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SKYE on AOL

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    Antarctic sunlight illuminating the surface of the sea ice. (AP Photo/NSIDC, University of Colorado)

    By Seth Borenstein

    The ice goes on seemingly forever in a white pancake-flat landscape, stretching farther than ever before. And yet in this confounding region of the world, that spreading ice may be a cockeyed signal of man-made climate change, scientists say.

    This is Antarctica, the polar opposite of the Arctic.

    While the North Pole has been losing sea ice over the years, the water nearest the South Pole has been gaining it. Antarctic sea ice hit a record 7.51 million square miles in September. That happened just days after reports of the biggest loss of Arctic sea ice on record.

    Climate change skeptics have seized on the Antarctic ice to argue that the globe isn't warming and that scientists are ignoring the southern continent because it's not convenient. But scientists say the skeptics are misinterpreting what's happening and why.

    RELATED ON SKYE: The Difference Between Polar Sea Ice at the Extremes

    Shifts in wind patterns and the giant ozone hole over the Antarctic this time of year - both related to human activity - are probably behind the increase in ice, experts say. This subtle growth in winter sea ice since scientists began measuring it in 1979 was initially surprising, they say, but makes sense the more it is studied.

    "A warming world can have complex and sometimes surprising consequences," researcher Ted Maksym said this week from an Australian research vessel surrounded by Antarctic sea ice. He is with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts.

    Many experts agree. Ted Scambos of the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Colorado adds: "It sounds counterintuitive, but the Antarctic is part of the warming as well."

    And on a third continent, David Vaughan of the British Antarctic Survey says that yes, what's happening in Antarctica bears the fingerprints of man-made climate change.

    "Scientifically the change is nowhere near as substantial as what we see in the Arctic," says NASA chief scientist Waleed Abdalati, an ice expert. "But that doesn't mean we shouldn't be paying attention to it and shouldn't be talking about it."

    Sea ice is always melting near one pole while growing around the other. But the overall trend year to year is dramatically less ice in the Arctic and slightly more in the Antarctic.

    RELATED ON SKYE: Arctic Sea Ice Shrinks to All-Time Low

    It's most noticeable in September, when northern ice is at its lowest and southern ice at its highest. For over 30 years, the Arctic in September has been losing an average of 5.7 square miles of sea ice for every square mile gained in Antarctica.

    Loss of sea ice in the Arctic can affect people in the Northern Hemisphere, causing such things as a higher risk of extreme weather in the U.S. through changes to the jet stream, scientists say. Antarctica's weather peculiarities, on the other hand, don't have much effect on civilization.

    At well past midnight in Antarctica, where it's about 3 degrees, Maksym describes in a rare ship-to-shore telephone call from the R.V. Aurora Australis what this extra ice means in terms of climate change. And what it's like to be out studying it for two months, with the nearest city 1,500 miles away.

    "It's only you and the penguins," he says. "It's really a strikingly beautiful and stark landscape. Sometimes it's even an eerie kind of landscape."

    While the Arctic is open ocean encircled by land, the Antarctic - about 1.5 times the size of the U.S. - is land circled by ocean, leaving more room for sea ice to spread. That geography makes a dramatic difference in the two polar climates.

    The Arctic ice responds more directly to warmth. In the Antarctic, the main driver is wind, Maksym and other scientists say. Changes in the strength and motion of winds are now pushing the ice farther north, extending its reach.

    Those changes in wind are tied in a complicated way to climate change from greenhouse gases, Maksym and Scambos say. Climate change has created essentially a wall of wind that keeps cool weather bottled up in Antarctica, NASA's Abdalati says.

    And the wind works in combination with the ozone hole, the huge gap in Earth's protective ozone layer that usually appears over the South Pole. It's bigger than North America.

    RELATED ON SKYE: Alaska Village Short of Water as Winter Approaches

    It's caused by man-made pollutants chlorine and bromine, which are different from the fossil fuel emissions that cause global warming. The hole makes Antarctica even cooler this time of year because the ozone layer usually absorbs solar radiation, working like a blanket to keep the Earth warm.

    And that cooling effect makes the winds near the ground stronger and steadier, pushing the ice outward, Scambos says.

    University of Colorado researcher Katherine Leonard, who is on board the ship with Maksym, says in an email that the Antarctic sea ice is also getting snowier because climate change has allowed the air to carry more moisture.

    Winter sea ice has grown by about 1 percent a decade in Antarctica. If that sounds small, it's because it's an average. Because the continent is so large, it's a little like lumping together the temperatures of the Maine and California coasts, Vaughan says.

    Mark Serreze, director of the snow and ice data center, says computer models have long predicted that Antarctica would not respond as quickly to global warming as other places. Since 1960, the Arctic has warmed the most of the world's regions, and Antarctica has warmed the least, according to NASA data.

    Scientists on the cruise with Maksym are spending eight to 12 hours a day on the ice bundled up against the fierce wind with boots that look like Bugs Bunny's feet. It's dangerous work. Cracks in sea ice can form at any time. Just the other day a sudden fissure stranded a team of scientists until an inflatable bridge rescued them.

    "It's a treacherous landscape," Vaughan says.

    RELATED AT SKYE: Breathtaking Photos of Antarctica

     

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    UK mountain bike trials rider Martyn Ashton recently took a $16,000 Pinarello Dogma 2 out for a spin with a British filmmaker. They visited a skate park, cruised a golf course and even found their way onto an old airplane. All in all, as this video shows, pretty mind-blowing stuff.

    (Via ESPN Go)

     

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    This photo provided by Red Bull Stratos shows pilot Felix Baumgartner reacting after his mission was aborted in Roswell, N.M., Tuesday, Oct. 9.

    ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - Extreme athlete Felix Baumgartner hopes to make a second attempt to become the world's first supersonic skydiver with a 23-mile free fall over New Mexico on Sunday or Monday.

    Baumgartner aborted his mission Tuesday due to high winds, and his team had hoped the weather would allow him another try Thursday. But now they're looking at the next window being Sunday or Monday.

    Baumgartner is hoping to become the first skydiver to break the sound barrier by jumping from a capsule floated more than 120,000 feet into the stratosphere by an ultra-thin, 55-story helium balloon.

    The jump was postponed due to wind Monday, then aborted at the last minute Tuesday because of wind gusts. The balloon is so delicate that it can take off only if winds on the ground are 2 mph or less.

    Baumgartner is disappointed "like the rest of us" but taking a couple of days of critical downtime, his high-performance athletic trainer, Andy Walshe, said Wednesday.

    Team meteorologist Don Day noted during a media briefing at the Roswell launch site that weather delays are common in stratospheric ballooning.

    "It takes a lot of patience," said Joe Kittinger, a former Air Force captain whose free-fall record Baumgartner is trying to break. Kittinger is a lead member of Baumgartner's team, and will be the only member of mission control who will communicate directly with Baumgartner during his nearly three-hour ascent in a pressurized capsule.

    Kittinger said his 1960 jump, the first attempt to break the sound barrier, also was delayed by weather. He leapt from a helium balloon-floated, open-air gondola from an altitude of 19.5 miles.

    "I was ready to go and had to wait," Kittinger said at the briefing. "It's frustrating. But you have to go through it. What you see is what you get."

    Kittinger reached 614 mph, or Mach 0.9. Baumgartner, a former military parachutist from Austria, hopes to reach 690 mph, or Mach 1.

    Kittinger also was involved in the Air Force's Excelsior project, making a series of parachute jumps from helium balloons in the stratosphere in 1959 and 1960. Excelsior was a test bed for the nation's space program. With one balloon flight, "we waited 30 days and we never got it off," Kittinger said.

    Baumgartner's team had hoped to make the launch in the summer, when there is less winds, but was forced to delay it until October because of problems with the capsule.

    One of the disappointments of Tuesday's aborted launch was losing the balloon. The balloons are so fragile that once they are taken out of the box, they cannot be reused. The team has one more balloon. Team members said they are looking for a backup, but that could take four weeks or more.

    Art Thompson, the project's technical director, said there likely would be windows in the weather for making the jump through November, but declined to speculate on long-term plans beyond that.

    The jump is being sponsored by energy drink maker Red Bull. The costs have not been disclosed. But Thompson said Wednesday the balloons cost several hundred thousand dollars each, and he estimated the team lost $60,000 to $70,000 in helium with the aborted jump.

    RELATED ON SKYE: Photos of Felix's Epic Jumps

     

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    National Weather Forecast
    Active weather persists across the Great Lakes, as well as the Southwest on Thursday. A low pressure system spinning in eastern Canada advances northward and further away from the Northeastern U.S. However, another trough of low pressure slides over the Upper Midwest and into the Great Lakes on Thursday, kicking up more rain showers across the Midwest and Great Lakes. Some areas in the north may see some scattered snow showers, but heavy snowfall is not anticipated.

    Chilly Fall temperatures will persist across the Great Lakes and Upper Midwest, but the rest of the East will start to warm up as high pressure builds over the Southeast and pushes warmer air in from the south. High temperatures will remain in the 50s for the Upper Midwest, but the Eastern Valleys will see highs in the upper 60s to mid-70s on Thursday.

    Meanwhile out West, a low pressure system spinning off the coast of California will continue moving eastward and further onshore. Flow around this system will pull moisture in from the Pacific Ocean, maintaining cooler temperatures across the state with scattered showers likely in southern California. Moisture from this system will increase chances of thunderstorms from southern California through Nevada and Arizona.

    To the north, a ridge of high pressure remains the dominant weather feature for the Pacific Northwest. This will keep moisture away from the region, maintaining dry and pleasant conditions.

    Temperatures in the Lower 48 states Wednesday have ranged from a morning low of 14 degrees at West Yellowstone, Mont. to a high of 95 degrees at Edinburg, Texas.

     

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    (Credit: AP)

    NEW YORK (AP) - Americans will pay more to heat their homes this winter as they feel something they didn't feel much of last year: cold.

    Prices for natural gas, heating oil and other fuels will be relatively stable. But customers will have to use more energy to keep warm than they did a year ago, according to the annual Winter Fuels Outlook from the Energy Department's Energy Information Administration.

    Last winter was the warmest on record. This year temperatures are expected to be close to normal.

    Heating bills will rise 20 percent for heating oil customers, 15 percent for natural gas customers, 13 percent for propane customers and 5 percent for electricity customers, the EIA announced Wednesday.

    Heating oil customers are expected to pay an average of $3.80 per gallon, the highest price ever. That will result in record heating bills, at an average of $2,494. That's nearly $200 more than the previous high, set in the winter of 2010-2011.

    Kathleen Ryan of Cohoes, in upstate New York, is on a payment plan in which she is billed for oil November through May to spread out the costs. But with oil prices high and a hint of winter chill in the air, she is concerned.

    "You have no idea what Mother Nature is going to bring," she said. "They're already talking about frost this weekend. My costs could double."

    She regrets not switching over to natural gas earlier this year when sewer line work in her neighborhood would have made it easier to run a gas line to her home. But she has a plan to keep a lid on her heating bills. "I'm going to buy a portable heater, an electric heater," she said.

    That could help. Customers who use natural gas, electricity or propane will see lower bills than in a typical winter because of relatively low prices. For example, natural gas should average $10.32 per thousand cubic feet. That's 0.8 percent higher than last year but 13 percent lower than the five-year average.

    "It's two different worlds. For most families this is still going to be an affordable year, except for those who use oil heat," says Mark Wolfe, the Executive Director of the National Energy Assistance Director's Association. "For them, it's going to be very difficult."

    Rising heating oil costs come at a time when funding for low-income heating assistance is falling. Over the last two years, federal heating assistance funding has been cut to $3.5 billion from $5.1 billion. The number of households receiving assistance has dropped by 1.1 million over the period, according to Wolfe.

    Just 6 percent of the nation's households use heating oil, but they tend to be in some of the coldest parts of the country where heating needs are high, mainly in the Northeast. About half use natural gas for heat and 38 percent use electricity. Five percent of households use propane and 2 percent use wood.

    Electricity prices will fall 2.3 percent to 11.4 cents per kilowatt hour, the government estimates. Propane prices will fall 8 percent in the Midwest to $2.02 per gallon and 13 percent in the Northeast to $2.95 per gallon.

    Natural gas, propane and electricity prices are relatively low because of a dramatic increase in domestic natural gas production over the last five years. Natural gas is used to generate about one-third of the nation's electricity and is instrumental in setting the price of electricity. Recently drillers have been increasing production of so-called natural gas liquids, including propane.

    Heating oil will hit record prices because it is made from crude oil. Crude is priced globally, and has stayed high because of increasing world demand, worries about supply disruptions in the Middle East, and stimulus programs from central banks around the world that encourage investment in oil and other commodities. Oil has averaged $95.95 per barrel in the U.S. so far this year, up from an average of $94.86 in 2011.

    Consumers in the Northeast already have an issue with oil: high gasoline prices. Drivers in New England are paying an average of $3.955 per gallon, up 44 cents from a year ago, according to the Energy Department.

    But most of the increase in winter heating costs will be due to cooler weather this winter. East of the Rockies, the weather is expected to be about 2 percent warmer than normal but 20 percent to 27 percent colder than last year. In the West, temperatures were closer to normal last year, so the expected decline for this winter is just 1 percent.

     

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    Astrophotographer Brett Schaerer took this photo of the moon and Venus from Portland, OR, on September 12. (Credit: Brett Schaerer)

    With daylight saving time still in effect across most of the United States and Canada, the sun is now rising at many localities after 7 a.m. local time. That means dawn is coming late, so a lot of people may head out to work or school these days under a fairly dark sky.

    On Friday morning (Oct. 12), early risers will be in for a treat as the two brightest objects in the night sky approach each other to make for a lovely celestial scene - something to admire while you're perhaps waiting for the bus or train.

    Looking low toward the east-northeast beginning around 4 a.m. local time, you'll see a narrow waning crescent moon, just 12-percent illuminated. Situated about 7 degrees above and to its left will be the brilliant planet Venus. (Your clenched fist extended at arm's length measures roughly 10 degrees across).

    By the time sunrise comes about three hours later, this eye-catching pair will appear about one-third of the way up from the southeast horizon to the point directly overhead (the zenith). [Amazing Photos of Venus, the Moon and More]

    Keep in mind that when you're looking at the moon, it lies some 232,000 miles (374,000 kilometers) from Earth. Meanwhile, Venus is more than 450 times farther away from us, at a distance of 105 million miles (169 million km).

    Here's a question you might want to ponder early Friday as you gaze at the celestial duo: Which is the brighter of the two?

    At first glance you might think it's Venus, which gleams with a sharp and steady silvery light. In fact, in very dark locations, this beacon of the night can cast a faint but distinct shadow. At magnitude -4.1, Venus currently shines 11 times more brilliantly than Sirius, the brightest star. (In astronomy, lower magnitudes signify relatively more luminous objects.)

    But the planet still doesn't outshine the slender sliver of a moon, which will be just three days from its new phase.

    In fact, the moon is more than 27 times brighter than Venus. The reason this may be difficult to believe is that, whereas all of Venus' light is condensed into a dot in the sky, the light of the moon is spread out over a much larger area.

    Keep your eyes on the moon and Venus as the sky lightens up. After sunrise Friday, you'll still be able to see the moon easily. And using Earth's nearest neighbor as your benchmark, you should also have little trouble spotting Venus, which will appear as a tiny white speck against the blue daytime sky. See how long you can follow them through the course of the day.

    Editor's note: If you snap an amazing photo of Venus and the moon that you'd like to share for a possible story or image gallery, please contact managing editor Tariq Malik at tmalik@space.com.

    Joe Rao serves as an instructor and guest lecturer at New York's Hayden Planetarium. He writes about astronomy for The New York Times and other publications, and he is also an on-camera meteorologist for News 12 Westchester, New York.

    October 2012 Night Sky Guide (Sky Map Gallery)
    How to Observe the Moon (Infographic)
    Best Beginner Astrophotography Telescopes

    Copyright 2012 SPACE.com, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

     

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    A group of coal miners were building a sedimentation damn in central Queensland, Australia, when a giant tornado of dust came barreling through their construction site. Watch as the dust devil nearly runs them over.

    RELATED ON SKYE: Watch the Web's Wildest Tornado Videos

     

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    'Tis the start of big wave season in Hawaii. A massive swell hit this week, and a slew of surfers and photographers descended on Maui's famed big-wave break, Jaws, to get a piece of the action. In this short-but-sweet video, old hand Shane Dorian drops into a massive barrel.

    RELATED ON SKYE: 15 Gut-Wrenching Wipeout Photos

     

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    Sarah Brightman listens journalists during news conference in Moscow, Russia, Wednesday to announce that she will become the first-ever global recording artist to take a spaceflight, teaming up with Space Adventures for a journey to the International Space Station (ISS). (AP Photo/Mikhail Metzel)

    By Laura Mills

    MOSCOW (AP) - Sarah Brightman's voice, beloved by audiences and renowned for its three-octave range, rocketed to fame more than two decades ago as the heroine of "The Phantom of the Opera." Now the world's biggest-selling soprano is heading to outer space.

    On Wednesday, Brightman told a news conference in Moscow that she has booked a trip to the International Space Station. Brightman, who had a hit in 1978 with "I Lost My Heart to a Starship Trooper" and has sold more than 30 million records, will become the first recording artist in space.

    The British singer said that after touring the world in 2013 for her new album, Dreamchaser, she will spend six months in Russia's Star City cosmonaut training center.

    "I think of myself not just as a dreamer, but as a dream chaser," she said.

    Brightman, a UNESCO ambassador, said the trip would also serve as a way to promote the U.N. agency's message, by encouraging women's education in the sciences and environmental awareness. She hinted at the possibility of doing a promotional "space concert."

    She wouldn't give a precise time for her mission, but Alexei Krasnov, the head of manned programs at the Russian space agency Roscosmos, said she would likely make it in the fall of 2015.

    Krasnov said the price tag for the flight was in "tens of millions of dollars," but refused to name a precise figure.

    Brightman teamed up with the private company Space Adventures, which organizes trips for private space explorers. When questioned about the expense of the journey, Eric Anderson, co-founder and chairman of Space Adventures, wouldn't give a figure but joked that "it's a round-trip flight."

    Previous flights have cost the adventurous travellers over $20 million each, according to several of the participants.

    The cost should be of little concern for Brightman, who has grossed millions of dollars from her tours and albums. Brightman, ex-wife of Broadway playwright Andrew Lloyd Webber, said in a 2008 interview with the Guardian that she had offered to return the money she won in their divorce settlement, worth 6 million pounds.

    Brightman will be the eighth private space explorer to take such a journey. Most other participants lacked Brightman's fame.

    "I think she is a natural candidate," Anderson said, "somebody whose entire career revolves around inspiring people and communicating messages and really inspiring emotion. ... When they come back they can really share that experience with a much broader set of the public."

    Wednesday's announcement came despite Russia's announcement in 2010 that it was halting space tourism for lack of free seats on its Soyuz capsules. The Soyuz have become the only means of ferrying crews to the international space station since NASA put its shuttles out of business last year.

    RELATED ON SKYE: Mind-Blowing New Photos from Space

     

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    This Thursday, Oct. 11, 2012 photo made available by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission shows a giant eyeball from a mysterious sea creature that washed ashore and was found Wednesday. (AP)

    MIAMI (AP) - It's not that body parts never wash ashore on Florida beaches. But usually it's not an eye the size of a softball.

    State wildlife officials are trying to determine the species of a blue eyeball found by a man Wednesday at Pompano Beach, north of Fort Lauderdale.

    They put the eyeball on ice so it can be analyzed at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute in St. Petersburg.

    Agency spokeswoman Carli Segelson says the eyeball likely came from a marine animal, since it was found on a beach. Possible candidates include a giant squid, a whale or some type of large fish.

    RELATED ON SKYE: 15 Truly Bizarre Creatures of the Deep

     

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    MIAMI (AP) - Tropical Storm Patty is weakening as it drifts in the Atlantic.

    The storm's maximum sustained winds decreased early Friday to near 40 mph. Additional weakening is forecast and the U.S. National Hurricane Center says Patty could become a remnant low by Saturday.

    The storm is centered about 230 miles east-northeast of the central Bahamas and is moving south-southwest near 3 mph.

     

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    South Central Regional Weather Forecast

    In the Southwest, a low pressure system moves eastward into the Southern Plains from the Desert Southwest on Friday. This system will continue pulling Pacific moisture eastward with it, producing scattered showers and thunderstorms from the Central and Southern Rockies through the Southern Plains. Some of these storms will turn severe with strong winds and large hail.

    This system has a history of producing wind gusts up to 30 mph, but gusts up to 50 mph are possible at high elevations of the Central and Southern Rockies. Also expect snow to develop at high elevations of Colorado, Utah, and northern New Mexico. Most of these areas will see 1 to 3 inches of snow, but highest elevations may see up to 8 inches of new snow.

    At the same time, a warm front will extend ahead of this system to the east, also kicking up scattered showers and thunderstorms through the Tennessee Valley.

    Snow showers are expected across the Rockies, rain and thunderstorms move into the Southern Plains, and the East dries out on Friday as multiple weather features affect the country.

    To the north, a low pressure system in the Gulf of Alaska pushes a trough of low pressure and associated cold front into the Pacific Northwest. This will push abundant moisture onshore from the Pacific Ocean, triggering rain showers across western Oregon and Washington by Friday evening. Precipitation should remain as rain showers across most of the area.

    Temperatures in the Lower 48 states Thursday have ranged from a morning low of 14 degrees at West Yellowstone, Mont. to a high of 91 degrees at Harlingen, Texas

     

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    LOS ANGELES (AP) - At its prime, the space shuttle Endeavour cruised around the Earth at 17,500 mph, faster than a speeding bullet.

    In retirement, it's crawling along at a sluggish 2 mph, a pace that rush-hour commuters can sympathize with.

    Endeavour's 12-mile road trip kicked off shortly before midnight Thursday as it moved from its Los Angeles International Airport hangar en route to the California Science Center, its ultimate destination, said Benjamin Scheier of the center.

    The space craft was escorted by a security entourage as it moved across the tarmac but was briefly delayed after a minor problem developed with its trailer, Los Angeles police Sgt. Rudy Lopez said. The problem was quickly repaired and Scheier said it reached the street shortly after 2 a.m. PDT Friday.

    The immense black-and-white spacecraft, its sides weathered by millions of miles in space and two dozen re-entries, crawled slowly through the streets of the Westchester neighborhood on a 160-wheeled carrier.

    Hundreds of people waiting in the predawn darkness snapped photos and gaped as it inched by with its tail towering over streetlights and its wings spanning the roadway.

    "I'm speechless. It's like a once-in-a-lifetime chance," one man told KABC-TV.

    "I grew up with the space program," another said. "I remember when Columbia blew up when I was a child in school and I was fortunate last summer to go to the last shuttle launch in Florida, so it's really exciting for me to be here and watch it go through the streets."

    The shuttle made stop-and-go progress, with some halts to check its balance on its 160-wheeled carrier and to prune trees in its path as it rolled past strip malls, storefronts, apartment buildings and front lawns.

    "It's still a work in progress," Scheier said.

    The shuttle was to travel three miles and then stop in a private lot for a nine-hour layover as crews deal with power lines father ahead on the route.

    Ushering a shuttle through an urban core is a logistical challenge that took almost a year to plan. Guarded by a security detail reminiscent of a presidential visit, police enforced rolling street and sidewalk closures as early as Thursday night in some locations and discouraged spectators from swarming side streets.

    The behemoth transport has caused headaches for shopkeepers along the route who counted on cheering crowds jamming the curbs to boost business.

    In the days leading up to Endeavour's move, the owners of Randy's Donuts sold shuttle-shaped pastries emblazoned with the NASA logo and even hung a shuttle replica inside the giant doughnut hole sign visible from the busy Interstate 405.

    Co-owner Larry Weintraub planned to watch the shuttle creep by the roadside sign, which has been featured in several movies. But the store, which serves up sweets 24-7, will be closed Friday night.

    "I'm still excited, but I'm disappointed that people aren't going to be able to stand in the streets and shout 'Yay,'" he said.

    Saturday is typically the busiest day for James Fugate, who co-owns Eso Won Books in South Los Angeles. But with Endeavour expected to shuffle through, Fugate braced for a ho-hum day in sales.

    "We don't close because we're slow. That's when you pull out a book to read," he said.

    The baby of the shuttle fleet, Endeavour replaced Challenger, which exploded during liftoff in 1986, killing seven astronauts. It thundered off the launch pad 25 times, orbited Earth nearly 4,700 times and racked up 123 million miles.

    Last month, it wowed throngs with a dizzying aerial loop, soaring over the state Capitol, Golden Gate Bridge, Hollywood Sign and other California landmarks while strapped to the back of a modified 747 before finally landing at LAX.

    The last leg of Endeavour's retirement journey skips the tourist attractions and instead, winds through blue-collar communities in southern Los Angeles County. While viewing will be severely curtailed due to sidewalk shutdowns, crowds are still expected.

    Moving the 170,000-pound Endeavour requires a specialized 160-wheel carrier typically used to haul oil rigs, bridges and heavy equipment. The wheels can spin in any direction, allowing the shuttle to zigzag past obstacles. An operator walks alongside, controlling the movements via joystick. Several spotters along the wings are on the lookout for hazards.

    To make room for the five-story-tall shuttle and its 78-foot wingspan, some 400 trees were chopped down, cable and telephone lines were raised, and steel plates were laid down to protect the streets and underground utilities.

    Endeavour will mostly travel on wide boulevards with some boasting as many lanes as a freeway. While there have been advance preparations, there is remaining work to be done during the move, including de-energizing power lines. Southern California Edison warned of outages in the suburb of Inglewood.

    One of the trickiest parts involves trundling through a narrow residential street with apartment buildings on both sides. With Endeavour's wings expected to intrude into driveways, residents have been told to stay indoors until the shuttle passes.

    The route was selected after ruling out other options. Dismantling the shuttle would have ruined the delicate heat tiles. Helicoptering it to its destination was not feasible. Neither was crossing on freeways since the shuttle is too big to fit through the underpasses. The cost of transporting it cross-town was estimated at over $10 million.

    As complex as the latest endeavor is, Southern California is no stranger to moving heavy things.

    In 1946, Howard Hughes' "Spruce Goose" aircraft was built in sections and hauled from Culver City to Long Beach, 30 miles away. In 1984, an old United Airlines DC-8, with its wings and tail disassembled, was towed from Long Beach to the science center.

    Earlier this year, a two-story-tall chunk of granite was hauled 105 miles from a rock quarry to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

     

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    (Credit: sxc.hu | apatterson)

    When the weather outside is frightful, we spend more time shooting the breeze with people close to us, a new study finds.

    The study, published Wednesday (Oct. 10) in the journal PLoS ONE, found that during what the study authors called "uncomfortable" weather - be it hot, humid, wet or cold - people tend to have longer phone conversations, but with a smaller circle of people than usual, including close friends and family.

    "We found that during uncomfortable weather, our 'ringing anyone' behavior declined, talking on the phone for longer to our close friends and family more than our wider network," co-author Santi Phithakkitnukoon, a researcher at England's Newcastle University, said in a statement.

    The researchers analyzed anonymous records of 1.3 million mobile phone users in Portugal, gauging the length of phone calls and how often people called each other back. This allowed them to distinguish between "weak" and "strong" social ties.

    A second study by Phithakkitnukoon and colleagues published in PLoS ONE on June 28 found that people tend to travel to places relatively close to their friends and family; about 80 percent of locations people visit are within 12 miles (20 kilometers) of these strong ties. In densely populated areas, this distance fell to just 4 miles (7 km).

    "If we can use this information to build up a picture of people's movements - the places they visit, their daily travel patterns - then we can use this information to help shape our cities and transport systems of the future," Phithakkitnukoon said in a statement.

    It's unclear why bad weather leads to longer chats with close friends and family. Perhaps the uncomfortable weather leads to feelings of isolation, which people try to overcome by talking to those close to them, the researchers suggest. Or, they said, maybe bad weather makes real-world interaction more difficult or less desirable, leaving more time and desire to talk on the phone.

    Follow LiveScience on Twitter @livescience. We're also on Facebook & Google+.

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    Bangladeshi fishermen prepare to go on a fishing trip earlier this year. (AP)

    DHAKA, Bangladesh (AP) - Dozens of fishermen were missing Friday after rainstorms lashed coastal Bangladesh and the Bay of Bengal and killed at least 24 people.

    The coast guard and fellow fishermen were searching for those missing since the storms hit early Thursday, said local government officials Mehdi Hasan and Abdul Awal. Seven bodies recovered overnight raised the toll to 24 dead in Bhola, Hatia and Chittagong districts of southern Bangladesh.

    The storms swept through hundreds of villages and razed several thousand mud-and-straw huts, leaving many people homeless, they said. About 100 people were injured in the region that is about 215 kilometers (135 miles) south of the nation's capital, Dhaka.

    Relief workers handed out rice, drinking water and cookies to displaced people, the officials said.

    Communications were disrupted in the region, and workers were trying to remove fallen trees and electricity poles that were blocking roads.

    Deadly rainstorms are common in Bangladesh, a low-lying delta nation of 160 million people.

     

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    It wasn't too many years ago that word of a big swell hitting Hawaii would spread to the mainland by word-of-mouth -- the so-called "coconut telegraph" -- or maybe the rare newspaper article. How times have changed. Now, high-quality video is uploaded to YouTube within hours.

    Exhibit A: This video shot Oct. 9 and 10 of the season's first big swell rolling into Maui's premiere big-wave spot, Jaws, known locally as Pe'ahi. Surfers riding include Albee Layer, Shane Dorian, Kai Lenny, Matt Meola and Robby Naish.

     

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    Snow in SoCal? Wild Weather Pounds Area

    Wild weather pounded some areas of Southern California on Thursday, thanks to a cold upper-level low-pressure system. A hail storm hit the hills above the 210 freeway, blanketing the La Canada neighborhood and giving it the feel of a snowy winter wonderland.

    RELATED ON SKYE: 25 Electrifying Photos of Lightning Bolts

     

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