Mars rover begins trek to new destination

Posted Aug. 29, 2012, at 9:16 p.m.

LOS ANGELES — The Mars rover Curiosity headed east Tuesday, driving 52 feet toward a spot where it will use its robotic arm for the first time to drill into bedrock. It’ll take weeks for the six-wheel NASA rover to reach the site called Glenelg about a quarter mile away.

The drive was the third and longest one yet since the car-size rover touched down in an ancient crater Aug. 5 to study whether the Martian environment could have been favorable for life. The early drives have been deliberately short, allowing Curiosity to identify any hazards on the road and so that engineers can gain practice driving on the Martian terrain.

Curiosity spent Wednesday at its new locale, snapping pictures of a distant mountain that is its ultimate destination. Intriguing layers of rocks have been spotted at the base and most of its two-year mission will be spent examining the lower slopes.

CDC: West Nile cases rise 40 percent in 1 week

West Nile virus cases are up 40 percent since last week and may rival the record years of 2002 and 2003, federal health officials said Wednesday.

So far this year, 1,590 cases of the mosquito-borne disease have been reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and 66 deaths.

About half of the cases are serious illnesses, and the CDC considers those the best indicator of West Nile activity because many mild cases do not get reported and their symptoms may not even be recognized.

Typical symptoms are fever, headache and body aches, and most people get better on their own in a few days. Less than 1 percent develop neurological symptoms such as stiff necks and even coma and paralysis.

Karzai moves to replace Afghan security chiefs

KABUL, Afghanistan — Afghan President Hamid Karzai moved to replace the country’s intelligence chief and the ministers of defense and interior Wednesday, the first step in what senior government officials said was a planned wider Cabinet shakeup aimed at solidifying the president’s power before elections and the drawdown of foreign forces.

Meanwhile, NATO said Wednesday that three more of its service members were killed by an Afghan wearing an army uniform in the latest in a string of such attacks on international trainers.

Karzai also is trying to shore up his shaken security team as his administration struggles to build an army and police force in the face of a resurgent Taliban as the U.S. and other foreign forces begin to withdraw.

Arctic ice shrinks to record low

BARROW, Alaska — Here at the top of the world, the news that Arctic sea ice has reached a new low — the smallest footprint since satellites began measuring it three decades ago — is not much of a surprise.

The Arctic seas off the Alaska coast have been increasingly ice-free in recent years. On Monday, the gray, wind-driven surf churned vigorously along the northern coast, with no sign of ice anywhere under the low, fog-shrouded skies.

Until a few weeks ago, there was more ice spread across the near-shore waters of the Beaufort and Chukchi seas than anyone can remember for the last several years — a curse for the engineers waiting to begin plumbing oil wells into the sea floor, but a blessing for Inupiat hunters, who have had an unusually easy time catching seals from ice floes.

But the late-lingering near-shore ice in Alaska, now in full retreat, was not representative of what is going on most everywhere else in a gradually melting Arctic, scientists say. The National Snow and Ice Data Center in Colorado announced that Arctic sea ice had shrunk to 1.58 million square miles, the lowest expanse recorded since satellites began taking measurements in 1979.

That breaks a record of 1.61 million square miles set in 2007. The ice is expected to keep melting through September.

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