Friday, December 28, 2012

SIGNS IN THE HEAVENS: Most Stunning Phenomenon - Flickering "Fire Rainbows" Spotted In The Sky Over Arizona!

December 28, 2012 - UNITED STATES - Residents of Douglas in Arizona have been treated to a rare and stunning phenomenon - fire rainbows.  Caused when ice crystals splits sunlight into different colours, they cause the sky to flicker with colour.  Brandon Rios, who captured the amazing images with his father, said he was 'completely astonished' by the phenomenon.  

Fire rainbows, known by the proper name of circumhorizon arc, occur when the sun hits plate shaped ice
cystals in the clouds, causing the colours of sunlight to separate.
The colours appear to flicker in the sky and sunlight passes through the ice crystals.
'Although my father was the one to take the pictures I was with him at the time,' said Brandon after the pair spotted the rainbows over their home in Douglas, Arizona. 'He was going to get something that he left at work and when we came outside we were greeted by this beautiful sight.  'I was completely astonished to see a rainbow mixed in with the clouds.  'I didn't think something like this can exist.'

The flickering cloud rainbows form a variety of almost hypnotic shapes in the sky.
The phenomenon appears several times a year over the US, although is rare in Europe.
The clouds are seen several times a year in the US, although they are rare elsewhere in the world. Fire rainbows, known by the proper name of circumhorizon arc, occur when cirrus clouds are far enough up in the air to form plate-shaped ice crystals.  They are not actually rainbows, but a halo effect, although they are commonly referred to as fire rainbows.  When the sun is at the right angle it hits the top of these plates and splits into different colours that are viewable on the ground. - Daily Mail.

MASS FISH DIE-OFF: Red Tide Kills Thousands Of Mullet Along Beaches In Sarasota, Charlotte Counties!

December 28, 2012 - UNITED STATES - The smell of dead fish and irritating red-tide polluted air greeted beachgoers who wanted to relax at three public beaches this week. Officials reported thousands of dead fish — mostly large mullet — piled up along the shore at Blind Pass and Manasota beaches in Sarasota County as well as Englewood Beach in Charlotte County.

A beachgoer walks past piles of dead mullet near Blind Pass Beach on Manasota Key on Thursday.
Sarasota County officials are reporting increased levels of red tide. Staff photo by Mike Lang.
The poisoned fish were being cleaned up Thursday as health officials warned of an increase in red tide at several other spots in southern Sarasota County. The dead fish started washing ashore Monday and crews are expected to finish picking them up at the end of this week, said George Tatge, director of parks and recreation for Sarasota County. “This is a significant event. Thousands of fish is significant,” he said. What makes it more unusual is the vast majority of the fish are mullet — no small bait fish, like sardines, or other varieties.

In October, the largest red tide bloom to affect Southwest Florida in several years killed seven tons of fish in two days at Sarasota County beaches. On Thursday afternoon, about a half-dozen cars were parked at Blind Pass Beach, which is normally crowded this time of year. The fish were piled up along the shoreline, although that did not deter a brave swimmer or two from getting in the water. Tatge suspects a large school of mullet were caught in a red tide bloom and then washed up on shore, thanks to the recent large waves and strong wind from the west. Tatge said the beaches at Manasota Key are still open as crews made up of county staff and nonviolent offenders from a sheriff's work program pick up the dead fish this week. - Herald Tribune.

FIRE IN THE SKY: "Bright As Planet Venus" - Colorful Fireball Wows Californians!

December 28, 2012 - UNITED STATES - The following report of eye-witness accounts, constitutes the latest report of fireballs across the skies of the California in the United States, courtesy of the Lunar Meteorite Hunters.

FILE - Illustration.
27th of December, 2012 - Joe Corona, California at 6:15am PST
3 seconds duration. Right to left, going south. White-orange and maybe blue colour. Bright as the sun.
27th of December, 2012 - H. Duplessis, Valley Center, California at 6:30am PST
2 seconds duration. I was facing south-east. White streak traveled down, in easterly direction. First it was a white streak falling east then it ended with a green blast (green fireball?). Very bright white, similar to burning magnesium. Sky was clear, streak & green fireball were very distinct.
27th of December, 2012 - Millie Etter, Canoga Park, California at 6:00am PST
Maybe 10 seconds duration. I was heading South on Topanga Canyon Road/Victory Blvd stop light. White colour, very bright and clear. Bright like the moon. No fragments, but a long clean flaring tail - it seemed large. The sky was clear, dark/black... it was super clear out - outstanding thing to see.
27th of December, 2012 - Frank Elguera, Los Angeles,California at 06:10am PST
3 seconds duration - Went right to left, facing southwest. White-blue colour, no sound. Bright as Venus. Impact in atmosphere created a big diamond shaped bolide.

TERMINATOR NOW: The Rise of the Machines - DARPA's LS3 Robot Can Follow Troops Into Battle Zones, Responds To Voice Command!

December 28, 2012 - UNITED STATES - For the past two weeks, in the woods of central Virginia around Fort Pickett, the Legged Squad Support System (LS3) four-legged robot has been showing off its capabilities during field testing. Working with the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory (MCWL), researchers from DARPA’s LS3 program demonstrated new advances in the robot’s control, stability and maneuverability, including "Leader Follow" decision making, enhanced roll recovery, exact foot placement over rough terrain, the ability to maneuver in an urban environment, and verbal command capability.

The LS3 program seeks to demonstrate that a highly mobile, semi-autonomous legged robot can carry 400 lbs of a squad’s equipment, follow squad members through rugged terrain and interact with troops in a natural way similar to a trained animal with its handler. The robot could also be able to maneuver at night and serve as a mobile auxiliary power source to the squad, so troops can recharge batteries for radios and handheld devices while on patrol. “This was the first time DARPA and MCWL were able to get LS3 out on the testing grounds together to simulate military-relevant training conditions,” said Lt. Col. Joseph Hitt, DARPA program manager.

“The robot’s performance in the field expanded on our expectations, demonstrating, for example, how voice commands and “follow the leader” capability would enhance the robot’s ability to interact with warfighters. We were able to put the robot through difficult natural terrain and test its ability to right itself with minimal interaction from humans.” Video from the testing shows the robot negotiating diverse terrain including ditches, streams, wooded slopes and simulated urban environments. The video also shows the map the LS3 perception system creates to determine the path it takes. The December testing at Fort Pickett is the first in a series of planned demonstrations that will test the robot’s capabilities across different environments as development continues through the first half of 2014. The DARPA platform developer for the LS3 system is Boston Dynamics of Waltham, Mass. - DARPA.

WATCH: LS3 Follow Tight.

PLAGUES & PESTILENCES: Potentially Fatal Avian Flu Virus Learns To Fly Without Wings?!

December 28, 2012 - ENGLAND - Potentially fatal bird flu viruses can spread on the wind, a hitherto suspected but unproven route of transmission. Usually, people catch bird flu through close physical contact with each other or, much more commonly, with infected poultry. The newly identified capacity for wind to spread it opens up a potential route by which the viruses can spread between farms.

Did someone in the next field sneeze? (Image: Tim Graham/Getty Images).
The finding came about after Dutch researchers studied an outbreak of the avian flu strain H7N7 in poultry on Dutch farms in 2003, which resulted in 89 confirmed human infections including one death. Computer models showed that wind patterns at the time of the outbreak explain how different genetic variants of H7N7 ended up on different farms (Journal of Infectious Diseases, H5N1 is the most harmful strain of avian flu, having killed 360 of 610 infected people since it was discovered in 2003. The fact that a related strain can travel on the wind suggests that H5N1 can too, says Marion Koopmans of the Dutch National Institute for Public Health and the Environment in Bilthoven, who coordinated the research project. "You must assume that this same potential is there for H5N1," she says.

Other researchers agreed that by implication, H5N1 could spread in the same way. "Because we don't know, we should assume the worst case – and the worst case is that H5N1 travels on the wind as well," says John McCauley, a bird flu researcher at the MRC National Institute for Medical Research in London.
He says it's well known that the virus that causes foot and mouth disease in cattle and pigs travels many kilometres on the wind, but it's lighter than avian flu and is produced in huge amounts by infected animals. McCauley says the most likely scenario for bird flu is that the virus hitches a ride on airborne particles from farms, especially particles of infected faeces from poultry farms. - New Scientist.

FIRE IN THE SKY: Comet ISON, The Comet Of The Century - The Biggest Star Of 2013 Could Be Brighter Than A Full Moon!

December 27, 2012 - SPACE - At the moment it is a faint object, visible only in sophisticated telescopes as a point of light moving slowly against the background stars. It doesn't seem much – a frozen chunk of rock and ice – one of many moving in the depths of space. But this one is being tracked with eager anticipation by astronomers from around the world, and in a year everyone could know its name. 

Comet Ison could draw millions out into the dark to witness what could be the brightest comet seen in many generations – brighter even than the full Moon.  It was found as a blur on an electronic image of the night sky taken through a telescope at the Kislovodsk Observatory in Russia as part of a project to survey the sky looking for comets and asteroids – chunks of rock and ice that litter space. Astronomers Vitali Nevski and Artyom Novichonok were expecting to use the International Scientific Optical Network's (Ison) 40cm telescope on the night of 20 September but clouds halted their plans.  It was a frustrating night but about half an hour prior to the beginning of morning twilight, they noticed the sky was clearing and got the telescope and camera up and running to obtain some survey images in the constellations of Gemini and Cancer.

When the images were obtained Nevski loaded them into a computer program designed to detect asteroids and comets moving between images. He noticed a rather bright object with unusually slow movement, which he thought could only mean it was situated way beyond the orbit of Jupiter. But he couldn't tell if the object was a comet, so Novichonok booked time on a larger telescope to take another look. Less than a day later the new images revealed that Nevski and Novichonok had discovered a comet, which was named Comet Ison. A database search showed it has been seen in images taken by other telescopes earlier that year and in late 2011. These observations allowed its orbit to be calculated, and when astronomers did that they let out a collective "wow."  Comet Ison has taken millions of years to reach us travelling from the so-called Oort cloud – a reservoir of trillions and trillions of chunks of rock and ice, leftovers from the birth of the planets. It reaches out more than a light-year – a quarter of the way to the nearest star. In the Oort cloud the Sun is but a distant point of light whose feeble gravity is just enough to hold onto the cloud. Every once in a while a tiny tug of gravity, perhaps from a nearby star or wandering object, disturbs the cloud sending some of its comets out into interstellar space to be lost forever and a few are scattered sunward. Comet Ison is making its first, and perhaps only visit to us. Its life has been cold, frozen hard and unchanging, but it is moving closer to the Sun, and getting warmer. 

Ison's surface is very dark – darker than asphalt – pockmarked and dusty with ice beneath the surface. It's a small body, a few tens of miles across, with a tiny pull of gravity. If you stood upon it you could leap 20 miles into space taking over a week to come down again, watching as the comet rotated beneath you. You could walk to the equator, kneel down and gather up handfuls of comet material to make snowballs, throw them in a direction against the comet's spin and watch them hang motionless in front of you. But it will not remain quiet on Comet Ison for the Sun's heat will bring it to life.  By the end of summer it will become visible in small telescopes and binoculars. By October it will pass close to Mars and things will begin to stir. The surface will shift as the ice responds to the thermal shock, cracks will appear in the crust, tiny puffs of gas will rise from it as it is warmed. The comet's tail is forming.  Slowly at first but with increasing vigour, as it passes the orbit of Earth, the gas and dust geysers will gather force. The space around the comet becomes brilliant as the ice below the surface turns into gas and erupts, reflecting the light of the Sun.

Now Ison is surrounded by a cloud of gas called the coma, hundreds of thousands of miles from side to side. The comet's rotation curves these jets into space as they trail into spirals behind it. As they move out the gas trails are stopped and blown backwards by the Solar Wind.  By late November it will be visible to the unaided eye just after dark in the same direction as the setting Sun. Its tail could stretch like a searchlight into the sky above the horizon. Then it will swing rapidly around the Sun, passing within two million miles of it, far closer than any planet ever does, to emerge visible in the evening sky heading northward towards the pole star. It could be an "unaided eye" object for months. When it is close in its approach to the Sun it could become intensely brilliant but at that stage it would be difficult and dangerous to see without special instrumentation as it would be only a degree from the sun.  Remarkably Ison might not be the only spectacular comet visible next year. Another comet, called 2014 L4 (PanSTARRS), was discovered last year and in March and April it could also be a magnificent object in the evening sky. 2013 could be the year of the great comets.  As Comet Ison heads back to deep space in 2014 the sky above it would begin to clear as the dust and gas geysers loose their energy. Returning to the place where the Sun is a distant point of light, Comet Ison may never return. Its tail points outward now as the solar wind is at its back, and it fades and the comet falls quiet once more, this time forever. - The Independent.

MONUMENTAL EARTH CHANGES: Mighty Old Trees Are Perishing Fast, Study Warns!

December 28, 2012 - ENGLAND - The death rate of many of the biggest and oldest trees around the world is increasing rapidly, scientists report in a new study in Friday’s issue of the journal Science. They warned that research to understand and stem the loss of the trees is urgently needed. “It’s a worldwide problem and appears to be happening in most types of forest,” said the study’s lead author, David Lindemayer, a professor at Australian National University and an expert in landscape ecology and forest management.

An ash tree, center, infected with a deadly fungal disease near Framlingham in southeastern England. Reuters.

The research team found that big, old trees are dying at an alarmingly fast clip around the world at all latitudes – Yosemite National Park in California, the African savanna, the Brazilian rain forest, Europe and the boreal forests around the world. They described the cause as a combination of factors, from a hotter, drier climate in many places to logging, land clearing, changes in fire prevention and management policies, insect attacks and diseases. The die-off of these 100-to-300-year-old trees raises concern, the researchers say, because they sustain biodiversity to a greater degree than many other components of the forest. “Big, old trees are not just enlarged young trees,” said Jerry F. Franklin of the University of Washington, a co-author of the study who has studied old-growth forest for 45 years. “Old trees have idiosyncratic features – a different canopy, different branch systems, a lot of cavities, thicker bark and more heartwood. They provide a lot more habitat and niches.” Big trees also supply abundant food for numerous animals in the form of fruits, flowers, foliage and nectar, noted Bill Laurance, another co-author, from James Cook University in Australia. “Their hollows offer nests and shelter for birds and animals” and “their loss could mean extinction for such creatures,” he said.

Old trees store large amounts of carbon, recycle soil nutrients and play a role in the flow of water and climate within an ecosystem. When a forest is disturbed by wildfire, a wind storm or other events, Dr. Franklin said, those older trees begin the recovery process by providing seeds as well as habitat for other species that help the forest re-establish itself. The genes of these big, old trees could also be critical. “Genetic diversity represents options,” Dr. Franklin said. “They are genes we may want to utilize in the future.” And experts say there is a great deal about trees and forests that is not known. “It is a very, very disturbing trend,” Dr. Laurance said. “We are talking about the loss of the biggest living organisms on the planet, of the largest flowering plants on the planet of organisms that play a key role in regulating and enriching our world.” The experts first noticed the increase in tree mortality when they examined Swedish forestry records going back to the 1860s. Meanwhile, a three-decade study of mountain ash forest in Australia found that more trees were dying in forest fires and at 10 times the usual rate from drought, increasing temperatures and logging. The study is only the latest among many reports of how climate change and other factors are taking a severe toll on the world’s forests. British Columbia, for example, is ground zero for a giant forest die-off that is occurring across the Rockies.

More than 53,000 square miles of forest there has died in the last decade. The largest previous die-off, in the 1980s, spanned 2,300 square miles. Experts say that the old-growth bristlecone pines of the West, some nearly 5,000 years old, will probably be decimated by the spread of a fungal disease in concert with attacks by bark beetles. While the trees grow at high elevations that were once most inhospitable terrain, mountain warming has allowed beetles to survive there. Federal officials are gathering seeds from disease-resistant bristlecone pines in hopes of growing new trees that can survive. A new fungal disease that is attacking Britain’s beloved ash trees has been front-page news there. It is feared that the fungus could claim more than 90 percent of Britain’s ash, as it has elsewhere in Europe. The authors of the study have called for a worldwide investigation of the loss of the trees, the protection of areas where the big trees have their best chance at survival, and new tree planting. - New York Times.

SOLAR CYCLE 24: Anemic Solar Activity - Has Solar Maximum Already Passed?!

December 28, 2012 - THE SUN - 2013 is only days away, and according to most forecasters, Solar Max should be approaching as well. But is it? Barely-increasing sunspot counts and anemic solar activity suggest an interesting possibility: Perhaps Solar Max has already passed. This plot of measured vs. predicted sunspot numbers illustrates the idea:

The blue curve traces monthly sunspot numbers measured since 2000. The red curve is the prediction of the NOAA-led Solar Cycle Prediction Panel. So far, Solar Cycle 24 is underperforming even compared to the panel's low expectations.

There is still a strong chance that Cycle 24 will rebound and peak in 2013 as expected. It might even be a double-peaked cycle like the cycle before it. As 2013 nears only one thing is certain: we don't know what will happen. - Space Weather.

WEATHER ANOMALIES: 2012 Turns Into Quiet Tornado Year - Quietest Possibly Since 1989?!

December 28, 2012 - UNITED STATES - 2012 was a year of weather extremes: the warmest year on record, a devastating late-season hurricane, and a drought that is still growing well into winter. However, there was one area in which the U.S. actually received a bit of a break: tornadoes.

"At this point (Dec. 26), the U.S. as a whole is on pace to have the quietest tornado year since at least 2002 and possibly 1989," says Tornado Expert Dr. Greg Forbes.

This was one of several violent tornadoes that touched down across Kansas on April 14, 2012.
This particular tornado was located 5 miles west of Marquette, Kansas and was rated EF-4.
The rest of April and May took a dramatic downturn in tornadic activity.
Tornado Stats (as of Dec. 25)
  • 2012 - 922
  • 10-year average - 1334
    **According to Dr. Forbes**
The U.S. did have large tornado outbreaks, however the peak of the season remained remarkably quiet.
2012 Tornado Outbreaks
  • Feb. 28-29: 44 tornadoes
  • March 2-3: 69 tornadoes
  • April 14-15: 97 tornadoes
  • December 25: 21 tornadoes (preliminary)
Even more important, 2012 marked the longest streak without a tornado death since 1993. On the next few pages, we take a snapshot of the past year in tornadoes and show you what ingredients came together to help make it  lowest tornado year in more than two decades. The year got off to such a busy start many people were wondering if 2012 would be a repeat of 2011's record tornado year. "The first 3 months (Jan, Feb, March) were all above average," reports Tornado Expert Dr. Forbes. "Combined, they were pretty close to a record. Every month since then has been below average until December." A huge atmospheric change brought tornado activity to a halt. "During the month of March, the jet stream jumped way up to the Canadian border, which is more typical of mid-summer," says Dr. Forbes. "Where the jet stream goes, that's where the storm tracks go. April and May were well below average. Typically the jet stream in May would have been blasting across Oklahoma," reports Forbes.

Homes in a neighborhood in Center Point, Ala. were completely destroyed after a tornado in January, 2012.
"May is prime time for Oklahoma, but they had a below average month. There were certainly some tornadoes but the number was below average." Tornadoes are not uncommon during tropical season. They are frequently spawned by landfalling hurricanes when they move inland. However, the 2012 season produced far fewer tropical tornadoes than usual. Hurricane Sandy, as it moved inland, created massive amounts of storm surge and inland flooding but no known tornadoes. "The second tornado season, the November time frame especially, was really quiet," says Forbes. "October was below average and then November had just 6 tornadoes for the whole country. One of the lowest on record." November had only 6 tornadoes, according to Dr. Forbes. The 10-year average for tornadoes in November is 62. Until the rare Christmas tornado outbreak, December was only track to be another low tornado month. However, two powerful winter storms changed that. Winter Storm Draco spawned at least one tornado in Mobile, Ala. on December 20. Mobile and the Deep South was hit again on December 25, with a preliminary count of 21 tornadoes. The 10-year-old average for December is 35 tornadoes. - The Weather Channel.

EXTREME WEATHER: Christmas Day in Argentina Was The Hottest Day Of The Year - Rio De Janeiro Had Temperatures Of 50 ° C, Locals Made Dinner On The Beach!

December 28, 2012 - ARGENTINA - The windchill of 50 ° C caused the locals to make Christmas dinner on the beach. According to the National Institute of Meteorology (Inmet), on Tuesday (25) was the hottest day of the year. In Health, Port Zone, the temperature reached 41 ┬║ C, as the report showed RJTV.

Ipanema Beach in Rio de Janeiro, in the crowded Christmas holiday (Photo: Custodio Coimbra / Ag O Globo).
Instead of the traditional combination of matte and biscuit recipes, many swimmers opted to eat toast and other leftovers from supper.

According to the National Institute of Meteorology, the temperature is expected to remain high on Wednesday (26).

According to the weather, the day will be sunny and the mercury is expected to reach 40 ° C. The expected minimum is 23 ° C. - G1 [Translated].

NOTE: Roberto Lupe contributed to this story.

THE GREAT DELUGE: Downpours Make 2012 England's Wettest Year On Record!

December 28, 2012 - ENGLAND - The year started with hose pipe bans and warnings of drought. It has ended as the wettest in England since records began. The Met Office said yesterday that at 1,095.8 millimetres the average rainfall across England in 2012 had already breached the previous high of 1,093mm in 2000.  With a further deluge expected over the final few days, it is also likely 2012 will be the third wettest in the UK as a whole since records began in 1910, and it still could be the wettest. 

St Denys' Church suffers from flooding in the village of Severn Stoke near Worcester. Flood warnings for major rivers could hit new year travel plans. © Christopher Furlong /GETTY.
The figures came as more flood warnings were issued for the New Year period by the Environment Agency, with major rivers such as the Severn and Thames set to peak in some areas.  London's flood defence system was activated for the first time since 2010. The Agency said it closed the Thames Barrier to prevent water flowing downstream from further up the River Thames, which has been deluged by rain for a week. More than 200 flood warnings and alerts are still in force, mainly in the Midlands, East Anglia and the south, for the next three days - 21 of which are for Wales in the next 24 hours. The ground is so saturated that even a slight rain will be enough to trigger floods, the agency said.  Heavy gales are also expected to add to the misery in the western half of the country. Travellers are being warned that train services are expected to face delays, particularly in the south east. 

In Dorset, a flash of lightning is thought to be responsible for two fires which destroyed a school and a derelict hotel in Dorset. More than 55 fire fighters from three counties were called to Lytchett Minster Upper School, near Poole, which caught fire minutes after the roof of the Cliff End Hotel in Boscombe, Bournemouth, went up in flames just after 7am.  Six of the 10 wettest years in the UK have now occurred since 1998. The wettest on record is 2000 when 1,337.3mm of rain fell. It is followed by 1954 and then 2008, with 1,295mm. This year's average UK-wide rainfall is 1,291mm, with much more than another four millimetres likely.  A Met Office spokesman said there was a chance that it could be the UK's wettest year, although there would need to be an average of 46mm across Britain between now and 1 January.  "It is unlikely because that would have to be across the whole of Britain," he said. "But I wouldn't rule it out."  He added that it was impossible to say whether the spate of wet years was due to climate change. "Britain is a wet country," he said. "There will always be dry spells and wet spells. This year's wet weather has been due to a buckled jet stream. Normally it is straight and pushes wet weather systems far to the north. It hasn't done that this year." - The Independent.

EXTREME WEATHER: U.S. Drought - Third Highest Severe To Extreme Percentage On Record!

December 28, 2012 - UNITED STATES - Extreme and exceptional drought, the worst categories on the U.S. Drought Monitor, are on the rise again.

The graphic above from meteorologist Matt Sitkowski at the The Weather Channel shows this with the peak occurring back in August followed by a decline in the fall and now a rising percentage as we close out the year. When just examining the worst category "exceptional drought", the United States will end the year with its highest percentage in this category so far in 2012.

To provide a little more perspective, we can compare the current status of the drought to others in past history dating back to 1895 using another measure called the Palmer Drought index from the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

At the end of November, the areal extent of the drought rated severe to extreme was at 44.8 percent. This is the highest extent so far this year and the third highest overall according to meteorologist Nick Wiltgen. Only the peaks from 1934 (July) and 1954 (September) had a higher percentage than the 2012 drought in their respective years.

Many of the peaks in the top 10 throughout history have been during the warm season. However, this is now the third time the peak drought extent in the severe to extreme categories has occurred in December. - The Weather Channel.

MASS UFO SIGHTINGS: Rash Of UFOs Seen Over New Zealand - More Sightings Of Lights Across Country?!

December 28, 2012 - NEW ZEALAND - The mysterious lights spotted over Taranaki have also been reported in Napier, Wellington, Nelson and Christchurch, but a rational explanation has been offered. Jennie Velvin was startled by the sight of two orange orbs travelling past her house on Ngamotu Rd in close succession on Christmas night. She said the objects looked like low, fast-moving fiery suns travelling southward. Since the Taranaki Daily News reported on the sighting yesterday calls have flooded in of further sightings of unidentified flying objects. Anne Murdoch, of Oakura, said she saw three on Christmas Eve. "They seemed to be coming from Ahu Ahu Rd.

"They got about halfway through the beach then disappeared." "I saw that! I was on my way to a church type thing on Christmas day and I saw it go over Francis Douglas going southwest towards the Westown shops! I thought it was just me!" a commenter on the Daily News Facebook page offered. It appears the mysterious fiery orbs are not new on the local scene. Jacinta Lawrence, of New Plymouth, said she saw an object of the exact same description about a year ago. "It was a big orange ball, very strange." Georgina Hudson, who lives near Ngamotu Rd, said she saw similar objects that were triangular-shaped in February. Ms Hudson said she rang the police and asked them to contact the control tower at the airport to warn them, but the police did not take action. She didn't think the objects were extra-terrestrial but they were definitely some sort of craft, she said. "I don't think it's somebody from space, but probably Nasa doing checks."

But one self-described UFO fanatic from New Plymouth said there was a darker explanation for the objects. "They're coming in different shapes and forms," Shane Lowery said. "Sometimes people get hypnotised when they see them, they can't move, they are paralysed. "They are demonic, there is something going on." But there are also plenty of people offering a rational explanation for the floating fire balls. "I was drunk, saw four of them and wasn't even dumb enough to think they were UFOs. "They were lanterns as you could see them burn out and fall back down," Corey Nicolson wrote on the Daily News Facebook page. "They would have been paper lanterns. "I saw some of these being set off in Merrilands around 8:30-9pm," one commenter said. New Plymouth Astronomical Society president Rod Austin said paper lanterns were the most logical explanation for the unidentified objects. "We've had a lot of fog and they get up to a height where they appear larger than they actually are." He said the south-west direction the objects were reported as travelling in could be explained by the easterly breeze Taranaki has had in the last few days. "I don't think it's got anything to do with the Mayan end of the world," Mr Austin said. - Stuff.

GEOLOGICAL UPHEAVAL: The Giant Louisiana Sinkhole Belches Organic Material - Tree Trunks, Branches And Leaves Surface In "Burp"!

December 28, 2012 - UNITED STATES - The 8.5-acre Assumption Parish sinkhole, located between the Bayou Corne and Grand Bayou communities, burped this week for the second time in a month, the company cleaning up the site reported Thursday.  Sonny Cranch, a spokesman for Texas Brine Co. LLC, said the burp happened either Christmas night or early Wednesday. 

Advocate file photo by HEATHER MCCLELLAND -- The sinkhole that emerged nearly five months ago in Assumption Parish swampland adjacent to the Napoleonville Dome already has grown to more than 8.5 acres in size. Seismic studies will be conducted to learn more about the sinkhole and determine its potential for future expansion.
He said crews have not been able to determine how much vegetation came up after the burp. The previous burp occurred on Nov. 27.  The burp, Cranch said, is composed “of decayed leaves, branches and some tree trunks. It is very likely material from a slough-off that occurred a few weeks ago.”  Cranch has said the sinkhole’s belching is simply part of its “natural life,” especially following a slough-off where more land was swallowed by the sinkhole.  “When trees on the perimeter fall in due to the supersaturated soil conditions, the weight of the dirt around the root structure carries many — not all — of those trees to the bottom,” he said. “As the dirt washes off the roots over time, the natural buoyancy allows some to rise to the surface.” 

Unlike the previous burp, which coincided with a long-period earth tremor, this one wasn’t due to a tremor, Cranch said.  “To our knowledge there was no seismic event connected to this recent occurrence,” he said. “The stuff seems to have just floated to the surface. Most of it was removed yesterday; the remainder today.”  The sinkhole, which scientists believe formed following the failure of an underground Texas Brine cavern in the Napoleonville Dome, was discovered south of La. 70 on Aug. 3. Since then, as predicted, the sinkhole gradually has increased in size and has released methane, natural gas and crude oil underground.  Assumption Parish officials ordered the evacuation of more than 150 residences in the area on Aug. 3 because of safety concerns, and that evacuation order remains in place. - The Advocate.

GLOBAL VOLCANISM: The Volcano Discovery Report For December 27-28 - Lokon, San Cristobal, Copahue, Tungurahua, And Mammoth Mountain!

December 28, 2012 - WORLDWIDE VOLCANOES - The following constitutes the new activity, unrest and ongoing report from the Volcano Discovery Group.

Lukon volcano.
Lokon volcano in North Sulawesi has had another explosion yesterday (27th) at 16:50 local time. The ash plume appears to be of considerable height, although Darwin VAAC has not (yet) published a warning.

The eruption of Tungurahua volcano in Ecuador continues at fluctuating, but generally reduced intensity compared to the previous week, but there are still occasional weak to moderate explosions and near constant steam and ash emissions that produce a column rising up to about 2 km above the crater.
The current seismic signal shows a moderately strong tremor present.

Ash emissions continue at Nicaragua's San Cristobal volcano. So far, the size of explosions has been small with ash columns of 500-800 m and only light ash fall has occurred in areas mainly to the west and southwest. However, evacuations of people within a 3 km radius around the volcano have started as a precaution.

The number of emissions from Popocat├ępetl volcano in Mexico has dropped again to only about 1-2 per hour, but the type activity, small puffs of steam, gas and sometimes ash, remains essentially unchanged.

Copahue volcano in Chile produced new ash emissions on 27 Dec. Ash clouds at 10,000 ft (3 km) altitude extending about 50 km NE along with strong SO2 emissions were visible on satellite data.

Another small earthquake swarm (smaller than the one end of Oct) has started last night at Mammoth Mountain west in California, west of the Long Valley caldera. Many small quakes have been occurring in an area5 km SW of the mountain at depths around 20 km. - Volcano Discovery.