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Mon, 20 Feb 2017
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Strange Skies

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Incredible 'breaking wave' clouds amaze as they form across the sky over Palmerston North, New Zealand

© Carl Gadsby
The "breaking wave" clouds, also know as Kelvin-Helmholtz instability waves, which formed over the eastern side of Palmerston North early today.

Waves were breaking in the Palmerston North sky this morning in a relatively uncommon phenomenon.

Unsurprisingly the formation is dubbed "breaking wave clouds" but its official title is Kelvin-Helmholtz instability, named after Scots-Irish scientist Lord Kelvin William Thomson and German physician and physicist Hermann von Helmholtz.



Stunning polar stratospheric clouds shine over Sweden, Finland

Around the Arctic Circle, observers are reporting an outbreak of polar stratospheric clouds (PSCs). "Yesterday, Feb. 13th, the sky was filled with their brilliant colors from sunrise to sunset," says Mia Stålnacke, who sends this picture from Kiruna, Sweden:
© Mia Stålnacke
These clouds are newsworthy because normally the stratosphere has no clouds at all. Home to the ozone layer, the stratosphere is arid and almost always transparent. Yet, Stålnacke says, "we've been seeing stratospheric clouds very often this winter and last."

According to multiple longtime residents of the area, the Feb 13th display was exceptional. "Everyone I spoke to agrees it was the best they had ever seen," says Chad Blakley, who operates the Lights over Lapland tour guide service in Abisko, Sweden.
© Mia Stålnacke


Beginnings of supernova seen for the first time

© Ofer Yaron
iPTF13dqy (SN2013fs) exploded in a relatively nearby (~160 million light years) spiral galaxy on 6 October 2013 and was detected by the Palomar Transient Factory sky survey a mere three hours after explosion.
An extremely rare recording of a massive star's explosive death reveals clues about the formation of supernovae.

Reported in Nature Physics by a team led by Ofer Yaronof at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel, recent spectroscopic imaging captured the spectacular transformation of a star assumed to have been a red supergiant into a supernova, just three hours after it began.

It marks the first time a supernova has ever been seen in its infancy. Previously observed supernova - the predicted end-point for around 50% of supergiant stars - have all been recorded after the metamorphosis had been underway for several days, meaning that information about the start of the process was already destroyed.

The most recent event, capturing the fiery death of a star dubbed iPTF 13dqy, was captured by the Intermediate Palomar Transient Factory, an automated astronomical survey from Palomar Observatory in California, which has been monitoring the sky since 2013.

The survey snaps two images per night, over an hour period or longer, of a particular astronomical field and then compares them to identify any transient events. Any flagged are then confirmed and examined by a team of researchers.


NASA to create artificial clouds in space to understand auroras

A NASA sounding rocket to be launched from the Poker Flat Research Range, Alaska, between February 13 and March 3, 2017, will form white artificial clouds during its brief, 10-minute flight.

The rocket is one of five being launched January through March, each carrying instruments to explore the aurora and its interactions with Earth's upper atmosphere and ionosphere. Scientists at NASA's Goddard Space Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, explain that electric fields drive the ionosphere, which, in turn, are predicted to set up enhanced neutral winds within an aurora arc. This experiment seeks to understand the height-dependent processes that create localized neutral jets within the aurora.

For this mission, two 56-foot long Black Brant IX rockets will be launched nearly simultaneously. One rocket is expected to fly to an apogee of about 107 miles while the other is targeted for 201 miles apogee. Only the lower altitude rocket will form the white luminescent clouds during its flight.

Flying the two similar payloads simultaneously to different altitudes will provide researchers unprecedented vertical measurements within an aurora.

The launches will occur between 7 pm and midnight AKST. The launch decision is dependent on clear skies and auroral activity.

During the flight, a vapor tracer cloud of trimethyl aluminum or TMA will be deployed to allow scientists on the ground to be able to visually track the winds within the aurora.


Magical sun halo shines over northern Sweden

© Tomas Bjornerback
A sun halo or a portal to another world?

Tomas Björnerbäck took these incredible photos with his phone showing the sun over the ski region Hemavan when he went up one of the main ski lifts, Kungsliften.

"The trip up started really foggy with only 50 metres of visibility", he told The Local. But soon the trip would be worth the effort. "At around half way to the top, we suddenly came out of the fog, above the clouds, and the blue sky was all around us. There were ice crystals in the air, and from the top of the ski lift, I took these pictures."

A halo effect is a light phenomenon appearing as a ring around the sun or more suns on the sky. It happens when the light is shining through ice crystals in the air.

"For a halo to be formed, ice crystals must have clean geometric shapes. This is because the light will be spread and reflected in the same direction. If ice crystals are shaped unevenly, we get an irregular distribution and we get an even haze instead of a halo," SVT meteorologist Åsa Rasmussen explained.

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Bizarre cloud formation seen over Michoacán, Mexico

© Via YouTube/Quadratin Noticias TV
Odd-shaped clouds have sparked a social media storm in Mexico where weird formations in the have left people confused.

A cloud, shaped like the arm and hand of a giant, was spotted in the town of Uruapan in the western Mexican state of Michoacan - and had residents debating whether it was a sign from above.

One, named 'Anastacisa', wrote: 'This looks like a palm of a hand stretching down with the fingers touching. It is like it is a Holy hand' while another, going by the name 'Orlisz', added: 'There looks like there is a Holy light shining on it, like a halo.'

Footage shows a man driving along in his car and recording the cloud on what is believed to be a mobile phone.

You can see the grey cloud in the odd shape with an orange light near the middle. Experts have since chimed in to say they believe the phenomenon is a 'vapour mark' which is around a kilometre in length. They added the clouds could be the start of a number of cloud formations.

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Menacing funnel cloud photographed in Rio last night - No tornado, storm or even rain was reported

© Helio C. Vital in Rio.
February 7, 2017 in Rio.
Photos showing a funnel cloud seen around sunset on February 7, 2017, from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. No tornado, storm or even rain was reported.

Helio C. Vital in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil captured these photos last night (February 7, 2017). He wrote:
They show very interesting cloud formations that were part of an approaching storm cell at sunset. The threatening formations included a very interesting funnel cloud and also lenticular clouds

The photos were taken with my Canon PowerShot SX60 HS at high zoom amplifications and low ISO (100-250). Post-processing was either 5 to 1 or 3 to 1 stacking and the resulting image had its contrast improved with PhotoScape in order to make the structure of clouds over Rio more easily noticeable.

In spite of the menacing appearance of the clouds no tornado, storm or even rain was reported.
Thank you, Helio!
© Helio C. Vital in Rio


Rare 'fire rainbow' spotted in skies over Humberston, UK

A rare "fire rainbow" was spotted in the sky over Humberston.

Formally known as a circumhorizontal arc or circumhorizon arc (CHA), it appeared horizontal in the sky, rather than making an arc towards the earth.

Spotted at lunchtime yesterday, the person who took it said she spotted it high up in the sky - and only just managed to capture what was left of it on her phone camera as it disappeared.

"I've never seen one like it before as it was horizontal rather than vertical and was a lot clearer before I managed to take a photograph," she said. Not wishing to be named, she said she had to tip her head right back to see it. "I just wish I had been able to get it on camera before it disappeared."


7500-year-old solar event recorded in tree rings

© Nagoya University
Figure: Picture of the bristlecone pine forest in California, the United States where the bristlecone pine sample for this study used to live (taken by Prof. A.J.T. Jull). In this forest, there are many living old trees exceed 1000 years old. Harsh environments make bristlecone pines very dense and long lives.
An international team led by researchers at Nagoya University, along with US and Swiss colleagues, has identified a new type of solar event and dated it to the year 5480 BC; they did this by measuring carbon-14 levels in tree rings, which reflect the effects of cosmic radiation on the atmosphere at the time. They have also proposed causes of this event, thereby extending knowledge of how the sun behaves.

When the activity of the sun changes, it has direct effects on the earth. For example, when the sun is relatively inactive, the amount of a type of carbon called carbon-14 increases in the earth's atmosphere. Because carbon in the air is absorbed by trees, carbon-14 levels in tree rings actually reflect solar activity and unusual solar events in the past. The team took advantage of such a phenomenon by analyzing a specimen from a bristlecone pine tree, a species that can live for thousands of years, to look back deep into the history of the sun.

"We measured the 14C levels in the pine sample at three different laboratories in Japan, the US, and Switzerland, to ensure the reliability of our results," A. J. Timothy Jull of the University of Arizona says. "We found a change in 14C that was more abrupt than any found previously, except for cosmic ray events in AD 775 and AD 994, and our use of annual data rather than data for each decade allowed us to pinpoint exactly when this occurred."


Strange sky sounds: Metallic, groaning, trumpet-like noises heard worldwide in 2016

© Unknown
From as far back as 2008, video recordings of strange and eerie sounds have been appearing on the internet. They occasionally garner a mention in the media but are generally ignored or explained away as a 'hoax', the result of "secret government weapons", the "activation of HAARP" or "HAARP-like technologies", the by-product of "top secret construction work on underground bases", or "aliens", etc., etc.

Variously described as groaning, metallic, clashing, clanging and trumpet-like, these (usually loud and pronounced) noises seem to come from the sky but generally reverberate in such a way that listeners are unable to make out from which general direction they come.

These 'strange sky sounds' have been observed all over the globe and first really caught the public's attention in 2011, when a spate of events sparked such widespread interest that significant effort was made to discredit the phenomenon through the dissemination of fake recordings.

Some, certainly, are hoaxes. That's human nature; we mock that which we do not understand. But the sheer proliferation of 'strange sound events' in recent years, the similarities (with minor differences) between them, and the diversity of the locations they've been recorded in (sometimes more than once), speaks to there being a global reality to this phenomenon. In the course of tracking and reporting these events on SOTT, we've noticed that they tend to come in waves; there can be 'silence' for some time, then 4 or 5 'strange sounds' events occur in disparate locations (perhaps within the same region or continent) in the time span of a week or fortnight. And, as best we can tell, this trend seems to be increasing.

Here is our 'best of' strange sounds summary video, comprising some events from around the world in 2016. Please excuse the occasional foul language - muting or otherwise distorting it would have interfered with the strange sounds themselves. Besides, hearing them curse and swear, you get a real sense of the observers' astonishment!