Israel flying to moon after SpaceX launch
By MARCIA DUNN
AP Aerospace Writer
Friday, February 22
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — An Israeli spacecraft rocketed toward the moon for the country’s first attempted lunar landing, following a launch Thursday night by SpaceX.
A communications satellite for Indonesia was the main cargo aboard the Falcon 9 rocket, which illuminated the sky as it took flight. But Israel’s privately funded lunar lander — a first not just for Israel but commercial space — generated the buzz.
Israel seeks to become only the fourth country to successfully land on the moon, after Russia, the U.S. and China. The spacecraft — called Beresheet, Hebrew for Genesis or “In The Beginning” — will take nearly two months to reach the moon.
“We thought it’s about time for a change, and we want to get little Israel all the way to the moon,” said Yonatan Winetraub, co-founder of Israel’s SpaceIL , a nonprofit organization behind the effort.
The moon, nearly full and glowing brightly, beckoned as it rose in the eastern sky. Within an hour after liftoff, Beresheet was already sending back data and had successfully deployed its landing legs, according to SpaceIL.
“We’ll keep analyzing the data, but bottom line is we entered the very exclusive group of countries that have launched a spacecraft to the moon,” said Yigal Harel, head of SpaceIL’s spacecraft program.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was watching the launch live from the Israeli control center in Yehud, near Tel Aviv.
“This is a big step for Israel, but a giant step for Israeli technology,” he said.
The four-legged Beresheet, barely the size of a washing machine, will circle Earth in ever bigger loops until it’s captured by lunar gravity and goes into orbit around the moon. Touchdown would be April 11 at the Sea of Serenity.
NASA’s Apollo missions in the 1960s and 1970s took about three days to get astronauts to the moon, but they used monstrous Saturn V rockets. The $100 million Beresheet mission couldn’t afford its own rocket — even a little one — so the organizers opted for a ride share. That makes for a much longer trip; the moon right now is nearly 230,000 miles (370,000 kilometers) away.
“This is Uber-style space exploration, so we’re riding shotgun on the rocket,” Winetraub explained at a news conference on the eve of launch.
The U.S. Air Force also has a small research spacecraft aboard the rocket, for a one-year mission in orbit around Earth.
The Soviet Union was the first to put a spacecraft on the moon, Luna 2, in 1959. NASA followed with the Ranger 4 spacecraft in 1962. Last month, China became the first country to land on the far side of the moon.
Apollo 11 moonwalker Buzz Aldrin quickly offered congratulations following Thursday’s launch. So did NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, who called it “a historic step for all nations and commercial space as we look to extend our collaborations beyond low-Earth orbit and on to the moon.” NASA has a laser reflector aboard Beresheet and is offering its Deep Space Network for communication.
“All the best to TeamSpaceIL as it starts its journey tonight on a SpaceX #Falcon9 from Florida to my old stomping ground …the moon,” Aldrin tweeted.
The Beresheet mission originally was part of the Google Lunar XPrize competition and even made the final cut before the contest ended last year without a winner. The organizers decided to press ahead on their own, with donations from billionaires as well as schoolchildren.
Lunar surface operations are meant to last just two days. Beresheet will measure the magnetic field at the landing site, and send back data and pictures. A time capsule is aboard the lander — which includes a picture of Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon, who died aboard space shuttle Columbia in 2003 — as well as a lunar library containing 30 million pages on a disk from the U.S.-based Arch Mission Foundation.
Ramon’s widow, Rona, was a big supporter of Beresheet; she died of cancer in December.
Following liftoff, SpaceX recovered the first-stage booster, which flew twice last year. The booster landed smoothly on an offshore ocean platform, after the hottest re-entry yet, according to SpaceX founder and chief executive Elon Musk. Sparks from burning metal were visible in the landing video.
Musk said the booster will fly a fourth time in April, during a launch abort test of the new crew Dragon capsule. No one will be aboard.
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.
Opinion: NASA Needs to Stop Spending Like a Drunken Cosmonaut
By Ross Marchand
Over the last several Congresses, many lawmakers have rightly pointed out the federal government’s addiction to wasteful programs and harebrained economic intervention schemes.
Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, for instance, recently awarded her monthly “squeal” award to the National Institutes of Health for supporting 10 cat studies — funded from grants totaling $1.3 million of taxpayer money — that concluded “classical music has an effect on cat behaviors.”
When it comes to wasteful spending at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, however, it would seem that mum’s the word in Washington.
Despite systemic cost overruns and underwhelming performance, NASA will receive a historically high $21.5 billion from Congress in fiscal year 2019. Instead of reigning in the agency for busting spending caps, lawmakers are giving virtually every program within the agency a boost with scarcely a word in opposition.
Instead of astronomical spending increases, Congress should put aside blind affection for NASA and instead treat the agency for what it is: just another government agency prone to waste and abuse.
A recent Ars Technica analysis found that, despite nearly $50 billion that Congress has given the agency over the last 15 years to develop the tools needed for deep-space exploration, NASA has little to show for it. The report notes that NASA has thus far sporadically launched a handful of rockets (such as the Space Launch System and Orion), which were repeatedly delayed, went over budget and proved of little use. According to aerospace analyst Laura Forczyk, “SLS and Orion are political projects, not practical ones.” Unfortunately, political considerations seem par for the course in the realm of space policy.
Amid calls to privatize the International Space Station and save taxpayers $3 billion per year, even fiscal hawk Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas called ISS privatization backers “numbskulls,” reasoning that “as a fiscal conservative, … one of the dumbest things you can to is cancel programs after billions in investment when there is still serious usable life ahead.” Cruz is normally no fan of federal funding, but Texas is home to Houston’s Johnson Space Center, which oversees the Space Station.
Unlike other agencies, NASA is a rare bipartisan sacred cow that each party adores. Mixing space science with public dollars makes for truly strange planetary politics, such as the Republicans’ long-held fascination with Europa (Jupiter’s moon). When the Bush administration “promptly cancelled (a mission to) Pluto in favor of Europa” in 2000, Sen. Barbara Mikulski of Maryland dug in and repeatedly engineered pro-Pluto NASA budgets. The administration was finally cornered by National Academy of Science maneuvering, and approved funding for a mission to Pluto.
Rep. John Culberson of Texas has continued this push toward Europa, inserting language into appropriations bills that pushes up NASA’s mission to Jupiter’s ice-covered moon. The Trump administration seems similarly eager to direct NASA funding toward exploring Europa at the expense of his predecessor’s focus on asteroid probing. Attempts by Alan Stern (who leads NASA’s New Horizons mission to Pluto) and others to refocus the attention back toward Pluto and other faraway dwarf planets is the latest battle over funding and priorities.
The Trump administration’s larger ambition appears to be going back to the moon, for little apparent reason at a gargantuan cost. Buoyed by federal funding increases, NASA appears to be on board and recently asked the U.S. aerospace agency for help in developing landers that could get American astronauts back to the moon in a decade. This would come at an astounding cost of around $50 billion (around $57 billion today) above and beyond regular NASA funding over a 10-year period.
Instead of increasing NASA’s missions and “investing” in human exploration, lawmakers and the Trump administration should look to get more out of fewer taxpayer dollars. Lunar analysis, along with countless other scientific ventures, can be done at a fraction of the cost via unmanned missions to other worlds.
Cambridge Cosmology and astrophysics professor and astronomer royal Martin Rees rightly criticizes current manned proposals, pointing out, “The practical case (for human spaceflight) gets weaker and weaker with every advance in robotics and miniaturization.”
An Israeli nonprofit is poised to plant a lander on the moon funded by entrepreneurs, not taxpayers.
American companies, nonprofits and entrepreneurs could accomplish similar feats, freeing up NASA to build telescope and launch probes to other galaxies. But this shift in focus will simply never happen if lawmakers are too timid to call out America’s space agency. Continued spending like a drunken cosmonaut accomplishes little — at an astronomical cost.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Ross Marchand is the director of policy for the Taxpayers Protection Alliance. He wrote this for InsideSources.com.
Want disruptive research? Go small instead of big
February 20, 2019
Author: Viviane Callier, Munk Fellow in Global Journalism, University of Toronto
Viviane Callier 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.
Partners: University of Toronto provides funding as a founding partner of The Conversation CA. University of Toronto provides funding as a member of The Conversation CA-FR.
Conventional wisdom suggests that large teams are better at solving complex problems. And, in this era of specialization, many discoveries are the work of large groups of experts from a diversity of fields. But it’s not yet time to abandon support for small teams of scientists, according to a new study in Nature.
By analyzing data on the work of more than 50 million teams in science and technology, researchers discovered that larger teams developed recent, popular ideas, while small teams disrupted the system by drawing on older and less prevalent ideas.
Disruptive research tends to introduce new approaches and ask fundamental questions, while “developmental” research is more likely to adjust or test old theories and apply them in new contexts.
Examples of very large projects include the Human Genome Project, and more recently, the projects to detect gravitational waves and the Higgs boson particle.
The detection of gravitational waves — a discovery that was published in a paper with more than 1,000 authors and which received the 2017 Nobel Prize in physics — “could possibly have been the most conservative experiment in history,” says James Evans, the senior author of the new Nature paper and a sociologist at the University of Chicago. “It tested a 100-year old hypothesis and that hypothesis was generated by one person, Albert Einstein.”
Solo scientists like Einstein, or small teams, appear to come up with novel ideas that change the course of a field. Those are becoming rarer, though: authorship lists on scientific papers have grown in the last century, from about one author per paper in 1913 to an average of 5.4 authors per paper in 2013.
The impact of this shift in team sizes isn’t completely known. This new study documents the different roles that small and large scientific teams play in the research landscape, but it raises more questions than it answers.
Different sizes, different approaches
These are questions that would help funding agencies to make better decisions.
“There’s this long, long debate about this,” says John Walsh, who studies science, technology and innovation using a sociological perspective. “Is giving a lot of money to one (large) project a good way of moving the science forward, or is it better to give lots of people more modest funds and have them work on different things?”
In small teams, people are more apt to take chances because the cost of taking a chance is lower. There are fewer monetary resources invested and fewer careers at stake, Walsh explains.
What’s interesting, adds Walsh, is that the effects described by Evans and his co-authors Lingfei Wu and Dashun Wang show up even at modest team sizes — between one and 10 people.
One way of interpreting the finding is that small teams have a better chance of finding something unusual because they can be nimble and adapt to new findings by changing direction and pursuing new paths as they open up. It’s unclear, though, whether small teams propose more innovative and disruptive ideas to begin with, or whether they are more likely to change course midstream and “benefit from serendipity,” he says.
In contrast, large teams are more like huge shipping barges — impossible to turn on a dime. They are also faced with all sorts of conservative pressures.
“We realized just from our own experience that creating these big federations of people ends up really stifling certain kinds of ideas and certainly stifling the likelihood of following an interesting or unusual path,” says Evans. You have to get to the common denominator to build consensus, and “the common denominator, when you have a lot of people, is yesterday’s hits.”
Indeed, Evans’s study shows that large teams are more likely to cite the really famous older papers, whereas smaller groups are likely to cite a broader array of papers and to resurrect some more obscure findings from prior literature.
Because of the burden of co-ordination in large teams, “it’s much more likely that a small group of committed people can hammer on a problem and come up with a breakthrough or disruptive solution than a really large group, where they’re not going to be able to to really coordinate,” says Steve Kozlowski, a professor of organizational psychology.
The co-ordination challenges increase when the large group is interdisciplinary because scientists have different sets of assumptions about the way the world works based on their disciplinary training.
Nature podcast: Social scientists James Evans and Pierre Azoulay discuss how team size can affect research outputs.
Mirta Galesic, professor of Human Social Dynamics at the Santa Fe Institute, thinks that the small and large teams may represent different stages of the natural history of an idea.
Initially, a disruptive or unconventional idea is born small and only has a few people working on it. But if it stands up to initial investigation and scrutiny, it may attract more funding and more scientists to work on it. In other words, the disruptive work of small teams represents the seeds from which big projects grow.
“I think it’s possible that the small and large teams occur at different stages of the scientific process and that it could be a case that the size is correlated with the process, rather than the cause of a disruption,” says Galesic.
Implications for funding agencies
“What’s the secret sauce that the small teams seem to have?” Kozlowski asks. He’d like to see funding agencies invest more resources in studying team science: “If we’re going to be pushing for these large investments to tackle big problems, then we want to have research to help inform how these larger teams should be set up and managed.”
Research teams of varying sizes should be funded, a new study suggests. Shutterstock
Some agencies are still supporting smaller teams. For example, studies by the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS) a few years ago showed diminishing marginal returns on grant funding. The NIGMS researchers argued that this provided a rationale for spreading the research money across more labs.
Given the distinct roles small and large teams play in moving science forward, “our findings suggest the importance of supporting both small and large teams for the sustainable vitality of science and technology,” the authors write in the paper.
In particular, small teams are often neglected, and so the study is “an encouragement for funders to realize that if they want to fund disruptive innovations, they’re going to have to take more risks, and smaller teams are one important dimension of risk that we’re suggesting they should consider,” Evans says.
The current emphasis on funding large teams, he says, has a long term unintended consequence: “science as a whole ends up looking more conservative today, and I think it’s starving future innovations.”
Gregory McColm, logged in via Facebook: As I recall, the current neo-neo-neo-Darwinian theory is that species often evolve when small groups become in some way isolated, and then a sequence of synergistic mutations transform it into something else. The smallness of the group is a critical component of the theory.
How the dinosaurs went extinct: asteroid collision triggered potentially deadly volcanic eruptions
February 21, 2019
Author: Craig O’Neill, Director of the Macquarie Planetary Research Centre/Associate Professor in Geodynamics, Macquarie University
Disclosure statement: Craig O’Neill has received funding from the Australian Research Council.
Partners: Macquarie University provides funding as a member of The Conversation AU.
It’s almost 40 years since scientists discovered what wiped out the dinosaurs: an asteroid hitting Earth near modern-day Mexico. That was it, or so we thought.
A paper published today in Science further supports an alternative hypothesis: that catastrophic events following the impact could have helped cause the end of the dinosaurs and many other forms of life.
This builds on earlier work – including some published last year – suggesting a connection between the asteroid impact, increased volcanic eruptions, and the mass extinction event.
Back in 1980, the American experimental physicist Luis Alvarez, his geologist son Walter and their colleagues published an influential paper in the journal Science.
In it, they outlined evidence of a global catastrophe, buried in a layer spread all over the planet, about 66 million years ago.
They found high levels of iridium – a rare element in Earth’s crust, but common in meteorites. They found shocked quartz – grains of quartz with telltale fractures from the blast wave of the impact, as well as evidence of molten rock thrown out from the impact blast.
With the later discovery of the Chicxulub impact crater on the Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico, the case seemed sealed.
The reign of the dinosaurs ended with a meteorite impact, marking the end of the Cretaceous, and start of the Paleogene period, called the K-Pg boundary.
Was there something else?
Yet within the Earth science community, discontent continued to simmer.
Two of the largest mass extinctions in the geological record both coincide with the largest exposed continental flood basalt events in the past 542 million years. They are the end of the Permian 251 million years ago, and – as today’s Science paper highlights – the dinosaur extinction at the end of the Cretaceous 66 million years ago.
The coincidence seems too great.
In understanding the link between flood volcanism, meteorite impacts and extinctions, timing is everything.
In the new Science paper, a team from the United States and India present some of the most precise dates yet for the enormous eruptions in India, in a unit known as the Deccan Traps – an enormous flood basalt province in Western India that covers more than 500,000km2 and in places is more than 2km thick.
They found that the best date for the Chicxulub impact – at 66.052 million years ago – was within 50,000 years of the peak eruption period of the Deccan Traps, meaning that the impact, and the ramp-up in volcanism, were essentially simultaneous.
A seismic connection
A connection between an impact in the Caribbean and volcanism in the Indian Ocean may seem tenuous, but in planetary science these associations are not uncommon.
One dramatic example is the Caloris Basin on the planet Mercury – a 1,500km-wide structure from an earlier meteorite impact.
Antipodal (at the opposite side of the planet) to this is a bizarre, fractured landscape called the disrupted terrain, which formed from shock waves from the impact at Caloris.
This forms a precedent of sorts – an impact can create geological changes at vast distances. But back on Earth 66 million years ago, Chicxulub and the Deccan Traps weren’t quite antipodal.
The Deccan Traps formed when that part of what is now India was roughly over present-day Reunion Island, a small French Island near Madagascar. This island is still volcanically active, and powered by the same mantle upwelling that caused the Deccan volcanism.
The Yucatan Peninsula, like much of the Americas, was significantly closer to Europe (see below).
But that may not matter. It has long been argued, since at least Charles Darwin in 1840, that earthquakes may trigger eruptions.
The mechanisms are not well understood. Suggestions range from bubble formation in magmas, to the development of fractures in the crust allowing magma to escape faster.
It has been recognised, though, that despite their distance from earthquakes, some volcanoes are simply more sensitive to earthquake activity than others, particularly very active volcanoes. Few volcanic events were more active than the Deccan Traps.
Increased volcanic activity
At the same time as the Deccan volcanic ramp-up, the global mid-ocean ridge system in the Pacific and Indian Oceans seems to have experienced increased activity.
Formed when two plates move apart, ocean ridges form the most extensive volcanic system on the planet.
Analysis of global gravity has indicated anomalously thick crust at the K-Pg boundary, formed due to excess volcanic activity. This effect is only seen in the fastest spreading, and thus most volcanically active, systems in the Pacific and Indian Oceans.
Together, these observations suggest a global pulse of volcanic input at the time of the Cretaceous mass extinction, driven by the shock wave of the Chicxulub impact.
Exactly how this perfect storm of natural disasters – an asteroid collision and increased volcanic activity – drove the mass extinction of so much life on Earth is unclear at the moment.
As Science paper’s first author, Courtney Sprain, a former UC Berkeley doctoral student now at the University of Liverpool, UK, puts it:
Either the Deccan eruptions did not play a role – which we think unlikely – or a lot of climate-modifying gases were erupted during the lowest volume pulse of the eruptions.
Volcanism can warm the Earth, due to eruption of greenhouse gases like methane and carbon-dioxide. It can, along with impacts, also cool the atmosphere by adding sulfur aerosols or dust, respectively.
Gases can also reach the atmosphere from magma stewing below the surface, even without eruptions.
It’s not precisely clear how all these combined to decimate terrestrial and marine ecosystems, but an accurate timeline of events is critical to unraveling these interactions.
John Newlands is a Friend of The Conversation: Museum dioramas invariably depict volcanoes in the background to roaring dinosaurs. To corroborate this theory you would need to find extinction events that coincided with other episodes of vulcanism. Counterexample the dolerite that covers 40% (?) of Tasmania but did not lead to extinctions. The duration of the Indian volcanic episode would need to correlate with most rapid decline of the dinosaurs.
When things went bad for the dinosaurs they couldn’t understand what was going on. Volcanoes and impacts were beyond their control, For humans it may be unwittingly self inflicted.