Sun sends 28 solar flares erupting through space in a week… and there may be more on the way


U.S. NOAA has issued four radio blackout warnings in two days
There have been 24 M-class and four X-class flares since October 23
The Sun is currently reaching the peak of its 11-year solar cycle

More than two dozen solar flares have erupted from the Sun in the past seven days, catapulting radiation towards the Earth that could potentially play havoc with global communications.
The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration issued four radio blackout warnings in the past two days after solar weather suddenly turned turbulent.
Radiation from flares cannot penetrate Earth’s atmosphere to harm life on the ground, but when intense enough it can disturb the atmosphere in the ionosphere, where GPS and radio signals travel.

Since October 23 the Sun has let loose with 24 medium-strength M-class solar flares, and four X-class flares – the most powerful kind.
In fact, with our local star heading towards the peak of its 11-year cycle, a period known as the solar maximum, this shouldn’t be unusual. But lead up to the solar max has been unusually subdued this year.

Humans have tracked the solar cycle continuously since it was discovered in 1843, and it is normal for there to be many flares a day during the sun’s peak activity.
Holly Gilbert, a solar physicist at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, told the Los Angeles Times: ‘It hadn’t been active in months, so it’s like it finally woke up.
‘For those of us who study the dynamics of the sun, it is exciting because it gives us more events to study.’
Solar flares happen when energy stored in magnetic fields twisted across the surface of the Sun is suddenly released.
‘You get a tangled bunch of magnetic fields, and they get too tangled and too stressed, they end up erupting,’ added Dr Gilbert.

The recent solar flare activity has also been accompanied by several coronal mass ejections (CMEs), say Nasa officials.
There are another kind of solar phenomenon that send billions of tons of particles into space that can reach Earth one to three days later.
Like the radiation from solar flares, these particles cannot travel through the atmosphere to harm humans on Earth; but they can affect electronic systems in satellites and on the ground.
CMEs can cause a space weather phenomenon called a geomagnetic storm, which occurs when they funnel energy into Earth’s magnetic envelope, the magnetosphere, for an extended period of time.
The CME’s magnetic fields peel back the outermost layers of Earth’s fields changing their very shape, distortions which can can degrade communication signals and cause unexpected surges in power grids.
They also can cause aurora. Storms are rare during solar minimum, but as the sun nears solar maximum, large storms occur several times per year.

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Terminator-style self-assembling robots unveiled by scientists

Robotic cubes that can jump, flip, roll and assemble themselves into different shapes have been revealed by scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

Known as M-Blocks, the cube-shaped robots have no external moving parts, but each contains a flywheel that can reach speeds of 20,000 revolutions per minute. When brakes are applied to the flywheel, it imparts its angular momentum to the cube, causing it to move.
Each M-Block has two cylindrical magnets, mounted like rolling pins on each edge. When two cubes approach each other, the magnets rotate so that north poles align with south and vice versa, allowing any face of any cube to attach to any face of any other. By climbing over and around one another, the cubes can assemble into different shapes.

As with any modular-robot system, the hope is that the cubes can be miniaturised, according to the researchers. The ultimate aim is to create hordes of swarming microbots that can self-assemble, like the “liquid steel” androids in the film “Terminator II.”
In the nearer term, however, the researchers believe that a more refined version of their system could prove useful even at something like its current scale. Armies of mobile cubes could temporarily repair bridges or buildings during emergencies, or raise and reconfigure scaffolding for building projects, for example.

They could also assemble into different types of furniture or heavy equipment as needed. And they could swarm into environments hostile or inaccessible to humans, diagnose problems, and reorganise themselves to provide solutions.
“In the vast majority of other modular systems, an individual module cannot move on its own,” said Kyle Gilpin, postdoc at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. “If you drop one of these along the way, or something goes wrong, it can rejoin the group, no problem.”
Meanwhile, Hod Lipson, a robotics researcher at Cornell University, descibed the M-Block as “a low-tech solution to a problem that people have been trying to solve with extraordinarily high-tech approaches”.
“They showed several modes of locomotion. Not just one cube flipping around, but multiple cubes working together, multiple cubes moving other cubes — a lot of other modes of motion that really open the door to many, many applications, much beyond what people usually consider when they talk about self-assembly,” said Lipson.
In ongoing work, the MIT researchers are building an army of 100 cubes, each of which can move in any direction, and designing algorithms to guide them.
“We want hundreds of cubes, scattered randomly across the floor, to be able to identify each other, coalesce, and autonomously transform into a chair, or a ladder, or a desk, on demand,” said MIT research scientist John Romanishin.

Mystery as museum Egyptian statue starts turning in display case

An Eygptian statuette that mysteriously turns itself round inside its display case has left experts baffled at the Manchester Museum.

Even eminent television physicist Professor Brian Cox has weighed in on the mystery of Manchester Museum’s moving statuette, which dates back to 1800 BC.
The 10-inch tall statue of Neb Sanu was discovered in a mummy’s tomb and has been with the Museum for eighty years, but has only recently been noticed moving.
Prof Cox, who teaches physics at the city’s university, claims the movement is due to the “differential friction”.
However, Manchester Museum’s resident Egyptologist Campbell Price suggested something more sinister, an Egyptian curse.
“I noticed one day that it had turned around. I thought it was strange because it is in a case and I am the only one who has a key,” he explained in an interview with the Manchester Evening News.

“I put it back but then the next day it had moved again. We set up a time-lapse video and, although the naked eye can’t see it, you can clearly see it rotate on the film. The statuette is something that used to go in the tomb along with the mummy.
“In Ancient Egypt they believed that if the mummy is destroyed then the statuette can act as an alternative vessel for the spirit. Maybe that is what is causing the movement.”.
He went on the cast doubt on Prof Cox’s explanation: “Brian thinks it’s differential friction, where two surfaces – the serpentine stone of the statuette and glass shelf it is on – cause a subtle vibration which is making the statuette turn.
“But it has been on those surfaces since we have had it and it has never moved before. And why would it go around in a perfect circle?”

Meteor spotted across night sky in England and Wales

There have been reports from around England and Wales of a large meteor flashing across the night sky.

Witnesses described a blue or green light with a tail behind it, experts believe it may have been part of the debris left by Halley’s comet.

Sightings of the celestial body were reported on Twitter in areas such as Cornwall, Lancashire, Wales and Worcestershire.

The meteor was captured on CCTV in Cardiff.

Huge tornado strikes northern Italy

Amateur video distributed via YouReporter, a web portal for citizen journalists, showed dramatic scenes from towns and villages close to the regional capital of Bologna.
Footage from the small village of Bentivoglio showed the tornado cone directly over the town, whipping up debris into the air.
Italian newspaper La Repubblica reported that 11 people were injured and several houses were damaged.
The governor of Emilia Romagna, Vasco Errani, asked the central government to declare a state of emergency.
Source: APTN

Deadly earthquake jolts Iran

A magnitude 7.8 earthquake has struck southeastern Iran near the border with Pakistan, reportedly killing at least 45 people with casualties feared to rise, according multiple news sources. The US Geological Survey said on Tuesday that the epicentre of the quake was 86km southeast of Khash, Iran. According to the Iranian FARS news agency, 40 people were killed in the sparsely populated region. Another five people were reported dead in Pakistan. Al Jazeera’s Imtiaz Tyab reports from Islamabad.