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NASA craft set for Valentine rendezvous with comet

After a long-distance courtship, a NASA spacecraft is set to meet up with its celestial sweetheart — a comet half the size of Manhattan that had an encounter with another spacecraft not long ago.

The rendezvous between Stardust and comet Tempel 1 occurs on Valentine's Day, some 210 million miles from Earth. Hurtling at 24,000 mph, Stardust will fly within 125 miles of the potato-shaped comet, snapping pictures along the way. If successful, it will be the first time scientists will have before-and-after images of Tempel 1, allowing them to observe any changes on the uneven surface.

In 2005, Tempel 1 received a not-so-loving visit from Deep Impact, which fired a copper bullet into the comet on the Fourth of July that sparked cosmic fireworks and excavated a crater. The high-speed crash hurled out so much dust and debris Deep Impact failed to see the manmade hole even as it beamed back dazzling pictures of other surface features.

phoenix

Founder of 2 natural food chains resigns

The founder of two chains of natural foods grocery stores resigned after he was arrested in a child prostitution sting. Sunflower Farmers Market CEO Michael Gilliland was accused of soliciting sex online with someone who identified herself as an underage girl. He faces a charge of felony child prostitution. Gilliland also founded Wild Oats Markets, which was acquired by Whole Foods Market in 2007.

illinois

FTD, Groupon offer Valentine refunds

Coupon site Groupon.com and flower company FTD are offering refunds after getting complaints that a Valentine's Day flower deal wasn't so sweet. Both companies said they did nothing wrong, but responded to Internet complaints that FTD inflated prices for some Groupon customers who used a coupon for $20 off an FTD flower purchase of $40 or more.

chad

EU observer says election appears fair

Parliamentary elections in the Central African nation ran peacefully Sunday and appeared to be democratic, a European Union observer said. "In some polling stations there is a lack of material and organization," Louis Michel, head of the EU's observer mission, said. "However, it seems that these are fair, democratic and transparent elections." The opposition challenged President Idriss Deby's ruling party for the first time since 2002. Results are not expected for at least a week.

switzerland

Voters reject tighter firearms laws

The nation with more guns per capita than almost any other country except the United States, Finland and Yemen — at least 2.3 million weapons and a population of less than 8 million, according to the Geneva-based Small Arms Survey — voted down a proposal to require military-issued firearms to be locked in secure army depots, establish a national gun registry and ban the sale of fully automatic weapons and pump-action rifles. The Swiss, who have a high rate of firearms suicides, rejected the proposal by 56.3 percent.

Elsewhere

Iraq: The death toll for a suicide bombing on a bus with Shiite pilgrims returning from a religious ceremony Saturday in Samarra, north of Baghdad, rose to 36 on Sunday.

Nigeria: A stampede at a political rally killed 11 people and injured dozens.

Times wires

NASA craft set for Valentine rendezvous with comet 02/13/11 [Last modified: Sunday, February 13, 2011 11:33pm]

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