The cruel reallity of Japan disaster


A 4 year old girl writes a letter to the missing mom after the tsunami.
«Dear Mother. I hope you are alive. Are you ok?»

Manami Kon waits for her fathers and younger sister missing since Japan disaster.

Shizue , her grandmother,wants Manami to stay at her house due to the fear of aftershocks.

But the girl will not agree, saying: "I'll wait here [in Chikei] until Mom comes home."

Cell phones are not yet working in this area. "Will Papa call me?" Manami asks, holding tight to her father's silver cell phone, with the power turned on.

05 th April

According to Kyodo News agency the family is trying to provide the best possible care for the girl, the mother, father and sister are still amoung the missing.
(photo: Yomiuri Shimbun, Norikazu Tateishi /AP)

Should we fear aliens?


THE No. 1 movie in the US now is World Invasion: Battle Los Angeles starring Aaron Eckhart. The theme of the movie is hardly original. 
credit: dailycosmic
Aliens have come to Earth and they’re not friendly. We’ve seen this before in movies like Signs starring Mel Gibson, Independence Day starring Will Smith and War Of The Worlds starring Tom Cruise.
Hollywood, of course, is playing on our fears which makes for more exciting cinema. If all aliens were lovable like ET the extra-terrestrial, people would soon find such movies boring. In contrast, an alien movie with lots of chase scenes, shooting, explosions, near defeat and ultimate victory (for us humans) is a formula that works well.

Is there some wisdom in Hollywood’s depiction of aliens contact as something to be feared? Physicist Stephen Hawking would say so. Last year, in a Discovery Channel series on space, Hawking said there must be aliens but that it could be calamitous for humans if contact is ever made with them.

Hawking’s rationale for believing there are extra-terrestrial life forms is in line with the thinking of other great cosmologists like Carl Sagan, whose groundbreaking Cosmos series I watched as a kid.
The universe, Hawking points out, has 100 billion galaxies, each containing hundreds of millions of stars. Each of those stars are actually suns. "To my mathematical brain, the numbers alone make thinking about aliens perfectly rational," he said. "The real challenge is to work out what aliens might actually be like."

Hawking posits that in some faraway places life could be at a very early stage, and the aliens could exist in the form of microbes.

Interestingly, earlier this month it was reported that Richard B. Hoover, an astrobiologist at Nasa’s Marshall Space Flight Center, said he had found fossils of bacteria in a rare class of meteorite called CI1 carbonaceous chondrites.

"I interpret it as indicating that life is more broadly distributed than restricted strictly to the planet Earth," Hoover said. For sure, Hoover has his supporters and also his detractors. His research and findings will be closely scrutinised and debated by scientists in the months and years to come.
Hawking doesn’t say that aliens could only exist in the form of microbes of course. His documentary features fascinating computer-animated depictions of strange animals in distant planets.
What’s really interesting though is Hawking’s speculation about intelligent life forms, whose technology is closer to that of Star Trek or Star Wars than ours, and thus can travel to distant planets beyond their own solar system. Could such aliens pose a threat to humans?
"We only have to look at ourselves to see how intelligent life might develop into something we wouldn’t want to meet," Hawking says. "I imagine they might exist in massive ships, having used up all the resources from their home planet. Such advanced aliens would perhaps become nomads, looking to conquer and colonise whatever planets they can reach."

He cautions that the outcome of aliens visiting us could be like when Christopher Columbus first landed in America, which he notes, "didn’t turn out very well for the Native Americans".
Hawking’s alarmist attitude towards aliens has generated quite a buzz within the scientific community. Some criticised Hawking’s use of human behaviour to predict how aliens would behave while others say that it was a reasonable approach.

Yet another angle is to say the danger might not come from any intent by the aliens but from the tiny microbes that they might inadvertently bring with them. "When Columbus was followed by the Spanish conquistadors, it was not advanced weaponry which destroyed the native civilizations, but disease," says B. G. Sidharth of the B. M. Birla Science Centre in India.

But there are optimists among the scientists as well. "If Hawking’s aliens are anything like humans, then I am optimistic ... that their scientific development should be accompanied also by an ethical development, and (they) might value life," says GianCarlo Ghirardi, a physicist at Italy’s University of Trieste.

Oon Yeoh is managing editor at a publishing house.

related: http://dailycosmicnews.blogspot.com/p/strange-news.html 

Space storm alert: 90 seconds from catastrophe

In: New scientist

IT IS midnight on 22 September 2012 and the skies above Manhattan are filled with a flickering curtain of colourful light. Few New Yorkers have seen the aurora this far south but their fascination is short-lived. Within a few seconds, electric bulbs dim and flicker, then become unusually bright for a fleeting moment. Then all the lights in the state go out. Within 90 seconds, the entire eastern half of the US is without power.

A year later and millions of Americans are dead and the nation’s infrastructure lies in tatters. The World Bank declares America a developing nation. Europe, Scandinavia, China and Japan are also struggling to recover from the same fateful event – a violent storm, 150 million kilometres away on the surface of the sun.

It sounds ridiculous. Surely the sun couldn’t create so profound a disaster on Earth. Yet an extraordinary report funded by NASA and issued by the US National Academy of Sciences (NAS) in January 2009 claims it could do just that.

Over the last few decades, western civilisations have busily sown the seeds of their own destruction. Our modern way of life, with its reliance on technology, has unwittingly exposed us to an extraordinary danger: plasma balls spewed from the surface of the sun could wipe out our power grids, with catastrophic consequences.
The projections of just how catastrophic make chilling reading. “We’re moving closer and closer to the edge of a possible disaster,” says Daniel Baker, a space weather expert based at the University of Colorado in Boulder, and chair of the NAS committee responsible for the report.

It is hard to conceive of the sun wiping out a large amount of our hard-earned progress. Nevertheless, it is possible. The surface of the sun is a roiling mass of plasma – charged high-energy particles – some of which escape the surface and travel through space as the solar wind. From time to time, that wind carries a billion-tonne glob of plasma, a fireball known as a coronal mass ejection. If one should hit the Earth’s magnetic shield, the result could be truly devastating.

The incursion of the plasma into our atmosphere causes rapid changes in the configuration of Earth’s magnetic field which, in turn, induce currents in the long wires of the power grids. The grids were not built to handle this sort of direct current electricity. The greatest danger is at the step-up and step-down transformers used to convert power from its transport voltage to domestically useful voltage. The increased DC current creates strong magnetic fields that saturate a transformer’s magnetic core. The result is runaway current in the transformer’s copper wiring, which rapidly heats up and melts. This is exactly what happened in the Canadian province of Quebec in March 1989, and six million people spent 9 hours without electricity. But things could get much, much worse than that.

Worse than Katrina

The most serious space weather event in history happened in 1859. It is known as the Carrington event, after the British amateur astronomer Richard Carrington, who was the first to note its cause: “two patches of intensely bright and white light” emanating from a large group of sunspots. The Carrington event comprised eight days of severe space weather.
There were eyewitness accounts of stunning auroras, even at equatorial latitudes. The world’s telegraph networks experienced severe disruptions, and Victorian magnetometers were driven off the scale.

Though a solar outburst could conceivably be more powerful, “we haven’t found an example of anything worse than a Carrington event”, says James Green, head of NASA’s planetary division and an expert on the events of 1859. “From a scientific perspective, that would be the one that we’d want to survive.” However, the prognosis from the NAS analysis is that, thanks to our technological prowess, many of us may not.

There are two problems to face. The first is the modern electricity grid, which is designed to operate at ever higher voltages over ever larger areas. Though this provides a more efficient way to run the electricity networks, minimising power losses and wastage through overproduction, it has made them much more vulnerable to space weather. The high-power grids act as particularly efficient antennas, channelling enormous direct currents into the power transformers.

The second problem is the grid’s interdependence with the systems that support our lives: water and sewage treatment, supermarket delivery infrastructures, power station controls, financial markets and many others all rely on electricity. Put the two together, and it is clear that a repeat of the Carrington event could produce a catastrophe the likes of which the world has never seen. “It’s just the opposite of how we usually think of natural disasters,” says John Kappenman, a power industry analyst with the Metatech Corporation of Goleta, California, and an advisor to the NAS committee that produced the report. “Usually the less developed regions of the world are most vulnerable, not the highly sophisticated technological regions.”

According to the NAS report, a severe space weather event in the US could induce ground currents that would knock out 300 key transformers within about 90 seconds, cutting off the power for more than 130 million people (see map). From that moment, the clock is ticking for America.

First to go – immediately for some people – is drinkable water. Anyone living in a high-rise apartment, where water has to be pumped to reach them, would be cut off straight away. For the rest, drinking water will still come through the taps for maybe half a day. With no electricity to pump water from reservoirs, there is no more after that.

There is simply no electrically powered transport: no trains, underground or overground. Our just-in-time culture for delivery networks may represent the pinnacle of efficiency, but it means that supermarket shelves would empty very quickly – delivery trucks could only keep running until their tanks ran out of fuel, and there is no electricity to pump any more from the underground tanks at filling stations.

Back-up generators would run at pivotal sites – but only until their fuel ran out. For hospitals, that would mean about 72 hours of running a bare-bones, essential care only, service. After that, no more modern healthcare.

The truly shocking finding is that this whole situation would not improve for months, maybe years: melted transformer hubs cannot be repaired, only replaced. “From the surveys I’ve done, you might have a few spare transformers around, but installing a new one takes a well-trained crew a week or more,” says Kappenman. “A major electrical utility might have one suitably trained crew, maybe two.”

30 days of coal left

Within a month, then, the handful of spare transformers would be used up. The rest will have to be built to order, something that can take up to 12 months.
Even when some systems are capable of receiving power again, there is no guarantee there will be any to deliver. Almost all natural gas and fuel pipelines require electricity to operate. Coal-fired power stations usually keep reserves to last 30 days, but with no transport systems running to bring more fuel, there will be no electricity in the second month.

Nuclear power stations wouldn’t fare much better. They are programmed to shut down in the event of serious grid problems and are not allowed to restart until the power grid is up and running.

With no power for heating, cooling or refrigeration systems, people could begin to die within days. There is immediate danger for those who rely on medication. Lose power to New Jersey, for instance, and you have lost a major centre of production of pharmaceuticals for the entire US. Perishable medications such as insulin will soon be in short supply. “In the US alone there are a million people with diabetes,” Kappenman says. “Shut down production, distribution and storage and you put all those lives at risk in very short order.”

4-10 years to recover
Help is not coming any time soon, either. If it is dark from the eastern seaboard to Chicago, some affected areas are hundreds, maybe thousands of miles away from anyone who might help. And those willing to help are likely to be ill-equipped to deal with the sheer scale of the disaster. “If a Carrington event happened now, it would be like a hurricane Katrina, but 10 times worse,” says Paul Kintner, a plasma physicist at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York.
In reality, it would be much worse than that. Hurricane Katrina’s societal and economic impact has been measured at $81 billion to $125 billion. According to the NAS report, the impact of what it terms a “severe geomagnetic storm scenario” could be as high as $2 trillion. And that’s just the first year after the storm. The NAS puts the recovery time at four to 10 years. It is questionable whether the US would ever bounce back.

“I don’t think the NAS report is scaremongering,” says Mike Hapgood, who chairs the European Space Agency’s space weather team. Green agrees. “Scientists are conservative by nature and this group is really thoughtful,” he says. “This is a fair and balanced report.”

Such nightmare scenarios are not restricted to North America. High latitude nations such as Sweden and Norway have been aware for a while that, while regular views of the aurora are pretty, they are also reminders of an ever-present threat to their electricity grids. However, the trend towards installing extremely high voltage grids means that lower latitude countries are also at risk. For example, China is on the way to implementing a 1000-kilovolt electrical grid, twice the voltage of the US grid. This would be a superb conduit for space weather-induced disaster because the grid’s efficiency to act as an antenna rises as the voltage between the grid and the ground increases. “China is going to discover at some point that they have a problem,” Kappenman says.

Neither is Europe sufficiently prepared. Responsibility for dealing with space weather issues is “very fragmented” in Europe, says Hapgood.
Europe’s electricity grids, on the other hand, are highly interconnected and extremely vulnerable to cascading failures. In 2006, the routine switch-off of a small part of Germany’s grid – to let a ship pass safely under high-voltage cables – caused a cascade power failure across western Europe. In France alone, five million people were left without electricity for two hours. “These systems are so complicated we don’t fully understand the effects of twiddling at one place,” Hapgood says. “Most of the time it’s alright, but occasionally it will get you.”
The good news is that, given enough warning, the utility companies can take precautions, such as adjusting voltages and loads, and restricting transfers of energy so that sudden spikes in current don’t cause cascade failures. There is still more bad news, however. Our early warning system is becoming more unreliable by the day.

15 minutes’ warning

By far the most important indicator of incoming space weather is NASA’s Advanced Composition Explorer (ACE). The probe, launched in 1997, has a solar orbit that keeps it directly between the sun and Earth. Its uninterrupted view of the sun means it gives us continuous reports on the direction and velocity of the solar wind and other streams of charged particles that flow past its sensors. ACE can provide between 15 and 45 minutes’ warning of any incoming geomagnetic storms. The power companies need about 15 minutes to prepare their systems for a critical event, so that would seem passable.

However, observations of the sun and magnetometer readings during the Carrington event shows that the coronal mass ejection was travelling so fast it took less than 15 minutes to get from where ACE is positioned to Earth. “It arrived faster than we can do anything,” Hapgood says.
There is another problem. ACE is 11 years old, and operating well beyond its planned lifespan. The onboard detectors are not as sensitive as they used to be, and there is no telling when they will finally give up the ghost. Furthermore, its sensors become saturated in the event of a really powerful solar flare. “It was built to look at average conditions rather than extremes,” Baker says.
He was part of a space weather commission that three years ago warned about the problems of relying on ACE. “It’s been on my mind for a long time,” he says. “To not have a spare, or a strategy to replace it if and when it should fail, is rather foolish.”

There is no replacement for ACE due any time soon. Other solar observation satellites, such as the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) can provide some warning, but with less detailed information and – crucially – much later. “It’s quite hard to assess what the impact of losing ACE will be,” Hapgood says. “We will largely lose the early warning capability.”

The world will, most probably, yawn at the prospect of a devastating solar storm until it happens. Kintner says his students show a “deep indifference” when he lectures on the impact of space weather. But if policy-makers show a similar indifference in the face of the latest NAS report, it could cost tens of millions of lives, Kappenman reckons. “It could conceivably be the worst natural disaster possible,” he says.

The report outlines the worst case scenario for the US. The “perfect storm” is most likely on a spring or autumn night in a year of heightened solar activity – something like 2012. Around the equinoxes, the orientation of the Earth’s field to the sun makes us particularly vulnerable to a plasma strike.
What’s more, at these times of year, electricity demand is relatively low because no one needs too much heating or air conditioning. With only a handful of the US grid’s power stations running, the system relies on computer algorithms shunting large amounts of power around the grid and this leaves the network highly vulnerable to sudden spikes.

If ACE has failed by then, or a plasma ball flies at us too fast for any warning from ACE to reach us, the consequences could be staggering. “A really large storm could be a planetary disaster,” Kappenman says.

So what should be done? No one knows yet – the report is meant to spark that conversation. Baker is worried, though, that the odds are stacked against that conversation really getting started. As the NAS report notes, it is terribly difficult to inspire people to prepare for a potential crisis that has never happened before and may not happen for decades to come. “It takes a lot of effort to educate policy-makers, and that is especially true with these low-frequency events,” he says.

We should learn the lessons of hurricane Katrina, though, and realise that “unlikely” doesn’t mean “won’t happen”. Especially when the stakes are so high. The fact is, it could come in the next three or four years – and with devastating effects. “The Carrington event happened during a mediocre, ho-hum solar cycle,” Kintner says. “It came out of nowhere, so we just don’t know when something like that is going to happen again.”

$6.8 billion needed to ready US for the next big quake

The recent magnitude-9.1 megaquake and the tsunami that followed it showed that Japan was not fully prepared for so violent a tremor. If even a country that suffers frequent earthquakes wasn't ready, what of the US, which itself contains several seismic hotspots?

Over the past two decades, the US has made considerable advances in fortifying its cities against quakes, but geologists and engineers agree that there is still much to be done. In a National Research Council (NRC) report published today, they have outlined just what that means.

The National Earthquake Resilience report is particularly concerned with the possibility of a "Katrina-like earthquake": not just a moderately damaging tremor, but a cataclysm rivalling the 1906 San Francisco quake, estimated at magnitude 7.9, which probably led to thousands of deaths.

Geologists fear that because of the US's relatively unshaken recent history, its citizens have been lulled into a false sense of security, believing that a devastating earthquake is unlikely to strike the country – although it's not even 50 years since Alaska felt the force of the second largest quake in recorded history. The magnitude-9.2 Prince William sound event led to 115 deaths in Alaska alone.
The NRC report recommends three major goals: raising understanding of earthquakes; developing cost-effective measures to reduce the effects of earthquakes on individuals, the built environment and society at large; and improving the earthquake resilience of communities nationwide. Over 20 years, reaching those goals is likely to cost $6.8 billion.

Crucial minute

Early-warning systems are of particular importance. Japan has the world's most sophisticated system, with 1000 seismometers scattered about the country: it gave some people nearly a minute's notice before the recent earthquake struck their towns, and probably saved many lives. Such systems work by detecting relatively harmless seismic P-waves, which ripple through the Earth at great speeds ahead of the slower – but far more damaging – S-waves.
The report also recommends involving the public in planning earthquake response measures, because this could help to provide people with information that could save their lives. In the November 2008 Great Southern California ShakeOut more than 5.5 million citizens, 5000 emergency responders and disaster recovery agents – and 300 scientists – participated in a drill that modelled what would happen during and after a magnitude 7.8-earthquake on the southernmost 300 kilometres of the San Andreas fault. The ShakeOut scenario estimated that an earthquake of that size would cause over 1800 deaths, 50,000 injuries and $200 billion in damage and other losses – and stands as a dramatic call to action to prepare for the real thing.
William Ellsworth of the Earthquake Science Center in Menlo Park, California, points out that most US cities are now much better prepared for a massive earthquake than San Francisco was in 1906 – but, crucially, preparedness is not uniform, even within each city. "The building codes we have in US today are pretty good, but lots of smaller structures are not covered by those codes and neither are older buildings."
Engineer Gregory Deierlein of Stanford University, California, explains that two-storey buildings with apartments on top of a relatively open structure like a restaurant or parking lot are particularly prone to collapse. These buildings could be adapted to be more earthquake resilient.

Bounce back

As important as protecting buildings is ensuring that a city's utilities and transportation systems are not crippled by a quake, says Deierlein. "If roadways and utilities are largely intact, society tends to back bounce back pretty well," he says. "But major disruptions to roads, power and water lines really delays recovery."

Ellsworth says thanks to an energetic programme of improvements and replacements, US roads and highways – especially on the west coast – should fare much better in any future earthquake than they did after big Californian quakes in 1989 and 1994. After both events some roads remained unusable for years.
"Earthquakes are going to happen, and we are going to take some hits, so we have to have procedures in place to recover from an earthquake in an effective way," Ellsworth says. "That's the whole idea of earthquake resilience."
Deierlein agrees. "Resilience means there will be a lot of damage and clean-up, but the city will not be paralysed."

in: newscientist.com

Earth Movements From Japan Earthquake Seen From Space

by Staff Writers Paris, France (ESA) Mar 31, 2011

Envisat Advanced Synthetic Aperture Radar coseismic interferogram from descending track 347, processed by JPL/Caltech ARIA project using ROI_PAC. Data acquired on 19 February and 21 March 2011, spanning the main shock of the magnitude 9 earthquake and the magnitude 7.9 aftershock that occurred in Japan on 11 March 2011. One colour cycle represents 50 cm of motion in the radar line of sight (approximately west at 41 degrees from the vertical). The seismicity plot is from the US Geological Survey. (The red star denotes the quake's epicentre, and the yellow circles represent aftershocks). Credits: Based on ESA data - JPL/Caltech ARIA project (E. Fielding, Principal Scientist JPL/Caltech; S. Yun, Research Scientist JPL/Caltech; P. Agram, KISS Postdoctoral Fellow Caltech)
  Satellite images have been essential for helping relief efforts in Japan following the massive quake that struck on 11 March. Now scientists are using ESA's space radars to improve our understanding of tectonic events.

Scientists are calling on data from the advanced radar on ESA's Envisat satellite to map surface deformations caused by the magnitude-9 earthquake. Studying data acquired on 19 February and 21 March, scientists from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory have detected a ground shift of about 2.5 m eastwards and a downward motion of Honshu Island's east coast.

Scientists from Italy's Istituto Nazionale di Geofisica e Vulcanologia have used the same Envisat data to show a large portion of the surface displacement, with a maximum shift of 2.5 m.
These first results, covering an 800 km-long strip over Sendai and Tokyo, show movement far away from the epicentre (denoted by the red star in the top image) in the Pacific Ocean.

The complex technique being used by the scientists is known as 'InSAR' - synthetic aperture radar interferometry. It combines before and after radar images of the same ground location from the same position in space in such a way as to detect ground motion down to a few millimetres.

These analyses could only be made now because Envisat's orbit repeats every 30 days. After capturing the area on 19 February -before the earthquake - Envisat's repeat scan from the same position in space came on 21 March. Envisat is still making repeat visits to cover the full area.

Another veteran ESA satellite is also contributing to the Japan radar coverage. After 16 productive years, ERS-2 will end its mission this year, but its repeat cycle was fortuitously changed earlier this month from 35 days to 3 days to collect innovative radar information.
Its three-day repetition is providing partial coverage over Japan, north of Sendai. Collection of ERS-2 radar data over this area began after the main earthquake with the aim of mapping the aftershocks. Scientists are now working on these data.

This disaster marks the first time that multiple space agencies - ESA, the German Aerospace Center and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency - are openly providing SAR data for understanding tectonic processes under the GeoHazard Supersites initiative, coordinated by the Group on Earth Observations.
The initiative is stimulating international efforts and fostering collaboration between space agencies, in-situ data providers and users to further our understanding of geological risks.

The initiative provides scientists with access to in-situ and spaceborne data, including 20 years of satellite radar observations.
This joint collaboration, incorporating all available space and ground data, is an efficient way to make significant progress in assessing the area's future vulnerability while reconstruction is under way.


Radioactive material detected in air, water in New York

NEW YORK, March 30, Kyodo News Agency

Trace amounts of radioactive iodine believed to have come from Japan's quake-hit Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant have been detected in the air and rainwater in New York, the state's health department said.

There is no threat to public health, the department said in a statement published Tuesday. ''The most recent analyses show that levels range from 0.01-0.1 picocuries (one-trillionth of a curie) per cubic meter in air. These levels are similar or below what other states are reporting,'' it said.
In the United States, trace amounts of radioactive materials believed to have come from the Fukushima nuclear plant have also been detected in several other states, including Hawaii, California, Nevada, Florida and Massachusetts.

The amount detected in New York is ''dramatically below levels that would cause human health concerns,'' State Health Commissioner Nirav Shah said in the statement, adding that exposure to this level of radiation is thousands of times lower than common medical imaging procedures, such as chest X-rays.

''We continue to advise New Yorkers that they do not need to take any precautions because of the radioactive emissions from Japan's nuclear plants,'' Shah said.

China Space Secret

China Dragon

Online circulation of a mysterious aircraft mounted by the H-6, the surface coated with a five-star red flags and the word dragon. The shocking photo appearing on Internet effectively proves that China is researching on next generation reusable space vehicle
China X-37?

December 11, 2007, China published on a website by chance a picture. In the photo, there has been a new Chinese unmanned test aircraft. However, the contents of the picture shown has not been officially confirmed. In the picture, it marked a "Dragon" were the words of small aircraft flying in China under H -6 bomber and launch aircraft fuselage.

According to the H-6 size, the scaled TAV model is about 8-9 meter length. Without any scramjet inlets, this VAT has a rocket nozzle at the end tip.

Apparently, Chinese developers have abandon to waste time on the hypersonic air-breathing propulsion system but choose a conventional rocket power system to realize Single-stage-to-orbit.

Purpose unknown, maybe study for a reusable reentry vehicle?

December 12, a shocking photo appearing on Internet effectively proves that China is researching on next generation reusable space vehicle.

This TAV researching in China is called as "803-706 Trans-Atmospheric Vehicle Project", which has begun since about 2000. Like 921 Shenzhou spaceship project, "803-706 project" is also a national scale cooperation project.

Some scientists from Chinese military-technology-related universities, like NWPU and HIT, are also involved in project's relative researching areas, like flight control system, Magnet Blushless DC Motor, heterogeneous material and rocket propulsion system. China's initiate investment on TAV has been over 100 million RMB.

US X-37B

X-37B photo: Boeing

The mission of the unmanned X-37B space plane, which is known officially as the Orbital Test Vehicle 2 (OTV-2), is shrouded in secrecy. The Boeing-built spacecraft is believed to be involved in reconnaissance — perhaps testing powerful sensors for a new generation of spy satellites. It looks much like a small version of NASA's space shuttle.

The exact mission of the X-37B space plane is classified, quite a bit is publicly known about the spacecraft's design, because it originally started out in 1999 as a NASA project.

The vehicle has a blunt nose, payload bay and stubby wings, which make it look somewhat like a NASA space shuttle, although it's only about a quarter of the length. A solar array packed inside the X-37B's truck bed-size payload bay allows it to stay  in space for months at a time.

By 2006, after the Department of Defense and the Air Force took over the program,  a cloak of secrecy descended on both the project's budget and future missions. 

Tom Burghardt wrote for Spacedaily that the X-37B could be used as a spy satellite or to deliver weapons from space.The Pentagon has denied claims that the X-37B's mission supports the development of space-based weapons.

Apophis-Earth collision in 2036?

Apophis Path Risk
In 2004, NASA scientists announced that there was a chance that Apophis,  could smash into Earth in 2029. After additional observations and some number-crunching later, astronomers noted that the chance of the planet-killer hitting Earth in 2029 was very small.

Now russian astronomers have predicted that asteroid Apophis may strike Earth on April 13, 2036.

“Apophis will approach Earth at a distance of 37,000-38,000 kilometers on April 13, 2029. Its likely collision with Earth may occur on April 13, 2036,” Professor Leonid Sokolov of the St. Petersburg State University said.

The scientist said, however, the chance of a collision in 2036 was extremely slim saying that the asteroid would likely disintegrate into smaller parts and smaller collisions with Earth could occur in the following years.
“Our task is to consider various alternatives and develop scenarios and plans of action depending on the results of further observations of Apophis,” Sokolov said.
The asteroid, discovered in 2004, is considered the largest threat to our planet, although NASA scientists reduced the likelihood of a hazardous strike with Earth in 2036.

Russia’s space agency announced its plans earlier to consider a project to prevent the large asteroid from colliding with Earth.
MOSCOW, (RIA Novosti)

Future Mega Earthquakes

People every where are watching with horror what’s happening in Japan. But there are some parts of the world that know they re going to be hit someday.

California , US
Experts says ‘several of the faults in this region are overdue for major quakes. The last forecasts say there’s a 99.7 per cent chance of a magnitude 6.7 earthquake in Southern California in the next 30 years’.If it were to be the San Andreas fault, the earthquake could be much larger.The consensus of the scientific community on forecasting California earthquakes allows for meaningful comparisons of earthquake probabilities in Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area, as well as comparisons among several large faults.
The probability of a magnitude 6.7 or larger earthquake over the next 30 years striking the greater Los Angeles area is 67%, and in the San Francisco Bay Area it is 63%, similar to previous Bay Area estimates. For the entire California region, the fault with the highest probability of generating at least one magnitude 6.7 quake or larger is the southern San Andreas (59% in the next 30 years). A Tsunami would have tremendous implications.

Lisbon, Portugal , EU
In November 1755 a major earth quake hit this city, the Tsunamis came and cause tremendous devastation.
This earthquake occurred on All Saint’s Day while many of the 250,000 inhabitants of Lisbon were in Church, it was 1st November. Stone buildings swayed violently and then collapsed on the population. Many who sought safety on the river front were drowned by a large tsunami. 66000 people perished. Fire ravaged the city. One quarter of Lisbon’s population perished. This earthquake had a profound effect on the intellectual outlook of Europe.
A future earthquake of the same magnitude , is expected, however, as always the only question is when. According to some scientist is past due.

Tehran, Iran
All of Iran lies within a major earthquake zone, and the country has suffered terrible temblors before — most recently in 2003, when a 6.8-magnitude quake leveled the ancient city of Bam and killed more than 30,000 people. But a similar quake in the congested capital of Tehran — where more than 7 million people live — would be a shattering catastrophe. Unlike building codes in other endangered cities such as San Francisco and Tokyo, Tehran’s are relatively lax, and many residents live in the sort of unreinforced-concrete houses that turn into death traps in the event of a strong quake. The Iranian Health Ministry once estimated that a 7-magnitude quake would destroy 90% of the city’s hospitals. Tehran is so threatened that there has been periodic talk about moving the capital.

It’s called the Ring of Fire, a semicircle of violently shifting plates and volcanoes that runs along the edges of the Pacific Ocean, from New Zealand to Chile. The most seismically active region on the planet, the Ring of Fire has triggered countless quakes, volcanic eruptions and tsunamis, including the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami that killed 230,000 people, mostly in Southeast Asia. That tsunami was set off by a 9.3-magnitude quake near the northern coast of Sumatra, Indonesia, a region that has been hit repeatedly by massive temblors. Sadly seismologists expect more to come in the future.

Japan's quake could bring on 'mega-quake'

Seismologists are comparing data to figure out if the magnitude 8.9 quake that rocked Japan increased the chances of a mega-quake hitting the Tokyo basin, home to 30 million people.

Experts said it was too soon to know if the tectonic upheaval that shook northeast Japan and unleashed a 10-metre tsunami put Tokyo at greater risk. It could even reduce the odds of a killer quake hitting the capital.
"That is going to be hotly debated in the scientific community," said Jochen Woessner, a seismologist with the Swiss Seismological Service in Zurich. But - one way or the other - it is almost sure to have an impact, experts agree.

Japan haunted by big earthquakes

The Japanese government's Earthquake Research Committee has long warned that Tokyo faces a serious risk of a major quake - 8.0 or higher - in the coming decades.
Japan is still haunted by the ‘Big One’ that devastated its capital in 1923 and left more than 140,000 dead. The 1995 Kobe quake, which claimed 6,400 lives, added to this ever-present fear.
"There will very likely be a strong interaction with the Kanto Plains," said John McCloskey, a professor of Geophysics at the University of Ulster in Northern Ireland, referring to the seaside basin that holds greater Tokyo.

Redistributing stress

An earthquake doesn't always relieve stress - sometimes it redistributes it, he said. "Places that have not failed during a quake can actually be more stressed by the earthquake happening beside them. But we can't tell at this stage whether it has made the next earthquake more or less likely."
For Jerome Vergne, a seismologist at Strasbourg University in eastern France, "the risk for Tokyo cannot have diminished".
Only in the region north of the quake's epicentre - some 400 km northeast of Tokyo - would stress levels have relaxed, he said. "An increase in loading" - added pressure - "could advance the date of a future quake near Tokyo”, he added.

Close to 'triple junction' 

The Japanese capital is only 300 km from an underwater ‘triple junction’ where three of the two dozen tectonic plates that comprise Earth's constantly shifting crust meet. Tokyo sits atop the Eurasian plate. Beneath it, the Philippine Sea plate descends - or subducts - from the south, while the Pacific plate slips down from the east.
Subduction is not a slow-and-steady process, but occurs in a ‘stick-slip’ motion that gives rise to infrequent, but massive, convulsions. A major earthquake in or near Tokyo could cause a trillion dollars in damage, experts have calculated.
Over the last decade scientists have developed computer programmes to measure stresses in Earth's outer layer in three dimensions, making it possible to see how those stresses might impact neighbouring faults.

Has the time bomb been reset?

But it will be several days, perhaps weeks, before we know whether the tectonic time bomb sitting under Tokyo may have been reset, said Bob Holdsworth, a professor of structural geology at Durham University in Britain.
"When you have a big event on one fault, it affects the behaviour of adjacent faults," he said. "The faults are, as it were, able to communicate with one another."
McCloskey said that the massive 8.9 quake Friday was, strictly speaking, an aftershock of a nearby 7.2 magnitude quake two days earlier, despite it far greater power.
"We have calculated that the stress field from the 7.2 quake on Wednesday is consistent with the triggering of this earthquake," he said. But connecting the dots with the Tokyo region, several hundred kilometres distant, is far more difficult, he added.

Clustering earthquakes

Experts also look for patterns in the thousands of quakes that occur across the globe each year.
"Earthquakes are known to cluster, both is space and in time," Holdsworth said, pointing to recent quakes over 8.0 in or near Peru, Indonesia, China and Chile. "There was a similar cluster spanning the period 1957-64, which included around the Ring of Fire - the three biggest earthquakes on record," he said.
The Ring of Fire reaches from Indonesia to the coast of Chile in a 40,000 km arc of nearly daily seismic violence around the Pacific rim.

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Colourful birds hardest hit at Chernobyl

Brightly coloured birds have been some of the hardest hit by radioactive fallout from the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, say ecologists.
High levels of radiation have also been found to have a particularly harmful effect on species that lay large eggs, or migrate long distances, say the researchers in the latest Journal of Applied Ecology.

"The research shows that the effect [of radiation] on birds is much stronger than previously thought – the open question is why it took 20 year before anybody bothered to look," said Anders Møller of the Pierre and Marie Curie University in Paris, France.

Free radicals

Formerly part of the USSR, the northern Ukraine city became the site of the world's worst nuclear accident when a reactor exploded in 1986. A plume of radioactive debris drifted over much of Europe and the Western Soviet union, resulting in the evacuation of 336,000 people.

Møller and co-author Timothy Mousseau of the University of South Carolina in Columbia, U.S., looked at 1,570 birds from 57 different species in and around Chernobyl, to examine the effect of radiation on local birdlife. The pair found that brightly coloured birds, whose red, yellow and orange plumage are coloured with carotenoid pigments, declined more than other species.
Antioxidant chemicals – such as carotenoids and the vitamins A and E – are the key, they argue.

Our bodies synthesise or collect these chemicals from food and use them to neutralise damaging free radicals, which are highly reactive metabolic by-products. Antioxidants also play a role in stimulating the immune system.
Radiation damage creates massive amounts of free radicals, which antioxidants help to mop up, said Møller, "animals have dramatically reduced antioxidant levels when exposed to radiation."

Therefore "we predicted that bird species that use large amounts of antioxidants – because of their peculiar life histories – would be most affected by radiation," said Møller. "And that was indeed the case."
Birds with brightly coloured skin, beaks or feathers - such as blackbirds, blue tits and orioles - get the pigments from carotenoid antioxidants, said Møller, and birds that lay large eggs, invest much of their supply of antioxidants in those eggs, for use by developing embryos.
Similarly, birds that use a lot of energy migrating or dispersing over great distances ¬¬– such as quails, hoopoes and orioles – generate many metabolic free radicals that need to be mopped up, so also have low antioxidant levels.

"Lack of bird song"

"Research into the importance of carotenoids on the health and viability of wild bird populations has produced fascinating results in recent years," commented zoologist John Ewen at London's Institute of Zoology in England. "There is now little doubt that these biochemicals play essential roles in maintaining health."
"The patterns presented indicate that radiation contamination affects population abundance and that the impacts are not evenly spread across species," added Ewen who was not involved in the research.

In general, abundance of bird populations was diminished by over 50 per cent in the most contaminated areas of Chernobyl, found the researchers, with species richness reduced by over two thirds compared to the least contaminated areas. "I was struck by the lack of bird song in contaminated areas," said Møller.
Møller and Mousseau published another study in March 2007 (Proceedings of the Royal Society B) showing that birds near Chernobyl prefer to nest in sites with lower levels of radioactive contamination – but they were unable to determine how the birds detected the difference.

in: cosmosmagazine

100 years on, mystery shrouds Tunguska impact

Agence France-Presse
A hundred years ago, a gigantic explosion ripped open the dawn sky above the swampy taiga forest of western Siberia, leaving a scientific riddle that endures to this day.

A dazzling light pierced the heavens, preceding a shock wave with the power of a thousand atomic bombs which flattened 80 million trees over a swathe of more than 2,000 km2. Local Evenki nomads recounted how the blast tossed homes and animals into the air. In Irkutsk, 1,500 km away, seismic sensors registered what was initially deemed to be an earthquake.
What caused the so-called Tunguska Event, named after the Podkamennaya Tunguska river near where it happened, has spawned at least a half a dozen theories.

Finger of blame

The biggest finger of blame points at a rogue rock whose destiny – after travelling in space for millions of years – was to intersect with Earth at exactly 7:17 am on 30 June 1908.
Even the most ardent defenders of the sudden impact theory acknowledge that there are many gaps, however. They strive to find answers, believing this will strengthen defences against future Tunguska-type threats, which experts say occur at a frequency ranging from one-in-200 years to one-in-1,000 years.
"Imagine an unspotted asteroid laying waste to a significant chunk of land and imagine if that area, unlike Tunguska and a surprising amount of the globe today, were populated," the British science journal Nature commented last week.
If a rock was the culprit, the choices lie between an asteroid – the rubble that can be jostled out of its orbital belt between Mars and Jupiter and set on collision course with Earth – and a comet, one of the "icy dirtballs" of frozen, primeval material that loop around the Solar System.

Why no fragments?

Comets move at far greater speeds than asteroids, which means they release more kinetic energy pound-for-pound upon impact. A small comet would deliver the same punch as a larger asteroid. But no fragments of the Tunguska villain have ever been found, despite many searches.
Finding a piece is important, for it will boost our knowledge about the degrees of risk from dangerous Near Earth Objects (NEOs), said Italian researchers Luca Gasperini, Enrico Bonatti and Giuseppe Longo based at the Marine Science Institute in Bologna.
When a new asteroid is detected, its orbit can be plotted for scores of years in the future. Comets are far less numerous than asteroids but are rather more worrying, as they are a largely unknown entity.
Most comets have yet to be spotted because they take decades or even hundreds of years to go around the Sun and pass our home. As a result, any comet on a collision course with Earth could quite literally come out of the dark, leaving us negligible time to respond.

Unique or regular?

"If the Tunguska event was in fact caused by a comet, it would be a unique occurrence rather than an important case study of a known class of phenomena," Gasperini's team wrote in last month's issue of Scientific American magazine. "On the other hand, if an asteroid did explode in the Siberian skies that June morning, why has no one yet found fragments?"
NEO experts are likewise unsure about the size of the object. Estimates, based on the scale of ground destruction, range from three to seventy metres across.
All agree that the object, heated by friction with atmospheric molecules, exploded far above ground – up to 10 km away. But there is fierce debate as to whether any debris hit the ground.
This information is also important. When the next Tunguska NEO looms, Earth's guardians will have to choose whether to try to deflect it or blow it up in space, with the risk that objects of a certain size may survive the fiery passage through the atmosphere and hit the planet.
The Italian trio believe the answers lie in a curiously shaped oval lake, called Lake Cheko, located about 10 km from ground zero. Computer models, they said, suggest it is the impact crater from a metre-sized fragment that survived the explosion.
They plan a return expedition to Lake Cheko in the hope of recovering a dense object of this size, buried 10 m below the lake's cone-shaped floor. Something fitting that description has already been detected with sonar waves.

Rival theory

But what if neither comet nor asteroid were to blame? A rival theory is given an airing in New Scientist magazine.
Lake Cheko does not have the typical round shape of an impact crater, and no extraterrestrial material has been found, which means "there's got to be a terrestrial explanation," Wolfgang Kundt, a physicist at Germany's Bonn University told the British weekly.
He believes the Tunguska Event was caused by a massive escape of 10 million tonnes of methane-rich gas deep within Earth's crust. Evidence of a similar apocalyptic release can be found on the Blake Ridge on the seabed off Norway, a "pockmark" of 700 km2, Kundt said.

The Sun activity can take us to stone age

This mounth is the anniversary of the Quebec Blackout. On March 13, 1989, a geomagnetic storm brought down Hydro-Québec’s power grid and blacked out the entire province. Brownouts and other power irregularities were experienced across much of North America.

Today’s “smart power grids” are even more vulnerable because they are interconnected by high voltage lines spanning thousands of miles. In good times, this arrangement allows ultilities to guide power wherever it might be needed. During geomagnetic storms, however, it spreads the danger of a blackout far and wide.
Imagine you without electricity for weeks or mounths, without cell phones and GPS or other things we have for granted.

X-FLARE: March 9th ended with a powerful solar flare. Earth-orbiting satellites detected an X1.5-class explosion from behemoth sunspot 1166 around 2323 UT. A movie from NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory shows a bright flash of UV radiation plus some material being hurled away from the blast site:
Movie formats: 4 MB gif, 1.2 MB iPad, 0.3 MB iPhone

NASA reports that extreme solar eruptions can have “severe consequences for communications, power grids and other technology on Earth.” While these effects have been known for decades, especially in very long power lines, NASA is now looking for ways to mitigate their effects.

Richard Fisher, director of the Heliophysics division at NASA, said, “To mitigate possible public safety issues, it is vital that we better understand extreme space weather events caused by the sun’s activity.”
Solar flares not only emit a continuous stream of plasma, called a “solar wind,” but also release literally billions of tons of mass. This “coronal mass ejection” results in immense clouds of material which, if directed toward the Earth’s location, cause large magnetic storms in the magnetosphere and upper atmosphere. These events can affect both space-borne and ground-based technologies.

Some effects of this space weather are currents induced in wires and energetic particles which temporarily displace Earth’s radiation belt. Currents can disrupt power lines and have been known to even create wide-spread blackouts in power grids and communication errors on high speed pathways across the Internet. The effects of solar flares have even been observed as far back as the 19th century, following the invention of the telegraph.

NASA’s concerns are over a similar catastrophic failure occurring in the government’s infrastructure in space or on the ground. They are focusing on preventative measures.

Daniel Baker, professor and director of the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado in Boulder, who also chaired the panel that prepared the report, said, “Whether it is terrestrial catastrophes or extreme space weather incidents, the results can be devastating to modern societies that depend in a myriad of ways on advanced technological systems.”
The sun’s solar cycle is known to be an 11-year cycle. Right now, the sun is near it’s minimum amount of solar activity. NASA expects solar storms will increase in frequency and intensity between now and 2012, when it will again reach its “solar maximum.”

Huge Impact Crater Found in Remote Congo

National Geographic News
Published March, 2011

A circular depression deep in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has been confirmed as the first known impact crater in central Africa, a new study says. The find brings the number of known meteor craters on Earth to 182.

The so-called Luizi structure was first described in a German geological report from 1919. But without further fieldwork, it was impossible to say for sure that the 10.5-mile-wide (17-kilometer-wide) feature had been made by a meteor impact.
On other planets, such as Mercury and Mars, it’s easier to identify impact craters based only on their shapes, since these worlds no longer have geologic forces making major changes to their surfaces.

But on Earth, many older craters have likely been erased by tectonic activity or erosion, while others are so covered with dense vegetation or sediments, like Luizi, that they’re almost impossible to spot without satellites.
What’s more, the crater-like structures we do see may have been made by volcanoes, collapsed underground chambers, and other forces that have nothing to do with impacts, said study leader Ludovic Ferrière, curator of the rock collection at the Natural History Museum of Vienna in Austria.

“On Earth, to confirm it’s an impact, you have to go in the field because you need evidence of high pressures and temperatures,” Ferrière said.
Crater Expedition Had Brushes With Snakes, Poachers
The researcher first became interested in the Luizi structure after seeing satellite pictures published in the 1990s.

By studying the available satellite data, Ferrière and colleagues estimated that the structure has an elevated rim about 1,148 feet (350 meters) high, as well as an interior ring and a central depression.
But to truly confirm Luizi as an impact crater, the researchers had to mount an expedition to the politically tumultuous DRC. (Related: “Rare Gorillas at Risk as Rebels Seize Congo Park.”)

“I was working for a year just to find a contact there, because you need a local person to help you find your way around,” Ferrière said.
With funding from the National Geographic Society/Waitt Foundation program, Ferrière—then a postdoc at the University of Western Ontario in Canada—visited the crater site in June 2010 with colleagues from the University of Lubumbashi. (The National Geographic Society owns National Geographic News.)
“I flew direct to Lubumbashi, the second largest city in the DRC. From there we had to drive from the city to the crater,” he said.

“I had looked at maps and planned a route before I left. But when I got there, my contact told me there is no bridge across part of my intended path. We had to take some crazy gravel roads with big potholes inside. These are not good roads to drive on, even with a four-wheel-drive car.”
The team set up camp in a small village about 8 miles (13 kilometers) from the crater rim, recruiting two local guides/porters and a soldier to help them safely navigate the wild terrain.

“The crater is in a national park, and I thought it would be like the jungles of South America,” Ferrière said. “Instead it was a tree savanna—a big plataeu with dry grass. The grass was sometimes more than a meter [3.2 feet] high.”
Standing on the rim of the Luizi structure, Ferrière could see skinny trees that seemed to fill the depression, with the crater’s distant edge rising like small hills.
Despite the remote, wooded terrain, “we saw no large animals, only snakes. But we did see a lot of remnants of poachers. Sometimes we’d come to a site and the doused fires were still hot.”

Congo Rocks Had a Shock

Ferrière’s team spent about a week at the crater collecting samples, which were sent back to the lab in Canada for analysis.
“I found so-called shatter cones, which are features in the rock only found in impact structures,” he said. The nested, conical shapes in such features are evidence that the bedrock has been exposed to extreme pressure from a shock wave.

The crater rocks also contained an abundance of shocked quartz, a version of the mineral known to form only from impacts or nuclear blasts, Ferrière said.
“Everybody will believe me now, I think, that this is an impact site.”
The scientists think the Luizi crater was made by a meteor more than 0.6 mile (a kilometer) wide that slammed into what is now the DRC at about 45,000 miles (72,000 kilometers) an hour.

For now it’s unclear how old the crater is—the scientists can say only that the affected rocks are about 575 million years old, “but we know it’s younger than that, because the rocks have been excavated,” Ferrière said.
“It would be nice to do more fieldwork, because the shape of the structure with this inner ring can tell us about the exact formation process involved,” he added. In the meantime, the researcher will continue to study the rock samples, now housed at the Vienna museum.

“There is still a lot to discover” about Luizi, he said.

NASA Opens Voting For Original Songs To Awaken Next Shuttle Crew

NASA is inviting the public to vote for its favorite original song to wake up space shuttle Commander Mark Kelly and his five crewmates during their STS-134 mission to the International Space Station. Voting runs from Tuesday, March 29 through launch day, which currently is targeted for April 19.

Electronic voting is open to the public on NASA's Space Rock website, which includes the songs, inspiration and biographical information about the 10 finalists:

Below are the original song finalists (alphabetical by song title):
"Boogie Woogie Shuttle," by Ryan McCullough (Savannah, Ga.)
"Dreams You Give," by Brian Plunkett (Halfway, Mo.)
"Endeavour, It's a Brand New Day," by Susan Rose Simonetti (Cocoa Beach, Fla.)
"I Need My Space," by Stan Clardy (Statesville, N.C.)
"I Want to Be an Astronaut," by Michael J. Kunes (Phoenix)
"Just Another Day in Space," by Kurt Lanham (Jacksonville, Fla.)
"Rocket Scientist," by Tray Eppes (Cullen, Va.)
"Spacing Out," by Jeremy Parsons (Nashville, Tenn.)
"Sunrise Number 1," by Jorge Otero (Ovideo, Spain)
"The Countdown Blues (Hymn for Tim)," by Sharon Riddell (Nashville, Tenn.)

The two songs with the most votes will be the first original songs chosen by the public to be played as wakeup music for a shuttle crew.

Vesta,Is it Really an Asteroid?

March 29, 2011: On March 29, 1807, German astronomer Heinrich Wilhelm Olbers spotted Vesta as a pinprick of light in the sky. Two hundred and four years later, as NASA's Dawn spacecraft prepares to begin orbiting this intriguing world, scientists now know how special this world is, even if there has been some debate on how to classify it.

Many astronomers call Vesta an asteroid because it lies in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. But Vesta is not a typical member of that orbiting rubble patch. The vast majority of objects in the main belt are lightweights, 100 kilometers wide or smaller, compared with Vesta, which is a 530 kilometer-wide behemoth.

"I don't think Vesta should be called an asteroid," said Tom McCord, a Dawn co-investigator based at the Bear Fight Institute, Winthrop, Wash. "Not only is Vesta so much larger, but it's an evolved object, unlike most things we call asteroids."
Vesta (model, 550px)
A model of the protoplanet Vesta, using scientists' best guess to date of what the surface of the protoplanet might look like. It was created as part of an exercise for NASA's Dawn mission. 
The layered structure of Vesta (core, mantle and crust) is the key trait that makes Vesta more like planets such as Earth, Venus and Mars than the other asteroids, McCord said. Like the planets, Vesta had sufficient radioactive material inside when it coalesced, releasing heat that melted rock and enabled lighter layers to float to the outside. Scientists call this process differentiation.

McCord and colleagues were the first to discover that Vesta was likely differentiated when special detectors on their telescopes in 1972 picked up the signature of basalt. That meant that the body had to have melted at one time.
Officially, Vesta is a "minor planet" -- a body that orbits the sun but is not a proper planet or comet. But there are more than 540,000 minor planets in our solar system, so the label doesn't give Vesta much distinction. Dwarf planets – which include Dawn's second destination, Ceres -- are another category, but Vesta doesn't qualify as one of those. For one thing, Vesta isn't quite large enough.

Dawn scientists prefer to think of Vesta as a protoplanet because it is a dense, layered body that orbits the sun and began in the same fashion as Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars, but somehow never fully developed. In the swinging early history of the solar system, objects became planets by merging with other Vesta-sized objects. But Vesta never found a partner during the big dance, and the critical time passed. It may have had to do with the nearby presence of Jupiter, the neighborhood's gravitational superpower, disturbing the orbits of objects and hogging the dance partners.

Vesta (differentiation, 550px)

Other space rocks have collided with Vesta and knocked off bits of it. Those became debris in the asteroid belt known as Vestoids, and even hundreds of meteorites that have ended up on Earth. But Vesta never collided with something of sufficient size to disrupt it, and it remained intact. As a result, Vesta is a time capsule from that earlier era.

"This gritty little protoplanet has survived bombardment in the asteroid belt for over 4.5 billion years, making its surface possibly the oldest planetary surface in the solar system," said Christopher Russell, Dawn's principal investigator, based at UCLA. "Studying Vesta will enable us to write a much better history of the solar system's turbulent youth."

Dawn's scientists and engineers have designed a master plan to investigate these special features of Vesta. When Dawn arrives at Vesta in July, the south pole will be in full sunlight, giving scientists a clear view of a huge crater at the south pole. That crater may reveal the layer cake of materials inside Vesta that will tell us how the body evolved after formation. The orbit design allows Dawn to map new terrain as the seasons progress over its 12-month visit. The spacecraft will make many measurements, including high-resolution data on surface composition, topography and texture. The spacecraft will also measure the tug of Vesta's gravity to learn more about its internal structure.

"Dawn's ion thrusters are gently carrying us toward Vesta, and the spacecraft is getting ready for its big year of exploration," said Marc Rayman, Dawn's chief engineer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. "We have designed our mission to get the most out of this opportunity to reveal the exciting secrets of this uncharted, exotic world."

Credit: Science@NASA

Fukushima 50, Retreat is unthinkable

Regarding the Fukushima 50, Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan, said: “You are the only ones who can resolve a crisis. Retreat is unthinkable

Today the all world know about the Fukushima 50, except they´re names , who they are.
They were left behind to assess the damage and radiation levels caused by the explosions, cooling stricken reactors with seawater and preventing any risk of fire.

These workers remained on-site despite risks of radiation poisoning.
Originally there were approximately 800 workers on 11 March 2011, the day the earthquake and tsunami struck. On 15 March, workers deemed non-essential were withdrawn, leaving around 50.
It was on this day, the media started to call the remaining workers the “Fukushima 50″.
However, on the morning of the 16 March the remaining workers had to be evacuated for a brief period of time due to a radiation spike which was detected which could be harmful to the workers health. It was reported that when they returned to the plant, a further 130 or so workers joined their colleagues to total of around 180 to stabilise the reactors.

A tsunami survivor said about them, «they live “the way of the warrior”» , refering to the samurai code, that emphasized virtues such as loyalty, honor, obedience, duty, filial piety, and self-sacrifice.
Physicist Dr Michio Kaku said: “It’s got worse. We’re talking about workers coming into the reactor perhaps as a suicide mission and we may have to abandon ship.”

«If that place explodes, it’s the end for all of us, so all I can do is send them encouragement”
         Maeda Akihiro

For us they are the few that we owe so much. And even if they fail, they will show us that some values like honor, self-sacrifice and respect for life, dont die , nor with earthquakes or tsunamis.


Giant tsunamis as result of asteroid impact

Lets talk about a nightmare. If an asteroid crashes into the Earth, it is likely to splash down somewhere in the oceans that cover 70 percent of the planet’s surface. Huge tsunami waves, spreading out from the impact site like the ripples from a rock tossed into a pond, would inundate heavily populated coastal areas.

Computer simulation of an asteroid impact tsunami developed by UCSC scientists shows waves as high as 400 feet sweeping onto the Atlantic Coast of the United States.

The researchers based their simulation on a real asteroid known to be on course for a close encounter with Earth eight centuries from now.
radar_bw_scale_t.gifMarch 16, 2880, is the day the asteroid known as 1950 DA, a huge rock two-thirds of a mile in diameter (1.1–1.4 km) , is due to swing so close to Earth it could slam into the Atlantic Ocean at 38,000 miles per hour. The probability of a direct hit is pretty small, but over the long timescales of Earth’s history, asteroids this size and larger have periodically hammered the planet, sometimes with calamitous effects. The so-called K/T impact, for example, ended the age of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago.
Asteroid risks are interesting because the probabilities are so small while the potential consequences are enormous.
Although the probability of an impact from 1950 DA is only about 0.3 percent, it is the only asteroid yet detected that scientists cannot entirely dismiss as a threat. 
“It’s a low threat, actually a bit lower than the threat of being hit by an as-yet-undiscovered asteroid in the same size range over the same period of time, but it provided a good representative scenario for us to analyze,” says an UCSC scientist.

For the simulation, the researchers chose an impact site consistent with the orientation of the Earth at the time of the predicted encounter: in the Atlantic Ocean about 360 miles from the U.S. coast. Ward summarized the results as follows:
The 60,000-megaton blast of the impact vaporizes the asteroid and blows a cavity in the ocean 11 miles across and all the way down to the seafloor, which is about 3 miles deep at that point. The blast even excavates some of the seafloor.

Water then rushes back in to fill the cavity, and a ring of waves spreads out in all directions. The impact creates tsunami waves of all frequencies and wavelengths, with a peak wavelength about the same as the diameter of the cavity. Because lower-frequency waves travel faster than waves with higher frequencies, the initial impulse spreads out into a series of waves.
“In the movies they show one big wave, but you actually end up with dozens of waves. The first ones to arrive are pretty small, and they gradually increase in height, arriving at intervals of 3 or 4 minutes,”
The waves propagate all through the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean. The waves decay as they travel, so coastal areas closest to the impact get hit by the largest waves. Two hours after impact, 400-foot waves ( 120 meters) reach beaches from Cape Cod to Cape Hatteras, and by four hours after impact the entire East Coast has experienced waves at least 200 feet high. It takes 8 hours for the waves to reach Europe, where they come ashore at heights of about 30 to 50 feet (6 to 15 meters).

Computer simulations not only give scientists a better handle on the potential hazards of asteroid impacts, they can also help researchers interpret the geologic evidence of past events, Ward said. Geologists have found evidence of past asteroid impact tsunamis in the form of inland sediment deposits and disturbed sediment layers in the seafloor that correlate with craters, meteorite fragments, and other impact evidence.
An important feature of the simulation is that it enabled  to calculate the speed of the water flows created by the tsunami at the bottom of the ocean–more than 3 feet per second out to distances of several hundred miles from the impact.
“That’s like a raging river, so as these waves cross the ocean they’re going to stir up the seafloor, eroding sediments on the slopes of seamounts, and we may be able to identify more places where this has happened,”

Planetary scientists, meanwhile, are getting a better handle on the risks of asteroid impacts. A NASA-led campaign to detect large asteroids in near-Earth orbits is about half way toward its goal of detecting 90 percent of those larger than 1 kilometer in diameter (the size of 1950 DA) .
“Until we detect all the big ones and can predict their orbits, we could be struck without warning,” said Asphaug, a UCSC scientist. “With the ongoing search campaigns, we’ll probably be able to sound the ‘all clear’ by 2030 for 90 percent of the impacts that could trigger a global catastrophe.”
Rogue comets visiting the inner solar system for the first time, however, may never be detected very long in advance. Smaller asteroids that can still cause major tsunami damage may also go undetected.

50 years ago we went to space

On April, 12th of the year 1969, men went to space for the first time, the last frontier was finally crossed.

The Launch

On that date a Vostok-K rocket carrying Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin was launch  at 06h07 GMT , from Baikonur Cosmodrome. Born 9 March 1934, Gagarine, begin flight school at an AeroClub, and learned to fly a light aircraft, a hobby that would take up an increasing portion of his time. In 1955, after completing his technical schooling, he entered military flight training at the Orenburg Pilot’s School. While there he met Valentina Goryacheva, whom he married in 1957, after gaining his pilot’s wings in a Mig 15 . In 1960 was chosen with 19 other pilots for the Soviet Space program. Gagarin was further selected for an elite training group known as the Sochi Six from which the first cosmonauts of the Vostok program would be chosen
The rocket design by Korolev
Sending Gagarin to space made USSR won the gold medal for placing a human on orbit. Space conquest was a race between the two super powers (US and USSR).
Looking back we know understand that was a victory for all mankind as it was 8 years later when Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon.
As usual on those days Soviet Union prepares three press releases, one for success, two for failures. It was only known ten minutes after burnout, 25 minutes after launch, if a stable orbit had been achieved.

The Flight

The flight lasted 108 min and was automated; Gagarin’s controls were locked to prevent him from taking control of the ship. The combination to unlock the controls was available in a sealed envelope in case it became necessary to take control in an emergency. All went well, and, for the first time one man saw its planet as an all.

Vostok 1

The landing

After retrofire, the service module remained attached to the Sharik reentry sphere by a wire bundle. The joined craft went through wild gyrations at the beginning of re-entry, before the wires burned through. The Sharik, as it was designed to do, then naturally reached aerodynamic equilibrium with the heat shield positioned correctly.
Yuri Gagarine on the way to the launch pad
When Vostok 1 was still 7 km from the ground, the hatch of the spacecraft was released, and two seconds later Gagarin was ejected. At 2.5 km (8,200 ft) altitude. However for many years the Soviet Union denied this, because the flight would not have been recognized for various FAI world records unless the pilot had accompanied his craft to a landing. Gagarin’s parachute opened almost right away, and about ten minutes later, at 08:05 GMT, Gagarin landed. Both he and the spacecraft landed via parachute 26 km (16 mi) south west of Engels, in the Saratov region at  A farmer and her daughter observed the strange scene of a figure in a bright orange suit with a large white helmet landing near them by parachute. Gagarin later recalled, “When they saw me in my space suit and the parachute dragging alongside as I walked, they started to back away in fear. I told them, don’t be afraid, I am a Soviet like you, who has descended from space and I must find a telephone to call Moscow!”.

On 27 March 1968, while on a routine training flight , he and flight instructor  died in a Mig 15 crash near the town of Kirzhach. The bodie of Gagarin  was cremated and the ashes were buried in the the wall of Kremlin at Red Square.

The mission

Call Sign: Kedr (Cedar ).
Crew: Gagarin
BackupCrew: Titov; Nelyubov.

Payload: Vostok 3KA s/n 3. Mass: 4,725 kg (10,416 lb).

Agency: RVSN.
Program: Vostok.
Type: Manned spacecraft.

Flight: Vostok 1.

Period: 89.30 min