Friday, April 23, 2010
Katla peaks at 1512 meters and is located east of the smaller glacier Eyjafjallajokull. It is also partially covered by the Myrdalsjokull glacier with an area of 595 km². The major concern for geophysicists is that the recent eruption will trigger an even more powerful eruption of Katla, which has been the historical trend. Eyjafjallojokull has blown 3 times in the past thousand years, in 920AD, in 1616, and between 1821 and 1823. Each time it set off Katla.
The volcano normally erupts every 40-80 years and its last eruption was in 1918, shown in the photograph above, which was sold at an auction to Bjornsog Toggle. Following the 2010 eruption Icelandic President Olafur Grimsson released a statement "the time for Katla to erupt is coming close... we [Iceland] have prepared... it is high time for European governments and airline authorities all over the world to start planning for the eventual Katla eruption".
Eruptions like this put our small world into perspective. One volcano erupts and it can have an enormous impact on the rest of the world. For example, consider Iceland's worst modern time eruption in 1783 when the Laki volcano blew. The lava shot 1.4 km into the air and more than 120 million tonnes of sulphur dioxide was released into the atmosphere, which would transform the world. The results included Britain's notorious "sand summer", creating havoc with harvests in France, and changing the climate so dramatically that New Jersey recorded its largest snowfall and Egypt experienced one of its most enduring droughts. For now we can only wait and hope for the best...
Wednesday, April 21, 2010
The Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) satellite has three instrument packages to measure atmospheric and space physics. During its 5 year mission it will examine the sun's magnetic field and also provide better explanations for the sun's role in Earth's climate and atmospheric chemistry.
A multiwavelength extreme UV image of the sun taken at the end of March is shown above. False colors trace the temperatures of different gases, red being relatively cool (107,500 F) and blue/green being hotter (1.8 million F). Below you can see a video taken by the SDO which shows the solar prominence eruption on March 30, 2010 (Credit: NASA/Goddard). The video loops through one viewpoint, then zooms out and gives you a wider perspective.
Sunday, April 18, 2010
Team leader Roberto Danovaro said in a statement, "Our results indicate that the animals we recovered were alive. Some, in fact, also contained eggs." The animals shown in the image above resemble tiny jellyfish - each measuring less than a millimeter across - and somehow the manage to thrive in the extremely salty seafloor environment. The findings of their research was published in the April 6th issue of BMC Biology.
Humans and most other organisms use structures called mitochondria which uses oxygen to convert nutrients into energy molecules (ATP). These new creatures have modified mitochondria called hydrogenosomes that can produce ATP without using oxygen.
The study also "has strong implications for the search for life in the universe," said Abel Mendez, an astrobiologist at the University of Puerto Rico at Arecibo. Perhaps Europa, one of Jupiter's icy moons might have a subsurface ocean of cold, salty, oxygen-free environments, similar to that where these animals were discovered.
Friday, April 16, 2010
"This is the first time we have the visible lightning flash together with the radio data," said Georg Fischer, a radio and plasma wave scientist at the Space Research Institute in Graz, Austria.
The difficulty with seeing lightning on Saturn is the visual obstruction caused by the planet's rings which reflect sunlight and obscure the flashed from storms on the surface. The first images capturing lightning on Saturn were taken in August 2009 during a storm that lasted from January to October of that year. The images used for the video were much brighter and were taken during a later storm in November 2009. The areas lit by the lightning flashes are approximately 300 km in diameter. The 11 second clip below (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI/University of Iowa) is the first time humanity has ever captured video footage of lightning storms on another planet:
Marine debris has been amalgamating all over the world's oceans, and it is assumed that the Great Pacific Garbage Patch formed by the similar mechanisms: oceanic currents. The garbage patch is located in a seemingly stationary region of the North Pacific Ocean located in the middle of many strong currents. It draws in waste materials from across the entire ocean, including coastal waters off Japan and North America. As debris becomes trapped in the currents, the floating plastic is gradually moved towards the center by wind-driven surface currents. Moore's description of the patch as a massive accumulation of plastic is slightly misleading. The process of disintegration means that the plastic particles in most of the patch are actually too small to be seen. In a 2001 study, researchers found concentrations of plastics to be 334,721 pieces per km squared, with a mean mass of 11.27 lbs per km squared.
As the plastic is disintegrating into smaller and smaller particles, many of them are sinking deep into the ocean and affecting many levels of the food web. These small pieces of toxic-filled plastic have been known to be consumed by jellyfish, which are then eaten by larger fish. Some of the long-lasting larger pieces of plastics are consumed by marine birds and animals, including sea turtles and the albatross.
The initial cleanup steps are now underway as groups are taking samples and attempting to raise awareness of the issue. Make no mistake though, irreversible damage has already been done. Cleaning up the plastic will be a costly and difficult endeavor, one which might be thwarted by a buildup of more plastics likely to be occurring at a faster rate.