Saturday, April 7, 2012

MONUMENTAL SOLAR SYSTEM CHANGES: Magnetic Storms Spotted on Planet Venus - Despite Having no Magnetized Field of its Own?!

When magnetic fields of opposite polarity collide and merge, they unleash a torrent of energy. The process, known as magnetic reconnection, can cause flares on the Sun and magnetic storms and shimmering auroras on magnetized planets with substantial atmospheres, such as Earth, Jupiter and Saturn.

Now scientists have discovered that magnetic reconnection also happens on Venus, a planet with no intrinsic magnetic field. The finding, reported today in Science, suggests that magnetic reconnection may generate auroras on Venus, and could have contributed to the loss of a thick, water-rich atmosphere that scientists believe surrounded the planet during its early history, some 4 billion years ago. The discovery suggests that explosive magnetic activity is likely to be a common feature of planets everywhere, says study author Tielong Zhang, a planetary scientist at the Space Research Institute of the Austrian Academy of Sciences in Graz. Magnetic storms on planets outside our Solar System, known as exoplanets, might occasionally generate radio signals that are strong enough to be detected from Earth, other researchers suggest. Zhang and his colleagues analyzed data from the European Space Agency's Venus Express spacecraft, which has been in orbit around the planet since 2006. Their aim was to find the signal of magnetic reconnection in Venus's magnetotail, the comet-like tail that forms on the side of the planet facing away from the Sun when the magnetic field carried by charged particles in the solar wind passes around the planet. The data revealed a looped, magnetic structure called a plasmoid in Venus's magnetotail, similar to an eddy created by a rock in a stream. This "is a strong indication of magnetic reconnection", Zhang says, because it is known to be a sign of the phenomenon on other planets.

On a planet such as Earth, the tension between the opposing poles of the magnetic field aids reconnection. The discovery that Venus has magnetic storms too shows that, even without such a field, a planet can act as an anchor that helps the solar wind to reconnect with itself, says astronomer Jonathan Nichols of the University of Leicester, UK. The study indicates that magnetic reconnection "is an active process around more cosmic bodies than previously thought", whether or not they have their own field, Nichols says. A similar kind of reconnection, governed by the solar wind's magnetic field, is thought to occur in the tails of comets. Reconnection sometimes causes the tails to snap off and fly into space, as seen in 2007 with Comet Encke. In that respect, "Venus behaves like a big comet", with reconnection lofting charged particles from the planet's atmosphere into space, says astronomer Philippe Zarka of the Paris Observatory in Meudon, France. Just as the solar wind erodes a comet's tail, it may have also gradually detached molecules, such as water, from Venus's atmosphere. Zarka suspects that for planets outside the Solar System, only those with their own magnetic fields might produce energy bursts strong enough to be detected across interstellar distances of tens to hundreds of light years. New radio telescopes, such as the Low Frequency Array (LOFAR) in the Netherlands, might be able to pick up the strongest exoplanet radio emissions, says Nichols. If such detections were successful, it would provide a new way to search for exoplanets. - Scientific American.

ANCIENT ALIENS: Season 4 - Aliens and the Da Vinci Conspiracy!

The History Channel continues its popular series on extraterrestrials, alien theories and ancient civilizations with season four of Ancient Aliens. The following video playlist constitutes program eight, entitled Aliens and the Da Vinci Conspiracy.

Might an examination of Leonardo Da Vinci's masterful paintings, highly technical hand-drawn sketches, and private journals reveal knowledge of otherworldly technology and extraterrestrial beings? - History Channel.
WATCH: Aliens and the Da Vinci Conspiracy.

MONUMENTAL SOLAR SYSTEM CHANGES: Thought Spring Weather Was Bad on Earth? Mars Probe Captures Video of 12-Mile High Dust Devil Thundering Across the Planet!

Mars orbiters have captured dust devils thundering across the plains of Mars before - but on March 14, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter snapped a 12-mile-high monster. The 'devil' left a streak across the planet's surface - it's just 70 yards wide, but higher than Earth tornadoes, a column of dust whirling so fast it would sandblast anything in it.

The HiRISE camera on board Nasa's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter
captured a 12-mile-high dust devil this month.
The length of the shadow indicates that the dust plume reached a height of 12 miles above the surface. Dozens of smaller dust devils were captured by the Mars Reconnaissance orbiter's cameras, 'vacuuming' the surface around the monster 'devil'. Despite its gargantuan height, the plume is only 70 yards in diameter, giving it a snake-like appearance that is twisted by high altitude winds, similar to another dust devil spotted recently in this region. Despite the atmosphere on Mars being desperately thin – one per cent of Earth’s pressure – the planet's winds are strong enough to produce dramatic events and in the area observed, paths of many previous whirlwinds, or dust devils, are visible as streaks on the dusty surface. 'Because the density of Mars' atmosphere is so low, even a high velocity dust devil is unlikely to knock you over,' says the University of Arizona team which posted the video. 'However, you might be blasted by any sand or dust particles carried along by the dust devil, which might scratch the visor of your space suit quickly if you were caught outside by this monster.'
The dust devil is the same size as a tornado on earth, but is a plume of dust whirling at a
speed that would sandblast a spacesuit's visor.
Just as on Earth, winds on Mars are powered by solar heating. Exposure to the sun's rays declines during this season, yet even now, dust devils act relentlessly to clean the surface of freshly deposited dust, a little at a time. Dust devils occur on Earth as well as on Mars. They are spinning columns of air, made visible by the dust they pull off the ground. Unlike a tornado, a dust devil typically forms on a clear day when the ground is heated by the sun, warming the air just above the ground.  As heated air near the surface rises quickly through a small pocket of cooler air above it, the air may begin to rotate, if conditions are just right. The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has been examining Mars with six science instruments since 2006 and has has returned more data about Mars than all other orbital and surface missions combined. One of its cameras is so powerful they can reveal objects on Mars as small as an office desk.  It has taken over 20,000 photographs of the Red Planet so far. The Orbiter makes a complete circuit of Mars every 112 minutes, flying a nearly circular orbit that ranges in height from about 255 kilometres (160 miles) over the South Pole to 320 kilometres (200 miles) over the North Pole. For handling large amounts of data, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has 160 gigabits of solid-state memory and a processor operating at up to 46 million instructions per second. - Daily Mail.
WATCH: Mars' Whirling Dust Devil.

EXTREME WEATHER: Massive Pakistan Avalanche Kills 135 Soldiers on the Himalayan Glacier!

Pakistani soldiers dug into a massive avalanche in a mountain battleground close to the Indian border on Saturday, searching for at least 135 people buried when the wall of snow engulfed a military complex.  More than 12 hours after the disaster at the entrance to the Siachen Glacier, no survivors had been found.

In this Feb. 19, 2012, file photo, Pakistani Army soldiers with the 20th Lancers Armored Regiment, carry
supplies up the 2,400 meter (8,000-foot) mountain near their outpost, Kalpani Base, in Pakistan's Dir district.
"We are waiting for news and keeping our fingers crossed," said army spokesman Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas.  Hundreds of troops, sniffer dogs and mechanical equipment were at the scene, but were struggling to make much headway into the avalanche, which crashed down onto the rear headquarters building in the Gayari sector early in the morning, burying it under some 21 meters (70 feet) of snow, Abbas said.  "It's on a massive scale," he added. "Everything is completely covered."  The military said in a statement that at least 124 soldiers and 11 civilian contractors were missing.  Siachen is on the northern tip of the divided Kashmir region claimed by both India and Pakistan.  The accident highlighted the risks of deploying troops to one of the most inhospitable places on earth.  The thousands of troops from both nations stationed there brave viciously cold temperatures, altitude sickness, high winds and isolation for months at a time. Troops have been deployed at elevations of up to 6,700 meters (22,000 feet) and have skirmished intermittently since 1984, though the area has been quiet since a cease-fire in 2003. The glacier is known as the world's highest battlefield.  

Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani expressed his shock at the incident, which he said "would in no way would undermine the high morale of soldiers and officers."  The headquarters in Gayari, situated at around 4,572 meters (15,000 feet) is the main gateway through which troops and supplies pass on their to other more remote outposts in the sector. It is situated in a valley between two high mountains, close to a military hospital, according to an officer who was stationed there in 2003.  "I can't comprehend how an avalanche can reach that place," said the officer, who didn't give his name because he is not authorized to speak to the media. "It was supposed to be safe."  More soldiers have died from the weather than combat on the glacier, which was uninhabited before troops moved there.  Conflict there began in 1984 when India occupied the heights of the 78-kilometer (49-mile)-long glacier, fearing Pakistan wanted to claim the territory. Pakistan also deployed its troops. Both armies remain entrenched despite the cease-fire, costing the poverty-stricken countries many millions of dollars each year.  Pakistan and India have fought three wars since the partition of the subcontinent on independence from Britain in 1947. Two of the wars have been over Kashmir, which both claim in its entirety. - Huffington Post.

TERMINATOR NOW: The Rise of the Machines - DARPA Developing Humanoid Robots That Can Open Doors, Drive Tractors, and Save the Day; Robotic Cheetah Sets Speed Record for Legged Robots, 18 Miles Per Hour!

DARPA is poised to launch a new Grand Challenge for a humanoid robot, according to robotics insiders — and the result could be a souped-up metal soldier running alongside BigDog, driving an ATV, unlocking doors and clearing a path to safety for its human counterparts. There’s no official agency announcement yet, but robotics companies heard all about it at a recent industry day.

An official broad agency announcement is reportedly due soon, but here’s what we can expect, according to the robotics researchers at Hizook: A bipedal humanoid ‘bot that can climb in and out of a tractor or open-frame utility vehicle, drive it, get out, walk to a locked door, open it and go inside; then walk through a rubble-strewn hallway, climb a latter, find a leaky pipe, seal it and fix a broken pump. Wow. The robot will be remotely operated, at least in part, but DARPA also plans to introduce some communications latency so the robot will have no choice but to act on its own.

DARPA’s tall orders have previously resulted in some pretty amazing creations, from inflatable robots to the super-fast Cheetah, so it’s reasonable to expect that this challenge will yield some incredible results. Gill Pratt, who was part of the programs that led to ARM-H and Cheetah, among others, announced this new challenge at a DTRA Industry Day recently, reports Hizook’s Travis Deyle. DARPA will fund six robotics hardware teams and a dozen software teams, Pratt said. There’s also some sort of competition between already-funded teams and unpaid software teams — if the unpaid guys perform better, they’ll start receiving DARPA funding. Given the challenge, the plan is to run this competition twice, one year apart. Either way this sounds pretty amazing. There are a few early contenders, most likely PETMAN — watch him run below. But who knows what else engineers will come up with? Like Deyle, this magazine has wondered why American bipedal robot development has generally lagged behind our Asian counterparts. This could be a step in the right direction.
WATCH: Petman - The Humanoid Robot.

DARPA has also developed a  "Cheetah" robot, that gallops at speeds of up to 18 miles per hour (mph), setting a new land speed record for legged robots. The previous record was 13.1 mph, set in 1989.

WATCH: "Cheetah" robot.