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SKYE on AOL

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    A rogue wave reaching a height of 60-foot plus hit a tanker headed south from Valdez, Alaska, in February 1993. The ship was running in about 25-foot seas when a monster wave struck it broadside on the starboard side. Capt. Roger Wilson, NOAA National Weather Service Collection)

    The U.S. Coast Guard announced on Sunday (April 21) that it was suspending the search for four fishermen whose boat is believed to have been destroyed by a rogue wave.

    The 50-foot Nite Owl vessel was tied to an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico about 115 miles (185 kilometers) southeast of Galveston, Texas, in rough weather on Friday morning (April 19), according to the Associated Press.

    But in the early morning darkness, "a rogue wave, a freak wave or something hit the side of the boat," John Reynolds, the sole survivor of the accident, told the AP.

    The wave "tore the wheel house and canopy off the boat," Larry Moore, owner of the commercial fishing vessel, told the Beaumont Enterprise from his home in Golden Meadow, La. "Everyone was asleep when it happened." The shattered craft sank within two minutes." [Shipwrecks Gallery: Secrets of the Deep]

    Rogue waves, sometimes called "freak waves," are extremely large waves that occur far out at sea in apparent isolation and without any obvious cause. The waves can easily reach 100 feet (30 meters) or more in height.

    Though researchers have yet to understand how rogue waves develop, some scientists claim atmospheric pressure may play a role. Other research suggests rogue waves could result from the clash of two interacting wave systems traveling perpendicular to each other.

    After a possible rogue wave destroyed the Nite Owl, all five men aboard were thrown into the choppy water without life jackets.

    Though Reynolds tried to help the other men into the life raft he found, his efforts were thwarted by the rough sea's 12-foot (3.7 m) waves and his crewmates' poor swimming ability, he said.

    "I got in the raft. I heard them call out. There was a little ring inside there with a 60-foot line on it," Reynolds told the AP. "I threw it in the direction I heard [a crewmate] hollering from, hoping he could grab ahold of it and pull himself to the life raft. Apparently, he couldn't get ahold of it."

    Reynolds, 56, was rescued by the Coast Guard later that morning after firing flares into the air. Though he has worked as a commercial fisherman for 35 years, Reynolds told the Beaumont Enterprise that this was the first time he had ever ended up in the water.

    Follow Marc Lallanilla on Twitter and Google+. Follow us @livescience, Facebook & Google+. Original article on LiveScience.com.

    Copyright 2013 LiveScience, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

     

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    April 22, 2013

    Live video from your iPhone using Ustream
    The annual Lyrid meteor shower peaked this weekend, but it's not too late to see the celestial display. The Lyrids should still be visible at a rate of 10-20 meteors per hour. If your view is obstructed by city lights or a bright moon, fear not. A camera at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center is providing a live feed of the Lyrids tonight and into early Tuesday morning. Watching the feed is a far cry from looking up at a sea of stars on a dark night, but it's something. Just click the play button to watch.

     

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    Updated Tuesday, April 23, 2013, at 7:50 p.m. ET

    Heavy equipment is used in the effort to reinforce a temporary levee on Monday, April 22, 2013, in Clarksville, Mo. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

    PEORIA HEIGHTS, Ill. (AP) - More rain on Tuesday was the last thing flood fighters across the Midwest wanted to see, adding more water to swollen rivers now expected to remain high into next month.

    Floodwaters were rising to record levels along the Illinois River in central Illinois. In Missouri, six small levees north of St. Louis were overtopped by the surging Mississippi River, though mostly farmland was affected.

    The Mississippi and Illinois rivers have crested in some places, but that doesn't mean the danger is over. The National Weather Service predicts a very slow descent, thanks in part to the additional rain expected to amount to an inch or so across several Midwestern states.

    Photos: Flooding Continues Across Midwest
    Midwest Flooding"The longer the crest, definitely, the more strain there is on the levee," said Mike Petersen, a spokesman for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in St. Louis.

    The biggest problem areas were in Illinois, on the Illinois River. In Peoria Heights, population 6,700, roads and buildings were flooded and riverfront structures were inundated. Firefighters feared that if fuel from businesses and vehicles starts to leak, it could spark a fire in areas that could be reached only by boat.

    "That's our nightmare: A building burns and we can't get to it," said Peoria Heights Fire Chief Greg Walters. "These are combustible buildings and we have no access to them simply because of the flooding."

    About 20 to 30 homes and businesses near the river have been evacuated, he said.

    Among those still in their homes was Mark Reatherford, a 52-year-old unemployed baker. He's lived for decades in the same split-level home with a gorgeous view: a small park between him and the Illinois River.

    By Tuesday afternoon, as a chilly rain continued falling, the river had rolled over the park and made it to Reatherford's home, creating a 3-foot-deep mess in the basement. Reatherford had cleared out the basement furniture and was hopeful the main floor would stay dry.

    Now, he's considering moving.

    "You can't get a better view than what we've got here," he said. "The sun comes up over the river, moon comes up ... and now you've got this. I'm getting too old to deal with this."

    In downtown Peoria, thousands of white and yellow sandbags stacked 3 feet high lined blocks of the city's scenic riverfront, holding back floodwaters that already had surrounded the visitors' center and the 114-year-old former train depot that lately has housed restaurants. Across the street, smaller sandbag walls blocked off riverside pedestrian access to Caterpillar's headquarters and the city's museum.

    In nearby Chillicothe, more than 400 homes have been affected by the flood, said Vicky Turner, director of the Peoria County Emergency Management Agency. Many homes have been evacuated, but others whose owners have had their buildings raised over the years because of flooding have chosen to stay put, Turner said.

    "They row back and forth ... up to the main road," she said.

    In Missouri, officials in the flood-weary hamlet of Clarksville were optimistic that days of furious sandbagging would hold back the Mississippi. At times toiling in heavy rain, crews built a second wall of dirt and sandbags behind the original barrier, and by Tuesday morning calm was restored. The Mississippi appeared to be receding, ever so slowly, from the community 70 miles north of St. Louis.

    "We're feeling much better," Mayor Jo Anne Smiley said.

    There were other snippets of good news elsewhere.

    Lucas Schultz, the 12-year-old Smithton, Ill., boy who was rescued Sunday from the raging Big River near Leadwood, Mo., and revived by his rescuer was at home and doing fine.

    Meanwhile, shipping resumed Tuesday along a 15-mile stretch of the Mississippi near St. Louis after the U.S. Coast Guard determined that 11 barges that sank last weekend were not a hazard to navigation.

    Investigators were trying to determine what caused 114 barges to break loose in St. Louis County. Coast Guard Lt. Colin Fogarty said drifting debris that can collect under docked barges may have weighed on the fleet and the lines that secured them to shore.

    The Mississippi River crest was still a couple of days away in Dutchtown, Mo., a town of about 100 residents 110 miles south of St. Louis. Town clerk and emergency management director Doyle Parmer said about three dozen members of the Missouri National Guard were helping residents sandbag. He was confident the few homes and businesses would remain dry.

    In St. Louis, crews scrambled to stem the flow of millions of gallons of raw sewage that has been pouring into the river since two of three pumps failed at a treatment plant two days earlier.

    The plant processes some 110 million gallons of sewage a day; about half of that was being discharged into the river untreated. Many communities downriver draw their drinking water from the Mississippi.

    In Indiana, flood gates were installed to try and keep the flooding Wabash River from the state's oldest town, Vincennes. Some strategic spots were also being reinforced with sandbags.

    The National Weather Service projected a crest on Saturday about 12 feet above flood stage, the highest reading in nearly 70 years at Vincennes, founded in 1732.

    In Saginaw County, Mich., water topped the dyke at Misteguay Creek in Spaulding Township. Businesses and homes were flooded along the Tittabawassee River, a Saginaw River tributary. Part of Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge also was under water.

    PHOTOS ON SKYE: Flooding Continues Across Midwest

     

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    The Solar Impulse lands during a test flight at Moffett Field NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, Calif., Friday, April 19, 2013. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

    MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. (AP) - A solar-powered plane that has wowed aviation fans in Europe took to the skies Friday over the San Francisco Bay area in a successful test flight.

    Considered the world's most advanced sun-powered plane, the Solar Impulse took off from Moffett Field in Mountain View at first light for a two-hour practice run in advance of a planned multi-city, cross-country tour.

    "That's a mythical step in aviation," André Borschberg, one of the plane's pilots and creators, said about flying cross-country. "We are something like between 1915 and 1920, compared to traditional aviation, when pioneers tried these non-stop flights."

    He said a flight around the world could occur in two years.

    The Solar Impulse is powered by about 12,000 photovoltaic cells that cover massive wings and charge its batteries, allowing it to fly day and night without jet fuel. It has the wing span of a commercial airplane but the weight of the average family car, making it vulnerable to bad weather.

    Its creators say the Solar Impulse is designed to showcase the potential of solar power and will never replace fuel-powered commercial flights. The delicate, single-seat plane cruises around 40 mph and can't fly through clouds.

    Borschberg and Bertrand Piccard, Solar Impulse co-founder and chairman, said the plane should be ready for the cross-country journey on May 1, depending on the weather.

    "We like nice weather. We like sunny days," Borschberg said.

    Stops are planned in Phoenix, Dallas, Washington, D.C., and New York. Each flight leg will take 20 to 25 hours, with 10-day stops in each city.

    Between Dallas and Washington, the plane will also stop at one of three other cities - Atlanta, Nashville or St. Louis.

    Borschberg said the plane's creators are close to being able to launch the non-stop flights needed to go around the world.

    Using solar power, "we are close to the notion of perpetual flight," he said.

     

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    Snow falls near the spot where five members of a backcountry snowboarder group were found dead after they were trapped by an avalanche on Loveland Pass, Colo., Saturday, April 20, 2013. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley)

    DENVER (AP) - The kind of avalanche that killed five people in Colorado over the weekend is among the most difficult to predict and trigger, and it's dangerous because of the amount of snow normally involved.

    Saturday's slide in near Loveland Pass is called a deep persistent slab avalanche, and it was the kind of avalanche that backcountry snowboarders and skiers were warned of in the area that day. It's also the same type of avalanche that killed a snowboarder Thursday near Vail Pass.

    "Unfortunately, we were warning about the exact problem that these fellows became entangled with," Ethan Greene, director the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, said Monday.

    Besides the four snowboarders and a skier who died, one other man in the group was buried but survived. Some were on snowboards that can be split in two for climbing up slopes. All had avalanche beacons, used to locate people buried under the snow.

    Deep persistent slab avalanches get their start after a weak snow layer falls, typically early in the season, and causes a structural weakness in the snowpack, Greene said. They're triggered when the bond breaks between the slab being released and the underlying persistent weak layer. The problem layers can be buried deep within the snow.

    A Denver Post photo of investigators at the site of Saturday's slide shows that the area where the snow broke off is above their heads in one location.

    Exactly where such slabs could break up is hard to predict. In Thursday's slide, multiple people had crossed the area before the slide occurred, Greene said.

    The slide happened on public forest land open to anyone willing to hike uphill for the thrill of skiing and snowboarding in fresh snow for free. Greene said it's up to users to assess the risks, carry their own rescue equipment and make educated decisions about how much risk is too much.

    Typically, avalanches aren't as common in the spring, but new snow in Colorado's mountains have created avalanche conditions more like those usually seen in the winter.

    The Post reported that the four snowboarders and one skier killed Saturday had participated in a fundraiser for the avalanche center in Dillon a day earlier. Greene said someone from the center spoke to the group, but Saturday's outing in the Sheep Creek area wasn't part of any fundraiser for the center.

    The Clear Creek County sheriff identified the victims as Christopher Peters, 32, of Lakewood; Joseph Timlin, 32, of Gypsum; Ryan Novack, 33, of Boulder; Ian Lamphere, 36, of Crested Butte; and Rick Gaukel, 33, of Estes Park. The sixth person, identified by friends as Jerome Boulay, didn't need to be taken to a hospital, said Sheriff Don Kreuger.

    Boulay was at his Crested Butte home Monday surrounded by friends and family, said Lisa Branner, co-owner of Venture Snowboards in Silverton, where Boulay works. Branner said Boulay is declining all interview requests.

    Eleven people have died in avalanches in Colorado this season.

    Saturday's was the deadliest in the state since 1962, when seven people were killed in a slide that wiped out several homes in the town of Twin Lakes near Independence Pass.

    RELATED ON SKYE: The 10 Snowiest Places on Earth

     

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    The cold air that has been sitting across the northern Plains will make a big push southeastward on Tuesday, bringing much-colder air into much of the Midwest.

    Places in for a much-colder day on Tuesday include Chicago, Ill., St. Louis and Kansas City, Mo., Des Moines, Iowa and Oklahoma City, Okla.

    Temperatures across much of the Upper Midwest will be 15 to 25 degrees below average on Tuesday afternoon. Cities like St. Louis and Kansas City that had high temperatures in the 70s on Monday will likely only be in the 40s on Tuesday afternoon.

    In fact, it will be cold enough for some wet snow to mix in with rain showers around Kansas City on Tuesday. With temperatures above freezing, no accumulation is expected.

    The biggest change will likely be in the Texas Panhandle, where a high near 90 degrees on Monday in Amarillo will be replaced by temperatures in the 40s on Tuesday afternoon.

    To add even more shock to the system, winds gusting over 20 or even 30 mph will make it feel even colder.

    A hard freeze is expected on Tuesday night across western and southern Kansas as well as the panhandles of Texas and Oklahoma, with low temperatures reaching record levels in some locations.

    The chilly weather will be the result of a cold front pushing through and an area of high pressure building across the Rockies. The flow around that high will bring a cold, northwesterly flow into the Midwest.

    This northwesterly flow is going to tap the same cold air that has prevented Bismarck, N.D., from getting above the 40-degree mark for the past nine days.

    RELATED:
    Additional Rain for Flooded Illinois, Surrounding States
    More Snow From Denver to Minneapolis
    Colorado Avalanche: Deadliest in 50 Years


    The good news for those tired of the cold is that things should improve by the end of the week.

    The same area of high pressure responsible for the cold on Tuesday and Wednesday will slide eastward by Thursday. A southwesterly flow around the back side of the high will usher in warmer air for the end of the week and the weekend.

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

     

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    The GOES-13 satellite captured this stunning visible image of Hurricane Irene just before it made landfall in New York City in 2011. (Credit:NASA | NOAA | GOES Project)

    Hot or cold, rain or snow, geoscientists say there's no evidence for earthquake weather. But the biggest storms are starting to prove them wrong.

    The latest evidence for the link between earthquakes and major storms comes from Virginia, a state pummeled by Hurricane Irene in 2011. The storm hit just five days after the magnitude-5.8 Virginia earthquake, so hundreds of aftershocks were still rattling the state.

    Seismologists saw a spike in aftershocks a few hours after the storm roared through, said Xiaofeng Meng, a graduate student at Georgia Tech and lead author of a study examining the aftershocks. The results of the research were presented Friday (April 19) at the Seismological Society of America's annual meeting in Salt Lake City.

    The one-two punch was a unique natural experiment. An unusually dense network of earthquake monitors was already in place to watch the Virginia earthquake's residual rumblings. And the sheer number of aftershocks meant scientists had enough temblors to see the storm's possible effects.

    Meng said the drop in air pressure as the hurricane passed over the region could have changed forces on faults stressed by the earthquake, sparking aftershocks. Perhaps the lower pressure unlocked the faults, letting them slip and thus causing earthquakes. The pressure drop from Hurricane Irene was within the range that can trigger earthquakes, Meng told OurAmazingPlanet.

    In a similar vein, a 2009 study published in the journal Nature suggested pressure changes from typhoons in Taiwan are linked to slow-slip earthquakes, the gentle events that last for hours or days and are never felt at Earth's surface. Another way hurricanes and typhoons (same storms, different names) may start earthquakes is through heavy rains, which spawn landslides. As with atmospheric pressure changes, the landslide could shift the forces on underground faults, leading to earthquakes, according to research presented at the 2011 American Geophysical Union annual meeting.

    The Georgia Tech team is not yet convinced the sharp increase in aftershocks after Hurricane Irene is truly linked to the hurricane - it could just be a coincidence, Meng said. For example, there were unexplained small spikes before the hurricane arrived in Virginia.

    "This is a debated topic," Meng said. "We hope to find solid evidence to prove or disprove the case."

    Email Becky Oskin or follow her @beckyoskin. Follow us @OAPlanet, Facebook & Google+. Original article on LiveScience's OurAmazingPlanet.

    Copyright 2013 LiveScience, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

    RELATED ON SKYE: Incredible Natural-Disaster Photos from Space

     

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    Artist's depiction of Mars One astronauts and their colony on the Red Planet. (Credit: Mars One / Bryan Versteeg)


    NEW YORK - If a one-way trip to Mars appeals to you, now's the time to apply to be part of the first crew of a Red Planet colony.

    The Netherlands-based nonprofit Mars One is planning to fly teams of four astronauts to the Red Planet, with the first landing slated to occur in 2023, exactly 10 years from today (April 22), to establish a human settlement on our planetary neighbor. Today, the organization opened up its astronaut selection process, which it hopes will raise some of the funding for the project.

    Those over age 18 interested in spending the rest of their lives in space can apply by submitting applications and short videos to the Mars One site. There is no maximum age for applicants, nor a required technical background or even nationality or language - astronaut candidates will have a few years to learn English if they don't speak it already. [Mars One's Red Planet Colony Project (Gallery)]

    Successful applicants will have intelligence, resourcefulness, courage, determination and skill, as well as psychological stability, said Mars One ambassador Gerard 't Hooft, a Nobel Prize-winning theoretical physicist.

    "Selecting these people will be a very difficult task," 't Hooft said during a press conference here to announce the selection process. "There shall be no exclusion on the basis of race, nationality, religion and gender."

    There will be a minor fee associated with submitting an application, which will range from $5 to $75 depending on the gross national income of the applicant's home country, officials said. The application fee for United States citizens is $38.

    Mars One estimates it will need about $6 billion to send the first four inhabitants to start the Red Planet colony, with $4 billion needed to launch each subsequent crew. In addition to the application fees, the organization hopes to raise money via a reality television show that will follow its astronaut selection and training process.

    Though a one-way ticket to Mars isn't everyone's idea of a dream getaway, the project's leaders anticipate a high level of enthusiasm for the mission; they've received about 10,000 emails already from people interested in applying. Mars One hopes to recruit astronauts from around the world to create a colony populated by a diverse representation of Earth's inhabitants.

    "We want this to be a mission of humanity," Mars One co-founder and chief executive officer Bas Lansdorp told SPACE.com.

    Mars One plans to put its astronaut finalists through seven years of training and testing exercises that will expose them to potential situations they might face during the mission. The astronaut trainees will also have to spend some time living in mock Mars colonies on Earth and communicating with Mission Control via a 6 to 20-minute time delay to simulate the lag between a signal being sent and its arrival on Mars.

    By July 2015, Mars One plans to have selected its top 24 astronauts, grouped into crews of six.

    So far, no spacecraft or rocket has been chosen for the journey, though organization officials say they are considering modifying the Dragon capsule being developed by the private aerospace firm SpaceX (Space Exploration Technologies Corp.). The Mars lander, rovers and habitat modules required will likely have to be designed and built from the ground up, but will be based on existing technology.

    "This will not be easy," Lansdorp said. "There is a lot of engineering and testing to be done before the first humans will land. But no new inventions are needed to land humans on Mars. There might be delays, there might be cost overruns, there might even be failures, but it can be done."

    The endeavor will begin with an initial test launch to Mars in 2016 to demonstrate the landing technology, with a second mission in 2018 to deliver a robotic rover to scout out landing sites. In 2020 a second rover will launch to Mars to begin assembling some of the first settlers' equipment and habitats, which will be ready and waiting when they land. The trip to Mars will take about seven months.

    Mars One has hired the research firm Paragon Space Development Corporation to design the life support technologies needed for the mission.

    "There's no doubt that the success of this mission depends on the life support system on the surface of Mars working forever," said Grant Anderson, Paragon chief engineer and co-founder. "To be successful, we have to execute a major and logical problem of applied engineering. We have to do the design, build and then test extensively before we leave."

    To learn more about Mars One or apply, visit: https://apply.mars-one.com/

    Follow Clara Moskowitz on Twitter and Google+. Follow us @Spacedotcom, Facebook and Google+. Original article on SPACE.com.

    Copyright 2013 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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    Daredevil Andy "Sketchy Andy" Lewis holds numerous world records for tricklining and highlining, which are essentially forms of tightrope walking. This winter, Lewis completed the world's longest freestanding tower highline walk. He crossed a 262-foot-long slackline spanning huge sandstone towers near Moab, Utah. Watch the video for highlights of the breathtaking feat.

    (via GrindTV)

    RELATED ON SKYE: The World's Most Extreme Sports
    Extreme Sports

     

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    April 23, 2013

    This NASA Hubble Space Telescope image of Comet ISON was taken on April 10, 2013, when the comet was slightly closer than Jupiter's orbit at a distance of 386 million miles from the sun (394 million miles from Earth). (NASA, ESA, J.-Y. Li (Planetary Science Institute), and the Hubble Comet ISON Imaging Science Team)

    NASA's iconic Hubble Space Telescope has snapped stunning new photos of Comet ISON, which could become one of the brightest comets ever seen when it zips through the inner solar system this fall.

    Hubble captured the new photos on April 10, when Comet ISON was slightly closer than Jupiter. At the time the icy wanderer was about 386 million miles (621 million kilometers) from the sun and 394 million miles (634 million km) from Earth.

    The new images are already helping astronomers take a bead on the mysterious Comet ISON, which may shine as brightly as the full moon when it makes its closest pass by the sun in late November. (The comet poses no threat to Earth, NASA has said.) [Photos of Comet ISON in Night Sky]

    For example, the Hubble telescope photos show that ISON is already becoming quite active, though it's still pretty far from our star. The comet's dusty head, or coma, is about 3,100 miles (5,000 km) wide, and its tail is more than 57,000 miles (92,000 km) long, astronomers said. And ISON sports a dust-blasting jet that extends at least 2,300 miles (3,700 km).

    Yet the comet's nucleus is surprisingly small — no more than 3 or 4 miles (4.8 to 6.5 km) across.

    This small core makes the comet's behavior on its trip around the sun, which will bring ISON within 730,000 miles (nearly 1.2 million km) of the solar surface on Nov. 28, especially tough to predict, researchers said. Also complicating the forecast is the fact that ISON is apparently making its first trip through the inner solar system from the distant, icy Oort cloud.

    So it's difficult to know if ISON will live up to its billing or fizzle out like Comet Kahoutek -- another possible "comet of the century" -- did in 1973.

    But Comet ISON's relatively pristine state has a real upside to astronomers, who will study the material that sublimates off the comet to gain insight into its composition.

    "As a first-time visitor to the inner solar system, Comet C/ISON provides astronomers a rare opportunity to study a fresh comet preserved since the formation of the solar system," Jian-Yang Li of the Planetary Science Institute in Tucson, Ariz., who led a team that imaged the comet, said in a statement. "The expected high brightness of the comet as it nears the sun allows for many important measurements that are impossible for most other fresh comets."

    NASA has organized a Comet ISON Observing Campaign to coordinate the efforts of observatories on the ground and in space. Hubble is seen as a key player in this campaign, along with a number of other instruments.

    Comet ISON is officially designated as C/2012 S1 (ISON) and was discovered in September 2012 by Russian amateur astronomers Vitali Nevski and Artyom Novichonok.

    Hubble's new ISON photos were taken just two weeks before the telescope's 23rd anniversary. The Hubble Space Telescope, a collaboration between NASA and the European Space Agency, launched aboard the space shuttle Discovery on April 24, 1990.

    Follow Mike Wall on Twitter @michaeldwall and Google+. Follow us @Spacedotcom, Facebook or Google+. Originally published on SPACE.com.

    Copyright 2013 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
    Horsehead Nebula

     

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    Updated Wednesday, April 24, 4:37 p.m.

    The Illinois River rises out of its banks, flooding Lake Street on Tuesday, April 23, 2013, in Spring Bay Ill. Floodwaters are rising to record levels along the Illinois River in central Illinois. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)

    PEORIA HEIGHTS, Ill. (AP) - Slowly retreating floodwaters gave Midwesterners some hope Wednesday that the worst was over, but many worried that the earthen and days-old sandbag levees along the Illinois and Mississippi rivers could still fail.

    Fast-moving currents were testing makeshift protections around Dutchtown, Mo., where the Mississippi was expected to rise well above flood stage later this week and potentially send water into the scattered homes and businesses that comprise the tiny, unprotected river town.

    In downtown Peoria, Ill., tens of thousands of white and yellow sandbags stacked 3 feet high lined blocks of the scenic riverfront, holding back Illinois River waters that already reached a 70-year high and surrounded the visitors' center and restaurants in the 114-year-old former train depot. Across the street, smaller sandbag walls blocked riverside pedestrian access to the headquarters of heavy equipment maker Caterpillar and the city's arts and culture museum.

    Photos: Flooding Continues Across Midwest
    Midwest Flooding

    Despite the receding water, city leaders were reluctant to issue an all-clear.

    "I'm very pleased so far, but we're not out of the woods," Peoria City Manager Patrick Urich said. "The water's going to stay up for a while."

    Higher water levels over extended periods of time put significant pressure on levees regardless of how well they're built. Sandbag walls are particularly vulnerable because of their porous nature, and concerns persisted along the Mississippi River in southeast Missouri, where smaller levees had been overtopped or breached.

    Elsewhere, there were no reports of other significant Midwestern population centers in peril, but high water bedeviled business and home owners who are assessing the damage across multiple states.

    - About a dozen northern Indiana homes were condemned and as many as 200 were damaged by flooding in Kokomo after downpours pushed the Wildcat Creek to its highest level on record. Residents took to the streets in canoes, and some people had to be rescued from their vehicles.

    -Hundreds of evacuated residents began returning to their homes in western Michigan as the rain-swollen Grand River began receding.

    -Officials in Fargo, N.D., are considering scaling back flood protection efforts after the National Weather Service on Wednesday lowered the crest prediction on the Red River by a couple of feet. The crest late next week in Fargo and Moorhead, Minn., will likely range between 38 and 40 feet. The river overflows its banks at 18 feet, but most structures are protected to about 38 feet.

    In Peoria, citywide damage estimates are murky and could be sorted out in about a week once flood-affected businesses weigh in on their losses, Urich said.

    Up to 20 homes sustained damage, though much of downtown was spared by what he called lessons from floods past: Water Street, which runs along the riverfront, was raised years ago to form more of a barrier between the river and the central business district.

    The city's museum and a Caterpillar visitors' center opened last October and together cost $150 million. Both tourism attractions were built on intentionally elevated ground - again out of flood concerns - and weren't harmed by the latest inundation.

    "Being as proactive as we were, we mitigated what could have been severe damage to some of those properties," Urich said. "That would be an awful lot of water to be sitting inside someone's business."

    PHOTOS ON SKYE: Flooding Continues Across Midwest

     

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    Showers and thunderstorms will move through the mid-Atlantic today with the potential for a few isolated strong storms from Binghamton, N.Y., through Charlottesville, Va.

    Overall, the threat for severe weather is low, but there is the potential that some thunderstorms may produce gusty winds, heavy downpours and hail.

    These showers and thunderstorms will be moving with a cold front that will be advancing through the region on Wednesday.

    When asked about the timing of these storms, AccuWeather.com meteorologist DJ Hoffman said "These storms will be moving through central Pennsylvania around 5 p.m. and arriving in Harrisburg around 7 p.m. The storms will start to break apart by the time that they reach Philadelphia after dark."

    Due to the timing of these storms, they will have little to no impact on the evening commute around Philadelphia, Harrisburg, D.C. and Baltimore.

    RELATED:
    Flooding Outlook for Illinois and Surrounding States
    AccuWeather Severe Weather Center
    Spring Warmup Brings Cicadas, Frogs and Worms


    Although storms may produce gusty winds, heavy downpours and hail, they will not be capable of producing tornadoes.

    Temperatures will drop to a few degrees below normal on Thursday in the wake of the cold front as cool Canadian air moves into the Northeast. Temperatures will remain below average on Friday as this cool air holds in place over the region.

    RELATED ON SKYE: Epic Storm Photos from the Twittersphere

     

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    Two people walked with umbrellas in the snow around Lake Nokomis in Minneapolis, Minn., on Monday, April 22, 2013. (AP Photo/The Star Tribune, Renee Jones Schneider)

    A series of April snowstorms has caused many records to fall and extreme temperature swings from Colorado to Minnesota. The latest storm to impact the Plains early this week appears to be the caboose of the storm train with the weather pattern expected to ease.

    "There are no more major cold outbreaks in the pipeline," AccuWeather expert senior meteorologist Jim Andrews said. "So, it looks like the end of record-breaking April snowfall and also the extreme temperature swings over the Plains, where it is nearly summery on one day and downright wintry on the next day."

    It is still cold in western Canada, and cooler air may still be unleashed over the northern Plains at times into May, according to AccuWeather lead long-range forecaster Paul Pastelok. However, the temperature swings that occur into May will be more typical of spring compared to the recent extremes.

    One sign of the changing pattern is the threat of major flooding along Red River of the northern U.S. as surging warmth this weekend threatens to melt unusually deep late-season snowpack.

    "Well, spring in here on the calendar, whether it has been in reality or not. You can only hold back reality for so long. And that reality is that daytime temperatures should be well above freezing in North Dakota and Minnesota. We have held back reality with repeated rounds of cold. The sudden return of reality [this weekend] means that the snow is going to disappear very fast," Andrews said.

    "By the end of the week, the normal high in Fargo is 64 degrees, so if it reaches 70, it's not that unusual," Andrews said.

    Statistics on the Cold and Snow in the Plains April 2013

    A total of 995 daily snowfall records have been broken during the month so far as of April 22, 2013, according to the National Climatic Data Center (NCDC). As a comparison, last year during the same timeframe, 195 snowfall records had been broken.

    According to NOAA, 91.9 percent of the Upper Midwest is covered by snow currently, whereas only 0.4 percent of the Upper Midwest was covered by snow on April 23, 2012.

    The map above (from the National Operational Hydrologic Remote Sensing Center) shows that 91.9 percent of the Upper Midwest is covered by snow on April 23, 2013.

    Duluth, Minn., had a record daily snowfall of 8.2 inches on Monday. The old record of 7.8 inches was set in 1972.

    April Snow Statistics:

    The latest storm in Duluth has allowed April to go down in the record books as the snowiest month ever with a total 51.0 inches. Previously, the snowiest month on record for Duluth was November 1991 when 50.1 inches fell.

    A record April snowfall has been recorded at Pierre, S.D., with 20.8 inches so far this month. The old record April snowfall was 17.5 inches set in 1986.

    Rapid City, S.D., has received a total of 43.4 inches of snow so far in April. That is more snow than the city typically receives during the entire season, which is 41.4 inches.

    Snow and cold made it all the way down into Texas on Tuesday morning.

    Childress, Texas, had a high of 92 degrees on Monday before temperatures plunged into the 30s overnight with snow arriving.

    RELATED:
    AccuWeather Winter Weather Center
    Forecast Temperature Maps for the U.S.
    Interactive U.S. Radar

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

     

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    Central Park in New York City. (Shutterstock)

    Avoid the concrete jungle: A new study finds that people who live in cities with more green space feel better than those surrounded by stone and steel.

    In fact, the well-being boost associated with green space is equivalent to one-third the jump in well-being people get from being married and to one-tenth of the extra life satisfaction derived from being employed versus jobless, according to a study to be published in a forthcoming issue of the journal Psychological Science.

    "These kinds of comparisons are important for policymakers when trying to decide how to invest scarce public resources, e.g. for park development or upkeep, and figuring out what 'bang' they'll get for their buck," study researcher Mathew White of the University of Exeter Medical School said in a statement. [7 Things That Will Make You Happy]

    It's no surprise that nicer areas of town might be populated by happier people, but previous studies had never been able to tease out whether the emotionally well-off simply moved to greener spots or whether greenery really boosts well-being. White and his colleagues dug into the question by using long-term, national data collected between 1991 and 2008.

    That way, the researchers could compare the life satisfaction of the same people as they moved from more to less verdant areas and vice versa. They also controlled for income, employment, marital status, health, housing time and local area factors, such as crime rates, to ensure as much as possible that the effects were coming from greenery.

    The results showed that people's life satisfaction, as assessed by questionnaire, did improve when they moved to greener urban areas and decreased in urban spots where nature was out of site. Greener spaces were also linked with lower mental distress in residents.

    The study can't prove conclusively that the green space caused the happiness boost, because it's impossible to control for every variable that might be at play, the researchers wrote. But experimental studies have also found that parks are linked with psychological health. In one study, researchers followed residents of public housing who were randomly assigned to apartments with views of trees and grass or with views of barren courtyards. The people living in view of greenery reported less domestic violence and fewer aggressive conflicts. They were also less likely to view their problems as unsolvable.

    Another study, published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology in 2010, found that just a five-minute dose of nature could improve self-esteem. Green areas with water were deemed most beneficial.

    Greenery may influence physical health as well as psychological. One 2002 study published in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health found that seniors in Japan had lower mortality rates in the five years of the study when they lived in areas surrounded by walkable green space.

    Follow Stephanie Pappas on Twitter and Google+. Follow us @livescience, Facebook & Google+.

    Original article on LiveScience.com. Copyright 2013 LiveScience, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

     

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    Snow covering the Lake Michigan area on April 2, 2013. (NASA)


    Water levels in two of the Great Lakes dipped to record lows in January, but while spring conditions are expected to give these freshwater bodies a seasonal boost, scientists say the ability to forecast long-term trends remains difficult due to climate fluctuations.

    "Our uncertainty on future water levels - which is considerable - is a direct reflection of our uncertainty on future climates," Drew Gronewold, a hydrologist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory in Ann Arbor, Mich., said in a news briefing on April 23.

    In January, average water levels in Lake Michigan and Lake Huron fell to 576.02 feet (175.57 meters), the lowest levels since 1964. Gronewold says these drops were largely due to warmer and dryer conditions the previous year, which produced less snowpack in the region.

    Scientists monitor changes in the so-called Great Lakes water budget to make short- and long-term forecasts of water levels. This budget takes into account the water that comes into the Great Lakes basin through precipitation, ice cover and runoff, and the water that leaves through evaporation.

    "The interplay between relative increases in precipitation and relative increases in evaporation are what will drive water levels," Gronewold said.

    But, these calculations can be tricky because they incorporate so many different variables, including the effects of climate change, he added. Changes in solar energy, for example, which would increase or decrease evaporation, can affect how much rainfall eventually runs off into the lakes, or gets sent back into the atmosphere.

    And whereas NOAA closely monitors the interplay between precipitation and evaporation for all the Great Lakes, Gronewold said it is difficult to know how these changes will play out over the next several decades.

    In the meantime, the spring season may bring some short-term relief to the area. It is not unusual for springtime runoff, coupled with melting snowpacks, to contribute 5 inches to the lakes, Gronewold explained.

    "This is a time of year when water levels typically rise naturally," Gronewold said.

    Follow Denise Chow @denisechow. Follow LiveScience @livescience, Facebook & Google+. Original article on LiveScience.com.

    Copyright 2013 LiveScience, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

     

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    This May 7, 2012, aerial photo shows the western opening to Tangier Island's harbor in Tangier, Va. (AP Photo/Virginian-Pilot, Scott Harper)

    TANGIER ISLAND, Va. (AP) - One day after Hurricane Sandy lashed this speck of land in the Chesapeake Bay last fall, islander Carol Moore hopped in her skiff and headed to a stretch of beach along The Uppards, one of the islands that comprise this remote outpost. A favorite haunt, Moore collects sea glass, pottery and arrowheads that she finds among the bleached oyster shells that blanket the beach.

    What she found there that day shocked her.

    Waves stirred by Sandy's fierce winds had pounded the beach and scattered in the surf human remains from a graveyard of a former settlement called Canaan, an ancestral home of Moore's mother's family.

    "The first thing I saw was an exposed skeleton," she said. "Then I saw a skull, oh Lord. Then as I walked around it was just more exposed graves and bones and hardware from caskets. It just bothered me so much."

    Moore spent hours on the beach, contemplating what she had found and what it meant for her beloved island. Then she sprang into action. She called the state marine police. The sheriff's department. Then finally a TV news station, which sent a crew out to document her gruesome discovery.

    The televised footage did the trick. It attracted a team of state archaeologists to the beach to carefully gather skeletal remains for study and, ultimately, for reburial.

    But what she found that day still haunts Moore. She frets about the future of this island dating back centuries to the earliest European visitors and whether future generations will enjoy it as she has.

    "I don't want to have to tell stories to my grandchildren about Tangier," says Moore. "I want them to experience what I have for 50 years. I'm scared to death we're going to lose it."

    Her concerns are not overstated. This island is disappearing.

    Once inhabited by up to 1,000 residents, the island's current population of 500 is crowded today on several ridges of high ground, still only several feet above sea water.

    It's not just rising seas alone, however, that make Tangier Island so vulnerable and Moore so fearful it will be consumed by the bay.

    Tangier Island is sinking, the result of events eons ago.

    First, 35 million years ago, a meteor slammed into the lower bay and land continues to seep into its crater. Then, the glaciers that gouged out the 200-mile-long bay 10,000-15,000 years ago, are also causing land to sink. A climate scientist compared this effect, called subsidence, to squeezing a jelly-filled ball.

    Climate change is simply accelerating what they say will be increasing flooding along the bay and the foreseeable demise of Tangier. Some areas of the island are losing up to 15 feet or more of land a year.

    They make portions of coastal Virginia, such as the Norfolk and Virginia Beach areas, among the 10 most-threatened places on the planet by rising seas.

    For Tangier, the future appears particularly grim.

    "We have a pretty high degree of certainty that things are going to get wetter and wetter," said Carlton J. Hershner Jr., a climate-change scientist at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science and co-author of a report on its impacts in coastal Virginia. "Not to be a bearer of bad news for Tangier, but that would suggest that sometime in the next 50 to 100 years the island would basically be under water."

    ___

    Tangier Island is the bay's bell jar.

    Because of its isolation, many of residents still retain the linguistic echoes of the island's settlers, primarily from Cornwall along England's southwest coast. A handful of names - Pruitt, Dise, Marshall - dominate the population. John Smith, the intrepid and boastful Jamestown settler, is believed to be the first European to step foot on the island four centuries ago. The arrowheads Moore collects are remnants of Indians who summered here.

    Today, the first thing you see as you approach Tangier Island by boat is a water tower, rising from the sea like the lumbering alien death machines on stilts in Steven Spielberg's remake of the "War of the Worlds." Then the neat, tightly packed homes come into focus, barely rising from the shimmering water.

    The Uppards, a strip of sand and salt marshes, is the main island's buffer from the full impact of hurricanes and winter storms. It was also the destination for a team of archaeologists that returned in April to tend to more graves churned up by the surf since Moore's discovery.

    On a sunny but chilly day in April, Moore awaited at the town harbor to ferry visitors there. She was bundled in an oversized Cincinnati Bengals jacket and a cap that engulfed her head.

    Moore guided her outboard to the Uppards gliding past dozens of deadrise boats used by watermen, the bay's popular name for crabbers. The working boats, freshly painted after emerging from their winter retirement, have a high bows that gracefully dip to their sterns, nearly to the waterline. The design is intended to ease the backbreaking work of the men who haul in pots - cages with trap doors - laden with skittering crabs.

    "Soft shell capital of the world," Moore says as she pilots her boat 'To Oz' past crab shacks that line the channel that cuts through the island. The shacks laden with stacked pots are perched above the water on pilings.

    Then an odd sight on this staunchly Christian island appears fluttering over one crab shack: the flag of Israel.

    "Tangier is a huge believer in Israel," Moore states, pulling down a sock to show a small Star of David tattooed on her right ankle.

    The expanse of beach along the Uppards is unbroken except for the shell of a trailer, a makeshift camp for bird hunters. The rusted hulks of old machinery litter the beach, washed up by storms. Here, at low tide, four state archaeologists are on their hands and knees around a long rectangular impression - the shaft to a grave. A tiny rectangular impression is nearby, the outline of a small coffin emerging from the muck within the shaft. It is the grave of a child, probably a toddler.

    These new remains, as well as the others, were from a cemetery that now lies under water 50 or more feet out into the bay.

    "Our mission here is to try to take as many (remains) as we can of the ones that are going to erode into the bay in the near future," said state archaeologist Mike Barber, taking a break from his work. "Beyond that, we're not sure what's going to happen to this cemetery."

    They can only work on the exposed graves during 3-hour windows of absolute low tide, when the waters retreat into the bay.

    The island was abandoned in 1929 after a hurricane convinced residents to move away, primarily to the center of the island. Grave markers rescued from the cemetery are neatly lined up along the beach above the high tide mark, weathered memorials to place and a people lost forever to the seas.

    "They decided it was enough," Barber said. "I think Carol is the most frequent inhabitant here now."

    Archaeologist Joanna Wilson Green bailed out the larger grave shaft while fellow archaeologists David Hazzard and Thomas Klatka carefully worked with small trowels and bamboo sticks to remove the thick, dark muck. The bamboo sticks are used so they don't mar the bones as they scrape away the years.

    "As Joanna said, this is one way to bring back dignity to these people," Barber said. "I think that's an important aspect of our work."

    Green said, "We think it's a great honor to treat the dead with respect and to learn what they have to teach us."

    Once the skeletal remains are removed and packed, they'll be placed in a solution to extract the salt. They'll then head to the Smithsonian for an analysis by a forensic pathologist who is studying the earliest Europeans in Tidewater Virginia.

    "Then we'll deal with folks like Carol and the descendant population to see whether they want to rebury them," Barber said. "There's really not a lot of room on the island to rebury them at this point."

    ___

    While the Uppards is now a place for hunters and archaeologists, the main portion of the island is a quietly thriving place, even before the arrival of day-trippers. Only one ferry from Maryland sails to the island during the off-season.

    The narrow lanes that dissect the island are primarily traversed by golf carts, and most homes have one or more shoehorned in-between houses. Graveyards are as common in yards as swing sets, another sign of the island's diminishing dimensions. The dead are now buried close to homes, away from the encroaching sea.

    Moore, the daughter of a seventh-generation waterman and the spouse of a former watermen, and other islanders such as Mayor James "Ooker" Eskridge have lobbied for federal funding to build a jetty and a seawall to protect the 3-mile-long, porkchop-shaped island. The 430-foot seawall and jetty is intended to protect the harbor at Tangier from waves and sheets of ice that are pushed into the inner harbor and channel during the winter months.

    The seawall and jetty would shelter the Uppards and, by extension, the main island. Some portions of the island are losing up to 15 feet of land a year.

    "Saving Uppards is going to save Tangier," said Moore, a reserved, quietly determined native islander. "That land protects us from the northwest winds."

    In November, islanders got the news they had been awaiting a decade for when officials announced that the seawall and jetty would be constructed at a cost of $4.2 million. The federal government will pay about $3.2 million, with the state picking up the rest.

    Gov. Bob McDonnell said the project is "critically important" to saving the island and "a culturally significant way of life that has changed little over the centuries."

    Work is scheduled to begin in 2016 and be complete in 2017.

    The news, while welcome, still has left Moore and other islanders edgy as hurricane season approaches.

    "If we have another hurricane between now and then, our island is not going to tolerate it," she said. "We can take the wind. We can take the tides. But the two together is just devastating."

    Eskridge, who is pushing to hasten the work, questions the threat of rising seas. He says erosion's the problem and maintains that tides have been abnormally low. "Sea level may be rising but not here," he said.

    Hershner, the climate-change scientist, is skeptical of the long-term benefit of the seawall.

    "What's being built out there is erosion protection," he said. "That's not going to hold back the sea levels."

    The only solution to preserve the island, he said, would be to construct a dike or levee encircling it, an engineering feat that would be tremendously expensive.

    "The other problem is you put a levee around it and their lifestyle is all related to the water, so you have to cut off access to the water to preserve the island. You'd just make a hole in the water."

    Moore is mindful of rising seas and Tangier's sinking. She knows what the climate scientists say. Still, she says, Californians live with earthquakes, and Kansans with tornadoes.

    "I was born here and I'll probably die here," she said.

    Still, she holds out hope her 25-year-old son Alex, a former Marine who served three tours, and daughter Loni, 30, will enjoy the island, as will Loni's two children.

    "We have so much history here on the island and we just hope to save what we've got," Moore said. "We need saving. We can't let our ancestors be forgotten."

    The state Department of Historic Resources, which dispatched the archaeologists to Tangier, also is surveying the island in hopes of getting it on the state or national landmarks registry. Such a designation could attract more tourists and funding support.

    "Yes, it's fragile, but there's a lot of commitment on the ground to finding a future," Director Kathleen Kilpatrick said of Tangier. "In the meantime, our commitment is to helping how we can."

    As for Barber and his fellow archaeologists, they left after a week. They said there was little more they could do.

    RELATED ON SKYE: 10 U.S. Cities Most at Risk from Rising Sea Levels

     

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