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A problem with a newly docked Russian science lab briefly knocked the International Space Station out of positionBy SETH BORENSTEIN AP Science WriterJuly 29, 2021, 10:31 PM• 3 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleMOSCOW — A newly arrived Russian science lab briefly knocked the International Space Station out of position Thursday.For 47 minutes, the space station lost control of its orientation when the Russian lab accidentally fired its thrusters after docking, pushing the complex from its normal configuration. The station’s positioning is key for getting power from solar panels and communications. Communications with ground controllers also blipped out twice for a few minutes.Flight controllers regained control using thrusters on other Russian components at the station to right the ship and it is now stable and safe, NASA said.“We haven’t noticed any damage,” space station program manager Joel Montalbano said in a late afternoon press conference. “There was no immediate danger at any time to the crew.”Montalbano said the crew didn’t really feel any movement or any shaking. The complex was never spinning, NASA spokesman Bob Jacobs said.NASA Associate Administrator for Human Exploration and Operations Kathy Lueders called it “a pretty exciting hour.”The incident caused NASA to postpone a repeat test flight for Boeing’s crew capsule that had been set for Friday afternoon from Florida. It will be Boeing’s second attempt to reach the station before putting astronauts on board.Russia’s long-delayed 22-ton (20-metric-ton) lab called Nauka arrived earlier Thursday, eight days after it was launched from the Russian space launch facility in Baikonur, Kazakhstan.The automated docking followed after a long journey and a series of maneuvers.The launch of Nauka, which is intended to provide more room for scientific experiments and space for the crew, had been repeatedly delayed because of technical problems. It was initially scheduled to go up in 2007.In 2013, experts found contamination in its fuel system, resulting in a long and costly replacement. Other Nauka systems also underwent modernization or repairs.Nauka became the first new compartment for the Russian segment of the station since 2010. On Monday, one of the older Russian units, the Pirs spacewalking compartment, undocked from the space station to free up room for the new lab.Nauka will require many maneuvers, including up to 11 spacewalks beginning in early September, to prepare it for operation.The space station is currently operated by NASA astronauts Mark Vande Hei, Shane Kimbrough and Megan McArthur; Oleg Novitsky and Pyotr Dubrov of Russia’s Roscosmos space corporation; Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Akihiko Hoshide and European Space Agency astronaut Thomas Pesquet.In 1998, Russia launched the station’s first compartment, Zarya, which was followed in 2000 by another big module, Zvezda, and three smaller modules in the following years. The last of them, Rassvet, arrived at the station in 2010.Russian space officials downplayed the incident with Dmitry Rogozin, head of Roscosmos, tweeting: “All in order at the ISS. The crew is resting, which is what I advise you to do as well.”
The American West is baking, burning and drying in intertwined extreme weather. Four sets of numbers explain how bad it is now, while several others explain why it got this bad.The West is going through “the trifecta of an epically dry year followed by incredible heat the last two months and now we have fires,” said University of California Merced climate and fire scientist John Abatzoglou. “It is a story of cascading impacts.”And one of climate change, the data shows.RECORD HEATIn the past 30 days, the country has set 585 all-time heat records, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Of those, 349 are for daily high temperatures and 236 are the warmest overnight low temperatures, which are vital for people to recover from deadly heat waves.And this doesn’t include Death Valley hitting 130 degrees (54 degrees Celsius) preliminarily. If this is confirmed, it would be the hottest temperature on Earth in decades — and several meteorologists say it would be the hottest reliable temperature recorded because many don’t trust the accuracy of two hotter records.A different part of Death Valley likely set the world record on July 11 for hottest 24-hour period by averaging the daily high and overnight low to come up with 118.1 (47.9 degrees Celsius), according to meteorologist Maximiliano Herrera, who tracks weather extremes.The average daily high temperature for the entire area from the Rockies and westward in June was 85.7 degrees (29.8 Celsius), which beat the old record by 1.3 degrees (0.7 Celsius), according to NOAA.SEVERE DROUGHTNearly 60% of the U.S. West is considered in exceptional or extreme drought, the two highest categories, according to the University of Nebraska’s Drought Monitor. That’s the highest percentage in the 20 years the drought monitor has been keeping track. Less than 1% of the West is not in drought or considered abnormally dry, also a record.LOW SOIL MOISTUREHow much moisture in the soil is key because normally part of the sun’s energy is used to evaporate moisture in the soil and plants. Also, when the soil and plants are dry, areas burn much more often and hotter in wildfires and the available water supply shrinks for places like California, a “true indicator of just how parched things are,” Abatzoglou said.Both NOAA and NASA show soil moisture levels down to some of the lowest recorded levels for much of the West. Most of California, Oregon, Washington, Nevada, Arizona, Utah and Idaho are drier than in 99% of other years.WILDFIRES BURNINGThere are 68 active large fires burning, consuming 1,038,003 acres (420,000 hectares) of land, according to the National Interagency Fire Center. With those fires and ones in Canada, there is “one large area of smoke over much of the U.S. and Canada,” NOAA said Tuesday.So far this year, wildfires have burned 2.2 million acres (899,000 hectares), which is less than the 10-year average for this time of year. But that may change because dry plants are at extra high risk of burning in much of the West as shown in what experts call fire’s energy release component.HOW WE GOT HERE“The heat wave story cannot be viewed as an isolated extreme event, but rather part of a longer story of climate change with more related, widespread and varying impacts,” said climate scientist Jennifer Francis of the Woodwell Climate Research Center on Cape Cod.SUMMERS GETTING HOTTERFrom 1991 to 2020, summers in the Rockies and westward have on average become 2.7 degrees (1.5 Celsius) warmer. The West is warming faster than the rest of the United States and the globe.MORE HEAT DOMES FROM WEAKER JET STREAMThe weather phenomenon that is roasting the West now and that brought 116-degree (46.7 Celsius) temperatures to Portland, Oregon, at the end of June is often called a heat dome — where high pressure parks over an area and warm air sinks. This usually happens when the jet stream — the river of air that brings weather to places — gets stuck and doesn’t move storms along.Pennsylvania State University climate scientist Michael Mann found the number of times the jet stream stalls in the Northern Hemisphere is increasing from about six times a summer in the early 1980s to about eight times a summer now.“We’ve shown climate change is making these stuck summer jet stream patterns more common,” Mann said.LESS RAINThe West on average received 13.6 inches (34.5 centimeters) of snow and rain from July 2020 to June 2021. Over the last 10 years, the region has averaged a bit more than 19 inches (48 centimeters) of precipitation a year in the middle of what scientists call a megadrought. In the 1980s and 1990s, before the megadrought started, the West averaged nearly 22 inches (56 centimeters) of rain.A 2020 study said “global warming has pushed what would have been a moderate drought in southwestern North America into megadrought territory.”MORE WILDFIRESFrom 2011 to 2020, on average 7.5 million acres (3 million hectares) burned in wildfires each year. That’s more than double the average of 3.6 million acres (1.4 million hectares) a year from 1991 to 2000, according to data from the National Interagency Fire Center.It’s not just more acres burned, but more “very very large fires,” said UC Merced’s Abatzoglou, noting that the combination of drought and heat means plants are more likely to burn and fires to get bigger.“The drought we’ve had this year and the warm temperatures has allowed the fire season to come on hard and really, really early,” he said.———Read stories on climate issues by The Associated Press at https://apnews.com/hub/climate———Follow Seth Borenstein on Twitter at @borenbears.———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.
U.S. bug experts are dropping the name gypsy moth because it is considered an ethnic slurBy SETH BORENSTEIN AP Science WriterJuly 9, 2021, 4:42 PM• 2 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleBug experts are dropping the common name of a destructive insect because it’s considered an ethnic slur: the gypsy moth.The Entomological Society of America, which oversees the common names of bugs, is getting rid of the common name of that critter and the lesser-known gypsy ant. The group this week announced that for the first time it changed a common name of an insect because it was offensive. In the past they’ve only reassigned names that weren’t scientifically accurate.“It’s an ethnic slur to begin with that’s been rejected by the Romani people a long time ago,’’ said society president Michelle S. Smith. “Second, nobody wants to be associated with a harmful invasive pest.”The society is taking a hard look at some of the more than 2,000 common insect names to remove derogatory and geographically inaccurate ones. About 20 years ago, a committee of fish experts renamed the jewfish into the goliath grouper.The moths are invasive and destructive critters in the caterpillar stage. They have a voracious appetite that can denude entire forests of leaves, said University of Illinois entomologist May Berenbaum, a past society president.The moths likely got their name because as larvae they have hair with small air pockets that act like balloons allowing them to float for miles, wandering like the group of people they were named after, Berenbaum said. Another theory is that male adult moths have a tan color that could be similar to Romani people.The Entomological Society is now on the hunt for a new common name, a process that will take months, Smith said. Until then, even though it’s a mouthful, Smith said the moths should be called by their scientific name, Lymantria dispar or L. dispar.Berenbaum — who has written about weirdly named plants, animals and gene mutations — said given the moths’ destructiveness, she and other would have some ideas for a descriptive new name.”You’re not allowed to use obscenities,” she said, “so that’s out.”———Follow Seth Borenstein on Twitter at @borenbears.———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.
Astronomers say they’ve witnessed for the first time a black hole swallowing a neutron star, the densest object in the universeBy SETH BORENSTEIN AP Science WriterJune 29, 2021, 6:29 PM• 3 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleTalk about a heavy snack. For the first time, astronomers have witnessed a black hole swallowing a neutron star, the most dense object in the universe — all in a split-second gulp.Ten days later they saw the same thing, on the other side of the universe. In both cases, a neutron star — a teaspoon of which would weigh a billion tons — orbits ever closer to that ultimate point of no return, a black hole, until they finally crash together and the neutron star is gone in a gobble.Astronomers witnessed the last 500 orbits before the neutron stars were swallowed, a process that took far less than a minute and briefly generated as much energy as all the visible light in the observable universe.“It was just a big quick (gulp), gone,” said study co-author Patrick Brady, an astrophysicist at the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee. The black hole “gets a nice dinner of a neutron star and makes itself just a little bit more massive.”The bursts of energy from the collisions were discovered when detectors on Earth spotted the mergers’ gravitational waves, cosmic energetic ripples soaring through space and time as first theorized by Albert Einstein. They each came from more than one billion light-years away. The waves were detected in January of 2020, but the study analyzing and interpreting the data by more than 100 scientists was published Tuesday in Astrophysical Journal Letters. While astronomers had seen gravitational waves from two black holes colliding with each other and two neutron stars colliding with each other, this is the first time they saw one of each crashing together.Neutron stars are corpses of massive stars, what’s leftover after a big star dies in a supernova explosion. They are so dense that they have about 1.5 to two times the mass of our sun, but condensed to about 6 miles (10 kilometers) wide, Brady said. Some black holes, known as stellar black holes, are created when an even bigger star collapses into itself creating something with such powerful gravity that not even light can escape.Scientists think there should be many of these neutron star and black hole pairings, but they’ve yet to find one in our own galaxy.“This is very cool,” said Johns Hopkins University astrophysicist Marc Kamionkowski, who wasn’t part of the research. He said this will help astronomers predict how abundant these pairings are.——Follow Seth Borenstein on Twitter at @borenbears.———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.
Satellite video shows the ice shelf holding the Pine Island Glacier in Antarctica back from the sea is breaking up much faster than beforeBy SETH BORENSTEIN AP Science WriterJune 11, 2021, 10:48 PM• 3 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleA critical Antarctic glacier is looking more vulnerable as satellite images show the ice shelf that blocks it from collapsing into the sea is breaking up much faster than before and spawning huge icebergs, a new study says.The Pine Island Glacier’s ice shelf loss accelerated in 2017, causing scientists to worry that with climate change the glacier’s collapse could happen quicker than the many centuries predicted. The floating ice shelf acts like a cork in a bottle for the fast-melting glacier and prevents its much larger ice mass from flowing into the ocean.That ice shelf has retreated by 12 miles (20 kilometers) between 2017 and 2020, according to a study in Friday’s Science Advances The crumbling shelf was caught on time-lapse video from a European satellite that takes pictures every six days.“You can see stuff just tearing apart,” said study lead author Ian Joughin, a University of Washington glaciologist. “So it almost looks like the speed-up itself is weakening the glacier. … And so far we’ve lost maybe 20% of the main shelf.”Between 2017 and 2020, there were three large breakup events, creating icebergs more than 5 miles (8 kilometers) long and 22 miles (36 kilometers) wide, which then split into lots of littler pieces, Joughin said. There also were many smaller breakups.“It’s not at all inconceivable that the whole shelf could give way and go within a few years,” Joughin said. “I’d say that’s a long shot, but not a very long shot.”Joughin tracked two points on the main glacier and found they were moving 12% faster toward the sea starting in 2017.“So that means 12% more ice from Pine Island going into the ocean that wasn’t there before,” he said.The Pine Island Glacier, which is not on an island doesn’t have pine trees, is one of two side-by-side glaciers in western Antarctica that ice scientists worry most about losing on that continent. The other is the Thwaites Glacier.Pine Island contains 180 trillion tons of ice — the equivalent of 1.6 feet (half a meter) of sea level rise — and is responsible for about a quarter of the continent’s ice loss.“Pine Island and Thwaites are our biggest worry now because they are falling apart and then the rest of West Antarctica will follow according to nearly all models,” said University of California Irvine ice scientist Isabella Velicogna, who wasn’t part of the study.While ice loss is part of climate change, there was no unusual extra warming in the region that triggered this acceleration, Joughin said.“These science results continue to highlight the vulnerability of Antarctica, a major reservoir for potential sea level rise,” said Twila Moon, a National Snow and Ice Data scientist who wasn’t part of the research. “Again and again, other research has confirmed how Antarctica evolves in the future will depend on human greenhouse gas emissions.”———Read stories on climate issues by The Associated Press at https://apnews.com/hub/climate.———Follow Seth Borenstein on Twitter at @borenbears.———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.