A Derecho, a Widespread Destructive Thunderstorm Wind Event, Swept Across Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan

A line of severe thunderstorms known as a derecho produced damaging winds across the upper Midwest Friday and early Saturday morning, downing numerous trees, damaging some homes, and knocking out power to several hundred thousand customers.

A cluster of thunderstorms in eastern Minnesota Friday afternoon organized into a squall line that raced across northern Wisconsin Friday evening into Lower Michigan after midnight, laying down a 485-mile long trail of damaging winds over a 10-hour period.

This satisfied the criteria for a derecho as laid out by a 2005 study from Walker Ashley and Thomas Mote, a type of widespread convective windstorm typical in summer on the northern edge of a significant heat wave.

The derecho first organized in central Minnesota between the Twin Cities and Duluth, dumping hail as large as baseballs in Pine City late Friday afternoon, smashing vehicle windshields on Interstate 35. Wind-driven hail reportedly flattened crops in the area. At least three buildings were damaged in the nearby town of West Rock, Minnesota.

A trained spotter recorded a wind gust up to 84 mph and sustained winds of 73 mph for five minutes in Cushing, Wisconsin as the developing squall line crossing into northwest Wisconsin.

Turtle Lake, Wisconsin, about 55 miles northeast of St. Paul, was particularly hard hit Friday evening. A roof was ripped off one business, siding partially torn off a hotel and numerous trees were downed. Power was knocked out to many customers in Polk and Burnett counties as storms tore through.

Two barns, a garage and silo were reportedly downed and power poles were bent or snapped in Clark County, Wisconsin, and a well-constructed pole barn was destroyed in neighboring Marathon County.

Widespread tree damage has been reported across Langlade, Shawano, Portage, Outagamie, Kewaunee and Manitowoc Counties in eastern Wisconsin.

If the wind wasn’t bad enough, a tornado touched down near Knowlton, Wisconsin, located roughly 50-55 miles west-northwest of Green Bay around 8:30 p.m. CDT, destroying a barn.

Trees were downed in Green Bay as the line of thunderstorms arrived late Friday evening.

The derecho then roared across Lake Michigan into Lower Michigan after midnight.

Numerous trees were downed in Lake, Mecosta, Newaygo, Montcalm County.

A wind gust of 64 mph was clocked in Muskegon, where numerous trees were downed, some on vehicles in the city just after 1 a.m. One tree was downed on a hotel in Marion, Michigan.

Winds gusted to 69 mph in Grand Rapids. A roof was blown off a home in Jenison, just west of Grand Rapids and a large tree was downed on a home in Middleville, just south of Grand Rapids.

The derecho finally lost its punch around 3 a.m. over southern Lower Michigan just after producing a 58 mph gust in Kalamazoo.

In all, over 120 reports of strong thunderstorm winds or wind damage were compiled by the National Weather Service from the derecho.

As of sunrise on July 20, just over 272,000 customers were without power in Michigan and Wisconsin from the storm, according to an estimate from poweroutage.us.

These derechos have a notorious history in the upper Midwest.

One infamous derecho on July 4, 1977, damaged or destroyed about 1 million acres of forest from northern Minnesota into northern Wisconsin.

This derecho was produced from a classic summer severe weather setup in the Midwest.

Oppressively hot, humid air was in place as far north as the upper Mississippi Valley, with temperatures reaching into the 90s and dew points, a measure of moisture, surging well into the 70s.

A record strong jet stream by mid-July standards in the Pacific Northwest punched into the northern Plains and southern Canada just north of an east-to-west oriented frontal boundary that stretched across the upper Midwest.

These ingredients combined to provide both the extreme instability (hot, humid air near the ground topped by relatively cool air several thousand feet aloft), moisture and source of lift (the frontal system) for this squall line of severe thunderstorms.

An atmospheric sounding taken at the National Weather Service office in Chanhassen, Minnesota, Friday evening found a measure of instability known to meteorologists as surface-based CAPE was the highest on record, there.

This prompted a rare “potentially dangerous situation” severe thunderstorm watch from NOAA’s Storm Prediction Center, which mentioned potential peak wind gusts up to 105 mph possible.

According to Storm Prediction Center warning coordination meteorologist Patrick Marsh, the last time the SPC issued a watch with that high a potential thunderstorm wind gust was in mid-June 2009.

A Material Way To Make Mars Habitable

People have long dreamed of re-shaping the Martian climate to make it livable for humans. Carl Sagan was the first outside of the realm of science fiction to propose terraforming. In a 1971 paper, Sagan suggested that vaporizing the northern polar ice caps would “yield ~10 s g cm-2 of atmosphere over the planet, higher global temperatures through the greenhouse effect, and a greatly increased likelihood of liquid water.”

Sagan’s work inspired other researchers and futurists to take seriously the idea of terraforming. The key question was: are there enough greenhouse gases and water on Mars to increase its atmospheric pressure to Earth-like levels?

In 2018, a pair of NASA-funded researchers from the University of Colorado, Boulder and Northern Arizona University found that processing all the sources available on Mars would only increase atmospheric pressure to about 7 percent that of Earth – far short of what is needed to make the planet habitable.

Terraforming Mars, it seemed, was an unfulfillable dream.

Now, researchers from the Harvard University, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab, and the University of Edinburgh, have a new idea. Rather than trying to change the whole planet, what if you took a more regional approach?

The researchers suggest that regions of the Martian surface could be made habitable with a material — silica aerogel — that mimics Earth’s atmospheric greenhouse effect. Through modeling and experiments, the researchers show that a two to three-centimeter-thick shield of silica aerogel could transmit enough visible light for photosynthesis, block hazardous ultraviolet radiation, and raise temperatures underneath permanently above the melting point of water, all without the need for any internal heat source.

The paper is published in Nature Astronomy.

“This regional approach to making Mars habitable is much more achievable than global atmospheric modification,” said Robin Wordsworth, Assistant Professor of Environmental Science and Engineering at the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) and the Department of Earth and Planetary Science. “Unlike the previous ideas to make Mars habitable, this is something that can be developed and tested systematically with materials and technology we already have.”

“Mars is the most habitable planet in our Solar System besides Earth,” said Laura Kerber, Research Scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “But it remains a hostile world for many kinds of life. A system for creating small islands of habitability would allow us to transform Mars in a controlled and scalable way.”

The researchers were inspired by a phenomenon that already occurs on Mars.

Unlike Earth’s polar ice caps, which are made of frozen water, polar ice caps on Mars are a combination of water ice and frozen CO2. Like its gaseous form, frozen CO2 allows sunlight to penetrate while trapping heat. In the summer, this solid-state greenhouse effect creates pockets of warming under the ice.

“We started thinking about this solid-state greenhouse effect and how it could be invoked for creating habitable environments on Mars in the future,” said Wordsworth. “We started thinking about what kind of materials could minimize thermal conductivity but still transmit as much light as possible.”

The researchers landed on silica aerogel, one of the most insulating materials ever created.

Silica aerogels are 97 percent porous, meaning light moves through the material but the interconnecting nanolayers of silicon dioxide infrared radiation and greatly slow the conduction of heat. These aerogels are used in several engineering applications today, including NASA’s Mars Exploration Rovers.

“Silica aerogel is a promising material because its effect is passive,” said Kerber. “It wouldn’t require large amounts of energy or maintenance of moving parts to keep an area warm over long periods of time.”

Using modeling and experiments that mimicked the Martian surface, the researchers demonstrated that a thin layer of this material increased average temperatures of mid-latitudes on Mars to Earth-like temperatures.

“Spread across a large enough area, you wouldn’t need any other technology or physics, you would just need a layer of this stuff on the surface and underneath you would have permanent liquid water,” said Wordsworth.

This material could be used to build habitation domes or even self-contained biospheres on Mars.

“There’s a whole host of fascinating engineering questions that emerge from this,” said Wordsworth.

Next, the team aims to test the material in Mars-like climates on Earth, such as the dry valleys of Antarctica or Chile.

Wordsworth points out that any discussion about making Mars habitable for humans and Earth life also raises important philosophical and ethical questions about planetary protection.

“If you’re going to enable life on the Martian surface, are you sure that there’s not life there already? If there is, how do we navigate that,” asked Wordsworth. “The moment we decide to commit to having humans on Mars, these questions are inevitable.”

Italy’s Etna Volcano Erupts On Sicily, Disrupting Flights

Europe’s biggest active volcano, Mount Etna, erupted early Saturday with fiery explosions and lava flows, the Italian National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology said (INGV).

Plumes of ash prompted authorities on the island of Sicily to close the Fontanarossa and Comiso Airports in the city of Catania, local media reported.

La Repubblica newspaper said a Ryanair flight from Rome was diverted to Palermo on Friday night, while several flights were delayed from landing or taking off on Saturday.

Airport authorities said flights had returned to normal at 11 a.m. local time (0900 UTC), but stressed that there may still be disruptions and delays.

According to the INGV, the lava was spurting from one of the craters on the volcano’s desert-like southeastern face, and then traveling around 1.5 kilometers (1 mile) down a barren escarpment called the Valle del Bove (Ox Valley).

The most recent Etna activity follows an eruption in December as well as “lively spattering” recorded by the institute in June.

At 3,300 meters (10,826 feet), Etna is the largest active volcano in Europe.

‘Crystal Clocks’ Used To Time Magma Storage Before Volcanic Eruptions

The molten rock that feeds volcanoes can be stored in the Earth’s crust for as long as a thousand years, a result which may help with volcanic hazard management and better forecasting of when eruptions might occur.

Researchers from the University of Cambridge used volcanic minerals known as ‘crystal clocks’ to calculate how long magma can be stored in the deepest parts of volcanic systems. This is the first estimate of magma storage times near the boundary of the Earth’s crust and the mantle, called the Moho. The results are reported in the journal Science.

“This is like geological detective work,” said Dr Euan Mutch from Cambridge’s Department of Earth Sciences, and the paper’s first author. “By studying what we see in the rocks to reconstruct what the eruption was like, we can also know what kind of conditions the magma is stored in, but it’s difficult to understand what’s happening in the deeper parts of volcanic systems.”

“Determining how long magma can be stored in the Earth’s crust can help improve models of the processes that trigger volcanic eruptions,” said co-author Dr John Maclennan, also from the Department of Earth Sciences. “The speed of magma rise and storage is tightly linked to the transfer of heat and chemicals in the crust of volcanic regions, which is important for geothermal power and the release of volcanic gases to the atmosphere.”

The researchers studied the Borgarhraun eruption of the Theistareykir volcano in northern Iceland, which occurred roughly 10,000 years ago, and was fed directly from the Moho. This boundary area plays an important role in the processing of melts as they travel from their source regions in the mantle towards the Earth’s surface. To calculate how long the magma was stored at this boundary area, the researchers used a volcanic mineral known as spinel like a tiny stopwatch or crystal clock.

Using the crystal clock method, the researchers were able to model how the composition of the spinel crystals changed over time while the magma was being stored. Specifically, they looked at the rates of diffusion of aluminium and chromium within the crystals and how these elements are ‘zoned’.

“Diffusion of elements works to get the crystal into chemical equilibrium with its surroundings,” said Maclennan. “If we know how fast they diffuse we can figure out how long the minerals were stored in the magma.”

The researchers looked at how aluminium and chromium were zoned in the crystals, and realised that this pattern was telling them something exciting and new about magma storage time. The diffusion rates were estimated using the results of previous lab experiments. The researchers then used a new method, combining finite element modelling and Bayesian nested sampling to estimate the storage timescales.

“We now have really good estimates in terms of where the magma comes from in terms of depth,” said Mutch. “No one’s ever gotten this kind of timescale information from the deeper crust.”

Calculating the magma storage time also helped the researchers determine how magma can be transferred to the surface. Instead of the classical model of a volcano with a large magma chamber beneath, the researchers say that instead, it’s more like a volcanic ‘plumbing system’ extending through the crust with lots of small ‘spouts’ where magma can be quickly transferred to the surface.

A second paper by the same team, recently published in Nature Geoscience, found that that there is a link between the rate of ascent of the magma and the release of CO2, which has implications for volcano monitoring.

The researchers observed that enough CO2 was transferred from the magma into gas over the days before eruption to indicate that CO2 monitoring could be a useful way of spotting the precursors to eruptions in Iceland. Based on the same set of crystals from Borgarhraun, the researchers found that magma can rise from a chamber 20 kilometres deep to the surface in as little as four days.

The research was supported by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC).

New Hubble Constant Measurement Adds To Mystery Of Universe’s Expansion Rate

Astronomers have made a new measurement of how fast the universe is expanding, using an entirely different kind of star than previous endeavors. The revised measurement, which comes from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, falls in the center of a hotly debated question in astrophysics that may lead to a new interpretation of the universe’s fundamental properties.

Scientists have known for almost a century that the universe is expanding, meaning the distance between galaxies across the universe is becoming ever more vast every second. But exactly how fast space is stretching, a value known as the Hubble constant, has remained stubbornly elusive.

Now, University of Chicago professor Wendy Freedman and colleagues have a new measurement for the rate of expansion in the modern universe, suggesting the space between galaxies is stretching faster than scientists would expect. Freedman’s is one of several recent studies that point to a nagging discrepancy between modern expansion measurements and predictions based on the universe as it was more than 13 billion years ago, as measured by the European Space Agency’s Planck satellite.

As more research points to a discrepancy between predictions and observations, scientists are considering whether they may need to come up with a new model for the underlying physics of the universe in order to explain it.

“The Hubble constant is the cosmological parameter that sets the absolute scale, size and age of the universe; it is one of the most direct ways we have of quantifying how the universe evolves,” said Freedman. “The discrepancy that we saw before has not gone away, but this new evidence suggests that the jury is still out on whether there is an immediate and compelling reason to believe that there is something fundamentally flawed in our current model of the universe.”

In a new paper accepted for publication in The Astrophysical Journal, Freedman and her team announced a new measurement of the Hubble constant using a kind of star known as a red giant. Their new observations, made using Hubble, indicate that the expansion rate for the nearby universe is just under 70 kilometers per second per megaparsec (km/sec/Mpc). One parsec is equivalent to 3.26 light-years distance.

This measurement is slightly smaller than the value of 74 km/sec/Mpc recently reported by the Hubble SH0ES (Supernovae H0 for the Equation of State) team using Cepheid variables, which are stars that pulse at regular intervals that correspond to their peak brightness. This team, led by Adam Riess of the Johns Hopkins University and Space Telescope Science Institute, Baltimore, Maryland, recently reported refining their observations to the highest precision to date for their Cepheid distance measurement technique.

How to Measure Expansion

A central challenge in measuring the universe’s expansion rate is that it is very difficult to accurately calculate distances to distant objects.

In 2001, Freedman led a team that used distant stars to make a landmark measurement of the Hubble constant. The Hubble Space Telescope Key Project team measured the value using Cepheid variables as distance markers. Their program concluded that the value of the Hubble constant for our universe was 72 km/sec/Mpc.

But more recently, scientists took a very different approach: building a model based on the rippling structure of light left over from the big bang, which is called the Cosmic Microwave Background. The Planck measurements allow scientists to predict how the early universe would likely have evolved into the expansion rate astronomers can measure today. Scientists calculated a value of 67.4 km/sec/Mpc, in significant disagreement with the rate of 74.0 km/sec/Mpc measured with Cepheid stars.

Astronomers have looked for anything that might be causing the mismatch. “Naturally, questions arise as to whether the discrepancy is coming from some aspect that astronomers don’t yet understand about the stars we’re measuring, or whether our cosmological model of the universe is still incomplete,” Freedman said. “Or maybe both need to be improved upon.”

Freedman’s team sought to check their results by establishing a new and entirely independent path to the Hubble constant using an entirely different kind of star.

Certain stars end their lives as a very luminous kind of star called a red giant, a stage of evolution that our own Sun will experience billions of years from now. At a certain point, the star undergoes a catastrophic event called a helium flash, in which the temperature rises to about 100 million degrees and the structure of the star is rearranged, which ultimately dramatically decreases its luminosity. Astronomers can measure the apparent brightness of the red giant stars at this stage in different galaxies, and they can use this as a way to tell their distance.

The Hubble constant is calculated by comparing distance values to the apparent recessional velocity of the target galaxies — that is, how fast galaxies seem to be moving away. The team’s calculations give a Hubble constant of 69.8 km/sec/Mpc — straddling the values derived by the Planck and Riess teams.

“Our initial thought was that if there’s a problem to be resolved between the Cepheids and the Cosmic Microwave Background, then the red giant method can be the tie-breaker,” said Freedman.

But the results do not appear to strongly favor one answer over the other say the researchers, although they align more closely with the Planck results.

NASA’s upcoming mission, the Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST), scheduled to launch in the mid-2020s, will enable astronomers to better explore the value of the Hubble constant across cosmic time. WFIRST, with its Hubble-like resolution and 100 times greater view of the sky, will provide a wealth of new Type Ia supernovae, Cepheid variables, and red giant stars to fundamentally improve distance measurements to galaxies near and far.

The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between NASA and ESA (European Space Agency). NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, manages the telescope. The Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore, Maryland, conducts Hubble science operations. STScI is operated for NASA by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy in Washington, D.C.

Supernova Observation First Of Its Kind Using NASA Satellite

When NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite launched into space in April 2018, it did so with a specific goal: to search the universe for new planets.

But in recently published research, a team of astronomers at The Ohio State University showed that the survey, nicknamed TESS, could also be used to monitor a particular type of supernova, giving scientists more clues about what causes white dwarf stars to explode — and about the elements those explosions leave behind.

“We have known for years that these stars explode, but we have terrible ideas of why they explode,” said Patrick Vallely, lead author of the study and an Ohio State astronomy graduate student. “The big thing here is that we are able to show that this supernova isn’t consistent with having a white dwarf (take mass) directly from a standard star companion and explode into it — the kind of standard idea that had led to people trying to find hydrogen signatures in the first place. That is, because the TESS light curve doesn’t show any evidence of the explosion slamming into the surface of a companion, and because the hydrogen signatures in the SALT spectra don’t evolve like the other elements, we can rule out that standard model.”

Their research, detailed in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, represents the first published findings about a supernova observed using TESS, and add new insights to long-held theories about the elements left behind after a white dwarf star explodes into a supernova.

Those elements have long troubled astronomers.

A white dwarf explodes into a specific type of supernova, a 1a, after gathering mass from a nearby companion star and growing too big to remain stable, astronomers believe. But if that is true, then the explosion should, astronomers have theorized, leave behind trace elements of hydrogen, a crucial building block of stars and the entire universe. (White dwarf stars, by their nature, have already burned through their own hydrogen and so would not be a source of hydrogen in a supernova.)

But until this TESS-based observation of a supernova, astronomers had never seen those hydrogen traces in the explosion’s aftermath: This supernova is the first of its type in which astronomers have measured hydrogen. That hydrogen, first reported by a team from the Observatories of the Carnegie Institution for Science, could change the nature of what astronomers know about white dwarf supernovae.

“The most interesting thing about this particular supernova is the hydrogen we saw in its spectra (the elements the explosion leaves behind),” Vallely said. “We’ve been looking for hydrogen and helium in the spectra of this type of supernova for years — those elements help us understand what caused the supernova in the first place.”

The hydrogen could mean that the white dwarf consumed a nearby star. In that scenario, the second star would be a normal star in the middle of its lifespan — not a second white dwarf. But when astronomers measured the light curve from this supernova, the curve indicated that the second star was in fact a second white dwarf. So where did the hydrogen come from?

Professor of Astronomy Kris Stanek, Vallely’s adviser at Ohio State and a co-author on this paper, said it is possible that the hydrogen came from a companion star — a standard, regular star — but he thinks it is more likely that the hydrogen came from a third star that happened to be near the exploding white dwarf and was consumed in the supernova by chance.

“We would think that because we see this hydrogen, it means that the white dwarf consumed a second star and exploded, but based on the light curve we saw from this supernova, that might not be true,” Stanek said.

“Based on the light curve, the most likely thing that happened, we think, is that the hydrogen might be coming from a third star in the system,” Stanek added. “So the prevailing scenario, at least at Ohio State right now, is that the way to make a Type Ia (pronounced 1-A) supernova is by having two white dwarf stars interacting — colliding even. But also having a third star that provides the hydrogen.”

For the Ohio State research, Vallely, Stanek and a team of astronomers from around the world combined data from TESS, a 10-centimeter-diameter telescope, with data from the All-Sky Automated Survey for Supernovae (ASAS-SN for short.) ASAS-SN is led by Ohio State and is made up of small telescopes around the world watching the sky for supernovae in far-away galaxies.

TESS, by comparison, is designed to search the skies for planets in our nearby galaxy — and to provide data much more quickly than previous satellite telescopes. That means that the Ohio State team was able to use data from TESS to see what was happening around the supernova in the first moments after it exploded — an unprecedented opportunity.

The team combined data from TESS and ASAS-SN with data from the South African Large Telescope to evaluate the elements left behind in the supernova’s wake. They found both hydrogen and helium there, two indicators that the exploding star had somehow consumed a nearby companion star.

“What is really cool about these results is, when we combine the data, we can learn new things,” Stanek said. “And this supernova is the first exciting case of that synergy.”

The supernova this team observed was a Type Ia, a type of supernova that can occur when two stars orbit one another — what astronomers call a binary system. In some cases of a Type I supernova, one of those stars is a white dwarf.

A white dwarf has burned off all its nuclear fuel, leaving behind only a very hot core. (White dwarf temperatures exceed 100,000 degrees Kelvin — nearly 200,000 degrees Fahrenheit.) Unless the star grows bigger by stealing bits of energy and matter from a nearby star, the white dwarf spends the next billion years cooling down before turning into a lump of black carbon.

But if the white dwarf and another star are in a binary system, the white dwarf slowly takes mass from the other star until, eventually, the white dwarf explodes into a supernova.

Type I supernovae are important for space science — they help astronomers measure distance in space, and help them calculate how quickly the universe is expanding (a discovery so important that it won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2011.)

“These are the most famous type of supernova — they led to dark energy being discovered in the 1990s,” Vallely said. “They are responsible for the existence of so many elements in the universe. But we don’t really understand the physics behind them that well. And that’s what I really like about combining TESS and ASAS-SN here, that we can build up this data and use it to figure out a little more about these supernovae.”

Scientists broadly agree that the companion star leads to a white dwarf supernova, but the mechanism of that explosion, and the makeup of the companion star, are less clear.

This finding, Stanek said, provides some evidence that the companion star in this type of supernova is likely another white dwarf.

“We are seeing something new in this data, and it helps our understanding of the Ia supernova phenomenon,” he said. “And we can explain this all in terms of the scenarios we already have — we just need to allow for the third star in this case to be the source of the hydrogen.”

ASAS-SN is supported by Las Cumbres Observatory and funded in part by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, the National Science Foundation, the Mt. Cuba Astronomical Foundation, the Center for Cosmology and AstroParticle Physics at Ohio State, the Chinese Academy of Sciences South American Center for Astronomy and the Villum Fonden in Denmark.

Magnitude 7.3 Quake Hits Laiwui, Indonesia, No Tsunami

A 7.3-magnitude earthquake has jolted South Halmahera regency in North Maluku. According to the United States Geological Survey (USGS), the quake occurred at 4:10 p.m. Jakarta time or 6:10 p.m. local time, 102 kilometers north-northeast of Laiwui in South Halmahera, at a depth of 10 kilometers.

The Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) said there was no tsunami potential detected because of the earthquake. It has also recorded several aftershocks. Meanwhile, the BMKG reported at 5:04 p.m. Jakarta time, there was a 5.2-magnitude earthquake with an epicenter at 61 kilometers southwestern off Biak Numfor regency in Papua.

Based on official information from the South Halmahera Disaster Mitigation Agency (BPBD), the quake was mostly felt in the regency for two to five seconds, prompting people to panic and rush out of their homes.