8 Tornadoes Carved Through Indiana, Thousands In Kokomo Without Power

At least eight tornadoes ripped through Indiana Wednesday, the National Weather Service reported.

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More than 18,000 Duke Energy customers were still without power Thursday morning, more than 17,000 of those affected were in Kokomo, which weathered the worst of the storm damage.

“We are very blessed to tell you we don’t have any serious injuries,” Howard County Sheriff Steve Rogers said during a news conference this morning.

Rogers said just 10 to 15 people suffered minor injuries after storms that downed trees, power lines and buildings in Howard County.

Eight confirmed tornadoes ripped through Hendricks, Boone, Hamilton, Tipton and Howard counties Wednesday night, the National Weather Service said.

Six of the tornadoes were produced by a single line of “supercell” storm clouds. Two more thunderstorms produced separate tornadoes in Avon and to the northwest of Lafayette.

The storms damaged homes and two apartment complexes in Kokomo, forcing about 220 people into temporary shelters overnight, Kokomo Mayor Greg Goodnight said at the news conference.

“We’re all very grateful that there were no fatalities and no serious injuries,” Goodnight said.

The damage followed a similar path to the tornadoes that struck Kokomo in November 2013, Goodnight said.

“Our hearts are with the people who have experienced this twice,” Goodnight said.

Earlier: At least two confirmed tornadoes ripped through Central Indiana on Wednesday, causing only minor injuries but damaging several homes and leaving more than 30,000 people without power, including 3,400 in Indianapolis.

The most damage appeared to occur in Kokomo, where an EF-3 tornado leveled a Starbucks and tore roofs off of apartment buildings, causing city and Howard County officials to declare states of emergency. Wind speeds typically associated with an EF-3 can range anywhere from 136 to 165 mph, according to the National Weather Service.

“Multiple lightning. The sky got black. Wind came through like a train, and everything went black,” said Bob Esposito, a Kokomo resident.

An EF-1 tornado, which can reach wind speeds of 111 to 135 mph, also touched down just east of Crawfordsville in Montgomery County. Tornado watches or warnings were issued in more than 30 counties in Indiana, spanning from Owen and Putnam counties in the west and across the state line and into parts of eastern Ohio. They extended as far north as Huntington and as far south as Bloomington and Columbus.

About a dozen people suffered minor injuries across the state, said Indiana State Police spokesman Capt. David Bursten, with most of those injuries in Howard County. A 5-month-old child suffered a deep cut in Montgomery County, Bursten said.

The storms pulled Gov. Mike Pence off the campaign trail in North Carolina and back to Indiana. The Republican vice presidential candidate visited the state’s emergency operations center in Indianapolis. Pence announced that he and Lt. Gov. Eric Holcomb plan to survey storm damage in Howard and Montgomery counties on Thursday.

Pence said he would remain in the state “as long as we need” to make sure Hoosiers received the support they needed.

The full extent of the damage sustained in Kokomo — and the rest of the state — was still mostly unknown by sundown.

“It’s a long process, especially when there’s a lot of damage to look at,” said Joe Skowronek, a weather service meteorologist. He added that the potential for severe weather would continue into Thursday, as the forecast included many of the same conditions as Wednesday. Thursday’s high was forecast to be 88 degrees with a 30 percent chance of storms.

In Indianapolis, numerous storm warnings blasted through the day, urging Hoosiers to seek shelter after multiple funnel clouds were reported in the city and surrounding area. Tornado warnings remained in effect for much of the state until 9 p.m.

The Indianapolis Department of Homeland Security tweeted that police confirmed at least three funnel clouds in the city.

Funnel clouds were spotted near the Indiana State Fairgrounds and near 38th Street and Georgetown Road, as well as on the city’s east side in the 200 block of South Shortridge Road, according to the Department of Homeland Security.

A tornado was reportedly on the ground on the city’s east side, near 21st Street and Ritter Avenue, but that remained unconfirmed by Wednesday evening.

“It was just twirling,” said Grover Edwards, 49, who works at a cellphone shop at the intersection of 21st and Ritter. “It didn’t destroy nothing, but just twirled and kind of flew over.”

Heavy rain followed the funnel cloud sighting. Edwards took shelter inside the shop until things calmed down. Across the street, Yasmin Betancourt and Michael Christen of Hoosier Lottery were installing ticket machines at a new gas station when they noticed “the clouds feeding into themselves.”

“It was the weirdest thing I’ve ever seen,” Betancourt said. “(The clouds) were moving upward into this massive rotation.”

When Christen and Betancourt stepped outside to capture the scene on their phones, they saw three young children hunkered down at a bus stop.

“We felt responsible (for them),” Betancourt said. “So we went out there and took care of those three kids.”

They brought the children inside the gas station and waited for the storm to pass.

The severe storms also meant a longer day for thousands of Indianapolis Public Schools students. IPS officials delayed dismissing elementary schools until 5:45 p.m. because of the tornado warning, schools spokeswoman Kristin Cutler said.

At Center for Inquiry School 27 at 545 E. 19th St., fourth-grader Jada Collins was the last student to leave.

“It was kind of scary because the lights kept switching on and off,” said Collins, 10. “I know about tornadoes, that they are dangerous, but I felt safe because we were all together.”

More than 400 students and 100 parents huddled in the hallways from dismissal time at 3:45 p.m. until 6:16 p.m. As the tornado warnings kept coming, then were lifted, the students and parents alternately relaxed, then curled-up against the wall, with knees bent to their chests and their heads covered with their arms, Principal Brandi Herbert said.

“I was so proud of everyone, the way they took care of each other and stayed calm,” Herbert said. ”We practice it often, and it paid off. It’s the ‘sheltering-in-place drill,’ and we kept them away from doors and windows.”

The first parents to arrive in cars came right as the first warnings to take shelter came in, and Herbert invited them inside. All were glad to ride out the storm with their children, she said.

The staff listened to the cackling weather radio in the principal’s office as it blared out warnings. Herbert said she kept the students informed with updates over the speakers and updated parents whose children take the bus about when they could pick them up.

“It was back and forth, back and forth,” Herbert said of the warnings and the estimated times the children would be released.

The students were given snacks. Extracurricular activities were canceled. Finally, just before 6 p.m., IPS gave the all-clear to send the children home.

Jada’s father, Damon, 40, pulled up in a sport utility vehicle about 7 p.m. after a busy afternoon. His son Judah, a 5 year-old, was kept over at Joyce Kilmer School 69 and was in the car waiting for his sister when she hopped in.

“I was concerned because the weather looked bad,” Collins said. “But I knew that they were probably safe in brick buildings like these.”

At the Indiana Red Cross regional headquarters in Indianapolis, a team of employees and volunteers were manning an operations center, while another 10 volunteers waited Wednesday for possible assignment in the Kokomo area.

“We won’t have a good idea until tomorrow when we can get out and do damage assessment. We probably will see more people show up looking for help,” said Brooke Riester, workforce engagement manager for the Indiana chapter.

The Indiana Red Cross has set up an emergency shelter at the Kokomo Event and Conference Center, 1500 N. Reed Road, where 200 people were being housed and fed by 9 p.m. Wednesday. Another shelter was opened at Walnut Elementary School in New Ross in Montgomery County.

In Kokomo, Jonni Taskey heard a squirrel screech loudly from a tree outside her home on the 1000 block of Clark Street just after 8 p.m. She didn’t know why.

“Then I saw her jump down to the fallen tree and grab a baby,” she said, motioning to the massive maple lying across her Ford F-150 truck. “There must be another one in there.”

The half-century-old tree slammed into an awning above her front door on its way down, but Taskey said they never heard the tornado, even when it was tearing through the street at about 3:30 p.m.

“We were watching out the back, and when I saw that swirling, the shingles and stuff, I said, ‘We’re getting in the closet,'” she said.

Taskey, her husband, and their two dogs then took shelter.

“We were in there for not four minutes,” she said. “I never heard anything. I didn’t feel it. This is what we came out to.”

Beth Martin, another Kokomo resident, was able to get her dogs to safety just as the storm was ending.

“I looked out my front window and looked to the west and I could see rotation,” Martin said. “(The dogs) were scared to death; they were screaming.”

By sunset, the Cedar Creek subdivision was eerily quiet, save for the growling of a rare generator. State Police blocked each entranceway, allowing only residents with IDs to pass. Fallen branches dotted the road and thick tree stumps lay in many yards, with wood shards scattered.

Kelly Glass, along with her husband and daughter, walked along a dark sidewalk, using an iPhone flashlight as a guide through the pitch blackness. Glass, from Windfall, hadn’t heard from her parents, who live in the subdivision.

“They’re not answering their phones, so I’m just checking on them,” she said. She hoped, too, to take them home with her.

Roy Snow, who lives in First Flats Apartments along the Cedar Creek edge, said he went out on his back patio to see how bad the storm was.

“I saw the clouds flowing together, and they started swirling like a doughnut,” he said.

That’s when he and other residents went into the basement. By 10 p.m., many were hanging out outside. With no power, no cell service and nothing to do, they all went outside to “deal with the issues,” he said.

Nearby, Patrick Green walked from his home at Ashbury Apartments with a few friends, and a cooler.

“We’re going to get beer and barbecue,” Green said. “Some of these people need food.”

UPDATE :Italy Earthquake: Death Toll Passes 240, As Rescue Efforts Continue

The death toll in the Italian earthquake stands at 241 as thousands of rescuers continue efforts to find survivors.

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Dozens are believed trapped in ruined Amatrice, Accumoli and Pescara del Tronto, in mountainous central Italy.

Rescuers have advised journalists and bystanders to leave Amatrice urgently, as “the town is crumbling”, the BBC’s Jenny Hill says.
New cracks appeared in the town’s hospital after strong aftershocks.

Officials revised down the number of dead after earlier giving a figure of 247.

The search for survivors went on through the night, amid hundreds of tremors and an aftershock which rocked already damaged buildings.

More than 4,300 rescuers are using heavy lifting equipment and their bare hands.

Many of the victims were children, the health minister said, and there were warnings the toll could rise further.

The heaviest death toll was in Amatrice – 184, officials said. Another 46 died in Arquata, and 11 in Accumoli.

The 6.2-magnitude quake hit at 03:36 (01:36 GMT) on Wednesday 100km (65 miles) north-east of Rome.

Some aftershocks were felt as far away as Rome.

“We are sleeping in the car and there were shocks all night. When the biggest one came, the car started moving and shaking,” said Monica, a survivor from Amatrice.

At the scene: BBC’s Damian Grammaticas in Pescara del Tronto

Two firemen burrowed deep into the rubble looking for a survivor. “It’s a dog,” one of them shouted out.

For half an hour the men kept digging. They passed water down to be given to the animal. And eventually they worked it free, then emerged, carrying it to the surface. There was a ripple of congratulations through the crowd.

“It doesn’t matter to us if it’s a person or an animal, we save it,” said Gianni Macerata, the fire officer in charge.

So the digging goes on. But so little is left of Pescara del Tronto it is unlikely that more survivors will be found here.

It seems unlikely too that this ancient little place, that has stood for centuries, can ever be rebuilt. Hundreds of years of history ended in an instant.

A tented camp has been set up, as so many buildings are now unsafe.

Prime Minister Matteo Renzi was chairing an emergency cabinet meeting on Thursday. The agenda included reconstruction plans for the devastated area.

Grief and anger in Italian press

Rescuers said they had pulled five bodies from the ruins of the Hotel Roma in Amatrice. As many as 70 tourists were staying at the hotel when the quake struck. Many are feared to be in the rubble, though several were pulled out and given medical care.

Many of those affected were Italians on holiday in the region. Some were in Amatrice for a festival to celebrate a famous local speciality – amatriciana bacon and tomato sauce.

Late on Wednesday there were cheers in the village of Pescara del Tronto when a young girl was pulled alive from the rubble after being trapped for 17 hours. Almost all the houses there had collapsed, the mayor said.

Among the victims was an 18-month-old toddler, Marisol Piermarini, whose mother Martina Turco survived the deadly 2009 earthquake in L’Aquila and moved away from there after the experience, Italian news agency Ansa reported.

Ms Turco was being treated in hospital after being pulled from the rubble in the village of Arquata del Tronto, Ansa said.

he mayor of Amatrice said three-quarters of the town had been destroyed and no building was safe for habitation.

The country is no stranger to earthquakes: the 2009 L’Aquila tremor killed more than 300 people and in May 2012 two tremors nine days apart killed more than 20 people in the northern Emilia Romagna region.

UPDATE :Strong Earthquake Shakes Italian Towns

AMATRICE, Italy — A strong earthquake in central Italy reduced three towns to rubble as people slept early Wednesday, with reports that as many as 50 people were killed and hundreds injured as rescue crews raced to dig out survivors.

Italy-Quake

The toll was likely to rise as crews reached homes in more remote hamlets where the scenes were apocalyptic “like Dante’s Inferno,” according to one witness.

“The town isn’t here anymore,” said Sergio Pirozzi, the mayor of Amatrice. “I believe the toll will rise.”

The magnitude 6 quake struck at 3:36 a.m. (0136 GMT) and was felt across a broad swath of central Italy, including Rome, where residents felt a long swaying followed by aftershocks. The temblor shook the Lazio region and Umbria and Le Marche on the Adriatic coast.

Premier Matteo Renzi planned to head to the zone later Wednesday and promised: “No family, no city, no hamlet will be left behind.”

The hardest-hit towns were Amatrice and Accumoli near Rieti, some 100 kilometers (80 miles) northeast of Rome, and Pescara del Tronto some 25 kilometers further east. Italy’s civil protection agency said the preliminary toll was 38 dead, several hundred injured and thousands in need of temporary housing, though it stressed the numbers were fluid.

The ANSA news agency said 35 of the dead were in Amatrice alone, with another 17 dead in the province of Ascoli Piceno, which includes Pescara del Tronto, for a reported total topping 50.

The center of Amatrice was devastated, with entire buildings razed and the air thick with dust and smelling strongly of gas. Amatrice, birthplace of the famed spaghetti all’amatriciana bacon-tomato pasta sauce, is made up of 69 hamlets that rescue teams were working to reach.

Rocks and metal tumbled onto the streets of the city center and dazed residents huddled in piazzas as more than 40 aftershocks jolted the region into the early morning hours, some as strong as 5.1.

“The whole ceiling fell but did not hit me,” marveled resident Maria Gianni. “I just managed to put a pillow on my head and I wasn’t hit luckily, just slightly injured my leg.”

Another woman, sitting in front of her destroyed home with a blanket over her shoulders, said she didn’t know what had become of her loved ones.

“It was one of the most beautiful towns of Italy and now there’s nothing left,” she said, too distraught to give her name. “I don’t know what we’ll do.”

As daylight dawned, residents, civil protection workers and even priests began digging out with shovels, bulldozers and their bare hands, trying to reach survivors. There was relief as a woman was pulled out alive from one building, followed by a dog.

“We need chain saws, shears to cut iron bars, and jacks to remove beams: everything, we need everything,” civil protection worker Andrea Gentili told The Associated Press. Italy’s national blood drive association appealed for donations to Rieti’s hospital.

But just a few kilometers to the north, in Illica, the response was slower as residents anxiously waited for loved ones to be extracted from the rubble.

“We came out to the piazza, and it looked like Dante’s Inferno,” said Agostino Severo, a Rome resident visiting Illica. “People crying for help, help. Rescue workers arrived after one hour… one and a half hours.”

The devastation harked back to the 2009 quake that killed more than 300 people in and around L’Aquila, about 90 kilometers (55 miles) south of the latest quake. The town sent emergency teams Wednesday to help with the rescue.

“I don’t know what to say. We are living this immense tragedy,” said a tearful Rev. Savino D’Amelio, a parish priest in Amatrice. “We are only hoping there will be the least number of victims possible and that we all have the courage to move on.”

Another hard-hit town was Pescara del Tronto, in the Le Marche region, where the main road was covered in debris. The ANSA news agency reported 10 dead there without citing the source, but there was no confirmation.

Residents were digging their neighbors out by hand since emergency crews hadn’t yet arrived in force. Photos taken from the air by regional firefighters showed the town essentially flattened; Italy requested EU satellite images of the whole area to get the scope of the damage.

“There are broken liquor bottles all over the place,” lamented Gino Petrucci, owner of a bar in nearby Arquata Del Tronto where he was beginning the long cleanup.

The Italian geological service put the magnitude at 6.0; the U.S. Geological Survey reported 6.2 with the epicenter at Norcia, about 170 kilometers (105 miles) northeast of Rome, and with a relatively shallow depth of 10 kilometers (6 miles).

“Quakes with this magnitude at this depth in our territory in general create building collapses, which can result in deaths,” said the head of Italy’s civil protection service, Fabrizio Curcio. He added that the region is popular with tourists escaping the heat of Rome, with more residents than at other times of the year, and that a single building collapse could raise the toll significantly.

The mayor of Accumoli, Stefano Petrucci, said six people had died there, including a family of four, and two others. He wept as he noted that the tiny hamlet of 700 swells to 2,000 in the summer months, and that he feared for the future of the town.

“I hope they don’t forget us,” he told Sky TG24.

In Amatrice, the Rev. Fabio Gammarota, priest of a nearby parish, said he had blessed seven bodies extracted so far. “One was a friend of mine,” he said.

The mayor, Pirozzi, estimated dozens of residents were buried under collapsed buildings and that heavy equipment was needed to clear streets clogged with debris.

A 1997 quake killed a dozen people in central Italy and severely damaged one of the jewels of Umbria, the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi, filled with Giotto frescoes. The Franciscan friars who are the custodians of the basilica reported no immediate damage from Wednesday’s temblor.

Pope Francis skipped his traditional catechism for his Wednesday general audience and instead invited pilgrims in St. Peter’s Square to recite the rosary with him.

Powerful Quake Rocks Myanmar, Killing At Least 4

A powerful magnitude-6.8 earthquake struck central Myanmar on Wednesday, killing at least four people and damaging buildings and ancient monuments, authorities said.

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Myanmar

The quake’s epicenter was located in an area west of the ancient capital Bagan and took place about 52 miles below the Earth’s surface, the U.S. Geological Survey said. Deep quakes typically cause less damage than shallow ones.

The quake came on the same day that another measuring magnitude-6.2 struck central Italy, killing more than 100 people.

Tremors from the Myanmar quake were felt as far away as India and Thailand.

Bagan is home to 10,000 Buddhist temples, pagodas and monasteries, and at least 185 brick pagodas were damaged, the state newspaper reported

A fire department official from regional capital Magwe told Reuters that two young girls were killed when a riverbank gave way in Yenanchaung township. Another person died when a tobacco processing factory collapsed in the town of Pakkoku, officials told the news agency.

“My house shook during the quake. Many people were scared and they ran out of the buildings,” Maung Maung Kyaw, a local official of the ruling National League for Democracy, told Reuters. “Some of the old buildings have cracks. The biggest damage is to the bank building in the town. The damage to other buildings isn’t that significant.”

6.2-Magnitude Earthquake Hits Central Italy, At Least 14 Dead

A strong earthquake struck central Italy early Wednesday, leaving people trapped beneath the rubble and terrified residents huddled outside, surrounded by collapsed buildings.

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At least 14 people died following the 6.2-magnitude earthquake, according to CNN affiliate RAI.

The earthquake hit 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) southeast of Norcia at 3:36 a.m., the United States Geological Survey said. Its tremors rattled Rome about 100 miles away.

‘The town is no more’

In Amatrice, buildings collapsed and the mountainous town was left in ruins.

“The town is no more,” Mayor Sergio Pirozzi told the affiliate. “I have an appeal to make: we have access roads to the town cut off and people under the rubble, help us.”

He said there was no power, and it was crucial for rescue crews to get to the town.

“We don’t have any more light (electricity) and it is urgent to clear the access roads,” he said.

Waiting for daylight

Charlotte Smith, coach of Elon University women’s basketball team in North Carolina, was in Rome with her players when the quake hit.

“It lasted for at least 30 seconds. The entire hotel was shaking,” she said. “I went down to the lobby and there were a lot of people waiting there. … Then an earthquake happened 30 minutes later.”

She said their flight is still on schedule to leave for the United States later Wednesday.

Michael Gilroy was on the second floor of a three-story building in Montepulciano when the earthquake hit. It sent them fleeing into the night

“It felt like the bed was on rollers,” he said.

“It was initially very confusing. I’m from California and had a sense of what it may be. And we ran out to the main area and the chandelier was swaying back and forth. At that point, we knew we had to get out of the building as fast as we can.”

Gilroy, his girlfriend and other hotel guests waited outside in a clear area.

“We’re going to wait for daylight and see what happens from there,” he said.

Aftershock

About an hour after the earthquake, a 5.5-magnitude aftershock hit near Norcia, one of several that followed.

“At that shallowness and magnitude of 6.2, we’re going to expect lots of aftershocks for next several hours and maybe the next several days,” said Jessica Turner of the USGS.

Landslides are likely because the earthquake struck in a mountainous area, she said.

Although the extent of damage and injuries was not immediately clear, the earthquake could be devastating.

“Overall, the population in this region resides in structures that are a mix of vulnerable and earthquake resistant construction,” the USGS said.

It described the buildings as un-reinforced brick with mud and concrete frame with infill construction.

Recent quakes

Deadly earthquakes have struck Italy in recent years.

In May 2012, a pair of earthquakes killed dozens of people in northern Italy.

In April 2009, a 6.3-magnitude earthquake hit central Italy, killing 295. The earthquake Wednesday struck an area close to the 2009 earthquake.

The US Embassy in Italy urged Americans to check-in via social media and let loved ones know they are safe.

Earth’s Mantle Appears To Have A Driving Role In Plate Tectonics

Deep down below us is a tug of war moving at less than the speed of growing fingernails. Keeping your balance is not a concern, but how the movement happens has been debated among geologists.

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New findings from under the Pacific Northwest Coast by University of Oregon and University of Washington scientists now suggest a solution to a mystery that surfaced when the theory of plate tectonics arose: Do the plates move the mantle, or does the mantle move the plates.

The separation of tectonic plates, the researchers proposed in a paper online ahead of print in the journal Nature Geoscience, is not simply dictating the flow of the gooey, lubricating molten material of the mantle. The mantle, they argue, is actually fighting back, flowing in a manner that drives a reorientation of the direction of the plates.

The new idea is based on seismic imaging of the Endeavor segment of the Juan de Fuca Plate in the Pacific Ocean off Washington and on data from previous research on similar ridges in the mid-Pacific and mid-Atlantic oceans.

“Comparing seismic measurements of the present mantle flow direction to the recent movements of tectonic plates, we find that the mantle is flowing in a direction that is ahead of recent changes in plate motion,” said UO doctoral student Brandon P. VanderBeek, the paper’s lead author. “This contradicts the traditional view that plates move the mantle.”

While the new conclusion is based on a fraction of such sites under the world’s oceans, a consistent pattern was present, VanderBeek said. At the three sites, the mantle’s flow is rotated clockwise or counterclockwise rather than in the directions of the separating plates. The mantle’s flow, the researchers concluded, may be responsible for past and possibly current changes in plate motion.

The research—funded through National Science Foundation grants to the two institutions – also explored how the supply of magma varies under mid-ocean ridge volcanoes. The researchers conducted a seismic experiment to see how seismic waves moved through the shallow mantle below the Endeavor segment.

They found that the middle of the volcanic segment, where the seafloor is shallowest and the inferred volcanic activity greatest, the underlying mantle magma reservoir is relatively small. The ends, however, are much deeper with larger volumes of mantle magma pooling below them because there are no easy routes for it to travel through the material above it.

Traditional thinking had said there would be less magma under the deep ends of such segments, known as discontinuities.

“We found the opposite,” VanderBeek said. “The biggest volumes of magma that we believe we have found are located beneath the deepest portions of the ridges, at the segment ends. Under the shallow centers, there is much less melt, about half as much, at this particular ridge that we investigated.

“Our idea is that the ultimate control on where you have magma beneath these mountain ranges is where you can and cannot take it out,” he said. “At the ends, we think, the plate rips apart much more diffusely, so you are not creating pathways for magma to move, build mountains and allow for an eruption.”

Astronomers Gain New Insight Into Magnetic Field Of Sun And Its Kin

Astronomers have used data from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory to make a discovery that may have profound implications for understanding how the magnetic field in the Sun and stars like it are generated.

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Researchers have discovered that four old red dwarf stars with masses less than half that of the Sun are emitting X-rays at a much lower rate than expected.

X-ray emission is an excellent indicator of a star’s magnetic field strength so this discovery suggests that these stars have much weaker magnetic fields than previously thought.

Since young stars of all masses have very high levels of X-ray emission and magnetic field strength, this suggests that the magnetic fields of these stars weakened over time. While this is a commonly observed property of stars like our Sun, it was not expected to occur for low-mass stars, as their internal structure is very different.

The Sun and stars like it are giant spheres of superheated gas. The Sun’s magnetic field is responsible for producing sunspots, its 11-year cycle, and powerful eruptions of particles from the solar surface. These solar storms can produce spectacular auroras on Earth, damage electrical power systems, knock out communications satellites, and affect astronauts in space.

“We have known for decades that the magnetic field on the Sun and other stars plays a huge role in how they behave, but many details remain mysterious,” said lead author Nicholas Wright of Keele University in the United Kingdom. “Our result is one step in the quest to fully understand the Sun and other stars.”

The rotation of a star and the flow of gas in its interior both play a role in producing its magnetic field. The rotation of the Sun and similar stars varies with latitude (the poles versus the equator) as well as in depth below the surface. Another factor in the generation of magnetic field is convection. Similar to the circulation of warm air inside an oven, the process of convection in a star distributes heat from the interior of the star to its surface in a circulating pattern of rising cells of hot gas and descending cooler gas.

Convection occurs in the outer third (by radius) of the Sun, while the hot gas closer to the core remains relatively still. There is a difference in the speed of rotation between these two regions. Many astronomers think this difference is responsible for generating most of the magnetic field in the Sun by causing magnetic fields along the border between the convection zone and the core to wind up and strengthen. Since stars rotate more slowly as they age, this also plays a role in how the magnetic field of such stars weakens with time.

“In some ways you can think of the inside of a star as an incredibly complicated dance with many, many dancers,” said co-author Jeremy Drake of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Mass. “Some dancers move with each other while others move independently. This motion generates magnetic field, but how it works in detail is extremely challenging to determine.”

For stars much less massive than the Sun, convection occurs all the way into the core of the star. This means the boundary between regions with and without convection, thought to be crucial for generating magnetic field in the Sun, does not exist. One school of thought has been that magnetic field is generated mostly by convection in such stars. Since convection does not change as a star ages, their magnetic fields would not weaken much over time.

By studying four of these low-mass red dwarf stars in X-rays, Wright and Drake were able to test this hypothesis. They used NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory to study two of the stars and data from the ROSAT satellite to look at two others.

“We found that these smaller stars have magnetic fields that decrease as they age, exactly as it does in stars like our Sun,” said Wright. “This really goes against what we would have expected.”

These results imply that the interaction along the convection zone-core boundary does not dominate the generation of magnetic field in stars like our Sun, since the low mass stars studied by Wright and Drake lack such a region and yet their magnetic properties are very similar.

A paper describing these results by Wright and Drake appears in the July 28th issue of the journal Nature. NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, manages the Chandra program for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Cambridge, Massachusetts, controls Chandra’s science and flight operations.