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    In this March 11, 2011 file photo, boats collide with one another after a Tsunami surge of water swept through a boat basin in Crescent City, Calif. (AP Photo/Bryant Anderson)

    LOS ANGELES (AP) - If a monster earthquake struck off Alaska's coast, tsunami waves would rush toward California, crippling the nation's busiest port complex and flooding coastal communities, a report released Wednesday suggests.

    The potential impacts, based on a hypothetical magnitude-9.1 jolt off the Alaskan peninsula, were detailed by a team led by the U.S. Geological Survey to help emergency responders prepare.

    Tsunamis are a rare but real threat in California. After the 2011 Japan disaster, tsunami waves raced across the Pacific and damaged boats and docks in the commercial fishing village of Crescent City.

    Scientists said a closer offshore quake would create more havoc. The twin ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach could be shuttered for at least two days because of strong currents, potentially losing $1.2 billion in business. The Oakland Airport would be flooded. Coastal communities would face mass evacuations, the report said.

    Coastal planners held meetings this week around the state to digest the information and review their evacuation plans.

    Under the scenario, it would take about four hours for tsunami waves to crash into communities near the Oregon state line and about six hours to reach San Diego - theoretically, allowing time for people to flee to higher ground. The force of the waves would sink boats docked in marinas and damage harbors.

    This "helps them understand what a bad tsunami can be," said USGS seismologist Lucy Jones.

    The team began work on the scenario before the magnitude-9.0 earthquake that struck Japan in March 2011 and triggered a tsunami. It went back to the drawing board after seeing the toll on Crescent City and other coastal cities. The group focused only on California, even though a powerful offshore Alaska quake would affect the West Coast.

    Patrick Corcoran, an Oregon State University expert on earthquake and tsunami hazards, praised the scenario for being realistic. But he said it's a challenge to prepare people for a rare disaster.

    "People just go into freak-out mode" when past tsunamis have hit the U.S., said Corcoran, who had no role in the report.

    The latest scenario is similar to a quake exercise released several years ago designed to prepare California residents for the "Big One" on the San Andreas Fault. Unlike the quake report that estimated 1,800 casualties, scientists did not include a death toll this time since they could not predict how evacuations would be handled during a tsunami.

    Since 1812, the California coast has seen only a handful of tsunamis with waves higher than 3 feet. The deadliest occurred in 1964 when a magnitude-9.2 quake in Alaska triggered tsunami waves that killed 12 people in Northern California.

     

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    In this photo provided by the U.S. Forest Service, firefighters hose down a hotspot near a ranger station as they fight the Rim Fire in Yosemite National Park in California Sunday, Sept. 1, 2013. (AP Photo/U.S. Forest Service, Mike McMillan)

    YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK, Calif. (AP) - There was no evidence of an illegal marijuana grow near the spot where a raging wildfire started near Yosemite National Park, a federal forestry official said Wednesday.

    Investigators have ruled out the illicit activity as a potential cause, ending speculation by a local fire chief that the gardens that plague federal land could be to blame.

    Jerry Snyder of the U.S. Forest Service said that the steep and inaccessible canyon where the Rim Fire started Aug. 17 in the Stanislaus National Forest doesn't have a water source that growers look for when they set up remote gardens.

    "The lead investigator says there's no evidence of any type of grow in the area where the fire started," Snyder said.

    Snyder also said lightning isn't to blame. It could take months for investigators to determine what ignited the blaze that has consumed more than 370 square miles of Sierra Nevada forests.

    "They'll be able to tell whether there was an illegal campfire in there," he said. "Another thing to consider is that this area is very steep, and if there was a rockslide two rocks hitting together could make a spark to ignite dry brush."

    The fire is 80 percent contained, and crews don't expect full containment before Sept. 20. The far-off date is because the portion of the fire burning in Yosemite National Park is headed toward granite outcroppings that will act as a natural firebreak but won't be classified as technical containment.

    Letting geological formations help will allow firefighters to focus some efforts inside the fire's footprint. Snyder said they have begun to cut breaks and start backfires in an effort to save grazing land, wildlife habitat and historic buildings left over from early timber camps.

    "We don't want the entire interior to be burned too," he said.

    Officials said 111 structures, including 11 homes, have been destroyed. More than 4,300 firefighters are still battling the blaze.

    Although no cause has been announced, one local fire chief speculated the fire might have ignited in an illegal marijuana grow. His remarks posted on YouTube prompted Snyder to shoot down the rumor.

    RELATED ON SKYE: Must-See Photos From the Yosemite Rim Fire

     

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    100 Vehicle Pile-Up on Sheppey Crossing Bridge in Heavy Fog
    LONDON (AP) - Fire officials say up to 100 cars have been involved in a traffic accident on a fog-shrouded bridge southeast of London.

    Kent Fire & Rescue Service says hydraulic cutting equipment was needed to free six people injured in the pileup that took place on New Kingsferry Bridge in Sheppey, which is located in the southeast English county of Kent. Kent Police said there were reports of at least eight serious injuries and 60 minor injuries.

    South East Coast Ambulance Service says that by midday it had transported 35 patients to six hospitals.

    The accident began at about 7:15 a.m. and continued on for 10 minutes as cars and trucks slammed into each other. Witnesses put visibility at 20 yards and images from the scene showed masses of twisted metal.


    RELATED ON SKYE: 25 Mesmerizing Photos of Fog

     

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    (Getty Images)

    Wave after wave after wave of cool air will take the Northeast through the middle of September with an early taste of autumn. Frost will visit some areas.

    Fall weather will linger before the official start of autumn on Sunday, Sept. 22, 2013.

    According to Long Range Weather Expert Joe Lundberg, "Temperatures are likely to average 5 to 10 degrees below normal over the next week and then a few degrees below normal toward the middle of the month."

    While a weather pattern for the next two to three weeks may not be liked by warm weather fans, it will bring great air quality most days and comfortable conditions for those doing manual labor. However, there will be a few episodes of tricky winds for those operating cranes and working on high buildings.

    The pattern will translate to many cool nights and days with low humidity.



    It will also mean only a few days with warm and humid conditions. These will generally be limited to the day before a new push of cool air is on the way.

    Only a few opportunities for rainfall are likely with the pattern. Most of these rain dates will also be limited to the day a cool front is coming through.

    According to Northeast Weather Expert Dave Dombek, "The setup will bring the potential for frost in the normally cold spots of the central Appalachians northward to interior New England Friday morning."

    Temperatures could dip into the middle and upper 30s on a couple of occasions in the valleys into next week.

    "With the chilly air Thursday night into Friday morning, the coldest spots of northern Pennsylvania to upstate New York could dip into the upper 20s and lower 30s," Dombek added.

    The lengthening nights with clear skies can also create the perfect conditions for late-night and early-morning fog, especially in the river valleys, where and when winds diminish.

    A persistent southward dip in steering winds, high in the atmosphere, known as the jet stream, will direct one Canadian air mass after another across the eastern Great Lakes, New England and the mid-Atlantic into the third week of the month.

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    The same southward dip in the jet stream in the Eastern states will tend to keep tropical storms and hurricanes away through the weekend into next week.

    Meanwhile, a northward bulge in the jet stream over the middle of the nation will allow heat to build over the Central states into the middle of September.

    According to Long Range Weather Expert Jack Boston, "Some warmth is likely to return to the Northeast during the second half of September into part of October."

    While the pattern a few weeks from now may not bring record warmth, it could result in stretches of above-normal temperatures, before colder air works in during November.

    During that next warmup, the door to the tropics could be opened along the Atlantic coast of the U.S.

    RELATED ON SKYE: America's Best Fall-Foliage Road Trips

     

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    Fairy circles are circular patches of perennial grasses with a barren center that emerge in the deserts along the southwest coast of Africa. (Credit: Image courtesy of N. Juergens)

    The bizarre circular patches of bare land called "fairy circles" in the grasslands of Africa's Namib Desert have defied explanation, with hypotheses ranging from ants to termites to grass-killing gas that seeps out of the soil. But the patches may be the natural result of the subsurface competition for resources among plants, new research suggests.

    Grasslands in the Namib Desert start off homogenous, but sparse rainfall and nutrient-poor soil spark intense competition between the grasses, according to the new theory. Strong grasses sap all of the water and nutrients from the soil, causing their weaker neighbors to die and a barren gap to form in the landscape.

    The vegetation gap expands as the competition ensues, and the grass-free zone becomes a reservoir for nutrients and water. With the additional resources, larger grass species are then able to take root at the periphery of the gap, and a stable fairy circle develops. [See Photos of Mysterious Fairy Circles of the Namib Desert]

    "It's a really good theory because it accounts for all the characteristics of fairy circles," including the presence of tall grass species, Florida State University biologist Walter Tschinkel, who was not involved in the study, told LiveScience. "No other proposed cause for fairy circles has ever done that."

    A lingering mystery

    Fairy circles have been a mystery to scientists for decades. Last year, Tschinkel discovered that small fairy circles last for an average of 24 years, whereas larger circles can stick around for up to 75 years. However, his research didn't determine why the circles form in the first place, or why they disappear.

    Earlier this year, University of Hamburg biologist Norbert Juergens claimed to have found evidence for a termite theory of fairy circles. Essentially, he discovered colonies of the sand termite, Psammotermes allocerus, were nearly always found in the centers of fairy circles, where he also found increased soil moisture. He reasoned that the termites feed on the grasses' roots, killing the plants, which usually use up the soil's water, and then slurp up the water in the resulting circular patches to survive during the dry season.

    But Tschinkel is critical of the work, stressing that Juergens confused correlation with causation.

    Michael Cramer, a biologist at the University of Cape Town in South Africa and lead researcher of the current study, which was published recently in the journal PLOS ONE, also thinks the termite theory falls short.

    "I think the major hurdle that explanations have to overcome is explaining the regular spacing of the circles, their approximate circularity and their size," Cramer told LiveScience. "There's no real reason why termites would produce such large circles that are so evenly spaced."

    Scientists have also previously proposed that fairy circles are an example of a "self-organizing vegetation pattern," which arises from plant interactions. In 2008, researchers developed a mathematical model showing the vegetation patterning of fairy circles could depend on water availability.

    A fierce competition

    To test this theory, Cramer and his colleague Nichole Barger from the University of Colorado at Boulder first measured the size, density and landscape occupancy of fairy circle sites across Namibia, using both Google Earth and ground surveys. They then collected soil samples at various depths from inside and outside the circles, and analyzed them for water and nutrient content. Finally, they plugged the information, along with climate data such as seasonal precipitation and temperatures, into their computer models. [Images: The 10 Strangest Sights on Google Earth]

    "We found that the size of the circle, the density and degree to which they occupy the landscape are all associated with the amount of resources available," Cramer said. Specifically, fairy circles are smaller if they have more resources, such as soil nitrogen and rainfall.

    This makes sense, Cramer explained, because the taller grasses won't need a large reservoir of resourcesto get started and survive if water and nutrients are already available in the environment. On the other hand, the grasses require a large reservoir to sustain themselves if the soil is poor in water and nutrients.

    The researchers also discovered that rainfall strongly determines the distribution of the fairy circles across Namibia, with circles only appearing in areas where there is just the right amount of rain (not too little, but not too much). If there's too much rain, the bountiful resources would "relax" the competition for resources and the circles would close up; but if there's too little rain, the competition would become too severe and the circles would again disappear, Cramer said. Because the circles can only occur in this narrow moisture range, differences in rainfall from year to year may cause them to suddenly disappear and reappear in an area over time. With this information, they found that they could predict the distribution of the fairy circles with 95 percent accuracy.

    Additionally, the regular spacing between fairy circles may be the result of inter-circle competition, with grasses from each circle "battling" with other circle grasses for resources, Cramer said.

    Experimental tests

    Cramer notes that termites may still be involved in fairy circles. "What sets up the circles is the competition between plants," he said. "Termites are a secondary phenomenon, and their role is to serve as a maintenance for the circles by killing off the grasses that spring up in the center of the circles."

    Yvette Naudé, a chemist at the University of Pretoria, South Africa, who was not involved in the study, thinks it's refreshing to see a noninsect hypothesis for fairy circles, though she expressed some doubts about its validity.

    "It is unclear how peripheral grass resource-competition could induce such abrupt and synchronized plant mortality over an entire patch," Naudé, who has previously studied fairy circles, told LiveScience in an email. (Cramer actually thinks the plant mortality starts off small, and the patch grows as the competition continues.) "The answer to the enigma [of fairy circles] remains elsewhere."

    To examine whether the theory is correct, Cramer plans to conduct experimental tests, as his study only provides correlative evidence for the competition theory.

    "If fairy circles really do develop from a shortage of water and nutrients, then simply watering and fertilizing the circles should cause them to close up with vegetation," Tschinkel said.

    Follow Joseph Castro on Twitter. Follow us @livescience, Facebook & Google+. Original article on LiveScience.

    Copyright 2013 LiveScience, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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    Updated: Sept. 5, 2013, 12:15 P.M. ET

    (NOAA)

    Atlantic Tropical Storm Gabrielle formed late Wednesday evening near Puerto Rico. Gabrielle weakened Thursday midday. Another tropical system may form over the southwestern part of the Gulf of Mexico.

    The next name on the list of tropical cyclones in the Atlantic Basin is Humberto.

    Northeastern Caribbean

    The center of Gabrielle is located west-southwest of Ponce, Puerto Rico, with slow movement to the northwest. The low level center of the depression was shifted to the southwest of the circulation at mid-levels of the atmosphere as a result of disruptive winds.

    At 11:00 a.m., Gabrielle was downgraded to a tropical depression and is not likely to become a hurricane. Maximum sustained winds are at 35 mph.

    Gabrielle will continue to bring heavy rainfall from the Virgin Islands to Puerto Rico through the end of the week. Some pockets of heavy rain may develop over part of Hispaniola as well.

    Rainfall amounts of 3 to 6 inches are likely, but the rugged terrain will enhance the rainfall and the threat of flash flooding and mudslides.

    The area from the Windward and Leeward islands to the British and U.S. Virgin Islands has been subject to locally heavy showers and gusty thunderstorms since the start of the week.

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    Gabrielle is forecast to drift along a curved path to the northwest, north and northeast through the weekend. The system could begin to affect the Turks and Caicos and the southern part of the Bahamas this weekend.

    "The mountainous terrain of Puerto Rico and Hispaniola is likely to interfere with the circulation of the system and slow development through Saturday," said Hurricane Expert Dan Kottlowski.

    Depending on the strength of the system, there is the potential for building seas and surf in the region. However, even in a poorly organized system, there can be locally gusty squalls, which are a hazard for small craft.

    Indications are that during next week, disruptive westerly winds in the atmosphere may minimize further development.

    These same winds could keep the center of the system from reaching the United States mainland.

    While there are some factors that will limit the intensity of this system, people should continue to monitor its progress.

    Southwestern Gulf of Mexico

    Another system has made its way from the Caribbean, across the Yucatan Peninsula and into the southwestern Gulf of Mexico.

    "As this system drifts over the warm waters of the southwestern part of the Gulf of Mexico late this week, it will have a chance to become better organized," Kottlowski stated.

    The system will produce drenching showers and locally gusty thunderstorms along the coast of the southwestern Gulf of Mexico the next couple of days.

    This system will then drift into the Mexico mainland this weekend and may not have enough time to get very strong before doing so. However, even a disturbance, depression or storm would still bring the potential for torrential rain, flooding and mudslides. Veracruz, Mexico, was hit hard by Tropical Storm Fernand in late August.

    Monitoring Other Systems

    There are several other systems being watched over the next few days in the Atlantic Basin. One is just to the northeast of Gabrielle. Another is over the central Atlantic. A third is a disturbance currently drifting westward across Africa.

    RELATED ON SKYE: Stunning Hurricane Photos from Space

     

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    Sept. 5, 2013

    Voyager 1 was launched on Sept. 5, 1977. (Getty)

    Scientists debating whether or not NASA's Voyager 1 spacecraft has already left the solar system can come together today to celebrate an uncontroversial milestone -- the venerable probe's 36th birthday.

    Voyager 1 blasted off on Sept. 5, 1977, about two weeks after its twin, Voyager 2. The two probes conducted an unprecedented "grand tour" of Saturn, Jupiter, Uranus and Neptune, giving researchers some of their first good looks at these big outer planets and their moons. Then the Voyagers kept on flying, streaking toward interstellar space.

    Some folks think Voyager 1 has already gotten there. Last month, for example, three researchers who aren't part of the mission team published a study suggesting that the spacecraft likely left the solar system in July 2012. [NASA's Voyager Probes: 5 Surprising Facts]

    That finding is based on a new model of the solar system's outer reaches. Voyager mission scientists have used a different model to conclude that the probe is probably still within the sun's sphere of influence, plying a mysterious transition region at the edge of interstellar space.

    Conditions are certainly strange in Voyager 1's neck of the cosmic woods. The spacecraft has detected a big drop in solar particles and a simultaneous jump in high-energy galactic cosmic rays, which originate outside the solar system. But Voyager 1 has yet to measure a shift in the ambient magnetic field, which mission scientists expect to observe when the probe finally pops free.

    Still, mission chief scientist Ed Stone, of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, said he and his colleagues will keep the new model in mind as they continue to analyze the data that Voyager 1 beams home from its exotic locale.

    "The Voyager 1 spacecraft is exploring a region no spacecraft has ever been to before," Stone said in a NASA statement released shortly after the new paper was published last month. "We will continue to look for any further developments over the coming months and years as Voyager explores an uncharted frontier."

    Voyager 1 is currently about 11.6 billion miles from Earth, making it the most distant manmade object in the universe. (Voyager 2, which took a different path through the solar system, is about 9.5 billion miles from home.)

    Though Voyager 1 is old, it should be able to keep traveling for a while longer, provided nothing too important breaks down. The probe's declining power supply won't force engineers to shut off the first instrument until 2020, mission scientists have said. All of Voyager 1's science gear will probably stop working by 2025.

    Follow Mike Wall on Twitter @michaeldwall and Google+. Follow us @Spacedotcom, Facebook or Google+. Originally published on SPACE.com.

    Copyright 2013 SPACE.com, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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    Sept. 5, 2013

    NASA captured this image of Paluweh (also known as Rokatenda or Palue) Island emitting steam and smoke today. (NASA Earth Observatory)

    PALUWEH ISLAND, INDONESIA - On August 10, 2013, a small eruption hit the small, roughly 4-mile-wide island of Paluweh in the Flores Sea. In this NASA photo shot today, a fresh scar on the north (top) side of the volcanic Paluweh Island is visible and points out the unpredictability of volcanic debris.

    Since the current volcanic activity on Paluweh began in late 2012, lava and ash had mainly flowed south from the volcano's summit. In early August, that patterned shifted, depositing material to the north -- killing at least 5 people.

    A wide swath of gray that narrows to the northwest shows the likely path of last month's deadly pyroclastic flow (a rapidly spreading combination of blisteringly hot ash, gas, rocks, and volcanic debris).

    Per NASA researchers, "As [the pyroclastic flow] descended from the 2,870-foot summit of the volcano, the flow narrowed as it was funneled into existing stream channels. The flow entered the ocean along the northwest coastline, extending the beach by a few meters."

    After the deadly eruption in August, the Indonesian government has increased its efforts to evacuate Paluweh.

    RELATED ON SKYE: 25 Incredible Photos of Volcanic Eruptions
    Lightning, Volcano

     

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    Sept. 5, 2013

    The rocket that will carry NASA's newest probe is ready for launch, Fri., Sept. 6, 11:27 p.m. local time. (NASA)

    WALLOPS ISLAND, Va. - NASA's newest space probe has its eye on the moon, and the weather couldn't look finer for the planned Friday night launch. In a twist, NASA is launching this new moon shot from Virginia to investigate a long-standing mystery behind lunar dust.

    NASA's Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) spacecraft is slated to launch toward the moon Friday, Sept. 6, at 11:27 p.m. EDT (0327 Sept. 7 GMT). The mission will blast off atop a brand-new Minotaur V rocket, the debut mission for the Orbital Sciences Corp. booster.

    Weather forecasts look pristine for the Friday night launch, NASA officials said. There is a near-perfect 95 percent chance of good weather over the launch pad here at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Va., they added. Depending on local weather conditions, the nighttime launch could be visible to millions of observers up and down the U.S. East Coast. [How to Watch NASA's LADEE Mission Launch Friday]

    "It's looking like mostly clear skies, visibility is going to be great," Sarah Dougherty, NASA test director for the LADEE launch told reporters here today (Sept. 5). "All systems are go and the weather is looking good, so [we're] hopeful for a great launch tomorrow night."

    You can watch the LADEE launch live on SPACE.com beginning at 9:30 p.m. EDT (0130 GMT), courtesy of NASA TV.

    NASA is launching LADEE from Pad 0B of Virginia's Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport, which is located on the agency's Wallops Flight Facility. It's the first time a moon mission has ever launched from spaceport, but the site was optimum for LADEE's intended spaceflight, NASA officials have said. If LADEE is unable to lift off Friday, the mission has backup launch opportunities between Sept. 7 and10, according to NASA officials.

    A moon mystery to solve

    The $280 million LADEE mission is designed to investigate the mysteries of the moon's thin atmosphere and dust.

    The lunar atmosphere is actually representative of the most common known type of atmosphere in the solar system. Some large asteroids, various moons of giant planets and other objects have atmospheres like that of the moon, making LADEE's lunar science mission wide-reaching, NASA scientists have said.

    Scientists are hoping to use the probe to hunt for the source of a glow that Apollo astronauts saw on the moon's horizon before sunrise. It's possible that the "streamers" of light seen by the astronauts could have been be caused by tiny particles of dust flying high in the moon's atmosphere and LADEE will look into that hypothesis.

    LADEE will also be carrying a special communications demonstration to the moon. The spacecraft will use a laser communications device to possibly communicate with ground controllers at broadband speeds.

    This kind of communications test could help scientists and engineers develop new ways to communicate with spacecraft farther into deep space.

    See the launch

    Virginia skywatchers can view the LADEE launch Friday from two locations near NASA's Wallops Flight Facility: Beach Road between Chincoteague and Assateague Islands or Robert Reed Park on Chincoteague.

    Observers outside of Virginia's Eastern Shore can may still be able to see the launch if weather permits. If you are located on the East Coast of the United States, use LADEE launch sky maps to track and possibly see the rocket as it launches into space.

    SPACE.com partner Spaceflight Now is also providing blow-by-blow coverage of LADEE's mission via the Mission Status Center, which will also include a launch webcast feed.

    Editor's note: If you take an amazing photo of the LADEE launch or any other night sky view that you'd like to share for a possible story or image gallery, send photos, comments and your name and location to managing editor Tariq Malik at spacephotos@space.com.

    Follow Miriam Kramer @mirikramer and Google+. Follow us @Spacedotcom, Facebookand Google+. Original article on SPACE.com.

    Moon Dust Mission: How NASA's LADEE Spacecraft Works (Infographic)
    Moon's Strange Atmosphere: NASA to Probe Lunar Dust | Video
    Moon Master: An Easy Quiz for Lunatics

    Copyright 2013 SPACE.com, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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    (NOAA)

    What was once Tropical Storm Gabrielle will continue to bring flooding downpours to the U.S. Virgin Islands and parts of Puerto Rico through early this weekend. Another tropical system may form over the southwestern part of the Gulf of Mexico.

    The next name on the list of tropical cyclones in the Atlantic Basin is Humberto.

    Gabrielle weakened Thursday midday, but there are still copious amounts of moisture with the system across the eastern Caribbean.

    Rainfall rates of one inch per hour were measured at the Charlotte Amalie Airport in Saint Thomas Thursday night.

    Northeastern Caribbean

    Gabrielle and the system's associated moisture will continue to move slowly toward the northwest through Saturday. There will be numerous showers and thunderstorms with the system, and some will contain flooding downpours and gusty winds.

    At 11:00 a.m. Thursday, Gabrielle was downgraded to a tropical depression and by 11:00 p.m. Thursday, the system was no longer a tropical cyclone. It is not likely to become a hurricane through this weekend.

    Total rainfall amounts of 4 to 8 inches are likely, but the rugged terrain will enhance the rainfall and the threat of flash flooding and mudslides.

    As of 12 a.m. EDT, Thursday night, San Juan, P.R. had received 1.79 inches of rain over the past 72 hours. During the same period in the U.S. Virgin Islands, St. Thomas picked up 6.98 inches with 3.22 inches falling on St. Croix.



    The area from the Windward and Leeward islands to the British and U.S. Virgin Islands has been subject to locally heavy showers and gusty thunderstorms since the start of the week.

    Some showers and thunderstorms from the system or its remnants could begin to affect the Turks and Caicos and the southern part of the Bahamas this weekend.

    "The mountainous terrain of Puerto Rico and Hispaniola is likely to interfere with the circulation of the system and is likely to hinder redevelopment through Saturday," said Hurricane Expert Dan Kottlowski.

    Depending on the strength of the system, there is the potential for sudden rough seas in the region, associated with squalls. These can be a hazard for small craft.

    Indications are that during next week, disruptive westerly winds in the atmosphere may continue to limit development of the system.

    These same winds could keep the center of the system from reaching the United States mainland.

    While there are some factors that will limit the intensity of this system, people should continue to monitor its progress as occasionally tropical systems can pulse.

    Southwestern Gulf of Mexico

    Another system has made its way from the Caribbean, across the Yucatan Peninsula and into the southwestern Gulf of Mexico.

    "As this system drifts over the warm waters of the southwestern part of the Gulf of Mexico late this week, it will have a chance to become better organized," Kottlowski stated.

    The system will produce drenching showers and locally gusty thunderstorms along the coast of the southwestern Gulf of Mexico the next couple of days.

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    This system will then drift into the Mexico mainland this weekend and may not have enough time to get very strong before doing so. However, even a disturbance, depression or storm would still bring the potential for torrential rain, flooding and mudslides. Veracruz, Mexico, was hit hard by Tropical Storm Fernand in late August.

    Hurricane hunter aircraft was investigating this system Thursday afternoon.

    Monitoring Other Systems

    There are several other systems being watched over the next few days in the Atlantic Basin. One is just to the northeast of Gabrielle. Another is over the central Atlantic. A third is a disturbance currently drifting westward across Africa.

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    As Tropical Depression Gabrielle weakens in the Atlantic, the Eastern Pacific is picking up pace.

    Tropical Storm Lorena continues to move slowly northwestward toward the southern tip of the Baja of California.

    It is the fourth system to form in the Eastern Pacific in roughly the same area this season, preceding Hurricane Erick and tropical storms Ivo and Juliette.

    "It is unusual to have four storms form in such a short period of time," AccuWeather's Hurricane Expert Dan Kottlowski. "It is not unheard of, but unusual."

    The storm has the potential to strengthen but, because it is so close to land, it will probably not strengthen quickly.

    Upon its formation, rainfall was recorded in the western parts of the Mexican state of Jalisco and the southwestern parts of Nayarit. Some outer rain bands hit the city of Puerto Vallarta in Jalisco.

    The center of the storm will remain offshore Friday but can bring widespread rainfall to Jalisco and Colima.

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    Locally heavy rain of more than eight inches can induce major flash flooding and even mudslides. Additionally, rough surf and higher waves can be expected along the western coastline.

    The storm is expected to approach the southern portions of Baja Peninsula sometime on Saturday and bring with it winds up to 35 mph or more.

    In addition to heavy rain and strong winds, Lorena could also bring some moisture to the United States.

    "Some moisture may get drawn into the southwestern U.S. this weekend," Kottlowski said.

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    In this Sept. 3, 2013 photo, Jacquelin Calvaire, 17, bathes using water from a fountain that taps mountain water in Petion-Ville, Haiti. (AP Photo/Dieu Nalio Chery)

    SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) - Experts are sounding a new alarm about the effects of climate change for parts of the Caribbean - the depletion of already strained drinking water throughout much of the region.

    Rising sea levels could contaminate supplies of fresh water and changing climate patterns could result in less rain to supply reservoirs in the coming decades, scientists and officials warned at a conference in St. Lucia this week.

    "Inaction is not an option," said Lystra Fletcher-Paul, Caribbean land and water officer for the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization. "The water resources will not be available."

    Some of the possible solutions include limits on development, increased use of desalination plants and better management of existing water supplies, but all face challenges in a region where many governments carry heavy debts and have few new sources of revenue.

    Many Caribbean nations rely exclusively on underground water for their needs, a vulnerable source that would be hit hard by climate change effects, said Jason Johnson, vice president of the Caribbean Water and Wastewater Association, a Trinidad-based nonprofit group.

    "That's the greatest concern," he said. "Those weather patterns may change, and there may not necessarily be the means for those water supplies to be replenished at the pace that they have historically been replenished."

    Parts of the Caribbean have been experiencing an unusually dry spell that emerged last year.

    In August 2012, some islands reported extremely dry weather, including Grenada and Anguilla. By July of this year, those conditions had spread to Trinidad, Antigua, St. Vincent and Barbados, the Caribbean Institute for Meteorology & Hydrology says.

    "We're seeing changes in weather patterns," said Avril Alexander, Caribbean coordinator for the nonprofit Global Water Partnership. "... When you look at the projected impact of climate change, a lot of the impact is going to be felt through water."

    Intense rains have been reported in recent months in some Caribbean areas, but that doesn't mean an increase in fresh water supply, said Bernard Ettinoffe, president of the Caribbean Water and Sewerage Association Inc., a St. Lucia-based group that represents water utilities in the region.

    Heavy rains mean there's not enough time for water to soak into the ground as it quickly runs off, he said. In addition, the cost of water treatment increases, and many islands instead shut their systems to prevent contamination.

    The island considered most at risk is Barbados, which ranks 21st out of 168 countries in terms of water demand exceeding available surface water supplies, according to a 2012 study by British risk analysis firm Maplecroft. Other Caribbean islands high on the list are Cuba and the Dominican Republic, which ranked 45 and 48, respectively. The study did not provide data on a smattering of eastern Caribbean islands that officials say are among the driest in the region.

    "There are a number of indications that the total amount of rainfall in much of the Caribbean would be decreasing by the end of the century," said Cedric Van Meerbeeck, a climatologist with the Caribbean Institute for Meteorology & Hydrology.

    Van Meerbeeck said water supplies will continue to decrease if individuals as well as agriculture and tourism, the region's key industries, do not monitor use.

    "Climate is maybe not the biggest factor, but it's a drop in an already full bucket of water," he said. "It will have quite dramatic consequences if we keep using water the way we do right now."

    Jamaica, Trinidad and Barbados have ordered rationing this year, with Barbados reducing pressure and occasionally cutting off supply to some areas. The island also began to recycle water, with officials collecting treated wastewater to operate airport toilets.

    Overuse of wells elsewhere has caused saltwater seepage and a deterioration of potable water underground, leading to the construction of hundreds of desalination plants in the Caribbean.

    But the cost of desalination still remains unaffordable for many governments, said John Thompson, director of the Caribbean Desalination Association board.

    The biggest challenge overall is changing the mentality of water utility authorities who see their role as solely providing clean water, Johnson said.

    "The new reality is that it's a national security issue if your water supplies are diminished," Johnson said. "It becomes a health and safety issue."

     

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    A Hotshot fire crew member rests near a controlled burn operation at Horseshoe Meadows, as crews continue to fight the Rim Fire near Yosemite National Park in California Wednesday, Sept. 4, 2013. (AP Photo/U.S. Forest Service, Mike McMillan)

    SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) - A gigantic wildfire in and around Yosemite National Park was caused by an illegal fire set by a hunter, the U.S. Forest Service said Thursday.

    The agency said there is no indication the hunter was involved with illegal marijuana cultivation, which a local fire chief had speculated as the possible cause of the blaze.

    No arrests have been made, and the hunter's name was being withheld pending further investigation, according to the Forest Service.

    A Forest Service statement gave no details on how the illegal fire in a remote canyon of the Stanislaus National Forest had escaped the hunter's control on Aug. 17. Because of high fire danger across the region, the Forest Service had banned fires outside of developed camping areas more than a week before the fire started.

    "We're not going to release any more information while the investigation is ongoing," said Ray Mooney, a spokesman for the U.S. Forest Service.

    Investigators would not say whether the hunter had turned himself in, Mooney said. When the investigation is complete, the U.S. Department of Justice would decide whether to seek restitution.

    The Rim Fire has burned nearly 371 square miles - one of the largest wildfires in California history and has cost $81 million to fight.

    In some cases people who have started wildfires in California have been sued to pay for the costs and damages.

    The Tuolumne County District Attorney's Office also assisted in the investigation, but declined to comment.

    Officials said 111 structures, including 11 homes, have been destroyed. Thousands of firefighters were called in to battle the blaze, which at one point threatened more than 4,000 structures,

    The blaze is now 80 percent contained.

    Chief Todd McNeal of the Twain Harte Fire Department told a community group recently that there was no lightning in the area, so the fire must have been caused by humans. He said he suspected it might have caused by an illicit marijuana growing operation.

    California's largest fire on record, a 2003 blaze in the Cleveland National Forest east of San Diego, was sparked by a novice deer hunter who became lost and set a signal fire in hope of being rescued.

    Sergio Martinez was sentenced to six months in a work-furlough program, 960 hours of community service and five years of probation in 2005.

    The so-called Cedar Fire burned nearly 430 square miles, caused 15 deaths and destroyed more than 2,200 homes.

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    Friday, Sept. 6, 2013

    Artist's concept of NASA's Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) spacecraft in orbit above the moon as dust scatters light during the lunar sunset. (Credit: NASA Ames / Dana Berry)

    NASA will launch a new spacecraft tonight (Sept. 6) to unlock the mysteries of moon dust and the wispy lunar atmosphere, and you can watch the blastoff live online.

    The space agency's Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer, nicknamed LADEE, is poised to liftoff atop a brand-new Minotaur V rocket from Wallops Island, Va., at 11:27 p.m. EDT (0327 Sept. 7 GMT) in what will be the first-ever lunar mission to launch from Virginia. Weather permitting, the nighttime launch may be visible to millions of observers along a wide swath of the U.S. East Coast that stretches from Maine to North Carolina.

    But for observers outside the viewing area, NASA has two webcasts to offer live video views of tonight's planned moon shot. You can watch the LADEE launch live on SPACE.com beginning at 9:30 p.m. EDT (0130 GMT), courtesy of NASA TV. [How to Watch NASA's LADEE Mission Launch Tonight]

    A second webcast, simulcast at the same time as NASA TV's will be streamed by the agency's NASA Edge team. SPACE.com partner Spaceflight Now is also providing blow-by-blow coverage of LADEE's mission via the Mission Status Center, which will also include a launch webcast feed.

    Targeting a moon dust mystery

    The $280 million LADEE moon mission (pronounced "laddie," not "lady") will investigate the tenuous atmosphere of the moon and study how moon dust behaves above the lunar surface. Apollo astronauts first spotted a strange lunar glow on the moon's horizon during NASA's lunar landing missions in the 1960s and 1970s, but scientists still do not understand what causes the strange phenomenon.

    "Sometimes we get a little bit surprised when we start talking about a lunar atmosphere, because most of us were taught in school that the moon doesn't actually have an atmosphere," Sarah Noble, NASA's LADEE program scientist, said Thursday. "It does, but it's very, very thin."

    The moon has what scientists call an "exosphere." That is, an atmosphere so thin that its individual molecules don't interact with each other. The Earth has an exosphere too, though it is located hundreds of miles up, higher than the orbit it the International Space Station.

    On the moon, this exosphere is extremely close to the surface, making it a good target to study in order to learn how such atmospheres behave over time. Similar exospheres have been spotted on Mercury, the icy moons of planets in the outer solar systems, and even some asteroids, Noble said.

    "It turns out to be the most common class of atmosphere we have, and yet it is one we don't really know much about," she added.

    Destination: Moon

    The LADEE spacecraft carries four instruments to scan the moon's atmosphere in detail and also provide a glimpse into how moon dust moves across the lunar surface. Moon dust, kicked up by lunar impacts, is a concern for scientists since the stuff can clog up systems on future lunar landers, rovers and even stick to the spacesuits of astronauts.

    Noble said now is a good time to study the moon's atmosphere and dust environment because it's been months since the last spacecraft slammed into the moon. NASA's twin Grail probes crashed into the lunar surface in December to mark the end of a moon gravity-mapping mission. But China is planning to send a lander to the moon later this year, which could disrupt that lunar calm, she added.

    The LADEE spacecraft is about the size of a small car and weighs about 844 pounds (383 kilograms). Once it reaches the moon, which should take a couple of months, the probe is expected to spend about 100 days studying the lunar environment before running out of fuel and crashing into the moon's surface.

    The spacecraft is also carrying a high-tech laser communications system as a NASA space technology test. The system promises to offer ultra-fast data transmission rates while consuming less power.

    NASA is launching LADEE atop the new Minotaur V rocket built by Orbital Sciences Corp. The company also builds a larger rocket, called Antares, that is scheduled to launch from a different Wallops pad on Sept. 17 to send a commercial cargo ship on its debut trip to the International Space Station.

    The eight-story Minotaur V rocket is a five-stage, solid-fueled booster that draws its heritage from the ballistic missiles used by the U.S. military. Because of a treaty between the United States and Russia, rockets like the Minotaur V can only be launched from specific sites, including NASA's Wallops facility.

    The Minotaur V will actually lift off from Pad 0B at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport, which is a commercial spaceport based at NASA's Wallops facility. NASA has a 95 percent chance of good weather for tonight's launch try, but if a delay is required, the space agency could try again between Saturday (Sept. 7) and Tuesday (Sept. 10).

    If you live near Virginia's Eastern Shore, there are two locations where you can watch NASA's LADEE launch live tonight. According to a NASA advisory, the launch can be seen from Beach Road between the Chincoteague and Assateague Islands, and from Robert Reed Park on Chincoteague not far from the launch site.

    Check out these rocket launch visibility maps for the potential viewing areas all along the U.S. East Coast. The launch's visibility depends heavily on your local weather and unobstructed views.

    Editor's note: If you take an amazing photo of the LADEE launch or any other night sky view that you'd like to share for a possible story or image gallery, send photos, comments and your name and location to managing editor Tariq Malik at spacephotos@space.com.

    Email Tariq Malik at tmalik@space.com or follow him @tariqjmalik and Google+. Follow us @Spacedotcom, Facebook and Google+. Original article on SPACE.com.

    Copyright 2013 SPACE.com, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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    SEATTLE (AP) - A motorcyclist riding survived a lightning strike as a tumultuous day of weather saw thunderstorms and rain roll through Washington state on both sides of the Cascade Mountains.

    Washington State Patrol Trooper William Finn says the biker was riding through the town of Chehalis on Interstate 5 in western Washington when the lightning hit Thursday.

    Witness Martin Zapalac told KOMO-TV the man had just passed him when he and his bike "lit up." The biker managed to pull over on the highway shoulder, and the witness drove with him to a nearby gas station.

    The 59-year-old motorcyclist was treated locally for burns to his ears. He was then taken to a Seattle hospital, where he was reported in satisfactory condition.

    Chehalis firefighter Steve Emrich tells the Chronicle of Centralia that the Tenino man suffered "basically a direct hit right through the helmet," and is lucky to be alive.

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    Sept. 6, 2013

    Tropical Storm Lorena as seen via satellite on Sept. 6. (NOAA)

    LOS CABOS, Mexico (AP) - The streets emptied and schools closed as Tropical Storm Lorena approached the southern tip of Mexico's Baja Peninsula Friday.

    The storm had maximum sustained winds early Friday near 40 mph with little change in strength expected until landfall, which was expected either late Friday or on Saturday in southern Baja California. After making landfall, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said Lorena should weaken until dissipating on Sunday or Monday.

    The port of La Paz was closed to small-craft navigation. Classes were cancelled in Cabo San Lucas and some schools were being prepared as shelters for possible evacuations. The rain had begun and waves broke hard at Medano Beach at the very tip of the peninsula, where workers hurried to store chairs, tables and kayaking and snorkeling equipment away from the beach.

    Businesses closed and left sandbags to prevent any flooding.

    A tropical storm warning was in effect for southern Baja California from Agua Blanca to Buenavista.

    The storm was centered about 50 miles southeast of Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, and is moving northwest near 12 mph.

    RELATED ON SKYE: Stunning Hurricane Photos from Space

     

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    Sept. 6, 2013

    Cecelia Lawrence covers her face after seeing the amount of water surrounding her son's home after a thunderstorm dumped over and inch and a half of rain in 30 minutes Thursday, Sept. 5, 2013 in Nampa, Idaho. (AP Photo/Idaho Press-Tribune, Adam Eschbach)

    BOISE, Idaho (AP) - Crews worked to clear a mudslide Friday and homeowners dug out property after severe thunderstorms swept across southwestern Idaho.

    The storms hit Thursday afternoon, causing flash flooding in Oakley, dropping golf-ball-sized hail near Mountain Home and creating a mudslide on Idaho Highway 55 between Banks and Smiths Ferry. Residents of a home in Eagle escaped unharmed after their house was struck by lightning and caught fire. Meanwhile, Idaho Power crews had to respond to multiple outages in Boise, Nampa, Caldwell, Star and other areas.

    Larry Adams, a ranch owner from Oakley, said the flooding at his property lasted less than an hour, with silt- and mud-laden water pouring out of the foothills and leaving behind more than a foot of dirt and debris in many of his workshops and ranch buildings.

    "I've been here since 1973, and I've never seen anything like this," Adams said.

    Surrounding farm fields were strewn with debris in the aftermath of the rushing water.

    "Luckily, the fields have already been put to bed and harvested, or else we'd have a whole other mess to deal with," Adams said.

    In the Boise suburb of Eagle, a home caught fire after it was struck by lightning. The homeowners were able to get out unharmed.

    And the Idaho Transportation Department said mudslides forced the closures of Idaho Highway 55, along with the Banks to Lowman Road between Highway 55 and Garden Valley. Officials were unsure how long it would take to clear and re-open the roads, and suggested that drivers heading north take highway 95 as an alternate route.

    The National Weather Service in Boise said it received reports of golf ball-sized hail, mainly along the Ada County line and along Idaho 55 toward Horseshoe Bend. The highest recorded windspeed in Boise on Thursday was 41 mph, with a gust of 51 mph also recorded.

    The National Weather Service says Idaho will get a break from stormy weather, with cooler, drier conditions expected through the weekend and temperatures expected to hover around 80 degrees in the Boise region.
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    Sept. 6, 2013

    This file photo shows Alaska's Mount Mageik on a clear day. (Getty)

    ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) - Two researchers and their pilot remained stranded on a remote Alaska volcano Friday, two days after freezing rain left thick ice on their helicopter.

    Alaska State Troopers said bad weather was preventing rescuers from reaching the helicopter on Mount Mageik, about 280 miles southwest of Anchorage at Katmai National Park and Preserve. Unsuccessful attempts have been made by helicopter company and Rescue Coordination Center, which was called in Thursday and has sent out a Blackhawk helicopter and a C-130 plane.

    Everyone on board the Egli Air Haul helicopter was reported in good condition. They are well-equipped with survival gear and food, said Katmai chief ranger Neal Labrie, who has been in radio communication with them.

    "They sound optimistic, and just not comfortable," he said.

    There were no reported injuries among the three, who were identified as pilot Sam Egli, USGS geophysicist John Paskievitch and University of Alaska-Fairbanks researcher Taryn Lopez. There also is no reported damage to the chopper, which was sitting at the 6,500-foot level of the mountain.

    Labrie said a nature webcam in the area is helping to gauge the cloud cover on the mountain. The webcam showed rain and heavy cloud cover Friday afternoon.

    The researchers were working on recovering short-term volcano-monitoring equipment before they were caught in the freezing rainstorm Wednesday evening, said Michelle Coombs, a USGS research geologist at the Alaska Volcano Observatory. The work is part of an assignment to also repair permanent monitoring equipment on volcanoes in the area known as the Valley of 10,000 Smokes.

    Coombs said the three are staying inside the helicopter as they wait for rescuers to arrive. In the meantime, they are fine, she said.

    "All of them have experience in the backcountry and I think that helps," she said.

    Egli Air, based in King Salmon, was not issuing any comments until more information is available, said Larece Egli, daughter of the pilot.

    PHOTOS ON SKYE: 50 Must-See Weather Photos

     

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    Sept. 7, 2013

    This is a satellite image of Lorena, which will soon be heading north, bringing moisture. (NOAA)

    Moisture from Lorena will bring the latest round flash flooding, gusty winds and dust storms to parts of the Southwest next week.

    Where rainfall is plentiful, but not excessive, it will ease drought and wildfire concerns.

    According to Western Weather Expert Ken Clark, "During Monday and Tuesday, the heaviest rainfall looks to be aiming from a large part of Arizona, northward to southern Nevada, southeastern California."

    While no tropical storms have physically made the trip into the southwestern United States this summer, there has been an unusually high number of tropical systems throwing moisture over the region.

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    These include Erick, Henriette, Ivo, Juliette and Kiko from the Eastern Pacific and Fernand from the Atlantic.

    Lorena from the Eastern Pacific will bring the next pulse of downpours and gusty storms to parts of the Southwest.

    The tropical systems have been adding to the typical monsoon pattern the area experiences, on average from July through mid-September.

    The storms have packed a little more punch this year, when compared to some other years, where there have been no tropical storms tracking directly over the region.

    While incidents of flash flooding are a way of life during the hot summers in the Southwest, some communities have been hit hard with downpours this season.

    Palm Springs, Calif., Las Vegas and Phoenix have all received near to above-normal rainfall since July 1, 2013. Flagstaff, Ariz. has received two times their average rainfall of just over 6 inches as of Sept. 6.

    The pattern will bring a sizable area of drenching rain, but there will still be locations that can be largely missed.

    Los Angeles and San Diego have received practically no rain at all during the pattern through Sept. 6.

    It appears that the flow of moisture from Lorena will take a similar path to predecessors this season, mostly to the east of these metro areas. However, it could spread out a bit more this time.

    "We expect a large zone of moisture to roll northward and it is not out of the question some shower and thunderstorm activity reaches Los Angeles and San Diego," Clark said. "Locally heavy storms on a daily basis are possible over the mountains of Southern California into the middle of next week."

    Moisture will continue to struggle to reach northern California with this system, as has been the case with others thus far. As a result the dry conditions and risk of wildfires in northern California will continue. But, at least the liberal amount of downpours from Lorena could ease wildfire concerns farther south and east.

    A swath of showers and thunderstorms is likely to extend from northwestern Mexico into areas from eastern Nevada, much of Utah, Colorado and western New Mexico during much of next week.

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    Sept. 7, 2013

    In this photo provided by NASA, an unmanned Minotaur rocket carries NASA's newest robotic explorer, the LADEE spacecraft, which is charged with studying the lunar atmosphere and dust, after launching to the moon from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility on Virginia's Eastern Shore on Friday, Sept. 6, 2013. (AP Photo/NASA, Carla Cioffi)


    WALLOPS, VIRGINIA - NASA's newest robotic explorer rocketed into space late Friday in an unprecedented moonshot from Virginia.

    The LADEE spacecraft, which is charged with studying the lunar atmosphere and dust, soared aboard an unmanned Minotaur rocket a little before midnight.

    It was a change of venue for NASA, which normally launches moon missions from Cape Canaveral, Florida. But it provided a rare light show along the East Coast for those blessed with clear skies.

    NASA expected the launch from Virginia's Eastern Shore to be visible, weather permitting, as far south as South Carolina, as far north as Maine and as far west as Pittsburgh.

    The Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer or LADEE, pronounced "LA'dee," is taking a roundabout path to the moon, making three huge laps around Earth before getting close enough to pop into lunar orbit.

    Unlike the quick three-day Apollo flights to the moon, LADEE will need a full month to reach Earth's closest neighbor. An Air Force Minotaur V rocket, built by Orbital Sciences Corp., provided the ride from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility.

    LADEE, which is the size of a small car, is expected to reach the moon on Oct. 6.

    Scientists want to learn the composition of the moon's ever-so-delicate atmosphere and how it might change over time. Another puzzle, dating back decades, is whether dust actually levitates from the lunar surface.

    The $280 million moon-orbiting mission will last six months and end with a suicide plunge into the moon for LADEE.

    The 844-pound spacecraft has three science instruments as well as laser communication test equipment that could revolutionize data relay. NASA hopes to eventually replace its traditional radio systems with laser communications, which would mean faster bandwidth using significantly less power and smaller devices.

    "There's no question that as we send humans farther out into the solar system, certainly to Mars," that laser communications will be needed to send high-definition and 3-D video, said NASA's science mission chief, John Grunsfeld, a former astronaut who worked on the Hubble Space Telescope.

    It was a momentous night for Wallops, which was making its first deep-space liftoff. All of its previous launches were confined to Earth orbit.

    NASA chose Wallops for LADEE because of the Minotaur V rocket, comprised of converted intercontinental ballistic missile motors belonging to the Air Force. A U.S.-Russian treaty limits the number of launch sites because of the missile parts.

    All but one of NASA's previous moon missions since 1959, including the manned Apollo flights of the late 1960s and early 1970s, originated from Cape Canaveral. The most recent were the twin Grail spacecraft launched almost exactly two years ago. The military-NASA Clementine rocketed away from Southern California in 1994.

    Wallops will be back in the spotlight in less than two weeks. The Virginia-based Orbital Sciences will make its first delivery to the International Space Station, using its own Antares rocket and Cygnus capsule. That commercial launch is scheduled for Sept. 17.
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