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Dec. 11, 2012 at 7:06 PM
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Mystery Air Force space plane launched

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla., Dec. 11 (UPI) -- A secret U.S. Air Force space plane has been launched from Cape Canaveral in Florida on its third classified mission, officials said.

The unmanned X-37B orbital vehicle, which resembles a mini space shuttle, was launched atop an Atlas V rocket Wednesday at 1:03 EST, Universe Today reported.

As with previous missions, the Air Force has declined to discuss any details of the spacecraft's equipment or what the goal of the current mission may be.

United Launch Alliance, in charge of the launch, provided a web cast of the blastoff but ended the streaming video ,"at the request of our customer [the Air Force]," when the X-37B arrived in orbit.

Launched like a satellite inside the nose fairing of the Atlas V, the space plane can operate for extended periods in low Earth orbit before returning to land on a runway in the same manner as NASA's full-size space shuttles.

The possible missions and payloads of the "mini shuttle" -- about a quarter the size of a NASA space shuttle -- have been the subject of much speculation, with suggestions of Earth observations, surveillance, or deploying military satellites.

The launch, originally set for October, was delayed several times by problems with the Atlas V rocket.

Google: Server error crashed Gmail, Chrome

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif., Dec. 11 (UPI) -- A worldwide crash of Google's Gmail service that also affected its Chrome web browser was the result of a server error, a company spokesman said.

The Gmail service was out for about 40 minutes Tuesday, leaving users without access to the email stored in the cloud, while millions of users of Chrome experienced crashes in the Web browser, ZDNet reported Wednesday.

Initial reports of a denial-of service attack were quickly denied by Google, which said a problem with Google Sync -- which synchronizes a user's bookmarks, extensions, apps and settings when the user logs in to Chrome from another device -- caused the Chrome problems.

The crash of Chrome had a domino effect on other Google services like Gmail, Google Docs, Drive and Apps, company engineer Tim Steele said in a blog post.

A failed change in the configuration of how its servers handle data traffic was the cause, he said.

"That change was to a core piece of infrastructure that many services at Google depend on," which is why it affected a number of the company's services, Steele said.

Image of 'hobbit' human created

SYDNEY, Dec. 11 (UPI) -- An Australian anthropologist has created what she says is an evidence-based image of the tiny "hobbit" species known as Homo floresiensis.

With a background in forensic science, Susan Hayes was able to flesh out the face of a 3-foot tall, 30-year-old female based on remains uncovered in the Liang Bua cave on the remote Indonesian island of Flores in 2003, The Sydney Morning Herald reported.

Homo floresiensis, nicknamed hobbits because of their diminutive size, lived on the Indonesian island of Flores until about 17,000 years ago.

Remains of at least 13 members of the species were unearthed between 2001 and 2004.

"She's not pretty," Hayes said of the image released Monday. "She doesn't have those hyper-feminine features such as big eyes; there isn't much of a forehead."

Hayes, from University of Wollongong, created the image using high-resolution 3D imaging and CT scan data obtained from a female hobbit skull.

Some earlier depictions of what the "hobbits" may have looked like were much more ape-like, but Hayes said her findings suggested modern anatomical features were more likely.

"As a Homo floresiensis, she is closer to us than to a chimpanzee, which is our closest relative," she said. "She is certainly more us than them."

Odds of U.S. White Christmas vary by region

STATE COLLEGE, Pa., Dec. 11 (UPI) -- The probability of a white Christmas -- with snow at least an inch deep on Christmas Day -- is low for many areas of the United States, forecasters say.

While northern New England, the Upper Midwest, the Rocky Mountains and Intermountain West have a 75 percent of a white Christmas, New York City, Philadelphia and the District of Columbia have less than a 25 percent chance, AccuWeather.com Wednesday.

Regional differences in normal December snowfall and temperatures are both critical factors in what areas can expect a white Christmas, AccuWeather said.

"It tends to stay colder across the northern tier during the day and night, so when snow falls, it's less likely to melt," AccuWeather meteorologist Alex Sosnowski said.

Further south, temperatures play a more important part, forecasters said.

"By the time Christmas comes around, there is a pronounced temperature difference from north to south [across the Midwest]," AccuWeather meteorologist Jim Andrews said. "The 'refrigeration' needed to keep the snow from melting is less reliable in Chicago compared to somewhere like International Falls, Minn."

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