Please note that this is a special edition of Our Little Earth collecting some of the
main stories of 2007. Feel free to pass this on to anyone who might enjoy reading it.
|January 18, 2008|
SPECIAL EDITION: THE TOP STORIES OF 2007
|Koreas get closer
2007 was a big year for the two Koreas – they took a big step to becoming friends again! The two countries’ leaders met in October to discuss ways on improving relationships between them. This is only the second time in more than fifty years that leaders of the two countries have met. Not only that, in December, history was made when the first regular rail service started between North and South Korea after more than 50 years!
So why are the two Koreans not good friends with each other? And why are there two Koreas instead of one anyway? For over four thousand years, North and South Korea were part of the same country called Korea. In 1910, the Japanese occupied Korea and ruled it until the Second World War. When the war ended in 1945, the Japanese had to give up control of Korea. Korea was then occupied by the Soviet Union in the north and the United States in the south. These parts were separated by a straight line called the 38th Parallel (since it was the latitude for 38 degrees north). This led to the formation of two separate countries in 1948 – North Korea and South Korea. North Korea attacked South Korea in 1950, starting the three year Korean war. That was the last time trains went across the border between the two. The border between North and South Korea became the most guarded border in the world. But now the two nations are getting friendlier, and the regular train service is a big step. Also, North Korea announced in February that it would work towards ending its nuclear program – something that allows them to make very dangerous weapons.
South Koreans use the internet a lot. Cyworld is an online social networking site that practically every South Korean uses – each person has a set of web pages called a “minihompy”. They also have the coolest cell phones – phones that you can watch TV on, phones that can store thousands of songs, and even phones that can project their pictures and videos onto a screen!
|Serbia & Montenegro are the world’s youngest countries – they are just a year and a half old.|
|Trouble in Pakistan
The last few months of 2007 have been quite the roller coaster ride for Pakistan. Pervez Musharraf has been the President of Pakistan since 1999, but had done so with the use of military force and by suspending the democratic process. In other words, the people did not truly have a say in his power. The Supreme Court of Pakistan was beginning to question his ability to stay on as President. Just before the court came out with its decision, Musharraf put several lawyers of the court in jail, shut down all private television channels, and declared a state of emergency. A state of emergency is a very serious matter – people lose most of their basic rights and it allows a ruler to do as he/she pleases.
However, in December, the state of emergency was lifted and it was decided that elections for the next leader would be held in January 2008. Benazir Bhutto, who had already been prime minister of Pakistan twice, started campaigning to fight the elections. Things appeared to be improving, but on December 27, Bhutto was killed in an attack which triggered more fighting in the country.
|Teacher: I see you missed the first day of school.
Student: Yes, but I didn’t miss it much.
|Stem cell discovery
One of the biggest areas of medical research these last few years has been in the use of stem cells. Scientists in Japan and the U.S. made a huge discovery in November. They found a way to convert human skin cells to behave like embryonic stem cells. That’s great, but what does this mean and why is it important?
All human beings start as a single cell in something called an embryo. The cell divides into two, and then each of those divide and so on until soon there are trillions of cells. These cells are initially not ‘specialized’ and can grow into becoming a part of the brain or the heart or the skin or any of the 220 types of cells in a human body. Such unspecialized cells are called stem cells. Most stem cells will become specialized, but adults do have a few stem cells left over.
The reason there is a lot of excitement around stem cells is that scientists believe that it may be possible to use them to cure diseases (such as heart problems, brain diseases, bone problems). Since stem cells are not specialized, the thought is that they can be converted into specialized cells to treat a disease. For example, a patient with a heart disease may be given specialized heart stem cells that could help cure the problem. Now these are just theories. Scientists need stem cells to do their research, but one of the main problems they have been facing is finding stem cells to work on. They can get stem cells from adults or from embryos. Adult stem cells are unfortunately very hard to get and can’t easily be converted into any of the specialized cells. Embryonic stem cells can be easily converted into specialized cells, but their use has caused a lot of debate since embryos are the start of human life and many people feel it is wrong to use them for research.
This is why the discovery that allows human skin cells to behave like embryonic stem cells is quite important. It should enable a lot more stem cell research and hopefully the cure to more diseases!
|A Martian can sleep (or work) an extra half-hour every day compared to you. Mars days are 24 hours and 37 minutes long.|
|Is there anybody out there?
Do we have friends out there in space? The answer to that question is still unknown, but it sure looks like there might be planets like our Earth. In April, astronomers found a new planet, Gliese 581c, in the constellation Libra. So far, we have found approximately 220 different planets circling stars other than our Sun. But what’s fascinating about Gliese 581c is that it is very Earth-like. It is the first planet that has been found outside our solar system that is estimated to have temperatures like ours and might be able to have liquid water on its surface. Water and Earth-like temperatures could mean life on that planet! Gliese 581c is 50 percent bigger than Earth and about five times heavier than Earth. It is thought to have a surface temperature between 0 to 40 degrees Celsius (32-104 degrees Fahrenheit), which is also similar to our planet. One year on Gliese 581c is equal to 13 Earth days. Gliese 581 is approximately 20.5 light-years away from us, which is considered reasonably close. The finding of Gliese 581c is also exciting because it tells us that there might be many Earth-like planets in the Universe. We just need to keep looking!
| Teacher: Could you please pay a little attention?
Student: I’m paying as little attention as I can.
One of the most popular gadgets of last year was Apple’s iPhone. Customers waited in long lines to buy one of the first iPhones – some waited 4 days! The iPhone started selling in the United States in June last year, and 1 million iPhones sold in just 74 days (that is 13,513 per day)! The iPhone is basically a cellphone-video iPod-PDA-camera-web browser-email terminal-alarm clock all combined into one very sleek gadget! One of its most amazing features is its touchscreen. To scroll down a list, you simply flick your finger on the screen, and the list scrolls by. If you are looking at a photo on the screen and want to zoom in, you simply unpinch your fingers across the screen and the photo expands, while pinching it shrinks the picture. If you are browsing the web on the iPhone, but wish it was wider, just rotate your screen 90 degrees, which rotates and magnifies the image to fill the wider view.
The word that was the fastest rising search term on Google in the whole world in 2007 was “iPhone”.
|The world’s biggest plane is the Antonov 225 – a cargo plane built in 1988 by the Russains that can carry about 80 cars.|
|Superjumbo in the air
After almost 40 years, air travellers now have a bigger plane to fly in! The Airbus A380 made its first commercial flight in October, making it the world’s largest passenger plane – a record that was held by the Boeing 747 for almost 40 years.
Singapore Airlines flew the A380 flight with passengers from Singapore to Sydney, Australia. The A380, nicknamed as Superjumbo, is so gigantic that airports have to be redesigned to fit the plane! The A380 can carry up to 850 passengers, although the first planes are only set up for 525 passengers. This is still a lot more than the 416 passengers the 747 can carry. The A380 has been designed to be extremely environmentally efficient, and burns 17% less fuel per seat than today’s largest aircraft. The aircraft is also much quieter than other large aircraft. It is a very spacious and luxurious jet.
Want to fly on the Superjumbo? Unfortunately, it only flies between Syndey and Singapore right now.
|What is white when it’s dirty and black when it’s clean?
|Farewell, Harry Potter!
This July, J. K. Rowling released the seventh and the last book of the Harry Potter series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Many people waited in line all night to buy the book. In the first 24 hours after its release, the book sold over 15 million copies worldwide making it the fastest selling book in history. The previous fastest was the sixth Harry Potter book!
The Harry Potter series has brought a lot of joy to people of all ages. It has helped generate an interest in reading amongst kids who did not ever want to pick up a book. The Harry Potter mania has been worldwide – the books have been translated into 65 languages and have sold a total of 400 million copies around the globe!
J. K. Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter series, is a British writer. She first got the idea of Harry in 1990 while riding a train. She worked on the book for a few years. After the book was finally written, she went to various publishers and was turned down by many! A small publishing house in London, England finally agreed to print her book – a very smart publisher!
|Hummingbirds can eat more than their own weight in food, and can fly backwards.|
|Cricket and Rugby World Cups
There were two major world cup tournaments in 2007 – rugby and cricket. These are both held once every four years. The finals of both are amongst the most watched events in the world on TV! Both are men’s tournaments. Both are outdoor sports played by two teams. Both have origins in the United Kingdom. With so many similarities, one might wonder if there are any differences at all! Here’s a big one – cricket is called the “gentleman’s game” while rugby is considered to be one of the roughest and most physical sports in the world!
The Cricket World Cup was held in the West Indies in April. Sixteen countries participated. Australia defeated Sri Lanka and won the Cup for the third time in a row. The first Cricket World Cup was held in 1975 in England. Cricket is a very old game – it’s unclear exactly when it originated, but people have been playing the game for over 300 years! Cricket is played by two teams of 11 players each. It’s played with a bat and a ball. The aim is to hit the ball with the bat and score ‘runs’ by running between two sets of sticks stuck in the ground. The team with the most number of runs wins the game. The next Cricket World Cup is going to be jointly held by Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka in 2011.
|It takes 17 muscles to smile and 42 to frown.|
|Big-time socializing on the net
In 2007, a lot more of us Earth citizens started keeping in touch with friends through social networking websites (often called social networks). These are websites where you can set up your own page with information about yourself, and you can connect with other friends or people who share your interests. Besides exchanging messages with friends, you can easily keep up with what your friends are doing – what music they’re listening to, what books they’re reading, what movies they’re watching, and so on.
There are many social networks and different regions of the world have different sites that have become more popular. These websites have been around for a few years, but 2007 saw a gigantic growth in the number of users. Now hundreds of millions of people around the world visit social networks each month. One of the biggest sites is MySpace. It is more popular in USA, UK, and Australia. It had more than 114 million global visitors in June 2007 (which is almost twice as many as a year ago)! Orkut, which is owned by Google and is popular in India and Brazil, has also almost doubled in the same time. Facebook is becoming very popular around the world and has tripled in size in about a year. Some other popular social networks are hi5, Bebo and Friendster.
Social networks are not just for adults. There are a lot of sites for kids also. Some of the more popular ones are Club Penguin, Imbee, WebKinz, Disney’s Toon Town, and more keep popping up.
“Webkinz”, “Club Penguin”, “Facebook”, and “MySpace” were all amongst the top ten terms searched for on Google, indicating just how popular these have become.
|As you get older your eyes never grow any bigger, but your nose and ears never stop growing!|
|The color of 2007? Green!
Let’s go green! You must have heard this term a lot this last year. Well, it doesn’t mean that it is St. Patrick’s day, or that you need to go buy some green clothes, or that you need to paint your house green. Until a few years ago,”green” was a symbol for money for most people. The U.S. dollar was a very strong currency in the world and its banknotes are green in color. But in this last year, “green” has come to mean “environment-friendly” to many people around the globe. “Let’s go green” is a call to everyone to change our habits and choices to help the environment.
The Earth has gotten warmer over the last 100 years by about 1 degree Fahrenheit. This could be something that the Earth is naturally doing, but many scientists believe that the Earth has gotten warmer because of our activities. Carbon dioxide and a few other gases such as methane, ozone, and nitrous oxide are called greenhouse gases because they help create something called the greenhouse effect. This is what keeps the Earth warm – without these gases, our planet would have been much colder. But human activity has now driven up the production of these greenhouse gases. For example, when our car runs on petrol, it is producing carbon dioxide. The larger amounts of greenhouse gases are making our planet warmer than its usual state – causing global warming. Amongst other things, the warmer Earth can cause increased melting of the ice caps and flooding.
The amount of greenhouse gases generated because of our habits and activities is often referred to as the “carbon footprint”. One can talk about the carbon footprint of a country, a company or even an individual. Our carbon footprint can be much larger than we think. For example, you might not realize that your choice of buying fruit can impact your carbon footprint. If you buy a fruit that has been produced locally, your carbon footprint is lower than if you choose a fruit that was grown in a faraway country. This is because the local fruit had to travel a much shorter distance to get to your grocery store than the fruit from far away. If that fruit came on a ship and truck, it generated a lot more greenhouse gases on its way to your grocery store.
Each of us can try to reduce our carbon footprint. Here are a few ideas that we all can try to do – replace standard light bulbs with fluorescent ones, ride your bike or walk instead of using a car when possible, carpool to school, recycle as much as you can, buy recycled goods (such as greeting cards made of recycled paper), avoid wasting paper, don’t leave the refrigerator door or the water tap open for any longer than necessary, use tap water (if it’s safe to drink) instead of bottled water, turn off the lights and other gadgets when not needed, buy locally grown food, plant a tree, and educate your family and friends about going green!
|Credits: Harvard University (Korea map), IdeaSpot (Pakistan flag), The Institute for Stem Cell Research, University of Edinburgh and EuroStemCell (blastocyst image), NASA (planets photo), Apple (iPhone picture), Singapore Air (Airbus A380 photo), Freefever (Harry Potter animation), Gifmania (cricket), Useless Graphics (Rugby).|