x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

To boldly go for it ...

Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic launched Enterprise, the first commercial space liner, surfers tackled 15-metre breakers off Hawaii in a rare and prestigious competition, and a colossal iceberg was spotted heading towards Australia.

Kohl Christensen rides a wave during the first round of the Quiksilver in Memory of Eddie Aikau big wave surfing competition on Tuesday in Waimea, Hawaii.
Kohl Christensen rides a wave during the first round of the Quiksilver in Memory of Eddie Aikau big wave surfing competition on Tuesday in Waimea, Hawaii.

An American student was sentenced to 26 years in jail after being found guilty of killing her British roommate two years ago. Amanda Knox, who the media nicknamed "Foxy Knoxy", was said to have plunged a knife into Meredith Kercher's neck after she refused to take part in a sex game with Knox and her boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito. Sollecito was also convicted and sentenced to 25 years. The eight-month trial in the Italian town of Perugia, where both women had taken a year out to study Italian, captivated the media on both sides of the Atlantic. A diplomatic row flared when a US senator questioned Italian court procedures.

A fire tore through a packed nightclub in the Russian city of Perm, killing 131 people, many of whom were trampled in a stampede towards the club's sole exit. The blaze started after an indoor fireworks display set alight the club's plastic and wooden ceiling. A further 100 people remain in critical condition, some with burns to 50 per cent of their bodies. Five people have been arrested, including the club's owner and two managers, on charges of manslaughter. The Russian prime minister, Vladimir Putin, has demanded an immediate safety check of clubs and bars.

Nasa, the US space agency, has struck a deal with a UAE foundation to train Emirati students in aeronautics at its research centre in California. Under the deal, the Arab Youth Venture Foundation, a non-profit organisation promoting science, technology, literacy and the arts, will send up to 12 students a year to work alongside Nasa teams running space missions.

The Philippine president, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, declared martial law in a southern province after a politically motivated massacre last month. Mrs Arroyo placed Maguindanao province under military rule for two months to quell what she said was a possible rebellion by members of a clan who were accused of killing 57 people. Most of the dead were journalists who had turned out to watch a member of a rival clan submit his nomination for the governorship. Mrs Arroyo has been accused of using the law to try to extend her hold on power.

Facebook, the social networking website, does more than simply bring long-lost friends together. A lame donkey abandoned in mountains by the Dead Sea in Jordan was rescued after the woman who saw it was able to contact an animal welfare group via Facebook. It took the aid group, Safa, three days to find the animal after being told it was dark grey with a limp. Safa said the donkey was recuperating and, if fit enough to work, would be donated to a family who had lost their own animal.

A law was brought in to protect the UAE's national emblem - a golden falcon with the national flag on its chest - and prevent its use for commercial gain or on souvenirs. Those found misusing the crest face up to a year in jail and a fine of Dh100,000 (US$27,000). Etihad, the national airline, however, need not apply for prior approval.

Nakheel was forced to issue a statement saying that its flagship Palm Jumeirah development was not sinking into the Arabian Gulf. Reports in the international media had suggested the Palm, built on reclaimed land, was sinking at a rate of five millimetres a year and could be flooded if sea levels rose. Shaun Lenehan, the head of Nakheel's environment department, denied this. "The Palm is intact. If there were subsidence, you would see cracks in the buildings, windows popping out. We have no evidence of that happening."

Two dozen surfers plunged into the sea off Hawaii's island of Oahu to compete in the Eddie, the rarest and most prestigious surfing competition. Named after Eddie Aikau, a famous surfer and lifeguard, the contest requires waves at least nine metres high before it can be held. Competitors received only a day's notice as Pacific storms whipped up waves 15 metres high, which came crashing down on the Oahu coast. The competition has been held only eight times in the past 25 years, with the last time in 2004. Greg Long, 24, from California, walked away with this year's US$55,000 (Dh200,000) prize.

Richard Branson, the British entrepreneur, launched the world's first commercial space liner, calling it the Enterprise after the fictional spaceship in the TV and film series Star Trek. The first galactic tourists, paying US$200,000 (Dh735,000) each, are expected to take off in 18 months' time. A mothership will carry the Enterprise to a height of 11 miles where it will break off and blast into space, reaching a point 65 miles above the Earth. Passengers will experience five minutes of weightlessness before the ship glides back to Earth.

Two expatriates paddled their way around The World - the Nakheel development not the globe - to raise money for victims of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. Scott Chambers and Daniel van Dooren, both of whom live in Dubai, had been planning the excursion since the Dubai property company announced plans for the development. The two men are members of a local surf school, Surf Dubai. The Indian Ocean tsunami killed nearly 300,000 people in 11 countries on December 26, 2004.

A monster iceberg, twice the size of New York's Manhattan island, was seen heading towards Australia. The iceberg - 19km long and about 140 square kilometres - had broken off an ice shelf a decade ago and has been drifting slowly north ever since. Scientists, who spotted it about 1,700km south of Australia, were amazed to see such a large mass of ice so far north. Scientists say that, in the past 50 years, Antarctic temperatures have risen by 2.5°C, around six times the global average, accelerating the break-up of the ice shelves.

* The National