Astronomers on Verge of Finding Earth's Twin

Astronomers are on the verge of finding Earth's twin - and some of the most e-mailed, viewed and commented on stories on the Web.

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RACHEL MARTIN, host:

Hey, welcome back to the Bryant Park Project from NPR News. We are online all the time at npr.org/bryantpark. You know what's coming. You've been waiting for it, the most-emailed, most-read, most-Mosted stuff on the interwebs. We call it...

(Singing) The Most!

(Soundbite of music)

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: (Singing) It's my goal to sing at least six words every show for the next...

DAN PASHMAN: Mission accomplished.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MIKE PESCA, host:

You know, you have that friend who didn't get our sarcasm when I called you, like, sexist or racist, or something - or anti-Albanian.

MARTIN: That's so odd that she wouldn't get that. But yeah.

PESCA: Do you think that - well, listen, listen.

(Soundbite of laughter)

PESCA: Turn your racist ears over here. Do you think that when people - when you say the interwebs, people are like, do they really think it's called the interwebs? I mean, a percent of the audience must think that.

PASHMAN: Let's find that person and interview them, him or her.

MARTIN: Dan, you're talking, so you start with your Most.

PASHMAN: I think I'll just keep talking.

MARTIN: What's your Most?

PASHMAN: I've got a most-emailed from Yahoo! News. "Astronomers on Verge of Finding Earth's Twin."

MARTIN: What?

PASHMAN: Yeah, that's right. It's pretty freaky, but it's true. Just last week, astronomers announced they had discovered three super Earths, worlds more massive than ours but small enough to contain some of the components that could possibly make up...

MARTIN: Like a parallel universe.

PASHMAN: A parallel universe. A doppelganger universe, if you will.

PESCA: Ooh!

PASHMAN: And this is very exciting news. They had already found a bunch of planets out there, but most of them were gas giants, and just recently, they had the technology to find these twins of Earth, and they were...

MARTIN: This is for real?

PASHMAN: This is for real, and they say it's just a matter of time. And actually, you know, these astronomers sounded pretty impressive, but I'm not so impressed because I did a little research on my own, and I found our twin planet.

PESCA: Really?

PASHMAN: I located it. Yeah, and actually, you know, because it's a twin planet, there's a twin Bryant Park Project there.

MARTIN: What?

PESCA: Get out!

PASHMAN: I know, so I hooked up to their broadcast this morning and I got a little audio from that show. Let's check that out.

(Soundbite of music)

PESCA: Overlooking historic alien Bryant Park in alien Manhattan, this is the Alien Bryant Park Project from NPR News. Alien news, alien information, alien apricots. I'm alien Mike Pesca.

MARTIN: And I'm alien Rachel Martin. It's alien June 25th. Coming up on today's show, alien apricots.

PESCA: Oh, I love apricots.

MARTIN: Mm. A delicious compliment to human brains.

PESCA: Oh, who doesn't like brains? Yeah!

MARTIN: Love them! But first, here's the alien news with Matt Martinez.

(Soundbite of music)

MATT MARTINEZ: (Screaming) Let me out of here! I'm the real Matt Martinez! They want my brains!

(Soundbite of laughter)

PESCA: Wow, sort of an evil-twin planet.

PASHMAN: I mean, I...

MARTIN: I don't want to go there.

PESCA: It has a big eye patch on it.

PASHMAN: I can hardly tell the difference.

MARTINEZ: I got out OK, guys. I got out OK.

PASHMAN: Oh, you're...

MARTIN: Oh, you're OK? OK, good. Whew!

PASHMAN: That was close, Matt.

PESCA: The wizard of speed and time.

MARTIN: We were worried.

PESCA: Tricia, do you have a Most?

MARTIN: Tough to follow that act!

PESCA: Yeah, and if you don't have that great production, pal, you don't even bother coming to the party.

(Soundbite of laughter)

PATRICIA MCKINNEY: Mine's going to have some visuals, so you'll have to check out the video on this.

PESCA: All right.

MCKINNEY: I have one of the most-popular stories...

MARTIN: It's pretty good, actually.

MCKINNEY: The headline is "Mobile Phone Battery Dead? Try Dancing." So the idea is that somebody's come out with a portable kinetic-energy battery-charger for a mobile phone, and so they're going to try it out at a music festival in the UK. And I guess the idea is, you know, you use your body's motions to recharge your cell phone, so I think that's going to really give people who, like, are trying to raise the roof. Now they have an excuse. So I'm going to do the visual now.

(Soundbite of laughter)

PESCA: All right. That is her raising the roof.

MARTIN: Tricia is raising the roof in stellar form.

MCKINNEY: So you've got to - hey, I know it looks dorky...

PESCA: Yeah.

MCKINNEY: But I'm charging my cell phone!

PESCA: Yeah. And now she has three bars.

MARTIN: I think that would be so awesome. I would be so into that.

PASHMAN: Tricia, I think you just made my cell phone cry.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MCKINNEY: I'm sorry. I'm sorry.

PESCA: All right. Let me speak of technology and things that were spoken about at the LA Times. Now, a big happenin' was a Mr. Shaquille O'Neil, who has taken to a nightclub in New York, where he was doing some rappin' about Kobe Bryant. And the two have some bad blood between them, and as part of this Shaquille O'Neil anti-Kobe Bryant rap, Mr. O'Neil attempted to illicit Mr. Bryant's opinion as to the subtle flavorings of Mr. O'Neil's posterior. We have not, perhaps, that part of the rap, but a little bit of this anti-Kobe rap.

(Soundbite of TMZ.com video)

Mr. SHAQUILLE O'NEIL (Rapping): Check it, you know how I be. Last week, Kobe couldn't do without me. You know how I be. Last week, Kobe couldn't do without me.

PESCA: So here is how the LA Times is advancing that story. The sheriff of that - that famous sheriff from Arizona who puts everyone in striped suits and...

MCKINNEY: Joe Arpaio?

PESCA: Yeah, Joe Arpaio, that's his name. Well, he gave Shaq some - he deputized him and gave him some badges. Well, because of that rap video, because it has some foul language, he has now taken back his badges. Shaq, no longer deputized by crazy, attention-seeking sheriff. OK, Rachel.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: OK, I have one of the most-emailed at the bbc.com.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: It's not funny, it's sad. What if you were getting married...

PASHMAN: Why are you laughing?

MARTIN: Because it's kind of funny. What if you were getting married and you had ordered thousands of dollars of a wedding dress and bridesmaid dresses and tuxedos and then you called up to go pick that stuff up and the wedding shop, there was a message that just said, we're closed because the owner is sick? So you're like, OK, that's inconvenient. What if you call up, then, a couple of days later, and there's no answer at all? You actually go to the shop and you see all that soap on the windows and the signs that said...

PESCA: Not the window soap!

MARTIN: Closed! And no one can find the owners of the store. It just closed down.

PASHMAN: This almost exact thing happened to my sister-in-law.

MARTIN: Are you serious?

PASHMAN: Yeah, like, the woman disappeared, and she couldn't find her dress, and she took the deposit. I think she finally came through at the end but it was pretty...

MARTIN: Yeah. I mean, all these people have paid their deposits.

PESCA: She's hiding out on an evil-twin planet.

MARTIN: More than 30 people have outstanding orders and apparently, the wedding shop owner is having some financial troubles, funny enough. We'll just leave it at that.

PESCA: Soap on the window. That's the most depressing thing to see in the world.

MARTIN: It's so depressing, soap on the window. Why the soap?

PESCA: Even the window-soap-selling companies, they don't like the soap.

MARTIN: Laura Silver, wrapping it up quickly.

LAURA SILVER: OK, where Greek mythology meets science. Researchers from the National Academy of Science have looked into when the - to a key event in the Odyssey and they think they've pinpointed exactly when Odysseus killed off his wife's suitors.

MARTIN: When was it?

SILVER: Well, funny you should ask. There's only one sequence that correlates. It was during an eclipse of April 16, 1178 BC.

MARTIN: Ah.

SILVER: Beware, thee!

MARTIN: I had it at 1179!

PESCA: I had April back then.

MCKINNEY: This is fictional, though, right? This didn't really...

SILVER: No, the correlated it with real events, including a new moon and Venus being visible and high in the sky, and certain constellations.

MCKINNEY: Right, but they're not saying there was a real Odysseus who really...

PESCA: Well...

SILVER: I'm not going there.

MARTIN: Thanks, Laura. That's enough information to quell my curiosity on that particular topic.

PESCA: Yeah.

MARTIN: Ian!

IAN CHILLAG: Hey, team.

MARTIN: Hey, what up?

CHILLAG: I've got a most-emailed from NPR. This was on All Things Considered yesterday. Goats and Cows are Heroes, which is why I want to play this story up in New York's Hudson River Valley. They're being used to rescue a turtle. It's kind of the animal kingdom, you know, helping each other out. John Nielsen saw it in a swamp. It's about 100 miles north of New York City.

(Soundbite of NPR's All Things Considered, June 24, 2008)

JOHN NIELSEN: The swamps that hold the last of New York's wild bog turtles are sunny, mucky places full of low green plants and waist-deep mud pits. Watch your step, says Jason Tesauro, but it's too late. You know, I'm glad I brought an extra pair of pants. Tesauro works for the Environmental Defense Fund, and says the mud pit I am now crawling out of is connected to a mess of hidden streams that bog turtles use like freeways. Then, he pulls exhibit A out of a mud puddle.

Mr. JASON TESAURO (Biologist, Environmental Defense Fund): This is the female we always find at this side.

NIELSEN: An adult bog turtle rests in the palm of Tesauro's hand. Mild-mannered, he observes, as the head re-emerges from the three-inch shell.

Mr. TESAURO: So that's as big as they get. You can see she has an orange neck patch. That's sort of diagnostic, and she's old. You can tell her age by how worn the top of her shell is.

NIELSEN: Oh, OK. Yeah, it looks like somebody's been sanding that thing down.

Mr. TESAURO: That's right. That's the abrasives in the soil. So, we'll release her and take a little walk.

NIELSEN: Tesauro says it's likely that bog turtles can live for more than 80 years in sunny swamps like this one. The problem is that many of these swamps have been invaded by a giant foreign weed that dries the soil out and steals the sunlight. It's known as phragmites, and it forms dense thickets, like the one we just walked into. Bog turtles will not live in this thickness, he says. Also, they grow very quickly.

Mr. TESAURO: And since I've been working here, only five years, it seems to be moving at a good 10 feet a year.

NIELSEN: Mow these thickets down, and they pop right back up again. On the other hand, Tesauro rarely sees them in well-grazed pastures, which helps explain why there is a tractor-trailer full of goats parked on the far side of the thicket we just passed through. As we watch, the trailers doors are opened and the goats fly past us, straight into the foreign phrag (ph) patch. John Addrizzo, the owner of a company called New York Meat Goat Associate drove this trailer up from New York City. He says those goats will eat all of the plants they can find in the swamp - he calls it browse - and then go looking for more.

Mr. JOHN ADDRIZZO (Owner, New York Meat Goat Associate): They love browse. Goats prefer browse to anything else. So what happens is that they'll eat most the browse and when that starts to die down, they'll start to girdle the trees. They bite around the edge...

NIELSEN: And it just kills them.

Mr. ADDRIZZO: And he girdles it, yeah.

NIELSEN: Addrizzo says the thought of using goats to save endangered turtles used to seem ridiculous to him. Then the U.S. Department of Agriculture started paying him to do just that. Now it seems like a crazy plan that just might work.

Mr. ADDRIZZO: It's a unique project. Plus they fertilize the area, so there's a little give and take.

NIELSEN: The reason it might work, according to Tesauro, is that the native plants devoured by the goats tend to bounce back in a hurry, but the big phragmites thickets just can't survive the constant grazing.

Mr. TESAURO: So they will knock down all that litter, all that dead stuff, and all of the standing biomass within a season. If you were to come back two months from now, two and a half months, we could stand here and see the back line of that fence where we just walked, rather than that impenetrable thicket.

NIELSEN: Actually, we didn't have to wait two months to see those changes. They were on display inside a fenced in swamp just a few miles up the road. A year ago, the place inside this gate was one big, dried-out weed patch, says Tesauro. Now, thanks to a herd of hungry livestock, it is once again a sunny swamp again. Tesauro says the rare bog turtles are returning to the swamp and laying eggs on dried-out dirt mounds, like the one right in front of us.

Mr. TESAURO: The turtles actually said hey, this is a pretty nice nesting habitat.

NIELSEN: Oh, yeah. Teeny, weeny, little nest.

Mr. TESAURO: We've had about four eggs, and these are all hatched.

NIELSEN: It's working.

Mr. TESAURO: Yeah, we're doing good here, for sure.

NIELSEN: Tesauro says this swamp was cleared by local dairy cattle and not goats shipped up from New York City. When the federal funds used to pay for the goats run out in a few years, he hopes to continue to use cattle instead. Whether that will happen will depend on whether the small farmers that own these cattle stick around, he says. These days, more and more of them are selling their farms to rich folks moving up from New York City.

PESCA: NPR's John Nielsen. He likes turtles. For links to all the stories on The Most, go to npr.org and find your ways over to the Bryant Park part. You're smart, you'll figure out how to do it.

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