Tag Archives: Warning

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Friday 18th November 2016

Ireland could be facing an even bigger recession,

FF leader Martin says Ireland’s economic model under threat from Brexit and global downturn

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Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin warns of threats to Ireland’s economic model.

Ireland could be facing an even bigger recession than the one it has just come through as a result of Brexit and a potential downturn in the world economy, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin has warned.

In an address to the Small Firms Association (SFA), Mr Martin said both threats represented a “defining moment” for the State and its economic model.

“This is not about a conventional economic shock but a direct challenge to our core economic system.”

Mr Martin warned that without a credible response Brexit could result in hundreds of business closures and thousands of jobs losses as well as lower investment in infrastructure and weaker public services.

He highlighted a recent report by the Economic and Social Research Institute and the Department of Finance, which forecast a possible €12 billion loss to national income from a hard Brexit scenario with Britain exiting the single market altogether.

Aside from Brexit, Mr Martin said many countries were now turning their backs on the sort of trade co-operation that smaller countries such as Ireland were reliant upon.

“As for the impact of last week’s US presidential election, it is very brave person indeed who can predict what American policy will be next year let alone in four years’ time,” he told the SFA’s annual lunch event in Dublin’s Mansion House.

Mr Martin said Ireland’s basic economic strategy was no longer sustainable and that Ireland’s economic base needed to be broadened with a particular emphasis on indigenous companies.

In his address, the Fianna Fáil leader also spoke of the threat to public finances from union pay demands. While union leaders had been forthright in sounding the alarm over Brexit they were were less cognisant of the fragile state of the public purse, he said.

“We need to step back before the pay situation gets out of hand. Surely after what we have just been though, an angry, relativities-driven escalation of industrial disputes is that last thing we need?” he said.

Also addressing the event was outgoing SFA chairman AJ Noonan, who warned Ireland may lose out in the race to attract UK businesses here in the wake of Brexit because of the “punitive” tax regime.

“In terms of Brexit, the current message we are sending as a country is ‘relocate to Ireland and pay more tax’ – not a winning formula,” he said.

“Our tax system is not working for owner-managers, our employees and our future prospects,” he said, suggesting some elements of the political system were too obsessed with the redistribution of wealth by taking more from those in work.

Enda Kenny speaks with US Vice President-Elect Mike Pence on electoral success

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Taoiseach Enda Kenny has spoken to US Vice President-Elect Pence on the phone last night Friday.

During a 15-minute phone conversation, Mr Kenny congratulated the Vice President-Elect on his recent electoral success alongside Donald Trump.

According to a Government statement, Mr Kenny also expressed his intention to engage positively with the new administration on a number of issues to the mutual benefit of Ireland and the U.S.

It was said Mr Kenny raised the issue of the undocumented Irish in the U.S and expressed his determination to work with the President and Vice President-Elect in seeking a solution to the issue.

But chances of a resolution appear less likely under a Trump administration.

There is considerable disappointment in the Irish American community that little or no progress was made during President Barack Obama’s two terms.

The Taoiseach is said to have referred to the economic ties between the two countries, including the long standing and productive relationship Ireland has with many US companies, as well as the fact that there are 100,000 Americans employed in Irish companies across America.

“Both men spoke of Vice President-Elect Pence’s strong Irish heritage and the Taoiseach expressed the wish that the Vice President-Elect might visit here again sometime in the future,” the statement added.

Mr Kenny was one of the first leaders to speak to Mr Trump following his election victory earlier this month.

This is despite describing the President-elect as a racist earlier this year.

Vacancies filling rift between the Commissioner and Tánaiste Fitzgerald

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Tánaiste and Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald with Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan.

Major tensions have surfaced between Justice Minister and Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald and Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan over the filling of a series of key vacancies within the force.

Ms Fitzgerald has held up the promotions of a significant number of officers, including two assistant commissioners, after coming under pressure from the Policing Authority.

The newly established watchdog is understood to have voiced concern over the number of proposed promotions – meaning the jobs could remain unfilled until next year.

Sources say there is major anger within the force over the holding up of the promotions, and that the long-running vacancies weaken An Garda Síochána as a whole.

Some officers believe the decision not to send the list for Cabinet approval is “punishment” for Garda unions securing a special pay deal.

“This led to tensions between the Commissioner and Government and it is damaging to the force as a whole,” said a source.

It now seems likely that the Policing Authority will be given a much greater say over the appointments process within the force.

The ‘right to be forgotten’ and go play is ultimate in the protection of Ireland’s children

The right to play, giving more powers to Gardaí, and the abolition of direct provision centres were also contained in the report.

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A report has recommended over 100 changes the government should make to safeguard children including changing the law so that children’s information can be removed from the Internet (‘right to be forgotten’), and ensuring children’s right to play.

The report, compiled by a Rapporteur on Child Protection, is over 180 pages long, and discusses a range of subjects including the vulnerability of children with disabilities and the gaps in legislation in relation to technological advancements that leave children unprotected.

Other changes recommended include teaching children about consent in child sex abuse cases, and shielding children in court if absolutely necessary.

Tanya Ward, CEO of the Children’s Rights Alliance said that this report was different from others as it focused on children who were “left behind” – such as children in homeless accommodation and children in direct provision centres.

Speaking to RTÉ’s News at One, she said that although there were some ambitious longterm recommendations, there were also ‘interim ‘ suggestions made in the report.

Here are some of the most important recommendations made by Special Rapporteur Professor Geoffrey Shannon.

Consent education is a must?

In his report, Special Rapporteur raised concerns about and highlights the need for adequate sex education to teach children and young people about consent and to challenge the concept of ‘victim blaming’ or holding the victim responsible for sexual violence or crime committed against them.

Shannon is commenting on provisions in the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Bill which allows for children to give evidence in court behind a screen in certain circumstances.

He states that “this should be avoided whenever possible”, and the bill is currently before the Houses of the Oireachtas.

The report also highlights the fact that gardaí don’t have the power to search and seize mobile phone devices that they suspect of containing images of children if the device is outside the home.

The report also calls for the gardaí to be given better powers when requesting information from companies like Google and Facebook.

Children’s digital rights.

For the first time, Prof. Shannon discusses the right to be forgotten, pinpointing the risks to children’s online identity. Activity on social media may be instant, but the unintended consequences for children when they post something online can last beyond childhood.

The report says:

The relevance for children of the ‘right to be forgotten’ should be acknowledged, children should be educated about the matter, and it should be understood that the age at which an individual posts information online should be considered a very important factor in decisions about whether to remove an individual’s personal information from sites.

Children with disabilities?

Shannon also brings a special focus to children with disabilities in his report.

This is very relevant in the context of the ‘Grace case’ and the attention that it has brought for the treatment of children with intellectual disabilities.

Shannon calls for an examination of the effectiveness of the government’s Stay Safe Programme (a personal safety skills programme for specialised mainstream primary schools) for children with disabilities.

He is also calling for Ireland to ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Young People in the Justice System.

There are also some harsh criticisms of the method of judicial punishment for children in trouble with the law detention -the report says that detention centres “should be a measure of last resort”.

Against the backdrop of progress in the youth justice area and difficulties at the Oberstown Detention Campus, the report calls for more “imaginative community sanctions” for children.

While the Garda Diversion Programme has been extremely successful over the years, there are other, new diversion models in operation in other jurisdictions that should now also be explored. It is also calling for further attempts to “avoid the use of force, including restraint, of children in custodial settings”.

The right to play.

The report calls for child protection training and standards for people working in the field of play. He highlights the fact that children from disadvantaged groups lose out the most when it comes to play and recreation.

Children have a right to play, recreation, rest and participation in the arts.

Prof. Shannon highlights the serious and immediate developmental impact this is having on children and calls for a Government-led national strategy to address this and make sure that all children can access this basic right.

Other issues detailed in Prof. Shannon’s report include direct provision for asylum seekers, which he recommends should be abolished. In the interim, he suggests that living standards in direct provision centres should be improved. He also focuses on poverty and calls for national measures to address the nutritional needs of families.

The report is due to be debated before the Houses of the Oireachtas in the coming weeks.

Irish Pharmacists warn over drug driving and prescription medicines

An RSA report shows 30% of people killed on roads in Ireland in 2013 were on prescription medication

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The Irish Pharmacy Union said it was urging drivers to be aware of the dangers of driving after taking medicines, particularly those which can cause drowsiness.

Drivers who take prescription medicine should consult their pharmacist about whether it is safe for them to operate a vehicle after doing so, the Irish Pharmacy Union has said.

The union said it was urging drivers to be aware of the dangers of driving after taking medicines, particularly those which can cause drowsiness.

It comes after RTÉ reported a Road Safety Authority (RSA) internal report showed 30% of people who died in road crashes in Ireland in 2013 had taken prescription medicine.

The report examined 109 coroners’ reports and found 31% of those who died in crashes had consumed alcohol, while 30% had taken a prescription medicine.

The report stated that prescription medication includes drugs that legally require a medical prescription to be dispensed and include drugs such as benzodiazepines, antidepressants, antipsychotics and antiepileptic drugs.

Sedative hypnotic.

“Initial observation would indicate that presence of prescription medications appear to be over-represented in road traffic collision (RTC) fatalities, with 34 (30%) of all RTC fatalities having prescription medication found on toxicology. Benzodiazepine, a sedative hypnotic, was the most common prescription medication on toxicology.”

Irish Pharmacy Union executive committee member Caitriona O’Riordan said the data was very disturbing.

“Neither the Gardaí nor the RSA know if the medications that the unfortunate crash victims concerned were taking had been prescribed or were obtained illegally.

“The key point is that there are possible side-effects from some medications, and it’s vitally important that before driving people should ask their pharmacist if there is any possibility that the medicine may impact on their ability to drive safely,” she said.

“Many medications carry warnings to be aware of the dangers of drowsiness or other side-effects, and those warnings are there for a reason; it is absolutely vital that everyone taking medications discusses possible side-effects with their pharmacist and also reads the advisory notes with the medication,” she said.


Image result for CHARITY PLACES 380 PAIRS OF SHOES OUTSIDE DÁIL TO HIGHLIGHT RATE OF MALE SUICIDE  Image result for We need to talk about our mental health more in Ireland and put pressure on our government to prioritise mental health services  Image result for We need to talk about our mental health more in Ireland and put pressure on our government to prioritise mental health services

A total of 380 pairs of shoes were laid outside Dáil Éireann today, symbolising the number of Irish men who die by suicide each year.

The Movember Foundation, which organised the event, said it is aiming to help reduce the rate of male suicide by 25% by 2030.

The protest was replicated in the UK, US, Australia and Canada ahead of International Men’s Day, which happens tomorrow.

Doug Leddin, a Movember participant and mental health advocate from Dublin said: “We need to talk about our mental health more in Ireland and put pressure on our government to prioritise mental health services.

“Unless you spend a day in the shoes of someone who is suffering it’s extremely hard to know what we’re going through. I was in a dark place and I suffered alone for a long time.

“Movember is a brilliant way to spread awareness of men’s health, raising funds and getting guys talking and being more open about mental or physical challenges they might be facing.”

Neil Rooney, Director of The Movember Foundation Ireland, said too many men are dying too young and before their time.

“The Movember Foundation is investing in projects that are having a real impact on the lives of men in Ireland and around the world,” he said.

“By engaging with men where they are, and understanding what works best, we’re helping make change happen sooner, before it’s too late.

“While the state of men’s health has come a long way since Movember started in 2003, there’s still so much work to be done and we won’t stop until men are living healthier, happier and longer lives.”

Three out of every four suicides in Ireland happen to men. On average, 32 men a month take their own life in the country.

Stephen Hawking warns humanity may only have 1,000 years left

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Famed theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking has spent his life pondering big questions about the wider universe. In recent years, he’s turned his attention closer to home, talking about AI, climate change, alien invasion, and other threats to the future of humanity.

Now, he’s put an expiration date on our species if we don’t get into space. He’s giving us just 1,000 years.

Hawking’s latest warning came in a speech delivered at Britain’s Oxford University Union. He noted that Earth is fragile, as is any single planet. The odds of a catastrophic global event wiping out humanity in any given year is slim, but over the course of years the chance becomes quite high. Human activity is only increasing those odds as well.

Hawking noted in the speech that some of the most pressing concerns for the future of humanity could come in the next century, as artificial intelligence is perfected and global climate change continues to affect civilization. When something happens on Earth, we don’t want all of humanity to be here, according to Hawking. The best way to keep the species going is to make sure we’ve got a backup — humans on other planets and maybe even in other star systems.

But where could we go? The easiest way to get humans off of Earth is to colonize Mars, and there are some ambitious plans to make that a reality within our lifetimes. The SpaceX Interplanetary Transport System is designed to shuttle as many as 200 people to Mars in each three month trip. Launches would only happen when the orbit of Mars put it close enough to Earth for such a quick journey. It’s certainly feasible to move people to Mars, but creating a functional society is still an unknown. Mars has no magnetic field to protect people from radiation and its thin atmosphere isn’t breathable.

Mars is a good start, but being in a completely different solar system would be the ultimate backup for humanity. Astronomers are constantly finding potentially habitable exoplanets, but we can’t get to any of them with current technology. The most likely target for further examination is Proxima Centauri, which harbors an exoplanet that may be Earth-like. First, we need to get a closer look at it, which the upcoming James Webb Space Telescope can manage. A few centuries ago, wooden sailing ships were the fastest way to travel, so who know what we’ll have in another couple generations? Proxima Centauri might not seem that distant.

A whole millennium might sound like a lot of time, but humanity has existed in more or less its current form for about 100,000 years. It’d be an awful shame if all this progress we’ve made was for naught in just 1% of that time. We should probably get on this.


News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Friday 6th May 2015

Hurrah Hurrah finally after 70 days we have a new Irish Government at a cost?


Enda Kenny receives seal of office as Taoiseach from President Michael D Higgins.

We finally have a government at a cost of €38,500 a day in TD salaries over the 70 days since the General Election?

An agreement has been reached at long last as Enda Kenny finally scraped in as Taoiseach this afternoon with 59 votes.

However, in the 10 weeks of government negotiations, the 158 elected TDs and the 10 acting ministers who lost their seats have pocketed substantial sums of taxpayer money.

Despite failing to keep their seats in the General Election, Acting Communications Minister Alex White and Acting Children’s Minister James Reilly have taken home pay packets of more than €10,000 each since the end of February.

Although the eight junior ministers who lost their seats in February are no longer collecting their TD salaries, they are still in receipt of a collective €52,893 in additional allowances.

A basic salary is paid to all TDs beginning on the date of the election result, and those with specified positions such as cabinet ministers or ministers of state also receive an additional salaried allowance.

A review of ministerial salaries shows:

•  Backbencher TDs have received approximately €16,780 since February 26, amounting to €2.1m for 126 TDs over 70 days

•  Although Acting Communications Minister Alex White and Acting Children’s Minister James Reilly failed to keep their seats, they have still taken home €13,515 each as they continued to fulfill ministerial duties

•  The 11 re-elected cabinet ministers have been paid €30,295 each, a collective sum of €333,245 over 10 weeks

•  Acting Taoiseach Enda Kenny has been paid €35,644, while Acting Tánaiste and Social Protection Minister Joan Burton has been paid €32,943

•  The eight junior ministers who lost their seat, including Kathleen Lynch, Aodhán O’Riordan, Ged Nash and Paudie Coffey, have collected individual sums of €6,611, amounting to a total of €52,893

•  The seven ministers of state who kept their seat, including Simon Harris, Michael Ring and Sean Sherlock, have each been paid €23,391 for their work

According to dissolution guidelines from the Houses of the Oireachtas: “Ministers and Ministers of State continue to be paid their Ministerial salary by the Departments throughout the dissolution period.

“The payment continues until the successor of the Taoiseach (who was in office on dissolution date) is appointed.”

All salaries are subject to tax, PRSI, the universal social charge, pension levy and pension contribution.

In addition to their salary, ministers also receive a number of other entitlements, including a mobile phone allowance and the Parliamentary Standard Allowance (PSA).

The PSA is comprised of a public representation allowance of up to €20,350 for expenses such as office utilities, stationery and advertising, and a travel and accommodation allowance.

The travel and accommodation allowance is intended to cover the costs of transport to and from Leinster house, overnight stays and other travel expenses, and ranges from €9,000 per year for those living in Dublin up to €34,065 for those living more than 360km from Dublin.

A Government spokesperson told Independent.ie: “The Taoiseach and Ministers continue to be paid their salaries as they continue to discharge their constitutional duties as cabinet members and heads of their departments.”

‘The story of 70 million Irish’ told at new Dublin visitor centre

EPIC Ireland in CHQ building curated by company behind Titanic Belfast


EPIC Ireland opens its doors to a new visitor experience which tells the story of 10 million journeys and the roots of 70 million people.

The story of the 70 million people who claim Irish heritage across the globe will be told in a new interactive visitor centre which opens its doors in Dublin on Saturday.

Former president Mary Robinson officially opened the EPIC Ireland centre in the CHQ Building in the docklands.

Designed by Event Communications, the company behind the hugely successful Titanic Belfast exhibition, the centre tells the story of the “global Irish family” in 20 interactive galleries.

Included in the stories of 325 people with Irish heritage, are revolutionary Che Guevara whose ancestors emigrated from Galway to Argentina and actor Grace Kelly whose grandfather was a bricklayer from Mayo.

The centre was funded by former Coca-Cola chief executive Neville Isdell, who emigrated from Co Down with his parents to Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia) in the mid-1950s.

Mr Isdell spent €10 million on the CHQ centre, a former 19th century warehouse, in the International Financial Services Centre (IFSC). Converted by the Dublin Docklands Development Authority into a shopping centre just before the economic crash, the CHQ building was only a quarter occupied when Mr Isdell invested.

Visitors will be issued with a personal “passport” before they take their tour through the galleries, which are organised into four themes. The first is migration, offering an introduction to Ireland and the arrivals and departures that have shaped the country.

The second is motivation, exploring why so many people left Ireland over the centuries, for reasons including famine and war.

The third theme is influence, examining what Irish people have done overseas and the impact they have had in their adopted homelands. The fourth theme of connection allows visitors to share their own stories of Irish connections throughout the world.

Visitors may also explore their family backgrounds with the help of genealogists based at the Irish Family History Centre on the site.

Opening the exhibition, Mrs Robinson recalled her decision as president to put a light in the window of Áras an Uachtaráin for all those who had to leave the country. She said that light had taught her the “power of symbols”.

As president, she also had a real sense of representing the 70 million people of the diaspora, such was the interest of those of Irish descent in seeking and cherishing their Irish heritage.

But she also recalled her disappointment at the “lack of enthusiasm” with which members had greeted her second address to the Houses of theOireachtas as president.

“My address completely lacked humour – there were no jokes at all. And the tone sounded preachy to the Oireachtas members, who responded with rather limp applause at the end. I was quite devastated by the lack of enthusiasm. But almost immediately I got a different reaction from those in the disaspora. Messages came pouring in expressing joy and tears that they had been recognised at last,” she said.

The EPIC Ireland centre opens to the public on Saturday. Entry costs €16 for adults and €8 for children, with discounts available for families, groups, pensioners, students and the unwaged.

Epilepsy related seizures can be predicted by measuring heart rate variability


Epilepsy related seizures can be predicted by measuring heart rate variability. The findings come from researchers in Japan who found that epileptic seizures may be better predicted using electrocardiogram to measure fluctuations in the heart rate than by measuring brain activity. This is also effective because wearing a heart monitor is much easier.

Epilepsy is a chronic disease that affects roughly one percent of the population. The disease is characterized by recurrent seizures, which are a result of excessive excitation that suddenly occurs in nerve cells (neurons) in the brain.

Anti-epileptic drugs allow majority of patients to live a normal life, but some patients are drug-resistant, meaning their seizures cannot be controlled by medications, leaving the patients living in constant fear of an impending seizure. Being able to predict seizures can offer these patients greater peace of mind.

Previous studies to predict seizures through heart rate were unsuccessful, and practical application was challenging as well. Dr. Toshitaka Yamakawa explained, “We analyzed heart rate fluctuations in the electrocardiographic data of 14 patients who had been hospitalized for long-term EEG video monitoring using a novel technique.”

The researchers used a Multivariate Statistical Process Control (MSPC) to analyze the heart rate variability. The results produced accurate predictions of seizures 91 percent of the time. Furthermore, predictions were made up to eight minutes prior to seizure onset. The difference between normal and preictal (before seizure) heart rates was very clear, and there were just a few false positives. The results show that it is possible to accurately predict seizures using heart rate.

Dr. Yamakawa continued, “The next step is to develop a wearable seizure prediction device. With that kind of device, patients would be able to ensure their safety before a seizure occurs and since the envisioned device would be attached to the chest, where it’s invisible externally, they would be able to have normal daily lives while wearing it. They wouldn’t need to be afraid of sustaining injury due to an unexpected seizure.”

Additional clinical trials of using wearable devices to predict seizures are now underway.

Brain implants may help predict seizures

An alternative study found that a brain implant may help to better predict seizures. In a small pilot study, 15 patients were tested. The patients were implanted with electrodes between the skull and the brain, connected with other electrodes in the chest. The data from the implants was then transmitted to a handheld device that patients could reference. High risk of a seizure is indicated by a red light, medium risk is a white light, and low risk is blue.

The devices successfully predicted seizures with a “high warning” sensitivity of over 65 percent. Some patients did experience negative side effects, including chest pains as a result of the chest implant moving. Two of the 15 patients did have the device removed.

Lead researcher Dr. Mark Cook said, “Knowing when a seizure might happen could dramatically improve the quality of life of people with epilepsy by giving them back some independence in their lives. A lot of patients with epilepsy will tell you it’s not the seizures themselves, but the fact they don’t know when they will happen, that is the worst part of their condition.”

Dr. Ashesh Mehta, director of epilepsy surgery at the North Shore-LIJ Comprehensive Epilepsy Care Center, added, “This study is an important first step. The next step would be to implant these in a larger sample of patients. And you need to see which groups of patients might be good candidates for this.”

Thousands to walk from darkness into light for Pieta House Ireland


Thousands will give up their Saturday morning lie-in this weekend to take part in Darkness Into Light fund-raisers all over Cork city and county.

 The fund-raiser, the most important one staged annually by suicide and self-harm prevention centre Pieta House, is described as ‘the lifeblood’ of the charity’s work. As much as 90% of its annual funding comes via public donations, with Darkness Into Light by far the most substantial source.

Starting at 4.15am, at nine different locations in Cork, thousands will walk and run a 5km route in solidarity to show support and raise funds for the charity.

More than 10,000 people took part in the walks in Cork last year, joined by a further 100,000 people at sites all over Ireland. It shows a remarkable growth for the event, which had just 400 participants in Phoenix Park in 2009 at its first outing.

The feat will be repeated this year at nine Cork sites: UCC, Clonakilty, Mallow, Ballyvolane, Carrigaline, Midleton, Inchigeelagh, Mitchelstown and Castletownbere.

Since opening the doors of its Bishopstown centre in December 2014, Pieta House Cork has supported more than 1,400 clients and 350 families. It has provided 232 emergency appointments. The service in Cork is the busiest in the country, seeing between 50 and 54 people per day. The youngest client to Pieta House Cork was just six, while the oldest was in their late eighties.

Angela Horgan, funding and advocacy coordinator at Pieta House Cork, paid tribute to the ongoing support of the public which has contributed generously to fundraising since the charity’s launch.

She said: “This year, Cork will be a sea of yellow as individuals, families and communities don their yellow T-shirts and walk in a sea of hope and solidarity through nine different venues across city and county.”

For more information on Darkness Into Light and the important work done by Pieta House, see www.dil.pieta.com.

Mercury to pass in front of the Sun next Monday,

And it should be an incredible sight to watch?


It happens around 13 times a century: From our perspective, Mercury – the smallest planet in our solar system – will pass in front of the sun. Most of the world, on next Monday will be able to see the planet as a tiny black dot passing slowly in front of its host star. You shouldn’t stare directly into the sun (ouch), but by watching online or using a telescope with a special filter, you can see Mercury in all its tiny glory.

Warning? If you have your own telescope, you can watch the event using a safety filter to protect your eyes from the sun. If you don’t have a filter handy, you can use a sheet of paper to rig up a safe viewing method – you can project the image of the sun (in the form of a white disk) onto a sheet of paper, then watch the black dot of Mercury crawl across it. You can also check out NASA’s websites and social media accounts for live image updates. If you live near an observatory or science center, you should check out their plans – you may be able to pop in and take a peek on their telescope.

But why should you care? Because it’s a very special event for a very cool little planet.

Mercury has an orbital period of just 88 days, making it by far the fastest orbiter in the solar system. And while Mercury is orbiting, so are we – at a completely different pace. So for our planets to line up just so for us to see the other world sweep over the sun is an uncommon event. This is the first Mercurian transit since 2006, and we won’t see another until 2019.

Wait, you say – that’s a lot of transits to have in just over a decade. How do we average out at just 13 for every 100 years? Mercury passes between the Earth and the sun every 116 days, but its orbital plane is skewed away from our own by a few degrees. It orbits the sun on a tilted trajectory, by our perspective. So its intersection with our orbit has to happen when it’s also intersecting with our orbital plane.

That combination of factors makes for some pretty wonky math: There’s a pattern to the frequency of Mercury’s transits, but it’s not as simple as “every x number of years.” It’s more like “every x number of years for awhile, then y, then z, then y again, and then z three times because why the heck not.” Orbital resonance is weird.

Venus – the only other planet between us and the sun, so also the only other planet that transits from our perspective – orbits much more slowly and on a plane slightly less skewed than Mercury’s. Venusian transits are more rare, but also a little easier to keep track of: They happen in pairs separated by eight years, with each pair separated from the next by a century and some change. If you missed the 2012 transit, you’re out of luck. The next one isn’t coming until 2117.

Transits outside our own neighborhood are pretty cool, too: We use the transits of exoplanets in front of their host stars to detect their presence, and even to measure them and analyze their atmospheres for signs of habitability.

Now that we’ve got the orbital positions of our neighboring planets down pat, transits aren’t the grand scientific opportunities they used to be.

“Scientifically, this was much more important a few hundred years ago,” Nancy Chabot, who served as lead imaging scientist for NASA’s MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging mission (MESSENGER), told The Post. The MESSENGER spacecraft wrapped up its mission last year when it crashed down onto Mercury’s surface.

But scientists can still get something out of the transit. They’ll be able to analyze Mercury’s scant atmosphere – the thinnest in the entire solar system – in the same way that scientists use the passage of light through molecules in exoplanet atmospheres to search for signs of life. They can even use the event to calibrate instruments on spacecraft, because the timing and positioning of Mercury’s transit over the sun’s surface is so reliable. Telescopes can be pointed in the right direction based on Mercury’s placement, and some instruments can even correct their vision based on the event.

“It’s like getting a cataract – you see stars or halos around bright lights as though you are looking through a misty windshield,” NASA scientist Dean Pesnell said in a statement. Mercury should appear totally black against the sun’s light, but the way instruments scatter light may cause it to look slightly lit up. Scientists can use the event to try to retune those instruments to see Mercury in its true colors, which could prevent mishaps when observing more mysterious objects.

Chabot hopes the event will inspire the public to look up into the sky and think about our planetary neighbors. On Friday, she and the rest of the MESSENGER team released the first ever complete topographic map of Mercury.

“It’s really well-timed,” she said. “People will be looking.”

Her team learned plenty of fascinating things about Mercury during the mission. Chabot said she “didn’t want to pick favorites,” but found three features to be particularly intriguing:

“One is that it’s got these giant areas of volcanic lava that have flowed across the surface in ancient times, which takes up an area more than half the size of the U.S. The epic volcanic events that must have occurred to cause that are intriguing,” she said.

Mercury also has features called “hallows” that have never been seen anywhere else. The small depressions appear to be spots where rocks – ones unable to stand up to Mercury’s environment – sublimate away like snow on a warm day.

“Rocks don’t usually just disappear into space, but they do on Mercury.” Chabot said.

Chabot spent most of her time focusing on the water ice that forms at Mercury’s north and south poles, which are permanently shadowed. Finding it there was great, she said, but it raises new questions. How did it get there, when, and what might it tell us about how water found its way to Earth?

“You answer one thing in science and you’re left with all these intriguing new questions,” she said.

Seeing Mercury as a tiny dot in front of the sun isn’t going to answer any of those questions — or even allow you to see those alien features. But you should still consider checking it out.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Saturday 12th March 2016

Recent poll suggests futility of a second general Irish election,

The result would be the same?


A new media poll has shown that a second general election would show no major changes in public opinion, with a grand coalition the most likely outcome.

The Red C poll for the Sunday Business Post shows there are no major gains to be made for any of the three larger parties, but a continued slide for Labour.

Each of Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin score 1% higher in this poll than they did in the election two weeks ago.

The major losers are Labour and the Independents – Independents are down 4% to 9%, and Labour go down 3% to 4%, giving it the same popularity as the Anti-Austerity Alliance/People Before Profit.

The biggest gains would, in theory, be made by the Social Democrats, up 2% to 5%, the same level as the Independent Alliance.

The Greens would remain on 3%, with Renua on 2%.

It all means that while another election may seem possible, at present it would not produce a very different Dáil.

JD Wetherspoon Irish bars performing above average

Group revenues up 6.2% to £790.3m as pre-tax profits decline 3.9% to £36m


JD Wetherspoon chairman Tim Martin (above) photographed in the Three Tun Tavern in Blackrock.

JD Wetherspoon founder and chairman Tim Martin has said its five bars in Ireland are performing above average, as the group announced lower first-half pre-tax profits.

Mr Martin, who established the pub chain in 1979, also repeated calls for the UK to leave the European Union. He said a “Brexit” would restore power to the national parliament and thereby increase the level of democracy and accountability.

His call came as the group reported pre-tax profits of £36 million (€46.1m) for the 26 weeks till January 24th, down 3.9% on the £37.5 million recorded for the same period a year earlier.

Revenues were 6.2% higher at £790.3 million, versus £744.4 million for the preceding year with operating profits down 10.8% to £49.4 million, as against £55.4 million last year.

Irish operations

Speaking recently, Mr Martin said plans to open up to 30 pubs in the Republic are continuing, although he added that rising property prices meant the pace of expansion had slowed down.

“We’ve got five pubs going and another four that are awaiting planning permission. There are also a few other irons in the fire but the thing that’s working against us is the property market. I can see us having a dozen or so pubs within the next two years but rising property prices might affect this,” he said.

JD Wetherspoon currently operates five bars in Ireland: The Three Tun Tavern in Blackrock; The Forty Foot in Dun Laoghaire; The Great Wood in Blanchardstown; The Old Borough in Swords; and the Linen Weaver in Cork city.

Mr Martin said the group was very happy with the success of the bars it currently has in the Republic.

“The Irish bars are trading well with higher average sales compared to in the UK. We’ve built up a good team in Ireland and have received a great reception,” he said.

Like-for-like sales at JD Wetherspoon rose 2.9% in the 26 weeks till January 24th, with total sales up 6.2% to £790.3 million, compared to £744.4 million. Operating profit decreased by 10.8% to £49.4million with the group reporting an operating margin of 6.3%. The group said in the six weeks to 6th March, like-for-like sales increased by 3.7%, with total sales up 5.7%.

During the period under review, JD Wetherspoon opened five new pubs and sold two , bringing the number of pubs open to 954. It said it expected to open 15 new pubs overall in its new financial year.

Tax disparity

Mr Martin was highly critical of the tax disparity between pubs and supermarkets in the UK, which he said was unfairly impacting on business.

The main disparity relates to value added tax, with pubs having to pay 20 per cent on all food sales. Mr Martin said this allowed supermarkets to subsidise their alcoholic drinks prices.

“The tax disparity with supermarkets is unfair. Pubs create significantly more jobs and more taxes per pint or per meal than do supermarkets and it does not make social or economic sense for the UK tax regime to favour supermarkets,” said Mr Martin.

A woman shares photo of her breast to show what cancer symptoms look like


A woman shares photo of her breast to show what cancer symptoms look like

An Australian woman has shared a photo of her breast online to warn people about the subtle symptoms of breast cancer.

Kylie Armstrong from Melbourne asked others to share her Facebook post to highlight the need for women to remain vigilant of the illness.

The photo shows three small dimples on the underside of her left breast, which are the only discernable signs of the disease.

Neither M/s Armstrong nor her GP were able to feel a lump as the cancer was deep in her breast, “close to the muscle”

Ms Armstrong wrote alongside the picture: “Please take a good look at this photo. These 3 very, very subtle DIMPLES on the bottom of this breast are a sign of breast cancer! This is what my breast cancer looks like

“I felt no lump. The GP felt no lump.”

She also wrote about the effect her diagnosis had had on herself and her family.

“We are shocked, we are numb, we are emotional, we are sometimes OK, we are pretending it’s not happening, we are trying to absorb information, we are dealing with tests,” he said.

“We are crying, we are trying to continue as normal.”

Her message to other women was simple: “I am sharing this because I hope I can make people aware that breast cancer is not always a detectable lump.

“Please go straight to your GP if you notice ANY change in your breast. It could save your life.

Jetpack pilot flies over Dublin’s iconic Ha’penny Bridge

The footage shows a jetpack pilot flying over Dublin’s Ha’penny Bridge and landing on a pontoon in the River Liffey.


A man wearing a jetpack stopped traffic in Dublin, Ireland, on Wednesday when he flew over the city’s iconic Ha’penny Bridge. The footage shows the pilot soaring over the bridge and landing on a pontoon in the middle of the River Liffey.

Pilot flies like a bird over Ha’Penny Bridge (Twitter / Quentin Doran O’Reilly)

The jetpack pilot had clear skies for the short flight, which was met with applause and whistles by onlookers when he landed safely.

The event was part of a promotion by Samsung for the launch of a new model smartphone.

Expert’s say women need more sleep than Men


If you have a strong bond with your bed and have to peel yourself out of it in mornings (I for one am guilty), this could be of interest.

Professor Jim Horne, who holds the position of Director at Loughborough University’s Sleep Research Centre, said that women can experience increased levels of psychological distress due to lack of sleep but this isn’t as likely for men.

Horne noted that in general, these feelings “were not associated with the same degree of sleep disruption” for males.

Speaking to Mail Online, Horne said that because women tend to “multi-task” their brains are used more during the day and, as a result, they need more time to recover.

“The more of your brain you use during the day, the more of it that needs to recover and, consequently, the more sleep you need.

“Women tend to multi-task — they do lots at once and are flexible — and so they use more of their actual brain than men do. Because of that, their sleep need is greater” explained the professor.

Horne said that on average, females need twenty minutes more sleep but this can vary from woman to woman.

The sleep expert also pointed out that men whose jobs involve “decision-making and lateral thinking” are also likely to need more sleep.

Horne’s research, which focused on 210 middle-aged men and women, was originally released in 2010 but it’s a source of discussion again this week.

The world’s thinnest lens now a reality

A team of researchers has developed the world’s thinnest lens, which is one two-thousandth the thickness of a human hair, paving way for flexible computer displays and a revolution in miniature cameras.

Lead researcher Dr Yuerui (Larry) Lu from The Australian National University (ANU) said the discovery hinged on the remarkable potential of the molybdenum disulphide crystal, adding that this type of material is the perfect candidate for future flexible displays.

Lu noted, “We will also be able to use arrays of micro lenses to mimic the compound eyes of insects.”

The 6.3-nanometre lens outshines previous ultra-thin flat lenses, made from 50-nanometre thick gold nano-bar arrays, known as a metamaterial.

Dr. Lu said that Molybdenum disulphide, which is an “amazing crystal,” survives at high temperatures, is a lubricant, a good semiconductor and can emit photons too. The capability of manipulating the flow of light in atomic scale opens an exciting avenue towards unprecedented miniaturisation of optical components and the integration of advanced optical functionalities.

The team created their lens from a crystal 6.3-nanometre thick – 9 atomic layers – which they had peeled off a larger piece of molybdenum disulphide with sticky tape. They then created a 10-micron radius lens, using a focussed ion beam to shave off the layers atom by atom, until they had the dome shape of the lens.

The team discovered that single layers of molybdenum disulphide, 0.7 nanometres thick, had remarkable optical properties, appearing to a light beam to be 50 times thicker, at 38 nanometres. This property, known as optical path length, determines the phase of the light and governs interference and diffraction of light as it propagates.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Wednesday 11th February 2015

Syriza member says the rise of Sinn Féin’s ‘is the best help’ for Greek government.


Senator David Cullinane says their party wants to lead anti-austerity government in south

The rise of Sinn Féin in opinion polls in Ireland and a similar surge of support for Podemos in Spain is “the best help” that can be given to the newly-elected Syriza government in Greece, a leading member of Syriza said tonight.

Speaking at a Sinn Féin meeting in the House of Commons, Stathis Kouvelakis said: “This shows that the political landscape can change dramatically; that Greece is not an anomaly; that what happened in Greece can happen elsewhere.”

Tens of thousands of Greeks have gathered at rallies throughout the country in support of the “perfectly reasonable” demands made by the Greek minister for finance Yanis Varoufakis at today’s meetings with his EU counterparts in Brussels.

Meanwhile, Waterford-based Sinn Féin senator David Cullinane said that Sinn Féin, unlike some people involved in the anti-austerity movement in Ireland, is preparing to be part of the next government.“We are on an election footing. The very clear message that we are articulating very clearly is that we are prepared for government. We are going to stand the maximum number of candidates that we can possibly stand to take advantage of our increasing popularity.

“We have to be prepared to want to go into government, to lead an anti-austerity government in the south. There are people on the left who won’t be part of that, but we are certainly organising,” he told the meeting.

Criticising Minister for Finance Michael Noonan’s refusal to support Greek calls for a debt conference, Mr Cullinane said: “It is crazy that a country which was forced to put into place a banking guarantee that signed us up to billions [in] debt is afraid to agree to a debt conference.

“[Ireland] has not even asked for a debt write-down. If they are not prepared to show solidarity with their own citizens, I don’t see Irish government showing solidarity with the Greeks.”

Meanwhile, Sinn Féin MP for Newry and Armagh Conor Murphy rejected a call that Sinn Féin should take up its seats in the House of Commons after the May election in a bid to ensure that the Conservatives are denied power.

Mr Murphy said: “We stand on the mandate of not taking our seats.”

Irish banks were concerned about the weakness & poor scrutiny in their sector

Some two and a half years before the collapse


Professor John FitzGerald pictured above left who gave evidence before the Oireachtas Banking Inquiry yesterday.

Irish banks were concerned about the poor scrutiny of their own sector a full two and a half years before the collapse, the Banking Inquiry has been told.

AIB got in touch with Prof John FitzGerald who was a research professor at the ESRI in early 2006 because of these concerns, he said.

A senior bank economist phoned him and “my understanding was they felt the stress-testing was not stressful enough – kind of ironic,” he added.

He described how he met with the senior economist and another staff member and he believed their approach was coming from “a more senior level than the economists” and it had “first primed me to be concerned in this area.”

Prof Fitzgerald said he had explained to the bankers that the ESRI had already put together a series of macro-economic scenarios on CD which were publicly available and he referred them to this.

He told Fianna Fail deputy Michael McGrath he was subsequently approached by Ulster Bank and PTSB for a similar assessment.

On foot of these concerned he approached the Central Bank by email in 2007 saying he wanted to talk to them about it but despite emails over several months  “for various reasons” the meeting never happened.

Of the ESRI he added “clearly we had put out our warnings. Nobody in the political system seemed to be interested.

“My impression was that people weren’t interested in taking the punch bowl away.”

“What we do know is that the Regulator and the Central Bank were asleep on the job and did nothing,” he said.

He took responsibility for not examining bank data before the “catastrophic” collapse of the financial sector at the end of 2008.

“It is regrettable” he added. “Not seeing the unsound nature of the banking sector and it was a bad mistake”

“I made a mistake.  I thought that at that stages house prices had turned the corner, they were coming down gradually and I thought the odds were that we would reach a soft landing.  I was completely wrong.”

He felt if the ESRI had properly scrutinised the balance sheets they would have detected a problem.

Referring to the property bubble as  a “tumour which grew and grew and squeezed the rest of the economy” he said the number of houses being built was running ahead of the population and this had led to the bubble.

At the time, however, “the people of Ireland did not want to change. The information was out there. You couldn’t miss what we were saying” but people went ahead and bought houses and the government behaved as if there was no tomorrow.

On the Bank Guarantee while it was not something he had researched “we now know it was the wrong decision”.

He described it as “not the best outcome for Ireland but  something had to be done”.

No-one from the Department of Finance had consulted him personally or the ESRI about the guarantee. Relations with the department were “frosty’ at the time, he added.

Prof FitzGerald’s view of Nama was: “I think it has done a pretty good job.  It looks as if the State, instead of losing money, is going to get it back.  I think it has helped in terms  of the recovery and sorting out the problem.

He also said concerns about Nama had “turned out to be totally wrong”.

The bailout was something “we have got broadly right” in that Ireland, unlike Spain had “under-promised and over-delivered”

He stressed that when it became clear that €64billion was needed by the banks “a bailout became essential”.

Luckily interest rates were so low “the burden of the debt has turned out tho be much lower than anticipated.”

His assessment of the current situation is that “we are in a structured surplus” and “we do not need further cuts”

He was concerned that there was a need to improve the method of assessing fiscal policy to provide better guidance in the future.

Asked by Sen Susan O’Keeffe if he had every considered resigning when the financial crisis hit he responded: “No I felt I had done a reasonable job over the previous 30 years I looked at the fact that nobody else had done a better job.”

IAG’s Willie Walsh to meet Minister Donohoe to discuss Aer Lingus bid


Pascal Donohoe says Government will weigh proposed offer on price and international access?

Willie Walsh, chief executive officer of International Consolidated Airlines Group is to discuss his Aer Lingus bid with Minister for Transport Paschal Donohoe.

International Consolidated Airlines’ Group (IAG) chief executive Willie Walsh will discuss his company’s €1.36 billion bid for Aer Lingus with the Minister for Transport,Paschal Donohoe, on Wednesday.

Mr Walsh will be spending the next two days bidding to convince the Government and Oireachtas members to support IAG’s proposed €2.55 a-share offer for the Irish airline.

The Government holds a 25.1% stake in the business on behalf of the State, while the Dáil has approve any sale of that interest.

Mr Donohoe confirmed earlier that he is meeting Mr Walsh on Wednesday afternoon.

The minister has already said that the Government will not only consider the price on offer, but also the implications of a takeover for the Republic’s access to international markets.

He stressed that the coalition would evaluate IAG’s proposed bid on the basis of those criteria and all the information available to it.

IAG is offering the Government and business groups a legally-binding veto over the sale of the airline’s landing and take-off rights at Heathrow Airport, which are seen as critical to international access.

It is also willing to guarantee that they will be used exclusively to service Irish routes for five years.

13% of Irish internet users have suffered some online fraud


Nearly a third of Irish respondents have discovered malicious software on their device

An estimated 40% of Irish internet users have received emails or phone calls trying to get access to their computer or personal details such as banking information, according to a Eurobarometer survey.

More than 1,000 people were interviewed in Ireland for the survey on cyber security.

Nearly a third of Irish respondents said they have discovered malicious software on their device, but just over half of them have installed anti-virus software. This compares with an EU average of 61% who have taken this precaution.

The survey found 13% of Irish Internet users have experienced online fraud where goods purchases were not delivered, counterfeit or not as advertised, a little above the EU average of 12%. Experience of online fraud was highest in Poland (19%) and lowest in Greece (4%).

Some 9 per cent of Irish Internet users say that they have experienced or been a victim of identity theft, above the EU average of 7%. Experience of identity theft was highest in Romania and Hungary (both 11%) and lowest in Bulgaria and the Netherlands (both 3%).

Sixteen per cent of Irish respondents – the third highest in the EU – said they have had experience of their social media or email account being hacked.

While internet access in Ireland has never been higher at 80 per cent, we are still behind Sweden (96%) the Netherlands (95%) and Denmark (94%).

Greece, Portugal and Romania had the lowest rates of internet access in Europe.

The overall EU-wide survey saw more than 27,000 people interviewed on the topic of cyber security, with the majority of respondents concerned their personal information is not being kept secure by public authorities and websites.

A total of 67% said they worried about information not being safely held by public authorities, while 73% said they were concerned over website security.

Approximately two in three Internet users in the EU said they were concerned about experiencing identity theft (68%) and about discovering malicious software on their device (66%).

More than half are concerned about being the victim of bank card or online banking fraud (63%); having their social media or email account hacked (60%); scam emails or phone calls (57%) or online fraud (56%).

EU Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship, Dimitris Avramopoulos, said cybercrime undermines consumer confidence in the use of Internet, hampering both our digital economy and our online lives.

“Our priority is to create a safer Internet for all users by preventing and combating cybercrime in all its forms, to enable users to reap the full benefits of the digital internal market and to exercise their fundamental rights online,” he added.

The figures come as EU officials call on internet telecommunication companies to share encryption keys with EU authorities as part of a wider crackdown on terrorism.

A new procedure in stroke treatment is a ‘major breakthrough’


A new stroke treatment has been shown to be so effective that Canadian researchers say they believe it will be used as part of standard stroke care.

The results of a new study, led by scientists at the University of Calgary’s Hotchkiss Brain Institute and published online Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine, found a clot-retrieval procedure, called endovascular treatment, significantly decreased the incidence of disability or death among those who experienced acute ischemic stroke.

The treatment, which involves removing blood clots in the brain with a retrievable stent, also nearly doubled the percentage of patients who experienced positive outcomes from 30% to 55%.

“That’s a massive jump with people going home, people going back to work, people being independent, people not having to live in nursing homes,” says the study’s co-principal investigator Dr. Mayank Goyal, a professor of radiology and clinical neurosciences at the University of Calgary’s Cumming School of Medicine. “It’s a major, major breakthrough in the disease.”

Dr. Rick Swartz, a study collaborator, medical director of the stroke program at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre and an acting spokesman for The Heart and Stroke Foundation, says he thinks “Canada will be one of the first countries in the world to incorporate this treatment into our best practice guidelines.”

Best practices for stroke care are developed by stroke experts across the country with funding from the foundation, which was one of the sponsors of the study.

The Canadian sites involved in the study, which already have the equipment and expertise, can begin using the procedure immediately, Dr. Goyal says.

In severe cases of ischemic stroke, blood clots block larger arteries at the base of the brain. Until now, the standard treatment has been to give patients a clot buster drug, known as tPA or tissue plasminogen activator, which dissolves clots and restores blood flow. For larger clots, this can be time-consuming – and in stroke care, “time is brain.” For every minute the brain is starved of fresh oxygenated blood, it’s believed about two million neurons die.

Though endovascular treatments have been evolving for two decades, the latest generation of stent retrievers are game-changers. Medical teams involved in the study – conducted at 11 sites across Canada and another 11 around the world, including the United States, Britain, Ireland and South Korea – were able to identify the blood clots and their location in the brain using advanced imaging, and then quickly extract them using stent retrievers, in some cases, within minutes.

The Canadian study, which involved 316 patients, is the first to show a decline in patient mortality: to one in 10 patients, compared with two in 10 patients when current standard treatment was used alone.

Because the results demonstrated an “overwhelming effect” during an interim analysis, the study was stopped early, Dr. Goyal says.

It closely follows a previous study showing beneficial patient outcomes from endovascular treatment, conducted in the Netherlands and published online in the New England Journal of Medicine in December, and a separate study published Wednesday by Australian researchers that also demonstrated positive results.

Performed under X-ray guidance using injectable dyes, the procedure involves inserting a thin tube into the artery in the groin area, then threading a thinner tube, about two to three millimetres in diameter, into the neck. From there, an even thinner tube, about one millimetre in diameter, is guided into the brain to the site of the clot. A retrievable stent, which looks like a tiny mesh coil attached to the tip of a wire, is then routed through the tube and captures the blood clot, collapsing as it is pulled back out.

Dr. Goyal credits the success of the treatment, in part, to the speed at which participating medical teams were able to identify patients for whom endovascular treatment was appropriate and then carry out the procedure. The goal for getting from “picture to puncture” – imaging the brain, moving the patient and inserting the tube – was a median time of 60 minutes or less.

Not everyone who experiences ischemic stroke will fit the criteria for endovascular treatment, however. The treatment is for those who experience a moderate to severe stroke, whose symptoms are recent, and whose brain images show a large clot in an artery. The imaging must also show that some blood is able to detour around the blockage, buying doctors enough time for them to carry out the procedure.

Endovascular treatment does have some risks, including a very low risk of infection and bruising, as well as the risk of scraping or pushing the blood clot along the blood vessels, Dr. Swartz says. But, he says, “we know that people who get the procedure are doing much, much better than the people who don’t. So even with those risks, the outcomes are better.”

Did giant reservoirs of CO2 locked in the oceans end the last ice age?


Scientists have discovered that oceans spewing carbon dioxide played a big part in warming up our planet tens of thousands of years ago.

Arrogant species that we are, humans tend to think global warming is a very man-made problem. But the natural world is equally capable of spewing huge amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere all by itself, as new research into the end of the last ice age recently revealed.

How was the CO2 released?

It issued forth from the briny deeps… specifically the briny deeps of the Southern Ocean.

The study shows how a vast isolated reservoir of carbon stored deep in the cold waters off the Antarctic managed to re-connect with the atmosphere.

The sudden change in CO2 levels in the atmosphere stoked an increase in global temperatures, marking the end of the last ice age.

How important is this discovery?

Scientists say this gives an important insight into how the oceans affect the carbon cycle. Joint lead author Miguel Martínez-Botí, from the University of Southampton, said: “The magnitude and rapidity of the swings in atmospheric CO2 across the ice age cycles suggests that changes in ocean carbon storage are important drivers of natural atmospheric CO2 variations.”

As humanity tries to get its head around climate change, this kind of knowledge could prove essential. It is estimated that the oceans have soaked up around 30% of the CO2 that our cars, planes and factories have been spewing out over the last 100 years.

How does this carbon-ocean relationship work then?

CO2 levels in the atmosphere fluctuate from about 185 parts-per-million (ppm) during ice ages, to around 280 ppm during warmer “interglacial” periods like today.

The oceans currently contain approximately 60 times more carbon than the atmosphere, but that carbon can exchange rapidly (at least from a geological perspective) between the oceans and the atmosphere.

During ice ages the interaction between the deep-sea and the atmosphere is reduced, locking carbon into vast reservoirs in the abyss. The opposite happens during interglacial periods.

How do scientists work out the carbon levels in oceans tens of thousands of years ago?

The answer lies in the shells of tiny marine creatures that lived near the ocean’s surface at the time.

The international team (which included academics from the Autonomous University of Barcelona and the Australian National University) studied the composition of the calcium carbonate shells of ancient marine organisms that lived thousands of years ago. These revealed the ocean’s carbon content.

Joint lead author Gianluca Marino, from the Australian National University, said: “We found that very high concentrations of dissolved CO2 in surface waters of the Southern Atlantic Ocean and the eastern equatorial Pacific coincided with the rises in atmospheric CO2 at the end of the last ice age, suggesting that these regions acted as sources of CO2 to the atmosphere.”

Does more research need to be done?

Of course! The more research the merrier – especially since this is just one part of the bigger picture that marked the end of the ice age.

Co-author Gavin Foster, also from the University of Southampton, said: ”While our results support a primary role for the Southern Ocean processes in these natural cycles, we don’t yet know the full story and other processes operating in other parts of the ocean, such as the North Pacific, may have an additional role to play.”