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Mon, 18 Feb 2019
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Strange Skies


Ice cores could solve cosmic ray mystery

An ice core from Greenland
© Eden, Janine and Jim, Flickr
An ice core from Greenland.
New evidence confirms that an influx of cosmic rays struck the entire planet around 994 CE-and it might solve the mystery of the event's origin.

Ice cores and tree rings around the world show mysterious increases in the concentrations of certain elements around 994 CE. The newest evidence originates in Antarctic ice, validating the prior observations and suggesting that the cosmic rays came from the Sun.

The Japanese scientists behind the new research analysed ice cores from Greenland as well as from two locations in Antarctica. They looked specifically at the concentration of beryllium-10, a radioactive but long-lived form of beryllium with one more neutron than the most common beryllium atoms. This element is typically produced when high-energy particles from space called cosmic rays strike certain atmospheric atoms, like oxygen. Ice cores can store a record of these atoms and their concentrations over time in layers, kind of like tree rings.

The researchers found a 50 per cent increase in the concentration of beryllium-10 in the Antarctic ice cores around 992 CE, according to the paper published recently in Geophysical Research Letters. They point out that there isn't much data elsewhere on the beryllium-10 concentrations, likely because the signal is so small that it could be hard to pick out of background noise or other terrestrial processes that could form beryllium-10.

Ornament - Blue

Stunning electric-blue noctilucent clouds blanket Antarctica

NLCs in Antarctica
© Jorgelina Alvarez
NASA's AIM spacecraft is monitoring a 3000-mile wide ring of electric-blue clouds circling high above Antarctica.

These are noctilucent clouds (NLCs), made of frosted "meteor smoke" glowing in the mesosphere 83 km above the frozen continent.

A four week time-lapse video shows their development since late November.

Solar Flares

Nemesis - Our Sun's missing death star companion

© Ancient Origins
The great issue facing the binary theory today is, well, the absence of an obvious candidate for the part. In the visible realm, we do not appear to have any stars near enough that fit the bill, according to our current understanding of physics (Newton's Laws place physical restrictions on distance calculations). Although it's a long shot, the existence of a visible companion to our Sun could still be possible under circumstances we will investigate later.

We have seen that the idea of a binary, while controversial, is not a new one. References to it in ancient writings and belief systems are there, though largely ignored by researchers and historians. With the majority of stars in the universe (all 1 % of it) being attached to binary or multiple star systems, the obvious question is, why wouldn't our own Sun have a partner star as well? Statistically, it's not at all likely that our Sun would be a loner. To many astronomers, though, the binary idea is an annoyance that just won't die. They may ignore or disagree with the theory, but at the same time can't disprove it.


Nemesis - The Sun's Evil Twin Brother

Nemesis - The Sun's long-lost twin

The Death of Nemesis: The Sun's Distant, Dark Companion

Getting WISE About Nemesis

Nemesis: Does the Sun Have a 'Companion'?

Study: Our sun probably has an evil twin called Nemesis

Sott Exclusive: Nemesis, not 'Nibiru' - Clarifying mainstream reports about 'a large ninth planet' that periodically sends comets our way


A big space crash likely made Uranus lopsided

Uranus Struck by Object
© Jacob A. Kegerreis/Durham University via AP
This image made from video provided by Durham University astronomy researcher Jacob Kegerreis shows a computer simulation generated by the open-source code SWIFT that depicts an object crashing into the planet Uranus. Kegerreis says the detailed simulations show that the collision and reshaping of Uranus 3 billion to 4 billion years ago likely caused the massive planet to tilt about 90 degrees on its side.
Washington - Uranus is a lopsided oddity, the only planet to spin on its side. Scientists now think they know how it got that way: It was pushed over by a rock at least twice as big as Earth.

Detailed computer simulations show that an enormous rock crashed into the seventh planet from the sun, said Durham University astronomy researcher Jacob Kegerreis, who presented his analysis at a large earth and space science conference this month.

Uranus is unique in the solar system. The massive planet tilts about 90 degrees on its side, as do its five largest moons. Its magnetic field is also lopsided and doesn't go out the poles like ours does, said NASA chief scientist Jim Green. It also is the only planet that doesn't have its interior heat escape from the core. It has rings like Saturn, albeit faint ones.

"It's very strange," said Carnegie Institution planetary scientist Scott Sheppard, who wasn't part of the research.

The computer simulations show that the collision and reshaping of Uranus - maybe enveloping some or all of the rock that hit it - happened in a matter of hours, Kegerreis said. He produced an animation showing the violent crash and its aftermath.


China and Russia jointly conducted ionospheric experiments

China and Russia have jointly conducted a controversial series of experiments to modify Earth's atmosphere with high-frequency radio waves.

From a Russian installation called the Sura Ionospheric Heating Facility near the town of Vasilsursk, east of Moscow, scientists emitted high-frequency radio waves to manipulate the ionosphere, while the China Seismo‐Electromagnetic Satellite (CSES) measured the effects on plasma disturbance from orbit.

It's not the first time research like this has been conducted, but news of the China-Russia developments - conveyed via a published paper on the experiments, and a recent article in the South China Morning Post - has ignited concerns over the potential military applications of this kind of science.

That's because the ionosphere, and the ionised gas (plasma) that inhabits it, is crucial to radio communication. By selectively disturbing the charged particles that make up this part of the upper atmosphere, scientists or even governments could theoretically boost or block long-range radio signals.

Even these preliminary experiments - conducted in June, and ostensibly designed as a test-case for future related ionosphere research - had extreme effects.


Rare light pillars captured in Wisconsin

Amazing light pillars appear over Beloit, Wisconsin
© Tom Purdy
Amazing light pillars appear over Beloit, Wisconsin.
A rare phenomenon called light pillars were seen beaming up to the night's sky in Beloit, Wisconsin, on Sunday evening.

The National Weather Service (NWS) reported over five hours of freezing fog in that area, which create the perfect conditions for light pillars.

Light pillars are an optical phenomenon caused when light is refracted by ice crystals. These lights tend to take on the color of the light source.

"They appear as beams of light to the observer. It is usually caused by street lights. However, any source of light can create a light pillar given proper conditions," AccuWeather Meteorologist David Samuhel said.

For ice crystals to form, the conditions need to be extremely calm and cold, without wind. For the light pillars to show, the ice crystals need to be near the ground.

"Typically, ice crystals are small enough to remain suspended in the air and only form when temperatures are below zero [F]," Samuhel said. "In most instances, temperatures are minus 10 to 20 degrees or colder."

Comment: Clearly our atmosphere is showing signs of serious change - evidently it's becoming colder:


Earth's magnetic field may be headed for a cataclysm says latest French study

Earth's Magnetic Field
© NASA Goddard – CC BY 2.0
We've reported on Earth's magnetic field before, including studies claiming that the planet's poles may reverse at any time and studies saying that Earth is probably not headed for a polar reversal at all. At the heart of these studies is the undeniable, millennia-old weakening trend in the planet's magnetic field, which, depending on your point of view, is either a temporary phenomenon that will eventually reverse itself (as it has in the past), or the harbinger of a cataclysmic breakdown of the Earth's entire magnetic shield and a subsequent flip of the magnetic poles.

The most recent study from the EDIFICE project, a geophysical research initiative based in France, claims we're headed for a cataclysm. According to Dr. Nicolas Thouveny, one of the principal investigators for EDIFICE: "The geomagnetic field has been decaying for the last 3,000 years. If it continues to fall down at this rate, in less than one millennium we will be in a critical (period)."


Supernovae may have killed off large animals at dawn of Pleistocene

A nearby supernova remnant
A nearby supernova remnant.
Lawrence - About 2.6 million years ago, an oddly bright light arrived in the prehistoric sky and lingered there for weeks or months. It was a supernova some 150 light years away from Earth. Within a few hundred years, long after the strange light in the sky had dwindled, a tsunami of cosmic energy from that same shattering star explosion could have reached our planet and pummeled the atmosphere, touching off climate change and triggering mass extinctions of large ocean animals, including a shark species that was the size of a school bus.

The effects of such a supernova - and possibly more than one - on large ocean life are detailed in a paper just published in Astrobiology.

"I've been doing research like this for about 15 years, and always in the past it's been based on what we know generally about the universe - that these supernovae should have affected Earth at some time or another," said lead author Adrian Melott, professor emeritus of physics & astronomy at the University of Kansas. "This time, it's different. We have evidence of nearby events at a specific time. We know about how far away they were, so we can actually compute how that would have affected the Earth and compare it to what we know about what happened at that time - it's much more specific."

Melott said recent papers revealing ancient seabed deposits of iron-60 isotopes provided the "slam-dunk" evidence of the timing and distance of supernovae.

"As far back as the mid-1990s, people said, 'Hey, look for iron-60. It's a telltale because there's no other way for it to get to Earth but from a supernova.' Because iron-60 is radioactive, if it was formed with the Earth it would be long gone by now. So, it had to have been rained down on us. There's some debate about whether there was only one supernova really nearby or a whole chain of them. I kind of favor a combo of the two - a big chain with one that was unusually powerful and close. If you look at iron-60 residue, there's a huge spike 2.6 million years ago, but there's excess scattered clear back 10 million years."

Melott's co-authors were Franciole Marinho of Universidade Federal de São Carlos in Brazil and Laura Paulucci of Universidade Federal do ABC, also in Brazil.


Rare for Alabama: a 22º sun halo at ground level!

You don't see this every day on Sand Mountain! Sure, we get halos, sundogs, and arcs in the sky on a weekly basis, but we rarely see them at ground level here in Alabama. This 22º halo from Peggy Ponds in Albertville on Tuesday, December 11th is quite a find.
22º halo in AL
Why so rare?

Halos, sundogs, and arcs form when sunlight is refracted through ice crystals. Those crystals are hexagonal plates that look something like this:
Ice crystals diagram
As the sunlight bends into the spectrum upon exit from the plate, it shows off the optical phenomenon we see as a ring around the Sun or Moon.

On Tuesday, we had freezing fog that was precipitating out small ice crystals that were shaped like this. The closest description I can find to what we observed is from the Arctic and Antarctic: diamond dust.


Inverted rainbow, sun dog seen in the skies of Yakeshi, Inner Mongolia

Inverted rainbow, sun dog over Mongolia
A huge halo around the sun, known as a sun dog, appeared in the sky in Yakeshi, Inner Mongolia, on December 6, along with an inverted rainbow on top.

The extremely rare sighting attracted crowds.