Powerful X-Class solar flares hit Earth, cause radio blackouts – largest sunspot seen in 24 years

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October 2014SPACE - At 17:09 UT (12:09 p.m. EDT) today (Saturday), active region (AR) 2192 erupted with another X-class flare directed at Earth. This is the second powerful eruption in less than 24 hours to be triggered from the large sunspot that occupies the region. Today’s flare registered at X1 on the solar flare Richter Scale, the most powerful class of flare, but weaker than Friday’s X3-class flare. Further radio black-outs have been recorded on the daytime side of the Earth, but, once again, today’s flare did not generate a significant coronal mass ejection (CME). There was already a high probability that active region (AR) 2192 was going to erupt with a powerful solar flare, so it came as little surprise when, yesterday, the huge sunspot fired a powerful X-class flare right at Earth. And we sure did feel its impact.
The sun has a myriad of effects on Earth during intense solar activity. When a flare erupts in the lower solar corona, the radiation generated can cause extreme ionization in the upper atmosphere, interfering with the propagation of high-frequency radio waves, meddling with global communications. Signals from global positioning satellites (GPS) can be interrupted, air traffic communications can get patchy and the interference can even be measured by amateur radio operators. On Friday at 21:40 UT (4:40 p.m. EDT), AR2192 erupted with an X3-class flare as the huge sunspot was facing Earth. Like looking down the barrel of a solar gun, the region crackled with X-ray and extreme-utraviolet (EUV) radiation that immediately washed over the Earth’s ionosphere. A “radio blackout” was reported across the sun-facing side of our planet, including much of the US. With the immediate effects of the X-class flare (which is the most powerful class of flare) subsiding, solar scientists monitored the region for any trace of a coronal mass ejection that may have been associated with the flare.
 Coronal mass ejections, or CMEs, are magnetic bubbles of highly-energetic particles that are hurled into space from the sun’s lower corona. They may take hours or days to reach Earth orbit, but their impact on our planet’s magnetosphere can be dramatic. However, it appears that yesterday’s flare did not launch a CME. In fact, none of the dozens of flares (all of lesser energies than yesterday’s event) AR2192 has produced have generated a CME, which is interesting. Although CMEs and flares are thought to be triggered by a common phenomenon (magnetic reconnection in the lower corona), they are not necessarily triggered at the same time. A flare may occur without a CME and vice versa. But for an active region not to generate any significant CMEs, and yet still generate a large number of flares, is rare. Needless to say, space weather forecasters will be studying this large sunspot — the largest sunspot seen on the sun for 24 years — until it rotates out of view to understand what is going on. –Discovery
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Mauritania closes border with Mali over Ebola fears – W. Africa cases three times higher than reported

October 2014MALIMauritania has closed its border with Mali to prevent the spread of Ebola, officials said on Saturday, high-lighting fears of further contagion in West Africa after a girl from Guinea died of the disease in Mali this week. Earlier, Mali’s President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita said that his country would not close its border with Guinea despite the girl’s case, which may have exposed many to the disease as she traveled hundreds of kilometers through Mali – including a stop in the capital Bamako – on public transport. Health experts are rushing teams to Mali to help try to contain the outbreak in the sixth West African nation to record Ebola this year. Senegal and Nigeria contained their outbreaks and been declared free of the disease but at least 4,922 people have died elsewhere, mainly in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.  Limame Ould Deddeh, chief medical officer in Kobenni, a town in eastern Mauritania near the Mali frontier, said the government in Nouakchott had sent orders to close all land crossings. Weekly markets had been suspended, he said. A second Mauritanian official confirmed the move. “Guinea is Mali’s neighbor. We have a shared border that we did not close and we will not close,” he told France’s RFI radio station.
Land-locked Mali relies on the ports of neighboring Senegal, Guinea and Ivory Coast as gateways for much of its import needs. There is little accurate data but border closures by West African states trying to protect themselves from the epidemic have had a crippling effect on regional economies. Keita said that the girl’s grandmother had made a mistake by going to a funeral in Guinea, where more than 900 people have died of Ebola, and bringing her back. “We are paying dearly for this,” he said. “But I think this will cause more fear than anything else. The case was quickly contained.” Ebola experts say the real death toll from the worst outbreak on record may be as much as three times higher due to under-reporting. Over 10,000 people have been infected by the disease but U.N. officials warn that figure could rise exponentially in coming weeks if the global response pledged does not swiftly translate into action on the ground. Diplomats and health experts say the Guinean girl appears to have had Ebola-like symptoms and traveled for four days before she was eventually diagnosed with the disease on Oct. 23. Ebola cases are contagious as soon as they show symptoms. The World Health Organization said that 43 contacts had been identified and isolated. But a Malian health official, who asked not to be identified, said authorities estimated that at least 300 people had been in contact with the infected child. –Reuters
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Major volcanic eruption could make Japan ‘extinct,’ study warns

October 2014EARTH - One major volcanic eruption could make Japan “extinct,” a study by experts at Kobe University warns, although the chances of that happening are relatively slim. The study, by Prof. Yoshiyuki Tatsumi and Associate Prof. Keiko Suzuki, concludes that the chance of a big eruption that would disrupt the lives of everyone in Japan are about 1% over the next 100 years. The researchers based their findings on the cycles and impacts of major eruptions in Japan on the study of the Aira Caldera near what is now the city of Kagoshima on southern Kyushu island. The caldera was created 28,000 years ago and has a diameter of 20 kilometers. If a similar eruption were to take place in the area today, within about two hours the flow of molten rock, lava and ash would cover an area in which seven million now live. A large amount of ash would be carried across the country, shutting down transportation and other key systems, disrupting the lives of nearly 120 million people, or almost everyone in Japan.
“We should be aware,” the researchers warn in their report to be published in November. “It wouldn’t be a surprise if such gigantic eruption were to take place at any moment.” The study pointed out that following the eruption of the Kikai Caldera over 7,000 years ago off what is now the southern tip of Kyushu, it took 1,000 years for human settlement in the area to recover. The study also said approximately 7% of all volcanoes that have erupted over the past 10,000 years are located in Japan. The professors warned that volcanic activity, especially in Kyushu, should be closely studied and monitored. The eruption of Mount Ontake in central Japan in September killed 56 people and left seven still missing. It was the first fatal eruption in 14 years in Japan. –WSJ
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Japan warns of increased activity at volcano near nuclear plant

October 2014JAPAN - Japan warned on Friday that a volcano in southern Japan located roughly 64 km (40 miles) from a nuclear plant was showing signs of increased activity that could possibly lead to a small-scale eruption and warned people to stay away from the summit. The warning comes nearly a month after another volcano, Mt Ontake, erupted suddenly when crowded with hikers, killing 57 people in Japan’s worst volcanic disaster in nearly 90 years. Ioyama, a mountain on the southwestern island of Kyushu, has been shaken by small tremors and other signs of rising volcanic activity recently, including a tremor lasting as long as seven minutes, an official at the Japan Meteorological Agency’s volcano division said. “There is an increase in activity that under certain circumstances could even lead to a small scale eruption, but it is not in danger of an imminent, major eruption,” the official said. The warning level on the mountain has been raised from the lowest possible level, normal, to the second lowest, which means that the area around the crater is dangerous, he added.
Ioyama lies in the volcanically active Kirishima mountain range and is roughly 64 km from the Sendai nuclear plant run by Kyushu Electric Power Co, which the Japanese government wants to restart even though the public remains opposed to nuclear power following the Fukushima crisis. Critics point out that the Sendai plant is located about 50 kms (31 miles) from Mount Sakurajima, an active volcano that erupts frequently. Five giant calderas, crater-like depressions formed by past eruptions, are also in the region, the closest one 40 kms (25 miles) away. The plant still needs to pass operational safety checks as well as gain the approval of local authorities and may not restart till next year. –Reuters
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Lava from Hawaii volcano picks up speed as it nears town

October 2014 HONOLULU - A growing lava stream threatening homes and inching closer to a rural road on Hawaii’s Big Island oozed forward in fits and starts this week, frustrating some residents but giving officials a window of time to prepare. The narrow, leading edge of the lava flow is now just 250 yards from the one-lane country road, which has been closed. Crews are working on an alternate route for remote communities in the Puna district in case the lava crosses a major thoroughfare. The lava sped up over the past few days, advancing nearly 460 yards from Thursday morning to Friday, but it slowed again Friday morning, officials said. The flow’s fitful nature is taking a toll on some Big Island residents, who got a brief reprieve from the advancing molten stream only to have to raise their guard again. “This stop-and-go – it’s going to be very frustrating for our residents,” said Darryl Oliveira, director of Hawaii County Civil Defense. “It raises the anxiety level. It raises the concern.” On the other hand, the sporadic suspensions in activity gave emergency crews time to build another road and deal with a recent tropical storm that swept by the island, Oliveira said. Crews near the leading edge have been wrapping power poles with concrete rings as a layer of protection from the lava’s heat.
The recent acceleration came when the lava reached a gully, allowing it to move more efficiently like rain in a gutter, Oliveira said. “It’s already starting to widen out at the bottom, which might mean that it will slow down again,” he said. No evacuations have been ordered, and the residents of a home that is nearest to the flow already have left voluntarily. Hawaii County Civil Defense crews are planning to go door-to-door Saturday to about a dozen homes to find out how many people might need shelter if the eruption continues, and to find any obstacles like abandoned cars or hazards t hat could be in the lava’s path. Oliveira said he would give residents three to five days’ notice before an evacuation order, and he stressed that the community is not yet at that point. Some long-term locals are used to the uncertainties of living near one of the world’s most active volcanoes. “Because of what they’ve experienced over the course of their lifetimes, they were very accepting … that this is nature’s thing,” Oliveira said. “But on the other hand, we have people who are new to the island who don’t really understand how it’s playing out and what to expect and having a harder time preparing.” –HP
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Budding Nightmare: Toddler who brought Ebola virus to Mali dies – 43 people in isolation who had close contact

October 2014 BAMAKO, Mali Many people in Mali are at high risk of catching Ebola because the toddler who brought the disease to the country was bleeding from her nose as she travelled on a bus from Guinea, the World Health Organization warned Friday. The U.N. agency is treating the situation as an emergency since many people may have had “high-risk exposures” to the 2-year-old girl during her journey through several towns in Mali, including two hours in the capital, Bamako. The girl was travelling with her grandmother. The toddler died in an isolation tent at a hospital in the western city of Kayes on Friday, according to a nurse at the facility, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press. This is the first Ebola case in Mali and may expand to many more. The case highlights how quickly the virus can hop borders and even oceans, just as questions are being asked about what precautions health care workers who treat Ebola patients should take when they return home from the hot zone. Doctors Without Borders insisted Friday, after one of its doctors who worked in Guinea came down with Ebola in New York, that quarantines of returning health workers are not necessary when they do not show symptoms of the disease.
In the Mali case, however, the girl was visibly sick, WHO said, and an initial investigation has identified 43 people, including 10 health workers, she came into close contact with who are being monitored for symptoms and held in isolation. The child was confirmed to have Ebola on Thursday. “The child’s symptomatic state during the bus journey is especially concerning, as it presented multiple opportunities for exposures — including high-risk exposures — involving many people,” the agency said in a statement. The girl first went to a clinic in Mali on Monday and she was initially treated for typhoid, which she tested positive for. When she did not improve, she was tested for Ebola, and she is now being treated in isolation in the western city of Kayes. Mali has long been considered highly vulnerable to Ebola’s spread since it shares a border with the Ebola-hit countries of Guinea and Senegal, and staff from WHO and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention were already there helping to prepare for a case. More WHO staff are being deployed. The Ebola outbreak began in Guinea and has since spread to five other West African countries. The virus has also been imported to Spain and the United States. On Thursday, Craig Spencer, who had been working with Doctors Without Borders in Guinea and returned home to the U.S. about a week before, reported a fever and is now being treated at a New York hospital.
Some countries have banned travelers from the three main Ebola countries — Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone — and the U.S. started health screening of travelers arriving from there. But Doctors Without Borders said having its staffers quarantine themselves after leaving a country with Ebola is going too far if no symptoms are evident. A person infected with Ebola is not contagious until he or she starts showing symptoms. “As long as a returned staff member does not experience any symptoms, normal life can proceed,” Doctors Without Borders said in a statement sent to The Associated Press on Friday. “Self-quarantine is neither warranted nor recommended when a person is not displaying Ebola-like symptoms. Extremely strict procedures are in place for staff dispatched to Ebola affected countries before, during, and after their assignments,” said Sophie Delaunay, the group’s executive director, said in a statement. “Despite the strict protocols, risk cannot be completely eliminated. However, close post-assignment monitoring allows for early detection of cases and for swift isolation and medical management.” The group is investigating how Spencer became infected, it said. –CTV News
Hundreds exposed? A two-year-old Mali girl, who became the first to die of Ebola in the country, could have exposed hundreds of people to the deadly disease. The tot, who has not been identified, had travelled hundreds of kilometers by bus with her grandmother to seek treatment. Health workers are now scrambling to trace hundreds of people she may have come into contact with. In a statement Mali’s government confirmed the death and said: “In this moment of sadness, the government would like to express its condolences to her family and reminds the population that maintain very strict hygiene rules remains the best way to contain this disease.” Ebola has killed 4,900 people mainly in nearby Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. -ITV
Contagious when trip began: On Thursday, Health Minister Ousmane Kone told state television that she had traveled from neighboring Guinea, where more than 900 people have died in an outbreak that has killed nearly 4,900 and infected more than 9,900 others. The girl was admitted to a hospital on Wednesday night, where she tested positive for Ebola. Health officials told the World Health Organization (WHO), according to a report released Friday, that she was accompanied to Mali by her grandmother. The girl’s mother was reported to have died a few weeks earlier, but WHO could not yet confirm that the grandmother went to Kissidougou, in southern Guinea, for the funeral. The pair returned to Mali by public transportation and arrived in the capital, Bamako, where they stayed for two hours before moving on to Kayes. The girl had begun bleeding from the nose before she left Guinea, the report found, “meaning that the child was symptomatic during their travels through Mali” and that “multiple opportunities for exposure occurred when the child was visibly symptomatic.” –Time
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New York and New Jersey among first states to enact mandatory Ebola quarantines

October 2014NEW YORK - Late Friday, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie imposed automatic, 21-day quarantines on anyone who has had contact or possible contact with infected people from Ebola-stricken countries in West Africa. And federal officials might issue formal quarantine guidelines for medical workers who treat Ebola patients in West Africa. The case of Craig Spencer, a doctor just returned to New York from Guinea in West Africa, the epicenter of the disease, spurred the newest spike in concern about the deadly virus’s potential spread in the United States. Spencer did not self-quarantine after arriving back in the country on Oct. 17. He also didn’t display any symptoms until late this week. On Wednesday, he rode the subway from Manhattan to a bowling alley in Brooklyn, then hired a car service to take him home. He woke up Thursday with a high fever and was diagnosed with Ebola that evening. New York City public-health officials are scrambling to clean up the locations Spencer has visited. They also placed his fiancée and two friends in quarantine. The hurried cleanup efforts in New York were in stark contrast with the mood in Washington. Here, public-health officials celebrated the recovery of Nina Pham, a nurse who contracted Ebola after treating Thomas Eric Duncan, the Liberian man who was the first diagnosed case on American soil and who later died; Pham even got to meet President Barack Obama on Friday before returning to Dallas. On Capitol Hill Friday morning, lawmakers held a hearing on the federal government’s response to the virus, but the tone was friendly compared to the grilling Obama administration officials received last week.
But the next steps taken by New York and New Jersey, and the one that the White House is considering, speak to how seriously Obama is taking the threat. “Based on the information and science known today on the Ebola virus, isolating all of [Doctors Without Borders'] or other organizations’ staff returning from West Africa would be an excessive measure to take at this stage. Other organizations such as WHO and CDC are on the same line and don’t recommend that measure,” Tim Shenk, the press officer for Doctors Without Borders, said in a statement. As for how such guidelines might hinder medical personnel recruitment, Shenk said: “At any point during their time in the field, international staff have the choice to return home if they do not feel safe. It’s impossible to predict what impact this case will have on future recruitment, but [Doctors Without Borders] is committed to continuing its struggle against Ebola in West Africa.” Both Eden Wells, a prominent University of Michigan epidemiologist, and Arthur Reingold, the head of epidemiology at the University of California, Berkeley, said a formal quarantine, while unnecessary, is also quite likely. “What we’re seeing in this disease is that it is not community-transmitted like it is in West Africa,” Wells said. “But it does raise some questions, though, about whether a more active quarantine could be instituted for health care workers to reassure the public.”
Reingold added: “The idea that you might have to spend three weeks in quarantine, it’s not necessary. But I’m not sure whether [public-health officials] feel they have to do that.” David Dausey, a Yale-trained epidemiologist who works on controlling pandemics and who is dean of the School of Health Professions and Public Health at Mercyhurst University, disagreed, saying that public-health officials aren’t going far enough. “This is a disease with a 50 to 70 percent mortality rate. We can’t treat this disease like it’s seasonal influenza,” he said. Dausey said more formal quarantine rules were needed. He suggested off-site quarantine for the medial workers most at risk, and self-quarantine for those with less exposure to the virus. -FP
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