May 28, 2006

New cycle in Ring of Fire (updated)

May 28 - The Indonesian quake toll is up to 4,600 according to Indonesian officials, and rescuers are in a race against time to dig through the rubble in the hope of finding survivors of the 6.3 magnitude quake that hit Indonesia yesterday. The government has declared a 3-month state of emergency.

There is an interesting connection to recent activity at Mount Merapi and this as well as previous quakes, including the 2004 undersea quake that triggered the Asian tsunami. Some scientists believe the ring of fire is going through a new cycle:

"There is certainly a connection between the December 26 quake that triggered giant waves that swept much of Aceh and the one that jolted Yogyakarta on Saturday," he [Priyadi Kartono, of Indonesia's National Co-ordinating Agency for Surveys and Mapping] said.

Dr Kartono told The Jakarta Post that both events were triggered by the movement of the tectonic plates underlying Indonesia and the Indian Ocean.


"Yogyakarta and the rest of Java island are located in the Ring of Fire belt, where the Eurasian and Indo-Australian plates stack on each other and create regular movements which cause earthquakes," said Wahyu Supri Hantoro, of the Bandung-based Centre of Geotechnology at the Indonesian Institute of Sciences.

Indonesia is home to the world's largest collection of volcanoes - 76 - and after the Boxing Day disaster University of Ulster seismologist John McCloskey predicted more quakes due to the stress placed on neighbouring faults.


The recent earthquake and activity on Mount Merapi raises concerns that a so-called "super-volcano" on nearby Sumatra might erupt.

If it did, the catastrophic blast would toss hundreds of thousands of cubic kilometres of rock and ash into the atmosphere, dwarfing the eruptions of Krakatoa, Mount St Helens, Pinatubo and any conventional volcanic explosions over the past tens of thousands of years.

"These super-volcanoes are potentially the greatest hazard on earth, the only greater threat being an asteroid impact from space," Monash University vulcanologist Ray Cas told The Australian last year.

Studies of the impact of volcanic eruptions on global weather patterns have given rise to many interesting speculations. One suggests that the effects from an Indonesian volcanic eruption may have caused famines in places as far away as Europe and triggered the French revolution in 1789.

May 29 17:04 - A seismologist disagrees that the earthquake will affect Mt. Merapi:

David Booth, a seismologist with the British Geological Survey, disagreed, saying the quake would not necessarily cause the volcano to erupt. He said the plates that shifted to cause the earthquake did not necessarily open cracks in the surface that would be needed to cause a volcanic eruption.

"Volcanoes are all about creating pathways for the magma to move up to the surface," Booth said in a telephone interview. "It's like a lemonade bottle having been shaken. There is enormous pressure there. But if there isn't a pathway to the surface, then the pressure will stay contained."

The biggest danger isn't from lava, which is slow moving, but pyroclastic flows, and Merapi has produced more of them than any other volcano in the world, according to the Merapi page at John Search's website (interesting site, he provides volano tours!) Volcano News at that site says the recent earthquake was "not large enough to change the state of activity" which I take to mean "what will happen will happen."

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May 17, 2006

Mount Merapi still rumbling

May 17 - Any of you old enough to remember the lengthy watch on Mount St. Helen's? Scientists kept warning she was going to blow and everyone waited and scientists issues the same warning and everyone waited ... and then she blew.

There must be a fair degree of impatience on this volcano watch as well; do it or don't, for crying out loud, so people can either react or get on with their lives.

After the report Monday that volcanic activity was at it's highest level things seemed to quiet down but today another cloud of hot air and ash was released.

Some residents have not yet left the mountainside which brings up the same Katrina question many of us asked ourselves: would you leave or stay?

Perhaps more relevant is the Mt. Rainier question, as the Seattle metropolitan area sits next to that volcano.

Mother Nature is not, despite the popular saying, a bitch. She is all woman and reserves the right to change her mind.

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May 09, 2006

Mount Merapi and other explosive things

May 9 - Volcanoes fascinate me, and there's one on the Ring of Fire that seems likely to erupt - Mount Merapi. Lava began flowing down the slopes at 2 a.m. their time and residents have been urged to leave.

It last erupted in 1994, sending out a searing cloud of gas that burned 60 people to death. About 1,300 people were killed when it erupted in 1930.
Volcanoes are one of those nasty things that may give hints of restlessness -- but after they blow, it's often too late to respond.

I recently watched a documentary - probably on the Discovery Civilization channel - that pointed out that, as Mt. Vesuvius had not erupted for centuries, those in Pompeii and Herculaneum had no oral tradition or stories about the mountain that would have helped them understand the magnitude of the danger. They were used to earthquakes and behaved as though this was just another in a series of tremors, so went about their business rather than run for their lives. As history records, they waited too late and died horribly trying to flee Pompeii or while waiting for help on the beaches and, for those from Herculaneum, huddled in caves as they waited for it to "blow over." It did blow over - an intense pyroclastic wave with heat so intense their brains literally boiled away.

As many have pointed out in discussions of the nuclear threat from Iran's mullahs, it is instructive to remember that an earlier European response to Hitler would have averted not only much of the devastation of World War II but also the Holocaust. We have well-studied history and oral tradition but too many of us behave as though the undeniable threat is unprecedented.

Iran's mullahs, as was Hitler, have been very clear about their aims. When the worst happens, we will not be able to pretend that we were blindsided and it will be useless at that point to admit we were stupid.

That letter from Iran is not an overture to resolution of the problem -- it doesn't even address the problem -- but the appeasers among us are likely to use it to justify their weak-kneed response to the threat. See! They wrote a letter! This is an opening! It's not an opening -- it's a diversion. It's a token bereft of meaning but one intended to lull the foolish into a false sense of renewed hope that we can talk (Taheri writes a great dismissal of the Cheap Talk Approach here.)

At the very least, the measures the U.N. has approved are naive:

Representatives of the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France as well as Germany made the decision to tell Iran the pluses and minuses of its refusal to halt its uranium enrichment program at a meeting after more than three hours of talks by their foreign ministers Monday did not produce an agreement on the resolution.

As a result of Tuesday's decision, representatives from the three European countries that had been spearheading negotiations with Iran will spend the next few days preparing a package of incentives and sanctions, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because there has been no official announcement.

The European Union was eager to become Syria's bestest new friend after the U.S. applied sanctions, and our experience with the U.N. Oil-for-Food program for Iraq demonstrates how many in the "world community" are willing to do business with rogues.

Besides, would Iran be in a better bargaining position with nuclear weaponry or without? Need I ask?

I remember how sharply President Bush was criticized when he included Iran in the Axis of Evil ... I haven't heard that particular one lately.

Vulcanologists stationed at Mt. Merapi have learned from it's history and that of other volcanoes. We should emulate them rather than the conventional wisdom of those who lived and miserably died when Mt. Vesuvius blew.

May 10 18:49 - Deborah Orin's column on the letter is titled Tyrant's Letter Lunacy. Heh.

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April 05, 2006

Spirit still limping along

Apt. 5 - The right front wheel of the rover Spirit is not operating and the rover is having problems negotiating onto higher elevation with northern exposure, which it needs to do to survive the Martian winter (see here for rover updates.) The "work arounds" the team back on earth are attempting in order to maneuver the rover are indicative of one of those inherent characteristics which, in the Darwinian sense, accounts for the success of the human species: ingenuity.

It's nice to note that we still got it in us.

(Opportunity remains healthy after more than a year on Mars. Spirit has been on Mars for over 2 years, and both rovers have far exceeded their life expectancies. Long robotic life to them both!)

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March 15, 2004

News Planet Sedna

Mar. 15 - A new object circling our Sun, the most distant object in the solar system found yet, was confirmed by NASA. It has been provisionally named Sedna after the Inuit goddess of the sea. NASA is supposed to make the announcement this afternoon.

Sedna is mostly composed of ice and rock, and how scientists define "planet" will probably frame Sedna's designation. The existence of Sedna was anticipated by many scientists due to anomalies in Pluto's orbit.

Posted by Debbye at 11:02 AM | Comments (0)

March 03, 2004

Mars Had Water

Mar. 3 - NASA's big announcement yesterday turned out to be confirmation that Mars was once "water soaked" and although (despite this headline Mars: Strong signs of life!) no evidence of life has been found, the conditions for life to have developed were indeed there.

Some, however, suspect a deep, vast conspiracy to hide the truth because a political and ego outcrop hangs over science.

UPDATE: Others note similarities to the Kay WMD Report and ask: Did NASA lie?

But there is a bright side; now that the onetime existence of water is confirmed, Kathy points out that readers of old SF can still dream about the canals!

Posted by Debbye at 05:07 PM | Comments (0)

January 25, 2004

Opportunity lands on Mars

Jan. 25 - (Crossing fingers) Live on CNN from JPL in Pasadena, ping, radar, bouncing, re-acquired signal, still rolling, stopped moving, unwrapping.

I think we can call the Opportunity landing a success!

(I doubt I can make it to 1 am PST for Surveyor to transmit to earth. Damn.)

UPDATE: The photos on the NASA page and Rover page are pretty impressive and worth waiting to load.

Posted by Debbye at 12:10 AM | Comments (0)

January 24, 2004

Spirit Recovery

Jan. 24 - Spirit Recovers on Red Planet:

Scientists said they managed to reset Spirit's computer and put the rover into what's called "cripple" mode to bypass software problems.
It may be 3 weeks before Spirit can take another trip on the Martian landscape.

Opportunity should land at 12:05 a.m. tomorrow.

Posted by Debbye at 07:04 PM | Comments (0)

January 23, 2004

ScrappleFace on Rover

Jan. 23 - Rover stops barking:

Initially, the scientists blamed weather woes on Earth. They now believe the rover is experiencing hardware or software glitches.
Riiight. And they expect us to believe that?

ScrappleFace has another explanation.

This just in: the rover managed to get a limited message out. Go Spirit!

Posted by Debbye at 09:16 AM | Comments (0)

January 05, 2004

On First Looking Out of NASA's Rover

Jan. 5 - Update on Spirit and several links including a directory for the NASA site if you've had delays logging on.

American Digest has On First Looking Out of NASA's Rover. Wonderful poem.

Posted by Debbye at 05:34 PM | Comments (0)

January 04, 2004

Spirit is willing

Jan. 4 - Mars was pleasantly surprised to see Sojourner's big brother Spirit emerge from that big bouncy thing last night and is graciously permitting him to stay and take pictures. Who could have figured the God of War to be such a ham? (Anyone who watched Xena or Hercules, come to think of it. Oh well.)

The NASA Mars Exploration Rover Mission website is here. I'm off to work, so don't know if they have a site dedicated to Spirit as they had years back for Sojourner.

Kidding aside, the difficulties in landing craft on Mars highlights just how dangerous this adventure will be for human explorers. Here's to the future!

Looks like Toronto is back to more seasonable weather (which would still have people in Ottawa, Montreal and Edmonton sneering at us as softies.)

Posted by Debbye at 08:54 AM | Comments (1)

January 03, 2004

Rover set to land on Mars

Jan. 3 - Rover to land on Mars tonight. Uh huh. We'll see.

Posted by Debbye at 07:15 AM | Comments (0)

December 29, 2003

Beagle MIA on Mars

Dec. 29 - I was a science fiction fan at a fairly young age. Anything science-fictiony, and I would watch it or read it. Needless to say, I read a lot of good short stores (especially from Amazing Stories magazine) and saw some incredibly bad movies.

There were also books, like Space Cat, but we won't discuss that. Ever.

Maybe that early fascination with the possibilities "out there" coupled with the number of probes that have been lost on Mars explains my imagination running full tilt. The canyons there are monstrously deep, and I remember a book by Ben Bova about Mars (I think it was called Mars) that had the discovery of permafrost under the surface and hinted there might be more to the canyons than emptiness and rocks.

Maybe there is something, or some thing, on Mars that is an unknown unknown. Maybe the rocks are sentient and felt insulted at being named after cartoon characters.

The really sad part is that I started thinking about this stuff a couple of years ago when the Polar Lander and the two independent probes went AWOL.

Maybe I better find another news story quickly before someone notices that the Bova book isn't all that old. Move along, folks. Nothing here but a senior moment.

UPDATE: They are speculating that the Beagle landed in a crater which would explain the radio silence. Hmm, weren't the probes that accompanied the Polar Lander thought to have ended up - the both of them - in canyons? Bad sign when they start re-cycling excuses. I'm just sayin'.

UPDATE: I am not alone in my lunacy. Rantburg reports the Beagle is another kill for the Martian Defense Force. (Link via Jay Currie.

Posted by Debbye at 06:22 PM | Comments (0)