The best way to sneeze

Of all the involuntary actions carried out by the human body, nothing rivals the sneeze. A sneeze occurs in three stages. First, your head moves up and back as you take a sudden breath. (This is the “ah” part of the sneeze.) Second, you pause for a moment after your lungs fill with air. Third, your head moves forward and down as you contract the muscles in your chest, throat and abdomen. (This is the “choo” part of the sneeze.) In the process, you expel air and tiny droplets out of your nose and mouth at about 100 miles per hour. This is faster than a cheetah chasing down a gazelle on the African savanna.

The human body has thousands of nerves that help it interact with the world around it. Pain nerves in your feet let you know if you step on something that could hurt you. Nerves that are sensitive to temperature remind you to put on a jacket if it’s cold outside. Stretching nerves let you know if your bladder is full so you can find a bathroom — or a tree, depending on where you are.

The nose and sinus cavities are lined with small hairs, mucus-producing glands and hairlike microscopic structures called cilia. Hairs and nasal mucus trap dust, mold and germs. Cilia beat slowly to move foreign matter to your throat, where it can be swallowed. (The acid in your stomach destroys most of the viruses and bacteria that get swallowed throughout the day.)

Sneezing is a complicated reflex that’s designed to remove irritants from your nose and sinuses. When something “tickles” or irritates the nerves in your nasal passages, a signal is sent to the sneeze center in your brain. Your brain responds to this signal by orchestrating all of the muscular actions that are required for a sneeze to be effective. (Eye muscles aren’t needed, but you may have noticed that it’s impossible to sneeze without closing your eyes.)

The most common things that cause sneezing are colds and allergies. Other triggers include smoke, strong smells and animal dander (dead skin cells). Some people sneeze when they are exposed to light. This is called photic sneezing.

You should always cover your nose and mouth when you sneeze. If you forget, your mom or dad will remind you to do so. It’s important to cover up because an unchecked sneeze will spread germs all over the place. It would also be pretty embarrassing if you ended up with a big glob of snot on your upper lip.

The worst sneeze is the one that can’t decide if it needs to come out or not. I don’t know why this happens, but when it does, you get stuck between the “ah” and the “choo.” Sometimes a person can be stuck in “sneeze limbo” for minutes before the feeling goes away or you finally let one rip.

If you try holding back a sneeze by pinching your nostrils, your brain won’t explode. However, you may end up forcing air through your eustachian tube into the space behind your eardrum. This can really hurt, so unless you’re worried about a zombie finding you, never try to stop a sneeze!

Videos: http://youtu.be/cQOSh6GLa_w, http://youtu.be/FzRH3iTQPrk and http://youtu.be/xxbBPu-Vp7g
Reported by HOWARD J. BENNETT of the Washington Post. Bennett is a Washington pediatrician.

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Can you stay up late to see an eclipse?

The different stages of the moon during a lunar eclipse are seen from the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles. On Tuesday morning, April 15, 2014, the moon will be eclipsed by Earth's shadow and will be visible across the Western Hemisphere. The total phase will last 78 minutes. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)

The different stages of the moon during a lunar eclipse are seen from the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles. On Tuesday morning, April 15, 2014, the moon will be eclipsed by Earth’s shadow and will be visible across the Western Hemisphere. The total phase will last 78 minutes. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)

Hey, kids of North and South America, get ready for the first eclipse of the year, but you’ll have to get up really early or stay up really late.

Next Tuesday morning (April 15), the moon will be eclipsed by Earth’s shadow. This total lunar eclipse will be visible across the Western Hemisphere, which includes all of North America. The total shadowed phase will last 78 minutes, beginning at 3:06 a.m. and ending at 4:24 a.m..

Even though the moon is in the Earth’s shadow, it should appear a bit colorful, some shade of red or orange. That’s from light around the edges of the Earth — essentially sunrises and sunsets — splashing on the lunar surface and faintly lighting up the moon, said Alan MacRobert, senior editor at Sky & Telescope magazine.

On April 29, the Southern Hemisphere will be treated to a rare type of solar eclipse.

In all, four eclipses will occur this year, two lunar and two solar.

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Online:

NASA: http://1.usa.gov/NFJLGE

Reported by MARCIA DUNN of the Associated Press from CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla.

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Tetris goes big time

Ever wish you could play a video game on a really, really big TV screen? That’s just what happened Saturday night in Philadelphia when a group of tech fanatics played the classic video game Tetris on the side of the 29-story Cira Centre building.

The classic video game Tetris is played on the 29-story Cira Centre in Philadelphia, Saturday, April 5, 2014, using hundreds of LED lights embedded in its glass facade. The spectacle kicks off a citywide series of events called Philly Tech Week and also celebrates the upcoming 30th anniversary of Tetris. (AP Photo/ Joseph Kaczmarek)

The classic video game Tetris is played on the 29-story Cira Centre in Philadelphia, Saturday, April 5, 2014, using hundreds of LED lights embedded in its glass facade. The spectacle kicks off a citywide series of events called Philly Tech Week and also celebrates the upcoming 30th anniversary of Tetris. (AP Photo/ Joseph Kaczmarek)

The skyscraper, which has hundreds of LED lights embedded in the building’s glass facade, usually is used to display colorful patterns at night, but on Saturday it was connected to a computer that allowed people to interact with the lights and play the game.

“It has been probably 15 years since I played Tetris last on a Game Boy, and it’s much different playing on the side of building that’s a half-mile away,” the city resident Sam Robinson said. “Everything’s happening so quick.”

It wasn’t the first time Tetris has been played on a building. But the 100,000-square-foot “screen” — which includes the north and south faces of the structure — could be a record.

The spectacle kicked off a citywide series of events called Philly Tech Week. It also celebrated the upcoming 30th anniversary of a game revered as the epitome of elegance and simplicity, said Frank Lee, an associate professor of digital media at Drexel University.

Tetris, created by Russian computer programmer Alexey Pajitnov in 1984, challenges players to rotate and arrange falling shapes into complete rows.

It became a global phenomenon in the late 1980s after game designer Henk Rogers, who had seen Tetris at a trade show in Las Vegas, acquired the rights and struck a deal to put it on Nintendo’s original Game Boy.

Reported by KATHY MATHESON of the Associated Press from PHILADELPHIA, Pa.

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Firefighter rescues 7-foot boa constrictor from burning home

Firefighter Scott Hemmelsbach holds a boa constrictor after rescuing it from a burning home in Muskegon, Mich., on Sunday, March 30, 2014.  (AP Photo/Courtesy of Gordon Cole)

Firefighter Scott Hemmelsbach holds a boa constrictor after rescuing it from a burning home in Muskegon, Mich., on Sunday, March 30, 2014. (AP Photo/Courtesy of Gordon Cole)

If you were a snake and your house was on fire, what would you do? Try to get out, right?

A Michighan firefighter found out just what happens, and he put his past reptile-handling experience to good use when he rescued a 7-foot-long boa constrictor from a burning home.

Muskegon firefighter Scott Hemmelsbach told The Muskegon Chronicle that he reluctantly agreed to enter the two-story, smoke-filled house Sunday night to retrieve the snake. He says he cradled the “weighty” snake before carrying it to safety.

“It was trying to crawl up the side of his terrarium and get out,” Hemmelsbach said. “His face was pushed up on the screen and trying to get out. There was a lot of smoke and he was trapped.”

The firefighter said he learned how to handle snakes while he was at high school.

“I’d take them around and show them to the kids in the elementary classes,” he said. “That didn’t bother me at all.”

When Hemmelsbach reached the boa inside the home, he gingerly handled him so not to scare the reptile.

“I removed the screen off the top and knew to approach it by coming up behind his head. He became very active, and I was glad because that meant that he was OK.”

Two people in the home escaped without injury, fire officials said. The fire significantly damaged the home, and the cause is under investigation.

“I would do it for any creature,” Hemmelsbach said. “I’m just glad it had a happy ending.”

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Information from: The Muskegon Chronicle, http://www.mlive.com/muskegon

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U.S. creates library of dirt

A student at North Carolina State University collects soil in Southern California. The federal government sent students and scientists to more than 4,800 places across the nation to collect soil that was analyzed for its composition. The results are now highly sought after by researchers in a wide variety of fields. (AP Photo/U.S. Geological Survey)

A student at North Carolina State University collects soil in Southern California. The federal government sent students and scientists to more than 4,800 places across the nation to collect soil that was analyzed for its composition. The results are now highly sought after by researchers in a wide variety of fields. (AP Photo/U.S. Geological Survey)

The government has been collecting dirt — lots of it.

Clumps came from the Texas Panhandle, a shady grove in West Virginia, a picked-over corn field in Kansas and thousands of other places in the lower 48 states.

A small army of researchers and university students lugging pick axes and shovels scattered across the country for three years to scoop samples into plastic bags from nearly 5,000 places. They marked the GPS coordinates, took photos and labeled each bag before mailing them back to the government’s laboratory in Denver.

Though always underfoot and often overlooked, dirt actually has a lot to tell. Scientists say information from it could help farmers grow better vegetables and build a better understanding of climate change.

David Smith, who launched the U.S. Geological Survey project in 2001, said the data available from the samples will feed research for a century, and he’s sharing it with anyone who wants it. “The more eyes and brains that look at it, the better,” Smith said.

Old info: The idea for the massive research project came in the late 1990s, when Smith was in charge of handing out the government’s store of soil data — what little there was. The old archive held information collected in the 1960s and 1970s, and based on outdated science. Just about every researcher returned with the same disappointment, saying: “There must be more.”

Smith told them that, sadly, no, there wasn’t.

So he took action. During the next several years, Smith and his fellow geologists refined a plan for collecting and documenting the makeup of the nation’s soil.

Digging started in 2007 and wasn’t done until 2010. They strategically sunk their shovels at a spot in every 600 square miles in the continental United States. At each locale they took three samples. They had rules to follow as well — they had to start at the surface and going no deeper than three feet.

Reactions: Before retiring, U.S. Geological Survey geologist Jim Kilburn trained many of the 40 surveyors and went into the field himself several times for up to a month. He sent back hundreds of samples on the road from Nebraska down to Texas and from Kansas west to the California coast.

Only once was Kilburn told to go away. A rancher near Sacramento, Calif., had let government researchers onto his pastures before, where they found a rare clover and told him he could no longer graze cattle there.

“No matter what I told the guy, he wasn’t going to let me on,” Kilburn said. “He had good reason.”

_____

Contact David Smith of the U.S. Geological Survey at dsmith@usgs.gov, or access his soil survey at http://pubs.usgs.gov/ds/801/.

Reported by SCOTT SMITH of the Associated Press from FRESNO, Calif

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Catch up with the world’s satellites

This NOAA satellite image taken Wednesday, March 26, 2014 at 10:45 AM  shows a prominent storm wound up off the the Northeast US with clouds across much of the western Atlantic Basin with heavy snow and strong winds affecting Nova Scotia and coastal New England.  (AP PHOTO/WEATHER UNDERGROUND)

This NOAA satellite image taken Wednesday, March 26, 2014 at 10:45 AM shows a prominent storm wound up off the the Northeast US with clouds across much of the western Atlantic Basin with heavy snow and strong winds affecting Nova Scotia and coastal New England. (AP PHOTO/WEATHER UNDERGROUND)

The use of satellites during the search for a lost jetliner has drawn attention to those orbiting platforms. Here is a snapshot of what’s in orbit, with help from Nicholas Johnson, who retired Thursday as NASA’s chief scientist for orbital debris:

HOW MANY SATELLITES ARE UP THERE?

About 1,100 active satellites, both government and private. Plus there are about 2,600 ones that no longer work. Russia launched the first satellite, Sputnik 1, in 1957. The oldest one still in orbit, which is no longer functioning, was launched in 1958.

HOW BIG ARE THEY?

Size varies. Communication satellites can be as big as a small school bus and weigh up to 6 tons, the Federal Communications Commission says. Most weigh a few tons or less. Some that are used briefly are 4 inch cubes and weigh about 2 pounds.

WHAT EXACTLY DO THEY DO?

They have a wide variety of roles: GPS satellites aid navigation, others relay telephone or television signals, others aid in weather forecasting, national defense, science, and agriculture, as in monitoring crops and areas of drought. The Union of Concerned Scientists, a private organization that maintains a database of satellites, says about 60 percent are used for communications.

WHERE ARE THEY?

It depends on their use. Communications satellites relay signals from a fixed spot on the equator, about 22,000 miles up. GPS satellites are at 12,400 miles, high enough to be accessible to large swaths of the Earth. Others that need a closer look at Earth are lower. For comparison, the International Space Station is only about 260 miles high, and very few satellites are lower than that. While some satellites remain over fixed spots on Earth, others fly over both poles or can move from place to place as needed.

You can see their locations at the NASA satellite tracker: http://1.usa.gov/1dyKhCd

HOW HAVE THEY HELPED IN THE SEARCH?

A British communications satellite picked up signals from the plane; analysis of them led authorities to conclude that the airliner crashed in a remote area of the southern Indian Ocean. This week, Thai authorities said one of their satellites spotted 300 objects that might be from the airliner. Some satellites were moved into place to look for debris.

WHO OWNS THEM?

Governments large and small, and private companies. More than 50 countries own a satellite or a significant share in one, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists. There are 502 active satellites with a U.S. tie; 118 for Russia and 116 for China. Thailand has four satellites and shares in another, the scientist group says.

WHAT IF THEY STOP WORKING?

Old satellites can pose a risk for collisions with active ones, so there are rules and recommendations to avoid a buildup of junk in space. Satellites that fly below a certain height are supposed to be put in an orbit that will make them fall to Earth and burn up within 25 years. At high altitudes, they are to be boosted up to still higher orbits to get them out of the way.

Reported by MALCOLM RITTER of the Associated Press

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Kids get the info on spotting a stroke

Third-graders, from left, Hunter Thomas, Matthew Velez, Sebastian Mendez, Jayden Gonzalez and Elijah Farias examine a plastic model of a brain at Montefiore Hospital in the Bronx borough of New York. The hospital teaches children to recognize stroke and get victims to a hospital quickly. (AP Photo/Jim Fitzgerald)

Third-graders, from left, Hunter Thomas, Matthew Velez, Sebastian Mendez, Jayden Gonzalez and Elijah Farias examine a plastic model of a brain at Montefiore Hospital in the Bronx borough of New York. The hospital teaches children to recognize stroke and get victims to a hospital quickly. (AP Photo/Jim Fitzgerald)


Andrea Esteban tried to smile with half her face, crossing her eyes in the process, and her third-grade classmates giggled. Matthew Velez struggled to speak, “Luh, luh, uh, gronk,” and the kids erupted in laughter.

But the funny faces, the gibberish and some arm flapping were all part of a serious lesson to help kids learn the telltale signs of a stroke by imitating them. The idea is to enlist children, particularly those who may live with older relatives, as an army of eyes to help recognize the warning signs, get help for victims more quickly and hopefully save lives.

“If my mom has a stroke, I’ll know what to do,” said 10-year-old Madison Montes. “Run to the phone and call 911.”

The experimental health education program at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx is aimed at the most crucial factor when it comes to a stroke: Time.

Each year, about 795,000 Americans have a stroke and about 130,000 die. Some are caused by bleeding in the brain, but the vast majority is caused by a clot that blocks blood flow, starving brain cells. A drug, called TPA, can dissolve those clots, but only if it’s given within three to four hours of the first symptoms, and the sooner the better.

The early warning signs of a stroke include a droopy side of the face, slurred or strange speech, and the inability to keep arms raised.

Pencil erasers in the shape of the human brain lie on a table at Montefiore Hospital in the Bronx borough of New York. The erasers were given to third-graders who attended a class that teaches them to recognize stroke and get victims to a hospital quickly. (AP Photo/Jim Fitzgerald)

Pencil erasers in the shape of the human brain lie on a table at Montefiore Hospital in the Bronx borough of New York. The erasers were given to third-graders who attended a class that teaches them to recognize stroke and get victims to a hospital quickly. (AP Photo/Jim Fitzgerald)

“There’s a pretty good chance some children might witness a parent or a grandparent having a stroke,” said Jim Baranski of the National Stroke Association. “So if they’re armed with the signs and symptoms, they could likely save a life.”

Montefiore’s program has been used since 2012 with private schools in its neighborhood, where children are often in a grandparent’s care because parents are absent or both working. The goal is to study the results and, if successful, replicate the program across the country.

“The kids get a kick out of it because they get to do a little acting,” said Dr. Robert Glover, a neurologist who helped develop the program. “But when they’re done, they know about stroke and they can teach their families.”

At the start of the stroke class last month, in a first-floor room at the hospital, Dr. Kathryn Kirchoff-Torre asked, “Who knows what a stroke is?”

“A heart attack?” one child offered.

“Well, we like to call it a brain attack,” Kirchoff-Torres said. “It’s a problem with the brain.” She then taught the children to use the word “FAST” as a memory device. With cartoons and music bringing the point home, they learned “F” is for face, “A” is for arms, “S” is for speech and “T” is for time.

After the play-acting and the multimedia show, the doctor invited questions from the children.

“How do you catch a stroke?” one boy asked. The doctor assured him that strokes are not contagious but can be caused by “high blood pressure, smoking cigarettes, junk food.”

“What if we don’t have a phone?” a girl asked. Kirchoff suggested asking a neighbor or running to a storefront.

“What if you live in the desert?” was the follow-up question, to which Kirchoff smiled and said, “It’s a good thing you live in the Bronx.”

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Reported by JIM FITZGERALD of the Associated Press from NEW YORK, N.Y. AP Medical Writer Lauran Neergaard contributed to this report.

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12 amazing sports facts

Why are tennis balls fuzzy? Check out the trivia below as Novak Djokovic, of Serbia, returns a shot from Roger Federer, of Switzerland. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

Why are tennis balls fuzzy? Check out the trivia below as Novak Djokovic, of Serbia, returns a shot from Roger Federer, of Switzerland. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

With all the snow this winter, I spent a lot of time indoors reading my collection of sports books. I think books are more fun than television or video games. Here’s some amazing sports stuff I learned from my books:

  1.  The original World Cup trophy was permanently awarded to Brazil after that country won its third World Cup soccer championship in 1970. The trophy was stolen in 1983 and has never been recovered.
  2. The current trophy was created for the 1974 World Cup and weighs about 20 pounds.
  3. Because the Winter Olympics didn’t begin until 1924, the first men’s and women’s individual and pairs figure skating Olympic championships, in 1908, were conducted during the Summer Olympics in London.
  4. Some sports that were once in the Summer Olympics are no longer part of the Games: tug-of-war, motorboating, rope climbing, cricket, croquet, rugby and one-handed weightlifting.
  5. The flip turn in swimming was invented by backstroker Adolph Kiefer and his coach, Julian “Tex” Robertson, while Kiefer was training for the 1936 Olympics.
  6. Speaking of swimming, National Basketball Association superstar Tim Duncan was a top swimmer in Saint Croix in the Virgin Islands until he was 13, when a hurricane destroyed the pool where he swam. Then Duncan started playing basketball.
  7. Most National Football League games are played on Sunday because in the early days of the NFL, most players did not make much money. They had to work regular jobs during the week and could play only on the weekends. The NFL did not play on Saturday because that’s the day college games were played. In the early days of the NFL, college games were much more popular than pro games.
  8. The first pro baseball teams to go south for spring training were the Cincinnati Red Stockings (now Reds) and the Chicago White Stockings (now Cubs). The teams traveled to New Orleans in 1870.
  9. Left-handed pitchers in baseball are called southpaws because early baseball stadiums were built so the batter was facing east. That way, the sun would not be in the batter’s eyes. (Remember, in the early days, baseball was played only during the day.) When the pitcher stood on the mound, his left arm was facing south.
  10. Tennis balls are covered with felt, a material that makes them fuzzy. The fuzziness slows the ball down and makes it easier to control.
  11. The dimples on a golf ball make the ball fly farther because there is less drag — or pull in the opposite direction to its motion — on a dimpled golf ball than a smooth golf ball.
  12. Shots in ice hockey travel at speeds up to 100 miles an hour.

Reported by Fred Bowen for the Washington Post. Bowen is the author of 18 sports books for kids that combine sports fiction and sports history. His latest book is “Perfect Game.”

Canadian Olympic women's team goalie Shannon Szabados makes a save on Nail Yakupov as she takes part in the the Edmonton Oilers NHL hockey practice in Edmonton, Alberta, Wednesday, March 5, 2014. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Jason Franson)

Canadian Olympic women’s team goalie Shannon Szabados makes a save on Nail Yakupov as she takes part in the the Edmonton Oilers NHL hockey practice in Edmonton, Alberta, Wednesday, March 5, 2014. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Jason Franson)

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Don’t ever keep your library books this long

This cookbook, which was checked out more than 21 years ago from a Kansas, was finally returned earlier this month.

This cookbook, which was checked out more than 21 years ago from a Kansas, was finally returned earlier this month.

LAWRENCE, Kan.—More than two decades after a cookbook was checked out of a Kansas library, it’s just now been returned.

According to a news reports a copy of “The Versatile Grain and the Elegant Bean: A Celebration of the World’s Most Healthful Foods” was placed in a Lawrence Public Library return box a few days ago.

What’s amazing is the book had been checked out on Sept. 24, 1992. That means it had been checked out for about 21 years and five months.

Library official Kristin Soper speculates the borrower misplaced the volume and came across it just recently. The maximum late fee in 1992 was $3; it’s now $4.50.

“The Versatile Grain and the Elegant Bean” contains more than 300 recipes from around the world. Reviewers noted in 1992 that its publication coincided with growing U.S. interest in healthy cooking.

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Spelling bee runs out of words

After 19 rounds in a Missouri county’s annual spelling bee over the weekend, only two of the 25 contestants who started the competition remained.

Several hours and 47 rounds later, an 11-year-old and her 13-year-old adversary had used up all of the available words, forcing organizers of the Jackson County Spelling Bee to temporarily halt the showdown.

“It was legendary,” said Mary Olive Thompson, a library outreach manager and co-coordinator of the Saturday spelling bee.jd-greatbigworld

Sophia Hoffman, a fifth-grader at Highland Park Elementary School in the Kansas City suburb of Lee’s Summit, and Kush Sharma, a seventh-grader at Frontier School of Innovation in Kansas City, buzzed through the list of words provided by the Scripps National Spelling Bee. Then they ran through a list of about 20 additional words bee officials picked out of their Merriam-Webster’s 11th Edition during the lunch break, The Kansas City Star reported.

But bee officials decided not to pull more words from the dictionary because they worried one speller might get a tough word and the other a relatively easy one, which wouldn’t be fair.

Plus, Thompson said, at “about 2 o’clock, I think we were all really tired.”

Saturday’s competition went 66 rounds, she said, while last year’s bee ended after only 21.

“Scherzo,” “fantoccini” and “intaglio” were among the words Kush correctly spelled in the late rounds, while Sophia nailed words such as “schadenfreude, “mahout” and “barukhzy.”

Both of them missed what Kush said was the hardest word: a “French word; I have no idea how to pronounce it. It was a long word.”

With the winner moving on to the national spelling bee in Washington, D.C., in May, both contestants were at the top of their game in the final rounds Saturday, Thompson said

“Sophia and Kush’s eyes were just bright and glowing,” she said. “It was almost magical.”

The contest will resume March 8 at an undetermined library site.

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Reported by the Associated Press from KANSAS CITY, Mo. Information from: The Kansas City Star, http://www.kcstar.com

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Who’s got Sherman the owl?

A tawny owl named "Sherman" sits on a perch in a bird sanctuary in Selah, Wash. The Yakima County Sheriff's Office says that on Friday, Jan. 31, 2014, someone entered a building on the Raptor House property in central Washington and stole the 14-year-old  bird.. (AP Photo/Brian M. Christopher)

A tawny owl named “Sherman” sits on a perch in a bird sanctuary in Selah, Wash. The Yakima County Sheriff’s Office says that on Friday, Jan. 31, 2014, someone entered a building on the Raptor House property in central Washington and stole the 14-year-old bird.. (AP Photo/Brian M. Christopher)

The police are facing a real ‘Who’-dunnit at a Washington state bird sanctuary where a rare owl has went missing.

The 14-year-old tawny owl was stolen from a building on the Raptor House property in Selah, Wash., the Yakima County sheriff’s office said.

Shannon Dalan, who helps run the sanctuary with his wife, Marsha, said it was obvious the owl didn’t fly the coop on his own: Someone took off a lock to the building, removed latches and unhooked the leash holding the owl, named Sherman.

The bird is glove-trained and frequently is displayed in classes, the sheriff’s office said. Sherman weighs less than a pound and has reddish-brown feathers and pink eyelids.

The tawny owl is native to Europe and Asia, not North America, and Sherman could be worth $3,000 to $4,000 on the black market, Shannon Dalan said Tuesday.

“This bird is rare,” he said. “They knew what they were looking for. The person who stole it walked past other, native birds.”

The Raptor House is home to about 20 birds, including other owls, hawks, falcons and eagles. Some are being prepared to return to the wild, and others that can’t be released are used for education.

The tawny owl arrived about five years ago from a sanctuary in St. Louis. Shannon Dalan started calling him Sherman after ball-hawking Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman.

Sherman the owl has been seen by a lot of people, but Dalan couldn’t speculate on who might have taken him.

Reported by THE ASSOCIATED PRESS from SELAH, Wash.

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There’s a rabbit in Mandela’s ear

A new sculpture of Nelson Mandela has a sculpted rabbit tucked inside one of the bronze ears. (AP Photo)

A new sculpture of Nelson Mandela has a sculpted rabbit tucked inside one of the bronze ears. (AP Photo)

A new, 29.5-foot sculpture of Nelson Mandela is billed as the biggest statue of the South African leader. It also has a tiny, barely visible quirk: a sculpted rabbit tucked inside one of the bronze ears.

South African officials want the miniature bunny removed from the statue, which was unveiled outside the government complex in Pretoria, the capital, on Dec. 16, a day after Mandela’s funeral. The department of arts and culture said it didn’t know the two sculptors, Andre Prinsloo and Ruhan Janse van Vuuren, had added a rabbit, said to be a discreet signature on their work.

The bronze rabbit, sitting on its haunches with one floppy ear, is about half the height of the ear canal.

“It doesn’t belong there,” said Mogomotsi Mogodiri, a department spokesman. “The statue represents what everyone in South Africa is proud of.”

His department said in a statement that there are discussions on “how best to retain the integrity of the sculpture without causing any damage or disfigurement.”

Translation: pull the rabbit out of the ear without botching the statue. The giant work stands with arms outstretched, symbolizing Mandela’s devotion to inclusiveness, outside the Union Buildings, where the body of the prisoner who opposed white rule and became South Africa’s first black president lay in state after his Dec. 5 death at the age of 95.

Telephone calls and emails sent by The Associated Press to the artists were not immediately returned.

Earlier this week, South Africa’s Beeld newspaper quoted the artists as saying they added the rabbit as a “trademark” after officials would not allow them to engrave their signatures on the statue’s trousers. They also said the rabbit represented the pressure of finishing the sculpture on time because “haas”—the word for rabbit in the Dutch-based Afrikaans language—also means “haste.”

Paul Mashatile, arts and culture minister, said the sculptors have apologized for any offense to those who felt the rabbit was disrespectful toward the legacy of Mandela.

The government had appointed Koketso Growth, a heritage development company, to manage the statue project. CEO Dali Tambo, son of anti-apartheid figure Oliver Tambo, said he was furious when he heard about the rabbit, and said it must go.

“That statue isn’t just a statue of a man, it’s the statue of a struggle, and one of the most noble in human history,” Tambo said. “So it’s belittling, in my opinion, if you then take it in a jocular way and start adding rabbits in the ear.”

It would be, he said, like depicting U.S. President Barack Obama with a mouse in his nose.

Tambo said the artists, who belong to South Africa’s white Afrikaner minority, were selected for their talent but also in part because the project was a multi-racial effort in keeping with Mandela’s principle of reconciliation. He said their signatures could be added on the statue in a discreet place, perhaps on Mandela’s heel.

Reported by CHRISTOPHER TORCHIA Associated Press from JOHANNESBURG, South Africa. Photo provided by Jonathan Gill via Flickr.com.

The artists who created the 29.5 foot tall statue of Nelson Mandela added a bunny rabbit to his ear. (Photo by Jonathan Gil via Flickr.com)

The artists who created the 29.5 foot tall statue of Nelson Mandela added a bunny rabbit to his ear. (Photo by Jonathan Gil via Flickr.com)

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Heat wave in Australia driving people batty

Fifteen heat-stressed baby flying foxes (bats) are lined up ready to feed at the Australia Bat Clinic near the Gold Coast in Queensland, Australia, Thursday, Jan. 9, 2014. Thousands of bats near Brisbane and the Gold Coast have succumbed to the extreme heat falling out of trees and dying during a heatwave with new heat records are being set in Australia after the hottest year ever.(AP Photo/Australian Bat Clinic/Trish Wimberley)

Fifteen heat-stressed baby flying foxes (bats) are lined up ready to feed at the Australia Bat Clinic near the Gold Coast in Queensland, Australia, Thursday, Jan. 9, 2014. Thousands of bats near Brisbane and the Gold Coast have succumbed to the extreme heat falling out of trees and dying during a heatwave with new heat records are being set in Australia after the hottest year ever.(AP Photo/Australian Bat Clinic/Trish Wimberley)

The U.S. may just be climbing out of the freezer, but Australia has been sweating through a major heat wave to start the year. High temperatures were even breaking records across the Pacific Ocean continent. The warm weather is currently centered over sparsely populated Western Australia, but it could hit major population centers along Australia’s east coast by late next week.

The Australian Bureau of Meteorology noted the summer heat has been “highly significant with substantial areas having their hottest day on record.” The heat wave comes on the heels of Australia’s hottest year on record during when a slew of records were shattered, including the country’s hottest summer.

At the Australian Open, an international pro tennis match in Melbourne, one player fainted mid-match as temperatures topped 108°F at the Australian Open on Tuesday. Others said it felt like they were playing tennis in a sauna, or on a frying pan that sizzled their soles.

A ball girl was treated for heat stress during a morning match, and the tournament shortened rotations for the ball kids to 45-minute shifts.

Players used metaphors and anecdotes to describe how hot it was.

“I put the (water) bottle down on the court and it started melting a little bit underneath — the plastic. So you know it was warm,” former No. 1-ranked Caroline Wozniacki said. “It felt like I was playing in a sauna.”

Wozniacki was luckier than most. She had a win in the morning when it was a mere 100°F.

During the recent heat wave, dozens of records have been set, including some by leaped over old records. Narrabri, located about 320 miles northwest of Sydney, saw the thermometer hit an eye-popping 118°F on January 3. That surpassed the previous record by 6.5°F, which is the largest margin for an all-time high temperature record at an Australian weather station with 40 or more years of data. In Gunnedah Research Center, located 265 miles northwest of Sydney, temperatures rose to 114.6°F. That topped the previous high by 5°F. The station has records going back 76 years. Overall, 34 locations across the country with 40 years or more of data had their hottest day on record.

Adverse effects of the hot weather have been felt across Australia. Reports indicate that 100,000 bats dropped dead in Queensland. The Australian Department of Agriculture has also warned that with temperatures running 16–20°F above average for Queensland, South Australia, and Western Australia, wilted crops and increased fire danger are major concerns.

The heat was particularly overwhelming in the state of Queensland. The state had its ninth-hottest day on record on December 29, topping out at 106.3°F. However, it set an all-time record on January 3 when the maximum average temperature across the state was a sweltering 107.3°F.

The hottest temperature recorded was 120.7°F, which occurred in Moomba, South Australia on January 2.

The heat wave has moved to the territory of Western Australia, were forecast say it will be near 122°F on Friday afternoon.

Taiwan's Chan Hao-ching with ice pack on her head,  watches the first round match between Christina McHale of the U.S. and Chan Yung-Jan of Taiwan during their first round match at the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne, Australia, Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2014. (AP Photo/Shuji Kajiyama)

Taiwan’s Chan Hao-ching with ice pack on her head, watches the first round match between Christina McHale of the U.S. and Chan Yung-Jan of Taiwan during their first round match at the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne, Australia, Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2014. (AP Photo/Shuji Kajiyama)


Reported by CLIMATE CENTRAL and THE ASSOCIATED PRESS from Australia.

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Ship trapped in Antarctic ice nears rescue

The Russian ship MV Akademik Shokalskiy is trapped in thick Antarctic ice 1500 nautical miles south of Hobart, Australia, Friday, Dec. 27, 2013. (AP Photo/Australasian Antarctic Expedition/Footloose Fotography, Andrew Peacock)

The Russian ship MV Akademik Shokalskiy is trapped in thick Antarctic ice 1500 nautical miles south of Hobart, Australia, Friday, Dec. 27, 2013. (AP Photo/Australasian Antarctic Expedition/Footloose Fotography, Andrew Peacock)

A ship that has been trapped in thick Antarctic ice since Christmas Eve was nearing rescue on Friday, after a Chinese icebreaker named the Snow Dragon drew close to the icebound vessel.

The Russian ship MV Akademik Shokalskiy, which has been on a research expedition to Antarctica, got stuck Tuesday after a blizzard’s whipping winds pushed the sea ice around the ship, freezing it in place. The ship wasn’t in danger of sinking, and there were ample supplies for the 74 scientists, tourists and crew on board, but the vessel couldn’t move.

Maritime authorities received the ship’s distress signal on Wednesday and sent three icebreakers to assist. By Friday afternoon, China’s Snow Dragon had made it as far as the edge of the sea ice surrounding the ship, 20 kilometers (12 miles) away, but still faced the tough task of getting through the dense pack ice to the paralyzed vessel.

The Snow Dragon was hoping to reach the ship by Friday evening, but changing weather conditions and the thickness of the ice could slow its progress, said Andrea Hayward-Maher, spokeswoman for the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, which is coordinating the rescue.

Expedition leader Chris Turney said it may take the Snow Dragon until Saturday to break through.jd-greatbigworld

“We’re all just on tenterhooks at the moment, waiting to find out” how long it will take, Turney said by satellite phone. “Morale is really good.”

The scientific team on board the vessel — which left New Zealand on Nov. 28 — had been recreating Australian explorer Douglas Mawson’s century-old voyage to Antarctica when it became trapped. They plan to continue their expedition after they are freed, Turney said.

Passengers and crew have had to contend with blizzard conditions, including winds up to 70 kilometers per hour (40 miles per hour), but the weather had calmed considerably by Friday, Turney said.

“The blizzard we had yesterday was quite extraordinary — it’s not nice when you can feel the ship shaking,” he said.

Despite the interruption to the expedition, the scientists have continued their research while stuck, counting birds in the area and drilling through the ice surrounding the ship to photograph sea life.

Reported by KRISTEN GELINEAU of the Associated Press.

Crewmembers gather on the ice next the Russian ship MV Akademik Shokalskiy that is trapped in thick Antarctic ice 1500 nautical miles south of Hobart, Australia, Friday, Dec. 27, 2013. The research ship, with 74 scientists, tourists and crew on board, has been on a research expedition to Antarctica, when it got stuck Tuesday after a blizzard's whipping winds pushed the sea ice around the ship, freezing it in place. (AP Photo/Australasian Antarctic Expedition/Footloose Fotography, Andrew Peacock)

Crewmembers gather on the ice next the Russian ship MV Akademik Shokalskiy that is trapped in thick Antarctic ice 1500 nautical miles south of Hobart, Australia, Friday, Dec. 27, 2013. The research ship, with 74 scientists, tourists and crew on board, has been on a research expedition to Antarctica, when it got stuck Tuesday after a blizzard’s whipping winds pushed the sea ice around the ship, freezing it in place. (AP Photo/Australasian Antarctic Expedition/Footloose Fotography, Andrew Peacock)

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