A significant drop in sea traffic brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic has created what scientists call a rare opportunity to study how quieter waters affect southern resident killer whales off the British Columbia coast.
Ocean Networks Canada, which has been monitoring noise from ships and sounds made by marine mammals such as orcas, said it believes the change will be a boon for the animals.
“The anticipation is that the quieter environment will help the killer whales in communicating, in socializing, in navigating and most importantly, in finding food,” said Richard Dewey, the organization’s associate director of science.
A paper published last month in the Journal of the Acoustical Society of America said there has been about a 30 per cent decrease in commercial shipping traffic into the Port of Vancouver from China due to COVID-19 in just the first four months of the year.
Dewey said it’s not just commercial traffic that’s gone down – there’s also been a pause in whale watching boats, cruise ships, recreational vessels and tankers. That’s led to a noise reduction of about 75 per cent, he said.
“What we are seeing in the Salish Sea is levels of shipping noise that haven’t been present for three or four decades,” he said. “So we would have to go back to the 1980s before we would have heard such a quiet environment.”
One of the major concerns for the endangered southern resident killer whales is that shipping noises have been increasing and almost doubling every decade, he said.
These mammals have a hearing that is similar to that of humans, and they communicate in a frequency band similar to ours, Dewey said.
They use vocalizations to communicate within the pod, to navigate and most importantly to find their prey, he said.
“They echo-locate to find their salmon. It’s a very sophisticated sort of acoustic capability and the quieter the environment, they would have more success in finding prey.”
In the ocean, Dewey said whales use sound “continuously and all the time.”
Their eyesight helps them see up to a distance of about five to 10 metres while using sounds helps them scope out kilometres, he said, adding that the Salish Sea is a “very murky environment.”
Scientists believe the loud noises caused by humans increase stress hormones in orcas because they have to shout and cannot communicate over large distances, Dewey said.
He compared it to someone going into a loud club and having to pause until noise passes, to speak more loudly or give up. He noted that unlike people in a club, orcas can’t just leave for a quieter space.
Scientists will be using 30 hydrophones to record sounds made by the killer whales when they come into the Salish Sea, which should be any time now, Dewey said. Hydrophones are underwater recording devices that record how loudly the whales talk when it’s noisy or if they just give up.
The team is hoping this study will yield much-needed data to make policy and regulation changes to help the animals survive, he said.
“If we see them returning and staying in their critical habitat for longer periods … if we have evidence of successful feeding on the salmon, then those are all good signs and in some sense the quieter environments can only have helped their survival,” he said.
The director of the University of British Columbia’s marine mammal research unit said that in the past, killer whales would be seen in the Salish Sea in May and June, but for the past four years they have been coming in much later, sometimes as late as September.
Andrew Trites said one of the reasons could be that there is not enough salmon, although mathematically there is enough fish for the 72 remaining southern resident killer whales.
This has left scientists wondering whether the trouble is that the whales cannot hunt because of disruption from vessels, he said.
“And there is an opportunity to see whether or not the behaviour of whales is different with fewer boats on the water and less noise.”
Surviving core of ill-fated Jupiter-like planet spotted near distant star – CANOE
WASHINGTON — A rocky planet 39 times as massive as Earth has been spotted orbiting a distant star at breakneck speed, with astronomers concluding it may be the surviving core of a planet once perhaps larger than Jupiter that was stripped of its gaseous atmosphere.
Researchers said on Wednesday it is the largest rocky planet ever discovered and would be the first planetary core ever found, offering a unique opportunity to better understand the interiors of gas giants like Jupiter, the largest planet in our solar system.
The planet, called TOI-849b, orbits a star a bit smaller and cooler than the sun, located 730 light years from Earth. A light year is the distance light travels in a year, 5.9 trillion miles (9.5 trillion km).
Gas giants are composed of a solid core surrounded by a vast atmosphere mostly of hydrogen and helium.
“This planet could have been a gas giant like Jupiter, which then lost its outer envelope through some violent evolution. This could be because it collided with another planet towards the end of its formation, or later ventured too close to its host star and was stripped of its atmosphere,” said astronomer David Armstrong of the University of Warwick in England, lead author of the research published in the journal Nature.
“An alternative is that the planet got stuck while forming, building up a core but failing to collect the gas we would normally expect.”
Its diameter of 27,000 miles (43,500 km) is a bit less than Neptune, the smallest of our solar system’s four gas planets, but much larger than Earth’s 7,900 miles (12,700 km). It orbits extremely near its star – much closer than our solar system’s innermost planet Mercury is to the sun – and travels 10 times more quickly than Earth, completing an orbit every 18 hours.
“TOI-849b itself is much more massive than we expect even gas giant planetary cores to be,” Armstrong said, “and this might imply a new planet formation or evolution pathway which we don’t yet understand.”
Astronauts complete 2nd spacewalk to replace batteries outside orbiting space station – CBC.ca
Astronauts completed their second spacewalk in under a week on Wednesday to replace old batteries outside the International Space Station.
Cmdr. Chris Cassidy and Bob Behnken quickly tackled the big, boxy batteries. For every two outdated batteries coming out, a new and improved one goes in to supply power to the orbiting station on the night side of Earth.
Within a couple hours, the astronauts had installed another new battery, the third one in this latest series of spacewalks. NASA plans to send the pair out twice more in July to complete the battery swap-outs that began in 2017. The new lithium-ion batteries should last the rest of the space station’s life, according to officials.
With their main chore completed, Cassidy and Behnken jumped ahead to loosen the bolts on the batch of old batteries coming out next time and remove other equipment. Some of the bolts required extra muscle, and another stubborn mechanism just wouldn’t come off.
“Boy, it put up a good fight,” Cassidy radioed. “These batteries — they like their home.”
The astronauts had enough time to route power and ethernet cables outside the 420-kilometre-high outpost before the six-hour spacewalk drew to a close.
“Good thing there’s an Earth down there” to tell up from down, Cassidy said.
NASA wants the battery work completed before Behnken returns to Earth in August aboard a SpaceX capsule. He’s one of two test pilots who launched on SpaceX’s first astronaut flight in May.
Cassidy and Behnken now have eight spacewalks — totalling nearly 50 hours — apiece.
Paying tourist to get chance to do spacewalk
A space tourist might get a chance to join the prestigious spacewalking ranks — for the right price.
Virginia-based Space Adventures Inc. is seeking a paying customer to not only fly to the space station, but do a spacewalk with an experienced Russian cosmonaut. Before launching from Kazakhstan, the space tourist would need to undergo extra training in Star City, Russia.
Space Adventures is not divulging the cost of the two-week mission. The flight would take up two tourists in 2023, one of whom would step outside. The Russian rocket company Energia has teamed up with Space Adventures for the expedition.
Plenty of specialized training would be needed before someone ventures out on a spacewalk, Behnken told The Associated Press earlier this week.
NASA considers spacewalks one of the riskiest parts of any mission, and astronauts spend hours practising underwater — the closest simulation to spacewalking on Earth.
“I think it could be really challenging for a tourist to go on a spacewalk,” Behnken said.
Any tourist would want multiple practice sessions in order to be “prepared for the space environment.”
Launch of NASA Mars rover delayed again, two weeks left to fly – CTV News
CAPE CANAVERAL, FLA. —
NASA has delayed the launch of its newest Mars rover yet again — to the end of July at the earliest — this time for a rocket issue.
If the Perseverance rover isn’t on its way by mid-August, it will have to wait until 2022 when Earth and Mars are back in proper alignment, costing NASA close to $500 million for the delay alone.
Managers are now targeting no earlier than July 30 for a liftoff from Cape Canaveral, eating up half of the monthlong launch window. The good news is that NASA is trying to eke out more time in this summer’s launch opportunity, now lasting until at least Aug. 15. The chance to fly to Mars comes up only every 26 months.
It is NASA’s most ambitious Mars mission yet, totalling around $3 billion. Besides seeking signs of past microscopic Martian life, Perseverance will gather rocks and soil for eventual return to Earth.
Rocket maker United Launch Alliance needs extra time to deal with a liquid oxygen sensor line that showed questionable readings during a recent practice countdown, officials said Tuesday. Previous technical concerns — including crane trouble at the pad — bumped the launch from the original July 17 to the 20th and then 22nd.
Perseverance will still attempt a touchdown next February in an ancient river delta at Mars, regardless of when it launches.
The United Arab Emirates and China, meanwhile, still are pressing ahead with launches this month or next of Mars spacecraft. Russia and the European Space Agency had to bow out, delaying their Mars rover until 2022 because of delayed spacecraft testing and travel limitations due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content
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