Fireball 2

Best of the Web: Bright meteor fireball illuminates night sky over Spain and Portugal on May 18

Meteor Fireball
Lately we have been having a lot of meteor activity over the Iberian Peninsula, a phenomenon that causes great expectation.

As you will remember, on March 29 we had two bolides over the eastern part of Spain, which generated many comments.

Tonight, around 0:46 CET (23:46 Lisbon time), a bright fireball has illuminated the skies of Spain and Portugal. According to the Civil Protection of Portugal, the meteor would have fallen in the village of Pereira, in Castro Daire, northern Portugal, 60 km southwest of Porto. Portugal declared an alert and mobilized its firefighters in case there was any information.

Here we can see an impressive video recorded by @rvbzzx in Lisbon and slowed down by @jpunto88_ to make it look better:

Comment: Other videos:


Airbursts: An underappreciated hazard

A paper published in March of 2021 in the journal Science Advances reports on the discovery of evidence for a large airburst type impact within the SØr Rondane Mountains, Queen Maud Land, East Antarctica. The report bears the names of a 15-member international team that did the research. The lead author was M. Van Ginneken with the Belgian Geological Survey. In the first sentence of the abstract to the article the authors support something I have been saying for literally decades: "Large airbursts, the most frequent hazardous impact events, are estimated to occur orders of magnitude more frequently than crater-forming impacts."

This fact is confirmed simply because airbursts don't leave impact craters. In this case the fingerprints of the event took the form of condensation spherules resulting from "a touchdown event, in which a projectile vapor jet interacts with the Antarctic ice sheet." The authors go on to explain that "Finding evidence of these low-altitude meteoritic events thus remains critical to understanding the impact history of Earth and estimating hazardous effects of asteroid impacts." They further report that "In recent years, meteoritic ablation debris resulting from airburst events have been found in three different locations of Antarctica. The material . . . all appears to have been produced during a Tunguska-like airburst event 480 thousand years (ka) ago."

With respect to their research, they say: "Here, we present the discovery of extraterrestrial particles formed during a significantly larger event recovered on . . . Queen Maud Land, East Antarctica. The characteristic features of the recovered particles attest to an unusual type of touchdown event, intermediate between an airburst and a crater-forming impact, during which the high-velocity vapor jet produced by the total disruption of an asteroid reached the Antarctic ice sheet." This event was estimated by the team to have occurred about 430 thousand years ago.

The authors provide some critical perspective on the effects of these type of impacts:

"The impact hazards resulting form the atmospheric entry of an asteroid that are currently being addressed by impact mitigation programs depend mainly on whether the impactor reaches the ground or is entirely disrupted in the atmosphere (i.e., airburst). For small-to medium-sized impactors (50- to 150-m diameter) producing airbursts, the main hazard is limited to blast effects resulting in strong overpressures over areas of up to 100,000 km2 wide. [38,600 sq miles] Thermal radiation may also result in fires over an area of 10 to 1000 km2 wide. . . . in addition to shockwaves and thermal radiation covering the aforementioned areas, these events are potentially destructive over a large area, corresponding to the area of interaction between the hot jet and the ground. The authors point out that such an event over Antarctica would inject ice crystals and impact dust into the upper atmosphere but would not directly affect human activity. However, they explain that "if a touchdown impact event takes place above a densely populated area, this would result in millions of casualties and severe damages over distances of up to hundreds of kilometers."

Now comes a new report in Earth and Planetary Science Letters on the discovery of evidence for yet another airburst event over Antarctica. The 11-member team responsible for the report is comprised of geologists, astrophysicists, and archaeologists from the U.S., the United Kingdom, Belgium, Russia, Japan, France and Italy.

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The 'Devil Comet' is now a naked eye object

Suddenly, amateur astronomers are seeing a naked-eye comet in the evening sky. It's Comet 12P/Pons-Brooks, also known as the 'devil comet'. Waiting for next Monday's solar eclipse in Mexico, Petr Horálek photographed the comet last night and found it much brighter than the last time he saw it:

Devil Comet
© Petr Horálek/Institute of Physics in OpavaTaken by Petr Horálek/Institute of Physics in Opava on April 4, 2024 @ Veľká Lomnica, Slovakia; Monterrey, Mexico
"I assume an outburst is in progress," says Horálek. "My estimate of the comet's magnitude is +3.5. Definitely worth taking a look in the next hours and days."

Indeed, now is a good time to look. After sunset, the comet emerges in the western sky not far from the planet Jupiter. Naked-eye observers will see a dim fuzzball. Cameras and small telescopes reveal the comet's magnificent tail.

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The comet strike theory that just won't die

Mainstream science has done its best to debunk the notion, but a belief in a world-changing series of prehistoric impacts continues to gain momentum.
Comet Impact
© Photo illustration by Ricardo Tomás
In 2007, a group of researchers, led by a nuclear physicist named Richard Firestone, announced an astonishing discovery. They had uncovered evidence, they said, that 12,900 years ago, a comet — or possibly a whole fleet of comets — struck Earth and changed the course of history. For the preceding two and a half million years, through the Pleistocene Epoch, the planet's climate fluctuated between frozen stretches, called glacials, and warm interglacials. At that time, Earth was warming again, and the ice sheets that covered much of North America, Europe and Asia were in retreat. Mammoths, steppe bison, wild horses and other enormous mammals still wandered the Americas, pursued by bands of humans wielding spears with fluted stone blades. Suddenly, somewhere over the Upper Midwest — an explosion.

Presenting their claim in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a top scientific journal, the researchers took the sober tone characteristic of such publications. But in The Cycle of Cosmic Catastrophes, a book published around the same time, two of the researchers described the scene more vividly. The impact caused the ground to shake and the sky to glow, they wrote. A hail of tiny molten particles sank into flesh and set forests ablaze. Soot blotted out the sun. Earth's magnetic field wavered, and living things were bombarded by cosmic rays, confounding the navigational senses of turtles and porpoises, which beached themselves en masse. Addled birds plummeted from the sky.

Most disastrous of all, the impact shattered the ice dam holding back Lake Agassiz, a vast expanse of glacial meltwater that stretched across Manitoba, Ontario, Saskatchewan, Wisconsin and Minnesota. The lake cascaded into the Atlantic Ocean, where the freshwater pooled over the denser seawater, disrupting the convection current carrying warm water north from the tropics. The Northern Hemisphere plunged back into full-glacial cold.

For decades, scientists had puzzled over the cause of this rapid climatic reversal, which they marked by, among other things, the reappearance in southerly fossil deposits of tundra plants. These included the wildflower Dryas integrifolia, which gives the 1,200-year time span its name: the Younger Dryas. Here was an explanation: The impact caused the sudden cooling, the Firestone team argued, and contributed to the demise of the mammoths, steppe bison and other large Pleistocene mammals, along with the people who pursued them.

Fireball 3

Meteor fireball over northern parts of the Netherlands on March 2

fireball NL
© Jan-Age de BoerA bright fireball streaked across the evening sky above the Netherlands on Saturday March 2nd.
On Saturday evening, March 2nd, a meteor/fireballl with a bright orange/white color was seen by many Dutch residents in the northern Dutch province of Friesland and the Wadden Islands.

The meteor/fireball was captured at 19:39:14 PM CET by Jan-Age de Boer in Friesland, near the Dutch village of Munnekezijl.


Large ingenous events, cosmic impacts and crises in the history of life

© Randall Carlson Newsletter - March 2024
Last month, in the February 2024 issue of the Kosmographia Newsletter I reported on new research correlating a series of large-scale igneous events which produced the Central Atlantic Magmatic Province (CAMP) and the Siberian Traps with mass extinction episodes. On February 8 another paper was published in the journal Global and Planetary Change which further supports correlations between mass extinction episodes with gigantic volcanic eruptions and catastrophic cosmic impacts. The lead author of the paper is Michael Rampino, who has for decades been in the forefront of researching catastrophic events in Earth history. I have been following his work since the early 1980s and hold him in high regard as a scientist who is willing to think outside established paradigms of Earth history. The abstract to the paper begins:

"We find that Large Igneous Province (LIP) volcanism, mostly continental flood basalts (CFBs), along with the largest extraterrestrial impacts show significant correlations with mass-extinction events in the Phanerozoic geologic record. The ages of the 6 major marine mass extinctions (≥ 40% extinction of genera) of the last 541 MY ̶ the end-Ordovician (~444 Ma), late Devonian (~ 372 Ma), end-Guadalupian (~259 Ma), end-Permian (~ 252 Ma), end-Triassic (~201 Ma), and end-Cretaceous (66 Ma) extinctions are significantly correlated with high-quality U — Pb zircon and 40Ar/39Ar ages of 6 continental flood basalts (CFBs) ̶ the Cape St. Mary's, Viluy, Emeishan, Siberian, CAMP, and the Deccan Basalts.

U — Pb zircon dating (Uranium-lead) is a widely used method for dating metamorphic rocks typically employing a thermal ionization mass spectrometer. Zircon is used because it includes uranium and thorium atoms in its crystalline structure when forming but rejects lead, so any lead found in a zircon crystal is radiogenic, meaning it results from radioactive decay. Argon dating can measure Argon isotopes from a single mineral grain. The ratio of Argon 40 to Argon 39 yields the age of the sample.

The extinctions listed above are considered to be major events in the history of life on Earth. A number of less severe extinctions have taken place, although these events are somewhat more difficult to discern in the geologic/palaeontologic record. Nevertheless, a correlation can be discerned between these extinctions and both volcanic eruptions and cosmic impact.


Meteor fireball reported over Japan on January 15

Fireball over Japan
Reports suggest that what appeared to be a flashy object traveling at breakneck speed over Japanese skies could be a meteorite after residents heard a loud explosion a few minutes after its passage.

Social media chatter among Japanese users is currently focused on the sighting of a luminous "fireball" that dashed across the sky on Monday morning. The celestial spectacle was observed primarily in Japan's eastern and northeastern regions, according to media reports.

Daichi Fujii, the curator of the local history museum in Hiratsuka, Kanagawa, was among the first to provide an account of the event. He posted the footage of the speeding object in the sky on his X social media page. Fujii noted that the clip was recorded on camera at his home in Hiratsuka and another in the neighboring Shizuoka Prefecture.

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New genes found that can arise 'from nothing'

DNA replication 1
© Ari LöytynojaResearchers studied an error mechanism in DNA replication, and noticed that some errors create palindromes that can fold into hairpin structures.
The complexity of living organisms is encoded within their genes, but where do these genes come from? Researchers at the University of Helsinki resolved outstanding questions around the origin of small regulatory genes, and described a mechanism that creates their DNA palindromes. Under suitable circumstances, these palindromes evolve into microRNA genes.

The human genome contains ca. 20,000 genes that are used for the construction of proteins. Actions of these classical genes are coordinated by thousands of regulatory genes, the smallest of which encode microRNA molecules that are 22 base pairs in length. While the number of genes remains relatively constant, occasionally, new genes emerge during evolution. Similar to the genesis of biological life, the origin of new genes has continued to fascinate scientists.

All RNA molecules require palindromic runs of bases that lock the molecule into its functional conformation. Importantly, the chances of random base mutations gradually forming such palindromic runs are extremely small, even for the simple microRNA genes.

Hence, the origin of these palindromic sequences has puzzled researchers. Experts at the Institute of Biotechnology, University of Helsinki, Finland, resolved this mystery, describing a mechanism that can instantaneously generate complete DNA palindromes and thus create new microRNA genes from previously noncoding DNA sequences.

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The Geminids are still a mystery

Above: Geminids over the Czech Republic in 2018.
© Petr HorálekAbove: Geminids over the Czech Republic in 2018.
Every great mystery novel has an unexpected twist. Apparently the same is true of meteor showers.

A paper published in the Planetary Science Journal reports a surprising new twist in the mystery of the Geminids, a strong annual meteor shower that has puzzled astronomers for more than a century.

"Our work has upended years of belief about 3200 Phaethon, the source of the Geminids," says co-author Karl Battams of the Naval Research Lab. "It's not what we thought it was."

The Geminids peak every year in mid-December, scattering hundreds of bright meteors across northern winter skies. Numerically it is the best meteor shower of the year.

As meteor showers go, Geminids are newcomers. They first appeared in the mid-1800s when an unknown stream of debris crossed Earth's orbit. Surprised, 19th century astronomers scoured the sky for the parent comet, but they found nothing. The search would continue for another 100 years.

Enter NASA. In 1983, the space agency's Infrared Astronomical Satellite (IRAS) found an object now called "3200 Phaethon." It was definitely the source of the Geminids. The orbit of 3200 Phaethon was such a close match to that of the Geminid debris stream, no other conclusion was possible. Yet here was a puzzler: 3200 Phaethon appeared to be a rocky asteroid.

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Best of the Web: Comets may have caused Earth's great empires to fall

Triumph Death Pieter Bruegel Elder
'The Triumph of Death', by Pieter Bruegel the Elder
Recent scientific discoveries are shedding new light on why great empires such as Egypt, Babylon and Rome fell apart, giving way to the periodic "dark ages'' that punctuate human history.

At least five times during the last 6,000 years, major environmental calamities undermined civilizations around the world. Some researchers say these disasters appear to be linked to collisions with comets or fragments of comets such as the one that broke apart and smashed spectacularly into Jupiter five years ago.

The impacts, yielding many megatons of explosive energy, produced vast clouds of smoke and dust that circled the globe for years, dimming the sun, driving down temperatures and sowing hunger, disease and death.

The last such global crisis occurred between A.D. 530 and 540 - at the beginning of the Dark Ages in Europe - when Earth was pummeled by a swarm of cosmic debris.