Monthly Archives: January 2012

In Jerusalem Today… Netanyahu takes his case to the (Arabic) people

During a frank one-hour open interview, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu responded to questions from visitors to his Arabic Facebook page, freely discussing such topics as the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, Iran’s nuclear program, and what everyone hopes is the aptly-named ‘Arab Spring’.

On his administration’s efforts to pursue peace, Netanyahu said, “We are totally serious about our talks with the Palestinians: I am ready to go to Ramallah to negotiate with (Palestinian President Mahmoud) Abbas. Moving forward with negotiations is the only way to peace, and the Israeli people want peace. We need peace, and we need a Palestinian state that will live in peace with us. I hope that Abbas will seize the opportunity.”

His comments came just days after the Palestinian delegation quit preliminary bilateral peace talks hosted by Jordan’s King Abdullah II in Amman.

On Iran, the PM responded, “Iran is developing nuclear weapons in order to control the entire Middle East and beyond. This is a direct threat to peace.”

By most accounts, Israel is frustrated by the slow implementation of tougher international sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program, the purpose of which, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) concedes, may not be strictly peaceful.

RiddleThe Persian Puzzle

In response to a question about Israel’s position on the Arab Spring, Netanyahu replied: “We want to see democracy in the Arab world and we hope it will happen. There are many false views about Israel in the Arab world – many Arabs are unaware that Arab Israelis sit as members of the Israeli parliament and the government and they enjoy full rights.”

“There is a misconception regarding Israel’s will to have peace,” continued Netanyahu. “This is why I’m talking to you over the Internet, and inviting you to come and visit us. Everyone who visited us in the past changed his view.”

The Israeli PM’s Arabic Facebook page has so far received over 20,000 ‘likes’.



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Journey on, Andrew Mac

Andrew MacNaughtan, in memoriam

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solar max

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The Seven Year Twitch

Strongest solar surge in seven years

The Sun’s recent eruption of activity was crowned yesterday by a robust M-class solar flare that could trigger a significant auroral response in regions north of Earth’s 40th parallel before sunrise

Solar activity is definitely on the upswing after a sustained lull that had some experts wondering whether there would be an appreciable maximum to the current solar cycle. Activity is now expected to intensify over the next six to nine months before dropping off through 2013.

X-Ray output from the Sun’s latest flare:

The sunspot that gave birth to the M-9 flare is now rotating into a position more directly facing our planet, so any pronounced outbursts that occur over the next few days will carry increased potential for radio disruptions and even possible electrical overloads on Earth.

On the plus side, Northern Lights (aurora borealis) could be quite impressive given clear skies at northerly latitudes. The risk of serious consequences from this M-9 flare (such as power outages, damage to satellites or even to ground-based electrical equipment, etc.) is low because the Sun’s most active zone is a good distance from its equator. Still, any time that energetic sunspots rotate into view (especially ones with severely twisted magnetic fields) a reasonable degree of caution is warranted.

The great solar storm of March 1989 knocked out most of Québec’s power grid — and a second round of massive explosions on the surface of the Sun in August of that year brought down various electrical systems in Ontario.

In 1859, the then-recently completed US telegraph network was severely damaged by a solar storm, the intensity of which can only be estimated today. Aurorae were so vivid that people in northern regions were fooled into thinking that morning had arrived. It’s impossible to say precisely how strong a flare it was, but it’s assumed that the disruption to our ionosphere was so profound because the sunspot cluster that spawned the event was directly facing us, casting a massive amount of ionised coronal material from the surface of the Sun squarely in our direction.

Of course, yesterday’s almost-X-class flare could be described as mild when compared with this doozy (below) from November 4, 2003. That flare occurred during a series of eruptions from the Sun that week, some of which are still the strongest solar flares ever recorded with modern instruments. In fact, the week-long storm was so powerful that a new section had to be added to the top of the graph in order to accommodate it. Luckily, much of the output from the storm was not Earth-directed. Had it been, it might have rivaled or surpassed the one that occurred in 1859 — and would surely have had a much more serious impact today due to our reliance on electronic gadgets and upon electricity in general.

The energy of the flare in the chart above appears to be no more than X-20, but it’s widely agreed that the source data from the GOES satellites were clipped at the top end; the interim consensus rendered a verdict of X-28 with some maintaining that it may have been as high as X-32. Later analysis of the series of explosions led NASA to judge the strength of a flare from October 28th as a whopping X-45. It should be pointed out that, until then, NASA scientists thought that they’d probably never see an X-10. For more on the violent spasm of 2003, see the Smithsonian’s Chandra X-Ray Observatory newsletter, March 2004.

There’s increasing speculation about whether we will see anything close to the magnitude of the November 2003 flares (or the 1859 aurorae) during the next year, but only the Sun can say for sure. And Sol just ain’t talkin’.

Making these sorts of predictions is notoriously… well, unpredictable. The 2003 x-28 mega-flare came at a point in the solar cycle when activity should have been quite low — coming, as it did, more than two years after the solar peak of 2001. So, we’ll just have to wait and see.

Best guess? We’ll probably be discussing this again. Maybe soon…

Follow’s coverage



JANUARY 24, 2012 · 11:30 PM

The Earth’s ionosphere is still highly energised from a hit that it received courtesy of an earlier, weaker, flare that triggered our January 23rd geomagnetic storm. Technically, that storm is still continuing. It was the product of a more direct encounter with a solar coronal mass ejection (CME).

It’s actually fortunate that the stronger of the two flares did not occur first; the Earth’s pre-energised ionosphere was thereby strengthened against the effects of the subsequent event. It’s also lucky that the main body of the mass jettisoned by the second flare appears to have missed our planet by about 60 million miles.

Note: These charts are also available with a black background.


Brilliant displays were sporadically visible in North America’s western arctic region, as well as in eastern Siberia, during the early morning hours Tuesday.

But the real show occurred over northeastern Canada, the northern UK and especially Norway (right) on Tuesday night.

Video of the grand display

Some amazing stills, too!



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Georgian Slate on Linen


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Europe targets Iranian oil, gold, diamonds, central bank

EU Agrees to Ban Iran Oil Imports to Target Nuclear Program

January 23, 2012, 9:32 AM EST

By Ewa Krukowska and Thomas Penny

Jan. 23 (Bloomberg) — European Union foreign ministers agreed to ban oil imports from Iran starting July 1 as part of measures to ratchet up the pressure on the Persian Gulf nation’s nuclear program, the 27-nation bloc said in a statement.

The EU will freeze assets of the Iranian central bank in Europe as well as of eight other entities and ban the trade in gold, precious metals, diamonds and petrochemical products from Iran, the EU said.

“Today’s decisions target the sources of the finance for the nuclear program, complementing already existing sanctions,” the EU said, adding that it has “banned imports of Iranian crude oil and petroleum products.”

Iran has threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz, the Persian Gulf passageway for about 20 percent of globally traded oil, if the EU and the U.S. impose stricter sanctions. Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Kuwait ship crude and liquefied natural gas through the strait.

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In defiance of dire straits

Britain, US and France send warships
through Strait of Hormuz


Britain, America and France delivered a pointed signal to Iran, sending six warships led by a 100,000 ton aircraft carrier through the highly sensitive waters of the Strait of Hormuz.


By Chief Foreign Correspondent, The Telegraph

6:00AM GMT 23 Jan 2012

This deployment defied explicit Iranian threats to close the waterway. It coincided with an escalation in the West’s confrontation with Iran over the country’s nuclear ambitions.

European Union foreign ministers are today expected to announce an embargo on Iranian oil exports, amounting to the most significant package of sanctions yet agreed. They are also likely to impose a partial freeze on assets held by the Iranian Central Bank in the EU.

Tehran has threatened to block the Strait of Hormuz in retaliation. Tankers carrying 17 million barrels of oil pass through this waterway every day, accounting for 35 per cent of the world’s seaborne crude shipments. At its narrowest point, located between Iran and Oman, the Strait is only 21 miles wide.

Last month, Admiral Habibollah Sayyari, commander of the Iranian navy, claimed that closing the Strait would be “easy,” adding: “As Iranians say, it will be easier than drinking a glass of water.”

But USS Abraham Lincoln, a nuclear-powered carrier capable of embarking 90 aircraft, passed through this channel and entered the Gulf without incident yesterday. HMS Argyll, a Type 23 frigate from the Royal Navy, was one of the escort vessels making up the carrier battle-group. A guided missile cruiser and two destroyers from the US Navy completed the flotilla, along with one warship from the French navy.

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