Illinois Public Media News
People from Wisconsin down to Missouri reported seeing a meteor that lit up the midwestern sky Wednesday night. It appeared a little past 10 PM.
At exactly that moment, Steve Baron was in the window seat of a Southwest Airlines jet flying from Las Vegas to Chicago. Suddenly, he saw a flash he describes as "impossibly bright."
"Like if you lit magnesium on fire", Baron explained. "It was like daylight outside, only it was the brightest day you've ever seen."
Baron, a vice president at Chicago-based Local TV L-L-C, is a former broadcast meteorologist. But this didn't look like any weather event Baron had ever seen.
Baron said he wonders, "Is it, like, a missile or something? Are we flying over a bombing range? Then it dawned on me that it had to be coming from outer space."
Scientists say he's probably right. The object is presumed to be a meteor entering the earth's atmosphere, or possibly, a piece of space junk.
Andy Ervin is a senior meteorologist with the National Weather Service in the Quad Cities. He says the object was a meteor, "certainly the brightest meteor I've ever seen". Ervin says most eyewitnesses the Weather Service has talked to say it was "exceptionally bright or probably the brightest thing most folks have seen in the sky beyond lightning or the sun".
Forecasters say a meteor shower called Gamma Virginids began April 4 and is expected to last to April 21 with peak activity Wednesday and Thursday. But they couldn't immediately confirm if the Midwest meteor was part of that shower.
(Additional reporting from the Associated Press)
A University of Illinois researcher back from Haiti says it was hard to separate his scientific work from the crisis surrounding him. Scott Olson is a professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering. He and a team of other geo-engineers examined if a process called liquefaction shook the Haitian soil so much that it could no longer support the structures on top of it - like the giant cranes at the capital's only port. The destruction blocked valuable aid from getting to victims. Olson sat down with AM 580's Tom Rogers to talk about the trip in both scientific and human terms.
It will be sometime next year before researchers can utilize the world's fastest supercomputer on University of Illinois Urbana campus -- but there's already a list of teams who will have first dibs when Blue Waters comes on line. And the U of I's National Center for Supercomputing Applications is seeking applications for more through mid-March.
Blue Waters is the result of a collaboration between the U of I and National Science Foundation, which is providing monetary awards to those researchers.
NCSA spokeswoman Trish Barker says it will take some time for research teams to adjust from a machine that does trillions of calculations each second to one that does a quadrillion every second. She says that will require an understanding of the huge computer's applications, or codes, in the same way we would use a common consumer program.
"They're written to run on supercomputers -- that means that things have been parallelized so that programs are sort of broken up and different pieces of them are being run on different parts of the supercomputer that are communicating with each other," Barker said. But those have to scale up now to take advantage of many many more processors than they're currently using. It's kind of like if you've tried to think about, I've used Microsoft Word on one computer -- what if I wanted to use it on five computers?
The first 18 teams learning Blue Waters' codes includes a group from the U of I's department of atmospheric sciences to build a tornado model. And another group on campus will study molecular dynamics.
Barker says the NSF awards are partially for travel... allowing teams to all meet on campus to begin researching the programming code for when Blue Waters comes on line. Some of the funding is also dedicated to getting the teams together to prepare their research.
A semi-trailer carrying nearly 200 hogs overturned on an interstate west of Champaign Monday, blocking traffic for several hours. The driver of the semi was unhurt. But an estimated 10 to 12 percent of the hogs were killed, including about a half-dozen who had to be euthanized at the scene, due to their injuries.
That work was done by veterinarians and students from the University Of Illinois College Of Veterinary Medicine, who were called to the scene by state police to help out.
Dr. Kris Clement of the U of I Vet-Med teaching hospital was one of those called to help with the injured hogs. She says that fortunately, traffic accidents involving livestock trucks happen rarely. But Clements says the accident gave her students valuable experience - including a lesson about when to step into an accident scene.
"Our role didn't start until the survivors got off the trailer because that's the biggest thing -- you've got to get the uninjured ones off the trailer so they can be taken away and you actually have the room to work with the injured ones," Clement said. "Our instinct is to want to help right away, but we can actually get in the way."
The semi overturned as it was turning off of westbound I-74 onto southbound I-57. All lanes and ramps were opened to traffic after the truck and the uninjured hogs were removed.
Illinois receiver Arrelious Benn will skip his senior season and enter the NFL draft.
The junior said at a news conference Wednesday he thinks he is ready for the National Football League and wants to take care of his family. But he says he won't forget the U of I.
"As I begin this adventure, I will always be proud to represent the University of Illinois", said Benn. "I will be a role model for inner-city kids and anyone who wonders if they really can realize their dreams. And one more thing, I will finish college --- and Ma, that's a promise".
"OK, I'll take you up on that", replied Benn's mother, Denise Benn, who joined him at the news conference.
"Rejus" Benn was a top prospect out of high school in Washington, D.C., and the Big Ten freshman of the year in 2007. The Illini went to the Rose Bowl that season. He struggled with the team the past two seasons. Illinois was 3-9 this season and Benn caught just 38 passes for 490 yards. But despite his disappointing junior season, Benn is considered a potential high-round pick. Draft expert and former NFL general manager Gil Brandt believes Benn will be a second-round pick.
(Additional reporting by Rob McColley for AM 580 News)
Adam Lentz is taking a week from his studies at the University of Illinois to go back to his home town in Europe. But it'll be a working break - his home is Copenhagen, where representatives from the world's countries have gathered to hammer out an agreement on climate change. Lentz is a Fulbright graduate student studying natural resources and environmental science. When he was an undergraduate at the University of Copenhagen, he was the president of the Union of Danish Natural Resource Students. He's going to the Copenhagen summit to monitor its progress, and he sat down with AM 580's Tom Rogers to talk about his expectations.
Researchers at the University of Illinois are part of an international group of scientists that's decoded the DNA of the domestic pig.
Their research may one day prove useful in finding new treatments for both pigs and people, and perhaps aid in efforts for a new swine flu vaccine for pigs.
Larry Schook is the U of I biomedical science professor who led the project. He says the pig is the ideal animal to look at lifestyle and health issues in the United States. That's because pigs and humans are similar in size and makeup, and swine are often used in human research.
Researchers announced the results of their work today at a meeting in the United Kingdom. Schook says they'll spend the meeting discussing ways to use the new information.
The water utility for the city of Danville takes issue with an advocacy group's report that consumers may be subject to higher-than-allowable traces of a farm chemical.
The report from the Natural Resources Defense Council cited government figures suggesting Danville's water supply had exceeded standards for the herbicide atrazine.
But Kevin Culver, a compliance officer with Aqua Illinois, says the NRDC's numbers are from 2004, and since then, recent EPA tests found no detectable levels of atrazine. However, Culver says atrazine is a concern since Danville's drinking water source, Lake Vermilion, includes lots of farm runoff. He says the utility filters out the chemical with a simple process.
"It's actually the same component in your home water systems that they say to use, and one of the recommendations is activated carbon to remove it at home," Culver said. So it's the same type stuff, although we use a lot more of it during the growing season."
Chemicals like atrazine have been linked to birth defects and hormone disruptions in animals, though the federal Centers for Disease Control has not found the same effects on humans.
Researchers have found an opportunity for public education in a Hollywood blockbuster. "The DaVinci Code" offered a rich backdrop of religious history in laying out its plot. And in its sequel "Angels and Demons," author Dan Brown injects physics - the Vatican is threatened by a bomb planted by the shadowy organization the Illuminati. Its explosive charge is based on antimatter stolen from CERN, the Swiss particle physics laboratory that produces antimatter in its Large Hadron Collider. Physicists want to step in with some caveats. University of Illinois professor Kevin Pitts says CERN, the collider and antimatter are very real, but he tells AM 580's Tom Rogers that antimatter's potential is just starting to be realized.
An astronaut from Central Illinois will lead NASA's space shuttle mission this afternoon.
The commander leading a seven-member crew on the shuttle Atlantis to the Hubble Space Telescope is University of Illinois graduate Scott Altman. This mission has been long-delayed, originally scheduled for last October. On-board equipment that transmits data back to Earth broke down, and it's taken months for engineers to prepare replacement equipment that the Atlantis crew will take to the Hubble.
This is one of 8 or 9 final missions for the Space Shuttle program. It's expected to be phased out either next year or early 2011, depending on government funding. Altman, who was on three other shuttle missions, says he'd like to believe the U of I could play a role when the Orion space capsule resumes manned missions around 2015.
"When I came to NASA, I'd hoped I would be one of the first people to visit Mars and go beyond where we've been. Now I realize it's the next generation that's going to do that, and it's the people I talk to at Illinois who are going to make that happen and be a key part of that," Altman said. "I kind of envy them (for) that opportunity."
Altman says he's happy to pass the torch to potential astronauts, but he admits he's envious of them when making return visits to his alma mater. Altman received a master's degree in aeronautical engineering from the U of I in 1990. He's a native of Pekin.
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