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Russia and China Are Working on Space and Counterspace Weapons

Universe Today Feed - Tue, 02/20/2018 - 3:24pm

Every year, the Department of National Intelligence (DNI) releases its Worldwide Threat Assessment of the US Intelligence Community. This annual report contains the intelligence community’s assessment of potential threats to US national security and makes recommendations accordingly. In recent years, these threats have included the development and proliferation of weapons, regional wars, economic trends, terrorism, cyberterrorism, etc.

This year’s assessment, which was released on February 8th, 2018, was certainly a mixed bag of warnings. Among the many potential threats to national security, the authors emphasized the many recent developments taking place in space. According to their assessment, the expansion of the global space industry, growing cooperation between the private and public sector, and the growth of various states in space, could constitute a threat to US national security.

Naturally, the two chief actors that are singled out were China and Russia. As they indicate, these countries will be leading the pack in the coming years when it comes to expanding space-based reconnaissance, communications and navigation systems. This will not only enable their abilities (and those of their allies) when it comes to space-based research, but will have military applications as well.

The second flight of the Long March 5 lifting off from Wenchang on July 2nd, 2017. Credit: CNS

As they state in the section of the report titled “Space and Counhttps://www.dni.gov/files/documents/Newsroom/Testimonies/2018-ATA—Unclassified-SSCI.pdfterspace“:

“Continued global space industry expansion will further extend space-enabled capabilities and space situational awareness to nation-state, nonstate, and commercial space actors in the coming years, enabled by the increased availability of technology, private-sector investment, and growing international partnerships for shared production and operation… All actors will increasingly have access to space-derived information services, such as imagery, weather, communications, and positioning, navigation, and timing for intelligence, military, scientific, or business purposes.”

A key aspect of this development is outlined in the section titled “Emerging and Disruptive Technology,” which addresses everything from the development of AI and internet technologies to additive manufacturing and advanced materials. In short, it not just the development of new rockets and spacecraft that are at issue here, but the benefits brought about by cheaper and lighter materials, more rapid information sharing and production.

“Emerging technology and new applications of existing technology will also allow our adversaries to more readily develop weapon systems that can strike farther, faster, and harder and challenge the United States in all warfare domains, including space,” they write.

Artist’s illustration of China’s 8-ton Tiangong-1 space station, which is expected to fall to Earth in late 2017. Credit: CMSE

Specifically, anti-satellite (ASAT) weapons are addressed as the major threat. Such technologies, according to the report, have the potential to reduce US and allied military effectiveness by disrupting global communications, navigation and coordination between nations and armies. These technologies could be destructive, in the form of anti-satellite missiles, but also nondestructive – i.e. electromagnetic pulse (EMP) devices. As they indicate:

“We assess that, if a future conflict were to occur involving Russia or China, either country would justify attacks against US and allied satellites as necessary to offset any perceived US military advantage derived from military, civil, or commercial space systems. Military reforms in both countries in the past few years indicate an increased focus on establishing operational forces designed to integrate attacks against space systems and services with military operations in other domains.”

The authors further anticipate that Russian and Chinese destructive ASAT technology could reach operational capacity within a few years time. To this end, they cite recent changes in the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), which include the formation of military units that have training in counter-space operations and the development of ground-launched ASAT missiles.

While they are not certain about Russia’s capability to wage ASAT warfare, they venture that similar developments are taking place. Another area of focus is the development of directed-energy weapons for the purpose of blinding or damaging space-based optical sensors. This technology is similar to what the US investigated decades ago for the sake of strategic missile defense – aka. the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI).

An artist’s concept of a Space Laser Satellite Defense System. Credit: USAF

While these weapons would not be used to blow up satellites in the conventional sense, they would be capable of blinding or damaging sensitive space-based optical sensors. On top of that, the report cites how Russia and China continue to conduct on-orbit activities and launching satellites that are deemed “experimental”. A good example of this was a recent proposal made by researchers from the Information and Navigation College at China’s Air Force Engineering University.

The study which detailed their findings called for the deployment of a high-powered pulsed ablative laser that could be used to break up space junk. While the authors admit that such technology can have peaceful applications – ranging from satellite inspection, refueling and repair – they could also be used against other spacecraft. While the United States has been researching the technology for decades, China and Russia’s growing presence in space threatens to tilt this balance of power.

Moreover, there are the loopholes in the existing legal framework – as outlined in the Outer Space Treaty – which the authors believe China and Russia are intent on exploiting:

“Russia and China continue to publicly and diplomatically promote international agreements on the nonweaponization of space and “no first placement” of weapons in space. However, many classes of weapons would not be addressed by such proposals, allowing them to continue their pursuit of space warfare capabilities while publicly maintaining that space must be a peaceful domain.”

Artist’s impression of a laser removing orbital debris, based on NASA pictures. Credit: Fulvio314/NASA/Wikipedia Commons

For example, the Outer Space Treaty bars signatories from placing weapons of mass destruction in orbit of Earth, on the Moon, on any other celestial body, or in outer space in general. By definition, this referred to nuclear devices, but does not extend to conventional weapons in orbit. This leaves room for antisatellite platforms or other conventional space-based weapons that could constitute a major threat.

Beyond China and Russia, the report also indicates that Iran’s growing capabilities in rocketry and missile technology could pose a threat down the road. As with the American and Russian space programs, developments in space rocketry and ICBMs are seen as being complimentary to each other:

“Iran’s ballistic missile programs give it the potential to hold targets at risk across the region, and Tehran already has the largest inventory of ballistic missiles in the Middle East. Tehran’s desire to deter the United States might drive it to field an ICBM. Progress on Iran’s space program, such as the launch of the Simorgh SLV in July 2017, could shorten a pathway to an ICBM because space launch vehicles use similar technologies.”

All told, the report makes some rather predictable assessments. Given China and Russia’s growing power in space, it is only natural that the DNI would see this as a potential threat. However, that does not mean that one should assume an alarmist attitude. When it comes to assessing threats, points are awarded for considering every contingency. But if history has taught us anything, it’s that assessment and realization are two very different things.

Remember Sputnik? The lesson there was clear. Don’t panic!

Further Reading: DNI

The post Russia and China Are Working on Space and Counterspace Weapons appeared first on Universe Today.

Categories: Science

Where have all the thagomizers gone?

Pharyngula Feed - Tue, 02/20/2018 - 2:35pm

I discuss this pressing concern in this video:

Categories: Science

Computer models allow farmers to diversify pest management methods

Computers and Math from Science Daily Feed - Tue, 02/20/2018 - 1:12pm
A technology developed by Brazilian researchers can help fighting highly resistant agricultural pests by analyzing the connections between the pests' patterns of dispersal in crops and different configurations in diversified intercropping systems.
Categories: Science

Reaching new heights in laser-accelerated ion energy

Matter and energy from Science Daily Feed - Tue, 02/20/2018 - 1:12pm
A laser-driven ion acceleration scheme could lead to compact ion sources for established and innovative applications in science, medicine and industry.
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Robo-picker grasps and packs

Computers and Math from Science Daily Feed - Tue, 02/20/2018 - 1:12pm
A new robotic system could lend a hand with warehouse sorting and other picking or clearing tasks.
Categories: Science

Daily chorus of farm cats

Why Evolution is True Feed - Tue, 02/20/2018 - 12:30pm

Let’s end the day with some cat cacophony. You’re either going to like this video and its attendant cat chorus, or find it grating. So be it. Here’s the story from Paws Planet:

Farmer Corey Karmann has a pack of twelve kitties in his farm. The gang does a good job keeping the rats at bay. And there’s no abusing here, Corey takes excellent care of all of them and every evening when he returns from work the cats are on the porch waiting ‘patiently’ for their evening meal and that’s when the chorus starts!

Corey decided to film the hungry cats, and later the video captured a lot of attention from the Internet. People thought the kitties are absolutely adorable and would be pleased to feed them everyday.

“These are my farm cats, not stray in any way. They live a happy life outside keeping mice out of my house and barns. Yes, they were fed more than that, I just didn’t see any reason to tape their entire meal. I decided to record this because I thought this little ritual was funny and might bring a smile to a few people faces”, said Corey.

If this sends you to YouTube, go there by clicking on the video or this link:

 

Categories: Science

A responsible gun owner

Pharyngula Feed - Tue, 02/20/2018 - 11:49am

They do exist.

Categories: Science

Spare parts from small parts: Novel scaffolds to grow muscle

Matter and energy from Science Daily Feed - Tue, 02/20/2018 - 11:35am
Australian biomedical engineers have developed a 3-D material that successfully mimics nature to transform cells into muscle.
Categories: Science

Researchers achieve 'Olympic ring' molecule breakthrough just in time for Winter Games

Matter and energy from Science Daily Feed - Tue, 02/20/2018 - 11:35am
More than 7,000 miles away from the snowcapped peaks of PyeongChang, scientists in Florida have unlocked a novel strategy for synthesizing a highly versatile molecule called olympicene -- a compound of carbon and hydrogen atoms named for its familiar Olympic ring shape.
Categories: Science

Unprecedented single-digit-nanometer magnetic tunnel junction demonstrated

Matter and energy from Science Daily Feed - Tue, 02/20/2018 - 11:35am
Researchers have developed ultra-small magnetic tunnel junctions with high retention properties for use in semiconductor technologies.
Categories: Science

Reshaping drug tests

Matter and energy from Science Daily Feed - Tue, 02/20/2018 - 11:35am
Researchers have improved on the currently available methods for screening drugs for heart-related side effects. The method involves fabricating a tiny hole in a silicon chip over which lipid membranes, similar to those that surround cells, are encouraged to grow.
Categories: Science

Can you eat cells? Computer model predicts which organisms are capable of phagocytosis

Computers and Math from Science Daily Feed - Tue, 02/20/2018 - 11:34am
Researchers have created a computational model capable of predicting whether or not organisms have the ability to 'eat' other cells through a process known as phagocytosis. The model may be a useful tool for large-scale microbe surveys and provides valuable insight into the evolution of complex life on Earth, challenging ideas put forward in recent studies.
Categories: Science

How health authorities fight the spread of infectious diseases

Computers and Math from Science Daily Feed - Tue, 02/20/2018 - 11:34am
Public outreach campaigns can prevent the spread of devastating yet treatable diseases such as tuberculosis, malaria and gonorrhea. But ensuring these campaigns effectively reach undiagnosed patients, who may unknowingly spread the disease to others, is a major challenge for cash-strapped public health agencies. Now, a team of researchers has created an algorithm that can help policymakers reduce the overall spread of disease.
Categories: Science

Ex-Muslims of North America saves a soul

Why Evolution is True Feed - Tue, 02/20/2018 - 11:15am

Need I note that I’m using the word “soul” metaphorically?

From The Ithacan, the student newspaper of Ithaca College, we have the sad tale of Mahad Olad, a columnist for the paper who had a narrow escape from religious dogma. A sophomore, Olad was both atheist and gay, but had to hide it from his devout Somali Muslim parents, who lived in Minnesota. His mother invited him on a summer vacation to Kenya (where the family had moved during the Somali wars) to “visit the relatives.”

He arrived in the country on May of last year, only to discover that his family had found out about his double apostasy and planned to “cure him”. He was visited by sheikhs, and realized he was to be sent to a “conversion camp” for gays of the Muslim faith. He describes these hellholes:

I was quite aware of the horrors of these gay and religious conversion camps. The leaders operate the camps around grim parts of Somalia and Kenya. They subject their captives to severe beatings, shackling, food deprivation and other cruel practices. It usually involves a rigorous Islamic curriculum. Those who fail to cooperate, make adequate progress or try to escape could possibly be killed.

. . . Gay conversion therapy is exceedingly abhorrent. While it can’t alter someone’s sexual orientation, it certainly can scar them for life. Suicide rates are extremely high for people forced into these conversion camps. I have been meeting with the State Department and others to discuss what can be done to stop this barbaric practice, which is sadly still prevalent in American society.

Unlike conversion therapy in the U.S., the religious conversion camps in Africa aren’t commonly reported on or talked about; they operate in secrecy. The fact that homosexuality is still illegal in most of Africa makes these conversion camps even crueler. We don’t have exact numbers of how many young people are forced to go to these camps, but we know the numbers are growing. Many of the people held captive have similar stories to myself. Their families immigrated to the U.S., then brought them back to Somalia or Kenya to force them into these places.

Olad was having none of it. Resourceful and brave, he escaped from his hotel and contacted the Ex-Muslims of North America (EXMNA), the organization run by Muhammad Syed and Sarah Haider. Syed contacted the US Embassy in Kenya, who offered to help. They sheltered him and persuaded Ithaca College to put him up for the summer. EXMNA then paid for his plane ticket home.

Olad of course is now without family; such is the fate of Muslim apostates:

Both the FBI and campus police are keeping an eye on me and, while I have begun to feel physically safe, emotionally the nightmare isn’t over. At 19, I now have no family. Even family members who weren’t a part of this scheme aren’t talking to me. Their rejection and treatment of me has been devastating. It has left me seriously questioning who I am and whether I deserve to be treated this way. The loss of my family’s love and support, both financial and emotional, has been extremely traumatic.

While I’m lucky to have close friends who have offered comfort, it does nothing for the hole my family ripped into my heart. I know what they did to me was horrible and wrong, but they are still my family and reconciling with them will take some time.

. . . After everything they put me through, I don’t know if I will ever be able to have a relationship with my family, but I am thankful that I am alive. For now, I am taking it one day at a time.

I can only imagine what it means to instantly lose your family. But how horrible of them to do this to Olad because he was gay and an atheist! What does love mean to such people?

Kudos to EXMNA for working to keep Olud safe and returning him to America. They’re a good group, and you can donate to them here.  I just did. Any group that would do something like this deserves our support.

Mahad Olad

Categories: Science

Astronomers Observe the Rotating Accretion Disk Around the Supermassive Black Hole in M77

Universe Today Feed - Tue, 02/20/2018 - 10:12am

During the 1970s, scientists confirmed that radio emissions coming from the center of our galaxy were due to the presence of a Supermassive Black Hole (SMBH). Located about 26,000 light-years from Earth between the Sagittarius and Scorpius constellation, this feature came to be known as Sagittarius A*. Since that time, astronomers have come to understand that most massive galaxies have an SMBH at their center.

What’s more, astronomers have come to learn that black holes in these galaxies are surrounded by massive rotating toruses of dust and gas, which is what accounts for the energy they put out. However, it was only recently that a team of astronomers, using the the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), were able to capture an image of the rotating dusty gas torus around the supermassive black hole of M77.

The study which details their findings recently appeared in the Astronomical Journal Letters under the title “ALMA Reveals an Inhomogeneous Compact Rotating Dense Molecular Torus at the NGC 1068 Nucleus“. The study was conducted by a team of Japanese researchers from the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan – led by Masatoshi Imanishi – with assistance from Kagoshima University.

The central region of the spiral galaxy M77. The NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope imaged the distribution of stars. ALMA revealed the distribution of gas in the very center of the galaxy. Credit: ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO)/Imanishi et al./NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope and A. van der Hoeven

Like most massive galaxies, M77 has an Active Galactic Nucleus (AGN), where dust and gas are being accreted onto its SMBH, leading to higher than normal luminosity. For some time, astronomers have puzzled over the curious relationship that exists between SMBHs and galaxies. Whereas more massive galaxies have larger SMBHs, host galaxies are still 10 billion times larger than their central black hole.

This naturally raises questions about how two objects of vastly different scales could directly affect each other. As a result, astronomers have sought to study AGN is order to determine how galaxies and black holes co-evolve. For the sake of their study, the team conducted high-resolution observations of the central region of M77, a barred spiral galaxy located about 47 million light years from Earth.

Using ALMA, the team imaged the area around M77’s center and were able to resolve a compact gaseous structure with a radius of 20 light-years. As expected, the team found that the compact structure was rotating around the galaxies central black hole. As Masatoshi Imanishi explained in an ALMA press release:

“To interpret various observational features of AGNs, astronomers have assumed rotating donut-like structures of dusty gas around active supermassive black holes. This is called the ‘unified model’ of AGN. However, the dusty gaseous donut is very tiny in appearance. With the high resolution of ALMA, now we can directly see the structure.”

Motion of gas around the supermassive black hole in the center of M77. The gas moving toward us is shown in blue and that moving away from us is in red. Credit: ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO), Imanishi et al.

In the past, astronomers have observed the center of M77, but no one has been able to resolve the rotating torus at its center until now. This was made possible thanks to the superior resolution of ALMA, as well as the selection of molecular emissions lines. These emissions lines include hydrogen cyanide (HCN) and formyl ions (HCO+), which emit microwaves only in dense gas, and carbon monoxide – which emits microwaves under a variety of conditions.

The observations of these emission lines confirmed another prediction made by the team, which was that the torus would be very dense. “Previous observations have revealed the east-west elongation of the dusty gaseous torus,” said Imanishi. “The dynamics revealed from our ALMA data agrees exactly with the expected rotational orientation of the torus.”

However, their observations also indicated that the distribution of gas around an SMBH is more complicated that what a simple unified model suggests. According to this model, the rotation of the torus would follow the gravity of the black hole; but what Imanishi and his team found indicated that gas and dust in the torus also exhibit signs of highly random motion.

These could be an indication that the AGN at the center of M77 had a violent history, which could include merging with a small galaxy in the past. In short, the team’s observations indicate that galactic mergers may have a significant impact on how AGNs form and behave. In this respect, their observations of M77s torus are already providing clues as to the galaxy’s history and evolution.

NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope captured this stunning infrared image of the center of the Milky Way Galaxy, where the black hole Sagitarrius A resides. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The study of SMBHs, while intensive, is also very challenging. On the one hand, the closest SMBH (Sagitarrius A*) is relatively quiet, with only a small amount of gas accreting onto it. At the same time, it is located at the center of our galaxy, where it is obscured by intervening dust, gas and stars. As such, astronomers are forced to look to other galaxies to study how SMBHs and their galaxies co-exist.

And thanks to decades of study and improvements in instrumentation, scientists are beginning to get a clear glimpse of these mysterious regions for the first time. By being able to study them in detail, astronomers are also gaining valuable insight into how such massive black holes and their ringed structures could coexist with their galaxies over time.

Further Reading: ALMA, arXiv

The post Astronomers Observe the Rotating Accretion Disk Around the Supermassive Black Hole in M77 appeared first on Universe Today.

Categories: Science

How you speak predicts if psychedelic therapy will help you

New Scientist Feed - Tue, 02/20/2018 - 9:51am
Psilocybin, a compound in magic mushrooms, may help treat depression in some people. Now speech analysis can indicate who would benefit the most
Categories: Science

NASA's James Webb Space Telescope to reveal secrets of the Red Planet

Space and time from Science Daily Feed - Tue, 02/20/2018 - 9:47am
Mars rovers and orbiters have found signs that Mars once hosted liquid water on its surface. Much of that water escaped over time. How much water was lost, and how does the water that’s left move from ice to atmosphere to soil? During its first year of operations, NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope will seek answers. Webb also will study mysterious methane plumes that hint at possible geological or even biological activity.
Categories: Science

Researchers invent tiny, light-powered wires to modulate brain's electrical signals

Matter and energy from Science Daily Feed - Tue, 02/20/2018 - 9:47am
A new study shows how tiny, light-powered wires could be fashioned out of silicon to manipulate electrical signaling between neurons. The research offers a new avenue to shed light on--and perhaps someday treat--brain disorders.
Categories: Science

Brain aging may begin earlier than expected

Matter and energy from Science Daily Feed - Tue, 02/20/2018 - 9:45am
Physicists have devised a new method of investigating brain function, opening a new frontier in the diagnoses of neurodegenerative and aging related diseases.
Categories: Science

Laser-ranged satellite measurement now accurately reflects Earth's tidal perturbations

Space and time from Science Daily Feed - Tue, 02/20/2018 - 9:30am
Tides on Earth have a far-reaching influence, including disturbing satellites' measurements by affecting their motion. The LAser RElativity Satellite (LARES), is the best ever relevant test particle to move in the Earth's gravitational field. In a new study, LARES proves its efficiency for high-precision probing of General Relativity and fundamental physics.
Categories: Science

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