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Feb. 20, 2013 at 6:51 PM
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U.N. urges action on near-space objects

UNITED NATIONS, Feb. 20 (UPI) -- Following the meteor explosion in Russia that injured hundreds, a U.N. team has called for international cooperation to face the threat of near-space objects.

Researchers in the U.N. Office for Outer Space Affairs have recommended the formation of an International Asteroid Warning Network to pool the expertise of the world's many existing scientific agencies and organizations to identify and track objects and generate early warnings of potential impacts.

Such cooperation could have helped in the Russian event, they said.

"If the proposed coordination mechanism was in place, then at minimum it would have allowed for more observation and better understanding and education of the population on what to expect rather than having a surprise effect with people not knowing what was happening," Sergio Camacho, chairman of the space office's Action Team on Near-Earth Objects, said.

The U.N. office has long been concerned with the issue, given the potential devastation of an object that size hitting the Earth and the enormous resources required to prevent a collision if the need arises, a U.N. release said.

"Already in 1995, UNOOSA organized the United Nations International Conference on Near-Earth Objects in New York to sensitize member states about the potential threat of near-Earth objects, given the global consequences of their impact," Mazlan Othman, director of UNOOSA, said Wednesday.

The U.N. scientists recommended forming advisory groups for disaster mitigation and combining the technological resources of all space-faring nations to develop responses that may include collision-prevention missions.

Cold War air samples yield climate clues

POTSDAM, N.Y., Feb. 20 (UPI) -- Air samples collected in Finland for 47 years since the beginning of the Cold War may help unlock answers to climate change, U.S. researchers say.

Scientists at Clarkson University in New York say they've analyzed air samples the Finnish Meteorological Institute began collecting weekly in 1946 as the Soviet Union conducted weapons tests in the arctic during the Cold War's nuclear arms race.

The analysis of more than 2,300 air samples from 1964 through 2010 will allow climate researchers to determine what particles were in the air as temperatures near the Arctic Circle warmed over the last five decades, a university release reported.

"The more data you have, the more chance you have to discover something you didn't know," Philip K. Hopke, director of the university's Center for Air Resources Engineering and Science, said. "Models only have in them what you know about. These kinds of archives are our only lead into the past."

The study will give global climate change modelers a more complete picture of the air near the Arctic Circle over the last 50 years, doctoral student James Laing said.

"The arctic is warming a lot faster than anywhere else on Earth. We were having trouble modeling and explaining why," he said. "We'll be able to see if there are changes in specific types of pollution."

The analysis showed concentrations of black carbon and heavy metals dropped once the Soviet Union collapsed and its metal processing facilities shut down, the researchers said.

Lead levels substantially dropped during the same time period, they said, correlating with the gradual phase-out of leaded gasoline in Europe.

Microsoft officially retires Hotmail

REDMOND, Wash., Feb. 20 (UPI) -- Microsoft has announced it's officially retiring its Hotmail brand and service in favor of the Outlook.com webmail service introduced last August.

Outlook.com is coming out of preview mode and is now available worldwide, the company said, so it will begin moving more than 300 million Hotmail users over to the new email service.

Hotmail users will get emails and other alerts informing them of the switchover to Outlook.com and its radically re-designed interface and organization tools, TIME magazine reported Wednesday.

Outlook.com currently has 60 million active members, Microsoft said, but when the transition is complete its hundreds of millions of users will put in on a par with Gmail's 425 million and Yahoo Mail's 281 million.

Hotmail users who want to retain their Hotmail.com email addresses can do so, the company said, and can simply transition to take advantage of Outlook.com's user interface and features.

Hotmail, originally MSN Hotmail, has been online since 1997.

Dolphin calls may give language clues

ST. ANDREWS, Scotland, Feb. 20 (UPI) -- Dolphins mimic calls of those they share a social bond with, findings that could give insights into human language and communication, British researchers say.

Biologists from the University of St Andrews in Scotland studying the vocal signatures of the mammals sat they found dolphins can mimic the distinct whistles of their closest companions and offspring as a way of tracking them

It has been known dolphins develop their own individual whistle, and the new study suggests they can also mimic the calls of those dolphins they want to stay close to.

The St. Andrews researchers, working with U.S. scientists in Florida to study dolphins in the state's Sarasota Bay, found the mimicking was only present in mothers and their offspring and in adult males who copied calls of those they had long-term associations with.

"Interestingly, this mimicking only occurs in animals who have strong social bonds," St. Andrews researcher Stephanie King told the BBC.

"It also only occurs when they are separated from each other, and this supports the idea that they want to reunite with the other animals."

Dolphin mimicking may offer an insight into the way complex language structures evolve, the researchers said.

"It is something we see in ourselves, but not in other animals," King said.

"This could give us a real insight into how certain traits in language and communication have evolved."

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