In just a little while from now, the longest solar eclipse expected to occur in the 21st century will be visible in a stretch of Asia, beginning in India and crossing through Nepal, Bangladesh, China and part of the Pacific Ocean.
It is a rare celestial event. The solar eclipse that will take place will be a total eclipse of the Sun.
The eclipse will last six minutes and 39 seconds in some areas. The enthusiasts from around the world have descended on the region to view the event by land, sea and air.
A solar eclipse occurs when the moon passes between the Sun and the Earth so that the Sun is fully or partially covered. This can only happen during a new moon, when the Sun and Moon are in conjunction as seen from the Earth.
While large parts of central and eastern India will see a total eclipse, other parts of the country will experience a partial eclipse. The big worry, however, is that the monsoon clouds could play spoilsport.
Thousands of people have attended a state funeral for 205 victims of the earthquake in Italy, as the country held a day of mourning.
Mourners, some barely able to stand with grief, kissed the coffins laid out on the parade ground of a police academy in the mountain city of L’Aquila.
Some collapsed onto the caskets in tears and were comforted by Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.
A message of hope from Pope Benedict was also read out. The Pontiff said he shared their anguish.
An estimated 1,600 bereaved relatives were present at the exceptional Good Friday funeral Mass.
In all, about 10,000 mourners turned out for the ceremony beneath Abruzzo’s snowcapped mountains.
Violent aftershocks again hampered rescue efforts as the death toll from the tremor rose to 289.
The rescue operation is coming to an end as hopes of pulling any more survivors from the rubble fade.
“The search is almost over,” said Luca Spoletini, of the Civil Protection Agency which is co-ordinating Italy’s response to the disaster.
But one fireman said: “As long as we know there are people under the rubble we’ll keep searching – even if we’re sure they’re dead.
“Families need to know what happened to their loved ones.”
The aftershocks have caused even more damage to buildings.
About 17,000 people are now living in tent villages while thousands more survivors are being put up in hotels or relatives’ homes.
Mr Berlusconi called L’Aquila a “ghost town” and said reconstruction would cost billions.
Later, the billionaire politician offered to put up some of the thousands of people made homeless in his own homes.
Mr Berlusconi’s private homes include a mansion in Arcore near Milan, beach villas in Sardinia and Portofino on the Riviera, another on Lake Maggiore, an apartment in central Rome and many more.
Forbes magazine rates him as Italy’s second richest man.
Pope Benedict has said he will visit the region soon.
Some of the earthquake victims have already been buried privately.
A rite funeral for six Muslim victims will also be held.
The Asia Sentinel
Globalwarming melts an India-Pakistan bone of contention
The Siachen glacier, at 19,000 feet in elevation, has long been a flashpoint between India and Pakistan and is the world’s highest battlefield, with intermittent exchanges of fire. However, there may not be much left to fight over as the ice mass is disappearing due to global warming caused by emissions by industry and transport sectors.
Recent studies have found that the length of the glacier has dwindled to half from 150 km to 74 km. Dr Rajeev Upadhayay, of the geology department at Nainital’s Kumaun University (in Uttaranchal state) has studied the glacier since 1995 and delineated causes behind its reduction by 76 km.
In a recent study for a science magazine, Upadhayay wrote that lateral moraines — debris on the sides of the glacier up to 600 meters high – have appeared where thick ice sheets were earlier. He wrote that he is concerned over the existence of the river of ice if temperatures continue to rise and if snowfall continues to drop. The decline, he added, is marked in the core Siachen glacier and not in the related tongues and tributaries in Pakistan. His studies have extended to the Nubra-Shyok river valleys and the adjoining Karakoram Mountains.
The melting of the glaciers is causing concern over floods and landslides. The Himalayan regions in Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Uttaranchal state and Ladakh contain more than 6,500 glaciers, the source of many rivers in the region. In the case of Siachen millions of lives of Pakistanis can be affected. There are also fears of a severe water crisis.
Siachen and a tributary glacier, Rimo, are points of origin of the Nubra and Shyok rivers, which source the Indus River in Pakistan which supplies bulk of the country’s irrigation water. Siachen and other Himalayan glaciers have contributed significantly to sea level rises in the last 20 years, according to the World Glacier Monitoring Service in 2005. In June 2005, the rising waters of Tibet’s Parchu Lake alarmed Indian authorities due to fears of large-scale flooding of the lower reaches of the Himalayas.
Some authorities have said that the recession of the Siachen glacier has accelerated since the mid-1980s when thousands of Pakistani and Indian soldiers were deployed. In 1947, when the Line of Control was formulated between India and Pakistan, the Siachen terrain was considered too rough and difficult to justify extending the border. Until 1984, neither India nor Pakistan troops positioned at Siachen, as neither side saw any point.
However, as relations between the two countries worsened, Siachen rose in strategic importance. India first occupied the upper reaches of the glacier in 1984 with what was called Operation Meghdoot and the fighting was on. In 1999, in what was called the Kargil War, Pakistan took the high ground and rained fire down on the Indians before they were driven off. The two countries agreed to a ceasefire in 2003 but troops continue to be stationed there under some of the world’s harshest conditions.
Indian soldiers defend the glacier at an estimated cost of up to US$1 million a day.
Thousands on both sides have died not from gunfire but because of the severe weather conditions and frostbite.
However, there may not be much left to fight for if matters continue in the same steam. Some observers say the establishment of permanent cantonments on either side of the Saltoro ridge, daily heavy air traffic to advance camps (up to Indra Col post) has caused damage.
Wars are hell on the environment. Military routines that are damaging the glacier include cutting and melting of glacial ice via chemicals; the daily dumping of more than a tonne of chemicals, metals, organic and human waste; daily leakage from 2,000 gallons of kerosene oil from 250 km of plastic pipeline laid by India that traverse the glacier.
Other observers say the military impact is minimal and the main cause is greenhouse gases, chiefly CO2, that is resulting in the worldwide temperature rise.
“The military presence has been there for two and a half decades. Artillery shelling has certainly had some effect, but I have not seen any physical evidence in my visits of such swift damage,” Upadhyay was quoted as saying in Hindustan Times.
Whatever the causes, the increase in temperatures due to global warming in the Siachen region has been confirmed by more studies including Pakistan’s Ministry of Water and Power. According to a study by the World Wide Fund for Nature, much harm has been caused to the glacier. The report warned that “Siachen is weeping, tomorrow the world will cry”.
A report of the Expert Committee on Glaciers by India in 2006 strongly recommended restriction of tourist and mountaineering activities after observing the melting of the Gangotri and other Himalayan glaciers.
The report urged that Siachen and other Himalayan glaciers be declared as world heritage sites and handed over to UNEP/UNESCO for their preservation to prevent natural calamities.
By Jason Scott
March 28 (Bloomberg) — Earth Hour, an event created in Sydney two years ago by environmentalists keen to cut energy use and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, started today as residents of New Zealand’s Chatham Islands turned off their lights.
Inhabitants of the islands, 800 kilometers (500 miles) east of New Zealand, were among the 1 billion people worldwide organizers say may participate in the event. Lights at the Sydney Opera House were cut two hours later, one of 829 iconic landmarks expected to darken including the Empire State Building in New York, London’s Big Ben, the Eiffel Tower in Paris and the Las Vegas Strip, according to an Earth Hour statement. A total of 3,929 cities in 88 countries are expected to take part.
Organizers want the event to underline public support for government policies to cut greenhouse gases, blamed for global warming. World emissions of carbon dioxide from energy use rose 2.8 percent last year as coal consumption outpaced crude oil and cleaner-burning natural gas, BP Plc said.
“People want to know how they can be part of the solution rather than the problem,” said John Wright, the director of Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation’s energy transformed flagship. “People worldwide are realizing it’s an issue.”
CO2 reductions are needed to help prevent the average world temperature from warming 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) and avoid the worst effects of climate change, some scientists say.
U.S. President Barack Obama has reversed the previous administration’s climate-change policy and wants Congress to endorse emissions-trading legislation by early next year.
To be sure, Earth Hour has its critics.
An “Anti-Earth Hour” group on Facebook is urging members to “keep every light you own running during Earth Hour,” which it says will “change nothing.”
Bjorn Lomborg, director of the Denmark-based think tank Copenhagen Consensus Centre and author of “The Skeptical Environmentalist,” said in the Australian yesterday that Earth Hour participants using candles after switching off their lights would probably emit more CO2 gases. Earth Hour is “an entirely symbolic gesture that creates the mistaken impression that there are easy, quick fixes to climate change,” Lomborg wrote.
When it began in Sydney in 2007, 2 million Australians participated. Last year, the event went international with 400 cities joining in. Dubai, Bangkok and New Zealand’s Christchurch recorded falls in power consumption ranging from 2 percent to 13 percent during the hour.
The one-hour shutdown will save 2,770 kilowatt-hours of electricity and around $310 in power costs, said Anne Wang, a spokeswoman for Taiwan Financial Centre Corp., which owns the buildings.
In Malaysia, about 5 million people, about one-quarter of the population, will cut their lights, according to Earth Hour advertisements in national media. In the capital, Kuala Lumpur, the 88-story Petronas Twin Towers plans to switch off external floodlights.
In Singapore, lights will be dimmed along the island- state’s Orchard Road shopping belt and Singapore River tourist district, including the city’s Merlion attraction, according to the Singapore Tourism Board.
Khao San Road
Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva will push a button to turn off the lights at Khao San Road, a famous Bangkok street for foreign backpackers. Electricity at the Grand Palace, Temple of the Dawn and other tourist attractions will be shut down. The Bangkok Metropolitan Administration said in a statement it wants to reduce the electricity usage in the city of more than 8 million people by at least 30 percent during the hour.
“It’s quite trendy to help save the planet,” said Panitta Rojanajirapa, 33, a computer engineer in Bangkok. “I will ask my parents to join the program. Even though we are a small part of the world, we should do something to help. It’s better than doing nothing.”
India is joining Earth Hour for the first time, with New Delhi and Mumbai among cities that will switch off lights. About 60 buildings in Jakarta will darken, and more than 21,000 Indonesians have signed up a local message group supporting the event, said Verena Puspawardani, a local co-ordinator.
Other landmarks to go dark tonight include the Great Pyramids, Beijing’s Bird’s Nest Stadium, the Sydney Opera House and the Acropolis in Athens. Organizers concede it may be difficult to judge whether the event will reach its 1 billion people participation target.
Not Big in Japan
Not all countries have embraced the event. While some international companies operating in the countries will individually dim lights, the only two Group of 20 nations not participating are Japan and Saudi Arabia, according to the Earth Hour organizers.
“It hasn’t resonated in the same way as it has in other countries in Japan,” Andy Ridley, the event’s executive director said by phone from Sydney yesterday. “A lot probably gets lost in communication because a tiny little team in Australia kicked this thing off.”
At his home in Maitland, a small city in Australia’s New South Wales state with a population of around 62,000, Wright said he plans to switch off every electrical switch and appliance and go for a walk.
“It’s not going to make any measurable difference to energy use across the year, but if it’s going to create awareness, that’s a positive thing,” he said. “I’m hoping lots of people will turn off their lights so I can see more stars,” he said.
Artist’s rendition released by NASA shows an asteroid belt in orbit around a star. Stunned astronomers watched a car-sized asteroid explode into a brilliant meteor shower as it crashed into Earth’s atmosphere, and then wandered into a Sudan desert to pick up the pieces, a study released Wednesday reported.
PARIS (AFP) – – Stunned astronomers watched a car-sized asteroid explode into a brilliant meteor shower as it crashed into Earth’s atmosphere, and then wandered into a Sudan desert to pick up the pieces, a study released Wednesday reported.
It was the first time ever that scientists recovered fragments from an asteroid detected in space, according to the study, published in the British journal Nature.
“Any number of meteorites have been observed as fireballs and smoking meteor trails as they come through the atmosphere,” said co-author Douglas Rumble, a researcher at the Carnegie Institution.
“But to actually see this object before it gets to the Earth’s atmosphere and then follow it in — that’s the unique thing.”
The drama unfolded like an overheated Hollywood script, according to a reconstruction of the event by Nature.
On October 6 last year, an amateur star gazer in Arizona submitted the coordinates of an asteroid he had spotted to the Minor Planet Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
It was a routine logging, one of hundreds. But the computer system mysteriously refused additional data, recalled the Center’s director, Tim Spahr.
“As soon as I looked at it and did an orbit manually, it was clear it was going to hit Earth,” he told the journal.
The size and brightness of the asteroid — which, by this time, has been assigned the name 2008 TC3 — did not suggest danger, but Spahr followed standard safety procedure and called a NASA hotline.
He also alerted the Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s Steve Chesley, who did a rush calculation on the asteroid’s orbit. The program indicated a 100 percent chance of impact.
“I’d never seen that before in my life,” he said.
The program also showed that the hurtling mass of rock would hit Earth’s atmosphere — with the force of one or two kilotonnes of TNT — in less than 13 hours.
Suddenly, scientists accustomed to thinking in light years found themselves scrambling in real time to track the asteroid and figure out where its fragments might land.
Their chatter burned up the Internet and international phone lines. “IMPACT TONIGHT!!!”, wrote physicist Mark Boslough of Sandia National Laboratories in New Mexico to colleagues, Nature reported.
Within minutes, it was determined that the asteroid would burst into pieces over the sparsely populated Nubian Desert in northern Sudan.
Tipped off by a meteorologist, a KLM passenger jet pilot flying from Johannesburg to Amsterdam spotted a brilliant flash some 1,400 kilometres distant as 2008 TC3 smashed into the atmosphere at 12,000 metres per second.
Weeks later, Peter Jenniskens, an astronomer at the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California and the study’s lead author, was still waiting for the first report of a 2008 TC3 meteorite find. Nothing came.
So Jenniskens flew to Sudan in early December and teamed up with Muawia Hamid Shaddad of Khartoum University.
Together with a small regiment of students, they headed into the desert, asking local inhabitants along the way if they had seen a ball of fire in the sky.
When they zeroed in on the likely crash zone, the researchers fanned out to comb the area. In three days, they recovered 280 fragments weighing a total of several kilogrammes.
2008 TC3 falls into a category of very rare meteorites — accounting for less than one percent of objects that hit Earth — called ureilites, all of which may have come from the same parent body, Rumble said.
Being able to match spectral measurements of 2008 TC3 taken before it disintegrated with chemical analyses of the rock fragments should make it easier to recognize ureilite asteroids still in space, he noted.