Elephants return to British circus

February 27, 2009

Toy Dolls poised for comeback

The UK is up in arms at the appearance of three performing elephants in a British circus. The RSPCA described it as “a body blow for animal welfare

“Asking these majestic animals to behave in unnatural ways in the name of entertainment is a disgrace,” said Dr Rob Atkinson, head of RSPCA’s wildlife department.

The RSPCA is currently campaigning for the liberty of the last 38 wild animals in British circuses, and seeks an outright ban in law.

“After all, how are we benefited as a nation for permitting tigers to leap through hoops and bears to ride bicycles?” Dr Atkinson demanded, only to be met with people looking awkwardly at their shoes.

It’s not clear what proportion of Britain’s outraged populace have been to SeaWorld without the least twinge of guilt. However, the UK has been free of captive cetaceans since the 1990s.

Iridium satellite destroyed in collision

February 12, 2009

“Your call cannot be completed as dialed”

An Iridium telecommunications satellite was destroyed in a high-speed collision with a defunct Russian military satellite, Aviation Week reports.

The Russian Cosmos 2251 comms sat collided with the Iridium bird, a member of the Big LEO constellation, at a closing speed of 7 miles per second.

“It was a hefty clip,” Nicholas Johnson of NASA’s Johnson Space Center, told Aviation Leak.

US Strategic Air Command told New Scientist that it has already detected more than 500 pieces of debris resulting from the space prang.

The debris cloud poses a “very small [but] elevated risk” to the International Space Station, which lies 271 miles below the orbit of the collision. The ISS is capable of performing “debris avoidance maneuver[s]” should this become necessary.

The shower of space junk further clutters an already hazardous orbital environment, coming two years after China smashed one of its Fengyun weather satellites to smithereens with an earth-launched missile.

Iridium’s communications network will not be permanently affected, as the company plans to deploy one of its hot spares, which it keeps in other orbits, within 30 days. Now that’s resilience through redundancy.


New Scientist has a handy Q&A about satellite traffic control (or lack thereof), plus a simulation of the crash and resultant debris clouds.

Beavering away

February 10, 2009

Recalcitrant rodent’s liberty “a pain in the arse”

News comes, via the inimitable Lewis Page, of a German beaver who slipped his leash, and is even now “toppling poplar and willow trees like ninepins for sport and nourishment”.

The 40kg-rodent’s escape is thought to have been precipitated by a short-circuit in the electric fence surounding his pen, a stratagem that might have been anticipated, since Castor is known to dam watercourses as a matter of habit.

If our furry friend can be persuaded to relinquish the joys of the English riviera, he might yet restore Scotland’s wilderness to its Pleistocene glory.

Beavers who find themselves in the Uttermost Part of the Earth, meanwhile, face extermination, in spite of their usefulness to the Argentine fur industry. Sadly these fine fellows are identified as C. canadensis, and must therefore forego a job-swap with their European counterparts, attractive though that prospect might be.