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Pentagon: US to match current Russian hypersonic capabilities ...in 2040

hypersonic missile
Although hypersonic weapons might seem like relative newcomers, known advantages of these weapons are both self-evident and multi-faceted as they can be fired from much greater stand-off ranges while having vastly increased ability to defeat, circumvent or simply destroy enemy air and ballistic missile defenses.

USAF Research Laboratory is working round-the-clock on hypersonic weapons designed to come in the next 10-15 years, in order to "expand USAF's mission options" in the next decades, as an increasingly contested airspace is emerging, limiting US strike capabilities.

The Pentagon has been aggressively pushing for hypersonic weapons development, especially after Russian advances in this field have left the US trailing behind. Given the implications associated with firing weapons able to travel at over five-times the speed of sound, a number of programs have been underway (reportedly, there are up to 8 US hypersonic programs currently underway).

Right now, the most optimistic estimate is that an initial set of more primitive US hypersonic weapons will be operational by the mid-2020s. In late June 2019, USAF conducted its first prototype hypersonic missile flight test, with a B-52 bomber launching a sensor-only prototype of the AGM-183A ARRW (Air-Launched Rapid Response Weapon).


Red Sea discovered to be releasing large quantities of polluting gases

Red Sea Gases
It looks tranquil by shore, but there’s plenty happening out deep in the Red Sea.
Given the size of the oil and gas industries therein, it comes as little surprise to learn that the Middle East churns out a shedload of greenhouse gases.

In a surprise discovery, however, researchers led by Efstratios Bourtsoukidis from Germany's Max Planck Institute for Chemistry have identified a second, natural source in the region - so large that it easily matches the anthropogenic output of the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait or Oman.

In a paper published in the journal Nature Communications, Bourtsoukidis and colleagues reveal significant differences between standard model predictions for emissions of non-methane hydrocarbons (NMHCs) such as ethane and propane across the Middle East and the actual results.

The discrepancy was important not only because of its size - the researchers describe it as "a strong underprediction" - but because NMHCs are significant pollutants.

Oxidation of propane and ethane in the atmosphere produces tropospheric ozone and a class of chemicals known as peroxyacetyl nitrates, which are components of photochemical smog and known to be harmful to plants and humans.

NMHCs are produced by human and natural sources. Human production is tightly linked to fossil fuel production and use - and has shown an overall drop since late last century as many countries increased their use of renewable energy. (The US is a notable exception.)


Skies over Pittsburgh: Two defunct satellites to narrowly avoid collision at 32,800 mph on January 29

The Infrared Astronomical Satellite (IRAS) orbits the Earth in this illustration.
A collision would create a debris belt that would endanger spacecraft worldwide.

Two defunct satellites will zip past each other at 32,800 mph (14.7 kilometers per second) in the sky over Pittsburgh on Wednesday evening (Jan. 29). If the two satellites were to collide, the debris could endanger spacecraft around the planet.

It will be a near miss: LeoLabs, the satellite-tracking company that made the prediction, said they should pass between 50 feet and 100 feet apart (15 to 30 meters) at 6:39:35 p.m. local time.

One is called the Infrared Astronomical Satellite (IRAS). Launched in 1983, it was the first infrared space telescope and operated for less than a year, according to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The other is called the Gravity Gradient Stabilization Experiment (GGSE-4), and was a U.S. Air Force experiment launched in 1967 to test spacecraft design principles, according to NASA. The two satellites are unlikely to actually slam into each other, said LeoLabs CEO Dan Ceperley. But predictions of the precise movements of fairly small, fast objects over vast distances is a challenge, Ceperley told Live Science. (LeoLabs' business model is selling improvements on those predictions.)

Comment: RT, 28/1/2020: Smash up? Fears mount, though unlikely
The bigger of the two is the decommissioned IRAS space telescope which was sent up in 1983, measuring 11.8 by 10.6 by 6.7 feet (3.6 by 3.24 by 2.05 meters) and having a launch mass of 2,388 pounds (1,083 kg).

Its potential doomsday date is the GGSE-4, a defunct science payload from 1967, which weighs just 10 pounds (4.5 kg) but is attached to the 187-pound (85 kg) recently declassified military satellite Poppy 5.

Earth specialists have no way of communicating with either satellite to alter their respective courses and prevent a possible collision.

Eye 1

Why you need to know about regenerative agriculture

Maybe it's the year-end double punch of consumerism and self-reflection — what holiday meals are we making, what are we buying for people, what have I even done with my life — but December triggers a cavalcade of questions about how a person who wears things and eats things and likes to go outside (this is me, but, hey, it could be you, too) is tied into the whole dang system of consumption.

And in that blitz, an unlikely subject has come up. Not reproductive choices, not carbon offsets, not even Greta Thunberg. No, it's regenerative agriculture, a soil-focused farming practice. Whole Foods says it's the number-one food trend of next year. Patagonia has made it a centerpiece of its activism and will be rolling out products made using the practice early next year. General Mills announced this spring that it will employ regenerative agriculture on one million acres — about a quarter of the land it uses in North America. And this spring will see the creation of a new Regenerative Organic certification.

That's a huge deal, environmentally, because the agriculture sector is responsible for about a quarter of global greenhouse emissions. Ag creates food and fiber and jobs. And when it's done right, it can act as a carbon sink. Healthy soil, with intact root systems, can hold huge amounts of carbon. According to the International Panel on Climate Change, agriculture is unique in its ability to both reduce emissions, through sustainable farming practices, and capture them, through carbon sequestration.

That's where regenerative agriculture comes in. There are 7.5 billion living organisms in a teaspoon of soil — more than there are people living on earth — and regenerative ag supports those organisms, helping them hold nutrients, fighting erosion, and negating the need for chemicals. Estimates from Ohio State's Carbon Management and Sequestration Center say carbon sequestration through regenerative practices could offset fossil fuel emission by up to 15 percent. Loftier assumptions from the United Nations say it could offset total global emissions by 10 percent.

Comment: See also: Fake food is not the answer: Rewilding food, rewilding farming


Astronomers discovered wave-shaped gaseous structure in our galaxy

Radcliffe Wave
© Image from the WorldWide Telescope, courtesy of Alyssa Goodman
In this illustration, the "Radcliffe Wave" data is overlaid on an image of the Milky Way galaxy.
Astronomers at Harvard University have discovered a monolithic, wave-shaped gaseous structure — the largest ever seen in our galaxy — made up of interconnected stellar nurseries. Dubbed the "Radcliffe Wave" in honor of the collaboration's home base, the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, the discovery transforms a 150-year-old vision of nearby stellar nurseries as an expanding ring into one featuring an undulating, star-forming filament that reaches trillions of miles above and below the galactic disk.

The work, published in Nature, was enabled by a new analysis of data from the European Space Agency's Gaia spacecraft, launched in 2013 with the mission of precisely measuring the position, distance, and motion of the stars. The research team's innovative approach combined the super-accurate data from Gaia with other measurements to construct a detailed, 3D map of interstellar matter in the Milky Way, and noticed an unexpected pattern in the spiral arm closest to Earth.

The researchers discovered a long, thin structure, about 9,000 light-years long and 400 light-years wide, with a wave-like shape, cresting 500 light-years above and below the mid-plane of our galaxy's disk. The Wave includes many of the stellar nurseries that were thought to form part of "Gould's Belt," a band of star-forming regions believed to be oriented in a ring around the sun.

"No astronomer expected that we live next to a giant, wave-like collection of gas — or that it forms the local arm of the Milky Way," said Alyssa Goodman, the Robert Wheeler Willson Professor of Applied Astronomy, research associate at the Smithsonian Institution, and co-director of the Science Program at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. "We were completely shocked when we first realized how long and straight the Radcliffe Wave is, looking down on it from above in 3D — but how sinusoidal it is when viewed from Earth. The Wave's very existence is forcing us to rethink our understanding of the Milky Way's 3D structure."

"Gould and Herschel both observed bright stars forming in an arc projected on the sky, so for a long time, people have been trying to figure out if these molecular clouds actually form a ring in 3D," said João Alves, a professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Vienna and 2018‒2019 Radcliffe Fellow. "Instead, what we've observed is the largest coherent gas structure we know of in the galaxy, organized not in a ring but in a massive, undulating filament. The sun lies only 500 light-years from the Wave at its closest point. It's been right in front of our eyes all the time, but we couldn't see it until now."


Mycologist Paul Stamets discovers all natural pest-fighting fungi

Paul Stamets
It is no secret that Monsanto has no conscience when it comes to their pesticides. Their genetically modified products contain chemicals like glyphosate that is known to cause cancer and other harmful diseases such as liver disease. These chemicals have been contaminating other farms and crops as well, some may even be in the food you ate today.

They even make it hard for "mom and pop" farms to succeed as drift from Monsanto crops is dangerous to their farms. It contains a chemical called "dicamba" and will kill crops that aren't genetically modified to withstand it. One peach farmer in Missouri lost millions because of this, and he wasn't the only one who has. These chemically charged pesticides are doing more harm than good. Clearly, there needs to be a more natural and less invasive alternative to pest control, this is where Paul Stamets comes in.

Paul Stamets and his Amazing Fungi

Paul Stamets has been a mycologist or a fungi biologist for over 40 years. During his years of research and has won awards such as the National Geographic's Adventure Magazine's Geen-Novator. Conservation of fungi and the environment is very important to him, on his website he explains, "At the current rates of extinction, this last refuge of the mushroom genome should be at the top of the list of priorities for mycologists, environmentalists, and government. If I can help advance this knowledge, I will have done my part to protect life on this planet." (1)

Comment: See also:

Better Earth

Book that launched intelligent design movement 'Mystery of Life's Origin' gets greatly expanded

DNA building
© Alexander Popov via Unsplash
Editor's note: We are delighted today to offer a new book from Discovery Institute Press, The Mystery of Life's Origin: The Continuing Controversy, a greatly expanded and updated version of the book that, in 1984, launched the intelligent design movement. The following is excerpted from Discovery Institute Senior Fellow David Klinghoffer's historical introduction to the work. Other brand new chapters on the "continuing controversy" about the origin of life are by chemist James Tour, physicist Brian Miller, astronomer Guillermo Gonzalez, biologist Jonathan Wells, and philosopher of science Stephen C. Meyer.

How does life emerge from that which is not alive? This mystery exercises a peculiar fascination, with the power to elicit remarkable feats of imagination. As the novelist Mary Shelley recalled, her invention of the story of Frankenstein traced back to conversations she witnessed between Lord Byron and her husband Percy Shelley. Holidaying in Switzerland in the summer of 1816, they spoke late into the night, past the "witching hour," about "the principle of life, and whether there was any probability of its ever being discovered and communicated." Up for discussion was gossip about "experiments of Dr. Darwin" (Erasmus, the grandfather of Charles) who "by some extraordinary means" produced "voluntary motion" in a length of spaghetti. The poets alluded to "galvanism," electrical experiments by Luigi Galvani, spurring thoughts that "a corpse would be reanimated."1 Later, sleepless in her bed, Mrs. Shelley would experience a vision, receiving the seed for one of the great horror novels.

Less horrific but hardly less imaginative are scenarios of unguided "chemical evolution," or abiogenesis, featured in high school and college biology textbooks, taken as gospel by the media and preached as such by a range of authoritative popular and scholarly figures in the culture. Simple experimental work by Louis Pasteur in the early 1860s demonstrated that life does not spontaneously generate itself, not from spaghetti, not from anything. Instead, life comes from life. How then may science explain the origin of the very first life?


Researchers find some species of wasps learn to recognize faces

northern paper wasp
© Judy Gallagher/Flikr
The Northern Paper Wasp (Polistes fuscatus)
One wasp species has evolved the ability to recognize individual faces among their peers — something that most other insects cannot do — signaling an evolution in how they have learned to work together.

A team led by Cornell University researchers used population genomics to study the evolution of cognition in the Northern paper wasp, Polistes fuscatus. The research suggests the wasps' increasing intelligence provided an evolutionary advantage and sheds light on how intelligence evolves in general, which has implications for many other species — including humans.

"The really surprising conclusion here is that the most intense selection pressures in the recent history of these wasps has not been dealing with climate, catching food or parasites but getting better at dealing with each other," said Michael Sheehan, professor of neurobiology and behavior, and senior author on the paper. "That's pretty profound."

Fireball 2

NASA: 2 asteroids currently heading for close encounter with Earth

Over 17,000 near-Earth asteroids
Over 17,000 near-Earth asteroids remain undetected in our solar neighborhood. Pictured; an artistic illustration of an asteroid flying by Earth.
NASA's asteroid tracking agency is currently monitoring two space rocks that are currently headed for Earth. According to the agency's Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS), the two asteroids belong to a family of cosmic rocks that are known to intersect Earth's orbit.

The first asteroid that will approach Earth tomorrow has been identified by CNEOS as 2020 BN3. According to CNEOS, this asteroid is currently traveling towards Earth at an impressive speed of almost 65,000 miles per hour. The agency estimated that the asteroid is about 167 feet wide.

Trailing behind 2020 BN3 is an asteroid known as 2020 BY4. As indicated in CNEOS' database, this asteroid has an estimated diameter of about 115 feet.
The agency noted that the asteroid is traveling across space with an average velocity of 115 feet.

According to CNEOS, both 2020 BN3 and 2020 BY4 are both classified as Apollo asteroids. This means that these two asteroids follow wide orbits around a couple of planets in the Solar System. From time to time, these asteroids cross the Earth's path as it goes around the Sun.

Comment: Other records of near-Earth space rocks over the last few days:

Bizarro Earth

'Great Pacific Garbage Patch' is a myth: Survey shows there is no 'rubbish island, but a dense concentration of microplastics

pacific ocean garbage patch
© Ocean Cleanup
Estimated size of the Pacific Ocean garbage patch in 2018
The 'Great Pacific Garbage Patch' has been billed as a floating island of plastic debris, stretching out across an area of ocean the size of India, a testament to man's abuse of the planet.

So when images emerged from the first aerial survey of the area they proved somewhat underwhelming.

Far from showing a vast swathe of plastic containers, fishing nets and rubbish, the detritus was seen to be scattered over a wide area, with just 1,000 large objects discovered in a survey of thousands of square miles.

Although The Ocean Cleanup, the charity who carried out the sweep, claimed that they had found more plastic than was expected, other experts said the 'garbage patch' was a myth which had never been substantiated by any proper scientific research and risked diverting attention from the real problem - a dangerous build of microplastics in the area.

Comment: Australian researchers: 'We found evidence of microplastics pretty much everywhere we looked'

The Ocean Cleanup has continued its research and development since the above article was published. It ran a proof-of-concept mission in October 2019, with a positive result. They have also extended their work to rivers in an effort to head off plastic and other debris from reaching the oceans.