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Space exploration could be Earth’s saving grace – Deutsche Welle



A bird’s eye view of the Earth could help identify the issues causing the climate crisis, space experts said at the 14th European Space Conference last week.

The first time German astronaut Alexander Gerst took off into space, he was overwhelmed. He’d seen satellite photos of Earth before, but they were nothing in comparison with the real thing.

“I [saw] the Earth with my own eyes for the very first time and all of a sudden, this huge, gigantic planet that I thought was infinite, maybe with infinite resources or things like that, appeared dauntingly small in the light of the blackness of infinity. And that caused me to see Earth differently.”

Gerst was part of the International Space Station (ISS) Expedition 40 and 41 from May to November 2014. He returned to space again as part of Expedition 56 and 57 in June 2018.

German astronaut Alexander Gerst

“It was revealing [for me] to fly to space for the first time,” he said. “As a geophysicist, we know exactly the diameter of the Earth, the thickness of the atmosphere. I thought I knew it all.”

Gerst, who spoke during last week’s 14th European Space Conference, said space exploration can offer a solution to the climate crisis by taking a step back and looking at the “problem from the outside.”

“We astronauts have to transport that view, that change in perspective [back] to Earth.”

Space budget spent on new technologies

While space exploration demands a considerable amount of money from the EU budget, Gerst argues that it’s worth it.

The benefits of technologies developed to support space exploration are not merely restricted to sustaining human life in space, he said. 

Space experience helps lead researchers to “develop technologies that we can use on Earth, things that we need to save the planet,” Gerst said.

Gerst said they conducted experiments on the space station that investigated how plant roots know which direction to grow. This question is being heavily researched in order to develop plants that can grow their roots more quickly to find water deep in dry soil.

“That is something that will come in very handy if climate change really changes a lot of areas that formerly were green and now they’re dry,” he said.

European Space Agency (ESA) Director General Josef Aschbacher noted that more than half of the climate parameters – such as sea surface temperature, glacier melting, the melting of the polar ice caps and sea level rise – are measured in space. 

“Without satellites, we wouldn’t know the extent of climate change,” Aschbacher said, adding that without this information, it would be difficult to make and implement decisions related to the climate crisis.

‘We are eyewitnesses of all this’

During a virtual interview with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen from space last week, German astronaut and materials scientist Matthias Maurer, who is currently on a six-month SpaceX science mission, noted the many climate change-related details observable from space.

Flying at the height of around 400 kilometers above the planet and circling Earth 16 times a day, Maurer said they can see slashed and burned forests, drought and lakes that used to be on the maps.

“We can also see that human mining puts a lot of scars into the surface of our planet,” he said.

Maurer said they are also able to observe natural events happening in real time, like the recent flooding in Brazil or the eruption of the underwater volcano in Tonga.

He added that the Copernicus Earth observation fleet provides data that is important for politicians to act upon.

Copernicus is the European Union’s Earth observation program. It offers information services that draw from satellite and non-space data.

Maurer launched in November last year on the SpaceX Crew Dragon Endurance spacecraft for a mission to advance scientific knowledge and demonstrate new technologies for future human and robotic exploration missions.

Lots of space junk

An issue frequently brought up with space exploration is the debris it leaves floating around in space.

There are fears that with more private companies vying to go to the moon, such as billionaire Elon Musk’s SpaceX, more junk will fill the atmosphere.

According to the ESA’s January 2022 update on space junk, there are some 30,600 debris objects regularly tracked by Space Surveillance Networks. 

Maurer said his space station experienced a space debris collision warning just two weeks ago. The station’s planning teams on the ground had to calculate if the debris had the potential to hit them.

“That shows us that there is a lot of debris here in space, and it’s a very important topic, not only for the ISS because it puts us at risk, but also because of the older satellites that we have.”

Maurer noted there needs to be action taken to avoid future space debris. The ESA has declared that by 2030, they want to have a net contribution to space debris. Maurer said this would not only mean they need to take action to remove massive parts from space, but also to reduce the introduction of new space particles.

Both Maurer and Gerst are optimistic that the findings from space exploration could help politicians and scientists find solutions to the climate crisis, using the famous words “there is no Planet B.”

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Facial Recognition—Now for Seals – Hakai Magazine



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Have you ever looked at a seal and thought, Is that the same seal I saw yesterday? Well, there could soon be an app for that based on new seal facial recognition technology. Known as SealNet, this seal face-finding system was developed by a team of undergraduate students from Colgate University in New York.

Taking inspiration from other technology adapted for recognizing primates and bears, Krista Ingram, a biologist at Colgate University, led the students in developing software that uses deep learning and a convolutional neural network to tell one seal face from another. SealNet is tailored to identify the harbor seal, a species with a penchant for posing on coasts in haulouts.

The team had to train their software to identify seal faces. “I give it a photograph, it finds the face, [and] clips it to a standard size,” says Ingram. But then she and her students would manually identify the nose, the mouth, and the center of the eyes.

For the project, team members snapped more than 2,000 pictures of seals around Casco Bay, Maine, during a two-year period. They tested the software using 406 different seals and found that SealNet could correctly identify the seals’ faces 85 percent of the time. The team has since expanded its database to include around 1,500 seal faces. As the number of seals logged in the database goes up, so too should the accuracy of the identification, Ingram says.

The developers of SealNet trained a neural network to tell harbor seals apart using photos of 406 different seals. Photo courtesy of Birenbaum et al.

As with all tech, however, SealNet is not infallible. The software saw seal faces in other body parts, vegetation, and even rocks. In one case, Ingram and her students did a double take at the uncanny resemblance between a rock and a seal face. “[The rock] did look like a seal face,” Ingram says. “The darker parts were about the same distance as the eyes … so you can understand why the software found a face.” Consequently, she says it’s always best to manually check that seal faces identified by the software belong to a real seal.

Like a weary seal hauling itself onto a beach for an involuntary photo shoot, the question of why this is all necessary raises itself. Ingram believes SealNet could be a useful, noninvasive tool for researchers.

Of the world’s pinnipeds—a group that includes seals, walruses, and sea lions—harbor seals are considered the most widely dispersed. Yet knowledge gaps do exist. Other techniques to track seals, such as tagging and aerial monitoring, have their limitations and can be highly invasive or expensive.

Ingram points to site fidelity as an aspect of seal behavior that SealNet could shed more light on. The team’s trials indicated that some harbor seals return to the same haulout sites year after year. Other seals, however, such as two animals the team nicknamed Clove and Petal, appeared at two different sites together. Increasing scientists’ understanding of how seals move around could strengthen arguments for protecting specific areas, says Anders Galatius, an ecologist at Aarhus University in Denmark who was not involved in the project.

Galatius, who is responsible for monitoring Denmark’s seal populations, says the software “shows a lot of promise.” If the identification rates are improved, it could be paired with another photo identification method that identifies seals by distinctive markings on their pelage, he says.

In the future, after further testing, Ingram hopes to develop an app based on SealNet. The app, she says, could possibly allow citizen scientists to contribute to logging seal faces. The program could also be adapted for other pinnipeds and possibly even for cetaceans.

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NASA launches nanosatellite in preparation for lunar 'Gateway' station – Yahoo News Canada



The rocket carrying the Capstone satellite lifts off. (NASA)

Nasa has launched a tiny CubeSat this week to test and orbit which will soon be used by Gateway, a lunar space station.

It’s all part of the space agency’s plan to put a woman on the moon by 2025.

The Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment (Capstone) mission launched from New Zealand on Tuesday.

Jim Reuter, associate administrator for the Space Technology Mission Directorate, said: “Capstone is an example of how working with commercial partners is key for Nasa’s ambitious plans to explore the moon and beyond.

“We’re thrilled with a successful start to the mission and looking forward to what Capstone will do once it arrives at the Moon.”

Read more: Astronomers find closest black hole to Earth

The satellite is currently in low-Earth orbit, and it will take the spacecraft about four months to reach its targeted lunar orbit.

Capstone is attached to Rocket Lab’s Lunar Photon, an interplanetary third stage that will send it on its way to deep space.

Over the next six days, Photon’s engine will periodically ignite to accelerate it beyond low-Earth orbit, where Photon will release the CubeSat on a trajectory to the moon.

Capstone will then use its own propulsion and the sun’s gravity to navigate the rest of the way to the Moon.

The gravity-driven track will dramatically reduce the amount of fuel the CubeSat needs to get to the Moon.

Read more: There might once have been life on the moon

Bradley Cheetham, principal investigator for CAPSTONE and chief executive officer of Advanced Space, “Our team is now preparing for separation and initial acquisition for the spacecraft in six days.

“We have already learned a tremendous amount getting to this point, and we are passionate about the importance of returning humans to the Moon, this time to stay!”

At the moon, Capstone will enter an elongated orbit called a near rectilinear halo orbit, or NRHO.

Once in the NRHO, Capstone will fly within 1,000 miles of the moon’s north pole on its near pass and 43,500 miles from the south pole at its farthest.

It will repeat the cycle every six-and-a-half days and maintain this orbit for at least six months to study dynamics.

“Capstone is a pathfinder in many ways, and it will demonstrate several technology capabilities during its mission timeframe while navigating a never-before-flown orbit around the Moon,” said Elwood Agasid, project manager for Capstone at Nasa’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley.

“Capstone is laying a foundation for Artemis, Gateway, and commercial support for future lunar operations.”

Nasa estimates the cost of the whole Artemis mission at $28bn.

It would be the first time people have walked on the moon since the last Apollo moon mission in 1972.

Just 12 people have walked on the moon – all men.

Nasa flew six manned missions to the surface of the moon, beginning with Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin in July 1969, up to Gene Cernan and Jack Schmitt in December 1972.

The mission will use Nasa’s powerful new rocket, the Space Launch System (SLS), and the Orion spacecraft.

Watch: NASA launch paves way for moon orbit station

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The year’s biggest and brightest supermoon will appear in July & here’s when you’ll … – Curiocity



Summer is here and with it? Sunshine – and some serious moonshine (of the visible variety, of course). This upcoming month, look up in anticipation of the biggest and brightest event of the year, the July Buck supermoon – which will hover over North America on July 13th.

Appearing 7% larger and lower in the sky, this particular event will be one well worth keeping an eye on when it rises above the horizon.

This will be the closest we’ll get to our celestial neighbour in 2022 (357,418 km) and while North America won’t get to see it when it reaches peak illumination at 2:38 pm ETC., it’ll still look pretty dang impressive after the sunsets.

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Not sure when the moon rises in your area? Here’s the earliest that you’ll be able to see the moon in various cities across the continent according to the Farmer’s Almanac.

  • Seattle, Washington  – 9:50 pm PDT
  • Vancouver, British Columbia – 10:02 pm PDT
  • Calgary, Alberta – 10:35 pm MST
  • Edmonton, Alberta – 10:49 pm MST
  • Toronto, Ontario – 9:34 pm MST
  • Montreal, Quebec – 9:18 pm MST

Until then, cross your fingers for a clear sky, friends! It’s going to be incredible.

Happy viewing.


When: Wednesday, July 13th

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