Winters are Going to Get Colder…Much Colder

The Maunder Minimum (also known as the prolonged sunspot minimum) is the name used for the period roughly spanning 1645 to 1715 when sunspots became exceedingly rare, as noted by solar observers of the time.

Like the Dalton Minimum and Spörer Minimum, the Maunder Minimum coincided with a period of lower-than-average global temperatures.

During one 30-year period within the Maunder Minimum, astronomers observed only about 50 sunspots, as opposed to a more typical 40,000-50,000 spots. (Source)

Climatologist John Casey, a former space shuttle engineer and NASA consultant, thinks that last year’s winter, described by USA Today as “one of the snowiest, coldest, most miserable on record” is going to be a regular occurrence over the coming decades.

Casey asserts that there is mounting evidence that the Earth is getting cooler due to a decline in solar activity. He warns in his latest book, Dark Winter, that a major alteration of global climate has already started and that, at a minimum, it is likely to last 30 years.

Casey predicts food shortages and civil unrest caused by those shortages due largely to governments not preparing for the issues that colder weather will bring. He also predicts that wickedly bitter winter temperatures will see demand for electricity and heating outstrip the supply.

                                     52% of the territory of the United States is covered with six feet of snow

Casey isn’t alone in his thinking. Russian climate expert and astrophysicist Habibullo Abdussamatov goes one step further and states that we are at the very beginning of a new ice age.

Dr. Abdussamatov points out that Earth has experienced such occurrences five times over the last 1,000 years, and that:

“A global freeze will come about regardless of whether or not industrialized countries put a cap on their greenhouse gas emissions. The common view of Man’s industrial activity as a deciding factor in global warming has emerged from a misinterpretation of cause and effect.”(source)

Don Easterbrook, a climate scientist based at Western Washington University, predicted exactly what Casey is saying as far back as 2008. in his paper ‘Evidence for Predicting Global Cooling for the Next Three Decades’ he states:

Despite no global warming in 10 years and recording setting cold in 2007-2008, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climatic Change (IPCC) and computer modelers who believe that CO2 is the cause of global warming still predict the Earth is in store for catastrophic warming in this century. IPCC computer models have predicted global warming of 1° F per decade, and 5-6° C (10-11° F) by 2100 which would cause global catastrophe with ramifications for human life, natural habitat, energy, water resources, and food production. All of this is predicated on the assumption that global warming is caused by increasing atmospheric CO2 and that CO2 will continue to rise rapidly.

The list of climate scientists that are moving into the global cooling camp is growing; many of them base their views on past climate records, while history suggests a link between diminished solar activity and bitterly cold winters, as well as cooler summers, in the northern hemisphere.

“My opinion is that we are heading into a Maunder Minimum,”  said Mark Giampapa, a solar physicist at the National Solar Observatory (NSO) in Tucson, Arizona. “I’m seeing a continuation in the decline of the sunspots’ mean magnetic field strengths and a weakening of the polar magnetic fields and subsurface flows.”

David Hathaway of NASA’s Marshall Solar Physics Center explains:

“We’re at the sunspot maximum of Cycle 24. It’s the smallest sunspot cycle in 100 years and the third in a trend of diminishing sunspot cycles. So, Cycle 25 could likely be smaller than Cycle 24.”

A NASA Science News report of January 2013 details the science behind the sunspot-climate connection and it well worth reading. It should be remembered that since the report was written Solar Cycle 24 has been proven to be not just the smallest cycle in 50 years, but the smallest for more than 100 years. The last one with sunspot numbers this low was 1906, solar cycle 14.

“Indeed, the sun could be on the threshold of a mini-Maunder event right now. Ongoing Solar Cycle 24 [the current short term 11 year cycle] is the weakest in more than 50 years. Moreover, there is (controversial) evidence of a long-term weakening trend in the magnetic field strength of sunspots. Matt Penn and William Livingston of the National Solar Observatory predict that by the time Solar Cycle 25 arrives, magnetic fields on the sun will be so weak that few if any sunspots will be formed. Independent lines of research involving helioseismology and surface polar fields tend to support their conclusion.”

Livingston and Penn are solar astronomers with the NSO (National Solar Observatory) in Tuscon, Arizona. They use a measurement known as Zeeman splitting to gather data on sunspots. They discovered in 1990 that the number of sunspots is dropping and that once the magnetic field drops below 1500 Gauss, that no sunspots will form. (A Gauss is a magnetic field measurement. The Gauss of the Earth is less than one). If the decline continues at its present rate, they estimate that the Sun will be spot free by 2016.

If these scientists are correct, we are heading into a period of bitterly cold winters and much cooler summers. Imagine year after year of ‘polar vortex’ winters that start early, finish late and deliver unprecedented cold across the country. Cool wet summers will affect food production, as will floods from the melting snow when spring finally arrives.

The American Meteorological Society Journal gives the following information regarding cold-related deaths in comparison to heat-related deaths in the United States from 1979-1999. The article is entitled Heat Mortality Versus Cold Mortality.

During the study period from 1979 to 1999 a total of 3,829 people died from excessive heat across the United States – an average of 182 deaths per year. For the same time period, 15,707 people died of cold – an average of 748 deaths a year.

Based on these figures, cold kills four times more people than heat. If these scientists are right, you can expect that figure to rise dramatically as energy demand outstrips supply. Power supplies are also impacted by ice storms and heavy snow which will lead to more outages and the disruption that brings. Generally, the infrastructure will fail to cope with month after month of excessive cold. Transportation is severely impacted by weather events and that has the knock-on effect of hitting the economy as people struggle to get to work. For the unprepared, regular food deliveries not making it to stores will leave many hungry and increasingly desperate.

The consequences of global cooling are huge, and those who fail to consider it as a possibility are risking their lives and the lives of their families.


NASA: Science News Journal

American Meteorological Society

Marshall Solar Physics

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Meteor strikes may not be random

Meteor impacts are far less random than most scientists assumed, according to a new analysis of Earth-strike meteors.

The research, reported on the pre-press astrophysics website, concluded that meteor impacts are more likely to occur at certain times of the year when Earth's orbit takes us through streams of meteoroids.

The majority of meteors analysed hit the Earth in the second half of the year, say the researchers, brothers Carlos and Raúl de la Fuente Marcos of the Complutense University of Madrid.

"This lack of randomness is induced by planetary perturbations, in particular Jupiter's, and suggests that some of the recent, most powerful Earth impacts may be associated with resonant groups of Near Earth Objects and/or very young meteoroid streams,"  they report.

Meteoroid streams can be generated by the break-up of an asteroid or comet.

A planet or moon can also affect nearby asteroids and meteors, herding them into loose orbits called 'resonant streams', which can be broken up by big planets such as Jupiter and Saturn.

The study is based on 33 meteor impact events detected between 2000 and 2013 by infrasound acoustic pressure sensors, operated by the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization.

The sensors are designed to detect clandestine nuclear tests, but also pick up meteor impacts with an explosive energy in excess of a thousand tonnes of TNT.

   Impact times

The researchers looked at when and where each of the 33 meteors hit the Earth, as this enabled them to determine where it might have come from.

They found 17 impacts occurred in the northern hemisphere and 16 in the south; 25 impacts occurred within 40 degrees north or south of the equator, while only eight occurred at higher latitudes.

Significantly, the authors found a 21 per cent difference in meteor timing, with 20 impacts across the second half of the year compared to just 13 hits in the first six calendar months.

For people in the southern hemisphere, June was the most likely month for a meteor to hit the Earth, while September and October were the least likely. Overall though, more meteor impacts were recorded in the second half of the year -- 12 compared to four in the first six months.

North of the equator, November was the most likely month for a meteor hit while May and June were the least likely. Distribution was pretty even throughout the year with nine meteors occurring in the first half of the year and eight in the second half.

However, the authors believe the timing will change as old meteoroid streams dissipate and new ones form.

   More data needed

This theory makes sense says Dr Simon O'Toole of the Australian Astronomical Observatory.

"What we had always assumed up until this paper, was that meteor impacts were random, occurring at any time and in any place," says O'Toole.

"This new work points to asteroids orbiting out near Jupiter, getting disrupted from their orbits by the planet's gravitational perturbations, and this can have an impact for us here on Earth."

However, O'Toole is concerned that the study is based on only 33 individual impact events.

"It's a very interesting paper, but 33 events is a statistically small sample range," says O'Toole.

"This needs far more data."

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Fukushima Unit 1 Fuel Removal Delayed

TEPCO announced they would delay the removal of both spent fuel from the pool and from the reactor vessel at unit 1, Fukushima Daiichi. What is not clear is exactly why. TEPCO cited having to remove excessive debris from the buildings. They have known the conditions inside the building and the refueling floor for a number of years.

Investigations into the building and refueling floor began as early as 2011 with an in depth screening of the refueling floor done in 2013. No detailed recent investigative work at unit 1 has been admitted and no new findings about the condition of the building have been released in recent months.

There has been some delay while they spray fixative and take a more cautious approach to removing the building cover, but that is currently only expected to cause about a 6 month delay. This new schedule puts spent fuel removal at 2019 and melted fuel removal at 2025.

   IAEA to send experts to analyze seawater

The International Atomic Energy Agency will send two marine experts to Japan to report their analysis of the sea water off the coast of the defunct Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.

Experts from the IAEA affiliated Environment Laboratories in Monaco collected the samples in September to examine the effects of radioactive materials on the ocean's ecosystem.

The laboratory's director David Osborn and another expert will visit Japan from November 4th to the 7th.

The IAEA has been advising Japan to disclose comparative analysis of the results of more than one institution to enhance transparency and ease concerns of neighboring countries.

The two experts also plan to compare water analysis results from Japanese and IAEA laboratories to assess the accuracy of Japanese data.

The IAEA will take new samples off the coast near the Fukushima plant on November 5th.

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Underwater landslide may have doubled 2011 Japanese tsunami

An underwater landslide the size of Paris may have triggered the worst of the tsunami that struck Japan on 11 March 2011, a new study claims.

Most of the destruction that day was caused by a 10-meter surge that overwhelmed coastal defenses from south of Fukushima to the northern tip of Honshu island. But along a 100-km mountainous stretch called Sanriku, indented with bays and small harbors, the incoming waves rose to a monstrous 40 meters. About a quarter of the tsunami’s 18,000 victims died in those ports, yet experts have struggled to find a satisfactory explanation for the exceptional inundation that killed them.

Seismologist Kenji Satake of the University of Tokyo’s Earthquake Research Institute, one of the world’s leading authorities on tsunamis, thinks a second earthquake was responsible. This temblor, he says, occurred north of the main submarine thrust, involved a thin sliver of crust, and left no trace in the seismic record of the day.

But Stephan Grilli, an oceanographer at the University of Rhode Island, Narragansett Bay,wasn’t convinced. Movements along Earth’s faults, he says, don’t jolt the sea surface in the right way to focus a band of waves on just a hundred kilometers of coastline, as happened in 2011.

In the new study, Grilli and colleagues worked back from details of the ocean surface motion recorded by gauges along the Japanese shore on the day of the earthquake. Much as sound waves can help the ear pinpoint the source of a gunshot and whether a small pistol or a large cannon fired it, tsunami waves carry the imprint of the ocean floor disturbance that created them.

The team concludes that during the earthquake a slab of sediment 20 km by 40 km and up to 2 km thick slid about 300 meters down the steep slope of Japan Trench, “acting like a piston.” Grilli’s calculations also identified where the slump must have happened: near the northern end of the 2011 rupture, 170 km from the Japan shore, and under 4.5 km of water. And when marine geologist and co-author David Tappin of the British Geological Survey compared Japanese maps from before and after the earthquake, he identified just the right kind of slump in the target area. The team’s paper is in press at Marine Geology.

The authors make a good case but are far from proving it, says Costas Synolakis, a tsunami expert at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. Synolakis collaborated with Tappin and Grilli on previous investigations establishing that a similar slump caused the deadly 1998 tsunami off Papua New Guinea. This time, however, he worries the researchers are too fixated on details of the tsunami modeling at the expense of the big picture. “Anyone who thinks you can model the behavior of a tsunami to better than a factor of two is crazy!” he says.

A close up geophysical survey to test the evidence would settle the case one way or the other, Synolakis adds. “The key point is that 4 years on, we still don’t know anything about the mechanism” of the tsunami, he says. “The observed run-up is not compatible with anything the seismologists know about.”

Satake, however, maintains that his two-quake explanation is adequate and that the existing seafloor mapping reveals nothing.

If submarine landslides are responsible, “then it’s a game-changer,” says team member Robert Geller, a seismologist at the University of Tokyo. Geller, who has lived and worked in Tokyo for a quarter of a century, has long criticized the Japanese program of earthquake forecasting, which he says produces hazard maps of little worth based on doubtful science. If towering tsunamis can also be produced by collapses along the Japan Trench, he says, the chance of anticipating the next one is nearly impossible.

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The World Is Warming

   So Why Is Antarctic Sea Ice Hitting Record Highs?

For four days in a row this week, sea ice surrounding Antarctica has broken all-time records. But—get this—the ice is expanding, not shrinking.

It’s the third consecutive year that the icebergs that surround the continent have expanded into unseen territory. What the heck is going on? Didn’t Antarctica get the climate change memo? Isn’t polar ice supposed to be melting?

First, let’s distinguish between sea ice and land ice. Since sea ice floats in the ocean, its growth or melt doesn’t affect global sea levels. Antarctic land ice, on the other hand, does contribute to sea level rise, and it’s losing volume at a record pace. In fact, a frightening study earlier this year found that a key glacier in West Antarctica has entered an inevitable, slow-motion collapse phase, with dire consequences for the world’s coastal cities. A follow-up study last month for the first time put an upper bounds on the impacts of melting Antarctic glaciers in our children’s lifetimes.

The Antarctic (a cold continent surrounded by a warm ocean) is the geographic opposite of the Arctic (a warming ocean surrounded by cold continents). That difference, along with the fact that our economy is based on planet-warming fossil fuels, has allowed Arctic sea ice to dramatically decline in recent years, at a rate of about 4 percent per decade. At the other end of the world, Antarctic sea ice has been increasing at a fraction of that pace, less than 1 percent per decade.

It seems weird, but like this winter’s epic polar vortex outbreaks in North America, this week’s record-breaking Antarctic sea ice could be a further sign of global warming. Even though there's been more ice, the Southern Ocean is warming, not cooling. One theory says that warmer ocean waters are more effective at melting the tongues of Antarctic land ice glaciers that stick out into the sea. The resulting excess of freshwater raises the freezing point of the surrounding salt water, allowing more ice to form.

Not only is the ocean around Antarctica warming, it’s warming at a rate faster than the rest of the world’s oceans. So why is there a record amount of ice?

Another theory is that the winds that encircle Antarctica are growing stronger,  in part due to the hole in the ozone layer, and pushing ice farther and farther away from the continent, allowing additional ice to take its place closer to Antarctica’s frozen shores. This theory is favored by the British Antarctic Survey, and a number recent papers have backed it up.

A third theory is that since warmer air can hold more water vapor, it’s likely that there’s more rain and snow falling over the Southern Ocean. That too could decrease the ocean’s salinity near the surface, boosting sea ice levels.

The reality is probably some combination of the above. After all, there’s still a lot of legitimate debate among scientists on this topic. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the leading global authority on climate change science, admitted as much  in its latest report, which was released last year.

New evidence shows the Antarctic sea ice trend itself may have been overestimated because of a statistical fluke.

Eventually, scientists expect the sheer temperature increase from global warming to swamp whatever complex combination of atmospheric and oceanographic physics that’s producing the counterintuitive ice growth, and Antarctic sea ice will begin to decline as Arctic ice already has.

By the end of the week, Antarctic sea ice will probably set yet another record. Just remember, it’s definitely not because Antarctica (or any other large swath of the planet) is getting colder.

 As long as humans have been keeping track, there’s never been this much sea ice surrounding Antarctica. What gives?

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Battle for Jungle's Future

Amazon Indian Warriors Beat and Strip Illegal Loggers in Battle for Jungle's Future

A group of warriors from Brazil's indigenous Ka'apor tribe tracked down illegal loggers in the Amazon, tied them up, stripped them and beat them with sticks.

Photographer Lunae Parracho followed the Ka'apor warriors during their jungle expedition to search for and expel illegal loggers from the Alto Turiacu Indian territory in the Amazon basin.

Tired of what they say is a lack of sufficient government assistance in keeping loggers off their land, the Ka'apor people, who along with four other tribes are the legal inhabitants and caretakers of the territory, have sent their warriors out to expel all loggers they find and set up monitoring camps.

               Ka'apor men tie up some illegal loggers and remove their pants(Lunae Parracho/Reuters)

      A Ka'apor warrior chases a logger who tried to escape after he was captured(Lunae Parracho/Reuters)

                            Ka'apor men use sticks to hit loggers(Lunae Parracho/Reuters)

Last year, the Brazilian government said that annual destruction of its Amazon rain forest jumped by 28 percent after four straight years of decline. Based on satellite images, it estimated that 5,843 square kilometres of rain forest were felled in the one-year period ending July 2013.

    A logging truck burns after it was set on fire by Ka'apor warriors in the Amazon(Lunae Parracho/Reuters)

The Amazon rain forest is considered one of the world's most important natural defences against global warming because of its capacity to absorb huge amounts of carbon dioxide. Rain forest clearing is responsible for about 75 percent of Brazil's emissions, as vegetation is burned and felled trees rot. Such activity releases an estimated 400 million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every year, making Brazil at least the sixth-biggest emitter of carbon dioxide gas.

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U.S. drought reaches 'apocalyptic' extremes

Wide swaths of the United States remain mired in one of the worst droughts in recent times, prompting some to describe conditions as near "apocalyptic."

California, which is essentially the nation's fruit basket, has been particularly hard hit. As noted by The Economic Collapse Blog, some scientists and climatologists are beginning to use phrases like "the worst drought" and "as bad as you can imagine" to describe the current situation in the western half of the nation.

"Thanks to an epic drought that never seems to end," reported the blog, "we are witnessing the beginning of a water crisis that most people never even dreamed was possible in this day and age."

How bad? California is preparing to ban people from watering lawns and washing cars -- but if the drought persists, trust that such measures will pale in comparison to the tight restrictions that are on the way.

Here are some additional reports that describe just how bad things have gotten:

-- The Los Angeles Times has reported that 80 percent of California is now in "extreme" drought:

The NWS' Drought Monitor Update for July 15 shows 81% of California in the category of extreme drought or worse, up from 78%. Three months ago, it was 68%.

The map shows that drought conditions worsened in parts of Riverside, San Bernardino and San Diego counties.

The new data comes as officials are getting tough on water wasters.

  Las Vegas may have to shut down

-- The State Water Resources Control Board has voted to give local authorities the power to fine those who waste water up to $500 a day. The board also says that nearly 50 communities around the state are on the verge of running out of water.

-- Many Southern California cities, including Los Angeles, Santa Barbara and Long Beach, already have mandatory restrictions in place.

-- Worse, water usage is increasing; the latest figures showed that water usage statewide was up 1 percent in May over the same period a year ago (a trend driven primarily by an 8 percent increase in Southern California).

-- The Times also reports that downtown Los Angeles is the driest it has been since records began to be kept in 1877.

-- In something right out of communist East Germany, a social media phenomenon known as "drought shaming" has sprung up -- neighbors who take pictures of other neighbors using water and then posting them on Facebook, or other social media.

-- Climatologist Tim Barnett has said the water situation in Las Vegas "is as bad as you can imagine." He said he believes that, if the city can't "find a way to get more water from somewhere," it will soon be "out of business."

-- The water in Lake Mead, which was created by the Hoover Dam and supplies Vegas, is at its lowest level since 1937. Worse, it is continuing to drop at a frightening pace. See incredible pictures of the 14-year drought here:

  Crops can't be grown; tens of millions affected by lack of water

-- "The drought is like a slow spreading cancer across the desert. It's not like a tornado or a tsunami, bang. The effects are playing out over decades. And as the water situation becomes more dire we are going to start having to talk about the removal of people," said Rob Mrowka of the Center for Biological Diversity.

-- Some areas of Nevada have officials actually paying people to remove their lawns, citing lack of water.

-- According to Accuweather, "more than a decade of drought" along the Colorado River has set up an "impending Southwest water shortage" which could ultimately affect tens of millions of people.

-- Farmers in California are not planting nearly a half-million acres this year because of water shortages.

Read the full measure of the drought at The Economic Collapse Blog.


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Surprise! Icebergs Spotted in Lake Superior

Though it's starting to feel like summer in the Great Lakes region, with temperatures soaring into the 80s (Fahrenheit), icebergs are still loitering in Lake Superior — a reminder of an especially harsh winter.

Last week, a marine warden with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources was patrolling Lake Superior when she spotted seagulls resting on a huge chunk of ice near Madeline Island, off the northern coast of Wisconsin.

"Normally the ice is mostly gone by end of April with some bays having some ice chunks floating around," said warden Amie Egstad. "We were doing commercial net checks and had been seeing the ice floating around the area. This one was the biggest we had seen so far."

The iceberg rose 12 to 14 feet (3.5 to 4 meters) above the water and stretched 40 feet (12 m) long and 20 feet (6 m) wide, though much of the block was hidden underwater, Egstad told Live Science in an email.

"The surface water temperature in this area is only 34 Fahrenheit [1.1 degrees Celsius] so it will be a bit before the ice is actually gone," Egstad said.

The giant ice cubes seen by Egstad are lingering after a frigid winter, during which ice covered nearly 100 percent of Lake Superior, the deepest, largest and northernmost of the five Great Lakes. In March, all five of the lakes combined hit 91 percent ice cover, the most ice since the record of 94.7 percent was set in 1979, according to the Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory.

At the end of May, Lake Superior surface-water temperatures were about 1 or 2 degrees Fahrenheit (0.5 or 1 degree Celsius) below their long-term average. However, scientists with the Great Lakes Integrated Sciences and Assessments Center (GLISA) forecast that surface temperatures over the deepest parts of the lake will still be in the 40s F (about 4 C), at least 6 degrees F below normal by August, because these deeper waters take longer to mix with the surface waters and get thoroughly warm.

Scientists say the winter's deep freeze will have lasting effects beyond persistent icebergs and colder-than-average water for swimming. The Great Lakes will likely have higher water levels and occasional blankets of fog as well.

"It's going to be the summer of fog. The water will stay really cold, but summer air tends to be warm and humid," Peter Blanken, a GLISA collaborator from the University of Colorado, explained in a statement. "And any time you get that combination, you're going to have condensation and fog — basically evaporation in reverse."

Chilly water will also delay the start of the yearly evaporation season by four to six weeks. Less evaporation could be a good thing for the Great Lakes, which last year experienced record low water levels. Lake Superior could see water-level gains of up to 10 inches (25 centimeters) by next spring, depending on rainfall, said GLISA climatologist John Lenters.

Original article on Live Science.

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Big earthquakes double in 2014

If you think there have been more earthquakes than usual this year, you're right. A new study finds there were more than twice as many big earthquakes in the first quarter of 2014 as compared with the average since 1979.

"We have recently experienced a period that has had one of the highest rates of great earthquakes ever recorded," said lead study author Tom Parsons, a research geophysicist with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) in Menlo Park, California.

                                                  Earthquakes larger than magnitude-7 since 2000.

But even though the global earthquake rate is on the rise,the number of quakes can still be explained by random chance, said Parsons and co-author Eric Geist, also a USGS researcher. Their findings were published online June 21 in the journal Geophysical Research Letters. [Image Gallery: This Millennium's Destructive Earthquakes]

With so many earthquakes rattling the planet in 2014, Parsons actually hoped he might find the opposite -- that the increase in big earthquakes comes from one large quake setting off another huge shaker. Earlier research has shown that seismic waves from one earthquake can travel around the world and trigger tiny temblors elsewhere.

"As our group has been interested in the ability of an earthquake to affect others at a global scale, we wondered if we were seeing it happening. I really expected we would see evidence of something we couldn't explain by randomness," Parsons told Live Science's Our Amazing Planet in an email interview.

The new study isn't the first time researchers have tried and failed to link one earthquake to another in time and across distance. Earlier studies found that the biggest earthquakes on the planet -- the magnitude-8 and magnitude-9 quakes -- typically trigger much smaller jolts, tiny magnitude-2 and magnitude-3 rumblers. Yet, no one has ever proven that large quakes unleash other large quakes. Finding a statistical connection between big earthquakes is a step toward proving such connections takes place.

But despite the recent earthquake storm, the world's great earthquakes still seem to strike at random, the new study found.

                                                                     Japan 2011

The average rate of big earthquakes -- those larger than magnitude 7 -- has been 10 per year since 1979, the study reports. That rate rose to 12.5 per year starting in 1992, and then jumped to 16.7 per year starting in 2010 -- a 65 percent increase compared to the rate since 1979. This increase accelerated in the first three months of 2014 to more than double the average since 1979, the researchers report.

The rise in earthquakes  is statistically similar to the results of flipping a coin, Parsons said: Sometimes heads or tails will repeat several times in a row, even though the process is random.

"Basically, we can't prove that what we saw during the first part of 2014, as well as since 2010, isn't simply a similar thing to getting six tails in a row," he said.

But Parsons said the statistical findings don't rule out the possibility that the largest earthquakes may trigger one another across great distances. Researchers may simply lack the data to understand such global "communication," he said.

"It's possible that global-level communications happen so infrequently that we haven't seen enough to find it among the larger, rarer events," Parsons said.

However, earthquakes smaller than magnitude-5.6 do cluster on a global scale, the researchers found. This suggests these less-powerful quakes are more likely to be influenced by others -- a finding borne out by previous research.

For example, the number of magnitude-5 earthquakes surged after the catastrophic magnitude-9 earthquakes in Japan and Sumatra, even at distances greater than 620 miles (1,000 kilometers), earlier studies found.

                                                                             Sumatra 2004

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Physicists freeze motion of light for a minute

Physicists in Darmstadt have been able to stop something that has the greatest possible speed and that never really stops: light. About a decade ago, physicists stopped it very for just a moment. In recent years, this extended towards stop times of a few seconds for simple light pulses in extremely cold gases and special crystals. But now the researchers at Darmstadt extended the possible duration and applications for freezing the motion of light considerably.

The physicists, headed by Thomas Halfmann at the Institute of Applied Physics of the Technische Universität Darmstadt, stopped light for about one minute. They were also able to save images that were transferred by the light pulse into the crystal for a minute -- a million times longer than previously possible.

                         Light experiment: Success by combining known methods.  Credit: Katrin Binner

The researchers achieved the record by cleverly combining various known methods of their field. The result will have practical significance in future data processing systems that operate using light.

To stop the light, the physicists used a glass-like crystal that contains a low concentration of ions -- electrically charged atoms -- of the element praseodymium. The experimental setup also includes two laser beams. One is part of the deceleration unit, while the other is to be stopped. The first light beam, called the "control beam," changes the optical properties of the crystal: the ions then change the speed of light to a high degree. The second beam, the one to be stopped, now comes into contact with this new medium of crystal and laser light and is slowed down within it. When the physicists switch off the control beam at the same moment that the other beam is within the crystal, the decelerated beam comes to a stop.

More precisely, the light turns into a kind of wave trapped in the crystal lattice. This can be explained in greatly simplified form as follows. The praseodymium ions are orbited by electrons. These behave similarly to a chain of magnets: if you put one into motion, the movement -- mediated by magnetic forces -- propagates in the chain like a wave. Since physicists call the magnetism of electrons "spin," a "spin wave" forms in the same manner when freezing the laser beam. This is a reflection of the laser's light wave. In this way, the Darmstadt researchers were able to store images, such as a striped pattern, made of laser light within the crystal. The information can be read out again by turning the control laser beam on again.

                                                  Schematic representation of the German "catcher" lights

The fact that only very short storage times were possible until now is because perturbing environments interfered with the spin wave, similar to how moving ships mix up waves in a lake. The information about the stored light wave is thus gradually lost. The perturbations can be alleviated by applying magnetic fields and high-frequency pulses. In our example, these fields reduce the number of boats on the lake, as it were.

How well this works depends strongly on the parameters of the driving optical fields, magnetic fields and the high-frequency pulses. There are very many variations, and the optimal setting can hardly be calculated because of the complexity. Therefore, the Darmstadt researchers used computer algorithms that quickly and entirely automatically find the best solutions during the experiment. One of the algorithms is based on natural evolution, which produces organisms that are adapted as well as possible to the environment. Using the algorithms, the researchers were able to optimize the laser beams, the magnetic field and the high-frequency pulses in such a manner that the spin waves survived nearly as long as is possible in the crystal.

Based on this success, Halfmann's team now intends to explore techniques that can store light significantly longer -- perhaps for a week -- and to achieve a higher bandwidth and data transfer rate for efficient information storage by stopped light.

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Arctic ice - Great Pacific garbage

   Trillions of plastic pieces found in Arctic ice

Arctic Ocean ice may hold trillions of small pieces of plastic and other synthetic trash, and they are being released into the world's oceans as global warming melts the polar cap, researchers say.

Though the finding is surprising and worrying, the possible harm to marine life is so far unknown, the authors concluded.

Called microplastics, the pollutants come mostly from debris that has broken apart, as well as from cosmetics and fibers released from washing clothes, according to the study, which was published in the journal Earth's Future and first reported by Science magazine.

At current melting trends, more than 1 trillion pieces 5 millimeters or smaller could wind up in the oceans during the coming decade, the authors estimate.

The concentration of plastic debris is 1,000 times greater than that floating in the so-called Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

The researchers based their findings on core samples of ice taken during polar expeditions in 2005 and 2010.

Rayon was the most common synthetic material discovered -- 54%. Though rayon is not a plastic (it's made from wood), the authors included it "because it is a manmade semi-synthetic that makes up a significant proportion of synthetic microparticles found in the marine environment."

Rayon is used in cigarette filters, clothing and personal hygiene products.

Polyester was the next most common pollutant found in the ice (21%), followed by nylon (16%), polypropylene (3%) and polystyrene, acrylic and polyethylene (2% each).

The authors called the ice trap "a major historic global sink of man-made particulates," and said their findings "go some way to help clarify one of the most puzzling aspects of current understanding on the quantities of plastic debris reported in the oceans."

As Science points out, 288 millions tons of plastics were produced in 2012.

Microplastics garbage has also been found on the shores of southernmost Chile, so the authors said it's time to investigate the planet's other polar region.

"While multiyear sea ice makes up a smaller proportion of annual sea ice cover in the Southern Ocean, and perennial sea ice cover around Antarctica is following different trends, our finding indicate the importance of sampling ice from the Antarctic to see if it too contains microplastics," they write.

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'Heartbeat' of Earth

Lightning flashes in the skies above the Earth about 50 times every second, creating a burst of electromagnetic waves that circle around the planet's atmosphere.

Some of these waves combine and increase in strength, creating something akin to an atmospheric heartbeat that scientists can detect from the ground and use to better understand the makeup of the atmosphere and the weather it generates.

For the first time, scientists have detected this heartbeat — called the Schumann resonance — from space. This detection was surprising because the resonance was thought to be confined to a particular region of the atmosphere, between the ground and a layer of Earth's atmosphere called the ionosphere.

"Researchers didn't expect to observe these resonances in space," said Fernando Simoes, a scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. "But it turns out that energy is leaking out and this opens up many other possibilities to study our planet from above."

Simoes co-authored a study on the detection of this resonance made by the U.S. Air Force's Communications/Navigation Outage Forecast System (C/NOFS) satellite.

   How resonance works

Simoes explains the resonance phenomenon like this: Think of a playground swing. If you push the swing just as it hits the top of its arc, you add speed. Push it backwards in the middle of its swing, and you will slow it down.

When it comes to waves, resonance doesn't occur because of a swing-like push, but because a series of overlapping waves are synchronized such that the crests line up with the other crests and the troughs line up with the other troughs. This naturally leads to a much larger wave than one where the crests and troughs cancel each other out.

The waves created by lightning do not look like the up-and-down waves of the ocean, but they still oscillate with regions of greater energy and lesser energy.

These waves remain trapped inside an atmospheric ceiling created by the lower edge of the ionosphere, which is filled with charged particles and begins about 60 miles (96 kilometers) up into the sky.

The resonance of the lightning-generated waves will only happen in a certain sweet spot where the wave is at least (or twice, three times, etc.) as long as the circumference of Earth.

This is an extremely low-frequency wave that can be as low as 8 Hertz (Hz) — some one-hundred-thousand-times lower than the lowest-frequency radio waves used to send signals to an AM/FM radio.

As this wave flows around Earth, it hits itself again at the perfect spot such that the crests and troughs are aligned, causing the waves to act in resonance and pump up the original signal.

   A new tool

While they'd been predicted in 1952, Schumann resonances weren't reliably measured until the 1960s. Since then, scientists have discovered that variations in the resonances correspond to changes in the seasons, solar activity, activity in Earth's magnetic environment, in water aerosols in the atmosphere and other Earth-bound phenomena.

"There are hundreds, maybe thousands, of studies on this phenomenon and how it holds clues to understanding Earth's atmosphere," said study co-author and Goddard scientist Rob Pfaff. "But they're all based on ground measurements."

The C/NOFS satellite measured them from altitudes of 250-to-500 miles (400–to-800 km). The team found the resonance showing up in almost every orbit C/NOFS made around Earth, which added up to some 10,000 examples.

While models suggest that the resonances should be trapped under the ionosphere, energy has been known to leak through. The findings meant the models will need to be tweaked to account for the leaky boundary, and also that there is a new tool for understanding the ionosphere as well as the electric events in the atmosphere.

"Combined with ground measurements, it provides us with a better way to study lightning, thunderstorms and the lower atmosphere," Simoes said. "The next step is to figure out how best to use that tool from this new vantage point."

More about Schumann Resonance - NASA

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Lab Creates Life With 'Alien' DNA

Organisms carrying beefed-up DNA code could be designed to churn out new drugs that could not otherwise be made

It's alive! Scientists say that they have created the first living organism with synthetic DNA unlike that of any life that has ever existed on Earth.

The first living organism to carry and pass down to future generations an expanded genetic code has been created by American scientists, paving the way for a host of new life forms whose cells carry synthetic DNA that looks nothing like the normal genetic code of natural organisms.

Researchers say the work challenges the dogma that the molecules of life making up DNA are "special". Organisms that carry the beefed-up DNA code could be designed to churn out new forms of drugs that otherwise could not be made, they have claimed.

The latest study moves life beyond the DNA code of G, T, C and A – the molecules or bases that pair up in the DNA helix. Photograph: Scott Camazine /Alamy

"This has very important implications for our understanding of life," said Floyd Romesberg, whose team created the organism at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California. "For so long people have thought that DNA was the way it was because it had to be, that it was somehow the perfect molecule."

From the moment life gained a foothold on Earth the diversity of organisms has been written in a DNA code of four letters. The latest study moves life beyond G, T, C and A – the molecules or bases that pair up in the DNA helix – and introduces two new letters of life: X and Y.

Romesberg started out with E coli, a bug normally found in soil and carried by people. Into this he inserted a loop of genetic material that carried normal DNA and two synthetic DNA bases. Though known as X and Y for simplicity, the artificial DNA bases have much longer chemical names, which themselves abbreviate to d5SICS and dNaM.

In living organisms, G, T, C and A come together to form two base pairs, G-C and T-A. The extra synthetic DNA forms a third base pair, X-Y, according to the study in Nature.

Romesberg found that when the modified bacteria divided they passed on the natural DNA as expected. But they also replicated the synthetic code and passed that on to the next generation. That generation of bugs did the same.

"What we have now, for the first time, is an organism that stably harbours a third base pair, and it is utterly different to the natural ones," Romesberg said. For now the synthetic DNA does not do anything in the cell. It just sits there. But Romesberg now wants to tweak the organism so that it can put the artificial DNA to good use.

                                                                      Floyd Romesberg

"This is just a beautiful piece of work," said Martin Fussenegger, a synthetic biologist at ETH Zurich. "DNA replication is really the cream of the crop of evolution which operates the same way in all living systems. Seeing that this machinery works with synthetic base pairs is just fascinating."

The possibilities for such organisms are still up for grabs. The synthetic DNA code could be used to build biological circuits in cells which do not interfere with the natural biological function; scientists could make cells which use the DNA to manufacture proteins not known to exist in nature. The development could lead to a vast range of protein-based drugs.

The field of synthetic biology has been controversial in the past. Some observers have raised concerns that scientists could create artificial organisms which could then escape from laboratories and spark an environmental or health disaster.

More than 10 years ago, the scientist Eckard Wimmer, at Stony Brook University, in New York, recreated the polio virus from scratch to highlight the dangers.

Romesberg said that organisms carrying his "unnatural" DNA code had a built-in safety mechanism. The modified bugs could only survive if they were fed the chemicals they needed to replicate the synthetic DNA. Experiments in the lab showed that without these chemicals, the bugs steadily lost the synthetic DNA as they could no longer make it.

                                                     Escherichia coli under the microscope

"There are a lot of people concerned about synthetic biology because it deals with life, and those concerns are completely justified," Romesberg said. "Society needs to understand what it is and make rational decisions about what it wants."

Ross Thyer, at the University of Texas, in Austin, suggested the synthetic DNA could become an essential part of an organism's own DNA. "Human engineering would result in an organism which permanently contains an expanded genetic alphabet, something that, to our knowledge, no naturally occurring life form has accomplished.

"What would such an organism do with an expanded genetic alphabet? We don't know. Could it lead to more sophisticated storage of biological information? More complicated or subtle regulatory networks? These are all questions we can look forward to exploring."

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Sun Erupts with Huge X-Class Flare

Solar maximum may be starting to wane, but the sun has no intention on slipping into the stellar doldrums quietly. At 7:50 p.m. EST on Monday (00:50 UTC, Feb. 25), a sunspot emerging from the southeastern limb of our nearest star unleashed its magnetic fury, exploding with an X5-class flare.

X-class solar flares are the most powerful classification of flare and, if pointing toward Earth, can cause radiation storms and impact our planet’s upper atmosphere, interfering with satellites and global communications.

In this case, however, the flare erupted perpendicular to the direction of Earth, so its impact will be minimal. But it did give space observatories quite a fireworks display.

The sun as seen by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory in extreme ultraviolet light -- multimillion degree plasma in the lower corona glows bright in the 193A wavelength SDO filter

In the sequence of images above from NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory, the fairly quiescent sun suddenly erupts with a flash, leaving a magnetic tangle in its wake. The loops of magnetism and superheated plasma extend from the solar surface reaching high into the multimillion degree solar atmosphere (known as the corona).

It is this region where space weather is spawned, generating rapid flows of charged particles (known as the solar wind), crackling with solar flares and sometimes blasting coronal mass ejections (CMEs) into interplanetary space.

Monday’s flare is the most powerful flare of 2014 and was generated by active region (AR) 1990. Interestingly, the same active region has been responsible for considerable activity during previous rotations across the surface of the sun and this third time, as noted by Tony Phillips at, is showing promise for an uptick in flaring activity.

      X4.9-class solar flare photographed with a variety of cameras that capture only certain parts of the EM spectrum

Although this latest X-class flare is impressive, it still occurred during a solar cycle that has been very lackluster. Solar cycles occur approximately every 11 years and reach a peak in magnetic activity during solar maximum.

The amount of activity is measured by the number of sunspots that can be observed on the solar disk. Sun spots are caused by magnetic field lines erupting through the solar photosphere (the solar ‘surface’) — therefore, the greater the magnetic activity, the higher the number of sunspots.

Recent activity on the sun has prompted space weather forecasters to predict that the sun may see an increase in activity through 2014, creating a “double peak” solar maximum.

                                                                  The Sun Now

 But even if this does happen, the current cycle (Solar Cycle 24) is the weakest humanity has observed since Solar Cycle 14, which had a maximum sunspot count of 64.2 in February 1906.

The sunspot maximum (so far) occurred last summer, hitting a peak of 67.

The underlying reasons behind the variability in activity of our sun are still not fully understood, proving that even our nearest star can be a mystery.

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Warning for Planet's Climate Future

World's scientists meet in Japan to complete summary of report that paints bleak future if climate inaction continues

The world's leading climate scientists gathered in Japan on Tuesday to begin hashing out the final details of a "grim" climate report, which both leaked drafts and those familiar with its contents say will call on policy makers to take immediate action or face a climate future that will otherwise be marked by widespread ecological and human catastrophe.

Of those harsh challenges, the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)  report—according to a draft version of the leaked earlier this year— will show that the four degrees Celsius rise that we are currently careening towards will undoubtedly cause increasing natural disasters, including: more violent storms, forest fires, devastating droughts, flooding, widespread hunger, disease, and a rise in ocean levels by up to a meter.

              Sunset on the Arctic (Kathryn Hansen/ NASA Goddard Photo / Creative Commons license)

However, as Kaisa Kosonen explains on the Greenpeace blog Tuesday, the difference in their latest report from previous work by the IPCC and other similar warnings from the global scientific community is its emphasis on the stark "choice" now before humanity.

This latest message from the IPCC, Kosonen writes, is that people—both inside and outside of government— either "reduce and manage the risks ahead and do what’s needed to keep warming as far below 2 degrees Celsius as possible, or we continue to do too little too late, drifting from crisis to crisis and on towards a disastrous 4 degrees world."

"The IPCC will paint a picture of both these possible futures," Kosonen notes.

Over the course of this week the scientists will be finalizing a summary of the 2,000 page report directed at policy makers. The report and summary will be released Monday, March 31, following the week-long summit.

"I think everybody who works on the climate issue understands that climate change is truly one of the defining challenges of the 21st century," Chris Field, of the U.S.-based Carnegie Institution for Science, told the event's opening ceremony on Tuesday. However, said Field, the IPCC is "uniquely positioned" to enable policymakers to "deal effectively, robustly and optimistically with challenges for the future."

The IPCC report is the second installment of the group's Fifth Assessment Report—a four year project that has combined the work of thousands of scientists around the world.

The first installment, released in September, said warming in the climate system is "unequivocal" and the cause of current and future weather-related catastrophes.

"Today we are in a situation where governments have promised to keep warming below 2 degrees Celsius but are heading instead towards a 4 degree world," writes Kosonen. "They are neither preparing for a 2 degree nor a 4 degree world, trying to ignore the megatrend of climate change."

"Will we continue drifting from one disaster to another, or will we take control of our future?" she asks.

"We're at a crossroads and the choices we make now will determine how history judges us."

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Radiation Puts New Mexico Nuclear Waste Site in ‘Shutdown Mode’

~  An alarm went off at the facility near Carlsbad, New Mexico Friday night around 11pm
~  None of the site's employees were exposed to radiation
~  Officials don't know what caused the leak or how much radiation was leaked
~  This is the first real alarm at the facility since it opened in 1999
~  The WIPP process 6,000 cubic meters of radioactive material every year

Crews are preparing to investigate a mystery radiation leak 2,000 feet underground in a facility where waste from the country's nuclear weapons program is kept in sealed containers

Officials are at a loss to explain what has caused the excessive leak at the Carlsbad Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico which is designed to store waste underground for centuries.

Operations at the desert facility were shut down following an incident earlier this month when a truck caught fire underground and several workers suffered smoke inhalation.

Department of Energy investigators still don't know whether that incident played a role in this new leak, since they haven't been cleared to go underground to find the source.

'They will not go in today. It's a safety thing more than anything. We're waiting until we get other assessments done before we authorize re-entry,' DOE spokesman Bill Mackie said.

An air monitor which detects airborne radiation went off around 11pm Friday.

While it wasn't the first time alarms have rung at the facility, officials believe this was the first real alarm in the history of the plant since it opened in 1999.

                   Sealed: The salt is supposed to keep the waste from penetrating water supplies

Because the plant was in shutdown mode, no employees were underground when the alarm went off and none of the 139 workers above ground were exposed.

The alarm system automatically switched the the facility's ventilation system to filtration in order to keep the leak from reaching the surface.

The WIPP sits over salt deposits which help seal transuranic waste discarded from the country's nuclear weapons program such as machinery and clothing.

The salt deposits keep the material from contaminating water supplies since it takes about a billion years for water to move an inch in the deposits.

The plant processes some 6,000 cubic meters of radiative waste a year and employs 800 people.

It is expected to continue accepting materials until 2030.


The World Isolation Pilot Plant was opened in 1999 to store transuranic radioactive waste for 10,000 years.

It is the third deepest geological storage center int he word after two different repositories in Germany.

The facility receives waste contaminated with plutonium, uranium, americium and neptunium.

Transuranic waste are materials that come in contact with radiation such as gloves, tools, rags and machinery.

While they may not be as potent as nuclear reactor byproducts, transuranic waste can continue to contaminate for up to 24,000 years.

Since it opened in 1999, WIPP has processed 400,000 55-gallon drums containing these radioactive materials and functioned without incident until Friday.

These cask drums are stored in rooms constructed into the salt basin 2,150 feet below ground.

The rooms will help seal the materials from posing a risk to public health since it takes a billion years for water to move even an inch in the salty basin.

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Extraterrestrial Life Form in Earth’s Stratosphere

British astrobiologists are claiming to have found alien life form in the Earth’s stratosphere. They collected a small diatom frustule that could have come from space after sending a balloon to 27 km into the stratosphere during the recent Perseid meteor shower.

“Most people will assume that these biological particles must have just drifted up to the stratosphere from Earth, but it is generally accepted that a particle of the size found cannot be lifted from Earth to heights of, for example, 27 km. The only known exception is by a violent volcanic eruption, none of which occurred within three years of the sampling trip,” explained Prof Milton Wainwright from the University of Sheffield, who is a lead author of a paper reporting the discovery in the Journal of Cosmology (full paper).

This image shows a diatom frustule, possibly a Nitzschia species, captured on a stud from a height of 25 km in the stratosphere. Image credit: Milton Wainwright et al.

“In the absence of a mechanism by which large particles like these can be transported to the stratosphere we can only conclude that the biological entities originated from space. Our conclusion then is that life is continually arriving to Earth from space, life is not restricted to this planet and it almost certainly did not originate here.”

“If life does continue to arrive from space then we have to completely change our view of biology and evolution. New textbooks will have to be written!”

The balloon was launched near Chester, UK, and carried microscope studs which were only exposed to the atmosphere when the balloon reached heights of between 22 and 27 km.

The balloon landed safely and intact near Wakefield, UK. The scientists then discovered that they had captured a diatom fragment and some unusual biological entities from the stratosphere, all of which are too large to have come from Earth.

The team is hoping to extend and confirm their results by carrying out the test again in October 2013 to coincide with the upcoming Haley’s Comet-associated meteorite shower when there will be large amounts of cosmic dust. It is hoped that more new, or unusual, organisms will be found.

“Of course it will be argued that there must be an, as yet, unknown mechanism for transferring large particles from Earth to the high stratosphere, but we stand by our conclusions. The absolutely crucial experiment will come when we do what is called ‘isotope fractionation’. We will take some of the samples which we have isolated from the stratosphere and introduce them into a complex machine – a button will be pressed. If the ratio of certain isotopes gives one number then our organisms are from Earth, if it gives another, then they are from space. The tension will obviously be almost impossible to live with!” Prof Wainwright said.

   Additional information

The research was conducted by Professor (Hon. Cardiff and Buckingham Universities) Milton Wainwright from the University of Sheffield, Chris Rose and Alex Baker from the University of Sheffield’s Leonardo Centre for Tribology and Professor Chandra Wickramasinghe Director of the Centre for Astrobiology, University of Buckingham.

The University of Sheffield

With nearly 25,000 of the brightest students from 117 countries coming to learn alongside 1,209 of the world’s best academics, it is clear why the University of Sheffield is one of the UK’s leading universities. Staff and students at Sheffield are committed to helping discover and understand the causes of things - and propose solutions that have the power to transform the world we live in.
A member of the Russell Group, the University of Sheffield has a reputation for world-class teaching and research excellence across a wide range of disciplines. The University of Sheffield has been named University of the Year in the Times Higher Education Awards 2011 for its exceptional performance in research, teaching, access and business performance. In addition, the University has won four Queen’s Anniversary Prizes (1998, 2000, 2002, 2007), recognising the outstanding contribution by universities and colleges to the United Kingdom’s intellectual, economic, cultural and social life.

One of the markers of a leading university is the quality of its alumni and Sheffield boasts five Nobel Prize winners among former staff and students. Its alumni have gone on to hold positions of great responsibility and influence all over the world, making significant contributions in their chosen fields.
Research partners and clients include Boeing, Rolls-Royce, Unilever, Boots, AstraZeneca, GSK, Siemens, Yorkshire Water and many more household names, as well as UK and overseas government agencies and charitable foundations.
The University has well-established partnerships with a number of universities and major corporations, both in the UK and abroad. The White Rose University Consortium (White Rose) a strategic partnership between 3 of the UK's leading research universities of Leeds, Sheffield and York. Since its creation in 1997 White Rose has secured more than £100M into the Universities.

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Nearby Galaxy M82 Hosts a New Supernova!

I woke up to some great science news: A supernova has gone off in the nearby galaxy M82!

This is terribly exciting for astronomers. M82 is pretty close as galaxies go, less than 12 million light years away. That means we have an excellent view of one of the biggest explosions in the Universe, and we’ll be able to study it in great detail!

The supernova has the preliminary designation of PSN J09554214+6940260. I know, that’s awful—it’s based on the star’s coordinates—but it’ll get a name soon enough that’ll be easier on the eyes and brain.

Photo by UCL/University of London Observatory/Steve Fossey/Ben Cooke/Guy Pollack/Matthew Wilde/Thomas Wright

And just to get this out of the way, we’re in no danger from this explosion. It’s far too far away. Also, you won’t be able to just go outside, look up, and see it. Right now it’s too faint to see without a telescope. But the good news is it appears to have been discovered about two weeks before it hits peak brightness.

Supernovae get brighter over time before fading away, and this one may get as bright as 8th magnitude, which is within range of binoculars. Right now it’s at about 12th magnitude; the faintest star you can see with your naked eye is about mag 6 (note that the numbers run backwards; a bigger number is a fainter object).

M82 is in Ursa Major, well placed for viewing right now in the Northern Hemisphere.

Universe Today has a map to show you how to find it.

Here’s a funny thing, too. The supernova itself is what we call a Type Ia, a dwarf explosion. Astronomers are still trying to figure out exactly what happens in a Type Ia explosion, but there are three competing scenarios. Each involves a white dwarf, the small, dense, hot core left over after a star turns into a red giant, blows off its outer layers, and essentially “dies.”

One scenario is that the white dwarf is orbiting a second star. It siphons off material from the star and accumulates it on its surface. Eventually this material gets so compressed by the huge gravity of the white dwarf that it fuses, creating a catastrophic explosion that tears the star apart.

Another is that two white dwarfs orbit each other. Eventually they spiral in, merge, and explode. The third, which is a recent idea, is that there are actually three stars in the system, a normal star and two white dwarfs. Due to the complex dance of gravity, the third star warps the orbits of the two dwarfs, and at some point they collide head-on!

This too would result in a supernova explosion. All three scenarios involve very old stars, since it can take billions of years for a normal star to turn into a white dwarf.

What’s funny about this is that the galaxy M82 is undergoing a huge burst of star formation right now, and that means lots of massive stars are born. These live short lives and also explode as supernovae (called Type II, or core collapse) though the mechanism is very different from that of the white dwarf explosions. You’d expect M82 to have more core collapse supernovae, but this new one is a Type Ia.

And that’s actually more good news. These supernovae tend to all explode with the same energy, so they behave the same way whether they are near or far. We can see them for billions of light years away, which means they can be used to measure the distances of galaxies that are very far away. It was this kind of exploding star that allowed astronomers to discover dark energy, in fact. This energy is accelerating the expansion of the Universe, making it grow more every day.

We don’t know a whole lot about it - it was only announced in 1998—but we’re learning more all the time. A nearby Type Ia means we can learn even more about these explosions, and hopefully calibrate our understanding even better.

And that means we need observations! If you are an amateur astronomer, get images! And if you observed M82 recently, you may have “pre-discovery” images of it, taken before it was officially discovered. Those are critical for understanding the behavior of the supernova. If you do, report it to the CBAT (but make sure you read the instructions first; they don’t want images, just reports of magnitudes and so on).

Given the fact that it’s nearby, up high for so many observers, and caught so early, this may become one of the best-observed supernovae in modern times. I’m very excited this happened, and I hope to share more images and information with you soon!

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