Beyond the Bricks: Week of 11/12

Death Toll Rises from California Wildfires

Two major wildfires that started in California last week continue to burn. As of Nov. 15, 2018 the “Camp Fire” in Butte Country was 40 percent contained after burning 140,000 acres and destroying 10,321 structures. The “Woolsey Fire,” located within Los Angeles and Ventura Counties was 57 percent contained and had burned 98,362 acres and destroyed 435 structures. Between the two wildfires, CBS reported that local officials have confirmed 59 casualties so far and hundreds of people who remain unaccounted for. Cal Fire stated that another fire burning in Ventura, the “Hill Fire,” has been 97 percent contained after spanning 4,531 acres.

The Camp Fire, which on its own is being called “the deadliest in a century,” devastated the small town of Paradise in Northern California. According to NPR, the town’s mayor Jody Jones said the town looks “like a war zone” and that about 90 percent of homes have been destroyed. Residents evacuated in accordance with the town’s plans. Many are now at shelters or staying in a tent camp constructed in the parking lot of a Walmart. According to CBS, a shelter for evacuees located in nearby Chico has seen an outbreak of norovirus.

While no cause has been officially determined for either fire, The Associated Press reported a lawsuit has been filed against Pacific Gas & Electric Corp. as citizens affected by the Camp fire “accuse PG&E of failing to maintain infrastructure and properly inspecting and maintaining its power transmission lines.” It is believed that a power line failure detected shortly before the wildfire began may have been the source of the flames.

Brexit Draft Agreement Published

Over two years after the United Kingdom voted to withdraw from the European Union, the UK government has published a draft of the withdrawal agreement. The document is 585 pages long. While the draft deal was officially approved by the UK cabinet on Nov. 14, 2018, two cabinet ministers and two junior ministers have resigned over disagreements with its contents.

BBC News said that “EU leaders have dismissed talk of renegotiating the draft Brexit deal and warned the UK's political situation could make a ‘no-deal’ more likely.”

The agreement is currently slated to be brought to the EU summit for approval on Nov. 25 and will be voted on by the UK parliament in December.

The document itself outlines the course of the UK’s withdrawal. It allows for a transition period ending in 2020, during which time EU citizens are free to live and work in the UK, as well as providing conditions for those who obtain residency prior to December 2020 to remain. The Court of Justice of the European Union would maintain its current jurisdiction during this period as well, and existing trade laws would not be affected until after the transition officially ends. According to the BBC, “Northern Ireland would have to stay aligned to some rules of the EU single market, so goods coming into the nation would need to be checked to see if they meet EU rules.”

The draft agreement can be found in its entirety here.

Exoplanet Discovered Around Neighboring Star

An exoplanet orbiting one of the stars nearest to this solar system, known as Barnard’s Star, has been discovered. Barnard’s Star is a red dwarf located about six light years from Earth’s sun; the only stars closer are Alpha Centauri A, Alpha Centauri B, and Proxima Centauri. The exoplanet itself was discovered by a team of astronomers who published their results in science journal Nature. They wrote that “The candidate planet around Barnard’s Star is a cold super-Earth, with a minimum mass of 3.2 times that of Earth, orbiting near its snow line (the minimum distance from the star at which volatile compounds could condense).” BBC News says that one of the astronomers, Guillem Anglada Escudé, compared the planet to Saturn’s moon Titan in terms of its composition and geography.

The planet was found using the radial velocity method, which detects the gravitational pull of orbiting bodies by measuring the “wobble” they cause in stars. It also found possible evidence of another planet around the star, which has yet to be confirmed. The new exoplanet is the second-closest to Earth’s solar system, with the first being Proxima Centauri B (discovered in 2016).