Building the World

December 21, 2020
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SPACE: Rock Hounds bring Finds to Earth

There’s a goddess on the moon and she’s a rock collector. China’s lunar explorer, Chang’e 5, named after the lunar deity, returned four pounds of rocks to Earth this week.

“The Moon Goddess Chang E.” Ming Dynasty Scroll, Metropolitan Museum of Art Acquisition number 1981.4.2. Image: Wikipedia

 

 

 

 

It’s been 44 years between rock collecting expeditions: for the first time since 1976 (Soviet Union’s Luna 24 returned 6 ounces (170 grams), humans reached the lunar surface, collected samples, and headed home with prize specimens. The USA returned moon rocks in 1972. Since making its first lunar landing in 2013, China has achieved notable milestones including the first space probe landing on the far side of the moon in 2019. Change’e 5 brought 4.4 pounds (2 kilograms) of lunar material back, landing in the Inner Mongolian Autonomous Region landing site on 16 December 2020. Some was surface rock, but a probe mechanism also collected material from 6.5 feet (2 meters) underground.

“Chang’e 5 Assembly, leaving CZ-5 rocket.” China News Agency. Image: wikimedia.

We may be in what some call a “golden age” of sampling from space. In addition to moon samples, we have retrieved interplanetary material from NASA‘s Stardust that returned samples from the tail of Comet 81P/Wild 2, and Genesis mission that sampled solar wind. JAXA’s Hayabusa that brought samples from asteroid Ryugu in December 2020; NASA’s OSIRIS-Rex visit to asteroid Bennu will return material (in 2023). Meanwhile, in 2021, we expect China’s Rianwen-1 to reach Mars, and Russia’s Lunar-24 to revisit the moon. JAXA’s Martian Moon Exploration (MMX) mission will soon return samples from Martian moon Phobos.

Hayabusa in hover mode. Image: JAXA. Wikimedia commons.

What did Chang’e find on the moon? The legendary goddess told a tale of global warming involving the heat of 10 suns. Perhaps rocks from the moon may shed light on Earth’s plight. As for the Chang’e mission, Pei Zhaoyu deputy director of China National Space Administration (CNSA) stated: “We hope to cooperate with other countries to build the international lunar scientific research station, which could provide a shared platform for lunar scientific exploration and technological experiments. ” Earlier, Johann-Dietrich Woerner, then director general of European Space Agency (ESA) suggested building a village on the far side of the moon to replace the aging International Space Station: “Partners from all over the world contributing to this community with robotic and astronaut missions and support communications satellites.” Frank P. Davidson, co-founder of Camp William James of the CCC, envisioned a program called Lunar U. Should there be a lunar study-abroad program for students, too?

“Moon and International Space Station.” That’s ISS in the lower right of the photo. Image: NASA.gov. Wikimedia.

Elin Urrutia, Doris. “We may be in a ‘golden age’ of sample-return space missions.” 5 December 2020. Space.com. https://www.space.com/golden-age-space-sample-retrieval-missions.html

Hauser, Jennifer and Zamira Rahim, “China’s Chang’e-5 lunar probe successfully delivers moon samples to Earth.” 16 December 2020. CNN.com. https://www.cnn.com/2020/12/16/asia/china-lunar-probe-intlindex.html

Quirke, Joe. “European Space Agency proposes village on far side of the moon.” 15 July 2015. Global Construction Review. https://www.globalconstructionreview.com/news/european-spa8ce-age6ncy-8p0r6o4p2os8e0s6-4v2i0l8la/

Xinhua. “China’s Chang’e-5 spacecraft brings home moon samples.” 17 December 2020. www.xinhuanet.com/english/2020-12/17/c_139595181.htm

Building the World Blog by Kathleen Lusk Brooke and Zoe G. Quinn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unp

 

 

There are plans in development for lunar base establishment; some aspects will be scientific, other may be commercial.

December 10, 2020
by buildingtheworld
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SPACE: Treasure Box Tamatebako delivered by Peregrine Falcon

“A peregrine falcon,” by photographer jam.mold 2015. Image: wikimedia commons.

A peregrine (Hayabusa is named after the falcon) flew 3.25 billion miles from Earth to explore asteroid Ryugu and carry back a certain treasure box that may open the secrets of the Solar System and the origins of Earth.

Leaving Earth in December 2014, Hayabusa2 first explored Ryugu from orbit, then scraped the surface to comb some samples, and finally sent small explosives into the asteroid’s rocky surface to blast a crater, collecting sub-surface samples. The precious pieces of debris were deposited into a capsule: that’s the treasure box. In December 2020, Hayabusa2 swooped over Woomera, South Australia, dropped the treasure box capsule, and proclaimed “I’m home.”

“Hayabusa2 seen with Earth in background.” 2018. Image: wikimedia.

After six years, it’s now a rush job to get the capsule back to JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) before any Earth air might leak in, because “There is no perfect sealing,” according to Dr. ShigoTachibana, principal investigator. First stop on the way home? A field lab on an Australian Airforce Base, reached via helicopter from capsule touchdown site. There, a special instrument extracts from the capsule any gases that may have been shaken out of the rock bits by the jarring flight and landing. Then, the treasure box continues via jet plane to JAXA’s lab. Eventually, samples will be shared around the scientific world.

Why all this interest in asteroids? They’re not even mentioned in the Outer Space Treaty. Asteroids are relics from billions of years ago – same time Earth was being formed. Asteroids are bits that didn’t latch onto any planet but instead just continued to spin out into space. There are millions of asteroids in a belt between Mars and Jupiter. Asteroids like Ryugu could tell us how life on Earth began, and how the Solar System evolved. Some asteroids may have commercial value: one is thought to contain platinum, worth $50 billion.

“The Asteroid Belt between Mars and Jupiter contains millions of asteroids.” Image: wikimedia.

JAXA’s not the only rock hound in space. NASA’s OSIRIS-REx explored and sampled asteroid Bennu recently; those samples will arrive in 2023. Scientists from both Bennu and Ryugu teams plan to meet, compare findings, and share samples. Other scientists around the world will participate: “Different labs contribute different expertise, which all helps in understanding the material collected and what that tells us about the formation and evolution of the Solar System,” stated Dr. Sarah Crowther of Manchester University. Professor Sara Russell, of the planetary materials group at London’s Natural History Museum, commented: “We think that this asteroid may have organic material and water which can give us information about how these things were delivered to the early Earth.” (Rincon, 2020) Hayabusa2 is not finished: after coming within 125 miles of Earth to drop the capsule, the peregrine flew towards its next destination – 1998 KY26, an asteroid discovered in 1998 and so tiny it completes a rotation day  every 10.7 minutes. While mainly a fly-by,  KY26 may yet yield treasure: the falcon kept one probe, just in case. For a video of Hayabusa2 and the mission, watch here.

“Urashina Tarō hand scroll showing the winter side of the palace Ryūgū-jō.” Origin: Japan. Image: Bodleian Library, Oxford University. wikimedia commons.

Flying a robotic intelligent vessel billions of miles, taking measurements and readings and tiny precise samples from far away rotating celestial locations, may be a mythic feat. Mythic feats deserve mythic names. Ryūgū-jō is the palace of Ryūjin, dragon king of the deep sea. In the Japanese myth of Urashina Tarō, a human fisher rescues a turtle, who gives the rescuer magic gills, and brings the fisher to the Ryūgū-jō. The turtle then transforms into a princess. Princess Otohime gives Tarō a tamatebako or “treasure box” upon the human’s return to Earth. In this space odyssey re-enactment, asteroid Ryugu is the palace, and we’re about to find out what’s in that treasure box.

“A Treasure Chest” 2009, graphic design by badaman. Wikimedia commons.

Chang, Kenneth. “Japans’s Journey to an Asteroid Ends With a Hunt in Australia’s Outback.” 5 December 2020, updated 7 December 2020. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/12/05/science/japan-asteroid-hayabusa2-woomera.html?referringSource=articleShare

Edwards, Jim. “Goldman Sachs: space-mining for platinum is ‘more realistic than perceived.'” 6 April 2017. Business Insider. https://www.insider.com/goldman-sachs-space-mining-asteroid-platinum-2017-4.

Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). “Video for the extended mission.” https://www.hayabusa2.jaxa/jp/en/topics/20201116_extMission/

Lang, Kenneth R. “1998 KY26.” 2010. Tufts University. https://ase.tufts.edu/cosmos/view_picture.asp?id=749

Lies, Elaine. “Asteroid sample arrives in Japan after six-year space odyssey,” 8 December 2020. Reuters.com. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-space-exploration-japan-layabusa2-idUSKBN2810NU.

Lusk Brooke, Kathleen and Zoë Quinn. “Space: Hayabusa touchdown on Ryugu.” 21 September 2018. https://blogs.umb.edu/buildingtheworld/2018/09/21/space-hayabusa-touchdown-on-ryugu/

Redd, Nola Taylor. “Asteroid Belt: Facts & Formation.” 5 May 2017. Space.com. https://www.space.com/16105-asteroid-belt.html.

Rincon, Paul. “Hayabusa-2: Rocks from an asteroid set for delivery to Earth.” BBC.com. 6 December 2020.

Building the World Blog by Kathleen Lusk Brooke and Zoe G. Quinn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unp

November 6, 2020
by buildingtheworld
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SPACE: 20 Years of International Cooperation

Emblem of the International Space Station, celebrating 20 years of cooperation. Image: nasa and wikimedia.

Twenty years ago this week, three people whose nations were formerly enemies embarked upon a journey of scientific and social cooperation. NASA astronaut William Shepherd and Russian space engineers Yuri Gidzenko and Sergei Krikalev set foot in a laboratory orbiting 227 nautical miles above Earth. They left behind conflicts, differences, and rivalries. Living and working together for 136 days, they built what has become the International Space Station.

Astronaut Tracy Caldwell Dyson in the ISS Cupola observing Earth. Image: nasa.gov.

During the last two decades, what is perhaps civilization’s greatest success in peace has welcomed 241 people from 19 nations. The International Space Station was an investment of many countries (costing over $100 billion) but it has yielded a good return on investment. We now know how to build in space, we have studied the effects of microgravity, we have developed new technologies including Lasik laser surgery, and we have learned to live cooperatively.

“Golden sunset on Earth seen from International Space Station on 18 April 2015. Image: nasa.gov

International Space Station is scheduled and financed for the next four – five years. Some say it will be privatized after that, with commercial ventures supporting the $4 billion per year upkeep. There are plans for Axiom Space, located in Houston, Texas, to build a commercial module addition to the Space Station. But many are reluctant to pursue privatization of what has been a monument of international cooperation. In Japanese, the International Space Station has a poetic name: Kibo, meaning Hope. It was Japanese astronaut Wakata Koichi who composed the first poem ever written in space:

Afloat in the darkness before my eyes

the watery planet bluely flows

How strong is my affection for that ancient home of ours,

how deep my gratitude for the gift of life.

Tomorrow, I will dare the blue sky

and open up worlds unknown

For there we have our dreams.

Axiom Space. “Missions to the International Space Station today; the world’s first commercial space station tomorrow. Axiom Space. https://www.axiomspace.com/

Chang, Kenneth. “How the Space Station Became a Base to Launch Humanity’s Future.” 2 November 2020. New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/11/02/science/international-space-station-20-anniversary.html?referringSource-articleShare

International Space Station. https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/main/index.html

Koichi, Wakata. “Afloat in the darkness.” Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). http:issjaxa.jp/utiliz/renshi/index_e.html

Stickland, Ashley. “Humans have been living on the space station for 20 years.” 2 November 2020. CNN.com. https://www.cnn.com/2020/11/02/world/space-station-20th-anniversary-continuous-human-presence-scn-trnd/index.html.

Building the World Blog by Kathleen Lusk Brooke and Zoe G. Quinn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unp

October 26, 2020
by buildingtheworld
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SPACE: Bienvenue, Bennu

Bennu and Osiris-Rex animation. Image: wikimedia/nasa.

Bennu is an asteroid 4.5 billion years old and 200 million miles (321 million kilometers) from Earth, but it may hold secrets to the origin of our planet and our solar system. That’s why NASA launched the OSIRIS-REX (Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security, Regolith Explorer) mission on 3 December 2018.  On 22 October 2020, the spacecraft that had been circling Bennu descended at 1.5 inches per second, reached out an arm, landed for 6 seconds, and vacuumed up stardust. The collection mechanism was nicknamed Tag-Sam (Touch-and-Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism). Later, the sample will be sequestered in a chamber to preserve its pristine nature and avoid contamination.

OSIRIS-REX kicks up a little dust, maybe more than expected. Image: wikimedia.

The mission may have been a bit more successful than planned: Bennu’s surface was softer than imagined and the probe picked up so much material than its door was not able to close completely. There has been some leaking, and mission scientists are trying to close the leak before losing the valuable contents. If successful, OSIRIS-REX will begin the return to Earth in March of 2021 and bring the capsule back in 2023.

Bennu, as seen by orbiting Osiris-Rex. Image: nasa.gov.

The USA is not the only rock collector in space. JAXA, Japan’s space agency, already sent Mission Hayabusa, to Itokawa, bringing back 1,500 grains from the asteroid. Now, Hayabusa2 visited a second asteroid, Ryugu, and is on the way back to Earth, expected to return in December 2020 with samples.  JAXA representatives and the University of Arizona Bennu project team plan to exchange data and even portions of their respective samples. The USA brought back lunar material to Earth during the Apollo missions to the moon.

Bennu, an Egyptian flying deity that landed on a rock and called out a song to determine the course of nature. Great heron associated with Osiris. Image: wikimedia.

The mission to Bennu was conceived by Michael J. Drake, born in Bristol, England, UK who held senior science positions at the University of Arizona in Tucson, and was principal investigator of the team. A plaque honoring Drake states Michael J. Drake inspired and led this mission that will help us to understand “Where did we come from?” and “Where are we going?”

According to current mission principal investigator Dante Lauretta, different parts of Bennu will also have names including Tlanuwa Regio, one of the giant birds of Cherokee mythology, and Amihan Saxum for the Tagalog (Philippines) deity, also a bird, that was said to be the first creature to inhabit the universe. Much can be learned from studying lunar and asteroid samples.  As Neil Armstrong, first human to set foot on a celestial surface, stated: “Geologists have a saying – rocks remember.

Interested in becoming a citizen scientist? Join Target NEOs to identify near-Earth objects (NEOs) and collect data about asteroids. Join here.

More:

Amos, Jonathan. “Osiris-Rex: Nasa asteroid mission confident of success.” 23 October 2020. BBC Science.

Bennu: VIDEO: https://youtu.be/QunVAWABQSc/

Brooke, Kathleen Lusk and Zoë Quinn, “Haybusa Touchdown on Ryugu,” 21 September 2018, Building the World Blog. https://blogs.umb.edu/buildingtheworld/2018/09/21/space-hayabusa-touchdown-on-ryugu/

Chang, Kenneth. “NASA Mission Springs a Small Leak After Touching an Asteroid: The OSIRIS-REX spacecraft collected rock and dirt samples from Bennu, but it appears to be losing some of what it grabbed.” 23 October 2020. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/10/23/science/osiris-rex-asteroid.html:referringSource=articleShare.

NASA. “Touching Down on Asteroid Bennu.” 21 October 2020. https://www.nasa.gov/image-feature/touching-down-on-asteroid-bennu/.

NASA. “Ten Things to Know about Bennu.” 16 October 2020. https://www.nasa.gov/feature/goddard/2020/bennu-top-ten/

NASA. “First Official Names Given to Features on Asteroid Bennu.” 6 March 2020. https://www.nasa.gov/feature/goddard/2020/first-official-names-given-to-features-on-asteroid-bennu/

August 10, 2020
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SPACE: Here’s looking at you, Earth

Eye of a Chameleon. Image: wikimedia.

Eyes in the sky, Earth Observation Satellites monitor environmental conditions by reporting hot spots and testing efforts to mitigate climate change. OHB-System has just signed a contract to build a new satellite network to monitor carbon dioxide, helping countries achieve goals of the COP 21 Paris Agreement. Part of the Copernicus System, the first OHB spacecraft will launch in 2025; it will be called CO2M.

Scenographia Systematis Copernicani” engraving circa 1660. Image: wikimedia.

CO2M will join the European Union’s Copernicus Earth Observation program, a system of satellite sensors called Sentinels that watch the Earth from space. Marco Fuchs, CEO of Germany’s OHB-System, oversees the contract with the European Space Agency. Thales Alenia Space (TAS), a French-Italian company, is a sub-contractor, designing carbon dioxide and nitrogen dioxide spectrometers. Belgian partner, OIP Sensors, will provide a cloud imager. CO2M will track carbon dioxide to a resolution of 2km by 2km across a span of 250 km. Satellites will carry both a CO2 detector and also secondary sensors that can differentiate between human-produced emissions and those occurring naturally.

TAS logo. Image: wikimedia.

Looking for employment or investment opportunities? Check out satellite enterprises: OHB, TAS, OIP

Since COMSAT launched the first communication satellites, space has become the place that allows us to transmit video, communication, and weather information about Earth. NASA and ESA (European Space Agency) are leaders. Here’s a look at NASA’s program:

NASA’s Earth Science Division Operating Missions. Image: wikimedia/nasa.gov.

ESA’s Sentinel satellite system is comprehensive, and will expand when CO2M joins the initiative. For now, here’s the Sentinel array and specific capabilities:

Sentinel-1: monitor Earth’s surface in all weather conditions

Sentinel-2: monitor land changes

Sentinel-3: observe oceans

Sentinel-4: measure atmospheric gases

Sentinel-5: monitor air quality

Sentinel-6: measure rising seas

When CO2M becomes operational, joining the Sentinel series, it will track CO2 around the whole globe every five days. CO2M’s data, along with other Sentinel reporting, and NASA’s initiatives as well as others, will help meet the climate goals established by COP21 also known as the Paris Agreement. The Eiffel Tower displayed the message: now we must meet the goals. Space, looking at Earth, can help.

“#1Heart1Tree” image on the Eiffel Tower, Paris, during COP21 where climate goals were agreed by most nations of the world. Earth Observation Satellites will help meet those environmental goals.  Photo by Yann Caradec, image: wikimedia.

If you are interested in learning more about Earth Observation Satellites, join the Copernicus Academy’s MOOC, beginning in September 2020.

Amos, Jonathan. “European Sentinel satellites to map global CO2 emissions.” 1 August 2020, BBC.com.

Copernicus Earth Observation System. https://www.copernicus.eu/en

Copernicus Academy, 160 members fromthe EU 28 plus Iceland and Norway, sharing research and providing training on Earth Observation. Join the MOOC starting in September 2020.https://www.copernicus.eu/en/opportunities/education/copernicus-mooc

OHB Magazine. https://www.ohb.de/en/magazine/

NASA, Edited by Andrew J. Butrica. “Beyond the Ionosphere: Fifty Years of Satellite Communication.” National Aeronautics and Space Administration, 1997. https://history.nasa.gov/SP-4217/sp4217.htm

Building the World Blog by Kathleen Lusk Brooke and Zoe G. Quinn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unp

June 4, 2020
by buildingtheworld
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SPACE: Dragon (and Dinosaur) in the Sky

“The dawn of a new era in human spaceflight,” by Anne McClain, astronaut, showing SpaceX Crew Dragon approaching the International Space Station. Image: wikimedia.

Space is a new field, and firsts happen regularly. But this week’s milestone marks a signifiant new era for public and private cooperative success. SpaceX’s Crew Dragon and NASA achieved delivery of astronauts Behnken and Hurley to the International Space Station. It’s also the renewal of American crew launches from the original place where humans first set off for the moon. SpaceX and Nasa will now move into a new phase of the $2.6bn contract to delivery six “space-taxi” flights to ISS.  Also aboard: a sequined toy dinosaur, sent aloft to accompany by the astronauts’ children. “Tremor” will be the first dinosaur to experience zero gravity, so the Apatosaurus also sports a leash.

NASA. “NASA Astronauts Launch from America in Historic Test Flight of SpaceX Crew Dragon.” 30 May 2020. https://www.nasa.gov/press-release/nasa-astronauts-launch-from-america-in-historic-test-flight-of-spacex-crew-dragon/

Pearlman, Robert Z. “SpaceX ‘stowaway’ revealed by crew.” 31 May 2020. Space.com http://www.collectspace.com/news/news-053120a-spacex-dragon-tremor-dinosaur-doll.html.

Building the World Blog by Kathleen Lusk Brooke and Zoe G. Quinn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unp

May 20, 2020
by buildingtheworld
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SPACE: Spring Cleaning

Satellite in geosynchronous orbit. Image: wikimedia

When COMSAT began a new era in communications, emphasis was on getting satellites into orbit, not how to get them down. One option: a “graveyard” orbit where old tech circles endlessly in a geriatric retirement lap; another solution, crash and burn; a third, shoot them, causing space junk to become space debris, now tallied at 50,000 pieces hurtling at 17,500 miles per hour and causing hazards to active spacecraft. The 1972 Convention on International Liability for Damage Caused by Space Objects established some guidelines, but so far humans are better at launching satellites than retrieving or fixing them, and many satellites are getting old. But there has been a breakthrough.

Intelsat. Image: wikimedia.

In April 2020, Intelsat 901, beaming Internet to airplanes and ships, was running out of steering power but still functioning. Northrop Grumman built a spacecraft called the Mission Extension Vehicle (MEV) to fly to Intelsat 901, latch on and supply propulsion and steering. This is the first time in history that two commercial spacecraft have docked together in space, proving that in-orbit service is possible. Existing satellites are getting on in years, and may need servicing. Space will see more communication satellites, along with observation technology monitoring Earth’s climate. Northrup Grumman and Intelsat plan to continue in-orbit service, a new industry.

Davenport, Christian. “In historic first, an aging satellite is resurrected by another in a technology that could reduce junk in space: A Northrup Grumman spacecraft latched on to a communications satellite, extending its life.” 20 April 2020. The Washington Post. Includes video. https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2020/04/20/new-technology-creates-fountain-youth-aging-satellites-potentially-reducing-space-junk/.

European Space Agency. 6th European Conference on Space Debris, 2013. http://www.esa.int/Our_Activities/Operations/Space_Debris/

Henry, Caleb. “Intel-901 satellite, with MEV-1 servicer attached, resumes service.” 17 April 2020. Space News. https://spacenews.com/intelsat-901-satellite-with-mev-1-servicer-attached-resumes-service/

Intelsat. https://intelsat.com. Ticker symbol: I

Northrop Grumman. https://www.northropgrumman.com. NYSE: NOC.

United Nations. Office for Outer Space Affairs. “Convention on International Liability for Damage Caused by Space Objects.” September 1972. http://www.unoosa.org/oosa/en/ourwork/spacelaw/treaties/introliability-convention.html/

Thanks to David H. Marks for sharing research and suggesting this post.

Building the World Blog by Kathleen Lusk Brooke and Zoe G. Quinn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unp

March 22, 2020
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ENERGY: A Sabbath for Earth?

Image: Manhattan Bridge, New York, without traffic. Image:wikimedia

Does it take a crisis to cause change? Since the coronavirus pandemic pushed the global pause button, emissions of CO2 have fallen by 50% compared with the same time last year. A drop in methane has also been noted. “This is the cleanest I have ever seen New York City,” noted Professor Roisin Commane of Columbia University and the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. It’s not just clearer skies over the Manhattan Bridge and Brooklyn Bridge. Cities across the USA including Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Seattle are notably improved. Benton MacKaye, proposer of the Appalachian Trail, and Frederick Law Olmstead, designer of Central Park in New York and the “Emerald Necklace” series of linked parks in Boston, shared the vision of a city that can breathe. Parks help but may not be enough. Can we learn from the global pause to create new options to aid the environment?

Boston’s “Emerald Necklace” view of the Fens. Image: wikimedia.

European Space Agency’s Sentinel-5P satellite shows atmospheric levels of nitrogen dioxide, due in large part to car and truck emissions, were lower over Los Angeles, a city with some of the highest smog levels. Descartes Labs, a geospatial analysis firm, reports that quantifying effects of the global shutdown on pollution will encourage more study. INRIX, a research firm monitoring traffic data from vehicle and telephone navigation systems, reported that roads were seeing a 70% improvement in congestion and on-time arrivals. Far from an escape, space is proving to be a viewing window to see Earth as a system.

ESA Sentinel-5P. Space gives us an eye on the Earth. Image: wikimedia.

While any environmental improvement, even if short-term, is beneficial, this shut-down is not the answer to climate change. Traffic will rebound eventually, and the devastation of public health, the suffering of the afflicted, and the economic wounds of the shut-down will be serious. But meanwhile, can we use the period of the coronavirus to find ways to reemerge from this time with a new plan? What aspects of telework will prove viable? Some experts are calling for periodic pauses to give the Earth a Sabbath.

Ball, Sam. “Cleaner Water, Cleaner Air: The environmental effects of coronavirus.” Includes video. 20 March 2020, France24.com. https://www.france24.com/en/20200320-clearer-water-cleaner-air-the-environmental-effects-of-coronavirus

Commane Atmospheric Composition Group. https://atmoscomp.ldeo.columbia.edu/

European Space Agency (ESA). “Coronavirus: nitrogen dioxide emissions drop over Italy.” https://www.esa.int/Applications/Observing_the_Earth/Copernicus/Sentinel-5P

McGrath, Matt. “Coronavirus: Air pollution and CO2 fall rapidly as virus spreads.” 20 March 2020. BBC.com/Science & Environment.

Plumer, Brad and Nadja Popovich. 22 March 2020. “Traffic and Pollution Plummet as U.S. Cities Shut Down for Coronoavirus.” 22 March 2020. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/03/22/climate/coronavirus-use-traffic.html?referringSource=articleShare

Building the World Blog by Kathleen Lusk Brooke and Zoe G. Quinn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unpo

November 17, 2019
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CITIES Underwater – Venice

St. Mark’s, Venice, underwater again. “Aqua Alta Venise,” Image: wikimedia

Venice, UNESCO World Heritage Site, has suffered the worst flood in 50 years, attributed in its severity to climate change. Inside the city’s venerable buildings are paintings by Francesco Guardi, J.M.W.Turner, and many other priceless treasures. St. Mark’s Basilica, flooded just six times in nine centuries, shows inundation-damaged marble floors; there is fear the iconic columns may also be weakened. Modern art is also affected: Banksy’s “Shipwrecked Girl” mural on the Rio di Ca’Foscari canal is now underwater.

What can be done to prevent the loss of life, property, and infrastructure that cities like Venice must anticipate in the future? Coastal cities may soon have more accurate information about sea-rise. As Venice flooded in November 2019, Sentinel-6a entered testing in the final stage before expected launch in November 2020. Sea-rise is accelerating: five-year span 2014 – 2019 revealed a 4.8mm/year increase.  Copernicus Sentinel’s Jason-2 Poseidon Altimeters will map ocean floor peaks and valleys, reading temperature, salinity, gravity, currents and speed.

Coperniicus Sentinel-2A Satellite, 8 August 2017. “Greenland, wildfire.” Image: wikimedia commons.

A global system like COMSAT, Sentinel coordinates orbiting devices. Sentinel-6 moves between 66 degrees North and South; Sentinel-3 goes to 82 degrees. Sentinel-6 repeats its cycle every 10 days, monitoring big areas like the Gulf Stream or the Kuroshio Current; Sentinel-3 repeats every 27 days, focusing on smaller ocean eddies that move more slowly. Earth Science Division of NASA may link Landsat to Sentinel-2, completing the circle.

Meanwhile, Venice’s regional council may be having second thoughts about their recent veto to fund a proposal to combat climate change. Just minutes later, their Ferro Fini Palace offices flooded, sending the fleeing officials into the flooded streets, with  70% of Venice engulfed. From St. Mark’s Square, Venice’s mayor Brugnaro expressed hopes that the Mose system, a series of barriers consisting of mobile gates located at inlets, will soon protect the city from inundations. Venice is not alone: Boston and other cities may build harbor barrier systems. Worldwide, hundreds of cities  face the same fate: what are some of the ways cities can respond, from Amsterdam to Jakarta to Yangon?

The once and future Venice: “Piazza San Marco with the Basilica,” 1720. Image: wikimedia.

Amos, Jonathan. “Sentinel for sea-level rise enters testing.” 15 November 2019. BBC Science & Environment.

Cerini, Marianna. “Venice is flooding — what lies ahead for its cultural and historical sites?” 16 November 2019. CNN. https://www.cnn.com/style/article/venice-flooding-st-mark-damages/index.html.

Giuffrida, Angela. “Venice council flooded moments after rejecting climate crisis plan: proposals rejected as lagoon city faces worst flooding in 53 years.” 15 November 2019. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/nov/15/venice-council-flooded-moments-after-rejecting-climate-crisis-plan/.

Kirshen, Paul, et. al. “Feasibility of Harbor-wide Barrier Systems: Preliminary Analysis for Boston Harbor.”   2018. Sustainable Solutions Lab, University of Massachusetts Boston.

Lemperiere, Francois and Luc DeRoo. “Peut-on éviter les inondations a Paris?” Symposium du CFBR, 25 janvier 2018 a Chambery. Thanks to David Edwards-May.

Mazzel, Patricia. “82 Days Underwater: The Tide Is High, but They’re Holding On.” 24 November 2019, The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/11/24/us/florida-keys-flooding-king-tide.html?smid=nytcore.ios.share.

MOSE SYSTEM: The mobile barriers for the protection of Venice from high tides.” https://www.mosevenezia.eu/project/?lang-en

Building the World Blog by Kathleen Lusk Brooke and Zoe G. Quinn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unpor

October 19, 2019
by buildingtheworld
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SPACE: Milestones of Inclusion

Koch and Meir made history, October 2019. Image:nasa.gov.

Working together outside the International Space Station, Christina Koch and Jessica Meir made history on October 18, 2019 in the first all-female spacewalk. As they switched to extravehicular mobility units (spacesuits or EMUs),one noted the suit had a part with the exact same serial number as the gear famously worn 35 years ago by the first American woman, Kathryn Sullivan, on October 11, 1984. The very first woman to walk in space, on July 25, 1984, was Svetlana Savitskaya. Other women spacewalkers include: Kathryn Thornton, Linda Godwin, Tammy Jernigan, Susan Helms, Peggy Whitson, Heide Stefanyshyn-Piper, Sunita William, Nicole Stott, Tracy Caldwell Dyson, Kate Rubins, and Ann McClain. (Pearlman 2019) The first American woman in space was Sally Ride: there is a spot on the moon named after this pioneer.

The year 2019 saw another space milestone, celebrating the 50th anniversary of the first human step onto the moon as a pinnacle achievement of the NASA Apollo Program. According to present-day NASA, “We could very well see the first person on Mars be a woman. I think that could very well be a milestone,” commented NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. (Weitering 2019)

In 2016, NASA created the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Special Emphasis Program to foster an inclusive environment. Astronaut Sally Ride, and the first American woman to go into space in 1983, might be an inspiration. Sam Long, science teacher at Standley Lake High School, Westminster, Colorado, has entered the “Out Astronaut” campaign competition; the winner will receive training in the Advanced PoSSUM Academy at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. (Goodland 2019) PoSSUM – Polar Suborbital Science in the Upper Mesosphere – is the only crewed suborbital research program; citizen scientists will study noctilucent (night-shining) clouds in space, especially observing ties to climate change.

Noctilucent (“night shining” clouds, Estonia. Image: wikimedia.

Meanwhile, Koch and Meir, upon the historic successful completion their spacewalk achievement will offer a news conference from orbit.  Tune in on Monday 21 October 2019 at noon EDT for their live news conference.

For more:

Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. “Immersive science education for tomorrow’s astronautics professionals.” ADVANCED PoSSUM SPACE ACADEMY, held each spring and fall. Application: https:/form.jotform.us/50905749649166.

Goodland, Marianne. “Colorado man hopes to be first transgender astronaut in space.” 15 July 2019. Colorado Politics. https://www.coloradopolitics.com/news/colorado-man-hopes-to-be-first-transgender-astronaut-in-space/article_025a5a60-a729-11e9-b6c8-b3781502e5f4.

NASA.gov. “In-Space News Conference to Review First All-Woman Spacewalk.” Christina Koch and Jessica Meir,, news conference from obit, Noon, EDT, Monday, 21 October 2019. Tune in at: https://www.nasa.gov/nasalive.

NASA. gov. “LGBTQ Special Emphasis. https://www.nasa.gov/offices/odeo/LGBTQ-special-emphasis.

Out Astronaut: Empowering the LGBTQ Community in Science and Space. “Out Astronaut Contest.” https://outastronaut.org/contest/

Pearlman, Robert Z. “First All-Female Spacewalk Has Link to First US Woman to Walk in Space.” 18 October 2019. Space.com. http://www.collectspace.com/news/news-101819a-first-all-female-spacewalk.html.

Project PoSSUM. https://projectpossum.org/science-programs/possum-space-academy/

Weitering, Hanneke. “The 1st Human on Mars May Be a Woman, NASA Chief Says.” 19 October, 2019. Space.com. https://www.space.com/1st-human-on-mars-woman.html

Building the World Blog by Kathleen Lusk Brooke and Zoe G. Quinn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unpor

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