Friday, June 17, 2011

Astronomers think they've nailed down the source of a mysterious blast of gamma rays that reached Earth in late March and continues, at reduced levels, even today. The culprit looks like a black hole, 3.8 billion light-years away, that swallowed and ripped apart a wandering star.
On March 28, NASA's Swift satellite first noted the outburst of invisible radiation, a gamma ray burst, one of the most powerful explosions in the universe. Such blasts, thought to result from the explosion of massive stars, are regularly detected and USUALLY DIE AWAY WITHIN MINUTES. But this one continues today, two and a half months later. In its first two days, the intensity of the outburst measured in some wavelengths not visible to the naked eye AS BRIGHT AS A HUNDRED BILLION SUNS. That makes it ONE OF THE MOST INTENSE COSMIC EXPLOSIONS EVER WITNESSED by astronomers. "This is probably THE FIRST TIME MANKIND HAS SEEN A PHENOMENON LIKE THIS." The finding adds to evidence that most galaxies, including our own Milky Way, likely harbor titanic black holes at their center, mostly quiet, but always waiting to pull part anything that wanders too close.
Swift and other satellites narrowed the origin of the March blast to the center of a galaxy about 22.4 billion trillion miles away. Most gamma ray bursts originate instead from the edges of galaxies and are thought to result from the sudden collapse of large stars. An analysis suggests the mystery outburst resulted when a black hole, one weighing as much as 10 million times more than the sun, ripped apart a wandering star, nearly instantaneously, and then feasted off its gases.
Intense heating of those gases, pulled into a ring circling the distant black hole at nearly the speed of light, led to beams of radiation shooting off from the black hole. One of those beams was pointed directly at Earth, which has an atmosphere that shields it from the blast's effects, but where it was detected by the Swift satellite. The blast had taken 3.8 billion years to reach Earth. Most galactic black holes, including the one at the center of our Milky Way galaxy, appear dormant. "It is only a lucky accident of geometry that this one blast was pointed in just our direction." Ultimately, we are made of star stuff, so understanding black holes helps us understand ourselves."
[This monster gamma ray blast aimed directly at Earth arrived close on the heels of the monster Japan quake and tsunami on March 11. Could the incoming gravity wave be the cause of the sky 'anomalies' over Japan in early March? (see article on Wednesday, 6/15) And is it the explanation for earth's magnetic field reverberating for 24 hours on March 10, the day before the quake? The Indonesian 9.3 earthquake and tsunami on December 26, 2004 was also followed by a gamma ray burst - 44.6 hours after the quake, gamma ray telescopes orbiting the Earth picked up the arrival of the brightest gamma ray burst that had ever been recorded.]

**Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory.
Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.**
Sun Tzu

This morning -

Yesterday -
6/16/11 -


Erupting volcanoes in East Africa and Latin America continued to disrupt flights on Thursday over concerns that the spewing ash could jam aircraft engines. Earlier this month, the Puyehue volcano in Chile began hurling plumes of ash over Latin America that spread to South Africa and Australia and more eruptions are expected in coming days The Nabro volcano in Eritrea, on the Red Sea in the horn of Africa, started erupting over the weekend.
Ethiopia Airlines, Emirates and Kenya Airways reportedly canceled some regional flights as a precaution.The ash cloud is moving north over Sudan, southern Egypt and Saudi Arabia and could threaten additional flights later in the week. U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, who was visiting the region, was forced to shorten her trip because of the ash. In South America, the nearly two-week long eruption spread ash as far as South Africa and Australia, stranding tens of thousands of travelers.
Nearly on the other side of the globe, Australian airlines Qantas, Jetstar and Virgin Australia, as well as Malaysia’s Tiger Airways, canceled flights in and out of Melbourne and Perth because of ash from the Chilean eruption. Air New Zealand also reported cancellations. The cloud of ash is threatening worse disruption to air travel within and to New Zealand as thousands were affected for a fifth day on Thursday.



Tropical Depression 06W (EGAY) remains weak as it turns more northwestward while over the Philippine Sea. It threatens the eastern coast of Eastern Visayas and Bicol Region of the Philippines.


U.S. - Most Missouri River levees holding up to surge. But water levels could remain high for several months. The surge of water released from dams holding back the rain-swollen upper Missouri River reached deeper into Nebraska and Iowa on Thursday, headed swiftly toward Missouri and a soggy summer. Almost all the levees along the way have held strong. There have been no significant injuries or deaths. Now comes the weeks of fretting and worry over whether levees in several states will continue to hold until the river starts to drop sometime this fall. "The ongoing threat will be to the levees, which were designed to hold back water for a short period of time. We don't know how they will perform if the water level remains high for several months."
Water from one levee breach, five miles south of the small town of Hamburg, Iowa, reached the partially evacuated community late Wednesday. There were no immediate problems with Hamburg's new 8-foot-tall backup levee, which officials scrambled to build during the past two weeks and where about 5 feet of water is eventually expected collect by Friday.
Upriver in South Sioux City, Neb., officials scrambled earlier this month to build a 7,000-foot-long levee to protect the city's northwest side. That levee is holding, and the floodwater hasn't even reached it yet in some places. About six miles away in Dakota Dunes, S.D., a levee partially collapsed Thursday. The damaged section of the south levee was repaired and steps are being taken to prevent further erosion. Flooding along the Missouri River has already caused significant damage in Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota over the past month, but no significant injuries or deaths. The river has been rising for weeks as the corps releases increasing amounts of water from its upstream dams to make room in reservoirs for heavy spring rain and late snowmelt. Releases at Gavins Point Dam in South Dakota hit the maximum planned amount of 150,000 cubic feet of water per second Tuesday, and the corps doesn't plan to reduce the amount it's releasing from its dams until August at the earliest.
The river levels are expected to remain high, and any significant rainfall could push the river higher. "Any rain we get below Gavins Point is unregulated and flows right into the river." That's why officials still predict the river downstream of the six dams could still swell to levels 5 to 7 feet above flood stage at most places in Nebraska and Iowa, and rise as much as 10 feet above flood stage at some places in Missouri. In Nebraska and Iowa, the river remained about 1 foot below those levels on Thursday.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers district commander in Omaha said there are no plans to deliberately breach a levee along the Missouri as the Corps did during flooding earlier this year along the Mississippi River. Among the reasons, is there is no place behind Missouri River levees for the water to go. "Omaha and Council Bluffs, you can literally see water from bluff to bluff. The space is just not available and there is no plan to do so." In Omaha, officials announced Thursday an evacuation plan for the unlikely possibility of widespread flooding in Nebraska's biggest city. Officials said roughly 2,700 Omaha residents would have to evacuate in that worse-case scenario. Such an evacuation order would only be issued in the event of massive levee breach.

Canada - Flooding struck multiple water bodies in the Canadian province of Manitoba in early June.


Solar Storms Sparked By Giant 'Magnetic Rope' - A giant "magnetic rope" made up of twisting magnetic field lines could produce the strong electric currents that trigger solar storms, a new study finds. Scientists have predicted that this rope is the cause of violent eruptions on the sun, but have previously struggled to prove its existence because of how quickly it moves. Confirming the magnetic rope's existence would not only help astronomers understand the formation of solar storms, but would also be a key first step toward mitigating the adverse effects these eruptions can have on satellite communications on Earth. (photo)


2011 already among most extreme weather years - After a winter of blizzards and a spring of tornadoes, floods and drought, this year already ranks as ONE OF THE MOST EXTREME ON RECORD in the U.S. With summer and fall yet to unfold, climate scientists see no signs of calmer weather to come. "We're not even into the active hurricane season yet." Predictions from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration point to a busier-than-normal hurricane season, ongoing drought in the southwest and persistent rain in the northern part of the nation.
Halfway through the year, 2011 already ranks second for the number of natural disasters costing more than $1 billion each. There have been eight such events so far this year, a record eclipsed only by 2008. In total, disasters have cost $32 billion this year, and counting. Loss of life also ranks high, particularly from the rash of devastating tornadoes that swept across the Midwest, southern states and Massachusetts. Preliminary counts put the tornado death toll this year at 536, making this year the sixth-deadliest on record so far. All of the other top 10 deadliest tornadoes and tornado years occurred before 1960. The tornado death toll, when calculated per 1 million people, is on par with the average annual tornado death toll before 1925, when weather forecasters could not warn people as well as today. It takes an EXTRAORDINARY tornado year today to cause so much loss of life, experts said. "These are the kinds of years that happen on rare occasions and hopefully won't happen again for a very long time."
Overall, the weather is trending toward an increase in billion-dollar disasters and greater disaster costs over time. The question is whether extreme events are becoming more common or whether more infrastructure is in harm's way. Since the 1980s, extreme events, such as drought, record rainfall, tornadoes and hurricanes, have increased. But when climate scientists look back to the early 1900s, they see a similar uptick in extreme weather. Most extremes in the early 1990s were caused by drought. It is difficult for climate scientists to definitively link human activity and increases in extreme weather, but the whole weather system is interconnected. "Extremes of precipitation are generally increasing because the planet is actually warming and more water is evaporating from the oceans." Warmer global temperatures can lead to more floods and more drought because a warmer atmosphere holds more moisture. As moisture builds without falling out as rain, drought develops until a blast of cooler air or some other trigger throws the rain switch. When the switch gets flipped, a deluge can ensue because the atmosphere has much more moisture to dump. Where rain falls depends on the steering currents in the atmosphere and can leave some areas parched while others flood.
Soil moisture readings across the U.S. demonstrate that disparity. All of the nation's southeastern states, and Texas, have soil moisture reading that rank AMONG THE LOWEST EVER, about 1 to 10 percent of normal. Soil moisture in the northeast ranks in the 90th to 99th percentile. The drastic difference in soil moisture could lead to even more bad weather. Wet soils create cooler air masses and dry soils create warmer air masses. Side by side, the difference results in a more turbulent atmosphere that can trigger thunderstorms and strong winds.

Harsher U. S. Spring Weather Could Translate Into Rising Food Costs - The extreme weather this spring will probably adversely effect harvest yields this fall and kick food prices higher. A new report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) found that the severe rainstorms, droughts, floods, tornadoes and high heat impacted spring planting and is now hurting the growing season. Mother Nature threw “everything” at farmers in April and May. "Excessive rains led to planting delays, and then some of what was already planted actually got flooded.”
The weather caused the agency to lower its June prediction of planted acres of corn by 1.5 million, a drop in about 305 million bushels from its May forecast. While the harvest should be a good one, it still WON'T MEET THE HIGH DEMAND. “We are seeing very, very strong demand for corn for bio-energy, livestock feed input and export." With corn prices climbing, economists are forecasting higher meat prices (7 percent jump) and common foodstuffs costs (an average of 8 percent hike). Food manufacturers have increased prices because of the advance in raw ingredients like coffee, oats and corn. Restaurants, too, have jacked menu prices to keep up with the food costs.
Across the world, DEMAND FOR FOOD HAS SOARED and food INVENTORIES ARE NOT WHERE THEY SHOULD BE TO MEET THAT DEMAND. Next week, agriculture ministers from G-20 countries will meet to launch the “Agriculture Market Information System,” which is designed to make nations more accurately report on agriculture issues.