Saturday, 31 August 2013

Birth of a male cub panda in Madrid zoo

A giant panda in Madrid zoo has given birth to a healthy male and the one-day old, pink-skinned cub is already proving a handful, screaming his way through his first medical checkup. The new arrival, delivered after a natural birth in the early hours of Friday, is only the 10th specimen of the highly endangered animal in Europe, Madrid zoo said.

The cub is the third for Giant Panda Hua Zui Ba, whose twins born in 2010 have since been transferred to China, weighed in at a larger-than-average 210 grams and was 15 centimeters long. "The team of specialists and veterinarians have confirmed it is a boy with a good set of lungs," the zoo said. "The new giant panda cub...has shown it has a lot of character." Visitors will be unable to see Madrid's baby panda, which has not yet been named. Its Giant Panda mother was now unlikely to give birth to a second cub, the zoo said. Female pandas can often have two offsprings at a time.

Like Madrid's newest cub, most pandas bred in captivity are conceived through artificial insemination. Reproduction is difficult as females are only able to conceive for about two or three days in the spring. There are roughly 300 giant pandas in captivity throughout the world, and fewer than 1,600 living in the wild, in a few mountain ranges in central China.

Britain is also gripped with "baby fever" over the possible birth of a panda at Scotland's Edinburgh zoo, expected within weeks. Only 10 Giant Pandas now live in captivity in Europe, including in Edinburgh and Beauval in France. Vienna zoo's Giant Panda female gave birth to a cub in mid-August.

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Mars rover of NASA spies solar eclipse

NASA's Mars rover Curiosity turned its cameras skyward to snap pictures of the planet's moon, Phobos, passing in front of the sun. Curiosity landed on Mars in August 2012 for a two-year mission to determine if the planet most like Earth in the solar system has, or ever had, the chemical ingredients for life. It struck pay dirt in its first analysis of powder drilled out from inside a once water-soaked piece of bedrock.

The rover is now enroute to its primary hunting ground, a three-mile (5-km) high mountain of layered sediment called Mount Sharp. It paused on August 17 to snap pictures of Mars' larger moon, Phobos, making a dash in front of the sun. NASA released three pictures, taken three seconds apart, of the eclipse, taken with the rover's telephoto lens.

"This one is by far the most detailed image of any Martian lunar transit ever taken. It was even closer to the sun's center than predicted, so we learned something," Curiosity scientist Mark Lemmon of Texas A&M University said. Curiosity is scheduled to moonlight as an astronomer again in September and October when it tries to catch a glimpse of the approaching Comet ISON.