Saturday, February 16, 2013

PLANETARY TREMORS: Increasing Seismicity In The Mediterranean Region - Strong Earthquake Measuring 5.0 Magnitude Strikes Off Southern Greek Coast!

February 16, 2013 - GREECE - An earthquake of 5.0 magnitude struck in the Mediterranean just off Greece's southern coast on Sunday, the U.S. Geological Survey said, but there were no immediate reports of injuries or damage.

USGS earthquake map and location.
The quake occurred at 7:42 a.m. (0542 GMT), 34 miles southwest of the coastal city of Kalamata in the Peloponnese region, the Survey said.

USGS earthquake shakemap.
Greece is often rattled by earthquakes. While most cause no serious damage, a 5.9 magnitude quake killed 143 people in 1999. - Reuters.


Tectonic Summary - Seismotectonics of the Mediterranean Region and Vicinity.
The Mediterranean region is seismically active due to the northward convergence (4-10 mm/yr) of the African plate with respect to the Eurasian plate along a complex plate boundary. This convergence began approximately 50 Ma and was associated with the closure of the Tethys Sea. The modern day remnant of the Tethys Sea is the Mediterranean Sea. The highest rates of seismicity in the Mediterranean region are found along the Hellenic subduction zone of southern Greece, along the North Anatolian Fault Zone of western Turkey and the Calabrian subduction zone of southern Italy. Local high rates of convergence at the Hellenic subduction zone (35mm/yr) are associated with back-arc spreading throughout Greece and western Turkey above the subducting Mediterranean oceanic crust. Crustal normal faulting throughout this region is a manifestation of extensional tectonics associated with the back-arc spreading. The region of the Marmara Sea is a transition zone between this extensional regime, to the west, and the strike-slip regime of the North Anatolian Fault Zone, to the east. The North Anatolian Fault accommodates much of the right-lateral horizontal motion (23-24 mm/yr) between the Anatolian micro-plate and Eurasian plate as the Anatolian micro-plate is being pushed westward to further accommodate closure of the Mediterranean basin caused by the collision of the African and Arabian plates in southeastern Turkey. Subduction of the Mediterranean Sea floor beneath the Tyrrhenian Sea at the Calabrian subduction zone causes a significant zone of seismicity around Sicily and southern Italy. Active volcanoes are located above intermediate depth earthquakes in the Cyclades of the Aegean Sea and in southern Italy.

USGS historic seismicity for the region.
In the Mediterranean region there is a written record, several centuries long, documenting pre-instrumental seismicity (pre-20th century). Earthquakes have historically caused widespread damage across central and southern Greece, Cyprus, Sicily, Crete, the Nile Delta, Northern Libya, the Atlas Mountains of North Africa and the Iberian Peninsula. The 1903 M8.2 Kythera earthquake and the 1926 M7.8 Rhodes earthquakes are the largest instrumentally recorded Mediterranean earthquakes, both of which are associated with subduction zone tectonics. Between 1939 and 1999 a series of devastating M7+ strike-slip earthquakes propagated westward along the North Anatolian Fault Zone, beginning with the 1939 M7.8 Erzincan earthquake on the eastern end of the North Anatolian Fault system. The 1999 M7.6 Izmit earthquake, located on the westward end of the fault, struck one of Turkey's most densely populated and industrialized urban areas killing, more than 17,000 people. Although seismicity rates are comparatively low along the northern margin of the African continent, large destructive earthquakes have been recorded and reported from Morocco in the western Mediterranean, to the Dead Sea in the eastern Mediterranean. The 1980 M7.3 El Asnam earthquake was one of Africa's largest and most destructive earthquakes within the 20th century.

Large earthquakes throughout the Mediterranean region have also been known to produce significant and damaging tsunamis. One of the more prominent historical earthquakes within the region is the Lisbon earthquake of November 1, 1755, whose magnitude has been estimated from non-instrumental data to be about 8.0. The 1755 Lisbon earthquake is thought to have occurred within or near the Azores-Gibraltar transform fault, which defines the boundary between the African and Eurasian plates off the west coast of Morocco and Portugal. The earthquake is notable for both a large death toll of approximately 60,000 people and for generating a tsunami that swept up the Portuguese coast inundating coastal villages and Lisbon. An earthquake of approximately M8.0 near Sicily in 1693 generated a large tsunami wave that destroyed numerous towns along Sicily's east coast. The M7.2 December 28, 1908 Messina earthquake is the deadliest documented European earthquake. The combination of severe ground shaking and a local tsunami caused an estimated 60,000 to 120,000 fatalities. - USGS.

MASS FISH DIE-OFF: "Disturbing And Frightening Sight" - Thousands Of Fish Mysteriously Found Dead In Angrignon Park, Canada?!

February 16, 2013 - CANADA - It's a disturbing and frightening sight.

Thousands of fish, most of them dead, trapped in a small, shallow part of the lake at Angrignon park.

 Photo: Laura Casella (CJAD).
How they got trapped, or died, remains a mystery, but people walking by are concerned.

Tony Di Lorenzo brought the situation to CJAD's attention. He was out walking his dogs as he does everyday, when he came across all the dead fish in the small body of water.

 Photo: Laura Casella (CJAD).

 Photo: Laura Casella (CJAD).

"It broke my heart to see this, so many suffering fish, that shouldn't be stuck in this small body of water," he says.

The fish are of different sizes and several are dead lying on the snow.

 Photo: Laura Casella (CJAD).

 Photo: Laura Casella (CJAD).

Nearby resident Shelly Vince was also surprised to come across this as she was walking her dog one day.

"It's disgusting and sad," she says, "not a nice sight. In the twenty years I've been walking here, never have I seen this."

The city is investigating. - CJAD.

WATCH: Thousands of dead fish at Angrignon Park.

ANIMAL BEHAVIOR: Denver International Airport Parking Lots Consider Measures To Stop Bunnies From Attacking Cars?!

February 16, 2013 - DENVER, UNITED STATES - It's a problem that plagues passengers who park at Denver International Airport- bunnies are causing hundreds and sometimes thousands of dollars in damage to cars.

The rabbits eat the wires under the hood.

Bunnies are causing thousands of dollars in damage to cars parked at DIA. (Credit: CBS).
The USDA Wildlife Service is removing at least 100 bunnies every month but the problem persists.

"I see at least dozens every morning. They go hide under the cars and the cars are warm," said airport shuttle driver Michelle Anderson.

"They like to chew on the insulator portion of the ignition cables. That's what we see," said Arapahoe Autotek spokesman Wiley Faris.

Faris said rabbit damage is a common problem. The suspects are easily identified by the fur and pellets left behind.

"That wiring harness has all the wiring for the car so it can run from the hundreds into the thousands depending on where the harness is damaged," said Faris.

USAirport Parking is taking action to keep the bunnies out of vehicles.

"It's hard to get rid of the bunnies but we're going to try as many natural things as possible," said on USAirport Parking employee.

Crews will install new fencing to make it harder for the bunnies to burrow under.

"We're also going to build raptor perches for the hawks and eagles," said USAirport Parking.

Local mechanics are also giving drivers a secret weapon: coyote urine. They're coating car wires with the substance.

"We have found a good deterrent is predator urine, you can pick up fox urine at any pro hunting shop," said Faris.

DIA and City of Denver officials said parking permits clearly state they are not responsible for any damage which means repairs needed because of ravenous rabbits are the responsibility of the driver.

DIA said they have only received a handful of claims concerning rabbits damaging cars in recent years. Since 2009 there have been nine official claims from passengers reporting damage to their cars from rabbits.

DIA said more than 11,720 cars are parked on the property each day.

Most insurance companies won't cover the costs of rabbit damage. - CBS Denver.

WATCH: DIA Parking Lots Consider Measures To Stop Bunnies From Attacking Cars.


GEOLOGICAL UPHEAVAL: The Giant Louisiana Sinkhole - New Extended Flyover Of Bayou Corne Sinkhole; First Time Since 7,500 Square Feet Of Land Fell In; More Oil Sheen Than Previously Observed!

February 16, 2013 - UNITED STATES - “The old sinkhole she ain’t what she used to be…..”  It’s not looking any better, folks. We grabbed the first day of sunshine in weeks around here and flew out to have another look, since the news reported that yesterday another 5000-square-foot chunk had caved in. We couldn’t tell exactly where that had happened, from the air. But we did see quite a bit more rainbow sheen at the northeast corner of the sinkhole than we have noticed there before. - On Wings of Care.

Credit: On Wings of Care, Brayton.
Credit: On Wings of Care, Brayton.
Credit: On Wings of Care, Brayton.
WATCH: OWOC Flyover of Bayou Corne - February 15, 2013.

ANIMAL BEHAVIOR: Disaster Precursor - Thousands Of Dolphins Swimming In "Super Mega-Pod" Across 7 Seven Miles Long And 5 Miles Wide, Spotted Near San Diego; Captain Joe Dutra Of Hornblower Cruises Said He'd Never Seen Anything Like It?!

February 16, 2013 - UNITED STATES - Thousands of dolphins spanning across 7 miles of ocean were sighted off the coast of San Diego on Thursday, a boat captain told NBC 7 San Diego.

Capt. Joe Dutra of Hornblower Cruises said he saw a “super mega-pod” of common dolphins Thursday around noon while he was on his daily tour. He said the pod was more than 7 miles long and 5 miles wide.

Antonio Ramirez who was aboard a Hornblower Cruise on Thursday snapped this photo of the dolphins swimming in a "super mega-pod." Photo Courtesy of Antonio Ramirez.
Dutra said the boat tour followed the pod for more than an hour and said he’s never seen anything like it.
“When you see something that is honestly truly beyond belief,” the captain said.

Guests aboard the boat started screaming and pointing when they first saw the school of adult and juvenile common dolphins. Dutra estimated there were about 100,000 dolphins swimming in the area.

“They were coming from all directions, you could see them from as far as the eye can see,” he said. “I’ve seen a lot of stuff out here… but this is the biggest I’ve ever seen, ever.”

Whale and dolphin watching tours have done particularly
well this year, with dozens of animal sightings reported.

Marine mammal expert Sarah Wilkin said the reason the large pod might be there is because there’s plenty of food in the area, including sardines, herring and squid.

“They’re attracted to kind of the same thing, they might wind up in the same place,” she said.

Though dolphins typically travel in groups of 200 or less, Wilkin said “super-pods” are not unheard of.
“They’re definitely social animals, they stick together in small groups,” she said. “But sometimes, the schools come together.”

Dutra, who’s been boating for decades, said he felt lucky to enjoy such a rare phenomenon.
“You had to be there to experience it,” he said.  “It was truly spectacular.” - NBC San Diego.

WATCH: Dolphin Stampede Overtakes Whale Watching Boat.



It was a rare, breathtaking sight: In a flash, a pod of about 1,000 common dolphins began a stampede, churning across the blue-gray waters off Dana Point at a rapid pace.

Dave Anderson, the captain of Capt. Dave's Dolphin and Whale Safari, said that in the decades he's spent on the water and out among Southern California's dense dolphin population, it's a phenomenon he's encountered only rarely.

Yet last weekend, it happened again ... and it happened twice: once on Saturday afternoon and again on Sunday morning. Boat hands captured  Sunday's stampede on video.

"It's one of those things you can hope for it, but you can't plan for it," he said.

"It's one of the most amazing things I've ever seen, and I've seen a lot of beautiful and interesting things" on the water.

He described the sensation like being in the midst of a herd of wild horses. The dash began in an instant, he said. At some points the dolphins reached speeds of more than 25 mph, outpacing his boat.

"Suddenly, like someone fired a gun," he said, "they're off and running."

He has tried but has yet to come up with an explanation for what prompted the rush: "Are they afraid? Are they chasing after something? Why are they doing this?" he said.

"We don't know. I know they're not running away from the boat. It seems like they're responding to something but I just don't know what it is."

The sight, he said, could be seen from miles away. But to be in the middle of it was surreal.

"It's very exciting and very freeing," Anderson added. "It's quite a magical experience." - LA Times.

FIRE IN THE SKY: Stunned Astronomers Prepare Early Meteor Warning System And Raise Estimates For The Nuclear-Sized Asteroid Blast That Hit Russia - Energy Equivalent To 500 Kilotons Of TNT; 30 Times The Power Of The Hiroshima Atomic Bomb; 55 Feet Wide; Mass Of 10,000 Tons Before It Entered Earth's Atmosphere; A Once-Every-100-Year Event; Largest Since 1908! UPDATE: The Early Warning System - Scientists Unveil New Detectors In Race To Save Earth From Next Asteroid!

February 16, 2013 - RUSSIA - Scientists have raised their estimates of the size and power of what turns out to be the most widely witnessed asteroid strike in modern history. The size estimate puts the object that caused Friday's meteor blast over Russia in a troublesome category of asteroids: big enough to cause damage, but small enough to evade detection. The new estimates, based on additional readings from a sensor network built to detect nuclear blasts, suggest the meteor released the energy equivalent of nearly 500 kilotons of TNT. That's about 30 times the power of the Hiroshima atomic bomb.

Russia's Chelyabinsk region, where a huge meteor fireball set off alarms, injured hundreds of people and caused a factory roof to collapse. Yekaterina Pustynnikova / Chelyabinsk.ru via AP.
Experts have been assessing the level of the meteor explosion using a network of infrasound sensors that were set up under the terms of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty to check for changes in atmospheric pressure caused by nuclear blasts.

"These new estimates were generated using new data that had been collected by five additional infrasound stations located around the world — the first recording of the event being in Alaska, over 6,500 kilometers away from Chelyabinsk," NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory said in a statement.

NASA now says the Chelyabinsk object must have been about 55 feet wide (17 meters wide) with a mass of 10,000 tons before it entered Earth’s atmosphere. "We would expect an event of this magnitude to occur once every 100 years on average," Paul Chodas of NASA's Near-Earth Object Program Office said in the statement. "When you have a fireball of this size, we would expect a large number of meteorites to reach the surface, and in this case there were probably some large ones."

Searchers have been focusing on a frozen lake about 50 miles (80 kilometers) west of Chelyabinsk, where they suspect meteorite fragments made a 20-foot-wide (6-meter-wide) hole in the ice. Searchers have found fragments up to a half-inch wide (1 centimeter wide) that might have come from the meteor, but nothing bigger yet, according to reports from Russia.

Experts emphasized once again that the meteor's trajectory was significantly different from the path of asteroid 2012 DA14, a 150-foot-wide (45-meter-wide) space rock that passed harmlessly within 17,200 miles (27,600 kilometers) of Earth later Friday. Thus, 2012 DA14 was "a completely unrelated object," NASA said.

The space agency said Friday's Russian meteor was the largest reported since 1908, when an asteroid roughly the size of 2012 DA14 exploded over a remote wooded area in Siberia's Tunguska region. That blast flattened millions of trees over a 820-square-mile area, but was not widely seen. Friday's event, in contrast, took place over a city of 1.1 million inhabitants, and hundreds of millions more watched the videos that were distributed over the Internet.

As powerful as the meteor blast was, it's on the low end of the asteroid impact scale. Astronomers estimate that there are about a million potentially hazardous near-Earth objects smaller than 100 meters (330 feet) in width, and only about 1 percent of those have been cataloged. For the time being, NASA is focusing on detecting and tracking near-Earth asteroids wider than 100 meters.

But what about the smaller ones?
"Defending the Earth against tiny asteroids such as the one that passed over Siberia and impacted there is a challenging issue. That is something that is not currently our goal," Chodas told reporters on Friday.
The asteroid behind Friday's meteor blast would have been particularly hard to spot during its final approach, because it was coming from Earth's daylit side. The asteroid would have been lost in the sun's glare and undetectable by ground-based telescopes, said Bill Cooke, the head of the Meteoroid Environment Center at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center.

Several programs on the horizon hold the promise of finding the smaller asteroids that could threaten Earth:
  • NASA has just started funding the Asteroid Terrestrial-impact Last Alert System, or ATLAS, which aims to establish two telescopes in Hawaii dedicated to scanning the skies for potential threats.
  • The non-profit B612 Foundation has been raising money to launch its Sentinel Space Telescope as early as 2018. Sentinel would scan Earth's surroundings from an outward-looking position in a Venus-like orbit, interior to Earth's orbit. Such a project could provide advance warning for asteroids like the one that blew up on Friday. Former Apollo astronaut Rusty Schweickart, one of the foundation's founders, said he was "overwhelmed" by requests for information after Friday's blast. "It's pretty bonkers at the moment," he told NBC News.
  • Planetary Resources, a commercial venture, is developing a fleet of Arkyd-100 space telescopes to identify near-Earth asteroids, in hopes of sending mining operations to them in the decades to come. "As the company ultimately develops the capability and infrastructure for intercepting and mining asteroids, Planetary Resources expects to be able to help in the (slight) redirection of these rocks to keep the Earth safe," Peter Diamandis, the company's co-founder and co-chairman, said in a blog posting.
  • Another commercial space-mining venture, Deep Space Industries, is proposing its own set of asteroid-hunting space telescopes. "Placing 10 of our small FireFly spacecraft into position to intercept close encounters would take four years and less than $100 million," David Gump, the company's CEO, said in a statement. "This will help the world develop the understanding needed to block later threats."
- NBC News.

WATCH: Russian meteor exploded with force of over 20 Hiroshima bombs.


UPDATE: Early Warning System - Scientists Unveil New Detectors In Race To Save Earth From Next Asteroid!
The extraterrestrial double whammy that Earth only partially avoided on Friday has triggered an immediate response from astronomers. Several have announced plans to create state-of-the-art detection systems to give warning of incoming asteroids and meteoroids. These include projects backed by Nasa as well as proposals put forward by private space contractors.  In each case, scientists want to develop techniques that can pinpoint relatively small but still potentially devastating meteoroids, comets and asteroids that threaten to strike Earth. These would give notice of impact of several days or possibly weeks and allow threatened areas to be evacuated. The announcements of the various plans follow Friday's meteorite crash that caused devastation in Chelyabinsk, Russia. On the same day, a 150ft-diameter asteroid swept to within 17,000 miles of Earth.  The fact that the two events happened together has been dismissed as "a cosmic coincidence" by scientists. Nevertheless, astronomers – many gathered at the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting in Boston this weekend – have been quick to reassure the public that they have plans to provide better warnings of future impacts.  "The hundreds of people injured in Russia show it is time to take action and no longer be passive about these events," said Rick Tumlinson, chairman of the US company Deep Space Industries. His company is preparing to launch a series of small spacecraft later this decade. These are aimed at surveying nearby asteroids to see if they can be mined for metals and ores.  However the fleet could also be used to monitor small, difficult-to-detect objects that threaten to strike Earth. Deep Space Industries – which is based in McLean, Virginia – proposes building 10 spacecraft at a cost of $100m (£65m) over the next four years, though it has not indicated who will fund missions. 

The meteorite that hit Russia streaks through the sky with a blinding flash and a devastating shockwave
that blew out more than 4,000 windows. Photograph: AP
The University of Hawaii has proposed a cheaper, simpler system known as Atlas – Advanced Terrestrial-Impact Last Alert System – to be constructed with the help of a $5m grant from Nasa. It will consist of a series of eight telescopes, each fitted with powerful cameras, to be built on Hawaiian islands whose clear air makes accurate observations particularly easy.  Astronomer Professor John Tonry, of Hawaii University, said Atlas – which is scheduled to begin operations in 2015 – would have an extremely high sensitivity, which he compared to the detection of a match flame in New York when viewed from San Francisco.  He said Atlas would give a one-week warning for a small asteroid – which he called "a city killer" – and three weeks for a larger "county killer". Tonry added: "That is enough time to evacuate the area, take measures to protect buildings and other infrastructure, and be alert to a tsunami danger generated by ocean impacts."  Astronomers believe they have pinpointed all large asteroids whose orbits bring them close to Earth. To date, none has been found on a collision course with our planet. However, small asteroids only a few dozen metres across are very difficult to spot but massive enough to cause local devastation.  Had the time of entry of the Chelyabinsk meteorite into the atmosphere varied by only a few hours, its path would have brought it down over much larger population centres in northern England. Hence the pressure from astronomers to develop ways to pinpoint small objects in space. 

The announcement of these plans came as Russia revealed it was sending more than 9,000 workers to the region around Chelyabinsk in the Ural Mountains where Friday's meteorite crashed. President Vladimir Putin ordered the operation after it was revealed that around 1,200 people – including 200 children – were injured in the blast. Most are thought to have suffered cuts and lacerations from shattered glass. More than 50 individuals were still in hospital on Saturday.  Russian officials have estimated that the blast – which was preceded by a huge fireball that streaked across the morning sky on Friday – caused damage of about 1bn roubles, roughly £20m.  Russia's Academy of Sciences said the object that struck Chelyabinsk weighed about 10 tonnes. It was probably part of a larger meteorite that had entered the atmosphere at about 30km per second before breaking up.  The energy it released was comparable with a small nuclear bomb exploding. More than 4,000 windows were blown out by the blast, including many at schools where pupils were in their classrooms. Video footage has shown images of frightened, screaming children pouring out of schools.  A large fragment of the of the meteorite is believed to have crashed into a frozen lake near the town of Chebarkul. However, divers who searched the bottom of the lake reported that they could find no trace of any lumps of meteorite. Russian authorities said the search for the meteorite may have to wait until spring when the snow melts.  The last time the Earth was struck by a large extraterrestrial object was in 1908 when a huge blast – the equivalent of a medium-sized atomic bomb – in the Tungaska in Siberia flattened more than 80 million trees. It is thought a comet more than 100m in diameter was responsible for the devastation. - Guardian.

PLANETARY TREMORS: Strong 4.9 Magnitude Earthquake Hits Southeast Of Balsorano Vecchio, Italy - Sparking Panic Among Residents!

February 16, 2013 - ITALY - A 4.9-MAGNITUDE quake hit central Italy late Saturday, shaking apartment buildings in the centre of Rome and spooking citizens in the region of Abruzzo, struck by a killer quake in 2009.

The quake hit Frosinone, between the capital and the southern city of Naples, at a depth of 10.7 kilometres according to Italy's Geophysics Institute. No injuries or damage to buildings were reported.

USGS earthquake map and location.
The tremors sparked panicked calls in the Abruzzo region to the emergency services. The medieval town of L'Aquila was hit in 2009 by a 6.3-magnitude quake which killed 309 people, and ruined buildings still scar the landscape.

Inhabitants in villages in the national park in Abruzzo raced out of their houses in panic, according to Italian media reports.

USGS earthquake shakemap.

Earlier on Saturday, three Italian builders and a technician were found guilty of multiple manslaughter after a dormitory they had restored and safety approved collapsed during the L'Aquila quake, killing eight students. - News Australia.

Tectonic Summary - Seismotectonics of the Mediterranean Region and Vicinity.
The Mediterranean region is seismically active due to the northward convergence (4-10 mm/yr) of the African plate with respect to the Eurasian plate along a complex plate boundary. This convergence began approximately 50 Ma and was associated with the closure of the Tethys Sea. The modern day remnant of the Tethys Sea is the Mediterranean Sea. The highest rates of seismicity in the Mediterranean region are found along the Hellenic subduction zone of southern Greece, along the North Anatolian Fault Zone of western Turkey and the Calabrian subduction zone of southern Italy. Local high rates of convergence at the Hellenic subduction zone (35mm/yr) are associated with back-arc spreading throughout Greece and western Turkey above the subducting Mediterranean oceanic crust. Crustal normal faulting throughout this region is a manifestation of extensional tectonics associated with the back-arc spreading. The region of the Marmara Sea is a transition zone between this extensional regime, to the west, and the strike-slip regime of the North Anatolian Fault Zone, to the east. The North Anatolian Fault accommodates much of the right-lateral horizontal motion (23-24 mm/yr) between the Anatolian micro-plate and Eurasian plate as the Anatolian micro-plate is being pushed westward to further accommodate closure of the Mediterranean basin caused by the collision of the African and Arabian plates in southeastern Turkey. Subduction of the Mediterranean Sea floor beneath the Tyrrhenian Sea at the Calabrian subduction zone causes a significant zone of seismicity around Sicily and southern Italy. Active volcanoes are located above intermediate depth earthquakes in the Cyclades of the Aegean Sea and in southern Italy.

Historical seismicity for the region.

In the Mediterranean region there is a written record, several centuries long, documenting pre-instrumental seismicity (pre-20th century). Earthquakes have historically caused widespread damage across central and southern Greece, Cyprus, Sicily, Crete, the Nile Delta, Northern Libya, the Atlas Mountains of North Africa and the Iberian Peninsula. The 1903 M8.2 Kythera earthquake and the 1926 M7.8 Rhodes earthquakes are the largest instrumentally recorded Mediterranean earthquakes, both of which are associated with subduction zone tectonics. Between 1939 and 1999 a series of devastating M7+ strike-slip earthquakes propagated westward along the North Anatolian Fault Zone, beginning with the 1939 M7.8 Erzincan earthquake on the eastern end of the North Anatolian Fault system. The 1999 M7.6 Izmit earthquake, located on the westward end of the fault, struck one of Turkey's most densely populated and industrialized urban areas killing, more than 17,000 people. Although seismicity rates are comparatively low along the northern margin of the African continent, large destructive earthquakes have been recorded and reported from Morocco in the western Mediterranean, to the Dead Sea in the eastern Mediterranean. The 1980 M7.3 El Asnam earthquake was one of Africa's largest and most destructive earthquakes within the 20th century.

Large earthquakes throughout the Mediterranean region have also been known to produce significant and damaging tsunamis. One of the more prominent historical earthquakes within the region is the Lisbon earthquake of November 1, 1755, whose magnitude has been estimated from non-instrumental data to be about 8.0. The 1755 Lisbon earthquake is thought to have occurred within or near the Azores-Gibraltar transform fault, which defines the boundary between the African and Eurasian plates off the west coast of Morocco and Portugal. The earthquake is notable for both a large death toll of approximately 60,000 people and for generating a tsunami that swept up the Portuguese coast inundating coastal villages and Lisbon. An earthquake of approximately M8.0 near Sicily in 1693 generated a large tsunami wave that destroyed numerous towns along Sicily's east coast. The M7.2 December 28, 1908 Messina earthquake is the deadliest documented European earthquake. The combination of severe ground shaking and a local tsunami caused an estimated 60,000 to 120,000 fatalities. - USGS.

Four Guilty Of Manslaughter In Italy Quake?!
A court in Italy has convicted four people in the collapse of a university dormitory during the 2009 earthquake in town of L'Aquila. A court in Italy has convicted four people in the collapse of a university dormitory during the 2009 earthquake in town of L'Aquila. Eight students died in the collapse during the powerful quake, which struck in the pre-dawn hours of April 6, 2009. The four who were convicted on Saturday are Italian technicians accused of carrying out shoddy reconstruction work in 2000 on the dormitory. Three were sentenced to four years in prison, while the fourth man received a two-year sentence. Four other defendants were acquitted. In a separate trial, seven quake experts were convicted last year of manslaughter for failing to adequately warn about the quake, despite scientific contentions that it's impossible to predict quakes. The quake killed more than 300 people in the tremor-prone area. Huge mounds of rubble still lie in the streets in the off-limits zone in L'Aquila's city centre and in the surrounding villages, a potent reminder of the widespread destruction caused by the quake, almost four years on. - SBS.

SOLAR WATCH: Sudden Geomagnetic Impulse Results In Interplanetary Shock Wave - Arctic Alert For Auroras During The Disturbance!

February 16, 2013 - THE SUN - According to NOAA/Space Weather Prediction Center, although the Sun has been quiet for weeks, a sudden geomagnetic impulse is expected for February 16th, 2013.


Space Weather Message Code: WARSUD
Serial Number: 125
Issue Time: 2013 Feb 16 1145 UTC

WARNING: Geomagnetic Sudden Impulse expected
Valid From: 2013 Feb 16 1145 UTC
Valid To: 2013 Feb 16 1215 UTC
IP Shock Passage Observed: 2013 Feb 16 1058 UTC


Space Weather Message Code: SUMSUD
Serial Number: 167
Issue Time: 2013 Feb 16 1217 UTC

SUMMARY: Geomagnetic Sudden Impulse
Observed: 2013 Feb 16 1210 UTC
Deviation: 10 nT
Station: Boulder

NOAA Space Weather Scale descriptions can be found at
www.swpc.noaa.gov/NOAAscales - NOAA/SWPC.


INTERPLANETARY SHOCK WAVE: A shock wave moving through the solar wind hit Earth's magnetic field on Feb. 16th at approximately 11:30 UT. The impact did not spark a geomagnetic storm. Nevertheless, sky watchers around the Arctic should be alert for auroras as Earth passes through the wake of the disturbance. - Space Weather.


WEAK SHOCK DETECTED: The ACE Spacecraft detected a weak interplanetary shock at 10:58 UTC this morning. The solar wind increased to around 400km/s. A sudden geomagnetic impulse was detected by the Boulder, Colorado magnetometer at 12:10 UTC and measured 10nT. This signaled the passage of the weak shock past our planet. This particular event is not expected to bring widespread geomagnetic disturbances.


UPDATE: The Kp index is currently at 4, which falls just below minor geomagnetic storm levels. The solar wind remains near 400 km/s with Bz fluctuations from -11 nT to +7 nT. Visible aurora will be likely at very high latitudes.


ALERT: Geomagnetic K-index of 4
Threshold Reached: 2013 Feb 16 1730 UTC
Synoptic Period: 1500-1800 UTC
Active Warning: Yes
Potential Impacts: Area of impact primarily poleward of 65 degrees Geomagnetic Latitude.
Induced Currents - Weak power grid fluctuations can occur.
Aurora - Aurora may be visible at high latitudes such as Canada and Alaska.

SUMMARY: Geomagnetic Sudden Impulse
Observed: 2013 Feb 16 1210 UTC
Deviation: 10 nT
Deviation: 10 nT
Station: Boulde - Solar Ham.

Updated image of the visible solar disk on Saturday morning. Sunspot 1671 and new Sunspot 1673 remain fairly stable. A small new sunspot is forming in the northeast quadrant, but is not yet a threat for strong solar flares. Elsewhere, another sunspot trailing region 1673 is now beginning to rotate onto the southeast limb. There will be a chance for isolated C-Class flares.


There are currently 5 numbered sunspot regions on the disk:

None of these sunspots is actively flaring. Credit: SDO/HMI.
Solar wind flowing from this sinuous coronal hole could reach Earth starting on Feb. 20th. Credit: SDO/AIA.

FIRE IN THE SKY: Bright Meteor Fireball Reported Over San Francisco Bay Area - Clearly Visible On Doppler Radar!

February 16, 2013 - UNITED STATES - On a day that had a lot of people talking about meteorites and asteroids, a fireball of some sort was seen streaking across the Bay Area skies.  The fireball was seen around 7:45 p.m.  Sightings of the fireball were reported across the Bay Area and large areas of the West Coast.  It was bluish in color and appeared to be heading straight to the ground, according to one viewer in Santa Clara which is located in the center of Silicon Valley.  Meteors are pieces of rock and metal from space that fall to Earth. They burn up as they go through Earth's atmosphere, which is what apparently  caused tonight's bright flash of light. 

Source: ABC7 (Bob Moreno).
"I saw that meteor/fireball over Solano County after spending the day reporting on asteroids and fireballs," said NBC Bay Area reporter Jodi Hernandez.  Candice Guruwaiya told NBC Bay Area on Facebook she saw it in San Jose, located in the south end of San Francisco Bay. "I was leaving Safeway on Branham and Snell when I saw it. It looked like it was headed for the Capital Auto Mall area. It was a bright green when it first appeared, then it went to a bright yellow. It was awesome!" Guruwaiya posted.  Gina Johnson also saw it in San Jose. She also posted on NBC Bay Area Facebook page that she had just walked out of a food market. "It looked just like the one I saw back in October except it was a little smaller. It was greenish in color just like the one on October. Everyone in the parking lot stopped and looked at it," Johnson posted  It comes on the same night a 150-foot-wide asteroid was due to come within 17,200 miles of Earth. It was not immediately clear if the fireball had any connection to the asteroid. 

Chabot astronomers in Oakland said the meteor was not related to the asteroid passing near Earth.  Gerald McKeegan, an astronomer at Chabot Space and Science Center in Oakland, said he did not see it, but based on accounts he thinks it was a "sporadic meteor." Sporadic meteors bring as much as 15,000 tons of space debris to Earth each year, according to McKeegan.   He said it was likely smaller than another meteor that landed in the Bay Area in October, which caused a loud sonic boom as it fell.  It also happened about 24 hours after a huge meteorite fell from the skies over Russia's Chelyabinsk region, resulting in a powerful blast that injured nearly 1,000 people and shattered windows across the area.  Chelyabinsk health chief Marina Moskvicheva told the Russian news agency Interfax that 985 people in her city asked for medical help and 43 were hospitalized.  Many of the injuries were reportedly from broken windows as a result of a sonic boom that followed the initial impact of the meteorite.  Someone posted the following on YouTube within an hour of the fireball sighting.  The video was titled "Shooting Star across San Francisco 2/15/2013 7:44PM."  The person who posted it said he was driving south on I-280 toward the peninsula. - NBC Bay Area.

WATCH: Fireball Streaks Across Bay Area Sky.


 On the heels of a close fly-by of an asteroid 17,000 miles from Earth on Friday morning and a devastating meteor that landed in Russia, Bay Area stargazers caught a glimpse of another meteor Friday night.  Social media users reported seeing the blue flash of the meteor flying west around 8 p.m. Friday night, and sightings were reported throughout the Bay Area, from Santa Clara to Fairfield, and even in the Central Valley cities of Fresno and Stockton.  Jonathan Braidman, an astronomer with the Chabot Space and Science Center in Oakland, said that it appears that the three astronomical events seen Friday are unrelated. Friday’s destructive meteor fall in Russia—reported to have injured 1,000 people, the asteroid flying closer to Earth than the orbit of the moon, and the meteor spotted in the Bay Area seem to be moving in different trajectories from the evidence he’s seen, indicating they are from different points of origin, Braidman said.  Based on reports, he said that it seems Friday night’s fireball was what astronomers call a “sporadic meteor,” an event that can happen several times a day but most of the time happens over the ocean, away from human eyes, and brings as much as 15,000 tons of space debris to Earth each year.

Meteors, hunks of rock and metal from space that fall to Earth, burn up as they go through Earth’s atmosphere, which is what apparently caused Friday night’s bright flash of light, Braidman said.  It was likely smaller than another meteor that landed in the Bay Area in October, which caused a loud sonic boom as it fell, breaking apart and spreading rocks, called meteorites, in the North Bay.  He said that while Chabot was packed for its weekend stargazing sessions—held every Friday and Saturday night, weather permitting, where visitors come to get a look at the sky through Chabot’s powerful telescopes—the angle wasn’t right for people to see Friday night’s meteor.  But they continued tracking the asteroid’s fly-by, which because of its relatively small size looks like a “fuzzy dot” even through the telescopes. Stargazers there also were also enjoying views of Jupiter and the moon, he said.  But telescopes aren’t the best way to see meteors anyway, Braidman said, because of their high speed and brief appearances. The naked human eye is the best way to catch a look at a meteor.  He said that some Chabot viewers saw another streak Friday night, likely a much smaller particle than the more widely-seen meteor.  Meteors even come in showers sometimes when the Earth passes through the tail of a comet. The most visible in the Bay Area is the Perseid meteor shower in August, he said.  “Any time you get out to a dark sky take a look up and you might get to see something like that if you get lucky,” Braidman said. - CBS SF Bay Area.

WATCH: Another Meteor Flashes Across Bay Area Skies.

PLANETARY TREMORS: Pacific Ring On Fire - Magnitude 6.0 Earthquakes Hit Offshore In The Philippines And New Zealand!

February 16, 2013 - PACIFIC RING OF FIRE - A magnitude-6.0 earthquake struck off New Zealand's North Island this afternoon.  The US Geological Survey reported it was centred 205 kilometres deep and about 300 kilometres north-east of Auckland. 

USGS Earthquake map and location for New Zealand.

USGS Estimated Fatalities and Economic Losses for New Zealand.
The tremor, which stuck about 5:15pm (local time) was not widely felt and there are no reports of damage or injury.  A shallow magnitude-6.3 quake devastated Christchurch in February last year, leaving 185 people dead.  New Zealand is on the boundary of the Australian and Pacific tectonic plates, and experiences up to 15,000 tremors a year. - ABC News.

USGS Earthquake intensity map for New Zealand.

USGS Earthquake intensity map for New Zealand.

 Magnitude-6 Quakes Hit Offshore In Philippines, New Zealand.
Earthquakes measuring magnitude-6 or stronger struck near the southern Philippines and New Zealand today, the latest of more than 200 temblors this week along the so-called Rim of Fire.

USGS Earthquake map and location for the Philippines.

USGS Estimated Fatalities and Economic Losses for the Philippines.
A magnitude-6.0 quake struck 240 kilometers (150 miles) northeast of Tauranga on New Zealand’s North Island, while a temblor measured at magnitude-6.2 hit 28 kilometers southeast of Caburan on the Philippine island of Mindanao, according to reports on the website of the U.S. Geological Survey. Today’s offshore quakes presented no tsunami danger, Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology Director Renato Solidum said by telephone today, and no warnings were issued by the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center.

The Rim of Fire, an arc of tectonic plate interfaces that circle the Pacific Ocean from Chile to New Zealand, experienced 16 earthquakes rated “significant” by the USGS in the past 30 days, according to the agency’s website. The USGS lists seven magnitude-9.0 or greater quakes of “general historic interest” since 856 AD -- all within that arc.

USGS Earthquake intensity map for the Philippines.

Population Exposure for the Philippines.
Seismic activity has led to as many as half a million deaths in the region in recent years, including more than 280,000 killed by the Indian Ocean tsunami of December 2004, 90,000 in a May 2008 quake in China’s Sichuan province, and 20,000 in the wake of Japan’s March 2011 disaster. New Zealand yesterday agreed to buy 47 properties in the heart of Christchurch as the country’s oldest city begins to rebuild from a February 2011 quake that killed more than 140 people.

One year ago, the Philippines was hit by an earthquake that killed at least 48 people and triggered landslides that left dozens more missing. That magnitude-6.8 quake struck the Negros and Cebu region, damaging bridges and roads and shutting offices, schools and malls - Bloomberg.

USGS earthquake summary for the Philippines earthquake.

USGS earthquake summary for the New Zealand earthquake.

MASS BIRD & FISH DIE-OFF: Australian Weather Anomalies - "Immeasurable" Number Of Dead Fish Span 40Km Of The Fitzroy River In Australia; Over 200 Ducks Found Dead On Two Ponds In Nowra, Australia; Fish Kill In Lake Ginninderra In Canberra, Australia; 40 Adult Penguins Die In Mass Die-Off On The Otago Peninsula In New Zealand?!

February 16, 2013 - AUSTRALIA - Ian Price loves nothing more than catching a fish and eating it for dinner.  But the Rockhampton man will not be taking his chances with any of the fish in the Fitzroy River after seeing thousands of dead fish washed up along the banks of the river this week.  "It's absolutely shocking," he said. "I've never seen anything like this before."

Large amounts of dead fish on Bill Angus' property Riverina' off the Fitzroy River following the floods. Photo Sharyn O'Neill / The Morning Bulletin. Photo: Sharyn O'Neill ROK070213sfish6.
"Immeasurable" Number Of Dead Fish Span 40Km Of The Fitzroy River In Australia.
Mr Price said that he had travelled more than 40km up the river and there was an "immeasurable" number of dead fish on the banks for that whole section.  "I've seen plenty of floods in my time, but I've never seen anything like this happen afterwards," he said.  "I don't even think I saw one dead fish after the 2011 floods.  "I know it's been said that all the organic material that has washed down has caused this, but there was all of that with the other floods, so what is different this time?"

Large amounts of dead fish on Bill Angus' property Riverina' off the Fitzroy River following the floods. Photo Sharyn O'Neill / The Morning Bulletin. Photo: Sharyn O'Neill ROK070213sfish7.
Ian Price and Bill Angus investigate large amounts of dead fish on Bill's property Riverina' off the Fitzroy River following the floods. Photo Sharyn O'Neill / The Morning Bulletin. Photo: Sharyn O'Neill ROK070213sfish1.
 Mr Price said he was concerned that if water was killing the fish, there could be significant implications for the town's drinking supply.     Environment Minister Andrew Powell yesterday said tests by Fitzroy River Water found dissolved oxygen levels were 1.7-1.8mg/l.  "The optimal dissolved oxygen level for fish is 5mg/l. Below 2mg/l they are not likely to survive," Mr Powell said.  "Fish need oxygen to live; it's as simple as that.  "The fact is that this incident, as unfortunate and distressing as it is, is a natural phenomenon which is a result of the natural disaster that hit Queensland last week.  "The organic material decomposed and consumed oxygen, which made it impossible for fish to survive.  "We will continue our investigations though, and EHP will liaise with other expert agencies such as the Department of Natural Resources and Management."  He said that on Wednesday evening, the water flow past Rockhampton was more than 5.5 million megalitres, the equivalent of 11 Sydney harbours. Less than 10,000 megalitres was released from mine sites. - The Morning Bulletin.

Over 200 Ducks Found Dead On Two Ponds In Nowra, Australia.
Tests have confirmed that botulism caused the death of more than 200 wild ducks on two ponds in Nowra.  During December and January wild ducks were found dead or dying on the ponds in Harry Sawkins and Marriott Parks.  Testing by the Environment Protection Authority ruled out chemical poisoning, with the Cumberland Livestock Health and Pest Authority discovering the birds had died from botulism.  LHPA senior district veterinarian, Dr Keith Hart said botulism is a paralytic disease which is difficult to diagnose.

“It is caused by the ingestion of a toxin, in this case created through a combination of low water levels and warm temperatures,” he said.  “Several dead and dying ducks and a dying seagull were examined,” he said, adding that botulism was a difficult disease to identify.  “Swabs were also taken to exclude Virulent Avian Influenza – a potentially serious viral disease that could show up initially as water bird mortalities on or near the coast.  “My diagnosis has been based on the history and clinical signs exhibited by the sick birds examined and described by council staff, and the fact that botulism is a fairly common cause of waterbird deaths under these conditions.”  Dr Hart says while the recent rainfall and cooler weather will assist in flushing out the toxins, people should stay away from any duck carcasses.  “It is important that the public don’t touch duck carcasses or allow dogs to touch them,” he said. - South Coast Register.

40 Adult Penguins Die In Mass Die-Off On The Otago Peninsula In New Zealand.
Tests are being carried out to determine what caused the deaths of more than 40 adult yellow-eyed penguins on the Otago Peninsula.  Officials hope the die-off does not become as bad as that of 1990 when almost 150 adult penguins died.  Department of Conservation (DOC) officer David Agnew said it took the penguin population in the area several years to recover from those deaths.  It was hoped the current deaths were being caused by a biotoxin occurring naturally in the marine environment, and for now it was assumed the fish the penguins were eating were making them ill.  "We're hoping that whatever is causing it, perhaps weather conditions affecting the water column, will dissipate so the penguins will return to normal, and hopefully penguin adults will stop dying," Agnew said.  The first dead penguin was found on January 21 and the latest were found last weekend, although some had been dead for some time.  "It's quite a blow," he said.  "In some cases, both the male and female of a pair might have succumbed to this."  Agnew, who is DOC's programme manager for biodiversity assets in coastal Otago, said staff were surveying more beaches today. 

The dead birds had been sent to Massey University for autopsies. All had been found to have been in good condition when they died, without any obvious cause of death.  Two birds that had died recently were being sent to the Cawthron Institute to be tested for toxins.  It was hoped to have the results of those tests by early next week, Agnew said.  As well as the impact on the penguin population, another issue was that the birds were important for some tourism businesses.  He said the 40 deaths were spread over 13 breeding sites, so people visiting the sites were still able to see penguins.  As in 1990, dead birds were being found only around the Otago Peninsula, while penguins in North and South Otago were unaffected, Agnew said.  There were 450 to 500 breeding pairs around the South Island coast.  The timing was different in 1990, when the penguins started dying earlier, meaning many more chicks had to be taken into captivity, where they had to be looked after for much longer.  He said that was not such a big issue this time as the young birds were due to head out to sea about mid-February.  This summer had been good for chicks, with the young birds mostly reaching healthy weights. Any that were found to need help, perhaps underweight or with both parents dead, were being cared for.  "For us it's the loss of the breeding adults. They know how to survive, where to forage and where to breed," Agnew said. A plan was being prepared to ensure as rapid a recovery as possible of the yellow-eyed penguin population on the peninsula, he said. - Stuff.

Lake Ginninderra. Photo: Carmel Nelson.
Fish Kill In Lake Ginninderra In Canberra, Australia.
A redfin virus is believed to be responsible for a fish kill in Lake Ginninderra last week.  Staff from Territory and Municipal Services and the Environment Sustainable and Development Directorate were called out to clean up many hundreds of dead fish on Thursday last week.  A TAMS spokesman said the majority of dead fish were redfin, an introduced species, and a virus is the suspected cause.  “Tissue samples of the dead fish have been sent for laboratory testing in Sydney with results expected early next week,” the spokesman said.  

“EHN or redfin virus, which has previously been reported in Lake Ginninderra and Lake Burley Griffin, is believed responsible. EHN poses no risk to human health.”  He said there was no correlation between the fish kill and the recent release of more than 30,000 golden perch fingerlings into the lake.  Any further sightings of dead fish in Canberra’s lakes and rivers should be reported to Canberra Connect on 13 22 81. - Canberra Times

DISASTER IMPACT: The Tornado Damage To University Of Southern Mississippi Estimated In Tens Of Millions - Obama Declares Federal Disaster For The State!

February 16, 2013 - UNITED STATES - Officials estimate it will take tens of millions of dollars to repair damage at the University of Southern Mississippi caused by Sunday's tornado.

The College Board voted unanimously Wednesday to allow Higher Education Commissioner Hank Bounds to sign contracts and take other actions without board approval to help the 16,000-student school in Hattiesburg recover.

"Because of the need to move with a real sense of urgency, we don't need to wait for a board meeting," Bounds said. His temporary authority runs through at least April.

Ogletree House lies in ruins on the campus of the University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg, Miss., on Monday, Feb. 11, , after a tornado struck the area Sunday afternoon. The building, built in 1912, housed the university alumni association offices. AP Photo/Chuck Cook.
Also Wednesday, President Barack Obama signed an order declaring a federal disaster for the state.

The disaster assistance can include grants for temporary housing and home repairs, low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses and other programs to help individuals and business owners recover.

Authorities say damage surveys are continuing, and more counties may be included after those are completed.

Meanwhile, USM plans to resume classes Thursday, although 87 sections will be in temporary quarters. Because the school was already closed Monday and Tuesday for Mardi Gras, only one day of class was canceled.

The men's basketball team hosted a game against Tulane Wednesday night at Reed Green Coliseum on the undamaged northern part of the campus.

USM officials said nearly 1,000 students and other volunteers helped to clean up debris like roofing nails earlier Wednesday, filling 1,450 trash bags.

Student dorms were undamaged, although some private apartments were hit. The school is offering housing to students whose off-campus quarters are uninhabitable.

One building to be torn down
The tornado damaged eight or nine buildings at the southern edge of campus. One of those, a former fire station converted to house the jazz program, will have to be torn down, Bounds said. Other heavily affected buildings held music and art programs.

An electrical crewman walks in front of a building with blown-out windows on Hardy Street across from the University of Southern Mississippi after a tornado touched down Sunday evening in Hattiesburg, Miss.  Sean Gardner/Getty Images.

He said officials believe the heavily damaged Alumni House can be partially salvaged.

The southern end of campus, which had large live oak trees and a formal rose garden, may look a lot different, though.

"Unfortunately, the beauty of the front of campus has been damaged," Bounds said.

Most of the damage is expected to be covered by a $500 million insurance policy, which has a $100,000 deductible.

Because the state's public universities now have what Bounds described as "really good insurance," he said he didn't immediately anticipate that USM would seek aid from the Legislature. When the Mississippi University for Women was hit by a tornado in 2002, lawmakers issued bonds to help the Columbus, Miss., school pay for damage.

Besides repair and rebuilding costs, USM's insurance policy will pay an estimated $400,000 to rent and set up 16 portable classrooms in a parking lot on the northern edge of campus, Bounds said. The space squeeze will be eased by the university putting a recently renovated classroom building back into service.

Tornado recovery could dominate the early part of the tenure of incoming USM President Rodney Bennett. The current University of Georgia's vice president for student affairs is supposed to start work April 1. But he drove to Hattiesburg after the storm to survey damage and remained there Wednesday.

"What great pride you're showing in supporting your school by coming to help get us back where we need to be for classes," Bennett told volunteers Wednesday, according to a university news release. "This is our institution. It is going to succeed or fail based on what we do, and each of our personal commitment to its success."

The tornado touched down in Lamar County's Oak Grove, a western suburb of Hattiesburg, and tracked across all of Forrest County, finally dissipating 21 miles later across the Perry County line. The tornado had maximum winds of 170 mph and a path three-quarters of a mile wide, the National Weather Service said.

The Mississippi Emergency Management Agency says Sunday's storms destroyed or heavily damaged more than 800 homes in the southern part of the state. The majority of those were in Hattiesburg and Petal, with most of the rest in Lamar County. - NBC News.

FIRE IN THE SKY: Near-Earth Asteroid 2012 DA14 Buzzes, Misses Earth In Record Close Flyby!

February 16, 2013 - SPACE - A 150-foot asteroid hurtled through Earth's backyard Friday, coming within an incredible 17,150 miles and making the closest known flyby for a rock of its size. In a chilling coincidence, a meteor exploded above Russia just hours before the asteroid zoomed past the planet. Scientists the world over, along with NASA, insisted the meteor had nothing to do with the asteroid since they appeared to be traveling in opposite directions. The asteroid is a much more immense object and delighted astronomers in Australia and elsewhere who watched it zip harmlessly through a clear night sky.


"It's on its way out," reported Paul Chodas of NASA's Near-Earth Object program at Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California. Asteroid 2012 DA14, as it's called, came closer to Earth than many communication and weather satellites orbiting 22,300 miles up. Scientists insisted these, too, would be spared, and they were right. The asteroid was too small to see with the naked eye even at its closest approach around 2:25 p.m. EST, over the Indian Ocean near Sumatra. The best viewing locations, with binoculars and telescopes, were in Asia, Australia and eastern Europe. Even there, all anyone could see was a pinpoint of light as the asteroid buzzed by at 17,400 mph. As asteroids go, this one is a shrimp. The one that wiped out the dinosaurs 65 million years ago was 6 miles across. But this rock could still do immense damage if it ever struck given its 143,000-ton heft, releasing the energy equivalent of 2.4 million tons of TNT and wiping out 750 square miles.

By comparison, NASA estimated that the meteor that exploded over Russia was tiny — about 49 feet wide and 7,000 tons before it hit the atmosphere, or one-third the size of the passing asteroid. As for the back-to-back events, "this is indeed very rare and it is historic," said Jim Green, NASA's director of planetary science. While the asteroid is about half the length of a football field, the exploding meteor "is probably about on the 15-yard line," he said. "Now that's pretty big. That's typically a couple times bigger than the normal influx of meteorites that create these fireballs," he said in an interview on NASA TV. "These fireballs happen about once a day or so, but we just don't see them because many of them fall over the ocean or in remote areas. This one was an exception." As the countdown for the asteroid's close approach entered the final hours, NASA noted that the path of the meteor appeared to be quite different than that of the asteroid, making the two objects "completely unrelated." The meteor seemed to be traveling from north to south, while the asteroid passed from south to north — in the opposite direction.


Most of the solar system's asteroids are situated in a belt between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter, and remain stable there for billions of years. Some occasionally pop out, though, into Earth's neighborhood. NASA scientists estimate that an object of this size makes a close approach like this every 40 years. The likelihood of a strike is every 1,200 years. The flyby provides a rare learning opportunity for scientists eager to keep future asteroids at bay — and a prime-time advertisement for those anxious to step up preventive measures. Friday's meteor further strengthened the asteroid-alert message. "We are in a shooting gallery and this is graphic evidence of it," said former Apollo astronaut Rusty Schweickart, chairman emeritus of the B612 Foundation, committed to protecting Earth from dangerous asteroids. Schweickart noted that 500,000 to 1 million sizable near-Earth objects — asteroids or comets — are out there. Yet less than 1 percent — fewer than 10,000 — have been inventoried. Humanity has to do better, he said. The foundation is working to build and launch an infrared space telescope to find and track threatening asteroids.

This finder chart shows the position of the asteroid during its period of visibility. Times given are GMT/UT.
Click here for a larger version. Photograph: University of Hertfordshire
If a killer asteroid was, indeed, incoming, a spacecraft could, in theory, be launched to nudge the asteroid out of Earth's way, changing its speed and the point of intersection. A second spacecraft would make a slight alteration in the path of the asteroid and ensure it never intersects with the planet again, Schweickart said. Asteroid DA14 — discovered by Spanish astronomers only last February — is "such a close call" that it is a "celestial torpedo across the bow of spaceship Earth," Schweickart said in a phone interview Thursday. NASA's deep-space antenna in California's Mojave Desert was ready to collect radar images, but not until eight hours after the closest approach given the United States' poor positioning for the big event. - ABC News.

WATCH: Asteroid 2012 DA14 darts past Earth.