Friday, December 30, 2016

Top 7 Must-See Sky Events for 2017

[National Geographic] Among the many eye-catching astronomical shows coming up, 2017 may be best remembered for the much anticipated total eclipse of the sun that will cross the continental United States in August.
In addition to that spectacular sight, sky-watchers will have a plethora of treats to look forward to in the coming months. To kick things off, an icy comet will swing by Earth in February, hopefully offering picturesque views. Elusive Mercury and giant Jupiter will both put their best faces forward as they appear their biggest and brightest early in the year. And in December, the annual Geminid meteor shower will put on an especially brilliant display.
Here's a rundown of these and other superb sky-watching events worth circling on your calendar in 2017.

In the first half of February, sky-watchers may get a chance to see a comet swing by Earth. After rounding the sun in December 2016, Comet 45P/Honda-Mrkos-Pajdusakova will be heading back to the outer solar system. On its journey it will make an appearance in our dawn skies, seeming to zip across the constellations Aquila and Hercules.
On February 11, it will reach its closest point to Earth at only 7.7 million miles. This should be the best time to catch sight of this icy visitor, since its brightness may reach naked-eye levels, and it should appear as a tiny but distinct fuzzball in the sky. Stay tuned for a detailed viewer’s guide in February.

Lucky sky-watchers along a narrow path in the Southern Hemisphere will get to see a “ring of fire” eclipse of the sun. Also known as an annular solar eclipse, this stunning event occurs when the moon’s disk is too small to cover the entire sun, and it leaves a ring of sunshine around the dark lunar silhouette.
The eclipse path starts over the South Pacific Ocean, crosses South America, and ends in Africa. North and south of this pathway, a much larger region of the world will be able to witness a partial solar eclipse. Read More


Saturday, December 24, 2016

Little Drummer Boy - Peace On Earth ft Junior and Leka Maile | MattNickl...

What humans will look like in 100 years: Expert reveals the genetically modified bodies we'll need to survive

[Daily Mail] Genetic modification has given us the potential to make humankind stronger, faster, and more resilient to disease.
But each artificial enhancement humanity makes carries the risk of generating a new class of 'super humans'.
This, however, is the risk we need to take in order to survive the next mass extinction, according to one Harvard researcher.
Juan Enríquez argues that artificially enhanced genes, cells, and organs will be needed to get off Earth and on to another planet.
Mr Enríquez envisions a future in which human cells can repair themselves from radiation, fight off deadly viruses like HIV with ease, and even dodge bullets.
In a recent TED talk, Mr Enríquez said: 'It's going to be really hard to live on Mars if we don't modify the human body.
'Modifications will allow us to explore, live, and get to places we wouldn't even dream of today.'
There have been five mass-extinction events in Earth's history, and  Mr Enríquez argues it is very likely the human race will experience one in the future.
Super volcanoes, an asteroid, or solar flares could wipe out humanity in an instant.
'If you believe that extinctions are common and natural and normal, and occur periodically, it becomes a moral imperative to diversify our species,' Mr Enríquez says.
'If Earth goes, all of humanity goes.' 
The Harvard researcher explains how genetic modification could be used to upgrade the human genome over the next century. Read More

Thursday, December 22, 2016

A supervolcano caused the largest eruption in European history. Now it’s stirring again.

[Washington Post] The Italian name for the caldera — Campi Flegrei, or “burning fields”— is apt. The 7.5-mile-wide cauldron is the collapsed top of an ancient volcano, formed when the magma within finally blew. Though half of it is obscured beneath the crystal blue waters of the Mediterranean, the other half is studded with cinder cones and calderas from smaller eruptions. And the whole area seethes with hydrothermal activity: Sulfuric acid spews from active fumaroles; geysers spout water and steam and the ground froths with boiling mud; and earthquake swarms shudder through the region, 125 miles south of Rome.
And things seem to be heating up. Writing in the journal Nature on Tuesday, scientists report that the caldera is nearing a critical point at which decreased pressure on rising magma triggers a runaway release of gas and fluid, potentially leading to an eruption.
Forecasting volcanic eruptions is a famously dicey endeavor, and right now, it's impossible to say if and when Campi Flegrei might erupt, according to lead author Giovanni Chiodini, a volcanologist at the National Institute of Geophysics in Rome. But now more than ever, the caldera demands attention: An eruption would be devastating to the 500,000 people living in and around it.
The site's last major eruption happened over the course of a week in 1538, when it expelled enough new material to create the cinder cone mountain Monte Nuovo.
But the caldera itself is some 39,000 years old, formed by an eruption larger than anything else in the past 200,000 years of European history. A 2010 study in the journal Current Anthropology suggested that this prehistoric outburst — which spewed almost a trillion gallons of molten rock and released just as much sulfur into the atmosphere — set off a “volcanic winter” that led to the demise of the Neanderthals, who died out shortly afterward. Read More

Monday, December 19, 2016

Do Pets and Other Animals Go To Heaven? The Idea of Animal Reincarnation

[World Religion News] In Christianity, Islam and other major religions, there’s the concept of heaven or a paradise where the souls or spirits of the dead will eventually go to spend eternity. Members of these faiths believe that it is true for animals as well. But other religions like Buddhism and Hinduism have another option for the animal soul, that is, reincarnation.
Buddhist literature mainly tackles human spirit or soul reincarnation. Most Buddhists believe the Dalai Lama of today is the reincarnation of the previous Dalai Lamas. But the most interesting concept of all is Buddha’s reincarnation (Emanation Body). Members of the faith believe the Enlightened One had three emanation bodies: in the human form or Buddha himself; in an artistic form appearing as intellectuals, artists, craftsmen, etc; and the incarnate form which includes all other living and non-living forms like animals, plants, rivers, bridges, etc. Buddhists additionally believe that the cycle of death and rebirth is associated with the concept of karma. In fact, early Buddhists believe negative karma can reincarnate someone into a lower form of being like an animal. Hindus on the other hand widely believe in both human and animal reincarnation. Many also believe than a human or even their deities can reincarnate and take the form of an animal and vice versa.
In a recent and first of its own research study conducted by a team from the North Carolina State University, it proved that a large number of Americans believe that animals have their own “life after death” concept. The study aimed at determining the correlation between demographics and belief of animal afterlife suggested that animal life is also perceived as sacred like those of humans. Out of the 800 survey respondents, 59 percent agree to the concept of human afterlife and majority of which, 75 percent, also believe the same applies to animals. Pet owners are more inclined to believe in animal afterlife at 45 percent. When it comes to gender, race, religion and location, it is the women, Native Americans, African Americans, Buddhists, and those living in the southern regions that are more inclined to believe in animal afterlife and reincarnation. The kind of animal is an important factor in such belief. Respondents are more likely to acknowledge life after death for the conventional pets or domesticated animals like dogs, cats, cows, horses, etc, while only few agree when it comes to insects and reptiles. Read More

Mexico's Colima Volcano spews ash, vapor more than a mile into the air

[CBS] Mexico’s Colima Volcano has sent three eruptions in the space of a few hours, spewing ash and vapor more than a mile into the air.
The civil defense office of that western state of Jalisco says the three eruptions occurred Sunday morning. The biggest columns of ash reached 1.25 miles in height, and the smallest was just under a mile tall.
The eruptions cap about 10 days of periodic exhalations at the volcano, which is one of Mexico’s most active.
Also known as the Volcano of Fire, the 12,533-foot (3,820-meter) volcano is 430 miles (690 kilometers) west of Mexico City.

We fussy consumers have all but killed the ancient English apples. But there's still time to save them

[Telegraph] The original Bramley apple tree, the grandfather of every Bramley growing in the world and one of the most famous English varieties, is dying. The tree that first broke through the soil in the year of Charles Darwin’s birth, and has stood for more than 200 years in a Nottinghamshire garden, has incurable honey fungus, and is unlikely to last much longer
Though the species is not going to die out – given the ubiquity of specimens in gardens and allotments, each one a direct descendant of the Nottinghamshire giant – the loss of the original Bramley’s Seedling is still a reason to mourn, because it highlights the fragility of our native apple heritage.
Two thirds of the country’s orchards have been grubbed up since the war, with ancient varieties lost forever. Britain imports a third of apples consumed here, and swathes of countryside in the south-east once embroidered by orchards are now home to vineyards. Supermarket shelves are packed with Gala or Braeburn apples from New Zealand.
As consumers we shoulder some responsibility: our palates have become lazy, suited to varieties like Granny Smiths or Pink Lady, because we never taste a sharp Devonshire Quarrenden or one of the complex-flavoured russets. With bee populations in decline, our apple trees are at risk from poor pollination. One orchard-keeper I spoke to this summer told me that so much of the countryside is “sterile”, because of the decline of commercial orchards.
To combat this he grows a row of “helper” apple trees, of the variety Idared (which originates in the US), for its extra-long flowering period, to give the bees the best chance to pollinate the productive varieties. Scientists and heritage organisations are doing what they can to protect English apples. Brogdale in Kent is the home of the National Fruit Collection, with around 2,400 apple varieties as well as pears, plums and other fruit. The collection forms a “living gene bank” to protect diversity and food security.
The Government is alert to the decline of orchards: two years ago, the then environment secretary, Liz Truss, launched a campaign to protect English heritage varieties. The organisation Love English Apples urges consumers to support the nation’s growers by buying fruit with a Union Jack sticker.
Read More

Humans Just Killed Off These 12 Animals, And You Didn’t Even Notice

[Huffington Post] For thousands of years, the Bramble Cay melomys, a small, mouse-like rodent, eked out a living on a tiny coral island in Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. It was the reef’s only endemic mammal species, and survived on the few plants that grew on its island home.
But as climate change expedited sea level rise and increased storm surges that flooded the low-lying island, the Bramble Cay melomys and its food supply was severely threatened. In June, after years of fruitless searching, scientists announced that they could no longer find any trace of the rodent. 
The melomys was posthumously bestowed the ignominious title of the first mammal to go extinct because of human-induced global warming. “Sadly,” WWF-Australia spokesperson Darren Grover told The New York Times, “it won’t be the last.” 
Scientists say the planet is currently on the precipice of the sixth mass extinction, an event that could see the wiping out of at least 75 percent of the Earth’s species. The current extinction rate is at least 100 times higher than normal, according to a 2015 study. Humans have triggered an extinction episode “unparalleled for 65 million years,” the researchers said. 
Habitat destruction, poaching and pollution have killed off many species, and as we hurtle toward a 2-degrees Celsius temperature rise, climate change is rapidly becoming another major threat. 
The climate is changing faster than it ever has in the entire history of many species, and heading towards a ‘new normal’ that is outside the conditions that species have become adapted to in their long evolutionary history,” co-author Anthony Barnosky, executive director of Stanford University’s Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve, told The Huffington Post this week. “They can’t move to new places, because humans now use 50 percent of the Earth’s land, and they can’t evolve fast enough to keep up with the changes.”
In the past 10 years alone, we know at least a dozen animals, including several mammals, birds and amphibians, have been driven to extinction by humans. And that number is likely a staggering underestimate. Read More

Earth Is Probably Unprepared for a Comet Strike

[The Atlantic] In a beige room on Monday, in the center of a sprawling corporate conference center, lifelong government researchers described one relatively quick and sudden way that the world as we know it could come to an end.
Luckily, they also had a plan to stop it.
For most of human history, “comets were portents of impending catastrophe, not the catastrophe itself,” said Joseph Nuth, a career geochemist at NASA. “That was until [Walter] Alvarez, in 1980, suggested that a comet or asteroid collision could wipe out the various species on the surface of the earth.”
In response to that paper, NASA realized that it was woefully unprepared to fend off a possible asteroid collision. It began tracking 5,000 “potentially hazardous objects,” or PHOs, mostly asteroids. Since more space rocks are discovered every night, the number of “PHOs” now exceeds 700,000, said Nuth.
But NASA—and Earth—remain utterly vulnerable to a comet collision. Unlike asteroids, comets can approach Earth at unusually high speeds as they depart the Oort Cloud, the sphere of icy objects that surrounds the farthest reaches of the solar system.
This means that while NASA might have years or decades to plan for a close-call with an asteroid, a comet could side-swipe Earth only 18 months after it was detected.
So Nuth had a recommendation: The United States should build two comet-destroying spacecraft ahead of time. The first, an “observer” craft, could be launched as soon as a threat is identified. The second, an “interceptor” craft,  could dislodge the asteroid or comet from its orbit or blow it up. Read More

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Meditation is saving my sanity this year

[Salon] Nobody’s ever accused me of being the calm in the storm. The adjective “mellow” has never once been lobbed in my direction. I am instead every overscheduled working mother cliché you’ve ever seen, the kind of woman who can frequently be spotted clutching a caffeinated beverage and yelling “DAMMIT” at a just-missed subway train. And that’s precisely why I can say with authority that we all really need to be meditating a lot right now.
I came to meditation via yoga and I’m pretty sure I came to yoga via a deep-seated loathing of spin class. Though I am spiritual, I’m also very loud and very Jersey and don’t do well with sitting still. But shortly after I was diagnosed with cancer for the first time six years ago, I realized that I needed to really step up my mental health game, big time, to deal with the persistent anxiety of a grueling situation and an uncertain future.
What I experienced then was a feeling quite like what many of us have been experiencing recently in the wake of the election. That’s why I know that becoming overrun by stress is not productive. And the more you insist that you’re not the type for meditation, the more you’ll likely benefit from it.
As the fresh disasters of this apparently ceaseless garbage fire of a year have piled up, I confess I have not been great about keeping my daily practice of taking just 10 — even just 5! — minutes for quiet and centering. Who has time to disconnect for a few breaths when you know that when you open your eyes again, another insane thing will have happened?
But in August when a family member wound up in the hospital in a life-or-death situation, I found myself suggesting to a cousin that she download a meditation course app and try it for just a few minutes. She texted me a hour later to say it had turned around her entire day and helped her attend to the barrage of challenges she was suddenly facing. That’s when I figured I’d better start taking my own advice.
There are few things that people love to brag about failing at more than meditation. When you tell people you meditate, you’re likely to get a condescending “That’s great . . .   for you. My mind just works too fast. I can’t. I can’t shut it off.” OK, thanks for the humble brag! But with effort and a little information, I have come to realize that meditation is not something that needs to be approached competitively. Nor is the practice a surrender to active thought.
Our culture praises multitasking and purposeless busywork. No wonder then that imperfect stillness can seem so frightening. Let me therefore assure you that when I meditate in the morning, I am not nailing it — especially lately. My thoughts flutter to what I need to get done. My chest sometimes feels tight with the burdens of very real stress. Then I return to breaths, and the space between them, and I get humble and I try again. Read More

Animation of where the largest earthquakes of the past 100 years have st...

Amazing earthquake video animation shows total stupidity of building nuclear power plants near known fault lines

[NaturalNews] An animated earthquake map video produced by the U.S. NWS Pacific Tsunami Warning Center (PTWC) shows every recorded earthquake between January 1, 2001, and December 31, 2015, – the first 15 years of the 21st century.
The amazing and somewhat terrifying animation proceeds at a rate of 30 days per second, and reveals a great deal of constant activity around the globe – particularly along major fault lines located where tectonic plates collide, such as those of the Pacific “Ring of Fire.”
From the YouTube description of the video:
“The earthquake hypocenters first appear as flashes then remain as colored circles before shrinking with time so as not to obscure subsequent earthquakes. The size of the circle represents the earthquake magnitude while the color represents its depth within the earth.”
After showing the time-sequenced earthquake history, the video next shows all of the quakes from the 15-year period simultaneously. Then, earthquakes greater than 6.5 magnitude – ones big enough to trigger a tsunami – are shown.
Finally, the map shows only earthquakes with a magnitude of 8.0 or higher from the 15-year period.
It’s easy to see where the major activity occurs – along the Pacific Ring of Fire, which includes the west coast of the United States, Canada, Central and South America, as well as Japan, China’s coastal regions and many Pacific island nations.
Surprisingly, many of the world’s nuclear reactors are situated along the Pacific Ring of Fire and numerous other major fault lines.
The 9.0 magnitude earthquake that struck off the coast of Japan in 2011 was the most serious example of what can happen when a nuclear plant is not only built near a major tectonic fault line, but next to the sea as well.
The resulting tsunami caused a major nuclear accident at the Fukushima nuclear power plant – one that has still not been resolved or cleaned up. The Fukushima plant was built to withstand only a 7.9 magnitude quake – despite the fact that an earthquake of 8.0 magnitude or greater has struck northeastern Japan once every century for the last 400 years. Read More