Sunday, January 25, 2015

SIGNS IN THE HEAVENS: "This Is A Very Important Breakthrough" - Three Extreme Objects Spotted In A Milky-Way Dwarf Galaxy!

January 25, 2015 - SPACE
- In the latest discovery, a multinational team of astronomers working on the High Energy Stereoscopic System (H.E.S.S.) telescopes found three extremely luminous gamma-ray sources in the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC), a satellite dwarf galaxy of the Milky Way. These are objects of different types, namely the most powerful pulsar wind nebula (above); the most powerful supernova remnant; and a shell of 270 light years in diameter blown by multiple stars, and supernovae -- a so-called superbubble.

"This is a very important breakthrough for the team," says Professor Sergio Colafrancesco, DST/NRF SKA Research Chair in the Wits School of Physics. "It paves the way to study external galaxies with very high-E telescopes such as H.E.S.S and then later with the planned Cherenkov Telescope Array (CTA) in Namibia. It will lead us to re-examine galaxy evolution and answer questions such as how high-E particles can affect the evolution of cosmic structures in the universe, principally galaxies, and the life cycles of matter in galaxies."

Very high-energy gamma rays are the best tracers of cosmic accelerators such as supernova remnants and pulsar wind nebulae -- end-products of massive stars. There, charged particles are accelerated to extreme velocities. When these particles encounter light or gas in and around the cosmic accelerators, they emit gamma rays. Very high-energy gamma rays can be measured on Earth by observing the Cherenkov light emitted from the particle showers produced by incident gamma rays high up in the atmosphere using large telescopes with fast cameras.

The Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC) is a dwarf satellite galaxy of our Milky Way, located about 170,000 light years away and showing us its face. New, massive stars are formed at a high rate in the LMC, and it harbors numerous massive stellar clusters. The LMC's supernova rate relative to its stellar mass is five times that of our Galaxy. The youngest supernova remnant in the local group of galaxies, SN 1987A, is also a member of the LMC. Therefore, the H.E.S.S. scientists dedicated significant observation to searching for very high-energy gamma rays from this cosmic object.

For a total of 210 hours, H.E.S.S. has observed the largest star-forming region within the LMC called Tarantula Nebula. For the first time in a galaxy outside the Milky Way, individual sources of very high-energy gamma rays could be resolved: three extremely energetic objects of different types.

The so-called superbubble 30 Dor C is the largest known X-ray-emitting shell and appears to have been created by several supernovae and strong stellar winds. Superbubbles are broadly discussed as (complementary or alternative to individual supernova remnants) factories where the galactic cosmic rays are produced. The H.E.S.S. results demonstrate that the bubble is a source of, and filled by, highly energetic particles. The superbubble represents a new class of sources in the very high-energy regime.

Pulsars are highly magnetized, fast rotating neutron stars that emit a wind of ultra-relativistic particles forming a nebula. The most famous one is the Crab Nebula, one of the brightest sources in the high-energy gamma-ray sky. The pulsar PSR J0537?6910 driving the wind nebula N 157B discovered by the H.E.S.S. telescopes in the LMC is in many respects a twin of the very powerful Crab pulsar in our own Galaxy. However, its pulsar wind nebula N 157B outshines the Crab Nebula by an order of magnitude, in very high-energy gamma rays. Reasons are the lower magnetic field in N 157B and the intense starlight from neighboring star-forming regions, which both promote the generation of high-energy gamma rays.

The supernova remnant N 132D, known as a bright object in the radio and infrared bands, appears to be one of the oldest -- and strongest -- supernova remnants still glowing in very high-energy gamma rays. Between 2500 and 6000 years old -- an age where models predict that the supernova explosion front has slowed down and it ought no longer to be efficiently accelerating particles -- it still outshines the strongest supernova remnants in our Galaxy.

The observations confirm suspicions raised by other H.E.S.S. observations, that supernova remnants can be much more luminous than thought before.

Observed at the limits of detectability, and partially overlapping with each other, these new sources challenged the H.E.S.S. scientists. The discoveries were only possible due to the development of advanced methods of interpreting the Cherenkov images captured by the telescopes, improving in particular the precision with which gamma-ray directions can be determined.

Indeed, the new H.E.S.S. II 28 m telescope will boost the performance of the H.E.S.S. telescope system, and in the more distant future the planned Cherenkov Telescope Array (CTA) will provide even deeper and higher-resolution gamma-ray images of the LMC -- in the plans for science with CTA, the satellite galaxy is already identified as a "Key Science Project" deserving special attention. - Daily Galaxy.

ICE AGE NOW: Massive Slide Of Snow And Ice On Mountain In The French Alps - Six Skiers Killed!

Tragic: Six skiers have been killed following a huge avalanche in the French Alps. © Getty Images

January 25, 2015 - FRENCH ALPS
- The bodies of four men and two women were found in the Queyras valley in the Haute-Alpes

Six experienced skiers have been killed in one of the deadliest avalanches ever in the French Alps.

The bodies of the four men and two women, aged between 50 and 70, were found in the Queyras valley, in the Haute-Alpes department, today.

The party had set off on Saturday the range straddling France and Italy, but triggered the massive slide of snow and ice within a few hours.

Pierre Besnard, the Haute-Alpes prefect, said 'the bodies of three of the skiers were found overnight Saturday to Sunday', while the rest were recovered this morning.

All were French nationals, and had spent many years skiing, said Mr Besnard, who said rescue teams had worked tirelessly to try and find them.

A helicopter and rescue dogs were all involved in the emergency effort, with police saying an entire plate of compacted snow and ice had dislodged.

The skiers had begun their ascent by ski life in the resort of Ceillac, and they were found at an altitude of 2500 meters.

All had been expected back on Saturday, but the alarm was raised by relatives and friends when there was no sign of them.

'When they set off, the sky was clear and the risk of avalanche estimated at 3 out of 5', said Mr Besnard.

An investigation into the tragedy has been opened by the high mountain police Briancon, coordinated by French state prosecutors, while surviving family of the deceased are receiving psychological care.

Two skiers, including a guide, were found dead in the nearby Ecrins range, also in the Hautes-Alpes, on Thursday morning, after being swept away by an avalanche.

And on Friday a British skier fell hundreds of metres to his death while descending the north face of the Tour Ronde close to the French resort of Chamonix.

Some 17 people have died in avalanches in France since the beginning of this season, with the number rising to 30 across the entire Alps range. - Daily Mirror.

INFRASTRUCTURE COLLAPSE: Power Breakdown Plunges Pakistan Into Darkness - 80 PERCENT Hit By The Outage; The Latest Reminder Of The Country's Crippling Energy Crisis And Chronic Infrastructural Problems!

An aerial view of buildings and homes during a nationwide power blackout in Karachi on February 24, 2013 (AFP Photo/Asif Hassan)

January 25, 2015 - PAKISTAN
- Pakistan was plunged into darkness after a key power transmission line broke down early on Sunday in an incident blamed on a rebel attack, the latest reminder of the country's crippling energy crisis.

The power failure, one of the worst Pakistan has experienced, caused electricity to be cut in major cities throughout the country, including the capital Islamabad.

It was later restored in much of the country, with the national power company saying normal distribution would resume within hours.

Officials said the blackout began after midnight when a transmission line connecting a privately-run power plant to the national grid was damaged.

A senior official at the National Grid station in Islamabad said around 80 percent of the country was hit by power breakdown.

An AFP reporter in the eastern city of Lahore said the airport was also affected by the breakdown.

Minister of State for Water and Power Abid Sher Ali later issued an apology and said electricity had been restored in most of the country, blaming the breakdown on rebels blowing up the line in Naseerabad district, which lies in southwestern Baluchistan province.

A spokesman for the national power company said that "electricity has been restored in all parts of the country."

"Some 6,000 megawatts of electricity has been added to the national system and within a couple of hours distribution will be normal," the spokesman said.

Pakistan's electricity distribution system is a complex -- and delicate -- web and a major fault at one section often leads to chain reactions and breakdowns of power generation and transmission.

In addition to chronic infrastructure problems, the energy sector is also trapped into a vicious "circular debt" brought on by the dual effect of the government setting low electricity prices and customers failing to pay for it.

State utilities therefore lose money, and cannot pay private power generating companies, which in turn cannot pay the oil and gas suppliers, who cut off the supply.

Earlier this week, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif cancelled his trip to the World Economic Forum in Davos to deal with a severe petrol shortage at home.

The fuel crisis began last week when Pakistan State Oil was forced to slash imports because banks refused to extend any more credit to the government-owned company, which supplies 80 percent of the country's oil.

Solving Pakistan's energy crisis was a key campaign pledge for Sharif in the run-up to the 2013 general election, and the shortage is heaping fresh pressure on his government. - Yahoo.

ICE AGE NOW: Winter Wonderland - Snowstorm Brings Record Snowfall To Parts Of The Texas Panhandle! UPDATE: Mini-Ice Age 2015-2035 - Snow In Central Mexico And Second "Rare" Southwest United States Snowstorm!

Central park looked like a winter wonderland on Thursday morning.  © Lindsey Tomaschik

January 25, 2015 - TEXAS, UNITED STATES
- Last week the National Weather Service in Amarillo had mentioned the possibility of a winter storm impacting our region on Wednesday and into Thursday of this week.

Many residents didn't buy into the potential snow storm. That might have been because of the 70 degree weather we had just this past weekend or the fact that so far all the snows have been "duds" this year.

As the storm system got closer and closer the forecast model projections went up and up in their total accumulation expected. It got the point that it was not a matter of if we would see snow, but how much. A lot of that depended on where the convective bands of snow set up. One was on top of Pampa early in the system and that is why we got a higher total than projected.

A co-op observer recorded 4.4 inches of snow one mile northwest of Pampa. Another co-op observer recorded eight inches four miles west southwest of Lake McClellan. A public report came into NWS of nine inches for Pampa city limits. WATCH: Texas snow is only the beginning as storm threatens east.

Another band brought record-breaking snow to Amarillo and dropped snow at a rate of four inches per hour for the folks there.

Amarillo recorded 12 inches at the NWS office, which is near the airport. Some places in Amarillo recorded upwards of 15 inches. That broke the record for snowfall in Amarillo on Jan. 21. The previous record was for 4.9 inches that fell on that date in 1966.

Want to hear another fun fact? It was the eleventh snowiest day on record in Amarillo. The records kept by NWS go back to 1892.

Amarillo also received more snow Wednesday than Boston, New York City, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia have the entire winter thus far. And that is just to name a few.

Other snow totals across the region:

- McLean - 10.5 inches, report by the public.

- Lefors - 1 inch, by a trained spotter. That report was as of 8:19 p.m. Wednesday.

- Borger - 5.7 inches, by a co-op observer.

- Miami - 6 inches, by the post office.

- Panhandle - 8 inches, by the public.

- White Deer - 9 inches, by the public.

- Canyon and two miles south southeast of Amarillo - 13 inches, by the public and broadcast media. These were the highest official totals that the NWS office had on record as of 2 p.m. Thursday.

When will the thaw happen?

Today should be sunny and highs in the 40s. The sun coming out will really up to thaw things out. There was a lot of snow, so there will be a lot of melting in the day and icing at night. Travel should be taken with caution until the weekend.

Saturday should approach near 50. Sunday should be almost in the 60s and the first half of next week should see highs in the mid-60s with sun every day. All of the snow will be gone quickly once we start seeing those highs in the 50s and 60s.

Is winter over?

It is far from over and if you are a lifelong Panhandle resident you should know that the winters here are very unpredictable and we can sometimes see snow in May.

It is way too early to speculate on any precipitation more than a week out, but it looks like next weekend, Jan. 30-Feb. 1, we could see winter creep in here again with another cold shot of air.

How about the roads?

The Pampa News would like to give a big shoutout and thank you to all of the City of Pampa employees that worked countless hours on Wednesday and Thursday to ensure our roads were clear and that everyone could make it to work or school safely. It may not have been the most fun for the kiddos have to tough it out and go to school Thursday, but come June when they don't have to make up that day and all of the other Panhandle students have to go to school one more day they will get to have the last laugh. - The Pampa News.

WATCH: Snow In Central Mexico And Second "Rare" Southwest United States Snowstorm.

ANIMAL BEHAVIOR: Strange Animal Migratory Patterns, Magnetic Polar Migration And Disaster Precursors - Rare Tropical Falcon Turns Up Near Charleston, South Carolina; "NEVER IN A MILLION YEARS Did I Think A Caracara Would Show Up In Our Backyard"?!

This tropical falcon, a crested caracara, was spotted recently at the Center for Birds of Prey in Awendaw.  © Keith McCullough

- The bird in the pine tree just didn't look like a red-tailed hawk. It didn't look like any native raptor. But it sure made itself at home.

When the vultures swooped in for feeding recently at the Center for Birds of Prey, the crested caracara dropped down, too.

Staff and visitors were wowed. The once-a-week "vulture restaurant" feeding exhibit can draw any number of raptors - hawks, eagles and the like. But the crested caracara is normally found in places like Mexico. It isn't seen in the United States much north of the Everglades.

"Never in a million years did I think a caracara was going to show up, in basically our backyard," said Audrey Poplin, husbandry coordinator.

The caracara is a tropical falcon with a black crest like a long thin beret, a spotted white chest, black wings with white tips like a black vulture, and a yellow or orange-splashed beak like a toucan. It is a spectacular bird, stunning to spot on a tree limb more than 500 miles out of its range.

"It was pretty shocking," Poplin said.

The center has a caracara in residence. The a bird, which was hit by a car, is missing part of a wing. The staff's first thought was it had gotten loose. But a quick look at the two good wings said no. This guy just came for the buffet.

EBird reported a crested caracara sighting last year in Virginia, and Jim Elliott, center director, said he heard there was a more recent sighting in North Carolina. If they were the same bird, this might have been it - working its way back home.

"For whatever reason, he decided to explore," Elliott said. "He got very far out of his range."

Pretty adventurous, even for an opportunistic scavenger like a caracara. But talons or not, a tropical falcon knows its limits. When two bald eagles dove in for the Jan. 17 feeding, the other diners flushed. The caracara wisely stayed up in the tree. - Post and Courier.