Hexbyte Glen Cove Expanded UH asteroid tracking system can monitor entire sky

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Chilean engineers and astronomers installing the ATLAS telescope at El Sauce Observatory. Credit: El Sauce Observatory

A state-of-the-art asteroid alert system operated by the University of Hawaiʻi Institute for Astronomy (IfA) can now scan the entire dark sky every 24 hours for dangerous bodies that could plummet toward Earth.

The NASA-funded Asteroid Terrestrial-impact Last Alert System (ATLAS) has expanded its reach to the southern hemisphere, from two existing northern-hemisphere telescopes on Haleakalā and Maunaloa. Construction is now complete and operations are underway on two additional telescopes in South Africa and Chile.

“An asteroid that hits the Earth can come at any time from any direction, so ATLAS is now all the sky, all the time,” said John Tonry, IfA professor and ATLAS principal investigator.

The new telescopes are located at Sutherland Observing Station in South Africa and El Sauce Observatory in Chile. These locations were selected not only for their access to the southern part of the sky but also their time difference from Hawaiʻi—they are able to observe at night when it is daytime in Hawaiʻi. The four- ATLAS system is now the first survey for hazardous asteroids capable of monitoring the entire dark sky every 24 hours. The modest-sized telescopes can image a chunk of sky 100 times larger than the full moon in a single exposure.

Sutherland ATLAS station during construction in South Africa. Credit: Willie Koorts (SAAO)

The ATLAS system can provide one day’s warning for a 20-meter diameter asteroid, capable of city-level destruction. Since larger asteroids can be detected further away, ATLAS can provide up to three weeks’ warning for a 100-meter asteroid, capable of wide regional devastation. An asteroid that large could produce 10 times the destruction of the recent Hunga Tonga volcano eruption if it were to strike the Earth.

UH developed the first two ATLAS telescopes in Hawaiʻi under a 2013 grant from NASA’s Near-Earth Objects Observations Program, now part of the Planetary Defense Coordination Office. The two facilities, on Haleakalā and Maunaloa, became fully operational in 2017.

First light and first discovery in southern hemisphere

After several years of successful operation in Hawaiʻi, IfA proposed for additional NASA funds to build two more telescopes in the . IfA sought partners to host these telescopes, and selected the South African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO) in South Africa and a multi-institutional collaboration in Chile. The ATLAS presence augments already substantial astronomical capability in both countries.

Despite delays due to COVID-19 travel restrictions and supply-chain complications, the UH ATLAS team remotely supervised the assembly of the ATLAS telescopes in coordination with international collaborators in South Africa and Chile. In South Africa, the construction effort was led by the SAAO, and in Chile the team consisted of multiple partners, including the Millennium Institute for Astrophysics and Obstech, which operates the private El Sauce Observatory.

On January 22, ATLAS-Sutherland in South Africa discovered its first near-Earth object (NEO), 2022 BK, a 100-meter asteroid that currently poses no threat to Earth. To date, the ATLAS system has discovered more than 700 near-Earth asteroids and 66 comets, including detection of 2019 MO and observations of 2018 LA, two very small asteroids that actually struck the Earth. The system is specially designed to detect objects that approach very close to Earth—closer than the distance to the Moon, about 240,000 miles or 384,000 kilometers away.

The new ATLAS telescopes join existing ground-based surveys as well as other next-generation ground-based NEO detection systems in the works. According to Larry Denneau, IfA astronomer and ATLAS co-principal investigator, “Fortunately, NEO-hunting is a cooperative global effort, and the enhanced ATLAS complements the existing ground-based NEO search programs, namely UH’s own Pan-STARRS and the Catalina Sky Survey in Tucson, Arizona. All these systems have different specialties, and together they are working to keep us safe from hazardous asteroids that could strike anywhere from days to decades into the future.”

Expanded UH asteroid tracking system can monitor entire sky (2022, January 29)
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Hexbyte Glen Cove Peru government says oil spill twice as big as previously thought

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Peruvian soldiers help clean up one of around 20 beaches affected by the oil spill blamed on Spanish energy giant Repsol.

The oil spill off the coast of Peru sparked by a volcanic eruption thousands of miles away is twice as big as previously reported, the government said Friday.

The announcement came hours after a court banned four directors from the Spanish oil company Repsol, which owns the refinery where the accident took place, from leaving the country for 18 months.

Environment Minister Ruben Ramirez told reporters the country has “a figure so far of 11,900 barrels” dumped into the sea on January 15, instead of the 6,000 reported earlier.

Repsol confirmed that the figure was higher, but gave a slightly lower estimate than the minister.

The spill, described as an “ecological disaster” by the Peruvian government, happened when an Italian-flagged tanker, the Mare Doricum, was unloading oil at the La Pampilla refinery, just off Peru’s coast around 30 kilometers (19 miles) north of Lima.

Repsol said the tanker was hit by freak waves triggered by a tsunami after a massive near Tonga, more than 10,000 kilometers away.

The oil slick has been dragged by ocean currents about 140 kilometers north of the refinery, prosecutors said, causing the death of an undetermined number of fish and seabirds.

In addition, it left hundreds of local fishermen unable to take their boats out. They have staged protests against the Spanish company.

Crude oil washes ashore on Peru’s Chacra y Mar beach on January 27, 2022 from a spill that occurred at a nearby refinery following a volcano in Tonga.

Deputy Environment Minister Alfredo Mamani said that 4,225 barrels of oil had been recovered from the sea and some 20 beaches, just over a third of the total.

For its part, Repsol said in a statement in Lima that “the amount of oil spilled is 10,396 barrels and 35 percent of that has already been recovered.”

Earlier Friday, Judge Romualdo Aguedo granted the prosecution’s request to prevent the four executives, including Repsol Peru’s Spanish president Jaime Fernandez-Cuesta Luca de Tena, from leaving the country, as investigators look into the catastrophic oil spill.

Peru has demanded compensation from Repsol, and the energy giant faces a potential $34.5 million fine, the Environment Ministry has said.

The Mare Doricum is anchored with a ban on setting sail.

Fernandez-Cuesta Luca de Tena is accused of being responsible for the crime of “ to the detriment of the state,” with the three other executives considered “accomplices.”

If found guilty, Repsol’s president faces a potential prison sentence of four to six years.

In Madrid, the oil company pledged to “fully cooperate with any , as we are already doing with the ongoing preliminary investigation,” Repsol said in an email to AFP.

“Our main concern is cleaning up the environment. Repsol is putting all its efforts into cleaning up as quickly as possible,” the company added.

© 2022 AFP

Peru government says oil spill twice as big as previously thought (2022, January 29)
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Hexbyte Glen Cove Thousands of flights canceled as Eastern US braces for winter storm

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A truck delivers road salt in preparation for a winter storm at the Boston Public Works Department yard on January 28, 2022.

Thousands of flights in the United States were canceled Saturday as parts of the East Coast braced for a shellacking by a powerful winter storm packing heavy snow and high winds.

Places in the North East, including New York and Boston, were expected to bear the brunt of the far-reaching system, which is also predicted to pummel the Mid-Atlantic.

Salt machines and snowplows were at the ready in New York, where Mayor Eric Adams tweeted that a foot (30 centimeters) of snow was predicted, but warned that “Mother Nature has a tendency to do what she wants.”

Some 3,400 flights were already canceled for Saturday traveling within, into or out of the United States, according to tracker FlightAware.

Cancellations on Friday totaled more than 1,450.

The National Weather Service warned of “whiteout conditions and nearly impossible travel at times,” along portions of the Mid-Atlantic and New England coasts, with snowfall accumulations greater than a foot expected in parts of the same region.

The governors of New York and New Jersey declared a state of emergency while Boston Mayor Michelle Wu declared a snow emergency.

The storm will produce extremely cold temperatures with dangerous wind chills Saturday night into Sunday morning, the NWS said.

“Get home safely tonight, remain home over the weekend, avoid any unnecessary travel,” New York Governor Kathy Hochul said in a statement, singling out Long Island, New York City and the lower Hudson Valley for particularly deep snow.

The National Weather Service Eastern Region reported that the storm was expected to intensify rapidly over the next 24 hours, with pressure expected to fall around 35 millibars by Saturday evening.

This rapid intensification is sometimes referred to as a “bomb cyclone.”

The blizzard comes on the heels of a similar winter storm that blanketed a swath of Eastern North America—from Georgia to Canada—just two weeks ago, cutting power to thousands of homes and also disrupting thousands of flights.

© 2022 AFP

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Hexbyte Glen Cove Toxic ‘forever chemicals’ found in Michigan farm’s beef

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Beef produced at a small Michigan farm was found to contain toxic “forever chemicals” after the cattle were fed crops grown with fertilizer made from contaminated wastewater biosolids, state officials said Friday.

A consumption advisory issued by state agencies stopped short of a recall, noting there are no government standards for the substances in beef.

But it said buyers should know that meat from Grostic Cattle Co. in Livingston County may contain one of the chemicals known collectively as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS. The particular compound in the beef is known as perfluorooctane sulfonic acid, or PFOS.

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services “determined that prolonged consumption of the beef from this farm could increase PFOS levels in the ,” a news release said.

High levels of water- and grease-resistant PFAS chemicals, which are used in a host of industrial and consumer products, have been linked to numerous health problems, from liver and thyroid damage to high cholesterol and compromised immune systems. They are known as “forever chemicals” because they don’t break down in the environment or the human body.

Studies have shown that crops treated with PFAS-laced biosolids can absorb the chemicals, so it’s reasonable that cattle given those foods would have detectable levels in their bodies, said Jamie DeWitt, an East Carolina University toxicologist. PFAS has also turned up in milk at some .

Grostic Cattle Co. has cooperated with the state’s investigation, according to the Michigan PFAS Action Response Team. The company is notifying customers and removing its beef and affected cattle from the market. The state is providing financial help to reimburse buyers.

“Needless to say, I and my family are surprised to find ourselves and our beloved farm in the middle of a PFAS contamination issue,” owner Jason Grostic said in an email. “Our family farm has been serving the state of Michigan for 100 years. It is because of that commitment that we intend to cooperate with all city, state, county and federal agencies to determine who is responsible for this unfortunate situation.”

The 300-acre operation, which has about 120 cows, sells primarily to individual customers at farm markets and elsewhere, said Scott Dean, spokesman for the state Department of the Environment, Great Lakes and Energy.

The Livingston Educational Service Agency said it bought about 30 pounds of the farm’s beef for school lunch programs last fall and had used it in chili served one day per month.

“We will be disposing of all remaining beef that we have in inventory and using a different provider in the future,” the agency said.

Grostic Cattle Co. came under scrutiny during a four-year state investigation of sites where municipal wastewater biosolids tainted with PFAS have been spread as cropland fertilizers.

Michigan last year banned land applications of industrial biosolids containing more than 150 parts per billion of PFOS and requires testing of biosolids before they are placed on land.

In 2018, high levels of PFOS were detected in wastewater from the city of Wixom’s . Biosolid material generated there contained 2,150 ppb. The chemicals originated from a chrome plating facility that discharged wastewater to the plant.

The Michigan PFAS Action Response Team focused on the Wixom plant and several others for a study of how the agricultural use of biosolids containing the chemicals can affect the environment.

Investigators tested soil and water at farm fields that had used Wixom biosolids. Data from a shallow groundwater monitoring well revealed the presence of a PFAS compound at Grostic Cattle Co.

Further testing found PFAS in cattle feed crops grown there, as well as in manure and soil. The farm provided frozen beef cuts for analysis this month at a U.S. Department of Agriculture lab, which measured an average PFOS level of 1.9 ppb.

“These results were lower than USDA’s current health screening value and lower than beef samples previously tested in other states,” the state PFAS team said, adding that it decided to notify the public out of caution.

Abigail Hendershott, executive director of the PFAS team, described the Grostic farm contamination as “a rare occurrence” that probably wouldn’t happen again because of the state’s crackdown on discharges of the chemicals to wastewater plants and their presence in biosolids.

The Grostic received “the largest and most frequent applications of the Wixom treatment plants biosolids,” she said.

But activist groups said the discovery was alarming. Biosolids are believed to be responsible for the contamination of wells in several counties, the Michigan League of Conservation Voters said.

“We know there is a PFAS contamination crisis in our state, and it is unfortunately no surprise that food and crops can be impacted, ” said Tony Spaniola, co-chair of the Great Lakes PFAS Action Network.

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