Friday, May 11, 2012

MONUMENTAL SOLAR SYSTEM CHANGES: Surprise, The Sun’s Shock Wave Goes Missing - NASA's IBEX Finds No Bow "Shock" Outside Our Solar System?!

For years, scientists have thought a bow “shock” formed ahead of our solar system’s heliosphere as it moved through interstellar space – similar to the sonic boom made by a jet breaking the sound barrier.

New data from NASA's Interstellar Boundary Explorer (IBEX) shows that the heliosphere moves
through space too slowly to form a bow shock. Credit: Southwest Research Institute.
But new data from NASA’s Interstellar Boundary Explorer (IBEX) shows that our system and its heliosphere move through space too slowly to form a bow shock, and therefore does not exist. Instead there is a more gentle ‘wave.’ “While bow shocks certainly exist ahead of many other stars, we’re finding that our Sun’s interaction doesn’t reach the critical threshold to form a shock,” said Dr. David McComas, principal investigator of the IBEX mission, “so a wave is a more accurate depiction of what’s happening ahead of our heliosphere — much like the wave made by the bow of a boat as it glides through the water.”

From IBEX data, McComas and his team were able to make refinements in relative speed of our system, as well as finding more information about the local interstellar magnetic field strength. IBEX data have shown that the heliosphere actually moves through the local interstellar cloud at about 52,000 miles per hour, roughly 7,000 miles per hour slower than previously thought. That is slow enough to create more of a bow “wave” than a shock. - Universe Today.
WATCH: NASA's Interstellar Boundary Explorer, or IBEX, spacecraft has made it possible for scientists to construct the first comprehensive sky map of our solar system and its location in the Milky Way galaxy. The new view will change the way researchers view and study the interaction between our galaxy and sun.

GLOBAL VOLCANISM: Panic in the Great Rift Valley of Kenya - Over Suspected Eruption of the Dormant Mount Longonot Volcano!

Panic over suspected eruption of dormant volcano. The yawning Mt Longonot is a stopper, nature’s gem to behold. This was the norm up to about a month ago when heavy rains started pounding the country. Now there are flooded sections of road, stalled vehicles and destroyed crops washed away by the gushing waters. And for more than 3,000 internally displaced persons living between Mai Mahiu and Longonot trading centres, these last few weeks have been a nightmare.

Displaced by the post election violence, they are worried of a second displacement due to the floods. They are also worried about the real disaster the floods have presented to them. In the last two weeks three people in the area have drowned after being swept by the waters and there are fears that the number could rise. As if this is not enough, a RARE incident has occurred in the area that has left many in fear and confusion. Huge gullies have erupted in the middle of six camps literally ‘swallowing’ a house, dam, trees, graves and farmland. The gullies have been spreading at an alarming rate and as the rains continue to pound the area, the bigger and deeper they get. Residents are even more confused because they don’t know where the one kilometre dam’s water went to, as the dam is no more. And just as the people are grappling with the new phenomena, experts have announced that a major fault line has emerged in the area and it is collapsing the ground, threatening the lives of tens of families in the region. The next option is for them to be evacuated from the area they have known as home for the last three years. Experts, however, are not completely in agreement about the possibility that the volcano is about to erupt. While some say dormant Mt Longonot is about to erupt, others attribute the problem to the ongoing rains.

As they argue, the 5km fault line from Mt Longonot continues to spread to nearby Naivasha-Mai Mahiu road. It all started two weeks ago when heavy rains in the area and the nearby hills left the area flooded and even swept away a bus carrying 40 mourners. After the rains stopped there was a tremble that lasted for about ten seconds. “We thought it was an earthquake. But everything suddenly went back to normal only to wake up the following day to find the dam, trees and sections of the farm gone." After the incident, the Government formed a taskforce whose mandate is to study the case and report back in two weeks’ time. The taskforce has toured the affected areas and announced that a fault line had spread to Jikaze IDPs camp. “We have established that there is a fault line under the Jikaze camp and we should relocate the IDPs residing in this area with immediate effect." But it not clear where they will be taken as all the land around the area is private property. They are, however, yet to identify the cause of the fault which is spreading at an alarming rate. The government report has created more confusion and unnecessary tension in the area. “I am not ready to go back in a tent during peaceful times and I am ready to be swallowed by the gullies." “Many of us have looked forward to the promised resettlement but government is using the gully issue to kick us out of this place."

But if a volcanic eruption was to occur, the whole of Mai Mahiu, Naivasha town and the environs would be affected. Experts have come up with varying explanations about the cause of the fault line which could cave in anytime carrying with it tens of houses and lives. A soil expert notes that the rift could have been caused by heavy rains. He dismisses those arguing that a volcanic eruption is in the offing adding that the current gullies have nothing to do with the nearby Mt Longonot. “This issue has to do with soil formation and compactness in this area and the fear is that we are not sure which area will cave in next." But more worrying is a recent report by UK-based Financial Times which indicates that Mt Longonot was about to erupt. The report admits that predicting a volcanic eruption is hard even in developed countries. It, however, adds that radar data from European Space Agency’s (Envisat) showed a nine-centimetre uplift over two years in the volcano, which was previously thought dormant. The mountain erupted more than 100 years ago. A geologist at the University of Nairobi described the five-kilometre trench as a looming disaster waiting to happen. - Standard Media.

MONUMENTAL EARTH CHANGES: Ice Age Now - Britain Records Coldest May in Over 300 Years!

Central England temperatures so far this month average 8.6C, 1.6C below normal.  The last time May was colder was in 1698, at 8.5C over the whole month. 

Britain's coldest May in more than 300 years will deliver 50mph gales, 5cm (2in) of rain and flooding. 
More rain is predicted for the next few weeks.
And the Met Office has warned that weeks of wet weather ahead could wash out the Queen's diamond jubilee celebrations.  The Environment Agency issued two flood warnings and 14 alerts, warning of high tides swamping coastlines across South Wales.  Up to 2cm of rain will fall across the south and Midlands today. Severe weather warnings have been issued in the south-west. Wednesday and Thursday will see many parts hit by another 3cm of rain - totalling 5cm, or a month's worth, in 24 hours - with localised flooding and transport problems expected. Warnings have been issued.  Gales hitting 50mph will buffet vehicles, rip branches from trees and threaten property damage. 

Deluges are being caused by 20C south-westerly winds colliding with near-freezing polar air. Significant temperature differences will spark downpours across the collision zone. Met Office forecaster Dan Williams said: 'With ground already saturated, localised flooding is possible. After a drier weekend, next week is unsettled.  'The May 22 to June 5 outlook, including the diamond jubilee, has no strong signal for a period of warm, dry weather.  'We expect sunshine and showers during this period. Even though there's a hint of warmer, drier weather, it is just a hint - and not much better than a 50-50 chance.'  The Queen's diamond jubilee pageant faces a washout on tomorrow's opening day at Windsor Castle.  Bookmakers William Hill offer 4/1 odds on a jubilee Monday washout. Travel association Abta has reported a rush of overseas jubilee weekend inquiries from Britons fearing another bank holiday washout. - Metro.

PLAGUES & PESTILENCES: Pertussis, the Highly Contagious Disease - Whooping Cough Epidemic Declared In Washington State!

Washington state's worst outbreak of whooping cough in decades has prompted health officials to declare an epidemic, seek help from federal experts and urge residents to get vaccinated amid worry that cases of the highly contagious disease could spike much higher.

It's the first state to declare a whooping cough, or pertussis, epidemic since 2010, when California had more than 9,000 cases, including 10 deaths. Washington has had 10 times the cases reported in 2011, and so has Wisconsin with nearly 2,000 cases this year, though that state has not declared an epidemic.  California responded to its crisis two years ago with a public information campaign, readily available vaccines and a new law requiring a booster shot for middle- and high-school students. Doctors were urged to spot whooping cough early, send infected babies to the hospital and promptly treat those diagnosed. In 2011, the number of cases there dropped significantly.  In Washington, about 1,280 cases have been reported in 2012, and officials believe the state could see as many as 3,000 cases by year's end. Health Secretary Mary Selecky declared the epidemic April 3, and since then officials have bought up the vaccine and made it available for free for people who don't have insurance.  State officials have asked hospitals to vaccinate every adult who goes home with a new baby, and urged businesses to encourage their employees to get the adult booster shot. Washington already requires a booster shot for middle- and high-school students. 

Last week, Gov. Chris Gregoire announced the state is putting $90,000 into a public awareness campaign and diverting some federal money to pay for 27,000 doses of vaccine. The state has also asked the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to send a special team of investigators and an epidemiologist to the Washington.  State epidemic declarations are up to the states; there are no federal regulations for such decisions. Selecky said this is the first time in her 13 years on the job she has declared a state epidemic, but felt she needed to take action to stop the disease from spreading further.  "When we've looked historically, we've seen nothing like this," she said. "We're taking this very seriously."  Adults and teens need booster shots so they don't give pertussis to the babies in their lives, said CDC spokeswoman Alison Patti. "We want to create a cocoon of protection around them," she said. "We're really worried about keeping babies safe."  Pertussis is known as whooping cough because of the "whooping" sound people often make while gasping for air after a coughing fit. A highly contagious bacterial disease, it starts off like a cold but leads to severe coughing that can last for weeks. In rare cases, it can be fatal.  Until routine child vaccination became widespread in the 1940s, pertussis caused thousands of fatalities each year in the United States. While deaths are uncommon today, they still occur: In recent weeks, infants in New Mexico and Idaho have died from the disease. - Huffington Post.

FIRE IN THE SKY: First Images of Comet 67P Close to its Aphelion!

It's not often that amateurs can provide an important support to professional astronomers involved in an international space mission. At a recent comet conference for the forthcoming Rosetta mission, which will orbit comet 67P/Churyumov - Gerasimenko in 2014, and place a lander on the surface, Faulkes Telescope Pro-Am Programme Manager Nick Howes had put forward a detailed plan for long term observations of the comet 67P, using the twin Faulkes 2m telescopes based in Hawaii and Siding Spring. The proposal challenge was picked up by Faulkes Telescope user Richard Miles, who managed to image the comet on April 19th using Faulkes South (E10 mpc code), and by our Team using Faulkes North (F65 mpc code).
Stacking of 18 R-filtered exposures, 120-sec each, obtained remotely, from the Haleakala-Faulkes Telescope North on 2012, Apr.25.5, through a 2.0-m f/10.0 Ritchey-Chretien + CCD, under good seeing conditions, shows that comet 67P has a stellar appearance, with R magnitude about 22 (limiting magnitude in our field of R about 22.5). At the moment of our image the comet was at roughly 5.683 AU from the Sun.

Our image of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko at the aphelion:
Before these observations using the Faulkes Telescopes, the comet 67P was last observed on July 2010. While our previous last observation of this comet dates back to 2010, March 08 when it was at 3.60 AU from the Sun. To date, our observation of 2012, Apr. 25.5 is the farthest known observation of comet 67P taken by a ground-based observatory. According to "Periodic Comet Extreme Observations" by Jim Scotti, the previous farthest observation of comet 67P was by B. Mueller (mpc code 695 Kitt Peak) that imaged it on 1991 May 16.23 when the comet was at 4.98 AU from the Sun.

Below you can see the residuals for the Faulkes (E10 + F65) obs calculated by the "Institute de Mécanique Céleste de Calcul des Ephémérides" using all the observations of comet 67P available in the archive.

These follow-up observations are important in several ways: they are helpful to refine comet's 67P orbital parameters, in the perspective of its future encounter with the "Rosetta" spaceprobe. Moreover, the data recently collected through the Faulkes telescopes, might also shed some light on the current activity of the comet's nucleus, that is approaching its aphelion (farthest distance from the Sun, well beyond the orbit of Jupiter). - Remanzacco Observatory.

PLANETARY TREMORS: Active Fault May Run Beneath Mount Fuji in Japan - Could Trigger a Devastating Mega-Quake!

Mount Fuji may be sitting on a large, active fault that could trigger a magnitude-7 earthquake, changing the shape of the mountain and devastating nearby communities, the science ministry said on Thursday. 

A survey carried out by the University of Tokyo’s Earthquake Research Institute found a 30-km fault running from Gotemba in Shizuoka Prefecture beneath the 3,776-meter-high mountain. Research results indicate it is likely to be active, a ministry official said. 

If the fault sets off an earthquake, researchers say the slopes would most likely collapse, causing massive landslides and mudflows.  An earthquake in 1707 caused Mount Fuji to erupt and killed an estimated 20,000 people. - Japan Today.

PLANETARY TREMORS: Earthquake Measuring 5.4 Hits North-East India - Tremors Felt in Guwahati and Kolkata!

An earthquake measuring 5.4 on the Richter scale shook Guwahati in Assam and Shillong in Meghalaya at about 6.15 this evening. Tremors were felt in other parts of the North East and some mild ones even in Kolkata.

The epicenter of the quake is Nagaon in Assam. Some minor cracks have been reported in buildings in Nagaon, but no major damage has been reported yet from Guwahati or Shillong. People in Guwahati, however, rushed out on to the roads when it happened and many said they had not felt such a major quake in a long time. There were reports that tremors were felt in Kohima in Nagaland too.

"I was sitting in my room and was working on a laptop. Suddenly I felt the tremors and I immediately got down," said a resident of Guwahati. In Kolkata, the tremors felt were mild, but some people in high-rise buildings rushed out. - NDTV.
WATCH: Mild earthquake in Assam, West Bengal.

GLOBAL VOLCANISM: Geological Deformation & Magma Movement - Earthquake Swarm on the Kolumbus Line of the Santorini Volcano!

The volcano that may have given rise to the legend of Atlantis has awakened, researchers say. The cataclysmic eruptions at the Greek isle of Santorini about 3,600 years ago that spewed forth about 9.5 to 14.3 cubic miles (40 to 60 cubic kilometers) of lava devastated the ancient seafaring Minoan civilization, potentially inspiring the legend of the lost city of Atlantis. From the air, the resulting caldera, or volcanic crater, appears as a small cluster within the larger collection of Greek islands in the Aegean Sea.

Earthquake swarm between 28 and 30 April southwest of Santorini (Inst. of Geodynamics).
Over the next four millennia, the largely underwater caldera at Santorini has experienced a series of smaller eruptions, with five such outbursts in the past 600 years, ending most recently in 1950. After a 60-year lull, Santorini awakened in January 2011 with a swarm of tremors, each magnitude 3.2 or less, new GPS research has revealed. Investigators had installed a GPS monitoring system in the area in 2006. These sensors keep track of their location in space, and can thus shed light on when the Earth is moving. The scientists found that by June 2011, the 22 GPS stations had been pushed 0.2 to 1.3 inches (5 to 32 millimeters) farther from the caldera than they had been just six months earlier. The researchers then improved the existing GPS stations and installed two more GPS stations, and data from September 2011 to January 2012 showed the land near the volcano was swelling at an accelerating rate, reaching 7 inches (180 mm) of growth per year. Computer models of the deforming Earth suggested the swelling was due to an influx of nearly 500 million cubic feet (14.1 million cubic meters) of magma into a chamber 2.5 to 3.1 miles (4 to 5 kilometers) below the surface. - FOX News.

Another seismic swarm has been occurring at Santorini volcano in the past days, located on the SW-NE line running through the caldera and the Kolumbos submarine volcano (referred to as the Kolumbos line), and to the SW of the island along the same lineament. The largest quake was a 2.2 magnitude at 11.3 km depth at Kolumbos volcano on 8 May. - Volcano Discovery.

KILLING MOTHER EARTH: Man-Made Environmental Pollution - 'Great Pacific Garbage Patch' Plastic Has Increased Hundredfold Since the 1970s?!

Scientists have found that the massive swirl of plastic waste known as the 'Great Pacific Garbage Patch' has increased a hundredfold since the early 1970s, which could spell major changes for California and other coastal states.  During a 2009 expedition, the Scripps Institution of Oceanography researchers took water samples 1,000 miles west of California, and then compared the amount of plastic they detected with samples dating back to 1972. 

While many of the samples taken 40 years ago included little or no plastic, vast stretches of the North Pacific are now polluted with billions of tiny pieces of confetti-like trash that come from flotsam and jetsam that is swept into the North Pacific Subtropical Convergence Zone by circulating ocean currents known as a gyre, and is then broken down by winds and waves.  The particles of 'microplastic' - pieces of plastic smaller than 5 milometer in diameter - sit on or near the surface, where they are consumed by fish, sea turtles and other marine animals.  The latest samples show that the garbage patch - which is about the size of Texas - has become much denser: There are roughly 100 times more pieces of plastic per cubic meter of water than were in samples during the 1970s, according to the study cited by the San Jose Mercury News.  'We were really surprised. It is a very large increase,' said Miriam Goldstein, a Ph.D. graduate student in biological oceanography and lead author of the study.  The study, which appeared on Wednesday's online editions of the journal Biology Letters, also found the floating debris makes it easier for the marine insect known as a 'water strider' or 'sea skater'to lay its eggs out over the ocean - a fact that could have negative consequences for other animals.  The bugs - relatives of pond water skaters - normally lay eggs on pieces of wood, feathers, seashells and tar lumps, but now they are taking advantage of the abundant supply of plastic.  Since the insects subsist on zooplankton and fish larvae, an explosion in their population could lead to a reduced food supply for other animals, including fish and turtles, which eat the same prey. More bugs also could mean more food for their predators. 

This latest study comes on the heels of an earlier research conducted last year by Scripps scientists that showed 9 per cent of fish collected on the expedition to the 'Pacific Garbage Patch' in 2009 -- nearly 1 in 10 -- had plastic in their stomachs.  That investigation, published in Marine Ecology Progress Series, estimated that the fish at intermediate ocean depths in the North Pacific Ocean could be ingesting plastic at a rate of roughly 12,000 to 24,000 tons a year, according to BBC News.  Goldstein said that since cleaning up the all plastic trash in the ocean is virtually impossible, prevention is the goal.  'Once a piece of plastic is in the ocean, it is really hard and expensive to get it out again,' she said.  'Historically, we have not been very good at stopping plastic from getting into the ocean, so hopefully in the future we can do better,' Goldstein added. The alarming findings come less than a month after University of Washington oceanographer Giora Proskurowski reported that there is far more plastic in the world's oceans than previously thought.  Proskurowski said that during a research cruise in the Pacific Ocean, he noticed that the surface of the water was littered with tiny specs of plastic, which vanished from sight when the wind suddenly picked up.  Taking water samples from 16 feet, he discovered the wind was pushing the lightweight plastic particles below the surface.  Data collected from just the surface of the water commonly underestimates the total amount of plastic in the water by an average factor of 2.5, according to further research from Proskurowski and his team.  In high winds, the volume of plastic trash could be underestimated by a factor of 27, he reported with Tobias Kukulka, of the University of Delaware, in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

It is expected that as a result of the new findings, there will be more calls for cities and states to ban plastic bags and Styrofoam packaging. In California, 14 billion plastic bags are distributed annually, and only 3 per cent are recycled.  In 2010, the state Senate voted 21-14 to defeat a bill that would have banned plastic bags from being given out at grocery stores and other retailers, after heavy lobbying and donations from the American Chemistry Council and the plastics industry.  Since then, cities and counties have been passing their own bans.  As of this week, 45 California cities and counties including San Francisco, San Jose and Oakland have banned plastic bags in stores. Meanwhile, more than 60 California cities and counties have restricted or banned Styrofoam.  Because about 80 per cent of the trash in the Pacific Ocean comes from land, the alarming findings of this week's study illustrate a need for a change in behaviour, said Kaitilin Gaffney, Pacific program director of the Ocean Conservancy, an environmental group.  'This is a problem created by personal action, and frankly, personal carelessness. Ultimately, we need a behaviour shift,' she said.  'When I was a kid, everybody smoked. Now, most people don't smoke. The solution, really, is to move away from single-use items, and we need people to basically be more thoughtful,' Gaffney added. - Daily Mail.

GLOBAL VOLCANISM: Pagan Island Volcano Erupts in the Mariana Islands!

A NASA satellite has captured a dramatic image of steam and gas plumes from a volcano in the Mariana Islands in the Pacific Ocean, U.S. scientists said. 

Volcanic plume from Pagan Island.
The image shows the activity on Pagan Island, the largest and one of the most active of the Marianas volcanoes, a NASA release reported Thursday.  Fires and smoke on the island was imaged on Tuesday by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer instrument aboard NASA's Terra satellite. 

Pagan Island consists of two volcanoes connected by a narrow isthmus, and almost all of the historical eruptions of Pagan dating back to the 17th century have originated from North Pagan volcano. 

The largest eruption of Pagan during historical time took place in 1981 and prompted the evacuation of the sparsely populated island, NASA aid.  The Marianas are an arc-shaped archipelago consisting of the summits of fifteen volcanic mountains, anchored at its south end by the island of Guam. - UPI.