Science

Friday, July 24, 2020

Comet NEOWISE draws eyes to skies for first time in thousands of years

Posted By on Fri, Jul 24, 2020 at 12:00 PM

COURTESY NASA
  • Courtesy NASA
PHOENIX – Arizona skywatchers have been over the moon about a comet that has graced the night sky since July 11.

Comet NEOWISE was discovered March 27 by Amy Mainzer, principal investigator on NASA’s Near-Earth Object Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer mission, and her team at the University of Arizona.

“We’re specifically interested in what we call ‘near-Earth objects,’” Mainzer said. “These are the asteroids and comets that come within about 1.3 times the distance from the Earth to the sun.”

The 3-mile wide ball of ice, dust and rock survived a close approach to the sun and is headed toward the outer edge of our solar system before starting another very long trip around the sun. Unlike a shooting star, viewers have a chance to view the comet for longer than a split second.

“This comet, even though it’s traveling at enormous speeds, you’d think, given this incredible speed, that it’d be gone in an instant,” Mainzer said. “But space is so big, that even at that incredible speed, it still takes an appreciable number of days to traverse the sky.”

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Tuesday, June 2, 2020

OSIRIS-REx: New Information On Asteroids' Shapes, Formation

Posted By on Tue, Jun 2, 2020 at 10:00 AM

COURTESY NASA/GODDARD/UNIVERSITY OF ARIZONA
  • Courtesy NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona
Scientists from the University of Arizona-led OSIRIS-REx space mission have released new findings about the origins of small astronomical bodies based on observation of the asteroid Bennu.

The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft launched from the Earth in September 2016 and is planned to return in 2023. The spacecraft, part of a NASA program, will collect rocks and dust from the surface of Bennu in order to better understand "the initial stages of planet formation and the source of organic compounds available for the origin of life." Since arriving at Bennu in December 2018, OSIRIS-Rex has mapped the asteroid's rocky and carbon-rich surface.

In studying Bennu, scientists have discovered that the asteroid is composed of fragments of larger bodies that shattered upon colliding with other objects. The small fragments then reaccumulated to form an aggregate body, which explains Bennu's extremely rough surface and a partially hollow interior. 

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Tuesday, May 26, 2020

OSIRIS-REx Asteroid Sample Collection Set for October 20

Posted By on Tue, May 26, 2020 at 4:00 PM

ILLUSTRATION COURTESY NASA/GODDARD/UNIVERSITY OF ARIZONA
  • Illustration courtesy NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona
The University of Arizona-led spacecraft OSIRIS-REx is planned to collect a sample of the surface of an asteroid on October 20. And if successful, it will be the first U.S. spacecraft to return samples from an asteroid.

OSIRIS-REx launched from the Earth in September 2016, and is planned to return with its cargo in 2023. The spacecraft, part of a NASA program, will collect rocks and dust from the surface of the asteroid Bennu in order to better understand "the initial stages of planet formation and the source of organic compounds available for the origin of life."

The announcement of a sample retrieval date comes after a successful sample-collection rehearsal last month, where OSIRIS-REx also captured pictures of the asteroid's rocky surface. A second rehearsal date is slated for Aug. 11. 


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Thursday, May 21, 2020

Opinions on water, willingness to protect it varies by region, survey finds

Posted By on Thu, May 21, 2020 at 4:00 PM

The Central Arizona Project canal system spans 336 miles and brings 1.5 million acre feet of water from the Colorado River down past Tucson. - LILLIAN DONAHUE / CRONKITE NEWS
  • Lillian Donahue / Cronkite News
  • The Central Arizona Project canal system spans 336 miles and brings 1.5 million acre feet of water from the Colorado River down past Tucson.
A new survey finds differences in how Americans feel about water, and how those feelings translate into action.

The Water Main, a project from American Public Media, wanted to know how Americans think, feel and worry about their water. Among its findings is that knowledge of water issues isn’t the biggest predictor of whether someone takes the effort to act. Personal connections to particular rivers, lakes and oceans led to more concrete conservation measures.

“The big surprise is that knowledge, how much we know, and action aren’t as tightly correlated as we might think they are,” said Amy Skoczlas Cole, managing editor of the Water Main. “It wasn’t actually the people who knew the most about water who were doing the most, it was the people who felt the most connected to water who were taking the most action.”

Half of the 1,005 people surveyed reported feeling a strong personal connection to a river, lake, ocean or other body of water.

More people older than 65 felt this way than those younger than 45, the survey found.

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Endangered Fish Now Swimming in Agua Caliente Park's Restored Pond

Posted By on Thu, May 21, 2020 at 2:00 PM

No fishing! The endangered Gila topminnow is swimming in Agua Caliente Park. - COURTESY AGFD
  • Courtesy AGFD
  • No fishing! The endangered Gila topminnow is swimming in Agua Caliente Park.
The endangered Gila topminnow is swimming in the newly restored pond at Agua Caliente on Tucson’s east side.

500 Gila topminnows were released into the pond on Wednesday, May 13, by staff from multiple county and state agencies. The fish release, part of the larger Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan, has been years in the making.

The small green and black Gila topminnow once swam throughout Tucson’s water system, but loss of habitat and predation from non-native fish landed them on the endangered species list in 1967. Topminnows survived in sparse populations in the Santa Cruz watershed, such as in Cienega Creek.

“They were in very dire straits in terms of very few natural sites that still had them,” said Karen Simms, Natural Resources division manager for Pima County’s Natural Resources, Parks and Recreation Department. “There’s been a lot of effort in expanding the number of sites that have topminnow in recent years.”

Aside from loss of habitat, one of their greatest threats were the non-native mosquitofish, which outcompete them for food.

“The Gila topminnow actually do just as good of a job at mosquito control, so another one of our goals is to change over the water sources we manage to have topminnow instead of mosquitofish in them,” Simms said.

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Monday, May 11, 2020

How Climate Change Is Contributing to Skyrocketing Rates of Infectious Disease

Posted By on Mon, May 11, 2020 at 3:00 PM

TARA FOULKROD
  • Tara Foulkrod
ProPublica is a nonprofit newsroom that investigates abuses of power. Click here to read their biggest stories as soon as they’re published.

The scientists who study how diseases emerge in a changing environment knew this moment was coming. Climate change is making outbreaks of disease more common and more dangerous.

Over the past few decades, the number of emerging infectious diseases that spread to people — especially coronaviruses and other respiratory illnesses believed to have come from bats and birds — has skyrocketed. A new emerging disease surfaces five times a year. One study estimates that more than 3,200 strains of coronaviruses already exist among bats, awaiting an opportunity to jump to people.

The diseases may have always been there, buried deep in wild and remote places out of reach of people. But until now, the planet’s natural defense systems were better at fighting them off.

Today, climate warming is demolishing those defense systems, driving a catastrophic loss in biodiversity that, when coupled with reckless deforestation and aggressive conversion of wildland for economic development, pushes farms and people closer to the wild and opens the gates for the spread of disease.

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Thursday, May 7, 2020

Local Corporation Secures NASA Contract for Moon Mission

Posted By on Thu, May 7, 2020 at 2:00 PM

n artist's concept of the Dynetics Human Landing System, for which Paragon will design the life support system, on the surface of the moon. - COURTESY DYNETICS
  • Courtesy Dynetics
  • n artist's concept of the Dynetics Human Landing System, for which Paragon will design the life support system, on the surface of the moon.

Technology currently being designed in Tucson may soon help the US send astronauts to the moon for the first time in 50 years. Paragon Space Development Corporation, headquartered in Tucson, is part of a science team that recently secured a NASA contract to design a human landing system to take the first woman and next man to the lunar surface by 2024.

“This is a major endeavor for the US, and we’re so excited to be a part of it,” said Grant Anderson, president and CEO of Paragon. “This is like a jewel in the crown of any environmental control company.”

The team Paragon is on was organized by Dynetics, a subsidiary of Leidos that provides engineering and science solutions for the national security, space and cybersecurity sectors. As part of this team, Paragon will provide the Environmental Control and Life Support System for the human landing system.

“The company was looking at those similar to Dynetics, and knew of Paragon already. They were a natural connection to our team,” said Kristina Hendrix, director of communications for Dynetics.

According to Hendrix, NASA put out requests for proposals for the Artemis Human Landing System last summer, and Dynetics quickly moved into action, assembling a team of subcontractors over three to five months. Other members of the team include the Sierra Nevada Corporation, Tuskegee University, Bionetics Corporation, Oceaneering International and more than a dozen others.

While Anderson says working on a moon lander has an especially inspirational feeling to it, this type of contract is not new for Paragon; the company has supported the development of every human-rated vehicle for NASA since 1999. Founded in 1993, Paragon focuses on creating life support and thermal control systems that would "allow humans to expand beyond their previously believed limits."

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Thursday, April 30, 2020

Plan to ‘revive’ uranium mining called unneeded, unwanted by advocates

Posted By on Thu, Apr 30, 2020 at 3:30 PM

JAKE ELDRIDGE/CRONKITE NEWS
  • Jake Eldridge/Cronkite News
PHOENIX – Environmentalists are blasting a Trump administration call for “bold action to revive and strengthen the uranium mining industry,” an industry whose history they say has left a “toxic trail” through the Grand Canyon.

They are responding to a report last week by the Department of Energy’s Nuclear Fuel Working Group, which called for the government to support both uranium mining and nuclear power technology to preserve national security.

The first step in that plan is a proposal for $150 million in next year’s Energy Department’s budget to buy and stockpile U.S.-mined uranium, the report said.

“As a matter of national security, it is critical that we take bold steps to preserve and grow the entire U.S. nuclear energy enterprise,” Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette said in a statement announcing the report. He said a lack of U.S. progress on nuclear energy and technology “has threatened our national interest and national security.”

Environmentalists say there is no need to protect a “sagging” uranium mining industry and fear the report will lead the administration to slash environmental laws and regulations to allow for more mining. That is a particular concern in northern Arizona where there are hundreds of abandoned uranium mines that still pose health risks, they said.

“We cannot turn a blind eye to past mining in the region and incentivize new mining on public lands without even fully remediating environmental and public health hazards already present,” Rep. Tom O’Halleran, D-Sedona, said in a statement responding to the report.

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