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    National Weather Forecast

    Wet and active weather will shift into the East on Thursday as the strong storm system in the Upper Midwest remains nearly stationary and the associated cold front reaches across the Upper Great Lakes, Eastern Valleys, and the Eastern Gulf Coast by Thursday evening.

    Moisture pooling along and ahead of the front will aid in kicking up showers and thunderstorm in the Mid-Atlantic and the Southeast, while an associated warm front spreads rain and thunderstorms across the Great Lakes and into the Northeast. Parts of southeastern Virginia and eastern North Carolina will experience a slight risk of severe thunderstorm activity with hail and damaging wind as this system advances eastward.

    Meanwhile, expect continued light to moderate showers on the back of this system in parts of the Upper Midwest.

    To the West, high pressure in the Pacific Northwest will reach southeastward into the Southern Plains on Thursday with dry conditions. As this system spreads southeastward, another front from the Pacific will reach the Pacific Northwest coast with scattered showers.

    Temperatures in the Lower 48 states Wednesday have ranged from a morning low of 17 degrees at Stanley, Idaho to a high of 99 degrees at Miramar MCAS, Calif.


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    At the international wingsuit competition in Hunan Province, China, eight of the world's most experienced wingsuit fliers took to the skies, diving off Tianmen Mountain from a height of 4,500 feet. Participants were judged on flight speed, and the competition's winner, Julian Boulle of South Africa, achieved a flying time of 23.410 seconds.

    RELATED ON SKYE: The world's most extreme sports


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    Remnants of Halley's Comet Light Up Sky

    OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) - Streaking fireballs lighting up California skies and stunning stargazers are part of a major meteor shower, and the show is just getting started, professional observers said.

    The Oakland Tribune reports the exploding streaks were especially visible Wednesday night over the San Francisco Bay area and other parts of Northern California, with reports of bright fireballs and loud booms from Santa Cruz County to Mendocino County.

    "Happened to look over, saw like a crescent shaped object, reddish orange in color," Edward Pierce told KGO-TV. "As it went away it started getting larger. Kind of expanding."

    Jonathan Braidman, an astronomer at Oakland's Chabot Space and Science Center, told the station what Pierce and others saw were small, car-sized pieces of rock and metal from the ashtray belt.

    It crashed through the earth's atmosphere, "ionizing and setting the air on fire in its wake," he said.

    National Weather Service forecaster Steve Anderson tells the Tribune that warm temperatures and cloud-free skies are making the bright lights more visible, a phenomenon that should only increase as the weekend approaches and the shower continues.

    The fireballs are part of the large, fast Orionid meteor shower, so-named because it has the Orion constellation as a backdrop.

    RELATED ON SKYE: Mind-Blowing New Photos from Space


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    WASHINGTON (AP) - Federal meteorologists are forecasting a milder and drier winter for much of the western United States, but say they are stumped about what will happen in the East.

    The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Thursday predicted a warm winter for west of the Mississippi River with a cooler patch for Hawaii and the Florida peninsula.

    Officials forecast a drier than normal winter for a region from the Pacific Northwest to Nevada, as well as Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin and northern Missouri. Much of the southeast should be wetter than normal.

    The climate prediction center's Mike Halpert says this forecast has meteorologists somewhat stumped, especially the East, because an El Nino weather oscillation didn't form as predicted. It began brewing months ago and suddenly stopped. Meteorologists hadn't seen that happen before.

    RELATED ON SKYE: Epic Storm Photos from the Twittersphere


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    Nick "the rapping weatherman" Kosir rapped his first forecast in July 2009, and thanks to tweets from celebs like Ellen Degeneres and Ryan Seacrest, his hip-hop forecast became a YouTube sensation. Well, he's back at it again with this off-air freestyle and Gangnam Style dance. If only every forecast was this entertaining.

    (via Accuweather)

    RELATED ON SKYE: The 10 Craziest Natural Disasters in Movies


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    The rear of a car sits on top of another following a crash on Interstate 35 on Thursday near Blackwell, Okla. (AP Photo/The Ponca City News, Rolf Clements)

    By Justin Juozapavicius

    TULSA, Okla. (AP) - A massive dust storm swirling reddish-brown clouds over northern Oklahoma triggered a multi-vehicle accident along a major interstate Thursday, forcing police to shut down part of the heavily traveled roadway amid near blackout conditions.

    In a scene reminiscent of the Dust Bowl days, choking dust suspended on strong wind gusts shrouded Interstate 35, which links Dallas and Oklahoma City to Kansas City, Mo. Video from television station helicopters showed the four-lane highway virtually disappearing into billowing dust on the harsh landscape near Blackwell, plus dozens of vehicles scattered in the median and on the shoulders.

    "I've never seen anything like this," said Jodi Palmer, a dispatcher with the Kay County Sheriff's Office. "In this area alone, the dirt is blowing because we've been in a drought. I think from the drought everything's so dry and the wind is high."

    The highway patrol said the dust storm caused a multi-car accident, and local police said nearly three dozen cars and tractor-trailers were involved. Blackwell Police Chief Fred LeValley said nine people were injured, but there were no fatalities.

    State transportation workers were called into to close the highway between U.S. 60 and Oklahoma 11, an 8-mile stretch of the cross-country roadway.

    "We have very high winds and blowing dust causing a near blackout condition," Capt. James West of the Oklahoma Highway Patrol said Thursday afternoon. He said visibility was less than 10 feet.

    The stretch of closed roadway reopened Thursday evening after crews cleaned up debris and waited for winds to die down, Oklahoma Department of Transportation spokesman Cole Hackett said.

    The area is just south of the Kansas state line in far northern Oklahoma. Interstate 35 runs from the Mexican border in south Texas to Duluth, Minn.

    A red flag fire warning was in place for parts of northern Oklahoma on Thursday, as was a blowing dust advisory.

    The National Weather Service forecast for the area said winds would subside to 20 mph or lower overnight but that gusts as high as 28 mph could continue. Calm winds were expected by Friday night.

    The area has suffered through an extended drought and many farmers had recently loosened the soil while preparing for the winter wheat season.

    "You have the perfect combination of extended drought in that area ... and we have the extremely strong winds," said Gary McManus, the Oklahoma associate state climatologist.

    "Also, the timing is bad because a lot of those farm fields are bare. The soil is so dry, it's like powder. Basically what you have is a whole bunch of topsoil waiting for the wind to blow it away. It's no different from the 1930s than it is now."

    Steve Austin, a Kay County commissioner, said visibility was terrible.

    "It looked like a huge fog was over the city of Ponca City," he said. "We've had dust storms before, but I don't remember anything of this magnitude in years."

    RELATED ON SKYE: Incredible Natural Disaster Photos from Space


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    (AP Photo)

    SEATTLE (AP) - First, warm spring weather in the Northeast and Midwest tricked apple trees into budding earlier. Then an untimely frost damaged the delicate blossoms.

    For apple farmers in producing states like New York and Michigan, this has been a forgettable year, with severe declines in production of as much as 90 percent.

    But it is amounting to a boon for Washington state growers, who are already in the midst of a near record harvest, and now looking forward to higher demand and prices for their produce.

    "If we can get this fruit harvested, it's a perfect storm for Washington," said Todd Fryhover, president of the Apple Growers Association. "We could have a banner year for returns and profitability for our industry, but only time will tell."

    Washington is likely to have a harvest of 108 million bushels, its second highest number on record, industry representatives said. A bushel is a 40-pound box of apples.

    The main variables still looming: a possible shortage of pickers and unpredictable weather at the end of the harvest season.

    Usually, Washington's apple farmers need about 40,000 workers to harvest their huge crop, said Kirk Mayer of the Washington Growers Clearing House Association. This year, Fryhover said, growers are reporting a shortage of roughly 10 to 15 percent shortage.

    On a brighter note, this year's summer has been "perfect" with warm temperature and spring was mild with nearly no frosts, Fryhover said. "We're seeing our fruit's sizes get larger as harvest continues."

    Just north of Wenatchee in central Washington, Orondo farmer Tom Auvil saw his orchards produce about a third more than expected. But he also was one of the farmers who got hit by hail earlier this spring and his workers had to use masks for weeks while a wildfire filled the area with smog. This year it's shaping up to be a wash for him.

    "Our industry is looking at capacity, folks are pretty anxious to ship fruit," said Auvil, who runs a relatively small operation at 50 acres. "You can't necessarily get over excited about pricing when you have a bountiful of fruits. But prices do look favorable."

    Washington is the behemoth of the industry and could for 65 percent all the apples grown in the country this, up from its usual 50 to 60 percent range.

    Nationally, the U.S. Apple Association projects the apple harvest will go down by 10 percent compared to last year to about 200 million bushels. Because the national crop is smaller, apple prices at retail are expected to be higher across the country, industry officials said.

    "Growers are getting a bit more per bushels from the packers and shippers," said Mark Gedris, U.S. Apple Association spokesman.

    New York harvested 30.7 million bushels last year, but will see less than half of that this year if estimates hold. Michigan, which has seen fluctuation over the past five years - saw a sharp drop, down to less than 3 million bushels this year from 28 million last year, according to grower associations.

    Canada and Mexico are also not harvesting at top capacities, Fryhover said, putting Washington in a unique position.

    Generally, Washington apple farmers prefer selling their product to the fresh market, which brings higher returns.

    This year's bad harvests in New York and Michigan could mean that Washington farmers could sell more of their apples to the processed and juice industries, which buy apples that are not savory enough for the fresh fruit market. On an average year, Michigan may sell about 60 percent of its harvest to the juice industry, Smith said.

    Prices of the juice and processed market, however, are less than for the fresh market.

    "There will be more apples shipped from Washington to processing on the East Coast than we've ever seen before," Mayer said.

    The processed market can also look to Pennsylvania, which saw a healthy harvest, or Virginia to make up for the void left by New York and Michigan, said Gedris.

    If apples aren't picked for the fresh market, growers have the option of leaving the fruit on trees, selling it at lower fresh market prices, or the juice market. But those options have to at least cover the costs of picking the apples, Mayer said.

    About 20 percent of Washington's harvest usually goes to the juice and process markets, Mayer added. Of the fresh harvest, about a third is exported while the rest stays in the country.


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    Breaking Weather: Wet End to the Week

    Active weather persists for the Midwest and East on Friday as a strong low pressure system continues moving eastward over the Great Lakes. This system will continue pushing a cold front eastward, which will push offshore of the East Coast by Friday night.

    Expect showers and thunderstorms to develop from the Northeast through Florida before this system pushes offshore. There is a slight risk of severe weather developed along the East Coast, most many areas will see periods of heavy rainfall throughout the day. The center of this low will bring chilly temperatures to the Great Lakes and Midwest, with highs in the upper 40s to lower 50s on Friday.

    Also, expect wind advisories to remain in effect along the back side of this system, as it will create strong winds from 20 to 30 mph across the Upper Midwest and Mississippi River Valley. Wind gusts in these areas may reach up to 40 and 50 mph.

    Meanwhile, in the West, a trough of low pressure continues moving eastward over western Canada and pushes an associated cold front over the Pacific Northwest. This system will move over the Intermountain West and toward the Northern Rockies throughout the day, kicking up more rain showers across the region. The southern side of this front may reach into far northern California, otherwise the rest of California will remain warm and sunny as high pressure dominates.

    Temperatures in the Lower 48 states Thursday have ranged from a morning low of 12 degrees at West Yellowstone, Mont. to a high of 101 degrees at Edinburg, Texas


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    A firefighter examines the flames as a fire sweeps through Bucyrus, N.D. (AP)

    BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - The tiny southwestern North Dakota town of Bucyrus has been all but destroyed by a wind-fueled wildfire that displaced its 27 residents, prompting an outpouring of assistance from surrounding communities, officials said Thursday.

    No one was injured in the fire that swept through late Wednesday, but the rural town is "pretty much completely lost," Adams County State's Attorney Aaron Roseland said.

    The county commission chairman said the fire destroyed four homes and two abandoned farms in the town about 60 miles south of Dickinson. Chuck Christman said seven structures, a church and a grain elevator were spared from the blaze that was pushed by near 70 mph winds. The town's only business, a picture-framing shop, was destroyed, while trees and buildings including homes still smoldered Thursday, he said.

    Christman said the blaze scorched an area six miles long and half a mile wide and also downed about 50 power poles and set railroad ties on a nearby train track ablaze

    "A lifetime of memories (is) gone for at least four families," Christman said early Thursday. "People are rummaging through their losses. Everyone is pretty heavily grieved."

    Edward and Angela McClusky's 80-year-old home was one of the structures destroyed by the fire. The couple, who live in a Washington, D.C. suburb, had planned to move back to the town in a few years to retire.

    "This is very upsetting," Edward McClusky, 52, said of the loss of the picturesque white, two-story home where he grew up. "It's very sad that this has happened to all the people."

    "We always wanted to go home and retire there," said McClusky, an electrical engineer.

    McClusky said he and his wife planned to return to their hometown soon to sift through the rubble where their red-roofed home once stood.

    Winds continued to gust at more than 50 mph and a light drizzle fell Thursday but the moisture did little to douse hotspots in the area, Christman said.

    Authorities were investigating the source of the fire that began Wednesday afternoon. Firefighters from more than a dozen nearby towns and agencies helped fight the blaze, officials said.

    Mayor Steve Turner, who also is a volunteer firefighter, said creeks and area farmers who used tractors to dig fire lines did much to stop the spread of the blaze.

    "They did it on their own," the mayor said of farmers who helped control the fire. "We didn't contact them. They just showed up."

    A shelter was set up in the nearby town of Hettinger, where residents did all they could to make their neighbors feel welcome.

    "People opened up their homes. They brought food. It just makes you proud to be from a small community. Everyone pitched in, Christman said. "A lot of strangers with water trucks came in from the oil fields. Thank goodness for cellphones and radios."

    The state Department of Transportation said in a statement that it temporarily shut down a portion of U.S. Highway 12 Wednesday night, but reopened it again early Thursday.

    A dry summer and fall have produced an extreme fire risk in the region and conditions were ripe Thursday for more wildfires, with winds forecast to gust to more than 50 mph. No rain was expected.


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    Hurricane Rafael was spotted by NASA's GOES-14 satellite on Oct. 16, 2012. (Credit: NASA/NOAA GOES Project)

    By: Douglas Main

    While the 2012 Atlantic hurricane season is winding down, experts expect another hurricane or two before it's over.

    The really busy part of the season - typically August and September - is over, but this week marks the second "peak" of the hurricane season; on average, cyclones are more likely to form this week than any time in the last three weeks of the season, said Brian McNoldy, a hurricane researcher at the University of Miami. (The official end to hurricane season is Nov. 30.)

    That's due to a shift in the areas where cyclones form; now they are most likely to originate in the Gulf of Mexico and the western Caribbean. These storms tend to curve toward the northeast, explaining why October is the worst month for hurricanes in Florida. Hurricane Rafael, spawned this week in the eastern Caribbean, is an example of a second peak storm and only the latest cyclone to form in an above-average year.

    Moving West

    In the summer leading up to the true peak of the hurricane season on Sept. 10, cyclones are most likely to form in the eastern and mid-Atlantic Ocean, often in the tropics or subtropics. But conditions there are becoming less hospitable to hurricane formation, mainly due to an increase in wind shear, which is an imbalance between winds at the surface and higher up in the atmosphere.

    Wind shear is caused by differences in atmospheric pressure between neighboring regions and reduces the strength of cyclones by separating their warm core from the system of circulation above it. Cyclones are basically large heat engines that are driven by a temperature difference between the warm ocean surface and the cool atmosphere above; wind shear disrupts this pattern of circulation and weakens storms. [Storm Season! How, When & Where Hurricanes Form]

    Now, hurricanes are more likely to form farther west, in the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico, McNoldy told OurAmazingPlanet. In those areas, there is an abundance of warm water ready to fuel nascent cyclones. On average, surface temperatures need to be at least 78 degrees Fahrenheit (26 degrees Celsius) to fuel hurricanes, according to the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). A map made by NOAA on Oct. 16 shows thick layers of water above this temperature throughout the region. This westward shift accounts for the slight peak in the number of hurricanes and tropical storms this week, on average throughout the 160 or so years hurricane records have been kept, he said.

    At this point in the year, weather systems are more likely to reach farther south than earlier in the season, McNoldy said. That's because there is more cold air over North America, making cold fronts stronger and better able to penetrate further south, he said. These cold fronts often produce low pressure systems that pull in moisture-rich air from nearby, which tends to rise and create thunderstorms in a swirling pattern. Given the right conditions and enough time to grow over the warm waters of the Gulf and Caribbean, these systems can become tropical cyclones, he said. (Tropical cyclone is a generic term for hurricanes, tropical storms and typhoons.)

    October hurricanes

    October is also the month that Florida is most likely to be struck by a hurricane, thanks to the increased likelihood of cyclones coming out of the Gulf or Caribbean, which tend to curve to the northeast. Basically, "Florida is in the way," McNoldy said.

    He estimates that there is an 8 percent chance that a hurricane will hit Florida in the remainder of the season. There's ample historical precedent for this. One such cyclone that originated in the western Caribbean and struck Florida was Hurricane Wilma, in 2005, the most powerful hurricane in the history of the Atlantic basin, McNoldy said. It was the fourth most costly storm in American history.

    Florida aside, McNoldy expects that there will be another hurricane somewhere in the Atlantic basin before the year's end, he said.

    Above average

    This hurricane season has been slightly more active than average, McNoldy said, with nine hurricanes and 17 named storms. (Storms are named in the Atlantic once they achieve tropical storm strength.)

    This week witnessed the birth of Hurricane Rafael, in the eastern Caribbean. Rafael had characteristics of both early-season and late-season Caribbean cyclones, McNoldy said; it formed from a tropical wave, like many storms that originate out in the Atlantic, but curved to the north like a Caribbean cyclone.

    If another cyclone forms this year, it will likely form as an offshoot of a cold front moving south, he said. If it does form and becomes at least a tropical storm, it will be named Sandy, the next name on the 2012 hurricane name list.

    Reach Douglas Main at dmain@techmedianetwork.com. Follow him on Twitter @Douglas_Main. Follow OurAmazingPlanet on Twitter @OAPlanet. We're also on Facebook and Google+.

    In Images: Hurricane Season 2012
    Hurricanes from Above: See Nature's Biggest Storms
    50 Amazing Hurricane Facts

    Copyright 2012 OurAmazingPlanet, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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    By: Stephanie Pappas

    A controversial experiment in which more than 200,000 pounds of iron sulfate were dumped into the Pacific Ocean west of Canada has scientists calling for more transparency in geoengineering.

    Geoengineering is any deliberate and large-scale manipulation of environmental processes in order to impact Earth's climate. Some geoengineering projects, like the recent one, can have other impacts like boosting fish populations.

    The project was conducted by a local group, the Haida Salmon Restoration Corporation, under the scientific advice of American businessman Russ George, formerly the CEO of a company called Planktos, Inc. The goal, according to Haida Salmon Restoration Corporation, was to trigger plankton blooms to restore salmon and other fish populations. Phytoplankton, teensy floating plants at the base of the ocean food chain, need iron to grow.

    Similar ocean-fertilization schemes have been proposed as a way to lessen climate change, as phytoplankton take up carbon dioxide on the ocean's surface and sink to the bottom, removing carbon from the atmosphere.

    This geoengineered approach to solving climate change is controversial, but even researchers who think it has promise said the Canadian experiment went about it the wrong way.

    "It should have been done by a group of neutral scientists," said Victor Smetacek, a researcher at the Alfred Wegener Institute in Germany who conducted a small-scale ocean-fertilization experiment in 2009. Smetacek added, "The thing is, it's going to give iron fertilization a bad name."

    Fertilizing the ocean

    The Haida Salmon Restoration Corporation allegedly spread 220,462 pounds (100 tonnes) of iron sulfate in the Pacific 200 nautical miles west of the Haida Gwaii islands in July. The story was first reported by The Guardian newspaper. On Tuesday (Oct. 16), John Disney, the CEO of Haida Salmon, told CBC Radio's As It Happens that the Canadian government knew of the project beforehand.

    Canada's Environmental Minister Peter Kent has denied the project was approved.

    The controversy is likely to grow, as the project may have broken two international moratoria on ocean fertilization, the United Nations' convention on biological diversity and the London convention, which found large-scale experiments in ocean fertilization unjustified. [10 Climate Myths Busted]

    George has attempted ocean-fertilization projects before, most notably in 2007, when his plan to dump iron near the Galapagos Islands drew fire from researchers and helped trigger the United Nations moratoria against such experiments.

    George did not respond directly to queries from LiveScience, but said that the corporation will hold a news conference tomorrow (Oct. 19) to discuss the project.

    "Our world class legal team which studied the legal position before the project and provided the formal legal opinion that this was legal will lead [the press conference]," George wrote in an email to LiveScience. He told The Guardian that a team of scientists are monitoring the experiment and called the U.N. rules against such projects a "mythology."

    Breaking the rules

    Whether George and the Haida Salmon Restoration Corporation will face legal troubles in the aftermath of the iron dump remains to be seen, but the international rules against such projects are mostly toothless, said Jason Blackstock, a physicist and policy adviser at the Oxford Institute for Science, Innovation and Society.

    "There is naming and shaming, there is international pressure that can be brought to bear," Blackstock told LiveScience. There are not, however, fines or other punishments, he said.

    Blackstock said the project in Canada was "the antithesis of how things should be done."

    "There should not be an experiment that goes ahead and the public finds out about it afterwards," he said.

    Research funding organizations could lead the drive toward better regulation of geoengineering experiments, Blackstock said. Rather than individual groups setting their own, possibly contradictory, rules, he said, funding councils should work together to develop guidelines for good geoengineering projects.

    "The lack of transparency in this case is unacceptable, and that should be the primary focus of research funders and regulators," Blackstock said.

    Is geoengineering a good idea?

    It's not yet clear what effect the Canadian iron dump had on the ecosystem, other than an enormous algae bloom visible from space - exactly what you'd expect to see after iron fertilization, Smetacek said.

    Whether that algae bloom had any carbon-capturing effect is also unknown. Smetacek and his colleagues recently published a study in the journal Nature finding that a small man-made algae bloom near Antarctica did successfully sequester carbon on the ocean floor. For every iron atom added to the site, the researchers estimate 13,000 carbon atoms sunk to the seafloor.

    Even widespread fertilization of the oceans would result in about 0.5 to 1 gigaton of carbon being shuttled out of the atmosphere annually, Smetacek said. That's about a third to a quarter of the carbon added to the atmosphere each year from man-made and other sources. Many scientists would rather see humans stop producing carbon in the first place, a strategy known as mitigation.

    "There's 18 reasons why it might be a bad idea; the solution to global warming is mitigation, it's not geoengineering," Alan Robock, a climate scientist at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J., told LiveScience in 2010. "If anybody thinks this is a solution to global warming, it will take away what push there is now toward mitigation." [8 Ways Global Warming Is Changing the World]

    But others, including Smetacek, think geoengineering may be the only option left to prevent catastrophic sea-level rise in a world where there is little political will to replace fossil fuels.

    "I think we cannot avoid not trying to use it but we first need to do more experiments, we need to know more about how it functions, and the experiments have to be done very cautiously, they have to be done by scientists, by nonprofit people," Smetacek said. "We cannot afford to have the same greed which brought us to this impasse take over."

    Follow Stephanie Pappas on Twitter @sipappas or LiveScience @livescience. We're also on Facebook & Google+.

    Top 10 Ways to Destroy Earth
    7 Schemes to Geoengineer the Planet
    Image Gallery: One-of-a-Kind Places on Earth

    Copyright 2012 LiveScience, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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    The SpaceX Dragon commercial cargo craft is grappled by the International Space Station's Canadarm2 robotic arm on Oct. 10, 2012, during the spacecraft's first cargo delivery mission for NASA under a $1.6 billion deal for commercial cargo delivery. (NASA)

    By Clara Moskowitz

    LAS CRUCES, N.M. - Representatives from the three different companies chosen by NASA to develop private space taxis to carry astronauts to orbit say their vehicles are making substantial progress toward launching people into orbit within the next few years.

    The companies - Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX), The Boeing Company, and Sierra Nevada Corp. - are competing to fill the gap left by NASA's retired space shuttles for the launching of cargo and crews to the International Space Station. Each private space taxi firm has received funding from NASA under the Commercial Crew integrated Capability program (CCiCap) to complete a series of development milestones with the goal of taking over transportation to low-Earth orbit from the Russians.

    "We're going great guns, we're working very hard, and we hope to have people flying very soon inside the Dragon," SpaceX's commercial crew project manager Garrett Reisman said Wednesday (Oct. 17) here at the International Symposium for Personal and Commercial Spaceflight.

    21st century space capsules

    SpaceX's Dragon space capsule has already made two unmanned flights to the International Space Station this year under NASA's cargo delivery program. Work now is focused on outfitting the capsule to carry up to seven people by adding a launch abort capability and life support system, as well as designing spacesuits and the crew cabin layout.

    The vehicle, which launches on SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket, could make its first crewed test flights in mid-2015, Reisman said.

    Meanwhile, aerospace veteran Boeing is working on its CST-100 vehicle, a capsule intended to fly atop United Launch Alliance's Atlas 5 rocket, which has a proven track record launching unmanned satellites. The CST-100 is designed to carry up to seven people, and return to touch down on land via parachutes and airbags. [CST-100: Boeing's Private Space Capsule (Photos)]

    "The real focus here is getting the final design and implementing a system that is safe, reliable and affordable," John Mulholland, vice president of commercial programs in Boeing's Space Exploration department, said today (Oct. 18).

    The company just recently completed a preliminary design milestone called integrated systems review, and plans to set the vehicle's final design plans with a critical design review in April 2014. That should pave the way for the first people to fly on CST-100 in 2016, Mulholland said.

    Have space plane, will travel

    Sierra Nevada's entry into this new space race is called the Dream Chaser, and differs form the Dragon and CST-100 cone-shaped capsules in its winged space plane design.

    Dream Chaser, too, will carry a crew of seven and launch on the Atlas 5, and is targeting a first manned launch in 2016 or 2017. Its goals for the near future are furthering the vehicle's design and performing preliminary test flights.

    "When I first started looking at building a vehicle for this marketplace, people basically laughed," said Mark Sirangelo, corporate vice president of Sierra Nevada's Space Systems. "People kept constantly saying, 'It can't be done, it can't be done.' We believe it not only can be done, it is being done. We really are on the verge of moving this whole industry form theory to practice."

    While all three companies are initially developing their spacecraft to serve NASA, they intend eventually to carry a wide range of passengers, including space tourists, scientists and astronauts from countries without their own launch vehicles.

    "Once we have this thing up and running for NASA we are free to use it for other purposes," Reisman said. "It does bring up a bunch of interesting possibilities. But this is all after we accomplish our primary job, which is getting Americans back into space on American vehicles."

    You can follow SPACE.com assistant managing editor Clara Moskowitz on Twitter @ClaraMoskowitz. Follow SPACE.com on Twitter @Spacedotcom. We're also on Facebook & Google+.

    Commercial Spaceships To Taxi Astronauts To Space | Video
    Now Boarding: The Top 10 Private Spaceships
    Special Report: The Private Space Taxi Race

    Copyright 2012 SPACE.com, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

    RELATED ON SKYE: Mind-Blowing New Photos from Space


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    WASHINGTON (AP) - The maker of Banana Boat sunscreen is recalling some of its spray-on products after reports that a handful of people have caught on fire after applying the lotion.

    Energizer Holdings is pulling nearly two dozen formulations of UltraMist off store shelves due to the risk that the lotion can ignite when exposed to open flame.

    The recall includes products like UltraMist Sport, UltraMist Ultra Defense and UltraMist Kids.

    A company spokesman said there have been five reports of people catching fire after applying the sunscreen in the last year. Four burn cases were reported in the U.S. and one in Canada.

    More than 20 million units have been sold since UltraMist launched in 2010, the spokesman said.

    Energizer said in a statement that the problem appears to be with UltraMist's spray valve, which is over applying the product. As a result the lotion is taking longer to dry, which raises its flammability risk.

    "If a consumer comes into contact with a flame or spark prior to complete drying of the product on the skin, there is a potential for the product to ignite," the company said.

    Consumers who purchased the products are being told not to use them. More information is available from the manufacturer at 1-800-SAFESUN.

    Energizer said it has notified the Food and Drug Administration about the voluntary recall.

    RELATED ON SKYE: 10 Commandments for Healthy Skin


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    About a week ago we posted this video of Martyn Ashton doing some crazy stunts on a road bike. Well, there are a few things that didn't make the final cut. Here are some of the outtakes.

    RELATED ON SKYE: The World's Most Extreme Sports


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    Breaking Weather: Sierra Winter Storms

    Unsettled weather continues in the West on Monday as a large cold Pacific trough of low pressure in the jet stream moves slowly to the south and becomes positioned just offshore of west Washington by the afternoon. The system will push ample moisture from the Pacific inland across the Pacific Northwest and northern California, maintaining scattered showers, periods of heavy downpours, high elevation snow, and claps and rumbles of thunder through the afternoon.

    The cold airmass associated with this system will lower snow levels down to around 4,000 to 4,500 feet across the Cascades and the northern Sierra Nevadas. Snow accumulations of 6 to 12 are expected at these elevations and up to 18 inches can be expected at elevations of 6,500 feet and higher. Winter Weather Watches and Winter Storm Warning will continue for the northern Sierra Nevadas through Monday.

    Meanwhile, waves of energy rounding the bottom of this system will spread precipitation inland across central California and the Intermountain West.

    To the east of this activity, energy from New Mexico and west Texas will draw moisture from the Gulf of Mexico northward as it lifts across the Plains and into the Mid-Mississippi Valley. Showers and thunderstorms developing ahead of this system from Texas through the Mid-Mississippi and Ohio Valley and into the Upper Great Lakes are expected to gain strength by the evening.

    Temperatures in the Lower 48 states Sunday have ranged from a morning low of 12 degrees at Lakeview AWS, Ore. to a high of 95 degrees at Edinburg, Texas.


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    A massive hail storm struck South Africa, clobbering one family's backyard pool and patio. Despite the storm's strength, damage was minor.

    RELATED ON SKYE: Epic Storm Photos from the Twittersphere


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    Bridge Day 2012 arrived at the New River Gorge Bridge in West Virginia over the weekend, drawing more than 80,000 spectators to watch adrenaline junkies plunge more than 875 feet off the structure. One man's helmet camera captures the rush.

    RELATED ON SKYE: The world's most extreme sports


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    Severe flooding along Spain's Aragón River sends one house in northern Spain crashing into the floodwaters.

    RELATED ON SKYE: 10 Craziest Things to Go Airborne in a Storm


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    Stargazers around the globe were wowed over the weekend as the Orionid meteor shower rained down overhead. The Orionid meteor shower occurs each October as the Earth passes through dust remnants trailing behind Halley's Comet. This video captures the phenomenon from Mount Pinos, Calif., at an elevation of 8,361 feet.

    RELATED ON SKYE: Amazing newly released photos from space


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    By Terry Spencer

    MIAMI (AP) - Tropical Storm Sandy developed south of Jamaica on Monday, becoming the 18th named storm of a busy Atlantic season that has seen only two hurricanes make landfall.

    Sandy was about 395 miles south of Kingston, Jamaica, and had winds of 40 mph, the National Hurricane Center in Miami said. It is expected to head toward Jamaica and be near or over the island Wednesday, perhaps with winds close to hurricane strength of 74 mph.

    It's the third year in a row that the Atlantic basin has had at least 18 named storms, a higher than average year of about 11. Despite the active season, only two hurricanes made landfall. Ernesto struck Mexico in August and Isaac hit Louisiana later that month, both as Category 1 storms. Isaac killed seven people.

    Robbie Berg, a hurricane specialist at the NHC, said it is unclear why there have been an above average number of storms during the last few years. He pointed out that of this year's named storms, most were relatively weak and short-lived. Only one Atlantic storm reached Category 3 status - Michael - and it stayed well out to sea.

    "We are not sure if there is any significance," Berg said.

    He compared this year to 2004 and 2005 when there were several storms that caused major damage, including Katrina.

    As Sandy strengthened into a tropical storm in the Caribbean, a tropical depression formed far away in the Atlantic. It does not pose any threat to land, but could become a named storm later Monday. If it does, it would be Tony.

    The Atlantic storm season began June 1 and runs through Nov. 30.

    RELATED ON SKYE: The Most Devastating Hurricanes in U.S. History


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