A Very Unstable Day

The ground beneath us is one constant in life you just expect to never change. Solid and unyielding, we build our lives upon the firm foundations of the Earth. When this constant betrays us it is truly disconcerting. The world loses some of its comforting stability.

Last Friday was a day when our islands were reminded of the instability of our world in a rather abrupt fashion.

USGS Earthquake Map for 1May2018
USGS Earthquake Map for May 6, 2018
It was clear weeks ago that the volcano was restless. volcanophiles like myself found ourselves checking the reports and charts daily. The deformation graphs are a good indication of what is going on inside the volcano.

The tiltmeters indicated that pressure in the caldera and Puʻu Oʻo had been building steadily. At the same time the activity in the 61g lava had been waning. Where was the magma going?

While speculation was rife, no one really knew what was coming. Three decades of eruptions from Puʻu Oʻo has become somewhat routine. People forget that Kilauea can be, and usually is much more unpredictable. That destruction can appear anywhere on her flanks.

USGS Leilani Eruption, 5 May, 2018
Lava emerges from a fissure in the Leilani Estates subdivision on May 5th, 2018, photo from the USGS
The first lava surfaced Thursday afternoon in the neighborhood of Leilani Estates. The observatory staff had gathered to celebrate a pau hana that afternoon, an early Cinco De Mayo celebration with Mexican food. Many of us ate our tacos and quesadillas in the conference room, where the large screen was showing drone video of the first fissures.

We worried about the homes in the neighborhood and the people we knew who lived in the area. We compared notes, recalling who lived exactly where, fearing the lava flows would quickly spread. This was looking like a worst case scenario, a repeat of 1955 with more people and homes in the way.

Despite the outbreaks of lava in the rift zone the previous afternoon, we expected a routine Friday atop Mauna Kea. I had a list of tasks to complete… Inspect the K1 azimuth wrap, drill some anchor points to allow installation of the new ice monitor receiver on the roof, look for some spare parts for an encoder.

It should be an easy day on the summit… It was not.

Friday became a day I will remember for a long time to come.

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Astronomers Shed Light on Formation of Black Holes and Galaxies

W. M. Keck Observatory press release

Stars forming in galaxies appear to be influenced by the supermassive black hole at the center of the galaxy, but the mechanism of how that happens has not been clear to astronomers until now.

“Supermassive black holes are captivating,” says lead author Shelley Wright, a University of California San Diego Professor of Physics. “Understanding why and how galaxies are affected by their supermassive black holes is an outstanding puzzle in their formation.”

Image of the quasar host galaxy from the UC San Diego research team’s data. The distance to this quasar galaxy is ~9.3 billion light years. Credit: A. Vayner and team
In a study published today in The Astrophysical Journal, Wright, graduate student Andrey Vayner, and their colleagues examined the energetics surrounding the powerful winds generated by the bright, vigorous supermassive black hole (known as a “quasar”) at the center of the 3C 298 host galaxy, located approximately 9.3 billion light years away.

“We study supermassive black holes in the very early universe when they are actively growing by accreting massive amounts of gaseous material,” says Wright. “While black holes themselves do not emit light, the gaseous material they chew on is heated to extreme temperatures, making them the most luminous objects in the universe.”

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