Friday, January 23, 2009

New NASA Balloon Successfully Flight-Tested Over Antarctica

New NASA Balloon Successfully Flight-Tested Over Antarctica

ScienceDaily (Jan. 12, 2009) — NASA and the National Science Foundation have successfully launched and demonstrated a newly designed super pressure balloon prototype that may enable a new era of high-altitude scientific research. The super-pressure balloon ultimately will carry large scientific experiments to the brink of space for 100 days or more.

This seven-million-cubic-foot super-pressure balloon is the largest single-cell, super-pressure, fully-sealed balloon ever flown. When development ends, NASA will have a 22 million-cubic-foot balloon that can carry a one-ton instrument to an altitude of more than 110,000 feet, which is three to four times higher than passenger planes fly.

"This flight test is a very important step forward in building a new capability for scientific ballooning based on sound engineering and operational development," said W. Vernon Jones, senior scientist for suborbital research at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "The team has further work to do to enable the super pressure balloon to lift a one-ton instrument to a float altitude of 110,000 feet, but the team has demonstrated they are on the right path."

Ultra-long duration missions using the super pressure balloon cost considerably less than a satellite and the scientific instruments flown can be retrieved and launched again, making them ideal very-high altitude research platforms.

The test flight was launched Dec. 28, 2008, from McMurdo Station, which is the National Science Foundation's logistics hub in Antarctica. The balloon reached a float altitude of more than 111,000 feet and continues to maintain it in its 11th day of flight. The flight tested the durability and functionality of the scientific balloon's unique pumpkin-shaped design and novel material. The material is a special lightweight polyethylene film, about the thickness of ordinary plastic food wrap.

"Our balloon development team is very proud of the tremendous success of the test flight and is focused on continued development of this new capability to fly balloons for months at a time in support of scientific investigations," said David Pierce, chief of the Balloon Program Office at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility at Wallops Island, Va. "The test flight has demonstrated that 100 day flights of large, heavy payloads is a realistic goal."

In addition to the super pressure test flight, two additional long-duration balloons have been launched from McMurdo during the 2008-2009 campaign. The University of Hawaii Manoa's Antarctic Impulsive Transient Antenna launched Dec. 21, 2008, and is still aloft. Its radio telescope is searching for indirect evidence of extremely high-energy neutrino particles possibly coming from outside our Milky Way galaxy.

The University of Maryland's Cosmic Ray Energetics and Mass, or CREAM IV, experiment launched Dec. 19, 2008, and landed Jan. 6, 2009. The CREAM investigation was used to directly measure high energy cosmic-ray particles arriving at Earth after originating from distant supernova explosions elsewhere in the Milky Way galaxy.

The super-pressure balloon was highlighted in the National Research Council's decadal survey "Astronomy and Astrophysics in the New Millennium," and will play an important role in providing inexpensive access to the near-space environment for science and technology.

NASA and the National Science Foundation conduct an annual scientific balloon campaign during the Antarctic summer. The National Science Foundation manages the U.S. Antarctic Program and provides logistic support for all U.S. scientific operations in Antarctica.

The Wallops Flight Facility is a division of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. Wallops manages NASA's scientific balloon program for the Science Mission Directorate. Launch operations are conducted by the Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility of Palestine, Texas, which is managed for NASA by the Physical Science Laboratory of New Mexico State University in Las Cruces.

Track the balloons online at:
For information about the NASA balloon program visit:


Tornado-proof dome under construction

A concrete dome capable of withstanding 300-mile-an-hour tornadoes is sure to become a landmark around the small Webster County town of Niangua, Webster County's emergency management director said of a project that will make major progress today.

A heavy plastic membrane that will act as a mold for concrete shot onto steel reinforcing bar will be inflated today, Emergency Management Director Bill Sexton said.

The dome will be the first monolithic dome approved for use by the Federal Emergency Management Agency for use as a tornado shelter, Sexton said.

The 61-foot-wide dome also can shelter students of the nearby Niangua School and other people, with a maximum capacity of 400.

Ninety percent of the structure's $311,000 cost is being financed by FEMA.

New emergency sirens going in rural areas

Rural Winona County residents will be better alerted in case of flood or tornado after county crews install 10 new sirens paid for by a $242,000 state grant.County commissioners earlier this month accepted the grant, which will pay to buy and install the sirens as early as this spring. The new sirens will alert residents to floods or tornadoes in areas that previously didn’t have sirens or are covered by aging sirens, County Emergency Management Director Bob Bilder said.

Officials in Stockton and Minnesota City said sirens there didn’t go off during a tornado warning in 2008, and Stockton leaders bought a new siren for their city last year.The new sirens won’t rely on electricity in an emergency: they’re solar-powered with battery backups, Bilder said.

New sirens are slated to be installed in the following locations:

Twin Bluffs near Pickwick on County Road 7
near the Gunderson subdivision in Goodview
Minnesota City
Green Terrace Mobile Estates near La Moille
In the mobile home park in Stockton
Near the Springbrook Addition on County Road 17,
And in the Hidden Valley Mobile Home Park.

County leaders still are trying to obtain funds to install six more new sirens, said Dave Belz, an emergency grants contractor for the county.Those locations are in Homer, Cedar Valley, Dakota, the Sunny Acres subdivision in Goodview, Minneiska and Whitewater State Park.


He serves hot soup in rough seas
By Mozart PastranoPhilippine Daily Inquirer

WHEN THE GOING GETS ROUGH, CHEF Choi goes beyond his comfort zone — he makes hot, steaming soup.

“It’s the most difficult thing to do in the galley of a ship caught up in big waves or some storm, and it’s SOP not to prepare soup during such times, but I have realized that it’s the best comfort food to whip up for my officers and crew,” confides the game 27-year-old chief cook of an international shipping lines.

His usual standbys are borsch, a traditional spicy Russian concoction made of beetroot, and eintofp, a German broth where all kinds of sausages and meats and beans broil in savory delectation.

And he makes these soups every now and then when his ship crosses, say, the Mediterranean Sea and the treacherous Indian Ocean. The video he took of one Indian Ocean crossing shows his ship heaving and dipping and facing head-on waves as impossibly tall as churches.

But Chef Choi—full name: Ian Jul Banghal, of Cagayan de Oro City—waves off these stomach-churning moments, saying, “What I keep in mind are our destinations.” He rattles off: Palma de Mallorca or Party Island in Spain; Marseilles, France; Salerno and Palermo, Italy; Rotterdam, the Netherlands; Hamburg, Germany; Swansea and Liverpool, UK; Istanbul, Turkey; Antwerp, Belgium, and even picturesque Chennai, the third largest city in India.“Once,” he chuckles, “we snaked through the Suez Canal in Egypt for the longest time. We also docked at the mythical island of Thessalonike in Greece, and I explored its nooks and crannies. For spooky kicks, nothing can beat our adventure at Constanza in Romania, home of Dracula. Then there were those memorable safari trips in Kenya and Tanzania. And the time I saw the breathtaking lay of the land from a mountaintop in the Croatian city of Split. But my favorite outing of all was our stop at the Seychelles Island. It’s paradise.

Paradise and hellish waves spice up Chef Choi’s thrilling ride through life.

When he graduated from the prestigious Liceo de Cagayan High School in Cagayan de Oro in 1998, he wanted to do three things in college: study architecture, major in voice and pursue stage acting. At the time, however, there were not many college opportunities for these artsy things in the city. So his parents, Juliano, a CPA, and Agustina, a businesswoman, sent him to the nearest possible school for such inclinations—the University of Mindanao in Davao City, where he took up BS Architecture.

Upon graduation, he worked for Comfac Corp., a multinational firm engaged in designing and producing furniture and fixtures. He was the interior designer and estimator. (“I designed the products and made the budget and production estimates.”)

Growing up in the kitchen

It paid well and allowed him to continue his involvement with Pasundayag, a community theater group in Cagayan de Oro. He got to do a successful Valentine’s concert with his sister Julie Ann in a hotel ballroom.

But he was also into cooking and baking. His mother ran a thriving restaurant and catering business, and he continued to help out when he could. He was known for treating his friends to wondrous culinary adventures.

One friend happened to mention to him that there was a scholarship for aspiring chefs. The successful applicants would be flown to a culinary school in Germany for a one-year course. Even better, the graduates of that course would be automatically offered jobs in an international shipping line —as chefs traveling around the world on the high seas.

He applied for the scholarship. During the interview, he was told, “You don’t belong here. You have no professional experience in the kitchen.”

Nonplussed by such putdowns—his theater background apparently prepared him for these dramatic moments—he replied, “While it’s true that I’m an architect by profession, I grew up in the kitchen. Food is my passion. It’s my life. All this I bring with me wherever you’ll take me. And I’m a very good student. Teach me.”

He got the scholarship.

Lessons in Germany

During the six-month preparatory training in General Santos City and in Manila, he surprised even himself by topping the class. “My classmates were professional chefs and they knew everything, but I was a newcomer and I wanted to learn everything,” he says now, leafing through his certificates and photographs.

In Germany, he had a grand time savoring the hands-on lessons in the kitchen. “Our teachers were European chefs, and they shared their professional secrets. They were very exacting. But they were also very helpful. My enthusiasm and diligence endeared me to them. I absorbed everything, not just the kitchen tricks, their ways of seeing and preparing and presenting—but also the culture, their way of thinking. I learned a lot.”

Chef Choi began his new career as a second cook in a freighter that carried container vans to ports all over Europe. It was a brave, new world for him. “It was not so much work as fun because I got to see the world for the first time,” he beams.

He had no trouble adjusting to life in the ship either. “In theater,” he says, “I learned how to deal with all sorts of personalities and egos in such a way that I could work with anyone well so the show could go on. I applied this mind set in the ship, and I was able to navigate through the various nationalities and their cultural quirks.”

In no time at all, he was promoted chief cook. It was then that he decided he was not going back to architecture.

“Food and travel—these are my life now,” Chef Choi declares.

World’s windiest ocean locale

With the whole world as his stage, guess what is Chef Choi’s most prized souvenir from all his travels. What would you know, but a certificate attesting that he has sailed across the Equator.

“This was not even in my dreams,” he lets out.

“This is like magic. Suddenly I’m doing all this. The world is no longer out there. It’s here. And I’m traipsing about it like crazy.”

Thar she blows: A weather report from the world’s windiest ocean locale

A buoy anchored southeast of Greenland dutifully gathered wave and weather data in one of the world’s most hostile environments for more than five months, until the really rough weather of winter arrived and the buoy snapped free — but not before it confirmed satellite data suggesting the region is the world’s windiest for oceans.

The seas east of Greenland’s southern tip, a desolate point called Cape Farewell, are notoriously storm-tossed, says Ian Renfrew, an atmospheric scientist at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, England. As storm systems race eastward from northernmost Canada, their frigid winds either pass over Greenland’s kilometers-thick ice sheet and gain speed as they rush down its eastern slope, or they spill around the southern tip of the island. Waters in the area are likewise buffeted by storm systems that approach the island from the east and are then steered southward by Greenland’s icy blockade.

The region’s bad weather is what spurred Renfrew and his colleagues to tether a weather buoy to the 3-kilometer–deep seafloor there in the summer of 2004. At least 10 times that summer and fall, and sometimes for extended intervals, instruments on the floating platform measured winds exceeding speeds of 20 meters per second (about 45 miles per hour), the researchers reported January 13 at the annual meeting of the American Meteorological Society in Phoenix. Then on December 7, after less than six months in service, either high winds or huge waves — or both — pummeled the buoy and broke its tether.

Satellite-based sensors supplied data in recent years indicating that the ocean region east of Cape Farewell is the windiest in the world, says Renfrew. Furthermore, he notes, the buoy’s measurements suggest that the wind speeds inferred from the satellite data are accurate — a calibration that’s useful for analyzing similar data gathered for other parts of the ocean.
Renfrew and his colleagues estimate that 20 percent of the time winds at the site east of Cape Farewell blow even faster than 20 meters per second.

Rain machines: Tropical cyclones supply bulk of rain for some places

Tropical cyclones, the immense rotating storm systems that include hurricanes and their weaker cousins, typically last only a short time and cover a relatively small part of Earth’s surface. Nevertheless, at some latitudes these storms provide a substantial part of the region’s rainfall, a new study suggests.

For each year from 1998 through 2007, meteorologists tallied between 90 and 100 tropical cyclones that had peak wind speeds of at least 17.5 meters per second (about 39 miles per hour), says Christopher L. Williams, a recent graduate of Georgia Tech in Atlanta. Using satellite data, he and colleague Frank Marks Jr. of NOAA’s Hurricane Research Division in Miami estimated total worldwide rainfall for those years, as well as the amount of precipitation dumped only by the tropical cyclones.

Overall, tropical cyclones drop between 2 and 3 percent of the world’s rainfall, the researchers reported January 13 at the annual meeting of the American Meteorological Society in Phoenix. And that fraction is particularly small at latitudes near the equator, where rainfall is plentiful but the forces that drive large-scale atmospheric rotation and cause cyclones to develop are practically nonexistent, says Williams.

However, at latitudes between 15° and 30° — a swath that in the Northern Hemisphere stretches from central Honduras to just north of New Orleans — rainfall is less abundant, and tropical cyclones account for as much as 17 percent of annual rainfall.

Sea diamond sinking

Messing About In Ships Podcast