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

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

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.

Photo: Light my fire

The Door to Hell in Turkmenistan, April 2010. Photo: Flickr/flydime

Nothing says “destination wedding” like a trip to the “Door to Hell.” If you find yourself in Turkmenistan any time soon, take a day trip to the Derweze area (also called Darvaza). Here, in the middle of the desert, is a 230 foot pit of fire that locals affectionately call the “Door to Hell.”

In 1971, geologists drilling in the area accidentally tapped into a cavern filled with natural gas, and promptly lost their drilling rig, when a large hole opened up beneath them. Engineers decided it would be safer to burn off the escaping gas instead of releasing it into the atmosphere, as methane is a potent greenhouse gas. They assumed the fire would burn off the remaining gas after a few days. It’s still burning. It has been 40 years.

The president of Turkmenistan has ordered that the hole be closed after a visit to the site in April 2010, so get your tickets soon. If a trip to the gas-rich Turkmenistan desert just isn’t in the cards for your family this year, here is some video of the flaming pit of doom:

Read All »

Photo: Seeds of dissent

Visitors walk through the art installation 'Sunflower Seeds' by Chinese artist Ai Weiwei in London on Oct. 11, 2010. The specially commissioned art installation at the Tate Modern Gallery consists of more than 100 million unique, handmade porcelain sunflower seeds. Weiwei, one of China's most famous contemporary artists and dissidents was detained by police at Beijing's airport on Sunday and his whereabouts are currently unknown. Photo: AP/Lennart Preiss

Photo: Antelope on the rebound

A lowland Nyala wanders his enclosure wearing a cast at a zoo in Hannover, Germany, on Friday. The 8-week-old antelope named Howard broke his leg while jumping and playing. In two weeks, the cast will come off, leaving him free to temp fate again. Photo: Nigel Treblin/dapd

Photo: A messenger meets Mercury

The first photo of the surface of Mercury from NASA's MESSENGER spacecraft. Photo: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington

NASA’s MESSENGER spacecraft (MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging), seems to have redefined the term “cruisin”. The spacecraft was launched on August 3, 2004, but has been lapping the inner solar system for the past 6.6 years. A dozen laps, to be exact, around and around and around. On March 17, 2011, the MESSENGER finally made a move after years of just cruising by, and entered the orbit of the planet closest to the sun, Mercury. It’s mission is to conduct a yearlong study of the planet by mapping its entire surface.

At 5:20 a.m. ET on Mar. 29, 2011, MESSENGER captured the first image from a spacecraft of the surface of Mercury. Over the next six hours, it captured 363 more, then sent all the images back to NASA.

From the time it launched in 2004 until it arrived in orbit around Mercury two weeks ago, the spacecraft will have traveled 4.9 billion miles, at an average speed of approximately 84,500 miles per hour. During the yearlong orbital phase alone, it will travel 22.7 million miles. Eventually, years after the planet has been mapped, and the official mission has been concluded, the MESSENGER will lose its ability to maintain orbit and crash onto the very surface it traveled so far to reach.

Photo: Another look at King’s killer

Sheriff William N. Morris Jr. escorts James Earl Ray in the Shelby County Jail in Memphis, Tenn. Photo: AP/Shelby County Register's office

In June 1968, 40-year-old James Earl Ray was captured at London’s Heathrow Airport and extradited to the United States to stand trial for the assassination of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. Today, in anticipation of the 43rd anniversary of King’s death, the Shelby County Register’s office in Tennessee released a series of newly rediscovered photos documenting scenes from Ray’s incarceration following his arrest.

The register’s office discovered a bundle of these long-forgotten photos in 2007, along with letters that Ray had written to his family while in detention. The county’s Register of Deeds, Tom Leatherwood, told the Associated Press that while the documents do not bring about any new revelations of the murder, they provide an intimate portrait of a momentous event in the nation’s history.

Read All »

Photo: Trading smoke for slopes

A group of Falmouth, Maine, firefighters ski down a slope on their way to the starting line before competing in the 21st Annual Firefighter's Fundraising Race on March 27, 2011, at the Sunday River ski resort in Newry, Maine. Teams of five wearing firefighting gear carried a 50-foot hose while negotiating a giant slalom race course. The Wolfeboro, N.H., fire department took first place, with teams from Livermore Falls and Bethel, Maine, taking second and third. The race benefits the Maine Handicapped Skiing program. Photo: AP/Robert F. Bukaty