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As climate dangers rise, scientists predict disasters before they happen



For climate scientists reviewing a Pacific Ocean temperature forecast map in November, a bright red, sideways “V”, thousands of kilometres long signalled disaster.

Combined with La Nina cooling in the central and eastern Pacific, the V-shaped pattern of warm sea water, stretching from Australia’s east coast to the Philippines and back over the ocean north of Hawaii, indicated that halfway around the world in the Horn of Africa the upcoming March-May rainy season would likely fail.

The scientists’ organization, called Famine Early Warning System Network or FEWS Net, sent out an alert with U.N., EU and African institutions, saying the “unprecedented” drought would likely “cause a perilous and disruptive humanitarian disaster”.

If the warning is born out, it could push the region into its worst drought on record. Millions of people would struggle to feed themselves.

Such warning systems are becoming increasingly essential as climate change puts food security at increasing risk. “Our work is to save lives and livelihoods,” said FEWS Net agricultural meteorologist Gideon Galu said in Kenya.

On Monday, a report by the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the top global climate science authority, warned heatwaves, droughts and extreme rainfall would become more frequent in coming decades as temperatures continue to climb.

Already, “increasing weather and climate extreme events have exposed millions of people to acute food insecurity and reduced water security,” it said.

In East Africa, FEWS Net’s team says only two biannual rainy seasons since late 2016 were considered “normal”, while the rest were wet to the point of flooding or dry to the point of drought.

Following FEWS Net’s Dec. 1 warning on East Africa, aid groups started scrambling for funding and supplies.

“It’s not just enough to forecast, we really need to act,” said Zinta Zommers, an IPCC report review editor who works at the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.


FEWS Net began in 1985 following the Ethiopian famine. The U.N. has run a similar programme known as GIEWS for decades, while other agencies including the World Food Programme have experts regularly analysing conditions.

As climate science and satellite monitoring have improved, those tools are increasingly used as the first step in heading off climate-related catastrophe.

The 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change lists such systems as a tool to minimize loss and damage from extreme weather events, such as drought, heatwaves, locust swarms, storm surges and wildfires. Systems can even predict when winds will be strong enough to rip the roofs off houses.

FEWS Net now works in 29 of the world’s most food-insecure countries, generating crisis risk maps three times a year.

The network’s sole funder, the U.S. government’s Agency for International Development (USAID), uses its research to decide where and how to allocate aid, said Tracy O’Heir, the East Africa chief for USAID humanitarian assistance. Last year, the agency’s aid spending totalled $8 billion.

It has given early warning on events including flooding that is becoming increasingly common in South Sudan. In response to the current East Africa drought alert, following three failed biannual rainy seasons, USAID plans to fund searches for alternative local water sources or to bring in water trucks.

Locals struggling to feed themselves as cattle die of thirst and crops fail will receive stipends to buy food or dried foodstuffs shipped into the area.

The Red Cross, meanwhile, has begun using warning systems for “forecast-based financing”, with aid payments issued automatically when certain forecasting conditions are met.

“We can make more use of the same amount of humanitarian support to help more people if we act before, rather than clean up afterwards,” said Maarten van Aalst, director of the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre.

In the Philippines – among countries most vulnerable to tropical storms – automatic payments will go out when a typhoon is predicted to destroy at least 10% of houses in at least three municipalities. Similar set-ups exist for Peru, Vietnam, Bangladesh, Mozambique and Mongolia.


Last month, Bernard Mbithi set to tearing out a failed corn crop from his field in eastern Kenya.

“What will you eat? How will you even survive? That is a major thing you have to ask yourself,” said 63-year-old Mbithi, who is married with two children. He learned about the poor forecasts for this year’s rains on his mobile phone, and decided to try planting more drought-tolerant cowpeas instead.

But warning systems, even when they work correctly, won’t be a cure-all for regions hit by climate change, scientists warn.

“I’m afraid we just kind of tell them, ‘Put the Band-Aid here’. We’re not solving the big problem, the long-term problem” of climate change, said Jim Verdin, programme manager for FEWS Net.

A U.N. report last year found that 58 developing countries collectively need about $70 billion per year through 2030 to adapt to climate change. So far rich countries have mobilized only $20 billion annually for these efforts, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. They pledged at the U.N. climate summit in Glasgow last year to double that figure by 2025.

Mbithi said people need help urgently, for example with keeping livestock alive during extreme weather episodes.

“We need a lot – a lot of education to people, a lot of resources,” Mbithi said. “Everywhere in the world you see that there is climate change. So you have to be worried.”


(Reporting by Jake Spring in Sao Paulo; Editing by Katy Daigle and Alex Richardson)


May's possible meteor storm offers chance to listen to 'shooting stars' on the radio –



“Shooting stars” from the tau Herculids meteor shower may be visible late this month, but you might want to listen for them instead.

Excitement among meteor enthusiasts is building as we get closer to the much-anticipated meteor outburst that might be produced by a concentrated trail of dusty debris from the nucleus of comet Schwassmann-Wachmann 3 (SW 3) late Monday night into early Tuesday morning (May 30 to 31). 

Even if you can’t get a good view of the show because of clouds or light pollution, you can “observe” the meteor shower a different way: by listening to it on the radio!

Related: Meteor shower guide 2022: Dates and viewing advice

Under certain conditions, meteors can reflect radio waves in the same way the ionosphere propagates transmissions between widely separated ham-radio operators. The ionosphere usually reflects frequencies below 30 megahertz (MHz), but it’s transparent to higher frequencies, such as the FM broadcast band (88 to 108 MHz).  

Such high-frequency (short-wavelength) radio signals generally pass unimpeded through the atmosphere in straight lines; they cannot follow the curvature of the Earth to reach a listener beyond the horizon. Yet when certain layers of the upper atmosphere become ionized, they can reflect the signals back to the ground far away. The lowest such layer, 60 to 70 miles (96 to 112 kilometers) up, is called the E layer of the ionosphere, and that’s the altitude where most meteors are seen.   

So, as a meteoroid vaporizes as it passes through Earth’s atmosphere, it briefly ionizes air molecules along its path. Forming an expanding column or cylinder several miles or more in length, these ions can scatter and reflect radio waves, in much the same way a high-altitude jet reflects sunlight and leaves a glowing contrail against the darkening sky after sunset. But because the ion trails disperse rapidly, the reflected radio waves generally last only a few seconds.  

Tiny particles tend to vaporize at the bottom of the E layer. Large particles, in contrast, begin to flame higher up. And predictions for the particles shed from comet SW 3 suggest that a majority of these will be large. Such meteors produce longer-lasting ionization, and because they start to “flame on” higher up, they can reflect signals from more distant transmitters. 

On the ground, the meteor’s presence is signaled by the momentary enhancement of FM reception from a distant station.

How to listen for meteors on the radio 

For this radio method to work, find a frequency where no nearby FM station is broadcasting.  You will have a better chance of success by scanning the low-frequency end of the FM band, below 91.1 MHz. Why there? Because that’s where the lower-power stations, chiefly run by colleges, are found, and they’re usually free from local interference from the high-power commercial stations. In fact, unless you live in a very unpopulated region of the country, your chances of finding an open frequency free of interference above 91.1 MHz is rather small, so you’ll need to tune to a distant station on a clear frequency below 91.1 MHz.  

FM Atlas, published from 1970 to 2010, provided listings of all FM stations in North America, with the unique feature of frequency-by-frequency maps. Bruce Elving, publisher of the FM Atlas, was a longtime proponent and expert in all things FM. He died in 2011, but as a tribute to his love and dedication to FM radio, the 21st and final edition of FM Atlas (2010) is available for free, courtesy of You can also see a complete listing of AM and FM stations in the 2010-2011 edition of the M Street Directory. 

What do meteors sound like?  

Normally, when you’re tuned in to an “empty” radio frequency, you just hear a hissing noise. But as meteors zip through the atmosphere, a distant or silent station will abruptly “boom in” for anywhere from a fraction of a second to several seconds. You might also hear what initially sounds like a “pop” or a whistle, and then as the ionization trail dissipates, the station will quickly fade away. Because of their height, meteors best reflect signals from stations 800 to 1,300 miles (1,300 to 2,100 km) from you. 

When should you listen for meteors? 

The best time to listen is when the radiant is 45 degrees above the horizon as seen from a point midway between you and the transmitter. At the predicted peak time for Tuesday morning’s potential meteor outburst, parts of Maine and the Canadian provinces of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island will have the radiant close to that preferred altitude, while eastern New York, New England and southern Quebec will not be far behind, at about 50 to 55 degrees. 

Also, it is best to tune to a station located in a direction perpendicular to the radiant. Because the SW 3 radiant will be near the brilliant orange star Arcturus in the constellation Boötes, which will be toward the western part of the sky, the better listening directions will be to the north and south of you. 

Most meteors are heard but not seen 

If you are watching for meteors while monitoring your radio, most of the time, you will hear a “ping” of reception, but you won’t see a corresponding meteor streak in the sky. Recall that most of the meteors you hear are roughly halfway between you and the radio station — about 400 to 650 miles (650 to 1,050 km) away. So they are occurring either near the horizon or just below it. Back in the 1970s, members of the Nippon Meteor Society in Japan who made extensive records of radio meteors noted that only 20% to 40% of meteors heard on the radio were simultaneously observed visually. 

What if you can’t find a clear frequency? 

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Particularly in large metropolitan areas, finding a clear or empty FM frequency may be all but impossible, even below 91.1 MHz. In many ways, finding a clear frequency seems to go hand in hand with trying to find a dark sky free of light pollution. You’ll probably have a much better chance in rural or country locations. 

But if you can’t find a clear FM frequency, don’t despair. You can still listen for meteors on A Yagi antenna in the Washington, D.C., metro area constantly detects 55- or 61-MHz analog TV signals in Ontario reflected off of meteor trails. When a meteor passes over — ping!there is an echo. It’s the next best thing to having free access to a giant government radar! 

Good luck, and good listening!

Joe Rao serves as an instructor and guest lecturer at New York’s Hayden Planetarium (opens in new tab). He writes about astronomy for Natural History magazine (opens in new tab), the Farmers’ Almanac (opens in new tab) and other publications. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom (opens in new tab) and on Facebook (opens in new tab)

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Paragon Humidity Control Technology Flies on Boeing's CST-100 Starliner – Benzinga – Benzinga



TUCSON, Ariz. , May 27, 2022 /PRNewswire/ — Paragon Space Development Corporation (Paragon) is excited to announce that its Humidity Control Subassembly (HCS) has been successfully tested and operated on the Boeing CST-100 Starliner Orbital Flight Test-2 prior to its successful landing on Wednesday, May 25th.  Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner successfully docked with the International Space Station (ISS) for the first time on May 20, 2022 after lifting off May 19th from Florida. The HCS platform was developed by Paragon under a fixed price development and production contract to Boeing and is built upon Paragon’s patented technology as well as decades worth of time-tested experience and knowledge focused on development of life support systems for extreme environments. 

“It’s really quite an accomplishment to have the HCS aboard this historic mission – the first truly new humidity control technology developed in 60 years of human spaceflight. It is a testament to the excellent work and dedication of our team at Paragon, and that of our partners at Boeing,” said Grant Anderson, Paragon’s President and CEO. “Our team is excited that the HCS system passed its debut flight to the ISS and will support the transport of humans back and forth for years to come.”

The HCS will provide essential life support functionality for next generation human spaceflight operations and is the most recent spaceflight technology fielded by Paragon for the ever-expanding human spaceflight market. Paragon’s HCS technology is being integrated into the Northrop Grumman HALO module and will provide contingency life support capability during crewed Artemis missions to–and around–the Moon.

“As humanity accelerates into space, with new missions ahead and new technological, exploration and scientific goals to achieve, it will be systems like the HCS that make it all possible. Without life support and environmental controls, you don’t have human spaceflight – it’s really that simple,” noted Barry Finger, Paragon’s VP of Engineer, adding that, “With Boeing’s vision and stick-to-it approach, as well as that of all the partners on this fantastic team, we all made the difficult a reality – and that is what we at Paragon see as our strength.”

For over 29 years, Paragon has been on the forefront of systems designed for extreme environments in sea, land, air, and space. Paragon has a successful history of providing design, analysis and/or hardware on every human space program of record since 1999. Paragon has grown their design, analysis, manufacturing, and operational capabilities to support the most current and forward-leaning civil and commercial space programs. For more information and other news, visit

Media Contact: Leslie Haas, 520-382-4814,

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NASA Moves Forward With Next-Gen Solar Sail Project – ExtremeTech



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Getting from point A to point B in the solar system is no simple feat, and inefficient, heavy rockets aren’t always the best way. Therefore, NASA has announced it is moving ahead with a new solar sail concept that could make future spacecraft more efficient and maneuverable. The Diffractive Solar Sailing project is now entering phase III development under the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program, which could eventually lead to probes that use solar radiation to coast over the sun’s polar regions. 

The concept of solar sails is an old one — they were first proposed in the 1980s. The gist is that you equip a vessel with a lightweight sail that translates the pressure from solar radiation into propulsion. The problem is that a solar sail has to be much larger than the spacecraft it’s dragging along. Even a low-thrust solar sail would need to be almost a square kilometer, and you need to keep it intact over the course of a mission. Plus, you have little choice but to fly in the direction of sunlight, so you have to make tradeoffs for either power or navigation. Futuristic diffractive light sails could address these shortcomings. 

This work is being undertaken at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory under the leadership of Amber Dubill and co-investigator Grover Swartzlander. The project progressed through phase I and II trials, which had the team developing concept and feasibility studies on diffractive light sails. The phase III award ensures $2 million in funding over the next two years to design and test the materials that could make diffractive light propulsion a reality. 

A standard lightsail developed by the Planetary Society in 2019.

A diffractive light sail, as the name implies, takes advantage of a property of light known as diffraction. When light passes through a small opening, it spreads out on the other side. This could be used to make a light sail more maneuverable so it doesn’t need to go wherever the solar winds blow. 

The team will design its prototypes with several possible mission applications in mind. This technology most likely won’t have an impact on missions to the outer solar system where sunlight is weaker and the monumental distances require faster modes of transportation. However, heliophysics is a great use case for diffractive lightsailing as it would allow visiting the polar regions of the sun, which are difficult to access with current technology.

A lightsail with the ability to essentially redirect thrust from a continuous stream of sunlight would be able to enter orbit over the poles. It may even be possible to maneuver a constellation of satellites into this difficult orbit to study the sun from a new angle. In a few years, NASA may be able to conduct a demonstration mission. Until then, it’s all theoretical.

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