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Aug. 10, 2012 at 6:43 PM
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Giant island of volcanic rocks seen

AUCKLAND, New Zealand, Aug. 10 (UPI) -- A mass of small volcanic rocks nearly the size of Belgium has been discovered floating off the coast of New Zealand, officials said.

The floating raft of golf ball-sized pumice rocks, covering almost 10,000 square miles, was spotted by a New Zealand air force plane about 620 miles northwest of Auckland.

Scientists taken to the to the rocks Thursday night by a New Zealand navy ship said they were likely spewed up in an eruption of an underwater volcano, a release from the navy said.

The floating rocks are a brilliant white, like a giant ice shelf, when seen under a spotlight, navy Lt. Tim Oscar said.

Scientist said they don't believe the floating pumice is related to the onshore ash eruption this week of a Mount Tongariro, a volcano on New Zealand's North Island.

Officials say the island of floating small rocks poses no danger to shipping.

Google to drop pirate sites in search rank

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif., Aug. 10 (UPI) -- Google says its search engine will be an antipiracy weapon as sites that generate too many copyright takedown notices will be moved lower in search rankings.

"We will begin taking into account a new signal in our rankings: the number of valid copyright removal notices we receive for any given site," the U.S. search giant said in a blog post. "Sites with high numbers of removal notices may appear lower in our results."

This marks Google's latest concession to copyright owners, who have long demanded the company take steps to prevent its search engine from aiding copyright infringement, CNET reported Friday.

The intent of the change, Google said, isn't for the company to assume the role of copyright cop but to help identify illegitimate sources of music, movies and other digital media.

"This ranking change should help users find legitimate, quality sources of content more easily -- whether it's a song previewed on NPR's music Web site, a TV show on Hulu or new music streamed from Spotify," Google's blog post said.

Copyright owners have flagged more than 4.3 million Web URLs for violations in the last 30 days, Google said.

Mars said to have tectonics like Earth's

LOS ANGELES, Aug. 10 (UPI) -- Plate tectonics, a phenomenon long thought to exist nowhere in our solar system but on Earth, is also taking place on Mars, a U.S. researcher says.

The geological phenomenon, which involves the movement of huge crustal plates beneath a planet's surface, also exists on Mars, UCLA planetary geologist An Yin said.

"Mars is at a primitive stage of plate tectonics," he said. "It gives us a glimpse of how the early Earth may have looked and may help us understand how plate tectonics began on Earth."

Analyzing almost a hundred satellite images of Mars from two NASA spacecraft, Yin, who has conducted geologic research in the Himalayas and Tibet, said he found about a dozen that revealed evidence of plate tectonics.

"When I studied the satellite images from Mars, many of the features looked very much like fault systems I have seen in the Himalayas and Tibet, and in California as well, including the geomorphology," Yin said in a UCLA release Thursday.

For example, he said, he noted a very smooth, flat side of a canyon wall, which can be generated only by a fault, and a steep cliff, comparable to cliffs in California's Death Valley, which also are generated by a fault.

"You don't see these features anywhere else on other planets in our solar system, other than Earth and Mars," Yin said.

Plate tectonics on Earth, with seven major plates, are very much more active, he said.

"Earth has a very broken 'egg shell,' so its surface has many plates; Mars' is slightly broken and may be on the way to becoming very broken, except its pace is very slow due to its small size and, thus, less thermal energy to drive it," Yin said. "This may be the reason Mars has fewer plates than [we see] on Earth."

Yin said he is doubtful Mars has more than two plates.

"We have been able to identify only the two plates," he said. "For the other areas on Mars, I think the chances are very, very small."

Sky watchers awaiting meteor display

TORONTO, Aug. 10 (UPI) -- A meteor shower will light the night sky through the weekend for U.S. and Canadian sky watchers who can find a dark viewing spot, astronomers say.

The Perseid meteor shower makes it appearance every year in mid-July and lasts through August, peaking this year Saturday night and early Sunday.

Astronomers said sky watchers should find the darkest place possible with an open sky and away from light pollution, outside any settled area if possible, Canadian Broadcasting Corp. News reported Friday.

Unlike last year when the glare of the full moon made spotting meteors difficult, this year a waning crescent moon "should be considered more of a nuisance than a deterrent," the International Meteor Organization said.

The Perseids are best observed in the mid-northern latitudes, while in the Southern Hemisphere they "cannot be usefully observed," the organization said.

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