Category Archives: Science

Iran’s Mohajer-6, Qaem bomb deadly weapons against terrorists

 Iran has started mass production of Mohajer-6 drones equipped with Qaem precision-guided bombs to target the terrorists in their hideouts.

In a ceremony on Monday February 5, 2018  in commemoration of the 40th anniversary of the victory of the Islamic Revolution and in the presence of Iran’s Defense Minister Brigadier General Amir Hatami, the Defense Ministry inaugurated the mass production of Mohajer-6 UCAV equipped with Qaem smart guided bomb.

The new Iranian Unmanned Aerial Vehicle has capabilities which make it different from other types of Iranian-made drones.

Mohajer 6 combat drone has different capabilities. It can fulfill needs of long endurance missions; it has extreme flexibility in the battlefield and unique flying capabilities; it has the capability to carry out surveillance, reconnaissance and combat missions within a wide operational range and wingspan with a high precision. It can help the Iranian armed forces to hit terrorists with its Qaem precision-guided bombs.

Mohajer-6 is the first UAV of the Mohajer family that is armed with a guided weapon system and is bigger than the other types of Mohajer family. The Iranian Mohajer-4 UAV have been successfully used during conflicts in Syria and Iraq, and allegedly in Lebanon.

The drone was initially unveiled in a ceremony on Saturday April 15, 2017 in Iran’s president’s presence.

This delicious Danish distillery is the Noma of wonderful booze

Copenhagen-based Empirical Spirits, led by Noma’s Lars Williams and Mark Emil Hermansen, wants to bring new flavour to alcoholic drinks

 

 

n a warehouse on Refshaleøen island, Copenhagen, a chorus of clattering is being produced by hacked-together machinery. Finishing some work on a still, Lars Williams, a muscular man distinguishable by his tattoos, jumps down. Over the past eight years, Williams ran The Nordic Food Lab, the research and development facility founded by chef René Redzepi of the Copenhagen restaurant Noma. It was at Noma that Redzepi, through his obsession with flavour, foraging and sustainability, helped spark the movement that explores food being an expression of its native ingredients and local environment. When Noma closed for refurbishment, Williams switched his focus to alcohol.

The result, started in February 2017, is Empirical Spirits, by Williams and his business partner, the tall and eloquent anthropologist Mark Emil Hermansen. At Empirical, Williams is eagerly leading an investigation into brewing and distilling, looking at flavours, traditions, technologies and techniques to see if things could be done differently. Why can’t spirits be seasonal, as food can, or have vintages, as wine does? Why should spirits be required to have an ABV of 40 per cent when they could taste far better at 20 per cent?

Unusually, compared to say, gin distillers, Empirical creates its own base, which Williams describes “as more of a mash-up of eastern and western techniques, taking the best parts of sake and fusing them to the best parts of beer.”

After being soaked in water, an heirloom Danish variety of barley is placed in a converted shipping container lined with Douglas fir wood and injected with mould spores (koji-kin) to make koji. Used extensively in Japan as the base for sake, misos and soy sauces, koji enables the production of the enzyme amaylase that breaks down the starches into sugars.

Being “on a constant search for flavour – usually at the huge expense of time and sanity,” Williams prefers koji to malt because of its flavour profiles, which are sweet and nutty. “We make everything from scratch, not necessarily under time pressure. In the flavour of our spirit you can taste the koji and you can taste the addition of the yeast – these components are an important foundation.”

A rotary evaporator. The flask is rotated in a warm-water bath to gently extract the distillate without destroying the delicate flavours

Next, they follow a beer-brewing process where koji, a selection of grains and Belgian Saison Yeast are put into kegs of 150 litres each. The yeast was created by White Labs, a global yeast and micro-organisms research and development company, which has a facility next door.

After a week of fermentation, the liquid tastes sweet because, explains Williams, “from a cook’s perspective it didn’t make sense to me that you’d start off with something that didn’t taste good, then try to make a nice product. Most people want to try to make alcohol fermentation fast, which is usually very hot, so you get something that’s like beer that doesn’t taste good. Yet, I think the yeasts can add flavour.”

The fermented liquid is then distilled at 5-15°C using a 100-litre closed vacuum still. Next to it are three other stainless steel stills of 500, 1,500 and 2,000 litres, which will push production further. Having grown up tinkering on cars, (“I was always fixing things,” Williams says), he has now begun experimenting with ultrasonic foggers to enable distillation at even lower temperatures.

He talks continually of retaining flavour. Where in a normal still a distiller will boil at high temperatures, during which lots of smell and flavour escapes, his closed system and low temperature distillation avoids this: “So in a normal still, the Douglas Fir would taste like bad spinach, but we’re able to capture its smell in the spirit.”

Noma famously embraced unusual and unexpected ingredients, from rarely-used plants to insects, in its pursuit of taste and experiences, and Empirical is similarly devoted to exploring new flavours. Additions might include mugwort, wild beach roses or even roast chicken skin, before the spirit is distilled over eight to ten hours for further refining. Finally, they re-distill, or rectify, to the alcohol point “that best suits the flavour,” as Williams also challenges the idea that most spirits have to be 40 per cent ABV.

Barley (above right) is mixed with a strain of koji fungus and left for 24 hours in this “koji sauna”. Here, the fungus converts barley starches to sugar, which is used by yeast in the next stage to produce alcohol

Christoffer Rudqvist

When it is time for tasting, Hiro Takeda, a Canadian cook on Empirical’s team, steps away from a
stainless-steel keg to explain the results of one such experiment. In front of him are six glass bottles, each one labelled and filled with transparent liquid. Unintelligible to most visitors, the text reads: botanical, wash, grain, koji, yeast, volume and alcohol level.

“I’m most excited about the way Lars thinks about flavours, and how he challenges not just himself, but others too, to think outside the box,” Takeda says, before offering me small shots of liquid to taste.

First up is a spirit labelled Easy Tiger, so-named for the speed of a Tokyo tattooist who designed a tiger on Williams’ shoulder. Takeda describes it as a base ferment done on koji, pearled barley and naked barley, pitched with Belgian Saison Yeast, and finished with local Douglas Fir and juniper; it smells like a forest, and sipping it tastes partly like drinking something medicinal while walking through fir trees. The flavours coat the mouth, the experience continues long afterwards. The second, Charlene McGee, named after Drew Barrymore’s character in the film Firestarter, is smoky, almost whisky-like; it uses a base ferment finished with juniper smoked on juniper wood and rested for five days in sherry casks. Next is Helena, a neutral spirit, tasting somewhere between a vodka and a sake, with a little nuttiness – yet there are no botanicals here.

Mark Emil Hermansen has worked with René Redzepi in food development – in particular to promote entomophagy (eating insects)

Christoffer Rudqvist

Loveliest of all is Fallen Pony Blend. Made with the base ferment and a quince tea kombucha, there is luscious sweetness on the nose, no burn, and ongoing peach characters. Fifth is a fishy – but not unpleasant – spirit made with the Danish dried and smoked fish bakskuld, then, finally, one with roasted rosehip seed whose toasty, chocolatey notes are reminiscent of pudding.

Spirits, and the technology they’ve developed, Williams says, were a way to create a vehicle “where we could have flavour that could travel.” Coming from a restaurant where he says “you might spend 100 hours to develop one dish [but] then you can only serve 40 people”, Williams is excited by Empirical’s reach. “This is more democratic, and it’s fun being able to have something to share.”

Although they have only been operating for ten months, their creations have found a dedicated following, and certain bottles are now stocked in Restaurant Barr, Restaurant 108 and Amass restaurant in Copenhagen, and in popular London bars Clove Club and Scout. Products are occasionally released on Fridays via the brand’s Instagram feed; according to Empirical’s excitable brand manager, Ian Moore, the last batch of 300, each costing 485 kr (£43) sold out within 30 minutes.

In addition to dramatically stepping up production capability in 2018 with the arrival of new machinery, Empirical is constantly in search of new flavours, and subverting the usual methods.

Hermansen, having previously written an academic paper on food and identity, is virtually euphoric at the prospect of introducing people to flavours that give them “that spark of curiosity – and also familiarity and enjoyment.” He believes we’re early in our understanding of the palate, which he says, “allows your memory and mind to travel”.

“When you try something new, you use all your senses,” Hermansen says. “That’s almost the most privileged thing that a person can do.”

The stuff of prehistoric nightmares: A spider with a whip-like tail

Newly-discovered ancient arachnid found entombed in chunks of amber in Myanmar

 

Scientists on Monday described four specimens of the arachnid that inhabited a Cretaceous Period tropical forest about 100 million years ago during the dinosaur age. Alongside modern spider traits such as a silk-producing structure called a spinneret, it possessed a remarkably primitive feature: a whip-like tail covered in short hairs that it may have used for sensing predators and prey.

“It is a key fossil for understanding spider origins,” said palaeontologist Bo Wang of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. “Our new fossil most likely represents the earliest branch of spiders, and implies that there was a lineage of tailed spiders that presumably originated in the Paleozoic (the geological era that ended 251 million years ago) and survived at least into the Cretaceous of Southeast Asia.”

Despite its fearsome appearance, the fanged Chimerarachne was only about 7.5 mm long, more than half of which was its tail.

University of Kansas palaeontologist Paul Selden said Chimerarachne represents “a kind of missing link” between true spiders and earlier spider forerunners that had tails but lacked spinnerets.

“Chimerarachne could be considered as a spider. It all depends on where we decide to draw the line,” Selden said. “I am sure arachnophobes would not like this animal, except that it is only a few millimetres long, so it would be living almost unseen by them.”

Chimerarachne yingi, found trapped in a 100 million year old amber from Myanmar. Illustration: Dinghua Yang/University of Kansas
Chimerarachne yingi, found trapped in a 100 million year old amber from Myanmar. Illustration: Dinghua Yang/University of Kansas

The earliest arachnids, a group including spiders, scorpions, mites, ticks and others, dates to about 420 million years ago. The oldest-known true spiders lived about 315 millions year ago.

Numerous animals and plants have been found beautifully preserved inside amber, which is fossilized tree resin. Many important amber finds have been made in Myanmar. Chimerarachne may have lived under bark or in the moss at the foot of a tree.

“All four specimens are adult males, which would have been roving around looking for females at this point in their lives,” Selden said.

“Chimerarachne most likely wove a sheet web, and possibly a burrow lined with silk. Spiders use silk for a great many purposes, of which prey-capture webs is just one. Egg-wrapping is a vital function for spider silk, as well as laying a trail to find its way back home.”

The research was published in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution. –Reuters/New York Times

Nasa’s long-lost IMAGE satellite found alive after spending more than a decade in cosmic darkness

Back in 2000, Nasa launched the IMAGE satellite with an aim to study the Earth’s magnetosphere and its interaction with the Sun.

 

 

 

crucial Nasa satellite, which was thought to be lost due to a systems failure 12 years ago, has been discovered by an amateur astronomer.

Back in 2000, the space agency launched Imager for Magnetopause-to-Aurora Global Exploration or IMAGE satellite with the goal of studying Earth’s magnetosphere and its interaction with Sun. The massive chunk of space tech, which served as a telescope, did the job perfectly early on and got its two-year-long mission extended.

 

However, a few years and 37 unique discoveries later, things went south and the satellite’s power controller tripped, breaking the connection with Nasa. “IMAGE’s telemetry signals were not received during a routine pass,” the agency said in 2005, ultimately declaring the orbiter lost.

With little hope for recovery, Nasa had given up on the satellite but now, after 12 long years, an amateur visual and radio astronomer has brightened up the chances of restoring the lost connection.

Scott Tilley, who has a hobby of searching classified satellites, was scouring for the government’s recently lost Zuma payload when he got signals from a satellite labelled “2000-017A”. After matching the orbit of the spotted object, he was able to confirm that this was indeed the long-lost IMAGE satellite.

The satellite reactivated due to some reason and started broadcasting signals, which were heard by Tilley. He reported the finding in a blog post and suggested some of the onboard instruments of the orbiter might still be working and could ultimately help with reviving the $150m mission.

“The odds are extremely good that it’s alive,” Patricia Reiff, a co-investigator of the original mission, told Science Magazine. “The team is collectively holding their breath waiting for some real information exchange between IMAGE and the ground.”

Though it is unclear how exactly the satellite rebooted or how good it will do if the connection is re-established, the post suggests it may have restarted by passing through the Earth’s shadow, which would have drained its batteries and triggered a force-reset. “As you will note from the plots below the Sun angles are presently good for IMAGE and it may just stay operational for some time to come,” Tilley wrote.

Scientists are working to check the instruments and determine if anything could be done to restore the connection, but if that happens, the revived satellite could make history by coming back into action and making some critical findings for Nasa.

Trump will seek to eliminate U.S. involvement in International Space Station

U.S. missions to the International Space Station may come to a halt in the next few years if President Trump’s upcoming fiscal-year budget passes Congress. The Verge reported Friday that the budget, which the White House is schedules to release next month, calls for eliminating U.S. participation in the space station.

NASA has been a leading partner in the space station since 1997 and currently contributes $3 billion to $4 billion to the ISS each year. The space station is the only destination point in space that astronauts currently have, and it hosts hundreds of ongoing research projects spanning a variety of research that has practical applications for science both on Earth and beyond it.

“NASA and the International Space Station partnership is committed to full scientific and technical research on the orbiting laboratory, as it is the foundation on which we will extend human presence deeper into space,” said a NASA spokesperson. The spokesperson declined to comment on the leaked budget proposal, however.

Trump signed a NASA Transition Authorization Act last year that directed NASA to come up with ways to wean the space station off NASA funding, although NASA has not released any public information on whether it ever delivered the report to Congress. Trump officials have said that they intend to refocus U.S. space efforts away from international collaborations and toward building deep-space vehicles that could take humans to the Moon, Mars, and beyond.

Space researchers said that losing the space station would ground U.S. crews for the foreseeable future and thus potentially complicate space-vehicle design and development, however. They added that it could also be a setback for the commercial space industry, which uses the space station to test-fly its new vehicles.

Facebook to deliver more local news to US users

Facebook said Monday it has decided to deliver more local news to US users, in its latest effort to manage the flow of information on the enormously-influential social network.

 

Earlier this month, Facebook announced it will ask its two billion users to rank their trust in  sources as part of an effort to combat the spread of misinformation.

The changes come as the online giant seeks to address charges that it has failed—along with Google and Twitter—to prevent the spread of , especially ahead of the 2016 US presidential election.

“Local news helps build community—both on and offline,” Facebook co-founder and chief executive Mark Zuckerberg said in a post on the social network.

“It’s an important part of making sure the time we all spend on Facebook is valuable.”

Zuckerberg traveled around the US last year, visiting with Facebook users.

“One theme people kept telling me is how much we all have in common if we can get past some of the most divisive national issues,” Zuckerberg said in the post.

“Many people told me they thought that if we could turn down the temperature on the more divisive issues and instead focus on concrete local issues, then we’d all make more progress together.”

He also cited research suggesting that reading  prompted people to be more engaged in their communities.

Facebook is showing US members more stories from news sources in their cities or towns, and plans to begin doing the same in more countries later this year.

‘Lowering the bar’

Recent changes at Facebook include a new “trusted sources” ranking intended to “make sure the news you see is high quality” and to foster “a sense of common ground” rather than sow division, Zuckerberg said in a previous post.

Facebook decided to rely on member surveys to rank trust in .

A freshly-introduced update highlights what friends and family share on the network, over advertisements, celebrity and media posts.

The company cast the changes as part of a refocus on “community”—prioritizing social interactions and relationships, even if it means people spend less time on the platform.

Known for annual personal goals ranging from killing his own food to learning Chinese, Zuckerberg’s stated mission for this year is to “fix” the social network.

He plans to target abuse and hate, as well as interference by nation states.

Facebook is a powerful platform for distributing news stories, and the changes have raised concerns among media organizations that had adapted to the social network’s existing formula for displaying content to users.

The announcement by Zuckerberg also drew criticism that Facebook could be “lowering the bar” for what constitutes news.

Assistant professor Jennifer Grygiel of the S.I. Newhouse School of public communications at Syracuse University in New York said that serving up statements from public agencies as news on Facebook could give government more power when it comes to what the public knows.

“What you are going to see is a rise in state-run media if this applies to every official page in your neighborhood,” Grygiel told AFP.

“We are potentially getting more misinformation because we have lost the gatekeepers and fact-checkers in journalism. Journalists have a role in our society, and I don’t think Mark Zuckerberg has figured out what that is yet.”

The professor noted that an early sampling of what is being presented as local “news” featured posts from state or city entities in an offering more akin to a bulletin board than the work of journalists.

“I think (Facebook) has watered down the idea of news,” Grygiel said.

“They should stop using the word ‘news’ unless they are actually talking about journalistic institutions. They are redefining what is news, and they are lowering the bar.”

 

A Look Back at the Space Year That Was

Total solar eclipse photographed from NASA Armstrong’s Gulfstream III. (Credit: (NASA/Carla Thomas)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

 

 

I realize it’s a bit late, but here’s a look back at the major developments in space in 2017.

I know that I’m probably forgetting something, or several somethings or someones. Fortunately, I have eagle-eyed readers who really seem to enjoy telling me just how much I’ve screwed up. Some of them a little too much….

So, have at it!  Do your worst, eagle-eyed readers!

Launches

A total of 90 orbital launches were attempted in 2017, with 84 successes, five failures and one partial failure. U.S. launch providers flew 29 launches without a failure, with Elon Musk’s SpaceX providing 18 of them. Several small satellite launchers made their debuts, not all successfully. Blue Origin returned to flight, Virgin Orbit debuted and nearly 300 nanosats were launched.

SpaceX Soars

SpaceX launched its 12th resupply mission to the International Space Station from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 12:31 p.m. EDT on Monday, Aug. 14, 2017. (Credit: NASA Television)

The numbers for Elon Musk’s space company speak for themselves:

  • 18 launches
  • 14 recovered first stages
  • 5 re-flown first stages
  • 4 Dragon missions to the International Space Station (ISS)
  • 2 re-flown Dragon supply ships
  • 48 communications satellites launched

SpaceX also returned launches to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. Rockets roared off Pad 39A for the first time since the final space shuttle mission in 2011.

The company plans to increase its launches in 2018 by 50 percent. Also on the manifest for this year is a Falcon Heavy launches and two commercial crew flight tests with Dragon 2 spacecraft to the space station.

Blue Origin Returns to Flight

Mannequin Skywalker — an instrumented test dummy — flew aboard the New Shepard capsule. (Credit: Blue Origin)

Blue Origin returned to flight with an upgraded version of the New Shepard suborbital system in December after a 14-month gap. The capsule contained a dozen experiments and an instrumented test dummy named Mannequin Skywalker. It was the first commercial flight of the system under a FAA launch license.

The company also tested its BE-4 engine for its New Glenn booster and neared completion of its rocket factory on Florida’s Space Coast.

Smallsat Launchers Debut

Electron lifts off on maiden flight from Mahia Peninsula in New Zealand. (Credit: Rocket Lab)

Four boosters aimed at the small satellite market debuted last year, two successfully and two not.

China’s Kuaizhou 1A (KZ-1A) rocket made a successful maiden flight in January. The launcher, an upgraded version of the Kauizhou 1 rocket, is capable of lifting payloads weighing up to 300 kg (661 lbs) into low Earth orbit (LEO).

China’s Kaituozhe-2 (KT-2) rocket successfully launched a payload for the first time in March. The booster is capable of launching a 350-kg (772-lb) payload to LEO or a 250-kg (551-lb) payload to a 700-km (435-mile) sun synchronous orbit (SSO).

In January, a Japanese attempt to launch the SS-520 microsat rocket ended in failure. The booster is an upgraded sounding rocket capable of lifting about 140 kg (309 lb) to an altitude of about 800 km (497 miles). Another attempt is expected in early 2018.

Rocket Lab conducted the first flight test of its new Electron booster in May. he rocket reached space but failed to place its inert payload into orbit in the first ever orbital launch from New Zealand. A second flight test was successful on Jan. 21, 2018.

Electron is capable of lifting payloads weighing up to 225 kg (~500 lb) to a 500-km (311-mile) SSO.

Year of the NanoSats

CubeSats STMSat-1, CADRE and MinXSS are deployed from the International Space Station during Expedition 47. (Credit: NASA)

A record total of 295 nanosats were launched in 2017, including 287 CubeSats, according to the Nanosat Database. The total was more than the previous two years combined. Planet led the way with 104 satellites, followed by Spire with 46 and the QB 50 project with 36.

In February, an Indian PSLV booster lofted a record 104 satellites into orbit. The CartoSat 2D remote sensing satellite was accompanied by 103 secondary payloads from India and foreign customers, including 96 spacecraft from the United States.

Planet completed what the company calls Mission 1, which was to launch a sufficient number of satellites to image the entire Earth once per day. Approximately 160 satellites are returning 1.4 million images per day at a resolution of 29 megapixels.

Virgin Orbit

Virgin Orbit’s Cosmic Girl air launch 747 (Credit: Virgin Orbit)

Virgin Galactic’s project to launch satellites from a modified Boeing 747 using the LauncherOne became a separate company named Virgin Orbit. The new company debuted a modified 747 named Cosmic Girl. Virgin Orbit is planning the first flight test of LauncherOne later this year.

Human Space Exploration

NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson set a new spaceflight record, China prepared for the launch of a permanent space station, NASA and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) named new astronaut candidates, Elon Musk unveiled  revised plans for sending humans to Mars, the Trump Administration’s focused on returning humans to the moon, and NASA went most of the year under a caretaker administrator.

Peggy Whitson Sets New Record

Peggy Whitson aboard the International Space Station. (Credit: NASA)

Whitson set a new American record for time spent in space of 665 days 22 hours 22 minutes when she returned from ISS on Sept. 3, 2017. It was also a new record for female astronauts. Whitson also previously served as the first female commander of the space station. She has launched twice on the Russian Soyuz spacecraft and once on the space shuttle.

China Launches to Space Station

In April, China launched the Tianzhou-1 resupply ship to the unoccupied Tiangong-2 space station. The cargo ship carried out multiple dockings and refueling exercises with the space station. The mission helped to set the stage for the construction to begin construction of a permanent multi-module space station beginning in 2019.

New Astronaut Candidates Selected

NASA astronaut candidates of 2017. (Credit: NASA)

NASA announced the selection of seven men and five women as astronaut candidates in June. The group was culled from a total of 18,300 applicants. The candidates include Kayla Barron, Zena Cardman, Raja Chari, Matthew Dominick, Bob Mines, Warren Hoburg, Jonny Kim, Robb Kulin, Jasmin Moghbeli, Loral O’Hara, Frank Rubio and Jessica Watkins.

The following month, CSA announced the selection of two new astronauts, Joshua Kutryk and Jennifer Sidey, on Canada Day.

Mars Ho!

BFR servicing the International Space Station. (Credit: SpaceX)

In September, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk unveiled a new version of his Mars transportation architecture at the International Astronautical Conference (IAC) in Adelaide, Australia.

Musk’s Big (Expletive Deleted) Rocket was smaller than the one he had unveiled at the IAC in Mexico a year earlier. But, Musk pitched it as being able to much more, including servicing lunar bases and the International Space Station and providing rapid point-to-point travel on Earth.

Musk also announced the cancellation of Red Dragon missions that were to have tested propulsive landing techniques on Mars. The first of those missions had been set to launch in 2018. The decision allows SpaceX to focus on BFR.

Back to the Moon

President Donald Trump signs an executive order reviving the National Space Council. (Credit: The White House)

In December, President Donald Trump signed Space Policy Directive 1 (SPD-1) to refocus NASA on returning astronauts to the moon and eventually sending them off to Mars. Details of exactly how to achieve that goal are likely to emerge next month when the Administration releases its FY 2019 budget proposal.

The Trump Administration also revived the National Space Council after a 24-year absence to better coordinate space activities across the government. Vice President Mike Pence is head of the revived NSC with Scott Pace serving as executive director.

Rep. Jim Bridenstine

NASA Leadership Vacuum

The Trump Administration nominated Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK) to serve as NASA administrator in September.

Bridenstine had a rough confirmation hearing, with questions being raised about his positions on global warming research, social issues and the wisdom of putting a politician in charge of an agency that enjoys broad bipartisan support.

Bridenstine’s confirmation vote in the closely and bitterly divided Senate could be very close.

Space Science

The venerable Cassini mission came to an end, a total eclipse of the sun occurred over North America, scientists discovered many exoplanets as well as an oddly shaped exo-solar visitor, and a trio of historic spacecraft marked significant anniversaries.

Cassini Takes a Final Bow

NASA-ESA Cassini Huygens Mission

The world bid a sad farewell to the Cassini spacecraft in September. Launched in 1997, the spacecraft revolutionized our understanding of Saturn as it orbited the planet for 13 years.

A key highlight of the mission was the delivery of ESA’s Huygens probe, which in 2005 became the first spacecraft to land on the surface of Saturn’s cloud-shrouded moon, Titan.

With Cassini running out of fuel, controllers directed it to burn up in Saturn’s atmosphere rather than risking it crashing into and contaminating one of the planet’s moons.

Exoplanets Discovered

Seven Earth-sized planets have been observed by NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope around a tiny, nearby, ultra-cool dwarf star called TRAPPIST-1. Three of these planets are firmly in the habitable zone. (Credits: NASA)

It was a great year for finding planets orbiting distant stars. In February, NASA announced that its Spitzer Space Telescope had revealed the first known systems of seven Earth-size planets orbiting around the nearby, ultra-cool dwarf star called TRAPPIST-1. Three of the planets are located in the habitable zone.

Other teams around the world found planets of various sizes orbiting other stars.

Interstellar Visitor Spotted

Artist’s concept of interstellar asteroid 1I/2017 U1 (‘Oumuamua) as it passed through the solar system after its discovery in October 2017. The aspect ratio of up to 10:1 is unlike that of any object seen in our own solar system. (Credit: European Southern Observatory / M. Kornmesser)

In October, astronomer Robert Weryk discovered the first known interstellar object to pass through our Solar System using the Pan-STARRS telescope at the Haleakala Observatory in Hawaii.

Known as 1I/2017 U1 (`Oumuamua), the extra-solar visitor measures an estimated 230 by 35 meters (755 ft × 115 ft)  and spins on its axis every 7.3 hours. The discovery led some people to speculate the object is an artificial one constructed by an alien civilization.

Space Anniversaries

The Space Age turned 60 on Oct. 4 as the world marked the anniversary of the launching of Sputnik 1 by the Soviet Union.

The American Voyager 1 and 2 spacecraft marked their 40th anniversaries in space in August and September. Both spacecraft continue to function and send back data. Voyager 1 fired backup thrusters in late November for the first time in 37 years.

Total Solar Eclipse

Total solar eclipse photographed from NASA Armstrong’s Gulfstream III. (Credit: (NASA/Carla Thomas)

On Aug. 21, the heavens treated North America to a total eclipse of the sun. Millions of people went outside wearing protective eye gear to view the rare event.

Development Milestones

Dream Chaser glided and landed safely, DARPA awarded a contract for XS-1, Stratolaunch began taxi tests, Made in Space launched a space manufacturing experiment, and Virgin Galactic continued test flights of SpaceShipTwo.

Dream Chaser Flight

Dream Chaser lands (Credit: NASA)

Sierra Nevada conducted a successful glide flight of its Dream Chaser space shuttle in November at Edwards Air Force Base in California. It was the first flight of the vehicle since it crashed on the same runway in 2013 when part of its landing gear failed to deploy.

Sierra Nevada is developing the vehicle to deliver cargo to the space station under a contract with NASA.

XS-1 Contract Awarded

In May, DARPA selected Boeing to build and fly the XS-1 reusable experimental space plane, with Aerojet Rocketdyne providing propulsion. The vehicle is designed to provide short-notice, low-cost access to space.

Stratolaunch Begins Taxi Tests

Stratolaunch carrier aircraft (Credit: Stratolaunch)

The company rolled out the world’s largest airplane by wingspan (385 feet or 117.3 meters) and took it on taxi tests at the Mojave Air and Space Port in California. The aircraft will air launch satellites into orbit.

Made in Space Launches Fiber Optics Facility

The California company launched a 3D printer designed to produce extremely high-quality optical fiber to the ISS aboard a Dragon resupply ship in December. The machine is designed to produce at least 100 meters (328 ft) of the optical fiber known as ZBLAN for analysis back on the ground.

The manufactured material was returned on the same Dragon spacecraft in January. If the results are acceptable, the company plans to produce ZBLAN in larger quantities in space for sale on Earth.

Virgin Galactic Progresses

SpaceShipTwo glides over the Mojave Desert after being released from its WhiteKnightTwo mother ship. (Credit; Virgin Galactic)

Virgin Galactic continued glide flights of its second SpaceShipTwo, Unity, at the Mojave Air and Space Port in California. An additional glide flight was performed in early January that is expected to be the final one before powered tests begin.

Investment & Entrepreneurial Developments

It was a record year for equity investment in the space industry. The Virgin Group signed a big deal, Northrop Grumman announced plans to acquire Orbital ATK, and XCOR and Orbital Outfitters ended up out of business.

Investment Hits Record High

Space Angels report that commercial space crossed another inflection point in 2017, with a record total $3.9 billion of non-governmental, equity investment flowing into 303 companies. The launchers and landers segment accounted for 72 percent of the capital investment last year, overtaking the satellite sector.

More than 120 venture capital firms made investments in the industry, accounting for more than 40 percent of the total investment for 2017. That figure was an increase from 12 percent in 2016.

Saudi Arabia Investment Deal with Virgin Group

LauncherOne ignites after being released from Cosmic Girl 747. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

In October,  Richard Branson announced the Virgin Group had signed a memorandum of understanding with Saudi Arabia for a $1 billion investment in the group’s three space companies – Virgin Galactic, Virgin Orbit and The Spaceship Company — with an option for $480 million more. In exchange, the Virgin Group has agreed to invest in a new Saudi mega-city called Neom and other projects in the kingdom.

Northrop Grumman Acquires Orbital ATK

Northrop Grumman announced in September that it would acquire Orbital ATK for $9.2 billion. The deal is expected to close in the first half of this year.

XCOR Aerospace Folds

XCOR’s senior test pilot Brian Binnie and senior engineer Erik Anderson performing a Lynx mission in the Simulator. (Credit: XCOR)

Struggling XCOR filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in November. XCOR had stopped work on its two-person Lynx suborbital vehicle in 2016. The fatal blow came after United Launch Alliance (ULA) ended an engine contract with the company in the spring of 2017.

XCOR’s failure is a blow to the city of Midland, which provided a $10 million financial package for the company to move its headquarters to the west Texas city.

Orbital Outfitters

Midland also provided a financial package to Orbital Outfitters, a company that was building spacesuits for XCOR. That company is also out of business.

Departures

Astronaut Bruce McCandless II, STS-41B mission specialist, uses his hands to control his movement above the Earth – and just few meters away from the space shuttle Challenger – during the first-ever spacewalk which didn’t use restrictive tethers and umbilicals. Fellow crewmembers aboard the Challenger used a 70mm camera to expose this frame through windows on the flight deck. (Credits: NASA)

The world said goodbye to a number of prominent space explorers in 2017.

Eugene Cernan: The last man to step off the moon, Cernan walked in space on Gemini 9, orbited the moon on Apollo 10, and commanded the final lunar mission, Apollo 17, in December 1972.

Richard Gordon: The astronaut walked in space on Gemini 11 and orbited the moon as command module pilot on Apollo 12.

Paul Weitz:  He spent a  then-record 28 days in space with Pete Conrad and Joseph Kerwin as the first crew to occupy the Skylab space station in 1973.

Bruce McCandless II:  The two-time space veteran became the first human satellite when he tested the Manned Maneuvering Unit during the STS-41B mission in February 1984. McCandless also flew aboard the space shuttle Discovery on the STS-31 mission, which deployed the Hubble Space Telescope in April 1990.

Viktor Gorbatko: The Soviet cosmonaut flew the Soyuz 7 mission, which was a joint flight with Soyuz 6 and Soyuz 8. Gorbatko also flew to the Salyut 5 space station aboard Soyuz 24 and the Salyut 6 space station aboard Soyuz 37. He spent a total of 30 days in space.

Georgy Grechko: The three-time space veteran spent nearly 135 days in space on missions to three different space stations. Grechko flew to Salyut 4 on Soyuz 17, Salyut 6 on Soyuz 26, and Salyut 7 on Soyuz T-14. He was one of the cosmonauts selected to train for lunar missions that were never flown.

Igor Volk: He flew to Salyut 7 on Soyuz T-12 and also trained to fly Buran, the Soviet space shuttle that made a single automated flight before being mothballed.

The Noose Beneath the Waves

Fishing gear can pose a deadly threat to whales—and to those who try to save them.

Authored by

by Sasha Chapman 

Why is the suicide rate among LGB young people so high?

Stigma in school, negative reactions to coming out and victimisation are all significantly associated with suicide in lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) young adults.

That is the conclusion of research being presented today, Thursday 18 January 2018, by Dan Baker on behalf of a team of researchers from METRO Charity, the University of Greenwich and King’s College London to the annual conference of the British Psychological Society’s Division of Clinical Psychology in Cardiff.

The research team used data from the METRO Youth Chances Study, to analyse the experiences of 3275 young LGB people between the ages of 16 and 25.

They found that suicide attempts were reported by 13.6 per cent of the sample, 45.2 per cent said they had thought of suicide in the past year and 9.5 per cent said future suicide attempts were likely.

LGB stigma and discrimination experiences were significantly associated with all three aspects of suicidality. These included school stigma factors (e.g. teachers not speaking out against prejudice, lessons being negative about sexual minorities), negative reactions to coming out from family and friends, and victimisation ranging from being outed to physical assault or blackmail.

Bisexuality and identifying with a sexual minority at a young age were also associated with suicidality. More general factors associated with suicidality included female gender, lower social support, seeking help for anxiety or depression, and being a victim of violence or sexual abuse.

Dan Baker says:

“Our research shows that a wide range of stigma and discrimination experiences are associated with increased suicidality in LGB youth. Health professionals working with LGB young people should assess and address the effects of LGB-stigma and victimisation experiences, and so should suicide prevention programmes and wider anti-bullying policies and interventions. Although attitudes towards LGB people may be improving, this study shows that many young people are still being profoundly affected by stigma.”

AI ‘scientist’ finds that toothpaste ingredient may help fight drug-resistant malaria

An ingredient commonly found in toothpaste could be employed as an anti-malarial drug against strains of malaria parasite that have grown resistant to one of the currently-used drugs. This discovery, led by researchers at the University of Cambridge, was aided by Eve, an artificially-intelligent ‘robot scientist’.

When a mosquito infected with malaria parasites bites someone, it transfers the parasites into their bloodstream via its saliva. These parasites work their way into the liver, where they mature and reproduce. After a few days, the parasites leave the liver and hijack red blood cells, where they continue to multiply, spreading around the body and causing symptoms, including potentially life-threatening complications.

Malaria kills over half a million people each year, predominantly in Africa and south-east Asia. While a number of medicines are used to treat the disease, malaria parasites are growing increasingly resistant to these drugs, raising the spectre of untreatable malaria in the future.

Now, in a study published today in the journal Scientific Reports, a team of researchers employed the Robot Scientist ‘Eve’ in a high-throughput screen and discovered that triclosan, an ingredient found in many toothpastes, may help the fight against drug-resistance.

When used in toothpaste, triclosan prevents the build-up of plaque bacteria by inhibiting the action of an enzyme known as enoyl reductase (ENR), which is involved in the production of fatty acids.

Scientists have known for some time that triclosan also inhibits the growth in culture of the malaria parasite Plasmodium during the blood-stage, and assumed that this was because it was targeting ENR, which is found in the liver. However, subsequent work showed that improving triclosan’s ability to target ENR had no effect on parasite growth in the blood.

Working with ‘Eve’, the research team discovered that in fact, triclosan affects parasite growth by specifically inhibiting an entirely different enzyme of the malaria parasite, called DHFR. DHFR is the target of a well-established antimalarial drug, pyrimethamine; however, resistance to the drug among malaria parasites is common, particularly in Africa. The Cambridge team showed that triclosan was able to target and act on this enzyme even in pyrimethamine-resistant parasites.

“Drug-resistant malaria is becoming an increasingly significant threat in Africa and south-east Asia, and our medicine chest of effective treatments is slowly depleting,” says Professor Steve Oliver from the Cambridge Systems Biology Centre and the Department of Biochemistry at the University of Cambridge. “The search for new medicines is becoming increasingly urgent.”

Because triclosan inhibits both ENR and DHFR, the researchers say it may be possible to target the parasite at both the liver stage and the later blood stage.

Lead author Dr Elizabeth Bilsland, now an assistant professor at the University of Campinas, Brazil, adds: “The discovery by our robot ‘colleague’ Eve that triclosan is effective against malaria targets offers hope that we may be able to use it to develop a new drug. We know it is a safe compound, and its ability to target two points in the malaria parasite’s lifecycle means the parasite will find it difficult to evolve resistance.”

Robot scientist Eve was developed by a team of scientists at the Universities of Manchester, Aberystwyth, and Cambridge to automate – and hence speed up – the drug discovery process by automatically developing and testing hypotheses to explain observations, run experiments using laboratory robotics, interpret the results to amend their hypotheses, and then repeat the cycle, automating high-throughput hypothesis-led research.

Professor Ross King from the Manchester Institute of Biotechnology at the University of Manchester, who led the development of Eve, says: “Artificial intelligence and machine learning enables us to create automated scientists that do not just take a ‘brute force’ approach, but rather take an intelligent approach to science. This could greatly speed up the drug discovery progress and potentially reap huge rewards.”

The research was supported by the Biotechnology & Biological Sciences Research Council, the European Commission, the Gates Foundation and FAPESP (São Paulo Research Foundation).