Japan launches rocket carrying X-ray telescope to explore origins of universe, lunar lander

Japan launches rocket carrying X-ray telescope to explore origins of universe, lunar lander
An HII-A rocket blasts off from the launch pad at Tanegashima Space Center in Kagoshima, southern Japan Thursday, Sept. 7, 2023. (AP)
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Updated 07 September 2023
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Japan launches rocket carrying X-ray telescope to explore origins of universe, lunar lander

Japan launches rocket carrying X-ray telescope to explore origins of universe, lunar lander
  • JAXA is developing “pinpoint landing technology” to prepare for future lunar probes and landing on other planets

TOKYO: Japan launched a rocket Thursday carrying an X-ray telescope that will explore the origins of the universe as well as a small lunar lander.
The launch of the HII-A rocket from Tanegashima Space Center in southwestern Japan was shown on live video by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, known as JAXA.
“We have a liftoff,” the narrator at JAXA said as the rocket flew up in a burst of smoke then flew over the Pacific.
Thirteen minutes after the launch, the rocket put into orbit around Earth a satellite called the X-Ray Imaging and Spectroscopy Mission, or XRISM, which will measure the speed and makeup of what lies between galaxies.
That information helps in studying how celestial objects were formed, and hopefully can lead to solving the mystery of how the universe was created, JAXA says.
In cooperation with NASA, JAXA will look at the strength of light at different wavelengths, the temperature of things in space and their shapes and brightness.
David Alexander, director of the Rice Space Institute at Rice University, believes the mission is significant for delivering insight into the properties of hot plasma, or the superheated matter that makes up much of the universe.
Plasmas have the potential to be used in various ways, including healing wounds, making computer chips and cleaning the environment.
“Understanding the distribution of this hot plasma in space and time, as well as its dynamical motion, will shed light on diverse phenomena such as black holes, the evolution of chemical elements in the universe and the formation of galactic clusters,” Alexander said.
Also aboard the latest Japanese rocket is the Smart Lander for Investigating Moon, or SLIM, a lightweight lunar lander. The Smart Lander won’t make lunar orbit for three or four months after the launch and would likely attempt a landing early next year, according to the space agency.
JAXA is developing “pinpoint landing technology” to prepare for future lunar probes and landing on other planets. While landings now tend to be off by about 10 kilometers (6 miles) or more, the Smart Lander is designed to be more precise, within about 100 meters (330 feet) of the intended target, JAXA official Shinichiro Sakai told reporters ahead of the launch.
That allows the box-shaped gadgetry to find a safer place to land.
The move comes at a time when the world is again turning to the challenge of going to the moon. Only four nations have successfully landed on the moon, the US, Russia, China and India.
Last month, India landed a spacecraft near the moon’s south pole. That came just days after Russia failed in its attempt to return to the moon for the first time in nearly a half century. A Japanese private company, called ispace, crashed a lander in trying to land on the moon in April.
Japan’s space program has been marred by recent failures. In February, the H3 rocket launch was aborted for a glitch. Liftoff a month later succeeded, but the rocket had to be destroyed after its second stage failed to ignite properly.
Japan has started recruiting astronaut candidates for the first time in 13 years, making clear its ambitions to send a Japanese to the moon.
Going to the moon has fascinated humankind for decades. Under the US Apollo program, astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the moon in 1969.
The last NASA human mission to the moon was in 1972, and the focus on sending humans to the moon appeared to wane, with missions being relegated to robots.


Ship that caused deadly Baltimore bridge collapse has been refloated and is moving back to port

Ship that caused deadly Baltimore bridge collapse has been refloated and is moving back to port
Updated 6 sec ago
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Ship that caused deadly Baltimore bridge collapse has been refloated and is moving back to port

Ship that caused deadly Baltimore bridge collapse has been refloated and is moving back to port
  • The disaster killed six construction workers and snarled traffic into Baltimore Harbor
  • Several tugboats are escorting the Dali on its 2.5-mile path to the marine terminal
BALTIMORE: The container ship that caused the deadly collapse of Baltimore’s Francis Scott Key Bridge was refloated Monday and has begun slowly moving back to port.
The Dali has remained at the collapse site since it lost power and crashed into one of the bridge’s supporting columns on March 26, killing six construction workers and snarling traffic into Baltimore Harbor.
The ship appeared to start moving shortly after 6 a.m. as crews started to maneuver it out of the wreckage. It started and stopped a few times before slowly backing away from the collapse site.
Officials said it would move at about 1 mph on the roughly 2.5-mile (4-kilometer) trip, a fraction of the speed it was traveling when it lost power and crashed into the bridge. Pieces of the bridge’s steel trusses protruded from its bow, which remained covered in concrete from the collapsed roadway.
Officials have said they plan to unload the ship’s containers and complete some short-term repairs while it’s docked in Baltimore.
Monday morning’s high tide had been expected to bring the best conditions for crews to refloat and start moving the ship, according to a statement from the Key Bridge Response Unified Command.
Several tugboats were escorting the Dali on its path to the marine terminal. The work is expected to last at least 21 hours.
Crews conducted a controlled demolition on May 13 to break down the largest remaining span of the collapsed bridge.
The Dali experienced four electrical blackouts within about 10 hours before leaving the Port of Baltimore for Sri Lanka and hitting the bridge, according to a preliminary report issued by the National Transportation Safety Board.

Philippines blames China for loss of giant clams in disputed shoal and urges environmental inquiry

Philippines blames China for loss of giant clams in disputed shoal and urges environmental inquiry
Updated 5 min 56 sec ago
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Philippines blames China for loss of giant clams in disputed shoal and urges environmental inquiry

Philippines blames China for loss of giant clams in disputed shoal and urges environmental inquiry
  • Philippines has blamed Chinese fishermen for a massive loss of giant clams in a disputed shoal controlled by China’s coast guard
  • There was no immediate response from China

MANILA: The Philippines blamed Chinese fishermen on Monday for a massive loss of giant clams in a disputed shoal controlled by China’s coast guard in the South China Sea and urged an international inquiry into the amount of environmental damage in the area.
The Philippine coast guard presented surveillance photographs of Chinese fishermen harvesting large numbers of giant clams for a number of years in a lagoon at Scarborough Shoal, but said signs of such activities stopped in March 2019.
Parts of the surrounding coral appeared to be badly scarred, in what the coast guard said was apparently a futile search by the Chinese for more clams. The lagoon is a prominent fishing area which Filipinos call Bajo de Masinloc and the Chinese calll Huangyan Dao off the northwestern Philippines.
“Those were the last remaining giant clams that we saw in Bajo de Masinloc,” Philippine coast guard spokesperson Commodore Jay Tarriela said at a news conference.
“We are alarmed and worried about the situation that’s happening there,” National Security Council Assistant Director General Jonathan Malaya said. He said China should allow an independent inquiry by experts from the United Nations and environmental groups.
The Chinese Embassy in Manila did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Beijing has repeatedly asserted its sovereignty over much of the busy South China Sea. The territorial disputes involve China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan. The Indonesian navy has also been involved in skirmishes with the Chinese coast guard and fishing vessels in the Natuna waters in the margins of the South China Sea.
The Philippines has adopted a policy of publicizing China’s increasingly assertive actions in the contested waters to gain international support, and the news conference was its latest effort to condemn China’s stewardship of Scarborough Shoal.
China effectively seized the shoal in 2012 after a standoff that ended when Philippine government ships withdrew based on what Manila said was a deal brokered by American officials to ease the dangerous confrontation. China reneged on its promise to remove its ships and has since surrounded the shoal with coast guard and suspected militia ships, according to Philippine officials.
Since then, the Chinese coast guard has had a series of skirmishes with Philippine patrol ships and fishing boats, which have been prevented from entering the lagoon, ringed by mostly submerged coral outcrops. Three weeks ago, Chinese ships fired powerful water cannons that damaged Philippine coast guard and fisheries vessels.
“They’re preventing us from getting into the lagoon,” Malaya said. “We can ask third-party environmental groups or even the United Nations to do a fact-finding mission to determine the environmental situation.”
The Philippines has brought its territorial disputes with China to international arbitration and largely won. The 2016 ruling invalidated China’s expansive claims to much of the South China Sea, a key global trade route, on historical grounds and cited Chinese government actions that resulted in environmental damage in the offshore region.
China refused to participate in the arbitration, rejected its ruling and continues to defy it.
The territorial hostilities have sparked fears of a larger conflict that could involve the US, which has warned that it’s obligated to defend the Philippines, its long-time treaty ally, if Filipino forces, ships and aircraft come under an armed attack, including in the South China Sea.


UK’s infected blood scandal could and should have been avoided, inquiry finds

UK’s infected blood scandal could and should have been avoided, inquiry finds
Updated 15 min 35 sec ago
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UK’s infected blood scandal could and should have been avoided, inquiry finds

UK’s infected blood scandal could and should have been avoided, inquiry finds

LONDON: Britain’s infected blood scandal that has killed 3,000 people and left thousands more suffering with hepatitis or HIV was no accident, a public inquiry found on Monday, blaming a catalogue of failures by government and doctors.
Inquiry chair Brian Langstaff said more than 30,000 people received infected blood and blood products in the 1970s and 1980s from Britain’s state-funded National Health Service, destroying lives, dreams and families.
The use of infected blood, despite the known risks, has resulted in thousands of victims in the United States, France, Canada and other countries, in part after US prisoners and other high-risk groups were paid to provide blood.
In Britain around 1,250 people with bleeding disorders were infected with HIV, including about 380 children, the inquiry found.
Three quarters of them died.
“This disaster was not an accident,” Langstaff said. “The infections happened because those in authority — doctors, the blood services and successive governments — did not put patient safety first.”
He said proper compensation must now be paid.
The government, which in 2015 said it was “something that never should have happened”, agreed in 2022 to pay an interim 100,000 pounds ($126,990) to those affected.
The infected blood and blood products, some of which were imported from the United States, were used for transfusions, which were not always clinically needed, and as treatments for bleeding disorders like haemophilia.
Haemophiliacs received Factor 8 concentrates, often imported from the United States or Austria, which carried a higher risk of causing hepatitis.
Some of the concentrates were infected with HIV in the 1980s, the inquiry said, but authorities failed to switch to safer alternatives and they decided in July 1983, a year after risks were apparent, not to suspend their importation.
Systemic failures resulted in between 80 and 100 people becoming infected with HIV by transfusion, it said, and about 26,800 were infected with Hepatitis C, often from receiving blood after childbirth or an operation.
Both groups were failed by doctors’ complacency about Hepatitis C and being slow to respond to the risks of AIDS, it said, compounded by an absence of meaningful apology or redress.
He said patients were exposed to risks despite it being well known that blood could cause severe infection, in the case of hepatitis since the end of World War Two.
Treatment practices that could have reduced the risks were not adopted, he said, noting blood was collected from prisoners, who had a higher prevalence of hepatitis, until 1984.
Some of the victims were further betrayed by being used in medical trials without their knowledge or consent, he said.
“It will be astonishing to anyone who reads this report that these events could have happened in the UK,” Langstaff said.
The British inquiry, which started in 2018, does not have the power to recommend prosecutions. ($1 = 0.7875 pounds)


Protesters block New Caledonia roads as French police pour in

Protesters block New Caledonia roads as French police pour in
Updated 20 May 2024
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Protesters block New Caledonia roads as French police pour in

Protesters block New Caledonia roads as French police pour in
  • Protests erupted last week, sparked by anger among indigenous Kanak people over a constitutional amendment approved in France that would change who is allowed to participate in elections
  • Pro-independence political parties say they want the French government to withdraw the electoral reform before they restart talks

SYDNEY/PARIS: A thousand police arrived in New Caledonia from France and streets were relatively calm after a week of unrest, the French High Commission said on Monday, but roads were blocked by protesters and the airport remained shut, stranding tourists.
Blockades of roads would continue, Field Action Co-ordination Cell (CCAT), the activist group organising the protests in the French-ruled Pacific island, said in a statement, urging protesters to use a peaceful approach.
Road blocks were making it a challenge to get food supplies to stores in several areas or to provide secure travel for medical staff, New Caledonia government officials said, adding, however, that there were no shortages of supplies or staff.
Australia's Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said "the situation there is deeply concerning", after a night of fire and looting.
France's top official in the territory, Louis Le Franc, said on Sunday a police operation to regain control of the road from capital Noumea to the international airport would take several days. Gendarmes had dismantled 76 road blocks, the High Commission said on Monday.
Airline Aircalin said the airport would remained closed until Thursday.
Protests erupted last week, sparked by anger among indigenous Kanak people over a constitutional amendment approved in France that would change who is allowed to participate in elections, which local leaders fear will dilute the Kanak vote.
Six people have been killed and the unrest has left a trail of burnt businesses and cars and looted shops, with road barricades restricting access to medicine and food. The business chamber said 150 companies had been looted and burnt.

EVACUATIONS AWAITED
Pro-independence political parties say they want the French government to withdraw the electoral reform before they restart talks.
"We need strong actions [from the government] to calm the situation ... this is a political, not a security issue," said Dominique Fochi, secretary general of the pro-independence Caledonian Union.
Shares of Australian nickel miners were on the rise as underlying prices surged by 7% over the weekend due to unrest in New Caledonia, a key global supplier of the metal.
Australia's Albanese earlier told ABC radio his country was awaiting approval from French authorities to send an evacuation flight to pick up tourists stranded in New Caledonia hotels.
Around 300 Australians have registered with consular officials in the French territory, which lies in the southwest Pacific, some 1,500 km (930 miles) east of Australia.
There were around 3,200 people waiting to leave or enter New Caledonia as commercial flights were cancelled due to the unrest that broke out last week, the local government said.
New Zealand defence aircraft were on standby and also awaiting the French go-ahead to repatriate nationals, its Foreign Minister Winston Peters wrote in a post on X on Sunday.


Indians vote early in fifth phase of polls to avoid scorching heat

Indians vote early in fifth phase of polls to avoid scorching heat
Updated 20 May 2024
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Indians vote early in fifth phase of polls to avoid scorching heat

Indians vote early in fifth phase of polls to avoid scorching heat
  • World’s largest election began on April 19 amid high summer temperatures and more days of heatwaves than usual predicted
  • Two senior citizens collapsed at polling station in Mumbai temperatures of 33 degrees Celsius and humidity of 71 percent 

MUMBAI/BHUBANESWAR: Indians began voting early on Monday in the fifth phase of mammoth general elections, with thousands queuing at polling stations to beat the scorching heat in the financial capital of Mumbai and the sprawling states of Uttar Pradesh and Odisha.

The world’s largest election began on April 19, amid high summer temperatures, with the weather office predicting more days of heatwaves than usual through the season.

Votes will be counted on June 4, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi expected to win a rare third consecutive term.

“Given the hot and humid conditions, there could have been fans and better arrangements for the ill and those with disabilities,” said Sangeeta Rege, 46, a director at a health research organization.

She was speaking after two senior citizens collapsed at her polling station in Mumbai temperatures of 33 degrees Celsius (91.4 Fahrenheit) and humidity of 71 percent that made it difficult for many, especially the elderly, to set foot outdoors.

Nearly a billion people are eligible to vote in India’s elections, but after poor initial turnout in early phases, more exercised the franchise to take the average of the first four rounds to 66.95 percent, with 69 percent voting in the May 13 fourth phase.

Monday’s phase has the fewest constituencies going to the polls, with 89.5 million voters set to pick representatives for 49 seats.

High-profile candidates in the fray on Monday include trade minister Piyush Goyal, standing from one of six seats in Mumbai, and defense minister Rajnath Singh from Lucknow, both cities where there has been poor voter turnout in the past.

On Sunday, the Election Commission specifically urged residents of both cities “to erase the stigma” of urban apathy.

“At the core of our vision for Mumbai is – better infrastructure and more ‘ease of living,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi said while campaigning in the city last week.

GANDHI FAMILY BASTIONS

Two boroughs of the opposition Congress party’s Nehru-Gandhi dynasty are also going to the polls in the large politically crucial northern state of Uttar Pradesh.

Family scion Rahul Gandhi is contesting the seat of Raebareli, in addition to Wayanad in the south, which has already voted.

Smriti Irani, minister for women and child development, is contesting from Amethi, where she defeated Rahul Gandhi in 2019, to take a seat his family held almost continuously for the last four decades.

Other keenly watched contests in the state include Kaiserganj, where the BJP is fielding the son of a former wrestling federation chief, although the father has been charged with sexually harassing female wrestlers.

Poor voter turnout became a concern for the ruling BJP initially, and analysts believe the low numbers cast doubts on the landslide victory the party and its allies sought.

But long queues snaked out of polling booths in Mumbai and Bolangir in the eastern state of Odisha after the weather department forecast maximum temperatures to rise between 2 degrees and 4 degrees Celsius.

The election aimed “to ensure stability and security ... plus development of my city and country which ... is happening at a rapid rate,” said Mumbai homemaker Jaya Roy Chowdhury, 48.

“The BJP has not fielded the right candidate for the Lok Sabha, but we are voting ... with Modi in mind,” said 55-year-old Odisha farmer Girish Mishra, referring to the lower house of parliament.

Modi, accused by opponents of targeting minority Muslims to please hard-line voters, resolved in a television interview aired after the fourth phase to “not do Hindu-Muslim (in politics).”

He has repeatedly accused the Congress of plans to extend welfare benefits to Muslims at the expense of disadvantaged tribal groups and Hindu castes, a claim the opposition party has denied.