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Probe to Eye Martian Atmosphere 'theft'

BOULDER, Colo., Oct. 7 (UPI) — A NASA mission to Mars will study how the sun has stolen the planet’s atmosphere, condemning it to a cold and sterile existence, researchers say.

Mars once had a thicker atmosphere and was warm enough for liquid water to flow on the surface, scientists believe, but somehow that thick atmosphere got lost in space, a NASA release says.

The sun with its solar wind is the principal suspect.

All planets in our solar system are constantly blasted by the thin stream of electrically charged gas that continuously blows from the sun’s surface into space. Earth’s global magnetic field shields our atmosphere by diverting most of the solar wind around it.

“Mars can’t protect itself from the solar wind because it no longer has a shield, the planet’s global magnetic field is dead,” said Bruce Jakosky of the University of Colorado, Boulder, principle investigator for NASA’s MAVEN (Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution Mission) probe.

Earlier Mars spacecraft missions such as NASA’s Mars Global Surveyor and the European Space Agency’s Mars Express spacecraft have caught glimpses of the phenomenon.

“Previous observations gave us ‘proof of the crime’ but only provided tantalizing hints at how the sun pulls it off — the various ways Mars can lose its atmosphere to solar activity,” said Joseph Grebowsky of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

“MAVEN will examine all known ways the sun is currently swiping the Martian atmosphere, and may discover new ones as well,” he said.

MAVEN is scheduled for launch between Nov. 18 and Dec. 7, 2013, NASA says.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

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Solar Probe to Study Sun's Atmosphere

NEWARK, Del., Oct. 6 (UPI) — A Delaware researcher says he is helping design scientific instruments to be sent on a one-way expedition — directly into our sun.

William Matthaeus, professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Delaware, is taking part in NASA’s Solar Probe Plus project, slated to launch by 2018, a university release said.

The unmanned spacecraft will plunge directly into the sun’s atmosphere to help answer perplexing mysteries about our sun.

“The experiments selected for Solar Probe Plus are specifically designed to solve two key questions of solar physics — why is the sun’s outer atmosphere so much hotter than the sun’s visible surface, and what propels the solar wind that affects Earth and our solar system?” Dick Fisher, director of NASA’s Heliophysics Division, said.

An unmanned mission to the sun has been discussed for years, Matthaeus says, but had to wait for carbon-fiber and other technology that could protect a space probe from the sun’s intense heat.

“At the Solar Probe’s closest approach, the light from the sun will be more than 500 times as intense as at Earth, and the surrounding gas, although very tenuous, will likely be at hundreds of thousands of degrees,” Matthaeus said.

Matthaeus leads the effort to develop instruments for monitoring the electrons, protons and ions that continuously stream from the sun, known as solar wind. The radiation can cause magnetic storms capable of knocking out electrical power grids.

“The more we rely on satellite technology, such as GPS, the more vulnerable to magnetic storms we become. So we need to understand how they work in order to protect societal assets such as satellites in space, as well as humans who explore or work in space,” Matthaeus said.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

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Solar System's Shield is Showing Cracks

SAN ANTONIO, Oct. 2 (UPI) — The outer boundary of the solar system is more dynamic and complex than ever imagined, astronomers said.

The Interstellar Boundary Explorer satellite, launched two years ago, is studying the heliosphere, the invisible bubble far beyond the planetary orbits where the solar wind meets the particles and radiation that fill interstellar space, researchers told the Los Angeles Times.

The heliosphere, which protects the solar system from 90 percent of the cosmic rays outside it, is changing much faster than scientists expected, according to data published Thursday in the Journal of Geophysical Research.

The sun emits a steady stream of particles traveling outward in all directions about 1 million mph. When they have traveled about 100 times farther than the distance between Earth and the sun the particles collide with the interstellar medium. They deflect most cosmic rays back into space and produce uncharged particles that stream back into the inner solar system.

Over the last two decades, the solar wind has weakened and the heliosphere has shrunk, letting more cosmic radiation enter. Increased cosmic radiation could be very dangerous to future interstellar space travelers, said astronomer David McComas of the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

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Italian Towns Profit from Green Energy

TOCCO DA CASAURIA, Italy, Sept. 29 (UPI) — More than 800 communities in Italy are making more power than they use with wind and solar installations, and many are making a profit from it, officials say.

One such community is Tocco Da Casauria, where selling excess renewable energy has meant the town has no local taxes and charges no fees for services like garbage removal, The New York Times reported Wednesday.

In the town of 2,700 people in Italy’s poor mountainous center, wind turbines sprout from its olive groves while solar panels generate electricity at its cemetery and sports complex as well as at a growing number of private residences, the newspaper said.

“Normally when you think about energy you think about big plants, but here what’s interesting is that local municipalities have been very active,” Edoardo Zanchini of the environmental group Legambiente said. “That this can happen in a place like Italy is really impressive.”

Like many towns, Tocco was motivated to become an early adopter of renewable energy because Italy has some of the highest electricity rates in Europe, nearly three times the average in the United States.

Tocco is now generating 30 percent more electricity than it uses. Production of green electricity earned the town more than $200,000 last year.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

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Wind Power Green but Costs More Green

LONDON, Sept. 28 (UPI) — Wind power, while good for the environment, carries a price tag twice that of a natural gas- or coal-fired power station, British researchers say.

A report by the U.K. Energy Research Center said Britain’s massive expansion of wind farms, both offshore and on land, was based on underestimated costs of wind power in the mid-2000s, the Daily Mail reported Tuesday.

Over the next 10 years, the British government plans to build up to 10,000 new wind turbines to meet tough climate change targets, the newspaper said.

Instead of the predicted falling costs, in the last five years the cost of buying and installing turbines and towers at sea has gone up 51 percent, the report said.

Once the bill for building and maintaining an offshore wind farm is spread over the 25-year lifespan of a typical installation, each kilowatt hour of electricity costs 24 cents.

That’s nearly twice as expensive as electricity from conventional coal and gas power stations, which costs 13 cents, and more than nuclear, which costs 16 cents, the report said.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

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Study: Wind May Have Parted the Red Sea

BOULDER, Colo., Sept. 21 (UPI) — Computer models show wind movement could have parted the waters of the Red Sea as described in the Bible’s book of Exodus, U.S. researchers say.

The biblical account of the parting of the Red Sea has inspired and mystified people for millennia, and computer modeling studies at the National Center for Atmospheric Research and the University of Colorado at Boulder show how it could have happened, an NCAR release reports.

A strong east wind, blowing overnight, could have pushed water back at a bend where an ancient river is believed to have merged with a coastal lagoon along the Mediterranean Sea, the models show.

With the water pushed back into both waterways, a land bridge would have opened at the bend, enabling people to walk across exposed mud flats to safety.

As the wind died down, the waters would have rushed back in.

“The simulations match fairly closely with the account in Exodus,” lead study author Carl Drews of NCAR said. “The parting of the waters can be understood through fluid dynamics. The wind moves the water in a way that’s in accordance with physical laws, creating a safe passage with water on two sides and then abruptly allowing the water to rush back in.”

By pinpointing a possible site south of the Mediterranean Sea for the crossing, the study also could be of benefit to experts seeking to research whether such an event ever took place. Archaeologists and Egyptologists have found little direct evidence to substantiate many of the events described in Exodus.

The study was published in the online journal PLoS ONE.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

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Britain Urged to Speed Up Wind-power Plans

LONDON, Sept. 10 (UPI) — Britain must allow more wind farms if it is to meet its climate-change target of generating 15 percent of its energy needs from green sources, experts say.

The United Kingdom has committed to reaching that goal by 2020, but only 3 percent of its energy now comes from renewable sources like wind and solar power, The Daily Telegraph reported Friday.

The country is likely to miss the target unless there is massive investment in wind, wave and solar power, said Lord Adair Turner, chairman of the Committee on Climate Change.

He called for the government to “ramp up” efforts to build turbines both on land and at sea.

The average wind farm project takes more than three years to win approval, he said, and in the last year planning approval rates fell from 68 per cent to 53 per cent.

Planning permission needs to be given faster so that three times as many turbines can be installed every year, he said.

“Any changes to the planning framework should focus on reducing planning times in order that renewable electricity projects proceed as required to meet the target,” Turner said in a letter to Energy and Climate Change Minister Chris Huhne.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

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Hurricane Earl Prompts Evacuations Along the Atlantic Coast

September 1 – As Hurricane Earl spins about 700 miles southeast off the coast of South Carolina, some residents and tourists along the eastern seaboard have begun fleeing the on-coming storm. Officials have ordered the first mandatory evacuation orders along the barrier islands of the Outer Banks in North Carolina.

Additionally, the National Hurricane Center on Wednesday issued a warning for the coast of North Carolina and Gov. Bob McDonnell of Virginia has declared a state of emergency in preparation for the storm.

In a scene eerily reminiscent to Hurricane Katrina, many residents and tourists in the path of the storm have refused to evacuate the area, instead hoping to just wait the storm out. Compounding the dangerous situation is the fact that many of the barrier island communities are only accessible via ferry. However, once the wind reaches 50 mph, the ferries stop running. While ferry service is currently running at all times, many of the residents and Labor Day tourists are deciding not to leave.

With sustained winds of 125 mph, Hurricane Earl was downgraded from a Category 4 to a Category 3 hurricane. However, the sheer size of the storm is causing alarm with officials. Effects of the storm are expected to be felt far and wide. Hurricane force winds will be felt 90 miles from the eye, and tropical storm force winds will be felt for up to 200 miles from the eye of the storm.

Last night, a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration ocean buoy recorded a 50 foot heigh wave.

With seas expected to become even more turbulent, the Baltimore Port stated that is operating at a “heightened condition of readiness prior to arrival of potential gale-force winds associated with Earl.”

Meanwhile, the U.S. Naval base in Norfolk, Virginia is on alert, however, they the base has determined that the threat to the naval ships docked in the port will be minimal. As a result, the Navy has ordered nearby ships, including the USS Cole, to return to port to wait out the storm. If the Navy was more concerned about the hurricane, they would send ships out into deep waters instead of keeping them at the docks.

Forecasters are predicting that while Earl is likely to avoid making direct landfall, the destructive winds and currents are sure to strike the coast hard. Looking a few days forward, forecasts are calling for Earl to head northwest along the coast, perhaps striking Cape Cod, Massachusetts, the coast of Maine and Nova Scotia on Friday night and Saturday as a Category 1 hurricane.

With the storm moving north up the Atlantic coast, and sending ocean swells in that direction, another group of people are gearing up for the storm– surfers. South facing beaches around the New York area, including Rockaway Beach in Queens, are expected to see substantially elevated wave heights. With scorching heats in the region, surfers have begun flocking to the beaches to catch what could be a great set of waves from the storm swell.

In the meantime, two additional storms behind Earl are lining up along the hurricane storm track. Tropical Depression Nine officially formed today in the eastern Atlantic. Tropical Depression Nine has a maximum sustained wind speed of 35 mph and is heading west at 15 mph. It is anticipated that this tropical depression will become Tropical Storm Gaston within the next two days.

Closer to the U.S., Tropical Storm Fiona continues to strengthen as it heads towards the northern Leeward Islands. Tropical Storm Fiona has maximum sustained winds of 60 mph and is expected to strengthen over the next day. However, Fiona is forecast to weaken on Friday and will hopefully be less cause for alarm.

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Groups Urge Serengeti Protection

LONDON, Aug. 25 (UPI) — British wildlife groups say they are urging the government of Tanzania to reconsider plans to build a highway through the heart of Serengeti National Park.

The Wildlife Conservation Society and the Zoological Society of London recommend that alternative routes be used that can meet the transportation needs of the region without disrupting the greatest remaining migration of large land animals in the world in world’s best-known wildlife sanctuary, a WCS release said Wednesday.

At issue is the proposed Arusha-Musoma highway slated for construction in 2012 that would bisect the northern portion of the park and jeopardize the annual migration of wildebeest and zebra, a spectacle comprising nearly 2 million animals.

“The Serengeti is the site of one of the last great ungulate migrations left on Earth, the pre-eminent symbol of wild nature for millions of visitors and TV viewers, and a hugely important source of income for the people of Tanzania through ecotourism,” Dr. James Deutsch, Executive Director of the WCS’s Africa Program, said.

“To threaten this natural marvel with a road would be a tragedy. We implore the Tanzanian government — known around the world for its commitment to conservation — to reconsider this proposal and explore other options.”

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

Posted in Animals, Conservation, Ecotourism, Other, Transportation0 Comments

U.K. Wind Farms Deny Causing Seal Deaths

LONDON, Aug. 25 (UPI) — British wind farm developers have strongly denied allegations their construction ships are responsible for a recent rash of seal deaths, authorities said.

Scientists investigating the killing of at least 33 seals whose mutilated bodies have washed ashore in Norfolk and the surrounding coastline say they believe the deaths were caused by a vessel with a ducted propeller that has caused “corkscrew-style” mutilations on the seals’ bodies, BusinessGreen.com reported Tuesday.

A scientist at St. Andrews University Seal Mammal Research Unit says vessels operating between the Sheringham Shoal wind farm and Wells Harbor in North Norfolk might be the cause.

“Wind farms per se are not to blame,” Callan Duck said. “It’s possible that some of the vessels involved in wind farm construction might be responsible, but we do not know that for sure.”

Engineering firm Scira, Sheringham Shoal’s main contractor, denied the allegations.

“Both Scira and the police have checked all equipment on vessels operating at the site and found no connection,” the company said in a statement.

Wells Harbor authorities issued a statement arguing the boats accused of causing the injuries could not have been responsible.

“These seals began to be found in December 2009 but the fast supply boats using Wells to service the wind farm did not start operating from Wells until April 2010,” the company said.

Harbor officials said they had been operating boats with ducted propellers “for many years with no such problems reported.”

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

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