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SKYE on AOL

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    Monday, Jan. 20, 2014
    California Wildfires
    Firefighter Jeff Newby watches a fire burn as he battles the Colby Fire on Friday, Jan. 17, 2014, near Azusa, Calif. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

    GLENDORA, Calif. (AP) - Firefighters said Sunday they continued their steady progress in surrounding a wildfire near Los Angeles that destroyed several homes.

    The Los Angeles County Fire Department said the fire was 78 percent contained, with full containment expected Wednesday.

    Meanwhile, hundreds of residents who fled the blaze in suburbs about 25 miles northeast of downtown Los Angeles returned home Saturday evening as red-flag warnings of extremely dangerous fire conditions expired. Officials cautioned that bone-dry winter conditions remain a threat for the region.

    Crews focused on securing fire lines around the roughly 3-square-mile blaze and looked ahead to rehabilitating the burn area to prevent erosion and possible mudslides, said U.S. Forest Service spokesman Robert Brady.

    "It's starting to look fairly good," Brady said. "We're still in very dry conditions, so I would remind people to be careful out there."

    The fire erupted early Thursday in the Angeles National Forest when Santa Ana winds hit a campfire that authorities said was recklessly set by three men. Gusts quickly spread flames from the San Gabriel Mountains into Glendora and Azusa, where some 3,700 people had to evacuate at the fire's peak.

    The fire has destroyed six homes and 10 outbuildings, and damaged six houses and other structures, according to the latest assessments.

    The state is in a period of extended dry weather compounded in Southern California by repeated periods of the regional Santa Anas, dry and powerful winds that blow from the interior toward the coast, pushing back the normal flow of moist ocean air and raising temperatures to summerlike levels.

    The dry conditions statewide led Gov. Jerry Brown to formally declare a drought Friday in order to seek a range of federal assistance.

    RELATED ON SKYE: Incredible Natural-Disaster Photos from Space

     

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    Updated Monday, Jan. 20, 2014, at 2:42 p.m. ET
    Europe Comet Chaser
    This undated image provided by the European Space Agency ESA shows an artist's impression of the Philae lander. (AP Photo/ESA ATG medialab, Astrium E, Viktor, File)

    BERLIN (AP) - A comet-chasing space probe that has been in hibernation for almost three years has woken up and sent its first signal back to Earth.

    The European Space Agency received the all-clear message "Hello World!" from its Rosetta spacecraft some 800 million kilometers (500 million miles) away shortly after 7 p.m. (1800 GMT; 1 p.m. EST).

    Rosetta was put into hibernation in 2011 to conserve energy for its long journey to meet with comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.

    If all goes as planned the probe will rendezvous with the comet in the coming months and drop a lander onto its icy surface in November.

    Rosetta is named after a block of stone that allowed archeologists to decipher ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs. Scientists hope the probe's findings will help them understand the composition of comets and thereby discover more about the origins and evolution of our solar system.

    Comets are regarded as flying time capsules because they are essentially unchanged for 4.6 billion years. Scientists have speculated that comets - which are essentially giant, dirty snowballs - may be responsible for the water found on some planets. And like asteroids, comets also pose a theoretical threat to life on Earth.

    "Over the millennia comets have actually affected our evolution," said Ferri. "There are many theories about comets hitting the Earth and causing global catastrophes. So understanding comets is also important to see in the future what could be done to defend the Earth from comets."

    If all goes as planned, Rosetta will reach 67P in the coming months and fly a series of complicated maneuvers to observe the comet - a lump of rock and ice about four kilometers (2.5 miles) in diameter - before dropping a lander onto its icy surface in November.

    The Philae lander will dig up samples and analyze them with its on-board instruments.

    The probe and its lander will keep sending back data until their batteries die or the debris streaming off the comet irreparably damages their sensitive instruments.

    The mission is different from NASA's Deep Impact probe that fired a projectile into a comet in 2005 so scientists could study the resulting plume of matter. NASA also managed to land a probe on an asteroid in 2001, but comets are much more volatile places because they constantly release dust and gas that can harm a spacecraft.

    NASA is planning another space rock mission between 2019 and 2021. The agency is looking into sending a robotic spaceship to lasso a small asteroid and haul it close to the moon, where spacewalking astronauts would explore it.

    RELATED ON SKYE: Mind-Blowing New Photos from Space

     

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    'Sun Dog' Viewed From Train in Moscow


    A mysterious halo of light surrounding the sun appeared in the sky above Russia over the weekend. The atmospheric phenomenon known as a "Sun Dog" was visible in Moscow on January 19, and captured by Valera Yangurazov in a video clip shot from a metro train. The phenomenon occurs when light is refracted through ice crystals in the atmosphere; this particular halo effect from the sun was filmed in temperatures of minus 20 degrees Celsius.

    RELATED ON SKYE: The 30 Best Places to Watch the Sunset

     

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    Updated Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2014, 2:45 p.m. ET
    Winter Storm Pennsylvania
    (AP Photo)

    Along the leading edge of an advancing deep freeze, accumulating snow was spreading from the Midwest to the East Coast on Tuesday.

    Snow reached the mid-Atlantic coast during Tuesday midday and will turn northeastward toward southeastern New England Tuesday afternoon and evening.

    As the storm reaches the coast, it will strengthen, snow will become heavy and winds will increase along a large part of the I-95 corridor of the Northeast.

    Much colder air continued to push southward over the mid-Atlantic Tuesday. In most cases, temperatures will hold steady or fall throughout the day.

    Travel conditions will continue to deteriorate rapidly due to slippery roads and diminishing visibility. Speed restrictions were already in place by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation Tuesday morning.



    Flight delays were mounting in the region ahead of the storm.

    Thousands of arrivals and departures were canceled as of noon on Tuesday.

    As the air turns colder, the snow will become dry and powdery. Increasing winds will cause extensive blowing and drifting snow.

    The worst conditions in the coastal mid-Atlantic will persist into the evening. For southeastern New England, the storm will reach its peak later Tuesday night.



    For part of the mid-Atlantic such as the District of Columbia and a large part of Virginia, Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey and southeastern New York state including Long Island, this is unfolding to be the biggest snowfall of the season so far.

    This storm could rival the storm from early December in parts of southeastern Pennsylvania and Delaware.

    According to winter weather expert Brian Wimer, "For Washington, D.C., this could be the biggest storm since Jan. 26, 2011, when about 5 inches of snow fell."

    Accumulations of 6-12 inches are forecast over a heavily populated part of the mid-Atlantic to southeastern New England. Cities such as Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York City and Boston will be faced with at least 6 inches of snow from the storm as well as blowing and drifting snow after its conclusion.

    As the storm gains strength Tuesday night, blizzard conditions may unfold in portions of Long Island, southeastern New England and during Wednesday in portions of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.
    Already Tuesday afternoon, visibility had decreased to only one-quarter of a mile in Westhampton Beach.



    The mountains of Virginia and West Virginia will likely receive close to a foot of snow from this quick-moving storm.

    Much less snow will fall over northern Pennsylvania, upstate New York and the northwestern part of New England. In these areas, cold, dry air will win out.

    RELATED:
    Will It Snow on Feb. 2 in East Rutherford, N.J.?
    Interactive Radar for the South

    Forecast Temperature Maps

    Motorists planning to travel along I-64, I-66, I-68, I-70, I-81 and I-95 should use caution.

    A little snow will even drop southward to Greenville, S.C., and Winston-Salem and Raleigh, N.C., through Tuesday evening.

    In the wake of the snow, the door will open for cold air to settle across the entire East for midweek. Highs on Wednesday will be held 10 to 20 degrees below normal, even down to Miami.

    Sunday morning was the coldest so far this winter across most of South Florida. Frost even made a rare appearance in Naples and the western suburbs of the Palm Beach metro area.

    Wednesday night may not be quite as cold as this past Sunday morning, but frost could return to the coldest interior locations of the Florida Peninsula.

    After the midweek cold snap, another dose of cold air will follow later in the week for the South.

    PHOTOS ON SKYE: Heavy Snow Falls Across Eastern U.S.
    Snow Storm New York

     

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    Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2014
    Washington Weather
    (AP Photo)

    WASHINGTON (AP) - The federal government says its offices in the Washington area will be closed Tuesday due to the winter storm bearing down on the mid-Atlantic and northeastern U.S.

    The Office of Personnel Management says non-emergency personnel in and around the District of Columbia are granted excused absences for the day.

    Emergency employees and telework-ready employees are expected to work.

    The National Weather Service predicts Washington could get between 4 and 8 inches of snow Tuesday, with higher amounts north of the nation's capital.

    RELATED ON SKYE: 20 Photos of Monster Blizzards

     

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    Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2014
    FILE - In this March 7, 2012 file photo, a couple sits next to the Tower of David on the wall surrounding Jerusalem's old city. Experts recently installed a seismic monitoring system in the Tower of David, part of Israelís initial steps to determine which ancient structures are in danger of earthquake-related collapse. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner, File)
    In this March 7, 2012, file photo, a couple sits next to the Tower of David on the wall surrounding Jerusalem's old city. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner, File)

    JERUSALEM (AP) - With Israel situated in one of the world's earthquake-prone areas, officials are taking action to protect the Holy Land's most important ancient treasures so they don't come tumbling down.

    After a series of five moderate earthquakes shook the country in October, experts installed a seismic monitoring system at the Tower of David, one of Jerusalem's most important - and most visible - historical sites.

    The project is Israel's first attempt to use such technology to determine structural weaknesses in the countless ancient edifices that dot the Holy Land. The efforts, however, have been slowed by authorities' reticence to publicly declare sites as vulnerable, as well as the explosive geopolitics surrounding ancient Jewish, Christian and Muslim sites at the heart of the Mideast conflict.

    "We have to remember that this is the Holy Land," said Avi Shapira, head of a national steering committee for earthquake preparedness. "We have some responsibility not only to preserve the historical monuments of our personal heritage ... but also for the rest of the world."

    Most of Israel's historical sites "have not been checked," said Shapira. "We have them on the map, but an engineer still hasn't visited them."

    Israel sits along the friction point of the African and Arabian tectonic plates, and is prone to small tremors. The earthquakes in October caused no major damage, but made Israelis jittery. About once a century throughout history, a large earthquake has rattled the region, often damaging key historical sites. The last major quake occurred in 1927.

    The Al-Aqsa Mosque, Islam's third holiest site, was destroyed in an earthquake shortly after it was built in the 8th century and was damaged and repaired multiple times since due to quakes. The 1927 quake, which was over 6 in magnitude, caused hundreds of deaths and damaged Al-Aqsa and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, built on the site where Jesus is believed to have been crucified and buried.

    Israel has been bracing for another major earthquake for years. But those efforts have focused on retrofitting existing schools and hospitals and apartment buildings, and improving standards in new construction.

    The country is just getting around to surveying its historical sites, and the assessment process has turned out to be sensitive.

    Government experts have not published any findings on historical sites at risk, and it is unclear which government authority would be compelled to take responsibility for sites should they face earthquake damage.

    Political sensitivities have prevented Israeli officials from conducting earthquake-impact assessments on the region's most revered, most ancient, and likely most vulnerable sites, including the gold-capped Dome of the Rock, said an official on Israel's earthquake preparedness steering committee. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief the media.

    In the past, Israeli involvement in the Old City's ancient buildings has sparked protest from Palestinians who seek sovereignty there in their quest for an independent state.

    After a centuries-old access ramp to a key holy site was damaged by stormy weather in 2004, Arab and Muslim leaders worldwide protested Israeli excavation work in preparation for the construction of a new ramp, accusing Israel of impinging on the site with conflicting ownership claims.

    The site, known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary, has ignited violence when Muslims have perceived Israel to encroach upon the compound.

    Israel's Antiquities Authority, in charge of conserving the country's ancient sites, declined comment on the earthquake assessment efforts.

    The only site in the Old City that Israeli officials say is being checked for a possible earthquake risk is the Tower of David, one of Jerusalem's most ubiquitous symbols. The minaret-topped stone tower stands in the corner of an ancient citadel fortress, and six major cracks in the tower have the staff worried if it can withstand an earthquake.

    "This is the symbol of the city, the symbol of Jerusalem, for more than 2000 years. So that's why this is a real nightmare for us," said Eilat Lieber, director of the Tower of David museum.

    Researchers from the University of Padua in Italy installed sensors throughout the tower to determine what kind of earthquake-proofing it might need.

    Accelerometers along the tower measure small movements caused by wind and traffic, in order to predict how an earthquake would impact the structure. At the very top of the minaret, thin bars affixed to the stones slide like bicycle tire pumps to measure the movement of cracks. Data collected by the equipment will be analyzed to determine any structural flaws in the tower and if needed, to suggest engineering solutions to stabilize the site.

    The Tower of David is the first historical site in Jerusalem to be outfitted with the seismic sensors. Israeli experts are considering using the technology at other Israeli historical sites.

    Experts said the monitoring technology is already in place in the famous Qutab Minar monument in New Delhi, minarets in Bosnia-Herzegovina, and various sites in Italy, including bell towers in Venice, the ancient Verona Arena in Verona, and locations in L'Aquila, following a devastating 2009 earthquake that wreaked havoc on cultural heritage buildings.

    Initial assessments for the Tower of David are good. Claudio Modena, a University of Padova engineer, said the tower seems to be capable of withstanding an earthquake because its ancient foundations sit on bedrock. Three steel rings that hug the cracked minaret, installed during earlier British rule in the city, have helped save it from collapse, he said.

    Orna Cohen, chief conservator of the Tower of David, said that in the event of an earthquake, Jerusalem's most ancient structures of massive stones might actually be the city's most dependable.

    "If they still stand after so many earthquakes during the last 2000 years, they must be good structures," Cohen said.

    Photos on Skye: The World's 50 Most Epic Views

     

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    Updated Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2014, 5:50 p.m. ET
    APTOPIX Deep Freeze
    (AP Photo)

    Bitterly cold air is again settling southward from the Arctic into a large part of the Eastern states. Unlike the outbreak from early January, this time the cold will have more staying power.

    Into the first part of next week, the polar vortex will hover just north of the United States border causing waves of frigid air to blast into the Midwest and much of the East.

    The polar vortex is a commonly used term among the meteorological community to describe an intense storm with frigid air and strong winds that spends much of its time above the Arctic Circle. Occasionally, during the autumn, winter and spring, this storm can dip farther south, approaching the mid-latitudes.

    The first of several waves of arctic air will continue to advance to the south Wednesday.

    Deep Freeze

    Already Tuesday morning, RealFeel(R) temperatures plunged to minus 40 F over the Upper Midwest and were below zero as far south as portions of the Ohio Valley and as far east as northern New England.

    Dangerously low RealFeel temperatures will spread southward in the East by Wednesday morning.

    The advancing cold will be severe enough to bring life-threatening conditions, hypothermia and the risk of frostbite to areas from the northern Plains to New England.

    The penetrating cold has the potential to cause water main breaks as far south as the Ohio Valley and mid-Atlantic and to freeze pipes into parts of the South.

    RELATED:
    What Is a Polar Vortex?
    AccuWeather Channel Coming in 2014
    Will It Snow on Feb. 2 at East Rutherford, N.J.


    Heating systems may struggle to keep up, and people will spend more money keeping their homes and businesses warm. In parts of the South, where electricity is the primary source of heat, the demand for electricity will skyrocket.

    While widespread power outages are not anticipated during the cold outbreak, strong winds during and in the wake of the snowstorm in the Northeast will bring the risk of sporadic power outages as temperatures plummet.

    School delays and closures are possible even in areas that receive little or no snow, due to the cold and low RealFeel temperatures.

    In the Northern states, temperatures will dip low enough to inhibit the effectiveness of most inexpensive ice melting compounds. Rock salt will not work when the temperature drops to 15 degrees or lower.

    The combination of the cold and open waters of the Great Lakes will lead to rounds of lake-effect snow and whiteout conditions.

    The frigid air is advancing in the wake of an Alberta Clipper storm that tracked through the Midwest and will strengthen into a blizzard near the East Coast. This type of storm is so named for its origin in the western provinces of Canada.

    A total of three waves of arctic air will blast across the Midwest and Northeast into next week. The next blast of arctic air will reach the Upper Midwest by Wednesday.

    While temperatures will briefly rebound in between the reinforcing waves of cold air, the rebounds will be much less pronounced from the Midwest to New England and may be barely noticeable in the northern tier states.

    Deep Freeze

    Temperatures may stay below freezing in Minneapolis, Chicago, Milwaukee, Detroit and Cleveland through the end of the month, where highs most days will be in the teens.

    In Boston, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, New York City and Indianapolis, temperatures may only surpass the freezing mark on one or two days through Jan. 31.

    The persistent cold will cause a renewed buildup of ice on rivers in the Northern states. Ice jams could again become a problem during the coming weeks.

    At least two of the cold waves will reach into the South.

    In much of the South, temperatures will not be as low as that of the first week of January. However, many areas over the interior will have multiple nights where the temperature spends multiple hours well below freezing. Temperatures will dip to near freezing during a few nights along the upper Gulf Coast.

     

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    Call it cosmic zen. Yin and yang appear to meet on one of Saturn's moons in a photo taken by a spacecraft exploring the ringed planet and its many moons.

    The new Cassini photo of Saturn's moon Iapetus shows the satellite's dark and light sides as comma-shaped features that bear a striking resemblance to the yin and yang symbol in Chinese philosophy. The image was released in December, but actually taken by the Cassini spacecraft in August.

    "This view looks toward the Saturn-facing hemisphere of Iapetus," NASA officials wrote in an image description. "North on Iapetus is up and rotated 30 degrees to the right. The image was taken in visible light with the Cassini spacecraft narrow-angle camera on Aug. 30, 2013." [Photos: The Rings and Moons of Saturn in Pictures]

    Some scientists think that the two faces of Iapetus probably get their distinct appearances from the moon's slow rotation, meaning that the dark surfaces of the moon absorb more heat and have time to warm. Any icy materials that mix with the hotter surfaces turn gaseous and then fall back into the cooler regions, meaning that the dark side gets darker while the bright side becomes brighter.

    Giovanni Cassini first spotted Iapetus in 1672. The odd moon is shaped somewhat like a walnut, with a huge ridge running along its equator. It's likely that the ridge was created when a giant impact flung chunks of Iapetus out into space at the end of its planetary growth more than 4.5 billion years ago.

    The debris may have re-formed around the moon, creating a new moon orbiting Iapetus. Eventually, Iapetus' gravity tore its moon apart and the rubble rained down, creating the moon's distinctive ridge.

    It's also possible that the ridge formed early in the moon's history when it was spinning more quickly than it does now.

    The Cassini spacecraft launched in 1997 and made it into orbit around Saturn in 2004. The spacecraft is expected to continue studying Saturn and its moons until 2017, after which it will burn up in Saturn's atmosphere.

    Follow Miriam Kramer@mirikramer and Google+. Follow us @Spacedotcom, Facebook and Google+. Original article 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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    Updated Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2014, 2:19 p.m. ET
    Deep Freeze Missouri
    (AP Photo)

    PHILADELPHIA (AP) - Thousands of flights were canceled, students got an extra day off from school or were being sent home early, and the federal government closed its offices in the Washington area Tuesday as another winter storm bore down on the U.S. Mid-Atlantic and Northeast.

    The National Weather Service said the storm could bring 10 to 14 inches (25 to 35 centimeters) of snow to Philadelphia and southern New England and up to a foot (30 centimeters) in New York City, to be followed by bitter cold. An arctic air mass will plunge the eastern half of the United States into a deep freeze, with wind chills as low as 40 degrees Fahrenheit below zero (-40 Celsius), the weather service said.

    PHOTOS ON SKYE: Heavy Snow Falls Across Eastern U.S.
    Snow East CoastIt warned of heavy winds and hazardous driving conditions as the storm moved up the East Coast.

    With federal workers told to stay home on Tuesday, Tom Ripley, who works at a Washington hardware store, said his morning commute was cut in half because "there was almost no one on the road."

    He said the store was jammed Monday as customers stocked up on ice melt and shovels.

    "Nobody prepares because we never get any snow, so the slightest chance of it, everybody freaks out," Ripley said.

    Nearly 2,200 flights were canceled and thousands more delayed Tuesday, with airports from Washington to Boston affected, according to flight-tracking site Flightaware.com. An additional 450 flights for Wednesday were already canceled.

    Schools in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Connecticut, Virginia, West Virginia and Kentucky stayed closed for an extra day after the Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday, or planned to send students home early. Some parents kept their kids home even if their schools were open, unwilling to put them on slippery roads.

    New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie was forced to modify his schedule of inaugural events - canceling an evening party on Ellis Island - because there was fear snow would make travel dangerous.

    PHOTOS ON SKYE: Heavy Snow Falls Across Eastern U.S.
    Snow Storm New York

     

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    Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2014


    A video recorded by accident of ball lightning in China is now shedding light on the phenomenon's mysterious origins, researchers say.

    Ball lightning occurs as glowing spheres ranging in size from a golf ball to a very large beach ball (1 to 100 centimeters, or 0.4 inches to 39 inches, in diameter). These fiery orbs can be white, yellow, red, orange, purple or green, and can persist for seconds or even minutes. Ball lightning typically appears during thunderstorms and usually hovers near the ground, drifting over the Earth at a few miles per hour, but it has also been seen on ships and even within airplanes.

    Over the centuries, people have reported thousands of sightings of ball lightning. However, these occurrences are rare and unpredictable in nature; as a result, "our knowledge of ball lightning so far is based mostly on accidental, eyewitness reports," said Eli Jerby, a microwave researcher at Tel Aviv University in Israel, who did not take part in this study. [Countdown: Earth's Weirdest Lightning]

    Chance video

    Scientists, including Jerby, have previously recreated ball lightning, or something very much like it, in the lab, results that suggested ball lighting was mostly the result of lightning striking the ground and vaporizing minerals in the soil. Still, it remained uncertain whether natural ball lightning really happened in the way that the experiments suggested.


    Color images of ball lightning as it changed over time. (J. Cen et al., Physical Review Letters)

    This latest recording adds valuable new information, even though it happened unintentionally. During field work investigating ordinary lightning in Western China on a summer night in 2012, scientists by chance took a high-speed video of natural ball lightning from a distance of about 3,000 feet (900 meters). The giant orb shed light over an area up to about 16 feet (5 m) in diameter and moved about 19 mph (31 km/h) before dissipating.

    The ball lightning was visible for only a scant 1.64 seconds. Nevertheless, this was enough time for the researchers to analyze its light, which is important because the color of light an object gives off can yield insights on its makeup. Elements and molecules each give off very specific patterns of color when heated that can act very much like fingerprints.

    Changing colors

    The ball lightning changed from purple to orange to white to red before it faded. The Chinese scientists detected traces of soil elements such as silicon, iron and calcium from the ball lightning. These results may be the first thorough measurements of natural ball lightning, said Jerby.

    These findings support the notion that conventional lightning striking the soil generates ball lightning.

    "The new results shed light on the ball lightning enigma and provide valuable information about its initiation, evolution and properties," Jerby told LiveScience's OurAmazingPlanet.

    In the future, "a more comprehensive theory of ball lightning needs to be derived in a manner that incorporates parts of the many independent theories existing in the literature," Jerby said. In addition, "valid laboratory demonstrations of ball lightning shall be developed, possibly advancing our fireball experiment, in order to demonstrate the main characteristics of the natural ball lightning in the lab."

    The scientists who took video of the ball lightning detailed their findings online Jan. 17 in the journal Physical Review Letters.

    Follow OurAmazingPlanet @OAPlanet, Facebook and Google+. Original article at LiveScience's OurAmazingPlanet.

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

    PHOTOS ON SKYE: Lightning Strikes Around the World
    Lightning Wills Tower

     

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    Updated Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2014, at 7:36 p.m. ET
    Winter Weather
    Wind picks up snow from the ground as a man waits to take a photograph of a statue dedicated to the victims of the Katyn massacre in 1940, Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2014, in Jersey City, N.J. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

    PHILADELPHIA (AP) - A swirling snowstorm clobbered parts of the mid-Atlantic and the urban Northeast on Tuesday, grounding thousands of flights, closing government offices in the nation's capital and making a mess of the evening commute.

    The storm stretched 1,000 miles between Kentucky and Massachusetts but hit especially hard along the heavily populated Interstate 95 corridor between Philadelphia and Boston, creating perilous rides home for millions of motorists.

    PHOTOS ON SKYE: Heavy Snow Falls Across Eastern U.S.
    Snow East CoastThe National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said 10 inches of snow had fallen just outside Philadelphia in Drexel Hill by Tuesday evening and there was about 6 inches in Philadelphia. The National Weather Service said parts of New York City also had about 6 inches.

    The snow came down harder and faster than many people expected. Forecasters said some places could get 1 to 2 inches an hour, with wind gusts up to 50 mph. A blizzard warning was posted for parts of Massachusetts, including Cape Cod.

    Highways in the New York City metropolitan area were jammed, and blowing snow tripled or even quadrupled drive times.

    "I just want to get to the Bronx," motorist Peter Neuwens lamented. "It's a big place. Why can't I get there?"

    In Jersey City, N.J., Stanley Gaines, wearing just a thin jacket and huddling beneath an overhang as snow stung his face, said he had been stuck for more than an hour waiting for a ride home from his appointment at a Veterans Affairs clinic.

    "I'm waiting on anything I can get: a taxi, a shuttle, a bus," Gaines said, squinting to read the destination on an approaching bus in near white-out conditions. "I didn't really pay attention to the weather this morning because there was no snow on the ground, and now - this!"

    In White Plains, N.Y., Anthony Schirrone pulled over his car to scrape snow from the windshield.

    "I just did this five minutes ago," he said. "But it's coming down too fast."

    Forecasters said the storm could bring up to 14 inches of snow to Philadelphia and southern New England and up to a foot in New York City, to be followed by bitter cold as arctic air from Canada streams in. Washington was expecting 4 to 8 inches.

    As of Tuesday evening, there was mostly light snow across Connecticut, Rhode Island and eastern Massachusetts from the Boston area southward. Snowfall totals in the region ranged from about 5 inches to 6.5 inches.

    In Maryland, 8 inches had accumulated in Westminster and at least 7 inches had fallen in Frederick. The stormwas blamed for at least one death in Maryland after a car fishtailed into the path of a tractor-trailer on a snow-covered road about 50 miles northwest of Baltimore.

    The storm was a conventional one that developed off the coast and moved its way up the Eastern Seaboard, pulling in cold air from the arctic. Unlike the epic freeze of two weeks ago, it wasn't caused by a kink in the polar vortex, the winds that circulate around the North Pole.

    Pennsylvania's Department of Transportation said it had already blown through more than half of its $189 million winter weather budget.

    "Lots of nuisance storms this season have meant that PennDOT crews have been plowing and treating roads more frequently this winter," spokeswoman Erin Waters-Trasatt said.

    About 3,000 flights for Tuesday were canceled, with airports from Washington to Boston affected. More than 1,000 flights for Wednesday were called off as well. Amtrak planned to cut back train service.

    The rush to get home early by many workers was evident in Philadelphia, where many commuter trains were packed.

    The storm put a damper on New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's inauguration, forcing the cancellation of an evening party on Ellis Island. Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick postponed his annual State of the State address, and the Philadelphia Flyers postponed their Tuesday night game.

    Schools in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Connecticut, Virginia, West Virginia and Kentucky stayed closed for an extra day after the Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday or sent students home early. Some parents kept their kids home all day, unwilling to put them on slippery roads for a few hours of school.

    Federal workers in the Washington area also were given the day off.

    Standing in Philadelphia's LOVE Park with snow swirling around her, visitor Jenn Byrne, of Portland, Ore., said the nasty weather put a crimp in her plans to do a "giant walking tour" of the city. But she vowed to soldier on, taking cabs instead of trudging. She wasn't wearing snow boots.

    "I'll keep going. Just the means of transportation will change a bit," Byrne said.

    Others shrugged off the snow as well.

    In Herndon, Va., where voters were casting ballots in a special election that was likely to determine control of the state Senate, Earlene Coleman said she felt obligated to make her selection: "It only made sense to come out and do my duty."

    Construction worker Tony Cockrell, stopping for coffee at a Hagerstown, Md., gas station, said he planned to continue driving to work sites in western Maryland and northern Virginia to supervise the installation of insulation in building projects.

    "If you don't work, you don't get paid," he said, adding that deep cold is good for business. "We're trying to get stuff insulated so it doesn't freeze up."

    PHOTOS ON SKYE: Heavy Snow Falls Across Eastern U.S.
    Snow Storm New York

     

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    Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2014

    Snow piled up outside of MetLife Stadium in December 2013. (AP Photo/Peter Morgan, File)

    According to AccuWeather.com meteorologist and chief operations officer Evan Myers, a storm system will be approaching the Northeast on Super Bowl weekend. How much it will affect the game, however, will still need to be monitored.

    "The timeline is for Friday to Sunday," Myers said. "Whether or not it happens during the game or before the game, and whether or not it will come as rain or snow, is still questionable.

    A snowstorm would not be unusual for the New York and New Jersey early at that time of year, according to AccuWeather.com expert senior meteorologist Bernie Rayno.

    "They are taking a calculated risk having the Super Bowl [at MetLife Stadium]," Rayno said. "A risk because if this area is going to get a big storm, that's the time of year it will happen. Calculated because they only really need one day."

    Will it Snow at MetLife Stadium Feb. 2? AccuWeather.com experts weigh in daily with their latest predictions at willitsnow.com.

    Over the past 10 years, temperatures for the date have varied from the highs in the low 50s to lows in the teens. Temperatures around 6:30 p.m., when kickoff will take place, have ranged from the lower 20s to mid-40s.

    RELATED
    US Winter Forecast: Snow to Bury Rockies; Slow Onset in East
    Long-Range Forecasting Takes More Than a Crystal Ball
    U.S. Interactive Radar

    With the average high for the area on Feb. 2 at 40 degrees, and the average low is 24, a storm system could easily drop snow. On average, the area receives 2.2 inches of snow during the first week of February.

    On Feb. 2, 2011, East Rutherford, N.J., already had several inches of snow on the ground. Snow accumulation is typical for that time of year.

    PHOTOS ON SKYE: Heavy Snow Falls Across Eastern U.S., Including MetLife Stadium
    Superbowl Snow

     

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  • 01/21/14--22:10: What Is Bombogenesis?
  • Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2014
    Winter Weather
    Wind flips over the canopy of an umbrella as a woman walks in gusty wind during a winter storm, Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2014, in Jersey City, N.J. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

    Only a few weeks after the polar vortex surged through portions of the United States, yet another wintry weather phenomena is mounting concerns across the nation: bombogenesis.

    As a snowstorm bears down on regions from the mid-Atlantic up through New England, the term bombogenesis has come to the forefront, but what is bombogenesis?

    "It's a rapidly intensifying storm that is usually over the water," AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Brett Anderson said.

    In order for the storm to develop, a warm and a cold air mass must clash, causing the storm to strengthen in a very short amount of time.

    RELATED:
    Winter Storm May Loom for Super Bowl Weekend
    AccuWeather Winter Weather Center
    The 10 Snowiest Colleges in the U.S.

    While this scenario is not necessarily uncommon during the winter months, in order to be classified as a bombogenesis the central pressure of the storm must drop quickly down to 24 millibars in just 24 hours, according to Anderson.

    The impacts of a bombogenesis can include rapidly strengthening winds and high precipitation rates, as well as thundersnow.

    PHOTOS ON SKYE: Heavy Snow Falls Across Eastern U.S.
    Snow Storm New York


     

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    Updated Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2014, 7:11 p.m. ET
    A man crosses Broad Street during a winter snowstorm Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2014, in Philadelphia. A swirling storm with the potential for more than a foot of snow clobbered the mid-Atlantic and the urban Northeast on Tuesday, grounding thousands of flights, closing government offices in the nation's capital and making a mess of the evening commute. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
    A man crosses Broad Street during a winter snowstorm Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2014, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

    NEW YORK (AP) - The U.S. Northeast dug out Wednesday from a snowstorm that grounded flights, shuttered schools and left a bitter cold in its wake, while a blizzard swept across parts of Atlantic Canada.

    The blizzard in Canada closed schools and government offices and disrupted air travel throughout the region. Crews worked to clear roads in blinding conditions.

    The atmosphere was particularly frosty in New York, where some residents complained that plowing was spotty and schools were open while children elsewhere in the region stayed home.

    PHOTOS ON SKYE: Heavy Snow Falls Across Eastern U.S.
    Snow East Coast

    The weather in the United States seemed more than a bit upside down, with Alaska seeing warmer average temperatures than the Lower 48 states. The average for the Lower 48 midmorning Wednesday was a chilly 22 degrees Fahrenheit (-5.5 Celsius), compared to 24 degrees Fahrenheit (-4.44 Celsius) for the entire state of Alaska, according to calculations by Weather Bell Analytics meteorologist Ryan Maue.

    The storm stretched from Kentucky to New England but hit hardest along the heavily populated Interstate 95 corridor between Philadelphia and Boston. As much as 14 inches (35 centimeters) of snow fell in Philadelphia, with New York City seeing almost as much, before tapering off.

    In New York, Mayor Bill de Blasio, facing one of the first flashpoints of his weeks-old tenure, initially defended what he called a "coordinated, intense, citywide response" to a storm he said caused a worse-than-expected headache when it ramped up at rush hour. And de Blasio, who campaigned on closing gaps between rich and poor city residents, at first rebuffed complaints that the effort had lagged on Manhattan's posh Upper East Side, saying "no one was treated differently."

    But he backtracked Wednesday evening, saying he'd determined "more could have been done to serve the Upper East Side."

    About 1,400 flights were canceled Wednesday into and out of some of the nation's busiest airports, including in Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York and Boston, according to according to Flightaware. That was down from about 3,000 flights the day before.

    The storm was a conventional one that developed off the coast and moved up the Eastern Seaboard, pulling in cold air from the Arctic. Unlike the epic freeze of two weeks ago, it was not caused by a kink in the polar vortex, the winds that circulate around the North Pole.

    Environment Canada said there were two distinct phases to the storm there, with the first bringing up to 2 inches ( five centimeters) of snow on Tuesday night through Wednesday morning in western Nova Scotia and the Halifax area.

    A second, more powerful blow hit later, dumping heavier snowfall amounts that were expected to reach up to a foot (30 centimeters) in Nova Scotia and nearly as much in southeastern New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island by late Wednesday. Similar amounts were predicted for western Newfoundland through Wednesday night.

    PHOTOS ON SKYE: Heavy Snow Falls Across Eastern U.S.
    Snow Storm New York

     

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    Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2014
    Hot Weather NH
    Hundreds of people get relief from the heat at Hampton Beach jumping into the Atlantic Ocean in Hampton, N.H., Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2013. (AP Photo/Jim Cole)

    WASHINGTON (AP) - The sweltering year of 1988 first put global warming in the headlines and ended up as the hottest year on record. But on Tuesday, it was pushed out of the top 20 warmest by 2013.

    Last year tied for the fourth hottest and 1988 fell to 21st.

    The average world temperature was 58.12 degrees (14.52 Celsius) tying with 2003 for the fourth warmest since 1880, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said Tuesday.

    At the same time, NASA, which calculates records in a different manner, ranked last year as the seventh warmest on record, with an average temperature of 58.3 degrees (14.6 Celsius). The difference is related to how the two agencies calculate temperatures in the Arctic and other remote places and is based on differences that are in the hundredths of a degree, scientists said.

    Both agencies said nine of the 10th warmest years on record have happened in the 21st century. The hottest year was 2010, according to NOAA.

    The reports were released as a big snowstorm was hitting the U.S. East Coast.

    "There are times such as today when we can have snow even in a globally warmed world," said Gavin Schmidt, deputy director of NASA's Goddard Institute of Space Studies in New York. "But the long term trends are not going to disappear ... Quite frankly people have a very short memory when it comes to climate and weather."

    Those longer trends show the world has seen "fairly dramatic warming" since the 1960s with "a smaller rate of warming over the last decade or so," said Thomas Karl, director of NOAA's National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, N.C. In the past 50 years, the world annual temperature has increased by nearly 1.4 degrees (0.8 degrees Celsius), according to NOAA data.

    Unlike 2012, much of the worst heat and biggest climate disasters last year were outside the U.S. Parts of central Asia, central Africa and Australia were record warm. Only a few places, including the central U.S., were cooler than normal last year.

    Temperatures that were only the 37th warmest for the nation last year. That followed the warmest year on record for the U.S.

    Last year, the world had 41 billion-dollar weather disasters, the second highest number behind only 2010, according to insurance firm Aon Benfield, which tracks global disasters. Since 2000, the world has averaged 28 such billion dollar disasters, which are adjusted for inflation.

    Nearly half of last year's biggest weather disasters were in Asia and the Pacific region, including Typhoon Haiyan, which killed at least 6,100 people and caused $13 billion in damage to the Philippines and Vietnam. Other costly weather disasters included $22 billion from central European flooding in June, $10 billion in damage from Typhoon Fitow in China and Japan, and a $10 billion drought in much of China, according to the insurance firm.

    Usually the weather event called El Niño, a warming of the central Pacific, is responsible for boosting already warm years into the world's hottest years. But in 2013, there was no El Niño.

    The fact that a year with no El Niño "was so hot tells me that the climate really is shifting," said Andrew Dessler, a Texas A&M University climate scientist, who was not part of either the NOAA or NASA teams.

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

     

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    Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2014
    Mars Rock
    This composite image provided by NASA shows before and-after images taken by the Opportunity rover. (AP Photo/NASA)

    PASADENA, Calif. (AP) - NASA scientists are intrigued by a Martian rock resembling a jelly doughnut that seemed to appear out of nowhere.

    The Opportunity rover earlier this month took an image of the rock, which was white around the outside and dark red in the middle. It was not present in earlier images of the same spot.

    Chief scientist Steve Squyres has a likely explanation. He said in a presentation last week that one of Opportunity's wheels probably kicked up the rock, which then slid into its field of view.

    Early testing of the "jelly" part of the rock revealed characteristics unlike any other rock the rover has discovered during its decade on Mars. The rock is high in sulfur and magnesium, and scientists are still trying to figure out why.

    RELATED ON SKYE: Mind-Blowing New Photos from Space

     

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    Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2014

    A pink lagoon glows in the Milky Way. New photos taken by a telescope in Chile put the Lagoon Nebula - a giant cloud of gas and dust located 5,000 light-years from Earth - on rosy display.

    The Lagoon Nebula (also called Messier 8) is about 100 light-years across and harbors young stars that shine brightly in the image, according to European Southern Observatory officials. The VLT Survey Telescope in Chile captured the picture, taken as part of a sweeping set of surveys designed to unlock mysteries of the universe. You can watch a video fly-through of the new Lagoon Nebula image from ESO, based on the new VLT telescope images:

    "The surveys are addressing many important questions in modern astronomy," ESO officials said in a statement. "These include the nature of dark energy, searching for brilliant quasars in the early universe, probing the structure of the Milky Way and looking for unusual and hidden objects, studying the neighboring Magellanic Clouds in great detail, and many other topics. [See Spectacular Photos of Nebulas in Deep Space]

    "History shows that surveys often find things that are unexpected and these surprises are crucial for the progress of astronomical research," ESO officials added.

    The Lagoon Nebula gets its name from a lagoon-shaped dust trail that winds through the glowing gas, and this isn't the first time ESO has imaged it. The observatory's Visible and Infrared Survey Telescope for Astronomy captured the nebula in stunning detail in infrared light, giving the cosmic wonder a different kind of glow.

    A wider view of the Lagoon Nebula and its surroundings reveals other nebulas in a lush patch of sky. The Lagoon Nebula glows orange in the middle of the image, and the Trifid Nebula at the top of the picture and other nebulas glow with the central nebula as well.

    ESO has also imaged the Lagoon Nebula before, looking at it in infrared light with its Visible and Infrared Survey Telescope for Astronomy in Chile.

    The new images are part of one survey, yet there currently 11 public sky surveys in process using ESO telescopes. ESO officials have also released a zoomable version of the huge Lagoon Nebula image here: http://www.eso.org/public/images/eso1403a/zoomable/

    ESO is operated by 15 different countries and is the most productive ground-based astronomical observatory in the world, according to ESO officials.

    Follow Miriam Kramer @mirikramer and Google+. Follow us @Spacedotcom, Facebook and Google+. Original article 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
    Best Space Photos 2013

     

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    Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2014

    When two Michigan-based astrophotographers combined their skills to capture the Pleiades star cluster, the results were nothing short of stunning.

    The popular star cluster M45, known better as the Pleiades or Seven Sisters, dazzles in this beautiful collaborative effort, imaged on two different nights during some challenging winter weather.

    Night sky photographer Terry Hancock of Downunder Observatory in Fremont, Mich., used a QHY11S monochrome CCD cooled to -20C camera, Takahashi Epsilon-180ED @ F2.8 telescope and Paramount GT-1100S German Equatorial Mount to capture the luminance on Dec. 28.

    Observer Robert Fields of Irving Observatory in Howell Township, Mich., captured the RBG colors on Nov. 13 using a STL 11000 monochrome CCD camera, Takahashi FSQ 106 @ F5.0 telescope and Astro-Physics AP900 German Equatorial Mount. [Amazing Night Sky Photos by Stargazers: January 2014]

    "While we continue with awful weather here in Michigan, it just makes sense to collaborate and this time using different telescopes and cameras but with a similar field of view," Hancock wrote SPACE.com in an email.

    Formed about 100 million years ago, the Pleiades star cluster comprises 800 stars. It 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). The stars Atlas and Pleione, along with their seven daughter stars, make up what skywatchers 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 article 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
    Best Space Photos 2013

     

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    Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2013
    Mavericks Big-Wave Surfing
    Ion Banner drops into a giant wave at the 2010 Mavericks Surf Contest in Half Moon Bay, Calif., on Feb. 13, 2010. (Corbis)

    With a huge swell hitting central California this week, organizers of the legendary Mavericks Invitational big-wave surfing competition near Half Moon Bay declared that the event would take place this Friday, Jan. 24. 2014.

    The competition at the deadly surf break is held only when organizers determine conditions will be just right. Twenty-four of the world's best big-wave surfers will compete.

    Early on Wednesday, Jan. 22, organizer Jeff Clark said a decision on whether to hold the one-day event would be postponed because the swell would likely combine with a strong southerly wind. "This combination can make it very dangerous, not only for competitors but for all boats out in the water," he wrote on the competition's Facebook page.

    But Wednesday afternoon, he posted another update: "IT'S ON! We have a GREEN LIGHT for the contest for Friday, January 24, 2014. First heat takes off at 8 a.m."

    For the first time, this year's competition will be broadcast live on the Universal Sports Network.

    RELATED ON SKYE: 10 Incredible Photos of Surfers Riding Giant Waves
    Garret McNamara Oahu, Hawaii

     

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