Laurel, Delaware Tornado Rips Apart Homes, Barns

The National Weather Service confirmed a tornado touched down in Laurel, Delaware, overnight, leaving behind a path of destruction for miles. Officials say an EF-2 tornado, with maximum wind speeds of 120 mph, tore through the town.

The tornado traveled 6.2 miles and ended in Seaford, Delaware.

Drone video from the Laurel Fire Department shows the path of destruction left by the tornado in Sussex County. The storm’s 120 mph winds ripped apart homes and barns and many roads were blocked by downed power lines. Some buildings were also completely decimated.

McWilliams, of Laurel, was sleeping when fast-moving winds ripped the roof off above her bedroom.

“It was horrible. It was a loud whistle and then like a roar, and it was terrible. It was scary,” said McWilliams.

She tried finding anywhere in her home for cover as debris started flying everywhere.

“I got up and was hiding behind a recliner in the living room. What are you gonna do? You hear stuff moving, you’re gonna hit the floor,” said McWilliams.

Nearby, an Utz Food Distribution Center is missing walls and a delivery truck was knocked over. Utz usually opens around 6 a.m., so there was no one inside when the storm passed through.

“Thankfully no one was here and everybody is safe,” said Matt Smith, of Utz.

The storm also caused widespread damage across New Jersey and Pennsylvania, ripping a roof off an apartment building in Camden, New Jersey and uprooting trees.

The storm system that hit the area also decimated communities in the south over the weekend.

At least 10 tornadoes damaged or destroyed more than 100 homes in Mississippi and the severe weather is blamed for at least eight deaths.

Deadly Storm System Spawns Tornadoes, Slams South, Heads Northeast

A deadly storm system was bearing down on the East Coast and parts of the Midwest. The storm has already left a violent swath of eath and destruction across parts of the South this weekend, with at least eight people killed as of late Sunday.

The storm surge has been made up of a mix of strong winds, heavy rain, flooding and even tornadoes. At least 11 tornadoes have touched down in three different states as a result of a stronger-than-usual storm system. Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant signed a declaration of emergency Sunday. Dozens of homes in Hamilton, Mississippi, have been completely leveled.

Saturday was a particularly destructive day for the storm. More than 100,000 people were left without power once the storm hit Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi.

Now the storm turns toward the Midwest and East Coast. Tornado warnings have been issued in Ohio and South Carolina on Sunday afternoon and a tornado watch has been issued in Virginia.

Scientists Monitor Increased Activity At Big Island Volcano

HILO, Hawaii – Scientists in Hawaii are monitoring increasing activity surrounding one of the Big Island’s volcanoes.

The Hawaii Volcano Observatory is closely monitoring Mauna Loa because conditions have risen to levels comparable to a more active period between 2014 and 2017, The Hawaii Tribune-Herald reported Sunday.

It is too early to predict possible outcomes of Mauna Loa’s activity, according to Tina Neal, the observatory’s scientist-in-charge.

“An eruption could be anywhere from months to years away,” Neal said. “But we do know that it’s not days or weeks away.”

There have been increased earthquakes and ground deformation around Mauna Loa’s summit, she said.

Earthquakes on Mauna Loa dropped to less than five per week in early 2018, but there have been up to 90 earthquakes weekly since August, with most considered mild at 2.0 or less on the Richter scale, Neal said.

Gas monitoring equipment at Mauna Loa’s summit has not detected any emerging fumes, she said.

“The most important thing is that there is no cause for alarm,” Neal said.

An eruption last year by Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano destroyed more than 700 homes from May through August. Kilauea’s current alert status is “Normal.”

The Kilauea eruption came shortly after a decrease in volcanic activity at Mauna Loa, but Neal said there is no “perfect correlation” between the volcanoes indicating one always becomes active as the other falls silent.

However, there is some geological basis to suggest a pattern, and Mauna Loa’s increased activity “would test that hypothesis,” Neal said.

Astronomers Discover Third Planet In The Kepler-47 Circumbinary System

Astronomers have discovered a third planet in the Kepler-47 system, securing the system’s title as the most interesting of the binary-star worlds. Using data from NASA’s Kepler space telescope, a team of researchers, led by astronomers at San Diego State University, detected the new Neptune-to-Saturn-size planet orbiting between two previously known planets.

With its three planets orbiting two suns, Kepler-47 is the only known multi-planet circumbinary system. Circumbinary planets are those that orbit two stars.

The planets in the Kepler-47 system were detected via the “transit method.” If the orbital plane of the planet is aligned edge-on as seen from Earth, the planet can pass in front of the host stars, leading to a measurable decrease in the observed brightness. The new planet, dubbed Kepler-47d, was not detected earlier due to weak transit signals.

As is common with circumbinary planets, the alignment of the orbital planes of the planets change with time. In this case, the middle planet’s orbit has become more aligned, leading to a stronger transit signal. The transit depth went from undetectable at the beginning of the Kepler Mission to the deepest of the three planets over the span of just four years.

The SDSU researchers were surprised by both the size and location of the new planet. Kepler-47d is the largest of the three planets in the Kepler-47 system.

“We saw a hint of a third planet back in 2012, but with only one transit we needed more data to be sure,” said SDSU astronomer Jerome Orosz, the paper’s lead author. “With an additional transit, the planet’s orbital period could be determined, and we were then able to uncover more transits that were hidden in the noise in the earlier data.”

William Welsh, SDSU astronomer and the study’s co-author, said he and Orosz expected any additional planets in the Kepler-47 system to be orbiting exterior to the previously known planets. “We certainly didn’t expect it to be the largest planet in the system. This was almost shocking,” said Welsh. Their research was recently published in the Astronomical Journal.

With the discovery of the new planet, a much better understanding of the system is possible. For example, researchers now know the planets in this circumbinary system are very low density — less than that of Saturn, the Solar System planet with the lowest density.

While a low density is not that unusual for the sizzling hot-Jupiter type exoplanets, it is rare for mild-temperature planets. Kepler-47d’s equilibrium temperature is roughly 50 o F (10 o C), while Kepler-47c is 26 o F (32 o C). The innermost planet, which is the smallest circumbinary planet known, is a much hotter 336 o F (169 o C).

The inner, middle, and outer planets are 3.1, 7.0, and 4.7 times the size of the Earth, and take 49, 87, and 303 days, respectively, to orbit around their suns. The stars themselves orbit each other in only 7.45 days; one star is similar to the Sun, while the other has a third of the mass of the Sun. The entire system is compact and would fit inside the orbit of the Earth. It is approximately 3340 light-years away in the direction of the constellation Cygnus.

“This work builds on one of the Kepler’s most interesting discoveries: that systems of closely-packed, low-density planets are extremely common in our galaxy,” said University of California, Santa Cruz astronomer Jonathan Fortney, who was not part of the study. “Kepler47 shows that whatever process forms these planets — an outcome that did not happen in our solar system -is common to single-star and circumbinary planetary systems.”

This work was supported in part by grants from NASA and the National Science Foundation.

Meteoroid Strikes Eject Precious Water From Moon

Researchers from NASA and the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, report that streams of meteoroids striking the Moon infuse the thin lunar atmosphere with a short-lived water vapor.

The findings will help scientists understand the history of lunar water — a potential resource for sustaining long term operations on the Moon and human exploration of deep space. Models had predicted that meteoroid impacts could release water from the Moon as a vapor, but scientists hadn’t yet observed the phenomenon.

Now, the team has found dozens of these events in data collected by NASA’s Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer. LADEE was a robotic mission that orbited the Moon to gather detailed information about the structure and composition of the thin lunar atmosphere, and determine whether dust is lofted into the lunar sky.

“We traced most of these events to known meteoroid streams, but the really surprising part is that we also found evidence of four meteoroid streams that were previously undiscovered,” said Mehdi Benna of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and the University of Maryland Baltimore County. Benna is the lead author of the study, published in Nature Geosciences.

The newly identified meteoroid streams, observed by LADEE, occurred on January 9, April 2, April 5 and April 9, 2014.

There’s evidence that the Moon has water (H2O) and hydroxyl (OH), a more reactive relative of H2O. But debates continue about the origins of the water, whether it is widely distributed and how much might be present.

“The Moon doesn’t have significant amounts of H2O or OH in its atmosphere most of the time,” said Richard Elphic, the LADEE project scientist at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley. “But when the Moon passed through one of these meteoroid streams, enough vapor was ejected for us to detect it. And then, when the event was over, the H2O or OH went away.”

Lunar scientists often use the term “water” to refer to both H2O and OH. Figuring out how much H2O and how much OH are present is something future Moon missions might address.

LADEE, which was built and managed by NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley, detected the vapor using its Neutral Mass Spectrometer, an instrument built by Goddard. The mission orbited the Moon from October 2013 to April 2014 and gathered detailed information about the structure and composition of the lunar atmosphere, or more correctly, the “exosphere” — a faint envelope of gases around the Moon.

To release water, the meteoroids had to penetrate at least 3 inches (8 centimeters) below the surface. Underneath this bone-dry top layer lies a thin transition layer, then a hydrated layer, where water molecules likely stick to bits of soil and rock, called regolith.

From the measurements of water in the exosphere, the researchers calculated that the hydrated layer has a water concentration of about 200 to 500 parts per million, or about 0.02 to 0.05 percent by weight. This concentration is much drier than the driest terrestrial soil, and is consistent with earlier studies. It is so dry that one would need to process more than a metric ton of regolith in order to collect 16 ounces of water.

Because the material on the lunar surface is fluffy, even a meteoroid that’s a fraction of an inch (5 millimeters) across can penetrate far enough to release a puff of vapor. With each impact, a small shock wave fans out and ejects water from the surrounding area.

When a stream of meteoroids rains down on the lunar surface, the liberated water will enter the exosphere and spread through it. About two-thirds of that vapor escapes into space, but about one-third lands back on the surface of the Moon.

These findings could help explain the deposits of ice in cold traps in the dark reaches of craters near the poles. Most of the known water on the Moon is located in cold traps, where temperatures are so low that water vapor and other volatiles that encounter the surface will remain stable for a very long time, perhaps up to several billion years. Meteoroid strikes can transport water both into and out of cold traps.

The team ruled out the possibility that all of the water detected came from the meteoroids themselves.

“We know that some of the water must be coming from the Moon, because the mass of water being released is greater than the water mass within the meteoroids coming in,” said the second author of the paper, Dana Hurley of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory.

The analysis indicates that meteoroid impacts release water faster than it can be produced from reactions that occur when the solar wind hits the lunar surface.

“The water being lost is likely ancient, either dating back to the formation of the Moon or deposited early in its history,” said Benna.

NASA is leading a sustainable return to the Moon with commercial and international partners to expand human presence in space and bring back new knowledge and opportunities.

New Evidence Suggests Volcanoes Caused Biggest Mass Extinction Ever

Researchers say mercury buried in ancient rock provides the strongest evidence yet that volcanoes caused the biggest mass extinction in the history of the Earth.

The extinction 252 million years ago was so dramatic and widespread that scientists call it “the Great Dying.” The catastrophe killed off more than 95 percent of life on Earth over the course of hundreds of thousands of years.

Paleontologists with the University of Cincinnati and the China University of Geosciences said they found a spike in mercury in the geologic record at nearly a dozen sites around the world, which provides persuasive evidence that volcanic eruptions were to blame for this global cataclysm.

The study was published this month in the journal Nature Communications.

The eruptions ignited vast deposits of coal, releasing mercury vapor high into the atmosphere. Eventually, it rained down into the marine sediment around the planet, creating an elemental signature of a catastrophe that would herald the age of dinosaurs.

“Volcanic activities, including emissions of volcanic gases and combustion of organic matter, released abundant mercury to the surface of the Earth,” said lead author Jun Shen, an associate professor at the China University of Geosciences.

The mass extinction occurred at what scientists call the Permian-Triassic Boundary. The mass extinction killed off much of the terrestrial and marine life before the rise of dinosaurs. Some were prehistoric monsters in their own right, such as the ferocious gorgonopsids that looked like a cross between a sabre-toothed tiger and a Komodo dragon.

The eruptions occurred in a volcanic system called the Siberian Traps in what is now central Russia. Many of the eruptions occurred not in cone-shaped volcanoes but through gaping fissures in the ground. The eruptions were frequent and long-lasting and their fury spanned a period of hundreds of thousands of years.

“Typically, when you have large, explosive volcanic eruptions, a lot of mercury is released into the atmosphere,” said Thomas Algeo, a professor of geology in UC’s McMicken College of Arts and Sciences.

“Mercury is a relatively new indicator for researchers. It has become a hot topic for investigating volcanic influences on major events in Earth’s history,” Algeo said.

Researchers use the sharp fossilized teeth of lamprey-like creatures called conodonts to date the rock in which the mercury was deposited. Like most other creatures on the planet, conodonts were decimated by the catastrophe.

The eruptions propelled as much as 3 million cubic kilometers of ash high into the air over this extended period. To put that in perspective, the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens in Washington sent just 1 cubic kilometer of ash into the atmosphere, even though ash fell on car windshields as far away as Oklahoma.

In fact, Algeo said, the Siberian Traps eruptions spewed so much material in the air, particularly greenhouse gases, that it warmed the planet by an average of about 10 degrees centigrade.

The warming climate likely would have been one of the biggest culprits in the mass extinction, he said. But acid rain would have spoiled many bodies of water and raised the acidity of the global oceans. And the warmer water would have had more dead zones from a lack of dissolved oxygen.

“We’re often left scratching our heads about what exactly was most harmful. Creatures adapted to colder environments would have been out of luck,” Algeo said. “So my guess is temperature change would be the No. 1 killer. Effects would exacerbated by acidification and other toxins in the environment.”

Stretching over an extended period, eruption after eruption prevented the Earth’s food chain from recovering.

“It’s not necessarily the intensity but the duration that matters,” Algeo said. “The longer this went on, the more pressure was placed on the environment.”

Likewise, the Earth was slow to recover from the disaster because the ongoing disturbances continued to wipe out biodiversity, he said.

Earth has witnessed five known mass extinctions over its 4.5 billion years.

Scientists used another elemental signature — iridium — to pin down the likely cause of the global mass extinction that wiped out the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. They believe an enormous meteor struck what is now Mexico.

The resulting plume of superheated earth blown into the atmosphere rained down material containing iridium that is found in the geologic record around the world.

Shen said the mercury signature provides convincing evidence that the Siberian Traps eruptions were responsible for the catastrophe. Now researchers are trying to pin down the extent of the eruptions and which environmental effects in particular were most responsible for the mass die-off, particularly for land animals and plants.

Shen said the Permian extinction could shed light on how global warming today might lead to the next mass extinction. If global warming, indeed, was responsible for the Permian die-off, what does warming portend for humans and wildlife today?

“The release of carbon into the atmosphere by human beings is similar to the situation in the Late Permian, where abundant carbon was released by the Siberian eruptions,” Shen said.

Algeo said it is cause for concern.

“A majority of biologists believe we’re at the cusp of another mass extinction — the sixth big one. I share that view, too,” Algeo said. “What we should learn is this will be serious business that will harm human interests so we should work to minimize the damage.”

People living in marginal environments such as arid deserts will suffer first. This will lead to more climate refugees around the world.

“We’re likely to see more famine and mass migration in the hardest hit places. It’s a global issue and one we should recognize and proactively deal with. It’s much easier to address these problems before they reach a crisis.”

Asteroids Help Scientists To measure The Diameters Of Faraway Stars

Using the unique capabilities of telescopes specialised on cosmic gamma rays, scientists have measured the smallest apparent size of a star on the night sky to date. The measurements with the Very Energetic Radiation Imaging Telescope Array System (VERITAS) reveal the diameters of a giant star 2674 light-years away and of a sun-like star at a distance of 700 light-years. The study establishes a new method for astronomers to determine the size of stars, as the international team led by Tarek Hassan from DESY and Michael Daniel from the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory (SAO) reports in the journal Nature Astronomy.

Almost any star in the sky is too far away to be resolved by even the best optical telescopes. To overcome this limitation, the scientists used an optical phenomenon called diffraction to measure the star’s diameter. This effect illustrates the wave nature of light, and occurs when an object, such as an asteroid, passes in front of a star. “The incredibly faint shadows of asteroids pass over us everyday,” explained Hassan. “But the rim of their shadow isn’t perfectly sharp. Instead, wrinkles of light surround the central shadow, like water ripples.” This is a general optical phenomenon called a diffraction pattern and can be reproduced in any school lab with a laser hitting a sharp edge.

The researchers used the fact that the shape of the pattern can reveal the angular size of the light source. However, different from the school lab, the diffraction pattern of a star occulted by an asteroid is very hard to measure. “These asteroid occultations are hard to predict,” said Daniel. “And the only chance to catch the diffraction pattern is to make very fast snapshots when the shadow sweeps across the telescope.” Astronomers have measured the angular size of stars this way that were occulted by the moon. This method works right down to angular diameters of about one milliarcsecond, which is about the apparent size of a two-cent coin atop the Eiffel Tower in Paris as seen from New York.

However, not many stars in the sky are that “big.” To resolve even smaller angular diameters, the team employed Cherenkov telescopes. These instruments normally watch out for the extremely short and faint bluish glow that high-energy particles and gamma rays from the cosmos produce when they encounter and race through Earth’s atmosphere. Cherenkov telescopes do not produce the best optical images. But thanks to their huge mirror surface, usually segmented in hexagons like a fly’s eye, they are extremely sensitive to fast variations of light, including starlight.

Using the four large VERITAS telescopes at the Fred Lawrence Whipple Observatory in Arizona, the team could clearly detect the diffraction pattern of the star TYC 5517-227-1 sweep past as it was occulted by the 60-kilometre asteroid Imprinetta on 22 February 2018. The VERITAS telescopes allowed to take 300 snapshots every second. From these data, the brightness profile of the diffraction pattern could be reconstructed with high accuracy, resulting in an angular, or apparent, diameter of the star of 0.125 milliarcseconds. Together with its distance of 2674 light-years, this means the star’s true diameter is eleven times that of our sun. Interestingly, this result categorises the star whose class was ambiguous before as a red giant star.

The researchers repeated the feat three months later on 22 May 2018, when asteroid Penelope with a diameter of 88 kilometres occulted the star TYC 278-748-1. The measurements resulted in an angular size of 0.094 milliarcseconds and a true diameter of 2.17 times that of our sun. This time the team could compare the diameter to an earlier estimate based on other characteristics of the star that had placed its diameter at 2.173 times the solar diameter — an excellent match, although the earlier estimate was not based on a direct measurement.

“This is the smallest angular size of a star ever measured directly,” Daniel emphasised. “Profiling asteroid occultations of stars with Cherenkov telescopes delivers a ten times better resolution than the standard lunar occultation method. Also, it is at least twice as sharp as available interferometric size measurements.” The uncertainty of these measurements are about ten per cent, as the authors write. “We expect this can be notably improved by optimising the set-up, for example narrowing the wavelength of the colours recorded,” said Daniel. Since different wavelengths are diffracted differently, the pattern is smeared out if too many colours are recorded at the same time.

“Our pilot study establishes a new method to determine the true diameter of stars,” Hassan summarised. The scientists estimate that suitable telescopes could view more than one asteroid occultation per week. “Since the same star looks smaller the farther away it is, moving to smaller angular diameters also means extending the observation range,” explained Hassan. “We estimate that our method can analyse stars up to ten times as far away as the standard lunar occultation method allows. All together, the technique can deliver enough data for population studies.”