Photo: Waiting for the war

Civil War re-enactors wait Tuesday to use a restroom in Charleston, S.C., during a commemoration of the moment the first shots of the Civil War were fired 150 years ago. In 1861, General P.G.T. Beauregard open fire on Union-held Fort Sumter in South Carolina's Charleston Bay, beginning the War Between the States. Approximately 620,000 people died during the bloodiest four years in American history. Photo: AP/Alice Keeney

Photo: Veiled protest

Kenza Drider, a French Muslim mother of four, traveled from her home in Avignon to Paris to protest the ban on full-face veils that went into effect today in France. "I'm not here to provoke, but to defend my civil liberties as a French citizen," Drider told the press outside the Notre Dame Cathedral, before being detained by police for participating in an unauthorized demonstration. Photo: Siobhán Silke

See our illustrated guide to Islamic veils.

For more photos of today’s protests in France, visit Siobhán Silke’s Flickr photostream.

Photo: Pink-nosed predators

The Nashville Zoo welcomed two litters of clouded leopard cubs born over the course of a week last month. These three are the cubs of Jing Jai and Lom Choy, the zoo's two breeding females who came to the zoo through the Thailand Clouded Leopard Consortium. The births are a significant step to establishing a self-sustaining breeding program for this seriously endangered species. Photo: AP/Nashville Zoo

Climate observer mothballed

The world’s most advanced climate observer has been on ice for almost a decade. In a feature for Popular Science‘s April 2011 issue, writer Bill Donahue tracks down the earth-monitoring satellite DSCVR (Deep Space Climate Observatory) that was supposed to be launched back in 2001. He finds the $100 million device stowed in a Maryland warehouse — a probable victim of politics and inter-agency bureaucracy.

Standing in a small, carpeted nook, I was able to look through a small observation window into a high-ceilinged, white-walled clean room where a white metal crate was shoved into a corner, beneath a stairwell. DSCOVR sat inside. A green tube supplied the box with a steady feed of nitrogen, to minimize contaminants. It looked to me like forgotten hardware—last year’s cellphone gathering dust in a desk drawer.

The Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR)

DSCVR isn’t the only climate satellite with problems: Donahue’s piece refers to the “delayed” Glory project but doesn’t mention that it actually crashed in a failed launch attempt last month. And in 2009, the OCO (Orbiting Carbon Observatory) satellite similarly succumbed to mechanical defects and was lost before reaching orbit.

A new climate research satellite — the OCO-2 — is slated for launch early in 2013, but given current budget negotiations and a push from House Republicans to slash federally-funded climate change research, OCO-2 may find itself relegated to another government warehouse.

Photo: Gas tank tree

The 43-meter sculpture "Rainforest tree" towers in the Gasometer in Oberhausen, Germany, a former gas tank now used as an exhibition space. The giant tree by artist Wolfgang Volz, which is intended to "transform the industrial colossus into a cathedral of nature," is part of the new UNESCO exhibition "Magic places: nature and culture monuments of the world." Photo: AP/Martin Meissner

Seeing ‘conspiracy’ in protests, Syrian regime intensifies its brutal crackdown

Syrian army soldiers stand guard at Sheikh Daher Square after the violence between security forces and armed groups in Latakia, Syria. Photo: AP/Hussein Malla

The government of Syria is a regime driven by paranoia, its worldview tinged by offbeat conspiracy theories and fantasies of foreign subversion. A fractious history of tribal politics and successive military coups has produced a tight grip on public life, with talk of “spies” and “files” on every citizen. Even in the popular protests that have unfolded in recent weeks, Syria sees only the work of its enemies.

Nowhere is that view more apparent than in the case of Mohamed Radwan.

Radwan, a 32-year-old Egyptian-American dual citizen, was taking pictures of an anti-government protest outside the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus — one of the holiest shrines in Islam — when he was swept up by security officials and whisked to an undisclosed location. He was held in solitary confinement, unsure of his whereabouts or the charges against him, for more than a week.

“He was interrogated by a lot of people,” Radwan’s cousin, Tarek Shalaby, said in an interview from Cairo. “He was always being interrogated.”

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Faraway, so close: the Earth’s most loyal stalker

Astronomers at the Armagh Observatory in Northern Ireland believe that an asteroid that’s been trailing the Earth for a quarter of a million years may share some of our planet’s DNA.

In a paper published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, Apostolos Christou and David Asher reveal the unusual orbit of 2010 SO16, an asteroid discovered in 2009 by the WISE satellite. 2010 SO16 orbits the sun at about the same distance as the Earth, almost sharing our planet’s orbit. But when it reaches the Earth, it does an abrupt about-face and goes back around the sun in the opposite direction, moving in a horseshoe pattern.

Source: Armagh Observatory

On the Observatory’s website, Christou described the asteroid as “terraphobic”: “It keeps well away from the Earth. So well, in fact, that it has likely been in this orbit for several hundred thousand years, never coming closer to our planet than 50 times the distance to the moon.”

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Photo: Happy Birthday, Lady Day

Billie Holiday in New York City, 1947. Photo: William Gottlieb/The Library of Congress

On this day in 1915, Eleanora Fagan, known the world over now as Billie Holiday, was born in Philadelphia to a 13-year-old girl named Sadie Fagan. After an extremely tumultuous childhood, Billie Holiday began to sing professionally at the age of 17 with no formal training, but an emotive voice and a distinct delivery eventually made her one of the most influential jazz singers of all time.

By age 18, she was singing with then up-and-coming bandleader Benny Goodman. As her career progressed through the 1930s and ’40s, she played with Duke Ellington, Count Basie and Artie Shaw, becoming the first female African-American vocalist to work with a white orchestra.

Some of her most famous recordings include “God Bless the Child,” “Lady Sings the Blues,” “I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm”, “(In My) Solitude” and “Good Morning Heartache.”

She passed away at the early age of 44 in 1959 after suffering from liver and heart disease, exacerbated by years of drug and alcohol abuse. She was, in fact, arrested on her deathbed for possession of narcotics.

The Upper Big Branch explosion: one year later

A wreath and a list of the 29 miners who died at the Upper Big Branch coal mine explosion are placed at the state coal miners' memorial on the first anniversary of the explosion Tuesday, April 5, 2011 in Charleston, W. Va. Photo: AP/Jeff Gentner

On April 5, 2010, a year ago today, the Upper Big Branch mine in Montcoal, W. Va., blew up, killing 29 miners in the largest U.S. mining disaster in some 40 years. Need to Know reported on the Upper Big Branch mine explosion last December. Since that report, there have been several developments regarding the investigation into the cause of the explosion; the mine’s parent company, Massey Energy; and the families of the miners who were killed that day.

Don Blankenship announced his retirement as CEO of Massey Energy on December 3, 2010. Blankenship, a powerful and controversial figure in the coal business, walked away with an enviable golden parachute: On the day he left the job, Blankenship received $2 million and is scheduled to receive another $10 million on July 1, 2011. He will also be paid a $5,000-a-month retainer fee, plus expenses, for the next two years.

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