‘Earthshine’ technique may find alien life

GARCHING, Germany, March 1 (UPI) — Signs of life on Earth revealed by sunlight reflected onto the moon by our planet could be a way to spot alien life in the universe, European scientists say.

Astronomers have analyzed this reflected light to look for signs of life, or biosignatures, including specific combinations of gases in Earth’s atmosphere that could only exist in tandem with some form of organic life, SPACE.com reported Wednesday.

“With earthshine observations, what we do is use the moon as a giant mirror,” Michael Sterzik at the European Southern Observatory’s La Silla Paranal Observatory in Chile said. “The sun illuminates the Earth, and that light is reflected onto the moon — but the side of the moon that we usually see as the dark portion.”

Astronomers can study the properties of this reflected “earthshine” to study the Earth as if it were an exoplanet and look for signs of life, a release from ESO headquarters in Germany said Wednesday.

And the technique could be a valuable tool in the search for life on worlds outside our solar system, the researchers said.

“It’s currently being applied to giant exoplanets, not because we expect to find life, but just to inspect the atmospheres,” Sterzik said.

“With giant telescopes and more dedicated instrumentation, the technique may be a pathway toward finding primitive biosignatures on other planets in the future.”

Arctic losing ice cover at faster rate

GREENBELT, Md., March 1 (UPI) — The oldest and thickest arctic sea ice is disappearing faster than younger and thinner ice at the edges of the Arctic Ocean’s floating ice cap, NASA says.

Normally the thicker ice, known as multiyear ice, survives through the summer melt season while young ice that has formed over winter quickly melts again.

The rapid disappearance of older ice is making arctic sea ice even more vulnerable to further decline in the summer, researcher Joey Comiso at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., said.

The NASA study published in Journal of Climate examined how multiyear ice — ice that has survived through at least two summers — has diminished with each passing winter over the last three decades.

Multiyear ice “extent” is diminishing at a rate of 15.1 percent per decade, the researchers found.

“The average thickness of the arctic sea ice cover is declining because it is rapidly losing its thick component, the multiyear ice,” Comiso said. “At the same time, the surface temperature in the arctic is going up, which results in a shorter ice-forming season.

“It would take a persistent cold spell for most multiyear sea ice and other ice types to grow thick enough in the winter to survive the summer melt season and reverse the trend.”

New camera can re-focus blurry pictures

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif., March 1 (UPI) — A digital camera that looks like no other will allow users to focus or refocus pictures on a computer after they are taken, its California manufacturer says.

Silicon Valley startup company Lytro has begun shipping a camera it says will take “living pictures” that can be manipulated after the fact in a number of ways, The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday.

Users will be able to bring everything in the image into focus at once, regardless of depth, or change the perspective from which the picture is seen, or switch a photo back and forth between 2-D and 3-D, Lytro said.

The $399 Lytro camera is a so-called light-field camera, using different technology than traditional digital cameras that allows it to capture and process more, and different, information about the light hitting its lens than other cameras do.

The resulting digital picture file can be manipulated with software both in the camera and on a computer in different ways, Lytro said.

However, its images can’t be imported into standard photo software, only to its own accompanying software that is only available for Mac computers, although a Windows version is in the works, the company said.

China disputes Philippine’s oil blocks

MANILA, Philippines, March 1 (UPI) — The Philippines’ invitation to foreign investors to explore 15 petroleum blocks in the disputed South China Sea has sparked anger from China.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said Tuesday that “it is illegal for any country, government or company, without the Chinese government’s permission, to develop oil and natural gas in waters under Chinese jurisdiction,” China Daily reports.

But the Philippines maintains that all of the 15 areas are within Philippine territory.

Philippines Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin on Thursday dismissed China’s denouncement, saying: “Now, if they get angry, we cannot control their emotions. But then, we still stick to the fact that these [areas] are within our territory. It is ours. Like our president said, ‘What is ours is ours.’ That’s very definite,” the Philippine Daily Inquirer reported.

Gazmin said that foreign oil companies that accept the Philippines’ invitation to invest in the oil blocks could be assured their operations would be secure, stressing that “investors would not come here if they weren’t assured of their safety. We are doing all that we can in order to protect what’s ours.”

So far, 38 companies have signed up as possible bidders for the oil and gas sites, including Shell Philippines Exploration B.V., Total E&P Activities Petrolieres, Esso Exploration International Ltd. and Spain’s Repsol Exploracion S.A.

An editorial published Thursday in China Daily newspaper said the Philippines has chosen “to be a troublemaker.”

By inviting major foreign oil companies to invest in exploration of 15 offshore oil and gas areas in the South China Sea, the editorial stated, “the Philippines should assume direct responsibility for the fresh flare-up of the South China Sea issue.”

“The Philippines should bear in mind that a number of the 15 areas are under Chinese maritime jurisdiction and it does not have the right to invite foreign enterprises to bid for service contracts there,” the editorial said.

China has indisputable sovereignty over the Nansha Islands and adjacent waters and it is unlawful for any country or company to explore oil and gas in areas under Chinese jurisdiction without the permission of the Chinese government,” it continued.

Two of the 15 areas — designated as areas 3 and 4 — are near the offshore area called Reed Bank, a point of contention last year when two Chinese ships were reported as intimidating a survey vessel.

The South China Sea has proven oil reserves of around 7.7 billion barrels, with estimates reaching to 28 billion barrels.

Stop speculating, Markey tells oil traders

WASHINGTON, March 1 (UPI) — Speculators are turning the global market into a “crude oil casino” and U.S. taxpayers are paying for it at the pump, a top congressional Democrat said.

Oil prices are near 9-month highs in part because of concerns in the Middle East. Iran has threatened to close key oil shipping lanes through the Strait of Hormuz and last month halted crude oil deliveries to Great Britain and France.

The move was largely symbolic as London stopped buying Iranian crude last year, though market jitters helped drive oil prices higher.

U.S. Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, accused Republicans of trying to block rules that would limit speculation in the commodities market.

Markey, in a statement, said there’s a “wild West” mentality on Wall Street. Traders, he said, are exploiting global events to make a profit and U.S. consumers are paying the price.

“Wall Street speculators have turned the oil market into a crude oil casino where the American driver is now on the losing side of the bet,” he said.

Markey had called on U.S. President Barack Obama to tap into the Strategic Petroleum Reserve in an effort to lower gasoline prices in the United States. The Obama administration, however, said there’s no “magic bullet” that would influence prices.

Group claims win over ‘dirty coal’

CHICAGO, March 1 (UPI) — Closing two coal-fired power plants in Chicago is a sign the “dirty coal industry” is on its last leg, an environmental advocacy group said.

Utility company Midwest Generation announced it would retire its Fisk and Crawford coal-fired plants following pressure from Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. The company said it would retire the Fisk station by the end of the year and close the Crawford facility by the end of 2014.

Rainforest Action Network, in a statement, hailed the announcement as a victory in its fight against coal.

“The shuttering of the Fisk and Crawford coal plants pounds two more nails into the coffin of the dirty coal industry and provides even more evidence of why coal is a bad investment,” the advocacy group said in a statement.

Emanuel, in a statement, said the company made the “appropriate decision.”

Environmental groups say pollutants from coal-fired plants are a danger to human health. The U.S. government in December called on utility companies to lower the amount of pollutants the plants release.

Republican leaders have opposed legislation that would place restrictions on the coal industry. U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson, R-Ohio., sponsored a bill that passed through the House Natural Resources Committee that would prevent U.S. President Barack Obama from enacting “unnecessary” regulation regarding coal mining.

“We are now one step closer to stopping President Obama’s war on the coal industry and the jobs that go with it,” Johnson said in a statement. “There is no question that coal is vital to providing reliable, low-cost electricity to America.”

U.S. ready for trial in BP case

WASHINGTON, March 1 (UPI) — The U.S. government is ready to go to trial over the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder told lawmakers.

An explosion sank the Deepwater Horizon oil rig in April 2010, killing 11 rig workers and leading to one of the worst disasters in industry history.

British energy company BP announced in February that the U.S. District Court in New Orleans postponed a trial investigating its role in the accident until next week to allow for talks on a possible settlement.

Holder testified before the House Appropriations Committee that the government was ready to go to trial if the settlement talks fall through.

“We are prepared to go to trial,” he told the committee Tuesday. “We were ready to go to trial yesterday.”

The government, he added, has a “strong case” regarding potential violations of the Clean Water Act. BP denies the allegations though it’s set aside $3.5 billion to settle the alleged violations. Holder didn’t discuss the potential settlement specifically.

EIA: Canada No. 1 crude exporter to U.S.

WASHINGTON, March 1 (UPI) — Canada is the No. 1 exporter of crude oil to the United States, passing Saudi Arabia and Mexico, the U.S. Energy Information Agency reports.

December data from the EIA indicate the United States imported around 2.4 million barrels of Canadian crude oil per day, eclipsing Saudi Arabia and Mexico with a combined 2.1 million bpd.

Critics of U.S. President Barack Obama say his energy policies fall short of what’s needed to shield the country from overseas crises. Tensions with Iran are part of the reason for higher energy prices in recent weeks.

The Obama administration counters that oil production in the United States is reaching high levels, though others say that’s because of policies enacted by the previous administration.

Canadian officials said they were looking to deliver more crude oil to Asian markets because of delays in a presidential permit for the planned Keystone XL oil pipeline from Alberta.

The EIA said global petroleum consumption increased 36 percent to 23 million barrels per day from 1980-2010. During that period, consumption in North America increased 16 percent though Asian demand for petroleum increased 146 percent to nearly 15 million barrels per day.

Clinton warns Islamabad on Iranian gas

WASHINGTON, March 1 (UPI) — Pakistan is reminded there will be consequences if it moves forward with a natural gas pipeline from Iran, the U.S. secretary of state said.

Pakistan is coping with a natural gas shortage by pursuing two pipeline options. The United States supports an option from Turkmenistan that would travel through Afghanistan, while Iran has pressed for its version since its inception in the 1990s.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton testified before a U.S. House of Representatives appropriations subcommittee there would be consequences if Pakistan went ahead with the Iranian option.

“We have been very clear in pointing out the consequences of building this pipeline,” she said at the hearing.

Pakistan has moved closer to the Iranian project despite U.S. objections. Pakistani authorities suggested land surveys were under way for their part of the pipeline.

The Turkmenistan pipeline has the support of the Asian Development Bank though security and pricing issues continue to overshadow developments.

U.S. State Department officials had said the Iranian natural gas pipeline was “a bad idea.”

A budget request from the State Department included funds to help Pakistan cope with its energy crisis.

Analysts: Saudi oil capacity strained

NEW YORK, March 1 (UPI) — The ability of Saudi Arabia to keep major economies supplied with oil amid Iranian concerns will be put to the test, energy analysts said.

Saudi Arabia last year increased crude oil production to offset market disruptions from the conflict in oil-rich Libya. The Financial Times said activity at some Saudi Arabian oil terminals suggests the country is ramping up production to address a market crisis sparked by tensions with Iran.

“Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates are already close to their maximum production level, so it will all be up to Saudi Arabia,” Paul Tossetti, an analyst at PFC Energy, told the newspaper.

The Financial Times notes energy traders are divided over the effects of an increase in Saudi oil production. Some said more Saudi crude would lower prices while others said it would cut into spare capacity.

The International Energy Agency in January said Saudi Arabia was pumping more crude oil than it has in more than 30 years and domestic demand is expected to drag on spare capacity during the summer.

Mike Wittner, head of oil research at Societe Generale, told the Financial Times it remains to be seen how well Riyadh can handle the latest crisis.

“Maybe they can do it, maybe they can’t,” he said. “I guess we’re going to find out.”

Divisions over gas price link to Keystone

WASHINGTON, March 1 (UPI) — With TransCanada moving ahead with a U.S. leg of the Keystone XL pipeline, analysts were divided over the impact on retail gasoline prices in the United States.

TransCanada announced in February it was moving ahead with its so-called Gulf Coast Project to handle growing supplies of U.S. crude oil.

The larger Keystone XL pipeline could move as much as 830,000 barrels of oil per day from tar sands projects in Alberta to southern U.S. refineries. The Canadian government said in 2010 it would eventually result in a higher price for Canadian crude.

“The Canadian plan was to use their market power to raise prices in the United States and get more money from consumers,” Philip Verleger, founder of energy consulting firm PK Verleger LLC, told Bloomberg News. This could lead to a 20 cent increase in the price of gasoline in some U.S. markets, he said.

TransCanada, however, told the news service the Gulf Coast Project would result in cheaper gasoline. Ray Perryman, a consultant working for the Canadian pipeline company, said Keystone XL would lower the price of gasoline in the United States by around 4 cents per gallon.

Tensions with Iran are one of the factors behind higher oil prices, which are a main component in prices at the pump.

Pakistan to get crude from Iran on credit

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, March 1 (UPI) — A Pakistani official said Iran offered to sell the energy-starved country crude oil under a three-month deferred payment option.

U.S. sanctions on Iran’s financial entities cut off some crude oil deliveries to Pakistani. Asim Hussain, special Pakistani government assistance on energy issues, was quoted by the Platts news service as saying Tehran offered to sell crude oil on credit to get around the sanctions.

“Pakistan will soon finalize deals with Iran on the supply of crude oil on deferred payment,” he said.

The news service notes Pakistan could get as much as 80,000 barrels of crude oil from Iran under the terms of the deal.

India last month announced that it booked additional crude oil cargoes from Iran despite sanctions pressure on the financial mechanisms needed to process payments for Iranian crude.

New Delhi will pay 45 percent of its debt using rupees through an Indian bank account opened by Iran. India had paid about $1 billion per month through Turkish channels for Iranian crude in a move meant to get around tightening sanctions.

The Pakistani official didn’t say how Islamabad would settle its eventual financial obligations to Tehran.

Gazprom eyes Israeli natural gas

JERUSALEM, March 1 (UPI) — A delegation from Russian energy company Gazprom planned meetings with Israeli officials to discuss the Leviathan natural gas field, local media reports.

The Israeli economic news service Calcalist reports more than a dozen representatives from Gazprom arrived in the country this week to discuss the potential for work in the Leviathan natural gas field.

U.S. energy company Noble Energy said it believed it uncovered around 17 trillion cubic feet of natural gas in the offshore field.

Calcalist said it would cost as much as $8 billion to develop the field. New partners are needed to hasten development.

Calcalist said Gazprom discussed a variety of options for Leviathan, including partnerships with other energy companies and sales agreements for regional markets. Gazprom, the new service said, is seeking to establish a stronger presence in the Middle East market.

Israel gets some of its electricity from the natural gas supplied through sabotage-vulnerable Egyptian pipelines, though authorities have said the country must find ways to become self-sufficient in energy.

Iraq keen to play role in Nabucco

BAKU, Azerbaijan, March 1 (UPI) — Iraq is very interested in shipping its natural gas reserves through the planned Nabucco pipeline for Europe, the country’s oil minister said.

Iraqi officials have expressed support for the Nabucco natural gas pipeline planned as an alternative to Russian energy resources.

Iraqi Oil Minister Asim Jihad told the Trend news service from Baku that his country is keen to play a role in the much-lauded pipeline project.

“Iraq’s officials have repeatedly stated that the country is interested in participation in this project,” he was quoted as saying.

Nabucco authorities have said they’d look to feeder lines, notably from Iraq, to provide additional capacity to the planned pipeline.

The International Energy Agency said political turmoil in Iraq could get in the way of broader energy developments, though Jihad brushed off the critique by saying all parties in Iraq were ready to discuss Nabucco.

The Nabucco pipeline company said construction on the pipeline is scheduled for late 2013. First gas is expected by 2017.

Nabucco is up against competing projects in the so-called Southern Corridor. In February, the consortium controlling Shah Deniz II natural gas field off the coast of Azerbaijan chose the Trans Adriatic pipeline, a Southern Corridor project, as a possible route to European natural gas consumers.

Google exec calls for digital ‘equality’

BARCELONA, Spain, Feb. 29 (UPI) — Google’s Eric Schmidt says “worrying legislative efforts” to censor the Web concern him but said technology will ultimately prevent a “digital caste system.”

Speaking at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, Schmidt said the Internet is “like water” — it will find a way to break through — but “we need to act now to avoid the rise of this new digital caste system.”

The Google executive chairman was referring to censorship efforts throughout the Middle East in the last year, from Egypt to Syria and Iran, where access to secure Web sites — including Google services — was cut off this month, PC Magazine reported Wednesday.

But technology, he said, will eventually create a “global community of equals.”

Schmidt warned against burdensome legislation in the United States.

“There’s a tendency of regulators to regulate now as opposed to what will be,” he said. “If you have to regulate, try to regulate the outcome, not the technology.

“If there’s an outcome you don’t like, don’t specify in law a specific technology because the technology moves forward.”

Bringing the Internet to underserved portions of the world was another major theme of his remarks.

“There will still be elites,” he said, but “technology is the leveler [because] everyone is blessed with creativity,” Schmidt said. “I believe this profoundly — in every person there is a company waiting to get out.”

China’s Huawei announces new cellphones

BARCELONA, Spain, Feb. 29 (UPI) — The Chinese telecommunications firm Huawei unveiled a series of smartphones at the Mobile World Congress in Spain it said would be priced competitively.

The company said it has set a target of selling 60 million smartphones in 2012, an increase of 40 million units from 2011, China’s state-run Xinhua News Agency reported Monday.

“We want the best performance in the industry, because our brand is not that famous,” Huawei Chairman Richard Yu said in Barcelona.

Based on a projected increase in sales this year, the company said, it expects to garner between 30 percent and 40 percent of the domestic Chinese market.

In addition to the announced Ascent D line of smartphones, Huawei said, it was preparing to launch a tablet with a high-definition screen and a processor that could match those of rivals by industry giant Apple.

Huawei, with more than 110,000 employees, has its headquarters in Shenzhen, Guangdong, China.

Excavation of possible emperor’s tomb off

XI’AN, China, Feb. 29 (UPI) — A possible tomb of the last emperor of China’s Qin Dynasty won’t be excavated until studies are conducted for subsequent protection plans, authorities said.

The cultural heritage bureau of Shaanxi province had proposed to excavate the suspected resting place of Ziying, the grandson of Emperor Qinshihuang (259 BC-210 BC), the first person to unify China, but the proposal was rejected by the State Administration of Cultural Heritage, China’s state-run Xinhua News Agency reported.

The tomb, discovered in 2003, lies about 500 yards northwest of the Qinshihuang Mausoleum near the provincial capital of Xi’an — site of the famous Terra Cotta Army — and authorities said they were concerned about new excavation causing damage to the mausoleum.

In an official statement, the state administration said thorough research and evaluations should be conducted in order to develop a proper protection plan.

Historical records show the young emperor Ziying held the title for just 46 days before the empire was overthrown by rebels and he was killed.

His burial site has remained a mystery ever since.

Microsoft unveils Windows 8 in Spain

BARCELONA, Spain, Feb. 29 (UPI) — Microsoft unveiled Windows 8 for public testing Wednesday at the World Mobile Congress in Barcelona, Spain, saying it would offer “fast and fluid” computing.

Aimed at winning back some ground lost to Apple and Google in the operating systems arena, Windows 8 is designed to work on tablets as well as PCs and laptops to give users a more consistent experience when switching between devices, CNN reported.

“It’s beautiful, modern, fast and fluid — it’s a generational change in the Windows operating system,” Microsoft Windows President Steven Sinofsky said in launching the consumer preview edition.

Windows 8 seamlessly scales across devices and screen sizes, Sinofsky said.

“There’s too many hard stops between phones and tablets and desktops. We want to make things more harmonious,” he said.

To that end the new operating system uses the “Metro” style of software currently featured on Windows phones, using a tiled startup screen.

Some tech-industry analysts said Windows 8 was unlikely to do that much for Microsoft’s market profile, but moving into the tablet arena was crucial for sustained relevance.

“Microsoft needs to be in the tablet game,” London-based analyst James Governor said. “It couldn’t sit out two or three rounds of tablets without trying to have a more effective play and clearly Windows 8 is a big part of that.”

However, he said, the popularity of Windows 7 suggests there won’t be a huge surge of people wanting the update for desktop and laptop computing.

“I don’t think it’s an explosive ‘Christ, we’ve got to have this new release,'” he said. “There isn’t necessarily a pent-up demand for what Windows 8 represents.”

Fossils of giant 1-inch fleas unearthed

PARIS, Feb. 29 (UPI) — Fossils discovered in China suggest prehistoric fleas up to an inch long may have fed on feathered dinosaurs, an international team of researchers says.

Fossils of several of the blood-sucking insects were unearthed at two sites in China, with females almost an inch long and males about half that size, Britain’s The Independent reported Wednesday.

Although much larger than modern fleas, they lacked the characteristic jumping hind legs, researchers said.

The blood-sucking “siphonate” mouth parts were unusually long and sturdy and would have been used to pierce the hides of their hosts, scientists wrote in the journal Nature.

Modern fleas feed exclusively on animals with fur and feathers, suggesting the prehistoric fleas may have been feeding on feathered dinosaurs rather than mammals, they said.

“The early mammals were small animals, making the large size of these Mesozoic [flea] species and the robustness of their mouth parts seem mismatched,” Andre Nel of the Museum of Natural History in Paris wrote.

“It is … possible that the hosts of these early fleas were among the feathered dinosaurs of the period that became well known from the same [fossil] deposits.”

Greek helmet discovered in Israeli harbor

HAIFA, Israel, Feb. 29 (UPI) — A Greek bronze helmet covered with gold leaf and decorations discovered in the waters of Haifa Bay in Israel has been dated to 2,600 years ago, researchers say.

Archaeologists said the helmet may have belonged to a wealthy Greek mercenary fighting in a series of wars mentioned in the Bible that plagued the region at that time.

The Greek mercenary likely fought for an Egyptian pharaoh named Necho II, they said.

The helmet, discovered accidentally in 2007 during commercial dredging operations in the harbor, has been cleaned and analyzed by researchers with the Israel Antiquities Authority, LiveScience.com reported Wednesday.

The helmet is very similar to one found near the Italian island of Giglio, about 1,500 miles away, in the 1950s and dated to 2,600 years ago, which helped the researchers arrive at a date for the Haifa Bay helmet.

The owner of the Haifa helmet would have been a very wealthy individual as few soldiers could afford such an ornate helmet, the researchers said.

“The gilding and figural ornaments make this one of the most ornate pieces of early Greek armor discovered,” Jacob Sharvit, director of the Marine Archaeology Unit with the Israel Antiquities Authority, wrote in a research summary.

Wolf tracked through Calif. wilderness

SACRAMENTO, Feb. 29 (UPI) — A wolf being tracked in California has traveled more than 1,000 miles in the state’s wilderness areas in search of a mate and a new home, officials say.

The wolf dubbed Journey, tracked by a radio collar since he wandered south from his original home in northeastern Oregon, is demonstrating the importance of wilderness areas that serve as safe corridors for migrating wildlife, the Los Angeles Times reported Tuesday.

Scientists have long considered wilderness as worth preserving to create parks and so-called “green corridors” for wildlife, and Journey is proving the corridors actually work, conservation experts said.

“If you look at the map of where Journey has gone, he’s really hit some of the best wild places,” Laurel Williams of the California Wilderness Coalition said.

“And many of them are not yet protected, formally, as wilderness. It just really speaks to how important these places are for such an amazing creature and that we should be working to protect them.

“We haven’t had wolves in California for such a long time. This is a unique opportunity to see on the ground what’s important. We don’t have active legislation for these places right now.

“We’re just hoping someone will step up and bring these places into protection.”

Private rocket assembled for space launch

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla., Feb. 29 (UPI) — A private spaceship is close to heading to the International Space Station as SpaceX’s Dragon capsule and Falcon 9 rocket have been joined, the company says.

The cargo capsule and the launch vehicle have been assembled at Cape Canaveral in Florida, SpaceX Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk reported in a tweet.

The launch, probably in late April, will be an unmanned mission to test the Dragon capsule’s ability to rendezvous and dock with the space station, Newscientist.com reported Tuesday.

The space drone is expected to carry some nonessential “demonstration cargo” that will be transferred to the space station and will be loaded with station cargo for return to Earth.

Following last year’s retirement of NASA’s space shuttles, the main means of ferrying supplies to the orbital outpost has been Russian Progress cargo ships.

If the upcoming SpaceX launch is successful, Dragon would be the first commercial craft to attempt to visit the International Space Station.

Desert greenhouse will mimic nature

DOHA, Qatar, Feb. 29 (UPI) — A $5.3 million desert greenhouse in Qatar will imitate nature to extract salt from seawater and create conditions ripe for plant growth, project planners say.

The Sahara Forest Project, to be built just outside Doha, will work by exploiting the difference in temperature between surface seawater and water taken from hundreds of yards below the sea’s surface.

Both will be pumped to the site using solar power through separate pipes.

The hot desert air will evaporate the surface sea water and the moist air will pass over the plants, creating a comfortable temperature around them. The moisture will condense as it passes pipes through which the cold deep seawater is pumped, creating fresh water, NewScientist.com reported Wednesday.

The design is inspired by the way a camel’s nostrils evaporate and condense moisture to keep it cool, and by the way fog-basking beetles can capture water from warm night air in the desert, Sahara Forest Project’s Michael Pawlyn, a biomimicry architect, said.

The saltwater will also be used to grow algae, which will be used in biomass production at the facility set to be built by the end of this year.