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New China president to meet Russia’s Putin

Posted by Nuttapon_S On March - 22 - 2013 ADD COMMENTS

First official trip abroad by Xi Jinping expected to bolster “strategic partnership” and trade that hit $87.5bn in 2012.

China’s newly elected President Xi Jinping has chosen to visit key ally Russia for his first foreign trip, with both leaders expected to be alert to economic opportunities.

Xi is due in Moscow on Friday to meet his host President Vladimir Putin.

The world’s largest energy producer, Russia, and its most voracious consumer, China, want to bolster their common clout as a financial and geopolitical counterweight to Europe and the US, whose “Asia pivot” regional strategy has caused concern in China.

“Certainly Russia is important to China as a source of advanced weapons, important raw materials, and there is a lot of room for further improvement in trade and investment activities in view of the economic difficulties in the US and western Europe,” Joseph Cheng, a Chinese University of Hong Kong professor, told Al Jazeera.

In his interview, released by the Kremlin hours before Xi’s planned arrival, Putin said bilateral trade had more than
doubled in five years and reached $87.5bn in 2012.

Putin and Xi, less than a year apart in age, echoed one another in interviews before the visit, each saying the Chinese leader’s choice of Moscow as his first destination was evidence of the “strategic partnership” between the nations.

“There is an element of pulling together the forces of Russia and China against possible threats coming from the US [through the Obama administration’s military focus towards Asia],” Chinese University of Hong Kong professor Willy Lam said.

A big increase in Chinese and Russian tourists has transformed the popular resort island of Phuket into a shopping destination.

The two nationalities accounted for 38% of arrivals to Phuket last year, while more than 3 million visitors from China and Russia visited Thailand as a whole.

A report by the consultancy C9 Hotelworks said the largest spending by tourists in Phuket was for accommodation (30%), followed by shopping (24%).

Chinese, Russian and Australian visitors were the top spenders at leading shopping centres.

Spending by foreign tourists averaged US$108 (3,200 baht) per person per day, three times that of domestic travellers.

Bill Barnett, the managing director of C9 Hotelworks, said the Thai resort market is becoming an urbanised playground on the back of the rising Asian middle class and the resurgence in travel.

“It’s not just about the beach any more, with shopping and attractions also driving demand.” he said.

Last month, Central Retail Corporation announced a $332-million project in Phuket comprising a mega entertainment centre, luxury fashion shops and a convention centre.

“It’s not good or bad for Phuket to be a shopping destination, but simply a natural shift from a more rural island to an urban area that reflects the increasing appeal of consumerism. It is not a Phuket trend but a global trend,” Mr Barnett said.

Although Chinese and Russian tourists are making their mark on Phuket, Scandinavians remain keen to escape their harsh winter for a long break in Phuket.

Tourists on charter flights from Scandinavia come to Thailand because of the sun and good value, Mr Barnett said.

Last year, inbound and outbound passengers for both the domestic and the international sectors totalled 9.5 million in Phuket. This growth of 13% from 2011 reflected an excess of 47% over the airport’s stated capacity.

From 2004-12, visitor arrivals at Phuket airport grew at a compound annual rate of 9%.

The hotel occupancy rate in Phuket last year was estimated at 76%, with an average room rate of $142 per night.

More than 4,000 new hotel rooms will become available from 2013-16.

The top five international source markets for the island-province accounted for 60% of all tourists last year, up from 56% in 2011.

They were China (22%), Russia (15%), Australia (10%), South Korea (9%) and Malaysia (4%).

Meteor shows why it is crucial to keep an eye on the sky

Posted by Rattana_S On February - 16 - 2013 ADD COMMENTS

Editor’s note: Colin Stuart is an astronomy and science writer, who also works as a Freelance Astronomer for the Royal Observatory Greenwich in London. His first book is due to be published by Carlton Books in September 2013. Follow @skyponderer on Twitter.

London (CNN) — Reports coming from Russia suggest that hundreds of people have been injured by a meteor falling from space. The force of the fireball, which seems to have crashed into a lake near the town of Chebarkul in the Ural Mountains, roared through the sky early on Friday morning local time, blowing out windows and damaging buildings. This comes on the same day that astronomers and news reporters alike were turning their attention to a 40 meter asteroid — known as 2012 DA14 — which is due for a close approach with Earth on Friday evening. The asteroid will skirt around our planet, however, missing by some 27,000 kilometers (16,777 miles). Based on early reports, there is no reason to believe the two events are connected.

And yet it just goes to show how much space debris exists up there above our heads. It is easy to think of a serene solar system, with the eight planets quietly orbiting around the Sun and only a few moons for company. The reality is that we also share our cosmic neighborhood with millions of other, much smaller bodies: asteroids. Made of rock and metal, they range in size from a few meters across, up to the largest — Ceres — which is 1000 kilometers wide. They are left over rubble from the chaotic birth of our solar system around 5000 million years ago and, for the most part, are found in a “belt” between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. But some are known to move away from this region, either due to collisions with other asteroids or the gravitational pull of a planet. And that can bring them into close proximity to the Earth.

Once a piece of space-rock enters our atmosphere, it becomes known as a meteor. Traveling through the sky at a few kilometers per second, friction with the air can cause the meteor to break up into several pieces. Eyewitnesses have described seeing a burst of light and hearing loud, thunderous noises. This, too, is due to the object tearing through the gases above our heads. If any of the fragments make it to the ground, only then are they called meteorites.

Such events are rare, but not unprecedented. An object entered Earth’s atmosphere in 1908 before breaking up over Siberia. The force of the explosion laid waste to a dense area of forest covering more than 2000 square kilometers. It is not hard to imagine the devastation of such an event over a more highly populated region. The Earth is sprinkled with around 170 craters also caused by debris falling from space. The largest is found near the town of Vredefort in South Africa. The impact of a much larger asteroid — perhaps as big as 15 kilometers across — is famously thought to have finished off the dinosaurs 65 million years ago.

It is easy to see why, then, that astronomers are keen to discover the position and trajectory of as many asteroids as possible. That way they can work out where they are heading and when, if at all, they might pose a threat to us on Earth. It is precisely this sort of work that led to the discovery of asteroid 2012 DA14 last February by a team of Spanish astronomers. However, today’s meteor strike shows that it is not currently possible to pick up everything.

A non-profit foundation, led by former NASA astronaut Ed Lu, wants to send a dedicated asteroid-hunting telescope into space that can scan the solar system for any potential threats. For now, astronomers will use Friday’s fly-by to bounce radar beams off 2012 DA14’s surface, hoping to learn more about its motion and structure. One day this information could be used to help move an asteroid out of an Earth-impacting orbit. This latest meteor over Russia just goes to show how important such work is and how crucial it is that we keep our eye on the sky.

Russia sends clean-up team to meteorite-hit Urals

Posted by Nuttapon_S On February - 16 - 2013 ADD COMMENTS

A 20,000-strong team has been sent to the Ural mountains as part of a rescue and clean-up operation after Friday’s meteor strike, Russia’s emergency, ministry says.

President Vladimir Putin ordered the operation to help some 1,200 people who were injured, including 200 children, mostly by shattered glass.

The shockwave blew out windows and rocked buildings around Chelyabinsk.

A fireball streaked through the clear morning sky, followed by loud bangs.

A large meteorite landed in a lake near Chebarkul, a town in Chelyabinsk region, and Friday morning’s dramatic passage was witnessed hundreds of kilometres away.

Small atomic weapon

Mr Putin said he thanked God that no big fragments of the 10-tonne meteor – which was thought to be made of iron and travelling at some 30 km (19 miles) per second – had fallen in populated areas.

It had entered the Earth’s atmosphere and broke apart 30-50 km (20-30 miles) above ground, according to Russia’s Academy of Sciences, releasing several kilotonnes of energy – the equivalent of a small atomic weapon.

The Emergencies Ministry urged calm, saying background radiation levels were normal after what it described as a “meteorite shower in the form of fireballs”.

“The explosion was so strong that some windows in our building and in the buildings that are across the road and in the city in general, the windows broke,” Chelyabinsk resident Polina Zolotarevskaya told BBC News.

The Chelyabinsk region, about 1,500km east of Moscow, is home to many factories, a nuclear power plant and the Mayak atomic waste storage and treatment centre.

Little explosions

Many children were at lessons when the meteor fell at around 09:20 (03:20 GMT).

Video posted online showed frightened, screaming youngsters at one Chelyabinsk school, where corridors were littered with broken glass.

Chelyabinsk resident Sergei Serskov told BBC News the city had felt like a “war zone” for 20 to 30 minutes.

“I was in the office when suddenly I saw a really bright flash in the window in front of me,” he said.

“Then I smelt fumes. I looked out the window and saw a huge line of smoke, like you get from a plane but many times bigger.”

“A few minutes later the window suddenly came open and there was a huge explosion, followed by lots of little explosions.”

Debris also reportedly fell on the west Siberian region of Tyumen.

Governor Yurevich reported that a meteorite had landed in a lake 1km outside Chebarkul, which has a population of 46,000.

A Russian army spokesman said a crater 6m (20ft) wide had been found on the shore of the lake.

Scientists have played down suggestions that there is any link between the event in the Urals and 2012 DA14, an asteroid which raced past the Earth later on Friday at a distance of just 27,700km (17,200 miles) – the closest ever for an object of that size.

Such meteor strikes are rare in Russia but one is thought to have devastated an area of more than 2,000 sq km (770 sq m) in Siberia in 1908.

Asteroids, meteors and meteorites

Asteroid Ida
  • Asteroids are small bodies that orbit the Sun as the Earth does
  • Larger asteroids are called planetoids or minor planets, smaller ones often called meteoroids
  • Once any of these enters our planet’s atmosphere, it becomes a meteor
  • Many meteors break into pieces or burn up entirely as they speed through the atmosphere
  • Once meteors or fragments actually hits the earth, they become meteorites