Saturday, January 14, 2012

WEATHER ANOMALIES: "The Boulder in the Scree" - Anti-Cyclone Replaces Storms in the United Kingdom, Bringing Sunsets and Bitter Cold?!

An intense high pressure has moved slap-bang over the British Isles. The anti-cyclone moves away the intense storms experienced after Christmas and New Year and replaces conditions with bitter cold nights and striking sunsets.

The weather phenomenon has been described as acting like a "boulder in the scree" by BBC weather experts. Storms continue to blow around the west coast of Ireland and north of the Scottish mainland. The central mainland area in Europe has recently suffered several metres of snowfall, Austria has been particularly badly affected. The atmospheric conditions which engulfed the British Isles on Thursday night has imposed clear blue skies, bitterly cold starry nights and hardly any wind. Night frosts, the first of the winter season, greeted most areas in Britain with thick fog lingering in the countrysides.

One UK newspaper has requested its readers send in their photographs of sunsets. The Daily Telegraph has acknowledged the combination of low sun, blue skies and red evening skies is producing some stunning sunsets likely to form over the weekend. The response so far has been overwhelming. The settled conditions replace weeks of rain, high winds and exceptionally mild temperatures. The average temperature for London in January is 6c (43f) by day and around 4c (39f) in central Scotland. But even night time lows have hovered well above these levels with some areas in southern England recording 14c (57f) on New Years Eve, warmer than the north African state of Morocco.

Sunsets have always been a source of attraction to amateur photographers and Richard Halfday, a photographer and blogger, wrote about the time he met celebrity photographer David Bailey:
 Olympus ran an advert featuring a photographic competition the winning photo was Sunset over Stevenage Station by David Bailey he must have be standing a couple of feet from I was standing. I went out and bought my first "proper" camera haven’t looked back since.
The high pressure system is set to remain stagnate over the British Isles until at least Monday. - Digital Journal.

THE MARK OF THE BEAST: Towards the New World Order and the Coming Cashless Society - India Launches the Worlds' Biggest, Most Advanced, Biometric Database of Personal Identities, 1.2 Billion Residents?!

"And he causeth all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond, to receive a mark in their right hand, or in their foreheads: And that no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name. Here is wisdom. Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast: for it is the number of a man; and his number is Six hundred threescore and six." - Revelations 13:16-18.

It seems that the blueprint of the Priest Class of the Magi's grand plan of the ages is finally coming into fruition. Several weeks ago, President Obama made an historic assault on the liberty of Americans with the implementation of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), the most far-reaching award of extraordinary powers to the military to detain citizens without trial. Now comes the clearest sign of the coming cashless society and networked technology grid, that will accompany the imminent global totalitarian state as the government of India is now pursuing the first and largest biometric identification program for all of its 1.2 billion residents.

For a country that fails to meet its most basic challenges—feeding the hungry, piping clean water, fixing roads—it seems incredible that India is rapidly building the world’s biggest, most advanced, biometric database of personal identities. Launched in 2010, under a genial ex-tycoon, Nandan Nilekani, the “unique identity” (UID) scheme is supposed to roll out trustworthy, unduplicated identity numbers based on biometric and other data. Any resident who wants one can volunteer. The scheme combines work by central and state governments and a number of other partners—largely technology firms that capture and process individuals’ data. The goal, says Mr Nilekani, is to help India cope with the past decade’s expansion of welfare provision, the fastest in its history: “it is essentially about better public services”. All that should have been the recipe for a project mired in delays, infighting, empire-building, graft and bad results. 

Few expected UID to hit its ambitious targets. A year ago, only a few million had enrolled and barely 1m identity numbers had been issued. Warnings about fragile technology, overwhelmed data-processing centres and surging costs suggested slow progress. Instead this week saw the 110-millionth UID number issued. Enrolments (which precede issued numbers by some months) should reach 200m in a couple of weeks. Mr Nilekani, eagerly hopping about his office to call up data on his laptop, says that over 20m people are now being signed up every month. He expects to get to 400m by the year’s end. That is an astonishing outcome. For a government that has achieved almost nothing since re-election in May 2009, the scheme is emerging as an example of real progress. By 2014, the likely date of the next general election, over half of all Indians could be signed up. If welfare also starts flowing direct into their accounts, the electoral consequences could be profound.
To get a sense of the scale of UID’s achievement, linger at a mosquito-ridden enrolment centre in Uttan Gaon, a coastal village north of Mumbai. Huddled in a damp fire-station a young man connects a laptop, a binocular-style iris scanner and a glowing green machine that records 30 points from a set of fingerprints. In the gloom, his contraption could be a robot from an early Star Wars film. Employed by Wipro, a technology firm and agent for the UID project, he has to get through 40 to 50 residents a day. His hassles, and those of armies of others deployed all across India, look endless. At times no one comes to enroll. Local government is supposed to run campaigns to lure them in, but indifference, bad weather and non-stop religious festivals keep them at home or partying.

Other days, as when a (false) rumour crackles through a nearby slum that 100-rupee notes will be dished out to those who sign up, hordes pour in. Nerdy technicians are ill-prepared to manage frustrated and even violent crowds. To hit his targets, the agent in Uttan Gaon must process each of the residents, who perch in turn on a red plastic chair, in 12 minutes or less. That is fine—but only for the young and educated. The day’s first arrivals are a barely literate rickshaw driver, an elderly couple and a call-centre worker. Each one overruns. By mid-morning a long queue has formed, but the pace picks up. Wipro and the rest work fast, since that is the only way to turn a profit. One of 35 agents active in Maharashtra state, it bid to be paid just 26 rupees (50 cents) for each person processed, with a higher rate in rural areas. It supplies all equipment and staff, and uploads the huge amounts of data to central processors. It also copes with thefts, damp cables that break the iris scanners, and labourers’ fingers so worn that their prints do not show.

Still, contractors look far nimbler at solving myriad problems than civil servants, who are still hampered, for example, by rules ordering that all official communication be done on paper (e-mails will not do). Speed matters. An agent hitting targets can bid to take work off laggards. This flexible “ecosystem”, designed with help from Indians working in Silicon Valley, thus lets the most efficient prosper. To fund it, the central government dishes out 100 rupees, which various partners share, but only once each identity number is issued: “we have built a system where everyone has an incentive to get results”, says Mr Nilekani. And these are striking: Wipro alone has had nearly 6m numbers issued, of more than 22m issued in the state as a whole. As it grows, however, the project is drawing fire. Most pressing, the mandate of the UID authority will expire within weeks—once the 200 millionth resident is signed up. The cabinet has so far failed to extend it, though reformers are keen. Montek Singh Ahluwalia, the powerful deputy head of the national planning commission, for example, says he will allocate billions more rupees to UID as “the money will be more than fully covered from efficiency gains from government schemes”.

Total costs are rising as UID expands: its budget has more than doubled from nearly 32 billion rupees ($614m) for the first five years, to over 88 billion rupees for the next phase. But the government’s chief economic adviser, Kaushik Basu, among others, agrees that savings by “plugging leakages”—that is, stopping huge theft and waste in welfare and subsidies—will be “very big, very beneficial”. The real difficulties are political. They fall into two areas. Most immediate is the home minister, Palaniappan Chidambaram, who is blocking the new mandate. He says he worries about national security. He also looks annoyed that a rival biometric scheme to build a National Population Register (for citizens, not just residents) has been cast into the shade. Run by his home ministry, by late last year it had only issued some 8m identity numbers. He also has a longstanding rivalry with the finance minister, Pranab Mukherjee, who is associated with UID.

The prime minister, Manmohan Singh, will probably have to tell the home minister to give way. Then officials need to respond to a second, much broader, band of critics. Last month, for example, parliament’s powerful finance standing committee issued a 48-page report attacking UID, calling it hasty, directionless, ill-conceived and saying it must be stopped. Headed by Yashwant Sinha, a stalwart of the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, the committee was eager to throw all criticism possible at the scheme. Yet the report contains testimony from a range of experts with legitimate objections. Some were procedural, including a demand that UID be based on law passed by parliament, not, as now, on a mere executive order.

Other worries, such as cost, should abate as the unique identities are tied to bank accounts of welfare recipients, and so help track the flow of public money. The omens are good. Last week Karnataka state claimed that by paying welfare direct to bank accounts it had cut some 2m ghost labourers from a rural public-works project. Yet there are also tougher accusations from activists and development economists, such as Jean Dr├Ęze and Reetika Khera, in Delhi. They worry that the voluntary programme will turn compulsory, that individuals’ privacy is under attack and that biometric data are not secure. Along with others, they also oppose the logical next step in welfare reform that UID enables. Once recipients have bank accounts, India can follow the likes of Brazil and replace easily stolen benefits in kind, such as rations of cheap food and fuel, with direct cash transfers. Not only do these cut theft, but cash payments also let beneficiaries become mobile—for example so they can leave their state to seek work, while not jeopardising any benefits.

Yet Ms Khera is wary of change. She points out that well-run southern states get rations efficiently to the poor, and cites a survey which found many recipients, especially women, would prefer to keep getting rations over cash. They fear money is more easily wasted, say on alcohol. Worse, in the most remote places, cash welfare is no use since food and fuel markets do not even exist. Such fears need answering. India will have to pass a law on data protection and privacy. A shift to cash welfare would have to ensure that mothers benefit most, not feckless fathers. And perhaps only as Indians grow more urban, mobile and well-connected will they see the full advantage of cash over rations. But for all the headaches, applying the UID to an expanding and reforming welfare system opens the way for profound social change. Indians need to get ready. - Economist.
WATCH: Indians signing life away for biometric ID cards.

CELESTIAL DISCOVERY: "Saturn on Steroids" - The Milky Way Yields the First Ever Saturn-Like Exoplanet Surrounded by Orbital Rings, Discovered Beyond Solar System!

The hits just keep on coming out of Austin this week as the 219th meeting of the American Astronomical Society rolls on. Researchers there have announced the discovery of the first Saturn-like ringed object outside our solar system, documented when researchers were trying to diagnose the cause of a strange eclipsing effect emanating from a nearby star.

An enigmatic object detected five years ago in space may be a ringed alien world comparable to Saturn, the first such world discovered outside our solar system, scientists now say. The finding, announced here yesterday (Jan. 11) at the 219th meeting of the American Astronomical Society, came from studying an unsteady eclipse of light from a star near the mysterious body. "After we ruled out the eclipse being due to a spherical star or a circumstellar disk passing in front of the star, I realized that the only plausible explanation was some sort of dust ring system orbiting a smaller companion — basically a Saturn on steroids," said study co-author Eric Mamajek at Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile.

The find occurred as astrophysicists investigated the Scorpius-Centaurus association, the nearest region of recent massive star formation to the sun, using the international SuperWASP (Wide Angle Search for Planets) and All Sky Automated Survey (ASAS) projects. Specifically, the researchers analyzed how light from sunlike stars in Scorpius-Centaurus varied over time.  One star in particular showed dramatic changes in the intensity of its light during a 54-day period in early 2007, suggesting it was getting eclipsed by an orbiting body. "I knew we had found a very weird and unique object," Mamajek said.

The star in question is technically known as 1SWASP J140747.93-394542.6. It has a mass similar to the sun but, at about 16 million years of age, is much younger, just 1/300th as old as the sun. It lies about 420 light-years away.  Whatever is eclipsing it is relatively close to the star, 1.7 times or so the distance from the Earth to the sun. The Earth-sun distance is about 93 million miles (150 million kilometers). If a simple spherical object had passed in front of the star, the intensity of the star's light would have steadily dimmed and reached a low point before gradually increasing. Instead scientists saw a long, complex eclipse with significant on-and-off dimming. At the deepest parts of the eclipse, at least 95 percent of light from the star was getting blocked by dust.

The nature of these shifts in light – the "light curve" – was very similar to that of EE Cephei, a hot, giant star occasionally eclipsed by a companion star that is surrounded by a thick protoplanetary disk. However, instead of just one dip in light as one would expect of a single disk, Mamajek and University of Rochester graduate student Mark Pecaut saw several dips. The eclipsing body seems to be an object "with an orbiting disk that has multiple thin rings of dust debris," Mamajek said. This would be the first system of discrete, thin dust rings detected around a very low-mass object outside our solar system, he noted. So far Mamajek and his colleagues have discovered one dense inner disk and three tenuous outer disks, respectively named Rochester, Sutherland, Campanas and Tololo, after the sites where the eclipsed star was first detected and analyzed. "Each of these rings is probably made of thousands and thousands of rings," Mamajek told

The outermost ring stretches up to 37 million miles (60 million km) away from the body it encircles. If the rings are similar to Saturn's, their combined mass is probably as much as eight times that of Earth's moon.  "Amateur astronomers can really look at this star with a backyard telescope and help us learn more about this system through monitoring it for more eclipses from the ring system," Mamajek said. Many questions remain about the nature of the ringed body: for instance, whether or not it is a planet, a very low-mass star, or a kind of failed star known as a brown dwarf.  If it is less than 13 times the mass of Jupiter, it would likely be a planet similar to Saturn. If it is between 13 and 75 times Jupiter's mass, it would be a brown dwarf. If larger still, it would have enough mass to sustain nuclear fusion, making it a star. Future telescope observations can determine how much of a gravitational tug this object exerts on its star, and thus reveal its mass.

Just as interesting as the rings themselves are the gaps between the rings; gaps usually are signs that massive bodies are sculpting the ring edges. If this mysterious object is a planet, moons could be carving these rings; if it is a star, it could be newborn planets that are responsible. "One might imagine rings around the smallest stars like rings one sees around Saturn," Mamajek said. "Our inner solar system could've looked like this long ago in its first tens of millions of years." Future all-sky monitoring projects such as the proposed Large Synoptic Survey Telescope being built in Chile could discover even more ringed systems eclipsing stars. "I think these rings are how we're going to study moon-forming disks around gas giants," Mamajek said. The findings, detailed by Mamajek, Pecaut and their colleagues yesterday, are scheduled for publication in an upcoming issue of the Astronomical Journal. - SPACE.

GLOBAL ECONOMIC MELTDOWN: The Euro Zone Contagion on Friday the 13th - Standard & Poor's Cuts Credit Ratings for Nine Euro Zone Nations, Europe Plunged Into Fresh Crisis!

Standard & Poor's cut the credit ratings of nine European countries on Friday in a widely-anticipated move. Rumors that the downgrades were imminent had been circulating in various reports throughout the day.

S&P lowered its long-term rating on Cyprus, Italy, Portugal and Spain by two notches, and cut its rating on Austria, France, Malta, Slovakia and Slovenia by one notch. "Today's rating actions are primarily driven by our assessment that the policy initiatives that have been taken by European policy makers in recent weeks may be insufficient to fully address ongoing systemic stresses in the euro zone," S&P said in a press release announcing the downgrade. The credit-rating agency affirmed the current long-term ratings for Belgium, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Luxembourg and the Netherlands. U.S. stocks slumped earlier amid buzz about the possible downgrades, though finished well off their lows. European shares closed lower.

In December, S&P placed the ratings of 15 euro zone countries on credit watch negative — including those of top-rated Germany and France, the region's two biggest economies — and said "systemic stresses" were building up as credit conditions tighten in the 17-nation bloc. Since then, the European Central Bank  has flooded the banking system with cheap three-year money to avert a credit crunch. At the time, the U.S.-based ratings agency said it could also downgrade the euro zone's current bailout fund, the EFSF. The credit-rating agency said its long-term ratings outlooks for Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Estonia, Finland, France, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Portugal, Slovenia, and Spain are "negative."

A negative outlook indicates that S&P believes there is at least a one-in-three chance that a country's rating will be lowered in 2012 or 2013. The outlooks for Germany and Slovakia are "stable." The consequence (if France is downgraded) is that the EFSF cannot keep its triple-A rating," said Commerzbank chief economist Joerg Kraemer. "That may irritate markets in the short term but wouldn't be a big problem in a world where the U.S. and Japan also don't have a triple-A rating anymore. Triple-A is a dying species," he said. John Wraith, Fixed Income Strategist at Bank of America Merrill Lynch told CNBC the confirmation of a mass downgrade would be another serious step in the crisis and would lead to a serious worsening of sentiment.

"To a large degree, it’s widely anticipated," Wraith said. "However, we think the reality of it is going to have a knock-on, ongoing impact on these markets. It clearly deteriorates still further the credit worthiness of a lot of the European banks and just keeps that negative feedback loop between struggling banks and the sovereigns that may have to support them if things go from bad to worse in full force,” Wraith added. A downgrade could automatically require some investment funds to sell bonds of affected states, making those countries' borrowing costs rise still further.

"It's been priced in for several weeks, but the market had been lulled into complacency over the holidays, and the new year began with a bounce in risk appetite, thanks partly to a good Spanish auction," said Samarjit Shankar, Director Of Global Fx Strategy at BNY Mellon in Boston. "But the Italian auction brought us back to earth, and now we face the specter of further downgrades."  Italy's three-year debt costs fell below 5 percent on Friday, but its first bond sale of the year failed to match the success of a Spanish auction the previous day, reflecting the heavy refinancing load Rome faces over the next three months. - CNBC.
WATCH: S&P downgrades nine Euro Zone credit ratings.

FIRE IN THE SKY: Tracking Russia's Phobos-Grunt - Failed Mars Probe Begins to Enter the Earth's Atmosphere!

Stranded Phobos-Grunt probe, one of the largest objects to re-enter the atmosphere in decade, begins to entering the Earth’s atmosphere. It would probably begin its descent on Sunday evening. By the latest estimate Phobos-Grunt could enter the atmosphere over Argentina and have its fragments splash down in the Atlantic Ocean. According to Roscosmos latest estimate, the craft should splash down at 8:22 pm (16:22 GMT) about 1,000 miles (1,600 kilometres) due south of Buenos Aires – close to Falkland Islands. The previous Roscosmos estimate was that craft  would come down between the northwestern shores of Madagascar and the east coast of AfricaOne of the first estimates was that would splash down into the Indian Ocean near Java.

Following the favourable outcomes of the UARS and ROSAT reentries in the past year, the entire world is awaiting the reentry of the Russian Mars probe Phobos-Grunt. Around the world, research and aerospace organisations are working to provide a precise reentry forecast. Russian officials still aren’t sure what caused the failure, though they recently raised the possibility that some sort of sabotage may be responsible.

WATCH: Phobos-Grunt Satellite Reentry.

You may download an interactive simulation of the PHOBOS-GRUNT reentry scenario, which uses the free AGI Viewer software to allow you to explore the latest reentry prediction in more detail.

Atmospheric conditions and the diminishing altitude of the vessel’s orbit, as well as solar activity, influenced the change in the time and location of the landing. A major cause of orbital decay for satellites in low Earth orbit is the drag of Earth’s atmosphere. Note that during solar maximum the Earth’s atmosphere causes significant drag up to a hundred kilometers higher than during solar minimum. Once Phobos-Grunt probes reaches the height of 120 km (75 miles) above the Earth’s surface it will have only around 30 minutes left before re-entry (less than one third of an orbit).

Estimating the location of orbital decay is impossible until several orbits prior to Entry. Phobos-Grunt is orbiting Earth with an inclination of 51.4 degrees, so all areas 51 degrees north and south of the equator are possbile entry zones. Predictions will become more accurate over the final two hours before its final destruction.

Uncontrolled reentry

Re-entry is generally accepted as commencing from orbit around at around 80km altitude. At this point the acceleration due to drag becomes appreciable (greater than 0.1G) thus causing further irreversible loss of altitude and increase in drag. At peak deceleration extreme heating, due to friction, and drag forces can destroy the objects integrity and disintegrate part or all of the object. This continues to around 45km altitude when the remaining objects have slowed and deceleration forces decrease. Remaining objects continue a ballistic trajectory, impacting the earths surface.

Usually 10-40% of the mass of the reentering object is likely to reach the surface of the Earth. On average, about one catalogued object reenters per day. Due to the Earth’s surface being primarily water, most objects that survive reentry land in one of the world’s oceans. In 1978, Cosmos 954 reentered uncontrolled and crashed near Great Slave Lake in the Northwest Territories of Canada. Cosmos 954 was nuclear powered and left radioactive debris near its impact site.  In 1979, Skylab reentered uncontrolled, spreading debris across the Australian Outback, damaging several buildings and killing a cow. The re-entry was a major media event largely due to the Cosmos 954 incident, but not viewed as much as a potential disaster since it did not carry nuclear fuel.

Phobos-Grunt dangerous load

Phobos-Grunt probe is loaded with enough toxic fuel to take it to the Mars moon Phobos. A total of about 11,150 Kilograms of  Hydrazine and Dinitrogen Tetroxide propellants (which boil at 113 degrees Celsius) were inside the vehicle’s tanks at liftoff. The Phobos-Grunt contains a tiny quantity of the radioactive metal Cobalt-57 in one of its instruments, but Roscosmos said it poses no threat of radioactive contamination. The Russian expert predict that only 20 or 30 segments weighing no more than 200 kg could survive the fiery re-entry and actually hit the Earth’s surface. The chief NASA scientist on orbital space debris meanwhile dismissed the threat posed by the craft’s toxic fuel. NASA reported on its website that the craft’s fuel tanks are made of aluminium, which has a lower melting point than commonly used titanium, and that significantly reduces the chances of the propellant reaching the surface of the Earth. Also taking into account that all propellants explode upon reentry, around 475 to 950 kg of Phobos-Grunt debris could reach the ground. Other experts warn that part of the fuel might have frozen in the cold of space and could survive the reentry, posing a strong threat if it spills over populated areas. (Such fears prompted the United States to shoot down its USA-193 spy satellite with a Navy missile in 2008.)

Chinese Yinghuo 1 Satellite  is travelling “0n board” Phobos-Grunt craft. The satellite weighs 113kg. Its mission was to study magnetic field of Mars, observing martian dust and measure ionosphere occultation. China has not released detailed technical information on any toxic or dangerous satellite components. The mission is China’s first of this kind and is considered a test flight. More information on Yinghuo 1 can be found here.

Entry capsule that was specially designed to bring soil from Phobos back to Earth is one component that will survive re-entry and impact the ground. LIFE biomodule is loaded with  7.5 kg of bacterias, fungus and other microorganisms. All organisms that are part of the LIFE Experiment are not harmful to humans. It is expected that the entry module will make it to Earth’s surface as intended after being separated from the vehicle during the destructive entry process. Phobos-Grunt carry representatives of all three domains of life: bacteria, eukaryota, and archaea. Most have been flown in near-Earth space on short missions.  All have been studied extensively, most having their genomes sequenced. Most are “extremophiles”: organisms resistant to one or more environmental factors such as radiation, high salt concentration, heat, etc.  10 individual organisms in 30 self-contained samples. In addition, one native soil sample will be flown in its own self contained capsule. Find more about on board organisms.

Other organizations and observers tracking Phobos-Grunt have their own estimates, some of which roughly agree with Roscosmos’ predictions and some of which have the probe crashing later, perhaps early Monday morning (Jan. 16).

Re-Entry Predictions:
Spaceflight101: January 15, 2012 – 16:34 UTC +/- 06 Hours
Harro Zimmer: January 15, 2012 – 17:05 UTC +/- 03 Hours
Ted Molczan: January 15, 2012 – 21:36 UTC +/- 10 Hours
Aerospace Corp.: January 15, 2012 – 17:52 UTC +/- 14 Hours
Official Russian Prediction: January 15, 2012

Here is a quick guide for skywatchers with important facts and figures and instructions how to track and observe Phobos-Grunt reentry via various on-line satellite trackers and other applications: Observe Phobos-Grunt!

TITANTIC 2012: Luxury Cruise Ship, Costa Concordia, Runs Aground Off Italy - Roaring Sound Heard; Then Ship Tilts and Overturns; 4,000 Passengers Evacuated; 3 Reported Dead?!

Did you happen to watch the 2009 Roland Emmerich directed, blockbuster science fiction disaster film 2012? If you did, do you remember these scenes?

WATCH: Cruise ship scene.

With this year, now in perfect alignment with the title of the movie and the perpetual references to Mayanism, the Mesoamerican Long Count calendar and the 2012 phenomenon, is it possible that we will be seeing and hearing about real stories, similar to the one you just saw? Well have a look at the following story of a luxury cruise ship that ran aground off Italy. Although officials aren't sure as to exactly what was the nature of the difficulties that led to the incident, is it possible that it is related to Earth changes?

Three people are confirmed dead after a cruise ship carrying more than 4,000 people ran aground off Italy. There were scenes of panic as the Costa Concordia hit a sandbar on Friday evening near the island of Giglio and listed about 20 degrees. People reached land by lifeboats but some swam ashore. Rescue teams have been going from cabin to cabin, searching for survivors. Italians, Germans, French and British were among the 3,200 passengers. There were also 1,000 crew on board. Helicopters evacuated the last 50 people on the deck who were in a "worsening" situation.

Three people were confirmed dead, Italian coast guard officials said on Saturday morning - fewer than the six or eight deaths reported by Italian media earlier. The Costa Concordia had sailed earlier on Friday from Civitavecchia port near Rome for a Mediterranean cruise, due to dock in Marseille after calling at ports in Sicily, Sardinia and Spain. One thousand passengers were Italian, with 500 Germans and 160 French. Some "tens" of British passengers are believed to have been on board, said the UK Foreign Office, which is sending a team to the scene. Some passengers told the Associated Press the crew had failed to give instructions on how to evacuate the ship. An evacuation drill was scheduled for Saturday afternoon. "It was so unorganised, our evacuation drill was scheduled for 17:00 (16:00 GMT)," Melissa Goduti, 28, from the US told AP. "We had joked what if something had happened today."

Passengers were eating dinner on Friday evening, when they heard a loud bang, and were told that the ship had suffered electrical problems, one passenger told Italy's Ansa news agency. "We were having supper when the lights suddenly went out, we heard a boom and a groaning noise, and all the cutlery fell on the floor," said Luciano Castro. Passenger Mara Parmegiani told Italian media there were "scenes of panic". "We were very scared and freezing because it happened while we were at dinner so everyone was in evening wear. We definitely didn't have time to get anything else. They gave us blankets but there weren't enough," she said. The 290-metre (950 ft) vessel ran aground, starting taking in water and listing by 20 degrees, the local coast guard said. "We announced a general emergency and took passengers to muster stations," he said. "But it is hard to launch the lifeboats, so they moved to the right side of the ship, and they could launch." Elderly passengers were crying, said Mr Ordona, adding that he and some others jumped into the sea and swam roughly 400 metres to reach land. Rescued passengers were accommodated in hotels, schools and a church on Giglio, a resort island 25km (18 miles) off Italy's western coast.

Most have now been moved to the mainland, Elizabeth Nanni from Giglio's tourist information service told the BBC. "Usually there are 700 people on the island at this time of year, so receiving 4,000 and some in the middle of the night wasn't easy," she said. "Some people jumped in the sea so they had hypothermia." Searches are still going on for "possible missing people", regional official Giuseppe Linardi told the Italian broadcaster RAI. Once the search of the cabins above the waterline has been completed, scuba divers will then check the decks which were submerged by the crash. Coast guard official Francesco Paolillo, a local coast guard official, told the AFP news agency there was a 30m hole in the ship but that it was too early to say what exactly had happened. "We think this happened as a result of sailing too close to an obstacle like a reef," he said. Costa Cruises, the company which owns the ship, said it could not yet say what had caused the accident. "The gradual listing of the ship made the evacuation extremely difficult," a statement said. "The position of the ship, which is worsening, is making more difficult the last part of the evacuation. "We'd like to express our deepest gratitude to the coastguard and other emergency services, including the authorities and citizens of the island of Giglio, who did their best in saving and helping the passengers and crew." Two years ago, a Costa Cruises ship crashed into a dock at the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm al-Sheikh, killing three members of the crew. - BBC.
WATCH: Cruise ship Costa Concordia runs aground off Italy.

WATCH: Cabin steward describes jumping from ship.

WATCH: "People started to panic".

WATCH: Passenger's video from the lifeboat.

ALASKA'S SNOWAPOCALYPSE: Record Snowfall in Anchorage - Winter Piles on More Snow For Weather-Weary Residents - Snowiest Period Since Records Began!

The worst winter anyone can remember in Alaska has piled snow so high people can’t see out the windows, kept a tanker in ice-choked waters from delivering fuel on time and turned snow-packed roofs into sled runs. While most of the nation has gone without much seasonal snow, the state already known for winter is buried in weather that has dumped more than twice as much snow as usual on its largest city, brought out the National Guard and put a run on snow shovels.

A house is buried in snow and icicles are seen hanging in the fishing town of Cordova.
As a Russian tanker crawled toward the iced-in coastal community of Nome to bring in much-needed fuel, weather-weary Alaskans awoke Thursday to more snow and said enough was enough. “The scary part is, we still have three more months to go,’’ said Kathryn Hawkins, a veterinarian who lives in the coastal community of Valdez, about 100 miles southeast of Anchorage. “I look out and go, `Oh my gosh, where can it all go?’’’ More than 26 feet of snow has fallen in Valdez since November. The 8-foot snow piles outside Hawkins’ home are so high she can’t see out the front or back of her house. Her 12-year-old son has been sliding off the roof into the yard.

In the nearby fishing community of Cordova, more than 172 inches of snow has fallen since November; snow began falling again after midnight Wednesday. The Alaska National Guard was called in to help move the snow, and the city is running out of places to put it. Front-end loaders are hauling snow from dump piles to a snow-melting machine. “That’s our big issue, getting our snow dumps cleared for the next barrage of snow,’’ Cordova spokesman Allen Marquette said. South of the mainland, a fishing vessel, a house boat and a pleasure craft moored in Kodiak Island’s St. Paul Harbor sank when they became overloaded with snow, the Coast Guard said.

Anchorage had 88 inches fall as of Thursday — more than twice the average snowfall of 30.1 inches for the same time period. The weather service counts July 1 through the end of June as a snow season. More than 7 inches had fallen Thursday and more than a foot was expected. This year’s total already broke the record 77.3 inches that fell during the same period in 1993-94. If it keeps up, Anchorage is on pace to have the snowiest winter ever, surpassing the previous record of 132.8 inches in 1954-55. It would be the “best winter ever,’’ said Terry Kelly, who wasted no time Thursday strapping on cross country skis in the city’s expansive Kincaid Park. “The snow is great for skiing, for downhill skiing, for alpine skiing. It’s beautiful, it makes the holiday season awesome, fresh snow increases the light in town so it makes it brighter in winter. To me, it’s great.’’ - Boston.
Moving slowly: Russian-flagged tanker Renda transits through the Bering Sea
with U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy's assistance, on its way to Nome, Alaska
Weary Alaskans today woke up to another heavy snowfall as Anchorage experiences its snowiest period since records began, causing more headaches in coastal areas already struggling to dig out. The snow started falling shortly before midnight last night and meteorologists warned Anchorage residents that the heaviest snowfall - up to 16 inches - could come later on Thursday. About 150 miles to the southeast, the Prince William Sound community of Cordova, which has already been buried under 172 inches of snow since November, could get another 7 inches today.

The picturesque fishing community has had so much snow that National Guard troops helping clear roads are running out of shovels. ‘The scary part is, we (have) still three more months to go,’ said Kathryn Hawkins, a veterinarian who lives in nearby coastal community Valdez, which has seen 318 inches, or 27ft, of snow. It has been difficult to keep up with the shovelling - and 8ft walls of snow line either side of her driveway. After snow fell off her roof she cannot see out either the front or back of her house. ‘I look out and go: “Oh my gosh, where can it all go?”’ she said. In the ice-choked frozen waters of the Bering Sea, a Russian tanker loaded with 1.3million gallons of fuel is inching toward the iced-in community of Nome. It is following in the path being painstakingly ploughed by a Coast Guard icebreaker. Thick ice, wind and unfavourable ocean currents had the vessels making little progress.

But conditions improved on Wednesday and a Coast Guard spokesman said the tanker and the icebreaker were 78 miles from Nome. The city missed its final pre-winter delivery of fuel by barge. That was because a big storm swept the region last autumn. Without the delivery, Nome could run short of fuel before a barge delivery becomes possible in late spring. The weather has put a strain on the state, which deployed the National Guard to Cordova this week. If it keeps up, Anchorage is on track to have the snowiest winter ever, surpassing the previous record of 132.8 inches in 1954-55, meteorologist Shaun Baines said. The weather service counts a snow year from July to June. From July 1 through to Tuesday, Anchorage has received 81.3 inches of snow. That makes it the snowiest period for Anchorage ever. Anchorage schools were open on Thursday, but some school bus routes were cancelled because of whiteout driving conditions. ‘I think people were girding their loins for a long winter,’ said local police Lieutenant Dave Park. He hasn't seen a crime upsurge, but ‘by the end of March, there might be a few frustrated people.’ - Daily Mail.
WATCH: Eye-witness captures Alaska's Snowpocalypse.

WATCH: Mega-storm buries Alaska under 18-feet of snow.

RATTLE & HUM: Mysterious Humming Noise Phenomena Continues - Strange Sounds Heard in Aalborg, Denmark?!

Here's another case of the mysterious noise phenomena heard across the globe. This one comes out of Aalborg in Denmark by way of an eye-witness, who posted a video with audio of the invasive sounds heard during the night.

In the night of 10-01-2012 in Aalborg Denmark I heard a very strange sound coming from outside, I went out to see what it was and it sounds like it came from heaven and it lasted for several minutes. I recorded the sound on my camera, and it was very loud in real life, but it can not be heard so high on the recording, as it was only recorded with a tiny camera microphone. I am quite sure that it was not a mechanically sound of helicopter or airplane, or a train, because I know how it sounds. You can best begin to hear it after (1:20 minutes ) and at the end of the recording. - Calirera.
WATCH: Strange sounds in Denmark.