‘A new era’: NASA strikes asteroid in key test of planetary defense

This file artist's illustration obtained from NASA on November 4, 2021 shows the DART spacecraft from behind prior to impact at the Didymos binary system. (AFP)
This file artist's illustration obtained from NASA on November 4, 2021 shows the DART spacecraft from behind prior to impact at the Didymos binary system. (AFP)
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Updated 27 September 2022

‘A new era’: NASA strikes asteroid in key test of planetary defense

‘A new era’: NASA strikes asteroid in key test of planetary defense
  • DART’s celestial target is an asteroid “moonlet” about 560 feet (170 meters) in diameter that orbits a parent asteroid five times larger called Didymos as part of a binary pair with the same name, the Greek word for twin

CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida: A NASA spaceship on Monday struck an asteroid seven million miles away in order to deflect its orbit, succeeding in a historic test of humanity’s ability to prevent a celestial object from devastating life on Earth.

The Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) impactor hit its target, the space rock Dimorphos, at 7:14 p.m. Eastern Time (2314 GMT), 10 months after blasting off from California on its pioneering mission.

“We’re embarking on a new era, an era in which we potentially have the capability to protect ourselves from something like a dangerous hazardous asteroid impact,” said Lori Glaze, director of NASA’s planetary science division.

Dimorphos — a 530-foot (160-meter) asteroid roughly comparable in size to an Egyptian pyramid — orbits a half-mile long big brother called Didymos. Never seen before, the “moonlet” appeared as a speck of light around an hour before the collision.

Its egg-like shape and craggy, boulder-dotted surface finally came into clear view in the last few minutes, as DART raced toward it at roughly 14,500 miles (23,500 kilometers) per hour.

NASA scientists and engineers erupted in applause as the screen froze on a final image, indicating that signal had been lost and impact had taken place.

To be sure, the pair of asteroids pose no threat to our planet as they loop the Sun every two of our years.

But NASA has deemed the experiment important to carry out before an actual need is discovered.

By striking Dimorphos head on, NASA hopes to push it into a smaller orbit, shaving 10 minutes off the time it takes to encircle Didymos, which is currently 11 hours and 55 minutes.

Ground telescopes — which can’t see the asteroid system directly but can detect a shift in patterns of light coming from it — should provide a definitive orbital period in the coming days and weeks.

The proof-of-concept has made a reality of what has before only been attempted in science fiction — notably in films such as “Armageddon” and “Don’t Look Up.”

Minutes after impact, a toaster-sized satellite called LICIACube, which already separated from DART a few weeks ago, was expected to make a close pass of the site to capture images of the collision and the ejecta — the pulverized rock thrown off by the strike.

LICIACube’s pictures will be sent back in the next weeks and months.

Also watching the event: an array of telescopes, both on Earth and in space — including the recently operational James Webb — which might be able to see a brightening cloud of dust.

The mission has set the global astronomy community abuzz, with more than three dozen ground telescopes participating, including optical, radio and radar.

“There’s a lot of them, and it’s incredibly exciting to have lost count,” said DART mission planetary astronomer Christina Thomas.

Finally, a full picture of what the system looks like will be revealed when a European Space Agency mission four years down the line called Hera arrives to survey Dimorphos’ surface and measure its mass, which scientists can currently only guess at.

Very few of the billions of asteroids and comets in our solar system are considered potentially hazardous to our planet, and none are expected in the next hundred years or so.

But wait long enough, and it will happen.

We know that from the geological record — for example, the six-mile wide Chicxulub asteroid struck Earth 66 million years ago, plunging the world into a long winter that led to the mass extinction of the dinosaurs along with 75 percent of all species.

An asteroid the size of Dimorphos, by contrast, would only cause a regional impact, such as devastating a city, albeit with greater force than any nuclear bomb in history.

How much momentum DART imparts on Dimorphos will depend on whether the asteroid is solid rock, or more like a “rubbish pile” of boulders bound by mutual gravity — a property that’s not yet known.

If it had missed, NASA would have another shot in two years’ time, with the spaceship containing just enough fuel for another pass.

But its success marks the first step toward a world capable of defending itself from a future existential threat.

“I think Earthlings can sleep better, definitely I will,” said DART mission systems engineer Elena Adams.


World’s oldest recorded tortoise Jonathan prepares for 190th birthday party

World’s oldest recorded tortoise Jonathan prepares for 190th birthday party
Updated 03 December 2022

World’s oldest recorded tortoise Jonathan prepares for 190th birthday party

World’s oldest recorded tortoise Jonathan prepares for 190th birthday party
  • Despite his advanced years, he is also partial to a female tortoise called Emma, who is merely in her 50s

LONDON: He was born not long after Napoleon died, and is now officially the planet’s oldest known living land animal.
Jonathan the Seychelles Giant Tortoise is celebrating his 190th birthday — more or less — on St. Helena in the remote South Atlantic, where the defeated French emperor died in exile in 1821.
Jonathan, it is believed based on shell measurements, was hatched around 1832, and he was brought to the UK overseas territory from the Seychelles 50 years later.

In this file photo taken on October 20, 2017, Jonathan, a Seychelles giant tortoise, believed to be the oldest reptile living on earth, crawls through the lawn of the Plantation House, the United Kingdom Governor official residence in Saint Helena, a British Overseas Territory in the South Atlantic Ocean. (AFP)

He lives out a comfortable retirement in Plantation House, the official residence of the St. Helena governor, where his birthday is being marked with events all weekend including the issuance of a special stamp.
The celebration climaxes Sunday with a “birthday cake” made out of Jonathan’s favorite foods.
He is particularly partial to carrots, lettuce, cucumber, apples and pears, according to his handlers interviewed by AFP in 2017.
Despite his advanced years, he is also partial to a female tortoise called Emma, who is merely in her 50s.
“He still enjoys the ladies and I have heard him quite regularly in the paddock with Emma and he grunts,” then-governor Lisa Phillips said at the time.
“I have to keep an eye on him when he is doing that — it was not in the job description when I became governor.”
At the start of this year, Jonathan was given the Guinness World Records title as the world’s oldest living land animal, and this month was also named as the oldest tortoise ever.
“When you think, if he was hatched in 1832 — the Georgian era — my goodness, the changes in the world,” said Joe Hollins, a retired veterinarian who is Jonathan’s main carer today.
“The world wars, the rise and fall of the British Empire, the many governors, kings and queens that have passed, it’s quite extraordinary,” he said.
“And he’s just been here, enjoying himself.”
While they hope for many more years, St. Helena authorities have already made plans for the venerable chelonian’s eventual demise: his shell will be preserved for posterity.

 


Mexican football fan dons Qatari attire, pranks TV reporter

Updated 02 December 2022

Mexican football fan dons Qatari attire, pranks TV reporter

Mexican football fan dons Qatari attire, pranks TV reporter
  • The football fan interrupted a live broadcast at the FIFA Wold Cup to pull his prank

LONDON: A Mexican football fan was caught on camera pranking a TV correspondent by pretending to be a Qatar security staff member at the FIFA World Cup.

The footage showed the fan, clad in a Qatari thobe and ghutra, interrupting the live broadcast of the Chilean TV channel Canal 13, claiming that he was a security officer and that filming in the location required a permit.

This prompted the reporter to argue that he was authorized to work in the area, with the football fan indulging in his performance until finally saying “Viva Mexico,” revealing — to the journalist’s relief — that he was pulling a prank.


Google marks 51st UAE National Day with Doodle

Google marks 51st UAE National Day with Doodle
Updated 02 December 2022

Google marks 51st UAE National Day with Doodle

Google marks 51st UAE National Day with Doodle
  • UAE National Day is celebrated on December 2 each year

DUBAI: Red, green and black fireworks and an animated four-colored flag are featured in Google’s latest Doodle to celebrate the UAE’s 51st founding anniversary.

“Today’s Doodle celebrates United Arab Emirates National Day. On this day in 1971, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Ajman, Al-Ain, Sharjah and Umm Al-Quwain united to form one country. Ras Al Khaimah, the seventh emirate, joined the following year to complete what is now known as the United Arab Emirates,” Google said.

UAE National Day is celebrated on December 2 each year.

“Celebrations kick off with an exhilarating show at Zayed Sports City Stadium in Abu Dhabi. Thousands of people gather to watch orchestras, musicians, and aerobatic displays. After national leaders give speeches to honor the country’s founding fathers, fireworks splash across the Abu Dhabi skyline as festivities carry into the night,” Google explained.

The UAE’s national flag was officially adopted in 1971, featuring the Pan-Arab colors – a vertical red line with horizontal green, white and black stripes. It was designed by then 19-year-old Abdullah Mohammed Al-Maainah, who beat more than 1,030 entries submitted as part of a nationwide contest for the UAE flag design.


German pundit mocks Qatari traditional dress, calling the thobe a ‘bathrobe’

German pundit mocks Qatari traditional dress, calling the thobe a ‘bathrobe’
Updated 30 November 2022

German pundit mocks Qatari traditional dress, calling the thobe a ‘bathrobe’

German pundit mocks Qatari traditional dress, calling the thobe a ‘bathrobe’
  • Wagner was referring to the thobe, a garment worn in many parts of the world, including the Arabian Peninsula, the Middle East and North Africa

LONDON: German pundit Sandro Wagner mocked the Qatari national dress, calling the thobes “bathrobes” on Sunday while commentating on the World Cup match between Spain and Germany, a remark Twitter users found to be “racist.”

Wagner apologized on Monday, describing his disparaging remark as “ill-considered” in a tweet shared by ZDF on Monday, which came after the German TV channel faced backlash from social media users.

“It was an ill-considered saying with an inappropriate remark that I would be better off not saying. If anyone felt offended — sorry, that was zero point, zero my intention,” the former Germany striker said in the tweet.

Wagner, 35, said in the 79th minute of the Monday evening game: “I thought before that the whole corner (of the stadium) was full of German fans. Then I realized it was the Qatari bathrobes.”

In his comment, Wagner was referring to the thobe, a garment worn in many parts of the world, including the Arabian Peninsula, the Middle East and North Africa.

ZDF commented on Wagner’s demeanor, saying his remark “occurred during an emotional phase of the game” and confirming that it was unacceptable: “He’s not permitted (to say that). We’ll talk about it.”

The German broadcasting company said Wagner will face no further consequences, confirming he will be commentating Wednesday’s match between Poland and Argentina.

People expressed frustration over Wagner’s “racist” remark. One Twitter user said, “This World Cup has put European racism under a spotlight where it can’t hide,” while another commented that “the only reason Sandro Wagner still has a job is because ZDF is just as racist as Wagner.”


Bad abbot: Thai temple left empty after monks fail drug tests

Bad abbot: Thai temple left empty after monks fail drug tests
Updated 30 November 2022

Bad abbot: Thai temple left empty after monks fail drug tests

Bad abbot: Thai temple left empty after monks fail drug tests
  • Thailand is a major transit country for methamphetamine flooding in from Myanmar’s troubled Shan state via Laos, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime

BANGKOK: A Buddhist temple in central Thailand has been left without monks after all its holy men failed drug tests and were defrocked, a local official said Tuesday.
Four monks including an abbot at a temple in Phetchabun province’s Bung Sam Phan district tested positive for methamphetamine on Monday, district official Boonlert Thintapthai told AFP.
The monks have been sent to a health clinic to undergo drug rehabilitation, the official said.
“The temple is now empty of monks and nearby villagers are concerned they cannot do any merit-making,” he said.
Merit-making involves worshippers donating food to monks as a good deed.
Boonlert said more monks will be sent to the temple to allow villagers to practice their religious obligations.
Thailand is a major transit country for methamphetamine flooding in from Myanmar’s troubled Shan state via Laos, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.
On the street, pills sell for less than 20 baht (around $0.50).
Authorities across Southeast Asia have made record meth seizures in recent years.