Earth Weather / Space Weather

One Day at Rehab (or, Swan Lake, minus the Lake)....

By: Susie77, 10:46 PM GMT on December 26, 2009

On 14 December, two rare trumpeter swans were shot by hunters in a
conservation area near Lock and Dam #25, Lincoln County, Missouri. Video from the sanctuary
where they were taken to be treated:

Swans Shot by Hunters

Two weeks later, the swans are doing well. They are a male and a female,
most likely a mated pair. The female was the more severely injured of the two,
and had to have surgery to have broken wing bones pinned. Here are some
photos from this morning (26 December 2009). My husband Rick was the photographer.

Scott (also a volunteer) holds the male swan (the larger of the two)
in preparation to receiving nutrition via tube feeding.

Kirsten (staff member) delivers the swan's nutritional supplement (human Ensure).

Joe (manager) weighs the male.

Scott gives the female an antibiotic injection.

Close up of the female's face. Isn't she beautiful?

If you enjoyed these birds' story and would like to help with the cost of their rehab, please visit The World Bird Sanctuary on line. We receive no state or federal funding whatsoever; the sanctuary is 100% donor-funded. The antibiotics they have been receiving alone are $40 per bottle. Even if donating isn't your thing, please visit anyways and enjoy the beautiful photographs of some of our residents!


A Little Christmas Story for You

By: Susie77, 4:36 PM GMT on December 24, 2009

Many years ago, there was a newly-divorced woman with three young children. The holidays were upon the family, but it was an unhappy time because there was little money for food, let alone gifts. The mom was not a particularly wise woman, but she was aware from her own experience that sometimes the best gift of all is a happy memory of time spent together. So she decided to use her last few dollars to take the family to Cracker Barrel for a Christmas Eve dinner together.

After placing their orders, the family noticed a shabby one-armed man who had shuffled in from the biting cold, found a table by himself, and ordered only a cup of coffee. The server, noticing their curiosity, told them that the man was a homeless veteran who came in from time to time. All he ever ordered was a single cup of coffee because he had no money.

One of the kids said: “I wish we could buy him something to eat.” They all began to dig through their pockets and purses for change. Soon there were a couple of crumpled dollars, some dimes and quarters, and a couple of dollars from mom lying on the table. It was enough to buy a burger! The server took the order, and whispered to nevermind about the tip.

The family didn’t get a lot to eat for the little money they had to spend, but the mom got the best gift she could have asked for – the generous pure hearts of her children, who knew the true meaning of Christmas.


These children, I am proud to say, belong to me. Thank you, my children. I love you, forever and for always. --

Updated: 6:51 PM GMT on December 24, 2009


Voyager Makes an Interstellar Discovery

By: Susie77, 11:54 PM GMT on December 23, 2009


Voyager Makes an Interstellar Discovery

December 23, 2009: The solar system is passing through an interstellar cloud that physics says should not exist. In the Dec. 24th issue of Nature, a team of scientists reveal how NASA's Voyager spacecraft have solved the mystery.

"Using data from Voyager, we have discovered a strong magnetic field just outside the solar system," explains lead author Merav Opher, a NASA Heliophysics Guest Investigator from George Mason University. "This magnetic field holds the interstellar cloud together and solves the long-standing puzzle of how it can exist at all."

The discovery has implications for the future when the solar system will eventually bump into other, similar clouds in our arm of the Milky Way galaxy.

Astronomers call the cloud we're running into now the Local Interstellar Cloud or "Local Fluff" for short. It's about 30 light years wide and contains a wispy mixture of hydrogen and helium atoms at a temperature of 6000 C. The existential mystery of the Fluff has to do with its surroundings. About 10 million years ago, a cluster of supernovas exploded nearby, creating a giant bubble of million-degree gas. The Fluff is completely surrounded by this high-pressure supernova exhaust and should be crushed or dispersed by it.

"The observed temperature and density of the local cloud do not provide enough pressure to resist the 'crushing action' of the hot gas around it," says Opher.

So how does the Fluff survive? The Voyagers have found an answer.

"Voyager data show that the Fluff is much more strongly magnetized than anyone had previously suspected—between 4 and 5 microgauss*," says Opher. "This magnetic field can provide the extra pressure required to resist destruction."

NASA's two Voyager probes have been racing out of the solar system for more than 30 years. They are now beyond the orbit of Pluto and on the verge of entering interstellar space—but they are not there yet.

"The Voyagers are not actually inside the Local Fluff," says Opher. "But they are getting close and can sense what the cloud is like as they approach it."

The Fluff is held at bay just beyond the edge of the solar system by the sun's magnetic field, which is inflated by solar wind into a magnetic bubble more than 10 billion km wide. Called the "heliosphere," this bubble acts as a shield that helps protect the inner solar system from galactic cosmic rays and interstellar clouds. The two Voyagers are located in the outermost layer of the heliosphere, or "heliosheath," where the solar wind is slowed by the pressure of interstellar gas.

Voyager 1 entered the heliosheath in Dec. 2004; Voyager 2 followed almost 3 years later in Aug. 2007. These crossings were key to Opher et al's discovery.

The size of the heliosphere is determined by a balance of forces: Solar wind inflates the bubble from the inside while the Local Fluff compresses it from the outside. Voyager's crossings into the heliosheath revealed the approximate size of the heliosphere and, thus, how much pressure the Local Fluff exerts. A portion of that pressure is magnetic and corresponds to the ~5 microgauss Opher's team has reported in Nature.

The fact that the Fluff is strongly magnetized means that other clouds in the galactic neighborhood could be, too. Eventually, the solar system will run into some of them, and their strong magnetic fields could compress the heliosphere even more than it is compressed now. Additional compression could allow more cosmic rays to reach the inner solar system, possibly affecting terrestrial climate and the ability of astronauts to travel safely through space. On the other hand, astronauts wouldn't have to travel so far because interstellar space would be closer than ever. These events would play out on time scales of tens to hundreds of thousands of years, which is how long it takes for the solar system to move from one cloud to the next.

"There could be interesting times ahead!" says Opher.

To read the original research, look in the Dec. 24, 2009, issue of Nature for Opher et al's article, "A strong, highly-tilted interstellar magnetic field near the Solar System."



By: Susie77, 6:31 PM GMT on December 21, 2009

Wishing you all a most blessed Solstice and a happy and healthy next trip around the Sun. May the returning light find you well. Merry Yule!


Nebraska Fireball and Earthquake

By: Susie77, 12:31 AM GMT on December 18, 2009

A guy here in Missouri also reported this, and so did someone in Kansas and another person in Oklahoma. Includes a link to report your own sightings/experiences....

Nebraska Fireball

Nebraska Fireball: Dec. 16, 2009
Readers, if you witnessed or photographed this event, please submit a report.

Summary: The nature of this event is uncertain--indeed, it might be more than one event. Around 9 pm on Dec. 16th, sky watchers in southeast Nebraska saw a brilliant fireball streak across the sky. It was so bright that observers with overcast skies saw it shining through clouds. Telephones in news stations and police departments rang with reports of bright lights, loud sounds, and ground shaking. Minutes earlier, around 8:53 pm CST, the USGS says there was a magnitude 3.5 earthquake in southeastern Nebraska:

Earthquakes in Nebraska are rare, so what are the odds of one happening within minutes of a meteoritic fireball? This might be a cosmic coincidence. Or there could be some yet-to-be-explained linkage between the events. Readers with photos or eyewitness reports are invited to submit them here.

Eyewitness Accounts:

Location: 5 miles NW of Pawnee City, Nebraska
Comments: Nebraska State Trooper Jerry Chab: "At 2100 CST tonight a very bright meteor lit up the entire completely overcast sky like lightning in southeast Nebraska. It flashed for approximately 1.5-2 seconds and was followed by sonic booms and ground shaking which prompted many calls by the public to law enforcement in a three County wide area."

"I was approximately 5 miles NW of Pawnee City, Ne. when I observed the flashes," Chab continues. "It was a very bright one, the sky dimmed a bit and it was followed by another bright flash. Between the two bright flashes the sky never completely dimmed. Again, this all occurred within 1.5-2 seconds. I talked to a truck driver who was approx. 8 miles straight East of me who saw the same thing. A local Deputy was about 16 miles ENE of me and also saw it. The first 911 call came at 2201. The calls were about explosions AND earthquakes. One individual call mentioned 'two' explosions. I attributed the calls to sonic booms."

"If the Earthquake is confirmed, as it appears to be, I think we have the most cosmic of coincidences: A large fireball around the same time of an Earthquake. I am simply amazed!!"

Location: Nebraska City, Nebraska (near Auburn, Nebraska)
Comments: Laurie Riley: "It sounded like the loud grain haulers that go by but about 5 times louder. The whole house shook. The kids came running down stairs – they were scared. The only thing I noticed last night is my vehicle was moved – since it’s been snowing and ice out, I park backwards and park with two tires on my sidewalk for traction and after the quake, it shook my vehicle so the back tire slide off the sidewalk and the front tire was almost off. It lasted about 5 seconds or so. Very loud rumble."

Location: Warren County, Missouri
Comments: Doug Kniffen: "My daughter and I saw the fireball from east central Missouri (Warren County). 9:05pm on my wristwatch (set to WWV). The fireball appeared about magnitude -6, with distinctly green streamers outlining the tail. Certainly an impressive sight, sure wish I had a picture. Very low apparent altitude, would have missed it if the trees hadn't dropped their leaves. Told my daughter that there was a good chance of fresh meterorites in Nebraska. Nice to know that my estimate of a fall zone was close."

Location: Hastings, Nebraska
Comments: Rich Cartier: "Sitting in a well-lit living room watching TV, I noticed out the east-facing living room window a bright fireball heading from northwest to southeast. It lasted about 2 seconds with a bright flash at the end. It was remarkable, since it was overcast, and I was in a bright room, yet it still caught my eye."

Location: between Wichita and Andover, Kansas
Comments: Alan Howarter: "At about 9:06 pm on Wednesday, December 16, 2009 I was driving North and witnessed what appeared to be a very bright meteor toward the northeast that lit up for a couple of seconds."

Location: Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Comments: Rick Foster: "I saw a huge green fireball at 9:03 pm from Oklahoma City almost due north. Very low on horizon. Looked like it was moving NW to SE. I was in my truck driving north on I-35. It was very large, green with orange sparks and very short tail."


When Auroras Collide!

By: Susie77, 11:03 PM GMT on December 17, 2009

From NASA:

Colliding Auroras Produce Explosions of Light

December 17, 2009: A network of cameras deployed around the Arctic in support of NASA's THEMIS mission has made a startling discovery about the Northern Lights. Sometimes, vast curtains of aurora borealis collide, producing spectacular outbursts of light. Movies of the phenomenon were unveiled at the Fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union today in San Francisco.

"Our jaws dropped when we saw the movies for the first time," says space scientist Larry Lyons of UCLA, a leading member of the team that made the discovery. "These outbursts are telling us something very fundamental about the nature of auroras."

The collisions occur on such a vast scale, isolated observers on Earth with limited fields of view had never noticed them before. It took a network of sensitive cameras spread across thousands of miles to get the big picture.

NASA and the Canadian Space Agency created such a network for THEMIS, short for "Time History of Events and Macroscale Interactions during Substorms." THEMIS consists of five spacecraft launched in 2006 to solve a long-standing mystery: Why do auroras occasionally erupt in an explosion of light called a substorm? Twenty all-sky imagers (ASIs) were deployed across the Alaskan and Canadian Arctic to photograph auroras from below while the spacecraft sampled charged particles and electromagnetic fields from above. Together, the cameras and spacecraft would see the action from both sides and be able to piece together cause and effect—or so researchers hoped.

It seems to have worked.

The breakthrough came earlier this year when UCLA researcher Toshi Nishimura completed the Herculean task of assembling continent-wide movies from the individual ASI cameras.

"It can be a little tricky," Nishimura says. "Each camera has its own local weather and lighting conditions, and the auroras are different distances from each camera. I've got to account for these factors for six or more cameras simultaneously to make a coherent, large-scale movie."

The first movie he showed Lyons was a pair of auroras crashing together in Dec. 2007.

"It was like nothing I had seen before," Lyons recalls. "Over the next several days, we surveyed even more events. Our excitement mounted as we became convinced that the collisions were happening over and over."

The explosions of light, they believe, are a sign of something dramatic happening in the space around Earth—specifically, in Earth's "plasma tail." Millions of kilometers long and pointed away from the sun, the plasma tail is made of charged particles captured mainly from the solar wind. Sometimes called the "plasma sheet," the tail is held together by Earth's magnetic field.

The same magnetic field that holds the tail together also connects it to Earth's polar regions. Because of this connection, watching the dance of Northern Lights can reveal much about what's happening in the plasma tail.

By examining many collisions, Lyons and Nishimura have identified a common sequence of events. It begins with two elements: (1) a broad curtain of slow-moving auroras and (2) a smaller knot of fast-moving auroras, initially far apart. The slow curtain is quietly glowing over the Arctic when the speedy knot rushes in from the north. The two auroras collide and an eruption of light ensues.

How does this sequence connect to events in the plasma tail?

"It took some creative thinking to come up with an answer, but I believe this team has done it," says THEMIS project scientist Dave Sibeck of the Goddard Space Flight Center.

Lyons believes that the fast-moving knot is associated with a stream of relatively lightweight plasma jetting through the plasma tail. The stream gets started in the outer regions of the plasma tail and moves rapidly inward toward Earth. The fast knot of auroras moves in synch with this stream.

Meanwhile, the broad curtain of auroras is quietly hanging over the Arctic, gently glowing, more or less minding its own business. This curtain is connected to the stationary inner boundary of the plasma tail and is fueled by plasma instabilities there.

When the lightweight stream reaches the inner boundary of the plasma tail—bang!--there is an eruption of plasma waves and instabilities. This collision of plasma is mirrored by a collision of auroras over the poles.

National Science Foundation radars located in Alaska and Greenland confirm this basic picture. They have detected echoes from streams of material rushing through Earth's upper atmosphere just before the auroras collide and erupt.

The five THEMIS spacecraft also agree. They have been able to fly through the plasma tail and confirm the existence of lightweight material rushing toward Earth. (For reference, these are the "plasma bullets" reported in a 2008 Science@NASA story "Plasma Bullets Spark Northern Lights.")

"By putting together data from ground-based cameras, ground-based radar, and the THEMIS spacecraft themselves, we now have a nearly complete picture of what causes explosive auroral substorms," says Sibeck.

And what a picture it is. Click here for movies.


The World is Full of Jerks

By: Susie77, 10:50 PM GMT on December 15, 2009

Rare Swans Shot by Poachers

I'm a volunteer at this place and saw these swans Sunday. They are magnificent. You guys, if there's any way you can help the Sanctuary out, we would appreciate it SO MUCH!!! As the reporter says in the video, we are totally nonprofit; we receive no government funding whatsoever. Thanks. You guys are the best.


Geminid Alert!

By: Susie77, 1:21 PM GMT on December 12, 2009

Space Weather News for Dec. 12, 2009

GEMINID METEOR SHOWER: This weekend, Earth will pass through a stream of debris from extinct comet 3200 Phaethon, source of the annual Geminid meteor shower. Forecasters expect more than 100 meteors per hour to fly out of the constellation Gemini when the shower peaks on Dec. 13th and 14th. For most observers, the best time to look will be from 10 pm local time on Sunday night to dawn on Monday morning. Visit for photos, a sky map, and live audio from a meteor radar.

[Unfortunately, our weather is predicted to be cloudy here near STL.]


Strange Spiral in the Skies over Norway

By: Susie77, 11:20 PM GMT on December 09, 2009

Space Weather News for Dec. 9, 2009

This morning in arctic Norway, onlookers were stunned when a gigantic luminous spiral formed in the northern sky. Veteran observers accustomed to the appearance of Northern Lights say they have never seen anything like it. It was neither a meteor nor any known form of atmospheric optics. Rumors that the spiral was caused by the botched launch of a Russian rocket have not yet been confirmed. Visit for images and eyewitness reports of this mysterious apparition.


Best Shower of the Year... coming this week!

By: Susie77, 12:04 AM GMT on December 09, 2009


The 2009 Geminid Meteor Shower

Dec. 8, 2009: Make hot cocoa. Bundle up. Tell your friends. The best meteor shower of 2009 is about to fall over North America on a long, cold December night.

"It's the Geminid meteor shower," says Bill Cooke of NASA's Meteoroid Environment Office. "and it will peak on Dec. 13th and 14th under ideal viewing conditions."

A new Moon will keep skies dark for a display that Cooke and others say could top 140 meteors per hour. According to the International Meteor Organization, maximum activity should occur around 12:10 a.m. EST (0510 UT) on Dec. 14th. The peak is broad, however, and the night sky will be rich with Geminids for many hours and perhaps even days around the maximum.

Cooke offers this advice: "Watch the sky during the hours around local midnight. For North Americans, this means Sunday night to Monday morning."

Researchers are interested to see what the Geminids do in 2009. The shower has been intensifying in recent decades and they wonder if the trend will continue.

Geminids are pieces of debris from a strange object called 3200 Phaethon. Long thought to be an asteroid, Phaethon is now classified as an extinct comet. It is, basically, the rocky skeleton of a comet that lost its ice after too many close encounters with the sun. Earth runs into a stream of debris from 3200 Phaethon every year in mid-December, causing meteors to fly from the constellation Gemini: sky map.

When the Geminids first appeared in the late 19th century, shortly before the US Civil War, the shower was weak and attracted little attention. There was no hint that it would ever become a major display.

But now it has. "The Geminids are strong—and getting stronger," says Cooke, who has prepared a plot showing how the shower has intensified since its discovery.

What's going on? Jupiter's gravity has been acting on Phaethon's debris stream, causing it to shift more and more toward Earth's orbit. Each December brings a deeper plunge into the debris stream.

Meteor expert Peter Brown of the University of Western Ontario (UWO) says the trend could continue for some time to come. "Based on modeling of the debris done by Jim Jones in the UWO meteor group back in the 1980s, it is likely that Geminid activity will increase for the next few decades, perhaps getting 20% to 50% higher than current rates."

A 50% increase would boost the Geminids to 200 or more meteors per hour, year in and year out. "That would be an amazing annual display," says Cooke.

Moreover, says Brown, "the proportion of large, bright Geminids should also increase in the next few decades, according to Jones' model." So the Geminids could turn into a "fireball shower."

Brown cautions that "other models of the debris stream come to different conclusions, in some cases suggesting that Geminids will decrease in intensity in the coming decades. We understand little about the details of the formation and evolution of Phaethon's debris despite many years of efforts."

Recent trends favor a good show. Enjoy the Geminids!



By: Susie77, 11:37 PM GMT on December 07, 2009

Lucky lucky Kirksville Missouri... supposed to get 8 - 11 inches of wonderful wonderful snow tomorrow/tomorrow night/Wednesday. Us, just a mere 160 air miles to the south? We get bupkes.


Giant Exploding Stars! (well, one, anyways..........)

By: Susie77, 12:11 AM GMT on December 04, 2009

From Space dot com

Huge Explosion Reveals the Most Massive Star Known
By Clara Moskowitz
Staff Writer
posted: 02 December 2009
01:01 pm ET

All supernova explosions are violent affairs, but this one takes the cake. Astronomers have spotted a new type of extremely bright cosmic explosion they think originates from an exceptionally massive star.

This breed of explosion has been long predicted, but never before seen. Like all supernovas, the blast is thought to have marked the end of a star's life. But in this case, that star may have started out with 200 times the mass of the sun.

The supernova in question, SN2007bi, was observed in 2007 in a nearby dwarf galaxy. Scientists knew at once it was something different because it was about 50 to 100 times brighter than a typical supernova.

"It was much brighter, and it was bright for a very long time," said researcher Paolo Mazzali of the Max-Planck Institute for Astrophysics in Germany. "We could observe this thing almost two years after it was discovered, where you normally don't see anything anymore."

After analyzing its signature, astronomers published a paper in the Dec. 3 issue of the journal Nature confirming that it matches theoretical predictions of a so-called pair-instability supernova.

"There were some doubts that they existed," said astronomer Norbert Langer of the University of Bonn in Germany, who did not work on the project. Langer wrote an opinion essay on the finding in the same issue of Nature. "There were severe doubts that stars that massive could ever form in the universe. Now we seem to be very sure that there was a star with 200 solar masses."

In a pair-instability supernova, the star has neared the end of its life and exhausted its main supplies of hydrogen and helium, leaving it a core of mostly oxygen. In smaller stars, the core continues to burn until eventually it is all iron, then collapses in a Type II supernova, leaving behind a remnant black hole or neutron star.

But in the case of an extremely massive star, while its core is still made of oxygen, it releases photons that are so energetic, they create pairs of electrons and their anti-matter opposites, positrons. When the matter and antimatter meet, they annihilate each other. This reaction reduces the star's pressure, and it collapses, igniting the oxygen core in a runaway nuclear explosion that eats up the whole star, leaving no remnant at all.

The discovery of this rare type of supernova suggests that a few stars actually can grow into such large behemoths — which has long been a topic of debate.

"I was never a believer in very massive stars," Mazzali told "Seeing something like this explode means these things exist. This is a fairly new development in the formation of stars."


Spirit Does It Again!

By: Susie77, 11:59 PM GMT on December 02, 2009


Sandtrapped Rover Makes a Big Discovery

December 2, 2009: Homer's Iliad tells the story of Troy, a city besieged by the Greeks in the Trojan War. Today, a lone robot sits besieged in the sands of Troy while engineers and scientists plot its escape.

Welcome to "Troy" – Mars style. NASA's robotic rover Spirit is bogged down on the Red Planet in a place the rover team named after the ancient city.

So why aren't scientists lamenting?

"The rover's spinning wheels have broken through a crust, and we've found something supremely interesting in the disturbed soil," says Ray Arvidson of the Washington University in St. Louis.

Spirit, like its twin rover Opportunity, has roamed the Red Planet for nearly 6 years. During that time, the rover has had some close calls and come out fighting from each. In fact, it's been driving backwards since one of its wheels jammed in 2006.

From the beginning, the rovers' motto has been "follow the water." Both rovers have been searching Mars for minerals formed in the presence of H2O. Mars appears dry today, but minerals can provide clues that water was once there.

"It's been easy for Opportunity to find such minerals," explains Arvidson. "Opportunity landed in an ancient lake bed. Spirit has had to work much harder. Spirit landed in basaltic plains formed by lava flows chewed up by repeated meteoroid impacts. There's been little evidence of anything that was ever very wet."

But when Spirit reached an area of Mars called the "Columbia Hills," the whole complexion of the mission changed. "Spirit came across iron hydroxide, a mineral that forms in the presence of water. That alerted us to the change. We started coming across more and more rocks formed in the presence of water."

Then Spirit got stuck in a patch of loose soil on the edge of a small crater. Heavy sigh. Stuck again.

But wait!

"Spirit had to get stuck to make its next discovery," says Arvidson.

As the rover tried to break free, its wheels began to churn up the soil, uncovering sulfates underneath.

"Sulfates are minerals just beneath the surface that shout to us that they were formed in steam vents, since steam has sulfur in it. Steam is associated with hydrothermal activity – evidence of water-charged explosive volcanism. Such areas could have once supported life."

"And most amazingly, the boundary between the sulfate-rich soil and the soil with just the generic concentration of sulfates runs right down the middle of the stranded rover. Spirit is lodged on the edge of a crater -- sitting astride the boundary!"

"Also, the robot found that the top of the sulfate material is crusty. Ancient sulfates probably formed this crust as they were processed by variations in climate associated with changes in Mars' orbit over millions of years."

Here's what the scientists think: When a Martian pole faces the sun in Martian summer, it gets warmer at that pole and the water ice shifts to the equator. It even snows there! Warm dark soil under the snow causes the bottom layer of snow to melt. The water trickles into the sulfates, dissolving the water-soluble iron sulfates and forming a crust with the calcium sulfates remaining.

"By being stuck at Troy, Spirit has been able to teach us about the modern water cycle on Mars." Indeed, Spirit's saga at Troy has given scientists material evidence of past water on Mars on two time scales: ancient volcanic times, and cycles ongoing to the present day.

"We've sat here for more than 6 months. That's a long time to take measurements. We've learned a lot. Troy is a good place to be under siege, but we’re ready to leave."

Will Spirit break free to continue its incredible journey? Tune in to Science@NASA to find out if the escape plan works.


The views of the author are his/her own and do not necessarily represent the position of The Weather Company or its parent, IBM.

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About Susie77

Sometimes I complain about the earthly weather, but mostly I like to post about astronomy and space events. Hope you enjoy the articles.

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