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Cloud Lightning

Forecasters to use number of lightening strikes to predict supercell formation

© UAH
A jump in lightning strikes inside a thunderstorm might be a severe weather early warning, says research by Sarah Stough, a UAH graduate student in atmospheric science.
A sudden jump in the number of lightning strikes inside a garden-variety thunderstorm might soon give forecasters a new tool for predicting severe weather and issuing timely warnings, according to research at The University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH).

The sudden increase in lightning is one sign a normal storm is rapidly evolving into a supercell, with a large rotating updraft - or mesocyclone - at its heart.

"Supercells are more prone to produce severe weather events, including damaging straight line winds and large hail," said Sarah Stough, a UAH graduate student in atmospheric science. "Supercells also produce the strongest and most deadly tornadoes."

Comment: Considering the bizarre weather being witnessed globally, even minutes of advance warning and preparation could mean the difference between life and death for many. Here is a map showing storms around the world in the past month:



Galaxy

NASA's Chandra Observatory detects "largest X-ray flare ever" from Milky Way's black hole

largest X-ray flare
© NASA/CXC/Northwestern Univ/D.Haggard et al.
Astronomers have detected the largest X-ray flare ever from the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way using NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory. This event was 400 times brighter than the usual X-ray output from the black hole.
Astronomers have observed the largest X-ray flare ever detected from the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way galaxy. This event, detected by NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory, raises questions about the behavior of this giant black hole and its surrounding environment.

The supermassive black hole at the center of our galaxy, called Sagittarius A*, or Sgr A*, is estimated to contain about 4.5 million times the mass of our sun.

Astronomers made the unexpected discovery while using Chandra to observe how Sgr A* would react to a nearby cloud of gas known as G2.

"Unfortunately, the G2 gas cloud didn't produce the fireworks we were hoping for when it got close to Sgr A*," said lead researcher Daryl Haggard of Amherst College in Massachusetts. "However, nature often surprises us and we saw something else that was really exciting."

Comment: To help better "understand the physics" and obtain more information on the winning Electric Universe theory,

Read: Earth Changes and the Human-Cosmic Connection.

Or listen to: SOTT Talk Radio: The Electric Universe - An interview with Wallace Thornhill

Clock

Earth's rotation slowing down: French time lords add one second to 2015

Software companies are bracing themselves for glitches after the Paris Observatory announced it will add a leap second to 2015.

Clock
© Getty
The year 2015 will be slightly longer after the Paris Observatory announced it was adding a leap second to clocks this summer.

On June 30, dials will read 11:59:60 as clocks hold their breath for a second to allow the Earth's rotation to catch up with atomic time.

Atomic time is constant, but the Earth's rotation is gradually slowing down by around two thousandths of a second per day.

It is the task of scientists and officials at the International Earth Rotation Service based in France to monitor the planet's rotation and tweak time where necessary. Some years the Earth runs bang on time and no adjustment is needed.

Software companies are already bracing themselves for problems. When the last leap second was added in 2012 Mozilla, Reddit, Foursquare, Yelp, LinkedIn, and StumbleUpon all reported crashes and there were problems with the Linux operating system and programmes written in Java.

Many computing systems use the Network Time Protocol, or NTP, to keep themselves in sync with the world's atomic clocks. But most are not programmed to deal with an unexpected extra second.

Google has even developed a special technique to deal with what it refers to as a 'leap smear' where it gradually adds milliseconds to its system clocks prior to the official arrive of the leap second.

"The Earth is slowing down a little bit," said Nick Stamatakos, the chief of Earth Orientation Parameters at the US Naval Observatory.
Galaxy

Hubble takes 'sharpest ever' 1.5bn pixels image of Andromeda galaxy

© spacetelescope.org
Hubble has captured a mind-blowing view of roughly a third of the Andromeda galaxy with thousands of star clusters - and it is the biggest image ever released by the space telescope. To display the whole panorama you would need 600 HD television screens.

NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) jointly released the sharpest and biggest image ever of the Andromeda galaxy, taken by the Hubble Space Telescope on Monday.

Fireball 5

Potentially dangerous asteroid to fly by Earth on January 26

Asteroid Flyby
© AFP/NASA
A potentially hazardous asteroid, at least 20 times the size of the Chelyabinsk meteorite, will approach the Earth on January 26. The rock is expected to fly by at a distance of 1.2 million kilometers.

The asteroid, named 2004 BL86 by scientists, is estimated to be between 440-1,000 meters in diameter. 1.2 million kilometers is approximately three times the distance from the Earth to the Moon.

According to astronomers, there is no threat of the object colliding with our planet. The Goldstone Observatory, located in California's Mojave Desert, will observe the asteroid during its approach.

2004 BL86 was discovered on January 30, 2004, by the Lincoln Near-Earth Asteroid Research (LINEAR), responsible for the majority of asteroid discoveries from 1998 until 2005, when it was overtaken by the Catalina Sky Survey (CSS). As of mid-September 2011, LINEAR had detected some 231,082 new objects, of which at least 2,423 were near-Earth asteroids and 279 comets.

A space object is considered potentially dangerous if it crosses the Earth's orbit at a distance of less than 0.05 AU (approximately 19.5 distances from the Earth to the Moon), and if its diameter exceeds 100-150 meters. Objects of this size are large enough to cause unprecedented destruction, or generate a mammoth tsunami in case they fall into the ocean.

When a meteorite burst above the city of Chelyabinsk in February 2013, the impact was estimated to be equivalent to 440-500 kilotons of TNT. But the Chelyabinsk meteorite was relatively small, about 17 meters in diameter. It disintegrated with a blast at an altitude of over 20 kilometers.
Arrow Down

Controversial DNA startup wants to let customers create creatures

Austen Heinz
© Liz Hafalia / The Chronicle
Austen Heinz, CEO of Cambrian Genomics, grows genetically engineered plants at a San Francisco greenhouse. Cambrian delivers DNA sequences to pharmaceutical companies.
In Austen Heinz's vision of the future, customers tinker with the genetic codes of plants and animals and even design new creatures on a computer. Then his startup, Cambrian Genomics, prints that DNA quickly, accurately and cheaply.

"Anyone in the world that has a few dollars can make a creature, and that changes the game," Heinz said. "And that creates a whole new world."

The 31-year-old CEO has a deadpan demeanor that can be hard to read, but he is not kidding. In a makeshift laboratory in San Francisco, his synthetic biology company uses lasers to create custom DNA for major pharmaceutical companies.

Its mission, to "democratize creation" with minimal to no regulation, frightens bioethicists as deeply as it thrills Silicon Valley venture capitalists.

With the latest technology and generous funding, a growing number of startups are taking science and medicine to the edge of science fiction.

In the works or on the market are color-changing flowers, cow-free milk, animal-free meat, tests that detect diseases from one drop of blood and pills that tell doctors whether you have taken your medicine.
Sun

NASA detects enormous 'coronal hole' on Sun's South Pole

coronal hole
© nasa.gov
A giant dark hole has appeared on the sun's flaming surface, a recently-taken NASA picture has revealed. So far, scientists are stumped by why this spectacular phenomenon, known as a "coronal hole," occurs.

"The Sun starts 2015 with an enormous coronal hole near the South Pole," scientists of NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory wrote in their blog, having posted a picture of the flaming sun with a gaping dark space in its lower part.

What modern science knows is that "coronal holes" are places where particles leave the sun's surface at huge speeds - of up to 500 miles per hour (800 kilometers per hour). What's still unclear is why this is happening.

The sun's glowing comes from the "trapped" particles. The coronal holes "contain little solar material, have lower temperatures, and therefore, appear much darker."

The first pictures of the phenomenon were taken by NASA astronauts in the early 1970s.

Comment: As well as this "spectacular phenomenon" on the Sun, in the past year we have seen methane outgassing on Mars, "increasingly stormy" conditions on Uranus, increased volcanic activity on Jupiter's moon Io, scientists have been puzzled by the wobble of Saturn's moon Mimas and a major increase in asteroid activity has seen MIT astronomers upgrade the solar system from stable to dynamic

What is causing these recent solar system-wide 'climate changes'?

Could it be part of an overall 'grounding' of our solar system, caused perhaps by the close approach of the system's Twin Sun?

Nemesis: Does the Sun Have a 'Companion'?

Rose

The secret intelligence of plants

"Plants have electrical and chemical signaling systems, may possess memory, and exhibit brainy behavior in the absence of brains."

The idea that plants possess intelligence worthy of in depth exploration is an idea still largely scoffed at, despite the emergence of research suggesting otherwise. In large part, this is due to the widespread belief that "intelligence" and "brains" are inextricably connected, that the two must coexist to exist at all. The problem with this is our perception of what a "brain" is.

When defining the brain, we fixate too much on the physicals, like that it exists within a skull, and not enough on the invisibles, such as how it functions. Due to this, we believe brains can only exist in lifeforms that have skulls, like humans and animals, to rest in. However, when looking deeper into the characteristics of plants, we begin to find they have impressively elegant mechanisms, ones typically reserved only for those with brains. This, of course, brings us to the regrettably too often overlooked intelligence of plants.

Comment: More articles on the intelligence of plants The Botany of Desire, a free PBS documentary on the evolutionary relationship between humans and plants, based on the book by author Michael Pollen: The Botany of Desire: A Plant's-Eye View of the World.



Meteor

Large asteroids to flyby Earth in January through March. Should we worry?

© NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCAL/MPS/DLR/IDA
Massive rocks hurtling in space at speeds of thousands of miles per hour? They definitely sound dangerous, but they’re only really threatening if they hit you.
Asteroids are headed in Earth's direction and with most of them about as wide as a double-decker bus, a collision would most likely result in significant damage. However, while experts warn against the potential dangers of these asteroids, they also say that it is unlikely that these will veer off course and hit the planet.

According to NASA's Near Earth Object Program, there will be 43 asteroids flying close to Earth in January and 25 in February. In March, the number further drops to 15. The biggest threat for January is the asteroid 2007 EJ slated to closely approach the planet on Jan. 12. With a maximum diameter of nearly 1 mile, the asteroid is traveling at around 34,500 miles per hour.

The next-biggest asteroid threat for the first month of the year is the 1991 VE. It features a diameter of 0.87 miles and is expected to skim past the planet on Jan. 17. On Jan. 15 and 23, 0.68-mile wide asteroids will be flying by, the 2014 UF206 and the 2062 Aten, respectively.

Comment: Definitely a heads-up situation. If any of these break up as they approach Earth, it could cause multiple Chelyabinsk type damage.

Green Light

Innate behaviour of reaching determines how we steer a vehicle

A 70 year old mystery in traffic research has been solved: an until now inexplicable jerkiness when we steer a vehicle. The discovery may lead to safety systems in cars that can correct dangerous steering movements before they occur. "With the driver model I have developed, it is possible to predict what drivers are going to do with the steering wheel before they do it. It is possible to predict how far the driver is going to turn the wheel, right when the person starts a wheel-turning movement. It's like looking into the future," says a researcher.
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