Antarctica losing six times more ice mass annually now than 40 years ago

Antarctica experienced a sixfold increase in yearly ice mass loss between 1979 and 2017, according to a study published today in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Glaciologists from the University of California, Irvine, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the Netherlands' Utrecht University additionally found that the accelerated melting caused global sea levels to rise more than half an inch during that time.

"That's just the tip of the iceberg, so to speak," said lead author Eric Rignot, Donald Bren Professor and chair of Earth system science at UCI. "As the Antarctic ice sheet continues to melt away, we expect multi-meter sea level rise from Antarctica in the coming centuries."

For this study, Rignot and his collaborators conducted what he called the longest-ever assessment of remaining Antarctic ice mass. Spanning four decades, the project was also geographically comprehensive; the research team examined 18 regions encompassing 176 basins, as well as surrounding islands.

Techniques used to estimate ice sheet balance included a comparison of snowfall accumulation in interior basins with ice discharge by glaciers at their grounding lines, where ice begins to float in the ocean and detach from the bed. Data was derived from fairly high-resolution aerial photographs taken from a distance of about 350 meters via NASA's Operation IceBridge; satellite radar interferometry from multiple space agencies; and the ongoing Landsat satellite imagery series, begun in the early 1970s.

The team was able to discern that between 1979 and 1990, Antarctica shed an average of 40 gigatons of ice mass annually. (A gigaton is 1 billion tons.) From 2009 to 2017, about 252 gigatons per year were lost.

The pace of melting rose dramatically over the four-decade period. From 1979 to 2001, it was an average of 48 gigatons annually per decade. The rate jumped 280 percent to 134 gigatons for 2001 to 2017.

Rignot said that one of the key findings of the project is the contribution East Antarctica has made to the total ice mass loss picture in recent decades.

"The Wilkes Land sector of East Antarctica has, overall, always been an important participant in the mass loss, even as far back as the 1980s, as our research has shown," he said. "This region is probably more sensitive to climate [change] than has traditionally been assumed, and that's important to know, because it holds even more ice than West Antarctica and the Antarctic Peninsula together."

He added that the sectors losing the most ice mass are adjacent to warm ocean water.

"As climate warming and ozone depletion send more ocean heat toward those sectors, they will continue to contribute to sea level rise from Antarctica in decades to come," said Rignot, who's also a senior project scientist at JPL.

US Moon landing conspiracy: Faking it more difficult than doing, Russian scientist says

The head of the Russian space agency may joke about ‘verifying’ if the Americans landed on the moon, but there are no doubts for one Russian scientist, who weighed in on the decades-long conspiracy debate.

The claim that NASA never landed astronauts on the moon and that evidence to the contrary was fabricated is among the most pervasive in popular culture and has been a point of fierce debates.

 
US astronaut Buzz Aldrin salutes the American flag on the surface of the Moon after he and fellow astronaut Neil Armstrong became the first men to land on the Moon. © Reuters / NASA

Dmitry Rogozin, Russia’s space chief, even recently joked that Russia’s future lunar missions will give the country an opportunity to check whether Neil Armstrong’s footprints are actually out there.

That aside, people who actually study the moon for a living believe there is no need to launch spaceships just to prove the success of the Apollo program. Fabricating a lunar landing would probably be technologically impossible and anyway economically unnecessary, told RIA Novosti Yury Kostitsyn.

The man heads the Institute of Analytical Chemistry, which is directly involved in developing sensors for space and was part of the Soviet robotic study of the moon.

“Faking the landing of the American astronauts to the Moon would have been more complex and expensive than actually doing it,” the scientist assured.

The key piece of evidence in his own field of knowledge is the moon soil, which the Americans said to have retrieved. It was studied in labs of many countries, including the USSR, and it’s definitely not from this planet.

“Falsifying moon soil is impossible. The Americans brought back to Earth about 300 kilos of it, most of it basalt,” he explained. “We have basalts on Earth too, but they are significantly different from the lunar ones in their chemical composition, properties, and structure. There are no rock formations older than 3.7 billion years, and what the Americans brought is over 4 billion years old, comparable to the age of the solar system.” (NB. There are actually rocks of earth origin dated over 4bn years, but the ones brought from the Moon are still older.)

So unless there is a secret ageing machine hidden somewhere in Los Alamos, the quickest way to get some really old rocks is to go to space and grab some.

“There is nothing to argue about Americans landing on the moon between 1969 and 1972,” Kostitsyn stressed. “You won’t hear a single cosmonaut say they didn’t.”

Also on rt.com Russia, China agree joint data center for lunar projects & deep space exploration

That aside, more secrets of our closest ‘neighbor’ could be discovered soon after China blasted off a lunar rover on a historic mission to explore the far side of the moon. Earlier this year Russian space agency Roscosmos also announced that Moscow and Beijing have agreed to create a joint data center for lunar and deep space projects.

In 2016, Russian space rocket giant Energia announced plans to create a reusable space vehicle to shuttle cargo and crews between the Space Station and the moon.

  • Published in World

Breaking Dawn: NASA’s asteroid belt mission runs out of fuel

After 11 years, 4.3 billion miles (6.9 billion kilometers) and two planetary orbits, NASA’s Dawn mission has been declared over after the craft failed to communicate with Earth for two days in a row.

The 11-year mission to investigate “time capsules from the solar system’s earliest chapter” in the asteroid belt concluded after Dawn finally ran out of hydrazine fuel, which meant it could no longer turn to face Earth, to communicate, or the sun, to recharge.

Dusk for Dawn: NASA Mission to the Asteroid Belt

The probe, currently in orbit around the dwarf planet Ceres, missed communications with NASA’s Deep Space Network on Wednesday and Thursday; and mission managers were forced to confirm the end of the mission.

Tensions aside: US to take delivery of 4 rocket engines from Russia

Despite political tensions here on Mother Earth, Russian-American cooperation in space still persists. The US will take delivery of four Russian-built engines crucial for its Atlas rockets, with several more to come.

Four RD-180 rocket engines built by Russia’s NPO Energomash have been commissioned for the US buyers, the manufacturer said in a news release. “On October 26, 2018, Pratt & Whitney, United Launch Alliance and RD AMROSS singed the engine log books,” it reads. 

Prior to the handover, Pratt & Whitney and United Launch Alliance (ULA) checked the engines along with NASA and US Air Force experts to ensure they are of good quality. The RD-180s are now ready to be shipped out, and this is not a one-of-a-kind purchase.

Three more rocket engines will be supplied later in November. And in April, the US bought four more engines from Russia, according to Energomash.

The United Launch Alliance, a joint company owned by Lockheed Martin and Boeing, has relied on Energomash RD-180 engines for years to power the Atlas V rocket. They recently ordered 20 engines from Energomash despite economic sanctions imposed on Russia.

 
Aside from RD-180 engines, the US buys RD-181s from Russian manufacturers. The RD-181 is used to propel Antares rockets that launch Cygnus cargo tugs to the International Space Station for NASA.

When the US introduced its initial set of restrictions against Moscow, space exploration was excluded. As NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine said“when other channels of communication break down, nations can still communicate on space exploration and space discovery and science.”

NASA has been doing its utmost to cut its dependency on Russian engines and to produce a viable alternative to the dual-nozzle, kerosene-fueled RD-180s, but to no avail so far. And while some Russian officials have at times vowed to ban the rocket engine sales, they are continuing.

Space is one of the few areas of Russia-US cooperation that remains relatively unscathed by political tensions. “We’re all breathing the same air. We can draw borders, but from space you can’t see them,” NASA astronaut Douglas H. Wheelock said last year.

“In the US we have a sarcastic saying: ‘We can put a man on a Moon, but we cannot figure out how to get along with our Russian partners,” the New York native said after working at Russia’s Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center in Star City.

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Oxygen discovery ‘completely changes’ potential for life on Mars - study

Eyed as prime real estate, Mars currently occupies the mind of space innovation suitors. Billions is being spent in the race to get humans to the planet but can the barren landscape be tamed? A new oxygen study provides hope.

SpaceX, Blue Origin and Boeing all have aspirations to put humans on the ground of the Red Planet. The US space agency NASA has a longstanding interest while Russia and even the United Arab Emirates each outlined their capabilities to get to, what data suggests is, a sparse, unsustainable landscape.

However, a new study into the cold, desert world could provide new impetus for explorers given that it suggests deposits of briny water may contain enough oxygen to support microbial life.

READ MORE: Is this ‘life on Mars’? New project makes walking on red planet a virtual reality (VIDEO)

Published in the Nature journal, the study was led by researchers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena. Using atmospheric models to test how oxygen might react in water underneath the Red Planet’s surface, the team found evidence to suggest that the life sustaining chemical element could be present to a degree higher than expected.

“Even at the limits of the uncertainties, our findings suggest that there can be near-surface environments on Mars with sufficient O2 available for aerobic microbes to breathe,” the study states.

The study found that “high concentrations” would likely be in polar regions due to lower temperatures observed in the alien environment. “Our findings may help to explain the formation of highly oxidized phases in Martian rocks observed with Mars rovers, and imply that opportunities for aerobic life may exist on modern Mars,” the study adds.

Large bodies of water have proved elusive on Mars but over the years geological evidence obtained by NASA rovers suggest the planet was once water soaked. In 2015, NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter beamed back data showing hydrated minerals giving rise to the belief that liquid water flows intermittently on the planet.

READ MORE: Emergency escape at 6000 km/h: How near miss Soyuz rocket accident unfolded (PHOTOS, VIDEO)

Speaking about the development, the study's lead author Vlada Stamenković said the discovery could change everything.

“That's the thing of habitability; we never thought that environment could have that much oxygen. It completely changes our understanding of the potential for life on current-day Mars,” he told the National Geographic.

Hubble trouble: Deep space telescope in ‘safe mode’ after mechanical fail

It’s been used to date the galaxy and study black holes but now NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope is taking a break from activities due to a mechanical fault.

Launched into deep space in 1990, the large, long orbit telescope is packed with instruments like cameras, spectrographs and interferometers to clear up mysteries of the universe. But now NASA has been forced to place one of it’s prize assets into ‘safe mode’ due to the malfunction of a gyroscope used to balance and navigate the $2.5 billion telescope.

In a statement NASA allayed fears by saying the telescope can still carry out scientific operations with one gyro but that activities onboard the orbiter had been suspended to give engineers a chance to fix the fault.

“Hubble entered safe mode after one of the three gyroscopes actively being used to point and steady the telescope failed. Safe mode puts the telescope into a stable configuration until ground control can correct the issue and return the mission to normal operation,” NASA said in a statement.

@NASAHubble

Built with multiple redundancies, Hubble had six new gyros installed during Servicing Mission-4 in 2009. Hubble usually uses three gyros at a time for maximum efficiency, but can continue to make scientific observations with even just one gyro.

NASA became aware of the issue last Friday when a gyro, already displaying ‘end of life’ behavior, went out of action. The 28-year-old Hubble Telescope has been key to NASA and independent research of space.

The instrument, named after astronomer Edwin Powell Hubble, has been celebrated for its involvement in tracking asteroids, analysing the Kuiper Belt and documenting the nebula of dying stars.

Amateur astronomers have also been given access to Hubble for research purposes. In a well known case back in 1993, 80 astronomers were allowed to use the telescope to study the transition of comets in to asteroids.

Russia Says Space Station Leak Could Be Deliberate Sabotage

Moscow, Russia: Russia launched checks Tuesday after its space chief said an air leak on the International Space Station last week could have been caused by deliberate sabotage.

Space agency chief Dmitry Rogozin said the hole detected Thursday in a Russian space craft docked at the orbiting station was caused by a drill and could have been done deliberately, either back on Earth or in space.

Astronauts used tape to seal the leak after it caused a small loss of pressure that was not life-threatening.

"There were several attempts at drilling," Rogozin said late Monday in televised comments.

He added that the drill appeared to have been held by a "wavering hand."

"What is this: a production defect or some premeditated actions?" he asked.

"We are checking the Earth version. But there is another version that we do not rule out: deliberate interference in space."

A commission will seek to identify the culprit by name, Rogozin said, calling this a "matter of honour" for Russia's Energiya space manufacturing company that made the Soyuz.

Previously Rogozin had said the hole in the side of the Soyuz ship used to ferry astronauts was most likely caused from outside by a tiny meteorite.

"We have already ruled out the meteorite version," Rogozin said late Monday.

The hole is in a section of the Soyuz ship that will not be used to carry astronauts back to Earth.

Energiya will check all its Soyuz and Progress cargo craft for possible defects, both at its production site outside Moscow and those awaiting launch at Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, RIA Novosti state news agency reported Tuesday, citing a source in the space industry.

The ISS is one of the few areas of Russia-US cooperation that remains unaffected by the slump in relations between the countries and Washington's sanctions.

Currently on the ISS are two cosmonauts from Russia and three NASA astronauts as well as one German astronaut from the European Space Agency.

  • Published in World

Water worlds can support life – we don’t need another ‘Earth,’ study finds

A world entirely covered in water could support life, according to a new study which challenges the prevailing scientific thought that living entities need a planet like Earth in order to survive.

After running more than 1,000 simulations, researchers at the University of Chicago and Pennsylvania State University found that ocean planets can stay in the “sweet spot” needed to support the cycling of minerals and gases that keep the climate stable on Earth, for much longer than previously assumed.

 

This really pushes back against the idea you need an Earth clone – that is, a planet with some land and a shallow ocean,” said Edwin Kite, assistant professor of geophysical sciences at UChicago and lead author of the study. The team’s findings are published in the Astrophysical Journal.

Astronomers have been scoping the solar system for Earth-like planets that could one day support life for decades – resulting in the relatively recent discovery of several exoplanets that appear to be humankind’s best shot at an alternative to their home planet.

However, some of the exoplanet options have been deemed less viable because they’re completely covered in an ocean hundreds of miles deep, covering all rock and suppressing volcanoes.

Through a simulation of thousands of randomly-generated planets which tracked their climate evolution over billions of years, the team found that many sitting in just the right location around their stars stayed stable for longer than expected.

READ MORE: Kepler-90: NASA announces discovery of solar system similar to ours

The surprise was that many of them stay stable for more than a billion years, just by luck of the draw,” Kite said. “Our best guess is that it’s on the order of 10 percent of them.”

Kite says the scientific community has been too quick to disregard the ocean planets because they can’t regulate their temperature in the way Earth does – by drawing down greenhouse gases into minerals and warming the planet by releasing them via volcanoes.

The team found that any planet with the right amount of carbon and the ability to cycle it between the atmosphere and ocean is enough to maintain the planet’s balance.

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