Sept. 7, 2005 | 7:15 p.m. ET
Space storm warning: Just as Earth-watching satellites are helping authorities deal with the impact of storms like Hurricane Katrina, sun-watching satellites are providing a heads-up about storms from space. Now it looks as if we're in for some more stormy weather — but it's not yet clear whether geomagnetic disturbances will create communication disruptions or little more than a cool sky show. reports that a major X-class solar flare was detected today, apparently coming from the same sunspot region that resulted in brighter auroral displays last month . For the past couple of weeks, Sunspot 798 has been going around the far side of the sun, and it looks like it's just coming into view on the other edge.

Today's edge-on outburst wasn't directed anywhere near Earth, and for that reason it's not expected to have any geomagnetic effect. But the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Space Environment Center says we should "expect further major flares" as the active region turns directly toward us.

What would be the effect? Unlike Katrina and other earthly storms, you wouldn't even feel a space storm passing by. Earth's magnetic field serves to fend off the sun's outbursts of electrically charged solar particles. But if the blast is particularly strong, it could knock out satellites that are in the wrong place at the wrong time. That's what happened during the Halloween storms of 2003.

More commonly, solar storms have little effect other than pushing the auroral displays (that is, northern or southern lights, depending on which hemisphere you're in) closer toward the equator. Last month's northern lights were visible as far south as Colorado, and the southern lights could be seen in Australia and New Zealand. To review the highlights, check out's gallery.

Sept. 7, 2005 | 7:15 p.m. ET
More troubles for NASA: Along with NASA's fuel-tank woes, Hurricane Katrina could have even more of a domino effect on the future shuttle launch schedule than previously thought, according to a memo from deputy shuttle program manager Wayne Hale. That might lead some to wonder whether the hurricane zone is the best place for NASA's key assets for human spaceflight — but there's so much infrastructure in Cape Canaveral, both physical and intellectual, that it would be difficult to contemplate a move. In fact, Florida could end up being a center for the nascent suborbital space industry as well (along with places like New Mexico, California, Oklahoma and Texas).

Nevertheless, there's at least one Californian who argues that it's time for a change:

George J. Becker, Lancaster, Calif.: "NASA will have to weigh the benefits of the possibility of keeping space shuttle faculties in the Gulf Coast or relocating elsewhere in the United States to avoid the specter of frequent hurricanes.  In the beginning of the space shuttle program, Vandenberg Air Force Base (Lompoc, Calif.) was to be a West Coast launch site.  Thanks to budget cuts, Vandenberg AFB never was expanded for shuttle launches.  While NASA might have gotten off easy this time, NASA might not be so lucky after the next hurricane.  NASA and its contractors might consider moving back out to the West Coast and move its displaced workers at the same time.  The facilities are still here at Plant 42, Edwards Air Force Base and Phillips Laboratory as well as throughout Southern California.

"Having grown up in the Antelope Valley (in Lancaster), in the shadow of Edwards AFB (where the shuttle landed last time) and Palmdale’s Plant 42 (where the shuttle fleet was built), with some of the people and the tooling available (what’s the cost of a retrofit?), it might make sense to move back out to California for a time to escape further hurricanes.

"Furthermore, it would be shortsighted of the United States to cut back on space exploration.  Just think of all the positive contributions that we have benefited from NASA as a community as a whole.  See the NASA "Spinoff 2004" book for further reading.  Cutting NASA out of the budget would be like cutting our respective noses off to spite our faces."

Here are a couple of additional responses to Tuesday's item about space and the storm, in particular J.E. Blankenship's complaint that space exploration isn't worth the cost in light of Katrina's devastation:

David Abramowitz, Springfield, N.J.: "I think J.E. Blankenship ofMcGrady, N.C., is sadly out of step with the importance of exploration. It is scary that his view of exploration is probably limited to what is behind the milk in his refrigerator. ... The scanner in his local supermarket, the X-ray machine at his dentist’s office, the GPS and cruise control in his car, the computer he sent his e-mail on all came from forward-thinking innovative explorations of sorts. We need to continue to explore space, the oceans, medical science and more to insure our place as a technological leader in the world of tomorrow. In Blankenship's defense, however, we can always be smarter about how to spend the money to do these things. The benefits we’ve gained from the international space station are insignificant as compared to wealth of knowledge we’ve gotten and may continue to get from the Hubble Space Telescope (if we were to properly maintain it). Scientists, not politicians or CPAs, should make the decision as to where to invest the money if we truly want a return on our exploration investment."

Eric: "I understand and value the importance of NASA, exploration, and research for the sake of research.  However, I must admit that very little has been learned and even less has been gained over the last thirty years from NASA.  I visit the rover Web site and contemplate how much money is being spent on driving a golf cart across Mars and wonder what good it’s really doing … None!  We are not learning anything.  The idea that scientists are proving whether or not Mars had water at some point is bogus; it’s all speculation.  Looking at rocks from millions of miles away doesn’t really do the human race or the U.S. much good.  It makes us feel better, but it doesn’t help those who are in need.  I honestly doubt that humans will visit Mars in our lifetime. I might not even see them go to the moon.  Would it be “cool”?  Yes, but it’s not necessary. ... Don’t misunderstand me: I support and revel in NASA’s attempts to explore and uncover the secrets of the universe. But those pretty pictures from the Hubble Telescope didn’t seem to affect the fact that I paid $3.79 for gas this morning."

Sept. 7, 2005 | 7:15 p.m. ET
On the road again: For the next week, I'll be on assignment in Russia — and as usual when I'm out of the office, postings will be dependent on time, bandwidth and news developments. But I'll at least try to send a postcard. Do svidaniya!

Sept. 7, 2005 | 7:15 p.m. ET
More scientific stops on the World Wide Web:
Caltech: 'Secret ingredients' in the recipe for comets
New Scientist: Deep Impact collision ejected the stuff of life
Huntsville Times: The Great Moonbuggy Race rises again
Scientific American: Fighting CO2 emissions with cyanobacteria

Sept. 6, 2005 | 8:35 p.m. ET
Space and the storm: Could NASA's new vision suffer because of Hurricane Katrina? It may seem like a stretch, but some space policy observers believe that the damage in the Southeast could have a long-term impact on America's space effort.

The Space Review's Jeff Foust explores the possibilities this week in "The Hurricane and the Vision."

If you look at the physical damage sustained by NASA facilities, the picture doesn't look that bad: The Michoud Assembly Facility near New Orleans, where the space shuttle's fuel tanks are manufactured, wasn't damaged as much as forecasters feared during Katrina's approach. But for now, most of the people who work there are cut off from their homes and work — and it could be that way for days or weeks longer.

It turns out that fuel-tank refurbishment is a critical job for future shuttle flights — and because of the workflow domino effect, excessive delays in getting the fuel tank ready for Discovery could force yet another postponement in the second post-Columbia shuttle launch, which is now scheduled for next March.

By itself, delaying the launch by a couple of months isn't that big a deal. However, Foust says even a couple of months "will have a ripple effect through the rest of the shuttle manifest."

"With NASA leadership sticking with the 2010 retirement date of the shuttle announced when the Vision for Space Exploration was unveiled last year, any delay puts a further squeeze on plans to complete the assembly of the international space station," he says.

Over time, snags could add up to such an extent that the post-2010 plans would have to be reconsidered. There are political and financial considerations as well: The multibillion-dollar task of rebuilding what Katrina ruined could add to the questions already being raised about future space spending.

Another point to consider: The Southeast currently appears to be in an "up" cycle for major hurricanes, whether due to long-term climate change or shorter-term weather patterns. So the next few years may well bring more of the same. Even now, Cape Canaveral lies within the projected path of yet another tropical storm.

Some people are already asking whether space exploration is worth all the aggravation:

J.E. Blankenship,McGrady, N.C.: "I believe in the aftermath of Katrina and rising gas prices across the globe that some things should be done now, not a year later down the road. I think that space exploration projects should be halted! With over $1 billion spent to send one shuttle into space, and then to put a hold on all launches until futher notice, is bull. I ask one question: How many people in the U.S. would that $1 billion help? Who cares about Mars? We can't live there, so who gives a hoot about how it was created? It's here and so is our universe, and there is nothing we can do to change space."

Of course, one could say that space spending has funded the satellites that are helping relief workers figure out how to respond to storms like Katrina. And last week, during a speech to a space conference, NASA Administrator Mike Griffin provided a different kind of answer:

"The human imperative to explore and settle new lands will be satisfied, by others if not by us. Humans will explore the moon, Mars, and beyond. It's simply a matter of which humans, when, what values they will hold, and what languages they will speak, what cultures they will spread. What the United States gains from a robust program of human space exploration is the opportunity to carry the principles and values of Western philosophy and culture along on the absolutely inevitable outward migration of humanity into the solar system and, eventually, beyond. These benefits are tangible and consequential. It matters what the United States chooses to do, or not to do, in space."

As always, feel free to let me know what you think.

Sept. 6, 2005 | 8:35 p.m. ET
Reconstruction redux:
Once the waters recede, it will take tens of billions of dollars — if not hundreds of billions — to rebuild the ruined Gulf Coast. And experts are asking the same sorts of questions we've been considering over the past few days: How should New Orleans be rebuilt?

Video: Rebuilding New Orleans “I think it would be foolish to try to rebuild New Orleans as it was two weeks ago,” Craig Colten, a geography professor at Louisiana State University, told NBC News. “I think we need to find ways to put some of those lowest-lying areas — areas in the deepest amount of water now — into a wetlands type of land use."

Cosmic Log readers continued to send in their own thoughts on how the rebuilding should be done. Here's another sampling:

Jared Babin,Houston: "Not rebuilding New Orleans — whoever has the courage to say that should go to every family from Louisiana that ever served in the military, every family that lost a father or mother for the freedom of his brother. Tell them that they died in vain, because New Orleans is too expensive to rebuild. Their life, their father, mother, brother, or daughter's life was not a high enough price to pay. If you can convince them, then I will agree with you. Until then, I love New Orleans, and it will return stronger and better than ever!"

Paul van Gent, Leiden, the Netherlands: "The flood that swamped New Orleans did not come from the sea or from the river, but from the adjacent lake. We once had our own Pontchartrain, we called it the Haarlemmer Lake. Throw a big ring-levee around it, turn it into Pontchartrain Polder, and create a load of jobs in the process."

THKS, Hong Kong: "Yes, reclamation — to fill the bathtub basin of New Orleans. Can the Americans make use of the by-products of petroleum to rebuild the environmentally friendly green New Orleans? Millions of abandoned car tires? Why not? This is just a proposal. I don't know whether it's cost-effective or not."

Car tires might not be the most environmentally friendly material to use as landfill, but you get the idea.

Chuck Miller, Jacksonville, Fla: "Due to the highly toxic water flooding New Orleans, and the fact that the city is already below sea level (and sinking), I would raze and abandon the greater part of the flooded area after allowing residents back in to pack what belongings they can salvage. With much better levees, perhaps the area around the French Quarter could be saved/preserved as a tourist area. Suburbs could be built on higher land west and northwest of the area, away from the Gulf. Bear in mind that there will be more hurricanes, and obviously they'll be stronger than in the past due to global warming."

Jim B., Miami: "Maybe you can take a look at a part of the Katrina disaster that has been ignored, the role of the U.S. Congress is placing New Orleans below the level of the Mississippi. In the 1950s, the U.S. Corps of Engineers determined that the Mississippi was silting in and shifting the main channel to the Atchafalaya River, bypassing New Orleans. By an act of Congress, the Corps of Engineers was ordered to keep the river where it was. Forty-plus years of silting later, New Orleans looks up at water on just about every side."

David Stever: "May I suggest a name change for the rebuilt New Orleans? I'd suggest Newer Orleans would be appropriate. Also, as the John McPhee book someone else brought up points out, The River doesn't want to flow past Norleans no more. The mouth of the River wants to flow in the area of Morgan City, much to the detriment of Morgan City (I don't think that the city would survive the changing of the channel). The Achafalaya River will be the new channel as soon as Mother Nature figures out how to subvert the Army Corps of Engineers, and given how this White House has undercut the budget of the the Corps, that won't been too far in the future. Once the river has a new channel, Norleans will start sinking even faster then it is now, and a new port city will spring up somewhere along that new channel. On that day, without the flow of the river by it, the French Quarter would have about as many visitors as a boarded up Coney Island amusement park. ..."

Jeff Whitsett, Houston: "Of course New Orleans will be rebuilt. And so it should as well. We, as people, have persevered through difficulty in the past and will continue to do so. The mentality that supports relegating New Orleans back to the swampland must also then support the idea of packing up Los Angeles and moving it away from the San Andreas Fault, moving Seattle away from the shadow of Mount Rainier, and dismantling the high rises in New York because they are too big of targets for terrorists. No, New Orleans will be rebuilt. The concern is to what capacity. The economy was not an expanding one prior to Katrina, and now that the population has moved beyond the borders of the city (and are now actively seeking jobs/homes in the shelter cities), both residents and businesses have to seriously question the legitimacy of returning to a city like this. So New Orleans will be rebuilt, but how much will be dependent on those people/businesses that choose to return."

Sept. 6, 2005 | 8:35 p.m. ET
Scientific questions on the World Wide Web: Will startup strike gold on the Red Planet?
Nature: Are there six dimensions in our universe?
Science News: Is obesity a form of addiction? Do human hands give off light?

Sept. 5, 2005 | 10:15 p.m. ET
A new New Orleans? The heaviest blow to New Orleans wasn’t so much the wind or the rain associated with Hurricane Katrina. Rather, it was the flooding through gaps that opened up in the city’s protective ring of levees.

Because much of the city was built below sea level, water filled the city’s low areas like the bottom of a bathtub. But in this case, authorities can’t just pull out a drain stopper. Instead, the water will have to be pumped out of the city, gallon by gallon, once the levees are shored up. Drying out and fixing up the flooded areas will take months more.

Each day, more information is coming out about what went wrong and why – for instance, in Newsweek’s cover story, “The Lost City.” But what will happen once the first phase of rescue and recovery is finished? Should everything be put back the way it was? Should the levees just be made firmer and higher? Should engineers take a completely different approach to rebuilding New Orleans? Or will New Orleans become lost forever?

The pros, the pols and the public should at least give some thought to innovative approaches that would make the rebuilt city safer from storms. Last week, I favored setting up an urban design competition for a new New Orleans, and here’s what some of you had to say on the subject:

Jeremy, Hong Kong: “Viewing this disaster from my adopted home of Hong Kong, one word consistently pushes itself to the front of my mind: reclamation. The growth in Hong Kong's economy has only been matched by one thing, the growth in its shoreline. Its latest and greatest buildings are constructed on landfill in the harbor. Its airport required the construction of an entire island! Now, think about the possibilities for New Orleans. A city under sea level? No problem, just build up the land. Trouble with water and landslides? Another major issue in Hong Kong, dealt with quite successfully. Build a system of waterworks, and in New Orleans' case, canals. With enough ingenuity and planning, much of the destruction caused by Katrina could be avoided in the future.”

Harriet, Darien, Ga.: “I think a competition for the redesign of New Orleans would be an excellent idea! Looking forward to the end of petroleum era would be just one component of the design ideas, but a necessary one! Blueprints for the future? I love it!”

Ron Servoss, Whittier, N.C.: “Should we really spend a lot of tax dollars rebuilding a city below sea level at the end of a major river that has cut under the levee in many places in years past? Get the people out. Build a state-of-the-art port. Then we won't have to do this again – maybe sooner than later. I lived there for years and I will miss the place too, but enough already.”

R. Currer: “I think it was pure arrogance locating a city on the coast below sea level.  I think relocating [rather than] rebuilding is the answer. I realize there is a lot of history and commerce involved in a decision like that, but to rebuild in an area that will undoubtedly suffer a repeat of this tragedy in the future is ludicrous. Most of the demolition has already occurred. Rather than waste time and effort pumping the city out, it would be best to relocate the survivors inland until such time as a new, improved New Orleans can be built on a more appropriate (and saner) location.”

Kevin English, Austin, Texas: “… These people who were physically capable of leaving the city and did not when a mandatory evacuation was ordered should have to spend the next 10 years of their lives working for free, reconstructing their city. We do need to seriously consider not rebuilding New Orleans. The $25 billion reconstruction cost translates to roughly $10,000 from every man, woman and child in this country. I think we should all get a say as to how this region of the country gets rebuilt.”

Several readers have pointed out that Kevin's math doesn't add up. If you assume a $25 billion cost, that would average out to less than $100 per man, woman and child in the United States. The total cost is likely to add up to more than $25 billion, but not that much more. (Updated 12:25 a.m. ET Sept. 7)

Jorge Fernandez, Miami: “It is a waste to spend more money on New Orleans. We spent two-thirds of the Louisiana Purchase on it, and now the city is a total loss. We need to abandon the city because nature has claimed it, and we’re fighting a losing battle against it. Take note that this is coming from someone who lives in Miami. Miami is not 6 feet below sea level, though, and I live inland. It would be a better to create a better port with modern technology. … Most of the survivors will relocate and settle in other areas, and only the die-hards would come back. …”

Chris Eldridge, Harrisburg, Pa.: “If New Orleans rebuilds, it should probably eliminate those three troublesome canals. Their existence creates a much greater perimeter to protect and therefore a much greater likelihood of a breach. From the map, they really don't seem to go anywhere anyway. Apart from the levees along the lake and river, New Orleans should have an actual floodwall and gate system ‘inside the city’ to prevent one or two levee breaches from flooding the entire city.

“Perhaps whatever is left of the canals they tear down can become just such a subdivision? On the National Geographic series ‘Megastructures,’ they showed how the Netherlands is designing lightweight homes that will actually float as flood waters gradually rise. They look like regular homes (not like a house boat), and they simply slide up a telephone pole-like post to remain in position. Such homes should obviously be structurally tested to endure the Category 5 hurricane-force winds that are not uncommon in the Gulf region.

“It is also quite obvious ... that any city in a disaster-prone area needs to have a host of emergency-enhanced facilities and equipment to handle such potential crisis. Armored, amphibious police cars aren't so ridiculous-sounding after all, are they? …”

Some Cosmic Log correspondents looked beyond the city itself, and reflected on what the crisis said about modern-day America’s response to the misfortunes of fellow citizens. Yvette from Cerritos, Calif., for example, suggests that national employers such as Wal-Mart could find employment for their employees from the disaster zone, that the hospitality industry could do the same for displaced casino and hotel workers, and that evacuees could be housed at underused military bases. Here are some additional suggestions and observations from around the globe:

Marc Bozik, Bethlehem, Pa.: “… We need to establish a network of American households all over the country that would be willing to foster a family in times such as these. An ‘Adopt a Family’ program that could be mobilized in a matter of hours to relocate families caught in the aftermath of disasters (natural or man-made). These families would identify what size family they could accommodate for a matter of months until that family could either return to their homes or get their feet under them to start new somewhere else. I myself live in a very modest home in the Lehigh Valley with my wife, daughter and two dogs. I would be willing in times like these to open my home to a family of three to stay with us until times get better. … Naturally, I would want some assurance that there were guidelines and precautionary measures taken so that good people were placed with good people. That is where the government can help. Criminal background checks of all involved would be a prerequisite for placement. Funding and transportation would also be something that would be regulated and provided by the government. It is not too late to help those in the South during the current crisis. …”

At least one such organization already has been set up — Katrina Housing Northwest — and there are surely others as well, set up by churches and other organizations.

Eric Collins, Starkville, Miss.: “The issue in my mind is whether or not we should be better preparing our citizens to deal with these kinds of situations.  There is already a civics course requirement in most public schools.  Should we not also include in this course a lesson on what to do and how to behave if you suddenly find yourself in any number of situations ranging from a prolonged power outage, to terrorist attacks, to massive devastation wrought by natural disaster. Among other survival skills that could be taught in such a setting, one thing that must be stressed is that no matter how bad it gets, we must not abandon our basic civic responsibilities to help each other if possible, but at the very least do no harm.”

A. Vishnu,Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia: “The world shares the grief and sadness felt by the folks in New Orleans, but the richest nation in the world failed its people when it mattered most. I am on the other side of the world and looking at America, which suddenly appears to act with a Third World country mentality. … When anyone conducts any sort of activity, be it construction, a gathering or an evacuation drill, they must look at incorporating the highest safety measures when human life is involved. The president is protected 24/7 from every possible circumstance by the best people, equipment, weapons, vehicles, etc. Where do the people of New Orleans go to when they need protection from this disaster? Obviously, the government. But when the government is inefficient and ineffective, all hell breaks loose. America, evaluate and reinvent the ability to respond to human plight or suffering during disasters, whether it's man-made or natural, and be equally sensitive to their security, safety and well-being especially if they are poor, within the country or in a foreign land.”

K.Y., Utah: “… Maybe the only good that can come out of this tragedy is for America to open its eyes to what we have become and where our leadership is taking us, and decide if this is where we really want to go. There's ‘The Control of Nature,’ a John McPhee book written years ago about people living in places where natural disasters are guaranteed, why people live there and how they justify it to themselves. Included is New Orleans (below sea level, relying on man-made levees to keep the Mississippi River from changing course), Iceland (volcanism) and Southern California foothills (fire, floods, mudslides, huge rolling rocks). Another fascinating book to add to the ‘post-Katrina reading list.’

Sept. 5, 2005 | 10:15 p.m. ET
Your daily dose of science on the Web:
Popular Science: Engineers talk about super-levee system
N.Y. Times (reg. req.): High-tech lessons for flood fighters
Times of London: Dinosaurs may have been a fluffy lot
BBC: Glitch forces Mars orbiter shut-off

Sept. 2, 2005 | 8:30 p.m. ET
The whys behind the woes: Relief is just starting to make its way to the hardest-hit areas of storm-hammered New Orleans, and thousands of residents are still in peril. But already, the nationwide focus is beginning to turn to the big questions about what authorities did — or didn't do — to cope with the Katrina crisis.

Tonight's reports from NBC News detail some of the factors: how problems with the pre-storm evacuation caused bottlenecks that persisted for days later, and how the focus for emergency planning shifted away from natural disasters to terror attacks in the post-9/11 era.

It will take months if not years to unravel all the deep questions. In the meantime, the more immediate questions are troubling enough for New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, whose frustration boiled up in an audio interview Thursday night. "They don't have a clue what's going on down here!" he told WWL Radio.

Here's a sampling of the smaller, somewhat more answerable questions that have come into the Cosmic Log mailbox this week:

Wade Whitlock, Aberdeen, Md.: "The mayor of New Orleans has it right — these people don't have a clue. Check out Defense Tech today. What do you think the response to a bloody great dirty bomb would be? Any better than this?"

Defense Tech's Noah Shachtman links prominently to Slate's article on the "Department of Homeland Screw-Up," which also mentions the dirty-bomb angle. Would a dirty bomb have the same effect as a hurricane? In Katrina's case, the real crisis came after the storm had passed, when authorities did not follow through quickly enough on relief. In contrast, experts say that the physical impact of a dirty bomb would spread over just a few city blocks — and that the post-attack panic would likely be much worse than the actual attack. Come to think of it, that may well be a similarity after all, and a rule to live by for disaster response planning: The greatest danger comes as a delayed response to the event itself.

Chris Eldridge: "Given the situation of people shooting at rescue helicopters, I'm beginning to wonder if the breaches in the levees themselves was not an act of vandalism? Storm surge was supposed to flood the city by going over the levees, not by breaking them. I've heard that there were complaints about that section of levee, so perhaps just some windblown debris hit them?"

In a press advisory, a levee expert from the New Jersey Institute of Technology says the reason for the breaches may not have been what you think: "It appears that the levee failures in New Orleans were induced by subsurface seepage through the soils, not by overtopping,” said John Schuring, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at NJIT. "Given the fact that the levees were built and retrofitted many times over the years, and also given the fact that other weaknesses in the soil may exist, care must be taken when the city is dewatered to avoid another failure."

Nan Boyle: "I have not heard one person talk about a solution to the communications breakdown of line and cell phones. Has the development of an inexpensive satellite phone system been considered, or is that too inconceivable?"

Dear Sis: The satellite-telecom industry has gone through a boom and bust already, but the post-Katrina communications breakdown is already leading to new interest in satphones . When it comes to communications for first responders, ad-hoc mesh networks represent another technological frontier — as described in this article about high-tech responses to the hurricane crisis.

Kurt Setschen, Zurich, Switzerland: " Schadenfreude or not, it is very clear that global warming has some strong effects to the climate. And it is also clear that air pollution has a strong effect on the warming. So why does Bush close his eyes on this? To protect U.S. business? What will happen now with the businesses in the areas where Katrina hit? Have they been protected? Or does it mean that rebuilding the damaged areas will be a good business for others that have not been affected? Protecting the global climate cannot be done if the biggest polluter country is not cooperating."

I'm doubtful that Katrina will change the battle lines in the United States over climate change and industrial policy, but the storm's aftermath is certainly likely to bring more activists to the barricades. You can expect more dire warnings as well as more angry denials. The Real Climate Web forum does a good job of avoiding the rhetoric and focusing on the science — and if you don't agree with the conclusions, you can chime in with your own observations.

As for the rebuilding effort, it will certainly take years to bring New Orleans back to business as usual. Many of the people now taking shelter at Houston's Astrodome and elsewhere may well eventually return to the Big Easy and find jobs working on the reconstruction. But should it be business as usual in New Orleans? Just this week, House Speaker Dennis Hastert stirred up a ruckus by suggesting that "a lot of that place could be bulldozed." Hastert later retreated from those comments, but Cosmic Log correspondent Patrick Bishop states the question more tactfully:

Patrick Bishop: "Isn't it about time we started seriously rethinking the design of our cities? In the case of New Orleans, imagine how much more expeditious our current efforts to evacuate refugees would be had the city incorporated a network of canals in its design ... let the enemy be doing some of our work for us. This may be something to think about as we rebuild."

I'd love to see innovative approaches for rebuilding the heavily damaged areas of New Orleans — perhaps an urban design competition on the level of the post-9/11 Freedom Tower in New York, or even Pierre L'Enfant's 1791 plan for the city of Washington. Would it be worth starting a campaign for such a project? Let me know what you think.

Sept. 2, 2005 | 8:30 p.m. ET
More studies of storms: Lorrin Kimberly sends in yet another suggestion for the post-Katrina reading list . In an e-mail, she raves about "Isaac's Storm" by Erik Larsen:

"As Katrina was developing last week, I was in the tense middle of a fabulous book about the devastation of the Galveston hurricane of 1900. Taken from telegraphs and memoirs of the 'weather bureau' and residents of the Gulf area, it is a wonderful account of the state of weather forecasting of the time, including perceptions of politics, the 'can do' fearless attitude of the nation, and international and local competition for commerce and recognition. The book was authored by Erik Larsen (who also wrote 'The Devil in the White City,' another historical 'non'-fiction of the Chicago World's Fair). He has done incredible research of available archives, and portrays a time and place with such reality and emotional comprehension that his work transports the reader to the Gulf shore of the dawn of the 20th century with all the technological 'advances' and difficulties of the time. It is definitely an imperative read for those interested in natural disasters, and shows how human nature repeats itself from arrogance to complacency to outright panic in defiance of the elements."

And in addition to the Katrina-related imagery from NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. Geological Survey has now posted its own aerial before-and-after pictures of the Louisiana-Mississippi coastline, vividly showing the environmental impact of the storm.

Sept. 2, 2005 | 8:30 p.m. ET
Science and technology in the wake of the storm: Sonic 'lasers' head to flood zone
N.Y. Times (reg. req.): How toxic is the flood?
Scientific American: Drowning New Orleans in 2001
National Geographic: Katrina echoed 1935 'storm of century'

Sept. 1, 2005 | Updated 7:30 p.m. ET
Before and after Katrina: Now that the storm has passed, Earth-imaging satellites are getting a better fix on the damage caused by Hurricane Katrina. The QuickBird satellite, operated by Colorado-based DigitalGlobe, got a clear shot of New Orleans on Wednesday and posted before-and-after views on its Web site.

Image: Before and after Superdome
Digital Globe
Before-and-after pictures of the Louisiana Superdome, taken by DigitalGlobe's QuickBird satellite, highlight the flooding around the site as well as damage to the dome itself. The "before" picture was taken on March 9, 2004. The "after" picture was taken Wednesday.
QuickBird's "after" view, captured from a 280-mile-high (450-kilometer-high), sun-synchronous polar orbit, shows dark floodwaters over highways and even the downtown golf course, as well as the water surrounding the Louisiana Superdome. We've created an interactive viewer that labels the landmarks and lets you switch quickly between the before and after views.

In addition to the Big Easy pictures, DigitalGlobe is offering before-and-after views of Biloxi, Miss., which was also hard-hit by the storm.

Meanwhile, the Ikonos satellite, operated by Colorado-based Space Imaging, focused in on Mobile, Ala.

During last year's Asian tsunami, before-and-after satellite views were crucial for determining the extent of the damage and identifying targets for humanitarian aid over a wide area. Along the Gulf Coast, there are obviously more aerial surveillance resources and a better emergency communications system — and the damage looks less dramatic from the air. Nevertheless, the satellite imagery plays an important role in getting the big picture of Katrina's toll.

If anything, the aerial images provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration are more compelling, even though they were taken from a Cessna airplane flying at an altitude of merely 7,500 feet (2,285 meters). The pictures posted at NOAA's Web site show almost tsunami-level devastation in the Mississippi cities of Gulfport, Pascagoula, Bay St. Louis and Ocean Springs.

NOAA has snapped more than 350 aerial images so far and promises to provide hundreds more.

"The NOAA imagery was acquired to support the agency’s national security and emergency response requirements," the agency says. "In addition, the imagery will be used for ongoing research efforts for testing and developing standards for airborne digital imagery."

Newsweek has created a zoomable viewer for dramatic NOAA imagery from Mississippi sites as well as New Orleans.

More sophisticated imagery, processed through different color filters, can show even more than meets the naked eye. In the hands of a skilled analyst, such pictures can reveal how far the floodwaters have risen over land, or how much damage has been done to crops.

Check out the before-and-after, multispectral false-color imagery of New Orleans from NASA's Terra satellite for an example. And keep an eye on NASA's Earth Observatory for more satellite views of the storm and its aftermath.

Sept. 1, 2005 | 3:35 p.m. ET
New views of Neptune: And now for something completely different ... the weather on the planet Neptune. The Hubble Space Telescope has sent back enough imagery to produce a movie showing cloud formations whipping around the eighth rock from the sun, as well as several of the planet's moons in action.

Video: Neptune on the move In visible light, Neptune pretty much looks like a uniformly turquoise ball, due to its obscuring methane atmosphere. But Hubble's scientists used 14 different color-filtered views to highlight subtle differences in the clouds. If you watch the accompanying time-lapse movie, you'll see streaky bands of clouds rolling around a dark globe.

"The features seen in this enhanced image must be above most of the sunlight-absorbing methane to be detectable through these special filters," the Baltimore-based Space Telescope Science Institute said in today's image advisory.

You can also spot five of Neptune's 13 known moons, including Triton, Proteus, Larissa, Despina and Galatea.

For more of Hubble's greatest hits, check out our Space Gallery.

Sept. 1, 2005 | 3:35 p.m. ET
Your daily dose of science on the Web:
The Guardian: One side can be wrong
Discover via SpaceX: Shooting the moon
PhysOrg: 'Alien nanofiber' could zap counterfeiters
New Scientist: Intelligent design may hurry humans to Mars

Looking for older items? Check the Cosmic Log archive. Share your perspective on cosmic subjects with Alan Boyle. If you link to this page, you can use or as the address. MSNBC is not responsible for the content of Internet links.


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