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no popping these balloons

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london - NASA has developed a new fabric that will allow helium-filled balloons to float for months on the edge of space. The "superballoons," made of polyester, mylar, and polyethylene, can withstand high pressure without venting helium - a shortcoming of existing balloons that limits their flight time. "Long-duration balloons will make a big difference to astronomy because they're a cheap way to get almost into space," says NASA project scientist John Mather.

Nuclear brain drain

BERLIN - Declining interest in nuclear energy research in Germany has sparked concern that the country will not only lose its scientific prowess, but that nuclear safety worldwide will be compromised. Germany is a world leader in nuclear research and safety, and the dwindling pool of talent could make it difficult to ensure that the 440 nuclear power plants worldwide run safely, says the International Atomic Energy Agency.


Acoustic Ahab

MADRID - Noise from ship engines affects the hearing of sperm whales and increases the possibility of collisions with ships, says a team of French researchers studying the mammals off the Canary Islands. Two whales that died as the result of a collision in 1996 were completely deaf. Scientists also believe "acoustic trauma" could drive these whales to other areas of the sea, causing an explosion in local squid and octopus populations. Canary Island whales consume 300 tons of octopus a day.

Lynx on the loose

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DENVER - Fifteen Canadian lynx will be released in southwestern Colorado as planned, a federal judge ruled last week. Ranchers opposing the plan had asked the judge to issue a temporary restraining order, arguing that officials failed to provide an environmental impact statement, and the presence of lynx could result in restrictions on grazing on public lands. The first lynx will be released this month.

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