Tuesday, July 23, 2013

FIRE IN THE SKY: The Comet Of The Century - NASA Photos Show Outburst From Comet ISON; Dust And Carbon Dioxide Gas Forms Tail About 186,400 Miles Long!

July 23, 2013 - SPACE - A comet that could put on a dazzling show when it zooms through the inner solar system later this year is already blasting out huge amounts of gas and dust, new observations by a NASA spacecraft show.

These images from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope of Comet ISON were taken on June 13, 2013, when
ISON was 312 million miles (502 million kilometers) from the sun. The lefthand image shows a tail of fine
rocky dust issuing from the comet, blown back by the pressure of sunlight. The image at right shows
a neutral gas atmosphere surrounding ISON, likely created by carbon dioxide fizzing off the comet
at a rate of 2.2 million pounds per day. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/JHUAPL/UCF

Images taken on June 13 by NASA's infrared Spitzer Space Telescope reveal that dust and carbon dioxide gas are streaming off Comet ISON, forming a tail about 186,400 miles (300,000 kilometers) long, researchers said.

"We estimate ISON is emitting about 2.2 million pounds (1 million kilograms) of what is most likely carbon dioxide gas and about 120 million pounds (54.4 million kg) of dust every day," Carey Lisse, leader of NASA's Comet ISON Observation Campaign and a senior research scientist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md., said in a statement.

"Previous observations made by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope and the Swift Gamma-Ray Burst Mission and Deep Impact spacecraft gave us only upper limits for any gas emission from ISON," Lisse added. "Thanks to Spitzer, we now know for sure the comet's distant activity has been powered by gas."

WATCH: Comet ISON's perilous journey around the Sun explained.

Comet ISON was 312 million miles (502 million km) from the sun — 3.35 times farther than the Earth-sun distance — when Spitzer made the new observations, NASA officials said.

The comet, which is about 3 miles (5 km) wide, is cruising toward a close encounter with the sun on Nov. 28, when it will skim just 724,000 miles (1.16 million km) above the solar surface. ISON could blaze up dramatically around this time, perhaps shining as brightly as the full moon in the sky, researchers say.

But there's no guarantee that ISON will live up to the hype. For example, it could break apart as it approaches the sun, fizzling out as some other "comet of the century" candidates have done over the years.

While it's tough to predict the behavior of any comet, forecasting ISON's sky show is particularly difficult. Scientists think ISON is making its first-ever trip to the inner solar system from the distant and frigid Oort Cloud, a huge repository of comets that lies between roughly 600 billion and 6 trillion miles (965 billion and 9.65 trillion km) from the sun.

WATCH: Comet ISON fireworks - Hubble Space Telescope and the "Comet of the Century".

Comet ISON is becoming more active as it warms up during this epic journey. Researchers expect to get an increasingly detailed look at ISON's composition over time, because different materials boil off at different distances from the sun.

"Much of the carbon in the comet appears to be locked up in carbon dioxide ice," Lisse said. "We will know even more in late July and August, when the comet begins to warm up near the water-ice line outside of the orbit of Mars, and we can detect the most abundant frozen gas, which is water, as it boils away from the comet."

ISON's solar flyby promises to be more than just a skywatching spectacle. Comets are primordial bodies composed of water, ammonia, methane, carbon dioxide and other materials — the same fundamental building blocks that gave rise to the planets 4.5 billion years ago.

"ISON is very exciting," Jim Green, NASA's director of planetary science in Washington, D.C., said in a statement. "We believe that data collected from this comet can help explain how and when the solar system first formed."

The comet was discovered last September by amateur astronomers Vitali Nevski and Artyom Novichonok. It takes its name from the equipment the duo used — the International Scientific Optical Network (ISON) near Kislovodsk, Russia. - SPACE.

FUK-U-SHIMA: Japan's Nuclear Disaster Spreads Far & Wide - TEPCO Formally Admits That Radioactive Water From Fukushima Is Leaking Into The Pacific Ocean!

July 23, 2013 - JAPAN - A Japanese utility said its crippled Fukushima nuclear plant is likely leaking contaminated water into sea, acknowledging for the first time a problem long suspected by experts.

Tokyo Electric Power Co., which operates the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant, also came under fire for not disclosing earlier that the number of plant workers with thyroid radiation exposures exceeding threshold levels for increased cancer risks was 10 times what it said released earlier.

The delayed announcements underscored the criticisms the company has faced over the Fukushima crisis. TEPCO has been repeatedly blamed for overlooking early signs, and covering up or delaying the disclosure of problems and mishaps.

Company spokesman Masayuki Ono told a regular news conference that plant officials have come to believe that radioactive water that leaked from the wrecked reactors is likely to have seeped into the underground water system and escaped into sea.

Nuclear officials and experts have suspected a leak from the Fukushima Dai-ichi since early in the crisis.

Aerial photo taken on July 9, 2013 shows reactor buildings Unit 2, left, and Unit 1 at Fukushima Dai-ichi
nuclear power plant in Okuama, Fukushima Prefecture. Photo / AP

Japan's nuclear watchdog said two weeks ago a leak was highly suspected and ordered TEPCO to examine the problem.

TEPCO had persistently denied contaminated water reached the sea, despite spikes in radiation levels in underground and sea water samples taken at the plant. The utility first acknowledged an abnormal increase in radioactive cesium levels in an observation well near the coast in May and has since monitored water samples.

Ono said plant officials believe a leak is possible because the underground water levels in suspected areas fluctuate in accordance with tide movements and rainfalls.

"We are very sorry for causing concerns. We have made efforts not to cause any leak to the outside, but we might have failed to do so," he said.

Ono said the radioactive elements detected in water samples are believed to largely come from initial leaks that have remained since earlier in the crisis. He said the leak has stayed near the plant inside the bay, and officials believe very little has spread further into the Pacific Ocean.

TEPCO is currently injecting chemical solution into the coastline embankment to solidify underground structure and block contaminated underground water from escaping into sea an operation revealed to the Japanese media Monday.

"Many things have fallen a step behind. You should be ahead of the curve to foresee risks and take measures," said deputy industry minister Kazuyoshi Akaba, who inspected the operation, Kyodo News agency reported.

Marine biologists have warned that the radioactive water may be leaking continuously into the sea from the underground, citing high radioactivity in fish samples taken near the plant.

Most fish and seafood from along the Fukushima coast are barred from domestic markets and exports.

Ono said that an estimated 1,972 plant workers, or 10 percent of those checked, had thyroid exposure doses exceeding 100 millisieverts a threshold for increased risk of developing cancer instead of the 178 based on checks of 522 workers reported to the World Health Organization last year. - NZ Herald.

WAR DRUMS: Military Intervention - Chairman Of The Joint Chiefs Of Staff, General Martin Dempsey Says United States Preparing "Kinetic Strikes" Against Syria!

July 23, 2013 - UNITED STATES - The United States highest-ranking military officer, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey, has said that the USA is deliberating whether it should or should not use military force in Syria, and that various scenarios, including “kinetic strikes” are being prepared.

The information correlates with recent intelligence, according to which US Special Forces in Jordan are training “rebels” for ground assistance during U.S. air raids against high profile military and political targets in Syria. A major, internationally backed, political and military campaign against Syria is expected in August and September.

During a hearing at the U.S. Senate´s Armed Services Committee on Thursday, the U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey, said that the Obama administration is preparing various scenarios for a possible U.S. military intervention in Syria, and considering whether the USA should use “the brute of the U.S. military, and kinetic strikes”.  “The issue”, said Gen. Dempsey, “is under deliberation inside of our agencies of government”.

Preparations for a possible attack against Syria reportedly began after the use of chemical weapons in the Khan al-Assal district of Aleppo on 5 March 2013, killed at least 25 and injured more than 100.

Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, and despite having received an 800 pages, official report from a Russian expert commission who investigated at the scene, and who had samples analyzed in internationally recognized laboratories, the Obama administration continues issuing blanketing accusations against the Syrian government.

Another PR strategy used by the U.S. Administration as well as by British and French officials, who state that the only way to bring about “regime change in Syria is a military intervention”, is to merely report the number of killed and injured, without addressing that there is an overwhelming amount of evidence that substantiates the Russian and Syrian statements, that is, that it were the foreign-backed insurgents who had used chemical weapons.

Thus, Ben Rhodes, President Obama´s Deputy National Security Adviser for Strategic Communications said:
The intelligence community estimates that 100 to 150 people have died from detected chemical weapons attacks in Syria to date; however, casualty data is likely incomplete.”
The Obama administration has previously stated, that the use of chemical weapons would be a “red line” and trigger an intervention. Other U.S. officials have recently reiterated, that it is not unlikely, that the U.S.A. would implement a no-fly-zone above Syria, using Jordanian air bases.

Officially, the United States has deployed 800 troops in Jordan. Jordanian Members of Parliament however, have complained that the number of U.S. troops in Jordan is significantly higher than 1000.

The Deputy Speaker of the Jordanian Parliament, Khalil Atiya expressed his concerns about the increased presence of U.S. troops in Jordan, saying:
” As deputies, representing the Jordanian people, we do not accept the United States or any other country´s troops in Jordan. Jordanians do not think that Syria could pose a threat”.
On 29 June, nsnbc international published information from a Palestinian intelligence source, according to which 300 of the U.S. troops, which are stationed in and near the Jordanian – Syrian border city of al-Mafraq are special forces, who are training foreign insurgents in special operations.

Special operations are reportedly being prepared with the intention to target high-profile political and military targets in Syria, in support of a major military push against Syria in August and September.

The Palestinian intelligence source also reported to nsnbc, that the foreign-backed insurgents in Syria were preparing arms caches throughout Syria , in preparation of a major military campaign in August and September. The source stated, that large-scale chemical weapons attacks should be used as a pretext for calls for the implementation of a no-fly-zone, the establishment of humanitarian corridors, and ultimately, a foreign military intervention.

The intelligence was corroborated in an nsnbc report published on 10 July, after the Syrian Armed Forces seized 208 barrels with chemicals from foreign-backed insurgents on a farm in Banias, near the Syrian city of Tartus at the Eastern Mediterranean coast.

Official Syrian government sources reported that the Armed Forces had seized 79 barrels of Polyethylene Glycol, 67 barrels of Monoethylene Glocol, 25 barrels of Monoethanolamine, 68 barrels of Diethanolamine, and 42 barrels of Triethanolamine at the farm in Banias.

The Syrian UN Ambassador Bashar Ja´afari said:
“The Syrian authorities have discovered yesterday, in the city of Banias, 281 barrels filled with dangerous, hazardous chemical materials, capable of destroying a whole city, if not the whole country”.

Only days later, on 14 July, nsnbc published a report, after another depot with chemicals was seized from insurgents in a Damascus suburb. Some of the chemicals were from Saudi-Arabia.

On 16 July, nsnbc published a report that implicates the United States in the trafficking of the internationally banned nerve agent Sarin from Libya.

The Sarin, which was originally manufactured in Germany, had first been sold to Iraq, where after it was sold to Libya. In Libya it had fallen into the hands of U.S. backed insurgents during the war on Libya in 2011.

The Sarin was then shipped from Libya to Syria and delivered to foreign-backed insurgents there.

The statement by the United States Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey, at the U.S. Senate´s Armed Services Committee on Thursday, that the U.S. is “preparing kinetic strikes against Syria” strongly corroborates the intelligence nsnbc received, according to which the large scale use of chemical weapons by the insurgents in August and September is being prepared with the explicit purpose to justify calls for a military intervention, which is a euphemism for open war against Syria.

Moreover, the information that U.S. special forces are training insurgents in ground operations in support of air raids against high profile military and political targets in Syria indicates, that the U.S.A. is actively preparing the attempt to decapitate the Syrian military and political leadership in August or September, after which an invasion with ground troops would be justified by claiming, that chemical weapons had fallen into the hands of “terrorists”. - NSNBC.

DISASTER IMPACT: Death Toll From China Earthquake Rises To 94 With 1,000 Injured - About 123,000 People Affected; Almost 2,000 Homes Completely Destroyed; About 22,500 Others Damaged; Hundreds Of Aftershocks Trigger Major Landslides; Economic Loss Of 30 MILLION DOLLARS!

July 23, 2013 - CHINA - Rescuers with shovels and sniffer dogs chipped away at collapsed hillsides Tuesday as the death toll rose to 94 from a strong earthquake in a farming region of northwest China.

A resident cries on her collapsed house in Hetuo township in Dingxi, northwest China's Gansu province
on July 22, 2013. (STR/AFP/Getty Images)

Just one person was listed as missing and 1,001 as injured from Monday morning's quake near the city of Dingxi in Gansu province.

About 123,000 people were affected by the quake, with 31,600 moved to temporary shelters, the provincial earthquake administration said on its website. Almost 2,000 homes were completely destroyed, and about 22,500 damaged, the administration said.

The quake toppled brick walls and brought down telephone lines, shattered mud-and-brick houses and sent cascades of dirt and rock down hillsides, blocking roads and slowing rescue efforts by crews trying to reach remote areas.

Hospitals set up aid stations in parking lots to accommodate the injured, while hundreds of paramilitary People's Armed Police fanned out to search for victims in the region of terraced farmland, about 1,200 kilometers (760 miles) west of Beijing.

Rescuers clear the debris of a damaged house in quake-hit Majiagou Village of Minxian County,
northwest China's Gansu Province, Monday, July 22, 2013. (AP Photo/Xinhua, Guo Gang)

A man stands on a damaged house in Hetuo township in Dingxi, northwest China's Gansu province
on July 22, 2013. (STR/AFP/Getty Images)

Rescuers search for survivors in the ruins of a damaged house in Hetuo township in Dingxi, northwest
China's Gansu province on July 22, 2013. (STR/AFP/Getty Images)

A dog stands in the ruins of a damaged house in Hetuo township in Dingxi, northwest China's
Gansu province on July 22, 2013. (STR/AFP/Getty Images)

A resident cries on her collapsed house in Hetuo township in Dingxi, northwest China's Gansu
province on July 22, 2013. (STR/AFP/Getty Images)

Minxian county in Dingxi's rural south accounted for almost all the deaths and the worst damage.

Urban areas where buildings are more solid were spared major damage.

Tremors were felt in the provincial capital of Lanzhou 177 kilometers north, and as far away as Xi'an, 400 kilometers to the east.

The government's earthquake monitoring center said the quake was magnitude 6.6, while the U.S. Geological Survey said it was 5.9. Measurements often vary, especially if different monitoring equipment is used.

A collapsed wall lies on the ground in Hetuo township in Dingxi, northwest China's
Gansu province on July 22, 2013. (STR/AFP/Getty Images)

Cracked ground is seen in Hetuo township in Dingxi, northwest China's Gansu province
on July 22, 2013. (STR/AFP/Getty Images)

A damaged house is seen in Hetuo township in Dingxi, northwest China's Gansu province
on July 22, 2013. (STR/AFP/Getty Images)

A dog stands on the ruins of a collapsed house in Hetuo township in Dingxi, northwest China's Gansu
province on July 22, 2013. (STR/AFP/Getty Images)

Two men walk on a damaged road in Hetuo township in Dingxi, northwest China's Gansu province
on July 22, 2013. (STR/AFP/Getty Images)

The Chinese Red Cross said it was shipping 200 tents, 1,000 sets of household items and 2,000 jackets to the area. Other supplies were being shipped in by the army and paramilitary police, which dispatched around 6,000 personnel and two helicopters.

Heavy rain is expected later in the week, raising the need for shelter and increasing the chance of further landslides.

Gansu's population of 26 million puts it among China's less-peopled provinces, but the area of Dingxi, with its concentration of crop and fruit farms in terraced rolling hills, is more densely populated. It's home to about 2.7 million people.

China's worst earthquake in recent years struck the southwestern province of Sichuan in 2008. Measuring magnitude 7.9, it left 90,000 people dead or missing. - TWC.

WATCH: Rescuers battle to reach China quake victims.

ELECTRIC UNIVERSE: Transient Luminous Events (TLEs) - Otherworldly Photos Capture Mysterious Phenomena In The Upper Atmosphere!

July 23, 2013 - UPPER ATMOSPHERE - In the blink of an eye, an enormous bright red light flashes above a thundercloud, spreading energetic branches that extend five times taller than Mount Everest and look like jellyfish tendrils and angel's wings.

Ashcraft captures a large sprite hanging over West Kansas. © Thomas Ashcraft(Click here to watch the video)

These mysterious phenomena are known as Transient Luminous Events (TLEs), and are usually invisible to the naked eye because they happen on millisecond timescales, too fast to be seen. They occur between 50 to 100 kilometers above the ground, a long-ignored area of the atmosphere that is too high for aircraft but too low for satellites to investigate. There, the thin air interacts with strong electrical fields to ionize molecules and create arcing plasmas.

The firework details of a sprite emerge in this image, captured looking over Taos, New Mexico in 2012.
A video that includes the radio emissions can be seen below. 
© Thomas Ashcraft(Click here to watch the video)

These spectacles are relatively new to science. Pilots had reported enigmatic bright flashes throughout the 20th century, but their anecdotal evidence didn't amount to proof. The first image of a TLE was captured accidentally in 1989 when a University of Minnesota professor aimed a low-light TV camera at the sky to film a rocket launch. Replaying the tape later on, Professor John R. Winckler saw brilliant columns of light extending from the tops of storm clouds. Hearing of the finding, NASA officials immediately ordered a review of video tapes taken from the space shuttle that looked at lightning events on Earth. They found dozens more examples of TLEs, and later scientists have been recording them ever since.

"One of the neatest things about TLEs is that first image in 1989 was just a serendipitous capture," said amateur radio astronomer Thomas Ashcraft, who has been photographing the events for several years.

Two sprites burst on the scene above Oklahoma.  © Thomas Ashcraft

Using a relatively simple camera and radio dish, Ashcraft has seen a whole bestiary of odd TLE phenomena. The most common are sprites, tall and highly structured bursts of light that appear above thunderstorms. They ionize the nitrogen in our atmosphere, causing a red glow. Often, they happen in conjunction with “Emissions of Light and Very Low Frequency Perturbations due to Electromagnetic Pulse Sources,” also known as ELVES, which are enormous halos of light that shoot outward to cover up to 500 kilometers in a millisecond. Though they are too short-lived to see, ELVES can produce bright afterglows that some people have mistaken for UFOs. Other TLEs have names like blue jets and trolls.

The long tendrils from a sprite can be seen in this video, which captures an incident
above Amarillo, Texas in 2012.
© Thomas Ashcraft
(Click here to watch the video)

To deliver great TLE shots, Ashcraft first checks radar maps of the local area around his observatory in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Red spots on such maps indicate strong lightning cells, which increases the probability of sprite activity. Because the phenomena are mostly visible in near infrared wavelengths, he uses a modified off-the-shelf DLSR camera from which he removed the clear glass filter covering the CCD that blocks infrared light.

A donut ELVE is an extremely powerful ELVE that has a hole in its center.  © Thomas Ashcraft(Click here to watch the video)

By taking continuous three-second exposures, Ashcraft records thousands of pictures each night. He then goes through the catalog looking for a sprite to appear. If he spots something, he can check a video camera that he has running during the night to see if captured more detail there. He shares his most interesting findings with other sprite observers, who may chime in with their own pictures from other positions.

A spectacular vista shows a tiny blip above a cloudbank. Ashcraft thinks the small flash
is either a starter, a blue jet, or a gnome. 
© Thomas Ashcraft

From Santa Fe, Ashcraft says he can usually catch sprites up to 1,000 kilometers away. “I can see big storms out over the Great Plains, usually beyond Oklahoma City and into Nebraska,” he said. “After that, the curvature of the Earth gets in the way.”

The forking nature of a sprite is evident in this image, taken above a storm east of Las Vegas in 2012.
© Thomas Ashcraft

Using a radio dish, Ashcraft also captures extremely low frequency emissions that the TLEs give off. He converts these into sound files, which can be heard in his videos, and can help researchers pick out details they might otherwise miss.

A zoomed-in image showing a cluster of sprites.© Thomas Ashcraft

A lot of research regarding TLEs is still cutting-edge science, said Ashcraft. Only in recent years have scientists aimed high-speed cameras capable of capturing thousands of frames per second to study the spectacles in detail.

An amazing flash of sprites. © Thomas Ashcraft

While researchers had originally hypothesized that the phenomena were starting at the tops of thunderclouds, fast-motion videos prove that TLEs start as luminous spheres and then shoot upwards and downwards at the same time.

A great bright sprite from a storm above Clovis, New Mexico. © Thomas Ashcraft

In this gallery, we take a look at some of Ashcraft’s most spectacular TLE recordings to get a better appreciation of these weird and wonderful phenomena. - WIRED.

GLOBAL VOLCANISM: Understanding Harmonic Tremors - Volcano's "Scream" Before Explosive Eruptions!

July 23, 2013 - GEOLOGY - The small earthquakes that foreshadow some volcanic explosions produce a hum that rises in frequency but then abruptly stops just before an eruption.

Known as a harmonic tremor, this noise has been recorded at various volcanoes around the world, including Alaska's Redoubt Volcano.

Redoubt volcano is shown heavily covered with deposits from recent eruptions. 
Photograph courtesy Game McGimsey, AVO/USGS

Redoubt is a special case, however, because its volcanic "scream" reaches such a crescendo that it can actually be audible to human ears.

"At the very highest frequency, it would just be barely perceptible as a low-bass hum," explained Alicia Hotovec-Ellis, a geophysicist at the University of Washington.

The frequency of Redoubt's harmonic tremor is so high, in fact, that it can't easily be explained by many of the accepted theories.

"The pitch that Redoubt got up to was so much higher than any other volcano that we've recorded, and that's kind of pushed the limits of all the models that were out there," Hotovec-Ellis said in an interview Monday.

But in two new studies, published in the Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research and Nature Geoscience, Hotovec-Ellis and her colleagues propose a new model to explain Redoubt's unusually high-pitched scream. (Related: "Mexico Volcano Spews Ash Two Miles High.")

So what's new?

Some volcanoes emit sound as a result of magma bubbles vibrating as they're pushed up through cracks in the Earth's crust.

But in Redoubt's case, scientists think the earthquake and harmonic tremor happen as magma is forced through a narrow opening under great pressure into the heart of the mountain.

The thick magma sticks to the rock surface inside the conduit until the building pressure causes it to move higher, where it sticks until the pressure moves it again.

Each of these sudden movements results in a small earthquake. As the pressure builds, the quakes get smaller and happen so quickly one after another that the sounds they generate blend into a continuous and ever increasing noise.

"So it's actually the rocks making the sounds," Hotovec-Ellis said.

Why is it important?

The team's new model could allow scientists to better understand what happens during eruptive cycles in volcanoes like Redoubt.

It could also serve as a limited early warning system, Hotovec-Ellis said.

"For Redoubt, by the time it started to scream like this it had already been erupting for a few days," she explained. "So at most it could give a few minutes or a few hours of warning before the next explosion."

What does this mean?

At Redoubt, the harmonic tremor reaches an extremely high frequency but then goes eerily quiet. Shortly after, the volcano erupts again.

"We think the pause is when even the earthquakes can't keep up anymore and the two sides of the fault slide smoothly against each other," Hotovec-Ellis said in a statement.

The new model could also be applicable to other volcanoes, Hotovec-Ellis said, such as the Soufrière Hills volcano on the Caribbean island of Montserrat.

What's next?

Eric Dunham
, a geophysicist at Stanford University and a co-author of the Nature Geosciences study, plans to investigate why the stresses are so high at Redoubt.

"His idea is trying to figure out why the pressure is concentrated in one spot," Hotovec-Ellis said. "We haven't quite figured out why it's just one spot in the volcano that keeps popping off."

The team has created two recordings of Redoubt's seismic activity. A 10-second recording covers about 10 minutes of seismic sound and harmonic tremor, sped up 60 times. A one-minute recording condenses about an hour of activity that includes more than 1,600 small earthquakes that preceded the first explosion with harmonic tremor. - National Geographic.