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    Friday, April 11, 2014
    (Photo/NOAA Photo Library)

    Immediate survival is often the first priority for many Americans when preparing for a severe weather disaster, but looking ahead into the hours and days following the storm is just as important for preparation, according to one safe room manufacturer.

    "People don't think past survival (initially)," Tornado Alley Armor Owner Monty McGee said.

    McGee and his wife, Leslie, own and operate Oklahoma-based Tornado Alley Armor and specialize in custom, modular safe rooms.

    Their business is a member of the National Storm Shelter Association, or NSSA, which was founded to provide quality control and industry standards for storm shelters that are available to consumers.

    "If you think about it from the perspective of the door swinging open, and your house is gone, you're going to need things like food, clothing, tennis shoes and emergency supplies," McGee said. "Anything you will need looking forward into the days and hours after the storm."

    Shelter Safety: What to Look For

    It is important to make sure the storm shelter is safe and provides an escape if the door is blocked by potential debris, Vice President of AccuWeather Enterprise Solutions Mike Smith said.

    "You want to make sure that the door to your storm shelter opens inward," Smith said.

    During severe weather, entrapment is a major concern.

    The modular designs of Tornado Alley Armor are bolted together to eliminate the possibility of entrapment, McGee said, adding they can be re-sized and relocated if needed.

    "You can't get trapped inside of them and you can take it with you when you move," he said.

    The modular shelters can be installed in basements, garages, bedroom closets and mobile homes if a concrete slab is available or added if one is not present.

    Customers also have the option of constructing safe rooms themselves.

    While the storm shelter industry is unregulated, it is still important to know the quality of storm shelter you are purchasing and if the product truly meets all of the NSSA's recommended standards and not just one aspect of testing, McGee said.

    McGee's company adheres to Texas Technical University's testing and NSSA's guidelines.

    "The National Storm Shelter Association (NSSA) grew out of a concern for storm shelter quality after the Oklahoma City tornadoes of May 1999," according to the NSAA's website. "Redevelopment of the shelter concept had reached the point where Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) had published a booklet FEMA 320 entitled "Taking Shelter From the Storm-Building a Safe Room Inside Your House or Small Business".

    Access to Shelter and Supplies

    Having a storm shelter that cannot be accessed effectively defeats the purpose of having one at all, Smith said.

    These shelters should be as easily accessible as possible.

    "You would be better off with an indoor shelter than an outdoor shelter," he said.

    When preparing for severe weather disasters, people should ensure proper footwear is available, along with flashlights, weather radios and water.

    "You do not want to be barefoot," Smith said, citing the aftermath of debris from the storms can pose threats of injury.

    McGee agreed with Smith, and recommended ensuring food and emergency supplies are readily available following the disaster.

    "An indoor safe room is a better choice," he said. "It's easy to access and you have walls around you providing protection."

    Security and Restoration Planning

    One thing people normally don't think about is who they can call immediately after the storm for security and restoration, Smith said.

    "The very first thing you have to do is secure the property," he said.

    If doors and windows are shattered and missing, securing the property quickly is essential.

    "You're not going to be able to sleep there," Smith said. "You're going to need provisions to secure the property and you should already have a name available."

    Making sure the property is structurally sound and having a repair company in mind should be planned before the severe weather, he said.

    "It is vital that you have the names of reputable local companies and you get in touch with them as soon as possible after the storm," Smith said, citing heartbreaking stories about families who have paid fraudulent contractors for restoration work and never had the work completed.

    Insurance and Financial Protection

    When preparing for a potential disaster, Allstate Insurance Company recommends several steps.

    "Our agency owners have the local expertise and knowledge to work one-on-one with people to help them secure the proper insurance coverage they may need before a disaster strikes," Allstate Spokesperson April Eaton said. "In fact, it's a good idea to review insurance coverages at least once a year."

    Eaton said consumers should look at the types of the disasters their area may be prone to, to determine if they have the proper coverage in place.

    Consumers can protect themselves, their homes and businesses from damage during a disaster by taking specific loss prevention steps, including preparing family survival kits, fortifying homes against natural risks such as wildfire or wind, and creating a detailed home inventory, which can help expedite claims if a disaster occurs, she said.

    "Preparation is a family's best defense," Eaton said. "Preparation should focus on four key activities, which the whole family can do together."

    These activities include taking time to shop and put together an emergency kit, hitting the road and practicing an evacuation route out of town to a safe place, taking pictures of personal belongings and signing up for Allstate's Alerts regarding potential disaster situations caused by severe weather.

    A tornado warned cell in Laurie, Mo., on April 3, 2014. (Photo/AviWxChasers)

    "A room-by-room inventory, as well as photographs or video of personal belongings can save a lot of headaches--or heartaches--should a catastrophe strike," Eaton said, recommending either a digital or old fashioned pen-and-paper approach.

    Protecting Irreplaceable Property With Sentimental Value

    Some items may never be able to be replaced after a disaster.

    McGee recommended taking preventative measures to protect personal possessions that hold sentimental value.

    While some may want to get an appraisal for their vintage and antique valuables, he said storing valuable items in a safe room is always a good option.

    The Difference Between Tornado Watches and Warnings
    Important Tornado Safety Tips to Follow
    National Weather Service Current Weather Warnings

    "Anything you don't want to lose to a storm--family heirlooms, photographs, important papers or anything irreplaceable--can be stored in the safe room," McGee said.

    For example, Smith said his wife will gather a few family photographs and precious personal items during a severe weather event and place them at the top of the basement stairs so that they can be easily retrieved if a tornado warning is issued.

    "This should be done at the tornado watch stage," he said, adding that once the warning is issued, you can grab the items and make your way to shelter quickly.

    PHOTOS ON SKYE: Massive Tornado Devastation in Moore, Oklahoma
    Moore, Oklahoma, Tornadoes


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    Friday, April 11, 2014
    This Wednesday, April 9, 2014 photo shows cherry blossoms as they begin to bloom at the Tidal Basin in Washington. The park service says the trees reached peak bloom Thursday. That means at least 70 percent of the trees around the Tidal Basin are blossoming with pink and white flowers.†(AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
    This Wednesday, April 9, 2014 photo shows cherry blossoms as they begin to bloom at the Tidal Basin in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

    WASHINGTON (AP) - Washington's famous cherry blossom trees reached peak bloom Thursday, just in time to provide a colorful finale to the city's spring festival, the National Park Service said.

    Park officials had predicted the peak bloom would arrive between April 8 and April 12, and they bloomed on target. Peak bloom means at least 70 percent of the trees around the Tidal Basin are blossoming with pink and white flowers.

    The Yoshino cherry trees usually bloom for seven to 10 days, said park spokesman Brian Hall. The length of the blooming period depends on the weather. Strong winds and rain can blow the petals off all the flowers within minutes, but the forecast looks good.

    "We're going to have a great weekend," Hall said. "It's supposed to be great weather, so we're expecting good crowds."

    Park officials encourage visitors to use mass transit or to park away from the Tidal Basin area to avoid traffic jams.

    The National Cherry Blossom Festival runs through Sunday. It includes a parade and a Japanese street festival on Saturday. Buildings around the nation's capital have been lit in pink for the festival. This year marks the 102nd anniversary of the gift of the cherry blossom trees from Japan as a symbol of friendship.

    This year's peak bloom comes slightly later than average due to cold weather in March. The average bloom date since 1992 is March 31. Last year they reached peak bloom on April 9. The trees bloomed as late as April 18 in 1958.

    RELATED ON SKYE: 50 Must-See Weather Photos
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    Friday, April 11, 2014
    Kristin Livingstone, right, watches her evacuated hillside neighborhood after spending a night away from her home because of danger from a potential landslide in Jackson, Wyo., Thursday, April 10, 2014. Brendon Newton, left, gets in touch with others at an assembly point in a parking lot across the street from the threatened slope. Dozens of Jackson residents who were evacuated after land began shifting on the hillside. (AP Photo/Jackson Hole News & Guide, Angus M. Thuermer Jr.)
    Kristin Livingstone, right, watches her evacuated hillside neighborhood in Jackson, Wyo., Thursday, April 10, 2014. Brendon Newton, left, gets in touch with others at an assembly point in a parking lot across the street from the threatened slope. (AP Photo/Jackson Hole News & Guide, Angus M. Thuermer Jr.)

    JACKSON, Wyo. (AP) - Local officials and dozens of evacuees kept anxious watch Thursday on a slowly sliding hillside that threatened to take out several homes and businesses in this resort town.

    They also had an eye on the weather, hoping no rain or snow triggers a sudden, massive release of dirt and rock. Forecasters predicted a 20 to 30 percent chance of rain and snow this weekend.

    People remained evacuated, since Wednesday, from 46 houses and apartment units. Authorities were escorting people back to their homes, temporarily, to fetch belongings.

    "We're just wanting to make sure we have everyone out in case there's some kind of catastrophic release of the hillside," Assistant Town Manager Roxanne Robinson said Thursday. "Even if it continues to be slow, it's going to be disruptive for access."

    Four or five homes and an apartment building stood just above the area where officials first noticed the ground moving after some water pipes burst Friday. Below, at least three businesses including a newly built Walgreens pharmacy were at risk of being hit by a landslide.

    The ground was bulging and creeping - not suddenly sliding - yet still doing a fair amount of damage by buckling and cracking pavement a couple of hundred yards or less from Jackson's main drag. One town councilman told the Jackson Hole News & Guide (http://tinyurl.com/n38hxtc) he toured a house in which the living room sloped downhill and kitchen cabinets had fallen off the wall.

    Town officials were waiting to hear from geologists about whether the slide was slowing down or speeding up, or if the ground had stopped moving. Geologists had measured movement as deep as 50 feet underground, Robinson said.

    Jackson officials say there is no danger like a landslide that killed at least 35 people in Washington state March 22, because residents have had plenty of time to evacuate.

    RELATED ON SKYE: Incredible Natural-Disaster Photos from Space


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    Saturday, April 12, 2014

    As in this file photo of a snowy day on the campus of University of Colorado, the Mile High City is once again in the path of a heavy snowfall. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley)

    The recent stretch of above-average warmth and nice weather across the Front Range corridor will be coming to a halt.

    A blast of cold air diving out of Canada will overspread the region on Saturday through Sunday night, forcing folks to dig out the winter jackets once again in exchange for the t-shirts and shorts they've grown accustomed to lately.

    Accompanying the cold air will be heavy snowfall which will bring significant accumulations to the mountains.

    Cities such as Casper, Wyo., Cheyenne, Wyo., and Denver, Colo., will also get their fair share of snow.

    Precipitation may arrive as rain on Saturday and Saturday night before the cold air wins out and changes it over to snow.

    Accumulations may measure between 3 to 6 inches on grassy surfaces in these areas. Snowfall amounts will depend on snowfall intensity and the time at which it falls.

    Snow will have a tougher time accumulating during the day due to the spring sun angle and recent warm ground temperatures. However, most of Denver's snow will likely fall after dark on Sunday, which will favor heavier accumulations.

    Although accumulations won't be as significant on roadways, slushy spots are likely to develop and could freeze as temperatures plunge at night.

    Motorists traveling on I-25 between Casper, Cheyenne, and Denver are urged to use caution as well as folks traveling on I-70 and I-80.

    Denver Radar
    AccuWeather Winter Weather Center
    Current Watches, Warnings, and Advisories

    The sudden rush of cold air will likely come as a surprise to many. A recent warm stretch has kept temperatures in the 60s and 70s along the I-25 corridor, which is well above average for this time of the year.

    The arrival of cold front will drop high temperatures in Denver and surrounding areas to levels not seen since March 22.

    That date marks the last time Denver recorded a high temperature in the 30s. Sunday's high is expected to be 35, a 38 degree difference from Saturday's expected high of 73.

    Lows will be much colder with temperatures bottoming out in the teens and low 20s on Sunday night.

    There are many things to look forward to though. The snow and cold will have a tough time sticking around.

    Temperatures are expected to rebound back into the 50s and 60s for Monday and Tuesday with no precipitation in sight.

    Active weather is expected for much of the country Sunday.

    RELATED ON SKYE: 50 Must-See Weather Photos from 2013
    Lightning Hits the Grand Canyon


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    Saturday, April 12, 2014

    Displaced residents of Budge Drive in Jackson, Wyo. register with the American Red Cross on Thursday, April 10, 2014 as geologists study the hillside on East Gros Ventre Butte where the potential for a landslide called for an evacuation the night before. (AP Photo/Jackson Hole News and Guide, Price Chambers)

    CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) - A slow-motion landslide in Wyoming was tearing one home apart inch by inch and keeping about 60 evacuees from knowing when, or even if, they might be able to move back into theirs.

    At the foot of the slide zone, two restaurants, a liquor store and a just-built Walgreens remained closed Friday amid a slim but persistent risk the hill could collapse suddenly.

    "We have two cats and two dogs, and it's a big disruption," said one evacuee, Heather Gould. "It's hard to plan and to know what we should or shouldn't do."

    Officials in Jackson were aware a year ago that the hillside was shifting and had installed equipment to monitor the movement, Assistant Town Manager Roxanne Robinson said Friday.

    "We acknowledged the hillside had some sloughing up. But there wasn't anything drastic until this past Friday," she said.

    The movement increased and broke a water line last week. A crack appeared atop a steep slope overlooking the businesses below and the call to evacuate the 46 homes and apartment units on Budge Drive - a quiet lane that snakes partway up the foot of East Gros Ventre Butte - came Wednesday.

    On Friday, relatively warm spring weather made it a good day for residents of this fit, outdoorsy ski town to hike up nearby High School Butte on their lunch breaks.

    Evacuees, however, were told to expect to remain out of their homes at least through the weekend. Police were escorting people back temporarily to retrieve belongings but not allowing them to stay overnight.

    All eyes were on the slowly shifting ground - and on a weather forecast that called for a slight chance of potentially ground-softening rain or snow over the weekend.

    "It may stop and it may escalate," said Jody Burkes as he inspected his home and a neighboring rental property he owns on Budge Drive. "So who knows. If it stops, maybe then they'll redo the road and see what happens. But the utilities? I don't know."

    Town officials had installed temporary lines on the surface to keep the neighborhood supplied with water and gas, he said.

    Damage was verified at only one home, one vacant for the past year. Inside, wood floors had separated and cabinets were falling off the kitchen walls, town officials said.

    The house was directly atop the slide zone.

    "There's a crack in the earth that goes right beneath that house, right through the middle of that house," Robinson said.

    Below the slide zone, pavement was bulging and buckling in the Walgreens parking lot and in a gutter along Budge Drive. A large crack in a concrete retaining wall was widening.

    Still, a geologist put the risk of sudden release at just 5 percent. Some homeowners expressed relief after officials said at a town meeting Thursday that only the home already falling apart was at high risk.

    "We feel pretty confident our house will be OK," Gould said.

    Her husband, however, had cancelled a birthday ski trip to Alaska to see her, their 2-month-old infant, and their four pets through the ordeal. They were staying at a friend's place.

    Paul Barbour, evacuated from his townhome, said he was staying with his girlfriend in Teton Village, about 10 miles north of Jackson.

    He wasn't too concerned about how long he might be evacuated.

    "It depends on how soon I wear out my welcome at my girlfriend's," he said. "I'm cooking her dinner tonight."

    RELATED ON SKYE: Incredible Natural-Disaster Photos from Space


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    Saturday, April 12, 2014
    DENVER, CO - AUGUST 26: A shot from Roger Hill's house of an amazing lightning storm on August 26, 2008 in Denver, Colorado.  If your bored of beach holidays and looking for something different this summer then you may want to think about a trip to America's mid-west. Storm-chasing husband and wife team Roger and Caryn Hill take British tourists on the hunt of their lives following deadly and destructive tornados. Plowing their way through America's 'Tornado Alley' Roger and Caryn drive groups of up to 18 people at a time in three buses and charge up to £230 a day for a ten day tornado chase. Offering their adrenaline inducing 'Silver Lining Tours', Roger, 53 and Caryn, 50, estimate that they have taken almost 1500 people to observe raging tornado's in the American Mid-West since 2000. Taking their paying guests to within 1/4 of mile of some of the swirling 300 mph vertical wind funnels, the husband and wife team have documented awe inspiring incidents of turning twisters and powerful super-cell storms. (Photo by Roger Hill/Barcroft USA / Getty Images)
    As in this file photo, a wide swath of the Midwest could see violent weather on Sunday. (Roger Hill/Barcroft USA/Getty Images)

    The risk of damaging thunderstorms, including a few tornadoes, will ramp up this weekend over the central and southern Plains and will peak on Palm Sunday.

    The severe weather this weekend has the potential to develop into a dangerous situation. The storms may not only foil outdoor plans and disrupt travel in part of the Central states but could threaten lives and cause significant property damage in some locations.

    Areas from Texas to Illinois will be at risk for severe weather at some point this weekend for severe weather.

    According to AccuWeather Enterprise Solutions Meteorologist Brian Knopick, "During Saturday afternoon into Saturday night, storms will ignite over eastern Nebraska, Iowa, western Illinois, northern Missouri and northeastern Kansas."

    These storms will bring a risk of damaging wind gusts, large hail and flash flooding. An isolated tornado is possible in the storms Saturday evening.

    Cities in the risk area for severe weather Saturday afternoon and evening include Kansas, City, Mo.; Topeka, Kan.; Omaha, Neb.; and Des Moines, Iowa.

    "The main severe weather event will be on Palm Sunday and will focus from southeastern Kansas, central and eastern Oklahoma and northeastern Texas to central and southern Missouri, much of Arkansas and northern Louisiana," Knopick said. "There is a higher risk for isolated tornadoes on Sunday in this area, along with the potential for damaging wind gusts, hail and flash flooding."

    Cities at greatest risk for violent storms on Sunday include Dallas and Tyler, Texas; Shreveport, La.; Oklahoma City and Tulsa, Okla.; Fort Smith, Fayetteville and Little Rock, Ark.; and Joplin and Springfield, Mo.

    Gusty and drenching thunderstorms will affect portions of southern Louisiana and parts of Mississippi on Sunday.

    During Sunday into Sunday night, heavy rainfall and locally gusty winds will reach northeast of the severe weather area into portions of northern Missouri, northern Illinois, southeastern Iowa, southeastern Wisconsin and parts of the Lower Peninsula of Michigan.

    The number of tornadoes Sunday will depend on the speed of cool air moving into the region.

    "If cool air were to rapidly sweep in on Sunday, the risk of tornadoes will be cut significantly from Kansas to Texas," AccuWeather Severe Weather Expert Henry Margusity said. "On the other hand, if that cool air is delayed, there may be a significant number of tornadoes on Sunday over the central and southern Plains to Texas."

    A quick push of cool air can still bring storms with damaging winds and hail.

    "During Sunday night, the event is likely to quickly change from a tornado threat to a less dangerous strong wind gust situation," Knopick said.

    Even if very few tornadoes develop with the severe weather event this weekend, some of the storms packing high winds and hail have the potential to cause property damage and pose a safety risk. A single tornado striking a populated area can cause great destruction, multiple injuries and loss of life.

    People in the alert area are advised to keep an eye out for rapidly changing weather conditions this weekend and to utilize all means of staying up to date with watches and warnings as they are issued.

    Chief Meteorologist Elliot Abrams Discusses Severe Weather Awareness
    Severe Weather Center Watches and Warnings
    The Difference Between a Tornado Watch, Warning

    AccuWeather provides a great deal of information pertaining to severe weather forecasts and advice on safety through its website, local forecasts and apps for hand-held devices.

    As much cooler air invades the Plains by Monday, the potential for gusty thunderstorms and heavy rainfall will shift farther east across the South and into portions of the Appalachians, eastern Ohio Valley and lower Great Lakes.

    RELATED ON SKYE: 50 Must-See Weather Photos


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    Saturday, April 12, 2014

    Rainy and much colder conditions are on their way to the northeast early next week. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

    Those basking in the warmth across the eastern half of the nation this weekend should not bury their jackets deep in the closet with dramatically colder air, and even snow for some, set to make a comeback.

    The cold air from Canada will continue to blast to the south and east through Tuesday night, erasing the warmth giving residents a taste of what is to come in late spring/early summer.

    The arrival of the cold blast will cause 20 to 30 degrees to be shaved off high temperatures from the previous day across most of the Plains, Midwest and Appalachians and 10 to 20 degrees along the East and Gulf coasts.

    The cooler air will only stop short of reaching Miami and the rest of South Florida.

    Upcoming Change in High Temperatures (°F)

    For the Northeast, the impending chill will replace the warmest stretch of weather so far this year.

    Forecast Temperature Maps
    AccuWeather.com Winter Weather Center
    Severe Weather Watches, Warnings

    Residents should resist the urge to plant sensitive vegetation during the warm spell with subfreezing overnight lows set to return to the Plains--southward to Oklahoma and the Texas Panhandle, as well as the Ohio River and the Northeast.

    The I-95 corridor from Boston southward will be the exception.

    The clash of the invading cold and the warmth has set the stage for more severe weather, including tornadoes, to erupt across the Plains through this weekend with later Sunday proving to be the most active time period.

    The severe weather danger will shift to the Deep South on Monday.

    The same storm system triggering the severe weather will spread soaking rain across the Midwest and Northeast, potentially leading to some flooding problems. Drenching and locally gusty thunderstorms will move through the Southeast.

    Enough cold air is plunging southward for snow to whiten the Front Range of the Rockies, including Denver, this weekend.

    A bit of snow will also return to the upper Great Lakes on Monday, then may make yet another appearance in the eastern Great Lakes and the central and northern Appalachians Monday night through Tuesday night.

    RELATED ON SKYE: Off-the-Charts Hottest and Coldest Places on Earth
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    Saturday, April 12, 2014

    A SpaceX Dragon commercial cargo craft is seen in the the grips of the Canadarm2 before being released May 31, 2012. The space station's robotic arm is used to capture and release SpaceX Dragon cargo ships during their resupply missions. (NASA)

    A backup computer outage on the International Space Station is forcing NASA to discuss plans for a possible spacewalk repair by astronauts in orbit, a move that could delay the planned Monday launch of a commercial SpaceX cargo ship to the orbiting lab.

    NASA officials decided Saturday (April 12) to avoid a final decision on whether to delay the unmanned SpaceX Dragon launch as station engineers weigh options to fix the backup computer, which stopped responding to commands Friday, and is part of the station's robotics system. SpaceX currently aims to launch the Dragon capsule from Florida's Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at 4:58 p.m. EDT on Monday. Station astronauts plan to capture the craft with a robotic arm on Wednesday.

    "Station program officials, flight controllers and teams of engineers are working to determine whether there is any risk to launching the SpaceX cargo craft Monday," read a NASA statement released Saturday. The main issue is whether the space station's robotics system has enough redundancy without the backup computer. [Quiz: Do You Know the International Space Station?]

    Because the station's robotic arm is vital to capturing the Dragon spacecraft and attaching it to the space station, NASA is studying the issue extremely closely. The space agency rescheduled two Sunday morning press conferences on the upcoming SpaceX mission to later Sunday afternoon while engineers discuss their options.

    Astronauts on the space station would have to perform a spacewalk to fix or replace the computer. The MDM computer repair is one of 12 scenarios NASA astronauts regularly train for before flying to the space station.

    The problem cropped up late Friday, when a backup computer known as a multiplexer-demultiplexer, or MDM for short, stopped responding to commands. The device is located on the station's exterior and serves as a backup controller for the mobile transporter, a rail car that moves the Canadarm2 robotic arm along the space station's backbone-like main truss.

    The primary computer that controls the station's mobile transporter is working perfectly, NASA officials wrote in the status update. But the backup computer, called EXT-2, failed a routine health check on Friday.

    The failed MDM backup computer is one of more than a dozen on the station's exterior "that route computer commands to various systems on the outpost," according to the NASA statement.

    SpaceX's current Dragon mission to the space station has been delayed since March due to an unrelated damage to ground radar equipment used during launches from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. This mission, called Commercial Resupply Services 3, is SpaceX's third resupply mission for NASA since 2012 under a $1.6 billion contract.

    If SpaceX does not launch its Dragon mission on Monday, the mission could potentially target a backup launch day of Friday, April 18. But that will depend on any NASA plans for a spacewalk repair.

    SpaceX plans to fly at least 12 Dragon cargo missions to the space station for NASA under its contract. Another company, the Dulles, Va.-based Orbital Sciences Corp., has a $1.9 billion deal with NASA to provide eight resupply flights using its own Antares rockets and unmanned Cygnus spacecraft.

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

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

    RELATED ON SKYE: 25 Amazing Photos of the International Space Station
    International Space Station, Shuttle


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    Sunday, April 13, 2014

    Map of the region where the 7.6-magnitude earthquake struck Sunday, April 13, 2014, local time. (Photo/U.S. Geological Survey)

    A magnitude-7.6 earthquake struck off the coast of the Solomon Islands on Sunday, local time, initially triggering tsunami warnings in the region.

    The quake occurred at 4:14 p.m. EDT Saturday, 62 miles SSE of Kirakira, Solomon Islands. It was located at a depth of 18.2 miles, the United States Geological Survey said.

    It was first reported as an 8.3-magnitude quake but was downgraded to a 7.6, the USGS said.

    A tsunami warning was issued for the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea, Nauru, New Caledonia, Tuvalu and Kosrae. The warnings have since been canceled.

    Waves of only 0.1 feet were reported by buoys in the area, the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said.

    Hawaii and Australia were under no threat from a possible tsunami, the U.S. and Australian governments reported.

    How a Smartphone App Helps Ensure Tsunami Warnings
    Solomon Islands Weather Forecast
    Mild, Dry Spell Continues for Paris and London

    The New Zealand Ministry of Civil Defense and Emergency Management issued an advisory urging people not to be on beaches, or not to be out boating near the coast or in harbors or fisheries.

    There were no immediate reports of damage or injuries, Reuters reported.

    The Solomon Islands are in a region where earthquakes typically occur but the recent temblor is large for this time of year, AccuWeather.com Senior Meterologist Alan Reppart said.

    "There will be patchy showers and maybe a thunderstorm through the week in the region," he said.

    RELATED ON SKYE: Incredible Natural-Disaster Photos from Space


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    Sunday, April 13, 2014

    In this file photo, Chicago commuters make their way through strong winds and flooding rain. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

    A rather strong system will track from the Plains through the Great Lakes on Sunday through Sunday night, spreading heavy rain and thunderstorms on its journey.

    With abundant moisture for the system to feed off of, flooding downpours will be a major concern as heavy rainbands and thunderstorms form.

    Many major cities will be in the zone for potential flooding, including Kansas City, Mo., Chicago, Ill., Madison, Wis., and Milwaukee, Wis.

    The highest risk of flooding will be in low-lying and poor drainage areas as well as locations near rivers and creeks.

    Many factors are contributing to the flooding threat. Saturday was an active day from eastern Kansas to Michigan with heavy rain and thunderstorms soaking folks in this area. Many gauges collected between 1 to 2 inches of rain, leaving the ground rather saturated. Sunday will feature another heavy round of rain for this area.

    Chief Meteorologist Elliot Abrams Discusses Severe Weather Awareness
    Severe Weather Center Watches and Warnings
    Dangerous Storms to Blast Through OKC, Little Rock Sunday

    Recently melted snowfall across Michigan has left the ground rather saturated there as well. Heavy rainfall is less likely to be absorbed and will instead run off and pool in low areas. Colder and harder soil will help increase the run-off threat as well.

    Any leftover leaves from autumn could possibly clog storm drains, leading to flooded roadways.

    This system could drench the region with 1 to 3 inches of rainfall through Sunday night. Due to the track of the system, heavy rainfall may soak the same area for a long duration.

    Quick rises in rivers and streams are possible and folks living near them should have a plan of action for flash flooding.

    Travel could be disrupted on Sunday due to blinding downpours and flooded roadways. Motorists are urged to turn around if they encounter high water. Slower speeds are encouraged as well to avoid hydroplaning.

    The wet weather may cause umpires to delay or postpone Sunday's match-up between the city's White Sox and the Cleveland Indians. The game's first pitch is scheduled for 1:10 p.m. CDT.

    The flooding rainfall will be produced by the same storm that will spread severe weather across the Plains.

    RELATED ON SKYE: Remembering Hurricane Katrina
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    Drier conditions will begin to work into the region late on Monday and Tuesday.


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    Sunday, April 13, 2014

    Astrophotographer Steve Zigler created this image in Death Valley during the new moon on Jan. 30, 2014. At center, stretching up, shines an intense display of Zodiacal light. Several other notable features gleam forth, including the winter Milky Way. (Steve Zigler)

    The ethereal glow of the so-called zodiacal light glows over California's stark Death Valley in this amazing image captured by a patient amateur astronomer.

    Astrophotographer Steve Zigler captured of the zodiacal light, which shines as an intense glow in the image's center, during a recent new moon. He merged six exposures together to create the scene.

    The zodiacal light appears roughly triangular in shape in this view. It is caused by sunlight scattering from dust particles lying in the ecliptic, the imaginary plane that contains the planets orbiting the sun. Zodiacal light sometimes goes by the name of "false dawn." [Amazing Stargazing Photos for April 2014]

    "I created this image in Death Valley during the new moon on Jan. 30, 2014. I was there with my friend, David Kingham, also a night photographer, who had been educating me on zodiacal light," Zigler told Space.com in an email. "We planned to view this phenomenon from Zabriskie Point, and I was excited about the possibilities afforded by this iconic location, but dense late afternoon clouds threatened our plans to the point where we almost didn't go."

    Zabriskie Point lies in the eastern part of Death Valley National Park, close to the California-Nevada border, about a two-hour drive from Las Vegas.

    "Having nothing else to do anyway, we went ahead with low expectations for success," Zigler said. "Wow, were we wrong! The sky cleared as the sun set, providing the spectacular dark night sky that makes Death Valley famous."

    Several other notable features gleam forth in the image, including the winter Milky Way, the Andromeda galaxy, Jupiter, the Pleiades, and the Orion nebula.

    To capture the scene, Zigler used a Nikon D800E camera, Nikkor 14-24 mm lens, Really Right Stuff tripod, ball head and panorama head. The camera settings were set as follows: 14 mm focal length, ISO 6400, f/2.8, 20 second exposure, 4000K white balance for each of six night sky images. The foreground was captured in a single exposure, ISO 1600, f/4, 8 minutes, with PTGui and Photoshop used the process the image.

    Editor's Note: If you snap an amazing picture or video of the night sky that you'd like to share for a possible story or image gallery, send photos, comments and your name and location to managing editor Tariq Malik at spacephotos@space.com.

    Follow 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.

    PHOTOS ON SKYE: 10 Breathtaking Photos of Comets


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    Sunday, April 13, 2014

    John Friedrich and Jane Koas talk with the American Red Cross Thursday, April 10, 2014 after being evacuated from their home on Budge Drive in Jackson, Wyo. (AP Photo/Jackson Hole News and Guide, Price Chambers)

    JACKSON, Wyo. (AP) - The Red Cross prepared a shelter Saturday for people evacuated from their homes in the northwest Wyoming resort town of Jackson because of a slow-moving landslide.

    About 60 people have been forced from their homes since Wednesday as a precaution and because of damage to the only access road.

    The unstable hillside is about the size of two football fields and is along a main artery outside the historic downtown area. Officials say it continues to shift, making it unsafe for residents of mostly apartments to return home even though the apartments are outside the area where the highest risk of a collapse exists.

    "The cracks continue to widen and deepen," Assistant Town Manager Roxanne Robinson said Saturday. "If it keeps sliding every day, other complications could arise."

    Residents are allowed escorted access to their homes to check on them and pick up personal belongings, but no one is allowed to stay overnight, Robinson said.

    The Red Cross has provided 18 displaced residents with hotel rooms until now. But the continuing uncertainty of when they can return home has led the agency to open a shelter, which will be ready Sunday evening.

    No one can say right now when residents might be allowed back home, Robinson said.

    Robinson said portable water tanks were being placed on the unstable hill in case a fire breaks out. The shifting hill has broken permanent water lines, and the temporary water lines that have been put in place don't provide sufficient pressure for firefighting, she said.

    There are power lines on the hill that could be brought down by the slide and spark a fire.

    "It's definitely dry on the hill, and we need to have a water supply that we can access in a hurry should it be necessary," said Mike Moyer, an official with the local incident command team.

    At the foot of the slide zone, two restaurants, a liquor store and a just-built Walgreens remain closed amid a slim but persistent risk the hill could collapse suddenly.

    A geologist put the risk of sudden collapse at just 5 percent. So far, only one unoccupied home has sustained any damage. The house is directly atop the slide zone.

    RELATED ON SKYE: Incredible Natural-Disaster Photos from Space


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    Sunday, April 14, 2014

    As in this file photo of thunderstorms over Kansas, intense lightning will likely be a part of today's storms. (Richard Hurd/Flickr)

    Millions from Texas to Kansas to Illinois and central Michigan are at risk for severe thunderstorms, including some tornadoes, on this Palm Sunday and Sunday night.

    A complex severe weather situation with several bands of violent thunderstorms is evolving.

    At some point Sunday through Sunday night, places from central and northeastern Texas, central and eastern Oklahoma, eastern Kansas, Missouri, southeastern Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois, Arkansas, northern Louisiana and northwestern Mississippi will be threatened by strong to severe thunderstorms.

    The danger also stretches northeastward to the central Lower Peninsula of Michigan.

    Eastern Kansas, the eastern half of Oklahoma, northeastern Texas, northwestern Arkansas and western Missouri are at greatest risk of the most dangerous thunderstorms on this Palm Sunday.

    Within this zone are Dallas; Oklahoma City, McAlester and Tulsa, Okla.; Chanute, Kan.; Joplin Mo.; and Fayetteville, Ark.

    The dangerous thunderstorms will cross this area Sunday afternoon through Sunday evening with damaging winds and hail, along with some destructive tornadoes.

    "Even if very few tornadoes develop with the severe weather event on Sunday, some of the storms packing high winds and hail have the potential to cause property damage and pose a safety risk," stated AccuWeather.com Senior Meteorologist Alex Sosnowski.

    Severe Weather Watches, Warnings
    Interactive U.S. Radar
    Is There More Than One Tornado Alley in the US?

    "A single tornado striking a populated area can cause great destruction, multiple injuries and loss of life."

    Palm Sunday has already started with hail-producing thunderstorms tracking from near Omaha, Neb., and St. Louis to Chicago.

    Additional thunderstorms will target this zone--which includes Des Moines and Davenport, Iowa, and Peoria, Ill.--through the afternoon and evening with hail, flooding downpours and damaging winds the main concerns.

    A thunderstorm earlier Sunday slammed an area near Winfield, Mo., which is located northwest of St. Louis, with quarter-sized hail.

    Also Sunday afternoon, strong thunderstorms will develop across central and eastern Missouri, western and central Arkansas and eastern Texas (from Tyler to Austin).

    This line will press eastward to Illinois and the lower Mississippi River through Sunday night, producing hail, damaging winds and flooding downpours. Isolated tornadoes are also a concern.

    Shreveport, La., Little Rock and Jonesboro, Ark., and St. Louis are among the communities in the path of these thunderstorms.

    Through Sunday night, the flood threat from downpours across the Plains and Mississippi Valley is greatest where recent rain and thunderstorms have left the ground saturated.

    The severe weather threat will wane in the predawn hours of Monday as the thunderstorms track eastward across the middle and lower Mississippi and lower Ohio valleys.

    Regardless, residents should remain alert for flooding downpours and locally severe thunderstorms with hail and damaging winds. An isolated tornado or two cannot be ruled out.

    The severe weather danger will shift to the Deep South on Monday, then the eastern Carolinas and the southern Delmarva Peninsula on Tuesday as noticeably colder air plunges across the Plains.

    RELATED ON SKYE: Epic Storm Photos from the Twittersphere


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    Sunday, April 13, 2014

    An image captured from the ever-changing map, taken on April 13, 2013. (Wind Map)

    A pair of Google computer scientists have launched a new weather tool called the Wind Map. The mesmerizing site takes hourly wind information from the National Weather Service's forecast database and renders the results in gorgeous grey and white strands across an outline of the continental U.S.

    Fernanda Viégas and Martin Wattenberg lead Google's "Big Picture" visualization research group are the creators of the spare and compelling site, and are experts at finding ways to visualize data.

    The Wind Map shows the wind patterns across the country, showing the heretofore invisible force from a satellite's perspective. (The map is black, gray, and white, with lighter areas indicating stronger gusts.)

    The scientists warn that the map is not to be relied upon for navigating planes or water craft, that it is more a work of art than a weather tool. We couldn't agree more.

    RELATED ON SKYE: Stunning Hurricane Photos from Space


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    Monday, April 14, 2014
    red snow shovel in a pile of...

    It is not just dramatically colder air headed back to the Midwest and Northeast, but also snow in some communities.

    Snow blanketing Nebraska will continue to spread northeastward Sunday night through Monday morning across the Upper Midwest.

    The snow will do more than make an appearance. A swath of 1 to 3 inches will streak through northern Iowa, far southeastern Minnesota, central Wisconsin and Upper Michigan.

    This includes Mason City, Iowa, Rochester, Minn., La Crosse, Wausau and Green Bay, Wis., and Marquette, Mich.

    It is not out of the question for a few pockets of snow totals in excess of three inches.

    The majority of the snow will accumulate on grassy surfaces and will initially melt on roads due to recent warmth. However, with the snow falling at night and arrival of colder air, some roads will turn slushy. Slick conditions will even develop where the snow comes down heavily for a time.

    AccuWeather.com Winter Weather Center
    North Central Regional Radar
    Forecast Temperature Maps

    Temperatures will drop below freezing in many areas Sunday night, but the combination of warmth stored up in the roads and gusty winds working to dry things out should help prevent most of the slush from turning icy.

    The exceptions may be where slush and/or wet spots remain on bridges and overpasses and where temperatures dip well into the 20s, which would be across Nebraska and northern Iowa Sunday night.

    Another band of snow will spread from the panhandles of Texas and Oklahoma to southwestern and central Kansas Sunday night.

    This snow will also head northeastward Monday through Monday night, tracking across the mid-Mississippi Valley to the central Great Lakes and initially falling as rain.

    The zone of rain changing to snow will spread east across the northern Appalachians Tuesday night.

    During the day on Monday, snow totals will generally be confined to a coating to an inch and on grassy surfaces from eastern Kansas to northern Missouri to northern Illinois.

    Some of these same areas dealt with severe thunderstorms to close out the weekend.

    The snow will then intensify across the eastern Great Lakes Monday night. Similar to Sunday night, roads will initially be wet before turning slushy. If any of the slush freezes, it would first happen on bridges and overpasses.

    A coating to an inch will whiten Chicago - roads will be mainly wet - later Monday through Monday evening. Farther to the east in Toledo, Ohio, and Detroit, the snow will accumulate an inch or two.

    Rain will then mix with or end as wet snow in a west-to-east fashion across the central and northern Appalachians of the Northeast Tuesday through Tuesday night.

    While a substantial amount of snow is not expected, some places could still pick up a quick coating to a couple of inches. The higher terrain has the best opportunity of receiving the accumulating snow, mainly on grassy surfaces.

    Cold air will not catch up to the rain quick enough to return snow to the I-95 corridor of the Northeast.

    Before the snow falls, enough rain will pour down to heighten concerns of flash flooding in the Midwest and Northeast where snow is still covering the ground or where rivers remain swollen from recent rain.

    RELATED ON SKYE: 22 People More Sick of Winter Than You Are


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    Monday, April 14, 2014
    the road to storm   photo...

    A potent cold front will continue to slice its way east for the start of the new week, putting more people at risk for strong storms on Monday through Tuesday.

    Folks across the Deep South will need to be on alert on Monday as storms erupt across the region.

    Major cities that could be threatened include Jackson, Miss., New Orleans, La., and Birmingham, Ala. The storm threat will shift into Birmingham, Ala., and Pensacola, Fla., on Monday night.

    The major threat with these storms will be damaging winds and torrential downpours, which could lead to flash flooding.

    The hail and tornado threat is expected to decrease compared to this past weekend which featured numerous reports of hail and a few reports of tornadoes.

    Large hail and damaging winds impacted Kansas to Michigan on Saturday. Significant wind damage occurred in Freeport, Ill., as several farm buildings were destroyed. Hail stones measuring two and a half inches in diameter fell near Story City, Iowa.

    The severe weather ramped up even more on Sunday, as a couple tornadoes tore through communities. Lovelady, Texas, was struck in the evening by a tornado. Three mobile homes were destroyed and a local high school was damaged. One person was also injured in the event.

    Severe Weather Watches, Warnings
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    The town of Cameron, Mo., had wind damage during the day as a roof blew off into an apartment complex in high winds. Emergency managers reported two injuries as a result.

    The same front will be to blame for Monday and Tuesday's storms as it blasts eastward.

    Those taking to the road or air may face travel delays and will want to prepare in advance for possible disruptions to their schedule.

    Bursts of heavy rain could lead to flash flooding on roadways. Motorists are urged to turn around if they encounter high water in their travels.

    Although thunderstorms are not forecast across northern New England on Monday, there is also high flood potential due to snow on the ground and heavy rain that will move through.

    The storm threat will shift closer to the Southeast coast on Tuesday, putting Raleigh, N.C., Norfolk, Va., Charleston, S.C., and Jacksonville, Fla., in the strong storm zone.

    Gusty winds and heavy downpours will again be the main threat with the possibility of flash flooding.

    Cooler air will rush in behind the front, but improving conditions will move in for midweek with sunshine once again returning.

    RELATED ON SKYE: 50 Must-See Weather Photos
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    Monday, April 14, 2014
    Sparks fly carried by the wind as a large forest fire reaches urban areas in Valparaiso, Chile, Sunday April 13, 2014. Authorities say the fires have destroyed hundreds of homes, forced the evacuation of thousands and claimed the lives of at least seven people.  ( AP Photo/ Luis Hidalgo)
    Sparks fly carried by the wind as a large forest fire reaches urban areas in Valparaiso, Chile, Sunday, April 13, 2014. (AP Photo/ Luis Hidalgo)

    VALPARAISO, Chile (AP) - Firefighters struggled for a second night early Monday to contain blazes that have killed 12 people, injured 500, destroyed 2,000 homes and forced 10,000 people to flee the densely populated hills that gave this Chilean port city its unique beauty.

    Fires they thought were contained 24 hours after they started Saturday kicked up again with Sunday afternoon's winds and raged out of control, threatening more neighborhoods.

    With no municipal water or fire hydrants to use, routes to the blazes blocked by narrow streets jammed with abandoned vehicles and countless embers being stoked, fire crews could do little but watch some neighborhoods burn.

    From the sky, 20 helicopters and planes were mobilized to drop water on hotspots, but Chile's national emergency office said the battle was far from won.

    "This won't be extinguished, not today nor tomorrow," the office tweeted after issuing a new alert when fires kicked up again Sunday afternoon.

    The blaze began in a forested ravine next to ramshackle housing on one of Valparaiso's 42 hilltops, and spread quickly. Hot ash rained down over wooden houses and narrow streets. Electricity failed as the fire grew, turning the night sky orange and reducing neighborhoods on six hilltops to ashes.

    Schools were closed Monday in the city, since some were damaged and others were overflowing with evacuees.

    President Michelle Bachelet toured the shelters and canceled this week's trip to Argentina and Uruguay, ordering her ministers to meet with her Monday morning to explain their responses. "It's a tremendous tragedy. This could be the worst fire in the city's history," she said.

    Valparaiso is a picturesque oceanside city of 250,000 people surrounded by hills that form a natural amphitheater. The compact downtown includes Chile's congress and its second-largest port. But most of the people live in the hills, and the city owes its status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site to their colorful homes, built on slopes so steep that many people commute using staircases and cable cars.

    But what's beautiful in postcards can be dangerous for those who live there: Many people have built on land not fit for housing, and entire communities lack municipal water connections.

    "We are too vulnerable as a city. We have been the builders and architects of our own danger," Valparaiso Mayor Jorge Castro said Sunday in an interview with Chile's 24H channel.

    The fires destroyed at least 2,000 houses by Sunday evening, and the death toll rose to 12, Interior Minister Rodrigo Penailillo said. Three of the 12 victims were identified, and the others are so badly burned that DNA tests will be done, the national forensics service said. More than 500 people were treated at hospitals, mostly for smoke inhalation.

    It was already the city's worst fire since 1953, when 50 people were killed. Bachelet declared the entire city a catastrophe zone and put the military in charge of maintaining order. Some 1,250 firefighters, police and forest rangers battled the blaze while 2,000 sailors in combat gear patrolled streets to maintain order and prevent looting.

    Chile's emergency response system generated automatic phone calls to each house in danger as the mandatory evacuations expanded. Many people stuffed their cars with possessions after getting these calls, and streets quickly became impassible. Water trucks and firefighters were stuck downhill as people abandoned their vehicles and ran. Some carried television sets and others took canisters of natural gas, fearing an explosion if flames reached their homes.

    Shelters were overflowing.

    "I had to flee when I saw the fire was coming down the hill," said Maria Elizabeth Diaz, eight months pregnant and trying to rest with her two sons at Valparaiso's Greek School. "I lost everything. Now I've been ordered to rest because I was having contractions. My little one knows that he can't arrive quite yet."


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    The moon is 37 per cent obscured by the
    The moon is 37 percent obscured by the Earth's shadow during the partial lunar eclipse above Sydney on June 4, 2012. (TORSTEN BLACKWOOD/AFP/GettyImages)

    No enthusiastic skywatcher misses a total eclipse of the moon, and if weather permits tonight, neither should you.

    The spectacle is often more beautiful and interesting than one would think. During the time that the moon is entering into and later emerging from out of the Earth's shadow, secondary phenomena may be overlooked. You can also watch the eclipse live on Space.com, courtesy of NASA, the Slooh community telescope and the Virtual Telescope Project.

    Observers that know what to look for have a better chance of seeing the stunning eclipse, weather permitting. This first total lunar eclipse of 2014 is set to begin tonight (April 14) into the wee hours of Tuesday morning (April 15). The lunar eclipse is set to begin at about 2 a.m. EDT (0600 GMT), and it should last about 3.5 hours. The eclipse should be visible, weather permitting, through most of North America and part of South America. [Total Lunar Eclipse of April 15: Visibility Maps (Gallery)]

    Here is Space.com's full guide for what to expect during all stages of the eclipse:

    Stage 1 @ 12:53 a.m. EDT: moon enters penumbra - The shadow cone of Earth has two parts: a dark, inner umbra, surrounding by a lighter penumbra. The penumbra is the pale outer portion of Earth's shadow. Although the eclipse begins officially at this moment, this is in essence an academic event. You won't see anything unusual happening to the moon - at least not just yet.

    Earth's penumbral shadow is so faint that it remains invisible until the moon is deeply immersed in it. We must wait until the penumbra has reached roughly 70 percent across the moon's disk. For about the next 45 minutes the full moon will continue to appear to shine normally although with each passing minute it is progressing ever deeper into Earth's outer shadow.

    Stage 2 @ 1:39 a.m. EDT: Penumbral shadow begins to appear - Now the moon has progressed far enough into the penumbra so that the shadow should be evident on its disk. Start looking for a very subtle light shading to appear on the moon's left portion. This will become increasingly more and more evident as the minutes pass; the shading appearing to spread and deepen. Just before the moon begins to enter Earth's dark umbral shadow the penumbra should appear as an obvious smudge or tarnishing of the moon's left portion.

    Stage 3 @ 1:58 a.m. EDT: Moon enters umbra - The moon now crosses into Earth's dark central shadow, called the umbra. A small dark scallop will begin to appear on the moon's left-hand (eastern) limb. The partial phases of the eclipse begins, the pace quickens and the change is dramatic. The umbra is much darker than the penumbra and fairly sharp-edged.

    As the minutes pass, the dark shadow appears to slowly creep across the moon's face. At first, the moon's limb may seem to vanish completely inside of the umbra, but much later, as it moves in deeper you'll probably notice it glowing dimly orange, red or brown. Notice also that the edge of Earth's shadow projected on the moon is curved. Here is visible evidence that the Earth is a sphere, as deduced by Aristotle from Iunar eclipses he observed in the 4th century BC. It's at this point that deep shadows of a brilliant moonlit night begin to fade away. ['Blood Moons' Explained: What Causes a Lunar Eclipse Tetrad? (Infographic)]

    Stage 4 @ 2:49 a.m. EDT: 75 percent coverage - With three-quarters of the moon's disk now eclipsed, that part of it that is immersed in shadow should begin to very faintly light up, similar to a piece of iron heated to the point where it just begins to glow. It will become obvious that the umbral shadow is not complete darkness. Using binoculars or a telescope, its outer part is usually light enough to reveal lunar seas and craters, but the central part is much darker, and sometimes no surface features are recognizable. Colors in the umbra vary greatly from one eclipse to the next, Reds and grays usually dominate, but sometimes browns, blues and other colors can be spotted.

    Stage 5 @ 3:01 a.m. EDT: Less than five minutes to totality - Several minutes before (and after) totality, the contrast between the remaining pale-yellow sliver and the ruddy-brown coloration spread over the rest of the moon's disk. This may produce a beautiful phenomenon known to some as the "Japanese lantern effect."

    Stage 6 @ 3:06 a.m. EDT: Total eclipse begins - When the last of the moon enters the umbra, the total eclipse begins. No one knows how the moon will appear during totality. Some eclipses are such a dark gray-black that the moon nearly vanishes from view. The moon can glow a bright orange during other eclipses.

    The reason the moon can be seen at all when totally eclipsed is that sunlight is scattered and refracted around the edge of Earth by the planet's atmosphere. To an astronaut standing on the moon during totality, the sun would be hidden behind a dark earth outlined by a brilliant red ring consisting of all the world's sunrises and sunsets. The brightness of this ring around Earth depends on global weather conditions and the amount of dust suspended in the air. A clear atmosphere on Earth means a bright lunar eclipse. If a major volcanic eruption has injected particles into the stratosphere, the eclipse is very dark.

    Stage 7 @ 3:46 a.m. EDT: Middle of totality - The moon will shine anywhere from 10,000 to 100,000 times fainter than it did just a couple of hours ago. Since the moon is moving to the north of the center of Earth's umbra, the gradation of color and brightness across the lunar disk should be such that its lower portion should appear darkest, with hues of deep copper or chocolate brown. Meanwhile, its upper portion should appear brightest, with hues of reds, oranges and even perhaps a soft bluish-white. [10 Surprising Lunar Facts]

    Observers away from bright city lights will notice a much greater number of stars than were visible earlier in the night. During totality, the moon will be seen just a couple of degrees away from the star Spica in the constellation Virgo. Although Spica is one of the 21 brightest stars in the sky, before the eclipse begins the moon will almost seem to overwhelm the star with its light. But during totality, Spica will become much more conspicuous and its bluish color will contrast strikingly with the eerie, ruddy moon.

    The darkness of the sky could be impressive. The surrounding landscape may take on a somber hue. Before the eclipse, the full moon looked flat and one-dimensional. During totality, however, it will look smaller and three-dimensional - like some weirdly illuminated ball suspended in space.

    Before the moon entered the earth's shadow, the temperature at the lunar equator on its sunlit surface hovered at 260 degrees Fahrenheit (127 degrees Celsius). Since the moon lacks an atmosphere, there is no way that this heat could be retained from escaping into space as the shadow sweeps by. When in shadow, the temperature on the moon plummets to about minus 280 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 173 degrees Celsius), which equates to a drop of more than 500 degrees Fahrenheit (300 degrees Celsius) in only about two hours.

    Stage 8 @ 4:24 a.m. EDT: Total eclipse ends - The emergence of the moon from the shadow begins. The first small segment of the moon begins to reappear, followed again for the next several minutes by the "Japanese lantern effect."

    Stage 9 @ 4:41 a.m. EDT: 75 percent coverage - Any vestiges of coloration within the umbra should be disappearing now. From here on, as the dark shadow methodically creeps off the moon's disk it should appear black and featureless.

    Stage 10 @ 5:33 a.m. EDT: Moon leaves umbra - The dark central shadow clears the moon's upper right hand (northwestern) limb.

    Stage 11 @ 5:53 a.m. EDT: Penumbra shadow fades away - As the last, faint shading vanishes off the moon's upper right portion, the visual show comes to an end.

    Stage 12: Moon leaves penumbra - The eclipse "officially" ends, as the moon is completely free of the penumbral shadow.

    Editor's Note: If you snap an amazing picture of the April 15 total lunar eclipse, you can send photos, comments and your name and location to managing editor Tariq Malik at spacephotos@space.com.

    Joe Rao serves as an instructor and guest lecturer at New York's Hayden Planetarium. He writes about astronomy for Natural History magazine, the Farmer's Almanac and other publications, and he is also an on-camera meteorologist for News 12 Westchester, N.Y. Follow us @Spacedotcom, Facebook 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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    Monday, April 14, 2014
    SpaceX Dragon grows lettuce
    (NASA/Gioia Massa)

    Astronauts longing for fresh lettuce in orbit will soon have the chance to grow it for themselves: NASA is sending a mini-farm into space.

    When the private spaceflight company SpaceX launches its next Dragon cargo mission to the International Space Station on Monday (April 14), the capsule will be carrying a small plant growth chamber built to let astronauts grow "Outredgeous" lettuce in orbit.

    The goal of the Veg-01 experiment, nicknamed "Veggie", is to see how well plants grow in orbit. If these early tests go well and the food proves safe, scientists hope to expand the menu. [Space Food Photos: What Astronauts Eat in Orbit]

    "Veggie will provide a new resource for U.S. astronauts and researchers as we begin to develop the capabilities of growing fresh produce and other large plants on the space station," said Gioia Massa, NASA payload scientist for Veggie, in a statement. "Determining food safety is one of our primary goals for this validation test."

    Space is at a premium on a spacecraft and also on the International Space Station, so the Veggie chamber is built to collapse for transportation and when it is in storage. When fully deployed, it's about a 1.5-feet (X meters) long, making it the biggest such plant chamber in space to date.

    A version of the chamber has been tested on the ground, where lettuce and radishes were successfully grown at the Kennedy Space Center's space life sciences laboratory. Veggie was developed by Madison, Wis.-based Orbital Technologies Corp.

    NASA's Veggie experimental space farm is slated to launch on SpaceX's Dragon capsule at 4:58 p.m. EDT (2058 GMT). Visit Space.com for complete coverage of the Dragon mission to the International Space Station.

    Follow Elizabeth Howell @howellspace. Follow us @Spacedotcom. We're also on 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.


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