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Space weather could wreak havoc in gadget-driven world
The News - Science-Astronomy
February 20, 2011
space weather disaster technology
A geomagnetic space storm sparked by a solar eruption like the one that flared toward Earth Tuesday is bound to strike again and could wreak havoc across the gadget-happy modern world, experts say. Contemporary society is increasingly vulnerable to space weather because of our dependence on satellite systems for synchronizing computers, airline navigation, telecommunications networks and other electronic devices.

A potent solar storm could disrupt these technologies, scorch satellites, crash stock markets and cause power outages that last weeks or months, experts said Saturday at the American Association for the Advancement of Science's annual meeting. The situation will only get more dire because the solar cycle is heading into a period of more intense activity in the coming 11 years.

"This is not a matter of if, it is simply a matter of when and how big," said National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration administrator Jane Lubchenco.

"The last time we had a maximum in the solar cycle, about 10 years ago, the world was a very different place. Cell phones are now ubiquitous; they were certainly around (before) but we didn't rely on them for so many different things," she said.

"Many things that we take for granted today are so much more prone to the process of space weather than was the case in the last solar maximum." [ YAHOO NEWS ]

At least 50 billion planets in the Milky Way
The News - Science-Astronomy
February 20, 2011
50 billion planets milky way

Scientists have estimated the first cosmic census of planets in our galaxy and the numbers are astronomical: at least 50 billion planets in the Milky Way.

At least 500 million of those planets are in the not-too-hot, not-too-cold zone where life could exist. The numbers were extrapolated from the early results of NASA's planet-hunting Kepler telescope.

Kepler science chief William Borucki says scientists took the number of planets they found in the first year of searching a small part of the night sky and then made an estimate on how likely stars are to have planets. Kepler spots planets as they pass between Earth and the star it orbits.

So far Kepler has found 1,235 candidate planets, with 54 in the Goldilocks zone, where life could possibly exist. Kepler's main mission is not to examine individual worlds, but give astronomers a sense of how many planets, especially potentially habitable ones, there are likely to be in our galaxy. They would use the one-four-hundredth of the night sky that Kepler is looking at and extrapolate from there. [ YAHOO NEWS ]

Gas companies blamed for more than 30 earthquakes
The News - Climate-Environment
February 20, 2011
gas companies cause earthquakes

A rash of earthquakes affecting two small American cities in the past week have baffled geologists - though locals are blaming gas companies.

The north-central Arkansas cities of Greenbrier and Guy have been affected by more than 30 earthquakes since Sunday ranging in magnitude from 1.8 to 3.8.

Geologists are still trying to discover the exact cause of the recent seismic activity but have identified two possibilities.

Geohazards supervisor for the Arkansas Geological Survey Scott Ausbrooks, said: 'The quakes are part of what is now called the Guy earthquake swarm - a series of mild earthquakes that have been occurring periodically since 2009. [ DAILY MAIL UK ]

Gulf bottom still oily... dead
The News - Climate-Environment
February 20, 2011
Oil from the BP spill remains stuck on the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico, according to a scientist's video and slides that demonstrate the oil isn't degrading as hoped and has decimated life on parts of the sea floor.

At a science conference in Washington, marine scientist Samantha Joye of the University of Georgia aired early results of her December submarine dives around the BP spill site. She went to places she had visited in the summer and expected the oil and residue from oil-munching microbes would be gone by then. It wasn't.

"There's some sort of a bottleneck we have yet to identify for why this stuff doesn't seem to be degrading," Joye told the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual conference in Washington. Her research and those of her colleagues contrasts with other studies that show a more optimistic outlook about the health of the gulf, saying microbes did great work munching the oil. [ GOOGLE NEWS ]

Solar Flare : explosion so powerful it may damage electrical grids on Earth
The News - Science-Astronomy
February 17, 2011
powerful sloar flare 2011 cme

The sun has unleashed its most powerful explosion in four years.

So violent was the eruption - known as an X-class flare, the strongest type - that scientists have warned it could interfere with communications on Earth.

The blast took place at 1.56am on Tuesday and was the largest so far in the new solar cycle.

Erupting from active region AR1158 in the sun's southern hemisphere, the flare was captured in extreme ultraviolet image by Nasa's Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO).

The intense burst of electromagnetic radiation above a 60,000mile-wide dark sunspot momentarily overwhelmed pixels in SDO's detectors, causing the bright vertical blemish. [ DAILY MAIL UK ]

Largest Solar Flare In Years Headed For Earth
The News - Science-Astronomy
February 16, 2011
2011 cme solar flare
The sun is making a comeback.

OK, so it never really went away, but after years of relative quiet on our nearest star, activity has picked up as of late, resulting in a solar flare that marks the strongest since 2006.

Bob Rutledge, lead forecaster with the National Space Weather Prediction Center, tells KFWB’s Michael Shappee these solar outbursts have the potential to wreak havoc with earthly communications.

After the initial blast of radiation accompanying the coronal mass ejection (CME) — the first of its magnitude to occur in the new solar cycle of activity — a huge cloud of charged particles is headed toward Earth and is expected likely to arrive on Feb. 17-18.

Among the many potential disasters that can come from a massive CME: disturbances in the planet’s geomagnetic field that may lead to malfunctioning telecom and GPS satellite equipment.

While forecasters predict no major impact on our telecommunications infrastructure, scientists have pointed out the sun is now ramping up ahead of an expected solar maximum around 2013. [ CBS NEWS ]

Rising Seas Will Affect Major US Coastal Cities by 2100
The News - Climate-Environment
February 16, 2011
rising sea 2100

Rising sea levels could threaten an average of 9 percent of the land within 180 U.S. coastal cities by 2100, according to new research led by University of Arizona scientists.

The Gulf and southern Atlantic coasts will be particularly hard hit. Miami, New Orleans, Tampa, Fla., and Virginia Beach, Va. could lose more than 10 percent of their land area by 2100.

The research is the first analysis of vulnerability to sea-level rise that includes every U.S. coastal city in the lower 48 with a population of 50,000 or more.

The latest scientific projections indicate that by 2100, the sea level will rise about 1 meter -- or even more. One meter is about 3 feet.

At the current rate of global warming, sea level is projected to continue rising after 2100 by as much as 1 meter per century.

"According to the most recent sea-level-rise science, that's where we're heading," said lead researcher Jeremy L. Weiss, a senior research specialist in the UA's department of geosciences. "Impacts from sea-level rise could be erosion, temporary flooding and permanent inundation." [ SCIENCE DAILY ]

Sun unleashes huge solar flare towards Earth
The News - Science-Astronomy
February 16, 2011
sun solar flare

The Sun has unleashed its strongest flare in four years, observers say.

The eruption is a so-called X-flare, the strongest type; such flares can affect communications on Earth.

Nasa's Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) spacecraft recorded an intense flash of extreme ultraviolet radiation emanating from a sunspot.

The British Geological Survey (BGS) has issued a geomagnetic storm warning, and says observers might be able to see aurorae from the northern UK.

The monster flare was recorded at 0156 GMT on 15 February and directed at the Earth. According to the US space agency, the source of this activity - sunspot 1158 - is growing rapidly.

Solar flares are caused by the sudden release of magnetic energy stored in the Sun's atmosphere. [ BBC NEWS ]

Los Angeles Basin Long Overdue for Major Earthquake
The News - Natural Disasters
February 13, 2011
los angeles earthquake overdue

A chronology of 1,000 years of earthquakes at the southern end of the San Andreas Fault nixes the idea that lake changes in the now-dry region caused past quakes. However, researchers say, the timeline pulled from sediment in three deep trenches confirms that this portion of the fault is long past the expected time for a major temblor that would strongly shake the Los Angeles Basin.

The new study, appearing in the February issue of the Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America, doesn't change existing thinking about the threat of a major quake -- potentially measuring 7.0 to 8.0 on the Richter scale -- for southern California. It does, however, provide the first published documentation of much-discussed data that have emerged in the last three decades from an area that is now rapidly being built up and populated, just north of the Salton Sea.

Projections of such a quake in recent years led to the nation's largest-ever drill, the Great Southern California ShakeOut, last year. The 2011 ShakeOut is set for Oct. 20. There's even a video projection of the quake's probable route created by the Southern California Earthquake Center. The last earthquake to originate from the area occurred in about 1690.

The new study, said co-author Ray Weldon, professor and head of the department of geological sciences at the University of Oregon, documents that the south end of the San Andreas fault has gone perhaps 140 years longer than the average 180 years between quakes.

'Doomsday' asteroid could slam into the Earth on April 13, 2036
The News - Science-Astronomy
February 13, 2011

An asteroid travelling at 23,000mph could crash into Earth on April 13, 2036 killing millions and causing global chaos, scientists claim. In a plotline taken straight from a science-fiction film, astronomers in Russia are predicting that the 300-yard-wide Apophis could slam into the planet in 25 years' time.

But don't panic just yet, as it is extremely unlikely to happen.

So unlikely, in fact, that Nasa has given the catastrophic event odds of 250,000-to-1 that it actually takes place.

asteroid 2036 doomsday

Collision course? Apophis will travel close to Earth in 2029 - but if it goes through a narrow gravitational 'keyhole', Earth's gravity could set it on a path to hit the planet in 2036

First, the comet must pass through a narrow gravitational keyhole - a small region in space that can alter the course of a passing asteroid due to Earth's gravity - in April 2029 before it can be on course to collide seven years later.

The force of Earth’s gravity is so great that if the asteroid goes through the hole its path could be ‘tweaked’ - sending it straight towards us.

Magnitude 5.4 Earthquake 'strikes off Japan'
The News - Natural Disasters
February 10, 2011
5.4 earthquake japan

A 5.4 magnitude quake struck close to the Japanese coast on Thursday, the US Geological Survey (USGS) said, but no tsunami warning was immediately issued.

The quake hit at 10:03 pm (1303 GMT) 34 kilometres (21 miles) east southeast of Iwaki on the main island of Honshu and 212 kilometres northeast of the capital, Tokyo, the USGS said. The agency recorded the depth of the quake at 28 kilometres.

Around 20 percent of the world's most powerful earthquakes strike Japan, which sits on the "Ring of Fire" surrounding the Pacific Ocean.

Tectonics experts have warned of a 70 percent chance that the "Big One" - a magnitude-seven earthquake or worse - will strike the greater Tokyo region, home to around 35 million people, within the next 30 years.

Iceland volcano set to erupt "dwarfing last year's devastation"
The News - Current Events
February 10, 2011
iceland volcano erupt again

Scientists in Iceland are warning that another volcano on the island looks set to erupt, threatening to spew-out a blanket of dust that would dwarf last year's eruption.

Geologists detected the high risk of a new eruption after noticing an increased swarm of earthquakes around the island's second largest volcano Bárdarbunga. Pall Einarsson, a professor of geophysics at the University of Iceland, says the area around Bárdarbunga is showing signs of increased activity, which provides 'good reason to worry'. 

Last year's eruption of volcanos near Eyjafjallajokull, located in the south of the island, caused chaos around the world as hundreds of planes were grounding due to dust and ash filling the sky.

Mr Einarsson told the country's national TV station 'RC:v' that a low number of seismometer measuring devices in the area is making it more difficult to determine the scale and likely outcome of the current shifts. But he said there was 'every reason to worry' as the sustained earthquake tremors to the north-east of the remote volcano range are the strongest recorded in recent times and there was 'no doubt' the lava was rising.

Yellowstone super volcano rising
The News - Current Events
February 10, 2011
yellowstone super volcano rising

It's building quickly, but that doesn't mean doomsday eruption is imminent. The huge volcano under Yellowstone National Park has been rising at an unprecedented rate during the past several years, according to a new study.

In the ancient past, the Yellowstone volcano produced some of the biggest-known continental eruptions , but the recent rising doesn't mean another doomsday eruption is looming, scientists say.

The recent rising is unprecedented for Yellowstone's caldera - the cauldron-shaped part of the volcano - but it's not uncommon for other volcanoes around the world. The new study has simply revealed a more active caldera at Yellowstone than scientists realized.

"It's pretty exciting when you see something that's five times larger than what you've seen in the past," said Charles Meertens, director of the nonprofit UNAVCO facility in Boulder, Colo., which aids geoscience research. Meertens is a former postdoctoral fellow under one of the study's authors, Robert Smith of the University of Utah in Salt Lake City.

In 2004, the caldera was swelling at 2.8 inches a year in some parts, but the uplift has since slowed to a low of 0.2 inches a year, according to the study, which was published in the December edition of the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

Calderas rise just like an inflating bubble. The inflating could either be caused by magma rising and pushing up on the caldera, or the magma could be heating gases and hydrothermal fluids (the same fluids that spew from Yellowstone's Old Faithful geyser) and pushing them against the caldera, Meertens told OurAmazingPlanet. Whatever the exact mechanism, a rising caldera is not enough to signal an eruption.

"It's not a portent of doom," said Erik Klemetti, a volcanologist at Denison University in Granville, Ohio, who was not involved with the study. "It seems like these restless calderas are always sort of rising and falling, but that by itself doesn't mean it's about to erupt."

Car-Size Asteroid to Pass Close by Earth
The News - Science-Astronomy
February 09, 2011
small asteroid to pass by earth february 2011

An asteroid about the size of a car will pass close by Earth on Wednesday, the second space rock in five days to fly near — but pose no threat of hitting — our planet.

The asteroid is called 2011 CA7 and will fly within 64,300 miles of Earth, according to an alert from NASA's Asteroid Watch program. It is about 9 1/2 feet across and was discovered by astronomers earlier this month.

The asteroid will make its closest pass by Earth at around 2:25 p.m. EST, according to the small-body database overseen by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.

On Feb. 4, the asteroid 2011 CQ 1 sailed within 3,400 miles of Earth during its brief encounter. That asteroid was about 4 feet wide, less than half the size of 2011 CA7.

For comparison, the distance between Earth and the moon is about 238,900 miles. Like Friday's asteroid flyby, 2011 CA7 poses no threat of impacting Earth. Even if it did enter Earth's atmosphere, the space rock would never survive the fiery trip to the surface. It's so small, it would likely break apart or incinerate on the way down. [ MSNBC ]

Louisiana's 1812 Great Hurricane, a look back
The News - Natural Disasters
February 08, 2011
lousiana 1812 great hurricane

Nearly 200 years before Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans, a major storm hit the coast of Louisiana just west of the city.

Unfortunately for modern meteorologists who want to study past hurricanes, the War of 1812 was raging and details such as the hurricane's strength and direction were quickly forgotten or never recorded.

"It was a lost event, dwarfed by history itself," said study author Cary Mock, a geographer at the University of South Carolina. "Louisiana was just in possession by the United States at the time, having been purchased from France only years before, and was isolated from the press."

But using maritime records, Mock was able to reconstruct details of the storm. Reconstructing past hurricanes could help climatologists forecast and track hurricanes today.

Over one million Sri Lankans hit by flooding
The News - Natural Disasters
February 07, 2011
sri lanka flooding one million hit
Sri Lanka's monsoon rains have spread to more villages and towns, leaving at least 14 people dead and more than one million with flooded homes, according to officials.

The number of people in state-run shelters rose to 236,000 by Saturday evening, the Disaster Management Centre (DMC) in Colombo said, adding that 1,053,000 people had had their homes inundated. Most of the flood victims had moved in with friends and relatives living on higher ground, officials said.

Police figures showed that at least 14 people had been killed in flood-related incidents in the past week. The DMC said that roads and fields were submerged across the east, centre and north of the island -- areas which had already been badly hit by an earlier wave of monsoon rains last month.

Then, 43 people were killed and the number of people driven from their homes also passed one million. The latest flooding came after the United Nations issued an appeal for 51 million dollars in emergency aid to help people affected by last month's floods. [ YAHOO NEWS ]

"Stormageddon" latest pain on cities
The News - Current Events
February 04, 2011
Wednesday's massive winter storm is the latest pain in the budgets of U.S. cities, states and counties as it sweeps across the North American continent, freezing finances along the way.

The snow and ice storm has hit some 30 states and a third of the U.S. population, some of whom have gone on their Twitter feeds to dub it "Stormageddon" and "snOMGeddon."

From Rhode Island to North Carolina, officials are having to pay for clearing roads and sidewalks, even though anemic revenue and bigger demand for services due to the 2007-2009 economic recession have driven wide holes in their budgets.

"It could not have happened at a worse time for county budgets," said Jacqueline Byers, director of research for the National Association of Counties. [ YAHOO NEWS ]

Earth... surrounded by JUNK!
The News - Science-Astronomy
February 03, 2011
earth surrounded by junk

Space is so littered with debris that a collision between satellites could set off an “uncontrolled chain reaction” capable of destroying the communications network on Earth, a Pentagon report warned.

The volume of abandoned rockets, shattered satellites and missile shrapnel in the Earth’s orbit is reaching a “tipping point” and is now threatening the $250 billion (£174bn) space services industry, scientists said.

A single collision between two satellites or large pieces of “space junk” could send thousands of pieces of debris spinning into orbit, each capable of destroying further satellites. Global positioning systems, international phone connections, television signals and weather forecasts are among the services which are at risk of crashing to a halt.

This “chain reaction” could leave some orbits so cluttered with debris that they become unusable for commercial or military satellites, the US Defense Department's interim Space Posture Review warned last year. There are also fears that large pieces of debris could threaten the lives of astronauts in space shuttles or at the International Space Station. [ TELEGRAPH UK ]

Cyclone Yasi - Terror, ruin but no deaths in huge Australia storm
The News - Natural Disasters
February 03, 2011
cyclone yasi destruction

First came the terrifying roar, then a violent bang like something had exploded. "We gotta go!" David Leger screamed to his father as one of the most powerful storms ever recorded in Australia tore the roof off their home, sucking the air up and out of the room like a vacuum.

Leger and his parents scrambled down the staircase, but the house shook violently, sending 83-year-old Francis Leger tumbling down the stairs. The family finally made it to a small room on the ground floor, where they rode out the ferocious storm that slammed into the already flood-ravaged Queensland state Thursday.

"We're just thankful," David Leger said later as he slogged across the drenched carpet of their ruined home, water pooling around his sandaled feet. "This is only material."

Residents and officials were amazed and relieved that no one was reported killed by the monstrous Cyclone Yasi, which roared across northern Queensland with winds up to 170 mph (280 kph). Tidal surges sent waves crashing ashore two blocks into seaside communities, several small towns directly under Yasi's eye were devastated and hundreds of millions of dollars of banana and sugarcane crops were shredded.

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