Solar storm hits Earth with increased aurora activity

After a weekend filled with great auroral activity in Northern Canada and Scandinavia thanks to a strong gust of solar wind coming off the Sun January 19th, the Earth is about to get hit again – by the biggest blast of solar radiation in 7 years. Talk about a one-two punch on the cosmic scale!

Late last night…a giant, long lasting, solar flare erupted off the face of the Sun, sending a giant Coronal Mass Ejection – cloud of plasma and charged particles – squarely towards the Earth. Detected by NASA’s sun-monitoring satellites SOHO and STEREO, the solar blast was determined to be an M9 on the Richter scale of solar flares – just shy of an X- class flare which is ranked as the most powerful. Space weather forecasters at NOAA – who keep watch for any hazardous, incoming solar storms – are expecting the brunt of the CME to slam into Earth’s magnetic field Jan.24 around 9 am EST (2 pm UT) +/- 7 hours…

Already the front of the storm is now being felt as space radiation (energized protons) speeds by Earth, states the website. The high influx of charged particles hitting the magnetic field poses a hazard to everything from GPS signals, polar radio communications, power grids and circuit boards on orbiting satellites.

What does this mean for chances of seeing Northern Lights? If the geomagnetic storm becomes moderate to strong then auroras may creep down to southern latitudes like Texas and Georgia – but that’s pretty rare. Exactly how intense and widespread the sky show will be depends on how our planet’s magnetic field is oriented at the time when the storm arrives.

Best time to go outside will be between local midnight and pre-dawn hours. Face the northern sky and look for green or red glows to start near the horizon. Catching auroras with your camera is not hard. All you need to have is a tripod mounted DSLR camera with a wide angle lens, capable of taking exposures of up to 20 seconds with a timer.

You don’t even need it to be a DSLR – just a decent camera that can handle a 20 second exposure. My “big” camera has a wireless remote that will let me open and then close the shutter for any time period I feel like counting off.

But, I don’t expect to see any aurora at this latitude. Yes – I will go outside and look, though.

Her boss was a “sex pest” – but, the employment tribunal can’t name them because they’re spies!

A senior intelligence chief was branded a “sex pest” by a former spy who claims he persistently begged her to start an affair with him.

The “stocky” intelligence boss sent the woman text lurid messages and emails including joking about having a sexually transmitted disease.

At one point, he told her he was “pulling a sickie” only to send her text messages from home asking her whether she had been wearing anything in bed the previous night, she claimed.

The man, a married father, also allegedly touched the woman’s hair suggestively and pulled his chair uncomfortably close to hers, as well as offering to give her special one-on-one IT coaching at her flat.

At other times, he would seek her advice on his clothes, asking her “do I look fat in this?” and regularly invited her to join him for coffee or lunch, she said.

The woman, who can be named only as Miss D for security reasons, told an employment tribunal that the he told her that he was dissatisfied in his marriage. He appeared so “determined to stray” that she even tried to point him in the direction of another member of staff to “get him off my back”, she claimed…

Miss D, who held a mid-management rank within the agency, accuses the man, her former boss – known only as Mr F – of sexual harassment.

Both he and the agency where they both worked, which can also not be named, deny her allegations of sexual discrimination.

The hearing at the Central London Employment Tribunals is being held amid elaborate security measures to protect the identities of the witnesses…

RTFA for all the boring ego-smitten details. Without knowing whom you’re reading about.

Now that it’s hot in the newspapers, I’ll bet there’s a waiting line at the court each morning! 🙂

Stem cell therapy – works in first trial in blind patients

Scientists have improved the sight of two people who were almost blind by injecting their eyes with stem cells from embryos.

The two women, both registered as blind, saw their vision improve in a matter of weeks after being given the embryo-derived cells in the US safety trial.

The breakthrough holds out the hope of a cure in the future for age-related macular degeneration, which currently affects some 500,000 people in Britain…

This is the first peer-reviewed scientific report showing that cells derived from human embryonic stem cells can be transplanted safely into a patient with no sign of complications…

“Although the study is limited to safety considerations, very small in scope, and at a very early stage, this is nonetheless a ground breaking moment for embryonic stem cell therapies” said Professor Daniel Brison.

Meanwhile, a British man has become the first European to be treated with embryonic stem cells, at the Moorfield Eye Hospital in London, which is running a parallel trial.

Both the women in the US study arm suffer from forms of macular degeneration – worsening central vision – that are caused by retinal cells dying…

Each patient had a single eye injected with about 50,000 retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) cells that had been derived from embryonic stem cells. In this way, vision in one eye could be compared against vision in the other…

While this is primarily a safety trial, we will have the opportunity to monitor engraftment of retinal cells and to assess any impact on sight.”

The use of embryonic stem cells, which can develop into any type of cell, is controversial because it requires the destruction of human embryos…which frightens religious moralists.

President George W Bush stopped federal funding of such research, but this ban was lifted by President Obama in 2009.

RTFA for a fair amount of detail. Certainly it’s early days and trials designed solely to test the safety of the procedure. But, don’t spend too much time telling the volunteers they’re being immoral as they experience improvement in their vision.

Science that provides qualitative and immediate medical benefits won’t find too many religious foot soldiers lining up to prevent continuing trials — excepting among seriously sectarian fanatics.

Cornell Legacy Project shares advice from grayhead “experts”

…Eventually, most of us learn valuable lessons about how to conduct a successful and satisfying life. But for far too many people, the learning comes too late to help them avoid painful mistakes and decades of wasted time and effort.

In recent years, for example, many talented young people have denied their true passions, choosing instead to pursue careers that promise fast and big monetary gains. High rates of divorce speak to an impulsiveness to marry and a tenuous commitment to vows of “till death do us part.”

Parents undermine children’s self-confidence and self-esteem by punishing them physically or pushing them down paths, both academic and athletic, that they are ill equipped to follow. And myriad prescriptions for antidepressants and anti-anxiety drugs reflect a widespread tendency to sweat the small stuff, a failure to recognize time-honored sources of happiness, and a reliance on material acquisitions that provide only temporary pleasure.

Enter an invaluable source of help, if anyone is willing to listen while there is still time to take corrective action. It is a new book called “30 Lessons for Living” that offers practical advice from more than 1,000 older Americans from different economic, educational and occupational strata who were interviewed as part of the ongoing Cornell Legacy Project.

Its author, Karl Pillemer, a professor of human development at the College of Human Ecology at Cornell and a gerontologist at the Weill Cornell Medical College, calls his subjects “the experts,” and their advice is based on what they did right and wrong in their long lives. Many of the interviews can be viewed here.

Continue reading

An Atheist’s Credo

George P. Spencer of Lyndon Center, Vt., died in 1908 at age 83. His epitaph is inscribed on the sides of a granite monument:

“Beyond the universe there is nothing and within the universe the supernatural does not and cannot exist. Of all deceivers who have plagued mankind, none are so deeply ruinous to human happiness as those impostors who pretend to lead by a light above nature. Science has never killed or persecuted a single person for doubting or denying its teachings, and most of these teachings have been true; but religion has murdered millions for doubting or denying her dogmas, and most of these dogmas have been false.”

Rock on, George!

Thanks, Ursarodina

Nova Scotia Power Saves a Seagull!

Nova Scotia Power lineman Yvon Blin saves a seagull that somehow managed to get its head stuck in a braided power service line in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia Canada.

The journalist who shot the video was also taking stills for the local paper; so, he stopped shooting video before the release. But, the lineman brought the seagull down to the ground and released him – and he flew away just fine.

Maybe had a little crick in his neck the next morning.

Thanks, Ursarodina