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Japan awaits capsule's return with asteroid soil samples – North Shore News

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TOKYO — Japan’s Hayabusa2 spacecraft successfully released a small capsule on Saturday and sent it toward Earth to deliver samples from a distant asteroid that could provide clues to the origin of the solar system and life on our planet, the country’s space agency said.

The capsule successfully detached from 220,000 kilometres (136,700 miles) away in a challenging operation that required precision control, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency said. The capsule — just 40 centimetres (15 inches) in diameter — is now descending and is expected to land Sunday in a remote, sparsely populated area of Woomera, Australia.

“The capsule has been separated. Congratulations,” JAXA project manager Yuichi Tsuda said.

Hayabusa2 left the asteroid Ryugu, about 300 million kilometres (180 million miles) away, a year ago. After it released the capsule, it moved away from Earth to capture images of the capsule descending toward the planet as it set off on a new expedition to another distant asteroid.

About two hours later, JAXA said it had successfully rerouted Hayabusa2 for its new mission, as beaming staff exchanged fist and elbow touches at the agency’s command centre in Sagamihara, near Tokyo.

“We’ve successfully come this far, and when we fulfil our final mission to recover the capsule, it will be perfect,” mission manager Makoto Yoshikawa said from the command centre during a livestreaming event.

People who gathered to watch the capsule’s separation at public viewing events across Japan cheered the success. ”I’m really glad that the capsule has been successfully released. My heart was beating fast when I was watching,” said Ichiro Ryoko, a 60-year-old computer engineer who watched at Tokyo Dome.

Hayabusa2’s return with the world’s first asteroid subsurface samples comes weeks after NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft made a successful touch-and-go grab of surface samples from asteroid Bennu. China, meanwhile, announced this week that its lunar lander collected underground samples and sealed them within the spacecraft for their return to Earth, as space developing nations compete in their missions.

In the early hours of Sunday, the capsule, protected by a heat shield, will briefly turn into a fireball as it reenters the atmosphere 120 kilometres (75 miles) above Earth. At about 10 kilometres (6 miles) aboveground, a parachute will open to slow its fall and beacon signals will be transmitted to indicate its location.

JAXA staff have set up satellite dishes at several locations in the target area to receive the signals. They also will use a marine radar, drones and helicopters to assist in the search and retrieval of the pan-shaped capsule.

Australian National University space rock expert Trevor Ireland, who is in Woomera for the arrival of the capsule, said he expected the Ryugu samples to be similar to the meteorite that fell in Australia near Murchison in Victoria state more than 50 years ago.

“The Murchison meteorite opened a window on the origin of organics on Earth because these rocks were found to contain simple amino acids as well as abundant water,” Ireland said. “We will examine whether Ryugu is a potential source of organic matter and water on Earth when the solar system was forming, and whether these still remain intact on the asteroid.”

Scientists say they believe the samples, especially ones taken from under the asteroid’s surface, contain valuable data unaffected by space radiation and other environmental factors. They are particularly interested in analyzing organic materials in the samples.

JAXA hopes to find clues to how the materials are distributed in the solar system and are related to life on Earth. Yoshikawa, the mission manager, said 0.1 gram of the dust would be enough to carry out all planned researches.

For Hayabusa2, it’s not the end of the mission it started in 2014. It is now heading to a small asteroid called 1998KY26 on a journey slated to take 10 years one way, for possible research including finding ways to prevent meteorites from hitting Earth.

So far, its mission has been fully successful. It touched down twice on Ryugu despite the asteroid’s extremely rocky surface, and successfully collected data and samples during the 1 1/2 years it spent near Ryugu after arriving there in June 2018.

In its first touchdown in February 2019, it collected surface dust samples. In a more challenging mission in July that year, it collected underground samples from the asteroid for the first time in space history after landing in a crater that it created earlier by blasting the asteroid’s surface.

Asteroids, which orbit the sun but are much smaller than planets, are among the oldest objects in the solar system and therefore may help explain how Earth evolved.

Ryugu in Japanese means “Dragon Palace,” the name of a sea-bottom castle in a Japanese folk tale.

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Associated Press writers Dennis Passa in Brisbane, Australia, and Chisato Tanaka in Tokyo contributed to this report.

___

Follow Mari Yamaguchi on Twitter at https://www.twitter.com/mariyamaguchi

Mari Yamaguchi, The Associated Press









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Global Ice Loss Is Speeding Up: the Risks of Melting Ice Sheets – Green Matters

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Melting ice sheets is one of the most cliché signifiers of global warming and the climate crisis — but clichés originate in the truth, after all, and ice sheets are still melting. In fact, new research has found that the rate of global ice loss — aka melting ice sheets — is higher than ever before.

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On Monday, Jan. 25, 2021, researchers from the University of Leeds, the University of Edinburgh, University College London, and Earthwave published their findings in European Geosciences Union’s journal The Cryosphere.

ice melt
Source: Getty Images

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According to the study, ice melt over the past three decades has steadily increased — in the 1990s, there was an average global ice melt of 0.8 trillion tonnes per year; by 2017, there was an average of 1.3 trillion tonnes per year. In total, the rate of ice loss has increased by 65 percent between 1994 and 2017.

Overall, between 1994 and 2017, planet Earth lost 28 trillion tonnes of ice. To put that in perspective, that would be equivalent to a 100-meter-thick sheet of ice the size of the U.K.

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This melting ice has been the most concerning in two polar climates: Antarctica and Greenland. 58 percent of the ice loss happened in the northern hemisphere, while the other 42 percent happened in the southern hemisphere.

“Although every region we studied lost ice, losses from the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets have accelerated the most,” lead author Dr. Thomas Slater said in a statement for the University of Leeds. “The ice sheets are now following the worst-case climate warming scenarios set out by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Sea-level rise on this scale will have very serious impacts on coastal communities this century.”

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This rapid ice melt poses a series of significant issues for Antarctica, Greenland, and other cold climates. For one thing, it has a strong correlation with sea level rise.

“Sea ice loss doesn’t contribute directly to sea level rise but it does have an indirect influence. One of the key roles of Arctic sea ice is to reflect solar radiation back into space which helps keep the Arctic cool,” co-author Dr. Isobel Lawrence explained in a statement. 

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“As the sea ice shrinks, more solar energy is being absorbed by the oceans and atmosphere, causing the Arctic to warm faster than anywhere else on the planet,” she continued. “Not only is this speeding up sea ice melt, it’s also exacerbating the melting of glaciers and ice sheets which causes sea levels to rise.”

As these ice sheets melt and glaciers retreat, people and animals around the world “at both local and global scales” are at risk, according to report co-author Inès Otosaka.

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On a global scale, when sea level rise gets out of hand, coastal areas experience high flood risks. Cities like Miami, New York City, and New Orleans could wind up underwater by the end of this century if we don’t take action, as reported by Business Insider.

On a local scale, “mountain glaciers are also critical as a freshwater resource for local communities,” as per Otosaka. With fewer mountain glaciers, people who depend on these for a source of water could suffer. Not to mention, animals who rely on or live on glaciers and ice sheets may suffer; according to GlacierHub, this long list of animals includes polar bears, penguins, seals, snow leopards, bison, and reindeer.

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Scientists find a cloudless 'hot Jupiter' exoplanet with a four-day year – Yahoo Movies Canada

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The Canadian Press

EU proposes more travel restrictions to stop virus variants

BRUSSELS — The European Union’s executive body proposed Monday that the bloc’s 27 nations impose more travel restrictions to counter the worrying spread of new coronavirus variants but make sure to keep goods and workers moving across EU borders. Amid concerns related to the production and delivery of COVID-19 vaccines, the European Commission urged EU nations to reinforce testing and quarantine measures for travellers as virus mutations that are more transmissible threaten to overwhelm European hospitals with new cases. More than 400,000 EU citizens have already died from the virus since the pandemic first hit Europe last year. “The start of the EU vaccination campaign kicked off the beginning of the end of the pandemic,” EU Justice commissioner Didier Reynders said. “At the same time, new, more transmissible variants of the virus have surfaced. There is currently a very high number of new infections across many member states. And there is an urgent need to reduce the risk of travel-related infections to lessen the burden on overstretched healthcare systems.” Among the new measures, which need to be approved by EU nations before taking effect, is the addition of a new “dark red” colour to the EU’s weekly map of infections. Reynders said this new colour highlights areas where the rate of new confirmed infections in the last 14 days is 500 or more per 100,000 inhabitants. He said between 10 and 20 EU countries would already see that colour on all or part of their territory if it was in effect now. “We also think it is necessary for essential travellers arriving from dark red areas to get tested before travelling and to undergo quarantine, unless these measures would have a disproportionate impact on the exercise of their essential function,” Reynders said. Since the discovery of the new virus variants, several EU countries have already reinforced their lockdown measures. Belgium has introduced a ban on all nonessential travels for its residents until March, while France could soon start a third lockdown if a stringent 12-hour daily curfew already in place can’t slow down the spread of new infections. “We are suggesting stricter measures for dark red areas, because we must recognize the high level of cases,” Reynders said. Insisting that all non-essential travel is “strongly discouraged,” the commission repeated the need to keep the single market functioning so workers and goods can continue to cross borders smoothly, “Border closures will not help, common measures will,” Reynders said. The commission also proposed that travellers from outside the EU should face mandatory coronavirus testing before they depart, tests once they arrive, mandatory quarantines for up to 14 days and hand over data for contact tracing. It suggested EU citizens and residents take a coronavirus test upon arrival and could face further restrictions if they coming in from a country where a variant has been detected. ___ Follow AP coverage of the virus outbreak at: https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-vaccine https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak Samuel Petrequin, The Associated Press

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Astronomers discover huge exoplanet has the density of cotton candy – CBC.ca

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Roughly 212 light years away in the Virgo constellation lies a super-large exoplanet that has astronomers revising their theory of how giant gas planets form.

The exoplanet, called WASP-107b, was discovered in 2017. At the time, it was difficult to accurately pinpoint its mass. But what astronomers did know is that it was already unusual. 

It is a particularly large planet, roughly the size of Jupiter, but with an orbit that is just a mere nine million kilometres away from its host star, WASP-107, which is estimated to be about three billion years old.

To put that in perspective, Mercury, the closest planet to our sun, sits at 60 million kilometres. One year on WASP-107b takes roughly 5.7 days. 

However, now, after years of observations using the W.M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii, a team of international astronomers have uncovered something else: WASP-107b is oddly light. In fact, it’s much lighter than what was thought was needed to build gas giants such as Saturn and Jupiter.

“What was really surprising about this planet is that people have known … that it’s about the size of Jupiter, so it’s a gas giant,” said Eve Lee, co-author of the study published in the Astrophysical Journal and an assistant professor in the department of physics at McGill University and McGill Space Institute in Montreal. “So if it’s a gas giant, then the usual expectation is that it would weigh just as [much] as gas giants. Except it didn’t.”

A comparison of Earth in the Great Red Spot of Jupiter, a giant storm that is at least 400 years old. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/Christopher Go)

Jupiter is about 300 times the mass of Earth. But WASP-107b — while roughly the same size as our solar system’s biggest and most massive planet — is only 30 times that of Earth. That’s 1/10th the mass. 

The international team of astronomers inferred from their observations that the core of the planet was just four times that of Earth. But in theory, it was believed that these giant planets with such a gaseous atmosphere would require a core that was at least 10 times that of Earth’s.

After a star forms, the remaining gas and dust — called a protoplanetary disk — come together to build planets. When it comes to the gas giants, it’s believed that a core that is 10 times more massive than Earth’s is required to build — or accrete — and hold on to the gas envelopes.

This image from the European Southern Observatory shows a protoplanetary disk This picture of the nearby young star TW Hydrae reveals the classic rings and gaps that signify planets are in formation in this system. (S. Andrews [Harvard-Smithsonian CfA]; B. Saxton [NRAO/AUI/NSF]; ALMA [ESO/NAOJ/NRAO])

So what’s the deal with WASP-107b?

Lead author Caroline Piaulet of the Université de Montréal said there are two key elements in the theory of how this might have happened.

First, it’s believed that WASP-107b formed much farther out from its current location, likely around one astronomical unit, or the average distance between the sun and Earth, roughly 150 million kilometres. There, it began to accrete gas and dust relatively quickly. 

Secondly, it began to cool rather quickly.

“When it cools down efficiently, it’s able to accrete efficiently because if it cools down, it’s going to shrink,” said Piaulet. “So it’s going to have more space to accrete more gas.”

Eventually, the planet migrated inward to its current position.

Yet another surprise

WASP-107b isn’t the only “super puff” planet, as they are often called. Lee said there are four others known, though WASP-107b is the puffiest.

So just how puffy is it?

“It’s usually compared to cotton candy, because it’s about the right density,” Lee said. “But it’s not the kind that you find at carnivals. It’s more like the kind that you buy at stores.”

And, as surprising as this super-puff planet was, there was yet another surprise in store: a second planet orbiting the star, WASP-107c. 

The planet was detected because of the longer observation time and was found to be roughly one-third the mass of Jupiter. Its orbit around the star takes about three years, significantly longer than WASP-107b. 

The discovery is just a reminder that, while we may think we have an understanding of how planets form, we still have a lot to learn about what lies beyond our own solar system. Even then, Piaulet said, we still don’t even know much about the cores of our own giant gas planets, such as Jupiter. 

“What I found really exciting is that it’s kind of pushing our understanding of planet formation to its limits.”

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