Japan Launches Next-Generation NASA Satellite to Track Rain & Snow

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NASA’s newest weather satellite soared into space today (Feb. 27), kicking off a mission to observe rainfall and snowfall around the globe in unprecedented detail.
The Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) Core Observatory, a joint effort between NASA and the Japan Aerospace Exploration…

NASA’s newest weather satellite soared into space today (Feb. 27), kicking off a mission to observe rainfall and snowfall around the globe in unprecedented detail.

The Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) Core Observatory, a joint effort between NASA and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), blasted off aboard an H-2A rocket from Japan’s Tanegashima Space Center today at 1:37 p.m. EST (1837 GMT; 3:37 a.m. Feb. 28 local Japan time).

GPM will deliver near real-time observations of precipitation every three hours all over the world, greatly improving scientists’ understanding of climate change and the global water cycle, mission officials said.

“This is going to provide us the most accurate and advanced precipitation measurements to date from NASA satellites,” Gail Skofronick-Jackson, GPM project scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., said during a press briefing last month.

The 8,500-pound (3,850 kilograms) GPM Core spacecraft will orbit Earth at an altitude of 253 miles (407 kilometers), about as high up as the International Space Station. It will circle the planet once every 93 minutes, completing about 16 orbits per day.

The satellite will use two instruments — the GPM Microwave Imager (GMI) and the Dual-frequency Precipitation Radar (DPR) — to study rainfall and snowfall from the Arctic Circle in the north to the Antarctic Circle in the south, giving researchers great looks at clouds and storm systems.

“These instruments will allow scientists to see inside clouds,” Steve Neeck, deputy associate director of flight programs for NASA’s Earth science division, said during the January press conference.

“The GMI will sense the total precipitation within all cloud layers, including, for the first time, light rain and snowfall,” he added. “The DPR will make detailed three-dimensional measurements of precipitation structures and rates, as well as particle drop size.”

The GPM Core spacecraft will also serve as the anchor of an international network of weather and climate satellites, some of which are already in orbit.

“The GPM, through its core observatory and its constellation of satellites, will dramatically improve our knowledge of global precipitation and our ability to forecast it and its consequences,” Neeck said.

The GPM Core satellite — whose cost to NASA is $933 million — was designed to last for a minimum of three years, but mission officials think it will continue to gather data for much longer than that.

“As you know, TRMM was designed for three years, and now it’s been 16 years operating,” said GPM project manager Art Azarbarzin of NASA Goddard, referring to the NASA-JAXA Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission satellite, which launched in 1997. “We have designed the exact same way.”

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Life from Earth Could Have Hitched Ride to Moons of Jupiter, Saturn

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Life on Earth or Mars could have been brought to the moons of Jupiter or Saturn on rocks blasted off those planets, researchers say.
These findings suggest if scientists ever detect life on those moons, they might have to contemplate the possibility that it came from elsewhere rather than…

Life on Earth or Mars could have been brought to the moons of Jupiter or Saturn on rocks blasted off those planets, researchers say.

These findings suggest if scientists ever detect life on those moons, they might have to contemplate the possibility that it came from elsewhere rather than originating there on its own.

The idea that life can spread through space is known as panspermia. One class of panspermia is lithopanspermia — the notion that life might travel on rocks knocked off a world’s surface. If these meteoroids encase hardy enough organisms, they could seed life on another planet or moon.

Although lithopanspermia might seem farfetched, a number of meteorite discoveries suggest it might at least be possible. For instance, more than 100 meteorites originating from Mars have been discovered on Earth, blasted off the red planet by meteor strikes and eventually crashing here.

Some researchers have even suggested that life on Earth may have originally been seeded by meteors from Mars. A great deal of research has explored whether the red planet once harbored lifeand whether life might still exist there today, based on findings that Mars might once have been significantly more hospitable to life than it is now, and that refuges for life could remain hidden under its surface. One Martian meteorite, Allan Hills 84001 (ALH84001), was even initially claimed to contain evidence of life. However, research since has revealed that every item on this meteorite that was potentially suggestive of life could be generated inorganically.

Past computer simulations also have suggested that matter blasted off Earth by cosmic impacts could have escaped the pull of Earth’s gravity and landed on the Moon. Billions of years of Earth dust may have accumulated on the lunar surface — as much as 22 tons (20 metric tons) of Earth material is spread over every 38 square miles (100 sq. km) of the Moon. If true, the Moon could hold fossils of some of the earliest microbial life on Earth.

The discovery of organisms on Earth that can survive in environments once thought too harsh for life has piqued interest over whether the moons in the outer reaches of the solar system, such as Jupiter’s moon Europa or Saturn’s moon Titan, could host life.

“There have been previous simulations looking at transfer between Earth and Mars, but we wanted to scale the simulations up in the hopes of seeing transfer to Jupiter and Saturn,” said study lead author Rachel Worth, an astrophysicist at Pennsylvania State University. [The Search for Life on Mars (Photo Timeline)]

Worth and her colleagues analyzed where batches of several thousand rocks traveled once ejected off both Earth and Mars. “We ended up simulating over 100,000 individual fragments,” Worth said.

Most of these meteoroids slammed back into their home planet. A great many rocks also were either swallowed by the Sun or left the solar system entirely. In addition, large numbers hit planets more inward in the solar system from their home planet — for Earth, that means Venus and Mercury, and for Mars, that means Earth, Venus and Mercury. However, a small fraction of meteoroids did hit planets outward from their origin.

The researchers calculated that over the course of 3.5 billion years — roughly the amount of time Earth is known to have possessed life — about 200 million meteoroids large enough to potentially shield life from the rigors of space were blasted off Earth. They also estimated roughly 800 million such rocks were ejected off Mars during the same period. More rocks escape from Mars because Martian gravity is a little more than a third that of Earth’s.

Past research suggested moderately-sized rocks ejected from impacts could protect organisms from the dangers of outer space for up to 10 million years. The scientist calculated about 83,000 meteoroids from Earth and 320,000 from Mars could have struck Jupiter after traveling 10 million years or less. Also, roughly 14,000 from Earth should have hit Saturn in that time, and no more than 20,000 from Mars.

Since the moons of those giant worlds are relatively close to their planets, many of them might get peppered by these meteoroids as well. The researchers calculated that Saturn’s moons Titan and Enceladus and Jupiter’s moons Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto should each have received between one and 10 impacts both from Earth and from Mars.

These findings suggest the possibility of transfer of life from the inner solar system to the outer moons, although very rare, currently cannot be ruled out. “When planning missions to search for life on Europa or other moons, scientists will have to think about whether they can distinguish between life that is or is not related to that on Earth,” Worth said.

The researchers caution they are not saying “that life has made it to any of these moons, just that it could,” Worth said. “To know for certain that this kind of transfer has happened, we would need to actually identify an Earth or Mars rock on one of the moons in question. We tried to make our estimates as realistic as we could, but they are still estimates, and we can never know for sure what will be discovered in the future that might change our assumptions.”

For instance, “we don’t really know the probability that an ejected rock fragment would have microbes in it, or that they would be the type of microbes that might survive all the trauma of ejection and space travel,” Worth said. “There’s also the question of just how habitable they might find the moons if they did make it there.”

Still, the researchers note the icy moons of Jupiter and Saturn were all once warmer and likely had little to no icy shell to prevent meteorites from reaching their liquid interiors as they do now. In addition, Europa currently has the thinnest ice crust of the six moons the researchers examined, and roughly 40 percent of its crust appears to be covered with “chaos regions,” uneven terrain hinting that it often breaks into large chunks separated by liquid water that later refreezes. Any meteorites on top of such regions therefore might have a chance of falling down into the underground oceans that moon is suspected to have.

“I think the possibility of any life in Europa’s oceans is exciting, whether it is descended from Earth life — showing us a novel evolutionary path in a very interesting environment — or life that comes from an independent origin, which would point towards life being fairly common in the universe.”

Worth noted one factor not included in their simulations that could be significant was the Yarkovsky effect, where rotating objects about 4 inches (10 centimeters) to 6 miles (10 kilometers) large will radiate heat that can help propel them through space.

“We expect that this effect would basically spread the ejected rocks out faster, as some would be propelled outward and others inward, so we might see slightly faster transfer times,” Worth said.

The scientists added that rocks crashing back onto their home planet could help reseed life on that world after the cosmic impact that created them partially or completely sterilized the planet in question, serving as refuges for life in space while the world’s surface cooled enough to permit survival. This could help explain how life on Earth survived the era known as the Late Heavy Bombardment about 4.1 billion to 3.8 billion years ago, when untold numbers of asteroids and comets pummeled Earth, the Moon and the inner planets.

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Tropical Storm Wutip Lashes Vietnam’s Coast

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Tropical storm Wutip lashed central Vietnam on Monday after sinking at least two Chinese fishing boats near the Paracel Islands, leaving 75 fishermen missing, officials said.
The storm uprooted trees, cut power lines and damaged more than 1,000 houses. There was no immediate word of injuries,…

Tropical storm Wutip lashed central Vietnam on Monday after sinking at least two Chinese fishing boats near the Paracel Islands, leaving 75 fishermen missing, officials said.

The storm uprooted trees, cut power lines and damaged more than 1,000 houses. There was no immediate word of injuries, flooding or major structural damage.

Vietnam’s national weather center said Wutip had weakened from a typhoon to a tropical storm by the time it made landfall. It was packing sustained winds of 117 kilometers (73 miles) per hour, it said.

Officials evacuated tens of thousands of people from the storm’s path over the previous day.

Schools in five central provinces closed and the coast guard told 61,000 fishing boats with 303,000 crew members to take shelter.

By nightfall, Wutip had blown the roofs off of more than 1,000 houses in one district alone, local government official Pham Huu Thao said. TV footage showed uprooted trees and deserted city streets in central towns close to the storm’s center.

Wutip sank at least two Chinese fishing ships as it neared the coast near the Paracel Islands, leaving 75 fishermen missing, according to the website of the Hainan government in south China. Two vessels sank Sunday and contact with a third has been lost, it said.

Wutip was the strongest typhoon to gather off Vietnam this season. The most powerful Asian storm this year was Typhoon Usagi, which caused at least 33 deaths in the Philippines and China earlier in September.

Vietnam is prone to floods and storms which kill hundreds of people and cause millions of dollars in damage each year.

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New Kind of Planet or a Failed Star?

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An object discovered by astrophysicists at the University of Toronto nearly 500 light years away from the Sun may challenge traditional understandings about how planets and stars form.
The object is located near and likely orbiting a very young star about 440 light years away from the Sun, and…

An object discovered by astrophysicists at the University of Toronto nearly 500 light years away from the Sun may challenge traditional understandings about how planets and stars form.

The object is located near and likely orbiting a very young star about 440 light years away from the Sun, and is leading astrophysicists to believe that there is not an easy-to-define line between what is and is not a planet.

“We have very detailed measurements of this object spanning seven years, even a spectrum revealing its gravity, temperature, and molecular composition. Still, we can’t yet determine whether it is a planet or a failed star — what we call a ‘brown dwarf’. Depending on what measurement you consider, the answer could be either,” said Thayne Currie, a post-doctoral fellow in U of T’s Department of Astronomy & Astrophysics and lead author of a report on the discovery published this week in Astrophysical Journal Letters.

Named ROXs 42Bb for it’s proximity to the star ROXs 42B, the object is approximately nine times the mass of Jupiter, below the limit most astronomers use to separate planets from brown dwarfs, which are more massive. However, it is located 30 times further away from the star than Jupiter is from the Sun.

“This situation is a little bit different than deciding if Pluto is a planet. For Pluto, it is whether an object of such low mass amongst a group of similar objects is a planet,” said Currie. “Here, it is whether an object so massive yet so far from its host star is a planet. If so, how did it form?”

Most astronomers believe that gas giant planets like Jupiter and Saturn formed by core accretion, whereby the planets form from a solid core that then accretes a massive gaseous envelope. Core accretion operates most efficiently closer to the parent star due to the length of time required to first form the core.

An alternate theory proposed for forming gas giant planets is disk instability — a process by which a fragment of a disk gas surrounding a young star directly collapses under its own gravity into a planet. This mechanism works best farther away from the parent star.

Of the dozen or so other young objects with masses of planets observed by Currie and other astronomers, some have planet-to-star mass ratios less than about 10 times that Jupiter and are located within about 15 times Jupiter’s separation from the Sun. Others have much higher mass ratios and/or are located more than 50 times Jupiter’s orbital separation, properties that are similar to much more massive objects widely accepted to not be planets. The first group would be planets formed by core accretion, and the second group probably formed just like stars and brown dwarfs. In between these two populations is a big gap separating true planets from other objects.

Currie says that the new object starts to blur this distinction between planets and brown dwarfs, and may lie within and begin to fill the gap. “It’s very hard to understand how this object formed like Jupiter did. However, it’s also too low mass to be a typical brown dwarf; disk instability might just work at its distance from the star. It may represent a new class of planets or it may just be a very rare, very low-mass brown dwarf formed like other stars and brown dwarfs: a ‘planet mass’ brown dwarf.”

“Regardless, it should spur new research in planet and star formation theories, and serve as a crucial reference point with which to understand the properties of young planets at similar temperatures, masses and ages,” Currie said.

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Prehistoric Climate Change Due To Cosmic Crash In Canada: Team Reveals Cause Of Global Climate Shift 12,900 Years Ago

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For the first time, a dramatic global climate shift has been linked to the impact in Quebec of an asteroid or comet, Dartmouth researchers and their colleagues report in a new study. The cataclysmic event wiped out many of the planet’s large mammals and may have prompted humans to start…

For the first time, a dramatic global climate shift has been linked to the impact in Quebec of an asteroid or comet, Dartmouth researchers and their colleagues report in a new study. The cataclysmic event wiped out many of the planet’s large mammals and may have prompted humans to start gathering and growing some of their food rather than solely hunting big game.

The findings appear next week in the online Early Edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The impact occurred about 12,900 years ago, at the beginning of the Younger Dryas period, and marks an abrupt global change to a colder, dryer climate with far-reaching effects on both animals and humans. In North America, the big animals all vanished, including mastodons, camels, giant ground sloths and saber-toothed cats. Their human hunters, known to archaeologists as the Clovis people, set aside their heavy-duty spears and turned to a hunter-gatherer subsistence diet of roots, berries and smaller game.

“The Younger Dryas cooling impacted human history in a profound manner,” says Dartmouth Professor Mukul Sharma, a co-author of the study. “Environmental stresses may also have caused Natufians in the Near East to settle down for the first time and pursue agriculture.”

It is not disputed that these powerful environmental changes occurred, but there has long been controversy over their cause. The classic view of the Younger Dryas cooling interlude has been that an ice dam in the North American ice sheet ruptured, releasing a massive quantity of freshwater into the Atlantic Ocean. The sudden influx is thought to have shut down the ocean currents that move tropical water northward, resulting in the cold, dry climate of the Younger Dryas.

But Sharma and his co-authors have discovered conclusive evidence linking an extraterrestrial impact with this environmental transformation. The report focuses on spherules, or droplets of solidified molten rock expelled by the impact of a comet or meteor. The spherules in question were recovered from Younger Dryas boundary layers at sites in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, the layers having been deposited at the beginning of the period. The geochemistry and mineralogy profiles of the spherules are identical to rock found in southern Quebec, where Sharma and his colleagues argue the impact took place.

“We have for the first time narrowed down the region where a Younger Dryas impact did take place,” says Sharma, “even though we have not yet found its crater.” There is a known impact crater in Quebec—the 4-kilometer wide Corossal crater—but based on the team’s mineralogical and geochemical studies, it is not the impact source for the material found in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

People have written about many impacts in different parts of the world based on the presence of spherules. “It may well have taken multiple concurrent impacts to bring about the extensive environmental changes of the Younger Dryas,” says Sharma. “However, to date no impact craters have been found and our research will help track one of them down.”

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Upgraded 7.2 Magnitude Earthquake Hits Peru

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Some homes crumbled and a tsunami warning was issued after a 7.2 earthquake struck just off Peru’s southern coast. Tsunami warning has been cancelled. The impact caused buildings in the Peruvian capital, Lima, to shake, despite the city being 480 kilometers away.

“Earthquakes of this size som…

Some homes crumbled and a tsunami warning was issued after a 7.2 earthquake struck just off Peru’s southern coast. Tsunami warning has been cancelled. The impact caused buildings in the Peruvian capital, Lima, to shake, despite the city being 480 kilometers away.

peru_quake-09-13_m

“Earthquakes of this size sometimes generate local tsunamis that can be destructive along coasts located within 100 kilometers of the earthquake epicenters,” the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said in a statement. The center advised authorities to act appropriately.

The quake struck just 80 kilometers from the nearest Peruvian city, Acari, according to the US Geological Survey, with its epicenter at a depth of 33 kilometers. The quake had originally been measured at a magnitude of 6.8.

While no deaths or injuries were immediately reported, homes in the province of Caraveli in Arequipa crumbled in the shock.

“Houses have fallen, walls have fallen, especially those made out of adobe…but there has been no report of a loss of human life,” Santiago Neyra, a town mayor in the region, told RPP radio.

A hill reportedly started collapsing in the area, a resident told the station, blocking a highway.

Heavy earthquakes in Peru are a fairly common occurrence as the country lies between two tectonic plates. The most catastrophic in recent years was the 2001 southern Peru earthquake (measuring 8.4), which killed 75 people, 26 of whom died in a subsequent tsunami.

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Thousands Suffering Following Middle East Storm

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Thousands of people across the Middle East remain isolated or without power following one of the worst winter storms in decades across the region.
Parts of Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and Israel were hardest hit with heavy mountain snowfall and flooding rain in the lower elevations.
Thousands were…

Thousands of people across the Middle East remain isolated or without power following one of the worst winter storms in decades across the region.

Parts of Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and Israel were hardest hit with heavy mountain snowfall and flooding rain in the lower elevations.

Thousands were without power during the peak of the storm last week, and unfortunately many remain without power as unseasonable cold prevails over the region.

Since the beginning of the storm, temperatures have averaged 6.9 degrees C (12.4 F) below normal in Tel Aviv and 8.8 degrees C (15.8 F) below normal in Jerusalem.

These frigid temperatures have resulted in life-threatening conditions for those without power and cut off from any aid by the heavy snowfall or flooding.

The good news is that milder weather is expected to build over the region over the next week, slowly bringing temperatures closer to normal levels.

Also fuel shipments to the Gaza strip have enabled power to be restored to some areas that suffered widespread flooding from the storm, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The United Nations began shipping supplies to refugees in Syria over the weekend.

Nights will remain unseasonably cold, however, resulting in dangerous conditions for anyone exposed to elements.

Dry weather will prevail into next week aiding in relief efforts across the entire region.

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