Saturday, April 21, 2012

MONUMENTAL SOLAR SYSTEM CHANGES: The National Astronomical Observatory of Japan - Solar Poles to Become Quadrupolar in May?!

Magnetic field polarity at the solar poles will reverse and become quadrupolar in May, meaning positive fields will emerge in the North and South poles and negative fields will emerge on the equator, according to the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan and other institutes.

When a similar phenomenon occurred about 300 years ago, the Earth's average temperature fell slightly.  A research team led by Saku Tsuneta, a professor at the observatory, analyzed solar magnetic fields data using Hinode, an observational satellite, and confirmed that the polarity of the magnetic field at the North Pole began to reverse in July last year.  The researchers also found the magnetic field at the South Pole, which was expected to reverse along with the North Pole, maintained a positive polarity, ensuring the formation of a quadrupole magnetic field.

The cause behind the shifts in polar fields is not understood. However, it is known that the shifts coincide with the increase and decrease in the number of sunspots over an about 11-year cycle.  The current sunspot cycle has stretched for close to 13 years. A similar situation occurred in the 17th to 18th century, when the average temperature of the Northern Hemisphere decreased by 0.6 C. The research team believes the quadrupolar pattern also emerged at that time. - The Asahi Shimbun.

The polarity of the extended uni-polar magnetic field in the solar polar region is known to reverse every 11 years, and the reversal occurs at around the maximum of solar activity, which is expected to take place at around 2013 May (NOAA ).  High latitude magnetic fields have been observed with solar telescopes on the ground. However, actual process of the polar field reversal is poorly understood because of the difficulty of the observations on the extreme limb combined with atmospheric seeing effect. The solar optical telescope aboard the Hinode satellite allows us for the first time to perform extremely high-quality observations of the deep polar region of the Sun (Figure A). The initial discoveries include that there are many magnetic patches with intense magnetic field in the polar regions. Their field strength is close to that of sunspots, and their size is as large as small sunspots called pore.
The international research team led by Saku Tsuneta, a professor at NAOJ, has been performing the monthly polar observations with Hinode from September 2008. We here report the discovery that the average magnetic flux of the north polar region is rapidly and steadily decreasing during the period of 2008 and 2012 (Figure B). The reversal (from minus to plus polarity) is taking place in sequence from lower latitude to higher latitude. The average magnetic flux of the polar region soon becomes zero. The estimated completion of the reversal of the north polar region will take place in 1 months or so, about one year earlier than the nominal expected reversal time.  In striking contrast to the north polar situation, the magnetic flux of the south polar region has been very stable, and maintains the plus polarity (Figure C). These latest Hinode observations suggest that the global magnetic field of the Sun will become different from the normal bipolar configuration.  Observations of the polar magnetic fields are the key for understanding the cyclic solar dynamo. Their results will shed light on the origin of the solar magnetism, and will contribute to our understating on the Sun's effect to the solar-terrestrial environment. - HINODE / National Astronomical Observatory of Japan.

ATTACK OF THE SUN: The Carrington Effect - Earth Unprepared For Super Solar Storm!

Humanity needs to be much better prepared for massive solar storms, which can wreak havoc on our technology-dependent society, a prominent researcher warns. Powerful blasts from the Sun have triggered intense geomagnetic storms on Earth before, and they'll do so again.  But at the moment our ability to predict these events and guard against their worst consequences - which can include interruptions of power grids and satellite navigation systems - is lacking, says Mike Hapgood of the British research and technology agency RAL Space.  "We need a much better understanding of the likelihood of space weather disruptions and their impacts, and we need to develop that knowledge quickly," Hapgood, head of RAL Space's space environment group, writes in a commentary in the April 19 issue of the journal Nature.

A beautiful prominence eruption shot off the east limb (left side) of the sun on Monday, April 16, 2012.
Potentially devastating storms 
The solar storms we need to worry about, Hapgood says, are coronal mass ejections, huge clouds of charged solar plasma that can rocket into space at speeds of 3 million mph (5 million kilometers per hour) or more.  CMEs that hit Earth inject large amounts of energy into the planet's magnetic field, spawning potentially devastating geomagnetic storms that can disrupt GPS signals, radio communications and power grids for days.  The world witnessed such effects not too long ago. In March 1989, a CME caused a power blackout in Quebec, leaving 5 million Canadians in the dark in cold weather for hours. The event caused about $2 billion in damages and lost business, Hapgood writes.  But CMEs are capable of much greater mischief. A huge ejection - now known as the Carrington event, after a British astronomer- slammed into Earth in 1859, setting off fires in telegraph offices. The world was not technologically advanced enough yet to suffer worse consequences, Hapgood noted.  "If we had a repeat of the Carrington event, I would expect several days of economic and social mayhem as many critical technological systems failed - e.g., localized power grid failures in many countries, widespread loss of GPS signals for navigation and timing, disruption of communications systems, shutdown of long-haul aviation," Hapgood told via email.  And the short-term problems caused by such a storm could pale in comparison with its long-term impact, he added.  "What scares me is the possibility that this recovery could take a long time in many parts of the world," Hapgood said. "Over the past few decades, we have become much more dependent on technology to sustain our everyday lives: e.g., electricity to pump clean water to our homes and remove sewage, just-in-time supply chains to feed us, ATMs and retail card readers to provide money for everyday shopping. Do we know how to recover quickly from the simultaneous disruption of a huge range of systems?"

Improving predictions 
Despite a growing sense of concern among scientists - and decision-makers in politics and industry - our technology-dependent society remains vulnerable to a big CME-spawned geomagnetic storm, Hapgood says.  For starters, our forecasting ability, while improving, is still lacking. The United States' Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC) can currently provide warnings of strong geomagnetic storms 10 to 60 minutes in advance with about 50 percent accuracy, Hapgood writes. That's a pretty small window for power companies to take protective measures.  SWPC scientists and other space-weather forecasters generally rely on observtions of approaching CMEs made by a handful of spacecraft. These include NASA's Advanced Composition Explorer (ACE) and Solar Terrestrial Rela­tions Observatory (STEREO) probes, as well as the NASA/European Space Agency Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO).  ACE launched in 1997, SOHO in 1995 and the twin STEREO craft in 2006. It's time for an upgrade, says Hapgood.  "We really need to replace those spacecraft and their instruments that monitor CMEs and, if possible, upgrade the instruments so they are optimized for space weather monitoring - essentially to pull out the most critical data and get it back to Earth as soon as possible," he said

Preparing for the worst
The 1989 event spurred some power companies to require that all new transformers be able to withstand storms of similar magnitude.  But Hapgood thinks power, aviation and other vulnerable industries - including finance, which depends on precise GPS time stamps for automatic trading - should take a longer view and guard against the huge storm that comes along just once every 1,000 years or so.  That's tough to do, since researchers don't know what a thousand-year storm might look like; data on such dramatic events are pretty hard to come by. But Hapgood says scientists could get a better idea by analyzing more data, including observations from a century or more ago.  Much of this historical information exists on paper only. Digitizing it would bring these records to the attention of many more researchers, Hapgood says, and he suggests enlisting citizen scientists to do the job on the Internet, much as the Galaxy Zoo project asks volunteers to classify galaxies online by the galaxies' shapes.  Researchers also need to develop better physics-based models to improve their understanding of extreme space weather, Hapgood says. And he suggests that studying storms on other, Sunlike stars could be helpful, too.  In general, Hapgood is calling for powerful geomagnetic storms to be regarded as natural hazards similar to big earthquakes and volcanic eruptions: infrequent, potentially devastating events.  "These events often transcend the experience of any individual because they happen so rarely. Thus there is an all-too-human tendency to ignore them - that they lie outside the awareness of the decision-maker and probably will not occur during his term of office," Hapgood said. "But these events will happen sometime. We need to understand them and decide how far we should (i.e., can afford to) protect against them - and definitely not leave them until it's too late."  - SPACE.

PLANETARY TREMORS: Swarm of Mini-Earthquakes Recorded Throughout Western Washington - 40 Tremors in Just One Week!

Western Washington has experienced dozens of earthquakes so far this week, seismographic measurements show.

But nearly all of them have been too small for most people to notice. But the swarm of quakes, coupled with a series of large earthquakes throughout the Pacific rim's "Ring of Fire," has scientists wondering if the Pacific Northwest is in store for a large one of its own.

As of 5 p.m. PT Thursday, eight quakes were recorded in Washington state, ranging from less than a magnitude one to a 2.6 (big enough for that some people could have felt it). Fourteen earthquakes were recorded on Wednesday, and six on Tuesday.

One quake on Wednesday -- a 1.8 near Skykomish -- set a record for depth, occurring 60 miles down. At that depth, the quake was in the so-called Cascadia subduction zone, where the Juan de Fuca tectonic plate is being pulled and driven beneath the North American plate. It's that zone that has caused huge earthquakes in the Pacific Northwest's past ... and one day will again. Here's a list of the quakes recorded Thursday in Washington state:

1.4 -- 11 miles NNE of Othello, WA
1.8 -- 8.8 miles NE of Othello, WA
1.3 -- 6.1 miles ESE of Deming, WA
2.5 -- 6.7 miles SE of Deming, WA
1.6 -- 1.2 miles WSW of Entiat, WA
1.0 -- 7.2 miles ESE of Deming, WA
2.6 -- 6.1 miles SE of Deming, WA
0.8 -- 9.3 miles N of Poulsbo, WA

- King5.
WATCH: Seismic swarm in Washington.

CLONING: Genetic Engineering and Manipulation - Chinese Scientists Creates the World's First Transgenic Sheep Using Handmade Cloning!

Chinese scientists from BGI, the world's largest genomics organization, together with the Institute of Genetics and Developmental Biology, Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), and Shihezi University, Xinjiang province, made a significant breakthrough in animal cloning. The world's first transgenic sheep produced with a simplified technique, handmade cloning, was successfully born at 12:16pm, March 26, 2012, in Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, China.

"The transgenic sheep is named 'Peng Peng' (after the identical given names of the two cloners), his birth weight was 5.74 kg." said excitedly Dr. Yutao Du, Director of BGI Ark Biotechnology Co., LTD. (BAB), one of BGI's affiliates focusing on large scale production of transgenic and cloned animals. "Peng Peng is developing normally and appears healthy" she added. The project has been launched more than two years ago. Apart from the general inefficiency of cloning (only a small fraction of the reconstructed embryos develop to healthy offspring) cloners had to overcome additional difficulties including the special climate and compromised laboratory environment with very basic instruments. Accordingly, an innovative simplified technique called Handmade Cloning (HMC) was used, with less demand for sophisticated equipment, simplified procedures, lower costs and higher production efficiency.

In 2009, donor cells were collected from a Chinese Merino sheep, and by genetic manipulation a transgenic cell line was established. After numerous attempts, the HMC system for sheep cloning was successfully established in October 2011. The transfer of the produced embryos has eventually led to the present achievement. The genetic modification may result in improved meat quality by increasing the unsaturated fatty acid content. According to the researchers, the gene associated withω-3 poly unsaturated fatty acid (ω-3PUFA) was successfully transferred into Peng Peng. ω-3PUFAs serve as essential fatty acids for humans reducing the risk of coronary heart disease and supporting the normal development of the brain, eye and neurons. "The birth of Peng Peng means that people could absorb ω-3PUFAs by drinking milk or eating meat in the future." said Dr. Du, "The most difficult task has been accomplished, the transgenic sheep production platform is established, we are ready for the industrial-scale development." - Science Daily.

HIGH STRANGENESS: The Case of the "Eggless Chick" - Sri Lanka Chicken Gives Birth to Live Chick Without Laying an Egg?!

A Sri Lanka hen has given birth to a chick without an egg, in a new twist on the age-old question of whether the chicken or the egg came first.

The "eggless" chick has survived, but the mother has died
Instead of passing out of the hen's body and being incubated outside, the egg was incubated in the hen for 21 days and then hatched inside the hen.  The chick is fully formed and healthy, although the mother has died.  The government veterinary officer in the area said he had never seen anything like it before.  PR Yapa, the chief veterinary officer of Welimada, where it took place, examined the hen's carcass. 

He found that the fertilised egg had developed within the hen's reproductive system, but stayed inside the hen's body until it hatched.  A post-mortem conducted on the hen's body concluded that it died of internal wounds.  The BBC's Charles Haviland in Colombo says that the story has made headlines in Sri Lanka, with the Sri Lankan Daily Mirror's concluding: "The chicken came first; not the egg." - BBC.

EXTREME WEATHER: U.K. Joins Spain in Worst Drought for Decades as Crops Emerge From Winter Dormancy!

U.K. farmers, Europe's third- largest wheat producers, are facing the worst drought in two decades, joining Spanish growers contending with the driest conditions since 1947 as crops emerge from winter dormancy.  Parts of the U.K. had the least rain since 1992 in the six months through March, the U.K. national weather service said. Spain had its driest December-to-February period in 65 years, the Agriculture Ministry estimates. The west part of France, the region's top wheat grower, had as little as 42 percent of normal rain this year, European Union data show.

There is also lower- than-average precipitation in Germany, where a February cold snap damaged crops, farm lobby Deutscher Bauernverband said.  "The next 10 weeks are going to be the key driving period for yields," said Jack Watts, a senior analyst at the Home- Grown Cereals Authority, an industry funded crop researcher in Kenilworth, England. "There's still a long way to go."  Weather threats to European crops come at a time when the International Grains Council is forecasting record global cereals production. Wheat prices tumbled 24 percent and corn 20 percent in the past year on mounting confidence that farmers are catching up with demand. World food prices are now 9.3 percent below the record in February 2011, United Nations data show.  Milling-wheat traded on NYSE Liffe in Paris, a European benchmark, climbed 3.6 percent this year as futures on the Chicago Board of Trade declined 4.3 percent. The Standard & Poor's GSCI Agriculture Index of eight commodities retreated 2.7 percent while the MSCI All-Country World Index of equities gained 8.8 percent.  Money managers have been betting on declining wheat prices since mid-September, according to data from the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission. They were the most bearish in six weeks as of April 10, the data show. 

Farmers across the 27-nation EU will plant a total of 22.7 million hectares (56.1 million acres) of soft wheat this season, 2.6 percent less than estimated in January, according to Paris-based Union InVivo, the largest French wheat exporter. Soft wheat is used for bread, cookies and cakes. Crops "emerged under drought conditions in several areas," said Christopher Narayanan, the head of agricultural commodities research at Societe Generale in New York.  Wheat surged 47 percent in 2010 as Russia and Ukraine restricted exports after drought decimated their crops. Prices tumbled 18 percent last year after those curbs were lifted and the global harvest expanded to a record. The London-based IGC estimates world wheat output at 681 million metric tons this year, 2.2 percent less than the record in 2011. All cereals output will be a record 1.876 billion tons for 2012-13, it said.  Southeast and south-central England, the U.K.'s biggest wheat-growing areas, had about 10.9 inches of rain on average in the past six months, the driest for the period since 1992, said Sarah Holland, a spokeswoman for the Met Office, the U.K.'s national weather service. Dry weather may persist through the end of December, the Environment Agency said April 16.  Spain's average rainfall in the three months ended in February was 2.4 inches, about 30 percent below normal, the Agriculture Ministry estimates. It is Europe's third-largest barley producer and sixth-biggest grower of corn and wheat, according to Eurostat, the EU's statistics office. Spain's soft- wheat harvest will plunge 23 percent this year as durum-wheat output falls 20 percent, the ministry said April 17. Durum is used to make pasta. - SF Gate.

PLANETARY TREMORS: Tokyo Faces 70% Chance of a Severe Quake in 4 Years - A Mega-Quake That Would Kill Over 9,600 People!

More than 9,600 people would die with nearly 150,000 injured if a mega-quake struck Tokyo, a disaster that would also level large parts of the Japanese capital, a government projection said Wednesday. 

The frightening simulation was released by the Tokyo metropolitan government as Japan slowly rebuilds its northeast coast, which was devastated by a magnitude 9.0 quake in March last year that unleashed a deadly tsunami.  The disaster killed some 19,000 people and triggered the worst nuclear accident in a generation.  Tokyo was largely spared from the damage, but if a smaller 7.3-magnitude quake struck the sprawling metropolis, it would leave about 9,600 dead and 147,000 people with injuries, including 21,900 seriously, the projection said.  About 5.2 million people would be unable to go home owing to electricity and transportation damage while the temblor would flatten or seriously damage some 378,000 buildings with about 188,000 structures burning to the ground.
A huge tsunami would strike isolated Pacific Ocean islands several hundred kilometers outside Tokyo, which are considered part of the municipality, but was not likely to cause damage or fatalities in the metropolis itself.  The biggest city in earthquake-prone Japan lies at the intersection of four tectonic plates and there is a 50 percent chance it will be struck by a magnitude-7.0 or higher quake in the next four years, according to the University of Tokyo’s Earthquake Research Institute.  The government projection does not include fatalities and damage in outlying prefectures that make up Greater Tokyo, home to about 35 million people.  In 1923, Tokyo and surrounding areas were struck by a 7.9 magnitude quake that left more than 140,000 people dead and destroyed much of the city. - Japan Today.

FIRE IN THE SKY: Solar System Disturbances - Meteor / Fireball Seen Over Campos dos Goytacazes, Brazil!

At approximately 23:20 pm, the day on April 21, a meteor was seen passing over the city of Campos dos Goytacazes, southwest to the northeast according to recent reports of people who saw the fireball, probably lasting over 10 seconds and very bright.

Eye-Witness Reports:
I saw just now, at 23 hrs something strange across the skies. A foreign object, whose shape could not identify. It had speed like that of a plane, but had a long flaming tail in the opposite direction of its trajectory... A man says he is facing the convent and the meteorite was in the direction of the convent He also asserts that it is in the sky for more than 40 seconds... A woman says that the comet was coming in from the southwest direction... A friend claims to have seen the impact, as it fell near the cane fields... - Lunar Meteorite Hunters [Edited for Clarity].
WATCH: Meteor/Fireball over Brazil.

SOLAR WATCH: Incoming Plasma Clouds to Hit Mars, Mercury, and Earth - As New Sunspots Peppers the Solar Disk!

According to Space Weather, Earth should shortly feel the effects several coronal mass ejections that recently emanated from the Sun.

INCOMING PLASMA CLOUDS: On April 18th and 19th, a series of minor CMEs puffed away from the sun. Three of them are heading in our general direction. Analysts at the Goddard Space Weather Lab have prepared an animated forecast track of the ensemble. According to the forecast, the clouds are going to hit Mercury, Earth, Mars and rover Curiosity en route to Mars. The impact on our planet, on April 22nd around 00:50 UT, is expected to be minor with auroras likely only at higher latitudes. Aurora alerts: text, voice.
WATCH: Animated Forecast.

Meanwhile, a new set of sunspots are developing on the stellar object.

SUNSPOT GENESIS: The solar disk is peppered with sunspots and at least three of them are crackling with C-class solar flares. Make that four. A new sunspot, AR1465, has just broken through the stellar surface to join the action. Cai-Uso Wohler photographed (above) the emergence from his backyard observatory in Bispingen, Germany: NOAA forecasters estimate a 30% chance of an M-class flare during the next 24 hours. As the youngest and least stable of the sunspots, AR1465 is the most likely source. 

from the Charlie Bates Solar Astronomy Project of Washington, DC; from Jim Werle of Henderson, Nevada; from Alan Friedman of Buffalo, NY; from Jett Aguilar of Quezon City, Philippines

EARTH CHANGES: Long-term Tsunami Risk Rises After Powerful Indonesia Quake!

Last week's powerful earthquake off western Indonesia increased pressure on the source of the devastating 2004 tsunami that killed 230,000 people in and around the Indian Ocean, seismologists say. As a result, forces have been ratcheted up on a fault that could unleash another monster wave sometime in the next few decades.

A woman grabs hold of two children as people flee to higher ground in
Banda Aceh, Indonesia, following last week's quake.
"The spring was pushed a little bit tighter," said Kerry Sieh, director of the Earth Observatory of Singapore.  The timing of another so-called megathrust earthquake, if it's on the way, "could have been advanced by a few years," he said.  Last week's 8.6-magnitude earthquake off the west coast of Indonesia's Sumatra island also showed that tsunami-ravaged Aceh province, close to the epicentre, remains unprepared for the next big one. Though the quake caused little damage, the country's disaster-management chief acknowledged that evacuation efforts were "a big mess."  Indonesia, located on the Ring of Fire, an arc of volcanoes and fault lines encircling the Pacific Basin, has unleashed some of the deadliest seismic events of the past century. But the 9.1-magnitude quake that struck in 2004, triggering a 30-metre-high tsunami and killing 230,000 people, caught scientists off guard because its fault, west of Sumatra, had long been quiet.  Since then scientists have conducted a flurry of research. By observing past patterns of quakes, which tend to be cyclical, they better understand what might happen next, though it's impossible to make predictions with any certainty.

Tectonic pressures still high  The two last behemoth quakes occurred around 1393 and 1450, and Sieh said the 2004 earthquake may be just the first part of a similar couplet.  Stresses loading up on the fault for centuries were relieved only about halfway eight years ago, Sieh said. And last week's tremor effectively squeezed the overlapping tectonic plates that form the fault.  "The next megathrust rupture could be in 50 years or in five," he said. "It's impossible to know."  He said a separate section of the fault, hundreds of kilometres to the south, also could snap within the next 30 years, sending a tsunami slamming into Padang, a low-lying Sumatran city of one million residents.  Last week's quake was a "strike slip" quake, which means it thrust from side to side, not vertically, and therefore did not generate a large tsunami.  Danny Hilman Natawidjaja, a geologist with the Indonesia's Institute of Science, agreed that last week's quake piled a small amount of new stress onto the megathrust, and that "both Aceh and Padang need to be prepared."  "Authorities need to take a good look at what didn't work well last week and find a way to fix it," he said. "Hopefully, this is an opportunity to learn." - CBC.

SIGNS FROM THE HEAVENS: 3D Lyrid Meteor Shower - A Wonderful Night in April!

This weekend, NASA scientists, amateur astronomers, and an astronaut on board the International Space Station will attempt the first-ever 3D photography of meteors from Earth and space.  "The annual Lyrid meteor shower peaks on April 21-22," says Bill Cooke, the head of NASA's Meteoroid Environment Office. "We're going to try to photograph some of these 'shooting stars' simultaneously from ground stations, from a research balloon in the stratosphere, and from the space station."

Lyrid meteors come from Comet Thatcher. Every year in late April Earth passes through a stream of debris from the old comet, which has been bringing Lyrid meteors to our planet for at least 2600 years. Specks of Thatcher's dust hit the top of atmosphere at 110,000 mph and disintegrate in a flurry of meteors. Most years, the shower produces about 15 to 20 Lyrids per hour.  This is a good year to look for Lyrids because the Moon will be new when the shower peaks. Dark skies favor sightings both from Earth and from Earth orbit.  "Even though the Lyrids are not noted for spectacular rates, the combination of a New Moon and a very favorable viewing geometry from the International Space Station (ISS) presents a unique opportunity to simultaneously image shower meteors from above and below," says Cooke.  ISS Flight Engineer Don Pettit will be operating the camera on the space station.  "Even though his equipment was designed for tasks other than meteor observing, Don is a skilled astrophotographer, and we have every confidence that he will maximize the chances of capturing a Lyrid from 400 km above Earth's surface."  As the Space Station passes over North America multiple times on the night of April 21st, a network of all-sky cameras--some operated by amateur astronomers and others by NASA--will be recording the shower. In Bishop, California, a group of high school and middle school students will launch a helium balloon to the stratosphere. The payload floating some 40 km above Earth's surface will carry an experimental low-cost meteor camera and recorder developed by the Meteoroid Environment Office.  As astrophotographers know, catching a fleet meteor with a single camera takes some luck.

Catching one meteor with multiple cameras, some of them on platforms moving as fast as 17,000 mph, scattered from Earth to Earth orbit, sounds more like winning the lottery.  "Actually, we think the odds are fairly good," says Cooke, who estimates a 1 in 6 chance of a simultaneous catch between the ISS and one of the wide-field ground cameras.  If the effort does produce 3D imagery of any Lyrids, Cooke plans to use the photos to test ideas and algorithms for processing date gathered by future space-based meteor observatories. "We're laying the groundwork for small satellites that might one day be used to monitor meteor showers from Earth orbit," he explains.  Cooke encourages sky watchers everywhere be alert for meteors this Saturday night. Typical Lyrids are about as bright as the stars of the Big Dipper, so they're good for beginners. And it's not unusual to see one or two fireballs when the shower peaks. A good time to look is during the hours after midnight, when the shower's radiant is rising toward its zenith.  Although the Lyrid meteor rate is usually capped at 20 per hour, better displays sometimes occur when Earth glides through an unusually dense clump of debris. In 1982, for instance, astronomers counted as many as 90 Lyrids per hour.  "Such an outburst would be great for our experiment," says Cooke.  Amateur astronomers who wish to help monitor the 2012 Lyrids are encouraged to download the Meteor Counter for iPhones. The app records meteor counts and reports the data to NASA for possible analysis.  Also, Cooke and colleagues will be "staying up all night" on April 21st to chat with the general public about the shower. Tune in. - NASA.
WATCH: NASA's Sciencecasts - A wonderful night in April.

PLANETARY TREMORS: Powerful Earthquake Causes Panic in Indonesia!

A powerful earthquake hit has waters off eastern Indonesia, sending panicked residents running from their homes, offices and schools.

Indonesians flee to higher ground in Banda Aceh after a tsunami warning earlier this month.
Authorities said the quake did not have the potential to trigger a tsunami. The US Geological Survey said it had a preliminary magnitude of 6.6 and hit 50 miles (83km) off Papua province. It was centered just 18 miles beneath the ocean floor. There was some damage, but no immediate reports of injuries. Children in the town of Manokwan, closest to the epicenter, were seen running from their schools screaming. Streets filled with those escaping shaking buildings.

Suharjono, an official with the country's meteorology and geophysics agency, said no tsunami warning had been issued and there were no reports of serious damage or injuries. Indonesia, straddling a series of faultlines and volcanoes, is prone to seismic upheaval due to its location on the Pacific "Ring of Fire".  Earlier this month an 8.6-magnitude earthquake and 8.2-magnitude aftershock struck off the coast of northern Indonesia, but did not trigger a tsunami despite warnings. The Indian Ocean tsunami of 26 December 2004 killed 230,000 people, half of them in Indonesia's westernmost province of Aceh. - Guardian.

FIRE IN THE SKY: New Comet Discovered - Comet 2012 HD2!

The astronomer Seiichi Yoshida published updated information on a new comet today. The updates were provided on the Aerith/MISAO Project website, which searches for and tracks astronomically remarkable objects.

Comet - Comet - 2012 HD2.

Discovery Date:
April 18, 2012.

Magnitude: 19.6 mag.

Discoverer: J. V. Scotti (Kitt Peak).

 The orbital elements are published on M.P.E.C. 2012-H32.

For more on the Profile, Orbital Elements and Finding Charts, click HERE.