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SKYE on AOL

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    Sunday, Jan. 12, 2014

    As in this file photo of pedestrians on New York City's Brooklyn Bridge, temperatures have been much warmer this weekend than during last week's polar vortex. The city reached a high of 58 degrees on Saturday, January 11.

    Over the course of a few days, arctic cold was replaced by springlike warmth in the East with temperatures as much as 50 degrees warmer on Saturday compared to last Tuesday.

    Temperatures climbed into the 50s across portions of the mid-Atlantic and Northeast on Saturday afternoon after only reaching the single digits and teens on Tuesday.

    Many locations established new records on Tuesday for coldest maximum temperatures. High temperatures on Saturday in some of those same cities were near or tied their record for the date.

    Last Tuesday, Daytona Beach, Fla., set a new record for coldest maximum temperature when the high only reached 42 degrees. On Saturday they soared to 84 degrees, which tied the record high for the date set most recently in 1991.

    The warmth was accompanied by soaking rain across a majority of the East.



    In the Southeast, the warm and moist air fueled powerful thunderstorms that rolled through the region.

    These intense storms contained winds strong enough to bring down trees and power lines from eastern Alabama and northern Florida to southeastern Virginia.

    RELATED:
    When Will the Polar Vortex Return?
    Storms Leave Trail of Damage in Southeast US
    Latest US Weather Advisories and Warnings


    A wind gust of 86 mph was measured at Raleigh-Durham International Airport in North Carolina as severe thunderstorms plowed through the area.

    Tens of thousands of Duke Energy customers were without electricity by sunset on Saturday as a result of the storms, according to the company's website.

    Cooler air will settle over the East on Sunday, followed by a brief warmup to start the week.

    Temperatures are expected to return to below normal in the East by midweek and there could be another blast of arctic air late in the week.

    PHOTOS ON SKYE: Dangerous Deep Freeze Pummels Much of US
    Deep Freeze

     

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    Sunday, Jan. 12, 2014

    As in this file photo released by the Washington State Department of Transportation, the Snoqualmie Pass in Washington state is being hit by heavy snowstorms and high winds. (AP Photo/Washington State Department of Transportation)

    A powerful storm will continue to kick up hurricane-force winds across parts of the Rockies through Monday, threatening to cause damage, power outages and travel headaches.

    Winds gusted to 115 mph at Logan Pass, Mont., on Saturday afternoon and 90 mph at Sedge Ridge, Wash., on Saturday morning.

    Additional hurricane-force winds will be measured across the Rockies and not just in the highest elevations.

    Such winds are in store for places to the lee of the Rockies from Montana to Colorado. This includes Cut Bank, Mont., and Cheyenne, Wyo.

    Sunday night through Monday is when the strongest winds will howl.

    The intense winds threaten to cause damage, power outages and travel problems for both motorists and airline passengers.

    An emergency manager reported that 12 power poles were knocked down by strong winds near Ennis, Mont., on Saturday. Strong winds also downed a 26-inch diameter Grand Fir near St. Maries, Idaho. The tree landed on the trained spotter's home.

    RELATED:
    Northwest Interactive Radar
    Latest Snow, Wind Watches, Warnings
    AccuWeather.com Travel Center

    While potentially causing flight delays, the winds will make driving difficult on stretches of Interstates 15, 25, 90 and 94.

    High-profile vehicles are at greatest risk of being overturned by the powerful winds, but even drivers of smaller vehicles will feel the winds tug at their cars and trucks.

    AccuWeather.com Meteorologist Mike Doll is especially concerned for hazardous driving conditions through passes and roads that are orientated west to east or southwest to northeast.

    The strongest winds will avoid the metro area of Denver, but gusty winds still threaten to interfere with passing and kicking plays during the NFL playoff game between the Denver Broncos and the San Diego Chargers on Sunday afternoon.

    Unlike the games in Seattle and Foxboro on Saturday, rain will avoid Denver on Sunday afternoon.

    Snow will also be confined to the mountains. Travel will become extremely difficult, if not impossible, as the snow combines with the fierce winds to create blizzard conditions. The threat remains high for avalanches to occur.

    While still windy for this Sunday, the strongest winds have departed Seattle, Portland and the rest of the Northwest. Rain and mountain snow continues to stream over western Washington and Oregon, keeping travel treacherous through I-90's Snoqualmie Pass.

    Monday through Tuesday, calmer weather will return to Oregon and Washington. On Monday, more of the northern High Plains will join the Rockies in enduring the potentially damaging winds.

    RELATED ON SKYE: 50 Must-See Weather Photos from 2013
    Twin Waterspouts

     

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    Sunday, Jan. 12, 2014

    Employees of the South Charleston Public Works Department assisted the residents in obtaining cases of water and filling the containers they brought with them Sunday, Jan. 12, 2014 after a chemical spill Thursday in the Elk River that has contaminated the public water supply in nine counties. (AP Photo Michael Switzer)

    DRY BRANCH, W.Va. (AP) - For Bonnie Wireman, the white plastic bag covering her kitchen faucet is a reminder that she can't drink the water.

    The 81-year-old woman placed it there after forgetting several times the tap water was tainted after a coal processing chemical leaked into the area's water supply. Every time she turned on the water, she'd quickly stop and clean her hands with peroxide - just to make sure she was safe.

    The widow of a coal miner, Wireman is frustrated about the chemical spill that's deprived 300,000 West Virginians of clean tap water for four days: "I'm really angry."

    But as quickly as she said it, she wanted to make one thing clear: She didn't blame the coal or chemical industries for the spill.

    "I hope this doesn't hurt coal," said Wireman, who lives in an area known around the state as Chemical Valley because of all the plants nearby. "Too many West Virginians depend on coal and chemicals. We need those jobs."

    And that's the dilemma for many West Virginians: The industries provide thousands of good paying jobs but also pose risks for the communities surrounding them, such as the chemical spill or coal mine disasters. The current emergency began Thursday after a foaming agent used in coal processing escaped from a Freedom Industries plant in Charleston and seeped into the Elk River. Since then, residents have been ordered not to use tap water for anything but flushing toilets.

    Gov. Earl Tomblin said Sunday water tests were encouraging, but he didn't give a timetable for when people might be able to use water again.

    "The numbers look good. They are very encouraging," Tomblin said.

    Maj. Gen. James Hoyer, of the West Virginia National Guard, said testing near the water treatment facility has consistently been below 1 part per million, a key step officials needed before they can begin the next step of flushing the system.

    West Virginia is a picturesque, mountainous state, with deep rivers and streams that cut through lush valleys. But along the twisting, rural roads there are signs of the state's industrial past and present: Chemical plant storage tanks rise from the valley floor. Coal mines - with heavy equipment and steel structures used to extract and then transport the fuel - are part of the rural landscape. White plumes of smoke drifting from factories offer a stark contrast to the state's natural beauty.

    "You won't find many people in these parts who are against these industries. But we have to do a better job of regulating them," said Wireman's son, Danny Scott, 59, a retired General Electric worker who has been helping take care of his mother. "The state has a lot to offer. We don't want to destroy it."

    West Virginia is the second-largest coal producing state behind Wyoming, with 538 mines and 26,619 people. The state has about 150 chemical companies that employ 12,000 workers.

    Over the years, there have been accidents in both industries that have killed workers and harmed the environment. In January 2010, a worker died at a DuPont plant after inhaling a lethal dose of phosgene, which was used as a chemical weapon during World War I and today is used as a building block in synthesis of pharmaceuticals and other organic compounds. An explosion at the Upper Big Branch coal mine killed 29 people in 2010.

    Coal is critical to West Virginia's economy. Strong coal prices and demand proved vital to the state budget during and after the national recession, from 2009 through 2011.

    In November 2009, the state's unemployment rate was 8.4 percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Four years later - November 2013 - the unemployment rate was down to 6.1 percent, below the national rate of 7 percent.

    In Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's recent State-of-the-State speech, he touted the chemical industry, saying it was among those that grew substantially over the last year.

    The spill that tainted the water supply involved a chemical used in coal processing. But it didn't involve a coal mine - and that's a point state officials are trying to convey to the public.

    When asked if the emergency is one of the risks of being a state that relies heavily on the coal industry, Tomblin quickly responded: "This was not a coal company incident, this was a chemical company incident."

    "It's used in processing coal, as I understand it, but obviously it was not a coal company, it was a chemical company that left the breach and the tanks that's holding this particular chemical," he said.

    The coal industry, too, was saying they should not bear the blame in this case.

    "This is a chemical spill accident. It just so happens that the chemical has some applications to the coal industry, just that fact alone shouldn't cause people to point fingers at the coal industry," said Jason Bostic, vice president of the West Virginia Coal Association.

    Bostic said the coal industry is very carefully regulated by the state Department of Environmental Protection and several federal agencies that ensure it is safe from the very first step in opening a mine to ongoing operations.

    "The environmental risk that's associated with coal mining, we feel it's well regulated," Bostic said.

    There's no doubt the coal and chemical industries are a hugely important part of the state's economy. Even as he lamented the loss of business caused by the spill, Matt Ballard, president of the Charleston Area Alliance, the state's largest regional chamber of commerce, talked about the importance of chemical companies in the Kanawha Valley, which includes the capital.

    "The chemical industry, that's what started the valley," Ballard said. "We've got a long history of a really good safety record, but with any business ... there's always a risk."

    Kent Sowards, the associate director for Marshall University's Center for Business and Economic Research, said that there's a delicate balance between offsetting economic needs and potential costs associated with the coal and chemical industries.

    "There are risks inherent with everything. Whether the risk is something that someone wants to continue to bear, that ultimately becomes their decision," he said.

    In West Virginia's case, he believes the state is doing a good job of maintaining that balance.

    And since the emergency is ongoing, it's hard to assess at this point whether the response was successful, he said.

    But in communities across the region, with names like Nitro and Dry Branch, people are beginning to wonder if it's worth it.

    Steve Brown, 56, lives outside of Nitro in the shadow of chemical plants. Over the years, he's worked in some of those places, and knows firsthand about the risks and rewards.

    "You made enough to support your family," said Brown, who is unemployed. "But you also see what it's done to the environment. People stay away from fishing in rivers and streams near chemical plants. You have fish advisories. You know better. You just know."

    The chemical spill has brought out the best and worst in people, he said. He watched folks deliver water to elderly and disabled neighbors who couldn't get out of the house. But he also glimpsed people fight in grocery stores over bottles of water.

    "When I saw that, I couldn't believe it," he said. "It was really sad."

    Chris Laws, 42, a coal miner who grew up in the Kanawha Valley, has worked in the mines for 20 years. He said he's worried what will happen in a few days when people still aren't able to shower, wash clothes or clean dishes.

    "This ain't even the bad times. The bad times aren't here yet," he said as he waited outside the Kroger grocery store for water to be delivered.

    He said it bothers him that officials have downplayed the impact on people.

    "They make believe it's no big deal. But it is a big deal. You have 300,000 people without water. If this goes on much longer, it's going to cause mass chaos," he said.

    Patricia Mason, a retired teacher, said it bothers her that people think they have to accept the environmental risks associated with the industries.

    "Yes, we need the jobs. But we can do a better job of making sure they (companies) don't hurt the environment. Look around you. We have beautiful mountains. We should be promoting our environment more. That will create jobs. People don't have to accept living like this," she said.

    RELATED ON SKYE: 50 Must-See Weather Photos from 2013
    Twin Waterspouts

     

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    Monday, Jan. 13, 2014
    Winter Weather
    (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

    Accumulating snow could return to the Northeast at midweek, if all the right ingredients come together.

    Milder air filtering into the Northeast on Monday will set the stage for a mainly rain event late Monday through Tuesday.

    The warmth will also keep the risk of more ice jams high on area rivers.

    A widespread soaking rain is not expected, but it will be enough to make most people want to grab the umbrella before heading outdoors.

    The air will be too warm for the storm to produce substantial snow, but it is not out of the question for the rain to end as a few wet snowflakes across the interior.

    If there is an area that picks up at quick an inch or so at the storm's tail-end, it would be across the interior of Maine and New Brunswick.

    RELATED:
    AccuWeather.com Winter Weather Center
    Forecast Temperature Maps
    Will It Snow on February 2 at East Rutherford, N.J.?

    The next possibility of accumulating snow elsewhere in the Northeast could come via the Alberta Clipper, set to spread a band of snow from the Dakotas to the Great Lakes Monday through Tuesday.

    One scenario is that the snow - leaving up to a few inches - will head northeastward, either grazing or passing over the St. Lawrence Valley on Wednesday.

    A thin band of rain or snow showers will cross the rest of the Northeast. Fresh cold will follow, kicking up some additional snow showers downwind of the Great Lakes and in the upslope areas of the central and northern Appalachians.

    However, AccuWeather.com meteorologists are monitoring the possibility of a storm system taking shape along the East Coast on Wednesday.

    That would lead to a steadier band of rain developing east of the Appalachians, including over the heavily populated I-95 corridor.

    The incoming cold could arrive fast enough to cause the rain to change to a few inches of snow along or in between the I-81 and I-95 corridors. Between these two corridors in the mid-Atlantic, odds favor accumulating snow toward or over the I-81 corridor.

    If this solution pans out, the above snow area could shift depending on the low's exact track.

    The precise placement of this snow band will depend on the low's exact track along the Northeast coast - if the low even develops.

    If the second scenario pans out and a low does take shape, it is not expected to rapidly strengthen and deliver substantial snow. Regardless, a few inches of snow could lead to some travel disruptions for those traveling on the ground or in the air.

    Residents and visitors to the Northeast should continue to check back with AccuWeather.com for the latest updates on how the weather for Wednesday will unfold.

    In either solution, a blast of colder air with a piece of the polar vortex will arrive by the upcoming weekend.

    RELATED ON SKYE: 20 Photos of Monster Blizzards

     

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    Monday, Jan. 13, 2014
    Weather Los Angeles
    (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)​

    The severe drought across Southern California will combine with Santa Ana winds to create a high fire danger through Wednesday.

    The wind can also bring down trees and power lines. Driving will be difficult, especially for those driving SUVs and other high-profile vehicles.

    Winds in many of the mountains, canyons and passes of Ventura, Los Angeles, Orange, San Bernardino, Riverside and San Diego counties will gust as high as 60 mph.

    The most persistent and strongest winds will occur on Monday and Tuesday, but could still linger into Wednesday.

    The biggest concern with this Santa Ana event will be the risk of fires, which is being enhanced by the lack of rain.

    Despite it being the rainy season in Southern California, it has not rained in many areas since Dec. 19th, nearly a month ago. Los Angeles has only received 22% of the normal rainfall since last January.

    "Southern California needs rain and it needs rain badly," AccuWeather.com western weather expert Ken Clark said.

    The offshore winds will push away the cool air from the Pacific Ocean. This will send temperatures well above average to near-record levels. Much of the L.A. Basin will be near or above 80 through Thursday.

    RELATED:
    AccuWeather.com Winter Weather Center
    Forecast Temperature Maps
    Will It Snow on February 2 at East Rutherford, N.J.?

    The Santa Ana winds are being caused by a strong area of high pressure building near the Great Basin. The clockwise flow around the high is bringing the strong, northeasterly winds into Southern California.

    As the high pulls way on Wednesday, the winds should subside some, but there doesn't appear to be any rainfall in sight for at least the next week.

    RELATED ON SKYE: 50 Incredible Photos of Forces of Nature
    Volcano Eruption

     

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    Monday, Jan. 13, 2014
    panoramic view of san juan ...
    Shutterstock

    SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) - A strong earthquake out to sea shook Puerto Rico early Monday, causing minor damage in some places.

    Some people reported items falling in their home and dozens said they felt buildings sway in the capital of San Juan, about 61 miles (98 kilometers) from the quake's epicenter.

    The U.S. Geological Survey said the quake had a preliminary magnitude of 6.4 and struck just after midnight about 35 miles (57 kilometers) north of Hatillo. It said the quake occurred 17 miles (28 kilometers) deep.

    Puerto Rico's emergency management agency said there was no tsunami warning and that no injuries have been reported.

    Earthquakes of similar magnitude have struck near Puerto Rico in recent years, including a 5.4-magnitude one that shook the U.S. territory in March 2011 and another one of the same magnitude that struck on Christmas Eve in 2010.

    RELATED ON SKYE: 50 Incredible Photos of Forces of Nature
    Volcano Eruption

     

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    Monday, Jan. 13, 2014
    Philippines Flooding
    In this Sunday, Jan. 12, 2014, photo, rescuers from the Comval Emergency Response Team continue their rescue operation following the flooding of Compostela Valley and nearby provinces in southern Philippines. (AP Photo/A. Dayao)

    MANILA, Philippines (AP) - Two days of heavy rains set off floods and landslides in the southeastern Philippines, leaving at least 20 people dead, 13 missing and thousands displaced, officials said Monday.

    Most of the dead and missing came from floods and landslides that hit Compostella Valley and Davao Oriental provinces, said Maj. Reynaldo Balido, spokesman for the disaster-response agency.

    A landslide Monday damaged five houses in Cagdianao municipality in Dinagat Island, off the northeastern coast of the main southern island of Mindanao, killing six residents including two boys aged 2 and 14, said police officer Elbert Ompoc.

    Another man drowned in Agusan del Sur province's Prosperidad township, on Mindanao, and seven others were missing, according to the civil defense regional bureau.

    The flooding, triggered by rains from a low pressure area, has affected 132,000 people from 10 provinces.

    Liza Mazo, a regional disaster-response official, said some 10,000 people fled to safer grounds in four provinces and an island.

    The same area was hit by a typhoon in December 2012, leaving nearly 2,000 people dead and missing and causing massive destruction.

    Government weather forecaster Gener Quitlong said rains may persist until Tuesday or Wednesday over central provinces, including those hit by Typhoon Haiyan, which killed more than 6,100 people and left nearly 1,800 others missing on Nov. 8.

    RELATED ON SKYE: Stunning Hurricane Photos from Space

     

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    Monday, Jan. 13, 2014
    Colorado Winter Storm
    (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley)

    A powerful storm will continue to kick up hurricane-force winds across parts of the Rockies Monday, threatening to cause damage, power outages and travel headaches.

    Winds gusted to 115 mph at Logan Pass, Mont., on Saturday afternoon and 90 mph at Sedge Ridge, Wash., on Saturday morning.

    Winds Sunday gusted to 90 mph in Alta, Utah, and to 80 mph at Pike Peak, Colo.

    Additional hurricane-force winds will be measured across the Rockies and not just in the highest elevations.

    Such winds are in store for places to the lee of the Rockies from Montana to Colorado. This includes Cut Bank, Mont., and Cheyenne, Wyo.

    The intense winds threaten to cause damage, power outages and travel problems for both motorists and airline passengers.

    An emergency manager reported that 12 power poles were knocked down by strong winds near Ennis, Mont., on Saturday. Strong winds also downed a 26-inch diameter Grand Fir near St. Maries, Idaho. The tree landed on the trained spotter's home.



    While potentially causing flight delays, the winds will make driving difficult on stretches of Interstates 15, 25, 90 and 94.

    High-profile vehicles are at greatest risk of being overturned by the powerful winds, but even drivers of smaller vehicles will feel the winds tug at their cars and trucks.

    AccuWeather.com meteorologist Mike Doll is especially concerned for hazardous driving conditions through passes and roads that are orientated west to east or southwest to northeast.

    The strongest winds avoided the metro area of Denver, but winds still gusted past 30 mph during the NFL playoff game between the Denver Broncos and the San Diego Chargers on Sunday afternoon.

    RELATED:
    Northwest Interactive Radar
    Latest Snow, Wind Watches, Warnings
    AccuWeather.com Travel Center


    Snow will also be confined to the mountains. Travel will become extremely difficult, if not impossible, as the snow combines with the fierce winds to create blizzard conditions. The threat remains high for avalanches to occur.

    The strongest winds have departed Seattle, Portland and the rest of the Northwest.

    Monday through Tuesday, calmer weather will return to Oregon and Washington. On Monday, more of the northern High Plains will join the Rockies in enduring the potentially damaging winds.

    RELATED ON SKYE: 20 Photos of Monster Blizzards

     

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    XCOR Aerospace's Lynx spacecraft is shown launching into space with a science payload on its dorsal side in this artist's illustration. (Credit: XCOR Aerospace)

    Bags packed. Ticket in hand. Reserved seating and your rocket ship waits.

    The longed-for dawn of private manned space travel appears near at hand. Virgin Galactic's suborbital SpaceShipTwo, for example, aced its third supersonic test flight on Friday (Jan. 10), and company officials say they remain on track to begin commercial service later this year.

    But as Niels Bohr, Nobel laureate in physics, once said: "Prediction is very difficult, especially if it's about the future." [See photos of SpaceShipTwo's latest supersonic test flight]

    SPACE.com surveyed a number of commercial space travel experts, asking them what developments we should expect in the field this year - including whether or not large numbers of paying customers will indeed make it to the final frontier in 2014.

    The suborbital sector

    Virgin Galactic's efforts to create the world's first commercial spaceline have gained a lot of steam lately. The company has already signed up more than 600 people who aim to fly to suborbital space aboard SpaceShipTwo, at a current price of $250,000 per seat.

    "For Galactic, 2014 is the year that we plan to go to space, and start operating commercially," said Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides.

    "We believe this moment will represent a major shift in humanity's relationship with space - the moment when the space environment becomes significantly more accessible to new people, new uses and new science," Whitesides told SPACE.com. [Rise of SpaceShipTwo: Virgin Galactic's Test Flights Photos]

    Whitesides underscored the need for loosening governmental red tape to make this vision a reality.

    In terms of Washington, D.C. processes, he said, "our major hope is that the export control reform process will conclude in a place that enables the U.S. to continue its global leadership of the suborbital spaceflight sector."

    Rocket reality

    Years in the making, and years in the waiting for commercial space travel to become "rocket real," is New Mexico's Spaceport America. Virgin Galactic will establish its headquarters and operate its spaceflights from the sprawling site, billed as the world's first purpose-built commercial spaceport.

    A recent development is SpaceX use of Spaceport America to start flying its Falcon 9R reusable rocket - an offshoot of the company's Grasshopper vehicle that has repeatedly flown from McGregor, Texas. Last year, New Mexico officials announced a three-year agreement to lease land and facilities to SpaceX at Spaceport America for the venture.

    In addition, Spaceport America's Launch Site Operator License has just been renewed by the Federal Aviation Administration Associate Administrator for Commercial Space Transportation (FAA/AST). The license is required by the FAA for the spaceport to host licensed vertical and horizontal launches. [Photos: Take a Tour of Spaceport America]

    Nascent industry

    Christine Anderson, executive director of the New Mexico Spaceport Authority (NMSA), foresees milestone achievements for the facility, and for private spaceflight in general, in 2014. A majority of NMSA staff, for example, are soon to move to the on-site, newly outfitted Spaceport Operations Center.

    "We have supported 20 launches to date and look forward to an increased launch rate in 2014. We are ready to support our tenants, Virgin Galactic and SpaceX," Anderson said.

    Anderson is upbeat about the year ahead but watchful.

    "In general, I think we will continue to see steady progress in the commercial space industry," she said.

    "Like any nascent industry, progress is not always measured in leaps and bounds but is achieved by methodical, diligent work by teams of professionals. I look forward to a year of great progress in the commercial space industry," Anderson added.

    Cautious optimism

    "Optimism is always the fuel of choice in this industry ... otherwise there would be no industry," said Henry Vanderbilt, head of the Space Access Society (SAS), a group dedicated to increasing the viability and reducing the cost of commercial access to space travel.

    As founder of the SAS, Vanderbilt has long kept an eye on the blossoming prospect of cheaper access to space.

    "From the point of view of someone who's been pushing radically cheaper reusable space transportation for 25 years, we're winning," Vanderbilt said. "Multiple groups with the resources and talent to do it now obviously get it, and the government, for the moment at least, is allowing them to get on with it.".

    "Mind you, that's cautious optimism," he added. "This is a high-risk business. Things will sometimes go wrong."

    Rule number one

    Vanderbilt draws from a reservoir of observations, and he served up a top-of-the list tenet.

    "Rule number one of projects is, it will take longer and cost more than you planned ... doubly so for advanced aerospace vehicle projects," he said.

    Currently, just two reusable human-carrying commercial space vehicles are in flight test mode - SpaceX's Falcon 9 Reusable (F9R) development vehicle/Dragon capsule and Virgin Galactic's SpaceShip2.

    But Vanderbilt expects that number to double in the coming year, as XCOR Aerospace's suborbital Lynx spacecraft roars through the skies and secretive firm Blue Origin continues to make progress with its vertical takeoff/vertical landing technology

    "I wouldn't be greatly surprised if Blue Origin has that engine flying in a testbed this coming year," he said.

    In surveying the NASA scene, Vanderbilt looks for the government's Space Launch System to continue to be "expensively useless." Furthermore, he said that NASA's commercial crew program will be in "growing danger" of succumbing to the "bureaucratic side of the force" given the changeover to Federal Acquisition Regulation-based contracting, and for various smaller projects "to succeed in direct proportion to how much they're overlooked by the budget-cutters ... so I won't name any of them."

    Tempo and temperament

    "2014 has all the making of being the year of the commercial space traveler," said David Livingston, founder and host of the radio/Internet talk program, "The Space Show."

    "Finally, it looks as if sometime during the year, maybe late in the year, that 'two-year' waiting period for space tourism will finally have arrived," Livingston said. Still, the companies involved do face some challenges.

    "My own thoughts are that Virgin Galactic will be the first to fly later this year. But there are still lots of tests and demonstrations needed for first commercial flight in 2014," Livingston said. "Even if commercial flights are delayed, this year has the potential for breakthroughs ... as the emerging space industry garners more and more interest, including interest from professional investors."

    How best, then, to capture the tempo and temperament of private space travel in 2014?

    "I believe this is best done by showing success and demonstrating responsible management and decision-making, while always moving forward," Livingston said. "For my money, SpaceX is a good role model to follow."

    Critical year

    "I think 2014 is a critical year for space tourism," said Jeff Foust, editor of The Space Review, an online magazine with in-depth articles about space exploration issues.

    "We should - finally - start to see the first flights into space by Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo, and perhaps the first commercial flights of that vehicle as well, depending on how well their test program proceeds," Foust said.

    The start of Virgin Galactic commercial flight this year, Foust said, would be a major success, not just for the company, but also for Spaceport America in New Mexico. Such a milestone would also demonstrate the long-awaited economic payoff of the state's $200 million investment in the spaceport, he said.

    "In addition, we should also see the first test flights, although not necessarily into space, of XCOR's Lynx vehicle in 2014, and possibly even commercial flights by the end of the year if all goes well," Foust said.

    Long-awaited, long-delayed

    It's that potential for major activity that makes 2014 a critical year, Foust said.

    "If these companies achieve those long-awaited, and sometimes long-delayed, major milestones, it will go far to erase any lingering doubts that suborbital space tourism is a real market, while also enabling opportunities for using those vehicles in other applications, like suborbital research and technology demonstration," Foust said.

    Those misgivings persist today, nearly a decade after SpaceShipOne's X Prize-winning private sector flights that snagged a $10 million purse with piloted back-to-back suborbital treks.

    Virgin Galactic and XCOR have encountered delays, Foust said. "Those problems have different roots. For Virgin, it appears to be technical issues, while XCOR has been slowed by the limited funding it has access to," he said.

    If Virgin and XCOR suffer additional delays, or other problems that slow their development, Foust said, "the doubts about the viability of suborbital space tourism will grow stronger. That's why I think 2014 is such an important year for this field."

    Leonard David has been reporting on the space industry for more than five decades. He is former director of research for the National Commission on Space and is co-author of Buzz Aldrin's new book "Mission to Mars - My Vision for Space Exploration" published by National Geographic. Follow us @Spacedotcom, Facebook or Google+. Originally published on SPACE.com.

    Copyright 2014 SPACE.com, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

    RELATED ON SKYE: 25 Amazing Photos of the International Space Station
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    Monday, Jan. 13, 2014
    In this Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2014 photo, patrons tour an ice castle at the base of the Loon Mountain ski resort in Lincoln, N.H. The ice castle begins to grow in the fall when the weather gets below freezing and thousands of icicles are made and harvested then placed around sprinkler heads and sprayed with water.  The castle will continue to grow as long as the temperatures stay below freezing. (AP Photo/Jim Cole)
    In this Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2014, photo patrons tour an ice castle at the base of the Loon Mountain ski resort in Lincoln, N.H. (AP Photo/Jim Cole)

    LINCOLN, N.H. (AP) - Farming is tough during a New Hampshire winter - unless you're growing icicles.

    At the base of Loon Mountain in Lincoln, an ice castle not unlike the frosty palace in the Disney movie "Frozen" is rising from the ground, one icicle at a time. It's one of three ice castles being built by the same company - the others are in Breckinridge, Colo., and Midway, Utah - this winter.

    Brent Christensen, who now lives in Hawaii, started his Ice Castles company a few years ago after spending several winters building elaborate slides and ice towers for his kids in his backyard in Utah. He initially sprayed water onto wooden frames, only to be left with a tangled mess of splintered wood in spring. The next year, he experimented with blocks of ice, building a small igloo to which he added chunks of snow and ice.

    "During that process, I almost accidentally started thinking about icicles," he said. "At first it was just for cosmetics. I thought, 'This will look really cool.' And then, with time, I stumbled on the idea of crisscrossing the icicles, and that's when I found ... you can actually grow them in certain ways."

    Eventually, he approached ski areas about building larger structures that could serve as temporary art installations and tourist attractions, and the idea took off. It costs tens of thousands of dollars to build the castles, the largest of which spans about an acre, and visitors pay $8 to $10 to walk through them. About 8,000 people have visited the New Hampshire castle since it opened Dec. 27.

    Matt Brown, of Somerville, Mass., who toured the castle last week, said he recently saw "Frozen" and was curious to see how a real ice castle compared to the movie version.

    "I obviously knew it wouldn't be quite like that because that's an animated thing, and it's a lot easier to animate things than make them in real life, but I thought it would be an interesting way to spend 30 or 60 minutes," he said. "It's really neat."

    The castles will continue growing during the season, until they melt in March. Walls that stand 8 to 20 feet could reach 40 to 60 feet in the next month or so, and icicles placed along the tops of walls will become ceilings. But it takes a lot of work, said Cory Livingood, foreman of the New Hampshire castle's crew.

    The process starts in the fall, with the installation of elaborate sprinkler systems. When the weather turns cold, water is sprayed onto metal racks to produce thousands of icicles that are harvested and stuck to the ground around sprinkler heads. The icicles are then drenched in water and, depending on the temperature and wind, grow in various shapes and formations. Over the course of a few weeks, towers, tunnels, archways and caves emerge.

    "We're technically farmers," Livingood said. "We grow icicles, we handpick them, harvest them, take them out and hand place them around sprinklers, and then we turn on those sprinklers and they grow more."

    There are 58 towers on the Lincoln castle, plus a waterfall and an enclosed slide. At night, the castles are lit by color-changing LED lights embedded in the ice. Sara Bookin-Weiner, also of Somerville, said she appreciates the beauty of the ice at a time of year when "things are so dead and dark."

    "Especially now that the holidays are over, in the Northeast we're looking forward to lots of months of blah, and it's really wonderful to have something so creative and artistic and delightful," she said.

    Christensen, who also runs a small-engine repair business, said there's a significant amount of mechanical work and engineering involved in designing the castles and setting them up. But Mother Nature handles the artistic side.

    "The real artistic part isn't done by us. When you spray water in the middle of the night, and you have icicles that catch the water, that's when the art happens," he said.

    Christensen has been in Utah overseeing the project there this winter but will head home to Hawaii soon. He laughed when asked if he'll miss the ice.

    "I think about it a lot, but I don't long for it by any stretch," he said.

    RELATED ON SKYE: 30 Ice Sculptures That Will Take Your Breath Away

     

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    Monday, Jan. 13, 2014


    As gusty winds whipped through Raleigh, N.C., on Saturday, photographer Ed Braz captured shocking footage of its result.

    The powerful winds toppled a large, under-construction condominium, leveling the building completely.

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    Setting the stage for the severe weather was unusual warmth, as temperatures peaked at 69 degrees F in the afternoon, nearly 20 degrees above normal.

    Paired with moist air and a passing cold front, thunderstorms and strong winds stretched across the region Saturday afternoon.

    Though winds gusted mostly between 20 and 30 mph, a record gust of 86 mph was recorded at the Raleigh-Durham International Airport, just miles from where the footage was shot.

    In the photographer's blog this weekend, Braz detailed his experience:

    "Took my phone/camera to document this unusual weather phenomenon and was some-what concerned about how my building would hold up. Turned on the video recording, placed the phone up against the glass pane and felt the vibration caused by the high-speed winds. As I was commenting to myself in a half-tone about the scary nature of what I was seeing and feeling, I got a lot more than I could expect.

    Within a few seconds the wind gusted and the structure a mere 30 yards (roughly 30 m) came crashing down turning the building into heap of wooden beams and compressed sheeting."

    RELATED ON SKYE: 50 Must-See Weather Photos from 2013
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    The Pleiades star cluster dazzles brilliantly in this deep-exposure, widefield photo recently sent in to SPACE.com by a veteran astrophotographer.

    "The exposure was deep enough to draw out the extended interstellar dust surrounding the cluster," night sky photographer Josh Knutson of Aurora, Colo., wrote SPACE.com. "There are also some tiny magnitude 15-17 galaxies showing up in the background."

    Comprising 800 stars, the Pleiades star cluster (M45) was formed about 100 million years ago and is located 410 light-years from Earth in the constellation Taurus. One light-year is the distance light travels in a single year, which is about 6 trillion miles (10 trillion kilometers). Bright stars Atlas and Pleione, along with their seven daughter stars make up what we can typically see with the naked eye.

    To see more amazing night sky photos submitted by SPACE.com readers, visit our astrophotography archive.

    Follow SPACE.com on Twitter @Spacedotcom. We're also on Facebook & Google+. Original story on SPACE.com.

    Copyright 2014 SPACE.com, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

    RELATED ON SKYE: The 50 Best Space Photos of 2013
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    We've seen a lot of amazing ski-jump videos lately thanks to the advent of helmet-mounted GoPro cameras, but this one of Anders Jacobsen in Lillehammer, Norway, is particularly mesmerizing. We can only imagine the top of the video was edited to remove any evidence of a camera mount.

    RELATED ON SKYE: 50 Incredible Photos of Forces of Nature
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    Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2014
    APTOPIX Deep Freeze
    A few weak storm systems staggered over several days will prevent a major snowfall from unfolding in the East this week, but wet weather will allow minor travel problems to unfold.

    The three smaller storms are likely to remain separate, rather than combine forces into one large, very disruptive storm.

    Into Tuesday, a fast-moving storm will cause rain to spread northeastward from the Gulf Coast to New England. Since there is no real cold air available to this storm until the last minute, most of the precipitation that falls will be in the form of rain.

    Enough rain and poor visibility will occur to cause some travel delays. The heaviest rain will fall in the South, where there can be urban and poor drainage area flooding through Monday night, along with locally strong thunderstorms. Ceilings could become low enough in the coastal mid-Atlantic and New England to cause minor delays at area airports for a time on Tuesday.

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    There is a slight chance the rain becomes mixed with or ends as a brief period of wet snow over the central and northern Appalachians Tuesday when cooler air begins to filter in.

    During Tuesday into Wednesday, a storm from western Canada, known as an Alberta Clipper, will spread a swath of mostly light snow from the northern Plains to the Great Lakes and Appalachians.

    Colder air accompanying this storm will cause enough snow to make roads slippery and potentially lead to deicing delays at airports mainly in the Midwest.

    The air will likely still not be cold enough to support snow in the I-95 Northeast Wednesday from the clipper storm. However, once again, minor travel disruptions are possible due to spotty rain.

    During Wednesday night into Thursday, a third storm system will swing quickly eastward across theSouth and offshore. While this storm will turn northward, odds are it will stay too far offshore to bring a major snowstorm.

    By Wednesday night, the air would be cold enough for snow or a rain/snow mix in the coastal Northeast. Only if this third storm were to strengthen quickly would it throw a period of heavy snow back across the I-95 Northeast.

    On the other hand, enough moisture may be hanging around to produce spotty snow during this time. As a result, it bears watching for possible travel delays Wednesday night into Thursday from the mid-Atlantic to New England.

    Over the weekend, colder air will continue to push eastward in stages, but it will stop well short of the magnitude of the cold air from early last week.

    RELATED ON SKYE: 50 Incredible Photos of Forces of Nature
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    Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2014
    Polar Vortex Weather System Brings Artic Temperatures Across Wide Swath Of U.S.
    A woman bundles up against the cold on the afternoon of January 8, 2014, in New York City. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

    In the wake of the mild air that has been sitting over much of the eastern half of the nation over the past few days, colder weather will move in for the end of the week.

    This surge of cold air will be a piece of the polar vortex breaking off and coming southward.

    The cold air will begin to push into the northern Plains and Great Lakes on Thursday and will continue to push south and east, reaching the East Coast by the weekend.

    This time around, the cold will not be nearly as bitter as the cold wave that smashed records in places early last week. During that stretch, many places had temperatures that were 30 to 40 degrees below average.

    This blast of colder air will produce temperatures that are closer to 10 degrees lower than average. Many places along the I-95 corridor will still have highs near or above freezing at the peak of the chill this weekend.

    "This next main arctic blast will not rival, nor will it be as extensive as the event last week," AccuWeather.com lead long-range forecaster Paul Pastelok said.

    Even so, the air mass will be cold enough to allow temperatures to drop below zero at night from Minnesota into northern Wisconsin.

    With temperatures this low, it's crucial to limit time outdoors and make sure to cover exposed skin to prevent hypothermia and frostbite.

    As this piece of the polar vortex starts to move away, temperatures will begin to rebound by Sunday across the Great Lakes. In the East, temperatures will start to bounce back on Monday.

    PHOTOS ON SKYE: Dangerous Deep Freeze Pummels Much of US

     

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    Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2014
    APTOPIX Australian Open Tennis

    MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) - One player fainted mid-match as temperatures topped 42C (108F) at the Australian Open on Tuesday. Others said it felt like they were playing tennis in a sauna, or on a frying pan that sizzled their soles.

    The scorching heat on Day 2 thinned crowds at Melbourne Park and prompted players to cool off between points with bags of ice on their heads or draped over their necks. Little relief was expected this week, with similar heat forecast until Friday

    Canadian qualifier Frank Dancevic said he started feeling dizzy in the first set of his match against Benoit Paire and then collapsed in the next set.

    "I couldn't keep my balance anymore and I leaned over the fence, and when I woke up people were all around me," he said. After receiving medical attention, he returned to the match and lost in straight sets.

    "It's hazardous to be out there. It's dangerous," Dancevic said, criticizing the tournament for not having suspended play. "Until somebody dies, they're just going to keep playing matches in this heat."

    The tournament has not yet invoked its "Extreme Heat Policy," saying the decision is based on a quotient of air temperature, humidity and wind speed.

    Officials have played down health risks, saying the majority of matches were completed without calls for medical attention.

    "Of course there were a few players who experienced heat-related illness or discomfort, but none required significant medical intervention after they had completed their match," Tim Wood, the tournament's chief medical officer, said in a statement.

    A ball girl was treated for heat stress during a morning match, and the tournament shortened rotations for the ball kids to 45-minute shifts.

    Players used metaphors and anecdotes to describe how hot it was.

    "I put the (water) bottle down on the court and it started melting a little bit underneath - the plastic. So you know it was warm," former No. 1-ranked Caroline Wozniacki said. "It felt like I was playing in a sauna."

    Wozniacki was luckier than most. She had a straight sets win in the morning when it was 38C (100F).

    Sometimes a hot breeze stirred the air, making things worse, said No. 13-seeded John Isner, who retired from his first-round match with a right ankle injury.

    "It was like an oven - when I open the oven and the potatoes are done. That's what it's like," Isner said.

    Two-time defending champion Victoria Azarenka agreed.

    "It felt pretty hot, like you're dancing in a frying pan or something like that," she said after advancing to the second round.

    Always cool under pressure, Roger Federer avoided touching the hot ground at changeovers by sitting on his bench with his feet up on a towel. The 17-time Grand Slam winner advanced to the second round, saying for him the heat was "just a mental thing."

    No. 4 Andy Murray struck a more sober tone.

    "As much as it's easy to say the conditions are safe," Murray said, "It only takes one bad thing to happen."

    "It looks terrible for the whole sport when people are collapsing, ball kids are collapsing, people in the stands are collapsing," the Wimbledon champion said. "That's obviously not great.

    RELATED ON SKYE: 20 Tips for Surviving a Heat Wave
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    Astrophotographer Greg Diesel Walck sent in a photo of the full moon setting by the Bodie Island Lighthouse, Outer Banks, NC, taken March 27, 2013. (Credit: Greg Diesel Walck)

    The first full moon of 2014 rises this week, but despite being the first of the year, it has the surprising name "Old Moon" for some cultures, but it's not the only lunar nickname for the event.

    Full moon names date back to Native Americans, of what is now the northern and eastern United States. Those tribes of a few hundred years ago kept track of the seasons by giving distinctive names to each recurring full moon. Their names were applied to the entire month in which each occurred.

    There were some variations in the moon names, but in general the same ones were current throughout the Algonquin tribes from New England on west to Lake Superior. European settlers followed their own customs and created some of their own names. Since the lunar ("synodic") month is roughly 29.5 days in length on average, the dates of the full moon shift from year to year. [The Moon: 10 Surprising Facts]

    Here is a listing of all of the full moon names, as well as the dates and times for 2014. Unless otherwise noted, all times are for the Eastern Time Zone:

    Jan. 15, 11:52 p.m. EST: Full Wolf Moon Amid the zero cold and deep snows of midwinter, the wolf packs howled hungrily outside Indian villages. It was also known as the Old Moon or the Moon after Yule. In some tribes this was the Full Snow Moon; most applied that name to the next moon. Since the moon arrives at apogee - its farthest point from Earth - less than three hours earlier, this will also be the smallest full moon of 2014. In terms of apparent size, it will appear 12.2-percent smaller than the full moon of Aug.10, the biggest full moon of the year.

    Feb. 14, 6:53 p.m. EST: Full Snow Moon Usually the heaviest snows fall in this month. Hunting becomes very difficult, and hence to some tribes this was the Full Hunger Moon. [Phases of the Moon Explained (Infographic)]

    Mar. 16, 1:08 p.m. EDT: Full Worm Moon In this month the ground, softens and the earthworm casts reappear, inviting the return of the robins. The more northern tribes knew this as the Full Crow Moon, when the cawing of crows signals the end of winter, or the Full Crust Moon because the snow cover becomes crusted from thawing by day and freezing at night. TheFull Sap Moon, marking the time of tapping maple trees, is another variation.

    Apr. 15, 3:42 a.m. EDT: Full Pink Moon The grass pink or wild ground phlox is one of the earliest widespread flowers of the spring. Other names were the Full Sprouting Grass Moon, the Egg Moon, and - among coastal tribes - the Full Fish Moon, when the shad come upstream to spawn. In 2014, this is also the Paschal Full Moon; the first full moon of the spring season.

    The first Sunday following the Paschal Moon is Easter Sunday, which indeed will be observed five days later on Sunday, April 20. This full moon will also undergo a total lunar eclipse and North America will have a ringside seat for it, as it will occur between midnight and dawn depending on your location. Totality will last almost 78 minutes. [Amazing Photos of a Total Lunar Eclipse]

    May 14, 3:16 p.m. EDT: Full Flower Moon Flowers are now abundant everywhere. It was also known as the Full Corn Planting Moon or the Milk Moon.

    Jun. 13, 12:11 a.m. EDT: Full Strawberry Moon Strawberry picking season peaks during this month. Europeans called this the Rose Moon.

    Jul. 12, 7:25 a.m. EDT: Full Buck Moon This lunar moniker stems from the fact that this season is typically when the new antlers of buck deer push out from their foreheads in coatings of velvety fur. It was also often called the Full Thunder Moon, thunderstorms being now most frequent. Sometimes it's also called the Full Hay Moon.

    Aug. 10, 2:09 p.m. EDT: Full Sturgeon Moon This month is when this large fish of the Great Lakes and other major bodies of water like Lake Champlain is most readily caught. A few tribes knew it as the Full Red Moon because when the moon rises it looks reddish through sultry haze, or the Green Corn Moon or Grain Moon.The moon will also arrive at perigee - its closest approach to Earth - only nine minutes earlier at 2:00 p.m. ED,T at a distance of 221,765 miles (356,896 km) from Earth. So this is the biggest full moon of 2014.

    Very high ocean tides can be expected during the next two or three days, thanks to the coincidence of perigee with Full Moon. The occurrence of this full moon on this particular date is rather poor timing for those who enjoy the annual performance of the Perseid meteor shower; this display will peak less than 2½ days later and the brilliant light of the nearly full moon will likely wash out all but the very brightest of these swift streaks of light.

    Sep. 8, 9:38 p.m. EDT: Full Harvest Moon Traditionally, this designation goes to the Full Moon that occurs closest to the Autumnal (fall) Equinox. This year's version comes unusually early. At the peak of the harvest, farmers can work into the night by the light of this moon. Usually the moon rises an average of 50 minutes later each night, but for the few nights around the Harvest Moon, the moon seems to rise at nearly the same time each night: just 25 to 30 minutes later across the U.S., and only 10 to 20 minutes later for much of Canada and Europe. Corn, pumpkins, squash, beans, and wild rice -the chief Indian staples - are now ready for gathering.

    Oct. 8, 6:51 a.m. EDT: Full Hunters' Moon With the leaves falling and the deer fattened, it's now time to hunt. Since the fields have been reaped, hunters can ride over the stubble, and can more easily see the fox, as well as other animals, which can be caught for a thanksgiving banquet after the harvest. The year's second total lunar eclipse occurs with this full moon; visible in its entirety over western North America, while for the central and eastern sections, moonset will intervene during the later part of the umbral stages. Totality lasts almost 59 minutes. [How Lunar Eclipses Work (Infographic)]

    Nov. 6, 5:23 p.m. EST: Full Beaver Moon At this point of the year, it's time to set beaver traps before the swamps freeze to ensure a supply of warm winter furs. Another interpretation suggests that the name Beaver Full Moon come from the fact that the beavers are now active in their preparation for winter. It's also called the Frosty Moon.

    Dec. 6, 5:23 p.m. EST: Full Cold Moon On occasion, this moon was also called the Moon before Yule. December is also the month the winter cold fastens its grip. Sometimes this moon is referred to as the Full Long Nights Moon and the term "Long Night" Moon is a very appropriate name because the nights are now indeed long and the moon is above the horizon a long time. This particular full moon makes its highest arc across the sky because it's diametrically opposite to the low sun.

    Editor's note: If you snap an amazing photo of the moon, or any other night sky view, and you'd like to share for a possible story or image gallery, please contact managing editor Tariq Malik at spacephotos@space.com.

    Joe Rao serves as an instructor and guest lecturer at New York's Hayden Planetarium. He writes about astronomy for Natural History magazine, the Farmer's Almanac and other publications, and he is also an on-camera meteorologist for News 12 Westchester, N.Y. Follow us @Spacedotcom, Facebook or Google+. Originally published on SPACE.com.

    Copyright 2014 SPACE.com, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

    RELATED ON SKYE: 15 Stunning Photos of the Moon

     

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    (Miguel Claro | www.miguelclaro.com)

    Star trails streak over the MAGIC I telescope at the Roque de los Muchachos Observatory on La Palma, Canary Islands, in this stunning new image by an amateur astronomer.

    Night sky photographer Miguel Claro submitted this magnificent photo of the glowing trails, which can also be seen reflected off the massive foreground structure of the MAGIC I telescope, which comprises 270 individual mirror panels that can be independently focused using an active mirror control system equipped with lasers. The telescope's name is short for Major Atmospheric Gamma-ray Imaging Cherenkov Telescopes.

    The image is the result of 53 shots with a Canon 60Da camera (ISO 2500; 24mm at f/2; Exp. 15 seconds). It was sent to SPACE.com on Jan. 7. [See more amazing night sky photos by stargazers for January 2014]

    Star trails in a night sky image can be created with long exposure times. This technique causes the stars to appear as if they are trailing in arcs similar to the path they trace in the night sky. Star trail images such as this one show how Earth's rotation can influence the motion.

    To see more amazing night sky photos submitted by SPACE.com readers, visit our astrophotography archive.

    Editor's note: If you have an amazing night sky photo you'd like to share for a possible story or image gallery, please contact managing editor Tariq Malik at spacephotos@space.com.

    Follow SPACE.com on Twitter @Spacedotcom. We're also on Facebook & Google+. Original story on SPACE.com.


    Copyright 2014 SPACE.com, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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    Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2013
    The Weather Channel Slams DirecTV In Stormy Contract Fight


    LOS ANGELES (AP) - About 20 million DirecTV customers nationwide lost The Weather Channel because of a dispute over fees between the channel and the satellite service.

    The two companies pointed fingers at each other late Monday as a midnight EST deadline for renegotiation of carriage fees paid by DirecTV to The Weather Channel passed without an agreement.

    In a statement, David Kenny, CEO of the channel's parent company, The Weather Co., said it offered DirecTVthe best rate for its programming. Kenny accused the satellite provider of putting profits ahead of public safety.

    "We are not looking for a large fee increase," Kenny said, just a "fair deal" that allows for continued investment in science and technology to deliver weather news and stories to viewers.

    DirecTV called the loss of The Weather Channel "regrettable" but added that it would continue to provide weather news on its WeatherNation channel.

    According to a statement from Dan York, DirecTV chief content officer, the two sides haven't stopped talking.

    DirecTV is discussing an agreement to return the channel to its lineup at "the right value for our customers," York said. The Weather Channel did not immediately respond early Tuesday to a request for comment.

    At a news conference Saturday, David Clark, president of The Weather Channel, asked viewers to urge Congress to intervene in the business dispute.

    The channel is part of the NBC Universal stable of networks and is owned by Comcast Corp., the nation's largest cable company.

    "Yes, it is a privately held company and a for-profit" enterprise, Clark said. "That's OK. What also happens to be true is that we have a mission to serve."

    DirecTV spokesman Robert Mercer said that the satellite service launched its own service, WeatherNation, in response to consumer complaints about the amount of reality programs that The Weather Channel airs instead of weather forecasting.

    Local weather information also is available on local network affiliates offered by DirecTV, and during severe weather, the system also makes its emergency channels available for weather programming, he said.

    RELATED ON SKYE: 50 Must-See Weather Photos from 2013
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    Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2013

    Lightning flashed across the night sky over the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro on Jan. 14, 2014, and photographer Yasuyoshi Chiba captured the dramatic scene. The vivid bolts and glowing statue stand in stark contrast to the dark surroundings.

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    BRAZIL-LIGHTNING-CHRIST THE REDEEMER

    The iconic 130-foot statue is located at the top of Corcovado Mountain, 2,300 feet above the Brazilian city.

    While the statue wasn't directly hit this time, it hasn't been so lucky in the past. On Feb. 10, 2008, lightning struck the statue, causing damage to the figure's eyebrows and fingers. The statue was restored later that year.

    BRAZIL-LIGHTNING-CHRIST THE REDEEMER

    PHOTOS ON SKYE: Lightning Strikes 10 Famous Landmarks
    Lightning Strikes Statue of Liberty

     

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