August 26th, 2010
Astronomers are predicting that a massive solar storm, much bigger in potential than the one that caused spectacular light shows on Earth earlier this month, is to strike our planet in 2012 with a force of 100 million hydrogen bombs.
Several US media outlets have reported that NASA was warning the massive flare this month was just a precursor to a massive solar storm building that had the potential to wipe out the entire planet’s power grid.
Despite its rebuttal, NASA’s been watching out for this storm since 2006 and reports from the US this week claim the storms could hit on that most Hollywood of disaster dates – 2012.
Similar storms back in 1859 and 1921 caused worldwide chaos, wiping out telegraph wires on a massive scale. The 2012 storm has the potential to be even more disruptive.
“The general consensus among general astronomers (and certainly solar astronomers) is that this coming Solar maximum (2012 but possibly later into 2013) will be the most violent in 100 years,” News.com.au quoted astronomy lecturer and columnist Dave Reneke as saying.
“A bold statement and one taken seriously by those it will affect most, namely airline companies, communications companies and anyone working with modern GPS systems.
“They can even trip circuit breakers and knock out orbiting satellites, as has already been done this year,” added Reneke.
No one really knows what effect the 2012-2013 Solar Max will have on today’s digital-reliant society.
Dr Richard Fisher, director of NASA’s Heliophysics division, told Reneke the super storm would hit like “a bolt of lightning”, causing catastrophic consequences for the world’s health, emergency services and national security unless precautions are taken.
NASA said that a recent report by the National Academy of Sciences found that if a similar storm occurred today, it could cause “1 to 2 trillion dollars in damages to society’s high-tech infrastructure and require four to 10 years for complete recovery”.
The reason for the concern comes as the sun enters a phase known as Solar Cycle 24.
Most experts agree, although those who put the date of Solar Max in 2012 are getting the most press.
They claim satellites will be aged by 50 years, rendering GPS even more useless than ever, and the blast will have the equivalent energy of 100 million hydrogen bombs.
“We know it is coming but we don’t know how bad it is going to be,” Fisher told Reneke.
“Systems will just not work. The flares change the magnetic field on the Earth and it’s rapid, just like a lightning bolt. That’s the solar effect,” he added.
The findings are published in the most recent issue of Australasian Science. (ANI)
July 9, 2010
By: Mark Thompson
If China’s satellites and spies were working properly, there would have been a flood of unsettling intelligence flowing into the Beijing headquarters of the Chinese navy last week. A new class of U.S. superweapon had suddenly surfaced nearby. It was an Ohio-class submarine, which for decades carried only nuclear missiles targeted against the Soviet Union, and then Russia. But this one was different: for nearly three years, the U.S. Navy has been dispatching modified “boomers” to who knows where (they do travel underwater, after all). Four of the 18 ballistic-missile subs no longer carry nuclear-tipped Trident missiles. Instead, they hold up to 154 Tomahawk cruise missiles each, capable of hitting anything within 1,000 miles with non-nuclear warheads.
Their capability makes watching these particular submarines especially interesting. The 14 Trident-carrying subs are useful in the unlikely event of a nuclear Armageddon, and Russia remains their prime target. But the Tomahawk-outfitted quartet carries a weapon that the U.S. military has used repeatedly against targets in Afghanistan, Bosnia, Iraq and Sudan.
That’s why alarm bells would have sounded in Beijing on June 28 when the Tomahawk-laden 560-ft. U.S.S. Ohio popped up in the Philippines’ Subic Bay. More alarms were likely sounded when the U.S.S. Michigan arrived in Pusan, South Korea, on the same day. And the Klaxons would have maxed out as the U.S.S. Florida surfaced, also on the same day, at the joint U.S.-British naval base on Diego Garcia, a flyspeck of an island in the Indian Ocean. In all, the Chinese military awoke to find as many as 462 new Tomahawks deployed by the U.S. in its neighborhood. “There’s been a decision to bolster our forces in the Pacific,” says Bonnie Glaser, a China expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. “There is no doubt that China will stand up and take notice.”
U.S. officials deny that any message is being directed at Beijing, saying the Tomahawk triple play was a coincidence. But they did make sure that news of the deployments appeared in the Hong Kong–based South China Morning Post – on July 4, no less. The Chinese took notice quietly. “At present, common aspirations of countries in the Asian and Pacific regions are seeking for peace, stability and regional security,” Wang Baodong, spokesman for the Chinese embassy in Washington, said on Wednesday. “We hope the relevant U.S. military activities will serve for the regional peace, stability and security, and not the contrary.”
Last month, the Navy announced that all four of the Tomahawk-carrying subs were operationally deployed away from their home ports for the first time. Each vessel packs “the firepower of multiple surface ships,” says Captain Tracy Howard of Submarine Squadron 16 in Kings Bay, Ga., and can “respond to diverse threats on short notice.”
The move forms part of a policy by the U.S. government to shift firepower from the Atlantic to the Pacific theater, which Washington sees as the military focus of the 21st century. Reduced tensions since the end of the Cold War have seen the U.S. scale back its deployment of nuclear weapons, allowing the Navy to reduce its Trident fleet from 18 to 14. (Why 14 subs, as well as bombers and land-based missiles carrying nuclear weapons, are still required to deal with the Russian threat is a topic for another day.)
Sure, the Navy could have retired the four additional subs and saved the Pentagon some money, but that’s not how bureaucracies operate. Instead, it spent about $4 billion replacing the Tridents with Tomahawks and making room for 60 special-ops troops to live aboard each sub and operate stealthily around the globe. “We’re there for weeks, we have the situational awareness of being there, of being part of the environment,” Navy Rear Admiral Mark Kenny explained after the first Tomahawk-carrying former Trident sub set sail in 2008. “We can detect, classify and locate targets and, if need be, hit them from the same platform.”
The submarines aren’t the only new potential issue of concern for the Chinese. Two major military exercises involving the U.S. and its allies in the region are now under way. More than three dozen naval ships and subs began participating in the “Rim of the Pacific” war games off Hawaii on Wednesday. Some 20,000 personnel from 14 nations are involved in the biennial exercise, which includes missile drills and the sinking of three abandoned vessels playing the role of enemy ships. Nations joining the U.S. in what is billed as the world’s largest-ever naval war game are Australia, Canada, Chile, Colombia, France, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, the Netherlands, Peru, Singapore and Thailand. Closer to China, CARAT 2010 – for Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training – just got under way off Singapore. The operation involves 17,000 personnel and 73 ships from the U.S., Singapore, Bangladesh, Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Thailand.
China is absent from both exercises, and that’s no oversight. Many nations in the eastern Pacific, including Australia, Japan, Indonesia, South Korea and Vietnam, have been encouraging the U.S. to push back against what they see as China’s increasingly aggressive actions in the South China Sea. And the U.S. military remains concerned over China’s growing missile force – now more than 1,000 – near the Taiwan Strait. The Tomahawks’ arrival “is part of a larger effort to bolster our capabilities in the region,” Glaser says. “It sends a signal that nobody should rule out our determination to be the balancer in the region that many countries there want us to be.” No doubt Beijing got the signal.
June 8, 2010
By David Rose
Some of Britain’s most dangerous psychiatric patients, including murderers, rapists and paedophiles, are being fitted with satellite tracking devices to stop them escaping and reoffending.
A leading NHS trust has become the first to fit patients with an ankle bracelet containing global positioning system (GPS) technology, so they can be tracked if they abscond. The device, worn on a lockable, steel-reinforced, ankle strap, allows authorities to track a patient’s movements to within a few metres anywhere in the world.
More than 60 medium and high-risk patients detained at the South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust have been fitted with the device as a condition of day leave, or while they are transferred to and from hospitals.
The trust said that such measures were necessary to protect the public, after a series of high-profile incidents where patients absconded, fled abroad or committed violent crimes.
November 4, 2009
The U.S. military said on Tuesday it is now tracking 800 maneuverable satellites on a daily basis for possible collisions and expects to add 500 more non-maneuvering satellites by year’s end.
The U.S. Air Force began upgrading its ability to predict possible collisions in space after a dead Russian military communications satellite and a commercial U.S. satellite owned by Iridium collided on Feb. 10.
General Kevin Chilton, commander of U.S. Strategic Command, called the collision the “seminal event” in the satellite industry during the past year and said it destroyed any sense that space was so vast that collisions were highly improbable.
He said military officials had wanted to do more thorough analysis of possible collisions in space, but had lacked the resources. Before the collision, he said they were tracking less than 100 satellites a day.
“It’s amazing what one collision will do to the resource spigot,” he told a space conference in Omaha, Nebraska.
The crash, which was not predicted by the U.S. military or private tracking groups, underscored the vulnerability of U.S. satellites, which are used for a huge array of military and civilian purposes.
Chilton said the Air Force was tracking more than 20,000 satellites, spent rocket stages and other objects in space, up from just 14,000 a few years ago.
But he said that was just what U.S. could “see” and there were estimates that the actual number was much greater, posing a potential threat to satellites on orbit.
Air Force Lieutenant General Larry James, who heads U.S. Strategic Command’s Joint Functional Component Command for Space, told reporters the Air Force met its goal for tracking possible collisions among 800 satellites that have the ability to be moved in September, ahead of an October target date.
“Our goal now is to do that conjunction assessment for all active satellites … roughly around 1,300 satellites … by the end of the year and provide that information to users as required,” James told reporters on a teleconference during a space conference in Omaha, Nebraska.
Some of the 500 satellites still to be assessed cannot be shifted because they do not carry extra fuel that would be needed to move them once in orbit.
To increase its ability to predict possible collisions, the Air Force has been buying more computers and hiring analysts. It also works with commercial satellite operators to share data collected by their spacecraft and by U.S. government sources.
Chilton lauded the efforts, but said the work was still too reliant on Air Force analysts and needed further improvement. “We are decades behind where we should be,” he said.
Victoria Samson, with the nonprofit Center for Defense Information, said the Air Force needed more trained operators to do the analyses and the goal of adding 500 more satellites to the analysis might be “somewhat optimistic.”
August 15, 2009
By John Gever
Satellite technology could give public health officials advance warning of disease outbreaks likely to occur as a result of global climate change, researchers said.
Preliminary efforts have already produced models that predict spikes in diseases ranging from cholera to hantavirus on the basis of remote sensing data, according to Timothy Ford of the University of New England in Biddeford, Maine, and colleagues.
Writing in the September issue of the CDC’s Emerging Infectious Diseases, Ford and colleagues — including Rita Colwell, former director of the National Science Foundation — said novel patterns of infectious disease are likely to accompany the regional temperature and hydrological trends that add up to climate change.
“If climatologic data can be used to predict future disease outbreaks, public health interventions can be mobilized in a more timely and proactive manner,” they said.
“Successful predictive modeling of disease and the establishment of early warning systems have reached a critical junction in development. As we improve our understanding of the biology and ecology of the pathogen, vectors, and hosts, our ability to accurately link environmental variables, particularly those related to climate change, will improve.”
They added, “We cannot stress too strongly our belief that a strong global satellite program is essential for future disease prediction.”
They noted that the 2001 report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicted that the average number of people exposed annually to storm surges — which frequently carry Salmonella, Vibrio, Cryptosporidium, and hepatitis pathogens — will probably rise from 50 million people worldwide today to 250 million in the 2080s.
Altered frequencies and tracks of storm systems are also likely to mean inland flooding of areas that aren’t exposed to it now. Ford and colleagues said areas of increasing drought may also be at risk for novel disease outbreaks. On example is meningococcal meningitis, which is endemic in sub-Saharan Africa during dry conditions and disappears at the start of the rainy season.
Climate Change May Bring on Disease
New patterns of vector-born diseases are another expected consequence of climate change.
Ford and colleagues pointed to several projects that have shown preliminary success in relating satellite data to disease:
Distribution of five out of six Anopheles gambiae mosquito species, vectors for the malaria parasite in Africa, has been modeled from remote sensing data on land use and climate parameters.
Remote sensing data in the southwestern U.S. correlated significantly with subsequent outbreaks of rodent-borne hantavirus pulmonary syndrome.
Eight of nine spikes in Bangladeshi cholera rates from 1998 to 2002 were successfully modeled on the basis of satellite data on sea surface height and temperature and chlorophyll A levels.
Ford and colleagues cautioned that the predictive power of these models is still weak. For example, 2005 Landsat imagery showing higher-than-normal rainfall in northern New Mexico and southern Colorado led health officials to warn of increased risk of hantavirus in those areas. The hypothesis was that rain promotes plant growth in the region, leading to a population boom in deer mice who carry the virus.
Cases indeed spiked in New Mexico during early 2006. But no increase occurred in Colorado, which actually saw fewer hantavirus infections than the previous year.
On the other hand, Ford and colleagues said, “these results are not necessarily a failure of prediction.” Instead, they suggested that people may have heeded the health warnings prompted by the prediction, avoiding deer mice habitats and hence the virus.
Public health officials would dearly love to be able to predict influenza outbreaks, and the seasonality of the disease has raised hopes that environmental data will somehow be used in predictive models, the researchers said. Unfortunately, scientists still don’t understand the specific factors underlying the flu’s seasonal nature.
Scientists Strive to Predict Outbreaks
If science can isolate the environmental drivers of seasonal diseases like influenza, better prediction will likely become a reality, they suggested.
“As we improve our understanding of the biology and ecology of the pathogen, vectors, and hosts, our ability to accurately link environmental variables, particularly those related to climate change, will improve,” Ford and colleagues wrote. “What has become clear over the past few years is that satellite imaging can play a critical role in disease prediction and, therefore, inform our response to future outbreaks.”