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SKYE on AOL

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    Updated Oct. 13, 9:25 a.m. EDT


    CHARLOTTE AMALIE, U.S. Virgin Islands (AP) - Tropical Storm Rafael is lashing the eastern Caribbean with heavy rains that are expected to unleash floods in the region.

    The storm is about 165 miles (265 kilometers) south-southeast of St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands. It has top sustained winds of 40 mph (65 kph) and is moving northwest 9 mph (15 kph).

    The U.S. National Hurricane Center says the storm will gain some strength and will pass near or over the Virgin Islands late Saturday.

    A tropical storm warning is in effect for the U.S. Virgin Islands, the British Virgin Islands, Anguilla, Barbuda, St. Kitts, Nevis, Antigua, Montserrat, St. Maartin, Guadeloupe and Martinique.

    Puerto Rico is under a tropical storm watch.

    Meanwhile, tropical depression Patty was about 280 miles (445 kilometers) east-northeast of the central Bahamas.

    RELATED ON SKYE: Epic Storm Photos from the Twittersphere

     

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    Storms Target Heartland

    Thunderstorms, hail and tornadoes threaten several states across America's heartland.

    RELATED ON SKYE: Epic Storm Photos from the Twittersphere

     

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    MIAMI (AP) - Tropical Storm Rafael lashed the Leeward Islands with heavy rains Sunday, threatening to strengthen into a hurricane within a day, U.S.-based forecasters said.

    The storm was centered at 8 a.m. EDT Sunday about 100 miles (165 kilometers) north-northwest of St. Martin and was gradually moving away from the Virgin Islands, the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami said. Rafael had top sustained winds of 50 mph (85 kph) and was moving north-northwest at 12 mph (19 kph).

    Forecasters said Rafael could become a hurricane by Monday, adding interests in Bermuda should monitor Rafael's progress. The center's advisory said a tropical storm or hurricane watch may be required for Bermuda sometime Sunday.

    A tropical storm warning has been discontinued for Anguilla. Earlier Sunday, a tropical storm watch was discontinued for Puerto Rico.

    Rafael could dump rainfall totaling between 3 and 5 inches on some islands and possibly up to 10 inches in isolated spots over the lesser Antilles and the Virgin Islands, raising the threat of flooding, forecasters said. Potentially heavy rains could cause life-threatening flash floods and mudslides, particularly in mountainous terrain, the hurricane center said.

    Forecasters also warned of possibly dangerous surf churned up by Rafael.

    Tropical storm-force winds extended outward up to 175 miles (280 kms) from the center of Rafael, mainly to the northeast and east of the system, forecasters said.

     

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    Published Sunday, 10:30 a.m. ET
    Breaking Weather: Winds Whip Northwest

    An intense storm will continue moving through the eastern half of the country Sunday, bringing areas of heavy rain and strong thunderstorms. As the center of the storm moves from the Central Plains through Michigan and into eastern Canada by the end of the day, heavy rain will fall throughout the Great Lakes region. Several inches of rain could fall by the time the day is over, with some more precipitation possible Monday as the storm moves into Canada.

    Meanwhile, the associated cold front will drape itself through the Southern Plains and Mississippi Valley, instigating another round of strong thunderstorms with the possibility of becoming severe. The Storm Prediction Center has issued a slight risk of severe weather in the Tennessee Valley and southern Ohio Valley, so residents in this region should be prepared to take any precaution necessary to protect life and property.

    Meanwhile, a high pressure ridge over California and the Southwest will continue to provide a warming trend for the region. Temperatures will climb to above normal in the Southwest over the next few days.

    A warm front and morning showers will greet western Washington, followed by a cold front late in the day. This front will provide more widespread rain that will dip as far south as Oregon.

    The Northeast will rise into the 50s and 60s, while the Southeast will see temperatures in the 70s and 80s. The Southern Plains will rise into the 70s, 80s, and some 90s, while the Southwest will see temperatures in the 80s and 90s.

    Temperatures in the Lower 48 states Saturday have ranged from a morning low of 8 degrees at Mt. Washington, N.H. to a high of 98 degrees at Zapata, Texas

     

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    ROSWELL, N.M. (AP) - Extreme athlete Felix Baumgartner started his daring ascent to 23 miles above Earth on Sunday, hoping to make a death-defying free fall that could make him the first skydiver to break the sound barrier.

    Baumgartner took off in a pressurized capsule carried by a 55-story ultra-thin helium balloon that is expected to take nearly three hours to climb into the stratosphere. If plans go as expected, Baumgartner will then jump into a near vacuum with no oxygen to begin what is expected to be the fastest, farthest free fall from the highest-ever manned balloon.

    Any contact with the capsule on his exit could tear the pressurized suit, a rip that could expose him to a lack of oxygen and temperatures as low as minus 70 degrees. That could cause potentially lethal bubbles to form in his bodily fluids

    At Baumgartner's insistence, some 30 cameras recorded the event. While it had been pegged as a live broadcast, it was actually under a 20-second delay.

    Baumgartner's team included Joe Kittinger, the man who first attempted to break the sound barrier from 19.5 miles in 1960. With Kittinger inside mission control Sunday, the two men could be heard going over technical details as the launch began.

    "You are right on the button, keep it right there," Kittinger told Baumgartner.

    RELATED ON SKYE: Photos of Skydiver's Epic Quest to Break the Speed of Sound

     

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    Baumgartner moments before his leap Sunday, Oct. 14, 2012. (Red Bull Stratos live feed)

    ROSWELL, N.M. (AP) - Extreme athlete Felix Baumgartner landed gracefully on Earth after a 24-mile jump Sunday from the stratosphere in a daring, dramatic feat that officials said made him the first skydiver to fall faster than the speed of sound.

    Baumgartner came down safely in the eastern New Mexico desert about nine minutes after jumping from his capsule 128,100 feet, or roughly 24 miles, above Earth. He lifted his arms in victory, sending off loud cheers from jubilant onlookers and friends inside the mission's control center in Roswell, N.M.

    "When I was standing there on top of the world, you become so humble, you do not think about of breaking records anymore, you do not think of about gaining scientific date. The only thing you want is to come back alive," he said after the jump.

    Brian Utley, a jump observer from the International Federation of Sports Aviation, said preliminary figures show Baumgartner reached a maximum speed of 833.9 mph. That amounts to Mach 1.24, which is faster than the speed of sound. No one has ever reached that speed wearing only a high-tech suit.

    WATCH ON SKYE: Video of Baumgartner's Record-Breaking Jump

    Baumgartner says that traveling faster than sound is "hard to describe because you don't feel it." With no reference points, "you don't know how fast you travel," he told reporters.

    "Sometimes we have to get really high to see how small we are," he said.

    The altitude he leapt from also marked the highest-ever for a skydiver. Organizers said the descent lasted just over nine minutes, about half of it in free fall. Utley said he traveled 119, 846 feet in free fall.

    Three hours earlier, Baumgartner, known as "Fearless Felix," had taken off in a pressurized capsule carried by a 55-story ultra-thin helium balloon. After an at-times tense ascent, which included concerns about how well his facial shield was working, the 43-year-old former military parachutist completed a final safety check-list with mission control.

    As he exited his capsule from high above Earth, he flashed a thumbs-up sign, well aware that the feat was being shown on a live-stream on the Internet.

    During the ensuing jump - from more than three times the height of the average cruising altitude for jetliners - Baumgartner was expected to hit a speed of 690 mph. He was believed to have reached speeds that exceeded 700 mph.

    Any contact with the capsule on his exit could have torn his pressurized suit, a rip that could expose him to a lack of oxygen and temperatures as low as minus-70 degrees. That could have caused lethal bubbles to form in his bodily fluids.

    But none of that happened. He activated his parachute as he neared Earth, gently gliding into the desert east of Roswell and landing without any apparent difficulty. The images triggered another loud cheer from onlookers at mission control, among them his mother, Eva Baumgartner, who was overcome with emotion, crying.

    He then was taken by helicopter to meet fellow members of his team, whom he hugged in celebration.

    Coincidentally, Baumgartner's attempted feat also marked the 65th anniversary of U.S. test pilot Chuck Yeager successful attempt to become the first man to officially break the sound barrier aboard an airplane.

    At Baumgartner's insistence, some 30 cameras recorded the event Sunday. Shortly after launch, screens at mission control showed the capsule as it began rising high above the New Mexico desert, with cheers erupting from organizers. Baumgartner could be seen on video, calmly checking instruments inside the capsule.

    Baumgartner's team included Joe Kittinger, who first attempted to break the sound barrier from 19.5 miles up in 1960, reaching speeds of 614 mph. With Kittinger inside mission control Sunday, the two men could be heard going over technical details during the ascension.

    "Our guardian angel will take care of you," Kittinger radioed to Baumgartner around the 100,000-foot mark, and noted that it was getting "really serious" now.

    An hour into the flight, Baumgartner had ascended more than 63,000 feet and had gone through a trial run of the jump sequence that will send him plummeting toward Earth. Ballast was dropped to speed up the ascent.

    Kittinger told him, "Everything is in the green. Doing great."

    As Baumgartner ascended in the balloon, so did the number of viewers watching on YouTube. Nearly 7.3 million watched as he sat on the edge of the capsule moments before jumping. After he landed, Red Bull posted a picture of Baumgartner on his knees on the ground to Facebook, generating nearly 216,000 likes, 10,000 comments and more than 29,000 shares in less than 40 minutes.

    On Twitter, half the worldwide trending topics had something to do with the jump, pushing past seven NFL football games.

    Among the tweets was one from NASA: "Congratulations to Felix Baumgartner and RedBull Stratos on record-breaking leap from the edge of space!"

    This attempt marked the end of a five-year road for Baumgartner, a record-setting high-altitude jumper. He already made two preparation jumps in the area, one from 15 miles high and another from 18 miles high. It also was the end of his extreme altitude jumping career; he has promised this will be his final jump.

    Baumgartner has said he plans to settle down with his girlfriend and fly helicopters on mountain rescue and firefighting missions in the U.S. and Austria.

    SEE ON SKYE: Stunning Photos from Today's Jump and Earlier Leaps

     

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    ROSWELL, N.M. (AP) - Officials say that Felix Baumgartner has become the first skydiver to break the speed of sound.

    At a news conference, Brian Utley of the International Federation of Sports Aviation said Baumgartner reached a maximum speed of 833.9 mph during his jump Sunday over the New Mexico desert.

    That amounts to Mach 1.24, which is faster than the speed of sound. No one has ever reached that speed wearing only a high-tech suit.

    Baumgartner says that traveling faster than sound is "hard to describe because you don't feel it." With no reference points, "you don't know how fast you travel."

    Baumgartner came down safely in the eastern New Mexico desert about nine minutes after jumping from his capsule 128,100 feet, or roughly 24 miles, above Earth.

    SEE ON SKYE: Stunning Photos from Today's Jump and Earlier Leaps

     

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    National Weather Forecast

    The intense storm system of he Upper Midwest will lift northeastward toward Quebec, Canada on Monday. Wrap around precipitation will continue across Michigan as this system departs, while more significant rain and thunderstorms spread into the eastern third of the nation.

    Significant moisture and energy ahead of an associated cold front extending from the system to the Central Gulf Coast will kick up bands of light to moderate rain, locally heavy rain, and thunderstorms from the Northeast to the Central and Eastern Gulf Coasts. Stronger thunderstorms in areas of the Mid-Atlantic and Carolinas may turn severe with damaging wind gusts.

    Meanwhile, to the west, a ridge of high pressure will prevail across southern California and the Southwest with a warming trend to continue. To the north, a frontal system pushing across the Pacific Northwest will continue eastward on Monday into the Northern Plains. Expect scattered showers to develop in the Northwest with the passing of this disturbance and a few showers to develop in areas of northeastern North Dakota and northern Minnesota. Behind this system, a stronger will reach the Pacific Northwest with heavy rain, strong wind, and thunderstorms.

    Temperatures in the Lower 48 states Sunday have ranged from a morning low of 23 degrees at Truckee-Tahoe, Calif. to a high of 93 degrees at San Nicolas Island, Calif.

     

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    Updated Oct. 15, 9:23 a.m. EDT

    (NOAA)

    MIAMI (AP) - Hurricane Paul is strengthening in the Pacific off Mexico and a tropical storm watch has been issued for a portion of Baja California.

    The U.S. National Hurricane Center says Paul's maximum sustained winds were 80 mph (130 kph) early Monday. Some additional strengthening is forecast during the day before weakening is expected Tuesday.

    It's centered about 530 miles southwest of the tip of the Baja California peninsula and moving north at 9 mph.

    Meanwhile, Tropical Storm Rafael is expected to reach hurricane strength in the Atlantic later in the day.

    Rafael's maximum sustained winds are near 70 mph. The storm is centered about 290 miles north of San Juan, Puerto Rico, and is moving north-northwest near 10 mph.

    RELATED ON SKYE: Stunning Hurricane Photos from Space

     

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    (NOAA)

    CHARLOTTE AMALIE, U.S. Virgin Islands (AP) - The outer bands of Tropical Storm Rafael drenched the Caribbean's Northern Leeward Islands on Sunday as its center steadily moved over open ocean on a possible track toward Bermuda.

    There were no immediate reports of any significant damage or injuries in the Caribbean islands as the center of the tropical storm churned toward the north-northwest at about 10 mph (17 kph). By late Sunday night, it was about 235 miles (380 kilometers) north-northeast of San Juan, Puerto Rico, and was packing winds of roughly 70 mph (110 kph).

    Forecasters at the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami said Rafael had grown to near-hurricane strength and could become one on Monday as it spins over the open Atlantic.

    Rafael could then approach the wealthy British Atlantic territory of Bermuda late Tuesday. The Bermuda Weather Service issued a tropical storm watch for the storm-hardened territory of about 70,000 people late Sunday morning.

    In the U.S. Virgin Islands, Elton Lewis, the territory's emergency management director, said authorities "don't anticipate any significant impact" from the passing storm. There were off-and-on showers during much of the day.

    Tropical storm warnings have been discontinued for Caribbean islands. But the possibility of flooding and mudslides are still a concern in some islands, particularly in mountainous terrain, since Rafael has been forecast to dump between 4 to 8 inches of rain over the Lesser Antilles, small islands that include Dominica, Martinique and St. Lucia.

    Rain ranging from 1 to 3 inches was expected in the U.S. Virgin Islands and the outlying Puerto Rican islands of Culebra and Vieques.

    Swells generated by Rafael were expected to impact eastern-facing beaches of the Bahamas during the next few days. But forecasters said the storm's center will remain well east of the sprawling archipelago.

    RELATED ON SKYE: Epic Storm Photos from the Twittersphere

     

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    Snow-covered mountains in Glacier National Park. (AP)

    KALISPELL, Mont. (AP) - Rescue teams at Glacier National Park searched in wintery conditions and rugged terrain Sunday for two East Coast hikers reported missing by family members.

    Park officials said 50 searchers were looking for 32-year-old Neal Peckens of Virginia and 32-year-old Jason Hiser of Maryland. Hometowns weren't available.

    Weather was the biggest challenge facing searchers, who have found 18 inches of snow on the trail at higher elevations and five-foot drifts in some areas, spokeswoman Denise Germann said.

    "The area they are working in is very steep and exposed," she said. "It's right along the Continental Divide, and it's very windy."

    More rain and possibly snow in higher areas was expected on Sunday, she said. A helicopter dropped off some searchers inside the park early Sunday but Germann said low clouds moved in, preventing aerial searches.

    The two were reported missing Friday after failing to catch a flight home from Montana. Their vehicle was found late Friday, and the search started Saturday.

    Germann said it's not clear if they were prepared for cold weather, or if they have much experience in the backcountry. Searchers believe the two were hiking and not mountain climbing.

    "We believe they are still in the park," she said. "We don't know what clothing or gear they've got."

    Officials believe the two started hiking from the North Shore Trailhead at Two Medicine on the east side of the park on Tuesday and planned to return to Two Medicine on Wednesday, and then do some day hikes Thursday.

    She said park rangers along with Flathead County Search and Rescue members were taking part in the search. She said some are on foot, some on horses and some searching with dogs.

    The National Weather Service predicts mostly cloudy skies with a 50 percent chance of rain on Sunday with highs in the upper 50s to low 60s, dropping to the upper 30s or low 40s overnight. Winds are from the southwest at 20 to 30 mph with gusts up to 45 mph.

     

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    Spectators watch the space shuttle Endeavour move down Martin Luther King Blvd. in Los Angeles Sunday. (AP)

    LOS ANGELES (AP) - It was supposed to be a slow but smooth journey to retirement, a parade through city streets for a shuttle that logged millions of miles in space.

    But Endeavour's final mission turned out to be a logistical headache that delayed its arrival to its museum resting place by about 17 hours.

    After a 12-mile weave past trees and utility poles that included thousands of adoring onlookers, flashing cameras and even the filming of a TV commercial, Endeavour arrived at the California Science Center Sunday to a greeting party of city leaders and other dignitaries that had expected it many hours earlier.

    Endeavour finally inched toward a hangar on the grounds of the museum Sunday night.

    "It's like Christmas!" said Mark Behn, 55, a member of the museum ground support team who watched the shuttle's snail-like approach from inside the hangar. "We've waited so long and been told so many things about when it would get here. But here it is, and it's a dream come true."

    Movers had planned a slow trip, saying the shuttle that once orbited at more than 17,000 mph would move at just 2 mph in its final voyage through Inglewood and southern Los Angeles.

    But that estimate turned out to be generous, with Endeavour often creeping along at a barely detectable pace when it wasn't at a dead stop due to difficult-to-maneuver obstacles like tree branches and light posts.

    Another delay came in the early morning hours Sunday when the shuttle's remote-controlled, 160-wheel carrier began leaking oil.

    Despite the holdups, the team charged with transporting the shuttle felt a "great sense of accomplishment" when it made it onto the museum grounds, said Jim Hennessy, a spokesman for Sarens, the contract mover.

    "It's historic and will be a great memory," he said. "Not too many people will be able to match that - to say, 'We moved the space shuttle through the streets of Inglewood and Los Angeles.'"

    Transporting Endeavour cross-town was a costly feat with an estimated price tag of $10 million, to be paid for by the science center and private donations.

    Late Friday, crews spent hours transferring the shuttle to a special, lighter towing dolly for its trip over Interstate 405. The dolly was pulled across the Manchester Boulevard bridge by a Toyota Tundra pickup, and the car company filmed the event for a commercial after paying for a permit, turning the entire scene into a movie set complete with special lighting, sound and staging.

    Saturday started off promising, with Endeavour 90 minutes ahead of schedule. But accumulated hurdles and hiccups caused it to run hours behind at day's end.

    Some 400 trees had been removed along the route, but officials said most of the trees that gave them trouble could not be cut down because they were old or treasured for other reasons, including some planted in honor of Martin Luther King Jr.

    The crowd had its problems too. Despite temperatures in the mid-70s, several dozen people were treated for heat-related injuries after a long day in the sun, according to fire officials.

    But it was a happy, peaceful crowd, with firefighters having only to respond to a sheared hydrant and a small rubbish fire, and no reports of any arrests.

    And despite the late problems the mood for most of the day was festive.

    At every turn of Endeavour's slow-speed commute through urban streets, spectators jammed intersections as the shuttle shuffled past stores, schools, churches and front yards through the working-class streets of southern Los Angeles. Sidewalks were off-limits due to Endeavour's enormous wingspan.

    Endeavour's arrival in Los Angeles was a homecoming. It may have zipped around the Earth nearly 4,700 times, but its roots are solidly grounded in California. Its main engines were fashioned in the San Fernando Valley. The heat tiles were invented in Silicon Valley. Its "fly-by-wire" technology was developed in the Los Angeles suburb of Downey. In 1991, it rolled off the assembly line in the Mojave Desert to replace Challenger, which blew up during liftoff in 1986.

    As Endeavour shuffled by crowds, its age was evident after 123 million miles in space and two dozen re-entries.

    Stephanie Gibbs, a longtime Inglewood resident, passed the Forum, where the Los Angeles Lakers used to play and where Endeavour made a pit stop Saturday, many times in her life. But she wasn't prepared for what she saw.

    "There was a space shuttle blocking the street and I said, 'Whoa,'" she said.

    Gibbs, who lives off Crenshaw Drive, the narrowest section of the move, would like to see a sign designating it as a shuttle crossing.

    "We've been on the map" because of the Lakers, she said. "This kind of highlights it more."

    Endeavor was scheduled to go on display at the museum starting Oct. 30.

     

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    This image made from video shows pilot Felix Baumgartner of Austria as he jumps out of the capsule on Sunday. (AP)

    ROSWELL, N.M. (AP) - Felix Baumgartner stood alone at the edge of space, poised in the open doorway of a capsule suspended above Earth and wondering if he would make it back alive. Twenty four miles below him, millions of people were right there with him, watching on the Internet and marveling at the wonder of the moment.

    A second later, he stepped off the capsule and barreled toward the New Mexico desert as a tiny white speck against a darkly-tinted sky. Millions watched him breathlessly as he shattered the sound barrier and then landed safely about nine minutes later, becoming the world's first supersonic skydiver.

    "When I was standing there on top of the world, you become so humble, you do not think about breaking records anymore, you do not think about gaining scientific data," Baumgartner said after the jump. "The only thing you want is to come back alive."

    The tightly-orchestrated jump meant primarily to entertain became much more than that in the dizzying, breathtaking moment - a collectively shared cross between Neil Armstrong's moon landing and Evel Knievel's famed motorcycle jumps on ABC's "Wide World of Sports."

    It was part scientific wonder, part daredevil reality show, with the live-streamed event instantly capturing the world's attention on a sleepy Sunday at the same time seven NFL football games were being played. It proved, once again, the power of the Internet in a world where news travels as fast as Twitter.

    The event happened without a network broadcast in the United States, though organizers said more than 40 television stations in 50 countries - including cable's Discovery Channel in the U.S. - carried the live feed. Instead, millions flocked online, drawing more than 8 million simultaneous views to a YouTube live stream at its peak, YouTube officials said.

    More than 130 digital outlets carried the live feed, organizers said.

    It was a last hurrah for what some have billed as a dying Space Age, as NASA's shuttle program ends and the ways humans explore space is dramatically changing. As the jump unfolded, the space shuttle Endeavor crept toward a Los Angeles museum, where it will become nothing more than an exhibit.

    Baumgartner, a 43-year-old Austrian, hit Mach 1.24, or 833.9 mph, according to preliminary data, and became the first person to reach supersonic speed without traveling in a jet or a spacecraft. The capsule he jumped from had reached an altitude of 128,100 feet above Earth, carried by a 55-story ultra-thin helium balloon.

    Landing on his feet in the desert, the man known as "Fearless Felix" lifted his arms in victory to the cheers of jubilant friends and spectators who closely followed at a command center. Among them was his mother, Eva Baumgartner, who was overcome with emotion, crying.

    "Sometimes we have to get really high to see how small we are," an exuberant Baumgartner told reporters outside mission control after the jump.

    About half of Baumgartner's nine-minute descent was a free fall of 119,846 feet, according to Brian Utley, a jump observer from the FAI, an international group that works to determine and maintain the integrity of aviation records.

    During the first part of Baumgartner's free fall, anxious onlookers at the command center held their breath as he appeared to spin uncontrollably.

    "When I was spinning first 10, 20 seconds, I never thought I was going to lose my life but I was disappointed because I'm going to lose my record. I put seven years of my life into this," he said.

    He added: "In that situation, when you spin around, it's like hell and you don't know if you can get out of that spin or not. Of course, it was terrifying. I was fighting all the way down because I knew that there must be a moment where I can handle it."

    Baumgartner said traveling faster than sound is "hard to describe because you don't feel it." The pressurized suit prevented him from feeling the rushing air or even the loud noise he made when breaking the sound barrier.

    With no reference points, "you don't know how fast you travel," he said.

    Coincidentally, Baumgartner's accomplishment came on the 65th anniversary of the day that U.S. test pilot Chuck Yeager became the first man to officially break the sound barrier in a jet. Yeager, in fact, commemorated that feat on Sunday, flying in the back seat of an F-15 Eagle as it broke the sound barrier at more than 30,000 feet above California's Mojave Desert.

    At Baumgartner's insistence, some 30 cameras recorded his stunt. Shortly after launch early Sunday, screens at mission control showed the capsule, dangling from the massive balloon, as it rose gracefully above the New Mexico desert. Baumgartner could be seen on video, calmly checking instruments inside the capsule.

    The dive was more than just a stunt. NASA is eager to improve its blueprints for future spacesuits.

    Baumgartner's team included Joe Kittinger, who first tried to break the sound barrier from 19.5 miles up in 1960, reaching speeds of 614 mph. With Kittinger inside mission control, the two men could be heard going over technical details during the ascension.

    "Our guardian angel will take care of you," Kittinger radioed to Baumgartner around the 100,000-foot mark.

    After Baumgartner landed, his sponsor, Red Bull, posted a picture to Facebook of him kneeling on the ground. It generated nearly 216,000 likes, 10,000 comments and more than 29,000 shares in less than 40 minutes.

    On Twitter, half the worldwide trending topics had something to do with the jump, pushing past seven NFL football games. Among them was this tweet from NASA: "Congratulations to Felix Baumgartner and RedBull Stratos on record-breaking leap from the edge of space!"

    This attempt marked the end of a long road for Baumgartner, a record-setting high-altitude jumper. He already made two preparation jumps in the area, one from 15 miles high and another from 18 miles high. He has said that this was his final jump.

    Red Bull has never said how much the long-running, complex project cost.

    Although he broke the sound barrier, the highest manned-balloon flight record and became the man to jump from the highest altitude, he failed to break Kittinger's 5 minute and 35 second longest free fall record. Baumgartner's was timed at 4 minutes and 20 seconds in free fall.

    He said he opened his parachute at 5,000 feet because that was the plan.

    "I was putting everything out there, and hope for the best and if we left one record for Joe - hey it's fine," he said when asked if he intentionally left the record for Kittinger to hold. "We needed Joe Kittinger to help us break his own record, and that tells the story of how difficult it was and how smart they were in the 60's. He is 84 years old, and he is still so bright and intelligent and enthusiastic".

    Baumgartner has said he plans to settle down with his girlfriend and fly helicopters on mountain rescue and firefighting missions in the U.S. and Austria.

    Before that, though, he said, "I'll go back to LA to chill out for a few days."

     

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    Photographer Enrique Pacheco traveled around the world for two years, shooting some of the most beautiful places on Earth. The result of his travels is this stunning time-lapse video, shot mostly in Spain, Iceland, Estonia and the U.S.

    RELATED ON SKYE: Striking Images of Islands, Rivers and Seas from Space

     

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    Ice floes float in Baffin Bay above the arctic circle. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Jonathan Hayward)

    By Seth Borenstein

    WASHINGTON (AP) - The world last month matched a record for the hottest September, and some scientists point to global warming as a cause.

    It was the third time since 2000 that the world set or tied a heat record for September. Previous hot September records were set in 2003 and 2005. The records go back to 1880.

    Last month's average temperature was 60.2 degrees (15.6 Celsius) Fahrenheit worldwide, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said Monday.

    Why September? It might be the lengthening of the Northern Hemisphere summer as a result of man-made global warming and the loss of Arctic sea ice that indirectly helps cool other parts of the world, said University of Victoria climate scientist Andrew Weaver.

    This is the 16th time that the world has set or tied a hot temperature record since 2000, according to NOAA. The last time the world set a cold temperature record was in December 1916, nearly 96 years ago.

    These trends are man-made global warming at work, Weaver said.

    "What's playing out is precisely what climate said we should expect to see 20 to 30 years ago," Weaver said.

    This is the 331st consecutive month with global temperatures above the 20th century average.

    For most of the year, world temperatures were warmer than normal, but not near record levels. At the same time, the United States kept setting heat records. But while September was a record hot month for the world, the United States ranked as only the 23rd hottest.

    NOAA climate monitoring chief Deke Arndt said the heat was most intense in South America, Japan, Russia, Canada and the Atlantic Ocean.

    Two weather factors may be in play, Weaver and Arndt said. The La Nina weather oscillation - which is the flip side of El Nino and tends to depress global temperatures slightly - ended. And the Arctic was unusually warm and had a record amount of sea ice melting, factors that alter weather throughout the Northern Hemisphere.

    Some skeptics of global warming have been pointing to British data that a London newspaper claims shows no warming since 1997. But the United Kingdom meteorological office and Weaver said the claims are misleading.

    "I don't know what data they are looking at," Weaver said. "2010 is the warmest year. 2005 is the second warmest year."

    According to NOAA, all of the top 10 warmest years on record have occurred after 1997, when skeptics claimed global warming stopped.

    RELATED ON SKYE: Off-the-Charts Hottest and Coldest Places on Earth

     

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    Think mountain biking is extreme? These guys do it on just one wheel. Stephanie Dietze and Lutz Eichholz unicycled down Cima Ombretta Orientale, a 1.87-mile-high peak in the Dolomite Mountains in northeastern Italy, and the footage is pretty wild.

    Click the CC button on the video for subtitles.

    (via Discovery News)

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    By Ignacio Martinez

    LOS CABOS, Mexico (AP) - Hurricane Paul rapidly strengthened into a major Category 3 storm in the Pacific Ocean off Mexico on Monday, prompting a hurricane warning for a swath of Baja California's western coast.

    The U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami said Paul's maximum sustained winds had ratcheted up to 120 mph as of 5 p.m. EDT Monday. Paul was centered about 415 miles southwest of the tip of the Baja peninsula and moving north-northeast at 13 mph.

    Forecasters said Paul was expected to approach the western coast of the southern Baja peninsula by late Tuesday and be near or over the central Baja peninsula on Wednesday. The hurricane was expected to begin weakening Tuesday, the hurricane center said.

    Paul is on track to bypass the heavily populated tourist areas in Los Cabos, at the tip of the peninsula, and the capital, La Paz, on the eastern Gulf of California. But the storm could hit land before sweeping along the coast near Puerto San Carlos on the Pacific, a sparsely populated area of fishing villages. The outer cone was forecast to pass over the tourist town of Meluge, farther north on the gulf.

    State civil protection authorities say they are monitoring the storm for possible evacuations and have sent advance teams help maintain water and electricity during the storm.

    Mexico's government, meanwhile, changed a tropical storm warning for the peninsula's sparsely populated western coast from Santa Fe north to Puerto San Andresito to a hurricane warning, according to the center. It said Mexico also has issued a tropical storm warning on Baja's western flank from north of Puerto San Andresito to Punta Abrejojos and also from Agua Blanca to south of San Fe. A tropical storm watch is in effect for some other coastal areas in the storm's projected path.

    In the Atlantic, meanwhile, Rafael reached hurricane strength late Monday in the Atlantic Ocean south of Bermuda.

    The hurricane center said Rafael's top sustained winds had risen to near 75 mph, making it the ninth hurricane of the Atlantic season.

    Rafael is centered about 560 miles south of Bermuda. It is moving north at 10 mph and forecast to pass near or to the east of Bermuda by late Tuesday.

    RELATED ON SKYE: Epic Storm Photos from the Twittersphere

     

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    MIAMI (AP) - Forecasters say Hurricane Rafael has formed in the Atlantic Ocean south of Bermuda, hours after Paul rapidly grew into a major Category 3 hurricane in the Pacific off western Mexico.

    The U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami said in a 6:45 p.m. EDT update Monday that Rafael's top sustained winds had risen to near 75 mph, making it the ninth hurricane of the Atlantic season.

    Rafael is centered about 560 miles south of Bermuda. It is moving north at 10 mph and forecast to pass near or to the east of Bermuda by late Tuesday.

    Earlier, forecasters said Paul strengthened to maximum sustained winds of 120 mph and was 415 miles southwest of the tip of Mexico's Baja California peninsula.

    RELATED ON SKYE: Epic Storm Photos from the Twittersphere

     

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    MIAMI (AP) - State experts say a giant eyeball that washed up on a Florida beach last week likely came from a swordfish.

    The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said Monday they based their conclusion on the eyeball's color, size and structure, along with the presence of bone around it. Genetic testing will be done to confirm the identification.

    Wildlife officials say swordfish are commonly fished at this time of year in the Florida Straits offshore of South Florida. That's where the softball-sized eyeball turned up Wednesday.

    The discovery and photos of the big eye created a buzz on the Internet.

    RELATED ON SKYE: 15 Truly Bizarre Creatures of the Deep

     

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    (NOAA)

    LOS CABOS, Mexico (AP) - It was raining, but that didn't scare tourists on Mexico's southern Baja peninsula who saw the impending arrival of Hurricane Paul as a minor inconvenience.

    Some went to Medano Beach on Monday to watch the heavy surf. Anthony Curtis of San Diego went for a stroll with his wife.

    "It's only rain falling from the clouds," he said. "The hotel told us not to worry."

    Paul weakened to a Category 2 storm in the eastern Pacific late Monday as it swirled near Mexico's western coast.

    Early Tuesday, the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami said that Paul's maximum sustained winds had decreased to 110 mph (175 kph) and that the storm was centered about 200 miles (325 kilometers) south of Cabo San Lazaro, Mexico. The storm was moving north-northeast at 20 mph (32 kph).

    Still, the state government canceled school, prepared shelters and urged resident to stay informed.

    "We don't intend to alarm people unnecessarily," said Gov. Marcos Covarrubias Villasenor. "Rather we want citizens to be aware, don't cross streams unnecessarily, and stay in your homes if you don't need to leave to avoid creating traffic. The forecast is for heavy amounts of rainfall in most of the state."

    The Mexican government extended its hurricane warning for the west coast northward to Punta Abreojos. The hurricane center said the center of Paul should move inland along the coast by Tuesday night and be near or over the central Baja peninsula on Wednesday.

    The hurricane was expected to continue to weaken Tuesday, the hurricane center said.

    Paul is on track to bypass the heavily populated tourist areas of Los Cabos at the tip of the peninsula, and the capital, La Paz, on the eastern Gulf of California. But the state government as a precaution readied 143 shelters that could take up to 35,000 people in the tourist zone. Classes were suspended for Tuesday statewide, and ports were closed to small vessels in the capital, La Paz, Los Cabos and Comondu.

    The storm was forecast to brush Baja's Pacific coast farther north near Puerto San Carlos, a sparsely populated area of fishing villages, before turning northward along the coastline. The outer cone was forecast to pass over the entire peninsula farther north in the towns of Meluge, Comondu and Loreto.

    State civil protection authorities said they had sent advance teams from the federal electricity and water commissions to help maintain services during the storm.

    A hurricane warning was in effect for the western coast from Santa Fe north to Puerto San Andresito, and a tropical storm warning on Baja's western flank from north of Puerto San Andresito to Punta Abrejojos and also from Agua Blanca to south of San Fe. A tropical storm watch is in effect for north of Punta Abreojos to El Pocito.

    In the Atlantic, meanwhile, Rafael reached hurricane strength late Monday south of Bermuda.

    The hurricane center said Rafael's top sustained winds had risen to near 85 mph (140 kph), making it the ninth hurricane of the Atlantic season.

    Early Tuesday, Rafael was centered about 395 miles (635 kilometers) south of Bermuda. It was moving north-northeast at 16 mph (26 kph) and forecast to pass east of Bermuda by Tuesday afternoon or evening.

     

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