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Nov. 21, 2012 at 7:01 PM
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Ancient petroglyphs stolen in California

BISHOP, Calif., Nov. 21 (UPI) -- Thieves hacked out and stole ancient petroglyphs from California cliffs considered sacred by American Indians, officials reported.

Federal authorities said four petroglyphs at least 3,500 years old were cut from rocks in the Eastern Sierra near Bishop known at Volcanic Tableland and were taken away, the Los Angeles Times reported Sunday.

A fifth petroglyph was left defaced by deep saw cuts and a sixth, apparently broken during the theft, was abandoned in the Volcanic Tableland visitor parking lot, the newspaper said.

"The individuals who did this were not surgeons, they were smashing and grabbing," U.S. Bureau of Land Management archaeologist Greg Haverstock said.

"This was the worst act of vandalism ever seen" on the 750,000 acres of public land managed by the BLM field office in Bishop, he said.

Petroglyphs cover hundreds of lava boulders and cliffs in the area with spiritual renderings including deer, rattlesnakes, bighorn sheep and hunters with bows and arrows.

The theft would have taken extraordinary effort, authorities said, as ladders, electric generators and power saws would have to have been driven to the remote and arid high desert site.

While the petroglyphs would not fetch much on the illicit market, experts said -- perhaps $500 to $1,500 -- they are priceless to American Indians who consider them a connection to the souls of their ancestors.

Distant dwarf planet gives up its secrets

GRANADA, Spain, Nov. 21 (UPI) -- European astronomers say they've taken advantage of a cosmic opportunity to learn more about the icy dwarf planet Makemake, thought to be similar to Pluto.

Makemake's rare passage in front of a background star has yielded new information about its size, shape and surface properties, the researchers report in Nature.

Pluto, demoted to the status of dwarf planet, is one of at least four known dwarfs orbiting the sun. Makemake, (pronounced MAH-kay MAH-kay,) which orbits farther from the sun than Pluto, has been found to have no atmosphere, unlike Pluto, which has a thin but detectable atmosphere.

Jose Ortiz of the Instituto de Astrofisica de Andalucia in Spain and colleagues studied Makemake using the same technique used to probe an even more distant dwarf planet, Eris, a year ago.

"Pluto, Eris and Makemake are among the larger examples of the numerous icy bodies orbiting far away from our sun," Ortiz said.

By studying the change in light of a distant star as Makemake passed directly in front of it, the astronomers said they were able to determine the dwarf planet's size and surface brightness, results that rule out a global, Pluto-like atmosphere.

"As Makemake passed in front of the star and blocked it out, the star disappeared and reappeared very abruptly, rather than fading and brightening gradually," Ortiz said. "This means that the little dwarf planet has no significant atmosphere."

Protest over China arrest for Twitter post

BEIJING, Nov. 21 (UPI) -- An online petition demanding release of a Beijing man accused of criticizing Chinese authorities on Twitter has hundreds of signatures, Web watchers say.

Zhai Xiaobing was arrested by police Nov. 15 just days before the new Chinese leadership was confirmed after his tweet compared the Communist Party 18th National Congress to the horror film "Final Destination" the BBC reported.

In the film, characters escape death at the beginning only to end up dying a variety of gruesome deaths one by one.

"The Great Hall of the People suddenly collapses, only seven of more than 2,000 people inside survive," the tweet from the Twitter name @Stariver said.

"Later, one-by-one the survivors die in strange ways. Is it the game of God, or the Devil venting his wrath?"

Chinese authorities have confirmed Zhai's arrest, saying it was because "he wrote a micro-blog post containing false information on the Internet."

Zhai's arrest was significant, one analyst said, because it had happened because of a post on Twitter, which is officially blocked in China, and not on the Chinese Sina Weibo site.

"It did surprise me at first -- it's a white-collar guy that seemed to have a misfortune to be arrested and made an example of, as there were many posts on Weibo worse than his," Duncan Clark, chairman of consulting company BDA China, told the BBC.

"In China, domestic sites have to hand over the IP address of a user when demanded to do so by the authorities, but with a foreign site there's no such jurisdiction -- so the Chinese government must have used other means to identify this person," Clark said.

It is unknown how Zhai was identified, but Chinese authorities have made arrests based on Twitter posts before.

NTSB to ditch BlackBerrys for iPhones

WASHINGTON, Nov. 21 (UPI) -- The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board said it's looking to switch from BlackBerrys to Apple Inc.'s iPhones because of reliability issues.

Research in Motion Inc.'s BlackBerrys "have been failing both at inopportune times and at an unacceptable rate," the NTSB said in a notice posted on the Federal Business Opportunities website, which solicits bids for federal government work.

"The NTSB requires effective, reliable and stable communication capabilities to carry out its primary investigative mission and to ensure employee safety in remote locations," the post said.

The agency noted iPhones would better link with the iPad tablets it is already using, The Wall Street Journal reported.

An NTSB representative declined to comment further, the Journal said.

RIM, which plans to launch a new phone early next year, responded by citing the reliability and security of its devices and network.

"Government organizations globally have trusted the reliability and security of BlackBerry for over a decade. They can continue to do so," the company said in a statement.

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