Trick-or-Treat, Fan Fest, and Formula One forecasts

October 30th, 2014 at 8:32 pm by under Weather

You might want jackets at night and in the early morning hours this weekend, but otherwise, we are expecting some very pleasant autumn weather.

10-30 Halloween FX10-30 F1 FX

Supply rocket explodes on takeoff

October 28th, 2014 at 6:08 pm by under Weather

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — An unmanned commercial supply ship bound for the International Space Station exploded moments after liftoff Tuesday evening, with debris falling in flames over the launch site.

No injuries were reported following the first catastrophic launch in NASA’s commercial spaceflight effort.

Orbital Sciences Corp.’s Antares rocket blew up over the launch complex at Wallops Island, Virginia, just six seconds after liftoff. The company said everyone at the launch site had been accounted for, and the damage appeared to be limited to the facilities.

Flames could be seen shooting into the sky as the sun set.

“Maintain your consoles,” Orbital Sciences’ Mission Control informed the roomful of engineers and technicians. All data were being collected for use in the ensuing investigation.

The Cygnus cargo ship was loaded with 5,000 pounds of experiments and equipment for the six people living on the space station. It was the fourth Cygnus bound for the orbiting lab; the first flew just over a year ago.

NASA spokesman Rob Navias said there was nothing urgently needed by the space station crew on that flight. In fact, the Russian Space Agency was proceeding with its own supply run on Wednesday.

NASA is paying the Virginia-based Orbital Sciences and the California-based SpaceX company to keep the space station stocked in the post-shuttle era.

Until Tuesday, all of the companies’ missions had been near-flawless and the accident was sure to draw criticism in Washington. The commercial spaceflight program has been championed by President Barack Obama.

NASA said the six residents of the orbiting lab were informed of the accident.



Great weather expected for Halloween and COTA Fanfest

October 26th, 2014 at 6:36 pm by under Weather

KXAN is proud to be sponsoring Circuit of the Americas Fanfest again this year, in conjunction with the U.S. Grand Prix Formula One race in Austin this weekend.

It appears the weather will be great, as a weak cold front is expected to move in by early Friday morning. Following the front, nice mornings and pleasantly warm afternoons are forecast through the weekend, under mostly sunny skies.

Pittie Pride weekend is here!

October 24th, 2014 at 8:08 pm by under Weather

Click here for more information.



Parade & Festival Schedule

All times are approximate.

11:30 am Gather for Parade at Austin American-Statesman parking lot (Barton Springs & South Congress)
No parking at the Statesman, but parking is available at Austin City Hall (entrance on Lavaca) for free until 5 pm or parking on surrounding streets and parking garages.
12:00 pm Parade over Congress Bridge and over to Republic Square Park (4th Street & Guadalupe) led by Yes Ma’am Brass Band, Pit Crew, LeRoy & Dog Pack, and Pittie Prom Queen & King as Grand Marshals
12:30 pm Festival Begins at Republic Square Park
1:00 pm K9 Nose Work Demonstration
The Unexpected Pit Bull calendar “paw-tographs” until 2:00 pm with celebri-dog CoCo Puffin
1:30 pm Pet Prom Costume Contest
2:00 pm Guest Presentation with Gordon ‘Shotgun’ Shell
2:30 pm Frisbee Dog Exhibition with LeRoy Golden & Dog Pack
*Silent Auction Closes*
3:00 pm Pit Crew Demonstration and Discussion
3:30 pm Agility Demonstration
4:30 pm Festival Ends

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Anniversary Of The First Image of Earth From Space

October 24th, 2014 at 10:53 am by under Weather

Today in 1946, the very 1st image of Earth from beyond the atmosphere was captured…  At the time it was an extraordinary feat.  Look how far we have come since.  Here is an article from NASA about getting there, and what their work has led to since.



The First Photo From Space

In 1946, rocket-borne cameras gave us our first look at Earth from beyond the atmosphere

By Tony Reichhardt

On October 24, 1946, not long after the end of World War II and years before the Sputnik satellite opened the space age, a group of soldiers and scientists in the New Mexico desert saw something new and wonderful—the first pictures of Earth as seen from space.




The grainy, black-and-white photos were taken from an altitude of 65 miles by a 35-millimeter motion picture camera riding on a V-2 missile launched from the White Sands Missile Range. Snapping a new frame every second and a half, the rocket-borne camera climbed straight up, then fell back to Earth minutes later, slamming into the ground at 500 feet per second. The camera itself was smashed, but the film, protected in a steel cassette, was unharmed.

Fred Rulli was a 19-year-old enlisted man assigned to the recovery team that drove into the desert to retrieve film from those early V-2 shots. When the scientists found the cassette in good shape, he recalls, “They were ecstatic, they were jumping up and down like kids.” Later, back at the launch site, “when they first projected [the photos] onto the screen, the scientists just went nuts.”

Before 1946, the highest pictures ever taken of the Earth’s surface were from the Explorer II balloon, which had ascended 13.7 miles in 1935, high enough to discern the curvature of the Earth. The V-2 cameras reached more than five times that altitude, where they clearly showed the planet set against the blackness of space. When the movie frames were stitched together, Clyde Holliday, the engineer who developed the camera, wrote in National Geographic in 1950, the V-2 photos showed for the first time “how our Earth would look to visitors from another planet coming in on a space ship.” (See a panorama from a July 1948 V-2 shot here.)

It was one of many firsts for the V-2 research program of the late 1940s, during which the Army fired dozens of captured German missiles brought to White Sands in 300 railroad cars at the end of the war. While the missileers used the V-2s to refine their own rocket designs, scientists were invited to pack instruments inside the nosecone to study temperatures, pressures, magnetic fields and other physical characteristics of the unexplored upper atmosphere.

Holliday worked for the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL), alongside pioneering space scientists like James Van Allen and S. Fred Singer, both of whom would later be involved in planning the first U.S. satellites. Singer—better known today as a dogged skeptic of global warming with the Science and Environmental Policy Project in Arlington, Virginia—would analyze the photos that came back from the V-2 cameras to determine the rocket’s orientation to the Earth, a job he remembers as “quite difficult.” The missile engineers needed to know how the rocket was steering through the upper atmosphere, and the scientists wanted to determine from which direction cosmic rays hitting their instruments were coming. Hardly anyone was interested in what the pictures revealed about geography or meteorology, at least not at first. “We considered clouds to be a nuisance,” says Singer.

But Holliday, an instrument specialist at APL, well understood the importance of the photos for the study of Earth. Cy O’Brien, who worked in the lab’s public affairs office beginning in 1950, says Holliday was “in an environment with super-Ph.D.s, and he wanted to make clear that photography was a science, too.”

Holliday’s discussion of the photos therefore leaned toward the technical. In those days before Walt Disney and Collier’s magazine planted the idea of space exploration in the public imagination, he was even sparing with his use of the term “space.” The V-2 photos, he wrote in 1950, were taken in “the little-known reaches of the upper air.” Today, even though the definition is somewhat arbitrary, anything above 100 kilometers (62.5 miles) is considered space.

More than 1,000 Earth pictures were returned from V-2s between 1946 and 1950, from altitudes as high as 100 miles. The photos, showing huge expanses of the American southwest, appeared in newspapers and were scrutinized by scientists from the U.S. Weather Bureau. In his National Geographic article, Holliday offered a few predictions as to where it all might lead: “Results of these tests now are pointing to a time when cameras may be mounted on guided missiles for scouting enemy territory in war, mapping inaccessible regions of the earth in peacetime, and even photographing cloud formations, storm fronts, and overcast areas over an entire continent in a few hours.” Going out on a limb, he speculated that “the entire land area of the globe might be mapped in this way.”

Fred Rulli, the former member of the camera recovery team, now counts himself lucky to have been in the “select group” that saw the first pictures from space as they came in. At 19, it seemed to him like just another Army job. But he recalls a friend at White Sands, another soldier—60 years later he’s forgotten his name—who was more alive to the future unfolding in front of them. Pointing to the rockets, the scientists and the clear New Mexico sky, the friend would turn to Rulli and say with amazement, “Do you realize what’s going on here?”


Rare sunset solar eclipse Thursday

October 22nd, 2014 at 7:10 pm by under Weather

Sunsets are always pretty.  Thursday evening’s sunset could be out of this world. The setting sun across eastern parts of the USA will be red, beautiful and … crescent-shaped.

“It’s a partial solar eclipse,” explains longtime NASA eclipse expert Fred Espenak.  In other words, the New Moon is going to ‘take a bite’ out of the sun.

In the Austin and Central Texas area, the eclipse will begin around 4:55 p.m., reach its maximum (25% obscuration) at 5:56 p.m., and end at sunset.

A new ScienceCast video previews the partial solar eclipse of Oct. 23rd.  Play it

A total eclipse is when the Moon passes directly in front of the sun, completely hiding the solar disk and allowing the sun’s ghostly corona to spring into view. A partial eclipse is when the Moon passes in front of the sun, off-center, with a fraction of the bright disk remaining uncovered.

The partial eclipse of Oct. 23rd will be visible from all of the United States except Hawaii and New England.  Coverage ranges from 12% in Florida to nearly 70% in Alaska.  Weather permitting, almost everyone in North America will be able to see the crescent.

The eclipse will be especially beautiful in eastern parts of the USA, where the Moon and sun line up at the end of the day, transforming the usual sunset into something weird and wonderful.

“Observers in the Central Time zone have the best view because the eclipse is in its maximum phase at sunset,” says Espenak. “They will see a fiery crescent sinking below the horizon, dimmed to human visibility by low-hanging clouds and mist”.

Warning: Don’t stare. Even at maximum eclipse, a sliver of sun peeking out from behind the Moon can still cause pain and eye damage. Direct viewing should only be attempted with the aid of a safe solar filter.

Click to view a visibility map of the Oct 23rd partial solar eclipse. 

During the eclipse, don’t forget to look at the ground. Beneath a leafy tree, you might be surprised to find hundreds of crescent-shaped sunbeams dappling the grass. Overlapping leaves create a myriad of natural little pinhole cameras, each one casting an image of the crescent-sun onto the ground beneath the canopy. When the eclipsed sun approaches the horizon, look for the same images cast on walls or fences behind the trees.

Here’s another trick: Criss-cross your fingers waffle-style and let the sun shine through the matrix of holes. You can cast crescent suns on sidewalks, driveways, friends, cats and dogs—you name it. Unlike a total eclipse, which lasts no more than a few minutes while the sun and Moon are perfectly aligned, the partial eclipse will goes on for more than an hour, plenty of time for this kind of shadow play.

A partial eclipse may not be total, but it is totally fun.

See for yourself on Oct. 23rd.  The action begins at approximately 6 pm on the east coast, and 2 pm on the west coast.  Check NASA’s Eclipse Home Page for viewing times near your hometown.


Author: Dr. Tony Phillips | Production editor: Dr. Tony Phillips | Credit: Science@NASA

Earth headed for its hottest year on record

October 21st, 2014 at 10:03 am by under Weather

(Courtesy: Dr. Jeff Masters, Weather Underground)

Figure 1. Departure of temperature from average for September 2014, the warmest September for the globe since record keeping began in 1880. Record warmth was notable in much of northwestern Africa, coastal regions of southeastern South America, southwestern Australia, parts of the Middle East, and regions of southeastern Asia. In total, 31 countries and territories from all seven continents around the world had at least one station that reported record warmth. Cooler than average temperatures were uncommon world-wide. Image credit: National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) .

September 2014 was Earth’s warmest September on record, the period January – September was tied with 1998 and 2010 as the warmest first three-quarters of any year on record, and the past 12 months–October 2013 through September 2014–was the warmest consecutive 12-month period among all months since records began in 1880, said NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) today. NASAalso rated September 2014 as the warmest September on record. If 2014 maintains the same temperature departure from average for the remainder of the year as was observed during January – September, it will be the warmest calendar year on record. September is the fourth time NOAA has ranked a 2014 month as the warmest on record; May, June, and August 2014 were also the warmest such months on record. (April 2014 was originally ranked as tied for warmest April on record, but has since been revised downwards to the second warmest April on record.) Global ocean temperatures during September 2014 were the warmest on record, and the 0.66°C (1.19°F) ocean temperature anomaly was the highest ever measured, beating the record set just the month previously in August 2014. Global land temperatures in September 2014 were the 6th warmest on record. Global satellite-measured temperatures in September 2014 for the lowest 8 km of the atmosphere were the 14th or 7th warmest in the 36-year record, according to Remote Sensing Systems and the University of Alabama Huntsville (UAH), respectively.

Orionid meteor shower early Tuesday morning

October 20th, 2014 at 3:58 pm by under Weather



In 2014, the annual Orionid meteor shower is expected to rain down the greatest number of meteors before dawn on October 21, perhaps as many as 25 meteors per hour. But the hours between midnight and dawn on the mornings of October 20 and 22 may offer a decent sprinkling of meteors as well.

The Orionids radiate from a point near the upraised Club of the constellation Orion the Hunter.  The bright star near the radiant point is Betelgeuse.

The Orionids radiate from a point near the upraised Club of the constellation Orion the Hunter. The bright star near the radiant point is Betelgeuse.

What are the prospects for this year’s Orionid shower? In short, the prospects are good because there’s little or no moon to wash out the meteors this year. Find a dark sky for the 2014 Orionids, lie down on a reclining lawn chair in comfort and look up! Give yourself at least an hour of watching time for meteors tend to come in spurts, and are interspersed by lulls. Remember, also, that it takes about twenty minutes for your eyes to adapt to the dark.

When is the best time to watch for the Orionids? As with most (but not all) meteor showers, the best time to watch the Orionid shower is between the hours of midnight and dawn. The Orionids don’t really begin to streak the nighttime sky until late evening, when the magnificent constellation Orion ascends over the eastern horizon. After their radiant point rises, you see many more meteors, and as the radiant rises higher in the sky throughout the night, the meteors will increase in number. That’s why the wee hours before dawn are usually the best.

Where do I look in the sky to see the Orionids? Yes, meteors in annual showers are named for the point in our sky from which they appear to radiate. The radiant point for the Orionids is in the direction of the famous constellation Orion the Hunter. Hence the name Orionids.

If you trace the paths of these Orionid meteors backward, they seem to come from the Club of Orion. You might know Orion’s bright, ruddy star Betelgeuse. The radiant is north of Betelgeuse.

But you don’t need to know this constellation to see the meteors. The meteors often don’t become visible until they are 30 degrees or so from their radiant point – and remember, they are streaking out from the radiant in all directions. So the meteors will appear in all parts of the sky.

That’s why it’s best to find a wide-open viewing area than to look in any particular direction. Sometimes friends like to watch together, facing different directions. When somebody sees one, they can call out “Meteor!”

How many Orionid meteors will I see? The word shower might give you the idea of a rain shower. But few meteor showers resemble showers of rain. The Orionids are a relatively modest shower, offering about 10 to 25 meteors per hour.

Meteor showers are more subtle than rain showers, and the Orionid shower isn’t as rich a meteor shower as, for example, the Perseids in August or the Geminids in December. But the dark skies make this year’s orionid meteor shower worth watching!

Orionid meteors are known to be fast and usually on the faint side. But the Orionids can sometimes surprise you with an exceptionally bright meteor – one that would be visible, even in a light-polluted city – that might break up into fragments.

For me … even one meteor can be a thrill. But you might want to observe for an hour or more, and in that case the trick is to find a place to observe in the country. Bring along a blanket or lawn chair and lie back comfortably while gazing upward.

This is the famous Comet Halley. Orionid meteors are debris left behind in its orbit.

What are meteors, anyway? Meteors are fancifully called shooting stars. They aren’t really stars. They’re space debris burning up in the Earth’s atmosphere.

The Orionid meteors are debris left behind by Comet Halley. The object at left isn’t a meteor. It’s that most famous of all comets – Comet Halley – which last visited Earth in 1986. This comet leaves debris in its wake that strikes Earth’s atmosphere most fully around October 20-22, while Earth intersects the comet’s orbit, as it does every year at this time.

Particles shed by the comet slam into our upper atmosphere, where they vaporize at some 100 kilometers – 60 miles – above the Earth’s surface.

The Orionids are extremely fast meteors, plummeting into the Earth’s atmosphere at about 66 kilometers – 41 miles – per second. Maybe half of the Orionid meteors leave persistent trains – ionized gas trails that last for a few seconds after the meteor itself has gone.

Bottom line: In 2014, the Orionid meteor shower is expected to rain down its greatest number of meteors on the morning of October 21. The day before or after might feature meteors, too. Fortunately, in 2014, the thin lunar crescent rising shortly before sunrise won’t intrude on this year’s Orionid meteor shower!

LEDs are a bright idea whose time has come

October 20th, 2014 at 1:23 pm by under Weather

(Climate Central) The day the Nobel committee began announcing its 2014 winners earlier this week, National Geographic published a list of Nobel should-have-beens. Dan Vergano’s contribution—Thomas Edison for the lightbulb—proved prescient. One day later, a Nobel for physics was finally awarded for the lightbulb. Unfortunately for the Wizard of Menlo Park, it didn’t go to Edison. The winners were Isamu Akasaki, Hiroshi Amano, and Shuji Nakamura for their work on blue light-emitting diodes, or LEDs.

LEDs represent a huge increase in the efficiency of lighting.
Credit: John Loo/OnEarth Magazine

Edison was still a genius, and his inventions did change the world, but he’s not exactly an environmental hero. Only about 2 percent of the energy that flows through the filament of an incandescent bulb actually generates light. Edison’s invention is a much better heater than a light source.

LEDs are a dramatic improvement. The most cutting edge claim to be 15 times more efficient than the incandescent bulb and four times more efficient than compact fluorescents (the squiggly ones), which now appear to be little more than a transitional technology. On a global scale, the energy savings from a worldwide switch to LEDs could be massive. In 1997, when incandescent bulbs still ruled the night, Evan Mills of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory estimated that lighting resulted in the emission of 1,775 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalents. If, at that moment, we could have immediately replaced all of the world’s incandescent bulbs with LEDs, the greenhouse gas savings would have been like taking 300 million cars off the road.

In real life, the changeover from incandescent to compact fluorescent to LED bulbs has had a less dramatic impact, for a variety of reasons. The most depressing candidate is known as the “rebound effect,” as Brad Plumer points out at Vox. The theory goes that when lighting (or any technology) becomes more efficient, it gets cheaper. When something gets cheaper, people use more of it. The rebound effect, however, is a hotly disputed phenomenon. Physicist David Goldstein and his colleagues at NRDC (which publishes OnEarth) argue that the rebound effect is at best negligible on a societal scale. Their data shows that people use only a tiny fraction of their energy savings to buy more lighting (or heating or refrigeration or whatever the more efficient technology may be). “Policies and consumer preferences are steadily pushing in the opposite direction—saving more energy, not less,” Goldstein writes.

Another challenge with LEDs, known as droop, has troubled physicists for years. As you increase the current flowing through an LED, the efficiency plummets from 300 lumens per watt of power down below 100 lumens, which isn’t much better than a compact fluorescent bulb (which costs a small fraction of the LED’s current price tag). A few people, including recently minted Nobel laureate Nakamura, have proposed explanations for what causes droop, but no one is entirely certain. Once physicists find the answer, it will still take engineers years to design a solution. Until then, producing bright light with low amounts of energy requires lots and lots of small LEDs stacked together, which is a problem from both a cost and an engineering standpoint.

Approximately 19 percent of the world’s population lacks access to electricity. LEDs could eventually offer a cheap, low-carbon light.
Credit: Tony Webster/OnEarth Magazine

Fortunately, the LED light may play a role in training the scientist who will eventually solve this problem. Approximately 19 percent of the world’s population lacks access to electricity, and there are surely many geniuses among them. The LED’s tiny energy demands make it possible for off-grid communities to store enough solar power in low-cost batteries (see “India Calling”) to provide light after sunset.

Why does that matter? My father-in-law grew up in a small village in India. When the sun went down, he had to stop studying, because his family couldn’t provide enough light to read. He still managed to earn a Ph.D. in chemical engineering, but I often wonder how many kids like him were held back by darkness — an absurd obstacle to academic achievement in the modern world. Maybe one day the Nobel Prize will go to a child who can thank today’s winners for all those late nights spent studying under their creation.

This article is provided by NRDC’s OnEarth magazine, a Climate Central content partner, and appears online at

If the climate is warming, why is Antarctic ice expanding?

October 19th, 2014 at 9:27 am by under Weather

The planet as a whole is doing what was expected in terms of warming. Sea ice as a whole is decreasing as expected …’


Sea ice is expanding around Antarctica, and scientists say wind, snow and melting land ice are key factors in the growth bberwyn photo.

The map at right shows Antarctic ice concentration on September 22, 2014, the date of the record high. Areas where the surface was less than 15% ice covered are deep blue; areas that were up to 100% ice covered are shades of light blue to white. The orange line shows the 1981-2010 median extent for September 22. (Median means in the middle: half of the years in the record had smaller ice extents than this, and half had larger extents.) The graph below the map shows daily Antarctic sea ice extent over the course of the year. The black line traces the 1981-2010 average, and the gray shading shows the range of variability (2 standard deviations from the mean). The previous record high extent (2013) is a dashed green line; the 2014 year to date is a light green line. NSIDC reported that the 2014 extent rose nearly 4 standard deviations above the 1981-2010 mean.

The map above shows Antarctic ice concentration on September 22, 2014, the date of the record high. Areas where the surface was less than 15% ice covered are deep blue; areas that were up to 100% ice covered are shades of light blue to white. The orange line shows the 1981-2010 median extent for September 22. (Median means in the middle: half of the years in the record had smaller ice extents than this, and half had larger extents.)

The graph below the map shows daily Antarctic sea ice extent over the course of the year. The black line traces the 1981-2010 average, and the gray shading shows the range of variability (2 standard deviations from the mean). The previous record high extent (2013) is a dashed green line; the 2014 year to date is a light green line. NSIDC reported that the 2014 extent rose nearly 4 standard deviations above the 1981-2010 mean. Courtesy NOAA.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Along with shifting wind patterns in the southern hemisphere, melting land ice may be contributing to recent record extents of floating sea ice around Antarctica. The melting ice and snow adds fresh water — which freezes morel easily — to the salty Southern Ocean, scientists said in a release this week, explaining the multi-year trend of expanding Antarctic sea ice.

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