Satellites can see the pollution trails from individual ships

All hands have to be on deck if the world is going to tackle degradation, and one of the biggest emitters is also one of the least well known – international shipping.  A 2018 study estimated that pollution emitted from cargo ships resulted in 400,000 annual premature deaths from lung cancer and heart disease.  Many of those deaths resulted from the sulfur dioxide the ships were belching into the air.  Since the beginning of the year, sulfur dioxide has been capped at .5% of emissions, compared to 3.5% previously.  While the long term benefits of that emissions cap will take some time to appear, there’s another pollutant that could potentially be tackled in the near future: nitrogen dioxide.

Nitrogen dioxide (NO2) is one of the emissions from diesel engines, and has been strictly capped in the automotive market for a number of years.  While the shipping industry so far has escaped regulation, there is a strong possibility that restrictions may be coming in the near future.  Regulations in themselves are great, but they are useless if not enforced, and the open ocean is a notoriously difficult place to enforce them.  That difficult task might have just gotten easier, as scientists at the European Space Agency realized they can use satellite data they are already collecting to track the nitrogen dioxide emissions of individual ships on the open ocean.

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Figuring Out How To Breathe the Moon’s Regolith

Oxygen ranks right up there as one of the most important resources for use in space exploration.  Not only is it a critical component of rocket fuel, it’s also necessary for astronauts to breathe anywhere outside Earth’s atmosphere.  Availability of this abundant resource isn’t a problem – it’s widely available throughout the solar system.  One place it is particularly prevalent is lunar regolith, the thin material layer that makes up the moon’s surface.  The difficulty comes from one of the quirks of oxygen – it bonds to almost everything.

Approximately 45% of the weight of regolith is oxygen, but it is bonded to materials such as iron and titanium.  To utilize both the oxygen and the materials it’s bonded to they must be separated.  And a British company, with support from the European Space Agency, has begun testing a technique to judge its potential effectiveness on the moon.

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ESA Is Going To Spend $102 Million To Remove a Single Piece of Space Junk

How much would you be willing to spend to remove a piece of space debris?  Does $102 million sound like enough?  That is how much a contract between the European Space Agency (ESA) and a Swiss start-up named ClearSpace SA is worth, and the entire contract is to simply remove a single piece of space debris.

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There’s Fabric on the Space Station That Scientists Are Using to “Listen” for Space Dust Impacts

One of the biggest threats to the International Space Station (ISS) comes from micrometeoroid impacts.  A small hole in the wrong place can throw the resident astronauts into a life threatening situation.  Currently, there is no active program to monitor these types of impacts, though scientists think they must be common given the ubiquity of small objects in the ISS’s orbit.  An interdisciplinary team from MIT hopes to provide some data to support that theory by using an extremely unusual impact sensor made almost entirely out of fabric.

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Geysers on Europa might come from pockets of water under the ice

Artist's conception of a cryovolcanic eruption on Europa. Credit: Justice Blaine Wainwright

Observations have already confirmed the existence of a sub-surface ocean on Europa, and there has been rampant speculation about whether they could contain life.  While there have been tentative plans to send a submersible spacecraft to this ocean, we are still a long way from uncovering what lies in those depths.

Which is one big reason why the geysers that occasionally shoot out of Europa’s ice sheet have garnered such interest.  Scientists hoped that some of the ejected water could come from that ocean.  It could then be sampled with a simple fly-by mission, such as Europa Clipper, rather than a submersible craft.  However, a new paper published in Geophysical Research Letters suggests a much more mundane source of the geysers – local liquid water buried in the moon’s thick ice shelf.

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The First Civilization We Contact Will Have Been Around Much Longer Than Humanity

Recently at UT, author Matt Williams has been writing a series called “Beyond Fermi’s Paradox”, which takes a look at possible resolutions to one of the most famous questions in science: “Where is everybody?”  As Matt discusses, there are multiple hypothetical solutions, but there may eventually come a day when we can definitively answer it.

Consideration of that day opens up a whole host of new questions, not the least of which is what will an intelligent civilization we find be like?  Carl Sagan popularized the notion that it is very unlikely that any extraterrestrial civilization would be equivalent to ours in terms of technological progress.  What he did not address was the relative age of the civilization and what that might mean in terms of their interest in communicating with us.  Now a team of astronomers have come up with an answer to that question using one of the most underappreciated mathematical tools: statistics. Their model provides a simple answer: any intelligent civilization is likely older than us, and potentially much older.

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Meteorite Tells Us About Water on Mars 4.4 Billion Years Ago

Image of the NWA7533 meteorite that was the subject of the study. Credit: University of Copenhagen / Deng et all.

Meteorites often offer terrific glimpses into worlds we are unable to otherwise access.  Sometimes those worlds are simply fragments of asteroids that didn’t burn up when they entered the atmosphere.  But sometimes, they come from the Moon or Mars.  Part of what makes these types of meteorites interesting is that they don’t necessarily come from what we now think of as two of our nearest neighbors.  Fragments of meteorites that end up on Earth act as a kind of time capsule, allowing us to understand the geological environment of the world when the meteorite was formed.

A meteorite found in the Sahara desert a few years ago is exactly that type of time capsule. Named NWA 7533 (named after “North West Africa”, not the 80s rap group), this meteorite came from Mars about 4.4 billion years ago.  A team led by Profs Zhengbin Deng at the University of Copenhagen and Takashi Mikouchi at the University of Tokyo have found evidence that the impact the created NWA 7533 most likely took place in the presence of water.

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Astronauts and explorers on Mars could eat lab-grown steaks

Aleph Farms 3D Rendering of their BioFarm concept. Creidt: Aleph Farms

Growing meat without the need to grow a whole animal has been the dream of agriculturalists and foodies everywhere for decades.  More and more companies are jumping on the bandwagon to try to truly recreate the experience of eating meat without the downsides so often associated with its creation.  One of those companies is Aleph Farms, based in Israel, which just announced their newest program – Aleph Zero, an effort to grow meat in industrial quantities in space.

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How Will Starlink’s Packet Routing Work?

Depiction of how Starlink's constellation pattern will cover the world.

SpaceX’s Starlink satellite cluster has been receiving more and more headline space recently as it continues adding satellites at a breathtaking pace.  Much of this news coverage has focused on how it’s impacting amateur skygazers and how it could benefit people in far-flung regions.  But technical details do matter, and over on Casey Handmer’s blog there was a recent discussion of one of the most important aspects of how Starlink actually operates – what will it do with its data?

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Room-temperature Superconductivity Achieved for the First Time, but There’s a Catch

Room temperature superconductivity has been achieved in a compound of hydrogen, sulfur, and carbon.

One of the most interesting things about space exploration is how many technologies have an impact on our ability to reach farther.  New technologies that might not immediately be used in space can still eventually have a profound long-term impact.  On the other hand, everyone knows some technologies will be immediately game changing.  Superconductors, or materials that do not have any electrical resistance, are one of the technologies that have the potential to be game changing.  However, hurdles to their practical use have limited their applicability to a relatively small sub-set of applications, like magnetic resonance imaging devices and particle accelerators.  But another major hurdle to the broad use of superconductors has now been cleared – a lab at the University of Rochester (UR) has just developed one that works at almost room temperature.  The big caveat is it has to be under pressure similar to that in the Earth’s core.

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