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Slow motion disaster continues at Kilauea

A home destroyed by the new lava flow at Kilauea. Image Credit: U.S. Geological Survey.

A home destroyed by the new lava flow at Kilauea. Image Credit: U.S. Geological Survey.

On November 3, the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency issued a disaster declaration for the area impacted by the Kilauea lava flow. The new lava has been slowly making its way across the Big Island of Hawaii since June 27. So far, the lava has destroyed one home.

This date in science: Surtsey and the birth of new islands

View larger. | The new-born island of Surtsey, off the coast of Iceland, on November 30, 1963.  Howell Williams captured this photo 16 days after the eruption that created Surtsey began.  Image via NOAA.

View larger. | The new-born island of Surtsey, off the coast of Iceland, on November 30, 1963, 16 days after the start of the eruption. Image via NOAA.

November 14 1963. On this date, a cook aboard a trawler called Ísleifur II – sailing south of Iceland – spotted a column of dark smoke rising from the surface of the sea. The ship’s captain thought it be a boat on fire and turned his vessel to investigate. What they found was an island in the process of being born: explosive volcanic eruptions originating from below the sea surface, belching black columns of ash. The new island was later named Surtsey, for Surtur, a fire jötunn (a mythological race of Norse giants). Click inside for its story.

Rosetta mission places Philae lander on its comet

The Philae lander has returned the first panoramic image from the surface of a comet. The view, unprocessed, shows a 360º view around the point of final touchdown. The three feet of Philae’s landing gear can be seen in some of the frames.  Superimposed on top of the image is a sketch of the Philae lander in the configuration the lander team currently believe it is in.   Image via ESA

First panoramic image from the surface of a comet. The view, unprocessed, shows a 360º view around the point of final touchdown of the Philae lander. The three feet of Philae’s landing gear can be seen in some of the frames. Superimposed on top of the panorama is a sketch of the Philae lander in the configuration the lander team currently believe it is in. Image via ESA

As of Thursday morning, November 13 – after initially failing to attach to the surface – Philae is now stable and is sending back pictures.

NASA quells rumor: Days of darkness in December? Of course not

This incredible image of the night side of Earth is a composite of data gathered by the Suomi NPP satellite in April and October 2012 and mapped over previous imagery of the whole Earth.  Image via NASA/NOAA.

Night side of Earth. Is Earth totally dark when it’s night for you? No. Earth is always half illuminated by sunlight. Notice the crescent of illumination on one edge in this photo. If you were on the other side of Earth when the images used in this composite were acquired, you’d see Earth shining brightly in reflected sunlight, aka daylight. Image via NASA/NOAA.

Question: Will Earth experience six (or three) days of darkness in December, 2014?

Answer: No.

We at EarthSky have received many questions already about the so-called days of darkness supposedly announced by NASA and supposedly coming up in December, 2014. This rumor has spread like wildfire, as did the same rumor in 2011, which called for days of darkness caused by the erstwhile Comet Elenin. Is it true? Of course not.

Nevada earthquake swarm continues

Nevada earthquake of November 4, 2014 took place in a sparsely populated region of the U.S.  No reports of damages or injuries.

The earthquake swarm is taking place in a sparsely population area in northwestern Nevada

UPDATE NOVEMBER 7, 2014. Nevada Seismological Laboratory at University of Nevada, Reno joins with other federal, Washington and Oregon agencies to provide this update:

A swarm of earthquakes in a sparsely populated area of far northwest Nevada that began on July 12, 2014, has increased in intensity over the past several days. This activity is located about 40 miles southeast of Lakeview, Ore., and 40 miles northeast of Cedarville, Calif. During the past three months the Nevada Seismological Laboratory, in collaboration with the U.S. Geological Survey and seismic networks in Washington and Oregon, has recorded 42 earthquakes larger than magnitude 3, and about 550 earthquakes larger than magnitude 2.

Astonishing image of planet-forming disk from ALMA

View larger. | ALMA image of the young star HL Tau and its protoplanetary disk. This best image ever of planet formation reveals multiple rings and gaps that herald the presence of emerging planets as they sweep their orbits clear of dust and gas. Credit: ALMA (NRAO/ESO/NAOJ); C. Brogan, B. Saxton (NRAO/AUI/NSF)

View larger. | ALMA image of young star HL Tau and its planet-forming disk. Notice the multiple rings and gaps. This means planets are now emerging in the disk, and they are in the process of sweeping their orbits clear of dust and gas. Image via ALMA (NRAO/ESO/NAOJ); C. Brogan, B. Saxton (NRAO/AUI/NSF)

The recently upgraded ALMA telescope in Chile has obtained what they say is the best-ever image of a planet-forming disk, around the sunlike star HL Tau, located 450 light-years away in the direction of the constellation Taurus the Bull. It is an impressive image and gives us a glimpse of the process by which planets are born in orbit around their stars.

Extreme weather in North America likely, thanks to Typhoon Nuri

Suomi NPP VIIRS Infrared image of the eye of Super Typhoon Nuri in the West Pacific Ocean on November 2, 2014.

Suomi NPP VIIRS Infrared image of the eye of Super Typhoon Nuri in the West Pacific Ocean on November 2, 2014.

Typhoon Nuri in the Western Pacific will likely cause extreme weather for the Northern Pacific and North America in the next 5-10 days.

Bhutan’s glaciers and yak herds are shrinking

Yak winter camp on the trail between Chorkhortoe and Ko-la Goenpa.  Photo credit: Ben Orlove

Yak winter camp on the trail between Chorkhortoe and Ko-la Goenpa. Photo credit: Ben Orlove

Of the things that my colleagues and I hoped to see on our trek in Bhutan, only one was missing: Ice.

Collect call from E.T. Do you accept the charges?

Will we someday meet beings from another world?  Image via Shutterstock

Will we someday meet beings from another world? Image via Shutterstock

How many times have you watched Close Encounters of the Third Kind, or Independence Day and wondered if what happened in those films could ever really occur? That day may be getting closer as things start to get interesting in the search for extraterrestrial life.

Lifeform of the week: Woodpeckers

Image Credit: Terry Foote

Image Credit: Terry Foote

After a rare night of comfortable camping sleep, you are prematurely awakened by a repetitive drumming sound. Not loud enough to be a jackhammer, too rhythmic to be other campers assembling their tent – what could be the cause? In more parts of the world than not, the culprit is likely a woodpecker, a bird that makes a living drilling holes with its beak, primarily in wood.

How do these feathered lightweights carve out dents large enough to nest in without the aid of power tools and with no apparent damage to their bird brains? It turns out it’s all in their heads.