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Super Snow Moon of Feb 19 is the biggest full moon of 2019

Meghan Bartels

The second installment of this winter’s trio of supermoons, sometimes nicknamed the Super Snow Moon, will peak today (Feb. 19), so don’t forget to step outside and look up tonight.

The full moon technically occurs on at 10:53 a.m. EST (1553 GMT), but don’t despair if the morning light washes out the moon at the time: to the unpracticed eye, it will still look full tonight. In fact, of the three “supermoons” that start 2019, today’s full moon will be the biggest of the year.

If your weather looks threatening, you can also catch sight of the full moon online, thanks to live broadcasts from the Virtual Telescope Project based in Rome, beginning at 11:30 a.m. EST (1630 GMT), and from Slooh, beginning at 7 p.m. EST (000 GMT).

And it will be a particularly splendid sight, since the moon is at perigee just a few hours before it is full, hence the “supermoon” moniker. It will appear about 10 percent larger than an average full moon on account of being relatively close to Earth, just 221,681 miles (356,761 kilometers) away.

A so-called super moon appears a fraction larger than a typical full moon.

We humans enjoy the full moon because the entire near side, the half of the moon that faces us, is bathed in sunlight. But that of course means that the opposite side of the moon, the far side, is experiencing its night — and on the moon, that lasts about two terrestrial weeks.

During lunar night on the far side, temperatures can drop as low as minus 310 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 190 degrees Celsius), as China’s Chang’e- 4 lander and Yutu-2 rover have learned from their stay on the moon, which began on Jan. 3.

Both robots shut themselves down each night to wait out the cold. So tonight, as you look up at the full moon, spare a thought for the side of the moon you can never see directly and the two machines hard at work to solve its mysteries.

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Mountains bigger than Everest deep inside earth revealed by scientists

HIMALYA (Sputnik): The second largest earthquake on record allowed scientists to glimpse into the terrain under the planet’s surface, revealing peaks higher than the Himalayas.

Scientists were able to find the giant structures in seismic wave data captured during the 1994 Bolivia earthquake, a study published on Thursday in Science magazine revealed.

Earth’s mantle is a dense band of silicate rock that extends from the crust to the core, accounting for 84 percent of our planet’s volume. At 410 miles from the surface, a boundary known as the 660-kilometre discontinuity divides the mantle into its upper and lower levels.

The topography of that boundary is extremely hard to read because of its density, so one of the only ways to do so is with seismic waves. The waves meet different textures, minerals, and structures and bounce off them in a manner similar to how light waves reflect off objects, providing scientists with a seismic snapshot. Supercomputing the measurements from the quake allow scientists to reconstruct the structures at the boundary.

“We need big earthquakes to allow seismic waves to travel through the mantle and core, bounce off the 660-kilometre discontinuity, and travel all the way back through the Earth to be detected at the top of the crust,” Jessica Irving, a geophysicist at Princeton University and an author of the study, told Motherboard in an email.

Irving’s team used the data from the 1994 Bolivia earthquake, the second biggest deep earthquake on record — an 8.2 on the Richter scale — finding “stronger topography than the Rocky Mountains or the Appalachians” at the boundary.

“I can’t give you an estimated number,” Irving said, regarding the range’s altitude. “But the mountains on the 660-kilometre boundary could be bigger than Mount Everest.”

The ruggedness of the range may be due to an accumulation of old chunks of seafloor that get sucked into the mantle and then drift down to the boundary. The research, however, is incomplete, as scientists speculate that there could be ancient relics of Earth’s history inside the mantle. Further research could shed light about the evolution of our planet and how it was formed.

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SpaceX to lift Indonesia satellite on Feb 21

Monitoring Desk

CALIFORNIA: A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket will launch Indonesia’s PSN 6 communications satellite into orbit on February 21st from Cape Canaveral.

PSN 6 (for PT Pasifik Satelit Nusantara) was built by Space Systems/Loral (now part of Maxar technology) and will be placed at 146 degrees East.

The satellite carries 38 C-band and 18 Ku-band high-throughput transponders to provide voice and data communications, broadband Internet, and video distribution throughout the Indonesian archipelago. PSN-6 will employ conventional chemical propellant for east-west station-keeping in orbit.

The satellite had been expected to launch last year but SpaceX needed a co-passenger for the launch to be financially sensible. That client is the privately-funded SpaceIL Moon Lander, developed by Israel’s SpaceIL organisation plus some smaller scientific missions.

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The world’s most valuable resource is no longer oil, but data

Monitoring Desk

WASHINGTON: A NEW commodity spawns a lucrative, fast-growing industry, prompting antitrust regulators to step in to restrain those who control its flow.

A century ago, the resource in question was oil. Now similar concerns are being raised by the giants that deal in data, the oil of the digital era. These titans—Alphabet (Google’s parent company), Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Microsoft—look unstoppable. They are the five most valuable listed firms in the world. Their profits are surging: they collectively racked up over $25bn in net profit in the first quarter of 2017. Amazon captures half of all dollars spent online in America. Google and Facebook accounted for almost all the revenue growth in digital advertising in America last year.

Such dominance has prompted calls for the tech giants to be broken up, as Standard Oil was in the early 20th century. This newspaper has argued against such drastic action in the past. Size alone is not a crime. The giants’ success has benefited consumers. Few want to live without Google’s search engine, Amazon’s one-day delivery or Facebook’s newsfeed. Nor do these firms raise the alarm when standard antitrust tests are applied. Far from gouging consumers, many of their services are free (users pay, in effect, by handing over yet more data). Take account of offline rivals, and their market shares look less worrying. And the emergence of upstarts like Snapchat suggests that new entrants can still make waves.

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New research reveals mountains 660 km within Earth

Monitoring Desk

BEIJING: An international study has found mountains and other topography in a layer about 660 km underground that separates the upper and lower mantle of the Earth.

In the U.S. journal of Science published Friday, researchers from the Institute of Geodesy and Geophysics, Chinese Academy of Sciences, the California Institute of Technology, Princeton University and other research institutions reported that they used powerful waves generated by a magnitude 8.2 earthquake, the second-largest deep earthquake ever recorded that shook Bolivia in 1994, to peer deep into the Earth.

The Earth has three layers — the crust, mantle and core. Big earthquakes first impact the mantle, sending shockwaves traveling in all directions through the core to the other side of the planet and back again, providing valuable data for geoscience research.

As light waves bounce off a mirror or bend through a prism, earthquake waves can also reflect or refract when they encounter any roughness or boundary traveling through rocks below our feet.

Researchers used powerful computers including Princeton University’s Tiger Supercomputer cluster to simulate the complicated scattering of earthquake waves in the deep Earth.

Their statistic models show that the scattering earthquake waves encountered a boundary 660 km within the Earth. It is a stronger and rougher topography than the surface layer that people live on, and there is a chance that these underground mountains are bigger than anything on the surface of the Earth.

Meanwhile, the roughness wasn’t equally distributed as the crust’s surface has ocean floors and mountains.

According to the researchers, the presence of roughness on the 660-km boundary has significant implications for understanding how our planet formed and continues to function, providing new information to understand the fate of ancient tectonic plates which have descended into the mantle.

Christine Houser, a seismologist and assistant professor at the Tokyo Institute of Technology who was not involved in this research, said in a peer-reviewed article that the results might help answer fundamental questions about the Earth’s evolution.

The research was supported by the National Basic Research Program of China, the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the National Natural Science Foundation of China and the National Science Foundation.

Courtesy: (Xinhua)

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Russia could send heavy Mining-Capable rover to moon after 2030

MOSCOW (Sputnik) – Russia plans to deliver a reusable cargo spacecraft, a heavy lunar rover for mining and modules for a lunar base to the Moon in 2031–2035, a source in the Russian space industry told Sputnik on Sunday.

“Lavochkin NPO offers Roscosmos and the Russian Academy of Sciences to launch four automatic spacecraft to the Moon from 2031 to 2035. Thus, the Luna-30 lander will deliver a reusable lunar spacecraft with supplies for manned missions. The Luna-31 lander will bring to the Moon a heavy lunar rover weighing up to 5 tonnes, equipped with the necessary means to develop lunar resources”, the source said.

The Luna-32 lander will deliver heavy modules weighing up to 6 tonnes for the construction of the lunar test range, and the launch of the Luna-33 orbiter will provide necessary means of communication and navigation, he added.

In early January, head of Russia’s Roscosmos space corporation, Dmitry Rogozin, said that the Luna-25 would be sent to the Moon in 2021, the Luna-26 orbiter in 2023 and the Luna-27 lander in 2024.

The Luna-25 mission will search for ice at the Moon’s south pole, and will also test soft landing. This will be the first Russian mission to the Earth’s natural satellite after a 40-year hiatus. The last Soviet spacecraft sent to the Moon, the Luna-24, was launched in 1976.

The Luna-26 orbiter will conduct mapping and remote sensing of the Moon. The Luna-27 lander take samples of soil at the south pole of the Moon and study it.

In 2027, the Luna-28 lander is scheduled to take cryogenic soil samples to the Earth from the south pole of the Moon. In 2028, the Luna-29 lander will deliver a rover to the Moon.

According to Roscosmos, the construction of the first Russian lunar base is set to begin in 2034.

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Fears flood water runoff could ‘smother’ Barrier Reef

Monitoring Desk

MELBOURNE: Runoff from recent floods in northern Australia is flowing onto parts of the Barrier Reef, scientists said Friday, starving coral of light and providing fodder for the predatory crown-of-thorns starfish.

Parts of northern Queensland are still reeling after nearly two weeks of unprecedented rainfall that turned roads into rivers and inundated hundreds of homes with floodwater.

Scientists at James Cook University say the floods swelled a number of rivers along hundreds of kilometres of coastline, spilling sediment onto the reef which has reduced water quality and much-needed sunlight.

“Coral reef and seagrass need light to maintain their growth and health,” researcher Jane Waterhouse from James Cook University told AFP.

Calm weather following the extended period of rain means the murky water is yet to disperse.

It threatens to “smother” coral in areas worst hit, like at the mouth of north Queensland’s Burdekin river, where a brown flood plume has spread some 100 kilometres offshore.

“If that were to stay there then eventually, it would not take that long for some of those systems to die off,” Waterhouse added.

The effects will not be fully understood until monitoring was completed over the next few of months after sediment has dispersed and settled.

The 2,300-kilometre (1,400-mile) reef has already suffered from back-to-back coral bleaching in 2016 and 2017, where swathes have been killed by rising sea temperatures linked to climate change.

The predatory crown-of-thorns starfish, which eat coral, have also proliferated on the reef due to pollution and agricultural runoff.

The recent floods have exacerbated the runoff, causing algae to grow in some areas.

“This provides a brilliant food source to allow those populations to thrive,” Waterhouse added.

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Giving keener ‘electric eyesight’ to autonomous vehicles

Rob Matheson

Autonomous vehicles relying on light-based image sensors often struggle to see through blinding conditions, such as fog. But MIT researchers have developed a sub-terahertz-radiation receiving system that could help steer driverless cars when traditional methods fail.

Sub-terahertz wavelengths, which are between microwave and infrared radiation on the electromagnetic spectrum, can be detected through fog and dust clouds with ease, whereas the infrared-based LiDAR imaging systems used in autonomous vehicles struggle. To detect objects, a sub-terahertz imaging system sends an initial signal through a transmitter; a receiver then measures the absorption and reflection of the rebounding sub-terahertz wavelengths. That sends a signal to a processor that recreates an image of the object.

But implementing sub-terahertz sensors into driverless cars is challenging. Sensitive, accurate object-recognition requires a strong output baseband signal from receiver to processor. Traditional systems, made of discrete components that produce such signals, are large and expensive. Smaller, on-chip sensor arrays exist, but they produce weak signals.

In a paper published online on Feb. 8 by the IEEE Journal of Solid-State Circuits, the researchers describe a two-dimensional, sub-terahertz receiving array on a chip that’s orders of magnitude more sensitive, meaning it can better capture and interpret sub-terahertz wavelengths in the presence of a lot of signal noise.

To achieve this, they implemented a scheme of independent signal-mixing pixels—called “heterodyne detectors”—that are usually very difficult to densely integrate into chips. The researchers drastically shrank the size of the heterodyne detectors so that many of them can fit into a chip. The trick was to create a compact, multipurpose component that can simultaneously down-mix input signals, synchronize the pixel array, and produce strong output baseband signals.

The researchers built a prototype, which has a 32-pixel array integrated on a 1.2-square-millimeter device. The pixels are approximately 4,300 times more sensitive than the pixels in today’s best on-chip sub-terahertz array sensors. With a little more development, the chip could potentially be used in driverless cars and autonomous robots.

“A big motivation for this work is having better ‘electric eyes’ for autonomous vehicles and drones,” says co-author Ruonan Han, an associate professor of electrical engineering and computer science, and director of the Terahertz Integrated Electronics Group in the MIT Microsystems Technology Laboratories (MTL). “Our low-cost, on-chip sub-terahertz sensors will play a complementary role to LiDAR for when the environment is rough.”

Joining Han on the paper are first author Zhi Hu and co-author Cheng Wang, both Ph.D. students in in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science working in Han’s research group.

Decentralized design

The key to the design is what the researchers call “decentralization.” In this design, a single pixel—called a “heterodyne” pixel—generates the frequency beat (the frequency difference between two incoming sub-terahertz signals) and the “local oscillation,” an electrical signal that changes the frequency of an input frequency. This “down-mixing” process produces a signal in the megahertz range that can be easily interpreted by a baseband processor.

The output signal can be used to calculate the distance of objects, similar to how LiDAR calculates the time it takes a laser to hit an object and rebound. In addition, combining the output signals of an array of pixels, and steering the pixels in a certain direction, can enable high-resolution images of a scene. This allows for not only the detection but also the recognition of objects, which is critical in autonomous vehicles and robots.

Heterodyne pixel arrays work only when the local oscillation signals from all pixels are synchronized, meaning that a signal-synchronizing technique is needed. Centralized designs include a single hub that shares local oscillation signals to all pixels.

These designs are usually used by receivers of lower frequencies, and can cause issues at sub-terahertz frequency bands, where generating a high-power signal from a single hub is notoriously difficult. As the array scales up, the power shared by each pixel decreases, reducing the output baseband signal strength, which is highly dependent on the power of local oscillation signal. As a result, a signal generated by each pixel can be very weak, leading to low sensitivity. Some on-chip sensors have started using this design, but are limited to eight pixels.

The researchers’ decentralized design tackles this scale-sensitivity trade-off. Each pixel generates its own local oscillation signal, used for receiving and down-mixing the incoming signal. In addition, an integrated coupler synchronizes its local oscillation signal with that of its neighbor. This gives each pixel more output power, since the local oscillation signal does not flow from a global hub.

A good analogy for the new decentralized design is an irrigation system, Han says. A traditional irrigation system has one pump that directs a powerful stream of water through a pipeline network that distributes water to many sprinkler sites. Each sprinkler spits out water that has a much weaker flow than the initial flow from the pump. If you want the sprinklers to pulse at the exact same rate, that would require another control system.

The researchers’ design, on the other hand, gives each site its own water pump, eliminating the need for connecting pipelines, and gives each sprinkler its own powerful water output. Each sprinkler also communicates with its neighbor to synchronize their pulse rates. “With our design, there’s essentially no boundary for scalability,” Han says. “You can have as many sites as you want, and each site still pumps out the same amount of water … and all pumps pulse together.”

The new architecture, however, potentially makes the footprint of each pixel much larger, which poses a great challenge to the large-scale, high-density integration in an array fashion. In their design, the researchers combined various functions of four traditionally separate components—antenna, downmixer, oscillator, and coupler—into a single “multitasking” component given to each pixel. This allows for a decentralized design of 32 pixels.

“We designed a multifunctional component for a [decentralized] design on a chip and combine a few discrete structures to shrink the size of each pixel,” Hu says. “Even though each pixel performs complicated operations, it keeps its compactness, so we can still have a large-scale dense array.”

Guided by frequencies

In order for the system to gauge an object’s distance, the frequency of the local oscillation signal must be stable.

To that end, the researchers incorporated into their chip a component called a phase-locked loop, that locks the sub-terahertz frequency of all 32 local oscillation signals to a stable, low-frequency reference. Because the pixels are coupled, their local oscillation signals all share identical, high-stability phase and frequency. This ensures that meaningful information can be extracted from the output baseband signals. This entire architecture minimizes signal loss and maximizes control.

“In summary, we achieve a coherent array, at the same time with very high local oscillation power for each pixel, so each pixel achieves high sensitivity,” Hu says.

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As ice melts, Greenland could turn into big sand exporter: Scientists

OSLO (Reuters): Greenland could start to export sand in a rare positive spin-off from global warming that is melting the island’s vast ice sheet and washing large amounts of sediment into the sea, scientists have said.

Mining of sand and gravel, widely used in the construction industry, could boost the economy for Greenland’s population of 56,000 who have wide powers of self-rule within Denmark but rely heavily on subsidies from Copenhagen.

By mining sand, “Greenland could benefit from the challenges brought by climate change”, a team of scientists in Denmark and the United States wrote in the journal Nature Sustainability on Monday.

The study, headlined “Promises and perils of sand exploitation in Greenland”, said the Arctic island would have to assess risks of coastal mining, especially to fisheries.

Rising temperatures are melting the Greenland ice sheet, which locks up enough water to raise global sea levels by about 7m if it ever all thawed. The result: more sand and gravel being washed into coastal fjords.

“You can think of it (the melting ice) as a tap that pours out sediment to the coast,” said lead author Mette Bendixen, a researcher at the University of Colorado’s Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research.

Worldwide demand for sand totalled about 9.55 billion tonnes in 2017 with a market value of US$99.5 billion (S$135.4 billion) and is projected to reach almost US$481 billion in 2100, driven by rising demand and likely shortages, the study said. That means a rare opportunity for Greenland.

“Normally the Arctic peoples are among those who really feel climate change – the eroding coast, less permafrost,” said Ms Bendixen. “This is a unique situation because of the melting ice sheet.”

Mr David Boertmann of Aarhus University, who was not involved in the study, said there was already some local mining of sand for the domestic construction industry in Greenland.

The drawbacks for Greenland, common to other mining projects on the island ranging from uranium to rare earth minerals, include the distance to markets in Europe and North America, he said.

Still, Ms Bendixen said sand was already often transported over long distances, such as to Los Angeles from Vancouver or from Australia to Dubai.

“At the moment it is an inexpensive resource but it will become more expensive,” she said.

The study said that sand and gravel might also be used in future to reinforce beaches and coastlines that are at risk of rising sea levels, caused in part by Greenland’s thaw.

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Earth’s ecosystems at risk as insects dying at record rates

Monitoring Desk

TEHRAN: The research, the first global review of its kind, looked at 73 historical reports on insect declines around the world and found the total mass of all insects on the planets is decreasing by 2.5% per year.

There have been warning signs for years about plummeting insect populations worldwide, but the extent of the potentially “catastrophic” crisis had not been well-understood — until now.

The first global scientific review of insect population decline was published this week in the journal Biological Conservation and the findings are “shocking,” its authors said, Huffington Post reported.

More than 40 percent of insect species are dwindling globally and a third of species are endangered, concluded the peer-reviewed study, which analyzed 73 historical reports on insect population declines.

Chillingly, the total mass of insects is falling by 2.5 percent annually, the review’s authors said. If the decline continues at this rate, insects could be wiped off the face of the Earth within a century.

“It is very rapid. In 10 years you will have a quarter less, in 50 years only half left and in 100 years you will have none,” study co-author Francisco Sánchez-Bayo, an environmental biologist at the University of Sydney, Australia, told The Guardian.

“If insect species losses cannot be halted, this will have catastrophic consequences for both the planet’s ecosystems and for the survival of mankind,” Sánchez-Bayo added.

Scientists have warned that a human-caused sixth mass extinction is now underway on Earth. Vertebrate species, both on land and under the sea, are threatened at a global scale because of human activities.

But according to the new review, the proportion of insects in decline is currently twice as high as that of vertebrates and the insect extinction rate is eight times faster than that of mammals, birds and reptiles.

Insects play a profoundly important role in Earth’s ecosystems. They are a food source for many animals, are critical pollinators and recycle nutrients back into the soil.

In a November New York Times report about a possible “insect apocalypse,” scientists were asked to imagine a world with no insects.

They found “words like chaos, collapse, Armageddon,” the Times wrote. ”[One entomologist] describes a flowerless world with silent forests, a world of dung and old leaves and rotting carcasses accumulating in cities and roadsides, a world of ‘collapse or decay and erosion and loss that would spread through ecosystems.’”

According to the new scientific review, habitat loss because of intensive agriculture is the top driver of insect population declines. The heavy use of pesticides, climate change and invasive species were also pinpointed as significant causes.

“Unless we change our ways of producing food, insects as a whole will go down the path of extinction in a few decades,” the review’s co-authors wrote. “The repercussions this will have for the planet’s ecosystems are catastrophic to say the least.”

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