Light Friday: A View of Hurricane Irene from Space

Plus: Rippling Effects of the Virginia Earthquake and a Planet Made of Diamond.

Virginia Earthquake Ripples Across U.S.
In addition to causing property damage and rattling a few nerves, Tuesday’s 5.8-magnitude earthquake in Virginia was felt across the East Coast and rippled outward into the rest of the country.

A series of detectors at the USArray/Earthscope facility took vertical displacement measurements of the event, showing the spreading wave of seismic activity in a handy animation. The red dots represent upward motion, the blue dots represent downward motion and the intensity of the color represents amplitude of the wave:

The Diamond Planet
Jewelers are about to face some stiff competition, as astronomers have discovered a new planet whose extreme density essentially makes it a giant, cosmic diamond.

Scientists from Australia’s Swinburne University of Technology recently discovered a pulsar, a tiny, dead neutron star, 4,000 light-years away and featuring a mass greater than that of the sun despite being only 15 miles in diameter. They also found a planet orbiting that collapsed star whose composition and extreme density have caused its elements to take crystalline form, according to Scientific American.

“The evolutionary history and amazing density of the planet all suggest it is comprised of carbon — i.e. a massive diamond orbiting a neutron star every two hours in an orbit so tight it would fit inside our own Sun,” Matthew Bailes, an astronomer at Swinburne University, told Reuters.

The space diamond has a mass greater than that of Jupiter, but is 20 times as dense. Apart from carbon, the planet also probably contains oxygen near the surface. However, the planet lacks elements typically found in gas giants, such as hydrogen and helium.

“Bailes and his team couldn’t actually detect the carbon or oxygen, but given the mass of the ‘planet’ and their understanding of the lifecycle of stars, there’s not much else it could be. And because a Jupiter’s worth of carbon would have a pretty powerful gravity of its own, it would almost certainly have crushed itself into crystalline form — in other words, diamond,” TIME explains. “The discovery also raises the question of whether there are other diamond planets studding the Milky Way like jewels on a tiara.”

Preparing for Irene
Hurricane Irene, which satellite observations reveal is already a third the size of the U.S. East Coast, is expected to slam the Southeast for the next few days, working its way up to New York and eventually becoming a torrential rainstorm in the Boston area. Several states have already declared a state of emergency and are ordering evacuations, while many refineries are expected to shutter in advance of the hurricane. Are you prepared?

Get real-time updates on Irene’s latest track at Stormpulse or the New York Times. And find out how to prepare if a hurricane is headed your way at

The National Weather Service and NASA are also providing updates, the latter showing photos from space. Witness this amazing footage from the International Space Station, complete with astronaut commentary:

Stay safe this weekend, folks.


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