Our Little Earth – May 9, 2008

May 9, 2008
Our Little Earth
The Electronic Newspaper for Kids
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WHAT’S GOING ON
Cyclone hits Myanmar

Fig One On May 2nd, a huge cyclone, Nargis, struck Myanmar. The cyclone brought winds with speeds of 120mph (190kph) and created waves of water that were over 12 feet (3.5 meters) tall. The cyclone has destroyed a large number of homes and crops. It has already killed more than 20,000 people, and the final count could be much higher.

Myanmar was known as Burma until 1989. Its capital is Yangon (previously known as Rangoon). It is one of the larger countries of the region known as South East Asia – some other countries in that region are Malaysia, Indonesia,Thailand, Vietnam, and the Philippines. Almost 90% of Myanmar’s population follows Buddhism, a religion that does not promote any single god but instead tries to define a happy way of life.

Cyclones are very large storms with winds swirling around at a very fast speed. The center of the storm is called the “eye” of the storm , and is actually quite a calm area. The wind rotates around the eye of the storm in one direction, causing a large amount of water to pile up at  the center. This water (called a tidal surge) is carried by the storm and is eventually dumped on land causing a lot of flooding.

What’s the difference between cyclones, hurricanes, and typhoons? Not much! They are all the same type of storm – the only difference is what part of the world the storm strikes. In Australia and the Indian Ocean, they are called cyclones. In the Western Pacific Ocean, they are called typhoons. In the Atlantic Ocean, Gulf of Mexico, and the Eastern Pacific Ocean, they are called hurricanes.

High food prices around the world

Fig Two Food prices around the world have shot up over the last year because of a shortage in basic food items like rice and wheat. In the last few months, this has even led to fighting in countries such as Ethiopia, Indonesia, Italy, and Thailand. Governments are ordering their armies to bake bread (Egypt), heads of governments are being forced to resign (Haiti), and people are being jailed for hoarding rice (the Philippines).

So why the sudden shortage of food grains? There are several factors that have been at work. One of the big causes is bad weather in some of the large grain-producing countries. There has been a drought in Australia (wheat), floods in India (rice), a cyclone in Bangladesh (rice), and a snowstorm in China (rice). The price of oil has gone up, which drives up the cost of transporting food and also the cost of fertilizers. To help our planet, there has been a push to using forms of fuel which are less harmful to the environment than petrol and diesel. Corn is now being used to generate alternative fuel. This is good for our planet but it means that there is less food planted for us humans. The world population has increased, which means that there are a lot more mouths to feed. Also, there has been an economic boom in some Asian countries, and many people are able to afford more food than before.

Olympic flame on top of the world

Fig Three- On May 8, the Olympic flame was carried to the highest point on Earth, Mount Everest, by a team of climbers. The flame was carried in a special canister and once the peak was reached, a torch was lit from the flame. A special torch and fuel were designed so that the flame could burn at such a high elevation with very low oxygen.

This special torch is different from the main Olympic torch that has traveled around the world. That torch has been relayed through 20 countries and is now making its way around China before reaching Beijing, the capital, for the 29th Olympic Games in August.

Mount Everest is the highest mountain on Earth – 29,035 feet (8,850 meters) high. That is almost 20 Empire State Buildings on top of each other! Mt. Everest is part of the Himalayan mountain range, and is located in Nepal on its border with Tibet, China. The first people known to have made it to the top of this peak were Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay  in 1953. It is considered to be one of the toughest mountains to climb. There is only about a third as much oxygen available to breathe at the top as there is at sea level. The youngest person who has made it to the top was a 15 year old girl, and the oldest was a 71 year old man. A blind climber as well as a climber with an artificial leg have also made it to the top.

SOMETHING FAMOUS
Figure Let’s taste GM foods – genetically modified foods. Have you eaten a GM food? If you live in countries like the United States, Australia, Argentina, or India, you most probably have. If you live in Europe, you may not have. GM food comes from plants that have been modified by scientists in the lab. Scientists take a gene with a desired effect and put it in a plant to create the same effect. The first GM food was the “Flavr Savr” tomato that was sold in 1994 – its genes had been changed so that it ripened more slowly and didn’t rot quickly.

So let’s start with the basics. Genes are present in all living organisms, and they determine the “traits” of that organism. For example, genes determine the color of our eyes, or even the color of an apple. Scientists can modify the genes in plants to change their behavior. For example, there is a drought in Australia, which means there is less water for the plants. Now we know that some plants can live with very little water. Scientists can identify the gene that is responsible for that, and can put that gene into another plant that needs a lot more water. Now the new plant can live with very little water. Another example is the creation of crops that don’t get killed easily by pests because of the addition of a pest resistance gene to them. We now have potato plants that can survive colder temperatures because of an anti-freeze gene from a fish that lives in very cold water! We also have genetically modified onions that don’t make you cry when you cut them.

There has been a lot of controversy around GM foods. Many people feel that the risks of GM foods have not been studied thoroughly, and we do not understand their long term effects on our environment and ourselves. For example, some of the pest resistant plants generate pollen that kills caterpillars, an unintended side-effect. These risks are why some countries do not allow the making or selling of GM foods.

DID YOU KNOW
Mt. Everest rises a few millimeters each year due to geological forces.
The site freerice.org donates 20 grains of rice for each word puzzle you get correct. They have donated over 30 billion grains so far.
FUNNY BONE
“Look at that bunch of cattle.”
“Not bunch of cattle – herd.”
“Heard of what?”
“Of cattle.”
“Sure, I’ve heard of cattle.”
“No, I mean cattle herd.”
“So what? I’ve no secrets from them.” !
GO FIGURE
All the countries I border are mentioned in this edition, but I am not. What country am I?
A country mentioned in this edition is hidden in this phrase. Can you find it?
“I would love to eat my lunch in a park under a big willow tree.”
FIGURED OUT
Puzzle from last edition: What is interesting about the sentence, “Was it a car or a cat I saw?”
Solution:
The entire sentence is a palindrome, which  is a word or sentence that reads the same forward as it does backward!
Puzzle from last edition: The puzzle was a mini-Sudoku grid. Solution:. The solution is shown.
ETCETERA
Credits: NOAA for cyclone photo, genome.gov for GM tomato photo.
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