Solar flare erupts, creating spectacular images
Date: Jun 9th, 2011 4:27:38 am - Subscribe
Mood: forsaken


WASHINGTON – A solar flare erupted from the sun in an impressive display captured by NASA cameras, but scientists say the medium-sized event will have a minimal impact, if any, on Earth.
The flare peaked early Tuesday and created a large cloud that appeared to cover almost half the surface of the sun, NASA said. A cloud of charged particles erupted from the sun's outer atmosphere and is expected to pass by Earth late Wednesday or early Thursday, causing a minor disruption to Earth's magnetic field, according to the National Weather Service's Space Weather Prediction Center in Boulder, Colo.
"This wasn't really such a big event," said Michael Hesse, chief of the space weather laboratory at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. "It was spectacular to watch, but not big in terms of hazards to the Earth."
At most, the cloud that erupted from the sun may cause some brief interruptions to high-frequency radio communications, especially closer to the North and South poles, said Joe Kunches, a space scientist at SWPC. Some global positioning devices also may make tiny errors, he said.
"It doesn't look like it's going to be a direct hit on the Earth," Kunches said. "It's going to be, if you use a baseball analogy, a little bit low and outside on the pitch."
The aurora borealis also may be more visible Thursday or Friday night, he said.
Images of the flare were recorded by an orbiting satellite called the Solar Dynamics Observatory. The photos and video were the most spectacular that the satellite has captured since it was launched last year, Hesse said.
A much larger solar flare erupted Saturday, but NASA didn't capture images because it happened on the side of the sun opposite Earth, Hesse said. Scientists have been expecting an increase in solar activity because the sun is moving into a more volatile period of an 11-year cycle in which its magnetic field reverses its orientation.
"The sun has woken up and is becoming more active as we approach the solar maximum," expected in 2013, Hesse said.

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Seeing Things On Mars: A History of Martian Illusions
Date: Jun 9th, 2011 4:25:47 am - Subscribe
Mood: puzzled


Humans have been seeing strange things on the surface of Mars for centuries. From the 1700s up through the present day, widespread fame has been available to anyone able to produce even the slightest bit of flimsy evidence that there's Martian life.
The most recent example was this week's supposed revelation that a secret Mars base, inhabited either by humans or Martians, can be seen in a photo of the Red Planet's surface taken by an orbiting spacecraft.
But scientific rigor has always stepped in to prove that these objects are not really there. In this vast and lonely universe, are Earthlings just desperate for next-door neighbors to play with? Looking back over the long history of Martian illusions (and human delusions), it certainly seems so. [7 Things that Create Great Space Hoaxes]
Land and sea
In 1784, Sir William Herschel, a famous British astronomer, wrote that dark areas on Mars were oceans and lighter areas were land. He speculated that Mars was inhabited by intelligent beings who "probably enjoy a situation similar to our own." Herschel's theory prevailed for a century, with other astronomers claiming that vegetation could even be observed in the lighter-colored regions taken to be land. Fortunately for Herschel, his other contributions to astronomy — which earned him the honor of being the namesake of two powerful observatories — were great enough to keep his theories on Martians near the bottom of his biography.
Canali vs. canals
During Mars' close approach to Earth in 1877, the Italian astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli peered through his telescope and observed grooves or channels on the Red Planet's surface. The Italian word he used for them, "canali," was translated to "canals" in English, leading many in the English-speaking world to conclude that Mars had intelligent life that had built a system of waterways.
That misconception was popularized by an astronomer named Percival Lowell, who in 1895 presented drawings of the canals in a book, titled "Mars," and argued his full theory in a second book, "Mars as the Abode of Life," in 1908. The inaccuracy was further fueled, historians say, by excitement over the construction of the Suez Canal, an engineering marvel of the era completed in 1869.
The theory was debunked in the early twentieth century, when it was demonstrated that the "canals" were merely optical illusions: when viewed through poor-quality telescopes, pointlike features, such as Mars' mountains and craters, appear to be joined together by straight lines. Later, spectroscopic analysis of the light coming from Mars showed that there was no water on its surface. [Would Humans Born On Mars Grow Taller than Earthlings?]

ET radio
In 1921, Guglielmo Marconi, inventor of the first radio telegraph system, claimed to hear signals that he thought might be Martian. The next year and again in 1924, at times when Mars swung relatively close to Earth, the U.S. government asked all radio stations to go silent so that they could listen out for any Martian transmissions coming our way.
But ET radio was silent.
The face
It all started back in 1976, when NASA released an image of an interesting mountain on Mars, taken by the Viking 1 spacecraft, complete with a caption that described the formation as appearing to have eyes and nostrils. More than thirty years later, the "Face on Mars" still inspires myths and conspiracy theories, with many people believing it to be an artificial structure built by an ancient Martian civilization.
From a bird's-eye view, shadows on the mountain really do make it look like a face. From other angles, however — angles seen in photos taken by the Mars Express Orbiter, among other spacecraft — the mountain is clearly just that, and doesn't look much like a face at all.
"Pareidolia" is the scientific term for seeing faces (or other significant objects) where they aren't. Face pareidolia happens, scientists say, as a byproduct of our heightened sensitivity to the details of human faces. Takeo Watanabe of the Boston University Visual Sciences Laboratory put it this way: "We've over-learned human faces so we see them where they aren't." [Face On Mars: Why People See What's Not There]
Martian person
In a photo snapped by the Mars rover Spirit in 2007, there appears to be a human being wearing a robe and kneeling in prayer. It is, of course, a rock, and merely morphs into human form in our brains because of pareidolia, as explained above.
Bio Station Alpha
This week, yet another smidgen of evidence arose that, on first examination, seemed to support the notion that there's life on Mars. In a viral Youtube video, a self-described "armchair astronaut" claimed to have identified a human (or alien) base on Mars, which he dubbed Bio Station Alpha. He found a somewhat mysterious linear structure that appears to be on the Red Planet's surface as seen in Google Mars, a new map program created from compiled satellite images of the planet.
Astronomers immediately identified the structure — in actuality just a white, pixelated streak — as an artifact deposited by a cosmic ray in the image sensor of the camera that snapped the photo. "With space images that are taken outside our magnetosphere, such as those taken by orbiting telescopes, it's very common to see these cosmic ray hits," said Alfred McEwen, a planetary geologist at the Lunar and Planetary Lab at the University of Arizona and the director of the Planetary Imaging Research Laboratory.
Cosmic rays are energetic particles emitted by the sun. They deposit electric charge in camera pixels as they penetrate them, momentarily saturating them and creating a white streak in any photo snapped at the time.
When the raw image file was converted to a JPEG for use in Google Mars, McEwen said compression probably caused the cosmic ray artifact to become more rectangular and "Bio Station"-like. This was subsequently proven to be the case, when the original source photo that Google used was identified. It contained an obvious cosmic ray artifact, which, when processed, turned into the structure that the "armchair astronaut" mistook for a Mars base.

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Ephemeral Antimatter Trapped for Amazingly Long 16 Minutes
Date: Jun 6th, 2011 9:14:38 pm - Subscribe
Mood: accepted


Antimatter, an elusive type of matter that's rare in the universe, has now been trapped for more than 16 minutes — an eternity in particle physics.

In fact, scientists who've been trapping antihydrogen atoms at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Geneva say isolating the exotic particles has become so routine that they expect to soon begin experiments on this rare substance.

Antimatter is like a mirror image of matter. For every matter particle (a hydrogen atom, for example), a matching antimatter particle is thought to exist (in this case, an antihydrogen atom) with the same mass, but the opposite charge.

"We've trapped antihydrogen atoms for as long as 1,000 seconds, which is forever" in the world of high-energy particle physics, said Joel Fajans, a University of California, Berkeley professor of physics who is a faculty scientist at California's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and a member of the ALPHA (Antihydrogen Laser Physics Apparatus) experiment at CERN.

Trapping antimatter is difficult, because when it comes into contact with matter, the two annihilate each other. So a container for antimatter can't be made of regular matter, but is usually formed with magnetic fields.
In the ALPHA project, the researchers captured antihydrogen by mixing antiprotons with positrons — antielectrons — in a vacuum chamber, where they combine into antihydrogen atoms.

The whole process occurred within a magnetic "bottle" that takes advantage of the magnetic properties of the antiatoms to keep them contained. An actual bottle, made of ordinary matter, would not be able to hold antimatter because when the two types of matter meet they annihilate.

After the researchers had trapped antimatter in the magnetic bottle, they could then detect the trapped antiatoms by turning off the magnetic field and allowing the particles to annihiliate with normal matter, which creates a flash of light.

The team has now managed to capture 112 antiatoms in this new trap for times ranging from one-fifth of a second to 1,000 seconds, or 16 minutes and 40 seconds. (To date, since the beginning of the project, Fajans and his colleagues have trapped 309 antihydrogen atoms in various traps.)

And the researchers plan to improve on that, with the "hope that by 2012 we will have a new trap with laser access to allow spectroscopic experiments on the antiatoms," Fajans said in a statement. Those experiments would give researchers more information on the antimatter's properties.
In that way, it could help to answer a question that has long plagued physicists: Why is there only ordinary matter in our universe? Scientists think antimatter and matter should have been produced in equal amounts during the Big Bang that created the universe 13.6 billion years ago.

Today, however, there is no evidence of antimatter galaxies or clouds, and antimatter is seen rarely and for only short periods, for example, during some types of radioactive decay before it annihilates in a collision with normal matter.

The researchers detail their work on the antimatter trap in a new paper published online June 5 in the journal Nature Physics.

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Three Lunar adn Solar Eclipse
Date: May 30th, 2011 11:02:37 pm - Subscribe
Mood: sedated

Over the next month, the world will experience three eclipses: two partial solar eclipses a month apart and one total lunar eclipse exactly in between, and it all starts with a so-called "midnight" eclipse of the sun.
A solar eclipse at midnight? How is such a thing possible?
It can happen near midsummer in the high Arctic, the land of the midnight sun. And it will happen this week on June 1 and 2, visible in the northernmost reaches of North America, Europe, and Asia.
These two solar eclipse sky maps available here detail what observers could see during some of the upcoming eclipses of the sun and moon in June.

'Midnight' solar eclipse of June 2
The eclipse begins on Thursday, June 2, at dawn in northern China and Siberia, then moves across the Arctic, crossing the International Date Line and ending in the early evening of Wednesday, June 1, in northeastern Canada.
That’s right: The eclipse begins on Thursday and ends on Wednesday because of the International Date Line. Because observers in northern Russia and Scandinavia will be observing it over the North Pole, they will actually see it in what is, for them, the middle of the night of June 1 and 2.

Solar eclipse no one will see on July 1
Exactly a month later, on Friday, July 1, an equally bizarre eclipse will occur in the Antarctic.
Because this is the southern winter, the sun will be below the horizon for almost all of Antarctica, except for a small uninhabited stretch of coast due south of Madagascar. The only place the eclipse will clear the horizon will be in a small area of the Southern Ocean, far to the south of South Africa.
Chances are that this eclipse will be witnessed only by penguins and sea birds.

Lunar Eclipse of June 15
Exactly halfway in between these two partial solar eclipses, there will be a total eclipse of the moon on Wednesday, June 15.
The eclipse will be visible for millions of people in Africa, the Middle East and southwestern Asia. It will be visible as the moon rises in the early evening in South America and Europe, and as the moon sets before dawn in eastern Asia and Australia.
Unfortunately, it will not be visible anywhere at all in North America.
This article was provided to by Starry Night Education, the leader in space science curriculum solutions.

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Ice melts in Artics road
Date: May 30th, 2011 10:48:37 pm - Subscribe
Mood: sedated

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Global warming will likely open up coastal areas in the Arctic to development but close vast regions of the northern interior to forestry and mining by mid-century as ice and frozen soil under temporary winter roads melt, researchers said.
Higher temperatures have already led to lower summer sea ice levels in the Arctic and the melting has the potential to increase access for fishermen, tourists and oil and natural gas developers to coastal regions in coming decades.
The melting has also led to hopes that shorter Arctic shipping routes between China and Europe will open.
The Arctic is increasingly a region of deep strategic importance to the United States, Russia and China for its undiscovered resource riches and the potential for new shipping lanes. The U.S. Geological Survey says that 25 percent of the world's undiscovered oil and natural gas lies in the Arctic.
But the warming also will likely melt so-called "ice roads", the temporary winter roads developers now use to access far inland northern resources such as timber, diamonds and minerals, according to a study published on Sunday in the journal Nature Climate Change.
"It's a resource frontier where we don't even know what all is there and I'm beginning to think we never will," Lawrence Smith, a professor of geography at the University of California Los Angeles and a co-author of the study, said about the Arctic interior.
"These places are going to become wilder and the lands are going to be abandoned and revert to a wild state."
The ice roads, made famous by the History Channel show "Ice Road Truckers", are constructed on frozen ground, rivers, lakes and swampy areas using compacted snow and ice. They cost only about two to four percent of what permanent land roads would cost, making resource extraction more cost effective in these remote areas.
As the roads melt, indigenous populations could also face increased isolation and higher costs as some goods could only reach them via airplanes.
All eight countries that border the Arctic -- Canada, Finland, Greenland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden and the United States -- are expected to experience declines in winter-road land accessibility.
Russia will lose the most land suitable for winter road construction by area, followed by Canada and the United States, according to the modeling done in the study, which was supported by NASA's Cryosphere Program and the National Science Foundation.
Northern Canada's Tibbitt-Contwoyto "diamond road," an winter road first built in 1982 and said to be the world's most lucrative ice road as it services several diamond mines, is expected to be among the routes that suffer, according to the researchers. Much of the roughly 300 mile road runs atop frozen lakes.
By 2020 the road is projected to lose 17 percent of its up to 10-week operating season.
Oil and natural gas developers could lose access to some inland drilling, but the industry would gain access to coastal drilling and would benefit from easier shipping routes.
Timber and metal mining, however, would suffer far more because it would be cost-prohibitive to build permanent roads leading to these resources.
More study is needed to determine the potential economic losses from the melting regions and how they would compare to the opportunity, the authors said.

(Reporting by Timothy Gardner; Editing by David Lawder)

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