Egypt opens 2 ancient pyramids for first time since 1960s
CAIRO | Egypt on Saturday opened two of its oldest pyramids, located about 25 miles south of the capital Cairo, to visitors for the first time since 1965.
Antiquities Minister Khaled el-Anany told reporters that tourists were are now allowed to visit the Bent Pyramid and its satellite pyramid in the Dahshur royal necropolis, which is part of the Memphis Necropolis, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The Bent Pyramid, which was built during the Old Kingdom of the Pharaoh of Sneferu, in about 2600 B.C., is unique in that it has two internal structures. El-Anany said the Bent Pyramid represents a transitional form of pyramid construction between the Djoser Step Pyramid (2667-2648 B.C.) and the Meidum Pyramid (also about 2600 B.C.)
El-Anany also announced that Egyptian archaeologists have uncovered a collection of stone, clay and wooden sarcophagi, some of them with mummies, in the area. He said archaeologists also found wooden funerary masks along with instruments used for cutting stones, dating to the Late Period (664-332 B.C.).
Mostafa Waziri, secretary general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, said they also uncovered large stone blocks along with limestone and granite fragments indicating the existence of ancient graves in the area.
Egypt has been whipping up publicity for its new historical discoveries in the hopes of reviving a devastated tourism sector still recovering from the turmoil following a 2011 uprising that toppled longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak.
Thai farmers race their buffaloes in show of gratitude
CHONBURI, Thailand | Farmers in eastern Thailand on Saturday celebrated the start of the sowing season by racing their buffaloes, whose usual duty is to plow the fields.
The annual Wooden Plow Buffalo Race in Chonburi, about 37 miles southeast of Bangkok, is held to express gratitude to the buffaloes for working for the farmers all year long.
“It’s a long-inherited tradition that has been passed down from generation to generation,” said Supanee Saengue, one of the race organizers.
Around 60 buffaloes were registered for the race, with the farmers coaxing and goading the animals to the finish line.
“You have to whip them as much as you could to make them go fast, otherwise you could lose. The more you whip them, the faster they go,” said race competitor Suchai Saengdee.
Another competitor, Apichart Kongtrupjareon, said his two buffaloes had to be trained from the ground up, starting by slowly walking them abreast 10 times a day until their rhythm matches.
“They’re just like humans — if they don’t exercise, their muscles get sore,” Apichart said.
Russia launches major new telescope into space after delays
MOSCOW | A Russian Proton-M rocket successfully delivered a cutting-edge space telescope into orbit Saturday after days of launch delays, Russia’s space agency said.
Roscosmos said the telescope, named Spektr-RG, was delivered into a parking orbit before a final burn Saturday that kicked the spacecraft out of Earth’s orbit and on to its final destination: the L2 Lagrange point.
Lagrange points are unique positions in the solar system where objects can maintain their position relative to the sun and the planets that orbit it. Located 0.93 million miles from Earth, L2 is particularly ideal for telescopes such as Spektr-RG.
If all goes well, the telescope will arrive at its designated position in three months, becoming the first Russian spacecraft to operate beyond Earth’s orbit since the Soviet era. The telescope aims to conduct a complete x-ray survey of the sky by 2025, the first space telescope to do so.
The Russian accomplishment comes as the U.S. space agency NASA celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing on July 20, 1969.
Russian space science missions have suffered greatly since the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union. Budget cuts have forced the Russian space program to shift toward more commercial efforts.
A Russian Mars probe, called Mars 96, failed to leave Earth’s orbit in 1996. A later attempt to send a probe to Mars, called Fobos-Grunt, suffered a similar fate in 2011.
Work on Spektr-RG telescope began in the 1980s but was scrapped in the 1990s. Spektr-RG was revived in 2005 and redesigned to be smaller, simpler and cheaper.
In its modern form, the project is a close collaboration between Russian and German scientists, who both installed telescope equipment aboard the Russian spacecraft.
Rare sea turtles smash nesting records in Georgia, Carolinas
SAVANNAH, Ga. | Rare sea turtles are smashing nesting records this summer on beaches in the Southeast, with scientists crediting the egg-laying boom to conservation measures that began more than 30 years ago.
Giant loggerhead sea turtles weighing up to 300 pounds crawl ashore to dig nests in the sand every summer along the southern Atlantic coast. While nesting typically occurs from May through August, record nest counts set in 2016 have already fallen in Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina.
So far this year, researchers and volunteers in those three states have cataloged more than 12,200 nests left by loggerheads, a threatened species protected under the Endangered Species Act. That’s already far ahead of the 11,321 nests in the previous highest count three years ago.
“My laboratory is almost floor-to-ceiling in samples right now,” said University of Georgia professor Joe Nairn, who studies adult female turtles using DNA extracted from eggshell samples taken from each loggerhead nest found in the three states. “It’s pretty obvious to us that this is a big year.”
Loggerheads crawling from the surf of the Atlantic Ocean lay roughly 100 pingpong-ball sized eggs per nest. During the nesting season, volunteers from North Carolina to Florida comb the shoreline each day around sunrise to catalog new nests and cover them with protective screens to keep out wild hogs and other predators until the eggs hatch.
The nest counts serve as a key indicator of the overall population’s health. Female loggerheads tend to lay eggs only every three to four years, so the numbers often fluctuate. Still, scientists have seen an encouraging leap in the past 15 years.
Loggerhead nesting along Georgia’s 100-mile (161-kilometer) coast hit its low point in 2004 with fewer than 400 nests.
So far this year, more than 3,500 loggerhead nests have been recorded on Georgia’s beaches, surpassing the state’s 2016 record of 3,289. Mark Dodd, the state biologist who heads Georgia’s sea turtle recovery program, said he expects the final count to reach 4,000 nests by the end of August.
Dodd says the rebound can likely be traced to two key conservation measures taken up decades ago. States have stepped up monitoring and protection of sea turtle nests since loggerheads were listed as a threatened species in 1978. And shrimp boats trawling in U.S. waters since 1987 have been required to equip their nets with escape hatches for sea turtles.
Scientists suspect those decades-old efforts are showing big results now because female loggerheads don’t reach full maturity and start nesting until they’re about 30 years old.
“They’ve been able to survive to maturity and reproduce and come back to lay eggs,” said Michelle Pate, who leads the sea turtle program for the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources. “It’s been a long haul, but I think we’re finally seeing it pay off.”
South Carolina this year has counted more than 7,100 nests on its beaches — an increase of more than 600 nests compared to the previous record from 2016. And North Carolina’s nest count has passed 1,640, edging its record from three years ago.
Results of DNA testing on sea turtle eggs conducted at the University of Georgia back up the idea that more female loggerheads are reaching maturity and starting to nest. Since 2010, survey teams in Georgia and the Carolinas have collected one egg from each nest they find and sent the shell to Nairn’s lab.
Each eggshell is used to establish a DNA fingerprint for the adult turtle that laid it. After building a DNA database for loggerheads for roughly a decade, Nairn said his research team each year still finds 25 to 30 percent of the nesting females are turtles they haven’t seen before. He said that suggests the adult female population is growing.
The busiest U.S. state for sea turtle nesting by far is Florida, which had a record 122,707 loggerhead nests in 2016. The numbers are so large that Florida doesn’t keep a running count during the nesting season. Final counts are typically completed in the fall.
“Based on what we’ve seen so far, we are confident in saying that Florida is having a robust season,” Beth Mongiovi, a sea turtle researcher for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission, said by email. “As to this being a record year for loggerheads, it is too early to say.”
NYC power outage knocks out subways, businesses, elevators
NEW YORK | Authorities were scrambling to restore electricity to Manhattan following a power outage that knocked out Times Square’s towering electronic screens and darkened marquees in the theater district and left businesses without electricity, elevators stuck and subway cars stalled.
The New York City Fire Department said a transformer fire Saturday evening at West 64th Street and West End Avenue affected more than 44,000 customers along a 30-block stretch from Times Square to about 72nd Street and Broadway.
Officials with Con Edison later tweeted that they were working to restore electricity to customers and businesses primarily on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.
The temperature was warm, above 80 even as the sun set, but not as steaming as Manhattan can get in July.
Power reportedly went out early Saturday evening at much of Rockefeller Center and reached the Upper West Side.
At Rockefeller Center, traffic lights were out. Some buildings in Rockefeller Plaza have lights on, others were dark.
The outage comes on the anniversary of the 1977 New York City outage that left most of the city without power.
Many Broadway musicals and plays canceled their Saturday evening shows, including “Hadestown,” which last month won the Tony Award for best musical. Several cast members from the show put on an impromptu performance in the street outside the theater for disappointed audience members.
Emily Totero, 30, planned to bring out-of-town guests to see “Moulin Rouge.” But once they got to the theater district, they saw the power go out.
“You could see all the theater lights across the street, all the marquees went out. That’s what we noticed first,” she said.
Some shows like “Frozen” were among the Broadway shows to announce it had canceled performances.
When the lights went out early Saturday evening, thousands of people streamed out of darkened Manhattan buildings, crowding Broadway next to bumper-to-bumper traffic.
People in Hell’s Kitchen began directing traffic themselves as stoplights and walking signs went dark.
Ginger Tidwell, a dance teacher and Upper West Side resident, was about to order at the West Side diner on Broadway and West 69th Street just before 7 p.m.
“When the lights started flickering, and then were out,” she said. “We got up and left, walking up Broadway with all the traffic lights out and businesses dark.”
But once they got to West 72nd Street, they found another diner that was open and had power.
“It was still sunny and everyone just came out to the street because they lost power and air conditioning; it was super-crowded,” she said. “Everyone was hanging out on the street on a nice night. All you could hear was fire trucks up and down Broadway. All of Broadway was without traffic lights.”
— From AP reports