sleeping pill Suvorexant, which could replace Ambien for most insomniacs. And while the vetting of such drugs is a long and often arduous process, Suvorexant’s trip to market has become a bit quixotic. The FDA argues the drug is effective, while Merck has argued it is not. Ian Parker explains in The New Yorker.

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