WASHINGTON — U.S. President Joe Biden predicted in a press conference that Russia will ‘move in’ to Ukraine after amassing 100,000 troops around its borders in recent weeks, according to CNN, however, White House officials were forced to clarify that any incursion would be met with a severe response after Biden suggested a ‘minor incursion’ could be treated differently to a full invasion. The precise definitions matter because NATO allies are not united on how to respond to Russia, and there are a number of different forms any Russian action could take. Deutsche Welle reported last month, for instance, that a Russian court had acknowledged Russian soldiers are already present in the Donbas region of Ukraine, though the Kremlin denies it, while a press statement by White House spokesperson Jen Psaki suggested aggression short of military action, including cyberattacks and paramilitary tactics, would be treated separately to “any Russian military forces mov[ing] across the Ukrainian border,’” which it said would be seen as a “renewed invasion.” The phrase ‘renewed invasion’ referred to the fact that Russia seized Crimea eight years ago and backed the separatist forces who took control of the Donbas region. As of now, according to The New York Times, Russian President Vladimir Putin has said Russia wants security guarantees which would block NATO from expanding eastward into its sphere of influence and, according to President Biden, cited by Reuters, Putin has asked specifically that Ukraine never join NATO and that ‘strategic’ or nuclear weapons never be stationed on Ukrainian soil. In terms of concrete consequences should Russian troops enter Ukraine, the U.S. president said Russian companies could lose the ability to use the U.S. dollar and said more ambiguously that “it’s going to be a disaster for Russia if they further invade Ukraine.”
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ISRAEL — Israel’s Shin Bet security agency has arrested five Israelis of Iranian descent — four of them women — who allegedly worked for an Iranian intelligence agent, the agency said on Wednesday, January 12. Citing the agency, the Jerusalem Post reports the agent, known as “Rambod Namdar,” approached the women on Facebook as an Iranian Jew and kept in touch with them for several years using encrypted messaging app WhatsApp. One of the suspects, a woman in her forties, allegedly agreed to photograph the U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv, take pictures inside the Interior and Social Affairs ministries buildings, and photograph a shopping center in Holon. She was also asked to encourage her son, who was about to be drafted, to serve in Military Intelligence. Another suspect, a 57-year-old woman from Beit Shemesh, is alleged to have performed various tasks for a $5,000 payment. She encouraged her son to serve in the Intelligence Corps and gave military documents belonging to him to “Rambod.” The woman was also instructed to establish a club for Israelis of Iranian descent in order to gather their personal information and try to get close with a female member of Israel’s parliament. She was instructed to install a hidden camera in a massage room at her home, apparently to collect potentially embarrassing footage of her clients. The four women were indicted on charges of making contact with a foreign agent. They face maximum sentences of 15 years. The defense attorneys say their clients did not know their handler was an Iranian agent.
ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES — Yemen’s Houthi rebels say they are responsible for deadly drone attacks in the United Arab Emirates on Monday, according to The Wall Street Journal. One attack caused fires that saw three petroleum tankers explode near state oil firm ADNOC’s storage facilities, killing three people, while a second attack occured at a construction site near Abu Dhabi International Airport, according to an Abu Dhabi police statement cited by CNBC, disrupting flights. The Houthis are thought to have been retaliating against the UAE’s increased role in the Saudi-led coalition that is fighting against it in the Yemen civil war, with the Yemeni Foreign Ministry saying it reflected “Houthi desperation after rebel defeats in Marib [c]and Shabwa [d]provinces.” In retaliation for this attack, Saudi coalition airstrikes killed 11 people in Yemen, including at least five civilians, according to the U.N. The MIT Center for International Studies explains that the war, in which 377,000 people had died by the end of 2021 according to Al Jazeera, acts a sprawling proxy battle between Saudi Arabia and Iran, and The Wall Street Journal says that although the Houthis have developed the ability to build drones using materials bought locally or sourced from intermediaries elsewhere, their longer-range weapons are either Iranian or based on Iranian designs. Iran has denied arming the Houthis, while The Washington Post suggests that recent attempts by Iran to repair relations with other regional powers ‘raise questions’ about whether it ‘approved’ of Monday’s attack.
COLLEYVILLE, TEXAS — Following the resolution of the Texas synagogue hostage standoff, details of the terrorist’s timeline have begun to emerge. Citing unnamed sources, the BBC reports Malik Faisal Akram, a 44-year-old from Blackburn, England, flew to New York’s JFK international airport on December 29. Akram made his way to Dallas, where he bought a handgun and stayed at at least two homeless shelters, according to the Dallas Morning News. At around 11:00 a.m. on Saturday, January 15, he entered the Congregation Beth Israel synagogue in the suburb of Colleyville. Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker told CBS he welcomed Akram into the synagogue and made him a cup of tea. When the rabbi turned to face Jerusalem as he prayed, Akram produced a gun. He took the rabbi and thee others hostage and demanded the release of Islamist prisoner Aafia Siddique. One hostage was freed at around 5 p.m. At around 9 p.m. the rabbi threw a chair at Akram and escaped with the other hostages. Akram chased them before retreating back inside after spotting the FBI’s elite Hostage Rescue Team. The FBI then breached the synagogue and Akram was shot and killed. None of the hostages were injured.
WASHINGTON — An asteroid the size of the Washington Monument will come around 7.2 million kilometers from Earth on January 24, according to NASA. At between 84 and 190 meters wide, NASA considers asteroid 2017 XC62 ‘potentially hazardous’ because asteroids over 140 meters could release at least a thousand times more energy than the first atomic bomb on impact with Earth, according to the Davidson Institute of Science. Of course, any chances of an impact are entirely unlikely, as the closest asteroid 2017 XC62 is predicted to come to Earth is more than 17 times the distance between the Earth and the Moon. However, even at such a safe distance, it’s clear why asteroids like this one occupy such an oversized place in the popular imagination. The last time a large asteroid struck the planet was in 2013, when a 19-meter-wide asteroid exploded over the Russian city of Chelyabinsk[g], causing damage to around 7,500 buildings and 1,500 people. But that pales in comparison to the last time an object the size of 2017 XC62 is believed to have hit the Earth, on June 30, 1908. Encyclopedia Britannica says back then 2,000 square kilometers of trees were flattened near the Podkamennaya Tunguska[h] River in central Siberia and eyewitnesses at the time described a fireball lighting the horizon, followed by trembling ground and hot winds strong enough to throw people down to the ground.
BEIJING — 2021 saw the hottest ocean temperatures ever recorded, adding to previous records in 2018 and 2019, according to an Advances in Atmospheric Sciences study cited by The Guardian. Greenhouse gases released by humans are responsible for the rises, with more than 90 percent of heat generated by global warming absorbed by the oceans.” Temperatures taken at least 2,000 meters deep are increasing fastest in the Atlantic, Indian and northern Pacific Oceans, but are rising everywhere relative to a 1981 to 2010 baseline. In 2021 alone, oceans heated by around 14 zettajoules, equivalent to 440 billion toasters running — or seven Hiroshima bombs detonating — every second for a year. As oceans warm in this way, they threaten sea life, make cyclones and hurricanes more powerful and cause rains to fall harder. The process also directly causes sea level rises because as water warms it expands. The study cited climate model simulations as evidence that the increase in human-made greenhouse gas emissions is responsible for the trend and study co-author Michael Mann added that ‘until we reach net zero emissions, that heating will continue, and we’ll continue to break ocean heat content records. Hammering home the point, the study also notes that the extent of the heating last year was such that even an ongoing La Nina event, a regular feature of the climate that cools waters in the Pacific, was not enough to see it buck the warming trend. The Guardian completes the story of this ongoing disaster by pointing out that the effects of such dramatic warming are also responsible for a vicious chain reaction, whereby heated ocean water expands and ‘eats away’ at the massive Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets, which are shedding around 1 trillion tons of ice per year, and that in turn fuels more sea level rise.
THE HUNGA-TONGA-HUNGA-HA'APAI VOLCANO, TONGA — The “once in 1,000 years” eruption of the Hunga-Tonga Hunga-Ha'apai[c] volcano on Saturday did not emerge from smaller volcanic cones as in previous eruptions in 2009 and across 2014 and 2015. Rather, it blasted out of a five-kilometer-wide underwater caldera, according to Shane Cronin, Professor of Earth Sciences at the University of Auckland. The power of the explosion is likely because magma rose up from the caldera so quickly there was no time for a film of steam to form and allow the magma’s surface to cool as it passed through the water. Instead, hot magma came into direct contact with cold water, creating explosions which split the magma up and forced it into further contact with additional cold water, causing additional explosions. The resulting blast reached supersonic speeds, sending out a sonic boom that reached New Zealand, according to The Associated Press. Unusually high waves drowned two people in Peru and caused widespread tsunami alerts elsewhere. Damage to internet connections meant that very little news of the volcano’s impact on Tonga was available initially, though The Associated Press reported tsunami waves crashing across the shore and people rushing to higher ground. Two smaller eruptions occurred at the same volcano on December 20 and January 13, and previous 1,000-year major caldera eruption episodes involved many separate explosion events, meaning several weeks or even years of major volcanic unrest could be due, according to Professor Cronin’s article on The Conversation. In line with this reasoning, CNN reported on Monday that the volcano had erupted again, for the third time in four days, though unlike Saturday’s eruption, which was likely the biggest recorded anywhere on the planet in more than 30 years, there were no additional tsunami alerts.
TAIPEI, TAIWAN — Taiwan’s air force has suspended combat training for its F-16 fleet after the latest in a series of military aviation accidents. A recently upgraded Taiwanese F-16V, the country’s most advanced fighter jet, crashed into the ocean off western Taiwan on Tuesday, January 11. Air Force Command Headquarters said in a statement cited by Reuters that the F-16V took off from Chiayi Air Base at 2:55 p.m. on a routine training mission. The F-16V suddenly went missing from the radar screens at 3:23 p.m., about 30 minutes after take-off, SET News reports. According to Taiwan’s National Rescue Command Center, debris from the missing jet was found on Wednesday. But there were no signs of its pilot. Taiwan’s Central News Agency reports local residents witnessed the jet plunge into the sea near Aogu Wetland in Chiayi’s Dongshi Township. Another pilot and a ground controller confirmed that the plane nose-dived into the water after simulating missile launches. Tuesday’s crash is the latest in a number of recent Taiwanese air force accidents. In March one pilot died and another was missing after a mid-air collision of two F-5 jets. In late 2020 an F-16 disappeared minutes after taking off from a base in Taiwan’s east coast and has still not been found.
ROME — Italian firm Lazzarini Design has unveiled a flying superyacht concept called Air Yacht that is propelled by two blimp-like airships. Constructed with dry carbon fiber, the vessel’s overall length is 150 meters, with the two blimps connected by four carbon bridges. The main deck would measure 80 meters in length. Lazzarini says the blimps use compressed helium for propulsion. Its eight counter-rotating engines are powered by ultra-light batteries and solar panels. Lazzarini says the vessel could fly up to 48 hours at maximum speeds of 60 knots. When cruising on the water, the Air Yacht will “sail quietly” at 5 knots. Air Yacht’s lavish concept has all the features of a luxury yacht. Its central hull or main deck acts as a communal space. It has a carpeted lounge, a spacious living room, and dining facilities, with accommodations for 22 guests. On top there is a helipad and a rooftop swimming pool. But Air Yacht “is not intended for touristic purposes,” the studio says. “It is conceived for a private owner with a vision of mega yacht/aviation evolution.”
HEFEI, CHINA — China's $1 trillion Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak fusion reactor has superheated a loop of plasma to 70 million degrees Celsius, or five times hotter than the sun, for a new record of just over 17 minutes, according to Live Science, breaking the previous record of 390 seconds set by France's Tore Supra tokamak in 2003. Nuclear fusion involves using extremely high pressures and temperatures to induce collisions between hydrogen atoms to make helium, which sees matter converted into light and heat. This process is at the heart of how stars are fuelled, and mimicking it is extremely desirable because it does not generate greenhouse gasses, or nuclear waste. One key difficulty, though, is that fusion reactors cannot recreate the same intense pressure for the reactions as stars, and thus must operate at much higher temperatures. Controlling plasma at these temperatures so it doesn’t burn through reactor walls, either with lasers or magnetic fields, is extremely problematic technically and, as such, New Atlas clarifies that rather than fusion, the latest experiment tested the Chinese tokamak's ability to tolerate such high temperatures over long periods, sustaining superheated plasma similar to the kind that will eventually be used to create fusion, but for now generating much less energy output than goes into it. Live Science explains that the Chinese device is ultimately being used to test out technologies for what is currently the world’s largest fusion project — the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor in France — which is expected to come online in 2025. Nevertheless, its progress remains impressive. The new record, announced on December 31, adds to a previous record set in May, when the same device reached a record plasma temperature of 120 million degrees Celsius for 101 seconds, which was unprecedented.
COLLEGE PARK, MARYLAND — A blizzard could form in the U.S. between January 15 and January 18, according to forecast models on the Tropical Tidbits simulator, with The Global Forecast System and the European Center for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts suggesting a low-pressure system will pass through the U.S.’s Southeast coast Sunday, before moving up the Mid-Atlantic coast Monday. Low and high pressure exerted by Earth's atmosphere cause changes in weather, with air naturally wanting to flow from high pressure to low pressure, according to the U.K. Met Office. According to Sciencing.com, in a blizzard, cold air from the north and warm air from the south move toward the low pressure. Subsequently the cold air is forced under the lighter warm air, which in turn cools and releases its moisture. As that moisture drops through the cold air, it freezes and falls as snow. The clash between the storm’s low pressure and the high pressure beyond it creates the strong wind. A blizzard can ultimately occur if temperatures are below freezing at ground level and in the clouds, and there is enough moisture in the air to allow clouds and snow to form. Blizzards are defined by the National Weather Service as severe snowstorms that last for at least three hours, with snow that reduces visibility to under a quarter of a mile, and winds above 35 miles, or 56 kilometers, per hour.
SAN FRANCISCO — San Francisco’s infamous Millennium Tower keeps on tilting at breakneck speed after work to save the skyscraper was abandoned last summer. Here are the details: The Guardian reports that San Francisco’s infamous Millennium Tower keeps on tilting over more and more — at about 3 inches, or 7.5 centimeters, per year. A $100 million dollar construction project to stop the tilting on the leaning tower of San Francisco was abandoned in the summer of 2021, when it became clear that the construction did nothing to stop the building from tilting over at a speed of 3 inches per year. San Francisco’s leaning tower opened to great fanfare in 2009, and its 400 apartments quickly sold out for a total of $750 million. Soon after, some of the apartments reached prices of more than $5 million each, but all that came crashing down when it became apparent that the building was sinking into the soft soil, and also tilting at an unsettling speed. Today, the building’s total tilt at rooftop level has already reached 26 inches, or 66 centimeters. The engineer tasked with saving the building says if the structure keeps on tipping over, the elevators and plumbing will eventually stop functioning. He added that the best way to stop the tilting is to attach 18 steel piles to bedrock under the building. Apartment owners say the building’s uncertain future means their multimillion dollar investments have turned into dust. They say the real value of their super luxurious apartments is now zero dollars, as no one wants to buy them for any price.
COLLEGE PARK, MARYLAND — A man from the U.S. has become the first person to get a heart transplant from a pig, according to the University of Maryland School of Medicine. The pig used for the transplant was genetically modified to remove a gene that produces a sugar which in turn triggers an immune response in humans. The surgeon who performed the surgery at the University of Maryland Medical Center said the patient’s condition — heart failure and an irregular heartbeat — meant he was not eligible for either a human heart transplant or a heart pump, according to The Guardian. On Monday, the patient was reported to be breathing on his own while being monitored, though his surgeon, Bartley Griffith, said that exactly what will happen next is unclear. Last October, surgeons in New York said they had successfully transplanted a pig's kidney into a person, but in that instance the recipient was already brain dead. Though the heart has been genetically modified, and the patient has already passed the ‘hyperacute rejection phase,’ a further treatment plan has been designed to work against upcoming immune responses.
ISLANDS OF FOUR MOUNTAINS, ALASKA — Scientists are uncovering evidence that a small group of American island volcanoes are sitting on top of a massive supervolcano that can cause global catastrophes if it ever erupted. Here are the details. National Geographic reports that a group of volcanoes in the Aleutian Islands has all the makings of potentially being part of one big supervolcano, around the same size as the massive Yellowstone Caldera in Wyoming. In a study presented to the American Geophysics Union by a team of earth scientists led by John Power of the U.S. Geological Survey, the scientists showed evidence that points to the strong possibility that the six volcanoes collected in an Aleutian island group called the Islands of the Four Mountains are actually standing on the edges of one massive caldera. A caldera is a large bowl-shaped depression that is left behind after a massive reservoir of magma suddenly empties and the overlying ground collapses. The scientists say they are uncovering evidence of such a large bowl under the ocean, as well as rock samples and undersea ridges that indicate a cataclysmic volcanic eruption did very possibly cause the depression that rings the six active volcanoes of the island group. Researchers also pointed at the fact that the high and sustained emission of sulfur dioxide from the group’s central volcano, and the composition of volcanic gases from the six volcanoes, also suggest a shared connection to a larger magma source.
PARIS, FRANCE — It could be said that the study of electricity is the study of magic — and the magic of magnetism is part of this invisible but very powerful force. New data shows the Sun’s radiation is interacting with the Earth’s core to create dangerous electrical slam-downs on Earth. Here are the details: The European Space Agency, or ESA, reports that clusters of spacecraft it had launched in recent years, are showing that solar radiation is interacting with the Earth’s core to create harmful electromagnetic micro-storms on Earth. Scientists took data from a cluster of four ESA satellites orbiting far away from Earth, and combined it with data from a trio of ESA satellites that orbit close to Earth to measure magnetic signals emanating from Earth’s core, crust and oceans. The data showed that an electromagnetic phenomenon called “bursty bulk flows” in outer space is connected to intense magnetic field fluctuations near Earth’s surface. “Bursty bulk flows” are bursts of ions that travel at a whopping 150 kilometers per second. The new data shows that the fluctuations near Earth are connected to field-aligned currents high above Earth that contain these fast-moving “bursty bulk flows.” Scientists say they can now confirm that intense magnetic field perturbations near Earth are connected to the arrival of such “bursty bulk flows” farther out in space. Researchers think the new data can help them predict where solar storms could strike the hardest. One of the hardest electromagnetic slam-downs hit Quebec during a solar storm in 1989, destroying electrical equipment and causing a major blackout.
NEW YORK — At least 19 people were killed in a fire at a Bronx apartment high-rise on East 181st Street on Sunday, including nine children, according to The New York Times. The Commissioner of the New York City Fire Department said the fire was started by a malfunctioning space heater in a bedroom of a third-floor apartment at the building. Once the fire spread through that apartment, those inside ran out, but left the door open as they did so. Although this did not mean the fire spread far beyond the apartment, it helped fuel it and allowed the smoke to spread through the whole building, causing the fatalities. Firefighters arrived within three minutes of the fire starting, just before 11 a.m., and a spokeswoman for the property owners said the fire alarm system was working, with no known issues with smoke detectors. Several residents told The New York Times that the fire alarms were frequently triggered and as a result were often ignored.
NEW YORK — Sales of Bored Ape Yacht Club “non-fungible tokens” have gone past $1 billion, ramped up by celebrity collectors such as Eminem, prompting more questions than ever about what are NFTs and how do non-fungible tokens work? Business Insider explained NFTs are digital representations of artwork or other collectibles tied to a blockchain — a digital record of ownership stored across many different computers — mostly on Ethereum’s network. When people buy NFTs, they are buying the rights to a unique token within the blockchain. These nonfungible tokens function as a place to store financial value, but unlike dollars or bitcoins, where equivalent individual monetary units have the exact same value, each NFT has its own distinct value, like an old house or classic car. In the case of Bored Ape Yacht Club crypto art, for instance, there are 10,000 apes, each with different “properties” ranked in terms of rarity. Behind this combination of digital art and blockchains is an attempt to create artificial digital scarcity: the blockchains are used to tie down digital assets’ origins, which allows ownership to be proven, and thus limited, which tends to increase value. This ownership is not necessarily very wide ranging at all, with the artwork’s copyright, the right to make it available or unavailable to the world at large, often not a part of the token’s purchase, according to The Conversation. But The Verge sums the concept’s apparent financial appeal like this: “anyone can buy a Monet print. But only one person can own the original.”
ORLANDO, FLORIDA — The International Astronomical Union should ‘rescind their non-scientific definition’ of Pluto as a dwarf planet, according to a five-year study in the journal Icarus. Pluto was controversially relegated from full planetary status in 2006 because it didn’t hit all three of a new set of planet-defining criteria. The IAU said that while Pluto does have enough mass to ensure that it is rounded out by its own gravity, and it orbits a star, which are the first two criteria, it also shares gravitational space with other objects in its orbit, and this means it should not be classified as a planet. The new study, however, says this definition was engineered to simplify our picture of the solar system by ruling out dozens of other large planetary objects like Eris and Makemake, and thus has reopened a longstanding debate. Notably in the new study’s favour is the fact that Pluto is actually in no way alone in sharing gravitational space with other objects in its orbit, according to The Verge, with thousands of asteroids orbiting along with Earth, for instance. Writing in National Geographic, however, Steven Soder of the American Museum of Natural History has previously sought to address this point by clarifying that a planet should be able to “dynamically dominate” its orbit zone, meaning that it has swept away objects out of its orbital path to the extent that it is clearly the largest object occupying that area, as opposed to sharing its orbit with nothing else, according to The Verge. Fitting that bill, Earth is 1.7 million times bigger than all of the asteroids in its orbital zone combined, while Pluto is just 7.7 percent of the mass of all of the objects that cross its path. However, this argument is not enough for the scientists behind the new Icarus study. They say that the definition of a planet should align with ‘geological complexity’ rather than an oversimplified ‘folk taxonomy’ which provides us with the conveniently low, ‘public-friendly’ number of eight planets in our solar system. Under that definition, Pluto, with its thin atmosphere, complex geology, and maybe even a liquid ocean, would be considered a planet. And so would up to 150 other objects in our solar system, according to the study.
PLESETSK COSMODROME, RUSSIA — Russia’s largest heavy-lift rocket in decades, the Angara A5, failed to fire and now the behemoth is falling to Earth. Experts say it’s probable that big parts of the out of control rocket will hit somewhere on Earth. Russian newspaper Moskovski Komsomolets reports that a 20-ton segment of the Angara 5 rocket is falling back to earth after its third stage failed to fire a second time. The rocket launch failure happened a few minutes after Russia’s third test flight of its large heavy-lift rocket started without a hitch. The huge rocket was loaded with a dummy payload that simulated the weight balance of a satellite. The first two stages had pushed the rocket into near Earth orbit and the third stage had fired once successfully, when it was supposed to fire a second time to push itself and the payload to a graveyard orbit reserved for parking dead boosters. However, the Persei booster failed to fire correctly, leaving the booster and payload stranded in low Earth orbit, and experts calculate that the 20-ton structure will start falling out of the sky perhaps on Wednesday January 5. Most of the structure should burn up in Earth’s atmosphere, but some parts are expected to impact somewhere on Earth the next day. The Angara rocket is the first heavy-lift launch vehicle used by the Russian space agency Roscosmos in decades. SATFLARE and Aerospace Corporation are tracking the out-of-control rocket and are providing maps and statistics about it on their websites.
CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA — The ashes of South Africa’s famous Archbishop Tutu are not really ashes. They were created by a water cremation process called “aquamation” that uses alkaline hydrolysis for a more eco-friendly burial. The Guardian reports that the ashes of Archbishop Desmond Tutu were interred on Sunday, January 2. As with normal cremations, these ashes are actually the deceased person’s crushed bones, but these crushed bones were produced not via burning, but via “aquamation,” a more environmentally friendly burial process. The scientific name for aquamation is “alkaline hydrolysis.” This requires that the body is placed inside an airtight and pressurized cylinder. The cylinder is filled with a mixture of water and strong alkaline chemicals, like potassium hydroxide. With the body inside, the liquids are heated to 150 degrees Celsius. The liquid is also gently circulated inside the canister. The process greatly accelerates the breakdown of organic materials, leaving only the bones intact. Proponents of this liquid cremation process say that it uses 90 percent less energy than flame cremation and it emits no harmful greenhouse gases. They also say that the process leaves around 32 percent more remains behind, meaning that it usually requires a slightly larger urn than would be required after cremation. Archbishop Tutu was famed for his humble lifestyle and his love for the environment. Before the aquamation process, his body was laid in state in the simplest and cheapest pine coffin that money could buy, as per his wishes.
WASHINGTON — An asteroid more than twice the size of the Empire State Building will come within 1.98 million kilometers of the Earth on January 18, according to NASA. At between 1 and 1.3 kilometers wide, NASA considers asteroid 7482 ‘potentially hazardous,’ with the Davidson Institute of Science calculating asteroids over 140 meters would release at least a thousand times more energy than the first atomic bomb on impact with Earth, while an asteroid over 300 meters could destroy an entire continent. Of course, any chances of such an impact are entirely unlikely, as the closest 7482 is likely to come to Earth is more than five times the distance of that between the Earth and the Moon, and it is also not alone in being a potentially hazardous asteroid passing by this month. Asteroid 2013 YD48 will fly past Earth January 12 around 5.59 million kilometers away, and asteroid 2017 XC62 will pass around 7.2 million kilometers away on January 24.
KINGSTON, JAMAICA — A deep-sea “gold rush” led by China could soon have catastrophic consequences for marine ecosystems, according to the Hong Kong Free Press. When shifting tectonic plates create hydrothermal vents at the bottom of the ocean, these vents interact with seawater to create polymetallic nodules, polymetallic sulphides and ferromanganese [c]crusts rich in valuable minerals such as cobalt and nickel, which are used in many forms of green technology and mobile phones. However, mining is seen as a major risk to the countless unknown species that live in these areas, and in June more than 350 scientists signed a petition calling for a moratorium until “robust scientific information has been obtained.” This came in response to the Pacific island nation of Nauru activating a legal trigger to allow a Canadian company to start mining in two years’ time, even if a key mining code of practice developed by the U.N. is not in place by then, and that is where China comes in. Critics argue the new precedent could cause a wild west-style gold rush, and the Hong Kong Free Press reports that China is best placed to take advantage of one for three reasons. First, because it is the first country in the world to sponsor and maintain contracts for exploring all three types of mineral resources in the international seabed area. Second, because of the 30 contracts the U.N.’s International Seabed Authority has so far issued to explore the seabed, Chinese companies hold five, more than anyone else. And finally, because of the nation’s powerful position in relation to that International Seabed Authority, where the U.S. is one of the few nations not represented because it has not ratified the Law of the Sea Convention.
LA PALMA, CANARY ISLANDS — The La Palma eruption was declared over on Christmas Day, but reactivation can’t be ruled out and other major issues are now coming to the fore. Over 85 days of actual lava flow from the Cumbre Vieja volcano, 1,219 hectares of land was covered and 1,576 properties destroyed by the molten rock, according to El Pais English. More than 78 kilometers of roads were also covered, including those that joined the west and the south of the island, causing huge disruption. By the end of the eruption, lava reaching the ocean had formed two deltas, one measuring 43 hectares, and in total residents had experienced more than 9,000 earthquakes. Such devastation now comes with longer term consequences and new problems, with the Spanish government pledging more than 400 million euros or 453 million dollars for reconstruction, according to Reuters, but doctors warning of a mental health crisis on the island. Volcanologist Alexis Schwartz, meanwhile, told Euronews that the volcano will continue to release toxic gases for a long period, and that lava already spilled out will also take a long time to cool to safe levels. Schwartz also notably said it would take years or many months until they could rule out a future reactivation of the Cumbre Vieja volcano. Optimistically, he explained that channels to the surface are currently locked by lava cooling down, so new pools of magma that try to reach the surface may find it increasingly difficult to do so. But more cautiously he added: “The Canary Islands, and especially La Palma, are very active volcanic islands. So constantly we measure the magma coming from the mantle and trying to reach the surface.”
VIENNA, AUSTRIA — China used a strange way to complain about Elon Musk’s Starlink satellites doing to the Chinese space station what China had been doing much worse to the ISS since 2007. Here are the details: The Guardian reports that China has complained to the U.N. about having to maneuver its space station twice to avoid it getting struck by some of SpaceX’s Starlink satellites. In a report that Beijing submitted to the U.N.’s Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space, China complained that its space station had to use collision avoidance procedures in July and October to avoid a collision. China also called on the U.S. to “bear responsibility” for the Starlink incident. This comes only years after China used a missile to blow up one of its satellites in 2007, causing a huge cloud of space debris that forced the International Space Station to do collision avoidance maneuvers multiple times to get out of the way of the Chinese satellite’s debris. Jonathan McDowell, an astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, told the Guardian that China was not innocent when it came to creating collision risks in space. He also said that it was “highly unusual” for a country to lodge a complaint through what he called an “informational bulletin” to the U.N. Meanwhile, Chinese state media outlet Global News claimed that so-called “experts” said the two incidents showed that Starlink satellites were being used by the U.S. to test the Chinese space station’s ability to respond and maneuver. Some U.S. observers believe the complaint was created as an excuse to suppress Elon Musk’s Tesla car company's market share in China.
CAMBRIDGE, MASSACHUSETTS — MIT researchers say Earth’s cousin Venus shows signs it might have the special ingredient needed to support life in the extremely acidic clouds of the hellish second rock from the sun. Scientists from MIT have come up with a controversial new theory for why life might exist in the clouds of Venus. In a paper that has now been accepted into the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the researchers say that data from two probe missions in the 1970s make them suspect that ammonia is present in the highly acidic clouds of Venus. This follows shocking revelations last year that significant amounts of phosphine were discovered in the atmosphere of Venus. At the time, scientists claimed this was a sign of life, as phosphine is often created when organic matter breaks down on Earth. Other scientists scoffed at the idea that life forms could exist in the thick, carbon dioxide-filled atmosphere, as such life forms would also have to be resistant to the extremely acidic droplets of sulfuric acid in the clouds. The MIT researchers now claim that this acid could be neutralized by the ammonia they now suspect could be present in the clouds. Ammonia would set off a long chain of chemical reactions that could turn Venus’ clouds into a more hospitable place, they say. The researchers said that “life could be making its own environment on Venus.” They concluded: “Our model therefore predicts that the clouds are more habitable than previously thought, and may be inhabited.”
HOKKAIDO, JAPAN — Antarctic ice sheet melting could increase sea levels by over five meters by the year 3000 if current warming trends continue, according to a Journal of Glaciology study. The ice sheet’s sea level contribution without reductions in emissions of greenhouse gases has already been assessed as rising between 7.8 and 30 centimeters by 2100, and now further simulations of mass ice loss show that by the year 3000, a continuation of current climate conditions would produce between 1.5 to 5.4 meters of increase. Such rises would make large areas of densely populated coastal land uninhabitable, while reducing emissions could allow for a rise of only 0.13 to 0.32 meters. The main mechanism behind the worst-case-scenario rise is the potential collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet, according to a study press release on Eurekalert. The sheet is grounded on a bed that is mostly well below sea level, meaning ocean currents can deliver warm water to the area where the ice attaches to the bed. NASA’s website explains this is the first step in a potential chain reaction, where ocean heat eats away at the ice, the grounding line retreats inland and ice shelves lose mass. When ice shelves lose mass, they can no longer hold back inland glaciers, so those glaciers can accelerate toward the ocean and thin as a result of that acceleration. This process then causes more acceleration and more thinning, and as more ice flows to sea every year, sea levels rise. The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says sea levels have already risen between 21 to 24 centimeters since 1880, and the rate has more than doubled from 1.4 millimeters per year throughout most of the 20th century to 3.6 millimeters per year from 2006 to 2015.
ANTARCTICA — A huge hole in Earth’s protective ozone layer opened up a few weeks ago, exposing humans to dangerous levels of the sun’s ultraviolet radiation. Here are the details: New Scientist reports that one of the largest holes to ever form in Earth’s protective ozone layer is finally closing. The NASA Earth Observatory reported that the 2021 Antarctic ozone hole reached its maximum size on October 7 and ranks as the 13th largest since 1979, exposing an area bigger than Antarctica. 2020 also saw a similarly oversized hole form for the same reasons, when a colder than usual winter in the southern hemisphere fed a deep and larger than average hole that persisted for a longer period than usual. The hole is actually the thinning of the ozone layer in the stratosphere above Antarctica. Chemically active forms of chlorine and bromine — derived from human-made compounds — are released into the stratosphere during reactions on high-altitude polar clouds. The reactive chlorine and bromine then spark ozone-destroying reactions when sunlight hits the Antarctic at the end of its winter. The hole would often force southern countries like New Zealand to issue ultraviolet radiation warnings in the middle of their summer months. Scientists predicted that the hole would finally close last week. Despite the surprisingly big size of the hole in 2020 and 2021, scientists still believe that the hole will finally stop forming by the middle of this century.
OTTAWA, ONTARIO — Satellite images show that China has dramatically increased its electronic warfare installations in the South China Sea. The buildup is so extreme that it could soon turn the huge area into an electronic dead zone where U.S. planes and ships won’t be able to function. Here are the details: The Center for Strategic and International Studies, or CSIS, has published satellite images that show China is aggressively building electronic warfare installations in the South China Sea. This means that the waterway could soon be an electronic “dead zone," in which U.S. ships and planes would find it hard to function. The think tank showed that Beijing’s artificial island bases at Subi Reef and Fiery Cross Reef now have large communication and intelligence-gathering installations. It also pointed out a network of sensor towers between the island of Hainan and the Paracel Islands. These are ideally placed to monitor and interfere with any electronic activity in the region. The think tank says this means vital equipment on U.S. systems may not perform as expected. Drones could be hacked, navigation signals could be distorted, and datalinks could be hijacked, while communications could also be intercepted and jammed. In practice this means that combat planes could struggle to find their targets, drones could turn against their owners and the complex web of data sharing that makes the F-35 so useful, could be broken. A recent report by America’s Brookings Institution stated: “Our military systems are vulnerable. We need to face that reality by halting the purchase of insecure weapons and support systems — and by incorporating the realities of offensive cyberattacks into our military planning.”
RIYADH, SAUDI ARABIA — The first ‘unambiguous evidence’ that Saudi Arabia is building its own ballistic missiles with the help of China has emerged through satellite images, according to CNN, citing the Middlebury Institute of International Studies. The images show a facility operating a 'burn pit' to dispose of solid propellant left over from the production of ballistic missiles. Casting rocket motors results in leftover propellant, which is an explosive hazard, so burn pits are an indication a facility is actively casting solid rocket motors. CNN reports that the transfer of such sensitive technology by China could have ripple effects across the Middle East, particularly as the Biden administration attempts to expand the terms of a nuclear deal with Iran to include restraints on its own missile technology. Iran and Saudi Arabia have been locked in a fierce struggle for regional dominance for decades, and in the context of that multifaceted dispute — where Saudi Arabia has made clear that it sees the conflict in Yemen as the extension of its struggle with the Islamic Republic — it is considered unlikely Tehran would agree to stop making ballistic missiles if Saudi Arabia has indeed started manufacturing its own. Additionally, the Middle East Eye suggests that any U.S. response to the weapons technology being developed could be complicated by its difficult relationship with China, and the fact that the U.S. Senate itself backed a $650 million missile sale to Saudi Arabia earlier this month, used to arm fighter jets during the ongoing war in Yemen.
WASHINGTON — The bosses of the world’s two giant airplane manufacturers say the January 5 launch of 5G phone technology services could have serious safety implications for airplane interference. The BBC reported on Tuesday, December 21 that the top executives of Boeing and Airbus have called on the U.S. government to halt the launch of 5G phone services in the U.S. Two of the biggest phone companies in America, Verizon and AT&T are scheduled to switch on their 5G networks on January 5. The Boeing and Airbus executives say there is unsettling evidence that C-Band spectrum 5G wireless radiation could interfere with sensitive aircraft equipment like radio altitude meters. These high-tech devices are very important to guide the pilots and onboard computers, especially at night and in misty or stormy weather, when visibility is almost zero. The chief executive of United Airlines, Scott Kirby, says if the FAA’s new 5G directives come into effect, airline pilots would not be able to use their radio altitude meters at around 40 of the biggest airports in America. The airplane makers made their plea in a joint letter that cited researchers who found that, if 5G rules had been in effect in 2019, about 345,000 passenger flights and 5,400 cargo flights would have faced delays, diversions or cancellations. The American wireless industry group CTIA says 5G technology is safe and it accused the aircraft makers of fear-mongering and fact distortion. In a blog post cited by the BBC, the CTIA’s chief executive said “pushing back deployment one year would subtract $50 billion in economic growth, just as our nation recovers and rebuilds from the pandemic.”
MUNSTER, GERMANY — The formation of Earth and Mars was likely generated by regular collisions between giant Moon-to-Mars-size rocks, rather than tiny pebbles clumping together, according to a new Science Advances study on Earth’s origin story. Two options are generally put forward for how Earth and Mars were formed, with the more recent one suggesting the terrestrial planets may have formed by accreting millimeter-sized rocks which drifted towards the Sun from the outer solar system, dragged by the protoplanetary disk of gas and planetesimals that surrounded the Sun. However, the new study found the classical model to be more likely, which involves collisions between Moon-to-Mars-sized ‘planetary embryos’ after the gas disk had dissipated. Here, only four percent of both Earth and Mars was made up of materials from the outer solar system. Scientists analyzed material from 17 meteorites originating from Mars and subsequently compared levels of titanium, zirconium and molybdenum isotopes from Mars and Earth with those of different groups of meteorites from the inner and outer solar system to reach their conclusion. One of the study’s authors explained to Inverse.com that this version of events may account for Earth’s relatively small size compared to equivalent planets in other solar systems, because Jupiter may have also formed early on and blocked incoming material from fusing with the planetary embryos.
WASHINGTON — The ocean is starting to fill up with robotic sailboats that have stiff wings for sails, allowing them to sail into the eyes of hurricanes and send back live video while they’re at it. Here are the details: The Guardian reports that a clever new type of robotic craft called a sail drone has been making waves recently. This comes just days after Defense News revealed on December 12 that the U.S. Navy has started testing sail drones as part of its plan to integrate new unmanned systems and artificial intelligence into its fleet operations. The typical sail drone is a seven-meter long sail boat with a robot brain that can stay at sea indefinitely thanks to electrical power provided by a combination of wind and solar power. Sail drone hulls are usually very low and narrow, and they use stiff wings as sails. A similar robotic sail drone was programmed to sail into the eye of hurricane Sam in October. This almost suicidal task was completed by a slightly adapted saildrone called Saildrone Explorer SD 1045, which have been modified to handle winds of 140 miles — or 225 kilometers — per hour. SD 1045’s smaller wing helped it to survive the brutal weather while it sent live video and other data to its controllers. An earlier version of the sail drone was tested in the Antarctic in 2019, but that one could only sail downwind. The new wing on the new generation allows the drone to “run” and sail upwind, like a traditional yacht.
LINTONG DISTRICT, CHINA — The insides of the mysterious mausoleum of the first emperor of a unified China, Qin Shi Huang, could be illuminated by cosmic rays, according to The Times of London, which cites a proposal in the journal Acta Physica Sinica. The site has never been fully excavated and has famously been guarded for 2,000 years by its Terracotta Army.” The new proposal seeks to take advantage of cosmic rays that interact with Earth's atmosphere and shower us with subatomic particles. It suggests detectors installed below the burial site could measure the rate at which one type of particle, called muons[c], are absorbed, and provide a clear picture of the area hidden beneath the ground. Historical accounts which suggest the burial chamber is surrounded by rivers of mercury have stoked intrigue around the site, as well as popular movies like The Mummy, which features the Terracotta Army. The proposed technique for revealing that chamber has already been used to reveal the presence of a previously hidden, 98-feet-long chamber within the Great Pyramid at Giza.
MOSCOW — The largest canyon in the solar system, the Valles Marineris on Mars, could contain reserves of hidden water, according to a new study in the Icarus journal, which found as much as 40 percent of the near-surface materia in a central region of the canyon appears to be water, either bound up in minerals or, more likely, taking the form of subsurface water ice up to a meter below the surface. Water is known to exist at Mars’s poles, in the form of ice caps, and last year liquid water lakes were discovered beneath its south pole via a Nature Astronomy journal study which used radar data from the Mars Advanced Radar for Subsurface and Ionosphere Sounding. However, using a different technique scientists were surprised to find so much water beneath the surface of Valles Marineris, where pressure and temperature conditions ought to prohibit it, according to Science Alert. The new study looked at neutrons produced when galactic cosmic rays strike Mars, and used the fact that drier soils emit more neutrons than wetter ones to detect the presence of water. Discoveries like this are notable generally because if water stores exist in a permafrost-like form they may have preserved frozen fragments of microbial life, or organic molecules that once existed on Mars. Furthermore, because any crewed mission to Mars is likely to touch down at the equator, this easily accessible water could provide a valuable resource. Physicist Colin Wilson of the European Space Agency, which backed the research, also added in a statement cited by CNN that “Knowing more about how and where water exists on present-day Mars is essential to understand what happened to Mars's once-abundant water, and helps our search for habitable environments, possible signs of past life, and organic materials from Mars's earliest days.” A previous study in 2017 using the same detection techniques had hinted at the existence of water ice in different parts of the equator by looking at old data.
WASHINGTON — NASA scientists are starting to finalize the robotic machines they’ll need to pull off a series of extremely complex maneuvers on Mars. Here are the details: NASA revealed on Tuesday, December 14 that it’s already testing the complex set of hardware that would be required to bring back sample tubes from Mars. The first part of the Mars side of the mission would be a lander that can support the mission’s heavy rover, robotic arm, rocket and rocket tosser. This lander would be too heavy for retro jets, so it would require piston-powered legs to absorb a lot of shock when landing. The rover would then have to be smart enough to find and pick up all the sample tubes that previous rovers left at various spots on their trail. After that, the rover needs to find the lander, where a robotic arm will place the samples inside the rocket that will blast them into space. The rocket itself will need to adapt to any uneven terrain that the lander might have landed on, so it comes with a tossing mechanism that will toss it nose-up into the air just before the rocket fires. Up in Mars orbit, an orbiter would use complex mechanics to seal the tubes in clean containers, then sterilizing the seals and placing the containers into an Earth-entry capsule before the return trip to Earth. The NASA team has conducted 23 tests this year, changing the rocket’s mass and center of gravity along the way.
NORWICH, U.K. — “Einstein’s theory of relativity has passed a huge test involving pulsar stars — extremely dense neutron stars that emit beams of radiation and particles from their magnetic poles.” “Researchers writing in the journal Physical Review X observed a double pulsar system for 16 years, using large telescopes to note changes in the timing of flashes they produce that are visible from Earth, according to The Conversation.” “They were attempting to compare what they saw to the theory of general relativity, which suggests the ultra-dense double pulsar system, which rotates very consistently, strains the fabric of space-time, sending gravitational ripples away at the speed of light that incrementally drain the system of orbital energy.” “Using the flashes visible from Earth, the researchers measured the amount of energy taken away by these gravitational waves, causing tiny changes in orbital motion, and found it closely matches what Einstein’s general relativity predicts, with the latest observations from the study suggest an energy loss of 0.013 percent, according to the American Physical Society.” “However, the research does not mean scientists will stop testing Einstein’s theory, for one crucial reason: ‘General relativity is not compatible with the other fundamental forces described by quantum mechanics. It is therefore important to continue to place the most stringent tests upon general relativity as possible, to discover how and when the theory breaks down,’ one study co-author explained in a statement cited by Space.com.”
PARIS, FRANCE — A major French taxi company suspended its fleet of Tesla Model 3 cars after one of these mysteriously accelerated and hit multiple pedestrians in Paris, killing one. Here are the details: Reuters reports that Paris’ biggest taxi company, called G7, has suspended its fleet of 37 Tesla Model 3 cars after a fatal accident that the driver blamed on the car malfunctioning. The accident happened when an off-duty taxi driver took his family to a restaurant on the evening of Saturday, December 11. According to initial reports, the car started accelerating when the driver tried to brake by pressing his foot on the brake pedal. The car then careened down the road, hitting multiple pedestrians, some pavement fittings and a traffic light, before crashing into a van. One person was killed and 20 people were injured, some seriously. In the U.S., there have been reports of more than 200 incidents involving Teslas unexpectedly accelerating and crashing. The federal car safety agency concluded in January that the incidents were the fault of drivers confusing their brake and accelerator pedals, and were not due to vehicle defects. G7 said in a statement that it suspended the Model 3 cars as a precaution while the French police investigation is being conducted. Tesla collects detailed data from the sensors and cameras on its vehicles and has used such data in the past to challenge claims that accidents were caused by malfunctioning technology. The car maker said it remotely accessed this data on the accident car and found no problem with the car.
EDGEWATER, MARYLAND — Just when you thought humans couldn’t screw up Earth’s oceans more if they tried, along comes a bunch of dangerous organisms that have learned to thrive on the floating continents of trash that are forming in our oceans. The Guardian reports that researchers have found that coastal species are forming colonies on the floating masses of plastic trash that are filling up our oceans. Species that previously had no way of crossing oceans are now doing so, using floating trash islands as a way to survive ocean crossings and devastating coastal species all over the world. Researchers have now also coined a term for these drifters — “neopelagic communities." These are seafaring colonies of anemones, brittle stars, shrimps, barnacles and more, which are thriving on plastic in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and washing up wherever the currents take them. Researchers say this is not just a problem for the coastal species they destroy, but these floating colonies also lure in animals that eat them, like fish, turtles, dolphins and whales. When these ocean animals hunt for food among the pieces of floating plastic and matted fishing nets, they often end up dying from ingesting plastic — or from getting trapped in the non-biodegradable mess. And even if you ignore all the ecological problems that plastic trash is causing, there are few people who don’t have the ability to love the magic of pure nature, and few who are not deeply offended by seeing plastic trash washed up on a pristine beach.
WASHINGTON — For the first time ever, a spacecraft has touched the Sun, with NASA announcing its Parker Solar Probe has flown through the Sun’s upper atmosphere. The milestone was reached on April 28, during the probe’s eighth flyby of the Sun, and CNN notes that it will ultimately make 21 close approaches over seven years. The Sun has no solid crust, but the Alfven critical surface marks the boundary of its atmosphere, according to the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory. Outside it, solar wind particles travel faster than the magnetic waves that couple them to the Sun’s surface. Inside it, the opposite is true, and thus the particles are contained by the waves. The Parker probe flew in and out of this boundary several times over a few hours during April, and collected data on the origin of zig-zag-shaped structures in the solar wind. It found that these structures, called switchbacks, can be produced by convection cells at the Sun’s visible surface, which churn and create funnels of magnetic energy above the surface. When the probe set off in 2019, it had to contend with the fact that the Earth travels 67,000 miles per hour in a sideways motion relative to the Sun to avoid being pulled into it, meaning any object travelling to the Sun must cancel that motion. In order to do this it was launched by the powerful Delta IV Heavy rocket, before performing seven Venus flybys over a seven-year period, relying on the planet’s gravity to draw its orbit closer to the Sun. Such a massive workload is ultimately aimed at solving mysteries like why the Sun’s corona, or outer atmosphere, is millions of degrees hotter than the Sun’s surface, or improving forecasts of space weather events, which can disrupt telecommunications and damage satellites around Earth, according to NASA.
ANTARCTICA —The Thwaites Eastern Ice Shelf, which acts as a dam to slow the flow of ice off Antarctica into the ocean, has a series of fractures spanning almost the entire shelf that could break it up within five years. The shelf sits at the front of one third of the massive Thwaites Glacier, forebodingly known as the ‘Doomsday Glacier’ for its capacity to release massive sea-level rises should it melt. At the moment, though it is already thinning, the shelf’s leading edge is pinned in place by an underwater ridge, which means its ice flow speed is a third of that seen in the glacier’s western side. However, a presentation at a meeting of the American Geophysical Union cited by the BBC explained that the shelf is likely to become uncoupled from the ridge very soon and even if that doesn’t occur, developing fractures in the ice shelf will almost certainly break it up, which will release large sections of the glacier behind it into the ocean. Glaciologist Erin Pettit explained to Science Magazine that the shelf is like a windshield with a series of slowly opening cracks: “You’re like, I should get a new windshield. And one day, bang — there are a million other cracks there,” she said. Science Magazine adds that the collapse of the entire Thwaites Glacier, which some researchers think is only centuries away, would raise global sea level by 65 centimeters. And because Thwaites occupies a deep basin into which neighboring glaciers would flow, this could eventually lead to the loss of the entire West Antarctic Ice Sheet, causing 3.3 meters of global sea level rise.
SEOUL, KOREA — Seoul is set to tear down an old industrial site and turn it into a neighborhood that has everything — so residents won’t feel cut off during virus lockdowns. Here are the details: CNN reports that the South Korean capital of Seoul has greenlighted a project to build the world’s first self-contained suburb. Designed by Dutch architect firm UNStudio, the suburb will be a so-called “ten-minute city,” which means that it would have everything any resident needs within a 10-minute walk from his or her home. The project is backed by the Hyundai Development Company and the plan is to take an old 125-acre industrial site and turn it into an interconnected smart city, built around eight high-rise apartment buildings. Project blueprints show that the high-rises will be connected by a park filled with roads for pedestrians and bicycles only — no cars or trucks allowed. The pedestrian-friendly grounds will also contain supermarkets, co-working offices, study spaces, entertainment venues, fitness centers, swimming pools and even hydroponic urban farms, where residents can grow their own food. The architects say they also plan to include clean-energy generation and rainwater capture systems. The COVID-19 pandemic has seen growing interest in the idea of a ten-minute city, with people around the world working from home and avoiding public transport.
MAYFIELD, KENTUCKY — The areas in which tornadoes are occurring most often is changing and it could be because of climate change, according CNN, who spoke to tornado expert Victor Gensini in the wake of the catastrophic tornadoes that killed at least 80 people in Kentucky last week. Over the past four decades, tornado frequency has been decreasing in parts of the central and southern Great Plains known as ‘tornado alley,’ while increasing in more heavily populated states east of the Mississippi River. Tornadoes are primarily fueled by warm, moist air from strong winds that shift direction as they rise up, and this could be affected by climate change because the the jet stream — air currents in the upper atmosphere that influence weather patterns — is known to be affected by rises in greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere.
BOCA CHICA, TEXAS — With SpaceX preparing to launch its Starship on top of its massive Super Heavy rocket for the first time next month, scientists are getting excited about how such a cavernous spaceship will make the impossible possible. Here are the details: With SpaceX ready to test launch its Starship next month, the MIT Technology Review interviewed leading space scientists and found that the spaceship will dramatically change the things humans can achieve in space. Starship has a whopping 1,000 cubic meters of usable internal space, making it big enough to fit the entire Eiffel Tower, disassembled. It can also push more than 100 metric tonnes of payload into space. This means that humans can soon carry full-sized equipment from Earth without the need to miniaturize it. For example, you could take a full-sized drilling rig to another planet and drill down a kilometer. That would give previously unimaginable access to the interior of the moon and Mars, where ice and other resources are thought to be present. Humans would also be able to take a lot of scientific instrumentation on flights, compared to sending small vehicles with limited instrumentation. The best part is that SpaceX says all these volume advantages can be achieved at the incredibly low price of $2 million per launch, because the booster and spaceship are designed to return to Earth for reuse. Among the many other advantages of such a big space vehicle is the delivery of bigger telescopes into space. Currently, these have to be folded into small cargo bays, after which they have to unfold autonomously in space, which adds a lot of cost, complexity and risk of failure.
STOCKHOLM, SWEDEN — Scientists are jumping for joy after finding a giant planet 325 light years away, but they’re unable to explain how it manages to exist in a place where no planet is supposed to exist. Here are the details: A study published in Nature showed evidence of a giant planet where no planet was supposed to be able to exist. Researchers studied images taken by the European Southern Observatory in Chile and found that the massive binary star system, b Centauri, is the host of a gas giant that is likely similar in composition to Jupiter but 11 times more massive, which makes it around 3,180 times heavier than Earth. The massive planet is 325 light years from Earth, and orbits its binary star at a distance 14 times the distance from the Sun to Pluto. The two-star system itself is between six and 10 times heavier than our Sun, which means it produces so much heat and radiation that it should be impossible for the newly found planet to have formed. Stars like these are generally considered to be too destructive and dangerous to allow planet formation. Yet, scientists can clearly see that the planet does exist. The study’s researchers theorize the massive distance at which the planet orbits the dangerous two-star system is the key to how it managed to survive. One thing is for sure, though, the new planet’s unlikely existence is upending lots of things astrophysicists thought they knew about the universe.
CHICAGO — Former Empire actor Jussie Smollett has been found guilty of five of six counts of felony disorderly conduct in Chicago, according to USA Today, with the case against him being that he hired two brothers, Abimbola ‘Abel’ Osundairo and Olabinjo ‘Ola’ Osundairo, to stage a racist, anti-gay attack on him on January 29, 2019, and then lied about it to police. The Chicago Tribune’s timeline says Smollett left his apartment building at 1:45 a.m. that night to walk to a nearby Subway restaurant, around the same time the brothers were seen in CCTV footage on the streets around his apartment building. At 2:04 a.m., Smollett arrived back at the intersection of North New and East North Water streets near his apartment building, where he later claimed the two men approached him, shouted racist and homophobic slurs at him, struck him in the face and poured an ‘unknown substance’ on him, before wrapping a rope around his neck. In the aftermath of the incident, several key factors were used to challenge Smollet’s account, including the fact that the day after the alleged attack, Smollett briefly called Abel Osundairo, and minutes later Abel Osundairo returned the call, before he and his brother boarded a flight to Nigeria. From here, police began to form a very different version of events. Court documents indicate that on January 22, 2019, Jussie Smollett received a threatening letter at the studio where the show ‘Empire’ is filmed. It came with a white powdery substance that was later determined to be ibuprofen. Disappointed by the studio’s handling of the letter, the actor met with friend Abel Osundairo and Abel’s brother Ola three days later, and asked them to stage an attack on him. According to prosecutors, Smollett planned for the assault to happen the night of January 28 near his Streeterville apartment. He told Abel to hurt him, but not too badly, and Ola to put a rope around his neck, pour gasoline on him, and yell, “This is MAGA country!” He then gave the brothers $100 to buy rope, gasoline, ski masks, gloves and red MAGA baseball caps needed for the attack. On January 27, Smollett drove the brothers to the scene where he wanted the assault to take place, pointing out a surveillance camera that would capture the incident. He instructed them to pour bleach instead of gasoline, and not to bring their cellphones, then gave a $3,500 personal check payable to Abel. A flight delay on Smollett’s part pushed the plan back to 2 a.m. on the 29th. The actor called Abel at 12:49 a.m. once his plane landed. Minutes later, the brothers hailed an Uber, switching to a cab midway that took them three blocks from the scene. The attack took place at 2:04 a.m. as instructed, though out of view of the camera. The brothers fled the scene afterward, taking a taxi home. This version of events saw the actor indicted in March of 2019 for 16 counts of felony disorderly conduct, but charges were initially all dropped just weeks later, with prosecutors said Smollett had forfeited his $10,000 bail and done community service.
BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS — Last year scientists at the DRIVE Science Center determined that the bubble around our solar system may be shaped like a giant croissant. This is because, according to Science Alert, solar winds and radiation pouring out from the sun are shaped by the interaction of the solar magnetic field with the interstellar magnetic field and form a protective bubble to shield us from powerful cosmic radiation, known as the heliosphere. The traditional view of the heliosphere is that it is shaped like a comet’s tail, but new modelling found it had two jets curling away from a central bulbous area, like a deflated croissant. Now, in The Astrophysical Journal, the same scientists have explained the reason for this is that neutral hydrogen atoms streaming in from outside the solar system and interacting with ionized matter in the heliosphere cause a Rayleigh-Taylor instability, where two fluids of different densities meet and cause the lighter fluid to push into the heavier one, producing turbulence. The team used data from the Voyager probes, which have travelled outside of the heliosphere, and are currently making their way through interstellar space, to make their calculations.
WASHINGTON — After spending 40 thousand years to reach us, the brightest comet of 2021 will reach its closest point to Earth in a few hours, after which it will almost hit Venus before reaching its closest point to the Sun. Here are the details: NPR reports that Comet Leonard is about to pass Earth on December 12 before reaching its closest point to the Sun on January 3, exactly a year after it was first discovered by astronomer Greg Leonard. The comet is classified as an ultra-fast comet, but even at its incredible speed of 71 kilometers per second, it needed around 40,000 years to reach its sharp turn around the Sun — from its turning point billions of miles away in deep space. After January 3 it will start on its long journey back into deep space, before returning in around 80,000 years from now. Comet Leonard’s official name is C/2021 A1 and not much is known about its size or composition, although almost all comets are made up of ice and dust. It’s this dusty ice — which is heated into dusty gas by the Sun — that gives comets their massive and colorful tails, making them so much more visible and fun to watch than rocky asteroids. Comet Leonard’s tail is already well formed, and the tail will become bigger as it rounds the sun, but NASA says you’ll still need binoculars to see it. You have to be at least 35 years old to remember the excitement of getting woken up in the early morning to go outside and behold the wonder of the bright tail of Halley’s Comet filling the night sky. That was in 1986, but the good news is that Halley’s Comet will be back in 2061.
XICHANG SATELLITE LAUNCH CENTER, CHINA — China’s Yutu 2 moon rover has spotted an as yet unidentified, cube-shaped, ‘mystery hut’ on the far side of the moon, according to Space.com. The rover became the first to land safely on the moon’s far side when it touched down on January 3, 2019, and since then has been very slowly making its way northwest, through the Von Karman crater within the South Pole-Aitken Basin. It spotted the unknown object on the horizon to the north, roughly 80 meters away from it in November, on the mission's 36th lunar day, according to Space.com. However, despite much recent interest, space journalist Andrew Jones tweeted that the object was likely nothing more mysterious than a boulder, which can be excavated by objects hitting the moon. This theory chimes with Yutu 2’s other work, mapping varying layers of the moon’s subsurface generated by space debris impacts, according to a Science Advances study and, in fact, Space.com explains that although a Yutu 2 diary published by a science outreach channel affiliated with the China National Space Administration referred to the object as a ‘mystery hut,’ this was meant as a placeholder name rather than an accurate description. Whatever it ultimately turns out to be, Yutu 2 is now expected to spend the next 2-3 lunar days (2-3 Earth months) traveling toward it to get a closer look, according to Space.com.
WASHINGTON — After a record-setting December heat wave made Americans wonder what happened to winter, a huge storm is now bringing freezing temperatures from Canada, and the cold air is being carried on very fast winds. Here are the details: The Washington Post reports that a sudden movement of air on Monday, December 6, finally started bringing freezing temperatures from Alaska and Canada to the lower 48 states of the U.S. Before this sudden sea change, the lower 48 states had been experiencing record-breaking heat for November and December, while the Pacific Northwest and British Columbia had also been experiencing record-breaking autumn rainfall on top of unseasonably high temperatures. Meteorologists said the strange warm weather in the U.S. had been caused by a stuck polar vortex. This channel of air flows at a very high speed at a height of 30,000 feet on the boundary between the cold Arctic air and the warmer air south of the Arctic. The polar vortex steers storms and usually changes its shape and position, but scientists say it’s been stuck in one place for an unusually long time, and that’s why the U.S. had been having such strangely warm weather over November and the beginning of December. Meanwhile, Hawaii has been hit by snow-dumping blizzards on its highest peaks, while flooding and high winds are punishing the archipelago’s low-lying areas.