Three Chinese astronauts return to Earth after six months in space

Astronauts Ye Guangfu, Wang Yaping and Zhai Zhigang, wave at a departure ceremony before their launch on the Shenzhou 13 spacecraft in October 2021.

Three Chinese astronauts returned to Earth on Saturday after 183 days in space, ending China’s longest crewed mission as it continues its quest to become a major space power.

The Shenzhou-13 spacecraft was the latest mission in Beijing’s drive to rival the United States, after landing a rover on Mars and sending probes to the Moon.

Live footage from state broadcaster CCTV showed the capsule landing in a cloud of dust, with ground crew who had kept clear of the rushing in helicopters to reach the capsule.

The two men and one woman—Zhai Zhigang, Ye Guangfu and Wang Yaping—returned to Earth shortly before 10 am Beijing time (0200 GMT), after six months aboard the Tianhe core module of China’s Tiangong space station.

Ground crew applauded as the astronauts each took turns to report that they were in good physical condition.

Zhai was the first to emerge from the capsule roughly 45 minutes after the landing, waving and grinning at cameras as he was lifted by ground crew into a specially designed chair before being bundled into a blanket.

“I’m proud of our heroic country,” Zhai said in an interview with CCTV shortly after leaving the capsule. “I feel extremely good.”

The trio originally launched in the Shenzhou-13 from China’s northwestern Gobi Desert last October, as the second of four crewed missions during 2021-2022 sent to assemble the country’s first permanent space station—Tiangong, which means “heavenly palace.”

Wang became the first Chinese woman to spacewalk last November, as she and her colleague Zhai installed space station equipment during a six-hour stint.

Mission commander Zhai, 55, is a former fighter pilot who performed China’s in 2008, while Ye is a People’s Liberation Army pilot.

The trio have completed two spacewalks, carried out numerous scientific experiments, set up equipment and tested technologies for future construction during their time in orbit.

The astronauts spent the past few weeks tidying up and preparing the cabin facilities and equipment for the crew of the incoming Shenzhou-14, expected to be launched in the coming months.

China’s previous record spaceflight mission length was set by last year’s Shenzhou-12 deployment, which lasted 92 days.

Six months will become the normal astronaut residence period aboard the Chinese space station, according to state broadcaster CCTV.

Space race

The world’s second-largest economy has poured billions into its military-run space programme, with hopes of having a permanently crewed space station by 2022 and eventually sending humans to the Moon.

The country has come a long way in catching up with the United States and Russia, whose astronauts and cosmonauts have decades of experience in .

But under Chinese President Xi Jinping, the country’s plans for its heavily-promoted “space dream” have been put into overdrive.

Besides a , Beijing is also planning to build a base on the Moon, and the country’s National Space Administration said it aims to launch a crewed lunar mission by 2029.

China has been excluded from the International Space Station since 2011, when the US banned NASA from engaging with the country.

While China does not plan to use its for global cooperation on the scale of the ISS, Beijing has said it is open to foreign collaboration although the scope of that cooperation is not yet clear.

The ISS is due for retirement after 2024, although NASA has said it could remain functional until 2030.

© 2022 AFP

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Hexbyte Glen Cove Three people missing in Colorado wildfire

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On Dec 31, 2021 firefighters walk near a home destroyed by a wildfire in Boulder County, Colorado.

Three people are missing after a wildfire tore through several Colorado towns, quickly destroying nearly 1,000 homes as part of the latest in a string of US natural disasters.

“We’re very fortunate that we don’t have a list of 100 missing. But unfortunately we do have three confirmed missing people,” Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle told a press conference.

At least 991 homes are thought to have been destroyed as the blaze raced through the towns of Superior and Louisville on Thursday, just outside the state’s biggest city Denver, forcing tens of thousands of people to flee with little notice.

Shocking aerial footage showed whole streets as little more than piles of smoking ash, destruction that appeared almost total but somehow left a few homes oddly untouched.

Pelle said the search for the missing had been hampered by the destruction and snow.

“The structures where these folks would be are completely destroyed and covered with about eight inches (20 centimeters) of snow right now.”

Investigators found no credible evidence to back earlier reports that downed may have caused the , with Pelle stating that some residents may have been confused by downed telecom lines.

However, investigators have “executed a in one particular location” as part of an ongoing investigation that Pelle described as “very active” and comprising federal and state partners.

Louie Delaware embraces his wife Judy as his daughter Elise embraces her fiance McGregor Ritter after returning to the remains of their home in Louisville, Colorado on December, 31, 2021.

The fire, which was sparked in a tinder-dry landscape, was then fanned by winds gusting at more than 100 miles (160 kilometers) an hour on Thursday.

“This was a disaster in fast motion… over the course of half a day. Many families having minutes to get whatever they could—their pets, their kids—into the car and leave,” Governor Jared Polis said, “just as in the blink of an eye.”

At least 33,000 people in Superior and Louisville were told to flee, many doing so with little more than the clothes on their backs.

Pelle said he spoke to the granddaughter of one of the missing on Saturday morning.

“They’re trying to find grandma. And we’re trying to find grandma for her,” he said. “But the conditions right now don’t make that possible to do quickly.”

While snowfall had helped extinguish the fire, it was a “hard thing for , and recovery efforts and damage assessments,” Pelle said.

Debris lies scattered in the basement of a home destroyed by wildfire in unincorporated Boulder County, Colorado on December, 31, 2021.

The fire, which occurred just before the New Year’s holiday, follows mid-December tornadoes in the state of Kentucky that left dozens dead and thousands of families in crisis mode ahead of Christmas.

Although fires are a natural part of the climate cycle and help to clear dead brush, their scale and intensity are increasing.

Scientists say a warming climate, chiefly caused by human activities such as the unchecked burning of fossil fuels, is altering weather patterns.

© 2022 AFP

Three people missing in Colorado wildfire (2022, January 2)
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Hexbyte Glen Cove Three large natural gas plants would wipe out climate gains from recent shutdowns of coal-fired plants in Illinois

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Credit: CC0 Public Domain

Shunning climate-changing fossil fuels is turning out to be more difficult than promised in Illinois.

Two weeks after Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed a law billed as the nation’s most aggressive mandate for , the Chicago Democrat’s administration tentatively approved a major new source of heat-trapping pollution.

A draft state permit for a new natural gas power plant, planned for a small town south of Springfield, would allow the proposed Lincoln Land Energy Center to emit more than 800,000 automobiles every year.

Combined with CO2 emitted by two other gas approved during Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner’s single term in office, the downstate generator would wipe out climate benefits from closing four of the state’s coal-fired power plants last year.

During 2019, the now-shuttered emitted 7.8 million tons of carbon dioxide, federal records show.

State permits for soon-to-be-operating gas plants near Elwood and Morris and the draft permit for Lincoln Land enable the new gas-burners to release 63% more CO2 into the atmosphere—up to 12.7 million tons annually.

“That certainly appears to be inconsistent with the path Illinois has chosen to move toward carbon-free energy,” said James Gignac, senior Midwest energy analyst for the nonprofit Union of Concerned Scientists.

Unlike power plants built during the last century by state-regulated utilities, companies behind the three new gas plants aren’t required to demonstrate their projects are necessary to meet demand for electricity.

Instead, private investors financing the projects are betting natural gas prices will remain low enough for them to profit as dirtier, less-efficient coal and gas plants are retired. Another way the companies can make money is through annual capacity auctions held by the regional grid operator to guarantee enough electricity is available during hot days and other times when the grid is challenged.

One of Pritzker’s top aides deferred to career state employees when asked why a governor who promotes himself as a clean energy champion would allow a big new source of climate pollution to be built under his watch.

“IEPA (the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency), not the governor, is authorized to act on permit applications such as this,” Jordan Abudayyeh, Pritzker’s chief spokeswoman, said about the proposed Lincoln Land gas plant. “In doing so, the IEPA must follow applicable statutory and regulatory provisions governing that process.”

At least one other state is considering the impact of climate change now rather than years in the future. In October, the same month Illinois signaled it would approve the Lincoln Land project, New York denied a permit for a new gas-fired unit at an existing power plant, declaring it “would be inconsistent with or interfere with” a state law demanding carbon-free electricity by 2040.

Environmental groups are citing the New York decision in comments urging Illinois to withdraw the Lincoln Land permit. But it appears they are outgunned.

Backed by unions for construction workers, gas-plant developers had enough clout in Springfield during the summer to block Pritzker’s clean energy initiatives until the governor and his legislative allies stripped out provisions that would have required the facilities to steadily reduce carbon emissions during years leading up to 2045, when they would either need to find a way to eliminate heat-trapping pollution altogether or shut down.

In the final version of the Clean Energy Jobs Act, the new gas plants can operate without climate-focused restrictions until the 2045 deadline for carbon-free electricity in Illinois. The law also extends a lifeline to a pair of municipally owned coal plants, including the Prairie State Generating Station southeast of St. Louis, which last year was the nation’s seventh-largest industrial source of carbon dioxide.

J.C. Kibbey is a clean energy advocate at the nonprofit Natural Resources Defense Council who was involved in negotiations that brokered the deal. He lamented having to compromise to protect a handful of fossil fuel interests for a quarter century, but suggested a dramatic increase in wind and solar power demanded by the Illinois law, along with advances in industrial-scale battery storage, will end up erasing competitive advantages enjoyed by new gas plants.

“Renewables with storage are far more economical than any fossil fuel,” Kibbey said. “While we’re scaling that up and bringing prices down, gas will probably fill gaps when the sun isn’t shining or wind isn’t blowing. What I fear is these developers are pursuing a world where their gas plants run 24/7, and we just can’t allow that if we want to avoid catastrophic climate change.”

In interviews and public comments, companies building or seeking to build gas plants in Illinois contend their projects will help ease the transition from to renewable energy.

Some are investing in both. Competitive Power Ventures, a Maryland-based company building the 1,250 megawatt Three Rivers gas plant near Morris, also is developing a 350 megawatt solar array in Livingston County.

“We build based on what we think the system is going to need and because of that people will pay for it,” said Tom Rumsey, the company’s senior vice president for external and regulatory affairs.

Rumsey ticked off one of the gas lobby’s latest talking points: Deadly power outages during a Texas cold snap last winter showed the nation can’t rely on just wind and solar power.

“If you get too far over your skis on renewables and don’t pay attention to what you need to manage the system you run into reliability issues,” he said.

The main problem in Texas, though, was an electrical grid dominated by gas-fired power that hadn’t been weatherized, and according to the state’s largest generator, still isn’t.

Reliability hasn’t been an issue in Illinois as climate-changing pollution from the state’s industries declined by 30% during the past decade, in part because several coal-fired power plants closed.

Another variable involves the state’s fleet of six nuclear . Planning for the large gas-fired generators began when it appeared Chicago-based Exelon might close some of its nukes, which generally operate around the clock. Since then state lawmakers have approved two rounds of subsidies for Exelon, including $700 million during the next five years provided in the new clean energy law.

From a health and climate perspective, continuing to operate the carbon-free plants should help block additional gas-fired generation and stabilize the grid as more wind and solar power comes online.

Some analysts think gas plants intended to operate near full capacity will soon become obsolete if the cost of renewable energy and storage continues to fall at its current pace. That could limit Three Rivers and the other Illinois projects to being used only when demand peaks.

A new study by Stanford researchers found that a 100% renewable energy grid is feasible by 2050. Moving to wind, water and solar , the researchers concluded, would save money, create jobs and cut pollution.

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Hexbyte Glen Cove Three out of four turtle populations risk cadmium contamination thumbnail

Hexbyte Glen Cove Three out of four turtle populations risk cadmium contamination

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Lead researcher & PhD candidate Gulsah Dogruer, Australian Rivers Institute. Credit: Griffith University

Three out of four Queensland green turtle populations risk harmful effects from cadmium found a Griffith University-led study using a new tool to determine chemical exposure limits for marine animals.

In collaboration with Utrecht University (Netherlands), Goethe University Frankfurt (Germany) and the University of Queensland, the researchers developed a virtual turtle model to simulate cadmium uptake and its effects over a turtles’ lifetime. The model was used to reveal at what concentration cadmium in their primary food source, seagrass, is potentially toxic.

“Marine animals are exposed to an array of toxic chemicals entering the oceans,” said lead researcher and Ph.D. candidate Gulsah Dogruer from the Australian Rivers Institute.

“Yet policy makers are basically in the dark about the limits these animals can endure before health effects threaten their survival.

“We developed a framework that sheds some light on this issue for policy makers. By defining the chemical exposure limit for a particular marine animal before there is , we can help policy makers identify potentially toxic areas.”

When applied to cadmium in , the researchers revealed a concerning 72% of the Great Barrier Reef’s green turtle populations were at risk from cadmium contamination.

“Our results show that a green turtle population foraging on seagrass with more than 0.1 milligram of cadmium for every kilogram of seagrass, is exposed to potential health risks,” said co-author and supervisor Dr. Jason van de Merwe, a marine ecologist and eco-toxicologist at the Australian Rivers Institute.

“As seagrass is green turtles’ primary source of food, this is a real concern, but knowing this threshold level of cadmium is crucial to identify potential exposure sites.”

The virtual turtle model consisting of seven body compartments connected by the circulating blood flow (red arrow). The liver and kidney represent the elimination and detoxification routes (green arrow). The blue arrow represents the exposure route. Credit: Griffith University

To discover the cadmium threshold in green turtles, the researchers used a generic three-step framework that can be adapted to other marine species and other chemicals.

The framework involved firstly developing a green turtle and cadmium-specific model to predict how much cadmium the turtles are likely to accumulate over their lifetime under various environmental conditions.

“The model we developed used the physiology of the turtles and the chemical properties of cadmium to simulate its absorption, metabolism, excretion, and distribution in the turtles’ liver, kidney, muscle, fat, brain, scute, and ‘rest of the body’,” Ms Dogruer said.

“The second step was to link these contaminant concentrations in the turtles to toxic effects seen in laboratory-based studies and in free-ranging turtles.

The researchers ran the model in reverse, using the cadmium concentration that is toxic in turtles’ body, to determine the amount of cadmium in seagrass above which are likely to have a toxic response (0.1 milligram of cadmium for every kilogram of seagrass).

The researchers lastly compared their results to real-world cadmium exposure conditions for green turtle populations globally.

“Three out of the four globally distinct green turtle populations assessed in Australia, Japan and Brazil are exposed to levels above the threshold seagrass limits we reported,” Dr. van de Merwe said.

“Our framework for determining chemical exposure limits will help managers of conservation sites better understand and minimize the risk to and hopefully begin to turn the tide for green turtle populations worldwide,” Ms Dogruer said.

Three out of four turtle populations risk cadmium contamination (2021, August 20)
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Hexbyte Glen Cove Three in four say climate 'tipping points' close thumbnail

Hexbyte Glen Cove Three in four say climate ‘tipping points’ close

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The survey, conducted before the release of a bombshell UN climate report last week, showed more than half of respondents in G20 nations feel very or extremely concerned about the state of the planet.

Some 73 percent of people now believe that Earth’s climate is approaching abrupt and irreversible “tipping points” due to human activity, according to a global opinion poll released Tuesday.

The survey, conducted before the publication of a bombshell UN climate science report last week, showed that more than half (58 percent) of respondents in G20 nations feel very or extremely concerned about the state of the planet.

Scientists are increasingly concerned that some in nature—such as irreversible melting of icesheets or permafrost—may be close to being triggered as mankind’s mind-boggling show no signs of slowing, despite a pandemic.

The IPCC report warned that Earth is on course to be 1.5C hotter than pre-industrial times around 2030—a full decade earlier than it projected just three years ago.

It said that “low likelihood, high impact” tipping points, such as the Amazon degrading from a to source, “cannot be ruled out”.

Tuesday’s survey, conducted by the Global Commons Alliance and Ipsos MORI, found four out of five respondents wanted to do more to protect the planet.

“The world is not sleepwalking towards catastrophe. People know we are taking colossal risks, they want to do more and they want their governments to do more,” said Owen Gaffney, the lead author of a report based on the poll’s findings.

Tuesday’s survey showed that people in developing nations were more likely to be willing to protect nature and the climate than those in richer countries.

Ninety-five percent of respondents in Indonesia, and 94 percent in South Africa, said they would do more for the planet, compared with just 70 percent and 74 percent in Germany and the United States, respectively.

And although 59 percent of people surveyed said they believed in the need for a rapid transition away from , just eight percent acknowledged the need for large-scale economic shifts this decade.

Gaffney said the survey showed “people really want to do something to protect nature, but report that they lack information and face financial constraints to what they can do.”

“The vast majority of people in the world’s wealthiest countries… are worried about the state of the planet and want to protect it,” said Kenyan environmentalist Elizabeth Wathuti.

“They want to become planetary stewards. This should be a wake-up call to leaders everywhere.”

© 2021 AFP

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