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Mexico president’s tourist train suffers new legal blow

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A Mexican judge has indefinitely halted construction of part of President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador's Mayan Train on environmental grounds
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A Mexican judge has indefinitely suspended construction of part of President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s flagship tourist train project in the Yucatan peninsula on environmental grounds, campaigners said Monday.

The ruling follows a legal challenge brought by opponents, including scuba divers, who are concerned about the impact of the Mayan Train on wildlife, caves and water-filled sinkholes known as cenotes.

The indefinite halt to work on the 60-kilometer (37-mile) section between the resorts of Playa del Carmen and Tulum goes a step further than a provisional suspension order issued in April.

The federal judge cited the “imminent danger” of causing “irreversible damage” to ecosystems, according to one of the plaintiffs, the non-governmental group Defending the Right to a Healthy Environment.

The authorities were found to have failed to carry out the necessary environmental impact studies before starting construction of the section, one of several being built by the military, it said in a statement.

The government can appeal the decision but the process could take several months.

Lopez Obrador hopes to inaugurate the roughly 1,500-kilometer (950 mile) rail loop linking popular Caribbean beach resorts and archeological ruins by the end of 2023.

The original plan for the disputed section was for an overpass over a highway, but the route was modified at the start of the year to go through jungle at ground level.

Opponents fear that the construction will cause irreparable damage to a subterranean network of caves, rivers and freshwater sinkholes connected to the Caribbean Sea.

Lopez Obrador has insisted the railroad will not affect the cenotes and alleged that environmentalists have been infiltrated by “impostors.”

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US secures 105 million doses of Pfizer vaccine for fall

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White House officials have previously said that without new funding from the US Congress, future Covid vaccines might only be given for free to those at highest risk
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The United States on Wednesday announced an agreement with Pfizer and BioNTech for 105 million doses of Covid vaccine for Americans this fall.

The $3.2 billion contract, signed between the companies and the US health and defense departments, includes vaccines for babies, young children, teens and adults, and may include Omicron-specific vaccines, which a panel of government experts recommended on Tuesday.

Delivery will begin in late summer and continue into the fourth quarter, the companies said. The contract gives the US the option to procure up to 300 million doses.

“The Biden-Harris Administration is committed to doing everything we can to continue to make vaccines free and widely available to Americans – and this is an important first step to preparing us for the fall,” Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra said in a statement.

President Joe Biden’s administration has asked Congress for $23.5 billion in additional Covid funding, but a bill has not yet been passed.

As a result, the federal government “was forced to reallocate $10 billion in existing funding, pulling billions of dollars from Covid-19 response efforts” the statement said, with the new vaccines procured through this reallocation.

White House officials have previously said that without new funding, future vaccines might only be given for free to those at highest risk.

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Webb telescope: NASA to reveal deepest image ever taken of Universe

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A wonder of engineering, Webb is able to gaze further into the cosmos than any telescope before it thanks to its enormous primary mirror and its instruments that focus on infrared, allowing it peer through dust and gas
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NASA administrator Bill Nelson said Wednesday the agency will reveal the “deepest image of our Universe that has ever been taken” on July 12, thanks to the newly operational James Webb Space Telescope.

“If you think about that, this is farther than humanity has ever looked before,” Nelson said during a press briefing at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, the operations center for the $10 billion observatory that was launched in December last year and is now orbiting the Sun a million miles (1.5 million kilometers) away from Earth. 

A wonder of engineering, Webb is able to gaze further into the cosmos than any telescope before it, thanks to its enormous primary mirror and its instruments that focus on infrared, allowing it to peer through dust and gas.

“It’s going to explore objects in the solar system and atmospheres of exoplanets orbiting other stars, giving us clues as to whether potentially their atmospheres are similar to our own,” added Nelson, speaking via phone while isolating with Covid.

“It may answer some questions that we have: Where do we come from? What more is out there? Who are we? And of course, it’s going to answer some questions that we don’t even know what the questions are.” 

Webb’s infrared capabilities allow it to see deeper back in time to the Big Bang, which happened 13.8 billion years ago. 

Because the Universe is expanding, light from the earliest stars shifts from the ultraviolet and visible wavelengths it was emitted in, to longer infrared wavelengths — which Webb is equipped to detect at an unprecedented resolution.

At present, the earliest cosmological observations date to within 330 million years of the Big Bang, but with Webb’s capacities, astronomers believe they will easily break the record.

– 20 year life –

In more good news, NASA deputy administrator Pam Melroy revealed that, thanks to an efficient launch by NASA’s partner Arianespace, the telescope could stay operational for 20 years, double the lifespan that was originally envisaged.

“Not only will those 20 years allow us to go deeper into history, and time, but we will go deeper into science because we have the opportunity to learn and grow and make new observations,” she said.

NASA also intends to share Webb’s first spectroscopy of a faraway planet, known as an exoplanet, on July 12, said NASA’s top scientist Thomas Zurbuchen. 

Spectroscopy is a tool to analyze the chemical and molecular composition of distant objects and a planetary spectrum can help characterize its atmosphere and other properties such as whether it has water and what its ground is like.

“Right from the beginning, we’ll look at these worlds out there that keep us awake at night as we look into the starry sky and wonder as we’re looking out there, is there life elsewhere?” said Zurbuchen.

Nestor Espinoza, as STSI astronomer, told AFP that previous exoplanet spectroscopies carried out using existing instruments were very limited compared to what Webb could do.

“It’s like being in a room that is very dark and you only have a little pinhole you can look through,” he said, of current technology. Now, with Webb, “You’ve opened a huge window, you can see all the little details.”

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Subscription version of Snapchat makes its debut

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A new Snapchat+ subscription version of the ephemeral messaging app is priced at $4 monthly.
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US tech firm Snap on Wednesday launched a subscription version of Snapchat as it looks to generate more money from the image-centric, ephemeral messaging app.

Snapchat+ is priced at $4 a month and will provide access to exclusive features, the California-based company said in a blog post. It said that these would include priority tech support and early access to experimental features.

The subscription version of the service is making its debut in Australia, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, New Zealand, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and the United States, Snap said.

Snap in February reported its first quarterly profit, but two months later warned that it saw the economic outlook as having darkened considerably.

The company said that more than 332 million people around the world use Snapchat daily.

“This subscription will allow us to deliver new Snapchat features to some of the most passionate members of our community,” Snap said in the blog post.

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