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Update May 2018


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Update by Natrakorn Paewsoongnern
 
 
 
Science & Nature
 

May 19, 2018 - May 25, 2018

Scientists say Chinese-backed dam risks orangutan habitat

In this Nov. 3, 2017 file photo, Director General of Conservation of Natural Resources and Ecosystem at Indonesian Forestry Ministry Wiratno (center), inspects a screen displaying the map of Batang Toru Ecosystem in North Sumatra, Indonesia. (AP Photo/Tatan Syuflana)

Jakarta, Indonesia (AP) — Scientists are calling for cancellation of a Chinese-backed hydroelectric dam in Indonesia that threatens the habitat of a newly discovered orangutan species numbering only 800 animals.

In the journal Current Biology, the experts say the 510-megawatt dam in Sumatra will flood or otherwise alter part of the habitat and likely make it impossible to take a crucial step toward ensuring the species survives — reconnecting fragmented forests the primates are spread across.

China’s state-owned Sinohydro is building the dam, which is reportedly financed by Chinese loans.  Critics of the project say it’s part of China’s “Belt and Road” plans to carpet Asia with Chinese-financed infrastructure and extend its economic and political influence.

Scientists announced the discovery of the third orangutan species, Pongo tapanuliensis, in November.  The population, with frizzier hair and distinctively long calls for the males, was previously believed to be Sumatran orangutans.  Without special protection, it’s in danger of rapid extinction, scientists say.

“It’s appalling to think that within our lifetimes, a new great ape species could be both discovered and driven to extinction,” said Serge Wich, a professor at Liverpool John Moores University, who was involved in identifying the new orangutan species.

The scientists also urged that the remaining habitat in the Batang Toru forest of northern Sumatra be given strict conservation protection and that forest corridors be created to link separated populations.  One way to do that, they said, is to close a section of the road between two main forest fragments.

The Batang Toru orangutan was the first great ape species to be proposed by scientists in nearly 90 years.  Previously, science has recognized six great ape species: Sumatran and Bornean orangutans, eastern and western gorillas, chimpanzees and bonobos.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature classified Bornean orangutans as critically endangered in 2016 due to a precipitous population decline caused by destruction of their forest habitat for palm oil and pulp wood plantations. Sumatran orangutans have been classified as critically endangered since 2008.

The scientists writing in Current Biology said orangutan subpopulations need to number at least 200 to have a chance of surviving a century and more than 500 for longer-term survival.


NASA launches InSight spacecraft to Mars to dig down deep

 

This illustration shows the InSight lander drilling into Mars.
(NASA via AP)

Marcia Dunn

Cape Canaveral, Fla. (AP) — A robotic geologist armed with a hammer and quake monitor is rocketing toward Mars, aiming to land on the red planet and explore its mysterious insides.

The NASA spacecraft, launched on May 5, will take more than six months to get to Mars and start its unprecedented geologic excavations, traveling 300 million miles (485 million kilometers) to get there.

InSight will dig deeper into Mars than ever before — nearly 16 feet, or 5 meters — to take the planet’s temperature. It will also attempt to make the first measurements of marsquakes, using a high-tech seismometer placed directly on the Martian surface.

“That’s the real payoff of this whole mission and that’s still lying ahead of us,” said the mission’s chief scientist, Bruce Banerdt of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

Launched at the same time a pair of mini test satellites, or CubeSats, are trailing InSight to Mars to serve as a potential communication link.  The twin briefcase-sized spacecraft are nicknamed WALL-E and EVE from the 2008 animated movie.

NASA hasn’t put a spacecraft down on Mars since the Curiosity rover in 2012. The U.S., in fact, is the only country to successfully land and operate a spacecraft at Mars.  It’s tough, complicated stuff.  Only about 40 percent of all missions to Mars from all countries — orbiters and landers alike — have proven successful over the decades.

If all goes well, the three-legged InSight will descend by parachute and engine firings onto a flat equatorial region of Mars — believed to be free of big, potentially dangerous rocks — on Nov. 26.  Once down, it will stay put, using a mechanical arm to place the science instruments on the surface.

Banerdt said Mars is ideal for learning how the rocky planets of our solar system formed 4.5 billion years ago.  Unlike our active Earth, Mars hasn’t been transformed by plate tectonics and other processes, he noted.  InSight might also help explain why some planets — like ours — went on to develop life, while others did not.

Over the course of two Earth years — or one Martian year — NASA expects InSight’s three main experiments to provide a true 3-D image of the interior of Mars.  Scientists know Mars has an iron core and a crust, but beyond that, the inside is “basically, completely unknown,” said Banerdt.

The lander is equipped with a seismometer for measuring marsquakes, a self-hammering probe for burrowing beneath the surface, and a radio system for tracking the spacecraft’s position and planet’s wobbly rotation, thereby revealing the size and composition of Mars’ core.

“InSight, for seismologists, will really be a piece of history, a new page of history,” said the Paris Institute of Earth Physics’ Philippe Lognonne, lead scientist of the InSight seismometer.

Problems with the French-supplied seismometer kept InSight from launching two years ago. 


May 12, 2018 - May 18, 2018

European Space Agency releases 1st image from Mars orbiter

 

The European Space Agency has released its first image taken by a probe orbiting Mars, showing the ice-covered edge of a vast crater. (ESA/Roscosmos/CaSSIS via AP)

Berlin (AP) - The European Space Agency has released the first image taken by its Trace Gas Orbiter showing the ice-covered edge of a vast Martian crater.

Scientists combined three pictures of the Korolev Crater taken from an altitude of 400 kilometers (249 miles) on April 15.

Lead researcher Nicolas Thomas said Thursday the colors in the resulting image were also adjusted to best resemble those visible to the human eye.

The camera used is one of four instruments on board the orbiter, which is designed to look for gases such as methane that could indicate biological or geological activity on Mars. The orbiter begins its mission to look for the trace gases this month.

Thomas said the camera will allow scientists to inspect areas where gases are found, monitor Mars for signs of change and help scout the planet for future landing sites.

Europe plans to land its own rover on Mars in 2021. A European test lander crashed on the surface of Mars in 2016.


EU moves to full ban on pesticides that harm bees

 

The European Union has made a key breakthrough to completely ban pesticides that harm bees and their crop pollination. The 28 member states got a large majority backing the ban on the three prevalent neonicotinoid pesticides which will take effect at the end of the year. (AP Photo/Andy Duback, File)

Raf Casert

Brussels (AP) - The European Union made a key breakthrough on Friday to completely ban pesticides that harm bees and their crop pollination.

The 28 member states got a large majority, representing some three-quarters of its population, backing the ban on the three prevalent neonicotinoid pesticides which will take effect at the end of the year. The decision builds on a limited ban which has been in effect since 2013.

Antonia Staats of the Avaaz campaign group called it a “beacon of hope for bees. Finally our governments are listening.”

Over the past several years, there’s been an alarming drop in bee populations and there were fears it would start to seriously affect crop production since bees are necessary for the spread of pollen and reproduction.

The EU says it used a scientific review to identify pesticides as one of the factors causing the decline along with disease and climate change among others.

Swiss agribusiness company Syngenta called the decision “disappointing” and added that “evidence clearly shows that neonicotinoids pose a minimum threat to bee health compared to a lack of food, diseases and cold weather.”

Others disagree.

“There is abundant evidence from lab and field studies that neonicotinoids are harmful to bees, and a growing body of evidence linking them to declines of butterflies, aquatic insects and insect-eating birds,” said Dave Goulson, biology professor at the University of Sussex. “The EU decision is a logical one,” he said.

The European Commission is set to adopt the decision in the next few weeks and the ban will kick in by the end of the year.

The three pesticides will only be allowed for use in greenhouses where there is no contact with bees.

EU nations, environment groups and industry have been bickering over the issue for almost a decade now.


Scientists release most detailed star chart of the Milky Way

This image provided by the European Space Agency ESA, is Gaia’s all-sky view of our Milky Way Galaxy and neighboring galaxies, based on measurements of nearly 1.7 billion stars. (ESA via AP)

Berlin (AP) The European Space Agency released the most accurate census yet of stars in the Milky Way and neighboring galaxies Wednesday, providing astronomers with a wealth of new data for further research.

The high-precision measurements about the distance, motion, brightness and color of almost 1.7 billion stars were collected by the space agency’s Gaia probe between July 2014 and May 2016.

Hundreds of scientists and software engineers took years to process the data and create a catalog of stars from which they were able to generate maps, including of the asteroids in our solar system and even a three-dimensional chart of some nearby stars.

Antonella Vallenari, one of the lead scientists involved in the project, said astronomers have gained new insights into the life cycle of stars and how the Milky Way was formed.

One theory supported by the observations is that our galaxy was struck by material from another, resulting in ‘ripples’ of stars moving in an unexpected way compared with the otherwise uniform motion of stars in the Milky Way, said Vallenari.

ESA said professional and amateur astronomers alike will be able to access the data and hunt for new discoveries. It’s the second release following the publication two years ago of a smaller batch of measurements covering 2 million stars.

Further data releases are planned in the coming years.


May 5, 2018 - May 11, 2018

Archaeologists find silver treasure on German Baltic island

The April 13, 2018 photo shows medieval Saxonian, Ottoman, Danish and Byzantine coins after a medieval silver treasure had been found near Schaprode on the northern German island of Ruegen in the Baltic Sea. (Stefan Sauer/dpa via AP)

Kirsten Grieshaber

Berlin (AP) - Hundreds of 1,000-year-old silver coins, rings, pearls and bracelets linked to the era of Danish King Harald Gormsson have been found on the eastern German island of Ruegen in the Baltic Sea.

A single silver coin was first found in January by two amateur archaeologists, one of them a 13-year-old boy, in a field near the village of Schaprode. The state archaeology office then became involved and the entire treasure was uncovered by experts over the weekend, the Mecklenburg-West Pomerania state archaeology office said.

In this April 13, 2018 photo medieval jewelry and coins are displayed on a table after a medieval silver treasure had been found near Schaprode on the northern German island of Ruegen in the Baltic Sea. (Stefan Sauer/dpa via AP)

“It’s the biggest trove of such coins in the southeastern Baltic region,” the statement said.

The office said the two amateur archeologists were asked to keep quiet about their discovery to give professionals time to plan the dig and were then invited to participate in the recovery.

“This was the (biggest) discovery of my life,” hobby archaeologist Rene Schoen told the German news agency dpa.

Schoen said he and 13-year-old Luca Malaschnits­chenko were using metal detectors on the field near Schaprode when Luca found a little piece that he initially thought was only aluminum garbage. But when they cleaned it, they understood it was more precious.

Archaeologists said about 100 of the silver coins are probably from the reign of Harald Gormsson, better known as “Harald Bluetooth,” who lived in the 10th century and introduced Christianity to Denmark.

He was one of the last Viking kings of what is now Denmark, northern Germany, southern Sweden and parts of Norway.

His nickname came from the fact he had a dead tooth that looked bluish, but it’s now best known for the wireless Bluetooth technology invented by Swedish telecom company Ericsson. The company named the technology, developed to wirelessly unite computers with cellular devices, after him for his ability to unite ancient Scandinavia.

The technology logo carries the runic letters for his initials HB.


April 28, 2018 - May 4, 2018

NASA spacecraft aims to put mystery planets on galactic map

This image made available by NASA shows an illustration of the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS). The spacecraft will prowl for planets around the closest, brightest stars. These newfound worlds eventually will become prime targets for future telescopes looking to tease out any signs of life. (NASA via AP)

Marcia Dunn

Cape Canaveral, Fla. (AP) - Calling all planets that orbit around bright, nearby stars: NASA’s new Tess spacecraft is looking to do a head count.

The Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite - Tess for short - is embarking on a two-year quest to find and identify mystery worlds thought to be lurking in our cosmic backyard. The spacecraft aims to add thousands of exoplanets, or planets beyond our solar system, to the galactic map for future study.

Life might be out there, whether microbial or more advanced, and scientists say Tess and later missions will help answer the age-old question of whether we’re alone.

“It is very exciting. ... By human nature, we look for exploration and adventure, and this is an opportunity to see what’s next,” NASA’s Sandra Connelly, a science program director, said on the eve of launch.

Tess is flying on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, and blasted off Monday, April 16 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

Here’s a peek at little Tess and its creators’ big ambitions.

Spacecraft: At 5 feet (1.5 meters), Tess is shorter than most adults and downright puny compared with most other spacecraft. The observatory is 4 feet across (1.2 meters), not counting the solar wings, which are folded for launch, and weighs just 800 pounds (362 kilograms). NASA says it’s somewhere between the size of a refrigerator and a stacked washer and dryer. Four wide-view cameras are surrounded by a sun shade, to keep stray light out as they monitor any dips in brightness from target stars. Repeated dips would indicate a planet passing in front of its star.

Orbit: Tess will aim for a unique elongated orbit that passes within 45,000 miles of Earth on one end and as far away as the orbit of the moon on the other end. NASA insists there’s no chance of Tess hitting any other satellites or running into the moon, which should never be anywhere close. The lunar gravity will keep the spacecraft stabilized in this orbit for decades to come, with no fuel needed. It will take Tess two weeks to circle Earth.

Job: Tess will scan almost the entire sky during its $337 million mission, staring at hundreds of thousands, even millions of small, faint red dwarf stars. Scientists expect to discover thousands of planets that, over time, will undergo further scrutiny by powerful telescopes in space and on Earth. That’s why NASA, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and other collaborators are targeting stars within hundreds or, at most, thousands of light-years: It will make the detailed searches yet to come that much easier. NASA’s planet-hunting pioneer, the Kepler Space Telescope, has spent the past nine years focusing on considerably fainter, more distant stars and discovered nearly three-quarters of the 3,700-plus exoplanets confirmed to date. With Tess, “our planetary census is going to move in” closer to us, MIT researcher Jenn Burt said Sunday. Satellite maker Orbital ATK’s Robert Lockwood said he expects Tess to take exoplanet discovery to a whole new level.

Alien Life: Tess has no instruments capable of detecting life. Its job is to find and characterize planets that will become the main targets of future telescopes. “By looking at such a large section of the sky, this kind of stellar real estate, we open up the ability to cherry-pick the best stars for doing follow-up science,” said Burt. NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, once launched in 2020 or so, will probe these planets’ atmospheres for potential traces of life. Giant telescopes still in construction or on the drawing board also will lend a hand.


DAILY UPDATE

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HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]

Scientists say Chinese-backed dam risks orangutan habitat

NASA launches InSight spacecraft to Mars to dig down deep


European Space Agency releases 1st image from Mars orbiter

EU moves to full ban on pesticides that harm bees

Scientists release most detailed star chart of the Milky Way


Archaeologists find silver treasure on German Baltic island


NASA spacecraft aims to put mystery planets on galactic map

 



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