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How Earth avoided falling into the sun
The News - Science-Astronomy
January 08, 2010
earth falling into sun
Just how Earth survived the process of its birth without suffering an early demise by falling into the sun has been something of a mystery to astronomers, but a new model has figured out what protected our planet when it was still a vulnerable, baby world.

In short, temperature differences in the space around the sun, 4.6 billion years ago, caused Earth to migrate outward as much as gravity was trying to pull it inward, and so the fledgling world found equilibrium in what we now know to be a very habitable orbit.

Planets like the Earth are thought to form from condensing clouds of gas and dust surrounding stars. The material in these disks gradually clumps together, eventually forming planetesimals – the asteroid-sized building blocks that eventually collide to form full-fledged planets.

 
Economy loses 85K jobs as employers remain wary
The News - Economy
January 08, 2010
Lack of confidence in the economic recovery led employers to shed a more-than-expected 85,000 net jobs in December even as the unemployment rate held at 10 percent. The rate would have been higher if more people had been looking for work instead of leaving the labor force because they can't find jobs.

The sharp drop in the work force - 661,000 fewer people - showed that more of the jobless are giving up. Once people stop looking for jobs, they're no longer counted among the unemployed.

When discouraged workers and part-time workers who would prefer full-time jobs are included, the so-called "underemployment" rate in December rose to 17.3 percent, from 17.2 percent in November. That's just below a revised figure of 17.4 percent in October, the highest on records dating from 1994.

 
Midwest down to -50 wind chills, UK Freezing
The News - Climate-Environment
January 08, 2010
Snow was piled so high in Iowa that drivers couldn't see across intersections and a North Dakota snowblower repair shop was overwhelmed with business as residents braced Thursday for heavy snow and wind chills as low as 50 below zero.

Frigid weather also was gripping the South, where a rare cold snap was expected to bring snow and ice Thursday to states from South Carolina to Louisiana. Forecasters said wind chills could drop to near zero at night in some areas.

Dangerously cold wind chills were anticipated in the Midwest overnight, including as low as 35 below in eastern Nebraska, minus 45 in parts of South Dakota and negative 50 in North Dakota, according to National Weather Service warnings. (Source : YAHOO )

Britain in grip of coldest winter for 30 years

Britain remained in the grip of the coldest winter for more than 30 years today, with conditions set to feel even more icy in the coming days.

Temperatures were already on a par with the South Pole after the country suffered its coldest night of the winter so far. (Source : INDEPENDENT UK )

 
Supernova could wipe out Earth
The News - Science-Astronomy
January 06, 2010
supernova may blow up earth

A STAR primed to explode in a blast that could wipe out the Earth was revealed by astronomers yesterday.

It will self-destruct in an explosion called a supernova with the force of 20 billion billion billion megatons of TNT.

New studies show the star, called T Pyxidis, is much closer than previously thought at 3,260 light-years away - a short hop in galactic terms.

So the blast from the thermonuclear explosion could strip away our ozone layer that keeps out deadly space radiation. Life on Earth would then be frazzled.

The doomsday scenario was described yesterday by astronomers from Villanova University, Philadelphia, US.

 
Next arctic blast to be worse!?
The News - Climate-Environment
January 06, 2010
arctic cold blast
Snow and strong winds will engulf the Midwest with a renewed batch of arctic air following close behind through Thursday.

Accumulations of 3 to 6 inches (locally up to 8 inches) are possible along the path of this latest winter storm. Cities included are Omaha, Neb., Kansas City, Mo., Des Moines, Iowa, Moline, Ill. St. Louis, Mo., and Indianapolis, Ind.

Moisture from Lake Michigan will enhance snowfall in the Milwaukee, Wis. to Chicago, Ill. corridor. Total accumulations of 8 to 12 inches are in the forecast for Thursday.

Behind the snow, strong winds gusting between 30 and 40 mph will develop through the Plains by tonight and spread eastward to the near the Mississippi River Thursday. Blowing and drifting snow is likely to lead to dangerous travel and the potential for near-blizzard or blizzard conditions in some locales.

Bitter cold air will keep the mercury from rising above zero in the Dakotas, northern Nebraska and western Minnesota Thursday. Wind chills will bottom out in the -20s, -30s and even -40s across these states.

 
Russia may try to divert asteroid
The News - Science-Astronomy
December 31, 2009
russia divert asteroid impact earth
Russia’s space agency chief said yesterday a spacecraft may be dispatched to knock a large asteroid off course and reduce the chances of Earth impact, even though US scientists say such a scenario is unlikely.

Anatoly Perminov told Golos Rossii radio the space agency would hold a meeting soon to assess a mission to Apophis. He said his agency might eventually invite NASA, the European Space Agency, the Chinese space agency, and others to join the project.

When the 885-foot asteroid was first discovered in 2004, astronomers estimated its chances of smashing into Earth in its first flyby, in 2029, at 1 in 37.

Further studies have ruled out the possibility of an impact in 2029, when the asteroid is expected to come no closer than 18,300 miles from Earth’s surface, but they indicated a small possibility of a hit on subsequent encounters.

NASA had put the chances that Apophis could hit Earth in 2036 as 1-in-45,000. In October, after researchers recalculated the asteroid’s path, the agency changed its estimate to 1-in-250,000.

 
How Asteroids Built the Continents
The News - Science-Astronomy
December 29, 2009

asteroids built continents

Did asteroid strikes during the earth's youth spawn the earliest fragments of today's landmasses?

  • Asteroid collisions rocked the earth for much more of its early history than previously thought.

  • New evidence reveals that nine major strikes occurred between 3.8 billion and 2.5 billion years ago—the eon during which the planet’s first continents were coming to be.

  • A bold, new hypothesis suggests these rogue space rocks were not totally destructive; they might have helped trigger the formation of continents.
 
Dinosaur Killing Firestorm Theory Questioned
The News - Natural Disasters
December 29, 2009

New research challenges the idea that the asteroid impact that killed the dinosaurs also sparked a global firestorm.

Scientists modeled the effect that sand-sized droplets of liquefied rock from the impact had on atmospheric temperature. The asteroid is thought to have gouged out the Chicxulub crater on the Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico.

It was previously thought that the falling spherules, as the tiny rocks are called, heated up the atmosphere by several degrees for up to 20 minutes - hot enough and long enough to cause whole forests to spontaneously burst into flames.

As evidence for this, scientists pointed to what appears to be carbon-rich soot from burned trees discovered in the thin band of debris dating back to the impact some 65 million years ago, a shift in geologic time called the K-T boundary.

 
Monks, tourists, villagers mark Asian tsunami 2004
The News - Weird-Strange
December 29, 2009
Buddhist monks in orange robes chanted on a Thai beach, an Indonesian mother mourned her children at a mass grave, and a man scattered flowers in now-placid waters Saturday to commemorate the 230,000 killed five years ago when a tsunami ripped across Asia.

An outpouring of aid that followed the Dec. 26, 2004, tsunami has helped replace homes, schools and entire coastal communities decimated by the disaster. But at Saturday's ceremonies, survivors spoke of the enduring wounds.

Thousands in Indonesia's Aceh province, which was hardest hit, held prayer services at mosques and beside the mass graves where tens of thousands were buried. The 167,000 people who died in Indonesia accounted for more than half the total death toll.

 
The 9 Strangest News Stories of 2009
The News - Weird-Strange
December 29, 2009
Weirdness takes many forms, and 2009 had its share of weird events. Here's a look back at the strangest news stories of the year drawn from the realms of pseudoscience, the paranormal, media hype, outright lies and the just plain strange.
 
Sun and Moon Trigger Deep Tremors on San Andreas Fault
The News - Natural Disasters
December 26, 2009
san andreas fault sun moon
The faint tug of the sun and moon on the San Andreas Fault stimulates tremors deep underground, suggesting that the rock 15 miles below is lubricated with highly pressurized water that allows the rock to slip with little effort, according to a new study by University of California, Berkeley, seismologists.

"Tremors seem to be extremely sensitive to minute stress changes," said Roland Bürgmann, UC Berkeley professor of earth and planetary science. "Seismic waves from the other side of the planet triggered tremors on the Cascadia subduction zone off the coast of Washington state after the Sumatra earthquake last year, while the Denali earthquake in 2002 triggered tremors on a number of faults in California. Now we also see that tides -- the daily lunar and solar tides -- very strongly modulate tremors."

In a paper appearing in the Dec. 24 issue of the journal Nature, UC Berkeley graduate student Amanda M. Thomas, seismologist Robert Nadeau of the Berkeley Seismological Laboratory and Bürgmann argue that this extreme sensitivity to stress -- and specifically to shearing stress along the fault -- means that the water deep underground is under extreme pressure.

 
Earth is on track for "epic die-off" extinction
The News - Climate-Environment
December 19, 2009
earth extinction soon die off
If the course of human history is any model, then the wheels are already turning on Earth's sixth mass extinction , thanks to habitat destruction, pollution and now global warming, a scientific analysis of millions of years of data revealed Friday.

The study of the fossil and archaeological record over the past 30 million years by UC Berkeley and Penn State University researchers shows that between 15 and 42 percent of the mammals in North America disappeared after humans arrived.

That means North American mammals are well on the way - perhaps as much as half way - to a level of extinction comparable to other epic die-offs, like the one that wiped out the dinosaurs.

Anthony Barnosky, a UC Berkeley professor of integrative biology and co-author of the study, said the most dramatic human-caused impacts on the ecosystem have occurred in the last century.

"We are seeing a lot of geographic range reductions that are of a greater magnitude than we would expect, and we are seeing loss of subspecies and even a few species," Barnosky said. "So it looks like we are going into another one of these extinction events."

 
2009 - Natural Disaster Level Down
The News - Natural Disasters
December 15, 2009

The world this year suffered the fewest number of natural disasters in a decade, but floods, droughts and other extreme weather continued to account for most of the deaths and economic losses, according to a United Nations report released on Monday.

There were 245 natural disasters recorded this year, down from the decade high of 434 in 2005, said the UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction. The figures were released mid-way through an international climate conference in which 192 nations hope to nail down new firm targets for reducing carbon pollution, which is blamed for a long-term trend in more extreme weather. Of the 245 disasters, 224 were weather-related and accounted for 7,0000 deaths out of the 8,900, according to the preliminary figures.

The weather-related deaths, which exclude geological events such as earthquakes and volcanoes, caused $15 billion in damages, out of a total of $19 billion, the report said. The lower figures for 2009 were "good news", but "extreme weather disasters remain the top of the list and will continue to affect more and more people in the future" who are living in coastal regions, said Margareta Wahlstrom, the UN special representative of the Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction.

 
Yellowstone supervolcano runs deeper than thought
The News - Science-Astronomy
December 15, 2009
The most detailed seismic images yet published of the plumbing that feeds the Yellowstone supervolcano shows a plume of hot and molten rock rising at an angle from the northwest at a depth of at least 410 miles, contradicting claims that there is no deep plume, only shallow hot rock moving like slowly boiling soup.

A related University of Utah study used gravity measurements to indicate the banana-shaped magma chamber of hot and molten rock a few miles beneath Yellowstone is 20 percent larger than previously believed, so a future cataclysmic eruption could be even larger than thought.

The study's of Yellowstone's plume also suggests the same "hotspot" that feeds Yellowstone volcanism also triggered the Columbia River "flood basalts" that buried parts of Oregon, Washington state and Idaho with lava starting 17 million years ago.

 
Extreme Fear - How will you handle it when disaster strikes?
The News - Natural Disasters
December 13, 2009
extreme fear disaster scenario
If you suddenly found yourself in a life or death crisis and had to make a decision that would either save your life or end it, are you confident you'd make the right one? People in the state of Victoria, Australia, faced just such a decision in February and March this year. For five weeks, catastrophic brush fires swept across the state. Government policy held that when fire threatened a neighbourhood, homeowners were to make a choice: stay and fight to save their houses, or evacuate early. They were explicitly instructed not to wait until the flames were close. Trying to run from an advancing wildfire is the surest way to die in it.

The choice made sense in strictly rational terms. But in the wake of the devastation, a vociferous debate arose over the wisdom of the policy: can people be expected to make rational decisions, critics asked, when they're surrounded by 1,200C flames raging four storeys high?

Most people have never faced imminent, lethal danger, and so couldn't possibly know how they would react to the experience of extreme fear. But, as thousands of Australians found out, danger can overtake us with surprising speed.

 
Geminids meteor shower set to light up night sky
The News - Science-Astronomy
December 13, 2009
Geminids meteor shower 2009 december
Skygazers in the northern hemisphere are preparing for the high point of the annual Geminids meteor shower.

The shower is expected to be especially easy to see this year because it is nearly the new Moon, meaning there is less moonlight to obscure it.

The meteors can be seen streaking across the night sky from 2000 GMT onwards, reaching a peak after 2200.

Robert Massey, of the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, said about 100 meteors an hour would make it a "nice sight". 

 
11 Popular doomsday scenarios in films
The News - Current Events
December 10, 2009

1. Solar activity

The sun shows its dark side in "2012," when solar flares heat up the Earth's core, resulting in cataclysmic earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions and dust smearing across John Cusack's face.

2. Impact event

When Jesus said, "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone," the cosmos answered. "Armageddon" and "Deep Impact" showed the differences in catastrophic threat between asteroids and comets, which is that asteroids make more money at the box office.

3. Geomagnetic excursion

In "The Core," Earth's magnetic field is in jeopardy when the planet's molten core ceases to rotate. The solution: Nuke it.

4. Global cooling

Nature's revenge is best served cold in "The Day After Tomorrow," after an Antarctic ice shelf falls into the ocean due to global warming and disrupts warm water currents, kick-starting another ice age.

5. Global warming

A depletion of the ice caps raises sea levels, submerging most land masses in "Waterworld" and forcing humans to drink urine in the absence of fresh water.

6. Pandemic

Nothing wipes out humanity like a pathogen. "12 Monkeys" showed us the upside to a viral contagion: We'll invent time travel.

7. Volcanism

An eruption of a "supervolcano" like the Yellowstone caldera (which occurs in "2012") could spew enough ash into the atmosphere to block out sunlight worldwide for years. Kiss your crops goodbye.

8. Resource depletion

Civilization collapses after oil production declines in the "Mad Max" series, but that doesn't stop the survivors from driving their gas guzzlers.

9. Nuclear war

Perhaps we don't worry enough about nuclear annihilation since the end of the Cold War, but "Dr. Strangelove" will always be remembered for introducing "bull-ridin' the bomb" into our lexicon.

10. Artificial intelligence

The creation of artificial intelligence becomes our undoing. Sentient machines harvest humans for energy in the "Matrix" trilogy, while a self-aware computer network sets off a nuclear war in the "Terminator" franchise.

11. Alien invasion

Aliens destroy all major cities on Earth in "Independence Day," which grossed $800 million worldwide. John Travolta, sporting dreadlocks and a codpiece, enslaves all humans in "Battlefield Earth," which sustained losses of about $45 million/

 
Lake Toba Supervolcano - Devastating Effects Confirmed
The News - Natural Disasters
December 04, 2009
Lake Toba Supervolcano effects
A massive volcanic eruption that occurred in the distant past killed off much of central India's forests and may have pushed humans to the brink of extinction , according to a new study that adds evidence to a controversial topic.

The Toba eruption , which took place on the island of Sumatra in Indonesia about 73,000 years ago, released an estimated 800 cubic kilometers of ash into the atmosphere that blanketed the skies and blocked out sunlight for six years. In the aftermath, global temperatures dropped by as much as 16 degrees centigrade (28 degrees Fahrenheit) and life on Earth plunged deeper into an ice age that lasted around 1,800 years.

In 1998, Stanley Ambrose, an anthropology professor at the University of Illinois, proposed in the Journal of Human Evolution that the effects of the Toba eruption and the Ice Age that followed could explain the apparent bottleneck in human populations that geneticists believe occurred between 50,000 and 100,000 years ago. The lack of genetic diversity among humans alive today suggests that during this time period humans came very close to becoming extinct.

 
Samoa Tsunami - 46 Feet high
The News - Natural Disasters
December 04, 2009
Samoa tsunami 46 feet high
The tsunami that killed more than 200 people in the Samoan islands and Tonga earlier this year towered up to 46 feet (14 meters) high — more then twice as tall as most of the buildings it slammed into, scientists said Friday.

New Zealand scientists studying the size, power and reach of the tsunami as part of efforts to guard against future disasters said they found up to three destructive waves were caused by the magnitude 8.0 undersea earthquake in September.

The massive waves that struck Samoa, American Samoa and Tonga totally destroyed traditional wooden buildings, many of them singly story, along the coast while reinforced concrete buildings sustained only minor damage, said Stefan Reese, a risk engineer with New Zealand's National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research.

The waves were up to 46 feet (14 meters) high, Reese told The Associated Press. The scientists measured watermarks on buildings and trees to help confirm the height of the waves.

"In some areas there was virtually nothing left" after the waves reached up to 765 yards (700 meters) inland, Reese said.

 
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