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Hold the Phone, Sydney … It’s Raining.

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SYDNEY, Australia — Rural firefighters and farmers, as well as just about everyone in Australia’s largest city, rejoiced Friday at the arrival of something not seen for months: heavy downpours of that magnificent gift called rain.

Thunderstorms hit Sydney and a wide swath of the surrounding area, including parts of the north coast of New South Wales that have been burning for months, with more rain expected through the weekend.

“It’s a relief,” said Ray White, a group captain for volunteer fire brigades north of Sydney, where serious fires have been burning since July. “With the rain, we’ve pretty well got all the fires here contained at the moment, mate. Hopefully they’ll be looking to go out in the not too distant future.”

The amount of rain varied wildly on Friday, from a few drops to more than four inches. It was not enough to end the country’s bush-fire crisis — dozens of fires farther south are still out of control.

But for one gray and drenching moment, or a few hours in some places, strong rain doused the deadly flames. And the dried-out gardens. And the filthy streets.

For many, the excitement could not be contained.

Cows and humans jumped for joy in puddles, while others shared scenes of city life, like beads of rain on window screens, that only the fire-and-drought-tortured could see as beautiful.

The soggy weather — “best day of the year,” said one sports commentator — delivered quite a jolt. Much of Sydney received more rain on Friday than it had over the past three months. A few smaller towns to the northwest welcomed more precipitation than they had seen in entire recent years.

But while the downpours were greeted warmly, they also caused problems. Sydney suffered train cancellations and heavy traffic. The hardened, dry ground in more rural areas could not handle the largess, leading to flash floods in some places.

In a battle of extremes, the historic wildfires made the storms more dangerous. Fire officials warned of “widow makers” — burned-out trees that collapse with precipitation.

The rain also threatened the water supply in many areas as ash and debris washed off into reservoirs. At the Warragamba Dam, whose reservoir provides 80 percent of the water for Sydney, booms and filters have been set up to try to keep the contaminants from reaching treatment plants.

“There are barriers floating on the water and beneath the water at significant inflow points,” said Tony Webber, a spokesman for WaterNSW. “It’s not a panacea, but it’s part of a broad response to maintain water quality.”

Meteorologists and fire officials, like water officials, were quick to warn against viewing the storms as a cure for the country’s fire problem. Several large fires in Victoria “remain very active and unpredictable,” state fire officials said.

In New South Wales, areas near the Snowy Mountains, where fires are still burning and smoldering, have received little if any rain. The same was true for some coastal towns.

“Northern New South Wales fires have been impacted the most,” said Jonty Bruce, a spokesman for the Rural Firefighting Service. “Many of them have been put out. And as you move further down to the southern part of the state, it lessens.”

“There continues to be a threat,” he added. “There’s plenty of fire on the ground.”

Climate change deniers — including a federal lawmaker, Craig Kelly — still seized on the rain as evidence that people had been engaged in “climate alarmism.” On his Facebook page, Mr. Kelly noted that the government’s Bureau of Meteorology had predicted that heavy rain might not appear until March or April, after the end of summer.

But scientists have long dismissed such claims, which confuse isolated weather patterns with long-term climate trends. Last year, Australia experienced its hottest and driest year on record. One day of rain does not erase decades of data predicting that Australia’s fire seasons would do exactly what they have done this year — become longer and more intense.

“Weather is what we get, day to day, and this varies in the short term,” says an explanation from Australia’s Climate Council. “Climate is the long-term average of the weather patterns we experience, usually taken over 30 years or longer.”

Some Australians, however, hoped that even the partisan climate debate might be dampened by the rain. Most of all, they hoped for more of the good stuff.

“In the last few days, we have had very little,” said Brett Hosking, 46, a farmer in northern Victoria. “We are living on a Bureau of Meteorology promise that it will come in this Sunday.”

Even in the places getting wet on Friday, the message to the heavens was clear: Keep going.

“It’s not going to help the drought much, mate,” said Mr. White, the firefighter north of Sydney. “It’s just a start.

Michelle Elias contributed reporting.





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Scientists digitally reconstruct skulls of dinosaurs in fossilised eggs | Science

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The fossilised skulls of dinosaur embryos that died within their eggs about 200m years ago, have been digitally reconstructed by scientists, shedding new light on the animals’ development, and how close they were to hatching.

The rare clutch of seven eggs, some of which contain embryos, was discovered in South Africa in 1976, with the developing young found to be a species of dinosaur called Massospondylus carinatus.

The plant-eaters were ancestors of sauropod dinosaurs like diplodocus and, as fully-grown adults, would have walked on two legs, measured about five metres from nose to tail, and had long necks with small heads.

Now researchers say they have carried out high-resolution CT scans to digitally reconstruct the tiny skulls of the embryos, shedding fresh light on their development.

“One of the biggest problems when looking at embryos is that a lot of the tissues that you would normally use to define these developmental stages in embryos, they are not gong to fossilise,” said Dr Kimi Chapelle, co-author of the research from the University of Witwatersrand in South Africa.

Previous attempts at working out how mature dinosaur embryos are, such looking at the level of contact between different parts of the skull, have run into difficulties, not least because of challenges in assessing such features. However the scans, said Chapelle, offer a different approach, allowing researchers to look at the degree of bone formation and explore parts of the specimen otherwise hidden from view.

The new research, published in the journal Scientific Reports, reveals embryo remains in three of the eggs, the tiny, 2cm long, skulls showing two sets of teeth.

But while one set showed serrations and were similar to adult teeth, as has previously been seen in other dinosaur embryos, the other set was different, composed of simple, conical shaped teeth. “We have never seen that before,” said Chapelle, adding that, like many reptiles today, the dinosaurs would probably have either lost or reabsorbed these teeth before developing the teeth they would hatch with.

The team also drew on previously collected data from embryos of three animals alive today – the African spurred tortoise, the chicken and the nile crocodile – and tracked the location and extent of bone tissue formation within their embryos over their incubation. They then applied their findings to another living animal, the central bearded dragon.

The results reveal that while the animals have different incubation times, the sequence and relative timing of bone tissue formation with the skulls is similar.

Since all four animals, and dinosaurs, belong to the same group of land vertebrates – the saurians – Chapelle said the development of the dinosaur embryos probably followed a similar path.

“Having that same relative timing allows us to then apply the method to dinosaurs, no matter what [their] incubation period is – we can still tell how developed they are,” she said.

While previous work suggested the dinosaur embryos were on the verge of hatching at death the team say their comparison, together with the findings from the teeth, suggest the embryos were just 60% of the way through their incubation period – making them some of the least developed dinosaur embryos currently known.

Michael Benton, professor of vertebrate palaeontology at the University of Bristol, who was not involved in the research, said the study was a fantastic piece of work showing the ability of modern technology to reveal astonishing details, even of embryo dinosaurs.

He also praised the team’s method of comparing the growth of the skulls.

“This gives a reliable method of ageing an embryo of a dinosaur for the first time, and then particular events in development can be identified – such as the early appearance of teeth and then their re-absorption, long before the little creature hatches,” he said.



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Mercury Systems Receives $4.7 Million AI Processing Technology Order

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Mercury Systems Receives $4.7 Million AI Processing Technology Order





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Australia Investigates Why a Cruise Ship Allowed Infected Passengers to Disembark: Live Coverage

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Saudi Arabia, battered by virus, declares a cease-fire in Yemen.

Saudi Arabia on Wednesday announced that the kingdom and its allies would observe a unilateral cease-fire in the war in Yemen starting at noon on Thursday, a move that could pave the way for ending the brutal five-year-old conflict.

Saudi officials said that the cease-fire was intended to jump-start peace talks brokered by the United Nations and that it had been motivated by fears of the coronavirus spreading in Yemen, the poorest country in the Arab world.

The gesture is the first by any government entangled in an international armed conflict to halt hostilities at least in part because of the pandemic. The secretary general of the United Nations, António Guterres, pleaded for a worldwide cease-fire two weeks ago, citing the pandemic.

As many as 150 members of the Saudi royal family are believed to have contracted the coronavirus, including members of the family’s lesser branches, according to a person close to the family.

The senior Saudi who is the governor of Riyadh, Prince Faisal bin Bandar bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, is in intensive care with Covid-19, according to two doctors with ties to the King Faisal hospital and two others close to the royal family. Prince Faisal is a nephew of King Salman.

King Salman, 84, has secluded himself in an island palace near the city of Jeddah on the Red Sea. His son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the 34-year old de facto ruler, has retreated with many of his ministers to the remote site on the same coast.

“That ship obviously has huge exposure to coronavirus,” he said. “Why wasn’t anybody tested?”

The U.S. death toll, now growing by well over a thousand a day, has continued to mount with no sign of abating soon. And although President Trump tweeted on Monday about a light at the end of a tunnel, scientists say it will be a very, very long one.

In announcing the state of emergency this week, Mr. Abe warned citizens to avoid closed spaces where crowds meet in close proximity — places like nightclubs, karaoke bars and live music halls.

One municipality is taking matters into its own hands. Gotemba, a city of about 88,000 in the foothills of Mount Fuji, is offering owners of businesses such as bars and nightclubs a maximum of 1 million yen (about $9,200) in compensation for closing between April 16 and 30.

The White House’s coronavirus response coordinator suggested on Wednesday that the strict measures being taken by Americans to stem the spread of the virus may be leveling new cases in large metropolitan areas like New York, Detroit, Chicago and Boston.

But the coordinator, Dr. Deborah Birx, also emphasized that “there is still a significant amount of disease.”

Here’s what else is happening in the United States:

Replying to criticism from President Trump, the head of the World Health Organization made an impassioned plea for solidarity on Wednesday, warning that politicizing the coronavirus pandemic would result in “many more body bags.”

Mr. Trump unleashed a tirade against the organization on Tuesday, accusing it of acting too slowly to sound the alarm, and of treating the Chinese government too favorably. While the president, who threatened to withhold American funding for the W.H.O., spoke in unusually harsh terms, he was not alone in such criticism.

Critics say that the W.H.O. has been too trusting of the Chinese government, which initially tried to conceal the outbreak. Others have faulted the organization for not moving faster in declaring a global health emergency. But the agency’s defenders say that its powers over any individual government are limited.

Asked about Mr. Trump’s comments on Wednesday, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the W.H.O. director-general, said, “We want to learn from our mistakes,” but added, “for now, the focus should be on fighting this virus.”

“Please don’t politicize this virus,” Dr. Tedros said. “If you want to be exploited and you want to have many more body bags, then you do it. If you don’t want many more body bags, then you refrain from politicizing it.”

Dr. Tedros also singled out the Taiwanese government, which has been frozen out of the W.H.O. following pressure from Beijing, when he said for the first time that he had been targeted by racist comments and death threats that originated in the country.

“They didn’t disassociate themselves,” he said of Taiwanese officials. “They even started criticizing me in the middle of all that insult and slur, but I didn’t care.”

Taiwan’s president, Tsai Ing-wen, hit back on Thursday. “Taiwan has always opposed all forms of discrimination,” she wrote on Facebook. “For years, we have been excluded from international organizations, and we know better than anyone else what it feels like to be discriminated against and isolated.”

The pandemic has played a critical role in this drama, but there is also a lot of jockeying among the three oil superpowers: Saudi Arabia and Russia, two longtime petro-rivals, and the United States, whose rising prominence as an oil exporter has disrupted the industry.

It is far from clear that the G20 meeting will calm volatile markets. The fact that the meeting is occurring, though, may signal the beginning of a very different approach.

“A lot of countries, including those with strong free-market beliefs and credentials, seem to be coming over to the view that the global oil business needs to be managed to an extent, at least from time to time,” said Bhushan Bahree, an executive director at IHS Markit, a research firm.

How to celebrate in coronavirus times.

Stay-at-home orders don’t have to put a damper on your special days. Here’s some ways to celebrate birthdays, weddings, and the upcoming spring holidays.

With more than one million people worldwide ill from the coronavirus, there is an urgent search for any drug that might help.

Reporting was contributed by Elaine Yu, Motoko Rich, Hisako Ueno, Makiko Inoue, Rory Smith, Tariq Panja, Livia Albeck-Ripka, Carl Zimmer, James Gorman, Michael Levenson, Dan Barry, Ben Hubbard, Stanley Reed, Clifford Krauss, Andrew E. Kramer, Dionne Searcey, Ruth Maclean, Denise Grady, Katie Thomas and Patrick J. Lyons.





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