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    Tuesday, April 1, 2014

    A blazing meteor disintegrates across a glittering night sky with planet Venus and the Milky Way galaxy beaming brightly over a lighthouse in Maine in this stunning image recently sent to Space.com.

    Astrophotographer Mike Taylor took this great shot, which is one frame from a 2.5-hour time-lapse captured on March 4 at the Marshall Point Lighthouse in Port Clyde, Maine.

    "A meteor burns up in the atmosphere with a nice green tail next to the tower, making a triangle in the sky, which includes Venus and the core of the Milky Way," Taylor told Space.com in an email. [More amazing March night sky photos by amateurs]

    Taylor used a Nikon D600 camera and 14-24mm @ 14mm, f/3.2, 30 seconds, ISO 3200, WB Kelvin 3570 to capture the image. The image was processed through Lightroom 5 and Photoshop CS5.

    The Milky Way is a barred spiral galaxy comprising roughly 400 billion stars and stretching between 100,000 and 120,000 light-years in diameter. A massive black hole - billions of times the size of the sun - lies at the center of the galaxy. A light-year is the distance light travels in one year, or about 6 trillion miles (10 trillion kilometers).

    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 This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.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: 15 Mind-Blowing Photos of the Milky Way
    Milky Way

     

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    Tuesday, April 1, 2014
    Restaurant Chain Chipotle Warns Climate Change Could Force Guacamole Off Their Menu
    Sun shines through avocado leaves in a grove that is being left to die because of the rising cost of water on March 5, 2014, near Valley Center, Calif. (David McNew/Getty Images)

    In an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, the group stated that changes to the climate will negatively impact food availability and production. They claim that issues also surround the quality of food, with human settlements growing near waters that are prone to flooding or sea-level rise that could cause contamination.

    Other organizations are also claiming climate-related concerns for the future of their products, from their ability to continue serving items at a reasonable cost to being able to grow and maintain the products at all.

    Meanwhile, the weather provides a crucial element to how food can be grown or distributed. The right balance of sunlight, precipitation and temperature must come together to ensure healthy crops are available.

    Recent droughts and temperature spikes, along with growing demand, are injuring certain foods around the world. Others are falling victim to fungi and other assailants that thrive in increased rain. Crops are dying off due to deep freezing during the growing period. Looking ahead to the spring, while much of the U.S. will be in good shape for planting, others will not fare as well.

    Here are five popular foods that are suffering as a result of the weather and climate.

    Avocado

    (Photo/MSPhotographic)

    The ongoing drought in California is having an impact on avocado supplies. According to a San Diego avocado farmer, the summer of 2013 saw fruits 30 percent smaller than usual as a result of last year's dry conditions, which have only gotten worse into the spring of 2014. As the nation's number one supplier of avocados, a decrease in product in California could lead to diminished supplies and therefore, increased prices, of the popular, heart-healthy fruit.

    The Chipotle restaurant chain recently made headlines by claiming that the future of their guacamole or salsas could be at stake as a result of climate change. They also cited "the impact of inclement weather, natural disasters and other calamities," specifying that freezes are hard on crops and that drought is hard on livestock.

    Lime

    (Photo/HandmadePictures)

    Decreased production of limes are also posing a threat to guacamole. Lime growth is not hurting from drought, but rather from an excess of rain in Mexico. The precipitation has led to root rot on lime trees.

    According to AccuWeather.com Meteorologist Eric Leister, "Much of the lime-growing regions in Mexico saw excessive rainfall in September and October due rain associated with Hurricane Manuel in September and then Hurricane Raymond in October."

    A crop disease known as Huanglongbing, which took a toll on California citrus earlier this year as well, has been impacting limes south of the border. The result has been a doubled price increase on the fruit.

    To cope, some restaurants are trying to limit the use of limes in their products or are trading limes for significantly discounted drinks.

    RELATED
    Five Healthy Spring Foods to Look Forward To
    Five Animals in Danger Due to Changing Climates
    Severe Weather, Climate Exacerbate Global Hunger Crisis

    Honey

    (Photo/pilipphoto)

    Disease and fungus may also be to blame for the threat against honey supplies, as apiculturists struggle to diagnose the rapid bee die-off. Some seasons have linked the low numbers to harsh weather, while the possibilities of parasites, pesticides and other environmental factors are also being investigated as possible causes for Colony Collapse Disorder.

    Not only could dwindling bee populations, down from 5 million in the 1940s to 2.5 million today, result in a decrease in honey production, but many other crops depend on bee populations to keep them pollinated. Without bees, some locations, such as in southwest China, are forced to resort to hand pollination, which does not cover nearly the same amount of product as the bees are able to carry.

    Bananas

    (Photo/AbElena)

    Warm weather is bolstering insects and fungi that thrive on banana plants as well.

    This past winter Costa Rica declared a banana emergency and cited rising temperatures and rain as the culprits, allowing for the surplus populations of damaging insects. As a major export for the country, this hit to their crops could have large-scale economic impacts.

    Bananas have also fallen victim to soil-born fungi across Asia and Africa, which experts fear may spread into Central and South America as well.

    Chocolate

    (Photo/Nikolay Trubnikov)

    Cocoa production is also suffering, with experts calling for a halved reduction in production by 2060, with a 1.5 million ton shortage expected by 2020. Significant quantities come out of Ghana and West Africa, where warmer weather and drought are impacting growth.

    The price of cocoa per ton has gone through a price increase five times what it was in the year 2000.

    Thumbnail image courtesy of Lesyy


    Have questions, comments, or a story to share? Email Samantha-Rae Tuthill at SamanthaRae.Tuthill@accuweather.com, follow her on Twitter @Accu_Sam or Google+. Follow us @breakingweather, or on Facebook and Google+.

     

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    Monday, April 1, 2014
    Oklahoma Tornado Chase Industry
    (AP Photo/Alonzo Adams)

    With part of a multiple-day severe weather event forecast to continue, close to 40 million people will be at risk for violent and dangerous storms on Thursday from the Gulf Coast to the Ohio Valley.

    Following a significant round of severe weather from Wednesday, the atmosphere will continue to energize on Thursday from the South Central states to part of the Midwest.

    There are many communities at risk for severe weather on Thursday. Major cities in or near the alert area include Dallas, Houston; Shreveport, La.; Tulsa, Okla.; Little Rock and Fort Smith, Ark.; St. Louis and Kansas City, Mo.; Peoria, Ill.; Tupelo, Miss.; Memphis and Nashville, Tenn.; Paducah and Louisville, Ky.; Evansville and Indianapolis, Ind.; and Cincinnati.

    According to Severe Weather Expert Henry Margusity, "Thursday will be a prime day for severe weather with risks ranging from damaging wind gusts and large hail to flash flooding and tornadoes spanning multiple states."

    RELATED:
    AccuWeather.com Severe Weather Center
    The Difference Between Tornado Watches and Warnings
    Mike Smith Blog: 40th Anniversary of the 1974 Super Outbreak

    The severe weather risk will stretch along a nearly 1,000-mile-long swath.

    Flight delays may be extensive Thursday as the storms approach and pass through many airline hubs. Travel along highways from I-10 to I-70 in the Central states could be dangerous, slow and disrupted for a time.

    According to Severe Weather Meteorologist Justin Pullin, "The number of straight-line damaging wind gust incidents will far outnumber the amount of tornadoes as a cold front gathers forward speed and thunderstorms develop into a squall line."

    A handful of tornadoes could also be scattered about ahead of the cold front Thursday.

    According to AccuWeather Enterprise Solutions Senior Vice President and Chief Innovation Executive Mike Smith, "At this early stage, the area where there is the greatest risk for a couple of strong tornadoes on Thursday is from northeastern Oklahoma to southern Missouri and central and western Arkansas."

    The threat of severe weather will continue to push eastward across the South, Ohio Valley and perhaps part of the lower Great Lakes into Friday.

    April 3 and 4 mark the 40th anniversary of the Super Tornado Outbreak of April 1974, which centered on the Ohio and Tennessee valleys. The tornado outbreak from 1974 was one of the worst such events in U.S. history.

    The number of tornadoes spanning this Thursday into Friday is forecast to fall well short of the event from 40 years ago. However, even one tornado hitting a populated area has the potential to bring disaster and great loss of life.


    RELATED ON SKYE: 18 Incredible Photos of Tornadoes

     

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    Wednesday, April 2, 2014
    Urban Lightning Storm
    (Getty Images)
    Severe thunderstorms on Wednesday will threaten 18 million people from northern Texas to eastern Kansas, much of Missouri and southern Illinois. The threat on Wednesday includes the potential for a couple of strong tornadoes.

    The severe weather on Wednesday is part of a multiple-day severe weather event that willcontinue through the end of the week and will reach parts of the Midwest, East and South.

    Cities in the area of concern for dangerous and disruptive weather conditions Wednesday and Wednesday night include Dallas; Wichita, Kan.; Oklahoma City and Tulsa, Okla.; Little Rock and Fort Smith, Ark.; Kansas City, Springfield, Joplin and St. Louis, Mo.; Shreveport, La.; Memphis, Tenn.; Paducah, Ky.; Evansville, Ind.; and Mt. Vernon, Ill.

    Travel delays and difficult driving conditions are possible along I-35, I-40, I-44 and I-70 in the region.

    The storms spanning Wednesday and Wednesday night will bring large hail, high winds and flash flooding to a number of communities. However, a few of the storms can bring a tornado.

    According to AccuWeather Enterprise Solutions Senior Vice President and Chief Innovation Executive Mike Smith, "There is the potential for a couple of large tornadoes along the Kansas/Oklahoma border late Wednesday afternoon and evening."

    RELATED:
    AccuWeather.com Severe Weather Center
    The Difference Between Tornado Watches and Warnings
    Mike Smith Blog: 40th Anniversary of the 1974 Super Outbreak

    While the coverage of severe weather is forecast to expand greatly on Thursday, people should stay on alert prior to and following the main event.

    Smith passed along a saying among storm chasers, "The day before the day is often the day that catches people by surprise."

    The storms late Wednesday will fire near the boundary of dry air to the west, warm, moist air to the southeast and cool air to the northeast.

    According to severe weather meteorologist Justin Pullin, "Storms in southern Kansas and northern Oklahoma later Wednesday will not have much competition and will be in a favorable zone with strong winds at mid-levels of the atmosphere."

    Even late in the day Tuesday, a few storms over parts of north-central Texas and central Oklahoma can become severe with an isolated tornado.


    RELATED ON SKYE: 50 Must-See Weather Photos
    Lightning Hits the Grand Canyon

     

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    Wednesday, April 2, 2014
    PERU-CHILE-EARTHQUAKE
    Streets in Peru's 'Costa Verde' bay appear vacant following a tsunami alert in Lima on April 01, 2014. (ERNESTO BENAVIDES/AFP/Getty Images)

    SANTIAGO, Chile (AP) - Authorities lifted tsunami warnings for Chile's long coastline early Wednesday after a magnitude-8.2 earthquake struck the South American nation's northern coast. Six people were crushed to death or suffered fatal heart attacks, a remarkably low toll for such a powerful shift in the Earth's crust.

    The extent of damage from Tuesday night's quake couldn't be fully assessed before daybreak, President Michelle Bachelet said, but she wasn't taking any chances. She declared a state of emergency in the region and sent a military plane with 100 anti-riot police to join 300 soldiers deployed to prevent looting and round up escaped prisoners.

    Thousands were evacuated from low-lying areas, but most began to return home as the tsunami alerts were lifted along Chile's long coast.

    The shaking touched off landslides that blocked roads, knocked out power for thousands, damaged an airport and started fires that destroyed several businesses. About 300 inmates escaped from a women's prison in the city of Iquique, forcing the closure of the border with Peru. Officials said some two dozen had been captured early Wednesday. In Arica, another city close to the quake's offshore epicenter, hospitals treated minor injuries, and some homes made of adobe were destroyed, authorities said. Mining in Chile, which is the world's top copper producing nation, was not affected, although world prices for the red metal jumped as the quake raised supply concerns because most of the Chilean mining industry is in the northern regions.

    Chile's Navy lifted tsunami warnings for all of Chile long coastline at around 7 a.m. local time (11 a.m. GMT). The mandatory evacuation orders had remained in effect until nearly dawn for coastal areas north of Antofagasta, a decision backed by the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Hawaii, regarding the coastline of Chile as still dangerous.

    Bachelet, who just returned to the presidency three weeks ago, spoke well after midnight, five hours after the quake struck and she flew to quake-hit regions on Wednesday morning to assess the damage.

    It was not lost on many Chileans that the last time she presided over a major quake, days before the end of her 2006-10 term, her emergency preparedness office prematurely waved off a tsunami danger. Most of the 500 dead from that magnitude-8.8 tremor survived the shaking, only to be caught in killer waves in a disaster that destroyed 220,000 homes and washed away large parts of many coastal communities.

    "The country has done a good job of confronting the emergency. I call on everyone to stay calm and follow the authorities' instructions," Bachelet tweeted after Tuesday night's temblor.

    When she finally addressed the nation, she said her interior minister would monitor the tsunami threat throughout the night and coordinate the emergency response. "Classes have been suspended, and we will be able to know the extent of the damage in the light of day," she added.

    The tsunami warning center initially had cancelled tsunami watches for areas other than northern Chile and southern Peru. The only U.S. impact might be higher waves Wednesday for Hawaii's swimmers and surfers, it said.

    The U.S. Geological Survey initially reported the quake at 8.0, but later upgraded the magnitude of the quake that struck 61 miles (99 kilometers) northwest of Iquique. More than 20 significant aftershocks followed, including a 6.2 tremor. More aftershocks and even a larger quake could not be ruled out, said seismologist Mario Pardo at the University of Chile.

    Psychiatrist Ricardo Yevenes said he was with a patient in Arica when the big one hit.

    "It quickly began to move the entire office, things were falling," he told local television. "Almost the whole city is in darkness."

    The quake was so strong that the shaking experienced in Bolivia's capital about 290 miles (470 kilometers) away was the equivalent of a 4.5-magnitude tremor, authorities there said.

    Chile is one of the world's most earthquake-prone countries because just off the coast, the Nazca tectonic plate plunges beneath the South American plate, pushing the towering Andes cordillera to ever-higher altitudes.

    The latest activity began with a strong magnitude-6.7 quake on March 16 that caused more than 100,000 people to briefly evacuate low-lying areas. Hundreds of smaller quakes followed in the weeks since, keeping people on edge as scientists said there was no way to tell if the unusual string of tremors was a harbinger of an impending disaster.

    RELATED ON SKYE: Incredible Natural-Disaster Photos from Space

     

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    Wednesday, April 2, 2014
    many large industrial size air...
    (Shutterstock)

    With a quick transition from a need for heating to air conditioning, energy usage will remain high through the early spring.

    Preceding the coldest winter of the last decade, average heating days across the United States were in total 13 percent higher than last winter and 10 percent above the October through February 10-year average, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, or EIA.

    As propane prices rose on average more than two dollars per gallon from December through January, supply storages were tightened, especially in the Midwest, the EIA reported. While prices have since fallen, the EIA expects that the average cost per gallon will turn out to be nearly 51 percent higher than last winter in the Midwest and approximately 15 percent higher in the Northeast.

    With a lingering chill expected to last into April for the Midwest, Ohio Valley, far interior Northeast and Great Lakes, energy use will stay high as heating will remain necessary in these areas, according to AccuWeather.com lead long-range forecaster Paul Pastelok. This could further impact energy prices.



    "The Great Lakes and the cities of Detroit, Cleveland, Chicago and Minneapolis will use heat a little longer than normal because of a cool spring," Pastelok said. "Temperatures will even struggle to rise at the beginning of the summer for this region."

    Although heating oil supplies were tightened in this winter's icy grips due to low temperatures and the overall decrease in crude oil prices, the EIA estimates that heating oil prices this winter were one percent lower than last winter. However, natural gas and oil will still be in high demand in the Northeast, as some heat use may still be needed in April.

    High energy demand will remain the largest concern for the spring season in the Northeast and mid-Atlantic, as the areas undergo a quick transition from colder weather to high temperatures.

    "In May, a quick warmup is possible along the East Coast to the Southeast," Pastelok said. "Philadelphia to New York City may be close to 3 degrees above-normal for the month, so high energy use will switch to cooling purposes."

    RELATED:
    AccuWeather.com Severe Weather Center
    The Difference Between Tornado Watches and Warnings
    Mike Smith Blog: 40th Anniversary of the 1974 Super Outbreak


    Unlike the Northeast and mid-Atlantic, the Midwest and the Plains will undergo a smooth transition from heating to cooling, so energy demands in the area are expected to follow their typical seasonal patterns.

    Moving west, chilly spring weather will create above-normal energy use through April and early May in the northern Rockies and the Upper Plains.

    However, as this spring becomes the second in a row with a severe drought for areas from western Texas through central California, the extreme dryness will take a toll on not only the planting season but also on energy demand.

    "The West will use more energy for cooling in late May and early June as temperatures could top out to over 90 F in the Sacramento Valley. This could cause energy to be used much more quickly," Pastelok said.

    Looking ahead, there may be some good news for the drought-stricken West, as El Nino may bring a bit of relief to the region.

    "If El Nino comes in and sticks through the wet season, there could be some improvements, and this may cut back energy use for next spring and summer," Pastelok said.

    Heading northward, a shortened spring season is expected in the Pacific Northwest, as cool weather remains present in the area for the beginning of spring. Areas surrounding Portland and Seattle will use the most energy in the month of June, as the weather turns quite warm and dry during this period.

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

     

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    Wednesday, April 2, 2014
    APTOPIX Severe Weather Kansas
    A tornado forms and touches down north of Soloman, Kan., Saturday, April 14, 2012. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)

    With part of a multiple-day severe weather event forecast to continue, close to 40 million people will be at risk for violent and dangerous storms on Thursday from the Gulf Coast to the Ohio Valley.

    Following a significant round of severe weather from Wednesday, the atmosphere will continue to energize on Thursday from the South Central states to part of the Midwest.

    There are many communities at risk for severe weather on Thursday. Major cities in or near the alert area include Dallas, Houston; Shreveport, La.; Tulsa, Okla.; Little Rock and Fort Smith, Ark.; St. Louis and Kansas City, Mo.; Peoria, Ill.; Tupelo, Miss.; Memphis and Nashville, Tenn.; Paducah and Louisville, Ky.; Evansville and Indianapolis, Ind.; and Cincinnati.

    According to severe weather expert Henry Margusity, "Thursday will be a prime day for severe weather with risks ranging from damaging wind gusts and large hail to flash flooding and tornadoes spanning multiple states."

    RELATED:
    AccuWeather.com Severe Weather Center
    The Difference Between Tornado Watches and Warnings
    Mike Smith Blog: 40th Anniversary of the 1974 Super Outbreak

    The severe weather risk will stretch along a nearly 1,000-mile-long swath.

    Flight delays may be extensive Thursday as the storms approach and pass through many airline hubs. Travel along highways from I-10 to I-70 in the Central states could be dangerous, slow and disrupted for a time.

    According to severe weather meteorologist Justin Pullin, "The number of straight-line damaging wind gust incidents will far outnumber the amount of tornadoes as a cold front gathers forward speed and thunderstorms develop into a squall line."

    A handful of tornadoes could also be scattered about ahead of the cold front Thursday.

    According to AccuWeather Enterprise Solutions Senior Vice President and Chief Innovation Executive Mike Smith, "At this early stage, the area where there is the greatest risk for a couple of strong tornadoes on Thursday is from northeastern Oklahoma to southern Missouri and central and western Arkansas."

    The threat of severe weather will continue to push eastward across the South, Ohio Valley and perhaps part of the lower Great Lakes into Friday.

    April 3 and 4 mark the 40th anniversary of the Super Tornado Outbreak of April 1974, which centered on the Ohio and Tennessee valleys. The tornado outbreak from 1974 was one of the worst such events in U.S. history.

    The number of tornadoes spanning this Thursday into Friday is forecast to fall well short of the event from 40 years ago. However, even one tornado hitting a populated area has the potential to bring disaster and great loss of life.

    RELATED ON SKYE: 18 Incredible Photos of Tornadoes

     

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    Wednesday, April 2, 2014

    The moon turned a blood red over the Sossusvlei Desert Lodge on NamibRand Nature Reserve in Namibia in this stunning photo taken by skywatcher George Tucker on June 15, 2011. (Credit: George Tucker)

    Stargazers have a lot to look forward to this month.

    The best celestial events in April include eclipses of the sun and moon, a meteor shower and good opportunities to see Vesta and Ceres, the two biggest space rocks in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.

    Here's a brief rundown of April's most exciting skywatching events, which folks in the Northern Hemisphere may be able to enjoy without too much shivering now that spring has sprung. [Skywatching Highlights of April 2014 (Video)]

    Two eclipses

    The first of April's two eclipses comes in the early morning hours of April 15, when Earth's shadow will darken the moon in a total lunar eclipse visible throughout North and South America, Australia, New Zealand and other parts of the Pacific region.

    Totality will last from 3:07 a.m. until 4:25 a.m. EDT (0707-0825 GMT), while partial phases of the eclipse will be visible for a few hours before and after this stretch.

    The solar eclipse will occur two weeks later, though very few people will get to appreciate its full glory. On April 29, an annular or "ring of fire" eclipse will be visible from a small patch of Antarctica, perhaps briefly confusing some penguins around the time of greatest eclipse, 2:04 a.m. EDT (0604 GMT).

    But there will still be something for some Southern Hemisphere stargazers to see.

    "Skywatchers in Australia and southern Indonesia will see a partial solar eclipse," narrator Nancy Calo said in an April skywatching video guide released by the Hubble Space Telescope science team.

    The Lyrid meteor shower

    Sandwiched between these two eclipses is the Lyrid meteor shower, which occurs each year in April when Earth plows through debris shed by Comet Thatcher.

    While the Lyrids generally aren't as spectacular as August's Perseids or December's Geminids, they can still put on a good show.

    "The Lyrid meteor shower will be best seen in the early morning hours of April 22nd," Calo said. "Expect to see up to 20 bright meteors per hour after midnight."

    Mars coming close

    Mars will continue getting slightly bigger and brighter throughout the first two weeks of April as the Red Planet makes its closest approach to Earth of the year.

    This milestone comes on April 14, when Mars will be just 57 million miles (92 million kilometers) away from us. And about a week earlier, on April 8, the Red Planet reaches "opposition" - a point in the sky directly opposite the sun.

    At opposition - which occurs once every 26 months - the sun, Mars and Earth are arranged in a straight line. The dates of opposition and closest approach are offset by nearly a week because the planets' orbits are elliptical rather than perfectly circular.

    Those elliptical orbits also dictate that some approaches are much closer than others. In August 2003, for example, Mars came within just 34.6 million miles (55.7 million km) of Earth - its closest pass to our planet in the past 60,000 years.

    Viewing Vesta and Ceres

    April also features oppositions of the protoplanet Vesta and the dwarf planet Ceres, the two most massive residents of the asteroid belt.

    Vesta, which is about 326 miles (525 km) wide, reaches opposition on the morning of April 13. It will be an easy target in binoculars during the predawn hours and should even be visible with the naked eye, experts say.

    The 592-mile-wide (952 km) Ceres will be directly opposite the sun in the sky on April 15, in the constellation Virgo. Though it's not as bright as Vesta, Ceres should be visible through binoculars, appearing as a point of light, like a star.

    Editor's Note: If you snap an amazing night-sky photo and would like to share it with Space.com for a possible story or gallery, please send images and comments (including your name and the photo's location) to managing editor Tariq Malik at: spacephotos@space.com.

    Follow Mike Wall on Twitter @michaeldwall and Google+. 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: Mind-Blowing New Photos from Space

     

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    Monday, April 2, 2014
    Flying Snake
    A flying paradise tree snake, Chrysopelea paradisi. (Jake Socha)

    It has no wings and no engine -- just a long, slim body. But the paradise tree snake effortlessly glides up to 32 feet (10 meters) through the air from tree to tree. Now, physicists are starting to understand how these snakes have mastered such a feat.

    The 4-foot-long (1.2 meters) reptile from southeastern Asia rides tiny vortices of air to get that crucial extra boost to remain airborne, a team of researchers wrote in the most recent issue of the journal Physics of Fluids.

    In addition to explaining a peculiar natural phenomenon, the insight could lead to the development of small flying machines that are as graceful and efficient as animal gliders. [See Photos of the Flying Paradise Tree Snake]

    "The results are important, because they show how an aerodynamically very counterintuitive shape can create a high lift flow," said study co-author Pavlos Vlachos of Purdue University in Indiana, referring to the skinny, small surface-area snake shape.

    The snake can adjust its flight path while in the air and position its body at really high angles of attack, when most planes would stall.

    The study is a step forward from previous research that showed the snakes were getting an extra boost to keep them aloft. "In this work, we explain what the air is doing to generate that," said lead study author Lorena Barba of The George Washington University. "We explain the way the air whirls around the snake's body section to give it uplift. It is all due to how eddies whirl around, creating lower pressures than the surrounding air."

    Extra "oomph"

    Just a few months ago, a team of researchers published a paper in the Journal of Experimental Biology, describing their attempts to analyze flying snakes' gliding ability — not just how far and how high they fly, but also the amount of force exerted on them by the air.

    In that study, the researchers found that the snakes flex their ribs before starting to glide, extending and flattening their body from a circular tube into a weird, flattened, UFO-like S-shape.

    To study the aerodynamics of the glide, the researchers then used a 3D printer to build models of this UFO-like cross-section of the snake's body. They put the model into a tank full of water, using it to simulate the airflow across the artificial "snake" and experimented with the positioning angle of the cross-section.

    The experiments "revealed something very surprising: Just before stall, the snake section experiences an extra 'oopmh' of upward force," Barba said.

    It's easy to measure forces in a test tunnel, but it's not so easy to see what the air is doing, and how little whirls of wind turn and circle around, Barba said. It is possible, however, to use smoke or little floating particles and take pictures, but this method doesn't show many details of what is happening, she added.

    Changing angle of attack

    The new study used a computer simulation of the snake section in wind and experimented with it virtually, tilting it on the screen to change the air's angle of attack. This allowed the researchers to visualize the air spinning around in precise detail, and enabled them to measure the aerodynamic forces acting on the virtual snake.

    "The computer simulations confirmed the result of the experiments," Barba said. "At an angle of attack of 35 degrees, the snake section experiences extra uplift -- a noticeable peak."

    Also, when the model was positioned level with the airflow, that air pushed the snake down. The air flowing around the "snake" formed a vortex sitting beneath the level snake shape, pulling it downward.

    The scientists say the snake can control its flight by twisting its body in midair, to fine-tune the forces acting on its body. "In this work, we were able to better explain the process by which the snake is creating the vortices over the body and how these help increase the lift," Vlachos said.

    Snake suits?

    Though the study was limited by the two-dimensional, rather than 3D, simulation, it was still extremely impressive, said Brown University's Joseph Bahlman, who did not take part in the research but has published numerous papers on the aerodynamics of flying squirrels. [Video – See Monkeys Chasing a Flying Squirrel]

    The results could help engineers mimic the flow structure described in the research to develop future wing designs, Bahlman added."I could also imagine some sort of glider-parachute hybrid, similar to squirrel suits," he said.

    "We may not see airplanes that look like snakesas a result of this study, but we may start to see man-made wings that have similar cross-sections to snakes'and are tilted at 35 degrees, to try to take advantage of the same features that snakesdo," added Kevin Miklasz, of Stanford University, who was involved in previous studies of flying snakes but not this one.

    The researchers now aim to analyze the 'S' shape of the snake's entire body, instead of just a section. "The real body is not a sum of slices ... It all moves around and wiggles in the air," Barba said. "There is a lot of work to be done to get a more realistic computer simulation that considers the body as a whole, not just a slice."

    Follow us @livescience, Facebook & Google+. Original article on Live Science. Follow the author on Twitter @SciTech_Cat.

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

    RELATED ON SKYE: 15 Truly Bizarre Creatures of the Deep
    Mola Mola, Ocean Sunfish

     

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    Updated Thursday, April 4, 2014, 3:30 p.m. ET
    twister
    (Shutterstock)

    As a multiple-day severe weather event continues, 43 million people will be at risk for violent and dangerous storms into Thursday night from the Gulf Coast to the Ohio Valley. The severe weather risk will stretch along a nearly 1,000-mile-long swath.

    Following the significant round of severe weather from Wednesday, the atmosphere will continue to energize into the nighttime hours, adding to this dangerous situation.

    There are many communities at risk for severe weather. Major cities in or near the alert area include Dallas, Houston and Austin, Texas; Shreveport, La.; Tulsa, Okla.; Little Rock and Fort Smith, Ark.; St. Louis, Springfield, and Kansas City, Mo.; Peoria, Ill.; Tupelo, Miss.; Memphis and Nashville, Tenn.; Paducah, Lexington and Louisville, Ky.; Evansville and Indianapolis, Ind.; and Cincinnati, Dayton and Columbus, Ohio.

    According to Severe Weather Expert Henry Margusity, "Thursday into Thursday night will be for severe weather with risks ranging from damaging wind gusts and large hail to flash flooding and tornadoes spanning multiple states."

    During the past two days over parts of the Central states, hail up to the size of golf balls and baseballs has fallen and caused damage. From 2 to 6 inches of rain has fallen over parts of Missouri and Illinois. The landscape is primed for more significant flooding events as more storms ramp up.

    Severe Thunderstorms

    The setup into Thursday night is very complex, and there will be clusters and lines of severe thunderstorms over a broad area.

    RELATED:
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    According to AccuWeather Enterprise Solutions Senior Vice President and Chief Innovation Executive Mike Smith, "We've already had a damaging tornado this morning at University City, Mo., (suburb of St. Louis), which might be called Mother Nature's warning shot."

    Tornadoes could be scattered about parts of Texas, the central and southern Plains and the Mississippi and Ohio valleys, ahead an advancing cold front.

    "If you live in the southern half of Missouri, southern Illinois, western Kentucky, western Tennessee and Arkansas, you need to be paying very close attention to the weather," Smith said. "The first tornadoes Thursday afternoon may fire over southwestern Missouri to bordering areas of Kansas."

    Flight delays may be extensive well into Thursday night as the storms approach and pass through many airline hubs. Travel along highways from I-10 to I-70 in the Central states could be dangerous, slow and disrupted for a time.

    According to Severe Weather Meteorologist Scott Breit, "Some of the wind gusts in the storms not associated with tornadoes can reach 75 mph."

    Winds of this strength can easily push trees into homes, damage roofs and send objects airborne.

    The threat of severe weather will continue to push eastward into Friday and may reach areas from the lower Great Lakes to the southern Appalachians.

    Severe Thunderstorms

    April 3 and 4 mark the 40th anniversary of the Super Tornado Outbreak of April 1974, which was centered on the Ohio and Tennessee valleys. The severe weather outbreak from 1974 was one of the worst such events in U.S. history and yielded nearly 150 tornadoes, including seven F5 tornadoes with estimated winds topping 260 mph. The storms caused more than 300 fatalities.

    The number of tornadoes spanning this Thursday into Friday is forecast to fall well short of the event from 40 years ago. However, even one tornado hitting a populated area has the potential to bring disaster and great loss of life.

    PHOTOS ON SKYE: Stunning Photos from the 2013 Tornado Season
    Kansas Torndao

     

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    Thursday, April 4, 2014
    Britain Air Pollution
    Tower Bridge and the high rise towers of the City of London are shrouded in smog Thursday, April 4, 2014. (AP Photo/Tony Hicks)

    LONDON (AP) - Schools have closed their playgrounds and ambulance staff are reporting a surge in breathing problems as smog blankets parts of England for a second day.

    Environmentalists criticized Prime Minister David Cameron after he said the haze - a mix of local pollution, European emissions and Sahara sand - was "a naturally occurring weather phenomenon."

    As air pollution hit the top level of 10 in London and the southeast Thursday, Green Party European lawmaker Keith Taylor said Cameron's "flippant response to this invisible killer is utterly disgraceful."

    Some schools kept children inside, while the London Ambulance Service said it was seeing a higher-than-normal number of calls from people with breathing difficulties, asthma and heart problems.

    The World Health Organization says air pollution kills about 7 million people a year globally.

    PHOTOS ON SKYE: Choking Smog Engulfs China Skylines

     

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    Thursday, April 4, 2014
    Chile Earthquake
    Fishermen look for boats to salvage damaged overnight in the port of Iquique, Chile, Wednesday, April 2, 2014. (AP Photo/ Luis Hidalgo, Pool)

    IQUIQUE, Chile (AP) - Coastal residents of Chile's far-north spent a second sleepless night outside their homes early Thursday after a major aftershock rattled an area hit a day earlier by a magnitude-8.2 earthquake that caused some damage and six deaths. No new major damage or casualties were reported.

    After the 7.6-magnitude aftershock struck just before midnight Wednesday, Chile's Emergency Office and navy issued a tsunami alert and ordered a precautionary evacuation of low-lying areas for the country's whole 2,500-mile (4,000-kilometer) Pacific coastline.

    Among those moved inland was President Michelle Bachelet, who was in the city of Arica assessing damage in the north from Tuesday night's powerful quake.

    "I was evacuated like all citizens. One can see that the people are prepared," she tweeted early Thursday.

    Chile's evacuation order was lifted at around 2 a.m. Thursday. The whole coast also was evacuated for several hours after Tuesday's quake, and for the night in the north, although the tsunami proved small.

    The aftershock caused buildings to shake and people to run out into the streets in the port of Iquique, which was one of the cities that suffered damage from the Tuesdayearthquake. There were no immediate reports of serious damage or injuries from the aftershock, which was one of dozens that have followed the magnitude-8.2 quake.

    State television said the aftershock caused some landslides near Alto Hospicio, a poor area in the hills above Iquique where about 2,500 homes were damaged by Tuesday'earthquake.

    The Ministry of Education suspended classes again in schools in the north for Thursday.

    The aftershock was felt across the border in southern Peru, where people in the cities of Tacna and Arequipa fled buildings in fear. Police Lt. Freddy Cuela in Tacna said no damage or injuries were reported. Peru's navy tweeted a tsunami alert for the country's extreme southern coast, which is next to the Chilean region hit by the quakes.

    Earlier, authorities reported just six deaths from Tuesday's magnitude-8.2 quake, but didn't rule out the possibility others could have been killed in older structures made of adobe in remote communities that weren't immediately accessible.

    The tsunami after Tuesday night's quake caused the sea to rise only 8 feet (2.5 meters) in Iquique, a city of nearly 200,000 people, although that was enough to sink and damage many fishing boats. Iquique's fishermen poked through the wreckage Wednesday trying to assess what it will coast to repair and replace.

    Still, as Bachelet deployed hundreds of anti-riot police and soldiers to prevent looting and round up escaped prisoners, it was clear the loss of life and property could have been much worse from Tuesday's powerful tremor.

    Tuesday night's mandatory evacuation lasted 10 hours in Iquique and Arica, the cities closest to the epicenter, and kept 900,000 people out of their homes along Chile's coast. The order to leave was spread through cellphone text messages and Twitter, and reinforced by blaring sirens in neighborhoods where people regularly practiceearthquake drills.

    But the system has its shortcomings: The government has yet to install tsunami warning sirens in parts of Arica, leaving authorities to shout orders by megaphone. And less than 15 percent of Chileans have downloaded the smartphone application that can alert them to evacuation orders.

    Chile is one of the world's most earthquake-prone countries, and tsunamis are a particular danger because of activity in the fault zone just offshore where the Nazca tectonic plate plunges beneath the South American plate.

     

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    Thursday, April 4, 2014

    The Defense Meteorological Satellite Program Flight 19 (DMSP 19) satellite will provide the military with visible and infrared cloud pictures, and will collect data on precipitation, surface temperatures, soil moisture and space weather. (Credit: U.S. Air Force)

    A $518 million military weather satellite that has been waiting 15 years to shine will be launched into orbit Thursday atop an Atlas 5 rocket from the western spaceport in California.

    Liftoff of the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program Flight 19 spacecraft is planned for 7:46 a.m. local time (10:46 a.m. EDT; 1446 GMT) at the opening of a 10-minute launch window at Vandenberg Air Force Base.

    Outfitted with a suite of seven sensors, DMSP provides the military with visible and infrared cloud pictures, measures precipitation, surface temperatures and soil moisture, and collects space weather data.

    But as past satellites were flown and ended up exceeding their design lives in orbit, the launch date for Flight 19 slipped - and slipped. [Amazing Rocket Launches of 2014 (Photos)]

    Until now, when the Lockheed Martin-built satellite is finally needed in space.

    "The program was supposed to have flown out years ago. Success, though, believe it or not, was the cause of the delay. This last block of satellites have lasted significantly longer than anyone projected. So when this satellite was originally built the plan was for it to be launched shortly after it was finished," said Lt. Col. James Bodnar, 4th Space Launch Squadron commander at Vandenberg.

    Bodnar tells the story:

    "This satellite was built in the mid-'90s. There's components that were made as early as 1993. It was turned over to the Air Force as finished in 1998 and put into long-term storage for 10 years.

    "The satellite itself was originally built in (East Windsor,) New Jersey. When it was finished it was shipped to California and put into storage in Sunnyvale. In 2008, it was brought out of storage."

    Along the way it underwent two lifetime extension efforts to boost the in-space life expectancy, upgraded with star trackers and a digital gyroscope for navigation and replacement of materials and lubricants that had degraded over time. And there has been testing - lots of testing - on Flight 19.

    "We have had to go through and make sure the satellite and sensors all work as they were intended. We did go through a testing regime to make sure the results that we got several years ago when the satellite was delivered to the Air Force still worked," said Col. Scott Larrimore, the Air Force weather program director.

    "It was shipped to Vandenberg on Aug. 1, 2013, by C-17 aircraft and went to our historic payload processing facility that was built around processing DMSP satellites, Building 1559," Bodnar said.

    Final sensor installations, more testing and encapsulation of the 2,700-pound satellite occurred at Vandenberg before the craft took a 6-mile, 8-hour journey to the launch pad on March 19. There, it was hoisted into the gantry and mated to its booster rocket at long last.

    "I've been in this business a while and this is a rare and blessed problem to have in that the satellites (in space) have continued capabilities significantly longer than originally designed, saving the government large amounts of money and time in the form of development follow-on blocks of satellites," Bodnar said.

    "I think we need to highlight the reason behind that and that's been the fantastic longevity of each of the satellites that have been launched over the precious years."

    One satellite, for instance, was launched in 1995 and remains alive today. Flight 19 will be 7th satellite in the operating DMSP constellation.

    "The satellite we are launching could provide weather data as late as 2020," Bodnar said.

    DMSP 19 is the fifth satellite of its particular breed to launch and is part of Lockheed Martin's legacy that has produced nearly 50 satellites throughout the program's 52-year history.

    "The DMSP program is the longest running satellite production program in the world. There's been no other satellite program that has lasted as long as the DMSP program," Bodnar said.

    "We look forward to another successful launch in extending this mission into the next decade," Larrimore said.

    Copyright 2013 SpaceflightNow.com, all rights reserved.

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

    RELATED ON SKYE: Souped-Up, Tricked-Out Storm-Chasing Machines

     

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    Thursday, April 3, 2014
    Thunderstorms Damage
    A strong storm sent a tree through this home and garage on Thursday, April 3, 2014, in Belleville, Ill. (AP Photo/St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Stephanie S. Cordle)

    ST. LOUIS (AP) - A band of severe weather stretched across a swath of the Midwest and South on Thursday, with hailstorms in Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas following a small tornado in suburban St. Louis.

    Storms slammed the North Texas college city of Denton with hail as large as baseballs, leading to reports of broken windows and other damage. The National Weather Service in Tulsa noted reports of hail up to the size of ping pong balls and strong wind gusts.

    Arkansas saw one-inch hail, and falling tree limbs knocked out power in western parts of the state.

    Forecasters said the unsettled weather could spawn other tornadoes later Thursday, notably in southern Missouri, southern Illinois, Arkansas, and western portions of Kentucky.

    "That's where we think (potential of) tornadoes - some potentially strong - will be the greatest," said Bill Bunting, the forecast operations chief for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla. "This will continue to evolve with time."

    Tornadoes, hail and winds in some cases gusting to 75 mph were possible as part of the storm.

    Afternoon tornado warnings were issued in central Missouri, but there weren't any immediate signs that a funnel had touched down or caused damage.

    No injuries resulted from the twister that hit University City just west of St. Louis shortly before 5:30 a.m., damaging about 100 homes in winds that reached up to 110 mph, National Weather Service meteorologist Jayson Gosselin said. That system also carried heavy rain - up to 5 inches in parts of Missouri, prompting flash flooding that damaged dozens of homes and forced at least two water rescues.

    In University City, a densely populated St. Louis County area, the city opened a shelter for evacuees. Gov. Jay Nixon declared a state of emergency.

    Rainfall was heavy over much of Missouri and western Illinois. The National Weather Service said portions of Johnson County, Mo., had more than 5 inches of rain, causing flash flooding that forced evacuation of some homes in the Warrensburg area. Highway T in Johnson County was closed after rushing water washed out three culverts.

    At least two drivers had to be rescued from water that swamped their cars. Even a three-person rescue team was briefly imperiled when flood debris clogged their jet skis. They eventually floated to safety.

    Heavy rains also flooded some roads in Indiana, and conservation officers say they have rescued at least eight people.

    RELATED ON SKYE: 50 Must-See Weather Photos
    Lightning Hits the Grand Canyon

     

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    Friday, April 4, 2014
    Lightning , Tornado Alley , USA
    (Getty Images)

    As the storm system responsible for bringing severe weather to the Central states at midweek continues to move eastward, the threat of severe weather on Friday will reach from the lower Great Lakes to the southern Appalachians and the Gulf Coast.

    The storms will bring the risk for damaging wind gusts, large hail, flash flooding, frequent lightning strikes and a couple of tornadoes.

    The storms on Friday have the potential to impact more than 35 million people from Ohio and Pennsylvania to Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and the Florida Panhandle.

    Cities in the potential path of the gusty to locally severe storms include Cleveland, Cincinnati, Zanesville and Columbus, Ohio; Morgantown, Huntington and Charleston, W.Va.; Lexington and London, Ky.; Roanoke and Wytheville, Va.; Nashville, Knoxville, Bristol and Chattanooga, Tenn.; Hickory, N.C.; Athens and Atlanta, Ga.; Hunstville, Birmingham, Montgomery and Mobile, Ala.; Gulfport and Biloxi, Miss.; Pensacola, Fla.; and New Orleans.

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    The storms may hit at a time when people are heading to weekend ventures or ball games. The storms could be extensive enough to cause significant flight delays, as well as slow travel for a time on I-64, I-65, I-68, I-70, I-75, I-77, I-79, I-81 and others.

    People are urged to keep an eye on the weather for rapidly changing weather conditions. Listen to alerts on radio and TV. Stay up-to-date with devices equipped with AccuWeather Apps.

    The storms will tend to weaken upon reaching the Atlantic coast Friday night, especially in the mid-Atlantic and Northeast, where a wedge of cool air has moved in from the east. Still, a strong thunderstorm or downpours with rumbles of thunder are possible from Washington, D.C., to Philadelphia, New York City and Boston.

    A few storms in the southeastern corner of the nation can linger and be locally strong on Saturday.


    RELATED ON SKYE: 50 Must-See Weather Photos
    Lightning Hits the Grand Canyon

     

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    Friday, April 4, 2014
    PHILIPPINES-WEATHER-FLOOD-LANDSLIDE
    In this Jan. 16, 2014, photo, a resident floats on a makeshift raft made from bamboo on the outskirts of Butuan City, in Agusan del norte province, on the southern island of Mindanao. (ERWIN MASCARINAS/AFP/Getty Images)

    Residents of the Philippines are being put on alert for possible future impacts from Tropical Depression 05W, which is on pace to strengthen into a tropical storm and even a typhoon.

    AccuWeather.com meteorologist Eric Wanenchak is especially concerned for impacts across the southern Philippines given how unusually far south in the western Pacific Ocean the depression developed.

    "[The southern Philippines] do not get hit by tropical systems very often," stated Wanenchak. The majority of tropical storms and typhoons form too far to the north to take aim at these islands.

    Wanenchak expects the depression's track, through the point of landfall, to mirror Super Typhoon Bopha from late 2012 closely. Bopha slammed into the island of Mindanao in the southern Philippines.

    The good news is that a repeat of Bopha's super typhoon status is not expected. However, the warm waters of the Pacific and the absence of disruptive wind shear will allow the depression to strengthen into a tropical storm.

    The depression will likely further intensity into a minimal typhoon, becoming the first typhoon of the year to threaten the Philippines.

    "The only thing working against the depression strengthening is its close proximity to the equator, but that has not hindered it yet," according to Wanenchak.

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    He continued, "If the depression becomes a tropical storm before crossing the 2nd parallel north, it would be the fourth closest tropical storm/typhoon to the equator in recorded history."

    Typhoon Vamei sits at the top of that list in the Northern Hemisphere when it formed at 1.5 degrees north latitude in late December 2001.

    The depression is likely to threaten the southern Philippines around Tuesday of next week as a tropical storm or minimal typhoon.

    One scenario is that the system will cross the southern Philippines with the dangers of flooding rain, damaging winds, pounding surf and coastal flooding.

    Another scenario is that the system stalls just before reaching the southern Philippines or curves northward along the coast. Even though landfall would be avoided in this case, the system should still come close enough to drench the eastern Philippines with torrential rain and heighten concerns for flash flooding.

    RELATED ON SKYE: Stunning Hurricane Photos from Space

     

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    Friday, April 4, 2014

    Jimmy Hodges helps Chad Heltcel and his wife Cassidi salvage the wreckage of Chad Heltcel's family home, which was destroyed Monday when a tornado moved through Moore, Okla., Tuesday, May 21, 2013. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley)


    After a number of massive natural disasters in recent years, search and rescue teams sought out a new technology that would aid in saving victims from the rubble, and they've found it.

    A team at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, or JPL, in Pasadena, Calif., have developed an advanced radar known as FINDER, or Finding Individuals for Disaster and Emergency Response, designed to detect survivors buried under collapsed structures.

    "There is a general need for what they call the holy grail in search and rescue, to detect buried victims quickly because time is lives," JPL's Task Manager of FINDER Jim Lux said.

    Inspired by a class of mass disasters including the Haiti earthquake and the Moore, Okla., tornado, the radar system was originally made with the goal of searching a house-sized collapsed structure in 15 minutes. However, the system proved after testing to be much faster.

    "Turns out we can actually go faster," Lux said. "About two minutes for one search."

    The device works by using a microwave signal to illuminate the rubble and search for moving reflections. These active reflections show a buried victim.

    "Reflections from the rubble don't move, but the reflections from the buried victims move because when you breathe and your heart beats, your body moves a little bit," Lux said.

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    Due to the radar's detection of heartbeats instead of sounds, victims do not have to be responsive or conscious to be seen.

    "The search techniques rely a lot on listening and listening to the victim for tapping or yelling, whereas we can detect the heartbeat," Lux said. "If there is a heartbeat, they are there."

    The system is currently undergoing extensive testing in Virginia, as the research team tries to figure out what the best, most effective way to use the FINDER is.

    To date the radar has been tested in multi-story collapse simulations to determine its sensitivity, in open fields to help understand how far away it can be effectively used and in various elements such as mud and rain.


    Virginia Task Force 1 team members demonstrate the prototype technology called Finding Individuals for Disaster and Emergency Response (FINDER) at the team's training facility, Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2013, in Lorton, Va. (NASA/Bill Ingalls)

    With the original design, the team faced multiple challenges including developing the prototypes within less than a year, learning the ins and outs of how search and rescue operations and figuring out how to differentiate between an operator's heartbeat and a victim's.

    "We started a little over a year ago. The Department of Homeland Security wanted an 80 percent solution in a year and a perfect solution in five years."

    Changes have also since been made to the initial design to increase the device's ability to aid search and rescue teams. For example, a GPS was added, as well as a camera, to help emergency crews remember what locations they had previously searched.

    Working with search and rescue teams, the JPL staff modeled FINDER not to replace the teams but instead to strengthen their weaknesses.

    "Our technique is sort of complementary; it does things that the dogs and microphones don't and they do things that we don't," Lux said.

    While FINDER is not expected to be on the market until the summer of 2014, already researchers at JPL are looking to expand its uses for other disaster scenarios with the hope of using it in a post-avalanche situation.


    PHOTOS ON SKYE: 10 Amazing Things Found in the Tornado Rubble

     

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    Friday, April 4, 2014
    Saturn Moon Ocean
    This photo provided by NASA shows water vapor jets, emitted from the southern polar region of Saturn's moon Enceladus. (AP Photo/NASA, JPL, Caltec, Space Science Institute)

    CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) - Scientists have uncovered a vast ocean beneath the icy surface of Saturn's little moon Enceladus.

    Italian and American researchers made the discovery using Cassini, a NASA-European spacecraft still exploring Saturn and its rings 17 years after its launch from Cape Canaveral. Their findings were announced Thursday.

    This new ocean of liquid water - as big as or even bigger than North America's Lake Superior - is centered at the south pole of Enceladus and could encompass much if not most of the moon. Enceladus (ehn-SEHL'-uh-duhs) is about 310 miles across.

    The data do not show if the ocean extends to the north pole, said the lead researcher, Luciano Iess of Sapienza University of Rome. At the very least, it's a regional sea some 25 miles deep under miles-thick ice. On Earth, it would stretch from our South Pole up to New Zealand - at the very least.

    Cassini's rudimentary instruments also cannot determine whether the moon's ocean harbors any form of life. Another mission using more sophisticated instruments is needed to make that search.

    This latest discovery makes the interior of Enceladus "a very attractive potential place to look for life," said Cornell University planetary scientist Jonathan Lunine, who took part in the study.

    Back in 2005, Cassini detected a plume streaming from cracks in the south polar region. Scientists suspected these jets of salty water vapor and ice - containing some light organic molecules like methane - might come from a subsurface ocean. On Thursday, they confirmed its presence. Their findings appear in the journal Science.

    Cassini provided gravity measurements from three close fly-bys of Enceladus from 2010 to 2012. The Doppler data indicated a dense material beneath the surface of the south pole, most likely liquid water.

    The ocean is believed to be sandwiched between miles of surface ice and a rocky core.

    "It's extraordinary what Cassini has been able to do for this small moon," California Institute of Technology's David Stevenson, part of the research team, told reporters this week. But "this is not like mapping the surface of the Earth or mapping the surface of the moon, it's nothing like that. It's much cruder, and it's amazing that we've been able to do as much as we can."

    Enceladus is hardly the only moon in the solar system with a subsurface sea.

    Titan, the largest of Saturn's dozens of moons, is believed to have a global ocean. Evidence points to oceans inside the giant Jupiter moons of Callisto and Ganymede. And Jupiter's Europa also has a hidden reservoir similar to that of Enceladus, complete with plumes and a rocky bottom.

    Cassini, already exceeding its life expectancy, is to make three more fly-bys of Enceladus before the mission ends in 2017.

    RELATED ON SKYE: 15 Stunning Photos of the Moon

     

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    Friday, April 4, 2014
    IDL TIFF file
    The Advanced Land Imager on NASA's Earth Observing-1 satellite snapped this image of Hawaii's Kilauea volcano on Jan. 28, 2012. The natural-color view shows Halema'uma'u crater and Pu'u O'o crater. (Credit: NASA Earth Observatory)

    Volcanology has come a long way since the days of Pompeii. Now, satellite-based systems offer a way of measuring whether a volcano is likely to erupt soon.

    Satellite radar maps show that volcanoes usually deform before an eruption. Measuring that deformation from space could make it possible to forecast when volcanoes will erupt, especially in remote areas that can't be accessed easily by scientists on the ground, researchers say.

    "Improving how we anticipate [volcanic] activity using new technology such as this is an important first step in doing better at forecasting and preparing for volcanic eruptions," Jenni Barclay, a volcanologist at STREVA, a British research consortium that aims to mitigate the impact of volcanic activity on people and their assets, said in a statement. [See Amazing Images of Volcanoes from Space]

    Magma moving beneath the Earth's surface can cause the surface of volcanoes to deform and rise, potentially signaling an eruption is imminent. But sometimes, the magma stops short of the surface, and no eruption occurs.

    A team of scientists looked at archived satellite data for more than 500 volcanoes around the world. Satellite radar revealed detailed maps of volcanic deformation, allowing the researchers to examine even the most inaccessible volcanoes.

    Using statistics, the team found that 46 percent of deforming volcanoes erupted, whereas only 6 percent of volcanoes erupted without deforming.

    These findings suggest that deformation can be a good indicator of eruptions, the researchers said. Satellite radar can be used to identify volcanoes bulging with magma, which can then be investigated from the ground.

    But many factors can lead to volcanic deformation, and such factors don't always result in an eruption. The type of volcanic rock, its tectonic characteristics, the depth of the magma and the rate at which it flows all play roles.

    The satellite record is good for capturing volcanoes that erupt every few months or years, and these images often capture both deformation and eruption. For volcanoes with longer eruption cycles, that may erupt once every hundred thousand years, the satellite only captures one of these events, making it hard to link the two.

    Satellites typically capture radar images of volcanoes only a few times per year, so they may miss the shortest eruption cycles in which deformation precedes an eruption by just a few days.

    Future satellites will acquire more data, and they'll do so more frequently. The European Space Agency plans to launch its next radar mission, Sentinel-1, in April. The satellite will collect images all over the globe every six to 12 days.

    In developing countries, the observations from Sentinel-1 may be the only warning of an impending eruption, researchers said.

    Follow Tanya Lewis on Twitter and Google+. Follow us @livescience, Facebook & Google+. Original article on Live Science.

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

    RELATED ON SKYE: Breathtaking Volcanic Eruptions Seen from Space

     

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