Friday, February 3, 2012

SECOND SUN MEMES: EXOPLANETARY DISCOVERY - NASA's Kepler Mission Discovers 2 New Planets With Double Suns; Now 3 Such Known Systems in the Galaxy!

A team of NASA scientists has discovered two new planets, each of which revolves around its own double suns.

They are named Kepler-34b and Kepler-35b, and together with Kepler-16b, discovered last September, there are now three such known systems in the galaxy. While the phenomenon of binary stars has been well known for centuries, the recent discoveries prove that binary suns can also support planets. "This work further establishes that such 'two sun' planets are not rare exceptions, but may in fact be common, with many millions existing in our galaxy," said William Welsh of San Diego State University who led the study. "This discovery broadens the hunting ground for systems that could support life."

At 4,900 and 5,400 light years from Earth, located in the constellation Cygnus, Kepler-34b and Kepler-35b are among the most distant planets discovered by NASA's Kepler satellite. The findings were published recently in the journal Nature. Most suns in the universe exist in pairs, said Tsevi Mazeh of Tel Aviv University's Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics and director of the Wise Observatory. These partnerships closely resemble human relationships so that if two suns are formed together, they stay together, unless a third star comes too close to the pair and breaks the bond.

The two new planets are both gaseous Saturn-size planets. Kepler-34b orbits its two sun-like stars every 289 days, and the stars orbit one another every 28 days. Kepler-35b orbits its smaller and cooler host stars every 131 days, and the stellar pair orbit each other every 21 days. The planets reside too close to their parent stars to be in the "habitable zone" — the region where liquid water could exist on a planet's surface.

During sunsets on both planets, one sun will descend first, followed by a twilight period. Afterwards, the second sun will set and night will fall. Our solar system, which revolves around one sun, is more unusual, though we can't dismiss the possibility that our sun has an undiscovered distant companion, said Mazeh. "We shouldn't limit our search by assuming that all the planets are like those in our solar system. Some of them are very different from what we have here, and every time we find a new planet, we're explorers landing on unknown territory." - CBC.

EXTRATERRESTRIAL & UFO MEMES: Mysterious Object Found in the Baltic Sea - Claim of 2nd UFO in Baltic Sea Needs to be Further Explored?!

During the month of July, an ocean exploration team that was led by Swedish researchers found what some have said is a flying saucer sitting on the floor of the sea. Some photos from the discovery even show what looks to be skid marks behind the object, suggesting that it might have moved across the floor or crashed on it.

Experts speculated that the object might have been a glitch in the sonar of the expedition team. But, new reports surfacing from earlier this week have said that the team found a second object close by the first one. There was one thing missing as the rumors swirled across the internet; a picture of the second object. The expedition was led by Peter Lindberg. Lindberg announced in late July that he discovered an interesting round object roughly 300 feet, or 91 meters, down on the ocean floor. The object was found in the Gulf of Bothnia, between Sweden and Finland. Lindberg added to the interest of the find by saying that he saw scars or marks that disturbed the environment close to the object, which could suggest that the object moved across the ocean floor.

To this day, the object has yet to be identified and many experts still question whether the sonar was accurate in the first place. Hanumant Singh, a researcher from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, said that the sidescan sonar used by Lindbergh to discover the object is not that reliable. Singh said that the sonar is used correctly to find sunken ships, which have a larger profile on the floor of the ocean, but it is less accurate for revealing flat, low formations. Brooke Bowman, from CNN, said that the first unidentified object “is not on its own down there. The ocean explorer team also found another, smaller disc-shaped object nearby. Both show a rigid tail or drag marks more than 400 meters (about 437 yards) long. Their size and distinctive shape are generating some peculiar theories.”

Some theories about the object include it being Han Solo’s Millennium Falcon from ‘Star Wars,’ Atlantis, a crashed flying saucer, Russian warships, a marine version of a Stonehenge or an opening to another world inside the Earth. Sidescan sonar is known to manufacture false images but the announcement of a second image pretty much puts to bed the theory that two identical false images can be possible. The story takes an interesting turn when we found out that the image of the second object is a duplicate of the first object. Lindberg explained, “I confirm that we have found two anomalies. We did find the other anomaly approximately 200 meters (about 219 yards) from the circular find at the same sonar run.” Lindberg then told reporters why his team has yet to release an image of the second object: “We decided not to expose that anomaly so much because there is a lot of disturbance on the sonar image when we passed it, so it’s very blurry. We can see it’s something but to an untrained eye it might just look like ‘pea soup.’”

Once images of the second object were released, we were able to see that the two objects do not look alike in the least bit. The new object resembles different types of food such as eggplant or a blueberry muffin that is growing its own head. Lindberg has speculated that the two objects might be linked somehow: “There is a chance that the two anomalies had been parts of the same body from the beginning. But at the same time it might mean nothing, it might be a coincidence.” - JD Journal.
WATCH: Object Found in the Baltic Sea.

WATCH: Strange anomaly was found during a sonar.

PNEUMONIA OUTBREAK: USA300, the Deadly Strain of MRSA - Flesh-Eating Bug That You Can Catch on the Bus or Train is Spreading in the United Kingdom; Bug is Resistant to Treatment!

A flesh-eating form of pneumonia that is easily passed between healthy people on public transport is spreading across the UK, experts have warned.

The deadly strain of MRSA called USA300 passes easily through skin-to-skin contact. It can also survive on surfaces and so has the potential to be picked up on crowded buses and tubes. It was first seen in the U.S but cases are now being reported in the community and not just hospitals in Britain. Dr Ruth Massey, from the Department of Biology and Biochemistry at the University of Bath, said extra vigilance was required around this and similar MRSA bugs known as PVL-positive community acquired strains. USA300 is resistant to treatment by several front-line antibiotics and can cause large boils on the skin. In severe cases, USA300 can lead to fatal blood poisoning or a form of pneumonia that can eat away at lung tissue. Dr Massey said there were 1,000 cases of PVL-positive community acquired MRSA in England in the last year, of which 200 were USA300 strains. 'These community-acquired strains seem to be good at affecting healthy people - they seem to be much better than the hospital ones at causing disease. 'They don't rely on healthcare workers moving them around, which the hospital ones seem to.'

Dr Massey said USA300 is 'a really big issue in the U.S. and it's starting to emerge here. 'But hopefully because we are aware of it and are working to understand it, it won't become as big of a problem (in the UK).' In a new research paper published in the Journal of Infectious Diseases, Dr Massey and colleagues analyse the way community-acquired MRSAs are able to adapt and fine tune themselves to spread outside of hospitals. MRSA bacteria in hospitals has not been able to migrate into the community in the same way. Dr Massey said: 'Our research found that the composition of the cell wall of the bacteria is critical to the community-acquired bacteria being more toxic. 'The ability of the MRSA bacteria to secrete toxins is one of the main ways it causes disease. 'Using a sensing system, it carefully controls when it switches on its ability to do this, so as not to cause disease until it is firmly established within the human. 'Many antibiotics target the cell walls of harmful bacteria, and to resist this, the bacteria have to make changes to their cell wall.' Community-acquired MRSA strains have cell walls that are different to those seen in hospitals, allowing them to sense their environment and switch toxin expression on at the right time.

Justine Rudkin, a PhD student working on the project, said: 'The community-acquired bacteria has evolved further, and is able to maintain a higher level of toxicity while also resisting treatment from antibiotics, making it a much larger problem.' She added: 'While we are constantly learning more about MRSA, there is a serious threat posed by this newer strain of bacteria capable of causing disease and even death in perfectly healthy people. 'We need to respond seriously to this threat as it reaches Britain from the United States.' Chris Thomas, professor of molecular genetics at the University of Birmingham, said: 'The key message is that strains of MRSA that are spreading in the community are better able to infect the young and healthy, precisely because they are not actually trying so hard to be resistant as the bugs that have been encountered in hospitals for many years.' He said there was now a 'need to worry about community super bugs that are fine tuned to spreading outside of hospitals and we all need to be extra vigilant about hygiene and unnecessary use of antibiotics.' A spokeswoman for the Health Protection Agency (HPA) said: 'The paper highlights some important observations which helps us understand at the molecular level why hospital strains of MRSA are less virulent than the so-called community MRSA strains. 'We have known about community MRSA for over a decade and, whilst they are responsible for a high burden of disease in North America, this is not the case in the rest of the world. 'In England we have seen sporadic cases of this type of MRSA most often causing boils and abscesses, but it has not emerged as a major public health issue in this country. 'The HPA are carrying out active surveillance of this type of bacteria and advise healthcare professionals on correct infection control procedures to reduce the likelihood of spread.' - Daily Mail.

TERMINATOR NOW: Nanotechnology, Soldier Centric Imaging and the Coming Global Police State - DARPA Invests In Megapixel Augmented-Reality Contact Lenses!

The augmented reality future we were long ago promised has been slow to come around, perhaps restrained most by the basic biology of our own eyes, which are unable to properly see detailed images placed very near the pupils. But via technology developed in part with a certain government agency, Washington-based Innovega has created a unique contact lens technology that allows the eye to focus on images projected very close to the eyes as well as objects in the real world beyond.

Innovega's DARPA-Desired AR Contact Lenses via DARPA
Simply put, the technology opens the door to augmented reality systems that don’t require some kind of bulky, virtual-reality-headset-from-the-‘90s peripheral visor or helmet. Instead, Innovega’s tech relies on images protected on a normal-looking set of specs and a pair of nanotechnology-infused contact lenses that provide megapixel clarity of that up-close imagery while still allowing the eye to focus on the world beyond.

At least, so goes the company’s CES pitch, which you can judge for yourself below. We haven’t tested the product, so we can’t really speak to its awesomeness. But DARPA can. The Pentagon’s blue-sky research wing announced yesterday that Innovega has developed for the agency a new breed of contact lenses that allow “a wearer to view virtual and augmented reality images without the need for bulky apparatus” and that allow users to focus on both faraway objects and images placed very close to the eye.

For DARPA’s part, Innovega is working as part of the Soldier Centric Imaging via Computational Cameras (SCENICC) program, which aims to eliminate the intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capability gap at the individual soldier level. Read: AR setups that plug individual soldiers right into drone feeds and other intel streams while still allowing them to maintain their peripheral vision and situational awareness. Meanwhile that could lead to more immersive 3-D television and gaming experiences for the rest of us. More tech detail via the video below.
WATCH: Innovega demonstrated at CES 2012 nanotechnology designed into contact lenses that, when combined with a special set of glasses, allows one to focus close to read a heads-up display projected on the glasses, while seeing far. They can also be used for delivering full-field 3D or for 360 degree gaming experience. In this video, Randall Sprague, CTO of Innovega, explains how this device works and potential applications.

EXTREME WEATHER: Dry Spell Devastates Zimbabwe Crops, Turning Fields Into Dust Bowls - Caused by Dry Continental Air From Tropical Cyclone Funso!

Tropical cyclone Funso, which has been dumping heavy rains on the coastal regions of Mozambique and Swaziland, has ironically brought misery to the southwest of Zimbabwe where villagers say their crops have wilted due to a lack of rain.

Zimbabwe Meteorological Services Director Tichaona Zinyemba said the lack of rains in Matabeleland South, Masvingo, Manicaland and parts of Midlands province is due to dry continental air being pushed by cyclone Funso into Zimbabwe.

Zinyemba said the dry conditions are likely to be causing havoc in these regions where some fields have been turned into dust bowls. Villagers said they are now appealing for food aid following the ruin of their crops.

Zinyemba said cyclones can devastate crops in various ways."They can either bring heavy rains or dry weather conditions leading to the destruction of crops," he said.

Gwanda North lawmaker Thandeko Zinti Mkandla said Matabeleland South crops are almost a write-off at this point. Matobo villager Bekithemba Nkomo said crops have been hit hard. "The situation is hopeless in all parts of Matobo," Nkomo said. - VOA News.

WEATHER ANOMALIES: A Rare Occurrence in Rome, Italy - Thick Snowflakes and Frigid Temperatures Unseen in Years!

On Friday, thick snowflakes fell in Rome on Friday, a rare occurrence for a capital usually blessed by a temperate climate, and other parts of the country experienced frigid temperatures unseen in years.

An open top bus travels through a snow storm at the Colosseum, in Rome on Friday.
The snowfall prompted authorities to stop visitors from entering the Colosseum, the Roman Forum and the Palatine Hill, the former home of Rome's ancient emperors.

The director of the Colosseum, Rossella Rea, said the sites were closed out of fears that visitors could slip on ice. The last substantial snowfalls in Rome were in 1985 and 1986, though there have been other cases of lighter snow since then, including in 2010.

Snow began falling in the late morning on Friday, leaving a light dusting on trees and cars and forming slush on the roads. It wasn't clear if there would be any significant accumulation on the ground. The north of the country has also been gripped by snow and ice that is disrupting train travel. - Today's Zaman.

THE GREAT DELUGE: "A Dangerous New Territory," Record-Breaking Floods Create 'Inland Sea' in Australia - Over 7,000 Isolated in New South Wales; and Areas of Queensland Are Officially Declared as a Disaster Zone!

Major flooding hit parts of Australia's east on Friday, stranding thousands of residents, prompting a military airlift and leaving some communities only accessible by helicopter.

Major flooding hit parts of Australia's east on Friday, stranding thousands of residents.
The deluge, which has sparked dozens of rescues and left about 7,275 people isolated in various parts of New South Wales state has also impacted Queensland to the north where homes have reportedly been inundated. "From the air it looks like an inland sea," New South Wales Premier Barry O'Farrell said after visiting the region. Evacuations have been ordered from some houses and businesses in the New South Wales town of Moree, where more than 600 people have registered with an evacuation shelter as the Mehi River peaked, the State Emergency Service said.

"The town of Moree is inundated with water -- so north Moree is not only cut off, but many of the properties there are flooded," O'Farrell said. "As you fly over the centre of the town there are streets that look like canals that have more relevance to Venice than north western New South Wales." A Royal Australian Air Force C-130 Hercules aircraft was moving bedding to Moree, as locals sandbagged buildings against the Mehi and rising Gwydir river as the water hit levels not seen in decades.
Evacuations have been ordered from some houses and businesses in New South Wales.
Diana Smith, who lives about 20 kilometres (12 miles) outside Moree, said her family was cut off from evacuation centres by the floods. "We're on the Mie Mie Creek which has burst its banks and it's virtually just... we're like an island -- just a sea of water all around us," she told the broadcaster ABC. "It's quite scary actually. We can't get into Moree and we can't get any further east. We would have to go by chopper if we wanted to evacuate." The Mehi river has now peaked but the water is expected to remain for several days and authorities have warned of the dangers of floodwaters. "It's a huge logistical operation with a major flood," SES Deputy Commissioner Steve Pearce told the Seven Network.

"There have been some circumstances where we've had to use one if not all of our 18 helicopters to airlift people out of some isolated areas. "Fortunately most people abided by those evacuation orders." Further north in Queensland state, some 15 homes have reportedly been flooded after the Maranoa river swelled while scores of people spent the night in evacuation centres. The floods come just over a year after massive floods deluged much of Queensland and northern New South Wales, swamping mines and farmland, wiping out entire hamlets and bringing the city of Brisbane to a watery standstill.

Queensland Premier Anna Bligh said close to 200 people had been evacuated in Mitchell, while the hospital had also been evacuated and five schools closed amid fears the Maranoa river could reach a record level of 10 metres (33 feet). "Thoughts with people of Mitchell -- highest flood on record overnight, 9.6m," she tweeted Friday. As the rains continued, Moree mayor Katrina Humphries said while her town was well prepared, there was no telling when the downpour would end. "Mother Nature has her way and she'll stop crying when it suits her," she said. - Agence France-Presse.

Queensland Premier Anna Bligh declares flood disaster.

Record-breaking floods have sparked a disaster declaration in Queensland's southwest, with the premier warning the region has entered dangerous new territory. The flood threat in the inland town of Roma is worsening rapidly, with waters rising a metre in an hour, Maranoa mayor Robert Loughnan told the ABC.

He said he had called in helicopters to winch some residents to safety and people should immediately abandon low-lying areas. "The time for sandbagging has gone," he said. "We need to get people out of those low-lying areas right now." Swift-water rescuers are searching for an adult and a child believed to have been swept away in a car on Northern Road at Roma. The town is facing its worst flood since March 2010, when water entered about 200 homes, and the Bungil Creek. Premier Anna Bligh has declared a state of disaster. The State Disaster Co-ordination Centre is managing the response, and Queensland Police Service Deputy Commissioner Ian Stewart has been appointed state disaster co-ordinator. "Ian Stewart was at my side during last year's natural disasters, and as the emergency unfolds in the southwest it is heartening to have him in the position again," she said. Meanwhile, the Maranoa River at Mitchell is expected to peak at 10 metres tonight, a new record.

St George and other towns are facing damaging flood peaks on Saturday and Sunday. "We are in new territory here, the water coming through is breaking records for this region," Ms Bligh said. "I have been in direct contact with mayors and the situation is unfolding. I will visit these regions as soon as it is safe and practicable to do so." Judy Barclay, a long-time resident of Roma, said she was watching the flood waters rise, but refused to leave her home. "The water has broken the banks of the creek but it hasn't spread up as far as me yet," she said. "I'm too old to evacuate. I'm going to stay put with my dog - he can't be evacuated because they can't take dogs. "We've all been through this before and I think that probably helps, knowing that you do get over it, you do get through it." Jacqui Burns, who has lived in Roma for only six months, said her home should be OK but many people were nervous. "There's a lot of sandbagging going on," she said.

Cattle swim through the Maranoa River to dry ground after being
stranded by floodwaters near the south-west Queensland town of Mitchell.
"We've just put the word out to people that if anybody needs anywhere to go they can come and lob on our doorstep." The entire town of Mitchell has been blacked out. Half the town lost power because of a fault in the system and supply was cut to the rest as a safety precaution. Once the flood drops, homes that have had water through them will have to be inspected before power can be restored. In Roma nearly 360 homes have been disconnected because the expected speed of the rising water could stop crews getting in later on. People in flood boats have been warned to remember they will be closer to power lines as they move around. Two remote communities that have been cut off in the Gulf of Carpentaria are being resupplied by Emergency Management Queensland (EMQ), which is flying in essential food and medicine. More than two tonnes of fresh fruit, vegetables, meat, medical supplies and other essentials will be airlifted into Doomadgee and almost as much will go to Burketown. Two commercial aircraft have been chartered and will make up to nine flights from an airstrip at Gregory, about 60km south of Burketown.

Meanwhile, NSW Premier Barry O'Farrell has compared the flood-ravaged streets of Moree to the canals of Venice, and the area surrounding the township to an inland sea. Mr O'Farrell and Deputy Premier Andrew Stoner visited the north-western NSW town this morning to see first-hand how locals and emergency service workers were coping with the inundation. The Mehi River this morning peaked at levels not seen since 1976, cutting the town in two and flooding some businesses in CBD after reaching 10.65 metres. "From the air it looks like an inland sea", Mr O'Farrell said. "The town of Moree is inundated with water - so north Moree is not only cut off, but many of the properties there are flooded," he said after touring the town. "As you fly over the centre of the town there are streets that look like canals that have more relevance to Venice than north western NSW. "It is an extraordinary landscape, but the great thing is resilient residents in the north west of NSW are getting on with life, and as the mayor (Katrina Humphries) says, will cope." About 1600 people from homes in North Moree have been evacuated, while 680 people have left their homes in Pallamallawa and Biniguy, east of Moree, as the Gwydir River floods, the State Emergency Service said. More than 11,000 people are isolated across NSW and more than 2200 spent the night in evacuation centres as flooding that has affected the region for 10 days shows no sign of easing.

Mr O'Farrell said while the Mehi River had peaked, the water would not recede for days. "The bad news is they say that peak may stay in place for two to three days," he said. "Families, businesses, farmers are suffering, and what the SES is saying is that this water is not going to recede in a hurry." The air force has diverted a Hercules aircraft from a planned training mission to take supplies including bedding to Moree. Cr Humphries said the town was as ready as possible for the floods, with thousands of sandbags put back from where they were taken away after a flood just two months ago. This flood is expected to be bigger. Anyone that had water last time knows they're going to have more water," Cr Humphries told ABC Radio. "Anyone who nearly had water last time knows that they'll probably have water, and anyone that was high and dry has got people in their house." Opposition Leader Tony Abbott described the floods in NSW and Queensland as devastating. "Obviously all Australians' hearts are with the people in those areas who are now, yet again, flood impacted," he said. - Herald Sun.
WATCH: Queensland floods.

Meanwhile, Cyclone Iggy lost its intensity as it nears the Australian coast.

Cyclone Iggy is moving towards the Mid West coast but authorities expect it to have little impact. The Weather Bureau now believes the system will weaken below tropical cyclone intensity before it reaches the coast, somewhere between Kalbarri and Jurien Bay late today or early tomorrow. Adrian de Clear from the Fire and Emergency Services Authority says the forecast is a relief but the storm is still unpredictable and authorities are ready for whatever it throws their way. "The track still shows it crossing the coast as some kind of storm system just below Geraldton, but what actual storm it is is still a few days off to be worked out," he said. - ABC News.

ANIMAL BEHAVIOR: Monster Prawn - Scientists Snare 'Super-Giant Amphipod' Off New Zealand!

Scientists have captured a "super-giant" crustacean in waters seven kilometres (4.5 miles) deep off New Zealand, measuring 10 times the normal size of related species.

The "supergiant amphipod", which resembles a monster prawn, was found during an expedition to the Kermadec Trench north of New Zealand by scientists from the University of Aberdeen and Wellington's NIWA marine research institute. Amphipods are normally up to three centimetres (around an inch) long and the University of Aberdeen's Alan Jamieson said he was stunned to find the 28 centimetre (11 inch) giant when emptying traps on his research vessel's deck.

"I stopped and thought 'what on earth is that?' whilst catching a glimpse of an amphipod far bigger than I ever thought possible," he said. "It's a bit like finding a foot-long cockroach." Another amphipod, which was filmed by the expedition but not captured, was an estimated 34 centimetres long. "It just goes to show that the more you look, the more you find," NIWA principal scientist Ashley Rowden said.

"For such a large and conspicuous animal to go unnoticed for so long is just testament to how little we know about life in New Zealand's most deep and unique habitat." Super-giant amphipods have been found only once before, in the 1980s. But that was off Hawaii, about 7,000 kilometres (4,500 miles) to the north, and NIWA said it was yet to determine if the latest catch was a new species. Scientists said they did not know why the deep-sea creatures evolved to such a huge size. - Agence France-Presse.

A huge crustacean has been found lurking 7km down in the waters off the coast of New Zealand. The creature - called a supergiant - is a type of amphipod, which are normally around 2-3cm long. But these beasts, discovered in the Kermadec Trench, were more than 10 times bigger: the largest found measured in at 34cm. Alan Jamieson, from the University of Aberdeen's Oceanlab, said: "It's a bit like finding a foot-long cockroach."

"I stopped and thought: 'What on Earth was that?' This amphipod was far bigger than I ever thought possible." The strange animals were found using a large metal trap, which had been equipped with a camera, housed in sapphire glass to keep it safe from the high pressures of the deep sea. Seven specimens were caught in the trap and nine were captured on film by the team from the University of Aberdeen, in Scotland, and the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (Niwa), in New Zealand. The largest specimen brought back up to the ship measured 28cm in length, while the biggest spotted on camera was 34cm-long.

'Conspicuous animal'

Amphipods have been found living in large numbers at the very bottom of ocean trenches, deep, narrow valleys in the sea floor that can plunge down to nearly 11km. The creatures are small, but extremely active, and seem to thrive in this place where the pressure is one thousand times greater than at sea level. The name "supergiant" was first coined after large specimens were caught in the 1980s off the coast of Hawaii. They have been seen since in the Antarctic, where they grew up to 10cm, but these are now dwarfed by this latest find.

Dr Ashley Rowden, from Niwa, said: "It just goes to show that the more you look, the more you find. "For such a large and conspicuous animal to go unnoticed for so long is just testament to how little we know about life in New Zealand's most deep and unique habitat." Over the last few years, scientists have been surprised by the life that is found in ocean trenches. These deep-sea spots were once thought to be barren; too dark, cold and with too much pressure for anything to survive. But researchers have found a wealth of life in the deepest of the deep. As well as swarms of amphipods, they have uncovered shrimp-like creatures called isopods and snailfish that live 7,700m down. - BBC.
WATCH: Images of the "Super-Giant" Amphipod.

EXTREME WEATHER: Major Winter Storm - Blizzard Unfolding From Denver to Omaha!

A raging snowstorm and blizzard are unfolding from the east slopes of the Colorado Rockies to part of the central Plains.

Travel conditions rapidly deteriorated rapidly overnight in Denver as heavy snow arrived. Heavy snow and blowing snow are dangerously reducing the visibility while roads have become snow-covered. Two feet of snow has already buried the foothills west of Denver. Additional snow will fall into tonight, bringing snowfall totals in some of the foothills to near three feet. Some roads and major highways have closed and others may follow as the storm strengthens and snow expands eastward. More than 400 flights have been canceled at Denver International Airport today in response to the blinding, heavy snow.

All-out blizzard conditions will develop in the swath between Denver to Omaha before the storm runs its course. Very slippery and slow travel has already developed along much of I-25, I-70 and I-76 in eastern Colorado. Conditions will deteriorate farther to the east along I-80 in Nebraska and part of I-70 in western Kansas tonight. Snow will continue to streak northeastward followed by increasing winds, low visibility, large snow drifts and poor travel spreading from northeast eastern Colorado to southwestern and central Nebraska to northwestern Kansas.

Boulder, Denver and Sterling in Colorado, Grand Island, Kearney, McCook and North Platte in Nebraska and Goodland in Kansas will be in the heart of the storm with a foot of snow possible. A few locations within this swath can pick up a bit more. Rain will change to heavy, accumulating snow from west to east, reaching into eastern Nebraska and much of Iowa. In the swath from Omaha to Des Moines the changeover to snow will begin later Friday night. By Saturday night at least a half a foot of snow will be on the ground. In these areas of the lower central Plains, the first part of the snow will be more wet, but blowing and drifting snow will occur later in the storm with possible blizzard conditions as temperatures fall off and winds pick up.

The storm will reorganize and strengthen over the South Central states today into Saturday, raising strong winds, pushing temperatures downward and causing rain to change to snow in the east over a portion of the central Plains. A storm of this size, with energy and moisture available, has the potential to deliver the heaviest snow of the winter, especially in light of how the season has evolved for the central Plains. The storm will stay south of most of the northern Plains and a push of dry air should prevent the storm's moisture from reaching the Great Lakes region. The snowstorm is forecast to stay north of Kansas City. However, motorists heading north along I-29 or I-35 will run into a mess over Nebraska and Iowa later tonight and Saturday. The storm system will bring not only drenching rain to portions of the South Central states, but also severe thunderstorms, especially in parts of Texas and Oklahoma. The snowstorm just goes to show how quickly the weather can change over the Plains. During Monday and Tuesday, temperatures soared into the 60s over much of the region. While the storm will bring dangers and travel problems, it will bring needed moisture for agricultural interests over the central Plains. - Accu Weather.
WATCH: Preparing for the storm.

POLE SHIFT & ICE AGES: Natural Tilts in Earth's Axis Cause Ice Ages - The Cycles Could Help Predict the Next One!

The idea that slight shifts in Earth's axis might have been enough to trigger the ice ages is a century old.

But a Harvard earth sciences Professor Peter Huybers has finally proved it, using computer models to test competing ideas - and finding that earth's tilting axis is the only one that works. The finding could have profound implications for our understanding of our planet's climate - and could, its author says, be crucial to 'predicting long-term changes in future climate.' Two 'cycles' in the way Earth's axis spins have an effect on the cycle - one lasting 10,000 years and one lasting roughly 40,000 years. When they align correctly, ice melts. At the other extreme, glaciers advance.

The idea that these could dictate the cycles of glaciation in Earth's climate was first proposed by Serbian geophysicist Milutin Milankovitch in the first half of the twentieth century. 'These periods of deglaciation saw massive climate changes,' Huybers said. 'Sea level increased by 130 meters, temperatures rose by about 5 degrees C, and atmospheric CO2 went from 180 to 280 parts per million.' We ought to understand what caused these massive changes in past climate if we are to predict long-term changes in future climate with any confidence.' 'And at least now we know with greater than 99 percent confidence that shifts in earth's axis are among the factors that contribute to deglaciation.'

When both cycles align 'correctly', the glaciers retreat rapidly. 'When you get that alignment, the radiation that the Northern Hemisphere receives during summer increases by tens of watts per meter squared, and if large Northern ice sheets are present, they tend to disintegrate.' 'These statistical findings agree exactly with what Milutin Milankovitch, a Serbian geophysicist, proposed in the first half of the 20th century.' Huybers emphasises that these cycles are only one factor among many. 'It could also be that orbital forcing causes a rise is atmospheric CO2, and that it's the increased CO2 that drives the loss of ice sheets,' he said. 'In all likelihood, both CO2 and increased summer radiation contribute to deglaciation. They're both expected to push the climate system toward less ice.' - Daily Mail.

GLOBAL VOLCANISM: Mexico's Popocatepetl Volcano Spews Gas Into the Skies Near the Capital - 14 "Exhalations" Between Wednesday and Thursday!

Mexico's Popocatepetl volcano has been spewing gas, water vapor and incandescent materials into the skies near the country's capital for days, registering at least 14 "exhalations" late on Wednesday and in the early hours of Thursday, according to local media.

Popocatepetl belching a column of steam looms over residents
of Xalitzintla municipality in Puebla on Wednesday.
The most significant emissions came on Tuesday afternoon and were accompanied by a small quantity of ash, scientists said, according to Excelsior newspaper reported (Link in Spanish).

Local civil protection officials have been giving evacuation training in communities near Popocatepetl ahead of a possible eruption, Reuters reported.

The 17,886-foot volcano 40 miles southeast of the Mexican capital is the country's second-highest peak and has experienced at least 15 major eruptions in the last 500 years.

In November, Popocatepetl spewed a burst of ash three miles into the air after breaking through a dome of lava. The volcano has been erupting intermittently since December 1994. - MSNBC / Reuters.

ANIMAL BEHAVIOR: Wolves Terrorizes People in Karelian Town of Pitkyaranta in Russia - Pack Refused to Return to the Woods Until Police Intervention?! UPDATE: Erratic Sheep Behavior in Southern Russia?!

A pack of wolves terrorized locals in the streets of a Karelian town, not returning to the woods until police opened fire, killing two.

The incident took place on Monday in Pitkyaranta, a town of 12,000 located near the Finnish border, some 670 kilometers northeast of Moscow, local police reported.

"A frightened man called police to report he had just been attacked by wolves...not in the woods, but on the city's Parkovaya Ulitsa," a police spokesman said.

A police patrol dispatched to Parkovaya Ulitsa discovered several wolves waiting outside the door of an apartment building. The animals ignored the police car, but one of them charged when the officers left the vehicle. They shot the wolf and then another who also tried to attack, prompting the pack to trudge back toward the forest where it came from.

The thermometer stood at moderate minus 12 degrees Celsius in Pitkyaranta on Monday, down some six degrees from last week's average, according to weather forecaster. - RIA Novosti.

Meanwhile, in the southern region of Russia, the behavior of a flock of sheep has become a viral sensation.
Filmed on a camera phone in the Caucausus region of southern Russia, the video sees a flock of sheep forming a frenzied, cyclonic circle around a car, much to the amusement of onlookers. No amount of beeping or edging forward on the car's behalf moves them, and the sheep stick fast. - News Australia.
WATCH: Sheep cyclone.

GLOBAL VOLCANISM: Scientists Concerned About Death Valley and Yellowstone National Park - Fear That Magma Pools Could Trigger Explosive Eruptions!

Scientists have known for decades that hidden under those impressive vistas at sites such as Death Valley and Yellowstone National Park are magma pools that under the right conditions can trigger explosive eruptions.

A rainbow forms over State Highway 178 between Death Valley National Park and Shoshone, Calif.
Now, new research is changing scientists' understanding of the timing of those eruptions, and prompting them to call for greater monitoring of sites to help save lives when the next big volcano explodes. Two recent papers highlight the shift. One looked at a Death Valley volcano thought to be 10,000 years old and found it last erupted just 800 years ago, and is still an eruption danger. The other found that large caldera volcanoes, such as the one under Crater Lake in Oregon, can recharge in a matter of decades, rather than the thousands of years previously thought.

"The understanding of the timing of eruptions and the timing of the building up to eruptions is changing," says Margaret Mangan, the scientist in charge of volcano monitoring in California for the U.S. Geological Survey. "These two papers are very nice examples of good scientific work." One thing that's coming to light is that eruptions are often clustered, with "long stretches of inactivity punctuated by periods of activity that can go on for years," Mangan says. The first paper looked at the Ubehebe Crater (you-bee-HE-bee) at the northern end of California's Death Valley. It's about half a mile wide and 700 feet deep. It was long believed to have been caused by a volcanic eruption sometime in the past 10,000 years or so.

However, researchers recently looked at beryllium in the rocks and were able to date the last series of eruptions to just 800 years ago. They say the ingredients necessary for another eruption are all still there. Ubehebe Crater is the result of what's known as a phreatomagmatic (free-at-oh-mag-MAT-ick) eruption. That means that it has a huge pocket of molten rock, or magma, deep below it. When it begins to push to the surface and comes into contact with water, superhot steam is created, building up pressure until it explodes. It had been thought that the eruptions would occur only during wet climate periods, and as Death Valley is famously dry now, there was little concern. But using U.S. Geological Survey data, the scientists show that the current water table may be just 500 feet below the surface of the crater. The paper was published this month in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

The relatively recent eruption means that the magma underground, which can take thousands of years to cool, is likely still hot. When water and hot magma come into contact, it can produce something "like a very large bomb going off," says Brent Goehring, a geochemist at the department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind., and one of the paper's authors. Another worry is that caldera volcanoes, such as Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines and Krakatoa in Indonesia, may be able to blow much more quickly than previously believed. Caldera volcanoes consist of large underground lakes of magma. As more magma builds up, the pressure builds and the magma starts getting pushed upward through cracks in the Earth's surface. When the pressure gets too great, it explodes.

Caldera volcanoes typically have a long quiet period prior to eruptions. Writing in Wednesday's edition of the journal Nature, researchers looked at the eruption of the Santorini volcano in Greece around 1,600 B.C., which released as much as 12 cubic miles of magma. By analyzing feldspar crystals formed within the magma and then ejected during the eruption, the researchers found that the volcano's magma chamber grew by as much as 10% in the final few decades before it blew, says Tim Druitt, a volcanologist at Blaise Pascal University, Clermont-Ferrand, France, and senior author on the paper. For this reason, scientists are calling for greater monitoring, including satellite surveillance, to detect ground swelling. There are several large and still active calderas in the United States, including the one under Yellowstone National Park. All are closely monitored. What worries the researchers are other unmonitored calderas around the world with the potential to send huge clouds of ash into the atmosphere, causing massive ecological and climate damage. - USA Today.

FUK-U-SHIMA & THE MASS BIRD DIE-OFF: Bird Numbers Plummet Around Stricken Nuclear Power Plant - Greater Negative Consequences of Radiation on 14 Species of Bird Than Chernobyl!

Researchers working around Japan's disabled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant say bird populations there have begun to dwindle, in what may be a chilling harbinger of the impact of radioactive fallout on local life.

In the first major study of the impact of the world's worst nuclear crisis in 25 years, the researchers, from Japan, the US and Denmark, said their analysis of 14 species of bird common to Fukushima and Chernobyl, the Ukrainian city which suffered a similar nuclear meltdown, showed the effect on abundance is worse in the Japanese disaster zone.

The study, published next week in the journal Environmental Pollution, suggests that its findings demonstrate "an immediate negative consequence of radiation for birds during the main breeding season [of] March [to] July".

Two of the study's authors have spent years working in the irradiated 2,850 sq metre zone around the Chernobyl single-reactor plant, which exploded in 1986 and showered much of Europe with caesium, strontium, plutonium and other radioactive toxins. A quarter of a century later, the region is almost devoid of people.

Timothy Mousseau and Anders Pape Moller say their research uncovered major negative effects among the bird population, including reductions in longevity and in male fertility, and birds with smaller brains.

Many species show "dramatically" elevated DNA mutation rates, developmental abnormalities and extinctions, they add, while insect life has been significantly reduced.  - The Independent.
WATCH: Fukushima's sick birds.

PLANETARY TREMORS: Earthquake Rattles Manitoba Region - 3.3 Magnitude Tremor Hit Early Wednesday!

Some Manitobans may have been shaking in their sleep the other night -- but not because of any nightmare.

In fact, a small earthquake rippled through Saskatchewan and western Manitoba just before 2:30 a.m. on Wednesday, with the temblor reportedly being felt in some parts of the province. "It's significant, mostly because it's in an unusual place," said University of Manitoba seismologist Andrew Frederiksen. "It's very unlikely to have done any damage." The quake originated in a spot five kilometres beneath the ground near Esterhazy, Sask. -- or about 138 kilometres southwest of Dauphin -- and hit 3.3 magnitude, according to data from the United States Geological Survey.

But no fear, Frederiksen stressed. The quake doesn't point to any looming doomsday scenario here in the most geologically stable spot on the continent. "In Manitoba, we need flood insurance, not earthquake insurance," he quipped. In fact, there is some history of mild quakes near the Esterhazy area -- as many as six small quakes have occurred there since 1990. Geologists believe the most likely cause is heavy potash mining in the area. "It doesn't mean a collapse in the mine or anything that dramatic," Frederiksen said. "But the presence of mines does change loading conditions and could potentially lead to an earthquake." Another theory holds the quakes may be triggered when groundwater dissolves salt deposits beneath the Saskatchewan soil.
A brief history of earthquakes felt in Manitoba.
According to National Resources Canada, Manitoba is the least likely province in the country to experience earthquakes. But we've felt a few tremors in our time from quakes originating elsewhere and sending shakes our way. Here are a couple of highlights:

1627-2010: A few scattered, minor quakes have struck Hudson Bay, on the northeastern tip of Manitoba, over the centuries. Experts note these are often a result of land that was compressed under glaciers springing back up over time.

1909: Newspapers at the time marveled over what they believed was an "echo" from a large South American quake, which rattled doors and frightened residents throughout Winnipeg on the evening of May 16. It was the first time a quake had been known to strike the area. A recent review by the United States Geological Survey concluded the quake, estimated at 5.4 on the Richter scale, actually originated from the 300-kilometre Hinsdale fault line in Montana. It remains the largest historical earthquake known in North America's Great Plains.

2008: On April 10, a quake measuring 3.6 on the Richter scale shuffled its way through Manitoba and Saskatchewan. The source: the potash mine area near Esterhazy, Sask. It's one of six small quakes originating from that area in the last 22 years. - Winnipeg Free Press.

PLANETARY TREMORS: Magnitude 6.0 Earthquake Rocks Vanuatu - Seismic Swarm Enveloping the Region!

A strong 6.0 magnitude quake hit off the South Pacific island of Vanuatu today, the US Geological Survey said, one day after a shallow 7.1 tremor hit the country.

The latest quake was at a depth of about 21 kilometres and some 116 kilometres west-northwest of the capital Port Vila.

There were no immediate reports of casualties or damage from either quake and Geoscience Australia said there was unlikely to be any.

Seismologist David Jepsen said Vanuatu had been rocked by several large quakes in recent years, averaging about three of magnitude 7.0 or above a year, without suffering major damage.

"Magnitude 7.0 earthquakes occur there quite frequently... and there hasn't been much come out of that. There hasn't been any real reports of damage," Jepsen told AFP.

Vanuatu lies on the so-called "Pacific Ring of Fire", a zone of frequent seismic activity caused by friction between shifting tectonic plates.

The Hawaii-based Pacific Tsunami Warning Center issued an information bulletin but no alert on the 7.1 quake, saying "no destructive widespread tsunami threat exists based on historical earthquake and tsunami data". - Hindustan Times.