17 April 2007

January - February 2006

European craft snaps a 16-mile crater on Mars

London Times

6 Jan 2006

Images of a 16-mile (26km) crater on the southeastern surface of Mars, captured by an orbiting spacecraft, have been released by scientists.

The European Space Agency?s Mars Express orbiter took the photographs of the elliptical impact crater, right, as it passed over the Hesperia Planum region of the planet.

The image was captured in May 2004 using a high-resolution stereo camera, during the spacecraft ?s 368th orbit of the planet. The mission was launched in June 2003.

Scientists said that the crater had probably been caused by a collision with debris. Mars Express was the first European spacecraft to be sent to the planet. Data collected from it is transmitted to a station near Perth, Australia, and sent on to the European Space Operations Centre in Darmstadt, Germany.

Posted on SOTT 7-8 Jan 06

Doom from the sky

Rutland Herald

January 4, 2006

People laugh about the story of Chicken Little who cries out that the sky is falling. But a group of astronomers has warned that something like that may very well happen before this half-century is out. They have discovered an asteroid nearly a quarter-mile wide that they think might slam into the earth 30 years from now and are urging immediate action by governments around the world to start planning programs to avert that happening.

The group is made up of people who are experts in near-Earth objects, for which they make the acronym NEO. They had a conference in London recently and compared notes on their findings.

The asteroid in question was identified in 2004 and studied in 2005 for its trajectory. At first they were scared enough to believe that it could hit the earth in 2029. Then they did some more fine-tuning of their computer data and decided that it would come close to the earth in 2029, but wouldn't be on a possible collision course until 2036.

They're worried. As one of the conferees said: "It's question of when ? not if ? a near-Earth object collides with Earth."

The conference pointed out that the geologic record shows that an object a half-mile or more in width has collided with the earth every few hundred thousand years. An object three miles wide, which could cause mass extinction, has hit the earth every hundred million years.

Given the geologic record of the last time something like that happened, one scientist at the conference said: "We are overdue for a big one." [...]

Crystal ball for 2006 sees giant asteroid crash (or not)

Sat Dec 31, 3:11 AM ET

PARIS - In 2006, Arnold Schwarzenegger will be re-elected governor of California, Internet giant Google will suffer a setback -- and Brazil will hang on to the World Cup.

If Earth doesn't get wiped out by a giant comet first, that is.

Maybe it will all come true and maybe not, but a legion of soothsayers -- from business gurus to Bible decoders -- is full of predictions for the year to come.

Some use elaborate computer programs like "Torah4U" to ferret out remarkably precise predictions allegedly hidden within the Hebrew text of the Old Testament and the Torah.

One Website complete with diagrammed excerpts from Holy scripture, exodus2006.com, foresees the November re-election of Schwarzenegger along with the re-establishment of a military draft in the United States.

It also predicts that August 3, 2006 will be a blood-drenched day -- yet just a mere shadow of the calamity that will befall us in 2010.

Annie Stanton, one of countless psychics plying her trade on the Internet, predicts that catastrophe will come this year in the form of a massive asteroid crashing into the planet. [...]

Comment: Anyone can make predictions. Not everyone collects data to demonstrate that the incidences of meteorites and other NEOs visiting the planet have been increasing recently. In any case, it is clear that the idea of a disaster involving a cosmic body slamming into Earth is being subtly brought to the attention of the masses.

Flashback: More Conditioning?

QFG Member,CM

27 Dec 2005

Being home due to the holidays, I've seen a lot more tv than usual. Has anyone else noticed the increasing references to meteors and asteroids in weird places?

The most blatent one is a commercial for a new variety of garbage bag (Glad) which is more stretchy. It's got a lady emptying her kitchen trash while listening to a tv report of a meteor shower impacting the earth. The next scene is '50s style sci-fi kitsch with the meteors coming down on the earth and being caught in this super-stretchy strong new garbage bag. It then shows this gal taking her trash out to be collected and pulling a chuck of rock off the windshield of a car and putting in the bag. (Nothing to worry about here . . .)

The second weird reference was in a Discovery channel show, which was a "teen science challange". They got these teams of whiz kids together for a sort of science-under-pressure contest. The teams were presented with five types of natural disaster and had to come up with ways of accurately modeling them for study and ways to collect the data. Among the things they had to figure out was how to make a device to cause a wave tank to consistently model a tsunami. The talking head host mentions that tsunamis can be caused by earthquakes, underwater landslides, **asteroid strikes**, and volcanic eruptions.

These were both today. It just seems like there's a general uptick in the mentions of asteroids/meteors lately.

Odd Powder Descends On Cars

NBC5 News

12:14 pm CST January 6, 2006

CHICAGO -- It's not your imagination if you've walked outside and noticed a rusty colored dust sprinkled all over your car.

The strange rusty powder appeared on cars in the Chicago area this week.

Angelo Mavaraganes, who runs a car repair shop on the Northwest Side, said he has seen it on at least 30 cars the last few days.

"One came from Crystal Lake, and one was from Mount Prospect, and another one from Homewood/Flossmor," Mavaraganes said.

The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency sent a field agent to collect evidence of the powder.

"He and myself together, we collected a sample," Mavaraganes said. "We scraped together some, I was able to amass maybe a teaspoon full in a cup, and he took it with him."

Cars at the police parking lot at Belmont and Western have the rusty powder all over them, too.

NBC5's Mary Ann Ahern said a lot of people in Chicago want to know what the stuff is that has fallen all over their cars.

"Where is this coming from? What effects is it going to have on us?" Mavaraganes asked.

Some suggested the rusty powder came with the recent rain, dirt from the southwest part of the U.S. Lab tests will tell more.

A spokesman for the Illinois EPA said the lab results on the mysterious powder should be in early next week.

Posted on SOTT 9 Jan 06

Mystery bang causes alarm in coastal communities



07 January 2006

A Mystery noise, suspected to have been a sonic boom, sent shock waves through communities along a stretch of Aberdeenshire coastline yesterday.

The sound, described as a loud, two-part bang above ground level, shook windows and tiles and prompted several calls to the police.

People in Cove, Portlethen and Stonehaven heard the noise at about 11.25am, variously describing it as like a quarry blast, gas explosion or firework.

But other people, who in some cases were only in the next room, heard nothing. Police are still unsure what caused the sound.

It is thought it may have been a sonic boom, which is the sound made by the shock wave created when an aircraft or missile passes through the sound barrier.

Sonic booms are often heard as a double-bang, which was reported by some people yesterday.

They also tend to cause windows to shatter. But that did not happen yesterday - and the RAF said there were no military aircraft active nearby.

Harry Roulston, 63, of Stonehaven, was on Portlethen golf course when he heard two very loud noises in quick succession.

Comment: Note the persistent claim that it was a sonic boom, even after the RAF said there were no aircraft in the area. Of course, they could be lying and were in fact testing some super-secret military craft, but chances are that this mystery boom, like so many others in recent years, was an overhead meteorite explosion.

Posted on SOTT 10 Jan 06

Astronomers discover the North Star has another companion

Last Updated Mon, 09 Jan 2006 16:28:21 EST

CBC News

Astronomers have discovered that the North Star has a second smaller star next to it. Researchers at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore found the star, which they called Polaris Ab, by using the orbiting Hubble Space Telescope.

"With Hubble, we've pulled the North Star's companion out of the shadows and into the spotlight," said Howard Bond, a member of the research team.

The scientists described Polaris Ab and how they detected it on Monday at the 207th meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Washington, D.C.

While the North Star, also known as Polaris, is a super-giant more than 2,000 times brighter than the sun, its newly discovered second close companion is a dwarf star 3.2 billion kilometres away from it.

The first known companion can be seen with a small telescope. The three-star system is 430 light years away from Earth. A light-year is about 9.5 trillion kilometres, the distance light travels in a year.

By observing the movements of the new companion star, researchers hope to determine the mass of the North Star more accurately.

Knowing the mass is important for astronomers and cosmologists, who rely on measuring differences in the brightness of the North Star to determine the distance of galaxies and the expansion rate of the universe.

Posted on SOTT 11 Jan 06

NTSB Solves Riddle of Small Plane Crash in '02

By Sara Kehaulani Goo

Washington Post

January 11, 2006

The federal government said yesterday that it has solved the three-year-old mystery of a small plane crash in Alabama that, at least initially, appeared to have been the result of an in-flight collision with an unexplained object.

The nighttime crash in October 2002 of the single-engine Cessna cargo plane killed the pilot, the plane's only occupant, and launched UFO and government-conspiracy theories on Web sites, pondering what it might have collided with. Red scuff marks were found on pieces of the wreckage after it was pulled from a swamp.

Some pilots theorized that the Cessna was struck by a stray unmanned drone, many of which are painted red or orange, that are flown by the military at a nearby Air Force base. The investigation so frustrated the dead pilot's sister that she spent weeks combing Big Bateau Bay for clues.

After taking the unusual step of moving the aircraft to Washington and sending the red paint marks to four laboratories for testing, the National Transportation Safety Board concluded that the pilot became disoriented while flying through cloud layers and crashed the plane probably after seeing a large plane coming near him.

Tests from the labs, one at the FBI, found that most of the red-marked pieces were similar to materials inside the cargo plane, including baseball caps, audiotape packaging, a fire extinguisher, a tow bar and a Priority Mail envelope. The Wright Patterson Air Force Laboratory said that red color on the wreckage did not match the polyurethane coating on the exterior of the drone it used from Eglin Air Force Base.

"Wreckage examinations . . . revealed no evidence of an in-flight collision or breakup, or of external contact by a foreign object," the NTSB's report said. The red scuff marks on the wreckage did not appear in a pattern that suggested a collision, the report said.

The safety board's simulation of the accident revealed that the pilot, Thomas J. Preziose, was flying between cloud layers when he was notified of a FedEx DC-10 flying in the area. Even though the DC-10 was 2,400 feet higher and more than a mile away, it probably appeared much closer to the pilot, the report indicated. The pilot's "view of the DC-10 moved diagonally across the windscreen from his left to straight in front of the Cessna while [appearing to triple] in size" in just seconds, the report said.

If a pilot is distracted and does not have a view of the horizon, as in this case, it is easy to become disoriented, said John Clark, head of NTSB's Office of Aviation Safety. "It's quite insidious if you're between layers of clouds; you can get screwed up," he said. "If you start moving your head or moving up and down, you can screw up your inner balance."

Still, a lawyer who said he represents two sons of the pilot, said he does not believe the safety board's conclusion and that he plans to press ahead in federal court with a lawsuit that blames the weather, air traffic control and other factors.

"I don't think the board's got it straight," Tony B. Jobe said. "The plot is thickening."

Posted on SOTT 12 Jan 06

Disaster Planning: Norway builds a 'doomsday vault'

By Steve Connor, Science Editor

12 January 2006

Norway has revealed a plan to build a "doomsday vault" hewn out of an Arctic mountain to store two million crop seeds in the event of a global disaster.

The store is designed to hold all the seeds representing the world's crops and is being built to safeguard future food supplies in the event of widespread environmental collapse.

"If the worst came to the worst, this would allow the world to reconstruct agriculture on this planet," Cary Fowler, the director of the Global Crop Diversity Trust, told New Scientist magazine. The Norwegian government is planning to start work on the seed vault next year when construction engineers will drill into a sandstone mountain on the island of Spitsbergen, part of the Svalbard archipelago, about 600 miles from the North Pole.

Permafrost will keep the vault below freezing point and the seeds will be further protected by metre-thick walls of reinforced concrete, two airlocks and high-security, blast-proof doors. To survive, the seeds need to be frozen. The plan is to replace the air inside the vault each winter, when temperatures on Spitsbergen fall to minus 18C.

"This will be the world's most secure gene bank by some orders of magnitude," said Dr Fowler. "But its seeds will only be used when all other samples have gone for some reason. It is a fail-safe depository, rather than a conventional seed bank." The ?1.67m facility will not be permanently manned but "the mountains are patrolled by polar bears".

The proposal is backed by Norway, which outlined a similar project in the 1980s that was thwarted at the time by the Soviet Union's access to Spitsbergen.

Wera Helstroem, a spokeswoman for Norway's foreign ministry said: "Norway is seen as a good place, because it has a stable society and democracy."

The number of seeds and types of plants would be determined by the countries wishing to use the seed bank, which would be operated as if it were a bank vault, she added. "It is like a bank box. We own the vault, but other countries own what is in it. They can put things in and take them out whenever they want to."

Posted on SOTT 13 Jan 06

(Yet another) Meteor lights up the morning skies

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Mike Vogel/KTVB

BOISEE -- It happened early Thursday morning around 7:15 a.m.

Jacqueline Correnti describes what she the bright meteor she saw in the morning sky.

A very bright meteor lit up the skies and streaked across the horizon.

NewsChannel 7 spoke with several of the people who witnessed it.

We had numerous calls here at the station from people who saw it.

Police dispatch also took several calls, and even one person in the Boise Airport tower saw it.

And though the eyewitness accounts vary slightly, they are all consistent with it being a meteor.

Comment: A post from our Forum:
I?m currently living in a town in Essex, UK

Last night on 11th January 2006 at roughly 19:10hours I witnessed a descending meteoric phenomena which, if I were to hazard a guess, was a small meteor breaking up to the NE of my position.

I?d guess [it was]no more than 3-6miles from my position as the view I had was clear enough to see a glittering trail of sparks and colour descending with it, although there was no impact sound, I didn't really expect any. It was in my view for around 1.5-3 seconds, so I hadn't seen it descend from a great distance and my view was obscured quickly by other houses.

To date in the last - maybe - year or more of watching the skies, this is the sixth or so time I've seen this same type of meteoric phenomena. I think we've been lucky so far as I have yet to have heard any impact. To be quite honest the first 2-3 times I have witnessed this, it really sent a chill down my spine as one of these phenomena occurred in a horizontal position across a small valley on which I live on the high side, and I knew that whatever it was could have been no more than 200-300feet above my head as it was travelling between the land and the thick cloud cover overhead.

I have had my attention drawn to the skies so many times now and seen so many unexplainable occurrences and strange celestial events, I thought I'd start sharing them as and when they occur in future. Ourselves in the future have helped me so much already in understanding what's going on, I felt its time to try and help share the high strangeness I see going on in the world around my locality.

Keep the hard hats handy.

Another reader writes:

After reading several sightings of meteror's on the signs page I thought I would mention what my husband saw last week.

He's been working in Cut Bank, MT and around 7:30, I believe it was Wednesday, he saw what he at first thought was a missile shooting across and down from the sky. If it was a "shooting star", he said he has never seen anything like it in his life. Gave him quite a jolt. He's spent a good deal of his life outdoors camping, hunting, hiking and racing, not to mention being an ex-army ranger.

Thank you for all you efforts.

Posted on SOTT 14-15 Jan 06

MYSTERY SOUND: Was big bang a sonic boom?

Peterborough Today


A MYSTERIOUS big bang which shook a town and villages could have been a sonic boom caused by an aircraft flying too fast, it has been claimed.

People across Spalding and as far as Eye, near Peterborough (Southern England), were left reeling after the boom, which was heard and felt at about 2pm on Thursday, January 12 2006.

Today, January 13, the cause of the noise is unclear, although many suspect it was a sonic boom, caused by a jet breaking through the sound barrier. But nobody can give a definite answer to the questions.

Stuart Green, a spokesman for the Ministry of Defence, said: "There is a channel for military aircraft off the east of England, and, occasionally, pilots go through it too fast.

"RAF pilots go to a lot of trouble not to make sonic bangs, and they don't like it when aircraft from other countries go too fast."

David Galloway, assistant seismologist at the British Geological Survey, said: "We have national and regional monitors which would normally trace something like a sonic boom. But I checked for half an hour either side of the time the noise was reported and nothing came up."

Inspector Dick Holmes, of Lincolnshire police, said: "We received several telephone calls from concerned members of the public. However, we have no idea what was behind the noise."

Although the noise was thought to come from directly over Spalding, it was heard by people living in Thorney and Eye, near Peterborough, and Gedney, near Wisbech.

Liz Fowler, a receptionist at the Castle Manor Leisure Centre in Albion Street, Spalding, said: "It sounded like someone had dropped a weight or pushed a machine over. It was a very loud thud.

"We rushed upstairs to see what had happened, but of course nothing was wrong.

Everyone has been talking about it. Lots of people think it was a sonic boom."

Margaret Dark, of London Road, Spalding, said her house shook under the force. She said: "All the birds flew up in the air. I thought maybe a lorry had crashed."

But Tony Walsh, RAF Wittering spokesman, said: "I have no idea what might have caused it, but it was not us.

"It sounds like a sonic boom, but our harriers don't go fast enough. We have now launched an investigation."

And Miriam Adol, spokeswoman for the Ministry of Defence, added: "As far as I am aware, there was no military activity going on which could have been responsible."

Comment: Would anyone care to offer a theory as to what these booms, that have been regularly heard around the globe in recent years, are? In most cases, they are obviously not sonic booms. So what are they?

Posted on SOTT 16 Jan 06

'Mild' collision spawned Earth's moon

January 2006

NewScientist.com news service

Maggie McKee

The collision that spawned the Earth's moon was relatively mild, reveals the longest and most detailed computer simulation ever done of the impact. The research puts limits on the size and velocity of space rocks that can lead to the formation of satellites in cosmic smash-ups.

Computer models suggest the Moon formed after an object the size of Mars (just over half the diameter of Earth) crashed into Earth about 4.5 billion years ago. Debris from the impact formed a disc around Earth that eventually coalesced to become the Moon.

But modelling the process realistically is extremely difficult, and researchers have tried a variety of approaches. Most have used single particles in the models to represent some larger number of real particles, a method called Smoothed Particle Hydrodynamics (SPH).

But the best of these models use just a few thousand particles in the debris disc, and therefore can not reveal detailed disc structures. As a result, the models can only recreate conditions for less than a day after the impact.

"Extreme" simulations

Now, researchers led by Keiichi Wada at the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan in Tokyo have used another approach to model the disc for about four days. They divided the disc into a three-dimensional grid of boxes ? each with its own properties, such as temperature and density ? and evolved the boxes over time. They ran two "extreme" simulations ? one in which the disc was made mostly of hot gas, and another where it was mostly liquid and solid.

Both simulations behaved similarly for the first 10 hours after the initial impact, with the damaged impactor circling back and hitting Earth a second time, when it is destroyed. This accords with SPH models as well, suggesting gravity is the dominant force in the early formation of the disc.

But the two models begin to diverge after that. If the impactor vaporises when it is destroyed, spiral shock waves are created that slow down the disc's rotation. This allows the disc material to fall onto the Earth and prevents the formation of a moon.

Trouble with models

In contrast, if the impactor produces mostly liquid or solid debris, the shocks cannot slow the disc down enough to make it fall to Earth, and the Moon is formed. The researchers suggest that any impact powerful enough to vaporise the impactor would not form a satellite.

In the case of the Earth, they estimate the Mars-sized object must have been travelling at less than 15 kilometres per second. In more general terms, they conclude that if an impactor is more than a few times the mass of Earth, then "the giant impact never results in forming a large satellite".

Scott Kenyon, an astronomer at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Cambridge, Massachusetts, US, says the conclusion is reasonable. "The gaseous disc would most likely collapse faster than a solid or liquid disc," he told New Scientist.

But he points out that astronomers have long struggled with modelling the viscosity of gas in rotating discs. He says all models have this problem, but that the 3D grid approach may be more vulnerable to it because the viscosity must be chosen by the researchers, and the value selected could affect the timescale over which the disc falls to Earth.

Journal reference: Upcoming issue of the Astrophysical Journal

Posted on SOTT 18 Jan 06

Large Meteorite Found In Western Kansas Field

Kiowa County

Reporter: Deb Farris

January 11- A Kiowa County field again serves as the site of a large meteorite.

Steve Arnold has spent the past two months searching the Kiowa County farmland, and Tuesday his hard work paid off.

The first dig only unearthed a piece of scrap metal. After the second dig Arnold found what he was after-- A large palisite. A meteorite with precious gemstones inside. A collector's dream. "There are some that are more beautiful than others. this one has character that's a bonus, a plus," Arnold said.

Landowner Ron Ross flew back from vacation in Florida to watch Tuesday's dig.

This isn't Arnold's first find on the property. Last fall he found a 1500 pound rock worth more than a million dollars.

The latest find weighs in at 81 pounds. Arnold plans to sell it.

Meteorite Impact Reformulated Earth's Crust, Study Shows

John Roach for National Geographic News

January 12, 2006

About 1.8 billion years ago, a meteorite or comet the size of Mount Everest slammed into what is now Canada.

According to James Mungall, a University of Toronto geologist, the impact turned part of the Earth's crust inside out and dusted the surface with a rare metal.

Mungall and other experts studying impact craters, such as this one in Sudbury, Ontario, hope to understand how a period of continual bombardment about four billion years ago shaped the planet.

Until now researchers had found scant evidence that a meteorite could pierce through Earth's upper crust and alter its compositional makeup.

"Over a few hundred million years when this was going on, there must have been a lot of mixing going on in the upper crust," said Mungall, who studies the Sudbury impact site.

David Kring is a planetary scientist at the University of Arizona in Tucson and an authority on impact craters. He said the findings from Sudbury are similar to those he and his colleagues have reached from studying a crater in Chicxulub, Mexico.

"I don't think it is yet widely appreciated, but impact cratering has the capacity to redistribute the chemical elements in the Earth's crust," Kring said.

As well, Kring adds, an emerging theory in the field of impact crater research is that the largest of these impact events early in Earth's history may have created the conditions needed for the evolution of life.

The impacts, he explains, would have heated water in the Earth's crust and created vast hydrothermal vent systems. Many scientists believe these unusual underwater ecosystems helped give rise to early life.

Researchers assumed volcanic activity mostly created hydrothermal vent systems. "But four billion years ago a dominant source was impact-generated hydrothermal systems," Kling said.

Impact Evidence

The field of impact crater research is just coming into prominence in the scientific community. Mungall says that 15 years ago scientists couldn't even agree that the Sudbury crater resulted from a meteorite impact.

The signs of the impact are vague, because most of the crater has eroded. Geological processes, such as plate tectonics and volcanism, have almost completely eroded Earth's oldest impact craters.

But the Sudbury and Chicxulub craters, along with a third in Vredefort, South Africa, are still visible enough to provide clues to the planet's formative years.

Today the Sudbury impact basin is about 37 miles (60 kilometers) long and 19 miles (30 kilometers) wide. Mungall and his colleagues believe the crater was originally about 155 miles (250 kilometers) in diameter.

Scientists looking for signs of the impact must cover a large area of ground, and much of the evidence they look for is small.

According to Mungall, the most convincing pieces of evidence are shatter cones—coned-shaped fractures in the rock ranging in size from inches to tens of feet across.

"The only way you can get shatter cones is when extremely strong shock waves are passing through material. They don't form any other way," he said. "The only other places you see them on Earth are around nuclear test sites."

Other bits of evidence include microscopic, flaky diamonds formed by the passage of shock waves through carbon-rich rocks. The shock waves also transform tiny mineral crystals into glass.

Explosive Impact

To make the Sudbury impact crater, the meteorite would have to have been about 6 miles (10 kilometers) in diameter traveling at 89,000 miles per hour (143,232 kilometers per hour), Mungall says.

Shock waves from the meteorite as it plunged into Earth likely caused up to 6,500 cubic miles (27,000 cubic kilometers) of crust to melt, he says.

A plume of superheated rock from the deepest part of the 19- to 25-mile-thick (30- to 40-kilometer-thick) crust then flew upward and landed on top of the impact site, essentially turning the crust there inside out, Mungall explains.

Mungall also suggests that the meteorite vaporized on impact. Its components then condensed and rained back down.

This, he says, would account for the increased concentrations of iridium—a rare metal found mainly in the Earth's mantle and in meteorites—he and his colleagues found in the upper layers of the crater's crust.

The Sudbury site also has relatively low concentrations of magnesium and nickel, two elements that are common in Earth's mantle. The researchers therefore concluded that the iridium originated from the meteorite.

According to Kring, of the University of Arizona, events like those at Sudbury 1.8 billion years ago and Chicxulub 65 million years ago were tiny compared to those during the period of heavy bombardment in Earth's formative years.

His calculations suggest there were perhaps as many 40 impact events that produced craters at least 620 miles (1,000 kilometers) in diameter during that time.

"That would have redistributed the chemical elements in Earth's crust to a great extent," he said.

Comment: The question is, could such an even have happened more recently? Say... 12,000 years ago or so?

Posted on SOTT 20-22 Jan 06

Mystery boom rocks local area


19 Jan 06

MOBILE, Ala. - It wasn't an earthquake, but it felt like it to many of you.

What sounded and felt like an intense explosion rocked much of the local area around 2:30 Thursday afternoon, shaking homes and businesses and shaking up a lot of residents.

"I heard a shaking and a rattling,” said Lana Cook, who experienced the boom in her home off Moffet Road. "It was like someone pounding with their fists."

The boom created some scary moments for residents throughout much of the local area, who experienced what sounded and felt like an explosion.

"This was hard, loud and continuous,” Cook added.

Mobile County's Emergency Management Agency says crews were dispatched to check for any type of explosion or industrial accident.

They say they're looking at the incident as most likely a sonic boom whose intensity was amplified by local weather conditions. Chris Norton was at work at a warehouse off Moffett Road when he felt the boom.

“I kind of felt like the walls had expanded,” Norton said. “You could feel the walls and doors sort of blow open. Iit was pretty intense."

For the time being, the exact cause remains unknown. The National Earthquake Information Center in Colorado registered no unusual activity, and officials at Eglin Air Force Base say they had no high-speed flights that would have caused a sonic boom.

No injuries or structural damage was reported after this afternoon's boom.

Posted on SOTT 1 Feb 06

'Meteor' falls on the ground

Unb, Thakurgaon

A 'meteor' from outer space fell with a big bang on a field in Singpara village of sadar upazila yesterday afternoon creating panic and curiosity among people.

No one was reported hurt.

On information Superintendent of Police Khandker Golam Farooq rushed to the spot and asked his companions and villagers to dig the earth near the house of one Fazlur Rahman from where smoke was still emitting.

To their amazement they found a lead-like black material three feet below the earth. Hot and weighing 2.5kg, the triangular material looked like a mortar shell, witnesses said.

The meteor was kept in custody of the Thakurgaon Police Station.

Posted on SOTT 2 Feb 06

Fireball streaks across Calgary sky


February 01, 2006

People looking to the sky Wednesday morning got a special treat. A fireball appeared in the sky south of Calgary just before seven o'clock. It moved quickly from east to west before it burned out. Witnesses say it broke into pieces when it flared out.

Several people have reported the fireball to University of Calgary professor Alan Hildebrand. He's hoping that someone close to where the fireball exploded, saw it, or heard the sonic boom, will call in. That will help locate pieces of the meteorite.

If you saw the fireball, you can report it to the North American Meteor Network.

Mystery over bang which shook district

Published Date: 17 January 2006

Location: Spalding

MYSTERY still surrounds a bang that shook Spalding and the surrounding area.

The noise was heard at 2.19pm on Wednesday. It caused buildings to shake and the ground to vibrate.

But Lincolnshire Police, Lincolnshire Ambulance Service and Lincolnshire Fire and Rescue received no reports of any incidents in the area.

Many people now believe it was a sonic boom, caused when a jet breaks through the sound barrier, but no-one can give a definitive answer and experts say that theory is unlikely.

David Galloway, assistant seismologist at the British Geographical Survey, said their national and regional monitors would normally trace things such as a sonic boom.

He added: "I have checked the system for half an hour either side of the time the noise was reported and absolutely nothing came up."

The "big bang" caused the Lincolnshire Free Press and Spalding Guardian building to shake, while staff at South Holland District Council thought the noise had come from within their building because it was so loud. Press officer Sharon Dabell said: "There is an attic above my head and I thought the noise had come from something heavy being dropped in there."

Pedestrians in Spalding town centre stopped dead on hearing the noise while several cars in the Sheep Market pulled over.

The noise was heard by residents in Gedney, Bourne, Baston and even as far away as Eye, although most believe the source of the noise was directly above Spalding.

The Lincolnshire Free Press received several calls from concerned residents on Wednesday afternoon as people tried to establish what has happened.

Noel Pullford heard the bang and saw the ground shake while walking dogs in Deeping High Bank.

He said: "There was a huge crack of noise and I could see the vibrations come through the trees, which all moved, and then go right across the field.

"I would say it actually began in one spot and spread because there were a lot of sheep in a field that ran away from where they were standing as soon as it happened.

"It is really strange. I did not realise that it had been heard by so many people."

Margaret Dark, of London Road, Spalding, said: "I thought there had been an explosion or crash outside. It is very strange that no-one knows what it was.
"It shook my windows and everyone outside stopped when it happened."
The force of the bang was so great that it turned off the fridges at Sheep Market newsagent Classic News.

A local radio station claimed the noise had been caused by RAF Harrier jets but that theory has been dismissed as the aircraft is incapable of travelling faster than the speed of sound.

While there is a channel for military aircraft to use off the East of England, RAF pilots make every effort not to travel above the speed of sound and try to encourage pilots from other countries to avoid doing so.

Tony Walsh, of RAF Wittering, said: "I have no idea what might have caused it but it was not us."

And a Ministry of Defence spokesman said there was no military activity going on in the area which could have been responsible.

If you believe you know what was responsible for the noise then e-mail rob.jerram@jpress.co.uk

Posted on SOTT 3 Feb 06

Asteroids near Jupiter are really comets Observations indicate two orbiting bodies are mostly water ice

By Ker Than MSNBC Feb. 1, 2006

Two objects lurking near Jupiter and once considered rocky asteroids have turned out to be comets made up mostly of ice and dirt.

Using the Keck II Laser Telescope in Hawaii, astronomers found that the two objects, 617 Patroclus and its companion, Menoetius, had a density of only 0.8 grams per cubic centimeters ? only a third that of rock.

Most likely, the researchers say, Patroclus and Menoetius are comets, which are typically composed mainly of water ice and therefore much less dense than asteroids.

The findings could mean that many or most of asteroidlike objects hovering around Jupiter and known as Trojans are actually comets that originated much farther from the sun and were captured by the giant gas planet when the solar system was still young.

The findings are detailed in Thursday's issue of the journal Nature.

Patroclus and Menoetius are the only known binary objects around Jupiter. The two bodies orbit around each other while floating 465 million miles (750 million kilometers) from Jupiter in one of gas planet?s two so-called Lagrange points. At these points, the gravitational field of Jupiter and the sun are perfectly balanced, and objects can be captured and brought to relative rest. Jupiter has two Lagrange points, one in front and the other behind as the planet orbits the sun.

Patroclus and Menoetius are estimated to be about 76 miles (122 kilometers) and 70 miles (112 kilometers) wide, respectively. The two objects are not the first to be mistaken for asteroids: in 1999, astronomers determined that C/199 J3 was also a comet.

Because most comets are thought to form in the Kuiper Belt, a distant region of the solar system outside the orbit of Neptune, the researchers think Patroclus and Menoetius formed about 650 million years after the formation of the solar system.

?It?s our suspicion that the Trojans are small Kuiper Belt Objects,? said study leader Franck Marchis, an astronomer at the University of California at Berkeley.

According to one hypothesis proposed by the researchers, Jupiter captured the comets at a time when the large gas planets were orbiting much closer to the sun.

During this early period in the solar system, the gas planets were enveloped by billions of large asteroids called planetesimals. It?s thought that interactions with planetesimals caused the large gas planets to migrate outwards to their present positions. As the planets migrated, the swarming planetesimals were tossed around like confetti.

The majority of them would have been hurled into the outer reaches of the solar system to form the Kuiper Belt, while a smaller number would have been captured in the Lagrange points of Jupiter and the other gas planets.

Comment: A couple of things worth considering:

a) acknowledgement that comets are being 'captured' by the giants in our solar system, within the (generally speaking) MSM.

b) what caught my eye was that no mention of *when* these objects were first identified. A quick search led me to this site: List of Jupiter Trojans

Speaking strictly for myself, I had *no idea* that there were so many trojans captured by Jupiter. A quick extract of this table into Excel and some pivotable use leads to the following:

1) there are 1,889 Jupiter trojans listed on the Harvard University site.

2) of these 1,889 trojans, over 72 PERCENT have been identified since 1999.

Now, that doesn't mean that these items weren't there decades ago and were just recently found with some of the new, high powered telescopes being utilized. However, I would suggest that almost 1,400 trojans found since 1999 to be orbiting Jupiter -- some of which are now acknowledged to be captured comets -- is an awfully large number. [John, Signs Forum Member]

Water ice detected on comet's surface

By Ker Than SPACE.com Thursday, February 2, 2006

Scientists have long known that a major ingredient in comets is water ice, but they were unsure whether the ice was contained mainly inside or if it could be found on the surface as well.

A new analysis of data from NASA's Deep Impact mission last year provides the first evidence that water ice can indeed exist on a comet's exterior.

In a new study released Thursday in an online edition of the journal Science, researchers report that the surface of Tempel 1, the comet targeted by Deep Impact, has three small pockets of water ice.

Tempel 1 has a surface area of roughly 45 square miles, or 1.2 billion square feet. The area taken up by the water ice, however, is only 300,000 square feet. The rest of the comet surface is dust.

"It's like a seven-acre skating rink of snowy dirt," said study co-author Peter Schultz of Brown University.

On July 4, 2005, NASA slammed a heavy copper probe called "impactor" into Tempel 1's surface while it was 83 million miles from Earth.

The resulting collision created a stadium-sized crater and flung tons of debris into space. Impactor was one of two Deep Impact spacecrafts; the mothership, responsible for recording and analyzing the blast, was called "flyby".

The researchers believe Tempel 1's surface ice used to reside inside the comet and became exposed over time. It's also thought that occasional geyser-like blasts of dust and vapor, called jets, send the ice outward.

Once ejected, the ice crystals can become incorporated into the luminous coma, a cloud of material surrounding the main body of the comet, or the ice can become part of its tail.

The same team previously reported that Tempel 1's interior also contained an abundance of organic material and suggested the comet may have originated in a region of the solar system now occupied by Uranus and Neptune.



Gazette-Times reporter

Cruttenden argues that the precession is not caused by a wobble in the Earth's rotation, as is commonly taught, but may actually be caused by a companion star to our sun, one which currently is far away from the Earth but which would eventually rotate closer to the sun.

This binary companion would cause the sun's orbit to curve, and would explain the Precession of the Equinox by the way in which the Earth's rotation was affected by not one, but two stars.
We have certain assumptions about the world, ones that are so concrete, so obvious, that we never question them. For instance, the Earth revolves around the sun.

That was established as scientific fact centuries ago. Any kindergartner?s depiction of the world clearly indicates one bright sun hovering over the landscape.

But author Walter Cruttenden would argue that not so long ago, most people assumed that the world was flat, and that at some point we could sail right off the edge, into a land of terrible monsters. And according to Cruttenden, the idea that not one, but two suns, exist in our solar system, actually makes scientific sense.

His research is nothing if not controversial, but in his book "Lost Star of Myth and Time" Cruttenden looks at something called the Precession of the Equinox, which is the gradual backward movement of the constellations in the sky over the centuries.

Ancient astronomers were particularly aware of this phenomenon and calculated that it would take about 24,000 years for the constellations to return to their original point.

Cruttenden argues that the precession is not caused by a wobble in the Earth's rotation, as is commonly taught, but may actually be caused by a companion star to our sun, one which currently is far away from the Earth but which would eventually rotate closer to the sun.

This binary companion would cause the sun's orbit to curve, and would explain the Precession of the Equinox by the way in which the Earth's rotation was affected by not one, but two stars.

In addition to this hypothesis, Cruttenden also compares the 24,000-year cycle of precession with ancient beliefs from many cultures regarding the cyclical pattern of existence, which begins and ends with a Golden Age.

According to the author, civilization is much older than is currently believed, and that the myth of a Golden Age of advancement, both spiritually and technologically, is not a myth at all, but stories of a real time period, and one that the world will eventually achieve again. Currently, he says, we're living in a Bronze Age, and gradually heading toward a period of greater enlightenment.

Cruttenden?s book has been turned into a documentary called "The Great Year," narrated by actor James Earl Jones. The film explores ancient beliefs regarding astronomy, and looks at the idea of civilization moving in cyclical patterns, as well as discussing the mathematics behind the binary star theory. The film will be aired during Cruttenden?s presentation Monday in Corvallis.

Comment: As Laura Knight-Jadczyk writes in The Secret History of the World:

Now, did you notice what these two authors have done here? ...they have resorted to Uniformitarianism to explain the great mystery of this worldwide myth of the ?unhinging? of the Pole star. They, and many, many others, have followed this path, believing that all the clues from ancient monuments and myths have to do simply with measuring time, ?World Ages,? in more or less ?cultural? and historical terms. ... These more recent descriptions of ?ages? directly contradict the ancient ideas of the Yugas and the decline of human morality. ...

I should also point out right here that if the Precession of the Zodiac was such a great way to measure time and world ages, there wouldn?t be so many opinions about when one began and another ended. As a measure of time that is so ?vastly elegant,? it ought to at least work, right? Well, it doesn?t. What is more, the zodiac has been created and altered within recorded history, having at various times ten signs, eleven, twelve and thirteen. So, what?s the point? From this perspective, there isn?t one except for an attempt to deny the possibility that the ancients meant exactly what they said even if later interpreters have assured us that the tales were meant as allegories.

But still, using this Precession as a giant clock, with some fantastic perambulations through archaic lore, a dozen or more authors have produced as many different versions of what a ?world age? is, and ?when? they begin and end, and how. They then try to link these ages to all sorts of weird theories from the opening of ?stargates? to galactic core explosions to ?monuments to the end of time.?

The answer is a lot simpler than that. I think those things that point us to the idea that the pole comes ?unhinged? do, indeed, point to the Precession. But the important thing about this Precession is that it points us to the fact that the Earth WOBBLES. And I think that the thing the ancients are trying most desperately to point out to us in these stories is that the Earth wobbles for a REASON, and we ought to notice this wobble and ask some questions about the ?nine grim goddesses? who ?turn the handle? and where and what that ?handle? might be that increases friction to the point that fire is produced!

In Snorri?s Gylfaginning, there is a prediction for the future given in the Song of the Sybyl, followed by a dialogue between King Gylfi and the Aesir , disguised as men. King Gylfi asks: ?What happens when the whole world has burned up, the gods are dead, and all of mankind is gone? You have said earlier that each human being would go on living in this or that world.? The answer is that there are several worlds for the good and the bad. Then Gylfi asks: ?Shall any gods be alive, and shall there be something of earth and heaven?? And the answer is:

The earth rises up from the sea again, and is green and beautiful and things grow without sowing. Vidar and Vali are alive, for neither the sea nor the flames of Surt have hurt them and they dwell on the Eddyfield, where once stood Asgard. There come also the sons of Thor, Modi, and Magni, and bring along his hammer. There come also Balder and Hoder from the other world. All sit down and converse together. They rehearse their runes and talk of events of old days. Then they find in the grass the golden tablets that the Aesir once played with. Two children of men will also be found safe from the great flames of Surt. Their names, Lif and Lifthrasir, and they feed on the morning dew and from this human pair will come a great population which will fill the earth. And strange to say, the sun, before being devoured by Fenrir, will have borne a daughter, no less beautiful and going the same ways as her mother.

Again, the authors of Hamlet?s Mill take a prosaic view of these matters, pronouncing sagely that it is ?just a metaphor.? And again, I have to disagree. I do not think that the point is to ?measure time,? in the sense of ?world ages? of culture, civilizations, or even ?psychic? or occult influences, except in that they relate to something far more important: WHAT IS CAUSING THE WOBBLE AND WHAT CAN BE THE RESULT? And we have a clear answer in Snorri?s tale: The sun will have borne a daughter - which can only occur via a ?mating? or Hieros Gamos.

In this sense, the ancients might have supposed, and quite rightly, that if we ever noticed this fact, if we were pointed in this direction, if we were plainly told that there is a handle that turns the axis, that this handle gets hot, that the axis of the planet comes unhinged, that it started out spinning upright and then gradually wobbled out of place and finally FALLS OVER INTO THE SEA, that we would be clever enough to get it. The clue they are pointing out to us is that there is something OUT THERE that is the HANDLE and we ought to be able to figure out, by applying principles of physics to celestial mechanics, exactly what it is and what it does. The repeated references to the ?dying and rebirth of the Sun,? in some sort of cosmic hierogamy, and the Sun giving birth to a daughter, or having a Celestial Twin, ought to be pretty plain clues to anybody who is paying attention to these things.

Posted on SOTT 4 Feb 06

Meteor lights Alberta sky

Fri, February 3, 2006


Calgarians woke to a fire in the sky early Wednesday morning.

Alan Hildebrand, co-ordinator of the Canadian Fireball Reporting Centre, said 20 people reported seeing a fireball, an exceptionally bright meteor, streak across the sky just before 7 a.m., lasting for several seconds before breaking up into fragments.

Reports were made from the Calgary area, Medicine Hat, Lethbridge, Pincher Creek and other areas, he said.

"It had to be a bright one for everyone in the Calgary area to see," Hildebrand said.

He estimated remnants of the meteorite landed about 400 km south of Calgary somewhere in Montana about two minutes after it appeared as a ball of fire.

Posted on SOTT 17 Feb 06

Brightest Galactic Flash Ever Detected Hits Earth

By Robert Roy Britt Senior Science Writer

posted: 18 February, 2005

"We have observed an object only 20 kilometers across [12 miles], on the other side of our galaxy, releasing more energy in a tenth of a second than the Sun emits in 100,000 years."

A huge explosion halfway across the galaxy packed so much power it briefly altered Earth's upper atmosphere in December, astronomers said Friday.

No known eruption beyond our solar system has ever appeared as bright upon arrival.

But you could not have seen it, unless you can top the X-ray vision of Superman: In gamma rays, the event equaled the brightness of the full Moon's reflected visible light.

The blast originated about 50,000 light-years away and was detected Dec. 27. A light-year is the distance light travels in a year, about 6 trillion miles (10 trillion kilometers).

The commotion was caused by a special variety of neutron star known as a magnetar. These fast-spinning, compact stellar corpses -- no larger than a big city -- create intense magnetic fields that trigger explosions. The blast was 100 times more powerful than any other similar eruption witnessed, said David Palmer of Los Alamos National Laboratory, one of several researchers around the world who monitored the event with various telescopes.

"Had this happened within 10 light-years of us, it would have severely damaged our atmosphere and possibly have triggered a mass extinction," said Bryan Gaensler of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA).

There are no magnetars close enough to worry about, however, Gaensler and two other astronomers told SPACE.com. But the strength of the tempest has them marveling over the dying star's capabilities while also wondering if major species die-offs in the past might have been triggered by stellar explosions.


The Sun is a middle-aged star about 8 light-minutes from us. Its tantrums, though cosmically pitiful compared to the magnetar explosion, routinely squish Earth's protective magnetic field and alter our atmosphere, lighting up the night sky with colorful lights called aurora.

Solar storms also alter the shape of Earth's ionosphere, a region of the atmosphere 50 miles (80 kilometers) up where gas is so thin that electrons can be stripped from atoms and molecules -- they are ionized -- and roam free for short periods. Fluctuations in solar radiation cause the ionosphere to expand and contract.

"The gamma rays hit the ionosphere and created more ionization, briefly expanding the ionosphere," said Neil Gehrels, lead scientist for NASA's gamma-ray watching Swift observatory.

Gehrels said in an email interview that the effect was similar to a solar-induced disruption but that the effect was "much smaller than a big solar flare."

Still, scientists were surprised that a magnetar so far away could alter the ionosphere.

"That it can reach out and tap us on the shoulder like this, reminds us that we really are linked to the cosmos," said Phil Wilkinson of IPS Australia, that country's space weather service.

"This is a once-in-a-lifetime event," said Rob Fender of Southampton University in the UK. "We have observed an object only 20 kilometers across [12 miles], on the other side of our galaxy, releasing more energy in a tenth of a second than the Sun emits in 100,000 years."

Some researchers have speculated that one or more known mass extinctions hundreds of millions of years ago might have been the result of a similar blast altering Earth's atmosphere. There is no firm data to support the idea, however. But astronomers say the Sun might have been closer to other stars in the past.

A similar blast within 10 light-years of Earth "would destroy the ozone layer," according to a CfA statement, "causing abrupt climate change and mass extinctions due to increased radiation."

The all-clear has been sounded, however.

"None of the known sample [of magnetars] are closer than about 4,000-5,000 light years from us," Gaensler said. "This is a very safe distance."

Cause a mystery

Researchers don't know exactly why the burst was so incredible. The star, named SGR 1806-20, spins once on its axis every 7.5 seconds, and it is surrounded by a magnetic field more powerful than any other object in the universe.

"We may be seeing a massive release of magnetic energy during a 'starquake' on the surface of the object," said Maura McLaughlin of the University of Manchester in the UK.

Another possibility is that the magnetic field more or less snapped in a process scientists call magnetic reconnection.

Gamma rays are the highest form of radiation on the electromagnetic spectrum, which includes X-rays, visible light and radio waves too.

The eruption was also recorded by the National Science Foundation's Very Large Array of radio telescopes, along with other European satellites and telescopes in Australia.

Explosive details

A neutron star is the remnant of a star that was once several times more massive than the Sun. When their nuclear fuel is depleted, they explode as a supernova. The remaining dense core is slightly more massive than the Sun but has a diameter typically no more than 12 miles (20 kilometers).

Millions of neutron stars fill the Milky Way galaxy. A dozen or so are ultra-magnetic neutron stars -- magnetars. The magnetic field around one is about 1,000 trillion gauss, strong enough to strip information from a credit card at a distance halfway to the Moon, scientists say.

Of the known magnetars, four are called soft gamma repeaters, or SGRs, because they flare up randomly and release gamma rays. The flare on SGR 1806-20 unleashed about 10,000 trillion trillion trillion watts of power.

"The next biggest flare ever seen from any soft gamma repeater was peanuts compared to this incredible Dec. 27 event," said Gaensler of the CfA.

Posted on SOTT 24 Feb 06

New kind of space blast seen not far from Earth

By Reuters

February 24, 2006, 5:16 AM PST

A new kind of cosmic explosion has been spotted in Earth's celestial neighborhood, and amateur astronomers in the Northern Hemisphere might be able to see it next week, scientists reported Thursday.

The blast seemed a lot like a gamma ray burst, the most distant and powerful type of explosion known to astronomers.

But when scientists first detected it with NASA's Swift satellite on Feb. 18, the explosion was about 25 times closer and lasted 100 times longer than a typical gamma ray burst.

"This is totally new, totally unexpected," said Neil Gehrels, Swift's principal investigator. "This is the type of unscripted event in our nearby universe that we hoped Swift could catch."

The explosion originated in a star-forming galaxy about 440 million light-years away toward the constellation Aries (the Ram). A light-year is about 6 trillion miles, the distance light travels in a year.

This would be the second-closest gamma ray burst ever detected, if indeed it is one.

The burst lasted for nearly 2,000 seconds, or about 33 minutes, astronomers said in a statement. Most bursts last a few milliseconds to tens of seconds. It also was surprisingly dim.

Scientists at Italy's National Institute for Astrophysics found hints of a budding supernova, or exploding star, when they saw the afterglow from the original explosion grow brighter in optical light.

If it is a supernova, scientists will have an unprecedented view of one from start to finish.

Scientists will attempt observations with the Hubble Space Telescope and Chandra X-ray Observatory. Amateur astronomers in dark skies might be able to see the explosion with a 16-inch (40-centimeter) telescope.

More information and images are available on NASA's Web site.

Comment: This, along with today's story about the new comet that was spotted in January, deserve some discussion. The possible supernova was remarkable for its closeness and duration - lasting 33 seconds. It is located right under the foot of Perseus in the constellation Aries. See here for map.
Fulcanelli, writing in Mystery of the Cathedrals, mentions Aries in this way:

Alchemy is obscure only because it is hidden. The philosophers who wanted to transmit the exposition of their doctrine and the fruit of their labors to posterity took great care not to divulge the art by presenting it under a common form so that the layman could not misuse it. Thus because of the difficulty one has of understanding it, because of the mystery of its enigmas and of the opacity of its parables, the science has come to be shut up among reveries, illusions and chimeras. [ ]
With their confused texts, sprinkled with cabalistic expressions, the books remain the efficient and genuine cause of the gross mistake that we indicate. For, in spite of the warnings... students persisted in reading them according to the meanings that they hold in ordinary language. They do not know that these texts are reserved for initiates, and that it is essential, in order to understand them, to be in possession of their secret key. One must first work at discovering this key.

Most certainly these old treatises contain, if not the entire science, at least its philosophy, its principles, and the art of applying them in conformity with natural laws. But if we are unaware of the hidden meaning of the terms - for example, the meaning of Ares, which is different from Aries - strange qualifications purposely used in the composition of such works, we will understand nothing of them or we will be infallibly led into error.

See it Now: New Comet Brightens Rapidly

By Joe Rao

SPACE.com Skywatching Columnist

posted: 24 February 2006

During the next couple of weeks skywatchers will be turning their attention to a newly discovered comet that has just swept past the Sun and will soon cruise past Earth on its way back out toward the depths of the outer solar system.

Astronomers, who attempt to forecast the future characteristics and behavior of these cosmic vagabonds, have found this new object to be a better-than-average performer.

The comet is now visible with a simple pair of binoculars, and it's also dimly visible to the naked eye if you know precisely where to look.
The discovery

The first word about this new comet (catalogued as C/2006 A1) came from the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, Cambridge, Massachusetts, which serves as the clearinghouse in the United States for astronomical discoveries. The SAO also serves in that capacity as an agency of the International Astronomical Union.

On Jan. 2, Grzegorz Pojmanski at the Warsaw University Astronomical Observatory discovered a faint comet on a photograph that was taken on New Year's Day from the Las Campanas Observatory in La Serena, Chile, as part of the All Sky Automated Survey (ASAS). A confirmation photograph was taken on Jan. 4. Later a prediscovery image of the comet dating back to Dec. 29, 2005 was also found.

Interestingly, about seven hours after Pojmanski detected the comet, another astronomer, Dr. Kazimieras Cernis at the Institute of Theoretical Physics and Astronomy at Vilnius, Lithuania, spotted it on ultraviolet images taken a few days earlier from the SOHO satellite. Despite this, however, the comet bears only Pojmanski's name.

Getting closer

A preliminary orbit for the new comet was quickly calculated. At the time of its discovery, the comet was about 113 million miles (181 million kilometers) from the Sun. But orbital elements indicated that on Feb. 22 it would be passing closest to the Sun (called "perihelion") at a distance of 51.6 million miles-not quite half the Earth's average distance from the Sun.

At the time of its discovery, the comet shone at a feeble magnitude of roughly 11 to 12, which is about 100 times dimmer than the faintest stars that can be perceived with the unaided eye. In addition, Comet Pojmanski was buried in the deep southern part of the sky, among the stars of the constellation of Indus (the Indian), and accessible only to observers in the Southern Hemisphere.

But since its discovery, the comet has steadily been progressing on a northward path.

Finally, the comet is becoming poised for visibility for Northern Hemisphere skywatchers, and it is expected to put on its best showing during the last days of February and the first week of March in the dawn morning sky.

What to expect

Preliminary predictions indicated that the comet would dutifully brighten as it approached the Sun. At perihelion, the most optimistic forecasts had Comet Pojmanski attaining a magnitude of +6.5 (generally considered the threshold of naked-eye visibility).

The comet had other plans, however, and has been increasing in brightness at a much faster pace.

On Feb. 7, Andrew Pearce, observing from Nedlands in Western Australia, caught the comet already shining at magnitude +6.4. "This comet appears to be brightening rapidly," noted Mr. Pearce, adding that a faint tail was also becoming visible. Twelve days later, the comet had brightened nearly a full magnitude, according to Mr. Pearce, reaching +5.4. On February 20, Luis Mansilla at the Canopus Observatory in Rosario, Argentina was able to see the comet in 7x50 binoculars despite interference from the Moon and haze near the horizon. He estimated its brightness at +5.3.

Currently, Comet Pojmanski is shining at around magnitude 5, which is roughly about the same brightness as the faintest star in the bowl of the Little Dipper. Sharp-eyed observers in a dark, clear sky can actually glimpse it without any optical aid.

The comet is located in the zodiacal constellation of Capricornus, the Sea Goat. Beginning Feb. 27, skywatchers in the Northern Hemisphere can try locating it, very low above the horizon, somewhat south of due east about 90 minutes before sunrise. You can use Venus as a guide on this morning: the comet will be situated roughly 7 degrees to the left and slightly below the brilliant planet (the width of your fist held at arm's length and projected against the sky is roughly equal to 10 degrees).

As viewed from midnorthern latitudes, Comet Pojmanski will be positioned a little higher above the horizon each morning at the start of morning twilight. While it's only 5 degrees high on Feb. 27, this quickly improves to 10 degrees by March 2; 16 degrees by March 5 and 22 degrees (more than "two fists" up from the horizon) by March 9.

What you can see

In the early morning sky it can be readily picked up in binoculars looking like a small, circular patch of light with a bluish-white hue and an almost star-like center.

The comet will passing closest to Earth on March 5, when it be 71.7 million miles (115.4 million kilometers) away.

In small telescopes the comet's gaseous head or "coma" should appear roughly 1/6 of the Moon's apparent diameter as seen from Earth (an actual linear diameter of 209,000 miles or 335,000 kilometers). It will also likely display a short, faint narrow tail composed chiefly of ionized gases.

Well-known comet expert, John E. Bortle of Stormville, New York compares the view of Comet Pojmanski to that of an "apple on a stick; typical of dust-poor comets."

After March 5, the comet will be receding from both the Sun and Earth and rapidly fade as it heads back out into space, beyond the limits of the outer solar system.

Posted on SOTT 27 Feb 06

Somerset County boom a mystery


Staff Writer

Blethen Maine Newspapers

SKOWHEGAN -- The earth shook and buildings rumbled Thursday morning, according to at least a dozen residents who reported tremors in Anson, Madison, Skowhegan and Norridgewock.

Shortly before 10 a.m., the Somerset County Communications Center was inundated with calls from people who said they had experienced earthquake-type movement.
Despite numerous reports within the 15-mile radius, local and state authorities could find no documented account that any type of earthquake or tremor had occurred.

State geologist Bob Marvinney of the Maine Geological Service said that if an earthquake had occurred, it was not recorded by any of the instruments in Maine or New England.

Marvinney said he had contacted the New England Seismic Network, and authorities there said nothing was apparent: "I'm surprised we didn't pick up anything. There are other kinds of explanations like quarrywork and roadwork," he said.

An official at the National Weather Service said he also had heard no reports.

However, Emergency Management Director Robert Higgins Sr. said he is going to ask them to look again.

"I'd like them to relook at what they may have; this is the second occurrence in less than a week of such magnitude," he said.

Higgins said residents of Solon and South Solon last Friday reported what sounded like a loud explosion, during which houses and mobile homes in the area shook: "That would indicate a tremor, he said."

Residents who reported the shaking this Thursday said the tremors were strong.

Norridgewock's town manager, John Doucette, said the shaking and noise was so significant, it sounded like a Dumpster had fallen off a truck or a truck had hit the building: "We went outside to see if there was an accident."

More than a mile away, Jeffrey McGown, district manager of Waste Management on U.S. Route 2 in Norridgewock, said he was sitting in his office when the noise and shaking occurred.

"It felt like somebody with a delivery type of vehicle had backed into our building," McGown said. "I was on a conference call and I got up to see what had struck. We went out on the site and looked around, we thought maybe the town airport (nearby) had an experience. It was so localized, we thought a delivery truck had hit the front porch."

In Anson, about six miles away, the shaking was so strong, even off-duty dispatcher William Crawford called the Communications Center.

"I heard a loud boom that shook the house," Crawford said. "At first I thought it was the furnace. I asked my son 'Did you feel that?' It shook the couch. I thought maybe something fell upstairs, or maybe the chimney collapsed or something. I went outside to look around. You can see the town garage from the house; I thought maybe it was the back of the bucket banging. Nobody was at the town garage."

Late Thursday, Higgins said he checked with Guilford Industries to see if they were working the quarry in the Embden-Solon area: "They said they hadn't done any blasting since last fall. And it was no sonic boom-- not that loud and shaking that many buildings. It's just unexplainable, I guess."

Storm drops dark brown snow in Colorado


2/24/2006 5:19 PM

FRISCO, Colo. - Snow that some residents described as dark as chocolate brown was reported across parts of Colorado Thursday, a result of a wind storm in northern Arizona that kicked up dust that fell with the snow overnight, officials said.

"It's pretty much statewide," said Ethan Greene, director of the Colorado Avalanche Information Center. "We've had reports from the San Juans, Winter Park ... all over."

Greene said it's not unusual to see plumes of reddish dust from the desert Southwest drop on the Rocky Mountains in the spring.

Exceptionally dry conditions in northern Arizona contributed to the dust, Greene said.

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