Friday, January 6, 2012

EXTRATERRESTRIAL & UFO MEMES: SETI at UC Berkeley Detects Signal "Similar" to Those Produced From an Extraterrestrial Technology - Later Dismisses Findings as "Terrestrial Radio Frequency Interference (RFIs)?!

Here is a strange story, coming directly out of the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence (SETI) at the University of California, Berkeley about the detection of a signal "similar to what we think might be produced from an extraterrestrial technology". The notice of the discovery was apparently posted on January 5th. Today, an update, with a suspicious clarification that the signals are really "examples of terrestrial radio frequency interference (RFI)"?

First, the post from January 5th:
We've started searching our Kepler SETI observations and our analyses have generated a few 'hits,' but all are undoubtedly examples of terrestrial radio frequency interference (RFI). Each of the signals below is shown in a pair of plots, one from an observation of Kepler Object of Interest (KOI) 817 and one from an observation of KOI-812. During an observation, we alternated between targets to enable us to rule out signals seen coming from two different places in the sky. If we see a signal coming from multiple positions on the sky, like the ones below, it is very likely to be interference.

What do these plots represent?

These are plots of electromagnetic energy as a function of frequency and time. Brighter colors represent more radio energy at a particular time and frequency. For example, a radio station transmitting at 101.5 MHz would produce a large amount of energy near that frequency.

Why are these signals interesting?

We know these signals are interference, but look similar to what we think might be produced from an extraterrestrial technology. They are narrow in frequency, much narrower than would be produced by any known astrophysical phenomena, and they drift in frequency with time, as we would expect because of the doppler effect imposed by the relative motion of the transmitter and the receiving radio telescope. Even though these signals are interference, detecting events with similar characteristics to what we expect from ET is a good indication that the first steps of our detection algorithms are working properly.

What's next?

These first results are tests of the algorithms we'll apply to all our observations of Kepler planets. During the coming weeks, we'll be posting more of our results as we process the nearly 50 TB of data we collected in early 2011.
Today's (January 6th) update:

After posting the plots on January 5, it became clear that we had not stated as definitively and absolutely as possible that these signals are interference. We have update the post to make this clear. Sorry for any confusion.
Read more HERE.

Download all 12 examples HERE (PDF).

GLOBAL VOLCANISM: Tracking Developments at the Canary Islands - Renewed Activity at El Hierro, Volcanic Eruptions, and Sea Surface Steaming with Pyroclastic Chunks at La Restinga!

Looks like 2012 is trying to start out busy – we got an impressive eruption of Etna the other day and now it seems that El Hierro is showing renewed vigor . New video from INVOLCAN and images from the webcams show that the sea surface is steaming and reports from people at El Hierro say that new pyroclastic chunks (the “coconuts”) have been spotted as well.

Diario El Hierro is reporting an increase in seismic tremor at the volcano over the last 24 hours. Not much is showing on the El Hierro webcams, but its never a bad idea to keep an eye on them. You never know if the activity might continue long enough to produce a subaerial eruption (such as the activity at Jebel Zubair in the Red Sea), but right now, we’re still likely a long way from that. - WIRED.
WATCH: Scientific flight over La Restinga.

Each time we think that the submarine eruption south of El Hierro is subsiding, it regains strength shortly afterwards. During the past week, and in particular today, steaming lava blocks have again appeared above the submarine vent at the ocean surface, showing lava is still being erupted below. The stain on the surface has been well visible at times, with sometimes bubbly foam rising to create wonderful abstract natural paintings of colors and lines when seen from the air. The harmonic tremor continues as well. After almost stopping on 28 Dec, it has recovered and maintains itself at moderate to low levels, but indicates that the eruption still continues. Observers on El Hierro could see bright incandescence at some of the hot steaming lava blocks appearing at the surface 1 km off La Restinga last night. The glow was even visible on the webcam. There are now some nice clips on youtube showing this phenomenon. It suggests that the submerged cone is now significantly closer to the surface than it was in late November and December, but there is no way to predict whether and when it might breach at all. The tremor signal has been showing a slight increase today. Earthquake activity remains almost absent. After 4 small quakes on 1 Jan, and one 2.0 quake yesterday (which was at 16 km depth and unusual as it was located beneath El Pinar, i.e. under the southern currently active rift zone), no other quakes are recorded by IGN.

We were a little to overexcited to see the glow during the night. IGN presented a more plausible explanation: the glow originates not from incandescence of still hot lava (this would need to contain areas with >600 deg C in order to emit red glow) inside the blocks, but from combusting gasses. The reason the blocks (some of which reach a few meters size), rise floating to the surface is that they contain a lot voids in their interior filled with still hot gasses (could be H2 or CO, speculation) that escape and combust at the surface. The blocks then sink back into the water. IGN measured the temperature of these gasses to be larger than 200ÂșC. The eruption seems to be gaining strength again... The "jacuzzi" on the water surface above the submarine vent is quite active today with lots of foam and smoking lava blocks visible on the webcam. The harmonic tremor has significantly increased and shows signs of underwater steam explosions (the bursts in the signal). A M1.8 earthquake 16 km below the southern rift zone occurred yesterday at 1 am. - Volcano Discovery.
WATCH: Night Smoking Lava Stones at La Restinga.

2012, THE GREAT TRIBULATION: THE Priest Class of the Magi Prepares the Way for Petrus Romanus - Pope Benedict XVI is Thinking About Leaving the Papacy in April!

Several weeks ago, I published a link to a story indicating that Pope Benedict XVI seemed to be tired and weary heading into the busy Christmas season, where the Vatican schedule would call upon him to be quite active.

Benedict turns 85 in the new year, so a slowdown is only natural. Expected. And given his age and continued rigorous work schedule, it's remarkable he does as much as he does and is in such good health overall: Just this past week he confirmed he would travel to Mexico and Cuba next spring. But a decline has been noted as Benedict prepares for next weekend's grueling Christmas celebrations, which kick off two weeks of intense public appearances. And that raises questions about the future of the papacy given that Benedict himself has said popes should resign if they can't do the job. Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi has said no medical condition prompted the decision to use the moving platform in St. Peter's, and that it's merely designed to spare the pontiff the fatigue of the 100-meter (-yard) walk to and from the main altar. - My Way.
Today, the Vatican Insider website is reporting that the Holy See is thinking about leaving the Papacy this April.
There is one front page news story that will certainly not go unnoticed: that is, that the Pope is thinking about resigning during the Spring of 2012. Journalist Antonio Socci has confirmed the same in the Italian daily, Libero. "For now,” Socci writes, “he is saying that this may be true (Joseph Ratzinger’s personal assumption), but I hope the story does not reach the news. But this rumor is circulating high up in the Vatican and therefore deserves close attention. The Pope has not rejected the possibility of his resignation when he turns 85 in April next year.” Socci recalls that the assumption he will resign, without any hitches, was the same thing Ratzinger talked about in an interview in the book “Luce del mondo” (Light of the World), when, in response to a question by interviewer Peter Seewald, he said: “When a Pope arrives at a clear awareness that he no longer has the physical, mental, or psychological capacity to carry out the task that has been entrusted to him, then he has the right, and in some cases, even the duty to resign.” Furthermore, in another passage, Benedict XVI wondered if he would be able to “withstand it all, just from the physical point of view.” Socci makes the following observation in today’s edition of Libero: “Today, Pope Benedict seems to be in really good form; just the same, there’s the issue of his age and just how much energy he has left.” But the writer/journalist also recalls another passage from the same book interview, which has to do with the attacks and controversies related to the pedophile priests' scandal: “When there is a great menace, one cannot simply run away from it. That is why, right now, it is definitely not the time to resign.”

“It is actually at moments like these that one needs to resist and overcome difficult situations. One can only resign at a time when things are calm, or simply, when nothing more can be done about it. But one cannot run away right when the threat is alive and say, ‘Let somebody else take care of it.” The issue of papal resignations has been the subject of debate for many decades. Pope Pius XII had prepared a letter in which he stated he would resign if he were taken away by the Nazis (“In that way, they will have Cardinal Pacelli, but not the Pope.”) Pope John XXIII, while talking with his confessor, had taken into consideration that he would possibly have to leave when his illness worsened. Even Pope Paul VI, who had established the exclusion of those who were over 80 from the conclave, and renunciation of the episcopal seat at the age of 75, seriously thought about resigning in 1977, when he turned 80, but his entourage dissuaded him from going ahead with this. This issue came up again, in a dramatic fashion, with Pope John Paul Il’s long illness; he had even prepared a letter of resignation.

Anyone who knows Ratzinger would confirm that the answer he gave to Seewald, is what he feels would be best, in the event of him becoming physically, mentally, or psychologically incapacitated. However, such a possibility seems, at the moment, somewhat remote. In fact, one is immediately struck by the contrast between the front page story in Libero and the images coming from Germany, where Benedict XVI is concluding an historic trip, during which he made 18 speeches in four days. Many of these put him under considerable pressure, especially as they were entirely written by him. The German press was astonished at the old Pontiff’s endurance, which he demonstrated by the fact that he was able to manage all the exhaustion from moving around; he did not sleep more than one night in a single bed. And he was successful in carrying out a packed schedule of engagements, meetings, vigils, and celebrations. 

This would show that nothing of what Benedict XVI himself said in answer  to his alleged plans to resign, seems to be materialising. Finally, a total media “distortion” caused an outburst of fear after explosive gunshots were heard yesterday in Erfurt. They were fired by an unbalanced youth with an air gun, who targeted two security guards, without wounding them, on a street just 500 meters from where the Pope was to celebrate mass, two hours before Ratzinger arrived. False alarms that were blown out of proportion by the media, were also raised when Pope John Paul II visited Mexico City in 2002, and a year ago, when Pope Ratzinger was in England. - Vatican Insider.
There have been many speculations and concerns about Pope Benedict XVI, since the prophecies of Saint Malachy, the visionary Archbishop of Armagh, predicted the future of the papacy, starting from Pope Celestine II in 1143. Malachy listed 112 popes with very descriptive characteristics and titles, from Celestine II till the apocalyptic "end of the world". Benedict is often interpreted from the prophecies as the penultimate pope, who will lead the Roman Catholic Church through a period of "Birth Pains", to be eventually succeeded by Petrus Romanus at the start of the "Great Tribulation" era.
"In the final persecution of the Holy Roman Church there will reign Petrus Romanus, who will feed his flock amid many tribulations; after which the seven-hilled city will be destroyed and the dreadful Judge will judge the people. The End."
Whether this prophecy will come to fruition, we can't be sure, however Benedict recently delivered a very symbolic message, hinting at this:

Pope Benedict XVI reflected on the biblical description of a “woman clothed with the sun” in his remarks at Rome's Spanish Steps on the 2011 Feast of the Immaculate Conception. “What is the meaning of this image? It represents the Church and Our Lady at the same time,” the Pope told the crowd assembled before the nearby statue commemorating the 1854 definition of Mary's Immaculate Conception. “Before all, the 'woman' of the apocalypse is Mary herself.” The 12th chapter of the Biblical Apocalypse – also known as the Book of Revelation – describes the glorification and persecution of “a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars.” Though not named, this woman is described as the mother of the Messiah. In poetic language akin to the Bible's other prophetic books, Saint John says she faced the threat of “a huge red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns,” and “fled into the desert where she had a place prepared by God.” Pope Benedict, offering white roses in his traditional yearly act of Marian veneration, gave listeners his insight into the connection between the Virgin Mary and the Church – portrayed in the Apocalypse through the single image of the sun-clad woman. “She appears 'clothed in sunlight,' that is, clothed in God,” observed the Pope. “The Virgin Mary is in fact completely surrounded by the light of God and lives in God …  The 'Immaculate One' reflects with all of her person the light of the 'sun' which is God.”

“Besides representing Our Lady, this sign personifies the Church, the Christian community of all times,” he continued. The Church, he explained, is “pregnant, in the sense that she carries Christ” and “must give birth to him to the world.” “This is the labor of the pilgrim Church on earth, that in the midst of the consolations of God and the persecutions of the world, she must bring Christ to men.” Because the Church continues to bring Jesus into the world, Pope Benedict said, it “finds opposition in a ferocious adversary,” symbolized in scripture by the “dragon” that has “tried in vain to devour Jesus,” and now “directs his attacks against the woman – the Church – in the desert of the world. But in every age the Church is supported by the light and the strength of God,” the Pope said. “She is nurtured in the desert with the bread of his word and the Holy Eucharist. And in this way, in every tribulation, through all of the trials that she finds in the course of the ages and in the different parts of the world, the Church suffers persecution, but comes out the victor.” Pope Benedict said the Church should not fear persecution, which is bound to arise, but will be defeated. “The only pitfall of which the Church can and must be afraid is the sin of her members,” he warned, highlighting the key difference between the Church and the woman who is its prototype. “While in fact Mary is immaculate – free from every stain of sin – the Church is holy, but at the same time marked by our sins.” While sinless herself, Mary remains in solidarity with the Church struggling against sin. “That is why the people of God, pilgrims in time, turn to their heavenly mother and ask for her help,” explained Pope Benedict. He stressed the world's need for the hope brought by the “woman clothed with the sun” – “especially in this difficult moment for Italy, for Europe and for different parts of the world.” “May Mary help us to see that there is a light beyond the veil of fog that appears to envelop reality,” he declared. “For this also we, especially on this day, never cease to ask with filial trust for her help: 'O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to you.'” - Catholic News Agency.

HOT JUPITERS: First Four Exoplanets of 2012 Discovered - Four Alien Worlds, Large Gas Giant Planets Orbiting Very Close to Their Stars Have Been Found!

2011 was a great year in the search for exoplanets, and it looks like 2012 is shaping up to be pretty fruitful, as well.

Only four days into the New Year and the first four exoplanets of 2012 have been spotted orbiting four distant stars. All four alien worlds are known as "hot Jupiters" -- large gas giant planets orbiting very close to their stars. Their orbits are aligned just right with the Earth so that when they pass in front of their parent stars, they slightly dim the starlight from view. As exoplanets pass in front of their stars, a small dip in star brightness may be detected. This detection method is known as the "transit method." This is in addition to the "radial velocity method," when the gravitational pull of an exoplanet causes its parent star to wobble slightly. However, this most recent discovery doesn't come from NASA's Kepler space telescope team or any other space telescope, it comes from a ground-based telescope system maintained by the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. The Hungarian-made Automated Telescope Network (HATNet) Project consists of six small (11-cm diameter), wide-field automated telescopes based at the Fred Lawrence Whipple Observatory in Arizona and The Submillimeter Array atop Mauna Kea, Hawaii. Follow-up observations were made by Keck Observatory (also on Mauna Kea), the KeplerCam CCD camera (at FLWO) and Faulkes Telescope North at Haleakala Observatory in Hawaii.
The HATNet telescopes were established in 2003, and the system announced their first exoplanet discovery in 2006 (called HAT-P-1b). Now they have another four exoplanets, orbiting four different stars, to add to their growing list. HAT-P-34b, HAT-P-35b, HAT-P-36b and HAT-P-37b have very tight orbits around their stars, completing a "year" in only 5.5-, 3.6-, 1.3- and 2.8-days respectively. Remember, the Earth orbits the sun every 365 days. Apart from having breakneck orbital speeds, one of the exoplanets (HAT-P-34b) is notable for having a very elongated -- or "eccentric" -- orbit. Only four other transiting exoplanets are known to have more eccentric orbits. Although many "hot Jupiter" exoplanets are known to exist, this marks the start of a very exciting year of extrasolar planet-hunting. Not only do we have the Kepler space telescope turning up near-Earth-sized worlds and multi-planetary systems on a regular basis, we also have ground-based telescopes with increasing sophistication tracking exoplanetary transits and wobbling stars. Publication: "HAT-P-34b -- HAT-P-37b: Four Transiting Planets More Massive Than Jupiter Orbiting Moderately Bright Stars," Bakos et al., 2012. arXiv:1201.0659v1 [astro-ph.EP] - Discovery News.

PLANETARY TREMORS: Monumental Seismic Swarms - 6,757 Aftershocks Felt in Japan From March 11th Until December 31st, 2011!

The Meteorological Agency said Thursday that 6,757 aftershocks were felt in Japan after the March 11 disaster through Dec 31. Of those, there were 14 with a magnitude over 5, 30 with a magnitude of 5, 174 with a magnitude of 4, 707 (magnitude 3), 1,904 (magnitude 2) and 3,928 (magnitude 1), the agency said on its website.

For the whole year, the agency said there were 9,723 earthquakes and aftershocks, seven times the number in 2010. An agency official said that although the number of aftershocks has been decreasing, it will be many years before seismic activity returns to pre-March 11 levels. - Japan Today.

The earthquakes in Japan and New Zealand, along with other natural catastrophes which struck in 2011, led to a record $380 billion cost of natural disasters last year, insurance analysts say. The figure is more than double compared to 2010 and three times larger than the average yearly value for the last ten years. The Japanese disasters accounted for nearly half of the total global losses for insurance companies in 2011, at $35 billion to $40 billion. The total losses in the insurance business reached a record $105 billion over the last year, according to Munich Re, the biggest re-insurer in the world. The previous record was $101 billion, in 2005.

The earthquake that hit New Zealand last February brought additional costs worth of $13 billion for insurers. Despite the high losses of the insurance industry, the number of deaths due to natural catastrophes was much lower in 2011, at 27,000, compared to the 296,000 figure registered in 2010, according to Munich Re. More than half of last year’s victims were claimed by the quake and subsequent tsunami that hit Japan in March.- The Tokyo Times.

MONUMENTAL EARTH CHANGES: 2011 Was the Costliest Year in History for Global Natural Disasters - Direct Property Losses Reached Almost $380 Billion! UPDATE: 2011 Tornadoes in America Set Deadly Records!

The USA had company as it suffered through devastating weather and climate disasters in 2011. The entire world endured its costliest year ever for losses from natural disasters at more than a third of a trillion dollars in damage, according to a report released Wednesday by global reinsurance firm Munich Re.

The earthquake and tsunami in Japan in March accounted for more than half of the damage. The number of disasters was about average, and fatalities were below average. Still, direct property losses from natural catastrophes reached almost $380 billion, according to Ernst Rauch, the head of Munich Re's corporate climate center. Based on records from 1981-2010, an average year sees global economic losses of $75 billion, Rauch reports. The previous record for damage was $261 billion in 2005. The figures are adjusted for inflation. Economic losses caused by the magnitude-9.0 earthquake and the resulting tsunami in Japan came to $210 billion, making it the costliest natural catastrophe of all time. The Japanese disaster was also the year's deadliest catastrophe, with 15,840 fatalities reported. "Thankfully, a sequence of severe natural catastrophes like last year's is a very rare occurrence," says Torsten Jeworrek, a Munich Re board member responsible for the global reinsurance business

Reinsurers offer backup policies to companies writing primary insurance policies. Reinsurance helps spread risk, so the system can handle large losses from natural disasters. Some of the events in 2011 were the type that could be expected only once every 1,000 years. Though the number of geophysical disasters such as earthquakes do not appear to be increasing over recent years, Rauch notes, the number of meteorological disasters are rising. "At least part of the weather-related natural disasters can be attributed to climate change, but we cannot quantify the amount," Rauch says. The link between global warming and disaster losses remains debatable, as an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report noted in November. The role of climate change can't be ruled out, but the major cause of high losses has been increasing populations and value of development in storms' paths, the report suggested. The other top 2011 disasters were floods and landslides in Thailand ($40 billion); the earthquake in New Zealand ($16 billion); severe storms and tornadoes April 22-28 in the USA ($15 billion); and Hurricane Irene in the USA ($15 billion). - USA Today.
According to Weather Underground, tornadoes that hit America in 2011 were the most deadly and costly in history.

Many of us may remember the jaw-dropping images of the May 22, 2011, tornado that tore through Joplin, Mo., killing 158 people and leaving an incredible 14-mile path of destruction. But that system was only one of the record-breaking tornado events this year. Data compiled by meteorologist Jeffrey Masters shows that when deaths, damage and financial losses are considered, 2011 can be called the worst U.S. tornado year on record. Masters, who runs the Weather Underground, a Web site that provides local forecasts, analyzes severe weather and turns raw storm data from the National Weather Service into captivating maps and data visualizations, has posted a compilation of record and near-record tornado events for 2011. Some notable stats from his post are below. A blow-by-blow description of the year's major tornadoes, as well as a list of the deadliest tornadoes in U.S. history, can be found on NOAA's 2011 tornado review page.
• Six top-end EF-5 tornadoes hit the U.S. in 2011, tying this year with 1974 for the greatest number.

• 2011 ranks third behind 1974 and 1965 for the greatest number of strong to violent EF-3, EF-4 and EF-5 tornadoes.

• Three of the five largest outbreaks on record hit in a six-week period in April and May.

• April 2011 had the most tornadoes of any month in U.S. history: 753. The previous record was 542 in May 2003.

• On April 27, 199 confirmed tornadoes touched down, the largest one-day total on record, beating the 148 that occurred in 24 hours on April 3 - 4, 1974.

• The April 25 - 28, 2011, super outbreak of 343 tornadoes was the largest and most expensive outbreak in U.S. history, according to Masters, causing $10.2 billion in damage.

• The May 22, 2011, tornado in Joplin killed 158 people and injured 1,150, making it the deadliest U.S. tornado since 1947, and the seventh deadliest in history. The $3 billion in insured damages makes it the most expensive tornado in world history.
The overall tornado death toll of 552 in 2011 ties 1936 as the second deadliest year in U.S. history. Masters notes on his site that during the 1930s, the tornado death rate per million people was 60 to 70 times greater than in the year 2000, "implying that this year's tornadoes may have killed tens of thousands of people if we did not have our modern tornado warning system." The dubious record for the most fatal storm is held by the Tri-State Tornado (Missouri, Illinois, Indiana) of March 18, 1925, which killed 695 people. - Scientic American.