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Microscopic solution prevents tip of scanning tunneling microscope from hitting surface

Matter and energy from Science Daily Feed - Wed, 02/21/2018 - 9:29am
Researchers believe they have addressed a long-standing problem troubling scientists and engineers for more than 35 years: How to prevent the tip of a scanning tunneling microscope from crashing into the surface of a material during imaging or lithography.
Categories: Science

Evolution plays many tricks against large-scale bioproduction

Matter and energy from Science Daily Feed - Wed, 02/21/2018 - 9:29am
Ultra-deep DNA sequencing of thousands of cells uncovers many competing mechanisms of evolution as a threat to efficient scale-up of biobased chemicals production. Evolution plays an underestimated role in bioprocesses and limits yields much more than previously anticipated.
Categories: Science

Fur real: Scientists improve computer rendering of animal fur

Matter and energy from Science Daily Feed - Wed, 02/21/2018 - 9:29am
The next computer-generated animals in King Kong or The Lion King could look a lot more realistic thanks to a breakthrough by computer scientists. The researchers developed a method that dramatically improves the way computers simulate fur, and more specifically, the way light bounces within an animal's pelt.
Categories: Science

Macy’s sells hijabs; Linda Sarsour and Masih Alinejad debate the garment

Why Evolution is True Feed - Wed, 02/21/2018 - 9:05am

In the article below, CNN reports on Macy’s (a department store’s) decision to sell fashionable hijabs. I don’t care whether they do or not, though it’s a bit incongruous (and oxymoronic) to talk of “modest, fashionable clothing.” As a veiled Muslim women, you’re not supposed to call attention to yourself, and a spiffy hijab (or makeup) will do just that, defeating the religious purpose of the veil—the “modesty” part. But Macy’s has a chance to cash in on Muslim women’s desire to look good, so why not?

Click on the screenshot to go to the piece.

What’s more interesting in this article is the debate it gives: a back-and-forth between Linda Sarsour, co-head of the Women’s March, professional victim, and rapaciously ambitious grifter, and Masih Alinejad, Iranian activist and founder of the admirable #MyStealthyFreedom campaign, which displays Iranian women illegally removing their hijabs.

I can’t quite make out what’s going on in the discussion, for it sounds as if Sarsour and Alinejad are talking past each other. Sarsour constantly wants to emphasize that her hijab is her personal choice, and she’s been the victim of “Islamophobia” for wearing it. In contrast, Alinejad calls attention back to the plight of women in Iran (and other countries) where veiling is not a choice.

Of course I’m biased in favor of Alinjad, and so my take may be colored by that, but it seems to me that Sarsour is, as she so often does, wallowing in her personal victimhood. In reality, Sarsour, while she may be vilified, is vilified more for her views on Islam, and her polarizing ideology—including favoring sharia law—than for being a Muslim.

That, at least, is what I get out of these exchanges, in which Sarsour reluctantly seems to decry oppression in the Middle East:

MA: I don’t see any Muslim communities in the West being loud and condemning compulsory hijab, especially you, when people of Iran are putting themselves in danger and risking their lives. I was loud enough to condemn both the burkini ban and travel ban, but I never saw the feminists in the West condemning compulsory hijab when they go to my country… They go to Iran and they obey it … All I see is double standards and hypocrisy.

LS: I will say on a personal level that I’ve been very vocal in support of Iranian women. For me, hijab is only a form of oppression when a government forces it on people, when a father forces it on his daughter or when a husband forces it on his wife. For me, as a woman who chooses to wear hijab, it is not a form of oppression and I will not be pushed into a position by anyone to say that hijab is a form of oppression.

Note Sarsour’s transition from saying that the hijab is often a form of oppression to asserting that she “will not say the hijab is a form of oppression.” That’s a movement from the personal to the general.

There’s this, too:

CNN: What are your thoughts on the current protests against compulsory hijab in Iran?

MA: Twenty-nine women who practiced civil disobedience, who peacefully took off their hijab, they are in prison. It’s a global issue and we should all condemn it. We shouldn’t let any feminists in the West downplay our cause and say this is a small issue, it’s not.

LS: Sister, I think I think the issue here is not whether or not we think it’s important … the issue is the narrative. In the United States, we as Muslim woman are attacked saying that we are upholding a system of oppression by wearing hijab. So we have a narrative we have to fight by saying we stand with women who choose not to wear hijab, and I will unequivocally say here that I stand with the brave courageous woman in Iran who are standing against compulsory hijab, but they also need us to create a narrative that says you also stand with my right as a Muslim woman in America who is having to endure Islamophobia.

Note that to Sarsour “the issue is the narrative,” not what counts as real and important oppression. Sarsour would rather maintain a “narrative” that gives lip service to the women in the countries of the Middle East (including the country of her parents’ origin, Palestine) but to always keep the narrative on Islamophobia, which of course Sarsour claims to be a victim of. That is what gives her credibility among feminists, even though Islam itself is one of the most anti-feminist ideologies I can think of.

There’s more, but I’ll add just one more exchange:

CNN: Why do you think hijab has become so politicized?

MA: I’m coming from a country where for four decades the Islamic Republic of Iran wrote its ideology message on our bodies. We won’t be able to get an education from the age of seven if we don’t wear it. We won’t be able to live in our own country.

LS: Hijab is solely a spiritual practice, but unfortunately there have been people who have taken it, including governments, to control women’s bodies. I hope we end this conversation by saying that you and I are actually a lot closer in what we believe that we think we are.

“Solely a spiritual practice”? I think Sarsour has it backwards. She wants it to be a spiritual practice, as that divorces the garment from its misogynistic origin, developed in post-Qur’anic Islamic theology. Every school of Islam, so far as I know, endorses the wearing of the hijab as a garment of modesty, so its wearing didn’t spread as a “spiritual practice.”

If wearing hijab was a “spiritual” practice by Muslims, then in the 1960s and 1970s, Muslim women in Iran, and Afghanistan would have been largely covered. But they weren’t, and protested when the theocracies made the hijab compulsory.  It has always been a “garment of modesty”, with some women choosing to abjure that modesty for choice and modernity. (Yes, I’ll admit that some Muslim women wear it not out of modesty considerations, but as a sign of their faith. But those motivations are deeply entwined.)

It is by wearing the hijab that Sarsour can claim victimhood. Yes, there have been cases in which bigots have ripped off hijabs or mocked their wearers to their faces. I find those actions shameful. Although that hasn’t happened to Sarsour, she claims the victimhood narrative of others, which she hopes to use as a crane to hoist her to Congress; and she’ll cry “Islamophobia” at every opportunity. Wearing the hijab is the best overt signal of your victimhood. In Iran it’s an unwanted one, but for Sarsour it’s a signal she embraces.


Categories: Science

Rock dusting on farms could cool the climate, so let’s try it

New Scientist Feed - Wed, 02/21/2018 - 8:36am
Crushed basalt applied to agricultural land could soak up billions of tons of carbon dioxide and boost crops. Let's put it to the test, says Olive Heffernan
Categories: Science

There are six of them?

Pharyngula Feed - Wed, 02/21/2018 - 8:28am

I saw the first Sharknado movie — it failed to reach the low, low standard of being so bad it was entertaining. But now I learn that there have been multiple sequels, and they’re working on a sixth? I think they’re reaching. I didn’t watch 2, 3, 4, or 5 — didn’t even know they existed — and the synopsis of #6 doesn’t appeal at all.

After losing his family to the deadly sharknados, Fin (played by Ian Ziering) discovers the ability to travel through time using the sharknados as a sort of portal. His mission is to bring his family back to life through the powers of time travel and/or prevent the threat of the terrifying fish funnels altogether. In a new spin on Sharknado 5‘s world-traveling plot, Fin’s time traveling will bring him in contact with all manner of legends and historical figures. You can read the full synopsis below:

“All is lost, or is it? Fin unlocks the time-traveling power of the SHARKNADOS in order to save the world and resurrect his family. In his quest, Fin fights Nazis, dinosaurs, knights, and even takes a ride on Noah’s Ark. This time, it’s not how to stop the sharknados, it’s when.”

The movie poster shows the hero holding a chainsaw. There must always be a chainsaw.

I hear there’s a Fifty Shades of Grey sequel. The concept makes my stomach churn, but I think I’d rather see that. Or maybe I’d rather give in to a masochistic urge to bleach my eyeballs. So many choices!

Categories: Science

Gun legislation turned down by Florida legislature; Dinesh D’Souza mocks students lobbying to get it passed

Why Evolution is True Feed - Wed, 02/21/2018 - 7:20am

Over the past two days, the evening news has featured distraught, angry, and determined Florida students marching on the state legislature, stunned about the 17 students shot by Nikolas Cruz, but bent on ensuring that it won’t happen again. Many of the lobbyists were classmates of the slain students.  I thought to myself, “If anybody can change this country’s attitudes towards guns, it’ll be the young people who were the targets of those guns.” I hoped mightily that Florida, and then the country, would at last begin to respond. Dare I hope that this might be the turning point in the struggle against America’s senseless proliferation of weapons—especially assault weapons?

No chance. As I predicted, we’ll have a brief flurry of anger and calls for new gun laws, and then it’ll be business as usual. Far too many Americans see student lives as collateral damage to the necessary production and ownership of guns. That’s just sick.

Of course Florida turned a deaf ear to those students. As ABC 10 reports, just one day after the students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School went to Tallahassee, Florida to lobby for gun control at the state capitol, the House voted down a motion to ban assault weapons like the AR-15 used by Cruz. The vote wasn’t even close: 36-71.  And it’s ASSAULT WEAPONS!  There is no reason to allow these even if you think that the Second Amendment should permit personal possession of weapons for self defense.

The students were devastated, as they should be, watching a bunch of Republicans vote down sensible restrictions on the very gun that had shattered the bodies of their friends. They watched and wept:

And Dinesh D’Souza, odious human being that he is (he’s supposed to be a pious Christian), brutally and cruelly mocked these students on Twitter:

How lame a human being must you be to say things like this? Reader Pliny the in Between adds a comment:


h/t: Grania, Hempenstein

Categories: Science

Billy Graham is dead

Pharyngula Feed - Wed, 02/21/2018 - 7:06am

Y’all remember Billy Graham, right?

On the account of James Warren in the Chicago Tribune, who has filed excellent stories down the years on Nixon’s tapes, in this 1972 Oval Office session between Nixon, Haldeman and Graham, the President raises a topic about which “we can’t talk about it publicly,” namely Jewish influence in Hollywood and the media.

Nixon cites Paul Keyes, a political conservative who was executive producer of the NBC hit, “Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In,” as telling him that “11 of the 12 writers are Jewish.”

“That right?” says Graham, prompting Nixon to claim that Life magazine, Newsweek, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and others, are “totally dominated by the Jews.”

Nixon says network TV anchors Howard K. Smith, David Brinkley and Walter Cronkite “front men who may not be of that persuasion,” but that their writers are “95 percent Jewish.”

“This stranglehold has got to be broken or the country’s going down the drain,” the nation’s best-known preacher declares.

“You believe that?” Nixon says.

“Yes, sir,” Graham says.

“Oh, boy,” replies Nixon.

“So do I. I can’t ever say that but I believe it.”

“No, but if you get elected a second time, then we might be able to do something,” Graham replies.

Magnanimously Nixon concedes that this does not mean “that all the Jews are bad,” but that most are left-wing radicals who want “peace at any price except where support for Israel is concerned. The best Jews are actually the Israeli Jews.”

“That’s right,” agrees Graham, who later concurs with a Nixon assertion that a “powerful bloc” of Jews confronts Nixon in the media.

“And they’re the ones putting out the pornographic stuff,” Graham adds.

Later Graham says that “a lot of the Jews are great friends of mine. They swarm around me and are friendly to me. Because they know I am friendly to Israel and so forth. They don’t know how I really feel about what they’re doing to this country.”

After Graham’s departure Nixon says to Haldeman, “You know it was good we got this point about the Jews across.”

“It’s a shocking point,” Haldeman replies.

“Well,” says Nixon, “It’s also, the Jews are irreligious, atheistic, immoral bunch of bastards.”

Now look at how the cookie-cutter obituaries in the major news media are translating this:

The skinny preacher with the booming voice evangelized to nearly 215 million people over six decades and prayed with US presidents from Harry Truman to Barack Obama.

Several presidents, including Lyndon Johnson, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, relied closely on his spiritual counsel.

Let’s not mention what his ‘counsel’ was, mmm-kay? Might expose the dishonesty of the phrase “Judeo-Christian” that evangelicals love to tout.

But now he’s dead. Good. Wish it had happened a few decades earlier.

Categories: Science

Jesus ‘n’ Mo ‘n’ gender identity

Why Evolution is True Feed - Wed, 02/21/2018 - 6:30am

Today’s Jesus and Mo, called “self,” is a wry comment on Islamic misogyny using tropes from transexualism. Now Mo can claim double victim status!

Categories: Science

Some black holes erase your past

Space and time from Science Daily Feed - Wed, 02/21/2018 - 6:13am
Physicists insist on determinism: your past and present determine your future uniquely, per Einstein's equations of general relativity. They call this strong cosmic censorship. A mathematician found some types of black holes -- charged, non-rotating objects in an expanding universe -- that allow an observer inside the black hole to travel across a horizon into a place where the past is obliterated and there are an infinite number of possible futures for every initial state.
Categories: Science

Microscale thermophoresis to characterize hits from high-throughput screening

Matter and energy from Science Daily Feed - Wed, 02/21/2018 - 6:13am
A new article details how the European Lead Factory (ELF), a large publicly accessible drug discovery platform, uses microscale thermophoresis (MST) to aid in the prioritization of small molecule hits from high-throughput screening.
Categories: Science

Billy Graham died

Why Evolution is True Feed - Wed, 02/21/2018 - 6:00am

In all honesty (but I’m always honest, of course), I didn’t know Billy Graham was still alive. It turns out he was 99, and died today at his home in North Carolina.  He was known as the “Pastor to Presidents”, and was there for every American President from Harry Truman through Barack Obama. One of the first televangelists, he was a Southern Baptist estimated to have preached to more humans than anyone in the history of Christianity.  Through his “crusades” (400 of them in 185 countries), he’s said to have persuaded over 3 million people to “accept Jesus Christ as their personal lord and savior.”

What a waste of a life—preaching fiction and delusion to the masses. My sympathies go to his family and friends, but at least one of his sons is continuing the charade.


Categories: Science

Huge underwater landslides and tsunamis may be caused by ooze

New Scientist Feed - Wed, 02/21/2018 - 6:00am
Layers of ooze in the seabed may be responsible for submarine “megaslides” that dwarf ordinary landslides and can cause tsunamis
Categories: Science

Biohackers: irresponsible showboats trusting homeostasis to keep them alive

Pharyngula Feed - Wed, 02/21/2018 - 5:42am

Look. When this guy thinks maybe biohacking has gone too far, you know biohacking has gone too far.

Zayner is no stranger to stunts in biohacking—loosely defined as experiments, often on the self, that take place outside of traditional lab spaces. You might say he invented their latest incarnation: He’s sterilized his body to “transplant” his entire microbiome in front of a reporter. He’s squabbled with the FDA about selling a kit to make glow-in-the-dark beer. He’s extensively documented attempts to genetically engineer the color of his skin. And most notoriously, he injected his arm with DNA encoding for CRISPR that could theoretically enhance his muscles—in between taking swigs of Scotch at a live-streamed event during an October conference. (Experts say—and even Zayner himself in the live-stream conceded—it’s unlikely to work.)

Josiah Zayner has done lots of stupid stunts. Now he calls himself a “social activist”, which apparently in his mind means someone who does irresponsible and ineffective stunts to provoke the public to be similarly irresponsible. Now he’s waking up, a little bit, to what he’s been doing.

I didn’t realize what my actions could result in. I’m just starting to come to grips with that.

Biology is really, really complicated, minor changes can have radical consequences, and we don’t understand 90% of it. OK, 95%. Maybe 99%. When people’s lives are at stake, you poke at it very, very cautiously, because you don’t know what kind of cascading systems failure you’re going to trigger. The system does exhibit a lot of resilience that helps maintain equilibrium, which means these showboats can play games that mostly do nothing, giving the misleading idea that they’re harmless, but all it takes is one accident to set everyone back. Responsibility is an important concept in science.

Categories: Science

Readers’ wildlife photos

Why Evolution is True Feed - Wed, 02/21/2018 - 5:30am

Today we have reader Tony Eales’s photos from Australia, featuring insect and spider mimicry. His notes are indented.

Some more camouflage and mimicry. First I can’t stop photographing these ant-mimicking Jumping Spiders. This photo at least gives a bit of scale for how small these little arachnids are. It’s a Myrmarachne cf luctuosa. These are relatively common, but there’s a lot of slightly different forms—some of which are probably undescribed species.

Next is a tephritid fruit fly that mimics jumping spiders probably for protection. This species is Oedaspis goodenia but there are several species with similar patterns. The patterns on the wings when held out look like a head-on silhouette of a Jumping Spider and they will make movements of the wings that increase the resemblance and mimic spider to spider threat displays of a jumping spider. Here’s one paper that looks at the phenomenon.

This next photo is an interesting colour form of Stephanopis sp, the Knobbly Crab Spider. It’s larger than the average Stephanopis. And its colouration perfectly mimics the common lichen found on the tree bark.

JAC: Here’s another photo of an S. antifrons, mimicking bark, from Brisbane Insects:

Lastly yet another Lycid Beetle mimic (boy, Lycid beetles must taste awful!). I sent a collection of Lycid mimics once before. The mimic in this case is a species of Belid Weevil, the Red Belid Weevil (Rhinotia haemoptera)which I only had a blurry photo of before. For reference I have included a shot I took of what I think is the model, the Red-shouldered Lycid Beetle, Trichalus ampliatus.


Putative model if this is a case of Batesian mimicy:

Categories: Science

Contemptible disinformation

Pharyngula Feed - Wed, 02/21/2018 - 5:20am

It happens every time. A terrible event happens, and despicable conspiracy theorists/propaganda agents respond by spreading terrible lies. It’s happening right now with the survivors of the Parkland shooting, a concerted effort to discredit anyone who criticizes the status quo by lying about the event.

Some students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School immediately took to social media calling on President Donald Trump and Congress to do something about guns and calling out commentators like Fox’s Tomi Lahren for saying now wasn’t the time to talk about guns. David Hogg, a student journalist who interviewed students on lockdown during the shooting, made several TV appearances demanding leaders take action. Another student, Emma Gonzalez, called out the National Rifle Association (NRA) and the legislators who do its bidding. Melissa Falkowski, a teacher at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, went on CNN calling on Congress to do more to “to end gun violence, to keep our kids safe.” Lori Alhadeff, whose 14-year-old daughter was killed, screamed at President Trump on CNN to “do something.” Student survivors are organizing a march on Washington D.C..

And now, Parkland survivors are targets for fake news campaigns, conspiracy theories, harassment and doxxing. Conspiracy theorist Alex Jones has already suggested that the entire shooting is a false flag, which implies that all of the survivors are actors in an elaborate hoax. As survivors speak up, there are already attempts to attack and discredit them individually.

There are tells that let you know these sources are lying to you. These words are dead giveaways: False flag and Crisis actor. You see someone babbling about that, they’re simply awful, dishonest, crazy people. Another giveaway is when they start piecing together photos of the victims or the crime scene and try to match them to other photos they’ve crudely googled to pretend that the actual victims were actually in Hawaii or something, when all they’ve demonstrated is that people resemble other people. Just shut them down.

There are some people/sources that have negative credibility.

Alex Jones
Tucker Carlson
Fox & Friends
Gateway Pundit
Lucian Wintrich
Dinesh D’Souza
Anyone with the last name “Trump”

And many more. One additional problem, though, is that Twitter has become the perfect propaganda machine — anyone can manipulate it to automate broadcasting thousands of tweets promoting the lies invented by other disinformation agents, masking their origin and making sound like they have a broad base of support.

This story is being run by "Gateway Pundit".
The first 10 accounts to retweet this story tweeted 42,654 times collectively in January. This is 1375 tweets a day.
Aka automated/contributing to computational propaganda. Being run to smear a kid who is mad he got shot at in school

— Molly McKew (@MollyMcKew) February 21, 2018

Information has become a tool to be twisted and manipulated by the right wing. We should be afraid. This is how democracies fall.

Categories: Science

Gun Violence as a Public Health Issue

Science-based Medicine Feed - Wed, 02/21/2018 - 5:10am
Gun violence is a serious public health issue in America but is not getting the research that it deserves. This needs to change.
Categories: Science

Wednesday: Hili dialogue

Why Evolution is True Feed - Wed, 02/21/2018 - 4:30am

Good morning on a wettish Wednesday, February 21, 2018. It’s Pancake Day, even though it’s not Shrove Tuesday, the traditional day to honor Our Lord by eating flapjacks. (Shrove Tuesday was eight days ago.) It’s also International Mother Language Day, a UNESCO holiday honoring multilingualism.

On February 21, 1613, the Romanov dynasty of Imperial Russia kicked off when Mikhail I was elected Tsar by the national assembly. In 1804, the world’s first self-propelled steam locomotive chugged out of the Pen-y-Darren Ironworks in Wales. On this day in 1848, Marx and Engels published The Communist Manifesto. Exactly 30 years later, the first telephone directory was published in New Haven, Connecticut. On this day in 1885, the newly built Washington Monument (555 feet high) was dedicated.  And in France, the Battle of Verdun began on February 21, 1916. It lasted ten months and the number of casualties could have been as high as a million.

It’s a sad day for biologists, for on this day in 1918, the very last Carolina parakeet (Conuropsis carolinensis) died in captivity at the Cincinnati Zoo.  The species was once widespread east of the Rockies, and represented the only indigenous American parrot in the region. That makes today the 100th anniversary of the species’ demise. The last bird had occupied the same cage earlier used by Martha, the very last passenger pigeon. The last parakeet’s name was Incas; his mate, Lady Jane, had expired a year earlier. Here’s a picture of a mounted specimen from Chicago’s Field Museum.


The “peace symbol” or “CND symbol” (Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament), was created on this day in 1958 by Gerald Holton working for the Direction Action Committee and protesting against the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment. Surely you know what it looks like, right? I used to wear one around my neck (on a leather thong) in the Sixties.

On this day in 1965, Malcolm X was assassinated at the Audubon Ballroom in New York City. And exactly a decade later, Attorney General John Mitchell and White House aides H. R. Haldeman and John Erlichman were sentenced to prison for their roles in the Watergate affair.

Notables born on this day include Rebecca Nurse (1621, hanged in Salem as a witch in 1692), John Henry Newman (1801),  Anaïs Nin (1903), W. H. Auden (1907), John Rawls (1921), Sam Peckinpah (1925), Kelsey Grammer (1955), David Foster Wallace (1962), Charlotte Church (1986) and Ellen Page (1987). Those who expired on this day, besides Incas (see above) include Baruch Spinoza (1677), Frederick Banning (1941), Eric “Muscular Christian” Liddell (1945), Malcolm X (1965; see above), Howard Florey (1968), Tim Horton (1974; his donuts remain with us), and Mikhail Sholokov (1984).

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili wonders what time it is. To be sure I understood this, I asked Malgorzata, who replied, “For Hili the time is always right (to get something scrumptious). There is no other reason to know what time it is.”

Cyrus: What’s the time? Hili: The right one. In Polish: Cyrus: Która godzina?
Hili: Właściwa.

And. . . . it’s Gusiversary! Gus is (roughly) 4 today, and here’s his story from staff Taskin:

Our previous cat, the all black Spook, had died in November and we decided we would not get another cat for a while. However, I have friends who work at a rural vet clinic and they often get stray cats coming in. The winter of 2014 was exceptionally cold, and a white cat was brought into the clinic after getting caught in a trap someone had set and not checked. He had pretty bad frostbite and was lucky to lose only his ears and skin on his paws. After fixing him up, my friends decided that since I had an all black cat before, I now needed an all white cat. They posted a picture of him on my Facebook page and several seconds later, I was adopting a new cat and naming him Gus!

Tadskin’s video of the lad, called “The mind of a cat”, with original music by the staff:

Here’s his staff’s favorite picture of Gus:

And a happy Gus from yesterday:

A tweet from  Heather Hastie: Are these kittens imitating rabbit hops, or just pouncing?

Categories: Science

A new study eases fears of a link between autism and prenatal ultrasounds

Science News Feed - Wed, 02/21/2018 - 4:00am
On almost every measure, prenatal ultrasounds doesn’t appear to be related to a risk of developing autism, a recent study finds.
Categories: Science

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 Coun—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


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