Spacewalking astronauts check site of summer leak
By MARCIA DUNN
AP Aerospace Writer
Tuesday, December 11
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — Spacewalking astronauts sliced through thick insulation on a capsule docked to the International Space Station on Tuesday, looking for clues to a mysterious drilled hole that leaked precious cabin air four months ago.
The space station’s crew patched the tiny hole in the Soyuz capsule last August, using epoxy and gauze. Russian space officials wanted the site surveyed from the outside, before the capsule’s return to Earth next week with Russian Sergei Prokopyev and two others.
That section of the capsule will be jettisoned as usual before re-entry, and so poses no risk for descent.
Prokopyev and Russian Oleg Kononenko had to use a pair of telescoping booms to reach the Soyuz. It took nearly four hours for them to cross the approximately 100 feet (30 meters) to get to the capsule.
“Oleg, smile,” one of the astronauts called from inside, snapping his picture. Russian Mission Control outside Moscow urged the men to take their time, even though they were running behind.
The spacewalkers’ job was to collect samples of any epoxy sealant that may have protruded from the hole. To expose the external hull, Kononenko needed to cut away a 10-inch (25-centimeter) swatch of thermal insulation and debris shield, a slow and difficult task.
Bits of silver insulating material floated away, as Kononenko slashed at it with a knife.
The leak caused a flap between the U.S. and Russian space agencies, following its discovery at the end of August. Russian space chief Dmitry Rogozin observed that the hole could have been drilled during manufacturing — or in orbit. The space station’s commander at the time flatly denied any wrongdoing by himself or his crew.
Rogozin has since backpedaled his statement, blaming the news media for twisting his words.
A Russian investigation is ongoing, according to Rogozin, and samples collected during the spacewalk will be returned to Earth on the Soyuz. The spacewalk findings could lead to better repair techniques in the future, officials said.
The Soyuz is scheduled to depart the orbiting lab on Dec. 19, U.S. time, with Prokopyev, American Serena Aunon-Chancellor and German Alexander Gerst, the station’s current skipper. It ferried them up in June.
The section of the Soyuz with the hole will be jettisoned as usual before re-entry, and so poses no risk for descent.
Remaining aboard the 250-mile-high (400-kilometer-high) outpost for the next six months will be an American, Russian and Canadian who arrived last week.
The Associated Press Health & Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.
Why a 14th-century mystic appeals to today’s ‘spiritual but not religious’ Americans
December 6, 2018
Centennial Professor of History, Vanderbilt University
Joel Harrington does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
Vanderbilt University provides funding as a founding partner of The Conversation US.
The percentage of Americans who do not identify with any religious tradition continues to rise annually. Not all of them, however, are atheists or agnostics. Many of these people believe in a higher power, if not organized religion, and their numbers too are steadily increasing.
The history of organized religion is full of schisms, heresies and other breakaways. What is different at this time is a seemingly indiscriminate mixing of diverse religious traditions to form a personalized spirituality, often referred to as “cafeteria spirituality.” This involves picking and choosing the religious ideas one likes best.
At the heart of this trend is the general conviction that all world religions share a fundamental, common basis, a belief known as “perennialism.” And this is where the unlikely figure of Meister Eckhart, a 14th-century Dominican friar famous for his popular sermons on the direct experience of God, is finding popular appeal.
Who was Meister Eckhart?
I have studied Meister Eckhart and his ideas of mysticism. The creative power that people address as “God,” he explained, is already present within each individual and is best understood as the very force that infuses all living things.
He believed this divinity to be genderless and completely “other” from humans, accessible not through images or words but through a direct encounter within each person.
The method of direct access to the divine, according to Eckhart, depended on an individual letting go of all desires and images of God and becoming aware of the “divine spark” present within.
Seven centuries ago, Eckhart embraced meditation and what is now called mindfulness. Although he never questioned any of the doctrines of the Catholic Church, Eckhart’s preaching eventually resulted in an official investigation and papal condemnation.
Significantly, it was not Eckhart’s overall approach to experiencing God that his superiors criticized, but rather his decision to teach his wisdom. His inquisitors believed the “unlearned and simple people” were likely to misunderstand him. Eckhart, on the other hand, insisted that the proper role of a preacher was to preach.
He died before his trial was complete, but his writings were subsequently censured by a papal decree.
The modern rediscovery of Eckhart
Meister Eckhart thereafter remained relatively little known until his rediscovery by German romantics in the 19th century.
Since then, he has attracted many religious and non-religious admirers. Among the latter were the 20th-century philosophers Martin Heidegger and Jean-Paul Sartre, who were inspired by Eckhart’s beliefs about the self as the sole basis for action. More recently, Pope John Paul II and the current Dalai Lama have expressed admiration for Eckhart’s portrayal of the intimate relationship between God and the individual soul.
During the second half of the 20th century, the overlap of his teachings to many Asian practices played an important role in making him popular with Western spiritual seekers. Thomas Merton, a monk from the Trappist monastic order, for example, who began an exploration of Zen Buddhism later in his life, discovered much of the same wisdom in his own Catholic tradition embodied in Eckhart. He called Eckhart “my life raft,” for opening up the wisdom about developing one’s inner life.
Richard Rohr, a friar from the Franciscan order and a contemporary spirituality writer, views Eckhart’s teachings as part of a long and ancient Christian contemplative tradition. Many in the past, not just monks and nuns have sought the internal experience of the divine through contemplation.
Among them, as Rohr notes were the apostle Paul, the fifth-century theologian Augustine, and the 12th-century Benedictine abbess and composer Hildegard of Bingen.
In the tradition of Eckhart, Rohr has popularized the teaching that Jesus’ death and resurrection represents an individual’s movement from a “false self” to a “true self.” In other words, after stripping away all of the constructed ego, Eckhart guides individuals in finding the divine spark, which is their true identity.
Eckhart and contemporary perennials
This subjective approach to experiencing the divine was also embraced by Aldous Huxley, best known for his 1932 dystopia, “Brave New World,” and for his later embrace of LSD as a path to self-awareness. Meister Eckhart is frequently cited in Huxley’s best-selling 1945 spiritual compendium, “The Perennialist Philosophy.”
More recently, the mega-best-selling New Age celebrity Eckhart Tolle, born Ulrich Tolle in 1948 in Germany and now based in Vancouver, has taken the perennial movement to a much larger audience. Tolle’s books, drawing from an eclectic mix of Western and Eastern philosophical and religious traditions, have sold millions. His teachings encapsulate the insights of his adopted namesake Meister Eckhart.
While many Christian evangelicals are wary of Eckhart Tolle’s non-religious and unchurched approach, the teachings of the medieval mystic Eckhart have nonetheless found support among many contemporary Catholics and Protestants, both in North America and Europe.
Fully understanding a new spiritual icon
The cautionary note, however, is in too simplistic an understanding of Eckhart’s message.
Eckhart, for instance, did not preach an individualistic, isolated kind of personal enlightenment, nor did he reject as much of his own faith tradition as many modern spiritual but not religious are wont to do.
The truly enlightened person, Eckhart argued, naturally lives an active life of neighborly love, not isolation – an important social dimension sometimes lost today.
Meister Eckhart has some important lessons for those of us trapped amid today’s materialism and selfishness, but understanding any spiritual guide – especially one as obscure as Eckhart – requires a deeper understanding of the context.
Don’t worry about screen time – focus on how you use technology
December 12, 2018
Margaret E. Morris
Affiliate Faculty in Human Centered Design and Engineering, University of Washington
Margaret E. Morris does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
University of Washington provides funding as a member of The Conversation US.
Many Americans find themselves bombarded by expert advice to limit their screen time and break their addictions to digital devices – including enforcing and modeling this restraint for the children in their lives. However, over 15 years of closely observing people and talking with them about how they use technological tools, I’ve developed a more nuanced view: Whether a technology helps or hurts someone depends not just on the amount of time they spend with it but on how they use it.
I’ve found many people who have found impressively creative ways to tailor the technologies they have to serve their values and personal objectives, improving their relationships and even their health.
In my forthcoming book, “Left to Our Own Devices,” I introduce readers to people who pushed products beyond their intended purpose, creating their own off-label uses. Some of them turned self-help products, like smart scales and mood apps, into mechanisms for deepening relationships; others used apps like Tinder, designed to spark interpersonal connection, as an emotional pickup – gathering data to feel better about themselves without the hookup. And still others have pieced together different tools and technologies to suit their own needs.
Looking beyond the rules
A few years ago, for instance, my colleagues and I created an app to help people manage stress as part of a health technology research project. Psychotherapy and other mental health services have traditionally been offered as individual treatments, and so we expected people would use our app on their own, when they were alone. We put a great deal of effort into assuring privacy and instructed people who participated in our research that the app was for their use only.
But many of the participants ended up bringing the app into their conversations with others. One woman used it with her son to process a heated argument they had earlier in the day. She sat down with him and together explored the visuals in the app that represented stages of anger. They followed the app’s cognitive therapy cues for thinking about feelings and reactions – their own and each other’s. She shared it with him not as a flashy distraction, but as a bridge to help each understand the other’s perspectives and feelings.
The app was intended to help her change the way she thought about stress, but she also used it to address the source of her stress – making the app more effective by, in a certain sense, misusing it.
New turns with familiar devices
Another woman I spoke with took smart lights – the ones that can change color at the tap of a button in a smartphone app – far beyond their intended functions of improving decor and energy efficiency. When she changed the color of the lights in the home she shared with her partner from white to red, it was a signal that she was upset and that they needed to talk. The light color became an external symbol of the conflict between them and provided a new way to begin a difficult conversation.
Similarly creative thinking helped strengthen the relationships between patients and a physician I interviewed. She practiced primarily through telemedicine, meeting with patients via a secure medical videoconferencing system. She was aware that physical and emotional distance could weaken a relationship already fraught with sensitivity and an imbalance of power between an expert and a patient.
So she experimented with the view her camera provided of her and her surroundings. First, she showed patients a view of just her face, in front of an unadorned white wall that revealed nothing about her. Then she shifted the camera to show more of her home, which of course revealed more of herself. Patients could now see some of the art that she liked as well as elements of her home, which said something about her habits, values and personality.
This sharing leveled the playing field in some ways. As patients were opening up themselves to her by describing symptoms and the details of their lifestyle, they could see that she was not a lab-coat-clad expert issuing directives from an intimidating medical office – she was a real person living in an ordinary apartment. This step toward reciprocity made it easier for patients to relate to her. She believes this is part of why her patients have expressed feeling close to her and so much trust in her treatment. It was a small adaptation that brought greater rapport and connection to a technology often viewed as a poor replacement for in-person meetings.
With increasing attention to the effects of technologies, we should not only be concerned with their potential harms. As I’ve observed, experimenting with how – not just how much – we use technology might uncover unexpected ways to make life better.
Margaret E. Morris is the author of: Left to Our Own Devices: Outsmarting Smart Technology to Reclaim Our Relationships, Health, and Focus
MIT Press provides funding as a member of The Conversation US.
2 deadly shootings send a chill through black gun owners
By JESSE J. HOLLAND
Friday, December 7
ODENTON, Md. (AP) — Gun-rights advocates like to say, “The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is with a good guy with a gun.” Some black gun owners, though, are not so sure it’s a wise idea for them to try to be the good guy and pull out a weapon in public.
Twice in the span of 11 days last month, a black man who drew a gun in response to a crime in the U.S. was shot to death by a white police officer after apparently being mistaken for the bad guy.
Some African-Americans who are licensed to carry weapons say cases like those make them hesitant to step in to protect others.
“I’m not an advocate of open-carry if you’re black,” said the Rev. Kenn Blanchard, a Second Amendment activist and host of the YouTube program “Black Man With a Gun TV,” a gun advocacy show. “We still have racism. … We still scare people. The psychology of fear, it’s bigger than the Second Amendment.”
The recent shootings of Jemel Roberson and Emantic Bradford Jr. amplified long-held fears that bad things can happen when a black man is seen with a gun.
Roberson was working security at a Robbins, Illinois, bar when he was killed Nov. 11 while holding at gunpoint a man involved in a shooting. Witnesses said the officer ordered the 26-year-old Roberson to drop his gun before opening fire.
But witnesses also reportedly shouted that Roberson, who had a firearms permit, was a guard. And a fellow guard said Roberson was wearing a knit hat and sweatshirt that were emblazoned “Security.”
Bradford, 21, was killed Thanksgiving night by an officer responding to a report of gunfire at a shopping mall in Hoover, Alabama. Police initially identified Bradford as the gunman but later backtracked and arrested another suspect.
Ben Crump, a lawyer for the dead man’s family, said witnesses claimed Bradford was trying to wave people away from the shooting. Crump said Bradford was licensed to carry a weapon but was presumably seen as a threat because he was a black man.
The two shootings have brought up some of the same questions about racist assumptions and subconscious fears that were asked after the killings of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida.
Trevor Noah, host of “The Daily Show,” lamented Bradford’s death.
“That’s what they always say, right? ‘The good guy with a gun stops the crime,’” Noah said. “But then if the good guy with a gun turns out to be a black good guy with a gun, they don’t get any of the benefits.”
In some other cases involving black men killed by police: Philando Castile was shot in a car in 2016 in Minnesota, seconds after informing the officer he had a gun. The officer was acquitted of manslaughter. And John Crawford III was shot in a Walmart in Ohio in 2014 while holding a BB gun he had picked up in the sporting goods section. Security footage showed he never pointed it at anyone.
According to the advocacy group Mapping Police Violence, 1,147 people were killed by police in 2017, 92 percent of them in shootings. While blacks made up 13 percent of the U.S. population, they accounted for 27 percent of those killed by police, 35 percent of those killed by police while unarmed, and 34 percent of those killed while unarmed and not attacking, the organization said.
Andre Blount of Tomball, Texas, once pulled out his shotgun to help a neighbor who was being attacked by an armed white man. The police eventually arrived and defused the situation, he said.
“For me, being a legally registered owner and having a concealed weapon permit, I feel like I have to be more careful than the next person,” Blount said. “Because if not, the only thing anyone sees is a black man with a gun.”
Blount said he tells younger black gun owners to really consider whether it’s worth risking their lives in coming to someone’s aid with a weapon.
“You want your kids to help someone, but you don’t want them to be shot trying to help someone,” he said. “It’s a sad thing.”
Jesse J. Holland covers race and ethnicity for The Associated Press in Washington. Contact him at jhollandap.org, on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/jessejholland or on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/jessejholland.
Hunting for rare isotopes: The mysterious radioactive atomic nuclei that will be in tomorrow’s technology
December 7, 2018
Author: Artemis Spyrou, Associate Professor of Nuclear Physics, Michigan State University
Disclosure statement: Artemis Spyrou receives funding from the National Science Foundation and the Department of Energy/National Nuclear Security Administration.
Partners: Michigan State University provides funding as a founding partner of The Conversation US.
When you hear the term “radioactive” you likely think “bad news,” maybe along the lines of fallout from an atomic bomb.
But radioactive materials are actually used in a wide range of beneficial applications. In medicine, they routinely help diagnose and treat disease. Irradiation helps keep a number of foods free from insects and invasive pests. Archaeologists use them to figure out how old an artifact might be. And the list goes on.
So what is radioactivity?
It’s the spontaneous emission of radiation when an atom’s dense center – called its nucleus – transforms into a different one. Whether in the form of particles or electromagnetic waves called gamma rays, radiation transfers energy away from the atomic nucleus.
Through experiments, nuclear physicists have seen about 3,000 different kinds of nuclei to date. Current theories, though, predict the existence of about 4,000 more that have never yet been observed. Around the world, thousands of scientists, including me, continue to study these tiny constituents of matter, while governments spend billions of dollars on building powerful new machines that will produce more and more exotic nuclei – and maybe eventually more technologies that will further improve modern life.
The birth of nuclear physics
French physicist Henri Becquerel discovered natural radioactivity in 1896. He was trying to study how uranium salts phosphoresce – that is, emit light – when they’re exposed to sunlight. Becquerel placed a uranium sample on a photographic plate covered with opaque paper and left it in direct sunlight. The plate got foggy, which he concluded was due to sun exposure.
Thanks to a few days of cloudy weather, though, Becquerel left his whole setup in a dark drawer. Surprisingly, the photographic plate still fogged up, even in the absence of light. Sunlight had nothing to do with his previous observation. It was the natural radioactivity of the uranium samples that had this effect. As the uranium nuclei decayed – that is, transformed into different nuclei – they spontaneously emitted lightwaves that registered on the photographic plates.
Becquerel’s discovery ushered in a new era of physics and launched the field of nuclear science. For this work, he won the Nobel Prize in 1903.
Since then, nuclear scientists have unraveled a lot of the inner workings of the atomic nucleus, and have harnessed its amazing energy both for good and unfortunately not so good uses. Nuclear physics discoveries have given us ways to look inside our bodies noninvasively, ways to create energy without air pollution, and ways to study our history and our environment.
On the atomic level
The known atomic nuclei belong to 118 different elements, some of them naturally occurring and some of them human-made. For every element on the periodic table there are many different “isotopes,” from the Greek word “ισότοπο,” which means “same place,” implying the same place on the periodic table of the elements.
To be the same element, two isotopes must have the same number of protons – the positively charged subatomic particle. It’s their number of neutrons – subatomic particles with no charge at all – that can vary significantly.
For example, gold is element 79 on the periodic table, and all isotopes of gold will have the same metallic, yellowish appearance. However, there are 40 known isotopes of gold that have been discovered, and another roughly 20 are theorized to exist. Only one of these isotopes is the “stable,” or naturally occurring, form of gold you might be wearing on your ring finger right now. The rest are radioactive isotopes, also known as “rare isotopes.”
Rare isotopes each have unique properties: They live for different amounts of time, from a fraction of a second to a few billion years, and they release different types of radiation and different amounts of energy.
For example, modern smoke detectors use the isotope Americium-241, which emits a type of radiation called alpha particles that have a very short range. The radioactivity can’t travel more than a couple of inches in air. Americium-241 lives for a few hundred years.
On the other hand, the isotope Fluorine-18, which is commonly used in medical PET scans, lives for only about 100 minutes – long enough to complete the scan, but short enough to avoid irradiating the healthy body unnecessarily for an extended period. The secondary electromagnetic radiation that comes from Fluorine-18 is in the form of long-range gamma rays, which allows it to travel out of the body and into the PET cameras.
These different nuclear properties make each rare isotope unique, and nuclear physicists have to design specialized experiments to study each one of them separately.
Hunting for more
Current nuclear science research strives to develop new techniques for discovering new isotopes, understanding their properties, and eventually producing and harvesting them efficiently.
Producing rare isotopes is not an easy task; it requires large machines that will make nuclei travel, and collide with each other, at speeds close to the speed of light. During these collisions nuclei can fuse together, or they can break each other apart, producing new nuclei, potentially with previously unseen combinations of protons and neutrons.
Nuclear physicists have dedicated equipment – detectors – that can observe these newly formed nuclei and the radiation they emit, and study their properties. For example, at the National Superconducting Cyclotron Laboratory where I work, my group has developed an extremely efficient gamma ray detector we called SuN.
The majority of the known isotopes emit gamma radiation when they decay. We want to know how much energy is released in this process, how many different gamma rays are emitted and how the energy is shared between them, and how long it takes for the decay to take place. SuN can answer these questions about whichever isotope we are investigating.
In a typical experiment, we implant a beam of rare isotopes at the center of SuN. The rare isotopes will decay of their own accord after a short amount of time, roughly one second or less, and emit their characteristic radiation. SuN detects these emitted gamma rays. It’s our job as nuclear experimentalists to put together the puzzle of how those gamma rays were emitted and what they tell us about the properties of the new isotope.
These kinds of production and detection techniques are complex and costly, and therefore there are only a handful of rare isotope laboratories in the world that can produce and study the most exotic nuclear species.
It’s impossible to predict which new discoveries in basic research will have an impact on people’s lives. Who could have known 100 years ago, when the electron was discovered, that for a few decades almost every house in the developed world would have an electron machine – otherwise known as a cathode-ray tube – to watch television? And who could have guessed that the discovery of radioactivity would eventually lead to space exploration powered by radioactive decays?
In the same way, we cannot predict which rare isotope discoveries will be the game-changers, but with more than half of the predicted isotopes still unexplored, to me the possibilities feel endless.