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The Taurid UFOs!
Bird Flu Paranoia! Bush Debt!
Mission To
Earth's Evil Twin!
Fossil Fuel & Acid Oceans!
The Taurid UFOs!

The bright light behind the clouds is a fireball photographed on
Nov. 2, 2005, by Mark Vorhusen of Germany. (NASA)

NASA News Release

November 3, 2005 - "I thought some wise guy was shining a spotlight at me," says Josh Bowers of New Germany, Pennsylvania. "Then I realized what it was: a fireball in the southern sky. I was doing some backyard astronomy around 9 p.m. on Halloween (Oct. 31, 2005), and this meteor was so bright it made me lose my night vision."

Bowers wasn't the only one who saw the fireball. Lots of people were outdoors Trick or Treating. They saw what Bowers saw ... and more. Before the night was over, reports of meteors "brighter than a full moon" were streaming in from coast to coast.

Astronomers have taken to calling these the "Halloween fireballs." But there's more to it than Halloween. The display has been going on for days.

On Oct. 30, for example, Bill Plaskon of Jonesport, Maine, was "observing Mars through a 10-inch telescope at 10:04 p.m. EST when a brilliant fireball lit up the sky and left a short corkscrew-like smoke trail that lasted about 1 minute."

On Oct 28, Lance Taylor of Edmonton, Alberta, woke up early to go fishing with five friends. At about 6 a.m. they "noticed a nice fireball. Then 20 minutes later there was another," he says.

On Nov. 2 in the Netherlands, "The sky lit up very bright," reports Koen Miskotte. "In the corner of my eye I saw a fireball about as bright [as a crescent moon]."

And so on….


A Taurid fireball photographed Oct. 28, 2005, by Hiroyuki
Iida of Toyama, Japan. (NASA)

What's happening? "People are probably seeing the Taurid meteor shower," says meteor expert David Asher of the Armagh Observatory in Northern Ireland.

Every year in late October and early November, he explains, Earth passes through a river of space dust associated with Comet Encke. Tiny grains hit our atmosphere at 65,000 mph. At that speed, even a tiny smidgen of dust makes a vivid streak of light--a meteor--when it disintegrates. Because these meteors shoot out of the constellation Taurus, they're called Taurids.

Most years the shower is weak, producing no more than five rather dim meteors every hour. But occasionally, the Taurids put on quite a show. Fireballs streak across the sky, ruining night vision and interrupting fishing trips.

Asher thinks 2005 could be such a year.

According to Asher, the fireballs come from a swarm of particles bigger than the usual dust grains. "They're about the size of pebbles or small stones," he says. (It may seem unbelievable that a pebble can produce a fireball as bright as the Moon, but remember, these things hit the atmosphere at very high speed.) The rocky swarm moves within the greater Taurid dust stream, sometimes hitting Earth, sometimes not.

"In the early 1990s, when Victor Clube was supervising my PhD work on Taurids," recalls Asher, "we came up with this model of a swarm within the Taurid stream to explain enhanced numbers of bright Taurid meteors being observed in particular years."

They listed "swarm years" in a 1993 paper in the Quarterly Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society and predicted an encounter in 2005.

It seems to be happening.

When should you look? You might see a fireball flitting across the sky any time Taurus is above the horizon. At this time of year, the Bull rises in the east at sunset. The odds of seeing a bright meteor improve as the constellation climbs higher. By midnight, Taurus is nearly overhead, so that is a particularly good time.

According to the International Meteor Organization, the Taurid shower peaks between Nov. 5th and Nov. 12th (details). "Earth takes a week or two to traverse the swarm," notes Asher. "This comparatively long duration means you don't get spectacular outbursts like a Leonid meteor storm." It's more of a slow drizzle--"maybe one every few hours," says Asher.

A drizzle of fireballs, however, is nothing to sneeze at. So keep an eye on the sky this month for Taurids.

The Taurids - http://www.imo.net/calendar/2005/fall  - details from the International Meteor Organization. Scroll down the page to "Taurids."

Taurid Swarm Years - http://star.arm.ac.uk/%7Edja/taurid/swarmyears.html  - as predicted by Asher and Clube

Comet Encke - http://antwrp.gsfc.nasa.gov/apod/ap031223.html  - (APOD) The source of the Taurid meteor shower is an unusual comet.

Where is Comet Encke now? - http://neo.jpl.nasa.gov/cgi-bin/db_shm?rec=900088  - a 3D orbit from JPL
.

Earthjustice Calls Bush Alito Nomination Scary

President Bush and Judge Samuel Alito,
Jr. (White House photo)

Earthjustice News Release

Washington DC October 31, 2005 - Earthjustice warned today that President Bush’s nomination of Judge Samuel Alito, Jr. to a lifetime seat on the U.S. Supreme Court could threaten a wide range of laws that safeguard the health and environment of all Americans.

“With this nomination on Halloween, President Bush appears to be giving a sweet treat to the radical right, and playing a nasty trick on the vast majority of Americans,” said Glenn Sugameli, senior legislative counsel at Earthjustice. “The entire country knows that Judge Alito was hand-picked by the radical right after they torpedoed the nomination of Harriet Miers.

“Earthjustice is extremely concerned that Judge Alito has repeatedly sought to go even farther than the current Supreme Court majority in restricting Congress’ authority to allow Americans to protect their rights in court, and to enact laws that protect our health and environment.”

In Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) v. Magnesium Elektron (MEI), Judge Alito joined in a 2-1 ruling gutting citizens’ access to courts under the Clean Water Act. Although the Act authorizes citizens to bring a “civil enforcement action” against alleged polluters, the Third Circuit ruling declared that PIRG did not have standing to sue because it had not demonstrated that MEI’s pollution resulted in serious harm to the environment (reversing a rare $2.6 million fine handed down by the trial court for MEI's violations of the Act).

The majority concluded that the Constitution denied Congress the authority to pass a law allowing citizens access to courts in these circumstances. Three years later, the Supreme Court essentially reversed and rejected Judge Alito’s analysis, ruling (in a 7-2 decision over a heated dissent by Justice Scalia) that “the relevant showing... is not injury to the environment, but injury to the plaintiff.” [Friends of the Earth, Inc. v. Laidlaw]

In Chittister v. Department of Community and Economic Development, Judge Alito wrote an opinion holding that the 11th Amendment precluded state employees from suing for damages to enforce their rights under the "self care" (sick leave) provisions of the Family and Medical Leave Act. A 6-3 Supreme Court majority in Nevada Department of Human Resources v. Hibbs reached the opposite result as to the "family care" provisions of the Act in 2003.

Judge Alito wrote a dissent in the U.S. v. Rybar case that would have unjustifiably restricted Congress’ authority under the Commerce Clause, which is the basis for most federal environmental laws. The majority opinion upheld a conviction under the federal law prohibiting the transfer or possession of machine guns, but Judge Alito would have ruled that the law was unconstitutional. The Supreme Court refused to review the case.

“The Senate has a duty to ensure that the next Justice will be committed to upholding these safeguards and protecting the rights of all Americans,” said Sugameli. “It is essential that all Senators recognize their responsibility to conduct a comprehensive, in-depth review of the nominee’s record and views in deciding whether to confirm him to a lifetime seat on the nation’s highest court.”

Earthjustice - http://www.earthjustice.org

Bird Flu Paranoia

(Disney)

Research Australia News Release

November 3, 2005 - The risk of human bird flu infection is small in Australia and people can still safely eat chicken and keep pet birds, according to bird medicine specialist Dr Bob Doneley.

"The chances of getting bird flu off a pet bird or your neighbors birds are so infinitesimally small," UQ School of Veterinary Science Adjunct Professor Dr Doneley said. "You're more likely to have a light plane hit by a meteor and fall on your head than somebody getting bird flu off their cockatiel."

Dr Doneley, Queensland's only registered bird specialist, said he wanted to clear up some of the confusion and unnecessary panic about the virus. He said bird flu was a viral disease of all birds, usually spread by water birds but normally only causing disease in poultry.

Contaminated water is the most common source of infection from bird droppings but it can be spread physically on boots or other clothing. The virus is stable in water for up to 200 days and in droppings for four to five days, but can be stopped by heat, sunlight and most detergents.

Authorities have confirmed the dangerous H5NI strain of bird flu in South East Asia, Russia and Eastern Europe but not in Australia. They fear an epidemic if this strain mutates to spread into a people-to-people virus.

"We need to be very alert for bird flu in poultry because the more people who get it from birds, the higher the chance that the virus could change."

Dr Doneley said the public were paranoid about catching bird flu off their neighbors' backyard pets because the media had "played up" the virus. He said his West Toowoomba Vet Surgery had been swamped with inquiries from panicked bird owners and neighbors about their pet parrots, finches and budgies.

"We're getting three or four phone calls a day from people wanting to know if they should sell their house because their neighbors have got birds."

Some ways that bird owners can minimize risk are:

  • Build pens to keep domesticated poultry away from wild birds.
  • Stop domesticated poultry from accessing open ponds, lakes or creeks.
  • Keep domestic waterfowl separate from poultry where the waterfowl have access to the same water as wild waterbirds.
  • Be alert for bird flu symptoms in poultry such as coughing, sneezing, noisy breathing, increased tear production, swollen sinuses and head, decreased egg production, diarrhea, convulsions, head arched backwards, unable to fly or walk properly, facial and comb swelling and mouth and comb turning blue and report any worries to your local government biosecurity officer.
  • Don't eat raw or undercooked chicken.
  • Don't use untreated water, use clean town water or bore water.

"Consumers of poultry meat and egg products should not be concerned as the risk of infection from eating poultry products is extremely low," Dr Doneley said. "The avian influenza virus, like most other viruses and bacteria) is destroyed by adequate heating or cooking."

Bush Debt: More Than All Other Presidents Combined

(AFP)

WASHINGTON DC November 4, 2005 (U.S. Newswire) - President George W. Bush and the current administration have now borrowed more money from foreign governments and banks than the previous 42 U.S. presidents combined, which the Blue Dog Coalition in the House of Representatives called "astounding."

Throughout the first 224 years (1776-2000) of our nation's history, 42 U.S. presidents borrowed a combined $1.01 trillion from foreign governments and financial institutions according to the U.S. Treasury Department. In the past four years alone (2001-2005), the Bush Administration has borrowed a staggering $1.05 trillion.

"The seriousness of this rapid and increasing financial vulnerability of our country can hardly be overstated," said Rep. John Tanner (TN), a leader of the Blue Dog Coalition and member of the House Ways and Means Committee. "The financial mismanagement of our country by the Bush Administration should be of concern to all Americans, regardless of political persuasion."

The Blue Dogs have long expressed tremendous concern over mounting U.S. debt and are particularly troubled by our growing dependence on foreign governments to finance our debt. Earlier this year, the Coalition offered a 12 Step Plan to cure our nation's addiction to deficit spending. The Blue Dog plan required, among other things, that all federal agencies pass clean audits, a balanced budget, and the establishment of a rainy day fund to be used in the event of a natural disaster.

"No American political leadership has ever willfully and deliberately mortgaged our country to foreign interests in the manner we have witnessed over the past four years," continued Rep. Tanner. "If this recklessness is not stopped, I truly believe our economic freedom as American citizens is in great jeopardy."

The Blue Dog Coalition is a group of 35 conservative to moderate House Democrats focused on fiscal responsibility.

US Fails to Track Endangered Wildlife
Conservation International News Release

Washington DC November 3, 2005 - The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) is supposed to help governments conserve endangered species by regulating the international sale and transport of wildlife.

However, a new study by scientists from Conservation International and the World Wildlife Fund shows that in some cases, the figures for trade recorded by CITES vary wildly from records kept by the U.S. Customs Service. Their findings indicate the U.S. system for tracking endangered wildlife is failing to properly register the actual numbers of plants and animals involved.

According to the study, published in the journal Conservation Biology, the CITES and U.S. Customs figures for imports and exports of certain species should be the same, but vary by as much as 5,200 percent. In all cases studied, CITES and Customs reported substantially different trade volumes for all species.

"To solve any problem, it's important to understand the problem first. Our findings suggest that we don't know as much as we must about the international wildlife trade to conserve endangered species," said Art Blundell, the study's lead author and Center for Applied Biodiversity Science fellow at Conservation International.

The study represents a groundbreaking new dimension to the debate over the regulation and trade of endangered species. Such widely divergent data suggest widespread inaccuracies in recordkeeping, and without accurate information, sound policy and financial allocation decisions become problematic, making conservation less effective.

"Scientists have long recognized that targeted exploitation of wildlife for international trade is an important cause of biodiversity loss. The question has always been 'how important?' Our findings suggest that the international wildlife trade may be a bigger threat than we've generally thought," said Mike Mascia, senior social scientist with the WWF's Conservation Science Program and the study's co-author.

Although Customs and CITES do not collect data for the purpose of direct comparison, Blundell and Mascia identified five sets of species -- conch, caviar, live coral, cultivated ginseng, and mahogany -- in which the two monitoring systems measured trade in similar categories, making valid comparisons possible. The five groups analyzed represent more than 2,000 species, or 6 percent of the approximately 33,600 species currently under CITES regulation.

The study identified several factors contributing to the widespread discrepancies between Customs and CITES data. Smuggling is one known cause. Also problematic are pervasive and often random recording errors, such as typographic mistakes, data entries that lack measurement units [e.g., kilograms, tons, etc.], and miscategorization of shipments. The authors find the diverging figures troubling because of the United States' standing as the world's largest consumer of endangered species.

The research also showed that the differing figures kept by CITES and U.S. Customs followed no pattern. In some cases, CITES recorded more trade of a certain wildlife group than U.S. Customs, while for others, the situation was reversed.

Fortunately, solutions are possible. To increase precision and reduce smuggling, the authors suggest that agencies should use the same categories for recording wildlife trade and should share information more rapidly; they should be better trained; and wherever possible, the systems should be automated. .

"As the U.S. government agency responsible for CITES, the Fish and Wildlife Service should be given the resources it needs to track the wildlife trade properly," Blundell said. "Accurate wildlife trade monitoring will require creative thinking by all parties – especially government agencies, conservation organizations, and wildlife traders in the U.S. and abroad."

Conservation International - http://www.conservation.org
Mission To Earth's Evil Twin!

Mariner 10 image of Venus cloud tops. (NASA)

University of Colorado at Boulder News Release

November 3, 2005 - University of Colorado at Boulder planetary scientist Larry Esposito, a member of the European Space Agency's Venus Express science team, believes the upcoming mission to Earth's "evil twin" planet should be full of surprises.

While its 875-degree F. surface is hot enough to make rocks glow and its atmosphere is filled with noxious carbon dioxide gases and acid rain, Venus actually is more Earth-like than Mars, said Esposito, a professor in CU-Boulder's Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics. A member of the Venus Monitoring Camera team for the $260 million now slated for launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Nov. 9, Esposito said Venus is a "neglected planet" that undoubtedly harbors a number of astounding discoveries.

One question revolves around what is known as an "unknown ultraviolet absorber" high in the planet's clouds that blocks sunlight from reaching the surface. "Some scientists believe there is the potential, at least, that life could be found in the clouds of Venus," said Esposito. "There has been speculation that sunlight absorbed by the clouds might be involved in some kind of biological activity."

Esposito is particularly eager to see if volcanoes on Venus are still active. In 1983 he used data from a CU-Boulder instrument that flew on NASA's Pioneer Venus spacecraft to uncover evidence that a massive volcanic eruption there poured huge amounts of sulfur dioxide into the upper atmosphere. The eruption, which likely occurred in the late 1970s, appears to have been at least 10 times more powerful than any that have occurred on Earth in more than a century, he said.

"The spacecraft will be looking for 'hotspots' through the clouds in an attempt to make a positive detection of volcanoes," said Esposito, who made the first observations of Venus with the Hubble Space Telescope in 1995. "While the Magellan mission that mapped Venus in the 1990s was not able to find evidence of volcanic activity, it did not close out the question. This will give us another shot."

Since Venus and Earth were virtual twins at birth, scientists are puzzled how planets so similar in size, mass and composition could have evolved such different physical and chemical processes, he said. "The results from missions like this have major implications for our understanding of terrestrial planets as a whole, and for comparable processes occurring on Earth and Mars," said Esposito.


Artist's impression of Venus Express orbiting Venus. (ESA)

Esposito has been involved in a number of planetary exploration missions at CU-Boulder. He currently is science team leader for the UltraViolet Imaging Spectrograph, a $12.5 million CU-Boulder instrument on the Cassini spacecraft now exploring the rings and moons of Saturn.

He also was an investigator for a CU-Boulder instrument that visited Jupiter and its moons in the 1990s aboard NASA's Galileo spacecraft, and was an investigator for NASA's Voyager 2 spacecraft that toted a CU-Boulder instrument on a tour of the solar system's planets in the 1970s and 1980s.

Esposito was a science team member on two failed Russian missions to Mars -- the 1988 Phobos mission that exploded in space and the Mars 96 mission that crashed in Earth's ocean.

Five of the science instruments on Venus Express are "spares" from the Mars Express and Rosetta comet mission, according to ESA.

In addition to the camera, the Venus Express spacecraft also is carrying two imaging spectrometers, a spectrometer to measure atmospheric constituents, a radio science experiment and a space plasma and atom-detecting instrument. The spacecraft is expected to arrive at Venus in April 2006 and orbit the planet for about 16 months.

The Venus Express mission originally was scheduled to launch Oct. 26, but a thermal-insulation problem discovered in the upper-stage booster rocket caused a two-week delay. The launch window closes on Nov. 24.

University of Colorado - http://www.colorado.edu

Fossil Fuel & Acid Oceans!

DOE/Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

LIVERMORE CA November 1, 2005 – If humans continue to use fossil fuels in a business as usual manner for the next several centuries, the polar ice caps will be depleted, ocean sea levels will rise by seven meters and median air temperatures will soar 14.5 degrees warmer than current day.

These are the stunning results of climate and carbon cycle model simulations conducted by scientists at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. By using a coupled climate and carbon cycle model to look at global climate and carbon cycle changes, the scientists found that the earth would warm by 8 degrees Celsius (14.5 degrees Fahrenheit) if humans use the entire planet's available fossil fuels by the year 2300.

The jump in temperature would have alarming consequences for the polar ice caps and the ocean, said lead author Govindasamy Bala of the Laboratory's Energy and Environment Directorate.

In the polar regions alone, the temperature would spike more than 20 degrees Celsius, forcing the land in the region to change from ice and tundra to boreal forests.

"The temperature estimate is actually conservative because the model didn't take into consideration changing land use such as deforestation and build out of cities into outlying wilderness areas," Bala said.

Today's level of atmospheric carbon dioxide is 380 parts per million (ppm). By the year 2300, the model predicts that amount would nearly quadruple to 1,423 ppm.

In the simulations, soil and living biomass are net carbon sinks, which would extract a significant amount of carbon dioxide that otherwise, would be remaining in the atmosphere from the burning of fossil fuels. However, the real scenario might be a bit different.

"The land ecosystem would not take up as much carbon dioxide as the model assumes," Bala said. "In fact in the model, it takes up much more carbon than it would in the real world because the model did not have nitrogen/nutrient limitations to uptake. We also didn't take into account land use changes, such as the clearing of forests."

The model shows that ocean uptake of CO2 begins to decrease in the 22nd and 23rd centuries due to the warming of the ocean surface that drives CO2 fluctuations out of the ocean. It takes longer for the ocean to absorb CO2 than biomass and soil.

By the year 2300, about 38 percent and 17 percent of the carbon dioxide released from the burning of all fossil fuels are taken up by land and the ocean, respectively. The remaining 45 percent stays in the atmosphere.

Whether carbon dioxide is released in the atmosphere or the ocean, eventually about 80 percent of the carbon dioxide will end up in the ocean in a form that will make the ocean more acidic. While the carbon dioxide is in the atmosphere, it could produce adverse climate change. When it enters the ocean, the acidification could be harmful to marine life.


In the polar regions alone, the
temperature would spike more than
20 degrees Celsius... (NASA)

The models predict quite a drastic change not only in the temperature of the oceans but also in its acidity content, that would become especially harmful for marine organisms with shells and skeletal material made out of calcium carbonate.

Calcium carbonate organisms, such as coral, serve as climate-stabilizers. When the organisms die, their carbonate shells and skeletons settle to the ocean floor, where some dissolve and some are buried in sediments. These deposits help regulate the chemistry of the ocean and the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. However, earlier Livermore research found that unrestrained release of fossil-fuel carbon dioxide to the atmosphere could threaten extinction for these climate-stabilizing marine organisms.

"The doubled-CO2 climate that scientists have warned about for decades is beginning to look like a goal we might attain if we work hard to limit CO2 emissions, rather than the terrible outcome that might occur if we do nothing," said Ken Caldeira, of the Department of Global Ecology at the Carnegie Institution and one of the other authors.

Bala said the most drastic changes during the 300-year period would be during the 22nd century in which precipitation change, an increase in atmospheric precipitable water and a decrease in sea ice size are the largest when emissions rates are the highest. During the model runs, sea ice cover disappears almost completely in the northern hemisphere by the year 2150 during northern hemisphere summers.


...forcing the land in the region to change from
ice and tundra to boreal forests. (AFP)

"We took a very holistic view," Bala said. "What if we burn everything? It will be a wake up call in climate change."

As for the global warming skeptics, Bala said the proof is already evident.

"Even if people don't believe in it today, the evidence will be there in 20 years," he said. "These are long-term problems."

He pointed to the 2003 European heat wave, and the 2005 Atlantic hurricane season as examples of extreme climate change.

"We definitely know we are going to warm over the next 300 years," he said. "In reality, we may be worse off than we predict."

Other Livermore authors include Arthur Mirin and Michael Wickett, and Christine Delire of ISE-M at the Université Montepellier II. The research appears in the Nov. 1 issue of the American Meteorological Society's Journal of Climate.

DOE/Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory - http://www.llnl.gov

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